Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The Shrinking of the List

Today I completed the last of my 'for other people' tasks. Teaching over, I provided feedback on the last student story, and emailed it to her immediately, before I felt compelled to read it again and add to my comments. Jobs like this could go on indefinitely if I allowed them to.

And I, finally, finished editing the images from an overlarge, overindulgent, photo shoot.

Our local blacksmith plans to clean up the front portion of his workshop and turn it into a showroom for the stoves he sells. So he asked me, through Stevie, if I'd take some photos before he does so. Yes, I said, I'd love to. The place is astonishing, filled with all sorts of tools and boxes, old signs and crates. Buried amongst the drill bits I was sure I'd find the very story of blacksmithing. How could I say no?

But I'm no professional photographer, I'm just a woman with a camera who likes stories, so off I went with my non-professional camera, a tripod, and one light, and snapped away for about three or four hours. It wasn't until I uploaded the shots to my computer and looked at them that I thought, 'shit!'

It's taken me over a month to go through them all and decide on which ones to give him and which to discard. I'm crap at post production, photoshop fills me with dread, so apart from a little cropping and lightening/darkening if a photo isn't any good when it comes off the camera there's nothing I can do to save it. The other problem is I worry that the story in my head, and that comes out in my shots, isn't the same as the story in anyone else's. I worry that the photos I take will be boring for everyone else. So one of the reasons it took me so long to edit this batch was that I spent hours staring at each one wondering if this is what he, the customer wants. That I haven't asked for anything in return, let alone money, doesn't render an affirmative answer to that question any less important. I really don't want to give him a pile of disappointing images. But what can I do, the photos I took are the photos I took?

Now my 'other people' tasks are done I am free to do my 'me' tasks. Though tomorrow (actually today now I see the time) I have a meeting at the university about a research assistant position that has come up. If they feel I can do it, and I feel I can do it this free time will be short. While it lasts I'll come and read as many of your blogs as I possibly can, and finish my book (that's the one I'm reading, not the one I'm writing which will have to wait a little longer).

P.S. Did you hear that Pure by Andrew Miller, which I read during my book a day challenge (see last post) and loved, has just won the Costa?


Alesa Warcan said...

Well, I'm no professional photographer either, but I usually like your shots. I think you have an excellent eye.
You do make it harder on yourself by limiting post work but still get great results! : j

Kass said...

These are wonderful shots. The angles are good, the lighting, the composition...

Very nice.

Kim Ayres said...

Learn how to use your camera in poor light conditions and most of all to trust your instincts

There are essentialy 2 aspects to photography - technical and creative.

The technical - how to operate it in different lighting conditions - understanding shutter speeds and depth of focus etc - you can learn from books, youtube videos and practice.

The artistic/creative side is about the lines, shapes and stories you create with the tool that is the camera.

You can learn some techniques which help shortcut you to more effective images (not having the main subject dead centre of the photo, for example), but mostly this is about bringing your feelings and sense of what works or doesn't.

And you are not short of creativity and a good eye, Eryl.

You know what looks good, and you understand storytelling. Trust those instincts because they serve you well - they are why people keep showing such an interest in your photography.

Don't keep thinking about what someone else's story might be - go for your own - and that's what will develop and keep your own unique style.

So, trust your instincts, and if the camera doesn't seem to be doing what you want it to (blurred images, or over/under exposed), then lets meet for coffee and I'll answer any questions you have :)

Pat said...

There is nothing boring about these photos Eryl. I hope he appreciates them.
'before I felt compelled to read it again and add to my comments.'
Just recently I was asked for my complete manuscript and was thrown into a panic finding the printed copy differed from the ones on tape. I sent one off by email and am now discovering the errors. Moral: make sure your latest edit is complete and ready to go.
Next time I'll be better prepared.

Monica said...

it sure isn't easy. unless you've got a very specific brief, everyone has different ideas.

what i feel is beautiful another person feels is odd. like my in-laws. i edited some photos of my girl to gift them and i thought they were some of my best. they thought they couldn't see her properly. lol

i think these shots are great anyway.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Nice nostalgic photos Eryl Hope the job works out.

I am cleaning/clearing out my study and making it into an office for my writing and sewing. I am three quarters of the way through the job and feel as though I am clearing out my brain!

Eryl said...

Alesa ~ thank you. I've just downloaded a trial copy of 'Lightroom' and am playing with it. So much simpler than photoshop and the difference it's made to the few images I've used it with is wonderful, so you never know, I may get into this post processing thing.

Kass ~ thank you.

Kim ~ thanks for all that. In theory I know most of the technical stuff, in practise it's slightly different! Since I took these photographs I've got a viewfinder (my camera didn't come with a built in one) and it's made the hugest difference to getting things in focus which was one of my main difficulties. I've also discarded studio lighting altogether, for the time being, and am making much more use of my tripod and slow shutter speeds. Though I must admit I rather like the harsh shadows and highlights bright light creates.

Practise is the thing, I reckon, and as I have absolutely no plans whatsoever to try and go professional I do have all the time in the world to practise.

I think one of the reasons people keep asking me to do photography for them is because I'm the known local enthusiast. It's nice nonetheless, until it comes to delivering the goods when you'll hear me wailing these aren't good enough!

Pat ~ how marvellous that someone wants your manuscript! Fingers crossed that it's on its way to publication.

And thank you for your kind words about my photographs.

Monica ~ I think you're right, the utter lack of a brief, let alone a specific one, was my downfall here. Should I attempt something like this again I will probe first.

And, thank you.

Weaver ~ best of luck with your clearing out. Will you have separate areas designated for each activity? My poor old workroom desperately needs a good clear out, again. My desk is nice and clear but the table I use as a mini studio has become a dumping ground. Maybe I'll take a leaf from you and sort it out this week.

nick said...

Yes, I guess the question is what exactly the blacksmith had in mind, if anything, when he suggested the photos. Maybe he'll say they're exactly what he wanted?

Anonymous said...

I recently read this article, and it looks like you've already gotten a free trial:


She explains her editing process so clearly! Your photos are wonderful - you have a nice eye


Titus said...

I love, love, love that last one. The pawnbroker edge!
No tips on the photography, but luckily Kim is an on-hand expert.
I wonder myself why I'm so willing to spend hours on other people's jobs, and rush mine through at the last minute. Won't bore you with the theories at this point.

And good luck with the research post. That is too cool for school.

Eryl said...

Nick ~ I think the blacksmith, who is a very nice man indeed, had no idea what he wanted other than something to remember the old place by before it's cleaned out. I hope if they're not what he wanted he'll say, because I'd happily go back and spend another afternoon exploring. The place is a hoarder's dream.

Robyn ~ thank you, thank you, I'm going over right now!

Titus ~ is it a woman thing? Are we really made to please others before we please ourselves?

I took a squillion pictures of that bell!

The research post is going to happen, hurrah! It's only for three months, or so, but still it's a start.

The Unbearable Banishment said...

Who has a local blacksmith!? That's olde world and fantastic.

Everyone is right. The pics are top shelf. I have stolen Kim's advice, even though it was meant for you. Hope that's okay.

nick said...

No, I don't think it's a woman thing. It's just that weird desire to take infinite pains to please someone else, whatever the cost. I'm guilty of the same failing sometimes.

elizabeth said...

These are wonderful evocative photos, Eryl.
I totally loved them.
Tidying up is splendly theraputic.
I'm on Good Reads, I think, but am a bit iffy about online book sites.
They tend to be a bit 'look what I've read!" or else slightly dull reviews. Maybe I'll go back and look at it again.
I'm reading Sarah Bakewell's book about Montaigne and it is BLISS so far!

Eryl said...

UB ~ it is very old world here. We still have poachers, and rabbit catchers, and travelling storytellers...

I look froward to seeing how you implement Kim's advice. Do you know his blog (Ramblings of the Bearded One, on my sidebar), it's full of such tips?

Nick ~ glad to hear that.

Elizabeth ~ there is definitely some element of brag on these sites, I agree. I'm hoping to transcend that (!) and use it to organise my reading.

I may have to read that book myself. Montaigne always seemed to be one of those people who got everything right, until I read his essay 'On Friendship' and became annoyed about his notion that women were unable to form deep friendships in the way men can because they were too superficial (or something like that). But I suppose he was a man of his time, as we all are.

Fiona said...

I really enjoyed the photos Eryl. Good to have records of another way of life that will likely be lost.
Very best for the new job. Hope it is one you'll enjoy and maybe lead on to something else too. xxx

Shea Goff said...

Your photos are exquisite.

Eryl said...

Fiona ~ yeah, that documenting thing is great. Glad you liked the shots.

Shea ~ thank you!