Start ugly.

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Toni
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#1
Anyone else on David Duchemin's email list?

I've been getting emails from 'him' for several years now, but they've only recently started to say anything that meant something to me. The latest one was about what to do when you've run out of ideas and creativity, and the following line rang bell for me.

Who says you need a great idea to begin a great work? Begin with a lousy idea. One of the most important principles of creativity for me is Start Ugly.
When I go to photograph somewhere new, or even somewhere familiar, the first few frames are usually scrap, but I NEED to start taking pictures for the ideas to come if I haven't stopped for a picture that I've seen in passing. If I'm playing guitar then I need a way in before the creativity starts, and if I'm taking pictures I need to start taking pictures BEFORE I start becoming creative. It's not a hard & fast rule, and it's not a philosophy, but it is something I've observed to often be true.
 

simon ess

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#2
I honestly thought that was a self evident truth.

It's an idea I grew up with.

Just start.
 
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Dave
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#3
I honestly thought that was a self evident truth.

It's an idea I grew up with.

Just start.
Exactly. Inspiration doesn't grow on trees, it grows out of making pictures.
 
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ancient_mariner
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#4
There has been, at times on TP, a definite attitude of every picture has to be planned and intentional in order to be valid. Names like Gregory Crewdson (sp?) have been revered. I even recall one person declaring that a really powerful image they had grabbed of someone important to them was 'just a snap' because it was not planned.

While the need to just get on and take pictures may be self-evident to some, and it's become obvious to me, it seems that swathes of photographers sometimes need permission to go burn a few frames to get started.
 
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#6
It's the old 'fear of failure' thing. People worry about taking crap photos. So they try to only take good ones by only going out when the light is right, or to 'interesting' places, or working in a situation where they have complete control, etc.. What they forget, or aren't aware of, is that all the great pictures they see have been selected out from a raft of crap ones.

Serendipity and chance have always played a big part in the creative process for a lot of artists. The idea that a grabbed frame can't be good is a bourgeois concept. To twist a saying of Cartier-Bresson's.:D
 
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#7
There has been, at times on TP, a definite attitude of every picture has to be planned and intentional in order to be valid.
By the pillock set I guess, there's a surprisingly lot of them about

Dave
 
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#10
In my personal work, I'm not a planner, but an opportunist. But you cultivate an alertness to what's around you, and the light. I generally carry a camera when out and about, but don't feel compelled to use it (otherwise it might equate to compulsive behaviour). So for many a day it stays in its bag, and I'm convinced that taking it out and waving it about isn't going to start the creative juices flowing. The creative juces come, or not, through being attentive / receptive. Only then do I extract the camera and raise it to my eye.

Also I think maybe that most of us are habituated to 'see' in colour, and that 'seeing' in monochrome requires a switch of visualisation. It's a very different medium, and in some way a more creative one, in that you can push the tones around in processing and thereby come up with more radically different emotional meanings. But you can see potential for it without entirely pre-visualising the result (which comes in the darkroom or at the desk).

Essentially, in the opportunist alertness or quest that I've just described, I'm looking for something that might be communicable as having meaning when put into the rectangular bounds of a frame - as both a personal statement and a way of sharing experience. And again, I don't have to get the camera out to start. It begins in the mind and the looking. And if I have just a single prime with me, I slant my seeing to how it sees.
 
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Jeremy Moore
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#12
I'm not quite sure about that! But on the whole I agree with you (and Ancient Mariner). For quite long periods of time recently I've fallen into the trap of going out to take pictures and not letting them to come to me - and then feeling like I was going through the motions.
 
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#14
I sometimes look at pictures I've taken and wonder why I bothered but I try to remember that I must have seen or felt something that made me want to take them so instead of deleting them I put them in a folder and keep going back to them over a period of days or weeks and sometimes some of the pictures that I initially dislike or don't see the point of I end up liking. I'm sure I take a lot of rubbish but sometimes I end up liking some of it.
 

sirch

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#15
A few of the posters above are regulars in the F&C section, I'm interested to know if more planning goes into film shots than digital. Apart from the lack of instant feedback with film there is the very real cost of film processing which might influence how many shots are taken?

I do agree with the general point that creativity is a process and I guess we all have different ways of generating ideas and going through the creative process. Personally I am a bit of a planner but that means I often fail to Just Do It because, for example, conditions might not be right for the shot I had in mind. However when I am out I do take opportunistic shots if they occur around what I had planned to do. This is also why I think “bodies of work” and projects are important because it’s harder to guess what was intended from a single image than from a collection of images.
 
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Jamesev
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#16
It's the old 'fear of failure' thing. People worry about taking crap photos. So they try to only take good ones by only going out when the light is right, or to 'interesting' places, or working in a situation where they have complete control, etc.. What they forget, or aren't aware of, is that all the great pictures they see have been selected out from a raft of crap ones.

Serendipity and chance have always played a big part in the creative process for a lot of artists. The idea that a grabbed frame can't be good is a bourgeois concept. To twist a saying of Cartier-Bresson's.:D
This leads to the question of what is good, what is excellent and at the other end of the scale what is really poor, and how do you recognise these. Whether is just a symptom of social media, posting a "well done, great photo" not wanting to appear harsh or unpopular in front of group peers, or people just do not know what is great, really poor and anything in between. So many times I see an image posted to some social media channel / group that to me looks very mundane but then gets lots of "wow" comments.
 
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Dave
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#18
This leads to the question of what is good, what is excellent and at the other end of the scale what is really poor, and how do you recognise these.
Education is what informs you as to whether a picture is a good one or not. Which helps you understand context, purpose, etc., etc.
 
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droj
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#19
Education is what informs you as to whether a picture is a good one or not. Which helps you understand context, purpose, etc., etc.
And pictures have different aspects, which can be commented on separately - maybe it's when several conspire together that a picture can become 'great'?

And education, yes, though experience of life itself might be no handicap. A lot of looking and reviewing, certainly. Education needn't be formal.
 
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#20
And what's social media but a pack of braying monkeys?
In many cases agreed, which doesn't help new photographers who trust in the advice provided, when they are being told their work is good when it possibly might not nbe. But with specialist social media photography groups are they not too dissimilar to a forum like this? I suspect the differentiator is that forums like this provide a why comments are made and suggestions for ways to improve,
 
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#21
A few of the posters above are regulars in the F&C section, I'm interested to know if more planning goes into film shots than digital. Apart from the lack of instant feedback with film there is the very real cost of film processing which might influence how many shots are taken?
I haven't shot a great amount of film, but I think when I do the problem is the opposite, and I have to flog myself into not worrying so much about the cost and hassle of film and just shoot.
 
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#22
Having 36 or less shots to play with per roll (shoot 6x9 medium format and you're down to just 8 per roll) certainly makes me think more about the shot, and that includes 'seeing' a photo and putting myself in the right place to stand a fair chance of getting a good result. I think it's the art of 'seeing' a photo that's the most important skill to acquire, by comparison getting the framing and exposure right is fairly easy to achieve, especially these days with modern in-camera metering systems and large, bright viewfinders.

As for photos, my more recent digital work (which I don't post on the internet) tends to feature something quirky or (mildly) amusing going on, either in the background or as a sum of its parts. This places even more emphasis on me 'seeing' a photo, so my hit rate depends entirely on the opportunity arising, me noticing it, 'seeing' a shot, and managing to capture it in the second or so it's available. Digital makes it easier to do the capturing part, as I can 'take more crap' without it costing me a small fortune, but I find it's more satisfying if I manage to take a shot like that on film. 'Grab shots'? Definitely, but intentional grab shots!

I think taking 'grab shots' with a good hit-rate on a regular basis is just as much of a challenge as hiking up a hillside with a load of kit to get a good landscape photo, so I don't know why anyone should look down on them.
 
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ancient_mariner
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#23
And what's social media but a pack of braying monkeys?
Target market. ;)

A few of the posters above are regulars in the F&C section, I'm interested to know if more planning goes into film shots than digital. Apart from the lack of instant feedback with film there is the very real cost of film processing which might influence how many shots are taken?
I probably try more stuff than I did when using film, knowing the cost of failure would be very small. I think a problem with film could be that shots were over-thought and over-prepared, though some might see that as a good thing.
 
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#24
Having 36 or less shots to play with per roll (shoot 6x9 medium format and you're down to just 8 per roll) certainly makes me think more about the shot ...
This is what has been largely lost these days, with digital. Everyone seems to be both more trigger-happy and more reliant on letting the equipment do much of their thinking - which it can't wholly do.

But embracing the accidental is also a valid approach. I wouldn't rely on it, though.
 
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ancient_mariner
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#25
This is what has been largely lost these days, with digital. Everyone seems to be both more trigger-happy and more reliant on letting the equipment do much of their thinking - which it can't wholly do..
I'm slightly intrigued by this concept. My camera has never taken a single photo on its own, never composed an image for me, never selected a focal length. Yes, it can choose shutter speed and to a limited degree exposure from whatever I point the spot at, and I'll use its focussing aids to help me, but it has very limited input in the image creation process. And surely that's true for the cameras of most users here too?
 
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#26
I sometimes think that moments are lost by over analysis. Sometimes just taking the dammned photo is the best approach.... IMHO of course.
 
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#27
And surely that's true for the cameras of most users here too?
Who mentioned visitors to this site as being the only ones in my remit, Toni? I bet you that the majority of photos taken worldwide these days are taken with full auto focus and exposure ...
 
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#28
Who mentioned visitors to this site as being the only ones in my remit, Toni? I bet you that the majority of photos taken worldwide these days are taken with full auto focus and exposure ...
...with a smartphone.
 
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ancient_mariner
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#31
Who mentioned visitors to this site as being the only ones in my remit, Toni? I bet you that the majority of photos taken worldwide these days are taken with full auto focus and exposure ...
I know you're correct about that majority.

However just to explain why I wrote that, I didn't post this thread for the majority of smartphone users to read, so they're outside of mine. Most of them won't 'start ugly' in order to work up toward a good image either - they'll just take a quick selfie and move on to the next tourist site/restaurant/bar.
 
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#33
I can see that this advice might help some people, however, like all ‘simple’ tips, it’s askikely to be completely the wrong advice as it is to be great advice.

IMHO there are already thousands of photographers constantly shooting ugly, then getting frustrated that their turd polishing skills aren’t as good as other people’s.

OTOH, I don’t get out to shoot enough, this is good advice for me.
 
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#34
I can see that this advice might help some people, however, like all ‘simple’ tips, it’s askikely to be completely the wrong advice as it is to be great advice.

IMHO there are already thousands of photographers constantly shooting ugly, then getting frustrated that their turd polishing skills aren’t as good as other people’s.

OTOH, I don’t get out to shoot enough, this is good advice for me.
One size doesn't fit all? Say not so. ;)
 
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droj
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#35
I can see that this advice might help some people, however, like all ‘simple’ tips, it’s askikely to be completely the wrong advice as it is to be great advice.

IMHO there are already thousands of photographers constantly shooting ugly, then getting frustrated that their turd polishing skills aren’t as good as other people’s.

OTOH, I don’t get out to shoot enough, this is good advice for me.
That's a bit garbled, Phil - unusually for you. Whose post are you responding to?
 
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