« Five Fabulous Folk Songs (OT) | Main | A Daguerreotype Lens for Digital Cameras »

Wednesday, 27 April 2016


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Mike, what else is there to say? This article is just so good and insightful there's nothing to add to, or subtract from it. It's easy to see why it's one of your favourites.

Yeah, they get behind you......and push.

On another note. I have found that when I am shooting for me, every now and then I take a picture that my conscious mind will ask "Why'd you take that?" They usually are the pick of the litter.

Exellent post, Mike! Thank you.

Excellent post, and doesn't feel like 14 years ago.

I'm quite amused by the forced looseness of the digital past compares to the precision of today.

I like loose - never quite knowing what I'll get when looking through a window finder - but have had the odd thought about trying a bit more precision from time to time.

Thing is, work demands precision, so loose is good when I want to just have fun.


My drawing teacher in college pounded "fill the frame" into me. I tended to spend several hours on a tiny section floating in space and call it good. "Never clever" I haven't heard, and it's a tougher achievement, but I think you described it very well. I know in the art world the word clever is equated with the facile and cliche, which to me makes calling someone's work too clever, clever.

Those Luminous Landscape articles are where I discovered your insightful writing.

It was this phrase which struck me the most “Conversely, you may snap a casual, offhand shot without having any real hopes for it‚ and it may turn out to be the best thing you shot that day.”

This happened to me when I was photographing the clearing fog on the lake in front of Mantua a few months ago. I took one throwaway shot into the light before taking a whole series on what I thought was a more interesting angle. Guess what? The throwaway shot was for me the best I took that day and one of my favourites of the year. ( http://nigelvoak.blogspot.it/2015/12/surreal-mantua.html )

The part about exploring the corners also struck a chord.How many pictures are ruined by stuff emerging from the edges?

I don't think I'm brave enough to use blur to direct the viewer to the actual subject, that far off to the edge and that small. However, the theoretical description of doing that sounds perfectly reasonable, and the example photo is certainly not horrible, just a bit startling. And I have kind of old-fashioned prejudices about a lot of things in photography.

It is, at the very least, an idea worth keeping around, to have in the toolkit sometimes. I can't off-hand remember a "great" photo that works that way, but I certainly can't bring myself to claim there isn't one (my own judgment of "great"; beyond that, of course, what's "great" is a matter of personal opinion, or at least of collective opinion over time, and my own opinion does not dominate).

Oh, I do like the idea of "Never Clever". If ever there was a side of the sport prone to agonizing over "developing your style" and "realizing your vision" it must surely be landscape. The Never Clever principle explains how I feel in response - chill out, let the subject speak (especially when it's a nice landscape - who are you to impose artistic fads upon it?).

I was out in Glencoe a couple of saturdays ago. First and last shots were the best - typical, isn't it?

I stumbled across this article years ago, at the perfect moment for my photography. We had just had our first baby and my time for photography was really squeezed. Up until the baby came along, I was mostly a tripod-shooting landscape photog. My compositions were all too clever with no room for a happy accident. With a baby I had to fit in photography were I could. The tripod got permanently parked under the bed and this article gave me permission to loosen up. My photos, even with the new constraints in my life, got better, they were less boring with a new sense of liveliness. Maybe it was just because I had a busy family in the frame, or perhaps my pictures livened up because I wasn't thinking so hard?

Now, as the kids get older, I find myself with a little more time on my hands. Last summer, I had one of those moments of recognition that kind of brought me back around full circle. While flying past a distant thunderstorm, and snapping off photos here and there with no time pressure, I noticed that I wasn't making a full effort to get the best photo. My habits were sloppy, my photography had become too loose. The intensity was leaking out of my frames so I made a conscious effort to slow down again. I'm now ten months into this period of slower photography and it's too soon to tell if it's working. I'm trying to keep the best of the zen approach while also thinking more. I realize that's a total contradiction of zen philosophy, but whatever, it's photography.

I've never been a golfer and only killed one tiny fish in a Wisconsin lake some 55 years ago. But even I can see that you have some thoughtful advice and useful observations in that piece. Excessive self-consciousness can kill spontaneous photography. Unfortunately anyone attempting to follow guidance of any of the few thousand "Become a Better Photographer" books, or attempting to obey complex compositional rules on-the-fly is doomed.

I don't recite anything to myself as I shoot. (Although years back when commissioned to shoot a very important once-only scene I do vividly remember whispering to myself "Don't f__k up." over and over.). My own general trick, if it can be called so, is simple: I look at the image on the lcd or the viewfinder as if it's already been captured. This forces me to pre-critique the frame, to look at it from corner to corner, to judge where relationships don't work toward my objective. This may sound odd but I've long found that making images in this momentary past-tense mode helps keep me tuned to the image rather than playing photographer.

'Never Clever' could also mean 'just because you can, doesn't mean you should.' I'm thinking HDR, softfocus vignettes, spot colour - all those things people discover when they first start exploring Photoshop.

I have much better luck with photography than with fishing. At least there's something to look at, at the end of the day.

Oh how I envy those who regularly catch fish!

Very nice.

I don't think any generalizations about photography as a practice are true. Counterexample: Gregory Crewdson, Jeff Wall, Cindy Sherman, much of Bill Brandt, Irving Penn, the Bechers....

On a pedantic note: "fill the frame" doesn't really reflect the Zen aesthetic. They tend to be nuts for negative space, which is sort of what zazen is anyway.

A "light bulb" moment came for me when I read something Ansel Adams wrote in one of his books. He was traveling through the South West I think when he wrote, "I saw many beautiful things that day but none that would make a good photograph". When I read that it hit me like a brick. I realized just because a scene is beautiful or interesting does not mean it will make a good photograph. From that moment on I became much better at identifying "non" photographs and constantly repeat his words when I'm out shooting.

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007