Tips for Creative Photography

If there’s a term I particularly despise, it is the “tip”; in 3 letters it makes a promise it cannot keep and belittles the photographic process into the bargain.

It is particularly repugnant when it appears in forms such as “tips for creative landscape photography: HDR”. Consider that example, and substitute the last term with any other technique that you can name – intentional camera movement (aka ICM), “use a tripod”, “use an ND filter”, “focus-stack”, “use a circular polariser filter”… what they all have in common is the tail wagging the dog, a not-entirely-latent suggestion that if you just do this one little thing, you’ll necessarily get better photos as a result. 

Not so; of course, even if the technique were used appropriately, the results are either demonstration shots, or following in the footsteps of convention.

One dictionary defines “creative” as “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc”.

If a tip is something one applies to the camera in search of a panacea, creativity is what one applies from one’s head in order to bring something new to the light-table. There is a progression from “a photo of” to “a photo where” and thence to “a photo that tells a story” – yet one can still pretend to make such on any street corner. Rather, I suggest it arises from concepts as a motivational force – an idea that you so desire to represent that you go out and make it happen with whatever techniques and equipment it takes.


I wanted to make a photo to illustrate the timescales at which things happen. That means an extreme shutter-speed, motion either obviously frozen or obviously prolonged, relative to the subjects at hand. Daffodils, shrubs and trees would blow around in the wind; with any luck, a sufficiently long exposure would capture some motion in the clouds; the Parish Church isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

So, a long exposure was chosen – over a minute – with welding glass and rubber bands – that requires the tripod. Even at its widest 18mm focal length, the kit lens only just got the width of the church in the scene, so I shot 8 photos working my way from bottom to top – that’s a vertorama, giving a massive field of view and playing with perspective distortion. As I panned up, taking exposures over a minute long, the sunlight illuminating the scene varied and obviously the sky was brighter, so I varied the exposure (both shutter time and the aperture) to avoid blowing highlights in the clouds – and that’s HDR. I wanted reasonable local contrast, both in the stonework and, critically, in the sky – that’s tonemapping. And I wanted a vintage feel – that’s black & white with warm toning.

But it’s not that I have “an HDR vertorama” to show – hopefully, what I have is a scene in which three subjects are portrayed operating at different speeds. That’s what matters.

Today, anyway.

Old is the new… old, really

Time for a bit of a rant, geek-style.

For about 15 months I’ve used a Samsung Galaxy Note as mobile phone of choice. And truth be told, I’ve hated all bar the first 10 minutes of it. The lack of RAM has made me reconsider what apps I use, favouring Seesmic for combined Facebook+Twitter over separate apps; it still makes it horrendously slow for running anything interactive – as an example, by the time I’d got the thing unlocked and fired-up HDR Camera+, a rainbow had entirely gone! Spontaneity, we do not have it.

What they don’t tell you is that the leverage available when coupling these large screens with tiny thin USB connectors is a recipe for disaster. I’ve bent the pins on more cables than I care to think, trying to wiggle the thing for optimum solid connectivity; just before Christmas last year it finally died and the internal USB connector broke, requiring a repair under warranty – the first time I’ve ever had to send back a phone to be fixed.

Anyway, yesterday evening it threw a hissy-fit and spontaneously discharged the battery all the way down to empty, despite being plugged in (and, given that the wiggly-connector issues seemed to be returning, I made doubly sure that the power icon said charging). I recharged the battery overnight with the phone turned off, and yet this morning it still refused to boot up. It did something like this a while ago, and leaving it overnight was sufficient to reset itself; today, it’s had all day and still isn’t powering on any more.

So this morning I dug out my old HTC Hero, the first Android phone I ever used, and flashed it with CyanogenMod and updated the radio package. After a bit lot of faffing around, hunting and installing SSL root CA certificates to allow it to talk to Google and rebooting, I’m now powered by a custom ROM and sufficiently uptodate that Google Talk has been replaced by Hangouts. Yay, geek-cred!

The Samsung problem might be as simple as a dead battery; however, after the Christmas fiasco I really can’t be bothered trying to fix it any more and will look forward to getting something better later in the year.

Unfortunately it means a few changes on this blog; the camera is down from 8 megapixels to 5MPel and I won’t be shooting with HDR Camera+ or processing images on the phone with Aviary any more. Still, it does work for capturing the odd image and I can achieve some suitably strange processing effects on the notebook with darktable if I want.

Meanwhile I’m back getting my communication and maps on the go again. And the Hero is living up to its name.