In fact, I’m so considerate I’m in a constant process of making mistakes – some of them repeatedly, like a fly battering its dusty hexagonal eyes against a vast open window – so that you can avoid them.
Yes, that’s why I make mistakes. Why, how odd you should ask. Mistakes like these.
1. Thinking Sunset is the best time for photography
Nope. It’s the hour or so before sunset that’s good. So if official sundown is at 6.54pm, I need to be in position at 6pm at the latest… and if that position is actually 40 mins driving and walking away, I need to leave at 5.20pm, before anything actually looks good. Not 6.30pm when I look out of the window and think, “Oh, that’s nice light.” Here’s a picture I took of an actual sunset:
You should have heard the noise when it hit the horizon.
I actually quite like it, to be honest, but only because of the amazing searchlight effect I haven’t seen before. Otherwise it’s just another flat, foreground-less view that looked stunning in real life but dull and familiar in a photograph.
Unless you have some incredibly interesting object (shape) to silhouette against those colours, it’s a waste of time shooting the actual sunset. Here, by contrast, is a shot I took 45 minutes earlier, when it was still light:
Wales is amazing.
Those very high, swirling clouds looked promising for sunset, which is why I headed up to this spot. Sure enough, as the light lowered it lit them – and the vapour trails with which the illuminati/government control our minds/the weather – from underneath. I was lucky they were still there, actually, as they were rapidly blowing away.
This advice is probably true of sunrises as well, but I wouldn’t know because screw getting up.
2. Forgetting Simple pictures work best
Simple, strong lines in the stairs frame the people.
I was looking forward to a family weekend recently because it was a good chance to shoot people. Not shoot them American style – though of course, gun crime is rampant in the UK because nobody’s armed to the perfect white teeth and consequently we’re not safe.
My god, have you any idea how hard it is to be sarcastic about the NRA? Try it for yourself. Be as stupid as you can and you just end up repeating their policies.
Maybe all the ‘good guys with guns’ were in Japan that year?
Obviously pictures like the one above can never be simple enough for a Republican, but when you start shooting pictures of people, things like lighting, composition and timing can very quickly get complicated.
What could be nicer than a lovely mother-daughter picture, for instance?
“Santa won’t give me an assault rifle? Goddam commie bastard.”
Well, it would be nicer if I didn’t capture the daughter giving some poor bystander a stare that would make a Death Star look away, and the mother seemingly midway through an trilogy about mortgage smallprint. But I’m sure I have a future in portraiture.
At least they were both shaded and backlit – I liked the sun on the mum’s hair and shades – and I didn’t have to worry about unflattering early afternoon sunlight on faces, or wildly differing light levels on each face.
Unlike here, though I finagled it in Lightroom.
After practicing her poker face by poking her mum’s glasses right into her face, little Chloe rather sweetly pushed the eyeball back in and gave her a kiss. Who says two year-olds are difficult?
It’s a lot easier taking pictures of adults, of course, as they tend not to wriggle or cry as much unless we’re in the basement. It’s also generally easier to take pictures of males, as they’re less likely to expect you to make their skin look like they’re two. I’m quite good at that sometimes, by the way: Chloe is 46.
The man below is a couple of years older than that and recovering from a serious operation which, having seen his chest, I can only assume was an autopsy.
“And next year I’ll get a new liver put in.”
Both the above shots just about fall into the ‘person does a thing’ category which, although it sounds flippant, isn’t. Active shots tend to work better, be more interesting, than static or posed shots. It doesn’t need to be a wild and crazy thing.
You don’t necessarily need to get the entire person in, either. Just showing the action (the raised glass, the eyeball-pat) can actually be more effective. To do that, you need to think, ‘What’s this picture of? What’s it about?’ If there’s a short answer – a child mutilates her mother; a man raises a toast – you’re probably onto a winner. Compare these to the sunset above, for instance, and for all its wild colours it now looks even duller.
I just need to ask myself what my shots are about more, especially when wondering how to compose one.
This one’s about a tree and some crazy clouds.
3. Remembering Light is everything, but not that you can have too much of it
I keep banging on about this, but then I keep forgetting and trying to take pictures in the wrong light anyway. It’s not that surprising – I tend to go out walking on nice clear, sunny days (I’m such a rebel), but that’s just when the light is at its most boring. To be absolutely fair, I blame my wife 100 percent for this.
For instance, we walked up Pen Y Fan in the heart of the Brecon Beacons recently, and the weather was fantastic. I mean, am I unlucky or what? I hadn’t been before, so I still couldn’t resist at least trying to take some photos. It was early afternoon. Look how dull they are:
Flat colours, no shapes, no atmosphere…
…no interest in the sky.
I should know better; it’s actually easier to get interesting photos at any other time than halfway through a really lovely day. The heavy threat of rain and gloomy cloud cover actually made this shot of an abandoned asylum:
You don’t have to be mad to stay here, but they’ll abuse you anyway.
In fact, I’ve managed better shots than those I took at Pen Y Fan when there’s been absolutely no sunlight whatsoever.
The full moon rises behind the Black Mountains.
Basically, this is a much more interesting shot and I took it at night. I used a tripod and tried various exposures (between six and 195 seconds), but this one worked best for me at 25 seconds. It’s surprisingly easy to blur stars with long exposures – a minute is enough for them to stretch out from single points. I didn’t actually want to do that here.
If you do want to get into full-on star shots (they’re fun), there’s a good tutorial here.
4. Not managing To Be In Wales
Hear it roar.
I previously made the mistake of not living in Wales, but now I’ve fixed that everything is beautiful and nothing hurts. At the very least you should visit Wales or take a holiday here, because so much of it is gorgeous.
It’s not just inspiring for photography – it’s almost like cheating.
“This stick is mine now, boyo. Fuck off.”