Having faith in our creative abilities and ignoring the algorithms

I’d like to think that a lot of my photography is achieved through planning and vision.

However, I know this is not the case.

When I look at the thousands of photos I have taken over the years, it is clear that many elements play their part in my photography.

Planning is only a small part of my work. And I think, rightly so.

If I am shooting studio portraits or landscapes then I will be sure to plan. This is because I want to ensure I have the right equipment, the right elements in place to ensure that I get the photos I or my clients are expecting.

I would like to say that I plan with my street photography and my travel photography. Well, I do with regards to landscapes but in the main, I do not plan these at all.

The one thing that enables me to take great photos is instinct, motivation and a creative eye.

That all sounds rather high brow and pretentious but it’s not meant to. When I am visiting somewhere, when I am observing people, inspiration and luck form a large part of the photo I am about capture.

I have to be able to see in my mind what I want to capture and then be able to translate that to the camera to acquire the final image.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not. Sometimes it turns out better than I could have expected.

There is plenty of articles out there telling you to learn your tools and your craft (whatever the craft is). This is very true of photography.

If I happen on a subject when I don’t have my camera, I have to translate how I would acquire the shot with my phone.

When I have my camera I have to consider which camera, which lens, what settings I have at my disposal.

For the most part, the standards, the aperture, the composition, the shutter speed are things that I have tuned myself to learn and manage quickly.

Some cameras make it easier than others and some times you are restricted by the equipment you have (or the film you have loaded). Film is an interesting element to put in the mix and one that can determine the type of shot I want or can take.

This is one of the reasons why I like shooting film and digital. Digital gives me flexibility but it can, when I want it to, also restrict or focus my attention.

Each film, format and camera have very different nuances and these can inform or dictate what the final result is. Throw in developing, lighting and the film speed and it can feel like a rollercoaster ride of joy (when the photos are great) or sorrow (when you realise you have not allowed for the light, the shutter speed or the film).

Why’s all of this important? Well, I think it helps to test, to learn and to keep practising.

I recently engaged in a conversation online where I stated I had lost enthusiasm for photography, feeling I was shooting the same thing over and over due to lockdown.

It may have felt like that mentally when I commented online but when I consider the digital photos of the winter, the analogue photos I capture in the snow and the phone shots I took on a whim, I certainly didn’t seem to be lacking enthusiasm.

The weather has perked up here and I took the X100V out on my walk. The weather alone didn’t make me want to take lots of photos of the same subjects, it did however let me see things differently.

I saw things differently on the same day with the same camera.

Let me explain…

This morning was bright and crisp. Tilly was in her bed and the light was catching her fur, casting a harsh shadow and bright spots. I grabbed my camera, switched to one of my Black and White film settings and shot several photos.

My cat Tilly lays in her box, basking in the sun.  Licking her face as she cleans herself
That Magic Moment. Fujifilm X100V

This enabled me to capture this candid photo of Tilly cleaning herself. Possibly a mundane moment brought to life by the composition, the choice of shutter speed and the decision to shoot in black and white.

Move on 2 hours or so and I went for a walk. I took the same camera and switched it to colour.

I thought I might catch some glimpses of spring emerging, I did (thanks to the bulbs I planted last year) but the other photos surprised me the most.

My spring bulbs have started to bloom
Spring bulbs. Fujifilm X100V

During one morning this week, I managed to capture this lady walking her dog as the sun came up over Colchester.

A lady walks her dog as the sun comes up
Morning Walkies. Fujifilm X100V

Today, in the same spot (later in the day), I noticed the shadows formed by the sun shining through the railings of the allotments. I switched the camera to black and white to emphasis the light and shadow and shot this.

The shadows of the allotment railings paint a pattern on the pathway in the park
Light and Shadow. Fujifilm X100V

Two very different pictures, dictated by light, time and inspiration.

Not dictated by my tools but helped by them.

During the same walk, I headed over to the station and had a walk around the empty car park. You might not think this would be very inspiring however there was a solitary car parked at the top level of the car park and inside was a father and his young son. The son was excited to be there observing the few trains that currently leave the station for London.

I smiled, and walked down the ramp back to the park and noticed a builders hut. In the bright sun, the doors of the hut caught my attention and I took this shot.

A bright green pair of doors are closed against a white metal hut
Hut. Fujifilm X100V

I wanted to write this article as I think it is important to pause, take stock and allow myself to realise that I doubt my abilities. I am sure I am not the only one.

I look at work other people have produced in the same spot or situation and always think they did something much better than me.

I often judge my work based on what I could have done or should have done rather than what I achieved.

Annoyingly I have come to realise that I judge my work based on others.

I forget that the photos others share are probably one of thousands. Them also trying to get the best shot possible and ensuring that we only see the cream of the crop.

Worst than this, I judge my work based on algorithms. So many of my photos have a relatively low number of likes compared to others, but when you take a step back you realise, the algorithms don’t reward creativity. They reward similarities. They promote work that they know will engage those hooked by herd mentality and gain more revenue.

Social media, photography web sites and some “competitions” don’t care about you or your creativity. They care about money. They care about data.

I think Instagram specifically doesn’t help promote photographers or individual work at all, the platform is focussed on sales and emotions. I think this sums it up nicely.

I have decided to reduce the time I spend on Instagram, locking the app to a maximum of 30 minutes a day. Just enough to post one post, answer messages and view the work of those I like and admire. Enabling me not to be swayed, confused, disappointed or influenced by the content. This does not help my creativity. Or yours.

At the end of the day whatever the seasons, whatever the situation, if you have an interest in something, find some way to engage with that. It may be hard to mentally find the enthusiasm and you may not be able to achieve exactly what you wanted but you tried.

Don’t be influenced by the masses and edit out the self-criticism if you feel you are not as good as the algorithms suggest.

Whether you’re taking a photograph, painting a picture, learning to knit or cooking a new dish – these moments of inspiration and delight come because you tried.

Try. It won’t hurt you and you’ll be glad you did. I know I am.

Seems I’m not the only one thinking about this subject. Since writing this article I found this piece on FujiLove – Is Social Media Killing Your Photography? This is in a similar vein to what to wrote above. If you enjoyed my article, I recommend having a read.

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