Blog

The language of motion

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First of all, let me apologize for not having written in quite a while. I have a good excuse, though: I am about to move out of the UK and back to Denmark, after 6 months in the British Isles.

Something absolutely wonderful happened last week. I think it is fair to say that it completely changed my approach to storytelling and doubled (at least) my creative perspectives. In one word, I discovered video.

As a still photographer at heart, I always disregarded video as some lower form of art, and though there are a few climbing videographers I really admire (Renan Ozturk and Cedar Wright among others), it had never really registered that I could create proper films too. My D90 was the first DSLR camera with video capabilities, but it had so many limitations and was so automated that I never used it for more than the occasional snap.

All this changed when I attended the Adventure Film Academy Classic in Kendal last week. Over three packed days, Deirdre Mulcahy from the BBC and Paul Diffley from Hot Aches taught a small group of us how to use cameras and editing software properly, but more importantly how to tell a story.

Though it was nice to finally get a good grasp on the technical side of thing, especially since we used broadcast quality equipment (the Sony Z1, radio mikes, video tripods and Final Cut Pro) which didn’t require constant workarounds, the main reason that I came back so enthusiastic was because I had finally understood (or rather begun to understand) the differences with still photography, and how to express not only ideas but also feelings – exactly what I am already doing with photography.

The other part of AFA was even better: we had 48h to direct and edit a short film (2 minutes) on something adventure related. I teamed up with Matt Parkes (from Jagged Globe) and after some discussion, we decided on a quite ambitious and slightly crazy plan: a night walk (it was initially to be a night climb, but talent could not be found in time). We also picked Scafell Pike, the highest peak of England, simply because many people do climb it in the dark as part of the popular 3 peaks challenge.

In the end, we spent 30h without sleeping (including a heroic 4 hours of driving by Matt), 1000m of vertical gain with all sorts of camera equipment, the moon on which we counted a lot was hidden in clouds the whole time and the glorious sunrise we were hoping for (and that the weather forecast had promised) was hidden in a whiteout. Despite these adverse conditions, we still had good fun and managed to bring back some decent footage. Editing it all in just 9h was also quite a challenge, though we received amazing help from all the teachers at AFA, and Mark Melville did a wonderful job of composing music for us.

The final movie won the informal competition held between the three teams who participated in the 48h marathon and will also be shown at the Kendal Mountain Festival (as well as potentially on the BBC). Here it is, in all its HD glory (of course, feedback would be very welcome).

One hundred minutes of solitude from Alexandre Buisse on Vimeo.

This is just a beginning. I have just bought a HD camera (the Panasonic GH1) and am looking forward to making short films about so many different things… Stay tuned!

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Blog

Blog readability

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Since the launch of this blog a couple of weeks ago, I have received several complaints about readability and typography. I have made a few changes in hope of improving things, and I think the articles and comments read better now, but please do let me know if you still have any problems, or if you believe things could be better.

You might also have noticed a few changes on the website: the news section disappeared, since it is more or less covered by the blog in a more personal way, the cover image changed again, and the Prints page was moved to the top level since it seemed many people didn’t find it. Here too, suggestions are very welcome!

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Blog

Get rid of the photographer’s blank page

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Have you ever taken a walk with your camera, in a foreign city or a nice patch of woods, intent on finding some good images, but nothing looks really that greats and you can’t seem to get the creative juice flowing. After a while, you just shut off, put the lens cap on and gloomily head back home. Yeah, I thought so.

It used to happen to me with alarming frequency, and it sometime made me feel like the only way I could obtain half-decent photographs was to stand next to a landscape so jaw-droppingly beautiful that pointing my camera in the general direction of the scene would be all that was really required (thankfully, mountains often provide such landscapes).

But it doesn’t have to be, of course. Many, if not most great photographs have been created when the photographer’s unique vision transformed what might have looked like an average scene into a beautiful and moving work of art.

The question is how to get into this wonderful creative mood that challenges and pushes you to create great images even in uninspiring places? Fortunately, there is one tool which I have found very useful in the past: shutter warm up.

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The idea is simple: start your walk by taking a few dozen bad pictures. You should of course not randomly aim the camera and take a high speed burst, but instead go through the usual “looking for a photo” process but, when you reach the stage where you have found a potential subject, evaluated it and decided that it would be too poor, take the photo anyway. Sure, they will most likely be crap, but it doesn’t really matter. You can even delete them if you want, though I would advocate keeping them on the card until you have a chance to review them at home. You never know.

The point here is double: on one hand, it puts you in a productive mood. You are making images, even if not very good ones. Now you can stop worrying about not producing anything, and start worrying about the much more important task of producing better images. The second use is to tell your inner editor to shut the hell up and let you work in peace. Most artists are perfectionists, and it often gets in the way of the creative process, especially at its beginning (the infamous “blank page” feared by all writers). Nobody expects you to output the perfect photograph on your first try, or even on your second or third, and the only way to learn is to produce thousands of poor to average images. What shutter warm up does is tell your subconscious that it is ok to create photos that aren’t that great. And by cutting yourself some slack, you will get more freedom, more experience, and ultimately more fun.

Here is an illustration from my recent trip to the Bretagne region of France. None of these images has been processed, and I normally wouldn’t show any of them, but here goes anyway.

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The first image of the day. Nothing much is going on, composition and light are both poor. This could be deleted without an afterthought, but at least it got me started!

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With a crop and some post-processing, it might look half-ok, but it is still not very good at all. At least it has a proper subject, though.

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I saw the girl walking next to the attractive logs, but didn’t have time to compose properly, and had a wrong point of view. I still took the shot, even though I knew it would be crap (and it is).

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A bit more thought went into composing this one. It’s still far from a good image, but it was better than anything I had produced so far.

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Hah, getting somewhere. It needs some work in post, but at least this image has a soul and a story. Still not an award winner by any stretch of the imagination, but the image standard is getting much higher.

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When I got to the infamous Mont Saint-Michel a couple of hours but few photos later (I was too busy eating marinated mussels and chips), I felt a bit depressed as I was afraid of not being able to step out of the standard postcard view. I however felt confident enough to start experimenting right away and got this image that I quite like, with interesting light and story.

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Finally, one of the many semi-abstracts I took from (instead of of) Mont Saint-Michel. I had lots of fun experimenting with all sorts of ideas, and some of them turned out to work fairly well. I have no doubts that the crappy images from the morning played a big role in pushing myself to take these!

Just give shutter warm up a try next time you go for a photo walk. You might be surprised of how efficient it is at getting your creative juices flowing!

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Blog

Special offer on prints

As you may know, I have been spending the last few months in London (well, most of the weekdays, at least), but my stay in Britain has almost reached its end, and I will be moving back to Copenhagen at the end of the month. I also spent last weekend exhibiting at Cliffhanger and sold some prints. However, I have quite a few left, and since it would be a pain to bring them back to Denmark, I am trying to sell them quickly. So, behold the following great offers, on which I am (sadly) making almost no profit.

I have four different posters of A2 size (42x59cm or 16x23in), on 200gsm matte paper:

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They are for sale at 10£ (12€/15$) each, or 35£ for all four. This does not include shipping cost (or I would be making a loss!) but it won’t be more than a couple of pounds to send it anywhere reasonable. I can sign the prints if you desire.

I also have the gorgeous A2 canvas print of Chopicalqui which was exhibited in several festivals, and which could be yours for 90£ (again, without postage).

This offer will expire at the end of the month, or when my stocks run out, so please hurry! Just leave a comment or send me an email if you are interested.

Update: The canvas print is now sold. I still have some posters left.

Update #2: I am now back in Denmark, so the offer has expired, but I still have some posters left. Contact me for pricing information.

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Articles

The one thing that will really make you a better photographer

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Well, I was certain to get your full attention with this title, wasn’t I! We are always looking for the magic bullet that will suddenly turn us into the lovechild of Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson and, when we find things to be a bit more complicated, we turn to our secret weapon: our wallet. Surely with the latest 2.8 zoom, or if we switch to a full frame camera, then our images will get better. Right?

Well, things don’t quite work this way, and deep down, we all know the truth: there is no magic bullet. We can’t buy our way into being a good photographer any more than we can buy our way into becoming a good writer. Talent might give you a head start, but in the end, the only way to become any good at creating images is, like for everything else, to practice it a lot. Nothing can replace hard work and shooting tens of thousands of frames, day in and day out. As brilliant as HCB, Adams, Weston and any of your photographic heroes might have been, they have worked very hard to become as good as they were, and they shot a lot of crap to get there, just as everybody else.

At this point, you might simply shrug, thinking that there is nothing new here and you would be right to find the title of this post misleading. Indeed, just accepting the reality and saying “I need to work hard” is great, but it isn’t of very concrete help.

But I didn’t lie: there is a thing, simple and relatively easy, that you can start doing right now and that is guaranteed to make you a much better photographer than any amount of money you could spend on gear or even workshops. I was lucky enough to discover it by chance when I started getting serious about photography, and I have no doubt that it was the main factor in making me reach where I am today (wherever that is).

Ok, enough waiting, here it is: get your photos out there. But even more: publish at least one new picture every day, no matter how crappy, no matter how tired you are, no matter that no one except two friends and your mom ever look at them.

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The “daily” part is crucial. There are plenty of people with photoblogs who publish once in a while when they feel that they have a good image, but that is not enough. You should force yourself to go dig in your archives and find that hidden gem, or simply that decent image you had forgotten about. That will make you a better critic, force you to go through the editing process, find out what works and what doesn’t in your images. It will also force you to go out and shoot when your archives have really run dry.

It is not a significant time investment – usually no more than 10 minutes a day, though it can be done even faster when in a hurry, or several hours can be spent on a single image. But this time adds up quickly and, over the years, amounts to a lot. One image a day, minus a few missed days every now and then, is about 350 photos a year. That’s significant. To get that amount of decent pictures, you will need to shoot more, a lot more. Several thousands frames at the very least. And that, quite simply, is mileage, the holy grail of any trade.

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There are other advantages, too. You are getting your work out there for the whole world to see. Initially, the world probably won’t care very much, but if everyday you keep cranking out pictures of better and better standards, you will soon acquire an audience which can give you very important feedback. You can start learning that most elusive quality of being able to handle rejection, and the very regularity of your schedule means that you will be able to go through the inevitable low phases of creativity, where you hate yourself and everything you produce, better than most.

Finally, this will give you a presence on the internet, a way to be known (or even to become internet-famous if you are lucky), a way for people to easily find your photos in a single place. It is always very interesting to see how style and subject evolve over the years, and this is extremely easy to do by simply browsing the archives.

As I said, you can get started today. There are plenty of photoblog applications out there, or you could even use your wordpress or flickr account. The best way to do it, though, would probably be to use pixelpost on a dedicated server, as this will give you the most power and flexibility.

You can also take a look at my own photoblog, Aperture First, which recently got its 1000th image posted. I am sure you won’t have to dig very deep to find some mediocre images, but I hope that its evolution over the years also shows that dedication pays off.

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You really want to become a better photographer? Stop reading that gear review, and start posting new images online!

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