Who are you shooting images for?

January 25, 2017  •  2 Comments

It has been a while since I wrote a blog. My apologies - I've been very busy generating video content for my You Tube channel and that has taken precedent over actually writing. But i decided to get back to it today because of an interesting experience I had and I wanted to share some thoughts on that...

Second apology...this is not intended to be a rant...

I am a member of a photography club. A very young club, but an excellent one. We have been in existence just one year and it has been a very fulfilling experience for many reasons; having great excuses to get out more the camera, meeting new people from all backgrounds, sharing a passion, but most of all exchanging experiences of camera craft whatever your level.

The last point is something I am passionate about. I am very self aware about my strengths and weaknesses as a photographer. And I don't always play to my strengths, I often (probably over) focus on my weaknesses. One of those weaknesses is that creativity does not come naturally to me. Every individual has a personality type - if you have every done a Myers-Briggs test, then you will know that people have different ways of seeing the world. Some will see things factually and logically. Others will see things emotionally or with a higher degree of sensing. I am someone that sees things logically or factually. I can't help it, it is the way I am wired. How does this translate to my photography? I tend to be a technical shooter. I know my camera. And that is a good thing, because I advocate that if you know your camera you have a much higher chance of being able to apply it in certain photographic situations that increase creativity. If you don't know your camera then you are more likely to be limited in the type and style of photography you can achieve. 

The winter months in Europe can be barren periods for wildlife photographers. Animals go into survival mode and many in to hibernation. It is still important to get out with the camera thought, even with colder and more harsh conditions which may make you want to stay at home in the warm. This week we had a snow storm. I decided to go to a small local lake that I was told had frozen over. This lake I know has a small population of waterfowl; geese, ducks, coots and on occasion the odd heron. 

A heron looks on as one of the skittish gulls lands around the frozen waterhole.

When I arrived there was a large flock of black headed gulls. Not the most photogenic bird. I spent sometime watching them. What I observed was the odd fight over food, space at the waterhole to get a drink and the occasional flight. When a dog water came past, the gulls flew up, circled and landed. The perfect opportunity to practice some birds in flight images. 

A gull tilts its head back to swallow some water after drinking. More deliberate slow shutter speeds to create a sense of movement.

So I decided to start playing with slow shutter speeds and intentional camera movement. I have >50,000 bird photos from last year, and thousands of photos of gulls. The lake is an artificial one, and surrounded by a nice woodland, but it isn't the most natural or pretty place to take wildlife photos. But I have to work with what I've got. So with this in mind, I decided to push my creative boundaries.

I started taking my images, and what was great is after the first few bursts I started to not think about what I was doing and just have fun. I was getting shots which looked like nothing I've done before and this I felt was liberating. 

Fast shutter speed - flying gulls in a snow storm.

Back to the club...one of the most frequent questions I am getting is "what settings do I use for a slow shutter speed pan?". The issue with this question is it isn't just a question of dialling in settings. You have to be comfortable shooting in Aperture Priority mode, and ideally set up back button focus. These two things are a prerequisite to slow panning shots, along with lots of practice. As I get this question a lot, I decided to share some images on the clubs Facebook page to show examples of fast shutter speed pans and slow shutter speed pans.

 Getting creative with slow shutter speed pans. 

I then posted a very creative abstract image. When I posted it, I made a very specific note saying "this is a creative abstract image". Quiet a few members like the image and a few asked how I managed to take it (that is the objective, stimulate curiosity and create exchange).

Creative abstract - just enough blur, able to see the detail in the trees, winter colours and snow and the birds flying as ghosts.

One member made a comment that they didn't like it. Which I respect. But I did remind them it was a creative abstract and not everyone will like creative abstracts. I get that completely. Remember my point about how different people see the world earlier in this blog? It is exactly that. Subjectivity. I showed my wife the image. She hates it. She doesn't like anything I do that is a slow shutter speed motion blur!

However when I made this reply, that abstracts will never please everyone, that club member, for some reason wasn't happy and said "I see, you either like it, or say nothing, I will refrain from making any non positive comments in the future". Oh dear. They are missing the point. Big style. Here was my reply:

  • Everyone has the right to like or not like a photo - they also have the right to say so.
  • It wasn't my intention when I took these series of photos to get proof shots. I went out intentionally to create imagery. And I wasn't afraid to potentially fail. If I had come home with bog standard shots of gulls that would have been nothing more than a waste of hard drive space.
  • I do not care if people like or dislike my photos. If people like them great, I feel happy. But I don't share for likes. I share to hopefully inspire others to make their own photographic journey. If people don't like some of my images it is to be expected...but the day I start shooting images in order to conform to what people are preconditioned to thinking is a good image, THIS is the day I will stop photography.

This got me thinking. Who do you shoot images for? 

If you are going out with your camera trying to make images because they conform to the pressure of the social media "like", or what others say makes a "good image" - then there is something wrong with your photography. Worse, you just won't grow as a photographer. I'd rather make a ton of mistakes, as I did this week shooting black headed gulls with the hope I might get the odd image that stands out from the crowd, looks and feels different and begs the question from the viewer, how did you photograph that? I wanted to take a common and ordinary subject look extra-ordinary, different. 

That is a far more enriching process photographically than another proof shot of a gull, or any other subject. The bottom line: shoot for yourself, have fun, enjoy the process. And if you are in the business of giving feedback, keep it constructive and play nice. It makes the photographic community better for everyone.

Peace & light



Oscar Fernandez(non-registered)
Absolutely brilliant photography jon. I appreciate all of these. Thanks
Sylvie D(non-registered)
Dear Jon
I really love your abstract gull pictures ! I find them so beautiful , congrats !
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