‘Postcards’ and the aspiration to create beautiful images

One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is the aspiration that people have to make beautiful images, coupled with a complete lack of realism about how to go about doing that, or more specifically, when to go about doing that.

There is absolutely no need to have a really expensive camera to be able to make spectacular images.  This photograph of Stirling train station was taken using a cheap 4 (or 5?) year-old 4.1 megapixel point-and-shoot no-brand digital camera with dodgy red-rendition.

Stirling train station

Stirling train station

I love it.  It’s not the greatest image ever, but for me it communicates a city’s winter evening: magical skies over a new and interesting piece of architecture (the bridge, although lit up, was not yet open).  I was in the right place at the right time, and just happened to have a camera to hand (actually, that’s meant to be funny: I rarely even go to the supermarket without a camera of some kind in my pocket/bag, even if it’s a Fuji single-use camera!).

Wherever we go, whether to a secluded spot or to a warehouse store, there are interesting things to photograph.  But the time of day is crucial.  Here is an image from my recent trip to the Lake of Menteith, where I went with my colleague Antonio to photograph the dawn:

Lake of Menteith

Lake of Menteith

And here is pretty much the same scene an hour later:

Lake of Menteith

Lake of Menteith

Although the framing is different, the dramatic changes in light and colour are all nature’s doing – I have done almost nothing to these images in Photoshop.  If I had tried to make such dramatic changes on the computer, the resulting images would undoubtedly look AWFUL (incidentally, both of these images are also available to buy as prints on my RedBubble page; it’s also interesting to see which of these two generates more comments from the RB community!).

After making these images, I went to the Lake of Menteith hotel (just to the left of the church) for a departmental staff awayday.  Colleagues were amazed at the photographs Antonio and I showed them, even on the rubbish little screens on our cameras, and several people said things like ‘those photos look like postcards!  My pictures never turn out like that!’  The main reason for that, of course, is that most people don’t get up at a sensible time in order to see this light in the first place!  Joe Cornish, Bruce Percy, Martin Guppy and all the other greats don’t stay in bed until 8:30, stagger down to their hotel breakfast at 9:30, look blearily out of the window and finally get themselves out the door at 11h to wander round to the jetty for 11:30… and then see bland, washed-out midday skies.  They do exactly what Antonio and I did: get up at 5:15, arrive on location at 7:15 (almost half-an-hour before dawn, and in fact a bit later than I would have liked), capture the rising sun and the magical light – and then go to the hotel for breakfast and lots of hot coffee to warm up just after 9h!

All that a bigger/better camera does is help to ease the process of making photographs, but even using a cheap digital point-and-shoot would allow some amazing images to be made… if you can be bothered to get out of bed in time to see the fantastic morning light!

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