Stop Taking the Same Images Over and Over

Ever found that you have started taking the same image over and over? A particular type of composition that you find particularly pleasing – so you start to see it everywhere. And photograph it over and over.

I found late in 2013 that I was losing my photography spirit. I had reduced the number of outings I would go on, and started to be less and less satisfied with the results. There was little purpose in what I was doing. Without purpose, activities become meaningless.

I stopped shooting for a couple of weeks and reflected on what had happened.

Something had to change.

I decided to start work on another exhibition – but to do so in a more purposeful way. I have to thank Eric Kim’s fantastic website for the inspiration here. Check it out here. I made a list of things I needed to do.

Set a Goal

Chapter One from every self help book ever written. Still, no matter how obvious it is, I had forgotten this. I had no reason to shoot, apart from keeping my flickr stream active. Funny thing is, I have never been a “like” hunter. I was mainly on flickr for the communities – which they have successfully destroyed in the pursuit of becoming Instagram.

I decided to start working towards an ambitious exhibition – either solo or at most with one or two other photographers. In the end, I decided to work with another Melbourne photographer who (along with his wife) are both a source of inspiration to me, and has really helped my creative development over the years.

Once I had set the bar high by having a lot of exhibition space to fill, things started to fall into place.

Develop a Routine

My personal interests can be somewhat disorganised compared to what happens in my work life. I needed to get into a routine to make sure I was going to have enough images to shortlist from. A routine developed – Catch the train every Saturday morning into the CBD and shoot at least a few rolls, return, develop, scan, and then upload to lightroom.

I developed a disciplined filing system – for the first time ever – for both the negatives and how they were stored in Lightroom. Every negative went into sleeves and into folders, with each roll tagged in lightroom. It felt great to finally do this after years of just chucking the negatives. Doing low res scans as a first pass sped things up. They are fine for viewing on screen and printing at the local photo kiosk.

Discipline and routine have resulted in being able to shoot 163 rolls since November, a mix of 35mm and 120mm, all in black and white. The current shortlist is now down to 123 images. And shrinking. Once I have the final images, finding the negatives will be easy with my filing system.

Delay Gratification

Delay and patience are two tools I have learned to leverage. The one piece of constructive criticism that I have received over the years is that I am a better at photographing images than I am at curating them. Kim recommends to stop posting images on Facebook, Flickr etc for a year. I have not really posted much of my work since November 2013 apart from the occasional competition image to support Melbourne Silver Mine.

Delay has helped in two areas of shortlisting and curation. Firstly, once scanned and uploaded to Lightroom I go through two or three cull sessions for each group of images over two weeks. Referring back to them on multiple occasions has been valuable in developing an understanding of which images have depth and interest. If an image holds my interest and avoids being deleted over three viewings, it is probably an OK image.

I have been going back over the images on a quarterly basis and curating the “possible” pool. Going back over images time and time again has been quite a revelation for me, helping me curate with dispassionate ruthlessness. Letting time lapse between each review overcomes the natural tendency I have to over-rate images.

Not posting anything to social media or photography has stopped the tension created by the cycle of shooting, scanning, and quickly editing to get something up for people to look at. I have time to review all images critically on multiple occasions. It still creates tension – creative tension around making sure only my best images are going to be seen by the public.

Forced Choice

Whilst I don’t have a specific target for culling, I approach the decisions aggressively. I like to get each roll down to four to six images tops. Many rolls have ended up as empty folders in Lightroom. If I find that I have more than four or so images resulting from a roll, I know I need to go harder.

Limit the Variables.

Kim recommends just shooting with a single camera and lens for an extended period, to try and give consistency and focus on a particular focal length. I like shooting on different cameras, so this didn’t really roll for me. The thought did resonate with me though. I decided that when I walked out the door each time, I would only take a single lens, or two tops. Keeping it simple helped keep me looking for image opportunities rather than twiddling around with the lenses in my bag.

The one area I have absolutely limited is film selection. I had a few hundred rolls in my film fridge, a quite broad selection of everything across C41, E6, BW, BWC41, and infrared. All different speeds. Here are a few of the “for sale” pics.

The paradox of choice was working against me here. Everytime I wanted to go out and shoot, I had to make a film selection from some of the above. Just making the choice was already draining the energy out of me before I even got to pack my bag. Sometimes the more choice you have makes it harder to make a decision – and the fear of taking the wrong film out often led to me taking multiple types of film and speed. I was wasting headspace on complex film decisions.

The first variable I limited was type of film. Being red-green colour blind results in me being a bit iffy reoutching colour film scans. So, I made the call. From this point onwards I was not going to shoot any colour at any time. I sold all the film that was clogging up my fridge and my mind. It instantly felt liberated. I have not shot colour since November 2013, except for some digital stuff – family, kids etc.

The next variable was ISO. I shot some 100 and 400 speed, and scanned it up. All the ISO400 images looked fine, so I decided to shoot it exclusively.

The final variable was brand. I shot some 400 Tri-X, Agfa APX, Fomapan, and Ilford HP5. I love 24 frame rolls as they are much easier to process at home – they are short enough that the end doesn’t hit the floor when I squeegee them. The Agfa only comes in 36 frame rolls, and only in 35mm. The Tri-x and HP5 both come in 120 and 35mm formats, and both brands have 35mm in both 36 and 24 rolls.

The Agfa is a great film, and Tri-x is a legend. The Fomapan went OK too. I decided to go with the Ilford HP5 for a number of reasons. They have a great range of matching developing chemicals available, and appear to be in film for the long haul. I couldn’t detect any discernable difference in the quality between the Tri-x and HP5, so the decision came down to which company I wanted to support with my cash. Ilford are a film and photography company – Kodak don’t seem to know what they are.

Kodak keep deleting films and just seem to be milking us for as long as they can make a buck. They do not appear to be investing anything into film. They will keep making film for as long as it suits them. I can’t remember the last time Ilford deleted a film? I love those guys. They are keeping the dream alive in a positive way. When I was trying to learn how to develop film at home, their website had up to date information and guides.

95% of what I shoot now is Ilford HP5 iso400, developed in Ilford chemicals.

Print Real Photos as Part of the Process

Analogue photography is a throwback to the past, but one I have come to love. You would think that someone who spends so much time developing and scanning film would naturally love prints. Photographs should end up as a print, rather than just living on a computer screen.

The final step in curating images for me is now getting cheap 6 x 4 prints at Officeworks and laying them out on the floor. Prints make it much easier to see which are working and which are not. The prints are only a few cents each, and printing them brings them to life.

R0004087c

I have now completed shooting for a November exhibition, and have printed all 123 on the short list! It is tough, but I am slowly going to bring it down to 30 or 40 images to send off for high res scans. Give it a try – get your images off the computer, onto a USB stick, and down to the nearest photo kiosk. You will not be disappointed!

Consciously Develop New Techniques and Skills

I had quite a few compositional tricks in my bag, but my photostream had become quite uninspiring. Nothing new was happening in the images. I had stopped learning and was just repeating the same image compositions over and over and over.

I mistakenly thought that I was continuing to develop as a photographer just because I was still taking photos regularly. The honest, and very critical assessment of my work over the prior 12 months was not much fun…

Learning is something that has to happen consciously. Again, Kim’s website was very helpful. He recommends reallocating some of your gear spend towards photography books. Books featuring images from the masters such as Henri Cartier Bresson, Vivian Maier, William Eggleston, Magnum Photographers, Fan Ho, and others started arriving via Fedex in time to make it under the Christmas Tree.

I have been slowly reading these books over the last six months, making sure nothing is rushed. One book at a time, making notes on each photographer’s style and techniques. Next, summarising it into a set of key pointers to consciously apply next time I am out shooting.

An example of an analysis is here.

Here is an image from Fan Ho compared against the image I shot inspired by his technique.

And the importance of notes here.

I regularly refer back to my notebook during the day, as I am shooting, to make sure I am consciously looking for opportunities to use the new techniques. At the end of the day, going back and printing out contact sheets and making some notes, comparing what I wanted to learn and how it all went helps keep me learning.

Improvement required me to make a conscious commitment to learning new techniques.

Conclusion

Since completely changing up my approach to photography, I have found it as rewarding as I ever have. Working towards the exhibition in November in a planned and disciplined manner has been exciting – particularly at a time when the Flickr groups I was active in have dropped off a fair bit. I have not been spending as much time with other photographers, which has been a constant source of creative stimulus in the past. Despite this, I have been incredibly engaged.

Discipline may sound counter-intuitive to the creative process – but without it my photo stream was becoming an example of Groundhog Day.

 

5 Responses to “Stop Taking the Same Images Over and Over”

  1. Great article and a good explanation of narrowing focus down to what works for you.

    Like

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