Saturday, January 22, 2011

Sorting the Wood from the Trees

The Wood - Photograph by Tim Irving
The Wood - Tim Irving
One of the most frequent questions I get asked (via email), is "My photographs look dull. Can you suggest a  camera or film?". My answer is in most cases is a camera or film wont help, but looking carefully will.

Over the years I've seriously looked at hundreds of thousands of photographs. It's what I do to improve my own work and I love looking. After you've looked at good range of photos over many years, you realise that the most appealing photographs are a combination of a talented photographer and a great printer.

Make no mistake, all of your old favourites by Ansel Adams, Cartier Bresson and the rest, will have been cropped, dodged, burned, toned, spotted and had their contrast adjusted to get the best image out of the negative. Except for amateurs, who pick up their prints from the chemist, there are very few 'Straight Prints'.

So the first step in creating a great photograph is finding it, on the negative. If you're using digital, the same principle applies, you need to find the photograph, it's hidden on your screen. Carefully look at your image, consider how it could be improved. Look carefully, is there a picture within your picture? Then isolate the important part by cropping. Is it too light or dark? Does it need more contrast, or less? Colour or monochrome? Warm or cool? I could go on.

By sorting the wood from the trees, it's possible to make a silk purse from a sows ear. I found the wood above, in the trees, below.

The Trees - Photograph by Tim Irving
The Trees - Tim Irving


  1. Valuable advice. And freeing as well, to know that even the work of the most famous photographers wasn't born whole. Your Wood & Trees is an excellent illustration of what a difference those post shoot design decisions can make.

    (I'm happy to see your photo "The Wood" show up on your blog today - I love it. I spotted it yesterday while looking in your View Camera Etsy Shop and was going to compliment you.)

  2. It's been a rough weekend. I can't tell you how much I enjoy your photographs. Well, I suppose I just did! They definitely remove me from where I am and pull me in to their world. A much needed escape tonight!



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