Increasingly I judge a portfolio based on the number of images that relate to each other with reference to place, style or set of intentions. Creating a coherent sequence where the images represent a whole as well as the individual merits has become my methodology and also how I judge others. I have a dislike of broad galleries which may extend to various landscape scenes where the tone, colour and compositional approach are all varied. I even prefer in some cases to shoot the images all vertically including a continuity of style and approach perhaps even limiting lens choice. Within a series it’s also worth looking at the ordering of images to create a narrative based on grouping textures, colours etc. and seeing how images side by side relate to each other.
A little technique I learned at Derby College courtesy of tutor John Blakemore, was via the black and white darkroom producing a sequence of images from zones 2-8, each with subjects chosen to closely represent the individual zone. To assist with creating an overall black and white tonal feeling for each zone, exposure and development would be manipulated. So on creating one of the main grey zones such as 4,5 and 6, then one would need to expose at shadows and reduce development to stop the highlight areas from building up. To create higher zones, then development would be increased or set at manufacturers recommendations. For my Swiss images, although in the digital domain, a similar thing took place. In editing I lifted the shadows and held back the highlights, thus reducing contrast.
One thing rarely mentioned in composition when photographing natural forms is where to set the frame edge. It’s inevitable that the scene before us will not ordinarily have a natural break especially when shooting crop images without sky as I tend to do. Breaking up objects that may in themselves go on to form yet more interesting shapes is one of the main compositional concerns I’m thinking about on location. In the example of dunes if one eliminates the sky, something which I’ve employed on occasions, where is it effective to set the top frame edge? Cutting through some dunes is unavoidable so which ones and where. Each image contains its own reasoning for this, something I consider when looking at other photographers’ images. Would I have cut the frame there? In my Swiss photographs that became the paramount issue, for example selecting rock edges and lines to descend into corners. It’s a subjective thing but I wonder if landscape photographers spend enough time thinking about it.
I can discuss three projects until now, two of which have been centred on Moroccan women. I like a challenge and in some ways women are probably the most off limits subject certainly in public shooting street street style. Still the beauty of the females here is undeniable, they are incredibly photogenic and so the challenge is set. I find using the portrait genre gives me the chance to engage with the person. I may know them a little already which helps and it gives time for me to explain my motivates and to put hem at ease on that score. Still working with a non-pro sitter and trying to get the 'look' I want takes time. For me the pleasure is about getting a moment that is a little charged with life, not flat or reposed and not a stolen moment, but composed. The great pleasure for me is to get that whilst maintaining technical aspects. I more often shoot at the widest aperture, f2.8 which on a 645 75mm gives very little DOF so there's a lot of hit and miss. My motivation for photographing Moroccan women is exactly that they have rarely been photographed (published work) in a way I admire which is especially true of nomad women who are often seen in situ looking bored, disengaged or distracted. My motivation has been to buck this trend and preserve some of their beauty for future times. Moroccan women are charismatic and charming and wonderful to photograph given the opportunity.
I have often joked that the room I use for teaching in Essaouira at Riad Maison du Sud should have a sign above the entrance saying 'no cropping' such is the discipline I admire with composing in camera. Of course it's an inflexible objective for a couple of reasons that I'll discuss later but as a starting point for a Zen like approach towards achieving photographic Nirvana it's a decent objective to have. I always felt a little grubby as a teenager trying to crop my poorly composed images to fashion something more decent and in that regard for me photography is a creative discipline, one that requires intent looking, reflection with experience in mind and analysis, these are all in the field at the time of taking the photograph so framing is part of this and so inextricably bound. However putting that wonderful intense process aside, there's absolutely no reason why one should separate the act of taking the photograph to the act of finalising the image via the computer, a place where it can come to life. The image is being made and to draw a line at stage one is arbitrary. Where I do sometimes crop is in locations when my longest lens is insufficient to find the composition; and in mind I will crop later. These limitations are lens limited and would find a solution in further purchases but economically is doesn't make sense. The second reason I reach for cropping is when photographing people. Even sometimes in portraiture it's possible to miss the frame and so a little crop can help. Having said this, there's a great satisfaction is composing at the time and finding that works later upon review. Really why shouldn't it, you've had time in the field to think about it and indeed that's where the image foundations are laid.
I can't help myself. If the scene allows me to shoot vertically then I'm more excited about the prospect or is it that I only gravitate towards scenes that suit vertical. Either way I'm finding the 3:4 ratio the Pentax offers to be exactly up my street. As early as 1982 I was never truly comfortable with the 3:2 35mm ratio. I couldn't wait to move to 67 in 1994 which I found much more likeable for woods. The waist level viewfinder was also a boon and from early on I discovered the abstraction of looking down on a ground glass portal was a huge benefit to composing. The stripped away reference of peripheral eye vision had gone to be replaced by the cold, calculating monocle view and I discovered creativity developing in small camera movements. Now I use a combination of the rear live view and viewfinder alternating between the two.
Back to vertical. It seems to me that after teaching for several years here in Essaouira, Morocco and encouraging vertical shooting for clients, seeing their results, it's inevitably become the status quo for me. My thesis for it's benefits is built upon the abstraction that 4:3 immediately lends to the scene and our viewing experience. Scenes shot this way need a bit more mindful processing as we are used to seeing both media and through our eyes scenes in a landscape format. Try it if you don't already, it'll open up endless possibilites for semi-abstract images.
The kinds of landscapes I aspire to find in Morocco don't come easily. Having a fondness for trees is probably the wrong starting point, but the quest to find subjects that could be replicated in Europe is not unfulfilled. Birch trees, blossom, bark textures are often glorious subjects for the landscape photographer and are available in Morocco. Where it becomes more difficult here is the quality and abundance of light. Here the light is almost always via a strong sun, there are few overcast days, so few that I can count them on one hand. Early and late light can often be restricted by mountains so reflected light can be a useful tool or indeed work in post-production to control the tonal range if shooting in bright conditions. Having a great camera for this is a must. There are other other kinds of landscape possibilities in Morocco such as endless mountain recession which I haven't dug into yet. They require early starts in areas away from accommodation, something that I'm building up to.
I'm a great believer in sequences and not one-offs. A sequence of images that circle around a subject seem much more satisfying. If I spend a few days in one location I hope to get 4 images, that's my target. I'll flirt with a few more during the process but in reality I'm kidding myself. The final edit reduces the need for weak shots and 4 for me seems like a good number, enough for the viewer to get the idea and not so many to weaken the sequence or fatigue the viewer. It may be a 20 hour round trip to get these but they are like finding jewels, the documenting of these kinds of landscape photographs in Morocco is rarely seen.