Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Photographing the familiar

click photo to enlarge
Photographers are constantly searching for one of two things - something new to photograph, or something familiar to photograph in a new way. Many people opt for the first of these approaches because it's the easiest, and some will travel great distances to find the novel, the unfamiliar, or those subjects and places that they have seen photographed by others and which they too want to record. And that's a pity, because many would say that isn't the best way to develop photographically.

Now don't get me wrong, I've nothing against photographing new things. But, it doesn't develop your eye, or your understanding of the value of light, composition, contrast, and all the myriad things that make a good photograph. The problem is, that if you spend a lot of your time photographing the new you become too fixated on the subject at the expense of, for want of a better word, the art of creating a photograph. There is an interesting analogy with writing novels. The best writers, who write because they need to - say, Ian McEwan - usually write about that which they know. Poorer writers, who write for fame or money - the list is endless, but I'll choose Dan Brown as a well-known example - usually pick a subject for its "novelty", its popular appeal and its "saleability". Yes, often the tills ring and the books sell, but they're still rubbish produced for a market that reads and discards, and almost all will slip into oblivion in the wink of an eye. But better novels, like better photographs, are about more than just the subject, and have qualities that endure. It is these qualities that make people want to look at them again and again.

This wooden jetty that projects into the estuary of the River Ribble at Lytham is a subject I've photographed a few times. Often it's been from a distance, with a figure or two on it. This time I was captivated by the sky reflected in the wooden planks, still wet from the receding tide, and the contrast of the water upstream (left) of the jetty, with the water in its sheltered lee. I framed a symmetrical composition, and took my shot with a zoom lens at 44mm (35mm equivalent), the camera set to Aperture Priority (f6.3 at 1/250 sec), with ISO 100 and -0.7EV.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen