The other day I took photographs of a large Thai flag high up a very tall flagpole. I was looking for inspiration. Then I took a photo of a pile of reinforcing bars. I was looking for inspiration. I even took a photo of a drain cover, still searching for the elusive inspiration.
However, there was an easier way. Everyone should have a photographer whose work stimulates them to greater heights. For me, these include Norman Parkinson, Helmut Newton and Jeff Dunas, but the one photographer who inspires me not only with his images, but also with his words, is Larry Dale Gordon, whose name has cropped up in these columns more than once over the years.
Now when I say that your favorite photographer’s work should inspire you, that does not mean that you should rush out and slavishly copy their work. Don’t laugh, I have seen it done so many times in camera club level photographers who have been most upset when I mark them down for copying, rather than being creative. How many times have I seen the kitten looking at the goldfish in the brandy balloon, or the kitten hanging from a tree branch? Too many!
When I say “inspire” I mean that you look at the work and say to yourself, “How did he/she do that?” What this means is that you should look at the end result and work out how you can use that technique, to produce your own shot. This is not copying, this is getting inspiration.
So why does Larry Dale Gordon (LDG) inspire me? There are many reasons. First off, he is a self trained photographer, who believes that the way to learn is to do it. Let me quote you from one of his books, “I learned photography through experience; by putting film through the camera, peering through the lenses, trial and error, and pondering every facet of light. It’s the only way. If you think there is another way, or a faster way, write a book telling how and you will make considerably more money than by being a photographer.” These are very wise words. Cut them out and stick them on your bathroom mirror and read them every day!
I’ve tried to see just what it is about LDG’s pictures that appeal so much to me and I’ve come up with two basic concepts. Simplicity and Color.
Look at the photograph I have used to illustrate this week’s article. A classic sunset shot. The girl in the meditation position. The unspoiled acres of shifting sand. Unfortunately, Pattaya Mail is a black and white medium, so just imagine, if you will, what that shot looks like predominantly orange/red with the black shadows. It is a simple, uncluttered shot with really only one color in it. It is classic and timeless and there is absolutely nothing to detract (or distract) the eye from single figure in the photograph.
OK, so you still want to get a picture like this one? It has inspired you enough? Here’s how. Find a sand or gravel pit. There are many around cement depots, or in an old quarry. Find a homogenous background, one that does not have houses, cars, trees and the like. But one that will allow you to see shapes as the sun starts getting lower. We are looking for light and shadow, just like LDG.
Now is the time for a “tobacco” filter. On the bright sunny day, with the light behind or to the side of your subject(s) hold this brown/orange filter over the lens and pop the shutter. The camera will do the rest. Experiment with different colors to get strangely wonderful or weirdly dreadful results.
The only point to really remember is to get the light behind or to the side of the subject. You want the sun’s rays to be close to horizontal, so it will be late in the afternoon. That is the time for not only ‘warm’ lighting, but lighting that will give strong and long shadows.
Amaze your friends with a dramatic monochromatic shot – and if you don’t tell them about Larry Dale Gordon, I won’t either!