The eye

A few people recently have complimented me (online and in person) on my gastronaut posts. Obviously it’s gratifying when people you’ve never met before point out that they like what you’re writing, but what puzzles me a little is when people say how impressed they are with the food photography. I’m puzzled because, of all the photos I take, these are the ones which involve the least thought, creativity or technical skill. The restaurant provides the subject matter (also taking care of composition for me) and the lighting. All I have to do is point and click (I use the smaller of my two cameras, for practical reasons). I can understand that people think the result looks lovely, but I can hardly take the credit for that.

But the point of this post is not just “aw, shucks” false modesty – for me the fact that people respond to these pictures says something more interesting about what constitutes good photography. My favourite photos vary quite a bit in style, and the things I respond to in an image range from a certain quality of light to the capture of a facial expression to the kind of creative image-making which involves all sorts of other skills from art direction to Photoshop. People like Pierre et Gilles or Joel-Peter Witkin will expend enormous efforts to create a whole new world for their photographs, while Cartier-Bresson would simply roam the streets and whip out his Leica when something caught his eye.

As regards my own style of photography (assuming I have one), I think it mostly involves just noticing things. Taking pictures over a long period of time has changed the way I look at the world, making me pay more attention to my visual environment. It’s got to the point where when I spot something, sometimes it doesn’t even matter if I take the shot or not. It’s enough that I’ve learnt how to see better.

Self portrait 300mm

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8 thoughts on “The eye

  1. janetching September 4, 2008 / 11:48 am

    Hi Simon, I am not a professional photographer but I find one who has good instinct or a good sense can help to have a nice composition of the picture a lot already. Since I bought my Canon G9 in April, I noticed a good camera makes a big difference as it is more powered to capture the things we like. I am still taking snapshots most of the time and still a long way to learn the professional way to take photos, it’sreally hard I find as I may miss the moment that I want to capture by the time I am adjusted my camera.

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  2. Erik R. September 4, 2008 / 11:55 am

    I’ve experienced the same thing since starting to call myself a photographer. When I walk down the street with non-photographers (pretty much everyone I know), they sometimes comment that it’s weird how I’m looking around me all the time, looking for three seconds at that strange object rather than just one, etc.

    I rather enjoy having this Noticing Syndrome. I certainly feel as though my life is enriched. It’s nice to hear that others feel the same.

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  3. simonlitton September 4, 2008 / 12:17 pm

    Erik: you life will certainly be “enriched” when (if?) you have children. It takes three times as long to walk anywhere becasue they constantly want to stop and look at stuff.

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  4. Matt George September 4, 2008 / 4:16 pm

    Totally cool self-portrait with the camera. The flair happening in the photograph is icing on the cake. Nice capture! 🙂

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  5. sgazzetti September 4, 2008 / 6:58 pm

    I have to dispute Simon’s comment above. While children often extend the amount of time it takes to get anywhere, and they do like to probe rubbish and so forth, they will also interfere relentlessly with your attempts to take a decent photograph, even if it is of them.

    But especially if not.

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  6. Erik R. September 4, 2008 / 7:44 pm

    Simon was talking about the enjoyment of observing the world, not necessarily photography. But you make a good point, sgazzetti.

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  7. simonlitton September 5, 2008 / 7:07 am

    Thanks Matt. I’m in two minds about the flash, myself.

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  8. Peter September 6, 2008 / 7:22 pm

    I couldn’t help but notice your food photography Simon:
    as someone who loves a good meal some of your shots
    made me drool over my keyboard.

    As for smaller cameras: I’m not sure how you handle noise.

    I’ve been taking snapshots with a Canon Powershot
    (no flash, high ISO, stabilized lens as low as 1/8th, freehand shot), but I always ended up with non-static subjects or way too much image noise.

    But then again, I was not focusing on food 😉

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