PHOTOGRAPHY EDUCATION: DISCOVERING MYSELF
It doesn’t matter how much you think you know about something, there’s always more to learn. And that couldn’t be more true for photography. As with any form of art, you’re constantly walking the fine line between mastering your craft and discovering yourself as an artist. In a world of ever-developing technology, it can feel like you’re constantly chasing after new gadgets and gear, learning a new editing technique or finally figuring out the focussing system on a new camera.
But what we often overlook, in such a tech-oriented industry, is the need for personal development and growth as an artist. Because after all, that’s what we are. Behind all the glass and gadgetry is a desire to create, a vision, a message we want to convey or a beauty that we want to bring into the world. And so what’s the point of mastering that beautiful new lens, if we aren’t fully in tune with what we’re shooting, and why?
This year I decided that I wanted to undertake a personal project. I knew that I wanted to dedicate myself to exploring something aside from my client work. Something where I could be completely free to experiment and uncover who I am as an artist. To discover why I choose to express my creativity the way I do. So that I could finally answer that question of ‘why dog photography?’ But no matter how much I brainstormed, no matter how many ideas I came up with, nothing stuck. Every idea felt unoriginal or insincere. Nothing felt ‘right’.
I was frustrated. I felt like my inspiration was draining away the harder and harder I tried to push for ideas. So I took a step back. I took a pause. And I decided it was time to invest in a bit of education.
Now, I know my way around a camera. I’m a dab hand at Photoshop. And I know how to read a dog’s behaviour during a session. What I needed was someone with the same appreciation for artistry that I have. Someone who could help me to ask the right questions and point me in the right direction. And I knew exactly who I could count on.
I first met Alice Loder last year when I attended a photography workshop she was hosting down in Surrey. It was a brilliant weekend, and you can see what we got up to right here. I’d been following Alice’s work for such a long time, and it was brilliant to meet someone who felt so similarly to me about dog photography. I came away from the workshop feeling so energised, and knew I wanted to work with Alice again. So when I sat down to consider some 1:1 mentoring with another photographer, it felt like a no-brainer!
Alice was incredibly flexible when I reached out to her, offering to drive up to Northampton for our day of mentoring. We met at my home for a morning of theory – not to be underestimated – and immediately got stuck in with a quick portfolio critique and some in-depth discussion about how to read light and use it to help with composition. Alice has a background in fine art painting, and her knowledge of artistic techniques comes through in not only her own work, but in her teaching too. It was exactly what I had hoped for, talking with a mentor who saw our craft the same way that I did – as an art form to be appreciated for its beauty and aesthetic.
We talked about my plans for a personal project, and what I was hoping to achieve with it, in the hope that we could use the rest of the day as an opportunity to explore it in more detail. Armed with a few ideas, it was time to head out on location for an afternoon of shooting!
In typical British style the weather was unpredictable, threatening rain with a short spell of drizzle as we arrived on location to meet our models. We started the afternoon with Benji, a stunning Rough Collie, and Bruno the GSP (in fact, the very first GSP I’ve ever photographed!). Despite the gloomy weather, we managed to get some amazing shots in the undergrowth – in fact I think the overcast skies added to the moody atmosphere in some of our shots. Alice led our session brilliantly – giving me pointers without being too directive or controlling. It felt a bit daunting at first working with such a talented photographer, but it actually turned out to be a really fun and relaxed afternoon!
Our next models were beautiful little whippet, Nala, and epic Bassett Hound Lennie. I don’t think you could have combined two more different breeds! But they got along just fine, albeit at different speeds!
Nala was another first for me – I don’t have a lot of experience with sighthounds, and she certainly kept me on my toes, zipping about all over the place. But it was a welcome challenge, perfectly suited for a mentoring experience. We had an absolute blast with some action shots to end the day – Lennie even decided to join in!
I spent a lot of time working through the images from the day – I’m usually quite slow when it comes to editing, but I really wanted to take my time with these ones. My main aim was to implement some of the techniques that Alice had taught me during our theory session, while still maintaining my own style and way of working. It was tough, but it felt like a breath of fresh air, giving me more opportunities to experiment with the images I’d taken.
Looking back on my day with Alice, I now realise that I was perhaps too hasty in trying to define a personal project. I still have so much to learn about myself and what truly connects me to my work, but working with Alice gave me a fresh sense of momentum and a nudge in the right direction. It wasn’t just the shooting techniques and the art theory, it was a realisation that there’s so much more to what we do than meets the eye.
I still don’t know what I want to do with my personal work, but going into 2019 I can safely say that I feel empowered and inspired to experiment, inching ever closer to that ‘eureka’ moment that I know is squirrelled away inside me. The moment when it all lines up and the dots connect. For now though, I’m just content to embrace the journey and enjoy the experiences that take me there.