Light and composition – enjoying the fundamentals of photography with 35mm point & shoot camera

Wherever you sit on the photography spectrum – amateur or professional, film or digital – there are two fundamentals to how we take a photo; light and composition. It’s easy to get distracted with an array of settings and functions, and sometimes just limiting your choices can help set your creativity that little bit freer. 

Equipment and Preparation

One of my favourite past times is to go out and just take photos. I probably put in a little planning before deciding on a destination, but it doesn’t have to be some complex journey. On one occasion I just walked from my house to the city centre, taking photos as I went. Roadtrips are good, and traipsing along country paths. The great thing about photography is that location is easy, because you can take photographs anywhere.

It has been a while since I was out taking photos, and I’d planned for a little while to go out one afternoon and take some film shots. Wanting more of a challenge, I opted for a point and shoot camera, my Yashica MF-2 Super. The benefits of this camera are its limited controls. Shutter speed is constant. The aperture only alters depending on whether the flash setting is selected or not. The lens is fixed, so there’s no control over depth of field. The best control I have is the ISO of the film.

I used two rolls of film in the end. One I picked by accident (good lesson to check the film first); a 100 ISO Perutz film (probably expired). I used this first while there was more light. The second was a 400 ISO film – an Agfa black and white roll. I also brought a 3200 ISO Ilford roll, but time had moved on before I got to use it. Next time maybe.

I brought my Olympus EM-1 purely as a light meter, but after examine some basic light variations (indoors, outdoors, in shadow) I didn’t use it at further.

Using the Light

I started shooting mid-afternoon, meeting up with my friend Tim at Perth CBD. No route was established, so we were left at the mercy of available light depending on where we wandered. It was a bright day, but being in the middle of a city meant lots of shadow and pockets of places with little light. It’s a frustrating thing to see good opportunities lost because you know the light isn’t good enough. Many times I just knew not to bother. 

The benefit of this frustration was that it made me think much more about the relationship between light and shadow in my pictures. I could make determinations about the shot without having to think about the settings on the camera. This gave me more focus (forgive the pun) on the composition itself. 


In terms of composition, I had free reign within the limitations of the camera. Digital cameras can be almost too liberating in that respect. Don’t get me wrong, you need that flexibility for so many shots, but there’s always the risk that the photo becomes the settings, not the composition. It helped me see the city in better terms, and think more about the unusual qualities of urban landscape. Not having any idea what the final image will look like was also liberating, because it meant I didn’t develop anxiety of getting the ‘right shot’. 

I’ve gone on more solo photo trips than I care to remember, but it was beneficial to have someone else around. Not only is Tim good company in general, but he’s a great photographer. I’ve tried to apply the social norm of not stealing other people’s shots on these kind of trips. What this means is that if someone sees a shot they think is interesting and distinctive, you don’t then try to take the exact same shot. It’s quite annoying to have another photographer come up and take the exact same image that you spotted.

In this way, having Tim around made me think more. Sometimes he would spot something and that meant I had to move on and look elsewhere. Rather than get frustrated by this, I used it as an opportunity for ‘what else can I find’ mentality. In other words, it forced me to look harder for a good opportunity and experiment a bit more. 

As I write this I have no idea what the images look like. I’ve linked to my photography blog some iPhone shots I took, to give you an idea of the type urban terrain we had at our disposal. When I get the images back I can look in more depth at how they came out. With 60 shots to pick from surely a few will be ok at the very least. 

Regardless, I had fun. It was great to free myself from the complexities of which lens, aperture, shutter speed, and think about really makes a good shot. More than that, it was just an enjoyable experience all round, taking photos for the sake taking photos, and enjoying the freedom that can come from limitation. In photography, whatever doesn’t kill you sets you free.


Heels? On a sofa? – that photo of Kellyanne Conway

So, today I saw the photo of Kellyanne Conway, Counsellor to the President, kneeling on a sofa in the Oval Office, while guests were gathered to meet POTUS. Apparently, this has caused something of a stir. I don’t really care about whether she was wearing heels. I was more interested in the photo itself.

My initial reaction was that KAC looked a little like a bored or disinterested teenager does when their parents invite complete strangers round. She’s focused on her mobile phone, seemingly oblivious to large group of people gathered around her. 

That sparked a thought in my mind, about photos and their ability to ‘tell a story’, and how often that ‘story’ can be a misrepresentation.

I think this photo is fascinating in many respects. KAC’s pose is intriguing enough, but look at the whole room. It’s a large depth of field, trying to bring POTUS  into focus amongst a sizeable number of people. I don’t know how tall POTUS is, but he seems to be dwarfing those right next to him. That makes little difference, because the perspective of the shot makes those (mainly men) standing in the foreground much larger, effectively dwarfing POTUS. If the intent of the layout was to make POTUS seem like the central figure, this shot undermines that effect. Even without KAC in the foreground, there’s plenty to take attention away from POTUS. There is a type of golden triangle effect, drawing  the eye towards POTUS, the way he’s stood at the end of the two channels of people, but he’s so distant the impact is underwhelming.

I’m curious about what purpose there was to surround POTUS with women in the background, and keep men in the foreground – if any. The men, and KAC, dominate in a big way. With some of the men looking at KAC, it’s effectively turned her into the main subject. 

There’s a funny casualness about KAC’s position on the sofa. Very much at home and relaxed. In that respect, it does bring a slightly less formal atmosphere to one of the most formal political rooms in the world. 

I’m sure the media and Twitter discourse is focused on that casual positioning and with vaguely sexist undertones, her heels, but for me this is a story of context. In the linked article there’s a second shot as she’s lining up to take a photo with her phone. The context of the image becomes clear; she was in the process of setting up a camera shot on her phone. From the angle, it was probably easier to take that shot from level of the sofa than standing up. 

I find this a useful examination of the subjectivity of photos. Not all of them tell the story we think they do. People’s perceptions of the subject matter as well. Would people have had the same reaction to this photo if it were Michelle Obama? Ultimately, I think the message I get from this photo, it’s story, is one of casualness. Something about KAC’s posture suggests a familiarity about the Oval Office, whatever she was actually doing in that moment. Compare that to the formality of the men around her. It paints a telling scene for the observer, at a glance, of an arena normally so difficult to describe succinctly with words. This of course is what photos manage to do.

Time, but time; the difference between professional and personal time management 

Why is my spare time management so woefully inadequate compared to my professional day-job organisation? 

I had a conversation with a colleague yesterday about organising work, time management etc. and the difficulties people have in general organisation. We also work in the social work sphere, an area of work renowned for lack of resources and work pressures. I understand the struggle, and training is woefully inadequate in these areas of planning, organisation and timekeeping.

I’ve prided myself on my ability to organise my work and effective time management. It wasn’t easy getting to that point. As a case worker I struggled for a long time to get organised, being sucked into the death spiral of child protection casework anarchy. Eventually though, I got to a point where I finally got on track, and this grew and developed as I moved into middle management. Now I feel firmly in control, even in crisis.

With personal projects though, I am a little more scattered. The most succes I had recently was with my NaNoWriMo, and that was at he expense of everything else. In terms of actual projects, the one project at a time approach is good, but I have a range of interests and a range of mediums. It sometimes seems more than can be possibly managed. I imagine I am managing my projects quite well sometimes, and perhaps it’s a case of setting the bar too high with unrealistic expectations.

I feel I need to rethink my priorities and about how to manage them. Some aspects, like photography, have been woefully neglected. I have some impending personal changes as well, including university and moving house, so some allowance will have to be made.

Centrally though, I think the biggest problem is that I have not yet fully worked out how to market myself. I have yet to find a way to tie together my professional and personal aspirations into something cohesive, so that’s where I need to start. Having diverse interests is good, but it’s about tying them together into something productive, marketable and consistent. Only then will it be easier to organise my time outside of work like I do at work.

Book Worm: researching a new personal project

You’d think, with all the masses of other writing to do, I wouldn’t be keen on taking up a new project. Maybe give it a few months, hold off, focus. Well, yes, it does make sense, but I’ve always been restless, and this is a project that’s been on my mind for a few years now.

So what is it?

Here’s the one liner – It is a book about Australian country communities and how the decline of rail has changed them.

I need to work on that. It imparts the dry, objective, description, but it lacks sexiness. It’s frumpy. It needs spark.

The working title is ‘The Beaten Track’.

The why’s and what for’s? I suppose I first had the idea living in Mount Gambier in South Australia. There was a derelict station and train line running right through the city (I believe some of it is now converted to public pathways – very smart). There were lots of little towns dotted about that at one time or another had a busy railway, mainly servicing industry. One little town, Kalangadoo, certainly caught my eye.

After travel in Tasmania, with disused train lines weaving their way up and down valleys, and the Western Australia, I came to see that the trains represented an era gone. At that point I began to think about these small communities and how much life must have changed since the industry, and the trains with it, vanished.

So my aim is to develop a book, using interviews with locals and photos, to tell the story of some of these small towns. For many towns the railways vanished decades ago, so if I’m still to reach those who were around at the time now is a good time to start.

Firstly, I need some research. I have zero knowledge about trains, their history or the context of Australian history. I need to know if it’s been done before, or whether there’s an avenue to introduce something a little different. So tonight I paid a visit to the state library in Perth. My little collection of books I reckon constitutes the near entirety of what has been written about trains and their communities. I’m sure more written material is available, particularly online, but the library was a good place to start.

I’ll need to look at the practical elements of a book like this, how to organise it, get testimony, interviews etc. All in good time.

For now I’ve got plenty to get me going, and start the project off. Choo Choo! 🚂🚞

Photography desire

So, the other day, while on my daily commute home, I had cause to take the train home since I had missed the various buses home. I decided it was quicker to take the train rather than wait for the next bus.

On stepping out of the train at Perth station I had a view of the concrete block next to the art gallery. It was fading light, and normally the bland concrete would simply blend with the dull steel grey of the darkening sky. This time though, sunset light fell upon the building and delivered sharp contrast and lines against the background. The building was transformed under the orange glow, and simple concrete turned into vibrant urban visage.

At the time, I was moving quickly to get to my next train, only had iPhone on hand – at that distance a hopeless task of photography. The thought that occurred to me was along the lines of wanting a camera lens (and obviously camera) to get the shot. The actual words in my mind were ‘that’s the kind of view I want to make love to with a camera lens.’

…sigh. Yes, weird. 

Setting aside the distinction between badly chosen words and paraphilia, it has in fact opened my mind to a new realisation, about my passion for photography. This last year has been about writing, setting time aside to work on writing projects. I even delayed my degree by a year to do this, but the principle casualty has been photography. It’s not that I have lost interest, or passion, but time I might take for trips and camera walks, has been set aside for literary pursuits. 

I still love photography, but seeing that building reminded of desire. The desire to capture a moment on frame, whether it be film or digital. It is refreshing to be reminded of a core passion, and that moment it was about pure desire to take a photo. 

I’ve still got the love.

The photography passion and inspiration

I was very pleased to discover last night a video from YouTube I had long thought lost. It’s a slideshow of slightly blurry black and white images set to the music of Mazzy Star’s Into Dust.

I first came across this video years ago while searching for Into Fust on YouTube. I loved the video. The abstract nature of the photography really appealed to me. I was probably already playing around with the idea of taking up photography at the time, but this video cemented for me the idea of photos being inspirational.

Of course, I know that photos can inspire, but what I mean is that this helped me realise how photography can inspire me. For an interest to become a passion, there has to be a spark in what you’re doing. The difference between performing a task, and being driven to achieve something great.

I don’t fancy my photography sits in the realm of the greatest photographers, but I like to think that I’ve taken decent shots here and there. It’s fascinating to think about the things that inspire, that set you free to explore. All great passions are exploration, and I have loved this journey since the outset. So enjoy the video, and think about what could inspire your passion.

Telling a story

What is the purpose of a photo? Is it to tell a story? I don’t mean as an optional, I mean as a general characteristic. Are landscapes stories? Selfies? Abstract Neo-feminist cubism? (I may have made that last one up – I will google later to see if that exists).

Seriously though, I have seen some interesting photos unduly hampered by the descriptive that it tells a story, or, worse still, that a photo has failed to convey a positive impression but it lacks sufficient narrative.

I tend to take more abstract shots. Often landscapes and urban street shots, but generally my preference is for abstract. It’s never been my intention to tell a story through the casual manipulation of angle, light and framing of subject matter. At least, not deliberately. 

I’m cutting this blog post short as I struggle to catch up on some writing. I am woefully behind on my intended word count and so need a little catch up. 

Follow this link here for a bit more about story telling 

Chasing the sunrise

Early morning, but growing noticeably brighter. The faint reflection of sunlight on the bottom, little flecks of red on grey, turned into a vast curtain of orange and gold. I was stuck in the bus, making to do with occasional glances but never quite managing to capture that glory. The best I could was along the lines of the photo I have attached to this blog. 

These type of photos will never be my best, but they serve a purpose beyond artistic representation. I just want a memory of it, recorded somewhere. I enjoyed the chase for the photo.

As it happens, sunrises, and sunsets, are the subject of my current literary project. That’s proving to be something of a false start though, so I need to push myself to get on with it. Procrastination can become debilitating if I’m not careful.

I put some of that down to not having read anything in the last couple of weeks. I need to crack on with that as well. It’s actual nourishment and I can tell the difference between periods of reading and non reading. I’ve got a few Hemingway tucked on my Kindle. I’ll dig into one of those.

The drive to Freo seems unusually slow today. I had what felt like a long daydream earlier (a new story idea). Yet the journey doesn’t seem to have progressed very far.

Am I really writing about anything today? Seems a little wayward. Maybe it’s first week back from holiday symptoms. I’m not sure I believe in that axiom. Back from holiday, need another holiday. Nonsense.

Just saw a poster for a school. It has the face of a child on it with words ‘I am 11. I used to be afraid of making mistakes.’ There is a sub caption that reads ‘Prepating boys for life.’

I still am afraid of making mistakes. That feeling shouldn’t go away. I work in child protection, so making a mistake can have catastrophic consequences. That is not the same as not acknowledging that mistakes can and do happen. I’ve seen a whole branch of thinking about embracing fallibility as a way of improving work performance.

So I’m not sure that preparing kids not to be afraid of mistakes is the right way to go. I mean, I understand what the poster is trying to say, but the wording strikes me as being simplistic. Maybe I’m reading too much into the advert.

Freo docks. Playtime’s over.

I am a cliche

Photo cliches can be annoying, but in some way they are an integral part of the learning process.

I saw this YouTube video the other day, about photography cliches. On looking at the list, I am glad to say that I am only guilty of 11 out of 25 (I don’t sign or watermark my photos – duck that’s annoying). It’s comforting to see that I don’t completely fail an arbitrary list of cliches.

Not that I mean to be critical – I agree with the blogger. Maybe not arbitrary; subjective is perhaps a better word. And in a good way subjective. 

If I were to add anything to the list it would be photos of your own shadow (guilty!). That was probably going out of fashion, but then I noticed that a Vivian Maier photo of her own shadow was heavily publicised, so I can only imagine shadow photos are making a come back. Also, using film for the sake of using film – that’s another cliche. The artistic quality comes purely from the fact the photo is on film and not a memory card. Yep, guilty as charged.

Anyway, I digress. Back to the list.

Photo cliches. Why do they happen? Lack of artistic integrity? Crappy photographers? Actually no, I don’t think so. I happen to think I have both integrity and am a good photographer. Yet I still cliche from time to time.

Cliches exist because they have been done so often. The photo subject matter is popular, so people want to be popular. If it works, why fix it? It’s a bit like a company using the same slogan ad infinitum into cliche. It works; it’s familiar and safe. Newbie photographers are more likely to adopt this approach – entering the field and lacking confidence. It is better to fall back on tried and tested. I used to do that a lot, because I wasn’t really sure what else I should be doing.

Sunset photos (6 on the list) are particularly prone to this. People like them. I like them. Why not offer people something they want?

Another reason for cliche is the fault of professional photography (by this, I mean those whose primary income comes from photography). Obviously, I don’t mean all pro’s, but rather the abstract collective sense. Professional photography is based around things like weddings, babies, pets, that type of thing. There is scope for artistic variation to be sure, but the expectation will be for some standard bride, groom and respective parents/in-laws shot; smiling baby; dog with head on owners lap etc. Technical aspects become very important and expectations exist. Even the equipment is vital – imagine everyone’s face if you started taking wedding photos solely with a Holga, and a Polaroid using Impossible Project film…(oh my god, someone do that!).

Technical aspects. Professional lessons have a lot of blame here. Their lessons are almost always based on technical aspects of photography rather than artistic expressionism. I know they might not feel that is their responsibility, it is in the power of the photographer after all, but in a photography world that harks on about the ‘pro’ standard, it is easy to forget the creative variance critical to photography as an art form.

This brings us to the central issue. 99% of photos are crap. Rubbish. Useless. Ancillary at best. To find those golden 1% is difficult. I don’t mean out there in the world – there are amazing photographers out there that blow my mind. What I mean is in the photographer themself. Most photos taken will be ‘meh’, some good, a few great, and just one or two that make you catch your breath. Perhaps it’s just me.

To get that high standard of artistic expression consistently is difficult. So it becomes easier to opt for cliche. I know fully well I am taking a cliche shot when I take one – indeed, sometimes it is a tongue in cheek thing. I do it because the opportunity is there and they are an easy means of communication (the beauty of smartphones and social media). Selfie’s for example, like the one I took for this post, are partly for effect, but also for benefit of family and friends living in other continents.

Having said that, my own creative zest seemed to be heading into cliche (at least that’s how it felt), hence my recent hiatus from digital.  It’s about creative discipline – thinking more in the moment and worrying less about the technical aspects. 

Cliches have a place, they really do (remember, popular), but it is vital to distinguish between technical versatility, and artistic expression. The former you can be shown, the latter comes from within. But even that bit of Karate Kid wisdom is a cliche. 

Maybe just fuck it. Take some photos, and go for broke.