This month I took part in the annual “Flash of Red February” challenge on the 365project.org site – as I’ve done for the past four years. The challenge takes its name from the fact that on the 14th of Feb, we post a photo with selective colouring in red of course – hence the “flash of red”. You can see the whole month at the bottom of the post.
The host of the challenge went with a focus on the art of monochrome from an artistic perspective this year with an emphasis on elements of composition and design. I thought that was a fabulous idea and decided that I really wanted to document my own journey through the month.
Basic decisions and guidelines
This year, I shot in only RAW and in colour and converted the shots in LightRoom. Working this way is a little harder as it does mean that I had to look at each image with regards to the compositional elements to see if it would work in black and white. I often just do a quick conversion in LR and if it looks like it will work in b&w, then I process it further to achieve what I want with regards to contrast, exposure etc, most usually using SilverEfex.
Two of the weeks would focus on compositional and design elements, so I worked hard to get my head around those and to use them consciously in my shots.
At the beginning of the first full week (5th Feb), Ann (the host) shared some insights from David DuChemin, whose blog I also follow. This sentence literally jumped off the screen, grabbing my attention:
“Don’t shoot what it looks like, shoot what it feels like”
[David Alan Harvey]
David goes on, explaining:
What we need, and have always needed, is interpretation and inspiration. We don’t need to know what it looks like (whatever it is), but what it might mean – what it might feel like. More than ever, we need images that speak to a deeper part of our humanity than the thirst for details. We need, and hunger for, for context, insight, hope, and the kind of visual poetry that stirs our hearts, sparks our imaginations, churns our stomachs, or light a fire in us (Source)
- What it might mean…
- What it might feel like…
- Images that speak to a deeper part of our humanity…
I was inspired!
Did this inspiration work its way into my images for the month?
You can decide for yourself, but these were the images that I chose from the month that really meant something to me, my interpretation of what I saw around me.
We started the month with a focus on extreme lighting. This one is a low key shot (when there is not a lot of light or almost no light). It evokes a warm feeling for me of wintery days and delicious potjiekos (food cooked in the pot over an open fire)!
So this is composed using ‘organic’ space/form in that the pears are not a geometric or regular shape, they are just, well pear-shaped! The feeling? I want to touch them!
Something has enjoyed munching this leaf. I was focusing on the compositional elements of shape (another organic one), contrast, the dynamic ‘V’ shaped line of the leaf edge and rule of thirds. I also tried also to keep the detail in the lighter parts of the leaf, to get a sense of its delicate structure and the feeling of impermanence in nature.
Here I was looking for alternate patterns of light to bring depth and rhythm to the photograph, with light and shadow, leading lines and repetition as the compositional elements. I wanted to convey the feeling of going down a steep staircase.
My friend brought me some roses which were past their best because of the heat. But they were still extremely pretty. The best things in life are the simplest and this is one of those moments for me. Compositionally, this breaks the rule of thirds as it is slap bang in the middle of the frame, but sometimes these things must happen!
I snapped leaf when it was raining and it didn’t look anything at all in colour. Then I converted it in SilverEfex and it came alive. I just want to touch it, or if I was a fairy, to slide down it.
Composing with the rule of thirds in mind, texture, low viewpoint, pattern and contrast were the elements I included here. I wanted to convey the mood of writing, the joy of textured pencils and the feel and smell of real paper.
I saw this woman through a doorway, she looked so relaxed sitting in the sun and I wanted to capture that feeling. I was attracted to her hair initially, but then I saw the T-shirt, the tattoos and the shape of the chair. They gave me visual contrasts in terms of shape and weight.
What of my learning, successes and failures…?
The ones above are obviously my successes.
Did I have any failures? Yes, I did! Images that did not evoke feelings, just bog standard shots in black and white. Perhaps, well composed but not oozing feeling. Here are a few, so you can judge for yourself.
My learning this month. Early on in the month, I read this but forgot about it until now, when I was looking back at my images and trying to figure out why they work for me.
Simplify. Ask the image to powerfully show one thing, and no more.
The more you try to cram into the frame, the less each element is allowed to speak, reducing its impact. So simplify—push in closer, make use of blurs and shallow focus, and allow each image to speak with the greatest impact or subtlety (from Ten More Ways to Improve your Craft without Buying Gear by David DuChemin)
If you ignore Red Hot Punk, each one tries to show one thing: a vase of flowers, a staircase, some pears, a leaf and I am hoping that each element is allowed to speak. The shallow focus, the lighting, all help to convey a feeling of course. But, is it simplicity that makes them work?
Is that why the others, the failures don’t work? Because there is too much going on, there isn’t a single element that is allowed to speak?
Definitely, something to continue thinking about.
I’d love to hear which shot evokes the most feeling for you. Did I “shoot what it feels like?” What about the idea of simplicity? Leave me a comment to get the conversation started.
Other posts in this series:
PS: if you want to see the whole month, this is what it looks like: