December 29, 2021
Make 2022 your most creative year ever! Benedict Brain looks at techniques to master, projects to try and ideas to challenge and inspire you
No matter where you are in your photographic journey there is always room to improve, develop and grow. Experiencing new ideas, techniques and approaches to photography can invigorate your work. Sometimes the experiences can be fruitful creative rabbit holes that change the direction of your photography forever, and other times they don’t.
The fact is, if you don’t try, you’ll never know. It’s good to break out of your comfort zone and try something new; whether you jump wholeheartedly in the deep end or you tentatively dip your toes in at the water’s edge, it doesn’t matter, what matters is giving it a go.
I’ve been running photography workshops for many years now and in this feature I’ve compiled a bunch of techniques to try, challenges to have a go at and ideas that will hopefully inspire you. Some may be old hat to you while some might be new and exciting. Whether you just experiment with one or two of the ideas or decide to do all of them (that’s nearly two a month) I hope that you have fun, you unleash your creativity, you learn something new and 2022 is your year of creating fruitfully!
Techniques to try in 2022
Getting started with 3D stereoscopic imaging is not nearly as complicated as you might think. The anaglyph process – which requires the red/cyan glasses –is possibly the most satisfying and rewarding place to begin. Naturally, you’ll need to shoot two images to replicate the stereoscopic vision we have from our left and right eyes.
Try simply moving a handheld camera to the right a little between shots. Merging the two images into one is a relatively easy process: it’s a little like creating multiple exposures using Photoshop and tweaking the layer blending options using the colour channels.
Go to Layer > Layer Style > Blending Options > then uncheck the Red Channel in the Advanced Blending box and voila.
Tweak the alignment of the images using the move tool; this is when it’s best to wear a pair of 3D (red/cyan) glasses. A pack of red/cyan 3D viewing glasses is relatively inexpensive and easily available online. It really is a magical process and lots of fun to experiment with.
While digital photography is without a doubt amazing and has many advantages over traditional analogue photography, on the ‘magic’ front it falls a little short. So, why not make 2022 the year you shoot and process a roll of film?
It’s easy and inexpensive to process a roll of film in a kitchen sink, using a light-tight developing tank and a trio of chemicals as Geoff Harris and I discovered in the 17 July 2021 issue of AP (see bit.ly/aphomefilm) Once your negatives have dried, photograph them, invert them so tones are no longer negative, and make prints. It’s a delightful hybrid workflow that exploits the best of both analogue and digital worlds.
Go on then, get the ND filters out and see how slow you can go. The technique is a perennial favourite, but for good reason. The otherworldliness and passage of time captured in a single frame have an enduring allure.
Just remember: sturdy tripod, cable release, ND filters, pre-focus and compose, lock the mirror up (if you still have one), block eyepiece (if you’re still through the lens), shoot and then redo, more often than not, lots of times.
Continuing with the hybrid analogue digital vibe, why not venture into the world of cyanotype printing? Start off by simply making contact prints of objects such as ferns and lace. These are known as Photograms. Artists such as Man Ray, László Moholy-Nagy et al made beautiful photograms in the early 20th century but Anna Atkins’s botanical studies made almost a century earlier are even more amazing.
To do this simply place an object on the light-sensitive paper and expose to ultraviolet light (e.g. daylight). The process doesn’t require any fancy equipment, all you need is some ultraviolet light and the cyanotype treated paper. Making the paper is relatively straightforward. For the ultimate in kudos, acquire your own raw chemicals – ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide are fairly easy to get hold of – and mix your own. But to save the hassle, use pre-coated paper or ready mixed chemicals, both easily available by searching online.
Most digital cameras now have multiple exposure functionality. Multiple exposures are simply the layering of one image on top of another. In analogue days this was achieved by releasing the camera’s shutter, but crucially not advancing the film, so two exposures were effectively layered on top of one another.
Sometimes by mistake, sometimes by design; either way, the results could be interesting. Digital cameras allow this feature in differing ways, so check your manual. Perhaps it’s a little too controlled and takes the magic of happenstance out of the equation, but it is still a fun and creative way to add layers and depth (literally) to your images.
Tripods and ND filters for landscape, small, fast lenses for street, on-camera flash for weddings and 85mm lenses for portraits, and so on. We generally adhere to the conventions of kit and job at hand, and usually with good reason. However, why not mix it up a bit in 2022? Using camera flash in the landscape in this image and others in the series has raised a few eyebrows, but the results are intriguing and reveal the landscape in a new and (to some) exciting way.
So don’t let convention tell you what you should or shouldn’t be doing, throw caution to the wind and try new things out. No doubt you’ll experience your fair share of disasters on the way, but the trick is to never ever show anyone these.
Creative ideas to try
Taking photographs every day of the year for a year is a great way to flex your creative muscles and be actively engaged with taking pictures on a daily basis. Post to a social feed such as Instagram and factor in some accountability too.
The trick is to pick a subject or theme that realistically you know you will be able to photograph every day. It might be simply photographing the sky from a similar point of view. If nothing else, it would be an interesting meteorological study.
Most photographers don’t like having their portrait taken, let alone taking their own portrait, however, the self-portrait can be an interesting sub-genre of photography. This is not about making self-indulgent naval-gazing selfies, but rather about self-expression. For starters try photographing yourself as you see yourself, and then as you think other people see you. It’s an interesting exercise. I promise.
A walk in the park
I love this challenge and I guarantee it’ll make you a better photographer if you do it regularly. If you’ve ever set aside some time to make photographs and walked out of your front door, camera in hand and then suddenly felt at a loss of what to photograph, this will be the perfect antidote.
The premise is simple: choose a route and set a timer on a smartphone (or similar) for a predetermined time – somewhere between 3 and 5 minutes is a good starting place, depending on how long your walk is. When the alarm goes off, stop, take a moment to look around you, look up, look down and consider how to respond to it photographically. You’ll be surprised by how creative you’ll have to be.
Taken by YOU
Photographers are often put off from photographing something that’s been ‘done’ before. While it’s true everything (mostly) has been shot before, it hasn’t been captured by you. A great way to give any scene, even a well-photographed scene, your own ‘twist’ is to try and show us how you feel, not just what you see.
Weirdly, words such as ‘accountability’, ‘deadlines’ and ‘boundaries’ are more connected to the creative process than you might think. Some of the exercises in this feature have been conceived specifically to create boundaries. The dreaded deadline is the king of boundaries, and while they might feel like an eternal drag, they can be the creative’s best friend.
Without a deadline, projects can drag on and on and on, never resolved and eventually forgotten. I am brutally aware of this in my practice. So, make 2022 the year of deadlines; if you can find someone to hold you to account, even better. Try to start the year with a plan of what you want to achieve and most importantly when you want it completed. Make a note in a diary and work specifically towards the date.
Beauty and the banal
While it’s wonderful to be in epic, exotic and photogenic locations at the ‘magic’ hour, they’re often relatively inaccessible. So make 2022 the year to embrace the banal and seek out beauty in the quieter, more humdrum, corners of your world. You’ll be surprised when you really look, what you might see. There are interesting images to be made anywhere. Embrace this.
The paper diaries
Keep a piece of plain A4 paper near a window and every morning take a photograph of it. Using a smartphone camera is fine. Try to express through the shapes, curves, crumples, light, tones and even colour how you really feel.
Make a ‘zine’
There has been a growing interest in hand-made photobooks in recent years. Some of the examples I have seen have been simply exquisite, using fancy, delicate and intricate binding techniques and so on. However, I’m also drawn to the rough and ready world of zines. A zine, which is derived from the ‘fanzines’ is a great alternative, antidote even, to the preciousness of a hand-made book.
Typically made using photocopiers and staple bindings, a zine is cheap to produce. Online printers can print short runs, anywhere from 10 to 1,000 in a couple of days with a unit price typically less than a pound.
One lens, one year
It has been said before, but I’ll say it again because I genuinely believe it to be true. So much so that I’m prepared to guarantee that if you commit to using just one focal length for a year you will be a better photographer, no matter where you are in your photographic journey.
Things to do, books to read in 2022
Read: Beauty in Photography
If you read one photography book in 2022, I would suggest, Beauty in Photography: Essays in Defense of Traditional Values, by Robert Adams. Robert Adams was one of the major figures in the New Topographics movement. Photographers turned their cameras towards the relatively banal landscapes of parking lots, suburban housing, and warehouses with a simple, deadpan aesthetic.
Beauty in Photography was originally published in 1981. I came across it in the late 1980s and have been dipping in and out of it ever since as a constant source of inspiration.
Trading prints with fellow photographers and artists is an excellent way to not only support each other but also build a rich and varied collection of photography for your walls. The legendary Magnum photographer David Hurn has been at it for years and has a formidable collection of images.
It’s so good in fact that on the 70th anniversary of Magnum Photos, Magnum’s then-president, Martin Parr curated a selection of the print ‘swaps’ into an exhibition called David Hurn’s Swaps. You never know, you might end up with a valuable print in your collection.
As a response to Covid-19, artist Matthew Burrows conceived a way to support artists struggling financially during the pandemic by using Instagram. It is called The Artist Support Pledge and it asks artists to post images on Instagram using #artistsupportpledge for a maximum price of £200.
Purchasing is made directly with the artist and the idea is that every time an artist reaches £1,000 of sales, they pledge to buy £200 of work from another artist(s). What a wonderful idea!
BOP (Books on photography)
Investing in art has always been an expensive business, and in recent years investing in photographic prints has become a more ‘serious’ business with soaring prices too. However, if you want to start an ‘art’ collection you could do a lot worse than starting a photography book collection. Photography lends itself to the book format in a unique way and the ‘photo book’ is an art form in itself.
Photobooks are simply a great way to collect photography, and lots of them are being produced. A decent, well-produced and printed photography book can set you back somewhere between £20 to £50. Often produced in small, limited editions, they can increase in value pretty quickly once the edition is sold out.
You can also see AP’s round up best books of 2021 as a starting point here: Best photography books 2021
Never stop learning
Whether you’re new to photography or have been dabbling in the art and craft for decades there’s always something new that can be learned. I run many workshops, mainly for the Royal Photographic Society, but I also like to attend them too, to hone my skills, refine my craft or enrich my vision.
One of the most popular workshops I run with the Royal Photographic Society is called Monsters, Myths & Metaphors; it’s not nearly as pretentious as it sounds and a lot of fun. While the RPS offers great value, there are myriad others to choose from and many photographers will supplement their income by running workshops. So, if there’s a photographer’s work you like, check out their site, chances you could be learning directly from them.
The first AP Photo Tours will also be running in 2022. Fantastic photo holidays and workshops to some of the most unspoilt and photogenic destinations in the UK and around the world, which will be led by a team of internationally acclaimed and award-winning photographers.
If you want to publish your own book or start a photography project and are short of funds, think about starting a Kickstarter (or similar) campaign. The idea is to raise the money required before starting, and it’s also a good way to gauge the general appetite for the project.
Alternatively, pledging to support another photographer’s project is a great way to support the wider photography community. There are often lovely, unique incentives, such as having your name printed in the book as a supporter or a small, signed print to accompany the publication.
There is a plethora of photo competitions to enter every year that cater to just about every photographic interest, from travel and close-ups to landscapes and potatoes. Naturally, Amateur Photographer of Year (APOY) is a no-brainer, with amazing prizes and the ultimate in kudos. Potato Photographer of the Year will be back again in 2022 for more creative fun with tubers and to help raise money for The Trussell Trust.
You’ll find some are free to enter while others might have an entry fee; whether you want to pay or not is for you to decide. I am a regular judge for some of the big competitions and my advice, especially for the perennial favourites, would be to try to take a fresh, original approach, something that might stop the judges in their tracks.
Benedict Brain is a photographer, writer and workshop leader. He is regularly asked to judge photo competitions and in 2020 he founded Potato Photographer of the Year. Benedict also sits as Chair on the distinctions panel for the Royal Photographic Society. www.benedictbrain.com.
Best photography competitions to enter in 2021