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Stuart Shafran Conceptual Photography

Welcome to my very first attempt at writing a blog. I’ve always been a bit of a writer, but I’ve never written a blog before, so I guess I’ll have to see how it goes. I guess I’ll also have to explain what this blog is meant to be about, who it’s for and why I”m even bothering to write it. First, let’s start with what this blog is meant to be about. Quite simply, it’s about photography. Or more specifically, it’s about conceptual photography. Conceptual photography is basically photography where the purpose of taking the photo is to illustrate a specific idea. So the photo itself isn’t being taken to make money, to capture a particular moment in time or to present the viewer with a beautiful picture. The main objective of taking the photo is to express an idea. Now this can be pretty open ended, because an idea doesn’t have to be based on a particular genre and the only limitation is your own imagination. I’ll be talking far more about this in later blogs, but for now let’s just leave it at that and explain who this blog is actually for. I’m hoping to obtain a fairly broad readership, but the people who will read this blog probably all have one thing in common – they will primarily be interested in photography, or at the very least, in taking photographs. I’m also hoping that the people who read this will be interested in using photography as a means of expression, as an art form, as an outlet for their own ideas.

Portrait of man holding up one finger

No, the photograph above is not me. It’s a black and white picture of a man I met in the street in Montreal, Canada. I had an idea; I wanted to take pictures of people I met in the street. I wanted to take this man’s portrait because he was an appealing character and I wanted him in a certain pose that would express that character. I enjoy taking pictures and I enjoy thinking about the reasons behind why I take the pictures. Which brings me on to why I’m writing this blog. I am now at a point in my life where I can begin concentrating more fully on my photography. I feel like I’m at the beginning of a new journey, and I have the urge to describe this journey in detail, in the hope that people reading this can get something useful from it. But also in the hope that I can obtain something useful from the people reading this blog as well. It’s a two way thing – your thought, your comments, your criticisms, I’m hoping to use them to help me on my journey….

So there we have it! Let’s see happens next….

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Leaves in Snow

This type of image has probably been done to death by one photographer or another, but not by me! Until now…

Objective here was to create an image that looked like a Chinese painting. I played around with various pictorial effects but in the end I settled for a simplistic monochrome effect that was neither high nor low key… just mid-range tones. I felt that the addition of a black border to frame the image would enhance the effect, but I wasn’t sure if I should keep the image in its original landscape format or rotate it into a portrait format. So I did both. However, I think I still prefer the original landscape format…

Some thoughts on printing

A couple of images from issue 3 of my Photozine ‘Personal Views’, which I’m pleased to say is still going strong and being issued (at the moment) on a monthly basis. I’m not sure how long I can keep up the monthly schedule though; after issue 5 or 6 it may slip to a two monthly schedule.

I must admit, I am very pleased with the print quality from Blurb, who are printing the photozine in their premium quality magazine format. When I decided to concentrate on printing my images this year instead of just displaying them digitally, I had a long think about how this could best be achieved. There are a lot of options for printing images, including individual prints for framing as well as photo-books, but I wanted to produce something that could be both readily available to people and relatively cheap, as well as high quality. The main goal here was not specifically to make money, but to produce hard copies of my work as was popular before the digital age. Seeing an image in print is far more satisfying and aesthetically pleasing than flicking through countless pictures on a phone or tablet.

The problem with printing lots of individual images was finding space to store them, especially if they ended up being framed. I was printing at A4 and A3 sizes, often larger, and I was storing the unframed images in clear cello bags. I was getting the images printed on high quality fuji paper with a satin finish. I wanted to try the various art papers as well, but individual prints on art paper are expensive especially if printed large. Metal prints look great but are also expensive. The other problem I had was that unless I exhibited the prints in a gallery or in some other way, no-one else was likely to see them.

I was also using the photo-book option and waiting for print sales to keep the cost of the photo-book down. This was fine for displaying images in a one-off book, but if other people wanted a copy of the book then it was going to cost them. Even discounted in a sale, the cheapest I could pay for a high quality 100 page photo-book was around £45, but that was usually with around 70% off. Normal price would be much more.

So, the ‘Photozine’ or magazine format became a very viable option. It also appealed to my collecting nature – it could be something to collect on a regular basis. It enabled other people to view my images in print rather than in digital format, although through Blurb I have selected the option to allow the entire magazine to be viewed digitally as well for free. Links to the latest issue of the Photozine underneath the tiger image for those who are interested!

Personal Views
Issue 3
By Stuart Shafran
Photo book

Crazy Colours!

I’m still churning through ‘The Polaroid Book’, selections from the polaroid collections of photography, looking at five or six images a day and gaining inspiration from each of these fantastic images. Many well known photographers have contributed images to this book, as well as a few lesser known photographers. One of the lesser known photographers is a French photographer called Alain Filhol, who has two photographs reproduced in the book. It was those two photographs that inspired me to create the above image.

Alain Filhol creates vividly coloured images that remind me of Andy Warhol’s work. I love his compositions and I love his use of colour. I have searched the internet for more of his work but only managed to find two more images, so in total I have seen just four of his images. I hope he won’t mind if I show two of those four images in this post – one from the book and one I found on the internet, to show you what I mean:

Just look at those crazy colours! The second image looks like he’s recoloured a black and white photograph with those vivid shades. His compositions are very simple and very beautiful. He’s not concerned with trying to reproduce the colours he saw when he took the photographs, he’s using colours to create dramatic impact. This for me is the perfect use of colour in an image – if you’re going to use colour you might as well use it to make a bold and dramatic statement.

Here are a couple more of my own images, attempting in my own way to use vivid colours to make a statement:

The Tree on the Mountain

I saw this amazing tree at Playa de Santiago in La Gomera. The only problem was that it wasn’t exactly located in a scenic place… it was adjacent to an ugly building next to a narrow street and there were two power cables extending through the tree. There were also a number of metal poles sticking up, adding more ugliness to the view. And right behind the tree was another ugly building…

However, I really liked the look of the tree and was determined to give it back its majesty and beauty in whatever way I could. This called for some extensive post processing, masking out the tree, replacing the sky and repositioning the tree in a more stunning location, which turned out to be on top of a mountain.

This is the first composite image I’ve attempted this year after having sworn off them at the end of last year, but I do feel it was necessary in this case. Here’s the original image for comparison!

La Gomera

This week, a sneak preview of some images from the island of La Gomera, off the coast of Tenerife. La Gomera is the second smallest of the Canary islands, which are located in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa. La Gomera has an area of 370 square kilometres but a population of only 21,000 people. The island is very mountainous with a large nature reserve in the centre. It’s incredibly scenic and the ideal place for hiking and biking as well as photography!

I came back from the island with around one thousand photos and have just begun work on post processing some of the images. It usually takes me several weeks to post-process images from a trip and even then I never get around to going through them all. I tend to just go through them in the order they were taken, so the ones I’m posting here are a few of the early ones and not necessarily the best ones. I often go back and revisit images from past trips… I’m still going through some of my travel images from four years ago!

Anyway, here’s a few images from La Gomera:

And finally, March issue (2) of Personal Views is now available for purchase or preview:

Personal Views
Personal Views
By Stuart Shafran
Photo book

White Orchid

This is actually one of the first pictures I took with a digital camera when I originally became interested in taking photographs, way back in early 2006. In those days, six megapixels was standard resolution for digital SLR cameras such as the Nikon D70 (my first digital SLR). This image was also cropped into a square format so its probably only about 2 megapixels in size. It still looks fine on a screen though and I’m pretty sure I could print it as an 8×8 (inch) or even slightly larger… just goes to show that the number of megapixels in some of these modern cameras is overkill.

When I first started taking photographs I took a lot of images of cats and flowers. I still like some of those early images I took, sometimes even more than my later images! So its always good to take a look backwards and see how my photography has progressed (or not, as the case may be)…