Instructed to stop taking safe photos?

Discussion in 'Still life' started by mids1999, Mar 6, 2012.

  1. mids1999

    mids1999 Member

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    Hello,

    I have been taking a b&w film class, and was taking,mostly still life photos.
    I was instructed today to stop taking "safe" photos

    What does that mean? I missed the opportunity to ask the instructor.

    I was hoping someone here could define that statement for me and give some suggestions.
     
  2. ROL

    ROL Member

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    Ask the instructor! I haven't seen your work.

    Still life only? Then, natural lighting, landscape, documentary street, night time, etc.
     
  3. Dan Henderson

    Dan Henderson Member

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    As ROL said, it is difficult to know what the instructor meant by "safe" without seeing your work. If someone told me that, I would assume that they were encouraging me to stretch my boundaries and photograph things that were less comfortable. For example, I am quite comfortable photographing things like derelict buildings and vehicles. Adding a live model to those scenes would make them less "safe" to me; they would cause me to stretch my boundaries. But you really should ask your instructor what he/she specifically meant.
     
  4. cramej

    cramej Subscriber

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    I know exactly what he means. I constantly have to tell myself to venture out and try new things, take risks, etc. in my daily life as well as photography. (here I go applying real life to photography and not the other way around...) My wife and I recently wondered why our lives felt like they were going nowhere. We stood back, evaluated and figured out that we were too comfortable with our current situation. If we wanted things to change, we had to change. There's a much longer story that I could tell, but I won't go into it.

    Anyway, you are probably very comfortable shooting still lifes. You know what you are doing and you can do it well. Sometimes venturing out into the world and trying something new can give you a new perspective on what you do best. For you, this could mean trying some really-out-there still life subjects or maybe 'still life in motion' as in shooting a still life of something that is actually in motion or 'life...still' and go out and include people and daily life activities in your compositions. I've found that in my own photography and graphic design, my work lacks that creative edge when I end up using a 'formula' for the way I do things.

    Wow, I just talked myself through this, too, and gave myself some good ideas. Maybe I need to write more.
     
  5. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    I would interpret this as "stop following rules and stop doing things you know it works."

    All those rules, like rules of the third, not put horizon in the middle, etc, etc, etc, if you follow them every time, you get good photographs each time. But none of them will be great photographs. None of them will be uniquely yours. Many of them will be like many others that has been done - well, many times!

    If you've always done certain things - like certain subjects, certain view points, certain -whatever-, consider changing. Do something else. Do something that might or might not work. Discover something new. I think your images have become too deja-vu.

    Either that or your instructor wants you to stick your head out of your sunroof while driving at 100mph and take photographs. :tongue::tongue::tongue:
     
  6. clayne

    clayne Member

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    No offense, but they might be trying to subtly tell you that while still life photography is perfectly valid, there's a chance your photographs come off as boring.
     
  7. Moopheus

    Moopheus Member

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    However, it's generally a good idea to draw the line at photos that might put you on an FBI watch list. Admittedly, these days that could be almost anything, but still.
     
  8. Worker 11811

    Worker 11811 Member

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    I agree. He might think you're in a rut. You've found a formula that works and you've gone as far as you can with it.

    He's probably thinking, "Okay, these pictures are nice but what else does he have?"

    I was taking a class about 20 years ago. One day, I walked by an old, abandoned factory building with broken windows. Got a picture of that.
    A while later, I was walking down the street and saw a broken beer bottle. Shot that.
    Another block over, there was a car with the headlight smashed out. Shot another one.
    By the time I got home, I shot up my two rolls. I went in to the lab, developed, proofed and printed them.
    The prof. liked them and, after that, I got on a roll.
    The next week, after that, I brought my assignment to class and the prof. said, "What's with all the broken sh*t?" He made me go out and do it all over again.

    The lesson I learned and, what I think the prof. is telling you is, "Don't be a 'one trick pony.'" :wink:
     
  9. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser

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    "safe"

    safe (sf)
    adj. saf·er, saf·est
    1. Secure from danger, harm, or evil.
    2. Free from danger or injury; unhurt: safe and sound.
    3. Free from risk; sure: a safe bet.
    4. Affording protection: a safe place.
    5. Baseball Having reached a base without being put out, as a batter or base runner.
    n.
    1. A metal container usually having a lock, used for storing valuables.
    2. A repository for protecting stored items, especially a cooled compartment for perishable foods: a cheese safe.
    3. Slang A condom.

    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/safe


    your instructor is probably referring to definition #3

    photograph and ( art in general )
    is about taking risks.
    i am guessing your still lives are pretty nice

    but you could probably do something out of the ordinary,
    juxtaposition, or point of view or anything else ...

    or as other people have suggested .. it is all about "comfort zone "
    maybe your instructor wants you to photograph a situation where you have to interact
    with the subjects .... architecture, portraits ...

    good luck !
    john
     
  10. John Austin

    John Austin Member

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    There are two answers to this question - Firstly, make images that are edgy and push your awareness of your subject and treatment, meaning learn to see more deeply

    To me, and here I speak personally, I find the best and strongest images come from an engagement with the subject, that subject can be anything that you can deeply engage with - In the case of people the engagement must be mutual, otherwise your portraits become dead

    The other answer is the attitude of Rob't Cappa, the Magnum founder and who famously claimed "If your photos are not good enough you are not close enough" - He was a pioneer who was killed by a land mine in Indochina - Seek his work, it was part of the foundation of Magnum's reputation
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 7, 2012
  11. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    Well, I don't think your instructor wanted you to follow Robert Capa's example literally. "Hmm, I might get my head shot off maybe I'll leave the Rolleflex in the landing craft"

    Jnanian provides an excellent example of photographs that do not play it safe. I would do well to follow your instructor's advice. Though I am truly ashamed of the photos I took in high school photography, they never would have fortold my ongoing interest.

    So even if you don't follow your instructor's advice, even if your photos from this class remain safe. It doesn't mean you won't have a future...
     
  12. nsurit

    nsurit Subscriber

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    Well there are a few places that I've waundered around in that would definately not be considered safe, however my guess is that isn't what he was talking about.

    My bet goes with, if you are absolutely comfortable or certain with how your image is going to turn out because you've essentially taken the same image a hundred times, then you are playing it safe. There are many ways to test the boundries. I'd say to pick one that might be of interest and that is going to require you to learn something new. If all your photos have been still lifes of oranges, switching to apples isn't going be it. Try an unfamilair process, camera format, subject matter, compostition, etc. Have it be something that challenges you.
     
  13. johnielvis

    johnielvis Member

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    instructor, eh...well, it looks like you're forced to give him what he wants if you want a passing grade.
    if you care about the class, then suffer--find out what he means first--just tell him the truth, that you do not understand what he means and ask him to clarify, with examples if possible.
    THEN--do what he says, get the grade and go BACK to what you WANT to do--never let ANYbody tell you what's good and what's not--that's YOUR call with your work.

    HOWEVER--when you are being paid by someone, its THEIR call--and being graded is just like being paid. If the customer (instructior) don't like it, you dont' get paid (passing grade).

    You've had your fun, now it's time to "suffer." Just like other photogs that must do junk work for money to fund their REAL work that they like.
     
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  15. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

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    A 'safe' photograph is one that you think someone else will like.

    You need to make photographs you like.
     
  16. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    Don't stop taking "safe" photos, unless you want to.

    Start taking "un-safe" photos as well.

    And I agree - ask the instructor to clarify what the instructor meant by that. The ensuing discussion might lead to the most important lesson of all.
     
  17. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

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    I think your instructor wants you to desist from shooting still life picture of large secure metal lockable boxes :D.
     
  18. silveror0

    silveror0 Member

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    Lots of speculation here - some possibly accurate - as to what the instructor meant. An instructor's job is to COMMUNICATE to a student, avoiding ambiguous terms. The student, if he/she is serious in wanting to learn, should ask for clarification if instruction lacks clarity. In this instance, there is the possibility that the instructor's "style" was simply to test the seriousness of a student showing talent, in anticipation that the student would want to delve more deeply to understand. So, to me, I think a serious student would somehow (whatever it takes) contact the instructor for clarification, even requesting face-to-face discussion if that's possible. A good instructor would at least provide (in class) his phone number and/or his email address for students' use if needed.
     
  19. mark

    mark Member

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    Take in a still life of dog excrement and title it Worthless Vague Instructor Comment.

    Your instructor has given you nothing to work towards. Make an appointment during office hours and ask him to fully explain his comment.
     
  20. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    Ah, I am pretty sure that the instructor means to take more creative risks. If you don't know what that means then this will be a great assignment! I have heard writing instructors make similar admonitions.

    It is too easy ... and "safe"... to take the kinds of photographs that you know will be accepted by most of the people who see it. One of the common ways that photographers fall into that rut is outright mimicry of shots that they know will be accepted. Another way is to conform to compositional "rules" such as:

    -rule of thirds
    -the more sharp detail the better
    -unwanted distractions should be dissolved into blur
    -shots should be level i.e. vertical lines should be perfectly vertical
    -don't over or under-expose
    etc.

    Just try to take some shots that nobody has ever seen before. Make your instructor say WTF?!
     
  21. mids1999

    mids1999 Member

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    Thanks for all of the feedback.

    I have made another attempt to contact the instructor.
    In reply to this email, the instructor stated to start taking pictures of things that "talk to me in some way".
    This has me even more confounded, as that is what I thought I had been doing all along.

    I do not think they mean for me to break the rules of composition, as they have been pushing the students to follow those rules all semester.
     
  22. dehk

    dehk Member

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    Maybe we should see some of your works ?

    Maybe your teacher meant, stop taking photos only by following all his rules (technical), but also a photo that speaks to you, have emotion, or meaning etc..
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 7, 2012
  23. johnielvis

    johnielvis Member

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    geeze what a reply "talk to me somehow"...what the hell does that mean...well..i guess you gotta get into his head--does he like cats? a cat picture will talk to him...like that

    who's his class favorite pupil---look at what he's doing and do him one better same way...just move a leaf over or something and talk about the altered juxtaposition makes it a much more significant interpretation....

    yup...pay attention in class to what he says he likes--what does he shoot?
     
  24. Worker 11811

    Worker 11811 Member

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    I had a prof. who had recently completed chemotherapy for cancer but the treatment wasn't completely successful and the prognosis wasn't good. One of the other students found out that he had a "thing" about grave stones.

    Word got around pretty fast... If you want to push his buttons, take pictures of grave stones.

    I had an English prof. who liked cute animals. So, for my final writing project, I wrote a short story about cute, forest animals... Aced it! :D

    Find out what makes your prof's boat float and take advantage. :wink:
     
  25. John Austin

    John Austin Member

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    Today I live my call sign

    I admit to being worried about this thread the moment I read the OP - What is required should have been obvious and the replies above are sycophantic and stupid - If your teacher falls for that sort of slimy approach she is not worth wasting time with

    In order to be truthful in your photography you must be truthful to yourself, both very difficult for any person - So to be encouraged to photograph through your teacher's eyes is deplorable - Bugger classroom results, the development of your own seeing is what is demanded here

    In asking you to leave your comfort zone, safe pictures, it seemed to me teacher was asking you to go out and explore your own perceptions - Now sit with yourself staring at a wall until what your really want to explore rises in your mind, this usually takes about three years to start happening

    Failing that, photograph something you love, something you loathe and something fear and try to engage with each area
     
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  26. Valerie

    Valerie Subscriber

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    Ok, so how about something from a photo teacher's perspective. If I told a student to stop playing it safe, I would mean stop doing what is obviously comfortable. If you like still life, maybe you should try street photography. Maybe use a different format or process. By doing still lifes over and over, you will get into a rut difficult to get out of. Perhaps you are the greatest still life photog that ever existed. Great. Good for you. But don't you have any other facets to show us?

    What I do NOT want to see are photos that look like someone has followed some "plan" designed to please me. Surprise me instead. Make me see things YOUR way, from your unique perspective. I can't imagine any decent instructor who wants to see entire classes of "mini-me's". Additionally, "stop playing it safe" could be a open ended comment designed to make you think/meditate/ponder/reconsider a little about what you are shooting. A teacher's job is to guide you to directions you may not be aware of yet.... To urge you off the beaten path and into unknown territory where you can be fully expressive of the MANY aspects of your art instead of only one or two.

    ...... That will be 2 cents, please.....