Colour in your camera

I’ve got an old photography book called Colour in your Camera by Gösta Skoglund.  The subtitle is ‘a book of colour photographs to show how to make colour photographs’. No punning or obscure titles here – this book is clear in its intentions.

What brought it to mind is that I’ve been thinking about colour recently. This, despite the majority of my pictures being black and white. Film-makers have made increasing use of the facility with digital capture of changing the overall colour balance of a film, or of using specific coloured lighting to set the mood of scenes. People joke about the Mexico filter, where the scene is rendered with strong yellow/ orange cast to make it look dusty and desert-like.

The reason why I even have to think about colour is that I’m late to the party (as usual). I started out using mostly black and white film and still shoot a lot of mono. I’ve even set one of my digital cameras to save and show a mono jpeg but keep the full colour version as a raw file. I like thinking about tone and shape. And then colour came along. Originally I shot colour slide film, as it was “pure”. Even then, the quick-result colour processsors could give you strange colour casts in your prints. I had some idea in my head that slide film retained the artist’s true vision (cue laughter and me slapping myself on the head). I think I had just read too many photography magazines.

What I missed with my gradual movement to using digital was that I was no longer at the mercy of the developer and printer – I could change the colours myself. I also got a total slap upside the head (I get lots of these) from my wife when we were looking at paint for the house. The big display of colour cards at the local DIY store was not a finely-graded copy of a rainbow but had some method behind it. Going side to side at a fixed horizontal level showed you colours with the same tonal value. This meant that, under the same lighting, different rooms would not be brighter or darker unless you meant them to be. Going verticaly up the colour swatches kept the same colour but varied the tonal value, so I could keep the particular shocking pink or acid green I had set my heart on and vary the brightness to suit the room or lighting.

Who knew? Well not me, obviously. I’m not sure I am colour-blind but I do appear to be colour-stupid. Or is it tone-deaf? What I have found to play and learn with is a colour wheel that will show me complimentary or contrasting colours.

There have been a couple of articles on t’interweb recently that got me thinking more about what colour means. One was a run-through of how colours are used to express mood. I also dived down the rabbit hole following a detailed analysis of the colours used in the film Ad Astra. The analysis was right – there is a very strong use of colour and colour cues in the film (it’s a shame it wasn’t also a good film, but it does mean you can focus on the colours).

I wonder if still photography can be as subtle as cinema though? In a film the viewer is hopefully concentrating on the story and action, and the colours are perhaps subtle clues that inform the viewer but may not even be noticed? A still image rests before the viewer with no distraction, so perhaps it gets more scrutiny? It has got me thinking, anyway. I wonder if I could experiment with strong ‘unnatural’ colours. I’ve also done some split toning of mono images before, so I will be using the colour wheel to look at the effect of making the highlight and shadow colours truly complimentary or analogous.

Complimentary colours
Analogous colours

I am also playing with spot colour or overall tone for mood.

So while I might be the last person to discover this, I’m going to spend more time both noticing the colours that exist and choosing the colours I use. Amusingly, I will be doing this as we head into our British winter, where the predominant colour is grey. So are there any other good resources I could study while I wait for the sun to return?

Winning

I’m a bit conflicted. I watched a presentation by a photographer whose intention was to win photography competitions. I’ve nothing against that – I’ve said before that I joined a club to have some social contact, and that they also run competitions. What felt strange though was this person’s extreme focus on taking the winning shot.

I should add – I have nothing against this person or their work. This is about how it made me feel and think.

It was almost as if the actual subject didn’t matter. The aim was to get pictures of say, people engaged in sports, with dynamic postures, frozen motion and clear facial expressions. This usually meant shooting in burst mode – 10 to 11 frames a second and racking up thousands of images from each event. I would struggle to select the best from that quantity and I would certainly struggle to store and catalogue them all.

Now, I can see why a professional photographer would do this. Their job depends on getting the perfect shot, so why not use the facilities available to shorten the odds? But I’m an amateur. I enjoy the process of photography as well as the result. I’ve taken pictures of sports and enjoy it greatly, but I can’t see myself shooting thousands of pictures of a single event. It may be rooted in my use of film when I first started. I might have had the capacity for a hundred shots if I brought extra film. Each shot I took was a single, with a pause to wind-on after each one and a longer pause to reload fresh film.

I remember the first sporting event I went to. My best mate’s sister was riding a horse in a point-to-point, which is basically cross-country and jumping fences. I had one camera, a 50mm lens and a 2x teleconverter. If you are prepared to be sensible with your own safety and that of the horse and rider it’s possible to stand at the end of a fence and get pictures of them jumping.

Of course, we got bored between races…

Later on I used to go to motorcycle trials, with the classic or pre-1965 bikes being a favourite. Here again you can get close to the action where the riders traverse the judged sections. And here again you need your good sense and the agreement of the people involved to not get in the way or fire a flash in the rider’s eyes.

So what am I saying? I found it odd that a photographer would take professional measures to shoot sports, when they didn’t want the professional outcome.

The photographer chose which sporting events to cover based on how likely the pictures were to win in competitions. So the ideal is a sport that not many other people cover, to which you can get good access and where the athletes make good shapes and expressions. But the result is literally thousands of images, with the chosen few then given a heavy workover in PhotoShop. I’m not sure that sounds like fun.

On the other hand I probably don’t take sport photography seriously enough. I went to a more recent motorcycle trial (by the way, this is trials riding – off road balancing over obstacles – and nothing to do with testing motorcycles) before the covid lockdown. I was shooting digital and took around 120 pictures, of which the editing got down to 70 I like. That fits better with my general avoidance of hard work.

Nice bit of Dutch Angle too

But, despite my grumbling, we are still at least this much of a free country. I couldn’t work that hard at taking pictures just to win competitions, but some can. I’m not that competitive, but some are. It’s a good job we’re not all the same.

What do you think? Are competitions important? How hard are you willing to work for your pleasure?

ICM

Intentional camera movement and nothing to do with missiles. I didn’t even know it had a name until I heard someone talking about it. It used to be something that happened by accident, or you were Ernst Haas.

The trigger was looking at some pictures by Keith Snell. He’s been using a lot of intentional blurring and I liked the results. It’s also where I first heard it had a name. I’d done a few blurries in the past (easier to say than ICM) but not made much of it.

I’d also had a go at the Ernst Haas thing, directly influenced by his picture of a matador.

Everyone has done the fairground rides at night, with the motion of the rides streaking into wheels and arcs. Try taking your camera on the ride instead.

This could have done with a lick of flash to show my mate’s face a bit better

I’ve also got a Spinner camera, that pulls the film past a slot behind the lens as the camera rotates. But if you hold the camera still and let the mechanism spin, you get a long streak of blur.

While movement is easy with a digital camera, double exposure isn’t. Except it turns out it can be. My dSLR has a feature that I believe many have, of combining multiple exposures in-camera. I thought it was a feature that could reduce noise in dark scenes or at high ISO. But I now know it can be used just like double or multiple exposure on film. On my camera you have to set it up first by telling it how many exposures to combine and whether the exposures are additive or should be averaged together. But these are just settings to be experimented with.

This was taken with multiple exposures to build up enough light when using a simple camera.

I am liking some of the results though. Just to point out that these were made with a camera phone app rather than using the dSLR, as it’s more convenient.

Nice pastel shades and a bit Impressionist.

I quite like the effect of building a predominant colour and leaving the detail low. I’ve done some black and white prints previously that were toned to match the wall they were on. I might write about that too – photography as interior design – who’d a thunk it?

Anyway, what I need to be clear about is that I have no intention of copying another photographers’ work. What I want to do is learn their technique so that I can use it for my own pictures. It’s another tool in the box. If I may quote the inestimable Neil Gaiman “we all swipe when we start. We trace, we copy, we emulate. But the most important thing is to get to the place where you’re telling your own stories, painting your own pictures, doing the stuff that no-one else could have done but you”.

Still trying.

Book covers

Look at the books around you. Most of them have a picture on the cover. I’d never really thought about, but there is a whole industry that provides cover pictures.

Basically it’s the photo stock pictures business, but focused on a specific use case.

I’d also had some fanciful idea that it was the photographer’s job to interpret the book. My, how the publishers would laugh. Usually, the photographer provides pictures to an agency, which holds a large library of images. The people designing the book pick an image to fit the subject of the book or, more likely, its genre. This is probably why ‘dead or threatened woman’ thrillers have so often got a woman in a red coat walking with her back to you. And why ‘tough loner’ thrillers have a man walking away down the road. The picture tells you what the book is likely to contain even if you don’t know the author.

What got me thinking was my wife, a great fan of detective crime thrillers. She mentioned that there can be a mismatch between the quality of the cover and that of the text. Most often it seems to fail so that good books get bad covers. By that, I mean a cover that looks cheap, or lacking good design. Quite often the cover picture is trite: a formulaic copy of what other people are doing (red coat, back turned) or a literal version of the story (a pen leaking blood was a recent one). Sometimes, despite the cover, a book is good. It doesn’t seem to work as much the other way round – I guess a book published with no budget and less hope doesn’t get much other than a stock image on the front.

This is not the photographer’s fault. The snapper posts probably hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pictures to the agency. The pen leaking blood could have been used anywhere. It was a designer who thought ‘this book is about someone who writes murder stories and may have committed the crimes too, so what we need is a killing pen’. Or perhaps the designer is working on yet another Scandinavian endangered woman thriller by an unknown author and wants to signal the genre to potential readers. Cue the red coat. I make it sound easy, but it’s marketing and it usually works.

There will be a bespoke market too, where a particular photographer is commissioned to produce a specific picture. As in all such things, this will work to a power law: a few people get all the work and all the money and there is a long tail of the remainder. So I expect there are only a few known book-cover photographers.

I suppose the pictures that get on the covers are strong support for the Filmosaur proposal (point 3 of the manifesto) that a picture has no meaning but what the viewer thinks it means. A picture of a man running across a city bridge could mean anything from a thriller to a guide to time management. Or, using the picture of the slide above, anything from lost child to lost childhood.

Anyway, there is a whole industry out there creating pictures for book covers. What might be fun would be to shoot a picture for a book you like, just to play with capturing the story in a single image or even to pun on the contents. I admit to doing the opposite in my past, which was to hide all of the cover art and text beneath dust jackets made from old wallpaper or brown paper. It meant I could read anything I liked at school or commuting.

Anyway, I’m just waffling about something that caught my interest. If you want to know more about it or if the idea of shooting covers for a stock agency interests you, you could start somewhere like here.

Curating

Ever put a ‘zine or book together or assembled a set of pictures to exhibit?How do you decide what is in, what is out and what order the pictures should be in?

What got me thinking was an article by Grant Scott were he says that photographers need help with both curating and layout. Layout I definitely agree with – I’m the IT guy so I think green text on a black screen background is an undervalued part of our legacy. And a screen should be 80 characters wide and 25 deep. Curating though – deciding what is in or out and what order to put it in – I find it fascinating. The other trigger for this was my trawling of old photos and realising that I was keeping a lot of stuff that I really didn’t need and would never use.

But, back to the start. Imagine you had to present your life’s (photographic) work. Do you put it in chronological order, the major themes that have influenced you, the different styles you have used or by subject matter? Do all the portraits go on one wall, landscapes on another and selfies in the bin? Chronology seems good if you want to show the span of a career or life and how the photographer developed. Organising by assignment or theme seems good if the photographer has investigated several distinct subjects. There is also the power of repetition. Think of something like Anil Mistry’s book of abandoned mattresses.

I can give you a worked example from a small print exhibition I put on with a pal. The venue was a local wine bar. Upstairs room, maybe 10m square, old exposed brickwork. So the first decision was a common print size and a standard frame. We wanted a viewing distance of one to two meters so the prints worked best at A4. Random use of vertical and horizontal pictures because a fixed pattern would draw attention to itself and away from the pictures. Then we spread the pictures by subject type – there wasn’t going to be a set of landscapes together, then portraits for example. That may work if we were famous and prolific but in this case it might influence people to only look at part of the display – cute pictures of dogs, for example. Then colour range: do we ignore the main tone of the pictures or group the predominant colours and have a progression? Perhaps we should go from warm to cool to mono as you look around the room from the entrance? Or do we put the vibrant colour pictures in the darkest part of the room and the mono ones in the bright area? And are all the pictures to be hung at the same level, or do we follow what the old brickwork lets us do?

To relieve your tension, this is what we did: random vertical and horizontal, hung roughly aligned but as allowed by the brickwork, random placement of colour and subject. It was meant to look uncontrived. As Piet Hein said

“There is one art,
no more, no less:
to do all things with art-
lessness”.

But if I was ever famous, I would want someone much cleverer than me to both select the images and the way to display them. A few snaps in a wine bar is one thing, but an actual exhibition is a much bigger undertaking. Not that I’m ever likely to be famous. It’s a bit like asking if you would buy a Porsche or a Ferrari if you won the lottery.

There is also the sort of curating you would do to put pictures in a book or magazine. I think I have only made one picture book, and it was a set of old family photos put together for my mum. I did think about the placement though: should people look into the centre of the book or out? What should appear on facing pages? Is there a progression between relatives or places? Who gets the two centre pages? I probably thought more about it than my mum or anyone else who looked at the finished article, but that’s probably correct. See Mr Hein, above. The background to this, and the reason for thinking about the layout, is that I have self-published a how-to book. That meant paying a lot of attention to the way a book is structured and the features that make it easier to use.

Anyway, the other reason to curate is not to put together a show, but to organise your own library of pictures. It’s probably best to start with this version of curating so that you know what you’ve got and where it is. There is a lot of advice on t’interweb about how to curate your photos, but I’ve seen one fairly condensed set of rules here at Heartwork (other websites also apply). Their advice boils down to eliminating:

  • Duplicates
  • Mistakes, errors and bad shots
  • Landscapes (oh yes!)
  • Multiples within a series

Multiples within a series I might use for something else. I’ve used a bit of software in the past to combine a series of time-lapse pictures into a video. If I’d shot enough pictures in a series I might try that just to see what the result looked like. Or perhaps animate the shots that lead up to the best one and freeze on that as the final frame. But that’s nothing to do with curation, just me thinking out loud.

Mistakes and bad shots can be thrown away, but only after you have sucked all the learning out of them.

Empty landscapes (any landscapes, in my opinion) are boring. If it’s just a record of what was in front of you, then so what? Put people in a landscape and things get more interesting. Or take pictures of people.

Actually, there is one thing you can use the ‘technically OK but not worth keeping’ pictures for: make a mosaic. There are some apps available that you can give a target picture and a bunch of other pictures as a feed; they remake the target using tiled copies of the feed, selected by colour or tone as if they were large pixels. It’s quite good fun and I could see myself using it to create a mosaic using all the ‘spare’ pictures from an event. It’s not curating, but it is a way to make use of the pictures you would otherwise sacrifice to housekeeping. (I use AndreaMosaic for this, which is one of the Portable Apps suite)

So perhaps I’ve argued myself round in a circle. Selecting a set of pictures is interesting and another way of story-telling. Separating the good from the druff in your own pictures is instructive, saves space and can lead to other things.

Go curate!

Showing your pictures

Do you show people what was there or what you saw?

It all came about because I joined (re-joined) a photography club. They have exhibitions and shows during the year, so I looked at the programme to see what I had that might work. The easiest picture to show is one you have already taken, so I trawled my files to see what I had and liked.

It’s an interesting exercise, but it can be a depressing one. It’s great to look again at pictures I like, to remember the circumstances of when they were taken and to get a small confirmation that I can sometimes take good snaps. The counterpoint to this is the depressing realisation that so many of them are dull or trite: I took pictures of what was there in front of me with little interpretation.

It feels the same as taking pictures of graffiti: it’s not your art. It exists in a scene and a picture of it is just a record of its existence. It’s not your creativity, it’s theirs. Using the graffiti as an element in the picture can be creative; using it as the picture is not. The same with paintings and sculpture – a record of them just shows you were there. Using them as an element of the picture shows your brain was there too.

This is not a picture of a statue
Ceci est une pipe

After I got over the slump of feeling useless I realised that even though I had only captured what was in front of me, it was the basis for further interpretation. For the purists, even Ansel Adams treated the basic negative as a musical score to be interpreted in a performance. And no, I am not about to express depth of field through interpretive dance. Not with my knees. But I can take a picture and make it more like what it was I saw. I’ve done this before – I have a picture of a friend’s motor bike. It’s a basic picture of a bike. But what I saw in its location is what I turned the picture into – something more moody.

The original shot has detail in the engine and so on, but that wasn’t the point of the picture.

This is probably not news to anyone, but it has got a bit of my enthusiasm back. I hereby declare to never more show pictures I think are boring (unless there is a reason to do so). Of course, your opinion of my pictures may differ. But I’m promising myself – if I’m going to show pictures to other people I should show them what I feel or what I saw, not just what was in front of me when I pressed the button.

Clubbing together

I got into a real rut during the covid lockdown and isolation and just about stopped taking pictures. I had packed a lot of my gear away to do some house decorating and didn’t feel like taking it out again. My scuba diving was on hold and although I was taking lots of country walks, landscapes are really not my thing.

Lethargy is a terrible feeling – you are blocked from doing something, then you lose interest in it. Work didn’t help – working from home turns out to be more intensive and less enjoyable than working in the presence of other people. What I needed was a kick up the aperture.

So I have joined a photography club. Or rather, a camera club. It seems that it was called a photography club when it was formed but changed its name. Perhaps I’m making something of nothing, but I do hope the emphasis is on photography and not cameras.

I know I have been critical of club culture in the past, but this was a way to change what I was (not) doing and challenge myself with something different. It was also a reason to get out of the house. And to unpack the camera kit, too.

The first thing to look at, of course, is the programme of speakers. Double drat that I missed someone talking about underwater photography, but he’s coming back to talk about sports photography. Beats still life.

What could I contribute? Well, I did run a learning session on PhotoShop at the previous place and I do have my cookbook for obtaining certain effects, so that might have some value. And after writing that I remembered that I also write a blog (duh!). Not that I can preen, but it shows that I put at least a little effort into my photography.

The first good news was that my local library, where I saw that the club actually existed, had an exhibition of their work. All pictures of animals (although aren’t I supposed to call it wildlife?). Pretty good. They also had a small box of leaflets with little posting box. The leaflets were a few questions asking the reader what aspects of their photography they were struggling with or wanted to improve, with space for contact details. Even better. This looked like a group that were helpful and inclusive. Not like the attitude you often see online where anyone who knows less than the respondent (troll) must be stupid. Or even worse, female. (You know what, guys? You can also use your finger to press the shutter button).

Oops! Deep breath. Put down the troll-hammer. These look like nice people.

So the first meeting was judging the entries to a club competition. And being the plague years, it was done online. This is actually way better than the club judgings I have been in before. Everyone can see the picture, for a start, plus everyone can hear the judge’s comments. And there is no muttering from the back of the room. I’m sure there is plenty of muttering, but it’s on the chat channel and not out loud.

The subject of the competition was minimalism, and as we know, I do like a bit of that.

And straying off the subject, as I do, it got me thinking about how you judge a picture. The obvious subjective judgement is how it makes you feel. I’m not talking about cute pictures of kittens here, but what emotions does the picture create? The good ones will have you running around with your hair on fire, the other stuff makes you shrug.

That doesn’t help in a competition though, when you are supposed to use objective and repeatable criteria. And, like all good standards, there are several to choose from.

The Guild of Photographers lists 12 items. A club may have its own scoring. How about some criteria that survived the scrutiny of Mensa? Or something quite specific to macro work?

This is the kind of thing the judges like

It looks like all of them broadly agree on what is good and bad. Or perhaps compliant and not. What would be interesting would be to score some of the great photographs against these schemes. Or perhaps not, because what makes a picture great is my simple rule 1: how does it make you feel? This leaves no way of comparing one against another, which is what the competition is supposed to do.

Technically, a bit rubbish

So I’ll leave it as it is. A club is a social thing and we run little competitions as much to get feedback and appreciation as anything else. And I am very happy with that.

But, do I enter pictures that I think have impact, even if they are technically poor? Or do I enter my technically best pictures? Or do I enter the stuff I’m experiment with to get some feedback? Do I put photos in to impress the judges and get points, or do I show the pictures I like most?

To be true to myself I think I am going to show the pictures that I like and I would be happy to show other people. It’s as simple as that.

Amateurish

I love being an amateur photographer. I am not a professional – I don’t need to make enough (or any) money from my pictures to live on. I don’t need to do marketing or sales. I especially don’t have to do accountancy.

I don’t need likes, which is probably just as well. I am not an influencer and I don’t need reader traffic to generate income. Out of curiosity, visits to shops was called footfall (when we used to go to shops). What do you call visits to your Instagram – eyefall?

I don’t even need to please other people. That makes it sound like I’m some weird Onan the Cameraman, but I do this thing because I want to and I like the results. Actually, that still fits the Onan label, but bear with me…

My wife, who is clever and learned, tells me about internal and external locus of control. In this context, are you driven by internal standards or external targets? That of course led down the rabbit hole – if you could take anything you liked from a shop without paying and nobody would ever know, would you? Would you still be good if nobody was looking and would never know?

So what has philosophy and ethics got to do with photography? Quite a lot, though it’s not really the point of this piece. Perhaps another time…

What it all means in this context is who your pictures are for. I’ve taken pictures at the request of other people and those people are the measure of my success, where that means they are pleased with the results. But the amateur stuff, the pictures I take most of the time, are taken to please me. I am my audience and my critic.

It’s taken a while to get here. Over the years I have taken pictures just for the pleasure in taking them. I always wanted to take good pictures, but I was happy to snap everything that came along. By good, I mean good to me: results I liked. What it took a long time to realise is what subjects I really liked. That let me relax and stop fretting about the things I didn’t like and focus on what I did. For example, cars are boring, but details of cars or cars doing things? Much more interesting. People are always interesting, but people doing things are fascinating. Or there is the odd and the weird that sometimes turns up in juxtapositions or looking with a alien eye. This sort of stuff I love. Which is the meaning of amateur.

Nobody tells me what pictures to take or how they should look. Nobody judges my pictures (well, of course they do, but in their head). Comparison is the thief of joy (as someone said), but I’m not asking to be compared.

It all sounds very self-congratulatory though, doesn’t it? Like humble-bragging. It’s not meant to be and I’m sorry if it sounds like it. What I am is happy that I like taking pictures that please me, and they don’t have to be for anyone else. It’s a great freedom and I intend to stop worrying and enjoy it for what it is (satisfying, difficult, engaging) and worry even less about what it isn’t (successful, famous, etc). I will cover my walls with pictures that make me happy.

The Casual challenge

I do like a bit of a challenge and those nice people over at Casual Photofile have created one. A list of 34 things to photograph. The extra challenge for film users is to get them all, in order, on a single roll. Game on!

So this is going to take a bit of thought. I can’t take several shots of something and pick the best. I’m going to have to Deer Hunter it. I’m also using a camera for which I only have one lens, so there’s no playing about with that either.

I also cocked up at the start. I was using a new light meter I’d just bought without giving enough attention to how it worked. So the first couple of frames may be underexposed. I may have to stand-develop the film to recover those without blowing the rest.

Another aspect to the challenge is that thing about doing it all on a single roll of film. If I was going to shoot pictures on the theme of something wet, for example, I would go to a place and take several pictures. But this is one shot. I suppose I could go to the place anyway and take the challenge camera with me, then decide at the time which scene to commit to film. But I would prefer to think about the theme and take just the one shot. It feels more in keeping with the idea of the challenge, especially as I will be taking the pictures around where I live as I emerge blinking into the light after lockdown.

Taking only one shot of each subject is a challenge too. Like most people I would normally develop an idea. I’d take a picture, then reframe it or change the exposure, or maybe alter the depth of field. But this is one shot: what I shot is what I got.

So what did I do? I carried a copy of the list around with me and thought about what the next subject could be. If I hadn’t got the challenge camera with me I went back to shoot my single frame.

For anyone that didn’t follow the link above, this is the challenge list:

How did I do? Well, the original plan was to shoot the whole role, develop and scan it and then put the pictures up here. But I am conscious that it is taking me time and that if you wanted to have a go, all I am adding is delay. I will therefore post this as it stands and then come back to it later when I have my photos to show.

It also gives me time to think about what I want each item to mean. “Wooden” for example – something made of wood is easy; a bad actor would be harder.

Have a go.

What are you looking at?

When you go out, what do you look at? Probably your phone. If you’re out with a camera, what do you look at? Is it the thing you came to take pictures of, or other things (or your phone)?

It can be boring walking around with a camera hoping something will turn up. When it does, it’s often the same old stuff, shot in the same old ways.

So how do you get to (or back to) a state of wonder where everything is unusual? Because if you look with curiosity the world is fascinating.

That might be the answer. I’m a curious person, in both senses. I want to know how everything works. Except people of course, as my wife points out. Which is fine by the way – we compliment each other’s weak spots. But I do seem to spend my time when we’re out going ‘ooh, what’s that?’. What it leads to is me looking everywhere but where I’m going. Which is also fine, by the way – I still manage to dodge the things I shouldn’t step in.

Anyway, the point of this is to ask if it’s possible to develop that curiosity to see things that could be pictures. Or if you want to – I’m not saying this is a good thing and I’m certainly no paragon. But it can be fun. If you have ever had to wander around streets of shops (we will get to do this again, I’m sure) there is more to see than what’s in the windows.

Try looking up. Lots of buildings are older than the shop they contain and the clues are above the shopfront.

Sometimes you have to pretend to be an alien. If you didn’t know what a thing was, what could it be? A book that is very good for this is POET – the psychology of everyday things. It studies the assumptions that are built into objects. Like a door with a big loop handle that you have to push, not pull. (And then go and read my rant about poor design assumptions). But in this case it’s a way of looking at the world around you.

Someone installed a pylon upside-down

So it makes you think about why the things you see look the way they do. Who decided to do it that way, and why?

How would you have spaced the words?

Sometimes the alien says ‘how did that get to be there?’ Rather than just assuming that it is. This is the same thing that so annoyed my mum – she bought a film and lent me the family camera for a school trip to France and I came home with pictures of bins.

I do remember how much I enjoyed one aspect of geography at school, and that was being given a map and asked to work out why a town or village came to be where it is. It was usually down to paths and rivers, transport and raw materials. One way of recreating that interest, and another book recommendation, is to have a look at some Gooleys.

Sometimes weird stuff happens

But sometimes the weird stuff is just there for the looking.

So next time you’re out, be more alien.

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