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The Pequod
Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Through exploring the psychopathology of Capgras syndrome, in which a patient mistakes a loved one for an imposter, The Echo Maker offers a sustained meditation on the ways in which we project our own problems onto other people. As a reflection on the mysteries of consciousness, the novel offers some interesting if not especially new insights into the fuzzy boundaries between scientific and literary interpretations of the mind. Read more


Can You Learn Photography?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I started out my photoblog in an attempt to learn photography, through getting feedback on my work. I quickly found, though, that as with my own comments on other photoblogs, most comments tend to be complimentary, and along the lines of "good shot." This is always nice, but it is not particularly instructive. Rather than a failure of the collective imagination, this is partially due to the inevitable difficultly of articulating in words what makes a good picture. But, having taken photography seriously for a few years now, I have come to the conclusion that another reason for this lack of direct advice is that in the art there is not much to "teach," let alone to "learn." What I mean by the latter is that, with modern cameras in the digital age, much of what used to be a skill of metering, focusing, developing is now done automatically, or is pretty self-evident simply by getting to know your camera and post-processing software. On the technical side, one comes up to speed pretty fast. Further, on the creative side, most images fairly obviously compose themselves, following the golden rule of thirds much of the time, whilst any bad composition can be improved in post-processing.

That is not to suggest that photographers don't get better. I hope that I have improved, and think it's fantastic that today we have such a lively web-based community in which to interact and exchange ideas and images. But I think that my improvement lies mainly in my being able to see intuitively what will make a good photograph (take my Fountains Abbey shots, for example) rather than my ability to use my tools in any special way. I have learnt more by practice, and less by actively learning.

The point of this lengthy reflection is that my most recent post is, I think, a rare example of a photograph I have learnt to take, through reading books and through looking at other photographers' work. It is an image I could not have captured before, not just because I would not have "seen" the shot in the moving sea, but because I would not have had the technical know-how. Walking around Tynemouth lido at dusk, I realised that I could execute a technically more difficult shot. In this case, I wanted a long exposure that captured the sense of movement in the sea, but being handheld I knew I couldn't really use anything much longer than half a second if it was to look like sea, rather than a blurry mess. So I decided that by using a bit of flash, I could capture the rocks sharply but, by setting the exposure manually, could also keep the sense of dynamism in the sea. I am really pleased with the outcome, not just because of the shot as a finished product, but because I was putting into practice a technique I learned. I am not, and will never be, a naturally gifted, hence great photographer; but it is positive to realise that I can improve through time and with experience.

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Posted by Alistair at 10:53 am

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