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Quick Tip: Errors from the Past are Today's Creativity

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Digital cameras helped to transform those shots that would probably go into the bin in film days into creative expressions. Today, we'll dive in and learn some techniques to "create errors" that can expand your arsenal of photographic tools.

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When shooting film, photographers advance and shoot the "first frames" and get a few shots like this one, that will go in the wastebin.

People will mostly look for sharp pictures, but many times will be amazed with soft, blurred images they are confronted with. That's artistic, they will say. The truth is that only digital seems to have made it so, because back in photographic film days photographers would throw away most of those photos.

When putting a film into a camera and advancing the first frames, photographers would get some strange images: their shoes, blurred faces or landscapes, sometimes just dashes of color. Those initial pictures, especially with transparency film, would return from the lab nicely framed into a plastic mount, only to be thrown in the bin as useless.

I remember, although I cannot recall the photographer's name, a book was published back in the nineties with just the first shots from each roll that photographer amassed for some time. But in general terms, people would always throw away those first frames.

Today, with digital cameras, there is no waste in film, but people started to do those "strange images" on purpose. Because it is not expensive and the result can be seen right after shooting. Photographers experiment with camera movement, zooming during exposure, blurred images. We do it more often and on purpose, and people look at it as a creative expression. So it is true to say that errors from the past are today's creativity.

There are lots of photographers using these "techniques," but I think it is interesting to point to three photographers that somehow are linked to some of the most used processes. And explain the basics, so everyone can try this for themselves, because that is the fun part.


The Vertical

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The vertical shot and the following images used the same subject to show how you can get different interpretations simply by moving the camera in a different way.

William Neill is an American photographer with a long career in landscape photography and one of the most popular using the vertical movement of his camera to create a completely different atmosphere on some of his images.

Visit William Neill's website and check some of his fantastic imagery. Here, you see my own interpretation of his technique, that is based on the vertical movement of the camera.

I used 1/10 of a second. If you want to try it, explore with speeds around 1/8 and moving the camera up and down but also jerking it so you do not always get a simple straight line, as everybody seems to be trying to get these days. Reinvent your own verticals with zigzags.


The Drive-By

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The Drive-by technique from Dewitt Jones, here done while walking. You should try this exercise at different shutter speeds and movement. It will help you to better understand the effect of speed on images.

Dewitt Jones is another American photographer whose work I follow closely. He is responsible for the project Celebrate What is Right in the World, a way to use photography that I suggest you look at with some attention. It might motivate you to do something similar. Or participate.

Jones is also pointed to as one of the most popular users of another technique, "drive-by photography," which is made, as the name suggests, photographing from a vehicle in movement. Usually a car and from the passenger's seat. Nothing stops you from doing it in "walk-by photography" mode, but beware where you step.

The speed you use depends on the speed at which you're moving, but again slow speeds will provide the most interesting/funny results. Remember that there is, as with all these techniques, no chance to "do it again" so each frame is really unique.


The Rotation

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The rotation movement is another option to try. These interpretations of the original work are my own. Try to get your own collection and set aims for your experiences with these "errors."

The third technique you can try is simple but takes some time to completely grasp: rotating the camera over its axis. When I think of this technique I always think of one name: Tony Sweet. I follow his work with flowers, as it is a subject that interests me, and in one article on his website, Sweet mentions that he learned the technique from a student at one of his workshops and has used it regularly ever since.

This is done with a slow exposure, again, and it can be applied to any subject, but works best with something placed in the center, so all seems to rotate around it. Again, this is something that has to be tried over and over.


Last Notes

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The three shots used as example can, in the end, be cropped and placed side by side for a nice triptych representation of movement.

The techniques mentioned above will open new horizons of exploration to you. They'll also make you understand the importance of knowing your slow speeds and their effect on the world around you.

Although there is no right or wrong, and each frame is unique, you will with time and practice, come to find the best shutter speeds to use for different subjects and also better coordinate the movement of the camera, in whichever direction you move, shake or rotate it. Once you get some understanding of it all, you'll have another tool in your photographer's toolkit. Play with it!

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