Philosophy & Reflections

Reflecting on a Year of Photography – By Wes Hall

March 1, 2022

Photos are wonderful right? Particularly what we feel are our best photos. I would encourage everyone to attempt reflecting on their art, maybe in a fashion similar to how I’ve done it, or finding your own method.

Introspection seems to be an integral component of photography, both for the taker and the viewer, and as 2022 got underway I enjoyed a stimulating and philosophical discussion on the RPF Forum, covering the nature of what we see being only ever an interpretation of reality as no-one can see exactly as I see my world. This came from a post I did on my personal best photography of 2021, and the introspection it afforded me.

It’s proven useful to collage the 46 images in this collection to see them. To really see and compare them. To contrast the individuals and see where my eye has peered through the lens, sculpting my personal style.

The short list I chose, 46 of my best images from more than I realised I had. A different day I may have chosen others, but the final choice I knew would always be the selected few.

 

I think the journey to reflect on a years worth of images and find 10 that still speak to you is an achievement.

Spotlight the Stars

Sharing my 10 best images of 2021 in this post, with a personal observation of each, I asked the most important person in my life what they thought I should ask myself of each image. They offered the following stellar suggestions:

Write what you like about each image.

So far, simple enough.

What single element do you like the most or jumps out at you?

Good, good…that shouldn’t prove an issue, no sir!

What similarities as a whole do they show?

Ah. Now we have a difficult question to ponder. Really, do the images we we take as a whole have any similarities? (Yes I’m sure you’ll say). How many of us make a conscious effort to keep to a specific or select group of locations or subjects, especially when we’re discovering what photography means to us?

Let me take you on a journey, my journey through a year of life that I was able to capture through various lenses, in what was uniquely, my eyes.

‘Got a Light?’

What do I like about this image? I like the strong focus of the woman, she carries so much attitude and confidence – she looks confident as she clips her bag, finding her lighter for the freshly pursed cigarette. I didn’t spot this initially, but her appearance is channeling strong 80’s power suit looks which mirrors the capitalist logos of the corporations on the wall. There’s a ‘3D’ plane I see beyond the subject in the environment, that complements the strong contrast and tones that made this image striking to me.

What single element do I like the most? Her pose.

'Pier Shadows'

‘Pier Shadows’

What do I like about this image? The lighting and shadows, there’s a glow in this image and high saturation of the low sun that wasn’t there in reality. This image controls my eye; follow the railing, to the huts, absorbing that golden glow. It captures a taste of summer missed too often in northern England.

What single element do I like the most? The hues.

‘Cafe Noir’

What do I like about this image? The mood. This image had the atmosphere I saw in the scene that night, not just a true capture or approximation. The seats and tables are focused and central, with the lighting spot over them, leaving the imagination to picture the meetings that take place. The shadows are deep, with trail off from the street guiding my eyes to the dark. To me, there is a limited set of ‘tones’ in the pallet here, which creates that ‘noir’ feel.

What single element do I like the most? Atmosphere.

‘Stroll by the Neon Glow’

What do I like about this image? This was, for me, the image of the year. I snapped this in a sudden moment as I walked the night with my first roll of Cinestill 800T. It captured that expected and hoped for halation glow beautifully, and set the flow of the street the lone couple are strolling down. Lighting is everything at night, and the glowing amber here makes me feel nostalgic. Appropriate I guess as it is my home town. As with the tones in the previous image, there is a limited colour pallet here which gives the character and strength to this shot. I feel like it’s a scene from the 1980’s movies littered with Americana style that my youth was swamped in.

What single element do I like the most? Nostalgia.

‘Mr Churro’

What do I like about this image? This image, and the roll as a whole, didn’t go as I planned (patience isn’t one of my virtues) and I got it developed at a major high street store rather than the specialists I’ve come to learn of since. I got what I felt were sub-standard scans. But, it hasn’t detracted from this images effect for me. I feel like I’m witnessing the last gathering of junk food addicts queuing at the end of time. The hyper focus on the stall that blots out the surroundings, save for a few faces and the boards. It made an image I couldn’t ignore.

What single element do I like the most? Contrast.

‘Sand Scene’

What do I like about this image? The coast is where my mind feels calmed, and these dunes with their thickets of grass swept by the sea breeze compliments the lack of buildings and man. Save for the lone, clean lines of the care home in the distance. Captured during ‘golden hour’, I think this is what enhanced the details that I see in this landscape shot. I don’t have much interest in landscape photography, yet this one surprised me as I spend time gazing over the details and feel I’m back by the sea. This image makes me slow down, like a gently ebbing tide.

What single element do I like the most? Detail.

‘Challenger’

What do I like about this image? Spontaneous moment. The rarity of seeing a classic American muscle car on the UK highways is not to be understated! Following a long drive with a good friend and fellow photographer to check out his future drive, we headed back to be greeted by this majestic blue Challenger spotted in the distance. I had my trusty Sigma DP1 with me. We gave chase. I knew I’d only get a couple of chances to capture this- zone focused, estimated the shutter speed and factor the seconds long write times per shot. I was then, and still am now, thrilled with this capture. The sensation of speed I can see whilst preserving crisp details and the sharp colour of the car. Still remains the only time I’ve tried such a shot.

What single element do I like the most? Colour.

‘Hot Lips’

What do I like about this image? I think it’s safe to admit I have a crush on Cinestill. There is something intoxicating about the look it gives, and this shot through a bar window captured it’s vibrating colour and tones. There’s a lot going on in this shot, separating it from the sparse subjects of the others, yet the neon hot lips sign anchors this image with a main subject.

What single element do I like the most? Intensity.

‘Zodiac Poser’

What do I like about this image?  Cream on chrome. The pair reflect light so well, even the accidental model passing by is caught by the glare. I find a dominating central subject has been a hallmark for images my eyes are drawn to. This was an early outing with my Nikon D2H, and seeing this image changed my perceptions of what to expect from a meager resolution old digital. The colours pop!

What single element do I like the most? Composition

‘Fog Lake’

What do I like about this image? No.10. The last of my selection, and my most experimental shooting session I had of the year. Fog photography I found yields atmosphere that can bewitch. Add to this a blue filter and 6 x ND filter stacked on my old Nikon mounted to a tripod, lead to slow shutter images that created hues and rendering I hadn’t expected. It makes me feel like I’m peering into a dream with this image, overlooking a lake that could hide secrets from any number of realities. This photo encouraged me to take more chances this year in how I approach my subjects and photography as art.

What single element do I like the most? Colours.

Illuminations from Reflections

So, following my self indulgent self introspection, what can I learn from this seemingly disparate collection? What did I see as a recurring visual theme across all these? I’m called back to my loved ones question:

What similarities as a whole do they show?

Colour, lighting, atmosphere and strong focus on subjects came across to me whilst I reflected on them, and this has been a development I’ve observed with images others have taken that catch my attention. You can, for me, replace colours for tones with the black and white images, where I feel the contrast matters most to me.

One last observation I learned from this, and that’s to do with the cameras I used. None of my 10 images, that I deemed to be the best I’ve taken, were from the camera I actually produce the most shots with and use frequently – my Pentax K-S1. Truthfully, that camera just doesn’t create a render that entirely satisfies my eyes – no matter all the options I have in post processing, nor familiarity with the layout and controls. I actually love using it, it’s small form fits my hands well and I love my varied, yet modest, collection of lenses for it. I know it creates a great quality image.

Trouble is, they’re just very ordinary images when I see them. Forgettable.

Closing Down the Year

My Sigma DP1 – sharp, images that lift from the screen and capture great detail. Obstinate in use that endears me to get better with how I interpret it’s quirks. The Nikon D2H, a great big beast of a unit that gives awesome, bright and bold colours whilst feeling like an event every. damn. time I take it out. Still shocks me how good 4mp can look. The film emulsions and my Minolta Hi-Matic 7S, so tactile to hold and shoot, I adore the composition benefits that the rangefinder system offers me. I seem to just ‘see’ the scene unlike when I use my SLRs. These were the cameras that took my 10 favorite images.

I don’t want to ditch the Pentax, I love that it was my first (D)SLR and really ignited my interest in photography, but this exercise has called into question how I approach using it; I think I’ve maybe not grown with it as it’s been a training tool, an early partner I met, learnt to love and explore with, before really knowing my loves and likes and moving on. Like much in life, wanting to revisit the past, I think I’ll spend more time trying to rekindle some of the early magic I felt with my K-S1.

So, 2022. It’s going to be interesting to see if my photography evolves following this exploration into a years worth of images.

You can find more of my photography at Flickr.

Contribute to 35mmc for an Ad-Free Experience

There are two ways to experience 35mmc without the adverts:

Paid Subscription - £2.99 per month and you’ll never see an advert again! (Free 3-day trial)
Subscribe here

Content contributor - become a part of the world’s biggest film and alternative photography community blog. All our Contributors have an ad-free experience for life.
Sign up here.

5 Comments

  • Reply
    Don Goodman-Wilson
    March 2, 2022 at 9:03 pm

    An interesting insight into selecting your best photos. I’m still flailing around when it comes to organizing and curating the shots I take, so I find this kind of analysis inspiring.

    (And as a not-quite-recovered Pentaxian, I understand the struggle is real!)

    • Reply
      Wes Hall
      March 2, 2022 at 10:30 pm

      Thanks Don, appreciate you taking the time to read and take some inspiration. To make you feel better, I’m still pretty disorganized with my general collection (hoarding) of images- truly, undertaking this was a feat which took more time and reflection than I initially expected, and I needed to be in the right head space, which I would advocate if you do try it, to relax and come back to the images when the introspection rises up inside- definitely not worth forcing it.

  • Reply
    cody
    March 2, 2022 at 9:19 pm

    Great article and photos! My favorite of the bunch was the girl smoking in black and white with the second being the cream car. I also belong to the old digital camera club having recently sold my fuji for an original Canon 5D. There’s just something special about the colors! I hope more people can embrace getting away from the “keeping up with the joneses” attitude of camera culture.

    • Reply
      Wes Hall
      March 2, 2022 at 10:36 pm

      That girl smoking is one of my all time favorites and a serious case of happenstance, thank you for appreciating it Cody. It’s great to hear from others exploring the capability of old digital cameras- what was it that brought you to sending the Fuji packing?

      The 5D was one I really considered before I picked up the D2H (cheaper at the time) as I still want to try full frame- I totally agree about the colours!

      • Reply
        cody
        March 4, 2022 at 2:30 pm

        Hey Wes, as a lover of film while I initially bought a x-series camera to simulate the film experience when not shooting film, I just got kind of bored with shooting mirrorless. The camera was more than good enough for everything I needed it to do but I was having that feeling of missing out as more and more newer fuji cameras were released despite my then 6 year old technologically capable camera being able to do anything I asked of it so instead of lusting after newer cameras like fashion accessories, I sold it and got the (15 year old tech) 5D because of the notoriously “filmic” colors from the sensor, the lack of any video functions (which I didn’t need) and having an optical view finder. It feels very much like a film camera after shooting mirrorless for a few years. I also think the fuji files have a baked in look I wasn’t enjoying much for my photos. The larger pixel density of a lower res sensor and the full frame DOF matches up better with my medium format film photos in my opinion than the fuji ones did, Also, through my day job, I have access to a lot of l series canon glass so it was a great choice for me.

Leave a Reply

This site uses User Verification plugin to reduce spam. See how your comment data is processed.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Contribute to 35mmc for an Ad-Free Experience -Click here to find out more
+