Tuesday’s talk 11 May – A project based approach to photography with David Keep

David loves all forms of photography and confesses that he even loves competitions. He sees himself as an ‘image-maker’ rather than a ‘photographer’. For David taking a photograph is only the start of the image making process and he quoted Ansel Adams: “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”

He said his ‘Project Based Approach’ is akin to ‘reverse engineering’, basically deciding the photograph you want to take then working backwards. As an engineer David wants a logical and repeatable workflow. He ‘visualises’ what the photograph is going to be by being inspired by other people’s work. This is not restricted to photographers, his research will include examples in art, films, music, newspapers etc. He pulls all these images into a ‘mood board’ on Pinterest. He then makes a plan of how he is going to take this photograph – this plan can take several years – then he shoots and processes the photo to be the image as close to the one he had ‘visualised’.

The plan to take the photograph will involve contacting organisations where the photograph will be taken. This could be a swimming club, boxing club, ballroom dancing federation etc. David will send an email which promises something in return, such as free use of the images which can be downloaded from his website. He will thoroughly plan his first shoot in collaboration with the organisation who he would have sent his ‘mood board’ to. He never gets the shot at the first attempt and it can take him three or four attempts before he has his desired photograph.

Often the initial part of project will need to develop into what he wants. David says that someone will always stand out and he can work with that person to develop his project. In the end everyone wins. He will give the person a framed image, the club members will get their framed images and he will get the powerful image he was craving, and working extremely hard to get.

His processing style is to edit for both impact and emphasis of the story. He minimises the things that don’t tell the story and that dilute the impact, and he crops, crops, crops. He makes the area of interest the brightest and the sharpest and uses dodging and burning to increase the contrast where it is needed. He will darken the background and get rid of anything that is distracting.

David took us through several examples of his photographic projects – boxing, swimming, ballroom dancing etc. One, his athletics project, meant first building a website dedicated to examples of his sports photography. It took several years to populate the site to make it look sufficiently professional enough. Eventually, on the strength to his website, he was able to apply to British Athletics events for a sports photographer ‘press-pass’ to attend international events. He was able to get into the event, rub shoulders with international sports photographer – which he found somewhat intimidating – and be at the prime location to take his shots.

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Oxford Photographic Society