other day I took photographs of a large Thai flag high up a very tall
flagpole. I was looking for inspiration. Then I took a photo of a pile of
reinforcing bars. I was looking for inspiration. I even took a photo of a
drain cover, still searching for the elusive inspiration.
However, there was an easier way. Everyone should have a photographer whose
work stimulates them to greater heights. For me, these include Norman
Parkinson, Helmut Newton and Jeff Dunas, but the one photographer who
inspires me not only with his images, but also with his words, is Larry Dale
Gordon, whose name has cropped up in these columns more than once over the
Now when I say that your favorite photographer’s work should inspire you,
that does not mean that you should rush out and slavishly copy their work.
Don’t laugh, I have seen it done so many times in camera club level
photographers who have been most upset when I mark them down for copying,
rather than being creative. How many times have I seen the kitten looking at
the goldfish in the brandy balloon, or the kitten hanging from a tree
branch? Too many!
When I say “inspire” I mean that you look at the work and say to yourself,
“How did he/she do that?” What this means is that you should look at the end
result and work out how you can use that technique, to produce your own
shot. This is not copying, this is getting inspiration.
So why does Larry Dale Gordon (LDG) inspire me? There are many reasons.
First off, he is a self trained photographer, who believes that the way to
learn is to do it. Let me quote you from one of his books, “I learned
photography through experience; by putting film through the camera, peering
through the lenses, trial and error, and pondering every facet of light.
It’s the only way. If you think there is another way, or a faster way, write
a book telling how and you will make considerably more money than by being a
photographer.” These are very wise words. Cut them out and stick them on
your bathroom mirror and read them every day!
I’ve tried to see just what it is about LDG’s pictures that appeal so much
to me and I’ve come up with two basic concepts. Simplicity and Color.
Look at the photograph I have used to illustrate this week’s article. A
classic sunset shot. The girl in the meditation position. The unspoiled
acres of shifting sand. Unfortunately, Chiang Mai Mail is a black and white
medium, so just imagine, if you will, what that shot looks like
predominantly orange/red with the black shadows. It is a simple, uncluttered
shot with really only one color in it. It is classic and timeless and there
is absolutely nothing to detract (or distract) the eye from single figure in
OK, so you still want to get a picture like this one? It has inspired you
enough? Here’s how. Find a sand or gravel pit. There are many around cement
depots, or in an old quarry. Find a homogenous background, one that does not
have houses, cars, trees and the like. But one that will allow you to see
shapes as the sun starts getting lower. We are looking for light and shadow,
just like LDG.
Now is the time for a “tobacco” filter. On the bright sunny day, with the
light behind or to the side of your subject(s) hold this brown/orange filter
over the lens and pop the shutter. The camera will do the rest. Experiment
with different colors to get strangely wonderful or weirdly dreadful
The only point to really remember is to get the light behind or to the side
of the subject. You want the sun’s rays to be close to horizontal, so it
will be late in the afternoon. That is the time for not only ‘warm’
lighting, but lighting that will give strong and long shadows.
Amaze your friends with a dramatic monochromatic shot - and if you don’t
tell them about Larry Dale Gordon, I won’t either!