Using Repetition in your Photography Practice

May 24, 2024 | Creativity

“Show Notes”

Marcus talks about repetition in this show. Repetition was a core part of the five

Rs show which you can listen to here.

Marcus has recently been to a Martin Parr talk. What Marcus found is that Martin
has done huge amounts of fashion photography, which he wasn’t very aware of.
Marcus explains that. partly because he does what Marcus talked about in
another recent episode alternative genres.
To recap the previous episode the 5 rules of creativity in photography are

  1. Research
  2. Rules
  3. Repetition
  4. Reflection
  5. Rest

‘Marcus in this show focusses on repetition. Repetition splits down into three areas

  1. Learning
  2. Improving
  3. Diversi

Learning
If you are learning photography, it is best to photograph things that you can go
back to again and again. So something at the bottom of the garden rather that
what you see on holiday. This also means you are focusing on the mundane, so
you have to try to make it interesting. Marcus says take a picture, look at it reflect
on it, then take it again. Keeping repeating, reflecting and learning. Marcus says
this idea works just as well for more experienced photographers. Marcus thinks

this is a great way to get to know your kit and getting to know shutter speeds,
apertures and more.

Improving
If you are an improving photographer you want to go an photograph thi
multiple times. Thinking about varied weather, varied times of day, varied lighting
conditions. Marcus says when you repeat things you are growing the connections
in your brain. But it’s important that critical reflection is combined with repetition.
Diversifying

There is a style of photography where photographers photograph something
again and again in a very similar way, this is called Typology. Bernt and Hilla
Becher
, Thomas Struth, Lewis Baltz are all photographers who have used this.
They tend to photograph a series of photos of something similar. Edward Munch’s
the Scream is a block print that works in a similar way. As a photography example
the Bechers were photographing gas tanks over time. Years apart but from the
same position and with the same weather so they are very similar shots.

“Show Transcription”

Sam: Hello Marcus, how are you doing?

Marcus: Hey, I am very well Sam, how’s yourself?

Sam: Very good, and hello listeners, it’s great to have you with you on another episode of Shoot to the Top. Now this show, Marcus is going to share some of his wealth of knowledge with us, and Marcus is going to talk about repetition this show. Now whether that means he’s just going to talk about something he’s said in other shows, I’m not sure. So what do we mean, what area of repetition are we talking about Marcus here?

Marcus: Well I’m going to follow on from a previous show that we did, the one about creativity and the five R’s of that. That came out in June of 2023, so a little while ago, but I’m going to be digging a little bit deeper.

Sam: Cool, I will put a link to the show notes to that episode so you can go and listen back. Yeah, great.

Marcus: But before we start off on that Sam, this week I was lucky enough to go to a talk by Martin Parr, who I’m sure a lot of our listeners have heard of him. But he’s a Bristol based photographer and he’s very, very, very worldwide well known. And he was talking, he’s mostly known for his street photography, colour photography, lit by flash, really provocative images but beautifully taken. But on this lecture he’s got a new book come out called Fashion, a Foe, a Parr. You can see what he’s done there with the title. And he was talking about all his fast photography, which I know he’d done before. But I did not realise to the extent of how involved he was in the world of fast photography. He is shooting like loads and he has worked on loads and loads of campaigns. But my point I’m making here is on the previous show we did on April 18th, 2024, I was talking about shooting outside your regular genre. And I mentioned about, if you’re a fashion photographer, why not go on the street and or look at street photography and try and bring that into your practice, those aesthetics of street photography into your own practice. Well that’s what Martin Parr does, that’s exactly what he does. And he has obviously had great success in it, shooting for every major manufacturer, Valentino, Balenciaga, Gucci, Vogue magazine, Harper’s magazine, the list just goes on and on. And the reason he, and he said in this lecture that he, you know, he acts as a disruptor to the industry. He takes models and photographs them, just like his own photographs on beaches, in supermarkets, feeling, he seems to have this obsession with photographing models, putting cars up at gas stations or petrol stations.

Sam: Just that doing everyday stuff.

Marcus: Yeah, well that’s what he does, that’s his own practice. So really, and that’s what, that’s why he’s getting, in my opinion, he’s a great photographer, of course, but he’s getting noticed by fashion designers because he’s doing something a bit different. Anyhow, there we go.So listen back to the episode, for those who haven’t heard it, April the 18th, and it’s all about genres, shooting outside your genre.

Sam:  Excellent. So what’s he repeating, Marcus? This is the question we’re all wondering.

How does this link to repetition?

Marcus: That doesn’t link to repetition, Sam, in any way whatsoever that I can think of at this very moment. Okay, so just to recap, the five R’s of creativity that I talked about were research, rules, repetition, reflection, and rest. Do you remember that show, Sam?

Sam:  Do you remember that far back? I do, yeah, no, I remember, I remember, yeah, the rules, and I was just thinking, actually, they’re quite similar for, like, many other things, because I was just listening to a, I think it was a podcast or a video link to cook, link, oh, it’s music.I saw some, a little video come up on Instagram, and it was about composing and music, and they were just doing the exact same thing as he was saying on rules. They were like, yes, you kind of, with music, you need to learn all the rules. And then you can break them, you need to kind of understand it, and then you can pull it apart, which is exactly what you were saying on the show, the rules of photography.

Marcus: And then ultimately, you make your own rules, and that’s your style, and that’s what you get named for. So yeah, you break them, you learn them, you break them, and you make your own. Yeah, exactly, Sam. And funnily enough, this idea of talking about repetition came to me, because this year, I’ve been learning Spanish, because, with an aim, because I want to set up a photography school in Mexico, so I need to get my Spanish speaking up to a level where I can do that. And I was just noticing, I do it by listening to it on my headphones on a podcast, and I speak along with it, etc. But I had to do it over and over and over and over again, just like from one show, just to get anything imprinted in my brain, which is normal, isn’t it? And especially as you get older, it makes it a little bit harder. But it just shows me the value of repetition. So how can we do this in photography? Well, I’ve just sort of divided into three areas. We’ve got learning, improving, and diversifying, because that’s what we’re going to be talking about. So, and it’s pretty obvious stuff, there’s nothing too profound. But let’s just, I just got from Wikipedia, what, no, that comes in later, apologies, that will come in later, I’ll bring that in a bit later. So learning, if you’re learning photography, it’s good to go and be able to do something more than once. So if you’re going on holiday, and you’re photographing, and you think, okay, I wish I’d done it better, you’ve got no opportunity to go back and do that again. Well, not a little opportunity. So the best way of learning photography and doing repetition is making sure that you can photograph something that you can go back to multiple times.

Sam: So like something at the end of your garden or something as simple as that. So you can literally go again and again and again.

Marcus: Perfect.

Sam: Presumably with modern digital photography, you could almost do it while you’re on holiday, as long as you took the time to take some reflect, you know, or do you think it’s better to have more time rather than just kind of do it in the short term?

Marcus:  It is, Sam, it is, you know, and it’s really good to photograph what you know already, photographing the mundane, because then you have to really dig deeper, it’s nothing exciting. So there’s another element to that as well. But keep it so you can repeat, repeat, repeat, and keeping it local. When you’re photographing something, you’re going to do it more than once, you’re not just going to take one image of this, I see a lot of people starting out in photography, they just take one picture, and then they take another one of something else. And then something else, there’s no learning involved in that. Take a photograph of something, look at it, reflect on it, take it again, reflect on it, take it again. So you know, for every, you might end up with half a dozen, even 10 shots of one thing, just slightly nuanced every time, finessed every time. So you’re improving on that.

Sam:  And that’s not the same as I just go click, click, click, click, click, that’s actually thinking about each shot individually and taking it purposefully.

Marcus: Exactly. So reflection was the key word in that, looking at it, and reflecting on it, how can I improve on that? And it’s not just for beginners this as well. I was talking to a photography friend yesterday, and we were talking about I wonder how many working photographers are so off with their cameras, you know, like the f-stops, you know, when you shoot a manual camera, you had to know the f-stops intuitively.

Sam: Right, yeah, you were busy twiddling the dial, and yeah, yeah.

Marcus: You had to know it. These days, people who are just brought up on digital, I wonder if they really know the f-stop, just like that, you know, 2.84, 5.63.

Sam: It’s just a number on a screen, it’s just a number on a screen, isn’t it? It’s not like, yeah, you’re literally, I remember sitting with my Canon AE-1, and you can see the aperture opening and shutting, and you look at the numbers, and you can, yeah, well, it’s all hidden away, isn’t it?

Marcus: Exactly, exactly. So, yeah, get to, look, there’s a slight aside there, look, photographers, get to know those numbers, that’s your language of photography. If you don’t know your f-stops off by heart, you are, it’s like not knowing your alphabet, or knowing, yeah, not knowing your alphabet. You have to know those, especially when you get deep into combining natural light with flash lighting, as Martin Parr does. You know, it’s, yeah, you’ve really got to know your f-numbers intuitively. So, yeah, learning, repetition, going out there, being able to repeat it over and over again, and reflecting on it to make it better. If you’re, let’s just say, I’ve got improving next, an improving photographer, let’s say you’re a landscape photographer, for example. You know, you want to go and be able to photograph something multiple times, just to get it perfect, just to get the perfect shot, and also to learn how you can improve it. Doing it at different times of the day, doing it at different times of weather elements, all these things will give you a better shot. Building your portfolio, you know, not just accepting the first time you’ve taken something as being the best, going over and over again. Doing headshots and stuff like that, doing this podcast, Sam, isn’t it, you know, I mean, I certainly feel a lot more comfortable doing it now than I did with you a year ago. Because we’ve done it a lot of times.

Sam: There’s a lot less edits I have to do now than I did, definitely, from both of our point of views. The first one, the number of urns I had to cut out from the first three episodes from both of us, I think it was half the show.

Marcus: I know, Sam, really. And that is, OK, being more comfortable with it, and we’ve done it many multiple times, and that’s why we’ve been comfortable with it. But it’s repetition. Yeah, yeah, exactly. You know, I was reading a study, this all comes from my background, my master’s, which is in education. And, you know, I did that a long, long time ago, but I still remember one of the core principles of teaching and learning is repetition. And this way that when you repeat something, it just makes up, you’re actually growing your brain, you’re increasing the neurons in your brain.

Sam: Yeah, definitely.

Marcus: And good learners aren’t necessarily people who have got a natural aptitude for learning. No, they’re just people who can repeat stuff over and again in their brain and reflect on it.

Sam: Yeah, I think that’s important, isn’t it? It’s that repetition and reflection, isn’t it? Because, yeah, there’s always that, you know, phrase, practice makes perfect. I remember, yeah, I used to do some sports coaching and stuff with kayaking. And it was, yeah, it’s not practice makes perfect. It’s perfect practice makes perfect. Because if you’re repeating something and not, you know, if you’re repeating a technique again and again, you’re doing it badly. You’re not getting better. You’re just embedding that bad technique.

Marcus: Perfect. That’s very, very well said. Exactly right, Sam. Exactly. It’s the combination of reflection, critical reflection, with repetition that really hammers it home.  OK, and the last bit I’m going to be talking about on repetition is something that’s slightly attached to it. It’s diversifying. And I’m going to talk about a genre of photography called typologies. Have you heard at all, Sam, a typology?

Sam: No, I’m imagining…

Marcus: Sorry, I’m saying it wrong. A typography. I always… I’ve even written it wrong. A typography, a typology.

Sam:  I’m imagining you taking pictures of writing.

Marcus:  Yeah, it’s not. It’s not. Yes, I said it wrong. A typology is quite like the study of letters, words, letters, typefaces. Yeah. Typography is something… it’s a particularly interesting genre of photography. I’m going to give you the Wikipedia meaning of a typography. And it is the study of various traits and types. Or the systematic classification of the types of something according to their common characteristics.

Sam:  Oh, so typography in terms of putting stuff into their types.

Marcus: Exactly. That’s exactly what it is.

Sam:  So basically like organising everything into boxes. This is, yeah, a bit like a biologist. That’s a butterfly and that’s a bird and that’s a whatever else.

Marcus: Yes, exactly And this is being exemplified by photographers who I’ve mentioned the show before, but we’ll put the name of the notes again. But like Bernd and Hilde Becker, German. We got Thomas Struth, Lewis Boltz, who did photograph architecture. And what they do, these tend to be photographs you might see in the gallery. And what they tend to do is photograph one thing, but a multiple series of them. And then typically they display them in a grid. So you can see the differences between each different photograph.

Sam: Yeah, it makes me think of when I went to Norway and saw, you know, Edvard Munch’s Scream.

Marcus: Yes, the different variations he did of that.

Sam: Yeah, because I always thought it was one painting. And I went to this gallery and was like, whoa, it was a block print. And there was loads of different variations of this block print. Here’s me thinking it was one painting. It was like 20 on the wall, like you said, all arranged so you could sort of appreciate the differences.

Marcus: It’s exactly the same idea. And Andy Warhol, of course, with his screen prints. They all were slightly different. The same idea. But these photographers, and it’s a real skill to be able to do this. And you look at these photographs, you look at the Becker’s photographs, for example, and they were part of the Dorfman School of Photography. And it’s this idea about being objective, etc., etc., which is maybe for another show. But their photographs, they all look the same, but they were shot over many, many years. So they photographed gas tanks, for example, or water towers. But they were all shot from exactly the same angle.

Sam: Right, yeah.

Marcus:  They were all shot with exactly the same background sky, black and white. They were white background, so like on a dull day with no shadows. To do that is really, really difficult. And just take a lot of planning.

Sam:  Just, you know, you’ve got to be in exactly the same place and exactly the same height. I need the weather to be the same. Exactly. A lot of thought goes into that, Marcus.

Marcus: A lot of thought, Sam. And that’s repetition at a very high level. A very, very high level. A lot of thought indeed. So there we go. That’s it. Okay. That’s what I’ve got, Sam. The importance of repetition. And as you quite rightly said, reflection in combination with that as well.

Sam:  Excellent. And talking of repetition, Marcus, if you sign up to the newsletter, it will repeatedly arrive in your inbox, which is perfect. It will arrive every single time that there’s a new podcast. A new podcast goes out on Thursdays and the following Tuesdays. The inbox, not the inbox. The newsletter will pop into your inbox with the latest episode. It will have a blast of the past, so an old episode that maybe is a newer listener you have not heard before. It comes with advice from me and Marcus, chance to be a guest, and lots more. So get yourself on the newsletter list. Go to the Shoot to the Top website and sign up from there. And Marcus, I look forward to more of your hidden gems next week.

Marcus: Thank you, Sam. See you next week.