Sometimes I look at all the emails I receive from readers and have a little chuckle to myself.
And especially when those emails are from newcomers to film. They complain of shots that are out of focus, blurred, grainy and dark or have camera shake etc.
Then I look at the photographs of the one person who actually thrives on his shots being exactly like those complained of by my readers! Yes, the one and only Daido Moriyama.
Yes, I know we’ve talked about him countless times on here, but the guy’s work is so profound, that every time you take a look at it, you find something new. And that’s what happened a few days ago when I was reading the readers’ emails.
Many ask me how they can shoot like Moriyama. That’s one helluva question, and can’t be answered fully in a few minutes. To answer it, you’d have to sit down for days and days, looking at all aspects of his work, then narrow it down to a few main topics until at last you have just one or two main points left….only then could you stand up and say to someone that, yes, you’ve narrowed it down to a tee.
If there is one aspect of Moriyama’s work, it is producing a unique shot from an absolutely imperfect one.
He is no doubt a master of this….creating unique photographs from what me or you would call trash. Most of the images we’re talking about are out of focus, are dark and grainy or have too much light in them.
He is able to misuse his camera in such a way, that the end result will be fascinating to all who see it…..that has to be an enviable skill. Nobody but nobody can do that as successfully as he can, even though thousands have tried it.
You could say that he uses his camera for purposes which it wasn’t supposed to have been designed, literally. He deliberately forces his camera to look into dark nooks and crannies, or twisted angles of mundane everyday things…..places and objects we would normally walk past are brought to life by his camera, but in ways which requires you to look twice, three or four times, in order to make any sense out of them. That is what makes him a master of his art.
So, to cut a long story short….how can you take shots like Moriyama?
Rather than going into a long diatribe and take up your valuable time, I’m listing the main points which in my experience, can make YOUR shots look like those taken by Moriyama…well, ahem, ahem…almost! Here we go:
1 If using film, use an ASA 1600 grade. Shoot places, people objects that you normally wouldn’t, or in ways you wouldn’t. Poke your camera into dark alleyways, bring it close to cracks in the sidewalk, take it onto the subway in your town and shoot away surreptitiously if you can (be very careful here…Moriyama gets away with it in Japan, but not every country is like Japan…I know for sure, in some countries….the UK, possibly the US and Canada too, you can be arrested very easily…don’t say you were not warned!)
2 Under-expose it when taking your shot (this in itself is no easy task…you have to know what you’re doing in order to be able to control your shots in this manner…did I say it was going to be easy, huh?)
3 When your film is complete, over-develop it in your darkroom (of course, this means you have to be confident in darkroom techniques too…!). This will cause detail in your shot to be lost, but a certain character will evolve from what’s left. That is the magical ingredient, the Golden Fleece, that you are looking for. If you don’t have a darkroom, or don’t want to get involved too deeply, then go for the highest ASA film you can get, and deliberately aim your camera where there are extremes of light and shadow. And these techniques only work well with monochrome film, although a certain degree of character can be obtained using color film, it will not be as eye-catching, nor will it have the same sense of drama as monochrome.
If you’re a digital shooter, study your camera manual properly and master the settings, so that you are able to set ASA, white balance, metering, focus, etc such that when you shoot, you get what you intended and not something else. For example, I once went on a shoot with my digital camera, not having studied the manual fully, came home and was shocked to see that the results were absolutely awful….the whole day was wasted, with not a single shot being of any use! And try and experiment with whatever imaging software you’re familiar with, be it Photoshop or whatever, in place of the darkroom.
So, go ahead…give it a try this weekend!
all photos flickr.com