The-Latest is delighted to introduce to you the work of Mike Farrier, as part of its feature on inspirational photographers who have agreed to share their images with us for your enjoyment.
Mike, who is 31 and says he was born in a basement flat on Priory Road in Kilburn, north west London takes us through his journey as photographer, describing his fascination with film and his first camera, the influences on his work and the methods of photography he uses to create his stunning images as well as giving some sage advice for those interested in pursuing photography as a hobby or career.
My primary interest and passion is film making so my interest in photography stems from this. I write, direct, edit and shoot my own projects so my interest in each element of film production, which in my view is the only art form that encompasses and can encompass all others, has led me to explore and teach myself about them to do and achieve the vision I imagine. I can't remember a time when I didn't see the world in a cinematic way. Some of my earliest memories are of watching movies both on television, old afternoon showings of black and white films, and in the cinema on weekends with my father.
The first camera I remember using and was fascinated with both from a mechanical "how does it work" point of view and the obvious capturing of imagery, was an elongated cigarette packet shaped, hinge opening, 110 film camera which used 16mm film instead of 35mm, like the minox spy cameras did, made famous by the original James Bond films.
My parents had owned this camera since before I was born so I remember playing with it all the time and I can't remember a toy or thing I played with before it or more. When there was no film in it, I'd open it up to see how it worked, I would frame scenes through the viewfinder and press the button, pull the lever to wind the film on that wasn't there, and then do it again. I must have framed and not shot hundreds more images like this than I ever did when there was film in it. The first camera I ever bought myself was another 110 film camera, a tiny Kodak (if I remember correctly), black and blue, water proof camera, probably double the dimensions of a lipstick case. I remember buying it because I was going on a school trip and knew we were going to be swimming so I wanted it for that, even though I couldn't swim or do more than a mushroom float at the time, so this would have made me under 8 years old as I didn't learn to swim properly until around that age.
I have absolutely no formal training in any of the things that I do. I left mainstream school at 13 and completely left the educational system at 15, so I didn't sit any exams or obtain any qualifications. I'd started writing at 13 and knew that this and my interests in the others aspects of film production was where I wanted to spend my life and that these were the things I wanted to learn about, so I went about teaching myself about them. I was too young to do film courses of any kind so my main source of education was simply watching films. It was VHS then with no filmmaker commentaries like we have now with DVD.
My style of writing had always been incredibly detailed visually and full of camera direction which isn't the norm. As my scripts became more and more personal and thus full of more detailed descriptions of how I wanted things to look and work which was from the perspective of the audience watching the end product, I got more interested in how these things could be achieved and wanted to be the person doing them, so I could get exactly what I wanted.
The biggest thing that helped me learn anything I think was simply the mathematics of film, that 24 individual still images equalled 1 second of what we see as film motion. From that I extrapolated the math of different effects, shooting less or more frames per second, what that meant when played back and how the exposure of each still image changed because of this. Only by experimentally shooting film, video & stills photography and as my access to more information has changed over the years (thank you internet and dvd commentaries) have I had my theorising about how things are achieved actually confirmed.
Coming to still photography through cinema first, meant I didn't have any influences from the stills photography world at all when I started, just the film world when it came to my favourite cinematographers, many of who did started out as stills photographers. I bought my first film SLR camera for a specific purpose, and before Digital ones got good or affordable. This was to experiment with some stop motion style effects for one of my stories with the added incentive and argument that I would also be able to shoot some stills should I want to. Only after shooting a moving time lapse sequence as an experiment to see if a larger sequence I had always envisioned was possible, and the costs of doing that with actual film stock, did I make the move to shooting with Digital SLRs.
In my reading about and experimenting with all kinds of post production software, from 3D to compositing, I came across a technique called HDR or High Dynamic Range photography as a tool used by post production effects houses in order to capture sets, environments and objects in as many variations of lighting as possible. This would then be used for reference later when doing their end of a project. However, it wasn't until about a year and a half ago that I discovered the work of Trey Ratcliff (stuckincustoms.com) and saw how this reference technique had been adopted into an actual style which really struck me as something I wanted to experiment with myself.
While I do shoot plain stills, my visual style of film making and love of actual film stock is very much about the reality of textures, how dirty and gritty things are. When I started to do HDR photography myself, I was captivated by how I could now capture texture that, to my eye, can go beyond what film itself is able to reproduce without the intricacies of the lighting setups and control over the environments that are involved with traditional filming and photography.
I love creating the illusion of movement and the effects you get by capturing movement with long exposures, this comes from my love of both filming techniques where you change the frame rate of capturing the subject and really great comic book art.
I would say that at present HDR is may favourite method of photography to use since I'm still experimenting and exploring it as an image capturing technique. Prior to this I was doing a lot of time lapse photography and long exposure photography where I was using really dark Neutral Density filters to capture movement for both the time lapse and stills during the day. After this I'm going to do some Infra Red photography, which is fascinating.
I think like most people really, I'm trying to capture either what I see or what I have imagined. I get my satisfaction through being the creator or provider of entertainment and if something I create touches another person in some way then that is incredibly gratifying. With HDR, as I've said, it's texture with the added bonus of a much more extensive and sometimes, extreme colour palette than we can see or could imagine possible. The first thing I do when I get excited and start to experiment with something, which I did with the HDR technique, is forget about all the conventions of the medium I'm working in and simply work on the element that got me excited until I have a handle on that. I then fold that new thing into the conventions so it becomes a new technique I can add to the arsenal of what I can do within that medium. In this case that meant framing first and foremost and patience second.
When I first started I would just quickly grab bracketed exposures of anything and everything, regardless of angles or framing, I simply wanted to capture it and then get home so I could work on the images to see what I could pull out of the shots I'd taken. The blog I started is really just a documentation of that experimentation and learning process that is still evolving. I'm starting to fold this technique into my arsenal of skills now but that process won't really be anywhere near complete until I have a good tripod, which in the world of HDR photography makes me a rebel since I shoot all of my stuff handheld unless there is something solid close at hand and convenient for my framing to sit my camera on. This part of the shooting process is considered a must since all the images must be from the same position, just at different exposures. I've either been lucky or have a pretty steady hand since I don't have that essential piece of kit but I have compensated by buying very good lenses with wide apertures so I can shoot in low light without having to increase my ISO setting from the base level.
Mostly I enjoy photographing movement, the sky, architecture with stone work, wood and glass, reflective surfaces, crystals and objects of any kind. I've been asked why I don't take more photographs of people and my only answer to this is that I simply don't see people and think, "I wish I had my camera to take a picture of that". There's a ton of amazing photographers who photograph people and do it really well, I like their work a lot and people fascinate me on every level but my interest in putting a camera on people is really limited to the medium of cinema and not stills photography.
At the moment I don't have any real career ambitions as a photographer outside of occasionally having someone like something I've done as much as I do. It's not just that I don't consider myself a photographer, from the perspective of the definition being someone who makes a living from it, which I don't. It's more a case of my personally not investing the same amount of myself in this medium as I do with my writing within the medium of cinema, where I hope to touch someone or stir something within them that causes them to think about something they otherwise might not. I think photography has the same power as a communicative tool and art form, I just prefer film and storytelling for doing that.
My advice for anyone interested in photography is buy a camera, any kind but I'd start with a digital one for learning purposes and cheapness. Shoot anything, experiment as much as possible and don't ever worry about making mistakes as there's no such thing. Learn from every shot you take by using the information contained within the metadata of every digital photograph.
This information carries all the settings used when the image was taken, lens length, f-stop, ISO number and shutter speed.All of these are invaluable when learning what gets you what you want and what doesn't. From there, use your imaging editing software to experiment even more. Do the tutorials that come with it, they all have them, even if they're only in the written form of a PDF as part of the manual, there's always something in there you will end up adopting into the techniques you'll eventually use, even if it isn't in the intended form in which you learnt them.
As a career, I wouldn't have a clue since I don't make money from doing this, I do it for my own interest. I would recommend reading some photography sites and blogs by pros who do this for a living. Scott Bourne's photofocus.com is very good, he's been photographing for a living for a long time and is very generous with his time, advice and nuggets of information, especially on the subject of earning a wage from photography.
Photography: Mike Farrier
* View more of Mike's work on his blog blacksmithpro.wordpress.com.