Hebrdean Light

What are photography sketches?

It is something that I struggle with defining, though I do admit to doing it myself (see my previous post).  I may ramble a bit, so I apologise now, but please bear with me.

Film photography for me is about slowing the process down – particularity when (like me) you start to wander in to the realms of medium format and now large format photography.   That process is slowed down further once you start to get all your kit out; tripod, lightmeter, cable release and pour a cup of coffee.

As a photographer whose main medium is film, for me sketching is going about using a small compact (I use a Canon G15 or indeed my phone) taking photographs of things that interest me without having deploy in to action my heavy weight kit. My sketches are primarily for reference to come back to a location if I have ease of access to a place and know that I can return.  particularly if I can visualise a shot, but the conditions aren’t quite right.


Photography sketches are also useful if you are just playing around and don’t want to waste film on something if you are experimenting. You get to see the results in camera, or at home on your PC without the extra “anticipation” of film whilst you wait for the film to be developed. Importantly too, photographic sketching allows for a degree of spontaneity that you don’t necessarily have with larger cameras and equipment (film or otherwise), the Uist shots above, must have been taken in less than 10 minutes.

I purposefully went for a walk on my recent holiday in the Outer Hebrides just with my compact camera to see if I saw things differently without being incumbered with my full kt.  Not quite sure if I took anything that different, but I did take more photographs than I would normally.  Also, I took less time I feel than I would if I took my full kit with me.  Putting set up times to one side, I also tend to take my time when composing my shots – sometimes it involves drinking a full cup of coffee between setup and pressing the shutter!

When does a photograph move beyond being a sketch?

A good question and possibly one that I can’t answer.

Okay, I have to admit it; I am a wee bit of a film snob – with no reason I hasten to add.  Just look at my portfolio website – www.alastairrossphotography.co.uk – all the photographs on that are film/slide based.  I have taken sketches in the past that I have hesitated over and thought “That would really compliment my portfolio”, but then the best that happens is that it gets added to my blog and not the portfolio site.  There is no rhyme nor reason, as Canon Powershot G’s are capable little cameras with all the control (and RAW) functionality of a DSLR, so quality isn’t the issue.  A3 sized prints are not an issue with the files that they produce and this is where a bit of a reality check is needed for the “serious amateur” (like myself), is anyone really going to see your work at anything bigger than A3?  Is it any less of a photograph because it hasn’t been taken on film – “No” –  I (think) is my answer.


Sketches (10 of 20)


There is a large element as well, for me anyway, of feeling like a bit fraud when a shot comes out well when seen and taken in seconds as opposed to going through the full physical and intellectual rigor of a “proper” shot that is measured in minutes.  It makes me doubt all the times when I have set up, walked and taken in the area, drunk that cup of coffee and then pressed the shutter.   Because of that, does a photographic sketch have less integrity?  How I address that I do not know, but it is a feeling that nags me now as I type this.


(After Joe Wright)


In conclusion, in writing this I think I have started to address in my own head at least from a quality perspective that a photography sketch is no less of a photograph.  However, I still struggle to reconcile in my head how something considered in seconds is of equal merit to something that has been given more than a passing thought.

What are your thoughts on this?


Sketches (11 of 20)

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