April 22, 2016

Graham Ashton

8 Must-Watch TED Talks on Photography

Photo: Steve Jurvetson

We've written a lot on the technical aspects of photography before. Among others, we gave some tips for checking shutter count, explained the tricks behind long-exposure, and gave pointers for best photography gear. But there is so much more to photography than camera work. Photography can be an art form, a profession, an obsession, a way of documenting the world, and even a catalyst for change. These are just some of the attributes covered by the many outstanding photographers who have delivered TED talks — short presentations that are known around the world for delivering "Ideas worth spreading". If you are searching for inspiration or a good old motivational kick, look no further than these eight breathtaking photography TED talks.

Mac Stone: Stunning photos of the endangered Everglades

Wading through alligator-infested swamps is not everyone's idea of the perfect shoot — but for conservation photographer, Mac Stone, this is home. His beautiful images prove that a true love of your subject usually produces the best photos. He also talks about how he seeks to convert people to his cause by telling a story with his images.

Uldus Bakhtiozina: Wry photos that turn stereotypes upside down

Most portraiture is about capturing the personality of the subject. Uldus Bakhtiozina goes one step further, posing her models to make ironic comments on the state of Russian society. In her latest project, Desperate Romantics, she updates paintings from the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood to convey her message.

Sebastião Salgado: The silent drama of photography

When someone says they "live photography", it usually means they regularly attend the local camera club. But for Sebastião Salgado, the expression actually rings true. After growing up in the middle of the Brazilian rainforest, he graduated in Europe to become an economist, before giving everything up to take pictures in Africa. The quality of his black-and-white photos is superb, and the account of his eventual return to Brazil is incredibly moving.

Becci Manson: (Re)touching lives through photos

Photo retouchers like Becci Manson usually spend their days shaving curves off already-thin models. Having volunteered to help in the aftermath of Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011, she decided to use her professional skills for a more rewarding purpose — restoring damaged family photos. Not only is this an uplifting story, but it is also a masterclass in what is possible in the digital darkroom. You can find out more about the organization she set up for finding volunteer retouchers here.

Erik Johansson: Impossible photography

When is a photograph not a photograph? That is the conundrum posed by Erik Johansson, who produces mind-bending photo-realistic scenes that draw comparisons with Salvador Dali. In this talk, he describes how he goes about creating impossible images — a process that includes long-term planning, many individual photos, and a great deal of imagination.

Rob Forbes: Ways of seeing

Although Rob Forbes is a professional furniture designer by trade, he spends much of his life taking photographs of the juxtapositions and patterns he encounters on his travels. His slideshow is packed with intriguing abstract pictures from urban environments, and he points out the hidden context of our everyday surroundings. You might never look at scaffolding the same way again!

David Griffin: How photography connects us

As the (now former) director of photography at National Geographic, David Griffin really knows his stuff. Along with words of encouragement for the amateurs who submit images to the magazine, his talk touches on how the human brain stores memories in flashbulb moments. He also looks at the various types of commission undertaken by Nat Geo photographers, and some behind-the-scenes bloopers to restore your faith in the limits of pure photographic talent.

Rick Guidotti: From stigma to supermodel

Different is beautiful — that is the message from fashion photographer Rick Guidotti in his TED talk. After living the dream taking portraits of the world's top models, he gradually became disillusioned by the narrow definition of beauty, as dictated by his industry. A chance encounter led him to take stigma-shattering images of kids with albinism and other conditions. The story really shows how photography can make a significant difference to people's lives.

Will any future photography TED talks be yours?

The stand-out principle from these photography TED talks is that you can do amazing things with a camera in your hand, a powerful idea in your head, and the enthusiasm to see your project through. With that covered, all you need to do is share your ideas with the world. Let us know when it's you who is up on that TED stage -- we'd want to be in the first row!And for now, which photography TED talks inspire you most? Tell us in the comments!

Graham Ashton

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