15th February 2018 – Welcome Back to Ann Cook

There comes a time when, like our speaker Ann Cook FRPS FRGS MBFP FBPPA, on a welcome return to Reflex, you have a considerable amount of work to reflect on. OK there is a considerable chance that yours won’t cover the extensive geography that Ann has been able to cover, but as that old Honda advert used to make the point about, to someone, your life is exotic.

What are the stories you can assemble from that work? In the term of the story, the narrative, we are often told – and it has been asserted here too – that a photograph can only tell one story or it becomes confused. That is the perspective of us as photographers, the makers of this story/image/narrative. From the point of the viewer we make our own story, of what lead to this, what this is and what happened next. As humans we are hard wired for stories, we make narratives if detailed ones aren’t provided to us and we will meld and fold the one’s we are given into new ones of our own. The stories are not necessarily complete, nor do they have to be.

The photograph is, in this instance, a pointer, a way post, but the destination is one of our own making and each and every one of us has a slightly different destination prompted into mind. That’s quite a lot from what is, essentially a subject, a fall of light and a background. Ann made a lot of taking the opportunities presented to us – those that fall to the prepared. As she said, again a recurring theme in the blog, you make your own luck. Ann illustrated that being shepherded on a bus, as long as you are sitting next to the window to control boarders (what’s in frame) and reflection, is no barrier to getting stunning vistas that go on to sell. Being aware and being prepared gives us a far better chance of being successful.

Even so, we still need an empathy with our subject (the imaginative assigning to an object feelings or attitudes present in oneself – being as one with, a part of, the atmosphere of what we are photographing). This because not everything that drives the narrative in a photograph is visual. We often hear talk of “Connection” and that, more often than not, is driven by composition. Back to that old thing again, for sure, however, the arrangements of objects within a frame is a very powerful driver of viewer connection with a photograph.

Lines, for instance, have different emotional qualities (at least in art theory), depending on their shape and direction. So: converge parallel lines to create a vanishing point (a concept that has been around since the Renaissance) to create depth and perspective; diagonals are dynamic, suggestive of movement and change; horizontals give a composition a sense of quiet and peace; vertical lines feel powerful, solid, permanent; straight lines feel formal, deliberate, man-made; curved lines, especially an S-shape, feel casual and add sophistication, nature, grace. Shape, similarly, has a profound impact on the feel and connection of an image, as does the use of space.

These are all tools, and there are many more and they are there for learning and there for using even there for ignoring but the thing these three attitudes have in common is deliberation. Being deliberate about the way we frame and organise objects for impact on our viewers. The fact is that to photograph that thing in our minds eye we need to become fixed on the essence of the thing we are looking at and then become a problem solver, just like Ann’s bus problem, which gives a different prospective on Kappa’s assertion that if it’s not good enough it’s because we aren’t close enough (in this case to a window to prevent reflections and stray elbows).

These last two paragraphs may look like separate and only vaguely related points, but they are not. In order to visualise those concepts of line, shape and space we have to be looking for them. Ann’s two pictures from Angkor Wat, one of the temples and one of the crowd that had gathered to look at the temples, were taken from different angles but from the same spot. One is quite serene the other very crowded and busy. They each have a different tempo. The one has a diagonal line of the rising sun behind the black mass of the unlit temple, the transition between night and day. The other, a huddle following the natural curve of the shore line several rows deep feels much more energised. The lines of people become a shape of its own. To get the crowd picture Ann had to wait for the crowds to thin, to keep the impression of the press of humanity but also to make it something that the eye can relate to. Incidental or otherwise the fact is the contrast between the two photographs made for a tension that one without the other simply did not have. OK the crowd scene was never going to be anything other than a throw away line, but it told a truth that the sunrise picture did not.

Ann had us look and decide which versions we preferred on many of the images she presented between a colour version and a black and white. The black and whites seemed to take on more from the interaction of shapes and of course there was a fair split in preferences. Basically the advice in these digital days is shoot in colour and process suitable images to black and white. The choice is a lot easier if we start with the idea that what we have is a black and white photograph. The conventional technical wisdom is shoot in colour and process in black and white, but in order to bring these two things together it is useful to know what are the effects of choosing monochrome.

Black and white is a bit of a misnomer as what we are truly looking at is pretty much everything in between. Absolute black is one end of the theoretical scale and absolute white its opposite. We render the images through the tonal contrast that colour produces when converted to shades of grey. There are a lot more than 50. You can desaturate your colour image and adjust the contrast accordingly, you can play with colour channels (subtle rather than huge effects usually) or you can go through the camera’s black and white options, they pretty much all have them, but they will all be jpeg. Some may be DNG or TIFF files, but that is a function of your camera. There is the HER route, or the filter routes that you can apply through apps like Snap seed, photofunia, funny.pho.to/ etc etc. Above all monochrome tends to make more of shape and line by taking information out about colour, but as with everything else it is a matter of personal taste. Black and white will not overcome bad composition or lighting.

 

So, a lot to think about, Ann Cook, thank you for another interesting and stimulating evening.

 

8th February 2018 – The Rest of the Way Around the Dial

POSTER

We did Programme as a camera setting back last November, when an alarming number of members were convinced that Elephants were a European phenomena (you had to be there), possibly confusing them (the pachiderms) with Mammoths, possibly from remembering seeing them at the zoo. This meeting it was the turn of the rest of the dial and no such confusion reigned thanks to the scholarly efforts of Chris Harvey, Gerry Painter, Steve Hallam, Eddie House and Simon Caplan. Between them they had manipulation of the exposure triangle well and truly nailed.

 

And if we nail the exposure triangle we have the control of light within our grasp. The other thing we need to have control of is what is acceptably sharp in the picture, a function of lens aperture and shutter speed moderated by the selected ISO setting. With these two things nailed in under ten minutes we are a photographer! Our position in the Point and Shoot Pantheon is but a matter of time!

 

Ah but …. these are the mechanical issues of image capture. Often photographers are as interested in the settings a frame was taken at as the content and whereas they are the key mechanical elements in capturing the image we are viewing they are actually a long, long way down the list of priorities in making a good, bad or outstanding one.

 

Unless our job is making, marketing and or selling cameras for a living.

 

The reasons are thus: to plagiarise  that image you have to be in the same place, at the same angle, in the same light, focused in the same manner, with the same connection to the same elements within the frame, and using the same size sensor. Even then all you have done is copy. The only thing worth copying is the look and that can be as much about post processing as image capture these days. The valid reason for copying a look is to learn about photography by applying it to other opportunities. The camera settings represent one choice from a multiplicity of options to arrive at the same amount of light captured.

 

Let’s put it this way: ISO 100, F8, at 1/125th second gathers as much light as ISO 400, F11, at 1/250th of a second, gathers as much light as ISO 1600, F4, at 1/8000th of a second gathers as much light as ISO 200, F32 at 1/15th second. What alters is the depth of field and the relative degree of that in these examples would depend on sensor/film size. This other variable is why we refer to crop factors compared to the old film size “full frame” 35mm standard (so that those of us set in our ways can get a handle on the perspective generated by a given focal length) and perspective is relative, he wrote with entirely deliberate ambiguity.

 

As we have been plugging the last few weeks rather heavily – and in every blog published for the club, regardless of author –  the issue of absolute prime importance is composition. Yes we have to get the mechanicals “right” for the image we have visualised but that will not arrest the attention of our viewer nearly as much as the arrangement of the elements in the frame. The legendary crime/street photographer Weegee, coined the phrase “F8 and be there” when asked what was the secret to success in his photography. Weege used a Speed Graphic 4 x 5 inch camera and a flash bulb for illumination. The point is, know our equipment and how it gets us the results we visualised. To be fare some people ascribe the quote to Robert Kappa but the point remains the same. Being there means we get the chance to get the picture the f stop is only of relevance If you have the camera with you.

 

Now, we can argue what being there actually implies. and the list would probably be quite lengthy. Most photography to do lists seem to end up that way. Some people even write books about it. Reading photography books is a very good idea, but putting the ideas we draw from them to use is even more productive. Knowing what camera settings other people use can be informative, knowing the performance limitations of our own camera gives us the confidence to experiment. In fact, it could be argued, there are two sorts of photographers who are happy about using Auto/Programme settings. Those who are just starting out and those who are confident enough in their use of the camera to know what it is going to do and when and under what conditions we might have to over ride or compensate. And that leaves us to concentrate on visualisation and composition, which is where the art is coming from.

 

Most photographers, however, set their cameras to  aperture priority and leave them there to control the depth of field. Which is fine. So is shutter priority to control blur. So is manual to control everything, though as a permanent setting does rather slow things down – which can be the point. Auto/Programme is fine. Find one that works for you and use the others to play to their strengths.

1st February 2018 – Editing and improving

Editing this week. Not it in your ed, you understand, but giving 8 images to 30 ‘togs with the aim of seeing what they would come up with in a limited time.  Now with this opportunity and the general sharing attitude within the club there were common themes but no two sets of images shown were anyway near the same in detail.  Views were shared and how-to’s extended. This is an important point. Whereas Adobe was, by and large, the most commonly used suite in the room, that did not engage everyone’s imagination the same way. The (unfortunate for some) truism that a no-expense-spared camera body and even more expensive lens doesn’t make a poorly conceptualised image a  great one extends to the range of photo-editing suites. Proficiency in composition enables more to be got out of the tools in both cases.

 

If you don’t know where you are going you will probably find yourself somewhere else is a much quoted aphorism in this blog. Visualisation is the first step in making a successful image, more often, than “Sheer dumb luck” (see the previous two blog posts) and imagination is the fuel for the engine of visualisation.

 

The broader concept which we are progressing here, at the beginning of 2018, is the development of ideas. There are two basic positions which we can take, previously termed by yours truly as the Get-It-Right-In-The-Camera-ista and Ye-Acolyte-Of-Photoshop. More of the former than the latter myself, both points of view have currency, depending on where we are in the pursuit of an image. The more options we give ourselves in the first instance (Get-It-Right-In-The-Camera-ista) the more we are going to have to work with in the second (Ye-Acolyte-Of-Photoshop). Proficiency in both does not guaranty a good shot. If we cannot see the picture in the first place you are not going to get your best shot. If we don’t compose the elements in the frame it is unlikely to be very appealing.

 

Repetition is a very good teacher, but with the important caveat that we pay attention to what we are doing differently this time – madness lying in doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. And for that we need to know what we are working towards and being open to new opportunities as they present themselves. Setting ourselves a project is an excellent development tool.

 

Initially setting a photographic project needs a brake on the ambition. Make it small, give it a defined beginning and end and give yourself the time to complete it. A two, three or seven day project is a good start if this is all new to you. Take one subject and give ourselves a three to seven days to shoot as many variations of the theme as we can manage. Inside or out. Table top is a really good place to start, the important thing is that we think and think critically about the images we are taking and explore variations.

 

There are books that do some of the work for you by giving tasks, some easier than others, the idea being we go out and shoot the assignment given to us and print and mount the best one in the book. We can go more DIY and use photocorners or some other mount and a reasonable size note book, something we can write our ideas and reflections on. There are plenty of lists out there for projects we can work through. The thing is not how good is it, but how do I change this for another story? Practical measurements can be taken from the Exif data but the key is much more likely to be in re-ordering the elements in the frame or making the light fall a different way.

 

What quickly becomes evident is that having a clear end in mind is a good place to start. The journey is where the learning takes place. An essential, when doing this sort of thing over time, is to take notes. The artist’s sketchbook is a centuries old instrument that is a fantastic development tool. It’s for photographers too. The contact sheet,  not only a film phenomenon, also has great value but as an extension to a sketchbook rather than a substitute.

 

So why go to such lengths when we can go back through our photographs, especially those of places we have visited frequently? Well, I am not a very prolific photographer and the hard drive on my lap top contains 49,000 image files, all backed up on an external drive since you ask, with about 10% of those on Flickr in albums. The Flickr account makes it quite easy to go through similarly themed images and I do, occasionally, revisit some of the images on there and re-edit as an experiment, especially the ones from when I was getting back into photography about 5 years ago. Even so I keep a notebook for the odd thought that occurs or note on a method and writing this blog helps put context around what we do each week at club. The lesson from that is volume needs structure if it’s going to be useful. Too much choice is as grievous as too little.

 

Then there is the reworking of the angles as we looked at when talking about Moving and Zooming in mid-January. Point of view is very important. A picture of a cat or a dog at their level (i.e. ground level)  is very different than one taken looking down which reduces the power of the subject in the frame (the opposite is true of looking up, which is why so many Chief Executive pictures are taken from a lower angle and tell us a lot about the person being photographed). Reworking the angles of the light falling on the subject is a key way to affect the mood of a picture.

 

Basically if we want to improve there are plenty things put there that we can do for ourselves, or we can share with others. Feedback is the breakfast of champions, according to Ken Blanchard, a management consultant rather than a photographer, but nonetheless we have first to create something to reflect and feedback on.

 

See above.

 

 

25th January 2018 – David Bailey

Chair’s night and who should we have as Guest speaker? None other than David Bailey, Yeah, you read me right. David Bailey. The David Bailey, you know, the one that used to work at Asda? One of those 164 David Bailey’s who were used by Samsung to promote the NX1000 back in 2012? Being David Bailey and a photographer has been of the occasional advantage, as David outlined, though any namesake can expect to spend a certain part of their waking day in disambiguation. Especially if, at least part of your day, involves doing the same thing.

David’s theme was on the role of serendipity, the happy accident, which we have looked at as a result of the planned and the purposeful pursuit of the photograph.  To be sure there were some very specific happen-stances along the way. Like the NX1000 campaign, where he got to meet the most famous of the David Bailey’s and the over the shoulder query on a London bound train, among others.  In between there were long periods of learning. Each and every frame is a learning opportunity, if you have the mindset to turn it into one. Each and every frame is a unique fragment of time and geometry. Whether it is the one we were looking for …..

Bailey, as the 60’s trend for one named photographers labelled him, was, and is, by David’s account, a prodigious producer of frames, sometimes only he can see the difference in. There is a difference to be made here between the practised artist looking for what s/he knows is there and the amateur blindly firing off frames in the hope of hitting on something worth keeping.  The camera becomes the instrument of discernment when it is in the hands of someone who can use it as a tool to pursue a clear idea relentlessly. The effect of a planned serendipity, the happy accident that comes from being the right person in the right place at the right time, often lies in the fact that the photographer kept on photographing those small differences until the story gelled with the one they had in mind. In this way photography is as much a process of revealing as constructing.

We have previously referred to four kinds of happy accident:

Firstly: that which is just, or seems to be, random “Sheer dumb luck”.

Secondly: chance from purposely acting towards a defined end running out of “Unluck”, you know the sort of thing, entering photos into competitions, getting feedback, putting that into action, where keeping doing things in search of something particular stirs up the creative pot.

Thirdly: chance favouring the prepared mind (“Sagacity“), that is thinking like and acting purposefully as a photographer as opposed to a person with a camera bumping into photo ops.

Fourthly: the sort that comes from being us, our actions, likes and dislikes, or as the great Victorian politician Benjamin Disraeli put it ” We make our fortunes and we call them fate”. (James Austin: Chase Chance and Creativity).

In Austin’s words David was talking about “Chance interacting with creativity”, here through four evolutionary stages from spray and pray to an ingrained, experience and evidence based work flow. This is not exclusively about style. Style will evolve with practice and a critical eye and determine the way that the forces in the happy accident come together.  It will also alter subtly over time. It is about persistence an open mind and the habit of looking, really looking, persistence and anticipation. And persistence. It has long been the case that as a brand you hire Bailey because he is Bailey. You get the Bailey style, the Bailey view. More likely you don’t as he doesn’t do commissions these days, but the point is this has taken decades to evolve and it didn’t happen by itself. And it is still happening.

In the second half David moved to wedding photography as an example of a shoot closer to what the rest of us have a concept of, either as the photographer or the subject, major and/or minor, in illustrating chance interacting with creativity.

There is a long list of “Must have” shots in the expectations of clients. These have grown over the years, farmed by fashion magazines, celebrity weddings, the “Wedding industry” as the costs, technicalities and expectations of the exceptional have grown.  It is a journey through a very special day and it has a number of moments in it, actually built in it. Yes these will  become the prompts for reminiscences, as will the things that went right and wrong, to other events that came before and after.  As time passes photographs move from being a record to being a prompt for triggering those memories.

So stiffed backed and formal are the traditional wedding shots that some of them look like they came off a production line and this in part, I suggest, became a driver for what, in some instances, have become full blown, multi-day, intercontinental celebrations. Yet, even if the day runs on the rails that the timetable of essential images suggests, there will be moments of interaction that make each part unique. Those angles, those interactions as things come together or go their separate ways, children/animals going off script, laughter, the unexpected glint of light from the bride’s father’s shotgun.

Now, note, we can get those through any of the four stages above described. The more developed we are, however, in terms of spotting, forming, framing and taking the opportunities presented, the more of them there will be and the more these things will contribute to our style. In short it is our journey from looking to seeing.ai

18th January 2018 – Keynsham Photographic Centre Come A Visitin’

A most compelling evening (well if you are a camera club member) had courtesy of Keynsham Photographic Centre. Simon and Neil took us through papers, sizes and types of processes KPC offer and their knowledge and enthusiasm went a long way to explaining why KPC is a destination of choice of so many serious photographers here-abouts. Around 2 in 3 of those present were already users but we all had something new to learn about the services they offer, which are quite extensive. I have always found them to be helpful and friendly and I am happy to pass on a recommendation to use them.

 

Why print? There is an emotional and a logical answer to this. The emotional one is that we do seem to react differently to a print than to a projected image or one on a phone or other screen. This is certainly the case with the written word. With pictures it might be an age thing, with those of us of a certain maturity having an emotional tie to what we started with, the family albums and so on, but as these are family history it is not uncertain that these emotions are passed on. It might be the way we view what is art. Even slides are, these days, often rendered digital. Prints have a longevity that digital files cannot match.

 

The logical one is more existential. Our photographs aren’t photographs until they are printed. They are computer files that are capable of being rendered as images given the right, seldom very cheap, equipment. To that extent they are, at best, semi permanent records. They exist not as pictures but as 1’s and 0’s and that makes them vulnerable to damage, loss and redundancy in many different ways.

 

One of the questions that came up in discussions was the notion of the minimum resolution (pixels per inch or PPI) as a ratio to print size that is compatible with a reasonable quality print. In order to look at this we need to look at and differentiate between two measurements that the computer file we turn into a picture holds – and which can be reset via (photo editing) software. The first is Pixels Per Inch and the second is Dots Per Inch, or as we will refer to them PPI and DPI.

 

There is a previous post dedicated to this and a good start if your interest is more than passing. Essentially the PPI is a measure of the resolution of the computer file when shown on a screen and the DPI a measure of the resolution that a printer will reproduce the computer file as a digital print. They are not the same thing, they are not interchangeable, the connection between them is that you cannot use DPI to overcome low resolution in the PPI. That might not seem like much of a connection but it is a common error, at least it is a common misunderstanding.

 

Just as one is not strictly reliant on another there is an optimum setting for both, but it is not a single magic number or formula. This is because different manufacturers of camera sensors and printers construct their wares in slightly different ways to slightly different priorities. The only rock solid constant you can apply is garbage in garbage out aka GIGO. What doesn’t help is that there are always going to be subjective elements to the ideas of output and acceptable, but we can set these aside.

 

A slight diversion, but one that is worth taking, is the purpose for which we are taking our images in the first place. The digital age has brought with it a number of outlets that, even 20 years ago, were pipedreams or even unimaginable to most photographers. Film cameras would enjoy their predominance for another 10 years in the “serious” and professional markets. A decent living could still be made from stock photography. These days there are far more outlets and they demand different things of the data files they publish. What remains is the fact that proper prior planning prevents poor photography. Start with the end in mind and choose formats etc accordingly.

 

The argument for recording images in camera RAW is that all the information is left in. The argument for JPEG is its universality and space saving compression. The fact is you can shoot in both and convert your final image from RAW to JPEG or any other format (has to be some other format as you cannot save in RAW). In your final version of the image is the information that other devices are going to use to present your image, including colour space, PPI and a whole lot else. The point here is that you are going to have to make, or let programme defaults make, these decisions to determine the look of your output (as best you can).

 

So, long way round to the answer we were looking for but the fact remains, that for all the reasons above, there simply is no answer to the question of a ratio of file resolution to print size because Pixels are not the same size on all cameras – 24 mega pixels on a 35mm sized sensor take up more space than 24 mega pixels on an APSC sensor. There are approximations, guidelines and above all, experience. Let’s look at rules of thumb, but first a caveat.

 

Pixel peaking, the urge to zoom to the maximum and suck the teeth at the lack of relative clarity, is neither helpful nor useful, outside of certain photographic publications desperate for some comparators in a world where you really have to go some to find a “bad” lens or sensor. It’s the aggregate of the pixels used that we view and a badly composed photograph is a badly composed photograph regardless of the amount of money you have spent or your equipment’s DXO rating. We are here looking at making a print of what you have got, regardless of your motive to print it.

 

Lets first talk of PPI. Smaller sized prints, say up to 10 x 8 (ish) we can get a reasonable print at 125 ppi. That is to say at arm’s length it’s going to look OK. Press your nose against it or use a magnifying glass it is going to look pretty rubbish. I have to say that such a view point rather spoils the whole point as, again you are looking at the aggregate of the pixels after all, or as I like to call it, “The picture”. This is a fall-back position only, If your default is 72ppi (i.e. it’s designed to show up on your computer or phone screen) then you are not going to get much above a 6 x 4, maybe 7 x 5 at a pinch, out of it (feel free to prove me wrong because you are only going to find out by using your  combination of equipment and the printer you choose). The best lies between 200 and 300 ppi, by more or less common agreement. KPC ask for 305 PPI. Basically of you use the 300 end of the range you are likely to be close to the optimum for most commercial printers at standard sizes. Refer to your supplier for the necessary information. To change images PPI we use editing software like Lightroom, Gimp or Affinity.

 

But we were looking for a rule of thumb. Any minimum figure is a result of the combination of equipment particulars and specifications and materials used.

 

So, take the longest edge of the image (measured in pixels) and divide by the longest edge of the desired print size (measured in inches). If an image measures 3,840 x 5,760 pixels and you want an 8 x 10 inch print. 5,760 pixels ÷ 10 inches = 576 ppi. That’s more than enough resolution. If you want make a 30 x 20 inch poster out of that image, you’d have a resolution of 192 ppi (5,760 ÷ 30), which isn’t high enough for optimum, if we are looking at least at 200 PPI.  This is a minimum remember, so adjust accordingly.

 

Alternatively, and my personal method,  size the image in inches at a ratio of 1:1. So an 18 x 12 print is sized as an 18 x 12 image in my editing software (Gimp). The resolution is set at 305 by 305 dots per inch as I use KPC, and the image, in pixels, is 5490 x 4118. The down side is the file size, the upside is its going to fit without faffing around.

 

So   http://www.keynshamphoto.co.uk/   and start printing!

11th January 2018 – Table Top Results and Movin’ and zoomin’

Following on from the table top week this session was a results one. These are important sessions to us as photographers even if we are looking at the same subjects we are not looking at the same interpretations and as we looked at in the last blog, these are a really good place to practice the basics in situations where we can control pretty much everything, cheaply and enjoyably.

 

Photography, for anyone who takes it at least a little bit seriously, is a problem solving exercise. How do we get others to see what it is that we see that bears recording? The author Flannery O’Connor is quoted as saying  ‘I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.’  Substitute “write” for “photograph” and “read” for “frame” and “say” for “see” then I think a lot of us would recognise the feeling. There is a whole craft of difference between “There is something interesting” as opposed to “There should be something in that”.  Don McCullin feels that “Photography … is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures,” Hence, in search of what our mind’s eye sees (visualisation) we can apply the principle of “Working the scene” as a method of seeing what we are feeling.

 

Worth revisiting, before we expand this, are previous considerations on rules – which those of you have persevered with this blog  will remember as “Tools” – which are all about organising lines, curves, triangles and shapes for effect. There is an elemental value to thirds, leading lines, filling the frame, repeating patterns etc. etc. but not of their own. We are the difference that focuses all these things into a frame, the ultimate lens.

 

First off let us consider the notion of the position the camera is in when viewing a scene aka Point of View (POV). Rarely is eye-level when standing, unless you are exceptionally tall or exceptionally small, the best to be had POV. I am not sure what percentage of the images are taken from this rather inflexible POV but willing to bet it is in the high nineties. That is not to totally to dismiss it, it gives us an as seen perspective after all but it shouldn’t be left at that.

 

Moving, zooming with our feet changes the perspective of foreground to background.  Zooming with a lens alters the compression between foreground and background by optically cropping. Then there is the low angle and high angle perspectives and we can combine these POV’s with the tool of thirds to place objects around in different parts of the frame, and / or vary the depth of field.

 

All these are interactions with the thing that we saw in the first place, the thing that gave us pause. We use the frame of the viewfinder to exclude those things that get in the way of that vision and we use the principles and tools of composition to work the scene in order to explore those things that are particular about it out of which we make a story. It is worth putting in the effort to make sure we have all the angles covered, to have the material to choose from that gives us the best chance of getting on file what we saw in the first instance.

 

Can’t this be done in post? Technically some of it can, but, the in camera images are the raw materials, not the finished item. Indeed, it could be argued that, as pictures, this data does not exist as an image until it is printed. It is everything we can work with but it’s not everything on offer. Remember, that the camera is a tool for excluding detail from the capture of what we have visualised.

 

Culling the images should be the left to the start of post production. It is basically a waste of time and battery to keep on chimping (taking the photograph and then looking into the live view and going ooh,ah) and breaks the work flow when working the scene.  All things at the proper time is the basis of an effective work flow.

 

Time spent in capture, getting it right in camera, saves on time staring at a computer screen trying to put things right. Experience tells us that we will, with the luxury of time, squander it fiddling with lifeless images, often trying to hide deformities beyond masks and filters and effects. It is the joy of being an amateur that we can do this to our heart’s content. It is death as far as anyone getting paid for it is concerned.

 

To get through a lot of images it is a good thing to apply the 2 second rule. Any image that does not hold your attention for longer than 2 seconds delete. No ifs’ no buts’ no maybes’. Two seconds, it appears, is about 4 times longer than it takes to form an opinion of a photograph. Anything longer is not going to make an image any better.

 

Then we can start working on those that are left. There are a number of different ways of doing this and everyone develops their own, but there has to be a reason for making each decision. I am doing this because … It is always because, as, as far as learning goes, there is no more powerful word in the English language than because.

 

So, at this point, grab the camera and off we go ….

4th January 2018 – Thinking small practising for big.

Happy New Year and we celebrated our return with a well attended evening of table top photography – next week we show the results. This is a good entry point to the year, it’s practical so we get to see and do with others and exchange ideas, but also it is something that we can exercise (more or less) total control over. Yes it might not be our “thing”, yes in the hall we are at the mercy of the overhead lighting and others waiting their turn (on occasion) but the opportunity is the thing.

 

The fact is we can, with very little resource, replicate these moments and use them to our advantage. Find an object – betting the house is full of them. It doesn’t matter what particularly, but, to start with, one that isn’t too shiny, so as we avoid bright spots (specularity) where light sources are reflected in the objects surfaces and not too big – it’s called table top for a reason. This can be controlled but we will come back to that presently.

 

For lights we have torches, they don’t have to be big and powerful (actually something of a disadvantage at close quarters). Some wire twists and something that will be stable when we attach the torch(es) to it as a light stand (or co-opt a friend or relative). Some plain paper to use as a diffuser and Christmas having just passed some coloured sweet wrappers for gels. If we want we can construct yourself a makeshift light box out of an old cardboard box and some grease proof paper, though there are even more minimalist options we can take. We can use tin foil and black card for reflectors and flags.   Ladies and gentlemen I give you your complete photographic studio in miniature!

 

So it’s an entertaining way to pass an evening, useful if we are selling small things on line and we can learn quite a bit about product shots in the process. But it also has other, practical, training uses. It doesn’t make a difference how experienced we are there is always a value to practicing, especially if it is on a subject we don’t usually do. Photography, as David Bailey once pointed out, involves dealing with what is there, photographers don’t enjoy the luxury fine artists have in that anything inconvenient in the scene just doesn’t make it onto the canvas.

 

We have to deal with what is in front of us. The studio is the closest we will ever get to that situation, in miniature or otherwise, being places we put things in rather than take things out. Being a photographer is about having an idea of an image and working with tools we have or can find to work towards what we visualised. Yes I know, that doesn’t really apply to street (actually is does but that is for another time) or at least some forms of street photography. Oh, OK, spray and pray, but like I said, that is for another time.

 

Perhaps the greatest part of this is that we can go through the whole process from visualisation to capturing an image effectively and quickly. And then we can go through the variations of the set up in order to experiment and learn.  Starting with a blank canvas, the light tent is exactly that, we can populate, arrange and light our little stories from scratch. It is a great way to practice basic lighting skills, pretty much for free. In fact thinking of the exercise of placing shapes in relation to each other in a way that gets the attention and lighting it is pretty much the basic definition of photography. Everything we do in these little vignettes can be scaled up. They are good fun and good practise.

 

There is more good practice to be had in controlling light angles too. We mentioned specularity above, basically unwanted reflections. The solutions are straight forward enough and apply to other photographic situations too. Basic rule of reflections is that the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection. What that means for us is that to avoid glare from a shiny object we don’t need the light source and the camera to be facing the same way. Frame with the camera and then move the light around till the glare disappears. Start at 45 degrees to the camera, you should be plumb in what is known as the family of angles.

 

Constant lights are more convenient here but if we use flash and have triggers so we can use them off camera and using test frames and, of course, knowing the rule of reflection, we know where not to place the lighting in relation to the camera, so that is a start. You don’t necessarily have to have triggers though. The  rest of the solution isn’t complicated and if we use a “big” light source, say from a large soft box then the problem goes away. Don’t have a soft box? A light tent is one answer (basically a multidirectional diffuser). No? A piece of white card to use as a reflector, shoot with the camera facing the card, that will effectively diffuse the light.

 

Finally shadows are just as interesting, if not more so on occasion, and balancing out light and shadow is the root of generating mood in a shot. This is done with what are known as flags. They are used a lot in cinematography and videography. They are also used in product photography. Using them in a table top situation means that DIY options are easily available.

 

So, on these cold and dark evenings there is something to try out.