22nd September 2016 – Quiz Night and More Answers

Quiz Nights. You can’t beat them so we joined ‘em. Thanks to Myk Garton for putting the evening together, I know from first hand experience just how much effort goes into making it look effortless. And of course all participants showed themselves masters of their hobby. This week on the blog we will wrap up two of the three remaining questions from the Week 2 Q by looking at: What is front curtain, rear curtain and slow flash? And what is Back button focus? This week has also been the big European photographic trade show, Photokina, held in Germany, one year I will have sufficient time and money to go …..

Still, daydreaming aside, what is front curtain, rear curtain and slow synch flash? Flash, aka strobes, aka those lighty things, is an area that is both technical and often ignored by the amateur. Yet it is one of the most effective accessories we can purchase. After all most of us have one built into our cameras, even if it does get overlooked most of the time. There is more to this than we will look at here, indeed we will visit this in a future blog, but for now we will explore the question that was put concerning these three often found menu options.

For this specific question we do not have to differentiate between off camera flash (or strobes if you prefer) and on camera (that is pop-up or otherwise built in). The reason behind this is that this is a specific question of the firing order of the flash in relation to the curtain or shutter. Mostly this is done off the position of what is known as the front curtain. The majority of cameras have a two curtain (shutter) set up. This enables faster shutter speeds, the flash synch speed of your camera is actually around about the fastest speed that the whole of the sensor is exposed. Otherwise it is exposed through a slit formed by the front and the rear shutter curtains moving across the sensor plane at a fixed distance apart. The faster the shutter speed the closer the gap.

If you expose using a strobe/flash unit above the flash synchronisation speed you get a dark band of varying width according to the shutter speed as the duration of a flash is extremely short. Because the lens projects things upside down onto the sensor and the shutters move from top to bottom this band will appear from the bottom upwards. Not so much of a problem if you only need light at the top of the frame, but not actually something that is easy to fine control both because of the position of the shutter at any given time and how much darker the rest of the frame is.

So why have a front curtain flash and a rear curtain flash? It’s to do with the motion blur in the frame and where the pulse of light freezes that in time. The least subtle explanation, nonetheless one that actually holds true, is that you use front shutter curtain to freeze the action. You might use your maximum shutter synch speed (often automatically set but that depends upon make and model of your camera body) to give yourself the maximum chance of freezing the action. You use the rear shutter curtain and, usually, a lower shutter speed to freeze the foreground and retain some motion blur in the scene. And slow synch flash? Well that is an automatic camera mode that forces a slower shutter speed and synchronises the flash. You can get some very different looking results from the same scene using these variations. As ever, try it out for yourself.

Back button focusing, once you’ve tried it you will never go back. At least that is what its fans say and there is no denying that it is a very useful tool. We looked at this on the blog last August viz “Back Button Focusing (refer to your manual for the native translation in your Camera’s Brand-Speak) does exactly what it says on the incredibly expensive magnesium alloy tin, or plastic camera body as befits your pockets/needs/delusions of grandeur. It is a button on the back of your camera body that activates the camera’s focusing system in isolation from the shutter release.  When you operate via the shutter release a half pressure triggers the autofocusing system (assuming you are not mounting  a manual lens) and a full depress activates the shutter release. Usually the shutter will not fire until the camera processor detects all the algorithms are in place to produce a point of focus and an acceptable circle of confusion (i.e. something is in focus …).  The button itself is usually marked AF or a version thereof and is normally accessible with the right thumb (I’ve never seen one on the left but then I haven’t conducted a survey in any depth). And it’s on the back of the camera.”

Yeah, that is what it is but what use is it? Well first off there is the fact that, whilst depressed, the AF button means that you hold whatever it is you have focused on. In the automatic modes focus shifts when you shift what you are looking at, which can be time consuming. In order to keep the focusing, for instance if you want to shift the main point of focus to the edge of the frame and blur the background. You might want to add to that you can use the continuous mode (AF-C or AF-Servo depending on your camera body manufacturer) of focusing on your camera when following action and use the AF button to freeze the most advantageous point (takes some practice but worth the effort with a high degree of movement in the frame). Or basically no more having to focus every time you let go of the shutter which takes time and can mean that you loose your shot. Annoying when it was already in focus the last time you half depressed the shutter.

So now you know. Next meeting is Table Top photography, a practical so bring your cameras and tripods. Maybe your flashes too!

15th September 2016 – Damned Chilly

Pam Lane ARPS DPAGB AFIAP and husband Eddy Lane ARPS DPAGB AFIAP were our guest speakers and a fascinating evening spent in the footsteps of Shackleton, some superb photography and a penguin quiz. Can’t say that is a common event! So I came away with a clue about how to differentiate a Magellanic from a Macoroni, a Gentoo from a Chin Strap and a Rock Hopper from a King and the fact that the World population of Penguins is around 50 million. And much, much more. An excellent and entertaining evening that was well received all round.

Earnest Shackleton is often used as an exemplar of Leadership in times of adversity (including by yours truly) and the best quote I have ever come across about that period of polar expedition goes as follows.

For scientific discovery give me Scott; for speed and efficiency of travel give me Amundsen; but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.” Sir Raymond Priestly, Antarctic Explorer.

The story is all out heroic, even if underlying that story are mission objectives not even remotely fulfilled. Everyone got back. What they got back to was the peak of Flesh v Steel and the new way of waging war was being worked out at the cost of  hundreds of thousands dead, mutilated, shattered in mind and body. Patriotically they joined up and fought, not all of them survived, but served with distinctions nonetheless.

Pam and Eddy braved the elements in somewhat more certain circumstances, nonetheless freezing waters, actually below freezing waters around minus 2 degrees Celsius, lower if the water is saltier, massive cliffs of moving pack ice and bergs and cold, cold winds all have to be taken into account. Their camera equipment they kept outside for the main part, simply because of the problems of condensation which can render equipment useless especially when it is repeatedly exposed to extremes. Unlike the Northern extreme, though, there isn’t generally wild life there that views human visitors as a welcome variation in diet. One scientist of the British Antarctic Survey was killed by a Leopard Seal whilst out snorkelling, but that was some time past now. The fact that the air is so arid means that the abandoned detritus of human occupation left behind is largely as it was when it was abandoned. South Georgia’s redundant whaling station’s iron work shows a patina of rust but that is only at the surface and many of the wooden buildings survive intact even after 50 years.

Their photographs weren’t only of penguins and wooden shacks, though there were petrels and albatross, seals aplenty and these were all executed with great skill and precision. Personal favourites were of the petrels and albatross against the background of the sea, the seals and the massive ice floes. It was, as already stated a very entertaining and informative evening.

——————-

 

So, carrying on from where we left off in the last post on week 2’s Q & A session we turn to:

What is the difference between RAW and JPEG?

This is also a question of RAW v Everything Else, and we have dealt with this quite recently in the blog, indeed we have visited it several times over the years,  so I won’t go over in any great detail.

Much has been written about why you should use it as your standard format. RAW, in analogy, is the digital equivalent of the film negative. You expose the film you get what the lens is pointing at in all its tarnished glory.  Ye-Acolytes-Of-Photoshop will tell you to use RAW because RAW retains the maximum amount of information. RAW will almost certainly need some work done on it anyway because it acts as a record, is as neutral as photographic algorithms get, even so are constructed and thus certain assumptions are made at the algorithm manufacturing stage. Way, way before you even entered the camera shop. It is why there isn’t just one edition of RAW. Camera makers, in order to optimise the electronics within their system, write their own versions of it. Programmes like Photoshop have the ability to deal with this variation built in so you won’t be conscious of this. Indeed you cannot view a RAW image by itself, it needs a suitable image programme to view it.

That, Shock! Horror! includes on your camera. What you see in Live View is actually a JPEG….

A Get-It-Right-In-The-Camera-ista will say, not without some philosophical justification, that JPEG is fine, because the decisions you make at the time of capture are the most important decisions in the timeline of any photograph, so take some time to get it right and to be fare Ye-Acolytes-Of-Photoshop wouldn’t disagree. JPEG saves you space, it saves you time and it comes in a universally acceptable ready to go format. You can do edits on a JPEG though because there isn’t as much information to edit you cannot edit to the same degree. Many of the clever things that your camera can do, like HDR, are rendered by the camera in the JPEG format. And what you see in DSLR Live View is the finished article according to JPEG (see shock! Horror! revelation above).  JPEG also saves space, but it does this by binning information the algorithm decides you don’t need. It is a destructive editing method. It is great for final shots (you can’t save in RAW remember), because it is the first format that websites, editing programmes etc are set up to handle.

This is where the Histogram comes in. Always check your image against the histogram when you have a scene with high dynamic range. Indeed if you have high dynamic range in a scene (both very dark and very light) shoot RAW anyway. If you are bracketing to grab the highlights and shadows for post process later make sure that the range you are bracketing (my Sony limits automatic bracketing to ± 0.3 or 0.7 of a stop, which is pretty useless most of the time I want to use it, so intend to do this manually) has some overlap (or take three or four or more as necessary). You can then choose to layer and pick whichever is the most suitable exposure part of a scene or combine them into a High Dynamic Range (HDR) image.

The sensible answer is to use what you are comfortable with given the job to hand or, if you work for Reuters, JPEG i.e. whatever the client demands and, of course, you have to choose a format to store your edited work in and JPEG is pretty universal.

 

N E X T  M E E T I N G

Week 4 – 22nd Sept 2016 19:30 – Quiz Night. Teams of 3/4 members compete against each other in a photography quiz – So make sure you have caught up with ALL the past blog postings ….

1st and 8th September – We’re back and a Q&A

Aaaaaand we’re back. No wait, did that one last year. Try this. Hello, again.  The first of season 2016 – 2017 we did out annual what-I-did-on-my-summer-holidays session. No, wait, it was way better than that, at least after I’d done my stint. What he we had was a good variety of people, landscapes, details, street, and what else taken over the break by the membership. Even those club shoots we did, where there are a lot of views of the same thing, showed a refreshing variety of angles and interpretations of some very stimulating evenings shooting. Quite energising, as it is always a range even when taken of the same subject. Angle, crop, the way the light falls all make up some subtle differences and that is before you get to the mechanics of the way different firms sensors render colours, or, indeed whether the photographer has chosen black and white.

We followed that with a Q&A in week two, with varying degrees of success and it is this that I want to follow up but because at least two of these answers is about the length of an average post in itself, then I am going to split these over approximately the next month in association with content from that week.

 

What difference does it make when I change the DPI and its relation to pixels?

The simplest answer to this is none whatsoever, but simple answers don’t always mean helpful answers. It can cause confusion, not least because we are seeing the term PPI banded about more frequently of late. Add to that the fact that you can set both pixel count and DPI often on the same menu and club photographers most often come across these when resizing for competitions and voila we have a strong correlation by association. They are not, however, interchangeable in any meaningful way.

Let us start with DPI or Dots Per Inch. This term has been around longer than the common notion of pixels and has been associated with different aspects of image quality over the years. DPI has come to mean more than it actually does in this context and can be the source of confusion. In fact DPI refers to prints only. It is not directly related to image quality at the core, that is to say on the sensor. Your printer creates the final image through spraying jets of ink – it’s sort of in the name – on to a surface. The resulting dots are engineered to be thinner individually, than a human hair. It is a sort of the ultimate in Pointillism and is philosophically absolutely nothing to do with that school of art and so isn’t, if you see what I mean. No? Move on.

What it practically has in common with pointillism is  the capacity of the human optical and processing system (that is your eyes and your brain) to create a fuller tonal range from the arrangement of dots of colours of far less actual colours being applied. Hence RGBY  (Red Green Blue Yellow) in one cartridge and black in another on your basic home printer can give you a fair rendition of  a much, much wider tonal range.

So, why do we even have the dots per inch option built into our editing suites print menus? The answer is tied up with that tonal range and the viewing distance. Another confusing label attached to this is “Professional”. “Professional” prints are printed at around 300 DPI (depends upon the printer system being used). It’s to do with quality, we are told. Yes it is, very much. Doesn’t explain why your average billboard poster is printed at around 6 DPI and they are professional too. The key to understanding that is the viewing distance. Billboards are, most often, not viewed at arm’s length. If you have to stand back further to get the whole image in then you need less dots. If you have ever bought printer ink then you know that it is, per litre, one of the most expensive things on Earth to buy. Someone, I forget who, calculated that to fill your average family car petrol tank with the stuff would cost you around £90,000 at the pump. And then it wouldn’t go. So that’s £90k + a garage bill + some very awkward questions to answer from your other half and the bank.

It should be noted that this is all about the final quality of the print. If the quality isn’t in the file you are trying to print in the first place then daubing more paint onto your canvas just (expensively) glorifies the mess you have started with. Which brings us to pixels.

Pixel is a compound word made up from the term Picture Element. It is not purely a photographic term by any means. It is the smallest programmable element in an electronic visual display. It is a single point in that display.  Your TV works on pixels. Your computer screen works on pixels and yes, your digital camera sensor works on pixels. Except …. well we photographers in particular, it being such a large element in the marketing of the quality of capture our cameras can make (at least according to the industry’s marketing departments), actually confuse  the physical elements on the sensors which are, more correctly, photo sites, the receptors that sit behind tiny , tiny lenses and convert light into binary electronic signals with something that is fixed in size.

Logically that is not the case (necessarily). The actual, physical, size of these picture elements is determined by the resolution the designer is engineering for. So if you are looking at this on a 800 x 600 screen the answer is, half the size of looking at this on a 1600 x 1200 screen. Or if you have 16 mega pixels of an APSC sensor Nikon D3100  the sensor on the 24 mega pixel Nikon D500 has 50% more pixels, but they have to be smaller to fit in the same physical space. You have more points, so, like having more dots in your final print, you have more chance at rendering gradations etc more accurately and subtly.   So there is no definitive answer to how big is a pixel, it depends upon the medium you are using for the display, and the display size itself is dependent upon how far it is expected to be viewed from. The rough dimensions are one and a half to two times the diagonal (on the diagonal is how TV screen sizes are measured).

The basic rule – and I mean rule – is that the initial quality of the file you are displaying dictates the maximum overall quality you can achieve. So, being both Pro cake and pro eating it both the Get-It-Right-In-The-Camera-istas and Ye-Accolytes-Of-Photoshop are right. Firstly you need to get your picture as right as you can at source and if you have more information to work with you can do more at the extremes of editing. This is important, because a low resolution produced-for-the-web image is not going to make much resizing before it becomes useless. No amount of expensive dots per inch squirting is going to change that. Interpolation, where your editing programme takes each pixel in relation to the pixel bordering it makes a decision on shade and contrast of it and fills in the space with a guess-of-a-pixel (we will look at that in a little more depth another time) has its limits. It also takes up space – the very reason that your average web image is of low resolution, it’s good enough for the purpose its designed for given data limits and user load times.

Oh, I could go on, but I won’t.

 

N E X T  M E E T I N G

In the Footsteps of Shackleton.

August 2016 -New Season Approaches

Blog has taken a bit of a break these last three weeks – what do you mean you haven’t noticed? – so this week is a little bit of a digest of things that have crossed my viewfinder. Over this period the club has been up to Gloucester for a very pleasant evening and a model photo-shoot around the docks, Bath for stroll around the Royal Crescent and Severn Beach for the sunset. Our thanks also to models Ashleigh Claire, Keith Bristow, Carl Hawkins and Alice Jordan for their endurance and patience at the Gloucester Docks shoot, which from Facebook seems to have generated some interesting shots. Not quite as billed (the theme was originally going to be Victorian) but it was an entertaining evening nonetheless and we had the space largely to ourselves and another photographer and model who were doing a shoot. There was also an American car meet going on and all in all it was an interesting, if slightly humid couple of hours.

 

But the humidity of Glos. docks was nothing compared to a windless evening in Bath, which seemed to pile heat upon heat. Severn Beach was a little more civilised even if the evening did end in rain. The fact is we don’t very often get extreme weather in this part of the UK, for which we should be grateful, but still half a dozen people have lost their lives on the coasts around the UK in the last ten days or so. In fact the climate and geology of the UK is particularly stable yet still manages a huge variety of land, sea and urban views. But it’s not without its dangers.

 

One of those is people taking exception to you taking photographs. In this country the level of paranoia around children and photography is on the increase. I met with this some years ago – taking photographs of my own children. Now I am a reasonable man but telling me (wrongly) what I can and can’t do vìz a vìs the photographing of my own children in public, does rather try my patience. It always pays to be polite though and I am sure I was a lot more polite than I seem to remember being.

 

Scare stories are will always generate interest, trouble is when people act erroneously on them. And, of course, different countries different rules – over the weekend it has emerged that the “Burkini Beach” photographs of the armed French Police enforcing the law have led to the former Mayor threatening the prosecution of social media users sharing pictures of them doing so. Now the reasons for doing so are complicated and the reason for the Burkini ban is tied up to do with the 84 deaths on Bastille Day in the City of Nice, where the photos were taken. The point is, whatever you may think of these rules (a) ignorance is no defence and (b) your opinion of them does not change the law.

 

So, simply put, find out what these rules are before you take the camera out of its bag and stick with them. This Facebook Page is a good place to start.

 

On a more cheerful note the 2016-2017 season starts at the club on 1st September and we are kicking off with an event called my summer, where members bring in photographs they have taken over the summer and present them. That’s a sort of hint.

 

There is a lot on the programme again this year and we urge all members to participate as widely and as often as possible – it’s sort of the whole reason for the club after all. One issue that has arisen and needs addressing. The evenings where we use models on the basis that they get the images we take in return for their time do require that we honour our side of the bargain, whether we as individual photographers, think they are good enough or not. It doesn’t take much time and it is only fair. We can now use the photo entry system so that can be covered among its many other attributes, I believe, as it can be set up relatively easily, so no excuses really. Give up your best three (at least) and let the model worry about whether they are good enough or not.

 

We are fortunate in having such an active club but we also recognise and welcome new members. There has always been someone around to answer questions and there is quite a breadth and depth across the club and members always seem happy to give freely of their time. Long may it remain so. The programme for September includes: Photo’s we have taken over the summer break; Q and A session; A talk that looks distinctly chilly; and a photo mini marathon, ever popular. That is all in the next five weeks (photo-marathon and photo-marathon judging taking place in consecutive weeks).

 

So, what is your goal for this season? It’s always a good idea to have and we learn more when we have an idea of what success looks like. It might be to get yourself off auto/programme, not actually sins in themselves but the tool is making decisions for you creatively and artistically. There will be plenty of opportunities within the club schedule to practice that and to ask people about how they do it and why they do it that way. You might want to set yourself a one a day project over 7, 28 or 365 or some other number of days. Or take on some macro or portrait projects, the point is there are lots of opportunities and there is a lot of experience in the club, you can call on. Essentially next season is what you make of it, and the club is what you make of it, the opportunities are there for the taking.

 

Good luck!

4th August 2016 – Tintern Abbey and File Formats.

Tintern Abbey was our rendezvous last meeting, the next is at Gloucester Docks and we have a  themed shoot. Please see the club’s Facebook Page or email the club for details (link on the main page). Not a bad showing considering it’s the other side of the Severn Bridge, even if we seemed to lose each other when we moved on to the Old Railway Station and its sculpture trail. Possibly the others I lost track of went on to the bridge at Brockweir, or home. Still it was a rewarding evening.

 

So the Olympics have just started and on display this week were the armouries Canon and Getty have provided, several million dollars worth. Then this is an enormous event. One photographer has already had £30,000 worth of kit heisted by a street gang using distraction tactics (and that had an interesting postscript). Whatever else you might say about it, there are no small numbers involved in the providing of it. The International Olympic Committee have banned GIF’s from the attending photographers (among other formats) in an effort to maintain control on who and how money is made from the images taken of the action. GIF’s, Graphic Interchange Format, are generally thought of in their animated form these days, though it is a lossless file format for stills too, and it is this animated form that has the IOC so animated, or at least its ability to simulate film/moving pictures. Which is all very fine, but what is a lossless file?

 

Lossless files describe the performance of data compression – squeezing the raw data into smaller storage spaces without losing quality. They are not just photographic formats but audio formats too and there are general formats for other data, the most familiar of which are Zip files, but also for computer code. GIF has been around a fair few years, but it has grown in both popularity and capability, but it only handles 256 colours. Its appeal to the web is its tiny size, and of course its ability to be turned into short animations. As a format it actually predates the Web as the it has been around (unaltered) since 1989.

 

JPEG on the other hand, is a “Lossy” format. Lossy “is the class of data encoding methods that uses inexact approximations and partial data discarding to represent the content” (Wikipedia). It is a one way street, meaning it cannot be reversed. Lossless preserves the colour data (but might reduce it as in a GIF). Its irreversibility had Reuters making JPEG their only accepted format, one suspects, as there are more limitations on its ability to be manipulated as well as the economies of scale available in limiting the number of formats they have to accommodate. It is pretty universal as formats go. Outside of the personal storage areas you won’t find RAW on the web, but JPEG you will find pretty much everywhere. Most cameras shoot JPEG of course – it is the photographers format, JPEG stands for the Joint Photographic Experts Group. It will give you 16 million colours, more than you can actually see, but the trick is in the transition between colours and shades of colours, which are generally pretty vibrant. Its widely accepted of course (see above) and you would have to look long and hard to find a computer that cannot handle it.

 

We linked to the JPEG v RAW argument in the last post, but RAW doesn’t get a look-in when talking about most of the images we see. Then, in the days of film we saw a lot, lot, more prints than ever we did negatives. The world, though , has changed a lot in the last 25 years where digital is the new normal – normal for taking and displaying images. The world’s first digital SLR was a modified Nikon F3,  The Kodak Professional Digital Camera System (DCS) which was tethered to a 200MB hard drive, that the photographer carried over the shoulder. Its capacity was 156 uncompressed 1.3MP images and was yours for around $30,000 US (about £23,000 at current exchange rates, but actually closer to £40,000 when you take inflation into account). That was 1991. On the 6th August that same year Tim Berners Lee posted the first page to the World Wide Web (the internet is actually the system of computers that powers it) and though one and the other are now inseparable, the first image was posted in 1992. CERN made the code a gift to the World in 1993, and the rest, as they say, is a gloriously messy history.

 

Whereas we will find lots of JPEGs and GIF’s on the web, as presentation formats at the very least, they are by no means the only formats. BMP, often called a “Bump”, is sometimes used by photographers but it is not very flexible and the . TIFF, or Tagged Image File Format, is more common because it is the standard digital format in the printing industry. It has been controlled by Adobe since 2009 but was originally created by Aldus as a format for Desk Top Publishing, which for many years was the next big thing.  It was designed to be a very flexible format, supporting such types of compression as JPEG, LZW, ZIP (or none) and retains all colour and data information as well as being saved with layers. But the files are huge. Hence camera RAW which compresses the original data losslessly, but it isn’t a single agreed format as the camera manufacturers all have their own versions of it.

 

PNG Portable Network Graphics), the last of the more common formats, was envisioned as a replacement for GIF. Not all web browsers – think of how we store most of our images on line these days and browsers are a very big thing – support it, though that is increasingly uncommon now. It can’t be animated like GIF’s can, which probably keeps the GIF a more common file type, and whereas it does, otherwise what GIF does, only better, those files tend to be large.

 

So there we have it, in aggregate some of the reasons why, as photographers we deal with RAW and JPEGS the majority of the time, and why TIFF is still used to store images by some. All because you can animate a GIF and the IOC voraciously defends its commercial properties….

 

 

N E X T   M E E T I N G

Costume shoot at Gloucester Docks, see Facebook/email club as per above.

28th July 2016 – Weston Super Mare: Beach, Bikes and Sunset.

_Resevoir Togs_DSC09563

Resevoir ‘Togs © Ian Gearing 2016

Last meeting was convened at the Grand Pier Weston Super Mare for a evening’s photography along the front covering both Weston Bike Night, the beach and the sunset across the Bristol Channel. Have to say that the clouds and the sun didn’t disappoint and the turn out wasn’t at all bad given the weather forecast and people’s work commitments. Certainly the black of the rain bearing clouds in banks and the gold of the setting sun made for interesting vistas out over the Channel to Flat Holm and Steep Holm. Of course there was also the Grand Pier itself, which is not exactly a hidden feature, Brean Down and Knightstone Island.

 

So this week a little on photographing motorcycles.  It goes for cars too but your Blog editor is a motorcyclist, so that’s what we are mainly going with. There are not quite a half dozen of us in the club I know as motorcyclists (there are a few more former motorcyclists)  and a couple of us have trekked with our cameras over the years to the National Exhibition Centre for Motorcycle Live and other venues and events. As machinery goes motorcycles are actually quite photogenic, but they are not, necessarily that easy to photograph well. In the street they are either moving among traffic – not the easiest of things to get a clear shot of – or parked on a side stand – occasionally a centre stand. Usually among other motorcycles, which doesn’t always work out favourably for photographers. In more rural settings they are generally a blur of noise and speed, or parked up as per the above.

 

Certainly shows and sporting events are the best way of getting chances to shoot more memorable images. Also going to and from events like the Weston Bike Nights (Thursday’s over the summer), Poole (Tuesday’s and, possibly, the biggest in the UK) and Paignton (Wednesdays) at a suitable and safe place can be good too. Static displays can be captured at wide angles but the pictures with movement in generally speak to short telephotos. This speaks to both practicality and safety for you and the riders, who, by and large, tend to be quite friendly.

 

The most important element, as ever, is the photographer, not the equipment, but as we are talking equipment then the statement about lenses made in the paragraph above needs to be qualified. The “best” focal length is probably short telephoto, certainly 50mm and above. The reason for this is that the shorter, wider lenses, add an element of distortion which can exaggerate the length of frames or make wheels look, well, not very round. This is fine if that is the look you are after, but accurate record (side on) shots, regardless of how creative, really need a perspective that 50mm and above create.

 

Apertures, more often than not, tend to favour the wide. This is because the background easily distracts and it is not unheard of for there to be gaps in the bike frames, especially on classic bikes, where in focus backgrounds can be a little diversionary. In fact one of the best pieces of advice I have been given about taking a photograph I have heard – though it can be a counsel of perfection as with any other – is start with the background first. Keep confusing strong lines and confusing strong colours that clash with the paint scheme of what you are trying to photograph out of the frame as much as possible. Of course, if you are photographing a row of motorcycles then the depth of field might well need to be deeper, but generally a moderate depth of field will allow for some background blur and sufficient depth to allow for the bits that stick out of the frame to be kept reasonably sharp. Remember here we are still talking about taking images of static bikes.

 

As with most forms of photography a low angle to the sun helps with illuminating the subject, so getting up early in the morning might not be avoidable, though Bike Nights cure this affliction. However, shooting from a  low angle is pretty much standard. One other piece of equipment that can prove invaluable is a reflector. You can get a 5 in 1 cheaply enough from eBay (I have seen 60cms reflectors for £5 and 110cms for a shade under £10), and it is a good investment because more often than not there will be areas around the engine that are in shadow and rather than faff around in post light reflected back onto the engine and frame can eliminate the problem at source. Also very useful for other sorts of photography too.

 

On the move there are a different set of circumstances to be taken into account. Primarily safety. It’s very easy to get lost in that narrow field of view that is the world through a viewfinder but we have to be, legally and morally, aware outside of it. If you want movement shots at the Bike Night or other event get to know the approach roads on a map before you go. Roundabouts tend to be a favourite, the larger ones at times without too much traffic flow are generally good for getting pictures of bikes at an angle of lean. Actually any bend is good that requires more than minimal input from the rider. Lenses will depend on the situation that you are taking the pictures in, but again telephoto makes more sense, especially from the point of view of safety. Of course you won’t be the only one who has thought of that, and some people make money out of doing so – some organised events have cameras at the entrance so you can see yourself arriving – for a price. Whatever the case you are going to have to sort that out according to the location and some common sense.

 

If you are at a motorsport event then there are a couple of givens. The pro’s have all the best spots. You will be a longish way back from the actual action. That said there are a couple of obvious things you can do about that. Position yourself on a or as close to a bend as you can. Easier photographing a bike doing one mile a minute rather than three miles a minute. Your autofocus will thank you. Actually it will thank you for turning it off and zone focusing (pre-focusing), but more critical is slowing the action down relative to the camera position (usually head on or as close to it as is possible safe and desirable). Motordrive is an option that shouldn’t be over looked but it has to used deliberately. Spray and pray won’t get you a huge amount of useable material. Chimping is a great way to miss the action totally. Panning is an art that requires a lot of practice but if the shutter speed is low enough and the focus on the moving object good it gives a great feeling of speed (which actually can be very low, as per most supercar on road magazine shots).  Go out and give it a go its actually rather fun.

 

 

N E X T  W E E K

Tintern: – which means bridge tolls so lifts etc might be a good idea.

Meet in the Abbey Car Park at 7:30 pm.

 

21st July 2016 – A Walk Around Town

Change of venue to a walk around the docks in pleasant company, always interesting thing to photograph going on as it is now a social centre for the city. It being evening and ending after dark rather suggested that we take a look at night photography, both with and without a tripod.

 

On the face of it, night photography is defined by two of the absolute essentials of photography. Firstly contrast, you have to go and find it. It will either be very low, which can make things muddy and ill defined or very high, which can call into question shadow and or highlight detail, losing it mainly. Then there is the whole light thing, rather the relative lack of it and the effect that has on the exposure triangle,  camera shake and sensor noise.

 

Situation is also key. This post is going to look at the urban setting as that is where we were, which sets a very different  array of questions than say, photographing the milky way in the Brecon Beacons.  Urban settings have more immediate and multiple hazards, multiple opportunities too. That is not to say that you should go prancing around the countryside with anything but due care, it is a far more dangerous place than townies think.

 

Whereas there is a joy in wondering around looking for photo-opportunities you are far more likely to find them if you know what you are looking for (planned serendipity). Let’s start with the golden hour. The Golden Hour isn’t exactly an hour, it is short hand for, in photographic terms, a quality of light that is a function of the relationship between the angle of the sun to the earth. During that time the colour temperature of the light is around 3500 Kelvin because of the greater depth of the atmosphere it has to travel through.

 

Now you say, being on the ball, that makes the light bluer than the standard daylight of around 5500 Kelvin and you would be right. That soft quality of light that makes for good portraits as well as land, urban and seascapes (we will ignore sun rise for the purposes of this piece but the golden hour is that which starts around dawn) is a product of the low angle of the sun to the horizon which scatters the blue wavelengths relative to the red/yellow wavelengths which, psychologically, look warmer to us.  Think instant no cost tanning. That low angle means long shadows too that are also softer than you will experience later in the day.

 

The time it is available is limited so there is a time pressure (though no excuse for bad technique, of course).  It’s all in the preparation (a point worth repeating). Cloud cover will need to be monitored and factored in too. Knowing when today’s golden hours are, or tomorrows etc, depends upon your planning window, is fairly easy to calculate.  I feel almost obliged to mention The Photographers Ephemeris at this point. It also worth persisting throughout the hour because of the speed the light changes is so rapid. ISO’s are likely to be higher and/or apertures wider and the White Balance, which will try to correct to daylight if left on auto, should be set to cloudy to preserve the warmth in the light.

 

Not that the setting of the sun should stop you, the urban landscape presents a myriad of possibilities, some of these we have spent some time on club outings photographing. The first thing to remember is a piece of advice from Scott Kelby and that is the last thing you do is put the camera on the tripod. Make up your mind what you are photographing, “Working the scene” to determine the most productive angles. Then fix the static element around that rather than restricting yourself the other way round. Handheld is also an option, depending on vibration reduction/how steady your hand/availability of something solid to brace yourself against or set the camera. Another tip I have found very useful is, when holding everything steady  as you can, is to shoot a sequence using the motor drive that is built into virtually every camera these days. Five will get you one steady shot more often than not, though there are, of course, limits to what you can achieve. Wide angle are a lot easier to get results with this way than telephoto lenses which, with exceptions, need a tripod.

 

The lights in the urban environment are both static and mobile. The very wide and the very narrow  are both good for picking image subjects. Cityscape panoramas provide, usually, both static and mobile elements. Shop windows, street lights vehicle light trails. Getting high up, windows, multi storey car parks with a view, bridges and alike offer  vantage points.  Shop windows make for a great free soft box for street portraits. Neon light always sticks out and often uses reds and yellows which are particularly striking and blues can be arresting set on a dark background. Reflections in windows or water are worth paying attention too. The light sources in the scene really are the first thing you should weigh up These are, light trails aside, entirely static. Waiting for something or someone to come along and add interest to it is really quite logical.

 

Exposure is always going to be tricky at night as we discussed above, because of the high dynamic range that you will be dealing with. This is one situation where it really does make more sense to shoot in RAW than in JPEG (or, if you want your cake and eat it, both) unless your camera is using a version of HDR with a high ISO and a black frame to reduce the noise, which will be a built in function and therefore not one where you have the data format option, necessarily. Noise reduction in camera will slow down the write to card times by approximately the same length of time as the exposure so if you are going longer than a second or so and/or shooting sequences with long exposures it probably makes sense to turn it off and do your noise reduction in post.

 

Flash has it’s uses, but not if you are trying to be discrete. Nonetheless, meter for the highlights, shoot camera RAW, accept that post production is almost inevitable in these things. Dark images are not necessarily a bad thing, you are shooting at night after all, but the mood after dark is always different.  The mood of some people is also rather different so make sure you play it safe. The tripod is a good idea, of course, especially if you are looking at longer exposures, when it becomes an essential, either because of the generally low light levels or because you want to include some blur in your subjects – also useful if you are putting in some zoom blur too – or you are looking to put some light trails in, as discussed above. And we haven’t even broached the subject of light painting.

 

All in all a great way to extend your photographic day and pretty much what e shall be doing at WSM this Thursday, with the added incentive of it being bike night. See you there.