11th July 2019 – Last Night of the Season with Backwell CC

Last meeting of the season and we had a wide-ranging presentation from Bob (Fowler) Ruth (Roberts) and Bob (Bishop) from Backwell Camera Club on the whys and wherefores and, above all, opportunities that this hobby of ours presents. Good stuff.

As outlined in last weeks blog, we go on our annual Mainly-Thursday-Road-Trips for the next seven weeks and we hope as many members as possible can join us. Although they are largely unconnected they do give an excellent basis for members to mandate their own little project.

A photo project is about straitjacketing our good intentions into a purpose and constraining them with a timetable. Essentially, as has been written here before, making an appointment with ourselves. This is one where we can, for instance, make a narrative of one or two photographs from each of these evenings to present on next seasons week 1. The Doctor is in, as they say.

There are as many ways to approach the idea of a project as there are things we can use as our subject. As per usual, I am going to bang on about opportunities falling to the prepared, thinking through just what is involved helps us to set out some priorities. So, taking a lead from our presenters, shoot only black and white on the club summer photo-outings, as an example.

So, first off, with a few last-minute adjustments we have a who, a where and a when. The decision to go black and white gives us a glimpse of how. What is currently a little vague and we need to sort that out before we can start to dig down with the why, which is where the real development starts.

Now the why question can have several answers pretty much anytime that we ask it. In this case, we have to hit on the one that feels best to us. So in this case, shooting black and white on the club outings, we need to sort out what it is we expect as photographers from doing so.

It has oft been said that where we begin determines where we end up. The most common one to us as photographers is a desire to get better at shooting a subject, or a style, or something along those lines. Off we go to the internet and Bob’s your Uncle!

Well, something like that anyway. We are better informed, more often than not, but still unsatisfied. The reason often has its roots in not really having a definite destination in the first instance. Let’s look a little closer at our black and white example.

First off why black and white? One of the most common reasons I have come across are variations of the “It helps/makes me see things differently”. When you remove colour from the equation emphasis shifts to the other, compositional, elements. Lines, shape, texture, contrast and tone take on more of the burden of the feel of the photograph, as well as the look.

Looking at things differently, deliberately, critically, every once in a while, develops our photographic eye and with it we see new and more opportunities because we see our surroundings as photographers rather than navigators.

And this becomes easier because, by shooting in black and white, we eliminate the distraction of colour. And colour is a very powerful part of our world psychologically. Shooting for black and white is just as demanding as colour. A bad photograph is a bad photograph, monochrome will not redeem it, but it does force us to look at things differently.

This absence of colour means, to successfully produce an image, we have to concentrate on finding other elements, those listed above, that combine to make what we have in our viewfinder compelling on a larger screen or in a print.

And in this combination, we are attempting to create an emotion on our viewers. Black and white can look very broody. Deep contrast, rich blacks, appeals to the eye and to the emotions. And, because of the history of photography, black and white has a timeless feel about it that gives it more weight.

Somewhere in these observations, and it does not matter which one and there are certainly others, is the key to why we want to take those type of photographs. It is the one that appeals. So it could be I want to shoot a black and white project. Why? Because I want to explore [Insert Reason Here].

A project, at its basic level, needs to have a who, a what, a why, a when, a where and a how. Miss out one of those and you are going to end up a pile of images which you will spend countless hours fiddling around with in post-production, which is ok if that is your thing, but it is not a productive project in and of itself.

And to really nail it there is a Japanese Proverb, much loved by the engineers at Toyota. If you want to know the answer ask, five times, why? The idea is that somewhere the fifth time of asking you have the primary reason, or in terms of our project, our destination. Surprisingly effective in all walks of life.

So why gives us the reason, how gives us the technique, what gives us the subject, who gives us the sources we can refer to and the people who can help us (this is a Camera Club after all!), when gives us the finish or review date and the times we go a-shootin’ and where a geography we can maximise our opportunities in. Spend 10 minutes sorting these things out and your project will be a lot more effective in terms of your personal development.

See you in Bath on Thursday!

4th July 2019 – Competitions and Year End BBQ

Since last post we have been end of year social and we have had the last of the competition rounds – the trophy rounds. One more speaker at the school and then we are off photographing (weather dependent hence some of the apparent repetition, see website closer to each date):

  • Bath (18th July)
  • Colliters Brook Farm American Car Evening (24th July – yes, on a Wednesday night) OR Weston bike night on 25th (see club website closer to the day)
  • Portishead Marina on 1st August
  • Colliters Brook 7th August
  • Bristol Harbourside 15th August
  • Weston Bike Night 22nd August (or Colliters Brook on the 21st, inverse of above)
  • Weston Classic Car Show 27th or Old Severn Bridge walk over 29th.

Bit automotive heavy but that’s driven (pardon the pun) by what is on those nights or thereabouts and are travel friendly to hereabouts.

The competition rounds are always provocations to thinking about our own photography, from what we would have done given the subjects and compositions of others to, maybe, emulating or doing similar stuff of our own choosing.

Congratulations to the winners (see website and Facebook for details).

Speakers nights also do this for us, at least the ones that are about what we can do within our budgets and don’t involve paddling up the Orinoco River on a leaky bamboo raft. Somehow Brislington Brook doesn’t seem to quite compete on those terms, though the wild life can be occasionally challenging.

Being evening shoots on our road trips, the sun will be low and as the weeks roll by softer, earlier. This is, of course, a time of day preferred by many – especially those with a love of the Golden Hour and an aversion to getting up at the crack of dawn. Just polling up and picking off the beauties of nature’s bounty as they present is one way of doing it, but a little pre-consideration goes a long way.

As the sun sets and the golden hour gives way to the blue (or precedes it as sunrise) there will be more and different opportunities, crowd blurs, light trails, bokeh heavy street scenes and so on. There is something special about an indigo sky – it last but a few minutes – but there are lots of opportunities to take advantage of whilst the blue hour lasts and again being ahead of the game helps.

The blue is a function of the sun being below the horizon, either going down or coming up and the wavelengths of light. It is deeper, richer than the blue of the day. The blue of the morning tends to last shorter than the blue of the evening, but you pays your money and you takes your choice.

One thing that we will find is that the longer our exposure then the longer the image will take to write to the card, usually the equivalent of the exposure – I have known it longer. This time can be limited by going into our camera’s menu’s and turning the in camera noise reduction off.

It also presents a great opportunity to experiment with blur as I mentioned above. This can be in the clouds, in water, in light trails of passing vehicles, or even passing pedestrians. By necessity the lower light levels, combined with lower ISO’s to get the best quality and also a movement effect in a still medium, will mean longer exposure times.

A variation of this interesting effect can be had by using a flash gun but setting our camera/flash synch to second or rear curtain. This especially when you are using a longer exposure and it can be done outdoors or in. Both moving and still elements combine, isolating the lonely figure in the crowd, for instance, or recording a brief history of movement and expression.

Do remember to set it back to front or first curtain though, or subsequent shots will be effected and we don’t always hit on the reasons when it’s been a time between flash sessions.

Multiple exposures, taken to put together an HDR or High Dynamic Range image in post production, are also an option in the blue hour. These are especially relevant when there are areas of light and dark that are not normally rendered in a single image being outside of that particular sensor’s ability to impress data at those extremes.

Now there are pros and cons to using HDR software as opposed to techniques like exposure blending (basically using luminosity masks) but that is for another day. This is just a heads up on the fact that we are not just limited to what we compose in camera. There are enhancement opportunities at a very particular time of day.

A tripod is the order of the day, though not always required, it will get you the sharpest results. A shutter release or timer setting on the shutter is also an idea to reduce shake and keep images sharp.

Lenses should be set to manual once you have focus and don’t be afraid to indulge in long exposures. Smaller apertures are good for keeping the shutter open longer and producing more depth of field. F16 and smaller will also get you a star effect on street lamps and alike.

White balance is a matter of choice but if shooting RAW you can change the white balance easy enough so just leave it in auto. ISO, start at your lowest and experiment. Blue hour can get some really interesting shots so don’t be afraid of experimentation – it will pay dividends!

20th June – Shoot to edit and the Mother of All Quizzes

Shoot and edit and the Quiz to end all quizzes. So what’s the link, other than they follow each other on the Club Programme?

Well, they are both tests, but only the quiz has one right answer. They are both challenges, both stimulations that get the brain working (or failing in my case, but hey, fail is just the Foundation Act In Learning). They are both social in that people with a common interest exercise that interest together, both help to keep us motivated as photographers – probably the best gift that a club can give any of us.

Essentially we added to our own knowledge bases information of varying use and the thing that varies, the thing that makes any of it relevant, is context. That was either through actively participating, discussing and/or helping out. The answer was what worked in that context.

The next step, like building up a question bank in a regular quiz setting, is to see what the context is that makes our subject interesting to us and apply the other two fundamentals of photography, light and composition.

The actual truth of that is it was something about the subject, the light and or the possibility of a composition that attracted our attention in the first place. The more we use our cameras purposefully the more we are likely to be stimulated by those questions.

Then, as we discovered in the last post, the camera becomes “A tool for seeing without a camera” (Dorothea Lange), because we use one to make that statement (our answer). That answer is refined by our use of camera technique.

But what about the editing? We started the editing process when we composed the picture and turned it into a data file (and I am including film negatives in this, because that is, exactly, what they are). Nature is all about mess and inclusion. Art is about detail and exclusion. (I am going to attribute that to Robert Louis Stevenson but I can’t find the original quote).

The data file, especially in these digital days, is a step in the editing process. How much editing and what point a photograph becomes a piece of computer art is a broad, contentious argument that rarely ends up being the same argument it started out as.

But here is a thing. Our editing programme is just another tool in our defining and or discovering that thing which drew our attention in the first place so we can make a record of it and (maybe) share it with others. We don’t even have to pay for it if we want to keep it basic.

And, in doing so, we add to our knowledge bank of photographic and photo editing techniques. The next step is a small one, but a crucial one, if we are serious about developing as photographers. There will, almost certainly and especially when things are new to us, a couple of things we do to each photo we edit.

The trick is to stop and ask ourselves whether this is something that we can rectify in camera, in which case it doesn’t need to be time wasted in editing, and a step beyond that is looking at turning that into something we consciously rectify as part of our camera technique. At that stage, it doesn’t matter whether you have a JPEG or a RAW image.

At the very least that becomes one less layer we have to flatten and combine in the final edit.

Now, it is true that the disease known as “I’ll fix that in post” exercises some people more than others and that with a certain dexterity in the use of an editing programme the joins become invisible (unless they are the point) but in the development sense it does pose a question of what else is deficient in our technique and how that is becoming a drag on our development.

Also, without some idea of the finished product at the outset, that can easily become “I’ll fix that until it’s broke”, assuming it wasn’t broke enough straight out of camera. It becomes a drag on any idea of our continuously learning as photographers because we are wondering around in the dark bumping into the furniture.

This isn’t a “Two legs good, four legs bad” sort of thing. Same as most processes in life, editing, or shooting to edit, is better when it is limited to something with a purpose and something used with a critical eye. That helps to make us better photographers.

That and taking photographs.

And that is the point, really. We buy cameras and lenses and SD cards and computers and software to make photographs. They are tools. More accurately we make computer files, but for the sake of this argument, we make photographs. All photographs are artifices, that is they are made, are artificial. We make art. We make art from light, a subject and the tools of composition.

And if we want to be taken for photographers, not just people with cameras, then it is going to take a plan, some effort and above all, a lot of fun. And if we want to make better pictures …. (Go to top of page) ….

June 6 2019 Still Life Photography by Simon Caplan

So, the blog has been in hiatus for a while, hopefully back now regularly, if slightly longer between posts. This post leads on from the last two sessions about still life, the practical and club member Simon Caplan’s excellent presentation.

Dorothea Lange made her camera “… A tool for learning to see without a camera”. It allows us to mine the extraordinary from the mundane, the exceptional from the ordinary. Looking and seeing are, very definitely, two different things. We often look but, frequently, we don’t see, or we see different things.

Photography, at least beyond the spray and pray, is about looking for the details that make a difference to how the viewer would otherwise perceive a scene and stop instead of passing the moment by. Moment, here, doesn’t just mean that Cartier Bresson split second where the true identity of something bursts through the cloak of mundanity, but also the weight of a thing, and its’ purpose, its’ importance in the re-telling of that fraction in time.

This process Ansell Adams called “Visualisation”. It is the interpretation of a story otherwise lost in the hubbub of our world. It is based within the practice of looking for the connections between the elements in the frame of our viewfinder. It is either something to be pondered or seized upon depending on the environment it exists in, but it is something tellingly special.

Control, then, is an issue and it would follow that the best we can ever do photographically is exhibit the maximum amount of control. If, however, that were universally true then there would only be one form of, one style of, photograph. It may be contextually true and it is certainly true of the still life, but it does not extend to all photography, because the purposes of making one photograph or another, even from the same subject, are different.

Discernment, the ability to judge, is far more important to photography, to art, than control. There are three elements to any picture. Light, subject and composition. Still life gives us maximum control of these three elements, but that control without the capacity to discern won’t give the basically inanimate objects that are the subject in any still life any meaning.

Meaning comes from the way we weave these three elements together.

So, in essence, still life is the art of arrangement. OK, it could be argued that all of photography is the art of arrangement to some greater or lesser degree, but still life is all about arrangment from conception to execution. There is no element of chance, all components are subject to total control.

There are other incarnations than the straightforward still life art shot. Product photography and sub-genres like food photography share the same DNA. Fashion, especially in the studio, ditto. Of course there are exceptions, such as the deliberate introduction of movement either by camera or subject, though the potential for control still remains (even if those examples aren’t very still!).

Simplicity is also a key feature. Too many items, more than one subject, weakens the overall image. The tools of composition still apply, indeed this is a great opportunity to learn about leading lines, the power of odd numbers, symmetry, texture, radial patterns, subject isolation, repetition, etc. etc. because we create them. Still life is a blank canvas.

Light is everything in photography. That does not mean that lighting setups for still life photography have to be complicated. The options are either daylight, the most natural, or artificial, the most flexible. Daylight will probably involve the use of reflectors and diffusers to direct and soften the light, but this doesn’t have to be expensive.

Artificial light, strobes, constant lights, etc will need the same care but we can also introduce the notion of multipoint lighting. The basic idea remains the same – control of light and shadow as a compositional tool. Learning to use hard light and soft light according to the look that we want is the place to start. What we are doing though is as much controlling the shadow as the light (and here).

Still life has a long history in art and photography, it is relatively easy to set up and cheap to do if we use what we have to hand. It is also subtle and quite absorbing, time can go very quickly when we really get into getting the best out of the arrangement of a few simple objects. It is also a good tutor and practice for using light in other situations and really one we can all improve our photography through.

Thanks to Simon Caplan again for an interesting and absorbing evening. I have replicated his list of still life photographers taken from the club’s members Facebook Page here:

Simon’s List

Harold Rosswww.haroldrossfineart.com

Tineke Stoffelswww.tinekestoffels.eu

Diana Amelinahttp://en.35photo.pro/eruven

Mandy Disherwww.mandydisher.com or https://www.flickr.com/photos/28412635@N08

Michael Lamottehttps://michael9dbc.myportfolio.com/from-the-source

Mandy Barkerhttp://mandy-barker.com

Also check out these:-

Kevin Besthttp://bestshots.com.au

Barry Rosenthalhttp://barryrosenthal.com

Joan Kocakhttps://www.joankocakphotography.com/

Inna Karpovahttp://innakarpova.com

Sergei Sogokonhttps://sogokon.wordpress.com/gallery/

Bas Meeuwswww.basmeeuws.com

28 February 2019 – And then …

Slightly longer than anticipated break between posts, unforeseen circumstances. We have been to visit another club, Portishead this time, and the club showed a good range of all abilities which gave a good idea of where the club is and what it tries to do. We look forward to their return visit in the near future.

This was followed by an evening on movement and blur, a practical and then a speaker, Richard Sercombe, all the way from Exeter and the ROC reactive Round. So quite a variety. In this blog, we shall be looking mainly at Richard’s contribution.

Richard brought a talk about low light photography and illustrated it with a variety of images accumulated from trips at home and abroad. Night time itself is not really the subject it is what’s in it that becomes the subject, be it places, buildings, people, animals, light trails, light painting or anything else.

Aside from the absence of light the material thing that changes with photographing in the wee small hours is the ambience, the feel, the emotional atmosphere, add in the joys of colour casts from various light sources and we have a whole new set of problems to solve.

But we don’t have to forego sleep in order to make the most of it, though empty streets have their lure (and also possibly their dangers – be aware, that kit is both expensive and portable and not necessarily by the lawful owner of said expensive kit). From the blue hour onwards provides ever-changing light and ever-changing challenges.

The basics of dealing with these challenges is no particular secret. It lies in the adaption of the camera settings to the conditions, or, in plainer English, we are still manipulating the exposure triangle just as we do every other time we take an exposure.

So we have ISO, shutter speed and lens aperture. Exposures get longer, ISO’s higher, apertures wider as the light fades. Essentially we adjust these to deal with the luminance in the scene we are seeking to capture in such a way as to get us the desired look.

As shutter speeds get lower then the probability of camera shake begins to be a factor. This is where VR or vibration reduction becomes the desired option. VR is basically a system that compensates for the shakes we introduce from being, which are always there but they are also at a lower frequency than we capture when pressing the shutter and thus do not appear. Essentially shutter speed is quicker than required to catch the movement.

So we break out the tripod, or use something steady we can rest the camera on that eliminates movement. There is a school of thought that says turn off the VR on the lens when it’s on a tripod. Certainly, this is probably the case with older lenses, but there is no loss in doing so. Some lenses will sense when on a tripod. RTM (Refer To Manual).

Bringing our own lighting is an option, probably best to avoid any on-camera flash as that produces very direct, hard images with hard to control shadows – and we need those shadows. As we are talking low light and after dark here it is well worth getting a handle on slow synch/rear curtain flash, it opens a whole lot of opportunities.

That said there is much to be experienced from not taking our own light. The challenges are as we have outlined above, the general ambience at night is very different, contrast tends to be very high, “Sunny 16” it ain’t. Well, it is mathematically, but, practically, there tends to be a lot more trial and error involved, and the best insurance still remains “Expose to the right” (because of the latitude digital cameras have, especially when shooting in RAW).

Blending existing light and using constant or flash lighting as a fill-in is also an option, especially when taking portraits, and it’s not even necessary to go outdoors to get the effect. The fact is it is a very different situation to photograph in and one full of opportunities. Try it.

31st January 2019 – Sheila Haycock on AV Presentations

Sheila Haycock came to talk to us, all the way from Exmouth, on the first snowy day of 2019, about AV – Audio Visual if you are unfamiliar with the term – and showed us that it is a fairly straightforward technique to grasp but, like everything else in photography, something that needs a fair bit of practice to pull off.

 

In essence Audio Visual in a photographic sense is sequencing stills and setting them within a time frame to commentary, music and/or sound effects. As such, as Sheila amply illustrated, we can recycle our existing images or script a shoot specifically for the purpose. Or mix the two.

 

What this can do is spark the creative process anew, as well as be a rainy-day-nah-lets-stay-in activity that still involves photography. What it won’t do is rescue a ropey set of pictures. Sheila’s are high quality images that she weaves into stories – and wins awards for.

 

As for software, well there are the Adobe / Final Cut paid for (very flexible and not cheap) routes all the way down to free. Sheila uses PicturesToExe which is a mid priced alternative. You might even have a copy of Microsoft Movie Maker on your computer, depending on its age, though that is no longer supported but you might have Video Editor loaded, which includes 3D effects but is otherwise pretty basic.

 

The basics of telling a story, regardless of medium, are the same, including a photograph. First we need something to hook our audience, the subject in a photograph is the subject in our story. The difference with an AV is that we are going to transition between stills in order to progress the story, using words/sound and the strongest element, the picture itself.

 

The transition, basically the next image or set of images, purposes, in a well told story, to build the tension (and release it a little) so that we get to the crux, the point, of the story. Then the conclusion, the punchline.

 

This is the basic structure of a good story. Of course we can have a good structure but if the materials aren’t good enough then all we are left with is a good story poorly told. It has to be logical throughout, but it also has to be engaging.

 

The role of the sound track is not something to be underestimated. It effects the emotions and dictates our reactions to what we are viewing. It is a powerful point of connection with the story. With this in mind it has to be picked carefully, music especially.

 

There are copyright issues with the use of music, rights need to be respected, and the requisite licenses should be purchased, and though there is copyright free music to be sourced, the licensed music option opens up a much wider catalogue.

 

Sound effects can also add to the impression of a three dimensional place within the presentation, but again, it needs to be appropriate to what is being shown and to the direction of the story, it is both clue and environmental enrichment.

 

The third element is the script and that can be the hardest one to get right, not least because most people reading aloud will do so in something approaching a monotone. This can be a real buzz-kill because, if the artist is sounding like they are uninterested, how can we demand the audience stay awake, let alone engaged? It needs rehearsal and it needs a certain amount of delivery skill.

 

There is, then, a considerable amount of flair in putting a successful AV together, but the proficiencies themselves are there to be mastered and the tools, even beyond the basic level, are easily enough resourced. It demands a blend of talents but it can be an effective and entertaining way of telling a story, using new or existing images.

24th January 2019 – Paul Walker, Model.

The other end of the lens this week, with a presentation by Paul Walker, who has been a model at the club on several occasions, and his experiences as a model over the last five years. Paul has gathered about 20,000 images over that time from the photographers he has worked with, including present and former members of the club and his is an interesting perspective.

From the off Paul framed his presentation within the context of mutual collaboration, certainly within the idea put forward here before (it escapes my memory by whom, unfortunately) that we do not take someone’s photograph, they give us their photograph, or as Jean-Luc Godard put it “When you photograph a face …. you photograph the soul behind it”.

It may not be a scientific fact, but after a while of taking pictures of people, there are certainly those who the camera takes to more than others. In part that is to do with symmetry and features but it is mainly about the connection either side of the film plane. Paul talked about the photograph as a collaboration, having an idea and communicating it.

Certainly, there are two people in every photograph (at least) the subject and the viewer and it is the viewer that we work to engage. We, the photographers, are the unseen intermediaries, we are the mentors and the coaches as much as the producers and directors, we take and shape the light, we work with the subject to make the image.

“If a photographer cares about the people before the lens and is compassionate, much is given. It is the photographer, not the camera, that is the instrument.” – Eve Arnold.

But the emotion, the feelings, the communication all comes from the subject. It is their story, we merely light and frame and take the image, a little slice of time and circumstance that never happened before or since and being unique to that time, but we need to do it empathetically.

Of course, there are the techniques of lighting and posing and exposure to apply but Paul’s commentary on his favourite shots underlined photographer David Alan Harvey’s advice “Don’t shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like,” and that has to come from both sides of the lens coming together.

Certainly, there are differences in posing men, posing women, posing children, and using natural or artificial light and any number of different styles (High Key, Low Key, Noir, to name but three). Small differences between shots are worth recording and studying. And discussing with our model. Let’s face it, an experienced model probably has more experience of doing these things than we do and though they may not be au fait with the technical side of the camera they know about how to work with light from their end.

And if it is all about communication then there needs to be a dialog of some sorts, allowing photographer and model to play to our strengths. To do that we need to be mindful of the atmosphere we are in and the one we are trying to create – pointless in being somber and funereal when trying to create a party atmosphere and vice versa, pointless not shooting what it feels like but shooting what we think it looks like. And always be polite. Be respectful.

And yes, it helps enormously if both sides have an idea of what point we are trying to get to, so time spent in reconnaissance, as Napoleon Bonaparte was apt to say, is never wasted. And it is better to stay positive when things aren’t going to plan, doom and gloom will kill the vibe and as the photographer, we are the key to keeping the momentum going.

It is a collaboration and our thanks to Paul for providing an informative and stimulating evening in giving the far side of the lense’s perspective.