9th February 2017 – People and Places

Lyn James LRPS was our speaker, on the general theme of people and places. Lyn is a dyed in the wool lover of film. Not that he dismisses digital, but he loves the look and the workflow that goes with using acetate and gelatine based chemical medium to produce, eventually, a physical image, something that you can hold, in a process that we would call analogue in these digital times.

 

Analogue as a word goes back about two centuries to describe certain physical chemical processes, but the general use of the word expanded in the 1980’s with the invention of the digital (i.e. with numbers only) watch and was used to differentiate these from the traditional watch faces with hands. Basically it was a marketing term.  Moving from there and with the expansion of computer science as a discipline, gradually out of a description of physical properties and into the binary world of the computer and everything associated with it into the general vocabulary has taken a little over two decades.

 

Film is of the analogue variety of image production. Whereas the production of cameras and camera sensors is a microscopic industrial miracle of the digital age as the production of film was in its hay day (part 2 here), the end user experience is very different. The sensor is not consumed in the production of a digital image, even though it sits in what we still call the film plane.  The two processes are, very obviously, very different. The film until about ten years ago was the main stream medium. As such it was produced on a vast industrial scale using vast machinery.

 

After around 2007, when digital started to outsell film cameras, what was left was an industrial over capacity requiring specialist machinery built to individual specifications, was simply not sustainable on a commercial basis. Professionals, by far the biggest users, moved to digital. Some for reasons of novelty, some for more practical reasons. Sentiment doesn’t play much of a part when money is at stake and the digital medium was easily and rapidly distributable, suiting the photo agencies and news outlets better.  Film availability went into decline as stocks and production lines were run down. But it never went away.

 

There is more of a craft element to film. Or more faff, depending upon your point of view. For this I am not talking about the actual manufacture of film I am talking of the perspective of the end user. It is far more hands on, is made up of more and elemental. There isn’t just one process to film photography just as there isn’t one sort of commercial film process, Kodachrome (K14 process) is different to E6 (process) slide films.  By craft I mean the physical production of an image, starting with the limits of the medium. The need for dark room equipment and space, developing chemicals and washes, enlargers, photo sensitive papers stacks the costs up.  You can’t do film cheaply, and not all films are capable of being home processed (Kodachrome for instance was not).

 

 

But ….. and there is a but for anyone who has done any amount of film photography, there is a magic, and that is the right word, involved when you see the image developing on the paper. You are more involved. Dodging and burning are about the only tools you have to hand readily and retouching is an art all in itself. Even so, every hand produced print is different.

 

Film also has its own look and it is a popular one. Lyn’s favourite slide (positive) stock was Kodachrome. There are different qualities to each brand of film and there is an irony in that so much of applications like Instagram seems dedicated to a filmic look. Although out of production these last seven years, there is a possibility of Kodachrome being brought back, though no time scale has been announced, nor anything beyond a feasibility study announced. However, it is part of a movement. One which, at the right scale will be able to sustain a profitable niche market.

 

There is a question of posterity in the dominance of the digital medium. Simply put viewing digital images is entirely technology dependent. In a pure volume sense more photographs are taken, fewer are printed. Once committed to print the image is no longer dependent on technology to be viewed. In itself this might not look to be a serious problem, but within the format of the image lies the seeds of its own destruction. Unless backward compatibility is built into future platforms the range of today’s formats will become unreadable. Redundancy is a problem for computers too. Formats but no pictures. Even then there is the possibility of corrupt files.

 

There are claims for the superiority of sharpness, resolution, dynamic range made for film, but frankly if they were that critical at least one of Nikon, Canon, Fuji, Sony, Olympus or Pentax would make a film camera. They don’t.  The market at large is for digital images as mentioned above. Mixed lighting looks horrible, mind. Low light is very difficult to handle with a fixed 25, 50, 64 or 100 ISO slide film. Even Ilford XP-1, the most flexible of film stocks doesn’t help a great deal. Look is the main reason I would venture, look and working with 24 or 36 comparatively expensive shots and you are done. Basically work flow.

 

Having the limitation of a low, fixed number, of goes at getting something right, something worthwhile, concentrates the mind. At a cost. Per frame the cost is higher. It pays to be more deliberate, more critical than with the very low marginal costs of an additional digital frame. Not necessarily a bad thing. The initial cost for the camera body is lower being second hand. The lenses can come cheaper but if they also fit your digital system (assuming you have one) then there is a saving there to be had. The camera bodies also tend to be smaller and lighter and, of course, simpler.

 

Film is certainly a choice (Glitches at 48:35 for about 2 minutes but this is a good intro to where film is and why), and it looks to be expanding.  It’s worth giving it a go if you haven’t and if you havent got a film body and don’t have a beer can or 32,000 straws hanging around (OK they expose straight on to photosensitive paper) how about shelling out £14.99 to build your own?

 

 

N E X T  M E E T I N G

Creative Round of the ROC.

2nd February 2017 – An evening of portraiture

Taking someone’s photograph. Simple enough concept. A person, a camera, a photographer, a photograph. We might hope that the exposure is correct, the focusing correct and the person in the photograph recognisable if not by name at least as a person, as opposed to a smudge in a frame, a blur, a blot on the landscape. The technicalities don’t cover that, the story, the connection between viewer and subject. It could be the technically inept smudge, barely recognisable in some anonymous background, means the world to someone, because the person it is, or was, the world to them, or a substantial part of it. The casual observer cannot tell, for each of us, regardless of connection are pulled in or gloss over the representation of the person/s in the frame according to our own lives.

 

So much so passport photograph. Easy enough to gloss over the stare-into-the-lens, remove-all-distractions, flat-light-hard-lit likeness used for identification, though there are simple reasons for that style in an identification document. Its value is embedded in its function. It is a statement of who we are, where we are from, rather than an expression of it. Yet it is only an issue when we lose it or use it. The photograph on our photo-id is probably far more important to us than any other in the practical sense, but among the least regarded.

 

Take that self same fixed-stare, clean-background, no-distractions and Rembrandt light it. In reality we are adding, rather adjusting, the full-on photo booth glare for an unequal amount of light and shadow to construct a more pleasing aesthetic (More accurately, if not so informatively, we are subtracting light, but we will let that pass). By moving the light up and to one side we get a very different story. By doing so we immediately break the rules of passport photography, we render it bureaucratically void, but we make another, aesthetic, case for that image. The strength and appeal of that case is dependent upon the viewer, their literal and  psychological perspectives.

 

Pull back a bit. Step backwards, zoom out which ever takes your fancy. Create a little space around your subject. Yes I know what Robert Capa said, and we are still looking at a plain background and the Rembrandt light because that is where we more or less started. What can you do with that space? Space doesn’t sound very productive, but handled in the right way adds to the overall balance.  Essentially the way we use space in a frame is to give the subject a focus when not looking directly to the camera, so that there is enough space in the rest of the frame for the subject to look into. This helps form the question within the viewers mind as to what we cannot see what it is that takes the subjects attention. It is a well of curiosity and viewers will tend to look into the area the subject is looking into.

 

Space used in this way (usually asymmetrically) divides into two. The active space is the one described above. Negative space, apart from being the rest, and also being known as dead space, is what makes the subject stand out from the background but it needs to be handled carefully or it detracts from the overall image. As such this is all part of the rules of composition and the visual balance, which we last visited last two weeks ago.

 

Now comes the but …. Robert Capa was right. At least he was also right. Different crop, different picture, same image.  Take a look at the pictures you took of Ashleigh, Becki and Keith last meeting (and thanks to you three for being such patient models). Some great one’s posted by club members but not a single one that couldn’t be made into one, two or three other pictures. Cropping in post is one way of doing it for sure, but changing your position, up, down, left, right, nearer, further gives you six variations of that first framing. Seven different pictures. Have a go in post. Just the cropping – at least at first, then maybe light and shadow – you will get two or three useable, different pictures out of the exercise. Then go find someone to photograph, natural lighting will do, but using those six variations to get seven pictures.

 

So, following the above, we have a Rembrandt lit square on image of someone in too much space. Time to move the model. Now there are posing guides and techniques – Gerry Painter did a very informative evening based on Lindsay Adler last season and Mark O’Grady and Rob Heslop did a studio lighting presentation back in November that showed a lot into a short time – aplenty on the web.

 

It is important to establish exactly why whoever you are taking the pictures for wants them taken. Business, fashion, blog, CV, anniversary, all have different requirements in formality and style. That really is question number one when taking portraiture – why am I taking this? Even when we are taking them on a club night for pleasure, the question is what story am I telling here? Mystery? Mirth? Sadness? Loss? Happy times? Want? Wanton? When Damien Lovegrove took a session a couple of seasons back, he was happy to show how a story colours our perception of the picture. That is what we allow others to see, no matter that their story is different.

 

There are certain conventions attached to certain types of portraiture which is tied up with their use. Corporate head shots is the obvious one that springs to mind.  They differ from actors head shots in some small ways. Then there is the whole baby/infant/toddler/child thing. For all those expectations, indeed to meet those expectations, it is still the contact with the subject that counts.

 

Rule, and I do mean rule, one. Talk to your subject. Do not talk at your subject. The point is the person in the picture, not the smart-arse button operator. For sure some people have a very strong opinion of how and what should be done on both sides of the camera, however, this whole interaction is a bargain. A bargain, in the most colloquial sense, is the receipt of something that represents more than the time, effort and most frequently hard cash that we have put into something. Effort takes time and time is money if you need that squared away. It is an agreement between two or more people based around give and take and when entered into proportionally can produce something more than either party bargained for – in a good way. Good rapport is at the centre of any successful portrait session.

 

N E X T  M E E T I N G

 

9th Feb 2017 19:30 – Guest Speaker: Lyn James LRPS: “People and Places”.

26th January 2017 – Editing Part 2 and Ideas of Colour.

Here’s something or nothing. Did you realise that we, as photographers, take images in additive (Red, Green, Blue or RGB) and print in subtractive (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black or CMYK, the K stands for Key) colours? Explains, partially, why we have printer profiles I suppose, but as the last session was about editing and the previous was about composition and we have talked about colour space  before, which impacts on what we will be talking about here, it seems proper that we talk about colour in a little more depth.

 

It matters way beyond photography though. In a much quoted survey, “92.6 percent said that they put most importance on visual factors when purchasing products. Only 5.6 percent said that the physical feel via the sense of touch was most important. Hearing and smell each drew 0.9 percent.

When asked to approximate the importance of color (sic) when buying products, 84.7 percent of the total respondents think that color (sic) accounts for more than half among the various factors important for choosing products”.

Source: Secretariat of the Seoul International Color Expo 2004

And

“92% Believe color (sic) presents an image of impressive quality

90% Feel color (sic) can assist in attracting new customers

90% Believe customers remember presentations and documents better when color (sic) is used

83% Believe color (sic) makes them appear more successful

81% Think color (sic) gives them a competitive edge

76% Believe that the use of color (sic) makes their business appear larger to clients”

 

Source: Conducted by Xerox Corporation and International Communications Research from February 19, 2003 to March 7, 2003, margin of error of +/- 3.1%.

 

Colour perceptions and the way that colour works is vastly important, yet most photographers, even the ones who know about the colour wheel and might even know some colour theory, don’t always use it to the maximum advantage probably because we take the environment that we are capturing as outside of our control. Studio work excepted, where control is, can be, total. It will help us to be aware of why colour and shape attract us in the first place and a little understanding of colour theory, including the psychological and emotional effects of colour, can be made to go a long way.

 

Using colours effectively can have a big impact. we can use it to draw the eye, tell a story or change the mood. HDR often suffers from being what I call beige, that is the colours are muted and squashed together in spectrum which certainly gives them a look, but not necessarily a pleasant one. Shooting in RAW really helps here because if you desaturate to black and white and get a very grey image then it is telling you something. Altering the sliders for individual colours has an effect, even in black and white, and can help balance things more to your taste. Why RAW? Because RAW gives you more. More data to affect the final outcome. JPEG isn’t terminal here it is just limiting.

 

Whilst we are on the subject of sliders, saturation is more often than not the guilty party. Saturation is the intensity of a colour.  Value, which is related is the brightness or darkness of a colour, gives you the same saturation but it effects the visibility of that colour on screen. Between them you can get a range of shades. Highly saturated colours are very shouty.  A whole image made up of saturated colours can be overwhelming unless very skilfully applied.

 

The idea that certain colours complement each other is as old as the ideas of colour and art go and nature cottoned on the signal properties of colour long before humanity came along. What follows is  a jaunt around the colour wheel from a  solo trip to several in company. The simplest colour harmony is one where a single colour predominates. Monochrome. Best for single subjects and striking effects, How photographic in principle can you get? It can be a wash of sepia or a cyanotype, the striking light of the rising or setting sun, or a single colour like a red, a pink, a green a yellow or any other colour that works.  The next circuit is one in the company of near neighbours,  analogous harmonies. These are the colours that are adjacent to each other on the wheel, the ones either side of the primary colour we are looking at. It tends to create feelings of comfort in the viewer, no jarring opposites to clash with our senses. Any landscaper or natural photographer will tell you it is most often found in nature.

 

Things start to get a little bit more complicated  with the triadic. Think of a clock with hour, minute and second hands permanently at a 120 degree separation, so pointing, for instance at 12 4 and 8 on the dial or 1,5 and 9, 2,6 and 10 etc. It can be quite difficult to pull off but it is very striking. The one we have all probably heard of is the complementary, opposite sides of the colour wheel through the full 360 degrees (well, logically 180 degrees as you have then covered everything in the full circle but that might be being picky). They really are the two colours that go best with each other but rarely, very rarely, do they work when in equal amounts. There needs to be an imbalance, probably in favour of the less strident of the two colours (green, if red and green, blue if yellow and blue for instance) because the other way round throws the whole scene out of balance because of where the eye is drawn.

 

So why leave it there, why not complicate it by using split complimentary colours? Well why not. Similar to the basic complimentary, what it does is split the range of one end of the opposites between two analogous colours, it’s an hour earlier than the triadic on our imaginary colour watch, so 12 is complimented by colours at 5 and 7 o’clock (red by blue and green for example) 1 by 6 and 8, 2 by 7 and 9. But, I know, that is not complicated enough for you, well, sir, madam, out the back and for very special customers only, we have the tetrad. Now this comes in two flavours. The rectangle and the square. Basically four corners arranged around the wheel or two sets of complimentary colours.  Again the application should be in favour of the weaker colours or you will get a mess. And if that doesn’t produce something close enough to a dog’s dinner then you can try the adjacent tetrad, same principle but the complementaries  are immediately next to each other on the wheel. Multi colour schemes are extremely difficult to control but might be found in the built environment. For those you have to trust your eye or make it the story of the image.

 

So, in your studio, light tent, bokeh creations or in the wild, but MOST particularly in post production, don’t over-do the saturation; use high contrast values to get the viewing eye’s attention; use colour harmonies (there others in addition to the ones we have looked at) to maximise impact.

One very good resource you want to look at if you want to take this forward is the remarkably informative and flexible Adobe colour (OK Color) wheel.

 

N E X T  M E E T I N G

Portrait Evening: Photographing a couple of models with studio lights and backdrops.

19th January 2017 – On being a professional and the basics of composition

Morag McDonald was our guest last meeting and she addressed a lot over a short time. Interesting history and a combination of the academic and the practical. There was a lot of talk after the meeting about cropping and composition so it was to the latter that we address ourselves in this post and will look at colour next week – which is also editing part ii so bring your laptops.

 

Composition, or getting the stuff you are looking at in the right place in the right proportion to tell our story most effectively is going to be part of any successful photograph. It is the grammar that supports the plot that tells the story that grips the reader. Rules are often talked about, but talked about as rules, “Authoritative, prescribed directions for conduct, especially ones of the regulation governing procedure …” are not at all helpful to the developing photographer. We need to learn to look for stories first then compose, rather than look for structure then find a story. Rules are designed, applied and enforced to reproduce a stable set of circumstances. We must do it this way in order to ape the greats and get an acceptable photograph. Logically, then, all photographs should look the same, should comply to a half dozen, or less, formats and nothing of any worth happened after Henri Cartier-Bresson, who was classically trained and used it to great artistic effect.

 

Tools, on the other hand, anything used as a means of performing an operation or achieving an end, are very useful. Cameras are tools. Lenses are tools. Flash guns and strobes are tools. Light modifiers are tools. Filters are tools. These are the ones we to tend to think of as tools because they come at a cost to our bank balances and credit ratings. They are the tools of capture.  The most effective tools we have to tell our stories, on the other hand, are free, easily accessed and well known. They are the tools of composition.

 

The composition of an image has three parts to it. The focal element, the structure and the balance. We will look at each of these in turn, starting with the biggest culprit in dulling the impact of an image, the focal element. Without a focal element, or with too many focal elements, the eye goes on a hunting trip for something to focus on. The eye isn’t really the problem here it is the brain, of course, and our brains work on the principle of rapid summation of our environment and the ordering of threats in it. Basically that has not changed since we all lived in caves, in Africa and shared the name Ug. What’s the point? That is the first thing the brain looks at when it surveys a scene. What’s going on? It needs limited information to form an initial judgement which will be refined as other information adds to this judgment or detracts from it to the point it becomes redundant. We constantly reconcile what we see with what we think we know.

 

The sort of things our eyes will latch on to the focal elements  that show high contrast, high saturation, sharpest focus, motion, faces and or figures. These in turn will be influenced by items such as leading lines, framing and geometry.

 

Structure is probably what we think of first (and that might be part of the problem) and certainly it’s where the idea of rules in composition is seated. We are talking about such items as the Rule of Thirds, the Golden Ratio, pyramids and triangles, symmetry and filling the frame. They are all sound under the circumstances that tell the story best for that structure. Think of them as plot devices.

 

The rule of thirds has four points, known as eyes, of importance and the idea of these is to put something of importance at the intersection one of these points a third or two thirds across the frame and a third or two thirds down it. A second element can be place on one of the adjoining thirds to provide balance (diagonals seem to work best by adding depth in 3D in a 2D environment, but that might just be a personal preference). It has to be said that these points are not absolute (it’s a tool remember) and that objects placed in proximity work just as well or good enough depending on your aesthetic. Of course not everyone is a fan of it.

 

The Golden Ratio is everywhere we look it seems. It also explains why all those classical Greco-Roman statues are beholding grapes at odd angles. The Rule of Thirds is often referred to as a simplified Golden Ratio, but when it comes to classical composition the Golden Ratio is king. It is found commonly in nature and can be expressed through the Fibonacci Sequence. Now whether it is there and we impose it or we find it because it is there is always open (this link explores in detail). It is also a tricky blighter to get right and its mere presence is no guarantee of the perfect image – plenty of images to be found that are technically proficient but subject deficient. There is no denying that it is fascinating  and when it works it works, but remember to the viewer it is an explanation of why this image works not the point of it.

 

Pyramid Composition, aka triangle composition, is really a matter of converging lines. Converging lines are more usually associated with wide angle lenses because they are more obvious in those perspectives and indeed, we spend time in post “correcting” them. Really we are imposing order on physics because we want our vertical lines vertical not curved (unless shooting with a fisheye lens of course) nor angled at anything but the perpendicular. As we are talking composition we are talking about deliberately converging lines not incidental ones.  Leading lines are the most frequently encountered pyramidal tool in the advice given. They converge on a point, our eyes naturally follow that conversion so we need to make certain that our focal point sits at the point of conversion.  If the lines within that pyramid follow its boundary lines then the effects are reinforced. It’s a matter of our next tool, symmetry.

 

Symmetry is repetition of a pattern on both sides of an axis. We associate it with power and beauty. It is explained in Gestalt psychology but we have already touched upon this when we talked about the brains need for patterns and conforming details. Basically our brains crave patterns and if we can find them and use them to concentrate the viewers imagination in the frame we present them then we are on the way, given a sufficiently compelling subject, to making a successful  photograph.

 

Last but not least of our little selection of tools and before we go to our third element, balance, we are back with the oft quoted (here at least) Frank Capa: If our photograph isn’t good enough it’s because we are not close enough. We are moving beyond Capa’s original intent here, which was about connection with your subject. Basically, fill the frame. Essentially you use a single element, like the details in a face, to take up the whole frame. A face is a good example because it has a high degree of symmetry to it and so fits in a frame quite balanced along the central vertical axis.  Doesn’t have to be a face, of course, but it should be minimal in the number of subjects In the frame, that is, one image in the frame.

 

Is there any order to these? No. These are just a very few of the design principles, tools, we can use. we need to learn to decide what tool we are going to use in order to get the result we want. Advice for the beginner would be to start by ensuring you fill the frame and try the rule of thirds. When you have mastered these tools then expand your tool kit, deliberately, by which I mean we go out to deliberately shoot x number of frames in a session based on tool y. Take notes.

 

So the third element of this composition monster is a thing called visual balance. Basically everything you capture in a frame has an effect a weight in relation to the rest of the frame and the other things in it. Things that can affect the visual weight of an object in a frame include relative sizes, shape, number, high contrast, saturation, brightness, faces, figures etc. They need to be played off so everything seems to part of the whole and those things have a harmony to them. There are a Of course disharmony has a place too, but let’s get the basics right before we start to get cocky.

 

So, this composition thing in a nutshell: One clear element arranged within a structure to make a point in a scene that is balanced. Simples. Maybe …..

 

12th January 2017 – Creating And Editing Images, Who Owns What?

Speaker Clive Haynes FRPS  led the evening on Topaz and it is as well to reiterate that this isn’t just an Adobe compatible plug in, but that there are a number of editors that is designed to work with, and there are fourteen or so different plug-ins Topaz offer. Adobe, of course dominate the market, but all the plug ins are available at a discount via Clive’s website. From the afters this was one of those presentations that hit home at some fundamental beliefs about photography.

 

On the Facebook Group there was a lot of talk about what is worth editing, reflecting last week’s theme of editing and how much of it can a photograph have before it becomes a piece of graphic design. This week we are going to look into who owns an image, and this is linked to last week’s discussion on editing and on the Mighty Book of Face discussions from this week.

 

A year ago a San Franciscan judge decided that, under American copyright law, a monkey could not own the rights to a picture it had taken because it was not human, even though it pressed the shutter.  A new definition for “Chimping” this was not (the practice of taking a shot then reviewing it on live view and going ooh and ahh and pulling faces. Another reason to go mirrorless). It is, under English law (and not a few other jurisdictions), a question of personality, and though “Naruto” the Black Crested Macaque in question certainly seems to have bags of it in the way most of us think of personality, in law it is the capacity to hold legal rights and obligations within a legal system. This is what enables firms to go to civil law over disputes in contracts and so on.

 

Now you’ve seen the picture in question, I am sure, it became known as the Monkey Selfie. David Slater “took” the picture, in that he provided the materials, set up the shot and patiently waited for the Macaques to partake. Macaques have no legal personality and therefore cannot give their consent, nor withhold it to be photographed, nor profit from doing so. If the Macaque was owned by a person (it couldn’t in the UK by members of the general public, there are legal issue preventing this) or other body that has a legal personality then that animal would be their property and the prudent photographer would be careful to get a property release.

 

Now this isn’t the time nor the place to go into the pro’s and con’s of this case but it does illustrate something that most of the internet (i.e. the people who use the internet) is either blithely indifferent to or unaware of. Someone made that picture you are looking at. When someone makes their living from that, copyright has particular weight. Unless they give you permission to use that photograph, either directly or through a Creative Commons License, or other form of explicit license deal then we do not have the right to own their and/or use their property.

 

Without turning this into a Politics lecture (for that you’d have to pay me) this actually goes deeper than a feeling of “Mine”, it is an absolute foundation of our society. Let me quote from Wikipedia (Academics look away now): “Depending on the nature of the property, an owner of property has the right to consume, alter, share, redefinerentmortgagepawnsellexchangetransfergive away or destroy it, or to exclude others from doing these things” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Property) . So regardless of opinions on Social Media (fancy that) demanding the right to exploit others work free of charge isn’t what the law in England and Wales licenses. Whether you agree with Pierre-Joseph “Property is theft” Proudhon or not is, as far as the law allows, irrelevant. We make property by mixing our labour (intellectual and or physical) with materials and by doing that create something that didn’t exist before and over which we have title (ownership free of valid claims by other parties). Then we can consume, alter, share, redefine etc etc it as we see fit within certain boundaries.

 

Fairly straightforward, at least until the lawyers get involved. There is a concept called fair use and there are questions of when others take your property as a starting point but make art of their own from it, such as sampling in music. Whose art then is it?

 

Artist Richard Prince was doing this with other people’s Instagram feeds and making $90,000 a pop out of it, a couple of years back (maybe still is) by altering the originals by posting a couple of words as comment underneath and then printing the whole thing. This did not please a lot of people, particularly those whose Instagram feeds he had mined for images, though others were quite accepting of it. No one sued of copyright infringement this time so its legality has not been tested. Civil law really is for the rich or otherwise well funded. Especially as he started “Rephotographing” other people’s work in 1975 and some of his work has gone for $1m or more, he would probably be in a position to afford to defend it. Indeed in 2008 he did just that and his defence of fair use (see above) was not accepted. Obviously this has not deterred him.

 

In fact this whole idea of other people’s stuff is quite problematic. An image can spin an idea, we might try to recreate that image or give it a new spin, either intentionally or through technical short-comings. We have in the UK the idea of freedom of panorama, which was under threat from the EU in its bid to harmonise European commercial law but was finally decided in favour of having one. If what you are taking is a view taken from common land it is not subject to copyright (though the manner you do it in might be in breach of other, criminal laws) and we have covered this before.  If it involves street photography then you must not conduct yourself in such a way as to cause alarm. If it involves minors it is always best to get a responsible adult’s consent – first. If it involves making money from someone’s image or an image of something that they own you can save yourself endless by getting a properly formatted consent (you can get them as a phone app these days). Ditto if you are profiting from the image of the property of another person (it all goes back to title).

 

So, editing our images, well silk purses and sows ears metaphors aside – or why are you wasting your time in the first place? judgements – is a matter of personal taste, at least as far as the amateur goes, but how much, really, is it your image in the first place can be a complicated problem.

N E X T  M E E T I N G

19th Jan 2017 19:30 – The Chairman’s Evening: I believe a camera will be required. Maybe a tripod too. Bring yours.

5th January 2017 – Editing and the pros and cons of post processing

Happy New Year as we enter the 2017 portion of the season. We kicked off with the first of two editing related sessions, next week we have a speaker talking about the Photoshop Plug In, Topaz. This week it was members to turn to sharpen, hue, pare, crop, colour, desaturate and or generally mangle, torture and deface – depending upon your individual tastes – a common set of five images. The proof of the pudding being in the consumption it is fair to say that though the number of source images was small, no two interpretations were the same.

 

At the risk of being thought to have imbibed too much of the new year spirit we are going to look at what it is we are actually presenting. Taking this right back to basics then no two images, once altered, are the same. They bare the imprint, however minute, of the person who altered them and the peculiarities of the tools that they were altered with. Also they are most definitely not, cannot be for reasons of time, geography and interpretation be the same as the photographer – s/he who pressed the shutter and was witness to what was captured. What is actually being photographed is another perspective again, because it is in a different place in time and space to the camera.

 

So much is true, essential in that we are talking the laws of physics, but nonetheless not particularly of great importance when it comes to our taking photographs. Except in two circumstances. One is in the circumstance of where we are using the image as the basis of a piece of art – The conscious use of the imagination in the production of objects intended to be contemplated or appreciated as beautiful, as in the arrangement of forms, sounds, or words (Freedictionary.com) – a pleasing representation of something we have seen, framed, captured and post processed in the hope of making something that the viewer can form an emotional attachment to. The other is a claim that what we are showing is the truth (as opposed to a truth) – Conformity to fact or actuality (Freedictionary.com). The first is an opinion the second is an assertion, for unless present we have no way of knowing just how truthful a claim that is.

 

So what? Well in the former, I agree with you, so what? Not being a collector of fine art, or otherwise, prints. Apart from the fact that a lot can be learned by looking critically at other peoples work, it is a personal matter as well as something that is subject to fads and fashions and more or less informed opinions. That is not to say that certain commonalities cannot be agreed in what we accept as pleasing to the eye.

 

It is said that “The Camera never lies” (Robert Louis Stevenson), which Caesar Romero contradicted, “It lies every day”. Stevenson was making a point about the difference between fine art and photography though I prefer David Bailey‘s assertion that ” It takes a lot of imagination to be a good photographer. You need less imagination to be a painter, because you can invent things. But in photography everything is so ordinary; it takes a lot of looking before you learn to see the ordinary. (In “Face,” London, Dec 1984). The fact remains that certain physical limitations endure and it takes a certain skill to get round it.

 

Does it matter, then, if we alter images? Of course not and yes, absolutely! As ever context is all. The camera is neutral. Whatever is in front of it it will render a more or less recognisable facsimile of, depending on our mastery of focus and the exposure triangle. Our job, behind the camera, is to let this story making tool tell a story. If we are claiming that the story we are telling is a true one, then absolutely it matters if and what we enhance/remove. This is especially the case in photojournalism where the reputation of the publication using an image can be severely tainted by the manipulation of a photograph to tell an enhanced story.

 

So there is, in some areas, a tension between truth and beauty. That is before we come back to matters of taste but there is still a question of whether it matters if an image is a photograph or a graphic design? Again, of course not and absolutely! It counts in the matter of work flow, especially when editing. We have, many times, referred to the opposing camps of Get-It-Right-In-The-Camera-istas and Ye-Accolytes-Of-Photoshop. In truth we probably aspire to the former but fall back on the latter, but there is a reason why the Camera-ista has a point and it is linked to a number of themes we have looked at over the past couple of years.

 

First off is the argument about artist/artisan. Frankly I find this to be an empty one. If you take something and make something else of it then you have created art. Art may not be the end which you had in mind, for instance if you took wood to make a chair I am guessing that you would rather sit on it than look at it, but there will be a reaction to the way that it has been put together and thought about, its design, that will include an overall effect. This overall effect is where the art concept lives. It is not all of it, but it is an integral part of it.

 

Secondly, fine motor skills and the ability to pick up a pencil or a brush and create a representation of a person or thing is the same as picking up any other tool and making the same. The camera is a tool. Mastery of the tool leads to mastery over the final result. It does nothing to add soul to the final result, but it is a gate keeper to others interacting with that same soul. Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji, Pentax, Olympus, Hasalblad, Phase One and the rest, immaterial. Light and the laws of physics work the same way for them all. Post processing may be able to put things in but it can only bring out soul if soul is there to be found in the first place. Post processing, and by far the most commonly found is the Photoshop/Creative Cloud family but I mean post processing in general, is just another tool. You can be good bad or indifferent in using it.

 

So get out, photograph, think about what you photograph, look at others photograph, learn the ways of light, bring it home, polish it, present it and go again. Sounds like some sort of hobby to me.

 

Happy New Year.

15th December 2016 The Last Post (of the year), Bokeh and Hard Light Modifiers.

Club Social with photo-booth and a bokeh table this week, the last of  2016. So we will talk a little bit about Bokeh before completing our examination of light modifiers, in particular the “hard” modifiers (that’s about the quality of the light not the difficulty of use), and wish you all the best till next year.

 

Bokeh is, I have a lingering suspicion, the best of , if not exactly a bad, then at least, an unavoidable, thing. It is points of light rendered by a lens in the area beyond the zone of acceptable focus. It has, by association, a certain dream like quality. Whether that association with bleary eyes is as the result of a blow to the head, strong liquor, watching too many ’60’s films, recently arising from a deep sleep or a biological need for spectacles I leave to the individual imagination and circumstances. That’s not the sort of explanation I am trying to provide. That’s between you, your conscience and the likelihood of your significant other cracking your alibi.

 

The shallower the depth of field the greater the area of view that will be out of focus. Bokeh occurs at the point where single light sources lose their shape and become mini suns or  circular (sort of) shapes of light. The term is Japanese, meaning blurred or something that approximates to that. It is the product of lens design which in itself is limited by the laws of physics.

 

That blurred area, behind the subject in focus, is formed by circular pools of light where the light has spread out rather than been brought to focus. The patterns formed are diffraction patterns whose edges assume the shape of the lens aperture in the diaphragm through which they pass.

 

The shape (and number) of the diaphragm blades will impact in the shape of the blobs in the background. The size and smoothness are regulated by light source, focal length, aperture and the diaphragm and what constitutes “good” bokeh is purely a matter of personal taste.

 

We started last post to talk about light modifiers, specifically “soft” modifiers. So that leaves the  “hard” modifiers. Probably the thing to note first is that hard light is the default with flash/strobes (I am going to use the terms interchangeably). Flash is probably the first port of call for additional and controllable light for most photographers progressing through the hobby.  There are a number of pro’s and cons in using it. On camera and off camera flash provide some of the same problems but generally off camera flash, that which uses a separate flash gun, is by far the more flexible option and the one we will be talking about here.

 

More specifically on camera flash is more likely to deliver red-eye, demonising your subjects, the light is harsh and direct and can only come from the direction of the camera. Built in flash is less powerful than off camera, separate units and you can’t always control the intensity of light you do have manually. That isn’t to say that built in flash doesn’t have its uses, just that those uses are relatively limited compared to the more modifiable off camera varieties.

 

All flash lighting needs modifying most of the time, and there are four basic types of hard modifiers:

  • Reflectors – your common or garden light modifying accessory, bowl shaped, they have a single but important purpose, to cut down light spill – light that spills to the sides of  (a bare) bulb in a strobe (not exclusively) and when using umbrellas or grids. Also below.
  • Grids – Does what it says on the tin. Black tubes formed in a lattice work they are very effective in stopping scattered light rays coming from the (strobe) bulb, creating a thin, relatively soft beam of light, which arguably puts it into the soft category I know, but I think sits better in this list.  The quality of light is determined by the density of the grid (the number of tubes in the grid), while the size of the beam (expressed in degrees) is determined by the thickness of the grid. The grid is regulated by gates acting as barn doors, movable flaps on each side which allow for finer, narrower, beam control.
  • Snoot – is a cone which focuses light to create a very harsh, small beam of light. Can be rigid or flexible, allowing for some control.
  • Beauty dish – A small reflector, (usually gold, silver, or white) is placed in front of the strobe / flash, while a bowl-shaped reflector is placed around the light source. This creates a very even, hard light with an extremely sharp drop-off. Used almost exclusively in portraiture, it is very useful as a key light.

These are not mutually exclusive pieces of equipment. They can be and should be mixed and matched according to the creative need. They don’t all have to be shop bought,  DIY is always an option, but for the bought stuff the guiding principle, generally, is, you get what you pay for, especially when talking about longevity. This in itself can be a function of the frequency and conditions of use, however when starting out, certainly a look round e-bay or other on line shops will throw up some “bargains”. The bargain is what you feel the value of what you have is.

There are three other essential elements, not, I would put forward, necessarily directly under the heading of light modifiers as they don’t work directly on the source. These are: flags, scrims and bounces (reflectors).

  • Flags block light. Bought flags tend to be black material, some are paper, stretched over a frame with a small handle to make it easier to place on a stand accurately. Black paper and tape will get you a similar effect to stop a white or light coloured wall from reflecting or for shading specularity in shiny objects. Their primary use is to control light spill and keep down highlights.
  • Scrims are panels covered in diffusing cloth, placed where light needs softened locally. You have probably seen them on film and TV sets, spreading tent like over the actors, in order to provide a soft and even light.
  • Reflectors, other than the ones that wrap around your light source, a.k.a bounces, or bounce cards, can be anything that will reflect enough light to be useful, but are usually white, silver or gold material stretched out on a frame. You are probably aware of the five sided reflectors that also have a black surface and an opaque white that can be used as a scrim. Mirrors are frequently used, especially small ones on product shots. They are usually a way of lightening shadows created by the key and other lights. The type of material determines the light’s quality and, and intensity is a product of the distance from the subject and the reflectivity of the surface used. The black on a five sided reflector, for instance, is used to reduce the amount of light going into the subject.

 

And that, as they say in the World of Onions, is Shallot for 2016. Happy New Year.

 

N E X T  M E E T I N G

5th Jan 2017 19:30 – Editing Images: Bring your laptops and challenge your editing skills.