Mac Bouchere FRPS was the first speaker of the season and his aim was to prompt us to look at things a little differently, sometimes new things sometimes the same things, in his talk “Bending the light”. Mac presented us with a wide range of examples and he talked about the differences that prompted him and the importance to him of pre-visualisation. Not invented by him but certainly popularised by him, Ansel Adams made pre-visualisation a way into getting the feelings behind what he photographed.
In essence what Mac was putting across was the next step from getting the camera off Auto. Auto is great at getting good results from a number of situations, but it is not particularly discerning and it’s not really what we shell out all those readies on. The other settings give you increasing flexibility before you ever get to post production and given the minimal marginal cost there is very little to stop us experimenting. What Auto does is make decisions based on the algorithms derived from the analysis of many, many thousands of images to derive a set of averages that can be applied within the dynamic ranges of the chips that are bought or manufactured by the camera makers so as to provide us with acceptable images in those situations. Putting a random, but nonetheless convincing number on that, let’s say 80% of our pictures. There comes a time, as our own Gerry Painter pointed out last year, when those acceptable images are just that. Acceptable. But with something missing. Not quite what we visualised.
We can move on to programme modes, that give us a little more control in what we accent and prioritise in terms of light and dark in our images, also in terms of chroma all the way to how much and how intense is black and how much and how intense is white within certain narrow boundaries. In order to truly exploit that we have to explore the more manual options that affect the exposure triangle all the way through to full manual and, of course, post production. Mac’s point was that it doesn’t have to end there and we can, through digitising our print and slide collections, give those a whole new lease of life too. We can push, pull, stretch, colourise, monochrome, blur, merge stain, grain, crop to our hearts content, not just on the images that we take now or have taken relatively recently. Also, and I think most importantly, Mac urged us to get the images we want.
He was quite open about the images he showed us, the ones that would never get anywhere in club competitions to the ones that had won medals. The point he was telegraphing by doing this is that, certainly as amateurs, but it extends to professionals too (they just have more limited opportunities to do it and he is one of those), is that we should use in camera and post production techniques to craft the images we have in mind. There will be glorious failures and successes along the way, but those will be our expressions and our learning opportunities. If we also curate our back catalogue, by which I mean actually go back and look at our “keepers” critically and with a fresh eye, then post production also provides us with opportunities to craft new work from old. Over time tastes, techniques and skills change and grow and we have a useful basis to go back and re-work some things.
You can do this now. Go back, pick a frame from, say two years ago (you really must get round to freeing up that disk space), and rework it. Better yet randomise your choice. You do not, absolutely do not, have to have advanced photo-shop skills to do this. Use something like Google’s Picasa, re-crop, play with the shadows and highlights, darken/brighten it, apply some of the filters, and start to think what it is you like/don’t like. Find some ready-made effects on the internet or in editing programmes like Smart Photo Editor or, as Mac used, Topaz. Just, if it’s a treasured possession, make sure that you are working on a copy. We will revisit looking at photos critically and how to use the results later on in the season, the blog has been there before, but there is a lot to be learned from just messing about with what you already have from time to time. It’s not just a walk down memory lane we are talking about here, we are also talking about the opportunity to use editing software (including the Adobe Suite, Gimp and the other “Grown up” editors), to actually learn and develop from a historical, personal perspective by looking at how our style, techniques and competencies have evolved.
Back on the camera there are other perimeters besides the exposure triangle and filters and presets that can be employed. Techniques such as free-lensing a.k.a lens whacking, DIY Macro, or just exploring the in camera effects, for instance help to mix it up. That, I guess is really the basis of Mac’s message. You already have a catalogue of images, go back and have a look at them, they represent an opportunity to educate yourself using your own materials. And maybe even make a better go of it? Mix it up helps you to not keep taking the same sort of photograph each time you take the camera out, or helps you take the same sort of photograph differently because you have a better idea of what you want to see in the finished image, thereby giving you the chance to control the important elements to that vision. You get more of it right in the camera. In Stephen Covey’s best seller “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” one of those habits is to “Start with the end in mind“. Sound advice because it also helps with those days when nothing seems to work and you end up pointing and shooting in that hit and hope manner (had one of those yesterday at Woodhenge), because I didn’t really know what I wanted to show. What I did think I wanted was a drone but that’s not in my price bracket. What I should have done is concentrate on details, probably very small ones in what is a big landscape. Still, live and learn. So, thank you Mac Bouchere, lots to think about.
N E X T M E E T I N G
Mini groups presentations.