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.
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.
Two weeks to report on, with a common link, landscapes, firstly the latest Lakes trip from November and secondly a welcome return for former member Richard Price in a philosophic frame of mind. Now I am not suggesting that that is Richard’s soul photographic concern but it is the one that has spoken for him more than any other. We shall return to that.
The English Lake District in November is good for photographic enthusiasts who like rain and fog more than anything, was the common theme that came back, but that just raises the question, what do we do when the light isn’t right?
Aside form taking our chances and wrapping up well, there is always something you can do. The first thing that springs to mind is switch to black and white and get closer, look for details, patterns, textures, symmetries and so on.
Or pack up and go home as some photographers with a particular focus and mindset have been known to do. There are always options – though I admit that the idea of a miserable trudge to a distant view followed by a freezing and unfertile wait topped off with a miserable trudge back as anything productive has never been the point for me, but it takes all sorts.
So it was illustrated in our Lakes talk that there are sometimes noticeable differences in shifting viewpoint (where the same view had been taken by adjacent photographers in this case) and amply illustrated by Richard in a slightly different way. The assumption we make as photographers is that the landscape is harmonious and balanced and it is our job to find The Viewpoint that best captures this.
That reduces the art of landscape photography to three components: viewpoint, lens, and frame. But, whereas there are common things in photography that make for a balanced and interesting frame, the art of photography is anything but formulaic.
The first thing that a lens does is gather light. The second thing that a lens does is focus the light on the sensor or film plane so that we can capture an image. The third thing that the lens does, by default, is set the amount of the scene we can see across the frame and how big/small/close/in focus the frame contents are.
Taken all together, the lens is the most influential part of the camera system. It is the mechanical element that determines, more than anything else, the quality of the final image. Its shortcomings can only be edited to a limited extent and what you get is the limit on how good that frame can be. It sets the upper limit.
But camera systems alone do not for good photographs make. At least three of Richard’s photos were taken on a camera phone – we only knew that because he told us – and they did not look substantially different to the other, full-frame DSLR images when projected on our large screen from a distance. The lesson from that? Get to know your equipment inside out.
The frame is about what we exclude as much as it is about what we include. It is the invitation to find the things that make the story in our framework and concentrate on them. It is the box within which we arrange the objects that make our subject interesting and it is the box where we make a harmony of light and content.
And over time and with repetition it becomes a style. That style can be a deliberate following of one school or style of photography or it can evolve naturally over time and become our own bundle of influences.
Style put simply, is an identifiable, personalized way of doing things. Deeper than that, as professor Richard Greaves once pointed out, about writing style, it is “A way of finding and explaining what is true” and that fits too.
That can be said of photography because all art forms exclude and include, it’s just that in our chosen field we have to deal with what is presented to us, aside from some very limited, studio, situations of total control. We include nature somewhere, even if it is only the angle of light falling on a subject. We may shape it, augment it, restrict it but we do include it. Sometimes imitate it.
With landscape photography in particular, forewarned is forearmed, much of the chances for success in a photo shoot come from having a good idea of where to be when to be and what to expect. That doesn’t mean that nature won’t rain on our parade, but when it goes right it goes right for a reason and that means we have something we can use again and again. We develop our own techniques.
And as Richard pointed out, there is something rather soothing about the whole enterprise, from the planning through the doing to the post-production, that yields a satisfaction. The boss might want Wednesdays target by Monday afternoon but in the middle of nature, and cut off from those considerations, there is the chance of re-finding our own balance and harmony.
So, two interesting presentations to kick the year off with and our thanks to all those who presented.
Local (very) professional Alistair Campbell was our guest speaker last meeting before the Xmas Social and a very engaging one at that. A videographer and photographer, Alistair presented a structured but loose format evening with plenty of Q and A and plenty of engagement from club members.
The takeways from this evening were, in no particular order: understand but don’t obsess about things like camera settings (the light, unless totally artificial isn’t going to be the same if we go back and shoot again, or even, sometimes from a different angle); travel light and get to know your gear; find your background first, then put your subject in it; and the talent that comes before any other is the one we can all develop – putting in the hard work.
One of the things that Alistair put forward was the idea of a personal project. That might sound a bit like a busman’s holiday for a professional photographer but it allows Alistair to do what he wishes with the photographs. For hire there is a certain amount of tooing and froing when working with clients, the results have to be satisfactory to them for them to pay up and also place repeat business (the cheapest sort of business to get). They get a say.
A project is a good way to concentrate on skills and styles, maybe favourites maybe new. They are something that can be allocated a specific time or something that we pick up and put down. And about anything.
When a subject has been hit upon, then comes the technical bits. We may be learning new techniques but it is very unlikely that the entire project is new to us. At the very simplest level, it is still all about ISO, shutter speed, aperture (or controlling light) and composition.
What it does is give us a chance to look at getting as much right in camera as possible, another of Alistair’s themes. This saves time in post, of course, but in this context teaches us something about using our equipment to the best advantage. If the equipment is new or unfamiliar it is a great chance to learn how to get the best out of it.
Start with the end in mind, something we have visited before. The purpose that this infers, doing the things we enjoy deliberately, enables us to put some markers down as we progress, points that become important when we review what we have achieved. It doesn’t matter what the end looks like – documentary, images over time a multitude of possible outcomes are viable – as long as we know what it looks like.
Intent is one thing, actually doing something can often be quite another. This is why keeping the outcomes limited but definitive is important, so that we can visit and revisit the project frequently. Under this same heading if the thing we are photographing happens on a regular basis then we have more of a chance of being able to connect with it, photograph it.
It also makes sense that a subject with some variation to it makes for more opportunities. This means there will be different if related challenges involved. It could mean applying a lot of patience in getting the effect we are after, maybe several visits. That doesn’t mean other opportunities should be overlooked, but keeping focused on an outcome means we are more likely to engage our problem-solving skills.
And if photography, taken seriously, regardless of skill level, is anything, it is a system of problem-solving exercises linked together in pursuit of a goal. With a nice picture at the end of it.
With the Christmas festivities nearly upon us there are plenty of opportunities for Christmas Light Bokeh, portraits of the family (assuming you can get them to co-operate!) pets dressed as Santa, shop window decorations, festive light trails, the list goes on and on, with just a simple tweak – theming these opportunities and, of course, taking them – we can sharpen the tools we have and take on some new ones.
So, the logic goes as follows. Tools build things. We control the light and the composition to build our photographs. Skills take practice. We all need practice regardless of the level of mastery we think we are at. The personal project gives us the head-space and the focus we need to practice the skills that sharpen the tools that build better photographs we make.
What you sitting there for? Get on with it!
Finally, following the review in the previous post and, hopefully, a few more goes and more understanding of some of the reasons that our photographs look like they do. This last exercise is an important one to do regularly and the personal project is an excellent vehicle.
As with the running theme in these mini-tutorials, the essence of things is to keep it short and simple. Aim to get things as best as they can be in camera. This teaches you a lot about the capabilities of your camera and how to get the best out of it without thinking (too much) about the things that can be achieved, often, more than one way.
This leaves you free to concentrate on the second half of the equation, the composition. Having secured control of the light arranging things in the frame is the thing that, in almost all photographs we are likely to take that will make or break.
Make one of these your personal project over a day or two with your camera and (very importantly) review. The more you do this review thing deliberately, the quicker and more effective it becomes.
Ian Wade was our return guest speaker and showed his grit fighting a cough that was progressively stealing his voice. Our thanks for your dedication and persistence and congratulations on getting through to the end, Ian. You delivered a good ‘un.
So a few things have changed for him since 2014 and his photography has adapted, the projects are a little more local, now and you can’t get much more local than your own back yard. Yet that is one location where he has conducted a wild life project on snails and that is a lot more interesting as it turns out than it, possibly, sounds.
The project is a sound vehicle for honing our photographic skills, but also can be useful in extending our knowledge base of a subject. In fact doing so enables us more as photographers. Photography, taken even remotely seriously, is far more than camera, point, shoot, chimp.
So there are no shortage of ideas for photographic projects. But the use of such a device is probably more critical to its outcome than the subject. What do we, as the controller of the project want to get out of it? What do we want to show? Who is our audience? What format do we want to show it in?
We need to settle these big questions first – that doesn’t mean that they are set in concrete – they can change but we need to know what they are changing from to what they are changing to. An outline to start with covering subject; goal; time-line; final format, goes a long way.
When new to photo projects it is a well to curb our initial enthusiasm for the project by making it a short one. Keep It Short and Simple. The technical challenges come in making the next image better than the last one, and in making acceptable variations.
Longer projects, especially those like a 365 (one image a day for a year), are far harder to keep going than those which have a briefer time line. Better to arrange our project around our free time than trying to arrange our lives around the project. Starting, and keeping, with the end in mind doesn’t mean you have to turn yourself into a hermit.
Who you are shooting for (yourself/friends/family/other) and how informs the whole process, guidelines are useful and not all tangents are a good idea. To this end keeping a photographic journal, in print or on line, is a great idea as it helps us to keep track of how we arrived at our end but also allows for exploring other ideas and variations for a later date.
Also it is not a bad idea to share. Sharing not just the outcome but also the labour, in other words collaborating, helps as we have other, hopefully empathetic, perspectives on the work. This can be between a day shared to a whole project, other perspectives can be very enlightening. Another photographer at least speaks some of the same language as we all share in doing the same thing.
101 Corner – Composition #2
Composition is all about how we arrange the objects in the frame we generally call the viewfinder. It is how we use the fall of light to make an interest in a subject by arranging the subject within our frame. The image is a recording of this.
We have already looked at Tools for Thirds, Leading Lines and Frames. This post we will look at three more.
Patterns and textures are something that our brains seem particularly fond of. Patterns are formed by repetition of shape and or line. Textures are the visual qualities of the surface of an object, revealed through variances in shape, tone and colour depth.
Filling the frame always brings to mind Robert Capa’s admonition that if your photographs aren’t good enough it’s because you are not close enough. Photographs work best when they are about one thing. Get closer with a longer focal length, then use a shorter focal length and your feet to zoom in on a subject. Then compare the two frames.
The tool of odds is again a way of splitting up a frame. This is something that can be contrived in such as a still life, or found in the wild and on the street. It is also probably numbering 5 or less.
Each of these is an easy half hour mini project. Work your way through each then list the things you like and dislike about the images you have captured and make a note of what you would do different next time.
Two evenings to get into this weeks blog, member Andro Andrejevic took us on journey through his development as a photographer over the last couple of years and a welcome return for the Wriggly Road Show, for a fascinating hands on meeting.
As well as the club, Andro also belongs to the Dream Team photographers collective, and cited both as playing a roll in his continuing development. The value of having a team and fellow photographers to bounce ideas off (as well as light) has a value and effect of it’s own.
Certainly it was good to see that on the evening of the Wriggly Roadshow club members were interacting not only with the animals (and not just as subjects of a photograph) but with each other. Again, and talking to some of the other members who told me as much, the interaction of ideas and experience proved a strong point of the evening.
But there is one question that arises when we are all taking pictures of the same subject, how do we make ours stand out? This is a question that has broader implications. Somebody decided, on a pretty arbitrary basis I suspect, that the world has 2.6 billion photographers in it based on the number of smart phone users. Now that is a loose definition of “Photographer” extended to anyone with a camera. I would argue for a narrower one.
A photographer is someone with a device, we will call it a camera, with a notion of what they want the image they are creating to look like. Deliberation rather than intent is the difference. Otherwise we are just a person with a camera. A skill set beyond pointing and shooting is required to be a photographer – and that is what we want to be.
There are still a lot of photographers, though. Put several of us together in front of a common subject and the differences are likely to be quite small. There isn’t a point where a certificate is issued declaring us a compentant photographer. There isn’t a set number of likes on Instagram, Facebook or Flickr that qualifies us thus.
And it is not about the kit we use. Another difference comes from coverting another lens, body, light modifier, whatever and making the most of what we have. Yes there are advantages to that but poor composition doesn’t look any better through Canon L glass than it does through a pinhole punched in tin foil and placed on a camera body cap (with a hole drilled in it).
But given similar skill levels, how do we make a difference?
Assuming we all know to take the photo from the subject’s eye level, avoid distracting backgrounds, get close to the subject so as to fill the frame with it, place the subject off centre and so on aren’t we going to get very similar if not identical images? Yes we are.
Therefore, we need to look for other ways to get that moment. Monochrome? Square crop? Composite? These are, for the most part, post production methods but that doesn’t mean that they don’t make part of the decision making process prior to pressing the shutter. Intent, vision, is a big part of making an image.
As individuals with a photogrpahic bent we are drawn to different things in a scene. We frame it, make part of it the focus of the scene, something that, at some level is unique to us, the time, the place and the subject. This uniqueness, this vision is something, that, as creators, we use as the soul, the spirit, that drew is to the scene in the first place.
To use this as a development tool we need to grow our creativity and creativity grows when we are forced to come up with solutions in the face of very limited resources. Such as shooting – people, animals, buildings, nature, shapes, colours, shadows, you name it – as part of a group.
The group is essentially working the same scene. In attempting to make it different, unique, ours, we have to work the angles, make that scarce, fleeting opportunity ours. If we are looking for one thing it’s the quality of light. Photography is all about the light.
Photography is also about doing and doing is the basis of improving, technically and artistically. More important is doing with a purpose. Get out and take some more pictures – it’s what we bought the camera for after all.
And as we are in a photographic club looking at other peoples work isn’t exactly difficult, but we live in a very visual world and to keep critically looking at the many images that are pushed at us daily requires a small but significant shift from being passive viewers to active, critical ones – I like this because …. that works because …. I would change ….
Revisiting our own work and trying a different crop, a vignette, monochrome, harder contrast, soft blur or any other variation is a variation of this, but gives us a better understanding of how we ourselves work and how we might change.
And last if not exactly least we need to take a few chances, even of they mostly turn out to be “Mistakes” because doing the above means that these mistakes are actually learning opportunities, if we let them be and continuous learning is the best way to develop as a photographer.
Arthur Kingdon was our guest speaker and a very well received evening of his (mainly) underwater pictures. Our own Julie Kaye introduced us to this genre last year. Arthur took us around some of the worlds hotspots for underwater photography and took us back a few years too.
The equipment needs to keep a diver live aside, the hostile environment, and days when a diver cannot see their hand in front of their face, aside, pretty much most sorts of cameras can be used given a functioning housing. This is an equipment heavy branch of photography.
But all that equipment does, plus a heap of research and local knowledge, is get us to the photo opportunity. Then the photography begins. Less light to no light depending on depth, colour shifts also dependent on depth and things with big teeth and a bad attitude looming in the dark.
So among the other environmental factors and the need to master shooting close up using wide angle lenses (fish eye lenses are not uncommon but that is not where they got there tag from), there is also a need to shoot at high ISO’s. And high ISO’s mean noise in the image. So, something common to us all.
Our personal attitude to noise is the key to its perception and thereafter our attitude to an image that contains it. Noise in digital photography is caused by the action of electricity passing threw circuitry where it encounters impurities and as a result generates signals that are not part of the designed outcomes. It is just part of the physics of electrical circuits.
When we increase the ISO we boost the signal. When we boost the signal we boost the noise in that signal. At low ISO’s, that is around the base ISO that the sensor was designed for, usually 100, there is so little noise that we cannot or do not perceive it. Double the ISO to 200 and we double the amount of noise in the image. This maybe equally undetectable but eventually it does become obvious.
There are two sorts of noise we can detect in our images. Luminance, which manifest as little points of light and which we are likely to be far more tolerant of because their visual impact is less, and chromatic or colour noise, which can be hideous over fairly limited levels.
Luminance noise, as the name suggests, comes about under restricted light conditions. It can be caused by bumping up the signal via the ISO or through long exposures. Its source is the sensor heating up as it does its complex job very rapidly using very small channels which create resistance and therefore heat. It produces “Hot pixels”, little squares of white, which are usually quite easily dealt with in post.
Chromatic noise manifests itself as tiny worms of colour, especially in very dark or very light areas in an image. It comes across as tonal aberrations in an image. It can be lessened in post production through noise reduction software, but it comes at the price of a certain smudging of the image.
Whereas it is true that the newest sensors are a lot, lot better at handling noise than they were even five years ago it is still a by-product of boosting the signal and causing heating of the circuitry. It is also true that the situation of the photograph is also important to our perception of noise in an image from a sensor of pretty much any size or age.
Getting the focus spot on is probably the greatest distractor from noise that there is, especially when we fill the frame with it. It is also the easiest of the solutions to our perception of noise in any given image to enact. It doesn’t alter the amount of noise in a frame but it does fool our senses about the amount of it.
A correctly exposed image will draw less of our attention to high ISO image noise than an underexposed one – though there is lesser noise obvious in an overexposed exposed one.
So a frame filling, sharply focused, correctly exposed image will go a long way to positively influencing our perception of any photograph, a high grain one just as much lower, though, again, none actually reduce the physical amount of noise but does diminish our perception of it.
JPEG is also, because of the nature of its algorithms, not a good option for shooting in, especially when you further process it. Shooting in RAW is a better option if any post processing is going to be involved. The reason being JPEG applies noise reduction, giving that loss of fine detail we alluded to above, RAW comes with everything left in. That means we can apply noise reduction manually as we see fit. With JPEG we have to take what we are given.
Light is everything in photography, but to make a photograph we have to do something with it. Basically we have a frame, what the viewfinder shows us, and we move around or move what is in the frame around to make an image that shows us something interesting.
Arranging things in the frame, however we do it, is called composition. Composition is the second most important thing in photography after light. Every photograph ever taken, or ever will be taken, combine these two things. Consciously using these two things is the absolute basis of making better pictures and they have evolved over centuries.
Although they are usually referred to as “The Rules of Composition” that is not helpful, as rules imply something that is absolute. They are better thought of as the Tools of Composition. We select the appropriate tools to make a photograph, just as we would select a hammer not a screwdriver to drive a nail into a plank of wood.
There are many such tools, some get used more often than others, some in combination. We will revisit this several times, but at the moment get your camera out for 20 minutes every day over the next week and use these three tools: “Thirds”, “Frame within a frame” and “Leading lines” to make half a dozen images a day. It can be in doors or out, with your phone or another sort of camera, the important thing is to go looking for these opportunities, or making them.