We were entertained by the members who went on the club run to the Lake District back in May, this week, and certainly, they got a lot of the same views, but they weren’t the same shots. This goes to show the worth of “working the angle” even when you are in wide open spaces populated only by hordes of tourists in large busses on narrow roads. Apparently, our Esteemed Chair indulged his passengers with novel language lessons when these pantechnicons and sundry other road users broke the unwritten etiquette of British roads. An enhanced learning experience all round then.
Now non-landscapers can have rather jaundiced views of those who revel in long walks to nowhere in particular and back carrying kit they end up not using and still not get the shot because the light was “wrong”, but that is to miss the point. Landscape as a discipline brings with it challenges and techniques, not all of them specific to this category of photography, broad as it is and possibly viewed as a subcategory of Nature. There are some car parks with very fine views, after all, and if we can’t actually see any tarmac in the picture …… we get the same view as the previous 100,000 motorists who preceded us. It is, however, our version of it and that, for most amateurs is what counts. It’s our version of Kilroy was here.
Picking not only the vista but having a focal point in it, making the picture about something, is a big step as opposed to ooh-pretty-point-shoot. “Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer – and often the supreme disappointment ” according to Ansel Adams. Planning is the key, not only to getting the photograph we want from what is in front of us but in creating further opportunities for us to take. Our aim is to make a picture of one thing in relation to its setting without letting the setting overpower the picture we are looking to frame. That can be done hours/days/weeks/months/years before we leave home, or on-site and in the moment. But taking a short time to really look makes a difference.
In that short time, what we are looking for is composition. There are as many “Rules” of composition as you want. Except rules is a bit misleading as a term. Think of them as tools. The Tools of Composition. Essentially these are ways of guiding the eye to the subject in ways that suggest meaning to the viewer. The question is how we use them together. Quality is better than quantity, you need to be deliberate and you need to be able to work fast and with the light. It is all about the light, regardless of what style of photography you are partaking in. OK photography means, roughly, painting with light, so it’s hardly a surprise.
The best light is at dawn and dusk as far as landscapers are concerned. Low angle soft light in the warm end of the spectrum coming from or moving towards the blues of twilight. The best shooting light is commonly held to be roughly half an hour either side of those two events. That leaves the rest of the day for other things – which probably explains the notion that landscaping is a solitary sort of pursuit. Certainly, it doesn’t necessarily easily fall in with the plans of others.
There are other costs to landscape as you get more into it. A good tripod for one, the reason being minimum ISO’s and small apertures tend to be the order of the day. Marry that with low light levels and we need to be accommodating exposures that are too long to hand hold without showing considerable signs of camera shake. Lenses tend towards a wide/super-wide and medium telephoto – and everything in between and either side depending upon the depth of your pockets and your penchant for collecting expensive pieces of kit. Then there are the filters. At least a circular polarizer. Then there are hard and soft graduated filters for equalising out the light in the sky to that falling on the ground. Investing in a quality set of filters is not cheap, but pays dividends in the quality and clarity of what you are getting. You are, after all, adding glass in front of glass and that will have an effect on quality. And don’t forget a waterproof, solid, comfortable bag to keep all that expensive kit in.
As usual, it isn’t about the kit. As Mike Browne has been known to opine, nobody says to Jamie Oliver or Gordon Ramsey “You must have a really good oven” when enjoying their world-class cuisine. Good photography is the product of practice, knowledge, practice, planning, practice, willingness to learn, practice, a critical eye, practice, hard work and practice. There is also technique, practice, willingness to pushing our limits, practice, getting to know our cameras, lenses and other kit inside out, practice, and practice, but you get the general idea.
It was an entertaining evening, for sure, and we thank our fellow members for their time effort and willingness to share.
It has long been held as true that we know more about space than we do about our oceans. Quite possibly true, though I don’t know how you measure it, what I do know is that club member Julie Kaye’s presentation on underwater photography went down, if you will forgive the unintentional pun, very well. Julie brought her equipment as well as prints of her results and took us through the mechanics, the necessities of adapting the human body and her camera equipment to the realms where no human is naturally equipped but for the very briefest of visits.
The equipment needs are not merely image critical, they are life supporting and diving is a dangerous sport if the basics are not attended to. The conditions under which you are shooting are a challenge too and this is one of the more difficult areas of photography to master. For those of us brought up on the Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau the mysteries of the oceans were a childhood staple.
Possibly most associated by most as branch of travel photography, the underwater milieu goes back to the end of the Nineteenth Century, the first underwater camera and lighting rig was invented by another Frenchman, Louis Marie Auguste Boutan in 1893, when certainly photographs would have been taken but the oldest extant photo of a diver, a selfie by Boutan is dated to 1899 (and apparently damned near killed him through Nitrogen narcosis in the process). The gap is accounted for by Boutan’s work on a lighting solution, a highly explosive mix of oxygen in a barrel and magnesium powder to provide a flash held in a glass container triggered by an electrical current. Remember that film (read glass plate) speed was very low at these times with normal photographs being taken with what we would consider long exposures.
Prior to Boutan, the first person to take photographs whilst submerged, there had been underwater photographs but these had been obtained by using a camera in an almost-waterproof housing lowered on a tripod, was William Thompson, who took them in Dorset in 1856. Unfortunately the glass plates don’t seem to have survived.
Colour came along in 1926, National Geographic staff photographer Charles Martin and naturalist Dr William Longley taking a picture of a Hog Fish in the Gulf of New Mexico for that august journal. Following on in Boutan’s tradition they still executed the image with pounds of explosive magnesium flash powder. The difference was that they sensibly left it floating on the surface in a raft rather than build a submersible flash unit as Boutan had.
Cousteau remains the most famous pioneer though, operating from his famous boat the RV Calypso, which came to near sticky end in Singapore in 1997 but on which restoration work began last year (after a 20 year story worthy of a soap opera), he developed not only Scuba gear but the underwater camera as well. The Calypso, before coming in to Cousteau’s hands, was built as a Minesweeper for the Royal Navy and served as such from 1943 to 1949, then as a ferry in Malta for 4 months before being bought by Thomas Loel Guinness MP and leased by him to Cousteau for one French Franc a year on grounds of anonymity for Loel Guiness. There were, at the time, around a thousand Francs to the pound, so bit of a bargain. For those of us brought up on the TV show (1968-1976 and endless repeats) the Calypso was as much of the show as Cousteau.
Cousteau wasn’t just an explorer (naturalist, conservationist, etc etc), he was an inventor too. He conceived the idea, which was designed by Jean de Wouters, of an underwater camera which was called, wait for it, the Calypso. It came with an f3.5 35mm lens, with 45mm and 28mm optional lenses and a shutter speed of 1/30th to 1/1000th of a second shutter, which was redesigned to a 1/15th to 1/500th of a second range which was the one carried on to the Nikonos, licensed and built by Nikon, through three variants and which lasted in production until from 1963 to 2001. Basically it was killed off by digital but it is still to be found second hand.
Underwater photography is also a sport, not big here, admittedly, under the auspices of CMAS. The World Championships run thus: Basically at least four 90 minute dives (including decompression time) are undertaken and the first 100 images from the relevant memory card are downloaded and then the competitor selects which images go forward to (anonymous) judging. Then it gets complicated: ” During the last day of the competition, the jury will review all submitted images to rank these within the photographic categories described in the Specific Rules. An individual classification will also be compiled by allotting scores to the top ten images in each photographic category using a fibonacci sequence. The names of top ten competitors in the photographic categories and in the individual classification will be publicly announced.” Not so catchy, maybe.
There is a wider range of photographic equipment and accessories available to the modern diver, of course, specialist housing, lighting (non explosive), but all at a price and a half. It has to be precision engineered of course, able to withstand pressure greater than found at sea level and whereas it is popular with people on holiday (who can buy pouches and boxes for their cameras for shallow depths if their camera isn’t already waterproof) who go snorkelling, if you are serious and a scuba diver and a regular photographer, then the outlay garners the returns.
So a big club thank you to Julie for an interesting and unusual evening.
N E X T M E E T I N G
NB: The AGM has been postponed for a couple of weeks, our next session is table top photography so bring cameras, tripods and something small to photograph.
Kev and Rich talking about landscape photography was our last meeting, two of the clubs finest and most experienced landscapers. We all take landscapes, it is hard not to, apart from the obvious fact we live in them to a greater or lesser extent, but to get them just right requires planning, determination and patience. And practice. Lots and lots and lots of practice.
What comes first though? You have to spot the picture. Not everyone sees the subject of a photograph in the tangle of the environment it inhabits. Certainly two photographers can look at the same thing, pick out the same subject and one will think the shot worth taking, the other not. Both are right, at least for them. There can be a lot of stuff going on and as with other forms of photography the first strategy is to tell one story in one picture. This means looking, critically, at what is in front of you. Yes, as often as not a landscape is taken with a wide angle as a telephoto lens, lens choice is not the point, it should be consequent to a decision about how to frame a picture you have in mind. You use whatever you think is necessary, but the absolute basis of landscape as any other form of photography is the composition. You have a frame made by the physical interaction of object, light, glass and sensor size. You control distance, angle, subject focus, depth of field, about the subject itself. You vary these elements to compose your image in the frame and ….. click.
Well, if only it were that simple and of course it is, but it is a lot more than about the mechanics. We are not after the best shutter sound, most satisfying zoom look and feel nor any of the other myriad electro-mechanical marvels that go into making a retrievable image. We are after the essence, the soul of what we have observed in the landscape. We want to ensnare what the poet John Keates observed simply because “A thing of beauty is a joy forever. Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.” It is the sweet dreams, health and quiet breathing that we are trying to capture. Indeed if there is a poem for landscape photographers then Endymion is it. Maybe all photographers.
Waxing lyrical aside, that which we can control in landscape photography is a good deal less than we can control in studio photography. Get up well before dawn, drive to the appointed place safe in the knowledge that the several weather forecasts we have consulted the day before assure us that it will be excellent weather. Trudge for half an hour in the dark: set up camera and tripod; find out that the weather forecasters got it wrong; employ colourful epithets around the possible uses of weather forecasters who can’t; pack up go home; come back tomorrow. Or at sunset. Or buy yourself a 720 nanometer infra red filter and make a day of it (or any other IR filter depending on the number of batteries you have with you and the length of the chapters of the book you are reading when taking 30 minute plus exposures with 900nm filters). Still, as Mr Keats put it: “That, whether there be shine, or gloom o’ercast;/They always must be with us …“. Or maybe not abandon the day? Maybe you should go and look for particular details of interest in themselves, who don’t need the context of the vista to make a story? It won’t be that story, but it will be a story, if only a different one. You could even do your own mini photo-marathon. Always pays to have a foul weather alternative at the very least.
If this is the case it really shouldn’t be by chance. The successful landscape expedition is always going to be at mercy of the weather. So are the unsuccessful ones, but the difference between the two is planning. You may not get what you thought you were going to get but you can get something and this is far more likely to happen if there is a plan in place and, as I always say, if you haven’t got a plan B you haven’t got a plan. As for luck, as we have visited and revisited in this blog, originally from a presentation by Kev and Rich on their first Iceland trip, you make your own.
That doesn’t mean that spontaneity should be crushed in pursuit of the single frame, though at least one speaker we have had over the last year said he tended to relentlessly pursue the single image he has in mind, then pack up and go home. Whereas I admire such tenacity I have to say, where’s the fun in that? There is a middle path here that certainly will yield results. Looking without seeing is the difference between the lay person and the artist, the bloke-with-a-camera from the photographer (regardless of gender). It isn’t about being a professional. A professional gets paid for it. Not all of it, but some of it, enough of it and they make a living, but certainly the some of it good enough, or suitable enough to get published. Composing in the mind’s eye then varying those things we talked about controlling above, and post processing as and if necessary.
The basic rules is the same for landscape composition as it is for everything else we want to take a good photograph of. Reduce the contents of your frame to the absolute minimum. Then reduce it again. What? With a wide angle lens and a huge landscape in front of us? Yes. A single focal point for the eye to rest on. Then the other details in the frame unfold as our eyes are lead from one point to another. The less the competing details the larger the impact. It’s why we fill the frame. All that varying the angle? To avoid the middle and make more use of the space in the frame. Then there are the lead lines, diagonals, to play with perspectives and backgrounds and borders to police for distracting extraneous detail. Above all, have fun.
N E X T M E E T I N G
Week 7 – 13th Oct 2016 19:30 – Guest Speaker: Margaret Collis “Photography For Fun”
Blog has taken a bit of a break these last three weeks – what do you mean you haven’t noticed? – so this week is a little bit of a digest of things that have crossed my viewfinder. Over this period the club has been up to Gloucester for a very pleasant evening and a model photo-shoot around the docks, Bath for stroll around the Royal Crescent and Severn Beach for the sunset. Our thanks also to models Ashleigh Claire, Keith Bristow, Carl Hawkins and Alice Jordan for their endurance and patience at the Gloucester Docks shoot, which from Facebook seems to have generated some interesting shots. Not quite as billed (the theme was originally going to be Victorian) but it was an entertaining evening nonetheless and we had the space largely to ourselves and another photographer and model who were doing a shoot. There was also an American car meet going on and all in all it was an interesting, if slightly humid couple of hours.
But the humidity of Glos. docks was nothing compared to a windless evening in Bath, which seemed to pile heat upon heat. Severn Beach was a little more civilised even if the evening did end in rain. The fact is we don’t very often get extreme weather in this part of the UK, for which we should be grateful, but still half a dozen people have lost their lives on the coasts around the UK in the last ten days or so. In fact the climate and geology of the UK is particularly stable yet still manages a huge variety of land, sea and urban views. But it’s not without its dangers.
One of those is people taking exception to you taking photographs. In this country the level of paranoia around children and photography is on the increase. I met with this some years ago – taking photographs of my own children. Now I am a reasonable man but telling me (wrongly) what I can and can’t do vìz a vìs the photographing of my own children in public, does rather try my patience. It always pays to be polite though and I am sure I was a lot more polite than I seem to remember being.
Scare stories are will always generate interest, trouble is when people act erroneously on them. And, of course, different countries different rules – over the weekend it has emerged that the “Burkini Beach” photographs of the armed French Police enforcing the law have led to the former Mayor threatening the prosecution of social media users sharing pictures of them doing so. Now the reasons for doing so are complicated and the reason for the Burkini ban is tied up to do with the 84 deaths on Bastille Day in the City of Nice, where the photos were taken. The point is, whatever you may think of these rules (a) ignorance is no defence and (b) your opinion of them does not change the law.
So, simply put, find out what these rules are before you take the camera out of its bag and stick with them. This Facebook Page is a good place to start.
On a more cheerful note the 2016-2017 season starts at the club on 1st September and we are kicking off with an event called my summer, where members bring in photographs they have taken over the summer and present them. That’s a sort of hint.
There is a lot on the programme again this year and we urge all members to participate as widely and as often as possible – it’s sort of the whole reason for the club after all. One issue that has arisen and needs addressing. The evenings where we use models on the basis that they get the images we take in return for their time do require that we honour our side of the bargain, whether we as individual photographers, think they are good enough or not. It doesn’t take much time and it is only fair. We can now use the photo entry system so that can be covered among its many other attributes, I believe, as it can be set up relatively easily, so no excuses really. Give up your best three (at least) and let the model worry about whether they are good enough or not.
We are fortunate in having such an active club but we also recognise and welcome new members. There has always been someone around to answer questions and there is quite a breadth and depth across the club and members always seem happy to give freely of their time. Long may it remain so. The programme for September includes: Photo’s we have taken over the summer break; Q and A session; A talk that looks distinctly chilly; and a photo mini marathon, ever popular. That is all in the next five weeks (photo-marathon and photo-marathon judging taking place in consecutive weeks).
So, what is your goal for this season? It’s always a good idea to have and we learn more when we have an idea of what success looks like. It might be to get yourself off auto/programme, not actually sins in themselves but the tool is making decisions for you creatively and artistically. There will be plenty of opportunities within the club schedule to practice that and to ask people about how they do it and why they do it that way. You might want to set yourself a one a day project over 7, 28 or 365 or some other number of days. Or take on some macro or portrait projects, the point is there are lots of opportunities and there is a lot of experience in the club, you can call on. Essentially next season is what you make of it, and the club is what you make of it, the opportunities are there for the taking.
Slight change this week. We are introducing an occasional feature of blog postings from members, which though they will go through myself as editor are their own reflections on the art and how they go about it. To kick this off we have Alison Davies talking about her winning ways with national photography competitions. Copyright text and Photo’s Alison Davies, please respect that.
So, Alison, over to you …..
External Competition – Have a Go?
Seeing as I have been invited to do a guest blog on any subject, I thought it might be of interest to fellow club members to write a little about entering external photograph competitions. I am not talking salons and prestigious photography competitions for amateurs and professionals which are usually known by a series of letters, BPWA, TPOTY etc., I did look at these once but I really don’t the like thought of paying to enter.
I find external competitions to be very different to that of club competitions, far less stress involved, simply upload a photo to a website and forget it, as long as you have taken all of the terms and conditions into account – but more about that in a bit. They could be in magazines, newspapers, displayed in public buildings, on leaflets and online.
Of course, with an external competition you don’t get to see the panel reviewing images, their likes, dislikes, what’s good, what’s bad and often they will be selecting images from a commercial angle, but not always. I for one although having many years entering club competitions, can honestly say I am still uncomfortable sitting whilst a judge praises or gives a damning report on my efforts. I think that’s why, I am easier with entering online competitions and in doing so, I am entering photos I regard as fitting the bill of the brief or images I am happy with, in the knowledge that I won’t be pulled up publicly for a bit of burn out (sometimes it’s intentional), or not obeying the rule of thirds (some subjects are so strong they just have to be placed central) or other such critique which I will be aware of in advance but chose to display my image that particular way, as quite simply, I like it like that. Incidentally, no criticism of most judges intended, they have a job to do and we have all learned from the good ones in the past, however there are a few doing the rounds who in my opinion, should stay at home.
It’s pretty widely known, I have 2 dogs, Otis and Bazil, who are very much adored and it’s fair to say I spend lots of hours out with them in some very beautiful places. This is a win, win, situation for me due to my love of being outdoors and seeing my dogs enjoying themselves running, swimming and more often than not, getting mucked up – ‘the mucked’ up has proved advantageous in competitions.
Probably the same as most of you, when I am out, I always have a camera to hand and something that truly excites me is getting to see every season and what it brings. Each year I look forward to snowdrops, followed by the wild primroses, then bluebells. Shortly after I am eagerly awaiting the lighter evenings when I can once again walk in wild flower meadows, where if I didn’t have the dogs with me, would be a great opportunity to photograph butterflies, birds and insects. I have long given up on little creatures now, so many times with camera perfectly aligned ready to snap, one of the dogs comes bounding over and winged thing takes off! So cut a long story short, I have quite an extensive stock of photos of nature, wild flowers, trees and of course dogs – but a slim range of insects and birds.
My first competitions wins were very surprising, I never entered expecting to win anything, a friend said, “Here’s a competition you should enter”, so I did. The Orivs company runs a competition to find an image for their Dog Book cover each year, and I won with a photo of Otis. This was really exciting as Orvis told me they have a huge amount of entries and the photo was on their catalogues in UK and the US – my little Otis was their cover dog for 2014. The prize was a £500 Orvis voucher.
The same year, I came runner up with 2 photos in the top 10 in a Crufts photo competition with one of their main sponsors winning a camera phone but much to my horror had to attend a prize giving with celebrity and press (not that I knew who the celebrity was). The following year, I was runner up again with an image in the Crufts competition and with another dog company for another. It is a great feeling to see your photos displayed large on light box panels at such a prestigious event. Some of these companies have huge exhibition budgets and really do spend on their display graphics.
Since then I have had an article with photo published in the Crufts magazine, as runner up once again and won in other photo competitions which most of which are dog related, 2 pairs of top of the range boots in separate competitions which I wear all of the time and really wouldn’t have spent that much money on myself. 2 Barbour jackets and bags, really thinking hard about what I have been lucky enough to win. I have won hampers and other dog related products, which I donate to a local dog charity in order to boost their fund raising efforts – nice prizes can mean people attending events will spend more of raffle tickets if there is a decent prize on the table.
During 2015, a photo of Otis and Bazil on a beach won a place in a country style magazine’s calendar for 2016, winning, ‘Pet’s in the Countryside” category, 1 of 12 overall (1 from each category) to get a photo against a month and more prizes.
Then more recently, I got an email saying that I was a runner up in the RSBP calendar competition for 2017. Only a little while after, I had another email saying I was the winner which was totally unexpected as it was a wildlife photo competition, I know that there are some brilliant wildlife photographers about who are very passionate and extremely good, in fact we have some in Reflex. The prize for this one was £500 worth of Canon product, a VCR and a compact, they will shortly send through some other bits of merchandise which will feature my photo as they prepare stock for 2017 in their shops. It was lovely to win this competition as I know my photo will be working for the RSBP to make money for their charity on calendars and merchandise.
The RSPB leads me on to a few hints and tips to hopefully get some of you looking out for competitions and submitting some entries. My first tip would be to imagine you are back at school entering your exams, read the rules and terms and conditions, then read them again. If you don’t take on board exactly what they are requesting, that’s your photo binned before it’s got anywhere. It could be orientation, size – anything and everything.
Next, I would say, remove club competitions from your head completely, take time to think about the brief and think what it means to you. Remember, think about the company or charity and what it represents and make a photo choice to complement this. Think more commercially, what type of photo represents the brief and would it look good advertising their product? Does it have a wide appeal?
Now for the really important part, within the terms and conditions, there will be text stating what the company will / can do with your image. Careful, as this (and here’s the really cheeky part) can mean that it doesn’t matter if you have an image placed or not, by entering a photo, you are agreeing to the company using that photo for anything they choose, having automatic rights (and sometimes editing) and reproducing without credit to the photographer. They usually state an amount of time, for example a 3 year period. Not all companies do this but some do, therefore it is really important before you hand over your work that you know what you are signing up to. Often it is asked that the photos you enter are exclusive and not entered into any other competition or have not won other competitions. Bear this in mind if you can enter 3, this may exclude you from entering them into another better competition which comes up later!
It can be said that this is a cheap way of companies gaining extra advertising and cheap images although if you win, some prizes can be quite high value and of course it’s fun. I try and weigh up if I submit an image, it’s worth it – would I want this photo for anything else in the future? Most of us have stacks of images just sitting on hard drives, so often giving it over isn’t overly important, but think about it first.
Watch out for photo thieves too, upload images (unless otherwise instructed) as small as you can get away with, ensuring the screen version still looks good – unless the rules stipulate a set size.
Competitions which offer good prizes can specify professional photographers are not permitted to enter, when they do, they will usually offer their interpretation of this so that it is clear. Generally, the ones that I have entered stating that more than half of income/earnings must not come from photography, but this is individual to each competition.
Keep a file with your entries in, something I now do, earlier in the year I was contacted as a runner up and asked for a large file, all a bit embarrassing as I really didn’t know what photo I had entered and had to ask! This also stops you entering the same photo in different competitions, which is fine once the competition has ended and you have not been placed (subject to T & C’s mentioned above).
Finally, If you enter and at a later stage receive an email stating you are a runner up and requesting the large size image prior to the final judging, in my experience, it’s good news.
I hope this has inspired some of you to have a go, it’s fun, free and couldn’t be easier these days being able to upload online.
To start you off, there should be a category of interest for most people in the club, why not try this one, it was the competition I got a placed in with the photo of my dogs on the beach 2016. I have already entered for 2017, but there is still time to get some photos in and look at that lovely prize.
OK, so I am going to be honest, I am quite shallow regarding this, I don’t do it for the recognition, I really hate presentations and getting up in front of people – I am in it for the love of the prizes but of course it is very nice to be told you photo is valued.
©Alison Davies 17.6.2016
Thanks Alison that was really very illuminating. If you are willing to give the blog a go contact me at the meeting, I am almost always to be found there.
N E X T M E E T I N G
23 June 2016 19:30 Speaker: Peter Phillips: “A Photographic Journey” From Image Scientist to Photographer
Club member David Jones was our speaker last Thursday, taking us through his fascination with all forms of documentary photography, one that stretches back to the 1970’s. Using mainly black and white, but also some colour, David has covered both film and digital and he was not alone when he spoke of the fascination of seeing a print appear in the developing bath. Things have moved on and certainly post production is much cleaner and easier than when using film. Whether that makes the final image any better though is a matter of opinion.
Documentary photography is pretty broad term. It is joined at the hip with notions of photojournalism though is not just the preserve of the professional photographer. To some extent photography is, by and large, documentary in its essence in that it is, by and large a document of record of an event. If you stretch the definition far enough. Is street photography documentary? Is environmental? The main difference, or at least a signal difference is the amount of planning and purpose behind a shot. The documentary has a particular theme, is part of a sequence or series. There is less structure in street and the subject comes to the photographer rather than the photographer finding and interacting with the subject, sometimes over a protracted period. Street photography is all about being candid.
The literal definition of candid is truthful. Within street photography we look for the truth of the instant, possibly more accurately a truth in the instant. Henri Cartier-Bresson was the originator of the term the “Decisive Moment”, when all the different elements in a scene gel together to make something greater, something truthful. The role of the photographer is … well, to be more precise, the role of the photographer isn’t. It isn’t to interact, it isn’t to interfere, it isn’t to order. It is to read the moment and capture the truth of it at the very point where it is at the height of being one thing and the very instant, the split second, before it lapses completely, irrevocably, back into the ordinary. It is the moment of clarity, essentially suggestive and very human, very fleeting.
David showed us some examples of contact sheets to put the whole idea into some context. The final print is just that, it is the process of selection, of exclusion of the ordinary in search of the extraordinary. Look at Cartier-Bresson’s contact sheets, they tell the same story. It’s hard work not magic. Cartier-Bresson was also known to study other photographers’ contact sheets (whilst carefully curating his own) and it is still a brilliant way of getting to know how a photographer works, if little harder in these days of digital. The key to this sort of photography is to be open to your surroundings, be apart from the action rather than in the action, taking time to let situations develop and getting a good sense of human interaction and detachment.
These last two may seem contradictory, but are two sides of the same coin in two senses. Firstly there is the notion of the subject interacting with their environment and the photographer as detached observer. This is pretty much read. The documenter shall not affect the outcome, because then you are documenting the interaction with the photographer, a different story. The second is about what the subject is interpreted as doing interacting with other parts and or actors in the scene, or being aloof, distracted or somehow extracted from it whilst still being a part of it – and unaffected by the photographers presence.
So far so (relatively) purist and, it has to be said, theoretical. Does it matter? Yes and yes and maybe and no (like the Mayor of London, “My policy on cake is pro having it and pro eating it”). Yes because it defines a genre (documentary) that is distinct through its truthfulness and naturalism which speaks to integrity. Yes because by identifying with it we borrow on that pool of integrity. Maybe because as a genre it is a start in exploring and building our identity as photographers. No if the image is the thing and anonymity is the photographer’s aim. It takes practice.
Environmental photography, more specifically environmental portrait photography, is about contextualising the subject in their world. It defines, personalises, the subject through surroundings that are familiar to them. David showed us some examples, mostly deceptively simple, but drawing their power from that (some more by club member Simon Caplan). The subject is more aware of the photographer as a rule than in street photography. This doesn’t detract from the value of the document because what we are trying to achieve is a statement of the individual defined by the environment they feel most relaxed in. To some extent they are showing that off for the photographer, so their known presence adds to the overall effect. The trade, the craft, the politics of the situation all combine to make a statement, much as the photographer is doing. Permission is a far bigger thing in environmental portraiture, in that, by and large, it is harder to do surreptitiously and often is used by business for marketing purposes anyway. It can be commissioned by the individual, by magazines, by organisations as well as proposed by the photographer.
So why shouldn’t we give it a go? Expectation can be a killer of projects and images, fear of failure or frustration at not getting the results are very real. It often comes from lack of technique or an uncritical eye and the obtainable doesn’t seem good enough. As mentioned above, the contact sheet is a good way of developing that critical eye and even if not a single one is a keeper (see last week’s blog) working out why is a huge development tool. Thinking about what makes other peoples pictures work or fail for you is a good start. We will return to this later in the year, but for a short version take an image as an example and have a conversation with yourself about what strikes you about it, how you might frame it differently and where does the light come from? Do this out loud on a crowded bus and I guarantee you will end up with a seat to yourself.
So a big thank you to David Jones for an interesting and thought provoking evening.
N E X T M E E T I N G
Three way club battle at Portishead. Be there for 7pm, starts 7:30 prompt.
Portishead Camera Club, Redcliffe Bay Hall, Newhaven Road, Portishead. BS20 8LH
Last meeting was the territory of club member and treasurer Steve Hallam, talking through some of his digital history. Steve is an Olympus fan and has been for over ten years. Micro four thirds, the name come from the diameter of the sensor in inches, is the invention of Olympus and as Steve pointed out, the first system to be designed exclusively for digital from scratch. The first Olympus Steve owned had a 5 MP sensor , which when compacts these days can pack 20 Mega Pixels, sounds restrictive. In reality most people would be largely untroubled by 5MP sensors, the key being the quality of rendition not the size. More Mega Pixels give you more room to crop and still get a reasonable image. The ability to resolve reasonably accurate colours and the capacity to restrict noise at higher ISO’s are generally bigger factors in most peoples’ photography . The bigger numbers in terms of Mega Pixels are something driven more by perceived marketing needs (bigger must be better) than actual customer requirements.
For so long full frame, as Steve pointed out a tag rather than a technical term of any enlightening feature. The 35mm (actually 36 mm but that is a spurious accuracy) was of course the film size in most SLR’s and has carried over to the digital age as the most common “professional” size. I will come back to the need for the inverted comma’s shortly. In the film age, especially from the late 60’s onwards, 35mm was pretty much everywhere. Unless you were doing advertising or studio work then the frame size went up to 6 x 4.5, 4 x 5, 10 x 8 and so on. Hasselblads used 120 roll film (6 x 7 cm). Just like the Box Brownie. Only there was a bit of difference price wise. Also, it has to be said, there is a slight difference in quality too.
The reason for the inverted commas around professional above is that there is no such thing as a camera by which one becomes a professional by being in possession of. There is plenty to be said for the idea of a larger sensor – and some people bang on endlessly about it – but, as been said before in this blog, unless it is predicated on an actual photographic need then there is no reason why a professional has to shoot with a 35mm sensor. Damien Lovegrove doesn’t, as he explained when he visited us back in July 2014, he uses APS-C (among other formats I am sure). Any argument based on the logic of sensor size would have that a 6 x 4.5 medium sensor format has to better than a 35mm and so on. The question always has to be “At what”?
Lugging a D800 across Antarctica to photograph polar bears in the wild may seem like hard work, it is, after all a sizeable chunk of Bakelite in its own right. Adding in the heavy duty lenses adds even more bulk and that’s before you realise the nearest wild polar bear is 12,500 miles to the north (it pays to do your research). You had better have a really, really good reason for packing it in the first place. Well that would be weather sealing, shock-proofing, reliability given that it’s 2,500 miles to the nearest camera shop to replace that broken lens (assuming both that you are going North and turning left(ish) and Punta Arenas has a camera shop, otherwise it’s 3,700 miles in a completely different direction to Auckland). You may require very large blow ups at a high dots per inch count, there are any number of reasons you need a full frame camera, but , logically, not one of them is because you are a professional. Steve pointed out the main advantage of the Micro 4/3rds format is the capacity to build smaller, lighter cameras.
Smaller lighter cameras with smaller sensors, yet we still think of lenses in 35mm equivalent terms and that does make things easier for comparison reasons, but allows for some confusion. When we talk of crop sensors we are talking about the size of sensors relative to 35mm and as most sensors are smaller than this then we are seeing a smaller image given the same focal length of lens.
A confusion creeps in with the idea of “magnification” which a lot of people assume to be a telephoto effect because a 100 mm lens on a 35mm camera shows the same as a 150 mm lens on an APS-C or a 200 mm lens on a micro 4/3rds and the logic goes (off at a tangent but it’s easy to see why) a 200 mm pulls in the image twice as much as a 100 mm lens. Well when you double the focal length on the same size sensor it does, the mistake is to not factor in the change in the size of the sensor. If an image is made with the same lens, but a smaller sensor, it shows a smaller area. Enlarge both your 35 mm and you crop sensor images to, say, 10 x 8 inch print and the degree of enlargement, the magnification if you will, will be greater for the smaller sensor than for a larger one. Hence you might get an inkling of why more Mega Pixels on this year’s sensor than last sounds attractive – you can make larger prints without a loss in quality. Well sort of, as, after a point, those extra pixels start to get in each other’s way.
So, our thanks to Steve for bringing up some interesting topics and for sharing his images with us. Much appreciated.
N E X T W E E K
NOT AT THE CLUB. Light trails, meet at the fountains on the centre. Bring cameras and tripods we are going to be taking some light trails. 7.30 commencement.