Lot going on in the club at the moment, since the last post we have had: a presentation of images from the table top night a fortnight ago; this week the club outing to the Lake District is taking place and the weather has held for them in one of the wetter parts of the UK; we have had on-going discussions about the projector replacement and, oh yeah, we had the AGM along the way.
As if that wasn’t enough the dry spell continues, the bluebells are at full chat and the sun is shining more days than it isn’t. There are a lot of events going on and I don’t think as amateur photographers, as most of us are, we have a great deal to complain about photographically.
Apart from the price of gear. Which is going up. And up. And looks like it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Lots going on from Canon, Nikon, Sony, Panasonic but all at the top end. The cheapest out of that little lot, and I am talking camera bodies here, is around £1700. No wonder fixed lens camera sales are down by 84% from five years ago. Year on year they are better 2017 over 2016, but the size of the market has dropped and I cannot be the only one who sees a possible correlation with price. Not that would be a sole cause, the enormous improvements in cameras on phones has had a tremendous impact no doubt.
Or has it?
I can see that the practical annihilation of the compact camera might be attributed to the ubiquity of the phone-camera, but the single lens reflex/mirrorless? The number of pictures taken (badly) is certainly far, far higher than it used to be and the most popular medium for doing so is the cameraphone.
The most frequently used camera in 2014, 2015 and 2016 on Flikr were Apple iPhones. The current top 5 cameras in the Flikr Community are, in descending order: Apple iPhone 6; Apple iPhone 6s; Samsung Galaxy S6; Apple iPhone 5s and Apple iPhone 7. 5 out of the top 10 brands used are phone brands, with 1, Sony, crossing over into both single function camera and cameraphone and 7 of the top 15. AppleInsider crunched the numbers further and reckoned that in 2016, iPhones accounted for 47% of the photographers on Flickr with Canon and Nikon limping along at 24% and 18% respectively. To which I would attach the caveat that plenty of Nikon and Canon camera owners also have an iPhone or its Android equivalent. Overall cameraphones accounted for 48% of uploads last year.
Now here’s the rub. Whereas I am not disputing the fact that cameraphones account for nearly half of all uploads to Flickr these days, that there are photographers who don’t shoot with anything else out there who make a living from photography, sooner or later the hobbyist is going to conform to the Single lens norm. And when you have a choice of your DSLR/Mirrorless camera that you have paid a lot of money for, then the days of “I’ll leave that at home and take the cameraphone instead” are very few and far between. Or maybe that is just me.
There has to be some other factor in play too. Well I for one will cite the price of what is being released is a factor among hobbyists. I am not arguing with the capability of cameras being released to sing and dance in mind boggling ways. Nor am I going to argue that marketing doesn’t play a big role in this, but there is a reason that the majority of necks that you see these cameras hung around are middle aged (and male). That reason would be disposable income.
It was never a cheap hobby, though spread out over a number of years on easy payments it could be an affordable hobby when, as the club motto points out, it’s the picture not the camera that counts. However, the wonders of hire purchase aside, we are fortunate to have a hobby that can be encapsulated in a phone. The key, as ever, is to know your equipment limitations and use those and the tools of composition to get the image that you want.
The chief limitation, sensor capabilities aside, is the fact that most cameraphones come with a fixed wide angle lens. The reasons for this are, I think fairly obvious. Used mainly for social photography of friends and family and increasingly as a note book, the ability to get a lot in a confined space is going to be a design factor. The fact that the physics deliver a depth of field that is deep and so accurate focusing is less of problem or demand on the system certainly helps. It sits in the area of the old compact camera and basically destroyed that market.
So the obvious thing to do to get better results out of a cameraphone is to treat it as we would a camera with a wide angle lens mounted. That is exactly what it is photographically. Mounting a wide angle lens changes a cameras perspective compared to longer focal lengths. You need to be aware that paying attention to the edges of the frame, “Boarder Patrol” as one judge put it, is even more important, especially if you don’t intend to post process. Shadows have a habit of creeping in and taking attention away from your main subject, but when outdoors the chief consideration is the sky, in or out of shot?
The sky will push the dynamic range of the sensor, especially when there is shadow detail that you want in your picture. The dynamic range in your average cameraphone is relatively limited – you are after all buying a phone not a camera, though the relative capabilities of the camera on the phone probably matter more to a photographer than they do to the average cameraphone punter. There is also the question of whether including it adds or detracts from the overall picture so as ever, work the scene. Take multiple angles. Use portrait and landscape.
Wide angle lenses also distort perspective when not bang on square to the lines in the rest of the photograph. This is something to exploit. Using leading lines and a different perspective to gives the image a different feel and when done boldly, more punch. The flip side to this, of course, is that far away objects look very small, sometimes to the point of being overwhelmed by the other elements in the picture. Zoom with your feet as far as is possible. Get closer (or further away) through the medium of Shanks’s Pony. The combination of these two things, say when taking tall buildings, mean you have to be more careful with getting things squared up or they lean at alarming angles. Most phones (and SLR’s) these days have gauges built in to help with this.
So, the cameraphone is another photographic tool, learning to use it and exploit its features just like any other camera can be very rewarding. Be it open vistas or a lot of detail close up using the same composition skills as we use with our other gear can get good results.
We’ve done landscaping (an excellent evening by Stephen Spraggon, highly recommended if the comments of members after the session are anything to go by: and they are) and portrait lighting (members Gerry Spencer and Steve Dyer putting up an excellent show against recalitrant technology – again set members abuzz) since the last post (plus the Sun has made an appearance, at last, but rain still predominates) and that gives just a taste of the variety that there is to be had in the club programme. If members have a contribution they can make or a suggestion for the programme then please get in contact with Myk Garton, either at the meeting or via the club closed group Facebook page.
Interesting article on Petapixel this week, about the merits of relative sensor sizes (and other bourgeois concepts – see last post) where it matters to a professional. Pictures sold. Photographer Chris Corradino finally sold more of his micro 4/3 taken pictures than his full frame, rather underscoring the point made here countless times that when looking at a photograph no one can tell you what it was taken on. Even if they could, and maybe there are some people that can, or think they can, in the end it does not matter. The viewer isn’t the slightest bit interested in brand, sensor size or manufacturer (often not who you think), lens, weather sealing, menu options, filters or the colour of the photographers woolly hat (mine is black by the way). They are interested in, engaged by, the image. OK sometimes a few of the 2.6 billion estimated photographers (probably the hobbyists, pro’s and semi pro’s) on the planet might occasionally think “How did she do that?” but the answer is usually on YouTube, the web or in a book (old fashioned and distinctly analogue concept I know, but irreplaceable in my far from humble opinion).
Novelty aside, if megapixels, maximum apertures, brand name, cost of glass were more important than composition, the exposure triangle and actually pointing the camera at something remotely interesting in the first place, then you could simply buy your way to success. This is one area in life, though, where you can’t replace the (hopefully metaphorical) blood sweat and tears of learning a craft. For sure you can spend 20 hours or so getting a firm grasp of the rudimentaries and turn out some decent pictures if only more through accident than design, but, as the ever quotable Henri Cartier-Bresson pointed out: “Your first ten thousand photographs are your worst”. And he was talking in the days of film where the cost of your next frame was a consideration in pressing the shutter. Maybe it is now our first hundred thousand pictures that are our worst.
So what is the point of top end equipment? Essentially it is about flexibility and durability. Specialist requirements aside, such as tilt shift lenses and medium format cameras, it is about being able to go one stop further because you have to, it is about the ability of the equipment to take constant rough handling and still work; it’s about eliminating design and manufacturing flaws in optics which most of us either live with or don’t even know exist; it’s about built in redundancy whilst still being able to function. It is as much about confidence in the equipment working as anything else. What a professional pays for is not to worry about the kit working so that they get paid, not sued – and have a spare to hand anyway. And that is worth the premium as a professional photographer who gets a reputation for not delivering does not remain a professional photographer for long.
Then there is that old saw, “The best camera is the one you have with you”, which may be what the philosopher Daniel Dennett called a “Deepity”. A Deepity, according to Dennett, is something that sounds important and true but is really false and trivial. In this case the point is that which you have will freeze the moment in front of you before it disappears, that which you desire cannot. True but not very helpful. What it implies is more important though, and that is learn to use what you have to hand. The question is how does this handle the exposure triangle not what does this do?
Take the example of the camera most people have with them all the time these days. The one on the mobile phone. Yes they are subject to the same financial restrictions as making any other camera and once they were just an add on. Today they form part of the buying decision, certainly they are a big consideration in the makers marketing processes and therefore manufacturing decisions. Some professional and semi-professional photographers shoot on nothing else. There is even a hip term for it iphoneography, named after the Apple range, long held to mount the best cameras in a phone, but that is constantly under challenge from other manufacturers, such as Samsung. Huawei have gone so far as to link with Leica, who were part of the design team for their P9 and P10 cameras.
The basics stay the same as hinted at above, just altered a little. Get to know how your camera app (there are lots to choose from on both Android and iPhone) handles the exposure, ISO and aperture. The tools of composition don’t change. You are going to have to choose between digital zoom (reduces quality) and getting closer/further away by walking (reduces shoe leather). You can buy accessories to snap on your phone cover to act as wider angle or more telephoto (at a price) then you have to carry them and unless you are deliberately choosing the mobile phone as your camera of choice they are as likely to be elsewhere when you need them as to hand.
OK so in order to make the phone camera useable by a wider audience you might get some scene modes, like fireworks, portraits, indoors, HDR, slow shutter and so on. This is a, maybe I should say was a, big feature on compact cameras (still prefer mine to my phone, not least for the optical zoom). There is a trick to using these outside of the do-what-the-icon-says-to-take-pictures-of. Basically you need to experiment on controlled light conditions. You can then apply these camera settings as short cuts in the wild, so to speak. That’s before you get to the editing stage.
Editing on smartphones too often appears to be of the smear on variety (possibly because of the nature of the touch screen, more likely a love of the ready made), and is as subject to fashion as anything else. That is not to say that it cannot be used to add to the image overall, but it too often ends up looking like an amateur production pantomime dame made up in a hurry because he picked the kids up late from school. And there is the whole JPEG thing to yawn about. Yes you can shoot RAW on (some) smartphones and yes the same reasons exist to choose whichever you want according to your need. Same applies to this as to the pro-equipment remarks above, not least RAW cannot save a badly composed or otherwise uninteresting image.
Just because you have the latest and greatest smartest phone EVER, doesn’t mean that you are going to get an acceptable result simply by waving it at something vaguely interesting before going click. You are still going to have to work the scene, use different angles and shooting positions, get closer, get further away and so on. Consistently good images demand work as well as an eye for a picture and taking multiple images is no more expensive than on a stand-alone camera. Keep shooting until the moment is done, then and only then, move on.
N E X T M E E T I N G
ROC Round 3 Judging.
Temporarily peripatetic, the last meeting was a photo-shoot at the Clifton Suspension Bridge and a photo-shoot with a twist. And maybe a shout. Allison had arranged a little surprise in the form of the Filton Orphans Scooter Club, the weather co-operated gloriously and Mark S. lost a lens hood. Did anyone happen to pick one up? Well attended (despite the horrors of trying to find a parking space in Clifton of a sunny summer’s evening – two wheels do have their advantages) it looked to be a happy and productive couple of hours. Club thanks to Allison and to everyone who made the event possible. Next Thursday we meet at the Charlotte Street Car Park in BATH; that’s Bath NOT Queen Charlotte Street in Bristol. 7:30, photo-walk. See you there.
So, I got to thinking (dangerous habit, don’t recommend it, certainly not without a crash helmet): as one who needs to improve, how can I take advantage of our temporarily homeless state? We have talked before about the role of structure (on the blog: Proper Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Photography) so maybe time I got my head in gear and choose an element to concentrate on at the Bath photo-walk.
So, no sooner than I decide on this noble quest than I come upon the first dilemma. Where to start? Taking the hobby a little more seriously and applying the ideas of critiquing one’s own work still leaves me with more than a few avenues to explore. Well, start with the glaringly obvious, even if that takes tea amounting to several pints in volume and two similar equipment failures in three days of the glad-I-am-doing-this-as-a-favour-not-as-a-business sort of thing, need to collide first. The equipment failures were both lights, and the second was more serious than the first because that shoot cannot be done again for various reasons.
The first was a simple blown bulb when I was showing a friend of mine – after lugging the table top stuff, camera and tripod on the motorbike a hundred miles to do so with the added bonus of a nail through the virtually new rear tyre and a non repairable puncture – the possibilities of recording the techniques he uses to build models. He might also sell them as they are taking up a fair bit of space. No worries, I packed a spare, like a good boy scout. No, I packed an empty box, like an idiot. Back to a one light strategy and a couple of other adjustments. Got the point across and made the point of taking my trusty compact camera just to prove you don’t need an expensive DSLR to do this. Result is he is now building a combined spray booth and light tent apparatus.
The second was taking some shots of another hobby group at a location I have been to once previously and which has a black floor and a black backdrop. Two (cheap and cheerful) flash guns on simple remote triggers to balance out the over head lights, which make the shadows quite heavy (even with a reflector) under the eyes so two guns make life a lot easier. Relatively straight forward. Eventually get the balance about right when one of the flash guns goes ffft. Change batteries from the third flash gun no result. Change to third flash gun which decides, after several previous occasions of faultless performance, that it doesn’t want to play with the triggers tonight (this was actually at 02:30 am, not my peak time for tolerance of uncooperative mechanicals). Hey ho. One light, get the light closer, reduced power point at the floor seems to do the trick but have to under expose to keep some of the detail (which is actually important detail for these shots). OK switch to RAW (yes I usually shoot JEPG). Check with chap who is doing the post processing which I don’t have time to get involved with. Not sure that his editing programme will handle the Sony version of RAW as it is a tried and trusted copy of a programme (i.e. somewhat old) and that is a problem I have encountered before. JPEG it is then, but contrast, brightness an curves seem to render things OK (I checked on a couple when I eventually got home).
So as a photographer we either point and shoot and get disappointed or we make adjustments more to our tastes (and possibly still remain dissatisfied, though probably less so). There is a lesson here for yours truly to absorb (along with stupendous amounts of tea). The basics are common (come on Ian you are not far off a conclusion here) so, concentrate on the true basics. How do we do that? Well ….. shoot manual? That is how I learned on an Exa Thagee my dad bought very second hand circa 1971 (with a 50mm and 135mm lens) using 80 ASA print and then 25 ASA slide film (ASA = ISO to the uninitiated). You could even do macro on it by loosening the retaining screws on the 135 and sliding the assembly out a little (do not try this on a modern lens or you will likely find yourself with a modern lens kit where your pride and joy used to be).
Manual mode forces the issue. You have to think of the composite elements of your photograph. You can go fully manual and switch the autofocus off, but I am not sure that helps other than in situations where the system is overwhelmed or, more usually, underwhelmed. Either way not whelmed. With manual mode your starting point can be exposing primarily for highlights, or mid-tones or shadows. Doing so is an invitation to think more intently about metering and explore the metering modes. These are the sort of things that mean you can become more consistent in the way you get your results. This then helps with the times when the conditions aren’t ideal or otherwise exceptional. You have a known and measure starting point from which to make your adjustments.
I normally shoot Aperture Priority because of the depth of field control it facilitates with relative little faffing about. I shoot AP almost exclusively, but now out of habit rather than conviction. So changing that is relatively easy, fundamental and a good learning opportunity. It also concentrates attention, if I am not mindful, on the camera body not the image. The image is what I am after, not the camera body, so we are back to square one pretty quickly if an actual picture element isn’t what I am trying to capture in manual mode. That for me is what separates someone on the way to becoming a photographer from someone with all the gear and no idea. You are attempting to achieve a “good” image, not a “good” camera. It’s the fan-boy thing (and let’s face it kit obsession is a very male trait) getting in the way of the job.
Another decision, another prodigious amount of tea, then. Well yes, but only because I like tea. After a couple of minutes going through the options the thing that grabs me strongest, actually the first thing I think of but give the rest a go in order to try and dismiss it, is contrast. Not just the difference of light and dark, but (possibly) of tones, textures, situations. What, exactly, I dare say I shall find out on the photo-walk, next Thursday. Charlotte Street Car Park, Bath. 7:30 pm. See you there.
IN THE NEWS (again)
The world of stock photography takes another turn with the launch of an app by Dreams Time that encourages people to share their “In the moment” images (3mb and above) according to this article in Amateur Photographer. It offers both further opportunity for new and existing entrants to the market but also accelerates the destruction of the existing market. Whether this is an act of “Creative Destruction” remains to be seen but it will almost certainly make getting a foot in the market that much more chaotic if not actually more difficult. Dreams Time claims 8 million users, so the supply side is taken care of but careful curation is still a service to the industry (and a revenue opportunity). Timely then, that the latest Photoshop Express development that brings RAW, among other things to the free version of the photo editing programme and is available for iOS and Android.