Tagged: art

1st March 2018 – Frozen Out and Fine Art

Snowed in and called off we will have a week’s wait for member Gerry Painter’s evening. Something to look forward to. So this week, through the rattle of ice rain on the living room window, which rather underlines the soundness of the decision to call things off, we are going to talk about connecting with our images.

When looking for something to photograph, chance, as we have often reiterated in this blog, falls to the prepared. There is, however, a difference between what fine art photographer Cig Harvey calls “Target Practice” and telling a story, and a personal story, rather than the story of someone else. Now you don’t have to go to quite the same limits as she went to, only shooting in one room for a year, but taking responsibility for everything in the frame and avoiding the “Yeah buts’”. That is, doing it, rather along the lines we talked of in the last blog, because we are not all full time artists.

Photography is a channel to put our thoughts in. Cig Harvey again. This is a particular form of photography, the fine art angle, but don’t we do this consciously or subconsciously, anyway? This, at least in part, is improvement as a continuous process, because the stories never stop, we just switch them off at some point. We are all taking a little moment in history and slicing away at the baggage that surrounds it and showing a truth. Or maybe just taking drunken snaps on the camera phone during an after work drinks session. Maybe something in between, but for those of us who take our art even a little more seriously, there is the recognition of something achieved, with a little something to take forward to the next frame. Basically, “Yes, and …”

Fine art most of us would think beyond us, but we have all taken that sort of image at some time or other, even if by accident. Indeed the definition of what fine art might be in photography isn’t even settled definitively. It is, on one level, peoples’ bread and butter. But not all fine art photographers are fine art artists making a living. Most, I suspect, are on the amateur level – which doesn’t make them averse to making money from their photography, just means it’s not a regular source of income. Essentially “Fine art photography is photography created in accordance with the vision of the artist as photographer”, which tells us next to nothing because it doesn’t include much and really doesn’t exclude anything apart from the implication that if you are not an “Artist” you cannot be a fine art photographer.

That Wikipedia definition does try and make such a deliniation, but even so the misses the potential irony (neigh sarcasm) behind Picasso’s statement that “I have discovered photography. Now I can kill myself. I have nothing else to learn”, but does give room to John Steinbeck’s comment on Robert Capa “… That the camera need not be a cold mechanical device. Like the pen, it is as good as the man who uses it. It can be the extension of mind and heart…” The whole “Is photography art?”debate is endless and, frankly, sterile. It will never be conclusively settled and is as much about fashion as it about metaphysical discussions of meaning and being. Maybe it’s all what the Journalist Fyfe Robertson labelled Phart, but I think that rather misses the point.

Exclusivity certainly plays a part in the discussion. Certainly it is not all of it. Vision, idea, technique, a body if work all have their place and frequently find their way into this blog and our Thursday evenings and hopefully seep into our practice. As illustrated last week this doesn’t have to be a long practice but mulling it over, working the idea into a concept, finding the materials it needs, getting everything together then executing the shot can be the fruit of days, weeks, months, years. Doesn’t make it any better or worse to look at, but the effect on the photographer as the centre of this whirl does make it something more than the recording of a play of light on a subject.

Above all it is an attitude, a desire and a great deal of persistence that makes an artist, regardless of medium. It doesn’t have to be on a grand scale, especially when practising, and it doesn’t have to be to please anyone else but ourselves, but I suppose most of us take photographs to show others. Over time though we develop our own photographic fingerprint, but standing in the same place Ansel Adams stood and point our camera at the same vista as Ansel Adams pointed his at at the same time of day as Ansel Adams did at the same time of year as Ansel Adams did does not mean we get the same picture that Ansel Adams got, much less make us Ansel Adams. All we do get is the same thing every other photographer got doing the same, at best a downscale Ansel Adams look a like picture. It is instructive to do what the masters of the medium did and do, but is of little value if we cannot make those images we make our own. Afterall access to the original completed file or negative means we can run copies faithful to the original ad infinitum.

Which is one of the arguments that some people propose to strip photography of the idea that it might be art. Art is an artefact, it is made, it is up to us to make up our own minds what we consider art or otherwise.

19th October 2017 – Mike Martin, Making Art Your Own Way

Mike Martin, a member of Kingswood Photographic Society, and a fine photographer, was our speaker. Happy to be a photographer who shoots with post production in mind and only himself to please, Mike showed us a strong, varied and interesting set of mainly art images, with some interesting detours into other genres.

 

He never accepts images as they come out of the camera, viewing this as a stop on the way to what he imagined in the first instance. This can mean a long time in post production, but as an unashamed amateur – i.e. he’s not shooting to a deadline and other people’s  tastes – this is a luxury he can afford. This is part of a long art photography tradition and now that we have the tools to do things in seconds what it would have taken hours and much coin to achieve – if it could be done at all – for an absolute fraction of the cost.

 

Although there is much to be said for getting as much right in camera, that is an awful lot easier when starting with the end in mind, in having a strong idea of what the finished product will look like. This may change as you go along but having a defined end usually leads to less time wasting. Not always, but usually.

 

This is not to say that we shouldn’t experiment or take on new ways of doing adjustments. There is a balance and if we want to learn then making ourselves a little bit uncomfortable by trying new things is going to be an essential part.  Looking, emulating, developing, employing is as good a learning cycle as any.

 

Mike also quoted Henri Cartier Bresson, which we have discussed before: “Sharpness is a bourgeois concept” – that is one that makes the holder appear self important and materialistic, shallow, pretending to be deep, unsophisticated and generally lacking in true class. Certainly it has its place – sharpness is one thing that sells new and ever increasingly expensive lenses. Yes you could back a modern lens against the ones that HCB used pretty much every time in the sharpness stakes, but it’s the brain behind the camera that makes a difference. Mind you context is everything:

“He had his little Leica,” Newton remembers, “and he simply would point and shoot.” Since Cartier-Bresson’s hand isn’t as steady as it used to be, some of the pictures were a bit fuzzy. “Sharpness,” he told Newton, “is a bourgeois concept.” Newton sits back and laughs: “I thought that was just divine.”

Dana Thomas interviewing Helmut Newton, Newsweek, 1 June 2003.

 

Movement certainly formed part of HBC’s photography, two of his most famous images in particular (“Man jumping over a ladder” and “A man rides his bicycle through the Var department”) and blur is certainly going to feature in that – as opposed to the shaky hand of the nonagenarian, as Newton observed.

 

So shaky hand blur and motion blur might be two different things. One will happen at some point in an otherwise unsupported situation as shutter speed, that is the length of time the shutter is open, comes down. Lens/sensor stabilisation certainly lowers the point to where such shake becomes evident and it can even be used as a creative effect by giving us time to move the camera around a fixed point or through a plane.

 

The motion blur we are probably most aware of is the one created by panning with a slow(ish) shutter speed. This keeps our main subject in focus and acceptably sharp  but blurs the background. We often see this used in motorsport photography  and it is also known as a tracking shot. The flip, of course can also be used, where we use a slow shutter speed with a fixed camera and our subject moves across the frame. So we can freeze or blur our subject to get a different feel of motion. The key to both is shutter speed. It can be achieved with a single strobe, or with mixed lighting, the key to both is synchronising the flash with the second curtain also known as the rear curtain. Essentially this means firing the flash at the beginning or the end of the exposure. The effects are very different

 

There is another way of using motion blur that you can use with a zoom lens. It’s called, wait for it, zoom blur. Again it really requires a tripod or at least a monopod because we are working with slow shutter speeds, but the mode, shutter, aperture, manual is less relevant. All these effects are relatively easy to use, but, as with everything else, need a little practice to get right. Even then, especially with unpredictable subjects, it is best to plan a series of shots to give you one or two to work with in post – assuming you need to. That said, motion blur is rewarding to play around with the effects and can also be used in the dark!

 

So an interesting evening that showed many possibilities, the value of forward planning and an artistic vision and not just by adding things in post, but in taking distractions out too. An interesting, varied and singular evening. Our thanks to you, Mike Martin.

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Happy New Year.

23rd June 2016 – Peter Phillips: A Journey, Image Scientist to Photographer

Peter Phillips was our speaker last meeting and he gave us  his  “Photographic Journey” from aerospace Image Scientist to his post retirement destination of Photographer. Peter gave us a chronological tour through his prints – made a refreshing change to the projected image and of course, takes most of those issues that can arise with the digital projection and colour shift that can occasionally arise. That said I wouldn’t want prints only every week.

 

Peter is unusual in his route into photography came from the technical side and the art only really appeared as a factor after 40 years at the cutting edge of aerospace imaging.  He related his landscape, pattern and street photography images through Joe Cornish’s  observations on the inter-relationships of craft, art and soul, all needing to be inherent in a  photograph for it to truly work. His approach is very particular. He knows the image he is after, plans for it, I suspect meticulously, invests the time in research and patience in execution then packs his gear away until the next time. This is quite different to the way a lot of people would go about it and opens up an interesting view on our relationship with the camera as an object and as a tool and how we approach photography in general.

 

Yes the camera is just the means to an end, that end being taking a photograph, but I suspect many people, amateurs at the very least and I suspect quite a few people who get paid to take photographs, also take a pride in ownership. I am not talking about brand obsessed fan boys, but as you get used to your equipments strengths weaknesses and quirks you do forge a working relationship with it, become comfortable with it. This is only a problem when it gets in the way of making the best images you can. For sure, it is the photographer not the camera in the end, but we have all come across people who never seem to quite get beyond the prowess that the tool supposedly confers. The fact that this is not a cheap hobby certainly can add to the mystique of the kit, but to progress you have to get all that in perspective.

 

So when we take our cameras out, even if it is to get a specific image, most of us still snap away at interesting, vaguely interesting  and what-the-hell-did-I-take-that-for? incidences of time, geography and otherwise vague intent.  It’s a hobby, it’s done for enjoyment. The single mindedness of just taking the shot, ok from several angles with exposure triangle variations then packing up and going home is something that I bet that most of us in the club lack, at least on any regular basis, but that is just a more ordered way of working. Workflow needs a defined purpose to work otherwise we just end up meandering around in the grand scenery of a general waste of time. Then there is that bit with a fancy title, “Post Production” or at least it is when they do it in the movies, the bit when the actors have finished. We might bump into something useful or interesting but it is unlikely unless we have a definite idea of what the final product looks like. We’ve talked before about how luck falls to the prepared.  It certainly helps to have that in your mind when you leave the house. Whether it is the only thing you have when you return is either the way the day was or the whole and only point of the day.

 

With the details of the craft, the technicalities are constantly changing and challenging, the key is in getting them all in order to form an image with impact. This is the art. The composition element is as much a part of the craft as it is of the art, it is I would venture where the two overlap. The art is created by melding of the craft elements to capture the imagination that sparked the interest in the first place. If missing or poorly executed the story can get lost. You can get all the elements of a picture to line up and be on your way to a great picture but is it one that elevates the imagination captures the attention and makes you pause, even briefly? Are you engaged? If you are not your viewers certainly won’t be, almost can’t be, though the visceral and compelling horrors of a murder scene as an art form may not be the best way to win friends and influence people some haunt the memory, others fade. Yes the subject can have impact but the story is still the thing. We’ve come across the phrase “Technically correct, subject deficient” before so there has to be something else.

 

Soul, Peter offered, quoting Joe Cornish’s work. Problem with that is it is something beyond the words we can use to define it: “Emotional or intellectual energy or intensity, especially as revealed in a work of art or an artistic performance“. Problem with it is what moves one in say, a landscape, as that was Peter’s starting point, is just a pretty picture to another. Also it is difficult to replicate, even on the same scene, but maybe that is the point. Actually, that is the point or there wouldn’t be a market for prints. This is where the conversation truly gets vague and tends to wander off on its own direction, because we are trying to define the indefinable. We cannot touch it, feel, smell it, see it or hear it but we are affected by it.

 

Maybe for photographers it is Soul in the Aristotelian sense we are looking for. Aristotle was an ancient Greek philosopher and he defined soul as what makes us human but also as the essence in all living things that let us interact with the world around us. That is what we are trying to capture and the soul in the landscape is really the trigger in ourselves and in at looking at what is vital, essential, the thing that makes us, well, us.

 

 

N E X T  W E E K

Architecture: Meet at Bath Abbey 19:30 hours. Oh and bring you camera. No event at the school.

7th April 2016 – Return of the WCPF

That time of year again and we made good use of the 100+ prints in the travelling critique by taking a clue from the title and doing  a team critique. Split into four groups we did a round robin to see if the clubs judgements matched the WCPF’s. That there was some correspondence between our groups and the WCPF is suggestive of something, but how much that is fashion and how much is warranty of excellence is always going to be open to debate, which is why the WCPF have their own judging guidelines.  By having such guidelines there is a basis for standardisation.

 

Standardisation produces a number of benefits. It provides a start point from where interpretations can be made and also provides a reference point that can be used on review.  With something that has as much variation as photographic images – each one, after all is unique – the technical, basically the exposure triangle plus composition, represent the common variables. No, you cannot overcome people’s visceral likes and dislikes but you can have a common framework and if people are open about their likes and dislikes – and at least attempt to compensate for them – then you have room for an interpretive framework.

 

By having such an interpretive framework then notions of quality can be established – but only within the terms of the chosen controls. This blur factor is necessary in photography exactly for the reason outlined above. The uniqueness of each image. Replace unique with the term “Art”. Art is an expression, an attempt to, through the application of skill to materials to craft an object that conveys meaning in the estimation of an audience. It’s what we do in our club competitions. That is not going to be the same meaning in every viewer. To legislate for that is to tell people what to think, never a wholly successful enterprise. Thus we look to regulating, mostly, the application of craft and the bigger thing that creates, the art if you like, of the picture.

 

This rather raises the question of what purposes such art serves, what effect are we trying to create? Broadly, and I do mean broadly, this fits into three categories. The physical, the social and the personal. The physical relates on a scale from something to nothing. A fountain pen has a physical function, writing, but can also be a functioning work of art. Art is not measured by monetary value, as this example might suggest, the amount that someone is willing to pay and why they are willing to pay it is a function of value,  present and future, something quite different. Money is just the way of keeping count. I frequently find use for a tea cup, way beyond most people by volume, but never yet a tea cup covered in fur. I have none because I have no use for them, at least the covered in fur part. I may understand, or attempt to understand, the symbolism of such a statement, I may even add one of my own (futility in case you were asking, though I suspect that was part of the original message), it doesn’t mean I am going to become a furrier to my tea service. The sum is greater than its parts.

 

The social looks to our notions of a shared life, rather like street photography does, or environmental portraiture, or even portraiture itself in some aspects, as opposed to one persons outlook. Think of the work of social photographers like those involved in the Farm Security Administration sponsored documentary of 1930’s Dust Bowl America. It wasn’t just a record for of the resettlement of those dispersed by a man made ecological disaster. It had a political dimension. War photography isn’t just about two militaries engaging in what Von Clausewitz called “The continuation of Politics by other means“. It has news (therefore commercial) value, it has deeply personal meaning for the photographers there, it can be a contact point for those who weren’t, it is about humanity at its opposites of best and worst. Above all it has a collective purpose.

 

The personal aspect is probably the most like nailing water, because it is subtly different from person to person. However, as hobbyists it is perhaps easiest to generalise that we take photographs – make art – for our own gratification, as matters of self expression, either to share an emotion or feeling or for no particular reason other than we can – or did. Still this has two aspects, what the photographer meant is not necessarily what the viewer sees and that is a good thing, because otherwise we wouldn’t  employ our curiosity, probably the most successful of human characteristics, which is the same as gets us to come to a camera club to learn and share about our hobby.

 

Just goes to show what you can do with the exposure triangle and the rules of composition.

 

N E X T  M E E T I N G

Annual General Meeting. Important because without one we don’t have a club, so please attend, members.

26th November 2015 – Competition Rules, War and Trust

Getting things straight for the competition rounds was the subject of our last meeting, covering Resizing (large file) images for Reflex Open Competitions, colour space and getting images printed and framing the results (there is more than one way). The club, being members of the WCPF, follows the template for competitions laid down by the PAGB. This standardises competition rules across member federations across the country.

 

As we have covered this before I will leave you with the links above, before moving on to an argument that we have touched on, but still bares closer scrutiny as it is fundamental to photography in general and to certain types of photography in particular. It is prompted by two events, one referred to in last week’s blog, that of Reuters announcing a shot-in-jpeg-only policy and an interview in the Guardian of Don McCullin published Friday (27 Nov 2015).

 

The issue is of the veracity of the photograph, how “true” is it? McCullin talks about the difference between digital and film and his issue is the ease of manipulation the digital allows in comparison to film. He is a man of the black and white, an aesthetic both elegant and brutal in its pairing down to form and shape and shade. His point about being left alone in the dark with his images on film I thought quite poignant, especially given the subject matter he is best known for. This flexibility is the same issue that Reuters have, if expressed from different perspectives, of producer and market broker, but the issue is of trust. Trust is a marketable quality, by which I mean it is a quality that buyers and consumers look for in an organisation. Reuters need to be confident that the photographs they are peddling are truthful representations.

 

The Art/Science Truth/Fiction debates have been with us since the beginning of the medium and it will go on as long as the medium persists, that is to say there will always be dissenters. That isn’t the thrust of this post, nor McCullin’s point, neither is the truth/fiction argument one that Reuters are trying to conclude – they never will because they cannot because the capacity to manipulate, i.e. post production, will always be there and the photographer’s choice of angles, setting, subject will necessarily be a selective truth concreted in the raw image data.

 

Trust not truth, then. It isn’t an either or, one does not exclude the other, and Reuters and McCullin, whilst making different points, are talking of the same or similar problem. Truth, in essence, is a statement of fact. Trust is an emotional response that dictates the truth for each of the people involved in an interaction. That means multiple and often conflicting truths. That which is true and that which we believe to be true. Reuters want and need their clients to believe in the integrity of the photographs and in McCullin’s field, photojournalism, that is an absolute. It is one that has been fraught from the off, Roger Fenton‘s photograph of the “Valley of the Shadow of Death” as it has come to be known after Tennyson’s famous poem on the Charge of the Light Brigade, is thought to have been staged for the emotional feel rather than battlefield veracity. In 1854 any real-time action photograph would have been pretty impossible due to exposure times. Not so 1938 and the fallen Spanish soldier we talked of (Robert Capra) back in September; lack of veracity got Brian Walski fired from the LA Times and Piers Morgan from the Daily Mirror.

 

All these were “War” photographs, I use the inverted commas because, whereas they are indeed photographs of war and its collateral damages, war is just the situation they were taken in, moments of humanity glimpsed through the blink of a shutter in a situation stripped of it. What has that to do with club photography? I mean, the club “battles” I have been at haven’t really got beyond the “Canons to the left of them Nikons to the right” level of drama, though all the judges we have had have had stories of metaphorical battle scars from less than impressed entrants and manipulations are deliberate and for effect. Well McCullin also touched on this in the Guardian interview, not camera clubs, you understand, when he talked about the colour reproduction and how it has, in some cases, become garish, certainly unreal. Landscapes, his preferred subject do seem to be going this way. There is one in a current photographic publication, held up as a tour de force to be, I assume, emulated and inspirational. It popped straight back into mind when I read McCullin’s comment: “These extraordinary pictures in colour, it looks as if someone has tried to redesign a chocolate box”. That is a matter of taste, though.

 

All this could be the influence of the Art World, of which there are many and not always complimentary opinions (in both directions), and comes back to the Art/Science and Mere Mechanics debate, at least in part. The fact is that fashion is an important driving force in setting trends. Changes in technology have democratised photography, and has greatly enabled what the average citizen can do. It doesn’t mean that the average citizen is any better a photographer or producer of images, but the potential is there. How much, then, should the producer of an image be able to say they created to make it theirs? The internet has made a vast and perpetually growing well of images available to an web connected individual. Social media makes sharing very easy. Sometimes people’s idea of sharing goes a little too far. What we enter into competitions we assert that the work we enter is our own. Local photographic clubs don’t often make national newspapers but one did over the summer and the whole club was thrown out of the PAGB competition over the claims of one member to the intellectual property rights of his entry. Trust, plays a part even at the micro level we operate within our clubs. Which is where we came in ….

 

 

N E X T   M E E T I N G

Skies and how to improve them ….

4th June 2015 – On High Dynamic Range Imaging and Marmite questions.

HDR Imaging. What does it mean to you? Horrible Disastrous Rubbish? Highly Desirable Representation? Something in between? Our much welcome and returning speaker, David Southwell ARPS would admit that there is a lot of the former around but if done properly, High Dynamic Range images are an important tool in the photographers tool box. Most of his ARPS panel consisted of them taken in the demanding situation of the interior of Bristol Cathedral. Thoughts were certainly provoked and the discussion afterwards was more animated than usual which would suggest that this is a bit of a Marmite question, “Love, it hate it, you can’t ignore it” as per the advertising slogan. We will return to this later, for Marmite questions have a hidden truth within them.

David did an excellent job of explaining the technical origins of HDR, essentially boosting the fixed capabilities of digital images to catch a range of 6 – 6.5 EV at best (depends on the sensor construction and other factors), or about one half that of the human eye (10-14). Using software and exposures of the same scene metered between exposure for shadow detail to exposure for highlight detail and the range in between (see here for a much more detailed explanation and on how to go about creating a more natural version of the effect) a single image is produced capturing the entire range of luminosity values in the scene. There is a more technical and vastly more expensive way to create HDR using oversampled binary image sensors. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about that and for the rest of us, rest assured they will be coming to high end mobile phones in the near future.

Some DSLR’s, CSC’s, Mobile Phones have an HDR facility built in, but this will almost certainly work with JPEG’s which have a more limited dynamic range than versions of RAW or Tiff. Handled carefully they can be effective, but as always there is the question of how much control is needed, required or is desired by the photographer. The camera processor and choice of jpeg format mean that certain assumptions have been made at the coding stage you do not have an input to. David left us in no doubt that, whereas process can be automated, shoot in RAW (preferably 16 bit, but 8 bit has got him some spectacular results). Your standard 8 bit image (as used in JEPGs and a lot of cameras shooting RAW) gives you 16.8 million colours (more than you can see) and 16 bit 281 trillion (far, far, far more than you can see). 16 bit gives you far more subtlety to play with, whereas 8 bit tends towards grouping colours into bands rather than representing them as subtle variations of colours. In a not particularly accurate but certainly useful way of looking at it we can say the difference is in the ability to reproduce shades, though the human optical processing system does vary from individual to individual. David asserts that 16 bit is the future and for those interested in HDR and, eventually, all photography, so now is a good time to start working in it as far as you can.

But why bother if all we want is the picture that represents a decent looking image of the widest possible range? Well now this is the tricky bit and where its detractors get dismissive of the technique. Before we touch on that, and we can only really touch on it here for reasons of time, space and the need to preserve a semblance of sanity, we need to deal with that problematic idea that you can only make art through fine motor skills. We have treated with this before (27/11/14) so I am not going to go into it again, but part of the attraction of HDR is to make the photograph look more like a painting. OK this is a gross simplification, a minority point in a minority interest, but that does not undermine its validity. Photography’s inferiority complex has existed since print 1 frame 1 in the history of photography. Both are trying to make that emotional connection with the viewer. If that is absent it doesn’t matter how good the draughtsmanship, the image does not work.

David made the point that it is, despite his determined advocacy of the technique, only ONE tool in the box, a very important point. We all have our favourite tools. He gave an estimate of about 3% of his own photography – and this coming from a man who needs 16 TB storage space in his computer system and a high end spec to match in terms of graphics and processors, memory and monitors. To give you an idea, that’s about 640,000 25mb raw images, if my maths is right, so 20,000 ish frames to make up his HDR section when full – with David spending up to 8 hours getting it right on each one! Slightly more involved than Justin Quinnell’s equipment needs, for sure, but they are two ways of making an artefact, two different ways of making a connection. The other 97% isn’t and that is the point. There is no technique that suits all horses on all courses but the more techniques a photographer can master the more complete that photographer will be. Not in pseudo competition with fine art, but in terms of their own personal development and capabilities. HDR has a role to play in getting emotion into an image, certainly it gets a reaction like no other photographic technique I have come across. That’s the art of photography.

OK let’s not tot up the cost of the sort of system David is talking about, he is a very experienced photographer with deep roots in computing. Looked at that from that perspective it just puts the technique out of the range of most of our pockets in the club. HDR can be done on a laptop using programmes that aren’t Photoshop. David reckons that layers and blending, cloning and careful metering are the basics and they can be practiced in any number of ways. Indeed Photoshop isn’t fully 16 bit yet and the vast majority of monitors out there cannot handle 16 bit data and the ones that do will cost you about the equivalent of the average UK wage. Start in 8 bit and make your way up. Practice, practice, practice the basics. Be critical, seek criticism, put the feedback into your practice. The same points were made by the last speaker.

So let’s come back to the Marmite question again. “Love it, hate it, you can’t ignore it”. That is simply not true. Looked at logically the vast majority of the British public remain in denial that Marmite is a big issue facing the United Kingdom. It’s a clever ruse to sell a strong tasting edible (or inedible depending on your view) spread. If a Marmite insurrection has sprung up then it has passed me by. HDR certainly provokes strong opinions, but in ten years time it may be a capability so ubiquitous in photographic equipment that we give it no thought, in exactly the same way as most people do with most Marmite questions. Depth of field may be going the same way, where the out of focus becomes a filter you apply. The technology has been around for a while, only now it’s electronic. Those that do tend to feel strongly about this sort of thing, feel very strongly indeed, how do you like Marmite?

N E X T  M E E T I N G

Your Picture Your Way – Architecture & Artistry. Bring an image or two on these themes and give us some insights on the who the what, the why, the where, the when and the how!

A N N O U N C E M E N T S

Monday June 15th – peaking between 00:30 and 02:00 The Milky Way.