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.
An away day this week, some architectural photography, and though we have a lot of it right here in the city we also have a UNESCO World Heritage site just thirteen and a half miles away centre to centre and so it was to Bath that we retired in order to avail ourselves of some fine Georgian architecture. Actually I have been informed that Bristol has more Georgian buildings than Bath, but Bath is more concentrated and less broken up by interventions of later developers. I haven’t counted and there is a reason that Bath is better known as a tourist destination than Bristol. Bristol has a more working feel to it, Bath, at least in the centre, connects to a different era, a different world and in a costume drama smack down Jane Austen takes Wallace AND Gromit every time.
Architecture creeps into our photographs a lot of the time as back drop. Incorporating interesting features of it can be both a challenge and very rewarding. Also, of course, it is a subject all of its own. The challenge with our standard kit, compacts and bridge cameras is how to get it all in when it is the point of our image and accommodate it when it is a backdrop. The two can be interchangeable as a solution for one can be a photo opportunity in another. We interact with the built environment as we do with the natural one – of course the one is imposed on top of, in and through the other – but it still, photographically, about light and dark, texture and pattern. The devil, as is the subject, is in the detail.
Perspective is the first thing that strikes most of us about the photographs we take on standard kit, rather its distortion especially when we are trying to get the whole thing in. The focal plane tilts. The building tilts, the verticals converge, when we move the camera in the vertical plane. The effect is known as the Keystone Effect. It can, of course be deliberately employed, but for most of us most of the time it’s an effect that distorts the image perspective. It is not just a problem in camera, if you don’t square up a screen and projector you will get the same effect. The name is taken from architecture, the shape of the stone at the top of an arch which is, in the wonderful world of Euclidean Geometry, trapezoid, or “a convex quadrilateral with at least one pair of parallel sides”, though to us mere mortals either the top or the bottom is wider than the opposite giving the image a tilt. Hence the expensive corrective known as a Tilt Correction Lens, more often a Tilt Shift Lens, aka Perspective Control lens and the less expensive post production methods for the rest of us.
Perspective shifts are a function of “Getting it all in”. OK a product of physics, but physics don’t form. compose and capture. “Getting it all in” is a logical progression from “I want a photograph of that”. Perfectly natural progression, but is it the best way to capture what we are after? This want raises a fundamental question we have already introduced, why do we need to get it all in? It’s a useful question for any photograph we take, not one that should stop us taking photographs all together but one that might help us take better photographs. Well arguments on God or the Devil being detail oriented aside (may I offer God in the detail and the Devil in the lack of details).
Light, dark, texture, pattern. How does the light fall, how is it contrasted by the shadows and dark tones? How are the surface details reflected, where do the lines and spaces, colours take our eyes in the frame? All questions of composition, more of which in the 14th July meeting where we have a speaker who is dedicating the evening to that very question. Essentially what draws the eye and provokes the emotions? What shouts “Look at me?” and what gives it soul? Where is, and what is, the meaning?
Yeah but we are talking about getting the whole thing in and buildings are big things. Well there are ways of doing that, certainly a panorama might get a wide shot in but the perspective thing with tall verticals is still a problem. You can use the Thirds squares in your view finder (assuming it has them) to line up details left and right and the use software to stitch them together if panorama isn’t a feature of your camera. Use a longer focal length, somewhere round 50mm is a good start. If there is enough space around your subject this might be a solution, with the some post production voodoo, but it’s not necessarily the point. Because it is technically feasible doesn’t mean it is desirable. What I am saying here is another view point, a detail, a group of details (patterns) all speak of the subject. It still is documentary but it also open to artistic interpretation. David Hockney chose photo-collage for his Brooklyn Bridge piece (which fetched £44,500 at auction, by the way) and has used the technique with other subjects too. There are other ways of dealing with big.
Of course another antidote to big is far away. Simply move back or get a wider lens. The wider you go the more likely that verticals will start to bow, of course, but this can be fixed in post as mentioned above, or with the application of large amounts of currency at your local photo-emporium. Or you can use diptych or triptych frames – for which post production is definitely needed – but you will have to plan it and you will need a fairly strong idea of how the finished article will look before you start pressing the shutter button. In these forms you use connected details to make a bigger statement.
So the whole point is, with so many opportunities on our door step, go out and use these opportunities to explore our urban environment. Apply your imagination and press the sutter.
N E X T M E E T I NG
Social and Prize Giving. Black Castle, Brislington 19:30 hrs. PLEASE NOTE THERE WILL BE NO EVENT AT THE SCHOOL.
You cannot deny the poetry of Bath stone in a soft sunset, with the canal and the river yielding mirrored Georgian realities on a pleasantly warm and breeze-less evening. At least until you get home and look at your images to finally yield to the notion “What the hell was I thinking?”. Last minute change of venue with the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta closing roads around the intended destination of Leigh Woods, and a fine suggestion from Vice Chair Myk Garton saw us decamp the dozen miles or so to the World Heritage City of Bath. Two topics left over from last week to discuss this: back button focusing and exposure lock, both of which were useful tools on the night.
There are two buttons on the back of most DSLR/CSC’s from the hobbyist models upwards that are rarely if ever troubled by the majority of hobbyist photographers. One is the “Back Button” AF and the other the AEL (which may be represented on your camera by a star or asterisk). Both are incredibly useful and are really worth cultivating as default, in the case of the back button AF, and useful tool in the case of AEL, that can help increase your number of keepers. A little bit of background is useful in understanding both.
Back Button Focusing (refer to your manual for the native translation in your Camera’s Brand-Speak) does exactly what it says on the incredibly expensive magnesium alloy tin, or plastic camera body as befits your pockets/needs/delusions of grandeur. It is a button on the back of your camera body that activates the camera’s focusing system in isolation from the shutter release. When you operate via the shutter release a half pressure triggers the autofocusing system (assuming you are not mounting a manual lens) and a full depress activates the shutter release. Usually the shutter will not fire until the camera processor detects all the algorithms are in place to produce a point of focus and an acceptable circle of confusion (i.e. something is in focus as we discussed last week). The button itself is usually marked AF or a version thereof and is normally accessible with the right thumb (I’ve never seen one on the left but then I haven’t conducted a survey in any depth). And it’s on the back of the camera.
So far so blindingly obvious. Also, so what? Well, my skeptical friend, for that we shall have to take a brief incursion into the Trinity of Focus you played with once, got annoyed with then left on single shot. That, incidentally, is a perfectly acceptable solution because it’s your picture, your way. You want to do it the hard way, then suffer on for your art. It will not take better pictures, only you can do that, but it will help you be prepared for those better pictures, if only by speeding the whole process up and in more than one way. It is a little like buying a fully spec’d DSLR and leaving it permanently on auto or programme. In one way an expensive choice, but if you know what it does in those modes and you know how to override it in the situations where you think you need to push something to get the effect you want, then, pilgrim, it’s not such an expensive choice. It’s one that is made with a purpose rather than one made unthinkingly.
There are in our CSC/DSLR and some bridge cameras usually three flavours of autofocus. They may have slightly different sets of initials and names but they will be essentially the same. They will be in the menu system and may be programmable, at least the menu access may be programmable, to a button on the camera body. RTM (Refer To Manual). The auto focus programmes in your camera were designed because your subject is doing one of three things. It is either static or it is moving. Or you are. Or you both are. The important dynamic is that between the subject and the sensor. What the back button does for us is allow us to switch between modes as required without having to resort to the menu system.
So, lets take the modes in alphabetical order, starting with AF-A. -A is where the camera decides, as is the case with all auto and programme modes, and it chooses between the other two modes depending upon what is closest to the idea set by its algorithms, i.e. is the subject static or moving relative to the sensor. On modern cameras it is pretty good but it only responds to what is, it won’t anticipate your next move, so it will always be playing catch up. -C is continuous. When the subject is moving the focus moves. -S is for when the subject is still, like a portrait. What the back button does is take a step out of the process of firing the shutter, the focus (at half way down) is done by the back button and so the shutter button becomes just that. Without disabling the focus step the lens will attempt to refocus that which is in focus (which you have already framed as part of your composition). Doing things twice, slows things down. You are effectively switching between –A and –C at a press of a button. There is always manual focus of course, but this tends to be easier with manual lenses which have a longer throw (the barrel twists further because they are geared lower to make them easier to focus by hand) and no where near as rapid. In the words of Professor Fate, “Push the button, Max“.
We’ve talked about exposure before and its relation to colour saturation, detail contrast and so on so I won’t go over that in this blog. I want to concentrate on an option rather than an effect, though the two are linked, of course. The exposure lock button found on most DSLR/CSC cameras and some bridge cameras. Sometimes the exposure you need is not the one your camera is showing you. This can be down to the metering mode you are using and the fact that it is metering an average from the area you have selected to measure from in terms of both the subject and the percentage of the sensor coverage involved. There will be a wide, centre weighted and a spot option. Wide is usually factory default. Spot takes a very small area in the middle.
Essentially, in tricky lighting situations, probably but not exclusively covering a wide variation, you meter from the most important part of the scene to your image, keep the AEL AFL or * button depressed then recompose and take your image. The overall exposure will be governed by that part you selected. You don’t have to use spot to do this, just influence that part of the scene you want to feature to your satisfaction (this is far, far easier on a CSC/DSLT where what you see is what you get or in your live view if it allows composition other than pure review). It is very effective and can be used with ISO compensation for fine control. On our Bath perambulation it was very useful when we were presented with a glorious sun set and allowed for much of the foreground to be silhouetted whilst retaining the exposure for the sky. Yes this could have been done in manual, but it was done far quicker using Aperture Priority and AEL. Try it, it is surprising useful.
Next week a change in programme where Nick Hartley has negotiated access to the Tannery where he works. Details on Facebook and the club Flickr page as numbers are limited. If your name’s not on the list your not coming in. Who’d a thought leather had a door policy?
Final blog from me, pretty much, until such times as I have opened the Reflex CC Overseas Branch. It will be a short post, you will be glad to hear. Meg is going to take over though there won’t be a post next week as we are both away. Last evening we went to Bath, which was warm and pleasant as any bath should be and dry which is the standout difference from the tub next to your toilet. That and a capital letter wherever it appears in a sentence, of course. Next week’s peripatetic club meeting is at Clevedon Pier, 7:30 pm.
It cannot be denied that a soft sun and Bath stone are pretty much made for each other. I have occasionally watched the Rugby and marvelled as the sun goes down over the city on an Autumn day at just how spectacular it can be. It is the interplay of tones and colours, the angles of the light and its temperature, the degree to which the air is clear or hazed that makes any photograph. It is a basic law of physics that all objects, saving a black hole, reflect right. You don’t hear a great deal about colour theory in photography, it tends to be dealt with as an incidental and a quick reference to a colour wheel and certainly there is more to it than the space I am going to give it, but a little understanding can help when working out how a photograph does or doesn’t work – or indeed might or might not.
Hue is probably the easiest one to discuss for photography because of that much used but frequently misunderstood tool the colour dropper. Hue is measured in degrees (from 0-359) and relates directly to the colour wheel. Not by accident is there a relationship between hue and circularity. The values you see next to the colour dialog relate to the position on the colour wheel. If you want to find a complimentary colour just add 180 to the value (0-179) or subtract 180 (180-359) shown in the box. There are other factors but the principle holds generally good.
Adobe take this further with their free tool Kuler. Now I am assuming that this is the word colour (more likely color) that crawled out of the wreckage of a creative meeting of thirty-somethings’ who just realised that “Kool” had passed to the twenty-somethings’ and their consequent desperate need to prove they still had it (high five), run by a vampire (currently very cool) wearing Google Glasses ™ and loafers who was really a two-hundred-and-twenty-something psychopath with an odd sense of humour who had, in fact, suggested “Culler”. However it is a really useful tool. Dumb spelling, but a really useful tool. This takes you through the primary, secondary and tertiary colours and half a dozen colour/color/kuler/culler rules (analogous, monochromatic, triad, complementary, compound aka composite and shades) as well as having a custom option.
Colour, no doubt, has a psychological impact. If you ever find yourself in a bar where the lighting is getting progressively more blue the closer to closing time, it’s because blue has an end of day effect on us psychologically (note the blue hour) and people are prompted to leave (reddish hues pump up the atmosphere and are used to encourage buying). It can make or break a photograph, there are many times when taking the colour out of a photograph and leaving just tones, textures and lines makes (or saves) an image. There can be some spectacular effects and, of course, in the early days of photography there was no realistic, certainly mass market, alternative to hand colouring. We may not always get to choose the colours we work with in an image but we select the content of each image and colour will have a strong pull on us. If that improvement thing is to work then we need to make it more a conscious part of our photography.