Last meeting of the season and we had a wide-ranging presentation from Bob (Fowler) Ruth (Roberts) and Bob (Bishop) from Backwell Camera Club on the whys and wherefores and, above all, opportunities that this hobby of ours presents. Good stuff.
As outlined in last weeks blog, we go on our annual Mainly-Thursday-Road-Trips for the next seven weeks and we hope as many members as possible can join us. Although they are largely unconnected they do give an excellent basis for members to mandate their own little project.
A photo project is about straitjacketing our good intentions into a purpose and constraining them with a timetable. Essentially, as has been written here before, making an appointment with ourselves. This is one where we can, for instance, make a narrative of one or two photographs from each of these evenings to present on next seasons week 1. The Doctor is in, as they say.
There are as many ways to approach the idea of a project as there are things we can use as our subject. As per usual, I am going to bang on about opportunities falling to the prepared, thinking through just what is involved helps us to set out some priorities. So, taking a lead from our presenters, shoot only black and white on the club summer photo-outings, as an example.
So, first off, with a few last-minute adjustments we have a who, a where and a when. The decision to go black and white gives us a glimpse of how. What is currently a little vague and we need to sort that out before we can start to dig down with the why, which is where the real development starts.
Now the why question can have several answers pretty much anytime that we ask it. In this case, we have to hit on the one that feels best to us. So in this case, shooting black and white on the club outings, we need to sort out what it is we expect as photographers from doing so.
It has oft been said that where we begin determines where we end up. The most common one to us as photographers is a desire to get better at shooting a subject, or a style, or something along those lines. Off we go to the internet and Bob’s your Uncle!
Well, something like that anyway. We are better informed, more often than not, but still unsatisfied. The reason often has its roots in not really having a definite destination in the first instance. Let’s look a little closer at our black and white example.
First off why black and white? One of the most common reasons I have come across are variations of the “It helps/makes me see things differently”. When you remove colour from the equation emphasis shifts to the other, compositional, elements. Lines, shape, texture, contrast and tone take on more of the burden of the feel of the photograph, as well as the look.
Looking at things differently, deliberately, critically, every once in a while, develops our photographic eye and with it we see new and more opportunities because we see our surroundings as photographers rather than navigators.
And this becomes easier because, by shooting in black and white, we eliminate the distraction of colour. And colour is a very powerful part of our world psychologically. Shooting for black and white is just as demanding as colour. A bad photograph is a bad photograph, monochrome will not redeem it, but it does force us to look at things differently.
This absence of colour means, to successfully produce an image, we have to concentrate on finding other elements, those listed above, that combine to make what we have in our viewfinder compelling on a larger screen or in a print.
And in this combination, we are attempting to create an emotion on our viewers. Black and white can look very broody. Deep contrast, rich blacks, appeals to the eye and to the emotions. And, because of the history of photography, black and white has a timeless feel about it that gives it more weight.
Somewhere in these observations, and it does not matter which one and there are certainly others, is the key to why we want to take those type of photographs. It is the one that appeals. So it could be I want to shoot a black and white project. Why? Because I want to explore [Insert Reason Here].
A project, at its basic level, needs to have a who, a what, a why, a when, a where and a how. Miss out one of those and you are going to end up a pile of images which you will spend countless hours fiddling around with in post-production, which is ok if that is your thing, but it is not a productive project in and of itself.
And to really nail it there is a Japanese Proverb, much loved by the engineers at Toyota. If you want to know the answer ask, five times, why? The idea is that somewhere the fifth time of asking you have the primary reason, or in terms of our project, our destination. Surprisingly effective in all walks of life.
So why gives us the reason, how gives us the technique, what gives us the subject, who gives us the sources we can refer to and the people who can help us (this is a Camera Club after all!), when gives us the finish or review date and the times we go a-shootin’ and where a geography we can maximise our opportunities in. Spend 10 minutes sorting these things out and your project will be a lot more effective in terms of your personal development.
See you in Bath on Thursday!
Mark Simmons was our speaker last meeting, a Bristol based photographer since 1985 Mark took us through some of the opportunities and causes he has been involved in over the last 30 years. He mainly concentrated on black and white work, though showed us some colour work of his too and posed some open ended questions, namely What makes a good photograph? and What comes next?
If I were to sum up Mark’s choices in photography in one word it would be “Eclectic“. Personal, political, spiritual, progressive, street, arts. He represents his world through the medium of the lens and monetarises it. It’s the way he makes his living. He talked about film and digital and whereas he is quite nostalgic for the former he works in the latter, though not exclusively. Black and white was really the choice when he started. Developing colour films has always been more involved, costly and time consuming than black and white and though perfectly feasible these factors meant that black and white was the only choice for those starting out developing their own images and those on a tight budget.
Now it is a no cost extra, ignored by many amateurs and often regarded as niche or specialist, with its own publications such as Adore Noire and even its own dedicated Leica camera line, the Monochrom Typ 246 range finder with a 50mm f1.2. Less complex in the sensor design it gives sharper results and less problems with artefacts (apparently). What is more one pixel on its monochrome sensor is doing the job of four (two greens one red one blue) on a colour sensor, so detail is more effectively rendered. It’s a snip at £4,500, but hey, it’s a Leica and you get a free Lightroom license with it. Whether this constitutes a bargain is contestable and it does rather reinforce the exclusive, arty view of black and white, even if it delivers a claimed 100% more detail than a colour sensor. This is a shame as black and white has its own aesthetics, its own strengths and it does get overlooked. For many of us I suspect it goes something like this….
“That would look better in black and white”. We’ve all said it. We’ve all done it. Sometimes we were right. Sometimes it was the fundamental composition that was wrong. Nothing to be done with that, apart from applying the delete button. If the fundamentals don’t work, no matter how much we wish them to, it’s a loss. I am not advocating not learning from our losses, that would be a chronic waste of time, but we don’t learn much from failing to rescue the not worth preserving to the status of still-should-have-pressed-the-delete-key-and-saved-x-hours, or, more succinctly, reviving the dead to the status of the un-dead. What that constitutes in reality is a matter of personal taste and judgement.
“That would look better in black and white”, or, if we are in posh company, or trying to sound like we know what we are talking about, monochrome,we have probably already taken the picture before the thought strikes. There is a solution, which I will come back to later, which at first is obvious, but which can make the most of both worlds and can make us look at things anew. First, however, it’s time to visit some things we already know, or at least know about. Is there a difference? I would say emphatically yes and the difference is knowing about something is being able to theorise that in these set of circumstances this will happen and owning that knowledge by using it with purpose and confidence. Learning is about the transition between one and the other and it’s not always obvious when we arrive at the latter.
Black and white is different from colour in the obvious and not so obvious. The obvious of course is the reduction in the colours we are presented with. More properly we are talking about the difference between grey scale and the gamut of colour our monitors generate – most likely sRGB. The black and the white represents extremes between which we have the grey scale. Absolute black and absolute white are theoretical points, but the question of how black is black and white is white need not concern us here. Our brains interpret these things and we get on with life. We are told that black and white makes us concentrate on subject, form, shape, tonality and texture. This is, of course, because colour has a range of psychological effects on the human brain. Physiologically we use the cones in the eye to see colours and rods black and white. Rods and cones are photoreceptors, like the pixels on a camera sensor, and take their names from their distinctive shapes. The rods and cones generate signals which the brain transforms into images to which it attaches meaning. The primary colours, in particular exercise a strong emotional effect on us, more so than the secondary colours.
Deprive the brain of these clues and it continues to search for meaning in patterns, which promotes the importance of subject through form, shape tonality and texture. We still connect but in a different way. If we are lucky the elements of form, shape, tonality and texture have already made their link if only subconsciously. Then, we might safely arrive sooner at the delayed conclusion “That would look better in black and white”.
Better yet is to start from the position of black and white, the technique I was referring to earlier, that is to say the camera is set to black and white deliberately at the point of capture. This is where a CSC really comes into its own with a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) viewfinder/screen as some, if not many DSLR’s render as black and white only after the event as an editing choice (in which case save it until you get home and do it on the computer). If shooting RAW and Jpeg with the JPEG set to black and white as default we don’t, on a CSC at least, loose the colour option as RAW files are rendered in colour by default. What we can learn is to see those forms, shapes tonalities and textures as a critical starting point not a lifeline to the already drowned.
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
Something worth your consideration if you ever want to take a picture in the street again is something called the Freedom of Panorama and it is under threat (sort of). You might also want to sign the petition at the bottom of the article .Freedom of Panorama. In the interests of balance I would also say is that this is at the consultation stage, hasn’t been presented to the European Parliament for any legislative action (yet) but it still needs consideration and this is your chance to make opposition felt before it has the chance to gain any momentum. I would also point out that Mr Wales has a vested interest in such a possibility being put in place and this is an opinion piece in the Guardian, not a piece of investigative journalism. So for a bit of balance I would also read this from Full Facts (and still sign it).
N E X T M E E T I N G – Important information.
Our season at the school has drawn to a close. Please check the events clandar on the club website for details of meetings over the summer.
This week’s creative round of the competition – entries for the fourth and final open round due by next Thursday – provoked a conversation around the issue of whether we need a judge. We thought we did, the judge differed, reportedly, though he was out running, which is a fine zero carbon option for transportation, unfortunately, it didn’t get him to St Anne’s on time. Indeed at all. Our thanks to Ian and Julie for their hours of organising and commiserations that it was nearly all for nought. Not quite though, for it was decided that we would go to that worst of all systems (apart from every other one that has been tried – at least according to Mr W.S. Churchill) and hold a democratic vote to decide. So judging without the feedback. There are arguments around bringing in outside judges into club competitions for sure and I wonder whether the results were any different as the images submitted were strong as ever but, again few in number. The more you enter the more you are going to get feedback on. The more you act on that feedback the more you will improve – OK this was a bad week to make a good point. Results will be posted when available.
It, has, though, been a busy week. The Photo Marathon practical, yet again thanks to Ian and Julie, was held last Sunday based at the Severn Stars. It was well attended and proved a fascinating challenge. The ten categories, or for you 90’s aficionados, “Things that make you go Hmmm” were:
Entry number; parallel; full circle; exit; black and white; old school; drama; secret; lost and Superpower.
It was a reasonable start and a baffling end for me, but then I’d only had four hours sleep before I had to be up and out (well that’s my excuse), but I finished and so I think did everyone else. The results, again by popular acclamation, will be judged on March 20th. Must say I enjoyed the challenge, as did everyone else I spoke to.
Further to the week before last Four on getting Published, Getty Images, in an effort to combat, or at least ameliorate, the effects of image piracy (as they would have it, the more cynical would say monetise at the expense of the less favoured but greatest number of contributors) announced a not so small change with a BIG BIG potential impact for freelancers and contributors, discussed here in last Friday’s Guardian. Basically they are making 35 million images royalty free in turn for the embed code in your website that links to their image bank. Well they say to their image bank but once it is there it will be to anything they choose, like adverts, videos or other images, it is speculated in Andrew Hern’s article, and certainly you agree to the trawling of your visitor’s information by Getty and/or it’s licensed third parties by using it.
This matters because Getty is the largest provider of images to the market and where they lead others will likely follow. Interviewed in Forbes Magazine, Shutterstock CEO Jon Oringer strongly disagrees with this viewpoint, saying that the images are only for not-for-profit and Getty reserve the right to run their own advertisements – though one wonders what that might involve for when Getty choose something that goes against the NFP’s stance on a matter. In more depth the British Journal of Photography are running series of articles on this, the first of which was published on March 5th.
This coming Thursday a PRACTICAL! Bring your camera, tripod, flashes, crash helmets as necessary for an evening on trick photography.