There comes a time when, like our speaker Ann Cook FRPS FRGS MBFP FBPPA, on a welcome return to Reflex, you have a considerable amount of work to reflect on. OK there is a considerable chance that yours won’t cover the extensive geography that Ann has been able to cover, but as that old Honda advert used to make the point about, to someone, your life is exotic.
What are the stories you can assemble from that work? In the term of the story, the narrative, we are often told – and it has been asserted here too – that a photograph can only tell one story or it becomes confused. That is the perspective of us as photographers, the makers of this story/image/narrative. From the point of the viewer we make our own story, of what lead to this, what this is and what happened next. As humans we are hard wired for stories, we make narratives if detailed ones aren’t provided to us and we will meld and fold the one’s we are given into new ones of our own. The stories are not necessarily complete, nor do they have to be.
The photograph is, in this instance, a pointer, a way post, but the destination is one of our own making and each and every one of us has a slightly different destination prompted into mind. That’s quite a lot from what is, essentially a subject, a fall of light and a background. Ann made a lot of taking the opportunities presented to us – those that fall to the prepared. As she said, again a recurring theme in the blog, you make your own luck. Ann illustrated that being shepherded on a bus, as long as you are sitting next to the window to control boarders (what’s in frame) and reflection, is no barrier to getting stunning vistas that go on to sell. Being aware and being prepared gives us a far better chance of being successful.
Even so, we still need an empathy with our subject (the imaginative assigning to an object feelings or attitudes present in oneself – being as one with, a part of, the atmosphere of what we are photographing). This because not everything that drives the narrative in a photograph is visual. We often hear talk of “Connection” and that, more often than not, is driven by composition. Back to that old thing again, for sure, however, the arrangements of objects within a frame is a very powerful driver of viewer connection with a photograph.
Lines, for instance, have different emotional qualities (at least in art theory), depending on their shape and direction. So: converge parallel lines to create a vanishing point (a concept that has been around since the Renaissance) to create depth and perspective; diagonals are dynamic, suggestive of movement and change; horizontals give a composition a sense of quiet and peace; vertical lines feel powerful, solid, permanent; straight lines feel formal, deliberate, man-made; curved lines, especially an S-shape, feel casual and add sophistication, nature, grace. Shape, similarly, has a profound impact on the feel and connection of an image, as does the use of space.
These are all tools, and there are many more and they are there for learning and there for using even there for ignoring but the thing these three attitudes have in common is deliberation. Being deliberate about the way we frame and organise objects for impact on our viewers. The fact is that to photograph that thing in our minds eye we need to become fixed on the essence of the thing we are looking at and then become a problem solver, just like Ann’s bus problem, which gives a different prospective on Kappa’s assertion that if it’s not good enough it’s because we aren’t close enough (in this case to a window to prevent reflections and stray elbows).
These last two paragraphs may look like separate and only vaguely related points, but they are not. In order to visualise those concepts of line, shape and space we have to be looking for them. Ann’s two pictures from Angkor Wat, one of the temples and one of the crowd that had gathered to look at the temples, were taken from different angles but from the same spot. One is quite serene the other very crowded and busy. They each have a different tempo. The one has a diagonal line of the rising sun behind the black mass of the unlit temple, the transition between night and day. The other, a huddle following the natural curve of the shore line several rows deep feels much more energised. The lines of people become a shape of its own. To get the crowd picture Ann had to wait for the crowds to thin, to keep the impression of the press of humanity but also to make it something that the eye can relate to. Incidental or otherwise the fact is the contrast between the two photographs made for a tension that one without the other simply did not have. OK the crowd scene was never going to be anything other than a throw away line, but it told a truth that the sunrise picture did not.
Ann had us look and decide which versions we preferred on many of the images she presented between a colour version and a black and white. The black and whites seemed to take on more from the interaction of shapes and of course there was a fair split in preferences. Basically the advice in these digital days is shoot in colour and process suitable images to black and white. The choice is a lot easier if we start with the idea that what we have is a black and white photograph. The conventional technical wisdom is shoot in colour and process in black and white, but in order to bring these two things together it is useful to know what are the effects of choosing monochrome.
Black and white is a bit of a misnomer as what we are truly looking at is pretty much everything in between. Absolute black is one end of the theoretical scale and absolute white its opposite. We render the images through the tonal contrast that colour produces when converted to shades of grey. There are a lot more than 50. You can desaturate your colour image and adjust the contrast accordingly, you can play with colour channels (subtle rather than huge effects usually) or you can go through the camera’s black and white options, they pretty much all have them, but they will all be jpeg. Some may be DNG or TIFF files, but that is a function of your camera. There is the HER route, or the filter routes that you can apply through apps like Snap seed, photofunia, funny.pho.to/ etc etc. Above all monochrome tends to make more of shape and line by taking information out about colour, but as with everything else it is a matter of personal taste. Black and white will not overcome bad composition or lighting.
So, a lot to think about, Ann Cook, thank you for another interesting and stimulating evening.
This week we had a speaker, Matt Bigwood, photojournalist for sixteen years on the Gloucester regional press and a freelance for very nearly as long who took us on the transition from mainly monochromatic film through to full colour digital and along with it the death of the profession of employed photojournalist. It is, as they say, what it is. Very little point in being overly nostalgic about it, film is now a hobby, an artistic statement, a curiosity or a course of academic study and digital is all.
Some of the effect of that we discussed in the last post. There is no denying that digital has made photography more accessible. A double edge sword that has proved to be as unsettling in its own world as any other technological “disruption” for in that accessibility has come a loss of a sense of it being special, of the combination of art and alchemy and with that some of the mystery some of the magic. And a lot of the expense, as least as far as news organisations are concerned.
For a time there were those who sought to hold back the tide of course, on grounds of technical inferiority, dynamic range, colour rendition, ability to enlarge, but when the pixel count got to the point of where it was good enough for the front page it was game over. But this pitches film v digital, one or the other, take no prisoners. A good way to lose what motivates us. If film floats your boat AND gets you out there taking pictures then go with film. Ditto digital. Unless we are making a living out of it, in which case this is an interesting question (maybe). Our customers want digital? Guess what we are going with.
So, we end up with having to scan your negatives anyway as a way of displaying and storing them and that on top of a process that was never cheap. That said there is a niche market and rumours of come backs of old film stocks abound (fantasy almost entirely, Kodachrome ain’t ever coming back in my far from humble), but the truth is the machines to make film are very old, there are no spare parts manufacturers for them and some of them are huge: We’ve used this link for the production of film before (part 2 here), but it is well worth revisiting just to take in the sheer scale of the manufacturing problem.
We might miss it, may even still use it, but film is and will remain a niche market. Digital has yet to match the look and feel of film (amazing on how many photographers seem to have forgotten just how grainy a Kodachrome 64 slide could be when projected) and when it does we will run into the same problem different clothing. It was a look with limited variation, because there were never that many manufacturers on the market in the first place. Digital has looks of its own but we weren’t viewing slides on 4K televisions, lap top screens, mobile phones, tablets, just projectors. The only question is do you like the look?
And let’s not forget that single lens camera sales are down by 84% 2016 over 2011.
And as already stated here and in Matt’s talk and the videos he brought with him that ship has sailed. He admitted to being nostalgic for film but not to the point that he is considering running his business on the model, for though there is most likely a market it is considerably less likely sustainable.
A little more perspective on the 35mm film angle. The last time there was a comeback for 35mm film was in 2011. Sales disappointed in 2012, this might be a cyclical thing but if it is it is not clear what is driving it. Dixons/Currys stopped selling 35mm film cameras of any type in 2005. Yet by the summer of 2016 film was making a “Stunning comeback” mainly driven by those new to the medium. Film was even projected to go away totally by 2020, according to some, though that seems unlikely now. The actual figures, the units, are not going to match the height of film – around 2001 when 19.7 million SLR’s were sold.
That is really something of an empty argument though and really the domain of the hobbyist and occasional professional artist. With the need for time consuming processes disappearing the need for the number of press photographers to cover events fell – memory cards could be plugged into computers. With the growing ubiquity of cameraphones the photographs of dramatic and not so dramatic events are taken and uploaded to social media often before the press are even aware. The final nail in the employed photojournalists career prospects. Now it is not unusual for media groups to have none whatsoever. Now it is all self-employment and whereas the need for the expertise in photography and, increasingly, videography still remains the nature of how that relates to the occupation of commercial photographer, as most are today, has changed.
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.
“Just do it and let others sort out their problems with it”, was Justin Quinnell‘s advice to the club on Thursday night. Apparently the pinhole camera, admittedly a minority interest, is rather divisive. To artists it is science. To scientists it is art. By this division, apparently irreconcilable, a fascinating and deceptively simple technique for creating long term expressions of the passage of time and not a little mystery is largely disregarded. Links nicely with David Southwell’s definition of photography quoted in last week’s blog ,”An art supported by science”, which seems to square that circle, and, while we are on the topic, a conclusion from the blog before that, that we use tools as a means of controlling what we can in order to look for the art in the rest. Problems of the world solved we move on with this fascinating perspective.
The effect is not new, that is to say, our knowledge of the effect is not new, though its use is contested. Aristotle (384-322 BC) knew of the pinhole effect. Justin has christened it “Aristotle’s Hole” and pointed out that it’s an effect in nature traceable over 5,000,000 years, possibly more. That isn’t an argument for Intelligent Design, at least not one I recognise, but it does show that as a species we seem to be constantly trying to catch up with the rest of nature. Justin had his audience hooked from the off and a gallop through the history of the pinhole, taking in pretty much everything from nature, a sieve and leaves (Aristotle’s implements of choice), mirrors, the camera obscura, ancient Greece, the Renaissance and modern times, certainly added to the evening. Did you know that there are pinhole glasses as well as pinhole cameras? You won’t be getting them on prescription any time soon though.
So, just what is a pinhole camera? Well it’s an enclosed, dark space with a single, small, hole in it positioned so that light can enter through the hole. Light, as we know from previous blogs and those lessons in school science that we paid attention too, travels in straight lines. When it meets a surface it turns an angle and continues in straight lines. If there is a light sensitive material for those straight lines to bounce back off then an image can be fixed. If that material is translucent then it can, as long as a modicum of shade is preserved be used as a screen to view the live image on. Pretty straight forward (though you can make things as difficult for yourself as you wish). Use a mirror and you can project onto another surface, such as paper where you can trace over the image (as long as the light holds). This is a technique that has a long history, though the question of whether that is an honourable history is a provocation itself and goes to the very heart of the question of what should be called art, which I think rather nicely brings us back to where we started this post.
Justin introduced us to some major practitioners, (of whom he is one), my favourite being where whole rooms have been turned into camera obscura’s and the results captured on video or stills photography. One day, maybe. The fact is the physical limits are well known and, as usual, the most limiting factor is the imagination of the photographer. Certainly his own projects have shown that thinking unconventionally doesn’t have to mean great expense. Maybe it’s simplicity works against it. At its’ most unadorned it requires the cooperation of others, a beer can or similar container, some gaffer tape, something with a point on to make a small hole, tin opener and a photographic medium. The idea’s of short and long exposures has to be adjusted. We are talking seconds/minutes not fractions of seconds for short exposures and months (if not years) for long ones. Interestingly – though I suppose quite obviously – there is no development involved. This is because it will go completely dark when you develop the image, or try to, if the fix hasn’t washed the image away. Instead digital comes to the rescue, either using a scanner or a camera – you could probably use your camera phone – and then the reverse option in an image editing application. The truly amazing thing is the latitude the paper negative yields, meaning that the image burning out is rarely, if ever, a problem. Justine was at a loss to explain why, but that does not prevent him from exploiting the phenomenon.
All in all a fascinating evening and one which, maybe, the club could follow up with some practical work?
N E X T M E E T I N G
12th March – Tonight we’ll be answering many of the questions you submitted about photography back in January. The topics will cover all the more commonly asked questions as well as a few unusual ones. Join in the discussion afterwards. Entries for 3rd round of the Reflex Open Competition now due. Final submission for Banwell Photobattle, co-ordinate with Alison.
19th March – an evening in honour of St Patrick, see this PDF prepared by our own Mr Gerry Painter RCC_notice_Ian
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
Firstly a very special Reflex congratulations to Ruth on her Ruby Wedding Anniversary celebrated last Saturday with family and friends at the Pomphrey Hill Pavillion, home of the Carsons & Mangotsfield Cricket Club. I admit I was ignorant of Ruth’s passion for the game until someone passed me this photo from her wedding day of Ruth appealing for an LBW.
Secondly, well there is no secondly, how could you possibly follow that?
Andy Beel FRPS (Blog) was the evening’s judge in the Reflex Open Competition Round 2 2014/15 for which there was a high number of entries for both the Digital and Print Sections. The club extends our thanks to him for his time and considerations. Andy is a confirmed monochromatisist and it was his observations on dark and light that suggested the topics of this week’s blog be contrast, extending the conversation started last week by Mark Stone, and framing.
Before we get to the results I just need to clear up the matter of dimensions for the digital images and the digital version of the prints being entered in the competition, as there was some confusion about this among members.
As it says on the competition page the maximum dimensions are 1400 by 1050 pixels. Now to expand on what this doesn’t mean before moving to what it does. What it doesn’t mean is that the maximum landscape (width) dimension is 1400 pixels regardless of height, nor does it mean that the maximum portrait (height) is 1050 pixels regardless of width.
What this does mean is that the maximum dimensions are 1400 pixels AND 1050 pixels and that the image submitted MUST fit within, or under, these dimensions. To put it another way, the maximum of either width or height must not exceed either 1400 or 1050 for any single image – they are viewed as dimensions together regardless of whether the image is framed landscape or portrait.
IF your image is not in the ratio of 4:3, and APS C and Full Frame are not (width to height a.k.a. the Aspect Ratio) then it is possible that one of the dimensions will fall outside of the 1400 and 1050 pixel limits. Look at both and scale it back as necessary. If your image is 1400 x 1051 or more or 1401 or more pixels x 1050 then it must be resized down to within the competition limits. It does not matter what that does to the other dimension as long as it is at or below the stated maximum. Check both to be sure. This is also the rule for most club and salon competitions elsewhere, I am lead to believe.
If you don’t know how to do this with any existing editing software you have, may I suggest pic-resize on the net for an easy to use and free solution.
And so to the meat of this blog – the Reflex Open Competition 2014/15 Round 2.
There was a lot of close competition here, the quality of entries continues to improve across the spectrum, which can only be good thing. Entering these competitions is a sound way to improve through valuable feedback and I think it show signs of working for the majority of us. If you haven’t entered anything yet, give it a go – you have nothing to lose and a lot to gain!
“1925“ – Wendy O’Brien
“Economy“ – Steve Halam
“Feeding“ – Ian Coombs
3rd “Religion” – Eddie Deponeo
2nd “Dancer in the final pose“ – Julia Simone
1st “Abandoned“ – Mark O’Grady.
“Vampire in the wind” – Julia Simone.
“Dark Ages“ – Ian Coombs.
“Unearthed Beauty“ – Mark O’Grady.
3rd “Lost But Not Forgotten“ Ian Coombs.
2nd “Hospital Nightmare“ Suzanne King.
1st “Vacant Stare“ Mark O’Grady.
Congratulations to them and thanks to all the entrants and of course Mark and Mark for getting it all together and making it happen on the night.
Andy was very specific about using dynamism within an image, concentrating the viewers eye using lightening and darkening. This brings us onto the role of contrast. The eye tends to move from light to dark and Andy pointed out that stray bits of light, especially on the edges of pictures, makes the eye wander and the story of that image can lose some of its narrative integrity. Light, of course, is everything, but without a counterpoint, the darker bits, it is nothing. So far so much egg sucking. In black and white the control of contrast along with the control of composition are the major factors in organising the image (OK in colour too but in a different sense as discussed last week).
"Contrast is the difference in luminance and/or color that makes an object (or its representation in an image or display) distinguishable. In visual perception of the real world, contrast is determined by the difference in the color and brightness of the object and other objects within the same field of view. Because the human visual system is more sensitive to contrast than absolute luminance, we can perceive the world similarly regardless of the huge changes in illumination over the day or from place to place. The maximum contrast of an image is the contrast ratio or dynamic range". Wikipedia
There is, of course, a wider and equally as pertinent meaning to contrast in photography, that of the relative positioning of objects but this post is more about the light and dark of it. Practically and to us this means practising Ansel Adams dictum of exposing for the highlights and processing for the shadows, regardless of whether we are talking black and white or colour, RAW, TIFF, JPEG or anything in between. This is simply because we can recover detail that is in shadow by selective processing. If it is blown out, i.e. rendered as white, there is very little to recover. What is there will run over a very narrow spectrum that runs from “Virtually nothing” to “Nothing” in a very short space. We thereby give ourselves the best chance to have something to work with at the extremes, the blacks and the whites (which are at opposite ends of an evenly distributed histogram, blacks to the left and whites to the right) by exposing for the whites. Sort of. Detail is also absent in pure black. This of course has an effect on the shadows, mid-tones and highlights, but these (five) in turn can be adjusted – Ye-Acolytes-Of-Photoshop will be aware that there is a slider for each of these in Lightroom. These five “Zones” bear a relation to Adams and Archer’s 10 zone system, but let’s not stretch a point too far, suffice it to say they are different ways of talking about the same thing, Adams and Archer for Print and Adobe for digital. Each of these can be adjusted to taste or requirement to affect an overall impression.
That impression, though, can be lost or diluted if the framing allows for distracting detail and in passing judgement on more than one of the entries. Andy indicated that this held them back from an award. The frame or crop, he posits, must be tight. Extraneous detail starts to water down the story or introduce a new one. There is only room for one story in each photograph.
There is a three dimensional layering to the two dimensional photograph created by the perception of foreground, middle ground and background and the story is often revealed through how these interact. What is going on in relation to these three layers is the story the image is telling. Look at what is in the corners can you use it to make it more dynamic? was Andy’s tip. Andy suggested that the strongest stories use this dynamic to keep the attention which generally goes directly to the brightest and or largest object in the frame. This is usually (not always, not even preferably – you know, all that thirds, fifths sevenths and “Golden ratio” stuff) centre mid-ground, where, if you follow what has been said above, it most likely loses impact. Impact comes from filling the frame and from the juxtaposition of elements within it. From his long experience with monochrome Andy related that in Black and White especially, but in colour too, light surrounded by dark works best and so several images fell by the wayside.
It was a very successful night and thanks to everyone who attended, judged, administered, entered to make the whole thing possible. Next week is the clubs Xmas celebration. See you there.
Time is running out but there are still places on the WOODLAND shoot. See Myk.
December 11th – The second round of this year’s Reflex Open Competition (ROC) will be judged tonight.
December 18th – Christmas social evening. To quote Mark S (again):
” Thursday 18th December is our Christmas Social. We’re planning on doing an American Supper style evening which means we’d like you to bring some food & drink. So that you don’t all bring in a pack of Scotch Eggs we’ve created a list that will be on the sign in desk each week up until the 18th. If you’d like to take a look at what is on the list just peek at the PDF attached to this post.
8TH January 2015“What Christmas Means to me” & Mounting Prints
See everyone’s images from our Christmas Challenge of “What Christmas Means to me” followed by a demonstration on how to mount your photographs.
I bet your wondering what this “What Christmas means to me” thing is as you’ve possibly never even heard it mentioned at the club before. Well now I’ve had it explained to me with a handy infographic I can explain it all to you. Well actually no I’m not instead you can follow this link and read all about it as that’s exactly the same way I found out what it was!
15th January 2015: Club Battle, Bristol Photographic Society (Away).
22nd January 2015: Colour Space Editing. Tutorial (part 1) Practical (part 2). Bring your Lap Top!