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.
Your Picture Your Way, Architecture and Artistry last meeting and thanks to all those who took part either showing pictures or from the floor. It was thought provoking and showed a refreshingly wide sensibility within the club as to who takes what and why. A couple of items came up I am going to pursue because they show the broad spectrum within the club and the ways we individually develop.
Firstly lets establish something that is important for all of us to recognise about our development as painters with light. Not every photograph we take is an exam to pass, even if we are doing this as a living. That way we spend more time in revision than in actually enjoying our hobby/living. The difference between the amateur and the professional are the activities that put bread on the table. Increasingly difficult to make a living purely from photography these days because someone with a camera is no longer an event. They are everywhere. It doesn’t mean one takes better photographs than the other, though we do expect the professional to be more competent – which is partly based on the assumption that price is some arbiter of quality.
Every photograph that a photographer takes for a client has to pass their examination if the transaction is to take place (lesson: Always get the money up front), that is to say every image made for a paying audience has to pass an exam. Every photograph we take is an opportunity to add to our development and as such there will be a lot more failures than passes. Looking at something as a straight forward pass/fail doesn’t do our own, regardless of its state or impact on our economic status, development much good. Not every photograph has to see the light of day more than once.
Every photograph we take is an opportunity to learn. We’ve talked about criticism and its role in development before and we will return to develop that at a future date. What we had at the last meeting was a sharing of that opportunity. All questions based in adding to what we know are a good thing. So we had discussions on the difference between JPEG and RAW (JPEG uses data compression for smaller files and white balance etc are encoded in the image at the time of pressing the shutter, the ability to lighten and darken is about a stop and half to two stops based on programming decisions made at the time the software was written, where as RAW has everything left in ); cropping and composition; long exposures and seeing photographs and were amongst the things covered. Also finding inspiration popped up at a tangent to the main conversations, at least the ones I was privy to.
Architecture isn’t really a topic we’ve covered in the blog and it is a subject that brings challenges of its own to the photographer. Most buildings are, well so damned big. I was at Salisbury Cathedral last week and had I not had a 10-20mm zoom on the camera I very much doubt I would have got the magnificent west frontage in (at least at an angle that obscures the tent they have erected for those who cue to see the Cathedral’s copy of Magna Carter). You are going to shoot in RAW (especially when shooting interiors where colour casts and dynamic ranges may be a problem) probably use post production of some kind and use a tripod. Ah, that tripod thing. Well I know that if you want to get the best quality then you should use a tripod. I was told this at great length by a photographer with one a couple of years ago, at Salisbury Cathedral as it happens. Didn’t have the heart to tell him my camera didn’t have a mirror to bounce around and quite how much shake he thought I was going to get hand held at 10mm at 1/640th of a second at F8 I didn’t feel the need to bore myself by asking. As a general rule I see the point, especially for interiors that have tendency to be dark. Best quality low ISO in the dark means a low shutter speed, low shutter speeds are best augmented by steady camera position. A tripods bulk, even the small ones, doesn’t add much fun to the experience, but that isn’t the primary problem I have with them, neither is it that just-another-damned-thing-to-carry.
The primary problem I have with tripods, from experience and observation, is the very thing that we use them for. Immobility. How many good shots are lost by having the camera on a tripod and fixing not only the view before us but the angles, frames and crops that moving the camera left or right, up or down or through an arc? How many of us actually go: This is the view; this is where I set up the tripod; then frame the picture in those up-down zoom in-out plains? The last bit two things a photographer should do is attach the camera to the tripod, not the first. The last but one is fine tune the frame, focus and exposure (I know that is three things but I am trying to avoid a Monty Python Spanish Inquisition re-run here) and the last press the shutter. It is a problem of when the kit gets in the way of the photography, what the French might call an idée fixe, that is, an obsession that dominates other considerations. Iif the building you are trying photograph allows photography and allows tripods in the first place (Do your research to avoid a long and fruitless journey).
Like landscape, or come to that any other form of photography, it is all about the light. Buildings being fixed will have an axis around which the sun appears to travel (it’s the other way round, I know, but , as Father Ted explained, “These are small, those are far away” and in this case far away and small are a convenient confusion) The Golden Hour works for buildings as for anything else in the landscape, even if the relative geography of the area that you are shooting in can make things difficult getting the angle you want.
Symmetry is also a powerful tool in shooting buildings. Horizontal, vertical, diagonal and converging lines should be actively sought out, they lead the eye and lend proportion to your image. Shapes, patterns and shadows can give you interesting details to shoot when the whole building is too much and should not be overlooked even if it isn’t. Also the use of reflections can add depth to it and other areas of focus. When shooting at night or in poor light, commercial and shop windows often can be used as free soft box if you are utilising a model or shooting portraits as well as adding interest. In fact shooting at night, especially on buildings where the whole or significant parts are illuminated can give buildings a whole other feel than they have in day light.
I haven’t talked about TSL’s – Tilt Shift Lenses. That’s because they are screamingly expensive and for the average hobbyist a waste of time and money. You can always hire one if you really need one. As soon as the camera goes off a flat plane verticals start to converge or fall away. These can be fixed in post production , but you have to leave sufficient room around the building because you will also effectively crop your image in so doing. You can also think about your elevation – get higher up – but this is not always possible. The thing is, with a little forward planning these things can be over come.
So a good evening, with plenty to talk about. next time why don’t YOU bring something along?
N E X T M E E T I N G
AGM – Annual General Meeting. Committee elections and your chance for your say on how the club is run.