Blog has been on a bit of a hiatus through other commitments but hopefully is back to being regular now. Our last session was the club Christmas party and a good time and a few quid raised for club coffers means that it was a success. A record was probably set for unflattering-photographs-of-club-members-whilst-sober but it was all in a good cause. Our thanks to Myk for running a very enjoyable evening.
The programme in the new year is full of promise too, underpinning the aim of the club to be one where we learn together rather than one where blokes (it always is blokes) stand around, sucking the air through clenched teeth, fiddling with the string in their cardigan pockets whilst moaning about things not being as they used to be in the good old days.
Like any skill we learn as much, arguably more, by not getting it quite right and keeping a balanced and critical eye. Use the judges’ opinions and try them out. Critique the result for yourself and compare it to your original. Use the clubs internal online presence (sorry members only) to try out others opinions. Use a buddy group, use external sites that offer critiques (thick skin sometimes required). There are lots of options.
Try something new. Christmas is rapidly becoming the one time in the year many photographers decide to try out bokeh. Everything to do with the Christmas Tree lights. Bokeh is an example of making the most out of something you can’t change. In this case, the laws of physics, branch optics.
If you look at the world through your camera phone, most of it is in focus most of the time, even though the lens aperture is usually pretty wide. Think of the situations cameras are used in phones for the most part and keeping things still enough not to blur means a wide aperture is a good idea to keep shutter speeds up. This is because of the depth of field relative to the size of the sensor you are using for capture. Basically F2 on your camera phone is roughly F11 on a full frame (35mm) sensor in terms of depth of field and camera phones use wide angle lenses (compare further). Note that is not an expression of the amount of light transmitted, only the area we find acceptably sharp. It also means, practically, that, mostly, bokeh effects on camera phones are software rather than optically driven. This is by the by for most users.
You can, at least in theory, construct bokeh on any lens (tougher on a fish eye, but possible). The term bokeh is Japanese and an art term for the aesthetic qualities of out of focus light. It can also, given the right context mean senility or mental fuzziness, apparently, but that too is by the by. The keys to successfully taking a bokeh photograph are pretty straight forward. Paying attention to the basics of composition is as important as always. The effect may be out of focus but the subject must be in focus. Maybe obvious, maybe not, but essential nonetheless. Get as close to your subject as possible, framing is important and only having one subject is as important as ever it is.
The largest aperture on your chosen lens is also a given if you want to maximise the effect. Prime lenses are probably better than zooms as they tend to have larger maximum apertures. F2 is more convenient for this than F3.5 which is better than f5.6 in that the depth of field is less for any given sensor size the wider the aperture set at a fixed focal length. But as with everything kit wise the one you’ve got is the best for the job.
The other key is the separation between background and subject (and, of course, having some light in the background!). The larger this gap is the larger the bokeh effect will be. Of course the Christmas tree isn’t likely to have a lot of room behind, nonetheless the effect is still obtainable, though colour balance can be tricky. If you are at macro distances then the effect on the background can still be striking, though of course through a more restricted field of view. That includes the use of lenses and extension tubes, just bear in mind depth of field is extremely shallow.
The shape of the bokeh is determined by the number of leaves that go up to making the iris. Cheaper lenses tend towards having five or six blades to the iris, more expensive lenses 9 or more (and in between). The more blades the more circular the bokeh appears. The other factor is the placement of the blades, straight or rounded making for hard edged or circular smooth points. You pays your money and you takes your choice.
And that is pretty much all there is to it. It can be done indoors and out. It can be done in different light levels. It’s a simple technique that makes the most of a physical necessity. It can be one point or many depending on light source(s). Straight forward and quite striking. Try it.
In the week where the Guardian carries an article on the, probable, opening of the, possibly, world’s largest photo-gallery in Marrakesh, and the unexpected but entirely predictable problems that this has generated (avoidable if someone had bothered to do their homework, or paid someone else to, or maybe it was deliberate) we at Reflex Camera Club stayed a little closer to home and set ourselves up in true Santa-at-the-Mall-in-May spirit for a little Winter Festival commonly known as Christmas (which I understand is in December). Specifically, members were tasked with producing a club Christmas card in an evening. There was, dear reader, some controversy, about which, more later.
The original Christmas card, at least as far as the UK (and the world) is concerned, was introduced in 1843 at the cost of 1 shilling (5p to you non duo-decimalists), which was rather pricey at £4.28 in today’s coin (that might make me look like a cheapskate, but then I am). The average retail cost of a card in 2013 was £1.44 (4d in 1843 money) according to the Greetings Card Association (Yes, there is one). The original run of 1,000 cards was followed by another of 1,050 and the ones he didn’t use Henry Cole sold at a profit. He sold them all. Today Christmas is worth £130 million in card sales, according to the GCA. The original card was also controversial, for its depiction of alcohol, but it was a sell out. One of the 18 or so thought to remain in existence was sold in 2010 for $7,500. One of our cards (which went to a tie break on a show of hands) was controversial for its more, to use a period allusion, Scrooge-like qualities (which was also alluded to in another entry with the greeting, “Bah Humbug”, I’m beginning to think that the Xmas spirit maybe a little thin this year – we will find out on the 18th December which is our Club Christmas night). In the end we decided on a more traditional offering from Roy Williams (Photography), Myk Garton (Editing) and Alec Williams (Executive Producer).
Henry Cole, the man in too much of a hurry to write to all his friends and relatives in the first place, engaged the artist JC Horsley to illustrate his innovation. That, and a DPS article this week, set me to thinking about the relationship between art and photography (writing a blog will do that to you). There does seem to be a tension between the states of “Photographer” and “Artist”. As touched on in last week’s blog, the same rules and guides apply to painters creating an image as photographers. The term “Creative” as a profession is somewhere in the middle of this. Creative, as a description of an economic sector is worth, according to the UK Treasury, £8,000,000 per hour to the UK economy. Artists, the people who create the work, form a substantial part of this but not the only part. There is a further tension between the art itself and the industry around it that makes for its consumption.
Yet there is still a cachet around the status of artist – I bet your unmade bed made less at auction than Tracy Emin’s depiction of depression – that is part of the process of selling it, regardless of the message that you were trying to get across. Exclusivity, being the owner of that Van Gogh or that Rubens or anything else creatively produced, is also a driver, not least of market value – but once a photograph is published on line anyone can consume it (as opposed to own. Or steal). Possibly this makes photographers artisans, but in a week where “snobbery” undid three establishment figures (I am thinking Andrew Mitchell, Emily Thornberry, and David Mellor) one needs to be mindful of being “All the gear and no idea”. Maybe, after all, it isn’t anything but a sterile argument, as entertainingly exposed by Richard Thripp (do take some time to read the comments under his post, they do rather prove his point).
The number of photography books both about and using it (e.g. fashion) you will find in bookshop certainly underline the point that this is a visual medium that isn’t going to go away. The craft of art is there, but some think that because the process doesn’t involve fine motor-skills with a sharpened stick dipped in something then you’re not an artist. David Hockney is less of an artist for using a camera among his tools? Around about here we mostly get into a Vicky Pollard style argument. What seems to get neglected is the argument “Does it matter if it is/is not art”? Let me pose one half of an answer. No, because, if taken seriously, any artistic endeavour is about making it as best you can and next time better. The tools don’t make the art the artist does. Photography is a representative art. The camera is a tool, the image a story. A canvas, paint and brushes are tools, the image a story. The infamous bed and detritus so many berate Ms. Emin about are the tools for her to tell a (personally painful) story.
This brings me back to the news story I started with, the planned gallery in Marrakech. There are enough problems surrounding photography, even in the UK, especially street photography, however, one of the points made in the article is about the behaviour of so many people (tourists) towards the locals and a disregard of the traditions and culture they are snapping away at. Start from a point of respect and you learn a lot more. Both sides in the photography is/isn’t art take note.
Feel free to agree/disagree with me via the comments section on the club blog page.
WOODLAND PHOTOGRAPHY DAY
See Myk or contact him via the club Facebook Page.
UPCOMING AT THE CLUB
December 4th – Capturing Stunning B&W images plus Post Production Tips from basics to more advanced from Mr Mark Stone. Kindly take a few minutes to peruse https://www.flickr.com/photos/mark-stone/ and contact Mark via the club Facebook page with one you want to know more about.
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:
” 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.
It’s no good saying on here what you are planning on bringing you need to sign your name (in legible writing) next to the items on the list at the club meetings”. The List is via the link below. ‘Nuff said.