Last meeting was our annual thumbing of the collective nose to Cartier-Bresson’s fear of the contrived, the Creative Round. In that all of photography, from one point of view, is contrived, we can take comfort in a Sontagian view that Photography is a “Promiscuous way of seeing” and here are we. It is also another way to open the arguments between the Get-it-right-in-the-camera-ista’s and Ye-accolytes-of-photoshop, but we won’t.
Congratulations to the winners, (Check out the Facebook page or the website) this in some ways is the hardest round of all to to enter, not least because the definition of what we mean by creative is quite fluid. It stems from an original thought or vision. This gives us less chance to take the image we want by accident, the surrealist streak in photography if you will, as it tends to involve a lot of planning and preparation. The flip side of this is that the deliberation it involves is good for us in all the other forms of photography, because it is a productive habit.
“A skilful photographer can photograph anything well” according to John Szarkowski. So that doesn’t mean just slapping on a filter over an existing photograph and calling it creative, though there is nothing to say that you cannot. Passing a superficial inspection is one thing but the photographs that hold the attention are rarely going to be constructed that way. Skill in photography is as much about practice and deliberation and attitude as it is in any other form. The trick for the hobbyist is not to make it a burden, but to enjoy and enjoy learning.
It’s why having a theme works for our development. Yes it is fun (for us, the rest of the family can feel a little left out) to take a camera everywhere and photograph what takes our fancy or arrests our attention, but when we narrow ourselves down we concentrate on looking, and looking for associations with this idea, which we are using to organise our output. A photograph.
It brings us back to that deliberate frame of mind again. This is also something that helps when we feel that we have plateaued in our development. It can be frustrating to not quite get what we visualised, but also it can be the brain’s way of telling us time to try something different. To create a random element in that, basically to set the challenge, use the theme link above and use this preset random number generator to pick a topic from those 328 themes; get a camera; your least used lens or least used camera even, and get right on it.
There is something to be said in rekindling the simple pleasure of just taking a photograph in a spare five minutes. It can be as simple as arranging things to hand on a desk or a table and practising the basics of composition, because nowhere is boring when you have a camera in your hand.
To give a couple of examples:
Whilst waiting for the potatos to boil I took about four frames of a satsuma and a couple of apples, altered saturation and played a bit with curves and made them presentable if not earth shattering images. Of course, if I wanted to become rich I should have taken photographs of the spuds.
Waiting for a relative to get ready I was struck by the incidental arrangement of my Works ID badge and glasses on a side table. Nudged things around very slightly, took it, cropped it square, painted a bit of blur on it. Quite like it. Doubt I will see it hanging in the Royal Society of Arts any time soon, but hey, I got a small sense of achievement out of it.
Same occasion at the other end of the trip, I was waiting in a coffee shop and set myself the challenge of getting the branded coffee cup and the illuminated sign in the window. A bit of cup shuffling, bit of Dutching (avidly watching all those 60’s Batman shows as a kid finally paying off), applied a saturated, bluish, filter to tone down the harsh lighting, job done. No need to buy a new dickie bow for any award ceremony on its account, but that’s fine. I had observed, visualised, framed, captured and post processed in under two minutes, made a photograph that gave me a small sense of having done something, enjoyed doing it and the result. All this by taking a camera to (some) things that make you go Hmmm.
All these were shot and processed and uploaded to Flickr via my decidedly mid-range mobile phone, which has three times as many pixels as my first digital camera had, two very capable editing apps and a link to the internet, all in something that fits in the palm of my hand. The fact is, for a very high percentage of the day I have access to a camera. Yes I prefer to shoot with my camera body and detachable lenses, yes I can potentially do more with it, but the equipment isn’t the point, making the image is. And no one knows what camera was used and very few actually care.
Restriction is as much an opportunity as a wealth of opportunity. This can be shooting with a different lens or one you don’t use very often, a different camera (including your phone camera if you don’t use it very often) close ups (not necessarily macro), wide angles (making sure to include something in the foreground) there are plenty of variations. A simple one is to deliberately frame a portrait and a landscape version of the same image, being careful to compose the best image in each.
As we gave him the first word we will give him the last, in the interests of symmetry, a noble subject for an image. Henri Cartier-Bresson said of taking a photograph that the thinking should be done before and after the taking of a photograph. Make that gap your Zen Moment. Take that time just to enjoy being a photographer.
Given the travails that we went through to get last meeting off the ground, loosing not one but two judges at very short notice, then Bristol traffic conspiring to wedge the prints in an immovable traffic jam on the other side of town, just when things looked like they might be going right leads one to wonder just what the universe was telling us. Absolute sterling work from the Competition Secretary, Mark O’Grady, frustrated by circumstance. Big thanks from all of us Mark, for going above and beyond. Then – and British readers of this blog will want to make sure that they are resolutely braced before taking this bit in – the tea urn went missing. Still we got somewhere in the end.
So, why does a club have competitions? There are, of course as many reasons for that as there are club members. Recognition, acclamation, ideas, feedback, discussion something to fill a hole in the calendar, are just a few of the headlines you could write a whole blog and more on each. No, don’t panic, I am not going to. When children draw they don’t have a concept of consequences, is this good or is this bad? Right colours? Does it look like it should? and so on. What they produce is intensely personal and very honest. As we grow older we learn notions of correctness and benefit and we unlearn the naiveté that made making pictures fun. Even of the abstract we come to demand technical proficiency. We corral our imagination.
In time we improve or abandon the pursuit according to circumstances and according to what we want. We buy a camera because we want to record a special occasion, a holiday or maybe our own children or children we are close to, a few of us because we are curious about pictures and want to get better at making them. Now- a-days, rather than buy a camera specifically we are much more likely to turn to our phones. The pictures we want to make are generally those we can create without the many hours and mess involved in painting, never mind the fine motor skills, which some turn into is photography art debates (Yes move on). Cameras and pictures are so much a part of society these days that picture making is pretty much second nature.
Most of those pictures being taken at this very moment are dull, boring, technically flawed and mean something only to the person who will forget they took it by tomorrow. They are constructed for different purposes. We decide to get better at this sort of thing and, suddenly, (nearly) everyone else’s pictures look better than ours. That can be a spur or it can put us off. Access to the ways of doing things is a lot easier now than it was, there are blogs and video channels aplenty as well as the more traditional routes through books and courses galore that blend all these. That, however, can make matters confusing rather than easier. So we know about the tools of odds, of thirds, of lead lines and negative space, symmetry, foreground interest and the effect of focal length, and the importance of balance and we know all about the exposure triangle. In fact we can know a lot about a lot and can still make pictures that lack impact.
The problem, at least in part, is that we have all these tools and rules but they are tools and rules of thumb. Certainly they exaggerate elements of the arrangement of the objects in the frame and hold others back but we keep coming up against the idea of technically proficient but subject deficient – and other people’s photographs still look better than ours. It is self doubt that becomes, once one has learned the basics, the biggest drag on learning. Sometimes we cannot see for looking. Sure, we need a mind open to development, open to seeing other people’s work, looking at other pictures in that picture but the frame of mind has to be positive and the habit has to be always looking for the picture – even when you can’t carry a camera. The habit is the thing that enables everything else, the letting go of the half-expectation of finding something to photograph and replacing it with the opportunities to see something to photograph.
That can be where club competitions come in. Yes we want to test our metal against others, but we also need feedback. No we don’t always agree with the judge, but we need to be able to say why. Yes the judging is subjective, yes its structure does mean certain types of photography may not fare as well, but it is a structured feedback on pictures that are anonimised and it is something that you can work with if you choose. The more experienced judges should come with a wider perspective anyway and whereas they will have their likes and dislikes – some of them strong – the perspective they are showing is a start.
If we can get into the habit of the feedforward loop we will do ourselves an enormous favour. Feedforward is when we take the experience of a previous occasion and use it to improve (control) a future event. Learning from the future ” Images of adaptive future behaviour, hitherto not mastered” (Wikipedia) or in our case getting the picture we see in our head as a Jpeg by design not accident, is something we can only do as design.
Next session is a 10 by 10 (or there abouts) where members talk about their own images, what they got from them, what they would do differently (among other things). Open to all members, bring some along and join in, especially our newer members, as we are all interested in photography and this is a good opportunity to share it.
Three club events to celebrate in this post. First up thanks go to club member Gerry Painter for the evening of how to make a people picture a portrait through posing. Our thanks to Gerry for the introduction and practical sessions after the break, a very enjoyable evening. The night before some of us visited Hanham Photographic Society and there were presentations there by our club members Chris Harvey, Alison Davies, Myk Garton, and Ian Coombs. This was an agreeable evening and we look forward to Hanham’s return visit on 12th November. Finally a welcome return to Marko Nurminen and his brief tour around just a few aspects of the revised Adobe Lightroom/Photoshop using some images supplied by club members, including Gerry Painter, which is where we came in.
The portrait is not just restricted to photography, of course, it’s an art form that predates it, drawing, painting and engraving were long the ways of committing the likeness of a person or prized animal to a two dimensional surface and still are. There is, however, a difference in our minds between what we would generally call a picture and a portrait and the difference comes with degree of anticipated artifice and convention involved. That’s how we know one when we see one. Of course, that doesn’t mean that they can only be taken in a studio, but the conventions that set out a formal portrait were the ones that meant that the subject was not moving anywhere anytime soon as the initial sketches and or being painted from life demanded that (though body doubles weren’t unheard of with the principal standing in for the face only in full length portraits).
That applied even more to the early days of photography where photographers studios were equipped with neck braces of varying heights to keep their subjects immobile whilst sufficient light was collected. Well, that and prop up the dead ones as, apparently, nearly a third of all Victorian photographs, especially early in the period, the subjects had actually pre-deceased the photograph. It wasn’t unusual for surviving relatives to be in the frame too, though they would usually be the ones standing up, I assume. Photographs were luxury items, and painting was held in higher esteem, at least by those who could afford it, though, possibly, as a mark of distinction from those who could not. Those conventions can still be seen in the rigidly narrow set of poses seen in corporate and other types of formal portraits. Gerry was after creating something a little more relaxed too. The materials are available to club members on his website www.ttassist.com (See Gerry for the Reflex password) and he particularly recommended Lindsay Adler’s materials (also blog and Facebook and check out this short video on creativity, spinning out a complete shoot from a single idea).
Light, camera, angles, props, location, environment, subjects, framing, moment. Pretty much sums up the mechanics of photography before the electronics take over. What it doesn’t cover is the relationship between photographer and subject. Posing is about creating a connection so that subject goes beyond just being that and becomes part of a conversation, part of a story, with the viewer, be that subject animal vegetable or mineral, though for our purposes, principally animal. As has been said frequently before, it doesn’t matter that that story differs between photographer, subject and viewers, but the connect is important to an image’s success. We are hard wired to react to body language, though there are cultural variations, especially over things like the acceptable degree of the body exposed and direct eye contact. About 55% of what we take from a conversation is through body language (but that’s a reassuringly round number and as such we should be sceptical of it). When the medium takes away the other 45%, as a photograph will, those aspects become more important. But light also speaks. Light and shadow affect mood, set a tone. We are all affected by colour, more often the combining of colours. These remain considerations, but it is the attitude of the body that we will take the bulk of our clues from.
And it’s quite a range of expressions that can be nonverbally expressed. The palate we get to work with is a broad one. This does not necessarily help, because there is a very important aspect yet to be considered, and that is the relationship between photographer and model. Though there are many other elements to a specific photoshoot get this basic wrong and everything else will fall apart, regardless. Concentrating on getting the basics right is a form of insurance. The pose conveys the essence of the story, the light, as we have said, the tone. There are gender differences between females and males, and again these are culturally driven and also between full length and heads and hands portraits. That doesn’t mean that the rules are rigid and unbreakable, but as with all rules, best know them and know how to work them before you go out and break them. We had a good second part of the session putting these things into practice and club thanks to the models.
Marko Nurminem showed his combination of know-how and wit to take us through another evening of post production skills. Being a professional he is a Lightroom and Photoshop expert and he took us through a couple of the tools in the updated versions (LR 6/LR CC). In particular he showed us the refined dehaze tool, which he used on more than just misty backgrounds to affect colour and tone. His mini tutorial on colour muting and boosting was also cleverly done. The things he was doing were pretty straightforward but it proves the point that to make things look easy you have to first have a degree of mastery over them and Marko comes with the added bonus that he is a good public speaker. In a second language at that.
This week we follow that up with editing in software that isn’t Photoshop……
David Southwell ARPS, AFIAP was our judge for the creative round of the ROC. A welcome return. We have had some very good feedback from the judges this year but David’s is particularly good and those members I talked to seemed of the same opinion. My starting point on feedback, and this is particular, if not peculiar, to me and I mean in general, is the point from which I can disagree and why. All this is very contrary of me I know, but I feel that the argument should stand or fall on its own merits and for that it should be clearly expressed so that I can articulate why. Of course we all have our likes and dislikes and fashions come and fashions go, but light still travels in straight lines and all the other immutable laws of physics that make up the science still apply. There are constants. We have talked before about frameworks for making judgements and the importance of consistency. His starting point that “Photography is an art form served by science” was applied throughout and his focus on the necessary technicalities of the image capture and production supporting the image as we see it was the backbone of his judging.
And what a set he had to judge. The print section was the strongest the club has presented since I have been a member and certainly other, more longstanding, club members said it had been a long while since such a strong panel had been seen. I think we have a stronger basis for inter club battles in the print section. The recent decline in the popularity of print within the club seems to have been reversed, “A good thing”. Some more please! Also the number of digital entries was up on last year, I feel. So an increase in both quality and quantity, print and digital, long may it continue.
Before we proceed to the results, may I remind members of the following competition rules:
Maximum width of an image 1400 pixels.
Maximum height of an image 1050 pixels.
Images should be resized so that they fall within BOTH of the above dimensions. It doesn’t matter if the image falls below the these dimensions on either width or height or both.
You may have your entry withdrawn if either of these dimensions is exceeded.
Colour space must be sRGB. (Lightroom and Photoshop)
This is important, especially in external competitions but also we need to implement within the club to make sure we avoid any accidents and end up having photos withdrawn from battles and other competitions.
If unsure how to do any of these things then leave a message here, or on the club Facebook page or ask at the next meeting. Someone, infact several someones present will know how to do it and I haven’t met a member yet who hasn’t been willing to help with this sort of thing. Not knowing how doesn’t matter it can be put right. Not doing does matter if your image is withdrawn.
Tears – Julia Simone
“I am In The Pub” – Ian Coombs
“Urban Fairy” – Julia Simone
“Geisha” – Eddie Deponeo
“Let’s Pray” Eddie Deponeo
“Bulb in Bloom” – Jo Gilbert
“The Competition Judge” – Ian Coombs
“Haunted” – Ian Coombs
“Baja N Rap ” – Julia Kaye
“Eye at the Key Hole” – Simon Caplan
“The Ghostly Tree” – Simon Caplan
“Talons” – Mark O’Grady
Congratulations to all these Laureates and well done everybody for a particularly strong set.
U P C O M I N G E V E N T S
From Mr Gerry Painter, summaries of the next couple of Events at Chez Reflex. These are participative SO PLEASE READ AND TAKE PART. The club only works when you do.
19th February: A NEW club feature – “Your Picture Your Way” on Landscape and Street/Candid details here – RCC EVENTS Feb_19_15 YPYW Landscape_Candid
26th February: PRACTICAL: – for our entry into the Kingswood Salver. Details here 26th Feb Practical Kingswood Salver (1)
F8 and Be There.
Last meeting Mark Stone , in a well attended meeting, took us through some editing options he uses on Light Room and Photoshop. Mark is a big fan of black and white, not to the exclusion of colour, but he has a strong affinity to the ascetic and opportunities that black and white presents, so it is this that we will investigate a little further this week.
Black and white photography happened first of course. Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s heliograph taken at his estate in 1826-27 gives a barely legible but still discernable image of a stand of trees, fixed in bitumen (Daguerre used copper plate, Fox-Talbot was the first to fix an image on paper), but since the invention of colour – which had a long gestation period – it has gradually receded to niche and specialist markets. To its fans and I am certainly one, it is too often overlooked (guilty), or most people who occasionally venture that way look upon as a fix for images that didn’t work but still have something but you are not sure what (“Taking the fifth” on that one, well shoot in colour and edit to black and white is my excuse). Incidentally that is a two way street. There is no doubt that there is a skill to looking at an image as a black and white one from the off.
Some people might think that there is a certain nostalgia attached to monochrome that is a bit off-putting and reeks of chemicals and cardigans and people (men mainly) sucking on their dentures and complaining that things aren’t like they used to be. Certainly they are not. It’s called progress. The darkroom and its arcane ways have fallen from popular use. Photography as a whole, with the digital revolution, has become far more democratic and personally I think that a good thing. This, however, is the science and we are talking here about the art. If, on the other hand, you have used a dark room over some time, then there is a pretty good chance that you keep a warm place in your heart for those processes, for the choices of paper and the effects they have on the final image (for the uninitiated it evolves mainly, but not entirely, around the question of how black is black) for the magic of the image appearing on the paper. Black and white was far cheaper and a lot less complex than colour. Not many people go back though, at least not exclusively. Digital can be just as good.
As I said, this about the art (you’ll remember that argument from last week), the perceptions, that the image creates in the viewer. In black and white contrast is king, but across a spectrum shaded in grey. Subtlety is the greater part of it. That is not to say that extremes don’t have a part to play, it is part of the process of selection that forms the backbone of the monochrome discipline – and yes that is something which can be about post production, but as with everything else, it can’t all be about post production; the initial pre-shutter decisions are still hugely important. Black and white is about texture, forms and contrast above all. When these are the most important things in an image then black and white is the medium of choice, but it remains a subjective choice. Primarily these elements become important because when you remove colour from a photograph these elements are what lead the eye.
Texture, the consistency of a surface in a photograph defined by its irregularities, provides us with basic information that we can use to comprehend what that object is or made of. It can be more important than what that actual object is especially in abstract. Form, the three dimensional representation of an object (shape is 2D), especially in the absence of colour, is probably the biggest clue we get to what we are looking at and contrast, of course, is important in all forms of photography. Black and white concentrates the eye on the intensity and differential qualities in light to a higher degree than in colour (colour, of course being the most striking and the most absent of the elements of design in monochrome).
So it helps to concentrate on lines, shadows and shapes, not ignore the basic rules of composition (master them before you break them), plan ahead and practice, practice practice! There are advantages to shooting in colour (you can always revert to it) and there are advantages in using a RAW format – as per the above plus there is more scope for capturing tones across a range of light and dark in the same frame. There is no particular reason why you shouldn’t use JPEG should you so wish, but, as always, you have lesser latitude to edit with. It also helps to know the effects of colour filters on the image, which can easily be applied post production, or by simply fixing one to the front of your lens.
We have another round of the ROC in the new year, so why not use that as a chance to get some feedback on your black and white photography? Better yet, black and white is December’s Flickr competition topic.
CONGRATULATIONS to our esteemed chair on his MBE collected Thursday last awarded for his work with youth via the Air Training Corps. Well done and well earned Maurice.
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).
Last meeting at the old primary school, though it might have been a little more timely announced by the City Council and the new premises won’t be available till September 4th. We will be out and about in the interim. At least they told us on the day of the meeting and not the day after I suppose. Never mind, time for some location photography, starting next week at Clifton Suspension Bridge with the foul weather alternative the ever steady Langton Court Hotel.
This week, though was a time to practice that which has certainly been preached in this blog, critiquing our own and others photography. Split into groups we all peered very studiously at the donated images from club members which Mark S. had valiantly circulated. Thanks to Mark and thanks to those who brought in their laptops and tablets. The evening was run by Dan E and he gave us the brief of general impression, evidence for that impression (technicalities like exposure, focus etc), suggested alternatives and conclusion framework to with.
As I mentioned in the two WCPF blogs there is no one way to critique a photograph or other art work, but there are general guide lines that are aimed at getting a consistent result in the appreciation of an art work. This doesn’t just apply to fine art, or western fine art. It doesn’t just apply to one era, geography, class or cultural system but it is separate from the rather lazy “I know what I like” school of art critiquing that is generally code for “And I don’t like that”. As photographers “I don’t like that, because…” is part of our own learning processes. We can incorporate, exclude, re-interpret as effectively from that knowledge as we can from “I like that because….”. It is a small but very significant step. We can then use the equipment and facilities at our disposal to create other images. Our images. The processes of inclusion and exclusion, the ability to see the image in the first place some people never seem to acquire. Mostly though it is a matter of trial and error and practice, practice, practice. Those of you here last week may remember our speaker, Damien Lovegrove, saying that he shoots about a thousand frames a week. Then that is his job.
For all that if the image in front of us doesn’t have a plot, it does not succeed, for the most part. The story is the most important thing if we are to make the emotional contact. The story, the strength of the story – not note it’s veracity (truthfulness) – is directly relational to the success of the image (in general). The story can and will vary from viewer to viewer, but that is really the point. It’s what we invest as individuals. Note that no differentiation is being made between the photograph as record and the photograph as theatre. There are expectations on both sides, there is a contract that what is represented is “A truth” not necessarily and in an increasingly cynical world, “The Truth”. There will be a relationship between objects, people, flora, fauna, space. Sometimes this relationship is in shot and sometimes it is out of frame. Even when it’s a straightforward documentary shot of something you found interesting in a display there will be a narrative that has been presented. There will be a structure.
Structure doesn’t happen by accident. That isn’t to say that there cannot be some happy accident in the relationship of objects that draws the photographer’s attention in the first place, but structure in the way that the photographer chooses the view. See the previous posts on serendipity below this article. The structure will isolate the subject in some way, giving it a focus, it will always work better when there is some tension between subjects (again seen or unseen) and that tension will be created by eye lines, diagonals, lead lines, thirds, direction, body language and so on. Tension, if you will is a relationship of the relative gravities of the objects in your image, determined by their pull and sequence on your attention. These are all clues to the rest of us as viewers, we need your help! The tension in a photograph is also enhanced when we can relate to a “Decisive moment“, the tipping point in a series of interactions, framed captured and presented by the photographer.
That doesn’t exclude the idea of a number of frames telling a story. This is probably closer to reality and can be very strong in itself. It doesn’t have to be about something that is complicated. It is very easy to set up and try yourself. So two contrasting suggestions. Take something that you are interested in that requires series of steps. A drawing, baking bread, packing your kit bag for a day out. A bit like those extras on film DVD’s , “The Making of” only in stills (or videography though that is a whole different set of processes). Essential details and steps need to be isolated. sequenced and documented. Try using this 3+1 formula suggested by Michael Freeman. Then try telling a story, maybe the same story but with human or other interaction using the two principles of isolation and candid. by candid I mean natural, off guard, uncontrived as opposed to formal – decisive moments of the same subjects using two different wayd of thinking. It’s a good way of putting all these things together.
Oh, yeah and have fun doing it ….!
Thanks to Julie for this: