Week two, tutorial night with members Richard Clayton and Steve Dyer doing their bit with one light and three light portraiture set ups either side of the break and yours truly trying not to cause too much confusion in a Camera 101 short session for new members and anyone else who was passing that corner of the hall.
So the blog this season will take on a slightly different format, at least between now and Christmas. There will, most weeks, be a second, smaller, thread, dedicated to short observations and exercises aimed at the less experienced members of the club and casual readers/subscribers who want to develop their photography from a fresher perspective.
Both of these threads and all of these blog entries are based on one philosophical observation by Mr Ansel Adams. “You don’t take a photograph, you make a photograph”. To tease that out a bit, there is a difference between taking and making a photograph. Taking here means recording the fall of light on a subject and that is what we see using the three things a camera lets you control. It is what a camera does. Now what we see maybe a possibility within the natural fall of things, indeed will be, but that is more than just a record. We frame and manipulate and the relationships between foreground and background and the objects within that field to make an image which we then take a record of with our camera. More simply cameras take photographs, photographers make photographs.
And in that process light, not the brand or model of camera we bring to the event, nor the accessories bolted to it, no matter how expensive, is everything. Visualising the shot as a product of our imagination and the possibilities of light and shape is where the art lies. The one thing that cannot be taught is the minds ability to see a shot. No amount of knowledge of the arts of composition will overcome brain-wiring. “There is nothing worse than a sharp shot of a fuzzy idea”. Ansel Adams again.
Visualising and pre-visualising a shot (working out what we are going to shoot before we shoot gets more reliable shots than a spray and pray of something vaguely interesting regime) is all work that pays off when it comes to capturing what we see. This is in part because, if we conscientiously practice it, we are attuned to what light is telling us. Light for a photographer works like a plot for an author. It is the key component in telling a story. Typing random words might enable the basis of a plot to take shape, but the author works her/his thoughts and feelings into something someone else might be interested in by applying details and structure. Words by themselves don’t make a novel.
So, light first and last. In between is composition, itself a huge topic the subject of much academic and cultural importance. To a photographer it is the arrangement of the objects in the frame and how they are lit to tell the story. Photographs, by and large, really can only tell one story without becoming confused. Where the brightest light in the frame falls will be where the eye gravitates first. How we arrange the objects in the frame in relation to light and dark determines where the eye goes next. Volumes have been written on the subject and we will revisit it but, at this stage of the club year, I think that the best thing that can be said of them is that they are tools not rules, but they make a difference. One good exercise is to take one and make it an exercise in what I am going to shoot today. It can be fun too.
Light being the starting point end point and everything in between, it is something that we can practice with a minimal amount of equipment and pretty much anywhere. This Mark Wallace video is a good starting point and can be replicated at home regardless of the weather. Try it, the light sources don’t have to be photographic lights or strobes/flash guns/speedlights, it can be desk lamps, torches, LED’s etc. and the effects are even more striking in black and white. Camera doesn’t matter either, your phone will do just as well as a full frame all singing all dancing camera.
Lyn James LRPS was our speaker, on the general theme of people and places. Lyn is a dyed in the wool lover of film. Not that he dismisses digital, but he loves the look and the workflow that goes with using acetate and gelatine based chemical medium to produce, eventually, a physical image, something that you can hold, in a process that we would call analogue in these digital times.
Analogue as a word goes back about two centuries to describe certain physical chemical processes, but the general use of the word expanded in the 1980’s with the invention of the digital (i.e. with numbers only) watch and was used to differentiate these from the traditional watch faces with hands. Basically it was a marketing term. Moving from there and with the expansion of computer science as a discipline, gradually out of a description of physical properties and into the binary world of the computer and everything associated with it into the general vocabulary has taken a little over two decades.
Film is of the analogue variety of image production. Whereas the production of cameras and camera sensors is a microscopic industrial miracle of the digital age as the production of film was in its hay day (part 2 here), the end user experience is very different. The sensor is not consumed in the production of a digital image, even though it sits in what we still call the film plane. The two processes are, very obviously, very different. The film until about ten years ago was the main stream medium. As such it was produced on a vast industrial scale using vast machinery.
After around 2007, when digital started to outsell film cameras, what was left was an industrial over capacity requiring specialist machinery built to individual specifications, was simply not sustainable on a commercial basis. Professionals, by far the biggest users, moved to digital. Some for reasons of novelty, some for more practical reasons. Sentiment doesn’t play much of a part when money is at stake and the digital medium was easily and rapidly distributable, suiting the photo agencies and news outlets better. Film availability went into decline as stocks and production lines were run down. But it never went away.
There is more of a craft element to film. Or more faff, depending upon your point of view. For this I am not talking about the actual manufacture of film I am talking of the perspective of the end user. It is far more hands on, is made up of more and elemental. There isn’t just one process to film photography just as there isn’t one sort of commercial film process, Kodachrome (K14 process) is different to E6 (process) slide films. By craft I mean the physical production of an image, starting with the limits of the medium. The need for dark room equipment and space, developing chemicals and washes, enlargers, photo sensitive papers stacks the costs up. You can’t do film cheaply, and not all films are capable of being home processed (Kodachrome for instance was not).
But ….. and there is a but for anyone who has done any amount of film photography, there is a magic, and that is the right word, involved when you see the image developing on the paper. You are more involved. Dodging and burning are about the only tools you have to hand readily and retouching is an art all in itself. Even so, every hand produced print is different.
Film also has its own look and it is a popular one. Lyn’s favourite slide (positive) stock was Kodachrome. There are different qualities to each brand of film and there is an irony in that so much of applications like Instagram seems dedicated to a filmic look. Although out of production these last seven years, there is a possibility of Kodachrome being brought back, though no time scale has been announced, nor anything beyond a feasibility study announced. However, it is part of a movement. One which, at the right scale will be able to sustain a profitable niche market.
There is a question of posterity in the dominance of the digital medium. Simply put viewing digital images is entirely technology dependent. In a pure volume sense more photographs are taken, fewer are printed. Once committed to print the image is no longer dependent on technology to be viewed. In itself this might not look to be a serious problem, but within the format of the image lies the seeds of its own destruction. Unless backward compatibility is built into future platforms the range of today’s formats will become unreadable. Redundancy is a problem for computers too. Formats but no pictures. Even then there is the possibility of corrupt files.
There are claims for the superiority of sharpness, resolution, dynamic range made for film, but frankly if they were that critical at least one of Nikon, Canon, Fuji, Sony, Olympus or Pentax would make a film camera. They don’t. The market at large is for digital images as mentioned above. Mixed lighting looks horrible, mind. Low light is very difficult to handle with a fixed 25, 50, 64 or 100 ISO slide film. Even Ilford XP-1, the most flexible of film stocks doesn’t help a great deal. Look is the main reason I would venture, look and working with 24 or 36 comparatively expensive shots and you are done. Basically work flow.
Having the limitation of a low, fixed number, of goes at getting something right, something worthwhile, concentrates the mind. At a cost. Per frame the cost is higher. It pays to be more deliberate, more critical than with the very low marginal costs of an additional digital frame. Not necessarily a bad thing. The initial cost for the camera body is lower being second hand. The lenses can come cheaper but if they also fit your digital system (assuming you have one) then there is a saving there to be had. The camera bodies also tend to be smaller and lighter and, of course, simpler.
Film is certainly a choice (Glitches at 48:35 for about 2 minutes but this is a good intro to where film is and why), and it looks to be expanding. It’s worth giving it a go if you haven’t and if you havent got a film body and don’t have a beer can or 32,000 straws hanging around (OK they expose straight on to photosensitive paper) how about shelling out £14.99 to build your own?
N E X T M E E T I N G
Creative Round of the ROC.
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!