We have had Round 4 of the ROC (see website for results) and a presentation by the Dream Team which both show what you can do with a bit of application – and a lot of planning. So, is there a magic formula to improving as a photographer?
The simple answer is “No”. Anybody trying to sell you an alternative is peddling snake oil and the likelihood of success is about the same, though that wouldn’t stop them claiming any advances as proof positive.
The “Through hard work” answer is a partial truth, there is no denying that application is part of it, but a Protestant Work Ethic alone isn’t going to affect the desired outcome. After all if you just do what you have always done, you are going to get what you have always got, as someone, maybe Henry Ford, or was it Mark Twain? Could have been Albert Einstein, or somebody else, once said. And there is truth in it. But not the whole truth.
Direction comes into it. “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll wind up somewhere else”. That was Yogi Berra, and yes we’ve used it before. Direction and hard work, we are starting to get somewhere. The right direction and hard work. The work might be hard but it doesn’t have to be unenjoyable. Rewarding, directed, hard work. The reward and how hard we work for it are linked are for sure. Nothing quite gives us a lift as an image that comes out as we saw it.
None of this, otherwise sound, advice gives us a point to start from. Again there is an obvious but not very helpful answer to this. We can only start from where we are. “I wouldn’t be starting from here” said the eponymous Irishman when asked for directions, and I know what he meant. The first job, then, is to decide where we are.
And this involves looking, but looking with a purpose, looking critically at what we are doing and finding some photographers whose work we admire and practising (here’s a start if you need one, but it is just a start) what we like in their photo’s. Join sites like Flickr (the club has its own page, put some contributions up) or 500px where you can build galleries of your own favourites and try doing your own versions of them. Keep experimenting around a theme and you will start to see some improvements as long as you apply a critical eye to the results.
If we want a starting point then we could do worse than take Robert Capa’s dictum that “If your photograph isn’t good enough then you aren’t close enough”. A photograph tells one story well and cropping in on the essential detail leaves less room for confusion. It doesn’t matter whether you zoom with your lens or zoom with your feet (there are differences but they are subtle, real but not really for today’s argument, and all to do with perspective) but it can have an effect, will have an effect.
We are aiming to tell a story with a single detail. When we are looking at our scene through our viewfinder our mission is to find the detail that makes a difference. That can be a look, the curve of a line, the repetition of pattern, a contrast in colours, or something else. There will have been a something though, and that something is the thing that caught our attention. This is when working the scene comes into its own. This works whether we set out to take a particular picture or are just wandering through the landscape looking for inspiration. Once we find the something, the key, we can use it to unlock the potential in something that has taken our attention.
Or as Aristotle sort of put it, we start seeing when we stop looking. Technically it is known as Inattentional Blindness, and happens when we exceed the processing speed and capacity of our brains. We can use this to our own advantage by letting go of putting everything into context and just following the things that catch our attention (paying due consideration to our own and others Health and Safety of course). Basically our brain is trying to tell us something, so shut up and listen.
And the best camera settings for that? Three options. The camera decides, you decide or something in the middle. Most photographers go for something in the middle. Essentially we are playing with the exposure triangle and the notion that the best that our camera will produce is a combination of shutter speed, aperture and ISO according to the prevailing light conditions. You deciding is full manual. This is a preference, rarely a necessity, but it is worth learning because it teaches you about how your camera captures light and the worth of capturing light and shadow.
The other two options are let the camera decide, “P” or “Auto”, or something in between, shutter priority, aperture priority, exposure compensation. Full on auto will get you an acceptable picture most of the time, after all camera companies spend an awful lot of money on researching these things and writing algorithms to match. But it can be fooled. The in between range from scene selection where you alter the elements of the exposure triangle by selecting the symbol closest to the conditions you are shooting in, to setting the importance of the aperture or shutter relative to the ISO you are using. Control is what you are opting for or out of in various degrees. Most “Serious” photographers seem to shoot in aperture priority if that is any guide because that gives the most direct control over depth of field without having to fiddle with the other two sides of the triangle.
There is no right side, there are preferred sides there are sides that make certain situations easier. The fact is that, as a hobby, we have the luxury of having the time to play, experiment and fail a lot on our way to getting better. Joining a Photography club or an active photography interest group is part of that.
N E X T M E E T I N G
1st June 2017 19:30 – Guest Speaker: Sue Winkworth: “On The Road To Mandalay.”
(Deadline for John Hankin and Stan Scantlebury shield entries)
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.
Round 2 of the club competition last meeting and I shall link to the club website here where the winning entries will be posted in due course. Club thanks to our returning judge Roger Mallinson who got though 21 prints and 58 Digital entries in a prompt and informative fashion.
This week we are going to return to the studio as it were, and start to investigate light modifiers as previously promised. So, starting with the obvious, just what is a light modifier? Yeah, ok, it’s something that modifies light, a true but otherwise unenlightening answer which we need to look at in a little more detail. If we take the word modify we can use it in two senses:
- To change in form or character; alter.
- To make less extreme, severe, or strong.
With light the second meaning is a consequence of the first, it is also an inescapable consequence and though a tad obvious to some the conclusion is the same as the one that Mark and Rob gave us a couple of weeks back, that if you are going to do a lot of this then it is best to buy yourself a light meter. The reasoning is thus, every time you make an adjustment in intensity or distance (one and the same thing often times) then you are going to effect the elements of the exposure triangle and using the old saying: two measures to one cut as a guide, okay two measures to one slick in this case, means a lot of time effort and battery can be spared. For the occasional user then it is a case of trial and error. Eventually you will get to know your kit well enough to be reasonably accurate in your estimations.
There are basically two kinds of light modifiers which we can divide into soft light and hard light. Flash is the most likely entry point for a hobbyist into controlled off camera lighting. With flash we tend to use more of the hard modifiers, that is we use them more of the time, but both categories need considering.
The thing to remember, that is the thing not to get carried away with, is we modify light to enhance the subject. It is always about the subject, he, she or it, not about the modifier. Unless you are writing about modifiers I suppose. Still, that false conundrum aside we choose the modifier to light the subject, not the subject to show off the mod as a general rule. The subject is the thing. Always.
So this week we will start with soft modifiers. Another term for light diffuser, because diffused light gives soft shadows, that is the differences between light and dark look more a gentle grey than a stark black. Make no mistake we are using the light to create shadow. Shadow is the form of the statement we are making and without light there is no shadow.
So a soft modifier spreads the available light over a larger surface, that is, larger than the source itself . Smoothing the transition from light to dark on your subject the main use of soft modifiers is for key lighting in portraiture. The key light is usually the primary light source, the brightest and most important.
The two most frequently used soft modifiers are softboxes and umbrellas. Softboxes are normally vaguely pyramidal and lined with a silver, highly reflective material. They come in a variety of sizes and those sizes relate to how soft the light is, not how wide spread the light is. Yes, you are right, those two things are directly related. Most softboxes and umbrellas are used at a distance of two meters or less from the subject. Though there will be differences in the areas lit between any two given sizes, at these sort of distances they are minimal and really, really not the point. The point is how diffuse the light is, how soft the shadows are.
Softboxes are a studio staple but they can be very bulky, heavy, require more than one stand and generally take up a lot of space even when not being used and can take quite a time to set up. They are good for using with other modifiers though and also good at controlling light spill (basically light coming through at unintended angles which may or may not intrude on your desired effect).
A subdivision of the softbox is known as an Octa, octabox, octadome or octa softbox/dome . Octas, as we will call them, come either as an octagonal shaped softbox or as a hybrid softbox and umbrella. The angle and amount of light fall off is different to a softbox, but they do tend to be a lot more expensive and as bulky as softboxes.
There are further modifiers than can be fitted to a softbox or and octa. You can add grids (to give direction), flags (put shadows in), filters (control colour and intensity) to give you a greater control.
In case you are thinking, “Hey, I can make my own softbox” then I have to say, yes you can. The difference is in the quality control and the length of time that it is likely to last, but there is no reason why you can’t use tin foil and a cardboard box to put over your light source (flash gun rather than bare bulb, depending on the quality and exclusions of your house insurance and fire damage claims) and a plain shower curtain works wonders (make sure it doesn’t have blue tinge if made of plastic and yes it will melt over a hot bulb). Go ask YouTube, there are many different videos covering this.
Essentially umbrellas for modifying light as, opposed to keeping the rain off, come in two varieties: Shoot through and reflective. They are a little more untidy in the way that they deal with light, it will spill round the open edges. They are also prone to having a hot spot which may or may not prove a small problem. They are usually a lot cheaper than softboxes or Octas.
A shoot through acts like a lampshade, softening the light simply by putting a semi transparent material between light source and subject. A reflective umbrella is opaque, black on the outside with a highly reflective, usually silver, sometimes gold or maybe white interior. These are pointed at the subject so that the open side of the brolly is facing the subject and the flash unit faces the inside, away from the subject, to bounce light from all round the internal reflective surface from every attainable angle.
Umbrellas come in a range of sizes from small to huge (10 feet or more) and they are a low price, effective, portable light modifier. This makes them very popular. As already mentioned their biggest disadvantage is their tendency to spill light around the sides. Not a huge problem, normally, but one which does need to be attended to. Unlike softboxes there really aren’t any effective DIY options, but they can be bought pretty cheaply and so even if there was a DIY alternative the cost advantage would probably be very low.
Next week we will be looking at hard light modifiers and it is the club social, see website and or Facebook for details and Rob is doing a Bokeh session to boot.
Club member Ian Coombs talked to us on the matter of audio visual presentations, following on from Hanham Photographic Club’s visit last November when they presented us with some examples. This, however, was more how to.
An AV A/V or Audio Visual presentation does what it says on the tin. It uses sound and vision to get a point across. Or several points. Or, if done badly, no points at all. It can be a way of presenting photographs of course and the audio part of the equation is optional in this case. In many ways using audio and getting it right can be the most difficult part of the presentation, especially for Newts (New To Its’, the same creatures as that famous drinking benchmark – nothing if not educational this blog). Too loud, too quiet, inappropriate tempo for the transitions, too monotone (for voice over’s) or too hyper can render speech unfitting, music tastes vary widely. Then there is the death by PowerPoint TM syndrome, where the audience offers its own not always silent prayer for deliverance from, well, you.
Things don’t have to be complicated, in fact complication is best avoided, as ever the rule to rule the rules is Keep It Short and Simple. That also applies to the software. It is easy to end up with high end expensive programmes that go largely unused and certainly unstretched, especially by a YouTube or Vimeo video of the family day at the beach comprising of transitions (Tip: pick one, stick to it) between photos of the day. Absolutely nothing wrong with that, you just don’t need to sell your internal organs on the black market to fund it. There is plenty of freeware to be had that is up to the job (and a fair bit more) as we have previously discussed (link above). Some of it is pretty powerful too.
There is, of course, more to AV than ice cream and deck chairs to the tune of “I do Like to be beside the seaside” and whereas we are essentially talking about any sequence of images (still and/or video) with an accompanying sound track there is a huge amount of variation. It can be constructed to present a set of themed images where the sound track enhances the experience through setting the mood. It can be an interpretation of music or a written piece where the images fit the theme rather than the other way round. The whole point is that it is a lot more than just pictures to music.
The music does many things, if it’s got right it can having amazing effects. It amplifies, soothes, lifts, calms, sometimes in the length of a single piece. But it has to be appropriate to the rest of the presentation. Voiceovers, similarly, are difficult to get right. Put a microphone in someone’s face and you can bet that naturalistic, free flowing conversationalist will, more often than not, be reduced to a series of ums and errs in a flat tone. It happens because we switch a lot of processing power to reproducing the right sounds and, unless you’ve practised it a lot, it is very difficult to sound natural. That doesn’t rule out a text only solution.
The key, as ever, is to have a good idea of what the finished article looked like. Yes you can change your mind but you need to be consistent. Consistent in theme, in transitions, in volume, in control of background noise, or the overall look and feel will be at odds. It’s really about meeting the audiences expectations, and they will expect a beginning, a middle and an end. That doesn’t limit your imagination, but the audience is expecting a story. Whether that story ends with a call to action or the delivery of a conclusion the whole piece needs to be rounded and complete.
That said there is no reason that you cannot use the same ideas in building a dynamic photo album. You can put it on your cloud storage or on a DVD, keep it on your laptop. This is probably the first thing that people do when venturing into A/V’s (leaving the work related atrocities aside). Certainly it has become a staple in the wedding trade, at least as an option. Whatever your motive it is a good way to think about your photography in a different way. Give it a go.
We now have a new way of entering club competitions that doesn’t involve the Dropbox method, though Dropbox does remain active. Members are guided to http://www.photoentry.uk. You will need a link which you can get from Steve Hallam. Contact him through the club social media or at a meeting. Using Photoentry does simplify the job and it comes with useful messages about the suitability of your entry reference size (which I believe it adjusts for) and colour space (though it does error message sRGB IEC61966-2-1 for not being sRGB IEC61966-2.1, though that is of no real moment). You also get to zoom into your entry to check it’s the right one (yes I did, no it wasn’t and it would have stuck out a mile when projected so I am liking it already!). Deadline for the next round of the ROC is 14th April.
N E X T M E E T I N G
7th April. The WCPF Travelling Critique.
Last meeting was the territory of club member and treasurer Steve Hallam, talking through some of his digital history. Steve is an Olympus fan and has been for over ten years. Micro four thirds, the name come from the diameter of the sensor in inches, is the invention of Olympus and as Steve pointed out, the first system to be designed exclusively for digital from scratch. The first Olympus Steve owned had a 5 MP sensor , which when compacts these days can pack 20 Mega Pixels, sounds restrictive. In reality most people would be largely untroubled by 5MP sensors, the key being the quality of rendition not the size. More Mega Pixels give you more room to crop and still get a reasonable image. The ability to resolve reasonably accurate colours and the capacity to restrict noise at higher ISO’s are generally bigger factors in most peoples’ photography . The bigger numbers in terms of Mega Pixels are something driven more by perceived marketing needs (bigger must be better) than actual customer requirements.
For so long full frame, as Steve pointed out a tag rather than a technical term of any enlightening feature. The 35mm (actually 36 mm but that is a spurious accuracy) was of course the film size in most SLR’s and has carried over to the digital age as the most common “professional” size. I will come back to the need for the inverted comma’s shortly. In the film age, especially from the late 60’s onwards, 35mm was pretty much everywhere. Unless you were doing advertising or studio work then the frame size went up to 6 x 4.5, 4 x 5, 10 x 8 and so on. Hasselblads used 120 roll film (6 x 7 cm). Just like the Box Brownie. Only there was a bit of difference price wise. Also, it has to be said, there is a slight difference in quality too.
The reason for the inverted commas around professional above is that there is no such thing as a camera by which one becomes a professional by being in possession of. There is plenty to be said for the idea of a larger sensor – and some people bang on endlessly about it – but, as been said before in this blog, unless it is predicated on an actual photographic need then there is no reason why a professional has to shoot with a 35mm sensor. Damien Lovegrove doesn’t, as he explained when he visited us back in July 2014, he uses APS-C (among other formats I am sure). Any argument based on the logic of sensor size would have that a 6 x 4.5 medium sensor format has to better than a 35mm and so on. The question always has to be “At what”?
Lugging a D800 across Antarctica to photograph polar bears in the wild may seem like hard work, it is, after all a sizeable chunk of Bakelite in its own right. Adding in the heavy duty lenses adds even more bulk and that’s before you realise the nearest wild polar bear is 12,500 miles to the north (it pays to do your research). You had better have a really, really good reason for packing it in the first place. Well that would be weather sealing, shock-proofing, reliability given that it’s 2,500 miles to the nearest camera shop to replace that broken lens (assuming both that you are going North and turning left(ish) and Punta Arenas has a camera shop, otherwise it’s 3,700 miles in a completely different direction to Auckland). You may require very large blow ups at a high dots per inch count, there are any number of reasons you need a full frame camera, but , logically, not one of them is because you are a professional. Steve pointed out the main advantage of the Micro 4/3rds format is the capacity to build smaller, lighter cameras.
Smaller lighter cameras with smaller sensors, yet we still think of lenses in 35mm equivalent terms and that does make things easier for comparison reasons, but allows for some confusion. When we talk of crop sensors we are talking about the size of sensors relative to 35mm and as most sensors are smaller than this then we are seeing a smaller image given the same focal length of lens.
A confusion creeps in with the idea of “magnification” which a lot of people assume to be a telephoto effect because a 100 mm lens on a 35mm camera shows the same as a 150 mm lens on an APS-C or a 200 mm lens on a micro 4/3rds and the logic goes (off at a tangent but it’s easy to see why) a 200 mm pulls in the image twice as much as a 100 mm lens. Well when you double the focal length on the same size sensor it does, the mistake is to not factor in the change in the size of the sensor. If an image is made with the same lens, but a smaller sensor, it shows a smaller area. Enlarge both your 35 mm and you crop sensor images to, say, 10 x 8 inch print and the degree of enlargement, the magnification if you will, will be greater for the smaller sensor than for a larger one. Hence you might get an inkling of why more Mega Pixels on this year’s sensor than last sounds attractive – you can make larger prints without a loss in quality. Well sort of, as, after a point, those extra pixels start to get in each other’s way.
So, our thanks to Steve for bringing up some interesting topics and for sharing his images with us. Much appreciated.
N E X T W E E K
NOT AT THE CLUB. Light trails, meet at the fountains on the centre. Bring cameras and tripods we are going to be taking some light trails. 7.30 commencement.
Table top and/or product photography is an extension of the hobby for amateurs and for some professionals a staple and stable income. It has many branches and specialities. You can throw as much money and kit at it as any other branch of photography but as with any other form if the light isn’t right it’s not worth a dam. In common with other forms of what I shall broadly call “Studio” photography, which I will discuss a little further shortly, it is one where the control of the light is total.
Studio came to English from the Latin via Italian word for application (also eagerness). It is the application part that is of particular interest to this piece. In essence we are applying the Exposure Triangle to a subject, usually fairly limited in size, but that depends on how big your table is I suppose, to a single (usually) object or limited number of objects against a plain background (again, usually). The studio is a place set aside for the production of the final piece. It doesn’t have to be permanent and the glory of table top is that it can be made to order from things either already in our photographic collection or household items ready to hand. It can be from the size of a match box to the size of a hangar and anywhere in between. It can be very absorbing as small changes in the lighting can have quite profound effects in the overall image captured and the absolute concentration on detail it requires can be quite revealing.
The common elements of the table top studio are a table top, a background, preferably plain, at least one light (though two and three light set ups are common) and something to photograph. Basic refinements then come in the shape of diffusers and reflectors and again these can be made from things readily to hand. I am taking the camera as read in this equipment list on the grounds that this is a camera club blog and the camera is rather implied. Also the vexed question of which camera is best skirted. The answer, as ever, is the one you have.
Most compacts will focus pretty close, for systems with interchangeable lenses you have macro specialist lenses (true macro gives a reproduction scale of at least 1:1), then you have macro filters, reversing rings, extension tubes and bellows that allow you to get closer than the native capacity of your lens. Fixed (Prime) lenses are generally easier to use – especially with reversing rings, but zooms are by no means ruled out. The shorter the focal length the closer to the subject the lens can be, for instance my 24mm on an APSC sensor has a minimum focusing distance of 180 mm which comes down to about 10 mm with a 13 mm extension tube. My 50 mm and the 340 mm minimum focus comes down to around 25 mm for the same fitting. Depth of field is also shallow.
You might want to shoot with a plain backdrop but one that is seamless, and gives no hint of depth to the background. It’s known as an infinity curve, infinity cove or cyclorama and is formed by taking your back drop and curling it under what you are shooting. That can be something as simple as a piece of A4. Somewhere along the journey from table top to full blown studio the infinity curve becomes an infinity cove, the curve covers right angles without showing any angles, but that is a distinction that need not bother us (the cove comes from the shape, not the size). The physics remain the same, only the scale (and expense) varies. Beware, though, that Amazon own the patent to the set up (as discussed last May here), though I doubt that adds up to much under UK law, but that hasn’t been tested. And then we come to the light tent, aka the light box. Essentially it is a 360 degree diffusion box. Lights are mounted externally and the subject internally. They soften the light (of course) and can be used to reduce specularity and also have an infinity curve effect. They are straightforward and can be bought quite cheaply (and not cheaply at all), made very cheaply, or somewhere in between.
As hobbyists the table top presents us with the opportunity to practise basic and not-so-basic lighting skills in our own home. It is also a way of keeping skills sharp or refining existing ones and it presents challenges of its own. Therein lies a further utility, it helps keep things fresh through subtle challenges and in ways that are transferable to other styles. Starting out it is best, as always, to keep things simple and start with one light plus something to use as reflectors, such as paper, cards and mirrors. It is amazing how much you can get done with a single light source, be that flash or continuous (such as a table lamp) and it is also really productive to find out what effects you can pull off using black reflectors as well as white or silver (or any other colour if it comes to that).
But colour isn’t the only thing that makes for a decent table top shot. Texture is important too. This comes back to what was mentioned above about finding images in detail. If, by keeping our attention to a single or relatively few objects devoid of clutter, we can make for some interesting images, then we can transfer those skills into the messier world outside of the simple table top and look for the angles, textures and details that make for more interesting shots. The possibilities for still life/tabletop/product photography are almost boundless. It is fun, as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be and it builds transferable skills. So a big thanks to everyone who contributed to this evening, from the shots on the FB page I think a lot of us found it very productive.
N E X T M E E T I N G
An evening with club member and treasurer Steve Hallam.
Apologies for the non showing of the last round of the ROC but I am having technical difficulties which are proving rather entrenched. There are also lasting problems with posting to the club’s Facebook Page via the blog. Ah well, such is life. Last meeting was all about light painting and our thanks go to Myk Garton and Tony Cullen [EDIT not Cooney as originally published] for their efforts and Megan Gearing for being the model once again. Definitely a fun night.
Essentially light painting takes advantage of the camera’s ability to take long exposures, it’s relatively limited dynamic range, a dark background and some bright lights either as illumination on a subject or as a subject themselves. It is not an expensive thing to set up and you can get some striking results relatively easily. Equipment is a tripod or place to secure your camera preferably capable of being set to fully manual (Bulb) and, optionally, a remote shutter release, a light source and some darkness. You have a variety of options what you do with the light, depending upon what the source is, from outlining everyday objects with light using a single LED all the way up to multiple exposure big item, multiple flash set ups, cityscapes and landscapes. It is one of those things that really does apply to pretty much any subject.
Light Painting is all about the what copious amounts of dark do to light, colour and contrast when exposed on a digital processor or film. Given the amount of trial and error it really does play to the cost advantages of digital and even then there are time savings to be had through simple things like turning off your camera’s long exposure noise reduction until the final shot, (which will halve the exposure processing time) or working out exposure with the 6 stop rule. This is based on a fairly simple piece of mathematics and lies within the exposure triangle. If you set your camera’s ISO to 6400 whilst you get the shot composed and exposure sorted, then, using the metering in seconds recorded in the test shots, reset to ISO 100 and expose in minutes, e.g. a 10 second ISO 6400 shot is a 10 minutes at ISO 100, a 4 second exposure at 6400 is a 4 minute exposure at 100 ISO etc. ISO 100 is six stops slower than ISO 6400, hence the name, and it works for the identical aperture setting.
I would turn the long exposure noise control back on when all the groundwork has been done (and leave it on as default) because it works to a quite significant advantage in the quality of the final image. That said different sensors have different sensitivities and you may well get 5 or 10 second exposures without significant noise intrusion, and that is best at low ISO’s, though I don’t know of any digital sensors to match The Kono! Donau’s film speed of ISO 6 (marketed as ideal for light painters) from Lomo (though at £27 for three rolls I am in no hurry to find out). It’s a relatively simple thing to check out where your camera starts to produce intrusive noise using test exposures at minimum ISO and worth knowing for your camera. I have seen the figure of a 30db Signal to Noise Ratio as being “acceptable” to “professionals” – frankly I have no idea, though DXO measure these sort of things. What is acceptable is subjective and individual. Go and find out for your camera.
Of course photography is Greek for painting with light, but, as defined above light painting makes more of the dark. Light painting scenes have, by design, higher contrast than will be found in most photographs and will also, most likely, require some post production to fix light leaks or darken weakly lit areas. The fact that we are dealing with opposite ends of the histogram actually helps as getting rid of distracting background detail can often be achieved with a simple adjustment of the contrast slider. Yes that is a broad generalisation because every frame is different, but with the single frame light painting the reduced colour palette and high contrast actually don’t often require much fiddling around.
Not that some people are content to leave it at that. The techniques can usefully be extended from drawing with a light against a very dark background, through illuminating an object or objects via a single light source, to full blown composites of hundreds of frames of sometimes very large objects. All can come under the light painting banner, and can, I suspect be labelled on a scale from interesting to obsessive, depending on where you stand (and what equipment you have access to), but there is another relatively cheap and easy-with-the-right-techniques that you can access. Light trails. In a lot of ways we have already talked about this earlier in this post, when we talked about single lights, but you have many options in making those. And don’t forget star trails, vehicle lights, trains, boats and planes – it doesn’t have to be you in charge of the lights, though that helps in organising the outcomes. Light painting is a fine way of capturing some vibrant images, give it a try.
N e x t M e e t i n g
Returning our visit earlier in the season we welcome Hanham Photographic Society.