Last evening the event was about making photography fun. Thank you to our speaker Margaret Collis. Fun, who could be against that? Well debates on Puritan Philosophy and outlook aside, fun is, generally, in the words of Sellar and Yateman “A good thing” (1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England, comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates). Fun with a camera, well what else?
Sometimes, some people make me wonder if the fascination with the craft squeezes the fun element out of it. Margaret pointed out that some people do seem to let competitions dictate their style and habits, which is a shame because that is also limiting of the ability to develop and learn in new directions. For the amateur fun forms a big part, there are plenty of other, less expensive hobbies out there after all. But even the best hobbies have their ups and downs, few though have the capacity for variation that photography offers. So, this week the blog is going to be dedicated to making pictures work. Basically we are limited by our own imagination, one of those useless truisms because if we can’t imagine it in the first place we are unlikely to do it ….
So let’s assume we are feeling lazy or for some other, less fortunate reason, we are housebound, where to start? There are plenty of things around the house. A favourite is to use toys or miniature figures to play with scale around common household goods, even foods. Then there are water droplets, frozen flowers, oil on and in water, the list goes on. You don’t need to sail the world to get your photographs, though that does sound like a great idea. Peering over the duvet or over the crater of a volcano the successful picture has variations around a common technical theme, the exposure triangle, but however well the technicalities are executed, all successful pictures prompt an emotional response. Avoid the technically proficient, artistically deficient. The key to that emotional response is to make a story out of the elements: a simple, bold, cleanly framed, single element which in the balance of everything in it, we call a narrative.
Narrative, is about events linked by common elements, a thread, a story. We are familiar with the idea of spoken or written narrative, of those told in films and on TV. Making the one frame narrative is actually more familiar to ourselves than we may think. In thinking it we can think it too difficult, but actually it is quite natural to us. We contrive these all the time because, it seems we are hard wired to make stories of things in order to make sense of them. We become photographers when we stop taking image of things and start making images about things.
There are two situations this covers, the individual photograph always and photographs in series, from a collage (which can be very difficult to get right) to a sequence around a common theme, which we will label a project. I stress the point about the individual photograph because even if it is being part of a wider story (the Kingswood Salver is an excellent case in point), it has to stand in relation to the others on its own technical and aesthetic merits. The technical we have talked about and talk about all the time, not least because it is generally easy to agree about. The aesthetic, what we consider beauty in relation to a person or object, is both what we are talking about and a subject all of its own. A philosophical one, a scientific one, a personal one, too big for this little blog, beauty is a context of a combination of qualities, including shape, colour, or form, that pleases the imaginative senses of an individual, especially the sight. Look at these photographs culled from Friday’s Guardian (14 October 2016) newspaper website, pick your favourite and decide what you like about its shapes, colours and forms.
So can we use a bit of logic from what we have said about the connectivity at the centre of our photographic narrative? Well a couple of points I think. Firstly it is made, on purpose by framing and lighting and positioning. It is a product of selection. It is made by context. Secondly, and derived from this, it is deliberate.
Now it is beginning to sound very complex and a little off-putting. It is actually a question of looking, actively looking, pictorially, at what is around you. Now we make images for more than one reason. It can be a quick note, a documentary record, a statement, a creative impulse, a memory, and so on and so forth. Our guides to looking are the rules of composition, they help us find those connections that we alluded to above. This is as much about learning to see in the picture format as anything else. That is the key to starting, being deliberate, we referred to this last week and before when we talked about opportunities falling to the prepared. Serendipity. That can be aided by putting in another step before we press the shutter and that is to ask ourselves why this picture appeals.
Essentially, then we are going to end up with a mixture of pictures (point, click and chimp) and images (see, compose and capture) and that is OK. In fact we can see the differences between them and that can help with our own development. But it should not be a trial, it is about moving and direction and seeing and taking those pictures for the same reasons as always. Because it is fun.
Well apologies for late posting but having terrible trouble with rural broadband. We were back to table top photography, always a favourite and a good one to hone your photographic skills on. We will also look at the last of week 2’s Q and A about DSLR v CSC/Mirror-less systems.
Table Top. Does what it says on the tin. Take something you can place on a table, make it interesting, light it photograph it. What is difficult in that? In truth it is one of those thing that is both straight forward but not necessarily that easy to get just right. But it is fun and it is relatively easy to set up and it can be as cheap as you want to make it. It is also an exercise in the basics of photography and as such is something well worth spending a rainy day, or part thereof.
Of course it is as involved and difficult as you want to make it, and some people do, but as with everything else with this craft, if you don’t get the basics right the rest is of little consequence. Or maybe you can pass it off as abstract art, depends upon your contacts. In the professional arena it is known as product photography, for all the reasons you would expect. It’s photography. Taken of clients products. Glad we got that out of the way early. The thing with that is that, whereas your product might be metallic, shiny, glass, matt, brightly coloured, black etc etc the clients expectations are going to be unique. Even when they want something like ….. they want something different. Otherwise it might fall to a competitors advantage. Energizer Bunny anyone? Yes you have seen him/her/it somewhere before ….
The basic set up into which you place your object is a flat surface, a light, a backdrop, usually plain, usually white, and a camera. The first addition to this is a reflector. Arguably you could swap light source for reflector and using existing light in this. Indeed I would put a reflector in the essentials. A useable five in one To get the ISO down to around the 100/200 mark I would suggest the next thing you acquire is a tripod. Then maybe a second light source. Some flags for putting more control into shadows, a light tent etc etc. Possibly more than any other area of photography this one opens itself up to DIY alternatives, or, if you are being hip as opposed to waiting for a replacement for one, hacks.
This is the area of photography where you have most control of the light, that is total control of the light, but as I have said before any videographer will tell you that the easiest thing about light is the theory of it. However, the control of the light is a good start when learning about how to put the light together with a subject to make a photograph. In the wild, as it were, we are more and more dependent upon what others or nature provide us with. This does not mean that it cannot be manipulated but it certainly gets more involved. Playing with reflections, bokeh and perspective is just basic fun. Certainly you will very soon come up against minimum focus, depth of field and other macro problems, all of which can be solved, all of which teach us something. Coming from the novice perspective we certainly learn to fill the frame.
OK the last of week 2’s Q&A, this time about CSC (Mirror-less) V DSLR. Undoubtedly a lot of nonsense has been talked about this. The alleged quality differences these days are pretty much that, alleged otherwise not proven in terms of general use, though certainly there are differences and certainly both have there advocates, but the reality is they are growing closer together for the everyday amateur and professional alike. Thing may be different at the nano-level but whether they are mission critical is another story entirely. Size, weight, battery life and access to lens ranges, are all “issues” largely of fan boys and people with other brands to sell, though each brand certainly has its own story.
The question is more nuanced than the badge on the front though. Perhaps the biggest selling point of a CSC/SLT Mirror-less camera is the fact that when you look through the viewfinder what you see is exactly what you get. This point alone (though it doesn’t stop people chimping I have noticed) I think is a, maybe the, major advantage for the amateur over the DSLR. It should, however, be noted that I am speaking here from the point of view of a stills photographer. The videographer has a different set of demands of a camera and may come to the same conclusion on either side of the argument, but for different reasons. Another part of this dynamic is the age of the camera you are comparing. In 2016 the differences seem to have shrunk, somewhat. In 2014, and into 2015, the dynamic range and the point at which noise intrudes definitely fell to the DSLR’s advantage. Then came the Sony A7 series and the big advances of the MK 2 versions of them the Alpha 6000 and 6300, and this week 6500; the Nikon D500; Fuji XT Mk2, even Hasselblad, they are coming thick and fast now. Some people seem to think that mirror-less is the future. They might be right but there is certainly life in the DSLR yet.
Ultimately it’s down to what you feel most comfortable with, of course.
Last two meetings covered this week as the commonalities are as illuminating as the differences. Week before last was the showing of the mini-groups outings to Castle Park, Keynsham, Leigh Woods and Weston-Super-Mare and the last meeting was presented by club members Steve Dyer and Myk Garton on organising photo-shoots, both of which cover a common angle on story-telling, which, to your non-surprise, is our topic this week.
Yes we have been to this destination before but this is a bigger topic than a thousand or so words can do justice too. It is also constantly evolving. This week the New York Times published six sets of photographs by six (travel) photographers, with very different outlooks under the heading Voyagers. The sections on Tokyo – where the photographer, inspired by the film Lost in Translation, didn’t leave his room for five days, instead used sites like Craigslist for Tokyo to make aspects of Japanese culture come to him – and Italy on historical theatres and includes an observation on the relationship between stills and film that may actually be what a colleague’s daughter of the philosopher Daniel Dennet calls a “Deepity“, particularly struck a chord. It’s been written before on this blog but it is worth repeating, all photographs tell a story. What we saw over the last two weeks were stories being told from different perspectives and with different ideas in mind, either pre-planned to varying degrees or opportunistically, often taken within seconds of each other, of the same subject but with very different outcomes. We have also looked at the way “luck” falls to the prepared.
We have discussed too, a number of times, the idea of the decisive moment, and that comes from the single frame that is presented as the finished work, unlike in a video or film where frames are strung together to make a story, hence the fascination with the deepity mentioned above, viz: “Suppose you shoot a whole movie in a single frame?’ he asked himself at the time. ‘You get a shining screen.” The flow is different in each of these and the motives of the photographer/director are peeled away like the proverbial onion skin through different conventions and interactions.
But those have a script and life, as we mostly know it, isn’t scripted. How are we going to do that? The range of responses to that are from “F8 and be there” to improvising a script. The mini-groups were mainly of the former and Myk and Steve’s about improvising the latter, about providing the opportunities for the shots to happen and through the application of collective improvisation, both stressed the partnership angle with the models and photographers, about “Yes, and“. The mini groups were all around locations that were more or less known by the photographers who chose to attend, but in like minded company. This allows for discussion and thinking and trying the shots that others see but with your own spin. Both are good learning opportunities. The planning is more immediate and comes from what the environment presents than on an organised shoot but in any case there is no substitute for looking closely. The club offers these sort of opportunities in other ways too, you just have to be an active member.
So what is a story? Well it has a set of events that are linked together by a context. That context won’t be exactly the same for photographer and audience because both project their own emotions, preferences and experience upon it, so whereas they may be able to agree the subject, the narrative (the cause and effect we interpret) will most likely differ. The appropriate cliché may be “Slice of life” or “Work of art”. In this case the photograph is an invitation to engage. What we create as a club are opportunities to engage with our hobby through interacting with like minded people. This then goes onto our own story telling.
With the mini-groups we started with a location. Steve and Myk’s shoots take a lot more planning and working with people you know certainly makes things easier, and involving all the people involved has a multiplier effect. That’s the improvisation element. There are a set of practical considerations, of course. You need a default position, a theme, a start point. Steve and Myk have done Zombies, Fantasy, Woodland, Period and many more. The start point is exactly that. The models contribute, photographers contribute, props, models etc can be sourced. There are certain things that they related that make the shoots easier now and then If you start with a basic idea you can use it as a warm up, use it as a measure to judge your images against, you can have a story background. Scout your location, this will affect the whole mood of the shoot and dictate what you can and cannot do. Props are extremely useful, a theme can help narrow the field to the more useful or in character. It is, essentially, photography with a purpose and doing things purposefully increases the chances of getting better results.
Being creative and taking chances within these bounds definitely helps improve our individual photography as long as we are prepared to be open minded and remember not to remain rooted to the spot. Lighting can be varied through simple use of reflective surfaces, flash on camera or off, direct, bounced and or suffused, single. You don’t need complicated set ups, a single light is always a good start. Doing so in the company of others and in sharing the results with others boosts our opportunities to learn.
N E X T M E E T I N G
WEDNESDAY 30th September 2015@ Exchange meeting at Hanham Photographic Club, Hanham Methodist Church, Chapel Road, Hanham, Bristol, BS15 8SD. 19:30 for a 19:45 start, bring 8 to 10 photos to talk about.
THURSDAY 1st October: Posing for Portraiture. Practical. Bring your camera!
Five images by five club photographers on a connected theme. That’s the general outline for the Kingswood Salver. As a brief it’s pretty wide and that makes it a challenging in more ways than one. Last Thursday marked the start of the 2015 Reflex Kingswood Salver campaign with an evening organised by Roger and Eddie around the theme of collectables. Sunday there was a club shoot at the Blaise Castle estate involving Red Riding Hood, a Huntress (Kelly Wolf Rogers), a Clown, a Knight (Paul Walker), a modern girl (Snehal “Tia” Panchbhai), a Pre-Raphelite (Rachel Pratt) , a Goth (Megan Gearing), two dozen club photographers, one drone, several dogs, random small children and assorted owners of the above wandering in and out of shot as happens in any public space. A busy week and a very enjoyable one, thank you to Myk, Steve D, Eddie and Roger for their sterling efforts in organising these two events.
A busy club night saw musical instruments, dolls, insects, back-lit fruit (you had to be there, and thanks Kevin), buttons, figurines (mainly of the Dr Who variety) and “Stuff” brought along by club members and photographed. Two things struck me, not unrelated. We had a limited time on the evening, but the primary focus of the event was to get people started and thinking along the lines of the competition rules, so both space and time were at a premium (though I have to say the hall we hire is a very good space for our purposes) and my first thought was that we would not have been able to do as much had we been shooting film. We would have needed more lights – you only get one go at the ISO and that is largely pre determined – we would have had far more white balance problems, we would be up to our ears in filters (80A 80B and 80C filters to cool the light and 81A 81B 81C to warm it up for the uninitiated, where A is the lightest and B the darkest filter in the range and for the nostalgic, scientifically minded or otherwise curious link here for the joys and wonders of JIS B 7125). For all the discussions on the merits of film v digital, digital is far, far simpler (mostly a-good-thing sometimes a not-so-good-thing), more flexible and one hell of a lot cheaper. In this case it enabled more people to take more photographs in a given space and time. The club Facebook and Fun Shoots pages had more than a few contributions because of it. A good start was made.
There was a mixture of table top and backdrop photography going on. The lighting question was partially resolved by the club lights, Gerry’s increasing collection of luminous paraphernalia the odd flash gun, reflector and of, course, the built in flash. You don’t need a huge variety of lighting equipment. Those advantages of using digital I spoke of above mean that you can use a variety of light sources. DIY lighting is a viable option for the amateur (and the odd professional I suspect) and LED lighting in particular is getting cheaper and more adaptable. For table top in particular, where you can make your own light tent/box for next to nothing either as a one off or something a little more permanent (beards and cardigans are optional). The other thing you need is a little information on light modifiers and you can easily practice this at home. Using a full backdrop? Then you can make your own softbox for probably even less. This was a well chosen warm up.
Sunday was forecast rain from lunch time, turning to heavy rain till mid afternoon. Yes we got rain, but not until the end of the shoot and there was plenty for everybody. A range of models, good and varied light for the most part and an all round positive attitude from everybody made it both fun and instructive. As usual there were plenty of people on hand to help out with technical queries and the models all gave it their best which made for variety. It is also a good opportunity to try out something new. I found that I could have a use for the 10fps motor drive and experimented with a combination of RAW and the fully programmed setting on the dial. Never used P before (only had the camera for 20 months or so – it has that many settings!), not in too much of hurry to use it again, but it gave me an idea of how it works in a variety of situations and can see when it might be useful. Still haven’t used the 3D setting – maybe next time. These outings are both social and educational. The Blaise Castle Estate (which got an early celebrity endorsement from Jane Austen) has more locations than we used for the day and is a fine public space. The history of it is well worth reading. We used the woodland in the morning and the “Castle” (built as a residence rather than a folly apparently) as a backdrop in the afternoon and the caves on our way out. The terrace of the main house, and the Dairy House were among the locations we didn’t use. It is a fine resource that was very nearly lost.
Next meeting ….
Speaker – Justin Quinnell – “Aristotle’s Hole” ….. Be there or be square. Though to be fair there is no evidence that the hole was square …… Cue Bernard Cribbins, better yet see link below or checkout the events calendar on the club website See link below or checkout the events calendar on the club website or check out Justin’s website.
And the link is: RCC_notice_5 March 2015
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
ROUND 3 Reflex Open Competition Deadline is 5th March. See the above link or the rules on the website for the size and submission requirements.
Apologies for the late post this week, some technical issues with my laptop.