This week three for the price of one: an exchange visit with fellow WCPF club Hanham, things being helped by the clubs regular meetings being on consecutive nights. So we showed them ours at Hanham on Wednesday and they reciprocated on Thursday. This was followed by the return of former member Tony Cooney this week, who, last year, graced us with his pictures from his time serving in Iraq and this time showing his work with portraiture and a variety of models.
These three events set themselves squarely in our development as photographers of whatever level. Looking at, thinking about, talking about our and other people’s pictures is an absolute essential of developing not just appreciation but also a store of looks, effects, puzzles and things to try out.
In order to so we need to have some sort of method to regularise and make useful comparisons. This is generally known as a critique and is something we have used before (using some prints leant to us by Hanham by coincidence). It is what we have competition judges do for us, where they give is feed back from an outside perspective, and a great deal of experience.
We can use this to our advantage by rationalising our own reactions to others opinions. Nobody rational is going to like 100 percent of our output equally (nor dislike). In that we can garner likes and views and favourites on social media that has as much, if not more, to do with niche marketing than actual photography. And a lot of people seem to make it an end in itself. It, like the histogram of our last image, lies between perceptions of absolute light and dark because the image and our true opinion lie in the range in between. We critique to articulate these ranges. We learn by applying this through the viewfinder.
And we do this over time. Tony showed us a development line going back several years and made the point that the single biggest early improvement came from investing in a lighting course. Now there are good courses and there are mediocre ones and price is not really a good indicator of anything other than this is what your provider can afford to charge and still get enough people to engage.
Personally I rate these things, among others, by the number of people on the course. One where you get 20 minutes a day, if you are lucky, with a superstar of that genre is worth far far less in terms of personal development and value than one where you get an hour or two hours individual attention. You might get some excellent photographs, much time in course development is spent on making sure of that because then your customers become your champion marketeers, but unless you develop the faculty of seeing rather than looking, that is not going to teach you much.
Of course we are in a position nowadays that access to opinion and information is instantaneous and in volumes we cannot hope to handle. The self taught route can be very rewarding, of course, but the accelerating the pace needs some sort of external input. Quality not quantity and when you have grasped the basics that provide quality, consistency, was something that came across from Tony’s set and certainly this was evident across both the evenings he has done with us.
The “Studio” portrait conjures up images of large format cameras, assistants, assistants to assistants, big lighting rigs, expensive clothes on professional models and an equipment bill most of us don’t have sufficient kidneys to sell to pay for. Try scaling down expectations a little and the basics become more do-able. When learning a new skill it pays to Keep It Short and Simple (an extension of Kappa’s If-it’s-not-good-enough-you-are-not-close-enough mantra) and in something practical like this, plenty of do and review. Improvisation is part of the fun and the skills set of photography.
Of course there are the intermediate courses that you can buy on line and these range from good to bad as does anything else. In these cases finding people who have used them and have something to say about them and explain why they came to that conclusion (not testimonials) are few, far between and invaluable. In this case forewarned is fore armed. Managing our own expectations is also part of the process. It isn’t just about talent and it is also about recognising that hard work is a talent in its own right. If we have this capacity then a little direction is what we need.
Sooner or later we end up taking photographs of people. Before the days of mass photography that was almost the soul purpose of the art. OK, a bit of landscape thrown in. Today’s social media probably hasn’t done a huge amount to change that ratio, neither has it done a huge amount for the overall quality of photographs taken. Being in it counts for more than the quality of it.
There are things we can do to improve this easily enough. Last post we talked about the effect of sensor size on quality in the main part of the post. It has another impact too – depth of field or how much of the image is acceptably sharp. This is important because of the requirement to make the eyes (both eyes) the point of focus. That is the area of a face we will look to first. Not in focus? No second thought.
A camera phone has a deep depth of field. Shooting with a wide open aperture on a larger sensor means that that which we perceive as being acceptably sharp is far more limited. Both eye-focus is easier if we fill the frame with our subject, photographer Robert Capa once famously remarked, “If your photographs aren’t good enough, it’s because you aren’t close enough”. Aperture controls depth of field.
This applies to all sorts of cameras. With that in mind try replicating this video.
Last meeting we welcomed the return visit of our WCPF confederates from Hanham Photographic Society and we thank them for their input into the evening. It is always good to see the work of other enthusiasts to compare and contrast to our own so that we may generate some new ideas, sometimes new angles on our own photography of the same subjects. We have also had a reasonable response to the survey that Gerry put together for us on Survey Monkey which has yielded some clarity around the likes and dislikes of our more active members, I am told and that will be discussed and integrated into future planning by the Committee. Thank you all those who took the time to participate.
The stories that we can project onto an image is a powerful hook for a photograph, often before other ascetic attractions. We were entertained with image spreading across decades and something we don’t see in the club very often, AV shows. In fact these were the first AV’s, certainly in the last couple of years that I have been at the club. So this week we are going to take a potter around the topic of Audio Visual Presentations.
Primarily they do what it says on the tin, using sound and pictures, usually stills when made by photographers I guess, but often with movie elements mixed in to make a self contained presentation around a topic or theme. They can be made cheaply using software that is either not very expensive or even free, though, as with all things audio and visual you can spend up to an enormous fortune on “Essentials” and gewgaws. None of course are arbiters of quality, the biggest input, as with any IT system, is located between the keyboard and the chair. If you are serious about such things, of course, by which I mean semi/professional then custom and bespoke hardware can be bought in or built and professional market software have a pay off. For the curious existing hardware and free software are available. This piece is aimed at the curiosity end of the market.
Movie Maker (aka LIVE Movie Maker) comes packaged with Windows. At least it did before Windows 10, it is now part of the Windows Essentials Package (basically legacy programmes from previous versions of windows) and if you haven’t downloaded it into your Windows 10 then you can get it direct from Microsoft. It’s free. It is also an old version as, for some reason it didn’t make Windows 10 in updated form. So far so Microsoft. Apple’s Final Cut does the same in Apples’ own way though it is not the only option. We can also use PowerPoint, for those of us with the Microsoft Office suite, in a variety of creative ways, or Google’s free photo editing suite Picassa (https://picasa.google.co.uk/), and, of course, Photoshop (though this video is done over a PowerPoint presentation).
For recording your commentary, if you don’t already have a programme or app on your computer, and there is one in Windows, you could do a lot worse than Audacity (free) or Free Record Edit. You could also usefully employ an external microphone (quality does make a difference here, but go with what you have before splashing out). If you are going to use music, assuming it’s not your own for which there is plenty of freeware out there for you to choose from, use royalty free music offerings (those with creative commons licensing).
As with most things planning makes for a better result. The process can be as complicated as you want to make it but, as ever, KISS – Keep It Short and Simple – rules the rules. There should be a clear beginning middle and end and one item should follow on logically from the previous. Whether you match the visuals to the audio or the audio to the visuals is a judgement you have to make, but if you don’t know where you are going you are likely to find yourself somewhere else. That is to say if you don’t know the point you want to make then you are likely to end up with a bit of mess. Or a lot of one.
So, when planning for audiovisual you have to remember that there are different priorities than planning just the image alone. The soundtrack is probably the most difficult element to get right, not so much the choice of jingle jangling music in the background which can be very distracting, but the deadpan voice of the narrator is an absolute joy. Not. This can kill any interest very quickly. A little adaptation goes a long way. The ability to put some emotion into the sentences is worth its weight in gold. Difference in tone, timbre, and occasionally speed gives the presentation of some interest. It is a fine line between nearly and good enough, but the effect on the viewer is far greater than might otherwise be thought. Going over the top does no favours either. The breathlessly enthusiastic can equally kill a presentation just as fast. Basically you need to get the sound right as well as the visuals.
Professional AV’s like those used in marketing and sales, can and do use proprietary hardware and software, and that is a sky’s the limit playground for your wallet. The rules, though, stay the same. Of primary importance is to decide who your audience is and the second is to use the medium to talk to them, not at them. The materials you present have to be appropriate, they have to be made available at the right time and often, they have to be able to be played across multiple platforms. This can be where the Web comes in useful with sites like YouTube, Vimeo and so on, where the question of Windows/Mac/Linux viewed on Lap top, PC, Mac, I-Phone Android etc don’t come into play because someone else has already taken care of that. This is good for wide distribution, though controlling access can be problematic. Neither is the cost/bother of burning CD/DVD’s, printing covers and loading into boxes a factor. On the other hand there is a lot you can do with a little, so why not give it a go?
Our thanks again to Hanham Photographic Society for an entertaining evening. Next meeting, Life Begins at 40 ……