Club and committee member Myk Garton took us through fifteen years of photography last meeting, showing a wide variety of subjects and a definite progression as experience grew. Digitally a Fuji shooter from day one Myk started with an Instamatic, which many of the audience could certainly identify with.
Currently showing nearly 27,000 photographs on Flickr, Myk has had images adopted by local festivals, publications and alike and had a successful exhibition at the Totterdown Canteen last year and has organised one there for this for the club next month. He is also leader of the programme group for the club.
A lot of us, including the club, use Flickr, of course, which has suffered in terms of development from the decline of Yahoo, and is now with its fourth owner the American photo company SmugMug. SmugMug is a pay-to-use photo-sharing website and image hosting service which allows users to upload both HD photos and videos, so whether or how long the 1TB Flickr option is still available is an interesting point – and I only have 5,000 images on it at present. Not entirely sure how long that would take to download one by one.
Myk showed us the value of persistence and repetition in personal development and we have talked before of the value of doing something deliberately, critically, sometimes the same thing differently. We can end up taking the same style of images because that is what we do. It carries with it the threat of becoming stale, static, uninspired. What we need to do is to keep moving and that requires photography aforethought, not post production afterthought. “I’ll fix it in post” is very different from knowing from the outset what we will need to do to an image in post production.
A lot of that comes from knowing our equipment and its limitations. Our preferred manufacturer’s latest megabuck sensor may well be capable of dealing with a fifteen stop dynamic range but in the real world, where some of us live, we have to get by with our five year old sensor that was designed eight years ago and can just about handle plus or minus 3. In RAW. We learn that through taking photographs in different lighting conditions.
Then we learn to bracket and to merge to create our own HDR photographs, and what we need to do to those images to make them acceptable to our tastes. Or we learn to use on camera or off camera flash or continuous lighting to fill the darker areas allowing us to meter for the lighter ones. We learn how to modify the lighting we have to blend in with the image we want to create.
And so we fail. A lot. Fail as in laying a Firm Anchor In Learning. We learn to critique, starting with I like this because …. I don’t like the way this is because …. and we do something about it next time based on that. That way we not only learn our equipment but we develop a style. That style may change over time, either as an evolution or as a deliberate attack on our comfort zones – or both, but it allows us to make the stories we capture our own and to keep on doing so.
The other key, besides persistence, is to look at the works of others with that same critical eye. Our goal is constructive criticism. That can be other club members, exhibitions, magazines, websites, tutorials, talks and other presentations, newspapers, awards, the list is as long as you want to make it, we don’t lack for opportunities and it doesn’t just have to be Ansel Adams for landscapes, Cartier-Bresson for street and David Bailey for fashion. There are plenty of others and it does well to look regularly and above all critically. It is, after all, the images people take that make the mark, not the camera they used.
Variety is also important. This can be in set up, composition, treatment, subject, lens, aperture, shutter speed, lighting conditions, the list is as long as you want to make it. Above all it is about taking images. That is, when all is said and done, why we bought the camera in the first place. We can get a lot more out it with just a little deliberation coupled with a little curiosity. In the digital age we have the capacity to take hundreds more photographs as very little extra unit cost compared to the days of film, but the deliberation that the costly additional frame imposed on us was and is a useful thing.
HDR Imaging. What does it mean to you? Horrible Disastrous Rubbish? Highly Desirable Representation? Something in between? Our much welcome and returning speaker, David Southwell ARPS would admit that there is a lot of the former around but if done properly, High Dynamic Range images are an important tool in the photographers tool box. Most of his ARPS panel consisted of them taken in the demanding situation of the interior of Bristol Cathedral. Thoughts were certainly provoked and the discussion afterwards was more animated than usual which would suggest that this is a bit of a Marmite question, “Love, it hate it, you can’t ignore it” as per the advertising slogan. We will return to this later, for Marmite questions have a hidden truth within them.
David did an excellent job of explaining the technical origins of HDR, essentially boosting the fixed capabilities of digital images to catch a range of 6 – 6.5 EV at best (depends on the sensor construction and other factors), or about one half that of the human eye (10-14). Using software and exposures of the same scene metered between exposure for shadow detail to exposure for highlight detail and the range in between (see here for a much more detailed explanation and on how to go about creating a more natural version of the effect) a single image is produced capturing the entire range of luminosity values in the scene. There is a more technical and vastly more expensive way to create HDR using oversampled binary image sensors. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about that and for the rest of us, rest assured they will be coming to high end mobile phones in the near future.
Some DSLR’s, CSC’s, Mobile Phones have an HDR facility built in, but this will almost certainly work with JPEG’s which have a more limited dynamic range than versions of RAW or Tiff. Handled carefully they can be effective, but as always there is the question of how much control is needed, required or is desired by the photographer. The camera processor and choice of jpeg format mean that certain assumptions have been made at the coding stage you do not have an input to. David left us in no doubt that, whereas process can be automated, shoot in RAW (preferably 16 bit, but 8 bit has got him some spectacular results). Your standard 8 bit image (as used in JEPGs and a lot of cameras shooting RAW) gives you 16.8 million colours (more than you can see) and 16 bit 281 trillion (far, far, far more than you can see). 16 bit gives you far more subtlety to play with, whereas 8 bit tends towards grouping colours into bands rather than representing them as subtle variations of colours. In a not particularly accurate but certainly useful way of looking at it we can say the difference is in the ability to reproduce shades, though the human optical processing system does vary from individual to individual. David asserts that 16 bit is the future and for those interested in HDR and, eventually, all photography, so now is a good time to start working in it as far as you can.
But why bother if all we want is the picture that represents a decent looking image of the widest possible range? Well now this is the tricky bit and where its detractors get dismissive of the technique. Before we touch on that, and we can only really touch on it here for reasons of time, space and the need to preserve a semblance of sanity, we need to deal with that problematic idea that you can only make art through fine motor skills. We have treated with this before (27/11/14) so I am not going to go into it again, but part of the attraction of HDR is to make the photograph look more like a painting. OK this is a gross simplification, a minority point in a minority interest, but that does not undermine its validity. Photography’s inferiority complex has existed since print 1 frame 1 in the history of photography. Both are trying to make that emotional connection with the viewer. If that is absent it doesn’t matter how good the draughtsmanship, the image does not work.
David made the point that it is, despite his determined advocacy of the technique, only ONE tool in the box, a very important point. We all have our favourite tools. He gave an estimate of about 3% of his own photography – and this coming from a man who needs 16 TB storage space in his computer system and a high end spec to match in terms of graphics and processors, memory and monitors. To give you an idea, that’s about 640,000 25mb raw images, if my maths is right, so 20,000 ish frames to make up his HDR section when full – with David spending up to 8 hours getting it right on each one! Slightly more involved than Justin Quinnell’s equipment needs, for sure, but they are two ways of making an artefact, two different ways of making a connection. The other 97% isn’t and that is the point. There is no technique that suits all horses on all courses but the more techniques a photographer can master the more complete that photographer will be. Not in pseudo competition with fine art, but in terms of their own personal development and capabilities. HDR has a role to play in getting emotion into an image, certainly it gets a reaction like no other photographic technique I have come across. That’s the art of photography.
OK let’s not tot up the cost of the sort of system David is talking about, he is a very experienced photographer with deep roots in computing. Looked at that from that perspective it just puts the technique out of the range of most of our pockets in the club. HDR can be done on a laptop using programmes that aren’t Photoshop. David reckons that layers and blending, cloning and careful metering are the basics and they can be practiced in any number of ways. Indeed Photoshop isn’t fully 16 bit yet and the vast majority of monitors out there cannot handle 16 bit data and the ones that do will cost you about the equivalent of the average UK wage. Start in 8 bit and make your way up. Practice, practice, practice the basics. Be critical, seek criticism, put the feedback into your practice. The same points were made by the last speaker.
So let’s come back to the Marmite question again. “Love it, hate it, you can’t ignore it”. That is simply not true. Looked at logically the vast majority of the British public remain in denial that Marmite is a big issue facing the United Kingdom. It’s a clever ruse to sell a strong tasting edible (or inedible depending on your view) spread. If a Marmite insurrection has sprung up then it has passed me by. HDR certainly provokes strong opinions, but in ten years time it may be a capability so ubiquitous in photographic equipment that we give it no thought, in exactly the same way as most people do with most Marmite questions. Depth of field may be going the same way, where the out of focus becomes a filter you apply. The technology has been around for a while, only now it’s electronic. Those that do tend to feel strongly about this sort of thing, feel very strongly indeed, how do you like Marmite?
N E X T M E E T I N G
Your Picture Your Way – Architecture & Artistry. Bring an image or two on these themes and give us some insights on the who the what, the why, the where, the when and the how!
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
Monday June 15th – peaking between 00:30 and 02:00 The Milky Way.