Two weeks to report on, with a common link, landscapes, firstly the latest Lakes trip from November and secondly a welcome return for former member Richard Price in a philosophic frame of mind. Now I am not suggesting that that is Richard’s soul photographic concern but it is the one that has spoken for him more than any other. We shall return to that.
The English Lake District in November is good for photographic enthusiasts who like rain and fog more than anything, was the common theme that came back, but that just raises the question, what do we do when the light isn’t right?
Aside form taking our chances and wrapping up well, there is always something you can do. The first thing that springs to mind is switch to black and white and get closer, look for details, patterns, textures, symmetries and so on.
Or pack up and go home as some photographers with a particular focus and mindset have been known to do. There are always options – though I admit that the idea of a miserable trudge to a distant view followed by a freezing and unfertile wait topped off with a miserable trudge back as anything productive has never been the point for me, but it takes all sorts.
So it was illustrated in our Lakes talk that there are sometimes noticeable differences in shifting viewpoint (where the same view had been taken by adjacent photographers in this case) and amply illustrated by Richard in a slightly different way. The assumption we make as photographers is that the landscape is harmonious and balanced and it is our job to find The Viewpoint that best captures this.
That reduces the art of landscape photography to three components: viewpoint, lens, and frame. But, whereas there are common things in photography that make for a balanced and interesting frame, the art of photography is anything but formulaic.
The first thing that a lens does is gather light. The second thing that a lens does is focus the light on the sensor or film plane so that we can capture an image. The third thing that the lens does, by default, is set the amount of the scene we can see across the frame and how big/small/close/in focus the frame contents are.
Taken all together, the lens is the most influential part of the camera system. It is the mechanical element that determines, more than anything else, the quality of the final image. Its shortcomings can only be edited to a limited extent and what you get is the limit on how good that frame can be. It sets the upper limit.
But camera systems alone do not for good photographs make. At least three of Richard’s photos were taken on a camera phone – we only knew that because he told us – and they did not look substantially different to the other, full-frame DSLR images when projected on our large screen from a distance. The lesson from that? Get to know your equipment inside out.
The frame is about what we exclude as much as it is about what we include. It is the invitation to find the things that make the story in our framework and concentrate on them. It is the box within which we arrange the objects that make our subject interesting and it is the box where we make a harmony of light and content.
And over time and with repetition it becomes a style. That style can be a deliberate following of one school or style of photography or it can evolve naturally over time and become our own bundle of influences.
Style put simply, is an identifiable, personalized way of doing things. Deeper than that, as professor Richard Greaves once pointed out, about writing style, it is “A way of finding and explaining what is true” and that fits too.
That can be said of photography because all art forms exclude and include, it’s just that in our chosen field we have to deal with what is presented to us, aside from some very limited, studio, situations of total control. We include nature somewhere, even if it is only the angle of light falling on a subject. We may shape it, augment it, restrict it but we do include it. Sometimes imitate it.
With landscape photography in particular, forewarned is forearmed, much of the chances for success in a photo shoot come from having a good idea of where to be when to be and what to expect. That doesn’t mean that nature won’t rain on our parade, but when it goes right it goes right for a reason and that means we have something we can use again and again. We develop our own techniques.
And as Richard pointed out, there is something rather soothing about the whole enterprise, from the planning through the doing to the post-production, that yields a satisfaction. The boss might want Wednesdays target by Monday afternoon but in the middle of nature, and cut off from those considerations, there is the chance of re-finding our own balance and harmony.
So, two interesting presentations to kick the year off with and our thanks to all those who presented.
Ian Wade was our return guest speaker and showed his grit fighting a cough that was progressively stealing his voice. Our thanks for your dedication and persistence and congratulations on getting through to the end, Ian. You delivered a good ‘un.
So a few things have changed for him since 2014 and his photography has adapted, the projects are a little more local, now and you can’t get much more local than your own back yard. Yet that is one location where he has conducted a wild life project on snails and that is a lot more interesting as it turns out than it, possibly, sounds.
The project is a sound vehicle for honing our photographic skills, but also can be useful in extending our knowledge base of a subject. In fact doing so enables us more as photographers. Photography, taken even remotely seriously, is far more than camera, point, shoot, chimp.
So there are no shortage of ideas for photographic projects. But the use of such a device is probably more critical to its outcome than the subject. What do we, as the controller of the project want to get out of it? What do we want to show? Who is our audience? What format do we want to show it in?
We need to settle these big questions first – that doesn’t mean that they are set in concrete – they can change but we need to know what they are changing from to what they are changing to. An outline to start with covering subject; goal; time-line; final format, goes a long way.
When new to photo projects it is a well to curb our initial enthusiasm for the project by making it a short one. Keep It Short and Simple. The technical challenges come in making the next image better than the last one, and in making acceptable variations.
Longer projects, especially those like a 365 (one image a day for a year), are far harder to keep going than those which have a briefer time line. Better to arrange our project around our free time than trying to arrange our lives around the project. Starting, and keeping, with the end in mind doesn’t mean you have to turn yourself into a hermit.
Who you are shooting for (yourself/friends/family/other) and how informs the whole process, guidelines are useful and not all tangents are a good idea. To this end keeping a photographic journal, in print or on line, is a great idea as it helps us to keep track of how we arrived at our end but also allows for exploring other ideas and variations for a later date.
Also it is not a bad idea to share. Sharing not just the outcome but also the labour, in other words collaborating, helps as we have other, hopefully empathetic, perspectives on the work. This can be between a day shared to a whole project, other perspectives can be very enlightening. Another photographer at least speaks some of the same language as we all share in doing the same thing.
101 Corner – Composition #2
Composition is all about how we arrange the objects in the frame we generally call the viewfinder. It is how we use the fall of light to make an interest in a subject by arranging the subject within our frame. The image is a recording of this.
We have already looked at Tools for Thirds, Leading Lines and Frames. This post we will look at three more.
Patterns and textures are something that our brains seem particularly fond of. Patterns are formed by repetition of shape and or line. Textures are the visual qualities of the surface of an object, revealed through variances in shape, tone and colour depth.
Filling the frame always brings to mind Robert Capa’s admonition that if your photographs aren’t good enough it’s because you are not close enough. Photographs work best when they are about one thing. Get closer with a longer focal length, then use a shorter focal length and your feet to zoom in on a subject. Then compare the two frames.
The tool of odds is again a way of splitting up a frame. This is something that can be contrived in such as a still life, or found in the wild and on the street. It is also probably numbering 5 or less.
Each of these is an easy half hour mini project. Work your way through each then list the things you like and dislike about the images you have captured and make a note of what you would do different next time.