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.
Astro, portrait- and macro-photography were the subjects of our meeting this week and our thanks go out to all who contributed and to Richard Price in particular for his introduction to the Astro-photography presentation. Those of you inspired by his talk please note the postings on the club Facebook and Flickr pages for details of the proposed outings. This week’s blog is going to talk about some basics.
The basics of astrophotography are pretty straight forward. Yes you can buy specific cameras for it, Cannon 20DA (well probably not anymore) and 60Da were constructed with modified Infra Red (IR) filters so that other reds close in the spectrum weren’t affected so and thus the images presented are more realistic. No you don’t need to (unless overburdened with cash or taking this very seriously indeed) as long as you have a bulb setting on your camera and a rudimentary grasp of the exposure triangle and access to a Manual mode, you can make a start. Of course patience, a little technique (including in post processing) and a willingness to experiment are also part of the deal as is a tripod, but Richard reckons that a lens around f3.5 or faster and a cable release are the other things you need to get a start. Oh and no phobia’s about post processing. That is going to have to happen, though a relatively modest experience can get you some great results. It helps if you understand layers and masks, which, in essence, isn’t complicated, though the things you can do with them can be. They are not just confined to Photoshop, they can be found in other editors too, such as Gimp. Going as dark as you can, by which I mean as little light pollution as can be found, is also useful, but there are some things you can do in light polluted areas (the darker the cloudless sky the better) Richard particularly concentrated on the Milky Way, though the Moon and a solar eclipse got honourable mentions long the way, as that is the hoped for subject of the photoshoot planned.
Portrait photography is not something we have really touched on in the blog, which, considering its presence in the field of photography is a little surprising, but we have done a lot of stuff around the subject in the club without addressing the specifics directly (by which I mean since I took the blog over). Several members shared their images and experiences and thanks to Gerry in particular for the way he went through the process and reactions to the judge’s comments from the last round of the ROC (gallery pending, should be up in a separate post this week). There is a common misconception that you can’t “do” portraits properly unless you have a studio, enormous lighting rig, make-up and hair stylists and an enormous amount of gear. Whereas there are certainly people out there who would like to believe that, if not just to justify the outlay they have on these things which may not yet see a return in the quality of results, it most definitely is not. Different if it is how you make your living, however, and then it has to be the right gear for the situation.
The basics for portrait photography are the same as any other: a camera; a subject and a light source. As ever, it is how you put these things together that counts. Taking each in turn: The camera is, as ever, the one you have. Yes there are tweaks and options you can generate through the choice of glass on a DSLR or similar, and the white balance and exposure settings, but the basics for composition remain constant. As for subject, you want to do them justice, that means getting the best angle for the person you are shooting. The first accessory you will probably buy is a 5 in 1 reflector. The best accessory you will probably buy is a 5 in 1 reflector. It is a good way of getting the light available to where you need it. There are good reasons for investing in a studio set up (if you have the space) but there are DIY options too which are lighter on the pocket and from which decent results can be made. Learn the basic lighting set ups, get them off pat before moving on to something more advanced. At the centre of portrait photography though, the craft apart, is the relationship between subject and photographer. The better this works the more decent shots are likely, all other things remaining equal. It is as much part of the kit as speed lights, soft boxes or reflectors. It takes work on both sides of the camera for success.
Macro we touched upon in the Ask Reflex post so I will not rehash that, other than encourage you to give it a go if you haven’t and share Tim Cooper’s tip that the background is eveything. So a wide ranging evening with plenty to think about and a big club thank you to everyone who made it possible.
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
1. A reminder to join in the clubs monthly Flickr competion.
2. And whilst we are on the subject of Flickr, there is also a club Flickr space dedicated to giving suggestions to member’s photo’s they have posted. A good resource but only if you join in. There are some guidelines on constructive criticism, they are only suggestions but can be adapted. There is an image up there now looking for suggestions.
3. Next meeting we have a guest speaker, Philipa Wood. Get the skinny from Mr Painter here >>> Meeting 30th April 2015
We are all photographers together but that doesn’t mean that we all have it sorted and that we cannot learn from each other. Last meeting we ran our inaugural “Ask Reflex” evening whereby members submitted questions over the previous few weeks and we took it in turns to try and answer those queries with the support of the audience. All in all it went pretty well.
Gerry Painter did a fine job of coordinating questions and answers for the last evening’s event, and a big club thank you to him for his sterling efforts and to Dan Ellis for putting the questions up on Facebook. Gerry also took on the bulk of the answers himself with his usual diligence and was aided by Steve Hallam and Ian Gearing. We may not have had time to get through all of the questions but the bulk of those submitted were answered as well as some supplementary questions and observations from members who were making up the audience.
I have set out below a rough outline of the evenings questions and answers, where this has been practical, with links where appropriate and sources where quoted. Again my thanks to Gerry for help getting this into the blog. I hope you find it useful and as stimulating as I did. There are a couple of extras in there as well that were victims of time pressure.
These were submitted over a couple of weeks by members and covered a wide range of topics. The value of this, and anyone who has run a development day or attended one will probably attest, is that the questions are actual, involved and real as opposed to what someone thinks members/readers need to know. The questions were, thereby, entirely authentic. It also reflects the strength of the club that such a forum can be run without becoming bogged down in people’s opinions. That is not to say that people don’t have them or that they are not strongly cleaved to, but the ideas exchange was positive and that plays to the clubs strengths.
Gerry split the questions into three categories: Camera, Software and The Photographer and we shall snapshot these categories in the rest of this week’s blog.
First up were questions to do with Depth of Field and that almost Sci-Fi sounding of objects the Hyperfocal distance. Both these terms are essentially about the distance from the lens that renders an object with suitable sharpness, best thought of as a “zone” and will vary according to the focal length of the lens, the aperture that is selected and the size of the sensor that it is being recorded on. This zone of in focus detail is deeper on small sensors, it is deeper on wide angle lenses and increases as the aperture gets smaller.
In layman’s terms the hyperfocal distance is the distance set on the lens to give a zone back from the horizon that is in focus to a minimum distance from the lens. The hyperfocal distance is a midpoint in this zone. Its especially useful for landscapers. Again it is relative to sensor crop, focal length and aperture. For instance, A 50mm “Standard” lens on a full frame (35mm) sensor at f11 focused at 9.3 metres would have a zone in focus, a depth of field, from 4.61 metres to a theoretical infinity. Same settings on 1.5 factor crop (APSC) sensor found in say a Nikon D3300, would give you a depth of focus from 5.58 metres you 37.86 metres(5.71 to 24.98 metres on a Canon 1.6 crop). Now this comes with a big health warning. Don’t get all hung up on the infinity thing. The actual hyperfocal length on a full frame 50mm lens set at f11 is 9.09 metres and the furthest in focus 1.75 kilometres. Now given the perspective that a 50mm renders the background is going to look relatively sharp a good deal less than one and three quarter kilometres away, depending on how big it is. Gerry’s example of the mountain at the end of the road was done with an 18mm lens on a 1.5 crop sensor (think of crop in the same term as when you crop a picture, what it is is a 1.5 time smaller sensor in surface area than a full frame 35mm sensor, which is really 36mm!) set at f11 and roughly a metre and a half away (5 feet). The hyperfocal distance of an 18mm lens is 1.8meters. If you have a smart phone get something like Photo Tools which is a free app and calculates this and a whole lot else for you. For a visual explanation of this check this out.
What is a Mirror-less camera?
OK, yes it is one without a mirror. The mirror is what lets you see in your viewfinder what your lens is focussing on. A mirror-less camera does away with this making it mechanically simpler. You see what the sensor is seeing so you have the WYSISYG advantage (what you see is what you get). This makes the application of effects in camera easier because you see the exact outcome in your viewfinder as well as on your rear screen. They tend to be smaller. There are some drawbacks. Mirror-less camera like the Sony Alpha series, the Fujifilm X’s and so on (but there are exceptions), tend to show noise a stop or so lower than equivalent DSLR’s and battery life is shorter because you are powering two sensors/screens, there may be a little motion blur in the view finder (I profess I use one and frankly all the objections that I have been told people have with them don’t really add up to whole hill of beans for me). The difference in 7 seconds is explained here, though you might want to watch it a few times.
What changes do you make to your camera to make the background dark when the camera gives a lighter one?
There are a number of possible answers to this, but looking at this as a question of exposure compensation it is pretty well explained here (this is not a plug for his book, I haven’t read it). Running this with the next question,
How would you take a picture of a bird such as a swan without losing detail but not under expose the rest of the image,
you should also take the old adage that you should expose for the highlights and print for the shadows and in a difficult situation like this one shooting in RAW is definitely prudent because of the greater latitude in the format over JPEG. Essentially at the very extremes of the exposure graph (histogram) details are lost to absolute black and absolute white, more visually in the case of the whites and, I am led to believe, over a wider spectrum. Digital cameras simply assign more resources to exposing lighter elements in images than the darker ones, as explained here. It also helps if you know how to read a histogram. Shooting to the right is basically about this. Shoot for the highlights in RAW and adjust in post production.
How does White Balance affect images and how do I decide which to use?
Bright and sunny weather has a different colour temperature than say the light on a cloudy day. Fluorescent lights have different colour temperatures to say candle light or tungsten. These colour temperatures are measured in degrees Kelvin. Your camera’s idea of what white is, is actually 18% grey. These two factors affect the overall colour of your image. Explained here. Not sure what the colour of the light on your subject? There’s an app for that (Colour Temp Meter, free on Android) or practice with the adjustments in your camera menus.
Moving on to the software section of the evening:
What ways can I “Dodge” and “Burn” an image in editing software?
The terms come from the dark room where these techniques, dodging a shadow over a too dark area, being sure to keep the tool, or your hands whatever you are using to dodge (or burn) moving so you feather the edge of the effect and lighten the area in the final result. Burning is the opposite where more light is allowed onto one area than the rest of the image to make it relatively darker. This is one thing that digital has made simpler. Using the dodge and burn brushes are the most straight forward ways of doing things, but you still have to be careful not to overdo the effect. Most digital editing software that offers you these tools will allow you to exercise the effect over the shadows, highlights and mid-tones. Essentially the same methods apply, that is the tools work in the same way. Adobe say you can do it this way as shown here. In Gimp, which we will come to presently, the Q&D version here and a more detailed explanation here is backed up by a text version in the online help.
Please explain layers – Photoshop Elements – (not Lightroom).
Layers are, essentially, the building blocks of those photo editing software packages that provide for them. They are a good thing because they do not alter the original image (you will see the word “destroy” often used, which is nonsense as you might end up with a horrible mess you can’t undo – avoided by working on a copy – but you will still have an image to consign to the recycle bin. It may be beyond taste but it won’t be beyond use, unless you try very , very hard, usually with the blending tool and the save button). They give you a wide degree of control and you can blend, change opacity, and generally faff, dither and prevaricate to your heart’s content. They are most effectively used when you know the look or effect you are after. A general guide to photoshop can be found here (there are lots to be found on You Tube). As with dodging and burning they essentially work the same way where ever they are found, just the switches and toggles tend to be slightly different (to avoid “Look and Feel” law suits from Adobe). As the question specifically mentioned Elements here are two guides I found:
How do you take a step back in Camera Raw e.g. if you’ve made a mistake?
Ctrl Z is the simple answer on Windows operating systems. There will also be undo on the Edit menu of most programmes. The defining factor is how many steps are stored for you to undo. Photo editing and graphics software tend to make a feature of having more. Ctrl Y lets you reinstate what you have just rolled back. Same on the Mac but Ctrl key is the Command key only far more expensive.
Which are the best FREE image editing programs?
The Daddy of free editing suites is GIMP, currently at 2.10 (the even numbers represent stable editions and the odd numbers like 2.09 beta versions). It has been around since 1996, is open source and for the money, excellent. It is a programme, i.e. it is downloaded to your computer rather than run on line through a browser. It’s not particularly resource intensive but it is pretty extensive. It does not have the slickness of the Adobe suite in operation, and it is always playing catch up and always will be. However, it is supported by an extensive community and once you get to grips with it, easy to use. Will accept JPEG RAW PNG GIF TIFF and so on
Pixlr comes as a free or a paid for edition, but at $14.99 per annum it is unlikely to break the bank.. There are desktop and browser editions. It is easy to use and comes with a range of useful tools. For quick fixes it is pretty sound and has a fairly extensive set of effects and layers that can be utilised. Works with JPEGS.
Picasa from Google has a couple of useful features, actually more than a few. It has colour correction and lighting options and a selection of filters, some of which are very useful. It will load and edit other formats but it saves in JPEG only.
There are lot of others (see here and here) and there is nothing to say that you have to pick just one. What does become important is that you sort out your workflow. I use Gimp, Picasa and Neet on a regular basis. The workflow is important, the more technical stuff is done in Gimp and any finishing desired in Picasa and Neat (noise reduction). Also working on copies is no bad idea. Doubly so if the original is in RAW, which I convert to TIFF if switching between that and certain other programmes. Gerry has made a more extensive and useful guide which can be accessed from this link >>> RCC_free_editing_software
Time was against us so we moved to the photographer section and the last three questions were rolled together as they presented a logical conclusion:
How do you motivate yourself to go out and take pictures, or, what motivates you to take pictures?
A slight liberty taken with the question but I think it makes it more accessible to more people. See this PDF for the PowerPoint slides >>> Motivation & The Photographer
What types/range of lenses would you recommend that a general photographer should have?
From basics, you don’t need a lens at all, you need a beer can with a small hole in it and a piece of 7 x 5 photographic paper for the light to focus on. This could be added to the motivation list under get yourself a new piece of kit to work with.
Having thus caused a crash in the share prices of Cosina, Nikon and Canon through such heresy, I am going to talk a little about lenses (and thereby at least partially answer the question).
THE most important item in the relationship between the sensor and the subject is the lens. It will dictate how close or far away you are from your subjects personal space (where animate) and from the object being photographed (where inanimate). Their weight can effect your ability (in the case of the $2m 132Lb f5.6 Leica 1600mm zoom, hyperfocal distance a tad under 28km, probably several you’s) to move around. Then this is the lens that has its’ own 4 x 4 carry case.
The big difference for most of us is the zoom lens v the prime lens. Zoom lens are variable focal lengths, generally they are heavier than any equivalent fixed prime, and slower, that is to say the maximum aperture is generally smaller than for a prime. The big advantage of a zoom lens is that you have a whole kit bag full of prime lenses in one. Theoretically infinite, You have a variable field of view to go with the zoom. For example with an 18-55mm “kit lens” on a 1.5 crop APSC sensor has a 63 degree field of view at 18mm and 24 degrees at 55mm and everything in between. The simplest difference in use can be boiled down to the fact that with a zoom lens it’s the focal length that moves to get you closer or wider to the subject, with a fixed lens it’s you that has to move.
With wide angle lenses, those of 35mm focal length or less (it’s all relative to sensor size but stick with this definition and you will save yourself a headache), there is likely to be more going on in the field of view, so it pays to be aware of what is going on at the edges of the frame. Perspective is lengthened, there is more in view but it will also be relatively “smaller”. The obvious reason to mount a wider angle lens is to “get more in”. The better reason for mounting wide angle lens is to get in closer.
The “standard” lens, around 50mm, is the closest to the perspective of the human eye (apparently calculated at 42mm on a full frame, 35mm sensor). A telephoto lens start at around 85mm, often referred to as a portrait (as is a 105mm). This is to do with perspective. The snoopers lens of choice, it can be sometimes necessary to overcome physical barriers, to bring the subject optically if not physically closer. The down side is that it can give you the air of a stalker. A compression of perspective is the signature of the telephoto lens, the impression of foreshortening the foreground and background. There is one other common sort of lens to be found, the macro (close up). There are two sorts of macro lenses, those the product of the engineering department and capable of 1:1 reproduction and those the product of the marketing department which get to a fraction of this.
Regardless of which focal length we are talking about, composition is everything. The lens functions as the agent of composition. The photographer selects using the lens. In a general sense a moderate wide to a moderate telephoto zoom is ideal place to start. The kit lens is as good a place to start as any. If you have a particular need such as space restrictions (mine has to fit on a motorcycle) then maybe a super zoom, but you need to be aware of the pros and cons and weigh them carefully.
What should I be thinking about to make my holiday snaps into more interesting images?
In four words – all of the above. If you are still looking for ideas then see this pdf Gerry put together >>> RCC Becoming a better photographer
N E X T M E E T I N G
In honour of St Patrick >>> RCC_notice_Ian…