Snowed in and called off we will have a week’s wait for member Gerry Painter’s evening. Something to look forward to. So this week, through the rattle of ice rain on the living room window, which rather underlines the soundness of the decision to call things off, we are going to talk about connecting with our images.
When looking for something to photograph, chance, as we have often reiterated in this blog, falls to the prepared. There is, however, a difference between what fine art photographer Cig Harvey calls “Target Practice” and telling a story, and a personal story, rather than the story of someone else. Now you don’t have to go to quite the same limits as she went to, only shooting in one room for a year, but taking responsibility for everything in the frame and avoiding the “Yeah buts’”. That is, doing it, rather along the lines we talked of in the last blog, because we are not all full time artists.
Photography is a channel to put our thoughts in. Cig Harvey again. This is a particular form of photography, the fine art angle, but don’t we do this consciously or subconsciously, anyway? This, at least in part, is improvement as a continuous process, because the stories never stop, we just switch them off at some point. We are all taking a little moment in history and slicing away at the baggage that surrounds it and showing a truth. Or maybe just taking drunken snaps on the camera phone during an after work drinks session. Maybe something in between, but for those of us who take our art even a little more seriously, there is the recognition of something achieved, with a little something to take forward to the next frame. Basically, “Yes, and …”
Fine art most of us would think beyond us, but we have all taken that sort of image at some time or other, even if by accident. Indeed the definition of what fine art might be in photography isn’t even settled definitively. It is, on one level, peoples’ bread and butter. But not all fine art photographers are fine art artists making a living. Most, I suspect, are on the amateur level – which doesn’t make them averse to making money from their photography, just means it’s not a regular source of income. Essentially “Fine art photography is photography created in accordance with the vision of the artist as photographer”, which tells us next to nothing because it doesn’t include much and really doesn’t exclude anything apart from the implication that if you are not an “Artist” you cannot be a fine art photographer.
That Wikipedia definition does try and make such a deliniation, but even so the misses the potential irony (neigh sarcasm) behind Picasso’s statement that “I have discovered photography. Now I can kill myself. I have nothing else to learn”, but does give room to John Steinbeck’s comment on Robert Capa “… That the camera need not be a cold mechanical device. Like the pen, it is as good as the man who uses it. It can be the extension of mind and heart…” The whole “Is photography art?”debate is endless and, frankly, sterile. It will never be conclusively settled and is as much about fashion as it about metaphysical discussions of meaning and being. Maybe it’s all what the Journalist Fyfe Robertson labelled Phart, but I think that rather misses the point.
Exclusivity certainly plays a part in the discussion. Certainly it is not all of it. Vision, idea, technique, a body if work all have their place and frequently find their way into this blog and our Thursday evenings and hopefully seep into our practice. As illustrated last week this doesn’t have to be a long practice but mulling it over, working the idea into a concept, finding the materials it needs, getting everything together then executing the shot can be the fruit of days, weeks, months, years. Doesn’t make it any better or worse to look at, but the effect on the photographer as the centre of this whirl does make it something more than the recording of a play of light on a subject.
Above all it is an attitude, a desire and a great deal of persistence that makes an artist, regardless of medium. It doesn’t have to be on a grand scale, especially when practising, and it doesn’t have to be to please anyone else but ourselves, but I suppose most of us take photographs to show others. Over time though we develop our own photographic fingerprint, but standing in the same place Ansel Adams stood and point our camera at the same vista as Ansel Adams pointed his at at the same time of day as Ansel Adams did at the same time of year as Ansel Adams did does not mean we get the same picture that Ansel Adams got, much less make us Ansel Adams. All we do get is the same thing every other photographer got doing the same, at best a downscale Ansel Adams look a like picture. It is instructive to do what the masters of the medium did and do, but is of little value if we cannot make those images we make our own. Afterall access to the original completed file or negative means we can run copies faithful to the original ad infinitum.
Which is one of the arguments that some people propose to strip photography of the idea that it might be art. Art is an artefact, it is made, it is up to us to make up our own minds what we consider art or otherwise.
Our thanks to David Southwell not only for a sterling job in judging the Hankin and Scantlebury Trophies round but for doing so at short notice. Always a model when it comes to his consideration and feedback. Our continued run of no shows, reasons aside, continued as the 2015-2016 season goes down as “The year the Judges didn’t”. Results will be posted on the club website made available and the awards made at the end of year bash.
As ever, the last two rounds of the ROC have shown that the interests, eyes for an opportunity and styles of club members are very different. They are, if we let them be, calls to go out and do some things afresh, to get better. In the final analysis the only person we are competing against is our self. We have visited this improvement theme more than a few times but that does not alter the fact that it is our own experience and limitations that go into taking the next frame. It maybe a little dispiriting when people/clients are name-checking a 9 year old over you, or when the fourteenth consecutive judge has failed to notice your genius, but that doesn’t matter because you are following your passion.
Except it does matter.
It matters because you don’t need to let your passion get in the way of your passion for. Passion here, we could also read as ego, passion for as motivation. I am not going to launch into a Freudian lecture on Id Ego and Super Ego, but the point was made on Petapixel this week in an article built around a Mike Rowe video entitled “Don’t follow your passion“. Essentially it is about blinkering ourselves to opportunity by focusing on what we desire, or think desirable, or think we should think desirable.
Someone, actually it was Ralph Waldo Emerson and in answer to your next question, yes I do know where he is, said that life is a journey not a destination. Well thinking about it he might be right but actually that doesn’t actually mean anything nor does it indicate what we should do next. Let’s put this into photographic terms. Your eye sight is fading, it was always better in the days of film, you were once the proud owner of an Austin Allegro and your favourite colour is beige. Conclusion? Go and judge some club competitions, who will then marvel at your beige enhanced, photochemical scented nostalgia and razor perception of the necessary width of a border. A fairly accurate description of the judge who doesn’t pick your photo for at least a commendation, obviously.
What we have here is not so much a matter of perspective as a matter of investment. The landscaper who hacks across perilous marshlands in the dark in order to get that glorious sunrise, slightly over exposed, but that can be “fixed in post”, with the horizon bang in the middle, but that can be cropped out, the dynamic range in the frame more than JPEG can handle, did that for effect, and with the tips of branches intruding from one side, strong vignette will sort that out, is left with a sense of achievement imbued by the difficulty of the journey and the glory of the post shoot slap up breakfast. The journey becomes the point and the spectacles distinctly rose hewed because of it. Along comes the judge, who has trekked that very path, taken that very scene, made it part of their successful RPS panel and basically says “Should have gone to Specsavers”. If a good ‘un their feed back will provide a map to get them there. Obviously, our landscaper is the victim of myopia, poor taste, jealousy, misunderstanding etc etc. Yet, following their passion, and as we seem to be in the middle of a quote-fest, they have fulfilled the Yogi Berra observation that “If you don’t know where you are going you might find yourself someplace else”.
It’s not the trek over the perilous path that the judge is judging, it’s the image that resulted and it is being judged against the other entries in that part of the competition. Yes, it is all relative, and if the competition regularly shoots for and is commissioned by National Geographic then the standard you have to hit to be good enough to reward is going to be far, far higher. In this rather extreme case you have a decision to make. Buckle or learn? If you are following your passion then the former is easier, eventually than the latter. If you bring your passion with you, as Rowe points out, then the latter becomes a lot easier – if you have a system for and a willingness to put it into operation.
There is a negative side that can raise its head here and that is to do with confidence. Lack of confidence is, I would speculate, the number one reason members don’t enter club competitions and whereas it is true, or maybe, it can also come across as a bit glib to say, nothing ventured nothing gained. The essential truth doesn’t take the sting out of failure. Experience has taught me that if you don’t “fail” (come up to expectation, yours or someone else’s) you cannot learn. Fail is just an acronym. First Action In Learning. Don’t fail, can’t learn, can’t learn won’t improve. Enter the competitions not to win but to learn. That is where the judge’s feedback is so very important. If you have a system for and a willingness to put it into operation. Simply put, take what the judge said could be improved, go take two similar shots, one with those sins included and one with them omitted. Which seems better? Make a note, as in write it down in a note book. Practice the better outcome. Read your notes often.
All of which takes motivation. Actually two things it takes, the first I have just mentioned, repetition, the second is the spur to action. The pattern for most people who are not obsessive/compulsive is to have a whole lot of enthusiasm at the beginning which tales off to mild interest and finally redundancy over time. In that way motivation carries the seeds of its own destruction. The key is to vary. Not one technique done to death but two or three practiced together, and always with a critical eye, a positively critical eye. Technique is more important 99 times out of a hundred, than gear, but that is not to diminish the role that gear can play. It’s just better to invest in it gradually and purposefully. Know why and what you are going to achieve by investing in it. What it isn’t is a crutch for bad technique. Which brings us back to the top of the page.
N E X T M E E T I NG
Practical outdoors, bring your cameras. If weather inclement then we will be indoors.
John Cuff of Lee Filters was our speaker last meeting and our thanks to him for an entertaining and informative evening. Handmade Lee Filters are definitely at the higher end of the market but the money goes into precision raw materials and quality control. Now part of Panavision, probably best known to most of us as a credit for the lens makers on the closing credits of oh so many movies, Lee have been making filters for over 30 years. So this week I thought I would take the hint and we would look at camera sensors. No, only kidding, filters. Definitely filters.
Filters are essentially light modifiers, in that only certain wavelengths are allowed to meet the sensor or all wavelengths through darkening. We will come back to this shortly. Those of us long in the tooth who learned the basics of photography from film (not that you have to be that long in the tooth to have done that) will remember the 80A 80B and 80C or 3200K, 3400K and 3800K to daylight (5500K) colour correction filters. Then we had the 81 warming, 82 cooling and 85 tungsten to daylight series filters. Film, it should be remembered is a one off colour deal. There is no Auto White Balance on a film camera. There is a certain amount of dynamic range, but the colour balance is fixed. Colour filters with black and white effect how the greys are rendered, by and large. If you want to see the effect Google Picassa has a coloured filter on black and white option and it is free.
So, looking at the filters from the perspective of digital we are not looking at the colour balancing, that is done by the AWB or manual balance as we have already indicated. No need to pick the right coloured glass to screw on to your lens, you can dial in correction or you can let the camera do the work. Essentially we use the filters in a slightly more subtle way. Yes neutral density filters, polarisers and alike pre exist digital, but we are looking at the effects on digital and as light from the sun predates it by about 4.5 billion years and we have to take it as read, we are looking at the uses we can put these light manipulations to.
So let’s start with the Neutral Density filter, aka the ND, aka Stoppers. Simply put their job is reduce the amount of light reaching the sensor. Essentially we are manipulating the light before we start to process it through the camera via the Exposure Triangle. The uses of such a filter include effecting the depth of field when shooting with limited options of shutter speed, ISO and or aperture. Mainly it seems to be used for the slowing down of time to alter the relationship of something in continuous movement across or within a still frame. The much seen effect of milky flowing water or cloudscape comes from applying this sort of filter, it really is quite versatile when you have got your head around it. Graduated versions of the ND allow darkening parts of the frame that are very bright, such as sky lines, whilst allowing for the correct exposure of other section of the frame. With graduated filters the rate at which they darken, how hard the line is between unfiltered and filtered, varies and John showed us how sensor size has an effect on that and why Lee now have four designs to get the most out of the effect without making things too obvious.
The polariser is a popular filter with landscapers, but not exclusive to them, as they can increase colour saturation and decrease non metallic reflections. They are also significant because their effects, by and large, cannot be replicated in post. Their use also requires some forethought and getting the most out of them is a function of familiarity and practice. As with everything else that we use to modify the light its use and impact is best regulated to specific, desired effects. They work best when perpendicular to the sun and a popular way to work it out is known as the rule of thumb where you form a right angle with your thumb and index finger and point your thumb in the direction of the sun. The direction your index finger is pointing is optimal for the polarising effects, that is to say don’t have the sun directly in front or behind you. Of course the roles of index finger and thumb can be reversed but the principle remains the same.
Filters, then are about control. They can be used in subtle ways to control light variations in different parts of the an image or used to give a whole image effect. There are also effect filters to consider, such as those that give four or eight rays to a point of light (not currently made by Lee, I feel I should point out), or which render other distortions or patterns in an image. These can be replicated in post, of course, and these days their popularity seems to have waned. When Cokin first introduced their system filters into the UK nearly 40 years ago, the principle (only) medium was chemical/film based and it wasn’t unusual for a “Serious” photographer to be seen porting around half a dozen or more filters. Cokin changed the game with its system which was square when all the others on the market were round and its catalogue was famously 100 pages thick with examples of the filters in use and quite a work of art. They certainly shook the market up.
So our thanks to John Cuff and Lee filters for a very informative and enjoyable evening. Better start saving.
For some people the urge to travel is irresistible and this compulsion leads to a variety of colourful entry and exit visas in their Passports. Most of those will have some sort of photographic record of their journeys and for a few this will be the thing that drives them most – the opportunity to record stories from other lands of other people as a set of images. Of course we all have our occasion, event and holiday snaps and perhaps we hold on to them for reasons other than their technical brilliance, but to go a step further, indeed several steps further, and make this who we are drives but a very few. A lot more of us probably feel that this goes on the Lottery-Win-Bucket-List (guilty, probably very guilty). Some of us might even use our social media skills to share this with friends, family and the like minded of the billion or so people with access to the world wide web. Some make a living from this. Most don’t. We are all, however, on this spectrum somewhere because we are bound at the very least by a common love of photography, or we wouldn’t be here doing this.
John Chamberlin FRPS MFIAP took us on a journey starting in the Falklands and ending in North Uist via South America, North America, Africa and Continental Europe with an obvious passion for photography that started in 1979. A mixture of wild life, landscape, street and anecdote that made for a fine club evening.
So there is a difference between a (travel) photographer and a body with a camera. It’s not the gear, though John said his was top end (it bounces rather breaks) and that it has taken some years to collect. It’s not just the capability to travel, though being there obviously is a pre-requisite, glaciers and associated wildlife don’t usually occurring in your local high street unless you live in the right latitude – and that tends to rule out things like High Streets of any size, Polar bears being bad for business and not just because of their poor credit rating. It’s not just a knowledge of the exposure triangle and the rules of composition. It is something to do with attitude, not just to the having a “correct” attitude towards art or artisanship – for every one of those you will find a dozen dissenters within seconds – but a willingness to learn from mistakes and successes, persistence, an open mind, a questioning attitude a structuring of a basic inquisitiveness and an eye for framing a picture.
All these things come together in practise and there is something in the act travel that compliments this necessary restlessness. Robert Louis Stevenson nailed it when he wrote: “For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move” (An Inland Voyage, 1878). The great affair is to photograph, to capture the micro-stories in different places, that the travel photographer keeps moving. All this high minded stuff doesn’t mean that the mechanics can’t be learned, but in travel as a category John showed us that a number of genres have to be mastered and that takes time, patience, practise and a critical eye from the photographic side.
From the photographer it takes humility too. John made the point that most people are basically sound. The others you need to take reasonable precautions against, and where as they are out there they are not, generally, the majority. Certainly this has been my own experience having travelled in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East and yes I have met both sides in that argument and I agree with John on this. One of my pet hates on our side of the camera are the Photo-Daleks. They are the ones with the cameras and the self granted right to take that picture anyhow. No contact, not even a smile and a open gesture that suggests you want to take someone’s picture, no idea of a please or thank you, just an aggressive pointing of the lens, a click then off. I am not saying that the candid does not have a place, but that involves a high degree of discretion, a different sort of detachment.
Of course if you are intending to sell your image then there are the issues of Model and Property releases. If you carry a smart phone there is an app for that. Indeed several apps for that for both Android and i-phone, though the property releases are generally ignored (tends to be a planned one off sort of thing, so hard copies are less of a kerfuffle, but should be in place for sound reasons and covers not only locations but props that have a potential or actual copyright implication. We have covered this before on the blog, 20 Feb 2014, and these links might help when Photographing Minors, Photographing Adults and Photographing Property). This is all part of the planning process and in that lies the success or failure.
Part of that planning purpose is also the kit you carry. In a realm of limited space and against the iron law of Murphy that states the lens you need for this shot is not the one currently on your camera, the photographer has a basic choice to make. Budget aside, are you going to take two or three primes or a couple of zooms? Yep depends on what you have to start with, but if you collect your accessories as you go – John made the point it doesn’t have to be new – you can build those choices into your system over time. Travel tripod, a good idea. Filters to taste, but probably a polariser at least, though a grad often comes in useful – though you can use post to alter within the capability of the format you are using to spread the dynamic range, or there is always HDR, some systems have that capacity built in. Something to carry it all in too, though not something that screams expensive equipment in here, please steal me.
As you develop you know pretty much what your style is, evolve your own rules, your own tastes, though you need to be careful about not getting locked into restrictive patterns. Our thanks, then, to John Chamberlin for an informative and enjoyable evening.
N E X T M E E T I N G
Practical evening – Table Top Photography. Bring your camera and tripods … maybe something to photograph??
And so the season is now officially over with the presentation of the trophies, but not the events, this Thursday Weston-Super-Mare, get there early as there is lots to see, not least because Thursday night in the summer is Weston bike night. Two weeks ago there must have been a couple of hundred bikes and not a few trikes of every shape, size and paint job, so lots to look at. Starts getting busy around 6pm and there are the other, more permanent attractions to look to as well. This being the summer break from Wick Road, I thought I would use this opportunity to look at just how much is actually going on in our hobby from a quick snapshot of the photographic headlines this last week or so.
Starting, of course with our social evening. I have drawn up a table of winners which you will find in this linked document 150716 Reflex Award Winners 2014-15 and will let that and the strong forward looking feel and commentaries from the AGM speak for the club, and a special thanks to Mark O’Grady for pulling all this information and for all the behind the scenes work. There is a lot of it.
It has been quite an important ten days or so, no, strike that, a very, very important ten days or so for your rights as a photographer. The European Parliament, as I have written about elsewhere held a vote on the European Commission’s proposals, a lot of them as it turns out, for harmonising copyright across the European Union. In itself that is important for the future of photography and photographers among the 500 million EU citizens covered by such an agreement. One of the proposals was to adopt the system whereby public buildings – including furniture like statues that form part of the designed space – should have the copy right of the designers protected and thus photographing them without the architect/copyright holders permission would constitute an offence (civil rather than criminal as far as I can work out). Half a million people signed a petition against this clause which was withdrawn on the day of the vote in face of this opposition. The Freedom of Panorama as it has become known has been maintained, though you should still check what the local laws are on these things because any necessary changes have to be enacted in national legislation (and that can take years). Still, three cheers for democracy.
A triumph for UK photographic technology this week, the sensors that recoded the Pluto images were made right here. It took four and a half hours for the information to get back from Pluto and another 1 hour at Boots to get them developed, but scientists seemed very pleased with the results. It’s a fantastic achievement. OK, you can print them quicker at home, but you have to buy all the kit and have somewhere to put it, not to mention the exorbitant cost of ink and paper.
You wouldn’t want them to all be out of focus like those from the Hubble Telescope, but as of next Year that won’t be a problem for owners of the shortly-to-be-released Panasonic GX8 when a 2016 firmware update will allow the user to “Post Focus” an image – something we talked about a month or so about. The firmware update will also apply to the FZ-300. The capabilities of consumer electronics companies cameras being released now represent a step change from that being evolved by Canon and Nikon, who still have 85% of the market between them. Of course there will be arguments about whether bells and whistles are what are required, but if you’ve been around photography long enough be sure that you can save a lot of time and ear ache and get on with your photographic life by substituting the words “Film” and “Digital” with the words “Proper” and “Toy”. For those of us longer in our remaining tooth we can substitute the brands “BSA”, “Triumph” and “Norton” with “Honda”, “Yamaha” and “Suzuki”. That ended well for market leaders, didn’t it?
There again “You don’t need all that technology to make a photograph”. We’ve heard it and seen it from Justin Quinnell back in March and it’s an idea that has momentum. Pinhole photography is practical, simple and gives you time to think and reflect. The very opportunities that digital gives us can also work against us – especially the “I’ll fix that in post”. There has always been a post and there has always been fixing but there is no substitution for time and care spent on understanding then composing your subject. The idea that the image represents more than what you see because you invest in one that has a connection with you is pretty much as old as art and we’ve been over the whole Gestalt thing elsewhere. Taking time when time is what you’ve got pays dividends.
Finally, if you think that grain is a problem in your images, take a look at this adaption from the film days ….
W-S-M. Thursday 23rd. Be there!