Kev and Rich’s presentation on the planned approach to image capture was far ranging and very well received. Thank you gentleman for a very informative evening. I look forward to putting this into action at next week’s practical session, not least because I am far more comfortable with the suck-it-and-see approach.
Now the lucky accident (serendipity to give it its all-dressed-up-going-to-Sunday-Meeting name) plays its part in everyone’s lives, but it’s no way to run a business, even one called Serendipity. Well you’d think so but there is a business strategy based upon it and the idea that when taking over a business there are additional benefits to be found in its way of doing things either in physical or intellectual property beyond that which was originally planned for and made the acquisition attractive. So, as an adjunct rather than a strict contrast I want to use this week’s blog to square the circle a little and hopefully add to Kev’s and Rich’s interesting evening.
Planned serendipity can be applied to photography, in fact I believe it is at the heart of the creative process. In order to support that rather bold statement it is going to be necessary to discuss a little by what I mean by it and see how it might be applied to our shared art. Going out (or staying in) and coming back (or tidying away) with an image to mark and to celebrate is as old as cave painting (where they had the bonus of something to eat too). It is something of a celebration each time we press the shutter release as we have found something in essence that we want to preserve and probably share. To that end we have control over the not just the triangle of exposure (ISO, aperture, and shutter speed) but, to some greater or lesser extent, the light. In a studio context this is obvious and, in theory at least, total. Outdoors is a different question, the weather is not under our control, but as we discussed last week, that is not necessarily a question as black and white as it seems. It depends on how you frame the question, making the weather the subject of your image as opposed to a reason for not going forth in the first place. You adapt to the condition to the point where the condition becomes the subject. You take the incidence of the weather and you turn it to your advantage. That is planned serendipity.
It is easy to extend this into a reason not to bother planning, because something will turn up. No way to shoot a wedding where getting the right shot is a result of anticipation and planning (see the blog entry on Dan T’s wedding photography session). The key is to know as much as you possibly can beforehand, get to know your subject and your location. No way to shoot landscape either (consistently), if you are after a particular effect. How can that apply to the outdoors? I touched a little on this last week when I talked about the Photographers Ephemeris (free for Mac or PC, paid for on i-Phone or Android) or using Google Maps and the relevant tables (though if doing this I would go to the Photographers Ephemeris as a default unless the detail and the working out is where the fun is for you). Control what you can control. You might have all the data you need to make that perfect sunset or moonrise in terms of time and geography, the weather forecast may be just so, but you can’t control the cloud that is in the wrong position at the wrong time, obscuring the object of focus (though you can borrow one from another image if you want to add). In that case come back another day. Whatever happens and to quote Napoleon Bonaparte (in translation of course) “Time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted”, and Kev and Rich’s trip to Iceland certainly proved that. They suggested that whereas the internet is a great resource you need to get your information from at least three different sites. There are smart phone apps that can help with that, on both Android and i-Phone. Know what you are looking for and where best to look for it.
There was the inevitable discussion about RAW v JPEG. This is one that will go on forever and a day. There is nothing wrong with either format. There is more processing latitude with RAW than there is with JPEG. If you are a Get-It-Right-In-The-Camera-ista (I bet you used to shoot transparencies, didn’t you?) then there is not a lot in it. If you can’t get to within + or – 1EV of the desired/ideal/correct exposure then shoot RAW. RAW has more latitude within it, + or – 3 EV. For EV read f-Stop. A change of + or – 1 EV is a change of + or – 1 f-Stop. The bottom line is, at least for me, show me a print and I can’t tell whether it’s a RAW or a JPEG. If you are doing it for love take your pick. If you are of the order of Ye-Acolytes-of-Photoshop, shooting one off photographs for money, determined that your camera is conspiring against you (turn off in camera adjustments), curious or just plain anti then use RAW. Or one of its many variants. Your camera manufacturer has their own version of it. Perhaps you should ignore that bit if you are paranoid about your camera conspiring against you.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t pre-process (if that is the right word) your image. ND (Neutral Density) filters and ND graduated filters and polarisers both circular and linear were also discussed as part of the process of manipulating light. A price range around examples of Lee, Hitek and Cokin were all mentioned and the relative merits boiled down to the old truism that you get what you pay for, with Mark S’s recommendation that people consider the Hitek IRND for its colour neutrality at half the price of the Lee. Thanks for the links Mark. What system you choose make sure that there is a match between the filters and the holders that go with them.
In the planned serendipity video above (link here) James Austin’s book Chase Chance and Creativity is referred to and in it he talks to four kinds of luck.
Firstly, that which is just, or seems to be, random “Sheer dumb luck”).
Secondly, chance from purposely acting towards a defined end (running out of “Unluck”, you know the sort of thing, entering photos into competitions, getting feedback, putting that into action – it’s a hint), where keeping doing things in search of something particular stirs up the creative pot.
Thirdly, chance favouring the prepared mind (“Sagacity“), that is thinking like and acting purposefully as a photographer as opposed to a person with a camera bumping into photo ops.
Fourthly the sort that comes from being us, our actions, likes and dislikes, or as the great Victorian politician Benjamin Disraeli put it ” We make our fortunes and we call them fate”.
So is it a case that P.P.P.P.P.P. (Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Photography)? That might make for a neat conclusion but I think that is to miss the point that Kev and Rich were making and certainly excellently illustrated in their previous talk on Iceland I referred to above. The point is, in this post at least, the more you make happen deliberately the more you have scope to take advantages of what chance presents you. You make your own luck. You plan to make your own luck. Taking your own luck is called Planned serendipity. Thursday, be there, try it out.
For most of us, it appears, Adobe Lightroom is all we are ever likely to need in a photo editor, and in this insightful evening, Kevin Spiers, Mark OGrady and Dan Thomas gave us a whirlwind tour of some of the possibilities. It certainly isn’t the only editor available, Gimp, Pixlr, Picasa, Paint.Net are all free alternatives with their supporters but none, as they appear to me, have an interface quite as slick and certainly none have the full capability of the cloud based full suite (Photoshop CC and Lightroom) which can now be rented at just under £9 a month. Mind you, photo-shopping is not always approved of!
Kevin was first up and showed us the cataloguing feature. An image isn’t much use to anyone if it can’t be found, and with the ease and cheapness of taking another frame comes the problem of sheer volume. The number of images quickly adds up. Looking for that photograph can soon become evidence of that old proverb involving needles and haystacks, though why anyone would think to even begin to look for a steel needle in a stack of dried grass, much less think that was a suitable storage medium in the first place, has always defeated me. Sounds like bad filing practice, which is exactly what the cataloguing system is designed to overcome. Like trying to find a needle in a sewing box. Simples!
Frequency separation is a technique that gives the user the ability to process the surface and the depth of an image in different detail layers. The image is divided into two layers, containing the high frequencies and the low frequencies and allows the use these layers to work on colours, on broad and fine details independently, using non-destructive changes to the original image.
Definitely an advanced users technique, but one that seems to be getting wider use over the last couple of years . It is, in essence, about utilising the different strata (think of a photograph as a sandwich and each component of the sandwich is both part of the overall sandwich and a thing in itself) that make up a photograph. Or think of your favourite song played by different artists , there are individual notes and there are chords arranged together in subtly different ways that form the overall, still recognisable but differently rendered, tune. If you change the chords and notes sympathetically you change the harmonies but can still retain the tune. Frequency separation is about using these strata to enhance or alter parts of a photograph in the process of retouching and moving the image to a more striking, enhanced representation. Again not a process without controversy, but something that started when the first human artist drew the first image and the first human critic ,that is the first person the artist showed it to, thought “That ain’t right”.
The technique involves creating two layers, a high frequency layer and a low frequency layer. The low frequency layer contains large areas of colours and tones and the high frequency area fine details like skin pores and blemishes, hair and so on. Julia Kuzmenko McKim gives a blow by blow account of this and also includes a Photoshop action that automates the process (which you might use, but entirely at your own discretion). These actions can be replicated in some other programmes too, Gimp, for instance has its own frequency separation plug in.
To the low frequency layer, Mark applied desaturation (taking it to black and white) and Gaussian Blur, also known as Gaussian Smoothing. Carl Friedrich Gauss was an C18th mathematician, perhaps the greatest since antiquity, whose work has had a huge effect on the modern world. It is the application of an algorithm derived from his work and that of Fourier which we need to know not even that much about, leaving such technicalities to people who have use for them. All we need to know is that it is a blur effect that reduces image noise and detail. Mark suggested using a brush around 3.5 to 5 pixels and though the size used would depend on the job to be done and the preferences of the user he suggested that would be a happy medium. The larger the brush the bigger the effect. On the high frequency layer he changed the blending ode to linear light and talked about the relative merits of the healing brush and cloning.
Starting with the low frequency layer Mark evened out the skin tones and then switched to high frequency layer to work on the blemishes, making sure that the healing brush was set to sample from the current layer. There are a number of techniques, he assured us, that can be applied, and people derive their own favourites and short cuts. The results were quite stunning and well worth trying out, more finely controlable than just stamping around with a clone brush. Mark recommended Scott Kelby‘s book on photoshop.
After break Dan took us through the Lightroom layout, which is set out in a way as to aid workflow in that the tools that it shows you at the top of the menus the things you are more likely to productively work on first. This all helps with the work flow. Dan emphasised the lossless nature of using Photoshop, leaving the original untouched. To emphasise these points he took us through some images that he had provided earlier and applied some of the options that the abundant menus allow the user to easily apply. Dan’s top tips? Take in RAW and Slide the Sliders! RAW gives you more data to work with and the sliders let you apply effects incrementally and as long as preview is switched on you can see the effects on your image in real time, saving considerable effort in going back and forth to check your image. There is a downside of course and that is, in the words of Yogi Berra (American baseball player and yes, that was his real name), “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else”. It helps to know what you want to do before you start fiddling around.
A great evening and thanks to Kevin, Mark and Dan for making it possible.
You can find an expanded version of what Dan took us through here and includes ground covered by Kevin as well and a whole lot more too.
Don’t be afraid of Critique
You may remember somewhere in the mists of time, well OK not quite that long ago, we started the season with a critique night. We’re about half way through the season now so we thought we’d invite you all to send in some pictures either via Dropbox or email or even by bringing them in on a stick to the meeting and we’d see how you’ve progressed. You should never be afraid of asking someone what they honestly think of your photographs. Remember it’s their point of view and everyone sees things differently. A picture you love, someone else will hate. If you look hard enough you can find a fault in any image but rather than looking at it as a fault why not see it as a suggestion on how you could improve the photo. The same goes for seeing the good parts of an image, unless of course its selective colour (anyone who creates them needs to seek psychiatric help immediately to avoid permanent brain damage) then you should just hit delete or burn it if its a print! Anyway back to being serious. Bring in some images, let everyone look at them and get some constructive comments on how you might improve your images. Don’t bring in your best most amazing pictures. Instead bring in the ones that you think don’t quite work but your not exactly sure why. Those are the ones you’ll learn from.
Our Chairman is going to show it all!
Once a year our Chairman gets the chance to have a whole evening dedicated to absolutely anything photographic he wants. Whilst Kev has been Chair we’ve had a guest speaker and a near disaster when Dropbox decided to only sync 20 out of the 220 images he wanted to show but this year he’s chosen to do what is probably one of the hardest things anyone can do. He’s going to let you all see the Demons of his past and show how his photography has changed over the years. Yes thats right your going to get to see how he’s changed his style, from when he started out up to the present day. Hence the use of that image up there at the top of this post. It’s one of the very first photographs he uploaded to Flickr. So come along to this weeks meeting and see the difference in his style and skill.
See Kev I managed to write the whole thing without joking about your skills at all. I hope you appreciate just how hard that was!
It was like something from the 70’s at Reflex’s Light Painting evening on Thursday with LED’s, Flash guns, & torches all lighting up the room. We just needed the Bee Gee’s playing in the background and we’d have had Rich dancing around in Flared Trousers with his shirt ripped open impersonating John Travolta.
I think I can honestly say that despite being forced inside due to the weather every single person thoroughly enjoyed themselves and came away with images they were happy with. Even Hanneke took some pictures despite trying to loan out her tripod! Talking of Hanneke she actually beat everyone else and put her images up on Flickr First. Talk about a shock to the system! Next she’ll be turning up on time to meetings…….