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.
Apologies for missing a post, IT problems. Our guest speaker was the always welcome Peter Weaver, who will be returning in a couple of weeks to judge Round 3 of the Open Competition. This was followed by a video tutorial and a table top session. Peter showed us many instances of his own photographic journey and this set me to thinking about one particular aspect which we have talked around but not directly addressed in a while, that of taking pictures of people.
There are many forms this can take from the happy snap via passport style documentary through street to high art. For all of these we are going to use the same basic formula with appropriate, or lack of appropriate, vigour, starting with the background, putting our subject in it, lighting it then recording it. We are speaking generally.
So, background. Avoiding the classic lamp post/tree branch growing out of the subject’s head takes a bit of practice. Border patrol needs to become a habit when our attention is mainly on the subject, but that is easier said than done, especially when we are starting out. Choosing the background against which we will contrast our subject helps in getting this right. Not fool proof, but it works more often than it doesn’t and that little equation can be affected positively by establishing a routine and sticking to it.
Two easy to stick to rules for backgrounds are fill the frame with your subject (goes for all single subject photographs) and blur the rest. In the first of these we can either zoom with the lens or zoom with our feet. Perspective doesn’t change the same way when we zoom with the lens as when we zoom with our feet, as different focal lengths will handle background compression in a different way (sort of, it’s the subject to distance that changes in order to keep the subject the same size in the lens).
Putting the subject into a pre-selected background minimises the chances of there being unintended distractions in frame. Basically, if it doesn’t add to the story you are trying to convey, get rid, either by moving to another location, cropping tighter or changing the angle between lens and subject.
In the studio we might generally light the scene at this stage and refine with the model in it, which is fine where control is total, but we don’t always have this option. In more public and more chaotic situations, “Running and Gunning”, we might need to see what we are lighting first but this is really a personal preference and down to the workflow we adopt – not all workflows are automatically the most efficient but we are after the most effective and that means thinking critically about them from time to time.
Where ambient light is variable it is preferable to put the model in the scene, then light. Variation is part of every point on this process as each time something changes we have a different image and opportunity. Being prepared for the opportunity is a vital step in capturing it.
Posing our model is relative to the formality of the shoot. The corporate head shot is probably the most convention bound of these as portraits of friends informal. Inflation of ego aside, it always amazes me that the item by which their audience is going to judge them most, the corporate mug shot on the annual report, on advertising, on the web, commands such little time in the executive’s “busy” day. Herd instinct aside, the corporate headshot is a very conservative market. Everything can be pre-lit because so very little changes.
Admittedly there are poses to generally avoid because body language is very specific in what it conveys. Posing is also gender specific, at least by convention, so we have the idea of male poses and female poses, which, in actuality, are merely what society expects.
Then the lighting. Lighting is as straight forward or as difficult as you want to make it. Essentially it is the interplay of light and shadow and it is something over which we have varying control over depending on the environment we are shooting in.
A home photo-studio doesn’t have to be expensive to build, and if we start out with flash, as many of us do, then we have a very versatile and portable light source that has many uses, the light from which can be usefully and quite cheaply modified for hard light (grids, snoots, beauty dishes and reflectors) or soft (soft boxes, umbrellas, diffusers and flags). What we get in the studio is control.
Light is by far the biggest factor in any photograph. It’s in the name, as we have discussed before. Its qualities are exactly what we trade in. That balance of light and dark we control has four elements: quality, position, intensity and colour and the modifiers are how we go about it when using artificial lighting or a mix. The portability of modifiers (well the smaller ones, a seven foot octobox may not weigh a lot but the slightest of breezes will turn it into a sail) doesn’t preclude them being used outside (and here).
As, more often than not, we are using a mixture of ambient and boosted light, the options for control are broad. For non-artificial lighting we have the exposure triangle, white balance and filters to affect the look of the light. We have exposure compensation, full manual too.
It is all dependent on the way things are arranged in the frame of course. Composition is no small matter. It is as important as the light, indeed it is at least half of what we do to capture our vision, that thing that grabbed our attention. It’s about making a statement, or taking that statement and making it our own, but remember : “It’s one thing to make a picture of what a person looks like, it’s another thing to make a portrait of who they are.”
— Paul Caponigro
Your Picture Your Way, Architecture and Artistry last meeting and thanks to all those who took part either showing pictures or from the floor. It was thought provoking and showed a refreshingly wide sensibility within the club as to who takes what and why. A couple of items came up I am going to pursue because they show the broad spectrum within the club and the ways we individually develop.
Firstly lets establish something that is important for all of us to recognise about our development as painters with light. Not every photograph we take is an exam to pass, even if we are doing this as a living. That way we spend more time in revision than in actually enjoying our hobby/living. The difference between the amateur and the professional are the activities that put bread on the table. Increasingly difficult to make a living purely from photography these days because someone with a camera is no longer an event. They are everywhere. It doesn’t mean one takes better photographs than the other, though we do expect the professional to be more competent – which is partly based on the assumption that price is some arbiter of quality.
Every photograph that a photographer takes for a client has to pass their examination if the transaction is to take place (lesson: Always get the money up front), that is to say every image made for a paying audience has to pass an exam. Every photograph we take is an opportunity to add to our development and as such there will be a lot more failures than passes. Looking at something as a straight forward pass/fail doesn’t do our own, regardless of its state or impact on our economic status, development much good. Not every photograph has to see the light of day more than once.
Every photograph we take is an opportunity to learn. We’ve talked about criticism and its role in development before and we will return to develop that at a future date. What we had at the last meeting was a sharing of that opportunity. All questions based in adding to what we know are a good thing. So we had discussions on the difference between JPEG and RAW (JPEG uses data compression for smaller files and white balance etc are encoded in the image at the time of pressing the shutter, the ability to lighten and darken is about a stop and half to two stops based on programming decisions made at the time the software was written, where as RAW has everything left in ); cropping and composition; long exposures and seeing photographs and were amongst the things covered. Also finding inspiration popped up at a tangent to the main conversations, at least the ones I was privy to.
Architecture isn’t really a topic we’ve covered in the blog and it is a subject that brings challenges of its own to the photographer. Most buildings are, well so damned big. I was at Salisbury Cathedral last week and had I not had a 10-20mm zoom on the camera I very much doubt I would have got the magnificent west frontage in (at least at an angle that obscures the tent they have erected for those who cue to see the Cathedral’s copy of Magna Carter). You are going to shoot in RAW (especially when shooting interiors where colour casts and dynamic ranges may be a problem) probably use post production of some kind and use a tripod. Ah, that tripod thing. Well I know that if you want to get the best quality then you should use a tripod. I was told this at great length by a photographer with one a couple of years ago, at Salisbury Cathedral as it happens. Didn’t have the heart to tell him my camera didn’t have a mirror to bounce around and quite how much shake he thought I was going to get hand held at 10mm at 1/640th of a second at F8 I didn’t feel the need to bore myself by asking. As a general rule I see the point, especially for interiors that have tendency to be dark. Best quality low ISO in the dark means a low shutter speed, low shutter speeds are best augmented by steady camera position. A tripods bulk, even the small ones, doesn’t add much fun to the experience, but that isn’t the primary problem I have with them, neither is it that just-another-damned-thing-to-carry.
The primary problem I have with tripods, from experience and observation, is the very thing that we use them for. Immobility. How many good shots are lost by having the camera on a tripod and fixing not only the view before us but the angles, frames and crops that moving the camera left or right, up or down or through an arc? How many of us actually go: This is the view; this is where I set up the tripod; then frame the picture in those up-down zoom in-out plains? The last bit two things a photographer should do is attach the camera to the tripod, not the first. The last but one is fine tune the frame, focus and exposure (I know that is three things but I am trying to avoid a Monty Python Spanish Inquisition re-run here) and the last press the shutter. It is a problem of when the kit gets in the way of the photography, what the French might call an idée fixe, that is, an obsession that dominates other considerations. Iif the building you are trying photograph allows photography and allows tripods in the first place (Do your research to avoid a long and fruitless journey).
Like landscape, or come to that any other form of photography, it is all about the light. Buildings being fixed will have an axis around which the sun appears to travel (it’s the other way round, I know, but , as Father Ted explained, “These are small, those are far away” and in this case far away and small are a convenient confusion) The Golden Hour works for buildings as for anything else in the landscape, even if the relative geography of the area that you are shooting in can make things difficult getting the angle you want.
Symmetry is also a powerful tool in shooting buildings. Horizontal, vertical, diagonal and converging lines should be actively sought out, they lead the eye and lend proportion to your image. Shapes, patterns and shadows can give you interesting details to shoot when the whole building is too much and should not be overlooked even if it isn’t. Also the use of reflections can add depth to it and other areas of focus. When shooting at night or in poor light, commercial and shop windows often can be used as free soft box if you are utilising a model or shooting portraits as well as adding interest. In fact shooting at night, especially on buildings where the whole or significant parts are illuminated can give buildings a whole other feel than they have in day light.
I haven’t talked about TSL’s – Tilt Shift Lenses. That’s because they are screamingly expensive and for the average hobbyist a waste of time and money. You can always hire one if you really need one. As soon as the camera goes off a flat plane verticals start to converge or fall away. These can be fixed in post production , but you have to leave sufficient room around the building because you will also effectively crop your image in so doing. You can also think about your elevation – get higher up – but this is not always possible. The thing is, with a little forward planning these things can be over come.
So a good evening, with plenty to talk about. next time why don’t YOU bring something along?
N E X T M E E T I N G
AGM – Annual General Meeting. Committee elections and your chance for your say on how the club is run.
Member Adrian Cooke took us through some of his favourite landscape pictures last meeting and his presentation was well received by the members. We are now regularly fielding 40+ at each meeting and that has something, a lot, actually, to do with the programme. In the words of Butler and Yeats, “A good thing”. Active members mean a healthy club.
Adrian shoots a lot of landscape photography, he has a lot of it on his door step, nonetheless the fact that he showed us a wide variation of images of the same landscapes just goes to prove that no two images are ever the same, even when the subject is identical (Maybe). Adrian showed some scanned slide film images among the purely digital images and the colours were quite different in comparison. Now there are a whole lot of technical issues in scanning slides to digital, and the image sensor may not have the same dynamic range as the (negative) film, and just how much information you can get on film as opposed to a modern sensor, the way that each respective medium records light, standardisation of results, and a swathe of other pros and cons constantly rumble around like a number of other technical questions that seem to get in the way of people making pictures. None of those, and all of them, are my point. It is refreshing to sit back and rediscover some of the features that many people now can’t appreciate because they have never been exposed to the processes nor the outcomes. Sometimes I suspect that the memory of those images is superior to their physical reality. One day I will go for a rummage in the attic to find out. These technicalities were hurdles and barriers to entry, the number of photographs taken was exponentially smaller, but the role of mastery has not changed. Just the size, number and relative cost of the spanners it takes to make even a poor image.
Not that Adrian’s images suffered in the quality category, familiarity and technique were in evidence aplenty. Perhaps the most consistent point to come across was the importance of the focal point. There are a number of ways to promote the (usually single) focal point. With landscapes it is generally held that greater depth of field is desirable but, nonetheless the question still remains what is the focal point and where in the frame am I going to put it. Yep we are back to the thirds, fifths, sevenths and “Golden ratio” , so I will move on. The f-stop isn’t the only way of highlighting the focal point. Careful use of, or observation of, contrast and shapes will also do it, as, of course making it the largest thing in the picture (OK, obvious, but worth mentioning). It also helps with not providing too many points for the eye to rest on, and thereby confusing things, and that is less likely to happen if there are fewer places to fill them with.
The eyes journey around the image is important. The photographer creates that journey and the elements within it make up the story. As was stated at the judging of the last round of the ROC, for a photograph to really make an impact it really should be telling one story and one story only. As Adrian implied, these images don’t just happen they are created. Another feature of Adrian’s photographs were the role that lines play in the journey we make around each image through the use of horizontal, vertical, diagonal and converging lines in making patterns to give impressions of depth and scale or leading to the focal point.
Timing is also important. Adrian related how he tended to shoot towards sunset, though there were a good few early mornings represented in his presentation. This is the period of the “Golden Hour“, where the light has a different quality to that of the rest of the day and for which The Photographers Ephemaris is a great tool. Almost by implication this brings in the idea of longer exposures, which have effects of their own, pretty much demand the use of a tripod, for lower ISO settings tend to give better results with less noise but increase the problems surrounding camera shake. Almost counter intuitively this allows for the capture in motion, especially of water and clouds. Adrian discussed using ND filters to cut down the light and ND grads to help even out the exposure (back to dynamic range again – the range of lighting that a sensor or film can represent. Of course it helps when you don’t confuse your Infra Red Filter for your big stopper ND filter as I did on Sunday (apologies to Dan Ellis who I leant it to) but then there is something there about labelling things. Or in this case not loosing your filters. Maybe I should take note. Also Dan discussed the use of a polarising filter (and when to use one) and certainly this can have a quite dramatic effect on skies and cut down on reflections when the light comes in from the side. And of course not just limited to landscape.
Adrian’s presentation provided a thoughtful and thought provoking refresher on landscape photography, and the club thanks him for his time and effort. Next meeting we have a speaker, who will talk about editing and take us through the process using some pictures from the club. Marko Nurminem has worked at the “Very high end” in editing images, including for previous speaker Damien Lovegrove. See the link RCC EVENTS Feb_05_15 Marko Nurminen_No_Images for more information.
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
A reminder from Dan Ellis about the Ask The Club session. Get your questions in by 12th February, either via FB or the forms you can get from the table where the register is kept on club nights.