Monochrome and lessons in depth of field as we split the room between practical and tutorial this last session and I must say it worked rather well. Both the choices of colour and the application of depth of field are creative decisions, they convey subtleties of look and feel, they speak as much to meaning as they do they do to composition.
Timely indeed as there has recently been evidence published that rather challenges the conventional wisdom of how we look at a photograph. Logically paintings, etchings drawings etc too, but this is a camera club so we will stick to talking about photographs. At the outset I have to say that this research doesn’t present a new way of perceiving how we look at images, how photographers perceive their images, but it does present evidence to support some photographers way of looking at their art. “We are making photographs to understand what our lives mean to us” wrote Ralph Hattersley so maybe it isn’t such a stretch to suggest that meaning is our primary guide when we look at a photograph. Similarly Don McCullin feels that “Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures,” and Wynn Bullock “When I photograph, what I’m really doing is seeking answers to things.” Well you get the idea.
Of course we all spend a lot of time discussing whether it is “Visual salience based on semantically uninterpreted image features [that] plays the critical causal role in attentional guidance, with knowledge and meaning playing a secondary or modulatory role [or it is] … meaning [that] plays the dominant role in guiding human attention through scenes”. Not … but ….
Let’s think for a moment about the way we are lead to judge photographs when we start taking photography more seriously, especially when we start talking about conventions used in competitions.
Very basically we photograph to capture a relationship between and impact of objects, subject and space arranged within a frame to tell a story. When we looked at critiquing images last season we talked about the considering initial impact an image has on us before moving on to: considering the story it is telling us; the technical issues such as light, focus, foreign objects, crop, exposure, saturation; then considering the technical details like composition, colour and subject matter before using all these as evidence to come to a reasoned conclusion.
It isn’t the only way but its consistent application, when applied across a range of photographs makes it clear how to go about improving our own. It is a good habit to get into, if nothing else to make your efforts clear to yourself and to spot areas you can work on. It’s also worth keeping a record.
Not too much of a leap to say that we, as photographers, already think that we look for impact (meaning), first, then for the prominent features (salience), because emotion is what we are trying to stir in our audiences. For sure that is going to be variable, but if we put consideration into what and how we photograph then we can make then we have the makings of a story.
Then we have the many and varied tools of composition. We have discussed before why tools not rules, but basically it is do with the selection of techniques to emphasise the point of our story, rather than a must comply with. You can get one story per frame for the sake of impact. Split the audience’s attention between two focal points of equal weight and you risk halving the impact of the image. Restrict the impact and you restrict the meaning and we, according to this study, are suckers for meaning.
So composition is one way we can get meaning into our images. With human subjects we can also do much by our interaction between photographer and model and leave the camera out of the interaction as much as possible. This is our chance to explore character. Too many photographers let the camera come in between them and their subject. Time spent building that relationship, even with a model you know is time well spent. Use the camera as unobtrusively as possible, get them to focus on the brand label on the camera body rather than the unblinking eye of the lens, which can be intimidating. Candid photographs have their own power and their own techniques.
Someone, and I cannot remember who, once said that we should consider the background then put the subject in it. That makes sense when we want to cut out distractions. It also makes sense when we have a striking background and can reference our subjects within it. There is a difference between the background as backdrop and the background as distraction. Dramatic scenes, interesting lighting, like the light of early evening or early morning, add to the meaning by adding qualities of light or drama for us to place our subjects in an interesting part of the frame all. These things can be ways of adding meaning to our images as long as we practice, practice, practice and practice with a critical eye.
Our speaker this week was Richard Price talking on the very small and the infinite (at least the bit of it we can see) – Macro to Astro. As ever a hugely informative and accessible evening given to a packed hall.
When talking Macro (on a ratio of reproduction to actual size of the subject of 1:1 or greater) we will be including what is close up photography too as there is a technical difference but not, as far as next meetings practical is concerned, no difference worth the time.
These are both areas of photography that appear complicated but, whilst demanding, they can be easily accessed. And they are both absorbing aspects of photography and being both accessible and demanding they teach us a lot about our equipment and how light works with it. It also tells us a lot about our kit and can involve finding work arounds. For instance my manufacturers own 50mm lens will not work on anything but manual and with the depth of field preview button held down with my extension rings. My third party lenses work just fine. Took a while to work out how to get the nifty to work, but it was worth the effort. With a mirrorless camera like mine the DOF preview button is usually redundant -what you see in the view finder is exactly what you get as an image. Only it isn’t redundant at all and I am rather glad it’s there.
Of course, how near/far you want to go is a matter of budget but only really at the extremes. You can get some perfectly acceptable macro shots with a kit lens and a reversing ring (about £7 for a 52mm filter – size it’s written on the front of your lens, in the case of our 52mm example as Ø52). You can also use a coupling ring to reverse one and add another lens to it to make a longer focal length and a greater degree of magnification. In both case it might be advisable to take any UV filters you have off the end of the lens.
The next option Rich gave us was using screw in filters (lenses) of varying dioptres. These are available for around £15 (and upwards depending on filter size), but as with everything else you get what you pay for. Essentially these are like reading glasses for your lens, they are lenses that fit on the end of lenses. If you buy them for the largest filter size you have in your range of lenses you can buy a set of step down rings to fit them to your smaller filter sizes (usually for around £5).
Extension tubes, moving the lens away from the focal plane foreshortening its focusing capacity, use no intermediary glass at all, so there is no risk of flare or softening enhanced by putting more barriers between subject and sensor. By shortening that distance a degree of magnification results by getting closer to the subject. This is generally a more expensive route than the two previously discussed. this is because a certain amount of electronic communication has to be allowed for in the design of the tubes and this complicates the manufacturing process making it more expensive. It isn’t always effective either (see example given above) and work rounds result. However, the more you pay, generally, the more you get in terms of functionality and performance, though this is not an absolute guide.
Finally there is the most expensive option, the dedicated macro lens. Without a doubt this is the higher performer when it comes to producing quality of images in terms of sharpness and contrast, and without a doubt. But all that comes at a cost and even the cheapest all manual lenses cost several hundred pounds. Whichever route we go, macro/close up photography can be done anywhere and relatively easily and cheaply. One extra technique that might help is Focus Stacking. It can be done in Photoshop, as per the link, but failing that you might want to try CombineZP which is free and simple to use.
Now focus stacking as a technique makes a good link to the second half of our evening, Astro-photography. The reason being that photo stacking is an often used technique when taking photographs of the stars. It’s not an absolute requirement, though, and the basics are relatively straightforward. Rich recommended using StarStax, which is freeware, as you were wondering and developed with astro-photography in mind. But we get a little ahead of ourselves.
Dark areas in the UK are few and far between. Light pollution is a serious problem, not just for photographers but for wild life too, in our rather crowded island. Even in designated Dark Areas there are problems at the extremities where towns and villages emit a glow low on the horizon. So it takes some work.
The pollution part is best thought of as the light you would eliminate if you could. The night sky isn’t black, the horizon is always discernible. The sky itself is also quite bright. If we are trying to record as much detail as possible (known as Deep Sky astrophotography) we are going to be fighting the noise generated by the sensor of the camera, especially at higher ISO’s but even at the lowest setting because where there is a signal there will be noise. If we treat the sky as black either by exposing or reducing it to black in post production then the fainter details are going to get lost. The point is the sky isn’t really black, it’s closer to a dirty orange colour. Because of the light pollution and the reflective nature of Earth’s atmosphere.
We can get round this in post by adjusting levels, picking the darkest part of our image as a start point with the eye dropper and adjusting the levels. It’s a matter of trial and error really. As is white balance. Regardless, this will all be a matter of trial and mostly error at the beginning and that is actually part of the fun. Learning new techniques like this means we learn more about the competencies and capabilities of our equipment and allows us to do more things with it.
Our thanks again to Richard and good luck as he takes this and his other presentations on the road.
N E X T M E E T I NG
Macro and close up practical evening. Bring cameras tripods and that reversing ring you just ordered off Amazon.
Table top and/or product photography is an extension of the hobby for amateurs and for some professionals a staple and stable income. It has many branches and specialities. You can throw as much money and kit at it as any other branch of photography but as with any other form if the light isn’t right it’s not worth a dam. In common with other forms of what I shall broadly call “Studio” photography, which I will discuss a little further shortly, it is one where the control of the light is total.
Studio came to English from the Latin via Italian word for application (also eagerness). It is the application part that is of particular interest to this piece. In essence we are applying the Exposure Triangle to a subject, usually fairly limited in size, but that depends on how big your table is I suppose, to a single (usually) object or limited number of objects against a plain background (again, usually). The studio is a place set aside for the production of the final piece. It doesn’t have to be permanent and the glory of table top is that it can be made to order from things either already in our photographic collection or household items ready to hand. It can be from the size of a match box to the size of a hangar and anywhere in between. It can be very absorbing as small changes in the lighting can have quite profound effects in the overall image captured and the absolute concentration on detail it requires can be quite revealing.
The common elements of the table top studio are a table top, a background, preferably plain, at least one light (though two and three light set ups are common) and something to photograph. Basic refinements then come in the shape of diffusers and reflectors and again these can be made from things readily to hand. I am taking the camera as read in this equipment list on the grounds that this is a camera club blog and the camera is rather implied. Also the vexed question of which camera is best skirted. The answer, as ever, is the one you have.
Most compacts will focus pretty close, for systems with interchangeable lenses you have macro specialist lenses (true macro gives a reproduction scale of at least 1:1), then you have macro filters, reversing rings, extension tubes and bellows that allow you to get closer than the native capacity of your lens. Fixed (Prime) lenses are generally easier to use – especially with reversing rings, but zooms are by no means ruled out. The shorter the focal length the closer to the subject the lens can be, for instance my 24mm on an APSC sensor has a minimum focusing distance of 180 mm which comes down to about 10 mm with a 13 mm extension tube. My 50 mm and the 340 mm minimum focus comes down to around 25 mm for the same fitting. Depth of field is also shallow.
You might want to shoot with a plain backdrop but one that is seamless, and gives no hint of depth to the background. It’s known as an infinity curve, infinity cove or cyclorama and is formed by taking your back drop and curling it under what you are shooting. That can be something as simple as a piece of A4. Somewhere along the journey from table top to full blown studio the infinity curve becomes an infinity cove, the curve covers right angles without showing any angles, but that is a distinction that need not bother us (the cove comes from the shape, not the size). The physics remain the same, only the scale (and expense) varies. Beware, though, that Amazon own the patent to the set up (as discussed last May here), though I doubt that adds up to much under UK law, but that hasn’t been tested. And then we come to the light tent, aka the light box. Essentially it is a 360 degree diffusion box. Lights are mounted externally and the subject internally. They soften the light (of course) and can be used to reduce specularity and also have an infinity curve effect. They are straightforward and can be bought quite cheaply (and not cheaply at all), made very cheaply, or somewhere in between.
As hobbyists the table top presents us with the opportunity to practise basic and not-so-basic lighting skills in our own home. It is also a way of keeping skills sharp or refining existing ones and it presents challenges of its own. Therein lies a further utility, it helps keep things fresh through subtle challenges and in ways that are transferable to other styles. Starting out it is best, as always, to keep things simple and start with one light plus something to use as reflectors, such as paper, cards and mirrors. It is amazing how much you can get done with a single light source, be that flash or continuous (such as a table lamp) and it is also really productive to find out what effects you can pull off using black reflectors as well as white or silver (or any other colour if it comes to that).
But colour isn’t the only thing that makes for a decent table top shot. Texture is important too. This comes back to what was mentioned above about finding images in detail. If, by keeping our attention to a single or relatively few objects devoid of clutter, we can make for some interesting images, then we can transfer those skills into the messier world outside of the simple table top and look for the angles, textures and details that make for more interesting shots. The possibilities for still life/tabletop/product photography are almost boundless. It is fun, as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be and it builds transferable skills. So a big thanks to everyone who contributed to this evening, from the shots on the FB page I think a lot of us found it very productive.
N E X T M E E T I N G
An evening with club member and treasurer Steve Hallam.
Tony Byram was our most welcome returning judge for Round 4, the final round of this season, of the Reflex Open Competition. We had a very strong showing, over 100 images in the combined sections I believe and so it was a very busy night and a marathon preparative task for Tony. Thank you Tony for your succinct feedback.
Before we get on to the results there has been some confusion over the rules, especially for prints. You are still required to enter a DIGITAL COPY OF THE IMAGE YOU PRINT through Dropbox. THIS SHOULD ADHERE TO THE SAME SPECIFICATION AS A DIGITAL ENTRY i.e. no bigger than 1400 x 1050 pixels and sRGB colourspace. SEE LINKS BELOW FOR LABELLING REQUIREMENTS. If you don’t your entry will be disqualified. Also make sure that your frames are standardised at 40 x 50 cms, no bigger, no smaller. The size of the image within that is a matter for your own discretion, but it must fit within the overall dimensions or it will be disqualified.
Competition Rules can be found on the club website:
http://www.reflexcameraclub.co.uk/ under ROC on the banner or by typing http://www.reflexcameraclub.co.uk/#!reflex-open-competition/cm27 into your browser.
And so to the bit you’ve all been waiting for ………
RESULTS DIGITAL PRINT
“Porth Beach At Dawn” – Simon Caplan
“Severn Sun” – Julie Kay
“Not Quite A Pair” – Simon Caplan
“Going Fishing” – Eddie House
“I’m Vegetarian” – Julia Simone
“Weighted Down” – Julia Simone
Digital Projected Images
“Looking” – David McInich
“Nunney Castle” – Richard Price
“Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” – Eddie Deponeo
“In the Spotlight” – Chris Harvey
“Foggy Morning” – Eddie Deponeo
“Prague Castle” – Julie Kay
“Yet To Bloom” – Roy Williams
“Pokhara” – Julia Simone
“Victorian Tea Break” – Ian Coombs
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
Sunday – The Reflex Annual Photo Marathon. 10 images in order, on 10 topics, 4 hours!
23rd May 5pm at the M Shed – Simon Caplin is giving a talk on the crafts based photo-project he has been involved in. Be there to give him some support. Tour the rather good Industrial exhibition before hand, you know it makes sense!
Next Meeting – Ann Cook FRPS: “Granny Goes to Glastonbury” a two decade evolving project.
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
Slightly late for St Patrick, last Thursday had a distinctly emerald tinge to it, as the club celebrated the Apostle of Ireland with a photographic evening. We were joined by local model Kelly Wolf Rogers and various club members were dressed in (at least) forty shades of green. There were balloons too. And cake. Thanks to everyone involved in getting this event together, it was a good humoured and very enjoyable one. We don’t set so much store against Saints days in the modern era (not least because, strictly speaking, it is a denominational affair) but they were and are a way of setting out the seasons. St Valentine’s day is where the bleakness of winter starts to be broken by wild primroses, crocuses and aubretia (those small, usually purple, flowers that grow in clumps I am reasonably informed, however, to me Hell is a Garden Centre so I would probably have accepted that it was a form of fungal infection just as readily). Saint David’s day is a bit early for our idea of spring but there is plenty going on. Paddy’s day and you may start to see the first of the bluebells in the far south west, but by St George’s day spring is resolutely marching north across the country at a steady walking pace. Warmer, if not entirely dry, weather entices the less hardy outdoors.
We are not short, in other words, of photo opportunities provided by nature, from the very small to the grand vista. Let’s start with the very small. I am using the term close up rather than macro in deference to the technical definitions of such that hold macro to start at an image reproduction ratio of 1:1, that is life size. A third term you often come across is micro photography and they are pretty much interchangeable in any camera company marketing department. A few, if obvious, facts bare illuminating as our plot unfolds. Every lens has a minimum focusing distance. The longer the lens the, generally, further away from the camera that will be. Short focal length lenses focus closer. Depth of field is shallower/deeper the more telephoto/wide angle you go. Smaller than about f16, apertures start to soften out the image because of light diffraction.
So, speaking in close up terms, there are ways of getting more out of your lenses than the manufacturer designed for and each have their pros and cons. You can also ally these with certain software tricks, such as focus stacking, so as to cheat more out of your equipment. Certainly this is an instance of where a tripod is an absolute necessity (at least until you can slowly zoom in video on 4k – 8mb per frame – , or Sony’s rumoured 8k DSLT – 33mb per frame) , but that doesn’t mean that you have to bring the outdoors indoors to achieve it. Neither do you have to go to extremes, these things can be found around the house, e.g. a pot plant, fruit, etc. but also “in situ” as it were. Why, essentially, do we need to do this when we are shooting close up? After all we usually only have space for one thing to be in focus, indeed, often to fit in the frame. The first problem that we usually have to contend with is depth of field. The D.o.F. on a 50mm lens set at f8, focusing on an object 25cms (10 inches) away is less than a centimetre (about 4/10ths of an inch in imperial) on a 1.5x crop sensor. It would be less on a full frame sensor. Autofocus may not cope, so be prepared to go to manual.
Nature, it has been observed, is wild and inclusive, whereas art is about choice and exclusion. In the discussion, very broad as it was, on the last blog, on the section about wide angle lenses, it was stated that they are commonly associated with getting all the view in shot, whereas it is an invitation to get in close. To marry these two observations we need to think in terms of why what we have in the viewfinder is there and also to investigate other angles too. Don’t forget to press the shutter though. So what has this to do with close up photography? More than it would at first appear. In both instances a small detail in a larger context is the situation for our image’s story. By deciding we want a close up of that insect, that petal, those leaves etc we are making very definite decisions about excluding other detail from this story. Coming back to the detail idea, what is obvious in close up photography, applies, just not necessarily as obviously, to landscapes, portraits and so on. We have been told by more than one judge at the competition rounds (next round at the next meeting, f.y.i.) that there is room in any frame for a single story. When we are using wide angle lenses to capture an image the edges of the view become more important than is the case with telephoto’s.
The reason, of course is that there are more chances to cover more objects and those objects could be distracting to the eye. This is also something you can get in the close up, extraneous detail you overlook because you get target fixated. That target in close up photography is the in focus area. We end up concentrating so hard on that we miss what is glaringly obvious in post production. That detail we miss will almost certainly be a little off centre, (or centre of attention). The same happens with wide angle lenses, the wider the angle the more of a problem. Attention can be distracted quite unintentionally so you need to be aware more of what is on the outside of the frame.
Lighting for close up outdoors is also less of an issue and a different set of problems. Whereas the “ideal” light for landscape falls within the Golden Hour, and some landscapers won’t photograph in anything else, a lot of opportunities exist throughout the day – and you don’t always have the opportunity of going back at a more fortuitous hour (and can’t control the weather if you do). Judicious use of reflectors or auxiliary lights, flashes etc (though not the one on the camera as it will fall within the shadow of the lens and will unlikely be reducible to useful strength if it doesn’t) can certainly help in ways that are inconceivable for the bigger picture. If you want to wait for the golden hour, the details in the landscape, even down to the very small ones still offer opportunities.
A N N O U N C E M E N T S:
Next meeting is the Reflex Open Competition. RCC_notice_Ian