You can’t help but wonder what American cars, especially the classics, now that the laws of physics and the demands of aerodynamics homogenise nearly all cars, would look like if their roads actually had bends and the distances between towns shorter. But road trip is something big within the American cultural psyche and you may as well do that in style. A short trip down the A38 to Colliters Brook Farm in my rather small Toyota wasn’t quite the same – until I got there.
The club outing was to the bi-weekly American classic car meeting at the aforementioned farm, another one of those things that I hadn’t quite got round to taking the camera to – and I am not alone in my guilt there. So two expeditions in three weeks to photo some classic American metal.
Now, professional photographers specialising in motor vehicles do rather have advantages over the amateur on a club night at a social gathering in terms of access, but essentially we are both taking pictures of metal boxes. True, they are, for the most part, desirable metal boxes, but they are metal boxes nonetheless.
As always there are the two extremes, detail and the whole view, and the best image lies within a combination of those two. Location also makes for impact, but when it’s someone else’s car in a static display details are probably going to take up the bulk of the successful shots taken. And car designers take a lot of time in designing those details in, even if the demands of price sensitive mass production hammer the more exotic and difficult to manufacture ones out.
Being shiny metallic and it being evening the best we could hope for was a cloudy sky, or at least a sky with some cloud in it. A polarising filter certainly helps, but lack of one shouldn’t stop you photographing cars or other shiny surfaces, you just have to be a bit more savvy. The reason behind this is reflections and, to some extent with a low sun, shadows. Again we have got two choices, use them or loose them. Both are fine. In the latter case we have the option of using a polarising filter, which will help a lot but not be a total solution. Making a feature of them gives us more scope, it also means that the photographer ends up in more of his/her shots than s/he wished for, but careful use of angles can mute the impact.
As in the last post on portraiture, street and art there are more telling pictures to be had in the details than in worrying about getting the whole thing/person in frame. Those details, the automotive ones I am talking about here, are deliberate and functional, and collectively go into what the whole picture looks like, even if it is increasingly homogenised by the demands of legislation and aero dynamics. It is the details that tell the story often more effectively in photographic terms.
Those details may be manufactured, but detail can also be the difference in a familiar landscape. The more recent outing to Clevedon for sunset shots of the pier demanded exactly that. There is no doubt that the sun going down over the Severn Estuary with the stone beach as foreground and the long span of the pier leading the eye towards the setting sun is an effective and sound, emotive even, scene just right for capture. But it has been done. Many times and whilst it is good to have our own version of this it can look rather like a copy, even though the skies will never be exactly the same in detail, the angle ever so slightly different.
It is one of those shots that is almost a right of passage for any local, budding, landscape photographer. All areas have have them. But how to get more out of that ever changing scene? Different angles, different foregrounds, different areas of interest can make for quite stunning images, but there are always questions of what respects the landscape and what impact the photographer has upon it, especially when everyone is doing it. The general guide lines for landscapers is you leave it as you found it, don’t go gardening nature and claim it as a part of creation. But this maybe a bit narrow. There are other ways to capture an arresting landscape image without the threat of getting arrested. There is even a use, actually a fair number of uses, for that circular polariser again, though it does not have to be screwed on to the lens taking every landscape photograph.
Landscape doesn’t have to mean travelling hundreds of miles to catch the first or last rays of the sun (also some great twilight pictures to be had for the patient and informed), there is plenty of it here in the West Country you can capture in the Golden hour or the Blue. Or switch to black and white and shoot from dawn till dusk. Middle of the day is a great time for infra red too (full and very technical discussion here). You don’t even have to change loction once you have settled on a composition as there is always something going on in it.
And there is always something going on in Reflex. Thursday 6th September is the start of the new season back at the Wicklea Academy in St Annes. If you are in the area why not pop along to our members summertime review?
Last meeting was convened at the Grand Pier Weston Super Mare for a evening’s photography along the front covering both Weston Bike Night, the beach and the sunset across the Bristol Channel. Have to say that the clouds and the sun didn’t disappoint and the turn out wasn’t at all bad given the weather forecast and people’s work commitments. Certainly the black of the rain bearing clouds in banks and the gold of the setting sun made for interesting vistas out over the Channel to Flat Holm and Steep Holm. Of course there was also the Grand Pier itself, which is not exactly a hidden feature, Brean Down and Knightstone Island.
So this week a little on photographing motorcycles. It goes for cars too but your Blog editor is a motorcyclist, so that’s what we are mainly going with. There are not quite a half dozen of us in the club I know as motorcyclists (there are a few more former motorcyclists) and a couple of us have trekked with our cameras over the years to the National Exhibition Centre for Motorcycle Live and other venues and events. As machinery goes motorcycles are actually quite photogenic, but they are not, necessarily that easy to photograph well. In the street they are either moving among traffic – not the easiest of things to get a clear shot of – or parked on a side stand – occasionally a centre stand. Usually among other motorcycles, which doesn’t always work out favourably for photographers. In more rural settings they are generally a blur of noise and speed, or parked up as per the above.
Certainly shows and sporting events are the best way of getting chances to shoot more memorable images. Also going to and from events like the Weston Bike Nights (Thursday’s over the summer), Poole (Tuesday’s and, possibly, the biggest in the UK) and Paignton (Wednesdays) at a suitable and safe place can be good too. Static displays can be captured at wide angles but the pictures with movement in generally speak to short telephotos. This speaks to both practicality and safety for you and the riders, who, by and large, tend to be quite friendly.
The most important element, as ever, is the photographer, not the equipment, but as we are talking equipment then the statement about lenses made in the paragraph above needs to be qualified. The “best” focal length is probably short telephoto, certainly 50mm and above. The reason for this is that the shorter, wider lenses, add an element of distortion which can exaggerate the length of frames or make wheels look, well, not very round. This is fine if that is the look you are after, but accurate record (side on) shots, regardless of how creative, really need a perspective that 50mm and above create.
Apertures, more often than not, tend to favour the wide. This is because the background easily distracts and it is not unheard of for there to be gaps in the bike frames, especially on classic bikes, where in focus backgrounds can be a little diversionary. In fact one of the best pieces of advice I have been given about taking a photograph I have heard – though it can be a counsel of perfection as with any other – is start with the background first. Keep confusing strong lines and confusing strong colours that clash with the paint scheme of what you are trying to photograph out of the frame as much as possible. Of course, if you are photographing a row of motorcycles then the depth of field might well need to be deeper, but generally a moderate depth of field will allow for some background blur and sufficient depth to allow for the bits that stick out of the frame to be kept reasonably sharp. Remember here we are still talking about taking images of static bikes.
As with most forms of photography a low angle to the sun helps with illuminating the subject, so getting up early in the morning might not be avoidable, though Bike Nights cure this affliction. However, shooting from a low angle is pretty much standard. One other piece of equipment that can prove invaluable is a reflector. You can get a 5 in 1 cheaply enough from eBay (I have seen 60cms reflectors for £5 and 110cms for a shade under £10), and it is a good investment because more often than not there will be areas around the engine that are in shadow and rather than faff around in post light reflected back onto the engine and frame can eliminate the problem at source. Also very useful for other sorts of photography too.
On the move there are a different set of circumstances to be taken into account. Primarily safety. It’s very easy to get lost in that narrow field of view that is the world through a viewfinder but we have to be, legally and morally, aware outside of it. If you want movement shots at the Bike Night or other event get to know the approach roads on a map before you go. Roundabouts tend to be a favourite, the larger ones at times without too much traffic flow are generally good for getting pictures of bikes at an angle of lean. Actually any bend is good that requires more than minimal input from the rider. Lenses will depend on the situation that you are taking the pictures in, but again telephoto makes more sense, especially from the point of view of safety. Of course you won’t be the only one who has thought of that, and some people make money out of doing so – some organised events have cameras at the entrance so you can see yourself arriving – for a price. Whatever the case you are going to have to sort that out according to the location and some common sense.
If you are at a motorsport event then there are a couple of givens. The pro’s have all the best spots. You will be a longish way back from the actual action. That said there are a couple of obvious things you can do about that. Position yourself on a or as close to a bend as you can. Easier photographing a bike doing one mile a minute rather than three miles a minute. Your autofocus will thank you. Actually it will thank you for turning it off and zone focusing (pre-focusing), but more critical is slowing the action down relative to the camera position (usually head on or as close to it as is possible safe and desirable). Motordrive is an option that shouldn’t be over looked but it has to used deliberately. Spray and pray won’t get you a huge amount of useable material. Chimping is a great way to miss the action totally. Panning is an art that requires a lot of practice but if the shutter speed is low enough and the focus on the moving object good it gives a great feeling of speed (which actually can be very low, as per most supercar on road magazine shots). Go out and give it a go its actually rather fun.
N E X T W E E K
Tintern: – which means bridge tolls so lifts etc might be a good idea.
Meet in the Abbey Car Park at 7:30 pm.
Last meeting was the Annual General Meeting, where an account of the club was given over the last year and the committee reconstituted. Mark Stone and Dan Ellis stepped down as Social and Programme Secretaries to be replaced by Chris Harvey and Gerry Painter respectively and Jo Gilbert stepped into Gerry’s spot on the programme sub-committee. Otherwise the committee remains as was. The committee is the glue of the club and its heart and the club is in general good health so our thanks as club members, regular and irregular, for all their efforts. Ruth will post the minutes in due course.
What do you want from your club? We all share a love of the craft or we wouldn’t join a club, would we? Maybe there is more to it than that, but the fact is the more people become actively involved in the club then the more that club can do and everyone can exercise an influence. We have a strengthening competition base, and that is as much made up from the new members as existing and this is supported by the broad spectrum of speakers who relate their experiences and their expertise. Practical evenings, events and gatherings have proved ever popular – we invest in the kit to use it after all. Our membership numbers remain stable and we have a broad range of backgrounds amongst it. All in all we have solid foundations and a strong upcoming programme. We have 6 competitions in the year (4 rounds of the Open, a creative round and the trophy round – which is next week), not as many as some clubs but then there are issues about competitions and whether they stimulate or stifle innovation and development (both for my money, the key factor being how they are used in the individual members development and how the judges relate to the entries and audience and whether I can learn anything from the feedback given).
In brief, the whole is other than the sum of its parts. We are all at different levels of development, have different views on subjects, kit, and whether it really has turned out nice again and we combine those things together to craft a (visual) statement. The club gives us somewhere we can test those statements against others and by others. It does not matter if we agree or not, the important thing is that we can use that feedback to inform our art. The more of us getting involved the more opportunities there are. By applying even a modicum of criticism to our images we can and do progress. This is where the combination of theory, practicals, competitions and informal gatherings come together. The club makes these things possible.
The programme we have set out from the next meeting, the John Hankin and Stan Scantlebury Shields, all the way through to July 2016 includes: practical nights; tutorial nights; speakers from outside the club and in; editing; model shoot; the WCPF travelling critique, a three way club battle; landscapes; wedding photography; a monochrome challenge and, of course, the Reflex Open. Looks like another great year ahead. We bring open minds to these and we try out what we have learned and we learn more we have more we can put into the club.
The programme that we have had over the last year has been influenced, especially in the early part, by the move from the old school to the new, which as both Maurice and Steve pointed out, went better than expected. Certainly the new premises are very conducive, even if the chairs are pew-of-the-miserable-sinner hard. Education and penitence all for a bargain price! Tea breaks can be quite accurately timed by the pained look on the faces of the audience. At least that is what visiting speakers are told. Some might wonder why a tea break is required every fifteen minutes, but still they manfully (and woman-fully) plough on till either interrupted by the conscience of whoever has introduced the evening (who mysteriously has been standing throughout) or the expressions on everyones’ faces makes it look like they are adjudicating a Wallace (or Ed Miliband) look-alike contest, so chastising are the plastic seats (of course).
The best speakers are those who adapt their material to the audience. It can be very easy to end up delivering the same thing regardless. A travelogue to the WI is not the same as a presentation to a camera club. The things they want to know are different. No the camera settings on each and every shot are not the things we want to know, unless it has been to produce a particular effect or overcome lighting difficulties. RAW or JPEG? In passing only, please, and your reasoning. If someone wants to know more they will ask you about it. Likes and dislikes? That’s a statement, not an apology, nor a sermon (despite the hardness of the seats) and, frankly, will come out in your images anyway. Give us your reasoning so we can test that against what you are showing us. Most, if not all, of us want something we can take away and try for ourselves. Equipment? Yes, that can be useful as long as it doesn’t turn into kit-pornography or an advertisement for Canikon and what difference does it make? Why can’t you take that with a kit lens? Even though the answers may be quite mundane they do go towards making up a philosophy which informs what and how subjects are taken. That is a good thing to get over to an audience of photography enthusiasts.
About those competitions. We have had a big revival in interest from within the club and that partly driven by new members which is healthy. Also, using the data from three club battles over the last 18 months there has been an across the board uplift in competition quality based on common prints and a common judge. Now, it’s obvious to all club members, when their images aren’t picked, that judges only become judges when their eyesight starts to go, but in their defence we have had some consistent judges, certainly since I have been a member, and judging is exactly that. It is an exercise in judgement against standards that make up a technically proficient photograph plus …. And that plus is made up of experience and yes, tastes (and eyesight), but the variations haven’t been huge, so fair play to the WCPF for that. Feedback, the breakfast of champions apparently, is the best we as individuals can take away and the quality of feedback can be variable, especially when faced with a large number of images to get through in a short space of time. It’s a turn around and a nice problem to have, but the committee is going to have to look at the number of images in the ratio of prints to digital to keep things in balance (and possibly source a decent supply of prescription glasses).
So, overall, a good year and with each of us playing a part, a better one to look forward to.
N E X T W E E K