A new season and so the blog returns from its slumbers. We started with a good spread of photographs taken over the summer and it was good to see so much variety. It is the third year that we have been at the Wicklea Academy and it was good to see so many faces old and new.
The programme is pretty varied this year and our thanks go to the programme team past and present. There is a slight change to the points schedule as far as the competitions go, details on the web site. The focus, as ever, is on personal development and learning as certainly been at the heart of the club for many years. The blog is here to support that, based on what we are doing in the club on that particular week. The competition rounds are a chance to celebrate your journey, get some feedback and pit yourself against others in the club. All of us who have been at the club any length of time has certainly benefited from that cycle and the practical evenings are chances to try something different, to discuss and try things with other photographers. Your level of experience isn’t the issue, everyone has something to bring to each meeting. Your questions count. It does not matter what the kit is you use, its brand, its complexity, nor its popularity, as the club motto says it all: For us, it is the picture, not the camera, that counts.
So let’s start with some questions. The “What camera should I get?” dilemma. Most people have access to a camera via their phone these days, so let’s start with what camera have you got? The reason for this is that the number one equipment related solution is the same with any camera, be it a point and shoot, a camera phone or a full blown professional rig. Get to know your camera. Now, I appreciate the most under read document anyone can ever produce is a user’s manual and the camera on your phone doesn’t come with much of a camera manual anyway, by and large, and camera apps with even less, but ……
Yogi Berra (Baseball player rather than a photographer but that doesn’t alter the point) once said, “If you don’t know where you are going you will probably wind up some place else“. If you just point your camera and blast away regardless of what the settings are you are going to find yourself in a place called Disappointment via the town of Meh. This is what most people do with a camera phone. This is not a question of automatic settings v manual (there is an evening based on that on the programme later in the year). You will have options for light and dark, flash (though that might be stretching the term a bit) maybe HDR (High Dynamic Range), a whole bunch of filters. Put yourself in a well-lit position, preferably with a constant sort of light, a set subject and work your way through them until you have a reasonable understanding of which setting does what. Take notes. Actually, a note book has a place in every photographer’s camera bag.
Learning to be deliberate when taking photographs is the key attitude we need to develop. In order to be effective, we need to develop an appreciation of how things change. How our cameras deal with extremes of light and dark and the bits in between, is a good start. Don’t ignore the programme modes, might also be called scenes, as they give you a clue as to what they do relevant to the cameras basic settings (which together form the Exposure Triangle). Used with a bit of forethought you can use these to get the best out of the lighting conditions you are confronted with – pressing the shutter is not only the last thing you do to take a photograph but also the last thing you consider when taking a photograph.
Something else you can do cheaply is to start looking critically at photographs that you like. Identify what it is you like about them, what story is it telling you? How do the shadows fall? What is the placing of the objects in the frame? Pick one. Go practice getting it right with whatever camera you are using. Make notes. Have fun, you are learning. The point is you are recreating an effect, not copying a picture. By doing this you start on the journey from looking to seeing. As for subject, it may well be probably directly in front of you. The trick is to work the angles, you are not looking for a masterpiece you are looking for the most interesting angle. You can still practice this on your phone, any time you have a working camera on you of whatever type and two minutes to spare. The key take-away, as they like to call it in training programmes, is that this is this is a system and you can practise it with very little indeed.
N E X T M E E T I N G
Members report back from the club trip to the Lake District last May.
Blog has taken a bit of a break these last three weeks – what do you mean you haven’t noticed? – so this week is a little bit of a digest of things that have crossed my viewfinder. Over this period the club has been up to Gloucester for a very pleasant evening and a model photo-shoot around the docks, Bath for stroll around the Royal Crescent and Severn Beach for the sunset. Our thanks also to models Ashleigh Claire, Keith Bristow, Carl Hawkins and Alice Jordan for their endurance and patience at the Gloucester Docks shoot, which from Facebook seems to have generated some interesting shots. Not quite as billed (the theme was originally going to be Victorian) but it was an entertaining evening nonetheless and we had the space largely to ourselves and another photographer and model who were doing a shoot. There was also an American car meet going on and all in all it was an interesting, if slightly humid couple of hours.
But the humidity of Glos. docks was nothing compared to a windless evening in Bath, which seemed to pile heat upon heat. Severn Beach was a little more civilised even if the evening did end in rain. The fact is we don’t very often get extreme weather in this part of the UK, for which we should be grateful, but still half a dozen people have lost their lives on the coasts around the UK in the last ten days or so. In fact the climate and geology of the UK is particularly stable yet still manages a huge variety of land, sea and urban views. But it’s not without its dangers.
One of those is people taking exception to you taking photographs. In this country the level of paranoia around children and photography is on the increase. I met with this some years ago – taking photographs of my own children. Now I am a reasonable man but telling me (wrongly) what I can and can’t do vìz a vìs the photographing of my own children in public, does rather try my patience. It always pays to be polite though and I am sure I was a lot more polite than I seem to remember being.
Scare stories are will always generate interest, trouble is when people act erroneously on them. And, of course, different countries different rules – over the weekend it has emerged that the “Burkini Beach” photographs of the armed French Police enforcing the law have led to the former Mayor threatening the prosecution of social media users sharing pictures of them doing so. Now the reasons for doing so are complicated and the reason for the Burkini ban is tied up to do with the 84 deaths on Bastille Day in the City of Nice, where the photos were taken. The point is, whatever you may think of these rules (a) ignorance is no defence and (b) your opinion of them does not change the law.
So, simply put, find out what these rules are before you take the camera out of its bag and stick with them. This Facebook Page is a good place to start.
On a more cheerful note the 2016-2017 season starts at the club on 1st September and we are kicking off with an event called my summer, where members bring in photographs they have taken over the summer and present them. That’s a sort of hint.
There is a lot on the programme again this year and we urge all members to participate as widely and as often as possible – it’s sort of the whole reason for the club after all. One issue that has arisen and needs addressing. The evenings where we use models on the basis that they get the images we take in return for their time do require that we honour our side of the bargain, whether we as individual photographers, think they are good enough or not. It doesn’t take much time and it is only fair. We can now use the photo entry system so that can be covered among its many other attributes, I believe, as it can be set up relatively easily, so no excuses really. Give up your best three (at least) and let the model worry about whether they are good enough or not.
We are fortunate in having such an active club but we also recognise and welcome new members. There has always been someone around to answer questions and there is quite a breadth and depth across the club and members always seem happy to give freely of their time. Long may it remain so. The programme for September includes: Photo’s we have taken over the summer break; Q and A session; A talk that looks distinctly chilly; and a photo mini marathon, ever popular. That is all in the next five weeks (photo-marathon and photo-marathon judging taking place in consecutive weeks).
So, what is your goal for this season? It’s always a good idea to have and we learn more when we have an idea of what success looks like. It might be to get yourself off auto/programme, not actually sins in themselves but the tool is making decisions for you creatively and artistically. There will be plenty of opportunities within the club schedule to practice that and to ask people about how they do it and why they do it that way. You might want to set yourself a one a day project over 7, 28 or 365 or some other number of days. Or take on some macro or portrait projects, the point is there are lots of opportunities and there is a lot of experience in the club, you can call on. Essentially next season is what you make of it, and the club is what you make of it, the opportunities are there for the taking.
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.
New feature to the club evenings, last Thursday saw the introduction of Your Picture Your Way where club members brought in pictures they may not otherwise have shared with the club and explained their connections to it. The themes were landscape and street and though the interpretations were broad the insights were interesting.
Landscape photography goes back to the very first photograph, taken by Nicéphore Niépce, and has its roots in classical art whereas Street photography, rather than Street Portraiture which is posed from people in the street, is in the moment and distinctly the product of a photographic process. Only a camera can capture the complex juxtapositions, expressions and emotional connection in a fraction of a second. It is unique, at the moment anyway, to photography and because it is a single slice of time, specifically stills photography. Of course there is the view that street photography was invented by people who couldn’t get up early enough to shoot a sunrise, but we will let that lie.
There are two sides to any photograph, regardless of the genre, namely the artistic and the technical. Landscape can be as much about pre-visualisation as it is about the composition when you get there. It is about nature and the way the elements combine to affect the Earth’s landmass. The way the seasons present and the light falls means that a single view can provide an infinite number of subtleties for the photographer to chose from – or ignore. The elements for the street photographer can be, or at least seem to be, chaotic in the sense that physicists refer to chaos, a complex system of so many parts acting in unpredictable ways that any outcome is as likely as another. Those parts are people acting out their internal and external lives in a common space. The chaos comes from our not knowing how those internal and external lives interact on an individual by individual basis – we may not even be aware of our own balances and motivations – and how they effect those around them emotionally and environmentally. In that sea of uncertainty where we all swim moments of connection arise and those are the moments that the Street Photographer seeks to capture.
No matter how good your grasp of the technical is, if you can’t actually see the picture, frame the picture, compose the picture you can never take the picture. This is simply why a good photographer with a cheap camera gets consistently better results than a mediocre one with the top of the range. There are no qualification barriers to buying expensive kit, of course, nor would I advocate one, but there is no substitute for technique. “Luck” won’t cut it, especially as you tend to make your own as was discussed on an earlier blog on serendipity. Even chaos theory allows that the biggest factor in determining what will happen (an outcome) is the initial set of circumstances from which it springs. Control what you can to discover the art in the rest goes for both Landscape and Street photography.
But not every subject wants their photograph taken and not every landowner wants your feet trampling their daises and not every property owner is delighted to have you take photographs of their property. There are buildings and areas that are off limits to the public and there is a lot of confusion over what you can and cannot take photographs of. Common sense plays a part here but once an image is taken in a public space the only power to legally remove it is via a court order. This is a matter for individual conscience. You should note that laws covering criminal damage, nuisance and anti social behaviour still apply, that access to mountain, moor, heath, down and common land in England and Wales (different laws in Scotland and Northern Ireland) is permitted but the above laws govern those activities. Trespass is still an offence. The Official Secrets Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (especially Sections 43 and 58A) are, with a little forethought, quite easily avoided, though it is surprising and not a little depressing the number of times that the Association of Chief Police Officers have had to reissue there guidance over the last decade or so. Censorship is a fact of life, it is a fluid situation, but it need not be onerous, at least in the UK. If abroad, then it is a whole different ball game. Find out and stick to their rules.
So what did we learn from our fellow members photographs? Well I doubt there was a consensus as each of us will have seen slightly different things and taken different things from each image – and thank you for sharing those that did. So a brief list from me from a couple of discussions I had at tea break and at the end of the evening.
From the technique side, don’t be afraid to use the camera on auto for Street if the situation demands it. It is pointless in not getting the shot because you are fiddling with the settings because you always shoot manual (really? In this day and age?) when aperture and shutter priority modes give you almost the same degree of control, more quickly and auto will give you a more than half way decent approximation in most situations, though sticking to just one as opposed to having a range of options does suggest that you have some exploration of your camera to complete (Guilty. My camera sends nearly all its time in aperture priority because the ISO button is handy and the exposure compensation is the next button to it).
Don’t be afraid to try it, either landscape or street. A little planning goes a long way. If you don’t practice it then it won’t get better. Take one aspect at a time and practice it, be that a single focal length, shallow depth of field, high depth of field, low angle, there are many different things to try.
Look around the view finder before you push the shutter, should you reframe? Move your position? Something else?
All round an enjoyable evening. See you Thursday.
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
NEXT MEETING: Kingswood Salver table top night – Collectables. Bring your collectables and CAMERAS as we launch our campaign for this years Kingswood Salver.
Apologies one and all for the previous absence of this post, it was written and competed 11th May but for some reason butterfingers here didn’t press the right button and it has sat on WordPress as a draft – and I’ve only just noticed? Doh! Whereas I am certain that you felt less-than-deprived I really wanted to share a great evening with those who couldn’t make it, and thank those who made it possible so I am publishing it now. This weeks will follow in due course. Ian G.
May 11, 2014 @ 12:33
The table top/macro photography evening returned last Thursday and, as ever, was well attended. There were a variety of stations and a good number of things to try. From an unscientific example a goodly percentage of people learned something new. The club showed its strength by playing to the wide range of experience within it. Thanks to everybody who made this possible as from Dan E’s Lego via Eddie H’s Dalek through Gerry’s flora (and personal thanks from me for the use of the lights and soft box) to Eddie D’s dog Ella and much more we weren’t short of materials to photograph. Thanks are also due to Ian C and Hanneke and anyone I have inadvertently omitted.
Luckily most – and if anyone is asking ALL – of our photographs were taken against a BLACK background. Why is this important? Well if they were taken against a white background we could be owing Jeff Bezos some serious dosh because a patent has been issued in the USA covering the taking of photographs against a white background. No, it’s not April 1st. If you take a photograph against a white background using a studio set up you owe could Amazon royalties (in the USA), patent US 8676045 B1, issued 18th March 2014 which grants intellectual rights to Amazon Technologies Inc on the taking of photographs against a white background, specifically:
a background comprising a white cyclorama; a front light source positioned in a longitudinal axis intersecting the background, the longitudinal axis further being substantially perpendicular to a surface of the white cyclorama; an image capture position located between the background and the front light source in the longitudinal axis, the image capture position comprising at least one image capture device equipped with an eighty-five millimeter lens, the at least one image capture device further configured with an ISO setting of about three hundred twenty and an f-stop value of about 5.6… (US 86,76,045 B1)
As techdirt has so precisely pointed out, this ground breaking technological event essentially is comprised of four distinct actions:
1. Turn back lights on.
2. Turn front lights on.
3. Position thing on platform.
4. Take picture.
Abuse of the patent process? If patents are for novel and innovative inventions then this really does look abusive of the system. However, because the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has decided to be a sweet shop for those with expensive lawyers (again, see the smart-phone case referred to below) this is the law, at least in the USA. If you are doing any of these things with a camera against a white backdrop you owe Amazon money for the use of their intellectual property and it’s enforceable in the US civil courts but – good news – not internationally (yet) because of agreements on intellectual property rights still have to be registered internationally for protection in other juristrictions, and can be horrendously expensive. Amazon have deep pockets.
Other good news is that it would be unlikely in the UK, given the HTC v Apple Inc. patent case on the slide-to-unlock for locking/unlocking a phone or app that was judged insufficiently innovative. That probably lasted in the Judges mind all the way to when he swiped open the catches on his expensive briefcase to get to his sarnies. A Bart Simpson “Oh, yeah”, moment if ever there was one followed by a horrendously expensive “Doh!” from Apple a couple of weeks later. Unlikely, however is not impossible and you really do not want to be the poor soul on the end of a High Court Writ.
In a way this patent issue has a direct route back to William Fox Talbot and his photograph of the oriel window in the South Gallery of his home, Laycock Abbey, in 1835 from which he developed Talbotypes a.k.a. Calotypes. They required over an hour’s exposure time. He required good light and a steady position from which to take image which remained an absolute essential of taking a photograph for many decades after. Fox Talbot put a lot of time, effort and money into the development of the process and along with his partner Nicolaas Henneman made a sort of business out of it in Reading. The prompt for Fox Talbot applying for the patent to his invention was the arrival of the Daguerreotype, invented by Louis Daguerre in 1839 using a different process and though the Calotype became the norm the Daguerreotype has enjoyed a long if minority history. Fox Talbot’s patent was issued in September 1840 but Daguerre’s invention was given free to the world in all but one country – the UK, where his agent had it patented.
The point here is both Daguerre and Fox Talbot made something novel. Yes they used and experimented with others chemical discoveries and observations but they made their own and for a clearly discernible purpose using their own resources outside of the world of the Patent Lawyer. They changed the world. I can’t for the life of me see what Amazon intend on doing with this patent apart from annoy every serious amateur and professional photographer within the patent’s jurisdiction, or as they would know them “Potential customers” across a whole range of products, indeed their entire range of products. Unless, as ‘Dodge & Burn’ posted on the Techdirt comments section, they make it a term and condition of their suppliers that the white background product photograph has to be taken according to the Amazon Patent, or has been taken according to the Amazon Patent therefore they demand a royalty for it. Quite possibly another way to exploit its monopoly position. Could be made to work world wide too if they insist that all images are pre-screened through their US based HQ. Only if they are as devious as me, I suppose.
I have spent some of your generously donated time over the last several posts talking about the appreciation of an image and in trying to encourage wider participation in competitions. Talking to other people in some other photographic clubs and indeed, some remarks Peter Wheeler made in one of his visits to us this season, there broadly seem to be two focuses: the competition focused clubs and the participation focussed clubs. These are not two mutually exclusive categories, sensibly there cannot be one without the other, but it is the way that the mix of the two is dealt with that determines the nature of the club. BPS, for instance, appear have a set of images that they use for the many competitions that they enter and they are a very successful club. Dorchester appear similarly disposed, and these were the top 2 clubs in the WCPF 2013 competition. We are more participation focussed and either way there would be no club if it were not for its committee. From and on behalf of the floor, thank you. Last Thursday we had our AGM, which had a reasonable turnout by any club standards that I have been to on whatever topic (not a huge number I will admit). There was: discussion of important topics to the club; consumption of tea, coffee and biscuits; reportage on the path of the club; efforts were lauded and decisions arrived at democratically. Overall, I would judge it as a success because people got involved.
Ruth, Mark O and Dan E were voted onto the committee in the posts of Club, Competitions and Events Secretary’s replacing Julie, Ian and Hanneke at the end of the season. A great deal of thanks is owed to the outgoing members for their considerable parts in making this a successful club and thanks due to those incoming for the prospect of its continuation.
The topic on which we were most exercised was that of the competitions, specifically the format and most particularly the lack of and diminishing numbers of prints being entered. Firstly I will hold my hand up and, as a distinctly novice member, admit I have not entered any physical prints in any of the competition rounds this year. Indeed John P. has been the only consistent entrant in this category and thanks to you John, because the novice print category is an issue not a dead letter. There is a decision for the committee to make about whether the novice category continues into next season for reasons I have blogged about previously, but, in essence, boils down to the fact that the border between the two has become increasingly blurred. There is a but and a very important but so worth flagging: this may become a self-fulfilling prophecy i.e. those who enter are benefitting from the feedback and those who are discouraged by the perceived gap between their own and others efforts remain so and do not enter. The reasons were discussed why this is so, the general lack of prints, and reasons included “Faff” (a general term for producing something the individual thinks not worth the effort as measured by the return), time, space, and additional cost – travel (time cost) being the chief issue when using Keynsham Photographic (KPC). As Mark S. pointed out, as part of a different point but one that applies in general, you can’t eliminate the category and still compete – i.e. digital projection only. Yes I know Zen Photo is web based, but they meet physically four times a year and they compete as a club.
Competing is a core value of our club, but it is not the reason for it, in my far from humble opinion, participation is its life-blood but we have an imbalance at the moment that needs to be addressed and that is getting more people involved in competitions in general and in prints in particular. It is getting you involved in competitions in general and in prints in particular. Yes, next season I will be entering the print competition regularly, a little late for New Year resolutions I will admit, but then they are hardly worth making the effort over if you have no intention of keeping them. I have every intention of keeping this one (and only). The ease and relative speed of entering the projected is not in dispute, but the experience of producing and mounting a print is far more tactile and gives a different perspective as Mark O. attested.
So, 10 questions to ask and my own answers (in brackets). The only permissible answers are Yes or No because anything else is a No, all dressed up with nowhere to go:
- Did I join Reflex CC to become a better photographer? (Yes).
- Is entering the club competitions a positive part of this? (Yes).
- Have I learned anything by looking at the entries and listening to the feedback? (Yes).
- Am I looking at photographing subjects differently than before I did this? (Yes).
- Does that effect the way I take photographs? (Yes).
- Has the overall effect of the feedback been positive? (Yes).
- Is there room for improvement? (Yes!).
- Would entering my own efforts personalise the feedback? (Yes).
- Have I made the best of the opportunities the competitions have presented? (No).
- Does a lack of trophies mean I am no better for the competition process? (No).
If anyone of the first 8 is a yes, then there is a personal gain to be had from you entering the competitions. Logically, enter. Logically enter both projected and print. As for the self imposed quality issue then I would point you to the observation that, even in the Olympic 100 meter sprint final, every athlete is not running against the other athletes because they cannot maximise their own performance against them and run their own race. The things that they can control are the things that are in their own race i.e. they are all running against themselves and their own limitations. Same for us in club competitions. And you don’t have to be a “photographer” to contribute to photography, anymore than you need to be a writer to contribute to the essay form. You just need to plan, do and review to get better.
There are a number of questions that might arise surrounding prints, and the first one is, “What size file does it take to make a good photographic print?”. For Reflex CC competitions the mounting card dimensions are exactly 50 x 40 centimetres (roughly 20″ x 16″) and the image can be any size up to that. The decision is yours. The competition form has to be filled in as with a projected image + a digital copy of the image also has to be submitted. This latter part helps with the blog when publishing results and the catalogue I have done with the last couple of rounds and will continue to do as long as its viable. Rather pointless having an empty space where a winning entry should be. So back to the size of the file. If you have bought a digital camera in, roughly, the last 10 years, you should be OK. KPC say that the jpegs they use are to be 305 PPI (pixels per inch) and you can do this through image scaling software (Photoshop will do it, ditto Paint.Net so will GIMP)
Part of the problem I have with the print section of the competition, I admit, is that it is more difficult to see and remember what is which when it comes to the feedback. The big, vibrant projected image is a different experience to the more tactile, focussed print. I sit at the back of the room, I know, but that is so I can use the light to write my notes. This rather puts me at a disadvantage as compared to the projected images, given that the optimum viewing distance is usually given as a 1.5 or 2 x multiple of the diagonal of an image – making a 16 x 12’s prints optimum between 30 and 40 inches (76 to 101 centimetres), though time can be spent walking around, looking at the prints close up. Therein lies a very important point. The relationship between the viewer and the image is different in a print than it is in a projected image, we react differently to it. It isn’t just a question about which is better, because the answer depends upon the context you are viewing it in. The photo-marathon was as much about moving around for the viewing as it was in the taking. The Interaction was different. Broaden your experience and double your chances of constructive feedback by entering both parts of the competition next season and keep practicing by entering the Flickr competition until then. Maybe we need a Flickr evening?
As an evening a very successful AGM. This is a vibrant and happy club to belong to, made so by its members. Yes we need to expand our competition base but that is something we can all contribute to. I look forward to the rest of the year.
NEXT MEETING – Practical, bring your camera and as it is product shot time, feel free to bring a tripod if you have one and anything interesting you want to photograph. Very successful last time, you will probably have some competition entries among these!
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.