Tagged: Monochrome

28th September 2017 – Monochrome, Macro and Using Depth of Field

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.

11th May 2017 – Matt Bigwood

This week we had a speaker, Matt Bigwood, photojournalist for sixteen years on the Gloucester regional press and a freelance for very nearly as long who took us on the transition from mainly monochromatic film through to full colour digital and along with it the death of the profession of employed photojournalist. It is, as they say, what it is. Very little point in being overly nostalgic about it, film is now a hobby, an artistic statement, a curiosity or a course of academic study and digital is all.

 

Some of the effect of that we discussed in the last post. There is no denying that digital has made photography more accessible. A double edge sword that has proved to be as unsettling in its own world as any other technological “disruption” for in that accessibility has come a loss of a sense of it being special, of the combination of art and alchemy and with that some of the mystery some of the magic. And a lot of the expense, as least as far as news organisations are concerned.

 

For a time there were those who sought to hold back the tide of course, on grounds of technical inferiority, dynamic range, colour rendition, ability to enlarge, but when the pixel count got to the point of where it was good enough for the front page it was game over.  But this pitches film v digital, one or the other, take no prisoners.  A good way to lose what motivates us. If film floats your boat AND gets you out there taking pictures then go with film. Ditto digital. Unless we are making a living out of it, in which case this is an interesting question (maybe). Our customers want digital? Guess what we  are going with.

 

So, we end up with having to scan your negatives anyway as a way of displaying and storing them and that on top of a process that was never cheap. That said there is a niche market and rumours of come backs of old film stocks abound (fantasy almost entirely, Kodachrome ain’t ever coming back in my far from humble), but the truth is the machines to make film are very old, there are no spare parts manufacturers for them and some of them are huge: We’ve used this link for the production of film before (part 2 here), but it is well worth revisiting just to take in the sheer scale of the manufacturing problem.

 

We might miss it, may even still use it, but film is and will remain a niche market. Digital has yet to match the look and feel of film (amazing on how many photographers seem to have forgotten just how grainy a Kodachrome 64 slide could be when projected) and when it does we will run into the same problem different clothing. It was a look with limited variation, because there were never that many manufacturers on the market in the first place. Digital has looks of its own but we weren’t viewing slides on 4K televisions, lap top screens, mobile phones, tablets, just projectors. The only question is do you like the look?

 

And let’s not forget that single lens camera sales are down by 84% 2016 over 2011.

 

And as already stated here and in Matt’s talk and the videos he brought with him that ship has sailed. He admitted to being nostalgic for film but not to the point that he is considering running his business on the model, for though there is most likely a market it is considerably less likely sustainable.

 

A little more perspective on the 35mm film angle. The last time there was a comeback for 35mm film was in 2011. Sales disappointed in 2012, this might be a cyclical thing but if it is it is not clear what is driving it. Dixons/Currys stopped selling 35mm film cameras of any type in 2005. Yet by the summer of 2016 film was making a “Stunning comeback” mainly driven by those new to the medium. Film was even projected to go away totally by 2020, according to some, though that seems unlikely now. The actual figures, the units, are not going to match the height of film – around 2001 when 19.7 million SLR’s were sold.

 

That is really something  of an empty argument though and really the domain of the hobbyist and occasional professional artist. With the need for time consuming processes disappearing the need for the number of press photographers to cover events fell – memory cards could be plugged into computers. With the growing ubiquity of cameraphones the photographs of dramatic and not so dramatic events are taken and uploaded to social media often before the press are even aware. The final nail in the employed photojournalists career prospects. Now it is not unusual for media groups to have none whatsoever. Now it is all self-employment and whereas the need for the expertise in photography and, increasingly, videography still remains the nature of how that relates to the occupation of commercial photographer, as most are today, has changed.

11th December 2014. On Light and Dark – ROC Round 2.

Andy Beel FRPS (Blog) was the evening’s judge in the Reflex Open Competition Round 2 2014/15 for which there was a high number of entries for both the Digital and Print Sections. The club extends our thanks to him for his time and considerations. Andy is a confirmed monochromatisist and it was his observations on dark and light that suggested the topics of this week’s blog be contrast, extending the conversation started last week by Mark Stone, and framing.

 

Before we get to the results I just need to clear up the matter of dimensions for the digital images and the digital version of the prints being entered in the competition, as there was some confusion about this among members.

As it says on the competition page the maximum dimensions are 1400 by 1050 pixels. Now to expand on what this doesn’t mean before moving to what it does. What it doesn’t mean is that the maximum landscape (width) dimension is 1400 pixels regardless of height, nor does it mean that the maximum portrait (height) is 1050 pixels regardless of width.

What this does mean is that the maximum dimensions are 1400 pixels AND 1050 pixels and that the image submitted MUST fit within, or under, these dimensions. To put it another way, the maximum of either width or height must not exceed either 1400 or 1050 for any single image – they are viewed as dimensions together regardless of whether the image is framed landscape or portrait.

IF your image is not in the ratio of 4:3, and APS C and Full Frame are not (width to height a.k.a. the Aspect Ratio) then it is possible that one of the dimensions will fall outside of the 1400 and 1050 pixel limits. Look at both and scale it back as necessary. If your image is 1400 x 1051 or more or 1401 or more pixels x 1050 then it must be resized down to within the competition limits. It does not matter what that does to the other dimension as long as it is at or below the stated maximum. Check both to be sure. This is also the rule for most club and salon competitions elsewhere, I am lead to believe.

If you don’t know how to do this with any existing editing software you have, may I suggest pic-resize on the net for an easy to use and free solution.

 

And so to the meat of this blog – the Reflex Open Competition 2014/15 Round 2.

Jpeg

There was a lot of close competition here, the quality of entries continues to improve across the spectrum, which can only be good thing. Entering these competitions is a sound way to improve through valuable feedback and I think it show signs of working for the majority of us. If you haven’t  entered anything yet, give it a go – you have nothing to lose and a lot to gain!

Digital


Highly Commended

1925 – Wendy O’Brien

09_1925

 “Economy – Steve Halam

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 “Feeding – Ian Coombs

57_Feeding


 

3rd  Religion– Eddie Deponeo

39_Religion

 

2nd  Dancer in the final pose – Julia Simone

45_Dancer in her final pose

 

1st  “Abandoned –  Mark O’Grady.

38_Abandoned


 

 

 

 

 

Prints

 


Highly Commended 

 

Vampire in the wind– Julia Simone.

print_VAMPIRE_IN_THE_WIND_242[1]

Dark Ages – Ian Coombs.

Print_Dark_Ages_233[1]

Unearthed Beauty – Mark O’Grady.

print_Unearthed-Beauty_250[1]

 


 

3rd  Lost But Not Forgotten Ian Coombs.

Print_Lost_not_Forgotten_233[1]

 

2nd Hospital Nightmare Suzanne King.

print_Hospital_Nightmare_273[1]

 

1st Vacant Stare Mark O’Grady.

print_Vacant-Stare_250[1]

 


 

Congratulations to them and thanks to all the entrants and of course Mark and Mark for getting it all together and making it happen on the night.

 

Andy was very specific about using dynamism within an image, concentrating the viewers eye using lightening and darkening. This brings us onto the role of contrast. The eye tends to move from light to dark and Andy pointed out that stray bits of light, especially on the edges of pictures, makes the eye wander and the story of that image can lose some of its narrative integrity.  Light, of course, is everything, but without a counterpoint, the darker bits, it is nothing. So far so much egg sucking. In black and white the control of contrast along with the control of composition are the major factors in organising the image (OK in colour too but in a different sense as discussed last week).

"Contrast is the difference in luminance and/or color that makes an object (or its representation in an image or display) distinguishable. In visual perception of the real world, contrast is determined by the difference in the color and brightness of the object and other objects within the same field of view. Because the human visual system is more sensitive to contrast than absolute luminance, we can perceive the world similarly regardless of the huge changes in illumination over the day or from place to place. The maximum contrast of an image is the contrast ratio or dynamic range".                                Wikipedia

There is, of course, a wider and equally as pertinent meaning to contrast in photography, that of the relative positioning of objects but this post is more about the light and dark of it. Practically and to us this means practising Ansel Adams dictum of exposing for the highlights and processing for the shadows,  regardless of whether we are talking black and white or colour, RAW, TIFF, JPEG or anything in between. This is simply because we can recover detail that is in shadow by selective processing. If it is blown out, i.e. rendered as white, there is very little to recover. What is there will run over a very narrow spectrum that runs from “Virtually nothing” to “Nothing” in a very short space.  We thereby give ourselves the best chance to have something to work with at the extremes, the blacks and the whites (which are at opposite ends of an evenly distributed histogram, blacks to the left and whites to the right) by exposing for the whites. Sort of. Detail is also absent in pure black. This of course has an effect on the shadows, mid-tones and highlights, but these (five) in turn can be adjusted – Ye-Acolytes-Of-Photoshop will be aware that there is a slider for each of these in Lightroom.  These five “Zones” bear a relation to Adams and Archer’s 10 zone system, but let’s not stretch a point too far, suffice it to say they are different ways of talking about the same thing,  Adams and Archer for Print and Adobe for digital. Each of these can be adjusted to taste or requirement to affect an overall impression.

 

That impression, though, can be lost or diluted if the framing allows for distracting detail and in passing judgement on more than one of the entries. Andy indicated that this held them back from an award. The frame or crop, he posits, must be tight. Extraneous detail starts to water down the story or introduce a new one. There is only room for one story in each photograph.

There is a three dimensional layering to the two dimensional photograph created by the perception of foreground, middle ground and background and the story is often revealed through how these interact. What is going on in relation to these three layers is the story the image is telling. Look at what is in the corners can you use it to make it more dynamic? was Andy’s tip.  Andy suggested that the strongest stories use this dynamic to keep the attention which generally goes directly to the brightest and or largest object in the frame.  This is usually (not always, not even preferably – you know, all that  thirdsfifths  sevenths and  “Golden ratio” stuff) centre mid-ground, where, if you follow what has been said above, it most likely loses impact. Impact comes from filling the frame and from the juxtaposition of elements within it. From his long experience with monochrome Andy related that in Black and White especially, but in colour too, light surrounded by dark works best and so several images fell by the wayside.

It was a very successful night and thanks to everyone who attended, judged, administered, entered to make the whole thing possible. Next week is the clubs Xmas celebration. See you there.

 

Announcements

Time is running out but there are still places on the WOODLAND shoot. See Myk.

December 11th – The second round of this year’s Reflex Open Competition (ROC) will be judged tonight.

December 18th – Christmas social evening. To quote Mark S (again):

” Thursday 18th December is our Christmas Social. We’re planning on doing an American Supper style evening which means we’d like you to bring some food & drink. So that you don’t all bring in a pack of Scotch Eggs we’ve created a list that will be on the sign in desk each week up until the 18th. If you’d like to take a look at what is on the list just peek at the PDF attached to this post.

CHRISTMAS BREAK

8TH January 2015“What Christmas Means to me” & Mounting Prints

See everyone’s images from our Christmas Challenge of “What Christmas Means to me” followed by a demonstration on how to mount your photographs.

I bet your wondering what this “What Christmas means to me” thing is as you’ve possibly never even heard it mentioned at the club before. Well now I’ve had it explained to me with a handy infographic I can explain it all to you. Well actually no I’m not instead you can follow this link and read all about it as that’s exactly the same way I found out what it was!

15th January 2015: Club Battle, Bristol Photographic Society (Away).

22nd January 2015: Colour Space Editing. Tutorial (part 1) Practical (part 2). Bring your Lap Top!

4th December 2014. On Monochrome.

Last meeting Mark Stone , in a well attended meeting, took us through some editing options he uses on Light Room and Photoshop. Mark is a big fan of black and white, not to the exclusion of colour, but he has a strong affinity to the ascetic and opportunities that black and white presents, so it is this that we will investigate a little further this week.

Black and white photography happened first of course. Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s  heliograph taken at his estate in 1826-27 gives a barely legible but still discernable image of a stand of trees, fixed in bitumen (Daguerre used copper plate, Fox-Talbot was the first to fix an image on paper), but since the invention of colour – which had a long gestation period  – it has gradually receded to niche and specialist markets. To its fans and I am certainly one, it is too often overlooked (guilty), or most people who occasionally venture that way look upon as a fix for images that didn’t work but still have something but you are not sure what (“Taking the fifth” on that one, well shoot in colour and edit to black and white is my excuse). Incidentally that is a two way street. There is no doubt that there is a skill  to looking at an image as a black and white  one from the off.

Some people might think that there is a certain nostalgia attached to monochrome that is a bit off-putting and reeks of chemicals and cardigans and people (men mainly) sucking on their dentures and complaining that things aren’t like they used to be. Certainly they are not. It’s called progress. The darkroom and its arcane ways have fallen from popular use. Photography as a whole, with the digital revolution, has become far more democratic and personally I think that a good thing. This, however, is the science and we are talking here about the art. If, on the other hand, you have used a dark room over some time, then there is a pretty good chance that you keep a warm place in your heart for those processes, for the choices of paper and the effects they have on the final image (for the uninitiated it evolves mainly, but not entirely, around the question of how black is black) for the magic of the image appearing on the paper. Black and white was far cheaper and a lot less complex than colour. Not many people go back though, at least not exclusively. Digital can be just as good.

As I said, this about the art (you’ll remember that argument from last week), the perceptions, that the image creates in the viewer. In black and white contrast is king, but across a spectrum shaded in grey. Subtlety is the greater part of it. That is not to say that extremes  don’t have a part to play, it is part of the process of selection that forms the backbone of the monochrome discipline – and yes that is something which can be about post production, but as with everything else, it can’t all be about post production; the initial pre-shutter decisions are still hugely important. Black and white is about texture, forms and contrast above all. When these are the most important things in an image then black and white is the medium of choice, but it remains a subjective choice. Primarily these elements become important because when you remove colour from a photograph these elements are what lead the eye.

Texture, the consistency of a surface in a photograph defined by its irregularities, provides us with basic information that we can use to comprehend what that object is or made of. It can be more important than what that actual object is  especially in abstract. Form, the three dimensional representation of an object (shape is 2D), especially in the absence of colour, is probably the biggest clue we get to what we are looking at and contrast, of course, is important in all forms of photography. Black and white concentrates the eye on the intensity and differential qualities  in light to a higher degree than in colour (colour, of course being the most striking and the most absent of the elements of design in monochrome).

So it helps to concentrate on lines, shadows and shapes, not ignore the basic rules of composition (master them before you break them), plan ahead and practice, practice practice! There are advantages to shooting in colour (you can always revert to it) and there are advantages in using a RAW format – as per the above plus there is more scope for capturing tones across a range of light and dark in the same frame. There is no particular reason why you shouldn’t use JPEG should you so wish, but, as always, you have lesser latitude to edit with. It also helps to know the effects of colour filters  on the image, which can easily be applied post production, or by simply fixing one to the front of your lens.

We have another round of the ROC in the new year, so why not use that as a chance to get some feedback on your black and white photography? Better yet, black and white is December’s Flickr competition topic.

ANNOUNCEMENTS

CONGRATULATIONS to our esteemed chair on his MBE collected Thursday last awarded for his work with youth via the Air Training Corps. Well done and well earned Maurice.

Time is running out but there are still places on the WOODLAND shoot. See Myk.

December 11th – The second round of this year’s Reflex Open Competition (ROC) will be judged tonight.

December 18th – Christmas social evening. To quote Mark S (again):

” Thursday 18th December is our Christmas Social. We’re planning on doing an American Supper style evening which means we’d like you to bring some food & drink. So that you don’t all bring in a pack of Scotch Eggs we’ve created a list that will be on the sign in desk each week up until the 18th. If you’d like to take a look at what is on the list just peek at the PDF attached to this post.

CHRISTMAS BREAK

8TH January 2015“What Christmas Means to me” & Mounting Prints

See everyone’s images from our Christmas Challenge of “What Christmas Means to me” followed by a demonstration on how to mount your photographs.

I bet your wondering what this “What Christmas means to me” thing is as you’ve possibly never even heard it mentioned at the club before. Well now I’ve had it explained to me with a handy infographic I can explain it all to you. Well actually no I’m not instead you can follow this link and read all about it as that’s exactly the same way I found out what it was!

15th January 2015: Club Battle, Bristol Photographic Society (Away).