Given the travails that we went through to get last meeting off the ground, loosing not one but two judges at very short notice, then Bristol traffic conspiring to wedge the prints in an immovable traffic jam on the other side of town, just when things looked like they might be going right leads one to wonder just what the universe was telling us. Absolute sterling work from the Competition Secretary, Mark O’Grady, frustrated by circumstance. Big thanks from all of us Mark, for going above and beyond. Then – and British readers of this blog will want to make sure that they are resolutely braced before taking this bit in – the tea urn went missing. Still we got somewhere in the end.
So, why does a club have competitions? There are, of course as many reasons for that as there are club members. Recognition, acclamation, ideas, feedback, discussion something to fill a hole in the calendar, are just a few of the headlines you could write a whole blog and more on each. No, don’t panic, I am not going to. When children draw they don’t have a concept of consequences, is this good or is this bad? Right colours? Does it look like it should? and so on. What they produce is intensely personal and very honest. As we grow older we learn notions of correctness and benefit and we unlearn the naiveté that made making pictures fun. Even of the abstract we come to demand technical proficiency. We corral our imagination.
In time we improve or abandon the pursuit according to circumstances and according to what we want. We buy a camera because we want to record a special occasion, a holiday or maybe our own children or children we are close to, a few of us because we are curious about pictures and want to get better at making them. Now- a-days, rather than buy a camera specifically we are much more likely to turn to our phones. The pictures we want to make are generally those we can create without the many hours and mess involved in painting, never mind the fine motor skills, which some turn into is photography art debates (Yes move on). Cameras and pictures are so much a part of society these days that picture making is pretty much second nature.
Most of those pictures being taken at this very moment are dull, boring, technically flawed and mean something only to the person who will forget they took it by tomorrow. They are constructed for different purposes. We decide to get better at this sort of thing and, suddenly, (nearly) everyone else’s pictures look better than ours. That can be a spur or it can put us off. Access to the ways of doing things is a lot easier now than it was, there are blogs and video channels aplenty as well as the more traditional routes through books and courses galore that blend all these. That, however, can make matters confusing rather than easier. So we know about the tools of odds, of thirds, of lead lines and negative space, symmetry, foreground interest and the effect of focal length, and the importance of balance and we know all about the exposure triangle. In fact we can know a lot about a lot and can still make pictures that lack impact.
The problem, at least in part, is that we have all these tools and rules but they are tools and rules of thumb. Certainly they exaggerate elements of the arrangement of the objects in the frame and hold others back but we keep coming up against the idea of technically proficient but subject deficient – and other people’s photographs still look better than ours. It is self doubt that becomes, once one has learned the basics, the biggest drag on learning. Sometimes we cannot see for looking. Sure, we need a mind open to development, open to seeing other people’s work, looking at other pictures in that picture but the frame of mind has to be positive and the habit has to be always looking for the picture – even when you can’t carry a camera. The habit is the thing that enables everything else, the letting go of the half-expectation of finding something to photograph and replacing it with the opportunities to see something to photograph.
That can be where club competitions come in. Yes we want to test our metal against others, but we also need feedback. No we don’t always agree with the judge, but we need to be able to say why. Yes the judging is subjective, yes its structure does mean certain types of photography may not fare as well, but it is a structured feedback on pictures that are anonimised and it is something that you can work with if you choose. The more experienced judges should come with a wider perspective anyway and whereas they will have their likes and dislikes – some of them strong – the perspective they are showing is a start.
If we can get into the habit of the feedforward loop we will do ourselves an enormous favour. Feedforward is when we take the experience of a previous occasion and use it to improve (control) a future event. Learning from the future ” Images of adaptive future behaviour, hitherto not mastered” (Wikipedia) or in our case getting the picture we see in our head as a Jpeg by design not accident, is something we can only do as design.
Next session is a 10 by 10 (or there abouts) where members talk about their own images, what they got from them, what they would do differently (among other things). Open to all members, bring some along and join in, especially our newer members, as we are all interested in photography and this is a good opportunity to share it.
Slightly early this week, but your views are needed before July 9th if you think that including public buildings and public works of art in your photography should be allowed.
The summer programme is upon us and the first event in the calendar is the revival of the mini groups. Our thanks to those who organised them, and I look forward to seeing some of the results on the club Flickr page and the Facebook Members group as well as at the Mini Group Evening on September 17th. It’s always good to get out and practice in a sociable group of like minded photographers. None of us see quite the same thing in the same subject and even small changes of angle can have a disproportionate impact. It is all about perception, light and composition – what draws us to the subject, the interplay of light and shadow and how it looks when confined in a viewfinder. That’s about it. Until you press the shutter …..
When the shutter is depressed – I mean activated rather than feeling blue, I leave that to the poor souls who stumble across my images – an artefact is created. In essence something fashioned by a human being of some degree of cultural and/or historical relevance coalesces on the film plane. Now I am not vouching for the degree of cultural and or historical relevance of any particular image, that is something projected on it by its beholders which can and will change over time and is more a matter of fashion than iron law of nature. Nonetheless we have mixed our labour with that which is around us to make something new. Who owns it?
Because we have fashioned something new by our physical and mental effort we are said to have created an Intellectual Property and it is recognised in law. If it is for and by us it is ours. If it is something that is done in the course of our job it would usually belong to our employers. I suppose that is an advert for self employment, in which case we need to be clear with whoever commissioned the photos, i.e. stumping up the readies, exactly what it is they are buying, usually a license to use the images under certain circumstances. License basically means a permission or freedom to use. The photographer doesn’t usually pass ownership as part of that. It remains theirs. Without getting into commercial contracts – for which you really do need a lawyer – it is essential to work out, exactly, who owns what, where, when, how and why.
This does not only apply to photographs, though the Intellectual Property Office (Patent Office to you and I) do a very good guide (UK only) to rights concerning images, intellectual property and the internet. Neither is it uniform across Europe, enter – to varying degrees of booing and hissing, some of it deserved, most of it ill informed – the European Union. One of the founding economic principles that applies to the European Union is to smooth the path of trade between member nations. Those with a memory undiminished by time will recall we joined the European Economic Community (EEC). It does this by straightening bananas (myth), ridiculous health and safety laws (I quite like being healthy and safe, and get very angry about employers hurting people for profit, as do most employers, but maybe you are different) and in the relatively near future (time passes exceeding slow in international corridors of power), copyright. You will, if you have read last week’s blog at the very least, already be aware of this as it has been all over the photographic press especially in relation to something called Freedom of Panorama. This basically is the freedom to take photographs that are of or include public buildings without having to get property releases from the architects and owners of said buildings. Odd, you might think, but the process of creating Intellectual Property applies to buildings as well as to photographs, or even writing blogs.
The European Union is made up of 28 different countries with 28 different views of copyright laws. Now Intellectual Property is BIG business. You may remember the spate of law suits occurring over who invented which part of the smart phone and therefore owes whom how many hundreds of millions of pounds for ripping them off. You might also recall that Amazon own the patent/copyright on taking photographs against a white background (at least in the USA). In order to make things clear for (the lawyers of) 500 million people the EU is looking at copyright law standardisation. Part of this is the so called Freedom of Panorama. This is currently under discussion. Theoretically we could be sued for royalties for taking (commercial) pictures of buildings in Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, France, Finland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Romania and Slovenia though no one ever has been, but that statement applies to buildings, not to public works of art. Which rather begs the question why should the Freedom of Panorama be so restricted? This has exercised 300,000 + European Citizens so far who have signed a petition against the idea it should become standardised across the EU. The first vote is on 9th July.
You can write to your MEP’s via this link (the most effective thing to do) It will send a confirmation link to your email BEFORE sending it to your MEP’s:
https://www.mysociety.org/projects/writetothem/ (applies to the UK other countries have other ways)
Tell them it is about Freedom of Panorama and copy the suggestion at the bottom of this link
HDR Imaging. What does it mean to you? Horrible Disastrous Rubbish? Highly Desirable Representation? Something in between? Our much welcome and returning speaker, David Southwell ARPS would admit that there is a lot of the former around but if done properly, High Dynamic Range images are an important tool in the photographers tool box. Most of his ARPS panel consisted of them taken in the demanding situation of the interior of Bristol Cathedral. Thoughts were certainly provoked and the discussion afterwards was more animated than usual which would suggest that this is a bit of a Marmite question, “Love, it hate it, you can’t ignore it” as per the advertising slogan. We will return to this later, for Marmite questions have a hidden truth within them.
David did an excellent job of explaining the technical origins of HDR, essentially boosting the fixed capabilities of digital images to catch a range of 6 – 6.5 EV at best (depends on the sensor construction and other factors), or about one half that of the human eye (10-14). Using software and exposures of the same scene metered between exposure for shadow detail to exposure for highlight detail and the range in between (see here for a much more detailed explanation and on how to go about creating a more natural version of the effect) a single image is produced capturing the entire range of luminosity values in the scene. There is a more technical and vastly more expensive way to create HDR using oversampled binary image sensors. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about that and for the rest of us, rest assured they will be coming to high end mobile phones in the near future.
Some DSLR’s, CSC’s, Mobile Phones have an HDR facility built in, but this will almost certainly work with JPEG’s which have a more limited dynamic range than versions of RAW or Tiff. Handled carefully they can be effective, but as always there is the question of how much control is needed, required or is desired by the photographer. The camera processor and choice of jpeg format mean that certain assumptions have been made at the coding stage you do not have an input to. David left us in no doubt that, whereas process can be automated, shoot in RAW (preferably 16 bit, but 8 bit has got him some spectacular results). Your standard 8 bit image (as used in JEPGs and a lot of cameras shooting RAW) gives you 16.8 million colours (more than you can see) and 16 bit 281 trillion (far, far, far more than you can see). 16 bit gives you far more subtlety to play with, whereas 8 bit tends towards grouping colours into bands rather than representing them as subtle variations of colours. In a not particularly accurate but certainly useful way of looking at it we can say the difference is in the ability to reproduce shades, though the human optical processing system does vary from individual to individual. David asserts that 16 bit is the future and for those interested in HDR and, eventually, all photography, so now is a good time to start working in it as far as you can.
But why bother if all we want is the picture that represents a decent looking image of the widest possible range? Well now this is the tricky bit and where its detractors get dismissive of the technique. Before we touch on that, and we can only really touch on it here for reasons of time, space and the need to preserve a semblance of sanity, we need to deal with that problematic idea that you can only make art through fine motor skills. We have treated with this before (27/11/14) so I am not going to go into it again, but part of the attraction of HDR is to make the photograph look more like a painting. OK this is a gross simplification, a minority point in a minority interest, but that does not undermine its validity. Photography’s inferiority complex has existed since print 1 frame 1 in the history of photography. Both are trying to make that emotional connection with the viewer. If that is absent it doesn’t matter how good the draughtsmanship, the image does not work.
David made the point that it is, despite his determined advocacy of the technique, only ONE tool in the box, a very important point. We all have our favourite tools. He gave an estimate of about 3% of his own photography – and this coming from a man who needs 16 TB storage space in his computer system and a high end spec to match in terms of graphics and processors, memory and monitors. To give you an idea, that’s about 640,000 25mb raw images, if my maths is right, so 20,000 ish frames to make up his HDR section when full – with David spending up to 8 hours getting it right on each one! Slightly more involved than Justin Quinnell’s equipment needs, for sure, but they are two ways of making an artefact, two different ways of making a connection. The other 97% isn’t and that is the point. There is no technique that suits all horses on all courses but the more techniques a photographer can master the more complete that photographer will be. Not in pseudo competition with fine art, but in terms of their own personal development and capabilities. HDR has a role to play in getting emotion into an image, certainly it gets a reaction like no other photographic technique I have come across. That’s the art of photography.
OK let’s not tot up the cost of the sort of system David is talking about, he is a very experienced photographer with deep roots in computing. Looked at that from that perspective it just puts the technique out of the range of most of our pockets in the club. HDR can be done on a laptop using programmes that aren’t Photoshop. David reckons that layers and blending, cloning and careful metering are the basics and they can be practiced in any number of ways. Indeed Photoshop isn’t fully 16 bit yet and the vast majority of monitors out there cannot handle 16 bit data and the ones that do will cost you about the equivalent of the average UK wage. Start in 8 bit and make your way up. Practice, practice, practice the basics. Be critical, seek criticism, put the feedback into your practice. The same points were made by the last speaker.
So let’s come back to the Marmite question again. “Love it, hate it, you can’t ignore it”. That is simply not true. Looked at logically the vast majority of the British public remain in denial that Marmite is a big issue facing the United Kingdom. It’s a clever ruse to sell a strong tasting edible (or inedible depending on your view) spread. If a Marmite insurrection has sprung up then it has passed me by. HDR certainly provokes strong opinions, but in ten years time it may be a capability so ubiquitous in photographic equipment that we give it no thought, in exactly the same way as most people do with most Marmite questions. Depth of field may be going the same way, where the out of focus becomes a filter you apply. The technology has been around for a while, only now it’s electronic. Those that do tend to feel strongly about this sort of thing, feel very strongly indeed, how do you like Marmite?
N E X T M E E T I N G
Your Picture Your Way – Architecture & Artistry. Bring an image or two on these themes and give us some insights on the who the what, the why, the where, the when and the how!
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
Monday June 15th – peaking between 00:30 and 02:00 The Milky Way.