Reflex Open Competition Round 4 last meeting and congratulations to the award winners and I hope everyone took something away from the evening. Our judge was Roger Mallinson, the man to go to if you want to know about making audio visual presentations and a returnee to judge at Reflex and many thanks to him for his time and effort. As usual the winners will appear on the club website in due course.
“There is no special way a photograph should look“ – Garry Winogrand.
Even a themed competition will tell you that and whereas there are things that work as a general rule, the tools of composition, and sharpness, as we have quoted before, is a “Bourgeoise concept” (maybe). It does rather make you wonder what club competitions are for.
Well the first two clues are in the name club competition. It is about members of the club, first and foremost. Members having a framework into which they can receive feedback. And it is about competition, that is to say a test of skill and ability against other like minded individuals. They coexist but, depending on our choices and personalities, one side will be more important than the other. Recognition is both a middle point and the backbone that connects the two extremes.
If no two pictures are the same how do we differentiate between two pictures on merit? The tools of composition give us a clue, more particularly how they are used and abused, but there is no one accepted system, though some sort of system is required to be consistent.
No two judges are the same and that is a good thing. All our judges are fellow photographers and have their own development route. OK we have all sat there and thought, on occasion, what are they on and where do I get some? when our carefully crafted images totally fail to convey their message. The fault does not lie with the viewer. It is still a good thing if that failure comes with an explanation. Better yet one that we can apply to the next similar situation.
If we don’t fail, at least occasionally, and have an inkling of why we fail then we will not learn. It all comes back to that word “Because”. There is no way a photograph should look. There are individual tastes and opinions and that will apply to any judge the same as to the rest of us.
Lets come back to that idea of sharpness and its evil twin blur as one example. Generally, when looking at a photograph, one of the first things that strike us is can we see it clearly. It is important because I, for one, can see blurry things just by taking my glasses off. Rather like a number of my fellow club members, I paid rather a lot of money specifically to do the opposite and see things in focus. Focus is a thing and having something sharp within our depth of focus is generally desirable.
If there was a single way of producing an acceptable image all images must either be all in or all out of focus. We would then be free to challenge this convention or rule in the pursuit of artistic interpretation. Hold on. Wait one. That’s exacly what we do on occasion. It is one of the most popular nights we have for practicals on the calendar. It’s called light-painting.
Blur can be creative when it is deliberate and controlled (or we can pass it off as that). We generally differentiate blur from focus as one is produced by movement and one by mechanical physics. Ultra wide and expensive prime lenses producing very limited acceptable focus and blury (often sold as dreamy) backgrounds are all the rage. Bokeh is a thing too and now deemed as a selling point in a lens. Figure to ground is an established art principle of grouping things together visually (visited recently in our tour around Gestalt theory) where the subject is seperated from but relational to the background (and or foreground).
Creative blur is an accepted technique. That is it is deliberate and measured in its application to a suitable subject. The idea of photo-dynamism is over a century old and is linked to a wider art movement known as Italian Futurism, though photography was initially rejected by the Futurists for being static.
It has several variants we might use. First up we have the deliberate de-focusing effect. Bokeh originated from this in Japan and became a form all of its own but was always an incidental to taking photographs with points of light in the background. Defocusing works best in colour, with large blocks of identifiable shapes such as flowers, people, painted walls etc. It also works well when shooting against a bright background. Where to stop defocusing is a personal call, again there is no fixed point, but it’s fun to do.
Next up we have panning. We talked last week about taking panoramas, basically a linked series of photographs of something from a fixed point that usually extends beyond the horizontal field of focus of our lenses regardless of there orientation. This uses the same movement idea but within the same period of exposure. By necessity this involves longer shutter speeds but doesn’t have to be on a tripod,.though a pair of steady hands is useful. Keeping the focus and speed in synch on the subject is one option, but the other is to slowly follow the subject through keeping it identifiable but blurred.
Thirdly we have the deliberate shake of the camera during the exposure, up and down or left to right. This doesn’t have to be violent to give an effect but it is best if slightly exaggerated. A fourth variation is to rotate the camera during the exposure around a fixed point.
So five variations that we can try and combine into a little project and maybe use to generate entries in the next round of ROC.
Landscape the year round was Stephen Spraggon’s topic in his presentation “Four Seasons In One Day”. Stephen has been to Reflex before and this was another high quality session. A locally based photographer Stephen makes a substantial part of his income from the Somerset countryside and across the south-west. He showed us that time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted and is a regular user of The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE also on IOS and Android) and OS Maps. Above all time, patience and a lot of practice are key, as, I would imagine, are a decent set of notes.
The essential piece of equipment, aside from glass and body, is a sturdy tripod. Stephen related that all his landscape photographs are tripod mounted, necessitated by shooting at low ISO’s, 50, 100, sometimes 200 chasing minimal noise, which when combined with deep depths of field mean low shutter speeds.
There are hundreds of different tripods on the market and choosing the right one is as much about perceived need, experience and value for money as it is weight or brand. Basically tripods come in two parts. The legs and the head. As with everything else photographic you can spend as much as you like as design and function are moderated by the materials of construction: aluminium; carbon fibre; magnesium and alike. The heads can have pistol grips or a selection of knobs and locks to keep them steady and again money is no object.
Tripods for landscape are probably the ones open to the most compromises and certainly involve the most decisions. This is primarily due to the weight rigidity pay off. Your average 1600mm f5.6 Leica lens weighs in at 62kg so needs a particularly rigid tripod, though, lets face it, the people who are going to lug it around are probably accommodated in its 4 x 4 Mercedes support / camera bag and do not include the photographer. The weight of what the photographer wants to support, comfortably, is the primary factor and that is going to be the heaviest combination.
The variation of weight and the requirement for good rigidity to ensure stability over fairly long exposures in sometimes hostile weather conditions. This extends to both legs and heads. A 3 way geared head, one that has knobs that finely control movement and provides sturdy locking in three planes, means a lot of engineering and materials in its manufacture. That means, to keep the weight down the serious landscaper with deep pockets is probably going to go for one made from magnesium which ensures that the cost goes in the opposite direction to the weight.
Height is also a factor. If you are going to get that vital foreground object in focus you will often have to go in low. A decent height can also save the back when using the view finder or if your live view doesn’t have a tilt facility to it. An adjustable centre column is also desirable for those in between heights. Then there are the way the legs are locked into position, these days almost always via screw locks though there are still tripods around with catches.
So the rock steady, shake free image is in the bag, still or video (video ‘pods tend to be more rigid, heavy, technical and expensive, especially the heads) but a tripod can also help in creating panorama’s by keeping a fixed point around which the camera turns whereas hand holding it sometimes works to skew some uprights (parallax error where the lens acts as the eye). Or maybe that’s just me. Either way slower shutter speeds can be selected with no penalty in terms of camera shake.
The key is in setting up the tripod on the level in the first place. Most tripods have levels built in as do most camera these days. It is always wise to check that the camera stays level throughout the pan. It is an easy technique to get good looking results from. The key is to make sure the settings on the camera are the same all the way through (meter in aperture or shutter priority first then set the camera to manual for the capture) and to leave plenty of overlap. Essentially what is on the right of frame 1 is on the left of frame 2. Most cameras have grids that can be viewed when composing, thirds being the most popular but some have fifths and other variations. These can be used to ensure a decent overlap for stitching the panorama together using the same right left pattern.
Although 180 and 360 degree pans are popular, there is good mileage in smaller three or four frame panoramas especially when the camera is used in portrait mode which allows for more ground and sky. It also allows for greater detail and much larger prints. The downside can be the size of the stitched image, especially with larger megapixel count sensors, so there can be some useful mileage in using lower resolutions when constructing, especially the wider portrait version, panoramas.
Stitching the images together is far simpler than it used to be, thanks to options within Photoshop and Microsoft’s ICE (or MICE) is free and very easy to use for both horizontal and vertical panoramas.
Easy to do and fun why not give it a go?