This week we had our first of the season’s My Photography sessions, Steve Dyer taking us through his studio work including lights, modifiers and some of his post-production work flow. Some fine images, and a sound outline of the equipment he uses to get his preferred evening was an illustration of some of the talent we have in the club. And Steve was happy to state that the club has played, and continues to do so, a strong part in his development as a photographer.
We have looked at light modifiers in the last two posts of 2016, dividing them into soft light modifiers and hard light modifiers. We also referenced the excellent The Strobist website and it remains well worth the effort. These three will form the underpinning of the rest of this post, which will mainly, but not exclusively, be about building an off camera flash on a budget.
Steve has spent the last few years and not a little income in collecting his equipment he uses in his set up. The modifiers can be gained quite cheaply, but the build quality is what you really pay for when you buy the more established branded modifiers. One of the keys here is how core these pieces of equipment are to our particular form of photography. Another is our available budget, of course. It can be done relatively cheaply and here we will be looking at the options from a restricted budget perspective.
So, our mission is to put together a useable off camera flash with modifiers. Keeping within the basic theme we will start with the flash unit. Canon Speedlites start at around £160 and, obviously, are designed to work with Canon cameras (though will work with other makes but might have limited use of extended features) and we can pay over £500 for the top of the range and into four figures for the specialist designs. Nikon is not so very different. But how low can we go? The main thing that we give up on a restricted budget is power, as expressed by the Guide Number.
The Guide Number (GN) is far more than this though. Usually expressed in meters (feet in the USA) the GN is a tool for calculating the light falling on the subject from that unit at a given distance or F-Stop. How does that work? Actually quite simple. I have a flash gun with a GN of 33. I am 2 meters away from my model. The GN = f Number x Distance. The industry standard is 100 ISO but check the flash-gun’s handbook.
So, back to school maths, GN 33 = f number x 2meters.
Therefore 33 / 2 = f number or 16.5. Set the aperture at f16 to f18 according to the capacity of the lens diaphragm.
In an ideal world going to 200 ISO effectively doubles the guide number. Well it would if it weren’t for the laws of physics. There is a thing known as the inverse square law. Double the distance means
four times the light to get the same degree of illumination on a subject. So ISO 400 to get twice the light on the subject from a 100 ISO base.
Now TTL metering will sort all this out if the flash unit and the camera are capable of dealing with it, but that basically doubles the cost of the manual flash. Or we could buy a flash meter (make sure it is a flash meter not just a light meter, and better it is calibrated for photography. as we may waste our money) to do accurate calculations for us. However, dedicated off camera flash meters start at around £175.00. Not within our remit here. This is one area where chimping comes in and getting to know your equipment will really pay off. We can, with practice, get pretty close to right first time but, with the cost per frame and immediacy of digital, test frames consume not a lot other than a little time.
As we are talking off camera flash we will need some way of triggering the flash off body. Basically there are three ways to do this: Fixed cable (if the flash unit will take that, but most modern ones will); light trigger; wireless trigger.
Wired isn’t much, if indeed any, cheaper at the budget end of the spectrum than wireless. Light triggers (Optical) are built into the front of flash units so enabled and are usually encased in a red plastic cover. These can be triggered by other flashed including on camera flash if you have one built in. Wireless triggers are very popular and even the cheaper ones function pretty well, though it is necessary to maintain a line of site to ensure the flash triggers. The cheaper ones will be more prone to misfire, and will have a limited number of channels they can operate over (usually 4). The more sophisticated units cost more money, are better with weaker signals, can be programmed to fire in zones or sequences, even so there are some good units out there for not a huge amount of money.
As an extra and when you have one, essential, piece of kit to complete this summary, a light stand is a good investment. A light stand will take your flash to a higher angle, usually up to about 9 feet, or just under three meters. This gives us a lot more lighting options.
So how much can we do this for? * At 16th October 2017:
Flash Unit, Amazon Basics (made by Godox) £26.
Neewer Light Modifiers for Flash £46
This is a pretty complete set and a good start. Refer to the Soft and Hard Light modifier links above and note that some of these quality of light is determined by their size. This is a good place to start, but by no means the only place.
Light Stand £13.60 (two for £22 also available)
All in around £95.
Thanks Steve, for the entry point. The rest of us, enjoy.
*There are lights, stands and back drops that members can borrow from the club. See Eddie House.
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.
Last meeting we were entertained by Kingswood Club Members Sue and Richard Winkworth and their tales of Myanmar (you may know it as Burma) in a presentation entitled “The Road to Mandalay” and yes after the song. Their trip was undertaken at a time when tourists were rare (it only opened up to Tourism in 2012 after 50 years of a military dictatorship) which presented both opportunities and challenges. 2016 the number of tourist arrivals was around 5 million, in a country of 54 million people. That’s roughly the size of Spain and Portugal combined. Last year Spain had 75 million visitors and Portugal 60 million, to give it some context.
The most striking thing to me was the quality of the light, which was very soft, making things look like the entire enterprise was shot on Kodachrome. The relative lack of industrialisation and the control of population around some of the shrines (limiting wood smoke from cooking and heating) made for lower levels of air pollution beyond the dust that is inevitably kicked up (even though those glorious sunsets are made from reflections of particles in the atmosphere).
The other thing that struck me from the map they showed us was the number of straight lines denoting boarders. Those boarders are entirely artificial, nature, after all abhors a straight line (William Kent circa 1685 – 1748). Well apart from crystals. Many of the pictures Sue and Richard took were in Shan Land, for instance, which boarders Laos and Thailand and the tribal boundaries are certainly different to the political ones. Now these might not be things that trouble the average tourist taking pictures, but a little local knowledge goes a long way.
Travel photography is big business, but it is a big business that is very, very, crowded these days. There was a distinction at one time between the professional and the amateur that could easily be defined by the fact that the professional took for and sold to the print media and when established made a regular income from commissions. Then the World Wide Web and traditional print industries got a pounding from which they are still diminishing. This coincided with the world opening up, air travel in particular became a lot cheaper and more opportunities arose. These days travel photographers make money from a wide variety of sources, indeed have to as revenue streams tend to be small and varied.
Most of us though are not in the business of travel photography. Yes we travel (and that can mean going to the next town or village) and yes we take photographs. Yes we combine the two. When we are photographing in our own region then the general way people behave when there is a camera is about is generally accepted and generally adhered to. Travel just the other side of the channel to France and the privacy laws, even in public places, are a lot more complicated.
So what amateurs and professionals alike do have in common is the attitude towards the subject. You can buy photographic workshops in exotic places by run by professional photographers (just because they are doesn’t mean they can) and the better ones do a lot to make sure that you come back with those iconic shots. That takes a lot of time, knowledge and investment and that is what you are paying, usually quite large amounts for. I have experience of one of these with French Photographic Holidays a couple of years back and it was enormous fun, the food was excellent and I learned a lot. A good experience. In France, it is relatively easy to take pictures of people and places, despite what I wrote above unless and until someone decides you have breached their privacy, which it is almost impossible not to.
Basically you are required to get someone’s permission before you take their picture. Then, if you want to publish it in any way you have to ask their permission for each specific usage. Any object that is created by or is the copyright of an artist, or designer, similarly requires permissions to be published in each specific context. Anyone who owns a property can assert rights of ownership of property and the photographer needs permission to publish. There is no “Freedom of panorama” as such, though that is coming under EU law, so it does not matter if you took that photograph from public or private property.
Then there is the situation in general. If someone objects you delete the image. It is not practical to get the permission of every architect of every building in shot permission. Generally people don’t and the architects don’t sue. But they could and you have to be mindful.
In Saudi Arabia you do not take pictures of women in the street. Full stop. Other pictures depend on where you are. Jeddah, for instance, is more easy going about these things than say Riyadh. In Dubai, which is much, much more western tourist oriented, along the picturesque creek there is a Naval base on the wall of which, in letter about six feet high, it says No Photography. Upsetting men with guns is never a good idea. You do not take photographs of the Naval base. The rest of the creek, fine.
These are examples of the conditions imposed. Then there are the conditions we as photographers impose. The attitude you give dictates the attitude you get back. A simple nod with the camera usually will tell you if your intended subject accepts having their photo taken. A smile and a thank you afterwards also helps. You will see trains of photographers in the more common tourist destinations on photographic tours and it is interesting, even when the scene has been deliberately set up with models, how many bother to say thank you, as if the fact that they have paid to be here yields entitlement.
You can draw up your own list of Do’s and Don’ts from yours and others experiences, both behavioural and technical. Personally I always learn how to say three things in the local language. The first is “Please”. The second is “Thank you”. The third is “I am not mad, I am British”. They all work.
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.
Club evenings with cameras are always popular and always a good opportunity to gain knowledge and practice the basics, or try something a little different. Last meeting was no exception as we undertook an evening of tabletop photography, for which the club is grateful for all those who put a lot of effort into making the evening a success.
Theses themed evenings aren’t just about the theme and or subject. They are a chance to get the most out of a controlled situation, specifically, at least for our purposes this week, the chance to work a subject. Now working the scene, or a variation of it, is a phrase that often bandied about.
Sooner rather than later you will come across Henri Cartier-Bresson and the idea of the decisive moment, and certainly in any scene that involves movement there is, or will be a combination of the elements in the frame for which their interplay makes the full story. Is it the same with table top/still life? Essentially yes, but the control in the frame is pretty much absolute and the truth in the frame may be entirely documentary or an arrangement of light on shape in some artistically pleasing manner. The chaos of everyday life is excluded in pursuit of control either way.
So what do we mean by working the scene? Cartier-Bresson didn’t just take one photograph of a scene, even if the first one was the one he ended up using. Nor anyone else. Closer, further away, left, right, up, down all realign the elements, the task is then to isolate the best image to work with.
With table top, though, there isn’t necessarily a lot of room to work with, nonetheless it is still worth the effort. Whether you change the camera angle or the arrangement of the items you are photographing you can still affect the same sort of ends. The end result, the one you show, is then more likely to be better at communicating with your audience because it is the end result of a process.
There is also a question, further prompted by the idea of the end result, of whether you can do this moving around in time. If your intent is to capture something that has to be constructed before you take a picture of the end result, why not photograph that construction? It could well be that the image that you end up keeping is one that shows all the elements but not the whole. That whole is then constructed in the mind of the viewer.
The whole point is that of collecting data deliberately. From this data we then make a story. Changing the angle/distance/perspective creates a pause and in that pause we can process the data we have collected. We can turn these to our own advantage with a little pre planning. Whilst framing the image we can be critical of what we are looking at, now that we have put a physical frame around it.
Put simply we start seeing when we stop looking. Look is the hook, the thing that caught our eye, the draw in. Seeing takes a lot more effort and experimentation, but seeing is the essence of photography. It also means that we can practice this, using table top, at home, through experimentation and starting with the tools of composition. Two to start with, I suggest are light and dark and lines.
Light and dark in its purest form, black-white (the Japanese Notan art form for instance) or at the least two complimentary colours. Contrast is what the eye, rather like the autofocus on our cameras, looks for, so as to make things clear. Use this as a key to where the light falls and with a little practice we can make powerful yet subtle ways that take the eyes of the viewer to where the photographer wants them.
Lines are, possibly, less subtle but no less powerful for that. We are largely familiar with the concept of leading lines whether we are conscious of their effect or not. Anyone who has seen white lines on tarmac will have been affected by it. Anyone who has ever followed a path will have been effected by it. By getting close, looking for the key detail, we better frame the thing that attracted us in the first place.
There are of course a myriad of other compositional tools we can use, we can practice. Composition is just a way of seeing in one sense. In a more useful sense it is a deliberate way of seeing. We need to practice with deliberation. Stuck for something to do? Then pick one of these compositional tools and use it to go shoot. The table top environment allows us to experiment in these cases by arranging the elements in our frame to our own ends. In other environments we have to look for the chances to capture these things on a more random basis, but in doing so we have to abandon looking for seeing.
N E X T M E E T I NG
Annual General Meeting.
This last fortnight we have covered ROC round 3 and it was our turn for the WCPF prints, where we could exercise our own critiquing skills. This is always popular as members can be more involved than is necessarily the case on competition nights. On my table we got into some earnest questions not so much as which pictures we favoured but why that was so. Agreement wasn’t necessarily required, and we came to our 1,2,3 decisions for each category through a simple majority vote. That wasn’t really the point of it all though. The theming of those prints gave me an idea for this weeks blog.
When we look at other people’s work we are looking at other peoples way of seeing, which is not ours. Sounds deep. Essentially if we want to improve we have, at some time or other, to challenge our own way of seeing, discuss our way of seeing. Using the WCPF and viewing the competition work we can put that into some sort of perspective. Yes I like that – why? No I don’t like that – why not? The Japanese have a saying that if you want to know the answer ask, five times, why? Basically break down the reasons to the core. That teaches us something about our own preferences and we can, if we take note of these things, start to make a difference to our own work through it. Or, as I am sure I have quoted to you before: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder – get it out with Optrex” (Spike Milligan). It has to be a conscious decision though, to do something about it.
Sounds like a slow process? Well it is. Our world is awash of nail-it-in-five-easy-lessons advice, yet that isn’t how humans learn. Sure you can get the basics right in about 20 hours but making the learning our own, that takes longer. Practice makes perfect as I am sure you have been told. Along with “Fail is just the First Attempt In Learning” and other useful things you want to strangle people for. And until we start to take on the critical eye, start taking and rejecting opportunities as part of a conscious effort, we just go round in one big circle until we are torpedoed by our own failed expectations. Bit like the sinking of the Bismarck.
But it’s a hobby. We do because we enjoy. There is no other compulsion than the one that gnaws at us to get the camera out of its bag and go shoot something (in the nicest possible way). There is always something on to point the camera at, the local “What’s On” tells us so. Left to the random too much can get missed or we end up trying to do too much in too little time. Opportunity generally isn’t a problem. Having a direction, some rails to run on, some clues as to what to look for, that is a great way of focusing the attention. Welcome to the world of the photo-project.
In its simplest form a photo project is a theme, a camera and a (regular?) space in the diary. There are as many projects as photographers, it seems, and that is because, to work, it has to be personal. We have to have some emotional attachment to what we are doing or it simply will not get done. The first point to take on board is that a 365 day project, a photo a day, sounds great when we start out but I am willing to bet that most of them don’t get completed, or get modified into something more suited to time and effort available. 30 day and 7 day projects are also popular and are more feasible. Timescale has a role to serve as we are effectively making an appointment with ourselves. The subject can be anything, but has to be something we have to put more than the usual amount of effort to complete. Then there are subject variations like: shoot 100 strangers (the serial killers favourite); A-Z; 52/26/12/any random number Photo-walks; pick a colour/theme; one focal length; the Roll of 12/24/36 (back to the old film days where you limit yourself to a film roll on a shoot); The 100 ISO challenge (fixed ISO can also be done with fixed aperture or speed); manual only focusing; plus a host of others.
Of course there is also the ongoing project, the one that lasts over months and years, that can involve deeper immersion in the subject where the style you develop adapts to the conditions your subject is most commonly found in. Osmosis, by and large is not a thing that produces results particularly quickly, if at all. The whole planned thing gets you thinking. The whole well I didn’t expect that thing we find when we get to a location challenges us to adapt. These two things help us develop but the third leg of the stool – looking critically at what other people have done and why we like it or what we would change about it and how we apply it to our own work- puts what we are trying to do in a context. That gives us something to learn and to improve with.
OK so this is based on a my-best-shot-is-my-next-one philosophy, but continuous development builds over time. It is about DELIBERATE practice. Now practice does not have to be devoid of fun, again I say this is our hobby, not our penance, but if we take Henri Cartier-Bresson’s point quoted in the last blog that “Your first ten thousand photographs are your worst” we miss the point and that point is the our first ten thousand deliberate photographs are our worst. And that is OK. Deliberation is the difference, and that can be as simple as going through your latest batch of images and thinking “If I were to take that one again I would ….” and then doing it. That is where we came in. Five members of a photographic club sitting around a table deciding what attracts them to different photo’s, and why, as a basis of going out and doing something about it.
N E X T M E E T I N G
Club member Julie Kaye on underwater photography.
We’ve done landscaping (an excellent evening by Stephen Spraggon, highly recommended if the comments of members after the session are anything to go by: and they are) and portrait lighting (members Gerry Spencer and Steve Dyer putting up an excellent show against recalitrant technology – again set members abuzz) since the last post (plus the Sun has made an appearance, at last, but rain still predominates) and that gives just a taste of the variety that there is to be had in the club programme. If members have a contribution they can make or a suggestion for the programme then please get in contact with Myk Garton, either at the meeting or via the club closed group Facebook page.
Interesting article on Petapixel this week, about the merits of relative sensor sizes (and other bourgeois concepts – see last post) where it matters to a professional. Pictures sold. Photographer Chris Corradino finally sold more of his micro 4/3 taken pictures than his full frame, rather underscoring the point made here countless times that when looking at a photograph no one can tell you what it was taken on. Even if they could, and maybe there are some people that can, or think they can, in the end it does not matter. The viewer isn’t the slightest bit interested in brand, sensor size or manufacturer (often not who you think), lens, weather sealing, menu options, filters or the colour of the photographers woolly hat (mine is black by the way). They are interested in, engaged by, the image. OK sometimes a few of the 2.6 billion estimated photographers (probably the hobbyists, pro’s and semi pro’s) on the planet might occasionally think “How did she do that?” but the answer is usually on YouTube, the web or in a book (old fashioned and distinctly analogue concept I know, but irreplaceable in my far from humble opinion).
Novelty aside, if megapixels, maximum apertures, brand name, cost of glass were more important than composition, the exposure triangle and actually pointing the camera at something remotely interesting in the first place, then you could simply buy your way to success. This is one area in life, though, where you can’t replace the (hopefully metaphorical) blood sweat and tears of learning a craft. For sure you can spend 20 hours or so getting a firm grasp of the rudimentaries and turn out some decent pictures if only more through accident than design, but, as the ever quotable Henri Cartier-Bresson pointed out: “Your first ten thousand photographs are your worst”. And he was talking in the days of film where the cost of your next frame was a consideration in pressing the shutter. Maybe it is now our first hundred thousand pictures that are our worst.
So what is the point of top end equipment? Essentially it is about flexibility and durability. Specialist requirements aside, such as tilt shift lenses and medium format cameras, it is about being able to go one stop further because you have to, it is about the ability of the equipment to take constant rough handling and still work; it’s about eliminating design and manufacturing flaws in optics which most of us either live with or don’t even know exist; it’s about built in redundancy whilst still being able to function. It is as much about confidence in the equipment working as anything else. What a professional pays for is not to worry about the kit working so that they get paid, not sued – and have a spare to hand anyway. And that is worth the premium as a professional photographer who gets a reputation for not delivering does not remain a professional photographer for long.
Then there is that old saw, “The best camera is the one you have with you”, which may be what the philosopher Daniel Dennett called a “Deepity”. A Deepity, according to Dennett, is something that sounds important and true but is really false and trivial. In this case the point is that which you have will freeze the moment in front of you before it disappears, that which you desire cannot. True but not very helpful. What it implies is more important though, and that is learn to use what you have to hand. The question is how does this handle the exposure triangle not what does this do?
Take the example of the camera most people have with them all the time these days. The one on the mobile phone. Yes they are subject to the same financial restrictions as making any other camera and once they were just an add on. Today they form part of the buying decision, certainly they are a big consideration in the makers marketing processes and therefore manufacturing decisions. Some professional and semi-professional photographers shoot on nothing else. There is even a hip term for it iphoneography, named after the Apple range, long held to mount the best cameras in a phone, but that is constantly under challenge from other manufacturers, such as Samsung. Huawei have gone so far as to link with Leica, who were part of the design team for their P9 and P10 cameras.
The basics stay the same as hinted at above, just altered a little. Get to know how your camera app (there are lots to choose from on both Android and iPhone) handles the exposure, ISO and aperture. The tools of composition don’t change. You are going to have to choose between digital zoom (reduces quality) and getting closer/further away by walking (reduces shoe leather). You can buy accessories to snap on your phone cover to act as wider angle or more telephoto (at a price) then you have to carry them and unless you are deliberately choosing the mobile phone as your camera of choice they are as likely to be elsewhere when you need them as to hand.
OK so in order to make the phone camera useable by a wider audience you might get some scene modes, like fireworks, portraits, indoors, HDR, slow shutter and so on. This is a, maybe I should say was a, big feature on compact cameras (still prefer mine to my phone, not least for the optical zoom). There is a trick to using these outside of the do-what-the-icon-says-to-take-pictures-of. Basically you need to experiment on controlled light conditions. You can then apply these camera settings as short cuts in the wild, so to speak. That’s before you get to the editing stage.
Editing on smartphones too often appears to be of the smear on variety (possibly because of the nature of the touch screen, more likely a love of the ready made), and is as subject to fashion as anything else. That is not to say that it cannot be used to add to the image overall, but it too often ends up looking like an amateur production pantomime dame made up in a hurry because he picked the kids up late from school. And there is the whole JPEG thing to yawn about. Yes you can shoot RAW on (some) smartphones and yes the same reasons exist to choose whichever you want according to your need. Same applies to this as to the pro-equipment remarks above, not least RAW cannot save a badly composed or otherwise uninteresting image.
Just because you have the latest and greatest smartest phone EVER, doesn’t mean that you are going to get an acceptable result simply by waving it at something vaguely interesting before going click. You are still going to have to work the scene, use different angles and shooting positions, get closer, get further away and so on. Consistently good images demand work as well as an eye for a picture and taking multiple images is no more expensive than on a stand-alone camera. Keep shooting until the moment is done, then and only then, move on.
N E X T M E E T I N G
ROC Round 3 Judging.