Henri Cartier-Bresson once said that “Sharpness is a bourgeois concept”. A bourgeois concept is one that makes the holder appear self important and materialistic, shallow, pretending to be deep, unsophisticated and generally lacking in true class. He never once won a club competition round thinking like that. He did co-found the rather classy Magnum photo agency though, which he described as “…. A community of thought, a shared human quality, a curiosity about what is going on in the world, a respect for what is going on and a desire to transcribe it visually.” Well he would say that, I mean, not even a commended? Obviously a case of if you can’t join them beat them.
Our last session on the endlessly fascinating light painting and the impromptu follow up at Abbots Pool on Sunday techniques set me to thinking about this. Not particularly to bourgeois concepts, you understand, but how the technique generally requires stripping the camera electronics to the basics, especially when not combining any ambient light. Full manual set on a tripod and long exposures, at least we can sympathise with a William Fox-Talbot or a Roger Fenton, though we still have it a lot easier. Equipment is smaller and lighter, we can get, with digital at least, instant review and no messing about with chemicals – though that is a different kind of fun in itself.
We are still paying attention to the same basics then. Pre-focussing the lens in the general area of the soon to be action is more guess work than we are used to with auto-focus but we still have to maintain a level of sharpness. What we don’t want is our lenses hunting for a spot with sufficient contrast to lock on to. Most of the time it’s not going to find one in the dark. So, manual focus it is on two grounds. Most people at Abbots Pool seemed to be shooting towards the end at F10, yours truly, different as ever at F8 (actually from aquick excif check it was F8 all night), but that might be the difference in using an SLT camera as opposed to a DSLR. We want our images to retain the lines and patterns in what is technically known as an acceptable circle of confusion. Basically a zone of focus we register as “sharp”.
Shutter speed. Bulb is the order of the day with light painting, at least in the conditions we were shooting in at club and at Abbots Pool. If we are shooting traffic in town in order to capture the light trails then we are probably looking at somewhere between 6 to 10 seconds as a start point (again at F8, maybe F11) but that is just to find a base line. Similarly we would want to keep a constant aperture and most likely exposure time if we were painting a large object with a single light source (and that would be across frames).
The usual advice for a sharp picture is to use the reciprocal of the focal length, so a 50mm lens would suggest 1/50th of second minimum, a 210mm lens 1/250th. Theoretically at least. However this rule of thumb (tool) has been around a long time. Certainly on a full frame 35mm camera with no vibration reduction then it’s no bad way to go. However, should we lengthen the time by 1.5x or 1.6x to account for an APS-C lens? 2x for a Micro Four Thirds? And how much do we need with VR built in and turned on? Firstly that full frame thing is a bit of a false lead. As magnification increases the degree of movement needed to register as blur decreases. Magnification does not change with sensor size, the field (and depth) of view does (and low light capabilities and quality given the same number of photo-sites – or pixels as they are commonly called – and the relative numbers on the exposure triangle).Think of it as Width not depth, you won’t go far wrong. Practically, by the way, if it’s too big to see in the viewfinder, it aint gonna fit on the sensor. Secondly VR does allow us to lower shutter speed but how much depends upon the individual and the situation.
But hey, we are on bulb (shutter stays open as long as the shutter mechanism is activated), so all that doesn’t matter. And if we are on bulb then we are on a tripod or the camera is stabilised by some other means like a bean bag or a wall etc. The bulb by the way comes from the history of photography as it was a rubber bulb shaped object used to fire the trigger. As long as it was depressed (squeezed) the shutter mechanism remained open. Sound familiar? There is some question as to whether the VR should be turned off on tripod, I have never had to and I have VR on both my camera body and my main lens. Other people have and it has made a difference. Test it and find out for your camera. Then move on.
Shooting RAW or JPEG is a personal choice, get those things above right then it doesn’t matter. If you want or need to do a lot of playing around with colour channels, contrast etc then RAW is better. Otherwise do not fret. Fretting about RAW or JPEG is probably a bourgeois concept. Arguing about it rather than taking pictures is definitely a bourgeois concept. Move on.
Composition still counts. When in doubt about the area that is going to be used to complete the picture go wide and crop in post. You can take things out, you can’t put things in that you haven’t got a record for. Generally with the sort of light painting we were doing then going wide was not a bad strategy.
Post production is certainly a matter of personal taste. It can be fun to play around with effects and balances but, by and large, we don’t want it to look over processed. Unless we do. That’s why it’s a matter of personal taste. Printing your results though means that we are going to want as much colour space as we can get to reproduce the tones and subtleties of colour. sRGB is best for monitors, so we need to make allowances for this.
It doesn’t have to be complex, it gets better with practice and it is fun. Get out there and try some.
N E X T M E E T I N G
Speaker – Welcome to my outdoor office – Stephen Spraggon
Former club members Rich Price and Kev Spiers gave a warmly received evening, to a very well attended meeting, based on their two trips to Iceland. As much effort went into the presentation as into the trips and it was very informative and beautifully illustrated. I recommend it to any club in the vicinity. This evening took a complete circuit of the Island and some of the alien and breath taking scenery there. As Rich and Kev said in their last presentation, it’s hard not to stop every hundred yards to take another set of images, so many opportunities the landscape provides. 1300 miles and ten days to do the circuit it has to go on the bucket list. Not so sure about the £35 burger as if someone did that to me in a restaurant I think it would be me kicking the bucket.
Last time Kev and Rich presented to us on Iceland we looked at the planning aspect such a trip demands. If we are to see a return on the investment we lay out on such expeditions, including the considerably smaller ones of a jaunt to a favourite site or a weekend away, in personal development and photographic terms, we need to know what destination we are set for before we stride out and we need to know why we are choosing to go there. Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Photography. Well it increases the likelihood that we will produce a keeper or two through something more than dumb luck. Also planning can be a source of satisfaction in itself, as long as you don’t plan everything to the point of squeezing the joy out of actually doing.
That isn’t just a matter of geography. We have investigated the ideas inherent in the technically competent yet otherwise sterile images – the camera club spectre. Let me put it this way. Kev and Rich showed us photographs that made me think about what was just outside of the frame, they made me want to explore beyond the picture. We have all seen images on sites like Flikr, Viewbug, 500px, and so on that made us pause. Most simply do not, but they obviously appeal to a number of other people. The why and wherefore of emotional reaction to an image are going to be complex and personal, might even be unique to that particular moment in time to the photographer, to the viewer. We just have to look for the constant.
So, having set the problem I should at least offer some sort of solution. Easier said than done, because we can end up with huge lists of other considerations to even a simple and tentative statement. Often we define a picture by what it is not rather than what is. This is not an either or situation, it is two sides of the proverbial coin and like any coin it’s only real value is what you can get in exchange for it. We spend the coin, rather than loose it through a hole in our metaphorical pocket, when we put the pro’s and con’s we have judged on an image into our own practice and do so again on those images.
Each and every image ever taken can be seen as a question. It is an interrogation of the photographer’s view of the world through the selection of a very small part of it and within that a single object or point of reference (singularity works best for the vast majority of images) that spins off a whole universe of inquiry. By asking ourselves what the question was the photographer is posing by taking this picture, we put ourselves in the right frame for connecting with the image. The questioning approach opens us up to an emotional transportation. It also takes time and makes our brains work on a point of reference, rather than just attending or dismissing a picture. That is something the brain has to be forced to do as it tends towards activities that take lower or actually lower the amount of energy it uses on a particular task. Learning is energy intensive and every image is a learning opportunity, if, and only if, we so choose.
This is not to say that every frame is a monumental battle between the forces of nature and art, though art seeks to impose itself over the tangle that is nature using the rules of composition. Or ignoring them, but it is rarely successful when it does. It has to be a very bold, unique and still technically well executed image to do that. The possible exceptions to that are when the events captured are momentous, or singular in human history: Phan Ti Kim Phuc, the “Napalm Girl”, June 8th 1972; The crowd in Munich, August 1st 1914 on the outbreak of war in which one Adolf Hitler is supposed to be (possibly faked by the Nazi’s); Jaqui Kennedy reaching over the boot of the car in Dallas, a dead JFK and a wounded Governor John Connelly obscured from view, November 22nd 1963; the Tank Man of Tienemen Square, June 5th 1989; the lone house on the Normandy Beach Head viewed from a landing craft, June 6th 1944 – where the connection is with a knowledge of far off events yet no less visceral because of their historic importance. The design elements within an image, the way everything fits together, or not, give the image weight, heft, soul, emotional content, the story outside the photograph is what gets us in to it. Conclusion? Use our cameras to make stories not photographs.
So we thank Rich and Kev for sharing their stories in an entertaining and relatable way and wish them well with it.
N e x t M e e t i n g
Week 13 – 24th Nov 2016 19:30 – Lighting Techniques: Hosted by Mark O’Grady and Rob Heslop.
Back to School this week and the beginning of the Autumn programme. OK so it is still summer, officially, but we have the makings of a varied year ahead – Just look at the meetings calendar. So enter the competitions – all of them, attend the meetings and lets improve together. It’s a members club and that means we all have to put in to make it work out. Members showed some highlights of their summer break and it was good to see contributions from so many and such a wide range of topics and the differences in interpretation and angle from some of the same views, which set me thinking.
The power of the photograph is back in the news with the picture of the drowned infant refugee, Aylan Kurdi, being recovered on a Turkish beach by an unnamed Turkish Police Officer. It went around the world, was an instrument in flat footing the Prime Minister, and has had a big effect locally as well as internationally. A picture paints more than a thousand words when the raw nerves of humanity are touched, but even so not everything is always what it seems and one of the most famous war photographs of all time, that of a falling soldier in the Spanish civil war taken by Robert Capra has been under a cloud for the last forty years. It’s not isolated. Context is all. The plain and simple truth of a tiny broken body in the arms of a Turkish policeman speaks a thousand times a thousand words because a camera was there to record it and there are means to send that picture around the world in seconds.
There is no doubting of the power of the picture to provoke the imagination, to prod the memory and encapsulate stories, but let’s be honest here, that is not the point of taking pictures for most of the people most of the time – a record is what we want when the shutter is pressed. The stories we attribute can change over time as new experiences and new memories or new evidence comes to light. The fact is that we take the picture at face value, we don’t often, especially in family and friends photographs, take the framing, the post production and so on, at anything but face value. Our emotional connection over rides our critical faculties. “We seem to reinvent our memories, and in doing so, we become the person of our own imagination” (Elizabeth Loftus). Most of the time this does not matter. Different rules apply to the family photo album for the vast majority of people, wherein the contents are more precious to us, than to the curated representations of the truth presented to us by the serious press, and, by association, the not so serious press.
A good portrait shows character. A bold statement of something generally held to be true. Portraiture is a photographic staple, even if the reason some people buy a camera is to make sure they are behind it, not in front of it. Motivation adds to the power of a picture, at least to the photographer. The difference between the family snap and the professional portrait can be vast, (and we can learn the techniques of the differences for our own purposes) then there is more formality behind the latter than the former, so is it less true? “The camera cannot lie, but it can be an accessory to untruth”, (Harold Evans). The image stays in the brain, even when the context is lost to us. You probably have no idea who the migrant Florence Owens Thompson was, but I am pretty sure you have seen her picture. The story behind that isn’t as straight forward as the photographer, (Dorothea Lange) recollected or noted at the time. The incidentals that make the picture worth taking don’t detract from the image itself, the uses it is put to, the responses it provokes, are other issues. Rarely is there one truth, mostly there are sundry truths.
So is showing more a greater aid to getting to the core truth behind an image? The environmental portrait, wherein the artefacts of a person’s life, or rather a section of it, show more of their character than the shallow depth of field and neutral background typical of the formal portrait. People are generally more relaxed in their own surroundings, more likely to be open when surrounded by the things they are familiar with. Yet we do not know them better, we just know more, or think we do. We have more information to work on, but a cluttered photograph, unless the clutter is the subject, can be distracting. Therefore we edit. We select. We make the story from the bigger picture. No sounds, no smells, more isolation and sometimes we can be grateful for that. Can the truth live in such a world?
So, assuming we are not out to change the world, though everything we do has some impact, does this matter? As creators, hobbyists, semi-professionals, professionals, it is the image that counts. We don’t really have too much to do with the notions of truth. We just take the pictures, produce the images, post them with varying degrees of public access and maybe care a little what others think, “For there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so” (Hamlet Act 2 Scene 2). We are not, for the most part, citizen journalists, but carrying a camera, any camera, may just make us so. We might not know when that photograph we took down the street yesterday might be of wider interest in years to come. It doesn’t all have to be based on drama, just piqued interest. The picture of Aylan Kurdi was taken by an Associated Press Photographer. His brother and mother also drowned. His home had been bombed out. These are all facts, all context to the photograph. It’s not a portrait. It’s not an environmental portrait. It’s not documentary in the way the Florence Owens Thompson photograph was (and that was one of six). If it’s within any category it lies in Social Realism which is broader than just photography. But it doesn’t draw on any of those traditions for its power in particular- and we can measure that by its effect. The photograph itself sits at the junction of time, place, mass conscience and social action. It is a trigger to bigger things. There have been others. Every photograph has a potential it just needs a context.
Last meeting was the Annual General Meeting, where an account of the club was given over the last year and the committee reconstituted. Mark Stone and Dan Ellis stepped down as Social and Programme Secretaries to be replaced by Chris Harvey and Gerry Painter respectively and Jo Gilbert stepped into Gerry’s spot on the programme sub-committee. Otherwise the committee remains as was. The committee is the glue of the club and its heart and the club is in general good health so our thanks as club members, regular and irregular, for all their efforts. Ruth will post the minutes in due course.
What do you want from your club? We all share a love of the craft or we wouldn’t join a club, would we? Maybe there is more to it than that, but the fact is the more people become actively involved in the club then the more that club can do and everyone can exercise an influence. We have a strengthening competition base, and that is as much made up from the new members as existing and this is supported by the broad spectrum of speakers who relate their experiences and their expertise. Practical evenings, events and gatherings have proved ever popular – we invest in the kit to use it after all. Our membership numbers remain stable and we have a broad range of backgrounds amongst it. All in all we have solid foundations and a strong upcoming programme. We have 6 competitions in the year (4 rounds of the Open, a creative round and the trophy round – which is next week), not as many as some clubs but then there are issues about competitions and whether they stimulate or stifle innovation and development (both for my money, the key factor being how they are used in the individual members development and how the judges relate to the entries and audience and whether I can learn anything from the feedback given).
In brief, the whole is other than the sum of its parts. We are all at different levels of development, have different views on subjects, kit, and whether it really has turned out nice again and we combine those things together to craft a (visual) statement. The club gives us somewhere we can test those statements against others and by others. It does not matter if we agree or not, the important thing is that we can use that feedback to inform our art. The more of us getting involved the more opportunities there are. By applying even a modicum of criticism to our images we can and do progress. This is where the combination of theory, practicals, competitions and informal gatherings come together. The club makes these things possible.
The programme we have set out from the next meeting, the John Hankin and Stan Scantlebury Shields, all the way through to July 2016 includes: practical nights; tutorial nights; speakers from outside the club and in; editing; model shoot; the WCPF travelling critique, a three way club battle; landscapes; wedding photography; a monochrome challenge and, of course, the Reflex Open. Looks like another great year ahead. We bring open minds to these and we try out what we have learned and we learn more we have more we can put into the club.
The programme that we have had over the last year has been influenced, especially in the early part, by the move from the old school to the new, which as both Maurice and Steve pointed out, went better than expected. Certainly the new premises are very conducive, even if the chairs are pew-of-the-miserable-sinner hard. Education and penitence all for a bargain price! Tea breaks can be quite accurately timed by the pained look on the faces of the audience. At least that is what visiting speakers are told. Some might wonder why a tea break is required every fifteen minutes, but still they manfully (and woman-fully) plough on till either interrupted by the conscience of whoever has introduced the evening (who mysteriously has been standing throughout) or the expressions on everyones’ faces makes it look like they are adjudicating a Wallace (or Ed Miliband) look-alike contest, so chastising are the plastic seats (of course).
The best speakers are those who adapt their material to the audience. It can be very easy to end up delivering the same thing regardless. A travelogue to the WI is not the same as a presentation to a camera club. The things they want to know are different. No the camera settings on each and every shot are not the things we want to know, unless it has been to produce a particular effect or overcome lighting difficulties. RAW or JPEG? In passing only, please, and your reasoning. If someone wants to know more they will ask you about it. Likes and dislikes? That’s a statement, not an apology, nor a sermon (despite the hardness of the seats) and, frankly, will come out in your images anyway. Give us your reasoning so we can test that against what you are showing us. Most, if not all, of us want something we can take away and try for ourselves. Equipment? Yes, that can be useful as long as it doesn’t turn into kit-pornography or an advertisement for Canikon and what difference does it make? Why can’t you take that with a kit lens? Even though the answers may be quite mundane they do go towards making up a philosophy which informs what and how subjects are taken. That is a good thing to get over to an audience of photography enthusiasts.
About those competitions. We have had a big revival in interest from within the club and that partly driven by new members which is healthy. Also, using the data from three club battles over the last 18 months there has been an across the board uplift in competition quality based on common prints and a common judge. Now, it’s obvious to all club members, when their images aren’t picked, that judges only become judges when their eyesight starts to go, but in their defence we have had some consistent judges, certainly since I have been a member, and judging is exactly that. It is an exercise in judgement against standards that make up a technically proficient photograph plus …. And that plus is made up of experience and yes, tastes (and eyesight), but the variations haven’t been huge, so fair play to the WCPF for that. Feedback, the breakfast of champions apparently, is the best we as individuals can take away and the quality of feedback can be variable, especially when faced with a large number of images to get through in a short space of time. It’s a turn around and a nice problem to have, but the committee is going to have to look at the number of images in the ratio of prints to digital to keep things in balance (and possibly source a decent supply of prescription glasses).
So, overall, a good year and with each of us playing a part, a better one to look forward to.
N E X T W E E K
A guest club instead of a guest speaker!
Your all used to us having guest speaker’s but just for a change we decided we’d have a guest club! How cool is that!
Burnham on Sea Camera Club graciously accepted our invitation to take the long journey all the way into Bristol to show us the best of their photography. We’ve told Joe to break out the good biscuits and I urge all of you to come along and enjoy what promises to be a night of fantastic photography.