Local (very) professional Alistair Campbell was our guest speaker last meeting before the Xmas Social and a very engaging one at that. A videographer and photographer, Alistair presented a structured but loose format evening with plenty of Q and A and plenty of engagement from club members.
The takeways from this evening were, in no particular order: understand but don’t obsess about things like camera settings (the light, unless totally artificial isn’t going to be the same if we go back and shoot again, or even, sometimes from a different angle); travel light and get to know your gear; find your background first, then put your subject in it; and the talent that comes before any other is the one we can all develop – putting in the hard work.
One of the things that Alistair put forward was the idea of a personal project. That might sound a bit like a busman’s holiday for a professional photographer but it allows Alistair to do what he wishes with the photographs. For hire there is a certain amount of tooing and froing when working with clients, the results have to be satisfactory to them for them to pay up and also place repeat business (the cheapest sort of business to get). They get a say.
A project is a good way to concentrate on skills and styles, maybe favourites maybe new. They are something that can be allocated a specific time or something that we pick up and put down. And about anything.
When a subject has been hit upon, then comes the technical bits. We may be learning new techniques but it is very unlikely that the entire project is new to us. At the very simplest level, it is still all about ISO, shutter speed, aperture (or controlling light) and composition.
What it does is give us a chance to look at getting as much right in camera as possible, another of Alistair’s themes. This saves time in post, of course, but in this context teaches us something about using our equipment to the best advantage. If the equipment is new or unfamiliar it is a great chance to learn how to get the best out of it.
Start with the end in mind, something we have visited before. The purpose that this infers, doing the things we enjoy deliberately, enables us to put some markers down as we progress, points that become important when we review what we have achieved. It doesn’t matter what the end looks like – documentary, images over time a multitude of possible outcomes are viable – as long as we know what it looks like.
Intent is one thing, actually doing something can often be quite another. This is why keeping the outcomes limited but definitive is important, so that we can visit and revisit the project frequently. Under this same heading if the thing we are photographing happens on a regular basis then we have more of a chance of being able to connect with it, photograph it.
It also makes sense that a subject with some variation to it makes for more opportunities. This means there will be different if related challenges involved. It could mean applying a lot of patience in getting the effect we are after, maybe several visits. That doesn’t mean other opportunities should be overlooked, but keeping focused on an outcome means we are more likely to engage our problem-solving skills.
And if photography, taken seriously, regardless of skill level, is anything, it is a system of problem-solving exercises linked together in pursuit of a goal. With a nice picture at the end of it.
With the Christmas festivities nearly upon us there are plenty of opportunities for Christmas Light Bokeh, portraits of the family (assuming you can get them to co-operate!) pets dressed as Santa, shop window decorations, festive light trails, the list goes on and on, with just a simple tweak – theming these opportunities and, of course, taking them – we can sharpen the tools we have and take on some new ones.
So, the logic goes as follows. Tools build things. We control the light and the composition to build our photographs. Skills take practice. We all need practice regardless of the level of mastery we think we are at. The personal project gives us the head-space and the focus we need to practice the skills that sharpen the tools that build better photographs we make.
What you sitting there for? Get on with it!
Finally, following the review in the previous post and, hopefully, a few more goes and more understanding of some of the reasons that our photographs look like they do. This last exercise is an important one to do regularly and the personal project is an excellent vehicle.
As with the running theme in these mini-tutorials, the essence of things is to keep it short and simple. Aim to get things as best as they can be in camera. This teaches you a lot about the capabilities of your camera and how to get the best out of it without thinking (too much) about the things that can be achieved, often, more than one way.
This leaves you free to concentrate on the second half of the equation, the composition. Having secured control of the light arranging things in the frame is the thing that, in almost all photographs we are likely to take that will make or break.
Make one of these your personal project over a day or two with your camera and (very importantly) review. The more you do this review thing deliberately, the quicker and more effective it becomes.
Ian Wade was our return guest speaker and showed his grit fighting a cough that was progressively stealing his voice. Our thanks for your dedication and persistence and congratulations on getting through to the end, Ian. You delivered a good ‘un.
So a few things have changed for him since 2014 and his photography has adapted, the projects are a little more local, now and you can’t get much more local than your own back yard. Yet that is one location where he has conducted a wild life project on snails and that is a lot more interesting as it turns out than it, possibly, sounds.
The project is a sound vehicle for honing our photographic skills, but also can be useful in extending our knowledge base of a subject. In fact doing so enables us more as photographers. Photography, taken even remotely seriously, is far more than camera, point, shoot, chimp.
So there are no shortage of ideas for photographic projects. But the use of such a device is probably more critical to its outcome than the subject. What do we, as the controller of the project want to get out of it? What do we want to show? Who is our audience? What format do we want to show it in?
We need to settle these big questions first – that doesn’t mean that they are set in concrete – they can change but we need to know what they are changing from to what they are changing to. An outline to start with covering subject; goal; time-line; final format, goes a long way.
When new to photo projects it is a well to curb our initial enthusiasm for the project by making it a short one. Keep It Short and Simple. The technical challenges come in making the next image better than the last one, and in making acceptable variations.
Longer projects, especially those like a 365 (one image a day for a year), are far harder to keep going than those which have a briefer time line. Better to arrange our project around our free time than trying to arrange our lives around the project. Starting, and keeping, with the end in mind doesn’t mean you have to turn yourself into a hermit.
Who you are shooting for (yourself/friends/family/other) and how informs the whole process, guidelines are useful and not all tangents are a good idea. To this end keeping a photographic journal, in print or on line, is a great idea as it helps us to keep track of how we arrived at our end but also allows for exploring other ideas and variations for a later date.
Also it is not a bad idea to share. Sharing not just the outcome but also the labour, in other words collaborating, helps as we have other, hopefully empathetic, perspectives on the work. This can be between a day shared to a whole project, other perspectives can be very enlightening. Another photographer at least speaks some of the same language as we all share in doing the same thing.
101 Corner – Composition #2
Composition is all about how we arrange the objects in the frame we generally call the viewfinder. It is how we use the fall of light to make an interest in a subject by arranging the subject within our frame. The image is a recording of this.
We have already looked at Tools for Thirds, Leading Lines and Frames. This post we will look at three more.
Patterns and textures are something that our brains seem particularly fond of. Patterns are formed by repetition of shape and or line. Textures are the visual qualities of the surface of an object, revealed through variances in shape, tone and colour depth.
Filling the frame always brings to mind Robert Capa’s admonition that if your photographs aren’t good enough it’s because you are not close enough. Photographs work best when they are about one thing. Get closer with a longer focal length, then use a shorter focal length and your feet to zoom in on a subject. Then compare the two frames.
The tool of odds is again a way of splitting up a frame. This is something that can be contrived in such as a still life, or found in the wild and on the street. It is also probably numbering 5 or less.
Each of these is an easy half hour mini project. Work your way through each then list the things you like and dislike about the images you have captured and make a note of what you would do different next time.
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.
Social evening at the Black Castle last meeting, shields and presentations made. Competitions Secretary Mark will pass on to Chris for publishing on the website the results for this year. Alison Davies’s blog was well received among the members I have talked to and again thanks to her for putting that together. We have another contributor lined up for later on in the year and hope to garner a few more as next season progresses.
In the news this week is one of the periodic attempts to make TV out of stills photography and you’ve guessed it, it will be on club nights (from the 21st July). OK not so much of a problem as it once would have been in these days of DVR’s, what is a problem is that Sky appear to be trying to sell it as “American Idol for Photography“. So this is not a how to, which largely is the preserve of YouTube and Vimeo etc these days, at least directly. Watching people who do things they are good at doing is often quite instructive, inspiring. The first thing the comparison tells us is that this is not aimed at the, let’s be polite here, mature audience one finds in most camera clubs. So my immediate response of “Oh for [insert adjective politer than the one I came up with] sake” that comparison prompted will please the Sky Arts marketing department no end and hey it’s being blogged about ….
Photography is a lot more niche than popular music, has been hit just as hard by disruptive innovation (in this case meaning more cameras everywhere, not, necessarily better pictures everywhere) as licensed Taxi Cabs by Uber and the profile of camera sales is changing. Photography is male dominated, at least behind the camera – 5 out of the 12 contestants are female – and it will be broadcast in a slot that tends to have a slight male bias. The more cynical among us might think that someone decided to exchange the paint brushes of (the also Sky Arts) series “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist” with chunky full frame cameras but hey, it’s photography and it’s on the Telly. Besides the contestants there will be guest spots by professional photographers (though whether Bruce Gildern’s abusive T-Shirts – you have been warned – see a rise in sales is yet to be seen) and the contestants are drawn from across Europe (presumably national versions wouldn’t be sustainable). It is “young” in its profile, whether it is “new” remains to be seen (not a lot new when I searched the contestants on line but that may not be indicative, though certainly there is talent).
If it is new you want, or innovative, maybe, certainly more affordable than it once was (I didn’t say cheap), then aerial photography could be your thing. Even has its own hip website Dronestagram. There are some simply stunning shots on their, though whether exaggerated shadows become the next smoky water cliché remains to be seen. National Geographic have been sponsoring the annual awards these last three years. The images shown, obviously judged the best of the entries, certainly have impact, the drones have added a dimension at a lower cost. I suppose it is quite easy to get caught up in the whole flying thing, but this is still a question of the whole kit-is-the-means-to-the-photographic-ends thing.
Your image isn’t going to be any better because it was taken at 500 feet above the ground. The elevation will give it a certain innovative perspective, but just the same as HDR when it was new, as more and more photographs are taken using it so the novelty will wear off. The picture still needs careful composition, the exposure triangle needs attention and there has to be some interest in the subject itself for the photographer to frame. It just means that you need to get a new skills set, to fly your camera around. Which is all great fun, but along comes Amateur Photographer to spoil the fun by telling us that camera prices are set to rise 15% “Within weeks” because the value of the pound has basically tanked since 24th June, making an expensive hobby more expensive yet. Ho hum. Certainly makes any notions of making a living out of photography somewhat harder to achieve.
Still there are Lo-fi alternatives, starting with a small hole in a beer can, as Justin Quinell showed us last season. OK, maybe you don’t want to go quite so low in the equipment stakes but there are serious advantages to stripping things back to a minimum. The skills you need, as we have explored before, are basically the same regardless of the sophistication of the equipment employed. It still amazes me the number of photographers that you can talk to who don’t practice the basic skills on at least a sporadic basis. You aren’t going to suddenly up the skills when the occasion presents or demands and your learning curve just gets shallower and flatter and takes more time to see improvements. There is plenty of mileage too in trying to recreate or to riff upon others ideas, or make yourself a new project, it doesn’t have to be vast or grandiose, it can (should?) involve opportunities at hand and a little invention.
Or, of course, go and join a decent camera club, oh, I don’t know, rather like this one.
N E X T M E E T I N G
14 July 2016 19:30 Speaker: Tony Worobeic
Colin Wall CPAG addressed us last meeting as the “Opportunistic Photographer” donating his fee to the Sight Savers Charity, as is his practice. Colin’s philosophy sits well with the club motto, “To us it’s not the camera but the picture that counts” (you knew that though, didn’t you?) and whereas there are many long conversations to be had around the topic, Colin preferred that his pictures prove the point and we gained some valuable insights to that line of thinking on the way. Although we may not be interested with what an image was made or indeed how it was made (though replicating looks and subjects and techniques is a great way to learn) there is still a fascination versus need thing going on the customer side of the counter. I don’t know of many photographers who can’t retroactively justify buying new-to-them kit. There is a need there that has to be fulfilled sooner or later.
Explaining to the significant other is a whole different aspect, of course. They may not, poor souls, understand the need. I find window shopping in camera shops quite easy when stony broke, find it quite easy to be price sensitive when the price tag feels like a lot. The most dangerous time to lurk around the nearest camera shop, I find, is when I can nearly afford it.
The how it was made thing Colin extended to post production. Certainly he feels that there is a division growing one we have related to before here on many occasions, as the Get-It-Right-In-The-Camera-istas versus Ye-Accolytes-Of-Photoshop. The photography magazines do seem to be getting fuller of obvious post production work and there are some that, whilst being quite stunning in their appearance do make me wonder whether the original has got lost in the production. Not that I wouldn’t mind better post production skills, certainly I find it absorbing, but sometimes I wonder if some people use RAW so they have to fiddle. At what stage does a photograph become a digital photogram? Cue everyone’s pet hate rants.
So how do you know when you’ve over processed? Well that is a leading question because one photographer’s meat is another photographer’s poison. The analogy works with tofu too, so vegetarians need not feel left out. I have had a competition judge tell me that an effect (sepia) was “slapped on” for no reason, but then ignorance is bliss, his and his alone, I uncharitably thought at the time, and also tell me that the background should have been blurred, on a tree that was about half a mile away across a body of water. Well no and maybe. The second could only have been done post process (I didn’t have the tools then anyway). So, yes it does have its uses but ultimately the success of a photograph is that first impression, the thing that draws you in. That is a matter of taste and tastes change over time. That doesn’t stop anyone, and I am not suggesting that it should.
Colin told us that attention to the basics of composition pays dividends. Yes it’s an old saw, but one that directly relates to the impact subjects have within the frame. When we frame an image we exclude as much as we include. We have to do the exclusion thing in order to achieve the inclusion thing. It relates directly to the impact that we create in that image. This is where the “I’ll fix that in post” thing comes in. A Get-It-Right-In-The-Camera-ista will tell you to move around, varying your angles through moving the subject left and right, up and down and in and out. Then when you have the best and if you can’t remove distracting objects from view, you go to post. Often it has merit, sometimes it is a case of fixing it in editing software. Looking for and framing shapes, textures and details are the things you do camera-in-hand. Strong diagonals and repetitive details, colour or black and white can be considerations too. The details take you beyond the merely documentary, or if being rude about it, point and shoot. He also mentioned something about policing the frame for distracting detail. Specifically he told us to beware bright spots, the colour red, faces and text as they can distract from the main subject. Even those people who wonder in and out of shot when shooting in crowds can be avoided by waiting, as even the largest crowds, as long as they are moving will have gaps appear in them. It can be a lot quicker than painstakingly airbrushing people out of your shot. Doesn’t count in Wedding Photography though. The crowd is rather the point ….
Ye-Acolytes-Of-Photoshop (True Believers Branch) will quite sensibly answer this with one word. Workflow. Workflow is the organisation of materials in such a way so as to transition efficiently and effectively from one sub-process to another in order to get a job done with minimum resources consistent with maximum impact. It starts in camera as the closer to the desired result the raw material is the less processing it needs. If you are processing a large number of photographs then you need to get this right, especially, but not exclusively, if you are being paid for it, you are effectively diluting your hourly rate, a thing called opportunity cost – that which you have lost by undertaking this choice. Taking this a step forward: for every hour you spend getting something wrong costs you three hours – the hour you spent getting it wrong; the hour you spend putting it right and the hour you lost when you could have been doing something more productive instead. So £18 rapidly drops below minimum wage.
So our thanks to Colin for a thought provoking evening and one given in a good cause. We look forward to seeing you again.
T O N I G H T ‘S M E E T I N G
Light Trails – the goodly number of us who attended the light trails session on the centre get to show and discuss our results. As long as you bring those pictures with you! Or its going to be a long evening ….
And so the season is now officially over with the presentation of the trophies, but not the events, this Thursday Weston-Super-Mare, get there early as there is lots to see, not least because Thursday night in the summer is Weston bike night. Two weeks ago there must have been a couple of hundred bikes and not a few trikes of every shape, size and paint job, so lots to look at. Starts getting busy around 6pm and there are the other, more permanent attractions to look to as well. This being the summer break from Wick Road, I thought I would use this opportunity to look at just how much is actually going on in our hobby from a quick snapshot of the photographic headlines this last week or so.
Starting, of course with our social evening. I have drawn up a table of winners which you will find in this linked document 150716 Reflex Award Winners 2014-15 and will let that and the strong forward looking feel and commentaries from the AGM speak for the club, and a special thanks to Mark O’Grady for pulling all this information and for all the behind the scenes work. There is a lot of it.
It has been quite an important ten days or so, no, strike that, a very, very important ten days or so for your rights as a photographer. The European Parliament, as I have written about elsewhere held a vote on the European Commission’s proposals, a lot of them as it turns out, for harmonising copyright across the European Union. In itself that is important for the future of photography and photographers among the 500 million EU citizens covered by such an agreement. One of the proposals was to adopt the system whereby public buildings – including furniture like statues that form part of the designed space – should have the copy right of the designers protected and thus photographing them without the architect/copyright holders permission would constitute an offence (civil rather than criminal as far as I can work out). Half a million people signed a petition against this clause which was withdrawn on the day of the vote in face of this opposition. The Freedom of Panorama as it has become known has been maintained, though you should still check what the local laws are on these things because any necessary changes have to be enacted in national legislation (and that can take years). Still, three cheers for democracy.
A triumph for UK photographic technology this week, the sensors that recoded the Pluto images were made right here. It took four and a half hours for the information to get back from Pluto and another 1 hour at Boots to get them developed, but scientists seemed very pleased with the results. It’s a fantastic achievement. OK, you can print them quicker at home, but you have to buy all the kit and have somewhere to put it, not to mention the exorbitant cost of ink and paper.
You wouldn’t want them to all be out of focus like those from the Hubble Telescope, but as of next Year that won’t be a problem for owners of the shortly-to-be-released Panasonic GX8 when a 2016 firmware update will allow the user to “Post Focus” an image – something we talked about a month or so about. The firmware update will also apply to the FZ-300. The capabilities of consumer electronics companies cameras being released now represent a step change from that being evolved by Canon and Nikon, who still have 85% of the market between them. Of course there will be arguments about whether bells and whistles are what are required, but if you’ve been around photography long enough be sure that you can save a lot of time and ear ache and get on with your photographic life by substituting the words “Film” and “Digital” with the words “Proper” and “Toy”. For those of us longer in our remaining tooth we can substitute the brands “BSA”, “Triumph” and “Norton” with “Honda”, “Yamaha” and “Suzuki”. That ended well for market leaders, didn’t it?
There again “You don’t need all that technology to make a photograph”. We’ve heard it and seen it from Justin Quinnell back in March and it’s an idea that has momentum. Pinhole photography is practical, simple and gives you time to think and reflect. The very opportunities that digital gives us can also work against us – especially the “I’ll fix that in post”. There has always been a post and there has always been fixing but there is no substitution for time and care spent on understanding then composing your subject. The idea that the image represents more than what you see because you invest in one that has a connection with you is pretty much as old as art and we’ve been over the whole Gestalt thing elsewhere. Taking time when time is what you’ve got pays dividends.
Finally, if you think that grain is a problem in your images, take a look at this adaption from the film days ….
W-S-M. Thursday 23rd. Be there!
We are coming to the end of another amazing year in the life of Reflex Camera club. Sadly we have lost a few members but have gladly welcomed many more. I would ask you all to look back on this season and ask 2 questions
- What have I got out of the club ?
- What have I put into the club ?
Membership is about ‘BEING A PART OF “and I would like all members to ensure they are a part of the club next season.
How can you do this ????
ATTENDANCE – every £1.00 helps – PARTICIPATION – in events and competitions – SHARING – your skills and expertise
The more we all put into the club – the more we can all get out of it .
See you all in our New Venue for another fantastic season.