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.
For most of us, it appears, Adobe Lightroom is all we are ever likely to need in a photo editor, and in this insightful evening, Kevin Spiers, Mark OGrady and Dan Thomas gave us a whirlwind tour of some of the possibilities. It certainly isn’t the only editor available, Gimp, Pixlr, Picasa, Paint.Net are all free alternatives with their supporters but none, as they appear to me, have an interface quite as slick and certainly none have the full capability of the cloud based full suite (Photoshop CC and Lightroom) which can now be rented at just under £9 a month. Mind you, photo-shopping is not always approved of!
Kevin was first up and showed us the cataloguing feature. An image isn’t much use to anyone if it can’t be found, and with the ease and cheapness of taking another frame comes the problem of sheer volume. The number of images quickly adds up. Looking for that photograph can soon become evidence of that old proverb involving needles and haystacks, though why anyone would think to even begin to look for a steel needle in a stack of dried grass, much less think that was a suitable storage medium in the first place, has always defeated me. Sounds like bad filing practice, which is exactly what the cataloguing system is designed to overcome. Like trying to find a needle in a sewing box. Simples!
Frequency separation is a technique that gives the user the ability to process the surface and the depth of an image in different detail layers. The image is divided into two layers, containing the high frequencies and the low frequencies and allows the use these layers to work on colours, on broad and fine details independently, using non-destructive changes to the original image.
Definitely an advanced users technique, but one that seems to be getting wider use over the last couple of years . It is, in essence, about utilising the different strata (think of a photograph as a sandwich and each component of the sandwich is both part of the overall sandwich and a thing in itself) that make up a photograph. Or think of your favourite song played by different artists , there are individual notes and there are chords arranged together in subtly different ways that form the overall, still recognisable but differently rendered, tune. If you change the chords and notes sympathetically you change the harmonies but can still retain the tune. Frequency separation is about using these strata to enhance or alter parts of a photograph in the process of retouching and moving the image to a more striking, enhanced representation. Again not a process without controversy, but something that started when the first human artist drew the first image and the first human critic ,that is the first person the artist showed it to, thought “That ain’t right”.
The technique involves creating two layers, a high frequency layer and a low frequency layer. The low frequency layer contains large areas of colours and tones and the high frequency area fine details like skin pores and blemishes, hair and so on. Julia Kuzmenko McKim gives a blow by blow account of this and also includes a Photoshop action that automates the process (which you might use, but entirely at your own discretion). These actions can be replicated in some other programmes too, Gimp, for instance has its own frequency separation plug in.
To the low frequency layer, Mark applied desaturation (taking it to black and white) and Gaussian Blur, also known as Gaussian Smoothing. Carl Friedrich Gauss was an C18th mathematician, perhaps the greatest since antiquity, whose work has had a huge effect on the modern world. It is the application of an algorithm derived from his work and that of Fourier which we need to know not even that much about, leaving such technicalities to people who have use for them. All we need to know is that it is a blur effect that reduces image noise and detail. Mark suggested using a brush around 3.5 to 5 pixels and though the size used would depend on the job to be done and the preferences of the user he suggested that would be a happy medium. The larger the brush the bigger the effect. On the high frequency layer he changed the blending ode to linear light and talked about the relative merits of the healing brush and cloning.
Starting with the low frequency layer Mark evened out the skin tones and then switched to high frequency layer to work on the blemishes, making sure that the healing brush was set to sample from the current layer. There are a number of techniques, he assured us, that can be applied, and people derive their own favourites and short cuts. The results were quite stunning and well worth trying out, more finely controlable than just stamping around with a clone brush. Mark recommended Scott Kelby‘s book on photoshop.
After break Dan took us through the Lightroom layout, which is set out in a way as to aid workflow in that the tools that it shows you at the top of the menus the things you are more likely to productively work on first. This all helps with the work flow. Dan emphasised the lossless nature of using Photoshop, leaving the original untouched. To emphasise these points he took us through some images that he had provided earlier and applied some of the options that the abundant menus allow the user to easily apply. Dan’s top tips? Take in RAW and Slide the Sliders! RAW gives you more data to work with and the sliders let you apply effects incrementally and as long as preview is switched on you can see the effects on your image in real time, saving considerable effort in going back and forth to check your image. There is a downside of course and that is, in the words of Yogi Berra (American baseball player and yes, that was his real name), “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else”. It helps to know what you want to do before you start fiddling around.
A great evening and thanks to Kevin, Mark and Dan for making it possible.
You can find an expanded version of what Dan took us through here and includes ground covered by Kevin as well and a whole lot more too.
Ephemeral Ghosts: A talk by Ian Coombs
This Thursday we proudly present our very own Ian Coombs with what promises to be a superb evening of rare mostly unseen images of unknown people from 1850 to 1950 from his collection of vintage photographs.