You can’t help but wonder what American cars, especially the classics, now that the laws of physics and the demands of aerodynamics homogenise nearly all cars, would look like if their roads actually had bends and the distances between towns shorter. But road trip is something big within the American cultural psyche and you may as well do that in style. A short trip down the A38 to Colliters Brook Farm in my rather small Toyota wasn’t quite the same – until I got there.
The club outing was to the bi-weekly American classic car meeting at the aforementioned farm, another one of those things that I hadn’t quite got round to taking the camera to – and I am not alone in my guilt there. So two expeditions in three weeks to photo some classic American metal.
Now, professional photographers specialising in motor vehicles do rather have advantages over the amateur on a club night at a social gathering in terms of access, but essentially we are both taking pictures of metal boxes. True, they are, for the most part, desirable metal boxes, but they are metal boxes nonetheless.
As always there are the two extremes, detail and the whole view, and the best image lies within a combination of those two. Location also makes for impact, but when it’s someone else’s car in a static display details are probably going to take up the bulk of the successful shots taken. And car designers take a lot of time in designing those details in, even if the demands of price sensitive mass production hammer the more exotic and difficult to manufacture ones out.
Being shiny metallic and it being evening the best we could hope for was a cloudy sky, or at least a sky with some cloud in it. A polarising filter certainly helps, but lack of one shouldn’t stop you photographing cars or other shiny surfaces, you just have to be a bit more savvy. The reason behind this is reflections and, to some extent with a low sun, shadows. Again we have got two choices, use them or loose them. Both are fine. In the latter case we have the option of using a polarising filter, which will help a lot but not be a total solution. Making a feature of them gives us more scope, it also means that the photographer ends up in more of his/her shots than s/he wished for, but careful use of angles can mute the impact.
As in the last post on portraiture, street and art there are more telling pictures to be had in the details than in worrying about getting the whole thing/person in frame. Those details, the automotive ones I am talking about here, are deliberate and functional, and collectively go into what the whole picture looks like, even if it is increasingly homogenised by the demands of legislation and aero dynamics. It is the details that tell the story often more effectively in photographic terms.
Those details may be manufactured, but detail can also be the difference in a familiar landscape. The more recent outing to Clevedon for sunset shots of the pier demanded exactly that. There is no doubt that the sun going down over the Severn Estuary with the stone beach as foreground and the long span of the pier leading the eye towards the setting sun is an effective and sound, emotive even, scene just right for capture. But it has been done. Many times and whilst it is good to have our own version of this it can look rather like a copy, even though the skies will never be exactly the same in detail, the angle ever so slightly different.
It is one of those shots that is almost a right of passage for any local, budding, landscape photographer. All areas have have them. But how to get more out of that ever changing scene? Different angles, different foregrounds, different areas of interest can make for quite stunning images, but there are always questions of what respects the landscape and what impact the photographer has upon it, especially when everyone is doing it. The general guide lines for landscapers is you leave it as you found it, don’t go gardening nature and claim it as a part of creation. But this maybe a bit narrow. There are other ways to capture an arresting landscape image without the threat of getting arrested. There is even a use, actually a fair number of uses, for that circular polariser again, though it does not have to be screwed on to the lens taking every landscape photograph.
Landscape doesn’t have to mean travelling hundreds of miles to catch the first or last rays of the sun (also some great twilight pictures to be had for the patient and informed), there is plenty of it here in the West Country you can capture in the Golden hour or the Blue. Or switch to black and white and shoot from dawn till dusk. Middle of the day is a great time for infra red too (full and very technical discussion here). You don’t even have to change loction once you have settled on a composition as there is always something going on in it.
And there is always something going on in Reflex. Thursday 6th September is the start of the new season back at the Wicklea Academy in St Annes. If you are in the area why not pop along to our members summertime review?
Off to Weston we went, aka “Super-Mud”, last meeting and though the skies were lowering the turnout was pretty good and a good time was had by everyone I talked to. What more can you ask for? Well it was Weston Bike Night, organised by the Royal British Legion Riders Branch, and runs every Thursday from May to September. So I hopped on my motorbike and made my quid (£1) donation to the RBL to park on the Marine Parade Lawn and wandered round with my camera, before meeting up with the rest of the club on the beach by the Grand Pier. They had, it turned out, been taking pictures of a convict making his way up the beach, with the express purpose of compositing them into a single photo in post production (Photoshop, Gimp). If you look back through this year’s competition galleries you will get the idea of who and what sort of thing. The sun also made a show right at the end of the day and we were presented with a salmon pink sunset against the grey of the clouds as a finale. Not too shabby.
It is often said, not least by me, that in photography, painting with light, the light is everything. So far so obvious. What we are really saying is that the contrast in any given light situation is everything, as the same subject in different lighting gets a different reaction from its viewer. We are not just talking of low light here, where we have options within the exposure triangle, and in the way the camera works in other ways, but, when the weather is as it was on Weston’s beach and the contrast is low, the temptation is to save it for another day, but we can be missing opportunities. Contrast is what determines how “flat” the light in your image looks. Possibly, most logically, we can see this in monochrome images, but it most definitely applies to colour ones too.
Essentially, contrast comes in two flavours. Thinking of the black and white image and we can imagine the more obvious of these expressed as a tonal range, which we have touched on before. The tonal range is that between (theoretical) absolute black to (theoretical) absolute white which we would affect in post production editing programmes through levels and curves. The second flavour is colour contrast which is about the predominance of a colour in relation to the colours around it.
When we are producing black and white photographs we are really talking producing images constructed of the shades of grey (no tittering at the back). Soft images record little range in those shades, it is all middle and very little of the absolute ends, whereas hard looks stark because we have a band of hard blacks and a band of hard whites and very little in the middle. This is not the same as low key (mostly darker shades of grey surrounded by blacks) and high key images (mostly lighter shades of grey surrounded by whites). The emotional tone that low key images give out tends towards the sombre whereas high keys have a lighter mood, but tonal contrast isn’t just limited to black and white.
Colour, as we have explored before, tends to overwhelm tone when provoking emotion in a viewer, but good tone is a major element in the construction of a colour image too. Because there is more variation in colour, more information to play with, then the possible outcomes are multiplied accordingly. Broadly the more saturated a colour is in relation to the others in the image and relative to its position on the colour wheel. The degree of saturation is also important to colour contrast and that can be affected by exposure (try bracketing a couple of shots by two thirds of a shot and look at them in comparison, warmth, feel/mood can be subtly or not so subtly effected.
Meanwhile, back on the beach at Super-Mud, we are faced with some impressive cloudscapes that are throttling the contrast out of our seascapes, aided and abetted by a distant haze shrouding the South Wales coast. Looking on the (not too) bright side we are not trying to photograph either a black cat in a coal hole or a polar bear in the Arctic). Those both represent zero contrast situations. Give up go home, assuming you survive contact with said cat and/or polar bear. As we are in neither we can do something about our rather dull scene (other than retreat to the pub). All the rules of composition still apply but we are not bereft of options. The exposure triangle was mentioned above and in pushing two of the elements in that, aperture and shutter speed, we could just make a keeper.
Exposure Value Compensation it’s called and it’s that button that allows you to adjust the average that your meter is measuring up or down, usually by up to two or three stops, depending upon what camera you are using. It does not matter whether you are in Shutter or Aperture Priority or shooting in manual (though this is a bit of overkill bearing in mind you already have control of aperture, shutter and ISO in manual mode, but it is possible to employ as another way of under or over exposing from the average). First meter as normal then apply +0.3 ev on the scale. Try again up to a stop, or in the extreme, up to 2 stops or more, basically adding dark. In manual you will possibly be moving in half stop intervals depending on the age of the lens, but most modern ones seem to move in thirds. The same basics apply. Shoot in RAW for the best post production options. What you will do here is affect the colour contrast. Yes the whole image will look progressively darker, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. On the Mini group trip to Weston, where there was a vivid orange sunset, this actually strengthened the composition by allowing the sky and certain reflections to be the focal points against an increasing rich, dark background. Essentially for this technique you are looking to set the narrowest practicable aperture matched with the highest shutter speed you can get a workable image in the light conditions.
Try it next week when we visit Portishead Marina. Dock Gates, 7 pm. See you there.