This week three for the price of one: an exchange visit with fellow WCPF club Hanham, things being helped by the clubs regular meetings being on consecutive nights. So we showed them ours at Hanham on Wednesday and they reciprocated on Thursday. This was followed by the return of former member Tony Cooney this week, who, last year, graced us with his pictures from his time serving in Iraq and this time showing his work with portraiture and a variety of models.
These three events set themselves squarely in our development as photographers of whatever level. Looking at, thinking about, talking about our and other people’s pictures is an absolute essential of developing not just appreciation but also a store of looks, effects, puzzles and things to try out.
In order to so we need to have some sort of method to regularise and make useful comparisons. This is generally known as a critique and is something we have used before (using some prints leant to us by Hanham by coincidence). It is what we have competition judges do for us, where they give is feed back from an outside perspective, and a great deal of experience.
We can use this to our advantage by rationalising our own reactions to others opinions. Nobody rational is going to like 100 percent of our output equally (nor dislike). In that we can garner likes and views and favourites on social media that has as much, if not more, to do with niche marketing than actual photography. And a lot of people seem to make it an end in itself. It, like the histogram of our last image, lies between perceptions of absolute light and dark because the image and our true opinion lie in the range in between. We critique to articulate these ranges. We learn by applying this through the viewfinder.
And we do this over time. Tony showed us a development line going back several years and made the point that the single biggest early improvement came from investing in a lighting course. Now there are good courses and there are mediocre ones and price is not really a good indicator of anything other than this is what your provider can afford to charge and still get enough people to engage.
Personally I rate these things, among others, by the number of people on the course. One where you get 20 minutes a day, if you are lucky, with a superstar of that genre is worth far far less in terms of personal development and value than one where you get an hour or two hours individual attention. You might get some excellent photographs, much time in course development is spent on making sure of that because then your customers become your champion marketeers, but unless you develop the faculty of seeing rather than looking, that is not going to teach you much.
Of course we are in a position nowadays that access to opinion and information is instantaneous and in volumes we cannot hope to handle. The self taught route can be very rewarding, of course, but the accelerating the pace needs some sort of external input. Quality not quantity and when you have grasped the basics that provide quality, consistency, was something that came across from Tony’s set and certainly this was evident across both the evenings he has done with us.
The “Studio” portrait conjures up images of large format cameras, assistants, assistants to assistants, big lighting rigs, expensive clothes on professional models and an equipment bill most of us don’t have sufficient kidneys to sell to pay for. Try scaling down expectations a little and the basics become more do-able. When learning a new skill it pays to Keep It Short and Simple (an extension of Kappa’s If-it’s-not-good-enough-you-are-not-close-enough mantra) and in something practical like this, plenty of do and review. Improvisation is part of the fun and the skills set of photography.
Of course there are the intermediate courses that you can buy on line and these range from good to bad as does anything else. In these cases finding people who have used them and have something to say about them and explain why they came to that conclusion (not testimonials) are few, far between and invaluable. In this case forewarned is fore armed. Managing our own expectations is also part of the process. It isn’t just about talent and it is also about recognising that hard work is a talent in its own right. If we have this capacity then a little direction is what we need.
Sooner or later we end up taking photographs of people. Before the days of mass photography that was almost the soul purpose of the art. OK, a bit of landscape thrown in. Today’s social media probably hasn’t done a huge amount to change that ratio, neither has it done a huge amount for the overall quality of photographs taken. Being in it counts for more than the quality of it.
There are things we can do to improve this easily enough. Last post we talked about the effect of sensor size on quality in the main part of the post. It has another impact too – depth of field or how much of the image is acceptably sharp. This is important because of the requirement to make the eyes (both eyes) the point of focus. That is the area of a face we will look to first. Not in focus? No second thought.
A camera phone has a deep depth of field. Shooting with a wide open aperture on a larger sensor means that that which we perceive as being acceptably sharp is far more limited. Both eye-focus is easier if we fill the frame with our subject, photographer Robert Capa once famously remarked, “If your photographs aren’t good enough, it’s because you aren’t close enough”. Aperture controls depth of field.
This applies to all sorts of cameras. With that in mind try replicating this video.
Mike Martin, a member of Kingswood Photographic Society, and a fine photographer, was our speaker. Happy to be a photographer who shoots with post production in mind and only himself to please, Mike showed us a strong, varied and interesting set of mainly art images, with some interesting detours into other genres.
He never accepts images as they come out of the camera, viewing this as a stop on the way to what he imagined in the first instance. This can mean a long time in post production, but as an unashamed amateur – i.e. he’s not shooting to a deadline and other people’s tastes – this is a luxury he can afford. This is part of a long art photography tradition and now that we have the tools to do things in seconds what it would have taken hours and much coin to achieve – if it could be done at all – for an absolute fraction of the cost.
Although there is much to be said for getting as much right in camera, that is an awful lot easier when starting with the end in mind, in having a strong idea of what the finished product will look like. This may change as you go along but having a defined end usually leads to less time wasting. Not always, but usually.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t experiment or take on new ways of doing adjustments. There is a balance and if we want to learn then making ourselves a little bit uncomfortable by trying new things is going to be an essential part. Looking, emulating, developing, employing is as good a learning cycle as any.
Mike also quoted Henri Cartier Bresson, which we have discussed before: “Sharpness is a bourgeois concept” – that is one that makes the holder appear self important and materialistic, shallow, pretending to be deep, unsophisticated and generally lacking in true class. Certainly it has its place – sharpness is one thing that sells new and ever increasingly expensive lenses. Yes you could back a modern lens against the ones that HCB used pretty much every time in the sharpness stakes, but it’s the brain behind the camera that makes a difference. Mind you context is everything:
“He had his little Leica,” Newton remembers, “and he simply would point and shoot.” Since Cartier-Bresson’s hand isn’t as steady as it used to be, some of the pictures were a bit fuzzy. “Sharpness,” he told Newton, “is a bourgeois concept.” Newton sits back and laughs: “I thought that was just divine.”
Dana Thomas interviewing Helmut Newton, Newsweek, 1 June 2003.
Movement certainly formed part of HBC’s photography, two of his most famous images in particular (“Man jumping over a ladder” and “A man rides his bicycle through the Var department”) and blur is certainly going to feature in that – as opposed to the shaky hand of the nonagenarian, as Newton observed.
So shaky hand blur and motion blur might be two different things. One will happen at some point in an otherwise unsupported situation as shutter speed, that is the length of time the shutter is open, comes down. Lens/sensor stabilisation certainly lowers the point to where such shake becomes evident and it can even be used as a creative effect by giving us time to move the camera around a fixed point or through a plane.
The motion blur we are probably most aware of is the one created by panning with a slow(ish) shutter speed. This keeps our main subject in focus and acceptably sharp but blurs the background. We often see this used in motorsport photography and it is also known as a tracking shot. The flip, of course can also be used, where we use a slow shutter speed with a fixed camera and our subject moves across the frame. So we can freeze or blur our subject to get a different feel of motion. The key to both is shutter speed. It can be achieved with a single strobe, or with mixed lighting, the key to both is synchronising the flash with the second curtain also known as the rear curtain. Essentially this means firing the flash at the beginning or the end of the exposure. The effects are very different
There is another way of using motion blur that you can use with a zoom lens. It’s called, wait for it, zoom blur. Again it really requires a tripod or at least a monopod because we are working with slow shutter speeds, but the mode, shutter, aperture, manual is less relevant. All these effects are relatively easy to use, but, as with everything else, need a little practice to get right. Even then, especially with unpredictable subjects, it is best to plan a series of shots to give you one or two to work with in post – assuming you need to. That said, motion blur is rewarding to play around with the effects and can also be used in the dark!
So an interesting evening that showed many possibilities, the value of forward planning and an artistic vision and not just by adding things in post, but in taking distractions out too. An interesting, varied and singular evening. Our thanks to you, Mike Martin.
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.
Last evening the event was about making photography fun. Thank you to our speaker Margaret Collis. Fun, who could be against that? Well debates on Puritan Philosophy and outlook aside, fun is, generally, in the words of Sellar and Yateman “A good thing” (1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England, comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates). Fun with a camera, well what else?
Sometimes, some people make me wonder if the fascination with the craft squeezes the fun element out of it. Margaret pointed out that some people do seem to let competitions dictate their style and habits, which is a shame because that is also limiting of the ability to develop and learn in new directions. For the amateur fun forms a big part, there are plenty of other, less expensive hobbies out there after all. But even the best hobbies have their ups and downs, few though have the capacity for variation that photography offers. So, this week the blog is going to be dedicated to making pictures work. Basically we are limited by our own imagination, one of those useless truisms because if we can’t imagine it in the first place we are unlikely to do it ….
So let’s assume we are feeling lazy or for some other, less fortunate reason, we are housebound, where to start? There are plenty of things around the house. A favourite is to use toys or miniature figures to play with scale around common household goods, even foods. Then there are water droplets, frozen flowers, oil on and in water, the list goes on. You don’t need to sail the world to get your photographs, though that does sound like a great idea. Peering over the duvet or over the crater of a volcano the successful picture has variations around a common technical theme, the exposure triangle, but however well the technicalities are executed, all successful pictures prompt an emotional response. Avoid the technically proficient, artistically deficient. The key to that emotional response is to make a story out of the elements: a simple, bold, cleanly framed, single element which in the balance of everything in it, we call a narrative.
Narrative, is about events linked by common elements, a thread, a story. We are familiar with the idea of spoken or written narrative, of those told in films and on TV. Making the one frame narrative is actually more familiar to ourselves than we may think. In thinking it we can think it too difficult, but actually it is quite natural to us. We contrive these all the time because, it seems we are hard wired to make stories of things in order to make sense of them. We become photographers when we stop taking image of things and start making images about things.
There are two situations this covers, the individual photograph always and photographs in series, from a collage (which can be very difficult to get right) to a sequence around a common theme, which we will label a project. I stress the point about the individual photograph because even if it is being part of a wider story (the Kingswood Salver is an excellent case in point), it has to stand in relation to the others on its own technical and aesthetic merits. The technical we have talked about and talk about all the time, not least because it is generally easy to agree about. The aesthetic, what we consider beauty in relation to a person or object, is both what we are talking about and a subject all of its own. A philosophical one, a scientific one, a personal one, too big for this little blog, beauty is a context of a combination of qualities, including shape, colour, or form, that pleases the imaginative senses of an individual, especially the sight. Look at these photographs culled from Friday’s Guardian (14 October 2016) newspaper website, pick your favourite and decide what you like about its shapes, colours and forms.
So can we use a bit of logic from what we have said about the connectivity at the centre of our photographic narrative? Well a couple of points I think. Firstly it is made, on purpose by framing and lighting and positioning. It is a product of selection. It is made by context. Secondly, and derived from this, it is deliberate.
Now it is beginning to sound very complex and a little off-putting. It is actually a question of looking, actively looking, pictorially, at what is around you. Now we make images for more than one reason. It can be a quick note, a documentary record, a statement, a creative impulse, a memory, and so on and so forth. Our guides to looking are the rules of composition, they help us find those connections that we alluded to above. This is as much about learning to see in the picture format as anything else. That is the key to starting, being deliberate, we referred to this last week and before when we talked about opportunities falling to the prepared. Serendipity. That can be aided by putting in another step before we press the shutter and that is to ask ourselves why this picture appeals.
Essentially, then we are going to end up with a mixture of pictures (point, click and chimp) and images (see, compose and capture) and that is OK. In fact we can see the differences between them and that can help with our own development. But it should not be a trial, it is about moving and direction and seeing and taking those pictures for the same reasons as always. Because it is fun.
Last two meetings covered this week as the commonalities are as illuminating as the differences. Week before last was the showing of the mini-groups outings to Castle Park, Keynsham, Leigh Woods and Weston-Super-Mare and the last meeting was presented by club members Steve Dyer and Myk Garton on organising photo-shoots, both of which cover a common angle on story-telling, which, to your non-surprise, is our topic this week.
Yes we have been to this destination before but this is a bigger topic than a thousand or so words can do justice too. It is also constantly evolving. This week the New York Times published six sets of photographs by six (travel) photographers, with very different outlooks under the heading Voyagers. The sections on Tokyo – where the photographer, inspired by the film Lost in Translation, didn’t leave his room for five days, instead used sites like Craigslist for Tokyo to make aspects of Japanese culture come to him – and Italy on historical theatres and includes an observation on the relationship between stills and film that may actually be what a colleague’s daughter of the philosopher Daniel Dennet calls a “Deepity“, particularly struck a chord. It’s been written before on this blog but it is worth repeating, all photographs tell a story. What we saw over the last two weeks were stories being told from different perspectives and with different ideas in mind, either pre-planned to varying degrees or opportunistically, often taken within seconds of each other, of the same subject but with very different outcomes. We have also looked at the way “luck” falls to the prepared.
We have discussed too, a number of times, the idea of the decisive moment, and that comes from the single frame that is presented as the finished work, unlike in a video or film where frames are strung together to make a story, hence the fascination with the deepity mentioned above, viz: “Suppose you shoot a whole movie in a single frame?’ he asked himself at the time. ‘You get a shining screen.” The flow is different in each of these and the motives of the photographer/director are peeled away like the proverbial onion skin through different conventions and interactions.
But those have a script and life, as we mostly know it, isn’t scripted. How are we going to do that? The range of responses to that are from “F8 and be there” to improvising a script. The mini-groups were mainly of the former and Myk and Steve’s about improvising the latter, about providing the opportunities for the shots to happen and through the application of collective improvisation, both stressed the partnership angle with the models and photographers, about “Yes, and“. The mini groups were all around locations that were more or less known by the photographers who chose to attend, but in like minded company. This allows for discussion and thinking and trying the shots that others see but with your own spin. Both are good learning opportunities. The planning is more immediate and comes from what the environment presents than on an organised shoot but in any case there is no substitute for looking closely. The club offers these sort of opportunities in other ways too, you just have to be an active member.
So what is a story? Well it has a set of events that are linked together by a context. That context won’t be exactly the same for photographer and audience because both project their own emotions, preferences and experience upon it, so whereas they may be able to agree the subject, the narrative (the cause and effect we interpret) will most likely differ. The appropriate cliché may be “Slice of life” or “Work of art”. In this case the photograph is an invitation to engage. What we create as a club are opportunities to engage with our hobby through interacting with like minded people. This then goes onto our own story telling.
With the mini-groups we started with a location. Steve and Myk’s shoots take a lot more planning and working with people you know certainly makes things easier, and involving all the people involved has a multiplier effect. That’s the improvisation element. There are a set of practical considerations, of course. You need a default position, a theme, a start point. Steve and Myk have done Zombies, Fantasy, Woodland, Period and many more. The start point is exactly that. The models contribute, photographers contribute, props, models etc can be sourced. There are certain things that they related that make the shoots easier now and then If you start with a basic idea you can use it as a warm up, use it as a measure to judge your images against, you can have a story background. Scout your location, this will affect the whole mood of the shoot and dictate what you can and cannot do. Props are extremely useful, a theme can help narrow the field to the more useful or in character. It is, essentially, photography with a purpose and doing things purposefully increases the chances of getting better results.
Being creative and taking chances within these bounds definitely helps improve our individual photography as long as we are prepared to be open minded and remember not to remain rooted to the spot. Lighting can be varied through simple use of reflective surfaces, flash on camera or off, direct, bounced and or suffused, single. You don’t need complicated set ups, a single light is always a good start. Doing so in the company of others and in sharing the results with others boosts our opportunities to learn.
N E X T M E E T I N G
WEDNESDAY 30th September 2015@ Exchange meeting at Hanham Photographic Club, Hanham Methodist Church, Chapel Road, Hanham, Bristol, BS15 8SD. 19:30 for a 19:45 start, bring 8 to 10 photos to talk about.
THURSDAY 1st October: Posing for Portraiture. Practical. Bring your camera!
So how was it for you? Does Proper Prior Planning Prevent Poor Photography? Serendipity aside, and it does play a part it just limits what you will be able to take for the reasons discussed last week around the whole incidence and coincidence that is wrapped up in what we call “luck”. You make your own. A well attended evening, including some prospective members – hello I hope you enjoyed the evening and if you have any suggestions for the blog please either contact one of the committee, leave a comment, or use the suggestion box at the door of the club. A little prior research doesn’t do any harm and Hanneke had us do a little pre- event thinking. This discipline doesn’t just apply to the studio. I am sure that there was a deal of head scratching as well as prior-reconnaissance and some “Oooh I’ll go that way” as well as those more cautious souls who stayed closer to the hall (and of course the tea and biscuits) and Gerry’s still life flowers. The brief was five (or more) different approaches to a subject.
Myself, Dan E. Megg G. and prospective member Jackie headed upstream by Brislington Brook to the pack horse bridge (Nightingale Valley to those who know it), which is less than ten minutes from the School (runs from Maes Knoll to the Avon). Some went to St Anne’s Park, some to St Anne’s Wood, others got more adventurous and took to the roads. The results were interesting, even people in the same group can take the same subject but the angles, light, height, camera settings, detail selection are all personal and all make for a subtly different image. There were some fine images on display after the break and thanks everyone for sharing, though I am not sure my electricity pylon lived up to it and Jackie did it better. It’s a start. It’s not yet a habit for most, I would hazard a guess and even then it will depend on what sort of habit it becomes.
Let me elaborate. I have taken to portaging a Nikon Coolpix I got for a knockdown price from e-Bay around with me every time I leave the house over the last week or so. Just in case. 20MP for about £45. Bargain. That means, with the phone, I have two cameras I take pretty much everywhere with me. The just in case bit is telling though. I got it because I missed a street photo that formed in black and white in my mind the second I saw it (OK I had been thinking about getting it for a while, this was the final push-against-an-open-door). I don’t very often do street. Even if I had my DSLR with me I am not sure that it would have got taken because it would have been too intrusive, especially in the available space there was to take it in. The battery on the phone was flat. Either, Serendipity, yes, but Planned Serendipity because I was looking for photo ops at least subconsciously, OR, Planned serendipity, no, because I hadn’t taken the preparation seriously enough – that is taken more care to keep the phone charged. I err towards the latter. That photograph is lost because it was never taken and will never be taken.
The habit is one of preparation. Deliberate preparation with the added stimulus of making more than one representation. Hanneke was not saying don’t pick up the camera bag and go for a wander, she was saying pick up the camera bag (making sure there is a camera in it, of course) go for a wander because you have created the expectation which sharpens your focus with the intent of making one aspect stand out. A sort of Bokeh for the mind.
Busy week for announcements.
* If you are reading this then you most likely have seen the letter from Maurice reference the move of school to just up the road. It’s the post before this one. Sounds promising.
** Please remember the Flikr competition, this month it’s on the subject of reflections. Voting open for May’s competition too.
*** 19th July, the chance to photograph back stage at the Bristol Hippodrome, a outlined by Maurice at the at meeting. The show is the Rat Pack, details from Julie as follows:
If you read the information attached we have the chance to send 6 photographers along for a paparazzi style experience including behind the scenes photos which sounds great. You just have to agree to send a copy of your photos to them afterwards and they retain the copyright – but you can still use them in club competitions which seems very fair.
If you are interested in going into the draw for one of the 6 places please send a reply to this reflex e-mail letting me know and I will put your name into the hat. The 6 people will be chosen at random next week at the club prize giving event, which is being held in the skittle alley of the Langton Court pub (our old venue just round the corner).
**** Which brings us to next week (12th June) which is the social evening to be held at the Langton Court Pub, Langton Court Road, St Annes, just around the corner from the school.
***** The Western Counties Photographic federation, of which the club is a member, latest news letter is now available from here.
****** And the last two PAGB news Letters can be accessed via the following links:
******* If you fancy having a go at writing for the blog (it doesn’t have to be limited to one person) then have a chat with Mark Stone.
All the best
Kev and Rich’s presentation on the planned approach to image capture was far ranging and very well received. Thank you gentleman for a very informative evening. I look forward to putting this into action at next week’s practical session, not least because I am far more comfortable with the suck-it-and-see approach.
Now the lucky accident (serendipity to give it its all-dressed-up-going-to-Sunday-Meeting name) plays its part in everyone’s lives, but it’s no way to run a business, even one called Serendipity. Well you’d think so but there is a business strategy based upon it and the idea that when taking over a business there are additional benefits to be found in its way of doing things either in physical or intellectual property beyond that which was originally planned for and made the acquisition attractive. So, as an adjunct rather than a strict contrast I want to use this week’s blog to square the circle a little and hopefully add to Kev’s and Rich’s interesting evening.
Planned serendipity can be applied to photography, in fact I believe it is at the heart of the creative process. In order to support that rather bold statement it is going to be necessary to discuss a little by what I mean by it and see how it might be applied to our shared art. Going out (or staying in) and coming back (or tidying away) with an image to mark and to celebrate is as old as cave painting (where they had the bonus of something to eat too). It is something of a celebration each time we press the shutter release as we have found something in essence that we want to preserve and probably share. To that end we have control over the not just the triangle of exposure (ISO, aperture, and shutter speed) but, to some greater or lesser extent, the light. In a studio context this is obvious and, in theory at least, total. Outdoors is a different question, the weather is not under our control, but as we discussed last week, that is not necessarily a question as black and white as it seems. It depends on how you frame the question, making the weather the subject of your image as opposed to a reason for not going forth in the first place. You adapt to the condition to the point where the condition becomes the subject. You take the incidence of the weather and you turn it to your advantage. That is planned serendipity.
It is easy to extend this into a reason not to bother planning, because something will turn up. No way to shoot a wedding where getting the right shot is a result of anticipation and planning (see the blog entry on Dan T’s wedding photography session). The key is to know as much as you possibly can beforehand, get to know your subject and your location. No way to shoot landscape either (consistently), if you are after a particular effect. How can that apply to the outdoors? I touched a little on this last week when I talked about the Photographers Ephemeris (free for Mac or PC, paid for on i-Phone or Android) or using Google Maps and the relevant tables (though if doing this I would go to the Photographers Ephemeris as a default unless the detail and the working out is where the fun is for you). Control what you can control. You might have all the data you need to make that perfect sunset or moonrise in terms of time and geography, the weather forecast may be just so, but you can’t control the cloud that is in the wrong position at the wrong time, obscuring the object of focus (though you can borrow one from another image if you want to add). In that case come back another day. Whatever happens and to quote Napoleon Bonaparte (in translation of course) “Time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted”, and Kev and Rich’s trip to Iceland certainly proved that. They suggested that whereas the internet is a great resource you need to get your information from at least three different sites. There are smart phone apps that can help with that, on both Android and i-Phone. Know what you are looking for and where best to look for it.
There was the inevitable discussion about RAW v JPEG. This is one that will go on forever and a day. There is nothing wrong with either format. There is more processing latitude with RAW than there is with JPEG. If you are a Get-It-Right-In-The-Camera-ista (I bet you used to shoot transparencies, didn’t you?) then there is not a lot in it. If you can’t get to within + or – 1EV of the desired/ideal/correct exposure then shoot RAW. RAW has more latitude within it, + or – 3 EV. For EV read f-Stop. A change of + or – 1 EV is a change of + or – 1 f-Stop. The bottom line is, at least for me, show me a print and I can’t tell whether it’s a RAW or a JPEG. If you are doing it for love take your pick. If you are of the order of Ye-Acolytes-of-Photoshop, shooting one off photographs for money, determined that your camera is conspiring against you (turn off in camera adjustments), curious or just plain anti then use RAW. Or one of its many variants. Your camera manufacturer has their own version of it. Perhaps you should ignore that bit if you are paranoid about your camera conspiring against you.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t pre-process (if that is the right word) your image. ND (Neutral Density) filters and ND graduated filters and polarisers both circular and linear were also discussed as part of the process of manipulating light. A price range around examples of Lee, Hitek and Cokin were all mentioned and the relative merits boiled down to the old truism that you get what you pay for, with Mark S’s recommendation that people consider the Hitek IRND for its colour neutrality at half the price of the Lee. Thanks for the links Mark. What system you choose make sure that there is a match between the filters and the holders that go with them.
In the planned serendipity video above (link here) James Austin’s book Chase Chance and Creativity is referred to and in it he talks to four kinds of luck.
Firstly, that which is just, or seems to be, random “Sheer dumb luck”).
Secondly, chance from purposely acting towards a defined end (running out of “Unluck”, you know the sort of thing, entering photos into competitions, getting feedback, putting that into action – it’s a hint), where keeping doing things in search of something particular stirs up the creative pot.
Thirdly, chance favouring the prepared mind (“Sagacity“), that is thinking like and acting purposefully as a photographer as opposed to a person with a camera bumping into photo ops.
Fourthly the sort that comes from being us, our actions, likes and dislikes, or as the great Victorian politician Benjamin Disraeli put it ” We make our fortunes and we call them fate”.
So is it a case that P.P.P.P.P.P. (Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Photography)? That might make for a neat conclusion but I think that is to miss the point that Kev and Rich were making and certainly excellently illustrated in their previous talk on Iceland I referred to above. The point is, in this post at least, the more you make happen deliberately the more you have scope to take advantages of what chance presents you. You make your own luck. You plan to make your own luck. Taking your own luck is called Planned serendipity. Thursday, be there, try it out.