Regardless of the camera we use, light is still everything. The camera that most of us will have most of the time is the one attached to our phone and on the basis that the best camera we can have is the one that we have got on us, then maybe more should be made of the opportunities that this presents.
This post, being the first of 2019, will be set around making the most of our camera phones, an easy to keep New Year’s Resolution, not necessarily as a primary, go to, choice of camera, but on the basis that it is the most portable and the most accessible. Few of us feel properly dressed if we leave the house without our phones, but that’s another problem.
The camera’s on modern phones are really quite remarkable in their capacities to capture decent images. Things that mitigate against them tend to be form factor – what they feel like in the hand – dynamic range – the amount of light that can hold detail between the very brightest to the very darkest part of the image – and a lack of optical zoom, for the most part.
Note that the word megapixels doesn’t appear in this short list. My cheap and cheerful phone, bought in 2017, has a 12MP rear facing camera, the same as the original Canon 5D. Top end phones are now boasting 20MP plus cameras. Megapixels are rarely a problem these days.
That said a camera phone makes for a lousy sports camera and when on safari and photographing prides of lions the distance we would need to keep to fill the frame would be well beyond wreckless. Similarly a 20 by 30 foot poster at 300 dpi is going to look pixelated (from most cameras it has to be said) but then you wouldn’t print that big at that resolution.
Everything that we did in our 101 Corner series can be done, effectively, on a camera phone (Links to: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10) and we need to see our camera phones as our primary practice camera, if not our primary camera (as some professionals do) the one we can use over a luch break or someother gap in the day – it doesn’t have to be a long one, most of the things we will talk about can be done in ten minutes as effectively as sixty. Sometimes more so as we are forced to do rather than ponder.
So we need to make an ally of our camera phones convenience and we need to make the most of its features and take account of rather than make an issue of its limitations. All camera set ups have limitiations. Without exception. Doing something about it delineates the photographer from the person with a camera.
The first thing to note is that most of us will be shooting with a fixed focal length lens, usually around 27mm equivalent on a full frame camera, 18mm on an APS-C. This means wide angle shots which means filling the frame means getting close to small and people sized subjects. Use your feet to zoom not the digital zoom on the camera – it rapidly degrades the image quality.
It also means that we need to pay more heed to having something in the foreground to skirt the problem of having unproductive negative space that diminishes the impact of our main subject. We could also use leading lines and/or forced perspective, or moving to reframe to combat this. Remember the object is to fill the frame with our subject.
Zooming aside, there isn’t a lot that we can’t do with the right app (I will come to lighting presently). If the native camera app on our phone is limited then there are plenty of others available. The one I use (Android) is Open Camera that gives a lot of control (DRO, HDR, Manual, Exposure Compensation, Differential Focusing, Noise Reduction, Burst Mode, RAW etc).
Apple has a very good native app but generally lacks manual controls. There are plenty of other apps available such as ProCamera (widely recommended), VSCO, Camera+ 2. As with all these things, it comes down to personal preference regardless of operating system.
There is also the question of an editor. Now there is a big difference between slapping a filter over a mediocre image and editing for the best effect. As a development tool the object is to get things as right as possible in camera and then edit as necessary. As for apps we can do worse than Snapseed, but again there are plenty to choose from and it is personal preference that matters.
Lighting, bearing in mind we are making the most of what we have, or can be very cheaply obtained, really should remain natural. The single LED is fine up to about arms length (and that is being very optimistic), may be synched as a flash, but will be very slow.
For slow read useless in most situations. It can be OK in macro but even that can be fiddly. Stick to natural light, though you can get a ring LED light for about a tenner (AKA a selfie light, which tells you what you need to know), are you going to carry it with you everywhere?
And this, more than anything else, is about looking for those opportunities everyday life gifts us, using the best camera we have, being the one we have at that time. It is about sharpening our skills, its about injecting some fun into parts of the day.
It can also be about trying something new, say like street photography (if you want to be incognito plug in your headphones and use the mic switch to activate the shutter) , or a project as we discussed in the last post.
It is the New Year, time for resolutions, make one that’s fun and easy to keep.
Club and committee member Myk Garton took us through fifteen years of photography last meeting, showing a wide variety of subjects and a definite progression as experience grew. Digitally a Fuji shooter from day one Myk started with an Instamatic, which many of the audience could certainly identify with.
Currently showing nearly 27,000 photographs on Flickr, Myk has had images adopted by local festivals, publications and alike and had a successful exhibition at the Totterdown Canteen last year and has organised one there for this for the club next month. He is also leader of the programme group for the club.
A lot of us, including the club, use Flickr, of course, which has suffered in terms of development from the decline of Yahoo, and is now with its fourth owner the American photo company SmugMug. SmugMug is a pay-to-use photo-sharing website and image hosting service which allows users to upload both HD photos and videos, so whether or how long the 1TB Flickr option is still available is an interesting point – and I only have 5,000 images on it at present. Not entirely sure how long that would take to download one by one.
Myk showed us the value of persistence and repetition in personal development and we have talked before of the value of doing something deliberately, critically, sometimes the same thing differently. We can end up taking the same style of images because that is what we do. It carries with it the threat of becoming stale, static, uninspired. What we need to do is to keep moving and that requires photography aforethought, not post production afterthought. “I’ll fix it in post” is very different from knowing from the outset what we will need to do to an image in post production.
A lot of that comes from knowing our equipment and its limitations. Our preferred manufacturer’s latest megabuck sensor may well be capable of dealing with a fifteen stop dynamic range but in the real world, where some of us live, we have to get by with our five year old sensor that was designed eight years ago and can just about handle plus or minus 3. In RAW. We learn that through taking photographs in different lighting conditions.
Then we learn to bracket and to merge to create our own HDR photographs, and what we need to do to those images to make them acceptable to our tastes. Or we learn to use on camera or off camera flash or continuous lighting to fill the darker areas allowing us to meter for the lighter ones. We learn how to modify the lighting we have to blend in with the image we want to create.
And so we fail. A lot. Fail as in laying a Firm Anchor In Learning. We learn to critique, starting with I like this because …. I don’t like the way this is because …. and we do something about it next time based on that. That way we not only learn our equipment but we develop a style. That style may change over time, either as an evolution or as a deliberate attack on our comfort zones – or both, but it allows us to make the stories we capture our own and to keep on doing so.
The other key, besides persistence, is to look at the works of others with that same critical eye. Our goal is constructive criticism. That can be other club members, exhibitions, magazines, websites, tutorials, talks and other presentations, newspapers, awards, the list is as long as you want to make it, we don’t lack for opportunities and it doesn’t just have to be Ansel Adams for landscapes, Cartier-Bresson for street and David Bailey for fashion. There are plenty of others and it does well to look regularly and above all critically. It is, after all, the images people take that make the mark, not the camera they used.
Variety is also important. This can be in set up, composition, treatment, subject, lens, aperture, shutter speed, lighting conditions, the list is as long as you want to make it. Above all it is about taking images. That is, when all is said and done, why we bought the camera in the first place. We can get a lot more out it with just a little deliberation coupled with a little curiosity. In the digital age we have the capacity to take hundreds more photographs as very little extra unit cost compared to the days of film, but the deliberation that the costly additional frame imposed on us was and is a useful thing.
Back to practising techniques, last meeting, something you can’t really ever do enough of and it was interesting the conversations I drifted between as members swapped ideas and techniques and generally talked photography. I know it’s a photography club, but members talking photography is a sign of engagement. It is an important part of our development as photographers, the practice and the discussion. It can be formal or informal, but it is always better if it is structured, if we are looking for an end result and practice makes perfect, after all.
The question then becomes what structure? There isn’t one set way of doing this sort of thing, which isn’t particularly useful, rather it doesn’t make starting particularly easy, not least because there are two points which one can start from and a myriad of options in between. These two points are obviously connected, as they are integral to the capturing of an image, but one is about mechanics and the other is about the image as we want want it, the craft of the art.
To set about resolving this we have to first decide what it is that we want to improve. Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Photography. The easy answer is “everything” and whereas this might be true it can also be a dampener. The first step in this is to solve the mechanical v the craft dichotomy. Lets put this a slightly different way. We are talking the Camera Settings v Composition and lighting. OK so the former depends upon the latter and the latter really depends on what we are translating from minds eye to captured image.
Thus far, thus obvious. Actually no, its an all too common trap we have all fallen into at one time or another. Substituting the planning for the doing. Remember, what we are trying to do here is a quick fix that we can use as a starting point, not capture every detail of the wedding of the century. Step one is – always – get the camera out of the camera bag. Picking a particular aspect, depth of field, manual mode, off camera flash from the mechanical side and / or any one of the myriad of compositional and or lighting tools as a starting point, taking that shot, then varying it comes after, but not if your camera is sitting in it’s bag.
The learning, and some pleasant surprises along the way, come with the variation. There is another point too. We have a day out, it’s a good day to have a camera and we have made the best of it. That can mean 10, 100, 1,000 frames, but how many of them look the same, that is, were taken from the same angle, same height? With film we had to be a lot more choosy and as an exercise 36 sequential frames – no deletions – used on a subject or a location tells us a lot about our predominant style, habits (both good and bad). The challenge is to use this limited resource as a tool to force us to look, look harder, for the essence, for the compelling reason to take that picture.
Take the 36 shots into our editing programme and use it as a learning tool, what adjustments do we usually make? Can we automate these and improve our work flow? What should we be doing to get it right in the camera, the most effective improver of workflow? How many other ways are their to tell this story?
We started with a balance of two things, the mechanics v the composition. Of course the fact is the mechanics are just the means to the imaginative end, but they are critical means because they affect that imaginative end, they realise it or they don’t. They can be on or off camera, but ultimately it is all about the manipulation of light and subject and the possibilities open to us from small differences are huge. The key to success is to start with the end in mind but to look for those differences along the way. Digital photography in particular puts this a lot more firmly in your average club members grasp.
Blog has taken a bit of a break these last three weeks – what do you mean you haven’t noticed? – so this week is a little bit of a digest of things that have crossed my viewfinder. Over this period the club has been up to Gloucester for a very pleasant evening and a model photo-shoot around the docks, Bath for stroll around the Royal Crescent and Severn Beach for the sunset. Our thanks also to models Ashleigh Claire, Keith Bristow, Carl Hawkins and Alice Jordan for their endurance and patience at the Gloucester Docks shoot, which from Facebook seems to have generated some interesting shots. Not quite as billed (the theme was originally going to be Victorian) but it was an entertaining evening nonetheless and we had the space largely to ourselves and another photographer and model who were doing a shoot. There was also an American car meet going on and all in all it was an interesting, if slightly humid couple of hours.
But the humidity of Glos. docks was nothing compared to a windless evening in Bath, which seemed to pile heat upon heat. Severn Beach was a little more civilised even if the evening did end in rain. The fact is we don’t very often get extreme weather in this part of the UK, for which we should be grateful, but still half a dozen people have lost their lives on the coasts around the UK in the last ten days or so. In fact the climate and geology of the UK is particularly stable yet still manages a huge variety of land, sea and urban views. But it’s not without its dangers.
One of those is people taking exception to you taking photographs. In this country the level of paranoia around children and photography is on the increase. I met with this some years ago – taking photographs of my own children. Now I am a reasonable man but telling me (wrongly) what I can and can’t do vìz a vìs the photographing of my own children in public, does rather try my patience. It always pays to be polite though and I am sure I was a lot more polite than I seem to remember being.
Scare stories are will always generate interest, trouble is when people act erroneously on them. And, of course, different countries different rules – over the weekend it has emerged that the “Burkini Beach” photographs of the armed French Police enforcing the law have led to the former Mayor threatening the prosecution of social media users sharing pictures of them doing so. Now the reasons for doing so are complicated and the reason for the Burkini ban is tied up to do with the 84 deaths on Bastille Day in the City of Nice, where the photos were taken. The point is, whatever you may think of these rules (a) ignorance is no defence and (b) your opinion of them does not change the law.
So, simply put, find out what these rules are before you take the camera out of its bag and stick with them. This Facebook Page is a good place to start.
On a more cheerful note the 2016-2017 season starts at the club on 1st September and we are kicking off with an event called my summer, where members bring in photographs they have taken over the summer and present them. That’s a sort of hint.
There is a lot on the programme again this year and we urge all members to participate as widely and as often as possible – it’s sort of the whole reason for the club after all. One issue that has arisen and needs addressing. The evenings where we use models on the basis that they get the images we take in return for their time do require that we honour our side of the bargain, whether we as individual photographers, think they are good enough or not. It doesn’t take much time and it is only fair. We can now use the photo entry system so that can be covered among its many other attributes, I believe, as it can be set up relatively easily, so no excuses really. Give up your best three (at least) and let the model worry about whether they are good enough or not.
We are fortunate in having such an active club but we also recognise and welcome new members. There has always been someone around to answer questions and there is quite a breadth and depth across the club and members always seem happy to give freely of their time. Long may it remain so. The programme for September includes: Photo’s we have taken over the summer break; Q and A session; A talk that looks distinctly chilly; and a photo mini marathon, ever popular. That is all in the next five weeks (photo-marathon and photo-marathon judging taking place in consecutive weeks).
So, what is your goal for this season? It’s always a good idea to have and we learn more when we have an idea of what success looks like. It might be to get yourself off auto/programme, not actually sins in themselves but the tool is making decisions for you creatively and artistically. There will be plenty of opportunities within the club schedule to practice that and to ask people about how they do it and why they do it that way. You might want to set yourself a one a day project over 7, 28 or 365 or some other number of days. Or take on some macro or portrait projects, the point is there are lots of opportunities and there is a lot of experience in the club, you can call on. Essentially next season is what you make of it, and the club is what you make of it, the opportunities are there for the taking.