The presentation this week was by club members who are also members of the “Dream Team” which was started by former Reflex member Tony Cooney, who gave an excellent talk to the club on his time serving in Iraq at the beginning of this season. The Dream Team is a collective of models, M.U.A’s (Make Up Artists) and photographers, some of whom are also Reflex members, who meet once a month to shoot in a variety of venues on a given theme.
This links well into next weeks reflection on how the club has affected two members photography, because one of the ways that we improve is to get ideas and feedback from other photographers. Now it is a fact of life that some people are thin skinned and others immune to the criticism of others and it is also a fact that we are more likely to listen to positive criticism, of which there are two sorts. There is that which is founded in reason, and when reasons are given then we can learn and there is that which is founded on prejudice, the one and only way.
The first of these is worth listening to the latter is, largely, just somebody telling you at length that they did not take this photograph. That which is founded on experience and an open mind may be just as subjective as that which is founded in ego but is by far the more useful of the pair. If there is some form of standardisation to the process then there is a basis for a shared understanding. Mix this with practice (and make it fun) and we get somewhere on the road to results.
The Dream Team’s wide ranging interests and themes and the interconnectedness of the various art forms involved make for something much bigger in the end. Any fool can press a shutter button, daub their body in some paint and gurn at a camera, but that whole Gestalt thing is vastly different when specialists come together to produce a result outside their individual discipline. The inter-connectedness of those disciplines and the imaginations of the people involved make for something much larger.
There is a scientific basis to this, according to research at Stanford University that looked into the difference between finding our passion and developing one. It concluded that being told to find our passion maybe well intended but ultimately it is misplaced advice.
In the short term to find our passion we must go looking for it, for sure. In so doing we create deliberate actions and with such purpose comes results. In the short term, the very act of looking opens up our minds to new opportunities. Open up our minds to new opportunities and we open up ourselves to creative possibilities. Open up ourselves to creative possibilities and we may find our passion. It is what comes next that is critical for development of that passion.
It is the relaxing bit that comes with having found our true passion in life that does the damage. The comfort food of “True Passion” turns sour – maybe it’s our true yoghurt – when it comes to the hard bits. First off, in relative ignorance, we can kid ourselves that we are quite good at this thing, and that we have got it cracked. This is the brain looking for time off and we will get stuck there if we don’t become critical of our own work – creatively critical that is.
Learning by looking at the greats is as old as art itself. Photography is no exception. You can look at your Irving Penn, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams, Annie Leibovitz, David Bailey, Weegee, David Hockney, Martin Parr, Richard Avendon, Robert Capa, Diane Arbus, Alfred Stieglitz, Man Ray, Edward Weston make the list as long as you like, with the internet it can be done. Look at what they have published and have some sort of framework to go by BUT, we are not going to be them. Their time and pathway are different to ours, as well as their artistic sensibilities, no matter how much we admire them. What do we learn from what they see?
The point about that is that it is a great way to learn technique. It’s a great way to set ourselves challenges and that is where finding and developing take separate paths. If we go the development route we are much more likely to stick with it and to use the challenges and frustrations as spurs rather than drift way from something we found.
Collaborative working, under the right sort of atmosphere, is a great way of developing. Knowing the direction we are going in, or want to go in, forces us into certain choices. Again these are better if they are deliberate choices. The biggest factor in this is having somewhere there is a free flow of ideas and an informal collective can be a very good framework for that, especially when ideas are coming in from different disciplines.
Get this bit right and the way that the team works becomes more flexible and responsive to the overall goal – everybody is ending up with some great shots to add to their portfolio. Because there was time and effort put in then the capacity to use these skills, set ups, lighting, composition tools and so on again, under different challenges, adds to not just the photographers, skill sets.
When taking photographs of people, which the Dream Team essentially is, it can seem that it is the photographer who is doing the final work. OK the MUA’s/hairdressers/ got the subject’s look ready, which determines a successful outcome by altering and enhancing where light, shade and attention will fall, and the models give the look, clothes, posture and attitude, but it’s the tog who is determining the final composition. Sort of. Really it is the photographer who has the greatest opportunity to foul everything up and the easiest way to do that is not to take efforts with the other people in the process.
Essentially the photographer has to give credence to the fact that successful photographs of people are not taken they are given. It is a collaborative process.
Club member Ian Coombs talked to us on the matter of audio visual presentations, following on from Hanham Photographic Club’s visit last November when they presented us with some examples. This, however, was more how to.
An AV A/V or Audio Visual presentation does what it says on the tin. It uses sound and vision to get a point across. Or several points. Or, if done badly, no points at all. It can be a way of presenting photographs of course and the audio part of the equation is optional in this case. In many ways using audio and getting it right can be the most difficult part of the presentation, especially for Newts (New To Its’, the same creatures as that famous drinking benchmark – nothing if not educational this blog). Too loud, too quiet, inappropriate tempo for the transitions, too monotone (for voice over’s) or too hyper can render speech unfitting, music tastes vary widely. Then there is the death by PowerPoint TM syndrome, where the audience offers its own not always silent prayer for deliverance from, well, you.
Things don’t have to be complicated, in fact complication is best avoided, as ever the rule to rule the rules is Keep It Short and Simple. That also applies to the software. It is easy to end up with high end expensive programmes that go largely unused and certainly unstretched, especially by a YouTube or Vimeo video of the family day at the beach comprising of transitions (Tip: pick one, stick to it) between photos of the day. Absolutely nothing wrong with that, you just don’t need to sell your internal organs on the black market to fund it. There is plenty of freeware to be had that is up to the job (and a fair bit more) as we have previously discussed (link above). Some of it is pretty powerful too.
There is, of course, more to AV than ice cream and deck chairs to the tune of “I do Like to be beside the seaside” and whereas we are essentially talking about any sequence of images (still and/or video) with an accompanying sound track there is a huge amount of variation. It can be constructed to present a set of themed images where the sound track enhances the experience through setting the mood. It can be an interpretation of music or a written piece where the images fit the theme rather than the other way round. The whole point is that it is a lot more than just pictures to music.
The music does many things, if it’s got right it can having amazing effects. It amplifies, soothes, lifts, calms, sometimes in the length of a single piece. But it has to be appropriate to the rest of the presentation. Voiceovers, similarly, are difficult to get right. Put a microphone in someone’s face and you can bet that naturalistic, free flowing conversationalist will, more often than not, be reduced to a series of ums and errs in a flat tone. It happens because we switch a lot of processing power to reproducing the right sounds and, unless you’ve practised it a lot, it is very difficult to sound natural. That doesn’t rule out a text only solution.
The key, as ever, is to have a good idea of what the finished article looked like. Yes you can change your mind but you need to be consistent. Consistent in theme, in transitions, in volume, in control of background noise, or the overall look and feel will be at odds. It’s really about meeting the audiences expectations, and they will expect a beginning, a middle and an end. That doesn’t limit your imagination, but the audience is expecting a story. Whether that story ends with a call to action or the delivery of a conclusion the whole piece needs to be rounded and complete.
That said there is no reason that you cannot use the same ideas in building a dynamic photo album. You can put it on your cloud storage or on a DVD, keep it on your laptop. This is probably the first thing that people do when venturing into A/V’s (leaving the work related atrocities aside). Certainly it has become a staple in the wedding trade, at least as an option. Whatever your motive it is a good way to think about your photography in a different way. Give it a go.
We now have a new way of entering club competitions that doesn’t involve the Dropbox method, though Dropbox does remain active. Members are guided to http://www.photoentry.uk. You will need a link which you can get from Steve Hallam. Contact him through the club social media or at a meeting. Using Photoentry does simplify the job and it comes with useful messages about the suitability of your entry reference size (which I believe it adjusts for) and colour space (though it does error message sRGB IEC61966-2-1 for not being sRGB IEC61966-2.1, though that is of no real moment). You also get to zoom into your entry to check it’s the right one (yes I did, no it wasn’t and it would have stuck out a mile when projected so I am liking it already!). Deadline for the next round of the ROC is 14th April.
N E X T M E E T I N G
7th April. The WCPF Travelling Critique.
Mark Simmons was our speaker last meeting, a Bristol based photographer since 1985 Mark took us through some of the opportunities and causes he has been involved in over the last 30 years. He mainly concentrated on black and white work, though showed us some colour work of his too and posed some open ended questions, namely What makes a good photograph? and What comes next?
If I were to sum up Mark’s choices in photography in one word it would be “Eclectic“. Personal, political, spiritual, progressive, street, arts. He represents his world through the medium of the lens and monetarises it. It’s the way he makes his living. He talked about film and digital and whereas he is quite nostalgic for the former he works in the latter, though not exclusively. Black and white was really the choice when he started. Developing colour films has always been more involved, costly and time consuming than black and white and though perfectly feasible these factors meant that black and white was the only choice for those starting out developing their own images and those on a tight budget.
Now it is a no cost extra, ignored by many amateurs and often regarded as niche or specialist, with its own publications such as Adore Noire and even its own dedicated Leica camera line, the Monochrom Typ 246 range finder with a 50mm f1.2. Less complex in the sensor design it gives sharper results and less problems with artefacts (apparently). What is more one pixel on its monochrome sensor is doing the job of four (two greens one red one blue) on a colour sensor, so detail is more effectively rendered. It’s a snip at £4,500, but hey, it’s a Leica and you get a free Lightroom license with it. Whether this constitutes a bargain is contestable and it does rather reinforce the exclusive, arty view of black and white, even if it delivers a claimed 100% more detail than a colour sensor. This is a shame as black and white has its own aesthetics, its own strengths and it does get overlooked. For many of us I suspect it goes something like this….
“That would look better in black and white”. We’ve all said it. We’ve all done it. Sometimes we were right. Sometimes it was the fundamental composition that was wrong. Nothing to be done with that, apart from applying the delete button. If the fundamentals don’t work, no matter how much we wish them to, it’s a loss. I am not advocating not learning from our losses, that would be a chronic waste of time, but we don’t learn much from failing to rescue the not worth preserving to the status of still-should-have-pressed-the-delete-key-and-saved-x-hours, or, more succinctly, reviving the dead to the status of the un-dead. What that constitutes in reality is a matter of personal taste and judgement.
“That would look better in black and white”, or, if we are in posh company, or trying to sound like we know what we are talking about, monochrome,we have probably already taken the picture before the thought strikes. There is a solution, which I will come back to later, which at first is obvious, but which can make the most of both worlds and can make us look at things anew. First, however, it’s time to visit some things we already know, or at least know about. Is there a difference? I would say emphatically yes and the difference is knowing about something is being able to theorise that in these set of circumstances this will happen and owning that knowledge by using it with purpose and confidence. Learning is about the transition between one and the other and it’s not always obvious when we arrive at the latter.
Black and white is different from colour in the obvious and not so obvious. The obvious of course is the reduction in the colours we are presented with. More properly we are talking about the difference between grey scale and the gamut of colour our monitors generate – most likely sRGB. The black and the white represents extremes between which we have the grey scale. Absolute black and absolute white are theoretical points, but the question of how black is black and white is white need not concern us here. Our brains interpret these things and we get on with life. We are told that black and white makes us concentrate on subject, form, shape, tonality and texture. This is, of course, because colour has a range of psychological effects on the human brain. Physiologically we use the cones in the eye to see colours and rods black and white. Rods and cones are photoreceptors, like the pixels on a camera sensor, and take their names from their distinctive shapes. The rods and cones generate signals which the brain transforms into images to which it attaches meaning. The primary colours, in particular exercise a strong emotional effect on us, more so than the secondary colours.
Deprive the brain of these clues and it continues to search for meaning in patterns, which promotes the importance of subject through form, shape tonality and texture. We still connect but in a different way. If we are lucky the elements of form, shape, tonality and texture have already made their link if only subconsciously. Then, we might safely arrive sooner at the delayed conclusion “That would look better in black and white”.
Better yet is to start from the position of black and white, the technique I was referring to earlier, that is to say the camera is set to black and white deliberately at the point of capture. This is where a CSC really comes into its own with a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) viewfinder/screen as some, if not many DSLR’s render as black and white only after the event as an editing choice (in which case save it until you get home and do it on the computer). If shooting RAW and Jpeg with the JPEG set to black and white as default we don’t, on a CSC at least, loose the colour option as RAW files are rendered in colour by default. What we can learn is to see those forms, shapes tonalities and textures as a critical starting point not a lifeline to the already drowned.
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
Something worth your consideration if you ever want to take a picture in the street again is something called the Freedom of Panorama and it is under threat (sort of). You might also want to sign the petition at the bottom of the article .Freedom of Panorama. In the interests of balance I would also say is that this is at the consultation stage, hasn’t been presented to the European Parliament for any legislative action (yet) but it still needs consideration and this is your chance to make opposition felt before it has the chance to gain any momentum. I would also point out that Mr Wales has a vested interest in such a possibility being put in place and this is an opinion piece in the Guardian, not a piece of investigative journalism. So for a bit of balance I would also read this from Full Facts (and still sign it).
N E X T M E E T I N G – Important information.
Our season at the school has drawn to a close. Please check the events clandar on the club website for details of meetings over the summer.
Philippa Wood AWPF CPAGB AFIAP, ably supported by husband Peter, took us on a tour of the Scillies and the Gower Peninsular as part of their own grand tour this week that took in Preston, Reflex, then moved on to South Wales before culminating in emigrating to Australia on Sunday (our best wishes go with them) – and that only covers the week from Thursday! The theme that stood out for me from Philippa’s presentation was detail, specifically ideas of repetition and rhythm, and I want to investigate this in the blog this week. Think of this as one of those “Making of” features film makers marketing departments flog off to television channels, where we have been charged with getting the picture that encapsulates a 90 minute film over which they can run the end credits and use as a film poster.
Our brief from the art director tells us that we will have to get all our elements together so that they are governed by a rule of composition, either balanced within our frame to create harmony or unbalanced to create tension, but governed by a single point or object more dominant than the rest to give us a fighting chance at capturing a simple, effective strong story. Detail will be the key.
Even using a planetary view, we can’t get everything in. That means that we are going to have to select. Selection is the basis of composition. Last week we talked about the extremes of selection, macro and astro, but even when taking pictures of the Milky Way we are going to have to select foreground and we have to select the correct piece of the sky. The guiding principle of the photograph we want to take is the story that we want it to tell. Lets assume that our metaphorical movie is an action thriller. The rules of composition we have visited many times. They are not the story, they are a means of supporting the story. How we make the picture isn’t as important as what we decide we are going to put in it. Compositional rules help connect with the viewer but they won’t be what the viewer takes away with them from the picture. That is a lot more complicated. We like what we know, we are challenged by what we don’t. The rules of composition are there to entice us, to engage with what we sometimes don’t know and might otherwise reject. It makes it easier for the audience to engage with our photograph when we have decided what the story of that image is – and before we press the shutter. Phillipa’s journey was expressed through her photographs and her illuminating narrative, which included showing some misfires and discussing what made them so.
Let’s approach this from a slightly different angle (always a good idea in photography). Going back to the presentation that Damien Lovegrove gave us last July. At one point he made up a wild story about the life history of one of the models in his shoot (we know it was wild because he admitted that he had made it up in order to illustrate the way we project our own experiences and preferences on a photograph). When he broke the illusion we looked at it in a different, possibly diminished light. His first two rules of taking a photograph are: “Know your shot” and “Make your subject part of the process”. OK the second one makes more immediate sense in portraiture, but could also mean getting down to the right level for that shot of the bee on the flower, picking the key feature that makes that building interesting, or not being timid about tilting the lens down to frame out that non-descript sky “…Because it’s entirely an artist’s eye, patience and skill that makes an image and not his tools” (Ken Rockwell).
Composition, then, is the imposition of rules within a frame of our choosing – basically where we point the business end of our cameras and how much of the viewfinder is taken up with what we are pointing the business end at. Symmetry is very powerful, it indulges our brains cravings for order. 50% of our brains processing capacity goes to making sense of what we can see. 70% of the bodies receptors (things that gather environmental data which the brain processes into assumptions, priorities and actions) are in the eyes. We can make sense of something we see in about a tenth of a second as a result of these two facilities. The brain takes about 250milliseconds to process and attach a meaning to a symbol – that’s why we have road signs not road memos! Colour amplifies meaning greatly in these basic calculations.
This is why, when sorting through your photographs, a very strong guide to the keepers are only those that hold our attention longer than 2 seconds. Be ruthless at this, because we will start to attach meanings to the ones we wanted to” come out better” (aka excuses) and consequently that will add up a whole heap of storage over nothing of real value. It’s like when we were seven and told to clean the rubbish out of our room – everything means something, so what is rubbish? Yes that toy is broken but I don’t want it gone, I can still have fun with it. In fact it is now officially my favourite toy etc etc. Thus, through self-deception is the Devil in the detail and we enslave Photoshop as his instrument.
But we were talking about symmetry. Symmetry we use to alter the meaning of a photograph. Think of a landscape. Where we place the horizon makes that picture about the foreground or the sky depending on where we place the horizon in a photograph. Go to your local church, especially, but not exclusively, one of the old style ones. Look at how the symmetry gives power to the space we are in. It is the same for a cathedral as it is for a parish church, just we are that much smaller in relation to the cathedral sacred space and with that comes a sense of power and structure and order (and your place in it). Look for symmetry to photograph, we will find beauty in it.
Repetition gives us predictability and in a system that has three initial responses to sudden change, flight, fight or, most often, freeze, our brains find repetition comforting, because of the predictability. Rhythm is a little more complex, visually. Rhythm is made up of visual elements that are repeated. Generally, very generally, a low number of repetitions give a photograph a slow rhythm. A high number of repetitions give an image a more intense, faster rhythm. It can be quite a difficult concept to grasp but it is an observable phenomenon. Again colour can have an effect and as club member Adrian Cook showed us back in January, horizontal, vertical, diagonal and converging lines are instrumental in making patterns to give impressions of depth and scale and effect the rhythm of a composition.
Then we come to where put these things in our frame. This is where the concepts of thirds, fifths, sevenths and “Golden ratio” enhance the ideas, the story elements, of our image. It has been said by more than one speaker and by several competition judges that the best photographs tell one story only. We do not start with these for a reason and that would be, quite simply, that if we did there would be no need to take the lens cap off to get a “good” picture as they would all be present in the pitch black. If we start with these then we are making our job that much harder. Start with the detail, the heroine of our action thriller and give her the right setting to keep our viewers enthralled. Have her dominating the situation to give our readers a comfortable feeling of control or out of balance in her situation to create tension for them. Make her the single point of dominance in action or being acted upon but always, always keep the focus on her through her allies and co-conspirators, the rules of composition.
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
NEXT MEETING: DO NOT go to the club but meet in Queens Square. Practical session, bring your cameras and be there from around 7pm Thursday 7th May.
DO enter the clubs monthly Flickr competiton, club members also get to vote on their preferences.
Grateful as I am for the legion of share-minded posters on You-Tube – you make writing a blog like this so much easier and I thank you all for it – and their willingness to help, Marko Nurminem‘s excellent evening on some of the things you can do with Lightroomtm (and Photoshoptm ) where even the most experienced users in the club I talked to afterwards said they had learnt something from, just went to prove that a live event has a quality of its own. It helps that Marko has a practiced, easy delivery, is an absolute master of his craft and has something to say. It was a very interesting evening for Adobe users and non-Adobe users alike (and I am in the latter camp).
The Adobe suite aka “Creative Cloud Photography” is far reaching in its capabilities. I remember having a conversation with a graphic designer a couple of years ago who quite cheerfully admitted that, of the Adobe suite, he had an extensive knowledge of the bits he needed but doubted there was anybody, including at Adobe, who knew it all. I can believe it. But it goes beyond photography, indeed it is, in its entirety, designed for “Creative teams in large organisations“. Scaling things back a bit, say to your average photo-club user (whoever s/he may be) some post production is going to be involved in the hobby. Indeed it seems to be a necessity in most people’s minds I have talked to about the hobby and although I am going to talk about the getting paid element below, most camera club members are hobbyists. Of course post production is not limited to Creative Cloud, there are free editing versions, like Picasa, or Gimp among many, but the Creative Cloud is designed with professional image production in mind. This explains the integration between the individual programmes in the Creative Cloud, the breadth and the depth. And there is a lot of breadth and depth. It takes a lot of time to get to know them and there are usually three or four different ways to come to the same result in any given programme.
Using them efficiently is something else. Workflow – the processes an item passes through from initiation to completion – determines this. Merely because someone talks about workflow when processing their images does not mean that it is an efficient or effective use of their time/equipment, there is nothing automatic about it. The idea behind workflow is that by isolating the steps in and between each process in the course of producing a result, in our case an image, it becomes possible to identify the most effective way of getting to the finished product. It goes back a century to the works of Frederick Taylor and Henry Gantt, though neither of them would have recognised the term. There is also a very important distinction to be made here between efficiency – which people will tell you they are after – and effectiveness. Efficiency is about getting the maximum work done (output) for the amount of time and materials used (input). What could be better? Well being effective. Being effective is about doing the right thing, you can be ultra-efficiently doing the wrong thing. You can get to hell in a hand cart in land-speed record time by straightening out all the corners and a firm pavement of good intent, it isn’t usually a destination of choice. As Marko put it: “… Be subtle, because rescuing pictures is hard work. Really!”
Presets are a key to executing an efficient workflow, Marko illustrated with a very rapid editing of a low contrast image into one with considerable pop. For editing Marko insists that using RAW as a starting point makes sense as the processing of JPEG files, though perfectly feasible, starts from a smaller base of information, some of the processing having already been carried out and is irreversible. Presets can be made and stored to suit in most of the editing suites that consider themselves more than basic. Essentially a preset is like taking the town by-pass. You get to that roundabout on the other side of town that much quicker, though you still have some twists and turns to negotiate before you reach your final destination. When you only have one or two images to develop then you most likely have time to fiddle. When you have 500 to work through – and you have deadlines and your getting paid depends upon making those deadlines – then 30 seconds saved on each one adds up to hours when you could be doing something more productive instead. Also matters of personal style and taste can be base lined, by making presets they can be easily standardised across an oeuvre over time. The merits of this particular arguments are for another day.
The messages that I got from this enjoyable evening, and it is a sample of one, other than outlined above was that post production is more or less inevitable so concentrate on what you capture on your processor (JPEG or RAW is irrelevant to this), get it as best you can and tweak it in post so you can get back to taking your next set of images. What all these post production packages in the digital age have done is not, most definitely not, invented post production, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce had to develop his image and that was the first, but it has democratised it and photography. Against this there are questions of how images should be executed and presented and that is by far mostly a question of fashion. Marko showed us, most importantly, that there is more than one way of looking at an image.
A good shot tells a story. That is timeless. There are more photographs taken now then ever, most of them with little artistic merit but a lot of personal investment. Camera club membership and presentations like Marko’s and Adrian’s last week and Rich’s and Mark S. and Gerry’s before them (and all the others) the wide range of activities, opportunities and connections that this presents is one way of closing that gap.
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
12th February is the deadline for ASK REFLEX. Please submit your questions by close of play Thursday night.
It is also the ROC open “Creative” round judging night. Be there or be square!
Mr Painter’s Most Excellent Patent Circulars Reveal All By The Magik Of The Hyperlink: This week:
Woodland Photoshoot Blaise Castle, March, see Myk.