Two weeks to report on, with a common link, landscapes, firstly the latest Lakes trip from November and secondly a welcome return for former member Richard Price in a philosophic frame of mind. Now I am not suggesting that that is Richard’s soul photographic concern but it is the one that has spoken for him more than any other. We shall return to that.
The English Lake District in November is good for photographic enthusiasts who like rain and fog more than anything, was the common theme that came back, but that just raises the question, what do we do when the light isn’t right?
Aside form taking our chances and wrapping up well, there is always something you can do. The first thing that springs to mind is switch to black and white and get closer, look for details, patterns, textures, symmetries and so on.
Or pack up and go home as some photographers with a particular focus and mindset have been known to do. There are always options – though I admit that the idea of a miserable trudge to a distant view followed by a freezing and unfertile wait topped off with a miserable trudge back as anything productive has never been the point for me, but it takes all sorts.
So it was illustrated in our Lakes talk that there are sometimes noticeable differences in shifting viewpoint (where the same view had been taken by adjacent photographers in this case) and amply illustrated by Richard in a slightly different way. The assumption we make as photographers is that the landscape is harmonious and balanced and it is our job to find The Viewpoint that best captures this.
That reduces the art of landscape photography to three components: viewpoint, lens, and frame. But, whereas there are common things in photography that make for a balanced and interesting frame, the art of photography is anything but formulaic.
The first thing that a lens does is gather light. The second thing that a lens does is focus the light on the sensor or film plane so that we can capture an image. The third thing that the lens does, by default, is set the amount of the scene we can see across the frame and how big/small/close/in focus the frame contents are.
Taken all together, the lens is the most influential part of the camera system. It is the mechanical element that determines, more than anything else, the quality of the final image. Its shortcomings can only be edited to a limited extent and what you get is the limit on how good that frame can be. It sets the upper limit.
But camera systems alone do not for good photographs make. At least three of Richard’s photos were taken on a camera phone – we only knew that because he told us – and they did not look substantially different to the other, full-frame DSLR images when projected on our large screen from a distance. The lesson from that? Get to know your equipment inside out.
The frame is about what we exclude as much as it is about what we include. It is the invitation to find the things that make the story in our framework and concentrate on them. It is the box within which we arrange the objects that make our subject interesting and it is the box where we make a harmony of light and content.
And over time and with repetition it becomes a style. That style can be a deliberate following of one school or style of photography or it can evolve naturally over time and become our own bundle of influences.
Style put simply, is an identifiable, personalized way of doing things. Deeper than that, as professor Richard Greaves once pointed out, about writing style, it is “A way of finding and explaining what is true” and that fits too.
That can be said of photography because all art forms exclude and include, it’s just that in our chosen field we have to deal with what is presented to us, aside from some very limited, studio, situations of total control. We include nature somewhere, even if it is only the angle of light falling on a subject. We may shape it, augment it, restrict it but we do include it. Sometimes imitate it.
With landscape photography in particular, forewarned is forearmed, much of the chances for success in a photo shoot come from having a good idea of where to be when to be and what to expect. That doesn’t mean that nature won’t rain on our parade, but when it goes right it goes right for a reason and that means we have something we can use again and again. We develop our own techniques.
And as Richard pointed out, there is something rather soothing about the whole enterprise, from the planning through the doing to the post-production, that yields a satisfaction. The boss might want Wednesdays target by Monday afternoon but in the middle of nature, and cut off from those considerations, there is the chance of re-finding our own balance and harmony.
So, two interesting presentations to kick the year off with and our thanks to all those who presented.
Our speaker this week was Richard Price talking on the very small and the infinite (at least the bit of it we can see) – Macro to Astro. As ever a hugely informative and accessible evening given to a packed hall.
When talking Macro (on a ratio of reproduction to actual size of the subject of 1:1 or greater) we will be including what is close up photography too as there is a technical difference but not, as far as next meetings practical is concerned, no difference worth the time.
These are both areas of photography that appear complicated but, whilst demanding, they can be easily accessed. And they are both absorbing aspects of photography and being both accessible and demanding they teach us a lot about our equipment and how light works with it. It also tells us a lot about our kit and can involve finding work arounds. For instance my manufacturers own 50mm lens will not work on anything but manual and with the depth of field preview button held down with my extension rings. My third party lenses work just fine. Took a while to work out how to get the nifty to work, but it was worth the effort. With a mirrorless camera like mine the DOF preview button is usually redundant -what you see in the view finder is exactly what you get as an image. Only it isn’t redundant at all and I am rather glad it’s there.
Of course, how near/far you want to go is a matter of budget but only really at the extremes. You can get some perfectly acceptable macro shots with a kit lens and a reversing ring (about £7 for a 52mm filter – size it’s written on the front of your lens, in the case of our 52mm example as Ø52). You can also use a coupling ring to reverse one and add another lens to it to make a longer focal length and a greater degree of magnification. In both case it might be advisable to take any UV filters you have off the end of the lens.
The next option Rich gave us was using screw in filters (lenses) of varying dioptres. These are available for around £15 (and upwards depending on filter size), but as with everything else you get what you pay for. Essentially these are like reading glasses for your lens, they are lenses that fit on the end of lenses. If you buy them for the largest filter size you have in your range of lenses you can buy a set of step down rings to fit them to your smaller filter sizes (usually for around £5).
Extension tubes, moving the lens away from the focal plane foreshortening its focusing capacity, use no intermediary glass at all, so there is no risk of flare or softening enhanced by putting more barriers between subject and sensor. By shortening that distance a degree of magnification results by getting closer to the subject. This is generally a more expensive route than the two previously discussed. this is because a certain amount of electronic communication has to be allowed for in the design of the tubes and this complicates the manufacturing process making it more expensive. It isn’t always effective either (see example given above) and work rounds result. However, the more you pay, generally, the more you get in terms of functionality and performance, though this is not an absolute guide.
Finally there is the most expensive option, the dedicated macro lens. Without a doubt this is the higher performer when it comes to producing quality of images in terms of sharpness and contrast, and without a doubt. But all that comes at a cost and even the cheapest all manual lenses cost several hundred pounds. Whichever route we go, macro/close up photography can be done anywhere and relatively easily and cheaply. One extra technique that might help is Focus Stacking. It can be done in Photoshop, as per the link, but failing that you might want to try CombineZP which is free and simple to use.
Now focus stacking as a technique makes a good link to the second half of our evening, Astro-photography. The reason being that photo stacking is an often used technique when taking photographs of the stars. It’s not an absolute requirement, though, and the basics are relatively straightforward. Rich recommended using StarStax, which is freeware, as you were wondering and developed with astro-photography in mind. But we get a little ahead of ourselves.
Dark areas in the UK are few and far between. Light pollution is a serious problem, not just for photographers but for wild life too, in our rather crowded island. Even in designated Dark Areas there are problems at the extremities where towns and villages emit a glow low on the horizon. So it takes some work.
The pollution part is best thought of as the light you would eliminate if you could. The night sky isn’t black, the horizon is always discernible. The sky itself is also quite bright. If we are trying to record as much detail as possible (known as Deep Sky astrophotography) we are going to be fighting the noise generated by the sensor of the camera, especially at higher ISO’s but even at the lowest setting because where there is a signal there will be noise. If we treat the sky as black either by exposing or reducing it to black in post production then the fainter details are going to get lost. The point is the sky isn’t really black, it’s closer to a dirty orange colour. Because of the light pollution and the reflective nature of Earth’s atmosphere.
We can get round this in post by adjusting levels, picking the darkest part of our image as a start point with the eye dropper and adjusting the levels. It’s a matter of trial and error really. As is white balance. Regardless, this will all be a matter of trial and mostly error at the beginning and that is actually part of the fun. Learning new techniques like this means we learn more about the competencies and capabilities of our equipment and allows us to do more things with it.
Our thanks again to Richard and good luck as he takes this and his other presentations on the road.
N E X T M E E T I NG
Macro and close up practical evening. Bring cameras tripods and that reversing ring you just ordered off Amazon.
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.
Colour space and gamut. Sounds like a poor man’s crime fighting duo, but as Rich Price showed us it is a surprisingly powerful way to subtly (or not so) expand the presentation of colour in an image. Concentrating on derivatives of RGB, Red, Green, Blue, from which all other colours can be made and moving towards white, there are a number of different models – the basic physics of how we end up seeing the rendering – all existing to do the same job: Turn 1’s and 0’s into recognisable colours on screen or in print ( the model is the printer’s map, the image the contour lines). CMYK mixes cyan, magenta, yellow and black (the K stands for Key ), on the page and is popular with magazines and similar publications, and works by subtracting light from white as the start point. Then things start to get complicated with other models, such as CIELAB and CIE XYZ that approximate human vision in constructing colours and are used converting RGB images to CMYK. In itself all fascinating but not something that we need particularly concern ourselves with in depth. It gets very technical but is interesting.
So much for the models but we were concentrating on the work spaces. There are a number of them: sRGB – the most common found in display screens and cameras, PhotoRGB, the aforementioned CIELAB and Adobe RGB are a few. Rich concentrated on sRGB, and Adobe with a brief excursion through ProPhoto which Adobe use between LightroomTM and PhotoshopTM. Prophoto has a very large gamut, in fact 15% of it cannot be seen with the human eye. More is not always better, as with everything else, more is only useful when you have a need for it. If your image is looking muddy it is far, far more likely that you are viewing the narrower sRGB profile in an image that was modelled in the more defined Adobe RBG than the straight forward “fault” of the more limited spectrum. Most people cannot tell the difference most of the time. The gamut of any two profiles will have colours in common but when comparing sRGB and Adobe RBG the number of shades that can be represented between two points of saturation. What the smaller gamut will produce is an approximation of the colour defined in the larger one and necessarily, it will be different. The basis is in the degree of colour gradation that can be shown, that is the number of steps (shades) you can produce in the transition between two (complimentary) colours on the colour wheel. Just for the record the “small” sRGB colour space has 16,777,216 (256 for each of the RGB channels) colours in it.
The most likely time you will see the difference is when you print a digital image. Printer manufacturers have their own profiles and these are usually pretty easy to get hold of – unlike the Linux version of Adobe which seems to have disappeared from their website. These can then be loaded into your editor, the internet will show you how for your programme if you don’t know. Paper manufacturers also have different profiles for their papers and the respective manufacturers web sites are the best places to start with this. What this means is that if you are sending off your treasured image to be printed then you get a heads up on what the final thing will look like through your editing programme. It can change quite a bit, for example, an early morning mist shot I took yesterday, an almost golden light, when reviewed via a Fuji printer ICC profile downloaded from the print shop, showed some of the shadows moving from an almost dark chocolate to cyan – the valley opposite had oxidised! It also saves you time and money when printing at home, and quality inkjet ink is not cheap and cheap inkjet ink can quite often look it, especially on a quality photo paper.
Rich, when he started his presentation, stated that there is an important factor to be taken into consideration when we are talking about colour space, which can easily be overlooked and comes to us from the familiar colour wheel. Colour space is three dimensional, whereas the colour wheel as most of us remember it is two dimensional. The three dimensions are hue, saturation and lightness aka HSL aka HSV (v – value) and they form the backbone of all image editing software. What we are doing when we edit is navigating our way around this space, forwards, backwards, side to side and up and down and in a combination of these three. That gives us a clue that there are work flow questions to be answered here. Work flow in itself is a whole separate blog and we will return to that sometime in the future, but essentially it is all the production, administration and physical actions it takes to complete a process. There are many different forms of workflow, probably as many as there are photographers practising, but, when it comes to colour space there are some basics worth heeding – not least the effect your monitor is having on the images you are viewing and the accuracy and compatibility of colours when your image meets other devices. The club has a device for calibrating monitors which is available to borrow to club members. Ask about it at a meeting if you want to know more.
The second half of the meeting was a practical and members were busily engaged in the delights of LightroomTM and PhotoshopTM and there were more than a few “Aha!” moments. So, our thanks to Rich for his time and energy in putting this together. Next meeting is our own Adrian Cooke who will be talking us through a selection of his images.
Next meeting is also the deadline for Deadline for “Dear Reflex…” questions “Dear Reflex…” is a question and answer session where club members can ask any photography-related questions of the club. These will later be presented to members who will have the opportunity to volunteer to answer them, and given time to present their answer.
See you Thursday!