Since last post we have been end of year social and we have had the last of the competition rounds – the trophy rounds. One more speaker at the school and then we are off photographing (weather dependent hence some of the apparent repetition, see website closer to each date):
- Bath (18th July)
- Colliters Brook Farm American Car Evening (24th July – yes, on a Wednesday night) OR Weston bike night on 25th (see club website closer to the day)
- Portishead Marina on 1st August
- Colliters Brook 7th August
- Bristol Harbourside 15th August
- Weston Bike Night 22nd August (or Colliters Brook on the 21st, inverse of above)
- Weston Classic Car Show 27th or Old Severn Bridge walk over 29th.
Bit automotive heavy but that’s driven (pardon the pun) by what is on those nights or thereabouts and are travel friendly to hereabouts.
The competition rounds are always provocations to thinking about our own photography, from what we would have done given the subjects and compositions of others to, maybe, emulating or doing similar stuff of our own choosing.
Congratulations to the winners (see website and Facebook for details).
Speakers nights also do this for us, at least the ones that are about what we can do within our budgets and don’t involve paddling up the Orinoco River on a leaky bamboo raft. Somehow Brislington Brook doesn’t seem to quite compete on those terms, though the wild life can be occasionally challenging.
Being evening shoots on our road trips, the sun will be low and as the weeks roll by softer, earlier. This is, of course, a time of day preferred by many – especially those with a love of the Golden Hour and an aversion to getting up at the crack of dawn. Just polling up and picking off the beauties of nature’s bounty as they present is one way of doing it, but a little pre-consideration goes a long way.
As the sun sets and the golden hour gives way to the blue (or precedes it as sunrise) there will be more and different opportunities, crowd blurs, light trails, bokeh heavy street scenes and so on. There is something special about an indigo sky – it last but a few minutes – but there are lots of opportunities to take advantage of whilst the blue hour lasts and again being ahead of the game helps.
The blue is a function of the sun being below the horizon, either going down or coming up and the wavelengths of light. It is deeper, richer than the blue of the day. The blue of the morning tends to last shorter than the blue of the evening, but you pays your money and you takes your choice.
One thing that we will find is that the longer our exposure then the longer the image will take to write to the card, usually the equivalent of the exposure – I have known it longer. This time can be limited by going into our camera’s menu’s and turning the in camera noise reduction off.
It also presents a great opportunity to experiment with blur as I mentioned above. This can be in the clouds, in water, in light trails of passing vehicles, or even passing pedestrians. By necessity the lower light levels, combined with lower ISO’s to get the best quality and also a movement effect in a still medium, will mean longer exposure times.
A variation of this interesting effect can be had by using a flash gun but setting our camera/flash synch to second or rear curtain. This especially when you are using a longer exposure and it can be done outdoors or in. Both moving and still elements combine, isolating the lonely figure in the crowd, for instance, or recording a brief history of movement and expression.
Do remember to set it back to front or first curtain though, or subsequent shots will be effected and we don’t always hit on the reasons when it’s been a time between flash sessions.
Multiple exposures, taken to put together an HDR or High Dynamic Range image in post production, are also an option in the blue hour. These are especially relevant when there are areas of light and dark that are not normally rendered in a single image being outside of that particular sensor’s ability to impress data at those extremes.
Now there are pros and cons to using HDR software as opposed to techniques like exposure blending (basically using luminosity masks) but that is for another day. This is just a heads up on the fact that we are not just limited to what we compose in camera. There are enhancement opportunities at a very particular time of day.
A tripod is the order of the day, though not always required, it will get you the sharpest results. A shutter release or timer setting on the shutter is also an idea to reduce shake and keep images sharp.
Lenses should be set to manual once you have focus and don’t be afraid to indulge in long exposures. Smaller apertures are good for keeping the shutter open longer and producing more depth of field. F16 and smaller will also get you a star effect on street lamps and alike.
White balance is a matter of choice but if shooting RAW you can change the white balance easy enough so just leave it in auto. ISO, start at your lowest and experiment. Blue hour can get some really interesting shots so don’t be afraid of experimentation – it will pay dividends!
We did Programme as a camera setting back last November, when an alarming number of members were convinced that Elephants were a European phenomena (you had to be there), possibly confusing them (the pachiderms) with Mammoths, possibly from remembering seeing them at the zoo. This meeting it was the turn of the rest of the dial and no such confusion reigned thanks to the scholarly efforts of Chris Harvey, Gerry Painter, Steve Hallam, Eddie House and Simon Caplan. Between them they had manipulation of the exposure triangle well and truly nailed.
And if we nail the exposure triangle we have the control of light within our grasp. The other thing we need to have control of is what is acceptably sharp in the picture, a function of lens aperture and shutter speed moderated by the selected ISO setting. With these two things nailed in under ten minutes we are a photographer! Our position in the Point and Shoot Pantheon is but a matter of time!
Ah but …. these are the mechanical issues of image capture. Often photographers are as interested in the settings a frame was taken at as the content and whereas they are the key mechanical elements in capturing the image we are viewing they are actually a long, long way down the list of priorities in making a good, bad or outstanding one.
Unless our job is making, marketing and or selling cameras for a living.
The reasons are thus: to plagiarise that image you have to be in the same place, at the same angle, in the same light, focused in the same manner, with the same connection to the same elements within the frame, and using the same size sensor. Even then all you have done is copy. The only thing worth copying is the look and that can be as much about post processing as image capture these days. The valid reason for copying a look is to learn about photography by applying it to other opportunities. The camera settings represent one choice from a multiplicity of options to arrive at the same amount of light captured.
Let’s put it this way: ISO 100, F8, at 1/125th second gathers as much light as ISO 400, F11, at 1/250th of a second, gathers as much light as ISO 1600, F4, at 1/8000th of a second gathers as much light as ISO 200, F32 at 1/15th second. What alters is the depth of field and the relative degree of that in these examples would depend on sensor/film size. This other variable is why we refer to crop factors compared to the old film size “full frame” 35mm standard (so that those of us set in our ways can get a handle on the perspective generated by a given focal length) and perspective is relative, he wrote with entirely deliberate ambiguity.
As we have been plugging the last few weeks rather heavily – and in every blog published for the club, regardless of author – the issue of absolute prime importance is composition. Yes we have to get the mechanicals “right” for the image we have visualised but that will not arrest the attention of our viewer nearly as much as the arrangement of the elements in the frame. The legendary crime/street photographer Weegee, coined the phrase “F8 and be there” when asked what was the secret to success in his photography. Weege used a Speed Graphic 4 x 5 inch camera and a flash bulb for illumination. The point is, know our equipment and how it gets us the results we visualised. To be fare some people ascribe the quote to Robert Kappa but the point remains the same. Being there means we get the chance to get the picture the f stop is only of relevance If you have the camera with you.
Now, we can argue what being there actually implies. and the list would probably be quite lengthy. Most photography to do lists seem to end up that way. Some people even write books about it. Reading photography books is a very good idea, but putting the ideas we draw from them to use is even more productive. Knowing what camera settings other people use can be informative, knowing the performance limitations of our own camera gives us the confidence to experiment. In fact, it could be argued, there are two sorts of photographers who are happy about using Auto/Programme settings. Those who are just starting out and those who are confident enough in their use of the camera to know what it is going to do and when and under what conditions we might have to over ride or compensate. And that leaves us to concentrate on visualisation and composition, which is where the art is coming from.
Most photographers, however, set their cameras to aperture priority and leave them there to control the depth of field. Which is fine. So is shutter priority to control blur. So is manual to control everything, though as a permanent setting does rather slow things down – which can be the point. Auto/Programme is fine. Find one that works for you and use the others to play to their strengths.
Social evening at the Black Castle last meeting, shields and presentations made. Competitions Secretary Mark will pass on to Chris for publishing on the website the results for this year. Alison Davies’s blog was well received among the members I have talked to and again thanks to her for putting that together. We have another contributor lined up for later on in the year and hope to garner a few more as next season progresses.
In the news this week is one of the periodic attempts to make TV out of stills photography and you’ve guessed it, it will be on club nights (from the 21st July). OK not so much of a problem as it once would have been in these days of DVR’s, what is a problem is that Sky appear to be trying to sell it as “American Idol for Photography“. So this is not a how to, which largely is the preserve of YouTube and Vimeo etc these days, at least directly. Watching people who do things they are good at doing is often quite instructive, inspiring. The first thing the comparison tells us is that this is not aimed at the, let’s be polite here, mature audience one finds in most camera clubs. So my immediate response of “Oh for [insert adjective politer than the one I came up with] sake” that comparison prompted will please the Sky Arts marketing department no end and hey it’s being blogged about ….
Photography is a lot more niche than popular music, has been hit just as hard by disruptive innovation (in this case meaning more cameras everywhere, not, necessarily better pictures everywhere) as licensed Taxi Cabs by Uber and the profile of camera sales is changing. Photography is male dominated, at least behind the camera – 5 out of the 12 contestants are female – and it will be broadcast in a slot that tends to have a slight male bias. The more cynical among us might think that someone decided to exchange the paint brushes of (the also Sky Arts) series “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist” with chunky full frame cameras but hey, it’s photography and it’s on the Telly. Besides the contestants there will be guest spots by professional photographers (though whether Bruce Gildern’s abusive T-Shirts – you have been warned – see a rise in sales is yet to be seen) and the contestants are drawn from across Europe (presumably national versions wouldn’t be sustainable). It is “young” in its profile, whether it is “new” remains to be seen (not a lot new when I searched the contestants on line but that may not be indicative, though certainly there is talent).
If it is new you want, or innovative, maybe, certainly more affordable than it once was (I didn’t say cheap), then aerial photography could be your thing. Even has its own hip website Dronestagram. There are some simply stunning shots on their, though whether exaggerated shadows become the next smoky water cliché remains to be seen. National Geographic have been sponsoring the annual awards these last three years. The images shown, obviously judged the best of the entries, certainly have impact, the drones have added a dimension at a lower cost. I suppose it is quite easy to get caught up in the whole flying thing, but this is still a question of the whole kit-is-the-means-to-the-photographic-ends thing.
Your image isn’t going to be any better because it was taken at 500 feet above the ground. The elevation will give it a certain innovative perspective, but just the same as HDR when it was new, as more and more photographs are taken using it so the novelty will wear off. The picture still needs careful composition, the exposure triangle needs attention and there has to be some interest in the subject itself for the photographer to frame. It just means that you need to get a new skills set, to fly your camera around. Which is all great fun, but along comes Amateur Photographer to spoil the fun by telling us that camera prices are set to rise 15% “Within weeks” because the value of the pound has basically tanked since 24th June, making an expensive hobby more expensive yet. Ho hum. Certainly makes any notions of making a living out of photography somewhat harder to achieve.
Still there are Lo-fi alternatives, starting with a small hole in a beer can, as Justin Quinell showed us last season. OK, maybe you don’t want to go quite so low in the equipment stakes but there are serious advantages to stripping things back to a minimum. The skills you need, as we have explored before, are basically the same regardless of the sophistication of the equipment employed. It still amazes me the number of photographers that you can talk to who don’t practice the basic skills on at least a sporadic basis. You aren’t going to suddenly up the skills when the occasion presents or demands and your learning curve just gets shallower and flatter and takes more time to see improvements. There is plenty of mileage too in trying to recreate or to riff upon others ideas, or make yourself a new project, it doesn’t have to be vast or grandiose, it can (should?) involve opportunities at hand and a little invention.
Or, of course, go and join a decent camera club, oh, I don’t know, rather like this one.
N E X T M E E T I N G
14 July 2016 19:30 Speaker: Tony Worobeic