Last meeting of the season and we had a wide-ranging presentation from Bob (Fowler) Ruth (Roberts) and Bob (Bishop) from Backwell Camera Club on the whys and wherefores and, above all, opportunities that this hobby of ours presents. Good stuff.
As outlined in last weeks blog, we go on our annual Mainly-Thursday-Road-Trips for the next seven weeks and we hope as many members as possible can join us. Although they are largely unconnected they do give an excellent basis for members to mandate their own little project.
A photo project is about straitjacketing our good intentions into a purpose and constraining them with a timetable. Essentially, as has been written here before, making an appointment with ourselves. This is one where we can, for instance, make a narrative of one or two photographs from each of these evenings to present on next seasons week 1. The Doctor is in, as they say.
There are as many ways to approach the idea of a project as there are things we can use as our subject. As per usual, I am going to bang on about opportunities falling to the prepared, thinking through just what is involved helps us to set out some priorities. So, taking a lead from our presenters, shoot only black and white on the club summer photo-outings, as an example.
So, first off, with a few last-minute adjustments we have a who, a where and a when. The decision to go black and white gives us a glimpse of how. What is currently a little vague and we need to sort that out before we can start to dig down with the why, which is where the real development starts.
Now the why question can have several answers pretty much anytime that we ask it. In this case, we have to hit on the one that feels best to us. So in this case, shooting black and white on the club outings, we need to sort out what it is we expect as photographers from doing so.
It has oft been said that where we begin determines where we end up. The most common one to us as photographers is a desire to get better at shooting a subject, or a style, or something along those lines. Off we go to the internet and Bob’s your Uncle!
Well, something like that anyway. We are better informed, more often than not, but still unsatisfied. The reason often has its roots in not really having a definite destination in the first instance. Let’s look a little closer at our black and white example.
First off why black and white? One of the most common reasons I have come across are variations of the “It helps/makes me see things differently”. When you remove colour from the equation emphasis shifts to the other, compositional, elements. Lines, shape, texture, contrast and tone take on more of the burden of the feel of the photograph, as well as the look.
Looking at things differently, deliberately, critically, every once in a while, develops our photographic eye and with it we see new and more opportunities because we see our surroundings as photographers rather than navigators.
And this becomes easier because, by shooting in black and white, we eliminate the distraction of colour. And colour is a very powerful part of our world psychologically. Shooting for black and white is just as demanding as colour. A bad photograph is a bad photograph, monochrome will not redeem it, but it does force us to look at things differently.
This absence of colour means, to successfully produce an image, we have to concentrate on finding other elements, those listed above, that combine to make what we have in our viewfinder compelling on a larger screen or in a print.
And in this combination, we are attempting to create an emotion on our viewers. Black and white can look very broody. Deep contrast, rich blacks, appeals to the eye and to the emotions. And, because of the history of photography, black and white has a timeless feel about it that gives it more weight.
Somewhere in these observations, and it does not matter which one and there are certainly others, is the key to why we want to take those type of photographs. It is the one that appeals. So it could be I want to shoot a black and white project. Why? Because I want to explore [Insert Reason Here].
A project, at its basic level, needs to have a who, a what, a why, a when, a where and a how. Miss out one of those and you are going to end up a pile of images which you will spend countless hours fiddling around with in post-production, which is ok if that is your thing, but it is not a productive project in and of itself.
And to really nail it there is a Japanese Proverb, much loved by the engineers at Toyota. If you want to know the answer ask, five times, why? The idea is that somewhere the fifth time of asking you have the primary reason, or in terms of our project, our destination. Surprisingly effective in all walks of life.
So why gives us the reason, how gives us the technique, what gives us the subject, who gives us the sources we can refer to and the people who can help us (this is a Camera Club after all!), when gives us the finish or review date and the times we go a-shootin’ and where a geography we can maximise our opportunities in. Spend 10 minutes sorting these things out and your project will be a lot more effective in terms of your personal development.
See you in Bath on Thursday!
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.
Editing this week. Not it in your ed, you understand, but giving 8 images to 30 ‘togs with the aim of seeing what they would come up with in a limited time. Now with this opportunity and the general sharing attitude within the club there were common themes but no two sets of images shown were anyway near the same in detail. Views were shared and how-to’s extended. This is an important point. Whereas Adobe was, by and large, the most commonly used suite in the room, that did not engage everyone’s imagination the same way. The (unfortunate for some) truism that a no-expense-spared camera body and even more expensive lens doesn’t make a poorly conceptualised image a great one extends to the range of photo-editing suites. Proficiency in composition enables more to be got out of the tools in both cases.
If you don’t know where you are going you will probably find yourself somewhere else is a much quoted aphorism in this blog. Visualisation is the first step in making a successful image, more often, than “Sheer dumb luck” (see the previous two blog posts) and imagination is the fuel for the engine of visualisation.
The broader concept which we are progressing here, at the beginning of 2018, is the development of ideas. There are two basic positions which we can take, previously termed by yours truly as the Get-It-Right-In-The-Camera-ista and Ye-Acolyte-Of-Photoshop. More of the former than the latter myself, both points of view have currency, depending on where we are in the pursuit of an image. The more options we give ourselves in the first instance (Get-It-Right-In-The-Camera-ista) the more we are going to have to work with in the second (Ye-Acolyte-Of-Photoshop). Proficiency in both does not guaranty a good shot. If we cannot see the picture in the first place you are not going to get your best shot. If we don’t compose the elements in the frame it is unlikely to be very appealing.
Repetition is a very good teacher, but with the important caveat that we pay attention to what we are doing differently this time – madness lying in doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. And for that we need to know what we are working towards and being open to new opportunities as they present themselves. Setting ourselves a project is an excellent development tool.
Initially setting a photographic project needs a brake on the ambition. Make it small, give it a defined beginning and end and give yourself the time to complete it. A two, three or seven day project is a good start if this is all new to you. Take one subject and give ourselves a three to seven days to shoot as many variations of the theme as we can manage. Inside or out. Table top is a really good place to start, the important thing is that we think and think critically about the images we are taking and explore variations.
There are books that do some of the work for you by giving tasks, some easier than others, the idea being we go out and shoot the assignment given to us and print and mount the best one in the book. We can go more DIY and use photocorners or some other mount and a reasonable size note book, something we can write our ideas and reflections on. There are plenty of lists out there for projects we can work through. The thing is not how good is it, but how do I change this for another story? Practical measurements can be taken from the Exif data but the key is much more likely to be in re-ordering the elements in the frame or making the light fall a different way.
What quickly becomes evident is that having a clear end in mind is a good place to start. The journey is where the learning takes place. An essential, when doing this sort of thing over time, is to take notes. The artist’s sketchbook is a centuries old instrument that is a fantastic development tool. It’s for photographers too. The contact sheet, not only a film phenomenon, also has great value but as an extension to a sketchbook rather than a substitute.
So why go to such lengths when we can go back through our photographs, especially those of places we have visited frequently? Well, I am not a very prolific photographer and the hard drive on my lap top contains 49,000 image files, all backed up on an external drive since you ask, with about 10% of those on Flickr in albums. The Flickr account makes it quite easy to go through similarly themed images and I do, occasionally, revisit some of the images on there and re-edit as an experiment, especially the ones from when I was getting back into photography about 5 years ago. Even so I keep a notebook for the odd thought that occurs or note on a method and writing this blog helps put context around what we do each week at club. The lesson from that is volume needs structure if it’s going to be useful. Too much choice is as grievous as too little.
Then there is the reworking of the angles as we looked at when talking about Moving and Zooming in mid-January. Point of view is very important. A picture of a cat or a dog at their level (i.e. ground level) is very different than one taken looking down which reduces the power of the subject in the frame (the opposite is true of looking up, which is why so many Chief Executive pictures are taken from a lower angle and tell us a lot about the person being photographed). Reworking the angles of the light falling on the subject is a key way to affect the mood of a picture.
Basically if we want to improve there are plenty things put there that we can do for ourselves, or we can share with others. Feedback is the breakfast of champions, according to Ken Blanchard, a management consultant rather than a photographer, but nonetheless we have first to create something to reflect and feedback on.
So 2012 has gone and we are in a brand new year. What does it hold for you photographically? Are you just going to continue as you have been? Are you going to step up and try to improve? Many photographers take on a project or attempt new things at the start of a new year. I guess its part of the New Year Resolution idea. To try and better yourself. So just what can you do to try and improve your photography?
How about starting a 365 project? What’s that? It simply means you take a photograph a day every day for 365 days! Sounds like hard work? Well to be honest it is but there are lots of people that do complete them. Some people make them even harder by only doing self-portraits and creating elaborate shoots. Others simply take a picture of anything and use that as their image of the day. There are lots of groups on Flickr dedicated to this type of project.
For those of you that find the thought of creating a picture per day daunting how about 1 per week? There are many who prefer or only have the time for a picture a week. Although just like the 365 projects these can take up quite a bit of your time. There are a similar set of choices for this project as well, you can choose to do only self-portraits, have a different theme per week or just do what you feel like at the time. Again there are a huge selection of groups to be found on Flickr. Some let you know the themes weeks in advance such as the LensProToGo52 Week Photo Project others tell you the theme at the beginning of the week or you can choose a theme to run through the whole series of 52 images the choice is yours. I’ve provided a link to search results on Flickr for the 52 weeks projects here.
If the thought of tying yourself down to taking a photo on a schedule doesn’t appeal to you how about starting a project of your own? One popular project that not only helps improve your photography but your confidence in talking to & taking pictures of complete strangers is the 100 Strangers Project. If you decide to do this then obviously you have to take 100 pictures of total strangers and yes that means you walk up to someone on the street and talk to them ask them if its ok to take their picture and spend a few minutes getting to know them, trying to get them to relax a little so that they are at ease in front of your camera. Of course you can make up your own project such as documenting a particular area or whatever you want. To get you pointed in the right direction here are the results of a Google search for Photography Projects
You might think projects & challenges are pretty much the same but I’d have to disagree. To my mind a project is something long term, something you keep going back to and adding more work to over a period of time. Whereas a challenge is something short, something to get your teeth into and have a result in a fairly short time. So what would I consider a challenge? Well how about fitting a fixed length lens to your camera (or taping the lens to a fixed focal length if you only have telezoom lenses) and setting it to manual focus at 3 feet! Then just walk around and take pictures. It’ll certainly make you think hard about your composition and subject matter! Or how about going up to the local phone box and trying to take as many different pictures of it as possible? Or do that with a tree in the park. Want more suggestions for a challenge? Here are the Google results for Photography Challenges.
Hopefully the thought of taking on a project or challenge appeals to you. If it does fantastic go out and get started right now! If your sat there thinking “why should I bother?”, maybe you just need a little shove to get you going. Start talking about it at club meetings, see what others think and the more you talk about it the more likely you’ll think “yeah let’s do it”. Now you may have noticed I haven’t really given you lots of information in this post. Well that’s because I work on the theory that if you really want to know something and have a desire to learn about it then you will put the effort in to finding out what you need to get started and do it. I’ll rarely hand you the answer on a plate and say there I’ve done it for you so you don’t have to. Sometimes I might not really have a choice but I would prefer you to spend a little effort discovering what you can do for yourselves. Trust me if you figure it out on your own you’ll be a lot happier and your confidence will get a boost. So please go ahead research these types of things and try them out. You never know you might just enjoy it.