Peter Phillips was our speaker last meeting and he gave us his “Photographic Journey” from aerospace Image Scientist to his post retirement destination of Photographer. Peter gave us a chronological tour through his prints – made a refreshing change to the projected image and of course, takes most of those issues that can arise with the digital projection and colour shift that can occasionally arise. That said I wouldn’t want prints only every week.
Peter is unusual in his route into photography came from the technical side and the art only really appeared as a factor after 40 years at the cutting edge of aerospace imaging. He related his landscape, pattern and street photography images through Joe Cornish’s observations on the inter-relationships of craft, art and soul, all needing to be inherent in a photograph for it to truly work. His approach is very particular. He knows the image he is after, plans for it, I suspect meticulously, invests the time in research and patience in execution then packs his gear away until the next time. This is quite different to the way a lot of people would go about it and opens up an interesting view on our relationship with the camera as an object and as a tool and how we approach photography in general.
Yes the camera is just the means to an end, that end being taking a photograph, but I suspect many people, amateurs at the very least and I suspect quite a few people who get paid to take photographs, also take a pride in ownership. I am not talking about brand obsessed fan boys, but as you get used to your equipments strengths weaknesses and quirks you do forge a working relationship with it, become comfortable with it. This is only a problem when it gets in the way of making the best images you can. For sure, it is the photographer not the camera in the end, but we have all come across people who never seem to quite get beyond the prowess that the tool supposedly confers. The fact that this is not a cheap hobby certainly can add to the mystique of the kit, but to progress you have to get all that in perspective.
So when we take our cameras out, even if it is to get a specific image, most of us still snap away at interesting, vaguely interesting and what-the-hell-did-I-take-that-for? incidences of time, geography and otherwise vague intent. It’s a hobby, it’s done for enjoyment. The single mindedness of just taking the shot, ok from several angles with exposure triangle variations then packing up and going home is something that I bet that most of us in the club lack, at least on any regular basis, but that is just a more ordered way of working. Workflow needs a defined purpose to work otherwise we just end up meandering around in the grand scenery of a general waste of time. Then there is that bit with a fancy title, “Post Production” or at least it is when they do it in the movies, the bit when the actors have finished. We might bump into something useful or interesting but it is unlikely unless we have a definite idea of what the final product looks like. We’ve talked before about how luck falls to the prepared. It certainly helps to have that in your mind when you leave the house. Whether it is the only thing you have when you return is either the way the day was or the whole and only point of the day.
With the details of the craft, the technicalities are constantly changing and challenging, the key is in getting them all in order to form an image with impact. This is the art. The composition element is as much a part of the craft as it is of the art, it is I would venture where the two overlap. The art is created by melding of the craft elements to capture the imagination that sparked the interest in the first place. If missing or poorly executed the story can get lost. You can get all the elements of a picture to line up and be on your way to a great picture but is it one that elevates the imagination captures the attention and makes you pause, even briefly? Are you engaged? If you are not your viewers certainly won’t be, almost can’t be, though the visceral and compelling horrors of a murder scene as an art form may not be the best way to win friends and influence people some haunt the memory, others fade. Yes the subject can have impact but the story is still the thing. We’ve come across the phrase “Technically correct, subject deficient” before so there has to be something else.
Soul, Peter offered, quoting Joe Cornish’s work. Problem with that is it is something beyond the words we can use to define it: “Emotional or intellectual energy or intensity, especially as revealed in a work of art or an artistic performance“. Problem with it is what moves one in say, a landscape, as that was Peter’s starting point, is just a pretty picture to another. Also it is difficult to replicate, even on the same scene, but maybe that is the point. Actually, that is the point or there wouldn’t be a market for prints. This is where the conversation truly gets vague and tends to wander off on its own direction, because we are trying to define the indefinable. We cannot touch it, feel, smell it, see it or hear it but we are affected by it.
Maybe for photographers it is Soul in the Aristotelian sense we are looking for. Aristotle was an ancient Greek philosopher and he defined soul as what makes us human but also as the essence in all living things that let us interact with the world around us. That is what we are trying to capture and the soul in the landscape is really the trigger in ourselves and in at looking at what is vital, essential, the thing that makes us, well, us.
N E X T W E E K
Architecture: Meet at Bath Abbey 19:30 hours. Oh and bring you camera. No event at the school.
For some people the urge to travel is irresistible and this compulsion leads to a variety of colourful entry and exit visas in their Passports. Most of those will have some sort of photographic record of their journeys and for a few this will be the thing that drives them most – the opportunity to record stories from other lands of other people as a set of images. Of course we all have our occasion, event and holiday snaps and perhaps we hold on to them for reasons other than their technical brilliance, but to go a step further, indeed several steps further, and make this who we are drives but a very few. A lot more of us probably feel that this goes on the Lottery-Win-Bucket-List (guilty, probably very guilty). Some of us might even use our social media skills to share this with friends, family and the like minded of the billion or so people with access to the world wide web. Some make a living from this. Most don’t. We are all, however, on this spectrum somewhere because we are bound at the very least by a common love of photography, or we wouldn’t be here doing this.
John Chamberlin FRPS MFIAP took us on a journey starting in the Falklands and ending in North Uist via South America, North America, Africa and Continental Europe with an obvious passion for photography that started in 1979. A mixture of wild life, landscape, street and anecdote that made for a fine club evening.
So there is a difference between a (travel) photographer and a body with a camera. It’s not the gear, though John said his was top end (it bounces rather breaks) and that it has taken some years to collect. It’s not just the capability to travel, though being there obviously is a pre-requisite, glaciers and associated wildlife don’t usually occurring in your local high street unless you live in the right latitude – and that tends to rule out things like High Streets of any size, Polar bears being bad for business and not just because of their poor credit rating. It’s not just a knowledge of the exposure triangle and the rules of composition. It is something to do with attitude, not just to the having a “correct” attitude towards art or artisanship – for every one of those you will find a dozen dissenters within seconds – but a willingness to learn from mistakes and successes, persistence, an open mind, a questioning attitude a structuring of a basic inquisitiveness and an eye for framing a picture.
All these things come together in practise and there is something in the act travel that compliments this necessary restlessness. Robert Louis Stevenson nailed it when he wrote: “For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move” (An Inland Voyage, 1878). The great affair is to photograph, to capture the micro-stories in different places, that the travel photographer keeps moving. All this high minded stuff doesn’t mean that the mechanics can’t be learned, but in travel as a category John showed us that a number of genres have to be mastered and that takes time, patience, practise and a critical eye from the photographic side.
From the photographer it takes humility too. John made the point that most people are basically sound. The others you need to take reasonable precautions against, and where as they are out there they are not, generally, the majority. Certainly this has been my own experience having travelled in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East and yes I have met both sides in that argument and I agree with John on this. One of my pet hates on our side of the camera are the Photo-Daleks. They are the ones with the cameras and the self granted right to take that picture anyhow. No contact, not even a smile and a open gesture that suggests you want to take someone’s picture, no idea of a please or thank you, just an aggressive pointing of the lens, a click then off. I am not saying that the candid does not have a place, but that involves a high degree of discretion, a different sort of detachment.
Of course if you are intending to sell your image then there are the issues of Model and Property releases. If you carry a smart phone there is an app for that. Indeed several apps for that for both Android and i-phone, though the property releases are generally ignored (tends to be a planned one off sort of thing, so hard copies are less of a kerfuffle, but should be in place for sound reasons and covers not only locations but props that have a potential or actual copyright implication. We have covered this before on the blog, 20 Feb 2014, and these links might help when Photographing Minors, Photographing Adults and Photographing Property). This is all part of the planning process and in that lies the success or failure.
Part of that planning purpose is also the kit you carry. In a realm of limited space and against the iron law of Murphy that states the lens you need for this shot is not the one currently on your camera, the photographer has a basic choice to make. Budget aside, are you going to take two or three primes or a couple of zooms? Yep depends on what you have to start with, but if you collect your accessories as you go – John made the point it doesn’t have to be new – you can build those choices into your system over time. Travel tripod, a good idea. Filters to taste, but probably a polariser at least, though a grad often comes in useful – though you can use post to alter within the capability of the format you are using to spread the dynamic range, or there is always HDR, some systems have that capacity built in. Something to carry it all in too, though not something that screams expensive equipment in here, please steal me.
As you develop you know pretty much what your style is, evolve your own rules, your own tastes, though you need to be careful about not getting locked into restrictive patterns. Our thanks, then, to John Chamberlin for an informative and enjoyable evening.
N E X T M E E T I N G
Practical evening – Table Top Photography. Bring your camera and tripods … maybe something to photograph??
HDR Imaging. What does it mean to you? Horrible Disastrous Rubbish? Highly Desirable Representation? Something in between? Our much welcome and returning speaker, David Southwell ARPS would admit that there is a lot of the former around but if done properly, High Dynamic Range images are an important tool in the photographers tool box. Most of his ARPS panel consisted of them taken in the demanding situation of the interior of Bristol Cathedral. Thoughts were certainly provoked and the discussion afterwards was more animated than usual which would suggest that this is a bit of a Marmite question, “Love, it hate it, you can’t ignore it” as per the advertising slogan. We will return to this later, for Marmite questions have a hidden truth within them.
David did an excellent job of explaining the technical origins of HDR, essentially boosting the fixed capabilities of digital images to catch a range of 6 – 6.5 EV at best (depends on the sensor construction and other factors), or about one half that of the human eye (10-14). Using software and exposures of the same scene metered between exposure for shadow detail to exposure for highlight detail and the range in between (see here for a much more detailed explanation and on how to go about creating a more natural version of the effect) a single image is produced capturing the entire range of luminosity values in the scene. There is a more technical and vastly more expensive way to create HDR using oversampled binary image sensors. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about that and for the rest of us, rest assured they will be coming to high end mobile phones in the near future.
Some DSLR’s, CSC’s, Mobile Phones have an HDR facility built in, but this will almost certainly work with JPEG’s which have a more limited dynamic range than versions of RAW or Tiff. Handled carefully they can be effective, but as always there is the question of how much control is needed, required or is desired by the photographer. The camera processor and choice of jpeg format mean that certain assumptions have been made at the coding stage you do not have an input to. David left us in no doubt that, whereas process can be automated, shoot in RAW (preferably 16 bit, but 8 bit has got him some spectacular results). Your standard 8 bit image (as used in JEPGs and a lot of cameras shooting RAW) gives you 16.8 million colours (more than you can see) and 16 bit 281 trillion (far, far, far more than you can see). 16 bit gives you far more subtlety to play with, whereas 8 bit tends towards grouping colours into bands rather than representing them as subtle variations of colours. In a not particularly accurate but certainly useful way of looking at it we can say the difference is in the ability to reproduce shades, though the human optical processing system does vary from individual to individual. David asserts that 16 bit is the future and for those interested in HDR and, eventually, all photography, so now is a good time to start working in it as far as you can.
But why bother if all we want is the picture that represents a decent looking image of the widest possible range? Well now this is the tricky bit and where its detractors get dismissive of the technique. Before we touch on that, and we can only really touch on it here for reasons of time, space and the need to preserve a semblance of sanity, we need to deal with that problematic idea that you can only make art through fine motor skills. We have treated with this before (27/11/14) so I am not going to go into it again, but part of the attraction of HDR is to make the photograph look more like a painting. OK this is a gross simplification, a minority point in a minority interest, but that does not undermine its validity. Photography’s inferiority complex has existed since print 1 frame 1 in the history of photography. Both are trying to make that emotional connection with the viewer. If that is absent it doesn’t matter how good the draughtsmanship, the image does not work.
David made the point that it is, despite his determined advocacy of the technique, only ONE tool in the box, a very important point. We all have our favourite tools. He gave an estimate of about 3% of his own photography – and this coming from a man who needs 16 TB storage space in his computer system and a high end spec to match in terms of graphics and processors, memory and monitors. To give you an idea, that’s about 640,000 25mb raw images, if my maths is right, so 20,000 ish frames to make up his HDR section when full – with David spending up to 8 hours getting it right on each one! Slightly more involved than Justin Quinnell’s equipment needs, for sure, but they are two ways of making an artefact, two different ways of making a connection. The other 97% isn’t and that is the point. There is no technique that suits all horses on all courses but the more techniques a photographer can master the more complete that photographer will be. Not in pseudo competition with fine art, but in terms of their own personal development and capabilities. HDR has a role to play in getting emotion into an image, certainly it gets a reaction like no other photographic technique I have come across. That’s the art of photography.
OK let’s not tot up the cost of the sort of system David is talking about, he is a very experienced photographer with deep roots in computing. Looked at that from that perspective it just puts the technique out of the range of most of our pockets in the club. HDR can be done on a laptop using programmes that aren’t Photoshop. David reckons that layers and blending, cloning and careful metering are the basics and they can be practiced in any number of ways. Indeed Photoshop isn’t fully 16 bit yet and the vast majority of monitors out there cannot handle 16 bit data and the ones that do will cost you about the equivalent of the average UK wage. Start in 8 bit and make your way up. Practice, practice, practice the basics. Be critical, seek criticism, put the feedback into your practice. The same points were made by the last speaker.
So let’s come back to the Marmite question again. “Love it, hate it, you can’t ignore it”. That is simply not true. Looked at logically the vast majority of the British public remain in denial that Marmite is a big issue facing the United Kingdom. It’s a clever ruse to sell a strong tasting edible (or inedible depending on your view) spread. If a Marmite insurrection has sprung up then it has passed me by. HDR certainly provokes strong opinions, but in ten years time it may be a capability so ubiquitous in photographic equipment that we give it no thought, in exactly the same way as most people do with most Marmite questions. Depth of field may be going the same way, where the out of focus becomes a filter you apply. The technology has been around for a while, only now it’s electronic. Those that do tend to feel strongly about this sort of thing, feel very strongly indeed, how do you like Marmite?
N E X T M E E T I N G
Your Picture Your Way – Architecture & Artistry. Bring an image or two on these themes and give us some insights on the who the what, the why, the where, the when and the how!
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
Monday June 15th – peaking between 00:30 and 02:00 The Milky Way.
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.
So second entry on our brand new website’s blog – Mark Stone a huge club thank you for all the work you have put into this – and it’s Dan Thomas (dannyt.co.uk) on the profession of wedding photographer. If I were to sum up Dan’s advice on the subject then I would use Winston Churchill’s maxim, “He who fails to plan, plans to fail”. Well that and the observation that your wedding video should always be played backwards so as to guarantee a happy ending.
In essence Dan made the point that there are a number of moments of truth that can be prepared for in the day because they are in the programme and as a supplier to the event it is your job to find out the who, the what, the why, the where, the when and the how it feels and record those memories – and when he says day he means a 12-14 hour shift shooting, three times that in post processing plus time consulting with the bride and groom, and the venues. That doesn’t include time spent in sales and marketing in what is a very competitive market. Yell has 141 listings of wedding photographers within a ten mile radius of Bristol. Even allowing for some multiple listings that is still a lot of competition.
It is the Bride and Grooms day, well, culturally it is the Bride’s day and the Groom does well to turn up at the right venue and look suitably grateful a lot of the time. Surprise weddings are not a large feature of the UK market, those that occur are usually small, attended by the father of the bride and his trusty 12 bore as best man. A lot of, sometimes a life time’s, planning goes into this event. On that basis the wedding photographer does not just turn up at the church take a few snaps and wonder off to the next event as already outlined. This planning forms the key points of the photographer’s and increasingly the videographer’s schedule. Dan stressed that these are unique moments that need careful planning and deft handling. Primarily this is about people, two in particular for sure, but also about everyone else. There will be a certain cohort of the families, possibly once close, who only get to meet at weddings and funerals. The day is important for them too for different reasons and sometimes with grandparents it might be the last time the whole family is together. It is not just a record of bits and pieces but a significant life event. For most people it involves being the centre of attention with an intensity that is not experienced elsewhere. Unless that 12 bore “accidently” discharges. Then there will be lots of photographers and lots of flash photography outside the Crown Court.
The basis of execution, then, is in its preparation. The wedding photographer is a supplier not an organiser, s/he does not run the day as a photo-shoot of wedding dresses might be run, s/he is not the point of the day but they are the key to unlocking the memories of it. It is a story and the photographer is the story teller. It is NOT a small job. A wedding, even a relatively simple one, has a timetable for everything. The photographer knows that timetable and those venues inside out because they dictate what s/he is going to be doing the whole day.
The question of gear was addressed. Dan expressed the reasons behind his kit list: D800; back up body; 24-70 f2.8; 70-210 f2.8; 85mm f1.8; 2 x SB 900 TTL flashguns; Coolpix compact; USB lead; Lap Top; external drive; i-Pad; batteries; battery charger; light meter; flash filters; lots and lots of 16gb flash drives; all kept in a photo-rucksack and shoots in RAW. That is RAW, not JPEG. RAW. The camera backs up to JPEG simultaneously on a separate card but Dan shoots in RAW. This gives the maximum image rescue capacity in case of the unexpected. For one offs such as these where there is not time to go back and shoot again getting the maximum amount of information recorded by the sensor onto the card makes sense. That is shoot in RAW, in case you missed the point. The rest of the kit list is optional and set by individual preferences and experience. The kit is not cheap because it has to work and still carry a back up where ever opportune. Dan shoots all his wedding events in RAW. Dan doesn’t feel the need for anything below a 24mm (16mm equivalent on a 1.5x crop), it is superfluous to the way he shoots and details are only really isolated at wider angles by getting really close – too close for the comfort of the subjects which is the point and beyond that is really very specialist and quite divides opinion. You want results you have to engage with your clients and right in their faces is not going to be very productive.
Details, details, details. Everything is in the detail. It is the small things that matter, because everything is designed around the small details and when the couple view these pictures over time those details enrich the memory and value of the day. Details can be where the cost of a wedding really begins to ramp up. Pay them the respect of an individual frame or two each because they all add up to something much bigger. As Napoleon Bonaparte, who built and lost and Empire on details and detailed planning, said, “Time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted” (only he said it in French). Reconnoitre the venues, get to know the key people, find out what is and what is not permissible BEFORE it gets to be a problem. Dan pointed out that trading and collaborating with the other suppliers can lead to other business. You really want to avoid extreme angles where you can unless a particular shot calls for it, but that needs to be a pre-planned event. Context is the key to all these details. The context will tell their part in the story so keep the context in mind.
The day usually starts with the bride getting ready. This is going to take some time and she is going to look the best she ever will hereafter. As Dan pointed out, if a male you are likely the only male in the room and have been privileged specifically for the end of making everything exciting and memorable. Take some time and make time to take the moment seriously – gravitas! The people around and her own reactions are the key things to capture, the context of the details you are framing and shooting. It is important to be relaxed, to interact and not to overshoot. Get the angles and vary your lenses and do not be afraid to wait for the moment – it will take longer to arrive than you think! And of course do not forget the dress. This should be done as an item by itself in as sympathetic a background as you can make and make sure you do not clutter your background with irrelevant detail. You may be fond of the colour yellow but a finely and painstakingly wrought garment like a wedding dress is not enhanced against the background of a skip. Pay great attention to the background and de-clutter! Dan’s pithy advice is to treat the details as exercises in real life. These can be and should be practiced because when you are being paid for it you are being paid to have it sorted before you turn up. The same logic applies to us amateurs. Why waste time missing shots when you can practise using your equipment to get it right when you want it?
On the grooms side the grooms men and the best man in particular – DO get the picture of the ring before it is on the brides finger – generally have a lot less pressure and detail to attend to. I am told, with authority, that this is because they are male and the day itself does not need to be complicated by such things for us as thinking. That is why there is so much planning to do to minimise the amount of thinking the groom has to do and the reason there is a best man is that between them they are likely to turn up at the right place at the more or less appointed time (which is way before the bride appears – a wide safety margin is the norm). Make sure you are there to be able to document that side too. The path of two committed individuals coming together to make one path ahead. In order for that story to be told the story lines have to converge at the ceremony, the place where two paths become one.
At the ceremony itself, which of course holds no surprises because you have seen the schedule, visited the venues and interviewed the participants like the person conducting the service, you should arrive at least 30 minutes before its commencement. Flash photography is likely banned, you are not going to be given access to places where you are going to get in the way – determine, and if necessary negotiate these in advance – and that can be as much a perception as anything else. This is the point where you are likely to get the closest friends and relatives and a good time for group shots. These are the people that are going to be obvious by their absence from the album so take some extra effort. Groups should be ranked from shortest to the tallest and everyone should be visible (as per the group shot at the end of the session!).
After the ceremony, the traditional confetti shots, get guests to throw the confetti upwards so that it falls from the top of the frame. Dan also mentioned that this is a good time to use manual focus as autofocus can get confused by the paper in the air. The reception can be some distance from the ceremony and this is where timings are important. It is a good time to get the couple on their own for intimate shots whilst the guests make their way to the reception, so a small detour, to a local landmark for instance, might be in order. At the reception Dan follows the bride as a back up to any other plans having been made. It is always prudent, he reckons, to make sure that the elder generation are well represented as there is a chance that this might be their last big family occasion and of course do not forget the cake.
Private moments are important, there will be intimate moments of connection and they will yield excellent photo opportunities. If there is a receiving line then allow 30 seconds per guest – make time! It is also prudent to have wet and dry weather scenarios. The wedding breakfast is the ideal time to get your shots backed up. A laptop/external drive or other device should always be on hand. Dan also uses an i-Pad to upload several of the best shots of the ceremony as a taster and places it where it will be seen by circulating guests – the bar is a good place!
The practical thing about the first dance is that it is going to be darker than a lot of the other parts of the ceremony. Push the ISO (noise reduction is available through Photoshop or programmes like Neat Image which has a very effective demo version), use flash as necessary – reflected not direct. Direct flash is harsh and unflattering. Think wide medium and close shots. The devil, as they say, is in the detail. The details let you control as much as you can without getting in the way by using your knowledge to anticipate and prepare. If you fail to prepare then you are preparing to fail and that has large implications and not just for the photographer. The other key is to be able to relate to your subjects, to engage with them in such a way that they respond to what needs to be done to get the shot. In return you should make it a chore for them, but, either way, every wedding is a one off event – there are no second chances!
Our thanks to Dan for a very interesting and informative evening and to Mark O’Grady for the video which Dan will make available to club members through his website.