It’s been more than a couple of weeks since I last posted. This is because I have been rather busy and I apologise for the omissions. What do you mean by “I hadn’t noticed?”
We are now on the summer break which means we go out to the club to various locations around the city and sometimes outside of it. Next meeting is at Colliters Brook Farm on the A38 between the layby and the golf course just past the Towns Talk and it is American Cars that are the subject of the evening.
We have done two shoots so far in our summer Programme, the first being the M Shed photoshoot (well outside it to be precise) with models from the local area most of whom have worked with the Dream Team that have been blocked about before. Many thanks go out to all those who participated in what was a very successful evening and was generally enjoyed by all I talk to.
Then we went for a stroll around Bedminster (Bristol not New Jersey) which is where the annual Upfest is held which for those of you unfamiliar is an urban art festival using local buildings as canvases around the North East and West Street areas of Bristol. It is Europe’s largest street art festival and it always leaves me astounded at its imagination and its breadth. This was probably the first time in ages I actually took my camera along specifically to make a record and if you can I would suggest that you pay a visit.
Both events have been very successful and we’ve even seen some members we don’t normally see when we go out joining in so that is really good. Our thanks to the Programme Team for putting these things together, A lot of hard work goes into it, and it is appreciated.
At least part of that success for us as individual photographers is turning up to something where, if we don’t know the exact details, at least we know the outline of what is going to happen. This is more important than sometimes people give it credit for, because we have many opportunities that we can shoot, but we don’t always see them when we are not focused.
I forgot who it was said that in Street photography there are two basic methods, fishing and hunting. In fishing, we go select a background and wait patiently for our subject to wander through it and because we already set up to eliminate things like lamp posts bins and what have we that can get in the way, We have a very good chance of getting a memorable photograph. Please may I did not say guaranteed as there are no guarantees. What we can do is eliminate much of the problems we get with clutter and with things like not having level Horizons through the process of pre-planning background.
When learning it is often said that the best way to do this sort of thing in the street is to use the fishing method. That is not to say that the Hunting method, where one goes around with the intention of seeking out subjects and prizing them out of their every day with the lens, is better or worse. It is the result that counts. Sorting out the background is a basic skill for any photographer who wants to progress, “Border Patrol” as it is sometimes called. This is because there is a difference between looking and seeing. But what we are hunting and fishing for is light. What we need to be looking for are the things that will draw the viewers attention to what we want to capture in the frame.
The hunting method is often seen as a more aggressive of the two and saying that there can be problems with permission and people leaping out with wide angle lenses to poke in the faces of and promoting reactions from startled passers-by, but this is very much in the minority. Could also get us locked up in some countries. Then “Easy ain’t worth nothing”.
So if we started out taking photographs of models and street art why are we talking about street photography? Basically, because we have to remember, if we are not going to miss some interesting things that we could possibly capture, we need to be aware of our surroundings. People will, in urban situations, be part of the scene. We need to see the opportunities before they turn into something we can capture that has something to say. But we need to be aware of that one detail that we need to tell the story. A photograph can only tell one story, our job is to make it a strong one. It is as much about what we leave out as keep in.
Change of venue to a walk around the docks in pleasant company, always interesting thing to photograph going on as it is now a social centre for the city. It being evening and ending after dark rather suggested that we take a look at night photography, both with and without a tripod.
On the face of it, night photography is defined by two of the absolute essentials of photography. Firstly contrast, you have to go and find it. It will either be very low, which can make things muddy and ill defined or very high, which can call into question shadow and or highlight detail, losing it mainly. Then there is the whole light thing, rather the relative lack of it and the effect that has on the exposure triangle, camera shake and sensor noise.
Situation is also key. This post is going to look at the urban setting as that is where we were, which sets a very different array of questions than say, photographing the milky way in the Brecon Beacons. Urban settings have more immediate and multiple hazards, multiple opportunities too. That is not to say that you should go prancing around the countryside with anything but due care, it is a far more dangerous place than townies think.
Whereas there is a joy in wondering around looking for photo-opportunities you are far more likely to find them if you know what you are looking for (planned serendipity). Let’s start with the golden hour. The Golden Hour isn’t exactly an hour, it is short hand for, in photographic terms, a quality of light that is a function of the relationship between the angle of the sun to the earth. During that time the colour temperature of the light is around 3500 Kelvin because of the greater depth of the atmosphere it has to travel through.
Now you say, being on the ball, that makes the light bluer than the standard daylight of around 5500 Kelvin and you would be right. That soft quality of light that makes for good portraits as well as land, urban and seascapes (we will ignore sun rise for the purposes of this piece but the golden hour is that which starts around dawn) is a product of the low angle of the sun to the horizon which scatters the blue wavelengths relative to the red/yellow wavelengths which, psychologically, look warmer to us. Think instant no cost tanning. That low angle means long shadows too that are also softer than you will experience later in the day.
The time it is available is limited so there is a time pressure (though no excuse for bad technique, of course). It’s all in the preparation (a point worth repeating). Cloud cover will need to be monitored and factored in too. Knowing when today’s golden hours are, or tomorrows etc, depends upon your planning window, is fairly easy to calculate. I feel almost obliged to mention The Photographers Ephemeris at this point. It also worth persisting throughout the hour because of the speed the light changes is so rapid. ISO’s are likely to be higher and/or apertures wider and the White Balance, which will try to correct to daylight if left on auto, should be set to cloudy to preserve the warmth in the light.
Not that the setting of the sun should stop you, the urban landscape presents a myriad of possibilities, some of these we have spent some time on club outings photographing. The first thing to remember is a piece of advice from Scott Kelby and that is the last thing you do is put the camera on the tripod. Make up your mind what you are photographing, “Working the scene” to determine the most productive angles. Then fix the static element around that rather than restricting yourself the other way round. Handheld is also an option, depending on vibration reduction/how steady your hand/availability of something solid to brace yourself against or set the camera. Another tip I have found very useful is, when holding everything steady as you can, is to shoot a sequence using the motor drive that is built into virtually every camera these days. Five will get you one steady shot more often than not, though there are, of course, limits to what you can achieve. Wide angle are a lot easier to get results with this way than telephoto lenses which, with exceptions, need a tripod.
The lights in the urban environment are both static and mobile. The very wide and the very narrow are both good for picking image subjects. Cityscape panoramas provide, usually, both static and mobile elements. Shop windows, street lights vehicle light trails. Getting high up, windows, multi storey car parks with a view, bridges and alike offer vantage points. Shop windows make for a great free soft box for street portraits. Neon light always sticks out and often uses reds and yellows which are particularly striking and blues can be arresting set on a dark background. Reflections in windows or water are worth paying attention too. The light sources in the scene really are the first thing you should weigh up These are, light trails aside, entirely static. Waiting for something or someone to come along and add interest to it is really quite logical.
Exposure is always going to be tricky at night as we discussed above, because of the high dynamic range that you will be dealing with. This is one situation where it really does make more sense to shoot in RAW than in JPEG (or, if you want your cake and eat it, both) unless your camera is using a version of HDR with a high ISO and a black frame to reduce the noise, which will be a built in function and therefore not one where you have the data format option, necessarily. Noise reduction in camera will slow down the write to card times by approximately the same length of time as the exposure so if you are going longer than a second or so and/or shooting sequences with long exposures it probably makes sense to turn it off and do your noise reduction in post.
Flash has it’s uses, but not if you are trying to be discrete. Nonetheless, meter for the highlights, shoot camera RAW, accept that post production is almost inevitable in these things. Dark images are not necessarily a bad thing, you are shooting at night after all, but the mood after dark is always different. The mood of some people is also rather different so make sure you play it safe. The tripod is a good idea, of course, especially if you are looking at longer exposures, when it becomes an essential, either because of the generally low light levels or because you want to include some blur in your subjects – also useful if you are putting in some zoom blur too – or you are looking to put some light trails in, as discussed above. And we haven’t even broached the subject of light painting.
All in all a great way to extend your photographic day and pretty much what e shall be doing at WSM this Thursday, with the added incentive of it being bike night. See you there.
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.
Club member David Jones was our speaker last Thursday, taking us through his fascination with all forms of documentary photography, one that stretches back to the 1970’s. Using mainly black and white, but also some colour, David has covered both film and digital and he was not alone when he spoke of the fascination of seeing a print appear in the developing bath. Things have moved on and certainly post production is much cleaner and easier than when using film. Whether that makes the final image any better though is a matter of opinion.
Documentary photography is pretty broad term. It is joined at the hip with notions of photojournalism though is not just the preserve of the professional photographer. To some extent photography is, by and large, documentary in its essence in that it is, by and large a document of record of an event. If you stretch the definition far enough. Is street photography documentary? Is environmental? The main difference, or at least a signal difference is the amount of planning and purpose behind a shot. The documentary has a particular theme, is part of a sequence or series. There is less structure in street and the subject comes to the photographer rather than the photographer finding and interacting with the subject, sometimes over a protracted period. Street photography is all about being candid.
The literal definition of candid is truthful. Within street photography we look for the truth of the instant, possibly more accurately a truth in the instant. Henri Cartier-Bresson was the originator of the term the “Decisive Moment”, when all the different elements in a scene gel together to make something greater, something truthful. The role of the photographer is … well, to be more precise, the role of the photographer isn’t. It isn’t to interact, it isn’t to interfere, it isn’t to order. It is to read the moment and capture the truth of it at the very point where it is at the height of being one thing and the very instant, the split second, before it lapses completely, irrevocably, back into the ordinary. It is the moment of clarity, essentially suggestive and very human, very fleeting.
David showed us some examples of contact sheets to put the whole idea into some context. The final print is just that, it is the process of selection, of exclusion of the ordinary in search of the extraordinary. Look at Cartier-Bresson’s contact sheets, they tell the same story. It’s hard work not magic. Cartier-Bresson was also known to study other photographers’ contact sheets (whilst carefully curating his own) and it is still a brilliant way of getting to know how a photographer works, if little harder in these days of digital. The key to this sort of photography is to be open to your surroundings, be apart from the action rather than in the action, taking time to let situations develop and getting a good sense of human interaction and detachment.
These last two may seem contradictory, but are two sides of the same coin in two senses. Firstly there is the notion of the subject interacting with their environment and the photographer as detached observer. This is pretty much read. The documenter shall not affect the outcome, because then you are documenting the interaction with the photographer, a different story. The second is about what the subject is interpreted as doing interacting with other parts and or actors in the scene, or being aloof, distracted or somehow extracted from it whilst still being a part of it – and unaffected by the photographers presence.
So far so (relatively) purist and, it has to be said, theoretical. Does it matter? Yes and yes and maybe and no (like the Mayor of London, “My policy on cake is pro having it and pro eating it”). Yes because it defines a genre (documentary) that is distinct through its truthfulness and naturalism which speaks to integrity. Yes because by identifying with it we borrow on that pool of integrity. Maybe because as a genre it is a start in exploring and building our identity as photographers. No if the image is the thing and anonymity is the photographer’s aim. It takes practice.
Environmental photography, more specifically environmental portrait photography, is about contextualising the subject in their world. It defines, personalises, the subject through surroundings that are familiar to them. David showed us some examples, mostly deceptively simple, but drawing their power from that (some more by club member Simon Caplan). The subject is more aware of the photographer as a rule than in street photography. This doesn’t detract from the value of the document because what we are trying to achieve is a statement of the individual defined by the environment they feel most relaxed in. To some extent they are showing that off for the photographer, so their known presence adds to the overall effect. The trade, the craft, the politics of the situation all combine to make a statement, much as the photographer is doing. Permission is a far bigger thing in environmental portraiture, in that, by and large, it is harder to do surreptitiously and often is used by business for marketing purposes anyway. It can be commissioned by the individual, by magazines, by organisations as well as proposed by the photographer.
So why shouldn’t we give it a go? Expectation can be a killer of projects and images, fear of failure or frustration at not getting the results are very real. It often comes from lack of technique or an uncritical eye and the obtainable doesn’t seem good enough. As mentioned above, the contact sheet is a good way of developing that critical eye and even if not a single one is a keeper (see last week’s blog) working out why is a huge development tool. Thinking about what makes other peoples pictures work or fail for you is a good start. We will return to this later in the year, but for a short version take an image as an example and have a conversation with yourself about what strikes you about it, how you might frame it differently and where does the light come from? Do this out loud on a crowded bus and I guarantee you will end up with a seat to yourself.
So a big thank you to David Jones for an interesting and thought provoking evening.
N E X T M E E T I N G
Three way club battle at Portishead. Be there for 7pm, starts 7:30 prompt.
Portishead Camera Club, Redcliffe Bay Hall, Newhaven Road, Portishead. BS20 8LH
Life Begins at 40 ….. the Title was disingenuous in that our presentation last meeting was a delightfully in character tour of the 1940’s by Carol and Bob Burton.
Having celebrated the fact that we had our first AV show for a fairly long time last week we get a second. This, split into 14 parts, really did site how it needs to be done in order to keep an audience’s attention. Presented in period dress by the husband and wife team this bumped along at a pleasant pace, was informative and varied. It used a mixture of contemporary images as well as modern images taken by Bob and Carol at the in vogue 1940’s events around the country
As regular attendees of these sort of events, and photographers too, Bob and Carol manage to merge two interests. We all have our favourite things to do and the discipline of making an audio visual presentation – whether it sees the light of day in public or not – is a good way of improving our photographic skills. This is because it forces us to think in terms of sequence and logic and to look at the images in a more critical way. It also, if we set out to make an AV in the first instance, rather than make one of what we have, effects what we look for. It’s because we have a purpose and that purpose affects the way we look at things. We have a story in mind, not that that should blind us to serendipity when something else presents itself, and that we can use to discipline what we look for.
So this week’s potter will be around event photography, in a very broad sense. This is because what people determine as an “Event” covers a wide range of situations, numbers, ambience, lighting, venues and purpose. At the bigger events or at corporate ones then there may well be official photographers and videographers; at hobbyist and life style events the atmosphere may well be very different, more relaxed. Regardless the key to success is having an idea of what you want and the likelihood of getting that is dependent on knowing what is going to go on. Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Photography. Not a cast iron guarantee, it won’t cover a skills deficit, that can only be addressed through, first and foremost, recognising the deficit, then determining to do something about it and finally doing something about it. Repeatedly. Having mentioned serendipity it’s well worth repeating that you make your own luck by being prepared for it.
Yes wedding photography comes under Event photography, but that will be covered on another evening of this year’s programme, so won’t be covered here (and we have visited it before). The sort of event that amateur photographers are likely to attend are less the corporate and art gallery affairs, more festivals, fetes and fun fairs, when we take the wider view. Bob and Carol use of a blend of contemporary and their own photography worked because they didn’t attempt to pass off their own as period. Their use of the modern was to augment the contemporary, but it paid off that they were prepared to go the extra mile to get the shots they need by varying the angles and cropping tight.
Outdoors it’s usually a case of matching your white balance symbol to the cloud cover or switching to auto white balance (AWB). Indoors it can be different. My own experience of the National Exhibition Centre (NEC), for instance, has been one of mixed lighting: 2400K tungsten mixed with 5500K daylight and for some reason never being quite consistent between two successive shots unless taken from the same position and facing in the same direction. That means that shooting in RAW is probably your best bet (unless doing Photojournalism for Reuters where, from this last week, only JPEG direct from camera will do) so that colour casts can be easily corrected. There is also more detail that is recoverable too. I also find that using auto ISO helps when the lighting isn’t even or when flash is banned or inappropriate.
Some people will, of course, never be persuaded that anything other than full manual is ever to be countenanced, but you have to be pretty quick and very confident of your camera controls to make that work effectively. Also it is pretty perverse having all that automation, paying sometimes very large sums for that automation, and not using it. The trick is not to let it dictate to you what you can and cannot shoot, but to know its limitations, practice with those limitations. There is a corollary to this that pays dividends and that is knowing what is there to shoot and under what conditions. A weather eye at outdoor events is a valuable piece of intelligence. Being prepared to shoot everything from dawn till dusk is greatly helped by having advanced knowledge of times and attractions. Then it is, as we mentioned above, a question of an eye for detail, an eye for shots developing, good reactions to shots that are there already, getting in tight on details, showing things in relation to others in broad panoramas and everything else in between – and, of course, try to tell a story.
Lenses are a matter of what you have not what would be ideal, then all lens choices are. Fast primes where wide apertures mean faster shutter speed are all very well – if you have a fast prime lens. Then it’s all very different if you are getting paid for it. Comes back to the old adages that the best camera gear in the world is what you have on you at the time and you can never have too many batteries and memory cards.
Perhaps the best lesson that Bob and Carol had to show on this topic was that you need to keep your wits about you and your eyes open to the unusual or the candid. These sort of things have many of the elements of street photography about them, to all intents and purposes shooting at themed events such as the 1940’s festivals are a version of street, the big difference being you are less likely to get people not wanting their photograph taken. After all if they have taken the effort to dress up, sometimes very elaborately, then they are going to be happy to show it off for a camera. Don’t take anything for granted, though, play nicely, be social, it pays dividends.
So, a lively and engaging presentation that was made seamless through the application of skills, knowledge and confidence of its deliverers who are passionate about their subject and who have honed that passion and those skills into a package that has a broad appeal. That sounds like a plan to me. Yes the appeal is not going to be universal, but if you try and please all of the people all of the time you end up pleasing no one.
N E X T W E E K
How to size and profile images for competitions. A practical evening.