The other end of the lens this week, with a presentation by Paul Walker, who has been a model at the club on several occasions, and his experiences as a model over the last five years. Paul has gathered about 20,000 images over that time from the photographers he has worked with, including present and former members of the club and his is an interesting perspective.
From the off Paul framed his presentation within the context of mutual collaboration, certainly within the idea put forward here before (it escapes my memory by whom, unfortunately) that we do not take someone’s photograph, they give us their photograph, or as Jean-Luc Godard put it “When you photograph a face …. you photograph the soul behind it”.
It may not be a scientific fact, but after a while of taking pictures of people, there are certainly those who the camera takes to more than others. In part that is to do with symmetry and features but it is mainly about the connection either side of the film plane. Paul talked about the photograph as a collaboration, having an idea and communicating it.
Certainly, there are two people in every photograph (at least) the subject and the viewer and it is the viewer that we work to engage. We, the photographers, are the unseen intermediaries, we are the mentors and the coaches as much as the producers and directors, we take and shape the light, we work with the subject to make the image.
“If a photographer cares about the people before the lens and is compassionate, much is given. It is the photographer, not the camera, that is the instrument.” – Eve Arnold.
But the emotion, the feelings, the communication all comes from the subject. It is their story, we merely light and frame and take the image, a little slice of time and circumstance that never happened before or since and being unique to that time, but we need to do it empathetically.
Of course, there are the techniques of lighting and posing and exposure to apply but Paul’s commentary on his favourite shots underlined photographer David Alan Harvey’s advice “Don’t shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like,” and that has to come from both sides of the lens coming together.
Certainly, there are differences in posing men, posing women, posing children, and using natural or artificial light and any number of different styles (High Key, Low Key, Noir, to name but three). Small differences between shots are worth recording and studying. And discussing with our model. Let’s face it, an experienced model probably has more experience of doing these things than we do and though they may not be au fait with the technical side of the camera they know about how to work with light from their end.
And if it is all about communication then there needs to be a dialog of some sorts, allowing photographer and model to play to our strengths. To do that we need to be mindful of the atmosphere we are in and the one we are trying to create – pointless in being somber and funereal when trying to create a party atmosphere and vice versa, pointless not shooting what it feels like but shooting what we think it looks like. And always be polite. Be respectful.
And yes, it helps enormously if both sides have an idea of what point we are trying to get to, so time spent in reconnaissance, as Napoleon Bonaparte was apt to say, is never wasted. And it is better to stay positive when things aren’t going to plan, doom and gloom will kill the vibe and as the photographer, we are the key to keeping the momentum going.
It is a collaboration and our thanks to Paul for providing an informative and stimulating evening in giving the far side of the lense’s perspective.
It must be Autumn because last meeting we did a light painting session courtesy of Myk Garton and guest light painter Tony Cullen – many thanks guys. Every time we do this there is something new and I will admit that it is one of my favourite things to do photographically. Attendance was high which proves its popularity with other club members too. This was the introductory evening and we will be doing some more advanced techniques on December 1st. Of course light painting isn’t necessarily seasonal, but the ever shortening days this side of the Winter Solstice means that available light is at a premium. The “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” (that man Keats again) means a lot more than landscapers getting a lie in. The light, generally, has a quality of its own because of the relatively low angle of the sun to the horizon. Problem is there isn’t a lot of it.
So, provide our own. This is as close outdoors as we get to the degree of control of light in a studio. The big difference is we make benefit of the dark. The contrast levels are extreme, but that is a virtue not a vice. The canvas is light on dark but in a more high contrast way than we see in daylight, where we could argue that the opposite is true (wrong as everything we see is via reflected light, but since when did wrong prevent an argument?). Strobists use flash guns to recreate the flood of light which they can control the direction and beam, with a white balance of its own. When drawing on the black canvas, with torches, coloured lights or even fire, the colour balance doesn’t tend to be a big consideration, at least in the sense of it being something that needs correcting. Painting a scene in light as opposed to drawing a scene with light presents different technical challenges, but can be done with the same kit and a bit of patience. I say a bit, oftentimes a lot of patience.
In fact there are a number of different ways to think of light painting, and where we start, the way in which we are thinking of the images we want to capture, determines the outcome more than anything else. Yes this may come under the heading of “Well, duh” but any technique has strengths and weaknesses according to the situation. Selection is the key. The first decision is are we lighting the subject or creating an effect? Our desired look will determine the way we use the lights and the sort of lights we use. Again, we may say “Duh”, but it’s surprising how hard we can make the job by not prepping for a final outcome in the first place. We might be combining both, after all. What about spontaneity and experimentation, we say? Much better to have an idea to execute and vary than to just turn up having watched several hours of YouTube videos with a load of kit and a vague idea. We may be technically proficient but that is no good if we are subject deficient – the difference between a body with a camera and a photographer.
The point to start, where when who and how because that is going to dictate what we can and cannot do. Use a familiar or scout a location in the day light. Decide what the subjects are likely to be and what kit we are going to take with us. If unfamiliar with orbs, zoom bursts, camera rotations, double exposures and the like the answer is “Should have been at club”. That aside, the first thing is, if not in total darkness or very near, determine what the level of ambient light is. This determines the time we have to paint in. If it isn’t a factor then fine, open the shutter for as long as it will go or as long as needed, then set the camera pre-focused and to manual – this meeting was about familiarising people with their equipment in those modes in order to capture those sort of effects.
If we want a basic explanation of light painting it is that it is long exposure photography. In the dark. The meter is useless without some level of ambient light and the length of exposure is dependent upon what we want to paint in and what we are painting with, that is to say, in the practical sense, it is going to be the product of experimentation. The light gathering capabilities of the sensor are going to be tested, select the lowest ISO to help keep the noise to a minimum (remember boost the signal, boost the noise and that is what you do when we up the ISO). We are going to need a tripod and, a personal preference, a remote shutter release.
Light trails, using moving lights – the most popular seems to be vehicle trails which, let’s face it, aren’t too difficult to come by in a city of 400,000 people – are also simple to set up and to execute. 8 to 10 seconds, ISO 100, F8 on a well lit street, as a starting point towards getting a reasonably exposed photograph overall and, as long as the vehicles are moving even relatively slowly, then some interesting effects can be captured. Vary the angles, either by setting the camera up more obliquely to the traffic than at a right angle, or find a bend or a roundabout to get some swoosh into the picture. Zooming whilst the shutter is open also does interesting things to the trails often setting them off at angles we wouldn’t expect and rotating the camera through 90 degrees during the exposure, as long as we keep the axis constant, can do interesting things to lights in the background (as alluded to above).
I know that is a cliché but nonetheless I am going to repeat it. There are so many variations that we truly are only limited by the imagination and for once, it doesn’t have to be at any great expense. Yes we can spend an inordinate amount of money on these techniques but actually experimenting with the basics will yield some fine and interesting results. I, for one, am really looking forward to part two of our light painting sessions.
Your Picture Your Way, Architecture and Artistry last meeting and thanks to all those who took part either showing pictures or from the floor. It was thought provoking and showed a refreshingly wide sensibility within the club as to who takes what and why. A couple of items came up I am going to pursue because they show the broad spectrum within the club and the ways we individually develop.
Firstly lets establish something that is important for all of us to recognise about our development as painters with light. Not every photograph we take is an exam to pass, even if we are doing this as a living. That way we spend more time in revision than in actually enjoying our hobby/living. The difference between the amateur and the professional are the activities that put bread on the table. Increasingly difficult to make a living purely from photography these days because someone with a camera is no longer an event. They are everywhere. It doesn’t mean one takes better photographs than the other, though we do expect the professional to be more competent – which is partly based on the assumption that price is some arbiter of quality.
Every photograph that a photographer takes for a client has to pass their examination if the transaction is to take place (lesson: Always get the money up front), that is to say every image made for a paying audience has to pass an exam. Every photograph we take is an opportunity to add to our development and as such there will be a lot more failures than passes. Looking at something as a straight forward pass/fail doesn’t do our own, regardless of its state or impact on our economic status, development much good. Not every photograph has to see the light of day more than once.
Every photograph we take is an opportunity to learn. We’ve talked about criticism and its role in development before and we will return to develop that at a future date. What we had at the last meeting was a sharing of that opportunity. All questions based in adding to what we know are a good thing. So we had discussions on the difference between JPEG and RAW (JPEG uses data compression for smaller files and white balance etc are encoded in the image at the time of pressing the shutter, the ability to lighten and darken is about a stop and half to two stops based on programming decisions made at the time the software was written, where as RAW has everything left in ); cropping and composition; long exposures and seeing photographs and were amongst the things covered. Also finding inspiration popped up at a tangent to the main conversations, at least the ones I was privy to.
Architecture isn’t really a topic we’ve covered in the blog and it is a subject that brings challenges of its own to the photographer. Most buildings are, well so damned big. I was at Salisbury Cathedral last week and had I not had a 10-20mm zoom on the camera I very much doubt I would have got the magnificent west frontage in (at least at an angle that obscures the tent they have erected for those who cue to see the Cathedral’s copy of Magna Carter). You are going to shoot in RAW (especially when shooting interiors where colour casts and dynamic ranges may be a problem) probably use post production of some kind and use a tripod. Ah, that tripod thing. Well I know that if you want to get the best quality then you should use a tripod. I was told this at great length by a photographer with one a couple of years ago, at Salisbury Cathedral as it happens. Didn’t have the heart to tell him my camera didn’t have a mirror to bounce around and quite how much shake he thought I was going to get hand held at 10mm at 1/640th of a second at F8 I didn’t feel the need to bore myself by asking. As a general rule I see the point, especially for interiors that have tendency to be dark. Best quality low ISO in the dark means a low shutter speed, low shutter speeds are best augmented by steady camera position. A tripods bulk, even the small ones, doesn’t add much fun to the experience, but that isn’t the primary problem I have with them, neither is it that just-another-damned-thing-to-carry.
The primary problem I have with tripods, from experience and observation, is the very thing that we use them for. Immobility. How many good shots are lost by having the camera on a tripod and fixing not only the view before us but the angles, frames and crops that moving the camera left or right, up or down or through an arc? How many of us actually go: This is the view; this is where I set up the tripod; then frame the picture in those up-down zoom in-out plains? The last bit two things a photographer should do is attach the camera to the tripod, not the first. The last but one is fine tune the frame, focus and exposure (I know that is three things but I am trying to avoid a Monty Python Spanish Inquisition re-run here) and the last press the shutter. It is a problem of when the kit gets in the way of the photography, what the French might call an idée fixe, that is, an obsession that dominates other considerations. Iif the building you are trying photograph allows photography and allows tripods in the first place (Do your research to avoid a long and fruitless journey).
Like landscape, or come to that any other form of photography, it is all about the light. Buildings being fixed will have an axis around which the sun appears to travel (it’s the other way round, I know, but , as Father Ted explained, “These are small, those are far away” and in this case far away and small are a convenient confusion) The Golden Hour works for buildings as for anything else in the landscape, even if the relative geography of the area that you are shooting in can make things difficult getting the angle you want.
Symmetry is also a powerful tool in shooting buildings. Horizontal, vertical, diagonal and converging lines should be actively sought out, they lead the eye and lend proportion to your image. Shapes, patterns and shadows can give you interesting details to shoot when the whole building is too much and should not be overlooked even if it isn’t. Also the use of reflections can add depth to it and other areas of focus. When shooting at night or in poor light, commercial and shop windows often can be used as free soft box if you are utilising a model or shooting portraits as well as adding interest. In fact shooting at night, especially on buildings where the whole or significant parts are illuminated can give buildings a whole other feel than they have in day light.
I haven’t talked about TSL’s – Tilt Shift Lenses. That’s because they are screamingly expensive and for the average hobbyist a waste of time and money. You can always hire one if you really need one. As soon as the camera goes off a flat plane verticals start to converge or fall away. These can be fixed in post production , but you have to leave sufficient room around the building because you will also effectively crop your image in so doing. You can also think about your elevation – get higher up – but this is not always possible. The thing is, with a little forward planning these things can be over come.
So a good evening, with plenty to talk about. next time why don’t YOU bring something along?
N E X T M E E T I N G
AGM – Annual General Meeting. Committee elections and your chance for your say on how the club is run.
The year’s tradition of interesting and passionate speakers moved on and up with an evening with Damien Lovegrove last meeting, which was very well attended. Our thanks to Damien and a feather in the cap of the committee. Special thanks to Damien for his generous donation to the air show ticket draw.
Damien comes across as a life-long passionate and enthusiastic photographer who – and this does not automatically follow – can communicate with an audience. Once a clubman himself, he knows this audience and that ability certainly comes across in his photography. First rule of marketing: Know your audience. Second rule of marketing: Talk to them, not at it. It is all about communication. The story, the relationship between photographer and model, lens sensor and light, lines and shade, viewer and image, is key to the first impression, the impact. Damien does things big. That isn’t just about the size of the projected image, but the way the subject fills the frame. The intensity of the story being told is often ruled by it.
Trained in television at the BBC, Damien retains many of the traits of TV composition in his still image work and, of course, is quite happy to break them when the story demands. His first step out of TV was to bring those techniques to wedding photography. His guiding rule has remained the same. Keep it simple. He also made the point that there are sometimes several steps to go through, which could, of course, relate to a series of images. When you think of a wedding album, which is how most wedding photographs are viewed, there is a chronological order to the viewing. This idea of chronology can also take place in a single frame: think, if you will, of the use of dead space for example. Whatever else balance is something that needs to be maintained.
Damien is most insistent that his photographs are a journey just as he is a Get-It-Right-In-the-Camera-ista. These two propositions aren’t very far apart. That isn’t to say that he has no use for Lightroom but his style of work, grounded in Television which, of course has its need to get things right first time in live broadcasts. The visual grammar then boils to certain tropes (themes): Eyes are always off level unless intensity is being communicated, the brightest part of the scene is always the furthest away (aka the “Bright Horizon”), if there is a lamp in shot turn it on. Knowing these sort of effects and operating them means less time in Lightroom because they are part of Damien’s workflow. The outcome is part of his initial planning and the biggest factor in any final result is the initial set of circumstances pertinent to that particular action (Chaos theory if you’re interested). So if you know what your end result will be you don’t hit and hope, you get it right in the camera first. That doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t shoot for Photoshop, but if getting it right first time is in practice then there isn’t the need to spend a lot of time on post processing. As discussed last week, time is money. Because the marginal cost of another frame is low – and there are occasions a-plenty when that is something to be grateful for – doesn’t mean that it is more effective to take it.
On the matter of cameras Damien championed the SLT (Single Lens Translucent) or mirror-less, he using Fuji and prime lenses both for their compactness and, most importantly, because what you see is what you get. He likened the DSLR process to feedback, where you frame-take-stop-check the frame and the Mirrorless systems as feedforward, (when the result of earlier step is fed into a step occurring later in the workflow – and NO, that isn’t just something that you do post processing, it involves everything in any production process ) in this case frame-take. Time saving, he offered, is quite considerable. Similarly his approach to lens choice is how does it render the background? Is it what you want? There is a range of responses from bokeh to soft focus. His prescription is to use the tools that get the job done. Ken Rockwell wrote: “…Because it’s entirely an artist’s eye, patience and skill that makes an image and not his tools”. Which is true. A poorly skilled photographer is not any better behind a £5,000 camera than they would be behind a £50 one. Damien is referring to the workflow, his workflow.
In the matter of composition Damien looks for lines, curves, triangles, shapes to give depth to his images. Curves, shapes, circles, in particular that which has a roundness to it works for figures, especially when contrasted against rigid lines in structures. He readily admits that what would get you marked down in a club competition, such as burned out highlights, might actually be a feature he is looking for. Shooting into the light and using flash or continuous light to fill in can mean control over texture and tones. He professes himself undisturbed by such concerns if the overall effect is what he is after. Hard light isn’t something he necessarily avoids, it makes faces look wider and reduces the prominence of structural elements. He is most insistent that the light in his photographs have a pleasing balance because, again, it means less messing around in Lightroom. Know your light.
Damien expressed a preference for continuous light, because of the control that it yields. There are things that you just can’t do with flash, he maintains. It lets you set your lighting then move your camera angle to explore what alternative shots present themselves. You can structure the symmetry in your images by changing your angles in different ways, but, he insists, you must never ignore it, even when the effect you are after is asymmetrical. If that sounds complex he keeps to the mantra of less is more, you frame the detail, including how much detail, it is up to you to choose how and why and what. Damien favours working with a backlight and a key light.
The most important thing though, the thing that all the mastery of all the technicalities in photography will not compensate for, is the relationship with your subject. It is the essential that the photographer connect with the person, it’s a working relationship that exists outside of that fraction of a second recorded in an image. It is too easy for the camera to become a cycloptic barrier, to get in the way of the result and in this instance it is worth reflecting on the difference between getting a shot and getting the shot. You can’t share the private moment you are recording with the viewer if you do not privilege that moment you are recording by getting your damned camera out of the way. I said above that the First Rule of Marketing is know your audience and the Second Rule of Marketing is to talk to them not at it. Pretty much the same thing. First rule, know your shot, second rule make your subject part of the process. Then you can go about the technicalities, moving your model, moving your position (eye level rarely is the best level). Shooting from below eye level lends your subject a sense of power. Shooting from above makes the relationship softer.
When summing up his approach Damien made the point that in a competition between perfection and soul that souls works better. Go with what works, it makes for better art. In a link into the next meeting, more of which in a second, Damien advised to look and critique as many photographs as you can make time to look at. deconstructing others work, incorporating elements into your own, is a great way to keep learning and keep improving as a photographer.
And the next meeting is about critiquing. If you look back on the blog at the WCPF nights (two entries) I go into some depth about how to. They are not hard and fast rules and Dan Ellis, who is running the event, says that we are going to look at the basic elements such as exposure, focus, framing and give feedback about those sort of things.
So that we have something to critique, please Drop Box mark by Tuesday a couple of your images so we have something to work with. The instructions how to are on the club website and 2Gb of Dropbox is free with your account. It is also one of those things that you wonder how you got on without once you start to work with it.
See you Thursday