This last fortnight we have covered ROC round 3 and it was our turn for the WCPF prints, where we could exercise our own critiquing skills. This is always popular as members can be more involved than is necessarily the case on competition nights. On my table we got into some earnest questions not so much as which pictures we favoured but why that was so. Agreement wasn’t necessarily required, and we came to our 1,2,3 decisions for each category through a simple majority vote. That wasn’t really the point of it all though. The theming of those prints gave me an idea for this weeks blog.
When we look at other people’s work we are looking at other peoples way of seeing, which is not ours. Sounds deep. Essentially if we want to improve we have, at some time or other, to challenge our own way of seeing, discuss our way of seeing. Using the WCPF and viewing the competition work we can put that into some sort of perspective. Yes I like that – why? No I don’t like that – why not? The Japanese have a saying that if you want to know the answer ask, five times, why? Basically break down the reasons to the core. That teaches us something about our own preferences and we can, if we take note of these things, start to make a difference to our own work through it. Or, as I am sure I have quoted to you before: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder – get it out with Optrex” (Spike Milligan). It has to be a conscious decision though, to do something about it.
Sounds like a slow process? Well it is. Our world is awash of nail-it-in-five-easy-lessons advice, yet that isn’t how humans learn. Sure you can get the basics right in about 20 hours but making the learning our own, that takes longer. Practice makes perfect as I am sure you have been told. Along with “Fail is just the First Attempt In Learning” and other useful things you want to strangle people for. And until we start to take on the critical eye, start taking and rejecting opportunities as part of a conscious effort, we just go round in one big circle until we are torpedoed by our own failed expectations. Bit like the sinking of the Bismarck.
But it’s a hobby. We do because we enjoy. There is no other compulsion than the one that gnaws at us to get the camera out of its bag and go shoot something (in the nicest possible way). There is always something on to point the camera at, the local “What’s On” tells us so. Left to the random too much can get missed or we end up trying to do too much in too little time. Opportunity generally isn’t a problem. Having a direction, some rails to run on, some clues as to what to look for, that is a great way of focusing the attention. Welcome to the world of the photo-project.
In its simplest form a photo project is a theme, a camera and a (regular?) space in the diary. There are as many projects as photographers, it seems, and that is because, to work, it has to be personal. We have to have some emotional attachment to what we are doing or it simply will not get done. The first point to take on board is that a 365 day project, a photo a day, sounds great when we start out but I am willing to bet that most of them don’t get completed, or get modified into something more suited to time and effort available. 30 day and 7 day projects are also popular and are more feasible. Timescale has a role to serve as we are effectively making an appointment with ourselves. The subject can be anything, but has to be something we have to put more than the usual amount of effort to complete. Then there are subject variations like: shoot 100 strangers (the serial killers favourite); A-Z; 52/26/12/any random number Photo-walks; pick a colour/theme; one focal length; the Roll of 12/24/36 (back to the old film days where you limit yourself to a film roll on a shoot); The 100 ISO challenge (fixed ISO can also be done with fixed aperture or speed); manual only focusing; plus a host of others.
Of course there is also the ongoing project, the one that lasts over months and years, that can involve deeper immersion in the subject where the style you develop adapts to the conditions your subject is most commonly found in. Osmosis, by and large is not a thing that produces results particularly quickly, if at all. The whole planned thing gets you thinking. The whole well I didn’t expect that thing we find when we get to a location challenges us to adapt. These two things help us develop but the third leg of the stool – looking critically at what other people have done and why we like it or what we would change about it and how we apply it to our own work- puts what we are trying to do in a context. That gives us something to learn and to improve with.
OK so this is based on a my-best-shot-is-my-next-one philosophy, but continuous development builds over time. It is about DELIBERATE practice. Now practice does not have to be devoid of fun, again I say this is our hobby, not our penance, but if we take Henri Cartier-Bresson’s point quoted in the last blog that “Your first ten thousand photographs are your worst” we miss the point and that point is the our first ten thousand deliberate photographs are our worst. And that is OK. Deliberation is the difference, and that can be as simple as going through your latest batch of images and thinking “If I were to take that one again I would ….” and then doing it. That is where we came in. Five members of a photographic club sitting around a table deciding what attracts them to different photo’s, and why, as a basis of going out and doing something about it.
N E X T M E E T I N G
Club member Julie Kaye on underwater photography.
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??
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.
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.