Last meeting we were entertained by Kingswood Club Members Sue and Richard Winkworth and their tales of Myanmar (you may know it as Burma) in a presentation entitled “The Road to Mandalay” and yes after the song. Their trip was undertaken at a time when tourists were rare (it only opened up to Tourism in 2012 after 50 years of a military dictatorship) which presented both opportunities and challenges. 2016 the number of tourist arrivals was around 5 million, in a country of 54 million people. That’s roughly the size of Spain and Portugal combined. Last year Spain had 75 million visitors and Portugal 60 million, to give it some context.
The most striking thing to me was the quality of the light, which was very soft, making things look like the entire enterprise was shot on Kodachrome. The relative lack of industrialisation and the control of population around some of the shrines (limiting wood smoke from cooking and heating) made for lower levels of air pollution beyond the dust that is inevitably kicked up (even though those glorious sunsets are made from reflections of particles in the atmosphere).
The other thing that struck me from the map they showed us was the number of straight lines denoting boarders. Those boarders are entirely artificial, nature, after all abhors a straight line (William Kent circa 1685 – 1748). Well apart from crystals. Many of the pictures Sue and Richard took were in Shan Land, for instance, which boarders Laos and Thailand and the tribal boundaries are certainly different to the political ones. Now these might not be things that trouble the average tourist taking pictures, but a little local knowledge goes a long way.
Travel photography is big business, but it is a big business that is very, very, crowded these days. There was a distinction at one time between the professional and the amateur that could easily be defined by the fact that the professional took for and sold to the print media and when established made a regular income from commissions. Then the World Wide Web and traditional print industries got a pounding from which they are still diminishing. This coincided with the world opening up, air travel in particular became a lot cheaper and more opportunities arose. These days travel photographers make money from a wide variety of sources, indeed have to as revenue streams tend to be small and varied.
Most of us though are not in the business of travel photography. Yes we travel (and that can mean going to the next town or village) and yes we take photographs. Yes we combine the two. When we are photographing in our own region then the general way people behave when there is a camera is about is generally accepted and generally adhered to. Travel just the other side of the channel to France and the privacy laws, even in public places, are a lot more complicated.
So what amateurs and professionals alike do have in common is the attitude towards the subject. You can buy photographic workshops in exotic places by run by professional photographers (just because they are doesn’t mean they can) and the better ones do a lot to make sure that you come back with those iconic shots. That takes a lot of time, knowledge and investment and that is what you are paying, usually quite large amounts for. I have experience of one of these with French Photographic Holidays a couple of years back and it was enormous fun, the food was excellent and I learned a lot. A good experience. In France, it is relatively easy to take pictures of people and places, despite what I wrote above unless and until someone decides you have breached their privacy, which it is almost impossible not to.
Basically you are required to get someone’s permission before you take their picture. Then, if you want to publish it in any way you have to ask their permission for each specific usage. Any object that is created by or is the copyright of an artist, or designer, similarly requires permissions to be published in each specific context. Anyone who owns a property can assert rights of ownership of property and the photographer needs permission to publish. There is no “Freedom of panorama” as such, though that is coming under EU law, so it does not matter if you took that photograph from public or private property.
Then there is the situation in general. If someone objects you delete the image. It is not practical to get the permission of every architect of every building in shot permission. Generally people don’t and the architects don’t sue. But they could and you have to be mindful.
In Saudi Arabia you do not take pictures of women in the street. Full stop. Other pictures depend on where you are. Jeddah, for instance, is more easy going about these things than say Riyadh. In Dubai, which is much, much more western tourist oriented, along the picturesque creek there is a Naval base on the wall of which, in letter about six feet high, it says No Photography. Upsetting men with guns is never a good idea. You do not take photographs of the Naval base. The rest of the creek, fine.
These are examples of the conditions imposed. Then there are the conditions we as photographers impose. The attitude you give dictates the attitude you get back. A simple nod with the camera usually will tell you if your intended subject accepts having their photo taken. A smile and a thank you afterwards also helps. You will see trains of photographers in the more common tourist destinations on photographic tours and it is interesting, even when the scene has been deliberately set up with models, how many bother to say thank you, as if the fact that they have paid to be here yields entitlement.
You can draw up your own list of Do’s and Don’ts from yours and others experiences, both behavioural and technical. Personally I always learn how to say three things in the local language. The first is “Please”. The second is “Thank you”. The third is “I am not mad, I am British”. They all work.
ROC round 1 judged by Ralph Snook, a first tie judge for the club and thanks to him for his efforts. Results will be on the club web site http://www.reflexcameraclub.co.uk/
So, for a change, the second of our ocassional contributions from club members, this time Rob Heslop on “It’s not the camera it’s what’s in front of it”.
Having just upgraded a perfectly good camera to the next model up, which is basically the same except for a few functions I’ll never use, for absolutely no reason other than the shop presenting my with a fantastic offer, got me thinking about camera kit our and do we really need half of it or could our photography improve if we invested elsewhere? It’s easy to get swept up with the latest must have gear, magazines are full of reviews with photos taken in exotic locations by professional photographer which somehow lead us to believe that if we buy that bit of kit we will be able to take that photo. Then there are the debates on the Internet about the subtle differences between kits that lead us to believe that anything but the latest pro lens is just not worth having. Even club members harmlessly chatting about their newest toy or a guest speaker explaining what kit they used lead us to subconsciously question is our own kit good enough. All this creates a mindset of I need an xyz if I’m to take photos that are any good and I know I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to falling for the marketing hype, but the “greats” never had half the kit we do, whilst that’s not to say they wouldn’t have used the technological aids if they had them, merely that they took mind blowing photos without half the equipment we have and it didn’t hold them back.
Which leads me to wandering is there a better way than fixating about the camera, perhaps if we want to take better photos we should instead invest more in what’s in front of the camera than the camera it’s self.
Over the years I’ve gone on various photographic ‘holidays’ around the UK and I use the term holiday in its loosest sense mind as who gets up at silly o’clock just to sit in a car in the pouring rain waiting for a sunrise that never comes before retreating to a cafe for breakfast. Then a couple of months back I took the next step and went international and for the price of a lens I headed over to that infamous photographic location; Iceland.
Having never been before and as this was primarily a photographic trip not your traditional holiday there was a great deal of planning in the local pub using the likes of Google maps and Flickr to pick places (and times) we wanted to shoot and subsequently places we would to stay in-order to get the conditions but foolishly we never planned places to eat, more on that later. The idea was simple; fly into Keflavik (the only international airport on the island) pick up a hire car and drive along Route 1 to the glacial lake, then make our way back taking photos on the way, simples .
Keflavik, is on the western tip of the island meaning we flew along the southern coastline which gives an amazing view of the glacial ice, the black sandy beaches and of course the ocean, all hinting at what’s to come. The plan touched down on what I can only describe as the surface of the moon or maybe it was Mars either way I’m pretty sure I could see the Apollo capsule in the distance.
On landing we picked up our car and I was relieved that the choice extended beyond the red one or the blue one, before proceeding on one of the most challenging drives ever; not because it of the navigation (there is only one road) not because of the road conditions (they were better than the UK) not because of the other drivers (both of the cars we past were polite and courteous drivers) but challenging as we had to force ourselves to drive past some of the greatest photographic opportunities we had ever seen; I had a feeling that it was going to be very hard to take a bad photo.
That evening we arrived at Jokulsarlon the glacial lake on the south of the island, the lake was stunning with icebergs breaking off the glacier slowly crashing into each other before drifting out to sea. They were a sight to behold and presented a wealth of photographic opportunities, well worth the drive. The plan was to wait for sunset, get some photos and head over to our accommodation for the night. There is however a catch we had forgot to make plans for dinner and found ourselves hurriedly eating cold sandwiches and lukewarm soup for dinner before the only cafe for two hours in any direction closed for the evening. We discovered that in the winter the population along the southern edge of the island is less than 100 people and if I’m honest I don’t think it’s much more in the summer, so it’s no surprise that food is limited. Still after a hurried dinner, closing on time seemed to take priority over feeding the dozen or so tourists that had also fallen foul to the lack of places to eat, we settled down to some serious photography but soon realised that whilst it got colder sunset wasn’t going to happen any time soon, to be honest I’ve no idea if it even happened as we were worn out and exhausted long before the sun was.
The next day was spent on the road to Vik about a two hour drive according to Google maps or an entire day’s drive if you include photos stops. The landscape was epic with and endless feel but somehow constantly changing offering a dearth of photo opportunities and it was all ours, every so often we’d see the odd car drive by but for most of the time we could lie down in the road if we wanted, oh and we did even if it was just to get the right camera angle. Vik however was a real treat for photographers with it’s black sand beaches and stone monoliths rising out of the ocean it’s hard to see how you could take a bad photo but I probably managed luckily I also managed to take a few keepers, rather than wax-lyrical about Vik I’ll simply recommend doing a quick search for images on Google, Flickr or similar, as like the old saying goes a picture speaks a thousand words and even that isn’t enough to sum up the photographic opportunities.
The final day was spent driving back to Reykjavik trying to remember everything that was saw on route a couple of days previous. This was our first insight to the touristy parts of Iceland; Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss Waterfalls, not to say these aren’t worth visiting from a photographic perspective, they are stunning but from mid morning on the crowds of day trippers on their coach tour excursions from the city started to build making photo opportunities more challenging, but they did at least mean food was more plentiful.
Then as quickly as we’d arrived it was all over and we were on the plane back to the UK. Sat in my seat my mind reflected back on the trip, the sites I’d seen, the photos I taken, and places I want to go back to, yet at no point did I find myself thinking if only I had that latest bit of kit. And that’s just it, despite what the adverts may imply having the kit on its own won’t magically lead to better photos and it won’t provide you with experiences or stories. So next time you find yourself starting to lust after that new piece of camera kit ask yourself would it be better to invest in your subject matter, it doesn’t need to be far flung and exotic, just give the subject of your photos the same attention as you give to the camera.
Thanks Rob, really interesting points and I am not at all jealous …
N E X T M E E T I N G
Week 10 – 3rd Nov 2016 19:30 – Practical “Reflex Reflects”. Creating images using various types of reflective surfaces and objects.
(Bring your cameras, tripods and lights/flashguns)
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??
Greetings. Overseas branch here, with a short(for me) post on the joys of photography in an ultra-conservative society. I brought the camera with me to Saudi Arabia, but knowing that the opportunities are going to be Spartan to use it. I will have some photography, mainly videography, at work to do and we are going to buy a camera and tripod for that. You do not see these things on open display and I mainly carry a compact on my belt, rather than the body and lenses though a couple of days ago I took it to take some departmental photographs. Not very exciting ones, but hey take what opportunities you can.
The list of things off the menu is long. There are obvious ones like Police and Security buildings, (which doesn’t help as myapartment overlooks the Jeddah Police depot which is huge and takes up most of the foreground from the 9th floor window) not so obvious ones such as pretty much all street photography, especially if that includes members of the above. Property in general appears a bit of a grey area, but people without their consent, doubly so for women and children, is generally considered a rights violation. There are hints of new laws to curb the growing use of mobile phones being used to film things on the street because they find their way on to social media and not in a good way. Camera phones were temporarily banned in 2004 because of the fear that men would take pictures of women and post them to the internet. Surely not?
Aside from the police there are the members of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice who are street level arbiters of public behaviour and its compliance to the interpretation of Islam whose powers extend to shops, restaurants and hotels and even private homes in certain cases. They could formerly seize and search a camera for unIslamic images, and as the presumption in the law appears to be in their favour, they probably still could. I for one don’t want to put it to the test. They are not noted for their sense of humour. Jeddah, where I am based is relatively liberal but all of the above apply all of the time. Makkah, where I work (and that bingo joke you thought so original really isn’t, hence the change in spelling, which isn’t mine), actually outside the city as non-Muslims are not allowed in it (hence we have to take the bypass in the morning to get to work, though local traffic is reported to be very dense and it is probably just as quick) is more conservative. Ryadh, the capital, is reported very conservative. Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, is very tolerant ( I was there a couple of weekends ago), even though the local laws and traditions are similar.
But things are not nearly so simple. You will always get a passing streetlawyer shout “No photo”, but, generally, as long as the above are considered, hereabouts you are generally OK. This is relative. Last night I was the subject of debate surrounding my shorts and entry to a shopping mall. Normally not a problem as long as the knees (considered locally as part of the genitalia) are covered, which mine were. Yes gentlemen it does mean you can now legitimately boast, which is what you were thinking. I must have been in half a dozen shopping malls for various reasons as well as the local souks (markets) and never once previously been challenged. I only had the compact on my belt at the time which went unnoticed and I wouldn’t be using it on private property open to families for the reasons outlined above. The way to deal with this is to be patient, engaging, compliant, smile and play on being a foreigner. As one local said to me, you get more leeway (locally) for being a foreigner. A local brandishing a camera would be in serious trouble, but that might be as much a function of who take photos of whom as of any long standard of polite behaviour. We are approaching Hadj, where 2 to 3 million Muslims will enter the country, mainly through Jeddah airport to fulfil their religious duty to undertake the pilgrimage to Makkah at least once in a lifetime. This necessitates the mobilisation of, according to the Arab News newspaper, the deployment of 117,000 troops. You will understand from the news why this year the general security situation is heightened and there is to be zero tolerance of dissent. Then there is always zero tolerance of dissent here. Insisting on rights that don’t exist is only going to be futile and exacerbating - it is not going to end happily.
That said there are possible trips to Ta’if (pronounce Tayfff) and possibly (and I very much hope so) Mada’in Saleh a.k.a. The Saudi Petra being talked about, but in the ways of these things it’s all just talk at the moment (just need to give it all a little impetus).
The important thing to remember when you go anywhere abroad is that which is permissible at home - and often under challenge even there- is no guide. Forewarned is forearmed and clues to what is and what isn’t “The done thing” can be picked up from looking at what travellers put up on sites like 500px and Flickr, more informatively what local people post. Do your homework, and be discrete. It is you who has to make the adjustment.
Stay happy and hope to see you all soon in the new premises.
Our speaker Ian Wade a West Country landscape photographer, BBC Spring Watch contributor, author of Bristol Safari, traveller and photographer of wildlife near and far, professed to being a graphic designer first and foremost and that certainly comes across in his award winning photography – and even in the ones where he hasn’t won awards (yet).
Ansel Adams, wrote (and I am paraphrasing here) that no matter how devoid the image of human population there are always two people in a landscape photograph – the photographer and the viewer – and Ian’s photography and the way he talked about it underscored that observation and extended it beyond the landscape and into other areas of his photography where he challenges the normal aesthetic.
Dividing the evening up into sections Ian didn’t present a unified theme for his photography, but did give a lot of insight into what he was seeing and how he captured it and that built some common ground with his audience as most people’s photography is multi-stranded. Nonetheless, certain themes did arise.
The first of these was around people. Pointing a lens in someone’s face isn’t likely to make them feel well disposed towards you. Much can be gained by a simple and polite request and Ian suggested that sharing the result on the back of your camera always seems to seal compliance, even if that did involve the odd game of hide and seek! Ian talked about how he framed some of these with publishing in mind and about how it was important to leave space, in these instances to allow others to infill with text and other details. As we covered in last week’s presentation the advisability of release forms for commercial purposes is a concern (for minors and adults as models and property, see last week’s blog post). The UK legal position on taking photographs is covered here more fully. Ian basically concluded that you should if you can get these releases, though the practicality of getting each and every one in a crowd scene to do so isn’t practical (and may not be required – see the above advice link).
In his travel photography, Ian shared a wide variety of locations: Cambodia, Vietnam, India and Nepal were some of the destinations and he exhibited a range of topics, people, animals, landscapes, architecture in each of the sections he addressed over the evening. He related that in Cambodia he had suffered a kit failure and was forced back on a narrower selection of lenses than he had planned, but this turned out to be a blessing in disguise as he was forced to look at potential images in different levels of detail and framing rather than succumbing to the fixed-point-and-zoom-ring solution. There is something to be said for leaving the house with just a prime lens fixed which forces you to adjust your position, to move closer or further away to get the framing that you want.
Another theme was patience. This is an absolute requirement of the wildlife photographer. Ian’s subjects ranged from arachnids to elephants and his kit from a Canon compact to a full frame 5D Mkii. He made the point that there is a limit to how much it is worth spending on glass and that is related to need. He showed some examples of wide angle macro-photography , most notably of squirrels, where a combination of patience, monkey nuts and the aforementioned Canon compact sourced from e-bay, and a wide angle converter from a video camera provided some impactful images at a very close range. Similar results, though presumably minus the monkey nuts, are to be found in his work with crabs. Both projects were shot locally. Ian spoke of a possible future project with the crabs using a fish tank to get both surface and submerged elements in the frame. His urban wildlife work on foxes has been published (Bristol Safari, Redcliffe Press) and he showed us a similar project on swans.
At the other extreme from the wide angle macro Ian has used longer focal lengths and shallow depths of field to not only isolate the subject but to reduce the form of backgrounds to daubs of colour that make the image pop. Again this strong graphic element divides opinion along a spectrum of standout feature to bokeh in crayon, but that is, as you will already have gathered, an important feature of Ian Wade’s philosophy, it appears, to challenge the viewer.
A graphic designer first and a photographer second Ian showed two images that illustrate the point, one of which seemed to work for club members and one of which didn’t, both of animals and both black and white images. The animals in question, a monkey (with a guest appearance from a dragon fly), and a fox. The monkey was jumping across the frame, just the legs and tail visible at the top. From the reaction of the members to Ian’s request for feedback it didn’t really work and the first impression that came to my mind was that it was the bottom half of a failed Qantas advert (yes wrong continent, wrong animal -by which I mean not a kangaroo- but I didn’t say it was a logical reaction, did I?) and the second impression was the content wasn’t substantial enough a part of the image. The second image, the snout and jaw of a fox in profile, was much better received, but there was more tone and fine detail and a stronger presence with the fox filling most of the frame. Ian pointed out that Foxes quite often, as a subject, don’t come across very strongly in black and white, but here it definitely did and got a lot more favourable reaction from the membership. Ian also said that he was thinking of doing a series of such close ups to cover the whole of the foxes body. This put me in mind of David Hockney’s collage of the Brooklyn Bridge, but I am not sure Ian intends to collage the results.
If you want to make a contribution to your income on a regular basis, however, convention does have to be addressed. This appears to be a part of another of the strings to Ian’s bow, and come across in his landscape photography, which still promotes his personal style. “Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer – and often the supreme disappointment. ” Thus wrote Ansel Adams. That maybe because, according to Galen Rowell, “A lot of people think that when you have grand scenery, such as you have in Yosemite, that photography must be easy”, (The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography). It is, however, about a lot more than that. It is about the interaction of photographer and subject of which the photograph is a record as well as the technicalities. Point and shoot most often turns out looking like point and shoot. Planning and persistence, two more, inter-related themes that came across are a very big part of this. Many photographers will repeatedly revisit the same location in order to refine the images in their head and capture those images. He has some fine images from Clifton Suspension Bridge merging from the mist apparently to suspend itself on insubstantial cloud to the church on Lundy floating on a wave of corn.
All in all a very absorbing evening full of hints, tips and challenges and our thanks go to Ian and his partner for making it so.
Sunday is the PHOTO MARATHON and we have competition results next Thursday for the Creative Round.
See you there.
ON THE FLICKR COMPETITION.
Entries required folks, an Alphabetic theme was suggested, but entries to date have been low. GIVE IT A GO! You’ve nothing to loose.