Former club member Danny Thomas made a welcome return with a practical follow on to his presentation from April 2014 on wedding photography this time with his assistant Neil. A great deal of thanks is extended to our models Kelly Wolf-Rogers and Paul Walker. Danny is an experienced wedding photographer and his insights on the processes of one of the biggest days a couple can possibly have had broader implications for the practice of portraiture and event photography. Weddings are all about the couple and not about models or sitters and because it is about crowds, venues, individuals and their interactions; because it something that happens under intense time pressures; because you can make a list of 50 easily to 125 without difficulty “Must have” shots; because the more time you spend in post production the more you dilute your earnings. You have to be prepared and it pays to be a Get-It-Right-In-The-Camera-ista.
The chief determinant though, is your ability to communicate and that is what we are going to discuss this week.
That doesn’t mean that there is no room for skilled post production, there is, but you don’t want to be spending it on cloning out errant tree branches growing out of people’s heads and as Danny pointed out, car parks and security fences do not make for good backgrounds. Not an issue if it’s not in the shot in the first place. There is also a potential issue with that “Must have” shots list I can spot, and that comes down to the how and the why you chose that photographer to do your wedding, or from the live view side of the camera, why your client has chosen you. You may be hired on price, reputation, recommendation, random internet search, other personal/mystical/religious grounds or you may be hired for the look you give your photographs – your style. Be careful to find out, especially if you think it is the last one.
You may persuade/kid yourself that it is your style the client is buying (they are going to get it anyway but you really want that to help rather than hinder), but you cannot rule out any of the former and you need to find out how much of all these things feed into your clients choice. The client may even make suitably impressed noises about your style, but this is a complex buying decision. Your room to interpret needs to be set out and agreed beforehand, not as a limiter of your artistic interpretation but as a matter of managing your clients expectations. You need to have the conversation. That conversation is part of what the customer is paying for and conversations in general are what we are going to talk about this week. View it, if you will, as pre-production.
The whole talking thing is big. There are conversations you need to have before and after the event. If you don’t have the right conversations with prospective clients before the event you will not be part of the event, or to summarise in two words: “No sale”. Without going into the psychology of selling (and weddings can be stupendously expensive things these days, and there is a whole other conversation to be had about that in another place at another time) you and the client have to reach a win-win situation where both sides conception of value meet in a bargain. You need to set out the context of the event in the client’s mind. You need to have a clear idea of that context in your mind. You are being hired for your technical prowess, that is a given for the client, but it doesn’t make you right. “The customer“, in the words of Mr Selfridge himself, “Is always right”.
OK some customers are rude, some arrogant beyond belief, some controlling to the point that they are impossible to work with. Photographers are not immune from these behaviours either. You need to have the sales conversation(s) beforehand if you are going to make this work, if you are going to take the client. Some clients are bad for business and mental health. Photographers too. You decide. The client decides. Remember that it is a bargain that is being struck, both sides need to feel the win. Each customer will have different experiences of photographers they bring to the bargain and will have different levels of knowledge about photography. Some will have no particular idea what they require others will come with a list borne of hundreds of hours of internet research. The key, as Stephen R. Covey put it, “First seek to understand, then to be understood”.
Locations duly scouted and noted in good time and those notes reviewed on the day, the ceremony itself takes centre stage. Well centre in the sense that it is, in the modern way of things, the middle of three acts. The preparation, the ceremony, the reception. All have certain expectations and all have their own challenges. Today’s wedding photographer faces long, pressured days on location. The conversations now are more immediate but the need for them to be focused and constant is of the utmost importance. Directions have to be given, but they have to be both accurate and concise and appropriate in tone and manner. A Drill Sergeant communicates accurately and distinctly. This is great when the only option is to fix bayonets and charge. If the occasion has deteriorated that far leave. Otherwise working with people is by far the most productive method.
This is truly where the art of delivering customer satisfaction lies. Communicating with people who are not used to having their photograph taken at an event that is not about the photography until everything is done and dusted is precisely what this is about. You have to find those small windows in the timeline to take charge but not to give offence. This takes practice. Some people are better at this than others, agreed, but this is just a start. Going back to Covey again you need, as he set out, to “Sharpen the saw”. That means you need to keep practicing, the photography and the talking to people – when was the last time you took the camera out just to practice a certain technique? Let them know what is going on – don’t give them rambling explanations of your artistic vision. “Can you …I need you to … That will look great if you ….” and so on. And feedback. And encouragement. Encouraging feedback is twice as good.
The presentation phase can be the most nerve-wracking of all, after all there is no going back. It is still a communication process. If you want feedback, if you want customer recommendations and referrals, if you want to develop your business and your photographic practice then you have to engage with the client in order to leave the door open to future business. Just giving them a link to a Dropbox folder does not cut the mustard. You are selling a service. You may create a product, but you are selling a service. The thing about a service is it stops when you stop delivering it. The legacy is highly individualised, no two photographs are ever exactly the same because they are two different moments in history. Services are perishable and non standard. That’s why communication is such a big part of the deal.
N E X T M E E T I N G
ROC Round 4 – Judgement Day.
Apologies for late posting, certain technical problems rather got in the way.
Portishead Marina was our destination this week where the old Power Station has been demolished and developed into a series of housing developments around the old harbour. Portishead’s two other claims to fame are the band of the same name and the fact that the first Trans Atlantic wireless signal was received here and it became a famous name in maritime communication with the developments that followed it. No big beach to speak of, unlike last week at Weston Super Mare, nor any motorcycle show of any size, at least that I could see. Certainly there were more boats than to be found at Weston and more expensive ones at that. The weather was better too, in terms of the amount of sunshine, but that brings challenges of its own. A good walk around in good company and a discussion on depth of field, exposure locking and back button focusing. I will deal with back button focusing next week along with exposure locking, but this week it’s about what is in focus and why….
Depth of Field is often blithely referred to as if you can’t be a photographer without it (whereas you can’t be a photographer only without something to focus light and fix an image in reality). Certainly if you aim to take your photography more seriously and you are using something with variable aperture glass, then depth of field (DoF as we shall refer to it from here on) is something you need to be able to manipulate to enhance your images. In this way it is a third dimensional compositional aid (which is no mean thing in a two dimensional field). It is also one of the first skills that we master.
Your lens only really focuses on one point, think of it as the pin point in pin sharp and what we refer to as DoF is that part of the image we find to be “Acceptably sharp” i.e. it looks in focus. The brain acting on what the eyes transmit to it makes that decision with small variations from individual to individual but we can generally agree on what is and isn’t in “focus”. This is known as “The Circle of Confusion” (I trust you haven’t joined it yet) or more, accurately the “Acceptable Circle of Confusion”, that part of the image that our brains process as being the same or indistinguishable from the actual point that the lens focused on. When we talk about an image being soft we are talking about the margins of what we perceive as being acceptably sharp which is at or beyond the limits of the circle of confusion, but transitions are gradual and there is no defined point at which sharp becomes unsharp and vice versa. DoF is what we see in an image from the closest to the furthest point we see as being sharp (within the acceptable circle of confusion).
Using a lens with a variable aperture we can vary the circle of confusion. Aperture is the size of the hole that we squeeze the light through in our lenses on its way to the sensor. It acts as a regulator on how much light gets through. What fraction of the available light gets through we measure in F-Stops. F stands for focal and it’s the amount of light that is getting stopped. Hence F-Stop. This also determines how much in front and behind the focus point is acceptably sharp. The F-Stop tells you exactly how big the hole is that is letting the light through. It is calculated by dividing the lens focal length by the apertures diameter. So a 50mm lens at F8 gives you an aperture diameter of 6.25mm. A 135mm lens at F8 yields an aperture of 16.88mm. Of most interest to lens manufacturers, but it does stand for something important that we otherwise take for granted. And also it relates to that question that is forming in the back of your mind.
But why isn’t DoF the same on all lenses? Good question and it’s down to the DoF and its relation to the DoF. What? There are two? Oh yes indeed, the Depth of Field is directly linked to the Depth of Focus of a lens. As photographers we are interested in Depth of Field, but it would not be possible without lens designers understanding Depth of Focus (and that’s not helped by the fact that a lot of people think they are the same thing). Depth of Focus is easiest thought of as the point at which the lens you have on the camera places the focal point. Remember that a lens actually only focuses one precise distance (point), that pin point in pin sharp, and what we accept as being in focus is down to the Circle of Confusion. The smaller the pin point in relation to the circle of confusion the deeper the depth of field. The larger the shallower. That’s why your small sensor compact camera has a deeper depth of field at any given aperture than your APS-C sensor DSLR, which is deeper than your 35mm “Full Frame” sensor and why you will see F128 on a 10 x 8 inch plate camera lens but not on any of the others in this list. Aperture also controls the circle of confusion.
On the top of most (all?) DSLT/DSLR camera bodies somewhere is etched a circle with a line through it. This isn’t for decoration it tells you whereabouts in relation to the rest of the camera body the sensor plane, aka film plane is. The sensor to the end of the body, the bit where you attach your lens most importantly, is a fixed distance. This allows you to attach different lenses of different focal lengths to the same camera body and the focusing ring/auto focus mechanism moves that fixed point backwards and forwards. When we see an object in focus it means that the three things that determine what is in focus, are all aligned, (aperture focal length and the distance to the object) in relation to the fixed point that is the sensor plane and accommodated by the acceptable circle of confusion. When the pin point in pin sharp is in front of or behind the sensor and beyond the circle of confusion your object appears out of focus.
So much, so theoretical. How can we turn this into something practical? Well with something that sounds as if you need tablets for, hyper focal distance. Hyper Focal Distance is much loved by landscapers, but that isn’t the only time you can use it. Essentially it is based on the mathematics of the sensor size, depth of focus and depth of field and is the closest distance a lens can be focused that yields sharpness at infinity at a given aperture. Now infinity is a theoretical concept which, in practice, means the horizon, or the furthest point in the frame from the camera. You can use your lens’s distance scale – if it has one, if it doesn’t you can’t – and on longer lenses this is probably the best option. On the shorter ones, especially wide angle lenses, a tape measure, or I use the length of my pace (2 steps is 5 feet but only 10 toes) as the Hyper Focal Distance is shorter with wide angle lenses. A lazer measure might be a reasonable investment if you do a lot of this.
My 8mm I just set at 2 feet and snap away. Everything is in focus from 50cm (19.5 inches) to infinity at f4 when the lens is focused at 3 feet (actually 38.5 inches, or 0.98 m). Do a lot of it then a laser range finder might well be a good investment. The 50mm lens, or a zoom set at 50mm, has a hyper focal distance of 39m (19m to infinity) at f4, A 135mm, set at f4 has a hyper focal distance of 278m (139m and beyond).
But how do we know what distance is hyper focal? Well we need to know the sensor size, focal length and aperture. If you have a smart phone, then you can get a hyper focal distance calculator with something like Photo Tools (Android and I-Phone, free), or you can memorise the relevant distance from tables suitable for your lenses (and crop factor) – it helps that there is a linear relationship between distance and aperture, so whatever the hyperfocal distance at an aperture of f2.8 it will be half that at f5.6 a quarter at f11. As long as you know what the distance is with your lens wide open you can work it out for other apertures. As lenses tend to be at their crispest all round between f8 and f11 that is probably a good place to commit to memory for the times when you don’t have the tables to hand.
It is surprising just how useful hyper focal distance can be. Try it this Thursday when we shall be meeting outside the main doors of Bath Abbey at 19:00 (7pm).
The WCPF Travelling Critique did a sterling job of standing in without our scheduled speaker last meeting when we looked at the club competition for projected images won by Dorchester narrowly beating Bristol Photographic Society. It suggests two strands I want to discuss in this weeks’ blog. At the end of the series and before we went onto the 10×10 and Mark’s mini photoshop tutorial (thanks to Wendy G, Mark S and Eddie H for making that possible), I was put in mind of my grandfather’s culinary maxim, one which I think will stand for any man not prepared to waste time stuffing a mushroom, that “When it’s brown it’s done, when, it’s black it’s bugg***d”. It has served me well, though black pudding is something of a contentious area. It came to mind given the amount of, admittedly very well executed, post production work that, on the brown-black ancestral culinary continuum (hence forth the BBACC) suggested above, was certainly more brown than black but does that still leave it fundamentally bugg***d?
I have alluded before to the factions of Ye-Acolytes-of-Photoshop and the Get-It-Right-In-the-Camera-istas and in truth both have an argument in context – Dan Thomas (www.danyt.co.uk) talked about the removal of noise when using high ISO’s from poorly lit weddings i.e. when you are being paid to get the shot in conditions that are presented to you and certainly I can’t see a sensible argument against that; I talked about taking time to get it right in the camera when you have the time and luxury of a product shot in a controlled situation and though I am often to be found arguing with myself, I hold to that opinion as a start point. “The right way” (as alluded to in Sir Ken Robinson’s oh-so-right TED talk recorded a couple of years back) is a dangerous place to start in any creative endeavour, so often it is about defending the dominant way, so when we have categories and standards are we enforcing a “right way” that has more to do with fashion than correctness?
From the last WCPF post on prints I suggested that there are frameworks that can be used to give a logical and comparable basis for talking about images and I suggested a funnel that states your:
- First, broad, emotions when presented with the image (because of my….)
- Likes/Dislikes (because they….)
- Provoke these thoughts and feelings (because the handling of…)
- The technical aspects – light/focus/foreign objects/crop/exposure/saturation etc show and – (because the ….)
- Overall artistic impressions of composition, colour, subject matter lead to …. (because these)
- Particular aspects appeal … and (because…)
- Adjusting these aspects would change the image by … (and this all adds up to the image communicating …. because)
- Of these technical and artistic merits.
I don’t claim particular authorship of it – it’s an adaption of something I was given for appreciating poetry some years ago and there is a very similar version on Wikihow, on Examiner.com on expertphotograpahy.com a dozen other sites at least and on the Anthony Morganti YouTube Channel to name but a few. What it is, is a way of being consistent about approaching looking at photographs. So far so not news. It is why there are training panels for WCPF judges (among others) why there are advice notes for RPS distinction panels, et cetera, et cetera. However, as we all know, as soon as you put someone else in the frame, viewer, judge, then the subjective elements become more contentious.
So how do these two things tie in? There were some very well executed images that were patently unnatural in their presentation. So what? All images are artefacts, something made by artificial means. There were some very natural looking images that one suspects were expertly manipulated – despite the WCPF’s best efforts to present the lowest quality image compatible with projection and partially at least, rather diminishing the technical angles, but such is the world of copyright theft that I understand why they do it. So what was being judged, the photography or the post processing?
In part that isn’t really a fair question. A very high percentage of club, any club, photography will have some degree of post production so the only logical answer to the question is both. When viewing a “finished” image it is the final product we judge because it is the final product we are presented with. That is a pretty sterile, and somewhat circular (it is what it is because it is), argument. Move it a little and we might find another answer. Are we judging camera skills and computer skills? Is photography, in the competitive sense, now about painting with light and manipulating with image editing programmes and what is the balance?
This isn’t just idle speculation – only a few of us are capable at our current development levels of producing images as consistently good as the ones that were on display. This actually goes to the heart of club competitions. The judges we have had have all – well those who turned up, anyway – made the point that there are only small gaps between the best of the novice and the advanced category pictures. This in turn begs the question why have the two categories? I believe that there is a need for two categories and that lies in the diminishing number of entries to the competitions – novice print is all but dead on its feet. That is possibly a sign of times and the print/projection categories may no longer be meaningful. It shouldn’t mask the possibility that entering a competition that you have no chance of winning is a futile exercise for some – why put yourself up for a public slating? It isn’t futile, but that comes back to the points made by Sir Ken Robinson and the attitudes to “failure”. The only way we truly fail that way is to not engage, but we want to get it “right”.
This is where the idea of a standard becomes useful. The things you have to get technically correct (in camera preferably) but can also be helped along with a little post processing voodoo. There are compositional things that may look good as t-shirt slogans such as: “Viva the rule of thirds” “Fifths are for Landscapers!” and “Remember the Golden sections!”; “Long Live the harmonies of the colour wheel”; “The midday sun is for siesta not photography”, “Diagonals are dramatic darling”! “Eliminate dead space!”; “Don’t put your subject in the middle of the frame, Mrs Robinson!” and so on. All of which I have and you have, seen smashed to good effect. The general rule still remains you have to be able to make it before you can break it and so, like the appreciation framework, this gives us a guide.
We take those competition rules and we put them into our images and we enter the images into club competitions and get feedback from people who have a lot of experience at giving feedback (even if it is difficult to overcome some of their all too obvious dis/liking for some subjects and treatments). We use that feedback to get our next competition image better regarded. We take all the feedback from all the images in the competitions and we try them out on our own. This is where the community aspect of the club comes in. We enter the competitions to get help others as well as ourselves and the creative sessions and the competitions and the presentations all come together. It has to be a balance between the art and the craft and the competitions. The more entries the better in this regard. Where’s yours?
Small steps, but ones that get us to see more before we press the shutter. We know when this has taken effect when we start framing everyday things in our minds eye as if it were through a view finder – and most of us carry a camera of some sort pretty much every day. And does it matter about the amount of post-production? Well, as a rule of thumb, when it’s brown it’s done, when it’s black, it’s bugg***d.
NEXT WEEK Club Annual General Meeting.
Tutorial on Low Light, Long Exposure, Cityscapes & Architecture
This Thursday Richard Price & Mark Stone are going to give you a tutorial on Long Exposures, Low Light, Cityscapes & Architecture Photography. They’ll be talking you through the equipment that you’ll need and showing examples of their work. You’ll be able to ask questions and learn how they construct their images from setting up the shot, composition and how they take the Photograph so that it fits in with how they want to process it. You’ll probably be surprised by the look of the pictures when they come out of the camera but they are purposely taken to have the most data within the image file to make processing them easier. They’ll explain why it’s just as, if not more, important to consider what is going to be done to the image after it’s been taken than when you’re about to press the shutter button.
Confused? Don’t worry all will be revealed.