The presentation this week was by club members who are also members of the “Dream Team” which was started by former Reflex member Tony Cooney, who gave an excellent talk to the club on his time serving in Iraq at the beginning of this season. The Dream Team is a collective of models, M.U.A’s (Make Up Artists) and photographers, some of whom are also Reflex members, who meet once a month to shoot in a variety of venues on a given theme.
This links well into next weeks reflection on how the club has affected two members photography, because one of the ways that we improve is to get ideas and feedback from other photographers. Now it is a fact of life that some people are thin skinned and others immune to the criticism of others and it is also a fact that we are more likely to listen to positive criticism, of which there are two sorts. There is that which is founded in reason, and when reasons are given then we can learn and there is that which is founded on prejudice, the one and only way.
The first of these is worth listening to the latter is, largely, just somebody telling you at length that they did not take this photograph. That which is founded on experience and an open mind may be just as subjective as that which is founded in ego but is by far the more useful of the pair. If there is some form of standardisation to the process then there is a basis for a shared understanding. Mix this with practice (and make it fun) and we get somewhere on the road to results.
The Dream Team’s wide ranging interests and themes and the interconnectedness of the various art forms involved make for something much bigger in the end. Any fool can press a shutter button, daub their body in some paint and gurn at a camera, but that whole Gestalt thing is vastly different when specialists come together to produce a result outside their individual discipline. The inter-connectedness of those disciplines and the imaginations of the people involved make for something much larger.
There is a scientific basis to this, according to research at Stanford University that looked into the difference between finding our passion and developing one. It concluded that being told to find our passion maybe well intended but ultimately it is misplaced advice.
In the short term to find our passion we must go looking for it, for sure. In so doing we create deliberate actions and with such purpose comes results. In the short term, the very act of looking opens up our minds to new opportunities. Open up our minds to new opportunities and we open up ourselves to creative possibilities. Open up ourselves to creative possibilities and we may find our passion. It is what comes next that is critical for development of that passion.
It is the relaxing bit that comes with having found our true passion in life that does the damage. The comfort food of “True Passion” turns sour – maybe it’s our true yoghurt – when it comes to the hard bits. First off, in relative ignorance, we can kid ourselves that we are quite good at this thing, and that we have got it cracked. This is the brain looking for time off and we will get stuck there if we don’t become critical of our own work – creatively critical that is.
Learning by looking at the greats is as old as art itself. Photography is no exception. You can look at your Irving Penn, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams, Annie Leibovitz, David Bailey, Weegee, David Hockney, Martin Parr, Richard Avendon, Robert Capa, Diane Arbus, Alfred Stieglitz, Man Ray, Edward Weston make the list as long as you like, with the internet it can be done. Look at what they have published and have some sort of framework to go by BUT, we are not going to be them. Their time and pathway are different to ours, as well as their artistic sensibilities, no matter how much we admire them. What do we learn from what they see?
The point about that is that it is a great way to learn technique. It’s a great way to set ourselves challenges and that is where finding and developing take separate paths. If we go the development route we are much more likely to stick with it and to use the challenges and frustrations as spurs rather than drift way from something we found.
Collaborative working, under the right sort of atmosphere, is a great way of developing. Knowing the direction we are going in, or want to go in, forces us into certain choices. Again these are better if they are deliberate choices. The biggest factor in this is having somewhere there is a free flow of ideas and an informal collective can be a very good framework for that, especially when ideas are coming in from different disciplines.
Get this bit right and the way that the team works becomes more flexible and responsive to the overall goal – everybody is ending up with some great shots to add to their portfolio. Because there was time and effort put in then the capacity to use these skills, set ups, lighting, composition tools and so on again, under different challenges, adds to not just the photographers, skill sets.
When taking photographs of people, which the Dream Team essentially is, it can seem that it is the photographer who is doing the final work. OK the MUA’s/hairdressers/ got the subject’s look ready, which determines a successful outcome by altering and enhancing where light, shade and attention will fall, and the models give the look, clothes, posture and attitude, but it’s the tog who is determining the final composition. Sort of. Really it is the photographer who has the greatest opportunity to foul everything up and the easiest way to do that is not to take efforts with the other people in the process.
Essentially the photographer has to give credence to the fact that successful photographs of people are not taken they are given. It is a collaborative process.
Slightly late for St Patrick, last Thursday had a distinctly emerald tinge to it, as the club celebrated the Apostle of Ireland with a photographic evening. We were joined by local model Kelly Wolf Rogers and various club members were dressed in (at least) forty shades of green. There were balloons too. And cake. Thanks to everyone involved in getting this event together, it was a good humoured and very enjoyable one. We don’t set so much store against Saints days in the modern era (not least because, strictly speaking, it is a denominational affair) but they were and are a way of setting out the seasons. St Valentine’s day is where the bleakness of winter starts to be broken by wild primroses, crocuses and aubretia (those small, usually purple, flowers that grow in clumps I am reasonably informed, however, to me Hell is a Garden Centre so I would probably have accepted that it was a form of fungal infection just as readily). Saint David’s day is a bit early for our idea of spring but there is plenty going on. Paddy’s day and you may start to see the first of the bluebells in the far south west, but by St George’s day spring is resolutely marching north across the country at a steady walking pace. Warmer, if not entirely dry, weather entices the less hardy outdoors.
We are not short, in other words, of photo opportunities provided by nature, from the very small to the grand vista. Let’s start with the very small. I am using the term close up rather than macro in deference to the technical definitions of such that hold macro to start at an image reproduction ratio of 1:1, that is life size. A third term you often come across is micro photography and they are pretty much interchangeable in any camera company marketing department. A few, if obvious, facts bare illuminating as our plot unfolds. Every lens has a minimum focusing distance. The longer the lens the, generally, further away from the camera that will be. Short focal length lenses focus closer. Depth of field is shallower/deeper the more telephoto/wide angle you go. Smaller than about f16, apertures start to soften out the image because of light diffraction.
So, speaking in close up terms, there are ways of getting more out of your lenses than the manufacturer designed for and each have their pros and cons. You can also ally these with certain software tricks, such as focus stacking, so as to cheat more out of your equipment. Certainly this is an instance of where a tripod is an absolute necessity (at least until you can slowly zoom in video on 4k – 8mb per frame – , or Sony’s rumoured 8k DSLT – 33mb per frame) , but that doesn’t mean that you have to bring the outdoors indoors to achieve it. Neither do you have to go to extremes, these things can be found around the house, e.g. a pot plant, fruit, etc. but also “in situ” as it were. Why, essentially, do we need to do this when we are shooting close up? After all we usually only have space for one thing to be in focus, indeed, often to fit in the frame. The first problem that we usually have to contend with is depth of field. The D.o.F. on a 50mm lens set at f8, focusing on an object 25cms (10 inches) away is less than a centimetre (about 4/10ths of an inch in imperial) on a 1.5x crop sensor. It would be less on a full frame sensor. Autofocus may not cope, so be prepared to go to manual.
Nature, it has been observed, is wild and inclusive, whereas art is about choice and exclusion. In the discussion, very broad as it was, on the last blog, on the section about wide angle lenses, it was stated that they are commonly associated with getting all the view in shot, whereas it is an invitation to get in close. To marry these two observations we need to think in terms of why what we have in the viewfinder is there and also to investigate other angles too. Don’t forget to press the shutter though. So what has this to do with close up photography? More than it would at first appear. In both instances a small detail in a larger context is the situation for our image’s story. By deciding we want a close up of that insect, that petal, those leaves etc we are making very definite decisions about excluding other detail from this story. Coming back to the detail idea, what is obvious in close up photography, applies, just not necessarily as obviously, to landscapes, portraits and so on. We have been told by more than one judge at the competition rounds (next round at the next meeting, f.y.i.) that there is room in any frame for a single story. When we are using wide angle lenses to capture an image the edges of the view become more important than is the case with telephoto’s.
The reason, of course is that there are more chances to cover more objects and those objects could be distracting to the eye. This is also something you can get in the close up, extraneous detail you overlook because you get target fixated. That target in close up photography is the in focus area. We end up concentrating so hard on that we miss what is glaringly obvious in post production. That detail we miss will almost certainly be a little off centre, (or centre of attention). The same happens with wide angle lenses, the wider the angle the more of a problem. Attention can be distracted quite unintentionally so you need to be aware more of what is on the outside of the frame.
Lighting for close up outdoors is also less of an issue and a different set of problems. Whereas the “ideal” light for landscape falls within the Golden Hour, and some landscapers won’t photograph in anything else, a lot of opportunities exist throughout the day – and you don’t always have the opportunity of going back at a more fortuitous hour (and can’t control the weather if you do). Judicious use of reflectors or auxiliary lights, flashes etc (though not the one on the camera as it will fall within the shadow of the lens and will unlikely be reducible to useful strength if it doesn’t) can certainly help in ways that are inconceivable for the bigger picture. If you want to wait for the golden hour, the details in the landscape, even down to the very small ones still offer opportunities.
A N N O U N C E M E N T S:
Next meeting is the Reflex Open Competition. RCC_notice_Ian