It’s been more than a couple of weeks since I last posted. This is because I have been rather busy and I apologise for the omissions. What do you mean by “I hadn’t noticed?”
We are now on the summer break which means we go out to the club to various locations around the city and sometimes outside of it. Next meeting is at Colliters Brook Farm on the A38 between the layby and the golf course just past the Towns Talk and it is American Cars that are the subject of the evening.
We have done two shoots so far in our summer Programme, the first being the M Shed photoshoot (well outside it to be precise) with models from the local area most of whom have worked with the Dream Team that have been blocked about before. Many thanks go out to all those who participated in what was a very successful evening and was generally enjoyed by all I talk to.
Then we went for a stroll around Bedminster (Bristol not New Jersey) which is where the annual Upfest is held which for those of you unfamiliar is an urban art festival using local buildings as canvases around the North East and West Street areas of Bristol. It is Europe’s largest street art festival and it always leaves me astounded at its imagination and its breadth. This was probably the first time in ages I actually took my camera along specifically to make a record and if you can I would suggest that you pay a visit.
Both events have been very successful and we’ve even seen some members we don’t normally see when we go out joining in so that is really good. Our thanks to the Programme Team for putting these things together, A lot of hard work goes into it, and it is appreciated.
At least part of that success for us as individual photographers is turning up to something where, if we don’t know the exact details, at least we know the outline of what is going to happen. This is more important than sometimes people give it credit for, because we have many opportunities that we can shoot, but we don’t always see them when we are not focused.
I forgot who it was said that in Street photography there are two basic methods, fishing and hunting. In fishing, we go select a background and wait patiently for our subject to wander through it and because we already set up to eliminate things like lamp posts bins and what have we that can get in the way, We have a very good chance of getting a memorable photograph. Please may I did not say guaranteed as there are no guarantees. What we can do is eliminate much of the problems we get with clutter and with things like not having level Horizons through the process of pre-planning background.
When learning it is often said that the best way to do this sort of thing in the street is to use the fishing method. That is not to say that the Hunting method, where one goes around with the intention of seeking out subjects and prizing them out of their every day with the lens, is better or worse. It is the result that counts. Sorting out the background is a basic skill for any photographer who wants to progress, “Border Patrol” as it is sometimes called. This is because there is a difference between looking and seeing. But what we are hunting and fishing for is light. What we need to be looking for are the things that will draw the viewers attention to what we want to capture in the frame.
The hunting method is often seen as a more aggressive of the two and saying that there can be problems with permission and people leaping out with wide angle lenses to poke in the faces of and promoting reactions from startled passers-by, but this is very much in the minority. Could also get us locked up in some countries. Then “Easy ain’t worth nothing”.
So if we started out taking photographs of models and street art why are we talking about street photography? Basically, because we have to remember, if we are not going to miss some interesting things that we could possibly capture, we need to be aware of our surroundings. People will, in urban situations, be part of the scene. We need to see the opportunities before they turn into something we can capture that has something to say. But we need to be aware of that one detail that we need to tell the story. A photograph can only tell one story, our job is to make it a strong one. It is as much about what we leave out as keep in.
Last meeting was convened at the Grand Pier Weston Super Mare for a evening’s photography along the front covering both Weston Bike Night, the beach and the sunset across the Bristol Channel. Have to say that the clouds and the sun didn’t disappoint and the turn out wasn’t at all bad given the weather forecast and people’s work commitments. Certainly the black of the rain bearing clouds in banks and the gold of the setting sun made for interesting vistas out over the Channel to Flat Holm and Steep Holm. Of course there was also the Grand Pier itself, which is not exactly a hidden feature, Brean Down and Knightstone Island.
So this week a little on photographing motorcycles. It goes for cars too but your Blog editor is a motorcyclist, so that’s what we are mainly going with. There are not quite a half dozen of us in the club I know as motorcyclists (there are a few more former motorcyclists) and a couple of us have trekked with our cameras over the years to the National Exhibition Centre for Motorcycle Live and other venues and events. As machinery goes motorcycles are actually quite photogenic, but they are not, necessarily that easy to photograph well. In the street they are either moving among traffic – not the easiest of things to get a clear shot of – or parked on a side stand – occasionally a centre stand. Usually among other motorcycles, which doesn’t always work out favourably for photographers. In more rural settings they are generally a blur of noise and speed, or parked up as per the above.
Certainly shows and sporting events are the best way of getting chances to shoot more memorable images. Also going to and from events like the Weston Bike Nights (Thursday’s over the summer), Poole (Tuesday’s and, possibly, the biggest in the UK) and Paignton (Wednesdays) at a suitable and safe place can be good too. Static displays can be captured at wide angles but the pictures with movement in generally speak to short telephotos. This speaks to both practicality and safety for you and the riders, who, by and large, tend to be quite friendly.
The most important element, as ever, is the photographer, not the equipment, but as we are talking equipment then the statement about lenses made in the paragraph above needs to be qualified. The “best” focal length is probably short telephoto, certainly 50mm and above. The reason for this is that the shorter, wider lenses, add an element of distortion which can exaggerate the length of frames or make wheels look, well, not very round. This is fine if that is the look you are after, but accurate record (side on) shots, regardless of how creative, really need a perspective that 50mm and above create.
Apertures, more often than not, tend to favour the wide. This is because the background easily distracts and it is not unheard of for there to be gaps in the bike frames, especially on classic bikes, where in focus backgrounds can be a little diversionary. In fact one of the best pieces of advice I have been given about taking a photograph I have heard – though it can be a counsel of perfection as with any other – is start with the background first. Keep confusing strong lines and confusing strong colours that clash with the paint scheme of what you are trying to photograph out of the frame as much as possible. Of course, if you are photographing a row of motorcycles then the depth of field might well need to be deeper, but generally a moderate depth of field will allow for some background blur and sufficient depth to allow for the bits that stick out of the frame to be kept reasonably sharp. Remember here we are still talking about taking images of static bikes.
As with most forms of photography a low angle to the sun helps with illuminating the subject, so getting up early in the morning might not be avoidable, though Bike Nights cure this affliction. However, shooting from a low angle is pretty much standard. One other piece of equipment that can prove invaluable is a reflector. You can get a 5 in 1 cheaply enough from eBay (I have seen 60cms reflectors for £5 and 110cms for a shade under £10), and it is a good investment because more often than not there will be areas around the engine that are in shadow and rather than faff around in post light reflected back onto the engine and frame can eliminate the problem at source. Also very useful for other sorts of photography too.
On the move there are a different set of circumstances to be taken into account. Primarily safety. It’s very easy to get lost in that narrow field of view that is the world through a viewfinder but we have to be, legally and morally, aware outside of it. If you want movement shots at the Bike Night or other event get to know the approach roads on a map before you go. Roundabouts tend to be a favourite, the larger ones at times without too much traffic flow are generally good for getting pictures of bikes at an angle of lean. Actually any bend is good that requires more than minimal input from the rider. Lenses will depend on the situation that you are taking the pictures in, but again telephoto makes more sense, especially from the point of view of safety. Of course you won’t be the only one who has thought of that, and some people make money out of doing so – some organised events have cameras at the entrance so you can see yourself arriving – for a price. Whatever the case you are going to have to sort that out according to the location and some common sense.
If you are at a motorsport event then there are a couple of givens. The pro’s have all the best spots. You will be a longish way back from the actual action. That said there are a couple of obvious things you can do about that. Position yourself on a or as close to a bend as you can. Easier photographing a bike doing one mile a minute rather than three miles a minute. Your autofocus will thank you. Actually it will thank you for turning it off and zone focusing (pre-focusing), but more critical is slowing the action down relative to the camera position (usually head on or as close to it as is possible safe and desirable). Motordrive is an option that shouldn’t be over looked but it has to used deliberately. Spray and pray won’t get you a huge amount of useable material. Chimping is a great way to miss the action totally. Panning is an art that requires a lot of practice but if the shutter speed is low enough and the focus on the moving object good it gives a great feeling of speed (which actually can be very low, as per most supercar on road magazine shots). Go out and give it a go its actually rather fun.
N E X T W E E K
Tintern: – which means bridge tolls so lifts etc might be a good idea.
Meet in the Abbey Car Park at 7:30 pm.
Final blog from me, pretty much, until such times as I have opened the Reflex CC Overseas Branch. It will be a short post, you will be glad to hear. Meg is going to take over though there won’t be a post next week as we are both away. Last evening we went to Bath, which was warm and pleasant as any bath should be and dry which is the standout difference from the tub next to your toilet. That and a capital letter wherever it appears in a sentence, of course. Next week’s peripatetic club meeting is at Clevedon Pier, 7:30 pm.
It cannot be denied that a soft sun and Bath stone are pretty much made for each other. I have occasionally watched the Rugby and marvelled as the sun goes down over the city on an Autumn day at just how spectacular it can be. It is the interplay of tones and colours, the angles of the light and its temperature, the degree to which the air is clear or hazed that makes any photograph. It is a basic law of physics that all objects, saving a black hole, reflect right. You don’t hear a great deal about colour theory in photography, it tends to be dealt with as an incidental and a quick reference to a colour wheel and certainly there is more to it than the space I am going to give it, but a little understanding can help when working out how a photograph does or doesn’t work – or indeed might or might not.
Hue is probably the easiest one to discuss for photography because of that much used but frequently misunderstood tool the colour dropper. Hue is measured in degrees (from 0-359) and relates directly to the colour wheel. Not by accident is there a relationship between hue and circularity. The values you see next to the colour dialog relate to the position on the colour wheel. If you want to find a complimentary colour just add 180 to the value (0-179) or subtract 180 (180-359) shown in the box. There are other factors but the principle holds generally good.
Adobe take this further with their free tool Kuler. Now I am assuming that this is the word colour (more likely color) that crawled out of the wreckage of a creative meeting of thirty-somethings’ who just realised that “Kool” had passed to the twenty-somethings’ and their consequent desperate need to prove they still had it (high five), run by a vampire (currently very cool) wearing Google Glasses ™ and loafers who was really a two-hundred-and-twenty-something psychopath with an odd sense of humour who had, in fact, suggested “Culler”. However it is a really useful tool. Dumb spelling, but a really useful tool. This takes you through the primary, secondary and tertiary colours and half a dozen colour/color/kuler/culler rules (analogous, monochromatic, triad, complementary, compound aka composite and shades) as well as having a custom option.
Colour, no doubt, has a psychological impact. If you ever find yourself in a bar where the lighting is getting progressively more blue the closer to closing time, it’s because blue has an end of day effect on us psychologically (note the blue hour) and people are prompted to leave (reddish hues pump up the atmosphere and are used to encourage buying). It can make or break a photograph, there are many times when taking the colour out of a photograph and leaving just tones, textures and lines makes (or saves) an image. There can be some spectacular effects and, of course, in the early days of photography there was no realistic, certainly mass market, alternative to hand colouring. We may not always get to choose the colours we work with in an image but we select the content of each image and colour will have a strong pull on us. If that improvement thing is to work then we need to make it more a conscious part of our photography.