The other end of the lens this week, with a presentation by Paul Walker, who has been a model at the club on several occasions, and his experiences as a model over the last five years. Paul has gathered about 20,000 images over that time from the photographers he has worked with, including present and former members of the club and his is an interesting perspective.
From the off Paul framed his presentation within the context of mutual collaboration, certainly within the idea put forward here before (it escapes my memory by whom, unfortunately) that we do not take someone’s photograph, they give us their photograph, or as Jean-Luc Godard put it “When you photograph a face …. you photograph the soul behind it”.
It may not be a scientific fact, but after a while of taking pictures of people, there are certainly those who the camera takes to more than others. In part that is to do with symmetry and features but it is mainly about the connection either side of the film plane. Paul talked about the photograph as a collaboration, having an idea and communicating it.
Certainly, there are two people in every photograph (at least) the subject and the viewer and it is the viewer that we work to engage. We, the photographers, are the unseen intermediaries, we are the mentors and the coaches as much as the producers and directors, we take and shape the light, we work with the subject to make the image.
“If a photographer cares about the people before the lens and is compassionate, much is given. It is the photographer, not the camera, that is the instrument.” – Eve Arnold.
But the emotion, the feelings, the communication all comes from the subject. It is their story, we merely light and frame and take the image, a little slice of time and circumstance that never happened before or since and being unique to that time, but we need to do it empathetically.
Of course, there are the techniques of lighting and posing and exposure to apply but Paul’s commentary on his favourite shots underlined photographer David Alan Harvey’s advice “Don’t shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like,” and that has to come from both sides of the lens coming together.
Certainly, there are differences in posing men, posing women, posing children, and using natural or artificial light and any number of different styles (High Key, Low Key, Noir, to name but three). Small differences between shots are worth recording and studying. And discussing with our model. Let’s face it, an experienced model probably has more experience of doing these things than we do and though they may not be au fait with the technical side of the camera they know about how to work with light from their end.
And if it is all about communication then there needs to be a dialog of some sorts, allowing photographer and model to play to our strengths. To do that we need to be mindful of the atmosphere we are in and the one we are trying to create – pointless in being somber and funereal when trying to create a party atmosphere and vice versa, pointless not shooting what it feels like but shooting what we think it looks like. And always be polite. Be respectful.
And yes, it helps enormously if both sides have an idea of what point we are trying to get to, so time spent in reconnaissance, as Napoleon Bonaparte was apt to say, is never wasted. And it is better to stay positive when things aren’t going to plan, doom and gloom will kill the vibe and as the photographer, we are the key to keeping the momentum going.
It is a collaboration and our thanks to Paul for providing an informative and stimulating evening in giving the far side of the lense’s perspective.
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.
Last meeting and we were on an away day in Queens Square where we were joined by the Filton Orphans Scooter Club for a 1970s themed photoshoot. Huge club thanks to Myk Garton for organising this, it was a good evening enjoyed by everyone I talked to and an equally big thank you to the Filton Orphans for providing some magnificent props. Megan Gearing, Kelly Wolf Rogers and Paul Walker were our models.
Given the colour of the buildings and the fact that we were shooting into that period of the evening when the light turns more blue, I decided to shoot with the white balance set to shade. This warms the general look of the image (more than cloudy, see below) and I think worked well. I remember having a conversation with a photographer a couple of years ago, before I got into digital myself, and he reckoned that shooting with the white balance set to cloudy was the best setting for his photography. Basically he had his camera permanently set on that because he likes/liked the effect. He is not alone in this. Maybe a little extreme for my taste, all the time, but I can certainly see that there are occasions when it makes a strong case. There is an important thing to take into consideration here, because what we are talking about is the final look of the image and the idea that there is a correct aesthetic for the colour rendition of subjects within an image, when there is in fact only a set of choices. Accurate is quite often a word that is thrown around when talking about rendering an image as an exact a record of an object in the real world. In the camera it becomes a series of electronic artifacts, that represent an object or set of objects in the real world. That is to say there is a certain amount of interpretation involved.
With the permanent cloud conversation in mind, I thought that I would use this week’s blog to look at that setting probably most ignored by most photographers because the camera does it for them, in a manner generally acceptable. Ladies and gentlemen I give you the White Balance.
Let me set down at the outset that if you are uncertain about what you are doing auto will work in most situations. Sort of. It has got better over the years, that is for sure. Certainly it will work well in sunlight. If you look at the settings on your camera, even most compacts these days, you will find a range of settings other than auto white balance. The settings themselves we will return to later. The reason that these exist is because light changes colour over the course of the day and we talk about it in terms of its temperature, which is measured in degrees Kelvin. The colour of this light will affect the colours in your photographs because what we see are objects reflecting the available light into our eyes which are converted into images in our brains. Cloud cover also plays a role in determining the colour of light at any given moment, lending the light a blue hue. This is before it starts to bounce off objects absorbing different wavelengths. But our brains colour correct and so we see not the colour modified hues and shades but the brain’s algorithms for determining what it should look like. Your camera sensor records according to the temperature of the light it receives reflected from the object(s) you are framing. Please note it is where the objects are and the light it/they is/are in that is important not the light where you are (unless it is the same when it obviously doesn’t matter).
Well, again, sort of. White is 18% gray in photography, you may have heard. This is to do with colour neutrality. Some people never leave home without a gray card, certainly they have their uses, but they are not a deal breaker when it comes to taking photographs. You can colour correct in post production (yes even with jpeg but only to a relatively small degree and not in the same way as in raw, as the assumption of what the white balance is is coded into the jpeg file when you press the shutter. With raw its more WYSIWYG – what you see is what you get – and can be manipulated over a wider range of possibilities because all the information is left in).
So there are reasons of colour temperature for the settings in the white balance menus on your cameras. AWB – automatic white balance – is a fire and forget mode, just not always accurate. We then move into general categories. Daylight calibrated from the noon day sun, is fairly neutral and the target which the other settings are designed to immitate. Flash is cooler than daylight on tone (has a higher Kelvin temperature). Shade compensates for the blue by warming up the colours (counter-intuitively lowering the colour temperature) so does cloudy, but to a greater extent. The picture of the light bulb denotes a tungsten colour temperature. Almost orange if uncorrected, with a dollop, to use the scientific phrase, of blue. The picture of the flourescent tube tells you that the sensor is going to have the warm tones boosted to overcome that rather cold, sterile light. Then we get into the custom settings which can be used in conjunction with colour temperature meters and those grey cards we mentioned earlier. They do take getting used to to use properly. If you are interested in getting a light meter and or colour temperature meter and have a smart phone they can easily and freely be downloaded from the Android or Apple stores. They seem to work pretty well (I have Colour Temp meter and it falls into the category of useable. Grass is generally around the 18% grey mark and makes a good substitute as does the palm of your hand which will read about 2/3 rds of stop under exposed as a general rule).
As I started out saying at the top of this piece, you can play around and adopt he settings at will. Cloudy and shade have been the two I have used most often (which I would quantify as not very often) to warm up, and it works well with Cotswold stone backgrounds. I have also tried the bluer settings against a sky of pretty uniform grey cloud. It didn’t work out well but there is a germ of an idea there. Whatever you use you will almost certainly have to change the settings when you get the camera out afresh, or you will, with equal amounts of certainty, have some unplanned colour balances when you download to your computer. This is where CSC’s win out. They are WSIWYG – though it doesn’t work if you ignore the evidence of your eyes. A friend told me that, you understand. Wouldn’t do it myself. Of course not. No.
For all of that there is, you will be happy to know, one more universal setting that eliminates all this faffing around. It’s called black and white.
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
NEXT MEETING: Round 4 of the ROC.
Check out the Flickr competiton on the club Flickr page. To be found on the discussion page.
Five images by five club photographers on a connected theme. That’s the general outline for the Kingswood Salver. As a brief it’s pretty wide and that makes it a challenging in more ways than one. Last Thursday marked the start of the 2015 Reflex Kingswood Salver campaign with an evening organised by Roger and Eddie around the theme of collectables. Sunday there was a club shoot at the Blaise Castle estate involving Red Riding Hood, a Huntress (Kelly Wolf Rogers), a Clown, a Knight (Paul Walker), a modern girl (Snehal “Tia” Panchbhai), a Pre-Raphelite (Rachel Pratt) , a Goth (Megan Gearing), two dozen club photographers, one drone, several dogs, random small children and assorted owners of the above wandering in and out of shot as happens in any public space. A busy week and a very enjoyable one, thank you to Myk, Steve D, Eddie and Roger for their sterling efforts in organising these two events.
A busy club night saw musical instruments, dolls, insects, back-lit fruit (you had to be there, and thanks Kevin), buttons, figurines (mainly of the Dr Who variety) and “Stuff” brought along by club members and photographed. Two things struck me, not unrelated. We had a limited time on the evening, but the primary focus of the event was to get people started and thinking along the lines of the competition rules, so both space and time were at a premium (though I have to say the hall we hire is a very good space for our purposes) and my first thought was that we would not have been able to do as much had we been shooting film. We would have needed more lights – you only get one go at the ISO and that is largely pre determined – we would have had far more white balance problems, we would be up to our ears in filters (80A 80B and 80C filters to cool the light and 81A 81B 81C to warm it up for the uninitiated, where A is the lightest and B the darkest filter in the range and for the nostalgic, scientifically minded or otherwise curious link here for the joys and wonders of JIS B 7125). For all the discussions on the merits of film v digital, digital is far, far simpler (mostly a-good-thing sometimes a not-so-good-thing), more flexible and one hell of a lot cheaper. In this case it enabled more people to take more photographs in a given space and time. The club Facebook and Fun Shoots pages had more than a few contributions because of it. A good start was made.
There was a mixture of table top and backdrop photography going on. The lighting question was partially resolved by the club lights, Gerry’s increasing collection of luminous paraphernalia the odd flash gun, reflector and of, course, the built in flash. You don’t need a huge variety of lighting equipment. Those advantages of using digital I spoke of above mean that you can use a variety of light sources. DIY lighting is a viable option for the amateur (and the odd professional I suspect) and LED lighting in particular is getting cheaper and more adaptable. For table top in particular, where you can make your own light tent/box for next to nothing either as a one off or something a little more permanent (beards and cardigans are optional). The other thing you need is a little information on light modifiers and you can easily practice this at home. Using a full backdrop? Then you can make your own softbox for probably even less. This was a well chosen warm up.
Sunday was forecast rain from lunch time, turning to heavy rain till mid afternoon. Yes we got rain, but not until the end of the shoot and there was plenty for everybody. A range of models, good and varied light for the most part and an all round positive attitude from everybody made it both fun and instructive. As usual there were plenty of people on hand to help out with technical queries and the models all gave it their best which made for variety. It is also a good opportunity to try out something new. I found that I could have a use for the 10fps motor drive and experimented with a combination of RAW and the fully programmed setting on the dial. Never used P before (only had the camera for 20 months or so – it has that many settings!), not in too much of hurry to use it again, but it gave me an idea of how it works in a variety of situations and can see when it might be useful. Still haven’t used the 3D setting – maybe next time. These outings are both social and educational. The Blaise Castle Estate (which got an early celebrity endorsement from Jane Austen) has more locations than we used for the day and is a fine public space. The history of it is well worth reading. We used the woodland in the morning and the “Castle” (built as a residence rather than a folly apparently) as a backdrop in the afternoon and the caves on our way out. The terrace of the main house, and the Dairy House were among the locations we didn’t use. It is a fine resource that was very nearly lost.
Next meeting ….
Speaker – Justin Quinnell – “Aristotle’s Hole” ….. Be there or be square. Though to be fair there is no evidence that the hole was square …… Cue Bernard Cribbins, better yet see link below or checkout the events calendar on the club website See link below or checkout the events calendar on the club website or check out Justin’s website.
And the link is: RCC_notice_5 March 2015
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
ROUND 3 Reflex Open Competition Deadline is 5th March. See the above link or the rules on the website for the size and submission requirements.
Apologies for the late post this week, some technical issues with my laptop.
Aaaaand we’re back. A happy New Year to you all. Two things to write about from the club this week. The first was a model shoot at Leigh Woods with Paul Walker and Kelly Wolf Rogers, (and Allison’s dogs Otis and Basil) Sunday last (4th Jan) and the second was the session on club night on the process of mounting photographs.
If nothing else, then the great outdoors in January offers inspiration, even if that inspiration is to keep moving to keep warm! In fact the weather was relatively good to the two models and dozen or so club photographers who spent an interesting and fruitful day in which the rain – if not the mud – held off. Overcast meant a fairly flat light, but that is a more of a problem when taking landscapes than details in portraiture, though keeping the grey sky out of shot (unless dramatic – or plain grey is the desired effect) certainly applies and lighting from the side and shooting when the sun is low are both possibilities, of course. What can’t be escaped is that the light is both cooler and more diffuse. The former can be compensated for via the white balance control on the camera and the tonality doesn’t have to be “natural” – that’s an artistic decision. Of course the ideas of “warm” and “cool” are psychological responses, they have nothing to do with the physics of light, but there is no doubt that the feel of a photograph is effected by its white balance.
Diffuse light presents different challenges. There is no doubt that a controlled, soft light can be a tremendous influence in the composition and interpretation of an image, as can a harsh direct light. The key word is controlled. The chief problem, if problem it is, is the lack of shadow. Light from an undirected source (the sun) is bouncing about all over the place. On the other hand it tends to be a fairly even light, background and foreground, unmodified, tend to be bathed in the same light. This can lead to a lack of separation between foreground and background. This, in itself, suggests that there may be a fairly straightforward option available. Get in closer and open the aperture, either or both depending on the focal length of lens available and the desired composition. A 50mm prime at f5.6 close in (say 1.5 meters) gives the same depth of field as a 100mm at twice the distance (3 meters) or a 200mm from four times the distance (with an APS-C 1.5 crop censor the depth of field would be 0.16 meters from nearest to furthest and F5.6 is a reasonable-to-assume achievable aperture on lenses covering those focal lengths). You would capture an area 71 cm high by 46 cm wide in portrait mode, i.e. with the camera rotated 90 degrees so the controls are on the side rather than on the top (as it would be in landscape) and keeping the frame tight would let you concentrate on the details.
Before zoom lenses it was the photographer who moved, see last blog’s Cartier-Bresson quote, something we should keep in mind. It also makes communication with your model easier if you are not having to phone in your requests for a tilt of the head or a sweep of the hair. More practically the logistics of moving angle are quickly and precisely in the hands of the photographer, leaving the fine detail adjustment, a tilt of the head, a slight angling of the body, a sweep of the hair and so on, with the model.
Flash, on or off the camera and a reflector, you know the one you didn’t leave on the settee (mea culpa), can be a great boon in getting some of the light contrast back into the scene. The flash on the camera can be limited, but DSLR/SLT cameras mostly have ways of altering the power of the flash. Failing that you can diffuse the light using material in front of the on camera light source, being careful that it doesn’t give you an unwanted colour cast. A Speedlight or similar is more flexible, just remember that the needs of curtain synchronisation limit the shutter speeds you have available to you. A reflector, especially a 5-in-1, can be a cheap and easy (if you have someone to hold it for you whilst you take the photograph) way of concentrating the available light onto your subject.
Using Camera RAW and post processing is another way of giving yourself options. RAW leaves all the details in whereas JPEG makes a certain amount of processing options away by making decisions about light levels etc at the image processing stage i.e. the click. Contrast, the available dynamic range that can be manipulated using RAW, is greater than in JPEG and for these reasons many people choose to shoot in RAW as default. There are interminable arguments about this, as you may have experienced and I have voiced my opinion before and regardless of format if you don’t press the shutter the arguments are irrelevant and the shot is lost. Forever. There are options for editing in JPEG they just aren’t as wide or flexible as in RAW. Or you can use black and white either to shoot in or post production. There are lots of options, either singly or in combination to try. So try them! There are also the creative styles that cameras, even basic ones, increasingly have built in, especially the ones where you can exhibit some fine control like saturation to experiment with too.
So your masterpiece has been captured, processed and printed and it’s now ready to mount. Mounting itself can be something of an art and there are little preferences that people develop with practice. There are some choices to be made at a basic level. In terms of increasing ambition we have to decide whether our pictures are to be Card mounted (as we have to do for entering prints in the club competitions, indeed for any print competition), foam mounted or canvas mounted, aka Gallery Wraps. We can even use wood (as per canvas but with some sort of clear varnish to finish) but I prefer the more recycled approach, well we are living in the European Green Capital for 2015, after all. Card mounting is the more traditional way. For club competitions prints must be mounted on card exactly 50cms by 40cms AND a digital copy following the 1400 : 1050 width/height convention must be submitted too. Rules are to be found here. There is no doubt that the mounts have their own contribution to the aesthetic and if anyone tells you that your print has “A nice mount” and leaves it at that they are probably leaving out “Shame about the picture”. Ignore them. That said the mount must complement the image not compete with it, so the most effective colours are muted and white (in various shades) and black are the most frequently found – for a reason. They are not, however the only option.
The link for Bristol Framing Supplies is http://www.bristolframingsupplies.co.uk/
Wednesday 14th 19:30
Club Battle: Bristol Photographic Society
Where: Basement, 12 West Mall, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 4BH (Downstairs Door)
Description: The return match for our club battle against Bristol Photographic. This time its at their venue. Turn up and support us.
From Myk Garton:
WOODLAND PHOTOGRAPHY DAY 2
On Sunday 1st March we are holding another Woodland Photography Day.
We’ll be spending a day photographing models (both male and female) in woodland and other settings at Blaise Castle Estate.
We’ll meet up at 9:30am at the main car park and start shooting by 10am. The plan is to use one location up until 12:30pm, stop for lunch and then shoot at another location until 4pm or later depending on conditions.
There will be a minimum of 2 models. one male and one female.
There will be a small charge of £10 to take part. We’ll shoot for 5 hours minimum, so you’ll be paying just £2 per hour. All money raised will be split between the models.
I’ll be adding more info soon as well as mentioning it at club meetings. We’ll work on a first come, first serve basis. If you are interested in coming along please reply below.
The date is Sunday 1st March.
Any questions, please ask Myk.
And from Eddie and Roger:
“Roger and I have volunteered (for our sins) to oversee the Reflex Camera Club entry to the WCPF Kingswood Salver Competition 2015.
The competition rules are as follows:-
Entry is five prints – colour, mono, or a mixture of both, and must be from five different photographers. Mounts to be 50cm x 40cm as per usual WCPF Rules. All elements of the work must be no more than 2 years old and not previously entered into this competition.
The ideal is that all of the images are good in their own right but must fit together as a panel of five.
Follow the links below to see examples from the 2014 competition.
Our target is to make up 3 panels of 5 with different themes and then pick the best of these to enter the competition.
To start the ball rolling we would like to ask club members to suggest themes based on what we could achieve as a club, we will then choose 3 subjects to target.
We are considering using our evening on the 26th February as a practical night when we would like to set up various still life studios (with a little help) and attempt to create a panel or two based on a theme of collectables. For this we would ask members to bring along items to photograph, more details on this to follow”.