Landscape the year round was Stephen Spraggon’s topic in his presentation “Four Seasons In One Day”. Stephen has been to Reflex before and this was another high quality session. A locally based photographer Stephen makes a substantial part of his income from the Somerset countryside and across the south-west. He showed us that time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted and is a regular user of The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE also on IOS and Android) and OS Maps. Above all time, patience and a lot of practice are key, as, I would imagine, are a decent set of notes.
The essential piece of equipment, aside from glass and body, is a sturdy tripod. Stephen related that all his landscape photographs are tripod mounted, necessitated by shooting at low ISO’s, 50, 100, sometimes 200 chasing minimal noise, which when combined with deep depths of field mean low shutter speeds.
There are hundreds of different tripods on the market and choosing the right one is as much about perceived need, experience and value for money as it is weight or brand. Basically tripods come in two parts. The legs and the head. As with everything else photographic you can spend as much as you like as design and function are moderated by the materials of construction: aluminium; carbon fibre; magnesium and alike. The heads can have pistol grips or a selection of knobs and locks to keep them steady and again money is no object.
Tripods for landscape are probably the ones open to the most compromises and certainly involve the most decisions. This is primarily due to the weight rigidity pay off. Your average 1600mm f5.6 Leica lens weighs in at 62kg so needs a particularly rigid tripod, though, lets face it, the people who are going to lug it around are probably accommodated in its 4 x 4 Mercedes support / camera bag and do not include the photographer. The weight of what the photographer wants to support, comfortably, is the primary factor and that is going to be the heaviest combination.
The variation of weight and the requirement for good rigidity to ensure stability over fairly long exposures in sometimes hostile weather conditions. This extends to both legs and heads. A 3 way geared head, one that has knobs that finely control movement and provides sturdy locking in three planes, means a lot of engineering and materials in its manufacture. That means, to keep the weight down the serious landscaper with deep pockets is probably going to go for one made from magnesium which ensures that the cost goes in the opposite direction to the weight.
Height is also a factor. If you are going to get that vital foreground object in focus you will often have to go in low. A decent height can also save the back when using the view finder or if your live view doesn’t have a tilt facility to it. An adjustable centre column is also desirable for those in between heights. Then there are the way the legs are locked into position, these days almost always via screw locks though there are still tripods around with catches.
So the rock steady, shake free image is in the bag, still or video (video ‘pods tend to be more rigid, heavy, technical and expensive, especially the heads) but a tripod can also help in creating panorama’s by keeping a fixed point around which the camera turns whereas hand holding it sometimes works to skew some uprights (parallax error where the lens acts as the eye). Or maybe that’s just me. Either way slower shutter speeds can be selected with no penalty in terms of camera shake.
The key is in setting up the tripod on the level in the first place. Most tripods have levels built in as do most camera these days. It is always wise to check that the camera stays level throughout the pan. It is an easy technique to get good looking results from. The key is to make sure the settings on the camera are the same all the way through (meter in aperture or shutter priority first then set the camera to manual for the capture) and to leave plenty of overlap. Essentially what is on the right of frame 1 is on the left of frame 2. Most cameras have grids that can be viewed when composing, thirds being the most popular but some have fifths and other variations. These can be used to ensure a decent overlap for stitching the panorama together using the same right left pattern.
Although 180 and 360 degree pans are popular, there is good mileage in smaller three or four frame panoramas especially when the camera is used in portrait mode which allows for more ground and sky. It also allows for greater detail and much larger prints. The downside can be the size of the stitched image, especially with larger megapixel count sensors, so there can be some useful mileage in using lower resolutions when constructing, especially the wider portrait version, panoramas.
Stitching the images together is far simpler than it used to be, thanks to options within Photoshop and Microsoft’s ICE (or MICE) is free and very easy to use for both horizontal and vertical panoramas.
Easy to do and fun why not give it a go?
New feature to the club evenings, last Thursday saw the introduction of Your Picture Your Way where club members brought in pictures they may not otherwise have shared with the club and explained their connections to it. The themes were landscape and street and though the interpretations were broad the insights were interesting.
Landscape photography goes back to the very first photograph, taken by Nicéphore Niépce, and has its roots in classical art whereas Street photography, rather than Street Portraiture which is posed from people in the street, is in the moment and distinctly the product of a photographic process. Only a camera can capture the complex juxtapositions, expressions and emotional connection in a fraction of a second. It is unique, at the moment anyway, to photography and because it is a single slice of time, specifically stills photography. Of course there is the view that street photography was invented by people who couldn’t get up early enough to shoot a sunrise, but we will let that lie.
There are two sides to any photograph, regardless of the genre, namely the artistic and the technical. Landscape can be as much about pre-visualisation as it is about the composition when you get there. It is about nature and the way the elements combine to affect the Earth’s landmass. The way the seasons present and the light falls means that a single view can provide an infinite number of subtleties for the photographer to chose from – or ignore. The elements for the street photographer can be, or at least seem to be, chaotic in the sense that physicists refer to chaos, a complex system of so many parts acting in unpredictable ways that any outcome is as likely as another. Those parts are people acting out their internal and external lives in a common space. The chaos comes from our not knowing how those internal and external lives interact on an individual by individual basis – we may not even be aware of our own balances and motivations – and how they effect those around them emotionally and environmentally. In that sea of uncertainty where we all swim moments of connection arise and those are the moments that the Street Photographer seeks to capture.
No matter how good your grasp of the technical is, if you can’t actually see the picture, frame the picture, compose the picture you can never take the picture. This is simply why a good photographer with a cheap camera gets consistently better results than a mediocre one with the top of the range. There are no qualification barriers to buying expensive kit, of course, nor would I advocate one, but there is no substitute for technique. “Luck” won’t cut it, especially as you tend to make your own as was discussed on an earlier blog on serendipity. Even chaos theory allows that the biggest factor in determining what will happen (an outcome) is the initial set of circumstances from which it springs. Control what you can to discover the art in the rest goes for both Landscape and Street photography.
But not every subject wants their photograph taken and not every landowner wants your feet trampling their daises and not every property owner is delighted to have you take photographs of their property. There are buildings and areas that are off limits to the public and there is a lot of confusion over what you can and cannot take photographs of. Common sense plays a part here but once an image is taken in a public space the only power to legally remove it is via a court order. This is a matter for individual conscience. You should note that laws covering criminal damage, nuisance and anti social behaviour still apply, that access to mountain, moor, heath, down and common land in England and Wales (different laws in Scotland and Northern Ireland) is permitted but the above laws govern those activities. Trespass is still an offence. The Official Secrets Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (especially Sections 43 and 58A) are, with a little forethought, quite easily avoided, though it is surprising and not a little depressing the number of times that the Association of Chief Police Officers have had to reissue there guidance over the last decade or so. Censorship is a fact of life, it is a fluid situation, but it need not be onerous, at least in the UK. If abroad, then it is a whole different ball game. Find out and stick to their rules.
So what did we learn from our fellow members photographs? Well I doubt there was a consensus as each of us will have seen slightly different things and taken different things from each image – and thank you for sharing those that did. So a brief list from me from a couple of discussions I had at tea break and at the end of the evening.
From the technique side, don’t be afraid to use the camera on auto for Street if the situation demands it. It is pointless in not getting the shot because you are fiddling with the settings because you always shoot manual (really? In this day and age?) when aperture and shutter priority modes give you almost the same degree of control, more quickly and auto will give you a more than half way decent approximation in most situations, though sticking to just one as opposed to having a range of options does suggest that you have some exploration of your camera to complete (Guilty. My camera sends nearly all its time in aperture priority because the ISO button is handy and the exposure compensation is the next button to it).
Don’t be afraid to try it, either landscape or street. A little planning goes a long way. If you don’t practice it then it won’t get better. Take one aspect at a time and practice it, be that a single focal length, shallow depth of field, high depth of field, low angle, there are many different things to try.
Look around the view finder before you push the shutter, should you reframe? Move your position? Something else?
All round an enjoyable evening. See you Thursday.
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
NEXT MEETING: Kingswood Salver table top night – Collectables. Bring your collectables and CAMERAS as we launch our campaign for this years Kingswood Salver.