Ian Wade was our return guest speaker and showed his grit fighting a cough that was progressively stealing his voice. Our thanks for your dedication and persistence and congratulations on getting through to the end, Ian. You delivered a good ‘un.
So a few things have changed for him since 2014 and his photography has adapted, the projects are a little more local, now and you can’t get much more local than your own back yard. Yet that is one location where he has conducted a wild life project on snails and that is a lot more interesting as it turns out than it, possibly, sounds.
The project is a sound vehicle for honing our photographic skills, but also can be useful in extending our knowledge base of a subject. In fact doing so enables us more as photographers. Photography, taken even remotely seriously, is far more than camera, point, shoot, chimp.
So there are no shortage of ideas for photographic projects. But the use of such a device is probably more critical to its outcome than the subject. What do we, as the controller of the project want to get out of it? What do we want to show? Who is our audience? What format do we want to show it in?
We need to settle these big questions first – that doesn’t mean that they are set in concrete – they can change but we need to know what they are changing from to what they are changing to. An outline to start with covering subject; goal; time-line; final format, goes a long way.
When new to photo projects it is a well to curb our initial enthusiasm for the project by making it a short one. Keep It Short and Simple. The technical challenges come in making the next image better than the last one, and in making acceptable variations.
Longer projects, especially those like a 365 (one image a day for a year), are far harder to keep going than those which have a briefer time line. Better to arrange our project around our free time than trying to arrange our lives around the project. Starting, and keeping, with the end in mind doesn’t mean you have to turn yourself into a hermit.
Who you are shooting for (yourself/friends/family/other) and how informs the whole process, guidelines are useful and not all tangents are a good idea. To this end keeping a photographic journal, in print or on line, is a great idea as it helps us to keep track of how we arrived at our end but also allows for exploring other ideas and variations for a later date.
Also it is not a bad idea to share. Sharing not just the outcome but also the labour, in other words collaborating, helps as we have other, hopefully empathetic, perspectives on the work. This can be between a day shared to a whole project, other perspectives can be very enlightening. Another photographer at least speaks some of the same language as we all share in doing the same thing.
101 Corner – Composition #2
Composition is all about how we arrange the objects in the frame we generally call the viewfinder. It is how we use the fall of light to make an interest in a subject by arranging the subject within our frame. The image is a recording of this.
We have already looked at Tools for Thirds, Leading Lines and Frames. This post we will look at three more.
Patterns and textures are something that our brains seem particularly fond of. Patterns are formed by repetition of shape and or line. Textures are the visual qualities of the surface of an object, revealed through variances in shape, tone and colour depth.
Filling the frame always brings to mind Robert Capa’s admonition that if your photographs aren’t good enough it’s because you are not close enough. Photographs work best when they are about one thing. Get closer with a longer focal length, then use a shorter focal length and your feet to zoom in on a subject. Then compare the two frames.
The tool of odds is again a way of splitting up a frame. This is something that can be contrived in such as a still life, or found in the wild and on the street. It is also probably numbering 5 or less.
Each of these is an easy half hour mini project. Work your way through each then list the things you like and dislike about the images you have captured and make a note of what you would do different next time.
You know you can make a great landscape even better by having something animate in it. Like wildlife. Our latest speaker, Roy Jacobson CPAGB, showed us that patience, knowledge and persistence certainly pay off when you put the fauna in the flora. And aeroplanes too, though they are better in the sky. In both cases fortune favours the prepared.
Wildlife photography isn’t all about safaris in Namibia (I wouldn’t turn one down if anyone is offering a free one), it can be found much closer to home, like in your garden or local park. The key is to start small, get to know your kit really, really well, and know, I mean really know, your location and the sort of wildlife it attracts and when it attracts it.
Whereas there is definitely a case for having a 600mm telephoto in your bag when photographing shy or skittish animals, your back and your wallet will not thank you for it after lugging it around for the day. And that’s before we even consider the stuffed ant eater or who owns the copyright when the wildlife presses the shutter release. Start with the kit you have, was Roy’s advice and find somewhere local.
We have, of course, the benefit of Slimbridge under an hour away, if birds are your chosen subject, and it is set out for walking and observation. Roy suggested picking a spot and sticking with it, rather than wandering around and looking for something to happen. When it does happen it tends to happen quickly and be over just as quick: feeding, fighting, preening, breeding, taking to wing, coming into land or some other photo opportunity.
Much, as has been said already, is down to being prepared. As movement is going to be a big factor in most of the (airborne) shots then a fast shutter speed is going to be necessary, starting at around 1/1000th. To facilitate this it is probably best to select shutter priority/auto ISO and let the camera pick the aperture. Focal length is probably going to be long, metering and focus turned to spot (though that is questionable if you are composing on the thirds) continuous autofocus (depending on age and speed of your system), motor drive as we used to call it on as we are going to be shooting in bursts.
We might also use a monopod or tripod and if we have saved our pennies or do a lot of this sort of photography, maybe use a gimbal on the tripod. The problem quickly becomes how much gear do we want to lug around? How much can we practically use even, or especially, in an urban environment? Well, the happy medium is our own to find and is going to be dictated by subject, location and environment.
Birds aren’t the only option, of course. There are larger animals in most urban areas. Locally we have many different parks in which foxes can be seen with a little patience. There are two deer herds (Fallow and Red) at Ashton Court, the Red, in particular, are used to people being around, as are the grey squirrels around Cabot Tower on Brandon Hill if you get bored with shooting the Peregrine Falcons down by the River. There are plenty of pigeons and gulls to practice on whilst you wait. There are also some quite rare species of bird to be found (depending on the time of year) at the Arnos Vale cemetery as well as bats and foxes and badgers.
Now aeroplanes in flight that is a completely different matter. Actually only completely different from the earth-bound subjects as far as the mechanics go. Generally, aircraft are far more predictable than wild-life, especially at air displays (Weston Air Day this Saturday and Sunday by the way) through knowledge of the behaviour of each still sets the photographer in better stead.
The basics are exactly the same, fast shutter speed, single point meter and (possibly) focus. Don’t be afraid to boost the ISO and shoot Raw as we are probably going to see a fair whack of dynamic range within the frame, especially if the aircraft is dark and the sky bright.
In the stands at air shows, you will often see a forest of tripods and monopods. There are issues with doing this. The Mono/tripod will cut down on the flexibility that we have to move and pan. There can also be safety issues, especially when shooting around other ‘Togs using similar set-ups in relatively tight spaces. Better tuck your arms into your chest, deep breath and brace, takes more practice but it gives us more manoeuvrability and there is less gear to carry.
Air displays have a defined centre and also defined edges. If we know where these are (in front of where the crowds are thickest, basically) then we have the chance to hit peak action (centre) but at the edges is where the aircraft will turn in. Here we can get some great shots that aren’t aircraft flying straight and level.