Reflex Open Competition Round 4 last meeting and congratulations to the award winners and I hope everyone took something away from the evening. Our judge was Roger Mallinson, the man to go to if you want to know about making audio visual presentations and a returnee to judge at Reflex and many thanks to him for his time and effort. As usual the winners will appear on the club website in due course.
“There is no special way a photograph should look“ – Garry Winogrand.
Even a themed competition will tell you that and whereas there are things that work as a general rule, the tools of composition, and sharpness, as we have quoted before, is a “Bourgeoise concept” (maybe). It does rather make you wonder what club competitions are for.
Well the first two clues are in the name club competition. It is about members of the club, first and foremost. Members having a framework into which they can receive feedback. And it is about competition, that is to say a test of skill and ability against other like minded individuals. They coexist but, depending on our choices and personalities, one side will be more important than the other. Recognition is both a middle point and the backbone that connects the two extremes.
If no two pictures are the same how do we differentiate between two pictures on merit? The tools of composition give us a clue, more particularly how they are used and abused, but there is no one accepted system, though some sort of system is required to be consistent.
No two judges are the same and that is a good thing. All our judges are fellow photographers and have their own development route. OK we have all sat there and thought, on occasion, what are they on and where do I get some? when our carefully crafted images totally fail to convey their message. The fault does not lie with the viewer. It is still a good thing if that failure comes with an explanation. Better yet one that we can apply to the next similar situation.
If we don’t fail, at least occasionally, and have an inkling of why we fail then we will not learn. It all comes back to that word “Because”. There is no way a photograph should look. There are individual tastes and opinions and that will apply to any judge the same as to the rest of us.
Lets come back to that idea of sharpness and its evil twin blur as one example. Generally, when looking at a photograph, one of the first things that strike us is can we see it clearly. It is important because I, for one, can see blurry things just by taking my glasses off. Rather like a number of my fellow club members, I paid rather a lot of money specifically to do the opposite and see things in focus. Focus is a thing and having something sharp within our depth of focus is generally desirable.
If there was a single way of producing an acceptable image all images must either be all in or all out of focus. We would then be free to challenge this convention or rule in the pursuit of artistic interpretation. Hold on. Wait one. That’s exacly what we do on occasion. It is one of the most popular nights we have for practicals on the calendar. It’s called light-painting.
Blur can be creative when it is deliberate and controlled (or we can pass it off as that). We generally differentiate blur from focus as one is produced by movement and one by mechanical physics. Ultra wide and expensive prime lenses producing very limited acceptable focus and blury (often sold as dreamy) backgrounds are all the rage. Bokeh is a thing too and now deemed as a selling point in a lens. Figure to ground is an established art principle of grouping things together visually (visited recently in our tour around Gestalt theory) where the subject is seperated from but relational to the background (and or foreground).
Creative blur is an accepted technique. That is it is deliberate and measured in its application to a suitable subject. The idea of photo-dynamism is over a century old and is linked to a wider art movement known as Italian Futurism, though photography was initially rejected by the Futurists for being static.
It has several variants we might use. First up we have the deliberate de-focusing effect. Bokeh originated from this in Japan and became a form all of its own but was always an incidental to taking photographs with points of light in the background. Defocusing works best in colour, with large blocks of identifiable shapes such as flowers, people, painted walls etc. It also works well when shooting against a bright background. Where to stop defocusing is a personal call, again there is no fixed point, but it’s fun to do.
Next up we have panning. We talked last week about taking panoramas, basically a linked series of photographs of something from a fixed point that usually extends beyond the horizontal field of focus of our lenses regardless of there orientation. This uses the same movement idea but within the same period of exposure. By necessity this involves longer shutter speeds but doesn’t have to be on a tripod,.though a pair of steady hands is useful. Keeping the focus and speed in synch on the subject is one option, but the other is to slowly follow the subject through keeping it identifiable but blurred.
Thirdly we have the deliberate shake of the camera during the exposure, up and down or left to right. This doesn’t have to be violent to give an effect but it is best if slightly exaggerated. A fourth variation is to rotate the camera during the exposure around a fixed point.
So five variations that we can try and combine into a little project and maybe use to generate entries in the next round of ROC.
Lot going on in the club at the moment, since the last post we have had: a presentation of images from the table top night a fortnight ago; this week the club outing to the Lake District is taking place and the weather has held for them in one of the wetter parts of the UK; we have had on-going discussions about the projector replacement and, oh yeah, we had the AGM along the way.
As if that wasn’t enough the dry spell continues, the bluebells are at full chat and the sun is shining more days than it isn’t. There are a lot of events going on and I don’t think as amateur photographers, as most of us are, we have a great deal to complain about photographically.
Apart from the price of gear. Which is going up. And up. And looks like it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Lots going on from Canon, Nikon, Sony, Panasonic but all at the top end. The cheapest out of that little lot, and I am talking camera bodies here, is around £1700. No wonder fixed lens camera sales are down by 84% from five years ago. Year on year they are better 2017 over 2016, but the size of the market has dropped and I cannot be the only one who sees a possible correlation with price. Not that would be a sole cause, the enormous improvements in cameras on phones has had a tremendous impact no doubt.
Or has it?
I can see that the practical annihilation of the compact camera might be attributed to the ubiquity of the phone-camera, but the single lens reflex/mirrorless? The number of pictures taken (badly) is certainly far, far higher than it used to be and the most popular medium for doing so is the cameraphone.
The most frequently used camera in 2014, 2015 and 2016 on Flikr were Apple iPhones. The current top 5 cameras in the Flikr Community are, in descending order: Apple iPhone 6; Apple iPhone 6s; Samsung Galaxy S6; Apple iPhone 5s and Apple iPhone 7. 5 out of the top 10 brands used are phone brands, with 1, Sony, crossing over into both single function camera and cameraphone and 7 of the top 15. AppleInsider crunched the numbers further and reckoned that in 2016, iPhones accounted for 47% of the photographers on Flickr with Canon and Nikon limping along at 24% and 18% respectively. To which I would attach the caveat that plenty of Nikon and Canon camera owners also have an iPhone or its Android equivalent. Overall cameraphones accounted for 48% of uploads last year.
Now here’s the rub. Whereas I am not disputing the fact that cameraphones account for nearly half of all uploads to Flickr these days, that there are photographers who don’t shoot with anything else out there who make a living from photography, sooner or later the hobbyist is going to conform to the Single lens norm. And when you have a choice of your DSLR/Mirrorless camera that you have paid a lot of money for, then the days of “I’ll leave that at home and take the cameraphone instead” are very few and far between. Or maybe that is just me.
There has to be some other factor in play too. Well I for one will cite the price of what is being released is a factor among hobbyists. I am not arguing with the capability of cameras being released to sing and dance in mind boggling ways. Nor am I going to argue that marketing doesn’t play a big role in this, but there is a reason that the majority of necks that you see these cameras hung around are middle aged (and male). That reason would be disposable income.
It was never a cheap hobby, though spread out over a number of years on easy payments it could be an affordable hobby when, as the club motto points out, it’s the picture not the camera that counts. However, the wonders of hire purchase aside, we are fortunate to have a hobby that can be encapsulated in a phone. The key, as ever, is to know your equipment limitations and use those and the tools of composition to get the image that you want.
The chief limitation, sensor capabilities aside, is the fact that most cameraphones come with a fixed wide angle lens. The reasons for this are, I think fairly obvious. Used mainly for social photography of friends and family and increasingly as a note book, the ability to get a lot in a confined space is going to be a design factor. The fact that the physics deliver a depth of field that is deep and so accurate focusing is less of problem or demand on the system certainly helps. It sits in the area of the old compact camera and basically destroyed that market.
So the obvious thing to do to get better results out of a cameraphone is to treat it as we would a camera with a wide angle lens mounted. That is exactly what it is photographically. Mounting a wide angle lens changes a cameras perspective compared to longer focal lengths. You need to be aware that paying attention to the edges of the frame, “Boarder Patrol” as one judge put it, is even more important, especially if you don’t intend to post process. Shadows have a habit of creeping in and taking attention away from your main subject, but when outdoors the chief consideration is the sky, in or out of shot?
The sky will push the dynamic range of the sensor, especially when there is shadow detail that you want in your picture. The dynamic range in your average cameraphone is relatively limited – you are after all buying a phone not a camera, though the relative capabilities of the camera on the phone probably matter more to a photographer than they do to the average cameraphone punter. There is also the question of whether including it adds or detracts from the overall picture so as ever, work the scene. Take multiple angles. Use portrait and landscape.
Wide angle lenses also distort perspective when not bang on square to the lines in the rest of the photograph. This is something to exploit. Using leading lines and a different perspective to gives the image a different feel and when done boldly, more punch. The flip side to this, of course, is that far away objects look very small, sometimes to the point of being overwhelmed by the other elements in the picture. Zoom with your feet as far as is possible. Get closer (or further away) through the medium of Shanks’s Pony. The combination of these two things, say when taking tall buildings, mean you have to be more careful with getting things squared up or they lean at alarming angles. Most phones (and SLR’s) these days have gauges built in to help with this.
So, the cameraphone is another photographic tool, learning to use it and exploit its features just like any other camera can be very rewarding. Be it open vistas or a lot of detail close up using the same composition skills as we use with our other gear can get good results.
Club evenings with cameras are always popular and always a good opportunity to gain knowledge and practice the basics, or try something a little different. Last meeting was no exception as we undertook an evening of tabletop photography, for which the club is grateful for all those who put a lot of effort into making the evening a success.
Theses themed evenings aren’t just about the theme and or subject. They are a chance to get the most out of a controlled situation, specifically, at least for our purposes this week, the chance to work a subject. Now working the scene, or a variation of it, is a phrase that often bandied about.
Sooner rather than later you will come across Henri Cartier-Bresson and the idea of the decisive moment, and certainly in any scene that involves movement there is, or will be a combination of the elements in the frame for which their interplay makes the full story. Is it the same with table top/still life? Essentially yes, but the control in the frame is pretty much absolute and the truth in the frame may be entirely documentary or an arrangement of light on shape in some artistically pleasing manner. The chaos of everyday life is excluded in pursuit of control either way.
So what do we mean by working the scene? Cartier-Bresson didn’t just take one photograph of a scene, even if the first one was the one he ended up using. Nor anyone else. Closer, further away, left, right, up, down all realign the elements, the task is then to isolate the best image to work with.
With table top, though, there isn’t necessarily a lot of room to work with, nonetheless it is still worth the effort. Whether you change the camera angle or the arrangement of the items you are photographing you can still affect the same sort of ends. The end result, the one you show, is then more likely to be better at communicating with your audience because it is the end result of a process.
There is also a question, further prompted by the idea of the end result, of whether you can do this moving around in time. If your intent is to capture something that has to be constructed before you take a picture of the end result, why not photograph that construction? It could well be that the image that you end up keeping is one that shows all the elements but not the whole. That whole is then constructed in the mind of the viewer.
The whole point is that of collecting data deliberately. From this data we then make a story. Changing the angle/distance/perspective creates a pause and in that pause we can process the data we have collected. We can turn these to our own advantage with a little pre planning. Whilst framing the image we can be critical of what we are looking at, now that we have put a physical frame around it.
Put simply we start seeing when we stop looking. Look is the hook, the thing that caught our eye, the draw in. Seeing takes a lot more effort and experimentation, but seeing is the essence of photography. It also means that we can practice this, using table top, at home, through experimentation and starting with the tools of composition. Two to start with, I suggest are light and dark and lines.
Light and dark in its purest form, black-white (the Japanese Notan art form for instance) or at the least two complimentary colours. Contrast is what the eye, rather like the autofocus on our cameras, looks for, so as to make things clear. Use this as a key to where the light falls and with a little practice we can make powerful yet subtle ways that take the eyes of the viewer to where the photographer wants them.
Lines are, possibly, less subtle but no less powerful for that. We are largely familiar with the concept of leading lines whether we are conscious of their effect or not. Anyone who has seen white lines on tarmac will have been affected by it. Anyone who has ever followed a path will have been effected by it. By getting close, looking for the key detail, we better frame the thing that attracted us in the first place.
There are of course a myriad of other compositional tools we can use, we can practice. Composition is just a way of seeing in one sense. In a more useful sense it is a deliberate way of seeing. We need to practice with deliberation. Stuck for something to do? Then pick one of these compositional tools and use it to go shoot. The table top environment allows us to experiment in these cases by arranging the elements in our frame to our own ends. In other environments we have to look for the chances to capture these things on a more random basis, but in doing so we have to abandon looking for seeing.
N E X T M E E T I NG
Annual General Meeting.
It must be Autumn because last meeting we did a light painting session courtesy of Myk Garton and guest light painter Tony Cullen – many thanks guys. Every time we do this there is something new and I will admit that it is one of my favourite things to do photographically. Attendance was high which proves its popularity with other club members too. This was the introductory evening and we will be doing some more advanced techniques on December 1st. Of course light painting isn’t necessarily seasonal, but the ever shortening days this side of the Winter Solstice means that available light is at a premium. The “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” (that man Keats again) means a lot more than landscapers getting a lie in. The light, generally, has a quality of its own because of the relatively low angle of the sun to the horizon. Problem is there isn’t a lot of it.
So, provide our own. This is as close outdoors as we get to the degree of control of light in a studio. The big difference is we make benefit of the dark. The contrast levels are extreme, but that is a virtue not a vice. The canvas is light on dark but in a more high contrast way than we see in daylight, where we could argue that the opposite is true (wrong as everything we see is via reflected light, but since when did wrong prevent an argument?). Strobists use flash guns to recreate the flood of light which they can control the direction and beam, with a white balance of its own. When drawing on the black canvas, with torches, coloured lights or even fire, the colour balance doesn’t tend to be a big consideration, at least in the sense of it being something that needs correcting. Painting a scene in light as opposed to drawing a scene with light presents different technical challenges, but can be done with the same kit and a bit of patience. I say a bit, oftentimes a lot of patience.
In fact there are a number of different ways to think of light painting, and where we start, the way in which we are thinking of the images we want to capture, determines the outcome more than anything else. Yes this may come under the heading of “Well, duh” but any technique has strengths and weaknesses according to the situation. Selection is the key. The first decision is are we lighting the subject or creating an effect? Our desired look will determine the way we use the lights and the sort of lights we use. Again, we may say “Duh”, but it’s surprising how hard we can make the job by not prepping for a final outcome in the first place. We might be combining both, after all. What about spontaneity and experimentation, we say? Much better to have an idea to execute and vary than to just turn up having watched several hours of YouTube videos with a load of kit and a vague idea. We may be technically proficient but that is no good if we are subject deficient – the difference between a body with a camera and a photographer.
The point to start, where when who and how because that is going to dictate what we can and cannot do. Use a familiar or scout a location in the day light. Decide what the subjects are likely to be and what kit we are going to take with us. If unfamiliar with orbs, zoom bursts, camera rotations, double exposures and the like the answer is “Should have been at club”. That aside, the first thing is, if not in total darkness or very near, determine what the level of ambient light is. This determines the time we have to paint in. If it isn’t a factor then fine, open the shutter for as long as it will go or as long as needed, then set the camera pre-focused and to manual – this meeting was about familiarising people with their equipment in those modes in order to capture those sort of effects.
If we want a basic explanation of light painting it is that it is long exposure photography. In the dark. The meter is useless without some level of ambient light and the length of exposure is dependent upon what we want to paint in and what we are painting with, that is to say, in the practical sense, it is going to be the product of experimentation. The light gathering capabilities of the sensor are going to be tested, select the lowest ISO to help keep the noise to a minimum (remember boost the signal, boost the noise and that is what you do when we up the ISO). We are going to need a tripod and, a personal preference, a remote shutter release.
Light trails, using moving lights – the most popular seems to be vehicle trails which, let’s face it, aren’t too difficult to come by in a city of 400,000 people – are also simple to set up and to execute. 8 to 10 seconds, ISO 100, F8 on a well lit street, as a starting point towards getting a reasonably exposed photograph overall and, as long as the vehicles are moving even relatively slowly, then some interesting effects can be captured. Vary the angles, either by setting the camera up more obliquely to the traffic than at a right angle, or find a bend or a roundabout to get some swoosh into the picture. Zooming whilst the shutter is open also does interesting things to the trails often setting them off at angles we wouldn’t expect and rotating the camera through 90 degrees during the exposure, as long as we keep the axis constant, can do interesting things to lights in the background (as alluded to above).
I know that is a cliché but nonetheless I am going to repeat it. There are so many variations that we truly are only limited by the imagination and for once, it doesn’t have to be at any great expense. Yes we can spend an inordinate amount of money on these techniques but actually experimenting with the basics will yield some fine and interesting results. I, for one, am really looking forward to part two of our light painting sessions.