Getting It At The Time
The Myth of The Digital Exposure Triangle
I fully understand that digital photography has introduced significant new ways of thinking, particularity with regards to the equipment and tools we use and the way we process our images. Yet the majority of the craft & skill needed to produce good images is still very much grounded in the methods of image capture that can be traced right back to photography's very beginning. Despite this, many of today's amateur photographers seem more willing to follow the marketing and commercial hype that surrounds digital photography with a significant number of today's newbie photographers unfortunately willing to believe anything they are told, particularly when it is regurgitated at infinitum on social media platforms.
Nowhere is this more apparent than with the so-called exposure triangle. I am not too sure where this concept as a means of explaining exposure came from and whilst the principles behind it are sound, it has one major flaw. The exposure triangle gives equal parity to using ISO to control exposure alongside shutter speed and aperture. ISO is not used to control exposure, that is achieved by altering the shutter speed and/or aperture settings. Whilst changing ISO can be used to effect exposure, there are very few situations in which you really need to use ISO in this way. More importantly, the exposure triangle goes a long way to causing confusion amongst those who are struggling to get to grips with exposure for the first time. Why struggle working with three variables and when you only need to work with two?
ISO comes from film photography and is simply a measure of how sensitive the film is to light. The name was carried over into digital simply because its effects are similar in that it appears to make the sensor more “sensitive” to light. In fact, increasing ISO simply amplifies the signal from the sensor, which has the downside of introducing of “noise” which can degrade the quality of the image. So basically the best image quality will be achieved by keeping your ISO at it lowest, or base setting. When first learning photography it is probably best to simply set and forget ISO and come back to it when you are a little more comfortable in understanding basic exposure control using shutter speed and aperture.
These two setting, shutter speed and aperture, work in combination in allowing the required amount of light into the camera for the image you are trying to capture. The only time that you really need to change your ISO is if you are shooting handheld in low light and cannot get a fast enough shutter speed to hold the camera steady. There are possibly some situations where you want to have a specific shutter speed and aperture combination which can only be achieved by changing the ISO setting or switching to Auto ISO and letting the camera decide the setting, although in over thirty years of photography I have never come across a situation where I have needed to do this.
When digital cameras first started to become popular, ISO was there but increasing ISO led to serious image quality issues. Over the years image quality at high ISO settings has significantly improved to the point where quality issues are almost a thing of the past. This increased performance though has been used to sell cameras, often being hailed as some sort of major technological advancement. I believe that it is this hyped-up commercial marketing that has led to the advancement of ISO being used to control exposure which is simply nothing more than an over complication of what is, in fact, a quite simple concept.
The Reality of Social Photography
The Future Of The Selfie
Of course in this day and age we can simply get rid of all this and simply buy an Apple iPhone X which will have us all instantly producing the sort of results that use to take a small army of skill & experienced professionals hours if not days to achieve. Does anyone really believe that the images in this ad where not taken by a professional photographer backed up by a small army of assistants & support staff and how realistic is it to expect the average iphone X user to produce similar shots?
The future of the selfie....
I was also mixing things up a bit and leaving my usual wide angle lens in the bag in favour of the telephoto. Although not usually used for landscapes, telephotos can provide an interesting perspective and more years ago than I care to remember, the 135mm lens was in fact one of my favourite lens.
In this shot the telephoto lens was used to foreshorten and thus reduce the area of foreground and to some extent, extenuate the topography of the ground.
A couple of quotes from an article published by the National;
“You tend to take a shot when you know there is a shot there. Your brain is engaged to look for a good composition rather than look at the review screen and play with the settings. You only commit to taking a picture when you see something worth capturing and you tend to have a larger number of keepers.”
Despite working with digital cameras, both quotes reflect what I find important in photography. For me engaging with my subject, taking the time the get the shot right and then producing physical prints that can be handled all define my approach to photography.
The fact the digital photography can be so easy, quick and fleeting that there is no tangible result does not mean that has to be so. A lot can be learnt by adopting what might be considered a more traditional approach to photography.
As Ansel Adams said “you don't take a photograph, you make it.”
Is It All About Luck?
Having just walk the best part of 15 miles this week and discovered two or three new locations to photograph I will at some point in the near future revisit these locations having, during the walk ascertained the right time of day and right time of year to be there. Thus hopefully I will be in the right place at the right time and be able to capture worthwhile shots without relying on luck too much.
Sometimes, having found a good location in may take several visits over a number of years before I get a shot that I am happy with.
Thinking In Black & White -Leominster Camera Club 21st September 2017
Further details can be found at www.leominster-photo-club.co.uk/
Luck or Good Management
This fairly famous quote is one that I do not fully agree with. Yes luck can and does play a large part in photography. Being at the right location, at the right time, in the right light and in the right frame of mind sometimes just happens without any planning or forethought.
Yet you can make your own luck, and in fact should endeavour to do so. Over the past several weeks I have visited the same forest area many times, at different times of the day and in a range of lighting conditions. During this time I have been able to identify specific areas where the most interesting compositions are to be found and developed a good understanding of what type of lighting brings out the best at the location. Visiting the forest many times not only allows me to develop a feeling for where and when the best shots can be taken it also significantly increases the chance that I will just happen to be in the right place, at the right time, in the right light and in the right frame of mind.
This is what I mean when I say I create my own luck.
Funny Old Game.......
I try not to allow potential salon entry to direct or influence my photography. My images are more often than not monochrome landscapes taken using what can best be described as a more traditional approach, relying on getting it right in camera and using limited post processing, something that is not currently in fashion.
Nevertheless I enjoy the process of critically appraising my images to select those that I feel reach a sufficiently high technical standard to stand some chance of success.
Notwithstanding this, one of my images has just been awarded PSA Honourable Mention at the Cheltenham International Salon of Photography. A carefully considered and well executed traditional monochrome landscape image by any chance? No. The image was a colour image and was really nothing more than a grab shot. Whilst staying in a holiday cottage recently I glanced out of the window and saw some washing blowing on a line. It was a wet, gloomy overcast day (very optimistic sort of day for drying clothing) and my options for the shot were very limited. Nevertheless I took the best shot I could and after considerable post processing and cropping created an image that I would certainly consider to be the weakest of my salon entry. How wrong I was.
So maybe if I want to be a more successful salon photographer maybe I should stop worrying about what I photograph and just grab some shots and apply loads of post processing!
Funny old world.
Walking Breeches, Cameras & Photography
Then things began to get complicated. New high-tech gear made from the most amazing fabrics began to take over. My simple canvas rucksack got replaced with something NASA would have been proud of. Miles covered and time taken became all important whilst navigation was handed over to devices with more computing power than the early Apollo missions to the moon.
Now though I have put all that behind me and once more discover the art of simple slow travel where you take time to absorb the landscape around you. Left behind are the technical walking trousers and the high-tech, high-falutin' feature rich must have walking jacket. The rucksack is replaced with a simple canvas shoulder bag. Yet one piece of gear was missing, one that used to be the main stay of any decent respectable hill walker. Practical, functional and durable. The walking breeches. For the uninitiated, walking breeches where trousers that finished just below the knee with some sort of fastener, buttons, buckles or simply Velcro. The lower leg was protected by thick woolly socks. Now you can't find them for love nor money in any outdoor shop, although they are still very much de-rigour in any gentlemen’s sporting countryside outfitters, where for some unknown reason they have survived.
Did we as a community of hill walkers suddenly decide that this practical and functional piece of apparel, as old as hill walking itself, was no longer required? Or are other forces at work?
A modern incarnation of the walking breeches were the Rohan Striders. Many a hill walker would have one or two pairs in their wardrobe knowing that they had a high quality, durable product that would serve them well out on the hill. Buy a couple of pairs and they would last for years. As such Rohan would of course have to largely rely on new customers, existing customers only needing to purchase a new pair of Striders after at least 10 years usage. Of course if Rohan simply keep replacing their product range every year with new fashions incorporating the latest high-tech fabrics then not only are they offering something to new customers but also attracting back existing customers more frequently.
I wonder if something similar is happening with photography and cameras. Almost certainly Nikon withdraw it's D80 and D700 long before their shelf life was up and well before demand dropped judging by the way the price of second hand models held up following their demise. Just like all those hill walkers out there with their high-tech ballistic kevlar trousers with articulated knees and god knows what, are there photographers carrying around £000's of sophisticated gear that they do not really need and which is also probably stopping them from fully engaging with their subject and enjoying the real true and simple pleasures of taking pictures?
Are the decisions we make based upon our actual needs or the sophisticated and manipulative control of corporate executives and advertising gurus whose sole aim in life is to sell as many units as possible. Does all the modern sophistication actually help our photography or, like I said above, does it simply get in the way of the simple pleasure of taking photographs.
Why have walking breeches survived in the Gentleman’s Countryside Sports Outfitters? Could it be anything to do with the fact that these establishments are frequented by the same corporate executives and advertising gurus who often occupy the upper more affluent and privileged echelons of our society and who are quite likely to be seen shooting Scottish wildlife rather than appreciating it. Through their time spent out on the shooting estates they know the true worth of this type of clothing but yet still deem fit to deny the masses form owning such clothing in order to maintain there own profit levels.
In a similar vein, does Nikon or Canon or Olympus or Fuji really serve the needs of their customers or do they simply serve the needs of the boardroom and share holders?
“Zen - A Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism emphasising the value of meditation and intuition rather than ritual worship or study of scriptures.” Oxford English Dictionary
“Zen - Relaxed and not worrying about things that you cannot change.” Cambridge Dictionary
There is one simple universal truth in landscape photography, the light will be right when the light is right. No amount of stressing, no amount of frustration, no amount of anxiety will change this simple truth. So stress not, sit back and relax. The light will be right when the light is right
Of course relaxing can be an art form in itself with each individual probably having their own way of relaxing. For me two things are important, a lovely cup of tea and a comfortable place to lie back and chill.
Brewing up out outdoors is has old as the hills and something I've have been doing for the best part of 45 years. Beats the hell out of a lukewarm, metallic tasting cuppa from a flask. Currently this is my favourite stove, A DS Storm Kettle which I call the little dragon.
Based upon the more common and larger Kelly Kettles, first developed in County Mayo, Ireland, in the 1890's, the storm kettle is a smaller version. It boils a pint of water very quickly and efficiently and burns found combustible material such as twigs, dry leaves etc. Like I said, a fresh brew definitely beats a lukewarm metallic tasting brew from a flask.
As for somewhere to lay back and chill, you can't beat a good old hammock and I am not talking about the sort often seen in holiday brochures depicting palm trees and a golden beach in some faraway paradise. Typical of western society, we thought we could take an idea that is probably thousands of years old and improve upon it. Not. Traditional hammocks based upon those used by South and Central American tribes provide probably one of the most comfortable places to relax and sleep. And you won't end up being tipped on the floor!
So put the on kettle on, lay back, chill and relax. The light will be right when the light is right.
Digital Landscape Photography -Michael Frye
What I really like about the book, apart from Michael Frye's superb photography, is that the book goes into some detail in explaining exposure and advocates two specific approaches. I generally have an issue with a lot of the digital “how to” books due to the fact they often relegate exposure, the most important and critical photography skill, to a few pages despite the fact that the subject matter of exposure can easily and often does, fill entire books.
The first exposure method advocated is that of using the histogram. In simple terms you take the shot, review the histogram and then compensate so as to ensure that the histogram is as far to the right as possible without clipping the highlights. The book goes into more detail, but that's the essence of using the histogram to set exposure.
The second method advocated in the book is that of using a modified version of Ansel Adams's zone system. Again in simple terms, the book goes into more detail, you identify and meter off a known tonal value in the scene being photographed and if required apply appropriate exposure compensation so as to ensure that the tonal value is placed in Zone V, the mid tone value. This is a very traditional approach to setting exposure and one used by many photographs, including myself, prior to the advent of digital photography.
Anyone who has heard any of my talks or has read my blog will know that I always advocate the second method. I feel that if you start relying on the histogram then you can spend more time looking at the camera than the scene you are trying to photograph. Using the zone system based approach means you have to take the time to observe the scene you are photographing in order to ascertain the various tonal levels and relationships and identify the most appropriate tone to meter off. This simply means you are engaging with your subject in a way that you don't if you are spending more time looking at the camera's LED screen. There is also the issue that the image on the LED screen is only a highly rendered JPG image and, particularly if you are shooting RAW, may not fully represent the true tonal range captured.
You Know You've Made It As A Photographer When.......
One For The Camera Nerds.......
ExploreCams works by looking at EXIF data contained in public photo-sharing sites, such as Flickr, 500px and Pixabay, and determining the most popular cameras, picture settings and lenses. The information collected by ExploreCams makes it possible to analyse the meta-data of these photos and determine which types of gear and settings are the most popular among photographers.
Personally, whilst not professing to be a camera nerd myself, I found the information quite interesting. In particular I was somewhat heartened to see that whilst 60% of photographs surveyed used some form of auto-metering, about 15% still used centre weight and 15% still used spot metering. I feel this is indicative that the more traditional technique requiring the photographer to meter off known, identified tonal values appears to have not been completely surpassed by the use of an automated approach to taking photographs.
I also found the ISO data to be very interesting. For quite some time now many camera manufactures have used the high ISO capabilities of their cameras as a major selling point with many web forums and blogs extolling their virtues. This is despite the fact that there are very few genuine reasons to use a high ISO setting. A clear example of the power of commercial marketing in action. Yet this is apparently not quite true. The data from ExploreCams suggests that many photographers are actually using their camera's base ISO or staying close to it. Of course you can still find the odd landscape shot taken at ISO 6400!
Obviously when working with any data one has to be mindful of how representative the sample is of the entire population. In this case the sample is made up photographers who choose to share their work via social network sites and as such might not fully reflect the entire global photographic community.
Looks Like Some One Beat Me To It......
Well it looks like Adobe Research beat me to it:- adobe-future-selfies
Back in the day, at the outset of photography, photography was the preserve of the gentleman amateur, those Victorian & Edwardian gentlemen who had the time, education and money to indulge themselves. Advancements in materials and techniques, particularly the introduction of the Brownie series of cameras by Eastman Kodak, helped to open up photography to the masses. No longer was photography largely confined to the richer and more affluent classes, photographs could be taken by anyone. Yet despite this, a strong distinction remained between, on the one hand, professionals and serious amateurs, who were probably only distinguishable from the professionals in that they did not earn their living from photography, and the wider masses. Professionals and serious amateurs took their time to learn photography and develop their craft. The masses where quite happy to snap away and fill their albums with family snapshots of holidays and family events with no pretence whatsoever to any photographic ability. There was probably some blurring of boundaries but these people were usually found out, or at least indulged as no real harm was done.
Back in the day if you wanted a photographer for your wedding you employed a wedding photographer, usually a professional although you might, if you knew one, think about a serious amateur because they often knew what they were doing and would have probably taken the time to develop their craft to quite a high level.
These days it is all very different. Mass marketing, technological innovations, increased affluence and leisure time all mean we are all photographers now. The ease in taking photographs and then processing and printing them ourselves or as is more often the case publish them on line, edited or not, has made photography accessible to everyone with the distinctions between professional, serious amateur and the masses having become so blurred as to be almost non existent. Changes in social attitudes and a general dumbing down and acceptance of lower photographic standards mean it is now much easier to pass yourself off as something you are not.
Whist the availability and accessibility of photography today should be applauded, it does mean that the threshold is now lower for people to get into the photography industry. Lots of people think if they buy a fancy camera, they can become a photographer because the camera will do all the work for them. It doesn't quite work like that. Photography is an artisan craft skill, it takes time, effort and practice to advance and become proficient. Unfortunately this appears to be something in our ever increasingly narcissistic society a significant proportion of the wider photographic masses seem ever more reluctant to do, even though they aspire to being photographers.
As a result there is an increasing number of cheap, unqualified people entering the photography industry and although most probably enter the profession with the best of intentions and are not trying to scam people, they just simply aren't quite up to the task.
Is this a problem? Well if you are a professional trying to earn a living it might be. Whilst it might be argued that if you are good enough, then your work will raise above the masses and you will always find clients, I am not so sure.
Whilst recently pursing the web, I came a cross the site of a photographer who does weddings, amongst a lot of other things, something that is worrying in itself. The work on display was amongst some of the most amateurish stuff I have ever seen. Use of inappropriate equipment (I have actually seen this person working), no real skill in controlling light and exposure, extremely poor composition and far too many images, all being shown unedited. The idea of using a portfolio to exhibit their best work along with restricted client access, extremely basic features of any half-decent wedding photography web site, seems to have passed this person by. The real concern though is not the poor quality of the photography but rather the fact that it would appear that this work is acceptable to many people because how else can this so called photographer keep getting custom? Whilst this web site might be one of the worst examples, there are plenty more out there just like it.
Simple fact, if you need a wedding photographer, employ a wedding photographer and not some mate or a mate of a mate whose work has never been subjected to the rigour of peer scrutiny and approval. If you think professional wedding photography is too expensive when your mate can do it for a fraction of the price, remember your mate has probably only a fraction of the skill and talent of a real wedding photographer. Cheap photographers are generally missing something, which usually includes insurance, backup equipment, customer service and skill and talent.
What price are you willing to put on what is suppose to be the most important day of your life? If lasting memories of your day are important to you, make sure that you spend the time and money to make sure it's done correctly.
More Than Photographs.........
The importance of this was recently brought home to me whilst reading a review of a Fay Godwin exhibition at MOMA Machynlleth by Jeremy Moore. In the review, Jeremy stated that “While many landscape images, then and now, are stunningly beautiful they actually say very little about their subject matter. It could be said that Fay Godwin’s images, on the contrary, were landscapes with content.”
These few simple words have sparked off a whole train of thoughts about my own photography, my choice of subject and my approach to the images I create. I have always felt my photography sought out the less than picture postcard perfect image, seeking to find the beauty that lies beyond the traditional notions of scenic beauty. My photography often explores not only the effect man has had on the landscape but also the effects landscapes have had on man. We often see British landscapes as being timeless and unchanging, yet our countryside is littered with the detritus of man's past activities, clear evidence of continual change and the passage of time. It is this evidence of change and passing of time that I often seek out in my photography.
Are my images simply landscapes or have I captured something more? If not, what more can I do to create photographs of landscapes that have “content”? Am I a landscape photographer or a documentary landscape photographer?
Future Selfie Technology.......
I imagine such a setting would take several simultaneous shots so that in-camera processing can than produce a proper self-portrait. I envisage that the processing would identify and separate the face from the background which would than be de-focused so as to reduce depth of field and emulate the use of a short telephoto lens. The exposure on the face would then be processed, making use of the multiple exposures, to emulate the effect of butterfly portrait lighting with subtle fill lighting & back rim lighting. The perspective of the face would also need to be manipulated, again to emulate the use of a moderate telephoto lens and removing distortions arising from inappropriate focal length and camera angle.
Whilst such automated processing would result in a dramatic increase in the quality of self-portraits being produced, it would of course do nothing to increase knowledge and understanding of the finer points of the art and craft of portrait photography, an accusation that can be directed at any form of automation.
Of course the real innovation would be the ability of such a selfie mode to be able to recognise models pout, duck face, squinch, flirty half smile, sparrow face, fish gape, kissy face or any other such facial expression and respond by sounding an alarm and immediately assigning the image to the bin!
Creative Talent -Can It Be Learnt
I believe that everyone is born with a degree of natural creative talent, a natural talent that can be developed through learning, experience and practice. Natural talent simply means that learning will be easier and that with a element of natural talent you can probably progress to a higher level more readily.
Here's a good example of what I mean. Some time ago I was approached at the end of a workshop by a lady and ask if I would look at some photographs taken by her young son. Whilst the photographs where lacking in some respects, for a relatively inexperienced 12 year old they were very good. In particular the composition and structural form was excellent. When I asked why be had composed the photographs in the way he had, he had no real answer. He simply composed the photographs in a way that felt and looked right. No doubt as this young photographer progresses through his photographic career he will learn why such compositions and structural forms work and learn how to use them in more creative ways. His natural talent does not mean he does not have to learn, it simply means he will learn more easily and progress in his photography more readily.
Photography is all about observation and “seeing” and some people are simpler naturally better at “seeing” than others. Of course that does not mean that we cannot all learn to look and see better.
“I don’t think there’s any such thing as teaching people photography, other than influencing them a little. People have to be their own learners. They have to have a certain talent.” – Imogen Cunningham
Interesting Words About Creativity From Australian photographer Steve Coleman......
“The reality is that most of the world of photography ‘speaks’ to an agenda which encourages would-be photographers to talk and think in terms of “megapixels” rather than “vision”, and “equipment” rather than “ideas” and “creativity”. What’s more, those books and workshops which do try to teach creativity and vision often resort to rules, or speak in a ‘paint-by-numbers’ approach, or focus their workshops heavily around post production software.
Now there is nothing wrong with technical books, or rules, or workshops. I would encourage you to look at them all. But be warned, they are often very functional. While learning the mechanical and functional aspects of photography is important, such things often don’t put us into the right mind-space or teach us the visual and creative skills that allow us to make photographs. In essence they don’t teach us how to see, how to have a vision and how to get ideas.”
I found not just these words, but much of what Steve has to say interesting because I believe I am somewhat guilty in part of what he says, albeit somewhat unintentionally. When I am asked to talk about photography I do very much approach the subject from a creative angle, promoting photography as a creative activity that is more about the photographer than the equipment they use. I do not prescribe to or promote Steve's photography's world agenda, avoiding being a “gearisourus” and not indulging in the megapixel race. Yet when I am talking about photography I advocate one approach at the exclusion of the many other approaches that exist. I might say that there is no right or wrong way to take a photograph but I still only tend to advocate my own approach. And yes I do see photography talks as a vehicle to promote other aspects of my photography.
It is also a lot easier to talk about the technical side of photography as these are issues that apply to all photographers and are easy to demonstrate. Explaining and demonstrating aperture control and the effect it has on photographic images is easier than to trying explain and demonstrate the creative process, which after all tends to be unique to each individual.
Can you imagine Nikon or Canon running full page adds saying. ” You don’t need a great camera, what you need is vision and great ideas”
Visualisation & How Ansel Adams Taught Me To Be A Better Photographer........
I think a lot of people get the visualisation process, the idea of seeing and understanding what we want our final image to actually look like before we take the shot. In truth, visualisation means a lot more. Ansel Adams described it in these terms; “visualisation refers to the entire emotional-mental process of creating a photograph, and as such, it is one of the most important concepts in photography.”
Photographs are only ever a poor representation of the real world. The camera strips away the feeling and emotion that probably drove us to take the picture in the first place. Yet more often than not, it is this feeling and emotion that I want to convey through my photography. So how do I capture images that hopefully portray the feeling and emotion that inspired me to take the shot in first place?
I do a short presentation entitled “Top Ten Tips for Better Photographs”. The top two tips are closely linked and are two things that I have always followed in my photography. The first is to actually get out there and take photographs because I will never improve and develop as a photographer without continually practising through actually taking photographs. It is important though to do this in a considered way rather than just randomly photographing everything in sight. If I see something that I feel is worth taking a photograph of, I stop and think about what has actually caught my eye, inspired me to want to take the picture. Once the picture has been taken and processed, I look at the image critically and compare it to the actual reality of the scene/subject. Note keeping helps with this process. Again Ansel Adams explained it thus; “The first step towards visualisation – and hence toward expressive interpretation – is to become aware of the world around us in terms of the photographic image. We must explore what lies before our eyes for its significance, substance, shape, texture, and the relationship of tonal values. We must teach our eyes to become more perceptive.”
The second top tip is to immerse yourself in photographs. I spend a lot of time looking at photographs whether in books, galleries or magazines. Again I do this in a considered way, asking myself questions about how the photographer has composed his subject, how the lighting conditions work to create the particular image and how the photographer has chosen to expose the image. No apologies for more words from Ansel Adams, he did after all develop the concept of visualisation as we know it today: “You don't make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”
Through these two activities I have learnt and became familiar with what I call the “language of photographs”. I have developed an understanding of what works best for what subject in what lighting, how different compositions, tonal relationships and specific angels of view can be used to impart emotion and feeling into my photography. I have learnt to take time to seek out the best angle of view and composition, to wait for the right moment and to make subtle changes in how I take the shot, subtle changes that can have a significant impact on the final image. I have also learnt that visualisation needs to be tempered with a dose of reality, it's not always possible to get the shot I want at any given time. Sometimes it's best to wait a while or revisit at a latter date.
One final word from the maestro himself.....
“I am convinced that the best photographers of all aesthetic persuasions ‘see’ their final photograph in some way before it is completed, whether by conscious visualisation or through some comparable intuitive experience.”
Photographs Are Tomorrows Future......
In fact I strongly suspect that the number of photographs being produced may have actually significantly decreased in recent times and will probably continue to do so.
The majority of the images captured today will never see the light of day as actual prints but rather be posted on line or projected onto a screen and as such do not exist as individual entities in their own right. They are not photographs, they are digital images. For me, a photograph has its own existence, it is an object that you can hold in your hand.
In some future dystopian world, one in which the technology we take for granted today has ceased to function there will be no digital images. Digital images can not exist without power or the machines to access them. In a dystopia without power or smart phones or tablets, digital images will have ceased to exist.
Only photographs will remain.
Photography's greatest weakness is also its greatest strength.....
Technical innovations in HDR and the current vogue for HDR photography is probably damaging to this creativity. I feel that spending time focusing on the technical aspects of achieving the maximum dynamic range takes us away from the creativity of “constructing” our images around a limit range of key tonal values, a process that better allows for images with depth and feeling, whether in the physical or emotional sense.
Maybe it is this lack of construction, the drive for realism, that leaves many feeling that HDR images have an inherent quality that seems in some way to be lacking.
I totaly agree with what Andrew S. Gibson says in his excellent e-book, The Magic of Black & White Part I,
“HDR photos often have an unreal appearance that I do not like. I don’t want to see every detail; I like dark shadowy corners and prefer that something is left to the imagination.”
Powerful, Creative Photography
I-Phonetography -the death knell of the DSLR............
I don't believe that smartphone cameras can ever be equal to or replace (D)SLR cameras in terms of image quality. You can cram as many mega-pixels into a smart phone as you want but you will always have a small sensor which means small photo cells which will have an array of issues affecting image quality. A smart phone will never have the quality of lens that can be achieved with 35mm cameras, the laws of physics present a major barrier to this not to mention the laws of commercial economics. And whilst there are apps than can mimic the manual control available with 35mm cameras, these are only mimicking manual control and do not offer any level of real creative control or at least the level of control available with many 35mm cameras. Yet this does not mean that smartphone cameras can not produce decent images, it's just that you'll struggle to get a decent 20 x 16 print from them, which is fine as most smartphone images rarely make it into the world as prints.
It is also important how we use the technology. To produce a decent photographic image requires a good solid understanding of the principles of photography. I was recently shown an image taken on an I-Phone, something that unfortunately happens all to frequently for my liking when the conversation turns to photography. As usual in these circumstances the person who had taken the shot was very pleased with the result and was showing me what they clearly thought was a good photograph. Yes, viewed on a tiny little screen, the image looked good. Nice clean, sharp image of a racing motorcycle with strong, punchy colours. But the image was static. There was no sense of movement or feeling of power and speed. The photographer had made no use of motion blur or panning, whilst the pole sticking out of the riders head was definitely distracting. A classic example of an aspect of today's modern technology, the belief that technological sophistication can somehow replace the time and effort required to properly learn and develop new skills. The smartphone produced a good image, the photographer did not.
So please by all means enjoy your I-phonetography but please remember that to get the most of out of your smartphone camera, you still need to acquire and develop some basic photography skills -something that can only realistically be achieved through the use of traditional cameras that provide the opportunity to explore exposure control, tonal values and relationships or in other words, cameras that don't think for you.
Blood Sweat & Beers -Carrying and Using Heavy Gear
Well, back in the day when I was somewhat slimmer and a degree younger I was a keen runner, participating in numerous road races and mountain marathons. Prior to each event I followed a certain ritual. Mixing energy drinks, getting my gear sorted, rubbing heat cream in leg muscles etc. This procedure, like that carried out by many sports people, was all about helping to get my mind into the zone, preparing myself for the task ahead.
Likewise, when I am out and about with my camera I follow a specific procedure which all helps to get my mind into the zone, preparing myself for the task ahead. Setting up the tripod, mounting the camera, cleaning and attaching the lens, selecting and fitting the filter all help to prepare my mind. Following this procedure also slows me down, allowing time to think about the shot I am about to take, time to engage with the subject. I feel that compact cameras with their ease of access and deployment can easily promote snap shot photography. You see an interesting shot, camera out of your pocket, take the picture, move on to the next shot. This is not for me and whilst I recognise that there may come a time when an aged body makes the heavy gear too much of a burden, that time is still hopefully some time off. So for the time being I am still willing to expend as much blood, sweat and beers needed to get the shot.
Why Black and White?
An Introspective Approach to Learning
The day was dull and overcast with very flat lighting and I was particularly thinking about how the conditions influence the nature and type of shots that I would take. Whilst such soft and diffuse lighting can be good for black and white, it definitively was not an f22 day for open vistas and majestic cloudscapes. Today the low light levels would dictate either a slower shutter speed or open aperture, obviously at the expense of depth of field. (I rarely resort to changing ISO away from the base setting unless I can really help it. Personal choice.) Although the day was relatively still, a light zephyr was just causing enough movement of the vegetation to rule out dropping the shutter speed too much, so depth of field would have to go. Taking these considerations into account any shot taken today would be the smaller scale, more intimate aspects of the landscape, ones in which texture was not too important due to the lack of good strong angled lighting. As a consequence of the conditions my eyes where averted from the distant hills as I sought out the details closer at hand whilst setting a large aperture thus allowing a sufficient shutter speed.
Whilst these sort of considerations, as I have already indicated, tend to be somewhat instinctive, I found it useful just to spend the time thinking them through and analysing what was behind my choice of subject and shot.
Capturing the Grandeur and Majesty of Landscapes
A Piece of Cake
Interesting Comment On Photography in the 21st Century
Photography As Art
"At this point, we need to pause before we get carried away; we haven't even answered the really important question here: what is art? Well, it's a subjectively biased interpretation of something - whether that something is an event, a place, a person, or a thing, is irrelevant. It's the bias that makes it interesting: Monet's waterlilies are interesting because they show us his unique interpretation of the scene, according to the impressionist school -- which is yet another subjective way of looking at the world. Picasso's works are interesting because they show us his interpretation of the world. In both cases, the interpretations present us with such a unique -- unprecedented -- result, that we are forced to stop, look, and think. The value here is in the uniqueness of the interpretation: what the artists see is so far beyond the normal realm of comprehension for most that it becomes akin to visual magic. It's also worth remembering that seeing is but half of the puzzle: execution is just as important."
I found the article particularly interesting because of the ideas around the need and importance of interpretation and uniqueness. I believe that over reliance on process leads to average, boring and mundane images simply by virtue of the fact that they are all produced the same way. The true art and craft of photography I believe lies in being able to use the photographic process to produce images that truly reflect the unique way in which the photographer sees the world. And it has to be unique because since how we see and interpret the world around us is different for each of us.
The full article can be seen here...
Fine Art Photography
This extract from an articlenby Pete Myers on the Photo.net web site, State of the ART: The Purpose of Fine Art Photography , I feel quite eloquently adds to the argument.
"Given the beauty of a fine art photograph viewed in person, the photograph itself should hit the viewer on a visceral level—completely “right brained.” That is to say, not to think, but to feel. If the viewer is thinking, not feeling, I would go so far as to say that it is not fine art. The reaction to the entire photograph should be immediate, and simply overwhelm the sensation of the viewer. Whatever techniques are used by the photographer to get there, they should not detract from the primary mission—which is the ennoblement of the beauty within the subject matter."
For the full article /click here...
The Importance of Visualisation
OK this sometimes happens. You are simply not in the right frame of mind. Today is not the day.
Yet the more I thought about it, the more I felt that was not quite the answer. Then whilst wandering round a local gallery I found the answer. The truth is when I looked at the seascape I could not see a photographic print, I could only see a painting.
To me, the way I work, I need to be able to envisage the final print, I need in my minds eye to be able to understand how the scene in front of me will translate into the final image. I need to be able to visualise the final print. Only being able to see the scene in front of me as a painting obviously blocks the visualisation process and I unable to see a final print.
So for me seascapes will always be done in oils whilst old knackered trees and derelict buildings will always be monochrome prints.
Such a case is that of Peter J Conradi in his book At The Bright Hem of God, Radnorshire Pastoral.
“The space and solitude that awed me were, like all landscape, haunted by absence and by loss”
It is this sense of loss and absence that haunts the British landscape that I seek out in my photography.
The Value Of Modern Technology
The Nikon D750 is a classic case in point. As a full frame camera costing around £2000 you would feel that this a camera for the serious enthusiast looking to improve their skills. Yet the camera is fitted with the most amazing exposure technology. Take a high dynamic scene, switch on the highlight weighted metering, switch on the Active D-Lighting and switch on the Flat Picture Control. Result a nice lovely exposed shot. Well allegedly.
Compare that to my first camera, the Zenit 12XP. The only real control you had was the shutter speed on the camera, with a range of 1/30 to 1/500, and the aperture via the aperture ring on the lens. You could also do a few tricks playing with ASA/DIN film speed setting (for you younger readers that's what we now call ISO). The exposure meter consisted of two LEDs showing if you were under or over exposed. Obviously as a fully manual camera there was no exposure compensation control, probably the most important control on today's cameras. It was up to the photographer to get the exposure right and in doing so they had to engage with their subject and not, has I believe is the case today, focus on the camera and it's controls
I believe that as a result of having to engage with your subject in this way and not being overly distracted by setting camera controls, results in a better understanding of the basic principles of photography which in turn leads to better photographs. This is about making exposure decisions based upon the tonal values of your subject and visualising how they will be rendered in the final image as opposed to letting the camera decide. It's about you setting the camera controls to achieve the photograph you envisaged rather than leaving it to the camera. It's about looking at your subject and not at the camera control panel.
Of course just because the technology is there does not mean you have to use it. You can always switch if off and fly solo!
An e-book well worth reading
If I have been influenced by any one photographer then it is the work of David Chamberlain, particularly his book ”The Creative Monochrome Image”. David's work certainly shows that “there's nowt new in Photoshop” and whilst I have tried to emulate some of more extreme techniques in the darkroom I never had much success.
The Importance Of Tonal Relationships In Monochrome Photography
For example landscapes work best when there is a regression of tones through the image. A mid tone in the foreground, a lighter tone in the middle distance, a darker tone in the far distance and through to a lighter sky which itself then also goes from light to dark. Such a regression of tones will often create an image with a feeling of depth and lead the viewers eye through the image.
Identifying tonal relationships helps inform the selection of my view point and the placement of the actual physical elements that will make up my final image. I tend to ensure that the images key points of interest are placed so that their tonal value contrasts with that of their background and since when we view photographic images our eyes are drawn to lighter tones, key points should be of a relatively lighter tone. Thus if for example a key point is located in the middle foreground than the general tone of this area should be darker than that of the key point in that area and this in turn will dictate the tonal levels for the other areas of the image if a tonal regression through the image is to established..
Obviously tonal relationships of this nature are just one of many relationships that can exist in a photographic image. What is important is being able to see and recognise the tonal relationship that is most appropriate to my image.
Probably The Most Important Camera Skill
If you take your camera out on a bright sunny day and set an exposure at your slowest shutter speed and widest aperture you will obviously get a nice white image with no image detail. If you then start to decrease the exposure, increasing levels of detail will be revealed until a point is reached at which detail is being lost to the shadows. Put another way, any level of under or over exposure has the potential to lead to the lose of detail in some part of the image.
Probably the most important photography skill is that of being able to see and understand tonal values and being able to control their relationship during capture and post processing. You can if wish leave it to the camera and hope and pray that the camera captures the tonal values in a way that allows you to establish the tonal relationships that reflect your vision.
Or of course you could save yourself a lot of time and trouble as well as heartache by simply taking the time to get it right in camera.
The Photography Competition Game
Black & White -a simpler language
A Simple Truth
Don't Believe The Hype!
It's not photography
Having just watched an item on the BBC regarding a new web app that gauges the popularity of photographs I had the thought that we may have a new type or class of photographic image -social imagery. Images not taken as "photographs" but rather as aids to personal projection into the "socialsphere". More thoughts about a possible definition for "socialsphere" imagery and how it differs from photography to follow. Watch this space.
Doing it my way.
This image of the Torridon mountains reflects my "purist" approach to photography. No painterly effect, no distracting colour and no "big stopper" to soften the sky etc.
Please feel free to comment on any of the thoughts or issues posted in this blog. Healthy debate is always welcome!