Oldies but Goodies

For as long as Lightroom has been in existence, I’ve used it…. I’ve organised and sorted all my images using this system which has been so efficient for me.  I can find anything fairly quickly, because the catalogue system is so good, and also because I understand my own file naming system.

Looking back though at what’s in there (there’s a lot of rubbish by the way), and I do start to wonder why I keep as much as I do.  

I think I operated under the wild assumption that I would (one day) go back and revisit all those images, and edit them over again as software developed, and my skills improved.

But here we are – some 20 odd years later and I’m looking at some of the things I kept, that I thought were ‘good’ at that time.    I think I can honestly say that most of the images are of no interest to me any more.  My style, and ideas have changed, and there’s little that I did then that I like now.

The other week, I had a more radical idea.  What if I removed from Lightroom, and indeed from my immediate hard drive everything I’d not looked at in the last twenty years, and started again.  Keeping only recent ‘lockdown’ work and textures I’d made.  

I couldn’t do it….. but in the end I compromised.

I’m older now, and hopefully a bit wiser.  The person who made those images 20+ years ago doesn’t exist any more.  I was a beginner with a Sony 3mp camera, with a 1 inch screen on the back.

So, the compromise was that I’ve backed up all those old images to an external drive – they include all my college work, and some family photos that honestly I can’t take again. That drive will be stored away with other hard drives, and hopefully I’ll take a look at it every now and again.

For now though, it’s time to look at what is left…. And I discovered some portraits that I took in 2011.  My editing wasn’t that good at the time, so I’ve been able to go back to the original RAW files, taken with a Canon 5D, and work them up again.

I realise now that there’s no way I could have visualised those images, the way I do today.  I think that then I was just ‘taking’ photographs, and maybe today I’m ‘making’ them.

As an aside, I was reading a book the other day, and the discussion was about the ‘perfect’ photograph, and the question was ‘what makes a photograph perfect?’  The answers were varied, and here’s a selection of them.

  1. One that is sharp and in Focus.
  2. One which gives the viewer a perfect experience, with no question about the content
  3. One which survives over 100 years and still gives the viewer the same experience
  4. One which is artistic and impressionistic
  5. One which adheres to the rule of thirds
  6. One which tells a story

All of these, or some of these.  Maybe you think non of these…. 

The thing that makes photography so fascinating for me, is that all the above can be ‘perfect’.  The photographer can be both objective, and artistic at the same time, and that’s probably why I love it so much.

I reckon I’ll keep looking back at the old stuff for a while longer.  

Scarlot Rose – 2011

Technological Failures…..

A few years ago, doing some work in Manchester Cathedral, I had my camera on a tripod, with a wide angle lens attached – I was behind the main altar, with one tripod leg on the top step, and the other two on the step below.  It was a long exposure, and I was using a wired trigger, attached to the camera.  

I took the photograph, and then stepped back, forgetting that I was one step up – as I fell backwards, my arms flailed out sideways, and I didn’t let go of the trigger.  

I watched, as in slow motion, the camera, atop the tripod slowly fell over to my left.  The crash as it all hit the marble flooring resounded round an otherwise quiet and peaceful place….  The camera hit the floor, and the lens sheared off it – one part staying attached to the body, the other rolling across the floor and under a nearby table…. The door covering the memory card came off completely – the main body cracked, and all sorts of interesting electronics came into view, that I had no idea existed, never mind wanted to see.

So distraught was I, that I sat and tried to put the two halves of the lens back together.  Utter madness with hindsight.  

I managed to fit the card door back on – reinserted the battery, and put a different lens on – amazingly – the camera actually worked, though non of the buttons would do anything.  

I took a few more shots out of curiosity more than anything and left….

On the way home I dropped the lot into Calumet photographic, and they sent the lot off to Canon for repair or disposal, whichever.  Amazingly, after a few weeks, it was all returned to me in full working order.

Then, only a month or so ago, I had a major email catastrophe – self inflicted of course – I was sending my laptop off to have a new battery fitted, and so deleted all of the emails on there – forgetting completely that it was synced to the server. It wiped everything clean, and when I turned on my main machine, I watched in horror as all the emails fell off the screen. Operator error………

Why am I telling you this? ……. well, it reminds me that as photographers we are totally reliant on technology.  We remember to take with us spares of all sorts of things that we think might fail when we are out and about.  Always I have spare batteries, memory cards, and at least one other lens (just in case).    After all, if our technology fails in the field, we are bereft, there is nothing we can do – I don’t know anyone who can repair a digital camera, or computer outside a specialist shop. 

I even know someone who carries a spare tripod in the car….. just in case a leg fails on the one he uses most.

A friend I go out with sometimes, was upset the other week that he’d got to the venue only to discover that there was no card in the camera…..  I was able to assist – I had a spare… well what a shock….. 

Photography can be weird!

Isn’t it weird – taking photos I mean? Being on your own with a camera, and then maybe sitting on your own in front of a computer, wondering if it’s all going to come out OK.  

What about the photographs though?  Some of the images you take can be studied in advance, and oftentimes you are looking for the problems, even before they arrive, almost as a justification for them being ‘not good enough’.  You blame equipment, light, software – you are full of excuses.

Photographers need to sometimes empty themselves of preconceptions, and think of every new image as a potential passionate affair – something that you can throw yourself into with scant regard for anything, or anyone, else.

Focus on the part of the image that you like the most, shoot what you like the best.  You might not always know what the end result is going to be – things will develop, and that is as it should be – relish the challenge.

Don’t even think sometimes, just respond to what’s in front of you – look for the spirit of the scene.

Imagination can be harder than you think, but if you try too hard, then it might not come to you.  Sometimes, you feel you have been bold, imaginative, experimental. You’ve really tried to see and do things in different ways. It still didn’t work.  You’ve tried too hard.

So, look in the dark places, in the shadows – look where you normally don’t look, see what’s in there that you’ve not noticed before.

Photography isn’t always about what you put in, it’s about your ability to take things out – don’t be afraid to destroy your image in the edit process (you can always come back to the original) – take risks – and be brave enough to find out just how little you need.

You can get to the point in an edit where you can see it’s almost done – you see the end result, but sometimes continue to push on and on – till it’s over done – over processed – be aware of the point that can make or break the picture.

Now, look at what you have made – maybe it’s not all right, not all you hoped it would be – but don’t be too self critical – be proud that you got as far as you did…..

Keep being surprised.

Prestidigitation and the Camera

The secret to performing magic tricks is all in the hands – or at least, that’s what is suggested by the etymologies of prestidigitation and its two synonyms.  The French word preste (from Italian presto) means “quick” or “nimble,” and the Latin word digitus means “finger.” Put them together and-presto!-you’ve got prestidigitation. 

Photography can be construed as magic when the quickness of the camera and software will deceive the eye – suddenly – and ‘pfft’ – the first part is all over in 1/1000 sec.  Too slow, and your audience will see how it was done – too quick, and they won’t have time to appreciate it….

Are you seeing closely?  

Get it right, and your viewer will wonder how it was made – get it wrong, and it’s blazingly obvious, and you get called out….. are you cheating?

The clock ticks, time moves on – you press that shutter, and that second, that fraction of a second is recorded, inevitably, and can never be repeated.  The time changes, the light changes, we change.  

Tick tick, click click, we shoot – we repeat.

We sometimes see that it’s wrong, and still repeat what we do – repeating the mistakes won’t make them right and frequently we just don’t learn.

Tick tick – time’s running out people……

The studio, the landscape, the animal, it’s your theatre, and the audience is your observer.

The judges – don’t forget that all your viewers are judges – but only you can decide which of these you are going to take notice of.

There’s still that burning question – is it any good?

How did ‘that’ person get ‘that’ exhibition?

Is it art, or is it about having the nerve to keep telling the world that you are better than everyone else?

It’s magic – it’s all an illusion made from smoke and mirrors – self delusion?  Maybe…… or true art?

There’s a deception and change of reality whenever an image is framed in the viewfinder – the thing is changed as soon as that shutter button is pressed – it’s up to you whether you keep it or share it….

Magic can be about turning a horse into a zebra, creating a building that can fly, making people from the past live the present.

It’s also about self belief and worth – sticking to your guns and having no doubt that what you make is good.

Are we about winning, or being happy?  Are we seeing closely?

Get out and shoot

Go and shoot they said, the weather will be great they said…… It was lovely when we set out.

In the talk that I give, I discuss the weather, the vagaries of shooting and the stuff you forget to take with you. I also talk about attitude, and what you do at the other end of your drive when things don’t turn out as you anticipated.

It was a fabulous morning, a light mist hanging over the fields – not light yet properly, and the idea of a low mist, a high tide, and the ‘Sound Tower’, one of the Structures on the Edge – down on the coast, kept me moving.

It’s about 30 miles to where we wanted to be – around a 50 minute drive along winding roads, and with the fog getting thicker all the time, there were thoughts about turning around and getting home for a bacon sandwich…

“Carry on”, I said to myself, “Practice what you preach”…. “Wish I’d brought my ‘normal’ camera” I thought, and not the drone….

Still, it looked like it might be OK. We parked up, and wandered onto the beach to be met with a wall of sea fog, but with the sun making a brave effort to poke through. “We’ll launch” we said….. and up we went……

What I didn’t think about was the transmission issues in fog between drone and transmitter…. should have done of course… and at one point it sat in the sky and refused to land – a moment of panic to be sure, but all was well and down she came – I thought better of a second attempt, and only took a couple of images…. here they are…..


The light turned out lovely, and I did get the bacon when I got home…. maybe I will check the forecast in a bit more detail next time before I leave the house……

Wrong weather, wrong mood, wrong camera, wrong lens…….. good photo !!!

I think……

Keep Going Back…

Sometimes you just see things, and have to take a photo – and sometimes you take something out with you to shoot – just in case – and get something unexpected.

This week, on the last sunny and warm day (I suspect) of summer, I headed out to the local woods with a glass ball in my camera bag.

I spent some time looking at the woodland, and playing around with light and shade….. then remembered I’d got the ball with me….. I jammed it in between a couple of tree branches and was delighted that I could see a view of the wood through it… of course, it’s a lens, and everything was upside down – so I’ve reversed the image…..

The woodland is small, no more than a few hectares, yet I find myself returning again and again. Last winter was when I first discovered it, and I played around with the lines of trees against the stark winter sky – in the summer, the canopy is so thick there’s little light getting through to the ground.

I’m looking forward to seeing it in the autumn.

Always go back to places you’ve visited before, it will be different every time, and there will always be something new to see.

In this small woodland, maintained by the woodland trust – work goes on all year round, and views I saw a few months ago, are just not there any more – but there are new ones to investigate.


Keep going back, keep looking…..

It’s not over till you quit, because you never know where the next picture will come from.

Film V Digital

A comparative review…..

I have a friend (just the one) – who shoots film almost exclusively.  He says that you can’t get the same quality of image from digital that you can from a film camera.  He insists he’s right – won’t hear a word said against film (and I’m not going to here either).

The thing about this, is that the production of an image, has nothing to do with the medium on which it is taken. It’s a mechanical thing, whichever way you look at it.

There was a time, when I bought, shot, developed and printed from film.  There’s a time now when  I buy cards, shoot, process and print digital images – and the difference is?  I can do it in the daylight, instead of sitting in (what was at the time) a stuffy little built in wardrobe, with the smell of chemicals wafting on the air.

When I did my photography courses at college – one of the first things we did, was go straight back to the lab, and process a film – ahh, you say – nostalgia….. nope – same old darkness (in a larger room to be sure) but with the same chemical smell that lingers long after you get home.

‘But”, my friend argues “we did it all ourselves, all the famous photographers of our time did”… well sorry to disillusion you…… but most of them had assistants, even if they oversaw the whole process.

Think this way as well.  We didn’t make the film, as much as we didn’t make the memory card.  We didn’t make the lens for the camera, or the electronics that are in there today.  Someone somewhere along the line helped us to make that photograph.  If we digital shooters produce a JPG, then the camera has done some editing in advance – if we shoot RAW, then we end up with the equivalent of a negative, to edit as we wish.  I suspect it’s no coincidence that Lightroom has a ‘Develop’ module, or a library for that matter.

What I notice is that my friend does not print his own images, nor does he process his own film, and yet argues that his image making process, is  more ‘pure’ than mine,

As photographers, and creators of images, I don’t think it matters if we leave some things to our virtual assistants – get our images printed elsewhere for example – it is entirely our choice, but if we leave the film to be processed into prints at the time we send it off -then we are leaving the final edit to the chemistry lab operators.

In the end though, it’s our creative vision, and the print, (if we choose to go that far) is our end product.

Put a film print and a digital print side by side, and most times I would defy you to tell which was which !

Feel free to argue the point – I’d be interested…….. 

Photowalks

I’ve not done a long photowalk for ages, and today seemed to be the day for it.

I cycle a lot, and earlier in the week, a friend and I tried to get along the old Louth to Grimsby rail line – closed by Beecham in the 1960’s – it started OK and we got a fair way down the track, but didn’t make it to the far end as the undergrowth looked too deep.

Today, I had this really good idea to approach it from the other end, and on foot – so armed with camera, and trusty dog companion – we set off.

It started OK

The track was a bit overgrown, but manageable, and dog was having a good time – lots of new stuff to sniff, and rabbits to look at – we even saw some roe deer.

Moving on towards the next village though, saw the track get more and more overgrown – the nettles got taller, and the brambles more treacherous with their trip hazards. Dog started to get a bit miffed, and complained about treading on spiky things. He was only mollified by getting a few blackberries to chomp on as we went along.

The grass got deeper and deeper, and I decided that no person had walked that way in years…. it was pretty obvious why….. It was a wonderful wildlife corridor though, with lots of butterflies. (Should have had a macro lens with me – hey ho).

Anyway, after about 45 minutes of trudging, we got to a point where we just couldn’t go any further – the trees / bushes / nettles etc were so close together it was just impassable, unless you were a rabbit.

After a brief rest in a field – we set off back the way we had come – dog happier now we were going back.

We stopped to have a drink, and watched some harvesting going on, and then turned our noses to home.

Much easier walking now – till we got to a stile that is a set of steps over a wall – Dog refused… so we had to go back – another return trip.

Anyway – job done – walk complete – both of us exhausted. Hard walking – but I was determined to get the camera out for a bout of fresh air……. Some mobile phone pics got taken too, as I needed the rucksack to carry everything the dog wanted to bring…..

It’s a bit frustrating this photo walk business…….

Insecurity

Being insecure is good for the photographic process.  Usually when you are out and about – you take a picture, and then review it on the back of the camera.  You might then move about a bit, and take another. You might do this a few times, till what you see on the back of the camera accords with your own internal ideas.

You can’t do that when you shoot film of course. You don’t have the benefit of seeing the ‘result’ straight away, and so there’s that element of insecurity because you are not totally sure what you have got ‘in the can’.  You are also limited by the number of pictures you can take.  36 on a roll, or 24, or maybe as few as 8 or 10.

What do we do?  Digitallly, we take lots of images – but which ones do you like the best when you get home, and look at them all together?

I often find that the images I like the best are usually not the ones I thought I was taking at the outset – things move on, even as I shoot, and it might be the 10th image that I take that is the one that I use. The benefit of the digital camera is that you can check as you go – but is this always good for you?

Sometimes I wonder if by virtue of being able to look at the back of the camera all the time, I am just confirming that what I saw was good, or am I merely looking at a preview of my ultimate expectation.

It might be both – because looking at the back of the camera all the time can disrupt the shooting process – causing us to miss things….

When I was working as an agency photographer – most times I didn’t have the opportunity to look and check what was happening on the back of the camera – I just had to keep going, and trust that the settings were the right ones. I learned to adjust as I went, working on the principle that it had to be right first time, as there were no second opportunities.

That was the insecurity which was hanging over my shoulder all the time – it made me work harder, and faster.  If I checked at all, it was briefly.

The best lesson I learned was to reset my camera to a default, at the end of every single shoot.  So the camera sat at ISO 400, f5.6, RAW, and Aperture Priority.  That would get me most times an OK shot – it also meant that if I’d previously been shooting at ISO 12,000 – I wouldn’t be doing that the next day, when the sun came out again.  

It happens to us all, we make mistakes, but resetting the camera can mitigate things.

Why not try this – put some black tape over the screen – and go out and shoot – make yourself a little more insecure – and see what happens….

It’s only pixels……..