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……..

I’ve Never Flown A Drone Before!

A few weeks ago, a friend told me that another friend was selling his drone, did I fancy getting one? I wasn’t sure……….

We decided in the end that we would buy it between us and give it a go.

What did we know about drones? – absolutely nothing…….

However, once it arrived, we found it easy to set up, and get running.  The cables were a bit fiddly till you could sort out where they went, but once the batteries were charged, it can be put it into ‘idot’ mode, which makes for an easier start.

The basics are easy – left control, up and down and rotate, and the right for forwards, backwards, sideways – but getting the knack of using both levers at the same time was a bit more complex.   You also have to take into account that the camera lens can be moved up and down through 90 degrees. Lots of permutations here.

Fotherby Top

The first lot of video was shaky to say the least.  Stop start, and too quick rotation meant viewing made your head spin, and getting up the nerve to go to the maximum legal height of 400ft was a bit hairy.

The Boring Bit

To legally use a drone in the UK, over the weight of 250g, it must be registered.  It can all be done online and there are two parts to this.  

  1. Anyone responsible for a drone needs to register as an operator.  This is currently £9 annually.
  2. Anyone flying a drone must take, and pass an online education package. This is free, and renewable every three years.
  3. If you want to fly commercially, a whole raft of other requirements are in place.

So, registration complete, test passed (first time – though in fairness it’s not difficult) – and away we go.

What’s hard?

Thinking in three dimensions is not easy for me – yet …. For a start, the thing is moving, and it’s far away from you usually.  Taking stills is not too bad as it will hover and the gimbal helps keeps the image steady, plus you can see what the camera sees on your mobile phone app.   Video though, for me, is a whole new skill.

So, I’ve got the footage (bad though it may be) and I’ve got some photographs.  Processing them is easy – the drone shoots its own version of RAW – in this case DNG files, which I can deal with in Photoshop and Lightroom.  The video footage though – well Lightroom can’t handle it – Photoshop is limited, so what else have I got?  

I use a MAC, and the free software that comes with that is iMovie – and it actually works pretty well.  I’ve got a fairly powerful computer that can handle video, but bear in mind that the files can be huge.  I shot in 4K (which is the best quality this drone can handle), and after 40 minutes flying the other day, I came back with 30Gb of footage, which when downloaded and edited made for a bit of a wait whilst the files were exported afterwards.

I’ve also been learning a bit more about how YouTube works. The finished files are a bit too big for me to keep locally, and there’s free space so far on the web, which I can link to. Something else for me to learn….

The other interesting thing I found is that you can take a still image from the video footage, and the quality isn’t bad. (See Below)

Cleethorpes Beach

So how am I doing?  Well, it’s been an experience for sure – and some of the images I can already see potential for.

I was initially a bit disappointed with the quality of the stills. The camera is 12Mp but really does need good light to get the best from it. The sensor of course is tiny – but you can work the files to what I consider an acceptable standard – they can be noisy but software can sort most of that. It’s a bit like flying a medium quality mobile phone. (Though I know that some of the newer drones have much better cameras).

I’m always talking about taking a risk, and experimenting with photography, and this is a whole new way of seeing the world.  It’s going to take practice, and although I’m thinking of buying another one (that’s all mine)….. I’m going to wait till I really get to grips with my half of a drone……..  

For those of you who know all this already, I’m sorry to ramble on, but it’s an exciting time.

Fingers crossed I can keep up with this, and hopefully get to make some video that is actually worth watching….. till then… fingers crossed.


As the DJI website says – “Let’s Fly”

The Covid Zoom Inspiration

Sometime during March, my camera club closed down because of Covid19 – there was no big announcement, just a quiet closure, and a sudden end to the programme of events that were scheduled.

One member acquired a Zoom account for the benefit of maybe half a dozen people, so we could keep in touch.  It soon expanded though to include the whole of the club, and since then has gone from strength to strength.

What this blog post is about, is the results of that closure, and what happened afterwards.

We had a couple of meetings to see how it would go, and, when it became apparent that most of the membership were keen, it fell to a group of three to work out the programme that would ensue.  All the competitions had stopped, and there had been no club committee meetings, so we plodded on.

What happened was one of the best programmes of speakers I have ever had the privilege to watch – ranging from people with little experience, to solid professionals with years of speaking experience, based around the world.

The common denominator was the software called Zoom, which seemed to float to the top at the start of the Covid lockdown.  

I certainly had never heard of it before, and I gather a lot more people were in exactly the same situation.  At the start, there seemed to be glitches, and some security issues, but the company seemed to get on top of that pretty quickly, and ironed out the problems.  Pretty soon I saw that many businesses were using it as a conferencing tool, including our own government.

There is always (for some) a fear of new technology, but under these trying circumstances, I have been pleased to see people I would have considered to be wary of this sort of meeting – happily joining in after a training session.  Even some who said they were sure they wouldn’t like it, have been converted.  

Of course – it’s not for everyone, and if it’s not a place you would feel comfortable, then that is fine. (But you’re missing such a lot!)

However – the results of the talks, coming as quickly as they have (and still do) has been inspirational.  

Not just the club, but the Royal Photographic Society too, has put on a series of events and talks that simply could not be missed…. So what is the result so far….

Well, a cornucopia of ideas from an eclectic mix of photographers and artists.  

We started with Art Nude, and nudes in the landscape, reflecting professionalism, and images you would be happy to show your aged mother.  Not a genre I was planning on trying any time soon, but the photographs and the expertise was unmistakable.

From here we moved to stories, told by different images, and a whole talk and photographs based  entirely on a work of fiction.  Some stunning work by a master of wildlife photography, who showed us how he was able to attract birds into his garden, and gave us a tour round with excellent photography.

Based on this talk, the club ran a competition based on ‘birds’ – a fun competition with a very loose theme – images ranged from model kingfishers, to easter chicks in a nest of creme eggs.

So what have I learned?

Well, images can be produced that are interpretations, and not records of events, the subject comes first, and the images second.  Planning is key, and if you are creating your own photographs from a work of fiction, then the image must be moved by the story itself.

The differences in attitude and experience of the speakers shows me that creativity is not necessarily something we can just learn.  It can require a complete change of mindset, and is something that needs constant practice.

There will be many failures, but these are essential, as are the risks.  

For example – Edward Weston produced a startling black and white image of a green pepper – called ‘Pepper Number 30’.  What I hadn’t really thought about, was that there must have been at least 29 earlier versions, and who knows how many afterwards.  The point is that Weston thought that number 30 was THE image, and the one he was probably most satisfied with.

Photographers must learn (I feel it should be compulsory) to cultivate a willingness to experiment, and think about the question ‘what if I did this?’..

I also learned that watching these excellent people present their work – that what we saw was a carefully cultivated, curated collection of images – and not just a thrown together selection of work.  They all saw that there was no ‘one way’ of doing things – there was no wrong way, there was just a multitude of different ways.  Some would just work better than others.

The images were not ‘scripted’ – they were born out of imagination, inspiration, and creativity.  Even the loveliest landscapes that I saw of Mongolia, were thought through pieces, with the photographer even showing us one or two of his rejects, and explaining the thought process.

Each specialist image maker held true to their passions and convictions, and to a large extent didn’t worry too much about how others reacted to them.  There is therefore a true correlation between creation and passion.

The other thing they do is make time for their art.  It’s not created in between sandwiches on a Wednesday afternoon.  They have spent time and effort looking at other people’s work, and at art.  They have attended exhibitions, judged competitions, made work for sale, and importantly, made work for themselves.

So looking back at what I have seen so far – travel, people, factual, experimental, wildlife, landscape, nudes and totally different uses of camera and drones – my mind is racing with ideas.

I look at the programme to come, and see more projects, the Vikings, more wildlife, sports, astrophotography, underwater, street, work with textures, and composite photography.

Lots of things I’ve never tried, not thought about particularly either, but we all need to open our eyes and minds to different mindsets.

Lockdown has been an absolute pain in a lot of ways – there’s been a lot of agony and grief, but there has also been an abundance of creative imagery – some fantastically beautiful and poignant work, reflecting how photographers have responded to being left to their own devices.

Is there still going to be a place for the ‘traditional’ camera club after this?  I’d say yes, because you can’t beat the personal interactions that you get when you meet up.  Will they be different? I hope so – I hope that more photographers will be willing to experiment, and break the rules.

Is there going to be a place for Zoom, or equivalent? – again, I think yes.  How else can you have a presenter from the other side of the world, or even Europe?  Speakers from the deep south of the UK, or the north of Scotland.  

One thing I do hope, is that clubs continue to have these brilliant speakers – so that we can see the amazing work that might be totally different to our own……

I look forward to hearing your comments, and seeing you let yourselves go….

It’s Pixellated !!!

In my college days – in Stockport, working at photography, early on, a question was asked by our tutor – “why are you obsessed with taking pictures?”

We all had to think…… ‘Obsessed’ seemed a bit strong.

If I don’t take pictures for any length of time, I start to feel out of sorts, a bit ‘antsy’, and restless – My other half has no thoughts whatsoever about taking photographs. He has a camera, yes, but hardly ever uses it.  He’s quite normal, but doesn’t have the same drive that I do to make an image – in fact he has none at all…..

Yet, all of us who are photographers, who are driven and motivated, and have sacrificed money and time, and effort, and space in our homes for equipment and computers – maybe we are the ones who are just a bit crazy….. a bit ‘obsessed’.

But why do we spend so much time, and expend so much energy in making photographs?

Well, for me anyway, I feel almost compelled to share with other people the way that I see the world.  I operate under the illusion (or maybe delusion) that other people might be just a bit interested in the way I see things, or imagine things.

It’s egotistical isn’t it, that photographers think that others will be interested in seeing how we see – and thinking that the way we see, is different to everyone else.  

I look at work produced by other photographers, so that I can produce something that is different, so that they can look at my work and maybe produce something that is different – ad infinitum.

_DSF4953-Edit

Which brings me nicely on to what other people hang on their walls.  

In the good old days, when we were able to visit other people’s homes – remember those halcyon days – must be – well, over 12 weeks ago (ish) now……  I was always interested in what was hanging there.  

I was in an office a while ago, and there was a picture on the wall of Scotland – Skye in fact, and what caught my eye, was that it was taken from a place I had been, and stood, and taken my own photo. 

I mentioned later that I’d admired the picture, and was told that it had been taken by a friend of his, when they were on holiday together.  He told me all about the trip, how much he’d enjoyed it, how he intended to go back as soon as it was possible to do so.  

The way he described it – I could tell that the photograph meant an awful lot to him, and how much he enjoyed having it hanging there.

Being a bit of a picture person, I took another, better, closer, look – as a photographer would. 

It was pixellated – and obviously an enlargement of a much smaller image, and the colours were a bit ‘off’.  It had looked OK from 10 or 12 feet away, but once I got closer, I saw the flaws.  I started to see it, not as a memory of a place visited, but as a flawed piece of work, yet for him, it was a beautiful picture that evoked a wonderful memory, thus showing the difference between how just two people can view an image.  Double that, triple it, and then think of how many people look at your work, and think about how they view it.

It’s not all going to be the same way…. and sometimes we are lucky if ‘anyone’ likes what we are doing…  good to experiment though isn’t it?

Have fun, stay alert! as the saying now goes…..