We’ve a lot to worry about…

Us photographers have a lot to worry about.  Life is so full of risks, that I’m grateful for any and all warnings that come from camera manufacturers….

As some of you know, I recently sold all my Canon gear, and switched over to the Fuji system.  I bought, over a year ago now, a Fuji X-T3, and I’ve only just got around to reading the manual – I should have read this first and been prepared…..

It says – and I quote here from the book….

“Do not use this product near water.  For example a bath tub, wash bowl, kitchen sink, or laundry tub, in a wet basement, or swimming pool and the like.”

Good job I read this bit then – as I was about to dunk it in the washing machine for a good soak…..

Separately it tells me not to use it in the shower…. (drat)

Continued use of the camera when it is emitting smoke, or any unusual odour, can be hazardous…..    SMOKE?????

Do not take pictures whilst you are in motion…….you may fall down (yes it really does say this..)

Do not touch the camera during a thunderstorm.. (no lightning pictures for me then)..

It tells me not to use the camera if I happen to find myself wandering around an area where there are flammable objects, or explosive gasses – I guess this isn’t somewhere I would normally find myself.

Funnily it also tells me to keep hot shoes out of the reach of small children…… though I wonder why kids would be wanting their shoes to be hot in the first place…. hey ho!

Lastly there is the imminent danger of being injured by the memory card…..

When a memory card is being removed, the card could come out of the slot quickly.  Use your finger to hold it.  Injury could result to those struck by the ejected card.

I’ve a vision of a card being forcibly ejected, shooting across the room, and decapitating a colleague……

Still, it’s good to know……..

 

 

Margaret Bourke-White, and the weight of a camera…..

Margaret Bourke-White – June 14, 1904 – August 27, 1971 was an American photographer.  She is best known as the first foreign photographer permitted to take pictures of Soviet industry and was the first American female war photojournalist.

She was also the first woman to be allowed to work in combat zones during World War 2.  In 1941, she traveled to the Soviet Union just as Germany broke its pact of non-aggression.  She was the only foreign photographer in Moscow when German forces invaded.  Taking refuge in the US Embassy, she then captured the ensuing firestorms on camera.

And what a camera!  In a book she wrote after the war, she described what she took with her.  Five custom built Speed Graphic cameras, all of her film, and everything she needed to process the film, and print, which she did – using the bath in her room.

In total, she had over 600pounds of camera equipment including portable lighting.

As she wrote in Portrait of Myself: “People often ask me, ‘What’s the best camera?’ That is like asking, ‘What is the best surgeon’s tool?’ Different cameras fill different needs. I have always had a special affection for the larger-than-miniature cameras.”

I mention this because I think we – as photographers in this upcoming new decade – need to appreciate how much easier it is for us, than it was for her.

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Light, and the Edit

Last night, I went out and was able to take some photographs of Tawny Owls.  Sat there, in the dark, unable to speak for fear of scaring them away, low whispers and pitch black in the hide, staring at the pole on which we hoped they’d land – before moving across the area where a couple of flash guns were set up, to land on the target.

I’d envisaged what I wanted – the subtle background of trees in the dusk – the owl in flight moving across the glade on silent wings – me with the remote clutched in my hot hands – staring at that first pole, as the light fell, and fell – a tiny light illuminating the top of that first pole so I’d be able to make out the owl as she landed. The strain of the eye – was that a landed owl, or was I imagining things?

The picture was in my mind – but the reality was twofold.

  1. The owl landed on the second pole straight away – took the bait and cleared off.
  2. The owl went straight for the food and didn’t land on anything.
  3. (OK, threefold then), the owl landed on the first pole, flew to the second as planned, but did it not in a straight line, but in a curve, and so was too small in the frame.

It’s so frustrating – nature at its very best, I love it.

Then the conversation later about how to tackle the low light, the bird, and the background.  One point of view was to keep everything as dark as possible, as tawny owls hunt at night (unlike barn owls which I see fairly frequently in daylight hours). On the other hand, they do hunt at dusk, so some background would be inevitable.

Shooting with flash (and that’s the only way to illuminate the bird), means the background is black anyway.  So what’s the answer.  Maybe a second light on the background permanently, so as to illuminate both things at the same time……… or

Two images, one of the background with a longer exposure, but still dim, and the second of the bird, in flight, or stationary on its post.

OK, well the downside to this is that I can’t use a composite image in a nature competition.  The rules generally say I can’t do this, so back to plan A.

The reality of things like this, is you have to take an image to please yourself, and not for the competition. If you like it, then that’s all there is to it – but in the meantime – here’s a couple of owl images that I like, and you can work out for yourselves how I did it…..

 

There’s Too Much Noise

I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s too much going on around me, and it’s distracting me from my photography.

Not the camera – but the rest of it – the internet (in particular Facebook), the computer generally, the radio, the television – it’s all getting to be too much.

I know I’m not taking enough time over my photographs – I feel rushed…. complete this, edit that, mount up this one… and I know I’ve talked about this before – and still done nothing about it.  Well from this minute forward I will – I promise.

I’m trying to be on a Facebook hiatus.  I do check in to look at what’s going on from time to time, but nowhere near as often as I did.  I’ve turned off the TV (other than Wimbledon) and I’m listening to podcasts only in the evenings.

I think that the more I can turn off technology, the more I should be able to concentrate on my photography – and do you know, it’s starting to work for me.

I’ve found more time for my edits, and am now looking at some photographs I took about 2 weeks ago and appreciating what I can do with them.

The plan is to go back to images I took ages ago, and re-edit them. I think that because of the rush to produce I’ve not always done my best, so I want to start again, and get some prints done, and keep up with the blog too.

Last weekend, was Armed Forces Day in Cleethorpes – I was away (on family business) for part of it, but did manage to join a couple of other photographers on the Sunday afternoon.  We shot some aircraft displays, and I purposely took far fewer images than I would normally do – and the results were much better.  The other plus side was that I actually watched most of the displays – something I would normally miss, as I’d be hidden behind the camera frantically trying to track a Eurofighter as it shot across the sky.

Here’s a couple from last weekend then, a fast one, and a slow one…….  the rest of the edits will just have to wait!

The Golden Bullet

This week, over the Christmas break, I’ve been able to sit down and read ..  and something I noticed, in fact have been noticing for a long time, is the number of articles that offer photographers the Golden Bullet which will make them more successful – make their business take off – improve their photography – and all at the touch of a button.  The right camera body, the right lens, or the right software….  and not many of these articles ever talk about the right attitude, or the right skill sets.

Here’s a few headlines from this week:-

“Hack your Smartphone and become a better photographer” – really ???

” Five weather sealed lens that will improve your photography” – please explain this one to me..  It might let you get out in bad weather, but just how does it improve your photography?

“Why natural light is best for portraits” – absolutely……

“Why flash is best for portraits” – absolutely (but if you are a new starter, this could be a bit confusing..)

“Lightroom / Photoshop presets to take your photography to the next level” – yes, bolt on that preset or that filter – you don’t need to learn how it all works….

“5 of our favourite lens for environmental portraiture” – 5?  Can’t we use just the one?

“Secrets of sports photography” (insert any genre at this point) – because after all it’s good to know a secret isn’t it?

I read one or two articles about building a business, and working on accounts, and keeping clients, but mostly they’re about getting new cameras, lens, computers, and software.

It’s such a shame that photographers can get sucked into GAS (gear aquisition syndrome), so much that everything sensible seems to leave their heads.

With a constant bombardment from your favourite camera brand telling us what’s new – or what’s coming soon, it’s so easy to get sucked into this strange new disease..  This obsession we have with getting the ‘next best thing’ in camera tech leads to a vicious cycle and will continue to distract us from our art if we don’t find out what it is we really need to focus on.

Education is a photographers most powerful tool when it comes to progressing, and being successful.  Sure, improved gear can be a great help – but there’s nothing to beat a good course on accountancy and business management – not as exciting to be sure, but an absolute essential if you want your business to succeed.

We all love our toys though, and it’s great to have the ‘latest’ thing, and if you can afford it feel free to indulge.  For those of us though who max out the credit card just to be able to say “I bought this”,  you should probably reconsider things.

BUY BOOKS – NOT GEAR

Having gear can make it easier to capture the type of image you want, but won’t make you a better photographer.  Buy books, look at pictures, attend gallery exhibitions, listen to podcasts.

Books are expensive yes, especially good quality photo books – but compare that to the price of a new lens.  Every time I go to a talk by a photographer that I admire – I buy the book they are selling at the end.  It’s not often I’ve been disappointed, and I’ve had some brilliantly creative images put in front of me that I can stare at for as long as I want without the computer being switched on.  Sometimes, there’s little or no text, just pictures.  It’s brilliant, and inspiring.

If you are serious about taking your photography to the next level – buy books.  Buy lots of books, buy tutorial books.

Again I reiterate that having good equipment will help you create the images you seek, but it won’t make you a better photographer.

I hope that you’ve all had a happy and relaxing Christmas, and that the New Year will bring all you wish for – be it gear, or books, or both…….  enjoy……

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Take a photo – Make a photo ?

Is clicking the shutter really enough ?  Do we spend too much time post processing ?   Should we be ‘pure’ in our art.  What comes in the lens, comes out in the print….

I’d say NO.  Clicking the shutter for me, is only the beginning of the process.

Whilst digitally enhancing images has become far easier, it’s nothing new.  The practice has existed since photography began. There was an exhibition in New York in 2012 which examined this whole thing.  Click HERE for the link.  The exhibition featured images created in the period 1840 – 1990.  Look again at the first date…… 1840 !!!  The photographs were altered using a variety of techniques including multiple exposures, combination printing (images used from more than one negative), painting, and retouching.   Nothing new really here, apart from the speed – it was much slower then to get the same results as nowadays.

untitledUnknown Artist, American School
Man on Rooftop with Eleven Men in Formation on His Shoulders
ca. 1930
Gelatin silver print
Collection of George Eastman House
Photo Courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The earliest example I could find was this one…. a two headed man – created in 1855 !

untitled

So why is manipulation such a huge problem for some people?

My all time hero – Ansel Adams was one of the greatest landscape photographers of all time.  He was probably one of the perfectionists.  His images were printed, edited, printed, edited, and printed again.  His ‘zone’ system is complex, and, for his time, revolutionary.  Google him – look at his images before and after editing.  One of his most famous pictures – Moonrise over Hernandez, New Mexico’ – is a perfect example of his post processing skills.

So, next time the ‘purists’ start shouting about images coming straight out of the camera, because that’s how it should be done, just remind them that although sometimes it’s done that way – most times it’s not.  That old adage that ‘the camera never lies’ is bunkum.  It lies most of the time.

The reality is that the people who make the cameras in Japan, or where-ever are the people who are ultimately telling you what your image will look like – especially if you are shooting in JPEG.  They decide the colours, the saturation, the sharpness. You decide on the crop.

The ultimate decision of course is the photographers  own.  There is no right and wrong way to process (or not) your own images.  There is also no need to preach about perfect out of camera images – nor is there a need for people to stop manipulating images just as much as they would like.

There’s space for all of us…….

No go out and MAKE some photographs…………

untitledMaurice Guibert (French, 1856–1913)
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, Albi 1864–1901 Saint-André-du-Bois)

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec as Artist and Model
1892
Gelatin silver print
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of Henry P. Mcllhenny, 1982-14-2

How has it been so long

It’s been over two months since my last blog post, and we have been so busy over Christmas and New Year.  So much going on, and so little time to blog.

Late last year I spent some time trying to capture the red Squirrels at Formby – when I set off, the light was superb, and for the first 40 minutes there it was gorgeous – then the clouds rolled in, and it just went dark.  The squirrels were elusive – maybe due to the weather – they have recovered well from their last attack of squirrel pox…

DSED8414After this, and into January, a trip to Martin Mere – but again the weather was dull.  The goldfinches performed though, with their ongoing squabbles over food.DSED0431Late January, and February brought a raft of dinner engagements, with presentations.

_J9F1106All in all it’s been a busy quarter – with more to come.

I love my job !

The ‘Technology’ Wars

Thinking about buying a new camera?  Maybe getting a new one for Christmas?  A simple question, but one that assumes you know what you are doing.  Plus it assumes that you are not simply upgrading, for the sake of it.  How many times do people change their gear, because getting a ‘better’ camera will give you better images….

I’m using the Canon 1D MK4, bought in 2010 – but I see a LOT of people now who are more than happy with their mobile phones, or tablets for their images.  Does this mean the death of the DSLR?  I’d like to think not, but it is true that some newspapers have removed all their photography staff, and given the journalists an iphone or other ‘smart’ gadget.  Maybe the ethos of ‘better images’ is starting to vanish, and we are experiencing a new boom of quantity over quality.  The sheer amount of visual images on the internet now, through flickr, facebook, and so on, means that you are seeing far more poor quality images than ever before;  and the sad thing is that the more poor quality things you see, the more you get used to seeing them, and the more you accept that as a standard.

That’s not to say there aren’t the great photographers out there – they are there, and they are putting an enormous amount of energy and skill into producing some outstanding images. I use Google+ and Flickr to share pictures I have made, and they are great places to experiment, and see what sort of reaction there is to new stuff that I produce.  In the end analysis though, it’s still social sharing, and maybe it’s not as real as showing them in the ‘real’ world.  What is the value of strangers ‘liking’ an image if they are not prepared to explain what it is they like?

Has the ease with which images are captured actually devalued their credibility?  Have images become worth so much less since the advent of the mobile phone?

I ask myself this more often these days.  For example – at a dinner I was shooting the other month, a chap came up to me and asked why I thought I needed such a big camera – he himself had his ipad mini – and was more than happy to show me his ‘brilliant’ pictures that he had taken with it.  I’m not saying his images were bad, but he what he really wanted to show me was that I didn’t need the gear I had.  Somehow though I think that if a ‘professional’ photographer turned up at his wedding with an ipad, he might be just a little underwhelmed !

The whole value of images is reducing almost on a daily basis – I get asked to work for free all the time “for exposure”, and that I should be grateful to be asked, because, after all, they could have done it with their compacts, or phones.  (Try asking the plumber to come along for free – see how he or she reacts to that one…..)  On the other hand, with the better cameras, and powerful software, why shouldn’t they try it for themselves.

My own thoughts are that photographers have to move with the times.  I’ll confess to having taken images with my ipad, during a conference where the lens I had with me would not fit the whole lecture hall in.  My fault I admit, for not having the right lens with me.  The ipad image though was quite acceptable, and the client didn’t even bat an eyelid.  I just added that one shot in with all the others, knowing that the images were only going to be used on line.  The problems arise when a print is required and you can’t get the image quality.

I would say though that just because there are more people out there taking photographs, doesn’t mean that there are more ‘good’ photographers.  I think there are about the same number of people producing good images as there were before – it’s just that they are somewhat overwhelmed by all the other ‘stuff’.

It’ll be interesting to see in the next year or so, where we go with the new DSLR type video cameras, from which you can capture one frame as a still.  Why worry about taking individual images – video the whole event and pick your shot.

Next year’s technology could be worth looking at…..

 

 

Shooting London Fashion Weekend

Thanks to the team at Canon CPS, I was able to travel to London recently, to shoot the London Fashion Weekend at Somerset House to shoot catwalks from the photographers pit.

It was a fantastic experience, and producing a great set of cohesive images was a challenge to say the least.  Canon were superb, and their briefing was very useful, especially to those of us who had not shot professional catwalks before.  Shooting was all hand held, (no tripods or monopods allowed) so shutter speeds had to be upwards of 1/500th second.  We were told in advance that the lighting would be set to 3200Kelvin, and so adjusting our white balance to take this into account meant that every shot was correct.

A flashgun wasn’t essential for this shoot, as the catwalk was so well lit, but some photographers did use one to lift the light a little under the model’s hat, and to add some catchlights.

The challenge was to get the models in focus, all the time, so using the ‘Servo’ setting was essential.  Although the models were not moving that quickly, they were moving faster than I expected, and the pause at the end of the runway, was only for a few seconds.  It was great to have time to be creative, and to experiment with different types of shots….

Achieving great compositions was difficult, as we only had the one chance to get it right – no-one was going to repeat anything for us, and so it was shoot it or lose it.

All in all it was a great shoot, and I offer many thanks to Canon, and to Vodafone for the experience.

To see more shots from the Fashion Weekend – please click HERE