An Identity Crisis

There’s been a turning point in my photographic life – and I can’t pin down exactly when that happened, but at some point in the last two years, for me, lots of things changed – albeit slowly.

The pandemic that has swept the world has made for some terrible tragedy – but at the same time, people have changed for the better – their attitudes, endeavours and the way they work.  More camera clubs are having virtual meetings, which allows people to join in from their homes, and from a clubroom at the same time.

As a result of this, we have all been able to view more high quality imagery than ever before, and selfishly, I don’t want that to stop. I booked the most amazing speakers for my own club over the last two years, and frankly I’m going to miss that intense and consistent impact it has had on my work.  

I know I’ve got to let go to some extent, and be myself, but it absolutely does no harm to continue to study the work of others, and listen to their points of view, so I hope that our ability to share talks and presentations with other camera clubs does not end here, as we approach some kind of ‘normality’ again.

I realise that in the process of finding your own photographic voice, you have to have that ‘identity crisis’ –  something will happen, or you will see or hear something that will influence the way you think, and take you in a totally different direction – and that trip can help define both what you are doing now, and where you are going in the future.

I asked a couple of people what sort of things had changed their photographic direction, and both said that it was by looking at work from other, more accomplished, photographers.  They have seen work they would not have been able to experience previously, as often the work was from photographers they had not heard of before.

As we open our eyes to what is out there, and view the work of others, we see possibilities not thought of in our own minds.  It can help us decide what we are going to do as we move forward, or even refine what we are doing now.

My turning point wasn’t an actual point, it was more of a long smooth curve which I hope will continue – but I absolutely don’t want to go full circle and end up where I started.

Welcome to 2022….

I can’t quite believe that it’s 2022 – the year in which I will be officially of a ‘certain age’.  Definitely NOT old, not yet.

I also want to express my thanks to everyone who has supported this blog in the past year or so. Your comments, on here, and on Facebook have given me the enthusiasm to keep writing. Thank you.

The last few days have been those odd ones that happen between Christmas and New Year – you know, the time, when you actually have had no idea what day of the week it is.  We’re still eating ‘Christmas’ food, and my other half is busy making the last mince pies of the season.  The days are dark – and short, and for about a week, there has been virtually no sunshine, just looming clouds of grey.

Suddenly over the last week, the sun came out a bit, the sky (today) is blue and life seems somewhat ‘brighter’ again. (it’s bitter cold out today but lovely).

Over the dull days, I’ve been reading photography books.  Something every aspiring photographer should do.  Not just pretty picture ones either (though there’s everything good to be said about those).

Towards the end of last year, I watched a few talks on YouTube, one of which talked about a photographer I’d never heard of  – an American, Harry Callahan.  The talk itself cost me a fair amount of money, (not the talk), as I searched online for a book about him and his images, creatively called ‘Harry Callahan’.  I managed to get hold of a second hand copy, which, when it arrived looked like it had never been opened.  

Callahan had his first one person exhibition in November 1947 in Chicago. He asserted that ‘creativity can only be measured by the value of an individual’s whole photographic life from beginning to end’.  He did not set out to create photographic masterpieces, nor did he think his later works were better than the earlier ones. He decided, almost from the start, that his photographs would be a record of his life, so each image was just a piece in his growth as an image maker.  His ‘body of work’ was a continuous piece of his life.  Callahan wanted to make images that would grow and change with him, and also preserve photographic integrity and unity.

Interestingly, when Callahan joined a camera club (The Chrysler Camera Club), he said that he learned from the members that photography was important and ‘very serious’.  He was only a member for three years, and his membership defined exactly what he did NOT want to do with his photography.  Later, in his membership of the Detroit photo guild, he found members made highly manipulated, and ‘pretty’ pictures, but discussed work ideas that had been popular over 40 years earlier.

This was in complete contrast to his ideas, which were innovative and carefree.  He went on to say that camera club photography was laboured, analytical and rule bound.  In their quest to create important work they had lost the amateurs eye and joy of discovery.  Callahan thought the guild was ‘silly’ – and created nothing more than an enormous ‘block’ to his work. 

He went on to say that with more experience, you can photograph more freely, and you will go back and forth with your experimentation – and you will repeat the same things, only better.

Harry Callahan 1912 – 1994

I think…… I want to express my life, and that’s also true in my old age. All your whole life is different.  So far I still look forward to going out and photographing” (Callahan 1994)

Find some of Callahan’s images by clicking the link below

https://www.lensculture.com/articles/harry-callahan-harry-callahan-the-photographer-at-work#slideshow

Shooting in the Dark…

There comes a point in every photographers life, that skill and technique with the camera begin to take a back seat, in favour of artistic merit.  It’s a time when using the camera becomes so second nature, so instinctive that thought almost stops, and focus is entirely on the subject matter in front of the lens.

Time stands still, as we look at what is there.  The photographer knows intuitively that they need f16, and that at an ISO of 200 there will be a shutter speed of 1/60th, they have learned to read the light  – they will know they can hand hold this comfortably – but may choose to use a tripod.

Emotion is expressed over technical prowess, and the photographer slows down – there’s no rush any more.

I talk a lot about this in my ‘Odd Things’ presentation to camera clubs.  I talk about learning to use the camera in the dark.  

Try this exercise – pick up your camera, close your eyes.  Envisage the camera as being part of yourself. Change the f-stop, the ISO, the shutter speed.  Learn how many clicks it takes to move from 1/30th to 1/2000 second.  How many clicks from ISO 100 to 1600.  Imagine how changing each of these is going to affect the picture you take.  

Was it easy?

Learn how to use your bulb setting (if the camera has one) – and here’s a thing – why not look up exactly WHY it’s called Bulb….. (let me know when you know the answer – it’s more interesting than you might think)…

We need to understand the why and how of our cameras, whether they be phones or DSLR, and anything in between.  Whatever you shoot with, you need to know how it works.  

The thing about cameras, and how they feel in your hands, is important.  I remember buying my first DSLR – in the shop, I held a Nikon in one hand, and a Canon in the other.  Even then, I knew that there was not going to be much difference in how the images would look.  What was important to me then (and is still important to me now) is how it felt in my hands – the Canon won the day by the way……. It just ‘felt’ right.

I shoot Fuji nowadays – smaller and lighter than the Canon 1DX I used to have – it’s been 11 months since I sold it.  The Fuji, ‘feels’ right in my hands – it’s light, and the buttons / dials are easy to find and it was no time at all before I didn’t need to ‘remember’ which side the ISO was on, as opposed to the shutter speed dial.

Once mastered, you can think about composition without worrying about the camera.  You can look at how a scene looks, and think about how it feels.  Remember that some images are ‘about’ things, and some are ‘of’ things.  Some images ‘look’ like things, and some ‘feel’ like things.

Sometimes when I’m judging, I’ll say that I know how that scene felt, how cold it must have been, or how hot.  Sometimes I see images of animals, and so well taken that I know how that fur would have felt under my fingers.  Fruit smells, and and it can drift off the page of a print…..  abstracts can make me curious, and movement can give the thrill of speed….. 

It’s all up to you – the photographer, the creator of that image.

It’s December 1st as I write this, and Christmas is coming….. I hope I can capture the flavour of the month – with any luck I’ll see some snow this year.  We get very little in this part of the country.

So, felicitations of the season – keep shooting, and keep learning….. and think of all the things you love.

Winter in the Peak District

Shooting in the Round

Results from the Camversation Talk

After the talk with Sally and Glenys the other week, it’s been wonderful to see so many images that have been created by the people who came to the talk (and some from people who didn’t get there live, but have watched the recording.)

I’m now inordinately glad that I said yes to having my bit recorded.  No-one pushed me to say yes, but I’m so pleased that I did. 

The shots taken ‘in the round’ give of course, anything from a 180 degree to 360 degree of combined images which takes pictures to a whole new level.

These are things that have been photographed a million times before, but sometimes not in the way you expected.  Multi shot images create a whole new way of ‘seeing’ things, and the results are usually completely unexpected.

The thing is, that by changing the ‘where’ and the ‘how’, a whole new look and meaning can make themselves visible to you – it can be a revelation.

Dave Balcombe sent me the image below of the Market Cross in Wymondham, he said that he only used 13 individual shots, and didn’t follow any strict rules.   The only critique that I offered (at his request) was to reduce the number of text references to a ‘certain’ bank, that repeated throughout the final picture.  Other than that, the image was lovely.  

He tells me that this is his first attempt at this style of photography and was inspired by my talk though he has seen this style before and admired my RPS A panel, he tells me he will try again, now he has the idea.

With his kind permission – I show it here:- he says that this is not too far from where he lives and so will be able to return easily and shoot it again.

Market Cross, Wymondham by Dave Balcombe – used with his permission

What do we see?  Windows that have their own worlds inside, the patterns of the stonework in the foreground, the balance of the trees either side of the cross.  The whole image is transformed into almost a kaleidoscope of shapes, rather than a single cohesive one – and yet it works.  You can see exactly what the image is about – it’s a totally different take on a subject that I would think has been taken a million times before. 

Dave was open to seeing this, he didn’t look past it, he stayed sensitive to what was literally right in front of him.  

Thing is, he tried something different – and it worked……. remember that as you go about your daily photo life……

So next time you go out and shoot something that everyone else has photographed, make it your own. Find a new point of view, or choose a different time of day, or combine images, or all three. The more you look, the more shots you take, the luckier you will get – but whatever else you do…….

MAKE IT YOUR OWN

I’ve just finished what I started…

Following on from my last post – I’m a bit excited.

Regular readers will remember that at the start of 2019 I started a journey down the Meridian Line from Yorkshire (Sand Le Mere) to the bottom of the county of Lincolnshire.

I ended with a trip to Greenwich, with some good friends.

The photographs themselves took 12 months to take and edit; and then another 7 months to organise them and write the text.

I self published using Blurb books, and have made both a hardback, and a soft-back.

I am really pleased with the end result – and in fact the statue on the front cover of the book (John Harrison of Longitude fame) was only installed at Barrow On Humber in March of this year. It was one of the images I had to wait to get before I could finish the book.

So, it’s done – and what next?

Well, Covid has put a stop to a lot of travel, but I am starting to get out and about a bit more – with other photographers too – though we go out in separate cars.

I’ve got a couple of ideas for projects going forward – which I’ll talk about when it’s more formalised in my head.

I’ve also got lots of people to thank who helped me get this book done – the naggers, the drivers, the pushers. The folk who have stood behind me when I got despondent and said “It’ll be OK”.

So – thank you to my other half for letting me travel at all hours, leaving him to dog-sit. Thank you to all the members of Lincolnshire Image Makers who encouraged me to keep going.

And to Mike Bennett, Keith Balcombe and George Lill for coming out with me – keeping me on the straight and narrow, and generally shoving me in the right direction.

It’s done…………….

NEXT……………………

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….

We are in ‘Lockdown’

We are in lockdown…….

I’ve not done a blog post this month since March 1st – and this is mostly due to the fact that the pandemic that started in China in December and which has overtaken most of the world sent me into a state of panic, that is only now starting to abate – as I realise that there is absolutely nothing I can do about it, only weather the storm as best I can.  

The media hasn’t helped – with a constant bombardment of bad news, and 24 hour coverage.

So, what to do ? Restrict the amount of news coverage, release myself from the bombardment of social media, and listen to a lot more music – classical piano, is what’s playing in the background even as I type.  I’m also trying to hone my photoshop skills some more.  I’ve books, and magazines that I bought ages ago with the intention of working through some things, but never got around to.  Well, now I have no excuse…..

Back to the music, and I’ve just listened to a piece that has been beautifully played.  I’ve rewound it, and sat with my eyes shut, and just absorbed the flow – this has put me in mind of how we can relearn to look at photographs.

We can have them in the background, and see them, but not ‘notice’ them, or we can absorb them – much like we can a piece of music.

I used to play in an orchestra, (I played clarinet), and sitting ‘inside’ the music was magical.  To hear the different sections rehearse individually was fascinating – sometimes it didn’t sound like the final piece at all, but the conductor bringing it all together made the final sound.  The study of the score showed how it all worked.

I find that photography is very much like this – we produce the first image, and then in conjunction with software, we hone it to a final version – which other folks can then either quickly look at, or hopefully, absorb.

There are photographs in my home that hang on the walls that I will enjoy looking at – and will spend time with, and there are others that are there for decoration only.  Seeing some images is not the same as spending time really looking at them.

Minor White said that you should spend at least 30 minutes looking at a photograph – not saying anything, just looking and absorbing – and that’s the same with a piece of music.  Having it running in the background is not the same as really listening to it.  Minor died in 1976, leaving many images for us to absorb.  Mostly black and white closeups, arranged in sequence so the viewer had to look carefully, and slowly.  Go look at his work, the lighting is beautiful, and a lot of the images are very simple, but need to be looked at carefully.

Especially good are the images of his friend Tom Murphy, taken in 1948 – beautifully lit, Tom is muscular and naked – and though White struggled throughout his life with his homosexuality, he was able to still to produce images like these.

MINOR WHITE IMAGES

In these strange times of lockdown, maybe we should take more time to really look at our photography, and really listen to the music.  Listen to the sounds of nature too, and allow ourselves the unaccustomed luxury of being able to ‘look’.

So, what’s next – and what do the next weeks have on offer for the photographer?  Restrictions yes, but maybe opportunities too.  

I might just break out the macro lens I bought and hardly used….. and get to grips with photoshop !

Then again, there’s always the music……… 

_DSF4050

Webinars !!!

At least three months ago (probably longer), I did a talk for the RPS East Midlands Group on my completion of the Associateship Distinction.  I did this in conjunction with a few other folks, who talked about Licentiate, and Fellowship.  We did it in Grimsby Fishing Heritage Centre, and it went very well..  I do hope the RPS can run more events locally like this one…

Fast forward a little, and two of us (members of the Facebook, She Clicks group) were asked to repeat the talk as a Webinar.

Must confess to having got a bit excited about this, as did my co-presenter Lynn, who said she had to be bullied a bit to join in (not sure I had to bully much though!) ….. anyway………

Time passes – we start to put a talk together, and decide jointly that for most of it we would hide behind a slide show – not realising THEN, that even with the slide show running, we would still be in frame – albeit a small on in the corner of the screen.

This was revealed to us, during the rehearsal that we had with organiser Angela Nicholson, where we also had to figure out the software that was needed.

The Webinar was scheduled for December 4th, and I was away on holiday the week before – not getting back into the UK till late on the 2nd.  Spent the 3rd updating what we were going to say, and then met early on the 4th to rehearse again and run through the talk – trying to remember not to talk over each other, and more importantly not to wave our arms around whilst speaking (must confess to being a bit of an arm waver…..)

What was disconcerting I found, was that although we could see Angela – we knew that no-one else could, so we sat looking into a camera, and apparently talked to ourselves for just about an hour…..  it was a really odd feeling – In the back of my mind, I knew there were people there watching – but I’m used to seeing my ‘audience’, and hearing their mumbles…….

To cut a long story short – it seemed to go well – the feedback was positive, and although there are a few things I’d have changed (like probably smile a bit more – I think I might have looked a bit glum sometimes),  and try not to be so hesitant over words – ie, practice more….   There were lots of questions at the end, and more on the Facebook page afterwards – which was great.

We were even told that we looked professional……

Having done it once, I think I’d be happy to do it again, especially with the knowledge that I have now.  We all have to do things for a first time, and it can be nerve wracking…. I remember the first time I had to stand up and talk to an audience.  It was a good few years ago, but I had had the benefit of a public speaking course.  What I remembered was one thing……….

“Always remember that the folks down there looking at you, are probably thinking that they are glad it’s you, and not them…. so just look confident – get on with it, and they’ll appreciate everything you say”

Plus, the benefit is they can’t answer you back on a Webinar – well not till you’ve finished anyway….

So yes, I’d do it again, and having chatted to Lynn afterwards, I think she would too……

Here’s my ARPS Fine Art Panel that got me through, first time, and with flying colours….

ARPS Version 3