Positive Thinking

I joined, a little while back, a group on Facebook that talks about Fuji, their cameras, and lens.  I was hoping to find here a positivity about the work produced by the photographers.  I did find some of this, but I also found a lot of people commenting on the x-trans sensor, and how it created ‘worm’ like artifacts when you examined the pictures at around 300%.  They went on to say that you needed some extra software to sit in between Lightroom and the camera RAW files, to make this problem go away……. or at least be reduced.

I have to ask myself at this point, why would you examine your images at 300%? , or even more in some cases – so, in an attempt to make things right in my head, I too examined my Fuji images carefully at 300, and 400% to see what all the fuss was about – and yes, if you look, especially at higher ISO, you can see the artifacts which do indeed look like ‘worms’.

What does this mean for me?

Well, the answer actually is nothing… I have successfully processed all my images with Lightroom, and mostly nothing else, at every ISO from 200 – through to 12,800, and been pretty happy with the results.

I put this image up as an example – and was immediately told that ‘worms’ would not show up in this type of image – I would see it more in shots of trees…..

_DSF7212-Edit

So, off I went to look for images that had foliage in….

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Zooming in to 300% made the image look a tad odd, but then I looked at images taken with my Canon 1DX at 300%, and they looked a bit odd too.

What’s the answer? – well for me, the answer is to do nothing at all… We have to accept that if an image is good enough at 100%, then it’s going to be good enough.

I have printed images from the Fuji X-T3 at 30″ x 20″ with no discernable lack of quality.  I enter competitions on a fairly regular basis both nationally, and internationally with a reasonable amount of success.  The images that fail, are not failing because of ‘worms’, they fail simply because they can’t compete with the other photographs that have been entered on that day.

The positive aspects of photography have been shown on many levels – I find it not only theraputic, but companionable, and so to the nay sayers within the Fuji community, I say this – “Forget what images look like at 400%, get out and shoot – enjoy your photography, and accept the camera for what it is.  Learn your post processing, and your photographs will blossom”.

Enjoy the Spring sunshine which has hit the UK these last few days… get some good shots taken, and forget about the Lumbricus in your files…..

Has Photography been Trivialised?

I was reading an article the other day about the number of photographs that are taken each  year, and in addition the number of photographs with people in them, who don’t know that they are IN them.

A bit of research took me to the oldest known photograph with people in it.  It was taken in 1838 by Louis Daguerre, and it shows Boulevard du Temple, in Paris.

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The street is lined with lamps and trees, and in the middle of the frame is a tiny figure. A man getting his shoe shined, who likely had no idea his image was being captured at all. (In fact, Boulevard du Temple is and was a busy street. When Daguerre took the photo, there were carts and people streaming up and down the street and sidewalks, but only this one man shows up because the photograph had to be taken over the course of 10 minutes. Only the man standing still shows up after such a long exposure.)

A lot has changed since then – think of the numbers of photographs taken each day, and uploaded to Facebook, or shared with applications such as Snapchat. Facebook revealed in a white paper that its users have uploaded more than 250 billion photos, and are uploading 350 million new photos each day.  It’s a number that I just can’t get my head around.

Another way to think about it (and data here from another blog I read) – more photographs are uploaded every day, than existed in total 150 years ago – and that’s just the ones that are uploaded.  It doesn’t count all the ones stored on hard drives.

Images are becoming almost mundane – it’s all been done – and much like the UK debt, they can only increase with the passing of time, especially if you think of the numbers of mobile phones being used as cameras.

I do wonder, at what point will the number of images being taken, become so overwhelming that the medium of photography will become trivialised and border on meaningless.

Already it is getting harder and harder to find images that are unique, and photographically exciting.  The rise the in popularity of photography started to skyrocket around the year 2000 with the production of the ‘smart’ phone.  Photography is now moving forward so fast, that it’s likely to be tripping up over its own feet.

Has the magic disappeared?

I certainly think that some photographers have started to become lazy.  For example, take the photographing of UK wildlife – if you wanted photographs 20 years ago – you had to go out and look for it yourself.  You had to learn skills.  Tracking, hunting, understanding your subject.  Now, if you want a photo of, say, a red squirrel, you just look on line, and pay someone to set up a hide for you – supply the requisite nuts – and maybe even tell you what camera settings to use.

And of course it’s even easier with a digital camera – you can afford to make mistakes and use the wrong settings.  Just take a lot of images, and if it all goes wrong, pay again, and shoot again.   The comment “oh, it’s another red squirrel”, was not one  you would have heard even 10 years ago, but it is much more prevalent now.

For me, the act of being a photographer is much more than just recording my day to day life, and posting my lunch on Instagram.  It’s about the excercise of the process, rather than the result of the process.

A commitment to follow the path of art can be a thrilling one.  It’s not about the technology (though as I have said in the past, it can help), it’s about the making of the image, and I still find this to be the very best part.

I’ve also found over the last 18 months or so, that entering competitions has lost some of its flavour.  I see so many changes and developments in the different categories of the competitions, and just can’t keep up with all of them.  Not that I’m expected to I suppose.

On the other hand, I find the new technologies to be tremendously exciting – the advent of the mirrorless camera has provided me (and a good number of others) with a new found freedom.  They are lightweight, compact, and the images are massively superior to some of the older DSLR cameras out there – and when I say older, I don’t mean THAT much older either.  The ability to throw a small camera into a bag and walk out and shoot has been something I missed for a long time.

My first camera was a Sony Cybershot with 3.2 Million Pixels.  It used the (then fashionable) memory stick.  Easy to stick in my pocket – it got used a lot.  Then along came the bridge camera, and later my first DSLR  – the Canon 350D – still reasonably compact – but then the Canon 5D, and later still on to the Canon 1Series.  Each time they got bigger, heavier, and the lens followed suit.

The advent of mirrorless was only on the fringes of my perception for a long time.  Then suddenly Fuji, Sony, Olympus, and others,  produced a range of gear that, in the end I had to take notice of, and the purchase of the Fuji X-T2, and now X-T3, has encouraged (and allowed) me to shoot even more.

So, has photography been trivialised?  To some extent I would think so – but in the same breath, I think there is still room for the serious shooter, and I’m looking forward to browsing Instagram, Facebook, 500px and other places for my next batch of inspiration.

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A16 towards Tetford

 

Technology Battles

We depend on technology so much these days – far more than when we all shot with analogue cameras.  It puts me in mind of a story I heard, (maybe an urban myth) when a photographer went through airport security in America, (it had to be there) and was asked to turn his camera on, to prove it worked.  He tried to explain that it didn’t ‘turn on’, and ‘no they couldn’t open the back’ – in the end apparently, the security guys opened up the camera to discover that it had film in it.  The young guy hadn’t heard of analogue cameras that didn’t have batteries in.  Whoever heard of a clockwork camera?

So our dependence on technology goes on – in film days, we depended on a different type of technology:-  the camera, the film processor, film dryer, the enlarger, printing developer, fixer, print dryers, special wash, and all the associated gadgets.

We had in our family in film years, any number of cameras, more than one enlarger – a dedicated dark room – a frustrated mother who didn’t want film in the freezer, or chemicals in a fridge. The print dryer was huge, and the print trimmer (which I still have) was big and heavy.  Everything took up a huge amount of room, and everything we did was either in the dark, or under a red light.

What I’m getting at is that although we’ve come a long way, in terms of technology, we still need the same amount of ‘stuff’.  I now have a ‘daylight darkroom’ but still, a dedicated room.  I have cameras, lens, computer, tables, and mounts, and cropping machines – it all takes up space.  I know photographers who have turned outside sheds and garages into dedicated studios.

Then there’s the problem of what to do when something fails.  All cameras fail in the end, I’ve had lens with failed diaphragms, cameras with failed shutters, I’ve dropped lens, and camera together (shattered on some marble) – cable releases fail, and I’ve even lost a tripod.

When the printer fails, (as mine did a month or two back) then that made me start to think about whether I needed a new one or not.  I love to print – I love the sight of a brand new photograph coming slowly out – and then the result is nearly the end of the process.  I can mat and frame, and there it is.  All my own work.  However, the cost of ink nowadays is nearly that of the price of gold!  I can get a lot of prints done if I outsource for the price of a set of 8 inks.

In the days of analogue, if there was no print, there was no image, so now we have to depend on our, or someone elses technology to produce the final (finished?) image.

Technology now is changing and developing so quickly that it’s hard to keep up.  For a long while I didn’t look at what camera manufacturers were doing. I was happy with the gear I had, and saw no reason to change for the sake of it.  Then, when I was offered a trip to Spain 18 months ago, I looked for a small camera to take with me.  This is when I discovered that technology had moved on without me.  The mirrorless camera that I bought then, (the Fuji X-T2) was a revelation.  Beautiful image quality from such a small thing.  I’m more interested now, that I ever was in what is being engineered for photographers of the future.

So what comes out of the camera now, and photoshop? Sometimes it looks nothing like a traditional photograph.  Do we call this something different?  Digital art maybe?

Whatever we choose to call it, and whatever images you produce – it still starts with a camera, and most importantly, the photographer behind it.

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Practice Makes Perfect?

I’ve been reading a lot this week about photography, and how we improve.  Practice is obviously the answer, but it is always?

When you go to a concert, you hear the singer, the pianist – you see paintings in a gallery, the prints on a wall.  To get this good, the artist must practice every day – to get out of form before a concert is unheard of (well maybe not always! but you get the idea)…  So when you look at images, you are seeing the end result of weeks, and maybe years of work, and practice.

I know it’s nearly impossible to get out and shoot every day, but what other ways are there to keep your finger on the button?  I think that talking about image making, talking about photography generally is practice – as is looking at other people’s work – visiting galleries – sharing images.  Even looking at images on Instagram, Facebook or even Google, is practice.  Every time you look at someone elses work, you are honing your own skills, mostly indirectly.

So, how do you practice with your camera ?  Well, there are a number of ways – you COULD just walk out the house and shoot anything and everything you see.  Is that practice, or just shooting for the sake of it?  Or, you could go on a workshop, and immerse yourself in the photographic life for a week, absorb, and create… that seems good to me… or you could set yourself a project!

A strategy is needed, and I think that the best way of learning, of moving on, is by ‘finishing’ things; and by finish, I mean print, or otherwise share your work with the wider world.  I prefer the former.  A book, a print to hang in your home, a set of images to a theme.  This makes it harder to do, but also offers a challenge to the photographer.

On the other hand, by sharing your images online, you leave yourself open to critique by others.  I’m intrigued by photographers (and I use the term loosely), who post images on Social Media, but who won’t accept that sometimes, not everyone will like them.  I like to ask people why they took an image, or why they processed it in the way they did.  The answers vary, but on ocassion, they take great offence that I had even the temerity to ask.  Why is this?

Back to projects.

As I said in a previous blog post, I used to be a one image producer.  I didn’t do projects, or even panels of three.  It was one shot, or nothing.  Since I became a member of the Linconshire Image Makers though, my whole ideal and attitude changed.  It’s taken months of talk, and work, (and nagging), but finally I’m seeing not only the results of the discipline, but I think my whole attitude to photography and art has seen a dynamic shift, and because I’m questioning my own work, I’m starting to question other people’s work too.

Within the group, it’s simple.  This is what we meet up for – we look at each others work, and work of the major photographers, and ask why this, why that, why this image, and not that one.  Outside the group, well, as I said, it’s not so easy.

I’m considering a Social Media blackout for a month or so – I need to get my head around where I want to go with my imagery, and I need to plan a strategy to get me through the winter, and maybe well into next year.  My website needs an overhaul (it’s long overdue), and I want to allow myself time to experiment more.  I’ve run through the multiple exposure sets, and I won’t stop doing these – they give me immense pleasure,  but I want to also run a set of images on a ‘what if’ basis….  What if I shot everything out of focus?  What if I did everything with a dutch tilt? (a type of camera shot where the camera is set at an angle), What if I photographed…………… (fill in the blank as you desire).  Maybe just 6 images – maybe a project of just one image, maybe 15 or 20.  What if I set myself a project to complete 100 prints in a twelve month period? (that might not happen)……. but what if it did….?

As someone said to me only today – “it’s only a photo”….. and when I questioned why denegrate it to “only a photo”…… I was met with silence….. and there the matter rested.

 

 

Photographic Skills

For a while now, I’ve been thinking about what we, as photographers, need to be doing to enhance our skill-sets.

We all need to be able to work the controls on our cameras, even in the dark, it should be second nature to change an ISO, or an F stop, or a shutter speed without even having to think how to do it – and the only way to achieve this is to practice.

We also need to know how to ‘see’ a photograph before we even press the shutter button, and it’s these skills that can separate the terrific, from the merely competent.

With the advent of new digital cameras, it’s actually quite hard to make a really bad exposure.  Even harder these days to achieve an out of focus image.  Cameras are very clever these days, and have built in exposure settings, and shake reduction in either the camera body, or lens.

However, on top of all these things, I think that photographers need another set of skills outside that of just ‘taking’ an image.

1. Computer Literacy – software is the mainstay of the post image taking process.  We need to be able to email images, to resize them, to compress them, and send them to storage sites such as Dropbox.  To do that, we need to be able to type, and express ourselves in a clear and concise manner.

2. We need to be able to competently edit, and select images.  These days, we don’t go out and shoot a roll or two of film.  We go out and come back sometimes with hundreds, maybe thousands, of images.  We need to be able to select which are the best ones, and the ones that our ‘client’ will like, and not just ones that are our own personal favourites.  We need to be clear that the sharpest images, are not always the best ones compositionally, and conversely the best composed ones, won’t always be the sharpest – we need to be able to make that distinction and choose wisely.

3. We need to be aware of art history, and photographic history.  If you are asked who your favourite photographer is – it’s not just going to be the chap down the  road who takes amazing bird photographs – he might be the one impressing you at the moment, but who in history influences the images you take?    Art and photography are inching closer and closer together, and soon, you will have a hard job telling the difference.

Melbourne Photographer Bill Gekas photographs his daughter in the style of all the old Masters.  Take a look here

https://www.boredpanda.com/5-year-old-daughter-classic-paintings-bill-gekas/

Google for photographic images of ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ by Vermeer, and see what others are up to.

you need to understand art now, to understand photography.

4. The art of conversation – There are times when you need permission to shoot.  Either a person, or a place.  The need for access can sometimes be smoothed over by a polite conversation with owners, or guardians.  After photographers have trespassed on land, you can’t blame the owners for being angry at finding ‘yet another’ on their property.  Go in first, ask the questions – I think you’ll be surprised how forthcoming people will be, just for asking.

5. And lastly – filing and organisation – there is no point in having the worlds greatest image if you can’t find it on  your hard drive.  So, keep your drives tidy, split your images into sections or groups, back them up externally, and don’t rely on your website either – if your provider goes out of business – you could be left high and dry with no images.

If you use Lightroom, avail yourself of the catalogue and make sure your images are correctly sorted, tagged, and keyworded.  Sure, it might take you a week (or more) of hard work, if you’ve not started yet, but in the long run I think you’ll be pleased you did.

For example – I sold an image at a craft fair 5 years ago – it was mounted but not framed.  The client decided to have it reframed, and the picture framer damaged the print.  He contacted me, and asked if I could supply a new one, so that he didn’t have to tell his client; and because I’d got a good catalogue, I was able, within an hour, to send him a file, so he could get it printed again.  Job done.

GWPE

Planning and Volume

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about shoots – planning, and creativity.  I had in mind a certain character that I wanted to portray, and spent some considerable time finding the right person for the shoot.  Once I’d found that person, I had to decide on what I wanted them to wear, how I wanted them to act and so on.  Finally, I had to find the right place to shoot.

All of this took months of preparation, and I think that in the end it all worked out, and I ended up with a handful of photographs that I am pleased with.

During the shoot itself – I spent more time setting up lighting, than I did actually taking pictures – and I see that as part of the creative process.

In this world of rush, rush, rush – I see photographers who have a massive output of imagery, some of which leaves a lot to be desired, as though thought fell out of the window, in the hurry to make pictures – pictures of anything, with no planning, and no imagination.

I see instagram, and Facebook pages full of mediocre work, in an overwhelming volume, with no sense of organisation and heavy, often poor, editing – almost as though the urgency to produce an image immediately after a shoot is in preference to waiting a while and being selective in what is published.

There are two kinds of  photographer – those who think, and those who don’t.

Those who do, tend to be slower, more thoughful, and use locations and also models in a more respectful way.  They plan, reconnoitre, judge safety and legality – get paperwork in order, use the right people, at the right time – and edit afterwards slowly and images appear sometimes weeks after the shoot.

I watch groups of photographers pile out of cars, rush to the same spot, and start shooting – the odd person will walk around, take in the view, inspect what’s there – and then take some images.  Rushing the planning makes for a poor result in general.

Ignorance shows mostly in comments passed …  by ‘photographers’ (and I use the word in inverted commas intentionally), who don’t know the history of photography, or how the process began.   Ask one who their favourite photographer is,  and I’d expect to hear names like Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier Bresson, Mann Ray, Annie Leibovitz, Dorothea Lange, or Robert Capa – to name but a few who inspire me, but I bet I wouldn’t.

We’ve all made the same mistakes at the start, but we need to grow up – and stop being disparaging of those who want to take it slow and get it right.

Let’s do the right thing – the input and planning is far more important than the output – get the first right, and the other will follow as a matter of course.

Enjoy your image making.

a95t9602

 

The Pixelstick

I think that unless you have not had anything to do with lightpainting – you will have heard of the Pixelstick.

In case you haven’t, the Pixelstick received over 6 times it’s kickstarter funding goal in 2013.  I got hold of one in early 2015, and though I’ve taken it out to various camera clubs, and demonstrated just what can be done with it, I have to confess, that I’ve not used it myself really very much in anger.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, the Pixelstick is an array of 200 addressable RGB LEDs. This means each LED can produce almost any colour, and each one can be instructed to flash on and off at a particular speed and colour sequence. With the right set of instructions, the LEDs can be used to mimic the pixels of a bitmapped image, so as the Pixelstick is moved through space, the LEDs effectively ‘draw’ the bitmap in midair and can be captured during a long exposure photograph.  It works a bit like an ink jet printer.  As you see a print coming out, one line of ink at a time, so the Pixelstick works in much the same way, but with light.  BMP files are saved to an SD card which sits in the control panel, and allows you to replay any image saved on there in the correct format.

The camera stays still, and as you move the lights along in front of the sensor, the colours are captured line by line, making up an image, or pattern.

The website is HERE if you want more information…….

DS2_1995

It’s possible to add more than one image to overlay another, making up complex pictures.

There’s a group of lightpainters who really don’t like this kind of equipment – they much prefer to have all their lightpainting done with different techniques and self made equipment.

Personally though, I have not got the time, inclination, know-how, to  make some of the things they use – and so I use this rather wonderful Pixelstick instead.

DV7B1152Combine it with people, and you can make amazing silhouettes – and portraiture works well too, as you can make what ever kind of background you like.

Add a touch of inventiveness, and you can make anything you like.  I’ll be exploring this kit in more detail over the coming months.

DV7B8122

In the meantime, I leave you with the GIF I created earlier today – don’t look at it for too long, or your eyes will most definitely go crazy……..

Test3Happy Easter…….

 

Google vs Getty

The Google / Getty Stock Images Situation

photo

Over the last few weeks, I have closely followed the situation that currently exists between Google, and Getty Images.

It comes almost immediately after the problems with Instagram terms of service – which were re-issued to state that

“Some or all of the Service may be supported by advertising revenue. To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.”

“Instagram does not claim ownership of any Content that you post on or through the Service. Instead, you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service, except that you can control who can view certain of your Content and activities on the Service as described in the Service’s Privacy Policy.”

These terms have since been revised, Getty though has continued to broker a deal with Google that seems on the face of it to be totally unreasonable.  On the Google Drive Blog  they announced 5000 new images were to be made available free of charge to Google Drive users.  Create an image on Google Drive, and choose your image to illustrate it.  Whether for personal, or commercial use the images are free.

Where do these images come from?  Well, a lot seem to come from ‘i-stock’ , and others from the Getty/Flickr relationship.

This is a licence deal arranged with Google, through Getty images and iStock RF collections.  There was an initial pool of several thousand images licensed from Getty and iStock RF that are on the Getty platform.

What does this mean – well initially we have seen that some photographers whose images are sourced through Flickr to the Getty RF pool, have received around $12 per image, to have their images on the Google Drive search.  Images which have had the metadata stripped and can therefore not be traced back to the photographer.

So – initially, if you have photos on Flickr, which are currently in the Getty pool, you may find them turning up on Google Drive.. You will know if this has happened, as it will show in the October / November 2012 statements.  The main problem as I see it, is that you have images of people who have signed a model release stating that their image will not be used for certain purposes – but once out in the wild – they could end up anywhere – and the photographer can’t do anything about it.  The Getty contract is suitably vague, and even if you pull out of the programme, you can’t recover images already sold.

There has been another post on the iStock website

“We’ve heard you, and we’ve met with Google and are working with them to refine the implementation which we believe will address some of the concerns raised over the past several days–including copyright ownership.”

Maybe the agreement will be changed.  I’ll be watching to see how this one develops.