It’s so Frustrating

In January 2019 (literally just before Covid hit us hard), I bought a new computer…. totally jet propelled, and knocked spots off my old one.

I decided to keep the old one, use it as a second screen for the new one…. turns out good job I did.

Thing is, that I started to use MAC computers back in 2007, and each time I replaced it, I used the migration tool to just copy everything across, and it worked. The ‘new’ machine carried it all, and did it faster, and usually more efficiently. What I discover now, is that you can’t do that for ever.

My latest machine, over the next 12 months got slower and slower – grinding it’s way to life each time I turned it on. Boot up times ran to 5 minutes or more sometimes, and no amount of messing would help. I bought extra software to see if there was malware or anything of that sort on there – but no….. and still the upsets, the unexpected quitting of programmes, and sometimes a refusal to even shut down.

A long talk with the Apple help desk a month or so ago helped enormously. I reinstalled the whole operating system, whilst leaving everything else untouched. It did help, but the boot up time was still far too long.

Exploring the library deep in the system, and I found lots of rubbish – including some dating back to my first MAC – 2007. Not good.

The decision was made that I had to reformat and start again. I knew that I could not do a system restore from Time Machine, as that would just put back all the dross I wanted to get rid of…. so last week, I backed up everything I needed, and did it.

Have to say that the system ran really well. Boot up into safe mode, and you have the option to format the hard drive…. and having done that, you are offered the option to install ‘Big Sur’ from scratch. So, a couple of hours later, and I have an ‘as new’ machine. Great…..

What’s taken the time, is not just reinstalling all the software, but making it run like it did before. In Photoshop, finding all the actions I’d added over the years, then fonts, then sorting the layout. Similar with Lightroom.

Then adding back the catalogue for Lightroom, and making sure all my re-added images could be found.

Then of course there is the extra software I collected over the years. I had a copy of NIK effects – when Google gave it away for free. For some reason, pre-format of machine – it worked perfectly – on the new system not at all…. but this was not the only problem.

On1 gave me real issues. The copy I had was version 9.5, with an upgrade later to version 10. I couldn’t find the download for such an old copy. On1 gave me a link, for me to discover it wouldn’t work with Big Sur, and they said they had no intention of updating such ‘old’ software…. so that ends that then. I’m not buying it again. Thinking it through though, I hardly used it anyway… and it actually still works on the other computer, so all isn’t lost.

Everything else loaded in fine, the plugins I’d bought, or otherwise acquired, all work fine.

Was it worth three days work – yes it was – Firstly, it made me reconsider what I actually wanted from software, what did I REALLY need, and what could be effectively forgotten about. Secondly, the machine boots up nicely in just under 20 seconds…….

All I need to do now is reorder the panels in Photoshop to my liking, check that everything works in Lightroom (no reason that it won’t), and get to play with the new version of NIK effects purchased yesterday.

Back to making images again….. can’t wait now…

Where Does Your Inspiration Come From?

Well, before I get into this more deeply, I’m going to recite a short story I sometimes tell when I do my talks….. it goes like this…

When I first started in digital photography, I was using a Canon 350D, I thought it was great, and I even had two lens….  A 17-55 F4 I think it was, and a small 60mm macro.  Excitedly, I joined a local camera club too.  I’d done my research (I thought) and looked at what was around, and chose the one nearest to my home – only a 10 minute or so drive away.  

That first night – eager to learn new things – I turned up, camera in hand – to realise that no-one took cameras to a camera club !!  OK, lesson learned….. but they had a competition on that first night – I forget what the theme was, but suspect there was one……. Anyway – there was obviously a winner at the end, and whatever it was (I honestly can’t remember it now) – I was impressed by it – the photographer had done something I must have thought was miraculous in photoshop or some such thing.

Impressed, and probably a little nervous to approach a photographer of such skill, I tremulously asked how they had done it…. The answer….. well, somewhat disappointing really – he said “if I told you how I’d done it – then you would know”….. and then he walked away……

That off the cuff comment stayed with me over the years, and as I slowly improved, changed clubs, moved house and so forth, the remark still stayed with me…….  In fairness, over time I met any number of photographers who were more than generous with their time and explanations and help generally.  Folks who mentored me through my LRPS, and my ARPS, and other things too – not just photography, but the ability to make spreadsheets for my AFIAP…. In the end far too many to mention individually,  (But if you are reading this, you will know who you are)…

Why am I telling you this?

Well, at some point, I decided that if I ever reached those giddy heights where someone asked me how I did something – I’d tell them – I’d spell it out in words of not more than one syllable if necessary…..  and somehow, some way – here I am, doing talks for clubs on how to be more creative in their photographic art life.  There are no secrets in photography.

What I talk about ad nauseam is the need for the photographer to forget the camera – and learn to use it instinctively.  There’s a real reason to not be thinking about buttons and dials – there’s a need to create without the camera being a hinderance.

The ability to assess ISO, Fstop and shutter speed for instance, is critical – it is this sort of thing together with a sense of imagination and creativity that goes towards the finished product.

One of the subjects that comes up most, is my ARPS panel – made up of multiple images in each finished shot.  Up to 70 in one case, and as few as 20 in another.  

It’s here if you fancy a look…..

Even though I finished this panel nearly two years ago now, they seem to be as fresh (to me anyway) now, as they were when I made them.  

Most times when I talk about these, I go into some detail about how I made them, and I’m always flattered when people ask me for the formulae…..  and in essence, there really isn’t any right or wrong way to make these, it’s just practice and working with enormous files in photoshop.  Also, the need to accept that some subjects just don’t work, and others do – quite unexpectedly – sometimes.  Others just ‘flow’.

Where does inspiration come from though? – well in my case it started with a painting, by James McNeill Whistler  – it’s called ‘Sea and Rain’ and I really loved the softness of the whole image, and the fact that the figure on the beach is nearly translucent.  This combined with images created by a Canadian Photographer, and the Catalan Pep Ventosa set me off on a trail lasting over 18 months.   Practicing with different subjects, and refining how the entire process worked.


Most flattering though is when a photographer takes the bull by the horns – uses the techniques I have ‘taught’ them, and produces something special.

Such an image came in from Roy Goulden of Freeland Camera Club – we emailed back and forth for some time – with me suggesting different ways of dealing with this technique, and finally, he nailed it. He has very kindly allowed me to use his image in this blog post.

Burnham On Sea by Roy Goulden – Freeland Camera club

I take an intense delight in seeing people collect ideas, run with them, and make them their own – and, it’s even better if their results turn out to be better than my own…..

Why do photographers keep ‘secrets’?  I have no idea, other than it might give them a sense of superiority….

Ultimately – whatever it is that inspires you, whether another photographer, painter, or any creative, it has to motivate you to ‘do’ something.  Look around for ideas, look at other peoples work – ask how they did it if necessary, and then use that inspiration to make something uniquely 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……………………

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”

Do What You Want… When You Want…How You Want..

In one of the talks that I give I discuss in a bit of detail my thoughts on how, as photographers, we can be trained to not be individual. We all need to know the rules and then know when to break them. For example the rule of thirds, and the exposure triangle.

So, when you do produce something, you would really like people to like it, but that’s not always going to happen, and then you have to grow a thick skin – because if you don’t, you are going to get upset, and, maybe, go on to produce work that hits the middle ground, where perhaps there will be nothing new or exciting. It’s safe, but boring. If we continue to produce work that everybody agrees with, then it won’t be as creative or imaginative as it could be.

I do think that photographers should produce exactly what they want to in their art work, and then they will know that what they have made is truly theirs. The world will just accept it, or it won’t.

I’ve said this before, but when I was working for clients, I had to produce work that was exactly what they wanted, and how they wanted it, in the time scale that they wanted. Since retirement, I’ve been able to contradict all those things, and I produce what I want, how I want, when I want.

If people don’t like what I (or you) do, then it has to be OK, because it’s really not necessary that they do. The artists responsibility here is to keep producing work that suits them and which allows them the freedom to breathe.

Image making should not be about winning a popularity contest, but rather it should be about being a personal creation.

Photographers love photography, which means we love the production of images, which in turn means we love art itself – and if we don’t love art, then we should. We should pursue the study of painting, sculpture, needlework and every other kind of art. Looking outwards from our specific hobby can only increase our awareness of light, shape and form.

We all have a variety of music that we love, films, and paintings, so why should photography be any different. Look for the ‘different’ and enjoy…..


We are still somewhat in lockdown – and it’s a good time to experiment with new ideas, and even genres.

As an aside, I did get the portable bird hide out again – sadly at the end of the lovely weather – and for the last few days it’s blown a gale, and poured down with rain. The benefit was that the wet earth brought out the ‘bugs’ for the starlings, and I got natural food rather than the dried mealworm I normally see them with.


So, as we work our way out of lockdown – do take care, enjoy your image-making, and stay safe……

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……… 

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To Take or Not to Take? That is the Question……

To take or not to take a photograph can be a moral question, as well as an ethical one.  Should we take it, or do we just ‘want’ to take it because it’s ‘there’.

I think the majority of us would not take a picture of a person, if they specifically asked us not to.  But can we over-ride this?

Whilst I’ve been creatively, non-creative, I’ve been reading a lot of books (I suspect the purchase of books of all sorts of genres, only comes second to what I spend on photography generally)… and one of the books I was looking at was “Another America: A Testimonial to the Amish, by Robert Weingarten – look him up – you can see some images online.  In fact here’s a link to some audio, and a video.  Three minutes if you can spare it….

https://www.eastman.org/another-america-testimonial-amish-robert-weingarten

He spent four years quietly photographing a group of people who most definitely did NOT want to be photographed – on his own admission, with a long lens.

Was this a genuine desire on his part to share this ‘unknown’ America – or was it a personal need to record something that maybe should have been left private?

Does the fact that the Amish live in ‘plain view’ give people the right to photograph them, or are they nothing more than fair game.

I relate this to a series of images taken by a photographer of homeless people on the street – and wonder if the same thing applies.  Some of the folk here could not object to the images being taken, because they didn’t know it had happened – is this right?  Especially when the photographer stands to make a profit out of the sales, or enters them into national / international competitions – with no formal release or agreement – and I’m not talking about traditional street photography here – as that’s a whole other can of worms…

One photographer justified the taking of homeless people pictures, by purchasing for the person, a coffee, or a meal – which is very laudable – but in the long run, is it ethical to swap a permanent image for a transient dinner?

Does the fact that these people are different from so called ‘normal’ society make the images act as a help for us to understand them, or could they be called (sometimes) nothing more than sneaky?

Weingarten’s images are all monochrome, and are quiet, peaceful scenes, and he says he treated the Amish with respect, though given that he met with some resistance, I’m not sure this was always the case.

Most Amish today will not pose for a photograph. Considering it a violation of the Second Commandment, which prohibits the making of “graven images,” the Amish believe any physical representation of themselves (whether a photograph, a painting, or film) promotes individualism and vanity, taking away from the values of community and humility by which they govern their lives. Occasionally, Amish people did have their photos taken, as you can see with the couple in this image who likely went to a studio for their portrait in 1875. But by the time photography became popular in America in the mid-19th century and photographers and researchers armed with cameras began appearing in Amish communities, most Amish objected to appearing in or posing for photographs entirely.

Amish-Photography-1

Do we have the right to photograph anyone, and everyone without their permission – and sometimes, do we have the right to publish those images, even if they have said no?

Photo Workshops and Photo Talks….

A photography workshop is something that everyone should attend at least once – and more than once is better if you can afford it.  It is, after all, a place where every attendee is interested in photography, and this is great for discussion, practice and experience.

The knowledge you can gather from a good workshop can be invaluable.

I’ve been fortunate to hear some wonderful speakers, who frankly deserved more exposure than they were getting, and conversely, I’ve sat through some awful presentations by accomplished photographers.

Based on my own experiences though, I’d suggest that people attend talks, and lectures – no matter how obscure the subject matter may be.  You never know what you’ll learn.

So, reasons to attend lectures and workshops:-

1. The Speaker – Don’t always base your attendance on who it is – look at their work, and use that as a start point.  Don’t forget that good photographers don’t always make good speakers (and vice versa).

2. To see the work of other attendees, if it is a workshop where you bring images yourself.  It’s always good to see other peoples work – and this is why I enjoy travelling to different places and clubs so much – I get to look at what everyone else is doing.

3. Pick up new techniques – ideas about how to use software – discover new software.  Talk about how cameras have developed….

4. See different styles and approaches that are different to yours.

We are creatures of habit, and sometimes we get so tied up in our own visions, that we fail to see what else is going on around us.  It’s good to see someone elses work that makes us feel inadequate, because, who knows, it may open the door to something new and creative for you.

5. Getting past the cliche shots.  How many images of the jetty at Derwent have you seen?  How many Taj Mahals at sunrise? How many red buses in a black and white shot of London.

I’m not saying these shots are bad, or even poor – they are just done to death.  Once you stop imitating it’s easier to find your own vision.  The critical feedback that can come your way in a workshop or seminar, the resulting introspection, and the worry that follows, are all important.

6. Learning about the past.  All photographers should at least be aware of who has preceeded them.  Comments such as “I’ve never heard of Cartier Bresson”, or worse…. “Ansel who”? are a travesty.

7. Stopping imitating – Once you have copied other people’s work, (that you have been inspired by) you should start creating your own.

8. That photo workshop has been really useful to you, so now you can go off and create something new and fresh.

After all, and don’t forget this, everyone else at that workshop took the same images you did.

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