Thinking In Black & White -Leominster Camera Club 21st September 2017

28/08/17

On the 21st September I will be giving a presentation to Leominster Camera Club "Thinking In Black & White". The presentation will explore what make a good B&W image and look at the various elements, such as line, shape, form, texture, tonal values & relationships etc., that go into constructing B&W images.
Further details can be found at www.leominster-photo-club.co.uk/

Luck or Good Management

14/08/17

“Of course it’s all luck.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

This fairly famous quote is one that I do not fully agree with. Yes luck can and does play a large part in photography. Being at the right location, at the right time, in the right light and in the right frame of mind sometimes just happens without any planning or forethought.

Yet you can make your own luck, and in fact should endeavour to do so. Over the past several weeks I have visited the same forest area many times, at different times of the day and in a range of lighting conditions. During this time I have been able to identify specific areas where the most interesting compositions are to be found and developed a good understanding of what type of lighting brings out the best at the location. Visiting the forest many times not only allows me to develop a feeling for where and when the best shots can be taken it also significantly increases the chance that I will just happen to be in the right place, at the right time, in the right light and in the right frame of mind.

This is what I mean when I say I create my own luck.

Funny Old Game.......

09/08/17

I enter numerous photography competitions and salons and I am lucky enough to meet with some success despite the fact I don't play the “competition game” and anyone who enters photography competitions will know what I mean. Salon photography tends to favour a certain style of photography, one I believe often relies as much, if not more, on computer manipulation skills rather than photography skills. Digital art rather than photography. There is also the fickle nature of the judges with selection often being dependant upon the judges personal tastes and preferences on the day. Not a criticism, just a reflection on the nature of photography competitions where the judges have a very difficult task in selecting a few images out of possibly thousands, in a very limited amount of time.

I try not to allow potential salon entry to direct or influence my photography. My images are more often than not monochrome landscapes taken using what can best be described as a more traditional approach, relying on getting it right in camera and using limited post processing, something that is not currently in fashion.

Nevertheless I enjoy the process of critically appraising my images to select those that I feel reach a sufficiently high technical standard to stand some chance of success.

Notwithstanding this, one of my images has just been awarded PSA Honourable Mention at the Cheltenham International Salon of Photography. A carefully considered and well executed traditional monochrome landscape image by any chance? No. The image was a colour image and was really nothing more than a grab shot. Whilst staying in a holiday cottage recently I glanced out of the window and saw some washing blowing on a line. It was a wet, gloomy overcast day (very optimistic sort of day for drying clothing) and my options for the shot were very limited. Nevertheless I took the best shot I could and after considerable post processing and cropping created an image that I would certainly consider to be the weakest of my salon entry. How wrong I was.

So maybe if I want to be a more successful salon photographer maybe I should stop worrying about what I photograph and just grab some shots and apply loads of post processing!

Funny old world.

Wash Day

Walking Breeches, Cameras & Photography

22/07/17

I have recently rediscovered hill walking. Not that I have ever actually stopped hill walking. No, what I have rediscovered is the more simple pleasures of walking. More years ago than I care to remember hill walking was simple. All that you needed to get out there and enjoy the simple pleasures of the outdoor life was a pair of stout leather boots, an old woolly jumper and a waterproof that did a better job of keeping the perspiration in than the rain out. A mobile walking pressure cooker as we used to say. Probably the most technical thing you had was your map & compass.

Then things began to get complicated. New high-tech gear made from the most amazing fabrics began to take over. My simple canvas rucksack got replaced with something NASA would have been proud of. Miles covered and time taken became all important whilst navigation was handed over to devices with more computing power than the early Apollo missions to the moon.

Now though I have put all that behind me and once more discover the art of simple slow travel where you take time to absorb the landscape around you. Left behind are the technical walking trousers and the high-tech, high-falutin' feature rich must have walking jacket. The rucksack is replaced with a simple canvas shoulder bag. Yet one piece of gear was missing, one that used to be the main stay of any decent respectable hill walker. Practical, functional and durable. The walking breeches. For the uninitiated, walking breeches where trousers that finished just below the knee with some sort of fastener, buttons, buckles or simply Velcro. The lower leg was protected by thick woolly socks. Now you can't find them for love nor money in any outdoor shop, although they are still very much de-rigour in any gentlemen’s sporting countryside outfitters, where for some unknown reason they have survived.

Did we as a community of hill walkers suddenly decide that this practical and functional piece of apparel, as old as hill walking itself, was no longer required? Or are other forces at work?

A modern incarnation of the walking breeches were the Rohan Striders. Many a hill walker would have one or two pairs in their wardrobe knowing that they had a high quality, durable product that would serve them well out on the hill. Buy a couple of pairs and they would last for years. As such Rohan would of course have to largely rely on new customers, existing customers only needing to purchase a new pair of Striders after at least 10 years usage. Of course if Rohan simply keep replacing their product range every year with new fashions incorporating the latest high-tech fabrics then not only are they offering something to new customers but also attracting back existing customers more frequently.

I wonder if something similar is happening with photography and cameras. Almost certainly Nikon withdraw it's D80 and D700 long before their shelf life was up and well before demand dropped judging by the way the price of second hand models held up following their demise. Just like all those hill walkers out there with their high-tech ballistic kevlar trousers with articulated knees and god knows what, are there photographers carrying around £000's of sophisticated gear that they do not really need and which is also probably stopping them from fully engaging with their subject and enjoying the real true and simple pleasures of taking pictures?

Are the decisions we make based upon our actual needs or the sophisticated and manipulative control of corporate executives and advertising gurus whose sole aim in life is to sell as many units as possible. Does all the modern sophistication actually help our photography or, like I said above, does it simply get in the way of the simple pleasure of taking photographs.

Why have walking breeches survived in the Gentleman’s Countryside Sports Outfitters? Could it be anything to do with the fact that these establishments are frequented by the same corporate executives and advertising gurus who often occupy the upper more affluent and privileged echelons of our society and who are quite likely to be seen shooting Scottish wildlife rather than appreciating it. Through their time spent out on the shooting estates they know the true worth of this type of clothing but yet still deem fit to deny the masses form owning such clothing in order to maintain there own profit levels.

In a similar vein, does Nikon or Canon or Olympus or Fuji really serve the needs of their customers or do they simply serve the needs of the boardroom and share holders?

Zen Photography........

26/05/17


“Zen - A Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism emphasising the value of meditation and intuition rather than ritual worship or study of scriptures.” Oxford English Dictionary

“Zen - Relaxed and not worrying about things that you cannot change.” Cambridge Dictionary

There is one simple universal truth in landscape photography, the light will be right when the light is right. No amount of stressing, no amount of frustration, no amount of anxiety will change this simple truth. So stress not, sit back and relax. The light will be right when the light is right

Of course relaxing can be an art form in itself with each individual probably having their own way of relaxing. For me two things are important, a lovely cup of tea and a comfortable place to lie back and chill.

Brewing up out outdoors is has old as the hills and something I've have been doing for the best part of 45 years. Beats the hell out of a lukewarm, metallic tasting cuppa from a flask. Currently this is my favourite stove, A DS Storm Kettle which I call the little dragon.



Based upon the more common and larger Kelly Kettles, first developed in County Mayo, Ireland, in the 1890's, the storm kettle is a smaller version. It boils a pint of water very quickly and efficiently and burns found combustible material such as twigs, dry leaves etc. Like I said, a fresh brew definitely beats a lukewarm metallic tasting brew from a flask.

As for somewhere to lay back and chill, you can't beat a good old hammock and I am not talking about the sort often seen in holiday brochures depicting palm trees and a golden beach in some faraway paradise. Typical of western society, we thought we could take an idea that is probably thousands of years old and improve upon it. Not. Traditional hammocks based upon those used by South and Central American tribes provide probably one of the most comfortable places to relax and sleep. And you won't end up being tipped on the floor!



So put the on kettle on, lay back, chill and relax. The light will be right when the light is right.



Digital Landscape Photography -Michael Frye

12/05/17

I recently came across Michael Frye's book "Digital Landscape Photography". Although originally written in 2009 the book has been fully revised and is into it's 2nd edition.

What I really like about the book, apart from Michael Frye's superb photography, is that the book goes into some detail in explaining exposure and advocates two specific approaches. I generally have an issue with a lot of the digital “how to” books due to the fact they often relegate exposure, the most important and critical photography skill, to a few pages despite the fact that the subject matter of exposure can easily and often does, fill entire books.

The first exposure method advocated is that of using the histogram. In simple terms you take the shot, review the histogram and then compensate so as to ensure that the histogram is as far to the right as possible without clipping the highlights. The book goes into more detail, but that's the essence of using the histogram to set exposure.

The second method advocated in the book is that of using a modified version of Ansel Adams's zone system. Again in simple terms, the book goes into more detail, you identify and meter off a known tonal value in the scene being photographed and if required apply appropriate exposure compensation so as to ensure that the tonal value is placed in Zone V, the mid tone value. This is a very traditional approach to setting exposure and one used by many photographs, including myself, prior to the advent of digital photography.

Anyone who has heard any of my talks or has read my blog will know that I always advocate the second method. I feel that if you start relying on the histogram then you can spend more time looking at the camera than the scene you are trying to photograph. Using the zone system based approach means you have to take the time to observe the scene you are photographing in order to ascertain the various tonal levels and relationships and identify the most appropriate tone to meter off. This simply means you are engaging with your subject in a way that you don't if you are spending more time looking at the camera's LED screen. There is also the issue that the image on the LED screen is only a highly rendered JPG image and, particularly if you are shooting RAW, may not fully represent the true tonal range captured.

You Know You've Made It As A Photographer When.......

30/04/17

You know you've made it as a photographer when returning from a weeks holiday in the Western Highlands of Scotland you do not have hundreds of holiday snaps but rather a relatively few, carefully considered shots! In fact the shots I came back with were all taken over a time period of several hours from two visits to the same location. I seem to have matured beyond the need to shoot everything in sight and to have adopted a more considered approach, seeking out subjects worthy of photographing and then taking the time to at least try and photograph them well.

One For The Camera Nerds.......

26/04/17

If you’re a serious camera nerd and you haven’t visited ExploreCams, you’re defiantly missing out. Actually that's not really fair as the site is a genuinely useful tool for anyone who is researching various aspects of photography, photography techniques or just interested in what other photographers are doing.

ExploreCams works by looking at EXIF data contained in public photo-sharing sites, such as Flickr, 500px and Pixabay, and determining the most popular cameras, picture settings and lenses. The information collected by ExploreCams makes it possible to analyse the meta-data of these photos and determine which types of gear and settings are the most popular among photographers.

Personally, whilst not professing to be a camera nerd myself, I found the information quite interesting. In particular I was somewhat heartened to see that whilst 60% of photographs surveyed used some form of auto-metering, about 15% still used centre weight and 15% still used spot metering. I feel this is indicative that the more traditional technique requiring the photographer to meter off known, identified tonal values appears to have not been completely surpassed by the use of an automated approach to taking photographs.

I also found the ISO data to be very interesting. For quite some time now many camera manufactures have used the high ISO capabilities of their cameras as a major selling point with many web forums and blogs extolling their virtues. This is despite the fact that there are very few genuine reasons to use a high ISO setting. A clear example of the power of commercial marketing in action. Yet this is apparently not quite true. The data from ExploreCams suggests that many photographers are actually using their camera's base ISO or staying close to it. Of course you can still find the odd landscape shot taken at ISO 6400!

Obviously when working with any data one has to be mindful of how representative the sample is of the entire population. In this case the sample is made up photographers who choose to share their work via social network sites and as such might not fully reflect the entire global photographic community.

Looks Like Some One Beat Me To It......

19/04/17

In a recent blog posted I suggested that maybe mobile phones of whatever nature could have a selfie mode to imporove the quality of self portrates.

Well it looks like Adobe Research beat me to it:- adobe-future-selfies

Photography Grump......

30/03/17

I am not one to usually bemoan progress or the passage of time, to get too vexed over technological innovation and progress, but some aspects and attitudes of modern photography are being to niggle. I might actually be turning into a grumpy old man or it could really be true that the purpose of the younger generation is to simply annoy the older generation.

Back in the day, at the outset of photography, photography was the preserve of the gentleman amateur, those Victorian & Edwardian gentlemen who had the time, education and money to indulge themselves. Advancements in materials and techniques, particularly the introduction of the Brownie series of cameras by Eastman Kodak, helped to open up photography to the masses. No longer was photography largely confined to the richer and more affluent classes, photographs could be taken by anyone. Yet despite this, a strong distinction remained between, on the one hand, professionals and serious amateurs, who were probably only distinguishable from the professionals in that they did not earn their living from photography, and the wider masses. Professionals and serious amateurs took their time to learn photography and develop their craft. The masses where quite happy to snap away and fill their albums with family snapshots of holidays and family events with no pretence whatsoever to any photographic ability. There was probably some blurring of boundaries but these people were usually found out, or at least indulged as no real harm was done.

Back in the day if you wanted a photographer for your wedding you employed a wedding photographer, usually a professional although you might, if you knew one, think about a serious amateur because they often knew what they were doing and would have probably taken the time to develop their craft to quite a high level.

These days it is all very different. Mass marketing, technological innovations, increased affluence and leisure time all mean we are all photographers now. The ease in taking photographs and then processing and printing them ourselves or as is more often the case publish them on line, edited or not, has made photography accessible to everyone with the distinctions between professional, serious amateur and the masses having become so blurred as to be almost non existent. Changes in social attitudes and a general dumbing down and acceptance of lower photographic standards mean it is now much easier to pass yourself off as something you are not.

Whist the availability and accessibility of photography today should be applauded, it does mean that the threshold is now lower for people to get into the photography industry. Lots of people think if they buy a fancy camera, they can become a photographer because the camera will do all the work for them. It doesn't quite work like that. Photography is an artisan craft skill, it takes time, effort and practice to advance and become proficient. Unfortunately this appears to be something in our ever increasingly narcissistic society a significant proportion of the wider photographic masses seem ever more reluctant to do, even though they aspire to being photographers.

As a result there is an increasing number of cheap, unqualified people entering the photography industry and although most probably enter the profession with the best of intentions and are not trying to scam people, they just simply aren't quite up to the task.

Is this a problem? Well if you are a professional trying to earn a living it might be. Whilst it might be argued that if you are good enough, then your work will raise above the masses and you will always find clients, I am not so sure.

Whilst recently pursing the web, I came a cross the site of a photographer who does weddings, amongst a lot of other things, something that is worrying in itself. The work on display was amongst some of the most amateurish stuff I have ever seen. Use of inappropriate equipment (I have actually seen this person working), no real skill in controlling light and exposure, extremely poor composition and far too many images, all being shown unedited. The idea of using a portfolio to exhibit their best work along with restricted client access, extremely basic features of any half-decent wedding photography web site, seems to have passed this person by. The real concern though is not the poor quality of the photography but rather the fact that it would appear that this work is acceptable to many people because how else can this so called photographer keep getting custom? Whilst this web site might be one of the worst examples, there are plenty more out there just like it.

Simple fact, if you need a wedding photographer, employ a wedding photographer and not some mate or a mate of a mate whose work has never been subjected to the rigour of peer scrutiny and approval. If you think professional wedding photography is too expensive when your mate can do it for a fraction of the price, remember your mate has probably only a fraction of the skill and talent of a real wedding photographer. Cheap photographers are generally missing something, which usually includes insurance, backup equipment, customer service and skill and talent.

What price are you willing to put on what is suppose to be the most important day of your life? If lasting memories of your day are important to you, make sure that you spend the time and money to make sure it's done correctly.

More Than Photographs.........

23/03/17

In order to improve and develop as a photographer it is important to immerse yourself in photography. It's not enough to simply become savvy with all the technology or to be an expert on cameras and you need to be doing more than just being out there taking photographs. You need to be visiting photography exhibitions, reading photography articles and looking critically at photography wherever and whenever you can find it.

The importance of this was recently brought home to me whilst reading a review of a Fay Godwin exhibition at MOMA Machynlleth by Jeremy Moore. In the review, Jeremy stated that “While many landscape images, then and now, are stunningly beautiful they actually say very little about their subject matter. It could be said that Fay Godwin’s images, on the contrary, were landscapes with content.”

These few simple words have sparked off a whole train of thoughts about my own photography, my choice of subject and my approach to the images I create. I have always felt my photography sought out the less than picture postcard perfect image, seeking to find the beauty that lies beyond the traditional notions of scenic beauty. My photography often explores not only the effect man has had on the landscape but also the effects landscapes have had on man. We often see British landscapes as being timeless and unchanging, yet our countryside is littered with the detritus of man's past activities, clear evidence of continual change and the passage of time. It is this evidence of change and passing of time that I often seek out in my photography.

Are my images simply landscapes or have I captured something more? If not, what more can I do to create photographs of landscapes that have “content”? Am I a landscape photographer or a documentary landscape photographer?

Future Selfie Technology.......

16/03/17

Whilst I might be missing a trick, not being that acquainted with smart phone and tablet camera technology, I would have thought someone by now would have come up with a “selfie” mode setting.

I imagine such a setting would take several simultaneous shots so that in-camera processing can than produce a proper self-portrait. I envisage that the processing would identify and separate the face from the background which would than be de-focused so as to reduce depth of field and emulate the use of a short telephoto lens. The exposure on the face would then be processed, making use of the multiple exposures, to emulate the effect of butterfly portrait lighting with subtle fill lighting & back rim lighting. The perspective of the face would also need to be manipulated, again to emulate the use of a moderate telephoto lens and removing distortions arising from inappropriate focal length and camera angle.

Whilst such automated processing would result in a dramatic increase in the quality of self-portraits being produced, it would of course do nothing to increase knowledge and understanding of the finer points of the art and craft of portrait photography, an accusation that can be directed at any form of automation.

Of course the real innovation would be the ability of such a selfie mode to be able to recognise models pout, duck face, squinch, flirty half smile, sparrow face, fish gape, kissy face or any other such facial expression and respond by sounding an alarm and immediately assigning the image to the bin!

Creative Talent -Can It Be Learnt

08/03/17

In a previous blog I may have seemed to suggest that the creative side of photography is something that can be learnt, a view that has been challenged, the creative side of photography relies more on natural talent than anything learnt.

I believe that everyone is born with a degree of natural creative talent, a natural talent that can be developed through learning, experience and practice. Natural talent simply means that learning will be easier and that with a element of natural talent you can probably progress to a higher level more readily.

Here's a good example of what I mean. Some time ago I was approached at the end of a workshop by a lady and ask if I would look at some photographs taken by her young son. Whilst the photographs where lacking in some respects, for a relatively inexperienced 12 year old they were very good. In particular the composition and structural form was excellent. When I asked why be had composed the photographs in the way he had, he had no real answer. He simply composed the photographs in a way that felt and looked right. No doubt as this young photographer progresses through his photographic career he will learn why such compositions and structural forms work and learn how to use them in more creative ways. His natural talent does not mean he does not have to learn, it simply means he will learn more easily and progress in his photography more readily.

Photography is all about observation and “seeing” and some people are simpler naturally better at “seeing” than others. Of course that does not mean that we cannot all learn to look and see better.

“I don’t think there’s any such thing as teaching people photography, other than influencing them a little. People have to be their own learners. They have to have a certain talent.” – Imogen Cunningham

Interesting Words About Creativity From Australian photographer Steve Coleman......

04/03/17

Here are some interesting words from Australian Photographer, Steve Coleman , a guy who describes himself as being passionate about photography: a photographer, writer of words, walker of beaches.

“The reality is that most of the world of photography ‘speaks’ to an agenda which encourages would-be photographers to talk and think in terms of “megapixels” rather than “vision”, and “equipment” rather than “ideas” and “creativity”. What’s more, those books and workshops which do try to teach creativity and vision often resort to rules, or speak in a ‘paint-by-numbers’ approach, or focus their workshops heavily around post production software.

Now there is nothing wrong with technical books, or rules, or workshops. I would encourage you to look at them all. But be warned, they are often very functional. While learning the mechanical and functional aspects of photography is important, such things often don’t put us into the right mind-space or teach us the visual and creative skills that allow us to make photographs. In essence they don’t teach us how to see, how to have a vision and how to get ideas.”

I found not just these words, but much of what Steve has to say interesting because I believe I am somewhat guilty in part of what he says, albeit somewhat unintentionally. When I am asked to talk about photography I do very much approach the subject from a creative angle, promoting photography as a creative activity that is more about the photographer than the equipment they use. I do not prescribe to or promote Steve's photography's world agenda, avoiding being a “gearisourus” and not indulging in the megapixel race. Yet when I am talking about photography I advocate one approach at the exclusion of the many other approaches that exist. I might say that there is no right or wrong way to take a photograph but I still only tend to advocate my own approach. And yes I do see photography talks as a vehicle to promote other aspects of my photography.

It is also a lot easier to talk about the technical side of photography as these are issues that apply to all photographers and are easy to demonstrate. Explaining and demonstrating aperture control and the effect it has on photographic images is easier than to trying explain and demonstrate the creative process, which after all tends to be unique to each individual.

Can you imagine Nikon or Canon running full page adds saying. ” You don’t need a great camera, what you need is vision and great ideas”

Visualisation & How Ansel Adams Taught Me To Be A Better Photographer........

26/02/17

One question that I am often faced with and find it difficult to articulate a coherent answer to, is that relating to the process/link between visualisation and producing an actual print that reflects my initial vision. I believe that the answer probably relates more to my attitude towards photography rather than how I actually “do” photography, if that makes sense.

I think a lot of people get the visualisation process, the idea of seeing and understanding what we want our final image to actually look like before we take the shot. In truth, visualisation means a lot more. Ansel Adams described it in these terms; “visualisation refers to the entire emotional-mental process of creating a photograph, and as such, it is one of the most important concepts in photography.”

Photographs are only ever a poor representation of the real world. The camera strips away the feeling and emotion that probably drove us to take the picture in the first place. Yet more often than not, it is this feeling and emotion that I want to convey through my photography. So how do I capture images that hopefully portray the feeling and emotion that inspired me to take the shot in first place?

I do a short presentation entitled “Top Ten Tips for Better Photographs”. The top two tips are closely linked and are two things that I have always followed in my photography. The first is to actually get out there and take photographs because I will never improve and develop as a photographer without continually practising through actually taking photographs. It is important though to do this in a considered way rather than just randomly photographing everything in sight. If I see something that I feel is worth taking a photograph of, I stop and think about what has actually caught my eye, inspired me to want to take the picture. Once the picture has been taken and processed, I look at the image critically and compare it to the actual reality of the scene/subject. Note keeping helps with this process. Again Ansel Adams explained it thus; “The first step towards visualisation – and hence toward expressive interpretation – is to become aware of the world around us in terms of the photographic image. We must explore what lies before our eyes for its significance, substance, shape, texture, and the relationship of tonal values. We must teach our eyes to become more perceptive.”

The second top tip is to immerse yourself in photographs. I spend a lot of time looking at photographs whether in books, galleries or magazines. Again I do this in a considered way, asking myself questions about how the photographer has composed his subject, how the lighting conditions work to create the particular image and how the photographer has chosen to expose the image. No apologies for more words from Ansel Adams, he did after all develop the concept of visualisation as we know it today: “You don't make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”

Through these two activities I have learnt and became familiar with what I call the “language of photographs”. I have developed an understanding of what works best for what subject in what lighting, how different compositions, tonal relationships and specific angels of view can be used to impart emotion and feeling into my photography. I have learnt to take time to seek out the best angle of view and composition, to wait for the right moment and to make subtle changes in how I take the shot, subtle changes that can have a significant impact on the final image. I have also learnt that visualisation needs to be tempered with a dose of reality, it's not always possible to get the shot I want at any given time. Sometimes it's best to wait a while or revisit at a latter date.

One final word from the maestro himself.....

“I am convinced that the best photographers of all aesthetic persuasions ‘see’ their final photograph in some way before it is completed, whether by conscious visualisation or through some comparable intuitive experience.”

Photographs Are Tomorrows Future......

22/02/17

Whilst we are undoubtedly in a “golden age” of photography in terms of camera ownership and the number of photographic images being captured, I doubt that there is a corresponding increase in the number of actual photographs being produced.
In fact I strongly suspect that the number of photographs being produced may have actually significantly decreased in recent times and will probably continue to do so.
The majority of the images captured today will never see the light of day as actual prints but rather be posted on line or projected onto a screen and as such do not exist as individual entities in their own right. They are not photographs, they are digital images. For me, a photograph has its own existence, it is an object that you can hold in your hand.
In some future dystopian world, one in which the technology we take for granted today has ceased to function there will be no digital images. Digital images can not exist without power or the machines to access them. In a dystopia without power or smart phones or tablets, digital images will have ceased to exist.
Only photographs will remain.

Photography's greatest weakness is also its greatest strength.....

17/02/17

Photography's greatest weakness is also it's greatest strength. The limited dynamic range of film/camera sensors means that we only have a limited range of tonal values to work with, which forces us to be creative. The emotion and feeling, the sense of depth and structure that the photographic process stripes away has to be recreated through our use of tonal values and relationships.
Technical innovations in HDR and the current vogue for HDR photography is probably damaging to this creativity. I feel that spending time focusing on the technical aspects of achieving the maximum dynamic range takes us away from the creativity of “constructing” our images around a limit range of key tonal values, a process that better allows for images with depth and feeling, whether in the physical or emotional sense.
Maybe it is this lack of construction, the drive for realism, that leaves many feeling that HDR images have an inherent quality that seems in some way to be lacking.
I totaly agree with what Andrew S. Gibson says in his excellent e-book, The Magic of Black & White Part I,
“HDR photos often have an unreal appearance that I do not like. I don’t want to see every detail; I like dark shadowy corners and prefer that something is left to the imagination.”

Powerful, Creative Photography

15/02/17

Powerful creative photography needs to be led by emotion and intuition rather than technology and commercial marketing.

I-Phonetography -the death knell of the DSLR............

11/08/16

I am not a photography snob, or at least I try not to be. I don't believe that only photographs taken with a 35mm camera, digital or otherwise, are legitimate. There is nothing wrong with photographs taken on smart phones, so called I-phonetography. What I do have an issue with are those who believe that this type of photography and the images produced are not only the equal too but are also about to replace more traditional forms of photography and photographic images. No one of the two is better than the other. The images produced by one are no more legitimate or superior to the other. They are simply two different methods for capturing photographic images, albeit very different methods which produce very different image types.
I don't believe that smartphone cameras can ever be equal to or replace (D)SLR cameras in terms of image quality. You can cram as many mega-pixels into a smart phone as you want but you will always have a small sensor which means small photo cells which will have an array of issues affecting image quality. A smart phone will never have the quality of lens that can be achieved with 35mm cameras, the laws of physics present a major barrier to this not to mention the laws of commercial economics. And whilst there are apps than can mimic the manual control available with 35mm cameras, these are only mimicking manual control and do not offer any level of real creative control or at least the level of control available with many 35mm cameras. Yet this does not mean that smartphone cameras can not produce decent images, it's just that you'll struggle to get a decent 20 x 16 print from them, which is fine as most smartphone images rarely make it into the world as prints.
It is also important how we use the technology. To produce a decent photographic image requires a good solid understanding of the principles of photography. I was recently shown an image taken on an I-Phone, something that unfortunately happens all to frequently for my liking when the conversation turns to photography. As usual in these circumstances the person who had taken the shot was very pleased with the result and was showing me what they clearly thought was a good photograph. Yes, viewed on a tiny little screen, the image looked good. Nice clean, sharp image of a racing motorcycle with strong, punchy colours. But the image was static. There was no sense of movement or feeling of power and speed. The photographer had made no use of motion blur or panning, whilst the pole sticking out of the riders head was definitely distracting. A classic example of an aspect of today's modern technology, the belief that technological sophistication can somehow replace the time and effort required to properly learn and develop new skills. The smartphone produced a good image, the photographer did not.
So please by all means enjoy your I-phonetography but please remember that to get the most of out of your smartphone camera, you still need to acquire and develop some basic photography skills -something that can only realistically be achieved through the use of traditional cameras that provide the opportunity to explore exposure control, tonal values and relationships or in other words, cameras that don't think for you.

Blood Sweat & Beers -Carrying and Using Heavy Gear

09/08/16

My preferred equipment for the majority of my photography is one of the larger 35mm digital bodies, a couple of fairly hefty pro-grade lens, a substantial Manfrotto tripod and a Lee Filter kit. Along with spare batteries, memory cards, cables and cleaning kit this adds up to fair few lbs. So why in the age of compact systems and mirror-less cameras do I still insist on lugging all this weight around with me?

Well, back in the day when I was somewhat slimmer and a degree younger I was a keen runner, participating in numerous road races and mountain marathons. Prior to each event I followed a certain ritual. Mixing energy drinks, getting my gear sorted, rubbing heat cream in leg muscles etc. This procedure, like that carried out by many sports people, was all about helping to get my mind into the zone, preparing myself for the task ahead.

Likewise, when I am out and about with my camera I follow a specific procedure which all helps to get my mind into the zone, preparing myself for the task ahead. Setting up the tripod, mounting the camera, cleaning and attaching the lens, selecting and fitting the filter all help to prepare my mind. Following this procedure also slows me down, allowing time to think about the shot I am about to take, time to engage with the subject. I feel that compact cameras with their ease of access and deployment can easily promote snap shot photography. You see an interesting shot, camera out of your pocket, take the picture, move on to the next shot. This is not for me and whilst I recognise that there may come a time when an aged body makes the heavy gear too much of a burden, that time is still hopefully some time off. So for the time being I am still willing to expend as much blood, sweat and beers needed to get the shot.

Why Black and White?

28/07/16

Recently whilst thinking about the often asked question as to my choice of B&W as my preferred media, I realised that my choice of B&W has not been the result of any artistic or creative decision. Simply back in the day if amateur photographers wanted to develop and print their own photographs, B&W was the only readily available option. Colour printing processes where available but tended to be more complex and difficult. Obviously today that is not the case as digital has made colour photography readily available. I wonder though how many photographers working in colour actually do so following an artistic or creative choice, a choice I did not really have as a amateur.

An Introspective Approach to Learning

24/07/16

These days I find photography can be somewhat intuitive. I recently spent three days backpacking through the remote Radnor Hills in Mid Wales and although I was carrying my camera I thought very little about photography, simply enjoying the experience and taking photographs. Yet despite this I do feel that it is important to sometimes take an introspective review of what it is we are actually doing, something I have just done whilst out for a casual walk in the forests near my home.

The day was dull and overcast with very flat lighting and I was particularly thinking about how the conditions influence the nature and type of shots that I would take. Whilst such soft and diffuse lighting can be good for black and white, it definitively was not an f22 day for open vistas and majestic cloudscapes. Today the low light levels would dictate either a slower shutter speed or open aperture, obviously at the expense of depth of field. (I rarely resort to changing ISO away from the base setting unless I can really help it. Personal choice.) Although the day was relatively still, a light zephyr was just causing enough movement of the vegetation to rule out dropping the shutter speed too much, so depth of field would have to go. Taking these considerations into account any shot taken today would be the smaller scale, more intimate aspects of the landscape, ones in which texture was not too important due to the lack of good strong angled lighting. As a consequence of the conditions my eyes where averted from the distant hills as I sought out the details closer at hand whilst setting a large aperture thus allowing a sufficient shutter speed.
Whilst these sort of considerations, as I have already indicated, tend to be somewhat instinctive, I found it useful just to spend the time thinking them through and analysing what was behind my choice of subject and shot.

Capturing the Grandeur and Majesty of Landscapes

24/07/16

I recently had a conversation with a non photographer about a conversation he had had with a friend regarding how large scale landscapes could be captured in a photograph or even whether they could be captured at all. Unfortunately I did not fully answer the question because I failed to give him four names in whose work I feel that the answer can be found. Can the majesty and grandeur of landscapes be captured in photographs? Look at the work of Derry Brabbs, Charlie Waite, Joe Cornish and Colin Prior and I feel that you will find the answer.

A Piece of Cake

22/01/16

I am sure that if I gave you a piece of cake your thoughts would be of flavours and textures and maybe the ingredients that have gone into the cake. I doubt very much you would be thinking about mixing bowls, wooden spoons and spatulas. So why when faced with a photographic image do many people tend to often immediately start asking about cameras and camera equipment? Surely the focus should be on the raw material, light, and its manifestations in the image in the form of tonal and textural contrasts.

Interesting Comment On Photography in the 21st Century

16/10/15

Might be comedy, but very true click here (links to external web site You Tube)

Photography As Art

08/10/15

Interesting article by photographer Ming Thein in the Huffington Post on what is perhaps the biggest struggle photography has faced historically as a medium and that is to be taken seriously as an art form. Here's a short extract.

"At this point, we need to pause before we get carried away; we haven't even answered the really important question here: what is art? Well, it's a subjectively biased interpretation of something - whether that something is an event, a place, a person, or a thing, is irrelevant. It's the bias that makes it interesting: Monet's waterlilies are interesting because they show us his unique interpretation of the scene, according to the impressionist school -- which is yet another subjective way of looking at the world. Picasso's works are interesting because they show us his interpretation of the world. In both cases, the interpretations present us with such a unique -- unprecedented -- result, that we are forced to stop, look, and think. The value here is in the uniqueness of the interpretation: what the artists see is so far beyond the normal realm of comprehension for most that it becomes akin to visual magic. It's also worth remembering that seeing is but half of the puzzle: execution is just as important."

I found the article particularly interesting because of the ideas around the need and importance of interpretation and uniqueness. I believe that over reliance on process leads to average, boring and mundane images simply by virtue of the fact that they are all produced the same way. The true art and craft of photography I believe lies in being able to use the photographic process to produce images that truly reflect the unique way in which the photographer sees the world. And it has to be unique because since how we see and interpret the world around us is different for each of us.

The full article can be seen here...

Fine Art Photography

15/09/15

The question of whether photography is art or not will probably rage for eternity let alone whether photography can ever be seen as fine art -"creative art, especially visual art whose products are to be appreciated primarily or solely for their imaginative, aesthetic, or intellectual content." (Oxford English Dictionary)

This extract from an articlenby Pete Myers on the Photo.net web site, State of the ART: The Purpose of Fine Art Photography , I feel quite eloquently adds to the argument.

"Given the beauty of a fine art photograph viewed in person, the photograph itself should hit the viewer on a visceral level—completely “right brained.” That is to say, not to think, but to feel. If the viewer is thinking, not feeling, I would go so far as to say that it is not fine art. The reaction to the entire photograph should be immediate, and simply overwhelm the sensation of the viewer. Whatever techniques are used by the photographer to get there, they should not detract from the primary mission—which is the ennoblement of the beauty within the subject matter."

For the full article /click here...

The Importance of Visualisation

03/08/15

The Fishermen
I have just spent the last week in Northumbria, long walks on what are probably some for Britain’s best beaches and coastal scenery. The light was fantastic, the clouds where forming into wonderful cloudscapes and the sea was the perfect sort of “choppy”. Yet I hardly got my camera out. Despite the wonderful location and lighting conditions I simply did not feel inspired to take any photos.

OK this sometimes happens. You are simply not in the right frame of mind. Today is not the day.

Yet the more I thought about it, the more I felt that was not quite the answer. Then whilst wandering round a local gallery I found the answer. The truth is when I looked at the seascape I could not see a photographic print, I could only see a painting.

To me, the way I work, I need to be able to envisage the final print, I need in my minds eye to be able to understand how the scene in front of me will translate into the final image. I need to be able to visualise the final print. Only being able to see the scene in front of me as a painting obviously blocks the visualisation process and I unable to see a final print.

So for me seascapes will always be done in oils whilst old knackered trees and derelict buildings will always be monochrome prints.

Simple Words

02/05/15

Quite often I come across words said by another that quite eloquently express how I feel, although have never quite found the rights words myself.

Such a case is that of Peter J Conradi in his book At The Bright Hem of God, Radnorshire Pastoral.

“The space and solitude that awed me were, like all landscape, haunted by absence and by loss”

It is this sense of loss and absence that haunts the British landscape that I seek out in my photography.

The Value Of Modern Technology

11/03/15

I talk a lot in this blog about the importance of understanding tonal relationships, getting the exposure right in camera and about the need to take control and not let the camera do the thinking for you. Whilst I appreciate the value of advanced exposure technology in basic point and shoot cameras, I am a little uncertain about it's value in the more advanced cameras. I would assume that such cameras are bought by people who have a real interest in photography and in improving their skill levels. Having a camera that does it it all for you without any real input from the photographer surely can't be the best way forward.
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The Nikon D750 is a classic case in point. As a full frame camera costing around £2000 you would feel that this a camera for the serious enthusiast looking to improve their skills. Yet the camera is fitted with the most amazing exposure technology. Take a high dynamic scene, switch on the highlight weighted metering, switch on the Active D-Lighting and switch on the Flat Picture Control. Result a nice lovely exposed shot. Well allegedly.

Compare that to my first camera, the Zenit 12XP. The only real control you had was the shutter speed on the camera, with a range of 1/30 to 1/500, and the aperture via the aperture ring on the lens. You could also do a few tricks playing with ASA/DIN film speed setting (for you younger readers that's what we now call ISO). The exposure meter consisted of two LEDs showing if you were under or over exposed. Obviously as a fully manual camera there was no exposure compensation control, probably the most important control on today's cameras. It was up to the photographer to get the exposure right and in doing so they had to engage with their subject and not, has I believe is the case today, focus on the camera and it's controls
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I believe that as a result of having to engage with your subject in this way and not being overly distracted by setting camera controls, results in a better understanding of the basic principles of photography which in turn leads to better photographs. This is about making exposure decisions based upon the tonal values of your subject and visualising how they will be rendered in the final image as opposed to letting the camera decide. It's about you setting the camera controls to achieve the photograph you envisaged rather than leaving it to the camera. It's about looking at your subject and not at the camera control panel.

Of course just because the technology is there does not mean you have to use it. You can always switch if off and fly solo!

An e-book well worth reading

26/02/15

Whilst one may spend many hours trawling the internet without finding anything that is fresh, new and informative, every now and again you get lucky and find something worthwhile. One such find for me was the web site of photographer Ian Barber, or more specifically an e-book writtten by Ian, In The Zone. I have found the book, which I have being referring to for a number of years now, one of the most informative and instructive photography books I have come across. The e-Book has been written to try and help photographers understand how to adopt the Zone System into their Digital world and to understand the importance of capturing an image with the exposure that matches what you visualised at the scene. The book costs £2 and is worth every penny.

Inspiration

16/02/15

Many people who know my work, particularly that of the South Pennines of West Yorkshire, would be forgiven in thinking that my main inspiration was Ted Hughes and Fay Godwin's work the “Remains of Elmet”. In fact my main inspiration was not so such from a photographer but from the poet and author Glyn Hughes. Glyn wrote a book, “Millstonegrit”, about a journey through the South Pennines and I was fascinated by the way in which Glyn explored the landscape through its people and their history. Apart from inspiring me to discover more about the South Pennine landscape Millstonegrit was also influential in the development of my interest in landscapes and landscape history.

If I have been influenced by any one photographer then it is the work of David Chamberlain, particularly his book ”The Creative Monochrome Image”. David's work certainly shows that “there's nowt new in Photoshop” and whilst I have tried to emulate some of more extreme techniques in the darkroom I never had much success.

The Importance Of Tonal Relationships In Monochrome Photography

13/02/15

I believe that it is always important to remember that I see in a very different way from the way in which the camera sees. Whilst I mainly see the actual physical elements of the scene, often in an emotional way, the camera sees nothing but a range of tonal values, without any emotional engagement. As a photographer I also need to be able to see in this way.

For example landscapes work best when there is a regression of tones through the image. A mid tone in the foreground, a lighter tone in the middle distance, a darker tone in the far distance and through to a lighter sky which itself then also goes from light to dark. Such a regression of tones will often create an image with a feeling of depth and lead the viewers eye through the image.

Identifying tonal relationships helps inform the selection of my view point and the placement of the actual physical elements that will make up my final image. I tend to ensure that the images key points of interest are placed so that their tonal value contrasts with that of their background and since when we view photographic images our eyes are drawn to lighter tones, key points should be of a relatively lighter tone. Thus if for example a key point is located in the middle foreground than the general tone of this area should be darker than that of the key point in that area and this in turn will dictate the tonal levels for the other areas of the image if a tonal regression through the image is to established..

Obviously tonal relationships of this nature are just one of many relationships that can exist in a photographic image. What is important is being able to see and recognise the tonal relationship that is most appropriate to my image.

Probably The Most Important Camera Skill

11/02/15

Obviously all photographic images are created after the fact in post processing. The camera simply records the raw data from which the final image is created. The issue I have with digital is more to do with the attitude that in camera skills are not as important as they where as mistakes can be corrected later in the computer. The old adage rubbish in, rubbish out certainly applies in this case. Unless you actually capture the data you can not process it. So getting it right in camera is still of extreme importance even in the digital age.

If you take your camera out on a bright sunny day and set an exposure at your slowest shutter speed and widest aperture you will obviously get a nice white image with no image detail. If you then start to decrease the exposure, increasing levels of detail will be revealed until a point is reached at which detail is being lost to the shadows. Put another way, any level of under or over exposure has the potential to lead to the lose of detail in some part of the image.

Probably the most important photography skill is that of being able to see and understand tonal values and being able to control their relationship during capture and post processing. You can if wish leave it to the camera and hope and pray that the camera captures the tonal values in a way that allows you to establish the tonal relationships that reflect your vision.

Or of course you could save yourself a lot of time and trouble as well as heartache by simply taking the time to get it right in camera.

The Photography Competition Game

05/02/15

Just entered three images into a local photography competition and as to how well the images will do is always a bit of a gamble. Obviously a lot depends on what the judge expects and what they actually like. In this sense competitions are a bit of a game. Certain images do well, currently that is usually those which have been “over processed” post capture whilst others tend to be unfashionable. Anything showing anything resembling a more “traditional” approach for example. Of my three images one should be OK. A simple image that appears to owe more to post processing than actual camera skills. (In fact the image has had little post processing and does owe much to how I captured it in camera.) The other two are black and white landscapes which are definitely out of fashion at the moment. Both also present “challenging” compositions. Horizons not quite on the thirds, keys points not quite on the thirds and in the case of one of the images lots of empty space. And certainly no painterly effect or big stopper or cloning to improve composition (I do that at the time of capture.) In fact the main subject of both images is not the actual physical elements that the images capture but rather the light. The physical elements in the composition are simply the supporting cast. Shall wait with interest to see what the judges comments.
Winter Landscape, Panpwnton Hill, Shropshire

Black & White -a simpler language

25/05/14

I am often asked "why black and white?", a question I often find difficult to answer. I suppose in one sense black and white is a simpler language. Colour has strong emotive values and offers many visual clues as to the photographers message/intent. Remove the colour and the photographer has to rely on a more limited vocabulary, needing to be more eloquent in conveying their message. A simpler language.

A Simple Truth

24/05/14

My photographs are not a result of my understanding of the camera and its many sophisticated functions. It is my knowledge, understanding and experience of working with light, the raw material from which photographic images are created.

Don't Believe The Hype!

24/05/14

Photography is best described as an artisan craft skill and like all craft skills requires time and effort to master. Modern western society with all its materialistic consumption and hyped up mass media is best summed by the attitude “I want it all and I want it now although I'm not prepared to put in the time and effort to get it”. If you want to improve your photography take the time to learn the required skills and gain the required experience. Most importantly don't believe the marketing hype put out by the camera manufacturers!

It's not photography

11/05/14

No doubt the debate about what photography actually is will rumble on into eternity particularly in view of the current fashion towards over processed images that are more digital art then true photography, images that are created in the computer and not from the camera or rather the photographers mind.
Having just watched an item on the BBC regarding a new web app that gauges the popularity of photographs I had the thought that we may have a new type or class of photographic image -social imagery. Images not taken as "photographs" but rather as aids to personal projection into the "socialsphere". More thoughts about a possible definition for "socialsphere" imagery and how it differs from photography to follow. Watch this space.

Photography Quote

07/05/14

"Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all know it. Know it for all you are worth and you will know the key to photography."

George Eastman

Doing it my way.

07/05/14

My approach to photography is very much rooted in my experiences from working with film cameras and developing my own images in the dark room. My approach is very much based upon getting it right in camera and not creating images after the event in post processing. Whilst today's modern cameras are quite wonderful things and can produce remarkablygood results straight out of the camera, all the sophistication can get in the way. For me photography is all about artistic expression, producing images that reflect how I feel about what I am photographing. I want to decide which areas of the image are important, how tonal values are recorded and rendered in the final print. Leaving such decisions to the camera can lead to boring, average, mediocre images simply by virtue of the fact that everyone else is using the same algorithms to produce their shots.

The Winter Flood

Heading North.

07/05/14

A recent trip northwards into the far North West of Scotland offered an opportunity to go back to my roots as it where. My early interest in photography stems from my interest in hill walking and climbing. At this time I often carried a camera to simply record the places I visited which was obviously the hills and mountains of Britain and further afield. In the early 1980's I purchased a "real camera". I then found I had crossed a Rubicon in that I no longer photographed what I saw but actually started to look for things to photograph.

This image of the Torridon mountains reflects my "purist" approach to photography. No painterly effect, no distracting colour and no "big stopper" to soften the sky etc.

Torridon, Wester Ross

Welcome to my photography blog page.
I will be posting random thoughts covering a wide range of photography related subjects as well as some thoughts explaining my approach and thinking behind my photography. As I work mainly work in monochrome, most of my posts will be related to black and white photography.

Please feel free to comment on any of the thoughts or issues posted in this blog. Healthy debate is always welcome!

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All content and images © Jefferson Hammond LRPS 2017