Monday, 30 July 2012

What the amateur needs

There seems to be a trend on internet chat to make out that amateur photographers don't need the features they say they want in cameras. Things like 10 frames per second and low light capability. Strangely enough, over the last few days I have found both of those features useful - as a confirmed tripodophobe.

The fast frame rate made getting shots of cars whizzing past plants growing in the kerb much easier than it would have been trying to do it one shot at a time. I could frame the shot with the car out of sight and fire off a burst as I heard it approach. A more sensible approach might have been to set the camera up on a tripod and use a remote release. There'd still be an element of guesswork involved in getting the car in the 'right' place in the frame though. I might try that if I do it again, but I was improvising. It worked well enough to plant the seed of inspiration.

I also took advantage of the frame rate on Saturday to photograph kiteboarders. Again I could have done so without it, but if you have a feature it would be silly not to use it.

Then last night I took a photo of the sky and the moon. Again I could have done this using a tripod and a low ISO value, but I did it hand-held, at ISO 1250. If the shot had been planned, and someone was going to pay me money for it, then I would have done the job properly. As it was just for my own amusement I was able to grab the shot and get back to the job in hand. Fishing.

I don't 'need' a fast frame rate and high ISO ability in a camera, but sometimes these features come in handy and make photography enjoyable. Even if all they do is let you try out something that could be done better another way they are useful.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Unexpected directions

There's this gutter on the marsh, right by the road, that has always cried out to be photographed at sunset. Such is it's alignment that right now is probably one of the two annual windows when the sun sets more or less in the ideal place to get it reflected in teh water. With there not being many sunny sunsets of late I took the opportunity yesterday to give it a go.

I didn't expect it to be easy to make something of it. Ideally I'd have got a higher vantage point to take in the pools further out on the marsh, but that didn't seem to be practicable. I spent quite some time, making a lot of exposures, until after the sun had left the sky. One was half reasonable. The best light and cloud combinations all came when the sun was not in the best position.

I used a convenient fence post as a monopod, but I really ought to use a tripod for thsi sort of stuff. It's just that that seems like taking it all too seriously to me. It also kind of commits you to picking one composition and sticking with it, which goes against my impatient nature.

On my way to the gutter I got an idea to photograph the wildflowers growing by the side of the road putting them in the context of their situation colonising the man-made environment. It seemed a reasonable idea to include the traffic, slowing the shutter speed to provide motion blur. A couple worked quite well and it's something I might do again.

With the light failing as I walked back to the car I popped a flash gun on the camera and messed around balancing the artificial and ambient light. In the old sand-plant this gave me my first real concept of how to photograph it's recolonisation by plants. I don't know why the use of flash at dusk makes the photographs work better than ones taken of similar subjects in daylight. Perhaps it's the contrast of light that highlights the contrast of plants against bricks, concrete and rubble. Again this is something that really requires a tripod to get sufficient depth of focus with the slow shutter speed required to expose for the sky, and probably off-camera flash, to do justice to.

Both these ideas are the sort of thing I could imagine a student working up into a project accompanied by a lengthy statement justifying the subject and practice and coming across as ever so intense and pretentious. They're just photographs of an interesting idea to me. I've made a few, so I'll probably leave it. I find that when you start realising what you are doing things become stale and samey. It was the spark of inspiration that lead me to try the two techniques out on the subject that really interested and excited me. Doing it again and again until I get the 'perfect' shot or shots sounds too much like the tedium of work. Although they do say genius is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. Sod that for a game of soldiers!.

What the evening's events did bring home to me is how it's good to have techniques up your sleeve to use when they are fitting to the subject in hand. After all, it was pure chance I put a flash gun in my bag as my intention had been to photograph a sunset. A lot of people are prone to going out with the intention of using a particular technique (such as a slow shutter speed to provide blur) rather than going out looking for pictures and using the technique when it is appropriate. The hard part is remembering these techniques when you need then!

A selection of some slow shutter and flash photographs in the gallery/slideshow below.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

The nostalgia effect

A trip to is always rewarding and usually ends in a lost hour or so. Today I stumbled into some photographs from Kentucky that I liked and clicked through to find out more. It all got me thinking about something that puzzles me. When it comes to looking at old photographs, particularly those from an earlier time in our lives, do we like looking at them for solely for nostalgic reasons, reasons of remembrance and social history? Or do we like them for themselves as pictures? Can the two be separated?

This, of course also applies to our own photographs. Can we judge them in any way that is more objective than subjective? Garry Winogrand said he left his films undeveloped for a year in order that he could distance himself from them. It is difficult to judge photographs shortly after taking them. But if they are left unlooked at for too long the nostalgia effect can kick in.

Looking at the pictures below for the first time in almost thirty years I'm not sure if I think they work because they do, or just because they remind me of the time in my life during which I took them.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Inspiration and criticism

A fairly frequent question on photography fora goes something like this: "I've got a day off tomorrow but am stuck for ideas of what to go photograph, any suggestions?" A recent one was asking what inspired people to take up photography in the first place. The second one provided a number of prosaic answers. Often the motivation was to photograph things they were interested in. Which suggest to me that making pictures isn't their motivation, but recording things they like is. I guess that's pretty much everyone's main driver behind their photography. I was inspired, if that's the right word, to make photographs by being given a camera, and later by looking at photographs - first of all in the popular photography press and then, more importantly, in books.

Getting back to the first question, the one asking others for inspiration, brings up something that is fundamental to the creative process. You can't get inspiration from others, just as you have to learn to criticise your own work you have to inspire yourself. It was something David Hockney said that prompted this ramble. He said that "Inspiration, she doesn't visit the lazy." Apparently (thanks to good ol' Google) a paraphrasing of something Tchaikovsky said.

There is much truth in the concept. You get inspired to make pictures by making pictures. It's quite simple. Even if the pictures you make are rubbish. Eventually there sill be something ion one or more that provides the spark to light the flame and away you go. Just going out and doing it is what's required. The problem that a lot of hobbyist photographers have is that they only want to make certain kinds of pictures. This is why they also keep asking about how to acquire a style of their own. Like inspiration, a personal style doesn't come through sitting on your bum or making the same photos as everyone else. You go out, make lots of pictures and the style finds you. Hobbyists in all realms think that success can be ordered up rom Amazon. Whatever you do you only get better at it by doing it.

In all areas of creativity you have to learn to be self-motivated. You also have to learn self-criticism. The other topic beloved by hobbyists is criticism. They neither seem to understand what it means. It doesn't mean posting a picture you like and asking the great unwashed what they think of it. I would never seek an opinion on a picture I thought worked in that way. Not that I would ask the internet masses for an opinion on anything. It's far better to ask people who's opinion's you respect than those who could be knowledgeable or could simply be internet parrots repeating received wisdom.

I made one attempt at offering criticsm on a photo forum and one only. The picture was getting slated because it had so many faults. Technical faults, and strayings from the rules. But it was an interesting picture and the photographer had obviously seen something. I tried to stress the positives before mentioning the flaws. The consensus was that I was an idiot. That's the problem with a democratic decision in creative media. Most people are scared to break the rules. Scared to step outside the norms. To take the risk of doing something that might not be approved of by their like minded herd. They like looking at things that remind them of things they liked looking at previously.

So, along with self motivation to drive inspiration, it's good to learn to criticise your own work. Best of all be a harsher critic of it than someone else might. In that spirit here's one I made earlier...

I was out and about, I had a camera with me and I'd seen these rolls of fleece for rolling over vegetable seedlings before. They had looked like a subject to fit in the 'farming today' theme that isn't quite a project, but could be. Photos that show how modern farming impacts on the environment. With the sun shining and the fluffy white clouds there seemed to be something going on that might work out. The clouds and the rolls shared a look of sorts. The idea was good, I think. The way the rolls 'lean' to the left is sort of mirrored by the shape of the clouds. There's something not working though, which as yet I haven't put my finger on.Thinking about it now it could be that a wider view, providing more  context, might have been more successful. Maybe there'll be another chance.

Whatever the outcome, nobody suggested going looking for rolls of fleece. The inspiration came from being out and about. Once when I first spotted the rolls, and when the conditions added something extra to what I had first seen on a dull day. The brighter light was essential to describe the texture in the fabric. This shot was also not a one off. I tried a number of compositions, waited as the light changed and tried again. It's what was called 'working through' an idea when I was a student. And that's the nub of it. You have to put in some effort - physically and/or intellectually - to  come through inspirational blocks.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Dodgy Scousers!

It's as close to shooting film as you can get in digital. Single focal length lens (the term 'prime' belongs in the bin along with 'bokeh'...) and a full frame sensor, camera set to ISO 400, convert to black and white. There's just something about the look.

And you can't beat available light for people photos.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Martin Parr speaks

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Simple macro set up

One of the blogs I follow is Although I'm not into the sort of photography it is about it is thought provoking at times. Today's post made me think that the same simple improvisation might work for macro photography. So I gave it a try.

Luckily my 'wildflower meadow' is blooming and, depsite the rain, attracting insects - as well as frogs and voles. In a break in the rain I went bug hunting. The cool, damp conditions meant that what flies that were around were easily approachable. Unfortunately I forgot that the ISO performance of the D90 isn't what I've got used to, so there was more noise, and less detail, than I could have got. But it was only a testing session. Both the pictures below are cropped a bit.

In really close on a shiny fly the flash overdid things beyond the point of recovery on the computer. As a first try it worked well. I think that using one flash strapped to the lens hood, and another on a bracket, varying the output of each might work well. It might be a bit unwieldy though!