Saturday, 28 May 2011

In close

I thought I'd try my 35 for a change in town today. As a rule I find it either too short or too long on the crop sensor. But I like to think I can work with what I've got. Why some people are obsessed with having perfect framing by using zooms is something I can't grasp. So much so that I'm getting a strong urge to cop for a Fuji X100 - despite the pixel-peepers finding fault without having used one. I read one comment saying it does the important things well but is let down by other things. Sounds okay to me. On the street all you need to do is set shutter speed or aperture. Most of the time you can live with a fixed ISO - like when using film. Judging by the real world samples from the camera that I have seen it manages damned well at ISO 2000. Ian Berry's shots in the June issue of Professional Photographer look good enough to me. It seems like a nice unobtrusive camera that does a simple job, simply. Very tempting, and it has a shutter release screw to use with a cable or bulb release - so it would be handy to take fishing. Time to offload some gear!

The thing with DSLRs is that, even small ones, are large. My old Pentax ME film camera is much less obvious. Even so one thing I discovered today is that the closer you are to people the less likely they are to assume you are taking their photo. Not many worked as well as I'd hoped but despite, or maybe because of, the cropping in the shot below I think it captures a mood. The B+W conversion keeps it simple, but the colour version works too. Mono has a timeless feel while colour is more contemporary. Even so digital still seems more clinical than film, which is why I boost the contrast in mono to slightly degrade the image. Suits me.


I like this second shot for inexplicable reasons. It's a 'nothing' image yet I think it has an atmosphere to it completely different to the youthful energy in the first photo, and the straps at either side give it a graphic element.

arm link

I like this sort of photography because there's always something to look for. If I hadn't just snapped up a used all-singing-all-dancing DSLR I think I'd be tracking down an X100. For the mean time the 24mm is going back on the D90 and the 35mm is going up for sale. Or maybe not...

Monday, 23 May 2011


It makes me chuckle when I read posts on forums asking where to go in a particular town or area to take photos, or even saying something like "I have the day off tomorrow what can I shoot?" There's a good line over on Pixiq about inspiration - "There is plenty of subject matter, so why make the same images that are already out there or the same images that we have seen hundreds of times before?" If you take other people's suggestions it's likely you'll take pictures like theirs too.

private land

I find inspiration comes simply from having a camera with me. It makes me look at the world in a photographic way. So much so that if I am supposed to be doing something else I can get engrossed in the picture taking to the point of distraction.

tree seats

Even familiar places can yield surprises. Nothing stays the same forever. I've lived round here for 40 odd years now, and there are still new pictures to be made. Just this morning I took a camera with me on a walk to the Post Office and made some 20 exposures. Some were rubbish, some I messed up, the two here I kind of like. But the point is, I was inspired to take the shots, not by some magical location or cunning plan, but simply by looking. Then again I do like photographing the banal!

Oh yes, I only had the one 24mm lens with me too.

Friday, 20 May 2011

War photography. Err...

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Telling a story in as few words as possible

Or in photographic terms, making as much use of the picture space as possible to set a scene.

This is the evolution of a photo for my fishing blog.

In the first shot all the elements are there - barrow, spod and marker rod, bivvy. However they're spread across the picture in a literal way.

Move to the left to compress the space and bring the elements closer together. Frame vertically. Better.

Try it in landscape. Still not right.

A lower viewpoint is more dramatic. But the whole barrow isn't required to show it's a barrow and it's still not tight enough.

Much better, and the reels are now against a plain background but the differential focus isn't good.

Frame a little tighter still and stop down to get more detail in the reels. Job done.

I could have rearranged things to show them more clearly - like separating the rods a bit so the reels were both fully visible - but that's not my style. I much prefer to work with things as they are.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Bad info and a good lens

It's apparently not just fishing forums where advice is given by people who don't have a clue, it's photography forums too (and no doubt every other specialist hobby forum). Misinformation is the norm.

And asking for an opinion about something (a photo or equipment) only results in as many saying yea as nay. I really do wonder what the purpose of the forums is. More to the point why do I keep looking at them?!!

Funny how you sometimes take photos that work as pairs. Two from today, not my best efforts, that seem to share a sense of colour and composition.

red yellow woman

red yellow bin

Both photos taken with the 24mm lens that's hardly been off one of my bodies since I bought it about a month ago. It just seems to suit me (on a crop sensor) for all sorts of uses, not just wandering round town. Zooms are great for wildlife and anything where  the subject is active or when you are under pressure to get a shot, but they can make you lazy. I like the simplicity of primes and the way they make you think about composition. Primes seem to force you to look at subjects in a different, more intense, way.

Friday, 13 May 2011

I know what I like

Is photography art? A question as old as photography itself. In reality a non-question.

Nobody ever asks if painting is art. An equally meaningless question. Both photography and painting can be art, but take a look at the daubs of any group of 'Sunday painters' and you'll soon realise, if you are at all visually aware, that painting isn't necessarily art simply because paint has been applied to canvas. No more is a photograph art because it has been put in a frame.

Art lies not in the medium (sorry Mr McLuhan!) but in the way it is used.

That said, I'm always wary of photography that presents itself as 'art' or 'art photography'. The former is all to often pretentious beyond interest, and the latter all to often merely office decoration. Great photographs are art because they are great photographs. Someone once told me that 'art is truth', I was taught to strive to make 'equivalents' of the subject when painting rather than likenesses, to seek Bomberg's 'spirit in the mass'. These aims apply equally well to photography - making photos that are about the subject rather than of it.

It sure ain't easy, because photos are always 'of' the subject. I think it's what I've been exploring with my recent 'studies', photographic sketches trying to make small things express a wider environment. It's just flailing around trying to find a direction at the moment. Pretentious? Probably. Art? I doubt it!

ivy and bramble study

burnt dune

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Stunning photos

Why has it become the norm to refer to photos that you like as 'stunning'? Not that I care. Over on Talk Photography someone raised the age old question of what makes a great photo, well 'the perfect' photo actually, but I guess they could have said 'stunning' too. Perhaps 'memorable' is a better word to describe successful photographs?

For what it's worth I reckon photos rely on four keys to be stunning/memorable/successful:

Content, timing, framing, technique. Possibly in that order of importance.

Content - which can be abstract or figurative.

Timing - this can mean waiting for the light to change when the subject is landscape, freezing a moment when the subject is less static, or just being in the right place at the right time by chance.

Framing - the composition of elements within the picture area create harmony or discord, balance or tension.

Technique - affects how the image is rendered, and works best when it is not apparent.

Monday, 9 May 2011

The tyrany of the screen

 Historically there has never been a native format for photographs. 35mm film almost made the 3:2 ratio a standard, but 120 roll film could utilise other formats - even in the same camera. Then there is the ability to crop any shot to suit the subject - if you are not a purist bound to using the whole frame for either aesthetic reasons - or in the case of digital, to use all the pixels you have paid for!

With all but square format the photographer has the choice of landscape or portrait orientation. For prints hung on a wall or stuck in an album, or even in a well designed photo book, this is not a problem. The horizontally and vertically orientated images can be reproduced at the same size and resolution. The visual effect is not altered by tilting the camera through 90 degrees as the scale of the image is not altered.

This is not the case with digital images viewed on a screen. With early computer screens the ratio was that of a cathode ray tube as used in televisions (the ratio being 5:4) the difference in size between the two orientations was not great. But now we have the fashionable 16:9 ratio that LCD screens allow which plays havoc with photographs made in more traditional formats. The resolution of all portrait orientated shots is reduced, and their impact. To maintain consistency between your horizontal and vertical shots you have to display the horizontal ones at a much smaller resolution than the screen will actually allow.

For the majority of happy snappers this is no big deal. They only ever seem to turn their camera(phones) through 90 degrees to shoot video, which they then have to watch with their heads tilted to one side! For most people the size of an image doesn't matter. But for some images it can be critical. Fine detail or small, but important, elements cane be overlooked if the image is not presented large enough. For someone who frequently shoots in portrait orientation it's a major frustration. But a good reason for making prints.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Not just me

I'm not the only one who finds the photo in my previous post intriguing.

Comment on the BBC and Guardian (final paragraph) websites.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Courtesy of The White House

Yes, The White House is on Flickr! Which means I can comment on what I think could become a famous photograph. Even if it doesn't it struck me as interesting in many ways when I first saw it at a small size. Having access to a full size file makes it even more interesting to examine.

Although it is ostensibly a photo of the President of the USA and his entourage watching a live feed of the killing of Osama bin Laden, it's actually a photo of Hillary Clinton. The composition and the focus point, which is glaringly apparent when viewed full size, make that plain to me that the photographer made the picture to place the emphasis on Mrs Clinton - the only person visibly reacting in the shot.

The composition is well considered too, with the negative space top left pushing the eye down and right. There is also a spiralling curve of heads starting top centre and working to the right, the eyes of the man bottom right send your gaze to the left where it meets the out of focus back of a head which implicitly sends you upwards, where you then continue the spiral to Obama. The military gent on his right is looking down, stopping your eyes' travel as his eyes are not seen.


Close inspection shows that the piece of paper in the centre has been pixelated to hide whatever it shows. Yet the top secret password printed on the cover of the file on Mrs Clinton's lap hasn't been given the same treatment. Altogether a fascinating picture, on many levels.