Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The next best thing

If you can't take photos look at them, if you can't look at photos read about photography - and I don't mean the technicalities.

I re-read Parr by Parrover the weekend. I'm not sure I 'get' all of his output, but he has interesting things to say and his photos bear repeated consideration. Some of his comments are repeated in the brief interview in my latest book-buy, Image Makers, Image Takers.

Even though I wasn't au fait with many of the photographers, and not always keen on their work shown, I was struck by how similar their outlooks were even if their ways of working and images were different and wide ranging. I guess the commonality is the urge to make photographs.

It was both surprising and pleasing to read Anton Corbjin cite an approach to creativity utilised by Brian Eno - "limit your tools, focus on one thing and just make it work." This is an approach I have appreciated and used for as long as I can remember, and not just in photography. While many amateur photographers feel limited by taking just one lens in case they 'miss the shot', I am quite happy to do so as I feel it makes you look more intensely to find photos that it will make work.

While I enjoyed reading the photographer interviews, and those with photo editors, the few with gallery oriented people brought back my old feelings of mistrust of the art world and it's hypocritical embracing of fashionable trends and commercialism. The gallery system is less about art than it is about capitalism. But I shall resist that particular rant for now.

All in all a good book to read once and dip into again and again. Some good photos I was unaware of too, which will have me Googling some of the names.

Which makes me wonder why anyone who is interested in taking photos wouldn't want to look at photos by prominent photographers, or to read about their ways of thinking and working. But from some of the posts I see on photography forums it seems I am in a minority. I recall one thread in which the consensus was that you can learn to take great photos. The consensus of the interviewees in Image Makers, Image Takers is that you can improve, but you can't acquire 'a way of seeing' - you either have it or you don't.

As usual I'm out of step with hobbyist photographers. In fact I don't know where I fit in. I take my photos to please myself, like a hobbyist does, but I feel as if my reasons are different. I try to avoid the decorative for one thing, although I mostly fail. The images I consider my best lack the 'polish' that a camera club would praise. Looking back through my selection from 2010 there are some shots I like which look to me as if I took them, they fit in with what I think of as my style, and some which remind me of photos I've seen (even if only remembered unconsciously). The ones which I'm most pleased with are the few that do neither. Like this sheep.


Thursday, 23 June 2011

"When you photograph people in colour..."

"When you photograph people in colour you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in B&W, you photograph their souls!" - Ted Grant

three faces

three faces

Even though the colour version has a limited palette the focus does shift when it is presented in monochrome. To my eyes at any rate.

Monday, 20 June 2011


I've just gone through all my photos from 2010 with the intention of selecting the 'best'. Goodness knows how many there were but I whittled it down to 64. I find putting photos together in book form, even if only virtually, helps me judge them better.  So I did just that with Blurb's publishing software. With all the pictures loaded into a virtual book I was then able to further edit the selection, ending up with 43 shots that I like for various reasons.

Not all the photos I like are great. If I was being completely ruthless there would only be a slack handful of images in the set. Nonetheless the process has been a worthwhile exercise in self-criticism. I even found one photo I had neglected, that hadn't been copied to my 'good photo' folder. Looking back at shots after time has passed is always a good idea, as this is not the first time that has happened to me.

For what a soft back copy costs to have printed, compared to making individual prints, it's not a bad way to collate images to mull over away from the computer screen either. Even if the print quality is not the utmost.

Photos do 'look' different when printed and bound, and when displayed alongside other pictures. I suppose these books can also be a handy way to show people what you are about, photographically, as a sort of portfolio. Although what my photography seems to be about is some sort of unfocused eclecticism!

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Steve McCurry

Friday, 17 June 2011

The camera never lies

The camera cannot lie, but its images can be misinterpreted.


Sunday, 12 June 2011

The great leap forward - technologically speaking

You see a lot written on nerdy forums about how much better 'full frame' DSLRs are. I'd seen the comparison shots showing the better high ISO and low light capabilities of these cameras over crop sensors and for a confirmed hand-holder that was the big attraction to me. What I didn't realise when I took the plunge a few weeks back was the other benefits that not only the sensor gave, but also the 'pro spec' body. Apart from the bulk and weight it's like going back to using my old Pentax ME - only better!

The handling, despite the number of knobs and dials, is simple, intuitive and fast. Much better than my D90s, which are a step up from an entry level menu and button driven camera. For example, even though it still requires a button to be pressed and a dial spun, changing ISO settings is a doddle. The viewfinder is larger and brighter. Everything just feels right. Sure it weighs a ton, but that's a much lesser price to pay than the financial one. Still, I think the price is pretty well justifed when I consider the performance.

ISO values up to 8000 at dusk give images with less noise and grain than I'd have got at half that value or lower. In good daylight ISO 800 makes hand-held macro shots without flash possible at shutter speeds that eradicate camera shake. This much I had expected. I'd heard the 51 point autofocus system was good, but I didn't realise how good. This has proved to be most beneficial.

Not only does the focus tracking work incredibly well, as opposed to hardly at all with the D90, but it has transformed my long Sigma zoom. I knew the lens was optically capable as it had produced sharp, detailed shots for me now and then. Either in bright sunlight or when I'd succeeded in nailing focus manually. On the D3s it auto-focuses spot on 90% of the time or more - even in light levels that would have sent me home with the crop sensor. And it focuses quickly. I guess the D90 just couldn't cope with the f6.3 maximum aperture.

So much for the technology working well. There have been two changes in the image quality too. Maybe it's a factor of the larger sensor's bigger photosites, or maybe it's the way the images are processed in camera, but the colours look richer to my eyes. It's subtle, but I like it. More noticeable is the way the large sensor alters depth of field. This really does have an impact on the look of the images, making them pretty much like 35mm film shots. I'd never been happy with the out of focus blur in images from the Sigma zoom. They looked sort of harsh. On full frame they are much improved. Perhaps not up to the standard of a better quality, faster lens, but far more to my liking. So much so that I can live with the reduced 'reach' the larger sensor provides at 500mm compared to the crop. In fact the overall image quality from the full frame is so good it can stand cropping on the PC and still look more than acceptable.

Drawbacks? There are some. The size of the camera doesn't lend itself to discretion when out and about, so for town shooting it gets left behind. The biggest drawback is financial. The initial outlay isn't the end of it. Most of my zoom lenses only suit DX bodies - I can use a couple of them at a reduced zoom range, but that's not ideal. So they will have to go to fund one or two replacements. A spare battery is always nice to have, but that's a fair old price too. Worst of all is that I have got used to having two identical camera bodies, which is making me hanker for another full frame job! On the plus side the camera does everything I could want and more. Although I know technology moves fast, I can't see me wanting to upgrade again for some considerable time. More pixels aren't going to tempt me, that's for sure. Now to get out there and do some shooting!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Self critique (2)

This isn't a perfect photo, but I like what it nearly manages to do.

three ages

The young woman is too close to the bollard and her face isn't showing, the middle-aged woman isn't clearly defined against the window, the old woman's head ought to be in front of the doorway rather than the pillar, the 'wet floor' sign is awkwardly placed behind the bollard.

But graphically it works quite well. For example the manhole cover lower right breaks the monotony of the paving and subtly balances the shot. So it's another near miss.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Intellectual photography

I read Parr by Parr last week. What I was most struck by was the intellectualisation of his work. Looking at the few early black and whites it's clear to see the compositional influence of the likes of Bresson. The photos are documentary and simply composed. The later colour works follow a different lead. they are more cluttered in composition, yet still documentary. The compositions are less formal, looser.

Reading the text it becomes obvious that there is a strong intellectual element to Parr's work. It is not enough for him to make an image, it has to make a comment - about the subject or the way it is photographed. Of course once this becomes a motivation the risk of great pretentiousness is run. The reason for the photographs becoming more important than the images. Soon the murky world of conceptual photography is entered where the image is less than secondary to the idea. Often only serving to record the idea. That's the problem with all conceptual art. It doesn't have a physical form!

Of course a lot of photography has an intellectual side to it. The difficulty is presenting this in a way that doesn't make the images, which to me are what photography is about, laughable. My Lost Ball project is conceptual, but where many conceptualists would make no effort to create images that had some individual integrity as images, I do - within the parameters of the project. If the images cannot stand as images then, for me, there is no point to them. Parr's images stand as images - to my eye.

reed study

I've been musing on this theme since starting to take photos that I feel are working towards something as yet undefined. What I think of as photographic sketches or studies. Where a painter will make sketches that are 'worked up' into a 'finished' painting that can be of a different size and in a different medium to the sketches, a photographer's 'sketches' are unavoidably in the same format as the finished work. There is therefore the problem in differentiating the one from the other. It occurred to me that there could be a way round this - by presenting the sketches together AS the completed work. The dread pall of pretentiousness hangs over this idea, especially if I were also to explain how this would highlight the process of photographic creativity and other aspects of my way of seeing.

It's something I might give a go to. Just to see what happens. In the meantime I hope to stumble on some lost balls. I set an arbitrary limit of 50 balls on the project and it's nearing completion. My major concern is whether to include one ball twice as it was shot in two locations. Decisions, decisions. But that's photography.