Wednesday, 23 May 2012

All done and dusted... I hope

Having examined the hard copy of my revisitation project I realised some shots needed redoing, and a look at on-line aerial photo-maps found one location I had struggled to find on the ground. So more trips with the camera and 50mm lens were ordered.

The book needed another edit to include one new picture, and I added one which had been omitted to balance out two I decided to remove. After much checking and rechecking I am 99% sure the project is complete. It's time to order a hard copy and make sure.

The scene below isn't part of the project, just something I took along the way. It is an illustration of the old and the new though. The entrance to the railway has been rejuvenated in the last couple of years. Not the A-board though!

Monday, 21 May 2012

Nature in monochrome

Why these three shots seem to work better in monochrome is probably down to them being about fine texture.  Consequently they all work better as prints, where the detail is revealed,  rather than the slightly over-sharpened screen images.

The two swan pictures use the detail in the background of reeds to contrast with the soft form of the bird, while the feather relies on the detail of it's delicate structure contrasting with the coarser out of focus background.

The compositions are a little conventional, leaning towards the dreaded 'rule of third' for the placing of the main point of interest. However the reliance on fine detail, and being viewed large (I'm sure they'd work better at A3 than A4) makes me wonder if the increasing viewing of images on screens, with their poor resolution and generally small size, is dumbing down photograph making. If pictures are only to be viewed small then there is no need to look for detail. Bold, simplistic, compositions will work better.

Looking again at the large prints in the Richard Mosse exhibition at the Open Eye Gallery last week also made me think about this aspect of photography. Large format cameras and mural sized prints need detail in a way that large paintings don't. I found myself viewing the prints from as far back as I could to get the overall effect, then walking closer to see what the details were. The devil is in the detail, and some of the small elements were only revealed by close inspection.

This second viewing also made me rethink the use of infra red film. I had thought it an affectation, but it brought a different kind of contrast to some of the pictures. A contrast that aided the compositions which wouldn't have been apparent if rendered conventionally. It didn't seem to apply to every picture. In some it did seem like a gimmick. But where it was successful it certainly made for a different way of looking.

As an aside, all three of today's pictures were taken using a macro lens. Just because a lens can focus close doesn't mean it can't focus far!

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Two views of hawthorn

A sign that spring is well under way is the blossoming of the hawthorn. It's something Hockney looks forward to and becomes obsessed with during the brief flowering period.

On the right tree it can look like the foamy spray from a fountain or waterfall cascading along the branches. A visual impression that the camera fails to translate in a straight photograph.

Having made some nice-enough photographs in the muted evening light (which was a bonus for photographing the white flowers), using an out of focus background to make the blossoms stand out clearly I wondered if there might be a way to convey the feel of the blossom.

Zoom blur is a trick that can be overdone and is usually carried out to express movement - in a cartoony sort of way. What made me try it on the hawthorn I'm not sure. I think it was because I 'see' the blossom as being in motion. Quite a number of attempts were made, and if I was the obsessive type I'd have made more, and probably have further attempts, to try and get the perfect shot.

However, for me photography is all about speed of image making. Try something, if it works great if it doesn't no big deal, move on. If I wanted to spend time working at a perfect image of hawthorn blossom I'd reach for paint and brush. But Hockney does it better than I could.

No doubt most people today would have added the effect in Photoshop. Far easier and more controllable. Never looks quite right to me unless it's done manually with the camera. Even when well done it can come across as something added to try and rescue a failed photograph. Doing it at the scene also lets you try more options and keeps that connection with the subject that is a sort of feedback loop.

I quite like the way the picture below turned out. Sure it's not perfect, but it would never be great art even if if it was. If I get bored again while the hawthorn is in flower I might have another try. My boredom threshold has probably already been reached though.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The proof is in the printing

My Blurb book of old and new photographs arrived today. I'd laid it out and ordered a hard copy to save me making a mass of prints and so I could see what the effect was like.

What was immediately apparent, and which hadn't been when studying either pictures on my computer screen or comparing the black and white prints with what was on the camera's LCD, was that two of my recreations had been taken from positions that were way out. One of them with a different lens too.

Having even the fairly small, printed-on-paper, pictures one above the other made the inconsistencies obvious and pointed up the importance of hard copies of photographs. They engender a different way of viewing to pictures on a screen.

The current version of the book is only a draft with a working title. Not that I expect to ever sell any. Not at Blurb prices at any rate. Their iPhone apps can be made reasonably cheap, but that seems to defeat the object of on demand printing to my way of thinking. When I get everything sorted to my satisfaction it will be something I can look at now and then, and show to anyone daft enough to express the slightest interest in the pictures!

I went out today to try and correct my errors. While doing so I took time out to play with a few ideas between the two locations I was revisiting. Some had promise. Most I didn't work through to a conclusion. It's not a good idea to try and use two different ways of looking in the same day. Once the then-and-now pictures were out of the way I got a bit more focussed on the new ideas. The one below sorta, kinda succeeded.

And there was an Elliott Erwitt dog sequence interlude.

Erwitt does it better. But I doubt his wheelie bin photographs are a match for mine!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012


The interwebs are alive with praise for the new Olympus camera. The one that looks like a 1980s slr. (Check out TOP and VSL for example.)

Why is this? It seems to be the first small sensor camera that works like an slr. And it seems to have lenses people like. At last they have a smaller camera that does what a dslr does.

To a point, Lord Copper. There is no doubt that sensor technology now lets small sensors do almost everything that large sensors do, and the other technology is making functionality catch up with what dslrs can do in the focusing and other areas. I, too, read the specs, looked at the design and suffered temptation. It does tick most of the right boxes. But I have to wonder if these folks would be quite so gushing about the Olympus if another manufacturer launched a new camera today that was a similar size, handled exactly like an slr, but had a full frame sensor?

After all, that is really what these people (and I) want. The laws of physics can't be beat, and small sensor simply cannot do some of the things that a larger one can. It can be sharp, it can have low noise at high ISO, it can have a wonderful tonal range and accurate colour matching. But it's still a small sensor. It's why, for all the benefits of the X10, I've gone back to a full frame dslr when I know I want to make pictures.

Why do I like full frame cameras despite their bulk and weight? Because they make photos that look the most like ones made on 35mm film. They suit my way of looking and seeing. Cameras can be as superbly technical as they want, but if they don't let you look and see in your way they are a hindrance. I know I've said this before, but that's what the internet does to you. It keeps on ramming it's collective opinion down your throat. And like so many collective opinions it is often wrong headed and needs to be constantly challenged. Even if nobody ever reads this stuff!

Friday, 11 May 2012


Photography might not always be art, but one thing that it can do well is social commentary.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Then and now

I think I have finally revisited all the locations I am going to for the 'then and now' series. Rather than print them all out straight away I've thrown them together in a Blurb book. It's a small format book, so it won't be great for looking at the individual pictures, but it will give me an idea if the arrangement and order works, and a chance to do another edit. It was a lot less hassle than doing over 100 prints. It will also give me a chance to show the pictures to other people to make sure I have got the right locations!

If I like it as a book I can always do a bigger, fancier, more expensive, version for myself rather than make the prints. It'll probably be as cheap as making and sorting out some means of collating them all too.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Nowt much

Yesterday I read  a post on The VSL.

Last night I dreamed I was using a Leica.

Today I used (briefly) the X10 as if it was a Leica - by looking through the viewfinder, bought a camera body for £25, and some shelves to put my photography books on.

What an exciting life.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Creativity, obsession and perfection

I've had time to surf the web lately and found a link to this video of a lecture given by John Cleese about creativity. It seems to take a long time to say something that I thought was self evident - that creativity (making art) is a form of play. I guess he had to make his lecture look like value for money to those paying him and spin it out with a few jokes and academic quotes to back him up. The only thing I learned from that is that I don't 'do' the 'closed mode'! I enjoy the play part, the finding new ways of seeing things, but the part that involves tying the results up into a finished article bores me rigid. Quite the opposite of those Cleese is talking to. It's why my revisitations will almost certainly come to nought. The idea is interesting, taking the pictures is interesting, but doing something with them is a job I'd rather leave to a trained monkey so I can go do something new.

Another video I found is an interview with Martin Parr. He has a point about needing to be obsessed, but it's not the whole story. if one is too obsessed then it becomes a form of tunnel vision. That is not a good thing if you are trying to be creative. There need to be influences from outside the obsession to provoke new ways of thinking and seeing. That's what the play aspect is all about. The inspiration doesn't need to come from the focus of your attention.

I suspect that an obsessive like Parr finds the 'closed mode' of collating his obsessively taken photographs just as thrilling as taking the photographs in the first place.  Speaking as someone who has always considered laziness to be a virtue I found his inference that laziness is a bad thing deeply offensive!

While an obsession with the process and the subject can be a good thing, obsession with achieving perfection is certain to lead to blind alleys. Yet for many amateur, and some not so amateur, photographers obsession with perfection seems to be their sole aim. This can manifest itself in making technically perfect exposures, using the sharpest lenses and sensors (or film) that can resolve the finest detail. It could be the making of the perfect print, exposed to a T and with a subtle tonal range and bags of intricate detail. It could even be the perfect composition, with not one element out of place.

This can all too easily lead to perfectly dull pictures.

Photography has always had an element of chance in its nature. Outside of the studio there will always be something which is out of the control of the photographer. Rather than try to deny this it should be embraced. When something unexpected happens it can 'spoil' a picture, but it can sometimes 'make' it. The line between the two outcomes is a fine and difficult to define one.

The picture above follows a well trod path as far as composition goes. When I first looked at it on the computer I was miffed by the chopped off foot disappearing behind the cash sign. Later I came to see this 'fault' as a strength. It adds a small touch of tension, a niggle, that brings a little life to the picture. Possibly not the best example, but a recent one.

There are some cultures that believe only God can make something perfect, and so deliberately incorporate flaws into their art and design. A fine example to follow for someone too lazy to strive for perfection like me!