Category Archives: Random Thoughts

1,000 Days

In December 2010 I decided that in order to improve my photography that i was going to start a “photo a day” challenge in January 2011. On September 26, 2013 I hit the milestone of the 1000th day of the challenge. The image below was my selection for day.

The 1000 day. Pauatahanui inlet at dusk
The 1000 day. Pauatahanui inlet at dusk

I have written a previous blog post on the challenge which can be found here. What I said in that posts still applies

After 1000 images there are two definite tips to pass on

Set a routine
Many photographers are intimidated by the idea of taking an image every day. It is actually not that difficult but it does require a level of discipline and that is helped if you set a routine. The shots that I have the most difficulty with tend to be those on the weekend. That is for the simple reason that Monday to Friday I take the camera out when I go for a walk at lunchtome.

Don’t stress about it
The challenge is not to produce an award winning image a day, it is to take a photo a day. This means that you can afford to experiment a little and shoot different styles. The shots may not always come off completely but as long as you learn something in the process.

I am not sure how much longer than I will carry on with the challenge. It will certainly go to the end of the year. For 2014 I have some ideas of changing it up a little so only time will tell.

Inspiration or copying

In December last year I read an online article about a US photographer who discovered that an artist had painted some of his photographs and was selling them in a gallery. As the price being asked was $US4,000 we are not exactly talking about chicken feed. Now in this case there was no question that the painter had copied the photos because several of the images involved exact replicas of photos of people wearing bunny ears. (You can find the article here).

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2246929/Photographer-Jason-Levesque-finds-artist-painted-near-exact-copies-pictures-Miami-gallery.html

This was clearly wrong, but it does raise the question is copying always wrong and when does it cross the line from being referred to as inspiration.

I believe that Inspiration is where you take something as an idea and then develop it and try to put your style on it. Copying is where you reproduce an image whether in totality or a major part of it.

In my opinion “copying” is only okay if you are using it to practise ideas and techniques, as long as you do not then claim to have created the final image yourself.

In fact this concept is quite old. The masters of painting all practised as apprentices by copying the works of their masters and those that have gone before them. Pablo Picasso produced some amazing copies of old masters when he was in his teens that are a million miles away from the cubist style that he would become famous for. In fact Picasso said “good artists copy, great artists steal”.

This has been taken to mean that you take something that someone else has done and then build on it. The source of the inspiration does not need to be in the same field of art. When we visited the Melbourne Art Gallery I say a small porcelain statute.

Inspiration (1 of 1)

This was the inspiration for the shot below.

Inspiration (2 of 1)

 

 

Put me in the shot

This is going to sound like a bit of a rant but I really don’t get the logic behind the modern rule that tourists must all take photos of themselves standing in front of tourist locations. Now when I stand on a cliff, or in front of monument, I like to shoot just that. I don’t need a mugshot of myself to prove that I was there. In fact in some locations I prefer to avoid having people in the shot if I can avoid it.

It started a number of years ago with the Japanese and we laughed when we saw them do it. But now it seems to have spread to all nationalities.

I am sure the rise of Facebook and the desire to get profile images is partly to blame.

There appear to be two very different groups.

There are those will cellphones who are not quite so disruptive, as they tend to hold the phone at arm’s length so they don’t take up much space.

It is those with proper cameras that are most annoying when they position someone on one side of a path and then stand on the other and completely block it. On our recent trip to Australia we even had people arranging whole families with complete disregard to the chaos it was causing around them.

So my plea is simple. Think of others while on holiday.

How do you look at images

Earlier this year a lady on a Facebook forum posted an image and invited comments. I told her honestly that I did not like it as the highlights were seriously blown, there was no focal point in the image and that it did nothing for me. She took a little umbrage at this because for her the image was fine. The reason for this though had to do with the back story behind the image that I was not aware of. Because there was nothing in the image that grabbed my attention I had judged it essentially on the technical merits.

This was further brought into focus when I helped out with the Phil Jacobs Benefit. Donated to be auctioned where images by some well known New Zealand photographers and in fact one of the images came from a reasonable well known set. What struck me was that several images if entered into a competition today would likely be given a “not accepted” grade. So this got me thinking about what makes a good image and how should we view it.

I believe that when we shoot with our cameras we essentially have the choice to take snapshots, documentary images or create photographic images. When entering an image in a competition the last thing you want to hear the judge say is that it is a snapshot because generally it is a derogatory terms in such circles.

But what is the difference and why it is important. Basically I am going to define the terms as such.

This image was deemed to be a snapshot in a competiton entitled "In the Kitchen"
This image was deemed to be a snapshot in a competiton entitled “In the Kitchen”

A snapshot is a photo that records a person, event or location that’s primary purpose it to capture a point in time. The main value is the image lies not in what is on the screen (or paper) but rather in the emotional connection that the viewer has with the background that the image represents. As the adage that a bad photo is better than no photo totally applies to snapshots, we will accept poorly composed, or lighted images.

A documentary image is also a photo that records a person, event or location however it is not intended to stand alone but rather it will be used along either text or other images to tell the story of the event. Sometimes these images are strong enough to stand alone but not always and again the same adage as above applies.

Same category of the competition but the judge liked this image
Same category of the competition but the judge liked this image

A photographic image is also a photo that records a person, event or location, however the image is strong enough to not rely on a knowledge of the background story. A photograph also has to be technically perfect to the level that the photographer was attempting.

So does this matter. Bruce Girdwood who is a very talented photographer and judge spoke to the Hutt Camera Club earlier in the year and he stated that you should make images based on what you like and not what another judge thinks because ultimately it is you that you are trying to please.

we have it easy in the digital age.

Just how easy we have it with digital cameras and photoshop was brought home to me today.

My wife Vicky is doing a photography course at the Learning Connexion this term and is using film which she has to process themselves. Of course this means that her images are in black & white. She was supposed to produce a body of work on a theme and she chose “reflections”. While she is quite a good photographer she was struggling a little with seeing things in black & white.

After lunch we both decided to head outside and work on her project. It has rained most of the morning and we figured that the puddles that were likely to be formed on the  concrete sections at the Trentham racecourse would offer good possibilities.

I took along my digital and we worked slowly through the shots she wanted to take. She would estimate the camera settings she wanted to use. I would then put them into my camera and with it set to deliver a B&W image take a shot. If she was happy with the result she would then take a shot on the film camera. The only tricky thing we ran into was compensating for the crop sensor effect.

We then headed up to Akatawara Cemetery and obtained some reflections using the backs of some highly polished marble headstones.

What was a real pain was that when she was lining up a shot she would often tell me that she didn’t like something in the shot, and could I move it. This included rubbish bins, tables and chairs, and not to mention branches on trees. Shooting in digital we wouldn’t have bothered knowing that we could simply clone it out in photoshop.

The images below are a sample of the ones I took. Vicky’s film images came out good as well, even though some might say that the technique is slightly cheating.

Assisting

Last Saturday I spent most of the day at photoshoots that involved 3 models in 3 set ups and came away with only two images. Now it wasn’t a total failure caused by gear failure. Rather I was acting as an assistant and the shoot was being conducted by Sharyn Reeve (www.bySharyn.com).

Sharyn is a very talented Wellington photographer and Photoshop wiz. We have done a few shoots together one of which she was brave enough to be my model.

The processed image taken by Sharyn

Now anyone who knows me, knows that I have been shooting for a number of years, and have a reasonable portfolio of images. So they may be wondering why I was assisting on a shoot, when that is often synonymous with students. Put simply to learn and also because I enjoy shoots.

You don’t always need to be behind the camera to learn at a shoot. In some ways it is often easier to learn if you are not behind it because generally when you are there you are concentrating on getting the shot. What I tend to learn most from Sharyn is posing techniques, and more importantly the instructions to get particular facial expressions. What I hope I am able to give back to her to suggestions on light setups and poses. Sharyn is also not one of those photographers who will not take on board any suggestions (unlike other photographers that I will not name).

A shot from the morning session.

It was a good opportunity to also test out some new gear that we had purchased recently. On Saturday Sharyn had a new 150cm Octobox Softbox and I had a new lighting boom. We were both surprized that we could use a speedlight inside of the octobox after a studio strobe decided to play up. The boom proved really useful when Sharyn wanted an hair light that was lower than the model rather than having it angled down. It is also a good opportunity to double up our gear to produce better results and also the extra pair of hands come in handy with setting light modifiers.

I will leave Sharyn to actually blog the details of the shoot on her page at http://photos.bysharyn.com/blog.

What is the Blog for?

Yesterday I was watching a rerun of a session that New Zealand photographer Sue Bryce did a couple of months ago as part of a workshop on www.creativelive.com. In the particular section she was talking about marketing your business and particularly how to promote through social media, websites and blogs.

She was a firm advocate of the benefits of blogging, but she did state that you needed a clear idea of what the purpose of the blog was. She also stated that she thought that most photographers blogs were actually aimed at other photographers, rather than clients, and that they were simply an exercise in self gratulation. Sues own blog can be found at http://www.inbedwithsue.com/blog/.

This really got me thinking about this blog and where it had developed without really a clear goal. It started as an extension to the posts I was making on my Facebook page as I wanted to provide context around the images I was taking. It has now moved to include the various articles and random thoughts that I have from time to time. Most of these are aimed at other photographers.

I had also wanted to create a website and using a blogging engine was the simplest way to achieve that.

Now as photography is my passion, rather than something I am trying to make money out of, this blog does not focus entirely on getting work. However this is not to say that I do hope that by showing examples of my work through it, that work will not come my way.

In fact I am a firm believer in karma and that by helping others through this blog that the good will be returned to me in some form. I have certainly found that connections I have made with people have resulted in good things happening.

I would be interested in your own thoughts on this.

The image with this post was a competition entry for a contest run at Wellington Photographic Society where we were given a range of objects to incorporate in images.

The Gear Trap

I take part in a Facebook group that acts as a support for photographers around the country. The group mainly consists of people new to photography and therefore the questions pop up time and time again about what gear they should buy. Most already have a usable DLRS and a couple of lenses, but seem to have got into the mindset that they need to spend a lot of money to get better. I have decided to call this “the gear trap” because unfortunately there is no 100% guarantee that if you have better gear you will get better photos.

In a series of posts I am going to offer some advice on various pieces of equipment, starting with lenses.

If you buy an entry level DSLR camera then it will always come with a lens attached. If you buy in the higher end then you will often have the choice of a body only purchase. The lens that is attached to a camera, when part of the purchase, is generally referred to as a “kit” lens. Depending upon the package you have bought you may have a single lens or a couple of kit lenses. They will span a focal length from 18mm to 300mm. Kits lenses are generally made out of plastic including the parts that we refer to as “glass” which is why they are light and also fairly robust. While we tend to think of them as cheap if you break one you will discover that they can cost up to $500 to replace.

Now when people on the Facebook group start talking about buying lenses it is generally with the goal of replacing their kit lenses.

So what is wrong with a kit lens.

If you are buying a camera from the likes of Canon, Nikon or Sony then put simply “nothing”. For the most part they will take excellent images and even perfect images if the person operating the camera knows what they are doing. More expensive lens will have a better optics (but not so much that it will be noticeable in most pictures), will focus and track faster and normally will have an aperture that can go larger. However how much that is of use to you depends upon what you are doing.

So before you reach for the credit card to buy that new lens consider the following:

  1. How well do you know the operation of your camera? Put bluntly if you have no idea what the effect of shutter speed, aperture and ISO have in getting images then putting a better piece of glass on the camera is not going to make a blind bit of difference to the majority of the end results.
  2. Work out a clear idea of what it is you will be shooting the most and then see if you can shoot it with the gear you have. When I started shooting it was mainly sports that took my fancy. The 70-300mm lens I had with my camera was more than adequate shooting my daughter play netball or to capture the local club rugby game, but it failed miserably when I tried to capture her in roller skating competitions. The difference between the sports was that there was less light in the indoor environment. The answer was a 70-200 F2.8 lens in this case.But on the other hand most of my model shoots were in the studio under lighting that I could control. I was shooting mostly at F8 so didn’t need a lens capable of F2.8 and so I shot with the lens that came with the camera for nearly 3 years. It is still used a lot for these types of shoot.
  3. Are there other ways to improve the final result? A lot of poor images are often the lack of light rather than issues with optics quality. While better lenses generally allow you to operate in lower light, the same results can be achieved by introducing other light sources. Your camera’s built in focus doesn’t actually know what it is seeing when it focuses. Rather it is looking for the point where the contrast is the colours is at it’s strongest. This is why cameras have problems focusing when the light is lower.
  4. Determine what your upgrade path is likely to be for bodies. Until around 10 years ago pretty much any SLR lens that came from a manufacturer would fit and work on the other bodies that they made. This is no longer the case. While the higher end lenses specifically designed for full frame camera will generally work on crop sensor bodies, lens designed specifically for crop sensor bodies may not work on full frame cameras. Also not all cameras (especially entry level ones) have the lens focus motor built in so they require the lens to have its own motor. There is little point in buying a whole lot of lenses that will not work later if you plan to move to full frame at some stage, because the lenses are likely to outlast the body.

Finally if you do decide that you want to go with better glass then a great start is with a 50mm F1.8. They are relatively cheap at just under $200, are quite fast and enable you to go into low light situations. And because you can’t zoom them you need to think about where you place yourself and move to get the shot.

My Photoshop Philosophy

In my previous article entitled “The Photoshop Effect” I made three points that I thought Photoshop was

a) Producing lazy photographers, and
b) affecting the way we look at images
c) distorting our view of the world

The previous article discussed the first two, and in this post I will cover the third point.

People are aware that we are bombarded by thousands of images each day through magazines, billboards and television and that in recent times there has been real questions about the about of retouching that is happening especially in magazines that target females.

Perfect smiles, perfect hair, perfect shapes and perfect skin leap off these pages so it is easy to imagine that these are the examples you should strive to achieve. Now with a good makeup artists, hair stylist and a photographer who knows about lighting and posing you can produce great looking images, but the magazines want more and so, unfortunately in just about every case the images have been manipulated.

If you want to see how much actually goes on then there is a simple test to do. Find an article where a celebrity is in favour and one where  the celebrity is not. In the former case the images are generally staged. Hair, makeup and styling is done and full lighting is used. Odds are that any little wrinkles that slip through in this stage will be removed later. But for the celebrity out of favour no such luxury. The shots here are generally paparazzi taken in the street under harsh light and are designed to show the person at their worst. It is doubtful that any post production will be done on these images.

The reality is that the later shots actually reflect reality.

Just about every model I have shot has had some body issues and quite frankly I lay the blame at the magazines for making these worse.  I have not yet encountered a model that does not have stretch marks on some parts of her body, yet you will never see them in the magazine.

Now as i shoot model portfolios I am not so stupid as to say that I will not retouch an image myself because quite frankly that would not be fair if the person is trying to present the best of view of themselves.  However I will initially try to minimize the need for it with hair, makeup and lighting.

Then with regard to the retouching I have developed my own photoshop philosophy and a set of guidelines that I will usually apply when handling model portfolios.

  1. Skin must look like skin and not be so altered that it looks like plastic. (if I wanted to shoot Barbie I would start with a mannequin)
  2. I will remove blemishes (such as acne) but I will only remove scars after I have checked with the person if they want them removed.
  3. I will brighten eyes and enhance the natural colour but I won’t change it.
  4. I will only use the liquidify tool to correct bulges caused by clothing, or posing, or in the case of a recent model where she had recently given birth. I will not however use it simply to slim someone down.

If, however, I am shooting a concept piece then I may well give the image more of a retouch.

The photoshop effect

Adobe Photoshop is a marvelous tool when used properly but I somehow wonder if it is

a) Producing lazy photographers, and
b) affecting the way we look at images
c) distorting our view of the world

In terms of the first point too often I hear the notion that photographers don’t need to get things right at the shoot, because they can fix it in post production. Now this is true to a degree it completely ignores the fact that often spending an extra 5 minutes at the shoot will prevent having to spend hours at the computer.

Danielle - image copyright to Bev Short. Image used with her permission.In terms of the second point is demonstrated with this image displayed here which was taken by Bev Short for her “All Women” book and exhibition.

When I first saw the image at the exhibition, my first reaction was that it was a very nice image, but I suspected that it was also a composite of two images (Danielle and the plane). In doing this I had immediately jumped to the assumption that in today’s digital age that you would not try to stage the shot.

I was surprised to hear that the shot was actually done in camera and that the photoshop treatment was pretty much limited to the sepia effect. Unfortunately I think that today our instant reaction to too many great images is that the photographer has assembled the image later. This is a real shame because in many ways it plays down on the skills of the photographer.

Now, this is not to say that there is anything wrong with composites, rather that it is just a slightly different skillset. In fact the ability to put together an image that is based on elements that you can not see together shows real creativity. Have a look at the work of either Richard Wood, Mandi Lynn or Sue Bryce and you will see that the images they produce are stunning.

On my third point that will be filled out in a later post.