Last tuesday, flushed with the success of being awarded gold in the Brighton & Hove Camera Club Projected image competition I impetuously volunteered to give a short talk about my work to an audience more used to hearing from proper photographers like Guy Edwardes and established photojournalists like Toby Smith and Andrew Hasson. This week has been spent in the main trying to work out what I can talk about that wouldn’t come across as arrogant, patronising or fatuous!
Interestingly, for me at least, the realisation that I was going to structure the talk around a set of images meant that I looked at my portfolio in an entirely different way and this helped me to discover a few things about myself and my photography. It helped me to pick out threads of commonality that I wasn’t particularly aware of, or perhaps hadn’t considered before.
I started with digital photography about five years ago, but only began to take it seriously two years ago after I’d lived in Brighton for a year and a half. It’s been a hell of a learning curve and I’ve enjoyed every minute. I bought a Canon EOS 550D in spring 2010 and upgraded to a Canon EOS 5D Mk III this summer after realising that a lot of my work could broadly be described as landscape photography.
And that is an important step – I’d deliberately refused to specialise, reasoning that as a relative beginner, albeit one with a degree in Photography, Film & Television gained in 1984, I had a steep technical curve in front of me and I didn’t want to box myself into a corner by learning a limited set of techniques allied to a particular style of photography. So for twelve months I’ve dabbled with Street photography, Macro photography, Landscape, Urban, Architectural, Night, Travel….you name it, I shot it.
I have learned a lot of technology in the last two years, not least about light. I’ve been using Lee filters, Polarising, Neutral Density, and am leaning towards getting it as right in the camera as I can, before working on the picture in Lightroom. And all the while, reading , looking and learning from other photographers.
Realising that compared to many people in the audience I am a raw beginner encouraged me to think of a framework in which I had something to offer that would be interesting and I hope amusing. Eventually I decided to structure the presentation around the notion of deliberation. By this I mean that the percentage of my best work that could be described as happily accidental has fallen over the last two years and I am now much more likely to capture the image I set out to capture, even when time and conditions are unfavourable. Accident still plays a part, in fact I would say that experimentation and pushing the boundaries are just as important to progress as technical mastery, however I’m now in the position where I can be pretty confident of getting decent shots regardless of the conditions I’m working in.
I chose seven images to talk about, all of them flawed from a purely technical perspective, but all were in some manner experiments and in concept at least say a lot more about me as a photographer. These pictures represent where I want to be. I’m remembering the influences that made me go to Film School, the cinematic genius of Orson Welles, Nicholas Roeg, the german expressionists and american directors such as John Huston. And I’m seeing the influence this has had on my photography, the drama of “A taste of Evil”, the abstract expressionism of “Walkabout” and “The Man Who Fell To Earth”, the sweeping landscapes of John Huston all bring a sense of drama that I’m seeing in some of my own work.
Skywalking for example was an image I planned fairly meticulously. The inspiration was a sequence from the film “Walkabout” directed by Nicholas Roeg in which a girl becomes lost in the australian outback and there is a wonderful point of view shot of people walking towards her, rendered indistinct by the heat haze they seem to float above the desert floor. This shot was taken at low tide and sunset on Brighton Beach, reflected in a large puddle and flipped 180 degrees to get that other worldliness.
‘My Bird Sings’ is a different kind of shot. One that I’m particularly proud of given that it was taken in a tiny window of opportunity (about 90 seconds) in very difficult lighting. The picture is a very private moment shared between the lady cleaning the floor and a bird, singing on the window. I knew the moment wouldn’t last so my challenge was to capture enough detail to be able to bring the lady out of the shadows, without blowing out the window entirely. I composed the shot into three zones, leaving a lot of foreground to emphasise the privacy of the moment. The camera is an interloper here.
The final image, “Hope” was one that presented itself by accident. I was in the right place at the right time. as soon as I saw this couple, the picture was fully formed in my mind. The pose reminded me of second world war propaganda posters – people looking up into the sky at the sparring fighter planes. Without wanting to validate the prime minister’s ridiculous assertion that we are in the economic equivalent of a war, I saw in this couple’s demeanour an element of hope for a future. Another private moment.
I rarely shoot people and don’t think of myself as a people photographer. For all that, people bring another dimension to some photographs and I am seeing more opportunities as I continue my journey.
Finally, the evening wasn’t just about my journey! There were nine other photographers presenting, none of them less than fascinating! It made me realise more than ever the value of the advice my tutor at Film School gave me “Don’t worry about ‘style’, you are who you are, your ‘style’ is in everything you do.” Looking at the variety and quality of work on display yesterday I couldn’t help but agree.
I really enjoyed the experience of presenting to an expert audience. Beyond that, it’s an interesting way to get to know people in the Club and encourages interaction. I certainly hope to do more in the future – must go and shoot a few more photographs first!
Brighton’s annual Beach of the Dead festivities kicked off today at 3pm in the old paddling pool opposite the West Pier. Zombies of all persuasion turned out in force. Last year’s turnout was estimated at 4000 people; today, in spite of the dismal weather, Brighton’s zombie population turned out in style.
Last year I’d found a good spot on the route and taken some decent shots, but this year I decided to go early to the gathering place and get some more deliberate shots. The weather being dismal, I elected to set the ISO at 400, rather than my usual setting of 100, so that I could have more room to manoeuvre in post processing. I used flash in all the shots because I knew I’d be shooting against one of those horrible grey skies that actually reflect a lot of light and make it difficult to achieve a balanced exposure. By using flash, I knew that all the detail I needed would be available in the RAW file as shot – in theory a little judicious tweaking in Lightroom would be all that I’d need to bring these pictures to life. Heather Buckley explains this process in some detail in her recent blog post Brighton Zombie Walk – Beach of the Dead Photography
I turned up at the meeting place an hour before the parade was due to start and found a few excellent subjects straight away. The costumes take weeks to construct and if the photographers at times outnumbered the zombies, this year the zombies fought back – almost all were armed with cameras of one type or another, some point and shoot, some full pro level DSLRs.
As the place filled up, I kept an eye out for the killer costumes – the most challenging part was getting the zombies to look threatening, The atmosphere pre-march was jolly and convivial! There was real cognitive dissonance in the spectacle of a crowd of zombies, chatting, smoking and drinking, with big smiles plastered across their features. George Romero never had this problem on set! In some cases it took all my powers of persuasion to get them to look cross. Surreal doesn’t begin to describe it.
I took maybe 150 photographs over the course of two hours. I had made a decision to shoot in AE mode so that I wouldn’t have to worry about the camera settings – I knew with the Canon 5D that it would focus in split seconds and that was all I needed – with the flash on ETTL and the camera effectively on autopilot I knew that all I’d have to do was compose.
Out of the 150 I rated about 20 usable in terms of content – in a crowd, you have people walking behind the shot, peering at the subject, even walking in front of the camera – it just isn’t possible to control the whole environment. I elected to concentrate on getting the shots in as little time as possible and leave everything else to the technology. I think the shots turned out better than last year, what do you think?
Check out the album – Beach of the Dead 2012
Las Alpajurras is a region of spain I’ve wanted to visit for years. Situated on the edge of the Sierra Nevada national park, it has some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. I based myself in Orviga, a small town at the base of the mountains with good access to the white villages of Capileira, Canar and Bubion and the Moorish town of Lanjeron.
I got lucky with the weather, blazing hot sun for five of the seven days I was there. I took a great many photographs without really having a theme, the landscapes came off best, but I have some ideas ready for when I return – this region of spain is teeming with wildlife and the farming methods in the mountains are thankfully not particularly modern. People routinely live over the age of 100 apparently and I’d like to capture the spirit of this wonderful country on camera.
This was the first time I’ve used a Canon 5D Full frame camera, so I can’t really write about this trip without raving about the technology. I got my hands on the new Mk III for the trip and have been frankly blown away. I haven’t begun to scratch the surface of this camera’s abilities, but things that impressed me mightily were the AF point selection – the camera supports 26 AF assist points which gives so much more precision to the business of focussing. The picture above is a radical crop of a shot I took from about 75 metres away from the subject. The focus point was on the head. The combination of the 10.1 megapixel sensor and the extended AF points meant I was able to put the focus precisely where I wanted it and have pixels to spare even after such a radical crop.
I also loved the speed at which this camera focuses – in combination with an “L” series lens I found myself checking a couple of times to see if autofocus was switched on. Very impressive.
This picture is my favourite from the trip – yes, it is an HDR shot, but it is very close to the idea I had when I shot the three pictures it is made up from. I exposed first of all for the Sky and then for the mountains in the middle and finally the foreground. I was after the layers and as a technical challenge, trying to get the dynamic range or richness of a picture shot with film. Don’t know if I succeeded in that, but I do like this image!
I used Nik HDR Pro to do the HDR conversion and then tweaked it in Lightroom. I like Nik software a lot – it works well with Lightroom and is so intuitive to use.
I’ll be returning to Andalucia, hopefully in November for a few days, and will be spending less time on business and more on photography.
So, Las Alpajurras and a Canon 5D – what could possibly go wrong? ! I must admit, I love this part of the world and this trip has fired my imagination with a vengeance. There’s a lot to photograph and a lot to explore, I plan to go back many times in the next few years and see if I can do the place justice. Here’s hoping!
Very many rumours about a new version of the Canon 5D. also a lot of variation in the rumoured specification. This seems to be the spec around which most people are agreed!
61pt AF with DIGIC 4
Announcement February 28
+ with 3 lens
Available April $2700