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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!
Three days photographing Beijing was an opportunity i was never going to pass up. So I flew over to China last weekend, slept on Sunday, worked on Monday & Tuesday and spent the rest of the week grabbing as many photographs as possible.
Beijing is an incredible city, extreme in every sense, architecturally especially. The scale is breathtaking, an urban sprawl bigger than London and much more densely populated, it is strange and exciting and I had a wonderful time there.
I managed to get around the places I would never have forgiven myself for not photographing. The Great Wall is truly breathtaking, the Ming tombs extraordinary and the Forbidden City easily lives up to its reputation. One place I was not familiar with before the trip was the 798 Space, a converted factory from the bad old days, designed by East German architects, based on Bauhaus designs in the 1930′s. It is well worth a visit.The Worker’s Stadium is another impressive monument from the communist days, with it’s iconic statue and slogans extolling the virtues of work. China is a country that I suspect is misunderstood. In the west we have a view distorted by the prism of American foreign policy; the jobs are going to China, cheap Chinese goods are undermining our economies etc. In fact China is the second biggest economy in the world and probably the most robust. The financial crash that crippled the west was self inflicted and has impacted China too.
I digress, what did I learn about photography on this expedition? A lot as it happens. My trip to Tiananmen Square was blighted by extreme humidity – so much water in the air that visibility was down to about fifty yards. Hardly ideal for landscape photography. The glare from the sky was overwhelming. I underexposed all the external shots from that day with a view to capturing the detail so that I could bring it up selectively in post processing. Worked a treat. I could have used ND Grads, but there was no feature in the sky, just an endless expanse of grey. I’ve brought a lot of those images to life with monochrome treatments performed in Lightroom and Nik Silver Efex Pro. I took a lot of detail shots inside the Forbidden City and here the 50mm f/1.8 really excelled. Such a great lens. Sharp as a tack.
The Great Wall was a challenge in every way, 35 degree heat and 70 degree inclines do not make a good combination, especially when combined with a backpack full of camera gear. I was grateful for my Lee Polarising Filter and the tripod was a life saver – I used a long lens for most of the shots, to bring the architectural features into a more compact frame. The challenge with photographing a wall in the middle of the day in high summer is that although the scale is immense, a wall surrounded by green is not in itself particularly interesting. It would have been better to have gone in the early morning and captured the mist rolling off the hills, but I couldn’t organise a driver in time and that would also have meant climbing up to the wall on foot! The cable car took minutes, easily an hour’s climb on foot.
The kit I took with me was just about right for the trip, everything got used, it wasn’t too heavy (one day I walked at least 15 miles), the Kata back pack was comfortable durable, in fact the only hint of trouble came when the West German Security asked me if I’d bought it all in China. In fact Canon kit is just as expensive there as it is here, and I’ve never encountered a fake 7D!
I took two cameras – Canon 7D and G1-X. Lee Hard and Soft Grads, Polarising Filter and Big Stopper. My everyday lens, the 17-55mm, a 50mm prime and a 10-22mm wide angle plus the 70-300mm zoom. The Giottos Vitruvian tripod really earned its keep, very light and small when folded. Virtually no wind, so stability was never an issue. I was a little concerned I’d taken too much, and very concerned about the fragility of the filters, but as I said, everything got used and nothing was wasted.
Check out the images from the trip here: http://electricalimage.com/galleries/travel/china-2/
This photograph is one that I’ve been meaning to take for ages. The bandstand in Brighton is one of the most popular venues for weddings and if there isn’t a wedding there’s usually a photographer cluttering up the view. Today, I walked past and sure enough there was a photographer. It was a very grey day and as I walked, I started to think of ways of getting a good image.The flat grey sky wasn’t going to do me any favours, so I decided to go for a high contrast, bleached out look in post production. I stopped and looked back and the photographer was packing up. As an added bonus there were very few people around so I went back and took a series of shots quite fast, not worrying about the colour, but trying to get the geometry right.
This shot was desaturated and the contrast boosted in Lightroom, then converted to black and white. I used Silver Efex Pro to get the high contrast, bleached out look and was pretty happy with the result. Sometimes even the bad days are good!
I’ve been using a Sony Cybershot DSC-W130 with a Carl Zeiss lens as my walkabout camera for a couple of years now and as wonderful as the Sony is, I have become frustrated by its limitations as it has been overtaken by newer, more highly specified competitors. So, when I discovered Canon were working on a RAW compatible compact, my curiosity was piqued. I’m a Canon user so the attraction of Canon bringing their expertise to bear on a high end compact was interesting to say the least.
Out of the box, the camera resembles a beefed up version of the G12. It is made of metal and the controls have a pleasing, high end feel to them, not so loose as to cause problems taking the camera out of a case, not so tight as to deflect the attention away from the shot. The camera can be used in point and shoot mode, but that would be a waste of its capabilities – this camera is a long way beyond the Sony in that respect, supporting full manual control in addition to the usual priority controls and presets.
Most impressive is the preview screen. I should point out here that the viewfinder is a complete waste of space, a dark tunnel into which the user must peer optimistically, in hope of seeing an approximation of the composition. The preview screen is another thing altogether. it supports full view of the composition – what you see is what you get. It is very quick to respond to changes in any of the controls and you can superimpose the histogram, sight lines and camera information on top of the picture. Takes a little getting used to in “information” mode, but incredibly helpful.
The lens is a basic wide angle, 4 x zoom, and there is support for in camera HDR and ND Filter modes. I can’t comment on these because I haven’t yet used them! The sensor is the jewel in the crown. a large CMOS sensor at 18.7 x 14.0 mm (4:3) with a similar capability to the DSLR APS-C sensor. The Digic 5 processor gives this camera a technical capability that the Canon 550D will struggle to better.
I took the camera out on a photowalk recently and decided to push the boundaries a little, to see what this camera can and can’t do. I produced the shot illustrating this post. “Skywalking”, hit the Flickr Explore page within an hour of being posted and has racked up just under 1000 views in the last three days. That speaks volumes about the usability of this camera.
I had toyed with the idea of getting a Sony NEX, and looked at a range of ILC’s. All good cameras. For me, the Canon won for a couple of reasons. Firstly I already use Canon cameras so there was familiarity factor. Secondly it suits what passes for my style of shooting – I don’t do a lot of real close up macro work, so that limitation doesn’t bother me. I’m more likely to use this camera as a walkabout because of its weight and capability in low light, (ISO support up to 12800). In supporting RAW, it gives me more in post production than the Sony did and the high resolution offers the possibility of large prints without degraded quality.
To sum up, this camera has been a very pleasant surprise. Yes it’s conservative, but it does what it says on the tin, superbly well.