Opinion

31 Day Challenge – December 2017

A few dedicated club members undertook the 31 Day Challenge on Flickr for December 2017. We have done this each year since 2010 (wow – that long?). The idea if you haven’t seen it before is to take a photo a day and post it on the club Flickr page. No prizes other than a satisfaction in completing a fairly daunting task and keeping it fresh.

For me, it was certainly a challenge and I approached it in two parts. Firstly all posted images had to be black and white. Secondly, I tried to maintain a theme for a week to create a little photo essay (for later use). The second part sort of worked and I think I can get some essays together on commuting, street life and some dark imagery. But more importantly, I’ve had some fun along the way and got some shots I’m very pleased with.

The participants that managed to post a photo a day were Judy Sara, Jennifer Williams, Bruce Nankivell and myself. One notable near daily posters was club life member David Douglas-Martin. James Allen threw a few into the mix as well.

Both Judy and Jennifer tried the black and white treatment too – and the results were very good. Hopefully that means a few more monos next year in competition.

I had a look through the images and selected my top 5 – with myself excluded from that mix (conflict of interest!) and chose the following (click the image to see it full size on Flickr) with comments as to why:


Judy Sara - Feathers and Curves
Judy Sara – “Feathers and Curves”
The rim light tells me what the subject is, and the negative space is perfect

Bruce Nankivell - Mood Lighting
Bruce Nankivell – “Mood Lighting”
Clever use of shadow and a clean surface

James Allan – “Eurobin Falls”
The twist through the rocks of the water works so well – sharp yet soft

Jennifer Williams – “Protea – Day 6”
This has the feel of the Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange et al Farm Security Administration images from the 1930’s

Judy Sara - Henley Beach
Judy Sara – “Henley Beach”
Low key, wide angle, unusual patterns, good use of perspective – what else can I say?

How about you? What about selecting your favourite shots and telling us why? Click on this link to see the full set for the 31 days and choose your own favourites. Let the photographer know what you think as well or post here and share your thoughts.

Cheers

Chris 🙂

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Straight from the Camera shall be the whole of the law or, is Photoshop for cheats?

Mark Pedlar has been doing some work on the rules that will apply to the Straight from the Camera competition. So to get you up to speed, I’m going to reproduce what he’s sent.

Let’s start with that supposed evil – Photoshop – and Mark’s view on image processing today compared to the days of film.

Straight from the camera shall be the whole of the law or, is Photoshop for cheats?

At the age of 12 I bought my first camera, a Kodak Brownie 127 – black and white, processed by the chemist. Only three years later I spent all of my first pay packet on a 35mm Halina 35X and I was into colour photography.

For four decades and through a series of cameras the vast majority of my images, family records, fun shots, as well as entries in national and international salons, were colour slides. In all of this there was one constant. Once the shutter button was pushed my images were pretty well set in stone. Whether I waited for Kodak’s yellow box or Agfa’s blue one to appear in the mailbox, or whether I processed my own in the kitchen, from 100 foot rolls of Ektachrome, the image on the celluloid could not be altered. The exposure, contrast and sharpness were inviolable. Composition could be modified somewhat by masking portions of the slide with aluminium foil. However, this was obvious since the projected images were smaller than others in the salon. So, over these several decades more than 90% of competitive colour slides, worldwide, were “Straight from the camera”.

Of, course this did not in any way mean that everybody was operating on a level playing field. Those using a ‘top of the range’ Nikon with a battery of excellent lenses would be able to capture some images simply not available to my $50 East German Praktika: multiple exposures on one frame for example.

Today’s ‘top of range’ cameras similarly offer rafts of pre-exposure adjustments simply not available to the user of a basic ‘point and shoot’ camera. The playing field was never level. Further, the greatest unevenness always has been and will be the way in which the operator uses the human brain he or she puts up close to the viewfinder.

‘Straight from the camera’, then, has long been the accepted practice of slide producers. However, that’s not true of users of negative film and prints. Again decades ago I bought a whole darkroom from an ageing amateur/professional photographer from Brewarrina. I used it for monochrome exclusively. Colour printing was way outside my budget. However, printing from negatives was exciting for a range of reasons; not least of all the ability to modify (and hopefully improve) the image originally captured before it became a print.

So, I cropped the portion of the image I printed to change the composition and to remove distractions like lampposts or stray arms and legs. I held my hands between the enlarger lens and the paper making a circle of light between my fingers. By doing this during the exposure and moving my hands a bit to blur the edges I could allow extra light to a portion of the image. This meant I could ‘burn’ in details to what would otherwise have been a white area (clouds). I had a small circle of cardboard Sellotaped to the end of a piece of wire (once a coat hanger). By holding this between lens and paper (dodging) I restricted the light falling on a shadow portion of the image and allowed detail to appear in what would have otherwise have been totally black.

I chose whether I printed on matt, satin or glossy paper. I chose the paper grade to give me high, medium or low contrast. Later there was multigrade paper whose contrast was adjusted with filters. I chose exposure times to change the final result. I selected developers and their temperature to change contrast. I deleted most of the developed image before fixing using ferricyanide solution and redeveloped to convert the black and white image to sepia. My ancient photographer’s darkroom kit contained a huge range of arcane solutions including some of gold salts that enable black and white to be tinted blue.

All of the modifications described in the last two paragraphs were made after the shutter was released; after the camera had long ago been put away in its cupboard.

So, what are the take home messages? There are two.

First, excellent images can and have for ages been made without any post-exposure modifications. There really is no replacement for getting it right in the camera. However, even if we prohibit ‘post’ work like Photoshop competitive photography will still not be a level playing field.

Second, makers of prints from negatives have been modifying their images in the darkroom during the printing process for over a hundred years now. When did you last hear somebody suggest that this is unethical or underhanded or cheating? However, there is a body of opinion that makes just these sorts of suggestions about the use of software packages like Photoshop. Why? Not all users of editing software are out there winning competitions, exhibitions and salons. Software does not automatically give you great results without effort. Software is a tool and you need to learn how to use it just as was the case with darkroom techniques.

So, get your image as near perfect as you can in the camera. Then make judicious and competent use of whatever other tools are available to correct errors and finish the job.

Now for the rules (which I’ve also put into the calendar and programme)

Straight out of Camera Submission rules

During the submissions to the club’s subcommittee back in the Spring several members said they had concerns over the emphasis placed by judges on post exposure editing or manipulation of images.

Some were opposed to the concept of editing and others simply had no access to the software to edit images. There was a cry for more images to be presented “straight from the camera”, with no editing carried out after the shutter button had been pushed.

This competition’s set subject is a response to that request.

So here are the rules.

For prints, no alteration AT ALL may be made to the image after exposure and before printing.

  • Printed images must be presented full frame. No cropping is allowed. If the image shot is 4:3 format or 3:2 format it must be printed in that format.
  • Images must be printed from the file originally captured by the camera.
    If you usually shoot in RAW you must be able to print from that RAW file. It may not be converted to JPEG TIFF or similar for printing. Or, shoot in a printable file format.
    For those having files professionally printed, the file submitted to the printer must be printable without alteration.
  • Prints displayed as monochrome must have been captured in that form.
  • The general club rules about size of prints still apply.

Digital images are allowed one alteration only. This is to allow the projected image to conform with our projection limitations

  • The recorded image file may be reduced to maximum of 1400 x 1200 pixels. It must still be presented full frame.
  • All the other print rules apply to projected images.

Finally, I’ve taken one of the documents Mark sent me about photography & aperture and made it a permanent link in our Resources page

Thanks Mark

Chris 🙂


A night of positive Judging – 28-Jan-2016

Our first competition for the year on Thursday January 28 was a great starter for what promises to be a busy and stimulating 2016.

Rigging - James Allan

Rigging – James Allan

The subject for the night was ‘Leading Lines’, which is a composition technique where the viewer’s eye is led into the image. Our judge was David Rowlands from Edwardstown Photography Club and what an encouraging and uplifting judge he was. With a significant number (115) of impressive images to work through he did so with a burst of positive and constructive feedback for every one of them. His comments were well considered, informed, concise and articulate.

Regardless of how your photograph scored you felt like you’d both learned something positive from the commentary and you were left inspired to reach greater heights.

With our constantly growing club the evening was well attended (about 45) by a welcoming and appreciative audience all very keen to learn.

First time entrant, Di Gage presented us with two inspiring images, one of a very beautiful soft Victoria River sunset and another of a fishing boat and its perfect reflection complete with bird resting obediently on a rope. A perfect start with one image scoring full marks. Another relatively new entrant, Robyn Due, was justifiably excited to score a 9 for her Port Adelaide excursion image, entitled ‘Pot’ a well spotted image of paving, posts and buildings providing interesting leading lines.

Pot - Robyn Due

Pot – Robyn Due

Some of the excellence of our seasoned performers was on display with the likes of Alberto Giurelli, Helen Whitford, Jenny Pedlar, Ursula Prucha, James Allan and Chris Schultz

Mark Pedlar’s image (below) entitled Cornwall’s Motto captured, for those who weren’t there, the area in which the recent Port Adelaide excursion took place and plenty of Leading Lines. A quite stunning shot.

Mark Pedlar - Cornwall's Motto

Mark Pedlar – Cornwall’s Motto

The following are more of the high scoring ‘Leading Lines’ images from the night.

Kelp - Heather Connolly

Kelp – Heather Connolly

Port River Dolphin - James Allan

Port River Dolphin – James Allan

Nestled Farmhouse - Judy Sara

Nestled Farmhouse – Judy Sara

Blue Moth on Sunflower - Ursula Prucha

Blue Moth on Sunflower – Ursula Prucha

Nation Ridge

Nation Ridge – Chris Schultz

Fishing - Jenny Pedlar

Fishing – Jenny Pedlar

Arches of Light - Bruce Nankivell

Arches of Light – Bruce Nankivell

Follow the Leader - Helen Whitford

Follow the Leader – Helen Whitford

To see more great ‘Leading Lines’ images visit the ‘Top Projected Images‘ and ‘Top Prints‘ pages.

It seems to me that photography is one of those games where just when you think you’ve nailed some small part of it you are instantly reminded via someone else’s display of skill that you really haven’t and there is a long way to go. I’m convinced it is a never ending story of learning and I guess that’s why we all love it.

Makes you wonder what kind of fabulous circles we can create with our next competition, entitled ‘Circles’, of course.

Bruce Nankivell


BPC presents – Chris Oaten : Live Music Photographer – 22-Oct-2015

Last week BPC had the honour to listen to Chris Oaten speak to us about live music photography. Accompanied by his wife Melody (who provided the background commentary), we had a very entertaining evening that inspired a few of us to take up our camera at a live gig or two.

Chris is a media professional with over 20 years in the industry. Starting from a base of journalism (reporter, writer, sub-editor) he has followed his passion of photography to become a full time professional photographer, is a member of the AIPP and in his spare time photographs live music (I’m sure he does other things in his spare time!). He has extended his knowledge with a TAFE course in photography and is now doing a Bachelor of Visual Communications at UniSA. The night he spoke to us he was due to go to 2am shoot at a construction project. That’s a pro.

Chris Oaten at BPC - by Ashley Hoff

Chris Oaten at BPC (Ashley Hoff)

His range of professional work encompasses architecture, sport, travel, humans, commercial and time lapse images. He specialises in time lapse images around our fair city. To view the breadth of his work visit his website.

But as I said, in his spare time he likes to shoot live music with his trusty Canon 5D Mark III and some fast lenses (his range of lenses includes 24mm, 50mm, 70-200mm, 8-15mm, 16-35mm, tilt and shift 17, some Sigma Art lenses – you get the idea – but not all are used at music events). He does the music photography for professional development – not to make a living – which is near impossible these days. You can see some of Chris’s music photography on the Adelaide Music Photography web site he showcases his collaboration with Max Moore.

I’ve watched Chris in action around live music gigs – and to me it seems effortless and unobtrusive. In reality, there is more to it – and what follows is Chris’s take on how to shoot live music.

Chris started by giving a taste of the problems in photographing live music in pubs and has to deal with poor lighting (professional performers often have far better lighting and make the job easy – we were shown some images from a Tina Arena concert), crowded venues etc.

So here are the problems Chris sees – and his solutions:

  • Don’t share boring photos!
    • You aren’t doing any favours for anyone. So edit what you share ruthlessly and be prepared for harsh criticism.
    • Remember, that your photos don’t have the music that goes with them, so they must stand on their own.
    • That means they need to be in focus and they need have the action associated with the photo – singers need to be singing, musicians need to be playing their instruments.
  • Don’t use on camera flash
    • It is needed sometimes, but very rarely
  • Don’t use high ISO where possible
    • Cheaper cameras can’t do it well, it pushes inaccurate focus
    • Hiding noise results in a compromise (over smoothing looks like plastic!). But there are ways to overcome this issue
  • Understand your subject
    • Good sports photographers often play the game, great nature photographers understand the animal and their behavior etc.
    • So in the case of music, understand the dynamics of what is happening on the stage and apply it to the action.
  • Not shooting enough frames
    • Don’t use spray & pray – that high burst mode – as it will often waste time (eg as the buffer clears) and wear out the shutter sooner. Single shots are better.
    • Remember that most of what is happening is out of your control
    • To get the shots you need to be an aggressive shooter. What is that? Someone who moves around and makes the shot rather than someone who walks up timidly to the same spot, takes a few shots and walks away. Music photographers need to move around and capture the action, be involved, engage with the artists

So what is Chris’s style? Get in close, use the lighting to your advantage and use selective (ie shallow DOF) focus, often manually.

So what are his solutions?

How not to be boring

Live music is action photography. Instruments are being used. So get profile shots, stick with the subject as the action unfolds.

Bad lighting can be your best friend – it makes you work harder. There is no such thing as bad light – only bad photographers. Chris showed several example of this with the band Lucky 7 at a gig where there was one light behind the artists. Instead of abandoning the shoot, he used the light to create profiles and silhouettes. Think of old horror movies and how they were lit – the images had great power and atmosphere. Do the same.

On the other hand, daylight music festival are a breeze – but you still need to work hard.

Steve Mitchell - by Chris Oaten

Steve Mitchell – by Chris Oaten

Change your position and angle of view. Use the stage equipment to help frame shots. Remember, the photo is telling a story so use the elements of that story. Chris showed us an example at the Semaphore music festival – which unfortunately for the organisers was held on a AFL Finals weekend. The crowd was a bit sparse, but by moving around the stage he was able to make it look busy (using the out of focus background and more crowd), show interesting on lookers, the artists in action from in front, behind and to the side as well eye contact with the artist to lend intimacy to the image.

He quoted photographer Berenice Abbott “photography helps people see” and illustrated this with some great shots:

  • a young boy at his fathers gig enjoying the music whilst sitting on the floor
  • The interaction of musicians on stage when not playing
  • People dancing to the music (and those disconnected from the action) – the burlesque dancer picture
  • Interesting people and characters
  • Portraits of musicians that they actually like

It’s important to remember that good photographs are enhanced with details – they add depth. That means when taking photographs be observant. Some of the examples acutely demonstrate this:

  • Steve Mitchell - by Chris Oaten

    Steve Mitchell – by Chris Oaten

    Steve Mitchell from the rockabilly band The Satellites has hair that starts out controlled, but very soon is part of the act

  • A musicians special moment – like Belinda Hartman –  from The Satellites singing
  • the musicians style of playing – like a trombone players blowing their cheeks (or giving cheeky looks) or guitarists with special (eg car seat belt) guitar straps
  • Use
    • compositional elements
    • portrait shots of the performers
    • (our tired old friend) the intersection of thirds
    • selective focus
    • the Golden Spiral – where a photograph spiraled in to one person in focus around the instruments and equipment on stage
    • close up features of the instruments or instruments being played (trombone players, guitarists – but drummers are difficult!)

The trick here is to apply what you learn – don’t just be a technician. As Chris said, don’t just be a wood pusher in a chess game (ie know the moves but don’t develop new strategies). In photography, pixels are free, so don’t be a shutter pusher.

How to use on camera flash

Flash does have a role in anti-establishment genres such as Punk and Ska. It is harsh lighting, but can work in such genres. However, at other times it rarely works well.

It’s often better to have off camera flash – and even combine flashes. Chris illustrated this with an image of lighting reflected from a white wall behind the performers onto which the flash fell – much more depth than a straight flash onto the performers.

If you must use flash, use a an orange or yellow gel to warm it (flash can look very cold) – don’t use green or blue. You need to be sympathetic to the available light too – don’t overwhelm the stage lights.

And use the lights to go for drama – like silhouettes or use the light to make more reflections – such as brass instruments.

How to handle high ISO

You’ll need to do some testing of your own camera gear and work out it’s noise signature. What is acceptable and what you can tolerate. Chris rarely goes above 3200 on his Canon 5D Mark III.

Here are the steps:

  • Place your camera on a tripod in a lounge room and shoot some still life. An 18% grey card may be helpful too
  • Shoot images at each ISO from 800 to your camera’s maximum
  • Evaluate the resultant images and determine what is acceptable to you

If you are using high ISO, make sure you have fast lenses – f1.8, f2.8 etc – like his 70-200 f2.8

One simple solution is to purchase a 50mm f1.8 lens second hand – there are plenty about (I confess to having a nifty 50 f1.4 myself) – that will give you a lens that is fast and flexible.

ISO changes are needed depending on the speed of your subject – a Bob Dylan is ok with slow ISO, but Mick Jagger needs higher ISO and shutter speeds.

Now the tricky bit – professional events have good lighting – pubs have cheap lighting. Usually LEDs and that is hard to work with. So work with the light – use blur, have long exposures to add a dynamic element.

How to work with your subject

When photographing live music you need to know what is going on – understand the dynamics of the performance.

You first need to understand the genre. Once you’ve got that, then think about the parts of the performance.

There are verses and choruses. So you’ll have a group in a chorus, but the main performer in the verse, or a solo instrumental. Knowing how performers work and when they are likely to do something can help.

For example Steve from the Satellites (who is a double bass player) often has a big finale – time your shots for events like that. Lucky 7 have a horn section who will play together – use that.

Drummers are often left out of shots, but they do some interesting things (Chris has got know a couple and now interacts with them whilst shooting). Pick the player most likely to give you a performance.

But always be respectful of the performer. Don’t embarrass them.

How to shoot more frames

You need to commit yourself to chase the right frame and for fast action.

Most performances are 2 hours – which is 7200 seconds. After most shows Chris has about 1000 shots in the camera. That’s about 1 shot every 7 seconds. But not every shot is a winner – and some shoots the band might be having a bad night, so getting good shots is difficult.

Many bands will be slow to start (or nervous) – so don’t shoot song 1 – wait for song 2 or 3. Be patient.

Final words and where to start

Chris never shoots with any supports like a monopod – all hand held. That is part of being respectful of the audience. They are there to hear the band or dance or both. So don’t get in their way.

Some gigs require a media pass – if the band is signed to a label or it is a major event like WOMAD (who are very restrictive). The Roller Derby in Adelaide has photographers sign their rights away. In some cases your copyright may be lost – but that is another major discussion!

Venues such as The Gov are accepting of photographers if it is a local band. However, to be safe, contact the venue or the band. Many local bands don’t mind – and if you share the images they might even get you back.

And remember a big camera can be seen as problem by some venues – even if you are an amateur.

So there you have it – a great night, lots of useful information and a really entertaining evening – finished off with cake, cups of hot beverage and lots of chat. Many thanks to Chris and Melody for sharing their experience – we hope to have Chris back as some stage to share his other photographic skills with us.

Cheers

Chris 🙂


Art – the dilemma of the photographer

The perennial dilemma of the modern photographer – should I photograph that bit of art I admire?

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We are faced with this daily – from photographing sculpture, architecture, industrial design or paintings to painting someones photograph (now that’s one you hadn’t thought of!) or sculpture or industrial design or architecture.

There are also potential copyright issues. The simplest way to look at the problem is to consider if it is a derivative work and you’ve added something to it. So a photo of a sculpture needs to add something to it – a person examining it, some interesting light that makes it unique, the interaction of place, time and light. How about a photo of a hood ornament on a car? A teacup? Someone else’s photo of a tea cup?

Some places & countries even go to extremes and forbid commercial (and probably amateur) photography of buildings, panoramas etc without permission. A debate raged earlier this year as Europe tried to standardise the copyright of Freedom of Panorama (see this DP review article). Have a look at the Wikipedia page link above to see where you can take pictures safely. The conclusion was a defeat of the proposal – you can keep taking photos of the buildings of Europe (sort of).

But if you change or interpret the original, you are deriving something new. And that I think is the crux of the argument.

There are many discussion on the web about the topic (the World Intellectual Property Organisation – a part of the UN – has an interesting article applicable to photographers; the Creative Commons licence system;  the US governments Copyright office definition of derivative work or the American Society of Media Photographers discussion) and we are adding to that in the latest Camera Clips, where the opinions of camera club judges, photographers and legal experts have been canvassed.

Have a read and form your own opinion.

Cheers

Chris 🙂