Rich Perspective: Blog https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog en-us (C) All Images are the copyright of Richard Fletcher info@richperspective.co.uk (Rich Perspective) Tue, 17 May 2022 10:43:00 GMT Tue, 17 May 2022 10:43:00 GMT https://www.richperspective.co.uk/img/s/v-12/u451285529-o224291547-50.jpg Rich Perspective: Blog https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog 120 120 As you ‘like’ it https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/5/as-you-like-it As many of you know by now, I am currently studying for a BA(Hons) degree in Photography.  It’s part-time so a long old course, but I am meeting and working with some very interesting and talented people along the way.  During a recent student meet-up, we started discussing the idea of ‘liking’ a photograph.  Our course leader had previously, and light-heartedly, banned the word ‘like’ from our discussion, noting that it had no relevance to a structured analysis of the potential meanings of an image.   We were well aware that very few people consume photography in this way, I mean imagine if you stopped to study every image you were presented with, nothing would ever get done!   The idea of ‘liking’ a picture for some reason vs. the artist’s intended and deliberate messages contained within it, is something that interests me because I occasionally run into the sometime conflict between them.  I have to say that it still frustrates me, although I am getting better at appreciating  where my influence ends and the viewer’s ‘ownership’ of the interpretation begins. 

A good example was during a recent course exercise where I had to recreate an image in particular genre (see my previous post The Importance of Method, published in March).  I chose an iconic portrait by Elliott Erwitt from his book Dogs (2008).  The picture had to break down the elements of the portrait and recreate them in new composition.  

 

 

The main difference between the original and my shot was the reworking of the ‘American-ness’ of the image. Erwitt’s was shot on a New York sidewalk, which contributes to the scale relative to the dog and his owner.  With the best will in the world, I couldn’t make a street in Malvern look anything like New York, so instead I changed one of the other elements; the owner’s shoes.  In using my wife’s outrageous Stars and Stripes heels, I could introduce the ‘place’ without spoiling the composition.  In every other respect I tried to make the image a recreation of Erwitt’s, despite it being shot with different technical approaches, technology and being separated by some 76 years.  When I shared the picture around social media, the first (and most popular) reaction was to the shoes.  I had messages asking who made them, where they could be bought etc, which for me missed the point.  However, it was clearly what resonated with them, and I have no right to be grumpy about it.  We look at a picture and we are struck by any number of elements that mean something to us.  It could be a memory, or something that we are currently familiar with, or it could just simply make us smile.   Whatever the thing we see, it’s as relevant as artistic analysis of composition and the reading of a picture using semiotics or other analytical tools.  Analysis allows us to gain an understanding of the many connotations or meanings that an image may have.  We can recognise how the photographer has included their own personal perspective on a subject, whether emotional, social or political, but fundamentally it is the viewer that develops and completes their own narrative.  In my picture, I unintentionally added a new element of glamour that wasn’t in the original.  The chihuahua is the same breed but looks very different and almost complements the elegance of the legs and shoes.  While it’s not what I was trying to achieve, it’s interesting to hear what people see.   In considering this, I was reminded of a great piece of advice that I was given by a previous tutor.   He had criticised me for only researching artists whose work I ‘liked’ and disregarding those that I did not.  He pointed out that this habit doesn’t lead to any kind of expansion of our understanding or appreciation of art, instead keeping us comfortable with what we know.  I am definitely a creature of habit, just ask the Indian restaurant where I order the same thing every time.   I started to look at artists that I wasn’t keen on and carefully studying their pictures. I was pleasantly surprised how I gained more of an appreciation and respect for their work. 


What’s the big message from all this?  Well, even in a world where we are surrounded by imagery 24/7, it’s only when we take some time to look at a photograph, do we derive a more enriched sense of its meaning than a casual glance affords.  Clearly, we don’t want to put the rest of our lives on hold to do this, but next time you’re at a gallery, art fair or just cruising Instagram (lots of famous photographers use that platform), pause for a moment to ask yourself “What are the elements in this picture?” “Do any of them resonate with me?” and “what might this picture mean to me?”.  You might not initially ‘like’ it, but you may also be surprised as you grow to appreciate it.  I’d like that. 

Thinking of taking up photography as a hobby?  Have you bought a new camera and are stuck on Automatic?  Tuition could be the way forward.  My beginner’s tuition takes you through the basics of how the camera works, which mode to use, lens selection etc, all aimed at helping you take better photographs.  Drop me a line at info@richperspective.co.uk for more details. 

For Elliott Erwitt’s original image https://www.magnumphotos.com/arts-culture/art/elliott-erwitt-dog-dogs/

 

 

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info@richperspective.co.uk (Rich Perspective) artist creativity Dogs Erwitt narrative photography tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/5/as-you-like-it Tue, 17 May 2022 10:43:20 GMT
The Rise of Face Value https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/5/the-rise-of-face-value I was watching the news recently, something I try to avoid doing for long periods these days, because of some of the truly awful things going on in the world.  The ongoing news item that has taken on the name Partygate was being discussed and I found myself looking at the viral video footage of the Labour party leader drinking a beer in an office.  Now, I’m not discussing the political issues at the heart of this story, whether any of the politicians broke Covid restrictions etc as that is for others to write about.   What interested me about this piece of video was more about the way it was being used in the news broadcast.   The video, around 30 seconds in length, shows Sir Keir Starmer standing by a window, drinking a beer.  There are other people present in the room, but the video is of fairly poor quality they are more difficult to see clearly than he is.  We can see their positions relative to Starmer and, apart from recording them having some form of conversation, there isn’t much else of interesting in the video.  On the surface, the video shows a gathering indoors during a time where the rules in the UK stated that we couldn’t do that – this rule-breaking is the whole premise of Partygate.  However, the news item made the claim that the video ‘proves that rules were being broken’.  Leaving aside the politics of the news outlet, this is clearly not the case.  On its own, it merely shows an event happening without context, whose legality or otherwise is the subject of an investigation.  This got me thinking about how we increasingly take visuals at face value, extrapolating what we believe to be obvious when paired with a persuasive argument.  I wondered how we got to this point and whether it’s a symptom of the modern age. 

We’ve all heard the saying ‘the camera never lies’.  This myth has its origins in the very beginnings of photography, with the early pioneers like  Fox Talbot and Daguerre seeking to faithfully produce ‘drawings’ of things.  In Fox Talbot’s case, he was frustrated by what he saw as his lack of drawing skill, producing early photograms of plant structures using his new photographic technique before considering the camera.  Photograms involved placing a translucent subject on a piece of photo-sensitive paper and illuminating it with a light source.  The light passing through (and being obscured) by the object creates an image of the structure of the object onto the paper as highlights and shadows.   This idea of the photography producing accurate images was the dominant view of the art world at the time, with many disregarding the medium as being mechanical and therefore not art.  

In the early 20th Century, the use of photography to record events gave birth to the ‘documentary’ genre, which is where some of the most noticeable doubts about photography’s ‘honesty’ can be seen.  In the 1930’s the US Farm Security Administration embarked on a project to document the migration of farm workers from the deprived rural areas to the cities during the Great Depression.   The series that was produced included works by many famous contemporary photographers, perhaps the most famous being Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother.  The series sought to show the US people and the states legislature that there was this huge suffering in large sections of the rural population in an effort to get them help.  It’s said that the publication of the photographs and accompanying writing ultimately helped thousands of impoverished farmers.  What wasn’t common knowledge at the time was that the narrative was very carefully managed.  The editor, Roy Stryker, was known for his close attention to editing the pictures in such a brutal fashion that those not fitting the narrative were badly damaged using a hole punch so that they couldn’t be printed.  The discovery and subsequent printing of the destroyed negatives gives us an insight into what Stryker was trying to avoid, including images of farmers smiling at the camera, children at play and compositions that showed the defiance of the poor.  None of these things supported what Stryker wanted to say.  The camera then, was accurately capturing what was put in front of it, but the use of the results was tailored for a target audience with a very specific message.  That message wasn’t necessarily the whole truth, particularly in the case of Migrant Mother, but that didn’t matter.  The camera didn’t lie, so the readers took the pictures and the accompanying narrative at Face Value. 

When we think about Partygate in the context of ‘documentary’, this use of the visual being bent to suit a narrative is no longer a surprise.  Starmer has been highly critical of similar behaviour on the opposing benches so, in a way to balance the argument, certain press outlets are bound to use a video like this one in their counter-argument – who wouldn’t? 

Is 'face value' a modern affliction?  No, of course not.  Photography has been associated with the notion of truth for its whole existence, but the subversion of an idea such as the ‘perception of truth’ often creates the most interesting art (I’ll discuss the artists who inspire me in upcoming blog posts).  What is a symptom of the digital age, however is the ease with which we can all ‘document’ something with our smartphones and instantly share it with the whole world.  The seemingly infinite narratives that can be derived from one or more of these documents are up for grabs.  In the case of the Starmer video, it offers a narrative to one side of the argument more than the other, one that suggests hypocrisy.  This is why I’ve limited my consumption of the news, because it’s so easy to be taken in by a persuasive narrative that is not the whole story. Perhaps the consumption of many different news viewpoints on a subject is the way to combat the bias, but to be honest I personally find it to be anxiety-inducing and who needs that in their life?  One thing is for certain, the camera is a tool who’s use in capable hands can be a little dishonest when needs be. 

If you’re interested in the ‘truth’ of Lange’s famous Migrant Mother, my friend and fellow artist has posted a great telling of its story on his Youtube channel ‘Before the Shutter’:-

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLXRMNlxxec&t=24s

Similarly, the Killed Negatives exhibition mentioned can be found here:-

https://www.whitechapelgallery.org/exhibitions/killed-negatives-unseen-images-1930s-america/

Finally, if you’re interested in telling your own stories, true or otherwise, through photography then why not start the journey with some tuition?  My tailored beginner’s tuition will help you become familiar in the basics of photography and you’ll be shooting documentary in no time – just be careful shooting through people’s windows.   Drop me a line at info@richperspective.co.uk for more details.

 

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info@richperspective.co.uk (Rich Perspective) FSA Lange narrative photography truth tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/5/the-rise-of-face-value Tue, 10 May 2022 14:27:37 GMT
I procrastinate; therefore I am (maybe) https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/5/i-procrastinate-therefore-i-am-maybe A couple of months ago I started the next level of my degree course.  It’s been an interesting ride so far, but the new unit promises to be much more involved creatively.  In addition to this, the course is structured differently from the previous units, which I knew would present me with some issues.  The main issue would be the dreaded procrastination.  

When I don’t fully understand something that I have to do, I procrastinate to the extent where there have been times I just haven’t started.  It’s not fear as such, but a need to completely understand the parameters that I am to work within.  Once I get started on something, I usually fill in the blanks as I go along.  During the first few units of the degree, I found that I would slowly make my way through the first assignments and hit my stride about halfway through the course.  By the end, I would be completely comfortable with the subject just before the unit ended and the whole cycle started again.   Procrastination, as Dickens put it “is a thief of time”, the main effect being that it increases pressure when we have a deadline we must meet.

It takes many forms but the main driver behind putting things off is a concern about a potential negative outcome.  In my case, it’s about worrying about being on the right track or somehow ‘getting it wrong’.  My most recent example was the preparation for the first assignment of this new course.  The subject investigates the concepts of photographic genre and the conventions that each follows.  If we consider portraiture, there are many approaches to representing our subject or model using their facial features, expression, stature, clothing etc. that are consistent across the genre.  Some of these are rooted in art history, but some are unique to the medium of photography.  Looking at each of the main genres involved a great deal of reading and individual research.  The question that kept going through my head was ‘how much is enough?’  At what point should I draw a line under this work and write the essay that constituted Assignment 1?  The answer was, of course, entirely up to me which was the main issue.  Not knowing when to stop the one task and start the other led to my procrastinating.  I found lots of other less important things to do and before I knew it, three weeks had gone by.  It was my fellow cohort members that snapped me out of it as I was able to relate what I was doing to how they were approaching the assignment.  I finally got the assignment finished and a great weight lifted from my shoulders.  It’s not a pithy success story, though.  I continually struggle with procrastination for the reasons mentioned earlier and I don’t have a magic bullet for avoiding it.  There are a few things that I have learned recently that have helped, though.  I include them here, on the off-chance that they help you in some way. 

The first lesson learned was one that generally applies to people who manage their own time; having a plan.  When I say plan, I’m not talking about a grand ambition like making that first million or retiring at 55.  Planning in this case is merely a schedule of what to achieve during the day.  In my case I have learned that progress, no matter how apparently insignificant, is still progress.  If I make my objectives achievable each day, I stand a better chance of getting something done.  The second was that the world is full of distractions, some positive and some not.  To the procrastinator, a distraction diverts attention from both the task and the worry related to it.  It’s easier to avoid something challenging by cleaning that camera/reading the news/looking at that funny cat video on Instagram.  Most of us carry around a device packed with distractions which we find difficult to ignore.  The same distraction issue occurs with people, who can easily derail the plan for the day without knowing it.  I still need to be better at saying ‘no’, even if the distraction is a potentially enjoyable or interesting one.    The final lesson was to stop worrying about failing.  In the creative world, it doesn’t matter if that internet pedant corrects you or someone trolls your work when they don’t like it.  The fear of people hating what we do almost paralyses us from a productivity perspective.  Remembering that we do it for ourselves helps quash that anxiety, even if it doesn’t completely go away.  

All easier said than done and for me, definitely work-in-progress.  My advice would be to plan small objectives and don’t forget to reflect on anything you achieve, turn off your phone and practice the ‘can we do that some other time?’ smile.  Definitely don’t read ‘the comments’ if you do stray onto social media.  I am committing to doing these things from now on…or will that be next week?  Who can tell…

 

If you’ve been procrastinating about getting to know that new (or new to you) camera, why consider some beginners’ tuition?  There is everything you need to get started, the key is just…well, you know.  Check out the Tuition tab on this site or drop me a line at info@richperspective.co.uk for more details. 

 

 

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info@richperspective.co.uk (Rich Perspective) artist creativity overcome failure photography plan procrastination simplicity tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/5/i-procrastinate-therefore-i-am-maybe Tue, 03 May 2022 17:28:16 GMT
The Importance of Method https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/3/the-importance-of-method When I was a kid, one of my favourite subjects at school was physics.  There was something about the need to be able to explain the tiniest physical actions, cause and effect, transfer of energy etc that appealed to me.  More importantly, we had the chance to try things out to test a theory or demonstrate learning.  Thing is, the experiments weren’t just random ‘playtime’, they had a system or method to them.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but what might do is the realisation that in photographic art, the same is true.  

I’m not talking about the technical here, but instead exploring a creative idea within some form of structure. 

I first learned this lesson in 2020 when I had a university assignment to complete which was about ‘photographing the unseen’.  I essentially had to create narratives using contextual elements rather than including the actual subject of the story.  My idea was to include pictures and text to describe the random, often bizarre thoughts that people have immediately after they suffer a trauma of some kind.  I’d asked friends and family to contribute the thoughts as they remembered them, but planned to leave out their descriptions of the trauma itself in order to let the viewer make up their own mind.  Emboldened with my idea, I went out looking for subjects and scenes to shoot and that was when the trouble started.  Wandering around with a camera looking for inspiration is, it turns out, very stressful.  The more you try to will a picture into existence, the harder and more frustrating it gets.  This also has the effect of making you lose concentration when it comes to looking at a scene, which is kind of important in photography.  When a close deadline was added to the mix, it all got a bit messy.  With perseverance, I eventually managed to create the series and discussed my problems with my tutor.  She pointed out that having a plan, far from being restrictive to the creative process, actually helps take care of the practical logistics.  If you can plan these, there is less pressure on the creative phase of making the work.  She told me of a wonderful series called Geolocation (2007)[1], where artists Nate Larson and Marni Shindelman took a number of very emotional tweets from Twitter and made a note of their geotag data, i.e. the location where they were posted.  They then visited the locations and made a photograph for each tweet.  Combining the tweets with their images tells compelling, albeit fictional stories about the people who posted them (who remained anonymous) which are driven by the what the viewer brings to them.   

From Geolocation by Nate Larson and Marni Shindelman[1]
 

The point my tutor made was reflected in this series as the artists had the ‘where’ nailed down – something at that location would make the picture.  They could still be creative, but the structure meant that they spent more time thinking about what they wanted to say.

This idea of having some form of plan has stayed with me in every constructed tableau or documentary image I’ve shot since, and was just as important when making my latest work for my course.  The objective was to re-create a famous image using the conventions of the genre it belonged to.  I chose a portrait image from legendary photographer Elliott Erwitt’s book Dogs, which is one of my favourites.  

 

ERE1946001W0N101/XXERE1946001W0N101/XXUSA. New York City. 1946.

Chihuahua, New York City (1946), from the book Dogs, by Elliott Erwitt[2]

If ever I needed a plan, now was it.  Working with a very excitable chihuahua on a busy street?  Once I’d planned out in advance the location, angle and the props (my wife’s shoes), it was simply a matter of getting the model to stay still.  He was great, giving me a whole range of expressions and reactions to hearing his name etc.  Taking out the practical considerations to begin with kept my blood pressure down as I tried to get his best side.   We all want to make our lives easier, right?

After Elliott Erwitt (2022), by Richard Fletcher

Interested in taking up photography or just starting out with your camera?  Why not have some beginners’ tuition?  I offer a structured series of one-to-one sessions aimed at getting you off Auto mode and taking better pictures.  For more details, drop me a line at richperspective@gmail.com or visit www.richperspective.co.uk

Bibliography

[1] Geolocation: Two Photographers’ Heartbreaking Visualization of Tweets (s.d.) At: http://hafny.org/blog/2016/geolocation-two-photographers-heartbreaking-visualization-of-tweets

[2] Chinese Year of the Dog • Elliott Erwitt • Magnum Photos Magnum Photos (s.d.) At: https://www.magnumphotos.com/arts-culture/art/elliott-erwitt-dog-dogs/ (Accessed 13/03/2022).

 

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info@richperspective.co.uk (Rich Perspective) creative process dogs erwitt photography Plan https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/3/the-importance-of-method Tue, 15 Mar 2022 12:17:55 GMT
The Comfort Zone https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/3/the-comfort-zone I was talking to a friend of mine recently about a genre of photography that neither of us had really explored to date.  We were trying to work out whether this was just a lack of interest or something else more rooted in our similar personalities.  In the end, we concluded that it was just not in our ‘comfort zones’.  It later dawned on me that this expression neatly describes what it is like for most people when they are trying to justify not doing something difficult and I realised that it’s actually pretty awful thing to say.  The idea that we only ever do things that we are comfortable with inside some mythical boundary implies, for me, existing rather than living.  It doesn’t lend itself to learning or making mistakes, discovering new interests or hobbies, instead just the notion of ‘same old same old’.  This isn’t a particularly insightful thought, nor can it be considered a eureka moment, but it did get me thinking about what I am currently avoiding in order to stay ‘comfortable’. 

It was always my intention to do three things when I changed career.  The first was to pursue my artistic development through my continued studies on my degree course, the second was to help people get into photography through beginners’ tuition and courses and the third was to create a YouTube channel where I could share my experiences as a camera collector.  The first two have had degrees of success, but the last one has been something I’ve almost completely avoided for the past 12 months.   The reason? - appearing and speaking on camera has never been something I’ve been comfortable with.  In my previous life I had no problem standing in front of large groups of people and speaking, whether delivering scripted training or ad-libbing a short-notice presentation, so I wasn’t sure why the camera made any difference.  The answer, of course is that the camera presents us with a view of ourselves that we wouldn’t ordinarily see beyond looking at a reflection in the mirror.  With video, we also get to hear our own voice in a way that differs from what it sounds like in our heads.  If there is any level of self-consciousness about how we perceive both, it isn’t likely that we’d knowingly make such a recording of ourselves.  

In my case, I am an introvert so the idea of sharing my thoughts and ideas in a way that I can be seen and heard is a pretty scary thing.  Add to that the way that social media platforms have given everyone a voice that some often use without any restraint or consideration, and the whole idea of ‘putting myself out there’ goes beyond scary and on to terror.  This free will to comment and criticise was brought home recently to me when I noticed a post by the RNLI which was, quite reasonably, trying to raise money.  The comments below the post ranged from the admiration such an organisation deserves to the blatant trolling of their perceived ‘stance’ on rescuing immigrants from the Channel.  I initially couldn’t believe what I was reading, but then it occurred to me that since all ‘subjective’ opinion is just that, needs no evidence to back it up etc., such people will always be there.  In this case, though I was pretty sure they would be extremely grateful to be rescued by that fine organisation should they get into trouble at sea.  

We can’t really control what people say, just accept or argue the point with them if we can be bothered.  For me, remaining isolated from opinions that I might find hurtful or offensive isn’t conducive to building my tuition business, nor does it satisfy my need to pass on my knowledge and passion for photography and vintage cameras to others.  I decided to think of things like YouTube as not being outside of some mythical bubble I live in called ‘comfort’, but instead something that I’d have a go at and, if I didn’t the result, move on to the next thing.  There will likely be people who know more than I do, will pedantically point out any mistakes and generally not enjoy what I’m trying to do.  However, there will also hopefully be some who connect with it.  My perception of how people might react really shouldn’t hold me back.  All of this reflection led to me posting my first video, which you can find at the link below.  Sure, it’s a little rough around the edges and yes, I don’t actually appear on camera… but it’s a start.  I’d be interested in what you think of it, good or bad – I just won’t take it personally.

  

 

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info@richperspective.co.uk (Rich Perspective) camera collector comfort zone Comfortable first photography tuition video YouTube https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/3/the-comfort-zone Wed, 09 Mar 2022 14:10:23 GMT
Advanced Photo System – The Last Roll of the Dice https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/2/aps-the-last-roll-of-the-dice I was recently helping a friend sort out her late father’s extensive camera collection so that it could be sold.  Like many keen photographers (including yours truly), the acquisition of new gear is something that goes hand in hand with discovering a new area or genre of interest.  For example, my recent interest in wildlife photography led to the purchase of a super-telephoto lens, which means that I now frequently go looking for opportunities to shoot wildlife and make the most of my investment.  The collection that we were sorting out was comprised of many modern cameras and lenses but in amongst them were a few ‘specials’.  Of these was a peculiar compact camera from the 1990s called the Fujifilm Fotonex 3500ix Zoom.  In fact, the first thing that struck me wasn’t related to the camera itself, but the fact that manufacturers had a lack of imagination when it came to naming cameras for some reason.  The same is true today; more Z7 than ‘Super Ikonta’.  However, my interest in this unusual little camera was wider than that. It took APS film. 

The compact Fotonex APS camera by Fuji. Shown here with it's clever remote control unit that doubles as a lens cap

The Fuji Fotonex with its clever remote control that doubles as a lens cap

APS, or Advanced Photo System to give it its proper handle, was a system conceived by the major film and camera manufacturers in the 1990s.  At this time Kodak still had its stuck in the ground about the emerging digital camera technology, but like the other film and camera manufacturers they were clear that in order to strengthen their position and keep film photography fresh, something new and exciting was needed.  Kodak had been burned in the 1980s by the awful Disc format, for which they used the laughable tagline “Picture a Brand New World” (check out the link to the Kodak advert on Youtube below).  It was short-lived when people realised that their old compact 110 format cameras shot better photographs, despite the disc cameras being technologically advanced.  After this disaster, Kodak went back to 135 which is what we know and love as 35mm.  The collaboration with the other major manufacturers had to work, and it actually did. The APS format was the result. 

APS used a new self-loading cartridge system which simplified the user experience from 35mm.  It also served as the home for the unexposed film when new and the exposed negatives once developed.  The idea was that the photographer would shoot the roll and the lab would send the film back in its cartridge along with prints made from the negatives.  If they subsequently wanted other prints, they could take the cartridge to any film developer who had an APS processor, and the film would tell the machine which prints to make.  More interesting was that the photographer could also shoot different formats one one roll and the film would record this information too.  The frame on the negative would be full size but when the photographer wanted to print a different, the machine would read what the camera was set to at the time and make the print accordingly.  Another benefit was that the film recorded partially shot film, which meant in the higher end cameras, that a cannister could be wound back in mid-roll, replaced for different conditions (light etc) and then reinserted for the rest of the roll to be shot.  The whole shooting experience was simplified for the photographer while simultaneously demonstrating a significant advance in the equipment.  Cameras had to be smarter and the processing machines were also different from traditional 135.  The processing machines locked the developing houses into the technology, which was fairly common with film manufacturers of the day.  All in all, it looked like a great idea.  However, the digital age was dawning and as cameras improved in image quality and the price came down, APS and film in general started to become obsolete. 

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info@richperspective.co.uk (Rich Perspective) APS camera compact film Fujifilm https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/2/aps-the-last-roll-of-the-dice Sat, 26 Feb 2022 19:19:59 GMT
Reciprocity Failure and the Silver Lining https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/2/reciprocity-failure-and-the-silver-lining Back in 2016, I had a momentary loss of control of my faculties and thought ‘why not have a go at shooting some film?’  It was a peculiar idea, given that I had a great digital camera and collection of high-quality glass for it.  I’d learned a great deal about exposure, composition, use of filters and tripods etc through academic study and trial-and-error, which is easy when you shoot with ‘didge’.  Why on Earth would I want to return to the days of anxiously waiting for my film to come back from the developers, or in my case growing up, a well- known High Street chemist?  

Well, it started with a chance meeting with one of my photographic heroes, a pioneer in street photography in the 1960s.  His recommendation during our brief 2 minutes together, most of which involved me awkwardly trying to think of questions to ask, was to have a go with an old film camera.  The rationale was that film make us slow down.  We want to make the best image as possible on the film because, amongst other things, it costs real money.  On his advice,  I went straight out and bought a Hasselblad 500c/m, which the word ‘iconic’ doesn’t begin to cover.  Fast-forward 5 years and I have a collection of 42 film cameras from the past 100 years or so.  My rapid development (pardon the pun) of a love for film has been largely down to the fact that it is a predictable but varied medium.  What I mean by this is that by and large we can work film to achieve the photograph that we want, but there will always be subtle variations in the emulsion being used and, more crucially, our choice of stock will have its own aesthetic quality.  The fancy digital filters that we have for our phones and social media apps often mimic the variability of film, but personally I prefer the real effect over any of those.   I’m not alone it would appear, as the film industry has been enjoying a mini revival over the past few years.  More and more stocks are being discovered and rebranded, some are being reintroduced and shooting expired film has become a genre in its own right.  

When it comes to using film over digital, there are some key differences when it comes to metering and development.  The reaction of the film to light is, unsurprisingly, different to that of a digital sensor.  A good example would be the old adage about “exposing for the shadows and developing for the highlights”, which refers to the fact that the development of film starts with the details in the shadows and progresses to the highlights over time.  If there isn’t sufficient light exposing the shadow regions, the negative will effectively look clear in those areas.  No information in the shadows means no recovery when it comes to scanning or printing.  As the development progresses to the highlight regions, we have the ability to shorten the developing time to keep them under control if needed.  Understanding the process that the film goes through when it’s exposed to light and then developing chemicals is crucial to making the best negative possible.   In the 1940s, legendary photographers Ansel Adams and Fred Archer developed The Zone System, which helps the photographer understand the scene and choose the right exposure for the negative.  Adams’ book series The Camera, The Negative and The Print are arguably the most important documents of the photographic process ever written.  

When it comes to shooting film, though there is another phenomenon that many people starting out have discover by accident: Reciprocity Failure.  This is the name given to the non-linearity of the film’s reaction to light over time, specifically when the exposure is a long one measured in seconds.  What happens is that the film sensitivity decreases with the amount of time it is exposed to light, meaning that it doesn’t react as quickly after a second or so as it does when the shutter first opens.  When Reciprocity Failure becomes a factor, the exposure that we think we have metered correctly, suddenly results in underexposure, wasted money and occasionally, tears.  I first encountered it not long after I bought the ‘Blad.  I was out shooting a derelict barn on a cloudy day.  I thought the metering was correct and shot the picture with a shutter speed of around 2 seconds.  The result was a disaster.  After some research, I realised that my exposure of 2 seconds should actually have been 3 seconds.  Further digging revealed that films have different Reciprocity Failure rates and response curves that exacerbate the non-linear behaviour the longer the exposure.  Fortunately, there are apps available that will calculate the factor for the film stock being used, so photographers can simply include that in their deliberations about exposure – we’re taking our time, remember?  

If this sounds like a pain, it’s actually just a minor inconvenience.  It was enough for me to get excited though, when I learned that one of my favourite film stocks was pretty much immune to it.  Kodak Ektachrome is what we children of the 1970s would call ‘slide film’.  It was the chosen stock for holiday photographs, which were projected for friends and family back home.  Ever wondered where the term slideshow came from?  Now you know.   Ektachrome is a favourite of mine because it renders colours beautifully and has very little grain.  When a perfectly exposed Ektachrome slide is projected onto a screen, it’s real thing of beauty.  Imagine my joy when I learned that Ektachrome doesn’t suffer from the pesky reciprocity failure until shutter has been open for more than 10 seconds – that’s huge compared to most negative films.  I don’t understand the physics (nor do I really care), but this knowledge leads to potentially using slide film for long exposures which is something I’d never considered.  One style of photography that I’d yet to explore with film was shooting at night. Exposures typically last a few seconds, which would suit Ektachrome perfectly I thought.  A little digging around the internet confirmed that the film, although colour balanced for daylight, would render artificial light beautifully at night.   Armed with my ‘Blad and a few rolls, I went out one evening to have a go. 

I was amazed at how the film performed in these shots, all of which had exposures less than 10 seconds.  The colours are vivid and the blue tint that Ektachrome is known for in daylight has almost completely disappeared.  There's plenty of sharpness but very little grain, which would look cool when projected.  The whole experience was so easy, I cannot wait to get out there again and shoot some urban scenes at night.  

Unlike some of my blog posts, this doesn’t conclude with some deep spiritual revelation or lightbulb moment. What I realised in this discovery is that there is still so much to learn from something that isn’t cutting-edge technology such as slide film.  I’d learned about reciprocity through making mistakes and analysing the possible causes.  It didn’t bother me, but discovering that there are films that can get around it was a real step forward. 

 

Thinking about shooting film for the first time?  Found an old camera in the loft that you fancy trying?  Why not have some beginner’s tuition to get you started.  Drop me a line at richperspective@gmail.com for more details. 

 

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info@richperspective.co.uk (Rich Perspective) ektachrome film Kodak night photography photography reciprocity failure https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/2/reciprocity-failure-and-the-silver-lining Tue, 08 Feb 2022 10:15:17 GMT
“Make it more complex”, said nobody ever https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/1/-make-it-more-complex-said-nobody-ever As I write this, we have moved into 2022 (Happy New Year, by the way) which for me is a bit of a mixed bag.  I love the celebrations at the end of a year and even engage with some of the popular New Year’s resolutions – I probably have the same level of success of most other people.  The tricky part of New Year for me is almost always my attempts at prioritising what I want to do for the next 12 months.  This was something I didn’t have much of a problem with when it came to other people during my engineering career but when it comes to me, it’s always been a challenge that leads to a strange paralysis.  2021 had been a great year for change and I had developed new relationships, learned many lessons about how I wanted to operate in my business and delivered some great tuition sessions.  As my old boss used to say “that was last year, Rich…it’s done mate”.  Now I found myself planning this year and as usual, my state of confusion permeated through the first week of 2022.  Then, something shifted.  

Last year, we took delivery of a beautiful, new, factory-built campervan. It was something we’d promised ourselves at some point in the future, but when the pandemic struck in early, we changed our plans to bring it forward.  It has been magnificent so far, with us making the most of the summer and autumn with many trips away in it.  The shift in my procrastinating about this year came from a small problem we had with the van earlier this week.  Like all modern cars, the van has hugely sophisticated systems that control and monitor the health of its functions.  One of these, we were told, had an intermittent fault that needs investigating.  Just one of those things that can happen with any vehicle, new or second hand but it’s frustrating all the same.  It got me thinking, though – How has everything become so complex?  

Of course, the answer is simple.  The complexity of something like the system on my van is designed with the intention to improve our lives in some way; the function concerned reduces emissions that harm the environment, so that benefit is a clearer conscience.  The complexity of the system only reveals itself when it goes wrong however, which is when someone with specialist knowledge is required to sort it out.   In the case of photography, cameras are also becoming much more technically advanced and we see this most clearly in those that are built into mobile phones.  I recently saw an advert for a major phone manufacturer (no names…etc) that was announcing a new function that digitally removes clutter from the image.  It turns out that if you are taking that special holiday selfie next to one of the seven wonders of the world and somebody ‘photo-bombs’ it, you can now draw a circle around the idiot and have them surgically removed from your photo.  Far from being a gimmick, this function allows the photographer to recover what might be a once-in-a-lifetime image and spare them from the disappointment of getting it wrong in the first place.  The technology isn’t perfect, though.  Removing something from a digital image requires sophisticated artificial intelligence that can use the area surrounding the object to extrapolate what it should look like.  It always leaves some distortion at the pixel level that can only really be improved rather than eliminated.  For most applications, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks though.  

 

The irony of all this is that technological advances can have the effect of ‘dumbing down’ our knowledge.  In the case of the van, I have no idea how this stuff works because the last time I serviced a car myself, I only needed a famous brand of workshop manual and some spanners.  The investigation they are doing as I write this involves a laptop computer and diagnostics instrumentation – I’m not sure the spanners are needed until much later.   In the case of the photograph, the ability to correct it afterwards could mean that we aren’t paying attention to the composition before we press the shutter button.  It’s much simpler to recognise and consciously avoid ‘visual debris’ (whether it’s a tree ‘growing’ out of a person’s head or someone acting up in the background) than rely on technology to save the day.  I was asked recently how much post-production I do in my work and my answer was, well, simple.  I only adjust what used to be done in the traditional darkroom environment, which limits me to selective brightness (dodging and burning), contrast and, if the image is a film scan, dust removal.  I don’t add or subtract anything and am not greatly fond of special effects etc.  I’m not saying that it’s wrong to do that, of course – creativity shouldn’t be limited by ‘rules’.  It’s just that I prefer to keep it simple.

How does this all relate to 2022?  Well, the key lesson for me here is to plan to achieve a small number of things to the best of my abilities rather than to spread myself too thin.  If I take my time, concentrate on what makes something a success, I’ll not only be healthier mentally, but will continue to build on my achievements of last year. Keep It Simple.  Let’s just hope I can get it together to settle in what those things are.

 

Interested in learning photography?  My tailored tuition covers, amongst other aspects, the basics of composition and how to avoid the common mistakes.  Drop me a line at richperspective@gmail.com for more details. 

 

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info@richperspective.co.uk (Rich Perspective) composition creativity new year's Photography prioritise resolutions simplicity https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/1/-make-it-more-complex-said-nobody-ever Mon, 10 Jan 2022 09:38:58 GMT
To Imagine or To Know https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2021/11/to-imagine-or-to-know I’ve recently returned from what has become an annual pilgrimage to London during November.  The main purpose is to visit some galleries, take some pictures and visit some nice restaurants – not sure why, but I seem to enjoy these activities more in Autumn than at other times of the year.  One of the visits we made this year was to the Natural History Museum, which has always been a favourite.  This year, alongside the usual permanent exhibitions, there was a special one about dinosaurs.  Unsurprisingly, I was instantly transported back to my childhood, a time when I was completely obsessed with dinosaurs (looking around the exhibition I could see that I wasn’t the only middle-aged man going into a trance).  As a kid, dinosaurs held a fascination with me for the obvious reasons that they were often huge, majestic and completely different from any animal I had ever seen.  The firm favourite with my friends and I was the Tyrannosaurus Rex (again, I suspect this isn’t unique). T-Rex combined the key features of a dinosaur but was a predator who, we were led to believe, ate everything in its path.  Standing in the NHM exhibit I was looking at the fossilised skull of a T-Rex and an animatronic version of the fearsome predator behind it.  The robot T-Rex swayed around and roared at the viewers, most of them children.  Lots of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ followed, which got me thinking.  I turned to my wife and pointed out that we have no real idea what a T-Rex sounded like or indeed how it moved.  Science had learned a huge amount about these creatures, about their size by their skeletons and was also able to extrapolate aspects like diet and migration from where the fossils had been found.  When it comes to sound and indeed colour, we have to ‘fill in the blanks’.  Our knowledge is supplemented by imagination.  A good example of the differences between ideas about T-Rex comes from Steven Spielberg’s huge hit movie ‘Jurassic Park’, released in 1993.  Spielberg’s T-Rex was depicted as massive and dark green.  She rampaged through the ailing safari park eating people whole, tipping over cars and generally being as terrifying as I hoped she’d be when I was a small boy.  Here, in the NHM, the ‘realistic’ T-Rex was considerably smaller and a lighter green colour.  It could of course be argued that a smaller T-Rex wouldn’t have had the impact in the movie so artistic licence was adopted for the sake of the narrative.  However, what is interesting is that nobody cared.  We all had our imaginary dinosaur in mind and as long as those key narrative points about its behaviour were included, we were happy. 

What’s the point of all this, then?  Well, I’ve just finished a section of my degree course that deals with reading images and how narratives are influenced by iconic messages.  In his paper The Rhetoric of the Image, French philosopher Roland Barthes used linguistics to ‘read’ an example photograph, something that linguistics experts of the time didn’t really believe was relevant.  Barthes’ example was an advert for Italian food products made by a French manufacturer.  The image contained signs that suggested what Barthes referred to as Italianicity, that is what points to Italian culture.  However, he went on to demonstrate that the reading of an image’s iconic and symbolic messages is dependent on what the viewer brings to it.   A European person associates pasta, tomatoes and parmesan cheese with Italian culture, but an Italian wouldn’t recognise the same stereotype themselves. To an Italian, they are just ingredients for their traditional dishes. Barthes’ paper is a difficult and involving read, but part of his message was that the viewer brings their own experiences, cultural history and historical learning to the reading of an image.  In the case of the advertiser in his essay, they wanted to sell to the French people so the messages in the image were tailored specifically for them.  Outside of the obvious nature of advertising, there really is no real ‘truth’, only interpretation.  What made me want to write this post wasn’t Barthes, however.  It was this quote from Albert Einstein, perhaps the most famous scientist of the past 150 years.  

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

When I think about this quotation in the context of standing in the museum, I realise that Einstein is talking about knowledge as being the gap-filler rather than imagination.  We all started out imagining what dinosaurs were like, but for a select group it was the driving force to learn more about them; to ‘fill the gaps’.  Imagination then is the catalyst for learning, which is definitely my experience over the past few years.  Since studying on my degree course and in my tuition work with beginners, I’ve used learning to not only broaden my understanding of the craft of photography, but also to let my imagination run a little wilder than before.  When I see a student realise how one small shift in how they use their camera can make all of their pictures better than before, that strikes a chord with me.  What I’ve learned from thinking about this is to incorporate the freeing their imagination as well as the basic camera skills into our tuition sessions.  That way, they can start to imagine what they want their picture to look like and use their new-found skills to help make it happen.   Who’d have thought this realisation would come from looking into the ‘eyes’ of perhaps the coolest, most imagined dinosaur of them all.

Thinking of getting creative?  If photography is high on your list, why not get some tuition?  Our programme covers the basics of photography, using a camera without Auto mode, composition and so much more.  Drop me a line at richperspective@gmail.com for more details. 

 

 

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info@richperspective.co.uk (Rich Perspective) Barthes creativity dinosaurs Imagination photography tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2021/11/to-imagine-or-to-know Mon, 22 Nov 2021 12:57:59 GMT
Forget the gear, have an idea https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2021/10/forget-the-gear-have-an-idea I’ve recently returned from a few days away in the beautiful Ribble Valley in Lancashire, which was another early adventure in our new campervan.  We decided to buy the van back in 2020 while the country was in the grip of a national lockdown due to you-know-what.  The combined effect of the changes to our working lives and reluctance to consider travelling abroad, brought forward this plan that we had conceived for later in our retirement.  We went for the VW factory-built California, a van based on the hugely successful work vans that we see everywhere in the UK.  Being people that ‘just want it to work’, the VW California suited us perfectly as everything onboard was designed to work with everything else.  

We’ve used our van, named Ruby because of her colour, several times already this year and are learning more about both camping and this wonderful machine every time we do so.  This trip was no exception, with the list of accessories we’d forgotten to buy/bring with us being added as the week progressed.  This was also the first time we’d used the van in really bad weather.  The rain was relentless and the balmy temperatures of the week before quickly abandoned us too, which meant that we spent a great deal of time staying inside.  Plenty of coffee, the odd glass of wine and a Scrabble marathon kept us amused as well as the mandatory ‘people watching’.  It was while doing the latter, that I noticed someone setting up camp who would get me thinking about how in some ways our consumerism drives us on an endless quest to have the best possible kit.

The camper in question was a young woman in her early twenties who was traveling with her dog.  She rolled into the site in a late 90s Land Rover Discovery with no trailer or caravan behind it.  I watched as she started to ‘assemble’ her campervan, first running an electrical hook-up through one of the car’s windows, then fixing some metallic insulating material to the windscreen with what looked like gaffer tape, and finally erecting a tarpaulin gazebo off the back.  Then came the seemingly endless equipment from the back of the car including a stove, chair, water container, small table, pots and pans.  Within about 10 minutes, the old car had become a camper on a shoestring.  I sat in the heated comfort of our Cali watching in amazement for a couple of reasons. The first was the notion of someone so young building such an ingeniously simple, yet effective camper and the second being that despite its Heath Robinson appearance, the camper worked perfectly.  The former is a result of my simply getting older realising that what I’ve learned in my professional and personal life is rightly being challenged by the new ideas of younger people.  I was fortunate enough to work closely with some brilliant engineering graduates in my former company, but it didn’t stop me from being ‘that grumpy old bugger’ that every business has on more than one occasion.  Perhaps more interesting to me was the second point, which was that she had cobbled together a working van from bits and pieces and it had worked.  I had no idea about how she got to this point or why and I wasn’t about to go and ask.  It could have been that this was what she could afford or perhaps just making something that was fit for purpose was the goal.   I started to think about my own experiences with buying gear, which goes far beyond our purchase of the California.  In my photography, I have always aspired to get the highest possible specification for whatever I could afford at the time.  As a result, I’m very fortunate to have a great DSLR camera and the professional lenses to go with it.  It has cost me a small fortune over the years, but I’ve been driven by some internal idea that having the best in some way makes me a better photographer.  But is this really true? Of course not.  Take these photographs for example:

Malvern Pinhole #7Malvern Pinhole #7

They were taken with the most basic form of camera there is, the pinhole.  You will have undoubtedly seen pinhole cameras before as they have been made from tin cans, carboard boxes and even sheds over many years.  All you need is a sealed box with a small hole in the front that can be covered/uncovered long enough to expose the film inside.  The resulting image is of course not razor sharp, nor is there any control over field-of-view or perspective, but oddly that doesn’t matter.  It is because the process is so simple (only having to work out how long to leave the hole uncovered for the film type), that the effort can instead be put into looking for a subject that might look good as a pinhole photograph.  For example, anything with moving water or clouds looks good because the ‘shutter speed’ is so low, often many seconds in length.  Pinhole has its own aesthetic which isn’t dramatically enhanced by the quality of the camera design or manufacture.  Taking a pinhole photograph is oddly rewarding because of the level of guesswork in composition, image contrast etc. involved in doing so.  You don’t know exactly what you’ll get, but know that you just don’t need the expensive equipment or labour-saving accessories to have a good time with it. Much like the woman with her DIY camping rig, whose the goal of relaxing with some food, wine and a companion was most important, not how easy it was to ‘get there’.   

She left a couple of days later, with the disassembly of her camper being just as straightforward as its assembly.  Perhaps the final point about the quality of gear was her laughing at my getting soaked when trying to release the water that had collected on Ruby’s awning.  She had experienced the exact same just moments before.  What I learned as she drove away was the importance of making best use of what you have and enjoying the results of your creative labours.  Forget the gear, have the idea.

Fancy having a go with at building and shooting your own pinhole camera?  The first part of my tuition programme deals with the basics of camera operation and exposure, which starts with the pinhole.  Drop me a line at richperspective@gmail.com for more details.

 

 

 

 

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info@richperspective.co.uk (Rich Perspective) creative enjoyment gear idea photography pinhole simplicity https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2021/10/forget-the-gear-have-an-idea Tue, 05 Oct 2021 15:57:26 GMT
Why Wildlife? https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2021/9/why-wildlife What’s so interesting about Wildlife?

Since finishing my work at the end of January, I have discovered a passion for an area of photography that I’d only really dabbled in previously, Wildlife.  I’m not really sure why my previous experiences with this genre didn’t leave me hooked, but I do know that I always viewed the results with a certain disinterest afterwards.  It wasn’t that they were poor shots, or that I wasn’t interested in the subject at all, it was just that in my mind, one photograph of a particular bird was very much the same as another.  So, what changed?

The first change was the amount of time I now had.  It took a few months to get used to not having a 9 to 5 job anymore and I spend most of that time going for long walks and spending time in my local park.  When I didn’t have to rush to any meetings or the dreaded ‘Teams calls’, I found myself just looking at nature, which I know sounds a little cliché but it’s true, I genuinely hadn’t really just watched.   I started to notice the variety of wildlife that visited the park, from ducks to squirrels, herons to the illusive kingfisher.  Each appeared to have a set of behaviours that fitted a loose routine.  The heron would normally appear in the afternoon, the ducks would roost on dry land and move to the pond in the morning etc.   This was the first thing that piqued my interest in wildlife photography - the behaviours and patterns of the different species, which could be observed easily enough if one puts in the time.  I started to learn things too, the first being how violent and potentially fatal the mating ritual of mallard ducks is.  I watched in horror as the drake almost drowned the female, only to be chased off by her when it was all over.   The drama of the ritual and how to represent it in a photograph became the challenge which put my previous experiences with wildlife photography into context.  There is a ‘creativity’ in telling a story of an animal’s behaviour which is, in my opinion, far more interesting than simply capturing its perceived ‘beauty’.

Mating

Continuing the duck theme, the next thing I learned was that they fish.  I had gone 48 years without ever having known or seen a duck fishing, so it was quite a surprise to experience it for the first time.  I was watching a group of ducks diving completely under the surface of the water, which isn’t really news to be honest as I’ve seen them do this many times before.  However, I then saw a female leap onto the bank with a small fish in her mouth, which I quickly learned was a tactic to stop said fish from escaping her grasp in the water.  The problem was that she was then spotted by a nearby group of drakes, looking like a gang from West Side Story.  They decided that they were going to steal the fish and started to walk menacingly toward her.  For some reason, I decided that I wouldn’t let them take it from her, so positioned myself between them and their target.   Once the danger had passed, she was relaxed enough for me to take this shot of her and her catch.  

 

Fishing 1Fishing 1

 

I’d now observed a behaviour that I kept seeing repeatedly over the next few weeks.  Then it dawned on me that the females were far better fishers than the males because they needed the nutrition to help produce their eggs.  As I continued to watch them, I noticed the fishing decline once the broods had hatched.   From a photographic perspective I was beginning to see the point of shooting wildlife as it opened up a whole new world that we just don’t see because we are busy rushing from one place to another. 

My new-found passion for wildlife photography has also taught me how to get the most out of my camera and selected lens.  I was asked recently what settings I generally use, and I couldn’t really answer.  My workflow with the camera has evolved for my equipment and the conditions that I am shooting under, so it’ll vary from someone else’s experience or objective.  Wildlife photography has come at a cost too, with the recent purchase of a longer telephoto lens so that I can increase my distance from the subject.  I’m looking forward to getting out there to shoot with it. 

For me, the learnings from this experience so far are to take time to look closely at something we might not immediately see any interest in.  Slowing things down helps us to appreciate what our busy lives prevent us from noticing.  This applies to all aspects of our lives, but in terms of my photography, only when I stopped and looked did this make sense. 

You can see more of my wildlife photographs at www.richperspective.co.uk in the album 'Wildlife'  If you’d like to know more or are thinking of taking up photography for the first time, please drop me a line about some beginner’s tuition.

 

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info@richperspective.co.uk (Rich Perspective) blog interesting passion photography wildlife https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2021/9/why-wildlife Sun, 26 Sep 2021 08:45:44 GMT
You Must Have a Really Good Camera -  The Accessibility of Photography https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2021/8/you-must-have-a-really-good-camera---the-accessibility-of-photography A friend recently asked how long I have been interested in/obsessed with photography and my answer was, as usual related to when my Dad loaned me my first camera back in the early 1980s.  It was a Voigtländer Vitoret 110, which shot the conventiently small 110 cartridge film that was around at the time.  My Dad thought I might be interested in taking up what was his hobby and his father’s before him.  Needless to say, I shot through loads of 110 film over the next couple of years and enjoyed it so much that I never got around to returning it to him.  

The Voigtländer Vitoret 110

While small and beautifully designed, the Vitoret wasn’t very flexible in its controls.  You could select the type of weather conditions and…well that was it really. Focusing was a set of preset distances that were selected by the choice of weather, which many years later I realised meant a function of the lens aperture. It had the capability of firing a flash as well, but since there were no electronics the camera used one of those exploding flash cubes that literally went off to the left of your eyeball.  Things were much more dangerous in the Seventies.  Regardless, I was hooked.  Fast-forward to 1986 and I was bought my first SLR camera, a Fujica STX-1N.  Now I could experiment with different ISO films, aperture and shutter speed which set me loose and the rest, as they say, is history. 

The friend who asked me then followed up their question with “these days I just use my phone”.  I’ve never been a snob about phones as their cameras and processing software are becoming more and more sophisticated with every new release.   Further discussion revealed an reluctance to using a so-called proper camera as being the expense of buying one.  It got me thinking about how accessible photography is right now and whether there is enough of a draw to lure people away from a camera that comes free with their mobile.  The old adage about ‘getting what you pay for’ does apply to photography and the rather flippant title of this post is something I’ve had said of my professional camera gear on more than one occasion.   It’s not hard to see how the importance of having a fancy camera does, in many cases, turn people off to the prospect of taking up photography.  Of course, the camera is only a small part of the equation that produces a ‘good’ photograph and I usually feign being offended when people imply that my ‘really good camera’ is entirely responsible for my work.  I started to consider whether there was some way of showing that it doesn’t have to be this way.

The first thought was about the Digital Single Lens Reflex or DSLR, which is everyone’s idea of what a camera looks like these days.  DSLRs are essentially the same as the old film cameras like my Fujica, but updated to produce a file rather than a film frame.  Entry-level DSLRs can be purchased for a few hundred pounds with a cheap lens included and, in my experience the ones made by the main manufacturers such as Nikon, Canon or Sony, are excellent.  They are certainly more than sufficient to get started with, but a few hundred pounds is still often prohibitively expensive, particularly if photography is something being ‘tried out’.  You can buy them used online easily enough, but care is needed in finding out what sort of life a camera has had.  Firstly, understanding how many times the shutter and internal mirror have fired can be the difference between a great camera and a disaster.  IF the camera has been well used, these electronic systems can become unreliable.   Another area of weakness is the battery, which if too degraded may be hard to replace with a genuine part.  There are a few things then that make DSLRs a pricey prospect.  

There is another way, however.   Irrespective of the camera technology, the principles of exposure, composition etc are universal.  As long as you have a camera that has the ability to alter ISO, aperture and shutter speed, you can learn photography.  The beauty of this is that there are literally millions of old film cameras languishing in peoples’ lofts and kitchen drawers that could be an entry point into photography.  If they are sufficiently old enough to be entirely mechanical and have been dry stored, they may well be perfectly functional.  If not, there are many examples of manual film cameras online ranging from a few pounds to a few thousand.  Some of these cameras are really special too.  Icons like the Canon AE1, Nikon F3 and Olympus OM1 can be picked up for less than an entry-level DSLR – these cameras and their lenses were highly regarded in their day and still hold their own in our digital world.  There are obviously running costs in the form of film and processing, but  with the recent resurgence in the medium, there are still many labs around and great suppliers like Analogue Wonderland in the UK and The Film Photography Project in the US who stock film for all budgets down to around £4 per roll.  Processing and scanning services are also wide available for around £10 for a roll of 36 shots, which makes each photograph around 40p to produce.  I’m not suggesting that this is better than digital in any way (arguments about the way that the two formats differ aesthetically have raged for years), but a cheap film camera is a way of trying photography without having to invest in expensive kit.  As an example, I bought this little camera for my collection earlier this year.  

Early Zeiss Werra c1950s Early Zeiss Werra c1950s

It’s a mint condition Zeiss Werra from the early 1950s and it cost me around £60 from eBay.  It isn’t an SLR camera, doesn’t have a light meter or in-viewfinder focusing as with most cameras.  However, it does have manual control over aperture and shutter speed which means that it can be used to practice the basics.  I used a free light meter app on my phone to determine exposure for the film’s ISO and estimated the focal distance which is then set on the lens barrel.  The great thing about this camera apart from the price is the lens, which is made by the legendary manufacturer Carl Zeiss.  As you can see from the results below, it performs really well and its unusual form factor makes it an interesting and enjoyable camera to shoot. 

Examples from the Zeiss Werra Examples from the Zeiss Werra

Examples from the Zeiss Werra

What can we conclude from this?  For me, photography is now more accessible than ever with the availability of high-quality digital cameras and a buoyant market for old film cameras that are just ready for a second life with an enthusiastic beginner.  Regardless of the technology, the key thing is to have a go and to bear in mind that the camera is merely the tool with which to create.  This idea of having to invest heavily is simply not true.   

Whichever route you take, remember that I can help you with some beginner tuition sessions.  Hopefully, you get to love photography as much as I do.   Just drop me a line at richperspective@gmail.com for more details.  

 

 

 

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info@richperspective.co.uk (Rich Perspective) accessibility beginner cameras film photography https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2021/8/you-must-have-a-really-good-camera---the-accessibility-of-photography Tue, 24 Aug 2021 10:24:12 GMT
End of the Aerochrome Road https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2021/8/end-of-the-aerochrome-road In my previous post I described the humbling experience of shooting my first roll of Kodak Aerochrome colour slide film and getting what can only be described as awful results.  In the analysis that followed, I concluded that I wasn’t entirely sure what had caused the shots to look so bad, but resolved to have another go with my remaining two rolls of film.  In the back of my mind, I thought that perhaps the time of year was a factor, having shot the first roll on the first sunny day we’d had in the spring this year.  Perhaps the film really needed mid-summer light in order to respond with that beautiful colour shift that Aerochrome was famous for.  

As the country headed into a heatwave and I had a holiday in the Yorkshire Dales coming up, this seemed to be the ideal opportunity to have another go.  Once again, I used my Nikon F6, which has one of the best meters of any film SLR, and that I had shot many rolls through without any exposure issues.  I loaded the film in the dark, fitted the filter to my lens as instructed and headed out.  Perceived wisdom, otherwise known as the internet, suggested that as the film had expired over a decade ago, I should overexpose by anywhere between 1/3 and 1 stop to counteract its age.  As the film had been frozen since it was discovered by the FPP way back when, I was pretty confident that there weren’t any other mishandling issues that could contribute to the condition of the emulsion.  Slide film is notoriously intolerant to overexposing, so I would need to ‘bracket’ the shots.  This means taking a number of pictures of the same composition and varying their exposures to see which one works best.  It’s a costly but useful thing to do in film, however bracketing is still used in digital photography today because there is no impact in doing so.  Ansel Adams once said that if you need to bracket, you don’t know what you are doing – we’ll just leave that thought alone for now.

Conscious that I was suspicious of the lab that I used last time, I did some research and found one who specialised in developing IR film.   Feeling really confident, I went out to shoot the beautiful Dales countryside.  When I got the film back from the developers, I was distraught.  Despite my best efforts, the film was totally ruined with a every shot saturated with a purple hue and all the contrast lost.   

I was at a complete loss as to what had happened this time.  Some more research online revealed that others had suffered the same problems despite doing everything possible to shoot and develop according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  In my case, the bracketing made no difference at all, which led me to ultimately conclude that it was an issue with the film.  Something had affected its behaviour in a way that I couldn’t comprehend.  All I knew was that the issue was consistent with both rolls which, given they were hand-rolled from a bulk reel, isn’t a surprise.  To be clear, I’m not making a point about the previous owner or supplier, just that this was my experience. 

I guess my learning from this experience was swift.  I have no rolls of Aerochrome left and it is now incredibly rare and expensive to get hold of.  Even if it could be sourced the same risks associated with expired film, such as storage and handling, still exist.  What this means is that whatever the reason for the poor results, my time with this film stock is done.  Yes, it personally cost me a lot of money, but I don’t regret tying it.  Film can be a cruel mistress with its lack of immediate feedback, the potential waste of actual money and errors creeping into the end-to-end process.  That is why ‘digital’ took over and remains the dominant technology.  For those who want the reward of the beautifully natural look of how film renders an image, we must accept that risk.  I was certainly angry and disappointed, but it was worth giving it a go simply because of the mystique surrounding Aerochrome.  The reward didn’t come, but I can’t dwell on that – time to move on to the next project.  When I think about this, it’s pretty much the same for anything in life where if our best isn’t quite good enough, there isn’t much to be done but move on.   In my case, I’m going to stick to the paths trodden by Kodak and Ilford from now on. 

 

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info@richperspective.co.uk (Rich Perspective) https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2021/8/end-of-the-aerochrome-road Thu, 05 Aug 2021 10:28:23 GMT
Expired Infrared Ektachrome Fail and Learning https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2021/6/expired-infrared-ektachrome-fail-and-learning A couple of years ago I had a momentary loss of my faculties and bought 3 rolls of what is probably the most rare and mysterious film stock out there.  Kodak Aerochrome is a colour infrared (IR) film that was originally designed for military use in locating man-made objects hiding in vegetation.  The film renders organic materials that naturally reflect light in the IR spectrum as varying degrees of bold, mainly red colour where artificial materials generally look similar to how they do in visible light.   In short, any plant or tree life looks like something out of a science fiction movie, while man-made stuff like artillery and camouflaging don’t.  The film found other uses in airborne survey of vegetation after the military need diminished, but eventually Kodak called time on the film in around 2010.  Since then, photographers and film-makers have used the remaining stock to create beautiful, other-world artworks.  As the film became rarer, the laws of supply and demand drove up the price to an eye-watering $40 per roll (back when I bought mine).  I grabbed my 3 rolls and put them in the deep freeze until I could find a subject.  Then came the pandemic and my priorities changed.  The film is ideally shot during the summer when the intensity of the infrared in the sunlight is at its highest.  Once the summer of 2020 had passed, I resolved to shoot it in 2021.  As the film was in the deep-freeze, it wouldn’t dramatically age during that year…unlike me. 

Once the impact of the pandemic began to ease towards the end March 2021, I thought I would have a go at shooting one of the rolls during a brief period of bright, sunny weather.  I selected my Nikon F6 to shoot it in, having first checked that it would work.  Lots of film SLRs used light emitting diodes (LEDs) to determine how far the film was being advanced with each frame shot and this is a big problem with IR film.  These lights emit sufficient light in the IR band to fog the film before we even start.  The F6, being a professional SLR didn’t suffer from this problem and it had the additional benefit of having a very accurate light meter.  I thought this combination would be a winner.  After loading the film in the dark…yes, even loading in normal light can fog the film inside the cartridge, I was ready to shoot.   I went to the local park to find some compositions that would include vegetation and man-made structures to really bring out the legendary look of the film.  Once done, it was just a case of waiting for the lab to develop them.  When it comes to processing, the film is a positive slide which needs to be done as E6 process.  Anyone who grew up in the 1970s will remember sitting around a big screen looking at slides of someone’s holiday photos.  Tedious slide marathons aside, in my opinion there is no more magical a film than a positive slide.  Anyway, the IR film can’t just be put in a processing machine for similar ‘LEDs-ruining-everything’ reasons as mention previously.  My lab uses a manual process that was established as safe for colour IR.   With all of these elements in place, I was confident.  How wrong could I have been?

When the film came back, the clearest issue was that they were all under-exposed. The film is expired and although it had been tested, I didn’t take the age of the film into account.  There is a school of thought that says that if you’re using expired film, you need to over-expose by 1 stop for every 10 years by its expiry date for negative film.  Wasn’t sure this also applied to positives.  Perhaps I was instinctively worried that if I deliberately over-exposed to compensate, I would then run into the well-known narrow dynamic range associated with positive slide films - slides are notoriously stingy when it comes to exposure and demand to be spot on to get good results. Whatever the reason, there is nothing worse in film photography than under-exposed slide film and that is what I had. 

When I look at these shots, I can see the desired infrared effect.  However, the shadows are a mess.  I used matrix metering on the camera to get the average meter reading based on the dynamic range of the scene.  The loss of shadow detail and the weird grain that appears points to the exposure being well off.  Like all film fails, it’s hard not to ask other questions.  Was the film any good to begin with? Did the camera work properly? Did the lab screw up the processing?  I started to think about these other possibilities.

Taking them in turn, the film came from the brilliant Film Photography Project in the U.S. and they in turn got it from a vault in a military facility.  It had been stored properly by both parties and the FPP did their own testing on the batch before they hand-roll it.  I find it hard to blame the film knowing how it was handled all the way from the various freezers to my camera. As for the camera, my F6 is only a few years old and has worked perfectly with every other roll I’ve shot through it - so I guess that’s not it either.  That leaves the lab, which is an easy target and people often pin their photographic failings on the poor technician who processed the film.  I can’t find any variations between the frames on the film and the image structure is present in each.  No matter how I look at it, this was my issue and not theirs.   One thing I’ve learned about film photography is that it pays to be humble about one’s own shortcomings when things go wrong rather than try to blame something else.  Sometimes, you just get it wrong and the consequences as well as costs are yours alone.   

What I’ve learned about this first roll and this experience is that trying something different and being prepared to get it wrong is a positive thing.  I had to look past the cost of the roll, admittedly through my tears, and see what I would do differently next time.  More research into shooting expired slide film and even waiting until the proper summertime conditions would be top of the list.  I would also think about developing it myself if I can get some E6 practice before then.  What I know for sure is that I can’t wait to have another go. With a holiday coming up, perhaps the stars will align next time. 


 

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info@richperspective.co.uk (Rich Perspective) artist film infrared' 'film photography fail learning https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2021/6/expired-infrared-ektachrome-fail-and-learning Thu, 17 Jun 2021 15:36:11 GMT
The Pointless Debate - Film or Digital? https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2021/5/the-pointless-debate---film-or-digital I heard an age-old debate on the radio recently about the acceptable order of applying cream and jam to a scone in a traditional cream tea.  I had to roll my eyes a little, firstly at the idea that a whole radio segment could be created from something so trivial, but also that there is of course no ‘correct answer.  The order of things depends on a personal preference that is often driven by local traditions passed down through families.  Since I have no connections with Devon or Cornwall, I’m not taking sides here because frankly, I don’t care as long the scone has both. 

It got me thinking about a similarly over-debated idea of which is best, film or digital. For me, this discussion used to rage between a colleague and I several years ago.  He was a traditional medium-format film photographer and I had just acquired my shiny new DSLR.  Naturally, my Nikon D4 was the best camera I had ever seen, technically advanced but relatively simple to use and with a passing resemblance in size to a Howitzer anti-aircraft gun.  I wasn’t going to hear a word against it or digital, besides which I hadn’t shot any film since I was a teenager and that is further back than I am prepared to admit.  When I did use it, I remember the excitement that I felt as I rattled through roll after roll, followed by the crushing disappointment when they were processed and found to be utter rubbish.  Digital was cool, you could see the results instantly and didn’t have to suffer the ignominy of the photo lab putting a sticker on your prints telling you where you went wrong.  My colleague was having none of it.  In his view, the look of a picture shot on film and the subsequent wet print made from the negative could not be matched by what was essentially a computer.  He was fully involved in the creation of his work, processing the film and making prints in his darkroom that he then sold online.  Not surprisingly, his work is excellent because he is very skilled at his craft, but I was adamant that it was an outdated medium that ‘progress’ had killed off.  In my defence, I was young(er) and stupid(er).

About 5 years ago, I was inspired to shoot film by a chance meeting with a famous American photographer.  The inspiration wasn’t just some silly hero-worship, though. What resonated with me during our brief conversation was the idea of slowing everything down and concentrating on being in the moment.  Although this could be achieved with a digital camera, nothing focused the mind quite like every frame costing actual money.  Also, many of the available film cameras were entirely mechanical, which meant that in addition to avoiding bankruptcy an actual knowledge of the craft itself would also be important.  The impact of these factors grew with the type of film being used.  A 35mm film might be cheap enough at around 20 pence per frame, but 8x10 inch film for a large-format camera can cost an eyewatering £20 per frame.  Add processing to that and you have a significant investment in your art. 

I started out by buying my first medium-format SLR camera, a Hasselblad 500c/m, from a faceless stranger on the internet.  Although the risk of parting with my hard-earned money on something I had not seen or tested hadn’t really registered, I was to learn as I collected more film cameras that care was needed here too.  Old cameras like any machines require looking after and being maintained properly, otherwise they can fail.  Fortunately, my Hasselblad is a good condition camera and the very first roll of Ilford FP4 I shot yielded some images that began luring me into this analogue world that I had previously been reluctant to accept as being anything but dead.  From there the next stage was ‘developing at home’, a similarly magical pastime full of excitement and anxiety and therein lies the thing.    I hadn’t appreciated the variability of this medium.  Film is made by a chemical deposition process to a recipe. Each emulsion is created to achieve a certain sensitivity or speed, tone and contrast and the way they look when exposed can vary significantly.  I learned about how film grains vary in size, how film ages and how that affects its performance, how there is exposure latitude in some stocks more than others and how the response to light is non-linear during long exposures.  I then learned that the choice of chemicals to process the film, the temperature, timing, etc also made a huge difference to how the shot would look as well as whether there would even be a usable image to begin with.  Yes, all of this appealed to my engineering curiosity, but the big learning for me was the need for total concentration from the moment you load the camera to hanging up the film to dry.   It’s the pace of film that really appeals, standing in a field looking at a beautiful landscape or piece of architecture and thinking through the shot.  Will I shoot colour or black and white?  If the latter, how will the highlights and shadows translate onto the film?  Will the ghost of Ansel Adams help me with interpreting his Zone System to get the most out of the exposure?  The old adage of ‘measure twice, cut once’ never seems so right as at the moment of releasing the shutter. Once it’s done, all you can do is wait.

After 5 years of playing with film, I can honestly say that I love it.  My enjoyment of shooting it has driven my passion to improve as a photographer and the more I learn, the happier it makes me.  More widely the resurgence in film photography, particularly in the younger generation, is encouraging the development of new film stocks such as Lomography Metropolis and Bergger Pancro and even the re-introduction of classics such as the legendary Kodak Ektachrome.  This medium in photography seems to be alive and kicking.  Young people are getting hold of their parents’ old cameras (they don’t use them anymore so they must be cool, right?), cruising charity shops, car boot sales and eBay for anything to shoot with.  I was in London last year during one of the brief respites from the pandemic and I saw a young man walking around the streets carrying a Mamiya RB67 around his neck. Now that is a camera that makes my D4 look like a compact!  The camera and film market grows healthier every day in the hands of these people and I for one am a fan. 

What does this have to do with cream teas? Well, I learned that film was something very special and continue to be inspired to shoot it, but that doesn’t make me a better photographer.  It isn’t better than digital nor is the opposite true – they are just different.  Everything I have learned about composition, light and meaning can be achieved just as easily with a digital camera as with film.  In the end, it really isn’t anything to do with the gear but the creativity of the artist in control of it.  I’ve seen amazing work shot digitally using state-of-the-art cameras, on film using a van converted into a giant pinhole camera, and on a humble mobile phone.  In equal measure I’ve seen some awful photographs made with all of three types.  For me, creativity is about having an idea and using whatever tools you have available to help you realise that idea.  As long as you get your cream and jam, it doesn’t really matter how you get there.

 

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info@richperspective.co.uk (Rich Perspective) artist concentration creativity debate digital film whatever works https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2021/5/the-pointless-debate---film-or-digital Mon, 03 May 2021 08:31:10 GMT