Sunday, 22 March 2015

Photographic memories

Why do we take photographs? A deceptively simple question, but one which I guess would have a number of responses depending on who you are

Maybe your livelihood depends on your ability to take photos? If so then your primary motive would be to make money. For those amateur photography enthusiasts out there, the answer would range from simple enjoyment to being able impress our peers and friends with your skills. 

However for the vast majority of us, I think the simple answer would be in order to capture memories

Recently I have had to clear out my late fathers house. Unfortunately in his later years he resorted to collecting a lot, and disposing of nothing (from talking with friends I think this is not a uncommon problem with elderly relatives). The result of this is that it has taken a considerable amount of time to sort through the clutter. 

However one of the things I have found is a lot of family photos, ranging from Edwardian family photos to more recent family snaps. With my interest in photography I have taken on the role of family archivist and I have been spending a bit of time sorting them and digitizing the more significant ones. 

During that process I came across the one that I've put at the top of this page. 

Now technically there is nothing significant in this photo. It is of a nondescript house, taken on cheap film, now faded with age. But to me it tells a very powerful and personal story.

You see standing in the doorway on the right hand side is a small boy with blonde hair about 4 years old. 

That boy is me. 

My age in the photo means that this must of been taken soon after we moved into the house that would form the major part of my childhood and be my fathers home for the next 50 years. 

So when I look at this photo I can't help wondering what I would of thought , with the benefits of hindsight, of my life to come?

The truth is not all the memories of this house were good ones. But as I sat on a step inside the house for what I knew would be the last time I could not help replay the images of photos that were taken in this house. As I did so, I could not help shedding a tear for those long forgotten memories and the people in them. The realization that I would never be able to so vividly bring those memories back to life again was a very emotional moment for me.

Of course this is a very personal photo, but it shows how, when wielded correctly, a photo can be used  to generate strong emotions. 

However telling a story with a single photo is not an easy task. A title is a good start because it sets the viewer down the road you want them to travel. Also the need to tell a story is why I enjoy putting photo montages together. It is easier to tell a tale by using a number of images, using music to set the mood. 

This is also why rules for competitions such as those for the British Photographic Society, emphasize the story over the purely technical aspects. 

This in the end separates the great photographer from the merely good. If you can take a single photograph and use it to tell a powerful story that resonates not only to you and people involved in the photo, but to the entire world, then you are well on the road to greatness.


Snow in March

Having a full time job not involved in photography (2 full time jobs if you include being a parent), one of the biggest issues can be actually finding the time to go out and take photographs. Which is why it is great to get the opportunity to go and take photos of a single subject.

This came about recently when my local photography society  organised a walk to take photos of the snowdrops growing locally.

It is quite liberating to go with a single purpose and have no pressure on you to achieve results. It means you can experiment to your hearts content and see what works and what doesn't.

It also benefits having other photographers with you since it allows you to feed of there ideas and hopefully try them out.

I won't pretend the results of the trip produced anything stunning. This was after all an experimental session. But it means that I have learnt a little more.

Things I learnt.

Macro photography outside is hard, especially on plants with little contrast like snowdrops. I spent  a long time trying to get a good close shot. However  even small amounts of wind caused movement.

This shows how strong a green colour cast can be. Green is a very strong colour

Foliage produces a lot of green colour casts which is especially strong on a white flower like a snow drop. This is the 1st time I played around with photo filters in photoshop to try and remove it

Generally it was a dull day. Actually this is OK for this sort of photography. However for a brief instant the sun did come out allowing some back lighting. What I would like to try next time is put a flash on a long lead and back light it using that

This was probably the best group shot. You could argue the background could be more blurred, but it does provide context.

 I tried the technique of zooming out, while taking this. It worked reasonable well and worth having another go sometime.

Getting low down works well but you need to keep anything above the flowers to a minimum 

I tried some long exposure photos. I wanted to capture movement. Unfortunately there was not enough wind to make it work. Next time I will take something like a reflector or a piece of card to artificially generate a breeze.

After a while you get bored of photographing plants and start taking photographs of your fellow photographers

The other thing to look out for is other locations. This site had some great dark limestone pits which due to their position of quite still. A place to revisit in Autumn when the leaves are yellow.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Four of the best

The recent competition at my local photographic society was a new format for me. It was called the panel of 4 and required you to present a DPI and/or print consisting of 4 photos in some way connected.

This is actually a lot harder than it sounds. Firstly there needs to be some link between the photos. Secondly each photo has to stand on it's own merits. At the same time each of the 4 photos had to be consistent in terms of both quality and presentation. For example 4 photos, one of which is outstanding, and 3 which are of lesser quality would not work. The great one photo would look out of place from the other 3 and distract from the overall montage.

I must admit I had been thinking about this competition for a while. My original plan for to present a DPI with a panel in 4 strips consisting of various forest trees cropped at tree trunk level. The rebel in me did not like the square  format and I sorely wanted to try something different. However in the end I could not find the type of forest so I had to resort to plan  B.

My 2nd idea was my set of leaf prints taken on my light table. Originally this was going to be my DPI entry, but once I got the prints they seemed to work better that way. The biggest challenge was choosing four. I had intended to show some sort of progression, from fall to decay. But when I tried this, it just looked dis-jointed so I stuck with just 4 light table images.

The print's were originally going to be called Wind, Steam and Power and consist of pictures of wind farms and Ratcliffe power station. The problem was when I put them together the wind farm pictures were just too good and I couldn't find a link between them. So instead it became just pictures of the Ratcliffe power station.

The problem was then to find 4 photos to put in a panel. I found 3 easily,  but the 4th was more difficult. Eventually I used one of Ratcliffe at sunset, and in hindsight I realise this was probaly a mistake, since it was quickly spotted by the judge as the weak link and probably stopped it getting higher marks.

My DPI. The image at the top left was the weakest of the 4. 

The leaves did better, but the judge again took a dislike of one of the panels. Ironocally it was the one I thought it was the strongest of the four.

My leaf prints. Ironically it was the one in the bottom left the judge did not like. I thought it was the strongest

Both panels got 17 marks and again did not make final selection. Once again so close but so far. It has to be said that in terms of the competition, the prints quality was very high, but with a better selection for the DPI's I think I could of done better.

It was interesting to see which ones did do well however. Picking out details say of architecture or single shots of a type of car seemed to work quite well in this format, and sometimes the overall result is greater than the sum or the original photos.

So my takeaway from this sort of competition is as follows:-

  • It is not the overall quality of the individual prints that matter, but the montage as a whole 
  • You need 4 consistent prints, not 3 plus one thrown in for luck
  • Photos of small details work well. The winning DPI was of Moroccan windows. Not great photos individually, but stacked in a panel the sum was greater than the individual
  • With prints, they need to be the same size and mounted the same way. I made the mistake of mounting 2 in black and 2 in white frames. I should of stuck to one colour. Similarly some put prints in of different sizes. This can work well in DPI, but prints just look disjointed.
  • In this sort of competition format, it is best to go out looking for 4 such photos rather than throwing together 4 individual ones you had just taken.
  • The montage must hang together as one photo as well as 4 individual ones.
Still it is an interesting experience, and one worth playing with and pursuing in future years.