Thursday, 25 June 2015

Stop this stupid European photography law...

I don't normally get political but I do get a be in my bonnet about copyrights and the there is new European legislation in the offing that would make the taking and selling of photos with buildings in virtually impossible.

There is a online petition here,

so if you live in Europe and like your photography please sign.


Wisdom of the crowd

One of the hardest things to do as a photography starting out is judging the quality of your own photos.

There are a number of ways to gather opinion, However they all suffer from the same issue that while people are quite happy to praise a photo, they are far less likely to give you negative criticism. Even if they do, they will rarely give you any useful ways to improve it.

I have always been a fan of 500px since it is one of the few ways to rate my pictures. However it suffers from the same problem. While you can judge by the number of positive likes and loves how favorable received your image is, it will not tell you the opposite i.e how disliked it is.

Up to recently I have been quite good at picking out images for 500px and got some good scores. This recently however came to a shuddering halt when I put this image on.

Now I like this picture. It has an unusual angle, tells a good story, and rather than being a pretty image, I think has a certain gravitas missing from a lot of my work.

So how did 500px rate it?

It got a total of zero, nil, null point likes, loves or even views.

So I am left with the question. Why?

There are a myriad of possible reasons but some that stand out are:-

1. It did not get seen. 

One issue with 500px is that with so many images being presented the photo needs a good hook to drag people in. Not only that but the preview shot on the main page,  only shows a small part of the center image. If that small square does not stand out, then this will cause the photo to be skipped over.

Also upload timing is critical. If it is placed when the majority of the viewers are not around, it will be rapidly relegated to the pit of other failed photos. For example, I only tend to look at the 1st 10 pages of the recent photo page, I probably miss thousands of great photos for that very reason

2. It is not a 500px type photo.

 It is quite easy to recognize a photo that will do well on 500px. They tend to be bright, glossy, and vibrant. Black and white images that do well again they are the ones with strong blacks and whites.

This image is not typical of one of those.  If I was to describe it, I would say it was gritty. Not that gritty photos are not liked, but they are less likely to stand out from the crowd.,

3. It is not very good. 

However much we hate to admit it, this is always a possibility.  Maybe its my judgement that is at fault. In some ways this would be the most worrying, which is why I cling to reason 1 or 2.

The problem is how do I know which is the reason (or is it a combination of all 3). This is why negative critic is so important. To become better photographers we must learn to accept the good with the bad, however painful the bad is.Websites like 500px just don't offer this sort of feedback, and we suffer from it(I can see there could be good legal reason why such a service is not offered. I mean no one has ever been sued for giving out compliments)

There is also the opposite issue of accepting the wisdom of the crowds. If 100 people say they like your photo, and one doesn't, does that make your photo good? If the one who dislikes it is a photo judge, they may have better reason to not like your image than the 100 who do. It maybe those faults will become more apparent with time.

So how do we obtain negative criticism?

Friends and family are not likely to be a great source of help here. However one of the best ways is to put it into competition. Judges rarely hold back, and while many judges have learnt that if they want to be asked back again, not to go totally negative, they can often not resist it.

Often you get what I call, the Judge sandwich, where they start of by saying something positive, hit you with criticism then finish off with some platitude. Worse is when the mark they give does not match their comments.

I must admit for a long time I hated competitions due to the negative comments, but looking back I realise they had an important role in improving my pictures. At the present we are are in the society off season and I am surprised by the how much I am missing the lack of critic, good and bad,

Another way to get valid feedback is to form contacts with other photographers and ask for honest opinions.

Sometimes we have to accept that we have a photo that just won't fly. it does not necessarily mean its bad, just that it's time has not come. However if in doing so you learn something then you can gain something from it despite your disappointment

To use the quotation from Moonfleet "As in life, so in a game of hazard, skill will make something of the worst of throws"

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Breaking Bad

To learn anything requires you to repeat an exercise in the same conditions and measure your improvements.

In outside photography this can be a problem, because there are so many variables such as the light, the subject, and the position of the camera. even the lens used and the camera settings.

While often you can extrapolate from one photo to another, it is sometimes nice to be in more controlled conditions.

One way this can be done is via indoor photography. Here you can play around to your hearts content, with all sort of parameters while at the same time taking photos of the same subject.

Of course to do this it is great to have a room set apart for your studio. Unfortunately if you have a growing family, you are unlikely to be in that sort of situation, so instead have to work round the ordinary detritus of human life.

In my case this is the garage. Now like most garages, it has been many years since a car was ever parked in it, and we would struggle to even get a bike in nowadays. Needless to say then it is not ideal as studio,since we  have to fight around tools, drink and various large quantities of wood I have collected  over the ages "just in case" I ever decide to start a carpentry business.

However it has a number of qualities which any studio should have. It is out of everyone's way,. meaning I will not be disturbed. Outside light can be shut off if needed, and with a little re-arranging enough space can be had to set up tripods etc.

The project

 I have always wanted to try my hand at high speed photography, and I had a project in mind to achieve this, and this is where the garage came into play.

The project was to record  the breaking of glass.

Now there appears to be two ways to do high speed photography. Either open the shutter at a high shutter speed in strong light at the opportune moment, or leave the shutter open in the dark and fire a flash at the optimum moment(or a combination of both).

Now both of these require am accurate method of triggering at the opportune time, but the former method is likely to be the hardest, since there would always be a lag between shutter press and activation. So I therefore decided to do the latter.

For this I purchased a radio trigger for my flash. This meant that I could position the flash away from the camera with the trigger close to the subject I wanted to take. Also the trigger had a 3.5 mm din socket that would allow me to trigger the flash by connecting two wires together at the correct moment.

Although  this sounds complex, the real difficulty was triggering the flash at the right moment. The idea was to swing a hammer on a pendulum and at the bottom of the arc meet a glass object. At this point I wanted to trigger the flash.

Now there are a number of ways I could do this. A electronic method could be rigged that triggered the flash if a light beam was broken, or on a sound. However to keep it simple I put a bolt on the pendulum that at some point on the arc would hit a hinge, so make electrical contact and fire the flash. The bolt was used so I could adjust it. The hinge's purpose was so that in theory it would only fire once, since the hinge would fold out of the way.

So how did it go? Well initially I was going to try it with bottles, but I found out that bottles are   actually very hard to break, so I substituted them old type light bulbs which proved far more fragile

This is one of my 1st goes.

As you can see, it worked but the flash fired too early, so although the bulb is breaking it is not quite enough to be easily visible.

However this one was far more successful.

Still I think I can do better. For example the bulb holder has mover as the hammer hit, and it is just a few moments too late.  However I have already learnt some important lessons.

1. I thought I would need to do this in total darkness, which made me nervous of swing a hammer on a pendulum in pitch black with me and camera equipment around. However it turns out that if I set a low ISO, dim lighting is adequate.
2. Triggering is harder that I thought. The mechanism at present sit fires multiple times, which means I have to manually close the shutter, before the 2nd flash. Also adjustment is not as easier than I thought, so i will probably need to redesign the  trigger.
3. Glass gets everywhere, so put sheeting under the work bench and have a way of removing the light bulbs from there holder such as pliers.
4. Get a bigger hammer!. Actually securely attaching the hammer to the pendulum is one of the challenges I need to master. At present I user tie wraps, but they tend to come loose.
5. I will need a lot of bulbs.

Still it is promising. I am tempted to make a electric flash delay that would give be more control on when the flash goes off, but we will see. What I do know is that I will need a lot more light bulbs...

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Please be patient, normal service will be resumed ...

I know I haven't posted much on this blog recently, and you would be quite within your rights to think that

a) either I wasn't doing a lot recently
b) This blog had fallen the fate of many blogs and is now inactive.

Neither is the case.

I have probably taken more photographs recently than for a long time. Also I have a number of projects which I hope to document/describe at some point.

However the problem is time. The more photos I take, the less time I have to process them. This means in turn that I have less time to work on projects. All these mean that blog writing has taken a back seat.

Hopefully more time will be available soon, but in the meantime here are a few images that I have managed to get somewhere near to completion recently.

All of these are works in progress, so are rough, but nevertheless show promise

High key image taking in Nottingham
This was taken in Nottingham during a club photo shoot. to be honest I wasn't greatly happy with the results and I wonder whether I am cut out for going around in groups, but this was one of the better ones. I quite like B&W high key images like these, and this is the closest I have got to getting one to the standard i want.
Playing with glass

The next MPS photography is glass, so I have been playing around with some ideas. This was taken at home against a translucent background, and then heavily processed. As such it is not perfect and needs a lot more work, but shows promise.

Taken again in Nottingham from the Castle walls. I must admit I am getting a bit of an urban theme going, and I think this comes out well in B&W. It is a nice candid shot of a typical British housing state and as such I think it tells a good story.

Kings Mill over the river

Taken from the river Trent from the Aston-on-Trent side. I took a lot of photos that day, but a lot were ruined (or at least compromised) by a smear on my polarizing lens. But the bright buildings contrasting against  the dark greens works well here

I love poppies, but locating a field of them seems harder and harder these days. So when I saw this one nearby I had to go and take it(poppies have a very short flowering time, so you cannot hang around.) Of the photo's the contrast against the local power station seems to work well.

Again playing with Poppies

Again poppies but with a relative long exposure, zooming out. I think it works well and provides a different take on flowers

Tree at sunset

This is an image I am still thinking about. Leaving the large black space at the bottom is probably a competition fail, but.....I like it. I think maybe the composition is not quite there yet, but close


On top if that we had a trip organised by the Melbourne photographic society to Nottingham. As a result of this I put this montage together, with some suitable music :). I do like putting montages together and in this case I think it went together quite well..