Wednesday, 30 May 2018

The Army Game

I'm in a bit of a rut at the moment, photographically speaking.

It has happened to me enough before for me to recognize the symptoms. Basically I start going into happy snappy mode where I take 100's of photos with no real vision in mind, in the hope that something good will come out of them. Part of the problem is the time of year. Summer is always a difficult time to get good light, so I take what I can when I can.

This normally means wild flowers, but like a footballer over complicating things, I am just stretching too hard to get that great image and as a consequence trying to force the conditions and environment to my will, rather than accept and work with what I have. I just snap away ending up with 100s of the same image with no real idea what to do with them.

Of course I try to shake things up and do some things different. for example, I have now a couple of vintage lenses which I am trying out, but in some ways this makes things worse since I just end up with 100s of the same image, this time through a old lens.

When I get in this mode, I have to try and break the cycle. One way to do this is to step out of my comfort zone and try something different, something which starts your photographic brain of auto and gets it thinking again..

With this in mind in decided to go to a 1940 re-enactment fair at Tutbury castle.

Now to be honest I do find these kind events a bit contrived.

I see loads of images taken at these sort of events in photo competitions, and they look fine until you realise that they are very staged and lack much originality.  (I also wonder why exactly people want to spend a weekend dressed as Nazi storm troopers, with all the historical baggage that comes with it, but each to their own)

However the event gave me two opportunities. Firstly I could practice street/portrait photography, which are areas I'm pretty weak at. One advantage of these sort of events is that the participants generally know that they are there to be photographed so are happy to acquiesce.

Secondly it would allow me to practice something I have been trying to improve at and that is to develop a narrative when taking photos. So instead of just turning up and snapping away,  I need to think about what I wanted my images to say and try to achieve that.

In the end the narrative was to create a bit Robert Capa-esques type images like a reporter of the time would produce. So after a binge watch of a band of brothers, off I went. (Ironically I suppose I was playing a role too)

The 1st challenge here was to isolate the subject from all the visitors and any non-period objects. In events like this, it can be quite challenging to do and while of course you can clone some of it out, it is still easier to avoid as much as possible.

The 2nd issue was getting the correct feel to the images. Again of course this can be done with post processing. Niks Analog effects is great for this sort of work. However one thing I realised during the shoot was that  there would still be an issue, and that is the images would just be too sharp to feel authenticate. Not so much the subject itself but the background bokeh was just to clean. This is difficult to fix post-processing wise

Therefore I flung on  my Zenith Helios 44-2 58mm lens. This is an old Russian made lens and while not exactly equivalent to a 1940s lens, its optics and lack of modern coatings makes it far more comparable. Of course it was manual focusing only, but again this made me think a little harder about the image I was going to take.

In the end, both methods created the results I wanted. I think I like the old lens results better since it has a less contrived feel to them, but maybe that is because I know which is which. I

The important thing though was it allowed me to step back and rethink my photographic priorities. So if anyone else out there is in a rut and feel they are just churning out the same thing, my advice is to stop playing safe and take some risks. You never know what you might achieve

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