Sunday, July 31, 2011

Initial exercises AoP

Getting on with the course - a few exercises to complete and a few things to occupy my thoughts on the day.
The AoP initial exercises leading to the first assignment, on paper it seems fairly straightforward, though in the end I don't get as much completed as I thought I would.

The first exercise of differing focal lengths I had this planned out, a viewing gallery and changing the focal point to differing arches. The aperture set at F1.4 and at 1/1000th sec

Focus at the far wall

Focus at the mid distance

Focus at the front wall (of which there is only the top left showing!)

Well it didn't really come off that well so I'll probably do it again. The focus point was changed from front the back and is obvious only in the third image  the other two images don't really provide the effect that the exercise was looking for i.e. image separation on the focal plane, so I'll change the subject and do it again.

Focus on the furthest prow

Focus on the middle prow

Focus on the nearest prow

The effect can be best noticed on the sign on the far bank.

Exercise 2

The next exercise seemed to go better - the object being to witness the effect of shutter speed on a image, the nicely positioned fountain delivered the goods. Keeping the focus point constant and varying the shutter speed to witness the effect. I suppose any moving subject would have provided the effect - the constant trade-off of shutter speed and aperture brings differing feelings to the image.

F16 @ 1/40 sec

F8 @ 1/160th sec

F1.4 @ 1/4000 sec

F16 @ 20 secs

The last image I added a 10 stop ND to emphasize the effect, water rolling over stones, or a weir work very well at exposure over 30th a second (depending on the speed of the water of course). What shutter speed one chooses is always a matter of what one wants to depict, and whether the item in focus is the object or the subject. For the pictures above only the second one down reveals what is at the end of the aisle behind the fountain, the rest depict the distance enigmatically either by lack of focus or blurring of the water, which could well be a device for image creation.
The picture below was taken with a zone plate  lens cap and depicts an ethereal view of the same subject. I will return to this in my next blog entry.

Exercise 5, filling the frame

Rousham House - about 3 miles from home has a particular resonance for me as Michael Kenna took pictures from near here and his "Rousham Folly, Oxfordshire, England, 1982" is plate 5 in his "Twenty Year Retrospective" Nazreali Press (and thoroughly recommended it is too). William Kent designed the garden for the house and there is a great deal of pomp about it. I chose the following subject for the exercise, it maybe that there might be too much space around it, but it provided scope to investigate the potential as described in the text. It may be because I'm a novice at posting images but on my screen they do not seem to coming out too well! I'll ask for help here when I've finished this posting.

"The Fallen Gladiator" is clearly in a state of terminal decline, his posture is fallen and on closer examination his limbs and skin are not in great shape!

I skirted around the subject for a while and came up with some different aspects.

If the artist's original intent was to depict imminent demise then I think these - albeit colour shots - offer more to that end. The statue is on a plinth, not shown in order to provide a clearer view, which when viewed as a whole limits the level of detail available to the viewer. Closer in and the viewer can appreciate not only see the resignation on the face of the gladiator but also the decay that has built up over the years; something the original artist could not have designed - though may have imagined. These closer shots do provide greater scope for creative angles, though with the statue on a plinth, maybe a ladder would have helped!
Contrast was important across all images and the most difficult was the wider view shot. Sat on a plinth with no real chance to bring any background in (unless I waited for a very cloudy day, preferably storm clouds!). I decided that generating an HDR image would be about the best I could do, to bring tone in to the background and enable some detail to be revealed in the statue. All the close up shots were much more straight forward in that the background was all at statue height and the evergreen foliage was contrasted very well.

Friday, July 29, 2011


I have been thinking about this subject for a while and it seems an appropriate time and place to put them down, whilst not on paper at least in a print form. My photography has fully spanned the analogue digital divide and whilst I could see all the deficiencies in the early digital process I never had a problem adopting it as a creative medium when it reached my critical threshold. This may be to do with my background as an electronic engineer, I had also seen the transition between analogue audio and digital audio and been very happy to adopt that technology. Or maybe it was that my ability in analogue image creation was still rising at the time of transition, I had not peaked at all and, with the advent of digital,  I just adopted it and continued to grow with it as a photographer and as an artist.

But I do feel that whilst we have gained a huge amount with the advent of digital we have lost a level of control irretrievably and have relinquished some of the creative control to the industry in much as the same we have done with modern cars. I used to be able - through financial necessity and simpler engine design - to maintain a motor car. I have a BMW and their maintenance centre manager confessed to me recently that their technicians do not have the ability to maintain them anymore, they simply fault find, replace the offending item and return to factory. I have never really wanted or felt the need to maintain a camera - even with a fully manual film camera - my mechanical dexterity would in any case forbid.

I first thought in any depth about this subject when I started to photograph in colour, which only happened when I started to use a digital camera in earnest; up until then colour was for social occasions only and monochrome was for photography(!). Previously, whilst I kept colour and monochrome separate in my mind – monochrome = art, colour = everyday, those then twin paths kept a moderate distance from each other. I have been taking digital images, and therefore colour for 5 or more years and whilst initially I would naturally pre-visualise in monochrome and then convert to monochrome to “see” how well I had created, I have gradually moved to see images in colour as having equal merit in the process of making images. What I have realised through the technical challenges of both making monochrome and colour prints from digital sensors is how fleeting the truth can be in a photograph, and it is the artist that can deliver it and never the camera. My first “photography” book was John Hedgecoe’s Introductory Photography Course”, for those that do not know it, it purported to take the novice photographer from camera choice through to photo project, I still have it and refer to it from time to time. The book is divided up into two halves with the first being a guide for the novice to get to understand the mechanics of photography, camera mechanics, light, focus etc before embarking on actual image creation and that philosophy still holds true, it still provides a good grounding into photography. The book provides guides on how to gain control of the camera’s basic functions and how to take as much control of the processing element as well. I had a completely manual 35 mm film camera at the time and it helped a lot. Digital cameras now are like modern cars, there isn’t anyone who can fully determine how one is put together, what compromises have been made, what profiles, what sensor characteristics have been mapped into the digital signal processor, what the performance of the analogue to digital converter is, what the sensor filter matrix performance and tolerance levels are. The best we can hope for is that we can get at the RAW data and we can calibrate the output mechanism to recreate the scene as we anticipated. This realisation helped me come to the conclusion that our ability to tell the truth is now further away from reality than it was in the analogue world. Not only can the eye not see what the lens depicts, its shutter speed capturing a moment in time that the brain would be unable to comprehend and framing an image artificially dependent on lens choice. But also the algorithms that have been calculated in a laboratory somewhere, probably in Japan, provide a compromise that we have not only no control over, but also no ability to override even if we had any understanding. The structure of the editing software that we all need to use, from the RAW converter to CS5 or Elements, the printer driver and profile - the choice of inks or the screen (which has probably got the greatest level of variance of them all) all conspire to detach us from the actual image which we saw prior to engaging with the viewfinder.
Or does it? Can we take these compromises and merge them with the traditional distortions of cameras and lenses and deliver a faithful image? It is only the author of the image who can answer that. The camera's software, the inherent chromatic distortion etc. make no value judgement on the image it is only the author. Only the photographer can say whether any part of the image he elects to crop out or add in upholds the truth and again, post processing of an image isn't exactly a new phenomena, air-brushing on nitrate negatives (with graphite pencils) was rife in the 1930's and '40's see "Hurrell's Hollywood Portraits" by Viera p's 55 & 56 published by Abrams.
So it is a matter of faith, the camera can only lie, the photographer is able provide the truth given the technical competence and awareness and of course the desire to do so.

Ok, now I've got that off my back - I'll get on with the course!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ctrl 0

I am an electronics engineer by profession and for me, design, the creative element of engineering, is a wonderful thing. There is a beauty in the process of developing something that didn't exist to solve a problem that prevents a process from happening or enable a movement forward in the comprehension of an idea or function. My contribution to this spectrum of ideas was never going to be huge, if even measurable, in the great scheme of things but I can say that what is there now that wasn't previously, and its existance is there by dint of my own power of thought is a good feeling. This creativity, this desire to build something from scratch, has always been in me; I drew as a boy, made wooden things in the garden shed, played with Lego (without plans). It is an itch that I've never wanted to scratch. I don't design electronic things anymore, the pay was terrible and I also had a knack in the commercial arena so I moved into sales and that is where I remain, until retirement, I suspect.
I have been a photographer for a score or more years and for the last decade or so I have taken it "seriously". I wanted to take control of the creative process from the very outset and whilst the bulk of my early photography was family shots processed at photo labs I felt a need to get an enlarger and start to control the process myself and put more of myself in it (or maybe it was take more of other people out of it?). I now think I'm a competent photographer with a good grasp of the technicalities of the image making process, both from an analogue and digital process perspective; I have used, and still do use, completely manual cameras as well as cameras that offer fully automatic operation. I use film and digital capture cameras and continue to feel that both offer appropriate image creation capabilities sympathetic to different subjects. I have exhibited and had images published. people have paid money for my work which hang on their walls - and that gives me a great deal of pleasure - probably more so than my electronic circuit design of thse years ago.
So I wondered how I would feel when I received my AoP pack from the courier this morning, I suspected that the course would be a back to basics primer for it is designed as a foundation module to ensure a minimum standard of competency, and I was right. I've spent a couple of hours reveiwing it, spoken to my tutor and then sat back and thought how should I approach the first assignment. Well, my first thought was that I've never had any formal training as a photographer. I've read a good deal on the subject and I have a circle of very good photographers who are very happy to discuss photography with me and I have a large number of monographs of famous, infamous and hardly known photographers that I've collected over the years. My conclusion therefore is that I will work on the assignment with as fresh a mind as I can muster.

The early computers that I designed had a very rudimantary software functionality and as these systems were developed it would often be the case that the system would need restting, the hardware would "hang" as the software would hold the computer in some perpetual loop. The control to reset the computer was often hitting two keys Ctrl and 0. it would bring the system back to the beginning, reset all the registers all the variables and bring the system to a known safe condition. I suspect I need to hit ctrl 0 and check all my perceptions and I think that should be fairly straightforward to do from the technical perspective. It will be all too difficult to "unlearn" what I feel about the art of image creation as that didn't come from photography, rather it has come from my life to date. My "art" has come from a life of looking at pictures, from literature, from the theatre, music and, well, just about everywhere; so I guess I will inform the technical reset with whatever I have in my art locker. As Primo Levi wrote in one of his great books "The Periodic Table":  "That conquering matter is to understand it, and understanding matter is necessary to understanding the universe and ourselves.." I don't profess that whatever I will do in this course will help me understand the universe but it might help me learn more about myself and how I interact with my universe.
Ctrl 0