Friday, September 28, 2012

(S)Praying To The Aliens

Mornin' playmates.
Well another weekend nearer to death is what I say.
We have had terrible problems with a great misunderstanding this week.
Mog (strangely) took umbrage with Mr.Sheephouse about his mention of spraying.
Now Mog was 'done' many years ago and he's a couthie cat, but he does take the hump about nothing, and this week he has done so quite bizarrely.
Yowls and tantrums is all it has been; wet whiskers; runny noses; yowling; growling; tail swishing - you name it, it has happened.
I can't be doin' with it.
It's no way to run a ship.
So when I threatened the both of them with a good old fashioned keel-hauling, and quarter rations for a month they stopped and made up.
Mog is now sitting on Mr.Sheephouse's lap and he is showing Mog some photographs of some very dull places.
Peace reigns.
All is good with the world.
But watch out for spraying anyway.
You've not lived till you've had a Circus Tiger spray out of his bars at you.
It takes at the very least a month of Sundays and scrubbin' with carbolic to get the pong out.


Sorry for the rather obvious Tubeway Army title for the weeks FB.
I remember being at school when Replicas came out - what an album and it still hasn't dated.
My friend Alan Currie bore more than a passing resemblance to Numan, and to say he was beseiged by the girls at Lockerbie would be an understatement . . . anyway . . .

Wot's This?
Pre-Blog Digression?
In a public arena??
A'll 'ave you arrested for loitering with intent to amuse . . .

Anyway, this week I think we are going to go all practical and try something that might seem like an anathema to some of you .  . though not all . . of course I am probably preaching to the converted, but you never know.
And I've been meaning to mention, if you've been referred from the Scottish Photographers site, welcome! We're Scottish and we're photographers - we need to stick together!
Anyway, you'll maybe know what I am going to be talking about here, because it is time to don the hair shirt and start whipping yourself with that thorny briar you'd been saving for just such a moment.
Forget normal Saturday morning routine.
Drop the bacon sarnie, in fact, chuck it in the bin, because it is for softies, and you have to prove you are hard . . . damn hard.
Today (no slouching at the back) could be a momentous Saturday for you.
If you had a mind to make some photographs today then that is great; what I am going to suggest might seem a bit severe, however keep going and you'll see that actually it isn't as severe as it seems , and it might actually be of benefit.
Now firstly, I am going to make one simple assumption about anyone photographically-minded reading this - you are probably not using film . . .

A little aside along a quiet country lane, where men looked dapper, ladies wore tweed skirts and the world seemed like a sunnier place.

As much as it saddens me to say it, film use seems to be dying on its feet.
Personally I feel myself being driven ever-deeper into a corner from which there is no way out except to get a bloody digital camera, and to be honest I don't want one. But that's just me. I don't know, there is something that just feels right about loading a roll of film into a camera and doing your stuff and processing your film. I definitely do not get it from looking at a screen, whether on the camera or at home. It just doesn't feel right. Am I mad? It seems to be perfectly fine for most of the rest of the world. I do question myself sometimes and often come to the conclusion that when the whole world seems to be heading in one direction, I turn right around and head in the opposite one. 
Definitely an innate sense of wanting to be my own man though. 
I find myself these days thinking back to the (almost) pre-SLR days of the 1950's and thinking how marvellous it would have been when all you had to worry about was whether you chose a slow film or a fast film, and whether your own mix of Stoeckler's Developer was still alright. 
As basic as that. 
And a nice place to be.

Anyway, this is more digression, so let's FFD to the sickly dayglo glare of modern times. 

If you are a digital user - welcome. I have no problem with that at all. I suppose image making is image making no matter what the medium.
What I am going to propose today can be easily done and achieved by anyone, with any sort of camera.
And unless you were the sort of person who always played the Banker in Monopoly and knocked your opponents hotels to the ground and whilst they were scrabbling around for them, helped themselves to hundreds of pounds from the Bank . . . hmmm . . . yes . . been there done that . . . (sorry Steve!) then you might find yourself being able to hold to this, because today we are going to be looking at something which whilst highly unpopular, will sort the men from the boys, the chimps from the apes, the dogs from the puppies . . . oh yes, ouch, ouch, oo-ya, ouch . . it's, ouch . . . 



Whilst being an altogether top-notch album written by Mr. Robert Fripp and his jolly bunch of gnomes, Discipline photographically is something that you have to adhere to . . . well, at least for today it is. And if you are willing to be a lab-rat for a day, I can promise that there's a rather nice piece of Emmental at the end of this maze.
It might seem to be a very obvious to want to make one photograph count, but as far as I can see, these days the world has gone as far away from photographic Discipline as it possibly could.
It is now the case that, because people aren't having to pay on a frame by frame basis for processing, they have been given the keys to the sweety shop and are no longer photographing (rendering a moment in time as a single image) but merely spraying.
By taking as many frames as they can in a small space of time (because the technology will allow it) and picking and choosing from the end result they are firmly based in the photographic school of the elimination of all doubt . . . to wit:

I spray, therefore I have a good image.
The camera knows best and I will point it in that direction and it will help me.

For example, having heard tales from a number of sources in very recent times, it is not uncommon these days for the amateur wedding photographer (and professional too for that matter) to come away at the end of the day with anything between 700 and over 1000 images!
Now if they can't see that something IS NOT RIGHT about this state of affairs then they really shouldn't be holding a camera.
Up the frame rate and you have film making, not photography - do you see what I mean? Buy a video camera, don't pretend to make photographs, because all you are doing is spraying and hoping you'll get a defining image and then picking the best one from your gander bag of sliced-up time.
Personally I find it a simple thing to imagine that this state of affairs has occurred due to an extreme lack of (here it comes again): Discipline.
Technology has given photographers the ability to make as many pictures as they like and as such the normal human qualities such as thought and trust in one's own abilities have been thrown out along with the baby and the bath water.


Humans are resourceful and talented, quick-witted and lightning-reactioned, so how come so many people are so distrustful of their own abilities that they decide to spray and pick?
Such activities do not a photographer make.
And doing that, I don't even think you can pass muster as a happy snapper either.
You (not you . . him over there!) have become a lumbering leviathan who spends more time editing down this giant pile of STUFF into something that looks passable than you did at the actual even itself!
More time seems to be spent on photoshopping than is spent on learning the craft skills and the compositional nuances that could make you and your compositions a thing of lightness and air rather than a twin-tub washing machine filled with concrete and pig-iron and forever never destined to fly!
Gosh it's sad isn't it.
Such actions must be based on insecurity - does that make sense to any of you?
The roots of this mad behaviour rest firmly with the large camera companies and the press photographers of the late '70's (yes I know it was developed a long time before that, but that is when it really came to the fore) who demanded mechanisms that could pass vast amounts of film through their cameras very quickly, hence the motor drive and (ugh, I can barely type it) f.p.s. (frames per second).
Machine gun cameras captured every nuance, and that attitude is still there today, mowing down endless advancing ranks of subject matter.
Millions and millions of rolls of film.
Millions and millions of pixels.
When one photograph could say it all.
I hate to harp back to Mr.Cartier-Bresson, but God love us, could that man say more with one photograph than any of the industrial-strength press photographers (of course there were exceptions . . I do realise that). And how did he manage it?
And a canny eye.
An ability to read a situation, and the en-erring ability to predict a moment in time and make sure he was right there. But the key of these was Discipline.
See how I started that with a Capital letter and in bold and green and in a  different typeface?
I did so for the simple reason that it is something that you have to learn.
This is important stuff.
Simple as that.


For today's excercise, I am going to ask you to imagine something - it might seem hard but it isn't. Users of Medium Format Cameras are used to this, so get with it and stop whining.
You are going to imagine your camera can only expose 12 photographs.
If you have a film camera and a 36 exposure film, that means you have 3 films. For today's exercise I am going to ask you to imagine you can only use 12 frames or the equivalent of 1 roll of Medium Format film. The same if you have a 24 exposure film . .that is 2 films, and you can only use one today.
So effectively you've got 2 or 3 concentrated picture making sessions at different points of time . . remember it is just one session today.
Yes there will be a delay in getting your film processed, but that is half the fun.
If you are a digital user, you could expose millions of pictures, however please, for the sake of this article, be true to its spirit and just expose 12 . .
There - I really appreciate that.
Oh, and  NO CHEATING .
This is the hard bit.
You can't go back and check your screen, until you have made 12 exposures, just as the film users can't go and get their film processed mid-roll.
It's fun, so don't worry. No body will get hurt. Your camera will be able to sustain a bit of menu relief, and you might possibly find it of some benefit.
Now for all concerned I am going to get you to ask yourself a very important question every time you think you might be about to take a photograph.
Even if you are using a medium format camera and so only have 12 or even 10 frames anyway, this is still a pertinent question:

Is this the world's most boring photograph?

Be honest with yourself and your eyes and your heart. If you can answer Yes, then it might well ensure that you turn away from that really dull landscape, or that picture of some vegetable vendor handing over a bag of veg at a market! I have been there and made many many photographs of such stuff and Lordy are they DULL!
My other tip for this is that rather than standing well back and making a photograph, try and get in close. This is especially important with Street Photography, where being in the thick of things works, but random snaps of stuff going on in a street often doesn't.
Think of all the inspirational photographs made on the streets of the world you have looked at. I would say the majority of them were taken at close quarters, because a photograph generally has to have a subject . . even if that subject seems inane.
So get in close.
Fill the frame.
Depending on the lens you are using you might well find setting a hyperfocal distance useful, and certainly if you are using a slower Black and White film just average out a shutter speed of about 1/60th of a second with an aperture of either f8 or f5.6. You'll find the films natural latitude copes very well with any exposure mistakes - honestly . . the older I get the more latitude (the films ability to cope with varying lighting situations) amazes me.
Now get out there and make some photographs, but remember you can only take 12, so anticipation is the key.
It takes guts, and it takes Discipline to control your shutter finger, but it will pay off.
Good luck and don't annoy anyone
Landscapes are a little different.
Your subject is generally far away, so in order to avoid the it's-over-there-I'm-over-here style of landscape photograph (which unless handled by a Master, can be painfully dull) try isolating a nearer object and using that as a focal point within your landscape. It is OK to make a photograph of a tree, so long as it is an interesting tree!
Wander around with your eye on the viewfinder (but watch out for those rocks . . and that p










Quite often a composition will jump out at you. 
I would also ask that if it were possible, you over-ride any auto settings on your camera and deliberately underexpose parts of your landscape. This can lead to large areas of darkness within the photograph, but I personally feel that landscapes are quite often improved by such things.**
Landcapes obviously benefit beautifully from atmosphere too, so try and avoid a mid-day scene and get out early in the day or last thing, or even if there is inclement weather. In landscapes, it can also be a useful excercise to make a number of compositions of your subject . . oh and don't forget the old 180 degree turn. I've quite often found that strangely turning around can elicit a better photograph than the one I was photographing in the first place.
Anyway, this is digressing. I am not a guru, I just want to pass on some stuff I have personally found useful.
12 exposures is limiting, but you know what, I have often been out in the mountains with my Rollei and come home with less, simply because I have been concerned about what I was making a picture of. So it isn't really as bad as it seems.
Anyway, hopefully you will be able to get out and do some concentrated photography, and when you come back you can look at what you have, or if you are using film you can wait a bit, forget what you took pictures of, do it another twice, get the film processed and have a lovely surprise (or not).
At the end of the day, the one photograph that makes you go YES! is the one that counts. The whole point of this page is that if practicing this simple thing can help you to concentrate more and learn how to Discipline yourself so that the urge to snap away at everything is replaced with a more considered view, then personally I think a better picture maker you will become.
It is a simple practice and as such requires practice.
And it is hard.
And frustrating.
But ultimately rewarding.
Just remember to keep asking yourself:

Is this the world's most boring photograph?

If you can answer yes, then turn away and try and find something different.


These are examples of two photographs of virtually the same subject matter. They are a style of photograph I enjoy taking and often are records of our ever-disappearing urban environment, but boy are they DULL.

world's dullest photograph
Peep O'Day Lane, Sunrise
These toilets were a relic of a by-gone age in Dundee.
They were demolished about a year ago

The first whilst of interest probably only to me, is very dull indeed, and could well hold the record for being the world's dullest photograph
It shows no Discipline and was a random snap whilst out walking.

Stairs 3
Whilst appearing to be in a correctional institution,
these are actually nothing more than a staircase at
the Olympia Leisure Centre in Dundee
at Sunrise

The second I prefer because it has atmosphere and because it can set your imagination going. 
Has anyone just passed down these stairs? 
Where do they lead? 
Why are there bars on the window? 
It was a more considered photograph, and what I saw and imagined as a print, actually came to fruition.
Anyway, enough of my rambling. please give this a go. 
Trying to be a  Disciplined photographer is a very good way to be. 
Hopefully you'll get to the stage where you don't need to keep spraying all the time
Please remember, it's a terribly bad habit and often results in neutering.
God bless, stay dry and as usual thanks for reading.

Technical morass ahead:

** Obviously extreme underexposure can lead to lots of problems too, so unless you have a bit of experience and can predict what your film/sensor will register, I would point your meter at a shadow area and underexpose that by 1 stop. That means that if the exposure reads say 1/60th of a second at f8, you could either use 1/125th of a second at f8 or 1/60th of a second at f11. In other words (to be basic) set your shutter speed 1 speed faster, or set your lens aperture one number higher.
If you haven't been able to turn your meter off, then use the AE lock on your camera - point that little square (or whatever the metering area of your camera is) in your viewfinder at an area that is just slightly lighter than a mid-tone in your viewfinder. You can often do a basic tone scan by half-closing your viewing eye. This breaks a scene down into blurry shapes, but that helps you concentrate on which bit is lighter, which bit is darker, which bit is just right . . 
Make like Baby Bear in Goldilocks bambino
What we want is just slightly lighter than 'just right'. Partially depress your shutter button to lock the meter and then, still holding it down, recompose your picture and make the photograph. This makes the camera adopt the settings like it was making that slightly lighter patch the average for the whole scene. Amazing as it seems, all camera meters, even sophisticated ones, come from the premise that you want to expose the scene for an average reading. In black and white photography this means a mid-grey tone! So if you want mid-grey everywhere, then just use your average meter reading. Colour photography is different, but generally colour print film has a pretty decent latitude (after all it was originally designed for holiday snaps); colour transparency film is a little more finicky.

1 comment:

  1. Just to comment further, a recent interview I heard with a contract national Geographic photographer revealed a stunning fact. He said, when shooting whales, that he took up to 80,000 photographs! 80,000! He normally boils them down to about 1200 and submits them. Imagine having to pay for film!