MUSINGS

ONLINE PHOTOGRAPHY COMPETITIONS
Many online photography competitions require a fee to submit images and for that reason alone, the organisers are suspect. I have realised that such competitions are purely money-making ventures that generally cost very little to run, just a web page or two and the opinion of a judge who is often the organiser. With that in mind, I have ceased entering competitions demanding a fee. The prizes offered are an important consideration also if that is a motive for entering. I ask myself if the prize is something I want or need - of course money is a big motivator. If it's self esteem, kudos or publicity one seeks, then maybe there are more meaningful reasons for doing photography. Just my opinion.

MAKING A PHOTOGRAPH 
Making a photograph is opposed to taking a photograph. The perfectionists attempt to get everything right in-camera, as true to the subject and prevailing conditions existing at the time - maybe they achieve that but they are the only ones who know it. They are 'taking' a photograph and they miss the opportunities of carrying their images further by shunning post-tweaking. The pseudo-perfectionists do a bit of tweaking afterwards if their results fall short of their expectations. Others snap with little or no consideration of the outcome and rely solely on their camera's automatic settings. Each to their own. My preference is to 'make' a photograph - although I no longer have a darkroom or use film, the making aspect is still an important consideration because it allows for more creative input after shooting, with better results often being achieved.

WHAT TO SHOOT
Someone in an online photography community forum once asked "What can I shoot? I just bought a new camera and don't know what to photograph". I didn't bother replying because I thought the question was a silly one. After all there are photo opportunities everywhere we look - it's just a matter of recognising them. 


THE BENEFITS OF SHOOTING RAW
Film photography was unforgiving and that's what I liked about it. Some things could be improved in the darkroom during development and printing stages but most times it was a case of WYSIWYG. Since having SLR, DSLR and mirrorless cameras, I've never used AUTO and don't intend to, preferring to change combinations of settings to suit the purpose. Although that can be hit and miss at times, with digital cameras the results are immediately apparent and shots can be re-done if necessary. You might ask why not use AUTO - well, the simple answer is because better results can be gained. AUTO settings cannot be overridden and they are general ones based on what the camera sees and according to what a camera designer/engineer thinks is best for any given situation. 
Shooting in RAW mode requires conversion and editing software applications because RAW files are not usable until converted. My RAW files look dull and lack sharpness, tonal adjustment, vividness, contrast and saturation. That's what I've set because I want to 'make' a photo, not just 'take' one. For me, taking a shot is purely to get the composition and lighting right. RAW files with null settings is how the camera perceives the image without adjustments. Many people shoot JPG images which require little or no editing - the problem with doing that is the lack of image information for proper processing.

PAINTING WITH LIGHT
Photography really is all about images painted with light. To state the obvious, without light present there would be no image. Light falling within the camera is the single most important aspect of photography. Its direction, colour, quality and intensity can assist the photographer in creating mood/atmosphere, emotion, special effects and also the illusion of three dimensionality in an otherwise flat medium. Whether natural or artificial, obtaining suitable light for any given situation is one fundamental requirement for a successful result -  an image of a striking subject can be rendered ineffective by poor light. For outdoor photography, being in the right place at the right time to take advantage of the prevailing light is often very challenging. I have returned to some locations several times to obtain a suitable lighting condition. Reliance on strong light and shade is not always necessary for definition though - shooting on a dull, overcast day can yield acceptable results because the even, diffused light is capable of producing a softer, less harsh appearance. There are many aspects of light that can come into play – its strength, direction, the atmospheric conditions effecting it and the time of day. Sometimes it can be variable within a short period of time and can also be subtle or unpredictable. Understanding how a camera will respond to different light conditions takes lots of practice and patience, so visualising how a landscape for instance could appear in various lighting scenarios can assist in making decisions about the best time to capture it.




PHOTOGRAPHY WITHOUT A CAMERA
I'm referring to deliberately leaving the camera home and going out to shoot with the mind's eye. In a word, visualisation. My best shots have been the ones I haven't taken. How may times have we clicked the shutter button, only to be disappointed because the results haven't matched what we saw, or thought we saw? Shooting without a camera allows time for contemplation, to study the effect of light at certain times of the day and year, to freely compose and to generally open up the mind for future creativity. I've missed some great shots because scenarios were momentary but have filed those memories away for possible future action. Hopefully I will be on the ready next time such opportunities exist. Visualisation in photography is all about what happens before the shutter button is pressed. I tend to view most scenes as potential captures and holding back from shooting all the time has been a good discipline to get used to, helping me to be more selective. Sometimes I go out for the day with my camera gear, fully intent on utilizing it, but return without even taking it out of the bag. That's never a waste of time though because it's all good experience.

PERSPECTIVE PERCEPTION
Perspective is usually an important consideration in architectural photography because it helps create and represent three-dimensional objects and depth relationships on a two-dimensional surface. Wide angle lenses can be used to advantage to accentuate perspective and although the photographic results are not always realistic in appearance, can often enhance and dramatise an otherwise ordinary view. The old master painters knew all about perspective and often drew horizons, perspective lines and vanishing points on the base canvas as guides.



HDR PHOTOGRAPHY
Many photographers who knock HDR photography do so because they are concerned about their images not being faithful to what they perceived at the time of shooting or because they have had limited success with the method. What is recorded when the shutter button is pressed is not exactly what is seen anyway, because certain settings come into play either by the camera operator or the camera manufacturer via predetermined settings. DSLR cameras give us almost complete control over our photography, with a horde of settings for most situations, some of which are applied automatically if we have chosen to do that. Unfortunately their sophistication and sensitivity do not yet match that of our eyes and what we finish up with in awkward lighting/contrast situations is usually an unsatisfactory image that needs a bit of tweaking. Hopefully, future camera sensors will take all the variables into account and output imagery closer to what we perceive as reality. Until then software can assist us to reproduce to some extent, the full dynamic range of tones and shades apparent. The results are not always lifelike in appearance, but with editing skill one can get closer to the reality if that is the intention. An HDR image produced from RAW mode shots has the potential contrast ratio of 4,294,967,296:1 compared to 256:1 for a JPG file. To get the best out of your images and expensive gear, shoot RAW, adjust if required in conversion software and then save as 16 bit tiff files before further processing.
The examples below depict images before (left) and after (right) HDR processing from a RAW data file with in-camera settings of sharpening, contrast, brightness, saturation and hue all set to 0. [link]




ABSTRACT COMPOSITION
That probably seems like a contradiction of terms. Not so, because even an abstract needs composition to be visually effective. One dictionary definition of abstract is given as ‘difficult to understand’. With any form of abstract art, we sometimes need to be told just what we are looking at and only then can we begin to comprehend what was previously a mystery. The artist knew what was meant because he/she was the creator. Denying the viewer any sense of scale in an image can add to its abstract quality - so can removing a subject from its environmental context. That isolation whether done in-camera or by editing, can serve to make the subject, its detail, pattern, texture, etc., more apparent and poignant by drawing attention to something that may not otherwise be noticed. The possibilities are endless and are limited only by one’s imagination.

COLOUR AND MONOTONE
Just as monotone images can be used to a photographer’s advantage, so to can coloured ones. Instead of de-emphasizing certain aspects of an image, colour can be employed as a visual stimulus by directing attention to a certain part or parts of a composition. In that respect, colour can be utilized as an aid in composition by creating a focal point to which the viewer’s eyes are directed. Colour is an important consideration in evoking emotions and commercial photographers make good use of that in advertisements. Subtle use of colour can also be effective. When we are presented with a colourful image it can often be confrontational because our eyes are not as selective in seeking out those things we wish to see by eliminating others - as when looking at an actual scene. Instead, images for display get our undivided visual attention, so care needs to be taken if we want our photos to convey that certain something. Colour is an important thing in our everyday lives and can be a useful tool for our creative ideas. On the other hand, use of monotone can be beneficial by reducing an image to its tonal values. That can eliminate the visual distraction often caused by colour which does not always help a composition or its intended meaning. Colours create their own emphasis which is often misplaced. Black and white photography can be effective in creating contrasting images which emphasize light and shade and all the subtle tones in between. Although colour photography has given us a more realistic looking medium to work with, it is not always as challenging or as successful. All my darkroom work was black and white and I still enjoy dabbling with it now digitally. A combination of colour and black and white is a good way of de-emphasizing part of an image by removing colour where emphasis is not required. Without colour to assign importance to elements in a shot, tonal values become the means of expression. It's often worth converting to black and white to explore the possibilities and maybe achieve better results.








SCIAGRAPHY
Sciagraphy is the art or science of projecting or delineating shadows as they fall in nature. I studied sciagraphy for six months, drawing the effects of light and the shadows it cast on solid objects and the ground. When I was a kid I found a strip of old 35mm cinematic film that had been thrown out from the local picture theatre. I was fascinated by the fact that each frame was slightly different to that which preceded it and to those that followed it. I had a toy projector in which the film could be wound through manually and my interest in photography began. The light, shade and colour of the film impressed me and seemed magical. Getting my first box camera soon afterwards clinched my further interest and I've had many cameras since. The quality of light and shade are photographic elements that have been all important to me since those early experiences.




BUILDING HERITAGE
Old buildings are a rich source of subject matter for photographers. Not only are they usually full of character, but they exhibit skills and methods of construction that are virtually lost in the modern era. Although I like some recent architecture for its sleek lines and good design attributes, buildings from the past remain one of my favourite subjects. Unfortunately, with the rapaciousness of contemporary developers and general apathy and lack of forethought from the powers that be, much of our old and worthwhile building stock is being destroyed. It is the wise and thoughtful developer/architect/owner who can find a way to restore and give a new lease of life to our building heritage. Photographers can also have an important role in recording them for posterity.




IMAGE PROCESSING/MANIPULATION
This is something that most photographers do to some extent, even if it is only to adjust a camera setting. Software has made the things that were done to an image in the darkroom much easier. Those alterations that were once virtually impossible or at least often difficult to achieve, have now become a relatively commonplace thing. In spite of all the manipulative power at our fingertips, there are still the purists who maintain that the least that is done to an image the better. For me, photography is all about creativity and I believe that if an image can be improved in any way, then that has to be a good thing. The following sets of images illustrate before and after software processing - the top ones are the original RAW image data which had the in-camera settings of sharpening, saturation, contrast, brightness and hue set to zero. Basically, the finished images below were HDR processed and layer blended. Invariably, RAW images with settings nullified as mentioned can appear flat and dull - the idea being to give as much scope as possible with post processing methods. Producing images that simulate reality is not always that important to me, preferring to add my own input most times.



WHERE DOES INSPIRATION COME FROM?
While feeling uninspired about what to write here next, the thought eventually occurred to me that inspiration itself might be appropriate. Where does inspiration come from? For photographers, it can derive from many sources: art, the photographic work of others, visual media from which we are constantly bombarded, our environment both natural and man-made, books, magazines, the internet, music, etc. The list is endless and I'm sure you could compile your own extensive one. We are not only influenced by our own thoughts and those of others, but everything in our environment. Photographic opportunities are wherever we go, so being inspired by something is really a matter of becoming attuned to and exploring such possibilities. What at first glance may appear to be a boring subject and not worthy of photographing, could easily prove to be otherwise. In a world where instant gratification and throw away products have become the norm, it can be worthwhile sometimes to pause to 'smell the roses'. I take many photographs of varied subjects but am not always feeling inspired at the time and an idea may only emerge later as to what to do with a particular shot.

THE ESSENCE OF AN IMAGE
It has occurred to me that being a photographer is a bit like being an alchemist of times past. In an image, one needs to extract and distil the essence of a subject then present it, with or without context. The main challenge is to establish just what those characteristics are in any given instance - not an easy task for a photographer on the fly. Visualisation and instinct play a large part in discovering the magical ingredients and how they react together. There is no formula for this because every situation is slightly different and that is where trial and error though experimentation is important. A successful image is one that imparts a certain something to the viewer - I call this the 'essence' and when applied to photography it's more than words and images - it's a feeling projected to the viewer.    

INTROSPECTION, INCUBATION + EXPERIMENTATION
For several months some time back, my camera sat idle. It wasn't due to lack of inspiration though. Instead, I had been looking back at past images, some of which had already been processed and at others that had not had an airing. I experimented a lot with various techniques and ways of presenting stuff. It was a cathartic experience, delving into the pure essence of images and discovering what made them tick - what worked and what didn't. One of the exercises I set myself was using tritones to produce a series of images using exactly the same colour values of the tones each time and layer blending with certain emphasis to extract light and contrast. Sometimes HDR processing was implemented and layered with various editions of the original to achieve the particular effect wanted. The following image entitled 'Ethereal World' was from that period.