“Incomplete and a little strange”

“A Ming vase can be well-designed and well-made and is beautiful for that reason alone.  I don’t think this can be true for photography.  Unless there is something a little incomplete and a little strange, it will simply look like a copy of something pretty.  We won’t take an interest in it.”

 John Loengard

Bumble bees buzzing around pink echinacea flowers

(photo taken at 1/800, f/1.8, ISO 100)

“Incomplete and a little strange” is something I have to learn to love in my photography. I’m trying. Often when I search through my photos I discover little treasures that I set aside because they weren’t just right. This photo is one I classed as “incomplete”. The focus wasn’t exactly where I wanted it, which bothered me so much that I couldn’t look at it and moved on. I didn’t rediscover it until a few months afterwards. I came across the photo and did a quick edit, just to see what would happen. It was only when I gave it this second chance that I realised it’s one of my favourites.

I’m trying to be more forgiving in my photography; allowing more space for life and less for attempted perfection.

This takes a lot of gentle (and not so gentle) reminders; I get frustrated when things don’t look like they “should”. I’m taking it gradually, one photo at a time…

Autumn Walk

The days are drawing in closer, and nights are growing long and cold.

I took advantage of a rare Saturday off work and went for walk in the woods with my brother to enjoy the last of the autumn.

Red leaves with text "...pavements crunch underfoot..."

(Photo taken at 1/320, f/6.3, ISO 320)

I love this season. It may be cold, but the colours are rich, the air is crisp and loaded with the rich smell of the fallen leaves that drift into heaps by the side of pathways. I refuse to grow out of jumping in these drifts, far too much fun.

Feet walking through autumn leaves.

(Photo taken at 1/60, f/5.6, ISO 320)

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Spring has truly sprung!

I love spring more than any other time of year.

It’s the season I eagerly wait for, and year after year, it never disappoints.

leaves and flowers with the sun shining through them, creating a halo of light and some camera flare

(Photo taken at 1/4000, f/1.8, ISO 200)

After about 5 months of cold, grey, drizzly English winter (okay, so technically not 5 months, but winter here kind of stretches across three seasons), suddenly one morning you pull apart the curtains, and the grey sky has become blue. The sun is shining, and glorious green has emerged seemingly overnight.

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A Lesson Learned…

Last week my friend and I were eating lunch in the park when a pair of Air Force helicopters roared through, the wind from their blades blowing bags off our bench.

By the time I’d pulled the camera from my bike panniers, the choppers were directly overhead. I clicked away until they were gone, then looked at my photos.

(Photo taken at 1/4000, f/5.6, ISO 800)

I confess that sometimes I’m rather lazy with my camera settings, thinking, “Ah well, I’ll fix it in Photoshop.” But after a month spent thinking and writing about creative exposures, the first thing I thought when I saw these photos was, “Oops.”

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Exposure – Aperture and DoF

This is part of a four-part series on exposure.

Click here to read an overview of exposure, and for shutter speed and ISO.

Aperture

The opening to the camera lens is called the aperture. You are able control the size of this opening, in increments known as f/stops, thereby choosing the amount of light you want to let through the lens and into the camera in one go. The f/stop numbers go from small; when the aperture is at its widest, to large; when the aperture is small.

To demonstrate, here is a lens aperture at f/2.8:

Camera aperture at f/2.8

f/2.8

And here is an aperture at f/16:

Lens aperture at f/16

f/16

While the shutter speed lets you chose how long the light enters the camera, the aperture lets you choose how much light is able to enter in that time. Closing the aperture is known as “stopping down”, while opening it is “stopping up”. Even though modern digital cameras generally have the ability to be set to 1/2-stops, or 1/3-stops, the range of full f/stops is still useful to be aware of because it corresponds to the standard range of shutter speeds (which is also more varied on modern cameras).

Full f/stop range: f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22, f/32
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The Subconscious Photographer

Sometimes I wonder if I make my photography creative choices as consciously as I think I do. When I first got my SLR, I carried it with me everywhere and took photos constantly. After a little while of taking so many photos, I began to be aware of unintentional patterns in what I was taking. Some of them were unexpected.

Walls for instance.

I didn’t notice the crisp geometry that you get in new walls, the rough, worn textures in old walls, or the variety of plants and vines that grow across them, until I began to find photos that I had been taking of them. I had subconsciously begun “collecting” them. Now I’ve made it conscious and I do keep an eye out for walls that catch my attention while I’m out taking photos.

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Exposure – Shutter Speed

This is part of a four-part series on exposure.

Click here to read an overview of exposure, and about shutter speed and aperture.

Shutter Speed

Last week we talked about basics of exposure – essentially what does what. I’d like to begin going into these in some more detail, starting today with Shutter Speed.

Shutter speed, aperture and ISO are inextricably linked together. To achieve your perfect image, all of them are equally important and they have to balance each other out. Sometimes this link is more or less obvious than at other times, but it’s always there.

There are countless combinations of these three elements that will grant you a technically accurate exposure… that is, provide enough light to show all the detail in the picture, without it being under or over-exposed. This is generally pretty easy to achieve; set your camera to auto and press the shutter button.

But the real fun begins when you start to look at possible photo opportunities with some understanding of the way each of these elements will affect your image. Then, instead of simply trying to get the right amount of light to create an “okay” looking photo, you can choose your settings creatively to gain the best result from the subject in front of you.

Before taking each photo you can think, “Do I want this whole scene in focus? Or do I want to isolate just one area and blur the rest?”, “Do I want to freeze the motion in my photo? Or would I prefer a stretch of sweeping motion-blur to create a different, more dynamic effect?”, and even, “Do I want this image to have a completely smooth finish, or would this subject be complimented by a more gritty, noisy texture?”

As you make a practice of thinking like this, and of experimenting whenever possible, more and more possibilities become obvious with every photo opportunity.

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Exposure – Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO explained

This is the first part of a four-part series on exposure.

Click here to read more about shutter speedaperture, and ISO.

Exposure – an overview

No matter how manual or high-tech your camera may be, or what kind of photos you like to take, what photography really boils down to is exposure. It’s all about making sure the right amount of light reaches your film or electronic sensor to create the desired effect.

There are three things that affect the final exposure: the shutter speed, the aperture, and the ISO. Each one of these aspects works with the other two to create a perfect image.

It’s impossible to go into any kind of depth on such a huge subject with just this one post, so for today I’ll give a quick overview of all three from both a technical point of view, and a creative one. In the following weeks I’ll write about each of them in more detail.

1: Shutter Speed

The shutter speed is probably the most commonly understood aspect of exposure. This is the length of time the shutter is open for, thus allowing light onto the film or sensor. It’s a very simple idea; a fast shutter speed is open for a shorter time and lets in less light, a slow shutter speed is open longer and lets in more light.

The shutter speed is measured in seconds, and fractions of a second. For instance, 1/250 is a two hundred and fiftieth of a second, 1/1000 is one one-thousandth, and so on, and if you take the speed down you get to full seconds, such as 2”, which is two whole seconds.

Creative effect

Apart from the way they control the light, each one of the aspects of exposure has its own special influence on the image’s style. The effect of the shutter speed is the way it captures motion in an image.

A fast shutter speed will freeze action, which is great when taking photos of children, animals, drops of water, or anything else that doesn’t stay still for long.

I dragged my brother out into the cold garden this morning to juggle so I could demonstrate this for you properly. These photos aren’t works of art, but they get the idea across. The first photo was taken with a fast shutter speed; you can see the juggling balls frozen in midair.

(Photo taken at 1/1000, f/1.8, ISO 200)

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On being a Photographer

When people see me with my SLR slung across my shoulders like an extension of my body, their curiosity is often piqued and they ask me, “Oh, are you a photographer?”

Even with tens of thousands of photos in my archive, with a Flickr account full of work I’m proud of, and having had photos published from time to time… how do I answer this question? Not with, “Yes. I am a photographer.” No, instead I tend to mumble and shuffle and say, “Uh, kind of… in my own time. I just like to take photos really…”

I was thinking about this yesterday and did a Google search on the subject (as you do). I searched for “being a photographer”, and was surprised (naïvely perhaps) to find that every result seemed to be only about how to make it in the industry and be a successful professional.

In the first 5 pages of Google results, I found just one solitary article that was about the love of photography as a part of a person’s life, and not about photography as a career choice. Maybe this emphasis on “making it” and being a professional is why I have a hard time saying, “Yes, I’m a photographer. I take photos because I love to. I look at them, I share them, I make no money on them, and I love every moment.”

In The Right to Write, Julia Cameron talks about how being a writer simply means that you’re doing the writing. Have you written today? Then you’re a writer. What if we were to use this theory for photography? Do I take photographs? Then I’m a photographer.

So for argument’s sake, lets just say that each one of us reading this has the ability to be a Photographer. Now it’s just a matter of improving our skills through practice, and having fun doing what we love.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s a beautiful spring afternoon and I think I’m going to go out and be a photographer…

P.S. Just as I was about to click “publish”, I found this article. It’s exactly what I wanted to say here, said by one of the Great Professionals. I love it and thought I’d share.