Aimlessly Pontificating on Photography

Posts tagged “opinion

Shooting with Primes.

My blog has moved, see the new site at http://blog.badlightgoodlight.com

 

My main reason for buying a Pentax DSLR when I outgrew the previous camera was the value it represented. Compared with the equivalent Nikon or Canon models it was significantly cheaper. And, according to the many reviews I had read, there were a lot of little features that were useful that weren’t present in competing models.

One of the things that I have now learned is of significant value is the number of fixed focal length (prime) lenses that are available for Pentax SLRs. Lenses that were made decades ago for Pentax SLRs can still mount the new digital SLRs that are available now. The Pentax “K” mount is well known and popular and has been around for over 30 years. And lenses from the preceding M42 mount can be fitted with a simple adapter.

The point of this is that, more than any other manufacturer, there are hundreds of cheap, excellent lens available for the Pentax DSLR. Most of them prime lenses. Having such an abundant resource is a major selling point for a manufacturer that always seems to appeal to the hobbyist, rather than the pro.

Zooms have become the pervasive standard but t wasn’t that long ago when the lens you got with your SLR would have been the standard 50mm lens. The ubiquity of the zoom lens sees most DSLR kits being sold with what is now called the “kit zoom”; a lens covering a reasonable zoom range usually from a wide angle to a moderate telephoto. These tend to be made as cheaply as possibly and, though competent for what they are, are not considered “good” glass. These kit zooms tend to be fairly slow also, having a fairly narrow maximum aperture.

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Shooting a wedding.

My blog has moved, see the new site at http://blog.badlightgoodlight.com

I came across an interesting acronym the other day, FDLFSW (Friends Don’t Let Friends Shoot Weddings :)). Unfortunately, if any of us used to listen to good sense there would be no need for priests or lawyers (good riddance to both?). Well thank goodness for me good sense has to be the least used product on sale since the birth of humanity or I’d never have been able to afford my hobby.

Well I am, if nothing else, a man of my species, so when my good friends asked me to shoot Joan & Gerard’s wedding as a backup to her brothers, Mike and Andre it took me a very short while to say yes. They are no longer my friends.

Mr. & Mrs. DeFreitas

Nah, I’m just joking. It did teach me a valuable lesson though. Although I had accepted intellectually that weddings are challenging to photograph, it is different to actually do one and realise it for yourself. I did something right at least, I realised right at the beginning that it would be difficult and that I really didn’t know what I was doing.

Key to doing an acceptable job in these situations is to understand your limitations. Without a keen understanding of what you can and cannot do you, are quite likely to make a mess of things. Getting a shot of an important moment, even if not technically skilled (poor choice of exposure, not properly sharp/focused) is better than missing the shot altogether. And while a technically inferior shot is permissible when you are a backup, it is completely unacceptable when you are the primary photographer.

If you take on a wedding and you don’t know what you are doing you are not merely risking losing a client or friend, you are spoiling the memories of what is likely to be one of the most important events in the lives of a number of people.

My favourite photo to date with the 31mm

Knowing all of the foregoing I still decided to confine myself to two lenses (no zoom; gasp!). The first is the Pentax 31mm Ltd which has been described by some as one of the best 35mm lenses ever. What I like best about this one is the absolute pin sharpness and resolution. It is a very fast lens too (f/1.8), and works well in a dimly lit cathedral. This lens is a favourite because it gives a “normal” field of view on a camera with an APS-C sized sensor (smaller than 35mm full frame). This means that it approximates the angle of view of normal vision.

One of my preferred images with the Vivitar.

The other lens I used is the Vivitar Series I 105mm Macro lens. A mouthful of a name for a lens that is far bigger than its name implies. There is very little formal information available online for this lens because it was last manufactured sometime in the 80s! You can find some specifications, if you are interested, here (Kiron made the lens for Vivitar). I got mine as part of the close out sale of a camera shop that had a set of them new in box and paid less than half of what they are going for now, used. It is also a relatively fast lens (f/2.4) but manual focus. And not just any manual focus either; the precise 6 turns infinity to close focus that you need for macro focusing.

Another “difficulty” is that Guyanese are generally very conservative, and change or the unusual is not welcome. Anyone who has looked at my photos realises that I tend not to like the normal viewpoints for most subjects. I had visions of some low to the ground shots of the bride entering the church and something from a high vantage point obscuring by distance everyone but the bride who would stand out in her gown (since the wedding was at Brickdam Cathedral, I am not sure where I would find this vantage point).

I also wanted to get some photos of the bride getting ready and confusion in the house, the groom stepping out of the car that brought him (car door open, interior obscured by shadow, groom’s foot about to touch pavement :), etc. In other words I had a lot of ideas. Unfortunately, reality conspired to knuckle me in the head and things moved quite a bit faster than I had anticipated. I was quite shocked that they wouldn’t stop the proceedings to allow me to get THE shot 🙂 And no matter how accommodating my wife and the bride, I doubt that either of them would have allowed me to start taking photos from the time the bride started brushing her teeth for the morning.

 

Wedding Music

I digressed a bit, but the point I was trying to make is that had I the opportunity and time to do what I wanted to do there is a good chance that the bride and groom would not have liked the result. So perhaps a good thing since the photos were not for me, but for the bride and groom.

The challenge of using the two prime lenses was mitigated by the location. The church allowed me to make quick changes in perspective, so if I needed to quickly get a closer view and had the 31mm lens on the camera, I could quickly move closer. And likewise, if I had the 105mm lens on and needed a wider view, I could quickly move back. This works only within limited parameters as the switch was between a wide angle lens and a telephoto lens, but was sufficient if I didn’t have time to switch between them.

At the doorway

The wedding reception after the ceremony was a different situation. No wide aisles and seating arranged in a grid. No space to easily move further away. Plus I got tired and lazy. Too much work to get a good composition with prime lenses, too much work to keep changing lenses. So I switched to a wide angle zoom; the Pentax DA*16-50mm. This is Pentax’s pro level wide zoom and as fast as a zoom gets (f/2.8, but very soft wide open).

 

Panning shot.

One of my favourite photos of the entire day was taken with this lens. A panning shot of the bride and groom making their entrance across the room. Someone asked me why I used a blurred shot. This one isn’t blurred, at least the bride and groom are sharp, but the background is blurred as I was panning the camera. I like these types of shots because they give a strong feeling of movement. This one came out better than I expected.

I did use an actually blurred shot also. Once again because it imparted a feeling of movement and action to the scene. But the very fact that I was questioned for these choices make it clear how conservative Guyanese viewers are. Aesthetics are bright colours and sharp focus; things like creative composition and unusual angles are frowned upon.

I did assert my own sense of aesthetics to some extent with the processing of the images. Although they appear to be monochrome, they are actually significantly, but not completely de-saturated. The contrast is very soft (although the images are sharp, the sharpness isn’t emphasized) and the tones soft also.

I came away from this experience with one abiding vow. I won’t do anymore weddings. Plus I gained a whole new respect for people who do this for a living (at least the conscientious ones). If the bride or groom flubs a line during the ceremony, they get to do it over. If the photographer fails to take the right shot at the right time, no do overs + very annoyed client. Not an easy job. But looking back at the photos that I consider good, I can see how it can be very fulfilling.

Michael’s photos are here; and Andre’s are here. My full set is here.

P.S. If you want a complete set of applicable acronyms, have a look here. Quite an amusing article.

 


Composition.

My blog has moved, see the new site at http://blog.badlightgoodlight.com

NOTE: This is republished from a note I posted on Facebook on May 20 (with minor edits here), before I started this blog.

Afternoon Repose

The picture on the right is a good one. No point in false modesty. It is good not only because the composition is good, but because the exposure is exactly right and the focus and sharpness are perfect. Seen full size it looks far better than the little thumbnail on the right.

How did I spot the shot? Most people (non-photographers) would just have walked past it. I spotted it because I have been working hard at improving my photography for the year so far. Not only actually taking photographs, but looking at photographs from good photographers and reading voraciously.

Do what I have been doing and the odds are, you will never walk past a shot like this; or an equivalently good scene for the various different types of photography.

There is an unending supply of talented photographers around and the ubiquity of cheap digital cameras has allowed a vast number of people to explore their talent. It is hard these days to make your voice heard in the huge volume of good photographers now trying to be heard at the same time.

There are a few things that are key; lots and lots of practice, lots and lots of superior photographs in your portfolio and knowing the rules (and when to break them).

This one photograph, good as it is, is not going to get me anything. A few people will see it, a smaller number will like it, and nothing much will come of it. This is the reality of competition.

What will get me recognition (and you too if you are interested) is relentlessly producing good quality work, recognising that any kind of success can take a while and lots of self promotion.

Have a look at my photographs here.

And while I consider my picture above to be good. Have a look here to see what I consider to be a great photograph (photographs that can change the world). The depressing nature of that scene and others he had to witness were thought to have contributed to Carter’s despondency and later suicide.


So Far.

My blog has moved, see the new site at http://blog.badlightgoodlight.com

I’ve been at the 365 thing for 6 months now (just a few days shy) and it has been both hard and easy, disappointing and fulfilling. One thing it has not been: boring.

I’ll try not to be too tedious today, but having completely impulsively decided to take at least one picture a day for the year on the first January, I am now stuck doing this for at least six months more.

The First

I supposed that I had some vague and ephemeral idea that I would try to take good pictures everyday. Though surely not. It certainly hasn’t worked out that way, in any event. As you can see (to the right) things didn’t start off with a bang.

It was a scene I liked, with the backyard and snow through the sliding doors and the soft and dreary light in my aunt’s kitchen. But this gives an idea of where I was in terms of what I was seeing at the beginning of the project. Nothing much.

So it was hard at first, partially because there was a challenge finding something to photograph in dreary suburban Scarborough in the heart of winter, but also because I was (and still am) working on seeing when I look.

Returning to Guyana made things a bit easier at first. I had my own transportation and could get around to places whenever I wanted. But it also gave me a much wider range of subjects.

Urban Hurry

The suddenly easier hunting probably set me back developing that “eye” to spot the scenes that I would like to photograph. Because they were all around me, for a while it was less of a challenge.

On the other hand, what had been forced to develop in Canada stood me in good stead and I think the overall quality of my compositions went up noticeably after my return. So did the number of “good” images I was taking.

Like all good things, however, the easy run has been slowly tapering off. I have had to get back to being very determined and directed in my search for a shot.

Why is it worth all this headache? Because in six months so far every aspect of my photography has improved tremendously. From ease in composing, to control of my gear, to the ability to “see” a good shot. I’ve even gotten better at being in the right place, at the right time.

Right Place, Right Time.


OT: Road Users.

When crossing the road, look later.

My blog has moved, see the new site at http://blog.badlightgoodlight.com

I hesitate to suggest that Guyanese road users are a unique bunch, better to say in my experience they are a unique bunch. Just a few weeks ago there was a grizzly accident. A minibus conductor had the misfortune to have his head and shoulders out of the bus window when the bus was in an accident and rolled over.

Hard road, hard bus, not so hard head (except metaphorically), I think you can see where this is going.

This sticking the head out the window thing, is a regular practice of minibus conductors. Prior to the accident they all did it. No doubt, because I used the word “prior” you now think I am going to say they have stopped doing that. Nope, they have not. This is where the uniqueness comes in; they really do have hard heads. It does not appear that they can be taught a lesson.

They are not the only ones. I’ve had some degree of experience with road users in other countries and none of them share the apparent sense of entitlement and indiscipline with which Guyanese road users are afflicted. People will walk across the road in the path of oncoming trucks carrying huge containers without a look right or left. I see this everyday. Thank goodness for strong brakes.

I wonder if any of these people have ever seen a truck in the emergency section of the hospital? Or in a mortuary?

I hate to sound like an old fart, I am only 29 after all (maybe if I say it often enough the universe will make it so), but in my day road use was nothing like it is now.

Undoubtedly, a significant part of the cause is that there are more and more uneducated road users; both vehicular and pedestrian. But that cannot be all there is to it. Education first; I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t being told by a parent, or a relative or a teacher that I must look both ways before crossing a road. Apparently, the implication that you must not cross if there is a vehicle coming is no longer part of the lesson. But while educational standards have dropped, this is a matter of commonsense and no matter how uncommon it may be, I cannot believe that so little exists.

I saw an accident a few days ago; a lady was crossing the street between cars caught in a queue. She walked straight out into the path of a car that was attempting to “jump” the queue. She didn’t look, plus she was crossing in clearly dangerous circumstances and the driver was in such a hurry that he couldn’t stop. She was hit by his wing mirror and didn’t appear to be injured, but it could have been significantly worse had the timing of their meeting been just slightly different.

It may be cultural or a sign of hard times financially, but people genuinely don’t seem to care what may happen to them if they don’t use the roads properly.

I think the biggest problem is a sense of entitlement; that they are entitled to use the road and act in any manner that they please, and goodness help those who get in the way of their entitlement. This sense of entitlement either exacerbates the problem or causes the problem. I happen to think it is the cause of the problem.

Drivers don’t seem to understand that 2 tons of steel traveling even at relatively slow speeds will kill, and pedestrians don’t seem to grasp this basic concept of physics either. Speeding drivers invariably get the blame for collisions with pedestrians, but I have personally experienced pedestrians walking straight out into the road in front of me; and have seen it happen to other drivers.

When crossing at a busy intersection, look straight ahead.

I witnessed the death of a cyclist when he was decapitated after being struck by a truck. He (and his passenger) rode across first one lane then into the other lane of a busy highway from a small village street. He nearly caused an accident in the southbound lane which he crossed first (and in which I was traveling) and he crossed the northbound lane right into the path of a truck. I saw the truck swerve to try and avoid him and I also saw that the truck was traveling fairly slowly.

What could have prompted the cyclist to do something so obviously foolish and dangerous? And this wasn’t some youth who you might expect to act foolishly. This was a grown man with children. Fatalism? He didn’t really care what would happen? Or a sense of entitlement? Did he think he was entitled to use the roads in any manner he chose?

When stopping at an intersection, ensure you place yourself in maximum danger.

Drivers rarely extend courtesies anymore, minibuses certainly don’t save for exceptions that merely prove the rule.

I was being driven by my wife somewhere the other day (a fairly rare occurrence) when another driver jumped a stop sigh and crossed right in front of her. No accident, thank goodness. But when she had the temerity to toot her horn at him, he stuck his head out his window and launched a tirade at her. We couldn’t hear what he said, but he was clearly very angry. Why?

A lady traveling in the opposite direction to me, crossed into my lane to pass an obstruction in her lane. I had to reverse to allow her to pass. In passing, she told me I should have seen her flashing her lights and stopped earlier so she wouldn’t have had to wait on me to reverse. I didn’t know how to respond to that, I was so bemused.

I strongly suspect that many of the fatal accidents in Guyana can probably be laid at door of that sense of entitlement that Guyanese road users have. I once thought that this might be curable, but a quick look at our society as a whole reflects that this sense of entitlement and disbelief at the temerity of other to question this entitlement begins at the very top and works its way all the way down to the bottom.

Breaking the law and being road hogs, minibuses and private car alike.


Shadows.

My blog has moved, see the new site at http://blog.badlightgoodlight.com

I was discussing with a friend a little while ago about what a photograph should be. This isn’t a new argument between us, it has been going in one form or another for years. As we have grown and talked more and thought about things our thoughts have matured but remained essentially the same at heart.

The issue is this; what should a photograph be?

Anyone who is passionate about photography will recognise this as the loaded question it is. To a professional the question likely doesn’t matter much. The question of what a photograph should be is usually answered by the parameters of the job.

An amateur (people like me), however, with nothing to do but talk about photography endlessly; about how bad their cameras are, how much better their photographs would be if they had better camera, how noisy brand x is, how much better than their own camera brand y is; in other words, anything but actually going out and taking photographs; relish these questions. Questions like what a photograph should be, are endlessly fascinating.

To my point: For my friend (with whom I always argue) a photograph should be representative of the scene in front of the camera and should only be taken of something that is inherently “interesting” (a nice sunset, for example). His position isn’t that simple, of course, but I have to simplify for the sake of illustration. My understanding of what my friend is saying is that a photograph should not embellish or represent the scene in any way, other than the way it is presented on the frame of a camera pointed directly at the scene. A forensic approach I call it.

I don’t want to give people what they expect, I want to give them what they didn’t originally think of. That way, after they have seen my picture, it will not be what originally attracted them to the scene that they remember. It will be my picture.

I believe that when people see a picture of a particular “feature” of what the scene originally was, as long as they recognise it, it will hopefully evoke the feeling that they originally felt (like a smell evoking a memory, for example). If my photograph is of something they have never seen before, then it should evoke an emotion which will cause them to remember my picture of the scene.

And that is the bottom line, people don’t remember something that doesn’t arouse a feeling in them. People remember the things that make them think. Whether it is disagreement, pleasure, puzzlement, anger or something else.

So all of that didn’t really answer the question I posed. Sorry. This is my answer, it may or may not be the right one and it most certainly is not the only one. Photography is an art form, it is what we want it to be. So even though my friend and I will continue to argue about this endlessly, I believe that even his forensic approach can be art. A photograph should be, then, whatever the photographer determines that he wants it to be.

So why did I name this post “Shadows”? I did mention that I have a different (not necessarily unique though) take on most scenes than most people. For me, this (and many other things) is what a photograph should be:

Or this:

Or this: