Rants and discussions

The Way

That way. Bronica SQ-A camera. Zenzanon PS 150mm f/4 lens. Shanghai GP3 120 film. Developed in Kodak D76. Epson V500 scanned film.

There is no one correct way in photography.  Sure, we should all learn the rules of lines, depth, composition, texture, colour, and above all, exposure.  But what are we striving to create?  I can’t really give a definitive answer to what I consider a good photograph.  Perhaps something with mystery, a suggestion of a story.  Something about a person, a culture, a place.  I like an image that is attractive, but then again, we all have our own subjective idea of attraction.

Photography is a journey, but that journey is different for all of us.



Wisbech car boot sale. Looking down. Olympus XA2 50p camera. Ilford HP5+ film. Scanned with a V500.

Online photography forums can be hazardous places.  Although you can find great advice and support there, you’ll also witness plenty of disagreements.  Indeed, those threads are usually the fattest, as different posters rip into each other over such merits as “is photography art?”.

I’m not that a good forumite, indeed, I’m a bit off them much of the time.  However, I think that I’ve observed a common root to many of the disagreements.  It’s simple.  There are many types of photography and photographer.  None are better or worse, however, their equipment, aspirations, and techniques are very dissimilar.  A nature photographer will be able to benefit from the longest and fastest of lenses for their bird shots, or incredibly expensive macro set ups for their micro-life.  A sports photographer will benefit from not only fast lenses, but from the latest cutting edge digital sensor with it’s low light performance – as would the concert or gig photographer.  The street photographer needs a small, un-threatening camera.  They might even be happy to use film for a medium.  The professional wedding photographer – well, they’ll need quite different gear.

The problem is that what is best for one type of photographer is not best for the next.  That’s where the arguments start, when they fail to appreciate that simple reality.

For myself.  I have little value of sharpness.  I don’t need the latest cutting edge gear.  I don’t need technical perfection.  My photographs are not (at least in my eyes) less valuable for lacking sharpness and detail in perfect exposure.  What suits my aspirations may not suit yours.

Monochrome, Rants and discussions, Sony DSLR A200 and Sony DT 50mm F/1.8mm SAM prime lens

Always Learning

Light on a Tuesday Afternoon. Sony A200 DSLR. Sony DT 50mm f/1.8 SAM lens. B&W conversion in UFRaw.

I’m bloody broke again.  Not so much tight fisted photographer, as the penniless photographer.  Still, I’ve got digital cameras, some film, and developing chems, so I can use photography in my leisure time until pay day comes around next.  Woke up this afternoon from night shift.  Time to start experimenting with what I’ve been learning recently.  I’ve not really been too happy with my photography lately.  Maybe too much mucking about with different technologies and formats.  So in order to improve things, I’ve 1). been heavy browsing Flickr and adding to my favourites – seeing what I like, and what other’s produce.  I’m particularly impressed by the works of some Russians and East Europeans using medium format film for portraiture.  2) reading on portrait photography and light, from old photography books.  3). Reading up on the same using modern websites.

I can see some of my weaknesses.  I need to get in much closer.  I need to think more about background.  I need to think intelligently about light – not just exposure value.  So, rising out of bed this afternoon, with a few hours to spare before another shift for the Man, I thought I’d use a DSLR for some experimenting.  Now here is where I’m going to praise digital technology for once.

A DSLR is a fine learning tool, if only beginners were to read the damned manuals, and avoid all of those crappy automatic exposure programs.  A DSLR not only offers (for those that bother looking for them) full manual exposure and focusing controls, it offers fast results to gauge progress from.  Ok, with some of my film cameras, I get the reward of having to set up and judge everything – as I said in my last post, that gives my film photography more value; but, a digital camera with accessible full manual controls provides a good way of learning photography.  You can quickly evaluate your success and mistakes then move forward.  You can read the exif data of your images – a complete record of your technique.

My usual recommendation for beginners that want to get into photography these days is to buy a DSLR – a CHEAP DSLR though.  Not to worry about it’s bloody brand, or what DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHER magazine says about it’s lack of HD video or GPS.  Just buy a DSLR – used, pass down, last years stock, entry level, or whatever.  Don’t get sucked into the Nikon V Canon bullshit.  Any brand as long as you can still buy one or two decent lenses for it.  Use it as an educational tool, train with it, learn about light, exposure, composition, lines, subject, focus, dof, etc.  Just don’t use it as a point and shoot in an auto exposure program, with a kit lens fitted.  After a few years of learning technique, you can upgrade if you really feel the need to do so.

Getting back to today.  So I still have lots to learn, my photography has lots of room for improvement.  No time for digital, I grabbed my Sony DSLR, decided the 50mm prime lens was ok for my close up portraits.  Then I grabbed Nita, removed some of her clothes, and plonked her near the window light as I farted around with my one gold/silver reflector, aperture, exposure speed, ISO, and angle.  “Move this way, look that way”.  I can see that reflectors can be used, and I appreciate now how important it is to align the light with the subject.  Later on, I loaded the images into UFRAW.  Now, UFRaw may not be the software tool of everyone’s choice, but I am a fan of Open Source, and I’ve used it for years – originally on Linux operating systems.  Not only did I use it to correct some of my sloppy exposures, but I used Channel Mixer to generate monochrome .jpegs.  My favourite method of making digital b&w images.

So, there we go… Cheapskate digital b&w photography.

Tuesday Afternoon. As above.

Cameras and equipment, Rants and discussions, Sony DSLR A200 and Sony DT 50mm F/1.8mm SAM prime lens

The Learning Curve

T L R. Lubitel 166B medium format TLR Camera from the USSR. Taken with Sony A200 DSLR camera and Sony DT 50mm f/1.8 SAM lens. B&W conversion via free open source UFRaw.

Funny how different amateurs take different paths into photography.  I mean, judging by the multitudes of digital photography magazines on the newsagent shelf, for most, it’s all about the latest Canon or Nikon D-SLR, reviews on the latest gear, tutorials on how to use Adobe software, HD video, GPS capability, brand name camera bags, and you-must-buy accessories, etc.  The emphasis is on becoming a ‘pro photographer’.  Someone with a big full frame Canikon DSLR, and battery grip, snapping away at young models in a fully equipped studio.

Not all of us are drawn into such a market-centric style of photography.   Some of us just enjoy capturing light, even by a variety of forms – digital and chemical.  We like to develop our skills, learn new techniques, look at other people’s photographic expressions.  Some of us even enjoy doing that with old equipment.  Cameras with soul.  Cameras where you have to decide on aperture, shutter speed, range, focus, etc.

I call it the Salt n’shake factor. I need to explain that.  When I was a small boy, here in England, packets of potato crisps (Americans call them chips) came in one flavour.  Natural fried potato flavour.  However, a little packet of salt would be included.  You opened the crisp packet, fished out the salt sachet  and shook it into the crisps.  Then you’d shake the bag to disperse the salt.  These were later replaced with Ready Salted, Cheese & Onion, and even Salt & vinegar flavours.  No need to salt them – it was done already.  Years later though, the food processor revived the Salt n’ Shake variety!  Why?  Because they realised that people enjoyed the food more when they had to do something to it.  Photography is like that.  We enjoy challenges.  Taking a clear sharp image with a digital point & shoot is great, but it’s so much more rewarding if the photograph has had effort, thought, and know how poured into it.  To be honest, it usually shows.

Hence the challenge of using old and cheapskate film photography equipment.  Digital photography is great – I use it frequently.  It provides instant imagery.  But for fun and rewards, film photography using cheap old camera from car boot sales – waiting for film to be developed, setting the camera exposure controls – unbeatable.

Where are our magazines?