Basic Instructions

It never ceases to amaze me that no matter how many times one picks up a camera to shoot the potential to learn something new is always a pregnant possibility.

On Saturday I had an event to cover, a 12-hour day/night shift so naturally I checked all my equipment the day before and double-checked on Saturday that everything was there and working properly before I left: spare batteries, spare SD cards, all lenses as well as the camera itself.

In the past, when camera manuals were small books that came with the camera I always included it my kit bag. Why? Because if something can go wrong it will go wrong and it will always go wrong when you are working, so the book helps immeasurably with little quirks that sometimes happen – quirks that are interesting when you are at home and just playing, but stressful when someone is paying for your time. After doing this work for a few years one begins to think that there is nothing about the camera to learn, but a camera can always surprise you.

So I take my camera out of the bag, check that the dial is set to manual (I always shoot in manual) and then try to adjust the aperture, a flashing L appears in the information window and that’s it. The aperture changes in Aperture priority but nowhere else.

Things were happening and I needed to take pictures immediately so I worked around the problem for the entire event.

I thought at the time it was a software glitch, what else could it be my computer wire brain told me

It was the dedicated lock button. Three minutes at home the next day in a bright and quiet atmosphere was enough to solve the riddle.

My old 5D had the feature on the on/off switch, which often irritated me but I’ve never used the lock button on this camera, nor do I understand who or why one would. I think that, as I took the camera from the bag I inadvertently moved the sliding lock button half a centimeter, enough to cause the problem.

I now know what the flashing L means.

24-70mm, f2.8, 1/125sec, ISO 8,000

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meeting expectations

Berlin’s Night of Music takes place on the longest day of the year, and that was yesterday; consequently, we are now on the slow slide into winter. That’s not really a bad thing as I like the winter months. It’s also the signal to begin the marathon of festivals and events that make the summer months interesting.

Like we have done for the previous two years, I – along with a group of intrepid artists from the Brücke Kunst – took up our positions on the crossover bridge at Berlin’s oldest harbor near Jannowitz Brücke. We do this to engage with people, both young and old in the process of painting, modeling, etching rubbing, playing an unplayable instrument and posing for an almost instant photographic portrait, all for a bit of loose change.

It may sound odd but we are getting repeat business, especially for the portraits. One family has gone from one child to three over the period and they have sat for a portrait with each new addition, becoming old friends, although I was assured that there would be no extra child in next year’s picture.

The two young ladies in today’s image are sisters from Melbourne, Australia who are travelling Europe and only in Berlin for a couple of days.

And if you were to ask ‘Why do I find this picture interesting? Because it looks like any standard tourist snap shot” then I would reply, “Where are the flash marks, why aren’t the highlights (faces) blown out by the flash, and isn’t the light nicely balanced to bring out the blue in the night sky?” It’s a movie version of what a snapshot should look like.

It looks like a travel snapshot because it’s designed to look like one.

In post some grain was added, a vignette filter to darken the top and warmed the image up a little, but other than that it’s straight out of the camera.

The soft even lighting on the young women is not the product of skillful lighting on my part, but modern technology in the form of a ring flash that cost just over €100. that I was using as a key light in portraits for the first time yesterday.

I think it is important to consider what a photograph will be used for, which in this case is memories of Berlin, and that’s why it is the way it is.

50mm, f5.6, 1/180sec, ISO320, Yongnuo Ring Flash at ½ power

Light Comfort

It can’t be denied that snow makes the world just a little bit more colouful, brighter as well as colder.

While the rest of Germany has been deluged with storms and heavy snow falls, Berlin has seen very little of the bad weather, which has been both great and not so great.

The occasional long snow fall made Berlin brighter, but the weathers switching between warmer/colder temperatures has made the ground underfoot in the park where I take my daily walk treacherous and uninviting, no fun at all.

But for photographers snow is a huge bonus. This picture, taken in the rear courtyard of our apartment house comes alive because the cold blue-toned light contrasts subtly with the yellow incandescent lights, which to my eye makes for a warm and inviting picture.

Odd when you consider that it needs to be cold to give the picture a feeling of warmth.

 

FujifilmX20, f2, 1/30sec, ISO400

The End

And so a project that has kept me busy the last few months comes to an end.

Last night was the final evening of the literature festival and it is fitting that a good photograph should come out of the evening.

This is a picture of Elsye Suquilanda who is nervously waiting to go on stage for the last performance of the festival at the old Delphi Theatre in Weissensee. This wonderful old building, which was once a silent movie theatre, has found a new life as a dinner club. In contrast to many such old buildings that have been renovated in the modern fashion, the old Delphi has been modernised yet still retains the derelict look it had when the new owners took over and it is this unique feature that gives the place its undeniable charm.

Oddly enough this picture is a larger social statement than might first appear. Centered is the colourful harlequin who will perform, waiting to go on stage. She is surrounded by the dark clothes ubiquitous to the denizens of Berlin, the odd one out in the city where grunge is king.

35mm, f2.0, 1/30sec, ISO8000

Comparisons

I thought it a good idea to put up the original image from the latest of my relentless investigations into how the photographic process can be used, abused and manipulated as I struggle to get the camera and post-processing deliver the image I want.

Being digital the first thing I do after I taken a shot is look to see if the image is correctly exposed, but at the time the camera showed just a dark blodge with a highlight, it doesn’t look much better now, but this is the images that became the pervious post on the 25th , after minimal post processing.

As I’ve said before, technology, I just love it.

35mm f2.5, 1/20sec, ISO400

Experimental Accidents

Doing experiments like the one currently under discussion is more often than not boring for those with a less technical interest in photography than myself, but such experiments in fact make life as a photographer so much easier.

This picture was shot on Friday night under terrible conditions. The lighting in the room is tungsten, flat, and I deliberately underexposed by three and a half stops, in this and other photographs I shot during the evening. The results from this exercise were mixed, ranging from the just plain awful to this image, which, while I like it a lot, is the result of an accident rather than careful planned execution.

The grain/noise in this image is undetectably the same as film I’ve shot in this location over the years and it was achieved primarily in camera. A minimal amount of post-processing was done with Silver Effex Pro, free B&W software from Google.

Why is this important? Because I am once again resurrecting the book project that is/was Unreliable Truths, but this time I will have the help of a friend who will edit it and try and knock it into better shape, which means all new pictures will need to look the same as those shot ten years ago. Yes, I could manage it in Photoshop if I had the patience to endlessly experiment to get the right look, but it’s simply easier to get it right in the camera….

 

35mm, f2.5, 1/20sec, ISO400 (3.65stops underexposed)

woooeeee winter…

It was warm in 2015, but in spite of the sunny warmish days I managed to catch a cold, and then came New Year’s Eve, which was cold, cold, cold. Naturally I spent the evening on my balcony taking pictures, not venturing out because it was – cold.

The good news is my chest cold is gone, modern medicine is such a wonderful thing.

Stupidity, on the other hand, is injurious to the health. You guessed it – I now have a head cold from being out on the balcony without proper clothing (after all, I was at home and naturally thought the alcohol would protect me).

Now that it’s 2016 the temperatures have plummeted to minus 12 or so, too cold to go out with a camera so we have the very last picture I shot in 2015.

 

24-70mm, f4, 5sec, ISO100