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

An Advantage of Age

In a world where the old is thrown away for the next new thing, I think we may be missing out on some of the sensational things that the old things can do best.

This bucolic rural image of country Germany was shot with a 10-year old 5d, no, not a 5D mk11 or mk111, the ignored first model. A camera that has so many stains on the sensor from years in the tropics that it’s unadvisable to shoot with an f-stop of more than f5.6.

Coupled to old faithful is a cheap Sigma 28-300mm zoom I use when on holidays, it is also an old lens (about 15years old, but glass, not plastic). The picture may not be as tack sharp like it would be if shot with my 6D and a pro lens but would such equipment really help me get this image like I wanted?

The original picture, which has had a minimum of post processing, was easily made to look like it was shot in the early 20th century. The picture is about memories, looking back.

What I am trying to say is, don’t get rid of the old equipment, it may just be what you need to get what you want.

 

5D, 28-300mm, f5.6, 1/600sec

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)

Exposing Experiments

I’ve had a friend who is also a photographer visiting me in Berlin the last few days, so naturally we talked about photographic trends like the ubiquitous selfie/selfie stick and all the other happenings in the photographic world.

As we discussed these things we looked at images I had shot in Vienna and when we saw this image (which was grossly underexposed in the shadows and consequently never processed) we both agreed that it was a shame the underexposure made it useable and yet it was indicative of the quintessential Vienna café society I had heard so much about.

After she had left Berlin I thought I’d process the picture just to see what would happen and found the result very interesting.

What I’ve learnt.

Digital sensors are so remarkable it’s very hard to make a picture with the coarse grain of high speed film in camera . Normally lots of post-processing is required.

To get a photo with soft, course grain, that resembles high ISO film, early experiments have shown that it is imperative to grossly underexpose to create the film like characteristics that the digital revolution disposed with.

The whites are already in place so only the mid-tones and blacks are going to be excessively noisy/grainy, which is what I’m after

Post-processing of this image was very basic; I increased the brightness until I had details in the dark shadow areas, cropped, toned it and added a faux border for effect. Even the most basic free software can do this.

50mm, f3,2, 1/125sec, ISO100

Why Today but not Yesterday

I’ve always been intrigued in the how and why we/I choose images to either develop or exhibit (in any manner). What is the guiding factor and how do different sensibilities make for an interesting or boring set of pictures is a question that greatly interests me. I realize the entire process is very subjective and that a great many things play a part in the decision- making process, but knowing this doesn’t stop me being curious about it all.

When I shot this image last year I was thinking about it in colour. Later, when back in Berlin I processed the picture to exemplify the soft pastels that I saw at the time, and I was content. Today, in my mind I saw a different potential for this image and as a consequence developed it in a radically different manner (bottom picture), which I presume reflects how I’m looking at the world at the moment.

Thinking about this as I write, I realize that now there are more and more questions arising, not just about the way I chose to process the photograph in a specific manner but why was this picture the one chosen today.

 

Fujifilm X20, f4.5, 1/250sec, ISO100. I was asked whether the camera setting I use is Aperture or Time priority. Neither, the camera is always set to Manual.