Holy white-balance setting, Batman!

You, my dearest readers (and oh how I appreciate you!), may recall my rather unflattering commentary regarding our tulips and how uncooperative they were this weekend past?  Yes?  Good.  However, I had not yet commented upon the fact that I have also been feeling a certain amount of animosity towards the blue jays that have been alighting upon our back garden decking for the past two or three weeks.

Not because they were alighting upon the decking and partaking of the bird food placed there for all to enjoy (all birds that is), but because they took off every single damned time I came anywhere near the window with camera in hand!  And as they are one of my more favourite birds it was really quite annoying.

But today I can report that I have finally, no, FINALLY, managed to grab a few images of these blue jays, who love to hang around the back garden deck.  I did not manage to get more than a few, but the mere fact I managed to capture a handful of images at all has left me feeling quite satisfied, almost smug.

It is with every intention I can muster that I will venture to the basement PC and get some 200-plus images off my 4GB media card and see if anything is worthy of posting to the Internet.  And I’m feeling so content I may even post them to my as-yet-utilized Flickr account.

I know you are very excited.

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Flickr, art, my own pictures, your pictures, and coincidences

(fair warning: this may be a long post but as everything I say is important so you should keep reading)

This morning I was, as usual, doing some of my best thinking, while taking a shower. My shower is where, for whatever reason, I relax and my mind tends to wander and I seem to think more clearly. This mornings topic wound up being about photography.

My photography.

My photography and what I am thinking about it, where I want it to go and what I want it to mean to me. In brief, or as brief as I can be, this is the conclusion to which I came: I am going to take pictures of whatever I want and do with them whatever I want.

I have experienced a variety of feelings over the past few months about what I have been doing and where I want to go, and I seem to have lost sight of my original reasoning for purchasing a dSLR (my lovely, lovely Canon 40D): because my point-n-shoot digital cameras didn’t satisfy my desire for quality images AND because they took way too long to actually ‘snap’ a picture. Too many high contrast photos had that purple fringing issue and you wouldn’t believe how many photos I took that didn’t come out because the subject matter (almost always one of the cats or dogs) moved during the actual capture process. Those digi point-n-shoots are just way too slow at snapping an image, especially without use of the flash. I really never thought much about post-processing of images (other than maybe crop & zoom) and while I knew I wanted to explore photography as an art form I wasn’t buying the camera for that purpose. I derive an awful lot of pleasure from simply taking pictures. Pictures of anything and/or anyone. As a matter-of-fact I think it is the actual process of picture taking that I enjoy more than anything else. Recording images of the more furry members of my family makes me very happy. Getting in the car and traveling to one of my more favourite parks to walk about and snap images brings me great pleasure. Trying to capture a decent picture of a winter cardinal, while elusive, is a great way to spend a morning. Just handling the equipment, the weight in my hands, the strap around my neck, the physical sensation of raising the camera to my eye….all work to create a sense of well-being within me.

Now, I think this train of thought was brought on, in no small part, by a blog posting I read yesterday. You can find it here. The posting discusses some particular techniques to use in Photoshop to create an effect that the writer believes turns an ordinary photo into something extraordinary. And it is a great effect. But here is what I thought was most interesting about his entry: when he shot the original image he already had in his mind what he wanted to do to it. I had a hard time wrapping my head around this idea. He scoped out a location, determined what he would do to an image in post-processing (to obtain his final result) and then shot images to take back home with which to work.

What?

I don’t think like that. I still have a hard time wrapping my wee little brain around this sort of work. Maybe it’s because I see post-processing software as a place to ‘fix’ things or to accentuate something or de-accentuate something. I don’t know. And while I KNOW that image editing software can let me do so many things, I, to be frank, never really think of it in that manner for myself. I take an image to capture a moment. To make a record of a moment in time. For me, it’s more a matter of accurately recording the moment than altering it to convey something more……(maybe this explains why I never liked the work of Impressionist painters until much more recently in my life)

So, I exited the shower feeling….well….feeling better about myself and my photo-taking experiences thus far. I had been comparing them to others (which is patently dumb) and to expectations I had created in my head based upon ideas that had crept into my brain, but which I hadn’t thoroughly vetted in any meaningful way. And suddenly I felt the urge to upload photos to Flickr and join the image-hosting world regardless of the fact that my photos are completely average by any measure. And that is just fine by me.

Now let us jump to this afternoon where I’m using the tag surfer option here in WordPress.com and I wind up over on Blogger (somehow – it just happens you know) and I came across this posting from Tim Connor, who is discussing an article he read by a New York Times Magazine writer named Virginia Heffernan, whose article can be found here. And between them both are interesting discussions of Flickr and what is a “Flickr” photograph. It seems they both generally agree, but with some divergence, that there is a certain type of image for which Flickr is famous: heavily processed with image editing software. Which, of course, brings us full circle; back to my shower and thinking about what I want from my photographic endeavors, and thinking about the posting about how to create a particular look with Photoshop, etc.  Clearly my aesthetic is not their aesthetic and for probably the first time since I began this process in December 2007 I’m okay with the idea that I’m not doing things like other folks.  I don’t have to be anything.  My pictures don’t have to be anything more than pictures.  My subject matter can be what makes me happy and all other considerations be damned.

Besides…..I guess this means I’m pretty avant-garde because my images certainly do not fit within the so-called Flickr aesthetic. Damn if I’m not super-fucking cool.

Timing is everything……wish I had it

Photography related web sites can offer a butt-load of useful information for the novice such as myself.  Composition.  Colour management.  Software tips and tricks.  You know what I mean.  But holy f-stop Batman, what about timing?

No.  I don’t mean shutter speed.

No.  I don’t mean shooting at dawn or sunset because the colours are so much more this and so much more that.

I mean having the right timing to take some pictures of the god-damn tulips while they were open and gorgeous instead of waiting till I get back from shopping, when they have closed up for the day because the clouds came out and the temperature dropped.

Ungrateful fucking flowers!

Pain, suffering and steroids

While I have posted some new photos (see them here, here and here) I haven’t exactly been tearing it up photography-wise for the past two weeks.  Truth be told I have been in no small amount of discomfort and pain for the past two weeks.  I won’t bother with the details, but let’s just say that walking has become difficult, painful and unpleasant.  I did make a trip to my doctor and he did his voodoo, but things aren’t a whole lot better.

To make matters worse one of the prescriptions was a short blast of steroids (to help reduce inflammation).  While I have taken prescription steroids a few times over the years I have never experienced such a reaction as I have this time.  Mood swings.  Constantly angry and nervous.  I feel like a bomb ready to go off at any moment.  Between my bum leg, sore back and these feelings of death and destruction you can imagine I haven’t felt particularly compelled to be expressive through photography.  Shit….I’m concerned I’d throw my lovely, lovely Canon 40D across the room in a fit of rage.

However, there has been an upside to this situation.  It has given me time to pause and consider (well, reconsider actually) where I want to go with this whole photography thing.  I have found myself caught up in competing desires and interests and I think I need to sit back, relax and just take pictures of those things I wish to take pictures of.  No more pressures.  No more need to feel like I’m doing something.  I’ll take out the camera and snap pictures when it suits me.  This is all I really ever wanted anyway, but I pushed myself into making it into something more.  I think I felt the need to pump-up my expectations because I was spending so much cash on this camera kit.  When you’ve been unemployed as long as I the extravagance of buying a dSLR almost screams “Now do something special with it, you twit!”

Oddly enough I have always enjoyed just snapping pics with the digital point-n-shoots because I was doing exactly what I wanted; snapping pics of things that make me happy.  If I’m not happy then what is the point of taking pictures in the first place?

And on an aside, I took advantage of the High Dynamic Range functionality built into Capture One to fix-up some of the pictures of the birds.  It’s a very handy feature and I’m glad I found it.  I recall that the Nikon D300 came with this feature built-in to the camera, but considering the software was free and the D300 was markedly more expensive I think I got the better deal.  Although I still love that D300….

Trying too hard

For a switch I’m not complaining or whinging about me trying too hard and not succeeding.  Quite the opposite is true – I don’t try hard enough!  Instead, something occurred to me today while reviewing pictures taken by others that had been posted as part of an online weekly photo competition of sorts.  Perhaps I should clarify; a thought that had been previously sewn was further cultivated today while reviewing those photographs and I feel compelled to talk about it here.

Please understand that this is simply my opinion; neither right nor wrong.  It is nothing more than my personal interpretation of what I see in pictures taken and posted across the Internet.

I wish I could convey exactly what it is I mean by a picture ‘trying too hard’ (which, I suppose, really means the photographer tried too hard).  It’s one of those things where I know it when I see it.  However, during a visit to the WC earlier today I contemplated what it is I mean and the word ‘cliche’ came to mind.

By cliche I mean things like the following:  shooting in or converting to black & white when the subject matter is something older (older car, older person, older house, etc.), overly-posed subjects (where any chance of the subject having been posed on its own in that manner is highly unlikely), a close-up of two hands holding each other (and often in black & white), etc.  How about a perfect example……I came across one image that was of an older car (1940’s or early 1950’s) stored in a barn with hay all about the place, a cracked windscreen and lots of dust all over the car.  The only cliche missing from this image was it having been shot or converted to black and white.

I guess you could say an image that exhibits this characteristic of trying too hard is one that has been done, and done a million times over by a million different photographers.  Sure; they’re artistic (or so I imagine).  Sure; they appeal visually (even I’m not that completely jaded).  I guess that’s why folks continue to shoot these sorts of images…..because they do illicit a positive emotional response from the viewer.  Yet the more I look at images posted online the more jaded I become about these types of images.

Unfortunately I’m just as guilty of doing the same things though.  When I’m out shooing pictures I know, I’m absolutely certain, that in the back of my wee little brain I’m thinking “Ohhhh!  I’ve seen this sort of thing before and it generated a very positive emotional response in me.  I should shoot it too!” or something to that effect.  And the flip side of the problem is that I will review my photos and tell myself they’re rubbish simply because are trying too hard!

Whatever happened to simply making me happy? (and I know what you would say Mike….)

Of course, if I were simply interested in making myself happy why then post my images online?  Worse still, why post only certain images online; those being the ones I deem to be the best, which means I’m likely utilizing my preconceived notions of what makes a picture great (which may in itself mean I’m trying too hard!)

All I really wanted was a better kit.  A kit that would allow me to take better pictures of my family, including the cats and dogs.  While digital point-and-shoots are just fine in the great scheme of things, they really are quite limited in their abilities and the images they create have a host of issues (as evidenced by any review found on any web site for a digi p&s camera).  I wanted more speed, quicker shutter release response, higher quality images at higher ISOs and image stabilization (which one can get on some digi p&s’s, but…..).

So what do I do?  Learn to live with photos that I think are trying too hard (including my own)?  Learn to do something different and stop judging my artistic interpretations by standards established by others?  Give in to the warm embrace of the system and learn how to convert everything I shoot into black & white?  I don’t know…….my gut reaction is to work outside the box, buck the trend and do whatever the hell I want.  After all, that’s what I have done most of my life (for better and worse).  Maybe I should stop posting my images?  Maybe the secret is to not put mine out there so that I feel a stronger urge to compare them to others?  Again, I don’t know.

It’s a tough spot and I’m not certain how best to nick it.

Curse the sun and all it stands for!

Last weekend was both sunny and warm, maybe too warm, so I grabbed my trusty camera kit and headed to the local park to take some pictures.

Photographs.

Images.

I headed to the local park to do that thing one does with a camera.  There.  The river, which runs through the park, was rife with feathered life in the way of Canadian geese and male mallard ducks.  Joy and rapture!  Somewhat willing subjects that typically behave if I approach them slowly and quietly and they were out in abundance.

I strapped onto my Canon 40D dSLR my Canon 70-200mm f/4L USM IS lens, checked my white balance setting, my metering mode, my ISO, etc. and turned the camera upon my slightly unsuspecting prey.  My prey was, as I had hoped, pretty cooperative and actually deigned to allow me within twenty feet or so.  After spending some time snapping away (and remaining in one spot) they seemed to become even more comfortable with my presence and THEY actually moved towards me.  Well, the Canadian geese did, but the mallards stuck with the twenty-foot buffer.  No harm, no fowl (come on…..that was fucking funny!).  As I snapped away with my trusty kit I kept telling myself “Damn!  I’m certain to have gotten some great pictures this time.  They’re close, cooperative and look great in this four o’clock in the afternoon sunshine.  Damn it’s a good day to be out taking pictures.”

“Photographs.”

“Images.”

“Shit.”

Anyway…..I spent the rest of the afternoon taking more pictures, but I felt that none would be as good as those taken first, with the mallards and geese.  One would think that I would be anxious to get home and see my craft.  To get home and see the fruits of my labour.  To get home and bask in the glow of my glorious photography skills.

Picture skills.

Oh Jesus H. Tap-Dancing Christ…..stop it already!

However, this wasn’t the case.  I actually didn’t review any of these Ken Rockwell quality shots until just last night while lounging in a recliner in my t.v. room.  Mind you, the laptop isn’t the best vehicle for issues of colour reproduction, but I was only reviewing them after all.  As I made my way through this batch of images (with such high hopes and expectations) I was suddenly filled with a sense of minor, but impending disaster.  Of the images shot when the various birds were on/in the water the images lacked detail in the bodies of the mallards and geese because I had been shooting in the direction of the sun.

Yep.

I know that shooting with the sun behind you is a far, far better thing to do and these images proved exactly why that is so.  However, what was I to do?  The other side of the river doesn’t have the mallards and geese: they only come to this side of the river.  And as it was in the mid-late afternoon I didn’t have much in the way of choice as to where the sun was located.  My bad.

Still, many of the pictures of the geese (who moved quite close to me and away from the water) are very nice and I’m looking forward to posting them soon enough.  And the ones of the geese and mallards in the water aren’t horrible, unusable, wretched, etc., but simply lack the detail I would have preferred as I was shooting the side of their bodies that was cast in shadow.  I guess I’m going to be learning something about High Dynamic Range in the next few days when I get serious and go through the pictures for the purpose of posting and printing.

Oh, and speaking of printing pictures I’d like to pass on a bit of advice I read last year.  Printing pictures (or having them printed) can get pricey, but if you have your own picture-quality printer (and I have two:  a Hewlett Packard C7280 and an Epson PictureMate Snap) I have read that a great substitute for high-end (and high-cost) photo paper is to use brochure paper with a gloss finish.  I haven’t yet tried it myself, but the author of this advice said it gives very good results and at a much lower cost.  I’m actually thinking of printing all the pictures I really like in this fashion and putting them into a notebook so that I can see my work over time and enjoy it on something other than a computer monitor.

You can thank me by sending money.

Soviet bloc takes over small Bedfordshire village…..

This isn’t exactly a posting about photography in the same sense as my other offerings, but something I just read left me with a distinct feeling of sadness and unease.

If you are reading this post I would assume you found it because you utilized the tag surfing feature in WordPress.com and had at least selected “photography” as a tag.  And if that is true then it’s very possible you have an active interest in photography.  And if this is true then it’s very likely you participate in the process/art of photography.  And if this is true then it’s quite likely you too have found yourself out and about, snapping pictures of local landscapes without a care in the world.  And if you have done such then it’s very likely you have never encountered a situation similar to the one described here.

Deranged, isn’t it?

How does society appropriately weigh security against paranoia?  Where is the dividing line between genuine and reasonable concern for the health and well-being of my fellow man and being stupid?  Since when was it a crime to photograph the countryside?  Since when was taking pictures of the countryside raised to a level such as to necessitate a call to the police?

All I know is that I’m very happy to be able to head up to my local park so that I can take some pictures and not become a party of interest to the police.

Well…..not yet at least.