When I was studying I once sat and considered the role of chance in photography and concluded that chance plays a useful role in photography for all sorts of reasons. One thing I did not consider though was the chance of accidentally and unknowingly changing a camera setting and getting home to find all your lovingly crafted interiors have been shot at ISO 12,800. My initial reaction when this happened to me recently was disappointment (emotion), my second reaction was to wonder how it could have happened and what I might need to do to prevent a recurrence (pragmatic and problem-solving) but my third was to wonder whether or not I could make something of the golf-ball sized digital noise or grain as I prefer to think of it (artistic opportunism).
The third response is perhaps a result of many different things, knowledge (I’m aware of the potential provided by film grain for example), experience (too many times in the past had I deleted my ‘mistakes’ without proper thought), artistic sensibilities (I recognised that the subject was still inherently interesting) and opportunism (here was a chance to use the ‘grain’ to enhance the atmosphere of the images).
The camera in question was newly purchased, this was our first outing together, and as I have never owned a camera with a touch-sensitive rear screen before I had not appreciated the potential for inadvertently changing settings. It was also the first time I had purchased a camera with no viewfinder and I found it very disorientating framing and composing images. Probably very intuitive to the iPhone generation but not to me. It was also strange not having all the shooting information in front of my eye. It is second nature to keep an eye on shutter speeds when shooting in AV mode for example, and a shutter speed of 1/2500th second indoors would have alerted me to something amiss with the camera settings. The new toy does not display this information when composing for example, it is available as a seperate display however so I will need to get into the habit of skipping to this screen regularly in future. Some serious learning took place on this first trip as can be imagined!
I rarely bother sharing processing details in my blog but as the processing is an important part of the overall aesthetic of this set and therefore may be of interest to the photographers amongst you here in note form is the workflow adopted. RAW Conversion in ACR – increased Clarity by between 20 and 40 and added a Strong Contrast Curve, both of these emphasise the textures in the image file Mono conversion in Silver Efex Pro – High Structure preset, tweaked brightness and mid-tone structure to taste and added a vignette. This combination helps produce the effect I wanted Final touches in Photoshop – local dodging and burning as required before saving without sharpening
Yesterday I mentioned “that snicket” in my post without really giving much information save that it is in the Dean Clough area of Halifax. Now fans of a particular photographer will probably work it out just from that one word – “snicket”. I refer of course to a particular photograph taken by legendary British photographer, and hero of mine, Bill Brandt called simply “Snicket, Halifax” and made in 1937.
My interest in Brandt stems from that single image from 1937, which as well as being an iconic Brandt image is also one of my personal favourites. I am currently re-reading Bill Brandt:Photographs 1928-1983 which covers every aspect of his art from his early days in 1920’s Paris onwards and including his studies of the English, portraiture, landscape and his 1960’s nudes and is a fabulous introduction for any one interested in finding out more about Bill Brandt. As well as an introductory essay from Ian Jeffrey (Head of Art History at the University of London Goldsmith’s College from 1970-1987) there are four factual appendices and a useful bibliography.
Whilst the essay sketches an interesting picture and certainly gives a feel for the man and his photography it doesn’t really do more than scratch the surface in my mind. However, it was a fascinating read and led me to research and learn more about someone who has been described as one of the greatest British photographers.
It is clearly difficult to cover the entire works of such an icon of the twentieth century in two hundred photographs but they do give a real flavour and in fact the Guardian newspaper is quoted on the cover as saying “This superb book is the definitive collection”. It’s hard to argue with such a statement as I have spent several hours absorbed in this book over the last couple of days and this is on a third reading too.
There are many highlights but the landscapes from the north of England resonate most with me. “The Northern Capital in Winter” (p132) is a masterclass in minimalism and use of receding tones as too is “Over the Sea to Skye” (p138). “Top Withens” (p135) uses shadow and tonal changes as part of the composition turning a potentially bland foreground into a key element of the composition and strengthening my resolve to learn more about his post-capture interventions. Another composition featuring Top Withens (p140) makes great use of highly contrasting black and white tones.
Having found a connection via the Halifax snicket I was fascinated to see a 1948 image entitled “Coate Water. the horizon of Richard Jefferies” (p142). Whilst it doesn’t say so this can only be Coate Water park in Swindon, close to the home of Richard Jefferies (1848-1887) a Swindon-born writer and a regular haunt of myself, Swindon born and bred, in the 1960’s and 1970’s. I was also a pupil at the school named after the writer for four years. Tenuous and slight certainly but another small link with the photographer.
Researching and getting under the skin of a favourite photographer can be very rewarding in itself but can also lead to new ways of working and presenting your work. I will present a series of Brandt-inspired landscapes in a future post and it is fairly certain that without the research these images would never have come to fruition.
Brandt, B. (1993) Photographs 1928-1983. Thames & Hudson, London
One of the challenges for photographers, especially those for whom it is not their full time profession, is in maintaining a level of output that enables one to keep practicing and honing your skills. My favourite way of keeping myself photographically active is to have a few long-term projects on the go at all times. These are not time-bound but ongoing series of images which I can return to whenever the need or indeed the opportunity arises.
Today, we are in one of my favourite haunts – Dean Clough in Halifax. I visit Dean Clough most days as my wife works in one of the offices there and of course Olivia has her studio there. My approach to this location could loosely be described as psycho-geographic as I rarely have a set agenda and therefore just turn up with my camera, wander and see where my feet or indeed my eyes take me.
I’ve been looking back through my 2014 diary and found this entry from the summer, when I was recovering from an illness and which I thought I’d share today. So, imagine that the sun is beating down outside, the pavements are uncomfortably hot and there is a refreshingly cool pint of lemonade on the table.
It’s far too hot for me to be out for long at the moment but I had a quick stroll through part of the Dean Clough complex this morning, a short detour back to the car and I was glad to get some exercise at least.
I’ve walked this snicket before (no, it’s not that snicket although it is 100 yards away) and today with a high sun the shadows and contrasts were compelling. I had a compact camera in my pocket so made a small series of images. Back home they were all processed virtually identically to maintain a consistent look and feel across the set and all have been digitally toned selenium.
The lack of progress on some of my other projects is frustrating but at least I was able to spend a little time today exploring a small area with the camera and producing a pleasing set of images. One thing that occurred to me whilst working on this series was the concept of consistent processing. My experience recently has shown that such an approach can bring a set of images together visually and avoid any jarring from differences in appearance.
As photographers it is important that we are continually learning and challenging ourselves. Working a few local spots regularly over a long period of time is one way that I try to keep myself challenged. Being relentlessly dissatisfied is another way although it can lead to frustration if not tempered.
Dean Clough is such a regular haunt for me that there is a gallery given over to the location on my website. Any of these images are available for sale of course but they were not made with a sale in mind but as part of my ongoing commitment to honing my skills and keeping my photographic eye fresh.
And “that snicket”? I shall reveal the story behind that comment tomorrow!
As a photographer I am constantly looking to improve my skills particularly with the camera and have spent many hours doing just that. It is one of the things that we offer, years of experience, trials, tribulations and experimentation go into making that “special” image.
Making my plans for 2015 recently I decided that I would add taking my post-production skills to the next level to my personal learning plan for the coming year. As an exercise therefore I photographed the view from my study window (a main road with houses opposite, hardly inspiring) and set about producing a virtual office which I have been posting to my Facebook page this week.
Those who know where I live would have realised straight away that it was a bit of fun but many have commented on how lucky I am to have this view …
The success of these composites is in the small touches. Matching the direction of light in the outside scene to the highlights on the window frame and also picking up the nuances of colour that result. The compositing process is straight forward, if fiddly at times, but what is most important is understanding light and how it works. So the photographic skills honed over many years are still important when sitting at the computer playing in Photoshop!
I am delighted to confirm that In the Studio has come to fruition with the publication of the book, available in several formats via the links below.
Twelve months in the making, this is a unique visual record of the work of artist Olivia J Brown as seen through the lens of award-winning photographer Dave Whenham. These are not posed studio images but a warm, eclectic collection that capture a year in the life of this extremely talented artist.
You will find options for soft or hardback books, an e-book and even a PDF version. With prices starting at just £3.99 why not treat yourself?
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