Category Archives: techniques

Representing time

When we are out exploring with a camera, we often aim to freeze a moment in time.  The camera records the scene exactly as it was at one short, very precise moment.  But what if you want to introduce a sense of time into the image?  Photographers these days have become very fond of neutral density filters which allow for shutter speeds of maybe several seconds, even in the middle of the day.  Hence the popularity of the love-it-or-hate-it milky water seascape and slow-motion waterfalls.  It’s quite an interesting technique, and one that is open to a contemplative approach.  The whole technique requires you to slow down and really smell the roses.

I love this technique as a way of representing the passage of time…and sometimes there is a sense of capturing the essence of my subject in a way that a typical image might not.  Birds in flight, slow motion water, people walking.  All showing the ephemeral nature of what we see, a cloud of densely packed molecules moving in space, moving in time.

Relax…and just Bee

My passion this year is to photograph bees with my Lensbaby,  My love affair with bees is a longstanding one.  I have photographed them collecting pollen using both long and short lenses, but stationary bees are relatively easy and I like a challenge.

I have a Canon 7DmkII with blisteringly fast AF, but why make life easy when you can use a manual focus lens?  I have actually found that my success rate for photographing bees in flight and vaguely in focus is no worse with a Lensbaby than an autofocus lens.

I have spent much of this summer crouched in odd positions (yoga comes in handy here!) waiting while the bee explores the flower. When they leave, they go surprisingly fast and in any direction Frequently they have left the frame before I manage to press the shutter!  However, with my Lensbaby sometimes they fly into focus rather than out of it and I unexpectedly get a good shot.

There are worse things to do than spend a day engrossed in nature.  Its been said that even 15 mins a day can make us feel more relaxed and positive.  It’s certainly a lot of fun!

A collision of interests

Sometimes everything just seems to come together and add the results are far more interesting than the individual parts.

This happened to me recently, when several of my interests combined in an unusual way.

I have long been in the habit of baking my own cakes.  This week I decided to try a new recipe that asked for water and oil.  I duly added these to a mixing bowl, which happened to be made of glass.  I was immediately struck by the beautiful patterns made by the oil floating on the water’s surface.  Now, oil and water as a technique for creating beautiful semi-abstract images is not new.   Usually the artist places some colourful item under the dish.  Maybe a bowl of smarties, flowers, or even patterned wrapping paper.

But then I suddenly thought, what if I put a scrap of watercolour painting under my mixing bowl?  I have amassed plenty of pieces which include some pretty bits but the overall painting is uninspiring.  All part of the learning process!  in a flash, I was scuttling off to find a camera.  My mobile phone in fact, as I had an eye on the time and the need to bake my cake.

This week’s picture is one of the results of my sudden flash of inspiration.  Beauty finds us in the most unexpected moments and lightens up the day.  I hope you like it!

Tones and shades and monochrome

This summer I have been experimenting again with watercolour painting.  I found myself drawn to try painting as it is another way of deepening the connection with my surroundings and encouraging me to look more deeply into whatever I see.  As I have been reading up on the subject, I have been interested to discover that experts sometimes recommend using a black and white image of your subject as a reference to help identify the tones in the scene.

These days I rarely photograph anything in colour, and I am finding that my ability to read the tones in a scene is growing daily.  Even if you wish to display photographs (or paintings!)  in colour, an understanding of tones has a direct influence on the success of the final image.  Tone is not about the shade or hue of the colour,  but rather about how dark it is.

For example, a display of white daisies against the green of their leaves will stand out much better than a red rose would.  This is because red (and orange and strong pink) are of a similar tone to green.  In monochrome they all show up as mid grey, with the result that there is little contrast in the image.  One way to help here is to introduce some strong directional light.  If you can position the flower such that the leaves are in the shade, this will improve the contrast because the relative difference in the tones will be greater.  Even if you don’t like monochrome images, it’s well worth looking at your digital images in this way in order to assess the range of tones you have in the scene before you go ahead.

Oddly, although I like to photograph in monochrome, my paintings are all brightly coloured!

Experimenting with ICM

Recently I have been finding myself increasingly drawn to the technique of ICM when I am out and about with my camera.  If you haven’t come across the term, it stands for Intentional Camera Movement.  ICM defines a style of image-making where the camera is deliberately moved whilst the shutter is open.  This can result in anything from a subtle ethereal quality in the image to an abstract riot of merging colours.

On days when i hoped for extraordinary and find myself struggling to engage, a foray into ICM can be just the ticket.  The most bland and boring scenes can be transformed, providing there is at least some degree of contrast, in either tones or colours.  A view which barely begs a second glance can produce the most beautiful images with ICM.  This is a great way of jump-starting your creativity when nothing seems to inspire!

For me, the pictures I create using ICM are a way of accessing the emotion of the scene and connecting with the essence of what is before me.  Key elements of the subject come together, to create a greater whole. These may be qualities that my eye observed, or ones that become apparent in the resulting image.  Whatever the outcome, I always learn something new about my subject or myself.

Why not give ICM a try yourself? Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Adjust the aperture and ISO to get the shutter speed you want.  I find that anything from 1/6 second or longer can produce interesting results.  Obviously the longer the shutter is open the more movement you can make in the time.
  • Use the lower light levels at dusk and dawn to your advantage, or make ICM a project for a cloudy day to get the shutter speeds you want.
  • Try different movements; slow/fast panning, jiggling, rotating, or just hold the camera at arm’s length and let it wobble!  With a longer exposure, try combining stillness and movement.
  • Use the preview screen to assess your images and adjust the cameras settings.  Perhaps you need a different shutter speed to capture the most effective image, or to vary the type of movement.
  • Spend time with the scene and reflect on its qualities before deciding on the type of movements to explore  with your camera.

 

Marianne’s Fridge Magnet*

 

On a workshop I taught over the summer, I asked participants to create an image to take home with them.  A photograph that would prompt them to reflect on particular qualities they would like to enhance in their life.  Something they wanted to make more time for.  An attitude they wanted to cultivate.  Or perhaps simply a reminder of the peace and relaxation they had experienced during our few days together.  As someone suggested, a picture that they might stick on the refrigerator, or even turn into a fridge magnet!

I find these little prompts and nudges can be so useful as I get back into my daily and weekly routine.  After less than a week it can feel as if you never had a break and time flies by.  Before I know it, Christmas has arrived and the weeks have disappeared in a blur.  What gets lost in this hectic whirlwind is the time to just ‘be.’  It is so easy to bounce from one thing to the next and spend any time between in a numb state of neither being nor doing.  Watching TV and scrolling though Facebook posts come to mind…

Perhaps our good intentions become lost in the mayhem, or we never feel we have the time.  We slip back into our habitual ways of responding, because this is the line of least resistance.  That’s when a picture on the fridge comes into its own.  A simple daily reminder of our good intentions for bringing change and improvements into our life.  A magnet for the future!

If you want to try this yourself, here are three simple ideas for decorating your own fridge:

  • A peaceful scene from a favourite holiday destination
  • An image to evoke a sense of space, freedom, openness…you get the idea!
  • Something that makes you smile 

     

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the innocent!

A summer pinhole project

In the summer I have less teaching and I like to use some of the time it frees up on a photography project or two.  This didn’t happen last year, as the summer was spent prepping for a new course.  So this year I am doubly keen to explore an aspect of photography that is new to me, as a way of expanding my horizons and engaging my curiosity.  Time for some blue sky thinking!

With this in mind I have been reading up on pinhole photography.  This is really the simplest photography you can imagine.  A tiny hole allows light to enter a sealed box containing a light sensitive medium and creates a negative image.  You can then use this to create a positive either in the traditional dark room or by scanning it and inverting the resulting digital file.

You can make pinhole from just about anything; biscuit tins, shoe boxes and coffee containers, wheelie bins and even a spare transit van should you have one.  For the more financially secure (and less adventurous?) there is also the option to buy beautifully crafted models that have been lovingly constructed from luxury components.  Guess which option I will be taking? Yup! DIY pinhole camera here I come!

This was actually what prompted me to by the Agfa Clack I wrote about last week.  This seems to be a popular ‘first build’ pinhole camera and I am hoping to convert one of the aperture rings to a pinhole without destroying the functionality of my Clack as a regular camera.  Now, pass me that screwdriver!

Hip to be square

Over the last couple of weeks I have been musing on the importance of shape on the impact of the images we create.  Do you prefer to use landscape or portrait style?  Most images are recorded as some form of rectangle, but what about other shapes?

There is, of course, one shape that is now seeing a resurgence in popularity through the rise of apps such as Instagram; the square format.  I am becoming quite a fan of the square format and when I am checking out potential new acquisitions for film cameras it is often the promise of a square negative that tempts me to hand over my hard-earned cash.

A square feels balanced.  It needs no up and down, no left or right.  A square has a solidity about it; it is a very centred shape.  In Samkhya philosophy, the earth tattva is represented by a yellow square, and this yellow square is also incorporated into the symbol for the root chakra, muladhara, which is associated with the earth element and grounding. The symmetry of a square adds to this sense of weight and earthiness.

Creating images in a square format is quite different to working with rectangles.  Some compositions lend themselves to being square.  The symmetry of a square works brilliantly with symmetrical subjects that fit neatly inside its boundaries.  A daisy would be the perfect example here.  This composition creates a sense of calm, alluding to feeling centred and grounded, as the subject is fully contained in the frame and appears comfortable there.

Squares also work well with close up images in which the frame only depicts part of the subject, leaving the parts outside the frame to the viewer’s imagination.  Although the grid created by the rule of thirds does not seem to work quite as well in the square format, another favourite of mine is to layer the image horizontally, using 3 or more bands of interest in the composition.

If I am working with the intention of creating square format images using a DSLR, or other camera that records rectangles, I find it easiest to judge my composition by adopting a portrait orientation.  I can then crop the file to a square in post processing.  If you find it hard to judge, there is always the option to tape up your viewfinder or rear screen so you can only see the square shape in the first place.  This way you can shave a little off each side, which means your focussing points are still central in the viewfinder.  Some newer cameras also offer a variety of file shapes that can be created in camera.

As for me, I think square is the future!

Are you a tall or wide person?

Most modern cameras encourage the photographer to record images in landscape format i.e. an image that is wider than it is tall.  The way the strap attaches to the camera and the position of the grip means that this just seems like the most natural way to hold the thing.  When the view is indeed a landscape, the width of the frame can accentuate the impact of the scene in front of you and the potential for longer, horizontal lines can create a calming effect that seems emotionally well-suited to looking out over some majestic scenery.  For a more edgy scene, points of interest can be placed close to the borders of the image, generating tension by playing them off against the space on the other side.  Sometimes I find myself doing this without thinking, and take pause to consider why this approach is attracting me today.

Sometimes though, turning the situation on its head can create a very different shot.  Using portrait orientation for the same scene might give greater impact to the foreground or enhance a sense of depth or height which is lacking in landscape format.  Horizontal lines now stack up to accentuate this idea and give a very different feel to the image.  In short, the orientation we choose for the image has a significant effect on the visual and emotional impact of the picture we create.  I find turning the camera around to use it in portrait orientation is not a problem, but I know others who find this awkward without attaching a bulky battery grip to the camera first.  The natural tendency then, can be to use landscape orientation automatically, even when the image might benefit from a step outside of that box to use a different format for the image.

I have to say that I do like to stray away from the norm that camera manufacturers present us with.  Perhaps I am just awkward!  My digital images often just feel too long relative to their height and I frequently find myself cropping files to less extreme rectangles, such as 10 x 8, or trimming a touch off the ends to give me 7 x 5.  Of course, this can be a bit tricky to visualise in the camera, as you have to imagine how well the composition would look once you have cropped the image.  Some cameras now offer the option to select different proportions for the image file but if yours is not that clever there is always the alternative of using live view and taping up part of the rear screen to restrict it to the shape you want.

Going out with the intention of creating images in a specific but atypical shape is quite an interesting challenge in its own right.  It really makes you address your approach to composition and involves you more deeply in the process of creating each image so that the subject matter harmonises with the chosen image shape.  A new way of opening your eyes!