Do I really need a tripod?

Given that our theme for April is “Collecting the data: Composition and Capture” and we will be talking about the nuts and bolts of getting the best image capture at the April Activity Night, Workshop Night and at the Merimbula weekend, I thought it pertinent to start the ball rolling with some thoughts about tripods. At the April Activity night, Phil McFadden will be talking about tripods in some detail, and at the following Workshop you will have an opportunity to experiment with various tripods and learn how to set up your tripod.
There are several articles on the internet that discuss the pros and cons of tripod use and some will claim that, with the image stabilisation (vibration reduction) capability in camera equipment today, you can capture adequate images hand-held. This is true to some extent: with the emphasis on the “adequate”. If you want to capture images that are really sharp then a tripod is often a prerequisite.
There really is no way around needing a tripod if you want to shoot scenic shots.

• in low light using a low ISO to minimise noise
• using bracketing for exposure stacking, focus stacking or HDR
• for stitching into panoramas
• with longer time exposures using neutral density filters, for example to capture softly textured flowing water.

A tripod is also useful for macro photography as placement of the camera is often critical. It is also useful to support telephoto lenses that just get too heavy to hand-hold after a while. There are instances when a monopod will be just as useful as a tripod, or even more useful, for example when working with a telephoto lens at sporting events or for wildlife. Sometimes a beanbag is your support of choice if you are shooting wildlife from an appropriately configured vehicle..

Given that you have decided you want to be able to capture good landscape shots and you have decided that you need a tripod, how do you proceed?
My advice is that you should aim to buy the very best tripod that you can afford. Many of us have been down the road of buying a cheap tripod, and then a slightly better one and so on until we have ended up with a decent tripod. The money “saved” on the cheaper tripods was completely wasted. If you are photographing landscapes regularly you will probably use your tripod more than any other piece of equipment, so it makes sense to have one that will deliver good results..

A tripod should have the following characteristics: It should be:
• stable
• robust but light
• pack fairly small but not too small
• be easy to set up and take down
• be comfortable to use.

Stability: A tripod that waves in the breeze will take pictures that show camera shake and blur. A tripod should have fat legs – if they are thinner than your thumb they are probably not robust enough. A tripod should not have a centre column. These may be convenient in some instances, but are not stable. There is a reason that a tripod has three legs.
Robust and light: Most good tripods are made from carbon fibre. This is not essential, but a tripod made from other materials will often be really heavy, and even if you are not into hiking, you may still want to walk some distance to the best shot for a landscape.

Pack small. Tripods legs will usually have three sections that collapse. In those that have four sections, the thinnest legs are often thinner than your thumb. See above. That being said, my Really Right Stuff tripod has four sections, but it is beautifully made and exceptionally strong.
Easy to set up and take down. Most tripods consist of legs and a head. The head of choice is usually a ball head, but it has to be a good one or it will not be sufficiently robust. Your selection of head will depend to some extent on the weight of your camera, but again this is not an area where you should compromise. When using a tripod you should never leave the camera set up on the tripod. Never. Even to walk back to your camera bag 2 metres away. This is when accidents happen. It is not pretty when a camera/lens/tripod setup crashes into rocks or into the river beside you. Therefore a setup where you have a quick release for attaching and detaching your camera to the head quickly and easily is essential. It is also useful to choose a setup where the head of your tripod can be attached to the legs using a quick release system. Another feature to consider is the use of L-brackets on your camera. These do add to price and weight, but they make the world of difference to the ease of setup and are particularly useful when you want to mount your camera vertically (as you do when shooting for a panorama).

Comfortable to use. Several of the features mentioned above will also influence how user-friendly your tripod is. However, one feature often neglected is height. If you are going to be in the field shooting for hours, you do not want to be hunched over a tiny tripod. On the other hand, if you are in a howling gale on a beach, you will want to be crouched in a sheltered position with your camera as low as possible. It therefore makes sense to choose a tripod that can extend to a height that allows you to look through your mounted camera without bending over. At the same time, you want to be able to set up your tripod so it is rock solid close to the ground.

There are lots of tripod manufacturers out there and many retailers who will happily recommend a tripod that you will later regret. If you are planning to purchase a tripod in the near future, please come along to the April Activity and Workshop nights for a hands-on demonstration of some of the points I have raised here. Even after the Workshop, if you would like some advice about what to purchase, there are several members who would be happy to help so that you do not fall into some of the more common pitfalls.

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What’s the deal with Instagram?

If you have been exploring the new Canberra Photographic Society website you will have seen, under the “Publications and Links” menu, a page called “CPS images on Instagram.” If you are not familiar with Instagram you may be wondering what this is.

Instagram has become a popular platform, not only for sharing images, but for developing communities. It allows people to show rather than tell, and this has been embraced by many who are interested in developing brand awareness or who want to draw attention to humanitarian issues. Today there are 200 million users and 20 billion images on Instagram according to the Instagram blog http://blog.instagram.com/post/80721172292/200m. The “movement” has seen people meet up virtually and then get together in real life. Users hold “Instameets” where people get together, drawn by a shared interest. This could be anything from jazz music to the landscapes of Tasmania or the plight of the rhino. Australians have been keen to embrace Instagram and one of world’s largest Instameets was held recently in Queensland. Tourism Australia is one of the most followed travel accounts globally (see article on p 47 of B & T Magazine, Dec/Jan 2015).

So how do you access this community? Instagram is an image-sharing app (free to download) that is tablet or smart-phone based. All you need to create an account is said device and a valid email address. Setting up an account takes about a minute. You can create a brief profile and add a personal url.Once you have set up your account, you select a photo from your photostream on your device. You can add text and include various hashtags depending on the subject (eg. #blackandwhitephotography; #animals etc. – the selection of hashtags to maximise your visibility is a bit of an art that I won’t go into here, largely because I haven’t yet grasped it). With many millions of users browsing through categories such as say black and white photographs or animals you may get your first “like” in seconds. This can be enormously seductive – though not necessarily terribly meaningful. It is possible to find users that interest you and to have a modest following fairly quickly. The best way to do this is to start commenting on and liking other images. If you are new to photography this may be a way for you to start getting your images “out there”, to build up followers and to find other photographers whose images you like. Be aware though that not all Instagram users are photographers – there seem to be quite a few nubile women with names like Natasha (who may be perfectly genuine) as well as advertisers and presumably others with dubious motives, so it pays to be careful.

If you post an image to Instagram with the hashtag #canberraphotographicsociety then it will automatically appear on the “CPS images on Instagram” page on the CPS website. The page only shows the 60 most recent photographs, so gradually old images drop off as they are replaced with new ones. There are apps that generate the code so that images with a particular hashtag or particular user name can be displayed on a website. This is what has been used on the CPS site. (Free apps also generate advertising – hence you will see advertising when you click on individual images on the CPS Instagram page).

When posting images to Instagram I like to arrange my images in related blocks so that they work well together. Some users only post a certain type of image, so their “look” is consistent. Others are a bit more eclectic. Instagram images are almost always square – you can pad the images with white space to create portraits or landscapes, but most users stick to the square format. This is having an influence on the modern aesthetic and I am seeing a lot more square images in advertising and magazines. Square images tend to play nicely together and lend themselves to being arranged in multiple formats (see below). Also have a look at the website of Western Australian landscape photographer Christian Fletcher http://www.christianfletcher.com.au/photographs/to see examples of stunning landscapes in a square format.

One of the things I like about Instagram is that your Instagram posts can be found in an automatically-generated, neat-looking website (such as mine shown below: http://instagram.com/imagecapital)

Have a look other CPS members’ Instagram accounts, some of which are listed on the “Links to Member’s Pages” that is under the “Publications and Links” tab on the CPS site at http://www.cpsaus.org. If you have a link that you would like added here please let me know.

Helen2

Other Instagram accounts that you might like to have a look at are:
@mattglastonbury – Matt Glastonbury, a Hobart-based landscape photographer who posts time-lapse sequences of stunning Tasmanian landscapes. His aurora sequences are particularly interesting.
@fusion.photography – Ben Kopilow, one of our regular judges and a well-known Canberra-based wedding photographer.
@eleanorgannon – Eleanor Gannon – a New Zealand-based photographer who creates colourful 3 x 3 series.
@photoacces_inc – PhotoAccess – our friends down the road.

Inspiration: Martin Chambi

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I always like to look at the work of other photographers for inspiration and ideas on how to apply technique. One benefit of living in this massive city is that there is usually a couple of exhibitions around that are worth visiting. The exhibition “Face Andina: Fotografias de Martin Chambi” at the Instituto Moreira Salles had been on my list since Christmas, but I only got around to visiting it yesterday, just in time before it closes on 22 February.

Martin Chambi (1881-1973) was a pioneering indigenous Peruvian photographer, who tried to photograph his own people in a different way then just as an exotic species. He was one of the first to photograph Machu Picchu and also became known as a photojournalist, who worked not only for newspapers Cusco, but was also published in National Geographic.

I had first read about Martin Chambi in the book ‘Andes’ by Michael Jacobs, which triggered my interest in seeing the exhibition, which consists of 88 photographs, the majority portraits and group photos, as well as a series of images taking at various Inca sites in the mountains, including the very iconic photograph featured above, one of my favourites. His photos provide a chance to peek into Peruvian society of the early 20th century. One of the images that made me smile was one of the ladies basketball team, lined up from tall to (quite) short, in their long skirts, with special hats and shoes with a small heel. A world apart from basketball players nowadays!

As I looked at the various portraits, I mused at how interesting it is that portraits are often defined, or at least were back then, by how we think we need to pose rather then how we would like to pose. The very stilted poses of some ‘pillars’ of society contrasted starkly  with the defying look of a young society lady who clearly felt like the bees’ knees in her shoot. And the portrait of a worker had a very submissive look to it, of someone who barely felt worthy of a photograph.

Chambi used mainly natural light, with some impressive results. I really liked one of his portraits of an older man where the only light was like a halo around one part of his head, providing barely sufficient illumination to show the rest of his face. Very atmospheric.

Often we seek out the exotic or extraordinary to make photographs. I feel that Chambi often tried to photograph the ordinary in a, for us, extraordinary environment, in a way that transcended the usual imagery associated with it. If any exhibition of his work ever comes to Australia, I highly recommend a visit, but a browse on google will also bring up many of his wonderful photographs.

Do you have a sketchbook?

When I was working as a scientist in a CSIRO I needed some structured creative time so I did evening courses at the ANU Open Art School. It was great – one evening a week with 3 hours of uninterrupted creative time drawing, painting, print-making, printing photographs: whatever the current course involved. One thing that was encouraged in all of these courses was the use of a sketchbook. Good advice if you are only coming once a week and you happen to have a great idea mid-week. Full-time artists also make use of sketchbooks to record things, try out ideas, make notes, practice.

So what about a photography sketchbook? A little difficult, don’t you think. Well, yes and no. In the film days we could make contact sheets or postcard-sized prints and doodle notes on them. This can still be done with digital files. Even low-quality prints from a standard printer can generate images good enough to act as a starting point for new ideas. Seeing a print of an image, thinking about how to process it and writing this down taps into different creative pathways from those employed when looking at images on a screen. How often have you written something on a computer and it seems error-free? Then you print it out and suddenly there are all these typos that you never saw before. It is the same with images. The brain processes paper content differently and doing things differently can spark ideas.

I often find I use my smart phone camera as a sketchbook. Like this morning when I was in the NGA for the first time in a while. I am so glad that they have (largely) lifted the ban on photography, because there is something about being immersed in a beautiful space surrounded by art that stimulates me to have ideas. Somehow I have to capture these ideas and the phone camera is ideal. I record the labels of art works so I know what or who to look up later. I might photograph an image; not so I can steal it and reproduce it, but to remind me of the emotion I felt when looking at the original. I photograph book and magazine covers so I can think about buying them later if their mood still grabs me. I also have a book that lives next to my computer where I write down ideas as they come to me. I have two actually: one for lists of things like “buy sugar” and “do my tax” and another for lists like “build on series of iceberg photos” or “try tin-type app on cyclamen photos”. It’s amazing how you can forget about all these good little ideas if you don’t write them down to jog your memory later. I also do annotated scribbles for image ideas and book layouts. Writing down a plan and a timeline for bigger projects is also helpful. I will never have the time to execute all the ideas I record, but then having the ideas and choosing the best one to pursue is half the fun.

So if you are finding it hard to decide what to photograph next I suggest just going out to where there is some good art and look at it. Spend a morning in the NGA, the Portrait Gallery or other cultural institution. Find some images that speak to you and record them. Think about how you would create some of those effects using a camera. Review the images later, remember and rethink. You may never actually follow up on those ideas, but there is a good chance that your creativity will be energised in the process and ideas will start to flow.

 

Analog Days

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For many years I’ve been trying to track down my father’s old Voigtlander Vitoret and had almost given up on finding it, presuming it lost forever in the sands of time. But in October last year, during a brief visit to my parents, we struck gold when Dad in one of his more lucid moments disappeared upstairs and returned triumphantly with an old shoebox filled with old cameras, of which the Voigtlander was by far the most interesting one.

As a child I remember my father recording every family holiday on slides using the camera. This involved much fiddling with a light meter (one that remains lost) and tentative turning of dials, which used to exasperate my mother, brother and me, as we all didn’t want to stand still that long for the obligatory happy family shot and just wanted him to get on with it. I feel a bit more sympathetic for what he had to do with that camera having recently handled it and am amazed he actually got reasonable photos out of it. Probably better ones than he is managing now with a digital camera!

Back in the days of my first steps into photography, my father let me use an old Agfa Clack, which was a boxy and bulky thing to carry around; the Voigtlander being so much sleeker in comparison. I’m sure the memory of the Voigtlander played a signicant part in my decision to buy the Fuji X100, which has that old look and feel, but is packed full of new technology.

After taking the Voigtlander home, I gave it a good clean, found a PDF scan of the manual on the Internet (not that there is much to figure out, it really is a very simple camera) and put some black and white film into it. I have so far been on one outing with it and am planning another one this weekend with the aim of filling up the film with images, so I can get it developed. Handling an old fashioned camera like this, makes you aware of how much we have grown used to new technology and how much we rely on it. Having no light meter I have to rely on my manual settings experience for deciding on which settings to use, with fairly limited options available, particularly in terms of shutter speed. And of course, no way of seeing how the photos have turned out until I get it developed. It is going to be a real surprise when the film comes back and I’m not sure whether it will be a good one, but certainly an interesting one!

One thing is certain, feeling the old camera in my hands and shooting with it, makes me really appreciate new technology. I will not deny my nostalgia for my father’s old camera, and it will probably find a place of pride on a bookshelf, but I prefer my new cameras and all they offer to me.

I’m sure there must be others in the CPS who occasionally shoot with film or an old camera. I would love to hear more about your experiences.

How to generate photographic ideas: A discussion

 

 

As photographers we can learn about how to use our cameras, how to process and how to print: but there is always an underlying question that we should be asking ourselves: “What do I want to say?” This is one of the challenges to being a photographer, and working towards the answer can help us improve our photography. These thoughts could be particularly relevant when contemplating a long-term photography project. A new project could involve new work and new challenges, or it could mean looking with fresh eyes at familiar subjects, or looking for connections and relationships between images in an existing body of work.
The question:
A few months ago Sheila posed the following question for the Hedda Discussion Group: I was musing that I would really love to peek inside the brains of members of the group to find out more about the creative processes you each use. For example, when Julie goes to India, what projects does she have in her mind? Is she working them out before she leaves or is she responding to what she sees once she is there? And if the latter, how does she work that into a body of work? I think the striking thing with the likes of Julie and Judy is that they have a very distinct style and body of work to which they keep adding. So when they go travelling, whether in Australia or abroad, how do they work out in their minds the move from mere travel photography to explicit body of work? And it may well not be at all be a clear strategy in their minds, but I am just really keen to learn more about their thinking processes around their photography.

The responses:

Julie –

Yes I definitely have an idea of what I want to photograph before I go. Often I will return to favourite places (in India, say) to revisit and concentrate more on a particular scene or group of people. I call my style of photography “candid street” but I have been working lately on posing the people I have been working with. For example, telling the boys to get out of the way so I can photograph the girls or asking people to sit or stand in a certain place. Then I go with the flow and photograph as much as possible. Then to create a body of work I look through all my photographs and start looking for connections. I have more ideas for projects than I can work on, and I find I often start something and then I am distracted so I find it hard to finish. I am working on a “personal project” with PhotoAccess and this is proving a challenge as I have to select a body of work for a joint exhibition. I am still deciding what to do. I was working with portraits in black and white using the tintype app to process them, but the group (the Hedda group) reckons I should try and work with colour as it is so much harder to get right and will push me more. They love some of the colour work I have already done. On 28 February 2014 I made a commitment to post a photo a day to instagram/facebook/google+ (see @juelles810). I wasn’t looking for any theme in particular, just what moved me on the day – maybe an old image, maybe a new one. This series has already grown into an exhibition at PhotoAccess. Lorna Sim liked it so much she asked me to exhibit in her restaurant, so I have now put up a selection of these images there. I am also applying to exhibit in Hobart and Melbourne. Just posting a photo a day has really grown into something bigger – a body of work. People like looking at all the different images and looking for connections that are sometimes not obvious. Printing the images and putting them on the wall adds something that is not there in an electronic series. It allows more connections to emerge.

Marion –

Recently in the USA when I was photographing many wonderful places, I became somewhat overwhelmed by the millions of other photographers also photographing significant beautiful world icons. Although I always try to take an object in another way – creative it is said – what is the point? Millions of photos are now taken annually of some icons and I think many objects or places are satiated. As I had previously thought I would concentrate on Australia and try to capture the singular essence of my own country to which I have access, I wondered what I was doing in the US and determined that when I got home I would return to my original beginnings of making my own photographs and looking for a ‘feminine’ point of view. Other aspects of photography that I enjoy are telling a story and looking for shots that will add to a set. And yes, I do try to determine beforehand subjects I will work on but very often I become diverted as other entrancing subjects enter my vision. I have been living in the north (Darwin) for the major part of each year and last year I concentrated on monsoon weather, storms, saturated countryside, rejuvenating effect of water etc. They will be the subject of my exhibition there in March. I have had to look for northern landscapes that will appeal to their localised view. The people of the tropical north are enthusiastic about shots they recognise as coming from within their world. Conversely I find that southern audiences do not respond enthusiastically to northern subjects as it is out of their terms of reference. This is all very nice and the experience is invaluable, but what about me and my singular artistic bent? Will I ever have an exhibition of things that move me…

Marion Miliken The Wet Higer Res

 

Andree –

When I am travelling I am easily overwhelmed and distracted by the novelty of exotic locations and the sheer excitement of being there, so I tend to rush things. I am learning, gradually, to slow down and observe before photographing, giving myself a chance to see the possibilities and decide what to include in the frame. The challenge is doing all this fast enough to catch the moment. Constant practice is the answer, I think, along with better preparation (location research, thinking about possible approaches, choosing the right camera/lens combinations for the situation etc.) I’m working on that!
I am currently doing a Personal Photography Project course at PhotoAccess, though I don’t yet have a clear idea of where I am going with that. It’s taking time to find the right project to focus on. Meanwhile I am experimenting, trying to photograph every day and challenging myself by shooting in black and white. It’s a real challenge because I love colour and it’s a long time since I did any black and white work. It’s amazing how different a scene looks when the colour is taken away – it’s all about shapes and tones, something colour tends to disguise, so learning to see that way will be well worth the effort. I’m also enjoying printing some black and white work, experimenting with papers and printing profiles, which make quite a difference to the finished work.

Helen –

I photograph whatever is around when I am travelling. I take gear specific for the situation – long lens and tripod/gimbal head or bean bags (if car bound) for wildlife; wide angle lenses and tripod for landscape. But when I am in the field I shoot as prolifically as I can thinking about the light and about how I will approach the image in post processing. I bracket shots (for both focus and exposure stacking) and take shots for panoramas to give me options later. I find the challenge and the skill is then looking for what is worth processing and what works together when I get back. When shooting I am also always thinking about series. “This should be great – how can I complement this shot with something else to build a series”. I have a few “topics” I keep in mind – “Bird’s eye view” (close-ups of eyes); “Women working;” so if I see an opportunity to build these series I take it. Recently I have been trying to post regularly to Instagram/Facebook and have found this a useful discipline. I am looking at a lot of my photos with fresh eyes and re-working them to work in monochrome and a square format. Some photos I have never worked up before but they call to me when I am looking for what to post next. I am also looking for images that will work as photogravure, which I want to get into in a more serious way. I used to do a lot of etching and did a couple of prints last year in a studio in Victoria. I like creating a print by hand and the tactile qualities of the hand-made print as well as the glorious range of blacks. I am like Marion in that sometimes I get saturated with travel photography and just want to photograph what I want – flowers and objects: hence the vase of roses in my instagram series (see @imagecapital and the Feb comp night). This image took me the whole day by the time I had picked and arranged the flowers and setting, captured and processed the image. I am happy with it but not sure what to do next. Always looking.

Judy –

I go out looking for specific things. For example, I looked for yellow things while shooting for my most recent “Urban yellow” series. However, I also photograph anything interesting that catches my eye on the way past. I have worked extensively with my collections of objects but not so much recently. I keep revisiting my old series and favourites (such as Lake George) looking for new connections and interpretations.