We have just returned from a week in Cambodia, and I must admit that the trip was an eye opener on a great many levels.
On a familial level, and arguably the most important, the family bonded wonderfully well when internet was curtailed. We all had a wonderful time together and bonded more than I had hoped.
On a historical level, it was astounding to see a culture of people, so battered through war and violence, able to create such magnificent temples.
On a human side, I fear that the lack of justice for so many over the Khmer Rouge atrocities will only invite others to try the same.
On a photographic side, I only shot five rolls of film!?!? I was not trying to shoot less nor was I short of film. Why, during a trip to one of the wonders of the world, did I only shoot five simple rolls of film? Oh sure, I had my Leica ME with me and shot about 500 shots with it, but usually I shoot more film than digital. Film for me are shots that I want to keep, memories I will enjoy reliving during development and darkroom printing, while digital is a chance to catch something complex that will require a bit of digital post processing to replicate what I see.
So, considering this site is mostly for my photography friends, let me dive into the photographic side of things. This trip I took my Nikon F2, Leica ME and my iPhone 6. These all play a roll in my photographic plan of attack. Lets start with the Nikon F2, I went with this camera because on my last trip to Italy & Greece I took my OM-1, so I opted for the F2. No other reason, I try to take different cameras on different trips as it helps create memories of using that camera in that place.
For the digital I went with the Leica but it was a tough call. I wanted to take my Nikon D800 but it is summer and I knew it would be hot....and it was VERY hot. So, lugging around a second large SLR body was not something that appealed to me. I am glad I went with the Leica as I was able to do some people shots that the DSLR would have not been able to capture.
The iPhone is used for selfies, we do not do that too often but do like the occasionally family selfie, or to get a group shot where I will give the phone over to someone to grab our picture. Everyone knows how to work a iPhone but they are not very good with any other kind of camera! Finally I like the simple video capability to take short videos of the family. I keep this to 30 seconds or so, in order to keep the file sizes reasonable as well as to avoid making videos that no one ever watches. I find 15-30 seconds is about perfect.
I tried some different approaches to my film shooting, some worked others did not. I am developing the film now, with three rolls done and two more to go, and while that is drying I am post processing my digital images. The amazing rock architecture of the ancient temples cries out for B&W conversion, which gives me hope that some of my images on film came out well.
I will be posting more images over the coming weeks which will include some street shooting, portraits, videos and a few shots of monkeys....ok I will give you a sneak peak on the monkey shots...got to love monkeys!
I am a massive fan of B&W images, probably why I love film so much. From my perspective, digital B&W can only approximate the beauty of film, but that is the subject for another blog with much more detail. Today I just wanted to focus on why I sometimes do choose to photograph in color.
First, why I took this shot this way....
Above are two, exactly the same images taken in London with a Nikon D800. It was a typical winter day in London which means cloudy and wet. I am standing on a bank of the Thames, on a set of stairs that lead up to Westminster Bridge. I like this vantage point because you can just get people's faces but avoid distracting clothing. If I go farther down the stairs, I would get no people, just the bridge and tower.
What I wanted to capture was the cloud cover, let me explain. For a photographer, there are different types of clouds. There are white fluffy clouds that are dispersed through the blue sky that helps the sky to really jump out. There is the flat gray clouds without texture, which is excellent for portrait photography as it gives the best light I have ever seen but it gives a very dull backdrop. Then you have the storm clouds, these can fill an image with tension as we naturally want to get away from it. And finally you have the well textured set of clouds. These provide an interesting background which can really help balance out a landscape image. This, of course, were the clouds I saw that morning in London.
I chose an aperture of f/8 as this is the sweet spot of the lens, and boosted the ISO to 400 to ensure that I would have a fast shutter speed (in this case 1/1000 of a second). When shooting moving people, with a Nikon D800 I prefer very fast shutter speeds (over 1/250th of a second) which helps eliminate blur caused by movement, either the subject or my own.
I waited to ensure no busses or trucks were crossing the bridge and captured the image above. I shot the same scene twice, to help eliminate the possibility of having some odd facial expression from a passerby. I find that two images, when taking shots of multiple people, helps you filter out and odd face or movement that one of the people created.
Why some images only work in color?
There are images we have all taken with striking color. This visual element can make an image come together. When this happens we use color as a compositional tool, I wrote about this HERE and it can be a powerful tool.
The Selection of Color vs B&W
I must say that this image works both in color and B&W. I like the contrast captured in the B&W image but I also like the gold and green in the color photograph. So when an image can work either in B&W or in Color I will typically choose B&W.
The other day I was stopping by Scott Kelby's blog when I saw an interesting article that he wrote about the five stages of photography that we all go through. I wont paraphrase what he wrote and will suggest that you read the entire thing if interested.
The concept that we all go through different stages of photography, while probably completely incorrect, is interesting to contemplate. I do believe that many people follow a similar creative path as they develop (forgive the pun) their artistic side. I thought I would share my stages and where I am at in my own artistic path.
Stage 1: Buying the Camera
I needed a hobby I could take with me on our many international moves. I tried a variety of options and tripped over photography when our family camera, a digital point and shoot at the time, needed to be upgraded. I found "professional" digital cameras for a decent price. I kept looking, and my interest kept growing and I ended up purchasing a Nikon D300 over the internet while living in Argentina. I had it shipped to my mother's house and picked it up on my next trip.
During the wonderful wait, I tried to learn as much as I could over the internet. I learned about the camera, fundamentals of photography and the like. Sort of like a photography school which requires you to learn the basics before you even touch a camera. This forced separation, allowed me to learn as much as I could from all kinds of sources on line. I found out that I needed Lightroom, I should shoot in RAW and I definitely wanted to back up. I understood DOF but I had no clue how to use it artistically.
When I finally picked up the camera, months later, I knew how to work it and I began running around taking pictures of anything. The weight, size and feel of the camera made me feel knowledgeable. My pictures were crap but I celebrated the small improvements I was seeing.
Stage 2: Learning Post Processing and Loving HDR
I bought some different lenses. I bought a Sigma Wide Angle lens, a Ultra Zoom (18-200mm) and the absolute must of a 50mm lens. I loved the ultra zoom and only saw the limitations of the 50mm. The Wide Angle lens fascinated me with the perspectives I could get. So my photos bounced from a slow zoom lens to a ultra wide angle. I put a polarizer on the wide angle (what a mess), my pictures were horrible but they were 12Mp of wonderful color. I did not understand B&W and would often convert an image into B&W thinking this was artistic.
I played with Lightroom and quickly realized I needed Photoshop. So I bought Elements and between the two I began to learn about all the adjustments I could make. I would take a crap picture, and use software to make it worse. I was trying to imitate the pictures I saw on the internet in post and not getting it right in the camera.
I posted pictures on Photo forums where very talented people were far too nice in their comments. Through their gentle suggestions I began learning how to be less heavy handed in my post processing.
I discovered HDR and decided this was the perfect tool for all images. If I could add wide angle to the HDR shot I was in clover! I thought the contrasty scenes on HDR was cool. I wanted that odd effect that made people stop and really look at the image. The fact was that people did stop, and did stare as they wondered what was giving them such a headache!
I had my images printed massively. The bigger the print the better the photograph! I spent tons of money on frames for these massive, awful eyesores. I was awful but on a bigger stage!
Stage 3: Bigger & Faster is Better
I need better glass. I still love the zooms and dream of the Nikon Trinity. These three fast lenses, 12-24mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm was a great deal of money to spend on glass but they would be lenses I could use for decades to come. So I saved and bought all three.
I was waiting for a Full Frame camera, as this would allow me to take advantage of that wide angle lens and not worry about the cropping factor. This would make me a more serious photographer. When the Nikon D800 came out I knew I had to have it. I saved and bought it.
I went out and shot with this professional beast of a camera and realized how terrible my photographs were. My fundamentals were sloppy and the results were crap. I bought Photoshop to help take my photography to the next level. I bought classes at Kelby Training and I began taking better pictures.
My images were beginning to look like the shots I found on the internet. I began seeing my pictures being selected as the weekly winner on the Photography Forum I was still posting to. I knew how to "bring out the best" in my images, how to hide the evidence of my post processing and what to choose as subject matter to get the most number of likes.
I was using a tripod, filters and long shutter speeds. I abandoned HDR and was now looking for that single image the captured the light and color that are so popular online. I was using remote triggers and trying star photography, time lapse and macro lenses.
Stage 4: Film & Books
My father gave me his OM-1 camera. I loaded it with film and took it out to shoot and took the film to be developed. My shots were crap but I did see real B&W. Not the crap I was doing in my own digital conversions but real, organic B&W. I began to look at contrast and sharpness completely differently. I bought more film and took more images. I was spending too much on development so I bought all the chemicals and equipment to develop at home.
That was stressful. I had not idea how to use this gear and chemicals. I went to the internet and found "The Art of Photography" where Ted Forbes walked me through the process. I bought more film cameras, they were cheap through Ebay. I realized I could buy film cameras for relatively little money compared to their digital counterparts.
I needed a darkroom to make prints. I kept looking on Ebay for months until I found someone selling a kit near home. I bought it and drove right over to pick it up. He was a nice older man who threw in a bunch of old paper and more odds and ends. I began printing my own images, they were crap. I had not idea how to print in a darkroom but I was loving it.
Ted Forbes introduced me to Photography books, not how too books, but art books. I bought a few, I dived into each one, I LOVED them. I began to see photography in a different light. I began looking at the image as a work of art and not an oversaturated sunset that gets 100's of likes on Facebook. I began to read of Edward Weston, Sabine Weiss, Josef Sudek, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Paul Strand. I was seeing the love, attention, effort and skill they poured into a single image to make it a work of art.
I began studying the different historical evolutions of photography from Pictorialism through modernism and post-modernism. I was looking at the different schools and how they influenced the perception of art, from the f64, the Photo League of New York through to their European Counterparts. I could see the impact the second world war had on photography and began to look at fashion photography with newfound respect.
Stage 5: Art is Simple....Good Art is Divine
Now I am in my fifth stage of my artistic path. I have plenty of camera gear because I love cameras and have begun collecting them. I understand that my passion for film photographs stems from the post processing restrictions that it gives me. I am critical of my photographs and no longer care to share them on line. I do not pursue the heavily filtered images that are so popular (I like them as well) and instead I work on that delicate balance between camera capture and final image printing.
I know wonderful art when I see it, I also know luck when I see it. I am fine with luck as I fully appreciate that I do not have talent but this does not prevent me from loving the attempt to make art through photography. It does not prevent me from appreciating those who do have a talent.
I mostly shoot film but went back to digital with a new outlook. I no longer need they latest gear or lenses. Any lens I can grab will work. Any camera I have will outshoot me. I found a Leica ME used for a good price. Less Mega Pixels but that no longer matters. The images are wonderful even if the technology is old for digital users today. The camera changes the kind of pictures I take, and I like the pictures I can take with this.
My goal now is very little digital post processing. I do the basics but I do not create the image. I do what I would normally do in a darkroom, I burn, I dodge and I crop. I also convert to B&W but now I know what I am after.
I want to print small and love the subtle touches in a photograph. I realized that subtle is where the brilliance is and in modern, Instagram photography, few people shoot subtle. It is too easy to overlook, you have to dig for it, you have to find it in the image, deep within the image.
The smile that the bubble string makes, the birds on the floor, the bubble man's bags in the bottom right. The magnificent and timeless Thames and St Paul's in the background with the instant bubbles in the foreground.
Patrick...confirmed film & digital photography addict.