Through The Lens - Part 2

Remembering The First Few Months

When you go out to get an SLR or DSLR, you have some knowledge of what theses cameras are about. For many, start out with a lens kit, its a way the retailers can get you hooked up with a camera body and lens to start out with. 

I had done a lot of research by reading forums, reviews and watching YouTube videos. When you look at whats out there, certain names comes to the forefront like Canon and Nikon. But at the time I had read about Sony mirrorless camera and sort of grabbed my attention, it was an all new design, and today Sony Mirrorless cameras are only just been replicated by the likes Nikon and Canon, as they see the advantages.

So my first real camera was the Sony A65 with a 18-55mm lens, this was my starting point in my photography. If I was truthful, I had no idea what to photograph, but I found that looking through the lens I could see the world differently. My first outing was down to the docks in the city centre of Bristol, and I would go along the waterside and photograph wide across the river, the dockside cranes, the boats, all the usual kind of stuff. But I read about the different modes like aperture, shutter, auto modes and for most would say stick with aperture mode, which I did for sometime. Aperture is great for during the day, but as you get into the evening the shutter speed at f8 and above gave a slower shutter speed so my images became blurred and just looked awful.

Then I looked at the manual mode, the option that allows to change all the setting to help bring out the image you were looking for. 

The first few months was about learning about the camera, and as I learned the images became more normal to a degree, but they were still not perfect. But the more I looked through the viewfinder the world became almost microscopic in detail, I began to see light and shadows, colour and detail, angles that made things become objects of interest. Then I began to see people, their faces with lines and age, colour and texture of cloths, hair that whispered in the wind, everything was becoming magnified in my vision.

Showing images I had taken, to the world of social media, is a big thing that can make or break you. Having people you don't know say something negative about your image that you are so proud of, and saying you’ve made mistakes in the way you’ve taken it, or how you’ve edited can be crushing, as there is always someone that knows better, because of experience, but if its done in a positive way that makes you look at what their saying, can make you want to do better next time.

One of HDR images, I need to go back there are re-photograph this place.

One of HDR images, I need to go back there are re-photograph this place.

When I got my camera, HDR was the new in thing, and software was available to explore doing HDR images. At the time I thought HDR was cool looking, but when I look back and see how over baked my images were, it almost feels embarrassing to look at.

I guess at that point, I had lost my way to what I was initially seeing that was paramount to making good photos. People on social media that I had grown to know became social media friends, they were just names with avatars, where polite about my photos and encouraging, but I didn’t really know them, I saw their work and was inspired by many of them.

It hadn’t been a year yet since I had my camera, but one day I guess I woke-up and thought if I was to carry on taking photos, I needed to learn properly what I was doing and what possibilities were out there for me to get better and where I could take my photography. So I embarked on a FDA course in photography that would give a degree at the end of it, and hopefully make me a better photographer and use that vision that I first saw through the lens to make me better and  images that others would love to view.

Through The Lens - Part 1

Photography in the manual side of things is having a camera, with a lens attached, choosing some settings that suits your need of what you see through the viewfinder and pressing a button, then you have a copy of what you saw through the viewfinder. It’s as simple as that with the manual side  of the machine thats made up of things made by man and constructed together to make the device we call a camera, but how did someone work out that all theses things would make something that millions would use to capture a moment for themselves, or as part of their business and become established for there images? ‘Vision’.

Over centuries, people have had the vision to see pass the paintbrush, to figure out with many obstacles how to capture a scene and put it onto glass and then, to paper, to film and to digitally make an image thats based on 0’s and 1’s, which is the bases of computers that we know to today. All have had a vision of photography as the end product to make images. 

The image, is not defined by anything, its not singular, its not based around any form and can even reach outside our own planet, solar system and near into space itself. But it’s the vision of each of us on how we see things, its an individual thing based on how we think about something that makes sense to us firstly, which we then try to then get others to see same way we do. For the most part, the viewer sees lines, textures, colours, shadow and light, motion, things that they relate to, but its a snippet of the original scene that the photographer has controlled within the space that is limit by the lens and camera used in the first instance.

The thing is today, everyone can take a photo, and to them its a good image, if not then they can hit delete and retake, but the retake has to be better than what has just passed and deleted, and is the vision of what they see that has to be better. Vision is everything in an image.

The Selfie.

The word selfie hasn’t actually been around that long, it was first recorded back in 2001 when a group of Australians created a website and uploaded the first digital self portrait onto the internet, and then on the 13th of September 2002, the first recorded published use of the term “selfie” to describe a self portrait photograph occurred on the Australian Internet forum (ABC Online). The word selfie was crowned Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year in 2013. 

 

This word, this idea of the image, has allowed companies to form or utilise the word and idea of the selfie, to have smartphones to have forward facing cameras to take selfies, social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Pinterest and LinkedIn just to name a few. The selfie is probably the most taken image around the whole world, and there are those that have made their fortune by selling the idea of how best to take a selfie, and actually uploading the selfies numerous amounts of times per a day, that makes them extremely influential in the social media platform. Some have even had exhibitions laid on to show off their work.

Some in the world of photography, would not call this photography, but then when photography first began there were those that thought photography had no place in the world of art or exhibitions around the world.

In less than 20yrs, there has been this explosion of images in the billions or more that has taken the world by storm in photography, and is seen as part of photography that is excepted as photography to many, yet the vision is of oneself or with a small group of other people expanded by the selfie stick, because of the maximum distance one can hold the device away from themselves to capture the image. Some have taken to push the boundaries of the selfie by way of a mirror, as bizarre as it may seem for one to photograph themselves taking a selfie, the new dawn of the selfie it may be.

The selfie is a moment in ones life, which can be spontaneous or critically made with thought of the background as way to show “I was here” moment. A snapshot that put together with hundreds if not thousands, tells the story of ones life, day by day, hour by hour. A celebration for that person that documents in a way that photography was really never thought of to be used in this way.

The popularity of the selfie is not for everyone, as the younger generation are the ones from 2001 have grown up with the introduction of the self portrait image.

As I look back at my own history of images, it was my parents or other family members that had taken images of me as I grew up, with less and less as I got older, maybe because my parents were not into photography in such a big way unlike other people I know, which are of the same age as me. It seems a bit hit and miss to how much of your childhood is captured by others. I have just a couple of images of me as a baby, yet today I see my children taking photos of their children at least once a day if not more. There seems to be an importance to photograph our family and the moments that document their lives that they can look back on, in such fine detail, which can be of the morning, afternoon and evening of each day, from the day they were born. To me this is fascinating because its a form of photography that has no care about the how, where, light, shadow, depth of field, composition to the image, just that its taken in that moment to document a life as it grows and grows, to only look back on as a vision of that moment. Being the vision of oneself or as a member of something like a family or group.

Landscape with the use of a drone.

My photography isn’t that straight forward and people know me understand, but see that it doesn’t hold me back. I’ve been in a wheelchair since 1995, but I’ve never seen myself as one that won’t push the abilities of being in a chair, and my photography has also been about pushing the abilities.

Landscape with a camera.

Living in the UK, we have some amazing landscapes, from right on the doorstep of Somerset, the beauty of the Cotswolds, and the breath taking views of the Brecon’s and Snowdonia, which are all within a days drive from Bristol.

But I can only capture scenes from afar, flat ground or the roadside. Even though most of my landscape is taking from these positions, I try to make them as original as possible. What I mean by that, is the viewer wouldn’t know where they were taken from.

But I’ve always seen places, photographs by others that have climb hills, mountains or places that from a chair are just out reach, this is frustrating, to say the least. 

Chew Magna Lake.

The lake or reservoir is a beautiful spot just outside my city of Bristol, about 20 minutes or there about’s. it use for sailing, fishing and has many different types of wildfowl. One spot along the side of the lake has a wonderful tea rooms and climbing centre for the kids, that pulls people from the city to the lake for a cream tea. 

At the other end of the lake is a roadside lay-by that many bird watchers park up to get out the binoculars out or the long lens cameras to watch and photograph the wildfowl. On sunrise, the sun rises across the lake and I’ve photographed it many times with the mist just sitting on the water from this very spot.

Getting a Drone.

The last couple of years, I’ve seen more and more people taking images or film with the use of a drone. After doing lots of research, looking at images captured with a drone as well as film, I can see the potential for my own photography to take me to new heights without having to climb myself.

The price is something I did consider as some of the top end drones are into the thousands, but there has been a new bread of affordable drones for under a thousand pounds that have the capacity to capture quality images and 4K video. 

One of the top drone manufactures, DJI has tried to reach not just the professionals, but those’s that do it as hobby or for photographers to get into drone photography at a reasonable price. Some may say a thousand pounds is still a lot, and yes it is, but what you get is good and safe quality drones that are easy to learn to fly and can be used for those moments when a normal camera, just quite get there. Of course for me landscape is a love, where my portraiture work is my main work in the studio.

DJI builds in sensors that can detect obstacles and go round them, GPS for spot on navigation, wifi controllers, Sony sensor cameras as well as Hasselblad lenses, batteries with over 20 minutes of fly time, and app that runs and controls the drones with features that let you know how much battery you have left and the ability to bring your drone back to where you took off and land within a foot of that original place of flight. To me this is amazing with powerful and quality features that are packed into these small drones that you can stick in a backpack and take up very little space.

The Law.

Over the years with drones becoming affordable and sometimes really cheap and what many would call useless, and many people using drones in a dangerous way, has lead to laws on the use of drones become what some would call extreme and punching out the hobby flyer. There has been well document cases of people flying drones near airports to film plains landing and causing very close calls of damage to aircraft that could lead to plain crashes. Flying drones extreme heights in places where airforce training takes place with close missy’s. drones that so cheap that they end up flying away and out of control into crowded areas, all these kind of events has meant a crack down on where and who can fly where.

Drones are in the main air space as any other aircraft, man or unmanned. So the National Air Traffic and Civil Aviation Authorities have had to right rules for the use of drones and come up with a license for commercial drone pilots that film, survey or photograph as part of a business, that requires training and licensing. This is not cheap with training starting at £500 - £1,000 and license £285 first year and £175 every year after. If your doing as a business then it’s worth the investment, but then your going to want the high-end drones to do the work. As a hobby, there are still strict guidelines and each flight has to be registered with the NAT, but if you stick to them, you can still have a lot fo fun and get some great images, even though 2019 might see some new laws brought in as more and more people get drones, means the sky’s are going to get fill even more.

I’m not a commercial drone pilot or do I need to be for what I do, which is for myself, but I’m happy to put the images up on my website to show what I can do.

A New Perspective.

There is a great difference from photographing from the ground to photographing from above, the is a view that neither one can replicate and makes them unique. Photographing the lake from above shows the reflections of the sky on the water, which is amazing and just couldn’t be shown from the a ground shot, so they both had there perspective of the same scene, but from different angles. This allows to make maybe 30m from the place my chair will only take me and above or maybe just a couple feet from the ground. This my reason for getting a drone and allows me to look towards film as a videographer, that I never thought of. Maybe one day if I have to, then I might look to become a commercial drone pilot, but at the moment my work doesn’t call for it, and by then there probably too many of them all fighting for a share of the market, who knows.

12079918_978763335519809_1121425064483924235_o.jpg

From the side of lake.

This is an image I took back in 2015 from the same spot I took a still image from the drone.  It’s kind of ok, not my best work but gives a view that you can get from this one spot.

 

41026213_10156969619398646_4593789645619200000_o.jpg

Still Image from drone.

This is the same spot but has a much different perspective of the lake and land, which I feel has more to the image. Just been from a birds point of view, see the lake and land in a much more realistic view.

 

Chew Valley Lake Movie.

This is a six minute movie I made with the drone, and I just love the colours of the clouds reflecting off the water and you move from one point to another, you see the clouds stand still. I can see why people look to using a drone to capture a scene, either in an image or as a film, its quite breath taking to me, and gives me the ability to be somewhere I can’t get to any other way.

Early morning over Chew Valley Lake - taken with DJI Mavic Air

Women With Child

A dear friend, Tammy (Tammy Jaqueline Snipe) who does modelling and becoming an accomplished photographer, was a couple of months away from having her second child, that I now know is a girl, decided to sit for me.

I wanted to do something different from the norm of a women with baby bump, and so we talked at length about how we would go about it. Tammy has great deal of knowledge of being in a studio and what can be achieved. We looked at clothing, style, accessories, backdrop and lighting.

Tammy is one that likes to change her hair style and colour, and so when we first spoke I asked what colour hair she had this month? “Purple” was the answer that came back, and I thought this is going to make a cool shoot.

For inspiration, I always find it useful to look at Pinterest for looks and styles and I came across an image where the model was wearing a tiara, and so I asked Tammy if she would consider wearing one, this would give a chance for some headshots which could look interesting. The tiara theme lead Tammy to digging out a long blue gown and had some material that looked like mesh that we could use in the shoot. I had used eBay to find a tiara that looked blingy and was cheap enough for the shoot and had sent Tammy photos to make sure she was happy with it. For most of my studio work, I use a grey backdrop. Black can look over powering and colours that are dark can get lost in the shot, and white can be to cold unless you want the subject to be defined in detail, so grey is more of a neutral colour to work with.

My studio is what many would call a popup studio as I work from home and we have a large kitchen thats perfect for portrait work, and is surprising how much equipment I can setup which includes a boom. I work with one or two lights at a time in a shoot and use an array of different softboxes or bar doors. My setup is tethering my camera to my MacBook and using PhaseOne Capture One. I can’t use Lightroom like most because I use Sony A99II which I recently upgrade from version one, the great thing about Capture One is that I can setup a wifi connection between the MacBook and my iPad Pro so I and the model can see the images in realtime in almost A4 size as they are taken. Once the shoot is done, then I import the images into Lightroom and work between that and Photoshop in my  post editing.

image taken with the use of a boom arm with soft box attached.

image taken with the use of a boom arm with soft box attached.

Headshots

For theses shots I used my boom and Tammy kindly sat on the floor so I could get shots from almost looking from above, not easy from a wheelchair point of view, but it shows that I can’t be held back. I like getting the The Rembrandt Triangle on the face (if you dont know what this is you can look it up) as its beautiful soft shadow on the face. Tammy makes it look the part, but when working with someone, you have to build that communication and trust. As the images begin to take shape, I look at the fine detail, how the hair sits, the hand and fingers in the right place. I feel its the fine detail that’s important in an image and not just knocking of shot after shot, the most I will take in a shoot is maybe 100, and this is down to being able to see the image in a large format on a screen. Its hard to take a shot and then try and show the sitter the image on a small screen on the back of the camera.

I actually had to get on the floor to get the right angle on the shot.

I actually had to get on the floor to get the right angle on the shot.

The baby bump

I had thought about how soft I wanted the final look to have and so I used a small table and large candle to be just in front of Tammy to be part of the image. It’s a classical look to a baby still in the womb and a candle lit for the child, bring mother and baby close together in thought and touch.

When using a table in front of the sitter, you can end up looking to much over the table as if you are pointing the camera at the table, you then get this odd circle that doesn’t fit the whole image. So you have to get down to the point that the table top looks more flatter and a realistic view, while not looking up at the sitter, so you have to be set back at that right distance for the shot to come together, you can only do this by looking through the viewfinder.

I wanted the images to look so the mother is at one with the child she carry’s, so having the hands hold the bump in a certain way was so important as well as looking at the candle light in thought of love and feeling.

At the end of the shoot, Tammy and I looked through the images and I know she was happy and so was I. It’s great when an idea comes to you that the sitter understands just as well, its like an emotional experience thats between you and the sitter comes together to make something from the things that you put together in thought. The editing is so much easier to do when you have the camera and lighting setup correctly.

This is what I love about portraiture, you find the sole and emotion in the sitter that defines the image you generate together, its a partnership built on the thought process put together be both of you.

Drone Photography

Photography over the years have seen many changes, mirrorless cameras, mobile phones with not one but two lenses, and maybe more recently drones.

The drone has come along way from being just a thing that you can fly around that has propellers and does short flights of 6 minutes or so. They have come to be so sophisticated, there used by industries to survey, fire brigade for detection, police for surveillance, television and film production companies to give new angles to shots, but know the photographer can take their images to whole new level.

The top end drones allow for real cameras to be added, but then your looking at a lot of weight and other problems I will mention later. But there is one company thats made drones with small yet quality cameras, which are fitted with a 3-axis gimbal for real stabilisation, and all at a price that makes it affordable for all who are a novice or photographers, videographers. 

DJI have been at the forefront of this type of drone, with the DJI Phantom, Pro and Mavic Air, and recently just brought out the all new Pro 2 with two types to choose from, one with Hasselblad and a zoom version.

 

dji-mavic-air-3_4_be649467-09a7-482a-814f-884d872c9914_1024x1024.png

I’ve recently just got myself the DJI Mavic Air that came as a combo, with three batteries, six sets of blades. This small drone packs a load, that makes

RAW/JPEG images at 12MP

4K video and up to 125FPS 

Sony 1/2.3” sensor

ISO 100-3200

shutter 8-1/8000s

auto bracketing 3/5

burst shooting 3/5/7 frames

HDR

auto or manual mode. 

That to me is a lot for such a small camera, which is all controlled from an app thats can be on a phone, tablet or DJI CrystalSky monitor that connects to the controller.

The drone itself can fly on one charge for nearly 30 minutes, so having three batteries, you’ve got an hour and half flying time on one shoot. It’s also packed with GPS and Wifi with a clear signal thats never lost. 

But like all good things, there are downsides, and this isn’t down to the drone, but regulations. Over the last couple of years, more and more people have taken to getting a drone, but don’t realise that there are rules that come under the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority). Certain people go out by a drone and start flying it anywhere and everywhere, there have been cases reported of drones being flown near airports and putting planes and people in danger. They also been used for getting dugs into prisons and flying with danger to people. This has lead to strict legislation and no fly zones that are getting tighter and tighter by the year.

The thing is with a drone, a person is in control of it, just like a car, and if you don’t take time to learn how to fly in a safe place, your a danger to others. To regulations at the moment stand as follows.

Fly no higher than 400ft

Stay away from people and property at least 150ft

Maximum distance 500m

Some restrictions can be overcome if you decide to become a commercial drone pilot, but this cost for training from £500-£1,000, a license from the CAA first year is around £270 and then every year onwards £170. This is ok if you are flying as for a business doing surveys or paid to film or photograph places or buildings. And currently the authorities are looking at other regulations for hobby pilots and this might be taking an online test to show that your competent drone pilot, and to have public liability insurance.

These’s restrictions are hurting people from having fun, but people that take drone flying seriously, already have insurance and are responsible people, and it would be good to see some restrictions lifted if they meet a certain criteria. If there is blanket ban and all have to have a CAA license, its going to hurt manufacturers of these drones design in mind for the hobby person.

Since the drones have GPS built-in, DJI and NATS (National Air Traffic Control Services) who control the airspace have come up with apps that allows drone pilots to view restricted areas and register their flights. This is important part to the future of drones, which show drone pilots are staying in the safe zones and registering their flight plans, but this platform only allows to the basics, where the DJI app actually records your flight and gives detail of realtime footage. What needs to happen is both parts need to come together with DJI and other manufacturers with NATS to come up with an app the covers all, then there can be no breaking of rules or if they are they can be seen and used to deal with the incident.

All this might seem off putting, but for me and my situation of being in a wheelchair, gives me an extension of my landscape photography. When I do research for shoots, its all about access, can I get to the area and the precise point in my wheelchair. There are so many times that I get frustrated because I can’t there. Having a drone is an extension for me to reach places, and come up with images that have a different angle of view.

My view on the drone law is this. I believe that the UK trading standards should crack down on the type of drones sold, if they are for speed flying, have a license that’s affordable for them, for drones flying high and longer distance should have gps and the safety features like DJI have, have an age restriction, should use flight plan apps, do an online test with NATS or CAA to get a license at a smaller fee if any and have an age restriction.

Why I feel theses things should happen.

It means that people that look to purchase a drone, know what is expected of them, understand beforehand why they want to get a drone and what they can do with it. If they criteria was reached then some of the restrictions should be lifted by the CAA. It’s a small percentage of people that mess it up, and they do it with cheap drones bought off places like eBay from sellers abroad. 

As it stands, it there is a place I’m interested in, and its own by some authority, then I contact them to see if they will allow me to photograph with a drone, its places run by English or Welsh Heritage make it more problematic to use a drone, but if you go by the CAA guidelines then if you are taking off from outside the property and over 150ft above property, then you are within the right to fly, but I would advise to ask permission first as it can always help.

I’m still very new to flying a drone and have some practice flights, but soon I will be starting out on my list of places to go to, and really excited on what I might be able to achieve. There are some great groups of Facebook like Drone Flyers UK and forums like DronePilots thats full of information for those that are thinking of getting a drone or just bought one.

Portrait Image - What It Means To Me

Photographing people, isn’t just sitting someone down in front of a camera and taking hundreds of shots, not to me it isn’t.

People I meet for the first time when they come to the studio, get offered a drink and then just sit and chat for a while. Finding out about people gives an insight into what they do, where they come from, what their views are and what their looking for. Doing this makes studio canvas come alive with them in it, with thought on what’s been spoken about and carry’s on through the shoot.

Emotion is everything and comes through when you communicate and gets driven into the image thats created. You have to look at the person, and look into their eyes, because the eyes are everything to expression. My camera technique is “push button focus’, I focus the camera on the eyes and then move the camera to make the composition, that way I know the eyes are sharp in every image. 
They say the eyes are the window to ones soul, they don’t lie and tell how the person is feeling, whether they are happy or sad, angry or just frustrated, they are everything and anything.

It took me some time to working this out. I looked at old work and recent work, and every time, what I see the most is the eyes. I can see where my mistakes were and what made them bad images, most of it was the fact that the eyes wasn’t in focus and ruined the image. Back at the beginning I was a thinking of lighting and composition, and taking loads of images that many just looked the same. I ask myself why did I do that? I wasn’t recognising what was going wrong I was just taking shots and hoping something would look good. 
Then one day I did a shoot as part of my degree and in my final year of uni. We had 15 minutes to get to know the person and take portrait images they would end up using as part of their portfolio.

They were drama students and looked to us to capture the essence of them that would tell their story of why they want to become actors. Each student was paired up with two photographers to photograph them within time limit. I was the second photographer to photograph this guy, and I asked the other photographer to show me quickly what they had done with them, why, because I didn’t want to do the same shots. All we had was one soft box to work with, and it was down to us to decide on lens and shots to be taken. 
This drama student, was black and had his hair short and a little bit of stubble on the chin, but he had theses amazing bright eyes. I decided on a 35mm prime lens and asked him to look into the reflector and look slightly upwards, and took the shot. I looked on the back of the camera and I loved it, then I showed the student. He said “you have captured everything that is about me in one shot”. From that moment I understood what he meant, I had captured his soul.

Portraiture is a kind of art for me, its thinking what can be achieved, which for the most part is the person and for them to see something in it, which they can related to. There are some amazing portrait photographers out there who have their unique style, its hard to fine your own, but if you think about the face, the look, the style and end image, before you meet the person, then your not wasting time and effort.