March 31, 2006

Never play Hopscotch in a Minefield- Digital basics Volume 33

Filed under: Technical posts — Tony Bridge @ 12:12 pm

Kia ora tatou:

Herewith the second of my digital basics primers.

I recently had a conversation with an eager amateur photographer who had been into digital for a year and was happily saving her work to her hard drive. When I mentioned archiving/backing up, her comment went along the lines of ‘isn’t the hard drive enough? Why would I want to use a CD?”
Rule one of computing: it’s not a question of if your HDD will fail, but when. Storing your images only on an HDD is like playing hopscotch in a minefield. Sooner or later you will tread on one and get your leg blown off. If you value your images, you will need to archive them. So how do you back up? There are a number of options

  1. An external hard drive. You can buy these cheaply enough. ATM you can get a 250 GB drive in a case for around $300. Check out Pricespy for the best prices. Advantages include portability, ease of access to data and simplicity of access. Get a USB2.0 or Firewire casing for it.
  2. CD/DVD. You can buy blank CD’s for under $1.50 each and DVD’s for around $2.00. Cd’s store up to 700Mb of data and single-layer DVD’s around 4.3 Gb. On a dollar/byte basis, DVD has to be the way to go. You can get dual-layer DVD’s, but these are expensive, and by all accounts, fragile. Then there is the upcoming Blue Ray technology, which offers 30+ Gb/disc.

What counts here is the quality of the burner and the discs. You can buy cheap burners. It is a little harder to buy cheap reliable burners. Some commentators in this area suggest sticking to the Name brands (Sony, Pioneer etc). Avoid a $70 Kamakuza-no-name.

Likewise with your CD/DVD media. Those Warehouse 50-on-a-spindle deals for $45 plus a free romantic-weekend-for-2-in-the-Lubyanka are rarely archival. Again a name brand (Delkin, Sony, Verbatim, and Imation) is more likely to give you a reliable and archival result. Reason: the image is burned into a dye layer on the disc by a laser. Cheap media use poor-quality dyes which may lead to unreliable burns and, worse still, a short shelf life for your data. Remember once you have burned to go through your files and open a few, to check that the burn has worked properly. If possible, set your burning software to verify. That way it checks source data against recorded data to make sure the burn has gone successfully.
Make sure you store your discs in a cool dark dry place (that cuts out the beer fridge!) and in jewel cases.

What ever and however you do it, you need to have a safe place to store your data. Many pros back up to at least 3 different forms of media, e.g. dual DVD copies as well as HDD. While this may seem excessive, you will thank yourself, if you lose 2 and the 3rd is there to dig you out of the c&*p. If possible, store 1 copy off-site.

You need to develop a regime for reliable backup and storage. Everybody has their own idea of how to do it. The process from downloading to archiving is commonly referred to as a digital workflow. I will deal with that in the next post.

Ka kite ano


March 30, 2006

Digital Basics volume 32

Filed under: Technical posts — Tony Bridge @ 2:49 pm

Kia Ora tatou:

Welcome to the second of my Digital-For-Beginners posts.

A common question, which is often asked by beginners, is the difference between a RAW file and JPEG. What they are often asking is whether JPEG is adequate, and whether it’s worth putting the extra effort into mastering RAW files. Fair enough. Let’s have a look at the difference.

JPEG is short for Joint Photographic Experts Group, a body originally established back in the 1990s to come up with a common standard for transmitting images across the Internet. Some of us will remember having a massive 14.4 K modems in our machines! These days a 56k is slow, and image transmission is so heavy that unless you’ve got broadband, you get to drink a lot of coffee waiting for something to happen.

If you’ve ever opened a JPEG, and compared the file size between closed and opened, you will probably have marveled at the sudden increase in size. It’s a bit like having one of those suitcases that expands and expands and expands. What happens when you save as a JPEG, or when your camera writes a JPEG to the card, is that the software looks at areas where the pixels have common values, and writes a small algorithm (formula) for that area of the image. A JPEG is thus composed of a whole series of little formulae, a kind of shorthand for the original image. That explains why some JPEGs are at the same resolution are smaller or larger than others. When you select low compression, or high-quality, the algorithm is much tighter in the areas of pixels and defiance. That is, it will select pixels with a very similar RGB values. When you compress the image heavily, by selecting a low quality result, the algorithm extends further and includes pixels with more disparate values. The saved image is then composed of a number of formulae, a bit like an algebra exercise book, which imaging editing software is able to read. This means you can get more images on your memory card.

But there is a downside. The software you use to open the image and work with can make mistakes. The more you compress the image, the more likely you are to get some errors in reading the original files. We have probably all played the Chinese Whispers game, where everybody lines up, the messages begin at one end and pass through to the other, and then the beginning and end message are compared. Inevitably, they are different. Opening and closing a JPEG is a bit like this. The more you open and close it, the more likely it is that something will be misinterpreted. To avoid any change in the JPEG, it is critical that you archive as soon as possible after capture.

Burn, baby, burn!

If you are shooting JPEGs, when you press the shutter, the data is processed before being sent to the card. Things like saturation, white balance, exposure, sharpening, which are set on the camera by you, are all used by the camera’s in-house processor to develop the image. The camera does what you tell it to. If you get it wrong, then you live with the consequences. While much can be recovered in your image editing program, it is far better if you get it right at the point/time of capture. That means you have to be on top of your technique, and make the right decisions.
Before you shoot.
And often that isn’t easy.

RAW files work by sending the data direct to the card without any production work being done by the cameras on-board processor. You then use image editing software to develop the image. This means that you can process the original data over and over again, making subtle but important tweaks. Until you are happy.

To use the film analogy: shooting a JPEG is like shooting a role of transparency, then sending it to the lab. If you get it right, that’s fantastic. If you’ve made a mistake in exposure or filtration, rescuing it is a major effort. Sometimes an impossible one.

Shooting a RAW file as like being able to take your roll of film back to the lab time and time again until you get things the way you want. One of the joys of working in the darkroom has always been the ability to make decisions about how the film would be processed and printed. Admittedly, you only got one shot at it, but there is a far greater degree of control in the production of the final image-which is why most serious black-and-white photographers prefer to print their own. Just ask Ansel (well, you can’t, because he doesn’t say much these days).

It’s no coincidence that most of the entry-level digital cameras shoot only JPEG. The people who use them, just want to make photographs, much the same as their predecessors did with their film point-and shoots. As long as it came out and looked relatively okay, everything was cool.

JPEG’s offer simplicity, ease of storage, and predictability.

If you’re serious, however, about making the best possible images, about having control over as much of the process as possible, and having the flexibility to make changes post-capture, then RAW has to be the way to go.

March 28, 2006

Who needs PhotoShop anyway?

Filed under: Technical posts — Tony Bridge @ 2:24 pm

Kia ora tatou:

Good morning, everybody. Last night I had the singular good fortune to talk to a small photographic group in northwestern Christchurch. The group has only been going for a year now, but there is considerable enthusiasm and interest in photography.

One member of the group, who has been following Blueprintx for some time, commented that sometimes, what is discussed here is quite-goes over my head is the word he used, and that it would be nice if there were some simpler stuff. At the end of my talk, the discussion turned to working with digital. This lady has only just got a digital camera, and is having difficulty with the basics. For her, downloading, archiving and storage of images, let alone editing, are challenge enough. It is easy to be somewhat for us ‘experts’ to be superior/supercilious, when you meet a beginner at this level. She commented that it would be really nice to see some of the really basic stuff put there for people like her.

So for the lady at the for Burnside photographic group, whose name I never learned, here are some very important but often overlooked basics to digital photography. In fact, I can feel a wee series of posts coming on. A sort of digital primer, really. Let’s begin by stomping on a myth.

There seems to be some sort of preconception out there that unless you’re using PhotoShop, you really haven’t arrived as a digital photographer, that you must learn PhotoShop before you can do any sort of significant digital photography.


PhotoShop is the 18-wheeler of image editing programs. If you’ve just got your learners license on a Nissan March,, being thrown the keys to a B-train, and then being told to drive to the other end of the country is a bit of an ask. Using a big rig to buy the groceries at the supermarket is pure overkill. The point I’m trying to make here, is that there are programs out there, that will do a similar job, as well, if not sometimes more efficiently.
Crystal ball time: II would predict that once Adobe Lightroom is released, sales of CS2 will slump. Remember that PhotoShop was never designed for photographers anyway. It was originally aimed at prepress people and designers. In a sense, it is becoming a piece of bloatware. Adobe, however, seem to have caught onto this, and are now developing a product specifically fo digital photographers. If you’re thinking of buying CS2, or CS3, when it is released in late 2007, I would hold off, and consider Lightroom instead.

So what are the alternatives to Photoshop?

Try, Paintshop Pro-fraction of the price, and every bit as good. (In some cases, better).
Alternatively, download the GIMP. Heavy duty, but that the best possible price-free!
If you want a simple program for downloading and renaming, try Picasa. Again, a free download.
If you are Mac, use iPhoto. The latest versions are really good.
And why haven’t I mentioned the manufacturers’ software?
Approach with caution!
Some are really good and some simply awful (Camedia software has been bad for my PC- but the cameras are really good). the only manufacturer’s software I have had any joy with is what came with my Sony R-1.
I am interested in software you have used and enjoyed. There are already a number of suggestions in the comments on this post. feel free to add to them.
Ka kite ano.

March 23, 2006

On a roll-working to a conclusion

Filed under: Thinking about Photography and Art — Tony Bridge @ 9:04 am

Kia ora tatou:
I would like to talk about another way of making photographs.
For a few years I taught Fine Art photography. It kind of fitted in with my working method and approach to picture-making. I had moved from being an opportunistic photographer happy to grab whatever popped up in front of his lens (landscapes, portraits, whatever), to preferring to work on a series. I learned this from a friend at the time, Nan Gee, who had pursued the same line of enquiry for some years. Looking through her work, I could see a progression, and a gradual development of understanding.
So I began to work this way.

About that time I began, as I said, to teach Art photography. That introduction was a revelation, for this is how Art is made. Over time I came to incorporate it into my own practice. Let me explain how it works.

Art students select a picture-making issue. (Note that all Art is concerned with picture-making problems. David Hockney was concerned with the documentation of time, the nature of perspective, and the question of viewpoint.). Examples might be the nature of near/far, or urban decay, or how a cockroach sees the world….

The student then does considerable research. He/she will look at the work of masters in the field, noting techniques, approaches, subject matter and philosophy. Excellence-level students will have upwards of 5 artist’s models. He will feed it into his own exploration.
There are 4 distinct stages to the process:

  1. Exploration. Here the student does what we have talked about in the last paragraph. This is done by means of a visual diary, where he writes down ideas, sketches, brainstorms and develops possible lines of enquiry. Putting your thoughts out there helps to make them concrete and allow reinterpretation and revisiting. It is probably the single most useful way to advance your work. And it is fun.
  2. Development. Here the student takes a number of those ideas and begins to work with them. A painter might do lots of drawings and mini-paintings. Look at the oeuvre of any significant artist and you will see swags of half-finished work. These are lines of enquiry that did not necessarily go anywhere but fed into the process. Years ago I had the rare opportunity to photograph the work of the famous New Zealand artist, Doris Lusk. Everywhere you looked there were sketchbooks and half-finished painting-lets. Skimming through a few I got a real insight into how she had worked. Photographers might well photograph around the subject. The more you do it, the greater insight you get into the nature of your subject.
  3. Clarification. At this point the student has narrowed down the lines of enquiry into one or two. Work at this point is concerned with focusing on the issues associated with the problem and working them out. For me, a concern in my landscape work is the structure of the land and how it interacts in the picturespace with the sky. The land is, pictorially speaking, relatively static; the sky is constantly on the move. How to draw out that contrast is an idea I will often confront when I am out photographing. For me it is an ongoing concern that informs my work (Artspeak for: what I want to say in my photographs!)
  4. Regeneration. At this point the student is producing work that incorporates this exploration into his/her own artistic view and which is both original and non-plagiaristic. A successful student will offer a personal viewpoint, one that references those who have gone before without directly appropriating (ripping off) what they have done. A weak student will do little development and any end-work will be little more than direct mimicry.

I have had the good fortune to teach with Freeman Patterson, and I will be away at the beginning of April doing so again. Freeman’s work is extraordinarily beautiful. But it is not the result of opportunism. He wears out his gear in constant exploration of his fascination with the natural world and the design elements in Nature. Over the years he has amassed huge numbers of images, and it is a real joy to look at his work and see the progression in it over the years, as he has refined his ideas and approaches.

If we take the time to think about what we are interested in photographically, to consider what it is that fascinates us, to write it down, then explore, explore, explore, the potential is there to grow our picture-making into something informed, original and us.

To make a statement that shows our view.

March 16, 2006

Sharpen up and use your eyes

Filed under: Technical posts — Tony Bridge @ 2:27 pm

Kia ora tatou:
I promised a post on this subject and I shall deliver. I am not going into the ins and outs of doing this. There are plenty of links on the Net. Look here and here. I do want to talk about the whole issue however and offer some guidelines.

Digital cameras now offer us sharpness and microcontrast that we never had with film. And therein lies a trap. It is all too easy to overdo it. As I said in a previous post, it’s a bit like salt on your food. Enough improves the meal. Too much spoils it. The trick lies in understanding it so you can use it intelligently and with taste.

Sharpening doesn’t actually sharpen anything. It merely provides an illusion of sharpness. So let’s look at that.
Open an image that is inherently contrasty, taken say on a bright day. Zoom it to 200-300%. Find a line where there is contrast and a big difference in pixel values. See the example at right.
Now open it in your image-editing programme. I will refer to Photoshop for (my) convenience. Select the unsharp mask filter and find the same point in your image. Make sure the amount, radius and threshold sliders are set to zero. Now push the amount slider to about 50.

Next, adjust the radius slider to the right and watch what happens. You will see that the dark values get darker and the light values lighter. The more you push it right, the further out this increase extends. The threshold is a bit like a governor on a car. It sets the point at which it kicks in.

This is what sharpness is; an increase in light pixels and a decrease in dark values along an edge, where the two meet. This is why your images appear much sharper in contrasty light; the edge contrast is much greater.

Sharpness does not just occur along obvious edges however. Textural detail is comprised of microfine edges. Photograph a seagull’s wing, or a section of tar seal, enlarge to 200% and watch what happens when you work the radius. Texture (read microcontrast) is increased.
The sharpening tools therefore have 2 functions:

  • To increase edge contrast
  • To increase microcontrast

So what does this have to do with taste and how far do you go?
It is really easy to get intoxicated by this tool, and a real-vision check is in order. Look at a real edge and observe how sharp it really is. In bright light edge sharpness is quite defined. In dull light edges are much softer. Close objects are inherently sharper than objects in the distance. Over sharpening becomes really obvious when people attempt to sharpen that range of mountains 20 km away. The Hawkduns at sunset are not sharp. Only our brain tell us they are. Atmospheric haze and long-wavelength light prevent that.
Because we want to believe they are sharp, we go for the slider, and guess what happens?

Haloing, that ghastly ghost-edge effect that reminds me of watching I Love Lucy on an old B&W TV. See right.

When I see that, I know the photographer hasn’t thought it through.

And I better have a thing for salty food.

Ka kite ano.

March 15, 2006

After cataract surgery-seeing again for the first time

Filed under: Shout out, Something different — Tony Bridge @ 12:57 pm

Kia ora tatou:

As a few of you may know, I had cataract surgery on my right eye yesterday. The procedure was utterly painless and quite fascinating. It is all done under local and I was one of about 6 being done. A bit of a production line actually. I admit to a degree of dread at what the resiult might be. What if the difference was only minimal?

I spent last night with a patch over the eye, and I went down today to have it removed. I admit to considerable excitement ( and a little trepidation) at what I would see when I had it removed. I was not disappointed. The revelation was quite extraordinary. I have been told how wonderful the difference is. They were right. It is utterly astonishing.

  • Everything has got about 2 stops brighter
  • Colours are richer, especially yellows and reds
  • My perception of contrast has improved 1000-fold. Suddenly everyone has incredibly-textured skins, and wrinkles are highly evident, as is the microcontrast in fabrics and tar seal. I walked around in a daze for a half-hour, studying the roadway, leaves in gutters, and thinking how old some people looked. (Don’t worry-I still love you all!)

How to show you all this…

I have made 2 images, a before- and after-shot. That might explain it.

The one above is before as my left eye, next in line for surgery, sees the world: the one below afterwards, as my right eye now sees.

My friend Mark showed me a webpage talking about Monet’s reaction and perceptions before and after having his eyes fixed.

You can read about it here.

Ka kite ano

Beyond the Literal

Filed under: Thinking about Photography and Art — Tony Bridge @ 12:18 pm

Kia ora tatou ( Hi everybody):

There are two terms frequently used in the Art world, representation and interpretation. A question in the last post leads me to think this is something worth talking about.

When we first start to photograph, one of the joys is in the fact that we can freeze time, we can preserve a moment or a memory. Around 97% of all photographs fall into this category. Bar mitzvahs, family holidays, shots of the family cat (did you know photographing Felix/Fluffybum is the most popular type of photography?). In other words, memories. And memories are expected to be accurate. To accurately represent that person, that place, that time.

If we go to a favourite beach for a holiday, we might want to record an image of the place with our cameras so we can enjoy it at a later date. So we stand there, point our cameras, and shoot that. We make an accurate representation of a place and time. Now are you getting it?

If that was what we intended, then there is no problem. Most of the photos in family archives are of this type. And those people are perfectly happy with them. Remember that week in Okarito….?

All of us probably have a calendar we were given near Xmas, from one of those companies that sells bulldozers or power tools (No, not the sort you see on the walls of panel beaters’ smoko rooms!). Inevitably they prompt us to ask the question, where was that shot taken? Inevitably they are shot near midday and an accurate representation of what the place looks like. Hmmm, a wide shot looking down over Kerikeri.. In other words a photograph that is representational.

I am told that if you go to Yosemite, there are photo-opportunity spots where you can attempt to replicate Ansel Adams’ famous images. The image is in front of you. Along with little concrete tripod holders. I don’t know the truth of that, but I do know that there is an industry out there that serves the needs of those who want to follow in the great man’s footsteps. They wander around with wooden view cameras on wooden tripods looking for a shot of Half-Dome( actually, they should use 500-series Hasselblads, since Ansel was the main tester of these when they first came out). This type of approach is derivative. And here is the difference.

Representation is fine. Ansel did it to perfection. But there was a motive behind what he did. His aim was to portray the beauty of nature, so that others would come to appreciate the wilderness and thus want to preserve it intact. It worked. His images were instrumental in the development of national parks in the United States. He had a philosophy that drove his picturemaking. And you can see the personality of the author in the work.

Graeme Sydney is another case in point. While his work is quite representational ( read: photorealistic), it has a distinct style of its own. He has truly appropriated the Central Otago landscape, and captured the space and light that is so characteristic of it, to the point where anybody who attempts to do the same appears derivative. Note that he makes very big works, which add to the sense of vastness that is so much a part of that place. Somehow a small A4 print looks wrong. Even an A2 appears cramped.

Derivation comes when we approach a subject through another’s eyes, and this often comes because we want to tread in somebody else’s footsteps. In Western Art, imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery. It is plagiarism (curiously, Eastern Art forms have, until recently, taken the opposite approach). We look to see the psyche or philosophy of the author in the work, and preferably a new viewpoint.

All art relies on what has gone before, and all artists’ influences have their foundation in the past. What makes the difference is the extent to which the artist absorbs those influences and filters them through his/ her own beliefs and artistic concerns. Andy Warhol’s work can be referenced back to the Photo Montage movement of 1930’s Germany, but he ahs added his own terms of reference to it, to the point where it is distinctive, unique and easily recognised. He has made the idea his own.

So where does this leave we photographers? If we like making landscapes, we could take the time to think about why we like making them, about the aspects of the landscape that talk to us, and how we feel about this. We could take the time to write these down, including facets that we feel passionate about. Then we could well spend time looking at the works of the masters, including their raisons d’etre. (There is a reason why Fine art students all have to study Art History…..).

If we read widely, then think about our own attitudes and beliefs, we will be well on the way to making images that bear our own imprint. We begin to interpret our subject matter, putting our own authority on it, and to make photographs that offer more than mere documentation/representation.

Photographs which are not derivative.

Ka kite ano ( talk to you soon)

March 12, 2006

PSNZ Honours 2006

Filed under: Shout out — Tony Bridge @ 6:21 pm

Kia ora tatou:

As some of you know, I have been in Auckland for the annual PSNZ (Photographic Society of New Zealand) Honours Board awards. This year there were a massive 113 submissions, a new record!

I was elected to the Board last year, and ‘06 has been my first time on the panel. A few of you approached me to get help with your sets. I refused, since I really didn’t know the procedure, being the New Kid on the Block, and I was afraid I would put you wrong. I am glad I stuck to that, since the process has been a steep learning curve for me. I thought however, that I would share a few observations from the process that might be of help to those of you thinking of going for your letters in ’07.

I am convinced that every attempt is made to do the right thing by people who submit for their letters (and yes, I do know who made it and I don’t know who didn’t. Please don’t ask-you will find out in due course….)

Let me explain the procedure.

There are 6 people on the panel. All are Fellows. All have a long involvement in photography. All are specialists in a particular area. They come from all over the country. The procedure goes something like this:

  1. We start with Licentiateships in a particular area, say slides. We then do Associateships. Fellowships come last. Then we move on to Prints. After that AV’s. This year there were 113 submissions.
  2. The session begins with a discussion on procedure and marking criteria. Then the work begins.
  3. A few sets are put up so we can get ”our eye in.” These are then put aside and left until last. The title of the set is read out, along with any titles of individual works. Then the panel considers the work in silence. Each of us has two counters, a white one, showing we believe the work meets the required standard, and a red one to indicate it “falls below the bar.”
  4. At the end of the consideration process, each of us casts our vote. The votes are counted and read out. 6 reds and the work is rejected. We then analyse the weak points and attempt to generate comments helpful to the candidate for a re-submission. We are never told the name of unsuccessful candidates.
  5. If the candidate scores 6 whites, the work is accepted and the successful name is read out.
  6. If 1 red or white is cast against the flow, the caster is invited to comment. He/she does not have to speak. The rest of the panel listen, and if the argument is convincing enough, there is a re-vote. The result is binding. Some of us occasionally cast a counter-vote, because we want to ensure that there is discussion. Sometimes the rest of the panel are convinced to change their minds. Sometimes they are not.
  7. 2 counter-votes and the dissenters are expected to defend their position. Occasionally their arguments are sufficient to convince the remainder of the panel to rethink and change the recommendation. Occasionally they are not, and the result stands.
  8. If there is a tie, discussion is mandatory. At the conclusion there is usually a re-vote. The result is again binding. If the tie remains, the applicant is judged unsuccessful. There must be a majority for the submission to be accepted.
  9. There is continual cross-referencing to other submissions. Consistency of marking is critical.

Some observations from 2006.

  • The standard of work submitted this year was generally mind-boggling and some of it wonderfully creative (especially the Fellows). If you want to see the best work in each category, take the time to get along and see the successful candidates at this year’s convention in Christchurch. If this is the standard of work being done in clubs, then amateur photography in Aotearoa is in fantastic heart.
  • The number of slide sets was quite low, relatively-speaking. I guess this is as a result of people moving to digital.
  • The base level of technical competence was really high. When exposure and depth-of-field errors occurred, they were quite obvious and intrusive. I wonder if digital and the ability to ”chimp” is responsible for this increased technical control.
  • A lot of people seem to be doing their own printing. In some cases that was really obvious. Their choice of paper, printer and control of the print process was shaky and, in some cases, let down really good work. It is really important to get this under control. Look for a future post.
  • In many cases the images were so oversharpened that they lost detail and had really noticeable halo-ing. Sharpening is a taste thing. It’s a bit like salt. Too much on your food and it is ruined (yes, I know it’s supposed to be bad for you!). Again watch this space.
  • There were almost no look-I-found-the-filters-menu-in-PhotoShop sets. There were few, if any, sets with clouds A superimposed over landscape B shots. Praise be. That was old hat in PhotoShop 3!
  • I didn’t see a single backlit-sheep photograph!
  • It is really important to be clear in your own mind what is you are trying to say. Photography is a form of communication. An individual image needs to have something to say, a bit like a sentence. A submission is a superset of this, a chapter if you like, that makes a similar statement, only on a larger scale.

Anyway, I know that a number of you are thinking of going for your letters. Let me know what you think. I will add more as I think of it, and attempt to respond to any comments.

Ka kite ano

March 6, 2006

Creativity and Play- Keeping loose

Filed under: Thinking about Photography and Art — Tony Bridge @ 4:06 pm

Kai ora tatou:
Playing and development go hand in hand. We all know that. We just have to watch a small child playing to see the importance fo play. As they make stuff in the sandpit, or organise tea parties for their dolls or fiddle with that Lego set, there is a lot of learning and self-development going on. It’s how kids grow.

What is even more important is the fact that it is all un-self-conscious. Kids do it because they do it because well, it is fun. They don’t measure success in terms of self-development. They measure it by the fun they had, and whether they want to do it again.

So what happens when we become adults? Just have a look at the use of play in adult terms? We play up, we play around, we play down (something), we play for keeps. All of these meanings have some kind of motive attached to them. Rarely, if ever do we just play……

As adults, we tend to measure achievement using different markers; financial, career, status, competition success, our photographic letters perhaps. We begin to get get serious about our photography and become goal-oriented. As a consequence we can become increasingly narrow in our focus and the spontaneity may disappear from our work. Our creativity suffers. Our photographs may become stereotypical or same old same old, or may even get boring.

I want to suggest that playing is important. Being willing to be open to new subject material, to just explore and enjoy photography for its own sake is, I believe, a critical part of avoiding becoming predictable and stodgy. Photographing things we haven’t tried can be fun, can show us new things or ways of seeing, or even point us in new directions. We need to explore and play and try out things that may seem silly at the time.

We need to circle around our subjects, shooting from different angles and discovering with our cameras. Great artists know this: David Hockney explored photography for some 2 years, playing with the concept of how we look at things, created masterpieces, including the wonderfully complex Pear Blossom Highway, and then moved on. What started out as play became a photographic event that showed a new way of making images with a camera.
With a digital camera, we have no excuse for not doing lots of play( photographic, that is!)
We can do the same as Hockney; we can explore whatever takes our fancy.
Now I love the landscape. Being out there and working with light and the land is a supreme joy. But sometimes I need to walk away. It is all too easy to get in a groove and become formulaic.

The image above came one morning when I got out of bed (no, contrary to some opinions, I do not sleep suspended from the rafters!). As I climbed out of bed, I saw the way the light slid across the bed and created a domestic landscape. I grabbed my Sony, formatted a card and filled it with variations on essentially the same idea. I know it’s not a new idea (Imogen Cunningham did it a long time ago), but it was fun, it didn’t cost much, it has awoken my interest in photographing domestic objects, and it has tuned up my awareness of light.

Best of all, it may be the start of a whole new journey.
Ka kite ano

March 2, 2006

Colour-another perspective

Filed under: Thinking about Photography and Art — Tony Bridge @ 11:04 am

Kia ora tatou:
With all this discussion on colour, I thought it was time to call in the big guns, in this case my friend and colleague Mark Soltero. Mark is a painter, and therefore has a perspective on colour that I have only begun to acquire (largely because of him-many thanks, Mark!). So I have asked him to chip into this debate and contribute a post ( or 30). He writes:

“American Color” (spelling kindly noted) is a term in itself. As an “American” overseas it seems easier for me to ‘see’ the States. It was Robert Hughes’ “American Visions” video series on the Art Historical perspective of ‘home’ that really opened my eyes.
But going back in time one can think of colour or color and it’s uses – the book on the history of colour (out last year?) goes back in time tens of thousands of years and one realises or realizes the significance that colour has played in whole human drama. We now know we see ‘so little’ of what’s available and yet we also know, on a totally different level, what a huge role colour plays in our lives.

Some facts (for me):
1. Colour never exists in isolation – even for the blind – it has a feeling, a taste, a sense, an association, and so much more
2. Colour is so often abused (due perhaps to our ‘ability’ to use it without having to think much and this of course has an effect on our experience or our ‘un-education’)
3. Our ‘un-education’ seems to have some common ground: we’re taught there’s no such thing as black and white (teachers and ‘facts’?!) and that there are these things called ‘primary colours’ and so on and so on. On a simple level colour can divided into pigment and light – and the ‘truths’ we talk about can be discussed as belonging to one or the other or a partnership of the two as is often the case.
4. We tend to think of and talk of colours as if there was ‘one’ of each and perhaps slightly different versions of a given ‘one’. This is an indication of our misunderstanding of pigment vs. light and our ‘un-education’.

Take red for example: In oil paint there is the king; Cadmium Red. It’s scientific code is PR101. But there are so many different levels of quality. Cadmium is often replaced now with Barium (due probably to cost and safety) but one can still find the pure stuff. By looking into just one colour we can see there are even more than we could cover in several pages. Take commercial auto paints. There are several official reds for Porsche – one of which is called “Guards S” which is a kind of orange-y red. But have a look at the official manufacturer’s colour list for cars and you suddenly notice a list with literally thousands of names. No wonder they end up giving them strange descriptors like “pearl apple”.
There are literally 1000’s of new (commercial) colours developed each year. I can’t keep track of all the whites. But the commercial area is a good one to examine this. Because there is supply, so we can assume demand (?) These colours are often experienced outdoors unless you like to look at auto mags (come on – confess) and then we contend with light, reflective light, varnishes, dirt, waxes etc. It never exists without other things – so much so that we can hardly begin peeling back the layers until we become tangled-as I have in my little bit of writing here.

I’ll pick up a thread (perhaps green) next time and see where it gets me. Cheers.

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