With lockdown easing, and having recovered from a serious illness last year that stopped all photography and much else in its tracks, I am at last able to pick up a camera again. I completed year two at Richmond College but after the illness, decided to take time out before proceeding to year three and do an online course instead. A good one to start with seemed to be the 31 Days to Becoming a Better Photographer with the Digital Photography School. This photo, above, was taken at Wraysbury lakes, near Heathrow, for Day One of the course, ‘setting up your camera’.
Day 2 assignment: Take shots in different contexts, including: Outdoors, Indoors in bright light, Indoors in dim light.
I admit it was tempting to use an old photo for part one of this, but I made myself start from scratch with a new idea. Unlike in Australia, where the course’s tutor Jim Hamel is based, and where everyone is talking about spring, here in the UK it is autumn so I was delighted to find some lemon-scented salvia still flowering in our garden. The first picture, the outdoor shot, I used a macro lens. Then I cut the salvia and put it in an Old Albert bone china milk jug, and balanced this on the end of our kitchen table, using a wide aperture (f2) on a 50mm lens and fast shutter speed for shallow depth of field. I was delighted by the unintended bokeh effect. Finally, for the third shot, which I felt was least successful of the three, I brought the jug upstairs to our son’s little studio and used a long exposure and smaller aperture. All were done on ISO 100. I felt the need to play around with flash and tripod, especially for shot 3, but didn’t have the equipment or the know-how to hand at this time.
Working in the final term of level 3 towards the Dreams/Reality project, my goal was to move on from the floral theme in the studio and at Kew Gardens to a ‘wilder’ goal including tentative spiritual exploration around ‘pilgrimage’.
This was very much taking forward the work from last term, working particularly with depth of field, aperture and shutter speed in manual mode, with some post-production effects being brought into play, to create a variety of effects around realism and surrealism.
It turned into two literal pilgrimages, but also became the proper start of a pilgrimage for me as I begin to find and create my own distinctive style, drawing on the work and influenced by the numerous masters in the field of photography.
For my term 3 project, based around creative exploration of the dreams/reality theme, I began my research by taking photos on pilgrimage. I was able to experiment with new techniques learned in Photoshop processing, such as masking and the use of lassoe and quick select to light and darken specific areas and enhance light and shade. Landscape is a great subject on which to practise with these tools and make the most of ethereal light, ancient stone and natural beauty. These photos, taken on a walk from Rochester to Aylesford Priory, are part of set taken for use at work. The main photo is a view of the Medway Valley from the North Downs Way on Blue Bell Hill near Rochester, Kent. I used photoshop select tool to enhance the light, in an attempt partly to evoke the atmosphere of the kind found in the photographs of Gregory Crewdson. Nature did not need much help from me here however! Read the related article about the newest pilgrimage route in the UK, the Augustine Camino, here.
Spent a morning on the north bank of the Thames, practising ND filters and long exposure from last term. Also went beyond camera raw and used Photoshop properly for the first time to lighten the foreground only by masking, and also to enhance the natural drama of the sky.
Having been given a Nikon D500 at Christmas by dh, I spent some time mainly familiarising myself with the new controls in Kew Gardens and on Richmond Riverside, when a gentle sunset at an exceptionally high tide obliged nicely. The controls turned out to be surprisingly intuitive. Focusing is so much easier and the colours and sharpness of the final results are a huge improvement on the D5200.
The Christmas at Kew event was the perfect event for painting with light and working with slow shutter speeds. The artificial light used to illuminate the trees at night, plus the light displays themselves, presented a number of challenges and opportunities. I experiemented with ‘painting with light’ on the slightly longer exposure. I used a tripod for almost every shot as exposures were several seconds long in each case. I also tried to use creatively the people walking past, eg in the mirror-ball snowman, were a person who at my request agreed to walk slowly in front of the camera created an impression of a ghostly image passing by. The bottom image is a case of natural light shining through, the moon breaking briefly through the clouds to light up the autumn leaves, which on a long exposure looked beautiful.
There were many crowds, and it was important to observe the health and safety restrictions at Kew – staying behind barriers etc, being careful in the dark not to do anything that could put myself or others at risk while manoeuvring for a good shot. There is a lot of water at Kew that can be fallen into, and many things that can be walked into and fallen over in the dark. Also permission had to be negotiated with individuals who might appear in shot, or who were in the way of a shot. (Kew is a registered charity so it is not a public space where it is legal to take photographs of anyone without asking permission. In any case, it is considerate to ask permission.) Just walking around with a tripod meant taking care not to bang people on the legs or bodies in the dark and the crowds.
Although the working conditions here were very different, I was aware when shooting of the influence of the British photographer Jem Southam, and the night enhanced by artificial light I felt almost created some of the luminescence of his landscape photography, though naturally the moon did it best of all, unaided by our human artifice. I had also learned from and was aware of being influenced by the work of German photographer Rut Blees Luxemburg, who manages to make the ordinary manmade light/dark contrasts in urban landscapes appear extraordinary by the use of intelligent composition.
Working in Nigeria, Africa for a week, most of my pictures were for work and not relevant to this course. However, this one was a picture of the new Catholic church being built at Caritas hq in Abuja. With the dawn breaking, there was a brief moment of a few minutes to capture the perfect light as it rose over the hills. In camera raw I lightened the foreground to create a rosy glow. As I was shooting into the rising sun, I used a relatively small aperture and fast shutter speed to capture the colours and not over-expose with good depth of feel. Again this was good practise for the plan ahead to work in the darkening twilight at Kew.
This was the first time I felt able to experiment in a way with colour in the processing in a manner that I could pay adequate tribute to American photographer William Eggleston, a pioneer in the use of colour that today we take often for granted. The light in Africa naturally conveys the colour-saturated warmth that was such a hallmark of Eggleston’s own work.
Went to Hyde Park to experiment with using histograms to guide settings, both when taking the photograph and when editing in Camera Raw. Practised more with different depth of field, manual and automatic focus. Processing was useful in correcting white balance and to enhance the colour of the swans without losing the detail in the feathers. Histograms were useful in judging exposure, learning to avoid over-exposure.
Working with Adobe Bridge, Lightroom CC and Photoshop. Practising layers and masking. Here I’ve posted the originals and the processed pix. The creative potential in this is very exciting. Pic 1: View of the City from Bankside near Tate Modern. Pic 2: South Milton Sands in Devon. Pic 3: Abstract photo taken during a London Photographic workshop at Tate Modern. (Note for action: Abstract photography exhibition opens at Tate Modern on May 2.)