Month: July 2015

My Photopedagogy

My Photopedagogy.

When I was small, I used to watch my grandmother make apple pies. She made the best apple pies in the world. Yes, I know others have made that claim, but it’s simply not true. My grandmother made the best!

She never measured anything, but the pies were always perfect, and they always tasted the same.

Once I asked her why she didn’t measure things out. After pretending to be offended she pointed out that once she had measured everything, every time, but that had been nearly sixty years before and now she didn’t need to, she just could feel through her fingers and see  if she needed to add anything to the mixture to get the pastry ‘just right’.

This is what she taught me.

Follow the rules till you get it right. Keep perfecting what you are doing till it becomes part of your being. Use your tools and materials until they are an extension of your body. If something doesn’t turn out the way you expected, work out why. If you like the way it turned out, make that part of your practice. If you don’t like the way it turned out, take it apart and see what went wrong.

My grandmother’s pies were  works of art – and art is not a random act.

So, how do I know if the photographic paper is fixed properly? Because it no longer has the slippery feel of an alkali, but the squeaky resistance of an acid. I teach the pupils to time processes, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Timing cannot tell you how old or partially exhausted a chemical is. You need your sight, sense of smell and sense of touch. You need experience, and that comes with time.

I want to use an f/stop of f8. My meter tells me I need f11. A one stop difference means moving my light source 1.4 times. If I can’t do that, I’ll change the ISO by one stop.

I explain.

I demonstrate.

The pupils copy.

The pupils experiment.

The pupils explain what they have done.

The pupils demonstrate what they have done.

The students work independently.

They become competent.

Fast forward a few years and  those (now ex-pupils) are undertaking commissions of their own, and being paid. Occasionally they’ll be the one carrying my bag at a job. Anyone can carry a bag, but when they put it down and pick up their camera, they’ll produce results that will sell along with mine, and the client will not be able spot any difference.

I don’t teach art. I teach photography. I Teach cameras, lights, meters. I teach the science. I teach the maths. I teach the chemistry. I teach history.

Sitting at my desk now, I can see three digital cameras, a medium format film camera, paper developer and fixer, black and white film, a flash trigger,  and a kit I’m going to turn into a sound activated trigger. This is my kitchen; these are the ingredients of my pies. They may not be the best pies in the world, but I haven’t been doing it sixty years yet!

Me and My Camera

I’ve had a few cameras over the years. Well, to be honest I have quite a few cameras right now. My latest camera is, in many ways, my favourite, and it’s nearly always in my bag. I’ve had it for nearly two years and shot about fifty thousand exposures on it.

Prior to buying it I sat down and made a list of the features I’d want in a new digital camera.

  • Professional quality images should be achievable.
  • Small size and weight.
  • Advanced image Stabilisation.
  • High shooting speed.
  • Great ISO and equally great dynamic range.
  • Weather sealing.
  • Access to a good range of lenses.

These wish-list specs  led me away from a traditional  DSLR into the realms of Compact System Cameras (CSC). Many of these were too slow, or had stuttering Electronic Viewfinders (EVF). Or, were simply too expensive for my budget.

After some research I bought and Olympus OMD EM5 with simply the best kit lens in the market at the time.

The Oly is packed with features, but for me the best thing is the ability to select manual and have the benefit of the outstanding ‘What You See Is What You Get’ (WYSIWYG) EVF showing me how the choices I made impacted on the final exposure prior to shooting. If you really crave creative control, then this is really something to look at.

Ninety percent of the time, the Oly with its kit lens suits me fine, but for the other 10 percent?

Back in the 1970’s when David Bailey was the Olympus guy, the OM1 and OM2 were cameras to dream about. Partly this was their small  size; something the new Oly cameras have adopted, but for many it was the superb  Zuiko lenses.

One of the massive advantages of the smaller CSC cameras is that, with an inexpensive adaptor, you can fit older ‘classic’ lenses. As I had a 50mm f1.8 Zuiko lens, it was an obvious choice for use on the new body.

A disadvantage of smaller sensors is that they create more depth of field. It’s really quite hard to separate the plane of focus from it’s surroundings.  The Micro four thirds sensor used by Olympus is a case in point. In the camera, it is very difficult with the kit lens to obtain any real sense of differential focussing.  However, the addition of my ‘classic’ 50mm to the OMD  body means that I can achieve something that would normally cost a substantial sum.

This does mean that I actually have to adjust the camera settings (including focus) manually, but again the WYSIWYG  EVF is very useful.

The image stabilisation within the camera helps as well. In my Nikon, the sensor is simply stuck onto the back of the camera. In the Oly, the sensor floats in a magnetic  field, and constantly adjusts to movement I make. Shooting at F1.8 usually means high shutter speeds, but the combination of a large aperture and the image stabilisation means that I can reduce the ISO to 100, and even in poor lighting conditions safely hand-hold the camera for static subjects.

Is it perfect? Of course not. Even within Olympus, there have been great technological advances since the introduction of the model I use, and other manufacturers have pushed the boundaries in other ways.

For me, though, it allows me to use my knowledge and skill to produce the type of photographs which have a distinctive style; a style which cannot easily be copied.firebird flower jag