David's Blog

Category: Embrace Your Mistakes

Whale Watching

whale watching

Above is a picture of what I saw when I went whale watching, next to it is the average picture I took. Call me Ishmael if you may, I saw the great white Devil but I never quite captured it in all its glory.

This is partly because we were 100m away, partly because (like an iceberg) you see so little of the fantastic mammal bust mostly because I am not a nature photographer.

I did take one worthwhile(ish) photograph, a blow hole and a tale of two Grey Whales (I like to think mother and Calf – although I have no proof of this -) That I intend to send to the marine biologist on the trip due to it’s distinctive and clear markings. I started to ponder about the worth of still and moving photography as documentation purposes.

Whale With this in mind BBC2’s fantastic nature programs, I have the complete Life Collection by David Attenborough, suddenly seems not just entertaining factual programs but crucial cataloguing for future peoples. “This was life on earth; this was how our co-inhabitants lived” future generations can say to further future generations while showing photographs and film we take now. This generation can only say “Sorry all you have left are photographs.”

So with the idea of photography as important time capsule for future generations to judge, perhaps we shouldn’t take so many selfies in club toilets?

Embrace Your Mistakes:

 

 

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Haven’t done one of these for a while.

Zoo photography is wildlife photography for those not wiling to wait. Alas this doesn’t mean you get the photographs you want. Out of 224 photographs taken I was happy with…1. this one above is, like so many, one I am almost happy with.

The mistakes first, for which I can see two:

1. The image is very grainy, This is down to a) Enlarging the focus point of the image. b) Overdoing the sharpening tool.

2. The face is still shy of focus. This is even after I cranked up the sharpening tool to 11. This is because unlike in the wild zoo animas are well kept behind glass. Your sensor is snapping a photograph not just behind the glass of your lens but also the glass of the enclosure.

While I may have listed only two mistakes they are both killers.

Primates themselves hold a fascination for me. The Orangutan is perhaps one of my favorite creatures (many a disappointing picture of them too) and the Chimp I find equally fascinating and rather creepy. In the end I gave up trying to get that ‘perfect shot’ taking instead huge amounts of pleasure in watching them. This toddler chimpanzee especially was a very delightful thing to watch, as it dug a hole and began throwing dirt over his nearest elder- to their obvious frustration.

When an argument broke out and the shrieking began I not only remembered my recent cinema trip to see the latest in the Planet of The Apes series but also a little seen but rather excellent documentary called Project Nim, about Nim Chimpsky (the name does make me titter each time) being taught sign language, and the debate around him.

With moments of pure escapism, such as watching a young chimp annoy his family, perhaps its best we all live that moment and not worry about how it looks through a lens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being Reflective

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In my old age (I recently celebrated my 24th Birthday) I have become slightly reflective. Apologies in advance.

“I need a new better camera.” or “I need updated software”

How many times do I hear this? Instead of wanting what we don’t yet have, why not play with what we do. Robert Frank did not have a 2014 DSLR yet still managed to photograph The Americans. Thelma Schoonmaker didn’t have FCPX yet still edited Raging Bull. Lets stick with what we know. Understand how to work it, improve with it. Fuck up with it, and eventually watch it die of overuse. Then we can have new things, perhaps creating something worthwhile with the old one.

Embrace Your Mistakes #4: The Night Sky

https://vimeo.com/81217253

A few months back when I as visiting Scotland I took a few star photographs which can be seen on my flickr page. With my wonderful girlfriend I also created this time-lapse that you can see above. I thought I would talk you through it, whats good, whats not and how it was created. 

This 10second film is actually 250 still images taken over the course of two hours. I do not have a remote shutter so it was taken by hand with the exposure set to 20seconds. For this shoot I used the Helios 44, an old Russian lens which was at hand. Converted its about a 55, It would be interesting to compare this short with one taken with a wider angled lens, but I don’t think the crop is necessarily an issue.  The sequence was shot  on RAW and brought into After Effects through Adobe Bridge. It is 25fps. 

What is an issue is the slight tremor of the camera/tripod set up and the slight delay in the shot, it is never exactly 10 seconds and sometimes it shows when I wasn’t paying full attention to the time (to give us some credit it was about zero degrees out there!) This shows that a remote release is necessary! Even if you had perfect timing it would combat the shake, however slight it might feel when taking the shot.

The footage is a bit noisy, this could be combatted with a noise reduction with color or after effects but this would downgrade the sharpness, for me that is far more important than a bit of grain!   

But there is still much to admire, if not in this video then with just looking up at the stars themselves, moving at a slower rate

 

 

 

   

Embrace Your Mistakes #3: Into the Wild

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I found this picture on my hard drive, I took it way back in 2012 and I was clearly to disappointed to do anything with it. Now I think it’s a perfect picture for this column. First let’s look at the negatives and mistakes:

1) The photograph was taken through glass. I have tried to colour correct the image so it is LESS noticeable than the original but you can still see on both the right and left hand corners the smudging and lightening of the image. If possible never take through glass, this is why most hides have slits in them. Unfortunately for me this picture was taken through my parents conservatory and I thought I might of scared them away if I opened the door and walked out. If you have to take a photograph through glass* than use a polariser.

2). The picture is shy. This is again down to the fact that I shot it through glass and because I had the camera on auto focus. In my defence If I had tried to of shot it with manual I would of missed most of the fight! In this case it was better of of constantly press the button rather than constantly adjust the focus ring. The picture is also shy because it has been…

3). Cropped and enlarged. The longest auto-focus lens I have is the sigma 70-300mm, and a very handy lens it is too. While it can take some lovely shots, it is simply not long enough to take these kind of nature shots. It is also quite simply fast enough leaving to slight blur and shyness around the moving figures, emphasised when you zoom into them as I have done.

Saying that there still are some benefits to it. While not a completely successful still-life shot the expressions on the two male’s faces and their aggressive wing stance makes it a least slightly interesting.

As always a backlog of Embrace Your Mistake pictures on my flickr set are up for your amusement and if you want to send any of your experiments or failures my way then be my guest!

*if you want to ignore me and shot through glass then here is some tips and here, if your very lucky (and very dedicated), is what you can achieve.

The imperfect Portrait (Alternatively: Embrace Your Mistakes 2)

ThonMuseam

Looking through my hard-drive I found some photographs gathering (theoretical) dust taken in London’s Natural History Museum in January. I love this museum and bully people to go every time I am in London. I have created a Flickr Set for you to look through, but this post is about just the above portrait of my good friend and fellow filmmaker Jonathon Reynolds.

Seeing “Embrace Your Mistakes” was my most viewed post so far I thought I would do a follow up. A far more traditional shot than the “Balem tower” mishap, it still shares many of the same failings:

1. The subjects eyes are out of focus- an amateur mistake, as viewer will go straight to the eyes.

2. I did not use a tripod creating motion Blur (low light).

3. Slight “highlight” on chin and stubble from over use of “sharpen” tool on Photoshop.

4. Not enough headroom, the poor man’s scalp has been chopped off.

However, with all this in mind, I think there are some positives:

1. The colours are great.

2. The bokeh background is nice, (thank you museum and helios!), although, not as nice as this one of the same day.

3. I like his rather blank expression

Every photographer (however amateur) has a image in their mind before they snap away. This perfect platonic image can very rarely be reached and often leads to crying at your screen. For me the genius of Robert Frank (surely one of everyones favourite photographers?), Robert Mapplethorpe and David Hockney, in fact whoever, is that they create an image pure enough that it says something both about themselves and the person in the portrait.

I am not as assured on portraits as I would like, as I am sure you will become aware throughout these Mistakes... posts. If you want to follow my journey of discovery then you can follow my Portrait Flickr Set. If you have a favourite photographer or photograph, or indeed, any tips on how to take a great picture, send them my way.

Belém Tower (Alternatively: Embrace Your Mistakes)


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This picture is of Belem Tower, an impressive building found in Lisbon.

My intention was to do a new photo stitch on a very large scale, I had in mind a rather pretentious (and silly) idea of taking all the pictures from slightly different angles and showing a truly 3D-2D world. What it actually looks like is (as one could expect) a mess.

there are several reasons for this, and as it is always best to learn from ones (or someone else’s) mistakes I shall go through them for you.

1. The pictures are all taken with different lighting conditions.

2. I did not use a tripod

3. If I really wanted to take it from different angles I should of actually taken all angles possible to slowly stitch up. Show one side of a cube you get a square, show two sides that do not connect and you get two squares etc.

4. (Perhaps the most important) I did not think through what I wanted to achieve, I just blindly clicked away.

So with these 4 tips in mind a reader could (and quite probably should) ask: “Why not through away the picture? Why did you keep and PUBLISH it for all to laugh at?” This is for a very simple reason: I like it. Sure it doesn’t work; a tower is appearing out of the sea, all the images are different colours and nothing really matches up. With all this in mind I still think of it as quite a silly, fun picture and one that I can see not just what I wanted to achieve but how I can do so next time.

And so with his in mind I have created a new category called “Embrace Your Mistakes” and a new Flickr Set of the same name. I am going to carry on posting and sharing not just pictures I am proud of but pictures that completely failed in my aims.

So remember this: Anyone can take a good picture of Belém Tower, it takes someone special to create a really bad one.