Category Archives: Photography

I don’t need your consent

Note: As of the 5th August there’s an update to this post, after the instagram posts, right at the bottom.

I’ve been taking photographs in public places (often called Street Photography) for around three years.  I’m as surprised as anyone that I’ve discovered an interest in documentary, social, street, urban whatever you want to call it photography.  I truly thought I’d take up photography and spend my time pointing expensive long lenses at wildlife, and expensive macro lenses at other kinds of wildlife.  I even blogged about it here.  I’m no good at it mind you, but I’m still putting in the effort and practice and hopefully over time I’ll improve.  I don’t feel that I have a very artistic eye, and so a lot of my photography is workmanlike, technically okay quality (focus, exposure, framing) but not necessarily always very interesting.

Anyway, that’s mostly an introduction.  In the three or so years I’ve been doing it, I’ve not had any trouble.  I even took photographs of armed police officers, and had some conversations with them, and never had any trouble.  It can be daunting, pointing your camera directly at strangers in the street.  Of course we don’t think twice about taking a photograph of friends or family and getting a few straggling strangers in the background, or taking snaps of attractions or tourist views, and again, catching a few strangers in the frame.  It’s different though when you know you’re pointing your camera at someone you don’t know, and they don’t necessarily know you’re taking a picture.

I try and be socially aware.  I avoid taking photographs of people I consider vulnerable, the definition of which is mine and mine alone.  I work hard not to take photographs of people ‘just because they’re attractive’.  I don’t take photographs for the most part of isolated children.  I take a lot of photographs in Old Market Square, and there are often kids playing in the water and fountains in the summer months, and I am aware of that and it informs where I point my camera and what I shoot.

However, I also know my rights as a photographer in the UK (but I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice).  They boil down to this – and I’m going to state them quite coldly.  I don’t need your consent.  If I’m in a public place, and you’re in a public place, then in general I don’t need permission to take your photograph, or a photograph of your children, or anyone elses children for that matter.  There’s a right to privacy within UK law, and that means that in some situations a photograph could be inappropriate despite the notion of it being a public place.  For example, photographing someone entering or leaving a family planning clinic could ultimately be an invasion of privacy.  But, within the bounds of decency and privacy, I don’t need your permission.  I do need your permission to use the images for ‘commercial’ purposes, but again, that’s actually a limited range of uses applied to advertising a product or service, or similar use.  I can take photographs all day of people in the street and publish books full of them and never need a model release form.

So I’ve never had any trouble.

Until today.

The Nottingham Beach is on again this year.  The council and am event company work together to turn the Old Market Square into the seaside.  There’s sand, water, rides, arcade machines, fish and chips, donuts, slushies, ice cream, it’s great.  The kids love it, families love it, and it’s always busy.  This year is no exception.  I went into the city today hoping it was going to be very sunny with heavy downpours.  I definitely get my best shots when people are surprised by sudden rain and go running.  Sadly for me it stayed dry, although I guess the families preferred it that way.  I hadn’t taken any shots of the sand area because there weren’t any interesting compositions and it was mainly just families having a good time.

I was speaking to Greté on Facebook messenger while eating a sandwich, telling her about the rides and the food stalls, and I said I’d grab her a few shots so she could see what the place was like.  So I took some of the fish and chip stand, the donut stand, the slushy stall (including a security/event management guy, and the lady running the stall since that were standing in front of it).  I turned, took a couple of the sandy beach, two of the water, and a couple of those inflatable ball things you can stand inside.  I was, as ever, conscious of the kids, and so I took wide angle shots showing the whole area.  I then wandered around a corner, decided not to take a shot of the surf machine (wasn’t running) and was about to leave, when I heard someone shout ‘oy’ behind me.

The guy from the slushy stall strode towards me, shouting, “You can’t take photographs here”.  I told him I could because it was a public space.  He switched immediately to, “You can’t take photographs of kids without their parent’s permission”.  I said sorry again, but I could do exactly that, although I hadn’t been.  By now he was beside me and made his first grab for my camera.  I stayed calm, held my ground, and said that once again, I knew my rights, this was a public space and so I was within my rights to take photographs.  We exchanged those views a couple more times, with him forcefully telling me I wasn’t allowed to take photographs of kids without their parent’s permission.  He made at least one more grab for my camera during this period.  After a couple of minutes, and me once again saying that I could, he said, “Let’s see what the police think then”?  I said I was more than happy for them to be involved.  I think that might have been the first moment where he wondered if he was on the right side of the conversation.

He picked up his radio, but before he could say anything, he caught the eye of an older member of staff who came over.  The first guy explained what had happened, I explained that it was a public space and I was within my rights to take photographs.  The first guy went off on his tirade about me taking pictures of the kids without permission, to which I said I didn’t need it but hadn’t been anyway.  I then tried to explain four times why I was taking the pictures, that my wife had said she wanted to see what the place looked like.  Each time I got three words into that, the first guy talked over me saying, “What are you, a nonce”?  Eventually, I just held the gaze of the second guy, and he got the first guy to stop talking.

The second guy then asked if I would show him the photographs I’d taken.  I know my rights, he can ask that, but he’s got no power to force me to do it.  However, it made no sense not to comply unless I wanted this to escalate further which I didn’t.  So I showed him the shots – about 10 of the Nottingham Beach, and then as we went further back doors, doorways, manhole covers, graffiti, you know, the normal kind of holiday snap.  Eventually he said something, I can’t remember exactly, but it was clear he’d seen enough and wasn’t worried.  The first guy was still unhappy, so I offered to delete the two images I’d taken with him in, I showed him me deleting them, and then I left.

My adrenaline was through the roof, and I was pretty fucking angry.  There are a number of reasons for being angry.  Firstly, 99% of the people in that location are taking photographs non-stop on their mobile phones.  Themselves, their kids, other kids, other people, without a thought in the world, and then posting them straight to Facebook or Instagram or Twitter.  I review every shot I take, and if I’m not comfortable with the content, or think that it paints people in a bad light, I don’t post it anywhere.  People with mobile phones sometimes automatically post everything to social media without even a second glance.  Secondly, and related to that, the only reason I got stopped is because my camera is large.  It’s not a long lens focally, but it’s a physically big camera and lens.  If I’d been using a smaller camera he wouldn’t have even blinked.

Street photography is important.  Even in an age where everyone has a camera with them, those cameras are increasingly turned towards the owners.  Even if street photography isn’t important, even if my photographs are worthless artistically and historically, they’re still mine, and I still have the right to take them.

Amusingly, I had completely forgotten that at the start of last week I changed the shooting mode on my camera.  My camera supports two cards, a CF and an SD.  For a long time, I’ve been using the CF card and running into the SD card only when the first is full, to give me a buffer in case I’m taking a lot of shots.  The SD cards are slower, so I don’t want to shoot to them constantly.  However, last week, after watching yet another YouTube video with someone saying ‘my CF card died’, I switched to dual card mode, where the camera writes a RAW file to the CF card, and a JPG to the SD card.  I had utterly forgotten this as I deleted the JPGs in front of the security guard.  Leaving the RAW files intact on the CF card.  Oh well.

When I got home I did some digging, and I can find no reference to the Old Market Square Nottingham Beach not being public access.  It’s possible I’m wrong, and that it’s designated as something else during the event.  I can certainly imagine the ‘bar area’ counts as something special, since it has to be licensed, but I believe I’m in the right about the other areas.  There’s unfettered access and no signage to suggest otherwise.  I also went looking for photographs of the beach online, and there are plenty, all of them including plenty of kids in the shots – because of course, the beach is full of kids.

I don’t need your consent, but I do have empathy, and I behave in a socially responsible manner.  But I’ll defend my right to take photographs in public.

For more information and advice about your rights – check out these links.

Lastly, here’s a few links to other photographs of The Nottingham Beach (none of these are mine).  I’ve avoided including ones taken by parents and then posted publicly to Instagram with close up identifiable shots of their children and other people’s children.

This is Notts summer 2017. #oldmarketsquare #nottingham #thebeachnottingham #nofilter #libertypointnottingham

A post shared by Liberty Point Nottingham (@libertypointnottingham) on

You get the idea.

Update (5th August) – since writing this blog post, I’ve been in touch via e-mail and on the phone with both the event organisers and the agency they use for the staff.  In the first e-mail response from the agency which provides the staff, they lied about the interaction, making claims of events which didn’t happen and dismissing those that did.  The conversation on the phone with the individual from the event organisers was more constructive, and I understand his position, when neither side can present evidence he’s not able to decide which is true.  In a subsequent phone call from someone at the agency which provided the staff, it was clear that he’s going to back his staff, and while he apologised, he continued to use phrases like, “if what you described happened …”

Both of them insisted that they see a lot of suspect people taking photographs, and the police have warned them to be on the lookout.  I don’t know how true either of those statements are, but I’m more than happy to be respectfully approached by concerned staff and members of the public.  That’s a significantly different position from verbal abuse and potentially common assault.

I certainly won’t be spending any money at the event, and if you do go with anything larger than a smartphone, be prepared to justify your presence.

The Exposure Triangle

Caveat

I’m no expert.  This is my understanding of the topic, but I’ve had no formal education and only a very limited amount of practice.  Hopefully it’s useful, but you should definitely use it with the above caveat in mind and do a lot more research!

I did draw some pictures, including one of the exposure triangle, but then I remembered this is the internet.  If you google for ‘exposure triangle image’ you’ll get loads of them and they’re better than I could create.  Also, if you just search for exposure triangle you’ll find loads of videos and web pages, which probably explain it better than I do.

Introduction

Photography is about many things – but one of them is getting a properly exposed image.   I’ve written properly in italics because before I even start going into my little intro, it’s important to remember that as the photographer you’re the person who chooses what exposure you want.  Exposure is an artistic choice.  You can expose in a way that reflects what you saw, but also, in a way which reflects a mood or some intent that wasn’t there at the time.  So while people will often talk about the correct exposure, remember that correct is an artistic choice.

That aside, there are four things that affect the exposure of an image.

  1. The amount of light
  2. The shutter speed
  3. The lens aperture
  4. The film or sensor sensitivity (ISO)

While you are sometimes in control of the amount of light and sometimes not, you are always in control of the other three.  Those three control points have a tightly coupled relationship, and since changing any one impacts the exposure of the image, to retain the same exposure you must modify one or two of the others.  This is why it’s called the triangle.

Exposure

More light, means brighter exposures.  Wider apertures, slower shutter speeds and higher ISO all result in more light.  Narrower apertures, faster shutter speeds and lower ISO all result in less light.

If we assume for now that the amount of light you have is either intentional or fixed (i.e. it’s not something you can or want to change) then you need to understand how the other three controls affect the exposure, and the secondary effects each of them has.

Before we do that though, a very quick reminder of what exposure is.  Essentially, it’s how much light is absorbed or recorded by the film or sensor; the more absolute light the brighter the resulting image, where-as less light results in a darker image.

With that in mind, let’s look at how the three controls directly impact the exposure of the image.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed directly controls how long the camera shutter is open for, and hence, how much light streams in and hits the sensor.  The long the shutter is open, the more light the sensor or film is exposed to and so with everything else the same, the brighter the image will be.  This is true regardless of how much overall light there is, so in dark situations, longer shutter speeds (i.e. slower shutter speeds) still allow the film or sensor to gather more light.

Aperture

The lens aperture is literally a measure of how wide the aperture (or iris) of the lens is.  Apertures are referred to in f-stops, and written like f/2, f/2.8, f/4.  How they’re calculated and what they really mean is enough material for a full post, what’s important here is that f/1.4 is wider than f/2, f/2 is wider than f/2.8, f/2.8 is wider than f/4 etc.  So smaller f-stop numbers are wider apertures and hence let in more light.  With all other settings static, wider apertures (e.g. f/4) will allow in more light and lead to brighter exposures than narrower (e.g. f/22) apertures.

ISO

Lastly, we have ISO (it’s not an acronym).  ISO describes how sensitive to light the film or sensor is.  The higher the ISO rating, the more sensitive the sensor is, and hence less light is needed for any given exposure than for a lower ISO.  At ISO 100, you need more light to give the same exposure as you do at ISO 200.  At ISO 6400 you need hardly any light compared to ISO 100 to get the same resulting image.  As ISO increases, with all other settings the same, the resulting exposure will be brighter.

Secondary Effects

Shutter speed affects motion blur (slower shutter speeds give more blur), aperture affects depth of field (how much of the image is in focus), and ISO affects noise (pixels which are too bright, dark or the wrong colour).

You might ask, why then do these things matter if you can change them in various combinations to get the amount of exposure you want?  You’d be right, you can.  ISO 100, f/2.8 and a shutter speed of 1/250th of a second, will give you an overall exposure the same as ISO 100, f/4 and 1/125th of a second.  By narrowing the aperture (from f/2.8 to f/4) we reduced the light entering the lens, so we had to decrease the shutter speed to compensate (from 1/250th of a second to 1/125th of a second).  Likewise, if we expose an image at ISO 800, f/5.6 with a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second, and then increase the ISO to 1600, we double the amount of light hitting the sensor.  In order to keep the same exposure, we have to either speed up the shutter (from 1/60th to 1/125th) or we have to narrow the aperture (from f/5.6 to f/8).

We worry because each of the controls also has at least one secondary effect.

  • Shutter speed also affects how much the subject of the photograph will be blurred (either caused by the camera or the subjects moving).
  • Aperture also affects the depth of field, or how much of the image is acceptably in focus (or out of focus, if you want that effect).
  • ISO also affects the amount of noise in the image.

Motion Blur

While the camera shutter is open, light streams in from the scene in front of it.  If the camera moves, or the subjects in the scene move before the shutter closes again, then they will be smeared or blurred in the resulting image.  How much movement blur you want of the subject is an artistic choice (again).  If you take photographs of a fast moving car with a very fast shutter speed (to remove all blur), you’ll end up with a picture of a car that looks like it was stationary.  Our brain needs to see some of the blur to feel the movement.  That’s why pictures of fast cars often include some blur of the wheels, for example, to give us that sense of motion.  However, if you want to freeze the action, maybe a picture of your dog catching a ball, then high shutter speeds are the way to go.  Also, when taking pictures, the camera is often supported by only our hands, and so is prone to moving a little (camera shake).  Reducing shake means speeding up the shutter so it’s open and closed before the camera can move very far.  Therefore choosing a shutter speed to give you the artistic effect you want or prevent hand shake determines one part of the exposure triangle, which means you have to manage aperture and ISO to get the image exposed as you wish.

Depth of Field

Apertures affect depth of field, which again, deserves a full post of its own.  But essentially depth of field can be thought of as the area inside which your content is sharp and in focus, and outside of which it isn’t.  The effect is gradual, so the centre of the area (the spot your camera has focussed on) is fully sharp and the edges are still acceptably sharp, but only just.  Beyond that, the subjects will be less sharp, eventually blurred beyond recognition.  Several things affect the depth of field (i.e. how deep the acceptably in focus parts are), and it’s important to remember aperture is only one of them.  However, keeping the other depth of field factors the same, aperture has a large impact.  The wider the aperture is, the shallower the depth of field is as a result.  At very wide apertures the depth of field might be very shallow; taking a close-up portrait at f/1.4 and focussing on the person’s eye might mean their ears are already starting to get out of focus, switching to f/2 or f/4 might result in their whole head being in focus.  Depth of field is useful for several artistic reasons, one of which is blurring backgrounds such that the primary subject of your photograph is much more obvious.  Landscape photographers usually want as much as possible in their photos to be crisp and in focus, and so tend to work at narrower apertures, such as f/11 or f/16 to get a deeper depth of field.

Noise

Last, but absolutely by no means least is ISO and noise.  Some people describe noise as the digital equivalent of film grain, but they’re not absolutely identical.  Film grain was caused by the chemical composition of the materials used to make up the film and for many people, it had a pleasing quality even when it was visible.  Digital noise is more random and affects the image in a different way and rarely looks pleasant.  However, it is true to say that higher ISO values result in either more noise or more visible grain, and if it’s not wanted then that’s a problem.  In digital photography, higher ISO ratings effectively mean the sensor is prepared to say ‘yes this pixel is lit’ with a lower level of certainty than in lower ISO ratings.  This means that it is prone to saying ‘yes’ when in fact, no photons landed on the pixel and instead it was triggered by nearby electrical noise.  It is, as always, more complex than that, but the summary stands.  If you use high ISO ratings, there will be lit pixels that don’t actually reflect the true colour or luminosity of the subject and so will show up as noise, and the higher the ISO, the worse this will be.

Early digital sensors were very noisy even at relatively low ISO ratings (like 800), these days, high end DSLR sensors can produce reasonably noise free pictures at much higher ISO ratings like 6400 or above.  While noise can be reduced in post processing, the effect of noise is to distort colours and to reduce sharpness in the resulting image.

How much noise you can deal with is a personal choice, and is also impacted by how large you view the images (or whether you print them).  Most photographers have a primary aim of keeping noise (and hence ISO) as low as possible.  So, while picking apertures or shutter speeds to provide an artistic effect, the ISO is usually picked to be as low as possible while still achieving the desired exposure.

Choosing a low ISO to avoid noise (and so reducing the brightness of the image), and hence forcing yourself to use a slower shutter speed to properly expose it, might introduce blur that you don’t want.  ISO therefore is a constant compromise of artistic look vs. digital noise.

Camera Exposure Control

All camera modes are valuable.  Each offer different levels of control and hence different levels of support for the photographer.  Which mode to use depends on the situation in which you are taking the photographer, the photographer’s preferences, and the desired creative result.

So now we know that to control the exposure of an image, we have to pick a combination of the available light, aperture, shutter speed and ISO.  We have to make those choices with the desired creative look in mind and to control the light arriving on the sensor to properly expose the image.  How then, do we get the camera to support us in doing that?

Most modern cameras (other than point-and-shoot) offer different modes for controlling the exposure.  The common ones are fully automatic, programme AE (often marked as P), aperture priority (A or Av), shutter priority (S or Tv) and fully manual (M).

Fully Automatic

In this mode, the camera picks shutter speed, aperture and ISO to expose the image properly (outside of creative choice of exposure, what the camera thinks is a proper exposure is enough for another post).  The photographer has no control of any of the exposure related settings.  On some cameras, this mode also includes other features like face recognition, automatic flash, automatic low light exposure, etc.

Pick this mode when you want to grab pictures in a range of lighting situations, and you’re interested in just pointing the camera and clicking, and then getting back to your beer.

Programme AE

In this mode, the camera if left alone will behave like automatic.  However, the photographer can if they want override some of the choices (e.g. shutter speed) and the camera will then manipulate the other settings to expose properly, if it can.  For many, this is a first step into controlling the exposure.  This mode usually includes the option to dial in exposure compensation, which I’ll cover later.

Pick programme AE when you want an element of control sometimes, but you’re not worried about the creative content so much as you are about capturing a moment quickly without having to think about exposure.

Aperture Priority

In this mode, the photographer always has to choose an aperture.  The camera will never override that setting, and instead will change shutter speed and potentially ISO to properly expose the image.  This setting also usually allows for exposure compensation.

Use aperture priority when you want to pick a specific aperture for creative reasons (depth of field, primarily), but the lighting conditions are variable and you want the camera to quickly work out shutter speed and ISO to properly expose the image.  Or you just don’t want to have to think about shutter speed and ISO.

Shutter Priority

The partner to aperture priority, in this mode, the photographer chooses the shutter speed they need for the creative look they want to achieve, and the camera changes aperture and ISO to then expose the image.  Again, exposure compensation can be applied if desired.

Shutter priority is useful when you know you want to freeze or blur movement for creative reasons and that is more important than the depth of field of the resulting image.  This is often the case with sports or action photography, but is equally important in other situations where movement blur is a creative choice.

Manual

In manual, the camera software does not change any of the settings.  The photographer must pick aperture, shutter speed and ISO and the camera will then simply use them.  If that results in too much or too little light reaching the sensor, the image will be over or under-exposed.  Contrary to some views, fully manual isn’t always the best option used by professional or proper camera users.  Fully manual has its place, but so do the other modes.

Use manual when you want complete control over the exposure of each image.  This is especially useful in situations where you are in control of the light (such as a studio, or inside a building with a regular lighting situation).

Auto ISO

Many cameras offer automatic ISO in combination with aperture and shutter priority – the descriptions above assumed fixed ISO chosen by the photographer.  Some cameras also offer auto-ISO with manual (you could argue, it’s not fully manual in this instance).  The ability to set the ISO, or allow the camera to vary it within another mode doesn’t significantly change the purpose of that mode, but gives the camera more flexibility to expose the image accurately.  Often, automatic ISO is ideal in situations where the lighting conditions are changing rapidly and are extreme enough that just changing aperture or shutter speed might not give you the ability to cope.  For example outdoors on a bright day with some clouds; as the clouds pass in front of the sun the lighting change can be dramatic potentially preventing the camera from exposing the image correctly by just changing aperture of shutter speed.  Allowing it to also change the ISO provides more flexibility.

Ultimately the choice of automatic of fixed ISO is again about deciding how much control to give to the camera.  If you find that the range of light you’re dealing with is so variable that it results in dramatic shifts of aperture or shutter speed, you might introduce automatic ISO to allow the camera more subtle control.

Additional Points

It’s important to remember that in automatic, programme AE, aperture priority and shutter priority that the camera’s primary goal is to expose the image in a way it considers acceptable.  To do that it will pick apertures, shutter speeds and ISOs and it doesn’t know what you had in mind creatively.  It won’t know that you wanted or didn’t want movement blur, it won’t know that you wanted or didn’t want a large depth of field, etc.  The only difference in the settings is how much the photographer controls versus how much the camera controls.

In manual, the camera is no longer trying to expose the image, it will report the exposure (based on the built in metering), but the camera will trust the photographer that the resulting image is what they want.

Exposure Compensation

Cameras think the whole world is 18% grey.  Sometimes they get it wrong.

A camera has no idea what is in front of it, nor what your artistic intent was.  When the camera exposes the image in any mode other than fully manual, it has made some decisions about how bright the overall image should be (i.e. how bright the highlights should be, and how dark the shadows should be).  It doesn’t always get it right.  If you photograph a building outside on a bright day, you might find the building looks quite dark, or if you photograph people against a dark background it might over expose the people you’re trying to take pictures of.  You’ve got three choices in situations like that.

  1. You can change one or more of the control points you’re already managing (for example, you could change the aperture if you’re in aperture priority mode), but you may have to accept compromise on your creative choice
  2. You can switch to manual and change any of the control points (this allows you to retain your creative intent, but negates the benefit of using semi-automatic modes).
  3. You can dial in exposure compensation if you are in a mode which supports it (fully automatic modes do not tend to support this feature).

Exposure compensation tells the camera that it needs to make the image brighter (expose it more) or make it darker (expose it less) than the metering suggests.  It achieves that in various ways depending on which mode it is in.  If the camera is in shutter priority mode (so you have selected a shutter speed), but you want to add exposure compensation (to brighten the image), the camera will widen the aperture, letting in more light and making it brighter.  If you are in aperture priority and the image is too bright, adding negative exposure compensation will shorten the shutter speed, resulting in a darker image.

Obviously, if you’re already at the limits of the control points, for example in shutter priority mode, you want the picture to be brighter but the camera is already at the widest aperture, then the image still won’t be exposed in the way you want it, and you’ll need to switch to another mode or use manual to get the exposure you desire.

Exposure compensation allows you to override the cameras chosen exposure without having to switch to a fully manual mode, and lets you quickly change between lighting situations without giving up the creative elements you have chosen.

Other Stuff

There’s clearly a ton of stuff I’ve not covered.  Adding your own lights, flash or strobes allows you to change the amount of light yourself, impacting how you choose the other controlling factors.  Your camera meters the light in front of you in different ways (phrases like spot, evaluative, weighted, matrix, etc.) and that in turn affects the elements of the image that are exposed at different levels.  Your camera has no real clue what is in front of it, and so is generally trying to expose the overall image as if it was grey (middle grey, reflecting about 18% of the light landing on it); that’s okay in many cases, but equally not okay in many others.  I’ve not covered dynamic range (the range of light from the deepest shadow to the brightest highlight), nor colour balance or any number of other elements that will affect the overall image.  I’ve also not covered stops or exposure value (EV), how to know what changes to make to shutter speed to compensate for changing aperture from f/1.4 to f/8 and vice versa.

Summary (tl;dr)

  • Aperture – wider gives more light and shallower depth of field.  Narrower gives less light and deeper depth of field.  Smaller numbers are wider (f/1.4 is wider than f/2, and f/22 is narrower than f/8).
  • Shutter Speed – slower gives more light and more motion blur, faster gives less light and less motion blur (frozen action).  Shutter speeds are given in seconds or fractions of a second.  Most cameras show 60, 125, 250, 500 etc. when they mean 1/60th, 1/125th, 1/250th.  So bigger numbers usually means faster (shorter) shutter speeds and hence less light.
  • ISO – lower is less sensitive and needs more light to expose but has less noise, and higher is more sensitive, needs less light to expose, but is noisier.
  • Exposure – it’s a creative choice, affected by the amount of light present, and the combination of aperture, shutter speed and ISO.
  • Camera modes – every mode has a purpose, and there’s plenty of overlap.  The more control you give the camera, the less control you have over the creative elements of the picture, the more control you take from the camera, the more you have to think about exposure yourself.
  • Exposure Compensation – the world is 22% grey, but only when you blend it all together.  Sometimes you want parts of your image exposed differently, and exposure compensation allows you to quickly add or remove light from the overall exposure (the camera will have to change one or more of ISO, Aperture or Shutter Speed to achieve it).
  • Lastly – this is only an overview, it’s a summary or approximation, and there’s a lot more depth.

Other Resources

Memories are weird

London Comic Con May 2013
London Comic Con May 2013

In 2013 I went to London Comic Con for the first time.  Other than a couple of small gaming conventions years earlier it was my first ‘fandom’ convention.  I took my trusty bridge camera with me and while my wife and her friend shopped, I walked around and took a lot of pictures.

A lot, of pictures.

I got home after an exhausting day and looked through the pictures and I was really pleased.  I had some great shots of some great costumes, and good reminders of the day.  I picked out 80 or so of the best and stuck them on Flickr.

At the back end of 2013 I bought a DSLR (a Canon 600D), and I started taking photographs as a pastime rather than just as a way of remembering events.  Although when I set out, I expected to be taking wildlife pictures, I ended up gravitating towards street portraits / candid street photography and other weird stuff.  Wildlife photography is a lot of work, and I just didn’t have the time to invest or the patience, to be frank.  Of course, all photography is a lot of work, but you can fit that work around doing other things with some types of photography and not others.

I had great memories of my photos from 2013’s Comic Con, so I went back to London in 2015 to take more pictures, with my new camera.  It did not go well.  Firstly, I had a crisis of confidence and just didn’t feel like I could approach people and ask them to take pictures.  Secondly, technically the shots I did get were just terrible.  I couldn’t work out what I was doing wrong, they were blurry or badly exposed.  I got back very unhappy and looking through the results didn’t make me feel any better.  Later that year, I went to Birmingham Comic Con, and tried again, but it was just as bad.  The camera ended up being a dead weight in my hand and despite taking a flash with me, the four of five pictures I did take were terrible.

A couple of days ago, I went back to Comic Con in Birmingham, resolute that I would just take pictures, using the flash and that I would learn from the experience instead of just being unhappy with the results.  I would use it as practice, so when I go to Comic Con in London, in May, I can use what I’ve learned to try and get some better photographs.  I was partly successful – I managed to stop people and ask for pictures, I tried to frame the subjects better (hard at a Con at the best of times), and I just took pictures and tried not to worry.  The results are okay, they’re typical indoor flash style pictures with a lot of people in the background.  They’re not as sharp as I’d like, and not as sharp as I know I can get, but they’re acceptable.  I was still sad though that they weren’t as good as the bridge camera photos from 2013 which I had enjoyed so much.

So I went back to look at those 2013 pictures – and they’re shit.  I mean terrible.  Sure, they capture people and memories, but they’re technically terrible.  Soft, blurry, grainy, badly framed, they’re everything you’d expect from a ‘point and shoot and move on’ style approach to indoor photography.  Great memories, but technically lacking photographs.  The photo’s I took with the DSLR from any of the other cons were technically much better.  Still flawed, but technically superior in just about every way.

Birmingham Comic Con March 2016
Birmingham Comic Con March 2016

So why was I beating myself up?  Why was I being so hard on myself, comparing my new photographs with superb old ones which didn’t even exist?  Because my memory of that day, and those pictures, was all one memory.  I’d gone without expectation or pressure, without any internal critique.  I’d pointed the camera at people I found interesting and took pictures and the pictures I’d taken reminded me of the enjoyment I had.  The pictures were rubbish but the memories were good.

With the other events, I had gone to take pictures and I hadn’t enjoyed the process.  The pictures reminded me of the days I had, and how those days were frustrating because I didn’t feel like I could do what I wanted to do.

Memories are weird, and shit and unhelpful sometimes.  In May, I swear, I’m going to London Comic Con without expectation or pressure.  I’m going, with my camera, as it happens, to look at interesting people in amazing costumes, and if I get some pictures, all the better, but I’m going first to have fun and to get pictures second.

Street Photography

So to my great surprise, I seem to enjoy ‘street photography’ more than the other kinds of photography I’ve tried over the last few years.  I’ll be the first to admit however that much of my street photography is ‘photographs taken in the street’, rather than the more classic street photography.  By that I mean, the form is really about capturing ‘decisive moments’ in a candid way, usually at quite short focal lengths.

At the moment, I tend to use longer focal lengths, and often my results are more candid street portraits than actual street photography.

Despite that, and with all the respect due to the real tradition, I’m enjoy what I do none-the-less, and over time hope to improve my confidence, and my technical ability, to switch to shorter focal lengths and capture more moments rather than interesting faces.

When I bought a DSLR, I really thought I’d be spending my time shooting pictures of animals and wild life, and early on, I did that.  However, wild life photography (good wild life photography) requires a large investment of time, spent waiting, watching, and planning for the moment in which to capture the animal.  Taking a thousand pictures of swans, however beautiful they are, isn’t in the long term wild life photography.  As such, I haven’t invested the time, or found a place in which I want to invest the time, to carry out high quality wild life photography.

Landscape photography is as time intensive as wild life photography, and certainly requires just as much planning.  Taking an occasional picture of a stream, and capturing a brilliant image of a landscape are two different things, and the latter requires a lot of planning, preparation and timing to get the right light and the right shot.

Portrait and event photography both interest me, probably for the same root reason as street photography – they’re about people and I find people fascinating.  However, I don’t have the confidence yet to take portraits and I don’t have the opportunity to take shoot many events (although I take the chance whenever I can).

So I’ve found the immediacy and unpredictable nature of street photography to be the most engaging activity I’ve been involved in since getting the camera.  I love looking at the pictures and finding hidden gems of human behaviour that might not have been obvious at the moment I pressed the shutter button (see the guy on the left in this picture, https://www.flickr.com/photos/eightbittony/19423003901).  I love seeing the emotions of people’s faces, and I love building a narrative that may or may not be real based on the instant the picture was taken.

I’ve always been fascinated with the idea that truth is based on your perception at the time, and street photography really encompasses that philosophy for me.

Hopefully my confidence will increase, and I’ll get better at shooting at short focal lengths.  I’m not going to stop trying to improve at wild life, landscape, event, sport, portrait and the other forms of photography of course, it’s just that street photography is both accessible at any time, and more thrilling so far than anything else I’ve tried.

Photography

Saxophone BuskerI think I’m improving at the whole photography lark.  I mean clearly, I still have a very long way to go before I can consider myself ‘good’, but I’m certainly better than I was a year ago.  Ironically, a lot of the photographs I’ve taken in the last year are worse, to my eye, than those I took in previous years with the bridge camera and the little point and click.  There’s a reason for that, in fact, there’s probably two reasons.

Firstly, I’m taking photographs in situations where I wouldn’t normally take them, and I need to learn how to do that successfully.  For example, walking around a city centre trying to take pictures of people.  I never really did that with any previous camera and so the first few (hundred thousand) times the pictures turn out a bit shit.  Secondly, I’m in control of much more of the picture now – and that means I fuck it up more often.

With the bridge, it was a pretty decent camera, and I shot most (all?) of the time in what was referred to as Program AE.  That mode automatically picks an aperture and shutter speed that will correctly expose the image.  I never even looked at shutter speed and aperture on the bridge, I just let the camera pick them (and ISO, I’m not even sure it ever showed me what the ISO was on any particular shot).

Windows to the SoulThe result is that I spent more time thinking about composure and making sure I was focussed in the right place, and less time wondering if I had the ‘right’ aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc.  So I’m having to train myself to think of those things, and change them when necessary, and that means sometimes I don’t and the shot is crap, or I think about them too much and miss the shot I wanted.

However, when I get everything lined up, composition, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, hand-shake, focus, the shots are better than I could have ever gotten out of the bridge or the point and click – so while some of my output is worse, when it works, it’s significantly better, and I’m really proud of some shots as actual pieces of photographic art.

Young LoveI’m also getting to grips with Lightroom and RAW post-processing, something which was super daunting at the outset, and also lead to a number of ‘it’s worse than I used to do’ moments.  Image processing, even in the bridge camera, was pretty good, so the JPG output was pretty good (low sensor size and pixel count not withstanding).  Certainly, the 600D’s JPG process is pretty excellent, and for the first few weeks of shooting in RAW and JPG, it was really hard work to make myself process the RAWs because the JPGs were so good.

The best thing I ever did was give up JPG totally, because that crutch was stopping me from learning to do the processing myself.  Now that I’m confident about getting an acceptable basic image, being able to fine tune it for artistic and aesthetic purposes is a really exciting part of the process for me.

Skateboard Love PhotoshopOne of the most frustrating issues for me early on, was low light situations.  I don’t mean ‘night time’, I mean days without bright sunshine.  You don’t realise how much compensating bridge cameras or point and clicks are doing, and how much they’re slowing the shutter speed down in order to get enough light into those shots.  So for a long time, I was shooting in low light conditions with shutter speeds which were far too slow, and getting very blurry shots even with expensive lenses.  That was very off-putting.  In combination with that, I’d been ‘pixel peeking’ images a lot.

Pixel peeking is basically blowing an image up to a size on your monitor no one would ever actually view the image at (say, 100%), and then deciding how blurry or how much noise there was based on a really exaggerated section.  In the real world, people are likely going to be looking at JPG’s, at their monitor’s native resolution which pretty much makes lots of images look better than they do at 100%.

When I was shooting in low light and using high ISO’s, I was distressed at the amount of noise in the images when looking at them blown up to 100%.  At regular sizes, they looked fine, but I couldn’t get over the 100% view.  So I avoided shooting with high ISOs, but that meant long shutter speeds, and that meant blurry shots which also looked terrible at 100%, and not as good at regular viewing sizes.

Nice Hat!It was a throw-away line in a magazine I was reading which saved me from this.  A reader had written in to a photography advice column, and asked which setting was more important, aperture or shutter speed.  The query was aimed more at an artistic point of view I think.  Anyway, the staff writer who answered the question basically said that aperture (which affects depth of field, as well as the exposure) never ruined a photo1, but a too-slow shutter speed was a definite cause of rubbish shots.  In essence, shutter speed matters more than aperture if you want ‘acceptable’ images.  They might not have the artistic aesthetic you were aiming for, but they’ll have sharp edges.

Despite this being obvious advice, it really resonated with me, and a few days later while I was out shooting some street photography in Sheffield, I used ISO’s of up to 1600 to ensure I was getting shutter speeds faster than the rule of thumb required for the focal lengths I was using.  When I got back, I was really pleased to see that most of the shots were sharp.  Sure, blowing them up to 100% showed a lot of noise, but using noise reduction in Lightroom and viewing them at regular sizes, especially as JPGs, hid all that noise, or at least reduced it to the point where it’s a part of the image, not ruining it.

That gives me the chance to get out in a much broader range of situations and take pictures and that can only be a good thing.  Obviously, there’ll be times when even ISO 1600 or 3200 won’t be enough to cope with the light at shutter speeds I’m comfortable at, so I still need to practice holding the camera and not shaking as much, but generally, I’m feeling much more confident after the last few days.

So I’m still thinking about the shots, and I’m still getting the wrong combination of settings at times, or missing the moment, or over-reaching, but I’m enjoying it and I’m learning so much.  It’s a lot of fun!

  1. clearly you could debate this, but in general, I get what he was saying []

What did the fox say?

I’ve taken a lot of photographs, before and after I bought my DSLR, and I think this is probably the one that I’m most pleased with, and which seems to get the best response.

What did the Fox say?

As is often the case, right place, right time.  This little cub ran out of the cover, stood still as it saw me long enough for me to lift the camera and get off 10 shots, 1 of which was miraculously in focus.

Through the Aperture (photo heavy)

I’ve had my Canon 600D a few weeks now and you’ll be pleased to hear I’ve been taking plenty of photographs of fowl and animals in general.

I’m trying hard to use the two lenses that came with the camera, before even dreaming about buying more.  I want to understand the limitations of the lenses, before I splash out on new ones or I won’t appreciate them.  I want to know where my skill ends and the technology starts in terms of getting a good photo.  Overall, I am pleased with the results so far, despite some of the situations feeling a bit forced.  As I previously posted, I’d gotten used to taking photo’s as memories, and only just started taking them for the sake of it, so taking a lot of them mostly for the sake of it still feels weird.

Anyhoo here’s a few of my favorite shots from the last month or so (after the cut unless you’re already viewing the post direct).

Continue reading Through the Aperture (photo heavy)