Monday, 30 April 2012

A butterfly flaps it's wings...

I have recently been a victim of an uninspired photographic rut which has been manifesting itself in an inability to “see” any interesting composition and an unwillingness to raise the camera to the eye.  Everything seemed to bore my photographic senses and although I have been carrying the camera around with me on my strolls during the weekend, I haven’t been taking too many pictures.

I have often found that going on a shoot with others is a great way of finding inspiration. As everyone seems to look at things slightly differently or notices things that you might oversee, it is a great way to refresh your artistic vision and break out of habits that become ingrained.

A while ago, a friend came to visit me and expressed an interest in taking up photography as a hobby.  We just walked around town with our cameras.  His enthusiasm was quite infectious.  His desire to try and take pictures of everything he saw helped me overcome my dull familiarity with the city.  Whereas, normally I would have simply ignored something as commonplace, I was actually stopping and actively seeking a pleasing and interesting composition to feature it in.

Inspiration isn’t always some random quark traveling through the universe accidentally hitting the brain, most of the time it is actually about working hard to find the rare gem that reignites the desire to create something.

So, in the hopes of breaking this run of yawning indifference, I signed up for a photographic workshop.  The workshop was organized at the butterfly conservatory at Kerzers (Papiliorama Kerzers) by

The primary objective of the workshop was really to understand and practice the principles behind “Depth of Field” and started off with our instructor explaining the parameters behind the notion.  As a fairly seasoned practitioner of the art of photography (though admittedly there is still a lot to learn and am still decidedly nowhere near mastering the art yet), I found this slightly boring.  But, I have to admit that I did come away with something very useful from this briefing.  It was also very interesting to be reminded of how everything in photography is somehow connected.

I may be wrong, but I think most of us would probably just say something like “depth of field = aperture”.  I most certainly would have, and that just illustrates why I am not quite ready to instruct photography yet.  I have to say that I mostly work in aperture priority mode, so I have always thought that I was well versed in the notion of depth of field.

What was really good was that the instructor went a bit further than just explaining aperture, and rightly expanded on how focal length and the distance to the subject affect depth of field and how aperture settings have an effect on shutter speed.  We were now armed with the knowledge that if we wanted to ensure getting the whole subject sharp and clear in the picture we would have to choose a small aperture, which would mean sacrificing shutter speed.

As the conservatory is indoors, it was evident that the lighting conditions were not necessarily conducive to long exposures without camera shake.  Additionally, as butterflies are not very patient and very frequently refuse to hold still while you snap a shot, shutter speed is obviously fairly important factor in taking a successful and sharp image.  So now we came to ISO settings, whereby we were instructed that the way to deal with the loss of shutter speed due to the small aperture was to boost our ISO settings.

We could have of course, used our tripods, but I think we were all a little reluctant to lug them around or get in the way of the other visitors and become nuisances.

In any case, we were then let loose in the conservatory with our cameras.  The idea was that each one of the workshop participants would take a series of photographs for an hour or so and then come back to the instructor for a review.

My first series of photographs clearly demonstrated that while I am very well versed in the theoretical aspects of photography, I sometimes have a huge reluctance to put some of them in practice.

As someone who sells photographs on a microstock site where even the tiniest bit of noise in a picture is instantly punished by death, ummm, I meant refusal, I was fairly reluctant to go beyond ISO 400.  This invariably resulted in pictures that were victim to camera shake or inadequate depth of field where perhaps one gorgeously coloured butterfly wing was perfectly sharp while the other one appeared to be out of focus.

The instructor pointed out that while my compositions were interesting, I really did need to pay attention to the shutter speed, and most of the problems in my pictures were due to this.  Either I chose a very shallow depth of field because I was concerned with the shutter speed or I allowed camera shake to creep into the pictures by selecting a smaller aperture.  Picture after picture I was berated for not having boosted my ISO settings.  And despite my protestations he insisted that the noise could be dealt with.

In the second session, I kept my eye on the shutter speed and forced myself to go to higher ISO speeds to eliminate camera shake.  I must admit that I was still fairly reluctant, and would take the same picture at different ISO settings just as a precaution.  In the end, this approach ended up being very useful because during the review session, differences due to the changes in ISO speed very fairly evident.  At lower ISOs, with the aperture remaining constant, I could clearly see the camera shake and when the aperture was enlarged, to keep shutter speed at a reasonable level, the lack of depth of field was obvious.

As I said, none of this was new to me.  But what I did learn was that I was not always putting it in practice.  Often I was just concentrating on the depth of field and selecting my aperture values without paying too much attention to the shutter speed.  The result was that out of 20 pictures, 15 were unusable due to camera shake.  As the instructor said, it is possible to deal with noise during post processing, but there is absolutely nothing you can do about a blurred picture, so it is better to boost the ISO to make sure the picture is sharp rather than risking camera movement or inadequate depth of field.

I have to say, that the workshop proved itself to be very useful, as since then I am practicing the theory I know diligently.  Not only am I keeping an eye on the shutter speed each time I raise the camera to my eye, I also no longer have such a strong aversion to boosting the ISO all the way up to 1600 (I still can’t bring myself to go any higher though).

This workshop was a great way not only to be reminded of some of the most basic of notions for successful photography, but also to break out of my rut and meet a whole bunch of very nice people who share my passion with photography.  If you live around Geneva or Lausanne, and are interested in taking photography courses I would highly recommend  Check them out.

1 comment:

  1. I have to agree that it can be tough to shake the lessons of Microstock (all about sharpness and low noise) - when shooting personal work and family photos I try hard to not just stick to the lowest ISO :)