Friday, 19 January 2018

Martin Parr On Parr

So I had a great time listening to the venerable Magnum photographer Martin Parr. I had very enjoyable company too, with friends who are birds of a feather.

Points I took away and interpreted from his presentation?

  • Focus on the content. If you have chosen a camera and lens that is competent, your main purpose is to narrate the photo. In the digital age, camera parameters are captured to and stored in EXIF - it's inevitable that we get nerdy and ask "but what setting did you use on that photo?"

    When really, whether you use P A S or M, you're chasing the content, composition, opportunity, not the settings. Yes, if you are a newbie, you do want to know whether there is some setting that magically will give you the edge. But asking a photographer who captured the shot for the shot may not give you the right clues. For example, you might wonder why the photographer why he/she used ISO 1600 or f/16 (both closer to the ends of each measure) when that was what was on the camera from the preceding shot or what the camera happened to set. The setting might not be optimum for "image quality" but it happened to be opportune for that frame. So if you blindly follow the EXIF and it doesn't happen for you well......

    Or maybe, it's the primary factors are not in camera but outside the camera.
  • Use a brand or model(s) of gear that you like but at the end of the day, you can make the shot happen even if other people think/feel/say that's not the best gear for that shot.  Martin currently shoots a Canon DSLR - and he documents people and their activities - now fashionably called "shoots street". That's not usually thought of as a street shooter weapon.  Many street shooters crave a red dot Leica, Fuji hipsteresque cameras, the Ricoh GR2 or even Contax T2 film bling - this gear is super cool and makes the owner really happy - ostensibly, these cameras are inconspicuous and allow the photographer to become invisible. It's weird though when I come across a guy with a Leica, my eyes go big and I unconsciously mouth "oh Leica".

    But, it's all in the mind of the street shooter. If you don't think that the camera is bulky, large or inappropriate then it does not detract from your confidence or your ability to take the shot.
  • The most believable documentary shots are those that are not overprocessed. Martin says that he shoots and his colleague processes and finishes. His earlier film photos have a film palette and sometimes very even tonal range - he said for some period of time, he wanted a studio look even on informal, impromptu shots, so he used flash. In digital processing, they remove reflections on spectacles, crop but they don't appear to "work" the photos. Of course for a particularly quirky project, like his selfie photobook, there is major compositing.
  • You don't have to shoot what every other photographer shoots. Good photographs don't have to be of special or very important subjects or scenes. The mundane and the middle class can be interesting if you have an idea, vision or theme to communicate through the photograph.
As a part of the #shoesmonday theme and a homage of his feet up photos, I'll conclude with the following shot.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

The case of the black and white image

Monochrome or Black and White photos have been in existence ever since photography was invented. It was easiest to formulate an emulsion that displays an image in shades of grey in the beginning. Colour came substantially later because the mechanism to sense and render colour images is quite a bit more complex.

But in these days of the digital mobile phone, our scientists and engineers have already overcome the difficulties and easily render colour. Except for the odd camera (the Leica Type 246 Monochrom), the digital sensor is invariably a colour mosaiced sensor.

I once encountered someone on G+ who wondered whether there would be any need to make black and white images at all. In the ensuing discussion, I highlighted the ideas that the removal of colour from the image allowed shapes and texture to be presented.

Another angle that modern photographers encounter is that the capture of the image in raw and subsequent processing of said raw into the final output is all important. In which case, it's not necessary to set the camera to render in black and white, all that can be done in the post processing.

That runs counter to visualisation in-situ - we now have cameras that can render an image in front of our eyes, near instantly, as opposed to the film cameras of old which would require some delay before you can see and produce a different iteration. Photographers have the choice of going down the rabbit hole of creating ever more complex and detailed demands in the workflow to push away the immediacy of visualisation or to revel and embrace it.

The majority of photographers, although using digital cameras, still use DSLRs with Optical View Finders (OVF). They often spend a lot of time peering through the OVF because that is the most natural way of using the camera. Unless they shoot and chimp, shoot and chimp, rinse and repeat, the OVF is a tunnel to seeing colourful reality.

But if you are using a mirrorless camera, the natural way to use this camera is to aim and compose using LiveView - regardless of whether it is looking through the Electronic View Finder (EVF) or the back LCD screen. You can switch to a Monochrome Picture Profile. Often you can add a colour filter not to colour the image but to apply a colour mask to the input. If the depth of the black tones is not to your taste, you can apply tweaks in contrast, sharpness, sometimes even curves of shadow, mids and highlights.

Some people are of the opinion that they could enhance the result more, working from raw. There is no inconsistency with that workflow and setting the camera to a Monochrome Profile - if you shoot raw and set a Monochrome Profile, the Liveview and Preview would show you the black and white image, the raw would still contain the full colour information for post processing. If you shoot raw + jpeg, you get jpegs which (if you like) can be immediately posted to social networks or given as the end result. You have not lessened your options, you have increased them.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark 1. Color Creator with red filter, desaturated and shadow curve tweaked for darker shadows

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark 1. Color Creator with red filter, desaturated and shadow curve tweaked for darker shadows
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark 1. Color Creator with red filter, desaturated and shadow curve tweaked for darker shadows
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark 1. Color Creator with red filter, desaturated and shadow curve tweaked for darker shadows