Picture: FRPS panel by Iñaki Hernández-Lasa
For the first time since we started the Rollright VAG almost four years ago we had to cap attendance. Fortunately, we had Barry Barker FRPS to write up the day:
Nathan Barry - Landscape, images and workflow
As a former musician, Nathan admits that he spent far too much time working on not particularly good music. It taught him to weed out the less good and concentrate on the better - a lesson that he has brought to his photography. The techniques, discipline and visual intelligence that he has developed in the relatively short time he has been making images are exceptional and there were lessons aplenty for photographers at all levels in his talk. He gave us an excellent overview of his working practice and the different approaches he takes to local shoots and more extensive shoots. Common to both is standardising and minimising camera kit, anticipating the weather, picking the location (he has many favourites which he knows and understand well), the right place at the right time, and being ready to go as soon as an opportunity arises with all his essential kit in the car. A longer trip requires more preparation, planning a route to multiple locations and anticipating changing conditions. His top tools are 1) his car, 2) suitable boots and clothes, 3) rucksack, 4) tripod and mounts, 5) and 6) lens hood and microfibre cloths to keep everything clean and dry. The camera only comes in at number 7) - now that's what I call preparation!
And that's not all. Once out in the field, Nathan spend time stalking the picture, looking for the right viewpoint and perspective, perhaps shooting some test shots. He standardises his camera settings, preferring to use a limited selection of focal lengths, avoids zooming, and turns away from the subject to review his test shots more objectively. He aims for simplicity of composition and colour palette, and a strong focal point to draw the eye. Only when satisfied will he set up the shot proper, refining the image as necessary to eliminate distractions, perhaps for example trying the camera at different heights, always aiming for a pleasing balance.
His thoroughness showed in the quality of his images, favourite locations shot at different times and under different conditions, a tour of Iceland, closer to home in The English Lake District.
It was particularly interesting to see the worked examples of some images. He showed us his test images to illustrate how he came upon the best viewpoint and camera settings for a Lake District shot, then took us through the post processing - pretty minimal as you'd expect with such meticulous attention to detail at the taking stage. Likewise, an example from his Iceland set - just small tweaks of tone and slight vignetting. A late evening shot of Durdle Door on the Jurassic Coast required more work to extract shadow detail, but again this was made easier (possible) by the care and precision at the shooting stage. His last worked example, a very minimalist shot of trees in Iceland, summed up Nathan's approach - to capture what is there, to emphasise what is important, and to show it at its best.
Dr Lillian Hobbs - Astrophotography
A horse-head, a flame, a whirlpool, an owl, an eagle, sombrero, dumbells, discs, a crab, a veil, lagoon, triffids, sunflowers, a pin-wheel, a few Greek Gods, and several messiers - all photographed at night, with hardly any light, some of which took more than 20 million years to reach the camera - nebulae, galaxies, stars and planets of course, plus a fly-by of the International Space Station. Lillian gave us a grand tour of the night sky in an amusing, light hearted, and enthusiastic talk, as entertaining as it was informative. Some things are easy (we were informed) - rule of thirds doesn't apply, depth of field never a problem; some are tricky - infinity on the lens is often (like Buzz Lightyear) a little Ôbeyond', dew is more of a problem than rain (if it's cloudy, have an early night); and some are really difficult - light, never enough, except when it's too much (light pollution and the neighbours security lights); and it really helps if you have a couple or three telescopes and domes in your back garden.
Digital photography has been a boon for astrophotography where the relative immediacy of a several hours exposure is a major improvement on the turnaround times of the film processing lab. Computer software is available for post-processing images, as are phone apps that help identify and locate celestial objects, much of it developed by enthusiasts and at reasonable cost. Registax and Starstax are both freeware packages for aggregating multiple exposures. They can be used in conjunction with a tracking telescope for very distant and faint objects, and with a normal dslr to record star trails. Pixinsight is another free image processing package, though Lillian warns it is a very complex tool to use (I checked out the website - it looks pretty techie to me too). Goskywatch and Heavens-Above are phone apps which, with gps, make finding things very easy. Specialist websites like transit-finder.com give the from-where and when events might be viewed, and I should think that the BBC Weather app might come in handy too.
Lillian showed us some wonderful images - monochrome, colour and coloured, some shot on a simple GoPro video camera, some dslr, and some on her highly sophisticated astronomical camera with dial in filters for specific wavelengths. She made the technical stuff look easy, I'm sure won over a few converts, and finished with a plea that we should all heed -
"Please support light pollution initiatives."
Whether we try our hand at shooting the stars or not, I'm sure that we'd all enjoy the night sky more if we do.
Iñaki Hernández-Lasa – Architectural photography
Now living in Ireland, of Spanish origin, Iñaki grew up in Bilbao, less than 600 metres from the Guggenheim Museum. Although from an architectural family – his father runs a construction company, his brother is an architect and two other siblings are interior designers, his career choice was linguistics. However, if there is a gene for appreciating architecture, he admits that he carries it, and this has been the main focus of his photography. His aim when photographing a building is to capture its ‘genius loci’ – the spirit of the place. Rather than treat it as a mere part of an urban landscape, he prefers to immerse himself in the building itself. He is not content just to represent what is there, he seeks to interpret what others have not, to see it differently, more in sympathy with the architect’s vision. He studies the light, reflections, materials, angles and planes in the structure, extracting from it an essence, a feeling, images which are abstract and at the same time very specific.
When shooting a building for the first time, he researches, what other photographers have done (to avoid), how local conditions might affect it, how the wind disturbs water features. And before taking a shoot, Iñaki will study the building itself, without a camera, finding its mood, its atmosphere, its best angles, the light which will suit it, where (or if) to include people. He is careful when shooting, working slowly, with very deliberate framing, eliminating unnecessary distractions, ensuring correct exposure. An interesting technique he uses, is to set the colour balance to a fixed value, usually 6-7000°K, rather than use the automatic white balance. From this known fixed start point he finds he can achieve greater colour control and consistency in his prints. His post processing is minimal – levels and curves, clarity and vibrance, noise, sharpen, monochrome if it suits the subject, and if necessary correcting any lens distortion. His presentation is immaculate, standard Epson inks on Canson PrintMaKing Rag 310, mounted with a double white matt.
Three days before visiting our group, his Fellowship of the RPS was confirmed, and we were treated to a presentation of the prints – abstract images taken in the Guggenheim atrium, very subtle, very thoughtfully arranged, and a very well deserved distinction.