Tag Archives: digital

Getting the best from your pixels

When I started using a digital camera it was obvious that however many pixels you have, and however much you spend on super lenses, good results are not guaranteed. Having lots of pixels does not automatically mean better pics, there is still some photographic technique involved.

I work on long term project which usually result from having something to say. In terms of project planning I work backwards from having an idea of how I want to prints to look and where they will be shown. For the Quarried project I decided I wanted large prints mounted without glass so that there was as little as possible between the audience and the print. That eventually turned out to be matt colour prints mounted on Diabond.

Knowing what I wanted narrowed down the decision required to achieve the end result. Basically I could use 5×4 colour negative film or a high end digital system. Using 5×4 would have given the resolution but would have resulted in a different project.  I opted for a Nikon D800 which, at 36MP was the highest resolution DLSR at the time.

Learning to use the new camera took a while but it soon became obvious that it needed to be on a good tripod with the camera in mirror-up mode and triggered by a remote shutter release. The reason for that is that the mirror cause vibrations in the camera which can significantly degrade the image quality especially when using longer lenses. 5514_a4

This image was taken across a valley approximately 500m from the camera. It works well at A0 (1200mm x 800mm.)

Having taken care of the photographic technique the next stage was printing test images. I did this by using 4, A2 prints fixed together with masking tape. Other issues were now obvious. If I edited the image on my home computer I had to change colour balance, brightness, contrast and saturation on the PC connected to the printer. My PC monitor was not calibrated. This is absolutely crucial if you want to send image files to commercial printers. But it seemed like a lot of additional expense until one of the tutors on the MA course asked how much I had spent on the lens and how much I had spent on my monitor. The ratio was 20:1. She then asked what I expected from a cheap monitor. She was absolutely right – thank you Karen.

The choice of monitor was relatively easy – EIZO the industry standard. I got the cheapest model but even that is amazing. I check the calibration every 1-2 weeks and it does not move much at all. I can now edit my files and use them on other printers without any problems. Recently I prepared a file for printing on fabric, it was 1350mm x 2000mm. I was told to use 8 bit, RGB1998 and it worked perfectly. (It is a type of printer used in fashion and textiles to print directly onto rolls of fabric.)

And of course the usual disclaimer – these are my opinions based on my own experiences. I am not being paid to endorse products.


Revisiting an old digital file

Neil_CP1_A4Just been playing with an old image. This time I used Capture One Pro 9 for the RAW conversion and all editing. It took 10 minutes max as opposed to several hours  when I did the original edit in CS6. No need to darken the white helmet to retain detail. No need to darken the black to remove the purple cast. No hours if fiddling to get the colour balance right. No special noise reduction. Output from CP1 was at 1200x800mm, this is an A4 version. It is interesting getting back to CP1 after a break, I am beginning to realise its full potential. Techy stuff: Nikon D800, effective ISO 24,600, taken in a mine using available light.

I have no connection with Phase One apart from being a customer.


How photography has changed pt. 1

I have been a documentary photographer for around 35 years and have also worked as a freelance photojournalist. The difference between the two ways of working have become blurred over time and in recent years the terms have become conflated. For me documentary photography is about long form documentations of local communities. Photojournalism concerns working to a brief from an editor of a specific publication.

It is over 20 years since I completed a personal project. During that time I continued to freelance for specialist magazines shooting on 35mm colour transparency film. It was often difficult getting images to editors and one batch sent to Australia was lost for several weeks.

In early 2013 I decided it was time to switch to full fame digital for my new project “Another View“. There are many positives to using digital cameras but also some uncertainties. In photojournalism everything is now digital at both the production and consumption stage. Mobile devices allowing constant access to online content is killing printed media. Combined with the huge increase in camera phones, and ‘citizen journalism’, it is clear there are massive changes in how photographs are produced and circulated.

There are two ways to see the rise of digital photojournalism; either as a threat to the medium or as a challenge. If you really want to work for newspapers, magazines and online publications there really is no alternative to embracing digital technology.

In long form documentary there are still two camps; some stick rigidly to film and see that as proof of being a ‘real’ photographer (more of that in pt. 2.) Others use digital for the versatility of being able to produce output for different media.

I do not want to get into the arguments about which is best, it is a personal choice. What interests me more is how some documentary photographers have reacted to new opportunities for selling their work while others are using new digital media to reach a wider audience.

One of the biggest changes is the market for print sales. In some ways this confirms that photography has finally been accepted as art by becoming part of the art collectors market. Whether this is a compliment to the medium is debatable. It could be argued that photography has become more inward looking, serving its new market rather than looking out towards new audiences.

What is appalling is to see images of war and suffering being sold as ‘art’. To me that smacks of exploitation and cynicism. It also serves to erode the collective trust that subjects have in documentary photography, and photojournalism, which inevitably makes both more difficult to pursue.

It also raises another a more crucial question – who are we photographing for? Is it to feed the thirst of collectors? Is it to gain recognition from our peers? Or is it to serve the communities we photograph? And, who is the subject of interest, the photographer or the photographed?

Susan Meiselas puts this very succinctly in “Aperture 214”, Spring 2014, p.29 Aperture, New York, ISSN 003-6420.

“Photographers often start with a passionate engagement with their subjects, but an audience can easily get focussed on the narrator, at the expense of the narrative.”

If you are a committed documentary photographer who engages with the communities you photograph then you make photographs to highlight their issues and bring them to the attention of a widest possible audience. By selling to our peers and collectors we fail to do this.

It is also obvious that there has been a big rise in the publication of ‘photo books’ over recent years. From what I have seen they are usually small, or very small, prints runs aimed at collectors who are often other photographers. There is nothing wrong with that for ‘art photography’ but for any sort of committed campaigning, or opinion changing projects, then I would suggest it does little to further a cause and again shifts attention to the photographer rather than the subject.

I accept that there may be occasions when presenting in book form is helpful such as communicating with opinion formers. There are online publishing servers that make that easy now but I would suggest that a short run photobook is not an adequate output for a long form documentary project.

It seems we have two choices: to produce pictures that appeal mainly to other photographers and collectors; or to engage with digital modes to make work that can be seen by the widest possible audience. That does not mean ditching the traditional photographic exhibition but it does mean using every means possible to get work seen.

My choice is to produce both digital media and prints on the wall. I want to exhibit in conventional spaces but also use unconventional venues to take work to the audience instead of relying on them coming to exhibitions. That is not a new idea as the rash of laminated exhibitions of the 1980s did just that.

22ePanel 22/24 “The Birmingham Jewellery Quarter”, 1983. 24, A2 laminated panels of photographs and text. Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, touring exhibition.

The other way to reach new and younger audiences is to use digital modes like photofilm and online interactive galleries. If there are a large body of users viewing photographs on mobile devices every day then why not try to reach them. There is ample evidence that old and established print titles are doing just that. See http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2013/the-jockey/

For a good example of an interactive web site see http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/03/27/world/climate-rising-seas.html

One of the complexities of using new media is that it is very doubtful that a lone photographer has all the skills required to produce professional looking outputs. Collaboration and team work are required and the results can be spectacularly powerful and engaging. See Maisie Crow’s “The Last Clinic” http://maisiecrow.com/

In the end I am left feeling that documentary photographers have no choice but to use new ways of telling our stories. How can we engage with the communities that allow us to photograph and do our best for them in terms of seeking the widest possible audience? For me, not to try to get maximum exposure would feel like failure and a betrayal of trust.


Reciprocity failure – not!

Been shooting in some old dark quarries today, no sunshine. Had to use slow shutter speeds, sometimes less than 1 second but the really great thing about digital cameras is there is no reciprocity failure. No need to make the calculations and then bracket exposure to be sure. Made life a lot easier but would still like to use 5×4 colour neg if I could afford the near £10 a shot for film and processing.