Street Photography Lenses

There is plenty of debate and loud opinion about the ideal focal length for a Street Photography lens. I thought I would put two to the test during a recent walkabout in the city of Swansea in Wales. I’ll be considering the merits of a 27mm and a 90mm prime lens, both on a 1.5 crop factor sensor. Let’s start, as I did, with the 90mm.

Camera and lens setup

My camera kit for street photography

On a picture perfect day in sunny South Wales I met up with a mate to stroll about our home city of Swansea. After sorting out the awkward parking meter, our first conversation was about which focal length lens to use. Ralph had a 10 – 24 f4 and a 35mm f1.4, I think, and was not sure which to start with. I had already decided that I was going to attempt to channel Saul Leiter, who favoured the longer focal length, so was opting for my 90mm f2 on a Fuji X-T4.

Saul Leiter was a painter by training and liked the longer focal lengths as it compressed the scene into distinguishable shapes and frames, often creating a more abstract vision of the street scene. Another photographer I admire who makes similar use of shapes and frames is Alex Webb. With visions of their work at the back of my mind we discussed lenses and Ralph opted for his 35mm.

Of course, before we set off decisions were needed about camera setup. On the street you need to be able to respond quickly to the scene and have a clear vision of what you want your photos to look like. Do you want depth of field with a sharp subject and background? F8 maybe. What kind of focus set up are you using? Pre focused at a certain length and move yourself to that distance with at least an f8 aperture, or auto focus with a fixed or tracked point? What about the shutter speed? At least 1/500 helps to freeze the action and on a sunny day that probably means you can use ISO 400 or 800 (in sun or in shadow). I opted for f8 ISO 800 in aperture priority, which generally got me at least 1/500 of a second.

90mm lens from an alleyway

90mm f2

Using this lens on my camera is equivalent to a 135mm on a full frame camera. As I am used to using a 35mm (52mm equivalent) it’s a lot closer. Now, there is a street photographers’ school of thought that suggest the ideal focal length is 35mm (full frame camera). This provides a ‘normal’ view of a scene – similar to our eyes, and does not distort or compress any scene. This is true, it also often requires you to be quite close to people, and that’s what makes some photographers uncomfortable.

Fear of being confronted by someone who does not want their photo taken is something most of us do not like. Using a 35mm you need charm, positive body language (a smile), quick and confident shooting style and a ready apology should offence be caused. Of course using a 90mm you can be 3 times further away to get the same sized person in your frame. However, your lens is far more obtrusive and some believe can create an avoidable distance between you and your subject.

I’m not so sure about that. The photo above, created in an alleyway, still has great eye contact and the distance I was away from the pre focussed subject meant that I could use the reflecting bricks, on the left, for colour and to point at the subject. For me, it’s all about the final look you want to create, as well as capturing the decisive moment. Let’s take a look at some more of my favourite 90mm shots, before we compare this to the 27mm and consider whether black and white or colour is the way to go.

Concentrating in the Square

This is a great example of my preferred compositional style. I deliberately moved to place the angle of the rising concrete wall in the right corner, to point the viewer’s eye towards the guy on his phone. He’s also framed by the continuing wall, on the left, and the contrasting horizontal steps. It’s in B&W for the reason I’ll explain in a mo.

Which version do you prefer here? I believe that the B&W one is more aesthetically pleasing, but that it could be construed to be racist. I was concentrating on people walking right next to the coffee bean background, to have both them and the background sharp. I’d set up the green contrasting tree to cover roughly the right hand third. So, I focussed on the woman on her phone, the guy on the right came into shot as I pressed the shutter. They certainly have a different feel to each other.

After a while I decided to change from my 90mm to my 27mm. I hadn’t really found any scenes with the kind of depth, shapes and frames I had in mind. Perhaps I need a busier, bigger city to play in?

27mm f2.8

The Fujifilm 27mm f2.8 is a pancake lens, light as a feather and equivalent to 40mm on a full frame, and that’s about as close as you can get to the human eye’s focal length. I am more used to this lens and immediately stood in places to get close enough to people for them to react or avoid. Here’s my first attempt.

Alex Webb style?

I have an anthology book of Alex Webb’s fabulous street photography. He fills his frame with frames, shapes and people. This is the closest I got to creating an homage! I stood pretty much in the middle of a street corner, had my shutter on multiple shots, focussed on the guy on his phone and created a burst of 5 or 6 photos. In this frame there was great separation between the people, people in masks to root it in the now, and a humorous pair of hands appearing out of someone else’s chest. I also like the manikin calmly surveying the scene.

I then sat down, on street brickwork, near floor level, and opposite a row of male naked manikins. Initially, I framed the ‘Topman’ word, plus single manikin, I waited for men on their own to walk past. For contrast I then re-framed the shot to what you see here and waited for a female to walk past. I like it, and the B&W works for me.

Hop Top

Colour or Black and White?

Street photographers tend to be quite vocal about which is best, colour of B&W? Perhaps B&W is more gritty, more urban. It certainly accentuates pattern, shape, texture and lines. I shoot in colour then convert to B&W in certain circumstances. The question I ask myself when looking at the original colour photo, is would B&W enhance this photo? That enhancing may be about the colour being a distraction, or colour being a key part of the composition – like this one.

Red and White take away

In this photo red is the theme that links it all. The woman is even framed by the red and white advertising posters, creating a frame in the frame. It would probably work well in B&W too, but the red is there for a reason – to catch your attention – and that’s good enough for me.

Now, this final photo would definitely work in B&W too. I lined up the reflections in the phone booth on the left hand third to frame the women larking about, and then just as I pressed the shutter one of them, looked at me. Perfect timing. Lucky too, but then as Gary Player said, “The more I practice, the luckier I get.” Back to the streets then!

Street fun

Creating art for exhibitions

Let’s reflect upon the process of creating art for exhibitions. The first few months of each year seem to be, what I have now named, ‘Call’ Season. Many national and international exhibitions and competitions call for new work to be submitted. As that period is passing (soon to be followed by ‘Rejection/Acceptance’ season) I thought I would reflect upon the process.

Generally, I have been working on something over the past year, and often that work is suitable for the ‘Open Calls’. In these circumstances it may just be a question of choosing the best of a series, to fit in with the number of submissions allowed, and ensuring that the titles fit the brief.

In the last 4 months I have entered selected works from my Pandemia Project to a few different competitions. The project attempts to process and reflect upon the felt emotions from our last pandemic year. One of my favourite photos from this series is ‘Global Sharing’, which like the rest of the project was created by using multiple exposure techniques in my local countryside. This one made use of extreme blue and green white balance settings create the ‘global’ feel.

Global Sharing

Some exhibition call outs though are themed. The Centre organisation, based in Santa Fe, had several different awards and categories this year. I chose to enter the ‘Personal’ one and created some new multiple exposure images in the style of Pandemia. This time however, to meet the ‘Personal’ theme, I chose to combine some of my existing multiple exposures as a double exposure in Photoshop. ‘Confined Freedom’ below is my favourite example of that, using simple visual metaphors and dynamic colours to convey the conflicted emotional experience.

Confined Freedom

I did feel at the time that I had reached an end with this particular themed work. However, it was a great experience of attempting to use your chosen approach to a particular brief. Sometimes this experience flows easily. Other times it feels a little forced. I believe that the stronger work is created when the experience flows, maybe not easily, but hopefully in a naturalistic manner.

Summer Exhibition 2021

I have entered the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition for the last two years. Initially, I was inspired by visiting the show curated by Grayson Perry in 2018. Walking round the oldest open art exhibition in the world I thought, I could enter something for this!

In early 2019, I went out for a walk with my camera, with the intention of finding a scene that could represent how I felt about Brexit. I was not looking for a photo, but one found me!

There was an old closed down pub on my route and I wandered over to have a closer look at it. The Cricketers stood facing the St Helen’s Cricket and Rugby Ground in Swansea. The pub was famous for being in shot when Garry Sobers hit 6 sixes in an over on the ground, at least one of the huge strikes sailing down the road next to the pub.

I was unprepared for the chaos inside that greeted me, when I looked through the only ground level window not boarded up. The floors were all gone, the low winter light that poured through the upper windows lit a scene of havoc. The main wall facing me was daubed with some graffiti that looked like two warring penises created in blood. It reminded me of the in-fighting, personal battles and arguments of the Brexit debate. Then I noticed that if a leant back a little I could capture some of the reflected clouds in the window, hinting at the possibility of the currently hidden hope of a resolution. The final version below has also had a change of artist’s name. The graffiti tag being replaced by the name Eris – the Greek goddess of strife and discord – a fine maker of the mess we found ourselves in.

Where’s the Brexit?

The experience of creating the art took a few minutes. Everything fell into place; seeing the opportunity, noticing the graffiti, light, chaos and reflection all happened immediately. Pressing the shutter only twice, I moved on, knowing that I had the photo. Later that Spring I was notified that my photo had been selected for the exhibition, and was displayed in the main hall. This was fortuitous, as the curator, Jock McFadyen, is an artist who works with urban chaos. It even sold to a collector from the Netherlands. Result!

Summer Exhibition 2019

Last year’s submission was a different experience. I definitely forced the development of my work to fit the brief and it was not selected. So, this year I determined only to select what felt right, although I did have a hankering to submit one piece from the Pandemia Project. And then brief dropped in. Here it is.

“The show is to be titled ‘Re-claiming Magic’ and will transcend a singular Western art history’s point of reference to focus on magic and a return to the visceral aspects of art-making. The exhibition will be a celebration of the transformative powers of the magical in art, a return to the ritualistic and the sheer joy of making. Western Renaissance art education, Modernist and Conceptual Art practices led to the devaluing of art practices from other cultures in their unmediated forms. This exhibition seeks to restore value to marginalised practices, to reclaim the magic of those works in the context of the Royal Academy. I seek to propose a new pride in the concept of ‘Primitivism’ as an equally valid form of enlightenment alongside other Art practices”. Yinka Shonibare CBE RA

I had already bought my entry before I read this properly. My initial reaction was, What? A few days of reading about primitivism and considering how it could be interpreted by a photographer, I came to three conclusions. One, this was gonna be a little out of my comfort zone and that was good. I needed to move on from Pandemia. Two, I had some techniques that I felt might work. Three, the work needed to be quite flat, celebrate shapes rather than forms, use bright colours and it required human presence.

One of the potential weaknesses of my Pandemia Project is that there are very few people in it. Moving on from that work, I felt that even my abstract multiple exposure work needed to have more human presence. The obvious model was me!

I decided that I would submit one photo from Pandemia, one that was full of colours, shapes and was visceral! I created ‘Go to work. Don’t go to work’, right after the conflicting advice from Boris Johnson in May 2020. His confusing and unhelpful advice incensed me, even though there was no direct impact. I went out on a mission, to echo those strong feelings in a photograph. Here it is.

Go to work. Don’t go to work

However, I had bought two entries to the Summer exhibition. Another photo was required. I decided to buy a new lens to help. In responding to brief I had explored older photo techniques and found out that I could buy a Pinhole zoom lens for my Fuji X-T4. The benefit I knew this would provide was a scene all in (soft) focus, thereby accentuating the shapes, rather than forms. It also meant that I could use extreme white balances to create bright colours in multiple exposure (ME) mode.

I decided that I wanted a park scene with a tree; a return to nature, but that the colours would be almost garish. I started in the centre of Singleton Park with a basic scene of one tree, me in a mask (an uncomfortable nod to primitivism and our recent experience) and a park and sky background. I tried different ME modes, settling on Bright, and then various combinations of poses and white balance colours. Some of the final combined images seemed to work, but nothing really popped, so I changed location.

Whilst I was walking towards a new potential location, I put my camera and tripod down in a tree’s shadow, to review what I had created. I looked over at a large oak tree and immediately knew I had my location. A few experimental images later I had my final image, a reflection of the shielding experience of last year and the future to come. It’s called Shielded Man, here it is.

Shielded Man

I do feel that this time I have responded to the brief in an authentic way that builds upon what I have previously created and pushes it further. Of course, the selection process is notoriously difficult to get through. It’s in two stages, from 16,500 original entries, down to a final few hundred. But I am learning and this brief has pushed me to look at other ways of creating photos that align my eye, my head and my heart. And this all that I aim to do.

One Year of Shielding (Part 2)

Carrying on from Part 1 of this One Year of Shielding there have been changes. All parts of the UK are slowly emerging from the 3rd lockdown and there is personal news on the effectiveness of vaccines.

Here in Wales, we are emerging from lockdown cautiously, but similarly to England and Scotland. We’re expecting non-essential shops to re-open this month and maybe outdoor hospitality. Indoor hospitality is at least a month away.

It’s strange to reflect on not going to any type of indoor hospitality since early March last year. No pubs, restaurants, or cafes. I miss the social aspects of that, well most of them! However, we have still made our own fun; home shopping deliveries, takeaways, zoom quizzes and chats, and lots of board games.

And now the big news. I am part of an ongoing national UK health and well-being survey called UK Biobank. I’ve been part of it for many years now and recently they contacted me to ask if I would do a Covid antibody test. I jumped at the chance, with no conviction of a positive result.

I take immunosuppressants and my consultant has urged caution as they don’t know if the vaccine will work. I can report that after one dose I do have antibodies. What an unexpected relief. This has not brought about any major change in our circumstances, as I am informed that antibodies does not necessarily indicate immunity. Basically, the immune response is far more complex than that. I could even be a false positive and not to do with the vaccine at all.

What has changed? A possible indication that I might be able to survive catching Covid, but it’s probably still best to avoid risk wherever possible. On we go then, managing our interactions and minimising risk.

In the meantime, here are my locked down photos for the other house.

What’s your style of Street Photography?

Some of my favourite photographers are street photographers. I’m thinking of Saul Leiter and Alex Webb. There’s something about the look of their photos that appeals to me. I now know what that is.

Leiter and Webb share four common themes; shape, colour, tight framing and abstraction. Let’s take one photo from each of them to illustrate those ideas.

Taxi, New York, 1957 © Saul Leiter

A perfect example of Leiter’s work in colour. He makes use of bright colours – primary in this case. His tight composition captures and creates frames within the frame. The use of a mid telephoto lens (about 150mm) compresses the scene, which combined with a wide aperture draws the eye to the hand, framed in the taxi window.

Mexico, 1996 © Alex Webb

I do own a copy of The Suffering of Light by Alex Webb. This photo is one of many stars in that collection. All of them demonstrate Webb’s delight in using frames within the frame, compressed depth, with layers of shape and colour. This photo also echoes Taxi, New York, with its subtle use of hands and the colour red.

These two artists have shaped the kind of street photos I look for. Most recently I have purchased a 90mm (135mm equivalent on my Fuji X-T4) to develop my eye for a scene with depth, where I can use both wide and narrow apertures to explore creative potential.

Earlier this week I took the new lens out for a spin in the Rhonnda valley town, Porth. I have much to learn, but I see the potential. I am most used to using a 35mm lens (50mm equivalent) and the 90mm’s view of the world is quite different. I do like it though.

Here are three of my favourites from my recent photo shoot around Porth and three others from another Welsh Town – Bridgend. The latter were created two years ago using my 35mm lens, but exhibit a similar style. I’m sure there will be more to come from other towns, any day now!

Porth 1, 2021
Porth 2, 2021
Porth 3, 2021
Bridgend 1, 2019
Bridgend 2, 2019
Bridgend 3, 2019

One Year of Shielding (Part 1)

Just over one year ago I started shielding. We used the phrase self isolating at first, but I guess that had negative connotations, so shielding it became.

I started when my partner Dinah developed Covid. It wasn’t a difficult decision, but after her relatively quick recovery and two weeks of isolation, she came to stay at my house whilst we decided how we were going to do this.

I needed to avoid all indoor social contact, and maintain my distance from any outdoor connection. Online deliveries, car park waiting, long local walks, baking, takeaway deliveries, working from home, moving all my work online, and zoom quizzes and conversations all became part of our coping strategies.

Looking back now I can see that the greatest impact was the lack of variety of experiences. All pubs, restaurants, cafes, theatres, cinemas and exhibitions were out, and still are. How strange to not visit any of those palaces of distraction and entertainment for a year.

Then of course there were the holidays. Or there weren’t. Trips to The Hay-on-Wye Festival, Majorca and Vietnam were all cancelled. Instead we had a couple of UK based cottage weeks (when travel restrictions allowed) and a week in Chippenham in the van. Not quite the European tour we had imagined!

Instead we had our two houses. They became our main variety. Spending 2 – 4 weeks in one, and then swapping for the other. Not quite the same, but some kind of variety.

As we reached the one year anniversary, I thought that I would create some photos to capture the feelings that this experience has brought. I’ve aimed to create quite claustrophobic photos. Each of them are of one of the windows in one of our homes, I’ll be doing the other one when we’re next there.

I’ve tried to create the photos so that the inside and outside are almost one place, but everything is tightly held within the window frame. I’ve used a 135mm equivalent lens which compresses the depth of the scene and a narrow aperture to encourage the idea that it is all in one small space. Because the outside features were lit by brighter light, I have used fill flash to bring an even tone to the whole photo.

How do they work for you?

Multiple Exposure – Additive Mode

During my initial forays into Multiple Exposure (ME) I could not see any use for Additive Mode. If you have never heard of this then I congratulate you at not being as immersed with ME as I am. I bought a Fuji X-T4 just so I could have access to the four modes that more advanced digital cameras have, to understand what they were and explore their use.

Now 2 years, 1 self-created online course and 1 online gallery exhibition later, I am still discovering some of its mysteries. So this little blog post will share what I have learnt to date about Additive Mode and invite you to follow me down the rabbit hole!

Here’s what Fuji say about Additive Mode, “The camera adds the exposures together. You may need to lower exposure compensation depending on the number of shots.”. The important thing to note here is that it ‘adds the exposures together’, so with each added layered exposure the final photo will get brighter. That is why Fuji recommend lowering the exposure compensation.

When I first wrote about what I had found I commented, “This mode adds each frame on top of the next, in a kind of light accumulation process. It is possible that if you used this on a sunny day that by the time you had added nine images to one exposure you would just be left with a white rectangle. I have not yet explored its creative possibilities, as the other modes have been calling to me. But maybe its limitations would be something that could create unexpected possibilities.” This post is all about those unexpected possibilities.

But first let’s just pause and recap on the other 3 modes that are available of advanced digital cameras from Fuji, Canon and Nikon.

Average – This mode layers each image on top of the next, averaging the opacity, to create a balanced exposure. This is the standard mode for digital exposure and is available on older digital cameras.

Bright – This mode preserves the brighter elements of each image. For example, if your first image was of a silhouette or shadow, the second if brighter could layer the brighter elements over the areas of darker exposure from the first image.

Dark – This mode does the opposite to Bright mode. It preserves the darker elements of each image. Where there is light, there can be dark! Darker pixels are preserved over brighter ones.

Additive Mode’s Unexpected Possibilities

What Additive Mode is supposed to do is replicate how a film camera added one exposure to the last if you didn’t wind the film on. It does do that. The final photo gets brighter the more frames you add. Any final photo with 3 or more combined exposures will result in over exposed sections if you are not mindful about where the brighter sections are. However, if you are careful about where the dark pixels are and use them to place your brighter pixels for the next exposure, you will replicate that old film double exposure look.

However (and it is a big however) something else is going on too. Within the over exposed elements of a final exposure (usually with 3 or more layered exposures) something strange happens to the colours. This is only revealed after you rescue the highlights in Lightroom or similar software. Initially, they just appear white and overblown.

As you can see above and below, after you have pulled back the highlights, sky blue, pink and yellow emerge. Initially I thought that the blue was to do with the sky being present in a frame or two. But the two photos either side of this text are just of a wall – all of the layers are either part of a wall or a tree trunk, no sky.

My working theory is that there is something going on with the white balance algorithm during the in-camera processing. So, with that in mind I have started experimenting with my own white balance choices on each exposure. The next two photo are Additive Mode photos of 3 exposures after the highlights have been rescued in Lightroom. The first photo uses red and purple extreme white balance choices and as you can see the blue has disappeared. The second photo was created at the same location and has no white balance changes. The blue, yellow and pinks are all present.

When I choose bluer extreme white balance settings the pink almost disappears. When I choose blue and purple extreme white balance settings pink dominates.

In summary, I don’t know why these colour shifts happen, but knowing what happens to the final photo is the first thing to be aware of. I will continue to experiment. I don’t know what purpose the photos I create serve, yet! But the experimentation is interesting and I like some of my creations. And that is the main point. You only have to please yourself. Sometimes a purpose or reason for your photographic creations is revealed in time. A period of settling and reflection may lead to greater knowledge or it may not! Meanwhile, I will continue my exploration.

I should also mention that all of the wall related photos in this post were created whilst listening to KIWANUKA by Michael Kiwanuka. When I use music as a stimulating sense, I just let the music wash over me, not paying close attention to the lyrics. However, during the creation of the wall photos I did notice that the lyrics were of urban life.

If by any chance this post inspires you to experiment, do let me know how you get on. I would love to know if Canon and Nikon cameras have similar colour shifts in their Additive Modes.

Happy creating!

PHOTO IS:RAEL PhotoMarathon

PHOTO IS:RAEL was an online photomarathon that happened over 24 hours in February 2021. I decided to take part for creative challenge and boy did I get what I asked for! There were 6 themed challenges, which had to be completed over a full 24 hours and they all related to the concept of chaos. Something that we can all currently relate to.

This post will outline each of the challenges and share my photo(s) as well as an overview of my creative process. here’s number 1 which was received at 5.00pm GMT on a gloomy evening. Challenge 2 would only be released once I had submitted the Challenge 1 photo, and so on.

  1. Embrace Uncertainty – Natural light has been the dominant tool in every photographer’s career, but like most things today, it too changes uncontrollably and at the crucial moments. In this first challenge, we ask you to find images that deal with light. Take a walk around your house or on the street, look for an interesting light direction, add the shadows usually avoided. Get out of your comfort zone, choose new and unplanned angles.

Now, that’s all well and good. Photography is all about light. However, 5.00pm on a winter’s evening in the UK does not offer much natural light! I checked the forecast for the next day and it seemed promising. It was wrong, the next day was gloomy and overcast. No sun and none expected all day. I was going to need to create a photo that was all about (natural) light and shadows without either of those things. I know, there was some natural light, but it wasn’t the sunshine that I was hoping for.

I had an idea. What if in place of the shadows I used a silhouette? Similar, but different and still caused by light. Once I had the concept I decided that the silhouette would be of me in a hoodie, gazing at the gloom. Then in a flash of inspiration (and humour) I realised that if I used multiple exposure I could create another layer with a light bulb (signifying light and a bright idea) on top of the hoodie silhouette. I used Bright mode in my Fuji X-T4’s Multiple Exposure setting. This mode favours the brighter pixels over darker, ensuring that the light bulb would appear on top of the silhouette.

To create the light bulb layer, I held the bulb against a dark background, ensuring that the brighter cloud filled background would be favoured. Here is the final multiple exposure, created in camera with no post editing.

2. Dare to Fail – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep”. We cannot move forward without failing. In this second challenge you are asked to take a representative image of darkness, natural or artificial. The core of the image should be the dark part of the frame.

Great, I thought, absence of sunlight was a positive. Although I did wish that I had known the what the challenge was the night before. However, I was comfortable about using the exposure compensation to create a darker photo. I also thought perhaps I could make use of Dark mode in the Multiple Exposure setting. I created the photo with me in it first. To do this I used reflections of myself in various windows, and in a variety of poses until I settled on the heavenward gaze, which seemed apposite.

After I had that photo in camera I looked for a darker surface that I could use as the formless background. I settled on a rough section of tarmac just outside the house, and created one photo before a final one when I used a slower shutter speed (easy on the gloomy day and with a dark subject) and zoomed the lens out during the shutter release, to create the tunnel effect. In my mind this responded to moving from darkness to light, from failure to creation.

3. Challenge the Obvious at Times of Digital Transformation – In the past year, we redefined the way employees, freelancers and self-employed actually work, with new challenges and market conditions. Video calls, remote work from just anywhere, new participants, and circumstances we never thought possible for work, became our working environment. This challenge encourages you to photograph your interpretation of “work” as redefined in this past year, or as you think it should be defined. The photograph can be staged, documentary, realistic, or abstract.

By this stage I had noticed two emerging themes in my work. One was multiple exposure in camera, the other was the tree motif. I hadn’t planned to follow these unifying features, but I was keen to ensure that all of the final photos could be seen as a coherent set. I recognised that the overarching theme of Chaos was represented by the multiple exposures and use of extreme colours. The tree motif spoke of the future flowering of Spring and new hope.

The photo for this challenge was originally a straight documentary photo. I went back to it later and re-shot it as a multi exposure image using extreme white balances and an offset composition to indicate the sometime chaos of working from home. The tree motif, my girlfriend and the dog also survived!

4. Ask questions – Covid-19 Pandemic has posed many questions and challenges for us as creators. Thinking about the past year, what you personally went through? What the world has gone through? How did it affect and change you? In this fourth challenge you are requested to upload a series of personal, emotional and abstract or rational and realistic images, that presents questions about the changes you have undergone in the past year. Take a series of 6 images that explore these questions, and ultimately tell your personal and unique story.

When I read this I cheered. Right down my street. Those of you who are familiar with my Pandemia Exhibition will recognise some of the themes in these 6 photos. Most of them take the original idea of a Covid timeline from January 2020 to the present day. But whereas I created my exhibition photos over 10 months these had to be done in an hour, and I had a limited location to work with. I should have said, all of the photos for this photomarathon were created in and around the house or in the nearby park. Each photo title reveals something of the timeline and concept.

Jan 20 – Everything here is lovely, apparently.
Feb 20 – The virus approaches
May 20 – Got to work. Don’t go to work
Dec 20 – The virus is everywhere
Jan 21 – Lockdown. Again.
Feb 21 – Storms before wisdom

5. Collaborate – Collaborations between creators characterize the new era of employment. In this fifth challenge you are requested to photograph an image or metaphor and add up to 80 words of text you find relevant. Please note – In scoring this assignment the jury will also consider your choice of the accompanying text. However, unlike the photo, it is not mandatory to use an original text written by you. If the text is not yours, please indicate the name of the author and provide the right credit.

This photo represents through the use of a simple visual metaphor the concept of bright ideas. Each light bulb and colour represents a person and their ideas. The 80 words I submitted with the photo explain everything! So here they are.

“I am collaborating online with 3 other photographers to create an online course – Developing Resilience through Photography – that will be offered on a donation basis (for a UK Mental Health charity). Their thoughts, feelings and experiences will contribute to the section ‘Conveying your feelings in a photo’. This photo (like the others) uses multiple exposure in camera and extreme white balance choices to convey the idea that many multi-coloured minds are better than one, and make the light work!”

6. Make It Happen – Only we are responsible for our lives and have the power to change them. In the last challenge, put yourself at the center. In this task a unique and intimate self-portrait must be created. Add props or artificial light, and create a personal portrait that tells something about you as creators ready for the new challenges that life provides.

By this stage I was 22 hours in and a little jaded! However, I have spent several years appearing in my own photos, so I was comfortable about creating a self portrait. All I had to do was include the same chaotic colours and multiple exposures. I do regret that one of the faces was not looking at an angle, out of frame. I was focussed on all the technical and compositional choices, tired and that final twist would have reinforced the chaos them. Hey ho, it’s too late now!

Looking through the full set I am happy that they hang together as a complete set reasonably well. They also feel pretty chaotic to me, and yet a little hopeful. What do you think?

The judges won’t be announcing their shortlist of 20 until 4th April, but I’m not too bothered about that because I loved the process and creative challenge. Who would have thought that an online international photomarathon would work so well.

Playing with Multiple Exposure

Playing is an essential part of creativity and Multiple Exposure is certainly a creative technique. However, when you’re developing your abilities at a new skill you may forget to play around and have fun. If you’re anything like me, you may be more concerned with finding out what you should do and doing it right.

When we were kids, and before we got too indoctrinated by school routine, we learnt a lot about the world by playing. It was our go to mode. And it worked, look at you now! So give yourself permission to play. To have fun. To make mistakes, learn from them and try new things out.

That all said, let’s look at the idea of playing to learn a new skill in action. As you may know, I have been developing and honing my skills in Multiple Exposure over the last year. Having a project, with an intention to publish a gallery of photos that represented my feelings during the pandemic, has given my learning a focus. (See Pandemia here).

However, that intention has also made me purposeful and serious. Great qualities sure, but I didn’t always remember to have fun. However, I did start with fun! This example below is one of a series of photos I created when playing with extreme white balances, a defocussed lens at a wide aperture and 3 of 4 combined exposures in Dark mode. (If some of this information is new to you, but you are curious take a look at my online course A Creative Guide to Multiple Exposure and ICM).

Multiple exposure

Yes, that is a sofa, in the sunlight that was pouring in through my south facing lounge window. I got all excited when I saw that this kind of creation was possible in camera! I played about with the technique for a while, exhausted its initial possibilities and then moved back to serious practice. Having learnt how to use this method I occasionally revisited it, applying it to different scenes to see what could be created.

Most of the time over the last year I have stuck to using two of the four Multiple Exposure modes that my Fuji X-T4 has available – Bright and Dark. These seemed to provide the most interesting results. I found that the Average mode was a little uninspiring, whereas the Additive mode was just an explosion of light that didn’t seem to be practical. And then I discovered a trick that opened up a whole world of possibility. The overexposed highlights, created when using the Additive mode, when rescued in Lightroom revealed some magic. Here’s a one of the first single exposures of the scene, three of which were combined in camera to create the ‘Before LR’ version and then the ‘After LR’ to demonstrate.

Original scene – first exposure
Additive Multiple Exposure Mode
Before LR
Additive Multiple Exposure Mode
After LR

As you can see within the highlights sky blue, pink and yellow features were revealed. Also the colours were imprinted on the pattern of the tree’s branches. Having discovered this on my PC I then went out to deliberately play with this method. Initially, I kept to woodland and park scenes of other bare branches. Then I noticed that I was just repeating the same subjects and started to play with other possibilities. Here is my most recent favourite, created on a sunny, windy day gazing into a pond. Again it is just three combined exposures, using the Additive mode, in camera, plus some post production in Lightroom.

Drowning in Dreams

There is room for more play! There is always more room. More subjects and scenes to play with. More technical choices to combine with the technique. I have just started to introduce some extreme white balance choices to the mix, just to see what will happen to those blues, pinks and yellows. It’s still fun, and I’m sure there will be more exciting creations. But most of all, I know that I am honing my skills, enjoying the process and creating some photos that I love. And after all isn’t that why you are a photographer?

Pandemia Exhibition Live!

How long is it since you went to an exhibition? Months no doubt. This strange period has changed how we can experience art and many of the main art galleries have moved some of their exhibitions online. And so have I!

Yes, Pandemia is now live. That link will take you to a web page where, if you are on a PC or laptop, you can view the exhibition from the comfort of your chair. Alternatively, if you’re on the move and using your phone, click on the button ‘Access via phone’ below the exhibition, download the Exhibbit app and you can enter my gallery.

Unfortunately, there is no celebratory wine and snacks, but you can bring your own and browse at your leisure, with a clear view of all the photos. No one stood in your way here!

The screenshot photo below gives you an idea of what you will experience and there is clear explanation of how to move around the gallery to see all of the photos.

Each photo has a title and an explanation of its intention. You will notice that these are in both English and Welsh, this is because I am based in Wales and I am trying to make it accessible for all – as though it was live in Swansea!

All of the photos were created using Multiple Exposure and/or Intentional Camera Movement. All created in camera, only minor corrective work was done in Lightroom. You can learn the same skills! My online course: A Guide to Creative Multiple Exposure and ICM is now live, with an early bird offer (£52 + live workshop if you enrol before 1st Feb 2021).

I would love to hear back what you thought of the exhibition. Please comment on the individual photos – those you liked and those you didn’t. Also I’m interested to know what you thought about the whole intention of the project and the online gallery experience. I look forward to hearing from you. You can use the contact form here, or email me. Many thanks.

This exhibition has been made possible by the Arts Council for Wales and the National Lottery.

Me and ME (Multiple Exposure)

I have been somewhat occupied of late. A creative project has taken over. So much so that I have slipped to only blogging once or twice a month. I thought I had better pull myself together, and what better way than to blog about what has been swallowing my time.

Over the last six weeks or so I have been developing a new online course in Multiple Exposure (ME) and Intentional Camera Movement (ICM). That has involved developing learning materials in different formats (for all you different types of learners out there); there are Cheat Sheets, talking head slideshow videos, on location videos, an eBook and of course photography activities for you to practice the new skills.

The only thing is, I have to complete all the activities too. And I get creatively distracted. This is because at the same time as working on the online course, I am also creating ME and ICM photos for my project Pandemia. Sometimes the two blend into each other. Yesterday for example I spent 4 hours walking around the Gower creating ICM photos for the new course and then when I had finished editing them I spent another hour or so reviewing which, if any of them, could make the Pandemia shortlist.

Let me show you what I mean. First I need to go back a few days and talk about one of the four ME Modes. There is a ME mode on some advanced digital cameras called Additive. This mode adds all the light exposure from one exposure to the next, layering the photos and getting brighter each time you do it. If you went on for the maximum possible (9 exposures) you end with an almost white exposure! Not much use in that I thought.

I decided to experiment and discovered that 3 layered exposures seemed to be a maximum. Then when I edited them in Lightroom and rescued some of the highlights more colour and pattern emerged. Here’s an example.

When I first saw this I thought Wow! What can I do with that? More experiments followed, the Pollyanna Principle was fully in play. Fortunately, I noticed and pulled back on my excitement. Then I started to push at the edges of what was possible, and how I might be able to control the colours. You can find out more in the new Online Course, of course!

Then yesterday I spent 4 hours playing with ICM on a 5 mile circular walk on the Gower Peninsula. I’m fortunate to be able to live only 20 minutes drive from one of the UK’s top beaches; Three Cliffs Bay. I parked a couple of miles away in a tiny hamlet and walked through a very muddy tree lined valley, then dunes and river to the beach. Along the way I experimented with different types of intentional movement and shutter speed. Vertical for vertical things – trees for example; Horizontal for horizontal things – the horizon for example; and distinct twisting and swooping movements for subjects. Here’s my favourite photo from the walk.

As you can see there is a huge amount of scope with ME and ICM photography to create photos that evoke different feelings; that is why I am using them for Pandemia. This project will share some of my strongest images from this year of chaos. Each one illustrating a different feeling experienced during these challenging times. I plan to share the exhibition initially online in 2021. Stay tuned!

Acceptance

Mindfulness encourages you to see things as they actually are in the present moment. As the present moment plays out, you practice noticing your feelings, your physical sensations and the thoughts that flit across your mind. It may well be that you do not like what you are experiencing. You may try to avoid, distract or just deny the experience.

Acceptance is the quality that allows you to be with all the difficulty, without turning away. Acceptance encourages you to turn towards the difficult experience. To sit with the feelings, sensations and thoughts, allowing them to ebb and flow and slowly, bit by bit allowing them a little space in your life.

“Just accept it,” friends may say after you have spent several days moping about after the end of a relationship, “There are plenty more fish in the sea.” Helpful? Of course not. Those wise friends know that you have to accept the situation to move on, but you are caught in the moment, trapped by the loss you are experiencing. Acceptance is part of the cycle of adjusting to loss.

This was first described by Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross as the Grief Cycle and related to the stages we live through after the death of a loved one. Kübler-Ross pioneered methods in the support and counselling of personal trauma, grief and grieving, associated with death and dying. The stages she identified are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. They are equally transferable to our adjustment to other losses; the end of a relationship, being made redundant or serious ill health.

I never realised that I was living through a grief cycle until more than two years after the initial acute ill health and the end of my college career. It only became clear after I had written a memoir, it had lain about for a while, and I later returned to read it and realised that I was describing myself in a depressed state. When I was living it and writing about it, I was unaware. It was only after I had experienced distance from the changes that I could look back at my behaviours and identify that I had been adjusting to great loss: the loss of my health and the loss of my career.

Mindfulness offers a practice to support living through this experience. In the secular mindfulness practice this can be described as a meditation that invokes wishing yourself and others well. This was developed from the Buddhist practice of Maitri – loving kindness or compassion for oneself and others.

This practice encourages you to be compassionate with your present experience. To accept and love yourself, in all the glory and the grime. Tara Brach (meditation teacher and psychologist) describes this as “Radical Acceptance, which means clearly recognizing what we are feeling in the present moment and regarding that experience with compassion.”

This is challenging. To regard the experience with compassion, first you have to understand, to witness what you are feeling. I don’t know about you, but I have always found this difficult.

Maybe it’s my British upbringing. What I do know is that I have had to spend many years since my loss, learning how to talk about what I feel and believing that it is OK to do so. Only with a cultivation of this ability to notice what I was feeling could I then begin to explore the possibility that I could be compassionate to myself, to recognise my feelings and not be judgemental about them. I have found this radical, maybe you will too, or maybe you find it natural.

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” – Carl Rogers (psychologist)

As applied to photography

We can practice acceptance through photography in two key ways. The primary opportunity is to use a photography practice as a method of understanding and processing your current experience. In many of my courses and books I offer mindful photography activities that encourage you to attend to your present moment experience, particularly how you are feeling and representing these experiences through photos.

This can be achieved with an understanding how of the elements of photography composition can be used to embody emotion. This includes knowledge of representational ideas for colour, shape, line and so on, as well as the use of visual metaphors and symbols to communicate ideas and feelings.

On a more instinctive level you can also practice responding photographically to your environment when you are experiencing a strong emotion, creating photographs that spring from an intuitive response. These may well include knowledge of the visual language of a photograph, as described above, or your response maybe less planned and controlled. It may run contrary to popular ideas, resting instead on how the visual experience echoed how you felt.

The second opportunity is to understand and accept the kind of photographer (and person) you are. This is partly about what it is that you like to create photographs of, and partly about what those photographs can say about you, as well as about the subject. It is a study in how the outer world can reflect your inner world.

Mindful Photography Activity – One Object

The purpose of this Mindful Photography Activity is to remind you that things are how they are. Moving towards acceptance is undermined by your dislike of how things actually are and your attachment to how you would like things to be. When the cause of this is some kind of significant change in your life, your habitual thoughts, ideas and beliefs can obscure your ability to see how things really are. 

Moving towards acceptance initially requires tuning in to your sensations: what you can see, hear, smell, touch and taste. This reality is often your anchor in a mindful practice and it provides a foundation from which to notice how you feel, think and are acting.

You will cultivate this ability by attending visually to an object that you are attracted to. I suggest that you choose something in nature, a tree, rock, bush, hill, mountain, stream, river or beach.

• Set aside at least an hour for this practice.

• Use your usual camera setting and lens, and turn off the review screen.

• Go for a walk at a favourite location and find an object you are drawn to.

• Spend time with your object.

• Sit. Have a picnic. Have a cup of tea from a flask. Settle.

• Spend time looking at your object. Notice its colours, patterns, structures, shapes, smell, feel and so on.

• Take this process slow, very slow.

• Create photos of your object that you are drawn to. Do NOT review them. Do not delete. Just be with the practice.

• When you feel the practice is finished go home. Download your photos and review on a large display.

• Notice your thoughts and feelings as you review the photos.

• Choose a few photos that best reflect how your chosen object made you feel.

• Looking at the other photos you have not chosen, consider how they make you feel and why you did not choose them.

• Repeat the activity.

I’m in the Amateur Photographer!

Last week I was fortunate enough to be featured in the UK’s oldest national photography magazine, The Amateur Photographer. In an interesting article about Mindful Photography I am one of three photographers who get to explain their take on this approach to photography.

When I first started using the term and developing my approach to Mindful Photography in 2013, I can’t say that I ever expected any degree of national recognition. The term was barely used and little understood. My development of this approach into an all encompassing way of mindfully developing your photography skills, has been 7 years in the making. It is now more than just applying mindfulness to photography.

What a joy to be asked to contribute to the article and to be seen as an authoritative voice on the topic. If you would like to know more about my approach do download the free eBook available here and maybe consider doing my 101 course – an introduction to Mindful Photography – it’s a bargain!

PhotoBARRYthon is coming!

I am helping to organise PhotoBARRYthon, a photomarathon that takes place next month, in Barry, South Wales. The official press release about the event is below, with a web link for more information. All of our meetings to organise this, since the pandemic, have been online. So I thought I had better get myself to Barry and create some photos, just to get in the mood and possibly inspire you to join in. My favourite 12 photos from a 2 (not a 12!) hour photo walk around The Knap towards Barry Island are below. Below that is a panorama I created from 6 separate photos.

Press Release

Calling all professional and amateur photographers looking for an opportunity to capture the sights, sounds and characters of Barry.

Taking place on Saturday 10th October 2020, the inaugural PhotoBARRYthon is organised by the Barry Making Waves project and gives local people the chance to document the town on a particular day, using a variety of topics with mobile phones or digital cameras. Visitors to the town will be able to explore Barry and discover how photogenic a place it is.

Photomarathons are fun but are also competitive events. PhotoBARRYthon will be two competitive events – a 12 hour event with 12 topics, to create 12 photos, and a shorter family
friendly 6 hour event, with 6 topics, to create 6 photos. Winners will be selected in each topic category and there will be a prize for the two overall winners.

The topics will be released every three hours throughout the day, with the first 3 topics given at registration at the Memo Arts Centre. A number of cafes, shops and other locations in Barry and Barry Island will then release the topics at various times throughout the day, as well as on social media (@BarryValeofGlam).

The event is ticketed and participants will need to pre-book. It will not be possible to join on the day. Tickets will be released soon on Ticket Source – look out for further updates.

The event is being organised as part of Barry Making Waves and Mererid Velios, Place Manager at the Vale of Glamorgan Council is working with local photographers Lee Aspland and Michael Goode, in partnership with Memo Arts Centre.

For more information please visit www.barry.cymru/visit/photobarrython

Photography for Well-Being

Photography for Well-Being 1 is available for pre-order now. My new book shows you how through experiencing nature, inspiring creativity and sharing photos you can use photography to improve your artistic skills and well-being – especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

This week is Creativity and Well-Being Week in the UK. Never has the role of creativity in supporting your well-being been so relevant. These are extraordinary times. We are living through unprecedented experiences. Our little routines, our day-to-day lives, and our hopes and dreams have all been thrown in the air. How it will all land is anyone’s guess. Meanwhile, we live a reduced life; staying home, maintaining social distance and trying not to shout at our kids or partner. This all puts a strain on our well-being. What is to be done?

Fortunately, there is lots of help available. Many experts have offered their keep fit routines, healthy eating ideas, games, quizzes and so on. But there is another creative experience you could try – Photography for Well-Being.

I am a photographer, so are you. If you have a camera – and we all have a smartphone now – you can use it to support your well-being and improve your photography skills along the way. How do I know?  In November of last year, I had major throat reconstruction surgery. Whilst I was there recovering, I used photography and writing to support the processing and acceptance of what I was experiencing, feeling, and thinking. Every day I went walkabout – not far, I was barely allowed out of the ward – and I created photos of what I saw and felt. The challenge of creating new photos each day in the same environment and writing about how they reflected my experience kept me occupied every morning. I noticed that the activity helped to make me feel more positive about the situation. They also provided the opportunity to work through what was happening and lean into the difficult feelings.

Whilst I was there, my thoughts turned to the next stage of recovery and how I could support my health and well-being, post-op and beyond. One morning I came up with the titles and outlines for more than 20 photographic activities that would support my well-being. I decided that over the next few months that I would complete each of the activities and record my experiences in a notebook; each activity illustrated with several photos. Somehow, I thought, this would become a book for others to use to support their well-being through photography. And now the book Photography for Well-Being 1 is available. Every one of the 15 photography activities in the book has been used to support my health and well-being and will support yours. These really work; I used the activities to support my recovery to full health.

Photography for Well-Being is all about doing creative, mindful photography activities and then sharing your favourite photos. Each activity has a common structure and they all include these six features:

  1. Creativity – Improving your seeing skills, learning and developing your photography skills and creating photos that you love.
  2. Being in the great outdoors (there are one or two indoor exceptions).
  3. Gentle physical exercise.
  4. Love – of a place, person, thing or experience.
  5. Mindfulness – through a Mindful Photography Practice.
  6. Social interaction by sharing your favourite photo.

It is this combination that works to create a sense of well-being. Creativity is mood-changing magic. Out of one set of ingredients, activity, situation or experiences, something else is created. In this case, photographs that would not exist if you were not out there, following my instructions, noticing what you see and creating photos that relate to the time, place, your feelings and your individual abilities. Creating photos whilst you walk in nature, feeling the sun (or rain) on your face, looking in awe at natural or human-made magnificence, has the capacity to lift your mood, illuminate what you are feeling, and allow difficult thoughts to settle and soften.

Each activity is also designed to develop a specific photographic skill. It does not matter if you are using a smartphone or a digital camera, you can do all of these activities with the camera you have with you. Some of the skills development is specific to digital cameras, but all of the activities can still be done with a smartphone and where relevant I have provided guidance specifically for smartphone users.

In each activity, there is a section called Photography Skills Development. Each activity looks at one specific skill, in a rotation of three topics: Mindful Photography (Seeing Skills), Composition and Technical skills. However you describe yourself as a photographer, each activity has the potential to improve your photographic skills. Learning new skills or enhancing existing ones, whilst enriching your creative powers, will boost your sense of achievement. You will feel purposeful and develop a greater belief in your photographic ability.

Creating personal, unique photos, out in the fresh air, learning or developing your photography skills and then sharing the photos with other people can really help to support your well-being. Why not give it a go? There is even a downloadable free eBook to give you a taster of the experience. It is called Stuck in the House and was designed especially for these times! It has four photography activities, just like the ones in Photography for Well-Being 1. It will get you into the swing of things, get you out creating great photos and give you the experience of using photography to support your well-being.

Monty was a doggy guru

Monty died at the weekend. He was a lively and occasionally very naughty Bijon Frise. White haired, curious and very friendly. He will be much missed. What you may not know is that he was also a guru, who taught me about mindfulness, consciousness and the self. Can you believe it?

Monty was a creature of the moment. His day was shaped by routine and coloured by sensations and experiences. He was a conscious creature, aware of his surroundings and stimulated by what he perceived. His sense of smell was of course, acute. At any meal time, whilst food – especially meat – was being prepared or eaten, the patter of his little feet approaching the kitchen could be heard.

His sense of hearing was (allegedly) 10 times more sensitive than ours. I could be on one floor of the house and make a cat noise and Monty, on the top floor, would come thundering down the stairs in the hope of seeing, or perhaps catching a cat.

Monty experienced emotion. He experienced fear: loud traffic noises, flying objects, fireworks and certain dogs in the park all stimulated a strong desire to run back home to safety. Something he did several times, fortunately dodging traffic as he careered across busy roads. He had more than nine lives!

He looked for contact. He liked to be be stroked, held and played with. Apparently, when we stroke a dog serotonin is produced not only in our body, but also their’s. Are they experiencing a feeling of well being? Like Monty we are also experiencing our life through the sensations, thoughts and feelings that arise in our consciousness. Monty though, lived solely in the present moment. That was his greatest teaching.

This doggy moment

Monty had a vocabulary of 30 – 40 words. Each of these words stimulated a response. Cat, food, sit, No, go, Bijon, sausage, wait etc. were all associated with an action. And whilst we spoke to him as though he understood, language was of course a concept too far. So when I spoke to him about a cat he saw earlier in the day, Monty would perk up and look for the cat in the room at that moment. Not only was language a concept too far, so was the past or future.

Both the past and future are concepts we have created to explain and cope with the passage of time. We are smart enough to imagine that the past actually exists. But, of course, it does not. It is a construct we have created and that we hold in our consciousness. The past is not a reality. You cannot touch it or experience it in any way, apart from in our imagination. If you attend an experience that recreates the past – a play, film, themed event – you are experiencing the present moment, albeit a present moment that is shaped to look and feel like the past.

Similarly, the future never exists. For when we reach a particular point in time it is the present!

Monty knew this. He knew that there is only this moment right now. Monty lived in the present moment. The mindful hound!

The doggy self

Monty had one other lesson for us. Another trick up his furry sleeve which helped him to be present in the moment. Monty had no concept of self.

If I held Monty up to a mirror he may have looked at himself briefly, but quickly his gaze would slip away to what was behind or next to him. There was no curiosity. No checking out how he looked. There didn’t appear to be a recognition that he was looking at a dog, or that the dog was him.

So the idea that there is such a thing as the ‘self’ did not trouble Monty. He experienced his day as a series of sensations, feelings and thoughts arising and passing. Each one was a singular moment and each one was experienced in that moment.

We though get sidetracked. Our mind has created a construct it calls ‘self’. This construct is constantly being refined, developed, coloured and shaped by our sensations, feeling and thoughts. Above all it is the thought that we are an independent self, different from the next person that separates us from this present moment awareness.

My concept of self is strong and is reinforced every moment of every day. Sitting in meditation or following any mindful practice has the potential to remind us that it is only our consciousness receiving. There is no self experiencing. The self is an illusion. An imaginary beast. A construct created and recreated by our conscious mind.

Monty was always with the experience of the moment. They are fine teachers, our canine friends. Guru Monty had much to teach me!

Exploring Multiple Exposure

A few years ago I started experimenting with multi-exposure (more about this technique here) – the art of combining several images in one exposure in camera. A year or so in to my exploration I lost interest as my camera could only combine two images as a maximum, in any one exposure, and it simply layered one on top of the other. Recently, I upgraded my camera and the new Fuji X-T4 has the ability to combine up to nine images in one exposure, and has four alternate ways of combining these images. The exploration is back on!

The key question at this point is why would you want to do this? The answer for me is that it opens up the possibility of creating images that can document a place, experience or emotion in a personal, abstract and creative manner. I am also fascinated to compare and combine this with ICM – intentional camera movement. These techniques are not hugely popular, they create photos that can be ethereal, intriguing, emotive and abstract. It is these very qualities that draw me to them and suggest to me the possibility of a personal project. Something I am considering at present.

Meanwhile, practice and experimentation are required to investigate the limitations and possibilities of the techniques. I have learnt a few things so far which I will summarise, but first I wanted to thank my teachers; Doug Chinnery, Valda Bailey and of course Chris Friel. Doug and Valda have worked together to produce some great videos that explore and explain these techniques; they are detailed and generate plenty of possibility. Chris has been producing fabulous work for many years and is worthy of your investigation.

Experimentation

The photo above was created during the springtime explosion of blooms at Clyne Gardens in Swansea. My intention was to create some photos that were inspired by nature’s colours and beauty, and also echoed how such beauty can make you feel. The techniques I used were ME in dark blend mode, creative use of white balance, creative framing investigation, defocussing the lens and three or four layered exposures. Let’s look at some of those choices.

There are four blend modes available on my Fuji, something that is replicated on some Canon and Nikon cameras; they are Additive, Average, Bright and Dark.

Additive – This mode adds each frame on top of the next, in a kind of light accumulation process. It is possible that if you used this on a sunny day that by the time you had added nine images to one exposure you would just be left with a white rectangle. I have not yet explored its creative possibilities, as the other modes have been calling to me. But maybe its limitations would be something that could create unexpected possibilities.

Average – This mode layers each image on top of the next, averaging the opacity. This is the standard mode for digital exposure and it is the mode I used when I had the Fuji X-T2, as it was the only choice. Combined with ICM, defocussing or creative use of the white balance it has possibilities.

Bright – This mode preserves the brighter elements of each image. For example, if your first image was of a silhouette or shadow, the second if brighter could layer the brighter elements over the areas of darker exposure from the first image. This is similar to how a film camera used to capture a multiple exposure. Here is an example.

Dark – This mode does the opposite to Bright mode. It preserves the darker elements of each image. Where there is light, there can be dark! This is the mode I have used most so far in combination with creative use of white balance.

White Balance – All digital cameras give you a level of control over the white balance. The default position is to be in Auto. In this setting the camera tries to produce whites that replicate how you see white light. Of course, your eyes work differently to a camera. They work with our brain to self correct what we know to be white, to look white, even if it is really carrying another hue. For example: dusk light has a blue hue. You don’t notice this, but the camera does. The white balance can then correct this to match how you see. Taking control of the white balance allows you to tell the camera what hue the whites should have, affecting every colour in the frame. Camera manufacturers have different ways of allowing you to influence this. Some require you to know the Kelvin values of each colour. Others have a map of hues that you can pick from. My Fuji has the latter, which makes it dead easy. My experimentation so far has followed Chris Friel’s advice – to use extreme choices.

I have much work to do. I am learning how my white balance choices work with the ME blend modes and the colours of the objects in the frame. I have also learnt that playing with the lens focus can produce interesting softer shapes and patterns. These combinations of blend mode, white balance and lens focus have much possibility and will, I am certain, be used along with ICM to produce an interesting body of work very soon. I the meantime, here are a few of my favourites from the visit to Clyne Gardens.

My 24 Photos Activity

Last week I posted an activity called 24 Photos that turned your digital camera into a film camera, almost. Over the weekend I completed the activity myself around Singleton Park and the deserted Swansea University Campus. My five favourite photos are below and I have to say, “It works!” Well, I would say that wouldn’t I? But it does. I pretty much followed my own advice, using a familiar prime lens in manual focus and having the camera set up in manual mode. My screen was also off, although I did forget to have anything to help with the count and lost track after 20. I ended up with 27 photos (a normal amount for a 24 exposure film!) and I will confess that the final photo here was taken in auto focus. Those bees do move about!

The aim of the activity is to slow you down, so as to improve your seeing and make the photo activity a mindful experience. It worked for me. Why don’t your try it and then post your favourite photos in our growing Photography for Well-Being Facebook group? I look forward to seeing them.

Photo Activity: 24 Photos

Back in the day, when we only had film cameras, creating a photograph was a different experience to the digital world we now live in. The most obvious difference was that you could not see the photo you had just created until the film was developed. In addition, many of the cameras and lenses were fully manual, so creating the photo was a slower process. Also you only had 24 or 36 exposures. There was no deleting; no checking which photos you liked and which you didn’t, until the film came back. This Photo Activity replicates that experience, it turns your digital camera into a film camera. Why do that you ask? These five reasons:

  1. This will slow you down.
  2. Slower photography means that you will see more.
  3. Seeing more means that your photos will be more creative.
  4. Having a limited number of photos will encourage you to pay more attention to the creation of each photo.
  5. Paying attention means that your photos will be more interesting.

It was using my Fujica ST705 which inspired this activity. I found that there was a film left in it – the camera had been packed away for a while – so I went around the house playing with possibilities. The camera is fully manual; shutter speed, aperture and ISO all have to be set. There is a basic light meter visible through the viewfinder which helps to get a balanced exposure. The lens is manual focus too. I noticed how it slowed my photo creation down and decided to revisit the idea of slowing down your digital photography practice. It will make a difference. You will pay more attention to the making of each photo, and that can only result in more interesting and creative photos.

I should mention that some of you may have cameras where some of these instructions are not possible. Do as many as you can. If you cannot do any of them even the simple act of only creating 24 photos with no deleting or reviewing will slow you down.

 

Photo Activity: 24 Photos

  1. Set aside an hour or two for this activity.
  2. Choose a location – inside or outside. Inside is more challenging!
  3. Set your camera up in Manual mode.
  4. Turn off the viewscreen, this includes for review also.
  5. If you have a lens that can be turned to manual focus use that.
  6. Set the ISO for the light. The standard guidelines are – Bright sunny day 100; bright intermittent sun 200; cloudy day 400; heavy cloud/rain 800+; inside depends upon the light in each room 400 – 800+
  7. Set your aperture to f8 – this is a mid range aperture.
  8. Set your shutter speed to 1/125 – this will guarantee no camera shake. It is a mid range start point.
  9. You are going to create 24 photos. No reviewing. No deleting.
  10. As you cannot see the screen you will need a method of keeping count. 24 nuts, seeds, stones or sweets will work. Cast one off for each photo.
  11. Each photo is precious. You only have 24.
  12. Each time you find a scene bring your camera up and review the light information.
  13. To change the exposure  – more or less light – you have control of the aperture and shutter speed.
  14. A smaller aperture number (e.g. f2.8) is a larger hole = more light and shallow Depth of Field (less of the depth of the photo in focus)
  15. A bigger aperture number (e.g. f16) is a smaller hole = less light and greater Depth of Field (more of the depth of the photo in focus)
  16. The shutter speed numbers refer to fractions of a second. The larger the number (e.g. 1000), faster shutter speed = less light. Smaller numbers (e.g. 1), slower shutter speed + more light.
  17. A slow shutter speed means if you move the camera whilst the shutter is open the scene will be blurred.
  18. Take your time with every photo. You aim is to create a balanced exposure. This is recorded as 0 on the exposure scale in your viewfinder; most look like this: 3 2 1 0 -1 -2 -3.
  19. Make creative choices about the framing and your Point of View.
  20. Decide upon an aperture and shutter speed for each photo.
  21. Release attachment to the idea that every photo will be perfect.
  22. Mistakes do not matter. This is an experiencing in slowing down and being creative.
  23. When you finish. Take a break, have a cuppa before you review your photo. Be kind to yourself. Slowing down is more important than the photos.
  24. If you have one photo you like share that with me.

Here is my favourite photo from the last time I did this activity. I’ll be doing it again very soon.

 

Urban Exploring

In preparation for a new photography activity for my new book – Photography for Well-Being – I have been experimenting with urban photography. I am using this term instead of street photography because it has more of an urban landscape approach, rather than activity of the streets. But it could perhaps be either.

The photography activity is called going to be called ‘urban love’ and centres upon scenes from your favourite urban environment. So that could be a town, city, village or hamlet. I’m separating it from industrial photography, as that is more landscape related and maybe a separate activity.

My first practice was in Swansea, where I have lived for over 30 years. I chose a sunny day and had in my intention a desire to create photographs of elements of the city that I love. I struggled. Maybe it was the day, the light or the lens choice, or all three. Obviously, more practice was required.

So a couple of days ago I went walkabout in my girlfriend’s home town of Porth. Porth is a small Rhondda valleys town, in fact it is known as the gateway to the Rhondda Valley. Like many South Wales towns and villages it has struggled over the last 2 or 3 decades. The closure of local coal mines and more recent austerity impact has left its mark.

However, despite it being a gloomy, dull day and the challenge of the urban environment, I enjoyed the practice and created a few photos I liked. Which is all that is required. A key feature of the difference is that I went with an open mind, no overarching intention, just to create interesting photos from what I saw. I shall be taking this approach back to Swansea and the new activity. Anyway here are my favourites.

 

 

Favourite Photos 2019

What a year 2019 has been. A year of difficulty, fun, my mother’s death, the celebration of her life, creativity, exhibitions, work, invention, lots of travel, family, throat reconstruction, a campervan and love, lots of love. This year’s favourite photos are shared in chronological order, and as such they act as a visual diary of my year.