Saturday Evening Post #101 : Making Us Something

Go to the people.
Live with them. Learn from them. 
Love them. 
Start with what they know. 
Build with what they have. 
But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, 
the people will say We have done this ourselves

Lao Tzu

As a young photographer learning the ‘craft’ was not about sitting in a classroom taking in facts, comparing oneself to others, and straining to meet the expectations of a system-guided-scorecard.  The right composition, the right camera technique, correct processing the ability to talk to the theory of lighting, exposure, physics, lens design and meeting the necessary passing marks to gain a qualification. Add interminable hours of Occupational Health and Safety issues these days.

My journey, at least in the main, was through a series of tutors, some of which paid me to clean the studio, others that I paid in my own time, to learn from, and a few that with hindsight was simply wasted time.

I press the shutter on the camera standing on the shoulders of great ones who have gone before me.

We are, I fear, accustomed to ‘doing the hard yards’ over the books, and that will lead to ‘success’ in the field.

The wonderful mentors that I had the opportunity to ‘disciple’ with, were not so much interested in teaching facts, theory, or even skillsets. They thought of it more of what it means to make me a better photographer. Teaching to them was not so I could learn ‘stuff’, but what it would make of my craft.  Learning to calculate depth of field,(DOF) and doing it on the back of a napkin, does not mean I can transpose that into a photograph sometime in the future.  Say, with a 180mm lens on a 4×5 Linhof Technika with a subject at 5m, gives a DOF of   31mm in front, and 35mm behind the subject. But what the great ones wanted to know is how does that affect the end result of the photograph. Knowing the theory becomes very much a, “So what is the use of it”.

If all the teacher could impart was that I needed to do was get the exposure right for the highlights, or process the print for the ultimate rich black, or hold the shadows to allow the form to show, then it  leads more to despair than growth. What if I fail the test?

Setting tests for what I know, only separates me from the subject. The story.  The involvement. The message that the viewer should take away.
What I end up with is a carbon copy of what my instructor would have done. True mentors fire the inspiration within me, looking not only to what I have just experienced, but all that I have yet to be.

Someone once said, of 20 years in a business, “Have you had 20 years of growing and honing your craft, or have you just had One year Twenty times over?”

It is not meant to teach us something, but to make us something. The classroom may fill with useful knowledge, but it’s out in the field when all that  stands behind us as a foundation, where we humbly struggle with the story of our subject in front of our lens that true mentorship is rewarded.

Addendum, because every Melburnian needs a Laugh

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/sep/23/welcome-back-to-the-world-melbourne-almost-sort-of-hang-in-there

Saturday Evening Post #100: Settling

Gotta admit when I started Saturday Night Posts, I didn’t know that I’d have made it to 100 posts. 🙂

Do you have the patience
to wait till your mud settles
and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?
Lao Tzu.


Part of a much longer description of “The Masters”, from Chapter 15 of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching.

The main point being Patience. I’ve totted it up, it seems that by the time we are able regain some real freedom from the lockdown, I will have spent more days at home this year, than days being free to move about.  Not much of a record really.

So I am indeed waiting for the right action to arise by itself.

Tai Chi Pigeon, (a Spotted Dove) has been giving her own version of all this the past few weeks.

After much courting and mateship displays I thought that she would have been setting up a house for her precious young and already been sitting on eggs.
But, No.

She’s been sitting on the fence, literally, for the past few weeks.

Then yesterday morning the mud must have settled.
I want it to settle quickly, I want to be out and about in relative freedom.

Tai Chi pigeon on the other hand  has simply has been waiting. Having the patience of her species to wait for the way to clear. She remained unmoving until the right action arose.  Then, she began.

It is not a wonder to me that the ancient documents, like Lao Tzu’s, the parables of the Carpenter from Nazareth, Egyptian stories, the Original People’s of Australia and the Americas, the list is quite long, all make use of observations from their around.
The return of a bird, the blossoming of a tree, the melting of ice, or the flooding of a river, each in its own way are exemplars of waiting for the way to become clear.

Tai Chi pigeon had found her ideal nesting spot, under the eave of the next-door neighbour’s pergola. The rest  of the morning was a frantic backwards and forwards with increasingly large sticks to complete her little home.
Not that they are noted for their nest building creativity. A few sticks, bundled up, and everybody sits and hangs on. 🙂
Last year it was the standard rose in the house across the road, then two failed attempts in a small ornamental tree, the branches of which were hardly strong enough to support the dove’s weight, let along withstand the rigours of use and weather.

So while I wait feverishly the end of our lockdown, Tai Chi pigeon, has offered me another little lesson in waiting.
Because she is ready for whatever happens. Things don’t have to be just so… Things just have to be the way they are.

 

Saturday Evening Post #99 : Back to the 80s

My Ballarat connection daughter, Face-timed the other night. She is a girl of the 80s and we started to talk about the songs of that era, and the parody they are now to the current Lockdown restrictions.

It kind of ended up with us rolling on the floor laughing as we tried to recall as many as we could that had something to say about our current situation. Our politicians haven’t helped by adding such euphemisms as “Getting on the Bus” and “Roadmap Forward”, which no doubt could in themselves make great song titles.
I, of course was at a disadvantage as most of my recollection of the times was telling her to “turn that music down”

Here is a hit parade we came up with. Not in any real order, but it made us smile.

  1.  ACCA DACCA:  “Highway to Hell
  2. The Police: “Don’t stand so close to me”
  3. U2 “With or without you”
  4. Talking Heads: “Road to Nowhere.”
  5. Whitney Houston: “I wanna dance with somebody”
  6. INXS: “Never Tear Us Apart”
  7. Bowie and Queen: “Under Pressure”
  8. Queen: “I want to break free” or “Another one bites the dust” (we were getting silly then)
  9. Fleetwood Mac: “Everywhere”
  10. edited UPDATE Dire Straits: “So Far Away”… from me.
  11. Cyndi Lauper: “Girls just want to have fun”,
    I let that in as I thought of two more, although not really 80s
  12. Elvis: “In the Ghetto” and SkyHooks, “Horror Movies, the Six Thirty News”In the end we had a giggle and it gave me some food for thought

My Saturday morning read these days includes a topical piece by Virginia Trioli, on how the lockdown has left many feeling broken, and how most of our communication is via screen, through glass or from behind a mask.

But, one of the things she shared is a link to a new Bruce Springsteen release, “Letter to You”.  You can find the vid at the bottom of her piece.

Now I have to say its pretty much typical Bruce, he is a great entertainer, but to me, after awhile they do begin to sound the same, I once used his, “My hometown”, for an event, so I’m not unsympathetic.
His “Streets of Philadelphia” for the Tom Hanks movie is really quite a sensitive statement.
So back to “Letter to You”
It’s worth a  look at the vid, as it’s all been shot in black and white, most of it in stills, and most in the studio where I presume the song was put down.
Turn the music down, and watch the clarity and expressions that the mono vision brings out.   Says a lot about the power of photojournalism to reach into the soul of the moment.
Enjoy

Saturday Evening Post #98: Back to the Future

“The sanest man Sets up no deed, Lays down no law, 
Takes everything that happens as it comes, 
As something to animate, not to appropriate, 
To earn, not to own, 
To accept naturally without self-importance:
If you never assume importance You never lose it..”
Lao Tzu

One of the blog posts I regularly follow has been that of Ming Thein (MT)
Over the years his insight into the creative photo process and his attention to detail in technique has always offered new ideas and directions. His clear and reasoned explanations of the elements of a photograph, form, shape, tone, texture, point of view and the like, has always been interesting, and I have to say that not always did I agree, but that is part of the fun of looking at someone’s work.
But MT has called his blog time over.

In the same week, Kirk Tuck over at Visual Science Lab is also calling an end to his current blog as he is off to pursue some video options.

“I see myself writing less and less about new photography gear and new picture making practices. ..  I’m not anxious to watch my writing devolve into some personal pathos about lost life opportunities, bad decision making, therapy or diets. Or “how we did things in the golden age of photography.”
I have recently (finally) come to grips with the whole concept that, in what’s left of the commercial imaging world, you can do quite well with a smart phone and a suite of programs to enhance your smartphone photos, with less hassle and less time spent than “doing them the right way.”

Sad to see them both go, but fully understand their individual reasons.

Truth be told, as the weeks of lockdown have deteriorated into months, that I find it much  more difficult to warp out words that are relevant and encouraging. There are only so many stories from my own ‘golden age of photography’, only so much pathos that I’d be inclined to share online.

Saw an ad on the tv the other night (Yes, you read that right. Me, watching tv), from Apple. The tag line was, Taken[and Edited] on an iPhone, lots of flashy coloured splashes, and some clever image size, and perspective things to ponder over, and it just confirmed to me that the future of photography is going to do what it has always done.  Change, evolve and find new markets, new vision and new visual experiences.

In another life I once made a presentation at a major photographic convention, just at the turn of digital, and indicated as photographers we have always been “on the cutting edge” of technology.
In the beginning we used to shoot only glass plates, then flexible film.
We began with Monochrome Images, who would have thought of colour.
Rangefinder cameras gave way to Single Lens Reflex.
Bulky studio lights gave way to sparkling electronic flash
Formal indoor portraits became rich environmental, tomorrow pictures (as Don Nibbelink coined).
Digital began for us as scanning from negatives and transparencies. Now we think in terms of 61Megapixel sensors and look beyond that.
Not unsurprisingly at the time, a lot of what I said was dismissed as ‘activist nonsense’ by the organisers.
Well.

And as my Tai Chi Master would say,  “If an art is simply a repetition, then it will fade and die.  For the Art  to live on and grow it must find opportunity to express the old in new ways”.

Me, I’m looking forward to our times in the field. To look for and work with the birds again.  To hopefully bring back some new fresh stories of our amazing natural world.

Been delving through the archives of late.  Not much else to do really, amazing to find moments or opportunities with birds that I had overlooked.

White-winged Choughs are a favourite bird. I am happy to spend hours in their company. Many will tell they  find them difficult to photograph. To the contrary, I’ve sat on logs in the forest and have them hunt over the log, around my feet and sit on the log and preen.  Talking all the time.
Choughness is a compelling life.

This one was only a few seconds before the ‘guard’ in the tree. The communal life means they share various activities among the flock. It had been relieved of its sentry duty and wafted down to enjoy a rummage among the leaf-litter.

Looking forward to the ‘Roadmap Ahead’ tomorrow, or as Sean McCaullif said, “With all this social-distancing, what is the point of being a Hermit!”

Remain

Saturday Evening Post #96: Eavesdropping

I don’t know about anyone else, but seriously, I’m seriously over Zooming, Youtube tutorials on just about every subject there is. Youtube product reviews, that are simply biased every which way, and the “We’re all in this together” mantra.  I just don’t get it. The number of vidiotclips I’ve watched on how to make the most of my post-processing, are hardly entertaining, nor that well filled with actual instruction, and a lot of waffling (well, I shouldn’t complain about that too much should I, dear blog reader), and in the end not all that helpful for the types of problems I’m trying to solve. Not everyone is making (thank goodness) 34 frame HDR landscapes.
Joe McNally said it best, ” Post is not a hospital for poor camera handling technique.”

Must be the weather, or it’s hard to be a non-photographing photographer, or perhaps a non-plumbing plumber, we just can’t get out to our subjects, (well ok, a plumber can do emergency calls)

Eavesdropping is different.  Listening to two totally invovled photographers in discussion about many elements of the craft, and little snippets of value seem to drift out, hoping to be cherished beyond the intimate discussion, and landing every so vapour-like on an eager ear. Something to build on.  Or perhaps, slipping slowly across the void, hitting the wall or ceiling and lost forever.

We, EE, I and David Nice, have spent many hours with the nesting kites and their energetic young. It’s like eavesdropping on their lives. Waiting for an instant that is more than just another kite shot, but a real insight into their lives, a sensitivity for the moment. Learning a little about what it’s like to be a Black-shouldered Kite. I spoke with a long time friend today, about the excitement of being close enough to see the feathers rise and fall as the bird breathes.  You don’t get that on vidiot.:-)

Here is one snippet that I meant to publish when I spoke of Rodney Smith in Saturday Evening Post #93, Speaking Privately.
You can see the full text here. But here is the eavesdropped version.

Rodney was photographing the Chief Executive Officer for a corporation.
He says, “I’d learned over the years that the play for power and control was simply fear… if you could earn their trust, they were willing to be truly vulnerable and powerful subjects.
The CEO walked in and said, “I’m very busy, let’s get this over as soon as possible.”
Everybody, the people who hired the people who hired me are sweating.  Time is motionless.
Smith asks him to stand in one place, look directly at the camera, takes one picture and says, “Ok, that’s it, you can go now.”

Subject says, “Are you serious? That’s it”.

Smith replies, “I believe you have a competent picture equal to the effort you’ve put in to that experience and I’m willing to accommodate your need for speed. If you have some time in the future, and are willing, together we can produce something of far more substance, but now, that one frame will be enough.”

He leaves, everyone else leaves (quietly), Smith packs up and heads down the hallway.
Just about out, and the secretary says “He would love to see you in his office.” Smith is then shown some photos of houses that the CEO owns, and offers that he would love to be photographed in one of those locations where he would have more time.

“If one opens up to me, I’ll give them my heart and soul… the picture is bigger and stronger than me. It is sacred and worth fighting for.   What starts with a handshake in the end is an intimate embrace.”

I was sitting on the grass, at the edge of a foot-bike path.  The young kites were intrigued by the concrete and the grass and whatever might be in the grass.  Every-so often their concentration was broken by a bike-rider hurtling past, but they quickly came back to investigate.
This one was working its way up the footpath towards me. Could it see me? Of course. Did it change its approach because I was there, No not one bit.

Holding my breath, and trying to avoid camera shake, and suddenly it rose up, flew toward me, and landed on the grass. I could see the feathers rise and fall.

 

 

 

Saturday Evening Post #94: From the Notebook

“How ya Doin!”
Eddie Murphy Beverly Hills Cop

Shout out to all who are in Lockdown at the moment. We are at the end of week one with five to go.
It’s kinda like the job that just has to be done. Like vacuuming under the couch, or taking out the rubbish.

After the past few Posts I thought I’d try a lighter look at what has accumulated in my Notebook.

When I was still an apprentice, an early mentor introduced me to carrying and even better, making notes in a Daybook. I have, I guess been an inveterate note collector ever since. In the early days, notes of film type, lighting, camera settings studio setups filled many a page.
I came across one of those books a long time back (since lost again unfortunately) that had diagrammes of set design or location details for shots that I didn’t even recall making.

I even went through a “Yellow PostIt Note” phase.  Just about everywhere you looked in the workroom were magazines, books, tabletops and equipment with little yellow notes with scribbled details.

Or excepts from some book or movie or activity that I thought I might work on.

These days, I confess, I clip things from the Web and keep in an electronic notebook.

Here is one I came across recently.
Jane Goodall.
Jane is the lady from the 1960s who spent her life working in Africa with Chimpanzees. Amazingly her discoveries changed a lot of scientific thought about these creatures and the whole human race.
She recalls in a BBC interview some of the most important events from her time in the jungle.
Here is the link.

Her technique of getting to know the Chimps as individuals was frowned on by the scientific community. Yet my own experience with birds has followed a similar path. Great to hear her defend her position. Enjoy

I found this one a bit amusing

Would have never thought of using Ibis as a measuring tool.
As some wag said,
“If you are 3 Ibis away, you’ve just lost your lunch”

From the Rodney Smith collection challenge last week.
The image I’m currently living with was the one “Zoe with Ducks” From the Storytelling Series.

However I am also quite taken by “Chicken Haiti”  from the Humour set, is in there with a chance as well. I like it for the moment of timing. Given chickens to the best of my knowledge generally don’t perform to schedules.

I woke this morning with the sound of rain on the roof, and outside it was all grey and gloomy.
“Good day to stay under the Doona I thought”, and for no apparent reason, the song “Rainy Days and Mondays always get me Down”, by Karen Carpenter rang through my head. Funny as I haven’t heard it for years, and could never have cast myself as Carpenters fan.

Talkin’ to myself and feelin’ old
Sometimes I’d like to quit
Nothin’ ever seems to fit
Hangin’ around.

And

Finally,

Robin Whalley, a Landscape photographer from England posted this one. Interesting to me as he has gone back through some of his old work, and found some shots that he’d ignored, but now that he has some time, he’s been able to bring out a feel and mood that he’d missed earlier.

As I’m now working through my own collection of “Might have been good” shots, I found it very encouraging.

Funny old world.

Remain.

The Doona Hermit

 

Saturday Evening Post #93: Speaking Privately

When we talk of photography, it’s not something we think of in a ‘private’ sense all that much.

“Let me Share some Pictures I took”, “Here’s a shot I made at the park”, “This is some pictures I took on my holiday to Tuscany last year.” “My granddaughter’s graduation photos are here.”
“I photographed this Flame Robin at Woodlands Park in June.”
We share, Messenger, Facebook, Instagram, (No, No, not Tic Tok), prints, email and blogs to name a few.
Photographer type conversations sometimes start, “Whatchabeendoinlately?”

Yet one photographer I’ve followed over the years has the concept of “Private” as part of his creative approach.

His work is characterised by enchanted worlds full of subtle contradictions.

His name? Rodney Smith.

Noted for sharing his vision of the world with Humour, Grace, and Optimism.
He has since passed, but on his blog entitled intriguingly enough, “The End‘, Rodney Smith would describe his creative process as being  “intricately connected to how I examine my own life, how I got to know myself, and how I drew clarity of my emotions and translated them into pictures.”

So, if you want, you too can Go To The End

A further quote, “I want people to see the beauty and whimsy in life, not its ugliness. I feel the need to reach out for its soul, its depth, and its underlying beauty. I represent a world that is possible if people act their best. It’s a world that’s slightly beyond reach, beyond everyday experience, but it’s definitely not impossible.”

So here’s your humble scribe’s challenge. If you’ve manage to read this far without your eyes glazing over. (well done of you have!)

Follow this link over to his Gallery – the Humor Section.

While you’re there, have a look at several of the others sections, but do visit the Surrealism one as well.

Hopefully one or two will make you laugh, or smile, or just ponder a bit, or at least cause you to be amazed at Rodney’s sheer visual audacity.

Second part of the Challenge.
Pop a note into the Comments below, let us all know which one ‘privately’ appealed. Don’t have to say Why.   Just enjoy the trip.

Next week I’ll reveal my fav.  Hint, its neither of the ones with Hay Bales. But they did run a close second.

Took me a while to find a “Rodney Smith” Private moment among my own recent shots.

Don’t think its a great example, but at least I remember smiling when I pressed the shutter.

As Rodney is quoted, :”Choose Photography for Love, rather than fame, fortune or glory.”

I look forward to hearing from as many as possible.

Go on, you can do it.

 

Saturday Evening Post #92: About 95% Negative Space

“You’ll find,” he said, if I recall correctly, “that Negative Space carries a lot of visual weight. The subject therefore has to be very strong to balance out that 95% Negative Space.” A mentor was extolling the use of the broad, seemingly lacking in detail, surrounds of the main subject.

He went on, again as best I can recall, “Negative space helps the photo stay calm, and isolates the subject, and at the same time removes any interfering elements that distract from the view seeing what you are seeing.”

Great advice to a budding studio product photographer. After all a client doesn’t want a lot of competing visual elements, they want to see the product.  And in particular, the product’s name, brand and model number (if applicable). If Mr Colgate couldn’t see the word “Colgate” in large letters on the subject, he would wonder how anyone would recognise his product, no matter how ‘creatively’ the subject was shown.

The same might be said of a certain cheese brand that is about to change its name. No matter that it was the brain child of a certain William Edward who’s family name now carries unfortunate connotations.
Ford Motor Company want to see their famed logo, and it is said the Coca Cola logo was one of the most recognised logos in the world.  Now it seems the jury is out on the most recognised, but Google might be close to the top. At least when I googled, that is the result I got. 🙂

From a studio product point of view, getting the subject well lit, boldly presented and refreshingly isolated was always the big challenge. A small fill light  here, a white card to be reflected in the strong sidelines of the product, a disappearing shadow to give depth, all against a plain backdrop.

But negative space is more than just a simple way of saying, ‘here is the subject’, it does, as my mentor suggested, carry a visual weight that needs to be carefully balanced by a subject. It reduces visual clutter and the minimalist approach welcomes a view to pause and reflect in a tranquil, welcoming way.

I have been I think, always a minimalist. Well, at least at heart. Preferring the simple to the complex visually.
Whether street, or field, or portrait, or product, I’ve always been happier to work with a subject against an uncluttered backdrop.

Most times, either here on the blog, or on Flickr, or my other web site, I try with the birds to provide as much detail as possible, preferring the closeup frame filling moment, rather than building a mystery or calmness or asking the viewer to pause and ponder, “Why there, why now, what was going on?”

So the past several weeks have been a bit intense, staying at home, (by preference) working through the photo library—it’s called Culling!
Removing those images that I am never going to pay the hostage price.
See Saturday Evening Post #87

And finding of course some photos that I’ve never spent time with, yet, hold a strong sense of graphic because of the smaller subject in its surrounds, or lack of them. Not always suitable as bird descriptive shots, but perhaps with a little work, suitable for Birds as Poetry.

Shots where the bird is almost inconsequential in the frame compared to the negative space.
It is true that I hadn’t been consciously working on that feel when I pressed the shutter, and it did require me to revisit to see the opportunity.
I’ve oft quoted my long-term friend and mentor John Harris. “You’ve got to look within the photo, to find the picture. Always look at the details, look at the obvious as there is always a highlight there somewhere, that others aren’t seeing.  That is the diamond.  Look for it always.”   Thanks John.

The ones that have got the creative juices flowing, are those that lend themselves to making the most of the negative space.  I’ve shared a few on Flickr of late, and thought this very active male Superb Fairywren had made a strong enough compositional statement to balance the dark moody area behind him.

As he moults into his breeding colours he is ready to become the master of his new status, his balance of the negative space gives him a strength and purpose.

The Doona Hermit.

Remain.

 

Saturday Evening Post #91: It’s About Time

One of my fellow blogosphere inhabitants, the Chronicles of  A Blogaholic, posted just recently a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.

“We may have all come on different ships,
but we’re in the same boat now.”
Martin Luther King, Jr

Now to be honest, I am not that familiar with the writings of MLK, but this one struck a chord with me, as we settle into a six week enforced stay at home.
I am, truth be told, not that enthusiastic to the “We’re all in this Together” media blitz that keeps coming over the gunwales, I think that most of us more identify with “I am in this Alone”. However to a much broader term, the MLK quote I think carries its own special message for the here and now.

Time it seems, doesn’t stand still, we have been working with a growing trio of young Black-shouldered Kites, they are not going to sit around, frozen in time, if you will, waiting for me and my lens to get back out and pickup where I left off.
They will be gone. Following the ways of a Black-shouldered Kite. I’ll have some photos and some memories.
They will have their lives, a day full of moments, each filled with intent.

Time it seems, is Now!
When it comes to the images I make, to the people whose lives I’m gifted to share, to opportunities to learn about myself and others, there is only now.
Inspiration is not just two more pages over in the book I’m reading, I may never turn the page and miss it. It’s not another 1:34 along in some dotube that I’m watching. I might click ‘stop’ before I get there.

Robert Capa, had an amazing life, made some awesome photographs and experienced more than most.  Many will know of his Falling Soldier killed in action.  The irony I think of that photo is it was made on the last day of the conflict.
Time or chance or…

He once said, “If you photographs aren’t good enough, it’s because you are not close enough”
I think he means, not so much a physical proximity—today, of course, abiding by the 1.5m rule—but rather an experience with the subject. As nature photographers, we buy the longest lens available, or at least that we can justifiable afford.  Although I suppose some lenses I’ve owned over the year stretch your definition of ‘justifiable’ to a new horizon. 🙂

The question was once asked of a nature photographer, ‘Do you think it’s possible, to some degree, to translate the experience of a close encounter with a wild animal—in this instance it was the Kyutzeymeteen Ghost Bears—into a photograph?”
And a second part of the question, “If it is, how come so few people achieve it?”

With our long lenses, it becomes I believe a lot harder to provide a close, almost intimate invitation into the world of our subject, the narrow lens might fill the frame, but it doesn’t necessarily bring the right feeling. They compress lines, shapes and distances. Rather then drawing the viewer in, the long lenses exclaim, “This was a long way away, don’t you feel safe.”

Establishing that closeness, is first and foremost I also believ, is about respect for the subject, taking time to build the relationship, building on a fascination for the subject, a thread that is extended to the viewer.

Recently, as we approached the roosting area of the three local kites, I spotted one on the ground behind some bushes.

I stopped and sat on the ground, maybe I’d make a great takeoff shot against the sky. To my surprise the young bird stepped around the bushes and moved closer to me. The light changed, a soft and mellow melding light that draped like a poem over the form of the bird.
It was time.

 

Saturday Evening Post #86: Needing Space

It is a truism, I suppose that we all need space.  One marketing group I used to work for had a motto of, “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.” Worked for them. Mind, as a group, they have now gone the way of the dodo.

We’ve been overwhelmed by the term, “Social Distancing”, and as a physician I read the other day said, “It should be called Physical Distancing, we need to keep the social interaction”  But, again, such are the ways of marketing.

And just as we have personal connections, even if it only be through “Zoom”, so in the natural world.
Everything in the natural world is connected to everything else.  Ripples on the water make wonderful poetry from the reflections of the trees. Watching a cat soak up and enjoy the warming sunshine. The final journey of an orange-red leaf, as its work over, it falls, for its next connection as it replenishes the earth.

As a nature photographer, with a commercial photography background, I can’t help but sometimes make connections not only to the creature, but also to its habitat, habits, community connections, and how it links into the wider world around. For commercial, (product) photographers, the subject needs to have a connection to its surrounds. It’s not just a laundry basket, but a basket to carry clothes, useful in its setting by the washing machine.

We have, EE and I, and David Nice, been following a pair of local Black-shouldered Kites in their nesting process. And it has all come to fruition in three healthy, active and overly-enthusiastic young fledglings.

Now about 10 days on the wing, their training will change to learning to hunt for themselves. Life outside the nest, is for them a matter of innumerable connections, from the weather, the availability of food, through to finding a mate and beginning their own opportunities to add to the species.

Currently Dad-he is the main provider-is beginning to encourage them to recognise potential food opportunities

And so it was.

I was sitting in the long grass on a small hillock, watching the young fly out and back waiting for Dad to turn up with a meal.

And the time dragged on.

After much waiting, calling and wing-flapping, first one, then another landed on a tree just in front of me. A bit above eyelevel.

There they sat. Crying occasionally, preening, and watching for Dad.

After a time, a real change occurred in their behaviour as they began to take more than a passing interest in the grassy area just to my left. Literally.  Head bobbing, peering and stepping left and right.  It was obvious that something had happened that made a hungry young kite aware.

One dropped.

Off the branch, into the grass and just on my left. Maybe 6-7 metres.  Now whatever had been there was well gone to safety, but our young kite was not one to give up, and proceeded to check around the grass. It completely ignored my presence and EE who was a bit further around on the other side of the tree.
I’ve said it before, but there is something deeply touching about being so close to a raptor that you can see its feathers rise and fall as it breaths.

The light was late afternoon, we, the bird and I,  were in the shade of the hillock, and that soft melded light seemed to suit the mood of a powerful raptor engaged in an experimental life moment.

Satisfied that it had missed a food opportunity, it lifted off, and flew over me, the wing noise was discernible.  A loop around the tree and it went over EE at a little over head-height, and she smiled enjoying the moment.

Connected.

Saturday Evening Post #85 : Mr. Smith, is the only good light available light?”

AudioAdam, sent me a wonderful note after last week’s SEP.

Essentially the question was, “To Flash, or NOT to Flash”, regarding using additional light to enhance the subject and the moment.

It is an interesting question and Adam is not the first to think to ask.  The irrepressible Joe McNally, then a student, asked of visiting lecturer, the famed photojournalist, W. Eugene Smith,

” Mr. Smith, is the only good light available light?”

Gene Smith responded somewhat along the lines.  “Yes,”  and to quote Joe, ‘from that moment on I vowed to only use the God-given light that fell on subjects’.  That was the touchstone.

But, Smith, took an alternate drink from first a glass of milk, and then a vodka, and continued…

“By that, I mean, any &*%%@$ light that’s available.”

The doyen of flash photography and birds was Eric Hosking.  Eric solved and developed flash solutions for working with birds nigh on 90 years ago. Some of his pictures are still the gold standard for flash photography for birds.

If you think carrying a small flash unit into the bush is a pain, then consider that Eric initially had to carry over 100 kg of gear, which included 12 V car batteries.

Let it also be said, that I am a great believer in Electronic Flash, much of the magazine work I’ve done over the years has been primarily lit by flash.  In days of yore, your scribe could be seen carrying at least two Metz 502 units to the wedding ceremony or deb ball.

We eventually bought into the Nikon system at the time, because of the clever Nikon Flash System Controllers.  (Canon did catchup.)
So when I came to bird photography I did for quite a while use flash regularly.

I shot two seasons of Kestrel nesting with mostly flash support.
Here’s a shot of one of the cameras, and the flash off to the right, subject left.  Oh, its camoed not because it fools the birds, just to stop people asking what I was doing in the middle of the paddock. I used to respond, “Well, as you can see, I’m up a ladder, cleaning out the gutters”, but I gave up trying to explain.  Off to the left in the shot is a radio release receiver, as I used to sit in the treeline about 50m back.

One of the joys of working with flash is a liability with focal plane shutters, the type on DSLR cameras.  It limits the top speed to at best 1/250th of a second.  Hardly enough for good outside shots in daylight.  What I want it to be able to balance the exposure for the best daylight rendition, and then add just enough flash to fill-in some shadow details, but not overpower the shadows and appear like its the main light source.

In the Nikon system, and no doubt the same in Canon, I can run the shutter speed higher using a clever, FP HighSpeed Sync.  Now instead of one single actuation of flash, the flash unit fires off several shorter, less powerful bursts so that the entire frame receives the flash. (Not time to explain all this, just gotta go with it)

But

In shorter bursts, they are less powerful, and don’t travel great distances, or fill large areas.  Ahh, enter the Inverse Square Law. ISL. (Nuff said.)
However it helps make great for sunlight fill in.

What about at night?  One of the main uses I guess.  And because of that pesky ISL, the subject closeup gets the right amount of light, the backdrop behind does not, and things go black.  Nuff said. Not going to explain the use of several flash-units and their placement in this blog.  Hey, it’s Saturday Night.

So to our lead Image.
This is Mr Darcy. He has just arrived back with a snack for his growing brood.  Unfortunately they had only just that morning flown, and were sitting in another tree wondering how they got there.  He looks a bit perplexed. The nest hole is directly below him—Empty!

Tech details, D200, 600mm f/5.6 manual focus Nikon, 1 SB600 unit off to the right.

 

 

And another with the same details.

This is my branch

I once sent this to one of those “Nature are Us” competitions, and it was rejected.
1. Shot in Studio. 2. Captive bird.
Go figure.

And just so you don’t go wandering off all over the web looking for inspiration, here is a final from Joe McNally

“…all the shouldas, couldas, and wouldas that befuddle our brains and creep into our dreams, always remember to make room to shoot what you love.
It’s the only way to keep your heart beating as a photographer.”

Enjoy

 

Saturday Evening Post #84 : Daring to Look- The Work of a Photographic Witness

“Daring to Look”, is a book of the some of the work of an American 1930s photographer named Dorothea Lange.

Many no doubt will have never heard of Dorothea, but chances are extremely high that you will have seen at least one, or two of her stunning photos. They are stunning not because of their gifted photographic skill and design, but rather of the compelling story that in encased (almost wrote enshrined) in the study.

One of them was used eventually as the image on a USP stamp.

Here is a link to see, “Migrant Mother,
Oh, you’ll say, I’ve seen that before.
And another to “White Angel Breadline

A quick Google will of course find many more, but here is a good selection.
Which also has a quick potted history of her work during the great depression and among Japanese internees during WWII.
The one thing the site doesn’t describe is her slowmoving train wreck family life, nor does it really emphasise the struggles she made to have her work recognised. But those details are well documented elesewhere.

She once said, “Every image you make, ever photograph you see, becomes in a sense a self-portrait. The portrait is made more meaningful by intimacy—an intimacy shared not only by the photographer with the subject, but by the audience.”

I’ve told the tale before, when as a little tacker with a library card I managed to get invited from the ‘junior’ section of the country library, into the mystic “adult section’. I have no idea who or why, but the photographic shelves had quite a number of portfolio size books, and I could pour over the works of the greats.
One of which was Dorothea Lange.

At the time, I had no idea of the ‘great’ depression, or the dust-bowl refugees, nor, can I say with some confidence did I register the social significance of Dorothea’s work. All I knew was that these photos said something imporant, and they had been placed in a folio selection, so, they must be good.

Better than my shots of ‘Blackie’ the cat on the verandah in the sunshine.

And somewhere in those musings on lazy weekend afternoons at the library, the concept of being able to use photography for more than just a record or a mindless selfie began to crystalise. What would emerge, a squishy blob (blog?) or a wonderful butterfly?

Later on I would learn that Dorothea also said, “It is no accident that the photographer becomes a photographer, any more, than the lion tamer becomes a lion tamer.”

She was once described as a “Photographic Witneses”. Daring to Look: Dorothea Lange’s Photographs and Reports from the Field, contains not only photographs from her work, but also previously unpublished field notes of her work for each photo.

Perhaps those folios in the library did not just get there by accident. How wonderful is the workings of the universe sometimes.

 

Saturday Evening Post #83 :Nothing in Art must look Accidental

Many years ago, a lifetime in cat years in-fact, I was visiting a friend who invited me to view a portfolio of photographic prints that he had been given.

“What do you think?” he asked.

When I look at someone else’s work, I like to take the time to ‘live’ with the images. To let the visuals ‘ooze’ down into me and see them with the intent of the maker.
Now these were substantial prints. The smallest would have been about 20×24″ (50x65cm).

So I began to turn them over. After three or four of them, I was struck with the singular feeling from each one.
They were all landscapes, and more ‘Land” than “Scape”.  Small details of rock, or tree, branch or pool, edge or small surface.
Let it be known, I’m a minimalist at the best of times, and such an approach to line, form, shape, tone, pattern are a preferred photo hunting ground from me.

Yet, as I continued to turn the prints over, it became clear to me, that what I was looking at were, if nothing else, simply technical exercises. No intent to involve the viewer. Just segments of something.

“So?” I was asked.

Taking a deep breath, I said, “I think there is very little of the maker to be seen in any of these shots.”  “Most are a jumble of visual elements that don’t hold in a cohesive way, allowing me as a viewer to be part of the experience.” “I can’t determine how the maker felt, did they like or dislike the scene, was it a happy time or a strain.”  “The maker certainly has put a lot of time into the making, and I’m not sure if they made the prints or had a lab produce them, so it is quite a time and monetary investment, but I’m struggling for the ‘Why”.

Freeman Patterson, once said at a seminar, “Nobody can ever hide behind the camera. Accept the fact that when you make a picture you are revealing a little about yourself. For us most subjects have a symbolic importance.”
And I guess that is what I missed in the portfolio, the symbolic importance.

I’ve worked a range of genre over the years.  Even spent a week as a horse photographer. But I moved on from that quickly when I discovered how smart horses are.

I also worked for awhile photographing classic cars for car-mags.  Having an inherent interest in the subject, I found that it was much more than a technical exercise of showing off the car, or the working parts.  Classics are put together, sometimes over many years by enthusiasts, and I enjoyed being able to find those special little touches the maker had put into the vehicle, and bringing those for others to share and delight in.

Content and style need to work together to covey feelings and ideas for the viewer to experience.

I really enjoy exploring buildings. Not so much the whole structure, but the little touches that either the builder, architect, or owner has put in to say, “This is what I enjoy”

Where-ever I’ve travelled, both in Australia, and overseas, looking for those little moments of bouncing light, or delicate colours or interesting arrangements of elements, that stimulates me to bring the camera to my eye and frame an extension of the makers original vision.

One of my fav lenses for this sort of work is a 70-200mm zoom. The narrower angle forces me to be very specific and include only the absolute essentials.  I’ve often thought that if I had to only have one lens on a desert island, then the 70-200 would be my first choice.  Second would be a wonderful old 105mm macro – a manual focus lens.

While our group was doing the tourist thing a little while back BCV (Before Corona Virus), I took off to walk the side streets and enjoy the smorgasbord of shapes, colours and styles that the owners had on show.

“Nothing in Art must look Accidental” Edgar Degas

 

Saturday Evening Post #82: The Encounter

It’s interesting how as photographers we keep striving to make improvements to our vision or style. Finding a better way to approach a subject, explore new lighting options, wrestle with buying that ‘new’ lens that will give us a ‘better’ pictures or that new piece of software that will ‘uncover the hidden photograph in your collection’.

Many lightyears ago, in the days of filum, I was a member of a group of working photographers that would get together on an ad-hoc basis every other month or so, and generally we’d meet in a cafe in Lygon Street Fitzroy for a late Friday lunch, well it was a lunch that went late. Sometimes we’d bring along prints or tear-sheets for discussion. The last few times I remember taking the old iPad with a few pictures of recent making.

One of the house rules was it was a discussion on all things photography, from technique, to style, to equipment, processes, other people’s work, and future opportunities. Sometimes it was a bit like a parliamentary debate, other times more like a inspirational speakers session. Just depended on how much ‘red-ned’ was consumed during the course of the afternoon.

But one question, we all had to have an answer to was “Whatchabeendoin” What new image, vision, exploration or direction we had each been travelling in.

One of the group was oft to quote a verse from St. Matthew 6  “Behold, the birds of the air…. Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin”
Gotta love that 1611 King Jimmie English.  “Behold”.  Not just make a glancing look or a peek, but drum roll, Behold!

He’d almost always bring it up when someone was lamenting the slow down of business, the ungratefulness of clients, or the problems of marketing a new product. His point was always the same, well, at least as I remember.
Bird’s don’t go to another lecture, another seminar on how to find clients for their song, they just sing. No bird has ever had to attend a month long session with a personal trainer on the benefits of correct nest building. No bird looks at its current situation and laments not having this or that opportunity to expand its business. They just do bird things.

No flower sits worrying about should it move overseas for a better market, change its colour or its style to match the ‘current trend’, nor does a flower seek out a self-help guru to improve its image.  They just continue to make the world a brighter place to live.

It is as Mike Johnson over on TOPS says, “Viewing an expressive photograph has the potential to be an occasion”
Most people see art as a static event. You go to a gallery, the sculpture is the same week in week out, the painting remains inert, the basket-weaving or quilted piece in unchanging. Ready to be reviewed, but never “Beheld”.

Yet as Mike goes on to explain, “It can also be an encounter. The potential to be an event in the viewer’s life”
We are so bombarded these days with visuals, sometimes very graphic visuals, that it all becomes a bit old hat.
Yet for someone who works behind the camera, takes the time to work through post-processing and ponders over the variations on a theme from a photoshot, the occasion of showing a finished piece is a gifting and the viewer’s response is part of that. It is an Encounter.