Category Archives: comunication

Spot the difference

Rannoch Station is one of the most remote railway stations in the UK. Here are two photographs of it. Can you spot the difference? You may need to enlarge the photos.

Rannoch Station

Rannoch Station

Rannoch Station

Rannoch Station

Did you spot it? There are no prizes (don’t stop reading though) for seeing that in the first shot there are wires leading down to the station building from the top left of frame whereas in the second shot they are absent.

The question is, was this worth about 45 minutes in Photoshop to take the wires out? It’s not so easy to answer and is really a matter of personal opinion.

Leaving the wires in is an honest reproduction of what was actually there and there are people who would argue for that level honesty in photography. The curious thing here is that at the time I took the photograph I really wasn’t aware of them. By the time I got round to processing the photo in Lightroom, I became increasingly aware of them. I felt they were detracting from the scene as I had originally enjoyed it. So there’s another little dimension on this minorly ethical matter. When we view any scene live – by actually being there – we tend to focus rather specifically on what we take in and our brains undertake some live editing and we simply filter out things that we’re not interested in. So, by taking the wires out in Photoshop was I being true to my own memory and perception but untrue to the actual reality?

It was a fiddly and time-consuming process to remove the wires but I felt that the scene was better without them. There was no longer competition to be the leading lines into the photo and I feel much happier without that competition going on. I think the composition is enhanced by removing the wires and therefore the effort was worth it.

In the end, I take the view that Photography, of this type is art. I think the debate becomes more pointed when we get into the realms of photojournalism or documentary genres where there is much more of an overriding need to present things honestly.

So, what do you think? I’d be fascinated to read any comments on this.

 

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The things you do

How do you illustrate an After School Club without using photographs of children doing what they do in the club?

I’m working on a project for a client to provide illustrative photographs for a website redesign and this is a question to which I’ve needed to find an answer. Why? Well, the obvious thing is to take a photo of the club in action but that would require shots of children and for that I’d need to get parental permission for every child in the photograph and that’s a logistical nightmare.

So, to avoid doing the obvious, I decided to ask the basic question: what is it the website needs to convey? Answer: that there is an After School Club. That opened up the opportunity to approach this in a different way. My original idea was to photograph a sign on a school gate and add some graphics to it so I set off in search of something appropriate that would also not identify any specific school. The answer ended up staring me in the face as I drove towards a school:

School street sign

I immediately envisaged a nice tidy crop on this with a graphic treatment that would clearly say there is an After School Club.

This is the end result:

Street sign composite

So how did I get there? Let me take you quickly through the process.

I did some initial work in Lightroom which involved slight adjustments to tone and contrast, lens corrections, straightening and cropping. The rest then happened in Photoshop where I worked with layers.

Photoshop layers

I find it helpful to name the layers so that it’s easier to make sure I am working on the correct one at any given time. As I drove home, it occurred to me that the background would be cluttered and distracting so when I got back I took a shot of the clouds which I intended to use as a background. That became a layer called Background copy (it now occurs to me it would have been easier to call it sky, but there you go; wise after the event).

I made a selection round the sign and used that selection to create a new layer via copy which I called Layer 1 and stacked that above the sky layer. I wanted to create a mixed approach to this graphically so decided that it would be good to have the word “Club” contained in a box like “School”. To do this, I made a careful selection round the “school” lozenge and again created a new layer with that. This one I called lozenge (finally getting down to one word labelling!). That was OK but it still contained the word School so that needed to come out. The easiest way to do this was to make a selection surrounding the word (but not touching the letters) and using the edit menu select fill/content aware. After that it was a simple job of tidying up some loose pixels using the clone stamp tool. Next I created a new text layer and typed the word “Club” which helpfully automatically renamed the layer. I moved that layer to overlap School and adjusted font and size until I had the closest match I could find. Then I moved the Club layer into position below School.

The next step was to create another text layer for After where I used a handwriting font, and free transform to place it just where I felt it had most impact. I was almost there, but two things still troubled me.

If you look at the original image you can see that the pole to which the sign is attached is off-centre. I decided to cut this into a new layer then reposition it centrally. That brought a better balance to the image.

Finally, I felt the sky was just too distracting so applied a gentle blur to make sure all the attention went on the actual sign.

And these, my friends, are the things you do to deliver on a brief.

The importance of story

I am currently working on a project to provide photographs for a website redesign. One of the challenges is that I can’t identify people within the photographs unless I have their written permission. Normally that’s fine and permissions can be obtained. But one aspect of what I needed to shoot required absolute confidentiality, for good reason.

One of the areas I needed to cover is a Foodbank. For many people the Foodbank is a genuine life saver  but it’s something no-one really wants to have to rely on and there’s a potential embarrassment in being known to use a Foodbank. When I turned up I was given a tour and explanation of what happens when people come in need of the help that’s available. They are generally referred and will have a voucher to use the Foodbank. They are met and gently welcomed by volunteers who appreciate how difficult this might be for the beneficiary. First off, they have a chat with a volunteer over a coffee and usually some biscuits. Here the Foodbank volunteer tries to create a friendly and compassionate conversation which allows them to do some of the necessary things such as checking for food allergies and dietary intolerances etc. Generally though, the beneficiaries just need to talk with someone friendly, have their story heard and be taken seriously.

This was what I felt I needed to capture in a photo and, especially when you can’t show faces, story becomes really important. So, while this shot was carefully set up, I think it manages to tell the story – of course, the context in which it finally sits will help and hopefully will inform the photo as much as the photo informs the context.

a confidential meeting over a coffee and biscuits

meeting in confidence

I entitled this photo “meeting in confidence” as the meeting is both confidential and one of it’s aims is to give the beneficiary confidence.

Foodbanks are run by The Trussell Trust and do a brilliant job. The project I am working on is not for The Trussell Trust but the Foodbank in question is directly related to it.

 

Travel retrospective 4 – simply being

Looking out

Watching

It was a very hot humid day on the Indonesian island of Nias, which sits just off the western coast of Sumatra. This was in the latter weeks of 2005 after the island had suffered from an earthquake on March 8 and the earlier tsunami of 26 December 2004.

I was there as part of a BMS World Mission filming team and as we were filming I spotted this couple watching us from the window of their home across the road. I was struck by their white faces, covered in a rice paste for sun protection.

This just seemed to present such a peaceful contrast to the seismic upheavals the island had endured so recently. Here was a couple of people who seemed completely relaxed and at peace in their circumstances, happy to simply sit in the shade of their home watching the world go by. Or, more specifically, watch some white westerners filming in the heat of the day. I wonder what their impression was of us.

This makes it into my travel retrospective as an expression of the simple things in life and how we can learn so much about value from those who have so little in material terms. I often think that we easily become prisoners of our material prosperity; the more we have, the more energy we must expend in maintaining and protecting it. How easy it is to forget about the joy of simply being.

This photo was shot at 1/600 sec at f4.5 on a focal length of 105mm.

 

Travel retrospective 3 – thinking in the light

Thinking in the light

Deep in thought

I recently gave a short talk illustrating different ways in which photography is communication and used this image as an example of paying attention. By that I mean that there’s an aspect of communication involving the photographer through paying attention to the subject. For me this happens at least three times. First of all in the original taking of the photograph, considering the framing, composition, lighting and exposure; secondly in the editing process, and again in any viewing of the photograph.

This photograph was taken in Afghanistan in 2003, soon after NATO had taken over security in the country following years of conflict and Taliban rule. The taking of this photograph happened very quickly as it was one of those quickly spotted opportunities. In paying attention to the subject I was struck by the thoughtful reflective pose of this older man as he sat among some friends. I particularly noticed how the light was falling across the upper part of his head, coming from slightly behind and that his eyes were looking down, essentially away from the light. Given this man’s apparent age and the recent history of the country, I wondered what his eyes had seen and what his thoughts might be. I found it easy to imagine that he was thinking about things he’d seen, things that had been visible to him because the light fell on them. He looked to me like he carried the burden of his thoughts and I wondered if this meant he was a little discomforted by the light.

Originally shot on colour film this image was transferred to a digital format allowing me to work on it in Lightroom where I decided to convert it to monochrome in order to make the feelings it evokes rather more stark. I needed to pay attention to the subject again in the editing process in order to reconnect with my thoughts on taking the photograph and to get the tones and balance right in the mono conversion.

It’s a personal favourite, and was an easy choice to include in my retrospective.

Beginnings

egg plant

Beginnings

What came first; the chicken or the egg?

I was quietly reflecting on this recently after watching a TV documentary about cosmology (as you do) in which the narrator commented, with no further explanation, that at “the big bang” the universe exploded out of nothing. Call me naive if you must but I’m sure I’ve heard scientists say that something from nothing is impossible, yet here was a statement effectively saying that everything came out of nothing. That’s quite a leap of imagination.

So, this had me reflecting on the old philosophical question of which came first, the chicken or the egg? Inherent in that question is the assumption that anything must come from something but, I wondered, can one thing ever give rise to something completely different? I also started to think about how that thought might be illustrated and came up with this image.

As the egg is a vital element in the philosophical question, and we are accustomed to eggs giving rise to chickens, it seemed to me a logical element to feature in the image. I then wanted to consider the possibility of the egg being either a seed or fruit and that led rather logically to trees, and so I ended up with the combining of plant life with animal life.

The conundrum in this image is the question of which gave rise to which. Did the egg put down roots which grew the trunk and raised the egg off the ground, or did this tree produce an egg as a single large fruit? I found that visual puzzle quite satisfying in terms of questioning beginnings but I felt there was still something missing. The appearance of one large egg atop a tree limb with no foliage seemed just too odd and also left the question of what next?

Just as trees lose their leaves in autumn, I wondered what might happen in terms of a continuing life cycle and considered that there might be a season of change. I decided to express this with the egg fragmenting and scattering its parts to the wind and I decided that the pieces of egg would be leaf shaped. Given that the egg is rather closer to an autumn colour, I decided to make those departing leaf fragments green in a final act of transformation.

All of this is mildly entertaining but behind it lie deep philosophical questions, and I think that’s what really irked me about the throw-away statement on that TV documentary about the universe exploding out of nothing. At that point, science has nowhere to go, because if there really was nothing before there was anything, there is nothing to observe and science operates on the basis of observation, experiment and measurement. And at the point where there is nothing there are still questions, which is why science alone cannot be sufficient to answer everything.

There is a popular feeling among some scientists to dismiss religious faith, specifically Christianity, as irrelevant. This is a disservice to the many capable and very senior scientists who are also Christians and have no issue in reconciling faith in an intelligent creating God and the scientific process which seeks to better understand creation. Each can actually enhance the other and lead to a better understanding because while science can often explain “how” it can never explain “why”.

I hope to have explained the why of this image. As for the how – a little time and effort in Photoshop CC (2014) working mostly with layers and masks.

 

The need to communicate

AA call box

Roadside communcation

I confess I’ve been somewhat neglectful of this blog and haven’t posted for a while. My excuse is that life has been very busy recently although I am now on holiday and will soon be heading to Scotland for a break. Some of that time will be spent in the Kintyre peninsula and I am hoping to be back with some inspiring photographs.

So, planning to be away on holiday and taking some more photographs got me thinking about this blog and the need to communicate, especially as it’s my view that photographs should have a story to tell. The combination of communication and Scotland reminded me of this particular image from my collection so, pending something new from the next couple of weeks, I thought it would be good to say something about this one.

I spent my teenage years in Aberdeen and often travelled along Deeside to Ballater and Glen Muick where Lochnagar was a favourite climb. I had passed this old AA box many times and had long wanted to have a photograph of it. I think it’s the combination of the remote location at Cambus O’ May and the nostalgia that it evokes which I find attractive. So, earlier this year when I was back up there on a visit, I parked up the car and made sure I got this long-wanted photograph (actually, it’s one of a number!).

Reflecting on this old AA box is a reminder of a simpler time long before cars had phones or people carried mobile or cell phones around with them. Every AA member (my dad was one) would have an AA key which would open any AA box in the country and inside was a phone which could be used to summon an AA patrol in an emergency. This was hardly universal coverage and I suppose if you had a breakdown nowhere near such a box you were in some deeper trouble. It was, though, the provision of communication for when it was needed.

Now that we have mobile phones we can make and take calls almost anywhere and, certainly, with my own mobile phone charging in the car on long journeys and blue tooth connected to the car’s radio system I feel secure in being able to summon help from almost anywhere at any time; and that’s got to be a good thing.

What I’m less sure about is the apparent need that many people seem to have to be always talking with someone via their mobile phone. I drive by people alone in their cars who are either talking to themselves or are on a hands-free call. I regularly pass people in the street pushing a pram with one hand and talking on a mobile on the other. What, I wonder, do they have to talk about that I don’t?

As human beings we are natural communicators – it’s something we do well and have refined amazingly. I wonder though about our technology now and I am left with the question: do we control communication or does it now control us?

Finally, let me communicate the technical stuff relating to the photograph of AA Box 472.

It was shot using a Canon 70D on ISO 200 at 1/80 sec on f/7.1 at a focal length of 20mm. Some minor processing adjustments were made using Photoshop.