I had to write an artist’s statement recently, about the images you see on this post. I don’t like these things and always struggle to word them. The truth of it is – I notice something that interests me, I photograph it, I take it home, and I play with it on a screen until it looks the way I like it. That’s it. No great thoughts, concepts or ideas lurk in my head to be turned into meaningful words. I make photos purely on instinct even if I have to, or choose to, rationalise about them afterwards.
The statement I had to write this time was for a competition, and my husband Geoff – in the voice of a five-year-old – suggested this:
Here are my pictures. I quite like them. I hope you do too. Love and kisses, Gilly
After I’d stopped laughing, it seemed to me there was a certain sort of honesty in this that couldn’t be denied. It surely is the five-year-old in us that likes to take the pictures and just wants others to like them too. Simple.
I got my first smartphone at Christmas, and yes, I know I’m behind about 90% of the population but I got there in the end. I have very little interest in phones themselves, but I was keen to have a go at using the camera function. I’ve seen some interesting work done with phone cameras and I knew there were some fun apps you could use to process afterwards.
What I’m about to say is unlikely to be news to anyone but me, but I’ll say it anyway. I was very pleasantly surprised by its performance in bright light, but its performance in low light is abysmal. And naturally, everything looks much better on the very small screen of the phone, so it’s hard to tell how good/bad they are until you see them on a full-size screen and it’s often disappointing when you do. It’s true that the poor quality is almost a feature of phone images, and also true that when it’s bad it’s so bad it almost has a painterly quality which can sometimes be appealing.
There have been some frustrations apart from lack of quality. I uploaded the Snapseed app as I’d heard it was one of the best all-round apps for editing, and it was wonderfully easy to use with lots of options. However, when I came to upload the pictures to my computer the edited ones loaded in a format that Elements doesn’t recognise, and after a bit of Googling to find out why, it turns out that the only way to get them there is to email them to yourself or upload them to iCloud, which I haven’t set up yet. Grump.
In the end, the easiest thing to do was reprocess the originals using Photoshop on my desktop computer. Obviously you can’t shoot in RAW formaton a phone, but you can open the jpegs in the RAW processor, which is quite useful at times. One thing that impressed me was how the phone dealt with the very bright sun in the puddle reflection. My normal camera would have turned this into a shapeless, burnt-out blob, but the camera phone has retained a nice clean circular shape for the sun. Another thing is that sometimes colours don’t come out very well, so it often repays to convert these to black and white.
Despite the drawbacks, it’s been really, really fun having a half-decent camera on hand at all times and, better still, it’s got me taking photos again. I still seem to be on a tree theme, without really meaning to be. To be honest, there’s not a lot else that appeals at the moment, although colour is coming back to the world again and hopefully I’ll find myself getting inspired by other things as well fairly soon.
I don’t think this is ever going to replace my usual camera, but I wanted to see what was possible using a phone. In about six weeks time I’m going to be interviewed on local radio, and before then am trying to put together some workshops based on using photography as a tool to enhance well-being and develop mindfulness. I want the workshops to be open to anyone, regardless of what sort of camera they have, so it’s been good to prove to myself that you can get some really nice images with phone cameras.
Every so often I go through a spell of not being able to do any photography – something in me just dries up and doesn’t want to know. It’s happened often enough now that I don’t worry (much) any more, as it usually leads (eventually) to a leap forward of some kind. I’m in the midst of one of these dry spells at the moment, and finding it hard to know what to write about because of that.
Sometimes I find I’m quite happy processing or re-processing old images even if I don’t feel like taking new ones, but this time I’ve found I don’t even want to do that. I think it’s because that’s what’s actually the problem – no matter what I do, I’m not liking my processed images. I’d be hard pushed to say exactly what it is that’s wrong, but I do know I’m not achieving the look that I want. And worse, I don’t know what to do to make things better. All I know is that when I see the finished work of other photographers that I admire, it looks so much better than mine. And I don’t mean by this the composition or anything like that, just certain qualities that the image itself possesses. It’s possible that this is due to the camera or lens that they’re using, but I think most of it is down to the processing. Their images just look so much more polished and they have a look about them that mine don’t have..
For most images, I know I want a certain softness married to a degree of clarity, and some photos I’ve seen have a kind of glow about them that I’d like to emulate.. Sometimes I get close to this, but then I look and wonder if they’re actually a bit over-processed. The problem is that the more I look at them, the less objective and discriminating I’m able to be, and then I begin to disappear up my own tutu (as a previous mother-in-law used to say). It’s hellishly frustrating, so I end up not even wanting to try.
I thought perhaps I needed to expand my Photoshop skills so I subscribed to Scott Kelby’s training website. It’s very good, and I did learn quite a few little bits and pieces that I didn’t know, but it still wasn’t giving me what I want. Kelby himself has a certain processing style that’s totally at odds with my own desired result, so although it was very useful to see how he does what he does, and the techniques can obviously be applied in different ways, it didn’t really help me do what I want to do. I’m thinking now that I need to start talking to some photographers whose work has the look that I want and ask them how they go about things.
It always strikes me as odd that the person in the street doesn’t realise how vitally important post-processing is, and how much you can change the outcome by using it. I think until you’ve seen before and after shots of the same image, you don’t realise what a difference it can make. And photography must be one of the only arts where a lot of people expect you to get it spot on without doing anything beyond the first pass. A composer will go on tweaking or even drastically changing his original composition until it sounds right; a writer will do revision after revision until she gets what she wants; an actor wouldn’t expect to be ready for a finished performance after the first rehearsal. The initial RAW file is really a first draft rather than a finished product.
Having said all this, in the midst of a grey winter I’m finding a set of photos I took in late autumn last year quite appealing, simply because they’re so colourful. Some had already been processed and I’ve done some work on the rest. These were taken at Winkworth Arboretum in late autumn last year, and the colours were incredible. You’d think I’d bumped up the saturation, but in some cases I actually had to tone it down because it looked so unreal. It’s energising and refreshing to see a bit of colour at a time of year when things are grey and bleak.
For a look at what a bit of processing can do – with lots of before and after shots – plus an argument for why professional photographers shouldn’t let people have their unedited photos, this article by Caleb Kerr is interesting and enlightening.
Yay! – the last one! It certainly won’t be the last tree picture you’ll see here, as I’ve got several in the pipeline already, but this week marks the end of the 52 Trees project. I was so hoping to be able to come up with something a little different for the last one, but I thought for a while that it just wasn’t going to happen. However, I’ve just spent a few days in Surrey visiting Geoff, as he now works down there, and we went to Winkworth Arboretum for the day.
I was in paradise. The colours were sensational and it was like being a child in a sweet shop. I’d had a bad night’s sleep and I was very tired and a bit cranky, but I was so overwhelmed with delight at this beautiful place that I forgot everything else. It’s difficult for me to play and experiment when I’m with someone else – I can’t switch off enough – but I had taken my ten-stop neutral density filter with the idea of trying out some intentional camera movement and I have Geoff to thank for insisting that I at least gave it a go.
I only took a few shots with it – although it wasn’t sunny, it was still quite bright and I needed to cut out so much light to get a slow shutter speed that I couldn’t actually see what I was taking through the viewfinder. I tried a few shots and then got a bit cross with it all (you don’t want to be around me when I haven’t slept, believe me) and decided just to go with straight shots for the rest of the time we were there.
I almost deleted this one when I saw it on the back of the camera, but then I had a better look at it onscreen and it suddenly seemed to have potential. There was some blown out sky that detracted a bit so I played with some cropping and came up with this version, which I’m rather pleased with. Seeing it bigger revealed the lovely soft purples and blues in the shadows, which contrast so well with the unbelievably vivid yellows and reds of the leaves. I think it captures the feeling of an autumn day, and the glorious colours that we’ve seen this year. Most of all, it’s very ‘me’ and I’m more than happy to finish with this.
I’ve no idea where I’m going from here. I might start another 52 project, but I have some reservations. It’s relatively easy to keep up and it ensures I write a weekly blog post, but at times it’s felt restrictive and sometimes even a little tedious. I’ve posted the occasional image that I’ve thought was just OK, because I needed something and it was all I had, and I don’t like doing that. I’m playing with ideas at the moment, and I think I’ll just coast for a little and trust that the right thing will make itself known to me if I let things simmer. And if you’ve stuck with me all the way through, thank you! – it’s encouragement from you that has kept me going.
Just one more week to go, and I’m finished 52 trees! I can’t say I’ll be sorry, as I’m getting a little tired of it now. Another Lensbaby shot today – I’m longing for a very fast, prime lens, but in the meantime the Lensbaby is my only option if I want that sort of effect. I don’t normally crop these shots, as you lose a lot of the blurred Lensbaby effect, but in this instance it needed it.
It’s been such a pretty autumn this year, with beautiful soft colours everywhere. The garden is littered with leaves, and I know I should sweep them up, but it looks so lovely, albeit in a slightly disheveled way. I’m spending a few days in Surrey this week, and intend to go to Kew gardens, so I’m hoping there’s still some late season colour there – with luck, I might be able to finish off this series with something lovely.
Well I promised you light and colour, and here it is! I took the Lensbaby out for a walk one sunny day, as you can count on it to come up trumps with colour. I don’t know enough about optics to know why it produces such amazing colours, but it finds wonderful colours even where you don’t think there are any, and where the colours are already good it enhances them beautifully. For once, I managed to get the focussing absolutely right. I’m not using the Lensbaby much these days and when I don’t use it for a while I tend to lose the ability to focus it accurately.
The lens only fits my old camera, and it was good to go back to that for a while. I’ve been having some problems with the new camera – I’m not convinced the Autofocus is working as it should, although some of that may be down to my lack of commitment to getting to know the settings properly. However, while I was on holiday one day, if I held the focus lock down for any length of time the image on the LCD screen started seriously jumping about, and there have been some occasions where it struggles to focus in conditions where it shouldn’t be a problem. It also never seems particularly sharp compared to my previous camera.
Possible faults aside, the position of the video record button is extremely annoying – it sits just under the middle of my right thumb and is easily activated by accident, meaning that I’m constantly producing unwanted videos. Overall, it’s not nearly so nice to use as my old Sony A350, to the point that I’ve seriously considered changing it for something more enjoyable to operate. However, I’m not sure I’ve given it enough of a chance – I just picked it up and expected to use it straight away, without taking the time to go through the various settings and check them all out, and I’m still not at the stage where I can change settings without thinking about it. I do like the fact that it’s a lot lighter than the old camera, and of course its added low light capability is the real reason I wanted it.
It got me thinking, though, that it’s often the case that things I think I want don’t live up to expectations. I upgraded, around the same time I got the new camera, to Elements 14 (from 9) and I don’t like it nearly so much. In fact, I find it very annoying to use in many ways. It does do a few things that the old version didn’t, but overall I much preferred version 9. The only reason I don’t go back to it is that it can’t cope with the RAW files from the new camera as it isn’t supported by Adobe any more.
I also took the free upgrade to Windows 10 (from Windows 7) and I don’t like that very much either. I’m beginning to think I’m rather grumpy and stuck in my ways – I may well be – but it’s always been the case that when I find something I like I just want to stay with it and I’m not bothered about looking for anything ‘better’. Unfortunately, this just isn’t an option in the digital world and, also unfortunately, most times they ‘improve’ something it actually seems to get worse.
I guess that what I want is to be able to get on with what I enjoy most without getting bogged down in relearning something that I already know how to do in the existing version. I don’t particularly like technology for its own sake, only for the way in which it enables me to get the results I want, and I only want to learn what’s necessary for that. To be forced to constantly readjust and relearn is a major time and energy drain that I could happily do without. Ah well, I reckon I should stop ranting and get back to simply appreciating autumn’s stunning colours 🙂
Autumn’s last dance – a brilliant autumn day with a cool breeze that rustled the last of the yellow leaves on this tree. How wonderful that autumn goes out in such a fanfare, giving us these gorgeous colours before the dull greys of winter set in. I’m on the last few weeks of my 52 Trees now and I’m aiming to end on a surge of colour and light.
It’s gone rather quiet on here, lately (is there anybody there??) I often notice that when I feel a little bit removed from my blog and uncertain of how to go forwards, I also lose readers and the comments dry up. I guess people can sense my hesitancy and occasional reluctance to write anything. I’m debating whether or not to start a new weekly project – in some ways it’s been really motivating and has helped to keep me going, but at times it’s felt a bit constraining. I also think I might have written more blog posts on other topics if I wasn’t doing this. I’ve got a little lazy, perhaps, and on many weeks have settled for just the tree post.
I’d like to change the WordPress theme again, too. I’ve never been terribly happy with this one and I know it has a number of glitches that I just haven’t been able to sort out. It’s a free theme, and I’d much rather pay for one and get something better. At the same time, I rather dread trawling through all the themes, getting more and more frustrated as I try to find one that does what I want it to do. An ability to do CSS coding would help a lot, but it’s just one more learning curve for which I feel no enthusiasm.
Life itself is changing rapidly at the moment – I’m going out more, meeting new people, trying new things, making new friends, and finding new opportunities. I’m not sure where it’s all going right now, but I feel as if I’m on the move again and it’s a good feeling. With our life and finances finally having gained some stability, I feel free to explore in a way that I haven’t for years. My blog needs to change to match this, but how? Not sure, but I’ll sit with the uncertainty and sooner or later it will become clear.
I ran my first Street Wisdom session today, and it went very well. We met at the Bandstand in Newark Castle Gardens, and facilitating it meant spending a lot of time sitting on a bench there while the participants were off doing their stuff. I had wondered if I’d get bored, but it was one of those perfect autumn days where the air is fresh and cool and the day is sunny, and the sky is a bright, bright blue, and it was a real joy just to be out in it.
The second part of the session involved the participants going off on a ‘street quest’ by themselves, leaving me about 45 minutes to spend how I liked. I’ve been feeling uninspired again lately, but had brought my camera with me to fill in the time. I think it must have been the sitting doing not very much for so long, but suddenly I was feeling excited about photography again in a way that I’ve felt I’ve lost recently. I spent some time down by the river and in the castle gardens, and I could happily have spent much, much longer.
As I left to go to a cafe to meet up with the others again, I saw this Royal Mail van stopped in traffic and noticed the shadow pattern cast on it by the nearby trees. I liked the combination of the bright red of the van and the dark shadow, and it tied in nicely with my penchant for photographing trees reflected in cars. I’m also on a mission to get more colour into my photography before it inevitably slips back to the blacks and whites of winter. There are only four more posts to go now before I finish this project, and I aim to make them all bright and colourful.
Autumn at Waitrose – this line of trees in Waitrose’s car park in Newark is just beginning to turn in colour, but what colours they are! And I liked the contrast with the blue frames of the windows in the building behind, and the peachy trim. It really is true that there are pictures everywhere, even in the most ordinary of places, just waiting to be noticed.
I did a tiny bit of cropping just to tidy it up, added the usual sharpening etc, and then felt that it needed something to soften it a little. I’ve been watching Scott Kelby’s videos on post-processing lately, so I used a little trick that he suggested – make a second layer, use the Gaussian blur filter on it, then reduce it to 20% transparency. It gives a soft glow without losing too much sharpness.
Street Wisdom – I’m going to be running my first Street Wisdom event in Newark next week, Tuesday 25th October, from 1.30-4.30pm. I’ve got three signups so far, which is enough to run it (and my maximum number is only six anyway), but if you know of anyone who might be interested it would be great if you could point them to the link at the beginning of this paragraph. It will take you to the Eventbrite ticket page (tickets are free, but you do need to book), and has lots of information about the event and what happens on the day. If you’d just like to know a bit more about Street Wisdom in general, have a look at their website: www.streetwisdom.org
Back again, after a wonderful week in North Yorkshire – good weather and spectacular walking. More and more I’m coming to realise that I can’t take decent photos on a first visit somewhere, or when I’m in the company of a non-photographer, so I have very little productive output from the holiday and not many of them involved trees. There were a couple of tree pictures I could have used, but neither of them seemed quite right.
However, since coming home, I’ve been back to Sconce and Devon park and spent some time down by the river photographing reflections and water. It’s water that excites me most when it comes to photography – the only time on holiday when I got carried away was when we were walking next to rivers and streams. Other subject matter – even trees – takes me longer to warm up to. I do wonder sometimes how much mileage there is in water, what there can possibly be that hasn’t been done – or even that I haven’t already done myself – and how I can get something new out of it. I don’t know the answer to these questions.
I’ll go on photographing water because it’s my passion and because it endlessly fascinates me – after all, this is really for me and it’s simply a bonus if other people appreciate the results too. The image above – for once – isn’t a reflection. The sun was sparkling off the river surface and a branch of beautiful, feathery leaves dipped down into it.