Beached

I have been struggling to find something to write a post about for the last two weeks. When I first started this blog it was very easy to write about things that I had learnt and show the results as they changed. That’s the most exciting time when you learn something new, but then something happens – a plateau.

When you go to learn something new there is so much that you don’t understand that you can learn something huge, fairly easily, every day. As you learn and learn, though, the amount of effort it takes to get to the next “a-ha!” moment increases every time. I think this is why many people, myself included, start lots of new things and then drop them.

Now I haven’t stopped taking photos, but it’s been tricky coming up with what to write for the next post. I have settled for a few mini posts which chronicle a few days of shooting over the last few weeks. Today’s will be about a trip we took a few weeks ago.

Some friends and I went on a trip to the beach. I am not used to this being a big deal, because in Canada we can go to the beach every day if we want, at least in the summer. It’s about 15 minutes away. In England, though, it’s a 2 hour drive for us. By the time we got there, it was a half hour walk to get to the beach. Halfway into this, we made the mistake of turning around to spot the clouds behind us.

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Beautiful, no? I have to say I am impressed with the tenacity of Brits. We turned around at this point, but we saw just as many people walking towards the beach. Magnificent bastards.

All was not lost. It did start to pour rain, but we did have a picnic lunch in the car. After about 30 minutes of Zeus’ wrath, the rain let up. We started the trek back to the beach, and that’s when I realised that cows do something interesting when it rains, they huddle together and look scared to death just confused, really.

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I took a few others that I am happy with. The main thing I am trying to focus on right now is finding interesting subjects. Dogs are always fun.

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Although there’s not a lot going on, I couldn’t resist including this one.

Next we came across a boat which had been anchored when the tide was higher. This created an awkward situation for the crew.

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I am happy with the composition of this one, but I may have oversaturated the colours a bit. I tend to like very high contrast, popping colours, but you have to get them right otherwise it looks like a cartoon.

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The alternative is to just desaturate it. This feels safer. As a side note, I was happy with how still everything looks in this shot.

Lastly, I had to take a photo of this legend.

kiteguy_1It’s hard to tell from the photo, but this guy was struggling. The winds were intense, and his kite was whipping up and down and smacking into the sand every minute or so. He kept at it, though, for at least an hour. I took the shot at a bit of an angle and I think it makes a kind of jumbled feeling which is what it looked like.

Finding subjects to photograph, and finding interesting ways to shoot them, is what I am focusing on at the moment. It’s fine to know your editing program and camera and produce nice looking photos, but ultimately these are just tools for getting the effects that you want. What I’ve tried to to is take some photos that stand on their own, without an accompanying blog post, that are interesting to look at. This is the area where I need to work the most on, and I don’t think it’s a concrete skill that you can master by reading a book or watching a bunch of tutorials.

When I reach a plateau like this, and I feel like there’s not much else to learn, I try to push myself and get to a new peak. This is the most frustrating part of learning– not the plateau, but the peak that you reach by pushing past it, only to realise that you’re at the top of a foothill surrounded by mountains. It’s pretty easy to get some nice looking photos, maybe even some interesting ones. The cameras and computers we have do so much of the work for us. What’s hard is the what, when, and why of a photo rather than the how.

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A walk in the park

Fairly near to where I live there is a massive park with several soccer fields and play areas. Since my girlfriend’s feet are still in terrible shape from walking 26 miles last week,  we went for only a little walk through here yesterday to take advantage of the nice weather. I saw this as an opportunity to take some daytime shots and see if I can improve my eye for interesting shots.

Here’s what we have available:

  • trees
  • dogs
  • grass
  • sky
  • families
  • trees

As I’m not entirely comfortable walking up to strangers and shooting them, I opted for trees and dogs.

Let’s start with dogs.

I am not good at photographing dogs. I knew I wanted a fast shutter speed, but I didn’t go nearly fast enough for the speed those little guys run. All of the moving shots have some blur, except for the first one where he’s kind of trotting.  I had some issues framing the shots, as I only had a split second to get them. In general, I think you want the dog to be running into the frame, with lots of ‘room’ for him to go…which they don’t have. None of these are candidates for editing or anything putting up for show, really. They are cute, though, so there you go.

The trees were a little better. I had less issues keeping up with the trees.

So, how do you shoot a tree?

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There’s the basic shot. It’s certainly…there. Technically speaking, the sky’s blown out, but really I just find this a bit boring. I went for a small crop and toned down the brightness a bit and came up with this:

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It seems a bit dark once uploaded, but hopefully you can see more of the sky. I upped the saturation a bit just to make the sky and grass pop out a bit more. This is just, a bit boring, though. There’s no mood, really. It’s a tree.

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I also got some shots like this, which is an option. This is part of a tree! It’s a bit more interesting than shooting it straight on, but the macro shots aren’t really my thing.

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There, we found a more interesting tree. It’s deadish and has some spooky cavernous bits. Shot straight on, though, it’s still boring. It looks like the tree’s posing for a graduation photo.

So, I tried my luck with some close ups at odd angles. Here are my favourites:

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They still suffer from the technical problems of the first, though. The sky’s blown out. I like the angles a bit more, and so I had a go in rawtherapee bringing some interest out of these.

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Colour didn’t do a whole lot for this one, so I put it through a black and white filter and fiddled with the brightness. I still felt that this one was a bit boring so I tried increasing the contrast a bit:

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What do you think? I think the contrast gives it a bit of a spooky vibe. Definitely more interesting than the straight on shot.

 

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For this one, I kept the colour in as it had some nice contrast anyway. The clouds make an interesting swirl around the top, and I darkened it to give it some more drama. Not sure I’d use this in a portfolio, but it’s an improvement.

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I really enjoyed this one. Bringing the exposure down a bit shows the dramatic bits of lighting in the sky. It creates a kind of halo around the tree, and comes across like some kind of obelisk.

As always, the image you think will be the best is rubbish.

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I missed focus on the text by a tiny bit, and it kind of ruins the image altogether. I adjusted the levels and used photoshop to sharpen the card only, but it doesn’t help much…

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Perhaps I’ll go back and re-take the shot another day and get the focus right. It’s an interesting shot, and it’s probably the most interesting subject in the park.

I continue to struggle with finding the right line with editing. I don’t like overdoing it, but I want to bring out the interesting parts of the picture. I think I accomplished that for a few of these, and I am happy with how my intentional change of perspective created some workable images.

Feeling it out

Photography, for me, is a hobby. I don’t have hours to spend travelling just to take photos, so I take what I can get. It’s a kind of creative restraint that I try to get some decent shots in the down time whenever I go to a new place. Luckily, my camera is tiny and I kind of just have it with me all the time.

This weekend I took a train into London to meet up with my girlfriend who had just finished an event. The plan was to go out for breakfast and take the train back. Since her event finished at 7AM, I had to be there on the first available train. Being an early bird, this was no problem. I arrived at my station about an hour early.

And then it started to pour rain.

Soaked from top to bottom, I managed to get into the cover of an awning and wait for the next train, a half an hour later. It was a perfect time to get some shots.

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I had no idea what this would turn out like when I took it. I knew I wanted to be in the middle of the tracks, which is fairly easy since there’s a covered bridge over them, but I’d be lying if I said I knew it would look as eerie as it does now. It wasn’t until I brought it into rawtherapee and brought the blacks up and fiddled with the white balance that I realize I had a shot that actually had some…atmosphere to it. This was a bit of a eureka moment for me, as up until now I had just been trying to get my shots to be somewhere near decent on a technical level. Is it a perfect shot? Certainly not, but it’s got something which I hadn’t even realized I was trying to get, which is a sense of atmosphere and emotional connection.

Most of my shots look like this.

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Which is just…why? What’s this saying? What’s the mood? Oh, it’s a nice sunny day..  Wow. There are some nice lines.. Almost anyone could walk out their door and take a shot like this. It’s boring.

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This is a shot from the reverse perspective. Train tracks are cool, there’s some blue stuff. Whatever. This sucks.

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This is a shot of that camera in the bottom right of the last picture, shot through a bit of fence. I really like this picture, but I had no idea I would at time. I do find CCTV cameras a bit creepy, and all the fences and security measures in this country can be a bit cold and impersonal at times, but I definitely wasn’t thinking that when I shot this. It was only upon editing it – with very little I might add- that I realized it looked like a still frame from a dystopian film.

These are the kind of shots I want to take. Ones that express a feeling, a mood, or a story. This is kind of hard to do. I don’t even know if it’s worth focusing on taking shots like this, and explaining what you like about them makes you sound like a douche. But, here we are. There’s no guarantee that it’ll have the same meaning or message to anyone else, but at very least I find it satisfying to make something that clicks with me.

Project Automatic

I had some time off recently, and decided to scratch my itch to start making stuff. I’ve always enjoyed taking pictures, especially while travelling. I am currently living in the UK, and I want to make the most of it while I am here. Usually, I use my cell phone camera to take pictures, but I want to step up my game. I know basically nothing about photography, but I want to learn. The first step was to buy a camera. I don’t have a lot of money, but I managed to find a decent compact at John Lewis for about £300. It’s an RX-100 vI.

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It’s apparently quite good, and it lets you shoot in full manual mode which is what I’d like to learn. Of course, I have no idea what I am doing yet. I figured the first step was to just go out and take a bunch of pictures, so that’s what I did. These are shot in superior auto mode for the most part. The camera did all the work, I just pointed and shot.

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In these lighting conditions (full sunlight) it took fairly decent ones. I felt that some of them were a bit bright, or a bit dull (left lots of those out) but I take what I can get. I am such a noob that this is actually a bit of a challenge for me – to just find things to take pictures of and to get the framing right. Overall, I am happy with the results, but now I need to learn how to take control of this thing and shoot in manual mode. I’ve started to learn, but I’ll save the juicy details of my learning experience for the next post.

Post one

The older I get, the more I feel the urge to create things. When I was younger, I used to create things all the time. As a child, I loved to play with Lego. Whenever you get a new set, you use the instructions to create the model, but that isn’t the end — it’s just the beginning. The next step, obviously, is to smash the model into the ground (violently) and make smashey noises. Once the model is broken apart, you are free to build it into whatever you like, and that’s the real joy.

I (mostly) grew out of playing with Lego. Over time, I found other ways to express some creativity. I had a (cringey) phase in high school where I used Photoshop to create ‘graphic art’. I created forum signatures for other people, and larger pictures which would incorporate sci-fi or fantasy elements into them.

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Among the great works of 21st century art: Jesus and Godzilla

Some of these were good, some were terrible, but that’s kind of irrelevant at this point. I have struggled, more and more as I age, to be creative the way I was when I was a kid. I am a bit of a perfectionist when I create things. I think it’s because I am hyper-critical of everything, that I see the flaws in anything I try to create. Want to write a blog post? Better never bother doing it because there’s no way it will be New York Times quality. Want to take a picture? Better buy a professional grade camera and learn how to shoot in manual, otherwise why bother? For a long time, this has given me a convenient excuse not to create anything, or to half-ass it if I did so that I wouldn’t have to deal with the criticism. It’s the sign of a fragile ego, and it’s caused me to repress my creative instincts. I’m hoping that this blog will be a kind of therapy for that.

So, there are a few things that I know I would enjoy creating, had I an excuse to create them. I like to take pictures. I just started, but it seems like a decent and relatively risk-free hobby to take up. I recently started to learn how to shoot manually, and so I’ll be posting that journey in this blog as I go. Most of the pictures will be mediocre, but at least I’ll enjoy learning.

I also used to skateboard quite a bit (cringey high school phase #2: skater kid). I find it really difficult to go out and do now, partially because I am embarrassed to be a 26-year-old school teacher riding a skateboard in public. Skateboarding, though, is a creative sport. I miss it. I think about it all the time, and it’s kind of pathetic that I’m not doing it anymore for (mostly) silly reasons (I also hurt myself badly every time I try).

Lastly, I enjoy writing. I majored in English, and I usually enjoy writing pretentious pseudo-intellectual philosophical treatises (cringey university phase #3: philosophy minor). It’s way too easy to make fun of myself. I’d like to do quite a bit more of this, so this may be a place to write a load of random articles on political, social, or psychological developments in the world.

I hate the concept of a blog. I am not a fan of twitter. Facebook status updates make me sad. It’s easy to make fun of anyone who gets on the internet and creates something, because why should they be the center of attention? What makes YOU so special? The idea of sharing the mundane details of your everyday life with the internet, shouting out into the darkness to see if anyone cares makes me deeply sad, but now I am going to do it. I’m not implying that anyone should read this blog, praise me for my work, or acknowledge me as a particularly amazing human being in any way. I am hoping that this will give  me an excuse to create things so that I can scratch the itch that I’ve pretended wasn’t there for so many years.  So, hello world, it’s time to make some shit.