Unmitigated England

Great Central Railway, Sheffield Victory to Banbury
by Sir John Betjeman

‘Unmitigated England’
Came swinging down the line
That day the February sun
Did crisp and crystal shine.
Dark red at Kirkby Bentinck stood
A steeply gabled farm
‘Mid ash trees and a sycamore
In charismatic calm.
A village street – a manor house –
A church – then, tally ho!
We pounded through a housing scheme
With tellymasts a-row,
Where cars of parked executives
Did regimented wait
Beside administrative blocks
Within the factory gate.
She waved to us from Hucknall South
As we hooted ‘round a bend,
From a curtained front-room window did
The diesel driver’s friend.
Through cuttings deep to Nottingham
Precariously we wound;
The swallowing tunnel made the train
Seem London’s Underground.
Above the fields of Leicestershire
On arches we were borne
And the rumble of the railway drowned
The thunder of the Quorn;
And silver shone the steeples out
Above the barren boughs;
Colts in a paddock ran from us
But not the solid cows;
And quite where Rugby Central is
Does only Rugby know
We watched the empty platform wait
And sadly saw it go.
By now the sun of afternoon
Showed ridge and furrow shadows
And shallow unfamiliar lakes
Stood shivering in the meadows.
Is Woodford church or Hinton church
The one I ought to see?
Or were they both too much restored
In 1883?
I do not know. Towards the west
A trail of glory runs
And we leave the old Great Central Line
For Banbury and buns.

Taken from John Betjeman Collected Poems (1989)
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Subject against ground

 

Umbrella

There is a simple tip to remember when you are trying to make an impact – your subject must stand out against the background.  A messy background or lack of clarity between the background and the subject makes for a distracting image and reduces impact.  I was given this advice by my brother (who is an incredible street photographer) and it is the single most important piece of photographic advice I have ever received.

When taking the above photo there were a lot of decisions that needed to be taken.  The shot was not posed but taken on the hoof at a procession that was filled with movement with lots of photographers doing battle over the best shots.  It was a bit of a bunfight in photographic terms.  When I saw this man walking along blowing bubbles I instantly thought that the umbrella could be used to isolate him from the background and potentially make for a great image.  This is what the overall scene looked like:

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As you can see the background was a mix of buildings and people and although it provides context it draws the eyes away from the main image.  The answer was simple – get in close and take the shot from below using the umbrella to bring the subject into prominence.

Umbrella

It had been raining and the ground was covered by a large puddle – there was only one option, kneel down in the dirty puddle and take the shot!  The second photo in this post was taken by a friend (who wants to remain anonymous) just as I was taking the photo above so captures the context of the shot perfectly.

If you look at the photographs taken by renowned photographers you will see the ‘subject against ground’ theme repeat itself over and over again.  One of the best examples of this is a well-known photograph by Marcin Ryczek which can be seen here http://www.marcinryczek.com/sales-photo/a-man-feeding-swans-in-the-snow.html

So there you have it – subject against ground.  Hope you find this helpful.

The first and third photographs above were taken with a Fujifilm X-T1 with 55-200mm zoom lens. Settings were 1/200 at f/4 and ISO640.

 

It’s all about the light

Turbine Hall

Turbine Hall

The difference between a good photograph and a mediocre one normally comes down to one thing – the quality and direction of the light.  This can be illustrated quite easily by looking at two photographs taken within minutes of each other in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern in London.

Turbine Hall 2

The main difference between the two photographs is that in the second one a cloud had covered the sun removing the dramatic lighting that fills the Turbine Hall between 5.30 and 6.00 during the summer months.  When taking a shot like the first one you need to make a few decisions.

First how is it to be exposed?  Expose for the shadows and the highlights will burn out.  Expose for the highlights and all of the detail is lost in the darker areas of the photograph. When faced with a scene like this an option is to select spot metering on the camera and expose on the cusp between the light and dark areas.  If your camera has an electronic viewfinder (like the Fujifilm X-T1) then it should show you how the photo is likely to look before you take the shot.

You can then use the exposure compensation dial (if you have one) to fine tune the image and if possible set the camera to shoot in RAW rather than JPEG as this will give you far more options when it comes to processing on your computer.

Once you are satisfied that the settings are correct then it all comes down to patience.  You want to get dramatic shadows to complement any people in the frame which means you want them walking in the lighted strips – the only problem is that when people are walking towards a bright light source it is often more comfortable on the eyes to walk in the shadowy areas which is no good for your photo so you will get a lot of misses before you end up with a photograph you are happy with!

A few considerations include making sure the people in the photo do not overlap (this approach makes it a far cleaner image and should be considered for many shots of people together).  Using the bright sun to backlight hair can make the subject more easily visible against a dark background and adding in the mirror effect of the glass wall on the right can double the dramatic effect of the window.  The only other thing I did with this photo was to stop down the lens in order to maximise the starburst effect on the sun (I think that the slight added noise of using a higher ISO is worth it).

Settings were 1/200 of a second at f/22 and 1600 ISO and the photograph was taken with a Fujifilm X-T1 and 18-55mm zoom lens.  The photo was developed in Lightroom 5 with Silver Efex Pro 2.

We are all humans beneath the mask

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James Franciscus – describing the spontaneous segregation of the actors that occurred during the filming of Beneath the Planet of the Apes in 1969.

“During lunch I looked up and realized, my God, here is the universe, because at one table were all the orangutans eating, at another table were the apes, and at another table were the humans. The orangutan characters would not eat or mix with the ape characters, and the humans wouldn’t sit down and eat with any one of them. I remember saying, ‘Look around — do you realize what’s happening here? This is a little isolated microcosm of probably what’s bugging the whole world. Call it prejudice or whatever you want to call it.  Whatever is different is to be shunned or it’s frightening or so forth.’  Nobody was intermingling, even though they were all humans underneath the masks. The masks were enough to bring out our own little genetic natures of fear and prejudice. It was startling.”

The little anecdote above is a chilling reminder of mankind’s natural tendency to segregate itself into groups and create a culture based on ‘them and us’.  It is self-evident that we are all ‘us’ and there is no ‘them’ other than one that we have drawn in our own minds and painted with our prejudice.  Across the world a storm of intolerance is raging, with people’s basic human rights being eroded on a daily basis – this is why it is so important that London sets an example of support for the Pride movement and opens its arms to everyone without recourse to preconceptions.  Once it is accepted that we are all ‘us’ then everything should change – whether this will happen in my lifetime I remain unsure.

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It was with this in mind that I headed down to Pride in London 2014 to give my support to all of those taking part in what is an essential statement to those areas in the world that are mired in the swamp of intolerance and bigotry.  I would urge everyone to consider doing the same if we are to send a message to the world that prejudice and civilisation are mutually exclusive concepts.

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If you are a budding photographer and want a chance to practise your photography while giving support to this important cause while interacting with some great people you should go along to the next Pride procession in your town.  This was the first time I had tried to photograph the procession using the new Fuji X-T1 and I can confirm for all that it is indeed weather-sealed as I was soaked within minutes of arrival – the camera did not miss a beat.  A few tips for photographing something like this include getting the settings right on the camera up front (I set the default lowest shutter speed to 1/200 to freeze the action and shot all of the shots wide open to reduce the depth of field).

I have posted a gallery of photographs from the day below and wish all of the participants my very best.  If your photo appears here and you would like it to be removed or want a high resolution copy for your own use please let me know and I will oblige.  All photographs taken on a Fuji X-T1 with 55-200mm Fujinon lens.

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The Great Artscape

Street Art

I have always loved art. Perhaps it is because I was immersed in it as a child. Everywhere at home there was art, or the raw materials waiting to become art. Half-squeezed oil paint tubes, brushes,  canvas, paper, easels, clay, wood and chisels. You can’t help but love art when your mother is an artist – it becomes part of your DNA (quite literally!)

Possibly because I witnessed so much art in the making I’ve always found art galleries to be strangely cold and sterile places where art is displayed out of context and mostly without reference to the artists themselves. No noises, no smell, no fascinating studio filled with pieces of half-finished or discarded art. No eccentricity. Just white walls and a curator’s view of how the art should look each day. At night people are banished, the doors are locked and it all falls silent, like some huge forbidding shrine.

How much better it would be if the art could be set free and artists allowed to create their work without the constraints of commissions or the control of curators. It was with this in mind that I headed over to Brick Lane this weekend to take a peek at some of the art that had escaped and was running free in that area.  What I wandered into I can only describe as The Great Artscape.

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I took the underground to Aldgate East station and then wandered aimlessly along Whitechapel Road before entering Osborne Street and making my way up to Brick Lane itself.  Everywhere there was street art great and small.  The art here has wonderful vibrancy to it – fresh and unencumbered, merging with the environment and I am guessing mostly transient in nature. Beneath some of the pieces you could see a hint of the previous art that had been painted over.  Everywhere I looked I spotted something else that was worth a closer look.

DSCF8946I was not alone in this venture – the entire area seemed to be filled with tourists all waving cameras and wandering down dark alleyways art spotting.  Taking a selfie with a piece of Brick Lane art seems to be a necessity for many visitors to London these days and there were even guides explaining the background to some of the pieces to groups of American tourists.  As for the locals they seem to take it all in their stride which makes this area a haven for street photographers.  If you want to practise your street photography then this is the place to come.  An interesting and vibrant community and the most wonderful backdrops you could ever hope for.

Street Art

The place lends itself to exploring and wandering around – some great cafes, restaurants and pubs as well as street food on market days.  The streets I remember going down include Redchurch Street, Heneage Street, Brick Lane (which lies at the heart), Osborne Street, Grimsby Street, Pedley Street, Cheshire Street and possibly Bacon Street and Sclater Street.  The basic rule seems to be to explore – you will not be disappointed at what you find.

I think whoever is behind this project (if any one person can be credited) is a visionary but if it simply developed organically via the community itself then it is a wonderful example of what can be achieved. Without the art the area could be drab – there is nothing worse than a grey shop shutter or dirty piece of blank hoarding.  Instead they have created a vibrant area that has become a destination in its own right.  So if anyone asks whether street art should be embraced in your area think of Brick Lane – perhaps the answer will then be an emphatic ‘yes’.

I have put some more photos in the slide show below and hope you enjoy.

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All shots taken with a Fujifilm X-T1 and 18-55mm lens with the camera set to film simulation mode for Fuji Velvia.

The IP of all of the art here resides with the artists.  If any of your art is displayed here and you want to be credited in the Blog (or want the image removed) please let me know and I will oblige.

 

The power of the anonymous figure

Winter tree on Hampstead Heath

How many times when trying to take a photograph have you been frustrated by someone walking into the frame?  It has happened to all of us – the scene is set, the lighting is just right, you are about to press the button and pow! someone walks nonchalantly into the scene, completely oblivious of what you are doing and seemingly intent on hanging around for an interminable amount of time.  Eventually the light changes and that great photo is lost forever.

Well all is not lost – even if you are shooting a landscape don’t lose sight of the fact that someone in the frame can really enhance the photo – a person provides scale and if timed right can create a sense of mystery.  Who is the person?  What are they doing?  Where are they going?  That is the power of the anonymous figure – its ability to stimulate a response from the viewer.  In street photography you are often trying to get inside the people in the shot – their emotions, their story, their interaction with others.  This technique differs from this in that you are trying to impart a sense of mystery around the figures in the shot – often by using silhouetting or shooting from behind.

Contemplation

Contemplation

When using this approach you will want to concentrate on composition and on timing.  If the person is walking into or out of the picture then wait, don’t just press the shutter as you want them in the correct part of the frame so the photo looks balanced.  I tend to take the shot when their feet come together if they are walking away but there are no hard and fast rules in photography and you will have your own style. The only thing to remember is that you are using the person to enhance the scene not as the central focus of it so the scene needs to be good in its own right and you will have already addressed the balance of the composition, the quality of the light and the exposure.

When using an anonymous person in a photograph I tend to go for a slight under exposure of the image or expose for the background to throw them into silhouette.  In terms of their location that all depends on the photograph – it is tempting to always put the person or main subject in the centre but is often more powerful to put a figure like this to one side (possibly where the bottom third and side third of the photo intersect as in the photo below).

A lonely sunset

A lonely sunset

So next time someone blindly wanders into your beautiful photo don’t despair – it may be just what you need to liven things up!

A final tip – when taking a shot of a group of people you may want to try to make sure the people don’t overlap each other in the photograph.  It is easier said than done but can really make a difference to the final results.

The silent guardian

The silent guardian

 

All shots taken with a Fujifilm X-Pro1 and 14mm lens.  A review of the new X-T1 will be posted eventually…