PhotoBeast

The Photography Blog from Beastmaster.co.uk


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Why Do I Take Photographs And What Is My Style?

On A Gondola

I have always enjoyed taking photographs but over the last ten years or so I have got a bit more serious, probably from when I bought my first DSLR a Canon 400D. Over the last 2 years I have moved away from the DSLR to Fuji’s mirrorless camp with a Fuji X-E1 and  a Fuji X-M1. Shortly after this we joined our local camera club, the Beacon Camera Club. Moving to a more portable, lightweight system in the Fuji, married to the retro rangefinder like styling and I found my enthusiasm for photography massively reinvigorated. With this renewed enthusiasm, coupled with our joining of the local camera club, we (my wife and I) began to question why exactly we take photographs and do we have a particular style? A chance conversation at work and I was asked to bring in some old photos from when I was younger and duly went through the old box to find photos of me from various stages of my younger life and I enjoyed looking at the old photographs from my past. The topic  of why we take photographs was touched upon at the camera club and the overall conclusion seems to be, take photographs for your own pleasure. I accept this, but I have felt compelled to explore this to perhaps “find my own style” or my special niche if you like, so I would like to explore this a little in the following paragraphs, as my photographic journey from complete novice to the lofty heights of “keen amateur” (my current self appointed ranking) has seen a lot of changes that have impacted on the photographs that myself and Peanut take.

Along the journey from novice to keen amateur a fundamental change has occurred in our photographs. Initially our photos were snaps, often of each other or sometimes us together, but as we became serious about photography we began to remove ourselves from the photos and a proliferation of epic landscapes, macro photos of flowers, street scenes from holiday destinations began to appear in their place. Photos of cars and watches appeared to complement features we might blog on those subjects. Without doubt the photographs had improved immeasurably from the novice days and yet they had also lost something, they were impersonal – we were not in the photos and yet these were supposedly our memories?

Somewhere along our photographic journey we had answered the very fundamental question of why do we take photographs? For us it was to diarise our lives and adventures, recording all the places we visit for holidays, or days out or with car clubs. It was to use the photographs to enhance short blogs or diary entries if you prefer, describing our holidays or days out and so on. A nice set of photos would accompany the writings and for us they have been great to look back on. And yet they lack something. What they lack is the personal. Four days in Venice will produce lots of views of Venice but only two or three shots of us in Venice, and you know what? When I look back at our Venice pictures my favourite is The snap above taken on my camera by a bloke I passed the camera to, so that he could photograph us! When a friend in work asked me to bring old pictures in, she wanted to see me as a young man, not a photograph of the Everglades that I had taken in 1980! And when I look back at my photographs, I want to see us back in ’93, or ’97 or 2005, not the car we were driving then, but us. How thin we were, how fat we were, how happy we were. Whatever, but we wanted to see us. Our journey then to the lofty heights of “keen amateur” has then resulted in some great but impersonal photographs.

Without meaning to sound cynical, it seems to me that almost everyone with a DSLR these days sees themselves as a great photographer, on the verge of becoming professional. But look on Flickr or 500PX and see how many brilliant photographers there are, it is very hard these days to make a living from photography and most of us will just be keen amateurs or gifted amateurs. Nothing wrong in that by the way, but that is why the best reason is “for your own pleasure”! In my case, my reason for taking photos is compatible with this but I now realise that my execution of this goal has been compromised by my efforts to be a better photographer, as so many of my photographs now lack the personal.

As a photographer I don’t specialise in any one field, such as landscape or wild life or portrait and I have never really found my own style either, I like black and white, I like colour, I like photos with a film like quality, so I guess I imitate the best in these genres. A recent speaker at the camera club coined a wonderful phrase for this – Karaoke Photography. It was meant dismissively but it really stuck in my mind and I have adopted it to describe my photography. The other phrase I have come up with is “Posh Snaps” because really it is the snap shots, the selfies that have longevity and the wider appeal. If you don’t believe me try a social media experiment; put your best landscape up on Facebook then put up a selfie or you and your friends and see which gets the most likes and comments.

To conclude then in our case we photograph primarily to diarise  but sometimes to improve our abilities, and our style is best described as Karaoke Photography / Posh Snaps. Have fun asking yourself these questions.


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Fuji X-E1 and Flash

ef-x20_2

The Fuji X-E1 has without doubt put the fun back into photography for myself and Mrs P. Certain tools or gadgets give a very enjoyable tactile experience and I think you either get this or you don’t. Apple understand this and you get this using an iPhone or an iPad – not only are they great tools for the job they do, but they are nice to touch, to handle and to hold. The Fuji X range of cameras has this quality about them and like the Apple products the Fuji cameras ooze quality. The pleasure to be had from simply using the Fuji X-E1 has made us want to photograph more things more often and to stretch ourselves that bit further. This camera suits us perfectly for the way we like to photograph and what we like to photograph. It is a perfect vacation camera, but to explain that better take a look at Patrick’s take on this at findingrange.com here. Indeed the whole topic of why we photograph and to what end is a blog in itself, which in truth I intend to write shortly – but for now, I want to look at what is coming next on our Fuji adventure. Continue reading


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Fuji X-E1 – The Journey Towards The Fujinon 35mm 1.4 Prime Lens

Carnival Mask

We recently went to Venice for a city break armed with both our Fuji X – E1 with the kit 18-55mm lens and our Canon 400D, which was firing through the barrel of a Sigma 70 – 300mm zoom.  Because the Fuji zoom lens is an above average stock lens we had most bases covered with this set up. Back home though and  we decided to give some thought to adding a lens to our kit but the question was what to go for?

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Fuji x100s

Check out this fine review of The Fuji X100S by Matthew Richards.

Matthew Richards Photography

Fuji x100s

I decided to pull the trigger and purchase a fuji x100s a little while back. After about a two month wait, I finally received the camera from Amazon. At first I was having a bit of a hard time getting used to the camera. Being used to DSLR style cameras, it felt strange and odd shaped. However, after about another week of shooting with the x100s, I found myself completely infatuated with the camera. I picked up my dslr after having not touching it since the fuji x100s and it was completely foreign to me, just as the fuji was when I first got it.

I’m finding that the x100s is a great camera for on the go photography. It’s pretty great for street photography because it doesn’t attract the same attention that a bigger slr does. The only time someones even paid attention to it is when…

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The Four Thirds Itch / Retro Styling

I have been flirting with the Four Thirds route for over two years, ever since a friend of mine Wibbly dabbled with a Panasonic GF1, which I blogged about here. The market has changed immensely since then, with retro styling becoming perhaps the prime consideration rather than the four thirds format and a number of manufacturers have waded in with Rangefinder style retro body styles to compliment the new digital technology inside.

Fujitsu, while not going down the four thirds route did  blast into the market for retro style cameras with their now iconic X100. This comes with a fixed prime lens shooting at 35mm equivalent and is now available at around the £650 mark. A tempting package indeed.

However, it is a fixed lens, it would always be an “as well as” camera. Still I can’t stop wanting one.

Meanwhile Olympus upped the ante with their spiffing OM-D retro styled glorious offering and Fujitsu came along with their X-Pro1. Both with interchangeable lenses and both knocking on the door of the DSLRs for image quality. Both though are the wrong side of £1000 by some margin, when you stick a lens on the front.

Fuji have listened to the comments about the cost of X-Pro1 ownership and have announced the X-E1 which has 95% of the goodness of the X-Pro but at a sub 1k body price. The target market of Fuji for this camera is a perfect match for er…  me!

So there you have it, the next step in my camera journey will be down the retro camera style route.  To this end a small camera bag is needed – a Billingham Hadley Digital or small will suffice – and a lightweight carbon fibre tripod such as the Manfrotto Carbon Fibre Tripod + 3-way QR Head – 732CY-A3RC1 will establish the new direction nicely. The Fujitsu X-E1 launches in November, so time to get saving!


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Digital Manipulation – Can You Go Too Far?

The debate regarding the use of Digital Manipulation in photography has raged since the digital age first invaded the inner sanctum of the photographic world. The protagonists at each end of the spectrum we shall call The Purists and The Processors. As well as defining the combatants, we need to ponder on the history of photography, the validity of the reality of a two dimensional image and revisit the “Photography or Art?” discussion, perhaps by looking at some examples from the world of Art and Photography. This brief journey will hopefully make clear our conclusions.

In order to tackle the question “Can you go too far with Digital Manipulation?” we should define the protagonists. At one extreme are those who inherently distrust digital photography altogether, preferring the “Purity of Film” These are The Purists who dislike any kind of alteration to a photograph after it is taken, possibly tolerating some kind of processing to achieve a true reproduction of what was seen at the time of capture. At the other extreme are The Processors. These are the lovers of digital manipulation who will often spend more time post processing their image with effects such as HDR, cloning and the creation of composite images, than taking the photo in the field. Most photographers will fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum.

The Purist viewpoint has evolved from the historical perception that the use of the camera, which works in real time with real objects, came to be associated with communication and news reporting and as such was seen to be objective and a means to convey reality. But this is only one side of photography and even reality can be distorted by what the photographer sees, or wishes to be seen. If reality is what they seek, then black and white imagery should have been rejected out of hand as soon as colour images were possible, after all the world is not black and white. Yet its legitimacy survives because of history, not reality. The camera is merely a tool to express an idea; it is not obliged to express truth. From the day that man put pen to paper he used it to record both fact and fiction and this truth holds for photography as well.

A key element to this debate is the validity of the reality of a two dimensional image. By this we mean that the world is 3-dimensional and by the simple fact of being 2 dimensional a photograph, can only at best ever interpret reality, not be reality. The Purists standpoint has to be based on a false assumption due to this one simple fact. Our 3-dimensional world cannot be represented in 2-dimensional “facts”. An example of this is that The Purist might use a zoom lens, which clearly distorts the 3-dimensional reality as it converts the image to 2-D. A blurred background belongs to the 2-D world, as it cannot be seen unless we could stop time. Equally a fish-eye lens will give us a view that no photographer would ever see.

So is photography a form of art or a scientific discipline of its own? Photography has to be a form of art – if not what else can it be? If not Art then it is merely a tool of the journalist or historian to record a point in time but its truth is there to be abused as much as the truth of the written word. Its credibility as a recorder of truth was blown away as soon as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle believed in fairies after seeing Elise Wright and Frances Griffiths’ photograph of fairies in their garden in 1917! There might be a science applied to acquiring an image but as demonstrated already the image cannot ever be reality or fact, only an interpretation thereof. A photograph can convey many emotions, bring back memories and create dreams. To the photographer it is even more meaningful as he will recall the effort it took to produce. It is an expression of what someone sees in the same way that a painting is. An artist like Gainsborough who painted portraits for the gentry, produced an object that would be purchased as a thing of beauty. His client did not want a “warts and all” job of his loving wife to hang over the fireplace, he wanted her to look her best, if not better. So it was up to the artist to make sure she did. How is that different to a little airbrushing? Canaletto was known to have altered the perspective of Venice to suit his canvas and composition. This is what artists do, so why should a photographer tolerate a telegraph pole or road sign spoiling his work? Simply put a Purist will chop the pole down before he presses the shutter and the Processor will clone it out of his image afterwards. Photography then is clearly a discipline of art, just as The Impressionists and The Cubists are.

In conclusion then we have to accept that photography is an art form. Within the art form we must accept that there are many movements or schools of thought. The Purists and the Processors would be just two of these schools of thought. Neither one is the correct one. Quite simply there is no correct one. Each photographer should decide for himself where they sit in the spectrum of photography. Importantly though, once ensconced in their corner of the photographic world they must be open to all disciplines. Practice what suits them but never assume that their way is the right way or the only way. Photography is a living art form and as such is fluid and alive, it reacts to and creates fashion and style. HDR can be the vogue one month, sepia all the rage the next. If you do not embrace it, do not disparage it either and if you can do something better than someone else don’t tell them not to do it because “manipulating a bad image only produces a bad manipulated image”. Budding photographers should be encouraged to try because without trying you do not learn. Similarly, if you don’t like borders then don’t use borders but that’s your choice it does not mean that all photos should not have borders. Put simply you cannot go too far with digital manipulation just as you cannot put constraints on art. Know what you like but never assume that your taste is the only taste. Remember in the words of Jerry Lodriguss, “Writers massage the language of words; photographers massage the language of light”.