Here in the UK Autumn has always been a magical season, but in recent times has been somewhat hit and miss thanks to the vagaries of our climate. In fact last year we had nothing much at all in the way of fall colours, the weather remained extremely mild and the profusion of gold and red leaves never really kicked off. This year was much better, but with the unfortunate caveat of constant driving rain and high winds which more or less prevented any decent photographic outings. Within a couple of short weeks most of the leaves had fallen. I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity yesterday to get out with a camera on the first sunny we’ve had for ages, and I headed to a local arboretum. I never lug professional kit around unless I’m on a specific professional outing, instead I carry a small compact camera and yesterday I had my little buddy the Fujifilm X10 in my coat pocket. Why is this little camera my personal use machine of choice? The image quality is very good for such a small sensor and at low to moderate ISO values detail and colour are retained well. The X 10 handles auto white balance better than any camera I’ve ever used. It’s a real photographer’s camera, the controls are where they should be and operation is very fast and intuitive (without having to wade through lots of irritating menus). The fast Fujinon integrated zoom lens is fast – f.20 to f2.8 and is sharp at all apertures and focal lengths. The prior issue of sensor blooming has been dealt with via the sensor replacement program and software upgrade. And it’s so cute to look at, drawing many admiring glances and favourable comments. However don’t make the mistake of believing that a compact camera such as this is a substitute for a DSLR in all situations – it isn’t. You won’t get the noise control of a large sensor camera, nor will you get viable tracking focus and fast response times. But that’s not what compact cameras are about, they’re about fun, and the Fujifilm X10 certainly is a delight in that respect.
I had my assistant with me, who as part of his development programme receives a fair amount of guidance. However he was less than enthusiastic today and felt that a variety of photographic opportunities in a woodland environment would be a problem. One of the stumbling blocks of learning photography is the process of learning to “see” a good photograph. We’ve all been through that stage whilst we’re learning – we’ve gone out to take pictures and we’ve come back without anything memorable, which can be a little demoralising. In fact most people give up because of this. The key is to force yourself onward because only by practising will you learn to train your eye and develop your skills. So we found ourselves in a beautiful arboretum, packed with people enjoying the blinding winter sun, the majority of which had their cameras with them. In terms of creating interesting pictures, what are we normally looking for? There are several elements which we can incorporate into our photography, in basic terms this might include:
- shape and form (the structure of our subjects or the shadows they create)
- repeating patterns and motifs
- use of light
- creating depth in our compositions using foreground and background elements
- leading lines
Some images can be complex involving many of those things, or very simple drawing on just one or two. Most of those elements can be found in normal everyday scenarios, and a woodland is no different providing there is a little bit of variety in the landscape. And remember that people can really add a dynamic element to a photograph, so don’t be scared of including them in your scenes (in the UK there is no law preventing you from doing this and putting your shots online, providing the images do not breach privacy or decency laws and you must refrain from using the images to advertise something, which would require the permission of recognisable individuals).
At this time of the year the sun is low which adds real interest to winter photography. One of my favourite lighting patterns is 45° backlighting, this creates wonderful shadows and patterns which help to draw the eye into the scene as well as adding depth. But it’s important that you experiment with light from every angle, this will help you to predict how any given photograph will look before you take the picture.
Key to success is getting the image as good as possible at the time of capture. This takes me back to an e-mail I received in March from a young man who felt a little shortchanged – on the basis of my Fujifilm X10 outings he had run out and bought the camera and was most disappointed when his photographs were not as good as he had expected. We’ve been over this old chestnut several times now – a camera is simply a lightbox with an aperture, shutter, and film speed or ISO switch. The big expensive cameras are big and expensive because they need to be rugged and solid for professional use and weather sealing and speed add greatly to the cost. But ultimately a photograph can only be created by the photographer. I remember another occasion a couple of years back when a newcomer wrote to me and asked how I had got a particular shot when she has the same camera and had failed to. The shot in question involved quite a bit of supplementary lighting, a glamorous location, a professional model and a couple of stylists. But there is still the enduring belief that simply buying a camera and clicking the button is all that is needed. Anyway, going back to the young man I mentioned, he attached a few of his X 10 pictures to the e-mail, all of which were poorly exposed, with random focus, shutter speeds which were too slow for the subject, and very poor use of light and composition. You need to get those things right in order to create something half decent but unfortunately that does require periods of study and practice, something which the newer generation seeks to avoid. Having said that, things really weren’t that much different back in my film days, consumers still rushed out to buy the latest and greatest in the hope that their purchase would improve their photography. Anyway, providing we have done our best to create a well lit and well composed image, there is one further vital stage which must be understood ……..
The characteristics of film and digital sensors are such that they cannot always perfectly interpret what our eyes have seen and therefore some post-production is a vital final step in adding polish to the image. The notion that this is cheating is bizarre to an extreme, no machine on earth can quite match the human eye and way back when we used to drop off our rolls of film to the local drugstore the minilab would always perform some basic exposure and colour correction, just as we did ourselves in the darkroom, and we must still continue to do that today with our digital files. I’ll confine this discussion to JPEG images which are usually the mainstay of recreational photography (and I only ever shoot JPEGs on the Fujifilm X10). There are a couple of ways of making sure our pictures have the “pop” that our eyes will record. Hobbyists may not want to invest in software which will do this and instead they can experiment with the picture style settings in the camera, adding a bit of contrast or colour to taste. But more advanced photographers require more control and software programs such as Adobe Lightroom, Aperture, Elements, Photoshop etc will be the tools of choice. I process my JPEGs and RAW files in Lightroom and the simplest adjustments can bring an image to life. I record my JPEGs in a fairly neutral way and then I simply use a curve to add a small amount of contrast and I usually add a little bit of vibrance as well. I never sharpen my JPEGs, only adding a small amount for final output, I like to maintain smoothness in the file. That’s it.
Here are a few of my shots from yesterday: