Photographs and Memories

Karran Sahadeo recently did a presentation at Moray House with this title, when I chose this photo for this week’s entry for the Deck Project, it popped into my head.

Often, all we have of moments and events of our younger days are memories… with the current deluge of photos being taken with various cameras, smartphones, tablets, webcams, etc., the current generation may have a different take on it in 20 years.

I can look back at what might be considered a relatively large amount of photos from my younger days, relative to the general population at the time in Guyana at any rate, and I can sometimes remember the moment, the event, the atmosphere, the sounds and other tiny things that made the moment memorable, but there are many more points in my life that have no such record, and all I have are memories.

I was out on the seawall on the way to work one morning when I saw the sky to the south as I approached the portion of the wall right behind my old school ground (Saint Stanislaus College), as I stopped to take the photo, memories of times there came back to me.

I’m not a sportsman, never really was, but I do remember trying a few sports, simply because the teachers said you had to “try”…  I remember being left behind in the 100m sprint, I remember being lapped once in some one of the longer runs, I remember wanting to try the shotput, but being a small fellow, no one would let me, I remember trying the long jump and not doing too badly (as in, at least one other person fell shorter than I did); I also remember getting sunburnt, falling in the grass and bruising my knees, climbing the pavilion steps, eating snow-cones and icicles, and drinking Blackcherry Soda… (Both Banks DIH and DDL had lost their Cola franchises, Banks brought out the ICEE Blackcherry to fill the void), I could go on, but my point is, I can look back on “this” photo and have those memories renewed even though I don’t have photos of any of those moments to look at.

While this photo can mean that to me, for you, it may just be a very plain, very empty black and white photo; for me, the field is filled with students; the pavilion with teachers, students, parents; the gateway and fence lined with vendors selling snow-cones, tamarind syrup and green-mango 🙂


Canon EOS 60D, Sigma 10-20mm | 1/100s @ f/7.1, 10mm, ISO100


Click on the image to see it in the Black and White Gallery from the Collection, while there, take a look at the other images in the growing Black and White Gallery.


Colour or Monochrome

When film (or plate) was the way to capture photographs, there were many many debates, just like there are now.  They didn’t debate sensor sizes, they debated film sizes (and that had so many I won’t even start on that), and just like many enthusiasts and professionals now debate colour vs monochrome, so it also went back then.

While there were specific films developed for both types back then, in the digital age we are pretty much guaranteed that the camera you buy, whether the one in your mobile phone, compact camera, mirrorless or DSLR camera, it will in all likelihood take the photos in colour, which you can then convert to monochrome (black and white, sepia, etc) in post-process, whether in-camera or in software on the PC.  This changed when Leica developed their Leica M Monochrom, it was the first major brand to produce a high-end digital camera that produced only black and white photographs, and rumor has it Sony is working on a black and white version of their RX 1.  I don’t want to get into a debate myself over the need or desire to have a camera that only shoots monochrome, I can only say that it is unlikely I would ever buy one myself, but that is probably only my wallet talking.

In the genre of Street Photography, there is usually a preference for black and white images, but there are many many great coloured Street Photographs out there, more than you’d think.  Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work in street photography was very definitive for the genre, and all his work was in black and white, he also experimented with coloured film but was never satisfied with the results; of course, he only had access to the types of film available then (the 1950s) and if you look back at coloured prints from those days you’d see the limitations of the coloured film of the time.  I dare say that if he had lived in a later era, he may have at least given the coloured films a chance.

When I first started taking photographs on a slightly more serious basis than just snapshots, I didn’t do much black and white processing, and even when I did, it was more for the novelty than because I knew why it should be done and to which photographs.  Now I do a lot more processing in black and white…

What have I learnt that changed my views?

I’ve learnt that not all photos look good in monochrome, the tonal range and subject matter is very important for an image to look good in monochrome.  Monochrome images tend to showcase textures, shapes and form better, and by removing colour from the image you are left with just the elements that make up the composition, and if those elements are not functioning correctly in the overall composition, it will feel off, or look cluttered.

When used correctly, colour will catch the eye and hold it, this works for some compositions, but for others, that same thing tends to shift the focus of the viewer from the overall composition and have them concentrate almost solely on one portion of the image.

I’m no expert, but this is how I see it; recently I took a few photographs of some Jhandi flags on the Kingston seashore, and I chose two that I liked, and I processed them quite differently, and primarily for the reasons stated above.

This one I chose colour, because the main subject and the focus of the image is the Jhandi flags themselves, the various colours chosen as they contrast with each other, the browns of the sand and the blues of the sky.

The second image I processed in black and white to articulate the relationship between the clouds in the sky with the sands on the ground, the change from dark to light in both the sky and the land as they meet at the horizon, the sharpness of the shadow from the midday sun, and the contrast between the flags on the pole so close to the viewer against what seems to be a smaller post in the distance to the left of the frame.

These are my decisions, they may quite well not be anyone else’s choice.


In the end, these are choices I make in how I express myself artistically now, it is not how I did it a few years ago, it may not be how I do it five years from now.

Click on the images to see them in their respective galleries.

Perception

Lately, I’ve been very busy, although depending on your point-of-view I might also have been giving priorities to the “wrong” things; for my myself, I say I’ve been busy.

I tell people that I’ve been busy, so I haven’t updated this blog, and updated the Deck Project, they look at me askance and think I’m either lying or stretching the truth, but it’s a matter of perception I suppose.

Often, what we see in a photograph is also a matter of perception, this image is one I overlooked when choosing my photo for week 9 of the Deck Project this year; when I say “overlooked”, I mean that I did not see then the potential that I saw when going back through the images the second time.

I was looking at a photograph recently of what appeared to be a woman holding a young girl lying limp across her arms, I later realized that it was a young man in her arms, but the combination of dark hair and a dark material near the head gave the long hair I usually associate (firstly) with girls, the features of the youth were very smooth and “pretty”, and he was attired in a hospital gown, all adding together to skew my perception.

I’ve also been trying to look at scenes differently and change my perspective, also altering my perception of the scene itself.  Anyway, all of this preamble is just to introduce you tot he image that I had also titled “Perception” 🙂


12:55 pm  |  Red filter  |  Canon 60D, Sigma 10-20mm lens

1/320s, f/11, ISO 100, 10mm  –  Processed in Lightroom and Nik Silver Efex


Click on the image to see it larger in the Black and White Gallery of the Collection.

Singed

Have you ever latched onto a word with unusual fascination?  When I first read or heard certain words, there was an undue fascination that I got for them, one of those was “singed”…  No, it has nothing to do with singing, so no funny quips about that 🙂  Another one was “chaos”, that one was simply because I’d read it in a book and had formed this pronounciation in my head that turned out to be completely wrong.

So… back to “singed”

It was the first week of 2014, and I was walking the seawall looking for a few photographs when I came across the piece of singed wood… it was laying across another piece of wood forming a cruciform shape, the harsh midday sun cast a strong shadow and I decided that it might make a decent photograph 🙂

I also took the opportunity to try out LightZone to process it from start to end… I finally found how to straighten the horizon in it… using the crop tool just like in LightRoom (silly me couldn’t find it the first time I was processing an image in it).  I must say, that while there are some things I miss from this piece of software, it is a very powerful application, and the integration of the changes into the saved file (JPG or TIF) makes it easy to go back and adjust the processing.

LightZone also professes to be able to work as a plugin to LightRoom, so if you just want some of the neat features in LZ, you can try it as a plugin.  For an OpenSource (read that as FREE) software, it is powerful and user-friendly, this is not a stripped down software, but a full fledged product for RAW image processing.

Now… to the image.  It probably won’t rank as a great photograph, but I liked it and it gave me a good opportunity to try out LightZone


Canon EOS 60D, Sigma 10-20mm  |  1/160s, f/9, 10mm, ISO 100


Click on the image to see it in the Gallery along with other images in the Black and White collection

Every Tool

I’m not a purist; I don’t hold the belief that whatever JPG comes out of the camera is the reality that existed in front of the lens.  I do, however, believe that there is a certain amount of “truth” in my photographic work.  Friends and colleagues, other photographers and budding photographers in the Guyana Photographers’ Facebook group have heard me make the distinction between Processing and Editing many times.  And I will briefly make it here again…

Since I shoot in RAW format, the camera does no processing to the file (whenever you shoot JPEG the camera applies certain adjustments to the image, contrast, brightness, etc.) so I have to Process it in software, often referred to as Post-processing.  This usually involves adjusting sliders in a software like Aperture, AfterShot, Lightroom, LightZone, etc., things that are adjusted range from brightness and contrast, to hue and saturation, cropping, temperature, white balance, noise levels and more.  Although this is usually applied over the entire image, some software allows you to do it to parts as well.

Where I draw the distinction between Processing and Editing, is when the image is altered so as to become a new image, distinct from the original in content.  Simply put, if I add something or remove something from the original photograph, then it is no longer the same, it is now a work of graphic design, not only photography.

Do I Process my images? Always.  Do I Edit my images? Sometimes.  I’ve cloned out trash that otherwise marred the scene (the lone plastic bottle on a grassy stretch), but have often left in loads of trash because it was part and parcel of the scene.  I don’t have anything against editing, but I don’t think its fair to call it a photograph after you’ve added in entire clumps of trees, removed several utility posts and added muscles to an individual… that is definitely in the realm of photo-illustration or Graphic Design.

I am also a big proponent of using every tool that you need to get the image that you saw with your eyes, and in your mind across to the viewer.  Whether its special filters on the lens to get a mood or effect, an angled lens in the developer of a dark room to create a distorted view, using Black and White (Film or processing) for an aged or structured look, using long and super-long exposures for light trails or flowing water, external flashes and reflectors for extra lighting on a subject, gels and filters for colour enhancements, or even doing some of this on the software end, I am for it, but I believe in being true to the original vision as much as possible.

Fancy processing and editing is no substitute for a good original image.  I am no expert or professional, many of my images come out of the camera looking very disappointing, and I often discard or simply not process them.  Yes, you can “save” them, I have even done so on some occasions, simply because I believe that they were worth saving, but they had to have something good in them to begin with; a good composition, a relatively good exposure, and maybe even compelling elements to the composition.

I’ve rambled enough… time for a photo.  This is one of those photos that I “saved”…  The original was good, maybe better than good, but it was not what I wanted….  I wanted more detail in the sky, more of a structured appearance than the original coloured version, and (because of an architectural quirk) more symmetry.


Canon EOS 60D  |  Tamron 18-270mm  |  21mm, 1/160s, f/7.1


I used Lightroom to create five different exposures from the original, each 2 stops apart in exposure, then I used Nik HDR Efex Pro to merge my new exposures and coax the detail I wanted from the overall scene, then I used Photoshop (I know, I’m a horrible person) to skew the perspective ever so slightly to gain some symmetry.

Although I did not add or remove anything, I normally would consider this edited since I used Photoshop to change the original proportions of the image, but in this case I’d let that slide 🙂

Click on the image to see it in the Gallery along with others in the Black and White series.

2013 Deck – Week 14

I remember when…  (I think this line is only used by people who have seen things that may not be current and have to use this line to explain that situation to those younger than themselves… or by a youngster who wants to impress others with their amazing memory – even if some of it is invented)

Where was I?  … oh, yes…  I remember when I rode a bicycle to school, then to lessons, and to visit friends, or to go to church, or just for a joy-ride.  I remember lugging around a heavy chain with a large Union lock to secure the bicycle to a post.

I remember the bicycle I rode to lessons, an old “Big Ben”, or “Steel Donkey”, it was a lady’s frame, so we’d put a wooden bar across to tow others, or just to make it seem more masculine. (Something remarkably similar to the one Nikhil captured here) I remember taking turns with Johnny at towing home Trecia from lessons, even though it was not on my way home.

I remember while courting Maureen (now my wife), I had a “down handle” on a ten-speed bicycle, and we’d ride everywhere… even places I knew I shouldn’t… I remember being beaten with a 2×4 (piece of wood) by a thief try to get that bicycle from me…

I remember riding from home down to South Ruimveldt to visit my friends Andrew, Ian, and then to Durban Backlands to visit Dayal… sometimes just for the ride; and years later I rode to and from UG daily, and I remember leaving UG at 8pm after History lecture and riding down in pitch blackness with Scheme alongside on his bicycle (trying to remember where the potholes were) !

I remember riding to the seawall to work off the buzz of a beer that I drank while (legally) too young, I remember riding from Turkeyen to Bel Air hoping to wear off the buzz of too many beers from a Raymond’s birthday celebration, this was when I was a student at UG, only to stop at Nikhil’s home to ask for coffee before continuing home 🙂

I seldom ride a bicycle now, but I think every child should learn to ride one… it gives a sense of independence, of freedom… of adventure.

The photo that sparked a deluge of memories…


Click on the image to see it on the site, along with the other images from this year’s Deck Project.


Get them out!

If you are serious about making the art of photography a pillar in your life, if you want the work that you do to be seen and recognised as being worthy of use or even just of praise then you have to get your work out there.

I came to this realisation late, but it is true, whether you use Facebook to just upload some images to albums and share with your family and friends, or the Flickr community to have a wider reach, or you are feeling more demanding for larger space and go for your own website, just get your images out there, it is doing you no good sitting on your hard drive (or worse yet, on your memory card in the camera)

I started with Webshots, which, before it was bought over, had a good community and lovely photo Challenges to inspire you… then that went south… and recently it went out, I think it’s called Smile now.  I had also begun uploading to Flickr since I already had a Yahoo account, I figured what was the harm, I might as well use the service, but when I wanted somewhere online to store high-resolution images (as well as make them available for friends to see) Nikhil suggested Zenfolio.  That was a great decision!

What is great about having people see your photos?  For one thing, you open yourself up to not only praise, but also criticism, which helps you grow, it makes you see the work as other’s see it, through their eyes and not just your own.  For another thing, it gives a wider group of people a chance to see what you are doing, not just your friends and family, but other photographers, other artists and even the business community.

I like to think that my more “artistic” types of photos are the ones that are important to me and the ones I hope others like and appreciate, but the others that I take seem to demand equal or greater attention, the ones from events, such as Mashramani, Diwali Motorcade, Easter and others.  Were I to confine myself to just making available for viewing those that I want to “promote”, then these others would never be seen not appreciated for what they are.

This year my images made it into three calendars in local firms; Maggie’s Snackette and Catering Service, and NT Computeac both used images which were more to the artistic side, but the company that surprised me was Banks DIH Limited, and this is the one I am drawing reference to.   While both Maggie’s and NT Computeac chose what I thought were aesthetically pleasing images, Banks DIH chose images that were more representative of the events that they wished to highlight, even though those I would not put as my best images, it appealed to them and probably to those viewing it too, those images are worth something to someone, and had I not uploaded them for others to see, then they would never have made it into the Calendar.

They did a twelve page Calendar, and of those monthly pages, Dwayne Hackett and I got half, with images that represent our culture and our life as Guyanese.

Don’t let your photos sit idly on your Hard Drive, Get them Out!

In Quiet Solitude

As I was processing this photo a poem began to form in my mind, but by the time I had finished processing, I had lost it… that’s how it goes.

The title of the photo is the same as this post “In Quiet Solitude”, yet as I thought about it, I wondered how accurate it was,

it wasn’t that quiet…  there was the sound of birds chirping, the rustle of leaves as the monkeys jumped from branch to branch, the gurgle of the water as it flowed from the creek to the lake, and the subtle but distinct snap of a camera behind him  🙂

By the same argument, he wasn’t alone, remember the birds, the monkeys and the photographer….. (or the monkey behind the camera) 🙂

But I still stick with the title, sometimes you can just stand beneath the trees, with a gentle breeze blowing, and be thankful to be away from the noise of traffic, the voices and machines of city life, the constant ping and ring of mobile phones, and maybe even the conversations that you were listening to but not really hearing.


Click on the image to see it in the Gallery.


A Good Photo

For my Deck Photo last week I used a black and white image of a bird walking across a wet expanse, one of my friends and fellow photographers told me that she didn’t like the photo, because it made her feel sad and lonely

When she told me that she didn’t like the photo, I was a little disappointed to tell the truth, but when she told me that it was because it made her feel sad and lonely, I was elated.


One of the things that makes a good photograph is the conveyance of some sort of emotion to the viewer.  For most photos, we look at them and move on, it was a photo of a sunset, or a flower, or an insect, or a door, or a building, or a bird, or any other subject you can think of, but when someone can say that a photo of mine made them reminisce or feel happy or sad, of any other emotion, then I feel that the photo was not only good, but better than I’d hoped for.


Each photo has the potential to reach past the optics of the viewer and into their emotions, when it does, then the photo was worth taking, it was worth the pixels that were spent on it, and the time it took to take and process.

None of these photos are new, but each one has had an emotive response from a viewer, it may not do it to everyone, but to me, that is what makes photography a challenge, to reach into as many of the viewer’s hearts as possible, but to even reach one, is usually enough for me.

As usual, click on the images to see them in their respective Galleries in the Collection.

Pro – defining and refining

Twice in recent times, I’ve been accused of being a “Pro”, as in a Professional Photographer, and both times I’ve been taken aback by it.  Me? a Pro?  Surely they don’t think so!

The first time was on a public discussion on the Guyana Tourism Authority’s Facebook page where we were discussing their Photography Competition, the unfairness of one of the “rules” and the general direction of the competition, the individual calling me a Pro thought that because I was a known name in Photography in Guyana I should not be questioning the rules of the competition (open only to amateur photographers), and stay out of it.  I humbly submit that I am not a known name… stop ten people on the street and ask them if they know Michael Lam, and they’ll all probably ask “Who?”  In the small, but growing, Photography world locally, yes, my name is known alongside those of Nikhil Ramkarran, Dwayne Hackett, Fidal Bassier, Ryan Dos Santos, Amanda Richards, Roshanna Mahadeo, Compton Sarabo, Vishnu Persaud, Philip Williams, Avinash Richard and countless others (sorry if I missed anyone).

The second time was in a newspaper article that covered the recently concluded Guyana Visual Arts Competition and Exhibition, in which I gained the Bronze Medal in the Photography category, the reporter referred to me as “Pro photographer Michael Lam”, again I felt that it was a distinction I could not accept or live up to.

Who is a Professional?  Generally you need to meet certain criteria to be a Professional:

“Expert and specialized knowledge in field which one is practicing professionally” I don’t possess that knowledge, certainly not to a degree to be teaching it or express an “expert” opinion on it, so that one is out.

“Excellent manual/practical and literary skills in relation to profession”, same as the first, not me!

“High quality work in Photography”, OK, if it’s good enough for the National Art Gallery at Castellani House to exhibit, then I suppose I have to acquiesce to this one

“A professional is an expert who is a master in a specific field”, definitely not me, oh no!

Let’s get specific to a Professional Photographer:  A professional photographer uses photography to earn money; amateur photographers take photographs for pleasure and to record an event, emotion, place, or person.  I have a day job, I’ve always described myself as a Photo-hobbyist, and I still see myself that way.  Photography isn’t my primary income, if it were I’d be starving.  Have I made money off of photography?  No, I spent more than I made.   I’ve been fortunate to have some of my images licensed for use in a few calendars, I’ve also had a few images sold for display, does this make me a Professional?  Simply because I’ve had some income from my hobby?

I have to admit, that this view was the one I had originally taken of Professional Photographers, those who have sold their services or products, so now I fall into that category, but I still can’t see myself as a Professional.

I look at Robert (Bobby) Fernandes, whose years of experience and his natural Photographer’s Eye, can capture a scene with a certain “Je ne sais quoi” that tells you its a great photo, and I think that’s a Professional!

I look at Delano Williams, who has been doing portrait and wedding photography in Guyana for many years, and I think that’s a Professional!

I remember Mark Yhap, who took portrait photos on Camp Street, he used SLR film cameras and light meters, and had everyone wanting their photos looking ethereal because of a “soft lens” that he used, and I think that’s a Professional!

I look at Dwayne Hackett, one of the only trained photographers that I know of, who does spectacular work for everyone from Corporations down to studio portraits, and I think that’s a Professional!  He knows more about lighting, depth of field, and most everything else, than I ever will.

I look at Fidal Bassier, who has taken wedding photography and portrait photography to a level Guyana has not seen before, and I think that’s a Professional!

I look at John Greene, who in a short space of time has carved out for himself a space in the Portrait photography world and is steadily expanding his repertoire, and I think that’s a Professional!  I certainly don’t have that business sense or attitude.

I look at my friend Nikhil Ramkarran, Gold Medal winner in the Photography Category of the Guyana Visual Arts Competition and Exhibition, whom I always thought “never had an artistic bone in his body”, but who read and looked at every single thing he could find about Photography and Photographers, and tutored himself (and me along the way) in the art of photography, and I think to myself that’s a Professional!  You could ask him almost anything on the subject, and you’ll not only get expert knowledge, but an expert opinion.

Do I rank with these people, or with so many others in the field now?  I am not sure, I’m happy to call them my peers, my fellow Photographers, and I am proud to be among the talented people of The Guyana Photographers.  Can you book my time for a portrait shoot? No.  Can you book my time for a wedding shoot? No. Will I ever do that?  I don’t know, it’s just not my thing right now, and I have a day job  🙂

Why do people think I am a professional?  I don’t know and it really does not matter in the long run.  I know a few things about photography, and I’m willing to share what I know, and learn from others in the process, but in the end, I merely shoot what I see, and sometimes people like what I shoot.


To the Photographs in this post…. both photos were taken during the first week of the year, and both were shortlisted along with two others for the first photo for the Deck Project, but I chose another, just because I felt like it.  The ;little icon of the Newspaper is the article which I mentioned, clicking on it will give you the full PDF version from the Newspaper’s website (Sunday Times Magazine).

Both of the photos are technically composites, that is they are High Dynamic Range (HDR) images each using three exposures.  Of the two, the seascape that I titles “The Lonely Sea” is my favourite.  HDRs are one of my favourite photographic techniques, but as with all techniques it can be misused.  Click on the images for a better view in the Gallery, along with other HDR images in my Scenic Experiments Gallery on my site.


Definitions highlighted in bold taken from Wikipedia.org