Today is mainly teapots: photographing ceramics with Fuji X system.

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Clive Bowen is one the U.K’s most renowned and respected potters. He makes earthenware pots made from Devon red clay dug from the banks of the river Taw, thrown and slip decorated before firing them in huge woodfired bottle kilns. Following centuries  old techniques these ceramics are wonderfully utilitarian yet each unique in character, glaze and design. Today Clive is making mainly tea-pots. These are tricky little blighters. They line up on a wooden board, each perfectly thrown, the tiny spout crafted and cut so that it pours correctly and the handle shaped and attached securely, the lid correctly sized and alined.. It takes a lifetime of skill and trust in the material to get these right.  Every stage of studio pottery is crucial: preparing the raw material, throwing the clay, decorating, glazing, stacking the kiln and firing. Each stge frought with hazards and serendipity. But for now I am not going to talk about Clive or pottery; his story is for another day . .. any one who wants to know more can let me know. Instead this post is about photographing ceramics.

Studio Pottery is born of Earth and made from fire. It requires space to breath and to come alive.  The colours glow and glimmer.  Of course I could take these shots in a studio environment with back lights and strobes, umbrellas and stands and get sharp crisp images but for me the life of the pot, of the craft and skill that goes into it’s making, the energy of the piece would be lost.

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As you photographers know taking images of shiny things or surfaces is a nightmare. Every light source is reflected off the surface.  So I never use flash or soft box but stick with natural light,  North Facing if possible. I have tried back lighting but this just makes the image look naf and dumbs down frame centre where you actually want to show case the pot or cluster. On my Fuji XF 35mm lens I use a polarising filter, which sometimes helps to avoid blown out light hot-spots. I am not necessarily interested in the finest detail as these shots are not going to pixel peeped or printed to huge size. What I do need though for product photos,  is consistency.  Therein lies a difficulty when every pot is different, depth of glaze,  colour from dark to light, shininess, form and shape. To overcome this I shoot in jpeg mode not raw, this is because the Fuji film simulation modes are so reliable I know my colours will  be matched whenever I am shooting. I use velvia for a standard look. Classic chrome is my favourite, but not for ceramics. Similarly I find it easier to use auto. white balance rather than use a grey card.  I keep an eye on iso when shooting but don’t mind if it creeps up. Fuji jpeg noise at high iso can give a grain like look which again does not necessarily detract from my final image.

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Today I am photographing new work by Clive for a flyer to advertise an exhibition in Japan. His pots are being shown alongside  ceramics by Bernard Leach and other well known potters.  It’s early morning, for a few moments the sun is out. I have set up a super large jar with a couple of jugs alongside for scale. Stopped down to f5.6 so as to get some depth of field. [Wide open on the XF35 1.4 means half the pot will be out of focus] I take a couple of shots, Blimey! the lens is hunting like crazy for focus, light is reflecting off every surface. Grr! who wants sun?  I always take back-up images of every pot or cluster with a second camera. Today I use the original X100. The filmic quality of it’s sensor is still brilliant,  sometimes it is the only camera I ever need. Sure. the trusty little beast nails focus immediately, captures the shot where the 35mm couldn’t.  I move everything into the kiln area, where it is almost dark, light source.. one open door. Even here I underexpose by one stop, givening me better depth of colour and detail in darker areas on processing.  On blown areas I huff on the pot,  slide back about six feet and dash off the shot.  Breath on pot again.. repeat.  Some folk I understand rub soap or some other gunge on the ceramic to dull it down. That doesn’t work for me because the final image comes out flat and lifeless. My quick blast of warm breath takes the shine off for just long enough.

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I have to take a couple of shots of Clive in the workshop. There is strip, natural and tungsten lighting from all over the place. I turn everything off and just use light from the window which is covered by a lovely film of red clay dust. No room in this dynamic, creative area for a tripod so everything is handheld. For those who are interested my settings are as follows: sharpness plus 1, colour neutral zero, shadows and highlights neutral, auto ISO with shutter speed set at 80 slowest, dynamic range 200. I use single focus mode with the focus point set centrally to about middle size. The smallest setting is just too small for reliable focus on a glossy ceramic surface. Photometry is set to area mode. The XF 35mm wide open fairs much better in this environment.  The XF 60mm just about manages but ISO is sky high and noise is unacceptable.  I use the X100 and the 23mm slightly wider angle works very well for shots which include both Clive and his work area. Nice light on his face hands and the dark clay. I am done and out of here.

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Processing is done in Lightroom 6. I know these Earth colours by heart, green and gold, brown and ochre, and with the Fuji jpegs I only need to tidy up with some levels and a little crop here and there. I rarely add clarity, or luminence but sometimes lighten shadows and darken highlights.  I complete the edit with a little darken vignette.

 

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Back to my Fuji roots: coast and landscape

Overlooking the wild Atlantic coast it is never easy to forget the savage beauty of the ocean or the calm sunset of a still day.

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For a while I have been focussing on other photography projects but this evening I slung the lovely old Fuji Xpro 1 over my shoulder with XF18mm attached and set off along the sand.  Dusk comes slowly here in North Devon.  The light hangs in the air,  there is a glow,  cast from the sand and the sea, reflections of gold and blue.  Today not a cloud in the sky, a faint mist already drifting across the sand-hills,  everything calm. Around me feeding on the shoreline, Oystercatchers and Egrets, Sandpipers and Sanderlings. The haunting cry of the Curlew echoes across the River Taw.  Sometimes it is awe inspiring, sometimes you have to look out and look up, how can this magic be here for me,  yet others, far away suffer oppression and tyranny?  So for today I whisper a quiet thank you.

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Believe in film: Leica M2 versus Olympus mju. for street.

Recently I have been eying up a very nice looking Leica M2 with an old Elmar collapsable to get back into some analogue street photography. Total cost for this little outfit is a tad under £1000, hence a degree of hesitation on my part, especially as I believed after a while I may need the rangefinder re-calibrated to the lens, likely costing another hundred quid ! Ah.! Then I thought maybe a point and shoot, umm, the Contax G2 looked sweet too, with gorgeous Zeiss lenses but also priced very highly now. Instead I opted for an Olympus mju f3.5,  costing just £3 in a charity shop. It looked clean, led display worked, battery still in place and showing charge. Add a roll of Agfa colour 200 asa 24 exposure film purchased from Poundland for [you guessed] one £1.

The little mju is a joy to use, slips easily into a pocket and is ready to use instantly by pushing the neat clamshell lens cover open. There is a satisfying shutter button which allows focus and exposure setting with a half press so you can re-compose if required.  Focus and metering seems more or less instant and then a little whizz as the film advances automatically to the next frame. The flash is constantly alert waiting for low light and fires automatically.  there is a tiny button to switch it off or to use fill flash and another tiny button for self timer. Aside from this there are absolutely no other controls so any form of creative or manual photography is impossible.

For street photography it is brilliant. Slide it out of a pocket while sliding off the lens cover hold up to eye the sweet little viewfinder, compose,  shoot.. three seconds, I reckon.  I tried firing from the hip which was quite successful too.  I bunged the roll into Boots, and opted for one hour processing. From a roll of 24 I achieved 22 exposures, two were spoiled because I thought the film had re-wound when in fact it hadn’t. My mistake, if I had looked at the lcd counter it would have told me as the motor wound back the frames. A couple of shots were blurred again my fault for trying to shoot without the flash,  in low light so an element of camera shake.  The others were pretty good, perfectly well exposed and reasonably sharp and contrasty.  Total cost including camera, film and printing. £11.50

Well, now for the comparison. Leaving aside the camera purchase could I have used the Leica M2 as easily? For a start it is larger and heavier, no metering and I would have to focus every shot. I am happy with zone focussing so this would not be too much of a problem. Here is a fabulous article about metering for film by Johnny Patience well worth applying. The Olympus reads dx film code and this means there is no way to override the ASA/ISO setting, unless you scrape off the black squares on the film canister, so unfortunately I was unable to over-expose by one stop as Johnny suggests. So with my Leica I could have set my own parameters, including ISO, managed shutter speed and aperture and thus bokah. I could happily have applied the sunny sixteenth rule or used pocket light meter on the iphone, but given that I was walking around in sunlight and shade this would have been a little tedious.  OK,  I agree there is no real comparison and undoubtedly given more control and the lovely Leics lens I would have [possibly] ended up with better images. So I will leave it for you to judge. Here are some of the photos I took scanned in with a £40 all in one printer.

Being a strictly FujiFilm digital shooter I am a big fan of Kevin Mullins official Fuji X photographer.  So I kind of like the saturated colour and contrasty shadows that my Olympus mju achieved.  What is more, if I didn’t like this little monkey so much, I could sell it on ebay as a genuinely film tested camera and give the excess profits back to the charity shop.

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Editing Fuji .jpg files in Lightroom 6

Here is a brief post describing some ideas for editing Fuji files in Lightroom. I have included Nik pack plugins too. Sometimes a little colour works well for street photography as demonstrated by this lovely lady.  Here she was decked out in matching red sandals and spotty bag, pulling along  her little dog while pushing a giant pram. Shot with Fuji X100 with the brilliant 23mm lens, stopped down.

So first we have the out of camera Jpg file imported into Lightroom with no adjustments. Looks fine to me but lacks a little impact and contrast which reflects the gloomy light in which it was taken.

 

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Next I opened Analogue Effects pro plugin,  adjusted detail, contrast and saturation sliders in camera 3, included a little grain, turned off scratches etc then added a little spot adjustment in her face area.  The resulting image was saved back into Lightroom. For me this image seems to be a reasonable representation of a 1970’s Kodak analogue snap.

 

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Despite my belief that colour works best for this image, in the interests of black and white fanatics I next edited the original jpg file in Silver Effects Pro.  I used high contrast smooth camera setting, added detail and a little brightness  using sliders, increased white and improved tonality using curves.  Then again I used the spot adjustment to add detail to her face and scarf.  The vignette was already quite sufficient in this setting.

 

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Nevertheless being a Lightroom aficionado I usually prefer to edit my own images rather than relying on others interpretation of the scene I shot. So my normal workflow is to reduce exposure slightly, add a little contrast and adjust white and black sliders, then highlights and shadows. For this image I decreased clarity, added a touch  vibrance and a little saturation. Then added two gradient layers in top left and right adding some exposure and a tad saturation.  Next I used the adjustment brush to add some exposure to her face, some clarity and improved skin tone a little. Finally I added some grain and a little vignette. The final image looks pretty strong and I like how the red tones in her bag attract attention.  Comments welcome!

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Gallery Le Fey profile by The Photographer Society

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Gallery le Fey:
thephotographerssociety:
PHOTOGRAPHER FOCUS · Drew De Rett (Gallery Le Fey)
http://gallerylefey.tumblr.com/
Drew De Rett is primarily a great landscape photographer. He defines himself as a rural photographer, determined to capture the views, reliefs and environments that surround him on the Atlantic coast of England. Photographing the sea, its changes and light, the coastal scenery… is a constant for him, who considers himself as someone alien to street photography, even if, occasionally he intends some explorations in that field.. Probably, in these occasions in which Drew photographs the beaches, that clouds announcing the imminent storm, the shines and lighting effects in the waters of the sea, or the way in which the setting sun draws its deep shadows on the coasts … is when we are in the presence of his most characteristic photography. Even on that many occasions in which the sea does not appear explicitly in his snapshots its presence is somehow sensed. Maybe it’s the light, the colors or the environment, but however the sea ‘is’ there …. it can almost be smelled!

 

 

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There are two cardinal points around which turns his landscape photography. The first is undoubtedly the light. This is a first-order expressive element in Drew’s photographs. Even in those snapshots in which is weak or pale, light assumes the expressive weight of the shot, although its presence can be only measured in subtle reflections or glitters, in faint sparkles that make their way through cloud laden skies, or between the long shadows and backlights that are drawn on clear sunsets. Drew’s work with light is always superb but is in these photographs in which we notice how masterfully he exposes,  assuming with ease the challenge of capturing faithfully atmospheres, colors and textures, even in foggy environments. Of course, in this desire to understand, to model the light that makes its way through his lens, Drew seems to feel equally comfortable when natural light is direct, even tough. Then his photographs captivate by the brightness and saturation of the colors, the way in which the sun highlights the textures of different materials, for its backlights…. The exposure here is again capital to get the right balance between light and shade, along with a perfect control of aperture from which Drew takes advantage to offer us captures characterized by its great depth of field. And beyond his landscape photography, this wonderful obsession for light that affects Drew becomes really apparent when we contemplate his portraits, the indoor photography, the architectures, his still life shots or his abstracts, these snapshots in which, through a creative approach he invites us to look with different eyes and out of its immediate context,  things of unexpected beauty. In all of them is difficult to avoid the impression that the subject is a mere pretext to press the shutter; that is the light – and I mean here the natural light, since Drew does not use flash-, its nuances, the way in which he brings to life the textures and materials, which really moved him  at the time of taking the shot. Do not miss the captures published in his blog chosen among that make up the series dedicated to the wonderful potter Clive Bowen. They’re a great example, of what I tell you

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The other axis around which revolves his magnificent landscape photography and generally all his work, is the composition. Probably there are few concepts in photography that are, at once, so basic and yet so difficult to master. This is because beyond the pure visual interest and the harmony that the composition may bring to an image, we should not forget that on it depends the way in which the photographer explains that fragment of reality that he wants to capture and the mechanisms that lead our attention to the essential element of a given photograph. And contemplating Drew’s work  it is really impossible not to notice the great care and thought underlying behind the composition of each of his photographs. Regarding this issue, Drew assured me having read somewhere that good composition is better than bad cropping, and  it’s evident that he applies systematically this maxim, though I am not referring only to something as prosaic as a reasonable application of the rule of thirds, the dynamic use of lines or the way in which negative space can be distributed as a way to properly highlight what attracted the attention of the  photographer -that also!-.  Beyond manual rules, composing involves to find in the elements of the image that balance, or a harmony so absurdly difficult to explain in words as evident in itself when viewing a photo spatially well built. Naturally, this requires a certain calm and reflection previous to the act of capturing, to certify that the photographic process as such has begun long before pressing the camera shutter. And in Drew’s work will find many examples of that this has been that way.

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Drew uses a Fuji XE2 and Fuji XF35mm 1.4mm lens plus forty year old legacy manual focus lenses and a compact Fuji X100 of whose quality he feels particularly satisfied. Years ago he enjoyed a classic Olympus OM1, period from which  he retains his love for the film that shoots in the lovely little Kodak Retinette, made in Germany. The care and thoroughness with which he plans and makes his photographs are equally extended  to its processing, to which he attaches great importance as a means to bring out the best possible detail and color from each shot. To do this he usually uses Lightroom 6 and Snapseed for snapshots made with iPad and iPhone.
-Juan Manuel
Thanks so much to The Photographer Society for this wonderful article and to Juan Manuel for his perceptive and thoughtful writing.  Drew

Colour in Street Photography: the dilemma

Landscape and product photographers like me are fascinated by street photography: it sucks us in, we are drawn to it,  yet shy of getting in close.  It seems strange to have no horizons, no limits and to go back to the old style zone focus method we used when shooting film.  Then there is the dilemma, should I process my shots in black and white or colour?  There is an often cited theory that colour distracts from the story. Hence, I suppose we see so many street shots on Instagram, Tumblr,and Twitter in black and white, contrasty, filmic, old style  and full of depth.  Yet every now and then I come across someone I admire in the Photography world posting wonderful colour street images and these seem to me to be equally valuable, to have a vibrance and quality that cannot always be conveyed in B and W. And, they seem to tell a story equally well.  So here are some street shots using both formats. Which is best? As usual I will leave this up to the viewer to decide.

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Venice, last light: A little lens flare, Fuji XE2 XF 35mm 1.4

 

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Evening sunlight, Venice. Fuji XE2 with XF35mm 1.4

I have to admit the contrast in the black and white image with the wall, leading away into the distance is my favourite here.!

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This gentleman just looked up as I shot him, the good old Fuji X100 did the trick even though it was gloomy in the bar.

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French Gentleman: Fuji X100

When the mood is right, take the shot

On a recent trip to Avignon, my lovely French friends sneaked into the courtyard one evening,  to snatch a forbidden smoke. There was barely any light, just the glow from a few lanterns. Their smoke drifted lazily upward as they chatted.  I had no camera with me at the time but my friend Mark was busy with his Fuji X100T recording events inside. I asked him for a loan, two shots I said, that’s all I promise. I posed them as best I could,  asked them to stay as still as possible and fired away, hand held, one tenth of a second at f2.0.  Sometimes you have to capture the moment. Here are the two shots.

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