composition

Electronic viewfinders and me

©Neil Turner, February 2015. The cliff tops at Boscombe on a dull winter's day.

©Neil Turner, February 2015. The cliff tops at Boscombe on a dull winter’s day.

A few months ago a colleague whose work I know and love said that it took him a little while to get used to electronic viewfinders and now that he has been using them for a while he cannot remember why he had been so resistant to them in the first place. Resistant to electronic viewfinders? That summed up my attitude until a couple of weeks ago too. After carrying my beloved Fujifilm X20 around with me I decided that it was time to give an X100S a run out. The lack of a zoom lens and the small jump in size and weight is compensated for by a big increase in the higher ISO quality (which isn’t to be sniffed at during the winter time) and a few more megapixels (allowing a bit of judicious cropping here and there) and so for the last few weeks I have been shooting my personal work with the X100S. The idea hit me that now I had the option of using the electronic viewfinder (to be known as the EVF from here on in) instead of the optical viewfinder (known from here as the OVF) and that’s what I started to do.

For the first few days I was getting annoyed by the EVF to the extent that I had to have a few days off from it. During that time I shot some photographs that I really liked and I had to force myself back to using the EVF with something of a heavy heart. That was just over a week ago and I am now really pleased to announce that I have got the hang of shooting using an EVF. Welcome to the twenty-teens, welcome to the world of the EVF enthusiast and welcome to a wide world of possibilities I hear some of you saying. Not quite.

The current situation is that I am perfectly capable of shooting with an EVF and that I can see why some photographers have made the switch but not me. I still prefer the OVF to the extent that I don’t want to use the electronic version and to the extent that the kind of work that I have been doing with my Fujifilm cameras isn’t as fulfilling without the old-school optical set up. If I were tempted to buy a Fujifilm XE-2 or an XT-1 I’d have to forego one of the main pleasures that I derive from using kit that, despite some huge flaws, makes me want to go and just shoot pictures.

I’m not going to tell all of the EVF enthusiasts I know that they are wrong but I am now in a position where my choice to carry on using OVFs and DSLRs is made from knowledge and not from ignorance. There, I’ve said it.

Quiet documentary image

©Neil Turner, January 2015. Flowers and a memorial plaque to four local surfers on Boscombe Pier.

©Neil Turner, January 2015. Flowers and a memorial plaque to four local surfers on Boscombe Pier.

The light on the beach is almost always interesting and whilst out walking this morning I shot a few frames of a small bunch of flowers tucked behind a memorial plaque to four young local surfers on Boscombe Pier. I guess that I would call this a documentary image and it is yet another different way for me to shoot a beach picture. For me the photograph is a great deal stronger for having the back of the gentleman in the frame.

Tech stuff: Fujifilm X100S, 1/170th of a second at f11 on 320 ISO. RAW file processed through Adobe Camera RAW in Photoshop CC2014.

Hard light portrait

©Neil Turner/TSL, September 2007.

©Neil Turner/TSL, September 2007.

Not long after I took redundancy from my staff job at The Times Educational Supplement I spent several days putting together a collection of possible portfolio pictures. I was a long task as I’d been there for over fourteen years and when I eventually published my folio on line I had cut a couple of hundred photographs down to thirty. Whilst I was looking for something else today I came across that folder of 223 pictures and had a good root through.

Like most adventures down memory lane it reminded me of things that I’d forgotten and the story behind this picture immediately jumped into my mind. The lady in the portrait is a blind sculptor originally from Iran who was by this time married to a British teacher and living in south-west London. I have posted a portrait of her on this blog before when I discussed two surprisingly similar portraits that I’d made. This frame from the set has some of the harshest lighting that I’d ever used and it jumped out at me when I was looking today because I rarely use that kind of light any more. I guess that’s partly due to the nature of the clients I work for now – PR and corporates who don’t want anything as edgy as this was – and partly because my first instinct isn’t always to get the lights out any more. Even when I do light portraits I don’t mess around with the light as much as I once did. This goes with my Twitter #PWOTD which is TESTING

Techie stuff: Canon EOS1D MkII with a 70-200 f2.8 L IS lens at 70mm. 200 ISO 1/250th of a second at f8. Lumedyne flash.

Late November afternoon in the park

©Neil Turner, November 2014. Playing football in the  park.

©Neil Turner, November 2014. Playing football in the park.

This is just another of those “just because I like it” photographs that I have added to my personal work folio on my Pixelrights account. The family had been out to breakfast and we went to the park for the youngest members to have a run around. I had my Fujifilm X20 with me and shot a few frames including this one.

For the technically curious amongst you, the black and white conversion was done in Photoshop with a 5% red layer added to the desaturated sRGB file to give it more body and depth.

Five day black & white challenge

©Neil Turner, November 2014. A young woman jogs along the promenade near Portman Ravine in Bournemouth with a child in a pushchair.

©Neil Turner, November 2014. A young woman jogs along the promenade near Portman Ravine in Bournemouth with a child in a pushchair.

A couple of weeks ago I was nominated by another photographer to take part in a Facebook Five Day Black & White Challenge. The idea was simple: to post a new black and white photo every day for five days. I have to admit that I was a bit reticent at first and posted pictures that I’d already taken in the previous few weeks. Then someone mentioned that they found the discipline of having to go out every day and shoot something new invigorating and so I started the challenge over again and shot specifically for it every day. My second challenge ended yesterday but it wasn’t until I was out shooting again today that I remembered that the challenge was over. What to do with the pictures from day six? The answer was to post the chosen frame to Facebook anyway and then to post it here too – as another “just because I like it” frame.

Technical stuff: Canon EOS6D with a 28mm f1.8 EF lens (cropped slightly). 160 ISO and 1/1250th of a second at f11 RAW file converted and desaturated using Adobe Camera RAW CC 2014 with a 5% bronze tint added.

After the storm

©Neil Turner, November 2014. A pensioner walks along the beach near Bournemouth Pier.

©Neil Turner, November 2014. A pensioner walks along the beach near Bournemouth Pier.

Following on from my post about zoom and prime lenses I was out with just the primes yesterday – walking along one of my favourite bits of beach in wild winds and failing light. I was just out having some photographic time before getting into the car for yet another drive up the M3 for work. This one was shot at 640 ISO at 1/1000th of a second at f4 with an 85mm f1.8 Canon EF lens on my rather lovely little Canon EOS6D – a camera that I am becoming increasingly fond of. When I’m doing personal work like this I tend to set the white balance to daylight and accept whatever colour cast I get and in this case it wasn’t far off of what the naked eye saw.

Zooms Vs Primes

©Neil Turner, October 2014. Shooting my own shadow with a 28mm f1.8 lens.

©Neil Turner, October 2014. Shooting my own shadow with a 28mm f1.8 lens.

Talking and writing about photography on the web seems to have become a whole series of two sided contests. Sometimes it is interesting and a genuine dichotomy (Nikon Vs Canon, Mac Vs PC) where there are absolute direct comparisons to be made and a range of technical and personal preferences to be considered. At other times they are silly (film Vs digital, DSLR Vs mirrorless) where it is comparing bananas with pineapples. Somewhere in the middle of these two extremes sits the Zoom Vs Primes debate. Everyone has their own views and everyone’s work is different.

An amazing 14 years ago (and 14 years into my professional career) I wrote a short piece about choosing lenses and why you might like zooms for some jobs and then have the ability to choose a focal length for others. It wasn’t all that long before then that I’d had to use primes all of the time because zoom lenses weren’t up to the job in terms of quality. For me it all changed in 1995 when I switched to Canon EOS for the first time and the original 70-200 f2.8L and 28-70 f2.8L lenses which, along with the auto focus on the EOS1N, changed everything for me. For ages the only Canon primes I had were the 20mm f2.8 and 300mm f2.8L and the vast majority of my work was shot between 28mm and 200mm.

I’ve spent a lot of my career in press pens and fixed positions where I cannot move and where it made sense to use zooms lenses to compose but weighed against that I’ve also done a lot of work where I have a lot of freedom to move around and can position myself so that I don’t need to use a zoom to fill the frame – I’ve been able to “zoom with my feet”. Here’s what I said in 2000:

There are two ways that you can choose which of your lenses to stick on the camera:

  1. You can say “there’s my subject and here I am, let’s see which focal length on my zoom works best”.  Sometimes at sports matches and political events you have your position and that is that, or…
  2. You could say “I want the effect that my experience tells me a 28mm lens will give me so I’ll select that focal length and move to the right position to make that happen”.

Either of these could be a valid option and, in many cases, the first is decided for you by circumstance. Most news photographers use zoom lenses because it makes sense to have fewer lenses when you are never quite sure what kind of work you will be doing on any given day.

Personally, I use a combination of both approaches. If a position forces me to choose a certain lens then I’m with option 1. Given complete freedom to shoot what I want I’d go with 2. More often than not I’ll go with, say a 24-70mm lens intending to shoot at the 24mm end and get in a position to shoot that way. I will shoot several frames and then start to move around, zoom in and out and shoot a variety of similar images, each with subtle differences. I try to make a point of shooting with just about every focal length available to me on every job. Sometimes I am right about lenses first time but often I’m not. What had seemed like an obvious task for the 28mm ends up being a spectacular 200mm shot and vice-versa but the result is that you often end up with images that are just that bit better.

I nearly always shoot on location so I cannot preplan every detail. Going equipped with a range of lenses is vital. Your choice of lens will depend on so many questions running through your mind. How is this image going to be used? Big, small, upright, horizontal, front page? Double page, back page, website, magazine or newspaper? Is it going to have copy running over it? Will it have more than one usage?

If I cannot answer any or all of those questions, then I’ll shoot every variation I can. Shall I start with a long lens, if it’s a portrait then being further away may relax the subject and I’ll get in with the wide when they are more comfortable. Background, what’s behind them? Can I use a change of lens get rid of a poor background?

Answering self-set questions and making compromises is the key to news photography. Choosing the right lenses helps to reduce the number of technical compromises that you are forced to take, giving you more time to make the creative compromises that you want to make.

So has anything changed in the intervening years to make me come back and have another look at this debate? Yes – several things:

  • The resolving power of the camera chip is now so great that lenses need to be sharp to get the most out of that resolution
  • The amount of pixels crammed onto a chip means that you can “zoom by cropping” in a far more aggressive way that you could ever do before and still end up with a file easily large enough for a wide range of uses
  • Zoom lens quality has improved
  • The choice of super-high quality prime lenses has become far wider
  • The quality of digital images means that how a specific lens renders out of focus parts of the frame has become an issue for a lot of people
  • Photographers are constantly seeking ‘an edge’ and to challenge themselves to see their work differently in an era where we all have much the same gear

This debate has raged and it has ebbed and flowed. I’m not necessarily talking about how the worldwide photographic communities have seen it here, I’m talking about my own psyche and what happens every time I pack a bag to go and shoot some pictures. I love the discipline and the way that having three or four prime lenses in a bag makes me think but I have the it when I have primes and cannot move around as much as I’d like to. Short of taking three zooms and four primes on every job (I don’t have an assistant and my fifty year old spine would buckle under the weight) it is always going to be a compromise. Today I’m shooting an editorial portrait where I have plenty of time and it will be just me and the woman that I’m photographing so I’ve packed the primes. Yesterday I was at a job where moving around wasn’t an option and I went with just two zooms.

My internal debate doesn’t end there though. I am always looking back through my work and being self-critical and, if I’m being entirely honest with myself, I am probably a better photographs with zoom lenses. There, I’ve said it. Much though I love using a 135mm f2 I shoot better pictures eight times out of ten with a 70-200 f2.8. The same goes for the 28 and 50 against the 24-70. How can I ever hold my head up in the company of some of my favourite photographers who never use zooms now? Luckily they are all people who don’t care what you use as long as you get the pictures and the rest of my favourite photographers are shooting 99% of the time with zooms anyway.

It turns out that this is a silly debate after all because we are photographers whose goal is to produce the best and most interesting, creative, exciting work that we can within the bounds of what is possible and what is required. I’m going to persevere with my little bag of primes because I want to. When in doubt it will always be the zooms for me – aren’t I the fortunate one to have the choice?