Archive for January, 2013

Exposure and Light Problems

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Here is another picture of the ring of candles at the protest against the Delhi Gang Rape outside the Indian High Commission in London.

Its always difficult to know how bright to make night images; I think visually the impression was of a darker scene than this, and I’ve perhaps taken too much care to get separation in the shadow areas. It would be more dramatic a little darker, especially at the bottom of the frame.

Automatic exposure tends to make night scenes too bright, but this was a little underexposed even though I was using +1/3 stop of extra exposure. Possibly the light sources – the 8 candles – actually in the picture were to blame, and working at 16mm focal length I was quite close to them. I was at the centre of a fairly tightly packed crowd and couldn’t move back at all. This was one of the first pictures I took of the ring of candles and I started by trying to work closer still and low, but the the candles didn’t really look like a circle, and the picture in my previous post, taken from around waist level, shows that better.

Either might have been a better picture with the 10.5mm semi-fisheye, which would also have let me take the scene in landscape format, but although using this would have given more of the circle of the crowd around the candles, it would also have included several other photographers and cameras. There really were far too many people trying to take pictures. I had to ask another photographer to pull back his camera strap to make these pictures.

Using flash would have ruined the effect of the candles, and people were moving quite a lot as they shouted slogans, so to try and avoid subject movement I was working using Shutter priority with a shutter speed of around 1/100s. The ISO was set at 3200 and I probably needed an aperture of around f2 but the lens has a full aperture of only f4. So the camera can’t do it, and I got a couple of stops of underexposure – despite the EXIF data telling me I actually had exposure compensation of +.3 stops. Of course the viewfinder display does indicate the underexposure, but in these situations the best thing to do is to actually take the picture and look at it (and the histogram) on the rear screen.

I don’t do a lot of chimping – it disturbs the flow of my work – but it really is essential to check on things like this that the histogram comes down more or less to zero in the shadow areas – and also that you are not getting significant highlight clipping. Then you know that you can adjust things as necessary in Lightroom. I think I have lost a tiny bit of insignificant detail in the candle flames – which could not be recovered with burning in as it wasn’t recorded.

These two pictures, taken within a few seconds of each other from an almost identical position show the advantages and disadvantages of using flash. The upper image was with the 16-35mm on the D700 and the lower with the DX 18-105mm on the D800. I only take a single flash unit and it was on the D800 at the time.

The flash does make this woman and her two signs reading ‘Never Again‘ stand out more, but I much prefer the image using available light.

But there is a problem with working with available light at events like this with a lot of photographers present, and one that ruined quite a few pictures (you can just see it on a couple of others in the set on My London Diary.)  Here’s one that shows it but where I thought the effect was interesting.

© 2013, Peter Marshall

That red light on the closer woman’s face, a little spilling on to her t-shirt – is another photographer focussing. You seldom notice this if using flash, as the intensity of the flash overpowers the focus light pattern. But it really is a problem at busy events such as these, and there must be better ways to improve focus in low light that camera designers could think up rather than this.

There were areas where the available light just wasn’t enough to work with, and I’ve been experimenting with ways around this – but that’s something I’ll look at in a later post.


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated are by Peter Marshall and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

To order prints or reproduce images


End of the Vertical?

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

I thought this was probably the best image that I took last Monday at the Gang Rape Protest at Indian High Commission in London, or possibly one of the other two variations on it that are on My London Dairy.  But I knew when I took it that is was less likely to be used than some of the other pictures, simply because it it portrait rather than landscape format.

Although portrait images often fit the printed page best, and actually fit better into this blog, the move towards viewing images on screen has meant that landscape format has really become a norm and images in portrait format are less viable. I even get the feeling that many picture editors would prefer landscape format and even if they want to use an image in portrait format would prefer to do their own savage cropping on a landscape original.

It’s all to do with screen formats. Almost all normal screens are landscape format, and the trend over recent years has been away from the normal to the wide-screen – such as the 16:9 format screen I’m writing this post on.

It’s projection of images that shows up portrait format worst, and the use of computer for this. Back in the old days of slide projection, vertical and horizontal formats could usually be projected at the same size – so long as the screen was square. Computer projectors now often use a 16:9 format, allowing a 35mm format landscape image to be be projected to occupy most – around 85% – of the screen,  while a portrait image fills just over half of it – around 56%.  The longer dimension of the landscape image will be around 1.5 times that of the portrait.

When I got home and uploaded my images to Demotix as usual, I couldn’t use what I thought was my best image as the lead image to the post – because Demotix call for that too be your best landscape image. It fits the web page design better.


Ones to Watch?

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

The British Journal of Photography (BJP) has published its list of Ones to Watch in 2013, a selection they have made of 20 photographers from a list of over 200 suggested by an impressive list of “photographers, publishers, curators, picture editors and critics” as ” the photographers they believe will make their mark on the wider international photographic community in 2013.” It was perhaps a shame that having gathered this wide range of eminent consultants to put forward their suggestions that the final short list was picked by the magazine’s staff.

PDN has long carried out a similar exercise to select annually 30 photographers to watch, and you can see last March’s PDN 30 for 2012 on line.  I’ve written about their selections at times in the past, and while most of the photographers selected for such lists are very worthy, if you look back at one of the lists from ten years or so ago, there will probably be relatively few names you recognise, even if, like me, you spend far too much of your life looking at photography on-ine and in galleries etc.  In a way these lists are more about current fashions than about particular photographers. As always there are a few whose work I find exciting, rather more I think don’t really stand out from so many other good photographers whose work I see and one or two that really bore me.

Comparing the two presentations, PDN immediately gains points from me by its better understanding of alphabetical order, but although I don’t much like its web presentation with a drop-down list, there were many more photographers where I looked at the initial page and could summon the energy to click to see more work. And for those photographers whose work I was already familiar with, I felt the BJP had not selected a good image to represent them.

Probably the best known of those on the BJP list is Magnum nominee Jérôme Sessini. Take a look at his page on the BJP and then go to look at his work on the Magnum site, and I think you will understand what I mean.

Anyway, here is the BJP’s list in full – you’ll find links to them on the BJP page:

Adrian Fussell, Cyrille Weiner, Gert Jochems, Giorgio Di Noto, Hanna Putz, Jake Stangel, Jerome Sessini, Jim Mortram, Jiri Makovec, Jose Diniz, Jun Ahn, Kyoko Hamada, Lamia Maria Abillama, Lauren Marsolier, Max Pinckers, Namsa Leuba, Pari Dukovic, Paulina Otylie Surys, Ruth Van Beek, Samuel James

and this is PDN’s:

Mustafah Abdulaziz, Jenn Ackerman, Kyle Alexander, Meiko Takechi Arquillos, Michele Borzoni, Dominic Bracco II, Peter DiCampo, Eliot Dudik, Sarah Elliott, Mark Fisher, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Misha Friedman, Andrea Gjestvang, Mark Hartman, Lauren Hermele, Ingalls Photography, JUCO, Sam Kaplan, Peter Ash Lee, Sebastián Liste, Mark Mahaney, Chloe Dewe Mathews, Ilvy Njiokiktjien, Ryan Pfluger, Markel Redondo, AnaStasia Rudenko, Daniel Shea, Jake Stangel, Christopher Testani, Yasu+Junko

There is a useful set of links to these photographers web sites on the Photo Editor blog.

Jake Stangel is the only  photographer who has the honour of appearing on both lists. I took a look at his work on a familiar subject, London & Amsterdam. Maybe like the rest of us he has his off days.

Thamesgate Panoramas

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

I’ve been busy over the past month or two working on a new book, which a couple of days ago I decided to give the title ‘Thamesgate Panoramas: South of the River‘. It includes 38 panoramas that I took in a number of visits to the area between Woolwich and Gravesend (and a little further at each end) on the River Thames and its estuary between May 2000 and February 2001.

The area is part of the huge area out to the east of London which makes up the Thames Gateway, the regeneration of which has been a national priority since 1994.  Of course I didn’t know that when I first started going there to take photographs in the early 1980s attracted by several things, but it was clear then that things would change.

I’d read about the area before I went there. In a slim geography booklet I’d picked up remaindered somewhere for 10p, Lower Thameside by Roy Millward & Adrian Robinson, a part of  their ‘South East England: Thameside and the Weald’, published in the Landscapes of Britain series in 1971. And in a much older work I’d found in our local library, where the over-enthusiastic author of ‘A Pilgrimage of the Thames‘ (1932), Donald Maxwell says that when the cement industry has left the quarry-scarred landscape ‘will be called the Switzerland of England.’

© 2000, Peter Marshall
A page from the PDF version of the book

The main feature of the landscape is of course the River Thames and it features in many of the pictures, all of which are double-page spreads on the 10×8″ landscape format book.

I’ve made it available both as a print version and as a PDF. The PDF is better and considerably cheaper at £4.49 rather than the £26.99 for the printed book, the image quality is slightly better and you get a download link straight away rather than having to pay Blurb’s exorbitant postage rates and wait around 10 days. A slightly different version of the PDF is also available direct from me at the same price.

There is a preview of around half the book available on Blurb and embedded here.

All the images in the book are double-page spreads, and Blurb doesn’t handle these too well, though I think they all look pretty good. But they are almost perfect if you set up your Adobe reader to read the double pages – only almost because Blurb does put a dotted line in to show the join of the pages.*

With the books being printed on demand, printing takes place on different printers and there seem to be slight alignment differences – so even if you adjust things correct to the nearest pixel from a proof copy, they won’t be quite spot on in the next copy printed. There is also the problem that if you get it right for the print version it will be wrong for the PDF, and I would have to have two versions of the book, one for print and one for PDF.

This is the first Blurb book that I’ve produced using InDesign rather than Blurb’s BookSmart, and it was some time (and several software versions) since I’d used it. BookSmart does a great job and is free, but there are advantages to InDesign, and the Blurb templates available for it make it fairly simple to use, if not as straightforward as BookSmart.

© 2000, Peter Marshall
Northfleet, 2000

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Northfleet, 2013

The two pictures above were taken from almost exactly the same point, but around twelve and a half years apart. The upper one was made with a swing lens panoramic camera and the lower – which I took on New Year’s Day – by stitching 3 digital images with the 16-35mm on the D800. They have roughly the same horizontal angle of view, but the swing lens camera has a focal length of around 26mm and gives less vertical coverage.

People have asked me about the title ‘Thamesgate’. It seemed an obvious contraction for ‘Thames Gateway’ as well as one that reflected a certain ambivalence I felt about the area and what has happened there over the years. And although there is a shopping centre of the same name in Gravesend and a few other things, it is unusual and should make the book easier to find in searches on Blurb and elsewhere.


*I supply my own PDF without the dividing line.

Photography – the Art of Our Time

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

Jonathan Jones in a post on his On Art Guardian blog recently wrote “Photography is the art of our time. The old masters painted the drama of life and death. Today photography captures the human condition – better than any other artistic medium of our age” and went on to say “It has taken me a long time to see this, and you can laugh at me if you like.”

Well, I won’t laugh at him, not least because it is something I have been writing and saying and more importantly – at least for me – trying to do for many years, though I think when years ago I wrote that ‘photography is the defining medium of the twentieth century‘ I was including moving pictures in my definition. Of course I don’t claim any originality in my thought, inspired as it was by the thinking and writing of others, including Lazlo Moholy-Nagy and Walter Benjamin, well before I was born.

So Mr Jones is rather late in coming to the party, and though I welcome him, I’m not entirely convinced that the party is not more or less over. Certainly now in the twenty-first century we have photography being appropriated and emasculated by both academia and the art market, turning it into careerism and commodity. Though of course there is still much fine work being produced, and some younger photographers are showing themselves to be adept at sitting on several stools.

Art and academic pin-sitting/hair-splitting/bullshitting are perhaps the two major games photographers will have to play as a way to earn a living to support them as they continue their photography.

History Lesson

Friday, January 11th, 2013

History teaching in the UK has been in the news recently with a report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on History and Archives last month and education minister (and disaster) Michael Gove giving his opinions, including the view that Mary Seacole should be dropped from the national curriculum so history teachers can concentrate on Winston Churchill and Oliver Cromwell in what has been described as ‘air-brushing black people out of history‘.

© 2013, Peter Marshall

Ian Bone
holds a framed portrait of Thomas Venner

Many other events have also been air-brushed out of our history in the past, and although so far as I know all those taking part were white, I doubt if Thomas Venner‘s brief and doomed insurrection of 1661 will be a part of the Tory history agenda.

The whole story of the ‘Fifth Monarchists’ is an intriguing one, and one I give a little background in my introduction to the pictures in Epiphany Rising Against King, and to understand it requires thinking in a very different frame of reference to our own age. Religion was at the very centre and everything was seen through a glass that seems unnatural to us now, although there are perhaps parallels in some current movements.  But the story of our English revolution is largely seen (and was perhaps taught) as some kind of aberration,  with everyone giving a sigh of relief when the monarchy was restored to its rightful place, and Venner serves as a reminder that not everyone felt that way.

© 2013, Peter Marshall
The event portrayed Venner as a part of a continuing tradition of dissent

As well as the ‘jehadists’ of the Fifth Monarchy, there were also the Muggletonians founded in 1661, and represented at the event by Sam Johnson, the grandson of  Philip Sidney Noakes, the last of the Muggletonians who died in 1979 leaving the papers of the group to the British Library. Like the Fifth Monarchists they were egalitarians, like them basing their ideas on biblical sources, but beautifully and deliberately disorganised and crucially pacifist. Which added at least a little amusement for me when Sam’s daughter Rachel was the one flourishing the pike on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral.

© 2013, Peter Marshall

Venner’s revolt against monarchy was of course cruelly suppressed, and our ‘reconstruction’ for a film began on the site of his congregation, where he and others were hung, drawn and quartered. The same fate was meted out to some other sympathisers who had not taken part in the violent events of the first few days of 1661, and repressive laws were passed to outlaw dissenters and dissent.

The event was organised for a film being made about Venner and other radicals of that era, and this demanded a certain restraint on my part, trying not to get in the way, though of course I was a part of the event being filmed. But there were times when I stayed back a little, and other times when there were lengthy waits while the camera got into position and prepared for action.  I used the 70-300mm a little, but even at high ISO the light was a bit dim for it (it was a cold and dull day with a hint of drizzle at times.)


Walking With Others

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

© 2012, Peter Marshall

I started 2013 with a walk. Come to that I finished 2012 with a walk too, and although neither of them was primarily a photographic exercise, of course I took a camera, and made a few pictures on route.

But the kind of walks that other people – or at least my wife and elder son who I was walking with – do are very different from the way that I walk when I’m on my own and out to take pictures. In the past for some walks where I know the paths are good for cycling I’ve even taken my Brompton with me so that instead of always finding myself running to catch up with them I can easily do so with a few flicks of the pedals.

Photography really isn’t a very sociable activity, even when you are taking pictures of people you have to think and interact with them differently than if you were not taking pictures; you become an observer rather than a participant, though I’ve often worked hard to blur that distinction. But photographing a landscape often seems really to be a very different activity from walking through it.

I learnt a lot about photography – particularly the technical stuff –  from the old Ansel Adams Basic Photo series, written in the early 1950s and already rather out of date when I read them around 20 years later. One of the things I learnt was how Ansel could look at a landscape, perhaps a few tree trunks, and see something that was really completely different, a picture that he could make from them by a particular exposure and development, along with some localised dodging and burning, and perhaps using filters etc. It was an approach to making pictures that I felt uneasy with, a kind of bravura performance with the elements of the landscape. What I wanted was to show it how it was rather than to show what I could do with it.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

But over Christmas and the New Year, I was more going out for walks with the family than going out to take pictures, though I did occasionally find myself running after them (it was far too muddy to think of taking my bike) having stopped to make a photo or two.

I particularly liked the picture above of Staines Moor, not least for some of the details which you probably can’t make out at this scale. Along the horizon at the left are two of the boundary features of the moor, the M25 and a reservoir, and in the sky near the centre of the image that isn’t a bird or a nasty spot of gunk on the sensor but a plane taking off from Heathrow, less than a mile away.

You can see more of the pictures in Around Staines, and from our New Year’s Day walk in Kent in Northfleet & Southfleet.

© 2003, Peter Marshall
Channel tunnel rail link construction site, 2003

We had several reasons for going to Northfleet, not least that I’ve just been working on a new book of photographs including the area taken in 2000-2001, but the idea was actually my wife’s as I’d just given her a book, ‘A Pilgrimage of the Thames’ by Donald Maxwell, published in 1932 since she and my son have for some years he and my wife have been walking parts of the Thames Path, and it made the area sound fascinating. It was a book I’d first found when I was first photographing the area in the early 1980s, when much of what Maxwell wrote, allowing for his imaginative perception, was still recognisable. Things in the area have changed rather more since then, something I’ll perhaps write more about when I get that book sorted. Meanwhile you might like to take a virtual walk (or rather cycle ride) with me from 2003, three pages starting here.


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated are by Peter Marshall and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

To order prints or reproduce images


New Year

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

2013 has now officially started on My London Diary. Somehow I didn’t quite get around to making New Year Resolutions this year, didn’t quite get around to doing most things I meant to do, but I did more or less finish updating My London Diary for 2012 before the clock began to strike midnight on 31 December, which considering I was out taking pictures on the 27th and the 30th took a little doing.

Google search t-shirts: ‘israel – Did you mean: Palestine

December 27 was, I was surprised to find, the fourth anniversary of Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli attack on Gaza which lasted around 22 or 23 days and killed at least 1400 Palestinians, mainly civilians, including many women and children. I wrote a little about photographing the event in 2012 – My Own Favourites – December, and of course you can see the pictures at Gaza – End the Siege.

I don’t often pose pictures, and I didn’t really pose the one above. I’d been photographing a small group of young women including these two, and had noticed the t-shirts with the Google logo, but couldn’t really see them well in the pictures as it was a fairly cold day and they were mainly hidden under their jackets. I sometimes feel a little embarrased about asking women if I can photograph their t-shirts, but when I asked about them, these two immediately pulled back their jackets for me to make this photograph, with one of them pulling hers out flat to show the text more clearly.

I was almost giggling too much to take the picture – and it was pretty crowded so I couldn’t move back any more, and they nicely filled the frame at 20mm (D700, 16-35mm, ISO 640 1/200 f7.1 – or rather press the button on P). I’m told that ‘I Googled Israel and got “Did you mean Palestine”‘ has been around for a very long time – and as a Facebook group since July 2010, and I had a vague recollection of having seen it before, but if it had been on a t-shirt I’d forgotten it. Perhaps its an advantage of old age forgetfulness that you can see the old freshly.

I don’t think it was the best picture I took that afternoon, though it was good to see it getting several thousand ‘shares’ on Facebook – probably more than any other picture I’ve taken. I liked several other pictures from the afternoon more, including another with these two and others, waving a Palestinian flag and shouting towards the embassy from the front of the crowd.

By then it was around an hour later and quite a bit darker, and I had changed to ISO 1250, taking this picture at 1/125 f8 and needing flash as they were in shadow from the flag. I’ve not yet taken the Nikon flash in for repair and was using a cheap Nissin unit that works a little differently. This time the 16-35 was at its widest both aperture and focal length, 16mm f4, and I’d rushed around to the front of the protest and got down on my knees to take this and several other exposures.

The Nissin Di622 is a little strange and seems to give less even coverage than the Nikon unit.  It is a dedicated Nikon iTTL flash, and is supposedly controlled by the camera when set to TTL in just the same way as the built-in flash. It has a diffuser you pull down for wide angle lenses (it claims to zoom to cover 24-105mm without) and sometimes works well, though like the Nikons it gives me problems on P setting, and is best used on S or A. The design of these units has improved a little since I bought mine and they have become more versatile (and the price has roughly doubled, but is still half that of the more or less equivalent SB700.)   But given the rate at which I go through flash units, perhaps I might buy another Nissin rather than an SB700 next time I need a flash.

Nowhere People

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

With inequality yawning wider by the hour in the UK, and being given yet another step up in Parliament with attacks on benefits today, it’s salutary to look at the fine set of images by David Hoffman, Nowhere People.

He comments under the pictures:

Homeless people in London. Young and old alike forced from the margin of survival out into the streets by the inequality of our financial system. Shot over more than 30 years it’s depressing to see how similar the most recent ones are to the oldest. Yet in that same time the income of those at the top has increased tenfold.”

But although the circumstances are depressing, these are pictures that are full of humanity and which show an understanding and respect for the people in them, a dignity we all deserve, whatever our circumstances.

If anything I think David’s comment is too optimistic; there has been the occasional improvement but things really – particularly in recent years – have got worse. The Labour government at least tried, but generally were incompetent and failed to address the issues, while the coalition just fails to understand the problems faced by the poor and out of work. When you are earning thousands a week it’s hard to understand what life is like on £71 (£56.25 if you are under 25.)

If we really were “all in this together” the present Government would be pressing for a more equal income distribution, perhaps by making a limited ratio of salaries of those working for an organisation a condition of tendering for all government contracts – and by getting rid of outsourcing as a way to pay poverty wages and impose primitive employment conditions. They’d also be clamping down on the tax avoiders and bankers, working for fixed actual wage increases rather than percentages, and raising the minimum wage to a living wage. And supporting a real ‘big society’ that helps provide support and services for others rather than one that makes huge profits for a few often corrupt companies while putting many charities out of business.

Jonas Bendiksen – Extinction Tourism?

Saturday, January 5th, 2013

Another interesting post by Pete Brook on Raw File, Extinction Tourism: Work at a Newspaper While You Still Can looks at the decision by Magnum Photographer Jonas Bendiksen to take a job at a small town newspaper in a remote area in the north of Norway,  the Bladet Vesterålen, with a circulation of only 8000.

I’m not sure how the paper survives on such a low figure, and I doubt if it pays the kind of rates Magnum photographers usually expect, but apparently working for a newspaper was something he wanted to be sure to have done before he and newspapers die, and a challenge to work “where nothing too obvious or dramatic was going on“. There are a dozen of his pictures in the post and links to a couple of stories on the paper – the one on moose hunting despite the subject showing the quality of his work.

He splits his life between weeks in Oslo and weeks at the newspaper, and the job has turned out to be more of a going back to his roots than he expected. Having chosen to stay in the small village of Myre when working on the paper he found out that this was the place where his great-grandfather was born.

Bendikson (b1977) first came to Magnum as an intern in their London office when he was 19, before going to Russia to work for several years as a photojournalist. He joined Magnum in 2004 and was made a full member in 2008. His best-known work The Places We Live, made in 2005-7,  looked at life in the slums of Mumbai, Nairobi, Caracas and Jakarta, and was published as a book by Aperture in 2008.

I’m not sure what future there is for printed newspapers, but from the look of its web site,  the Bladet Vesterålen seems to be doing a very good job and deserves to survive. This lunchtime I was reading my own local paper – we still buy one – and thinking how hopeless it was, and that a half-decent blog based in the area could provide a much better service. It is part of a large group that has many titles, and I think few of the reporters or editors know our actual area well, though there are still one or two struggling journalists who do a good job.  But half the time it publishes news not related to our particular area and misses what is happening here – and seldom sends reporters or photographers. And of course won’t pay to use pictures. Frankly much of our local press has lost its way and would hardly be a loss.