NOT Terrorists

Trafalgar Square got pretty full of photographers at lunchtime last Saturday, and the event gained a useful amount of publicity, and I hope will have done a little to make it easier for people to use cameras on the street. We need to remember that the law is on our side even if some of the police are not, and to get that over to the general public.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
There were many more photographers on all sides of me

It wasn’t exactly by choice that I photographed the event entirely with a 12-24mm lens on the full-frame D700, though a wide angle was a good lens most of the time as things got pretty crowded. I did try to take a few pictures with an 18-200 on my D300 (27-300mm equivalent) but it took me rather a long time to realise I hadn’t put a card in the camera!  I always work with the camera on a setting that refuses to let you release the shutter without a card there, but Nikon in their near-infinite stupidity made the default for the Custom Setting that controls this not only to let you release the shutter without a card, but also to display the pictures you haven’t recorded on the back of the camera as usual.

A little while ago I had to perform a full reset on this camera, and I must have forgotten the need to alter this setting. The default does seem crazy to me, and the only possible reason I can think of is that it is for the convenience of dealers when demonstrating the camera before sale.  If so it seems a very curious priority for a company making tools for photographers to use.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Should the BBC employ guys who have absolutely no idea of numbers?

At times it wasn’t easy taking photographs with so many photographers all trying to do the same thing, but mostly we managed without coming to blows. The only real example of unprofessional behaviour I came across came from BBC TV, whose reporter speaking to camera proved himself to be totally incapable of estimating the size of the crowd, reporting that there were 300 of us.  My own rough estimate was at least 1500, while other experienced journalists put it at 2-3000.

It’s often hard to be sure about numbers on demonstrations, but an error of this magnitude suggests an agenda rather than simply incompetence, and the numbers reported by the BBC are often on the very low side.

For events with fewer than around 500 people I have a simple approach – I count them. You can seldom get an exact count, but fairly close, though usually it will be an underestimate as some people leave early and others arrive late. For larger events it is a matter of estimation, though again I’ll often count a section of an event and then try to base an estimate on that.

Sometimes differences in numbers can be because people count at different times. The local paper reporter at the Harrow Mosque demonstration – whose figure was widely quoted by other news media – had clearly made his count fairly early on in the event, and numbers opposing the EDL had roughly doubled by the time I went  home.  But here there was no such excuse; it was either incompetence or the deliberate misleading of the public.

If I was shooting simply for the web, I wouldn’t have needed a longer lens than 24mm for this demonstration, but could simply crop pictures. After all I’m taking images 4256 pixels wide and web images on this blog have a maximum of 450 pixel width. (Most of them I use are actually 600 pixels wide but scaled down by the browser – and you should be able to see them at full size if you want – in Firefox, simply Right Click, select ‘View Image.’ Probably you can do something similar in other browsers, though perhaps the best advice would be download Firefox.

But virtually everything here (and on My London Diary) is essentially un-cropped, as I like to work with the frame that I can see in the camera.  The viewfinder doesn’t quite show the edges of the image and sometimes I’ll remove a thin sliver from two or four edges if it contains anything obtrusive, and I’m using a telephoto zoom designed for the DX format that I know vignettes a little at its shortest focal lengths when used on full-frame and work with a little crop in mind. But I only crop significantly on fairly rare occasions – as even Henri Cartier Bresson did, for example with his jumping man in the Place de l’Europe (though probably the other 49 in this set are not cropped.) In general I hold to the view that cropping encourages sloppy thinking when you are taking pictures, though the master expressed it more philosophically.

It was an event that reminded me once more of my age. The mother of one of the young photographers I photographed in the square was once one of my best students.

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