Missed out on Redeye Academy: Upgrade your Images not your Camera last month? In this article, Joshua Turner reports back from the workshop and compiles the advice of David Nightingale and Paul Herrmann on improving the quality of your photographs without spending a fortune on equipment.

The cyclical nature of the development of new photographic technology becoming available to buy, seemingly renders your previous generation camera unworthy of producing the high-quality imagery that was promised most likely less than a year from the purchase date. Redeye’s ‘Upgrade Your Images Not Your Camera’ workshop, introduced by David J. Nightingale, with help from Redeye's Paul Herrmann, was aimed at escaping from this cycle to concentrate firstly on the imagery itself rather than new technology; and secondly on how to achieve higher quality results with the minimum of expenditure. The workshop helped a small collection of amateur photographers focus their attention on understanding their practice and improving their results rather than chasing the next best piece of kit.

First and foremost, the one aspect that holds all work together is content. An image can be totally aesthetically driven but once the excitement of the image itself falls away, if there is no narrative or context behind the visual piece then an audience will quickly disengage with the work and move on. Narrative will place the work in the context of perpetual development as you work through the process of visually representing the subject in a way that presents your intention to the audience. Whereas if a piece of work is solely driven by technical curiosity, I personally believe there will be less passion to drive creativity; photographic output is a spectrum where on one end lie technical sharpness tests and on the other are personal passion projects driven by a combination of narrative, creativity and technical skills amongst other attributes. Though they both have their own importance; but in the context of creating work to exhibit and/or present to an audience, I find pieces to be much more engaging when they are narrative driven.

Interpretation of a scene
Putting the narrative to one side though, there are some simple ways you can set yourself aside from the pack by considering your location and timing when on a shoot. Initial response to a location can often distract from what could be a more interesting subject; when in a location, especially if it is a popular attraction, be sure to observe your surroundings instead of being trigger happy around the immediacy of a good location. If there is a group of photographers, consider what they are all looking towards, if you’re shoulder-to-shoulder to get the same shot, how could you make that shot different? Consider your personal reaction to a scene and respond to that, rather than following the crowd. Often these times are opportune for considering composition, a location is usually permanent which would allow time to explore and experiment. The consideration of time is a little more abstract but allows for a lot of different approaches to the same subject. Shutter speed can be used to highlight the feeling of an event; this could be in the form of a snapshot, popularly referred to as the decisive moment (coined by Cartier-Bresson), which freezes a specific moment in an event and long exposure can portray the passage of time or movement within a scene. A repeated motif of sports photography is the use of slow shutter speed with flash to portray the speed of a subject whilst freezing them in the frame. There are countless approaches to be used, the skill is knowing when to use that which you feel to be most appropriate.

Technical Considerations
David, of chromasia.com, also covered a range of post-production techniques and considerations, some of which that can improve the quality of your imagery and others than offer a different approach or style.

Stitching was covered in depth as it allows any camera to output much larger images. Through the process of panning and tilting the camera in a grid the images can be seamlessly stitched; great for resolving a large amount of detail from a single scene, and making a very large print.

The Brenizer method is used to imitate the way a focus plane can be manipulated with a view camera, it highlights the subject in sharp focus whilst rendering the rest of the scene out of focus.

Focus stacking achieves the opposite, producing front-to-back sharpness by combining several images focussed on different areas.

Median stacking in Photoshop is a way of reducing noise in a scene by taking multiple exposures; interestingly it also removes moving objects (such as cars) if collectively all images taken include the whole scene without obstruction.

Finally, a range of lens corrections can minimise distortion in the composition of images, whilst chromatic aberration correction reduces colour fringing on edges which display a harsh contrast; simple corrections that make a difference.

Other software was considered; David favours Adobe Photoshop CC and considers a subscription to be good value given its huge feature set; while Paul suggested that Affinity Photo is an increasingly usable and robust lower-price alternative, and is from a UK-based company. Specialist tools such as PTGui for stitching and Helicon Focus for focus stacking are more flexible than Photoshop.

My thoughts
A lot of the subject matter covered seems to have been highlighting ways in which we can use different techniques to add an aspect of personal style to images; this pursuit led to my consideration of how the use of expired film stocks is popular for the inconsistent aesthetic that it produces, similar to this is the use of very early digital cameras that have a similar feel to film stock because they are both expired in some way. However you choose to create imagery, it is important that the visual style reflects the story that you are working to convey.

This workshop promoted the utilisation of technology that most photographers, amateur or professional, already have access to. If it is a decision between buying a new camera or taking a trip to start a new body of work, 9 times out of 10 I would encourage you to take that trip. 

By Joshua Turner

Photo: David Nightingale, Chromasia

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