#556. The Monday Post (6 Feb 2017) – Droning On Scales

#556. The Monday Post (6 Feb 2017) – Droning On Scales

Over the past few days, we’ve been experiencing weather that lesser men would call … entertaining.



Not me, though. Instead of fretting, I’ve been thinking. All that talk about the GFX, you know … It got me itching to spend all that money I don’t have.

And then it hit me : What if the best investment wasn’t a new camera but a new tripod that flies? Yes, a pesky drone!


No, don’t leave!


Bear with me a second. Drone photography has matured. No longer are we force-fed shaky replicas of The Earth From Above by drone owners. Real cameras replace GoPros, creativity is on the rise and, in the sky, there is no beaten path to follow. Sure, you’ll still find some “I’m up there looking downwards” photographs, some of them exquisite, by the way. But there’s more technique, more imagination and more variety on offer. See the SkyPixel Contest results for instance.



However, that’s not how I‘d like to use my drone. How often have you been out on a walk, found a great view blocked out by a wall or impossible to compose correctly from the ground? If only you’d been 20 feet taller. Real gentlemen climb on a ladder on the roof of their Landy (right, Paul?) but why break my back when all the drone can break is my camera? So, maybe I’ll try my hand at this with a cheap product to test and (in)validate the idea of the drone-as-extension-pole.


Moving on.


Second train of thought : practising your scales.

Why is it that musicians practise their scales, painters practise penciling legs and boobs (and rock and roll), sportsmen repeat basic moves over and over again (…) and we, lazy tikes, don’t practise anything vaguely scale-like in photography?

It’s true that the most (publicly) successful among us tend to either shoot from the hip on the street to capture a magical moment or reenact timeless recipes (ND grad, long exposure, golden hour, rule of thirds) on spectacular landscapes to translate the beauty of nature onto pixel. Impro on one side, recipe book on the other.

Does that mean we shouldn’t practise, evaluate, learn, rinse and repeat on simple subjects? I think not.



Granted, we don’t need dexterity like the piano Grand-Master. Even in an industry where technology has made life harder rather than simpler (here I go again 😜), manipulating a camera is never that complicated. But the things we should practise are very different. We should really get to know our gear and workflow in order to allow a smooth previsualisation-to-print train of events to happen freely and creatively.


Among things to practise :

  • Get to know your lenses. What does bokeh look like at various apertures and various subject-to-background distance ratios? Once you’ve done that homework over and over again, two things will happen : (1) you’ll see photographs before they happen, much like a Jedi !! (2) you’ll never want to sell your lens because a new one comes along.
  • Learn colours theory. See photo above. Colour photographs only make a powerful statement when the colour in them adds a lot, compared to the monochrome version. Whenever a colourful scene appears before your eyes, try to make a photograph of it that’s all about the colour. Never mind what the result looks like. It’s a practise photograph, it won’t go on the wall. How well do the colours balance one another. Rinse and repeat until your eye is well-trained.



  • Learn your post processing tool. All B&W photographs on this page are made with MacPhun Tonality CK. This is, by far, the most interesting, potentially fun and powerful monochrome processing tool I have ever used. But magic comes at a cost (as all viewers of the newest trend in cinematography will undoubtedly know).

    In the case of Tonality, the cost is somewhat excessive evidence of post-processing, such as the big halos around dark objects. I can live with it in the photograph below, particularly seeing how well it has handled the darker areas of the photograph. But in the 2nd on the page (vertical of the modern building) … not so much. Capture One would have produced a far cleaner sky here, but probably not dealt with the right side of the image so easily. Know your tools.


  • Practise your storytelling. The mannequin with pink flower head appears in the 3 photographs below. But, really, the first is all about a quiet Provence village square, the second says “oh, look what I found” and the third is much more of a dialogue between two oddities, white very possibly being told of by pink! The second is quite meaningless. Whereas one and three are more interesting.


  • And so on …


So, there is a way of practising photographic scales and tuning our photographic instincts so that, when the time is right, we can intuitively produce that powerful image that will stay with us for a long time rather than the weak snapshot we’ll end up with otherwise.


What say you? What do you practise alone to improve your photography ? Care to share your best tips ?


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