I did a walk on wednesday starting at Castlerigg Stone Circle, near Keswick in the Lake District. The weather was perfect for walking – blue skies and sunshine – but completely uninspiring for photography, especially with hazy air. I gave up any idea of taking good shots so thought I’d try something different. I set the camera to record JPEG only and tried a variety of art effects that the Olympus provides. The idea was to constrain my choices and live with the results, good or bad.
There’s a long tradition of this in art and photography. Sometimes when you have complete freedom to do whatever you want it’s difficult to decide what you want. Giving yourself constraints can free you up. In photography perhaps we have too much freedom with digital cameras and zoom lenses. Take a film camera and a fixed prime lens and choose a particular film type. If this is all you have with you then you’re forced to work within these constraints.
I didn’t go this far, of course. My Olympus OMD-EM10 has a zoom lens (I don’t own a prime lens for it) and you can’t leave all of its options at home. So you need a little self-discipline to put it on JPEG and leave it there.
The two art effects I found most interesting were soft-focus and high-grain black and white. The soft-focus option has an added “star effect” option, and the high-grain has an extra “pin-hole” option.
The big benefit of the electronic viewfinder, of course, is that you see all these effects in the viewfinder as you compose the scene.
At the moment it’s peak time for bluebells and wild garlic. I was lucky enough to find a beautiful clump of wild garlic raised up high next to a driveway, so that the flowers were on eye-level. When you see a carpet of wildflowers you might be tempted simply to point the camera and shoot but the results may be disappointing. You still need to find a strong subject and composition to make the most of the scene.
I thought I’d get some good shots but was nervous about using JPEG and these scene effects. If the results didn’t work I wouldn’t be able to fix them. But the soft-focus effect I saw through the viewfinder gave me some creative energy. I might not have been so inspired to look for the shots if I had stuck to shooting raw.
Later on I found some nice areas of bluebells in the woods. The strong sunshine coming through created a high-contrast scene which I would normally have turned my nose up at. Having the camera on JPEG/soft-focus made it seem less like serious photography and freed me up to take the shots anyway. The results are far from perfect, with plenty of blown-out highlights that would normally make me reject the results, but I just don’t care and I like the results.