Posts By Dan Marchant

GFI Hong Kong Football Club Rugby Tens

It’s rugby week again in Hong Kong and I was at Hong Kong Football Club for the GFI Rugby 10s.

The returning champions Biarritz Gavekal (formerly UBB Gavekal) came into the tournament looking to make it three wins in a row. Out to stop them were 3 time finalists (since 2013) Tradition YCAC, local team Hong Kong Football Club and UK based touring side Grove Penguins. Filling out the remaining tournament berths were 4th seeds and tournament debutants Mourant Fiji Army, Samurai International RFC, Asia Pacific Dragons, A-Trade Overseas Old Boys, Kir Club Pyrenees, Project X Waterboys, HK Scottish Exiles, the Classic Wallabies, Hunter & Boo East Africans, Tiger Rugby, Irish Vikings and the Shanghai RFC Silver Dragons.

Biarritz Gavekal suffered had a shaky start to their title defence with a surprise 14-12 loss to Projectx Waterboys on day one. However the top seed recovered and battled through an intense cup semi-final against Tradition YCAC, winning 12-5 and setting up a finals showdown with 3 times finalists, but never winners, Samurai International RFC.

The champions  went 7-0 down to Samurai before levelling with a try by Penikolo Latu and a conversion from out-wide by Nick Smith. Their second try soon followed courtesy of Glenn Preston before a try from Hong Kong-based Karetai Williams (conversion by Jason Robertson) settled the contest 19-7.

 

Is street photography art?

Answer: Yes (or at least it can be).

If you want a more wordy answer here it is…..

Art* is the manifestation of the intent to create art.

If I build a shed to store my tools it is a shed. If I build the same shed in a gallery as a commentary on the need for a refuge to escape the boredom of suburban life, it is art. Anything can be art if it is produced with the intention that it is art.

Whether or not you like it, or it is good art… or what good art is… or if it is possible for there to even be “good” and “bad” art…. whole different shed full of tools.

* Art = the product of human creativity produced for the purpose of communicating a message.

 

Then and Now (3)

How, What, Why – for me these were the three stages of photographic learning. How to operate my camera, what to include in a photograph and why on earth am I photographing this thing?

Over the last few years it has been the Why that has consumed my attention and had by far the greatest impact on my photography. I am pretty sure that some people would say it has had a detrimental impact because, in the early years, I focused on the What and the What was beautiful things. The result was pretty pictures of beautiful things which, within a couple of years began to bore me. The reason was simple. They had no meaning for me; no Why. Just being beautiful wasn’t interesting to me. I wanted to take photographs that were more than just skin deep.

A good example would be the above photograph I took in Sri Lanka in 2012. A beautifully detailed old padlock on a chest at the Dutch Hospital in Colombo. I thought it was pretty then and I think it’s pretty now but beyond that it has no meaning for me and as such doesn’t. If I were to photograph it now I might do so as a commentary on the power that colonial nations exerted on their respective colonies but at the time it was just a picture and for me retains little interest after the initial appreciation of its surface beauty.

I was reminded of the Dutch Hospital padlock while out on a photo-walk back in January of this year. I came upon another padlock (though this one was

Portrait of people rushing by

certainly not as beautifully aged and wonderfully textured) attached to a set of shutters. I momentarily toyed with the idea of spending time photographic the padlock but very quickly dismissed that. Far more interesting for me was the idea of trying to capture (distorted) images of people rushing by reflected in the shutter; a rather abstract commentary on the speed of modern life. While I am sure many people will find the earlier image visually more appealing it is the latter image that I keep returning to, puzzling over the distorted shapes and trying to extract some little extra detail that I did not notice on a previous visit. In fact, while writing this I just realised that one of the figures reminds me of The Flash (the DC comic character) leaning forward at an extreme angle as he rushes along in a blur. Sometimes I think the greatest improvements in your photography come not from upgrading your camera’s firmware, but from upgrading your own firmware instead.

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What it means to me (1) “People passing, never meeting”

I spend a lot of time thinking about photography. When I’m not taking photographs it’s a pretty good bet I’m thinking about taking photographs. More and more often I am specifically thinking about what my photographs mean to me. When I first took up photography I took pictures of nice things. Hopefully some of them were nice pictures of nice things but, over time, these images became less and less satisfying and I came to realise the problem was that they had no significant meaning for me. This post then is the first in an occasional series in which I attempt to crystallize my thoughts as to what a particular image means to me.

The image above, “People passing, never meeting” is part of my Modern Life series which focuses on the way we live our lives in a modern urban environments and how our technology, and that environment, impact upon those lives.

Human interaction is not my strong suit (to put it mildly). Since childhood I have had trouble interacting socially with new acquaintances or in groups of more than three or four people (even if I know them well). Over the years my quest to understand my own inability has resulted in my paying particular attention to how others interact (or don’t). For me escalators (and this image specifically) epitomise the impact of modern technology on the manner in which we live and interact. On the surface it is designed to make life easier as it whisks us effortlessly along a fixed path to our destination.

Unfortunately there is no pause button (unless you want to set off an alarm) and people are moved relentlessly in different directions down their own enclosed paths, with almost no way to interact. A fleeting glance or a wave to a friend is the best you can hope for before life hurries you off in different directions. The escalator here is a metaphor for the many technological wonders that should be a power for good but which in many ways limit or freedom to move around and interact directly.

Don’t let fear ruin your Street Photography.

There’s an awful lot of bad Street Photography floating around the Internet. Facebook groups and photo web forums filled with dull image of people walking down the street or standing talking on their mobile phones or, worse still, the backs of people walking down the street. Some of this, I’m sure, is simply the result of poor photography. The barriers to entry for Street Photography are very low. Got a mobile phone, live near a street? You can do photography in the street, even if you have no understanding of what makes an interesting photograph. But lack of photographic ability is not the only cause of bad Street Photography, at least it certainly wasn’t for me when I started out. One of the biggest causes is fear.

Fear of taking the shot

I spend a lot of time thinking about my photography. Not just about the pictures I want to take but also about the ones I have already taken. Am I getting better or worse? What did I do wrong and how can I improve in the future? One of the problems I recognised quite early was that, while shooting on the streets, I was afraid to take the shot. I would see something interesting about to happen but I would hesitate. I was worried I would miss the shot, I was worried my camera settings weren’t right, I was worried that my subject or someone else would notice me and react badly. All of this would go through my head and I would hesitate…. until it was too late. The moment had passed, the scene had shifted …. and then I pressed the shutter. The result was the back of someone walking away or a poorly composed shots of a potentially interesting subject obscured by the out of focus arse of a random passer-by.

Exception Alert: Photographs of people’s backs do work in certain situations.

  • Body Language – the subjects body language is clear enough to tell you what they are feeling.
  • You know something they don’t – Something interesting is happening that may impact on them but which they are unaware of – but you aren’t.
  • Joint viewer – They are not the real subject of the image but, like you, they are observing the real subject.
Street scene. Elgin Street, Hong Kong
The group at bottom right with their backs to the camera are joint viewers.

Luckily I have always been very critical of my own work. I am usually able to admit that I did not get the shot I wanted, that the resulting image isn’t as good as the one I envisioned…. hell just admit it, it’s bad. It is speedily despatched to the Recycle bin or locked away in a dungeon to be visited only when I want to remind myself of all the things that can go wrong while shooting. Unfortunately it seems there are many people out there who aren’t as good at burying their mistakes. The result is the vast array of bad photographs similar to those described above that are flooding onto the Internet daily. Many of these images are accompanied by something I refer to as the “post script”. An often lengthy treatise written by the photographer on all the interesting features of the subject or a description of the really interesting things  their subject was doing just before the image was captured; all of which are absent from the actual image. The post script is not a commentary/critique of what is in the image or why you like it, nor is it necessary context for the image; it is an explanation of the things you failed to capture that would have made the image good. As such it’s a clear sign that the shot was a failure.

Fear of missing the shot

Unfortunately, once you have overcome your fear of taking the shot there is an even more insidious enemy laying in wait at the next street corner – Fear of missing the shot. It’s a little more difficult to diagnose because it shares some of the hallmarks of bad photography – namely poorly composed or boring images. But it is not a lack of photographic skill that is causing the issue, it is fear of missing the shot. I remember being worried that if I took the time to compose the shot I wanted, or moved to eliminate a compositional problem, I would miss the shot. But the counter argument to that is that if you don’t wait for the decisive moment and you don’t compose the image properly you end up with a mediocre photograph that doesn’t properly show the decisive moment.

But what happens if, while you are composing the shot, the subject moves off or stop doing whatever it is, before you can get that great shot. Well, you just saved yourself from taking a mediocre photograph.

Valley Rugby Football Club Game Day

Pink Dot Hong Kong card
Valley Club Day in support of Pink Dot Day

Saturday was Club Day at Happy Valley Rugby Football Club. Happy Valley 6 turned pink for the day in support of Pink Dot Day and sponsor Societe Generale ran a booth with merchandise for Pink Dot awareness. The day included Hockey matches between Valley A vs HKCC A and Valley E vs Skyers B and a full card of Rugby matches with starting off with…

Valley Griffins vs HKS

Valley Mavericks vs HKFC Bulls

Exhibition play by the youngest members of the club

A Premiership clash Valley vs Hong Kong Football Club

and finally a Premiership A match with Valley Knights taking on HKFC Dragons.

 

Then and Now (2) – Sports Photography

When you are new to photography you need to photograph everything. You need to try every genre of photography and photograph every type of subject in every manner imaginable. Don’t ignore a genre of photography because you don’t think you will enjoy it. Try it first. I certainly had zero interest in photographing sports until I tried it one day. Now I enjoy it almost as much as I enjoy street photography. Also, just like Street Photography, I am a much better Sports Photographer now than I was when I started. I know because I still have all the embarrassingly bad photos that I took in the early days. So here is what I have learned between then and now…..

Don’t panic

an old (bad) rugby photograph I took
Under exposed, poorly composed and badly blurred due to using all the wrong settings.

When you start shooting Sports, just like any genre, there are a host of new things that you need to be aware of. As a result it is easy to be overwhelmed and forget the basics. With the picture on the right you can see that the image was under exposed and would have benefited from a little more negative space in front of the main subject. More importantly the image is blurred because I was so busy thinking about all the new elements of sports photography that I forgot the basics. I turned up and started shooting without checking all my settings. As a result I shot the whole game at a much slower shutter speed than I should have.

Less is more

The first time I shot Rugby I shot over 800 images… of which 5 were reasonable. Many of them were bad for a number of the reasons mentioned in this article but many just shouldn’t have been taken. Put simply the players were too far away/obscured/had their backs to me. Even with perfect technique they were never going to be good Rugby photos so I should never have pressed the shutter button in the first place.

For example, It is possible to take great sports photos with an iPhone or a short focal length lens such as a 24-105 but it isn’t possible to take great sports photos of players who are at the opposite end of the pitch with this kit. When the play moves out of range stop shooting (or run down to the other end of the field). It will save you having to cull a bunch of useless images.

Similarly, when the play is heading away from you, it is less likely to produce interesting photos (just as taking a Street photo of someone’s back seldom results in an interesting image). There are some exceptions of course but generally you want to see the players face and the ball for an image to be interesting. This doesn’t mean you should stop tracking the play (after all it could quickly turn around) but you don’t need to keep capturing bursts of a players receding back.

Timing

rugby player scoring a try
Face and ball both visible – check. More importantly the body has not yet come to a complete rest/landed, making for a more dynamic image.

Another problem for novice shooters (Street or Sport) comes from an inability to read the game. Unless you are already a fan of the sport you are shooting you may not immediately understand how a particular play will unfold. From the start of the play where will the ball go. Will it be passed, if so in which direction, will it be kicked, if so where. There are decisive moments in sports as there are in Street photography. Learning when those are likely to occur will allow you to capture better shots. Learning where the ball is going to be is often more important than knowing where it currently is.

As well as the timing of the game itself there is also the micro level timing of the individual players. Sports photographs are a 2 dimensional representation of a 4 dimensional event. A sporting event unfolds over time with participants moving as it unfolds. Trying to maintain that feeling of movement can often be difficult especially when you are simultaneously trying to freeze the action in order to capture a blur free image.

Note: panning and slow shutter speed are two great techniques for capturing the feeling of movement in a photograph. However, while creatively interesting they can be a little hit and miss to pull off and don’t work in every situation – hence the default option of shooting at higher shutter speeds.

The solution when shooting at higher shutter speeds is to focus on the individual timing of the subject. As the pioneering 19th Century photographer Eadweard Muybridge showed, people’s muscles expand and contract as they move and there are times when, while running, they don’t actually touch the ground at all (see the first photo above). Capturing a shot of an athlete during these times will result in an image with a greater feeling of action/movement. In the second image above Jamie Lauder (Hong Kong) lands after diving to score a try. Despite the fact that he is on the ground his trailing legs, still in the air, tell us that he is still in the process of landing, and thus make for a more dynamic image with a feeling of movement.

Who is your audience?

One final element to focus on is the editing – specifically in regard to who your audience is. When shooting for fun at my local rugby club (or for certain publications) I will edit images more loosely to show more of the players/story. Your friends all want to be in the photos even if they aren’t doing anything particularly interesting. On the other hand if your audience is a newspaper editor they likely want a much closer crop that focuses in on individual players.

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Site update – “Modern Life” project

“Modern Life” is another of my Street Photography based personal projects that I have recently added to the site. The theme, as the name suggests, is modern urban life. Urbanisation and technology have increased the pressures and pace of modern life and this project attempts t0 capture the resulting feeling of loneliness and separation that can occur in the middle of a crowded city.

People rush past each other without ever pausing to connect. Shift working neighbours living within feet of each other hardly meet, while technology that could connect us, just as often separates us; distracting us during the little free time we have with the lure of it’s bright coloured screen.

https://danmarchant.com/portfolio/modern-life/