Impossible Photography

Documenting the impossible challenge of turning an enthusiastic snap-shotter into a photographer through a series of photographic projects

This morning, as a dull sun creeps without warmth across the garden, the rain is coming down in noisy jets, crashing and dashing indiscriminately, and air isn’t so much full of moisture but decidedly drinkable. Yesterday was much calmer, an ice-edge broken with twinkling afternoon sunbeams. And I took myself off to the wonderful, glorious, colour-laden Cannizaro Park, on the farside of the Common to learn how to balance white or, as I discovered, for a science lesson in the temperature of colour. I had envisaged sitting on the pretty terrace at the back of the elegant hotel, Cannizaro House, being served strong coffee and sheltered from the wind, the vista over the Park laid out before me, but only two steps from roaring fire and well-stocked bar but my luck was out. The terrace was closed, the ubiquitous summer parasols each rendered pointless by leather strapping around their furls and the tables and chairs stacked and packed away against the wall. Disappointed but undeterred I stomped over the gentle rise of the lawns, cornered round the lakes and, after taking a small detour through the Italian garden, found myself on a bench in a clearing in a wild garden area, overlooked by trees but no people, other than perhaps the occasional golfer: the Royal Wimbledon Golf Course kisses the edges of Cannizaro.

Down to work. Camera installed on tripod, notebook in hand, I turned to the second Chapter One assignment in Jeff Revel’s From Snapshots to Great Shots, which is specifically written for those who dream of their Canon EOS 600D (Rebel T3i) turning them into a proper photographer.

The book says “Take your camera outside”. Check! Then “Use a daylight environment”. Check! (doing well so far, confidence growing…). Then “Photograph the same scene twice using different white balance settings”, paying close attention to how each setting affects the overall colour cast. Okay, confidence shattered as a brief refresher on how to adjust the white balance settings is required. Then after than I stick my camera into “P mode” and go for it. This is what I got.

This first shot was taken with the white balance set to “auto”.

Obviously, “auto”, the setting with which the first shot was taken, is the default for my camera. Looks okay-ish. At this point I realise I could have chosen a more appealing, better composed, picture. But, recalling the advice of another digital photography book to persist and practice, I decide that as I’ve started now, I’m not going to stop. The second image was taken with a “daylight” setting.

Same shot using the daylight setting

I confess, I can’t see much difference and I can see a change, I prefer the first image, which is strange because “daylight” would seem to be the ‘right’ setting the shot was taken in daylight. But press on (pun intended). Perhaps the “shade” setting will be better. I am, after all, surrounded by trees, although sunlight remains the dominant light source.

Taken in P mode with White Balance set to “shade”

This third shot, taken using the “shade” white balance setting, seems much more pleasing to me, capturing far more accurately the dying autumn colours I’m seeing around me. Perhaps I am in shade after all, and this is setting I should use in this sort of semi-sunlight. Although not directly in the shade of Cannizaro’s trees, it is a dull day and we’re long way from bright sunlight. Okay, confidence eeking back.

According to Revell, the Cloudy setting is best for overcast and very cloudy days. So flick the white balance to cloudy, and a fourth image arrives on the little screen.

Cloudy White Balance

I struggle to detect a tonal difference between the image taken with the “shady” setting and that taken with the “cloudy” setting, but perhaps there is a little more depth to the yellow of the leaves. I flick the settings to “tungsten white balance” for the next one, hopeful of achieving greater differentiation so that I can begin to get to grips with this colour cast stuff.

Using Tungsten White Balance

Wow! What a difference. Even my uneducated eye can see that this setting has given a cold, blueish wash to my picture. It makes it look as though the picture was taken in the depths of winter rather than in fading autumnal afternoon sunlight. Clearly not the right setting to capture fall colours. It’s harsh, chilly, colourless and dull.

White Fluorescent produces an unpleasant blueish tinge

I get a similar, blueish, almost grainy result with the White Fluorescent setting and while yellows are rendered truer than in the tungsten shot, the greens are too opaque. Finally, I set the White Balance to “flash” (despite the fact that much of the shot will be beyond the range of the in-camera flash).

The result surprises me. Back is the green grass and yellow leaves. And after much deliberation I decide I like the last one best, as is captures most closely what I’m actually seeing in front of me.

The images shown here are as they were downloaded from the camera. I haven’t done any processing or editing in ACDSee.

White Balance set to Flash

I then changed location and moved deeper into the woods and repeated the exercise with the autumn leaves I found there.  

The thumbnails below show the results.

Taken with White Balance set to Auto

Taken with White Balance set to Daylight

Taken with White Balance Shade



White Fluorescent


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This is Willow, my lovely, utterly stupid, utterly cute cat. These three photographs are the best of a series of photos taken during what was really my first attempt to explore my new Canon. I’m reasonably pleased with them. Certainly they lack the wow factor that I see so many others achieve but even I, with my poor artistic eye, can see that they have greater clarity and warmth than anything I achieved wit my old camera. I was playing around with settings so I doubt any of these were taken on in full auto mode (which Canon appear to call AI) but I have yet to learn enough to understand what buttons do what, so it was sort of random by chance stuff. Willow, I suspect, is going to feature quite regularly on these pages, so feel free to make friends.

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Casper at grass Olympic eventing

Well, sort of. Two of my photos have been put in an online booklet produced with a flickr toy at Pimpampum (bizarre name for a website). I guess that must mean that there’s at least one person out there who likes them. Both these photos were taken with my old Ricoh so are not really part of the impossible photography project but I still like to see who’s doing what with my photos.

Shame Pimpampum don’t give the credit they should. Their website says credit is given in the form of a link back to flickr, but there are no links with my photos which is annoying. To be absolutely clear, I should add that there is a click back to the original on flickr on the screen which shows when you close the book but I think the link should be from the photo directly. Does this sort of thing irritate anyone else?

Have a look at the whole booklet.

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I still haven’t taken another photograph but I have made some progress against my impossible photography project.  Last night I finally screwed up enough bravery and installed both the software and manuals that came with my Canon EOS 600D onto my laptop.  This was remarkably easy and, as an added bonus, my old, sometimes unreliable, laptop survived!  I sorted through the last of the photos I had taken with my old camera, which I shall keep using at times for the sheer convenience of being able to pop it in a pocket or sling it in rucksack, and uploaded them to Flickr.  And, the big success of the day, I managed to transfer the first few photos I took with the Canon to my laptop, manipulate them through ACDSee, and upload those as well.

I think I’ll make a little gallery or two of my favourite photos taken with my old Ricoh and the first, absolutely full auto mode, taken with the Canon as a short of baseline against which to measure progress.  I am already blown away by how nicely the Canon capture a few of my friends at a party last week.

And, oh yes, I finally wrote something to put here.

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I have just discovered that there is yet another way to while away an hour or more – other people’s fantastic photography blogs!  I blame the blogger with gorgeous photographs behind SethSnap, who was kind enough to drop by my blog and leave a calling card.  Look at the sort of thing I find when I return the favour – a gloriously colourful, stunningly clear and elegantly illustrated series of images of autumnal scenes from Caesar’s Creek.

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A grand term, photographic library, perhaps for the small accumulation of books on digital photography which are currently dotted around the house (note to self – put all the photography books in one place, preferably where I can both find and reach them easily).  But, although I have yet to do anything more with my new Canon EOS 600D than depress the shutter button with the camera in full auto mode, I have not been entirely inactive.  Scouring my bookshelves, and those of Waterstone’s and Amazon, has resulted in a small but hopefully compelling resource of photographic wisdom, inspiration and guidance to direct me the coming virtual photowalk.  I am a at home with books, a natural book- rather than do- learner, but I guess there’s also an element of ‘all the gear and no idea’ going on here too.  I have also splashed out on a slew of photography magazines replete with page after page of gloriously rich images. As I go, I shall try to record how helpful each is as well as working through the array of photographic and post-capture projects, assignments, tasks and tours suggested.  I’ve taken a wee picture of them with my old Ricoh.

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That’s a little lie. It isn’t actually day one.  I bought my first DSLR camera almost a week ago, splashing out during an involuntarily extended sojourn airside at Heathrow, on my way out to Tunis. My much loved, super little digital point-and-click camera (Ricoh Caplio R6), having done sterling service for some years and taken many, many thousand snapshots, has been showing signs of unreliability for some months and I had long been considering upgrading to a DSLR.  The temptation of duty-free prices and unexpectedly having a little time on my hands combined into a tipping point, and sometime after wandering into the shop I emerged with a Canon EOS 600D (otherwise, I gather, know as a Rebel T3i), a lens I have yet to learn how to use, two batteries, two memory cards, a small but useful selection of freebie accessories, countless cables with unfathomable purposes and a rather smart and practical carry case.

It’s time to be honest.  I’m not a photographer.  I’m a snap-shotter.  The only piece of photographic advice I have ever managed to follow is to take my camera with me, everywhere. The result has been many thousand of random snaps, which I value greatly for the memories they bring, especially those of friends and family but very few of any merit. And those which might be considered good are the result of luck rather than intent or skill (if you take thousands of snaps, one or two are bound to be interestingly).  Nor am I a techno-savvy.  If I am to justify the investment I’ve just made, and fulfil by aspirations to produce shots I can be proud to share, I have a lot to learn.

So that’s what this blog is about – an attempt to record the journey I hope to make from transitory snapshots to photographs worth permanence.  It’s unashamedly for my benefit as I hope, in a year or two, to be able look back and see that I’ve made progress. You’re welcome to comment or critique my travels with my camera and if you gain or learn something from it, that’s even better.

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