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Straight from the Garden Shed – Iain McGowan FRPS 22nd March 2017

When we are out doing the weekly shop I have no problem buying bananas; I just choose the best looking bunch. Biscuits are something else. With a whole aisle of biscuits, the choice is bewilderingly large. It can take ages to decide and I often end up with something I don’t like.

Photography, especially now with the infinity of tempting options photo-editing software offers us, can be a bit like the biscuit aisle.

If you missed the talk by our invited speaker on Wednesday, you missed a treat. The Garden Shed refers to the place Iain processes his photos. He said he wasn’t prepared to embrace the digital revolution unquestioningly. So he bought a very cheap Panasonic digital camera and a Canon printer with a memory card slot and some basic editing features, and challenged himself to get something useful out of it.

Iain is a landscape photographer who has published many books of his work and runs photographic workshops in various parts of the country. If you interested in joining one of them, he can be emailed on iainmcgowanphoto@gmail.com, and some of his photos can be seen at http://www.focusgroupphotography.com/gallery_541048.html. His work, along with that of other members of The Focus Group, is also on show in an exhibition at The Assembly Rooms, North Street Chichester, PO19 1LQ 1st – 8th April 2017.

One of the drawbacks of using a low resolution camera is the small image size for printing. One way he dealt with this was to mount a print on a large board. This invites the viewer to walk up and look closely at what were gems of pictures. The other way was to mount up to 30 or 40 small prints as a ‘collage’ on a large board. Apart from the fiddly job of sticking them down with double-sided tape, the whole exercise was not as time-consuming as it looked considering he can produce the prints at about 50 per hour. It takes me that long to get one decent print.

The kind of impressionistic effects some of us might try using editing software, he achieved simply by using his eyes. Thus we saw pictures taken through a rain-soaked windscreen, or polythene put over beach goods to protect them from the deluge, and a series of townscapes reflected in the glossy tiles of an art gallery in Hastings.

His approach to photography must have been music to the ears of those of our members who believe that what the camera captures is the photograph, and if it’s not perfect at that point, it’s our own fault for not getting the composition, lighting or camera settings right. At the other extreme, we have members whose work is a mash-up of elements taken from several different photos.

Most of us are somewhere in between. The truth is, any constraints you put on how you make your pictures are entirely self-imposed. There are no rules you have to abide by (unless you are a wildlife photographer!).

So, inspired by Iain’s approach, here’s an exercise for us. Put a deliberate restriction on what we allow ourselves to do. For example, take just one lens out of fixed focal length or use a tripod for every photo. Or take everything at the highest ISO setting or smallest image size. Anything. Perhaps it would concentrate our minds on what we can achieve with few parameters to play with, rather than being overwhelmed by all the possibilities…

What I’m saying is, forget the biscuits. Go for the bananas, and who knows what mouth-watering delights we may conjure up.