Phil Malpas – Finding the Picture

Phil Malpas

Last night, 11 Feb 2013, I attended a talk by a well renowned landscape photographer, Phil Malpas. I have to confess, that I’d not heard of Phil before the evenings talks, however, I think this is more from my own ignorance than anything else.

Phil talked on 5 different topics, starting from looking at why we take photographs and finishing with a posed question of “What comes next?” and it was all based around his his book “Finding the Picture: A Location Photography Materclass (Light & Land)”. For the full set of topics, you can see the contents of the book here.

Phil’s talk was a real insight for me and I feel it has been a tremendous help with the current module, Colour, that I’m studying on the OCA The Art of Photography (TOAP) course. I’ve been struggling to engage with this module and, although I could appreciate that it is helpful to study the impact of colour in an image, I didn’t feel that I was really gaining anything from it. Phil’s talk began to show me what I was missing.

From the outset, I was noticing the use of colour in the images Phil was showing, which is probably a result of studying the current module. It was easy to see the images using similar colours to convey feeling of warmth and cool and also the use of complementary colours in the images. However, it wasn’t until the talk got to the second to last section that the use of colour was addressed directly.

By studying the course material for the Colour module, I had read that complementary colours contrast with each other but I had not really made the association between using the contrast in colour to work with, or complement, contrasting light. Phil talked about how overcast days can be great for photography and explained that, although overcast days are going to reduce contrast in the suns light, it can give us more scope to work with contrast in colour. It seemed to imply a logical relationship that many people consider good Black and White images to have large contrast in light, so for colour images to be pleasing they can get away with less contrast in light due to the increased contrast created by colour. This implicit relationship wasn’t something that Phil seemed to talk about explicitly and is an area that I should give further attention to see if this relationship is something I can identify in images I like.

Although the discussion on Colour was particularly relevant to my current studies, the sections preceding and proceeding the simplification of images were also related to aspects of the TOAP course. Early on, when talking about how we find pictures, I thought a great piece of advice was to close your eyes and image the scene as you want it, thinking about how the light is falling and then when opening your eyes, consider are you capturing the scene you want.

Talking about “Where do our ideas come from?”, Phil discussed looking at other peoples images as a way to feed our imagination and grow our vision. He showed images that when he had captured them, he believed that they were copying images he had seen others create, but on reflection had found that this wasn’t the case. Phil also talked about not being put of capturing images just because other people had captured hundreds or thousands of the same subject because they will always have your personal take on them.

Having talked though the simplification of images, including the discussion on colour and contrast, Phil posed the question of “So, what next?”. He started out by talking about being able to properly use your camera and said that if you weren’t able to use the features of the camera you have, it’s just a matter of practice. At this point, it felt like the talk digressed slightly to look at a technical aspect of photography that I had started to think about after reading Light – Science & Magic. In the book, the authors talk about the linear relationship in ‘perfect’ digital sensor so that the sensor is equally sensitive to light levels from black up to white light.

Phil looked this same idea but explained it in a slightly different way. He discussed that if you have a 12 bit RAW image, it gives you 4096 different levels at which light can be captured. Using the idea that an increase in f-stop, or exposure value (EV), is twice the light when as the value increases then you can end up with the lighter areas of the image having a greater number capture these 4096 levels.

To try and explain this closer to Phils explanation. He detailed the binary steps for a 12 bit image:

64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, 2048, 4096

Allocating light in increasing levels to these buckets would mean the first EV gets 64 levels at which to capture data and the seventh EV in the image gets 2048 levels at which to capture data.

The practical example Phil used to try and illustrate his point was to consider that the brightest part of an image may just be the lining of a cloud but we need to consider do we want to give 2048 of the sensors possible 4096 levels to capture detail in such a small area. To try and combat such a scenario, Phil went on to discuss the use of Filters when capturing images.

The closing section of the talk was associated back to the opening by looking at the reasons why we take photographs as photographers and to enjoy photography for the reasons we like to do it.

All together, the presentation was incredibly enjoyable and informative. I’ve come away with lots to think about and I think I’ll be looking to get a copy of one of Phils earlier books Capturing Colour in order to help me with my studies.


2 thoughts on “Phil Malpas – Finding the Picture

  1. Sounds like a really worthwhile talk. Thanks for linking to his books, I’m currently also struggling with the colour module and it looks like his book on colour will be very useful.

    Good luck with the assignment 🙂

  2. Pingback: Assignment 3 – Colour | bushtography

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