Polymer Gravure printing

I can’t exactly remember when I first came across polymer gravure printing. It is a modern variant of the copperplate gravure process that the photographers  Alvin Langdon Coburn and Edward Steichen used to great effect in the early 20th century. Maybe it was the book of Mr Coburn’s work I was given whilst at college.  All I know is that it has been driving me nuts for at least two years, as several attempts haven’t got me very far.

Two weeks ago I attended a three day course at Rabley Drawing Gallery in Marlborough, run by printer Martyn Grimmer with the intention of of improving my understanding of this dark art. A steep learning curve, but after returning yesterday for another session, I managed to ‘pull’ my first (fairly good) print! The results:


The plate, shown here drying in the sun.

The plate, shown here drying in the sun.



The plate being inked before taken through a print press

The plate being inked before taken through a print press


A print not quite right - apparently this is called mid-tone measles. The only cure is to start again.

A print not quite right - apparently the patches are called mid-tone measles. The only cure is to start again.


And when it comes out as it should.

And when it comes out as it should.


Details, showing the embossing



Details, showing the texture of the ink in the photograph

Details, showing the texture of the ink in the photograph


RPS photography course at Mill Dene Gardens

Mill Dene Gardens in Autumn

Mill Dene Gardens in Autumn

After the success of the flower photography course Jason Ingram and I ran last May with the Royal Photographic Society, the follow up was held last weekend. This time it was for two days,  with detailed assessments and plenty of time for practical experience in the beautiful gardens at Mill Dene, in the Cotswolds.

Photography student at Mill Dene gardens

Photography student at Mill Dene gardens, June 2011

Again we had a full house with 10 students who all appeared to enjoy themselves, despite the fact that at 6am the expected beautiful morning light was, in fact, rain! Plan B came into play and a daylight studio session was held instead.

Our next planned course will be a one day event at Batsford Arboretum on 30th October 2011, photographing the beautiful Autumn colour in the extensive grounds.

Acer at Batsford Arboretum

Acer at Batsford Arboretum, Autumn 2010

Keep it simple, silly!

Over the last two or three years I have been running photo-sessions with colleagues who want to improve their photographic skills. An hour’s guidance can often help people see photography in a completely new way. Usually for personal work, or for those in the transitional stage between film and digital, I find teaching can be rewarding, especially when seeing someone make progress. In most cases, there is a eureka moment – a basic concept suddenly makes sense, with many other things slotting into place. As there is so much information available in books and online that it becomes difficult to work out what is useful and what is irrelevant. Or just plain wrong.

As I’ve been taking photographs since I was 14 or 15, the biggest problem I have is that I take for granted many basic skills. So I have to be careful. What is very obvious to me can be a complete mystery to someone who has just picked up a camera.

My natural inclination is to say, “Keep it simple”. Having a good idea in the first place will dictate how a camera is used, and skills will automatically develop with your particular needs. Buying loads of kit, and reading every technical instruction manual going, without a concept in mind will just befuddle you. You’re far better off looking at examples of good photography and developing an understanding of how other photographers work. This will help your own ideas evolve while you practice and take test shots. Expensive additional kit will then become obvious to you further down the line, so don’t go to a camera shop with an open cheque book.

On Friday I was asked by my colleague Veronica Peerless, a garden journalist, to accompany her on a visit to Kew Gardens. She needed advice on shooting and preparing images for web use, particularly for her blog. Coming from a magazine and TV production background, she is used do dealing with imagery, and has a good visual sense. But like a lot of people, she needed basic advice on the capabilities of a camera, to give her confidence when converting an idea into a useful finished product.

Veronica Peerless taking photo at Kew Gardens

Veronica Peerless taking photo at Kew Gardens, ©Paul Debois

I’m not going to go into much technical detail here, as everyone has different needs. But Veronica had enough previous experience to understand aperture and shutter priority modes, so it was a case of grasping exposure compensation or the manual mode. Having grown up with film, and cameras with no auto settings, my preference is still manual. That’s just my choice. It does no harm learning this way though – slightly slower, but because you are controlling everything, it helps you to understand the effect each function has. You can quite easily flip into a semi-automatic mode later on.

We went through various shooting situations. As she will be writing about botanical subjects, close-up views, along with general scenes were essential topics. Her camera is a Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3, a very good compact. I liked it because this was the first compact I had come across where the shutter and aperture controls remained ‘live’ on the camera screen, enabling quick toggling between the two in manual mode.

Shooting with a wide aperture is a popular technique with flowers, reducing the depth of field to the absolute minimum. I don’t think it is possible to create the really soft images that a DSLR or 35mm film camera fitted with a wide aperture lens can capture. This is something you need to weigh up. If this became essential, you would be better off with a DSLR. This was a slight frustration for Veronica, and was probably the only criticism of the camera. But if you are blogging, or are a garden designer taking reference shots, most of the time you should be fine with a compact, especially this one. You can carry it all the time without great inconvenience.

Fern in Temperate greenhouse, Kew Gardens

Fern in Temperate greenhouse, Kew Gardens, ©Veronica Peerless

Fern in Temperate Greenhouse, Kew gardens

Fern in Temperate Greenhouse, Kew gardens ©Paul Debois

The top photograph is with the Lumix, with the zoom lens set to 12.8mm and an aperture of f2.8. My shot is on a full frame sensor Canon 5D with an 85mm lens set to F1.8. Not a fair comparison, but she wanted to see how I would work and see what her camera would do in a similar situation.

We tried various close-up tests and landscape views as well as into-the-light shots inside the Temperate Greenhouse – always a bit tricky. As there is a large contrast range, any camera, whether film or digital will struggle here. It’s a case of accepting the limitations – and even making use of them. Her image below is a good pro standard shot, the limitations previously discussed not playing a part.

Temperate greenhouse, Kew Gardens

Temperate greenhouse, Kew Gardens, ©Veronica Peerless

All of  the files we took were processed on a computer later in the day. I didn’t want to make this a really hardcore digital session, as she does not intend to spend hours working in photoshop. I showed her how to make basic colour corrections and to resize for web use manually – but I also created an automated batch action in Photoshop, to resize and save for web. This should be sufficient for the time being! So, all in all, an enjoyable day, with a nice relaxed session. She said it was a revelation – we shall see. I intend to test her in the near future!

Garden Photography Course at the Royal Photographic Society

For the best part of 18 months I’ve been stomping all over Lila Das Gupta’s garden, leaving size nine footprints all over her carefully prepared borders and raised beds – all in the name of art! Or at least tasteful photography!

In her Gardeners’ World blog posting from 23rd July, Lila kindly says she has been inspired whilst watching me work – obviously forgetting the horticultural casualties along the way! It’s interesting when you work with someone in a professional capacity how quickly you pick up tricks and ideas from their field of expertise. Although not green fingered, I now have a lot more gardening confidence  and will be looking at my patch in a new way next year, when it is completely redesigned and replanted……. but Lila, as yet, I still don’t sieve my compost!

So, a quick reminder that Jason Ingram and I will be running our second course on garden photography on 26th September 2010, at the Royal Photographic Society in Bath. It’s aimed at people who have a basic photographic knowledge and preferably have an SLR camera.   (See the posting on the previous course.) This will be followed next year by four seasonal courses, at the beautiful garden at Mill Dene in the Cotswolds. These are also with the Royal Photographic Society and details will be posted on their site in the very near future.