Insights - Frances Underwood, 19 Jul 2020

Insights - occasional articles about our club members - Frances Underwood, 19 July 2020
'Insights' is a series of occasional articles about our club members. We hope you have been enjoying reading these short articles about some of our members and their journey so far in photography. On this occasion, here is the story in photography of Frances Underwood.

Like a number of our club members, I was given my first camera, a Box Brownie, when I was about ten and started my interest in photography with holiday snaps and recording family events. My photos are the best souvenirs I can bring back from a holiday; but it wasn’t until about twenty years ago when I switched to digital, that I could afford to experiment. In 2004 we moved to Somerset, so, looking for something to get me out of the house, I found an evening class, learning Photoshop as a module of a City & Guilds course, and created my first composite. That led not only to me joining a camera club, but also stimulated a creative side in me. The technical side of photography has been a slow learning curve for me, but I feel I have an eye for a good shot.

Eventually I decided to try for my LRPS, mostly to reassure myself that I was a competent photographer. I went on to CPAGB, but I started to realise my images were never more than average and that I had to raise my game if I wanted to go for distinctions, and so the creative processing began. My mentors had been Jay H and Penny P which was what brought me to Dorchester Club. Subsequently, I have gone on to enter Salons and more recently have achieved DPAGB, AFIAP and BPE3*

Over the years I have tried, I think, nearly every genre of photography, going through several different phases. The one genre I always said I didn’t do was portraiture.... until looking through my catalogue, I found people in 90% of my images! I think my preference found me, rather than the other way around. I took a lot of photographs of Weymouth Carnival in 2011 which I passed, through a friend, to the organisers. The following year, and for several years after, I was invited to be their official photographer. Capturing the special moments, and those candid shots that tell the story well – the expressions and interactions between people, was what I enjoyed most. At the end of the day I would be buzzing. I like to shoot, shoot, shoot. No longer could I stand behind a tripod for hours waiting for the sun to set or for a creature to do something interesting, events were what I could get up early for. I have shared my event photos on an open Facebook page and it’s very rewarding when the viewers like them and share them on. Many a shot has become someone’s profile picture. From this point on, I began to realise my photography was all about people.

As for any of my particular techniques when photographing events, I generally set my shutter as wide open as the lens allows and my ISO at auto to cope with changing light, then I can concentrate on seeing a shot and go straight for it. The most difficult part of shooting this type of genre photography has to be staying on your feet all day! You have to be very observant or you may miss that great shot that makes it all worthwhile and so you forget about your feet until the ache creeps in!

Depending on the type of event, I usually go with an open mind, just making sure I’m not carrying more than I need. But if I am an official photographer there is usually a remit to fulfil alongside taking photos for myself. The bonus for me is having access to areas where the public can’t go - and sometimes a free lunch!

Having dabbled with various aspects of photography, my interest in re-enactment stems from our daughter’s involvement. They are mediaeval and Napoleonic re-enactors and in normal times, if we want to see them between Easter and October, we need to attend their events. Of course they want the photos too! I also have a deep-seated interest in history myself, as a result of which I found the Ragged Victorians through seeing others images. They represent 1851 Whitechapel, where my great, great, grandparents were living at that time, so I have learned much from talking to them and have become good friends with several of those involved. I spend more time talking to them than actually taking photographs, so they do co-operate if I want to set up a particular shot.

This reminds me of an occasion when I was photographing a Napoleonic event from one single spot at the front behind the ropes, I was keen to get ‘inside’ and move freely. So at a future event I secured permission on condition I was ‘in kit’. My daughter helped with that and I was able to spend two wonderful days working with the 44th Essex Regiment of Foot. At the afternoon battle I was standing on the edge of the woods facing the battlefield and sheltering beside a tree (thinking I would be safe there!). Suddenly I heard a noise behind me, spun round to find a group of Scots Guards, not twenty feet away, racing towards me through the wood, rifles pointing straight at me. I quickly fired off a couple of shots (cool as you like!) then dived behind the tree!

Like all of us I try to get it right in camera to reduce the editing and certainly with my event photography, I really keep this to the minimum - tone, highlights and shadows and cropping. For competitions and particularly Salons, I do a lot more. Sometimes an image comes together quite quickly, others need a lot of time and tweaking. I enjoy ‘fiddling and diddling’ in Photoshop as much as taking photos, so that isn’t a problem and I have found myself sometimes taking a shot with a creative end in mind.

During my photographic journey I’ve always had some advice passed on, but when I lacked the confidence to take my camera off auto, on the basis that the camera knew better than I did, I was advised to take my shot on auto so that I have it ‘in the can’, then switch to aperture priority and experiment to go out and choose a subject, then take it on every aperture, go home and see how the shots differed.

I have over the years accumulated many photographs, but my favourite has to be ‘Rifles at Waterloo’ a composite of some 11 images which helped me achieve my Gold Medal.

So, with all this photography what do I use - an Olympus micro four thirds mirrorless camera with an 18-40mm or 40-150mm lens. I switched from Canon because the Olympus is much lighter - important if you’re carrying it around all day.

Unfortunately due to my Increasing disability, this has meant I struggle to use my camera now, but I have been learning some new creative techniques during lockdown and have a vast catalogue of images to work on, so watch this space….


~ by “Camera Shy"
The Rifles at Waterloo [Frances Underwood]