photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Dynamic Range - the movie

Grab the popcorn and turn down the lights!

in Product reviews , Wednesday, March 14, 2012

On my recent trip to Iceland I was very lucky to cross paths with Peter Cox, a leading Irish landscape photographer who I had been vaguely aware of from some time, through the series of essays he has written for Michael Reichmann’s Luminous Landscape site.

Peter, apart from being a very talented photographer, is clearly a good businessman - he runs his own gallery in Killarney - and is hugely entertaining. He also appears to live somewhere where there are at least 36 hours in the day, because apart from all this he finds the time to jointly host a weekly podcast, The Circle of Confusion, and now, a video series called “Dynamic Range”. His partners in these escapades, professional photographers Neil McShane and Roger Overall each add their own spice to the mix, and it all ends up being entertaining, informative, and, well, very Irish. That’s a good thing, by the way.


So, these 2 Irishmen walk into a bar, and ...

There are currently two videos in the series, Episode 1, and, naturally, Episode 0. Episode 0 - or The Pilot - is documented as “Learning Video Production the Hard Way” on The Luminous Landscape. It is perhaps apt that it features there, since the Luminous Landscape Video Journal (“LLVJ”), seemingly now in retirement, is something of a trailblazer for this type of video. Kudos as well to Michael Reichmann for basically promoting a competitor. Actually, Episode 0 is a bit of a disappointment, in that it is far less of a disaster than it is billed as. I was really hoping for total humiliation. Episode 1 irons out the kinks and is very smooth.

The general format for The Dynamic Range will be familiar to LLVJ subscribers: photographers travel to a location, take photos, talk about them, and naturally talk about gear - whilst apologising for talking about gear. The show is presented by Peter and Neil, with Roger directing off camera. Of course, this being Ireland, there is one factor that the LLVJ didn’t always have to deal with: atrocious weather. The Irish weather seems to be determined to foil Peter and Neil, but they soldier on grimly, and usually demonstrate that the maxim that there is no such thing as bad weather for photography holds true. Although that Irish weather does sometimes get the last laugh.

I was heavily into Ireland in the 90s. I couldn’t get enough of the place, especially the South West of Cork, and the west coast in general. Probably my favourite place in Ireland was Westport in County Mayo. But the last time I went was 2002, and it wasn’t a great success. So it has faded a bit from my mind. These videos bring it all back though, and show what a great, and possibly under-exploited photographic resource Ireland is.  This does give me the excuse to drag out a few badly scanned and generally so-so shots from 2002 that have not yet seen the light of day. I might even have a go and tarting them up a bit.

Snhg ref 334

Somewhere in Ireland

Snhg ref 339

Somewhere else in Ireland

Snhg ref 376

Somewhere else ... well, you get the drift

So far, the Dynamic Range is going strong. The production values are impressive, and are improving at a rapid rate. Whatever the slightly ramshackle air that might be being conveyed, there is no doubt that a huge amount of work is going into these productions, and personally I’d say they are already at Broadcast TV standard. The format avoids the overlong talking head sequences that made some parts of the LLVJ a little boring, but there are some weak spots.

The weakest, in my opinion, is the “gear” section in Episode 1. Actually, there’s nothing wrong with a “gear” section, in particular if it concentrates at least in part in showing people how to get the best out of standard tools they may already have - such as tripods. But there’s really very little point in talking about Neil’s geared tripod head, with just a long shot where you can barely see said tripod, and no mention of the manufacturer or anything else. Same with the clip-on viewfinder - I wasn’t the only one left wondering where I could find out more. This section just didn’t work.

There’s also a lot of interesting talk on using filters, generally, but again this could be made more practical by adding some close-ups and before / after, or with / without shots. Generally, perhaps some material, for example reviewing of photos, could be shot off-site and edited in in post-production.  Things like this would serve to tighten up the show a bit. And personally I would like to see a little more of the photography, with perhaps, who knows, some innovative ways of talking us through why selected shots work - or not.

The humour certainly works. The ending pan (I won’t spoil it) at the end of Episode 1 is a classic. Oh, and Peter, I got a fabulous rainbow shot in Keflavik :-)

It will be interesting to see how they can keep interest up. My feeling is that the travelogue format works fine to start with, but after 2 or 3 episodes it will need something added to the mix. But so far, so good. The Dynamic Range is not free, but it is good value for money. At one level, it’s pure entertainment for photographers, taking you so close you can smell the peat fires burning. And I certainly picked up a few tips, and some food for thought. And a rekindling somewhere of a desire to return to the Emerald Isle…

You can see a brief preview of Episode 1 here (why do they make it so hard to find ? I’d have put it on download page, personally). I’d be interested to hear what you think of it.