Thursday, 20 December 2007

Celebrating tradition

Christmas tree, December 1987

Reading Ctein's post at T.O.P. put me in mind of Christmas at home. It's always a family time where we celebrate with our own set of rituals around decorations, gifts and food. It always starts with the Christmas tree. While decorations are fairly minimal around the house, the tree is a riot of colour. Every single piece of decoration gets used until it disintegrates or breaks. Tree dressing is a family event - one of the first things we do once everyone is home.

Christmas tree, December 2006
Not much changes, except the camera

For me it's a great time of year - the one guaranteed time we are all together in the same place at the same time.

I'm off shortly, so little, if any, posts from now until New Year. Until then, have a Merry Chrsitmas and I'll be back in a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

A target for the vacation

Avebury church, Wiltshire, January 2007

I liked Paul Butzi's idea about having a photobook-in-a-week event, similar to the NaNoWriMo. I've also been enjoying seeing his recent work centred around his home region and on those lines, Doug Stockdale's Transitional Seam work.

These things, together with some thinking I've been doing about what constitutes "home" to me (I lead a rather peripatetic life) has led me to an idea. I've got the opportunity while I'm home over the festive period to get out on a few days for some photography. I'm also likely to be travelling home a few times over the next few months. This has put me in mind to produce a series that reflects the things that I typically regard as my native spaces: the countryside and towns of Wiltshire. The trick is to present what I find engaging in way that engages others. Expect to see more of this from January.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Photography and connoisseurship

Gruppetto, Burgundy, France, June 2007
The team passing Chateauneuf, of wine producing fame

There has been discussion at T.O.P. and The Landscapist of this article on photography criticism. At the same time, Doug Stockdale and Paul Butzi have been ruminating over pricing photography for sale.

As I went off to buy the Christmas wine today, suddenly I realised that these subjects come together. First a diversion on wine, that will prove a point that I'll make later.

On my cycling trip to France earlier in the year, wine was quite an important part of the journey. We were riding through Burgundy, past the famous vineyards. Wine was on the table every evening. One afternoon we spent at a tasting lunch run by Leflaive. 15 wines over lunch, Villages to Grand Cru.

Of the 5 of us, I would consider 2 serious wine drinkers, 2 as "anything but vinegar" drinkers and myself somewhere in the middle.

The 2 serious wine drinkers could happily tell the difference between different vineyards & distinguish characteristics of a Grand versus premier Cru. Preference was then a matter of taste. Personally, I couldn't really tell a Grand from a Premier but saw some differences in the different sources. There were definitely wines I preferred. We are talking subtle differences in very fine wines. The last 2 could tell this was all good stuff but were quite happy drinking anything.

Outside of our little group there are the masses who are happy to order a "white wine" in a bar, with no thought to grape, source, age etc.

What has this to do with photography - everything. I believe that the problem photographers and fine printers have with the selling part is the difference in connoisseurship between "us" and "them". The vast majority of art (and by extension photography) consumers, I believe, can't really tell the difference between the finest work and mini-lab snaps. Just like the majority can't tell the difference between wine from a box and the finest vintage.

The photography community is busy trying to sell top end product to an audience that can't tell the difference except for the price tag. Therein lies a problem. How one solves it, I do not know. I think maybe painters get further because more people understand the differences. Museums & galleries are full of it and there are plenty of educational programmes (including school) that generate appreciation by distinction.

Maybe less effort needs to be spent on teaching photography to photographers and more on teaching it to the non-photographers, thus raising the levels of appreciation.

Friday, 14 December 2007

What do I want to achieve?

"This way, that way", France, June 2007

Now I have a clearer picture of what I'm doing and why, it's time to turn my attention to the destination.

Any journey has a start and an intended destination, so I need to articulate my intention. I'm not going to get myself into goal setting. I have enough of that in my daily work; I don't like to get too much into such things in my spare time. Instead, I'm going to think of this more as a direction in which I'd like to go and decide later whether that takes me places I want to go. If so, I'll keep going, otherwise I'll try another tack.

There are may things one might wish to achieve with art and photography but I figure if I'm going to get the most out of what I do, the direction I take has to relate to the fundamental reasons I pick up my camera in the first place.

In my post on why, I had 5 main reasons for doing photography:

1. Enjoyment
2. Personal documentary
3. Artistic expression
4. Capturing people's behaviour
5. Showing my love of nature

The first is self-evident, and ultimately bounds any direction I take: if I'm not enjoying it, I stop and find something I do enjoy. I don't want to turn photography into a chore and for this reason I don't think I could ever become a professional - there are too many non-photography things one needs to do to keep that up.

The second is simple - it's about having a camera wherever I go. I'm still looking at the perfect device for that. I quite liked Paul Butzi's approach to his trip to China. I'm certainly looking into having a decent small camera as I don't always want to lug my 20D around. This sort of travel photography is very much in the "friends and family" category - I'm not trying to create great art.

As to the artistic expression, a lot of this is personal. This is me doing the "art as verb" bit for my own satisfaction. I like to try new things, explore various ways of taking & processing photographs. Many of the results aren't worth much but it is a part of the learning process. It is this effort that enables me to create better work for showing to others and develop a more consistent vision and style. By knowing what I don't like & what doesn't work I can better develop that which does. This is an area that I need to develop, to look at other ways of doing things, ways of looking at things and developing images. One of the first things I shall be doing is attending a photographic workshop early next year - my first. If this proves successful, I may do more of them to help in my photographic development. I am tending to think that there are lots of little things I'm missing to getting really good results but then I may be completely over-estimating my abilities.

This leads nicely to the last point (I'll come back to the people) about showing my love of nature. this really has two sides - getting my work "out there" and having people appreciate it. I'm not really sure at the moment the best way to show my work. I've got the gallery but I'm thinking there are better places to show stuff. I would like to think that in the longer term I can produce work good enough for a proper show or publication - long way to go before that happens.
The second part is about having people appreciate the work. This isn't about me getting praise (although that's nice) but viewers getting something positive from seeing my work. I've got past the point of pleasing family and friends, I would like a wider audience (especially other photographers) to be getting something from it all. If I can properly develop some themes & style then I think these things will come. this blog is a start - there is a small but growing number of regular visitors and that helps give me impetus.

Finally is the people piece. I think I'm developing a sense of what makes good results in this arena. I need to be a bit bolder, I think, in getting closer and carrying my camera to more social occasions if only to practice. Looking over the wider range of shots I've taken, I see some themes developing which might come together in series. This stuff is really about having some fun. it also teaches me to react a little quick and spot scene intuitively which I think is helpful even when working slowly and contemplatively.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

The verb/noun conundrum

Taking water, Canary Wharf, July 2007
Is he a nouner or verber?


While I regard art (particularly the visual arts) as a noun, there are instances when I definitely reflect on it as a verb. There is, in this sense, a difference between the work (as in work of art) and using art to reflect a skill.

Reading the etymology of the word is useful, I think:
c.1225, "skill as a result of learning or practice," from O.Fr. art, from L. artem.
In M.E. usually with sense of "skill in scholarship and learning" (c.1305), especially in the seven sciences, or liberal arts (divided into the trivium -- grammar, logic, rhetoric -- and the quadrivium --arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy). This sense remains in Bachelor of Arts, etc. Meaning "human workmanship" (as opposed to nature) is from 1386.
art. (n.d.). Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved December 09, 2007, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/art
I come across both these senses as an engineer. Despite being in an engineering subject, I have a Bachelor of Arts degree. The former sense presented here (skill) I come across, and use, to denote those things that cannot be done by knowledge alone. We often talk about certain practices being "an art" to reflect the fact that a measure of skill is required. I think the "art as verb" crowd are coming from this direction to art (although maybe not consciously).

It is interesting to read the more modern definitions that comes above the etymological reference, where art is strictly a noun in the sense we are talking here.

Thus the talk of Art as either verb or noun is conjuring up both the modern and ancient definitions in comparison with one another.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

The death of photography?

Seeking Mozart, Salzburg, November 2007
Definitely what was there but certainly not real


So the talk of the town is Newsweek's article asking if photography is dead. Once more into the breech. Lively discussion at T.O.P. and more to come at the Landscapist. As Mark Hobson points out, it is really a discussion about whether "photography as reality" is dead. Here are some of my thoughts on the subject (sometimes repeating things I've said before - at least I'm consistent):

Why is it that photography needs to purely documentary (in that it depicts something that actual happened or exists as it was at the moment)? If we're talking about the medium from an artistic perspective it is just another means to an ends. If you are doing accurate reportage (e..g. journalism) then accuracy is important, but framing and cropping still come into play.

I love it when photographers talk about photography as being "real" and then present black and white images. they are not, and can never be, truly real in my opinion. The world is in colour. Sure they can show the actual objects in form, just not truly as they are/were. Black and white is as much an artistic choice as digital manipulation. Don't pretend it is anything else.

Don't try and pass-off manipulated images as being "as is". That's just fraud. I've no problem with digital (or darkroom) work to deliver a final product as the result of artistic vision. Just don't tell me it's accurate. In this sense "truth" is a wider issue than true representation, from an artistic point of view. Even if I take landscape photos the way in which I present them is my view of what I saw - this may not be yours. Heck, if it was a sunny day and we were both wearing shades we wouldn't have seen the same thing anyway.

One strength that photography has over other artistic media is that it can depict things as they are. It is also able to do so in a very short time. That is just one technical result, though. Doesn't mean that artistic expression with photography need be limited to reality.

Photography can go in 2 non-realism directions. Real form, unreal content: i.e. the picture is truly representational of what was in front of the camera, which just happened to be made-up (think Jeff Wall or Aaron Hobson). The other end is real content, unreal form: it is a picture of something actually there but developed in such a way as to look different than the reality (my view on B&W comes here, as well as soft-focus, colour manipulation etc).

A large part the discussion in the Newsweek article stems from the premise that proliferation is bad for Art. It's not - more art is good, in my opinion, for Art. It might make it harder to make serious money doing it but that's not supposed to be the point. If you want to make money, go take portraits - the time-honoured way for visual artists to support themselves or get an original vision. It is also reminiscent of the arguments put forth in the '50s about painting by numbers. I don't think painting is dead as a result and it might well have brought more people in touch with art than would have done otherwise. If you want to worry about the death of Art consider that one of the World's largest sellers of art is actually Ikea.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Technological regression

Technology marches on, unless you are making cameras.

Today I read the review for Fuji's new pocket camera, the f50fd, at dpreview. I could have singled out any other compact camera from the last few months for this comparison, however.

It seems that every new pocket camera is going backwards due to the drive of marketing over engineering sense. Ever more pixels, ever less image quality. The reviews are all stating that the new, high-count sensors (10MP+) are OK for smaller prints but no good for larger sizes. trouble is, this is exactly the opposite of the marketing intent: more pixels equals bigger prints. Actual image quality is only supporting print sizes that a 4MP camera could do.

Hello out there in camera marketing land. Wake up and see that this mega-pixel race will bite you, for sure. Buyers will keep their cameras longer or buy older, cheaper technology. They will get smarter and demand better quality results.

My advice to friends & family when buying a pocket camera - don't get any more than 6-8MP as image quality is rubbish for larger counts. Even that may be pushing it.

Lightbulbs: the measurement

When I wrote a post about new lightbulbs I've installed, paul asked a question about colour temperature.

The spec on the bulbs I bought (these) is 6500K but the shades they're in are slightly warmer. I guessed in the 5500-6000K range, based on the match I'm seeing with the daylight through the windows.

How wrong I can be. I measured by shooting direct at the lights through an Expodisk. Here are the exposure shots:

Capture One, 4600K, +12 (magenta) tint

Capture One, 4600K, 0 tint (from same file).
Yes, I know the sensor needs cleaning.


As you can see, the new bulbs have a strong green cast. These were long exposure (0.25") so flicker is not an issue. This is surprising given the very cool, neutral white colour that they appear to give off.

These are compact fluorescent lamps, which may have some bearing. however, as it happens, I did a similar test with incandescent in the same lamp shades yielding quite a green cast too. Odd, and not obvious to the eye.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Jeff Wall reviewed

Reclining, Salzburg, November 2007

The Daily Telegraph has an interview with Jeff Wall & slide show linked to a current exhibition of his work in London.

The interesting thing that I find from what he has to say is that he is not about content/meaning in his work but much more focused on form & execution. And yet he is lauded all around the art world.

I'm interested in this apparent contradiction: convention has it that Art is all about content and meaning. The great photographs will be remembered by that standard, not the execution. Even the humble snapshot is more valuable in posterity for its content & evocation of memory than its technical execution. And yet here is a photographer disowning that in his own work.

Hubris or humility? You be the judge.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

A few link changes

I've just updated my links on the right. Main addition is that of Dave Beckerman's blog, picked up via Paul Butzi & Colin Jago. It's a really excellent site, focused on black and white photography but with lots of good writing.

I'm now getting to the point where I might have to start restricting the number of blogs I read regularly - it can be hard to keep up.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Lightzone 3.2: a brief look

After my review of Lightzone 3.1, I spent some time looking at the latest update, 3.2. Main reason for re-evaluating was the tidy discount for November. Plus a weak dollar means that upgrading was pretty cheap for me. Question was: was it worth upgrading, even at low cost?

I was really looking to test 2 related aspects memory management and speed. There are no documented new features and there wasn't any specific release mention of enhancements but I know that these things are constantly tweaked.

My major gripe with the memory management is that Lightzone loads a whole bunch of stuff into memory, eats its full allocation then slows to a grind. It doesn't use Windows virtual memory so is severely limited in available memory (I've cranked it to use the max memory which means about 890MB real and 870MB virtual in practice). If you've a lot of images (or just a few TIFFs) in the current directory, that gets eaten quickly. Memory is also not released well when changing modes (especially from Edit to Browse).

For Lightzone 3.2 things are better. Reading a folder with 40-50 images gets up to max memory use but edit mode seems to see some memory released. Running through a series of edits on images I was rarely getting full memory allocation and memory was getting released between modes. This certainly speeds things up. When all the allocated memory did get used, screen refreshes were noticeably quicker than before. This is all better - not outstanding but much more usable.

I've also found that large files (~200-300MB scanned MF & LF) get handled better than before. I'm being cautious, though, and editing them one-by-one from a dedicated folder (i.e. only one image in the folder at a time). As less memory seems to be used in general, things tick along nicely. Not super fast but workable.

Overall, then, some noticeable improvements in the right direction. I paid the money & upgraded (just need to get the license key working). I think 3.2 is a worthwhile upgrade, especially as it sits alongside v2.x. I'll still use 2.4 as my main version (.lzn files) and use 3.2 for the shadow recovery capability on under-exposed stuff.

Photographic rules

All the big workshop copy talks about getting away from the "rules" of photography and finding what really makes a good photograph.

For me, right now, I'm working with just 2 rules:

1. get the interesting stuff in the frame
2. crop the edges to remove distractions

Sometimes I do a slight clone to enhance 2.

Working by these rules has enhanced my output significantly. I'm also a bit quicker behind the lens, too.

Why do I photograph?

Mount Lorette, Alberta, September 2007

Having explored where I'm at, I got to thinking about the whole notion of "why?". I felt it was important to consider answers to this question to be able to properly formulate where I want to go in the future. There is no one answer to this question, instead it is a collection of factors that come together in different ways depending on mood, location, subject.

Firstly there is the whole process of photography - carrying camera, capturing scene, producing print. I enjoy this immensely, I find it a pleasurable activity to pick up a camera and turn what I see into photograph which ultimately becomes an image on paper. I think it is a very satisfying thing to be able to bring the world home in this way. Over the past few years I've also been driving towards printing and displaying more of my work at home.

My initial motivation all those years ago was about personal documentary - I like to have a visual record of places I've been and things I've seen as part of the memory process. This part is less about public consumption and more about personal satisfaction. This still continues, especially with respect to new places I visit.

A much bigger part of "why" today is bringing to others my view of the beauty of nature. Right now more focussed on the shape and form of natural objects than before but it is also about places that I love - which are not always well-known. This is all about images as representations of the feelings I have for certain sights (and sites). The reason I like them is they way they make me feel and I hope I can, in some small part, bring that to others through my photographs.

This, i suppose, leads to the artistic motivation. I have limited artistic talent. I can't play music. I have little feeling for paint & brush and my drawing skills are strictly engineering technical. Through photography I feel I can have some sort of artistic expression, however limited. I'm not constrained by coordination between hand and eye.

Finally, I am enjoying representing the behaviour of others. I have taken to showing things that interest and amuse me about other people. I'm not trying to judge them by this, just show how it is.

So, there it is. A series of reasons why I pick up a camera. If I wasn't enjoying the whole process, I wouldn't be doing it. And if I wasn't finding interesting subjects that I want to record then that, too, would stop me. Fortunately, I have an abundance of both.

In further posts in this series, I'll look at motivating/inspiring factors and where I want to go although (noting Colin Jago's post today in this arena) it won't really be about goal setting, more direction.

Fixed focal length and the all-day camera

Canon EOS500 with EF 28 f/2.8: my new "point and shoot" set-up

Michael Johston is running a poll over at Top Online Photographer about what fixed lens people might like on an all-day carry around camera. Clearly this is directed at the recent talk of the almost forthcoming Sigma DP-1.

This lines up nicely with this week's purchase - a Canon EF 28 f/2.8, bought as a fixed focal length for my old film camera. The intention is to continue using it as I've been doing the last few months - as a P&S black & white camera but a bit wider now than the 50mm I was previously using (although I may well carry that too). I would ideally have likes a small (no bigger than this 28mm) 35mm but they don't seem to be available.

My pocket camera, the Samsung A503 also has a 35mm-e lens. It's a focal length I get on well with.

It's not that I don't like 50mm. certainly for subjects at a distance it's excellent. But I'm more concerned about getting enough width close-up. Often I can't back up, or to do so would lose the spontaneity that I'm aiming for.

I think I understand why camera companies are going wider - you can always crop stuff out but never add it back in. Plus, all the pocket camera reviews bemoan lack of wide-angle if the widest they've got is 35mm. All the new kit zooms are 28mm-e.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Solitude in the internet age

Bare trees, Avebury, January 2007

Paul Butzi had a post about solitude recently where he says he was craving time alone after a long bout of travel and other people. I know how he feels. It's particularly bad when travelling to busy places: people everywhere and very little chance of being alone. It's just as well I'm by myself - at least I can escape to the quiet of my hotel room when I'm away.

Working in an environment where teamwork is a valued attribute can also be problematic - sometimes I just don't want to interact with other people.

There are 2 ways I do enjoy interacting with others: teaching people - the act of sharing knowledge, and engaging in considered conversation - actually talking about subjects of substance at length, intelligently.

This brings me onto the topic of the post - the internet and the interaction it promotes. For me, and I guess for those like Paul, the internet is a great invention. I can happily engage in good conversation, at a distance, with like-minded people but in my on time. Forums, blogs, email are all great ways for those who like to be alone to interact with others without them invading personal space. For my photography it's been really good - I've learnt loads, get to read a lot of thought-provoking writing and converse with people on my terms.

Suddenly the introverts are beginning to get the upper hand, long may it continue.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Engineering cameras

There is a preview of the new medium format system, Hy6, over at Luminous Landscape today, and Colin Jago had a response, too. I'm sure you've all seen them already. Here's my take.

I agree with Michael Reichmann, development of competition like this was fair inevitable and is certainly welcome. However, it seems to me there is a fundamental problem with the way such products are being developed that doesn't fit with modern business reality.

With film cameras, the image record was done in the same way for all cameras. Once you'd established a product that did the basics of framing, focus and shutter release there was a platform for developing smarter ways to achieve these things. Over time various controls developed to assist with metering, multiple frames, auto this & that. All very evolutionary but still fixed to the basics of getting light to the film.

In the digital age, things are somewhat different both for the product and the customer. Getting to the final image capture takes rather more steps than just getting light to the sensor. Electronic controls coupled with electronic recording lead to a whole host of extra features and data required. Customers are also demanding more of their equipment, in the knowledge of what is possible. Developments throughout the camera world are moving fast, which helps fuel users' demands.

With all of that in mind, it is no longer sufficient to design a camera along the lines of "get the light to the sensor, then let's figure out what else to do". A new platform or system ,such as the Hy6, needs a whole lot more in its basic design just to get to the "barely acceptable", let alone excel. Top image quality isn't going to cut it if the rest of the package is difficult to use, software isn't in place to support it, productivity features aren't included.

To make all of this happen, far more effort needs to be spent on the specification, across a much wider range of features. It is now the lens, body, sensor, storage, power, software, controls as a whole that need thinking about. it seems to me far too many of these items have been missed in the Hy6 development - as highlighted by Michael Reichmann. While I believe the system deserves to succeed, and will help bring high-end costs down, I think there is a real danger that this horse will fall at the first for lack of basic jumping ability. It takes a very strong company to be able to carry marginal commercial performance through to a second iteration and beyond.

Taking advantage of digital

There have been quite a number of online discussions on the differences between film & digital cameras and, indeed, the similarities. Most commentators who use DSLRs bemoan the lack of original thinking in layout or function. They seem to be just film cameras with a sensor. I'd tend to agree.

Reading the recent review of the Olympus E-510 at dpreview, I realised that there is another mode that would be really useful: focus brackets, especially if used with exposure brackets. Here's how it would work:
1. preset the focus points manually with a "record" button (i.e. focus, record point, do next)
2. switch to shooting mode
3. Fire off the bracket. may 3 or 5 brackets.

This means you can stick to optimal aperture (around f/8) and still get large DoF. Even better would be in-camera blending.

Combine with exposure brackets for an automatic 9-shot sequence. Use a timer remote release, as I do, and you can leave the set-up to it's own devices. gives possibility of HDR/super-resolution combined with large DoF.

With a little imagination, there's a whole bunch of useful new ways to incorporate technology into cameras, and I'm not talking face recognition.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Photographing the photographers

The wedding photographer, Seville , November 2006

Doug Stockdale has posted on a couple of images (here and here) from his recent trip to Shanghai. This reminded me of a photographs I took in Seville last year (one shown here) of a wedding photography party. For me, however, the subject was really the photographer. I was interested in his work method which seemed rather amateur - limited thinking of lighting or camera angle, very static & stiff poses. The group also had a videographer and a couple of hangers-on. By the end, the bride was looking quite bored of the whole thing.

This is one image in what seems to be a growing series for me - photographers in the act of capturing their subject, especially photographing other people. I'm always interested to see how other work with a camera in their hands and how & why they are taking photographs.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Something missing

Moose, Yellowstone, August 1996

In all the discussion of where I am and what sort of photographs I take, I realised that there is a big chunk missing, certainly in relation to what I used to do. That thing is wildlife. I used to take a lot o wildlife shots and went places that were suited to photographing the natives, so to speak.

These days I do less and I'm not entirely sure why. I think part of it is (or has been) equipment. With the cheap SLR gear I started with, while I was getting shots they were less than stellar. There is then the issue of getting close enough - that either requires world-class stalking skills or really long lenses in most cases.

As I have more cash these days, I can afford decent equipment, so that's not an issue. I think I should get to doing more. I really enjoy wildlife photography, there is something of the caveman-hunter instinct about it. I also like to try and nail good shots first time out, just like a hunter would. Motor-drive might give a higher number of hits but misses the point, somehow.

I won't really be discussing wildlife photography much in the rest of this mini-series of posts but I shall definitely be giving thought as to how I can get to do more.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Large format and small output

The picture I posted yesterday was from a scan of a 4x5" transparency. In rendering it for the web several things have happened: it appears darker, it appears softer (less sharp) and it appears lacking in detail. I did put effort into trying to avoid these things when shrinking it.

Therein lies the danger of comparing formats - each is suited to a different form & size of output, making comparisons difficult. The original of that image has a lot of fine detail (the whole point of it) and looks great in large size (I originally scanned to 55cm wide for a 60cm print). It has a full range of tonality with nice separation across the frame. There is no way I can really get this across on the web.

In the other direction, digital output seems to work really well on the web, especially from smaller formats. Trouble is, try and print any bigger than 12" from a single frame and all the advantages disappear -detail is lost and pictures start to look over sharpened unless one takes a great amount of care. I'm preferring my DSLR output printed to 8-10" to really capture the detail. Not too dissimilar to how I'd print 35mm film.

Seeing these differences, I think the larger formats are far from dead.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Lightbulbs

Badlands undergrowth, Alberta, August 2007

Not exactly your classic photography topic but bear with me.

I had to buy a bunch of lightbulbs. My apartment goes through them at a ridiculous rate (about 1 a week). Dodgy electrics, I reckon. Anyway, I decided to buy a bunch of those low energy, save the planet types. Not that I'm into their environmental effect - if that's the best you can do either you are super low energy or you're not trying hard enough. I digress.

No, I bought them in the hope that they will last many times longer than regular bulbs. while I was at it, I bought some of the "daylight" variety to try. I've now got one above my desk as I type. What a difference. More light and the colour from the monitor is subtly more neutral from very slightly warm. I'd never have figured the incident light could have so much effect on the screen colour. Into the bargain, this new bulb seems to give off more light, even with the same effective light rating.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Truth and accuracy

Autumn 1 (into the woods) - alternate, Salzburg, November 2007

The recent posts at the Lanscapist on the subject (from here forward) have prompted me to write a bit more of my thoughts on the subject.

Photography has a great strength in that it can record directly what is actually there. This may then be interpreted, altered etc into some other form. This leads, in my opinion, to two ways in which photography may be used in this context (there are others, but I'm sticking to the truth and accuracy theme here).

The first is a precise rendition of what is in front of the camera, such that one could hold a print next to the subject and see no difference. The second is the artistic truth, whilst not precise in the sense I define as accurate it is clearly a depiction of what was there, often reflecting the photographers feelings at the time.

As examples: product photography (the sort that shows up in catalogues) is designed to be accurate, but it doesn't really offer truth - we learn nothing of the product except its appearance. On the other hand, the work of the great landscape photographers (think Ansel Adams) is about truth: the place, the sense & feeling of being there. Not necessarily precisely accurate.

(A digression on accuracy, black and white can never be accurate as the world is in colour.)

There is, of course, a continuum from truth to accuracy. They are also not mutually exclusive ideas.

In my opinion, anyone who is working in the artistic field of photography, especially in landscape work (in all its forms) is seeking to portray truth. A search does not, however, gaurantee a find. One comment to the post linked above mentioned Jeff Wall, who seems to be a hot discussion topic at present. For me, his work tends much more toward the accurate that the truthful. Whilst his work shows meticulousness and precision, I don't get any sense of a deeper truth, especially knowing the methods employed. It just doesn't work for me. You may not agree with me: fine.

The really good photography shows something real and then projects a sense of something more. That "something" may be all sorts of emotions, content, relationships - it is the intangible part that creates some sense of connection between viewer and subject.

Handy hint for new Gitzo tripods

After I reviewed and field tested the Gitzo 3540LS tripod, I came across a minor issue with the new ALR & gravity lock system. Sometimes, when setting up the tripod, the joints don't quite lock in completely. Partly, I think, this is due to the fact that the legs can be locked effectively without screwing down the locks tightly. This is where the gravity lock comes in. The gravity lock system is an internal wedge design that stiffens the joint as weight is applied.

My routine now has me lean on the top plate after erecting just before I mount the camera. This locks the legs in securely (doesn't seem to affect unlocking force required) with much lower vibration. I'd recommend this to anyone using the new leg system.

Where I am: landscape

Grand Teton, Wyoming, August 1996

Part 3 of the self-evaluation of my current position. "Landscape" for is all about the natural world in its static state: not wildlife and not focused on man-made objects (architecture).

The landscape has always been a part of my photography. It forms an important part of my world-view and is high in list of things I love. Again, I've taken a very consistent approach to some subjects over the years, especially the "grand scenic" - wide vistas and the like. The shots are becoming technically better executed but I look back on some of the old stuff and impress myself with the quality of composition, even if i was shooting on ropey film.

I'm expanding my work to look at more intimate scenes: a move towards photograph-as-art and away from photograph-as-document. Increasingly I am fascinated with the shape and form of the natural world and particularly the desire to capture it and show it. This is leading to quite a lot of black and white work. I also feel that there are some consistent themes running through what I now do and a developing sense of personal style.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Developing appreciation

This is something of a sidebar in my Direction series that came about from some recent events.

I got a response to my post on Salzburg:

I really like "the line" (for lack of a better term) in Autumn 4. There is a movement of the eye that makes the photo very pleasing.
Then, reading & responding to Lloyd Chambers' recent post "dichotomy" I said:
I like to look at photos that give me things to discovery & little details.
Finally, I had a conversation with my parents about the photos I'd produced from their 40th wedding anniversary celebrations where they stated that they didn't really like the black and white versions, asking if I could give them a colour version of one in particular.

All of this cam together to get me thinking about what it is I like in photographs, what draws me to images and thus to making certain kinds of images.

They key point to me is, as I replied to Lloyd, all about discovery and depth. I like not just to see the obvious but be led on a "voyage of discovery" that has me coming back to an image to look at it, study it, get lost in discovering the small things. Photos that are obviously about "something" in particular are often too simple and I pass them by.

I am gaining a deeper appreciation of these types of photograph and hopefully it is helping me in my own work.

Increasing interest and preference for complex images - those with extra details, layers etc that encourage lingering study. Appreciation for photographs that go beyond the obvious, rather than simply present a single subject.

I'll get back to the sequential part opf this series in my next post.

Professional software

There is an ongoing debate at Lightzone forums on a post that originally stemmed from my recent review of Lightzone 3.1 about professional software. Unfortunately, the posters are fundamentally missing the point.

Professional software is all about development, quality of product, consistency of user experience. On the other hand, software for professionals is that aimed at professional and advanced users. 2 distinct categories, not necessarily the same thing.

For example, Photoshop CS is both, whereas Photoshop Elements may be professional software but it's not really software for professionals, being aimed at the digicam user.

When I was writing about Lightzone not being professional software (the fact that it feels like a hobby program), I was talking to the former, not the latter.

Colour management: an experiment

In response to my last post, Colin Jago kindly left a comment and useful link about colour management (CM) for the web. As I suspected - sRGB is where it's at for web/non-CM applications & browsers. Gets closer to native display, especially in the reds.

Here, then an experiment: 1 image, 4 colour-ways for the final export.

Adobe RGB - perceptual

Adobe RGB - absolute

sRGB - perceptual

sRGB - absolute

Seems that the sRGB does significantly better (trust me) - especially the perceptual. Oh well, time to stop being so lazy about my blog pics.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Colour strangeness

I said here that I'd toned down the colours for the autumnal shots I've just posted. Well it turns out that in uploading they've been toned down even further. The originals are much more saturated than they appear in the blog. This is odd behaviour as normally the colour rendition is very good when I upload. Must be some sort of gamut effect of the seasonal colours.
If anyone has clues as to what might be happening for these in particular, I'd be delighted to be enlightened.
Technical note: I normally work from an Abobe RGB TIFF, converted to JPEG for upload. Is there a corner of the Adobe RGB in the red/yellow that's significantly different than SRGB?

and finally for Autumn

Autumn 3 (green and gold), Salzburg, November 2007

Autumn 4 (golden branch), Salzburg, November 2007

and some more Autumn

Autumn 5 (forest steps), Salzburg, November 2007

Autumn 1 (into the woods), Salzburg, November 2007

Autumn 2 (russet spread), Salzburg, November 2007

Salzburg: Capturing Autumn

I'm not normally one for gratuitous seasonal shots but the colours when i was in Salzburg were almost unbelievable. I took a whole series of autumnal shots of which a few I'll post here. The colours really were this vivid, I've even toned the saturation down a bit...

Autumn and the mountain, Salzburg, November 2007

Autumn over Salzburg, November 2007

Monday, 12 November 2007

Where I am: places

Wembley Stadium (the old one), London, July 1986


Part 2 of the self-evaluation of my current position. "Places" is really all about buildings, towns, architecture. If it's the natural world, it's really landscape.

Going back through my old prints, I noticed a remarkable similarity in subject matter over the years. There is clearly a forward move in technical quality, largely due to an improvement in equipment. I've been placing more emphasis on selecting good perspectives & consistent approaches are developing in what & how I shoot these subjects. Still it's largely "documentary" - I was here, this is what I saw, which is fine.

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC, September 2001

Most of the photos I take of places, buildings etc are for my own consumption: aides memoire to remind me of where I went and the things I did. I'm not trying to create high-art here. It's interesting to read Paul Butzi's recent post on the subject of travel photography. I tend to share his view: there is no way to get deep into a location if you are just passing. I do think, however, that one can seek out the more unusual and try and capture the wider (hence deeper) impressions that one gathers.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Do not adjust your set

If you get the impression that suddenly the screen isn't as bright as before, I've just tweaked the background colour down a little from pure white. It's not you, it's me.

Alternative views

So I'm finally back from Salzburg. Was quite a tiring trip with a delay on the way home due to a missed connection. For now, I've been starting to work through the pictures.

These days, when I visit a new place, I try and look for new or unusual perspectives. I'm trying to get away from the postcard-style images (although sometimes these are nice) and try and capture my wider impression of a place. I'll be saying more on this later.

For now, here are a few slightly different perspectives on Salzburg.


Forest, castle, mountain; Salzburg, November 2007

Roof terraces, Salzburg, November 2007

Coming down the steps, Salzburg, November 2007

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

A bit more of Salzburg

Festung Hohensalzburg, Salzburg, November 2007


It seems fairly obvious now that I've had my chance to photograph Salzburg. Not a major problem: much of what I expected.

At this event, I'm very much the customer and so the hosts are at pains to make sure I am fully entertained for the week. Fine as it goes but that does mean I end up drinking far too much beer for far too long.

Today's shot is of the castle on the hill. The place we went to eat this evening (hundreds of us) sits just below it (behind the foreground buildings) - good night out and a real piece of history. The beer tastes really fresh for having originated in 1492! I have a close-up of the place but it is on film.

If the photos from these few days don't look so good on the web, please let me know. I'm working with nothing but in-camera jpegs and MS photo editor. I don't have anything more on my new laptop yet (but at least I now can connect to the Internet on the road).

Monday, 5 November 2007

Salzburg day 2

Hole in the Wall, Salzburg Festung, November 2007


If you're looking, there is no day one post.

Had a pretty enjoyable weekend seeing the sites, walking up and down the hills and taking quite a few photos. Despite it being November there are still tourists everywhere: I was hoping to have the place pretty much to myself.

Autumn colours have been quite incredible, I'd have expected to see more leaves off the trees this time of year.

Yesterday was spent photographing the sights (and sites) today much more the people. With a busy conference & social schedule this week, I'm not sure if I'll get in any more with the cameras but we'll have to see.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Where I am: people

Traipsing through snow, Trowbridge, April 1986

This was taken from my bedroom window right after I woke up - a surprise & freakish event. we rarely got snow when I was growing up and it was especially unusual to get it in April.


After sharing my photographic origins, it's time to turn to where I current think I am, photographically. The usual way to think about any sort of journey is to determine where you are, where you're going and thus a route from the former to the latter. Improvement is no different.

I'm going to break this down into posts for individual subject areas: people, places, landscape.

So first to people. Often called "street photography". For most of my early photography the people I photographed were family and friends: mainly events of significance, vacations and the like. Then the "middle period" when I had my first SLR there are virtually no people shots apart from photos of travelling companions while I was travelling. I'm pretty sure I went out of my way to avoid getting people in my photos - this stems from my desire to photography things rather than behaviours.

Now I'm beginning to take quite a number of photos purely aimed at people - I'm especially interested in the way people behave and relate to one another, particularly when it's out in the open.

I've moved into B&W & square format to help focus on the subject. If it's wide, I use a 2:1 aspect ration - 2 squares together. I am a lot less hung up on technical excellence (focus accuracy etc) and more on that "decisive moment".

As I spend a lot more time looking at photography than I ever did, there are 2 photographers who i think will influence me in this area. First Henri Cartier-Bresson for his notion of the "decisive Moment". It may seem trite but I'm finding that photographing people is about a single shutter release and no second chances. the second would be Elliot Erwitt for his amazing vision & visual humour. I was looking through the official Erwitt website this week. He had a knack of spotting amazing juxta-position and then capturing it perfectly.

I'll get more into where I want to go in later post.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

and on that note...

(precisely this note) Colin Jago has written a series of how to do a B&W scan negative as positive then use ColorNeg for the inversion. It's doing a similar thing to my experiment with PS Levels, but automatically. Now that I've seen the benefits of going that way, I'm going to take a look a ColorNeg, for sure.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Optimising black and white scans

After I posted some of the results from my first foray into B&W film, I decided today to look at options for scanning.

My initial scans had used the negative scanning options of my Epson V750, with the default film curve for Ilford HP5 plus 400 and a gamma of 1.8.

So I tried some things: gamma range 1.0 to 1.8, tweaked film curve, negative-as positive (followed by several inversion options in Photoshop).

Here's what I learned:

  • gamma needs to be high to get a good negative scan. The curve applied for HP5 actual has a quite negative (<1)>
  • Tweaking the applied curve in the scanner (or at least the output range) helped a lot. The default is for the scanner to take the range of tonality found and stretch right out. This buries the shadows and washes out the highlights leaving little room for further processing.
  • Scanning as a positive means a low gamma. 1.0 seems just right to get the full range of info for further processing. I output to 2%/98% range to avoid clipping.
  • Inversion options are varied in PS (I use elements, so there are fewer options). The Invert function is like dragging the thing through mud: it's hopeless. I tried adjusting the curve then inverting: no better.
Then I tried using Levels to invert: set the output range to 250,0 (as opposed to default 0,255) and tweak the gamma: about 1.8 seems good here. quick hiraloam USM (20,50,0) and the final result gives a full range of tonality, amazing shadow detail and a light touch on film grain.

Here's a comparison with one of the shots I showed before. Lower image is with the new negative as positive workflow. Not quite optimised but much, much better.


Saturday, 27 October 2007

Where it all started

So, the first step in my journey to define my aims is to think back to why I started with a camera in the first place. As luck would have it, I was rooting through a box of old stuff and found all the photos I took as a kid. This is the first ever photograph I took:

Birkdale Common, Yorkshire, 18th August 1984
clicking image shows it actual size @96ppi


So what brought me to want to take photographs? I think the initial motivator was something along the lines of wanting to create my own postcards: memories of the places I visited & the things I thought were interesting. It's hard to tell: it was a long time ago and I don't really remember. I definitely got into it right away, I used to carry a notebook and write the dates and locations of each shot, which is why I know exactly when this photo was taken.

I didn't take a huge number of photos - for me developing & film were expensive, each roll represented several weeks' pocket money and so I was careful what I shot. Single frames per subject only.

It has also been interesting looking at the subjects and compositions. There are a lot of similarities to the things I shoot today and the way in which I shoot them. Either that means I showed talent from an early age, or it shows I've not made any progress at all. Technical quality back then was poor. The first few rolls were on Dad's old camera until I was given my own: a Konica Pop - fixed 1/90s shutter but actually had variable aperture (in the guise of an ISO selector on the front).

All that early stuff is really a documentary on the events of my life and the places I went on holiday. There was no photography for the sake of creating pictures, they are all of something or somewhere. In that regard, I have definitely changes quite a bit - I now take photos to create images of things other than the places I go or thing I do (although I still do that as well).

I might scan and post a few more of the early works.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Provoking contemplation

Driftwood and rocks, Alberta, September 2007
I've posted this image before but for me it's a rare example of me hitting my target:
one of my all-time favourites

3 posts I've read today have come together nicely for me. First was the post at the Landscapist that I mentioned in my last entry. Next up, the link at T.O.P. to this article by Thom on setting goals. Third is this post by Colin Jago on analysing why and self-analysis.

While they may not seem related, for me they bring together the themes of what I'm doing, why I'm doing it, and when I know I'm getting it right. I can't say I have it all figured out but I think over the next week or two I'm going to put some effort into putting this down in words.

I can't say I'll be coherent in my thinking, or come up with specific goals but I expect the thought journey will be useful for me. I'll post as I go along; who knows, maybe it'll lead somewhere.

UPDATE: I've added a new category "Direction" to gather all my posts in the "journey" into one place.

What it is all about

Today's post at the Landscapist has a quote from Robert Adam's that nails everything that I'm trying to do with my landscape photography:

"Basically, I think (we judge art) by whether it reveals to us important Form that we ourselves have experienced but to which we have not paid adequate attention. Successful art rediscovers Beauty for us."

That's it: the connection of overlooked form with beauty.

Panoramic techniques

Cottonwood Graveyard, Alberta, August 2007
6797x2855 pixels, 8 images, single row, tripod mounted


Lloyd Chambers has posted on his disappointment with some recent pano work. He even goes as far to say that he should be following his own advice (always a good thing to do). It brought up an issue that I've been to and fro with for a while: panoramic devices.
As I shoot a lot of panoramas, I thought I'd share my techniques and thoughts on the matter (with a few examples).

Background
Typically I shoot 5-6 frame, single row images. The widest I've shot is a 27 image loadsa-megapixels image that hangs over my computer (reduced in size to 6 feet wide). I shoot both handheld and from a tripod and have recently been doing HDR panos using bracketing techniques.

The issues, a summary
There are a few key, and related, issues around shooting panoramas. The number 1 is avoiding parallax errors. The technically correct way to do his is using a nodal device to rotate around the lens's nodal point (for an explanation of nodal points go Google it). The next key thing is about covering enough angle of view - when you stitch images there are losses around the edges for the image distortion. Then there is colour & exposure variation between frames which needs to be kept constant (or close to).

For most of my work, I break all of the accepted wisdom and still get great results. I'll explain how and why. First off, parallax is only really a major concern if there are objects close to the camera giving a large angle of view offset between near and far and there is a large angle of view change between successive frames. If you're shooting things far away, parallax becomes a minor (correctable) problem and if you do a lot of overlap the shift diminishes (again correctable). Colour & exposure variation can actually be corrected with RAW processing & smoothed in stitching. More on that later.

My shooting techniques
Here, then, are the things I do to get the base images for stitching:

Handheld: conventional theory says you can't do panoramas effectively handheld. No nodal point rotation so variations in vertical and horizontal. If, however, one sticks to the notion of minor angle of view changes between images and keep the distance to subject large enough, this can all be fixed. I might do as much as 75% overlap on handheld images, certainly more than for tripod work. I get very good results even with subjects as close as 10m.

Heidelberg roof, July 2007
4030x3174 pixels, 3 images, single row, handheld:
shot from across the street (maybe 15m away)

has a significant shift applied in the alignment due to the upward angle of view

Tripod: for tripod work I overlap a little less and work with panning horizontally. that doesn't necessarily mean keeping the camera level, which isn't possible for multi-row work anyway. Again, more overlap for closer subjects. I always use a remote release and mirror lock-up. I allow at least 5s after mirror up before firing the shutter to minimise camera vibration. that holds just as well for any tripod work, not just panoramas.

HDR brackets: I've started doing multi-exposure HDR panos. For this I have a programmed release which fires the mirror lock-up then the shutter at 5s intervals for 3 exposures for each camera position. I usually use +/-1 stop brackets with the longest exposure putting the shadows mid-histogram.

Close-up: If there is anything close, lots of overlap. Anything closer than 5m will cause problems, even with great software. I avoid that stuff unless the whole subject is close, then lots of overlap and always with a tripod.

Processing

RAW conversion: the aim of my RAW conversion is to balance colour & exposure and also remove significant distortion (although the latter is really a post-conversion step). My target is a colour values change of less that 10% in the overlap zone in adjacent frames. I typically add a little sharpening to the conversion, too: helps with fine tuning the alignment.
Typically I use CaptureOne for the conversion, especially if there is little distortion or exposure difference between shots. the I will apply equal settings to all the frames. Sometimes i use ACR followed by PTLens in Photoshop to correct distortions. Stitching is easier if basic lens distortion is fixed first, even if your stitcher uses lens distortion data.
If I've done HDR, I'll do the combination and tone mapping (with identical settings for each frame) using Photomatix Pro from the 16-bit TIFFs.

Alignment: my stitching is all done with PTGui from 16-bit TIFFs. I don't think any other program comes close in power to this. I tweak the alignment, stitch type (rectangular, cylindrical etc), angle of view, shift etc. Sometimes I have to run the optimiser carefully going through a sequence of steps to close down max error below 10 pixels. I won't go into all the details as it is a very powerful program. 90% of panoramas need nothing more than the auto settings, however.

Blending: always with the Smartblend plug-in. Nothing else comes close. It fixes colour/lum shifts, parallax & various artifacts between images (it has even removed extraneous people from some). I have not yet, with decent original alignment, seem any sign of the stitch points using Smartblend, and that's at the pixel level.

Output: always to max size, 16-bit TIFF.

Final adjustment: Once it's stitched, its off to the regular processing software for final adjustments (crop, contrast, curves, B&W, sharpening etc etc). I'll also do a resize for the output print size which is usually a shrink.

Overall it takes about 10-20 minutes to get to the stage of producing the output. A few minutes for PTGui to work the output magic, then final adjustments. Not a long process at all.

Dinosaur valley, Alberta, August 2007
3887x2882 pixels, 4 frames, 2 rows, HDR: total 12 shots, tripod mounted
looking down so again a significant shift applied in alignment
this produces a very finely detailed 24" print (scaled-up)

Outcomes, conclusions

Pixel level examination: with this total workflow (capture to output) I'm getting prints that can be examined in fine detail, close-up with no signs that a stitch has been done, whether handheld or tripod mounted and without the nodal device.

Simplify the process: overall, Ive worked to streamline this workflow and minimise the kit I need to carry. The output is very good if I take a little care with the initial shooting.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Portfolio overhaul

With all the recent discussion on style I realised that my portfolio site was a mish-mash of seemingly random pictures: spot the amateur. Well, I've decided to overhaul the whole structure into more consistent groups and added a bunch of photos into the bargain. Now, hopefully, some of the themes that I follow can clearly be seen in context. Not quite the obsessive pursuit of an idea but much better reflects what I'm trying to get across.

I hope you like the changes.

Monday, 22 October 2007

First roll of black and white

Crane, Canary Wharf, London, July 2007

In all the years I've had cameras and taken photos I've not, until recently, actually used B&W film. Mostly, I suppose, because I was part of the happy-snapper crowd.
Well I finally got round to turning the roll I shot this summer into final images. I was using Ilford HP5 plus 400 so that I had plenty of scope for flash-free photography. I loaded it into my old SLR with a 50mm lens.

2 things surprised me about the outcome - first is that I can take decent photos with black and white. I was consciously thinking of shapes and forms. For the people shots, I'd probably have converted colour to B&W anyway. The second surprising thing was the distance to subject that worked best. normally with a 50mm I think middle distances, say 10-100m (first of the examples below). With this film, however, it was the close-up that worked best. Maybe a result of detail overcoming grain, but I can't really be certain. Anyway, here are some of the results:




Sunday, 21 October 2007

Getting through the tedious tasks

Having largely finished all the outstanding image work, I finally got round to all those small things yesterday: backing-up, software updates, archiving etc. I spend far too little time keeping my system organised when I'm busy working on the pictures which is going to get me in trouble one of these days. For example, I had over 500 RAW and 1000 finished pictures to back-up. Took hours for it to get completed.

Maybe I should have less on the go at once, but that would mean taking less photos.

Next up, the scanning: I haven't even got around to scanning the dozen 4x5s and 10 rolls of 120 that I've got ready to go.

So much to do and so little inclination to do it.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Style, empathy, obsession

Barrier Lake, Alberta, September 2007

There has been discussion of late on several blogs about the nature of style, how style defines great photographers and how style is developed. Probably the best discussions have been over at the Landscapist (start here and work forward to today). Much mention has been made of the obsession of great photographers to constantly go out and create images in a particular style, often of particular subjects.

In a comment to this post, I disagreed with the obsession idea, I think it is more a matter of empathy that then feeds the development of a subject and style.

I've been experimenting with the links between style and subject matter. The best landscape work I've done (for me at least) I've produced in a relatively high-contrast and low saturation manner in cool colours. It seems to suit the sort of open, day lit subjects I shoot. It doesn't, however, seem to fit all subjects.

The image with this post is one of a number of processing experiments I've tried the last few days. The original is below. This particular frame is badly exposed: there was far to much dynamic range to get an effective capture - the sun falling behind the mountains was still to high yet for the sky to have darkened yet the mountains are fully in shadow.


The shot was never about colour but for, so a black and white treatment was appropriate. When I did the initial conversion it looked a lot like old photographs of similar subjects, hence the treatment I tried above. I've slightly overdone the effect but it served the purpose: this style seemed to suit the subject and certainly worked given the technical deficiencies of the original.

Other experiments I've tried also seem to suggest that the right technical style can make a given photo and that most subjects have a style that suits. If, however, one does not connect with either subject or style, then one is never going to create a great body of work from them. Once a connection is made, then I think the two aspects can feed off one another: the continuing work on the subject and the development of the appropriate style.

This, maybe is where most of us fall down - we're too busy trying to make each and every image a good one, fitting the styles as suit the subject rather than focusing on those for which we have the greatest affinity.