Monday, 30 April 2007

More from Saturday

A couple more of the efforts from the initially unpromising series amongst the trees this weekend...

Nature is the artist

Red leaves, The Hague, April 2007

As I'm primarily interested in landscape photography and natural subjects, these comments pertain to that aspect of photography.

It does seem to me that really it is nature creating the good stuff and it is the job of the photographer to find it, capture it and reveal it to others. Making the photo doesn't mean creating the art, to me, but revealing the art that Nature has created.

of course, documentary, architectural and other forms of photography have there own aesthetics and creative processes but the things that most interest me are the natural forms that are more complex, beautiful and pleasing to the eye than anything we might try and create ourselves.

The elusive art

Red tree, The Hague, April 2007

Following on from my thoughts on fitness, I have discovered that art can be created just as unexpectedly, despite my initial thoughts to the contrary.

When I went back to the card to download/wipe it after Saturday's efforts to capture "Red & green trees", I discovered a fair number of decent shots from my attempts for a stitching effort. This shot is one of them. It wasn't my intention, and I'm not saying it is a world-class effort, but there does appear to be a process where unexpectedly good results can arise from what was initially thought to be unpromising. Not that I'd then advocate the scatter-gun approach but that carefully looking at what seem poor efforts at first glance may reveal something more worhtwhile. Maybe something can be learnt in the process.

Sunday, 29 April 2007

The elusive light

Red & green trees, The Hague, April 2007

Following on from the previous post (but actually preceeding it chronologically) is the struggle I had with getting the posted photo.

There is a period at present, in the mid-morning, when the whole thing glows with back-light. It's a great effect, and one that is nicely visible from my living room window.

I tried briefly to get a shot last week and failed, mainly due to the wind. I tried harder yesterday. Not having the motivation to ride my bike, I decided to capture the photo instead. what a struggle!

The sky just visible through the top branches is several stops birghter than the near trunk and kept saturating regardless of what I tried. Multiple shots for overlay are impossible due to the movement from the wind. I shot dozens trying to get something to no avail.

the, later in the afternoon, the sun moved around and created almost exactly the same effect but rom reflected light rather than filtered light. The sun was lower, so the sky was a little les bright and there was a slight lightling of the mid-gound, reducing the overall dynamic range of the scene just enought to be able to get a good shot. This is the result. prints nicely at 10".

can't say i could have predicted the similarity of the reflected and filtered light effects. Of course, the reduction in relative brightness is obvious. Seems patience and careful observation can get you there in the end. There are, however, limited opportunities to wait for 6h and compare shots in the meanwhile in order to get the perfect shot.

Funny thing is, with a TS-E 90 (I was shooting at 100mm) or the LF camera & a 300mm (none of which I own) this would have been a piece of cake. i could have adjusted the perspectiv, switched to a wider aperture and worked at higher shutter sppeds, giving me more opportunity to avoid the effects of the wind. with the LF 9hence film), I think the dynamic range and top-end saturation problem would have been less of a concern.

The elusive fitness

Not quite a photogrpahy theme...

So what makes fitness? Whilst i had bno motivation to get out on the bike yesterday, i pushed myself out the door for te first long ride 9100km) of the year. With stiff legs into the mix. It had all themakings of a 4h epic with me struggling to get to the end.

Turns out i was riding rather well, even with a stiff breeze on the way out and turned in a 3:23, pretty close to a record. How on earth did that happen? I certianly didn't feel much up to it. even came home with my legs feeling better at the end than the beginning. Rather like last week when i knocked 2min off my 65km time eve n though I wasn't feeling to sharp and certaily wasn't looking to do a fast one.

These performances are the sporting equivalent to (in art0 of having limited motivation or vision and yet turning up some of ones best work ever. It just doesn't happen - except of course it did.

if I actually get the weiht off and get my fitness up, I'll be unstoppable (or something).

Friday, 27 April 2007

Finally, the Mongolia print

Big Sky, Mongolia, Sept 2006

Finally got the fully framed print back from the shop today, after much delay. Seems a 6' wide framing is just a little much for the material suppliers, handling is too difficult etc etc. Final result is great though and it'll be pride of place over the computer.

the actual image is about 8" tall and 6' wide, comprising a de-ressed stitch of 25 shots, put together with PTGui and the Smartblend plug-in. You need to get right in close to see all the detail but, to me, it sums up what the countryside in Mongolia is all about.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

Colour of black & white prints

Shaped tree, Stourhead, April 2007

I've been running a series of black and white prints over the weekend, together with a load of colour prints. Main aim has been to optimise the colour profile settings to get the most out of each print, in combination with the printer settings.

Pretty much sorted on colour prints, whether from Lightzone or Photoshop. I can get consistent image matches to my screen, especially with shadow details and the prints look consistent under different lighting conditions. Job done.

For B&W it's a whole different story. I can get prints that look good in day light, good under tungsten, good close up, good at a distance but none seem to be good under all conditions. Most worrying are the colour casts and how they perform at different distance and lighting.

I realise that I'm not going to get any one that is perfect due to the split of tungsten (regular light bulb) and daylight viewing, but I'd hope that they'd at least be consistent over distance. Prints under grey-scale printing option appear to have a sight red lour cast, except when close-up in daylight. last night it was particularly pronounced.
Without grey scale but using a monochrome colour profile, there is a slight green cast, but it largely disappears under tungsten and definitely as you move away from the print. Whilst I don't have a dedicated B&W printer, I'd have hoped to get some decent prints that can stand up to putting the wall.

Only 2 more things to try, removing all the colour info in Photoshop and a change in paper. I'm not sure the old printer is really up to photo printing.

The dilemma of travelling light

George Barr has posted a topic on travelling light with photo gear and the problem of which stuff to choose. Basic premise is that all the main gear will be going handheld on the aeroplane. Just like it should.

This is a problem I've faced a number of times, particularly when I took the bike to Mongolia. there I was restricting myself to lenses that could fit into the handlebar bag - 2 lenses no longer than 5". And I want focal length coverage. tough choices.

For me there are 2 main aspects of the travelling:
1. What range of shooting (thus gear) do I want/need for the trip
2. What soft of bag/carrying solution do I need.

To point 1.

Firstly, you only get photos with the gear in your hand, so trades-off need to be made. If the gear is too big, it won't go out.

For me I'm mostly doing landscape stuff, so want wider angles. When I'm with the bike I want longer focal lengths for sports stuff and some wildlife.
This means compact lenses, image stabilisation on the longer ones, best performance for the wider angles.

Personally I take my 17-40L and either the 28-135 Is or the 70-300IS DO. The first and last of thee are a great combo on the bike. The DO isn't the sharpest lens but stands up well to post-processing & sharpening and I'm generally not using it for stuff to print big anyway. Despite that
I've jut done a 25 image stitch that runs to 6' wide and has excellent detail as far as I'm concerned. Not quite fine-art standard, but good enough.
Those 2 (17-40, 70-300) fit nicely in the handlebar bag and mean I've always got the right lens with me. I also had the 50 f/1.8 and 28-135, the latter hardly got used. Its strength is when I want 1 walk-around lens.

I'm going to get the new EF-S 17-55IS as it'll be even better than the 17-40 as a walk around and for city visits. A 1 lens solution for a wide variety.

If I was doing finer quality work, I think a great 2-lens combo would be the 17-55 and the new 70-200L f/4 Is. Could even take the 1.4x telecon for little extra weight.

I'm working on a solution for the Shen Hao 4x5, but probably I'd take it and the 17-40 (or 17-55 when I get it) and be done.

To point 2.

Unless I ever go on a major shooting break with big, expensive lenses, I don't see the value in dedicated photo travel bags. If I'm carrying the bag with me, all the protection required is something to wrap the gear in.

I'm now using my small carry-on bag, which is max size under new regs.

I can carry the body (in its own pouch) and about 3 lenses, plus the chargers and portable hard-drive. On top of that I can carry enough clothes for a weekend, or a change and my laptop. If I was carrying the 4x5, then that and the 20D with a single lens would fit fine, together with a bunch of film.

The lenses go in separate bags. 2 small lenses (like the 17-40/70-300DO combo) fit into the bag for the 300L f/4IS and a soft pouch for others.
Chargers, portable disk etc have a small zip pouch that is quite flat.

All-in-all, much smaller than carrying a dedicated photo bag. If I need one of those, other gear goes in it and it goes in the suitcase/hold-all in the check-in. then I have it when I need it.

For back-packing I use a regular rucksack (slim, climbing style) and put the camera in a small pouch/soft bag inside. Light, small, easy to pack and get at. Again, I don't feel the need for all the padding if the pack is always in my hand. Tripod fits nicely on the outside compression straps, packed in a sleeping mat bag.

If something happened enough to damage the cameras, I'm pretty sure I'd have worse things to be worrying about at the time.

Other examples - when I did the Tour de France day on the Joux Plane, I had the 300 f/4, 1.4x and 28-135 plus a monopod. that with lunch and water fit nicely in the rucksack and was bike-able. Covered all the cycling action I was doing.

The biggest compromise I think that needs to be made is the trade-of between highest quality lenses and compact size. personally I'm happy with the mid-range or lower-L stuff. I don't do huge prints, so that's OK. Then I tailor the shots I take to the sizes I can reasonably print,
accepting that I can't get great shots of every opportunity I see but can for the most important subjects to me for that trip.

Were I a professional or selling my stuff, I think I might have one of the new Think-tank carry-on bags, but I'd still restrict myself to 2-3 lenses per trip, or a couple of outfits with a couple of lenses each.

Saturday, 21 April 2007

First large format efforts are here

Got the first roll of film developed. 6x9 test shots with the new large format camera. Very impressive overall but clearly needing some work.

First error, loading the film. I lost the first shot and part of the second. Can't have pre-wound the film enough before closing the case.

Second thing I noticed is the exteme sensitivity of depth of field. The shot were all back garden stuff at reasonably close distance and it is amazing how shallow the depth of field really is with Lf. I'm using a 120mm lens (wide angle) and to get these subjects fully in focus needs f/16 - f/22 in practice. I think I should put together a DoF chart, seeing as I've got the DoF calculator on the palm.

Third thing to notice is the accuracy of the focus and the effectiveness of the Scheimpflug effect. With shallow DoF (f/8) and a forward tilt I was able to get grass at meter or so, and top of tree at a few metres both in focus but everything else out of focus. this was just a test shot to determine the effects, vry clearly demonstrated.

Of course, I've only been examining the slides under a loupe - still waiting on delivery of thescanner to really get to work.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Creative block and photography

Archway, Belgrade, Serbia, March 2007

I've read a few posts recently (over at T.O.P., Chantal Stone and Butzi) on photographers suffering the equivalent of writer's block. It's artistic/creative people worrying about losing the creative urge. But is it a realy phenomenon?

Certainly we all have bad days, regardless of the pursuit. I have days at work when I can't think straight, get the sums wrong and generally can't get it together. There are definitely days I struggle on the bike: legs won't work, body won't respond, get dehydrated - whatever. it seems to me, however, that those with a more artistic bent get particularly worried.

I think perhaps they shouldn't.

The success is never measured in the quantity but the quality. For my photography, I'm always looking to come back with better shots than the last time I went out. I'm happy for the opportunities I get to take a day with the camera. sometimes I feel a little frustrated that i don't get out more but I'm not getting worried that I'm not seeing stuff to photograph - somethimes i'm just not interested, and when I am i look to take full advantage.

The recent Stourhead day was a case in point. I took a load, quite a few I botched (main due to poor exposure control) but i got a relatively high quantity that I decided to work, and a few of those I want to print.
A good day out, all told. Plus I find as much creative satisfaction in working on the photos and exploring the interpretations or wokring to bring out my vision as the actual spotting the photo in the first place.

Maybe artists just need to be a little more glass-half-full and think more positively about what they are actually achieving and worrying less about what they could/should/would achieve if only...

Am I a photographer?

Watch the birdie, Mongolia, September 2006

When, in photography, does one move past being someone who takes/makes photos to becoming a photographer?

I'm definitely an Engineer - my qualifications and business card say so - and I'm pretty sure I'm a cyclist by fact of the quantity, variety and locations that define my bike riding.

But what about photography? I've certainly no qualifications and don't sell or show anything. I'm pretty sure it's got nothing to do with equipment. I'd certainly like to think I've moved beyond the snapshot and into more creative/artistic endeavours. Does intent make one a photographer? Is merely being active in photography enough to make one a photographer?

Not that I'm getting worked up about it - I don't really care as long as I'm enjoying the process of turing vision into print.

Just a question that intrigued me, really.

Saturday, 14 April 2007

Refinement and selective editting

George Barr and Uwe Steinmuller (over at Digital Outback Photo) have been writing a lot recently on the importance of selective editting and refinement of images. I've been a fan of selective editting for quite a while - seems to be one of the key benefits of working digitally: one can tweak each area to get the best possible shot. despite that, the majority of my owrk still uses global adjustments.
Barr takes it almost to extremes, working over long periods of time and with very small adjustments to optimise pictures to his vision.
The shot above seemed an ideal opportunity to use the ideas that Barr promotes to take my work a bit further than i might otherwise do. Picture at top is the original from the camera with minimum RAW conversion in Lightzone and a little sharpening. I took the shot with a square format in mind and below is what I'd originally envisaged.

Clearly not a very good picture - sky grossly over-exposed (I was having trouble all day with that), flat looking shot and los of foreground details. This was using a fairly standard set of adjustments - colour balance, curves for black-point and midtone contrats and some micro-contrast. Not very inspiring.

I then got to work further, developing differnt areas and adding several adjustment layers to the mix. Some of the things I did:
Selective colour adjustment on the sunlit patch of ground
Several levels adjustments the enhance contrast on fore, middle and background elements
Selective enhancement of the main tree together with saturation lowering on the secondary elements

There's also micro and macro contrast adjustment, some noise reduction and regular sharpening. Overall 20-30 adjustments. This is the result:

Fallen tree, Stourhead, April 2007

Something I'm much happier with and in line with my original vision.

I also did some work to produce a basic B&W interpretation:

Whilst not optimal, that approach also has some merit in this case.

I think I'll be looking for more opportunity and putting more effort into developments, especially if I intend to produce prints from the image.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

What's all the Lightroom fuss?

River in Tsetserleg, Mongolia, September 2006

There's been a lot of fuss over Adobe's latest behemoth, Lightroom. Digital Asset Management (DAM) - filing ones photos in other words - is all the rage. Maybe I don't take enough photos but I just don't see the point.
There are other programs that will allow you to do large batch RAW conversions (I like capture One, myself for that) and a good filing system & taxonomy should make it easy to find photos. All that I'm currently missing is some sort of index to link all the versions of a particular shot, and I suppose that the search features within Windows would help me out there, coupled to my index numbering system.

Shot above is a case in point. I was browsing through some old photos and some of the portfolio/stock stuff I've got and decided this could be better. It was a short hop to find the original and use the linked Lightzone file to make some improvements. As all the developed stuff is filed away by trip & date, and is cataloged with a date, cross-referencing is relatively easy.

Can't say I'd even need the ability to link Lightroom directly to an editor - Windows file associations can take care of that for me, quite easily. With the right click settings, one can even generate a list of possible editors.

As I said at the top, maybe I'm missing something about Lightroom because I'm clearly not understanding the fuss.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

More discussion on street photography

Popcorn, Belgrade, March 2007

Seems T.O.P. has sparked some controversy on street photgraphy with a riposte (once more) by Butzi.

I think I agree with him, somewhat - despite the slight rant. It's not really fair to get your shot, then ask permission for another. Seems a bit cheeky. If your happy with candids 7 that approach, fine. If you fel you need permission, also fine. Just don't go using one method to justify the other.

I still think that "from the hip" is the best way to go. I enjoy capturing ordinary people doing fairly ordinary stuff. Some interesting things come out and it's a way to capture a slice of life or the sense of a place, IMO. A shot like the one above would never happen, otherwise - these are the sort of street photos I like looking at am enjoying taking.

The LF debate continues

Paul Butzi has had further thoughts on the LF as contemplative, and a couter-thread over at LF forums sparked off. I still think some of them don't get it.

If you want to be slow and thoughtful, fine. That doesn't mean you need an LF camera to do it, or that LF requires it, or that the same process can't be applied to 35mm (or digital equivalent).

Careful considering the scene, light, composition etc is one thing, twiddling with the camera for hours something else entirely.

I'm also pretty convinced (despite not yet having tried it) that a scene cannot be properly contemplated from under a dark cloth. Once the camera is pointed and focused, get the head out and look around. This enables surveying the scene, watching for the changing light etc. A method I've mployed many times with the DSLR - I get it set up,then take a series of shots as the light changes. Sometimes I see a different scene, so move the camera around a re-compose for the new scene with the better light. No reason this can't be done with a LF camera as well.