Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Making up for...

... the lack of photos recently, something I did at the weekend.

Fleet Street in pictures

Good day for photo exhibitions: The Daily Telegraph has a story, and photo gallery, running on the history of Fleet Street newspaper photography running at the National Portrait Gallery.

Looks like an interesting exhibit for many reasons: history of reporting, celebrities through time or just for the antique gear-heads.

Breaking news: AP at war

A feature running on the BBC website highlights AP war reporting over the years.

It's an interesting slide show & series of interviews - well worth a look.

Thinking, seeing, in aspect ratios

Just looking at the pictures for the last two posts, I started thinking about how I visualise aspect ratio [AR] (if indeed I do). The "Cycle tunnel" shot is from the SLR, aspect ratio 6:4 (3:2), "Atop Alpe d'Huez" is from the digicam, AR 5.33:4 (4:3). Neither ratio is quite perfect - 6:4 looks a bit long (landscape too wide) - a bit less rock on the right would be better; 5:4 a bit short (landscape too tall) - light cropping from the bottom, maybe a sliver off the right.

So what is "ideal", how do I view AR and what about square images and wide panoramas?

One thing I have learnt about my own way of seeing is that I almost always think in terms of width of framing, even for portrait subjects. I then aim to capture everything I want in height through position or focal length. Taken to extremes, when I visualise a square image, I hold the camera in portrait orientation so the camera naturally frames the width I want. For panoramics, I always look for the extreme parts I want to capture to left and right, then selecting focal length to capture the height I want - number of shots falls out naturally from there.

What about "normal" shots - single frame, no cropping. In the past I thought I liked a slightly wide landscape AR (say 16:9) and for portrait a slightly short AR (say 5:4). Now I'm not so sure. The wide landscape AR comes from my view of the "grand scenic" - mountains and the like - which I often view in a panoramic kind of way. Not really indicative of the majority of landscape orientation shots. I often find myself cropping the long side of shots from the SLR - not quiet from 6:4 to 5:4.

SO that leads to the final point, and the first question: what's ideal? For me, I think something between 5:4 and 6:4. I might experiment, but 2 obvious candidates are 5.5:4 (round the difference) and 5.66:4 (1.41:1, format of A-size paper, and about the average). This won't be a universal truth of course, but might inform my general framing & cropping. What about Golden Ratio (6.472:4, 1.618:1) - seems so wide it's never considered in general photography.

Beginning of something useful?

Atop Alpe d'Huez, France, June 2007

There is a move afoot, via Lloyd Chambers' website, diglloyd (actually his blog), to get Phase One to produce a monochrome version of one of their digital backs. This then knocks onto Kodak, who produce the sensor. To read the whole thing go to the post of 26th July and read forward from there.

As Lloyd points out (and demonstrates with examples) you need far fewer pixels for the same resolution in B&W compared to colour - interpolation of data is a killer for detail. This means that cheaper sensors can be used assuming that more pixels = higher cost. I base that assumption on the fact that some makers are selling low res (4-5MP) cameras now for around $100. No frills, basic cameras. Put a monochrome sensor in them and I'd snap one up in no time.

If this is successful, maybe there will be a move to introduce monochrome sensors into other camera segments, maybe in line with my earlier thoughts on the subject. How about an exchangeable sensor DSLR? Canon used to make an exchangeable back film SLR, so you could run B&W and colour film side-by-side. Then would open up the whole notion of an upgradeable camera: slap all the important chips & stuff on a unit that slots in & out of the main body. Modular cameras for the masses.

It'll never happen, of course, but one can dream.

Monday, 30 July 2007

Labelling the blog

I finally decided to apply labels to my posts, largely because I was having trouble tracking older posts.

So now you can check out your favourite(!) topics and posts by type. Of course, my idea of a grouping is entirely personal.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Things which cannot be photographed

Cycle tunnel, nr Cluny, France, July 2007

Something I noticed this evening reminded me of an even more impressive sight I saw during he week. Tonight, the wind was blowing through the trees in such a way that the leaves shimmered as they turned into and out of the evening sun. red leaves in particular glittered.

On Wednesday evening I was out having a few beers outside a local bar. The wall of the building next door was covered in ivy, all 4 stories of it. the wind was blowing down the street in such a way to make the ivy ripple like waves. It made the wall seem alive, as if the whole brick surface was rippling.

Both these events made me realise that there are some things that cannot be photographed. The photo image is just a point in time and sometimes things are more than points in time. Both the wind effects I describe could never be captured in a still image satisfactorily (I know, I've tried). Whilst movement (or the sense thereof, as above) can be portrayed in a still image, there will always be events that are best viewed as movement.

Hopefully those of us with cameras spend enough time away from the viewfinder to notice the dynamic events all around us, as well as trying to capture the moment.

Saturday, 28 July 2007

A couple more Perouges

I can never quite decide with images like this whether I prefer colour or black & white. There are merits to both, of course. Then sometimes I try something a bit more unusual:

It may seem I've posted quite a lot from a single morning's photography but with good reason. It was the one time on the trip I had time to just concentrate on making pictures: much of the rest of the week's efforts amounts to holiday snaps. Fun if you were there.

More from Perouges

Skyline, Perouges, France, July 2007

Having posted a shot from Perouges, I thought I'd write a little more about the photos I took there.

Perouges, just north of Lyon in France, is an interesting location both to stay and to photograph. It is a small mediaevel citadel preserved in near-historic condition. It is clearly a tourist spot and has been the location for many films set in mediaevel France. It is a maze of cobbled streets and interesting architectural corners.

Overnight we ate in the restaurant of the one hotel in town, a very pleasant (if somewhat expensive) evening - something of a modern meets ancient dining experience.

In the morning, while the rest of the team ate a late breakfast I spent some time wandering around photographing the life out of the place. There is so much of possible interest that i didn't want to pass up the opportunity. With limited time and fast-brightening skies, bracketing everything was the order: many bright highlights and dark shadows. With no tripod, developing the pictures is a challenge.

Here are a couple more results from the morning's efforts.

Gallery, Perouges, France, July 2007
Angles, Perouges, France, July 2007

A travelling dilemma

Dramatic, Calgary, June 2006

In a couple of weeks I've got a business trip to Calgary, very nice. As a result, I'm taking the weekends off.

Calgary is a city I like a lot, having spent quite a lot of time there tagged onto my ski trips. This, however, will be about the first time I've been and stayed the weekend during the summer and I'm not sure how best to use it.

I could try and hook up with some people for some cycling or take the cameras and head off for a day or two's shooting. Trouble is where to go? Calgary is a pretty functional city, not a lot to get too excited about photographically (apologies to Calgarians) - I'd really want to make the photography about something that is unique to the area. Normally I'm pretty laid back about weekend plans but this is one occasion where I need to pre-plan equipment for whatever I do, so it actually requires forethought. Decisions, decisions.

Friday, 27 July 2007

A roll of film: 36 bicycles

A while back I discussed the idea of entering into a 1 day project involving a roll of film I wanted to expose. The result is "36 bicycles", some of which illustrate this entry.

What was the project? I took the camera (my old SLR) with a 50mm lens and set at f/4.0 out onto the streets. The aim was, in the course of a morning, to shoot 36 individual images of different bicycles around town. I picked the subject as I knew there would be plenty of opportunity and it's static: a little more helpful in the change of working method.

There is the crux of it - the change in working. Normally I shoot a lot of landscape stuff, tuned exposure, small aperture, wide angle, careful composition. This was about being more spontaneous (see the thing, shoot the thing), not worrying as much about the technical bits (I did use auto-exposure) and not taking multiples. I was looking to sharpen up my ability to capture a moment as I saw it.

The whole exercise had me on an up-and-down feeling, even for the 3 hours it lasted. I started out optimistic that I could do it in no time, then had a bit where I wondered where the next shot would come from, finishing on a flurry and subjects to spare. With a small, old camera people paid me little heed and I learnt to ignore the few whose heads would turn my way. Losing self-consciousness is important in doing this kind of work, I think, which is probably why I'll never be a decent documentary photog.
I've posted the entire collection in a folder on my portfolio site. Overall, there are about 3 that don't work technically, a few that didn't quite show what I thought I saw but on the whole I'm quite encouraged by the results. Hope you like some of the results, too.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Another weekend away...

...this time to Heidelberg in Germany. Another opportunity to flood myself with photos to stack onto the other incomplete work. Looks like a busy few evenings in the next couple of weeks.

One reason I know I'll have quite a bit to do is that I enjoy photographing historic towns. I like the way grand buildings sit alongside alleyways of odd-shaped houses, the hap-hazard nature of the street layouts and the way in which centuries of development and progress is laid out for all to see. This means I egt all kinds of interesting shots & interpretations to look at, often in difficult lighting. If it is sunny then there is always great contrast in every scene: bright skies, sunlit stonework, dark shadows. A real chalenge for handheld photography.

This will also be the first time I'll get to use my new 17-55IS lens in earnest for the purpose I bought it - available light photography of building interiors. I'll report back on my impressions of the lens for that purpose on my return.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

An interesting exercise

Blogs have been intermittent recently as I've got my parents visiting, which inevitably means I can't spend as much time with the photo work as normal. One spin-off, however, has been the small assignment they've asked me to do.

Next month my parents celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary (we should all last so long) and wanted some of their wedding photos on display for the big day. As a result, I've been scanning some of their wedding album, retouching and reprinting. Everything is in black and white, which makes it a little easier - there were only a few colour shots taken that day 40 years ago: "colour was only just coming in" was my Mum's observation.

Several things have been interesting about it. Firstly are the high resolution reflective scans. The V750 does a nice job - easily able to out-resolve the prints -, the dust & scratch tool works as advertised and the overall quality is very high. I settled on 1200dpi scans as offering the limit of detail and grain suppression. The textured matt surfaces throw up quite a lot of grain/luminance noise in scanning.
This leads to the second observation - how much film & print have moved on in 40 years. These are good quality prints. Having been stored in an archival album, in the loft, in a box, there is no fading, curling etc. However, every bit of grain in the film is apparent and the level of resolution returned is nothing compared to modern materials. In a couple it is hard to tell whether it is a lack of critical focus or lack of film capability that is limiting.
Final observation is that even with all these limitations, the photos touch up very nice in digital. Scan, dust removal (PS dust & scratch tool), contrast, levels are all that's needed to bring the scans up. I'm only making 12" prints which means de-ressing the scans followed by final sharpening. I only ran 1 print last night but the result was a finer print than the original; of course no more detail but a generally more pleasing result (I think).

One of the prints I'm working on is one of the original proofs, which is made on much lower quality materials. It's curled, yellowed and has PROOF stamped across it. Despite that, I'm able to produce a good result and even remove the stamp mark with some careful

I wonder how photographers of the future will look back on our efforts today? Will things move on such that they will make similar observations to me?

Friday, 13 July 2007

Stitching and cropping

War memorial, Serbia, March 2007

I read the recent tutorial/essay on framing and cropping from George Barr over at D.O.P. this week and figured he might have missed something.

George does a lot of multi-image stitches, as I do. It's an effective way of getting higher resolution or wider angles with digital. There are a couple of problems, however, with framing related to stitching in this way.

Firstly, there is the problem of visualising the scene, as mentioned in the article. If you are doing tight zooms on a small area then that may not be a problem. Effectively you are replacing a wide angle lens with several narrow angle images. Handheld framing devices would work quite well (given a caveat about point 2, below). For large panoramas, though, this is going to have a limit: if you are photographing beyond human visual field then a framing device isn't much use.

Secondly there is the problem of wastage from the stitching process. Good stitching takes into account lens distortion and perspective distortion, warping the images to produce the final view. This inevitably causes some wastage around the edges of the image due to curved components: cropping is necessary.

To over come thee issues I follow a different process of framing and composition when I'm looking to stitch several images together. This method is stems from a few failures and quite a lot of trial and error. There are 2 steps, in line with the 2 problems.
Step 1 is to determine the elements I want in the final framing. It is about pre-defining a set of edge points. This is much as one would do with a framing device but can be done for very wide angles of view.
Step 2 is to ensure that I add some extra to each frame I shoot to cover the stitching distortions. That often means surveying the whole scene to be photographed to ensure that I define an outer boundary around the whole scene. Typically 10-15% extra needs to be added top and bottom for a left-right pan (and vice versa). I don't take into account view-finder margin in this either, that gives a little more fat. This means shooting slightly wider for each shot than ultimately desired. If this means going wider than you would like for the resolution sought, then multiple rows are in order.

In summary: determine the key elements to be included in the final image, shoot wider to allow for stitching loss, shoot multiple rows if necessary.

The accompanying shot is an example: made from 6 images, handheld, the full size picture is 4200x7800 pixels.

In a side note, George Barr has posted a reply to a comment I made about knowing when to keep working on a picture. A very good post that helps consolidate my thinking.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

That wasn't so good

On looking at the pictures I added to the last post, I realised that the web just isn't very good for pushing that kind of idea. The top image has a lot of detail in the final incarnation that just doesn't show here. Here is a crop to illustrate:

The rivets on the door are clearly visible (I hope) and there is more detail in the far landscape than the little picture can show. Oddly, though, the shot straight out of the camera is just as bad in reality as shown in the small view.

The web really is a frustrating place for photography - maybe that is why everyone is pushing for the wow-factor shots, anything remotely subtle just doesn't show up clearly enough.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

What is a camera for?

Alley View, Perouges, France, June 2007

After reading the post over at the Landscapist on the differences between analogue (film) and digital workflows I got to thinking about the true nature of a camera, especially digital. I read the original post he refers to (by Colin Jago) and somewhat agreed, but reading Mark Hobson's comments I'm not so sure any more.

It seems to me that the point Colin makes regarding the need for software, monitor etc to really view a digital image suggests "truth" in film. that might be the case for slide/positive film but a negative needs a print (and by implication, chemical interpretation) to get to the image. Even then, the slide needs development.

For me, the digital camera is nothing more than a means to capture data: both the spatial data (framing the image) and the colour data (in the RGB storage). the aim is to capture as much as possible without losing anything. My ideal is a low-contrast capture fully exposed to the right: all the data contained in the high value bits. That gives me the greatest opportunity to develop the image as I saw it. The shots illustrating the post demonstrate an example: at the top the edited version; below, straight from the camera.

For film, I'm slightly more limited. There is a certain degree of colour interpretation built-in through the emulsion and the development. don't (and am not going to) do my own development so I'm at the mercy of the lab. Fortunately, scanning allows me to make adjustments and if I've used an appropriate film type there should be minimal effort needed to get from the developed film to the final image.

I just don't buy into the idea that the camera is the be-all and end-all of the picture making process. It doesn't capture truth in any sense that I could define it. If you shoot black and white, that's definitely not the case and everyone perceives colours slightly differently.

I like the "light tight box" definition of a camera: a means of transmitting light information to a capture medium. It is then up to the photographer to reveal the image, much as a painter does by applying oil to canvas. At the non-artistic end of photography (e.g. journalism) there is the added constraint of minimum adulteration but the photographer still interprets the scene both in composition and in colour rendering.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

The day Le Tour came to town

Forget the Palace, London, July 2007

Limited posts over the past few days are due to the fact that I was in London for the weekend: the Tour de France was in town for the Grand Depart. Saturday was the prologue - a short time trial around the famous sites, followed by the first stage on Sunday.

What a great event London stages. There were people standing 6 or 7 deep at every point around the 8km of the prologue route. People everywhere and from all over - in front of me were 2 Norwegian couples over especially for the day. Far more people than when I watched the Prologue in Liege, Belgium a couple of years ago, and they're cycling mad over there.

It's also a sports photographers dream: each rider comes past at 1 minute intervals, good views, full day out. For once Buckingham Palace (above) wasn't the main attraction.

Now I've hundreds of shots to go through, on top of the other 2 shoots uncompleted.

Friday, 6 July 2007

The problems of being a part-timer

As you may have guessed, I'm very much the amateur (for the love) photographer - it is an addition to the rest of my life, albeit a very pleasantly enjoyable one.

this leads to a problem, which I am currently facing: there are too many new pictures to work on, too many images in waiting, too many projects to keep up with. Having got back from France on Sunday evening, I've just been 2 days away on business and busy in between times. I've only just finished cataloguing the France photos, still have half my project from the week before and this weekend I'm off again for the start of the Tour de France.

Too much to do, too little time. I don't have the patience to leave things for a long period - I want to get it done, clear out each job in order and make space for the next. Not that I rush the work, but I don't like it stacking up. Must persevere, though, or nothing will get done.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Finally, a use for cameraphones

TGV, by Dave Routledge

During the trip, Dave was posting "bloggable events" direct to his blog portableeye. It was a fun way to get pictures of the goings-on to the web quickly from remote locations and the link quickly became a hit with friends around the world. Turns into a sort of daily photoblog of the trip in a kind of Holga-view way. Good fun while we were at it.

If you want to check it out, anything from 22/6 to 2/7 is our jaunt across France.

I'll be doing the more serious photo end of the trip but this was kind of fun. Almost makes me want to get a device that can do something similar. For once, 2MP isn't really a limitation.

Ken Russell once was a photographer

Reading through some news stuff on the web, came across this interview with Ken Russell (well known film director) about the photography work he did some while back. The interview ties in with an exhibition of the work relating to that period of his life. Interesting stuff, in my opinion, and certainly the sort of instinctive feel for "street photography" that I think we all wish we had.

Now I'm back from vacation, there's a pile of photos to go through. More on that later.