Friday, 31 August 2007

Another colour dilemma

Dinosaur Valley, Alberta, Canada, August 2007

Another pair of images from the recent Calgary trip. This was what I was setting up for when I got the sunlight shot I posted before.

Both these images are good, to my eye, but show very different aspects of the particular landscape I was shooting. The stories they relate to me are about different timescales: the colour is all about geologic time and the formation of the strata over time. The monochrome is all about the shape of the landscape as formed by the action of river and weather.

2 intertwined stories that shape the landscape.

It may take some time before I decide on a favourite.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

New blogs to the roll

I was checking couple of the blog links that Doug Stockdale has (whose blog & images I'm enjoying a lot at the moment) and found, as a result, a couple of interesting ones.

First up is Bartender Never Gets Killed, which I'll follow for a while and see if it stays. An interesting approach to composite images.
Second, on a similar vein, is Harvey Benge, who is currently putting together a series of diptychs which I find really interesting. They take a while but I find they are images that I can spend time regarding, analysing and appreciating. I'm also going to take some time to explore his other work: he certainly seems to have a fairly unique take on art presentation.

Do I see reality?

Dinosaur Morning, Alberta, Canada, August 2007

Doug Stockdale has a couple of posts on seeing/looking (here and here) discussing the conveying of his vision or message.

Is what the photographer regards (as per my use) a form of reality or is he imagining things and putting them into the images? For example, did I really see the sky lit up as above or is that my overlaying a distortion from my mind's eye? Does it matter? Certainly what I perceived was a distant spot lit up as a brief gap opened in the darkening skies. There are all kinds of stories one could tell about the phenomenon but for me it is an amazing piece of nature. I've seen it happen a few times - the effect is always brief and one is lucky to have a camera to hand (let alone fully set on a tripod as mine was).

For me, it is a demonstration of the tiny portion of the natural world we actually get to experience and that every encounter is to be savoured. What do you observe?

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Dodging Heisenberg

Feeding the ducks, Neckarsteinach, Germany, July 2007

Although often misrepresented (as I'm doing) the whole point of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle is that the act of measurement changes the thing being measured (actually, that we can't perfectly know everything about a particle) . Whilst not quite quantum physics, photography has that effect on people: point a camera in their direction and their behaviour changes to suit.

When taking photos of people, especially out and about (street photography), I'm looking to catch "true" moments - the unaware shot as of a distant observer. Personally I'm not a fan of the photographer being part of the action, I prefer to be photographer as observer. For me it's about how others interact with one another, not how they interact with me.

Maybe it's not too far from particle physics after all.

Monday, 27 August 2007

Is the EOS 40D the one?

A while back I wrote a post covering what I was looking for in a DLSR. This was based on my experiences with the Canon EOS 20D - my main camera - and the things I liked and disliked about it. It seems the 40D is a big step forward. Is it enough?

Checking through the points it seems all are covered (on the press release spec sheet at least) apart from:

100% view-finder: new one doesn't look any better than the old one on paper. Loads of extra info but will i be able to read it with my glasses on?
MLU button but i think the new custom modes should cover it. Nice that there is multi-shot lock-up.
Multi-shot bracketing (more than 30 but that seems reserved for pro models and is a fairly low priority.

Not sure on the wireless stuff but that would need extra bits as it's not built-in.

So close and worth a look but I'm not rushing out just yet. Maybe when I decide I need a second body this will step in.

What about the Nikon? Don't really care as I'm tied in to Canon at present at it's not enough of a "wow, must have" camera. Plus, I'm still going to hate those control locations.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Seeing, hearing

Banks of the river, Heidelberg, July 2007

Photography is supposed to be all about the art of seeing (or is that Art of Seeing?). This idea has always sat a little uneasy with me but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Now I know. The image here was the eureka moment. The original has a whole lot of flat grey sky, which wasn't anyting of what I was actually observing at the time.

While working through the pictures from my Heidelberg trip, I realised that it is not about what the photographer saw, but what he was looking at. It all comes down to definitions, I suppose. From my dictionary (Chambers):

see: to perceive with the sense in the eyes

look: to direct the sight with attention

regard: to look at: to observe

OK, there are plenty of other definitons following on but these are the key first entries.

For me, a camera sees: it passes light through a lens to a recording medium. It takes the photographer to turn that into the attention of looking. The beauty of the English language is there is such a variety of words as to be able to finely grade meaning and usage.

It is a visual analogy to hearing - to hear is to perceive sound, to listen is to pay attention to the sound. This was a distinction passed to me by several teachers in school and has stuck with me.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

A couple more from the recent trip

2 more from Elbow Valley Falls in Alberta. Water is not my strongest subject - I never quite get the exposure times as I want but I quite like these shots.

The process & the camera

Elbow River, Alberta, Canada, August 2007

Paul Butzi's made a great comment on the new cameras from Canon and Nikon. It's all about photography, not the equipment. I agree - the best camera is the one that puts the least effort between me and the final image. Sometimes that means bells & whistles, sometimes simplicity.

Obviously, I've taken a look at the news from both makers. Feature packed SLRs add some convenience for certain jobs: sports, expose right, low light (ISO performance) etc. For me, the 40D might represent a worthwhile improvement over my 20D. I'm not even contemplating the pro-level gear.

Nikon seem to be catching up, maybe passing in some areas. It's all in the fine details of specifications. However, if the ergonomics same as the rest of their line, I'll still hate them. (I must be the only photographer who actively dislikes Nikon ergonomics.)

For a lot of work, I like my manual cameras: no fripperies to get in the way - judge exposure, compose, set A & T, fire. I've found myself with the 20D too often checking all the right buttons are pushed & options selected when I'd rather be pressing the trigger. The new custom settings might well help: pre-program & away I go.

Not a single mention of MLU operation in anything I've read: clearly no one does fine landscape work these days. Of course it's there but how easy?

For me the Canon G9 is the most interesting announcement - only camera amongst the news that has potential to increase the amount of photography I do (i.e. it's a pocket camera I might actually like to own). I'd actually like to get my hands on one to try but I bet it's the last of the latest Canikon cameras to hit the shops.

Friday, 24 August 2007

A handy gizmo

A handy bit of kit I picked up in Calgary (but available all over) is a new camera strap. The LowePro Speedster to be exact.

What's so special about a camera strap? Lots of photographers rave about the Upstrap for its solid no-slip handling. I took a look but it's way too bulky for me. A lot of the time I carry the camera in my right hand with the strap wrapped around my wrist. I find this makes the camera much less obvious, nicely secure and easy to bring to bear. The new EOS straps I've been finding a bit bulky for this purpose. Enter the Speedster.

What do I like? Nice thin strap material so it wraps around the hand well. Nice width: not so wide it gets in the way, not so narrow it slices into my neck. Rubber pimples prevent slipping with my mid-weight 20D set-up. Quick release buckles - easy to remove when the camera is tripod mounted (always been a pain with the fixed EOS strap). No obvious logos & neutral colour - unobtrusive. Nothings says "steal me" more than a nice branded SLR strap. The strap is also cheap (CA$20) and the quick releases are interchangeable with other LowePro straps.

All in all, a nice package in an oft overlooked piece of equipment.

Photographic success

Rock Face, Elbow Valley, Alberta, Canada, August 2007

Now that I'm largely over the jet lag and had a chance to go through some of the shots I took while I was away, I've been reflecting on the photographic success of the trip.

For me there were 2 aspects to this.

Firstly were the great new locations. On recommendation, I spent some time at Elbow Valley Falls and then an evening & morning at Dinosaur Provincial Park. 2 great locations for photography, new to me and quite unique to Alberta (IMO). I could happily spend a lot more time around both areas taking pictures and exploring (on bike or foot). I'm glad I've got another trip to Calgary coming up - more opportunity to get back to some of the places I didn't have time for this time around.

The second area of success was on the technical front. I found I'm got (and continue to realise) a much higher percentage of good shots than ever before. For me, the big improvement has come from my findings on the histogram (see The great EOS metering test). I now get very few over-exposed shots when exposing to the right and I'm better able to target brackets (for HDR work or uncertain mixed lighting). There is some experience factor in there but not enough to make up the difference.

I also feel I'm taking better pictures: better balance of light and subject. That is, of course, all part of the on going journey of development.

Over then next few days, I'll post some of the results.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

and service resumes

After a pretty successful trip, I'm back. I've not looked at a single one of the 600 or so shots I made while I was away so that's yet more work for me. Right now, jet lag is getting in the way. My body wants to sleep at all the wrong times (like the photo filled free-time) and fully alert when it's less convenient (such as my regular office hours).

On the photo front I can comment that I had a lot of fun picture-making time while I was away and I'll be blogging on such subjects shortly.

Of course the big news on my return were the announcements from Canon on their new gear - do I have thoughts on that? Not sure yet but some of the new stuff looks interesting for sure.

Friday, 10 August 2007

Away on my travels

I'm now off for 10 days on a business trip (with a bit of photo time thrown in) to Calgary, so posting may not be possible for the next week or so.

Hopefully I'll come back with another bunch of great pictures to develop & share, not that I've finished the work from the last 2 trips.

Updated portfolio

I've now got a load more photos to add to the portfolio and at the same time decided to make a few changes and implement an internal policy. From now, I'll restrict each of the 3 main portfolio categories to 24 shots (1 page of thumbnails). This will force me to cull all but the very best photos and keeps it quite fresh.

The 36 bicycles set will remain, and if I implement other projects they will get their own sections - this gives me the freedom to bring coherent sets of images together.

Check out the updates here.


Gathering clouds, France, June 2007

In response to a question I posed, Mark Hobson (The Landscapist) has posted a response, discussing the issue of the photographer connecting with subject and viewer. On reflection, I think I agree with him.

I take away 2 things from his response.

First, as a photographer, I cannot assume a viewer connects with my subject just because I do. Some might connect, of course, and that would give the image meaning for them but it is not an automatic process. I have to reach out in some way if I want others to draw meaning or have some kind of connection with the work.

Second, as a viewer, if I connect with an image I cannot assume others are. What for me has deep insight may be little more than a asnapshot to others. The reverse holds true as well - just because I may not connect doesn't mean others won't. We all draw differnt things from art, unless the artist delibrately sets the context for us.

As an illustration, I deliberately chose the photo to go with this post. On first glance it may look like nothing more than a snapshot of a random wheat field. I've titled it, that may give more context but I can't expect anyone to have thesame connection that I have with the scene.

In fact, it holds quite a lot of meaning for me. It is inspired by Van Gogh's "Wheatfields under Thunderclouds", a painting I was very much drawn to when I first saw it in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. the connection for me, however is in the fact that it is one of two pictures I own (merely posters) that, once hung on the wall, make a house a home. For someone who moves a lot (6 times in 10 years), that becomes important. The other picture is Picasso's "Femme assise au capuchon".

Added depth in monochrome

There is a post & discussion, over at T.O.P., on how to get more detail out of the highlights in B&W and the issue of dynamic range versus film. It mostly revolves around the use of HDR techniques to extract the maximum information from a scene (multiple shots & bracketing) or file (multiple conversions).

As I commented, I've been using these techniques for colour work with some success but never thought to apply them to monochrome work. Having had a few difficult cases recently, I went back to take another look. Here are the results. In all cases - Capture one for the conversion (does the smoothest dark tone conversion, IMO), Photomatix Pro for HDR combination, Lightzone for final adjustments.

Lock tie-up, Heidelberg, July 2007

Lock tie-up HDR, Heidelberg, July 2007

In this case, I did the HDR work in color then performed a conversion to B&W. There is clearly more detail in the far wall, and the water level in the opposite lock can be seen. Slight noise reduction necessary there to stop it looking too grainy compared to the rest of the image. Final print optimization not yet done.

Weir cascade, Heidelberg, July 2007

Weir Cascade HDR, Heidelberg, July 2007

Here, I worked the conversion in B&W from the start, to see how that affected workflow. No real problem as far as I was concerned. The image has 2 lots of colouration applied which is why it appear to be a colour image. I much happier with the fine detail in the smooth water over the weir and the less aggressive specular highlights in the foam.

Overall, a success: not for universal use but good for tricky shots and more abstract work. Just as I apply it for colour work.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007


Looking again at the photo attending the yesterday's post, I realise what a hash I made of the conversion: posterization, too much noise reduction. Uck!

It didn't make the final cut first time round because I felt it wasn't technically strong enough but looking at the subject I quite like it. So here is another attempt at the same shot. This time, I made the main subject (the people in the street) stronger and letting the rest fall where it may.

Life on Belgrade streets, Serbia, March 2007

Sometimes we need to revisit our results after a while to see if things can be done better or rejected images actually might be worth resurrecting.

Masters of Photography

Reading the stuff on 20th Century photography following the post & links at T.O.P. I realised that my photo art knowledge was sadly lacking.

Doing a search (actually for Winogrand) I turned up this handy resource for photographers - a whole buch of names, their photos and links to other resources. Handy for those looking for further information.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Metering and highlights in the digital world

Life on Belgrade streets, Serbia, March 2007

Mike Johnston over at T.O.P. was bemoaning the ability of digital to capture highlights for B&W, Kjell H (the lentic blog) had a riposte.

I had a think about this, and I think they are both right. On the one hand we have the ability of digital to capture large amounts of information at the highlight end and, if you know what you're doing with editting software, it is easily recoverable. great, as long as you don't saturate any of the channels. There is then that saturation problem - once it's gone, it's gone: there is no roll-off at the high end as with film. Well known, well understood.

There are times, however, when even careful expose to the right will blow the highlights and the detail is gone. there is also the problem of how your camera meters runs the histogram (for my discussion on EOS histograms look here). Specular highlights, or any small area at the high end is typically lost without significant under-exposure. Picture at the top is an example - the sky is blown-out and any cloud detail there might have been is gone. For this shot, not a problem, but if your subject had a similar small amount of highlight it would be gone forever.

My ideal solution: a mythical filter that reduces contrast at the highlight end of the luminance scale so all the info is crammed in there. The new EOS 1DIII has something similar, I believe - an in-built highlight recovery tool as part of RAW processing.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Art for scientists?

While thinking about the contrast between my job and my photo life as displayed via the blog I wondered - is photography art for scientists?

I know many with a science/engineering background who are keen to serious photographers (not just holiday snappers) but very few who take up other art forms (save maybe the odd musician). I think it has something to do with the bit that comes between vision and execution: namely technique.

I don't believe vision defines artists, but the execution of that vision. Art is not in the concept but the doing and making.

Whether you ae an "art as verb" type or "art as noun" type, there is a clear part of the art process that is the "doing" requiring some sort of technique to be applied. It might be paint, pencil, sculpture or indeed photography. I believe that the technique one chooses is largely based on talent, some sort of aptitude or affinity for the medium. Hence the scientist drawn towards photography: it is a very technology, mechanial kind of art form. The camera is very much a mechanical (or these electronic) device that I think sits well with the scientific mind.

I know for me, personally, there is "art as concept" going on in the brain. I can see the world as a seres of pictures, moments, whatever. I also know that I have not the aptitude to capture what I see with brush or pen but have a natural feel for the use of a camera. I like the mechanical aspect in bringing my vision to fruition, working the camera seems to come quite natural.
With the advent of digital editting it also fits in well with my bits & pieces approach to working. In the darkroom one has to have the patience and appliction to seethe job through. with the comptuer I can come and go to the work, tweaking and refining, erasing mistakes and so on.