Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Back in action

Fir cone decoration, Wiltshire, December 2008

I'm back after a couple of weeks at my parents'. A nice, relaxing, family Christmas. Too much food, too little exercise. No phone, virtually no internet. All in all, a great way to recharge my mental batteries.

On the photography front I took virtually no pictures. It was the first trip home in a while where I didn't deliberately set aside some time for photography.

Now I'm back, there is plenty to write about here. I took notes for a few posts and had a couple drafted up before I left, so expect to see plenty over the next few days. I'm also going to try to spend some time out of doors, either camera in hand or on the bike burning off the Christmas food.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Can I have low ISO, please?

Right then. High sensitivity cracked. Cameras now see better than humans. Great. When I become a bat hunter I'll be well in. (Go read Mike J's latest comments).

But I often run into the opposite problem - needing a stack of ND filters to get the longer exposures I want. This happens more often than I run out of light. So can I have a camera that is happy doing 10s+ exposures without noise and can shoot at ISO12, please? This could be a whole new area for manufacturers to fight over.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Afternoon thoughts, camera in hand

Untitled, The Hague, December 2008

After my last post I went out for a walk with the camera. Walking around photographing things always gets me thinking, here is the random collection of thoughts from today.

On using a new camera, you come across new features that you never knew were needed until they are given to you. On the 40D, the must have new feature has become the AF-ON button. It's like manual focus for an AF camera. Has me working in much the same way I do with my other cameras - separating focusing from the act of taking the picture.

Good high sensitivity and auto-ISO, great for overcast days.

Just because it was cold yesterday, doesn't mean it will be today. From below freezing, to several degrees in 24h.

I'm not good at going out just to take pictures. I usually need to have some idea of the subject at hand. Personally there are 2 reasons. If I don't have a specific goal, I feel I can't take every opportunity as I'd never have the camera away from my eye. For today the walk was as much the goal as the photographs and I had to make sure I got enough exercise as pictures. The second reason follows from this: I reject a lot of potential pictures because I'm not sure they're quite right. With a specific idea of the shots I want, I focus my attention on those aspects of what I see, so I pre-filter the potentials. It means the end results are generally better.

I'm sure a creature from another planet would elicit less odd looks (as in, expressions that say "you're odd") from other people that a man with a camera in his hand. I thought they were all weird for having apparantly so much stuff to do on a Sunday. We seem to have lost the day of rest, might as well be toiling down at mill.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Good or good enough

Neither, Scheveningse Bos, The Hague, December 2008

There's a lot of writing in webland on the nature of expertise; lots of reference to the 10 year, 10,000 hour markers. In some respects, these notions miss a couple of important points as several have picked up.

The first is the idea that a certain amount of time spent at anything will yield improvement. Not at all. The effort has to be focussed on improvement, which requires constant critical appraisal of results. Doing the same thing over and over dooms one to repeated errors - I like the cliché: doing what you've always done means you'll always get what you got. If we want different (i.e. better) results, we need to be doing something different.

The second idea that stems from this line of thinking is that there is some absolute sense of "good" that is the end goal of all of this improvement effort. That cannot be the case. "Good" as a measure is only ever relative - one can be better or worse but there is never any real sense of absolute quality (talking of subjective matters such as Art). In the absolute worlds of science we talk of accuracy rather than quality of results - even then, there is a degree of relative measure. And so for developing photographers we must not think that there is some measure of performance that we might strive towards.

Which leads nicely to my third notion of "good" - the idea of "good enough". This bit is probably going to read a lot like philosophy. This is, I think, the most important idea to keep in mind for anyone looking to improve. Or rather, to dismiss from thought. Those who are truly experts never have a fixed self-measure of good enough. It is in knowing that one can always be better than before - the constantly updated relative measure - that provides the motivation. If one aspires to be really good at anything then the first realisation is that one is never good enough (hence the title of the image with this post). Probably the best a photographer could achieve is to create a world class image every time the shutter is pressed. (We can't aspire to create iconic images today, as they are judged only by time.) But today's world class is not tomorrow's and so the relative measure is moving forward as fast as we are trying to keep up. It's also no good aspiring to be as good as someone else - you're going to need to aspire to pass them and surpass them.

And so, finally, my passing thought (for what it's worth) is this: if at any point you think you are good, or indeed good enough, you will go no further. And maybe you're happy with that, that's OK, just don't complain that others don't judge you so highly.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Lightroom tip: invert tone curve

Lightroom 2.0, Windows XP.
read my tips intro first.

How do I invert the tone curve?

I've seen a few utilities available online and a lot of questions on how to, but nowhere that showed you how. So here it is. I'm assuming you know how to create a development preset.

First you need to know a bit more about Lightroom presets. They work as formatted text files, which makes them very editable. In Windows XP they're stored at: C:\Documents and Settings\%username%\Application Data\Adobe\Lightroom regardless of software install directory (for example, I've got Lightroom installed on the G:\ drive). For this you'll need to get into the \Develop Presets\User Presets sub-folder.

But first, it's easiest to create a blank tone curve and save as preset, with a name you can remember (easier than editing from scratch). If, for eample, you created a preset called invert, go to the prest directory and open invert.lrtemplate. The text should look like this:

s = {
id = "498D92B2-EB89-4054-AAA2-46D3207AB652",
internalName = "Tone test",
title = "Invert",
type = "Develop",
value = {
settings = {
ConvertToGrayscale = false,
EnableGrayscaleMix = true,
ParametricDarks = 0,
ParametricHighlightSplit = 75,
ParametricHighlights = 0,
ParametricLights = 0,
ParametricMidtoneSplit = 50,
ParametricShadowSplit = 25,
ParametricShadows = 0,
ToneCurve = {
0,
255,
250,
0,
},
ToneCurveName = "Linear",
},
uuid = "8422BC3B-D8AA-4981-9F69-C350D56D935E",
},
version = 0,
}


Note the line title, which is what shows up in the presets list in Lightroom. The important bit here, however, is the bit labelled ToneCurve. This lists the end points for the curve. We're going to reverse them from {0,0:255,255} to {0,255:255,0} thus:

ToneCurve = {
0,
255,
255,
0,
},

There it is, a basic straight line inversion curve for Adobe Lightroom. I actually do something a bit different, changing the black point instead, thus:

ToneCurve = {
0,
255,
250,
0,
},

I could also change the white point by setting the first pair to 0,250.

I'm going to come on to a fancier use of this in another post.

Lightroom tips: an introduction

Now that I've been using Adobe Lightroom for a while, I realised that there were quite a few things that I've needed to work out how to do. Apart from learning the new tools and what all the buttons do, there are a few features that seem to be either missing or undocumented.

I come at most software from the angle of asking myself "How do I do...?" and then trying to find out how to do it. I tend not to learn all the features and then work out how to put them into practice.

From this standpoint, I thought it would be useful to others to put together some posts with tips on things I've worked out how to do. These are often questions asked out in web-land without satisfactory answers. Certainly the things I'm going to write about I've not been able to find documented anywhere, including in books.

Each of the posts will start with the basic "how to" question I was asking myself and maybe reveal a few other aspects along the way. Each post will also refer to the Lightroom version and operating system platform. The latter is really related to file locations etc. If you read the posts and know the specifics for other OS, drop a comment which will make the posts more complete.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Voigtlander 28 f/2 Ultron

The Hague, November 2008
Photo cropped for height but not width

My not-quite-a-review of the M mount Voigtlander 28 f/2 Ultron (CV28U henceforth).

As with my other RF writings, as much written for the non-RF crowd as the die-hards (maybe I'll convert a few pagans).

I don't do lens testing: resolution, focus and all that jazz. Too much like hard work and doesn't tell me anything about the results I'm getting. Of course, as a gear head I read that stuff from others. Maybe this will mention some things they don't.

So, some observations. The first is how small this lens feels in actual use. Photographs of the lens make it seem quite large for an RF lens but that is slightly distorting. A fair amount of the lens extends into the body when mounted, thus it is much smaller in use. Compared to the relatively small CV 40 F/1.4 Nokton the CV28U only extends a further 2-3mm when the hoods are mounted. Both fit nicely is a jacket pocket. The other nice thing about the size is that the supplied screw on shade has the same diameter as the barrel, so the appearance is very clean. I also find this makes focus operation with the tab easier than to 40 Nokton. Focus is smooth and nicely weighted, aperture ring could be a little stiffer - I occasionally knock it out of place.

Results? Pretty good. this one is multi-oated compared to my single coated 40. I don't see much difference in contrast. Certain chice of film has a greater impact in real world use. Focus seems sufficiently accurate - user error is having more impact on focus as far as I can tell. Vignetting is slight. Being a wide-angle, bright light towards frame centre causes a fair amount of fall-off anyway. OOF rendering is pretty good, nothing to complain about. can't really tell about sharpness - I've only used it with ISO400 film so that's not an issue.

Personally, I like to use a 28mm indoors or other relatively close subjects (say 2-5m, 6-15'), otherwise it's a bit wide for me. At those sort of distances the frame lines on my Zeiss Ikon are very accurate. At further distance, the lens sees a bit outside the frame, but not hugely.

Overall, the lens is offering just what I want - good results and nice handling for reasonable money.

Honesty and responsibility

I want to expand on an idea that I posited as a reply to The Landscapist's thoughts on responsibility.

I stated there that the photographer's responsibility is to represent his work with honesty. And the more I think of this idea, the stronger I believe it to be the case. It is something akin to the photo journalistic notion of showing what was actually there without adulteration but is quite a bit broader. it is also more than merely portraying the real, in the sense of the way the world actually appears.

Photography can illuminate through both the real and the abstract. Deliberately abstracting a notion to represent an emotion is fine by me. It is just as photographically valid and relevant. But it must not be presented to be something else. deliberate staging and apssing off as real has no honesty, no integrity. If we cannot trust the photographers honesty of intention, how can we possibly trust the message?

If we wish to connect with an audience, first we have to bring them along with us. For that to happen they must trust in our directions along that journey. It is not just the personal representaion, I believe the work itself must also speak for itself honestly. therein lies our greatest responsibility, for then we can lay out a path to meaning that others will trust to take.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Slump

Winter reflection, Scheveningse Bos, The Hague, December 2008

It's one of those times when I've lost pretty much any motivation for anything. I'm coming down with a cold, I need more exercise and I could do with a vacation. (The last will be solved in a couple of weeks.)

Yesterday and today I thought I'd go out for a walk with the camera, just to get some fresh air and photo practice in. Possibly the least productive I've been with a camera. Couldn't really see anything. Today, I pressed the shutter just 10 times (and one of those was by accident). It appears I can't really get over slow periods by just getting out and photographing.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Further thoughts on Eggleston

Another one I like very much

Spending more time looking at the pictures (still haven't read the essay) in William Eggleston's Guide I see many aspects of subject and composition that perplex me to the point of a great deal of reflection.

The issue is this: in the way the subjects are presented it is hard to determine if they are formal or informal pictures. Some look like staged scenes trying to imitate decisive moments, some seem to be candid shots that could have been arranged. There are many that appear as formal compositions, and yet others that are randomly arranged and composed. Yet all are of a piece.

It really gives me a lot of thought as to how one might view the quotidian as a photographer.

A slight aside on subjects, the famous tricycle image seems strangely at odds with the rest of the subjects. it is the only one that seems to use a deliberately perspecitve distorting angle.

UPDATE: spello corrected

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

It's all been done before

Eggleston's guide - I really like this one

Just got my copy of William Eggleston's guide, after 6 months on back-order. Had chance to quickly go through the photographs to get a first impression. (This is the way I like to deal with photo books - a first quick flip through every page to gather a first impression, before spending time delving in and absorbing the details.)

Several things have struck me immediately. First is how many photographs of people there are. This somewhat surprised me, as I wasn't previously familiar with the content. It is also surprising how much photographs of people date (as in "give a date to" rather than "make obsolete") the image due to clothing, hairstyles etc.

A second point is that there are many similarities between these photographs and other contemporary"street" photography. 2 photographers I follow along these lines are Tyler Monson and Harvey Benge.

Which leads to the main point, and the title of the post: Eggleston's work makes everything that comes after seem derivative. While all the images have a consistent style to them, they also cover quite a wide variety of subjects, locality and framing. Suddenly every photograph of urban scenes seems derivative. I think back to the images I made in Norway and India this summer, long before I had seen this book, and they all seem to rehash the same material.

I'm sure I've said similar before. It is the double-edged sword wielded by photobooks. On the one hand they serve as a great education into the possibilities of photography, history of art etc. On the other, they can really drive home the idea that it has really all be done before and we are merely imitators.

And that's the problem. The Art world seems too obsessed with new, different. Why can't good work stand on it's own merits? Derivative or imitative is fine, if there is something worthwhile being said. If the message is different, need the form be also?

UPDATE: spello corrected

Popularising the 35mm format

Argus C3, from Wikipedia

Leica are usually held up as being the big drivers behind the spread of 35mm. I've always doubted that claim, given that they've always made fairly niche/luxury (read: expensive) products. They certainly raised the profile, given the sheer range of high-profile users.

Well, doing some web trawling on older cameras I came across the Argus C3 that lays a fair claim to popularising the 35mm format in that it actually got it into the hands of the mass population, at least in the US. I love the quote
The profusion of knobs, gears, buttons, levers, and dials on the camera lent it a "scientific" look that was found in customer surveys to be one of the things buyers most liked about the camera.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Wanting what we don't need

Park bench, Scheveningse Bos, The Hague, November 2008
Taken with a 1958 Balda-Bunde Baldixette I


The recent discussions and reviews at TOP had me off thinking about some stuff relating to images, kit and G.A.S. (gear acquisition syndrome). This relates as much to me as the rest of you out there. this is a collection of ramblings on the subject.

It seems that we all hanker after the stuff we can't have or don't need or can't afford. The latest Sony and Nikon cameras have been attracting a lot of attention and a lot of discussion. Expensive cameras with a load of features but fundamentally the same old dummy behind the viewfinder.

Why do we need ever better high ISO performance? As Mike J pointed out, the latest crop of cameras can see better than we do. Is this really necessary? I've also been struck by Mike's great ability for subtle low light photographs. I don't think you need to get much beyond EI1600 to make similar pictures. Any more and you are turning night into day. I've seen stuff from theatre photographers who say they need the better low-light performance but that seems a pretty small niche for a mass-production camera.

Why do we think so much ino the future an what we might do with a given camera? I know this went through my mind when I bought the RZ67. I'd been thinking about a possible future digital back. Fat chance of that happening. And of course, by the time I got there, I'd be able to afford a different body and lens system anyway. In hind sight I'm sure there would have been better MF cameras for what I wanted to do right now. So is it with the latest and greatest. No point sweating over performance you might want in several years' time, by then it'll all have changed anyway.

How about some mroe focussing on what our cameras can do? Photographers have been creating great images since the birth of photography and worked to get what they could. less thinking about the shot we can't get and more concentrating on the ones we can.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Experiments in the woods

Scheveningse Bos, The Hague, November 2008

Just one I took a couple of weeks ago in the local woods, playing around with macro-ish shots. It makes a very nice 8x10" print.

Friday, 21 November 2008

JPEG pictures: settings and comparisons

Following on from my last post on camera testing, I thought I'd air a few observations related to shooting JPEGs. This is particularly relevant if you have a RAW-capable camera but don't use it. And there is a final conclusion on another reason to use RAW.

The underlying premise of my testing was that RAW would be unchanged regardless of camera parameters but that these parameters, as applied to the embedded JPEGs, would affect the histogram and thus ones perception of the dynamics range and metering. And so it turned out. What has that to do with JPEG shoting? Well a lot, actually.

The thing I then came to realise is that the settings in the camera had a very strong influene of the ability of the camera to capture the dynamic range of a scene, convey accurate colours etc. There are a lot of review sites that do comparisons between even DSLRs based on their default JPEG settings. Quite frankly, these are useless test for comparison purposes, except possibly as measures of resolution erlating to pixel count. There is almost certainly more variation to be had within the parameters of any single camera thean there are differences between makes or models. If you do shoot JPEG and do not vary the parameters, you're not getting close to even the burned-in capabilities, let alone all that is lost in not using RAW.

I reckon, if I was shooting JPEG, I'd need greycard shots for all lighting situations (not just because that gives more accurate colours but also because it reduces the risk of blowing a single channel by getting it wrong), variable contrast for different lighting, likewise saturation. I'd be leaning towards the lowest contrast setting to maximise the dynamic range that can be captured. I might well need different settings for different light.

So, if you insist on sticking to JPEG, don't sweat comparisons and learn how to use the camera settings to maximise your return.

Or be a lazy shooter and go RAW. As the base data is the same for a given shot regardless of settings, you'll always get it right (providing exposure is OK). It only takes minimal RAW conversion to get from that to what you'd have got with optimal in-camera JPEG. Thus another reason for RAW - minimal fiddling around at shooting time and less chance of messing up the shot due to poor camera settings.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

The all-new EOS metering test

Test scene

This is an update to the post I made a while back on the relationship between metering, histograms and camera settings for my Canon EOS 20D. The update is for a repeat of that testing but for my new EOS 40D.

With the conclusions I drew about the 20D histograms, I realised I'd want to optimise the settings on the 40D as well. A few initial test shots also made me realise that the settings are substantially different on the 40D than the 20D and so I'd need to do a whole suite of testing before I was going to be happy using the camera in anger.

So what did I do? I effective repeated the testing I did before by shooting a whole lot of parameters on a fixed scene in constant light, all shooting in a batch. As before, a nice high contrast scene to push the highlights. I tested variations in contrast, saturation, WB and highlight tone priority (HTP). All RAW files converted in 4 different software packages: Canon's DPP, CaptureOne 4.0, Lightroom 2.0, Lightzone 3.4.

What were the results? Largely the same as before: contrast setting is the key factor, white balance acts largely as a blue-shift. However, the contrast settings have a very different effect in the 40D than the 20D - reflects, I presume, the updates Canon have done to their firmware with the newer processors.

In all cases the RAW files are identical. Same scene, same light, same metering, same basic data. What you'd hope from RAW. This also means that all testing is absolutely consistent.

I found that a Contrast zero (C-0) reflected the same range in histogram as in RAW: 0-100% show for the JPEG reflected 0-100% in RAW. This means the setting has been tweaked to offset the limited DR of JPEG to match the overall tone range of RAW. That's actually quite nice - it means out of the box performance is very consistent. C+4 is very strong. About 1-stop difference between the indicated over-exposure (flashing highlights) and actual RAW highlight point. Too much headroom for me. At C+2 there is about 1/3 to 1/2 stop difference, which is nice. This is also consistent with how I've set up the 20D. This level means I can push exposure until the review gives some flashing highlights and know I've nailed ETTR.

Obviously, negative contrast settings go the other way. Even at C-2, there is a tendency for the RAW highlights to saturate before the histogram does. Not good.

As for other settings, no real impact. I've been testing the HTP mode as well to see how much headroom it actually gives in RAW conversion. With DPP I get a lot. But then the entire dynamic range & tone curve is adjusted. With all the others I've checked this with 2 types of exposure. Firstly just to the limit, but no blown highlights in the RAW. I then check exposure differences.
Second with just over-exposed and using recovery tools. I then compare degree of recovery required to just clip highlights.
In both sets, it's about 1/3 stop difference. Recovery tools typically only have 1-point setting differences, EV compensation 1/3-stop offset difference. This is nowhere near the 1-stop claims. More investigation required here. Contrast parameter settings seem to have more influence in judged exposure than HTP.

My conclusions:

First-up, as before, setting in-camera are important even for RAW shooters when evaluating exposure with histograms.
Second up, my personal settings. I'll be using contrast +2 for normal shooting and contrast +4 for low light (I like to slightly under-expose high ISO settings).
Third, I'm not touching HTP until I've got a better handle on its effect and that means more testing.

I've also got a bunch of conclusions from this about JPEG shooting but that is a whole other post.

Looking outside the frame

Two walking (Reichstag), Berlin, October 2008

Out reading in blogland this afternoon a thought came to mind about how the great RF practitioners might work today in the digital age. It came down to seeing. One of the great advantages touted for the rangefinder viewfinder is thee ability to see outside the frame, watching action approaching. Well yes, to some extent. With my Zeiss Ikon and a 28mm, the angle of view fills the viewfinder.

Much handier is the live view of the modern LCD. Not because it's live view but because of its size and hence arms-length use. With a decent size screen that one holds away from the body, or at unusual angles, one can actually hold the camera in place and watch the world around. I often do this, aligning the camera, setting some sort of visual marker for where I want the subjects coming into frame and firing when ready.

Maybe HCB would be using a small digicam for its discrete size and ability to see the whole scene during the act of shooting.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

The time taken

Shooting the Wall, Berlin, October 2008

I've been reading some more stuff on how much effort should be applied to gathering photos. Some interesting stuff particularly around snap shots. So here are a couple of broad observations:

For landscape stuff, I think photographing takes some contemplation to get the right feel. If you want good photos of great locations, a certain degree of effort is well rewarded. Even without the camera, taking time to soak up the view is worthwhile. For the stuff I take in the mountains, even just walking along snapping, I may take several minutes per shot. With the tripod and a subject I'm really interested in, that process can take half an hour (although camera time may be quite short). And yet so many I see are flying by with hardly a second glance, snap, snap, snap and on their way.

Contrast that to "street photography" (reportage if you will). Really a subject and method that lends itself to fast pace, see, frame shoot, move on. Don't dither or you'll miss stuff and waste time that could be spent on the next subject. I really enjoy photographing other people taking photographs, partly because I think it's humorous to do so, and partly because it hones my reflexes for subject and shot. If you've been reading a while, you may have seen me post some. Here's a typical sequence: I notice the camera in hand from several yards away, I close the gap, raise camera, frame, focus, snap and away. Camera-in-hand is still busy framing and fiddling.

Of course, I'm dealing in broad generalizations here but this is certainly the way I see the vast majority approach their picture taking.

Am I the only one who thinks it's odd the way others approach their photographs?

Saturday, 15 November 2008

The learning curve

Snowy peaks, Ladakh, August 2008

I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.
-Socrates

Some of the things I've been reading recently, and participation in the print exchange, have made me realise just how much there is still to learn in photography. Just when you think you're getting better, you realise the bar is higher.

An analogy: learning is like climbing a mountain backwards. One is always fixed on how far one has come, not how far it is to the top. I've just turned around on the path, and while it may be quite a way down from here, it is even further to go upwards.

A nice little bag

Billingham Small Hadley, with the padded insert removed

For my city visits I've been looking for a small bag to carry my stuff in for a while. Typically it's something I need in the winter, when I carry not only the camera gear but hat, gloves, jacket etc. I was after something light, low key, easy to get into. I've got a large size courier bag but it's way too much for a day about town.

I finally bought a Billingham Small Hadley, after putting my hands on one in a camera store. I've bought the black nylon (FibreNyte) version, which is much lower key than the traditional canvas models (I've always thought the canvas bags scream "I'm a camera bag"). This is my mini-review.

The all important question - what does it carry? Well, I packed it into my carry-on holding my 40D plus 17-55 f/2.8 & 50 f/1.8, my Zeiss Ikon with the CV 28 f/2.0 & CV 40 f/1.4 and my Lumix LX3. I packed batteries and film separate for travelling. I'd stripped out the padding, which I always thing is superfluous in such a bag.

The kit as used in Berlin: Zeiss Ikon, 2 lenses, Lumix LX3, jacket, wooly hat (blue in the bottom)
Plenty of room for a water bottle or a pile of film (few rolls in front pocket)

Around Berlin I was carrying just the Zeiss and LX3, foregoing the DSLR. I had both cameras and the spare RF lens, a lightweight jacket, hat, gloves & a bottle of water. Front pockets carried the film (about 4 rolls) and batteries. It was easy to carry, I got no aches or pains and barely noticed I had it on. I carry it slung across the shoulder & chest like a courier bag which is more stable and more comfortable. It then sits nicely in the small of my back.

If I was going with the SLR, the bag could carry that, a small spare lens, jacket, hat gloves. If I decided to hand-carry the camera or put it around my neck, I could easily carry a 70-200 plus the other stuff.

It takes a bit of practice to work the quick release straps. Once I got the buckles set right (a bit looser than I might otherwise do) it became straight forward. I though the fixed strap would be a problem for packing but it is quite flexible and folds under the main flap for packing which is nice. The size is just right to drop in the bottom of a carry-on packed with gear so it doesn't really take up room.

All in all, highly recommended for the photog-about-town.

A right-on photographic prize

I came across this report of the new Prix Pictet, supported by Kofi Annan (former SG of the UN). A photographic prize in support of sustainability - the latest hot topic amongst the politically correct. Right-on!

If you know anything of contemporary photography, you're likely to recognise quite a number of the short-listed photographers.

While this is a worthy attempt at raising various levels of "awareness" I can't help but feeling it's little more than artistic posturing, in the form presented. looking through the work, I don't get any sense of needing to go do something. Or, for that matter, a sense of a global problem depicted. I think it is a problem of trying to present subjects like this as purely visual - there is no context in the images themselves. I miss the text that supports the work. Pictures speak a thousand more words, but nothing alone.

The photographic time machine

Perimeter path, Kristiansund, June 2008

A few days ago, The Landscapist asked:
What about you? How/ what do you feel about your relationship with the pictures you create?
I thought this idea was worth a post. For me in this respect, photos are a time machine. Transporting me to other times, recreating memories & feelings. I can specifically recall weather or location or the people I was with, depending on the circumstance of the image. My pictures can help me remember what I was thinking, recall a frame of mind, set me back in a frame of mind where I was thinking about something in the future.

By recollecting where I was, I can see clearer the path between there and here, see more clearly the route forward.

Of course, I can also appreciate the image for what it is and its subject but so often it is much more than that. In that manner, music can have the same effect on me.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Why I write what I write

Concrete and grass, Kristiansund, June 2008

This is not going to be a call to my audience for ideas. I reckon if you keep coming back, it's for what I'm writing. If you're a passing visitor, you don't much care. But I though some of you might find it interesting to here my motivations for the subjects I post.

There are 2 main reasons why I'm writing here.

The first is the cathartic, journal writer's need to get stuff off my chest. Not so much stood on a soap box, but getting down things I'm thinking about. These are the posts about why I photograph, what I'm trying to achieve and to some extent just posting my pictures. It's this sort of stuff that has me reading other blogs, so I figure writing it in a public place might help others, too.

The second is all the technical stuff (equipment, reviews, software etc). While there is plenty of that stuff out in webland, I'm trying to fill some gaps. I tend to choose unusual equipment, look for new ways to do stuff etc. I also find that getting information on the stuff I'm looking for is very difficult. Therefore I write to fill gaps. It's mainly aimed at my past self: stuff i wish had been around when I was looking. The kind of information I wanted but couldn't find. The subjects may be esoteric but there seem to be plenty of people coming to read it, so if I help one person per post, I reckon my goal will have been achieved.

Thus, I write the things that I'd like to be reading, in the hope that others also want to.

Amongst all that, I also hope you enjoy seeing some of my pictures, too.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

More from the lost rolls

Gate lock, Kristiansund, June 2008

Tree, tyre, fence, Kristiansund, June 2008

Summer 2008: the lost rolls

Monster graffiti, Kristiansund, June 2008

I thought I'd gone through the summer's backlog of scanning but came across 2 rolls that I'd missed when sorting out some papers. I'm a highly disorganised person, stuff is randomly scattered about my apartment: finding 2 rolls of film amongst financial papers is not unusual.

So I turned to scanning them and wow, what a set. Of all the stuff I've shot this summer, these are probably the most successful in terms of showing what I intended in the way I saw it. I'll be posting some over the next few days, and more to the photo of the day next week.

Given the results, I sometimes wonder why I bother slogging it out with all the natural landscape stuff. At least I'm making progress somewhere.

Back-up for the forgetful

That's me, Kristiansund, June 2008

I'm atrocious at keeping routines over extended periods. I often drift off doing something else and can easily forget to do something, even if it's something I do daily. Backing up my files is no exception. I've been 6 months or more without doing anything and then need a whole weekend to catch up. No longer. Now I've got the NAS box, I've been looking to make things more automated, especially so that I can get back-ups running in idle time due to my slow network. The back-up software I use is AllwaysSync (free for "moderate use" - after about 400GB of back-up it locked me out and asked to pay for a copy, $30 well spent). I'd had it configured for timed back-up, which can be a problem with power management, and also auto-on-connect for my external drives, which was a problem if I connected the wrong device (back-up being based on drive letter assignment). Then I found the magic setting.

Now I'm set for auto-on-idle. The software monitors the folders set in the auto jobs, when new stuff is written and the folders become inactive, it runs the back-up in the background. As I'm backing up over a network, I don't see any hit in normal operation. If I was working on the files to be backed-up, AllwaysSync would just wait for me to finish. In the week I've had this setting active, I've not missed a sync and not had to intervene. Perfect for the forgetful/lazy man.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

A day to remember

Paying Homage, Berlin, October 2008

Today is the day that the UK remembers the fallen in war, commemorated on Armistice day. 2 minutes silence at 11am GMT.

Jewish Memorial, Berlin, October 2008

Monday, 10 November 2008

Blog changes

I've made a few minor changes to the sidebar: re-ordered the groups, adjusted my profile a little and made a few changes to the blogs displayed. I've taken off the website links.

The profile reflects my changing personal view of my own photography. The blog links reflect those that I read a little more regularly. I read far more than these from my reader but these are my top picks for others.

Black and white shootout: Lightroom and Lightzone

At Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin, October 2008
from Lumix LX3 RAW file converted in Lightzone

As I mentioned at the end of this post, I've been using Lightzone as my main black and white conversion software for sometime. It produces really pleasing results with lots of control and minimum effort. This is where the underlying linear colourspace and the ease of the Zonemapper come into their own.

With the funky new tools, I thought I'd take a crack at using Lightroom in a sort of shoot-off. This won't be a long post because, quite frankly, there was no contest. Lightroom is very clunky and fiddly to use in comparison. Sure, it's got all the fine tuning possibilities in every part of the spectrum and masking etc. But with Lightzone I get that same power, with far fewer clicks. Plus I can stack tonal adjustment layers in Lightzone, which isn't possible in Lightroom (limited to a single curve tool).

Even for tweaking monochrome scans, I find Lightzone better, largely because I'm so tuned into the Zonemapper, but in these cases it's a closer call. I'm using Photoshop for scans mostly, anyway.

So for black and white, Lightzone wields the single stone that slays the Lightroom Goliath

A question of skill

Forest path, The Hague, November 2008

I've intrigued for some time by the application of blur techniques to create images that convey moods rather than details. I've played around with various blur techniques myself: Processed Gaussian blur, out-of-focus techniques, multiple exposures etc.

The idea of using camera motion deliberately was a new one to me. I've been enjoying seeing Juha's experiments recently and the image with the post is a recent experiment of my own.

Then I read of the "Impressions of Light" work of William Neill over at Luminous Landscape, where he expands on his techniques. And that brings me to the subject of this post. All through my experimenting with various techniques I've been looking for specific ways to achieve specific goals. It is far from straightforward to do. I was hoping Neill's work would yield more insight. Quite the opposite.

While I really like the work he has produced, his expansion of his methods seems to remove the skill (the Latin artis) from the art and make it more a matter of persistence and random selection. the final result doesn't seem to get much past a 1 in 1000 random selection. Neill also states that use of Photoshop or other software to produce thee sort of results can often look over done. Indeed. That is where the skill comes in. He gives the impression (although it is probably wrong) that he doesn't have the software skills to produce the effects, and so has to resort to many attempts in the field. I get the feeling from his descriptions that just about anyone could produce similar work, which then relegates the value of his own work.

I'm feel sure that, with the appropriate techniques for certain subjects this whole arena can be turned into a much more skilful process than it appears currently. And that also means we shouldn't deny the ability to use software tools effectively as being a legitimate skill of the modern photographer.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Black and white film: a workflow

Zoo Station, Berlin, October 2008
Delta 400 @ EI800


Now I've been shooting black and white film for a while, I think I've got a smooth workflow down. I thought some might be interested in me sharing. Starting at exposure, I'll run through the process to print.

I tend to under-expose all my black and white film, for various reasons. HP5+ @ 800 (as much as 1600 in very low light), FP4+ at anything from 125 to 200. Delta 400 @ 800 indoors. Key reason for me doing this comes from the development and scanning routine.

Development is all commercial, through my local camera store (who send it off to Fuji's Pro lab). I don't know what chemicals they use, but at least the results are consistent. No pushing or pulling, just straight-up. I've no mind whatsoever to start my own darkroom work.

Scanning is done in bulk on the entire roll. As I'm using an Epson V750 flatbed, this is more efficient in my time. Always on a 2-pass scan, which yields a slightly finer grain output. Always scanned as positive with software inversion.

I've got a development profile for this in Lightroom now, which speeds things up tremendously. I also do rotation and initial cropping in Lightroom (used to be in Lightzone). Inverted images exported to 16 bit TIFFs as a batch. I only invert the ones I'm going to work up further - this is the first screening point.

Final adjustments depend slightly on image and subject. I've got a couple of profiles for Lightroom for quick conversions, especially to web. For anything decent, it's off to Lightzone for a couple of layers of Zonemapping or Photoshop.
Typically the adjustments are for final white and black point setting, shadow depth (my inversion routine means the shadows start open and I burn them in) and mid-tone contrast. Sometimes I run a light noise reduction with Neat Image, normally to tone-down graininess in areas of uniform tone, like expansive skies or large shadow blocks. Hiraloam and output sharpening to close.

I'm now printing through Lightroom because I really like the way their print manager works, plus it means I don't need a specific print version of the file, that I find I always need with other software.

Black and white film choice

Steps, Berlin, October 2008
FP4+. Yummy.


After spending the summer shooting HP5+, and some Delta100 I decided to try their counterparts, namely Delta400 and FP4+. I had some expectations. I hoped Delta400 might offer deeper shadows,being a higher contrast film and that FP4+ might offer smoother tones that Delta100, which tends to be a bit too contrasty for me in mixed light.

Leafy pond, Berlin, October 2008
Delta 400. Uck!


What I found: Delta400 is a huge disappointment outdoors. The high contrast leads to blown highlights, limited mid tones and yet muddy shadows. Indoors is another matter. These features seem to give it better definition in rubbish light and a better overall look than HP5+. I still like HP5+ indoors, however, and it is fantastic in overcast conditions (not that unusual in Europe).

FP4+ is a whole other matter. What a revelation. Straight off the scanner the results are better than Delta100: it has all the smooth tones of HP5+ with the lower grain and fine detail retention of a good slow film.

So, I think I'm set in my choices:
Delta 400 exclusively for indoor shooting.
HP5+ for general shooting for its sheer flexibility. Take along 2-stop ND filters on bright days.
FP4+ for outdoor shooting, especially on bright days.

Why not try Kodak films? Because Ilford are British and I like to support the small guys.

Lumix LX3: reviews and reality

At Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin, October 2008
Lumix LX3, converted to B&W from RAW

Clearly I've bought the hot camera of the moment. Most of my recent traffic has been to read the stuff I've posted on the Lumix LX3, doubling my normal hit rate. It's winning in the RAWSumer poll. Michael Reichmann weighed in, as have dpreview. All round the conclusions are like mine: this is a great little camera producing real-world good results.

I've just read the latest from Laurence Kim, who's been writing some good stuff on the LX3 but I've a couple of issues with his latest post (apart from the garish colours he's using).

First up, DoF, aperture and diffraction. Yes, deep depth of field is nice which means larger apertures can be used, therefore faster shutters or lower light. But I take objection to the comment that the camera isn't as diffraction limited. Yes it is! Small pixels means lower diffraction limit - I bet the diffraction limit is somewhere around f/4-f/5.6 for this camera. As I said before, f/4 is (more or less, in practical terms) the equivalent of 35mm f/8. For modern DSLRs, diffraction limit is kicking in around f/11. No practical difference in diffraction limit versus DoF - as both phenomena are affected by sensor resolution, that's hardly surprising.

The second objection I have is about the metering. I find that the matrix metering is no better or worse than any other camera I own. The main limitation is in mixed light where highlights are over-exposed. I constantly have to dial in exposure comp in these circumstances, as I do with my other digital cameras. In even lighting, pretty much any camera I have produces decent metering results.

I do agree that out of camera jpegs are good, when it can get the white balance right and for decent lighting. Indoors or in low light, even at ISO400, the extra benefits of RAW are worthwhile. I'm not finding it onerous to do RAW processing, even via SilkyPix, so continue to shun jpeg. (I actually like the batch process feature of SilkyPix, which, despite what dpreview say, allows individual processing on each image in a batch, just like other batch converters.)

Last point - I much prefer separate B&W conversion to in-camera (photo with this post). My preferred B&W workflow is to do the conversion in Lightzone from either a converted TIFF or straight from RAW. With the LX3, my route is SilkyPix for base conversion, Neat Image (in Photoshop) for any noise reduction and then Lightzone for final black and white. This yields much more pleasing results for me than out of camera B&W mode.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Lightroom for book mock-up

I've been using Lightroom a lot since I first installed it a few weeks ago. I'm finding it great for bulk file handling around my various workflows. This week I started the process of producing a second edition of my Kristiansund book that I put together for SoFoBoMo. Originally I had very few shots from which to choose and pretty much all the decent ones ended up in the book. A pretty good effort for a few hours works and relatively easy to do by hand.

Well now I've got a summer's worth of picturing and a whole lot more shots to choose from. My first rough-cut got me down to 120 plus covers and I'm aiming for 50-60. Enter Lightroom and some nice features.

Here's what I've been doing:

Key to this process has been the use of a Collection. The original files are stored in a varity of locations on my system. The Collection enables me to gather them all in one place without moving or copying the originals.

Once I created the collection, I ran a print of contact sheets to plain paper to eliminate the obvious edits - all those that are not up to the job, duplicates, subjects that don't fit etc.

Next, back to Lightroom to remove those and start ordering the rest. I can easily click & drag the images in the Collection organiser to sort into the chapters and start the basic sequencing. This helps me identify further shots that don't fit, understand the overall story I want to tell and hone in on the best.

I'm not yet done with this process but was able to get from 120 down to around 90 in under an hour, together with having all of the images grouped by chapter. Now it is a question of balancing the chapters & getting to the images that tell the story succinctly.

Using Lightroom in this way is really speeding up the whole process of mocking up the book, especially the difficult task of trimming the selection down to a manageable number of images. I can see this leading to me putting together more books in the future.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Understanding doubt

I'm going to expand on a point I made in a comment on Gordon McGregor's blog regarding improvement.

We all go through periods of self-doubt, it's part of the learning process for me. The important thing is not to get stuck in those thoughts. In any endeavour, improvement is made by assessing the weaknesses and working on the strengths.

I'm reminded of a guy I met a few years ago on a cycling holiday. It was his first time in the big mountains and he was struggling a bit - we all do. (If you've ever watched the top cyclists speeding up the mountains apparently effortlessly, believe me when I say that comes from years of hard work.) However, the experience had completely demoralised my acquaintance to the point he was intending selling the bike and packing it in.

Photography, like life, can be like that. We hit bad patches and wonder why we bother, the key is to keep going. I work on understanding myself and the things that make the good days and acknowledging what is missing on the bad days. Sometimes it is just lack of practice (when I get back on the bike after a while away, I always struggle). For a photographer, it doesn't have to be just technical aspects: it can be location, weather, personal feeling - there are many things that go into making a good day, and therefore many omissions that can create a bad one, especially if one requires a specific combination of factors to make the good days.

For me personally, it is the really bad days that define the good ones. Without knowing the struggle I cannot properly experience the joy.

The things I see

Old and new, Berlin, October 2008

I could create several long-term projects from the things I observe in cities. I've probably written before about my fascination with the way cities exhibit their evolution through their architecture. Berlin is a fascinating example: one of the few I've come across where there is a concerted effort to demolish the signs of a particular era & replace it with the most up to date.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Finally good skies

The three cities, Berlin, October 2008

As I lamented earlier in the year, skies are a trouble for me. I got some excellent pointers at the Landscapist but it seems to demand effort. Or at least until now.

This shot, and the last few from Berlin have all come from the Lumix LX3 and quite frankly, the rendering of sky blows me a way. I'm not doing anything fancy to these shots, it is a camera that just seems to be able to produce great looking skies in fairly contrasty conditions straight out of the box. These are certainly better results from single frames than I ever managed to achieve with any other camera.

A note on the photograph. On the left is the Berliner Dom, the ruins to the right are from the East German Palast der Republik. The third "city" of the title is the newly rebuilt Berlin rising from the rubble of the effects of Communism and segregation.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Berlin: the equipment

Glass wall, yellow leaves, Berlin, October 2008

On the face of it, not a desperately exciting subject but quite revealing.

On the trip I took 3 cameras: my new EOS 40D with 2 lenses, my Zeiss Ikon with 2 lenses and my Lumix LX3. From typical previous trips like this I would have largely used the big DLSR most of the day, keeping the rangefinder for an afternoon's people watching and them have the small camera in my pocket for other times. I had a Billingham Small Hadley for carrying stuff in (more on that another time).

It didn't quite work out like that. In fact, I shot not one single frame with the 40D. The bulk was done with either the rangefinder or the LX3. In the final analysis, I could have done a lot more with the pocket camera. Here's why.

I'm finding the output from the LX3 is perfectly adequate for this kind of around town photography. Details are nice, colours are good, responsiveness is good. With live histogram I don't go around bracketing everything. This means less frames overall but just as many keepers. The 24mm wide end is fun for photographing people. I can't recall missing a shot due to its response - most of the time I stick to wide end, zooming when I want a bit more detail of a static subject.

To this, the rangefinder is a useful addition for people photography in lower light (e.g. indoors). Not that the LX3 can't do this, I just like the output on film in those conditions.

The implication is that I won't bother with an SLR in the future. I'll also take far more photos with the LX3. My small camera thinking had been predicated on the fact that the average quality of photos isn't very good, so I limit the subjects I shoot. With the LX3 this isn't so. For me, for the kinds of subjects and print sizes I generate from a city trip, the LX3 meets all my needs in a very small package. I'll tag the Zeiss along on some occasions or when the main subjects will be people.

More no man's land

Looking across no man's land, Berlin, October 2008

I've started to go through the images from Berlin. I didn't actually shoot all that much (as I explained here) but there is just enough to capture the range of impressions I got.

These two are from just a few yards apart both looking north across what was no man's land behind the wall into the old East Berlin. There are many areas of town where there is still a degree of dereliction along the line of the wall. About 5 yards behind me are the apartment blocks seen across the open ground in my last post.

No man's land

No man's land, Berlin, October 2008

Just back from Berlin and I'm in a daze. A mixture of long days, limited sleep, too much beer & travel has me feeling like I need a good rest.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Notes from a Berlin walk

Spent today walking the streets of Berlin, doing the whole tourist thing. These are a bunch of thoughts that came to mind while I was doing so. I'll try and keep the content largely linked to photography.

The first decision I had to make was just how much photography I was going to do. I'm staying somewhat out of the centre, so plenty of distance to cover. I could have stopped every 50yds but then I'd get nowhere. Instead I decided to be a bit more focused, we have to get out from behind the lens once in a while. This also gives me room to think a bit wider.

The first impression I get of Berlin is that it is a city that seems to have lost a sense of its past self. I'm not talking recent history. The town has been here for centuries yet for the most part you'd wonder if it ever existed prior to the 1930s. Of course ignoring "12 years of war that ended in catastrophic defeat" (from the Brandenburg Gate information panel) would be ignoring the elephant in the room but there was more before that. Walking the Wall route, one wonders if the city even existed before 1961.

Dimantling the Wall has led to a huge redevelopment. All along its trajectory there is fresh construction in shining glass and steel. Bold new architecture. The old East Berlin has been reborn. Sometimes great good comes from the worst of circumstances. I actually had to go some way to find a sense of history and everywhere east of the wall there exists wierd juxtaposition between ancient, Communist and modern architecture.

Photography has a large part to play in our understanding of recent events in the city. At the Topography of Terror exhibit, photography gives a chilling insight into the activites directed from Prinz Albrecht Strasse and Wilhelm Strasse. The rhetoric is rather similar to today's "War on Terror" except then it was "War of Terror". The view of these activities rather depends on which direction one faces. This should be a required visit for the Department of Homeland Security and all similar organisations.

It was the speed, ease, portability and low cost of then modern cameras that extended the range of documentation. Prior to the '30s war was pictured glorious. It has not been since. This was a fact brought home by an interview on CNN from the Barbican war photography exhibition (here, here, here: ignore the annoying ads), mentioned here a couple of days ago. This really looks like one of the best current exhibitions, worth a visit if you're in London.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Another week, another city

This time it's Berlin, another new location for me. Whole week indoors at a conference but the weekend free to roam the city. No plans, just a map in my pocket and a camera in my hand. Plus, a new lens to try - the new Voigtlander 28mm f/2 Ultron that I collected on Friday.

Posts may well be slow this week but expect quite a few pics from the trip once I get back.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

A new kind of lens

I've been thinking about this whole field of view thing, and how it relates to lenses. There is the eternal debate about zoom lenses versus primes, the ideal prime focal length, what constitutes a "normal" lens etc. What I figured was it comes down to a difference in "seeing" distance - i.e. the distance to the subject at which one normally focusses.

It's something like this: Traditionally we think of the human field of view as being a cone, effectively equating to a single focal length like this (imagine the dot is a person seen from above & the triangle represents where they can see).

But I did a few experiments of my own and I reckon that actually effective focal length changes with distance. At close distances we see/notice much wider than we do at a distance. The field of view looks something like this (in blue, with the fixed field for comparison).

There could be many reasons for this, or I could be completely wrong but it certainly seems to be the way that I see the world.

So this led me to the idea of an entirely different kind of camera lens. The basic idea is to couple focus point and focal length. At close focus distances the lens would be a wide angle, at grater focus distances the focal length zooms progressively. This means that as you change focus, so to does the field of view. The trick would be to pick a suitable range of focal lengths (which, in principle could be anything). I reckon 24mm (35mm equivalent) for macro distances (a few inches) up to about 90-100mm at infinity would do the trick quite nicely.

I like to think of the idea as a "variable prime" rather than a zoom lens as the focal length is effectively fixed depending on how far away the subject is.

Probably a bonkers idea and maybe impossible to build but would bring a new perspective to photography.

Another from the woods

Light through leaves, Scheveningse Bos, The Hague, October 2008

This is another one of the reconsidered images from my walk through the woods at the weekend.

Gerda Taro: a quick snippet

A new exhibition at London's Barbican focusing on Robert Capa and Gerda Taro. A quick snippet of the exhibition from The Daily Telegraph.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Take more notes

I've been working through the editing of the film I shot over the summer. There's a lot more stuff from Kristiansund which I will use to expand and rework my photobook.

In amongst that stuff, however, there are what appear to be a pile of test shots - all the same subjects from around home. Trouble is, I have no idea what I was testing and how. Were they framing tests for the 40mm lens on the Zeiss Ikon? Or exposure tests? Or focus tests? No idea, and I didn't take a single note. Thus, about a roll and a half effectively wasted. Remember folks, if you're testing stuff; take notes. You owe your future self the favour.

Reconsideration

Changing foliage, Scheveningse Bos, The Hague, October 2008

Inspired by recent posts at the Landscapist (especially today's) I went back and had a look at the "unsuccessful" pictures I came away with at the weekend. to my surprise, they weren't as bad as I initially thought. this is one of them. Nothing spectacular but the whole of the thing I saw.

Oh, and it produces a really nice 8x10" print, even cropped down like this. Sharpness, noise, ISO, the camera used are all non-factors in a pleasing final image.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

or maybe black and white

Walk in the woods, Scheveningse Bos, The Hague, October 2008

Getting behind the camera

Walk in the woods, Scheveningse Bos, The Hague, October 2008

I've been posting quite a lot of technical stuff recently mainly because I haven't been taking many pictures. With a lot of processing to do, I'm usually not very motivated to get out with the camera. Well now that I've finished my Ladakh work (see the full set here), I decided to go out for a short walk in the local woods to get some pictures.

There is clearly a lack of practice coming into play here because the results were rubbish. The only decent shot is the one posted here, which is nothing like the subjects I was looking for and was the last one I took. I think I need to get out more.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Emotional or Rational photography

Bring a new rhythm, India, August 2008

I've been reading Paul Butzi's recent posts with interest as he exposes some of his working and thinking. I especially noted the post Close to Home and the reference to Doug Plummer's Stick Pictures (which is really beautiful work). I'm always amazed at Doug's ability/need to connect emotionally with the photographic process for success. In contrast to Paul's use of photography to "figure things out" as he puts it.

Now that I've finished the big editing effort from my India trip, I started thinking about my own process of taking pictures, especially the photos I was taking of street scenes. I seem to pre-think the subjects. By observing what's going on, I get a sense of the things I think will make good pictures and start photographing them. A very analytical approach - I've been described as being "brutally analytical" in my thinking. In retrospect I seem to be separating myself from the subjects, rather than trying to connect emotionally and this is what seems to work best for me. It's not that I'm setting out with pre-determined images in mind, more that I need to figure out what sort of images are going to work before I start pressing the shutter release.

So are there distinctly emotional versus rational methods? And do these methods apply better to certain subjects? Certainly I don't seem to be too effective at the sort of people/group dynamic subjects that Doug Plummer excels in.

Often an analytical approach to composing is taught (especially for landscapes) versus instinctive approach to subject. Is that more effective, or is something lost through lack of connection?

I'm going to stick with the way I do it - I'm comfortable that way, and one can really only produce good images if one is comfortable behind the lens. Whatever enables us to become comfortable is the way to go. Don't look to copy someone else's methods - try to find your own way of becoming comfortable, thus productive.

Lumix LX3 and SilkyPix

Lumix LX3 test image, Kuala Lumpur, September 2008 f/2.8, ISO800
I used this for testing as it shows a lot of tricky image properties: highlights, shallow DoF, fine patterns in background, deep shadows

Previous posts on the Lumix LX3 itself here and here.

I said a while back that I'd write some thoughts on using Panasonic's SilkyPix Developer software together with my Lumix LX3, so here it is. It takes quite a lot of work to put these technical posts together, hence the delay. I'm using SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.0 SE: the bundled version that came with my LX3.

I was prompted to finally post this by the review of the LX3 at Luminous Landscape. I agree with pretty much all MR has to say, except 2 things: high ISO noise and use of the SilkyPix software. I'll come onto why later but first a definition (which may seem like a rant).

When I'm evaluating software, I have a clear idea and definition of what constitutes "intuitive". I do a lot of software evaluation, it's part of my day job. For me, if I cannot get useful output from new-to-me software in 2h without a manual, it's not intuitive. It may take you more or less time, you may want a manual or help files but this is my personal measure. Just because I wouldn't consider it intuitive isn't necessarily a Bad Thing but it is not a good sign in general consumer products. A couple of examples: Google is high on the intuitive scale - blindingly obvious what it does and how to use it, if you've ever seen a computer you'll be off with it. Adobe Photoshop, on the other hand, is as close to non-intuitive as possible; verging on the unusable. It's the only software in a long time (many years) I've needed instruction on how to even get going.
Just because a new piece of software doesn't work like similar products doesn't make in unintuitive, just as several products that work the same with similar initerfaces are not necessarily intuitive - copying bad practices just makes your product bad, not easy to use. So: intuitive software - easy to use without instruction, on the basis that you've never used something with similar intent. Bear that in mind for the rest of this.




Main editing toolsHover to preview: "Natural" is selected, "noise reduction priority" is previewed
That clear, this brings up one of my objections to Michael Reichmann's comments: that SilkyPix is unintuitive (he's not the only one to state this). For photo software I think it is as intuitive as can be. I've not yet resorted to the Help function or manual. Once you start it up, it is fairly clear how to load photos and then the basic workflow is presented in the main tools along the left edge. Each slider is fairly self evident, and the preset options are pretty descriptive. Hover the mouse over any preset to get the image to show as a preview before selecting, click to make the change. This is probably the easiest RAW development software I've used, SilkyPix's great strength but also its weakness - if you're used to other RAW developers, this is another new interface. It's very much not like Photoshop (very good thing) which means long-term PSers may not like it. I'd say to them: get over it. I will concede that not providing a readily supported RAW format is a big problem for this camera (and many others).

Top menu options: layout options highlighted

Along the top, one finds the various view settings. I use the multi-view or single-view. Interestingly, one has a full range of adjustment available on selected images in multi-view which is unlike any other photo software with this multi-image browser interface. This makes it even easier to use with no need to switch modes to make adjustments.

Sharpening (left) and noise reduction (right) are 2 separate but linked tools

2 quirks: first is that output of the final image is termed "develop" and you need to use the Development menu option. The second is that the Sharpen and Noise Reduction functions work on a split button, which took a little while to deduce. This is actually a good thing once figured out - Panasonic are inherently recognising the trade-of between detail enhancement and noise reduction, evidenced by the presets. Of course you can try going for heavy sharpening and heavy NR at the same time but don't expect great things.

Advanced tools

A couple of less obvious tools are the ones presented bottom left. I've not investigated them all but 2 handy ones are the curves tool for tonal/contrast enhancements and the aberrations tool. The latter is pretty good with a wide range of distortion and fringing adjusters. thing is, I've not yet found any issues with files from the LX3. I've seen talk on the web that SilkyPix is automatically adjusting the RAW files for aberrations, which would make this tool superfluous but I'm not convinced. On using the camera, the screen shows no distortion and more do the out-of-camera JPEGs. If there is software adjustment, it is (also) in the camera, which would be impressive enough. Certainly, switching off the aberration tool in SilkyPix has no effect.

How does SilkyPix perform on LX3 files? Very well. I've found 3 ways to use it. First to batch several RAW files with no adjustments to full 16 bit TIFF files for further work in other software. Second for fine-tuning individual images (not used often) and the third is to create 16 bit TIFFs fom the in-camera JPEGs for further processing. I'll come onto this last in a minute. This leads me to the other objection to Reichmann's comments: noise in the images. Yes, this is not a super low noise, high-end DSLR. However, don't praise the RAW feature for the ability to do further processing and then condemn to straight from camera results. At ISO800 and 1600 the files are very good after noise reduction. I consider RAW files in light of how I process them, and that includes noise reduction. I use Neat Image as a Photoshop plug-in and get excellent results. Noise is sufficiently consistent in LX3 RAW files (after TIFF conversion) that I've been able to create a standard setting in Neat Image, which means just a couple of button clicks to clean up the files. Shadow & pattern detail is still good and smooth tones clean up nicely. I reckon you could enlarge the results quite a bit, although I'd be happier at A4 (8x12") prints. Well beyond my expectations for a small sensor camera, as I've written before.

File open is a jpg (EXIF information first line), "Save as" coverts to 16 bit

Now to the last point for this post: JPEG to TIFF conversion. I'm not quite sure how SilkyPix works underneath but it is able to convert 8 bit JPEGs to 16 bit TIFFs. dcraw has a similar function. I've tried a couple of tests and this works very well. The resulting TIFF file is much more suitable for further adjustment than a JPEG, although not as good as a RAW file. I might even use this feature for converting other JPEGs to allow me to do more work on them.


3 output options (L to R): TIFF from RAW (with Neat Image NR & sharpening); JPEG from camera; JPEG from camera converted to TIFF The 2 TIFF files have had WB correction, the JPEG is straight from camera.

So there it is: Panasonic's SilkyPix Developer software and the Lumix LX3 provide a good combination for getting really good results out of the camera. I'm not claiming the RAW development is best in class, but the workflow is simple