Friday, 30 May 2008

A great quote...

...from of all places AFV (America's Funniets Videos). (I saw abut 30s while channel hopping.)

Saying you're an amateur suggests you are quite good, that someday you might go pro. Saying it is a hobby means you're allowed to really suck at it.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Apologies to potd viewers

As if there's thousands of you... today's PotD has disappeared off the server, so doesn't display. Normal service resumes tomorrow (I'll fix today's on my return home Friday).

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

New light on an old subject

I picked this up via Rob Galbraith: a National Geographic piece about some unusual shooting at Stonehenge. Being one of the major sites of Wiltshire, this obviously caught my eye. I driven past so many times, it's almost part of the furniture for me. Personally, I prefer Avebury but I'm quirky like that.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Surprisingly popular

I was just checking out the hits on my SoFoBoMo books to see if anyone actually bothered reading them (apart from the few commenters). Crikey, was I surprised.

Between the 2 listings for each of the 2 books, over 1300 hits in just about 1o days. There is something to this SoFoBoMo thing. I thought maybe the few dozen who'd signed up would take a quick look and it would all be done. I presume others are getting similar results.

Big question - where does one go from there?

Time for reflection

Travelling gives plenty of time to sit and think. I try not to think about work otherwise I'd go mad so I reflect on other things.

This time, I've been thinking about the way I organise (maybe even structure) my photography trips. In the past it was all about turning up, getting the most and best then trying to create some good images. Things are changing. Several reasons.

SoFoBoMo has really got my mind in the project frame of mind. Some discussions/posts I've read about portfolios and projects have touched on similar themes and finally my ideas for my picture of the day blog, where I present short sequences.

Just sat at the airport on Friday, I thought of about 6 potential short projects I could do. I'm going to save up a bunch of ideas for the next SoFoBoMo so I can hit the ground running but some will be fun to try as I go along.

I've also been thinking about the sort of photogrpahy and images that give me the most pleasure in producing. These are mainly the closer views of the natural world and is developing into a longer term project for me.

Over the coming months, I am going to try and mix all three apporaches to keep it fresh and to match the shooting style to the location and time available. Thus: short, linked sequences probably from my shorter trips. Say ten or a dozen shots but all consistently presented. Then some mini-projects either from locations in which I spend more time, or that I visit a bit more frequently. Maybe enough for a mini-book each time (30-50 shots). Then a longer term thread that I can pick up at various times and places when the oppotunity strikes.

In amongst all that I'm also pretty sure I will capture some really good stuff that might stand alone, but that should be a result rather than a goal.

This may seem a bit diverse, and maybe it is, time will tell. What I hope to get from it, though, is a way to get the most out of every opportunity without thinking that I somehow missed something. I can set my style and objectives according to opportunity which should help me enjoy the whole process more. I also think a bit of diversity stops things getting stale. I hate to be locked into one mode of working for extended periods and always prefer lots of variety in scope and scale. This is an extension of that.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Expanding the SoFoBoMo work

Kristiansund coast, April 2008
one of the ones that didn't make the book

As I'm back there next week, I think I'm going to do some more photography in Kristiansund along the lines of the SoFoBoMo book. I've had quite a few positive comments and I think there is plenty of extra scope to continue. Now I've also got some Delta film in hand, I can also reshoot some of the landscapes.

This would then continue to develop a second, much better, edition of the book. Not something I would have ever considered without trying SoFoBoMo, or the whole communit spirit that it generated.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

I can't do skies

Ladyside Pike, Cumbria, April 2008

It seems right now that I can't actually photograph much. I've been going back over the stuff I've shot the past few months. Quite a lot of sky/mountain/field stuff especially from Wiltshire and Cumbria. Broad horizons, big skies, looming clouds. You know the stuff.

Trouble is, it's all rubbish. Barely a worthwhile shot amongst it. If the exposure is OK, then I just can't make anything of it. Can't create anything that looks like a decent tonal range in black and white (and another point there, mine are all coming out flat grey, hardly a hint of either black or white). Colours are rubbish. Details are lost. So much for being a photographer.

I seem to have lost (or maybe I never had) any sense of making large scenes in the least bit interesting.

The only positive note is that at least a fair proportion of my closer work is coming out well. There is a sort of 6-10ft (2-3m for the metrics) range with which I'm very comfortable.

Mine Waste, Cumbria, April 2008

I finally admitted it

Bow Fell over Angle Tarn, Cumbria, April 2008

As I was setting up the above shot, a couple came past me on the trail. She noticed the DSLR coming out of the bag and commented that at least she wasn't the only one carrying a large camera. I pointed out that was the small camera and then proceeded to unpack the tripod and 4x5.

At this, she asked, "are you a photographer?" "Yes," came the immediate reply. So there, I've finally admitted to begin a photographer, not just a guy with a camera. Problem is, I then messed up my exposure calcs and grossly under-exposed the film. Some photographer! Hopefully I can retrieve something as it's not totally black.

Interesting side note related to the image - when I'm shooting large format, the DSLR has become my polaroid and exposure meter all in one. I use it for test shots, checking if I need filters and exposure evaluation.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Good news from Adobe

So Adobe announced recently their submission of DNG to ISO for acceptance as a RAW format standard. Great news.

I'd been concerned (and am generally concerned) about the fact that a corporation was trying to push as a unified standard their own developement. Thus we become beholden to them and their whims. Thus are the beginnings of evil empires. (OK, maybe a little dramatic.)
The biggest cocern I have in this area is that you become relentlessly tied into software upgrades and therefore huge expense.

I hope ISO get on with this quite quickly and incorporate enough stricture that manufacturers can't tie up the bulk of their information as proprietary stuff. I don't want it to go the way of TIFF which is really a general wrapper for a whole bunch of underlying image formats. This could be the way forward - software, and software version, independent RAW formats. Hopefully with a proper industry standard, more camera manufacturers and software developers are kept in the game.

Monday, 19 May 2008

New blog: daily photos

So I've added a new blog, a daily photo thing. With the advent of blogger's new scheduled post service (posts can be delayed to a scheduled time) this seemed like an ideal opportunity. Now, even if I'm away, I can keep the pictures flowing (as long as I set them up before I go).

The images should come in small groups, maybe 10-15 from a given location or trip at a time. Enough to show a thread but hopefully not to many that it gets repetitive.

Check it out here (also linked in the sidebar).

Set-up (1 photo, no comments, no text) is inspired by Colin Jago's PotD.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

SoFoBoMo: thoughts on the others

Millennium Bridge, Gateshead, March 2008
not a SoFoBoMo image

Possibly my last SoFoBoMo 2008 entry, I thought I'd give some thoughts on the entries so far (there are some still to come in the next 10 days or so). This isn't really a review.

Overall, I'm pretty impressed with the quality - I thought there would be more shortfall - rushed, partial entries - but then again there are 37 posted to date and around 200 signed up.

Mostly it is the quality & variety of ideas that shows through the most. I think this collection of work shows there is much more to a decent photobook than just a collection of an artist's work. Philosophy, story telling, daily observation as well as straight art all get a look-in.

There are a few that stand out for particular reasons to me:

Paul Butzi's for the ability to turn a walk with the dog into an existential, metaphysical experience. It also goes to show that words can be as important to a photobook as the pictures themselves. There is no way these ideas can be conveyed by the images themselves.
Gordon McGregor must win the prize for production values. The quality of the design work is outstanding. I'm also struck by the way he uses a theme, with varying layouts, throughout the book. with the varied layout like this it actually makes the viewing more pleasing.
I also love the gentle humour of ndalum78's "I can count" - a simple idea with a nice selection of photos. Puts me in mind of Sesame Street. This certainly made me smile.
Probably the most interesting photography is in Julie O'Donnell's book. An interesting choice of equipment has lead to some interesting and visually pleasing work.

This is not to say these are "better" than the others but they did stand out for the reasons given.

It all makes me wish I'd had a little more time to put into mine.

If you didn't know already, find the list of & links to all completed work here.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Working the backlog

Angel of the North montage, Gateshead, March 2008

Now I've got SoFoBoMo out of the way, I can get to the backlog of images piling up. I'm having to go back to March for some of them.

Image above is a composite of the shots I took of the Angel of the North, Gateshead just before my workshop in Northumberland. It was a beautifully photogenic day but blowing hard. The wings were visibly flapping in the breeze. Nevertheless, I got quite a few decent shots.

While controversial, I think the statue is highly impressive: it is as much a work of engineering ans art. It is also much more impressive up close that can ever be captured in a photo, I think.

Truth and beauty: a matter of comfort

I've been catching up on some reading and news this week. 3 things that I read all came together for me dealing with the whole idea of beauty and the human form.

First up, Lucian Freud has just become the most expensive living artist. A full-size nude selling for $17million. That's not the interesting thing for me, though, rather the subject: a large woman reclining.

Second is the random excellence post at T.O.P. on Sanders McNew, who has produced a series of (mostly) nude photographs of ordinary women (ordinary being a somewhat advised term here). It is an interesting collection where I think the most revealing thing is that pretty women photograph well, regardless of make-up and post-production.

Which leads nicely to the third item, the article on Pascal Dangin, retouch artist extraordinaire. It is really an expose piece on the efforts that go into commercial photography to produce the "perfect" look. One little snippet was particularly revealing for me: even the Dove "natural Beuaty" campaign (real women, real bodies) gets significant retouching.

What on earth has all this in common? For me it brought together the whole notion of what makes a picture of the human body beautiful? It is not just about the form itself but the means to capture and present it. The Freud painting shows a woman obivously comfortable in her own form, relaxed and at ease. After 9 months of sittings, you'd hope so. "At first, I was a little bit embarrassed but after a while I just got used to it" - says it all.
Likewise, McNew's work shows relaxed, comfortable women. He clearly spent a lot of effort on getting the models comfortable in front of the camera. These appear to be nice, friendly people - women you'd like to know.

I think it is this degree of comfort with being pictured that then exudes the beauty. However, the commercial world that Dangin inhabits goes, for me, a step to far. Suddenly the models have gone past comfort and into confident - maybe towards arrogance. they're unobtainable and for me, the images become entirely forgettable - dismissed in a moment.

Therein lies the trick of street photography and good portraiture: people relaxed and comfortable with the setting and themselves. Aware of (maybe), but not pandering to, the camera.

On that note, their is also what looks to be an interesting exhibition coming up at Tate Modern in London on photography of people - comparison of documentary street work and more posed portraiture. Might be worth a look.

SoFoBoMo by the numbers

There are other post mortem examinations of SoFoBoMo on-going. Go check out the comments at Paul Butzi and Gordon McGregor has a good post on the aftermath.

For me, I decided to break the thing down into the numbers involved. This is partly the engineer & consultant in me: I like to be able to predict the effort involved in something, analysing what's been done helps predict what's to come. Also, I thought it would be a bit different.

So, for "A place to call Home" here it is:

Frames shot: 188. Much less than I ought to, close to the minimum in fact. However, this project was quite easy to pre-visualise the locations for their fit into the project so I was effectively reject locations as I walked along.
Days of shooting: 5. Far less than it should have been but as much as I could manage around the travel.
Shooting time: about 9 hours.
Processing time:
RAW conversion: about 2h
Final work per image: 20 minutes - 14h total. There were some rejects (not many). This is much less time than I would normally spend but with the volume and limited time I set the workflow to be as mechanistic as possible.
Text writing: 2h. Way more time than I normally spend but in using a few words, I wanted to make sure they were right.
Page layout design: 4h. Excludes the faffing around I did learning new Scribus features. When I decided to add page numbers, suddenly I needed to learn about 3 major things to get it to work.
Book assembly: 6-8h. Sequencing the photos was the easy bit and adding them into Scribus is straightforward. It was all the fiddly bits: colour matching, getting the layers right, organising the fonts & paragraph styles. I need to get more organised for things like that - at the moment I do it all on the fly instead of planning it all out.

Total effort: 35-40h. Not bad really - a full work week to put a book together. Of course, I took to using every spare moment to work on it: I was editing images over breakfast, writing text from my hotel and went out shooting on every spare dry day.

For "Kristiansund" the total effort was more like 15-20h. Minimal effort to make sure I could at least get some product out.

Maybe this break down will help others. Looking at it in this way, it doesn't seem so daunting in hindsight.

In comparison, I thought about the effort I'd need for NaNoWriMo (the novel writing thingumie). I can write draft output at about 500 words/hour, edited at about 250 words/hour. That means a 50,ooo word novel requires 100-200h of effort. The only positive with novel writing is it can be done pretty much anywhere, whereas the photography needs one to be on location and my processing needs me to be at home with my computer.

SoFoBoMo: the pdfs

Soon the SoFoBoMo posting will stop...

Anyway, I finally found a site that publishes pdf files (and a whole lot more). Through a link from Charles Starrett's blog "Done is Good", I found Sribd. I think I'd seen the service before but ignored it.

After my problems with Issuu (which are unique to me according to their support people), I thought I'd give Scribd a whirl.

Scribd is great: no flash, fast and painless sign-up and they seem to take no end of file types. Embedding is possible using what they call iPaper and yet one can also download the original files, too. The only caveat was that i had to leave it to do its thing when uploading - there isn't really any proper indication of progress while it is doing so.
I can thoroughly recommend Scribd.

Thus, here are links to the 2 pdf files:

Kristiansund pdf

A place to call Home pdf


Friday, 16 May 2008

SoFoBoMo: At last, it's done

This morning I finished the "real" SoFoBoMo project: the main event. Here is the Issuu version:

Poor weather over the last couple of days left me with little to do but finish putting it all together. Hopefully this one doesn't have spelling errors like the Kristiansund book I published (now corrected).

I have found a handy way to publish pdfs, more on that when I get them uploaded. I'll also write an entry on my own post-mortem later today.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

SoFoBoMo: Issuu issues

So I finally got a version of my Kristiansund book to Issuu. Here (hopefully) it is.

So what were the issues:

Firstly, Issuu is one of the losuiest websites to work with i've encountered in a long time.
First it won't work with firefox at all - normally enough for me to ignore it completely.
Then it's a Flash Player based site - again enough normally for me to ignore it. I perservered.

About 3 registration attempts on IE later, I got in. Then about 3 upload attempts to get it to work.

things I hate: the "do it our way" navigation. No way of knowing how to get from "here" to where you want without knowing the magic combination. Then the whole upload process that doesn't let you know what's going on. Plus the crumby interface. Oh, and did I mention I hate Flash sites.

I cannot, in all earnestness, recommend the site for anyone but I've used it as i've not really an alternative for the SoFoBoMo output at present.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Back in business

SoFoBoMo image 14, May 2008 (not one of today's efforts)

So I got back home rather tired and greeted by some great weather: blue skies, 24degC. My 11th flight in 20 days.

As it was nice weather I decided to go out for an hour to try and get a few more SoFoBoMo shots, trying to capitalise on every spare moment. As it turns out, it was one of the most productive sessions I've had for the project. I've now got enough images to meet the minimum , so shooting pressure is off a bit. I'd still like to get 5 or 6 more, though, just so I can be a bit choosy.

I've also had time to think about the presentation of the book a bit more (an advantage of spending so much time on aeroplanes). I'll play around a bit this evening or tomorrow with the ideas. I'm hoping to get away a bit from the straight picture in the middle of the page look and add a little colour. This would also work well with the images and the groups I want to present. One good thing with being later is I get all kinds of inspiration from those who've gone before - I won't be copying any but they have lead to some fresh ideas.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Seeing nothing

After a good day yesterday with Kjell in the forest outside of Oslo, I spent today wandering the city. My intent was to do some street stuff, photorgaph the tourists as they went about their thing. Trouble is, I couldn't really see any behaviour worth shooting. Took me all day to force myself to expose a single roll of film. I think it's because I'm feeling so tired from the recent travel.

It's very rare for me to have such an off day as this.

Hopefully I get some energy back to finish the SoFoBoMo book next week.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Projects and philosophy

n: Love and pursuit of wisdom by intellectual means and moral self-discipline.
n: the rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct.

In my last post I alluded to the thought process through which my SoFoBoMo book is leading me. I was also struck in reading Paul Butzi's book as to the wider thinking his project had seemed to lead him through.

All this thought, all these projects.

Focussing the mind on a single photographic objective (but it needn't be photographic) seems to be a way to allow the mind to consider wider issues. Personally, my mind seems to need to do a certain amount of thinking. If I'm focussing efforts on a narrow subject, I have space to think about the wider implications, connections, search for other meaning in what I'm doing. I find this at work, too. Currently I'm going through some very focussed engineering analysis which leads me to think about its consequence and cause much clearer.

I also like the way that photography by project clears my mind of thinking of the act of making pictures or finding subjects - my mind isn't wandering around looking for subjects, it is thinking about the implications of the subject at hand. For SoFoBoMo, this is leading to a much deeper personal journey that I had at first imagined.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

SoFoBoMo: the words

While I can't work on images during this trip, I can at least have a go at the words to go with the book. As I started to note down my thoughts on what I wanted to say, I realised there was much more there than a mere introduction to a documentary. I seem to have observed far more than the mere shots of people's homes might at first suggest.

I'm also finding it useful to collect my thoughts separately from the images so I can think clearer about all I have learned. I can always omit some of the ramblings from the final product.

Inspired by Paul Butzi's book, I think I present the thoughts as a sort of on-going narrative, accompanied by groups of supporting images. Of course, I'll probably find that they don't fit into such an organization and I'm woefully short of material as a result but I'll see how it goes.

Hopefully the overall result will be a bit more interesting than just a bunch of photos.

Monday, 5 May 2008

SoFoBoMo: the back-up

Kristiansund: a coastal ton in Norway cover, SoFoBoMo 2, May 2008

So I finished the back-up project - the first finished is actually the second offering. The picture here is the cover. I haven't run up an ISSUU version yet, that'll have to wait a week or so. I don't have anywhere to host it so can't provide a link over at as I'd like. If anyone can help out, please let me know. Maybe I need a website-in-a-week effort to prompt me to get one done.

The main project is coming along but a little too slowly. I've 2 weeks to finish, 2 shooting days available and a bunch of processing to do. So far I think I've got 30-34 possible images but I'd rather have 50+. I'm away again next week, so no joy there.