Friday, 20 June 2008

Woohoo! Vacation time

Finally, a proper vacation. I'm away from computers and phones and stuff for 2 weeks, pedalling up and down the Alps.

No blogging in that time, although the PotD will continue unabated - I have lined up a stack of images to auto-post while I'm away.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Colour managed browsing is here

Picked from Rob Galbraith, the release of Firefox 3.0 with colour management support. Read the article over there, which has tips on how to get it to work. 've not installed it yet but it'll be high on the list of things to do when I get back from my current travels.

A couple of weeks ago I went to the Firefox/Mozilla pages looking for news on the colour management - not a sniff of a hint of information, yet it's the biggest improvement to my mind.

For those of you still using IE (why, oh why) - get with a proper browser. There's no excuse. (If you're stuck with IE 'cos you're at work - stop slacking off!)

Journey into darkness

OK, a slightly over-dramatic post title.

The Landscapist is calling on readers to offer up comments on The Nocturnes juried exhibit shortlist, and on night photography in general.

I can't say I'm taken with the shots featuring weird colours and odd angles. Seems too much like technique for its own sake. I find I can't get past the colours to see anything more in the images. The more subtle colour renditions work much better. I suppose it is in line with my general aversion to the Velvia look, too.

After forming your own opinions, it is well worth reading the Juror comments about night photography. Some interesting food for thought. I pretty much agree with these statements:

My attraction to NP is essentially the same as it is to any photography - I long to see what others make visible... If there is any genre of the medium that is,
by it's very nature, better suited to making visible what might never have seen, it has to be NP.

For many, the night is a place of darkness and shadow, both literally and

which distinguish the good night photography (NP) from the bad. But I hesitate on agreeing with the positive thoughts on the dark. Quite frankly, darkness, especially alone out in the wilds, gives me the creeps. I imagine all sorts of creatures out there ready to eat me. Over-active imagination, I guess.

Sometimes it's true, I'm sure. Take my brief foray into astro-photography. Out in the wilds of Mongolia a couple of years ago, away from the camp to get a clear view of the sky and avoid any torchlight (the only light for many miles). Sat in the dark, I could hear the approach of a herd of horses, which was pretty common during the night. They were still some way off. Then something a lot smaller on 4 legs padded behind me. Just cruising along, I suppose, but there are a few predators out there. Me and the kit were back in the tent in very short order.

From the juried set, it was the shots that gave me that same sense of paranoia about the dark that captured the mood of night for me.

Of course, night in the city is a whole other thing. It is a time of transformation. Area that are quiet by day come alive with celebration while the busy working areas are given over to the darkness.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Slow day: digital

A few weeks ago I posted about a slow day shooting with film. That was generally indicative: when I'm struggling for images with the film, I can struggle to expose a single roll in a day.

Wel, last night was something of the digital equivalent. having shot a lot of B&W film recently, I got out the digital with the express intent of capturing colour. I seemd to be struggly a bit for subjects. Choosing a wooded walk with limited variety in subtle shades of green didn't help. I did a few experiments, as I'm wont with digital. Not a great hour's stroll, photographically.

Thing is, I got 70 exposures in the hour. Doesn't seem unproductive when looked at from that angle.

I think it is the experimentation thing. When I'm not finding what I want with digital, I end up shooting all kinds of random nonsense. This helps me figure out a bit better what might work, or not, both by subject and technique. This doesn't happen with film. For one, I'm much more aware of what does and does not work in film for a given lens & film type combination. I also tend to use primes with film.

My conclusion: digital might actually be useful for getting out of a rut, with the ability to try a bunch of stuff and see what happens. In this mode I do quite a lot of chimping. Film, on the other hand, is good for focus, honing in on a particular style or subject and can help temper some of my wilder enthusiasms for banging away on the shutter release.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

So you wondered about noise

After the little interaction Paul Butzi and I had on an earlier post, I found this article on noise via Luminous Landscape. All you ever wanted to know about noise, and then some (and maybe a bit more besides). WARNING: it's pretty technical and I've not fully absorbed all the stuff.

A few interesting points it raises:

Ideally, the noise should slightly exceed the quantization step, in order
that roundoff errors introduced by quantization are negligible, and that no bits
are wasted in digitizing the noise...
Curiously, all the 14-bit cameras on the market (as of this writing) do not
merit 14-bit recording...
Twelve bits are perfectly adequate to record the image data without any
loss of image quality, for any of these cameras.

The proper reason to expose to the right comes ... the rise in signal-to-noise
ratio with increasing exposure.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, for fixed aperture/shutter speed, it is best to use the highest ISO (without clipping highlights); this result is consistent
with the ETTR philosophy, since using higher ISO pushes the histogram to the
right. However, the benefit from the use of higher ISO comes in the shadows, not
in the highlights where "there are more levels".

The fact that a digicam's performance is in the same ballpark as the best
DSLR's when referred to fixed spatial scale, suggests that the problems with
noise in digicams is not due to their ever smaller pixels, but rather it is due
to their small sensors.

Selected quotes only, go read the whole thing. Fascinating.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Oh, for the opportunity

Couple of posts caught my attention recently regarding the why of photographing. Paul Butzi talked about being somewhat blocked. Doug Plummer talks about his daily photo routine. It's a bit of the "I photograph, therefore I am" (or is that the other way around).

I wish I had the opportunity to feel blocked. Right now ,with my mad travel schedule, all I seem to do when I'm awake is eat or work (oh, and read blogs). Not a single opportunity to take up the camera in a couple of weeks. Hopefully I can get out briefly at the weekend - long nights here in Norway help a lot if I decide not to work late.

Will I feel bloked due to lack of practice or will the rest do me good? I can never decide which of those modes is most appropriate for me, or whether there's a "it depends" factor. Kind of like my sport - sometimes I need to go continuously for long periods, then I seem to need a recovery period. Maybe artistic endeavours are sports for the brain?

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

SoFoBoMo: a view on the rest

After picking a few stand-out books earlier, I then made it a mission to read each and every submission at That's a lot of photo books. This is a broad critique of the rest. At time of writing there were 57 posted books. there may be a few stragglers but unlikely.

Some caveats and notices to start:

  • Don't take any criticism too personally, especially if I use yours as an example.
  • I recognise the fact that these are not all polished publications.
  • I'm most interested in the ideas and execution thereof, not inherent design qualities of the books. These are personal views, I'm no professional critic.
  • If you want to let rip at mine, feel free.
I will say that overall I found the quality of photography to be high: technically and compositionally sound. Plus the selections put together hang together well in virtually every case (I'd struggle to think of an example off-hand). It seems to me that deciding to complete a SoFoBoMo project indicates a fairly high degree of comfort with ones own photography.

On the back of these efforts I spent some time browsing the blurb bookstore to see what else was out there and I see some parallels. A lot of POD work is pretty generic stuff - a lot of what I would call documentary landscape: views of a particular area or trip. Nothing wrong with that but they do start to seem the same after a while. A strong story or different style of presentation is needed to make such and effort worthwhile to the reader. Plenty of examples here.
Having said that, for SoFoBoMo I think this makes a pretty good subject: familiar subjects so that one can concentrate on the book bits.

I posted on pdfs for the web because I saw quite a few books that were difficult to download or read on screen but very small changes would have fixed it all, IMO.

Personally I liked the abstract approach. A bit more interesting and caused me to stop a think more. Julie O'Donnell I've mentioned but Steve Dodd's & Esther Emma Jongste's are also a good examples. That's largely a personal preference thing. I really liked the idea behind Matt Alof's but missed the captions. The cations he had on his blog really told the story, that the pictures alone don't.

A few mixed black and white and colour. It doesn't really work, especially if it's just a few B&W dispersed through the book. Glen Kaltenbrun's "Tree Portraits" is an example - the black and white images didn't add anything for me. Stick to the strong colour or go all B&W.
There are lots of ways to do monochrome: Colin Jago's subtle tones approach, the classic full tones of John Chabalko (go see his for some excellent classic black and white work) or the colour toned work of Kjell Harald Andersen. I'm not sure Eric DeBill really caught it by using B&W for spring, which is a time or colour for me.
At first I didn't think too much of Martin Frech's "Uferzonen" until I read about his unusual equipment. Re-reading, it makes a lot more sense, stylistically. I just wish I understood the German better.

What was i trying to do? With "Kristiansund", it was about getting enough shots in that I could at least produce something. Working in B&W film with a fixed focal length made style control easy. For "A place to call Home" I wanted to try a couple of aspects of design and presentation. The diptychs was a new departure for me and fitted the theme I'd though of. I then was interested in presenting the book in recognisable sections, hence the colour stripes. It was as much an exercise in design as photography for me. Does it work? You be the judge.

Digital long exposures

Running water, Cumbria, April 2008
After RAW conversion

I have been pretty dissatisfied with long exposures using the digital camera. Anything past about 10-15s leads to horrid noise or detail loss with black frame removal. Plus a stack of filters seems to degrade the image more than film (or maybe that's just me).

Anyway, while processing the above image, I tried something different. I'd taken about 6 exposures of the scene with exposures varying from 1/3 to 1s. I was trying to get a smooth flow to the stream of water on the right. I only had a 2 stop ND filter, which didn't help. Looking through all the exposures I was considering pasting together parts from each to get the effect.

I then turned to Photomatix Pro to blend all 6. Not HDR, though. I just used the average function and some slight tone mapping. What a huge difference, seen here:

Running water, Cumbria, April 2008
After the full Photomatix & post process treatment

Total exposure time for the 6 images was about 5s. The overall result though is of a much longer exposure. There is some great effect from the smaller flows amongst the rocks (100% crop below). Plus noise is gone and detail is great, something Photomatix is really good at.

Crop from final image, click for actual pixels view

So there it is: take a whole lot of relatively short exposures and average the results. Output resembles a longer exposure than the sum of the parts.

I've not tried this yet with some really short exposures, but that would be fun. Say 10 or more at action freezing speeds (1/125 and faster).

Oh, and before you all chip in, I realise there were a bunch of film based techniques similar to this but I've not come across something similar in the digital world.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Stuck in the middle

Waterside blooms, Oslo, May 2008

Matt Alof's posted on the place of photography in Art yesterday, which echoed some thoughts I've been having on the subject the past couple of days (another of my aeroplane ruminations).

I'm not sure that i entirely agree with him but don't totally disagree either. The problem I see with photography is it is stuck in the middle. On the one hand we having writing, literature, which is mass-produced where the value derives from the content. On the other we have painting and sculpture, the traditional comparators for photography, where value seems to be judged on technique, uniqueness and other qualities besides content.

this is where the Art Establishment has trouble with photography as a whole. Value is placed to much on uniqueness, thus an inkjet print must be lower value due to its reproducibility. That's hokum. Judge on content and artistic intent, please.

I note the interesting response Colin Jago got from Noble Fine Art about the method of printing, as if that was the true measure of the value of photography as Art (go read their website, this attitude pervades).

Presently I'm reading the "History of Japanese Photography" (University Press, Houston Museum of Fine Arts). This same debate was being had in Japan at the turn of the 20th century. A clear and useful point was made at the time:
This and only this is the true meaning of photography. It can be used in producing art, it can be used in medicine, it can be used for military purposes, it can be used for commerce, at the pleasure of one who uses it. Its use is not related to photography in itself.

Egashira Haruki, September 1904
It is all about where we think "photography" is when we consider it as a unified branch of Art. Then it is too easy to start comparing with gallery painting, valuing uniqueness almost over all else. I think that is the wrong attitude to take with Art in general and photography in particular. It should be about content. Production methods can be a part of that content, or a means to develop it in the appropriate manner. I think the literary world has got it right, let's not worry if it's written by hand on velum with a quill. It is content that matters an getting that content to an appreciative audience.

More please for the other visual Arts. I have a van Gogh and a Picasso on my walls here at home. Cheap poster reproductions but pretty good, nonetheless. I've seen the museum originals but am quite that I can enjoy the work every day. The value is in the content, I don't care what paints were used or the techniques or the fact that the originals are priceless. Likewise I enjoy photographs for their content, well displayed. If a book is the suitable means, so be it. If it needs large prints, fine. But don't tell me that a large print is inherently more valuable than a great book collection.

Maybe we need to reject the Art Establishment and move beyond sales room valuations and get back to what it should be all about, the content.

Advice on pdf photobooks for the web

Viewpoint, Kristiansund, April 2008
Another that didn't fit in the book

Now that SoFoBoMo is over and I've rad all the books and then some, I thought I'd offer up some commentary on the technical aspects of putting together a pdf book for the web. Having done it myself, this is advice coming from both the production and consumption ends of this.

I noticed that a lot of the books posted were huge (30MB and up) and quite a lot were difficult to read and view due to the layout, hence this post. I'm not a professional designer and don't know swathes about book design but these are some simple things that I think would improve the look of the books.

My thoughts:

1. Put cover pages on the book. It looks more professional if there is even a simple pair of covers. Makes it look like a finished product. There were a few on getting to the end I wondered where the rest was.
2. While we're on covers, put your name on it. As an author, stand up and be recognised. There were a couple with no credit on them at all. Use your real name.
3. Image size matters. Unless you are using full-bleed images (right to the edge) please put more border around images. If pictures goes too close to the edge they feel cramped. Same with text & captions. Quite a few would be losing their images in trim if actually printed. As a minimum I reckon 10% of the page width as a border each side.
4. Just because it is aimed for on-screen show, put it together like a print book. The ones that look like they are printed actually read better on-screen. This means things like larger inside margins, no spreading images across the fold, proper leader pages etc.
5. Pick fonts I can read. There are a few where the typography really gets in the way of readability. Think about size, letter spacing etc. Try a few options and run up a trial page of text.
6. Please, not slideshows nor fade effects. This works for a series of images only but we are talking about a book here. Again, it's better if the on-screen book feels like a real print book.
7. Smaller, please, please, please. The key to file size for on-screen display is less resolution, not greater compression. jpeg 25% compression gets you nothing compared to 100dpi output. If you are printing, then create a second version for the web. Output images at 90-100dpi, medium compression. For a SoFoBoMo size book (35-50 images) this should get you down around 5-6MB. Most layout software will allow you to output at different resolutions, use the options.
8. Embed the fonts and colour profile (sRGB for on screen). Ensures it looks nice and as you intended. pdf readers take care of the rest.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Words in code

Force Crag Mine, Cumbria, April 2008
A shaft of light passes overhead

A picture paints a thousand words.

A cliche for good reason but is it as simple as that.

As I read through the SoFoBoMo entries (I intend to read them all, of which more in another post), I am coming to a different realisation. The words our pictures paint are all in code and titles, cations or short descriptions are the key to unlocking them.

If you want to tell a particular story, please point me in the right direction, otherwise it is all likely to be lost on me.

Another new blog

Water lilies, Oslo, May 2008

Following comments by Steve Durbin at Paul Butzi and the Landscapist I was taken with the idea of having a project-specific blog. Having decided recently to pursue a long-term project of my own, this seemed to come together nicely. It will be useful to me to gather all those thoughts in one place more effectively that tagging here. and separate that particular wheat from this particular chaff.

There will be no technical stuff, no cameras, no software. Just my thoughts on what I'm trying to achieve and why. it is really an exercise for me but I'd be more than happy if others would join in the discussion.

Find it here, and linked on the sidebar.