Friday, 28 August 2009

Creative limits

I've not been doing any photography lately. Computer is still not working (although I had it going briefly a few days ago, before cocking it up shortly thereafter) but that's not much of an excuse. But this morning I realised that I've not been feeling a need for the additional creative outlet that photography provides.

Work lately has been exercising my creative talents. Lots of new thinking, developing concepts, putting existing technologies and working methods together in unusual ways. It's been good fun, if a little tiring. It's certainly a level of novelty and diversity of work I've not experienced in a while which is a good thing. That leads me to believe I have a certain capacity (or maybe need) for creativity which is being consumed during working hours thus no room for photography out of the office.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

The rational photographer

It's been something I've been thinking about for a while: my mental process when working, specifically for photography. My thinking has been prompted by several blogs I've read describing a sort of unconscious or emotional approach to the whole business. This post has finally happened thanks to Paul Butzi (again).

My thinking is far too rational to get lost in some unconscious "flow". Almost every shot, every experiment I try is logically thought out. Often this works just at the edge of conscious thought and can be hard to verbalise or explain but it is there.

Over the years I've often had cause to think on how I think. People often comment that I don't think like others, in that my mental processes seem to work differently than most. Not better, just different. I also think fast, churning lots of options in a short space of time. My brain is constantly evaluating the world around me, considering evidence, thinking of the options and possibilities. Good attributes for a scientific worker, not typical of the artistically inclined.

And so it seems to be with photography. I carefully evaluate everything, considering what I see, how I see it, how I want to represent it. It's a background mental process that seems to be constantly working. On the outside, it may be hard to tell - when it's going well the whole thing can take the blink of an eye. If you saw me plonk down my tripod and crank out the shots, at times it might seem unconsidered. And just because it takes you some time to work through a process doesn't mean it takes me the same amount of time.

Why do I not think this is some sort of instinctive approach? Because this thinking and outcome works just the way it does, for me, in scientific or mathematical work. Often I can "see" the answer but can then consciously step through the logic to get there. It is similar with my photography. See, analyse, devise, execute, test the variables. I don't always get it right and I then actively learn from the mistakes: make improvements, get new ideas, discover new things by accident. As my English teacher once said of me: efficiently analytical but lacking in empathy. It's the way I am so I work with what I've got.

This may be hard to understand: it's certainly tricky to describe. For the emotional crowd it is likely hard to relate to, just as I find the more emotional approach very hard to relate to my own experience. There was a point in time when I tried to explain others' process in terms of my own experience but I realised that was specious. That just becomes denial through ignorance. So I try hard to understand my own thinking and how others think and work. What I learn from other photographers seems to help with my understanding of others in general.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Media are multi

Another interesting rumination from Paul Butzi. Leads me to think - paper media and electronic media are currently poles apart, maybe at odds with one another. But yet we want convergence, or at least translation: the ability to put together electronic files easily put to paper, or paper files readily turned into 1s and 0s.

The problem seems that those writing the standards are thinking in small boxes. Most mark-up is designed for online text, images are an after-thought. Printable structure is a whole other business. Yes, I realise there are fundamental differences in paper and screen display but there can be simple way to translate between the two even to the point of double-structureed files.

Much as I enjoy learning new stuff, I'm getting fed up of having to become an expert in various technologies just to get stuff done. it's one fo those things where the answer seems tangibly close yet just out of reach. For sure technology is moving on apace but I'm never satisfied when the answer seems tantilisingly close.

Monday, 17 August 2009

A little slow around here

My blogging has slowed quite a bit, as regular readers may have noticed. More of the same reasons: not taking any pictures at present, which means I'm a bit off the photography thinking loop and I've massacred my computer (again). the latter is proving to be a real drag. While the netbook is handy for a bit of surfing, I can't really post photos (and have no access to the archive) and viewing photography is tricky.

I just need a good run at any of this to get back on track - if only I could find the time right now. First priority: fix the computer, second priority: take some pictures.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Photography independent of geography, pt 2

Green poles, The Hague, August 2009

Colin Jago pondered if this answered my question about geography independent photography. Yes, in a way, but probably not how he imagined.

I had to read his post and the links a couple of times to really get to understand it. And it got me thinking severally about how I relate to photography and the world around me. I'm sure I've written about this before.

But on the notion of a longer-term project, I realised there is something there worth exploring, and that I can relate to as I move around. The notion of how my view of a place changes as I get to know it and/or as it changes around me. How do I see a place as I fly in? How does my visual sense of the place change as I spend more time? Does what I see change, do I change what I look at, do I stop seeing? There are times I jet in to visit briefly, be it vacation or business, places I visit regularly over a period of time, and new locations to live in.

I can see mileage in this one over a long period. And this will be much more about my relation to my living environment, just as my Processes of Nature project is about how I see the natural world.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Further experiments in JPEG compression

This is an expansion of the experiments on JPEG that I reported in this post. It's worth reading that before continuing here.

This time I was looking to expand the idea to the limit - just how many iterations would it take to cause the image quality to break down?

I took the same image, working with Lightroom JPEG quality 75 and continued to successively expot the full size image. At the 35th iteration I found the first artefacts - pixel blocks, about 3x3 in size, in one of the dark patches. Nothing that would show up in print. In fact, it took a while to find it at all on screen at 100%. I then continued. At 80 iterations I got bored, happy that this is well past the number of successive saves I'd ever need.

I also tried an image that had been sharpened in the first conversion from uncompressed TIFF, using Lightroom's heavy screen sharpening. After 20 iterations there was no difference, apart from the sharpening - no artefacts, halos etc. I'd expect it to go many more iterations without problem.

JPEG torture test

I also devised a torture test, creating a multi-patch image with random detail running across it. This is a graphic image better suited to GIF than JPEG. Result: noticeable degradation around the wiggly line after 10 images at quality 75, but only against pure colour (one of the white patches and the pure green bottom left). The rest was intact, including edges between patches. The file size is small, reflecting the large colour patches: 340kB for a 6MP image, much smaller than the 1.2MB for the other, 10MP image.

Torture test after 10 iterations, Lightroom quality 75
Click for 100% view

Final conclusion on using JPEG for presentation and book making: I'm sticking to lower quality levels than before, using JPEG exclusively for creating photobooks and not getting too worried about compression settings.

Photography independent of geography

Reading Paul Butzi's post about extending photographic challenges had me thinking along the lines of potential subjects.

For me, personally, either of his suggestions would be logistically difficult - it is rare that I spend an entire month in country, let alone 90 consecutive days. And to top that, over the next 10 years I expect to live in 3 or 4 different countries. Such is the life of a peripatetic.

By extension I have been thinking of potential subjects that would be independent of location. Not straightforward for someone whose photography tends towards that of location. So what subjects can I think of?

Colour is an obvious choice, as is some form of self-portrait. But the imaginative well seems shallow and has run dry rather quickly. Any ideas?

Monday, 10 August 2009

Nothing to see here

Before yesterday, I'd not picked up a camera in about 6 weeks. Not really had the opportunity, I guess. Plus the afore mentioned lethargy. So I went out for a short walk yesterday afternoon to take a few pictures. And barely saw anything. I've maybe got 4 or 5 decent shots. I only managed 27 frames total.

Definitely need more practice.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009


Afternoon rest, Reeth, Yorkshire, June 2009

Posting has been slow (although I've a couple in the works), reflecting my general mood at present. It's hot, it's humid, I'm not sleeping well and I can't think straight half the time. Oh, the joys of summer. To top it all, I've not picked up a camera in at least 6 weeks.

I hope I can break this cycle some time soon, if only for my sanity.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Amazing things with photography #3

Courtesy of astronomy picture of the day (APOD), comes this incredible HDR shot of the sun's corona during the recent eclipse.

Some label changes

I've decided to split up all my SoFoBoMo posts, largely to make it easier for me to manage them but also easier to find stuff. So now "SoFoBoMo" is used for general stuff related to the Solo Photo Book Month: advice, discussion, technical topics. Stuff specific to a particular year will be labelled "SoFoBoMo xxxx" where xxxx is the year number. That way, project specific stuff can be found separately and not get mixed up with the general advice.