Sunday, 27 April 2008

Busy times

Hurtigruten leaving Kristiansund, Norway, April 2008

Posting has been absent this past week due to yet another business trip, this time to an Internet-free hotel. Next week I'm on vacation - more walking and photography in the lake District (Cumbria), my annual pilgrimage.

In between all that I've been trying to get my SoFoBoMo project ticking over which is tricky. I've also been putting together a second book of the pictures I got when i was last up in Norway. Looks like I will have 2 books put together in the SoFoBoMo time. Neither will be a patch on the quality of Gordon McGregor's, who seems to have really put down a strong marker for other SoFoBoMoers.

In a few weeks, things should slow down a bit when I get some time off travelling and working.

Monday, 21 April 2008

B&W film recommendations?

I've been busy going through the latest batch of HP5+ scans and realise that it's not quite the all-purpose film I was hoping it was. It's great low light (of course) and I really like it for people photography but I also need something else.

So, any recommendations for a film for these needs (all together): daylight, landscape, wide angle, detail?

There's a whole bunch of slower films around, so what's a decent choice for my needs? I can pretty much get anything locally, so I'm sort of spoilt for choice.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

SoFoBoMo: a slow day

SoFoBoMo image 9, April 2008

Today was much slower than the past couple. I decided to head out to a part of town where I knew there were rows of similar houses & several apartment blocks. Should be good for the project. How wrong can you be?

For "similar", read "depressingly identical". Lots of identikit houses with little done to enhance them in any way. Not really good for my project but at least I got a couple of hours walk out of it. There are still a few parts of town to explore yet, hopefully they are more fruitful.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

SoFoBoMo: a day of learning

SoFoBoMo sixth image, April 2008

Off around town for my second day of shooting today. Today I learnt a few things about this series, and the process in general:

1. I need to treat these subjects like architectural photography rather than street shooting. That means good view-points and perspective control (in post-processing here). While single images of building with some distortion are OK, putting multiples together and running up a series needs a more consistent approach. Today, I spent more effort working out where to shoot from.
2. I can't hold a camera straight for love nor money. I'm finding the results out of the camera are set off at all kinds of jaunty angles. I'm definitely not going to be using a tripod - I get enough odd looks from people on the street as it is.
3. A streamlined workflow really helps, especially with all the distortion and resizing needed. I've cur right back on the amount of colour/tone adjustments I'm doing. Suits the subject fine and saves me a bunch of time.
4. Leafy suburbs are not good for shooting buildings. I was walking around one of the parts of town that is favoured by families - lots of open spaces, little traffic, houses with gardens etc. Plus a lot of trees. That meant it was virtually impossible to shoot any of the buildings or their features. Still, plenty of other parts of town to explore.
5. This series is actually proving to be quite interesting to shoot. I'm exploring parts of town I've not been through before or re-visiting with fresh eyes. it's really interesting to see how people define their living spaces (how about a bedroom in a street-front, ground floor room?). If the results prove interesting enough, I might well continue with the theme past SoFoBoMo.
6. Paired images need more careful control of colour & brightness. Putting two mis-matched shots together really shows up badly. Easy enough to deal with but certainly something I hadn't thought about up front.

Friday, 18 April 2008

It's bigger but is it better? A follow-up

Rock snake, Northumberland, March 2008
crops below are from near the centre

It's now over a month since Ctein posted a series at T.O.P. on enlargements (part 1, part 2, part 3) an I promised I'd follow up on my idea of using mixed methods.

To summarise what's gone before: Ctein looked at various enlargement techniques, especially comparing Photoshop Bicubic (BC) with Genuine Fractals (GF). The overall conclusion - BC retains detail much better for bigger enlargements but returns softer results. GF is aggressive about sharpening edges but can lead to loss of detail and polygonization. Up to an enlargement factor of 2, GF was tending to win.

I ran my own quick comparisons between the two and got the same results - GF particularly likes turning fine, random detail into lots of little triangles that can be quite irritating, but bicubic requires a lot of extra sharpening.

So, I thought, could I get the best of both worlds? Could I get the fine detail of BC with the sharp results of GF? My initial hypothesis was that GF could only "see" details once they got to a certain size, otherwise it assumed it was noise or something. If I could initially make those small details large enough, the GF would see them and work the magic.

What did I do - I ran a lot of tests and a bunch of prints. I was looking at several variables here: relative degree of enlargement between the 2, absolute degree of enlargement and overall combined enlargement. That leads to a large solution space.

In the first instance I a whole lot of blind enlargements for totals of 400% and 800%. I ran relative enlargements of 1-0 (one method or the other), 2-1 (one method with a % enlargement twice that of the other) and 1-1 (equal enlargement %). Then, from those findings, I played around in the areas where the best results were happening. I repeated over several images, covering fine detail, geometric patterns, in & out of focus regions. Always BC first (see aside at the end for more on this).

This is the summary of results (without boring you with a lot of intermediate stuff). I've tried to keep my workflwo as consistent with Ctein's as possible but generally I worked with crops for prints (I'm limited by printer size), only used the straight BC (very little difference for this purpose between straight, softer & sharper), and worked with GF 4 (not v5 which again, for these purposes, is not a major factor).

At the extremes BC alone is soft, GF is sharp but blocky. In between there is a continuum of results. If too little BC is used to start then the polygonization of GF starts to rear its ugly head. If too much then the results become too soft. The continuum is not a straight line, however. As i ran more and more enlargements and prints, I found that starting with a BC enlargement in the 150% to 200% range yields the best results. Below this, there are noticeable GF artefacts, above this results start getting soft. The softness starts to creep into the out of focus areas first - with a BC enlargement of 250% to start, any slightly off focus area is quickly (and unattractively) rendered soft. Go further and everything goes soft. GF cannot retrieve softness induced by BC.

Crop from above image of a detailed, in focus area. Total Enlargement 400%
L to R: BC 150%, 200% and 250% (thus GF, 250%, 200%, 160% respectively)
Click to get full-size 100% view.
Differences on screen are small, trust my write-up, not these crops.

This is almost independent of total enlargement. Only when the GF enlargement is great (more than 400%) can I notice a difference between the BC 150% and 200% results - on screen or in print. More BC helps here. Frankly, I wouldn't be enlarging digital work more that 800% total anyway - that would be 48" prints and more. These tests are looking at prints that would cover a wall from a distance of a few inches.

Another crop from the same image.
This is a slightly out of focus area (by a few millimetres). Same enlargements as the other crops.
The 250% BC image on the right is starting to blur noticeably.

My conclusion (and now my default workflow): start with a BC enlargement of 160% (just over the 150% minimum threshold) and use GF for the rest to the desired size. want to go more that 800% overall (lunatic) - start with BC 200%.

An aside - starting with GF. A tried, briefly, the enlargements the other way, too - first GF ten BC. Don't bother. The result is you get the worst of both worlds. First GF strips the detail and turns it all into little triangles which BC enlarges and softens. It's like some nightmare special filter effect.

SoFoBoMo: day the first (redux)

SoFoBoMo first image, April 2008

Thanks to Blogger losing it's upload capability earlier, this is the image that should have gone with the last post.

SoFoBoMo: day the first

Today was the first day of my own SoFoBoMo efforts. I've held off writing it up until I had dinner put together the first image. Reason for holding off: I was not feeling good about things when I got back from the first shooting effort. Nothing was going well, the photos were rubbish, I was rubbish, the idea was rubbish... you get the idea.

Now I've actually gone through the motions of putting together a single page image, I feel better.

I'm one of those learning some new stuff into the bargain. It's not very often I go out with a single shooting intent, and that will take some getting used to. Plus I'm learning some things about cropping, resizing and page layout that never crossed my mind when I first thought of presenting my book as diptychs. There's a lot of fiddling to get the pairs to layout across the intended width with the correct spacing and heights.

So, what's the theme? I hear you all cry (or maybe that's just the voices in my head).

The title: "A place to call home", which is all about the ways people individualise their houses to make them home. Around the city, and many other places, houses fall into rows/developments of (near) identical buildings yet they can often be personally identified. The idea is to show pairs with the building context (wide) and the personal touch (up close).

It's a new idea, and holds little risk in the SoFoBoMo context if it all fails miserably. I just hope I can take enough decent frames to put 35 together in the next 30 days.

Source of projects

Reclaimed pipe, Northumberland, March 2008
this is one image that is going to a new series I'm developing

There have been a few posts around the web recently about the nature of series and inspiration, which ha me thinking about my own photographs and the few series I have embarked upon. Whence the inspiration?

I wonder if i get the ideas because i have already been shooting the subjects and my sub-conscious tells me there is a series in there. i have noticed with a new series I'm starting that this seems to be the case - I had the idea and then noticed that I'd already shot a few images that fit into the category.

there are other times I've deliberately come up with a fresh 9for me) idea. My "36 bicycles" from a while back is one such. My SoFoBoMo project (more of which later) is another. But these ideas also sprang out of potential images I had been seeing without a camera in my hand.

We (human beings) are good at spotting patterns around us. maybe we are constantly seeing connections which then come as the ideas for our artistic efforts

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Swimming in metadata

Shooting from the bunker, Northumberland, March 2008

In a comment to my earlier post, Les Richardson commented:
However, you are now moving into a digital world... how are you going to integrate your film archive along with digital capture? Are you going to add metadata (even simple stuff) about your film collection? Do you have a unique number (or key) to identify each image? ... How are you going to avoid being drowned in data?
I felt these questions warranted their own response. Slightly delayed due to effort of editing a backlog and actually having to go to the office for a couple of days.

Integrating the film archive with the digital is a tricky business. I've got a numbering system for my electronic files which specifically distinguishes between the two, in that i note the roll & type of film used. However, the way the files stack up is the same. The tricky part is the film archive also has a physical counterpart, which digital does not. Maybe one day we'll all be converting our digital files to transparencies.

I'm not adding metadata for two reasons. One is I'm lazy and that seems like effort. The other is that all I'm really interested in is the what and when and that is all wrapped up in the filename I use. Plus, there is so much I've forgotten about the cluttered mass that is my film collection that metadata would be a pointless task.

If you hover over any of my web images you'll see my numbering system buried in the filename. I've had to tweak it slightly recently but essentially each frame is uniquely identified which makes it easy to search and cross-reference. Plus, by archiving my final work by shooting location I can easily track the where to the when and all related images. That returns maximum data usefulness for minimum effort, at least for me. My biggest headache is if something comes along that requires a change in naming convention: do I continue from that point or go back and rename the whole lot? I've not quite nailed that one yet.

As someone who deals with masses of data on a daily basis, I'm sure I could deal with more but I have also learnt the value of boiling down data collection to the bare essentials.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Scanning: trials and tribulations

Fallen slab, Northumberland, March 2008

Last night I finally got through all the scanning I had pending. I am starting to curse the batch scan mode of SilverFast AI, much as I like the results.

Things I cannot seem to do:
1. Control the order of a batch. When I'm scanning a roll of 35mm I'd like to be able to tell it which frame has which number. Results seem pretty random, which means going back after the scan and applying the frame numbers. I like the scan names to have the same frame number as on the original roll.
2. Match scan options across a batch. Even though I set up to batch scan, I still need to check that the options, resolution etc are correct for each frame. Because I didn't do this thoroughly I had to rescan half the 4x5 as they'd scanned at a size of 1000px. Plus, some of the black and white scanned as colour, another re-scan job there.
3. Determine in advance the orientation. All my 35mm scans came out rotated. Some by 90deg, some by 180, some to the left, some to right. Why can't it scan to the orientation I see in the preview?

All this is annoying and means the work takes longer than necessary.

If anyone knows if I'm doing stuff wrong, let me know.

Film disorganization

Anchor chain, Northumberland, March 2008

I'm just about to embark on the latest round of scanning, finishing off the collection of work from my Northumberland trip. As ever, it's a mixture of 35mm, 120 roll film and 4x5 sheets. Black and white and colour. Negative and positive. A job that will probably occupy me all evening - just as well I don't need to go to work tomorrow.

The problem I've got with all this film is organizing the originals. Once it's scanned it' fine - number it all and drop it right into my regular electronic filing system. Problem is, I'm now swimming in mixed formats of film and have no system for keeping it all in order.

Anyone out there solved this problem? I'm looking for a relatively simple system (otherwise my lazy nature will take over and it won't get done) that will enable me to keep it all organized. Hopefully I can go back and organize all my old stuff, too. right now, it's all stacking up in odd corners which will become a nightmare once I move house.

I need help!

Sunday, 13 April 2008

New work on display

Flat and round, Northumberland, March 2008

I've added a new link on the sidebar to a collection of my latest photos. This is a handy way to post and contemplate my new stuff before adding to the longer term collections. Feel free to leave constructive comments. For the first group, it's the bulk of the work coming from my workshop in Northumberland a few weeks ago.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

More considered randomness

Found via a link at the Landscapist is the work of Mary Dennis, especially her Natural/Disorder series. This is exactly the kind of carefully composed work showing the beauty of natural randomness that I love so much. Each frame is perfectly balanced in subject and colour and yet appears as an almost random click of the shutter.

Monday, 7 April 2008

A fine day and a bunch of film

Got away from the office relatively early today, largely in search of food (tricky on Sunday in Norway) and partly due to some nice weather. Got out for a couple of hours, 3 rolls of P5+ and hopefully some good shots of town. Having lived here before I knew a bunch of places to go but also found some new spots. Hopefully I've been able to capture a sense of the town. If not, I'm in and out most of the summer, so time to have another go.

Reading all the posting from those active with SoFoBoMo, it was good to get out behind the lens for a while. This isn't part of my own project but it was nice to be out shooting - certainly breaks up the hard work.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

A welcome distraction

While I've not been taking any photos or posting much, reading the various photography blogs over the past few days has given me a much needed break. The routine I'm on at present with this business trip means long hours, a lot of new stuff to learn and very little down-time. Thanks to all you bloggers out there, I have something to help me unwind. I'm also quite encouraged by all the SoFoBoMo-ing going on - keep it up, I'll be getting going in a few days, too.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

What colour are clouds?

(No pics for a while - I'm on a 2 week business trip)

Not a philisophical question, more a matter of the meeting of physics and neuroscience. As we flew over the clouds this afternoon, I seemed to be seeing all sorts of colour illusions. The sun behind us was reflecting off the south-facing aspects of the clouds. In the distance a veil of cloud appeared to have pink hues. The sky was pale blue in between.

That got me thinking - how does one get an accurate sense of clouds in a print that includes a lot of sky? I'm sure the mind plays tricks - telling you the colours you expect to see. But on the other hand, when viewing the sky we see refracted light, reflected light, diffused light, re-reflected light etc. In terms of colour, these should all have different temperatures. Then when we come to print an image of this, it is all reflected light: uni-directional. In to that mix, does the brain interpret phase changes (from the refelctions) differently than the direct light (sort of like a built-in polarizer)?

I wish I knew some of the answers here - I'm never entirely satisfied by the way my skies look in colour print. Has someone written a definitive guide to the colour fidelity of skies?

On a lightly related note: clouds a re wonderful structures. That hanging balance of saturated and condensing air. The subtle shifts in conditions that cause minute droplets to form. It was particularly spectacular today with the top surface of the clouds fluffy like a giant carpet of cotton wool.