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 = {
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 = {

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 = {

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


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.