Spent today walking the streets of Berlin, doing the whole tourist thing. These are a bunch of thoughts that came to mind while I was doing so. I'll try and keep the content largely linked to photography.
The first decision I had to make was just how much photography I was going to do. I'm staying somewhat out of the centre, so plenty of distance to cover. I could have stopped every 50yds but then I'd get nowhere. Instead I decided to be a bit more focused, we have to get out from behind the lens once in a while. This also gives me room to think a bit wider.
The first impression I get of Berlin is that it is a city that seems to have lost a sense of its past self. I'm not talking recent history. The town has been here for centuries yet for the most part you'd wonder if it ever existed prior to the 1930s. Of course ignoring "12 years of war that ended in catastrophic defeat" (from the Brandenburg Gate information panel) would be ignoring the elephant in the room but there was more before that. Walking the Wall route, one wonders if the city even existed before 1961.
Dimantling the Wall has led to a huge redevelopment. All along its trajectory there is fresh construction in shining glass and steel. Bold new architecture. The old East Berlin has been reborn. Sometimes great good comes from the worst of circumstances. I actually had to go some way to find a sense of history and everywhere east of the wall there exists wierd juxtaposition between ancient, Communist and modern architecture.
Photography has a large part to play in our understanding of recent events in the city. At the Topography of Terror exhibit, photography gives a chilling insight into the activites directed from Prinz Albrecht Strasse and Wilhelm Strasse. The rhetoric is rather similar to today's "War on Terror" except then it was "War of Terror". The view of these activities rather depends on which direction one faces. This should be a required visit for the Department of Homeland Security and all similar organisations.
It was the speed, ease, portability and low cost of then modern cameras that extended the range of documentation. Prior to the '30s war was pictured glorious. It has not been since. This was a fact brought home by an interview on CNN from the Barbican war photography exhibition (here, here, here: ignore the annoying ads), mentioned here a couple of days ago. This really looks like one of the best current exhibitions, worth a visit if you're in London.
Monday, 27 October 2008
Spent today walking the streets of Berlin, doing the whole tourist thing. These are a bunch of thoughts that came to mind while I was doing so. I'll try and keep the content largely linked to photography.
Sunday, 26 October 2008
This time it's Berlin, another new location for me. Whole week indoors at a conference but the weekend free to roam the city. No plans, just a map in my pocket and a camera in my hand. Plus, a new lens to try - the new Voigtlander 28mm f/2 Ultron that I collected on Friday.
Posts may well be slow this week but expect quite a few pics from the trip once I get back.
Thursday, 23 October 2008
I've been thinking about this whole field of view thing, and how it relates to lenses. There is the eternal debate about zoom lenses versus primes, the ideal prime focal length, what constitutes a "normal" lens etc. What I figured was it comes down to a difference in "seeing" distance - i.e. the distance to the subject at which one normally focusses.
It's something like this: Traditionally we think of the human field of view as being a cone, effectively equating to a single focal length like this (imagine the dot is a person seen from above & the triangle represents where they can see).
But I did a few experiments of my own and I reckon that actually effective focal length changes with distance. At close distances we see/notice much wider than we do at a distance. The field of view looks something like this (in blue, with the fixed field for comparison).
There could be many reasons for this, or I could be completely wrong but it certainly seems to be the way that I see the world.
So this led me to the idea of an entirely different kind of camera lens. The basic idea is to couple focus point and focal length. At close focus distances the lens would be a wide angle, at grater focus distances the focal length zooms progressively. This means that as you change focus, so to does the field of view. The trick would be to pick a suitable range of focal lengths (which, in principle could be anything). I reckon 24mm (35mm equivalent) for macro distances (a few inches) up to about 90-100mm at infinity would do the trick quite nicely.
I like to think of the idea as a "variable prime" rather than a zoom lens as the focal length is effectively fixed depending on how far away the subject is.
Probably a bonkers idea and maybe impossible to build but would bring a new perspective to photography.
Wednesday, 22 October 2008
I've been working through the editing of the film I shot over the summer. There's a lot more stuff from Kristiansund which I will use to expand and rework my photobook.
In amongst that stuff, however, there are what appear to be a pile of test shots - all the same subjects from around home. Trouble is, I have no idea what I was testing and how. Were they framing tests for the 40mm lens on the Zeiss Ikon? Or exposure tests? Or focus tests? No idea, and I didn't take a single note. Thus, about a roll and a half effectively wasted. Remember folks, if you're testing stuff; take notes. You owe your future self the favour.
Inspired by recent posts at the Landscapist (especially today's) I went back and had a look at the "unsuccessful" pictures I came away with at the weekend. to my surprise, they weren't as bad as I initially thought. this is one of them. Nothing spectacular but the whole of the thing I saw.
Oh, and it produces a really nice 8x10" print, even cropped down like this. Sharpness, noise, ISO, the camera used are all non-factors in a pleasing final image.
Sunday, 19 October 2008
I've been posting quite a lot of technical stuff recently mainly because I haven't been taking many pictures. With a lot of processing to do, I'm usually not very motivated to get out with the camera. Well now that I've finished my Ladakh work (see the full set here), I decided to go out for a short walk in the local woods to get some pictures.
There is clearly a lack of practice coming into play here because the results were rubbish. The only decent shot is the one posted here, which is nothing like the subjects I was looking for and was the last one I took. I think I need to get out more.
Saturday, 18 October 2008
I've been reading Paul Butzi's recent posts with interest as he exposes some of his working and thinking. I especially noted the post Close to Home and the reference to Doug Plummer's Stick Pictures (which is really beautiful work). I'm always amazed at Doug's ability/need to connect emotionally with the photographic process for success. In contrast to Paul's use of photography to "figure things out" as he puts it.
Now that I've finished the big editing effort from my India trip, I started thinking about my own process of taking pictures, especially the photos I was taking of street scenes. I seem to pre-think the subjects. By observing what's going on, I get a sense of the things I think will make good pictures and start photographing them. A very analytical approach - I've been described as being "brutally analytical" in my thinking. In retrospect I seem to be separating myself from the subjects, rather than trying to connect emotionally and this is what seems to work best for me. It's not that I'm setting out with pre-determined images in mind, more that I need to figure out what sort of images are going to work before I start pressing the shutter release.
So are there distinctly emotional versus rational methods? And do these methods apply better to certain subjects? Certainly I don't seem to be too effective at the sort of people/group dynamic subjects that Doug Plummer excels in.
Often an analytical approach to composing is taught (especially for landscapes) versus instinctive approach to subject. Is that more effective, or is something lost through lack of connection?
I'm going to stick with the way I do it - I'm comfortable that way, and one can really only produce good images if one is comfortable behind the lens. Whatever enables us to become comfortable is the way to go. Don't look to copy someone else's methods - try to find your own way of becoming comfortable, thus productive.
I used this for testing as it shows a lot of tricky image properties: highlights, shallow DoF, fine patterns in background, deep shadows
Previous posts on the Lumix LX3 itself here and here.
I said a while back that I'd write some thoughts on using Panasonic's SilkyPix Developer software together with my Lumix LX3, so here it is. It takes quite a lot of work to put these technical posts together, hence the delay. I'm using SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.0 SE: the bundled version that came with my LX3.
I was prompted to finally post this by the review of the LX3 at Luminous Landscape. I agree with pretty much all MR has to say, except 2 things: high ISO noise and use of the SilkyPix software. I'll come onto why later but first a definition (which may seem like a rant).
When I'm evaluating software, I have a clear idea and definition of what constitutes "intuitive". I do a lot of software evaluation, it's part of my day job. For me, if I cannot get useful output from new-to-me software in 2h without a manual, it's not intuitive. It may take you more or less time, you may want a manual or help files but this is my personal measure. Just because I wouldn't consider it intuitive isn't necessarily a Bad Thing but it is not a good sign in general consumer products. A couple of examples: Google is high on the intuitive scale - blindingly obvious what it does and how to use it, if you've ever seen a computer you'll be off with it. Adobe Photoshop, on the other hand, is as close to non-intuitive as possible; verging on the unusable. It's the only software in a long time (many years) I've needed instruction on how to even get going.
Just because a new piece of software doesn't work like similar products doesn't make in unintuitive, just as several products that work the same with similar initerfaces are not necessarily intuitive - copying bad practices just makes your product bad, not easy to use. So: intuitive software - easy to use without instruction, on the basis that you've never used something with similar intent. Bear that in mind for the rest of this.
|Main editing tools||Hover to preview: "Natural" is selected, "noise reduction priority" is previewed|
Along the top, one finds the various view settings. I use the multi-view or single-view. Interestingly, one has a full range of adjustment available on selected images in multi-view which is unlike any other photo software with this multi-image browser interface. This makes it even easier to use with no need to switch modes to make adjustments.
2 quirks: first is that output of the final image is termed "develop" and you need to use the Development menu option. The second is that the Sharpen and Noise Reduction functions work on a split button, which took a little while to deduce. This is actually a good thing once figured out - Panasonic are inherently recognising the trade-of between detail enhancement and noise reduction, evidenced by the presets. Of course you can try going for heavy sharpening and heavy NR at the same time but don't expect great things.
A couple of less obvious tools are the ones presented bottom left. I've not investigated them all but 2 handy ones are the curves tool for tonal/contrast enhancements and the aberrations tool. The latter is pretty good with a wide range of distortion and fringing adjusters. thing is, I've not yet found any issues with files from the LX3. I've seen talk on the web that SilkyPix is automatically adjusting the RAW files for aberrations, which would make this tool superfluous but I'm not convinced. On using the camera, the screen shows no distortion and more do the out-of-camera JPEGs. If there is software adjustment, it is (also) in the camera, which would be impressive enough. Certainly, switching off the aberration tool in SilkyPix has no effect.
How does SilkyPix perform on LX3 files? Very well. I've found 3 ways to use it. First to batch several RAW files with no adjustments to full 16 bit TIFF files for further work in other software. Second for fine-tuning individual images (not used often) and the third is to create 16 bit TIFFs fom the in-camera JPEGs for further processing. I'll come onto this last in a minute. This leads me to the other objection to Reichmann's comments: noise in the images. Yes, this is not a super low noise, high-end DSLR. However, don't praise the RAW feature for the ability to do further processing and then condemn to straight from camera results. At ISO800 and 1600 the files are very good after noise reduction. I consider RAW files in light of how I process them, and that includes noise reduction. I use Neat Image as a Photoshop plug-in and get excellent results. Noise is sufficiently consistent in LX3 RAW files (after TIFF conversion) that I've been able to create a standard setting in Neat Image, which means just a couple of button clicks to clean up the files. Shadow & pattern detail is still good and smooth tones clean up nicely. I reckon you could enlarge the results quite a bit, although I'd be happier at A4 (8x12") prints. Well beyond my expectations for a small sensor camera, as I've written before.
Now to the last point for this post: JPEG to TIFF conversion. I'm not quite sure how SilkyPix works underneath but it is able to convert 8 bit JPEGs to 16 bit TIFFs. dcraw has a similar function. I've tried a couple of tests and this works very well. The resulting TIFF file is much more suitable for further adjustment than a JPEG, although not as good as a RAW file. I might even use this feature for converting other JPEGs to allow me to do more work on them.
So there it is: Panasonic's SilkyPix Developer software and the Lumix LX3 provide a good combination for getting really good results out of the camera. I'm not claiming the RAW development is best in class, but the workflow is simple
Friday, 17 October 2008
Did blogs change the world? I don't think so (and I'm not the only one). A nice idea, but really only about 10,000 signed up. Out of the millions of bloggers (let alone the rest of the online community) that's a drop in the ocean.
The other thing is the lack of originality (me as much to blame as the rest). Too much right-think, turns into same-think (crimethink??). It is new ideas, different thinking and major action that moves things forward. Do what you've always done, get what you've always got.
So, on that note, here is a slightly different take on the matter that I found among the mass I read yesterday.
OK, I'll get back on topic tomorrow.
Wednesday, 15 October 2008
Having talked in my previous post about the notion of collective responsibility, what is it that we can do specifically as photographers about poverty issues? This is after all Blog Action Day: getting up and doing something. And here I'm talking about doing something other than the generalist charity support that seems to be the basis of so much "action" advice associated with today.
Well, it is very simple, and at the heart of documentary and reportage work: go out and photograph the World. One of the key aspects of photography is it brings the World Out There home here, wherever here may be. It is the ability of photography to record the World and transport those images that is what gives the medium power in journalism and documentary. Visual messages seem so much more visceral that those written.
And, in a wider sense I suppose, it is not just poverty as an issue but any subject that is remote in which photography has a role.
So it's all about poverty today. This will be slightly tangential to my normal subject matter but based around my observations in India. This may also come across as a little controversial, if you're not up for that, look away now.
Farming seems to be a communal activity in the area, even if land may be individually owned
During the course of just a couple of weeks, I saw two very different (maybe 3) sides of India. Ladakh is a very pleasant place: beautiful country, pleasant weather (at least in summer) and a Buddhist culture that is tolerant and cooperative. There was also the extravagant excesses of the Taj Mahal and the Mughal palaces.
And then there is the poverty - the depressing, grinding poverty of newsreel. the worst part of the poverty, however (and something on which every visitor to India comments) is the squalor. Outside of Ladakh, the areas we saw were, quite frankly, filthy and piled with rubbish. Not another poor area in the world looks as bad as this, regardless of the levels of poverty.
Ramshackle, untidy houses seemed to be the norm out in the country villages
Civic cleanliness seems to be the first step in alleviating poverty. Which leads to my point. Is the ability to raise out of poverty, connected to a communal desire to do so? Places that seem to improve, also seem to have people coming together to help keep the place nice. When there is no longer care about the surroundings (and by inference, the well-being of neighbours' environment), then there develops the downward spiral. Whilst there are signs of India developing economically, it seems to be individually centred. I cannot recall anywhere else where brand new shopping malls get built between shanty towns. Total development of areas (or total neglect) seem to be the norm elsewhere.
On the next plot was a shanty town. This was a single beacon to consumerism in an obviously deprived area.
If we want to end poverty, maybe we all need to take more care of our surroundings and pass the good habits on. It may seem simplistic, but I believe that the desire to improve things for others, as well as ourselves, is the first step to making them happen.
Sunday, 12 October 2008
I've been posting a few images from my Ladakh trek as part of my Processes of Nature project. the simple reason is that the Himalaya are a great place to observe the processes that go into making and breaking mountains. I've travelled, by various means, through mountainous country all over the World and yet nowhere have I felt as close to the cycle of creation, growth and destruction of such mountains as much as I did in Ladakh (volcanic regions notwithstanding).
The shot here is a case in point. Our trek leader quipped that these monastic outposts must be held together with karmic cement, being built on apparently the most friable outcrops to be found. They've probably been around for centuries. Distinctly permanent buildings from a human perspective but a mere fleeting fancy in geologic time. But even with the slow process of mountain building, there were signs of the trails collapsing and the river valley changing in real-time. The path was frequently moved to deal with a new collapse or change in the river path.
We take it as a matter of faith that the mountains will be around forever but that is only a human scale. The Universe is much less constant over long periods.
I've been working through the processing on my Ladakh photos, largely the scans of the film I shot. At the same time I've been reading Paul Butzi's recent posts (here and here) on his efforts closer to home. Quite a contrast in outcomes, I think.
For me, I've been constantly surprised at how well my images are turning out. I didn't have too much hope but I'm getting a lot of decent shots - a much higher rate than with digital. Of course, I don't shoot a lot of multiples with film, but it is nice to see so many successful. In this context I'm taking the first pass through, where success is judged by me capturing the subject in the way I intended. Whether that ultimately leads to a long-term keeper is another matter. (Like Paul, I tend to post on-going photo work, rather than the best.)
This naturally leads me to think about the differences between digital and film. A point that Doug Plummer made in a comment to Paul. With the long feedback cycle and lack of multiples, I think maybe film imposes a slightly more selective approach. I was still shooting at quite a rate when I had the film camera in my hand - about a roll and hour. But I did keep my subject matter quite focussed and had the camera set up for classic RF working (zone focus, manual exposure, fast film). With this direction, I can accept a lower level of technical quality in favour of subject - this is something I think we tend not to do with digital. Then again, I don't do the same kind of street photography with the DSLR as I do with the RF - maybe I need to slap a prime on and try that.
So, success - a combination of tools, techniques and subject matter.
Friday, 10 October 2008
A bit of a digression, picked up via Statcounter: next week there is "Blog Action Day" - aimed at getting all bloggers posting on a single topic to raise awareness of a specific issue.
This year it's all about global poverty. A bit of a coincidence for me as I had a post planned along those lines. Without getting into the politics of initiatives like this, I think it is an interesting concept to try and use the medium of blogging for mass communication in this way. Worth taking part just from that perspective.
So, if you think it's an interesting idea, get involved.
Thursday, 9 October 2008
A series of shots I took on the Ladakh trip. Just hanging out, drinking chocolate & talking.
All shot on HP5+, easily a couple of stops under (thus shot around EI 1600), with the Voigtlander 40 f/1.4 single coated.
I wasn't sure I'd get anything but turns out to be a really nice combo for shooting at close to pitch-black.
All along the Ladakhi trails there are signs like this painted onto walls and rocks. It's not always immediately clear who wrote them: possibly monks or local school children. However they came to be, they are always thoughtful words to meditate; distinctly Buddhist.
Wednesday, 8 October 2008
TOP is running a poll on views of the merge of video and stills capability - gauging reaction in the great "convergence" debate.
Meanwhile I read the posts on the subject over at Drew Gardner's blog (linked at LuLa). 2 really interesting bits caught my eye.
from a Canon preview event
The audience was mainly press photographers from what was formally known as 'Fleet Street'and from Photokina
Some of the comments I heard on the night....
'What a disaster! Canon have messed it it up again'
'Good camera apart from the video facility, why the F**** do I need that?'
'21 mega pixels? I wanted 14! at 10 frames a second!
'Canon have missed an open goal, video is for people who have no imagination'
The Canon 5d mk2, along with the remarkable Vincent Laforet video, which was running on a loop in the centre of the Canon stand (so few people seemed to be paying any attention to this, sometimes I,m baffled)So with the poll results and these comments I glean this big fact: the buying public just aren't very interested in, leaning towards hostile to, the idea of yet another useless function being added to their camera. I think Drew Gardner has completely misjudged the reactions he saw (he would, he's a fan of convergence).
Effectively the audience for the 5DmkII is saying: we want a better stills camera, with a load of other improvements, please. Video just doesn't interest us. And I see their point. If this is supposed to be a PJ tool, why has it got resolution and responsiveness more in line with landscape work, and if it is aimed at landscape (much like its predecessor seemed to be), why on earth the video at all?
So many commenters on digital cameras are crying out for stills improvements (dynamic range seems to be top of the current list). I think video is becoming an apology for not fixing the stills cameras, a distraction from the fact that the underlying device isn't actually getting any better.
Tuesday, 7 October 2008
I've been looking at a lot of international photography recently - stuff from all around the world. I've also been reading a history of Japanese photography and also seen quite a lot of older work from various locations. One thing that seems to be evident is the international flavour of photographic styles and development.
Many art forms have developed from local culture, using local materials. Steeped in (pre-)history, similar forms developed independently in the days before wide-spread travel and communications. painting, music, sculpture all come to mind. More contemporary movements may be informed by international developments but there are still strong local cultural ties.
I don't get the same feeling with looking at photographs and certainly the development of photography required travel and communication. As effectively a scientific invention, the photographic process was unlikely to have been spontaneously invented with local materials in several places. It took travellers carrying their equipment around the world to spread the process & art. Materials & equipment are (and always have been) manufactured in a limited number of locations and spread through international trade.
This is what makes it an example of globalisation, for me. This can be seen either positively or negatively. In some ways I feel it is like mathematics: a global language for communicating many ideas. The message may vary but we can all understand the means of communication. This, for me, is why photography has a power in images that few other media can match.
Monday, 6 October 2008
What a week. Not a single bit of photography work done, either shooting or processing. Why?
First up, I ran out of room on my regular processing disk. Stuffed full. Which then prompted me finally to get the NAS box connected. Which meant learning a bunch about wireless networking. This stuff has to get easier, and more reliable - way too many options and manual configuration just to get it going at all. Right now I'm getting nothing like the full capacity out of the link but at least I can run data transfer as a background activity. Ended up moving about 200GB of data in all.
Then I had to reorganise my archive. With a new archiving mechanism, I realised that it would be better to have bits of the archive stashed away permanently. So all of that to do, and back-up etc. And shifting all that data around made me realise that I needed to do some "regular" maintenance on my system - I was months behind on routine stuff.
Hopefully this time I have a system that is future proof (yeah, right, said that before). At least the network storage mode is expandable independently of my main computer hardware.
And now I've been ale to get down to the backlog of photo work, starting with outstanding scanning. I've had a whole summer's worth of film waiting to be scanned.
I'm sure computers were meant to make life easier, never seems to feel like that.
Thursday, 2 October 2008
A rant about instruction manuals.
I've just finished installing mass storage on a wireless network - a Buffalo TeraStation on an 802.11n wireless, run on Edimax 6504 wireless routers. Now it's working, it's going well. It has taken all day to get the first back-up run, but that's the price one pays for going the slow data route. I have my own reasons for needing to do this wirelessly. But that's not the point here.
The problem I have is with the instructions that come with the various devices. Admittedly I'm doing something a little unusual - tagging a single, Linux OS device on the end of a wireless set-up, without other computers. However, the instructions with both devices assume that I'm going down a very basic set-up and I'm not talking about the quick-install guides but the full-blown manuals. It is as if there is only one way to use the kit, despite the many features and options.
I remember back in the good old DOS days spending days tuning settings with the extensive paper manual in hand. Every option explained - what and why - so that I could figure out how best to put it all together. Of course in this plug-and-play world, life has become easier. but networking is like DOS was 15 years ago - full of fine tuning of setting for specific implementations. optimisation and tweak. I quite enjoy all that. But there is no technical description. The instructions give a step-by-step on what to do and what should happen, but if one step doesn't happen as described there is precious little further help. Certainly nothing like a proper technical breakdown of all the options and their uses. Online "information" sites are little extra use - if you're not doing the standard thing, tough luck.
This doesn't just go for these products - pretty much all technical devices now have instruction manuals designed for 5 year-olds, with no extra help for the tech-savvy amongst us (or merely the user with an above-average IQ), who needs some extra help. I feel like I need learn some secret handshake to get any more.
Fortunately, in the network case, I found an online forum where a guy had done almost the exact thing I have, with the same devices, and described the settings. I pretty much copied them (with a couple of minor adjustments) and it all seemed to work. But I'm sure I could be getting more out of it all.