Monday, 21 December 2009

The real landscape

Another post, whatever next. Flight delayed, time to burn in the lounge.

An interesting article on HDR techniques up on Luminous Landscape. And just as interesting the links to the BBC website on the UK Landscape Photographer of the Year.

To start, I agree with Alexandre Buisse on using HDR (and he makes some stunning images, go check out his book). I use it quite a bit for landscape work, always striving for the sort of effects he describes. It's a technique for reducing the contrast of a scene that is beyond the reach of the sensor.

And then there are the comments on the BBC site, decrying most of the posted competition winners as HDR, although that isn't necessarily so. And I have to agree with most of the negative comments. A lot of unreal looking shots, taken of "iconic" (read clich├ęd) scenes. It's not restricted to this year's entries, either. I have the books from the previous two years of competition and the content is disappointingly similar. Far too many shot processed for a dramatic, high-contrast effect (which goes equally for the digital as the film entries). It seems the way to impress the judges (and often the masses) with British landscape work is to go for dramatic lighting of well known scenes processed with contrast and saturation up tto 11. It's a style of photography that seems rather popular in the making and the viewing.

Where are the real landscape shots? Have the judges of these competitions ever been outdoors? Or maybe they're so swamped with worse excesses that their selections look tame in comparison.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Some things seen

This is likely to be my last post before Christmas. I'm off home for a couple of weeks' vacation, to some much needed cold weather. In the meantime, here are a few of the recent pictures of stuff I found out and about. Some more festive stuff over on Impressions of Place.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Junction box, Manila, December 2009

Four tyres, Manila, December 2009

Manila, December 2009

Square and round, Manila, December 2009

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Yet another new blog

Some time ago, Paul Butzi (who seems to do a lot of my creative thinking) postulated some ideas for photographic projects. One he suggested was a long-term collection of photos: one from every month for ten years. And that got me thinking - I had a move up-coming at the time (now completed) which would form an ideal start point for collecting photos of the places I live. Over ten years I'd expect to live in 3 or 4 different locations, forming some nice sections to a developing project as my life and surrounds develop.

And so I've started such a project: Impressions of Place. I'm putting it to its own blog because then I can write about my impressions as I gather together photographs. That keeps this blog to be more directly about photography and the new project as its own entity. Along the way I'll also post my usual eclectic mix on my photo of the day, and I might well collect impressions from places I travel to in the meantime: vacations and the like - to see how those impressions compare and contrast with those of my home location. I also want to see if my impressions and photography have influences on one another.

The way I'll write it will probably be 3 or 4 posts a month, together with a number of photographs. At some point I'll need to choose the photo of the month for each month. That will be a special post at the end of each month. I've already put together the first few posts.

Urban jungle

Experiments in looking closer at things.




All: Manila, December 2009

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Releiving boredom

Or maybe exercising some creativity. I've been looking to inject a bit more self-motivation.

Bedroom abstract 1, Manila, December 2009

Bedroom abstract 2, Manila, December 2009

Bedroom abstract 3, Manila, December 2009

Bedroom abstract 4, Manila, December 2009

Monday, 14 December 2009

Amazing things with photography #4

Think your camera is fast, well check out the fastest strobe work around. Amazing shot of a hummingbird in flight.

Unfamiliarity

Manila, December 2009 (as it came out of the camera)

Use a camera for any length of time, take a bunch of pictures and you get to feeling you know how it works. Conventional wisdom in the photography game. But I also realised that one needs to be familiar with the equipment in a range of situations, too.

Last week our department at work had a social, so I was snapping a bunch of pictures at the restaurant with my LX3. I've taken loads of photos with it, am comfortable with it in a range of situations. Except this was new for me. Normally I'd have a rangefinder and fast film in this sort of environment.

Getting home, I found most of my shots were rubbish, grossly under-exposed for the most part. Something I hadn't realised was that the LX3 metering is strongly protective of highlights in its matrix mode, much more so that my Canon SLRs. And so, with a mixture of bright back-lighting and darkened table lighting, I got a lot of shadows (like the one at the top of the post). No flash - I don't do that. And after a few drinks and with the general aim to be quick, I wasn't chimping and playing around with settings.

At least I've learnt for the next time, I suppose.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Learning cycles

Manila, November 2009

Two related trains of though in one post: a blogger BOGOF.

Like many amateur photographers, digital saw my skills improve dramatically. The short review cycle & low cost per exposure made it easier to experiment and review the results. Although I now have my kit mastered, and all the technical stuff down, digitial was handy to learn by playing with exposure & focus modes & all the extra bits beyond DoF. Having a screen to chimp away kept that cycle really short. Without the short feedback, the learning would be slower: for one, I'd also have to remember all the things I was doing at the time.
Having the sort of brain that likes to experiment and analyse these things also helped.

But I've really got past that. Now on a typical afternoon walk I'll take less exposures and return with more I like and develop. Hit rate has gone way up because I have the equipment nailed.

And that leads to the second train of though. Like Paul Butzi, I like to use the short feedback loop of digital to get to grips with what I've just been doing. Helps me learn about my photography and what it means. I could go out one day, try a bunch of things and use that learning the very next day. For times when I'm shooting consecutive days, that's really handy.

But there is also more to it than that. I find that keeping close to the taking of the picture helps with linking the results with the intention. What did I see, feel & understand by it? Which images reflect that state I was in? Waiting a month will have that lost, and I'd just be back to taking nice shots of stuff. I'm not an "Art is Verb" kind of guy like Paul but I find the means to the end is important in defining that end point. Understanding how I'm getting there helps me understand where I am, and can, go.

Sometimes I do go back to images after some time, or develop ones I previously overlooked. But those new images are different things than the ones of the time. And for the photographs I am taking at the moment, the understanding I get in the "right now" is important to me.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Uninfluenced

One way, Manila, November 2009

Paul Butzi picked up on the series of posts Gordon McGregor made on artistic influences. Some good insights into someone's process, especially the sub-conscious parts.

Since the first post, I've thought long and hard about this. Do I have influences? Can I identify them?

I came to the conclusion that there is no work that has had that sort of impact on me. I've been taking photographs since before I ever looked at art in any meaningful way and yet there are still subjects from the very first photographs I took that continue in my current work. I also have similar likes in art as in the subjects I photograph.

Influence is more of an on-going process for me. I form new ideas and experiments from further work I see. I get inspiration from many sources, and that list grows as I study more of others work. But I can't really claim that anything has a direct and lasting influence in the way Gordon was approaching the idea. That's probably why my photography is all over the place in terms of subject and style.

Equipment choices

Just a musing on seeing a couple taking photos of each other in the restaurant this evening. Also trying out a new Gorrilapod. Long exposures, timer stuff etc etc. Besides the point.

I often wonder, seeing people snapping away, why did they pick that camera? What causes people to make the choices they do? (I suppose it's not just cameras, either.)

A new photography source

I've linked articles and photographs before but now the UK's Daily Telegraph has formed a new photography section - Telephoto. It is a collection of articles and photo-essays, focusing on art and documentary photography. Already it's looking good and covering some subjects a little less popular in the field. Worth checking out.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Learning methods

Jeepney, Manila, November 2009

Paul Butzi has an interesting post about his fuzzy method of working. This put me back in mind of something I've been observing on people's learning styles.

Part of my day job involves teaching, coaching and advising people in my area of expertise. I am constantly amazed at how many people want "the answer" or "the rules" to a given problem, when there often isn't a single way to approach it, or method is problem-specific. I think the demand for photographic rules of composition or exposure is something along the same lines.

Like Paul, I'm something of a fuzzy learner. I like to have some guiding principles and play around with them, put them together in new ways, discovering what works and what doesn't. Eliminate the useless, and fill the gap with another trial. It's what I like to think of as a "Lego brick" method: a pile of bricks can be put to any use, once the rules for combining are figured out. This is the way I encourage others to work, too. A few guiding principles and lots of scope for personal "figuring it out" and creative thought. I'm not sure if my teaching method goes down well all the time.

And so it seems with photography. People want rules: for exposure, for composition, for subject etc. I think it is why "how to" books sell so well. An approach that is alien to me (I don't own a single "how to" book on photography subjects).

Maybe the human brain has two modes of learning: inclusion - do the things that are known to work, the rest might kill you - and exclusion - do anything as long as it's not proven to kill you. The safe at home mode and the explorer mode. In photography there is much more scope for exploration - it's not an inherently dangerous thing - but it might take effort to trick that caveman brain into believing it.

Monday, 16 November 2009

I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more...

Indeed, far from it.

Home for a month, Manila, November 2009

This is a post of explanation and introduction.

First the explanation - the reason I've not posted in a while is that I'm in the process of moving: job, country, house. I've just taken up a new job in Manila, Philippines - one week in and just getting adjusted. Things will remain slow around here for a while until I get moved into my new house early in the New Year.

Palms and steel, Manila, November 2009

Now some introduction to my initial thoughts on this place. First off, it's proving a little hard to get to grips with the place, largely because I'm a bit restricted in location. Living in a hotel in the middle of a commercial district, next door to the office, does restrict ones view of the World. Strictly speaking this is not Manila, but Muntilupa City in the south of the Metro Manila region but that's a nuance lost on most outside of the country. I won't actually be properly moved in until the New Year, awaiting the shipment of my stuff from the Netherlands.

Weather is interesting - it's nearly the coolest part of the year, yet is 30degC most days. Not seen any of the rain that goes with this time of year, either. Which makes for a strange build up to Christmas - more of that in due course.

Photographically, I'm struggling as to how to respond to the new environs. Normally I get to a new place and can snap away, but then most new places I've visited have had some element of familiarity. This place has none of that. And the weather doesn't encourage the long wlaks I might otherwise take, camera in hand. So for now it's just bits and pieces.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Inspiration, motivation

Candle mass, Lisbon, October 2009

I'm sure we all face it: the constant grapple to understand what promotes good photo making and why it might go away. I've spent several months in a lean patch: few photographs, few opportunities.

Lisbon was a sudden high-spot. had the clear opportunity and put it to good use. It was possibly my most successful city trip, photographically speaking. And that had me thinking a little more as to why that might be.

Up front, I'll admit that I don't buy into all that pseudo-spiritual stuff about Muse and inner voices. If that's your thing, fine but it's not for me. I'm way too rational for that sort of carry on. I do find, though, that I need three things to be productive: motivation - the desire to take pictures, Opportunity - a location that in which I want to do so, and a camera in my hand that I want to use. I had thought practice was a criterion but the Lisbon trip put paid to that idea, I just hadn't any practice in a while.

therefore those three elements create the inspiration to snap away. And I had 2 particularly good bits of equipment with me to help - I'm finding the 40D really nails a lot of the pictures I wnat to take. Exposure and colour are good and I don't need to bracket everything is sight or tweak settings all the time. And the LX3 with the updated firmware is a pleasure to use, which is a first in a pocket camera for me.

Visiting a new place always creates both motivation and opportunity.

I also find the three elements have positive feedback - a good location generates motivation. the right camera does too. Motivation has me seeing more opportunities. And it can work in reverse.

Coming to this realisation I think will help me in future, especially in explaining (and preventing demotivation from) lean spells.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

More from Lisbon

Under 25th April, Lisbon, October 2009

A very interesting bridge.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Lumix LX3 firmware update: in action

Lisbon, October 2009

Crikey! A photo on a photography blog.

Last time I posted a quick view on the Lumix LX3 firmware update (rev 2.1). Last weekend I was putting I to use in the pleasant sunshine of Lisbon. The main way I was using the new lens memory function was to set a fixed focal length of around 40mm-e and zone focus at f/4.

The review is simple: I really like this new mode. With all the zooming and focusing removed, te camera is very responsive. When waking up from off or sleep, the lens returns to the last position as promised. This makes it more fun to use as I'm not constantly battling the camera to do what I want. I took a lot more pictures as a result. And I expect I shall continue to do so.

This is the feature I most wanted when I first bought the camera and here it is. Now I have just the street camera I wanted. Of course, I've also got the zoom should I need it and a focus button when required.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Lumix LX3 firmware update: first impressions

Just installed the new firmware for the Panasonic Lumix LX3 (version 2.1). Main reason for installing is the new "Lens resume" feature, which remembers the zoom and focus position after the camera is powered down 9either in sleep mode or by turning it off). Nice feature, suddenly I've got a snapshot camera that I can set to 40mm-e and zone focus.

As a result, I decided to test the focal lengths available to see if I could find somethng in the 35-40mm-e range. Turns out there are 13 distinct focal lengths available in the range, these are they as reported in EXIF, together with the 35mm equivalent focal lengths in parentheses (all figures in mm):

5.1 (24)
5.4 (25)
5.9 (28)
6.3 (30)
6.8 (32)
7.4 (35)
7.9 (37)
8.8 (41)
9.3 (44)
10.2 (48)
11.1 (52)
12.1 (57)
12.8 (60)

So I've set mine up 6 stops from wide (which is the default starting position) at 7.9mm. I'll probably also mark the lens barrel at this point with a silve pen so I've got a marker.

So far it seems to work OK, although I've just done a few test shots. A trip away next week will be a nice test out on the streets.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Windows computing for photographers: part 3, the boot drive

This will actually be quite a lot less photography and quite a lot more general Windows computing. Non-computer nerds can probably look away now. Real experts should look away now, lest the horror of my mistakes proves too much. You have been warned...

In previous episodes I talked about memory upgrade & RAMDisk (easy) (part 1) and (part 2) a bunch of hardware purchases. This third installment will be about my adventures in boot disk land.

Life should have been so simple - install the new SSD, clone the old boot drive across, change boot sequence & then clone my application spaces. Then technology and user ignorance intervened. I made a lot of mistakes. Learn from my errors & my figuring out what I should have done.

Step 1: the failed clone

Somewhere along the way the cloning software messed up, ruining the Master Boot Record (I think). That put the computer out of action for a while as I figured out how to get things back. I forget exactly what i did but it was relatively easy after a bit of googling.

Step 2: the complete clone and failed reassignment

I tried again. this time I successfully cloned the boot drive to the new drive. Hooray! And then I got clever (ha, ha, ha) and tried to reassign the boot drive letter (C:) to the drive. Suddenly the computer wouldn't boot at all. And I managed to make te old drive "Inactive" (i.e. make it unbootable) so I couldn't even recover to the old situation. And, of course, I'd not cloned all the other logical drives off the old system before I got into this mess.

Step 3: recovering the mess

So there i was, computer a giant paperweight. Every online source effectively stopped at this point (with words along the line of "you're in real trouble if you get here") with no help on getting out of the hole. Fortunately I had my netbook to do some surfing. I also had a pile of disk drives and external enclosures for the final part of the upgrade (wait for part 4). Turns out I also had a disk copy of Norton Ghost that boots from CD. Hooray!

So I cloned all the old stuff using Ghost to one of the new drives and used the external enlosure via USB to the netbook to verify the copy.

Much searching for solutions later, I decided the only way out was to reinstall the OS on the SSD. Fortunately all my data and applications were on separate partitions and now cloned onto a different drive.

Step 4: now we're rocking

Windows install was easy, moving all the old data to the new drive was easy and I've ben rebuilding things over the past couple of weeks.

What I should have done:

Well at least started with the data transfer, then applications and finally boot drive. Instead I went in the reverse order. I should also have verified the boot clone before doing anything fancy. By working that way, I would have made myself independent of the old disks.

In conclusion:

Cloning boot drives can be quite simple, if you get a good step-by-step guide and follow it to the letter. If not, expect some (up to a lot of) fiddling. If all your stuff is on one disk in a single partition, you'll be in a world of trouble. Getting the new one to work, while the old one is in place is trickier. Finding out what to do when it fails is even harder. In the end, it might just be easier to reinstall the operating system - it's what I've done and it's going nicely.

As to the hardware: SSDs rock. Fast, quiet, low energy. Not cheap for the capacity but I'm not looking back now. Everything is faster, even with the previous improvements I'd done. Software installs take seconds, not mintues.

What would I do different?

Well, I think I should have looked to a more extensive upgrade. Maybe 2 SSDs, one small one for boot only and the larger one for the rest. The whole Windows cloning process seems designed for removing or reformating the old drive after the change.

Now I've gone through this all, my whole idea of an ideal computer set-up has changed. I can well imagine running a mirrored pair of boot disks in the future for security and speed.

In part 4, I'll cover changes to my main data storage, general comments on how it's all working and some subjective stuff on how this helps photographers (and ways to save cash while improving performance).

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Always a step behind

Right now I always seem a step behind where I want to be - too much to do, too little time, too easily distracted.

At the same time, I've not had any time to pick up the camera. No new photos, which caused a problem for the photo a day. However, I've been rebuilding my computer and the archive catalogue so I thought I'd drag up a few of the older shots - a week's worth of pretty cheesy sunset stuff from Mongolia a few years ago.

Hopefully I get back in the groove. I'm away all next week, maybe that will help.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Life's what happens...

If anyone's been wondering what's been happening with the blog: crazy times over here at HQ. Finally got my computer back in action and learnt some useful things along the way. Expect a couple of posts on that, continuing my Windows computing series.

Still not been out taking photos for a while but I'll be fixing that soon. It's been a struggle to keep the photo a day blog fed, but I've just enough material to keep liming along.

Hopefully I can get a few posts completed that I have in preparation (mainly on technical matters) in the next couple of days. My life is about to get mad busy for a month or two, for reasons that'll be obvious in due course.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Hooray for Panasonic

Panasonic have released new firmware for the LX3. Big deal, you might say, cameras get minor tweaks all the time. But this one is different, with a few proper functional improvements.

The big thing for me, and one of my continuing gripes about the LX3, is the new "Lens Resume" function which allows the zoom and/or manual focus points to be remembered when powering down. This means I can set a preferred zoom and zone focus and have it remember the settings. Very nice. I also like the fact that they supply a downloadable pdf user-manual for the new functions.

It's nice to see at least one manufacturer fixing/improving software and control issues through firmware revision. I wish the others would follow (are you listening, Canon?).

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Noorderlicht 16 pt 2: the whole story?

"Point of no return" Noorderlicht at the AA-kerk, Groningen, September 2009

There were several series presented at Noorderlicht that were documentary on places or events. Three stood out for me for a common reason I'll discuss:
Julian Germain's "Steelworks" looking at the impact on communities in the North of England brought by the closure of traditional heavy industries;
The headline show "Point of no return" curated by former Magnum president Stuart Franklin, a collection of work by Palestinian photo journalists focussing on the recent Israeli incursion into Gaza;
finally "Belgrade belongs to me" - work by three photographers (one Serb, two Dutch) looking at recent life in Belgrade, Serbia.

All three were presented in heavily political terms - respectively: the destruction of communities by Thatcherite policies, the death of innocent civilians by an occupying force (and Franklin's introductory essay had to be withdrawn under threat of legal action by AP, very much a political act in itself) and the poverty and lack of support left behind by NATO attacks in Serbia. So much, so common - especially on these particular themes.

But there is always more to any story. It was the last of these shows that really got me thinking on this at first (although I'd mentioned something along the lines looking at Germain's work), reflecting back more on the others later. When I visited Serbia a couple of years ago, and briefly Belgrade, I noticed something rather different than the grim picture being presented by all three photographers in the show. Indeed there is poverty and many grim neighbourhoods - understandable a few years after war. But I also saw a country and city under development. New buildings, a clean and metropolitan centre, possible hope for a better life in the coming years. And the history of the place - Belgrade's old Citadel showing the scars and reconstruction from centuries of warfare, a country strategically placed between Europe and Asia with the fertile lands provided by the Danube as it runs to the sea. But I don't intend to denigrate the work or view presented but there is rather more to the whole story, I feel. I also felt the photographers were focussed on despair wrought by personal experience but anecdote doesn't make for balanced evidence.

Likewise the work from England. Indeed many communities, dependent for many years on single industries, were devastated by their closure. But then strong unionisation, a lack of development in working practices and eventually uncompetitive behaviour played their part, as they have in other heavily industrialised parts of the Western world. Blaming the outcomes on a single set of policies is a popular and partisan approach to the subject. Not that I want to present either view as right, or indeed that any of that is my point. But stories such as this are more complex and I think it takes a strong care to be able to provide counter-point, especially to one's own views.

Which leads onto the Palestinian work. Shocking images for sure. A grisly display of destruction and dismemberment rarely, if ever, presented by Western news media. Ordinary people caught up in the middle of fighting, children killed, families displaced. But I was given to think: was this just a small slice? There was work presented by 11 photographers and yet several of the images were alternate angles from the same scene & subject. Was the story that narrow that repetition was necessary?

It is a notion that certainly comes up often: what is objectivity. I think a simple (and possibly simplistic) answer is showing all sides. Being able to argue for both cases. Challenging accepted wisom or group-think. It is something I try and practice often - the ability to see all sides of an argument, to play Devil's Advocate where necessary. I think it is necessary to informed debate, helps one more clearly formulate one's own views and hopefully leads to more considered decisions. Unfortunately I don't think I see enough balance in documentary photography to help. Sometimes the photographer needs to show us what he avoided as well as what he targetted.

Why optical viewfinders won't disappear

I was going to title this along the lines of "Why the SLR will continue" but I think it's a bit wider than that. Also, this argument will throw up an anomaly that's worth noting.

In the digital world, it's all about battery life. And battery life is really important if you're away from electricity or needing to travel light. I regularly travel for 2-3 weeks when I might be 500 miles or more from electricity. Even when I'm not, I don't want to carry an array of batteries and chargers if I can help it.

Micro four-thirds is looking promising but has pretty limited battery life (in the order of 350 shots per charge). I regularly get 950 from my DLSRs. The difference on a long trip would be between 2-3 days per charge to 7-10 days. That's significant, the difference between a couple of batteries and a bag full.

As far as I can see, the big difference is the lower power required by an optical view-finder system. Without the screen/EVF to keep powered, the camera can use less power overall. The optical finder and separate metering systems of the SLRs are similar to the low power units of the film days.

There is that anomaly I mentioned: the Leica M9. Seems it only gets about 300 shots from a relatively high capacity battery. Erwin Puts even reckons as little as 100 using the 16 bit RAW. Can't understand why, as the DSLRs can achieve much more from essentially the same processing requirement.

It's an area that disappoints me in camera development - not enough focus on battery life. It seems as the capacities get bgger and cicuits more efficient that is ussed to pile in more features and ways to drain power. Would it be possible to create a digital camera with a stripped down processing system getting 2000 shots from a typical sized battery.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Noorderlicht 16 pt 1: the introduction

As Doug Stockdale mentioned on his blog, we took the opportunity of his visit to the Netherlands to meet up in Groningen at the weekend and visit the Noorderlicht photo festival. it's always good to meet IRL with online contacts and we had much in common to discuss. It was especially good for me to be able to visit and discuss photo exhibitions with someone similarly interested.

As Doug mentions, it's really too much to take in effectively in one day - I reckon three days are really needed to fully appreciate the range of material on offer - pretty much the whole town is taken over with various exhibits, housed in all kinds of spaces.

This year's theme: "Human Conditions", which seemed encompass a lot of pocvert, destitution and conflict. That said, there was some strong work and powerful projects on display. I'll be picking up on some of the themes and thoughts I hand in further posts.

My closing point on this short introduction: I was surprised that somewhere as remote as Groningen would carry an international exhibition of this range and quality. It also turns out the town is something of an Arts destination in genral, with all sorts of exhibitions and activities on-going, broad even for a University town. Who'd have thought it would take nearly 10 years living in the country to discover that.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Some blog notes

My main computer is still down - I've resolved that the only way to dig myself out of the hole is to reinstall the operating system and recover from there. Fortunately I've been able to clone all the data and applications so I'm hoping that's a relatively straightforward job (famous last words). Trouble is, it always takes a load of time to do this kn id of thing and rarely can you stop the process half way through. It's really been hampering my photography (or at least the online part of it).

After a pretty thin summer for blogging material, I've got quite a lot of new subjects I'll be wanting to post. I've found a string of interesting ideas out in web-land that has sparked some thinking, so hopefully plenty of that. I've got a few more photos as I've started shooting some.

Now to find the time to get round to it all.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Just a head

London, September 2009

Back to photography

London, September 2009

Last week I finally managed to get in some photography while I was in London and I've also got limited computing back, so now I can post some more photos. Good opportunity this weekend, too. Hooray!

Monday, 14 September 2009

Leica: cameras worth buying?

Until now Leica have not made a camera I'd consider buying. When I bought a rangefinder it was a Zeiss Ikon for both superior function and cheaper price. Leica just weren't offering anything that represented something I wanted. Much as I'd love a digital rangefinder, the M8's problems were too much, especially at those prices.

And now we have three new Leica cameras on the scene.

The X1 - a rather nice looking poket camera. Nice controls & nice focal length lens. The one thing I'm a little less sure about is the large sensor (although I'm sure I've insisted it is critical in the past). The reason being versatility for point and shoot. I really like using my LX3 in f/4 and zone focus for quick shooting - the short focal lengths for small senosrs yielding large DoF. This means I don't have to worry about focus, even in low light. But quick focus would sort that and small print sizes (lower enlargement leads to greater DoF). Otherwise a very nice package for a compact.

The M9 - it seems a digital rangefinder that works. No significant IR and cyan image problems. Better handling and all the control simplicity of an RF. Looks like a very nice package. I have one cocern over aliasing (not just moire but other problems in fine detail) that did show up in some M8 images. I'll be looking with interest over the next few weeks - I might be saving my money for one.

The S2 - looks like a programmable camera. The initial impressions from Michael Reichmann, especially about the user interface, are right along my thinking. Price is definitely not in my budget but maybe the others will take a look and incorporate similar controls. certainly for landscape photography this looks to be a package that is very interesting.

So suddenly Leica have 3 different cameras that I'd like to own.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Three types of photograph

I'm not sure that I've not ruminated along these lines in the past but here goes...

On the tram to work this morning I was thinking how best to describe the photography in one of the photobooks I own, with a view to writing a review. That led to the notion of three types of photograph:

Photograph as object - the fine print, fine art end of the spectrum. A photograph where seeing the physical print is as much a part of the experience as the content.
Photograph as subject - such that it is what stood in front of the camera is the key. It is all about capturing an image of something physical.
Photograph as idea - the notion of metaphor or representation. The means of presentation matters less than the response of the viewer.

I wouldn't say that these are pure concepts or even categories, more axes. Photographs may be mixtures of the types. I'm unsure whether means of presentation might influence one's idea of which a given picture may be (I can think of a few fine art prints that move from object to subject when seen in books rather than as a full-size print).

And so it followed, in my thought train, that message and medium become somewhat bound. How a photographer wants the work to be considered influences means of presentation (print, book, screen etc) and a corollary being that the means of presentation will affect the viewers response.

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

Lethargy

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.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

SoFoBoMo 2010: learning materials

If you're interested, or participated, in Solo Photo Book Month, then you've probably seen Paul Butzi's announcement about next year's event. And you've maybe seen Colin Jago's call for help with translations.

Another feature for the website that we are planning is learning material to help SoFoBoMoers with various aspects of planning, preparing and completing their photobook. The aim is to have two main parts to this: first a community supported Wiki with lots of useful info on relevant topics, presented in a way useful for the event and second downloadable instructions for various tasks, especially around using appropriate software for making the book. I'll be leading the charge on this front.

Topics that will definitely get covered:

image formats, pdf in general, pdf creation, colour management, book making software (Scribus, Pages, InDesign), layout principles.

But this post is also a call for help on two fronts:
If there are other topics you want covered, drop a comment here which gets published and I'll gather them all up and try and include them in the plan. Was there stuff you wish you'd known in advance? Stuff you still don't know but wish you did?

On the other hand I'm looking for volunteers to help put together material for the site. Got useful tips? Instructions on particular software? Want to help testing the instructions? Found some useful resources that got you through SoFoBoMo? Drop a comment (won't get published) with contact details and I'll get in touch with how you can help. No submissions just yet, just volunteers.

In due course there will be a community editable wiki etc on the website but for now we need to gather initial material to populate it once it's running. And we'll be encouraging translation of that stuff, too.

Amazing things with photography pt2

Photography of wildlife behaviour at its best, courtesy of the Daily Telegraph.

Experiments in JPEG compression


I wrote before about optimising jpeg compression for various output, mainly aimed at single conversion for on-screen view. Then a couple of comments on this post by Colin Jago had me thinking more about using jpeg images.

It was suggested, in reference to making photobooks, that TIFF (by inference, uncompressed images) are needed to retain image quality. I don't do that. when using Scribus I import all images as resized jpegs exported with a quality of 9 from Photoshop or 90 from Lightroom. By working with jpegs I minimise memory requirements and speed up software response. Am I losing quality in doing this?

So I've run a little experiment. I took the image above (selected for a mix of fine detail and smooth tonal areas), from its 16-bit uncopressed TIFF format and successively converted it to jpeg. that is, I converted to jpeg, took that jpeg and converted and so on. I ran 10 iterations. I tried 3 different qualities (90, 75, 50 from Lightroom), no sharpening applied in conversion. This is what I found.

The 10th quality 90 (jpeg 90-10) showed almost no discernible difference to the first jpeg (jpeg 90) which is indistinguishable from the original. That at 100% on-screen view. The one slight difference between jpeg 90-10 and jpeg 90 was slight posterization in the darkest shadows. By slight, I mean peering closely and changing my angle of view a lot. At full-screen view it is unnoticeable. It would not show in a print. Each jpeg in this series is 2.6Mb in size for a 10MP image.

jpeg 90-10 crop, click for 100%

jpeg 90 crop, click for 100%

The same story for jpeg 75-10 compared to jpeg 75. These files are 1.2MB for the same image.

For jpeg 50-10 there is definite loss of detail and a number of strange block artefacts in smooth tone areas. I had to go all the way back to jpeg 50-4 (4th in series) before it was indistinguishable from the original. The files in this series are a mere 581kB.

jpeg 50-10 crop, click for 100%. Notice the weird blocks in the smooth areas

jpeg 50 crop, click for 100%

Conclusion: it is quite feasible to use jpeg for successive output operations without losing detail. For short runs (3 or 4 successive conversions) it is feasible to use quite low quality (high compression) and not lose detail. Higher quality will support longer runs. I haven't yet run the 75 and 90 series to the point that they start to lose quality, that's a job for another day.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

A bit of a hiatus

It's not been a terribly good day, Murphy plaguing me all day. Worst of all I've broken my main computer (this come courtesy of my netbook) to the point it won't boot. That's what comes of trying fancy things with moving boot partitions. I reckon it'll take me a few days to recover that lot. Thank goodness for my rigorous back-up system.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

PDF: a layman's explanation

As Colin Jago points out, information on PDF formats and content is typically fairly obtuse. Heaven knows why.

Off I went to read the ISO standards to understand this stuff. When one digs in, there are some fairly simple explanations for this all. I shall try and elaborate.

PDF is now defined in a series of international standards and like all standards, they have to cover a wide range of uses and interpretations. Boiling standards to their essence is quite a skill, one which I get to practice frequently on a professional basis.

Essentially PDF breaks into 2 types - the generic document container and the specific print-ready file.

The general types of PDF (1.3, 1.4, 1.6, 1.7 etc) are wide-ranging descriptions of ways of publishing documents for various applications. Basically the standards define a very general container for a whole lot of data types. Some are application specific (e.g. PDF 1.6 is specifically for engineering data).

In their simplest use (and, I suppose, the one with which most people are familiar) they are just a way of formatting text documents in a way that they can be used across a variety of computer systems. In their most complex form they are multi-dimensional, multi-media applications with hyperlinks, cross-document linking, user input, and a variety of interaction capabilities all done in a way that a variety of computer systems can use them.

The standards lay down a whole lot of requirements on document structure and on the readers that present them to you.

In practice things get muddied by non-compliances, bad formatting and odd things getting embedded. Adobe help the user by providing Acrobat Reader with a pile of capability to try and sort the mess out so that you can use the content.

Then there are the PDF/X types. These are simplifications of the main PDF types specifically for printing and incorporating requirements for colour management data. There are basically 2 types, PDF/X-1 which is CMYK only and PDF/X-3 which also allows RGB colour spaces. The PDF/X standards pretty much says: text & pictures only, no fancy stuff, tell us the fonts & colourspace you're using.

The 2 big differences between the two types of PDF (normal and X-type) are

  • PDF/X is a simple, flat file. No layers, hyperlinks, multimedia etc. Just text and graphics for printing on paper.
  • PDF/X requires colour management data embedded so that the printer can print things properly.
There are a few niceties in PDF/X around font management and pre-determined output colourspaces that are best left to the pros with a direct working relationship with their printer.


How does this affect you, the humble photobook writer? In principle, not a great deal. If you're doing a basic photobook and writing a PDF file with embedded fonts, JPEG images with a colourspace and no fancy links, video etc anyway then there is essentially no difference between a PDF 1.3 and a PDF/X-3 file. In fact, there's little difference with PDF 1.4 either (which introduces transparency - if you don't know, you don't need to). Just write a regular PDF and it'll comply with the X-3 format. Or export as an X-3, which should take out any fancy stuff you (or your software) added inadvertently.

I hope that helps.

Movement

Fork in path, Thirlspot, Cumbria, May 2009

As Colin Griffiths comments on my last post, I enjoy the process of lugging a big camera up big hills. But it is results driven. I want movements for angle of view & focal plane control. I want fine detail and smooth tones for large prints.

For the details and tones it is (for me) prohibitively expensive to go digital.
On investigating tilt-shift lenses for 35mm it's becoming clear that the only way to properly do the movements I want is to have a large focus screen.

The more I investigate options, the more I find I have the right one.

I'm thinking of poking around with Helicon Focus, which will be cheaper than a tilt-shift lens, but it can't do some things. Subject movement is an obvious one (and I work quite a lot in windy conditions). Soft clouds is another - I like to use a front tilt to extend depth of field in the land, which helps soften up focus on the clouds. Sure I can do all that in software, and use multiple exposures.

Here's the thing, though. Using movements in the field takes no more time than running a series of careful exposures and the time I need for the final processing is a whole lot less.

Digital solutions? Here's a couple of ideas.
  • Auto multi-focus. I set start and end points for focus and the camera runs a series between them.
  • Digital tilt focus. Can be manual with confirm or auto. Define the points you want in focus and adjust accordingly, just like the manual process. Asymmetric tilt/swing would help a lot for manual (auto can do fancy simultaneous movements). 2 points needed for single-axis movement (tilt or swing), 3 for 2 axes (tilt and swing).
Of course, there is one problem that all this digital stuff doesn't fix: reliance on power in the field. Maybe we'll get really good solar panels that will sort that out too.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Not at the limit yet

Little Man and Skiddaw, Cumbria, May 2009
Shot on 120 roll film, 6x9 on an LF camera

Those who read the Luminous Landscape have probably seen this article by Ray Maxwell ostensibly on the applicability of Moore's Law to camera sensor development, coming to the conclusion that we're hitting the limit, especially in terms of resolution. The arguments didn't look right to me and this TOP article by Ctein neatly debunks the entire thing.

Even with my moderate grasp of the subjects of optics and digital sampling it didn't take long to confirm that the LL article was wrong and to be able to come up with my own calculations (which turned out to be very similar to Ctein's).

Maxwell omitted the Nyquist-Shannon sampling [WARNING: geeky maths link] limits which means we need pixels at most half the size of the given Airy disc or smaller to get full resolution data. Sensor arrays further reduce the pixel size required in order to sample each frequency. I reckoned we can go down to about 1/4 the given Airy disc limit. Of course Maxwell did his numbers at f/11 which suggests large pixels but optics tend to be optimised for larger apertures, with the photographer accepting the resolution/depth of field trade-off for smaller values. Even if we calculate at f/11, with the 1/4 Airy pixel size then that yields a limit of 1.5micron. For comparison a typical pocket camera 1/1.7", 12MP sensor has a pixel pitch of 2micron, so within the grasp of current technology. Compare that to the current 4-6micron for larger sensors and we could happily go to pixel counts 9-16 times those used today before hitting resolution limits.

So your 22MP 35mm full frame could stretch out to around 200-300MP and still yield noticeable resolution improvement. Another upside of extreme resolution is the ability to crop. I could see an argument for using wider angles and cropping for a lot of shots. Imagine only carrying a wide angle and mid-tele for everything. Shoot 100mm and crop the centre for a 400mm equivalent shot. Monster panoramas in one exposure.

Sufficiency is never enough anyway. The sufficiency argument has been touted since cameras hit 4MP.

And all of that ignores any future technology leaps.

[Hereby rewarding a healthy dose of scepticism and justifying my geek tag]

Monday, 13 July 2009

Amazing things with photography

Soap bubble bursting over at the Daily Telegraph.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

The naked photographer

I'm just back from a couple of business trips. For the first time in many months I didn't have a camera with me, not even my pocket camera. And it felt odd. For sure there were limited opportunities for photography but I could have made time. Mainly it was just strange not even having the option.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

More on natural colour

"This theory of what constitutes fine colour is one of the peculiar traits of the old-time painters, and of the landscape critic who studies nature in the National Gallery...Above all things it must not be natural, or it ceases to be fine and sinks to the level of the commonplace...if one suggests that it has no resemblance to what it claims to represent, they reply, 'Ah, but it is a glorious frame, full of colour!' But colour in painting can only be really fine so far as it is true to nature...Beauty in colour, as in form, depends on its fitness and truth."
T. F. Goodall
quoted by P. H. Emerson in
Naturalistic Photography for Students of the Art. 1889

Emerson continues
The vulgar view of fine colour is easily explained on evolutionary grounds, it is but a harking back to the instincts of the frugivorous apes - our ancestors.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Not the weather for printing

Tree of the field, Swaledale, June 2009

Now that all the book making is over, I've been turning my attention to running some prints and tweaking some of my favourites for paper output. This is an activity nicely timed to coincide with a spell of hot, humid weather. This is not conducive to print making. The humidity seems to cause the printed surface to absorb moisture, causing wrinkling of the paper and that is also leading to some long drying times, despite the heat. How do people in warm climes cope with this stuff?

On the positive side, I'm really happy with the output from my recent work. There are a few tricky images with subtle tones and colours that are taking some effort but most are coming straight out very nicely. My whole process is now driven from Lightroom using the custom profiles I built for my printer/paper combos.

Beauty in chaos

Leaves gathered, Hudswell Wood, Yorkshire, June 2009

Nature presents us not with the random but the chaotic. Structured form from complex interactions. Drawing out that structure in a way that the brain can fathom is the mark of great nature photography.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

SoFoBoMo 09: my books, wrap-up

End of the beach, Mundesley, Norfolk, June 2009

I've got there, it's over. Here's a summary of what I did, why I did it and what I learnt along the way (with all the self-promoting links, natch).

Part 1: On England's Pleasant Pastures Seen

Norfolk, May 2009

The first two books have titles inspired by Blake's poem "And did those feet in ancient times" (better known as the hymn Jerusalem), which is evocative of all that is English. This one covers the rural county of Norfolk.

It was designed from the outset as a print book (available from Blurb with a free print offer!) with the unusual aspect of a bottom-edge binding. This is a layout I've been meaning to try for a while. The online pdf version attempts to recreate some of the experience of that format.

All of the photos wee taken using a rangefinder (Zeiss Ikon) on colour negative film (quelle horreur).

Part 2: Upon England's Mountains Green

Blencathra, Cumbria, may 2009

Following on from the rural landscape of Norfolk, this is about the hills of Cumbria. From the outset it was designed as an online book but in a format that could readily be converted to print. I was experimenting with mixing colour and black and white, multi-image pages, background colour and captioning. Variable quality of images but turned out rather better than I had imagined.

All the colour work was with a Panasonic LX3 camera, all the black and white with a 4x5" field camera on Ilford FP4+ roll film.

Part 3: Under English Skies

Swaledale, June 2009

A purely online effort, using images from a photography workshop in Swaledale, Yorkshire. Title comes from my observation that England seems to have very particular skies, which suits the very particular landscape photographed. Some pretty good photos. Book was designed from the outset as a purely online book, taking advantage of variable page sizes etc afforded by a purely electronic format.
However, I think I'll extend this idea into a longer series of my best landscape work from the UK and turn it into a printed version.

Part 4: Seafront

Fishing on the beach, Mundesley, Norfolk, June 2009

Another effort from Norfolk, this time based around the seafront of the village of Mundesley. Again designed as an online "book" but in a very different format, further exploring the unique capabilities offered by electronic presentation. Of course, it could be printed (large) but that isn't really the point.

Both books 3 & 4 were shot entirely with my Canon 40D.

There we have it - four very different books, four different cameras, two different types of film.

Why so much? Partly my travel schedule - 5 trips during the SoFoBoMo period (not all planned at the start) meant I couldn't really focus on a single topic. So I used that to my advantage to explore different ways of doing books and shooting projects.

I've learnt a few things:
Electronic presentation of photo work has its own characteristics. It is possible to produce entirely satisfying work solely for that medium, if one is prepared to think in a different manner to traditional print layout.
Editing is a tricky business - choosing work that fits together is not the same as picking a bunch of good photographs. For this effort I went for first impressions, quick selections, cutting down the time I applied as exploring the form of presentation was more important than content.
Practice with book layout and workflows for preparing images helps. Editing aside, I can easily assemble a book in an evening (3-4h). Good preparation helps: having text written, images processed (but not sized) and a clear idea of layout & storyline are requirements to do things that quickly.
Putting together presentable work takes less effort than one might imagine. While I'm not claiming any of these as works of Fine Art, they're reasonably good and didn't take a huge amount of effort, shoehorned as that was around a busy work & travel schedule.
Shooting with film is not a good idea for large volume or time-pressured work. The camera time is about the same, and I produce less frames but the processing time is high: develop, scan, dust spot, apply corrections, dust spot, prepare for print, dust spot... I do not intend to use film for SoFoBoMo 2010.

Overall it's been fun, it's got me out when I might otherwise have stayed indoors and it's taught me a lot (again) about my photography. It pushed my meagre time-management skills (although I work well to deadlines). I continue to develop the running themes in my work and see some large chunks coming together. And it was fun.

I've now downloaded around 50 of the other books and I'll be posting some comments on them in due course.

Swaledale barn

Swaledale barn walls, June 2009

A picture, as this is a photography blog.

Li-Ion battery management

Colin Jago had a post recently in response to Panasonic's decision to restrict camera battery use to on-brand only through firmware updates. It seems all their firmware updates are getting the treatment. I realised that the opinions (mine included) seemed rather ill-informed conjecture. So off I went to investigate the whole Li-ion thing, this post is the result.

I had two mind beginning this: the cynic in me regarded the Panasonic decision as pure marketing wrapped in a dodgy safety message, the engineer in me wanted to understand the risk and whether I was actually placing myself in harm's way.

I've included some handy references at the end rather than pepper this thing with links. I read a bunch of stuff, the links provided give all the information in a handy to digest form. Of course, you will have to make up your own mind, I cannot be responsible for your actions and I'm not advising anyone to follow my lead. Caveat lector.

Side-bar: testing batteries
Scott Kirkpatrick provided this link to some testing of Olympus batteries which highlights some of the problems. What do these tests show? First that there are products out there that do not have the protections built-in that they should have. Also, that there appear to be many products using common components (partly supporting my theory of limited manufacturers).
What these tests do not show (in any way, as they didn't try) is that the OEM or high-end third party products are any better. By not dismantling the Olympus product they don't support the premise Panasonic is working under that their products are inherently better. There is also no evidence that any particular manufacturer provides a consistently reliable (or unreliable) product, these being single sample tests.

As I see it, there are 4 parts of battery care: charging, handling, storage, device design/usage

There's not a lot a user can do about the last of these, that's just the kit you use. So what about the rest?

Charging - One of the sources of risk in using Li-Ion batteries comes from the battery being over-charged. There are 2 ways this is controlled, through a charging algorithm in the charger which limits the voltage and current during the charge cycle and shuts down the charger when it's done. The second part is an over-voltage protection circuit in the battery should the charger not provide the protection or fail. Both need to fail or be absent to present a failure mechanism.
Handling - carrying, inserting etc. Most batteries have mechanical control to prevent wrong insertion (i.e. the shape of the battery and compartment must match with only one orientation allowed). In order to prevent dangerous failures of the battery out of the equipment, it should be prevented from short-circuit (which seems to present more of a risk than older types due to the internal chemistry) and protection from overheating. Again, batteries should have protection circuits for both of these problems. The US Department of Transport (DoT) rules on carrying batteries in luggage are aimed at minimising the risk of short-circuit by enforcing a carrying method that specifically stops it happening.
Storage - Similar to handling, batteries should be kept from overheating and short-circuit. There is another aspect and that is battery life. The life of Li-Ion batteries is greatly extended by storing them at less than full charge (40% seems typical advice) and at lower temperatures (e.g. refrigerated but not below 0degC).

Low-quality, no-name batteries are more likely to have poor protection circuits which means you are relying more on the charger and device to prevent problems, which increases the risk by increasing the probability of an event happening. The consequences are the same, however.
Side-bar: Panasonic and the Law of Unintended Consequences
I don't know exactly how Panasonic enforces the restriction but i presume it is some sort of electronic tag in the control circuit. Maybe they'll license it to respected manufacturers, maybe not. even if they don't, I expect a bunch of unscrupulous companies to clone their batteries. Likely the sorts of companies that don't include proper protection in their products today and spoof the exterior packaging too. If the technology isn't licensed, then the chance of poor third party products being used goes up as there aren't the reputable ones around. So the problem doesn't go away.

For Li-ion batteries they should have control circuits with over-voltage protection, over-heat protection and short-circuit protection to help minimise the risks from poor handling or usage. It does not eliminate all the risks. But then that is not unique to this particular power source (remember the old, leaky zinc-carbon batteries?).

There is an aspect that I've not talked about, and that is internal failure of the battery. The large laptop battery recall a couple of years ago highlighted this. While the chargers, devices and batteries all had the correct protection circuits all failures came from internal manufacturing defects that were not protected by the circuits. The actual number of failures was low, maybe partly determined by usage pattern as inherent risk. That's easily the biggest case of Li-ion battery dangerous failure and it had little (if anything) to do with usage.

My conclusions: It appears that Panasonic aren't guaranteeing a camera's power usage control, by implicitly requiring the protection circuits in he battery itself. They can't guarantee which charger is used, regardless of battery used, so I presume expect their batteries to provide the protection. The actual chance of failure, regardless of battery type, seems very low indeed. So the decision does not, to me, represent an appropriate response to the risk, they could just as easily have issued an indemnification as part of their warranty. Then there is Law of Unintended Consequences (see sidebar). So, to my mind, this is pure marketing wrapped in a thin safety veneer.

Risks come from: poor charging, easily controlled by using quality product. Short circuit controlled by handling regime (US DoT response is a good, risk-based approach in this regard), poor device control and there we're in the hands of the manufacturer.

My regime: I buy branded non-OEM batteries. They are cheaper but should still be good quality. I avoid the low-quality, bargain priced units. I carry and store them in a protective case and will like now store them in my refrigerator (alongside all that film).

Some links:
Good place to start is (as ever) Wikipedia.
There is a lot of information at Battery University, not just on Li-ion. Specifically they have information on Li technologies, usage and safety. There is also this nice article on Li-ion battery chargers, which explains the best how they work.