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photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Doubling down

and moving out

in Photography , Saturday, December 28, 2019

The frequency at which I updating this site recently hardly justifies the hosting fees, or indeed all the work I put into upgrading it some months back. This reflects my currently diminished interest in “engaging with the community”, where more and more I’m finding that an audience of 1 is all I need.  There’s nothing world changing or meme generating about my photography, so it would only be counterproductive, and probably depressing, to fish for likes and whatnot.  Although you’re more than welcome to boost my ego on Flickr.

Another brake on my visible creativity is my processing, in both a computing as well as a mental sense, of the too vast haul I brought back from Greenland in September. The problem there is that the overall quality is too high. It was really difficult to cull the stragglers when a very high proportion of the photos was pretty good, even if I say so myself. And to a reasonable extent I avoided repetition and taking “just in case” shots. This is problematic because I don’t have to time to edit thousands of photos, and I already have a significant backlog. On top of that, I’ve been busy planning another imminent trip, once again Deep South to Antarctica, with an Hors d‘Oeuvre of Argentinian and Chilean Patagonia. I’m kind of telling myself that the Patagonia leg will be focused on trekking, with at most a little vacation photography, but we all know where that ends up.

Which brings me finally to the point. My last few, far between posts have pretty much been about gear, and so is this one. After quite a lot of thought and dithering, I have decided to redouble my reliance on micro four thirds gear, and in particular Olympus. There is a significant advantage in polar regions to having two cameras, generally one with a wide angle lens and one with a telephoto, so I have replaced my older E-M1 (which did fine in Greenland) with a second E-M1 Mark II. How do I explain this extravagance? Well, lucky me, I work in a Swiss Bank, so I’m insanely rich, darling (well, really less rich than insane). And considerably more truthfully, the fact that the Mark I and Mark II have different batteries means more weight and bulk to carry, and the slightly different control and menu layouts are annoying.  The new Mark II came with a free grip from Olympus, which is also useful in Antarctica. And both, together with a set of Pro zooms covering a wide focal range, snugly fit into the camera bay of my fabulous Atlas backpack, which is perfect for trekking. So there we have it.

IMG 6237

I expect the Sigma dp0 will come along too, although my objective of keeping weight down to 20kg + 8kg backpack for a 30 day trip is under quite some strain.

Regarding the Olympus stuff, I‘ve mentioned the mushy far distance effect which I dislike a few times. Actually I‘ve looked at raw files from other cameras, including medium format, and seen pretty much the same thing, it just sets in at a greater distance or higher frequency. Probably another aspect of the same root cause is a plasticky look which sets in on surfaces like exposed rock in certain circumstances. Processing software has an effect on both of these behaviours - I find Adobe Lightroom / Camera Raw to be the least bad. Interestingly the Sigma cameras seem to be free of these effects, as does film, so maybe it is a Bayer filter thing, but these systems have their own drawbacks.

Mush

This is what I mean by “mushy”.  This is a 1:1 screenshot, probably further damaged by compression, but maybe it shows what I mean.

Finally, does any of that make an iota of difference between a good photo or a bad photo? Of course not. But it can be annoying.

So, my objective now is to take as few photos as I possibly can, and to try to be aware of and work around the limitations of my gear. Oh, and to put a memory card in.

** I was hoping to fit in a “my favourite shots of the year” before heading off, but I ended up spending the time unpacking and repacking everything again.  I’m a hopeless traveller.

 

Flip Flop

indecision strikes again

in Film , Friday, November 22, 2019

Hello? Anybody still reading this stuff? Not that I’m writing anything…  So, I had a mega post ready to go a few weeks back, with the title “Everything Must Go”, and the content was exactly what the title said. I was putting up for sale all my film cameras (Hasselblad XPan, Linhof 612 and Voigtländer Bessa 667), and getting out of film. My main motivation was (is?) to reduce clutter, both physical and intellectual, and to use only tools which enable a painless workflow, so, in my mind as it was two weeks ago, digital. And to be more precise, Olympus digital - I had decided that my experiment with the Sigma sd H was a failure, but I would hold off a little before putting that on the market as well (the dp0 Quattro is here to stay though). I still had a few rolls of film either out for processing or about to go, evidence of my very half-hearted, token engagement with the medium in 2019.

And then the processed film came back…

B667 2019 09 03

So, a photo of nothing much really, but my oh my, that Portra 400 look is just so luscious. There’s no better way to capture that southern Italian light (Bessa 667).

Xpan 2019 02 14

This was supposed to be a farewell, rattling through half a roll of Ektachrome E100 so that I could take it out of the camera before selling it.  And then I saw the result… oh, and I forgot to put the centre filter back on after cleaning it resale, giving a trendy vignetted look (XPan II).

L612 2019 02

This is the least convincing. Well, the location I’d set out to photograph turned out to be the location a couple had chosen for a romantic picnic, so I was really scraping the bottom of the barrel here. Still, those Fuji 160 Pro greens….  And, unfortunately, the 58mm lens flare (Linhof 612PCII).

So I’m back on the fence. On top of all this, it seems I could be giving up film just at the wrong time (typically), if reports on Kodak ramping up production and Fuji bringing back colour film are accurate.

Actually a secondary motivation was to just maybe raise the funds to buy a Hasselblad X1D Mark II. But then I downloaded some raw files from that camera, opened them up in Lightroom, and to be honest, the only major difference between them and Olympus OM-D files are that they’re bigger. Far off detail still breaks down into exactly the same unattractive mush as for the Olympus (neither film nor Sigma Foveon do this). There might be a touch more dynamic range, and just possible more subtlety in colour gradients, but we’re still not in Kodak Porta territory. Far from it. And the cost, especially of the lenses, is just ridiculous for some amateur dilettante like me. Anyway, we’ll see.

Same goes for film. Right now I don’t have any immediate use for it, but I guess it is probably best to leave that particular bridge unburnt, for now.

 

Too Many Photos…

...far too little time

in Photography , Sunday, October 20, 2019

I really did promise myself this time: I’d keep things under control, be disciplined, and bring home a manageable number of photos. I’d only take the shots worth taking, not the maybes, and absolutely not the documentary shots,. I’d only shoot under good light. Etcetera, etcetera. So, what happened ? In 8 days shooting in East Greenland, I managed to bring back 2837 photos. Totally ridiculous. In my defence, the location - the fjord system south of Scoresbysund - is the photographic equivalent of a family-sized box of Sprüngli chocolates. Every location is better than the last one, and the first one is better than the last. And when the weather is cooperative, which to my tastes it was, even if it wasn’t quite Wagnerian enough for some, well there are killer shots in all directions at all times. So, maybe 3000 isn’t too unreasonable. Certainly it is way under the count that some of my companions racked up, but still, for me it is close to unmanageable.  On my first edit I’ve managed to knock it down to 696. I need to get down to at least half of that before I can even consider to start serious processing.  On the other, I think I’m being quite ruthless in my choices, which means that the overall quality is pretty good.

Drm 2019915 EM1S6593

The bulk of my haul was taken using my pair of Olympus E-M1 cameras, a Mk1 and a Mk2. Both performed faultlessly and were perfectly happy to be left outside cold and sometimes wet conditions. When not in use they hung from a peg of the sailboat’s forward mast. Without a doubt they’re tough cameras. The image quality is generally fine too, although I still find that at times distant detail gets a little too mushy. And there’s no getting away from the noise issue: personally, for landscape work I think 1600 ISO is the absolute limit, and you need to get the exposure right. I guess 1 stop more is just about acceptable in exceptional cases, but the shot really needs to be worth it. Low light is not a comfortable place for these cameras. In other situations, say street photography, you might get away with ISO 6400 - maybe. But anyway, most of the time I’m close to the base 200 ISO, and in any case, this is just the part of the deal. On the other side you have very portable, superbly built cameras and absolutely top notch lenses.

Speaking of lenses, being very restricted on weight I was very strict with myself on which to take. The 40-150 f/2.8 was non-negotiable.  The 12-40 f/2.8 is its natural companion, so that came too. And I decided to being the 7-14 f/4 wide angle, even if in the past it has been of more use as a doorstop than a lens. The highly versatile 12-100 f/4 was going to stay at home… until the very last moment, when I wrapped it some clothes and threw it into my duffel bag. So, my Lightroom statistics make interesting reading:

Greenland stats

...over half of my photos were taken using a lens I only packed as an emergency backup, and at the last minute. Actually the 12-100 is widely held to be an exceptional lens, but ever since I dropped mine in Venice and had to have it fixed, I’ve had the impression that it is a bit soft on the left side. But I’ve had it thoroughly checked by Olympus Pro Service and they say it is absolutely fine, so I guess I’d better go and my eyes tested again.

So, next comes the processing, and I have no doubt that I’ll be back down the rabbit hole of which software to use in no time at all. For rating and selecting, I really have nothing to beat Lightroom, and since it synchronises to mobile I can do a certain amount of editing away from home. But for processing, although Lightroom is pretty good, I never can stop wondering if there is something better. Certainly Iridient Developer can extract an ever so slightly better rendition of the Olympus raw files, but it too has its limitations.  No selective editing for a start. Photoshop, of course, can pretty much do anything, if only you can remember how to do it. The new version of Exposure, X5, now has what looks like very comprehensive luminance masking, and this allows highly selective refinements to texture, for example, a long way beyond Lightroom’s masking capabilities. But then again, Lightroom has the new Texture tool which is really nice. And Exposure, at least up to X4, has really dreadful sharpening tools.

So, the sensible thing to do, which I will try my best to stick to this time, is to stay in the Adobe stack, with Lightroom as the main tool, Photoshop for refining my top selection, and in a few cases Iridient to do the raw processing. Even within those boundaries there’s enough scope for dithering to last 100 lifetimes.

This then ties in with another decision I have (nearly) made, which is finally to put an end to my my parallel use of film cameras. I’ve come to realise this is just getting in the way of me creating satisfying photography. I’m not saying that digital is better than film: both can and do produce excellent results, and the choice really should depend on what you want to do. And I’ve come to realise that what I want to do is better served by digital. To quote myself in a previous post, “for me shooting film is mainly about finding something to point the camera at, whereas shooting digital is about wanting the photo”. In other words I’ve got a bunch of film cameras I feel compelled to use, but these days either I cannot or do not want to use them in pursuit of my main photographic objectives. Part of the problem is that the nature of air travel has changed so much these days, making travelling with film cameras, especially big heavy ones, a real pain, and other part is that film really is beginning to get expensive. Digital and Film require two very different workflows, both time consuming, and time is something I never seem to have enough of. I need to rationalise if I’m ever going to get anywhere. So, it is looking pretty likely that my XPan, Linhof 612 and Bessa 667 will be going up for sale soon.

Then finally, maybe, I will concentrate on photography.

Drm 20190914 P0Q0883
 

Greenland Return

if at first you don’t succeed..

in Photography , Monday, September 23, 2019

In August 1999 I joined a small group trekking in the general area of Tasilaaq, East Greenland. I travelled there via Iceland, a place that didn’t make a huge impression on me at the time. That changed…  Just over 20 years later, much older and no more wiser, I repeated the experience, more or less, although this time I headed further north, and a small boat provided most of the transport rather than my feet.

Photographically, my first trip was a near write-off. This time I grabbed over 2000 photos, which is at least twice what I’d planned to ration myself to. Whether or not they’re any good, time will tell, but it was fun.  More so than I expected.

Drm 2019912 P9120400

A bit of Greenland through an Olympus E-M1

Most of these 2000 photos were taken with my pair of Olympus E-M1s. Although these were definitely the least impressive cameras on the trip, at least on paper, they, and the three Pro zoom lenses worked perfectly. Most of time they lived outside, hanging from a peg on the forward mast.  Unfortunately I missed one fantastic shot, when I suddenly saw a composition, spun around to grab a camera, and discovered that they weren’t there.  Some kind soul, seeing them drenched in rain and spray, had taken them inside for me… unaware, obviously, that the conditions were not even vaguely a challenge for Olympus weather sealing :-). Oh well, they meant well.

At the last moment before leaving for Greenland I tossed my Sigma dp0 “digital XPan” into my bag. I turned out to be a very good decision. Not only were several companions fascinated by it, therefore giving us something to talk about in the long dark Arctic nights, but it was absolutely in its element.

Drm 20190912 P0Q0863

Another bit of Greenland through the Sigma dp0

Of course there is a strong undercurrent to all of this, which I expressed in my last post. But I guess there is still some worth in remembering what we stand to lose.

 

Adrift

Ctrl-Alt-Del

in General Rants , Wednesday, September 11, 2019

So here I am, sitting in seat 2F of an Icelandair Boeing 757, on my way to Greenland via Reykjavik, about 20 years and 1 month since I was doing pretty much exactly the same thing. Back then, I had some idea of what I was looking for. In fact it was two things: a life reset following a disastrous relationship breakdown, and a attempt to reconnect with the high latitudes. Photography was not really a part of it, which is just as well as 95% of my film exposures were ruined.

Twenty years later the world has moved on. I’m really not at all sure what my reason for travelling is this time. I’m neither the person of 20 years ago looking for a new direction, or indeed the passionate photographer of 10 or 15 years ago.

Twenty years ago we could sit around and wonder at the first public ruminations on climate change. Indeed these were nothing new to me as up until that point polar climate research had been my career. It was all a bit concerning but somehow a long way off, and anyway, surely “they” would see sense and Do Something. After all, even the Wicked Witch of the East, Margaret Thatcher, recognised that it was a serious issue. Then again, Thatcher was a scientist, and with hindsight, not totally evil. So we all waited. And waited. And here we are. I think that the correct description of our current status is “totally fucked”. Rather than stumbling towards at least some kind of enlightenment, we are hurtling head on to extinction, not only of our own miserable species, but also of the whole amazing biosphere we are part of. Led by imbeciles like Trump, Johnson, Putin, Xi Jinping, Bolsonaro, Salvini and countless others, along with the shady cohort of “advisors” and billionaires who pump in the money to enable them, we are accelerating into a brick wall. It is hard to understand what motivates these people. They’re not all stupid, far from it, and they surely must realise what the real situation is. But they don’t care. Applying Occam’s Razor almost leads to the conclusion that the Legions of Hell are a real thing, and these people are the vanguard. Do they really believe they can eat, drink and breathe money?

The not so slow-motion collapse of the Arctic ecosphere is not highlighted as a last chance alarm bell, as Thatcher surely would have done, but, unbelievably, as a chance for Trump, sodding Putin and Xi to drill yet more oil. Presumeably to throw onto their mate Bolsonaro’s fires.

And yet, here I am, ranting on about this, while travelling in splendid isolation, somewhere over France, in a Boeing 757 spewing out carbon dioxide, so I can take a few photos of what remaining icebergs we might find. By all rights I should not be able to afford this flight. The true cost is far more than I can pay.

I see no reason for optimism. None at all. Sure, there are a lot of good people out there, but there are no good sufficiently empowered leaders. The problems that need to be resolved are immense, and complex on all sorts of levels. The issue of over population needs to be addressed, because this is a root cause. The planet certainly can sustain the current and projected population, but not with the current wealth imbalance.  Us Europeans and North Americans cannot continue to grab 90% of the world’s resources. The misery in much of Asia and Africa, and to some extent South America, need not exist if we had equitable distribution of wealth and resources. Certainly our living standards would need to drop a little (actually not so much) and I would not be sitting on this plane. But is this going to happen, at least peacefully? Not a chance. And that’s before we even start to look at really bring greenhouse gas emissions under control. But hey, even if we solve THAT intractable problem, there’s that little issue we have with plastic pollution. And all the rest of it.

On balance I’m relieved that I don’t have children, and that I was born early enough that I will, probably, escape the worst of this.

And yet, the USA will doubtless re-elect Trump. After all, what alternatives do they have? The numbskull British will obey the Daily Mail and elect Johnson, because Johnson offers the Daily Mail’s billionaire owners, and the billionaire friends, more money. And they’ll come up with some way to bribe the populace with some baubles in exchange for a livable future. They won’t elect Jeremy Corbyn, a thoroughly decent chap with the Achille’s heel of being far, far too honest for today’s politics. Even though Corbyn could save them and navigate a path to a sustainable future. They won’t do that, because they might have to pay a smidgeon more for their beer, and maybe take the bus sometimes rather than the SUV. Of course this is all really Darwin’s law in action, expect it’s in action on us, not on some esoteric concept like the Dodo.

So what am I doing here? If I had a following, or were An Influencer, perhaps I could claim that my matchless photography will open the world’s eyes to these issues. But it won’t. We’ve seen enough photos of Scoresbysund - it is indeed a remarkable place, perhaps we should let it be. No, I’m going for purely selfish reasons. It will be great to meet up again with my friend Daniel Bergmann, although it says something about my ability to form friendships that I have to travel halfway across the Atlantic to do so. And maybe I’ll make some new friends, who knows. But I have no expectations of making any photography of any consequence, and certainly not of alleviating the problems that my very travelling is significantly contributing to.

One hour and twenty minutes out from the slow gentle descent into Keflavik gazing out over the pink tinged clouds shrouding the ocean, it all looks so peaceful and timeless. But when we go down, as we surely will, we’ll doubtless take it with us. All that remains is, for those of us fortunate enough to have the opportunity, to enjoy it while we can. And take some photos.

 
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