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photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Not a wildlife photographer

but whatever, here’s some penguins

in Photography , Friday, March 27, 2020

Seems that for a lot of photographers the current lockdown has a silver lining, as it provides time to organise, curate, edit and generally sort out photography backlogs. It should be the same for me, but somehow I’m finding it even harder to focus on these activities right now. But I certainly have a backlog. In fact my backlog has backlogs. I’m sure if I just let things drift, I’ll regret it, if and when normality returns, so I’m trying to get stuff done by dividing tasks up into small slices.  In that way, I’m managing to work through the huge pile of photos acquired during the Antarctic leg of my last little jaunt.

First I managed to whittle down some 6000 photos to 1300. It’s a start, but 6000 is way too many for a 2 week period. Then again, I think that most people on the same trip have far, far more, as they pretty much all were shooting continuously, at rates of lots of frames per second, while I pretty much always stuck to single frames.

This is probably to my detriment. After all, I have a camera (Olympus E-M1 MkII if you want to know) which is capable of insane frame rates, so why don’t I use it? There are several reasons for this - one, I really don’t have the mindset of a wildlife photographer, where the downside of having to sift through mountains of near-identical photos has the upside of retrieving one or two real gems. Second, I’m too lazy (or old, or stupid, or all three) to learn how to do it properly. Whatever, I still ended up with 6000 photos.

Actually, I wasn’t really expecting the trip to be quite so heavily oriented towards wildlife photography, although with hindsight I really should have been, and should have prepared for it. So I was thrown into a situation where the priority was wildlife, and lots of it, and that is not within my comfort zone. I discovered that for most people an iceberg was not very interesting if it didn’t have a penguin or a seal on it. I’ve learned that dedicated wildlife photographers have the ability to pre-conceive a particular shot that they want, and are prepared to spend literally hours waiting for it. And for this they need to be fully prepared and to have complete mastery of their equipment. And they need patience.

I don’t have any of this.  If I’m given 3 hours to wander around a location, then my main object will be to see as much of that location as I can. I may pick up some photos along the way, in my usual opportunistic way, and I may even spend some time trying to get a particular shot that I’ve identified on the spot, but any notion of conceiving of what I want to photograph usually comes only with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.  So, I use inappropriate settings, my output is random and generally poor, and I get annoyed with myself. However, at the other extreme, I’ve seen people achieve the single shot they wanted less than 1 hour into a 3 hour shore trip, and at that point fold up and head back to the ship. In my way of thinking, they are missing opportunities, but I guess from a photographic point of view they’re showing discipline, and the net result is that they have pre-curated their shots, and actually have little follow up work to do other than discarding the 95% of frames which they don’t need.  It’s an approach which has some clear attractions.  And, if you look at the work of one of my trip companions, Richard Barrett, you can see it works very well.

And penguins… well, it’s easy to photograph penguins. Actually sometimes it’s hard NOT to photograph penguins. They get in everywhere. It is harder to isolate a single penguin, and even harder to make that into an interesting photograph. I’m not 100% sure why we even try - penguins are above all highly social animals, and seeing them in isolation somehow seems a bit sad. The holy grail, it seems, these days in penguin photography is to try to get that “fog” foreground look, where you get a band of out of focus snow in the lower part of the frame. Finding clean snow around penguins is also hard, as they can’t get toilet paper in Antarctica, and since they nest on exposed rock getting them to pose nicely in snow is hard too. I was actually more interested in getting shots featuring penguins in a wider environment, sometimes even to the point that you don’t first notice the bird. This is also not original. And in any case over time I sucombed to peer pressure and image reviews telling me this wasn’t what I should be doing. Perhaps, more accurately, I just wasn’t doing it very well.

Anyway, with my small batch at a time approach, I’ve made some headway into curation and processing. So here, from that work in progress, is a small sample of the penguin side of my latest attempts at wildlife photography.

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Torres del Paine, by Francisco Espíldora

an individual approach

in Book Reviews , Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Whenever I travel, I keep an eye open for books by local photographers, on the grounds that they will almost certainly be full of photos better than I could ever make. Of course there are always garish anthologies of sub-postcard level stuff which manage the near impossible feat of being full of shots even less adequate than mine, but these I skip over.  I’m more interested in the kind of book generally found tucked away in the corners, not those piled high for undiscerning tourists.  Francisco Espíldora’s book, “Torres del Paine” is very clearly in the former category.

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Francisco Espíldora is an award-winning Chilean wildlife photographer. I believe “Torres del Paine” is his first book, and it’s an impressive start. The classification “wildlife photographer” tends to make one think of highly detailed, close up animal portraiture, which is more about technique than expression. That’s not the case here, indeed it’s drastically not so. “Torres del Paine” is a narrative, taken the reader from pre-dawn to dusk in a wintery setting, through photos taken within the national park boundary.  The initial photos are taken in near darkness, with just recognisable animal silhouettes seen in some of them. Stopping to think about it, from a technical point of view these really are quite remarkable, but more to the point they strongly convey a sense of time and place.

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Moving on, light creeps in, and dawn-lit landscapes are mixed in, some with distant wildlife visible, some not. The colour palette is restrained, none of the exuberant saturation that a lot of wildlife, and indeed landscape photography goes in for. In fits in with a certain idea of “film-like”, provided you associate film more with the kind of subdued feel delivered by Fuji Astia, rather than the screaming psychedelia of Velvia. It’s a very appropriate look.

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Further in, the wildlife does take more of a centre stage role, but still very much within or even concealed by the landscape, as opposed to somehow cut out of it.  The narrative moves towards brighter midday and afternoon light, before finally returning to night.

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Overall the book really feels like something much more than just a collection of photos, which is quite unusual in the genre. Francisco Espíldora clearly has a deep feeling for the land, and a story to tell. From a photographical point of view, his approach has some parallels with that of Vincent Munier, but without the extreme minimalism Munier tends towards (sometimes too much, for my tastes), or the impressionistic approach of Stanley Leroux, while remaining very individual.

I’m hardly an authority on wildlife photography, or indeed any kind of photography (or anything else, to be honest), but my feeling is that Francisco Espíldora is on a path to becoming a leading contemporary wildlife photographer.  I strongly recommend this book, which you can buy directly here, and look forward to seeing more of his work.

 

The Atlas Athlete backpack

recommended by leading penguins

in Product reviews , Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Over the years I’ve written a fair few articles on camera bags. It’s a given that no self-respecting photographer can ever have too many bags. Well, for me the search for the as-close-to-perfect bag seems to be at an end. I’m not claiming that I have found a single bag that suits every occasion, but I have found 3 which pretty much cover everything. Two of these, I’ve had for a while: for casual, city and similar use, the Domke F803. For fully dedicated core photography, the Mindshift Backlight 23L. I’m not going to discuss those here, but rather the final piece of the puzzle, the hybrid trekking/photo Atlas Athlete backpack.

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Introducing my guest reviewer, a big fan of Atlas backpacks.

I’ve been using the Atlas backpack for almost exactly one year. It has come on several major trips (Madeira, Patagonia, Antarctica) and plenty of minor outings. There are a lot of great things about this backpack, but for me the outstanding points are the extreme comfort and the chameleon-like configurability. It is designed first and foremost as a trekking backpack. It has an aluminium frame (removable, just), and an extremely well designed harness and belt. In fact the Atlas Athlete can be ordered in several sizes and with different belt types to best suit your body measurements. And it fits like a glove.

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My guest reviewer checks out the harness

Well, so what, you might say, there are plenty of excellent trekking backpacks out there. And indeed there are, but the Atlas Athlete is also designed from a photographer’s point of view. It’s also true that there are plenty of vendors making similar claims, but where they emphasise all the gimmicks, from “packing modules” through to revolving sections, the photography aspect of the Atlas Athlete has been conceived with the same tight focus on practical usefulness as the bag itself.

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The Atlas Athlete with the camera compartment in expanded configuration. It holds two Olympus E-M1 bodies, one with grip, three Pro lenses, including the 40-150 f2.8 zoom, two teleconverters, and a filter pack.

The camera section is accessed through the back of the pack and is fixed in place. It has the usual velcro attached flexible dividers, which in this case are well, rather than excessively padded. The closest thing the bag has to a gimmick is the push-down/pull-up flap which reduces the size of the camera section, to about two thirds of the full size. Actually this turns out no to be a gimmick at all, but rather to be pretty useful in practice. The configuration you can see above uses the full space. For long walks I usually take a reduced amount of camera gear, so I pull the flap to make more space for other items. Even then, I can easily fit in an Olympus E-M1 body and two Pro lenses. The only slightly negative point I would make is that the compartment is a touch shallow.

Apart from the camera compartment, the Atlas Athlete has plenty of space. One of the main selling points is that it is very expandable. With the compression straps released, it expands out to 30 litres. With them tightened, it shrinks to 5 litres, and a 7 inch profile which easily fits into the overhead locker of a small commuter airliner. Uncompressed, the main space extends down the bottom of the bag, in front of the camera compartment. On the front of the camera compartment there is a concealed laptop holder, which easily accommodates my 13” MacBook Pro.  The top lid has a plethora of pockets which swallow surprising amounts of gadgetry.

You can read more about the features on the Atlas website, but the key factor, for me, is that it is supremely comfortable, even fully loaded.  Hiking long sections of narrow, humid Madeira levadas or the Torres del Paine W trail was absolutely no problem at all with this backpack. And it was equally at home fully loaded with camera gear on treks ashore in Antarctica, or rattling around on the bottom of a zodiac.  Oh, and did I mention hardwearing?

Of course, you can get trendier stuff from Peak Design and their Kickstarter imitators, if you value form over function. I’ve made that mistake so you don’t have to. Bottom line, for a hybrid trekking/photo backpack, you’d be hard pushed to find a better candidate than the Atlas Athlete.  And yes, it does come in a more stealthy colour, but the bright yellow works for me!

Guest Review Comments

Yeah, ok, it’s not the worst, but they could work on the taste a bit. Regurgitated krill would be nice!

 

Greenland Landscapes Gallery

some more pretty pictures

in Photography , Wednesday, February 26, 2020

I am absolutely delighted to present my second set of photos from last September’s perambulations in East Greenland, which I have cunningly named “Greenland Landscapes” in order to trick you into thinking you have not, in fact, been presented with an eye-searingly dreadful set of kitsch postcards.

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As the blurb says, this is “a companion set to Greenland Icescapes, also taken in the fjord complex around Illoqqortoormiut, formerly known as Scoresbysund, in East Greenland. Proper landscape photographers hate blue skies and bright sunlight. I prefer to take conditions as they come and work around them without too many preconceived ideas”.

I do actually get irritated by landscape photographers (and especially wildlife photographers) whining on and on that the weather isn’t shite enough and contrast and shadow and bla effing bla.  Normal people (i.e. non-photographers) actually like sunshine and blue sky. So do I. Sure, there’s nothing like making the 27 millionth identical heavily overbaked shot of a dark brooding sky over some godforsaken Scottish beach, but, hey, let’s maybe try something a bit different just once in a while, ok?

(Actually just in case anybody involved is reading, this particular rant was absolutely not triggered by the Greenland crew…  more from the other end of the planet)

Oh and for those who need to know, as pretty much is always the case around here, this set was created using the fine (and very weatherproof) tools designed in Tokyo by The Olympus Corporation.  I’m not being paid to say that but I’m certainly open to offers!

 

For sale: Olympus E-M1 Mk II

only one left! hurry hurry!

in For sale , Wednesday, February 12, 2020

In October 2019 I bought a second Olympus E-M1 Mk2 as a backup camera for my recent travels. As I no longer need this, I’m putting it up for sale.  First here, before eBay.

The camera comes with all accessories, most unused and unopened (the flash, for example) and all original packaging, and a warranty valid for 2 years (stamped on 28 October 2019). The shutter count is 5145.  Oh, and it has the deeper optional eyecup.  I’ll include the original shallow model if for some strange reason someone prefers it.

I’m throwing in an unopened m.zuiko 30mm macro lens which came free from Olympus. I have no use for it and have never even opened the box.

Asking price is €800.00.  Standard shipping at my cost in Europe, to be negotiated for rest of the world.

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Such a bargain. Grab it fast before I change my mind!

 
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