Just some stuff about photography


White on white

backing off the sliders

in Antarctica , Wednesday, October 26, 2016

For some random reason I recently stumbled across a group of photos I took in Antarctica in 2013, and which I had more or less discarded. The photos are of icebergs, and I suppose I had tried to turn them into the sort of eye candy which is more or less obligatory these days, with ominous dark skies and intense saturated blues. Easy enough to do, but not really very satisfying. I have some shots which are naturally that way, and those, I let be. These, however, I finally realised, have a lot more potential to convey something of my idea of Antarctica. I've mentioned this before, probably too often, but I find a lot of common ground in the work of Stuart Klipper, who's Antarctica photography is a million miles away from the 500px aesthetic (I'm being polite, there).

So I tried to accentuate the soft light, the feeling of mystery, and the essential whiteness of it all. Something a bit like this:




Actually the reason was far from random. With practically zero planning, unexpectedly I am off to Antarctica again next month, and I needed to pick up where I left off.


snapshots set 1

in Photography , Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Vast extents of moss-covered lava are a pretty arresting sight in Iceland. The sheer scale can't help but conjure up thoughts go the frightening infernos that produced them. And no photographer with a pulse can fail to be tempted to try to capture something of the scene. In my experience it's pretty much impossible. But it doesn't stop me trying.




Some Guy bites back

large pinch of salt absolutely mandatory

in General Rants , Tuesday, October 04, 2016

This stuff I wrote the other day was picked up by Andrew Molitor on his blog "Photos and Stuff" (hmm, sounds familiar), and put forward as an example of what happens when a photographer lacks a firm goal. He’s put it in a benign enough way - God help me if I should get on his wrong side - but I think maybe he’s hung his coat on the wrong nail. I don’t lack a firm goal - the problem is that I have far, far too many goals.

I could say taking my Iceland photography as the focus is not the best idea. To be honest, for me photography is just an excuse to spend time in Iceland. But since recently I have actually evolved a framework that I might be able to drape some Icelandic photography over, let’s leave that aside. Generally, the problem I was rambling on about the other week is not that I don’t know what I want to express.The problem lies in the detail of how to express it. And by extension, coming up against seemingly diametrically opposed advice on how to do so.

There is something slightly odd about advocating someone to study photo books (you should see my bookshelves) read about Real Photography (ditto, and a pretty broad selection) but at the same time advising them to steer clear of anything that smacks of technique, especially, God forbid, post-processing. Technique doesn’t make you a good photographer, but lack of technique - applicable technique, that is - can prevent a good photographer from emerging.

Certainly it is all too easy to go overboard on technique - the web is overflowing with examples of dangerous idiot savants who’ll sell you their useless advice - but that does not invalidate technique in itself. It would be like saying that a writer has no need of vocabulary or grammar. And that is a useful analogy: I often feel like I’ve got a whole bunch of stories to tell, pictorially, but I don’t quite have the technique to tell them. Let’s not fall into the trap of taking that too literally - of course there is a storytelling aspect to photography involving the sequencing of and relationships between photos. But there is also a storytelling aspect to single images, and the language to tell that story has verbs like dodging and burning and nouns like micro-contrast and tone. It’s hardly a new observation. So just because I may be having some trouble reconciling apparently contradictory advice on how to apply the language of post-processing doesn’t mean I haven’t got a clue about what I’m trying to express.

There’s another trap easily sprung - Andrew picks up on the not uncommon advice to flip a picture to study the balance. It comes naturally to view camera photographers who see the world upside down on the ground glass. The trap Andrew stumbled into is this: he exclaims “Really, who gives a shit about balance? I don't. Balance is a thing, but it's not an unalloyed good thing any more than blue is a good thing. It's just a property of the picture”. Well, yeah. But, er, who said anything about it being anything else ? The point is the trick frees you up to consider the balance. It doesn’t say, anywhere, that the balance has to be “right”. It just IS. Balance can be harmonious, and serene, or it can be tense and uneasy. If you “don’t give a shit about balance” then honestly I wonder if you give much of a shit about photography, finally. But I’m pretty sure Andrew assumed balance, in this context, means nice pretty blue skies with unicorns jumping over perfect rainbows. His reaction to my mention of this idea, by setting up and demolishing a straw man, somewhat tainted the rest of his argument. Actually I think he’d rather enjoy reading David Ward’s philosophical treatise on landscape photography, “Landscape Within”.

I suspect anything hinting at Landscape Photography is a bit of a red rag to Andrew. Landscape has become the stamp collecting or transporting of photography. It’s what socially inept people in smelly anoraks do, which lets them conflate their longing for shiny toys with wanting to impress the girls by being creative (we’re pretty much all boys). Well, anyway, that’s a view which Andrew sometimes gives me the impression he may subscribe to. He’s hardly the only one, but this idea that Landscape Photography is just a crutch for DPReview or 500px denizens and not something real Real Photographers do is pretty prevalent. Hell, it’s not far from the truth. But it’s a generalisation, and generalisations cloud vision.

To quote another bit “So what was it like, David? (and not just David, all you folks in the cheap seats should follow along) Take some time. Get out a notebook. Write. Think. What was it like to be in Iceland?” - well, actually, I’ve done that. Quite a lot. It’s scattered all over this blog, and it’s starting to coalesce.

(note, all this is in good humour. Andrew Molitor seems like the kind of guy I'd be happy to buy a drink for). Read his blog - he's definitely wrong about one thing - I'm not an "an occasional reader here", actually I read pretty much every word he writes.

Sidetracked, again

quiet round here, innit?

in Site Admin , Sunday, October 02, 2016

Recently, for whatever reason, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of visitors here (UPDATE - this might have something to with it). This coincides with a major drop in my posting frequency, which is unfortunate. So I thought maybe I should explain.

Earlier this year, around April, I asked a person whose opinions I respect for some feedback on my website. The outcome wasn't the glowing praise I hoped for, and in particular the observation that "it's a bit stuck in time (2000 to be exact)" stung a bit.

So I decided to redesign it. And, of course, I bit off far more than I could chew. In theory it should take me two weeks or so to do a redesign, but in practice, I have about 6 hours a week from which I could take time to do it (and that 6 hours also includes photo editing, keeping my computer working, lounging in front of the TV, or generally collapsing on the couch after yet another fabulous 12 hours away at the "day" job). On top of that, the publishing software I use was urgently in need of upgrading to a newer version. Any upgrade of Expression Engine is a bloody nightmare, but this time practically every plug-in I use broke as well, so it took about 1 month elapsed time to sort that out.

I then realised that a long history of quick fixes and "improvements" to my existing code had made it unmaintainable. So that needed to be cleared up. One more month passed by.

Then I could start thinking about how to redesign the site. So, I tried looking at a few other sites for inspiration. Not much luck there - the vast majority of photographer's web sites are boring as hell, with exactly the same layouts, "clever" off-the-peg galleries with all the bells and whistles, which do all they can to ruin the viewing experience, and very, very little to encourage return visits. The quality of the photography is irrelevant at this point. I did look at a few website services, bot the only ones that passed even basic requirements for me were Squarespace and Koken, and both those have showstoppers. Woken is one I'm watching for the future, though.

I've also been told that there isn't enough focus here on my photography. Well, ok, good point. So I'm trying to address this in three ways: 1 - improve the accessibility and presentation of existing content, 2 - improve my curation, 3 - introduce a completely new channel for more ephemeral collections, called "Photo Diary". Oh, and put some emphasis on my very short list of publications. Unfortunately all of that is a lot of work.

So, now, at the start of October, I have more or less completed the structure, and I'm working on the graphic design. Below is a snapshot of what the new front page looks like, right now. I've no idea if it will stay that way, or if it will ever come to light. So that's why I've been quiet recently.

Home new wip

Anyway, it's only photography. And barely that, really.

(I don’t need no) education ?

or maybe I do

in Post-processing , Wednesday, September 14, 2016

I've been quite prolific this year in photo-education consumerism. I've been fortunate to be able to participate in workshops with, and receive direct advice from, in Ragnar Axelsson (in Hamburg), Daniel Bergmann and David Ward (in Iceland), and Rafael Rojas (in Switzerland). All four are exceptional photographers, and really nice people, and all four have taken the time to give me feedback.

They've also shared with me techniques for post-processing files from camera in order to turn them into something meaningful. This part I find the most interesting, because it's an area in which if I'm honest I'm totally adrift. A lot of this education just goes straight into one ear and out of the other, but enough sticks around for me to get a feeling that some of it is totally contradictory. Two acclaimed, successful landscape photographers express pretty much exactly the same objectives, but give pretty much diametrically opposed ways to reach them. I'm not talking about "there's a million ways to do the same thing in Photoshop", but rather something like one person advocating increasing detail, and the other decreasing it, to achieve the same look. Which rather makes my brain explode.


Hamburg. Probably should be in monochrome and cropped a bit

I'm not sure if it's a result of this, or some basic lack of vision, or something else, but quite often when I'm reviewing recently imported images in Lightroom, if I'm honest I can't actually see anything I should change. They look fine to me. One of the above-mentioned experts may well take a photo of mine and apply layer upon layer of intricate changes, which, probably, improve the photo, and certainly make it look different. But then when I'm back home, sitting in front of the same photo, I don't even have a clue where to start. Should I take the David Ward approach, or the Rafael Rojas path ? Should I first consider framing, and cropping, as both Ragnar and Daniel appear to do? Should I immediately consider monochrome, like Rafael and Ragnar would propose, or should I flip it upside down to check the balance in the composition, as David does ?

Or should I just sit there staring at it for a bit, and then wander off to the web in search of new software or cameras to buy ?


Iceland. Um. Looks better upside down. And, er, the white balance ?

After (large number) of years and (much larger number) of money spent, I should have a better idea, but I haven't. I had been drifting towards a sort of aesthetic borrowed from the film using, portrait/travelogue loose community, larger revolving around the look of Kodak Porta 400, and applying that to my vaguely defined landscape/architecture/travel genre. And before that, I had gradually evolved a process of enhancing images by manipulating texture using progressive, graduated micro-contrast ("clarity", or "detail"), which was quite natural to do in Apple Aperture (less so in Lightroom). But then, I've learned, recently, that touching the Clarity slider, at least to push in a positive direction, is A Bad Idea, and Contrast is my friend. Except that I learned 2 months ago that a giving Clarity a hefty upwards shove in sky areas can be very rewarding, and keep your hands off Contrast.

Of course, I probably got most of that wrong anyway.


Well, I could spend hours on this if only I knew where to start!

So now what ? I basically haven't got a clue. Then again, I'm no worse off than when I started, and it was all quite good fun. Perhaps the style and methods I'd evolved myself were not so bad. Certainly, any four of the above could take any one of my images, and enhance it, arguably make it better. But then it would be theirs, not mine. It's a comforting though to fall back on, except of course when I'm back sitting in front oaf a recently shot photo, and I still have no idea what to do with it.
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