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photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Dunbloggin

burn notice

in General Rants , Tuesday, May 19, 2020

All my pictures are falling
From the wall where I placed them yesterday
The world is turning
I hope it don’t turn away

Many, many years I started up this blog with the idea of sharing thoughts and ideas with the wider world. Originally it was part photography, part generic, but the generic part withered away over the years. It got bolted on to a pre-existing hand built photo gallery site, itself the descendant of a site which first saw the light of day in the mid 1990s.

Well, it didn’t work. Communication has always largely been one way. Traffic has fluctuated a bit but generally crawls along at about 20 visitors per day, none of whom remain for much more than 1 minute. So either my navigation design is exceptionally bad, or the content is extremely uninteresting.

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Daily visitors since the start of the year. No idea why it peaked on my birthday

Speaking of content, for the blog it roughly splits into posts on travel, a bit of photo geekery, hardware & software review, photo book reviews and ill-advised opinion pieces. The category that vastly dominates in visitor statistics is of course hardware & software reviews (and associated rants, my short frank exchange of views with Ed Hamrick of Vuescan still gets a ridiculous share of hits). The category I prefer, photo book reviews, gets no interest at all.

And speaking of no interest, there is no denying that the stats say that the very least interesting part of the whole website is my photography. In the rankings since January, the highest rated photography page is in position 24, with 38 views. The Photo Diary section, which I put a lot of effort into, has, over 21 entries, received 0 comments. Thanks, fellow photographers! Of course, adopting Disqus might not have been an ideal strategy, but at least it saved me from the filth of spam I had to wade through before.

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The Swiss have the longest attention span. Or maybe they read slower.

I guess I’m a bit of a throwback to the early days of the web, where we had webrings and stuff and people liked to help each other out while riding their unicorns over endless fields of optimism. According to Wouter Brandsma, who I’ve been following on and off for many years, the blogging community is also close to becoming thing of the past. He may well be right.

Nevertheless, I have always had this idea of a community of peers in the back of my mind, so when I’ve promoted other photographers over the years, I’ve not done it with any solid expectation of a returned favour, but with the vague idea of building relationships. But it would have been nice to just sometimes get a mention, to boost my page views a bit, even from people claiming to be friends. Of course many of these are “friends” only when they’re selling something, and their promises are pure vapour. Possibly they consider that linking to me would devalue their brand? [I did have a couple of paragraphs cheerfully ripping into a number of specific individuals here, but finally decided there’s no point. They don’t read my blog and even if they did they’d assume I meant somebody else].

But surely some people have tried to push some of their audience my way? Well, of course. Lots of them. There’s Andrew Molitor, and … er … that’s it. Well, quality trumps quantity. And there are others who have kindly and constructively encouraged me behind the scenes. I won’t name them, as it wasn’t public, it didn’t really arise from this web site, and they generally don’t have much of a web presence. I suppose the web isn’t very topographic.

So, what next? Obviously I’ll need to buy me some new fake friends, but my idea is to shut down this expensive to maintain and time consuming to run website and replace it with some image galleries on some cookie cutter system. Probably Adobe Portfolio, since I already pay for it. I can’t deny that with my current cobbled together site, photos are perhaps not presented in the best light.

Then once that’s done I can shut the world out.

Though my problems are meaningless
That don’t make them go away
I need a crowd of people
But I can’t face them day-to-day

 

1000, out.

Not a bad innings

in General Rants , Tuesday, May 12, 2020

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“detach” - my 1000th, and last photo on Flickr”

Yesterday I was playing around with an interpretation of a photo I took a few months back, which I quite like, and decided to post it on Flickr.  As I was doing so, I noticed it was my 1000th post. So, my statistics since joining in October 2006 are 1000 photos, 606’049 views, 725 “faves” (so it says, but that can’t be right, as 806 photos have at least 1 “fave”), and whatever else.  And I have 456 loyal followers - thanks everybody - which is not bad considering how little I give back.

My all time most popular shot is this, which I honestly think is pretty dull at best - yet it has 16’394 views, 523 “faves” and 29 comments.  Go figure, as our Merkin cousins would say.

Flickr is certainly my most successful venture into social media by far, which isn’t saying much. But I think it’s time to bring it to an end. I don’t get much benefit or enjoyment from it any more. Possibly I never did, although it was a useful safety valve during a period up to about 2010 when I was working under extreme stress in a startup environment.  When getting home to my 1 room apartment, catching up on Flickr was a good way to to switch off and relax.  But that was in its heyday, and possibly mine too. Now I just log in out of a sense of duty.

Photographically I know all too well which buttons to press in Flickr.  Any number of dramatic long exposure waterfalls are pretty much guaranteed to trigger the “Explore” algorithm. And such photos attract a fair amount of traffic (I wouldn’t call most of it “feedback”). So if trawling for likes was my thing, I guess I could do that fairly well. On the other hand photos I care a little more about, such as the one featured here, generally sink without a trace.  That’s ok too, I get it that my tastes are at best qualified as non-mainstream, and more accurately as dubious.  But finally if there is no engagement, there’s no point.

In any case, I’m finding less and less need to share. This might reflect the fact that globally there is less and less appetite to discover.  Everybody is a photographer, everybody wants to be famous, and pretty much a “like” given is done so only in the expectation of two given in return. The number of people selflessly advocating other’s photography is approaching zero.

Flickr won’t miss me (especially as I only recently paid for a 2 year subscription). But hitting 1000 seems like a good cue to bow out.

(Of course I reserve the right to completely change my mind at any time)

 

Why I still miss Aperture

whine, fanboy, whine

in Apple Aperture , Friday, April 17, 2020

It seems weird to be writing about Apple Aperture in 2020, some 5 years since its nominal demise. It does still work on MacOS Mojave, although it seems to make the OS crash if it is left running for too long (several days). I still lament its passing, while acknowledging that the stable door has been open so long that this particular horse has not only bolted into the next hemisphere but has been rendered down for glue.

But there is one feature of Aperture which I still use, and which I’ve never seen before our since its murder by Time “Bean Counter” Cook, and that is the Light Table.

I realise that for the vast majority of camera owners, Light Table is at best puzzling, but more generally a target of scorn. It has little to do with demonstrating that cats photographed with THEIR Superpixelmuncher X100X ProX are better than those of the next DPReview forum rodent.  That’s because it is a feature for photographers, not camera owners. And it’s brilliant.

A Light Table can be added to a Project, and can be used to arrange, lay out and edit (in the true sense of the word) a set of photos contained in that project. And I’ll say it again, it’s brilliant. Under peer pressure to do something useful with my COVID-19 confinement, I’m embarking on a couple of long, long overdue publication projects. One of these is to create a book. The big challenges in book creation are the selection and ordering of photos in a way which is coherent and conducive to the aims of the project.  The other is layout. Aperture’s Light Table can pretty much solve the first, and can help to get started with the second.

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The view above shows Aperture displaying a Light Table, with the pool of photos shown below in a browser strip (when added to the Light Table they gain a red counter icon). On the right I have an iPad acting as a second screen - this shows the photo selected, either on the Light Table, or in the browser strip.  So, simultaneously I have a freeform selection and layout, a means to browse and select photos out of my initial edit, and a full screen view so I can check sharpness or whatever.  When I place or move photos on the Light Table, automatic alignment and placing guides appear, like in InDesign or something. I know of no other application which can do this. Whichever unsung hero came up with this concept, (s)he deserves a mega award.

And it doesn’t end there. You might say that the Light Table seems a little constrained. No problem, drag a photo or photos off of the area in any direction, and the light Table expands to accommodate them.  There may be a limit, but I’ve never encountered it. Of course, you can also have any number of Light Tables you want under a Project, so you could even dedicate one to each spread.  Then again, Aperture also had a superb Book tool, so really you’d just progress from a rough mockup using Light Table to Book.

And there’s more: using the sort-of gadgety (only it isn’t) Loupe, you can examine any part of any photo, at your chosen magnification, in-situ.  And, thanks to Aperture’s unparalleled integration, using the HUD panels, you can pretty much do anything to any photo, also in situ, be it add keywords, check metadata, or even fully edit (in the Photoshop sense) the photo (of course all this worked in Books too).

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The much-maligned but actually very slick Loupe

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The Light Table with adjustment tools HUD

Ok, it took a few versions for Aperture to fully deliver on its lofty ambitions, but once its got there (let’s say v2.5) it was humming.  Everything fit together like a well engineered Swiss watch. Unfortunately, the Apple dumbing-down disease struck a glancing blow to v3, but it was only superficial.

So given all this, why did it ultimately fail? Well, setting aside the fact that such an application just did not fit into Apple’s consumer disposables vision, and indeed probably only ever got approval because of Steve Job’s antipathy towards Adobe, it did suffer in detailed comparison in some areas to the far less ambitious Adobe Lightroom. For example, the pixel peepers and forum rodents could point at minute and adjustable differences in initial rendering - usually of noise at 1’986’543’200 ISO, or sharpness of Your Cat’s whisker at 500% magnification. Also Apple was pretty sluggish at keeping up to date with new camera releases, which Adobe correctly saw as an absolute priority.

What sunk Aperture was essentially Apple corporate culture.  It was overcome by a brilliantly conceived and ruthlessly executed social marketing campaign by Adobe, playing on all of Apple’s corporate weaknesses (obsession with secrecy, no interaction with customers, etc).  Aperture was different to Lightroom, and in many ways.  But Adobe managed to ensure that the competition was judged by one facet only, the pixel-peeping level characteristics of its image adjustment toolset. And actually even here Aperture had some unique and very powerful features (the implementation of the curve tool, for example), but nothing was going to save it against the massed ranks of photo-influencers like Jeff Schewe, Scott Kelby, Michael Reichmann and legions of others.  Apple just could not bring themselves to put the spotlight on others. Or, of course, horror of horrors, release a Windows version. No, people had to buy Macs to use Aperture.

Had Aperture been developed by an independent company, free of the clutches of Jobs, Cook, et al, I’m pretty confident it would have flourished. It was aimed at a market segment which is still not served today - it’s a pity the marketers never realised that.

I’m still happily using the Light Table, and it integrates pretty well with a Lightroom-centered workflow. But I’m on the last version of MacOS where this is possible.

 

Undertow, by Frances Scott

tracing the landscape

in Book Reviews , Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Undertow, by Frances Scott, is one of the most recent publications from Iain Sarjeant’s innovative and energetic Another Place Press. Like all of Another Place’s output, “Undertow” is small, beautifully designed and excellent value for money.

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It’s quite difficult to pin a genre on “Undertow”. The closest I can get to is landscape reportage, but that could make it sound superficial, which most certainly is not. On the surface, Undertow is a travelogue of sorts, recording Frances Scott’s tracing of the coastline of her home, Orkney Mainland, an island off the north coast of Scotland.

The sequence of black and white photographs is complemented by spidery traces of GPS tracks of the various coastal walks which join together to circumnavigate the whole island. Along with some of these come captions joining the factual (time spent) with the highly impressionistic, for example “Forty-eight minutes - Wintry waves, small black cat”.

The photography will not win over the classic Wild & Wonderful Landscape Photographer. It surely isn’t meant to. There are some pure landscape scenes, but they share space with whatever else populates the coastline, be it random junk, disused military installations or fragments of wrecks. Personally in a way I wish the photos were colour, not monochrome, but I can also understand why colour would detract from the overall effect.

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I don’t really have the erudition required to place Frances Scott’s work in artistic context, but two fairly random reference points for me which Undertow stands up well against would be Fay Godwin (especially, and obviously “Islands”), and Marco Paoluzzo (for example “Føroyar”).

In the introduction the author concludes with the thought “By walking these coastlines ... I’ve found a new sense of belonging”, which is a feeling I can identify very strongly with.  Personally, having no real roots, I’ve often found meaning in wandering around areas local to where I work and live, gathering together photos and thoughts, building up a narrative for myself. I’ve also at times started to attempt to put these collections into some form of publication, but I’ve never really achieved anything.

“Undertow” is quite charmingly successful at nailing down such a sense of place.

 

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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