in Photography , Monday, July 28, 2014
I’m very honoured to be able to announce that some of my photography is featured in the latest edition of Inspired Eye, the fantastic eMagazine edited and published by Olivier Duong and Dan Springer. They had already very kindly featured me on the associated blog a little while ago, so this is really great encouragement.
I have to say that when I started subscribing to the Inspired Eye it was because I found it to be a very interesting concept. The standard of photography it presents is very high and frequently original. It is also by far the best designed and edited e-photo-magazine I know of, with strong aesthetic values. But I didn’t expect to be featured myself, apart from anything else because generally the theme is street photography, and generally will a strong story-telling angle. From early on there has been a regular travel photography feature, but again, featured work has usually had strong authorial strands, tending towards travelogue rather than (or as well as) pretty pictures, which is not something I can lay much claim to. Personally, I was particularly impressed by Jean-Marc Ferriére’s Yemen portfolio in Issue 9.
However, there it is. Olivier suggested the “icescapes” theme, and applied his editorial and layout skills to very flattering effect. I still wonder what the majority of subscribers will make of this, but then again, the Inspired Eye doesn’t play safe!
Needless to say I strongly encourage you to check out the Inspired Eye for yourselves. If you’re interested in photography, and photographers, then really you can’t go wrong. The concept is to publish “unknown” photographers, but it would be patronising to call for support for a good cause: the Inspired Eye doesn’t need patronising, it’s an entreating, thought-provoking, very professional produced and run publication, and excellent value for money.
A photographic post with a return to the topic of street photography (which I don’t do). Here I line up all sorts of obstacles for myself by first trying to do street photography, second using a camera which really is at it’s best on a tripod and used slowly, and third, using what was always an unconventional choice of film, and now is just plain flat-out eccentric, Agfa Scala monochrome E6 slide film (or indeed using film at all).
Agfa Scala is nominally rated at ISO200, but is designed to be used from 100 to 1600 depending on circumstances. The canisters are not DX-coded, so you need to set the speed yourself. I ran this roll at ISO800, as the XPan’s 45mm lens is relatively slow at f/4. Note, 45mm on an Xpan corresponds to a horizontal field of view around 28mm for a normal 35mm frame, so you need to get close.
It’s pretty easy to scan in Silverfast, using 16bit greyscale settings and auto-levels.
The results are, well, at best tentative, but it was an interesting experiment.
I don’t know about the rest of the world, but you can still buy the allegedly withdrawn Agfa Scala film from Fotomedia in Switzerland, who will also process it.
in Apple Aperture , Thursday, July 17, 2014
The recent boat-rocking move by Apple to announce the decline and fall of Aperture has led me through several stages of anger, denial and acceptance. And it has also led me to re-evaluate my digital imaging workflow. For a while I’ve had the feeling that, technically, my photos lack a certain something, compared to other work I see published. Perhaps I’ve been rather complacent in imagining that my knowledge and skills in post-production are adequate. So this as well gave me some impetus to explore options a bit. To cut a long story short, my decision has been to adopt a solution coupling Iridient Developer with Aperture. More on this a bit later, but first a few words on the solutions I rejected.
Photoshop: I’m not anti-Adobe, and their raw decoding is generally good. However, it has some (minor) issues with Olympus files, and it can’t handle Sigma Merrill RAW. Also, I find the Camera Raw interface ugly and clumsy, and since I do this stuff for fun, well that’s a factor. I do use Photoshop very frequently, but more for my film workflow. And I’m not happy about the subscription model, even though since InDesign is an important tool for me, I’ll probably have to give in one day. For now I have Creative Suite 6, and that’s just fine.
Lightroom: Not really a contender for me. Been there, done that. It is good at many things, but pretty much everything it does something else does better. For example cataloging, which both Aperture and MediaPro do better.
CaptureOne: I own C1Pro, so it was a strong contender. But I don’t really care for the default curves it applies, and generally the GUI can be frustrating. The DAM features in v7 are very substandard, and at the same time what little interactivity there was with MediaPro in v6 has been killed off. But basically the character of the output doesn’t fit in with my objectives. I feel that C1 is optimized for the fashion industry, even if some leading landscape photographers such as Joe Cornish and Steve Gosling use it. But then they own PhaseOne backs.
DxO Optics Pro: I took a serious look at DxO following an article by Kirk Tuck. A strong point is the “DxO Lens Softness” which provides initial high quality input sharpening with no artefacts. Definitely better than Aperture. But the headline feature, lens correction, leaves me a bit dubious. For micro four thirds camera/lens combinations, rather than apply the manufacturer corrections included in the image file, DxO clearly applies its own, and the results are different. The original framing is not respected (interestingly there is significant image data outside of the frame) and to my eyes some minor distortion remains. For four thirds combinations it seems to make some weird changes too. I’m not convinced. And it doesn’t handle Sigma files. But the output is good and highly detailed. Indeed, I was on the verge of buying it when from one moment to the next the special offer pricing was removed. €269 is way too much.
So, back to Iridient Developer (ID). I’ve written about this great application before, but since Aperture has been around, it’s always been a secondary tool for me. But with the release of v2, and a host of new features, including tighter integration with Aperture, and the fact that it handles Sigma files very well indeed, it’s been getting more use. And now, finally, I’ve put a little effort into setting up a streamlined workflow.
Following my discovery of DxO’s lens de-blurring, I decided to see if I could get a similar result from ID’s generous range of sharpening tools. And indeed I could. The R-L Deconvolution method, which is specifically designed to remove minor blur rather than traditionally sharpen, works extremely well. As do ID’s highly configurable Noise Reduction tools. So these two controls together give a good approximation of Aperture’s RAW Fine Tuning brick, only with noticeably better results. These then form the basis for a camera default preset. ID allows you to define default settings for each camera type you use and for each ISO level. I haven’t gone to quite that extent yet, but maybe one rainy Sunday I’ll give it a go.
Aperture, of course, does not support alternative RAW engines. There are manual workarounds to this, but they’re tedious. However ID has recently acquired a new feature which makes this much easier. Now, if I configure ID as my external editor in Aperture, and use this to open a version, Aperture as usual sends a rendered TIFF to ID. ID, however, does not open the TIFF, but looks for the associated RAW file and opens that. Then, when you’ve finished, ID overwrites Aperture’s TIFF with it’s output. Even better, if you then re-open the original in ID, the settings from the first edit are retained. Therefore you have a hybrid non-destructive / baked-in edit workflow, which is close to ideal. Obviously you end up with an extra TIFF for each image you process in this way, but disk space really isn’t an issue any more. And I don’t do this for every image I import, only for those I select to potentially publish or print. Aperture alone is more than adequate for general work.
Sending an image to Iridient Developer from Aperture
Saving an edited image back to Aperture
The original version and the ID-rendered TIFF stacked in Aperture. Note I add a custom metadata field to remind me that I processed this with Iridient. It would be nice to automate that.
For further editing beyond the initial RAW development you then have the choice between ID and Aperture’s RGB edit tools. Both have strong offerings: to pick one from each, Aperture’s generally ignored extended range curve tool, which together with its 32-bit architecture lets you modify the curve for values over 100% white, is very good for highlight recovery and rolling off harsh highlights. I don’t know of any other tool which can do this. Similarly, ID has a unique - in my experience - curve tool which operates on the Lab Chroma (ab) channel, allowing precise control over saturation.
Aperture’s curve tool in extended mode
Aperture’s DAM tools are, in my opinion, second to none, and plenty of commenters agree with me. So having moved on from my initial furious reaction, I’ve come to cautiously give Apple the benefit of the doubt, and hope that the forthcoming migration to “Photos” might well be less traumatic than it initially appeared. Indeed it could, possibly, be as much of a paradigm buster as Aperture 1.0 was. We shall see. If I have to migrate my catalogue to a lesser tool, I’d rather do when all bridges are burned, not before. There’s no real downside in waiting. And in the meantime with this Aperture-Iridient workflow, I’m seeing appreciably better printed results.
Pity it’s only me who looks at them!
in Photography , Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Although my most recent visit to Venice was, officially, under the auspices of Olympus UK’s OM-D workshop, I could hardly not take my XPan with me. So, before, and indeed during, the workshop, I sneakily grabbed a few frames using not only a non-Olympus camera, but even a non-digital camera!! The sky did not fall, however.
I think this is my favourite shot of from the couple of rolls I shot. It’s taken way, way away from the mainstream tourist traffic.
This, along with a few other panoramic masterpieces can be enjoyed in my recent work gallery. Go on, what else have you got to do for the next five minutes ?
in Gear , Friday, July 11, 2014
Around 4 years ago I made a decision I’ve come to seriously regret. I sold my Hasselblad ArcBody kit, mainly to offset the cost of a two week trip to Svalbard. I can rationalise the decision on the grounds that I wasn’t using the ArcBody much, that it was a worthwhile trade, and that very unusually, I made more on eBay than the price I paid for it new. But these days I really wish I’d kept it.
The ArcBody is a one-off for Hasselblad and didn’t stay on the market for very long. It is basically a small, portable view camera that takes Hasselblad film backs - and, possibly, certain compatible digital backs. It had three purpose designed, and expensive, Rodenstock lenses, a 35mm, 45mm and 75mm. I just had the 45mm. Nominally the movements are restricted to rise, forward and reverse tilt, but with a piece of angled iron grandiosely named the “ArcBody Inverter Mount” it could easily be hung upside down to give fall instead of rise. Although this could also be accomplished, slightly more perilously, by hanging it from a rotated ball head.
In use the ArcBody required about 30 steps to take a single shot, including removing the back to attach a ground glass focussing screen, and inserting the appropriate correction slide. At the time, for me, it was more of a solution in search of a problem: my photography did not really justify it. Nowadays, it would make the perfect compliment for my m43 gear.
Foroglio, Ticino - ArcBody, Provia 100F
It would probably be hard to buy another one. Mine sold almost instantly on eBay, well over my reserve price, and they’re still in demand, possibly, and unfortunately, by collectors. Mine went to Hong Kong and was probably resold at a healthy margin.
And now that I’m considering selling my “obsolete” Olympus E-3 and E-5 DSLRs, maybe I should pause to reflect that at some point in the future I might find a need for a solid, optical viewfinder camera.