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in Hasselblad XPan , Wednesday, November 27, 2013

And finally, Patagonia. El fin del mundo. The wide, but wide, open spaces of the Argentinian Patagonian pampas seem to be heaven sent to the panoramic photographer. Every direction has “designed for XPan” stamped in the corner. And yet as soon as you point a camera at it, it slides away, dissolves into nothingness.  It’s the pampas. There’s nothing there. Nothing to see, nothing to photograph, except that it just draws you back, teasing and insisting that you capture it.

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I have several rolls from Patagonia where there isn’t one image worthy of the name out of the 21 precious Kodak Ektachrome frames. And yet at the time, totally immersed in the empty immensity of it all, I was convinced that every shot was a masterpiece.

But how do you photograph emptiness ? This one example, 80km from nowhere in all directions, maybe, more by luck than any skill, hints at something. The texture and direction of the grasses in the foreground mirrors the higher, darker clouds, and the sliver of lake in the distance gives some depth.

I just remember the wind, and the silence. Oh, and the cookies.

 

Gear Exhaustion Syndrome

Lord won’t you buy me…

in General Rants , Monday, November 25, 2013

In my opinion, “Réponses Photo” is one of the most consistently good general interest photographic magazines on the market. While it covers gear and technique - how could it not, and remain in business - the core material is really dedicated to photography and photographers. But every 12 months, it bows to market pressures and publishes its annual “Spécial Matériel”, a comprehensive buyers guide to what is now the digital camera market only.  I guess they might follow up with a short film / analogue section in next month’s issue.

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I have to confess, in years past I was probably as guilty of fantasising over the hundred or so pages of technological temptation as anyone else other male photographer with a pulse. But nowadays I’m left pretty much cold by it all. What does get my pulse racing in this issue is the article by Sylvie Hughes about the Aeolian Islands volcanos. This is one of my favourite locations, and while I’m not exactly daydreaming about the latest insignificant iteration of Canikon’s DXYZ1234-X-PRO-Turbo, I am constantly thinking about places I want to visit and revisit, discover and get to know, and maybe even photograph.  Spend all the working week chained to a desk, and most of the weekend recovering from it, I don’t even find time to visit the fantastic locations I have close by, except for a snatched couple of hours every month or so.

I guess for some Gear Acquisition Syndrome is partly a mechanism to dull the frustration of not being able to get out there and photograph. But it doesn’t work for me anymore.  There are some cameras I still kind of fantasise about, but they’re either out of reach, like the Linhof 612 (and also more or less out of time, in that case), _way_ out of reach, like the Pentax 645D, or they don’t exist (a rugged DSLR with swivel scree that takes Tilt/Shift lenses - which, anyway, would be out of reach!).

But frankly I’d swap all of that for an extra 4, or even 2 weeks of vacation every year, so that I can use and enjoy the ridiculous amount of stuff I’ve already got. And for that matter, enjoy the world.

 

La Boca

battery blues

in Photography , Monday, November 18, 2013

One problem with digital cameras is that it is all too easy to build up huge volumes of photos that become so overwhelming that you never even look at them*. This is certainly the case from the photographic results of my jaunt at the beginning of this year to Argentina and Antarctica. Although I have more or less completed a reasonable edit of my Antarctica photos, the Argentina ones have been largely untouched.

In particular, a set I had at the back of my mind was one from the first few days of the trip, in the touristy La Boca neighbourhood of Buenos Aires. I particular wanted to get around to doing something with these, as they are the first proper set of photos I took with the Sigma DP2 Merrill. Unfortunately, on our way to La Boca, I was relieved of the weight of carrying my shoulder bag around with me. Some lucky Argentinian found him/herself the proud owner of 3 Sigma DP2 batteries and a lens cap, as well as a pair of reading glasses and a rather nice bag. Certainly, the worst loss in practical terms was that of the batteries, which reduced me to something like 40 shots at a time on the one remaining. Obviously buying a battery for a Sigma DP2M was not going to happen in Buenos Aires, try as I might. Or indeed anywhere else in Argentina.  So, it was a bit like having 1 roll of film. Just like the old days.  And just like in the old days, I printed them.

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* Actually it was even worse before digital. The task of “sorting out slides” was enough to put anybody off photography for life.

 

 

Down by the river

A tale of two cameras

in Photography in Ticino , Wednesday, November 06, 2013

The river cutting through the rocks at the village of Lavertezzo, in the Verzasca Valley in Ticino, Switzerland, is one of my favourite places to photograph. It helps that it’s not very far from where I live, too, a fact I sometimes forget to be grateful enough for.  I can pretty much go there whenever I want, if I can be bothered to get off my a**e.

Last week I was in the valley and couldn’t resist a quick session around sundown.  There are two sets here, taken with different cameras. It’s interesting to see the differences. First up, the Sigma DP2 Merrill, with it’s fixed 50mm equivalent lens.

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Lavertezzo - Sigma DP2M

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Lavertezzo - Sigma DP2M

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Lavertezzo - Sigma DP2M

Then, the Olympus E-5 with the 12-60mm (24-120 equivalent) lens.

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Lavertezzo - Olympus E-5 / Zuiko 12-60mm

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Lavertezzo - Olympus E-5 / Zuiko 12-60mm

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Lavertezzo - Olympus E-5 / Zuiko 12-60mm

When I originally got into the Olympus E-System, part of the attraction was the 4:3 image aspect ratio. It was very much a creative choice, and remains that way. It is close to the Medium Format 645 format which I always liked. Using the Sigma with its “35mm” 3:2 ratio is always a bit of shock. It feels quite constrained. This is of course very contrary of me, because the wider aspect ratio of 3:2 is generally considered to be better for landscape, which is probably my basic niche. But it isn’t so good in vertical orientation, which I do quite a lot of, even though I haven’t shown any examples here.

Otherwise, comparing the output of the two cameras is not so easy at these small sizes, but one interesting point is that, opposite to what might be expected, you can get more useable depth of field out of the Sigma. It is quite comfortable at f/11 or even f/16, where f/11 is on the extreme limit for the Olympus, and at f/16 diffraction is very noticeable, even to me who on the whole doesn’t give much of a damn about pixels.

The colour of the Sigma is different. It is more natural - or at least it can be, on a good day, but also somehow thinner, less saturated. Generally you can’t do that much in post-processing to Sigma files until they start looking distinctly odd. But when they’re good, they’re very good indeed. And the detail is just breathtaking. But the Olympus isn’t that far behind, and the files are much more malleable - which is just as well, because generally they need a bit of a boost.

A lot of people bang on (and on) on the inter webs about “IQ” - image quality, not intellectual quotient - far from the latter, indeed. And the Sigma indisputably has better “IQ”. And it can be fun to use, when all its ducks are nicely aligned.  But the Olympus E-5 is always fun to use. It is a wonderful camera to use on a tripod, with the totally orientable screen, coupled with the best Live View implementation on the market allowing it to pretend to be a view camera, and the abundance of dials and buttons making it easy to use in tricky conditions. It’s as equally at home sitting sedately on a tripod here as rolling around in the bottom of a Zodiac in the Antarctic (which the Sigma most definitely was not!). And the fact that it is as tough as old nails is extremely useful in my case. So for me, the usability, responsiveness and enjoyment I get out of the E-5 trumps the unbelievable shots that the Sigma can produce…just.  If Sigma produce an DSLR with Live View one day, with a few of the rough edges of the SD1 smoothed off I might be tempted, since we’re at the end of the road so far as Olympus DSLRs are concerned.  But, whoa, I’d lose my beloved 4:3 ratio. Not sure I could live with that.

But the most important thing, after all, is to just get out there and use this stuff to pursue whatever vision, obsession or interest you have. Photography for me is as much about blocking out the noise and allowing myself to relax and chill out. Obsessing about cameras is totally counter-productive.

For more background on Lavertezzo, see the article I wrote some time back. And if that’s not enough, I’ve got a gallery you might like to browse through.


after the heat
the tourists have gone … well, mostly
the postcard shop is boarded up
a hush has descended over the valley
the snow will not be long to follow
but old man river
he just keeps rollin’ along