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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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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.

Greenland intruder


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!

 

Greenland Icescapes Gallery

ice, ice and more ice

in Photography , Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Finally I’m starting to break the logjam of my photo backlog: I’ve just published a new gallery of iceberg photos taken in East Greenland in September 2019.

GreenlandIceGallery

Feedback is always welcome, even if it is negative.

 

Doubling down

and moving out

in Photography , Saturday, December 28, 2019

The frequency at which I updating this site recently hardly justifies the hosting fees, or indeed all the work I put into upgrading it some months back. This reflects my currently diminished interest in “engaging with the community”, where more and more I’m finding that an audience of 1 is all I need.  There’s nothing world changing or meme generating about my photography, so it would only be counterproductive, and probably depressing, to fish for likes and whatnot.  Although you’re more than welcome to boost my ego on Flickr.

Another brake on my visible creativity is my processing, in both a computing as well as a mental sense, of the too vast haul I brought back from Greenland in September. The problem there is that the overall quality is too high. It was really difficult to cull the stragglers when a very high proportion of the photos was pretty good, even if I say so myself. And to a reasonable extent I avoided repetition and taking “just in case” shots. This is problematic because I don’t have to time to edit thousands of photos, and I already have a significant backlog. On top of that, I’ve been busy planning another imminent trip, once again Deep South to Antarctica, with an Hors d‘Oeuvre of Argentinian and Chilean Patagonia. I’m kind of telling myself that the Patagonia leg will be focused on trekking, with at most a little vacation photography, but we all know where that ends up.

Which brings me finally to the point. My last few, far between posts have pretty much been about gear, and so is this one. After quite a lot of thought and dithering, I have decided to redouble my reliance on micro four thirds gear, and in particular Olympus. There is a significant advantage in polar regions to having two cameras, generally one with a wide angle lens and one with a telephoto, so I have replaced my older E-M1 (which did fine in Greenland) with a second E-M1 Mark II. How do I explain this extravagance? Well, lucky me, I work in a Swiss Bank, so I’m insanely rich, darling (well, really less rich than insane). And considerably more truthfully, the fact that the Mark I and Mark II have different batteries means more weight and bulk to carry, and the slightly different control and menu layouts are annoying.  The new Mark II came with a free grip from Olympus, which is also useful in Antarctica. And both, together with a set of Pro zooms covering a wide focal range, snugly fit into the camera bay of my fabulous Atlas backpack, which is perfect for trekking. So there we have it.

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I expect the Sigma dp0 will come along too, although my objective of keeping weight down to 20kg + 8kg backpack for a 30 day trip is under quite some strain.

Regarding the Olympus stuff, I‘ve mentioned the mushy far distance effect which I dislike a few times. Actually I‘ve looked at raw files from other cameras, including medium format, and seen pretty much the same thing, it just sets in at a greater distance or higher frequency. Probably another aspect of the same root cause is a plasticky look which sets in on surfaces like exposed rock in certain circumstances. Processing software has an effect on both of these behaviours - I find Adobe Lightroom / Camera Raw to be the least bad. Interestingly the Sigma cameras seem to be free of these effects, as does film, so maybe it is a Bayer filter thing, but these systems have their own drawbacks.

Mush

This is what I mean by “mushy”.  This is a 1:1 screenshot, probably further damaged by compression, but maybe it shows what I mean.

Finally, does any of that make an iota of difference between a good photo or a bad photo? Of course not. But it can be annoying.

So, my objective now is to take as few photos as I possibly can, and to try to be aware of and work around the limitations of my gear. Oh, and to put a memory card in.

** I was hoping to fit in a “my favourite shots of the year” before heading off, but I ended up spending the time unpacking and repacking everything again.  I’m a hopeless traveller.

 

Too Many Photos…

...far too little time

in Photography , Sunday, October 20, 2019

I really did promise myself this time: I’d keep things under control, be disciplined, and bring home a manageable number of photos. I’d only take the shots worth taking, not the maybes, and absolutely not the documentary shots,. I’d only shoot under good light. Etcetera, etcetera. So, what happened ? In 8 days shooting in East Greenland, I managed to bring back 2837 photos. Totally ridiculous. In my defence, the location - the fjord system south of Scoresbysund - is the photographic equivalent of a family-sized box of Sprüngli chocolates. Every location is better than the last one, and the first one is better than the last. And when the weather is cooperative, which to my tastes it was, even if it wasn’t quite Wagnerian enough for some, well there are killer shots in all directions at all times. So, maybe 3000 isn’t too unreasonable. Certainly it is way under the count that some of my companions racked up, but still, for me it is close to unmanageable.  On my first edit I’ve managed to knock it down to 696. I need to get down to at least half of that before I can even consider to start serious processing.  On the other, I think I’m being quite ruthless in my choices, which means that the overall quality is pretty good.

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The bulk of my haul was taken using my pair of Olympus E-M1 cameras, a Mk1 and a Mk2. Both performed faultlessly and were perfectly happy to be left outside cold and sometimes wet conditions. When not in use they hung from a peg of the sailboat’s forward mast. Without a doubt they’re tough cameras. The image quality is generally fine too, although I still find that at times distant detail gets a little too mushy. And there’s no getting away from the noise issue: personally, for landscape work I think 1600 ISO is the absolute limit, and you need to get the exposure right. I guess 1 stop more is just about acceptable in exceptional cases, but the shot really needs to be worth it. Low light is not a comfortable place for these cameras. In other situations, say street photography, you might get away with ISO 6400 - maybe. But anyway, most of the time I’m close to the base 200 ISO, and in any case, this is just the part of the deal. On the other side you have very portable, superbly built cameras and absolutely top notch lenses.

Speaking of lenses, being very restricted on weight I was very strict with myself on which to take. The 40-150 f/2.8 was non-negotiable.  The 12-40 f/2.8 is its natural companion, so that came too. And I decided to being the 7-14 f/4 wide angle, even if in the past it has been of more use as a doorstop than a lens. The highly versatile 12-100 f/4 was going to stay at home… until the very last moment, when I wrapped it some clothes and threw it into my duffel bag. So, my Lightroom statistics make interesting reading:

Greenland stats

...over half of my photos were taken using a lens I only packed as an emergency backup, and at the last minute. Actually the 12-100 is widely held to be an exceptional lens, but ever since I dropped mine in Venice and had to have it fixed, I’ve had the impression that it is a bit soft on the left side. But I’ve had it thoroughly checked by Olympus Pro Service and they say it is absolutely fine, so I guess I’d better go and my eyes tested again.

So, next comes the processing, and I have no doubt that I’ll be back down the rabbit hole of which software to use in no time at all. For rating and selecting, I really have nothing to beat Lightroom, and since it synchronises to mobile I can do a certain amount of editing away from home. But for processing, although Lightroom is pretty good, I never can stop wondering if there is something better. Certainly Iridient Developer can extract an ever so slightly better rendition of the Olympus raw files, but it too has its limitations.  No selective editing for a start. Photoshop, of course, can pretty much do anything, if only you can remember how to do it. The new version of Exposure, X5, now has what looks like very comprehensive luminance masking, and this allows highly selective refinements to texture, for example, a long way beyond Lightroom’s masking capabilities. But then again, Lightroom has the new Texture tool which is really nice. And Exposure, at least up to X4, has really dreadful sharpening tools.

So, the sensible thing to do, which I will try my best to stick to this time, is to stay in the Adobe stack, with Lightroom as the main tool, Photoshop for refining my top selection, and in a few cases Iridient to do the raw processing. Even within those boundaries there’s enough scope for dithering to last 100 lifetimes.

This then ties in with another decision I have (nearly) made, which is finally to put an end to my my parallel use of film cameras. I’ve come to realise this is just getting in the way of me creating satisfying photography. I’m not saying that digital is better than film: both can and do produce excellent results, and the choice really should depend on what you want to do. And I’ve come to realise that what I want to do is better served by digital. To quote myself in a previous post, “for me shooting film is mainly about finding something to point the camera at, whereas shooting digital is about wanting the photo”. In other words I’ve got a bunch of film cameras I feel compelled to use, but these days either I cannot or do not want to use them in pursuit of my main photographic objectives. Part of the problem is that the nature of air travel has changed so much these days, making travelling with film cameras, especially big heavy ones, a real pain, and other part is that film really is beginning to get expensive. Digital and Film require two very different workflows, both time consuming, and time is something I never seem to have enough of. I need to rationalise if I’m ever going to get anywhere. So, it is looking pretty likely that my XPan, Linhof 612 and Bessa 667 will be going up for sale soon.

Then finally, maybe, I will concentrate on photography.

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