photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Antarctic rescanned

in Photography , Monday, February 13, 2006

Many, many years ago I was lucky enough to be paid to go to Antarctica, twice in fact. With hindsight, it is a pity that I wasn't just a touch better at photography at the time (not to mention science, but that's another story). I took many, many photographs, with a combination of borrowed Canon FT bodies and a ramshackle collection of lenses – some actually extremely good, although I didn't know it at the time – and an Olympus XA compact. At least I followed the sound advice to use Kodachrome, not negative film, although the downside to that is that badly stored Kodachrome deteriorates over time. And I seem to have been better at keeping horizons level in those days. me-and-aurora.jpg

Yours truly posing in front of MV Aurora, somewhere near Brunt Ice Shelf, early 1992

So, inspired by recent photos of Antarctica shown at the Luminous Landscape, I decided to have one final (?) attempt at salvaging something from the archives using the latest and greatest tools at my disposal. In my defence, photography was not the aim of my journeys, and my motivation for it was purely to have mementoes and photos to show to family and friends. Others took it far more seriously. Actually, it is rather ironic that I was "trapped" at Damoy Point for over 4 weeks (I expected to be there two days), an absolute paradise for photography. Many of my colleagues were very jealous, but I couldn't understand why. I just wanted to get out! This revised set has replaced the Antarctica archive I had online previously. Many of the photos are the same, but all have been scanned at the highest possible resolution in Silverfast Ai Pro, with a diffuser, then been cleaned up in Photoshop, with noise reduction using Noise Ninja, vignetting reduced using Photoshop's new lens correction filter, and colour correction using PixelGenius Photokit Color, in particular the excellent grey balancers. Apart from these, I carried out various manual corrections and enhancements where necessary. A few I decided work better in black & white. me-jeff-and-otter.jpg

Me (left), Jeff Ridley (right) and one of the GLACE pilots who's name I'm afraid I've forgotten, in front of the GLACE Twin Otter (there are few hairdressers in Antarctica)

The results are probably about the best I can achieve, so I should draw a line under this stuff now. I might add a few more over the coming weeks – I still have my second level archive to reconsider – but 38 keepers isn't a bad score, all things considered. You can see them in the Antarctica gallery. You can read more on my experiences in Antarctica in an article I wrote some time back.

More Lensbaby fun

in Photography , Thursday, January 26, 2006

Just an excuse to post a photo this time. This was taken last week in Samnauen, on a "no chance" skiing day. samnauen_0106-00003.jpg

In to the trees...

This was produced direct from CaptureOne, following Colin Jago's further experiments on sharpening. The Lensbaby is fun, but it is a right bug*er to handle, especially when it's cold!

Calendar Publication

Following a very limited experiment last year, this year I decided (under much persuasion) to attempt to create a good quality calendar of Icelandic images, purely for family & friends.

My first attempt was through Lulu. This is a US web-based self publication service which includes services for book printing and calendars amongst others. It seemed ok, even after visiting the forums where there was a fair amount of complaining. Having done plenty of pre-press work in the past, it seemed that preparing photos for print on their digital printer would be feasible.

Lulu provides a couple of lightly customisable calendar templates, to which users can upload photos. The system is not very user friendly, and requires far more fiddling than it should do. Customer support is also very poor, with customers (paying customers that is) being largely fobbed off to the forums. At the prices Lulu charges, this is pretty bad.


Cover for the "lulu" calendar

Of course, the most important thing is the quality. Well, at nearly $30 a copy (and double that for shipping, in some cases), it is really bad. The paper is horrible, an off-white stock (described as "white") with a quite inappropriate texture and the coil binding does not have a hook (the pages are perforated for hanging, which defeats the point of coil binding). Print colour is ok, quite a close match to my prooofing, but shadows up to at least 10% are muddy and detail-free (despite a shadow threshold of 12), and there are nasty vertical streaks on most pages. Very amateur and certainly not worth half the price. One plus point, the packaging is robust and secure.


Interior page from the "lulu" calendar

I was ready to give up at this point, but at the last moment heard from a friend about XPress Printing, a digital printing service in Romania. In this case, it is print & print only - although they do offer a design service. So I had to do a very fast design using Adobe InDesign, and uploaded a 30Mb PDF for them to print. They provided excellent support and could answer all questions I put to them, immediately and with no hesitation.


Cover page for the final calendar

The printed calendars arrived a few days later. The quality is fantastic, at under $10 a copy, on very nice paper. They are coil-bound, and have been very well received. The packaging was not so good, but the second batch was better. I'm not sure if the people at Xpress speak English, but I think they do - they are well worth getting in touch with if you need printing services like this, but do be aware you need to know what you're doing. They will just print whatever you send!


Interior page from the final calendar

All of the photos were taken with the Olympus E-1, except for the cover, with is an Xpan image. The rush job resulted in two errors, a typo in an Icelandic title, and somehow ending up with "01.2006" for August - which took quite a while for anyone to spot (grazie Stefano!).

We had 30 printed. We have got a few spares, so if anybody out there is interested, I'll be happy to send you one (if you ask in time) against the price of postage.

Panasonic Lumix LX1

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Friday, January 13, 2006

It is two years since I last bought a new camera, and this state of affairs could not last. I had been thinking of buying a new digital compact for quite a while. My old Olympus C4040 still works fine, but it is slow, cumbersome and not really much fun to use. I was very interested in the Ricoh GR Digital, being a big GR1 fan, but early so-so reviews put me off. In fact they prompted me to revive my GR1, which I used on two seperate mountain outings last weekend. Unfortunately, on the second of these, the film jammed after a few frames - not for the first time. Patchy reliability has always been an issue for me with both of my GR1s, and this time I've had enough. In the meantime I had both handled a GRd and read better reviews. Probably stories of quality control issues, combined with my recent GR experience should put me off, but I was still very interested: the GRd is a gorgeous device. I very nearly bought one - the fact that I didn't is down to a spectacularly incompetent salesman. As it was I ended up sleeping on it, and at the very last moment the Lumix won due to its greater flexibility, the 16x9 sensor, and the price of the Ricoh's accessories. The lack of any sort of viewfinder on the Lumix worries me, but the Ricoh external viewfinder is a bit clumsy, not to mention expensive. The final decider was Michael Reichmann's field report, and the fact that it just promises to be more fun!

Cranes and moon - first photo using LX1

It took me only a few minutes to decided that I'd made the right choice. It is fun to use, and easy to handle, albeit a touch small. Yes, the images show some noise, but nothing that can't be cleared up. Capturing in RAW mode doesn't slow things down much (unlike the Ricoh GR), and responsiveness is far better than my old C4040. Thanks to Adobe Camera RAW support, images can be converted in Photoshop / Bridge or the new Lightroom. Highly recommended (don't bother with the Leica version, you're just paying for the badge). The rest is down to the photographer.

Revisiting the past

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, January 04, 2006

It seems appropriate that the New Year finds me revisiting the past. Triggered by the flood of Antarctic photos posted recently by Michael Reichmann and some of his co-travellers, I have had another attempt at salvaging something from my extensive slide collection from Antarctica which I took in 1988 and 1992. At the time of these visits, I had absolutely no intent beyond personal mementoes for these photos. I had very little idea of what I was doing, despite endless, patient advice from people such as Rick Frolich and Julian Paren, and my equipment was basic: Canon FT, with a few Canon lenses (pretty good f1.4 50mm, a 28mm, and a Vivitar zoom, along with a fish eye add-on), all borrowed from my father, and an Olympus XA compact. The second time, I think I had a second Canon body, an FTb, but I'm not so sure now. I took my colleagues advice and used mainly Kodachrome 25 & 64, with a few rolls of Ektachrome 64. I had little idea of what a tripod would be used for. On top of this, I did not take good care of the slides, and many are damaged by fungus, dust and scratches. Of course at that time, the only practical things you could do with slides was to project them, and to get Cibachrome prints made. The idea of scanning them into a computer and manipulating the results would have been pure science fiction. As far as I was concerned, at that time computers lived in big rooms and were used for science. Small computers, primitive PCs, pre-Windows IBMs, Commodores, BBC Micros and the like were useful for recording data and writing short reports...but image processing ? No way! On the second trip we did in fact have a number of Macs with us, including a Mac II and a Portable, and probably we had Photoshop 2.5 lurking somewhere, but this was used for science, not photography. My interest was revived around about 1998, when I started getting more into photography as a goal in itself, and when I bought my first film scanner, a Minolta Scan Dual. At that time I had little computer power, although of course I had far more than in 1988. Scanning slides into Photoshop 3.0 was pretty disappointing: at 2400dpi, with no dust & scratch removal, no colour management, no real idea about editing, there was little to be done. However, the results from that time are actually still on the web, in an orphaned, unmanaged web site at Easynet. Later, some 3 or 4 years ago, I had another go at salvaging a few slides. It was a bit more successful, but still not totally satisfying. However, in recent months, both some positive comments on a few slides, and the realisation that I should make the most of what I've got have combined to make me decide there was still some mileage in these slides. The Luminous Landscape reports were the final push, since apart from anything they helped me to realise that short of a miracle I'm never going there again - tourist trips are strictly in high earner territory. Now, with the improved scanning performance from my Minolta Scan Multi Pro, 16x multisampling, and wide gamut colour space, I'm getting better source material (although the dynamic range still doesn't quite cope with some Kodachromes - black & white penguins against white snow are pretty challenging). Using the Scanhancer also helps a lot, especially as it enables Digital ICE to work on Kodachromes. The way in which some fungal damage is cleared by this combination is little short of miraculous. Noise Ninja is great for reducing film grain and scanning noise, and the grey balancers in PhotoKit Colour are very useful shortcuts (although their effect can be replicated with curves). The vignetting tool in Photoshop CS2 is also extremely useful. Possibly I have acquired slightly better composition skills, which help me to make better crops. Another very useful new tool comes from Joseph Holmes's Chrome colour profiles. These allow saturation to be adjusted in a completely non-destructive way, by assigning variations of his wide gamut colour space, and are very well suited to Kodachrome. There is also a strange pleasure in rediscovering the neutrality and ambience of Kodachrome. Makes me want to go out and buy some more while I still can.



...and After


The British research ship RRS John Biscoe near Damoy hut.

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