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Revisiting the past

in Photography , 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.

Before...

snhg-ref-90.jpg

...and After

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The British research ship RRS John Biscoe near Damoy hut.

Posted in category "Photography" on Wednesday, January 04, 2006 at 04:59 PM

Zürich Zoo

in Photography , Sunday, November 13, 2005

Finally got around to visiting Zürich Zoo today. I'm not totally sure if I approve of zoos. The good ones do a very good conservation and education work, although it would be disingenuous to pretend that their main role is not entertainment. Zürich Zoo has good points and bad points as far as animal welfare is concerned. We saw some pretty depressed looking king penguins, who most certainly do not have sufficient swimming space. Places like the Genova Aquarium are much better in this regard. Large mammals such as elephants seem too crowded together. However, some of the habitats, like the one for the red pandas, seem quite good. zurich_zoo_131105-004448.jpg Zoos are undeniably a good place to practice wildlife photography. However today was challenging. Overcast and foggy, and late afternoon light, made conditions quite difficult. This photo was taken using the Olympus E-1 and the 50-200mm lens, wide open (f2.9), at 800 ISO and semi-supported by a monopod. Although you can't really judge here, it rather belies the accepted knowledge that the E-1 isn't much good at 800 ISO. Here, I've applied light noise reduction (colour noise in CaptureOne, luminance noise in Noise Ninja), and used PhotoKit Sharpener's Creative Sharpener to recover some detail in the panda's face (the photo was not perfectly sharp, but since I was at 1/90sec, semi hand-held, that is hardly surprising). I do sometimes wonder how it would be to have a top end Canon, or even a Leica R9 digital, but then again, both are far heavier and bulkier that the E-1, and I'm not so sure that their best respective lenses are that much better than the mid range E-System ones.
Posted in category "Photography" on Sunday, November 13, 2005 at 08:45 PM

The Lower Engadine

in Photography , Monday, November 07, 2005

A couple of weeks ago, we visited the Lower Engadine region of the canton Graubunden. One of the wildest and least developed parts of Switzerland, the area was recently in the news as the stamping ground of the first wild bear to be found in Swiss territory for over 100 years. Despite the name, there is nothing low about this region, a system of isolated valleys surrounded by towering mountains, some of which, on the south side,form Switzerland's only national park. The Lower Engadine is located in the extreme south east of Switzerland, bordered by Italy and Austria. Until recently, the only way to get there from the rest of the country was over the high Flüelapass pass, which even in summer cn be more entertaining than one would like. Now, a year round alternative exists in the Vereina railcar tunnel.

Guarda, detail The isolation of the Lower Engadine has helped it to preserve its unique character. To me it is more reminiscent of Transylvania than Switzerland, with wonderfully preserved colorful vernacular architecture, and a fascinating history. The largest village, Scuol, famed for its thermal baths, has lost some charm through development, but other villages, such as Guarda, feel like being in another time altogether. When the weather is good, as it was for us, it is nearly magical. Isolation has also preserved the region's language, Rhaeto-Rumantsch, which, like Romanian, traces its root directly to Latin. This is not some quaint semi artificial language revived for tourists, but genuinely the native language of the region. Different dialects of Romantsch are also spoken in other areas of Graubunden. This is one of the things about Switzerland that keeps surprising me - such diversity over such a small area.

Piz Linard from Chamanna Linard hut We stayed in the village of Lavin, from where various hiking trails extend all over the mountains. We headed up towards Piz Linard, which we got close to, but eventually turned back. As well as being weighed down by far too much camera gear, I was suffering from bad back pains, as well as being hopelessly out of practice. But the beautiful weather, and the turning autumn leaves combined to create a wonderful atmosphere, and the effort was well worth it. The Lower Engadine is a great place for hiking, for nature photography, for relaxing and for just getting away from it all...all at the same time.

Posted in category "Photography" on Monday, November 07, 2005 at 05:49 PM

A wet night in Zürich

in Photography , Sunday, October 09, 2005

Recently I was struck with the idea of photographing Zürich by night in the rain. Since, recently, most nights have been wet and miserable, this wasn't too rash an ambition. The area along Limmatquai (the Limmat is the main river which flows out of the lake) seemed to offer good panoramic potential, so I went there. I was hoping for damp conditions - I got torrential rain. I got very, very wet, as, despite umbrellas etc, did the Xpan, but at least the lenses kept dry. Generally it was quite succesful, especially considering the foul conditions. The shot below was one I had pre-meditated, but it didn't end up quite as I expected. grancafe.jpg

Gran Cafe, Zürich. Hasselblad Xpan, 45mm, Fujichrome 64T, 45 seconds at f11

I think the strange, ghostly "lensbaby" effect is due to a long exposure in heavy rain. It isn't out of focus, and the lens was not misted, or wet - I kept checking. In any case, I was a bit unexpected, but I'm pretty pleased with it. The few customers of the Gran Cafe, and the even fewer passers by, clearly thought I was crazy.
Posted in category "Photography" on Sunday, October 09, 2005 at 08:06 PM

Time of no photography

in Photography , Thursday, May 19, 2005

I haven't written anything here in the last two months basically because I have done practically no photography, and apart from trying to catch up on reading - slowly - Alain Briot's excellent Aesthetics and Photography series (buy the CD!) I haven't really done anything even related. The demands of a new job and moving to a new appartment in an unfamiliar region take their toll. However in the last couple of days I have been going around with my Ricoh GR1, just in case I stumble upon a quick opportunity. I've often considered that the GR1 was highly significant to me, as using it was the first time I really appreciated what a difference a really high quality lens could make. But for some reason it occured to me this morning that there might have been another factor: autofocus. The first autofocus SLR I ever owned was the Olympus E1, and the first thing I did with it was to work out how to enable the manual focus overide. I was quite fixated on the idea that I wanted to be in control. Later - much later - I came to realise that the problem of control was not so much over focus as over autofocus. I assumed, somehow, that autofocus "just works" and if I was getting bad results it was because it wasn't very good, and anyway was somehow cheating. Of course I was wrong, completely wrong. To use autofocus efficiently and creatively you have to understand it and practice, like any other tool. But maybe with the GR1 the fact that autofocus can only really be disabled in favour of "SNAP" mode, which sets up hyperfocal focusing, gave me the benefits of autofocus coupled with the excellent lens. Ironically I did consider buying the GR1v, which includes a kind of manual focus mode. Whatever, it is nice to rediscover this camera. It is the only one I own which can really be taken anywhere for opportunistic shooting. I have an "ancient" Olympus C4040 (ancient despite being 3 or 4 years younger than the GR1), but it is relatively bulky and the handling, especially compared to the GR1, is horrible, So all I need now is to find somewhere I can still get slide film developed. [Posted from the scene with hblogger 2.0]
Posted in category "Photography" on Thursday, May 19, 2005 at 09:51 AM

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