Just some stuff about photography

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Primavere Toscane

in Book Reviews , Wednesday, May 06, 2015

I have an announcement to make: I’ve finally managed to complete a project, and have self-published my first book, on Blurb.

Blurb 001

Still in the plastic wrapper

To be honest, “Primavere Toscane” is a very personal project, and was partly a kind of dry run, in advance of several other ideas I have in mind. It is a slim volume, weighing in at a mere 40 pages. Here’s what I have to say about it:

For over a decade, every springtime has been marked for me by a short visit to an area of Tuscany, just south of the city of Siena. This book is a distillation of hundreds of photos taken over these years, in the same places, and the same time of year.

Hundreds, if not thousands of photo books celebrating Tuscany have been published. The landscape, the towns and cities, the people, the culture, the food, even are richly visual and deeply attractive to photographers. Many of these are strongly biased towards the misty, early morning light, to the classic vistas across the Val d’Orcia, and the golden light illuminating the farmhouses and rolling hills. Certainly I’ve been drawn to these too, and this book does contain a few examples of such scenes. But more and more I’ve been attracted to the stronger, even harsh full daylight, which we landscape photographers are told to avoid. The problem with the morning light, apart from the fact that early morning in Tuscany is usually painfully early in late springtime, is that it ends up showing a very romanticised view, representing only one aspect of the complex character of the region.

I’m certainly not going to claim to do any better at representing all facets of Tuscany, or even the small area within which these photographs are taken, but I do hope to show a personal interpretation rather than replicating the work of celebrated authors.

Blurb 002

I decided to go the full DIY route, creating the layout in InDesign, and preparing the photos myself. For creating the layout, I used JPG proxy images, and then created exact size CMYK versions, sharpened at the output size. It was a lot of work, but the results are good. I chose a hardback format, and heavier Proline paper. Two things came out of that: 40 pages is barely enough to fill out a hardback format, and the Proline paper is nice, but has a degree of print-through, which surprises me. Only a little,but still. For subsequent printing I think I’d select Proline coated. The selection of paper stock is a bit of a pain with Blurb, and they could make it easier. For example, I have a couple of Blurb books by other authors, but I have no way of telling which stock they are printed on. But generally, the Blurb experience is great, apart from one eye-watering detail: the prices. They’re just way too high.

Blurb 005

The photography in the book is a mixture of “normal” and panoramic frames, and was edited down from about 700 shots. It is roughly divided into thematic sections, but these are not labelled. I’ve set it so you can flick through the whole thing on the Blurb site, using their preview tool.

If you get a chance to have a look at the preview, I’d love to hear what you think. I may create a PDF version for download sometime, but that will require a completely revised layout. Blurb’s “auto PDF” generator produces truly abysmal results.

Blurb 006

Wow. I’m a (self) published author now!

Posted in category "Book Reviews" on Wednesday, May 06, 2015 at 10:47 PM

Opticfilm 120 revisted

in Scanning , Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The day I got back from Colombia, just after I stumbled out of bed, very jet-lagged, the postman delivered a large box. Inside it was a replacement Plustek Opticfilm 120. Back in October I had discovered that the month-old original was producing a long streak in the infrared channel, contaminating the “iSRD” dust and scratch removal. Plustek tech support identified the cause as dust inside the optics, and said that the scanner needed to be returned for servicing. Unfortunately Plustek do not have formal distribution in Switzerland, so it had to go back to the dealer, under warranty.  It took a while, but this wasn’t too noticeable as I was away for over 3 weeks. And eventually I received a completely new scanner, directly from Taiwan.

Apart from this issue, I was satisfied enough with the first copy. But the second seems actually to be better. Looking at film grain, the focussing, which was ok with the old one, is a little better. And the iSRD now works fine, also, so far (touch wood) with no alignment problems (possibly also thanks to improvements in Silverfast v8.2). Multisampling still doesn’t work, due to slight alignment (or possibly blooming) issues. But in any case, I don’t see any improvement in density with slide film.  The single sampling DMax seems quite adequate in this case. Possibly it is more effective with negative film - I’ll try again one day.

Anyway, at least this justifies one key argument in favour of the Opticfilm 120 over an old Minolta or Nikon scanner - warranty, dealer and manufacturer support.

I’ve been able to quickly deal with a small backlog of film to scan - editing digital files from Colombia will have to wait.

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Bachalpsee, Grindelwald, Switzerland

For now I haven’t got much planned, film photography-wise.  My stocks of E100G are almost exhausted.  Hopefully they will stretch until the first rolls of Ferrania’s new slide film turn up.

Posted in category "Scanning" on Wednesday, December 17, 2014 at 07:40 PM

Stylejacking

in Film , Thursday, November 06, 2014

In film circles, Kodak Portra 400 is a very popular choice. Actually there’s not all that many alternatives left these days, but even if there were, I suspect Portra 400 would still have a considerable following. Based on the name, I always assumed that the film was designed for portraiture, and as I’m not really into that, I never really tried it. I think I used a few rolls of Portra 800 many years ago to shoot a flamenco show, and that’s about it. But it also has developed a following in landscape circles, where it seems to be the anti-Velvia option.

As a negative film, Portra lends itself very much to broad daylight photography, unlike most slide film, given soft, luminous, pastel tones. I’ve read advice to overexpose it, so I did so, using it in my Xpan with +1 stop exposure compensation. The fun thing about this film is that it seems almost impossible to burn the highlights. On the other hand, the shadow density is a bit weak.

One drawback of negative film is that it can be very trick to scan. However in this case, using the Silverfasrt Portra “NegaFix” profile worked pretty well straight out of the box. As you can in a previous post, the overall colour compared to an E100G slide film shot is pretty close.

Here are a few examples, shot in and around Dorgali and Oristana in wonderful Sardinia:

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xpan_sardegna1409_01_20
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xpan_sardegna1409_02_02
xpan_sardegna1409_02_08

This was possibly the first time I’ve really set out to mimic a style. It seemed to work out quite well. However, as enjoyable as it was, it’s not really me. I’d just better remember to reset the exposure compensation on the XPan before I go back to slide film!

 

Posted in category "Film" on Thursday, November 06, 2014 at 08:16 PM

The Kodak Challenge

in Film , Thursday, October 16, 2014

Continuing the report on my trials with Kodak Provia 400 in Sardinia, I’ve now got the heavyweight stuff processed, i.e the rolls that went through the XPan. Interestingly, without really planning it, I have two shots taken a few minutes apart of the same scene, one on the last frame of a roll of E100G that was in the camera, and one on Portra 400. Both were taken handheld, so the framing is a little different. And the light changed slightly, it was a little sunnier for the top image.

Both were scanned on the Opticfilm 120, using Silverfast. For the Portra, I used the 400NC Negafix profile. Both images are straight scans, no further processing. Can you tell which is which? (Try just looking at the colour, there are a few other giveaways for the more astute viewer…)

xpan_sardegna1409_01_2
xpan-sardegna1409-03-1

 

Posted in category "Film" on Thursday, October 16, 2014 at 10:36 PM

Beyond the pale

in Photography , Monday, October 13, 2014

I’ve been dabbling in infrared for about as long as I’ve being photographing, which is far too long. Originally I was shooting Kodak Highspeed Infrared in manual Canon SLRs. In fact my first shot ever used for commercial purposes was an infrared shot, used as the basis for an illustration. I experimented a bit with colour infrared, but never really took to it. All colour infrared shots remind me of a Van der Graaf Generator LP inner sleeve (Pawn Hearts), and most monochrome infrared shots can’t avoid recalling U2’s “The Unforgettable Fire” (which infamously plagiarised probably the best infrared photographer ever, Simon Marsden).

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somewhere in Suffolk, a very long time ago, Kodak HiSpeed IR , Canon FTb

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somewhere else, still quite a long time ago. Kodak HiSpeed IR , Hasselblad XPan

Early digital cameras turned out to be fantastic for infrared, as they had very weak IR filtering (by accident rather than design, I imagine), and therefore for the first time you could take out the very considerable amount of guesswork involved in exposure and focusing. The Nikon Coolpix 900 was particular good for this. Later, I experimented with IR filtering on the Olympus DSLRs I used. The results were pretty effective, although the average exposure time was around 60 seconds - which could be a creative advantage.

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a field in Tuscany. Olympus E-400, press and pray technique

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a stream in Ticino. Olympus E-3, with the miracle of Live View!

But I always wanted a dedicated infrared digital camera, so several years ago, just after I bought an Olympus E-P3 at a knock-down price, I sent my E-P2 off to Spencer’s Camera & Photo, in Utah, for conversion, along with full pre-payment. On April 11, 2002, they sent me an email saying “Thank you very much for your Infrared Conversion service order.  We have successfully received your order and it is now being processed”. This was the last truthfull communication I got from Mr Spencer.  After many long months of ignored emails, deceitful phone calls, and what I discovered through post-due diligence was a standard pattern of fake progress reports and fabricated shipping bills, I just gave up. I lost the money (which was a very big deal at the time, I’d just bought a house and lost a job, and this was my full “hobby budget” for the year) and the camera. Mr Spencer will hopefully toast a little in whichever section of hell is set aside for him.

Anyway, this year, finally, I felt like trying again. With a reliable recommendation for Advanced Camera Services in England, and a new “donor” camera, the E-P3 having been joined by an E-P5 (again at a knockdown price), it seemed worth the attempt.  This time, there was no pre-payment requested, and although the turnaround time was a lot longer than I expected, and the communication very economic, the camera did turn up, with the IR blocking filter removed, and a new 830nm filter installed. Naturally, right on cue, it started absolutely pissing down in Ticino, and it hasn’t stopped yet. But I have managed to get a few shots.

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second ever shot with the E-P3ir. Roughed-up a bit in SilverEFX

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sunday stroll. Also roughed-up a bit in SilverEFX

It’s a very different experience, shooting with my “new” E-P3-IR. Exposure times are normal, you get full preview, instant feedback. Initially, though, I’m not really feeling the magic. There’s seems to be something missing, it’s all too clean, too clinical, too precise. IR photography was never precise. I’ve tried to come up with an appropriate recipe in SilverEFX 2, and that’s helping a bit. Also, there hasn’t been a lot of inspiration is subject matter so far. But most of all, I’m not really all that excited about IR any more. But let’s see how it goes. What is very interesting is that the converted camera works fine in overcast conditions, which IR film, nor indeed unconverted DSLRs, never did. This opens up several interesting avenues to explore, first treating the camera as a straightforward monochrome digital, and second, applying more drastic filtering. Gosh, even STREET - get that, Olivier ? We shall see.

Posted in category "Photography" on Monday, October 13, 2014 at 10:04 PM

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