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Full Circle

plus ça (ne) change (pas)

in General Rants , Wednesday, March 08, 2023

So, I’m back from Iceland. Quite a few of my posts here have probably started with similar wording. I have added another 1400 or so rather average photos to my very large collection of rather average photos.

I think it would be reasonable to expect that after well over 20 years of trying that my photographic output might have improved somewhat, but the hard evidence from a first review is that it hasn’t. The usual collection of dull compositions and technical screwups dominates. Photos that seemed really compelling when I was taking them just fall flat on the computer screen.

Also I just repeat myself. Below are two examples of photos I took a week or so ago compared to similar ones taken in the same locations years ago. Apart from the weather, and somewhat different focal lengths, they are identical, or at least interchangeable. When confronted with the same scene, I pretty much tried to do exactly the same thing with it, with equal lack of artistic merit in both cases. I was not conciously duplicating anything, indeed I didn’t remember the earlier shots when taking the new ones. I might forgive myself for the earlier failures, had I actually learnt from them, but clearly I did not.

These two photos featuring the now extremely well-known small church in Buðir were taken in 2004 (left) and 2023 (right). There is no significant difference in my approach, and neither works well.

These two photos taken at the equally trampled Goðafoss were taken in 2008 (left) and 2023 (right). Again, I tried exactly the same approach, and in both cases it fails to either convey anything specific about the location, or alternatively offer a pleasing detail composition. At least I am consistently hopeless 😊

I’ve tried various strategies to improve my output. I’ve studied the work of photographers I admire. I’ve tried quite radical technical changes. But all to no avail. The only work I’m a little more satisfied with fits into the “urban landscape” box, which nobody I know is at all interested in. It certainly doesn’t appeal to non-photographers, and I don’t have any photographer friends, so it’s all pretty much interesting to me only.

Actually that’s maybe a key point. Without wanting to get too wishy-washy, my theory is that I photograph largely to create a narrative to place myself in. I have dual Swiss- British nationality, but I don’t have significant roots in either country. So for years I have subconsciously been trying to create some sort of anchor for myself. I don’t have much of a connection to most places I travel to, such as Iceland, so in those cases my unconscious motivation to photograph fails to spark. And when it does, it kicks in more in urban environments than out in the landscape. So I’m probably trying to photograph the wrong subjects, even though I actually enjoy more being out in the natural landscape.

I think I’m more of a consumer of photography than a creator. I have a large and ever-growing collection of photo books, and I get a lot more pleasure out of these than I do out of looking at my own photos, in general. And of the general standards of composition, interpretation and presentation and unreachably higher than my own. It is what it is.

I don’t suppose I will stop photographing, but I do think I need to make peace with the fact that “average” is the very best I can hope to attain, and refocus my energies on other things in life.

So this will probably be the last post here for quite a while. Maybe for ever. I’ve pretty much said all I’ve got to say, indeed far more than that. Over twenty years is a pretty good run for a blog. Time to let it rest.

Posted in General Rants on Wednesday, March 08, 2023 at 02:24 PM • PermalinkComments (4)

Capture One for iPad

drop the laptop?

in Post-processing , Tuesday, February 28, 2023

I very much like the idea of CaptureOne on iPad. I participated in the Beta program, but at its conclusion, I could not see any immediate scenario where it would be of use to me. However, recently I decided to see how it could work for me in a real world scenario. I’ve just returned from a 10 day trip to Iceland, for which I did not take a laptop, just my iPad Air. I installed CaptureOne, which the idea that it could perform the following tasks:

- image ingestion
- quick quality check
- rough, indicative edits
- export to sharing services (Apple Photos, WhatsApp)
- image backup to SSD

I used three cameras, Olympus OM-1 (mainly), Ricoh GRIII, and Ricoh GRIIIx.

Overall this was successful. However, for now I will be pausing my subscription. There is no single reason for this, just a combination of things, as I will explain.

Starting with ingestion, when it works, it works absolutely fine. When connecting a camera via USB-C, I could either select the camera as a source, or go via the file system. Selecting the camera was better.  One very nice feature involved the OM-1: here I used the two card slots in parallel mode, recording to both at the same time. While Files saw both SD cards independently, so duplicating every file, Capture One presented single copies for import. The import screen also arranged files grouped by day, which allowed me to very quickly select and import the day’s work. Also, files already imported are recognised, and the app asks if I want to reimport or not. There was a glitch though: when plugging in the camera, I could only make it appear in Capture One’s browser by quitting (swipe up) and restarting the application. Even then sometimes it did not appear, and even when it did, it would appear for a moment then vanish. I had to perfect a technique where I would connect everything, restart Capture One, then as quickly as possible select the import source.  Once selected the connection never dropped.  I have no idea if this is an iOS or Capture One issue.  Also, I had a card reader with me, and I could not get Capture One to recognise this as a source, although it worked on initial testing before the trip.

After ingestion, Capture One presents the files under “Latest Import”. This makes it easy to select them, filter for raw files only, and move them to a dedicated Collection.

So, generally ingestion works very well, but the connection issues were frustrating and lost me considerable time.

Coming to quality checking, this is generally satisfactory. I can easily browse and select images, zoom in and out, view a histogram, all I need to do. Exposure warnings would be nice. However one issue I repeatedly encountered was that I could not fully move around an image when zoomed in, only a part of it. This was irritating. Still, I could very quickly verify critical issues such as focus, exposure and composition.

Capture One for iPad provides a basic set of image manipulation tools on a single layer only. Tool panels inherited from the desktop version included Exposure, HDR, Details (sharpness etc), basic Colour, and a few rather random things like Clarity and Dehaze. It’s limited but it’s enough for a quick sanity check, and to prepare initial versions for sharing. The Basic Characteristics panel is missing, which, given its name, I would have thought would have been a rather, er, basic feature, and of course there are no layers. The Curve and Levels tools are absent. There is a clumsy workaround if you own a desktop version of Capture One: you can create a style settings unavailable on iPad, and import it. Since the underlying engine does appear to be complete, this works.  So for example I created a couple of styles with generic Luma curves, which allowed me to get a rough idea of how my standard approach to editing on desktop would work.

So, rough, indicative edits, yes, but I’d throw everything away and start again on desktop, so the one-way cloud sync is currently useless to me.  Even if it was not, over 10 days I exceeded the 1000 image limit.

There was one strange glitch when editing images: after selecting an image, going to full screen, and then back to tools view, a strange sort-of-floating-but-fixed tool panel appeared, with a single button (apparently a shutter butter simulation) and a little cog wheel, I assume for settings. I assume, again, that this has something to do with tethering, but neither button was responsive, and the panel could not be dismissed, and blocked part of the film strip. It could only be dismissed by restarting the app, and it soon reappeared soon after. Quite irritating but I got used to ignoring it. Capture one might consider hiring a test engineer…

before appearance of the strange panel…

... and after appearance of the strange panel

Moving on to exporting, here it was again a case of “when it works, it works well”, but otherwise, very frustrating. The problem here is not in design, which is very intuitive, but in execution: I could never get more than 4 images to export at once. Sometimes only 3 worked. So before I realised this, I would select, say, 20, share to Apple Photos, and only 4 would turn up.  Not necessarily the first 4 in the selection, either.  There was no indication of any failure from Capture One. So I had to resort to 4 at a time, and since the initial preparation for export is quite lengthy, this was again time consuming and frustrating. Is this an iOS issue or Capture One, or a combination of both? I don’t know and frankly I don’t care. It should just work, and if there is a failure, I should be informed.

Finally, image backup. This works just fine. Possibly going via the Share function is not 100% intuitive, but having done that, I select “originals” as filetype, Files as destination, navigate to the external SSD, and execute. In this case there is no issue with the number of files, unlike sharing to Photos.

Overall, and despite the glitches, Capture One for iPad is a pleasure to use. Personally I really like the UI. I guess in order to fit in well with general iPad / iOS design principles, the app feels a little more modal than the desktop version, so there is a more explicit switch between “catalog mode” and “edit mode”, but this is fine.

But as a travelling landscape / nature photographer, I get the feeling that my “user scenario” was not high up on the list of product management priorities. I’m not actually all that bothered about editing in the field (but if I was, Capture One for iPad currently would fall short). I can’t properly edit on the move on an iPad, or even on a laptop, for that matter. Editing for real happens in my home office controlled environment. What I would really like to be able to do in the field is keywording and metadata editing. Capture One doesn’t offer that at all, but it isn’t alone in completely neglecting that aspect.

I could also happily use Capture One for iPad at home, away from my desktop, for tasks like keywording and triage, but then I would need proper two-way sync and less restrictive sync limits.

Capture One for iPad worked ok for me in Iceland, and liberated me from having to cart a laptop around, but having returned home, I really have no further use for it for now. So it makes no sense to continue the subscription. The cost is not unreasonable for something I would use regularly, but if I have no use for it, it is a waste of money. And it all adds up. I do strongly believe that it should anyway be included in a subscription, if not bundled with a perpetual license.


Posted in Post-processing on Tuesday, February 28, 2023 at 11:01 AM • PermalinkComments ()

Iceland here I come

brace yourself…

in Photography , Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Icelanders can resign themselves to 10 days of even more miserable weather than usual, as I prepare to set off tomorrow. I don’t have a habit of bringing good weather with me, and I’ve never seen an aurora in Iceland.

I actually have no expectations at all for this trip. It will bring whatever it brings. I’m not even sure I feel much like 9-10 days of concentrated photography. As mentioned in a previous post, I dropped the idea of taking the Hasselblad supercamera with me. I’m not 100% sure this was a good idea, but whatever may be, I will still have some pretty competent camera gear with me. Actually it will be something of a reality check: if I don’t feel disappointed that I didn’t take the Hasselblad, it will be a strong sign that I should divest myself of it.

My last photographic trip to Iceland was in 2016, and at that time I was using the original Olympus OM-D E-M1 (alongside the Sigma Quattro dp0). I recently published a set of Sigma photos from that trip on Flickr. Here below are some shots from the Olympus. Nothing terribly exciting, but probably pretty much the best I can manage.

Let’s see if I can do any better this time. Let’s see if I can bring good weather for once.




Posted in Photography on Tuesday, February 14, 2023 at 04:30 PM • PermalinkComments ()

On the road again

but…. bags???

in GAS , Thursday, February 09, 2023

This is mostly a post about camera bags. I’ll leave out the standard boilerplate about never having enough bags. Actually I have 3 bags in frontline service, an Atlas Athlete for “hybrid” trips and extended hiking, snowshoeing etc, a Mindshift Backlight 26L for more dedicated photography outings, and a Wotancraft Pilot 7L for street use.  I also have a battered and semi-retired Domke F803 which still sees some use. This lineup has been stable for quite some time and all these bags have racked up considerable mileage. I’m very happy with all of them.  However ...

Next week I’ll be heading off to Iceland, for the first time in 4 years, and so far as photography is concerned, the first time since 2016. It was time for a refresh. My plan was to take my Hasselblad X1DII along with 3 or 4 lenses. Being a bit nervous about some aspects of using the Hasselblad in the field, I decided that I would take a minimal Olympus kit as backup / secondary system. The Hasselblad would go in the Backlight backpack, and the Olympus in the Wotancraft shoulder bag.  So far so good. Loaded up the Backlight bag was still well under 10kg, including MacBook Pro. The only minor snag is that it is a bit of a tight fit, getting the Hasselblad kit in the Backlight, mainly because the camera section is a little shallow. It’s fine for short trips, but it could mean that working out of the bag in Icelandic locations and winter conditions could be frustrating. So I started poking about online for alternatives. I was restricted by the quite severe Icelandair carry on size restrictions: the Backlight 26L fits in easily, but the obvious alternative, its 35L big brother, violates two dimensions. So that one was out.

Looking around online, it was impossible to avoid the blanket faux-review marketing by Shimoda. Unable to resist, I ordered a Shimoda V2 Explore 30L, which does just fit into Icelandair’s draconian rules. Actually I had to order the “starter kit”, including an unecessary medium “V2 Core Unit Modular Camera Insert”: it was clear I’d need the large one. Anyway, it was returned to sender with 24 hours. First of all, the bag actually has less useful capacity than the Backlight 26L. The “camera insert” is less deep than the Backlight’s camera section.  My impression of the rest of the bag is that it seems well built, but heavens is it fiddly. Lots and lots and lots of Features for YouTube Influencers to bang on about, but quite honestly it feels like it was designed to be looked at and fawned over, not be actually used. The Louis Vuitton of camera bags.

Next attempt was the NYA-EVO Fjord 36L, with large size Removable Camera Insert (RCI), currently in a box on its way back to Belgium. This was a bit of a trickier decision. Actually in one dimension the Fjord 36L does exceed Icelandair rules, but first, this is depth, the most critical for me, and second, the other two dimensions are well within limits. Also the NYA-EVO provides a very well thought out method of stashing the waist straps, making it look more compact. I expect I could sneak it through. Actually I never fully unpacked the RCI inserts, as I wanted to ensure I could easily repack everything in untouched condition if I needed to return it. My very first impression of the Fjord 36L wasn’t actually all that positive. It arrived fully packed down, and gave off quite a chemical stench when I first removed it from its plastic cover.  Initially it also seemed rather flimsy. However second impressions were much better, and it does seem to be very well built, from strong material which I expect would stop smelling quite so bad over time.

One word of advice to NYA-EVO - ship your bags assembled, like Shimoda does. The box it came in was easily big enough to contain an assembled bag, and it would give a much better first impression. Especially given the premium price, you could put a little effort into presentation. And indeed source some less flimsy boxes.

Still, once again the actual load capacity seemed not a lot higher than the Backlight 26L. And with the large RCI, there actually is very little extra space left in the main compartment, although there are several full length front compartments which are similar to those on the Backlight - probably a touch larger. So I was a bit dubious. It didn’t seem to offer significantly more than the Backlight, and where it did, it was verging into Atlas Athlete territory. I convinced myself nevertheless to give it a fair trial, but then encountered a showstopper. At 1.91 meters tall, normally proportioned, the bag with harness at fully extended position was slightly too short for me. The waist straps were sitting too high to transfer load to my hips, so therefore useless, not to mention looking pretty stupid.  So sadly, once again it got returned. And I’m really NOT in the habit of returning things, it is an almighty pain. Swiss vendors are really not into “return culture”, and returning to international vendors requires extensive paperwork and considerable cost.

The NYA-EVO Fjord 60L may be a good alternative, but it exceeds most European airline’s carry on dimensions. However potentially it could replace the use scenarios of both my Atlas bag (which is showing signs of wear) and the Backlight, and I could go for the option of taking just the RCI as carry on luggage. But I have to say I’m not all that keen on that idea, in fact I’m not a big fan of removable inserts in the first place.

If only there was a Backlight 30L. One big marketing point of both Shimoda and NYA-EVO is that they have ultra comfortable carry systems. Well, at best both of them more or less come up to the standard of the Backlight’s shoulder and waist straps.

So I’m back where I started. Looking at my packed duffel bag, full of winter clothing and boots, with the weight creeping towards 20kg, and the backpack, and the shoulder bag, and considering I need to change trains twice, take a flight, then a bus, just to arrive in Reykjavik, I started to feel I was not going to enjoy this much. So I decided to slim things down. First, difficult decision was to jettison the Hasselblad. Replacing this was one Olympus body, 8-25mm, 12-40mm, 40-150mm f/4 and 17mm f/1.2 lenses. No backup body, but the Ricoh GRIII pair as secondary system, along with their converter lenses. This added up to 6.5kg including the MacBook Pro, so quite persuasive. Then I could switch the 2kg Gitzo Explorer tripod for the 0.8kg Gitzo Traveller. Finally, really taking a leap, I decided to substitute the MacBook Pro with my iPad Air M2, running Capture One for iPad.

Finally I’m tending towards lightweight, and have avoided buying a new bag. A side effect of all of this is to push me more and more towards the opinion that digital medium format just doesn’t suit me, so I may well start divesting myself of all these expensive Hasselblad lenses on my return. I’m more suited to toy cameras.

The Backlight 26L with my final camera & lens selections

Posted in GAS | General Rants on Thursday, February 09, 2023 at 09:01 AM • PermalinkComments ()

Mountain Surprise

blinded by the light

in Travel , Monday, January 30, 2023

I’m afraid there hasn’t been a lot of activity in these parts recently. I have actually been doing a reasonable amount of photography, fitting it it in where I can, but I feel less and less motivated to write about it. Partly because maintaining a blog, or at least this one, often feels like trying to push water uphill, partly due to life bringing higher priorities, and partly there really doesn’t seem much point.

But anyway, I thought the following photo was worth sharing. I guess I really don’t need to point out that it is the Matterhorn, but the optical phenomenon- which I’m informed is called a “sun pillar” is something I’ve never seen there before, either in person or as a photo. It appeared as a faint trace and gradually became more intense for about 20 minutes, peaking pretty much as shown here, before vanishing abruptly as the sun set.

I guess the fairly low temperature, around -20C, and high cloud filtering the sun’s rays had something to do with it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a common phenomenon, that I’m just ignorant of, but it was sufficiently interesting to rouse a couple of nearby local alpine guides to enthusiastically snap away on their smartphones.

I was lucky to have a real camera with me. It was right at the end of an afternoon snowshoe tour, where I wanted to try out my recently acquired Olympus OM-1 in cold weather. I have to say I was very impressed with it. The high resolution EVF makes it significantly more enjoyable to use than its predecessors, and the battery life is quite remarkable. I actually got through 4 days with temperatures always below zero, usually below -10C, and dipping well below -20C at altitude. A single battery got me through all that. I would have needed 3 or 4 of the older E-M1 MkII or MkIII batteries in the same circumstances.

I also dragged myself out of bed with the hope of getting a good shot of sunrise on the Matterhorn. The skies were clear, but a bit too clear to get anything really spectacular. Never mind, the later sun pillar made up for that.

By the way, for anybody trying to access this site on a smartphone, all I can say is “sorry”. I got shamed into moving to an adaptive design by Andrea Bianco some time ago. Probably he meant me to actually complete it, not stop half way. But while I have built an adaptive framework, after a fashion, I have not yet found the time to conceive and implement a mobile / smartphone adaptation. So it’s a disaster area. Sorry.



Posted in Travel on Monday, January 30, 2023 at 01:23 PM • PermalinkComments (2)
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