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to sleep…

in General Rants , Tuesday, November 23, 2021

I haven’t written much here recently. Indeed, I haven’t done much worth writing about, in the context of this blog. Yesterday however I did have the chance to reflect as I laid back in the dentists chair and suffered an hour of scheduled routine maintenance (no major issues discovered), and during that time I came up with several erudite, fascinating posts and pretty much sketched them out in my head.

Naturally, I’ve completely forgotten what they were.

But I really feel I should write something, so here we go - a totally unfocused ramble, let’s see what comes out.

Actually I have spent quite some time on my experimental migration to Squarespace, copying over as much content as possible, and working on the structure. I’m still not all that convinced I want to do this, as Squarespace gives me a lot less freedom of choice - which is possibly as much of a plus as a minus - but also once set up clearly requires far, far less time to manage. But certainly it will be a less personal, less idiosyncratic of presenting myself on the web.

I haven’t done a lot of active photography. First of all, time has been a scarce resource. But when time did permit, the weather, oscillating between either constant heavy rainfall or photographer-hostile clear blue sky, did not play along. When the weather was actually attractive, I was otherwise engaged. So that’s another autumn wiped out.

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Blue Sky - a day out with the Hasselblad

On the other hand I have spent some time constructively revisiting my archives, and, if not finding lost gems, at least finding some stuff which was more interesting than I expected. In order to lose gems, I’d have to have some in the first place. This in turn led me to carry out some long-needed updates to some software I use ... which in turn pushed me to take a huge risk and update to macOS Monterey.  I’d had a disastrous experience with its predecessor, Big Sur, from which I made a panicked retreat to the the oasis of stability, Mojave. But thanks to the ongoing need Apple has to rake more and more money into its coffers, and be driven almost entirely by Marketing, “old” versions of operating systems get ever shorter lives, and customers are forced into largely pointless upgrades built ever-declining standard of software engineering and testing. Many would say Saint Steve would be rotating in his grave. I doubt it. Under the superficiality, he was at least as much focused on raking in money as his successors.

Anyway, so far - 5 days in - macOS Monterey is more or less behaving itself. Most of the time.

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Blue Sky - a day out with the Hasselblad

Of course with all this faffing about, inevitably thoughts turn to Gear Acquisition / De-Acquistion.  Before leaving for Lofoten back in August, I did manage to convince myself that the new Olympus 8-25mm wide angle zoom would suit me more than the Olympus 7-14mm wide angle zoom I’ve had for ages. However the order I put in fell through and the lens could not be delivered in time. Somehow though I managed to end up placing another order, and in mid-September the lens turned up.  Eventually I had to try it out. It’s not bad at all, and has the major advantage that normal filters can be used on it, unlike the 7-14.  The loss of one stop (f/4 to f/2.8) is not very material for a wide angle lens, so I ended up selling the 7-14, at a fair price.  Of course, it is a smidgeon less wide, but that will hopefully mean slightly less shots with my feet or a tripod leg in the frame.

Still, I’ve got far too many lenses.

And cameras, but we’ll get to that later.

Next, along came the announcement of the new Olympus OM Systems 20mm f/4 PRO lens. I was mesmerised. In particular as OM Systems seem to have a slightly better idea of how to market to old men than Olympus did. Sucks for various other (boring) old men getting thrown off of their “Olympus Visionary” perches, but that’s progress for you. Anyway, initially I was just a hop and a skip away from clicking on PREORDER NOW, but somehow I held back. I remembered several things: 1, the old Panasonic 20mm lens that was an absolute must-have in the early days of Micro Four Thirds never much appealed to me. I bought it, and sold it. I already have two fast 17mm Olympus lenses, the f/1.8 and f/1.2. I actually had the f/1.2 on sale, but I pulled the auction. And I also spent a little while reacquainting myself with the 17mm f/1.8, one of my all time favourites. Conclusion, I really do not need this new 20mm f/4. Then again, when has that ever stopped me?

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Who needs a 20mm f/1.4 when you have a 17mm f/1.8 ?

Before that there was another burst of GAS with the announcement of the Ricoh GRIIIx with a 40mm equivalent lens - coincidentally the same as the above-mentioned OM 20mm. I’ve been a huge fan of the Ricoh GR cameras since they first came on the market in the dark days of film, but always found the 28mm field of view a bit limiting. The new 40mm FoV is far closer to my favoured 35mm, so this was really a must have. Ok, the price is a little off-putting. But anyway I ordered one, in early October, with a promised delivery in 5 days. Those 5 days turned to 10 days, then to “er, we’ll get back to you on that”, so I cancelled my order. Apparently it should be available in January. I assume they mean 2022.

I did finally manage to soothe my bursting wallet with an opportunistic lunge at a “refurbished” (i.e. new, but the box is a bit scuffed) Olympus E-M5 MkIII at a shockingly low price. So far I’m very pleased with it; despite the outcry that it is made of, shock, horror “plastic” (polycarbonate actually) it feels just as good as my all metal MkII (which moves into a backup role). I would say that some buttons are rather cramped on the MkIII compared to the MkII, but the move to a layout more consistent with the E-M1 MkIII is very welcome.

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First ever photo with my new Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III

And finally, back to the elephant in the corner of my room - the Hasselblad X1DII. Without a doubt it is a beautiful piece of engineering and ergonomic design, which delivers technically fantastic results. But so far I cannot honestly say it is fun to use. It still leaves me perplexed, and I really cannot think of one memorable photo I’ve taken with it. Technically impressive photos, yes, but memorable as photos, not really. I think it is down to the lenses. They are certainly absolute top level in terms of sharpness, rendition, colour, all of those “image quality” things. But they have nothing to some key characteristics of the Olympus lenses, for example close focussing. Sometimes it feels like closest focussing distance should be measured in kilometres. And of course they are very expensive, generally about twice the price of the nearest competitor, Fuji.  I do actually think that the Hasselblad system is in general superior to the Fuji - if I give up the Hasselblad, it would not be to go to the Fuji MF system, just to “retreat” to Olympus.  I guess a fundamental issue is that I had in mind some very specific travel destinations which would justify medium format, and the way the world has turned it seems those are destinations I’ll never reach.

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...perchance to dream

 

 

Take my advice…

...don’t listen to me

in General Rants , Tuesday, August 03, 2021

One thing I don’t think I ever done on this blog is to give any kind of advice on photography, or attempt to do what is generally passed off as “teaching”. It isn’t that I jealously hoard any knowledge I may have - in other spheres of life I am quite extensively involved in mentoring and passing on know-how - it is just that I am not aware of anything I have worthy of sharing. I don’t have any presets to sell you, in fact I don’t have any at all. I can’t tell you how to do composition. Or indeed exposure. I don’t have sponsored videos to share, or any kind of lessons to hawk. And even if I did, my aversion to social media, or indeed social anything, would be a bit of a blocker.

It works both ways: apart from some good advice from 2 or 3 people, any third party expertise which comes my way generally goes in one ear and out of the other (for example, “don’t put too many photos on your web site”). The same goes for “how to” books: I’ve certainly read plenty, enough to realise that pretty much all of them repeat the exact same basics, and to discover that generally I disagree with the remaining 10%.

I wish I did have more to share, maybe if that was the case I’d be a wildly successful influencer running fabulous workshops all over the world. But then I wouldn’t have time to watch YouTube channels.

However, I am conscious of very slowly developing, or perhaps more accurately settling, into a personal style. I’m also conscious that this style has come about by absorbing and adapting the work of other photographers through their books. Conversely, other photography books, which I may very well like as books, have helped by giving me a clear idea of where I actually do not want to go.

So that’s all I can offer: my advice is to look at and absorb as much photography, and indeed representative art, as you can, to feed your internal neural network, and steer you towards a path you will find satisfying. For me, books, rather than Instagram or Youtube or whatever work, but those can work as well. Don’t directly attempt to copy other’s work, but rather try react to it somehow passively and in your own specific way. Oh, and don’t chase likes, followers and cheap praise - all might give you a transient ego boost, but long term they mean nothing.

Books that I can recognise as having a significant influence on my own work include Arc & Line by Charlie Waite, The Antarctic From The Circle to The Pole by Stuart Klipper, Accommodating Nature by Frank Gohlke, Icelandic Wilderness by Daniel Bergman, Avanna by Tiina Itkonen, and pretty much everything by Otto Olaf Becker. Some notable books which I’ve reacted against (and I emphasise, that’s not a criticism of those books) include A Retrospective by William Neil, and Seven by David DuChemin. But that’s just me, hopefully everybody else will have a different combination, otherwise we’ll all end doing identical work.

Ok, that’s it. Back to YouTube.

 

A ecumenical matter

Thou Shalt Shoot Film

in General Rants , Monday, July 26, 2021

Recently, one of my millions of dedicated, enthusiastic followers sent me a link to an article on a theology professor discovering that his life was being slowed down by film.  I had no idea that film has now graduated to becoming an ecumenical matter, but so be it.

I’m not a regular reader of the National Catholic Reporter, and I had no idea Film v. Digital had ascended to such lofty realms. It does seem they’re just getting started though, as the points presented have, well, to be fair, been covered somewhat extensively elsewhere.

I’m a bit perplexed by the Teaching that “(film) also challenges the photographer to cultivate a spirit of hope, because you will not know for a while whether what you had hoped to accomplish in your framing, focus and exposure will result in a successful image”. More like a feeling of dread, as far as I’m concerned. Like, “did I remember to take the lens cap off?”. Digital, rather, encourages in me a spirit of hope, as the small screen on the back of the camera is sufficiently saturated and low resolution that it allows me to believe that I actually have a shot with great colour and perfect focus ... until I see it on my computer screen. Fortunately nobody on Flickr knows the difference either.

Of course, we inevitably get to Film Slows You Down.  As the Lord tells us, Thou Shall Not Apply Undue Haste In Thine Film Photography (Paul’s Letter to the Batley & Spen Camera Club). This may well be the case (although not so much if you’ve got a Canon EOS 1v), but it isn’t always such a good thing. Tell Ansel Adams that it was absolutely great that he was slowed down by film while frantically trying to capture the moon rising over Hernandez. Tell Robert Capa that using film at Omaha Beach had “profound spiritual and practical implications”.

And who has not been slowed down way too much because they couldn’t find anything to photograph and therefore couldn’t finish the roll?

Oh, it’s easy to mock, isn’t it? Just as well, otherwise I’d have very little material. I don’t really have any view on whether or not photography brings you Closer To God, although since one of the two doesn’t exist, it does seem a bit far-fetched.  But the article itself just once again recycles all the tired tropes about film, conflates them with photography in general, and appears to exist only to attempt to cast what seems to be a guilty pleasure (a Franciscan friar fiddling with cameras!) as a spiritual revelation. It’s certainly an original take on justifying Gear Acquisition Syndrome!

 

Them ‘ol stagnation blues

meanwhile, at the crossroads

in General Rants , Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Life goes on, and one sure thing is that my virtual stack of photos grows ever higher. Unfortunately, my satisfaction with said stack only diminishes. I’ve been doing photography as my main pastime for over 20 years, and I have to admit that I’ve got little to show for it.  I have very few photos I find rewarding, and I fear that if I ever hit a peak, it was well in the past and not in the future. And not very high.

Why is this? Well, leaving aside any lack of skill, recently I’ve come to realise that in one way or another, good photos tell a story. This is nothing new, clearly. But it implies that to take a good photo, you need to have a story to tell, or something to express related to the photo. And I don’t really have that, very often. I’m not sure many others do, although many claim to, but I would imagine that if the vast majority of my photos express anything at all, it’s a sense of total detachment. I’m sure somebody, I can’t find who, is quoted as saying “to be a more interesting photographer, become a more interesting person”. A useful instruction, but one I’m afraid I have not managed to complete.

Technically I still always manage to get stuff wrong. The focus is off, or in the wrong place, the depth of field is badly chosen, the composition is insipid or flawed. Even (especially) when presented with fantastic opportunities, I screw up.

Every now and then, I think I’ve actually got something good, but then I compare it against a random selection of other people’s work, and it just looks sad. Every day I see beautiful photography scrolling past on Twitter and Facebook, seemingly effortless created, and every now and then I get tempted to join in, but soon regret it.

I’ve read countless books, studied countless monographs, even watched YouTube videos (ok, only when I was bored), but none of it sinks in.

There’s just something missing. I go through the motions, I present a perfect facade of being a photographer, but I cannot for the life of me create a convincing photograph, and I’m more and more accepting that this will never change.

My mother in law thinks I’m “Pro Level” though. Bless her :-)

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A completely pointless photograph, a few days ago

 

Dunbloggin?

burn notice

in General Rants , Tuesday, May 19, 2020

All my pictures are falling
From the wall where I placed them yesterday
The world is turning
I hope it don’t turn away

Many, many years I started up this blog with the idea of sharing thoughts and ideas with the wider world. Originally it was part photography, part generic, but the generic part withered away over the years. It got bolted on to a pre-existing hand built photo gallery site, itself the descendant of a site which first saw the light of day in the mid 1990s.

Well, it didn’t work. Communication has always largely been one way. Traffic has fluctuated a bit but generally crawls along at about 20 visitors per day, none of whom remain for much more than 1 minute. So either my navigation design is exceptionally bad, or the content is extremely uninteresting.

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Daily visitors since the start of the year. No idea why it peaked on my birthday

Speaking of content, for the blog it roughly splits into posts on travel, a bit of photo geekery, hardware & software review, photo book reviews and ill-advised opinion pieces. The category that vastly dominates in visitor statistics is of course hardware & software reviews (and associated rants, my short frank exchange of views with Ed Hamrick of Vuescan still gets a ridiculous share of hits). The category I prefer, photo book reviews, gets no interest at all.

And speaking of no interest, there is no denying that the stats say that the very least interesting part of the whole website is my photography. In the rankings since January, the highest rated photography page is in position 24, with 38 views. The Photo Diary section, which I put a lot of effort into, has, over 21 entries, received 0 comments. Thanks, fellow photographers! Of course, adopting Disqus might not have been an ideal strategy, but at least it saved me from the filth of spam I had to wade through before.

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The Swiss have the longest attention span. Or maybe they read slower.

I guess I’m a bit of a throwback to the early days of the web, where we had webrings and stuff and people liked to help each other out while riding their unicorns over endless fields of optimism. According to Wouter Brandsma, who I’ve been following on and off for many years, the blogging community is also close to becoming thing of the past. He may well be right.

Nevertheless, I have always had this idea of a community of peers in the back of my mind, so when I’ve promoted other photographers over the years, I’ve not done it with any solid expectation of a returned favour, but with the vague idea of building relationships. But it would have been nice to just sometimes get a mention, to boost my page views a bit, even from people claiming to be friends. Of course many of these are “friends” only when they’re selling something, and their promises are pure vapour. Possibly they consider that linking to me would devalue their brand? [I did have a couple of paragraphs cheerfully ripping into a number of specific individuals here, but finally decided there’s no point. They don’t read my blog and even if they did they’d assume I meant somebody else].

But surely some people have tried to push some of their audience my way? Well, of course. Lots of them. There’s Andrew Molitor, and … er … that’s it. Well, quality trumps quantity. And there are others who have kindly and constructively encouraged me behind the scenes. I won’t name them, as it wasn’t public, it didn’t really arise from this web site, and they generally don’t have much of a web presence. I suppose the web isn’t very topographic.

So, what next? Obviously I’ll need to buy me some new fake friends, but my idea is to shut down this expensive to maintain and time consuming to run website and replace it with some image galleries on some cookie cutter system. Probably Adobe Portfolio, since I already pay for it. I can’t deny that with my current cobbled together site, photos are perhaps not presented in the best light.

Then once that’s done I can shut the world out.

Though my problems are meaningless
That don’t make them go away
I need a crowd of people
But I can’t face them day-to-day

 
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