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photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

The Future of this website

I think we’ve been here before…

in Site Admin , Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Just a short note to whoever might be interested: this website runs on a CMS called Expression Engine. Way back when I first built it, it seemed like a good idea, and there was considerable synergy between my working life and my real life. More than 10 years ago I was creating and maintaining sites and services running not only on Expression Engine, but also Movable Type, Wordpress, and, Lord help me, Facebook.

Those days are gone.

Expression Engine is quite complex, and my tired, lazy old brain has quite a job keeping up with it. On top of that, as far as the actual front end is concerned, it is fully DIY, which means I need to keep up with HTML, Javascript (or whatever it is called these days), CSS and the latest Kool frameworks. Adding in my chronic inability to keep things simple, it just becomes too much. There are plenty of rough edges and outright defects in the current version, and of course not even a hint of a mobile-friendly version. And apart from that, maintaining my own virtual server is a pain.

And I just can’t be bothered with all this anymore. I want to spend what time I’ve got on content.

So, I’m experimenting with a completely new implementation on Squarespace, where most of the plumbing is handled behind the scenes, and mobile versions are created automatically. Of course this gives hand in hand with a certain loss of freedom, but that in turn might help to keep me on the rails.

It’s not going to happen straightaway, in fact I haven’t even decided if it will happen at all, but it is more likely than not.  If it does, much of the 18 years of blog archive will go away. I can’t transfer it automatically, so just some selected posts, including probably the last 2 years or so, will get copied over.

One decision I have made, following feedback and general evolution, is to pull the plug on Disqus Comments.  Sadly, since the EE-Disqus synchronisation plugin stopped working some time back, this means that comments made between around April 2019 and now have vanished. I will to see if I can copy them over, but since I don’t actually own other people’s comments, that might be a bit tricky.

On the upside, I have reinstated native comments, including anonymous comments. So feel free to give that a try. Hopefully spam protection works better with EE v6 than it did with EE v2…

 

Chasing Awe, with Gavin Hardcastle

Not your average photobook

in Book Reviews , Friday, October 08, 2021

I’m not a huge consumer of YouTube videos. At least, I wasn’t, until the universe flipped and I had more couch time than I knew what to do with. Initially YouTube was a rabbit hole of ancient music videos and British comedy shows, but gradually I became aware of photography channels. Now, any YouTuber who starts off with “Hey Everybody” is going to get cut off before he’s finished saying “..s’up???” (and it always, always he). And anybody droning on about gear has usually lost me before he (ditto) starts. But gradually I did discover a few photography channels worth watching, at least for a while. And thanks to YouTube’s algorithms, I eventually became aware of some apparently very strange videos. And so unwittingly I stumbled into the the weird world of Gavin Hardcastle, aka Fototripper.

You’ll have to see for yourself. It is impossible to describe the blend of comedy, pathos, romantic intrigue, bitter rivalry, catastrophe and arresting photography that blends into a Fototripper video. In the infinite world of the interwebs I suppose there must be something else like it, but I’ve certainly never seen it.

Gavin manages the balancing act of taking his photography very seriously, while not taking himself seriously at all. It wouldn’t work unless his photography was excellent, but it does, and it is. He makes hours of intricately plotted and beautifully produced entertainment on YouTube absolutely free, so I felt it only fair to give something back and buy his book (this idea of giving something back is, I know, weird, and will doubtless be the ruin of me, but so be it).

In keeping with everything else, this book, “Chasing Awe with Gavin Hardcastle” is like nothing else I have ever seen. I can imagine some of the more straight-laced landscape photography community (i.e 99% of them) spluttering their Theakston’s Old Peculier* all over their 4x5 field cameras at the first page, and the average photobook seller having a coronary. Let’s say Gavin doesn’t entirely follow the Rules of Photo Monographs.

Each photo is presented together with a narrative describing how it was arrived at, and by that I mean more how he arrived more or less one piece on the spot, rather than some dry technical process description. Of course this could also easily descend into Heroic Frozen Beard Nothing To Eat For 45 Days Except My Boot Leather Just To Get One Photo standard pattern, but…. no, it doesn’t do that either. It is warts and all, with various bodily functions thrown in. It’s often hilarious, and always compulsive reading.  And guess what, the irreverent style doesn’t in any way detract from the photographs.  There is actually a short description of capture and processing details with each photo, but these are comfortably banished to their own little section. I’m sure they’re important for some people, but I really couldn’t care less.

Well, that’s not entirely true: I am slightly astonished at the complex processing Gavin goes through with most photos, with multiple exposures of multiple focus points and intricate layering and masking to arrive at an end result. I’ve tried to get into this myself, half-heartedly, after all, I know the tools pretty well, but almost always I find I can get to where I want to with a few minutes work on a single frame. Maybe I’m lazy, maybe I’m stuck in a rut, maybe I’m just a crap photographer… maybe it’s just fine that we all have our own ways of doing things.  Then again, Gavin is famous and I’m not…

I buy photo books because I’m interested in them, not to reinforce some kind of confirmation bias, which is another way of saying that I’m not only interested in photography which drives in the same lane as my own. I’m pretty sure that if I visited the same locations at the same time as Gavin has, I would end up with quite different photos. So as a reader and viewer, I enjoy and appreciated the photos in “Chasing Awe”, but as a photographer, generally I’m looking for something else. I can also freely admit that any photos I did take at the same time and place would almost certainly be of interest to few people except me!

There are a few light criticisms I could make of the book. First of all, the layout and design - frankly it could be a bit better. In particular the typeface is strangely large. Personally I’ve found that when creating any kind of print publication digitally (say in InDesign or whatever), font sizes that look perfectly fine on screen always look too large in print.  This in turn tends to set the photos in a slightly reduced light. They deserve better. There are a few minor typos too, but, well, who am I to criticise? Personally I can’t write a single sentence without needing about 5 corrections.

This is all minor stuff, but nevertheless, possibly a consultation with a book designer could be a good idea for the hopefully forthcoming followup.

Also, this is not a criticism per se, but the book really is closely linked to the YouTube channel, both frequently cross-referencing each other, and I’m not sure it would be particularly attractive to a reader unfamiliar with the channel. Indeed, I’m not sure such a prospective reader would be willing to pay the quite high price. It would be nice to see some kind of follow-up in a more classic form, similar perhaps to “Quiet Light” by Gavin’s frequent YouTube collaborator, Adam Gibbs (who also contributes an in-theme foreword here).  But then again…

I ordered “Chasing Awe with Gavin Hardcastle”, and it took its time to cross the Atlantic by (sea)snail mail. But I devoured it from end to end within 6 hours of it being delivered. It’s a fun read, showcases great photography, has a real feelgood atmosphere, and all in all is breath of fresh air. Obviously, highly recomended.


*I’ve been gone a long time. Is that still a thing?

 

Ricoh Revival

old camera, new tricks

in Ricoh , Tuesday, October 05, 2021

I’ve been using Ricoh GR cameras since 1997. In fact, the Ricoh GR1 was the first camera I bought new*, and had a significant part to play in my starting to take photography seriously. Since then, I’ve always owned a Ricoh GR of one kind or another, although my use of them goes in peaks and troughs.

Two recent events revived my interest in the GR - or rather, reinforced it, it hadn’t lapsed that much - the announcement of the new GRIIIx, and an application called Ricoh Recipes. I’ll start with Ricoh Recipes: given the tagline “It’s like shooting film on your Ricoh GR” how could I resist?

Ricoh Recipes is an app for IOS and Android which presents various parameter configurations you can manually load into your GR, GR II or GR III, and register under one of the custom entries on the mode dial. The process is a bit finicky, but it works, and the results are quite interesting. I tried out the “Color Chrome” and “Monochrome Negative” for the GR II.

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Ricoh Recipes Color Chrome

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Ricoh Recipes Monochrome Negative

Well, they don’t turn bad photos into good photos, but they can inject a bit of a spark into mundane local scenes you’ve seen a thousand times before, and make using the camera more fun and interesting. And they’re free - although there is a paid level, it does some a bit expensive given that it is essentially just a “thank you” to the developer. Even more so as it is a subscription… had it been a one-off I’d have happily put some coins in the tip jar.

The second event was the out of the blue announcement of the Ricoh GRIIIx. This is a really big deal. With the sole exception of the film era GR21, all GR cameras have a 28mm-equivalent field of view. Asking for anything else was near-heresy to the cult of GR. But no more: the GRIIIx has a 40mm equivalent lens. In all other ways it is identical to the standard GRIII. My immediate reaction was to want to order one immediately, but unfortunately no sooner did it become available to order, some 3 weeks after the announcement, it became unavailable until further notice. December, perhaps. It could be ordered from the official Ricoh online store, provided you managed to register for, sign on to, navigate that arcane mess, but Switzerland is not a country known to Ricoh Imaging.

So I’ll have to wait. Actually, I don’t even own a GRIII, given that it hasn’t always been favourably compared to the GRII I already own, and misses what is for me a key GRII feature, the 4:3 crop mode. Maybe if and when I get a GRIIIx, if I like the handling I’ll get a standard GRIII to go with it.

While I’m here I may as well take the excuse to show a few photos. I’ve tried to find one I particularly like from each instance of a GR I’ve owned.

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Mumbai, India, 2001. Either from the GR1 or GR1s, and probably Provia 100F. Totally blurred of course, but I like the atmosphere.

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Venice, Italy, 2010 - GR Digital II

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West Iceland, 2012 - GR Digital IV

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Barichara, Colombia, 2014 - GR

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Lugano, Switzerland, 2021 - GR II


* some time in late 1997, I was looking for a compact camera to take to Venezuela. I already owned a secondhand Minox 35ML, but this had developed some issue, and I wasn’t confident it was reliable. So, and as far as I remember, I wanted to buy a new Minox. I found a small shop in Central London, in Picadilly Arcade, which sold Minox, and went there to buy one. Picadilly Arcade is a pretty upmarket location, I discovered, and probably the shop if it still existed today would cater for gold-plated Leica collector type customers. But in fact they were very friendly and helpful, and managed to talk me out of a Minox and into this new camera from a company I’d never heard of. So that’s how I became the owner of a new Ricoh GR1 Date, which went to Venezuela, survived being dropped in a tropical river, and gave many years of reliable service. It taught me the value of a good, or rather great, lens, also. A few years later I bought a second GR, a GR1s, from the same shop while visiting London. I don’t know what later became of them - another victim of online shopping, I imagine.

 

 

 

Hasselblad X1D, one year later

should it stay or should it go?

in Hasselblad , Wednesday, September 22, 2021

It seems like only yesterday that I confessed to the Mother Of All Gear Acquisition Syndrome lapses, my entry into the Hasselblad “X System” (to be precise the second coming of the X System, the title having previously been used for the XPan).

Actually it was more than a year ago, so it seems about time that I return to the confessional and explain how it’s all worked out. I now have an X1DII body and three lenses, a 45mm, 90mm, and most recently a 21mm. However it still feels like I’ve hardly used the camera. So far it has not been on any dedicated photo trips (well, neither have I), and has really only been used locally. I backed out of a trip to East Greenland due to general uncertainties, and a late decision to switch a cut-down Olympus kit for my holiday in Lofoten turned out to be a very good idea. So truly it hasn’t been put much to the test yet, and it certainly hasn’t yet earned its keep.

One thing is for sure, the X1D is a beautifully designed camera. It fits in the hand like a glove, and just like the Olympus E-M1, I can hold it by the grip, dangling it from my fingertips. The physical ergonomics are superb, and the menu and touchscreen interface are a masterclass in good design. The only thing missing for me is tilt/swivel screen. Of course it has been totally eclipsed by the Fuji digital medium format series: Fuji wins out on price, on range, and is very much boosted by the sect-like Fanclub the company has skilfully cultivated. There is very little online community to be found around the Hasselblad system. However, even in Fuji dominated discussions, every now and then comes a guilty admission that maybe the X1D (and 907x) is a little bit special.

I’m no reviewer or pixel peeper, but even I can see that the XCD lenses are absolutely stunning. Certainly the best I’ve ever used. They give a subtle sense of volume to photos, as well as almost infinite but somehow velvety sharpness.  The Olympus Pro lenses are also astonishingly sharp, but with a certain harshness. How much of that is down to the huge difference between the sensors, or to the lens design, I can’t say, but I suspect is is a bit of both.  Of course the XCD lenses are significantly heavier, and there is nothing to touch the flexibility of a lens like the Olympus 12-100 f/4.

Processing the photos is a little awkward: first of all there is a little weirdness with image formats. The camera saves raw files in “3FR” format. Although this format can be read by several applications, including Lightroom, DxO Photolab and Affinity Photo, it cannot directly be read by Hasselblad’s own Phocus. Phocus “imports” 3FR photos and converts them to FFF format. As far as I can tell the significant difference between 3FR and FFF is that Phocus edits are stored inside the FFF file (as opposed to the more common method of using a “sidecar” file). This does actually enable seamless transition between Phocus Mobile for iOS (excellent) and Phocus desktop (quirky). But since FFF files also embed Hasselblad lens corrections, they cannot be processed in DxO Photolab, as this application’s main USP is to apply its own lens corrections.  So it is all very confusing and clumsy. To add to this, Phocus has very, very restricted file import functionality, so very little custom renaming, no pattern-based folder selection, etc.  My solution is to use Phocus to import to a working folder, converting to FFF, then rename and move these FFF files into my standard structure using PhotoSupreme, then repoint Phocus at the relevant folder. It works, but I have to keep my wits about me. I then generally do exposure and some colour edits in Phocus, and finally export to 16bit TIFF, which in turn I may work on in CaptureOne and/or Photoshop. Actually, I find that X1D files generally need very little tweaking, which is a relief.

Note, you can bypass all this nonsense by working with 3FR files directly in Lightroom (or Photoshop), but I’ve stopped actively using Lightroom.

Reading through the few web forums where X1D owners gather (for example hasselbladdigitalforum.com or to a lesser and diminishing extent, getdipi.com), one could build an impression that the system suffers from severe reliability issues. Well, fingers crossed, I haven’t hit any such issues yet, and one does need to consider that satisfied customers rarely complain.  Again, I’m not sure why there is so little web activity around the system, but possibly it attracts photographers rather than camera geeks :-). If the activity on the secondhand market here in Switzerland is anything to go buy, there is an active community.  Secondhand XCD lenses sell fast, and at near retail price - unfortunately!

The X-System coexists well with my Olympus gear, especially as they both have my preferred 4:3 default aspect ratio. Obviously the Olympus kit is comfortable in a much wider range of scenarios, for example lightweight travel, but more importantly longer focal lengths.  The maximum native focal length so far available in the XCD lens range is 230mm, which works out at something like 178mm in full-frame equivalence terms.  Just the Olympus 12-100 gives me 200mm equivalent - and it’s a zoom. There is only one XCD zoom, a very limited 28-60mm equivalent, and it costs 1 arm + 1 leg. Another huge benefit on the Olympus side is of course stabilisation, although to be fair the Hasselblad leaf shutter approach means that hand holding is quite practical at fairly low shutter speeds. Having said all that, much as I enjoy and admire the results from the Olympus cameras, in terms of colour, tonal smoothness, and definition, output from the Hasselblad is quite clearly streets ahead.

Here is a fairly random selection of photos - they are largely all in the “learning the camera” category, as so far sadly I haven’t shot a coherent project with the X System. All photos are pretty much as shot, with minor adjustments in Phocus.

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I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not answerable to anybody but myself for my photography. The Hasselblad X System is insanely expensive for somebody on my income, but then again my peers spend far more money on cars that they buy mainly for enjoyment. And I did mostly fund it by selling off other stuff. I enjoy using the X1D, although I would prefer it if it had a little more flexibility, and I’m also longing for opportunities to really put it through it paces. So, for the foreseeable future, it stays.

 

 

 

Very late to the party

but it seems I didn’t miss much

in Photography , Friday, September 10, 2021

So I finally made it to one of today’s most over-exposed photographic locations, the Lofoten Islands. Very, very late to the party, but then again, most of the party seems to happen in the depths of winter, rather than late August / early September - which, in Lofoten, also apparently counts as winter.

It wasn’t a dedicated photo trip, more a combination of tourism and hiking with a camera thrown in. So I didn’t bring the big guns, just the Olympus E-M1 Mark III, the super-flexible 12-100 f/4 lens and the 7-14 wide angle zoom.  I did also bring the 17mm f/1.2 and the 14-150II, but used neither of these. The vast majority of the shots I took were with the 12-100.

The weather was miserable. Either frequent violent squalls with brief interludes, or unrelenting rain. These combined to create really unpleasant muddy hiking conditions, so the amount of hiking we did was less than planned.

The locals were also miserable. Oh, I get the whole stoic, grim, independent Nordic thing (although it sits uncomfortably with the huge SUVs, huger flat screen TVs, and hot dog convenience food culture which seems to dominate). You get a similar vibe in Iceland, but Norwegians, in particular in Lofoten, have taken it to a whole new level. They’ve also taken schadenfreude from the Germans, turbocharged it and made it entirely their own. The general attitude of disdain and extreme passive aggressiveness towards foreign tourists is not only unpleasant, but really rather sad and pathetic. Basically they want the money from the tourists with the inconvenience of actually having to do something to earn it. Of course, there are exceptions. But the more friendly people inevitably turn out to be foreigners, or from Oslo (which appears to amount to the same thing to the local trolls).

The landscape is impressive, but on a people level, I cannot think of a more unpleasant place I’ve been to.

The photography didn’t work out too well either. Apart from the weather, which really was not inspiring, I never got into much of a groove and ended up with only random snapshots.

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Grim up north

Certainly there is photography to be done in Lofoten, and actually I’m sure there must be some very good stuff I’ve never seen. But so much is dominated by the leaden clichés of winter shots taken from a bridge near Reine, featuring snowy peaks, stormy skies, and the inevitable red “rorbuer” fisherman’s huts, which are of course almost always nothing of the sort in 2021.  Rather they are expensive tourist accommodation, part of a rapidly encroaching Disneyland version of Lofoten which has switched fishing for cod to fishing for tourists, and can’t wait to get started again.

Pah!, basically.

Over the coming weeks or months I may try to salvage some kind of photo set, but right now I’m heading off to Puglia for some heat therapy.

 

 

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!

 

Photogallery: Provence

...mais oú est Brigitte Bardot? **

in Photography , Thursday, July 15, 2021

My ongoing lack of any significant new photography is having the side effect that I’m able to spend some time revisiting and evaluating my ridiculously large archive.  The latest result from this is a new gallery of photos from Provence (and adjacent regions) taken at various times between 2010 and 2019.

I’ve more or less restricted the selection to towns and villages. With one exception (below) they are devoid of people - this is the result of careful framing and patience, as the reality was quit different.  I’m not sure why I don’t like people… but I do like the photo below, and I remember being very careful with the framing and timing.

Everything is in colour. I know “street photography” is supposed to be in black and white, but I see the world in colour. I’m much more a follower of Harry Gruyaert or Franco Fontana, rather than HCB et al.

** elle est dans le mouton!

 

Provence

in Normal , Wednesday, July 14, 2021

 

The best camera is ...

... the one you don’t have with you

in Photography , Monday, July 12, 2021

My process of self deconstruction as a photographer continues. I’ve just returned from a two week vacation, on which I did not take a camera. Admittedly it was basically 2 weeks on beaches in the south of France, but still, that did include several days in the Camargue and a 5 days in St Tropez, both places I’ve roamed with a camera in the past. This time, I just didn’t feel like it.

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The Camargue, some years ago

Taking a camera seemed more like pain than pleasure. Having the camera (and associated paraphanalia) or indeed cameras, plural, would mean that I would constantly be looking for opportunities to use them, rather than just relax and let the world go by. I would not avoid stupidly taking a camera to the restaurant, “just in case”, and then having it hanging awkwardly off my shoulder all night.

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Also the Camargue, also some years ago

Of course it was hard letting go. Several times before leaving, I nearly lost my resolve. Indeed I even indulged in some tradition pre-vacation GAS, buying a new shoulder bag. It’s just over there, on the couch, with the sales tags still attached. Maybe it will come in handy one day. 

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Still the Camargue, not this year

But, I told myself, I’ve already got all the photos of St Tropez I’ll ever need. Les Saintes Marie De La Mer is actually not all that photogenic (really, it isn’t), and I’ve also got stacks of photos of the Camargue I haven’t even looked at properly. Any photos I would take would anyway be for an audience of precisely 1, so why bother.

For the first few hours, on the drive to France, I was practically in a state of panic, but pretty soon I got over it. I didn’t miss having a camera, in fact it was a genuinely liberating experience. Actually just before leaving I bought a new iPhone mini, but I didn’t even take that. I decided to wait until I returned to migrate from my old, battered and stumbling iPhone SE.

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Saint Tropez, some years ago

Fresh from this experience I’m just starting to feel a little more positive about photography, although I still haven’t discovered any purpose to it.

Leave your camera at home - you’ll see the world through new eyes.

 

 

Car Parks

pay and display

in Hasselblad , Monday, June 14, 2021

I’m still not really sure that the Hasselblad X1DII is for me. This is convoluted with the fact that I’m not really sure any more that photography in general is for me.  However, inspired by an article I read on the web, I decided to take the X1DII along with me on a shopping trip last Saturday, and dedicated half an hour so to taken a few photos.

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Needless to say, photos of car parks, whatever their compositional or other merits may be, are not going to be of much interest to anybody but photography nerds, either from the point of view of comparing resolution of brick walls, or from an appreciation of water towers or other concrete structures. Otherwise, anybody seeing this stuff (which is nobody, so far), is essentially going to be thinking, if not saying, WHY are you photographing that stuff???

Why indeed. I have no idea. I’m somehow attracted to these forms and the contrast they make with bits of nature poking into the frame.  I didn’t actually make a terribly good job of it, there was one shot in particular when I missed a key component - then again I doubt anybody else would notice. I have no “photo buddies” to chat about this stuff with either online or in the real world, and it really is getting to feel completely pointless.

As far as the X1DII is concerned, the impressive resolution obviously doesn’t really show through here. However, the delicacy in colour rendition and tone transitions I think does show, as does the dynamic resolution under the glare of midday sun. What you can’t see here - I hope - is the endless fight against sensor dust, which the X1DII is completely unprotected against. A far cry from the Olympus “Supersonic Wave Filter”.

This one’s from a different car park.

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The X1DII appears to be a solution looking for a problem as far as I’m concerned.

 

 

Oh, and another thing

bullshit red alert

in Unsolicited, rabid opinions , Thursday, June 03, 2021

You know, if there is one thing that the photo chattering classes go on about which really makes my blood boil, it is “storytelling”.  There’s a fine example here, if you can stomach the smug, pseudo-intellectual self-congratulatory vibe on that site.

With very few exceptions, in my opinion, single, still photographs cannot “tell stories”. One standout exception I could think of is Bill Anders’ “Earthrise” photo. But even that is not telling a story, rather it is intensely evocative. Elaborately staged photos, on the lines of Crewdson, can just about tell stories, but there it is more a case of hinting at a story, where the audience’s imagination is left to fill in the gaps. In a wider context, representational art can also hint at a story, or refer to a known story. But can a painting or a sculpture actually tell a story, any more than a photo?  I think not.

A sequence of photos might tell a story (but not a sequence of random snaps in London as in the linked article), but that’s sliding towards movie territory. Movies and naturally the written or spoken word can tell stories (astounding revelation, I know).

But all these identikit “street” photographers banging on so earnestly about being “storytellers”, when all they are doing is just constructing some pseudo-artistic babble to justify buying another (Fuji) camera…. Well, I’d say “words fail me” although obviously they haven’t.

Why is simply enjoying taking photos not enough for everybody? Why do people taking photos of mountains decide they have to be “Fine Artists”, and why do people taking photos of random stuff in cities insist of being “Storytellers”? Obviously photography can be art, but just saying it is isn’t enough.

Honestly, the bullshit level is gone way beyond critical.

 

Svalbard Revisited

arctic dreams

in Photography , Monday, May 17, 2021

I visited Svalbard with a small group of friends back in 2010. I took along with me a camera for which I have few fond memories, the Olympus E-3. Even though this travelled all around the world with me, North to South, I never really developed much of a relationship with it. It may actually have been defective, certainly the sensor cleaning was very ineffective. It’s predecessor (Olympus E-1) was far nicer to use, and its successor (E-5) far better even if physically near identical. But anyway, the best camera is the one you have with you, so it is what it is.

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The photos are a mere 10 Megapixels, but that’s good enough for screen and small prints. Actually I have a Super-A3 print hanging above my desk, and it certainly doesn’t lack resolution. Re-visting and reprocessing everything in Capture One allows me to get closer to the look I prefer than in Lightroom, thanks to the stronger separation Capture One allows between contrast and saturation (Photoshop allows the same control, but I’m too lazy to go there these days).

I’ve completely refreshed my Svalbard gallery with a new set of 18 photos drawn from 570 re-edits. On any given day I’d probably come up with a different set, it just depends on my mood.

Speaking of which, the photo below pretty much conveys my current state of mind.

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There’s a strong chance that this will be my last real post on this blog. I don’t have much left to say, and even if I did, it would be 20 years too late. I’ve also reached a point where what remains of my dwindling interest in my own photography lies in exploring and excavating my archive. At the moment I have really no interest in taking any more photos.

 

Languishing

andrà tutto bene?

in Off Topic , Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Around about 13 months ago the first lockdown started in my area. It was drastic and shocking. People where fearful of stepping outside, and given that we’re closely bordering on the hot spots of Northern Italy that wasn’t so surprising. Things gradually tailed off, until towards late summer we could pretend that everything was close to normal. But it wasn’t. The virus came back from its beach holidays revitalised and ready to go, and since October we have been in a more or permanent twiglight zone of ever present but ever shifting restrictions. Even as the vaccination stumbled into existence, stalled, and stumbled again, rules on wearing masks outdoors were introduced. Low level paranoia is ever present. And social agression is growing.

Initially at least this didn’t have too great an effect on me. I’m used to, even comfortable with, being shall we say socially self-sufficient. It was an opportunity to get things done in the house in various shapes and forms. I could spend far more time on working through my photo archives. And the fact that we had very luckily completed a lengthy trip to Patagonia and Antarctica just weeks before the pandemic hit helped a lot.

But time dragged on. And on. I initially got more involved in social media, but after 6 months or soon I had to bail out of Facebook, and I haven’t opened Twitter for several months. I’ve vapourised Whats App - not that I ever got on with it. My only online connectivity now is via email and a few forums. I discovered this a few weeks ago: Not depressed or flourishing? How languishing defines modern life | Mental health | The Guardian. Aparently it’s been doing the rounds. Now I’ve got a name for my malaise.

I’ve always had issues with the competitive nature of social media, especially where photographers are involved, and especially on Twitter I got profoundly depressed with the constant flow of masterpieces presented as “just a snapshot from today’s morning stroll”. Perhaps to some it functions as a support community, but to me there was strong sense of becoming more and more an outsider. Adding in the endless stream of people demonstrating how creative they are in lockdown pushed to dread Twitter. The all-pervasive mindless Americans with their bloody Trump didn’t help either (at least that’s stopped. For now.)

The downward spiral made me less and less productive, in all spheres of life. I could not, and still cannot pick up a camera without really pushing myself. There are a million things I could write blog posts about, but I haven’t got the energy to get off the couch. I feel a lot better when I’m outside, but I have to spend most of my time in the basement in front of a computer screen talking to people half a planet away. And when it comes to going outside, I have to get dragged kicking and screaming off the couch. Physically and mentally I’m going downhill fast. I find myself starting online fights in the day job just to feel something, anything. Probably not a good career move.

And my work space has invaded my creative space, killing off that particular refuge.

A few weeks back I started to get interested in planning a trip maybe in Autumn, but finally stopped because just the thought of having to book flights, having to pack, get up (off the couch) and go to airport is just overwhelming. I can’t do it.

Apart from my long-suffering partner I have almost nil significant human contact, either online or real world, with my efforts at improving this having completely broken down. Seems nobody much wants to hear from me. I guess we’re all in the same boat.

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Down in the cellar, where I’ve spent 90% of the last 14 months

Andra tutto bene.

 

 

 

True Colours

roses are blue, violets are green

in Post-processing , Friday, April 23, 2021

Colour is a funny thing.  Online forums and photo geek sites are full of self-appointed experts droning on about “color science” and generally talking total rubbish. For a start colour perception is both physically and culturally subjective. Our eyes are all slightly different, and our brains process signals in slightly different ways. The naming of colours is subjective in various ways. What I call dark orange somebody else might call red. And the colour I see with my eyes is often different to the colour I see on my camera or computer screen. And let’s not even get into prints.

So, buying a Hasselblad X1DII because it captures “more accurate colour” was possibly not the best idea I’ve ever had. Of course, Hasselblad has its vaunted “Hasselblad Natural Colour Solution”, which “was developed for serious users who demand the utmost colour accuracy”. But accurate in which sense? Maybe to a reference colour chart, which is all well and good, but it doesn’t help me much if I’m partially colour blind (I don’t believe I am, but who knows?)

Generally I don’t have too much issue with colour accuracy. In fact I’m more concerned with colour gradation. But there is one area which has always intrigued me, which is how cameras see flower colour.

Way back I had big issues trying to photograph poppies with my Olympus E-1, reported in one of my earlier posts on this site. Over time I’ve noticed that colours that to me visually are in the pink to magenta range come out blue. Some shades of yellow, such as wild primula, come out almost white.

So, I thought I’d do a little test on my thriving wisteria. To my eyes, the flowers are shades of lilac and purple, with some white and yellow tints. But on screen, in photographs they tend to come out more blue. So, I thought I’d see what the Hasselblad Natural Colour Solution would make of this. I lined the X1DII up on a firm tripod, then switching it for the 3 other cameras I use, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk3, the Ricoh GR II, and the Sigma dp0. I used the 45mm f/3.5 lens on the X1DII, and the 17mm f/1.2 on the Olympus, these both closely approximating 35mm in reference terms. The GR has a fixed lens approximating 28mm, and the Sigma’s lens approximates 21mm.  I’m only really interested in colour here.  So, I loaded all 4 into CaptureOne, with minimal processing (the Sigma and Hasselblad images were converted to 16 bit TIFF via their respective proprietary applications. For the Ricoh and Sigma I tweaked zoom levels to get a rough match.

Wisteria test

Top row: Ricoh, Sigma. Bottom row: Olympus, Hasselblad

Well, the results are a bit disturbing. Of course you can’t really see a lot here, but from my subjective standpoint the best of the bunch at rendering the flower colours is actually the Olympus. The Hasselblad is close, but particularly in lighter areas in shifts towards blue (see on the left, and top right). The Ricoh is not bad, but a little under-saturated. The Sigma is in a world of its own, although if you look a detail rather than colour, it makes things a little awkward for the Hasselblad.

Maybe my eye/brain combination has some trouble distinguishing certain shades of blue? I don’t know, but on this unscientific and very specific sample, the Hasselblad Natural Colour Solution doesn’t score a home run.

 

Strange Weather

A propos nothing

in Travel , Wednesday, April 21, 2021

With external borders more or less closed, this part of Switzerland has turned into pretty much the whole country’s holiday destination. But the famed “Ticino mediterranean climate” is not playing along.

For example rather than the tranquil sun-kissed beaches the tourists might have been hoping for, instead Lago Maggiore has been savaged by strong glacial winds, ending up with scenes more reminiscent of the wild north than of the sunny south.

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I suppose it’s Nature’s Way of telling us to stay indoors. And wear a mask.

 

Levadas: a new gallery

in Photography , Saturday, April 17, 2021

I’ve just published a new photo gallery, “Madeira: Levadas”. This one has been a long time coming. I’ve reprocessed all the photos at least twice, in different applications. This final selection comes from Capture One, and some of the photos benefit from the new ProStandard profile for Olympus E-M1 Mk II, which makes a noticeable positive difference.

Levada photo


To quote myself:

“Madeira was a long-standing fascination for me, but I never really new why. After finally visiting for the first (and second) time in 2019, I now know. The dramatic landscape criss-crossed by epic artificial water channels - the “levadas” - hand carved out of vertical precipices and disappearing into mysterious tunnels is like no other. It isn’t easy to capture the feelings that exploring the levadas gives in a photograph, but here is my attempt so far. And Madeira has plenty more to offer. I’m amazed that it isn’t up there with Iceland as an over-exploited destination. but I’m relieved it isn’t.”

 

Madeira: Levadas

in Normal , Friday, April 16, 2021

 

Sebastian Copeland - A Global Warning

is “autohagiography” a word?

in Book Reviews , Monday, March 29, 2021

I’m not quite sure how to approach this book review. Mainly because I’m not quite sure what drove its publication. Sebastian Copeland has been publishing eco-activist photography books about polar regions for a while now: “Antarctica, The Global Warning”, foreword by Mikhail Gorbachev, “Antarctica, a Call To Action”, foreword by Orlando Bloom, “Arctica, The Vanishing North”, foreword by Sir Richard Branson, and now “Antarctica, The Waking Giant”, foreword by Leonardo di Caprio. Do you see a pattern emerging there?

Copeland cover

Let’s be clear, we need as much clear, informed, balanced and accessible information on the impact of climate change as we can get. But when this drifts towards self-glorification, I’m not sure it helps. For example, the various inventive ways which “explorers” find to establish firsts in Antarctica is getting a bit wearisome. Fine, it’s quite an accomplishment to be the first non-gender specific person to hop single-footed without airborne support (but with all kinds of emergency beacon…) from the Pole of Inaccessibility to Mawson’s Crack, but wrapping this up as some kind of environmental action is just mistaken - at best.

Sebastian Copeland is at least partly in that community. Apparently a fairly wealthy chap, he gets up to all sorts of escapades In The Name Of The Earth, roping in his famous buddies, and every now and then persuading a publisher (never the same one) to publish his latest selection of snapshots.

He may be on message, but he doesn’t put a lot of effort into broadcasting it. I recently watched a webinar he gave on “how can polar photography help bring about change?” under the umbrella of the Antarctica Now series run by the Shackleton clothing company. His presentation was shambolic. Even accepting that maybe some technical issues were out of his control, it was blatantly clear that he done zero preparation and was just winging it. He certainly did not address the topic of the presentation. He appeared to think it was enough that he had turned up. He’s a famous photographer, you see. The contrast with the effort put in by all other presenters in the week’s other presentations was stark.

So, ok, let’s ignore all that and look at the photography.  For a start, if you already happen to own “Antarctica, A Call To Action, Foreword By Orlando Bloom” (pub. 2009), then you may want to skip “Leonardo Di Caprio, The Waking Giant, Foreword By Antarctica” (pub. 2020), as it includes pretty much all the photos of the first book (itself a retread of “Antarctica, The Global Warning”, foreword by Mikhail Gorbachev.”). Since Copeland is one of the few photographers to have ventured well into the East Antarctic plateau, it would have been interesting to see what a photographer could make of that unique landscape. Unfortunately we get very few photos of this area. Admittedly it is not obviously photogenic, but is certainly open to interpretation and imagination, and presents a challenge one might expect a truly talented photographer to rise to. Instead what we get are largely tourist-level snaps of the Antarctic Peninsula (and, to emphasise, a large number of these previously published), clumsily over processed to make things seem darker and gloomier than they really are, to fit in with a political message (and I’m saying this as somebody who is 200% onboard with the political message). I don’t want to sound arrogant, but frankly I’ve got better photos of Antarctica than most of these in my rejects pile.

This is then all interspersed with various diatribes on eco-disaster and confused popular science. Sebastian Copeland presents himself as a “climate analyst” but his Wikipedia entry states “Copeland began his career in New York City directing music videos before moving on to commercial directing as well as professional photography with credits including fashion and advertising, album covers, and celebrities”. Whatever, his explanation in “Antarctica, The Waking Giant” of why ice is blue is the most convoluted I’ve ever seen. Here’s a snippet: “unlike air, which contains all three colours, water holds only green and blue hues”.

Of course, I’m just an opinionated bad tempered old git with a vastly exaggerated idea of my own knowledge and skills, but you might want to consider what Michael Reichmann had to say about “Antarctica, The Global Warning”, foreword by Mikhail Gorbachev.  And by the way, Gorby was pretty good at destroying the Soviet Union and abandoning its people with no backup plan, but I’m not sure of his credentials either as a photographer or a climate specialist. Finally, the list of testimonials on Copeland’s own website rather speaks for itself.

Copeland sos

The SOS image to my mind is particularly contrived as well as rather pointless. It puts me in mind of Spinal Tap’s stonehenge stage prop. The people involved in creating this montage were clearly somewhat at risk, needlessly so, and the fact that the whole contrivance is dwarfed by even this limited view of the landscape kind of negates the message. Reading Copeland’s account of how it was created, it’s difficult to understand given the complete failures of planning and logistics why he even discusses it. Of course, the same photo is repeated in all his books.

Don’t buy this book. It is not about Antarctica. It is not about climate change, It is about Sebastian Copeland’s need for acclaim. Probably he doesn’t get enough likes on Instagram.

To answer the question “how can polar photography help bring about change?”, I would rather refer you to the brilliant, softly spoken but hard hitting work of Olaf Otto Becker.  His beautiful photography - for example, “Above Zero”, from the Greenland Ice Sheet, is largely allowed to speak for itself. There was also real risk and danger involved in getting these photos, but Becker isn’t into self-glorification. Another commendable alternative would be Melting Away by Camille Seaman, to which the same criticism of over-darkened imagery could be applied, but at least is free of the whiff of hypocrisy and the self-glorification.

Persuading the world of the perils of climate change is a necessary and commendable activity. Grandstanding, attention grabbing and name dropping in order to build up a personal mythology, less so. That the photography all this is constructed around is at best unexceptional is neither here nor there in the wider scheme of things, but it certainly doesn’t help.

 

 

 

Award-Winning Extreme Photographer

I should probably run workshops

in Antarctica , Thursday, March 11, 2021

I’m fairly astonished to be writing this, but apparently I’ve been awarded first place in the Landscape category of the “2021 Capture the Extreme Photography Competition” run by the Shackleton expedition clothing company and Leica.

The photo is currently displayed on the front page of the Shackleton website:

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As well as presented in the competition results blog entry:

shackleton2

Obviously I would like to than the judges and sponsoring companies for their excellent taste :-).

Technically, the photo was shot on Olympus OM-D E-M1, at 1/400s, f/6.3 and ISO 1250. It was shot hand-held - the other hand being fully employed in keeping me attached to the ship - so despite the remarkable image stabilisation, it is not landscape photographer/OCD-grade sharp. I was able to rescue a little definition using the remarkable Deep Prime preprocessing in DxO Photolab 4.  The photo is one of a short series I managed to grab before the camera got drenched and I was forced to retreat inside. I should note the opportunity to grab this shot was thanks to my partner’s keen powers of observation.

The ship that provided the opportunity was the M/V Ortelius, operated by Oceanwide Expeditions. It was not one of our more rewarding trips to Antarctica - the whole voyage was rather chaotic - but eventually it clearly worth it. I can now call myself an “Award-Winning Extreme Photographer”.

 

 

 

Deep Forest

exploring the backlog

in Photography , Wednesday, March 03, 2021

One upside of being largely unable to travel outside of my immediate area for the last 6 months is that I have been able to spend some time reviewing and refining my huge backlog of photos, trying in some way to extract a portfolio.  Although even this gets tedious at times, and finding the motivation is not always easy, I have made some progress. Largely pushed by the Lightroom v10 debacle, I have now fully transitioned (back) to Capture One and I’m finding it very rewarding. There are some workflow drawbacks, but the degree of control in Capture One is vastly superior to that in Lightroom. This does mean that I have to process my Hasselblad raws in Phocus, but that’s not too much of an issue.

I’m also doing a lot of printing, concentrating on some specific photos.  The one presented here has been at the back of my mind for some time. As far as I’m concerned this is a 5 star photo. It shows the forest wall rising above a waterfall a little about the source of the Levada do Rei in Madeira.

Levada do Rei

The scale is perhaps not easy to understanding from this photo. It was taken from quite a high perspective, at 30mm equivalent focal length. Everything in the picture is bigger than it looks. It is easier to understand on a print, and I’ve printed this at A2 size.  I believe it is due to a slight lack of depth perception which comes from the micro Four Thirds sensor.  It was actually from my two trips to Madeira in 2019 that I started to find I was hitting the limits of m43, not only from this depth perception issue, but also in terms of far distance definition, and of dynamic range. This led me eventually to the Hasselblad X system as a complementary system.

Still, I enjoy this photo very much, and the Olympus E-M1MkII and 12-100 lens enabled me to take it. The Levada do Rei is quite an easy hike, but others are less so (the terrifying - but beautiful -  Levada do Norte for example), and I’m not sure even now if I’d take the Hasselblad system on such a trek.

 

#28 Down Home Town

, Monday, March 01, 2021

 

Going wide in Antarctica

a weird, but wonderful camera

in Sigma , Friday, February 19, 2021

I have written more than one post about my enthusiasm for the Sigma dp0 Quattro. Having just completed editing the series of photos I took with it in Antarctica little over a year ago, I felt like writing a bit more.

For me the dp0 plays the role of high quality digital panoramic camera, hence my describing it as the digital XPan, with a similar multi-aspect ratio, except in this case the “single frame” is actually has the same long-edge resolution as the panorama.

So, the dp0 panorama mode is a crop, but for me the fact that I get the crop (a rather unique 21:9) on screen means that I can compose in panoramic mode, rather that crop afterwards in post production, and that makes a big difference. It means I can set my creative brain to panoramic mode and not get distracted by elements outside of the composition. But it also means I can move the panoramic frame in post, which essentially gives me positive and negative shift control. Of course this is all artificial, and yes, to some extent you can do it with any camera, but there is a psychological aspect to this which makes me feel like I’m using a true panoramic camera and therefore helps me find appropriate compositions. It would be even better if Sigma introduced a firmware upgrade which allowed me to shift the frame up or down in-camera.

But apart from all the pseudo-panorama babble, what brings me back to the dp0 time and time again is the delicate colour and superfine detail that comes from the combination of the fixed 14mm lens and the Foveon sensor. I don’t really mean detail in the pixel-peeping sense: sure you zoom in to 100% and see amazing resolution. In fact you can go beyond, almost to 300% before things start to break down, but to my eyes there is something about the detail at any zoom level. It looks quite different to other digital cameras, even medium format.

The other thing about the dp0 is how light it is, especially given what it delivers. The unique shape makes it a little cumbersome to pack, not to mention a reliable attention grabber on the street, but generally it is very easy to carry around, and once you get used to its different way of doing things, quite a pleasure to use.

All of this adds up to a camera which very easily justifies its space in the very limited luggage one can carry to Antarctica, especially when sailing on a small boat.

I find that the dp0 - and indeed, the DP2 Merrill I used previously - responds very well to Antarctic light and atmospheric conditions. It excels at conveying the unreal sense of detail that you see in the landscape, where the lack of humidity and pollutants in the air allow even very distant scenes to appear crystal clear. Of course it does have drawbacks too: dynamic range is not great, and highlight clipping is generally completely irrecoverable. Highlights also clip very abruptly, which also places limitations on some types of long exposure where brighter areas can burn out in a very ugly way. Having said all that, when it works, it works like nothing else I’ve ever used.

I recently published a photo diary of dp0 shots - a mix of full frame and panoramic.  Here are a few more shots which I didn’t include there.

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To give some idea of the detail, the speck in the air to the left in the photo above is a helicopter. At 1:1 it looks like this:

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#27 Sigma Goes South

, Wednesday, February 10, 2021

 

Missing the shot

It’s not the end of the world

in Photography , Tuesday, February 02, 2021

I have just about finished reprocessing around 450 selected photos from last January in Antarctica (out of over 6000). I’m still unable to see the wood for trees, so I don’t really know if there are any genuinely good photos in there, but at least I am moving in the direction of more ruthless culling. Ultimately I want to try to narrow down the fruits of 5 visits to Antarctica down to a very small set. 

During the last visit, I finally got to see some orcas. And not just in the distance, and not just one or two. The ship was surrounded by a curious pod for some hours, swimming around, under and close to over us until they got bored and wandered off to look for some penguins to massacre.

Of course at this time it was all cameras blazing, while getting elbowed aside by the more dedicated wildlife photographers (everybody except me). I didn’t really get any good shots, not helped by my aversion to using continuous shooting, or failing to learn how to use the very clever Pro Capture mode of my Olympus camera.

So of course I was disappointed, I felt I’d missed the chance of a lifetime, I’m a hopeless photographer, woe is me, etc etc etc.

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About the best photo I got. Poor timing and poor focus”

But wait a minute…  Orcas! I’ve seen orcas! I’ve seen wild mother and calf orcas up close, but really close! In the Antarctic!  So, why on earth do I value that experience by the number or quality of photos I made?

As photographers we need to step back sometimes and take in the wider view. Sure, we want to make good photos, but it’s pretty sad if we let the quality of our photos dictate our enjoyment of life.

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Once both the orcas and the wildlife photographers had wandered off for penguins / coffee and downloading their memory cards respectively, I managed to get a few more environmental shots that I’m a bit happier with.

Of course it would have been nice to grab a prize-winning photo at the same time…

 

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

 

Hasselblad X1DII - so far

crazy camera, crazy money

in GAS , Thursday, January 07, 2021

Back in August, I took a big step into the photographic unknown with the purchase of a Hasselblad X1DII. In order to afford this extravagance, I sold off my Sigma sdH, several Olympus bodies, my Linhof 612 and my Voigtländer Bessa III. This allowed me to buy the X1DII body, an ex-demo refurbished 45mm f/3.5 lens, and a 90mm f/4 lens on special offer. In addition to those I got an adaptor for my 3 XPan lenses. This is far, far from a casual purchase for me, and will probably be my last major investment in camera gear.

So, do I have buyers remorse? Was it worth it?  Short answers: no, and yes, probably.

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The Hasselblad X1DII (X1D from now on) sits alongside my now somewhat reduced workhorse Olympus OM-D kit. Essentially, to earn its keep it needs to let me do things I want to do that the OM-D cannot.  Superficially this shouldn’t be very hard - after all the X1D has a huge 50 megapixel sensor against the OM-D’s small 20 megapixels. So, the average brick wall or cat should turn out much better with the X1D. Well, with some caveats - although brick walls don’t move all that much, cats do (especially our neighbour’s cat which I’ve yet to successfully drench with a bucket of water). The OM-D can, more or less, focus track. The X1D can’t. The OM-D has zillions of focus points. The X1D has considerably less. The OM-D has stabilisation, and fast lenses. The X1D has neither. And anyway, I’m not in the slightest bit interested in brick walls or cats.

So, it’s not looking good so far for the X1D. But wait…  once it does get its few ducks in a row, the output is just flat out gorgeous. It isn’t quite Portra 400 level sublime, but its the closest I’ve ever seen from a digital camera. 

Drm 20201017 B0000161

The size (especially) and weight of the X1D with 45mm f/3.5 and the OM-D E-M1 MkIII with the roughly equivalent 17mm f/1.2 lens is very close. The X1D is really remarkably compact. Of course the OM-D wins out in low light - the X1D is only about 1 stop better in noise performance, and the OM-D has on-body stabilisation.  In hand, the X1D is actually noticeably heavier, but it is very, very comfortable to hold for a lengthy period - and it has strong competition here, the E-M1 grip is so well designed I can dangle the camera from my fingertips quite safely. So from a physical ergonomics point of view, it’s close. From a user interface point of view, there’s no competition - the X1D is a very clear winner. The touchscreen-based menu system is a masterpiece. The few physical controls are well placed and easy to use, with the possible exception of the focus mode button which is a bit of stretch to reach. The primary mode of focus point selection is through the touchscreen. This is the thing I like least about the X1D. I can’t get on with this way of working when the camera is up to my eye. The E-M1 has the same mode, as an option, but I disabled it as soon as I changed the focus point with my nose for the first time.  But the E-M1’s alternative is a very convenient joystick, whereas on the X1D you have to long-press the hard-to-reach focus button, and then use the two dials. It’s not ideal.

X1d 2020 10 28 B0000193

Speaking of the viewfinder - until I used the X1D, I thought the OM-D’s EVF was perfectly ok. Now, in comparison, it looks like a 50s TV set at the end of a long tunnel. The X1D’s EVF is stunning.

My previous attempt of supplementing my “shooting envelope” was with the Sigma sd-H. This just didn’t work out. The camera is a delight, but the lenses are massive and very heavy, and of course anything over ISO 200 was risky territory. Also, the Quattro sensor has quite some eccentricities, alongside its amazing resolution. Really, the sd-H is too unwieldy for me, and I had higher expectations of the Sigma “Art” lenses after using the dp fixed lenses.  The X1D, however, is almost as comfortably as a walkaround camera as the OM-D. Of course there are limitations with lens reach, and you have to keep a close eye on the shutter speed, but it is leagues ahead of the Sigma. So from that point of view, I’m happy.

Drm 20201011 B0000151

The things that frustrate me with the OM-D are the way that background details sometimes disintegrate into a nasty mush, and a certain coarseness in colour transition in darker and lighter zones. The X1D provides huge improvements in both areas. It also brings noticeably better colour depth and accuracy, and of course detail.  The OM-D’s advantages are deeper depth of field and overall versatility. The great thing for me is that they both have the same native 4:3 ratio, and that the X1D can go to “digital XPan” mode at the flick of a switch, meaning in general I have a coherent reference for composition across 3 camera types.

So, in conclusion, there’s absolutely no buyers remorse. I have two interchangeable, fully complementary camera systems that fully cover all I want to do in photography. Was it worth it? Well, it would be, if only I had somewhere to travel to fully exploit the X1D, but that’s a general problem right now.

Drm 20210107 R0000119


 

 

Silverfast 9 bursts forth - UPDATED

just when they least expect it…

in Silverfast , Friday, December 18, 2020

A totally unexpected email popped up in my inbox yesterday, announcing the release of Silverfast 9. It’s a weird time of year to announce a new product, but Lasersoft are a weird company (I used to think of them as eccentric, which has a certain charm, but now they’re just weird, as in irritating).

I still like Silverfast. Actually, it’s chugging away now on my Mac, but only as a input provider to Negative Lab Pro. But this update… well, let’s see what’s new:

Banner silverfast9 newsletter en

So, the headline feature is a new E-Book, written by Chief Mad Scientist, Wing Commander Karl-Heinz Zahorsky. Ok. I wonder what Mark Segal thinks about that?

Then we have Innovative Design. Well, from the screenshots this appears to be a touch more lipstick, only this time also available in fashionable black. I regret my cynicism, but I very much doubt that any of the outstanding usability issues have been fixed. The actual layout looks 100% identical to Silverfast 8, with - and here we have to recognise a serious accomplishment - even uglier icons.

Next up, My SilverFast Portal.  This is apparently a web page where I can see a list of licenses I own. Awesome.

And last but very much not least, SAC - Single Archive Command. Yes, we get the obsessive Air Force reference. What this does is anybody’s guess, but it claims to be a “One-click-archiving solution”.  Basically it seems to be rearranging some existing deckchairs (auto frame finding, Job Manager, VLT), and is of use only for flatbed scanners. Also, the blurb adds, without evidence, “you too can enjoy the advantages of our scan booster with the Single Archive Command” and “75% faster with SAC”.  I have no idea why scanning speed itself should be faster with SAC, or why it should be only available through SAC. Sounds a lot like bullshit to me.

So, that’s it. Apart from some other unspecified “improvements”.

And how much does it cost? Well, as ever, Lasersift is very coy about this, making you jump through all sorts of hoops to get a price.  Here’s what I found, eventually:

Sf9price

So, the Archive Suite, which includes Ai Studio AND HDR Studio, costs less than half the upgrade price of Ai Studio alone. Ok. Whatever.  Note the “new” prices though - not sure what they’re smoking up in there in Kiel, but I want some too.  Of course, this only allows my to run SF9 on my Plustek scanner, not on my Canon scanner.  I expect I’d have to pay the same price again to have both on SF9. And I would be very unsurprised to find that trying to run SF8 for Canon and SF9 for Plustek leads to System-Fehler-Alles-Kaput.

Anyway, I suppose I’ll buy it at some point, but based on experience the initial release is likely to be a stable as one-legged Bremerhaven dock worker after a night on the schnapps.

There is one interesting thing - apparently it supports the mythical Plustek Optic Film 120 Pro.

The website is of course a total train wreck, but you can try to check out Silverfast 9 here.

UPDATE, 21st December
Well, I did buy it. Part of the rationale was that LaserSoft have been quite generous with their upgrade policy with v8.  Certainly the first 18 months or so was just bug fixing, but some useful new features were introduced in later 8.x releases, particularly the Copy/Paste settings in Job Manager.

Well, what v9 brings to the table is actually a slight improved Job Manager dialog (all it is somewhat a case of 2 steps forwards, 1 step back), and, get this, they’ve actually REDUCED the Copy/Paste functionality.  Apart from that, there is nothing new I can find apart from a bit of a visual overhaul, which doesn’t amount to much.  The “new E-book” displayed prominently in the marketing email is not included in the release, but is yours for an extra €29.99.  This is a clear case of misadvertising in my opinion.  Then again, I doubt that the content amounts to much more than self-promotion.  I’ve had a good look, but I cannot find the “new NegaFix profiles” mentioned on the website.  One new “feature” is that v9 implements internet-managed spyware licensing. Yet another thing for LaserSoft to screw up, and they surely will.

So-called HDR-Raw files produced in Silverfast Ai v9 and processed/saved in HDR v9 open fine in HDR v8, so clearly nothing significant has changed at the level of file processing.  The much vaunted “One Click Archiving” is not enabled for my Plustek Optic Film 120, even though it can take a tray of up to 10 unmounted 35mm frames (or 5 mounted), so it could potentially be useful.

So what, substantially, do you get for your money?  Maybe stability with new OS releases? A nice warm feeling that you’ve given money to that nice Mr Zahorsky & friends?  I’m afraid that’s about it.
It is still, in my opinion, the best scanning software on the market, but from a company that’s even harder to like than Adobe. And that’s quite an accomplishment.

 

Losing faith in Lightroom

flip / flop / flip / flop etc

in Post-processing , Wednesday, December 16, 2020

At various intervals over the years I’ve questioned if I’m using the best approach to managing and processing my digital image files. As covered ad infinitum in previous posts, my tool of choice was Apple Aperture, but that rug was pulled from under my feet by the bling-flingers in Cupertino.  I eventually settled on Lightroom, with some misgivings, and have grown to accept it as the best compromise. It even has some unique features which I really like, in particular the “lights out” display mode, which is excellent for evaluating processing results, as well as for triaging photos without distractions. On the other hand, the UI is ugly, and the processing engine is based on the will of senior Adobe engineers to make everything look like it was produced by a badly calibrated 1 Hour (film) processing lab, with saturation turned up to 100. I spent a lot of my time in Lightroom fighting against under the hood saturation and contrast changes.  But, it was the best compromise.

Then came Lightroom Classic v10: from the beginning, this was not good. There were very noticeable performance slowdowns and UI glitches which made it very irritating to use. See all 9 pages (so far) of this thread, started on October 22nd. Adobe, with all their vast resources, eventually pushed out a version 10.1, which not only failed to solve the initial problems, but introduced a new “feature”, namely allowing Lightroom to quickly, completely and reliably freeze the Mac it is running on, requiring a power off reset to restore things - almost unheard of in the Mac world.  And to make things worse, they were warned about this beforehand, and therefore released this version in full knowledge that it contains this disastrous flaw.  It seems this flaw is linked to GPU processing: now, it may be true that testing for various hardware combinations is a big task (although for less so than for the much more varied Windows world), but other much, much smaller companies seem to have managed just fine (CaptureOne, DxO, Exposure for example).

I suppose Adobe will eventually fix this - although to be honest I’m not 100% confident - and there does remain the workaround of reverting to v9.4 (while sacrificing 2 months of editing and processing), or sticking with the sluggish performance of v10.0.  But as a subscriber I’ve had enough of this. Adobe are showing themselves to be an untrustworthy partner, and their support staff are condescending and arrogant.

For the most recent photo diary I published, The White Arcades, I had almost finished processing the photos in Lightroom, as usual fighting against the application’s obsession with making everything look garish.  But given the above, I decided to dust off CaptureOne, and, what the hell, try to import my entire Lightroom catalog of over 80’000 photos. Well, it worked pretty well. It took a few hours, and some files would not import (some DNGs, and of course Hasselblad Raw), but otherwise fine. I then reworked the photos I’d chosen for The White Arcades. Thanks to a combination of CaptureOne’s linear profile and luminosity curve, I actually managed to quickly get the look I wanted. Some of the more sophisticated display options in Lightroom are not in CaptureOne, and yes, the DAM functionality is not quite as good, and no, CaptureOne doesn’t have Adobes’s excellent stitching tool. But it is smooth and reactive, it has a non-modal UI, and it doesn’t crash my Mac. I’ll have to use Phocus for Hasselblad files, but’s not such a bad thing.

Long term I’d prefer not to be trapped in Adobe’s subscription dungeon, but while it was giving me a good set of tools I was ok with it.  Now Adobe has lost my trust.  Eventually completely cancelling my subscription is not something I’d do as an act of revenge - they wouldn’t even notice - but just one of self interest.

 

#26 The White Arcades

, Tuesday, December 15, 2020

 

Chilean Patagonia gallery

another bunch of holiday snaps

in Photography , Thursday, December 03, 2020

I’ve gone through another quiet period here. There’s a whole bunch of stuff I could write about, stacks of books I could review, but I really don’t get the impression that the world is holding its breath waiting for something new on snowhenge.net.

I have been relatively productive on churning through photo archives though, and here is one result. A fairly average set of tourist shots from the Chilean Patagonia hotspots, but, as, somebody once said to me, yes, they’re clichés, but they’re your clichés.

Chilegallery

I’ve also done a bit of a refresh of my Patagonia Panoramas gallery, should you be interested.

So, about these book reviews. Well. Let’s see…

 

Chilean Patagonia

 

#25 Grey Glacier

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Thursday, November 05, 2020

 

Another Place Press

happy birthday to you!

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Monday, October 19, 2020

Time to confess to another addiction: Another Place Press photobooks.

APP is nearly 5 years old, and since its birth, has been a prodigiously frequent source of publications remarkable for their consistency of quality of both form and content. APP is run by Iain Sarjeant, himself a fascinating photographer, and has a focus is loosely aligned with Iain’s own work. I suppose I would describe this as an intersection between landscape, street and reportage, found also on the pages of the associated Another Place blog. The boundaries are clear, but with them there is vast room for a variety of voices, approaches, and styles.

APP follows certain guidelines: first, authors do not pay to get published. Second, costs and prices are kept under control by keeping formats small and fairly standard - although with plenty of scope for creative design. With some 40 books and short-form zines published, this seems to be a sustainable model. One can contrast with Triplekite Press, which sadly appeared to crash and burn under the weight of an unsustainable ambition (although I’m guessing, they never made any statement as far as I know).

While every APP book is different, they have certain things in common. Design and production standards are very high, layout and sequencing also. The cost of standard editions is usually well under £20, which is excellent value for money. If you want to get away from the Look At Me! world of Instagram, and the Look At My Gear! world of YouTube, reading and studying these photobooks is a path back to sanity and enjoying photography as art and personal expression.

I guess if one is looking for downsides, it could be said that the overall feel of the APP catalogue tends towards the melancholic. Being a miserable old git this strikes a chord with me, but perhaps limits the audience a little. Note however there are exceptions.

Personally while I enjoy and find inspiration in each book I buy, they do leave me with a certain sense of frustration that I cannot myself aspire to this level of coherent expression or quality of photography, but at least I can get some sense of residual satisfaction from supporting the authors and APP itself.

Generally I think the whole photo community owes a debt of gratitude to Iain Sarjeant for bringing the work of so many unsung talents to light, and for his dedication to this project. I’m sure it has been far from easy. Here’s to the next 5 years!

Postscript

I certainly haven’t bought every publication from the APP catalogue, but from those I have, here are 4 of my favourites:

photo of 4 books

 

 

Negative Lab Pro

Auf Wiedersehen, Silverfast

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Friday, October 16, 2020

This is a quick review of Negative Lab Pro, a piece of software I’ve been aware of for some time, but only just now got around to trying.

Upfront, the website claims “NEGATIVE LAB PRO brings impossibly good color negative conversions right into your Lightroom workflow”. And it does exactly this. And it’s a really big deal.

I’m a long term user of Silverfast, and have defended it more than once, despite its insistence on ignoring all conventions, and the total deafness of its developers and managers to any kind of feedback or dialog. Despite all this, it’s pretty good. But the workflow is stuck in the 1990s, even if some minor concessions to openness have been added. Sadly for Silverfast, I think that Negative Lab Pro (NLP) is a major nail in the coffin.

NLP provides conversions which are at least as good, provides a totally non-destructive workflow in Lightroom, enabling easy creation of multiple versions of the same source scan, all fully re-editable.  On top of this it taps into Lightroom’s Profile mechanism to enable devastatingly accurate emulations of the rendition of standard scanners such as Fuji Frontier and Noritsu.

Of course, negative conversion is a very subjective thing, but the respective look of basic Frontier and Noritsu output is quite objective.  Generally I do all my own scanning, but some time ago I did have some lab scans done, just to get a reference point. For for now I’ve just take a recent XPan shot as a test.

NLP test

The top version is Silverfast’s Kodak Portra 400 NegaFix profile at default settings.  The lower is NLP at default settings. Again, colour negative conversion is a very subjective thing, but frankly, the NLP version to me looks like what Portra 400 is supposed to look like. The greens are more natural (although the Silverfast version may just possibly be more accurate, the grass was very green), and the NLP sky is complete free of the cyan tinge given by Silverfast, the shadows are better balanced. Game over, basically.

Of course, Silverfast provides a wide range of tools to tune profiles, to make colour adjustments way beyond what Lightroom alone can do, but all of this is destructive, sits within a clunky application framework, requires multiple steps and multiple file generations, and is generally slow.  NLP also has a wide range of adjustment tools, which are easier to understand and much faster to apply, making far more fun to experiment.

I’m sold on NLP. Silverfast will now be restricted, in most cases, to Raw scanning. Of course, by generating a Raw scan, in theory I can still process it through Siverfast HDR, but it gets very fussy if any other application has so much looked at one its DNG files.

There is only one drawback (and it could be major in some cases): NLP cannot remove dust and scratches using the infrared channel.  But on balance I guess I can live with that.

 

For your reading pleasure

elitist, moi?

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Friday, October 09, 2020

Some two years back, news emerged on the intrawebs of a new online magazine called MediumFormat.  This appeared to be a collective effort, with at its core, a terrible trio of Ming Thein, Lloyd Chambers and Patrick LaRoque. My immediate thought ws “there’s no way I’m going to pay money to read the shallow ramblings of these three tedious egomaniacs”, which may be seen as a little harsh, but is pretty much a reflection of my prickly personality. So I ignored it.

Fast forward to lockdown hell, when I was rapidly running out of displacement activities, I saw a reduced price offer on the magazine, giving access to the whole archive. Since it appeared that the influence of the above trinity had dwindled, and under editor Olaf Sztaba there seemed to be some depth of content, I took the plunge.

October2020

It was a good move. MediumFormat has rapidly progressed to become a genuinely interesting and very well curated magazine, with insightful interviews and articles featuring both well and lesser known photographers. It has also moved away from being technology oriented - recent issues have practically no gear content. The latest issue has raised the bar further with an interview with Michael Kenna, and clearly the plan is to carry on at that level.  Early issues confirm my personal opinion of Ming Thein as terminally dull and didactic. Patrick LaRoque continues to come across as somebody creating a stylish echo chamber to provide confirmation bias to insecure owners of Fuji cameras. At best, just an enthusiastic gear head.  However my opinion of Lloyd Chambers was pretty much reversed.  His website remains dreadful, but under a good editor he actually comes across as as a thoughtful, engaging chap and a pretty good photographer.  His technical articles in MediumFormat are genuinely useful, and quite approachable.

In fact MediumFormat puts me in mind of another undeservedly maligned magazine, to which I’ve subscribed for quite some time, LFI (Leica Fotografie International). I do not own any Leica cameras, and have no desire to change this. I have no axe to grind against Leica, but they do not produce any cameras which would comfortably address any needs I have. And in fact, LFI keeps the gear side of things well isolated at the back of the magazine. This part is indeed to be taken with a grain of salt, consisting mainly of hagiographic articles on Leica gear written in complete isolation from the rest of the market. Still, they’re entertaining at some level.

Umschlag EN

The rest of the magazine is something else entirely and comprehensively lays waste to the idea that Leicas are bought only as bling by elderly doctors, dentists or “The Chinese”. The photography portfolios are widely varied but almost always excellent, and come from a wide range of photographers, from legendary to (so far) unknown. The reasons for using Leica seem to be mainly down to usability.

While the linking attribute is the photographers use Leica cameras, this is not pushed at all in the text. Clearly pretty much all of the photography shown could have been taken with devices from other companies, here Leica is essentially used as a filter.  The playing field is also pretty level - certainly the cameras do not have to be current models, nor are more lowly models excluded. Forum trolls who constantly rag on Leica and Leica users could do worse than glance at a few copies of LFI.

I actually had the pleasure to meet some of the LFI editorial team a few years back, all shockingly young and enthusiastic. I mentioned to one that I could never afford a Leica, and the reply was “neither can I, but I love to see the work done by those that can”.

So, there you go. If either of these two magazines are mentioned online, most of the response will in the form of insults hurled at Leica, Hasselblad, etc and (especially) their owners. But if you are more interested in excellent, varied photography than silly partisan fanboy wars, you might like to give these a try.

 

6000 sow’s ears

...and not a silk purse in sight

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Monday, October 05, 2020

I enjoy taking photos. Seeing the world through a viewfinder, and cutting out pieces of it to copy and keep gives me a sense of accomplishment. Maybe it even makes me happy (my default state being “miserable old git”).

The rest of it… I don’t know. The long, long process of trawling through memory card contents, discovering that expected gems are out of focus junk, and the possibly good stuff I can’t even remember taking, the endless work of turning a Raw file into an actual finished photo, the doubts about my aesthetic choices, about my software choices, about comparing my flaccid shots with others’ effortless contest-winning masterpieces, this is not so much fun.

I actually prefer editing and working up film photography - with film, especially slide film, it is what it is, the choices were made when the shutter was pressed, and I find scanning film to be somehow more of a tangible activity than importing a memory card.

This pressures me to try to reduce the amount of photos I take in the field, but in some situations, not taking the shot isn’t really an easy option. A case in point, and the point of this post, is my most recent trip to Antarctica. Ok, it was actually 2 weeks in-situ, which is a long time, and the conditions were largely pretty good. The opportunities were endless, and to my horror I came back with about 6300 shots. Ouch.

If I have any wish to share anything of this harvest, even if it just to post a few galleries here, clearly I need to narrow things down. Quite a lot. This already presents a problem, because often the real quality of a photo cannot be told from a quick look at the default representation of the Raw file in Lightroom (in the old days, I could use Aperture’s much more elegant handling of Raw-JPEG pairs for a first pass - Lightroom doesn’t provide any help there).  But anyway, I managed select 1376 potential candidates without doing any kind of adjustment.  I then settled into the long process of examining and adjusting each and every one of these, finally, after months, ending up with 573 second round candidates.

From these I should now make a final selection, and start to do productive things like post subsets online. I might even make a book.  But for now I am so sick of ice and penguins…

Drm 20200128 P1286011

Me, after dredging through over 6000 self-indulgent snaps

There’s got to be a better way.

 

Dear Susan

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Dear Susan

 

Vieri Bottazini

Vieri Bottazini

 

#24 Il Mezzogiorno

 

End Frame

the Fat Lady is warming up

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Thursday, September 17, 2020

This is quite possible the last frame I ever took on my Hasselblad XPan II:

Xpan 2020 08 01 17 copy


After I pressed the shutter, the familiar film winding sound did not come. The film counter LCD showed "E". Pressing the film rewind button had no effect. All I could do was open the back and try to clear the jam.

Having removed the film, I tried to load another. Instead of winding completely, onto frame 21, it quickly stopped, showing frame 1. I tried several times. I tried resetting everything by pulling the batteries out. I tried changing the batteries. I tried cursing. Nothing worked.

This was the first serious outing for the XPan in several years, two weeks in Puglia capturing midday sun-baked inland towns and villages on Portra 400. But it wasn't to be: just a few frames of a masseria near Monopoli.

Xpan 2020 08 01 09 copy


On returning home I contacted Hasselblad customer support. They did actually reply, and did not totally rule out repair. They required that I first send it to a "local dealer", though, rather than direct. Given the likely difficulty of persuading my "local" dealer (who is on the other side of the alps and speaks a weird variant of German) to handle an antique, and also my experience with said dealer's speed, not to mention the notorious sloth of Hasselblad service, I decided instead to send it to Les Victor in Paris. They haven't promised anything, but then again they have fixed my 30mm viewfinder, which Hasselblad customer service said was impossible.

So, fingers crossed, but I'm not optimistic. XPans are heavily reliant on electronics, and they are dying. People, please, do not blow $5000 buying one on eBay. Mine is relatively young (late XPan II) and well looked after, and this came out of the blue. XPans are on borrowed time.

UPDATE, Sept 18th: I heard from Les Victor this morning. Seems they can fix it, and they are going to do a complete service as well. Seems like it's got a reprieve.
 

#23 Alberobello

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Thursday, September 10, 2020

 

#22 Finito Benito

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Tuesday, September 08, 2020

 

The last roll of the dice

finally, good photos!

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Thursday, August 13, 2020

So, as hinted in my last post, I've gone off at the deep end. I have renounced common sense, fiscal rectitude and a bunch of other things and bought into the new-ish Hasselblad X Medium Format digital system. I'd been eyeing this for a long time, and when a very good offer came up for a new X1DII boy and factory reconditioned ex-demo 45mm lens, I decided it was now or never. I rapidly flogged off a bunch of other stuff that was clogging up my shelves, and just about scrapped together the money, so from that point of view I could tell myself I was being reasonable. I also got an adapter to use my XPan Lenses (they provide full coverage, not just "XPan crop mode"), and finally I chanced upon another very special offer on a new 90mm XCD lens, so I got that too. That is probably as far as I can go, or indeed want to go, for now.

So, WHY (and of course, "why not Fuji")? Well, to answer the Fuji part, I have tried out their MF cameras, and impressive as their are, I just don't like them. They are too complicated, the lenses have a reputation for hit and miss quality control, and the retro nonsense gets in the way. And they're ugly. If I'm paying that much money, and anyway it's strictly for my own pleasure, then how it looks and feels is not a trivial factor. The Hasselblad X1D is above all a fantastically usable camera. It has a modern, totally intuitive user interface, as few buttons as it needs, a very, very nice viewfinder, and it fits my hand like a glove. Yes, I'd like to have tilt screen for tripod use, but I can manage without.

But WHY? Well, obviously: it will make all my photos better and make me a better photographer! (What? What do you mean it won't??). Basically for most of the time I've been making photographs, off and on I've been mildly frustrated by my inability to capture and reproduce subtle gradients in colour. Maybe tonality as well, but I'm fundamentally, in my own way, about colour. Actually I have found that in some circumstances I could get what I wanted through medium format film. I've also discovered that very frequently, work by published photographers that appeals to me was done on medium format film. Of course it isn't just film - medium format lenses play a significant part too. The problem with this though is that I have never found a medium format film camera I actually like, and in any case, for several reasons, medium format film photography is unwieldy and impractical. So, I hope to find at least some of the character I'm looking for in (small) medium format digital. The 50 Mpix resolution is nice to have but not a necessity. The extra dynamic range is very nice to have. The Hasselblad colour rendition on the other hand is a key factor.

So, essentially, because I wanted to.

So far all I've just been getting familiar with the camera, the required technique, the depth of field and other aspects that need to become second nature, but some initial results have been quite encouraging.

Drm 20200725 B0000041

Handheld shot in Bedigliora, just up the road. XCD 45mm f3.5, handheld



Drm 20200807 B0000096

Near Ponte di Aranno, Magliasina, also just up the road. XCD 45mm f3.5, tripod



This does not mean I'll be giving up my Olympus system. Far from it. The two are very complementary, and the fact that both have the same native 4:3 aspect ratio is a major plus. I'm very used to seeing in 4:3, and indeed this aspect ratio was a key reason I bought into the Olympus system in the first place, many hundreds of years ago.

I've had a few failed and fairly costly experiments on the gear side in recent years, in particular the Linhof 612 and the Sigma sd-H. Hopefully this time I've finally got a camera which will enable me to take the photos I see in my head. Certainly I have no more dice to throw on this front.

The next question is finding an opportunity to use it. Getting to Greenland (for example) has become a lot more complicated. Then again, there is plenty of potential in my own back yard.
 

No more excuses

A picture speaks a thousand words

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Saturday, August 08, 2020

Drm 20200807 EM570040



(as previously hinted :-) )
 

Sara Wheeler

a polar star

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Friday, August 07, 2020

Admin Note: one decision to emerge the hand-wringing period I had over this website is that I would close off my non-photography blog, The Evenings Out Here, which was anyway moribund, and publish occasional off-topic posts here. Whatever "off-topic" may mean - since it is all personal anyway, everything is on-topic. So, here is the first "off-topic" post. And a heavily overdue one, at that.


Many, many years, I wandered into Waterstones in Guildford (probably), and noticed a book cover with a bulkily-clad figure kneeling on ice apparently attempting to interview a group of emperor penguins. I bought it immediately. After many moves and changes in my life, this copy of this book is still with me. I've read it more than a few times, and always get lost in its pages. "Terra Incognita", by Sara Wheeler, is a travel book that has spoken to me like no other, and her other books are not far behind. At that time I would certainly have ranked "Foreign Land" and "Coasting" by Jonathan Raban at the same level, but these have faded over time. Terra Incognita shines as bright as ever.

Drm 20200807 EM570039


Pretty much all first person narratives set in Antarctica are written by what Wheeler accurately and amusingly describes as "Frozen Beards". They are about conquest and discovery, and the superficiality of the continent. They are about geography and landscape, and going from here to there (and hopefully back again), generally having the worst possible time while doing so. I find Wheeler's book, instead, to be about a search for a sense of place and belonging. Such a book could very quickly becoming terminally cloying, but not Terra Incognita. It is written in such a captivating, engaging way, and with a very healthy dose of self-deprecation, that the deeper currents only become clear later. Of all the "travel books" (whatever that means), there is none that have stayed so close to me as this one.

The idea of being able to travel around a significant part Antarctica as a writer would problem seem bat-crazy today, never mind 30 years go. That Sara Wheeler managed to do this, fitting in diverse locations in the Ross Sea area, the Pole, the West and East Antarctic ice caps and both ends of the Peninsula is a gold-standard tribute to her ingenuity and persistence. Totalling up the cost to various supporting organisations, agencies and individuals would come to a pretty scary figure, but the result is priceless. Others have said this, as have I, and I'll repeat it again: Terra Incognita is simply the best book ever written about Antarctica. Or to be more precise, about the experience of Antarctica. The only vaguely similar book I am aware of is Jenny Diski's "Skating to Antarctica", but that is a completely, and darker, kettle of fish.

I can't help but empathise with much of Terra Incognita. Antarctic was a huge part of my early adult life. I spent 2 summers there a few years before Sara Wheeler, and while I was there as a salaried scientist, it felt far, far more than going to do a job. The first part of Wheeler's book describe her time largely under the wing of the United States Antarctic Programme, with sorties to Italian and New Zealand bases. Within the narrative are dark hints at what is coming next, her sojourn in the southern part of the Antarctic Peninsula abetted by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).

If ever she was unhappy in the Antarctic, it seems it was during this time. She describes BAS sadly dragging a stifling male-dominated class culture with it, featuring public schoolboy behaviour, a complete ban on expressing any kind of emotion, essentially pretty much what you would find in any wealthy village pub in southeast England. I can corroborate this. Although I had some unforgettable experiences and shared time and tents with some fantastic people, my experience in particular at Rothera base was pretty miserable. And unnecessarily so. My later experience in Antarctica with a haphazard gang of Scandinavians was something of a redemption.

Interestingly, Wheeler's better times with BAS appear to have been spent at the mythical Fossil Bluff, which I never reached, as we had a bit of a prang with our jolly old kite over Palmer Land. However I suspect she would have enjoyed spending a few days out at our happily isolated camp on the Ronne Ice Shelf.

You can reach in and touch the ice, the clear air and the stillness - as well as the storms - in the pages of Terra Incognita. It is multi-levelled narrative, as much about the author as the places, but handled in superbly skilful way.

Much like Terra Incognita, Wheeler's earlier book, "Chile - Travels in a Thin Land" is the kind of book you never want to end. Written about a 6 month wander from one tip of the country to the other - and even beyond - it feels like it distorts time. After (re)reading it over a few days last week, I feel like I had myself spent 6 months in Chile. Personally Chile is a country I came late to, and have only scraped the surface of. We planned to return shortly, but obviously events have put that on hold.

Chile, the book, is another delight. Again, with a light touch, Wheeler pulls you into her explorations, both inner and outer. There is a stronger element of her Christian faith in this book, something that is touched upon in Terra Incognita, but to a lesser extent. Although I don't share her faith, the way she writes about it could make be come to regret this. Clearly it is a source of inner strength and inspiration to her, and I only wish I could feel the same way. And equally clearly it does get in the way of her having a good time!

The final pages of "Travels in a Thin Land" seem to be almost a different world. Wheeler returns from the paradisiacal world of the South to Santiago, and in a very unexpected move veers off to spend 10 days immersed in one of the more deprived parts of the city. Many a writer would have gone into full virtue-signalling here, but not Wheeler. In fact she downplays this part very much, not indulging in explicit social commentary, but the contrast with the (kind of) gringo trail atmosphere of the main body of the book is very striking. As is that with her final few days living in the world of the privileged upper middle classes of Santiago. It is an extremely effective jolt back to reality.

I'd like to spend more time writing about these books, but I'm not very good at writing, and I would only do them a disservice. All I can say is seek them out and read them. They will surely touch your soul. And I would not stop there: her later books, such as "The Magnetic North" (inspired title), set in the Arctic, and "Access All Areas", set pretty much ever, are equally admirable. Actually, thanks to "The Magnetic North", I renewed contact with a companion from my BAS days while travelling around Svalbard. And then there is her latest book, "Mud and Stars", which is sitting a few feet away from waiting to be read.

I feel there could be a sequel to this post in the not too far future!

Links to books:
Chile - Travels in a thin country
Terra Incognita
The Magnetic North
Access All Areas
Mud and stars

There also a couple of videos online of Sara Wheeler giving talks on her writing and travels:

Sara Wheeler @ 5x15
Access All Areas: In Conversation with Sara Wheeler

 

The Filmopocene

...they do things differently there

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, August 05, 2020

I always thought that my persistence with film photography had nothing to do with nostalgia, or wanting to pursue some retro look. I thought it was just that I liked how some film photographs look, here and now, not in the past. Now that I’ve largely abandoned it, I’ve come to realise that it had everything to do with nostalgia. Only with a bit of a twist.

It was part of a much larger longing, one for that halcyon period which stretched between around 1980 to 2010. That period when you could travel to discover places. Sure, you may have read about them in a similar beaten up (hard)copy of Lonely Planet (1st edition), but it was still discovery. You hadn’t seen your destination a million times on Instagram or Facebook, as a backdrop to impossibly hip and gorgeous couple. You hadn’t seen it featured in twenty thousand over-processed Serious Photographer shots on Flickr or 500px. And you didn’t have to reserve a bed three months in advance on booking.com. Actually, you could just turn up, and find somewhere nice to stay.

So in 2002, we could roll up in Oia, Santorini, and stay for a week in an old vaguely refurbished windmill right at the point of the village. Or travel around the Danube Delta in Romania, hopping on and off old ferries, hitching a ride with local fishermen, sleeping wherever we could find someone with a spare room. A year before, we could travel around New Zealand in peak season with booking anything at all in advance (although that scruffy travel guide did help). We could travel dusty roads in Tuscany, stop wherever we wanted, visit museums in Siena without queuing up, have San Gimignano largely to ourselves, and stock up on Fuji Provia or Kodak Ektachrome pretty much everywhere.

Snhg ref 303

Oia, Santorini, peak sunset, back in the Filmopocene

And that’s the trigger - I associate all of these places with boxes of green or yellow film canisters scattered on a night table or shelf somewhere, their latent images patiently waiting to emerge. That’s the world they belonged in, and that world is well and truly gone. It seems that I sometimes tried to recreate it by grabbing a few boxes of Kodak, but it was a fool’s errand. Indeed, in recent times I’ve often felt that I’m forcing myself to find things to photograph with film cameras, but when there’s something I really want to photograph, I inevitably go for digital. The hassle of carrying those little canisters (or rolls) anywhere significant has now grown exponentially - along with their price - and the magic has gone.

Snhg ref 1331

The Age Of Innocence, and film. Peak Pelican in the Danube Delta, Romania

There does remain one exception for me, which is of course the Hasselblad XPan. That is not so much a film camera, more simply a camera which requires film. Film does not define it. I tried to extend this by adopting the expensive and unwieldy Linhof 612, but I was 20 years too late. If only I’d bought one back when I first heard about in New Zealand all those years ago, then it might well have worked for me. Subconsciously I was treating it as a time machine, not a camera.

This was all with a healthy dose of hindsight. I actually sold off most of my film cameras to free up some cash to go down another rabbit hole. It was only later that it dawned on me what was actually tying me to film photography, tangentially triggered by a few books I’ve been reading recently.  But the world has indeed changed, and there really does not seem to be any going back. My origins as a “photographer” are closely tied to that time of more carefree travel. Trying to cling on to it through the artifice of taking film cameras on trips and vacations is futile and just gets in the way of anything coherent I might do as a photographer.  It was, I think, this which has been stifling my creativity (well, that and chronic laziness). I still long for a way to capture that pastel evening light over Sermilik ice fjord or the Gerlache Strait. The closest I - and several others, in my opinion - have ever come to is with medium format film, and that’s gone for me now. 

But one door closes, and another one opens.

 

Olympus M.Zuiko ED 12-45mm f/1:4 PRO review

well, my idea of a review, that is

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, July 22, 2020

So, here’s a gear review. It’s not tongue in cheek, nor is it sarcastic, but it is purely subjective, is grounded solely on my own needs and desires, and has absolutely no measurements or “tests”.

Drm 20200722 EM520060

I didn’t need the (deep breath) Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-45mm f/1:4 PRO lens. I’ve already got far too many Olympus lenses, including the near-overlapping M.Zuiko 12-40 f/2:8 PRO, and the M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 EZ (“AMATEUR” I assume). And of course I don’t actually “need” any of this stuff. However I have long wished for Olympus to break out of the “high quality lenses have to be fast and heavy” mindset, and offer smaller lenses that do not compromise on quality (either optical performance or handling). To some extent they made a move towards this with the 12-100mm f/4 PRO, although nobody would describe that lens as small or light - even if relatively, it is. So, given all of this, when this 12-45 PRO was announced, I was interested.

IMG 6540

The new tiny 12-45 f/4 PRO versus the giant 12.40 f/2.8 PRO. Take your pick.

While the rough direction of my photography tends towards relatively exotic travel, especially the higher latitudes, clearly I don’t do that everyday. But photography is part of my everyday life, and while I don’t necessarily share much of my day to day, mundane photography, I still do it, still enjoy it, and it keeps me in practice. So, having a compact but quite nice and high-ish quality system is enticing. On the camera side, the OM-D EM5 Mkii fits the bill, but the existing 12-40mm PRO lens is a touch unbalanced on that body, especially without the various bolt-on grips and baseplates.  And the 14-42 EZ isn’t very inspiring, at least my copy isn’t, although it was probably better before it had a fairly traumatic trip around Colombia.

Yes but. The 12-45 PRO lens is quite expensive, and from my point of view, hardly essential. However, when shopping at my favourite online store the other day (for mosquito repellent) I noticed a very interesting “open box” offer for the lens, some 30% off standard price. At that price I thought it was worth a go, especially right now it might be a good idea to buy up Olympus lenses while we still can.

So here it is. I’ll skip the unboxing ritual, although it is worth pointing that this lens comes with a rather nice soft cloth wrap, rather than a clumsy pouch, which could actually be useful. As opposed to all other PRO lenses (and a number of AMATEUR ones), it has no “manual focus clutch”. This is no big deal - in my opinion this is only really useful on prime lenses. I can switch to manual focus on the flick of a switch on the camera body anyway. Otherwise it is clearly a member of the PRO family, both by design and heft. Addressing the number one question, is it really that much smaller than the 12-40 PRO? Well, side by side there is less in it than you might expect. But when mounted on the EM-5 MkII, the difference is very noticeable. While the 12-40 PRO unbalances the handling (to some extent, let’s not exaggerate), the 12-45 PRO feels absolutely perfect.

Drm 20200722 EM520058
Drm 20200722 EM520055

So, I bolted the the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-45mm f/1:4 PRO lens on the front of OM-D E-M5 MkII body (sorry, I seem to be drifting slightly towards the Sarcasm Sea here, I’ll try to stop it) and took it for a brief walk while waiting for a doctor’s appointment (I’m fine, thanks for asking). Unfortunately - or not, who knows - I didn’t notice that the camera was still set to use a custom colour setting I’d been playing around with, and to record in JPEG. Just as well I’m not into “tests”.

Drm 20200722 EM520054

My initial impression was just it was just seamless to use. It fits perfectly onto the E-M5, and is a really nice, flexible walk around lens. The zoom range is very useful, and it does have one special trick up its sleeve in that is has a very short minimum focus distance of 12cm at all focal lengths. This gets close to macro range. It’s sharp - at least as sharp as the 12-40 PRO - and as far as I can tell at all focal lengths, starting from wide open. Of course, wide open is “only” f/4, which some bespectacled angry geek will pop up and correct to “f/8”, but that’s part of the design. Frankly f/4 is good enough for me. I’m far more often struggling getting enough depth of field rather than complaining I’ve got too much.  Of course it could be brighter, but then it would be a 12-40 f/2.8, and, well, start at the beginning if you didn’t get the message on that yet.

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A close focussing test.  At focal length 12mm.

I’m pleased I bought this lens, although the special price had a lot to do with it. It has its own niche, and for me that will be getting glued to the front of my E-M5 MkII. This, and just maybe the 17mm f/1.8, will fit very nice into a corner of my small Domke shoulder bag, and be a perfect companion for casual photography. Which is most photography, for me.

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IMG 6541

All photos taken around Mendrisio, Ticino, Switzerland.

 

Farewell Medium Format

and thanks for all the frames

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Tuesday, July 14, 2020

It’s all change at snowhenge headquarters. I’ve recently divested myself of all medium format film cameras, but also all unessential digital stuff which I have acquired over the years. There is no question that I truly love the look of medium format film, especially Kodak Portra 400, but also Fuji 160NS and Kodak E100. But the problem is that I have never found a medium format camera that really works for me. The Bessa 667 III is a beautiful camera which works extremely well - but it has a 50mm equivalent lens, which has never been my thing.  Then there’s the Linhof 612PC. Maybe if I’d bought it 20 years ago, it would have been different, but my 4 year experiment with hasn’t yielded much. It’s a fascinating device, but it is just too cumbersome to use. A big attraction for me, coming from the XPan, was the 8mm fixed shift lens. But the problem here is that it is a positive shift. I usually need negative shift. No problem, you can turn the camera upside down - it even has a tripod socket on the top plate. But unfortunately you can’t fix the viewfinder to the bottom plate, and accessing the lens controls upside down is a recipe for disaster. In most scenarios I get into, it becomes a very unenjoyable experience. On top of that, despite the huge real estate on the body, Linhof contrived to create a design where no known Arca plate could be fitted (to be fair I don’t think removable plates existed when the camera was designed, but still…).  So I had to use a neolithic screw fitting tripod head.  And finally, unless one is very, very careful, the 612 film winding mechanism has a very nasty habit of overlapping exposures. On top of that, the 58mm lens flares badly. I hope the new owner finds it more amenable than I did - at least I sold it at a fair price.

So that’s it - apart from the Hasselblad XPan, I’m out of film.

This does actually carry on with what I wrote in an earlier post: “what is dawning on me is that by and large for me shooting film is mainly about finding something to point the camera at, whereas shooting digital is about wanting the photo”. I’m more sure than ever that this is the case for me.

But it’s not even just film. I’ve also sold off my Sigma sd-H, with its lead-lined lenses. It can produce great results, but again, it is very cumbersome, and it only works in very specific lighting situations. I never found a niche for it. My idea was that it would extend the scope offered by my Quattro dp0, but in the end it didn’t: it doesn’t offer the portability of dp0, and the Art lenses, while excellent, are not as good as the dp fixed lenses. So the dp0 stays, but the sd-H is gone. So all that remains is a two-body Olympus OM-D setup, with a generous number of lenses. Oh, and the Ricoh GR, which earns its keep.

All this sell-off (which went very well, and very painlessly via ricardo.ch rather than eBay) has generated a quite reasonable pile of cash. I have imposed a rule on myself that by and large I’m spend no new money on camera gear.  New has to be paid for by old. In this case, the cash hasn’t sat around for long, and my latest acquisition, which I’ve been dithering about for years, has just been delivered and is waiting to be opened. It’s by some margin the most I’ve ever spent on camera gear (the record so far is probably the XPan, which with all lenses must have come to around €4000).

But more on that some other time.

 

Site refresh

summer breeze is blowing through the window

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, June 24, 2020

As frequent readers of this blog will know, I’ve been undergoing an existential struggle trying to figure out what the actual purpose of all this is. Partly due to feeling that the blog part of the website is effectively just me shouting at clouds, I had reached the conclusion that I should stop blogging.  But there are still things that I want to write about. On the whole I enjoy writing these, so it shouldn’t matter too much if nobody reads them. But giving a lot of visual priority on the home page to writing, as opposed to photography, kind of amplified the negative feelings I was getting from the perception of no audience engagement.

I’m also on a bit of an upswing on the photography side, having taken stock, and got a better feeling of what I want to do with it. One thing is to be a tiny bit more self-publicising, hence a return to a (restricted) presence on facebook (because that’s where all the photographers I’m interested in hang out), and another is to give most of the upfront real estate here to photos. And finally, to curate a bit more which photos can appear in the random-selection featured spot. So, here we are. Snowhenge dot net v5.5 or something.

New site jun20

snowhenge dot net, before (left) and after

I’ve tidied up a few other things along the way.

I’m much happier with the new look, I may finally have got close to what I always wanted. Hopefully a few other people will like it too.

 

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III

EXCLUSIVE REVIEW!!

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Friday, June 05, 2020

Well ok, bowing to intense pressure I’m going to resume blogging in a sporadic way, because my fans tell me that’s what they want.  And in order to boost my traffic to unprecedented levels, I’m going to do a gear review.

So here we go.


In March I bought an Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III (Black) Body Only because the man in the shop said I should and he’d give me a special discount and Olympus would send me some gifts I don’t need.

Here it is:

IMG 6494

I left it like that for a few months because it looked so cool.

Features:

I tried out this “handheld high resolution” thing, and it’s not much use because it takes over the stabiliser and with my caffeine shake that’s terrible news, and when stuff is moving it’s all weird and choppy and blurry oh and it takes, like, 20 minutes to save the shot so that’s no good.

I haven’t tried the ND filter thingy yet.

 

 

 


The gifts from Olympus arrived yesterday.

 

 

 

 

Dunbloggin?

burn notice

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, 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.

Google2

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.

Google1

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

 

1000, out.

Not a bad innings

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Drm 20200113 P1130910

“detach” - my 1000th, and last photo on Flickr”

Yesterday I was playing around with an interpretation of a photo I took a few months back, which I quite like, and decided to post it on Flickr.  As I was doing so, I noticed it was my 1000th post. So, my statistics since joining in October 2006 are 1000 photos, 606’049 views, 725 “faves” (so it says, but that can’t be right, as 806 photos have at least 1 “fave”), and whatever else.  And I have 456 loyal followers - thanks everybody - which is not bad considering how little I give back.

My all time most popular shot is this, which I honestly think is pretty dull at best - yet it has 16’394 views, 523 “faves” and 29 comments.  Go figure, as our Merkin cousins would say.

Flickr is certainly my most successful venture into social media by far, which isn’t saying much. But I think it’s time to bring it to an end. I don’t get much benefit or enjoyment from it any more. Possibly I never did, although it was a useful safety valve during a period up to about 2010 when I was working under extreme stress in a startup environment.  When getting home to my 1 room apartment, catching up on Flickr was a good way to to switch off and relax.  But that was in its heyday, and possibly mine too. Now I just log in out of a sense of duty.

Photographically I know all too well which buttons to press in Flickr.  Any number of dramatic long exposure waterfalls are pretty much guaranteed to trigger the “Explore” algorithm. And such photos attract a fair amount of traffic (I wouldn’t call most of it “feedback”). So if trawling for likes was my thing, I guess I could do that fairly well. On the other hand photos I care a little more about, such as the one featured here, generally sink without a trace.  That’s ok too, I get it that my tastes are at best qualified as non-mainstream, and more accurately as dubious.  But finally if there is no engagement, there’s no point.

In any case, I’m finding less and less need to share. This might reflect the fact that globally there is less and less appetite to discover.  Everybody is a photographer, everybody wants to be famous, and pretty much a “like” given is done so only in the expectation of two given in return. The number of people selflessly advocating other’s photography is approaching zero.

Flickr won’t miss me (especially as I only recently paid for a 2 year subscription). But hitting 1000 seems like a good cue to bow out.

(Of course I reserve the right to completely change my mind at any time)

 

Set in stone. By Me.

self-promotion at its finest

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Monday, May 11, 2020

It’s been quite a struggle, but finally a few fruits of creativity under lockdown are beginning to emerge. The first, completed a few weeks ago, had to wait for the physical evidence to be announced, and this arrived today.  My “proof” copy of a small Blurb-produced book, which I’ve called “Set In Stone: glimpses of Valle Verzasca” was delivered this morning by UPS, and I’m pleased to say it looks pretty good.

Set in Stone front cover

According to my self-penned, er, blurb:

“South of the Rhone Valley and the Gotthard massif lies the Italian-speaking Swiss Canton of Ticino. And while Ticino certainly has it’s fair share of tall peaks, the highlights, geographically speaking, are to be found in and around a series of glacial valleys descending from the high snowfields, with tumbling rivers feeding into the Maggiore Lake. Any one of these valleys, including the Maggia, Calanca, and the Centovalli, would keep most landscape photographers busy for years, but the jewel in the crown is the Valle Verzasca, through which the river of the same name runs. The Verzasca valley is around 25km long, stretching due south down from the village of Sonogno, through an endless sequence of cascades, rapids and gullies until it reaches the artificial Lake Vogorno. The bedrock of the Verzasca river is mainly gneiss, and over the millennia this has been eroded by the current to reveal fantastic banding and layering patterns in the rock, which in turn has been sculpted into spectacular forms. The transparent dark green and emerald waters and the scattering reflected light from the surrounding forests come together to create countless surreal and unexpected scenes, both wide and intimate. I am fortunate enough to live close enough to the valley to visit pretty much on a whim. The photographs in this small book are gathered from nearly 20 years of such visits. Yet on each visit I discover something new.”

It feels good to have this done. Nobody will buy it of course, but that’s not the point. What matters is that it draws a line under years upon years of seemingly aimless and unstructured photography and ties into a coherent project which I feel pretty satisfied with. Although this location is getting more or more well known, both by general tourists and photographers, to the extent that now (well at least up until current events) it has ended up being a no-go area from May to October, I haven’t seen much in the way of physically published photography from the area.

I have tried to select a format which keeps the price at least manageable. And it actually looks nicer than I expected. For my previous foray into Blurb self-publishing, I chose a what is practically a deluxe hardback format, which really does look nice, but ends up with an absurd price tag.

It would be tempting fate to say that this is the first of a series, but I do have some ideas…

IMG 6472
IMG 6473
IMG 6474

 

 

 

Why I still miss Aperture

whine, fanboy, whine

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Friday, April 17, 2020

It seems weird to be writing about Apple Aperture in 2020, some 5 years since its nominal demise. It does still work on MacOS Mojave, although it seems to make the OS crash if it is left running for too long (several days). I still lament its passing, while acknowledging that the stable door has been open so long that this particular horse has not only bolted into the next hemisphere but has been rendered down for glue.

But there is one feature of Aperture which I still use, and which I’ve never seen before our since its murder by Time “Bean Counter” Cook, and that is the Light Table.

I realise that for the vast majority of camera owners, Light Table is at best puzzling, but more generally a target of scorn. It has little to do with demonstrating that cats photographed with THEIR Superpixelmuncher X100X ProX are better than those of the next DPReview forum rodent.  That’s because it is a feature for photographers, not camera owners. And it’s brilliant.

A Light Table can be added to a Project, and can be used to arrange, lay out and edit (in the true sense of the word) a set of photos contained in that project. And I’ll say it again, it’s brilliant. Under peer pressure to do something useful with my COVID-19 confinement, I’m embarking on a couple of long, long overdue publication projects. One of these is to create a book. The big challenges in book creation are the selection and ordering of photos in a way which is coherent and conducive to the aims of the project.  The other is layout. Aperture’s Light Table can pretty much solve the first, and can help to get started with the second.

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The view above shows Aperture displaying a Light Table, with the pool of photos shown below in a browser strip (when added to the Light Table they gain a red counter icon). On the right I have an iPad acting as a second screen - this shows the photo selected, either on the Light Table, or in the browser strip.  So, simultaneously I have a freeform selection and layout, a means to browse and select photos out of my initial edit, and a full screen view so I can check sharpness or whatever.  When I place or move photos on the Light Table, automatic alignment and placing guides appear, like in InDesign or something. I know of no other application which can do this. Whichever unsung hero came up with this concept, (s)he deserves a mega award.

And it doesn’t end there. You might say that the Light Table seems a little constrained. No problem, drag a photo or photos off of the area in any direction, and the light Table expands to accommodate them.  There may be a limit, but I’ve never encountered it. Of course, you can also have any number of Light Tables you want under a Project, so you could even dedicate one to each spread.  Then again, Aperture also had a superb Book tool, so really you’d just progress from a rough mockup using Light Table to Book.

And there’s more: using the sort-of gadgety (only it isn’t) Loupe, you can examine any part of any photo, at your chosen magnification, in-situ.  And, thanks to Aperture’s unparalleled integration, using the HUD panels, you can pretty much do anything to any photo, also in situ, be it add keywords, check metadata, or even fully edit (in the Photoshop sense) the photo (of course all this worked in Books too).

ApertureLoupe

The much-maligned but actually very slick Loupe

ApertureHUD

The Light Table with adjustment tools HUD

Ok, it took a few versions for Aperture to fully deliver on its lofty ambitions, but once its got there (let’s say v2.5) it was humming.  Everything fit together like a well engineered Swiss watch. Unfortunately, the Apple dumbing-down disease struck a glancing blow to v3, but it was only superficial.

So given all this, why did it ultimately fail? Well, setting aside the fact that such an application just did not fit into Apple’s consumer disposables vision, and indeed probably only ever got approval because of Steve Job’s antipathy towards Adobe, it did suffer in detailed comparison in some areas to the far less ambitious Adobe Lightroom. For example, the pixel peepers and forum rodents could point at minute and adjustable differences in initial rendering - usually of noise at 1’986’543’200 ISO, or sharpness of Your Cat’s whisker at 500% magnification. Also Apple was pretty sluggish at keeping up to date with new camera releases, which Adobe correctly saw as an absolute priority.

What sunk Aperture was essentially Apple corporate culture.  It was overcome by a brilliantly conceived and ruthlessly executed social marketing campaign by Adobe, playing on all of Apple’s corporate weaknesses (obsession with secrecy, no interaction with customers, etc).  Aperture was different to Lightroom, and in many ways.  But Adobe managed to ensure that the competition was judged by one facet only, the pixel-peeping level characteristics of its image adjustment toolset. And actually even here Aperture had some unique and very powerful features (the implementation of the curve tool, for example), but nothing was going to save it against the massed ranks of photo-influencers like Jeff Schewe, Scott Kelby, Michael Reichmann and legions of others.  Apple just could not bring themselves to put the spotlight on others. Or, of course, horror of horrors, release a Windows version. No, people had to buy Macs to use Aperture.

Had Aperture been developed by an independent company, free of the clutches of Jobs, Cook, et al, I’m pretty confident it would have flourished. It was aimed at a market segment which is still not served today - it’s a pity the marketers never realised that.

I’m still happily using the Light Table, and it integrates pretty well with a Lightroom-centered workflow. But I’m on the last version of MacOS where this is possible.

 

Undertow, by Frances Scott

tracing the landscape

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Undertow, by Frances Scott, is one of the most recent publications from Iain Sarjeant’s innovative and energetic Another Place Press. Like all of Another Place’s output, “Undertow” is small, beautifully designed and excellent value for money.

Undertow2

It’s quite difficult to pin a genre on “Undertow”. The closest I can get to is landscape reportage, but that could make it sound superficial, which most certainly is not. On the surface, Undertow is a travelogue of sorts, recording Frances Scott’s tracing of the coastline of her home, Orkney Mainland, an island off the north coast of Scotland.

The sequence of black and white photographs is complemented by spidery traces of GPS tracks of the various coastal walks which join together to circumnavigate the whole island. Along with some of these come captions joining the factual (time spent) with the highly impressionistic, for example “Forty-eight minutes - Wintry waves, small black cat”.

The photography will not win over the classic Wild & Wonderful Landscape Photographer. It surely isn’t meant to. There are some pure landscape scenes, but they share space with whatever else populates the coastline, be it random junk, disused military installations or fragments of wrecks. Personally in a way I wish the photos were colour, not monochrome, but I can also understand why colour would detract from the overall effect.

Undertow3

I don’t really have the erudition required to place Frances Scott’s work in artistic context, but two fairly random reference points for me which Undertow stands up well against would be Fay Godwin (especially, and obviously “Islands”), and Marco Paoluzzo (for example “Føroyar”).

In the introduction the author concludes with the thought “By walking these coastlines ... I’ve found a new sense of belonging”, which is a feeling I can identify very strongly with.  Personally, having no real roots, I’ve often found meaning in wandering around areas local to where I work and live, gathering together photos and thoughts, building up a narrative for myself. I’ve also at times started to attempt to put these collections into some form of publication, but I’ve never really achieved anything.

“Undertow” is quite charmingly successful at nailing down such a sense of place.

 

Not a wildlife photographer

but whatever, here’s some penguins

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Friday, March 27, 2020

Seems that for a lot of photographers the current lockdown has a silver lining, as it provides time to organise, curate, edit and generally sort out photography backlogs. It should be the same for me, but somehow I’m finding it even harder to focus on these activities right now. But I certainly have a backlog. In fact my backlog has backlogs. I’m sure if I just let things drift, I’ll regret it, if and when normality returns, so I’m trying to get stuff done by dividing tasks up into small slices.  In that way, I’m managing to work through the huge pile of photos acquired during the Antarctic leg of my last little jaunt.

First I managed to whittle down some 6000 photos to 1300. It’s a start, but 6000 is way too many for a 2 week period. Then again, I think that most people on the same trip have far, far more, as they pretty much all were shooting continuously, at rates of lots of frames per second, while I pretty much always stuck to single frames.

This is probably to my detriment. After all, I have a camera (Olympus E-M1 MkII if you want to know) which is capable of insane frame rates, so why don’t I use it? There are several reasons for this - one, I really don’t have the mindset of a wildlife photographer, where the downside of having to sift through mountains of near-identical photos has the upside of retrieving one or two real gems. Second, I’m too lazy (or old, or stupid, or all three) to learn how to do it properly. Whatever, I still ended up with 6000 photos.

Actually, I wasn’t really expecting the trip to be quite so heavily oriented towards wildlife photography, although with hindsight I really should have been, and should have prepared for it. So I was thrown into a situation where the priority was wildlife, and lots of it, and that is not within my comfort zone. I discovered that for most people an iceberg was not very interesting if it didn’t have a penguin or a seal on it. I’ve learned that dedicated wildlife photographers have the ability to pre-conceive a particular shot that they want, and are prepared to spend literally hours waiting for it. And for this they need to be fully prepared and to have complete mastery of their equipment. And they need patience.

I don’t have any of this.  If I’m given 3 hours to wander around a location, then my main object will be to see as much of that location as I can. I may pick up some photos along the way, in my usual opportunistic way, and I may even spend some time trying to get a particular shot that I’ve identified on the spot, but any notion of conceiving of what I want to photograph usually comes only with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.  So, I use inappropriate settings, my output is random and generally poor, and I get annoyed with myself. However, at the other extreme, I’ve seen people achieve the single shot they wanted less than 1 hour into a 3 hour shore trip, and at that point fold up and head back to the ship. In my way of thinking, they are missing opportunities, but I guess from a photographic point of view they’re showing discipline, and the net result is that they have pre-curated their shots, and actually have little follow up work to do other than discarding the 95% of frames which they don’t need.  It’s an approach which has some clear attractions.  And, if you look at the work of one of my trip companions, Richard Barrett, you can see it works very well.

And penguins… well, it’s easy to photograph penguins. Actually sometimes it’s hard NOT to photograph penguins. They get in everywhere. It is harder to isolate a single penguin, and even harder to make that into an interesting photograph. I’m not 100% sure why we even try - penguins are above all highly social animals, and seeing them in isolation somehow seems a bit sad. The holy grail, it seems, these days in penguin photography is to try to get that “fog” foreground look, where you get a band of out of focus snow in the lower part of the frame. Finding clean snow around penguins is also hard, as they can’t get toilet paper in Antarctica, and since they nest on exposed rock getting them to pose nicely in snow is hard too. I was actually more interested in getting shots featuring penguins in a wider environment, sometimes even to the point that you don’t first notice the bird. This is also not original. And in any case over time I sucombed to peer pressure and image reviews telling me this wasn’t what I should be doing. Perhaps, more accurately, I just wasn’t doing it very well.

Anyway, with my small batch at a time approach, I’ve made some headway into curation and processing. So here, from that work in progress, is a small sample of the penguin side of my latest attempts at wildlife photography.

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Torres del Paine, by Francisco Espíldora

an individual approach

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Whenever I travel, I keep an eye open for books by local photographers, on the grounds that they will almost certainly be full of photos better than I could ever make. Of course there are always garish anthologies of sub-postcard level stuff which manage the near impossible feat of being full of shots even less adequate than mine, but these I skip over.  I’m more interested in the kind of book generally found tucked away in the corners, not those piled high for undiscerning tourists.  Francisco Espíldora’s book, “Torres del Paine” is very clearly in the former category.

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Francisco Espíldora is an award-winning Chilean wildlife photographer. I believe “Torres del Paine” is his first book, and it’s an impressive start. The classification “wildlife photographer” tends to make one think of highly detailed, close up animal portraiture, which is more about technique than expression. That’s not the case here, indeed it’s drastically not so. “Torres del Paine” is a narrative, taken the reader from pre-dawn to dusk in a wintery setting, through photos taken within the national park boundary.  The initial photos are taken in near darkness, with just recognisable animal silhouettes seen in some of them. Stopping to think about it, from a technical point of view these really are quite remarkable, but more to the point they strongly convey a sense of time and place.

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Moving on, light creeps in, and dawn-lit landscapes are mixed in, some with distant wildlife visible, some not. The colour palette is restrained, none of the exuberant saturation that a lot of wildlife, and indeed landscape photography goes in for. In fits in with a certain idea of “film-like”, provided you associate film more with the kind of subdued feel delivered by Fuji Astia, rather than the screaming psychedelia of Velvia. It’s a very appropriate look.

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Further in, the wildlife does take more of a centre stage role, but still very much within or even concealed by the landscape, as opposed to somehow cut out of it.  The narrative moves towards brighter midday and afternoon light, before finally returning to night.

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Overall the book really feels like something much more than just a collection of photos, which is quite unusual in the genre. Francisco Espíldora clearly has a deep feeling for the land, and a story to tell. From a photographical point of view, his approach has some parallels with that of Vincent Munier, but without the extreme minimalism Munier tends towards (sometimes too much, for my tastes), or the impressionistic approach of Stanley Leroux, while remaining very individual.

I’m hardly an authority on wildlife photography, or indeed any kind of photography (or anything else, to be honest), but my feeling is that Francisco Espíldora is on a path to becoming a leading contemporary wildlife photographer.  I strongly recommend this book, which you can buy directly here, and look forward to seeing more of his work.

 

The Atlas Athlete backpack

recommended by leading penguins

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Over the years I’ve written a fair few articles on camera bags. It’s a given that no self-respecting photographer can ever have too many bags. Well, for me the search for the as-close-to-perfect bag seems to be at an end. I’m not claiming that I have found a single bag that suits every occasion, but I have found 3 which pretty much cover everything. Two of these, I’ve had for a while: for casual, city and similar use, the Domke F803. For fully dedicated core photography, the Mindshift Backlight 23L. I’m not going to discuss those here, but rather the final piece of the puzzle, the hybrid trekking/photo Atlas Athlete backpack.

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Introducing my guest reviewer, a big fan of Atlas backpacks.

I’ve been using the Atlas backpack for almost exactly one year. It has come on several major trips (Madeira, Patagonia, Antarctica) and plenty of minor outings. There are a lot of great things about this backpack, but for me the outstanding points are the extreme comfort and the chameleon-like configurability. It is designed first and foremost as a trekking backpack. It has an aluminium frame (removable, just), and an extremely well designed harness and belt. In fact the Atlas Athlete can be ordered in several sizes and with different belt types to best suit your body measurements. And it fits like a glove.

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My guest reviewer checks out the harness

Well, so what, you might say, there are plenty of excellent trekking backpacks out there. And indeed there are, but the Atlas Athlete is also designed from a photographer’s point of view. It’s also true that there are plenty of vendors making similar claims, but where they emphasise all the gimmicks, from “packing modules” through to revolving sections, the photography aspect of the Atlas Athlete has been conceived with the same tight focus on practical usefulness as the bag itself.

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The Atlas Athlete with the camera compartment in expanded configuration. It holds two Olympus E-M1 bodies, one with grip, three Pro lenses, including the 40-150 f2.8 zoom, two teleconverters, and a filter pack.

The camera section is accessed through the back of the pack and is fixed in place. It has the usual velcro attached flexible dividers, which in this case are well, rather than excessively padded. The closest thing the bag has to a gimmick is the push-down/pull-up flap which reduces the size of the camera section, to about two thirds of the full size. Actually this turns out no to be a gimmick at all, but rather to be pretty useful in practice. The configuration you can see above uses the full space. For long walks I usually take a reduced amount of camera gear, so I pull the flap to make more space for other items. Even then, I can easily fit in an Olympus E-M1 body and two Pro lenses. The only slightly negative point I would make is that the compartment is a touch shallow.

Apart from the camera compartment, the Atlas Athlete has plenty of space. One of the main selling points is that it is very expandable. With the compression straps released, it expands out to 30 litres. With them tightened, it shrinks to 5 litres, and a 7 inch profile which easily fits into the overhead locker of a small commuter airliner. Uncompressed, the main space extends down the bottom of the bag, in front of the camera compartment. On the front of the camera compartment there is a concealed laptop holder, which easily accommodates my 13” MacBook Pro.  The top lid has a plethora of pockets which swallow surprising amounts of gadgetry.

You can read more about the features on the Atlas website, but the key factor, for me, is that it is supremely comfortable, even fully loaded.  Hiking long sections of narrow, humid Madeira levadas or the Torres del Paine W trail was absolutely no problem at all with this backpack. And it was equally at home fully loaded with camera gear on treks ashore in Antarctica, or rattling around on the bottom of a zodiac.  Oh, and did I mention hardwearing?

Of course, you can get trendier stuff from Peak Design and their Kickstarter imitators, if you value form over function. I’ve made that mistake so you don’t have to. Bottom line, for a hybrid trekking/photo backpack, you’d be hard pushed to find a better candidate than the Atlas Athlete.  And yes, it does come in a more stealthy colour, but the bright yellow works for me!

Guest Review Comments

Yeah, ok, it’s not the worst, but they could work on the taste a bit. Regurgitated krill would be nice!

 

#21 Impossible Archipelagos

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Monday, March 09, 2020

 

Greenland Landscapes Gallery

some more pretty pictures

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, February 26, 2020

I am absolutely delighted to present my second set of photos from last September’s perambulations in East Greenland, which I have cunningly named “Greenland Landscapes” in order to trick you into thinking you have not, in fact, been presented with an eye-searingly dreadful set of kitsch postcards.

Greenland intruder


As the blurb says, this is “a companion set to Greenland Icescapes, also taken in the fjord complex around Illoqqortoormiut, formerly known as Scoresbysund, in East Greenland. Proper landscape photographers hate blue skies and bright sunlight. I prefer to take conditions as they come and work around them without too many preconceived ideas”.

I do actually get irritated by landscape photographers (and especially wildlife photographers) whining on and on that the weather isn’t shite enough and contrast and shadow and bla effing bla.  Normal people (i.e. non-photographers) actually like sunshine and blue sky. So do I. Sure, there’s nothing like making the 27 millionth identical heavily overbaked shot of a dark brooding sky over some godforsaken Scottish beach, but, hey, let’s maybe try something a bit different just once in a while, ok?

(Actually just in case anybody involved is reading, this particular rant was absolutely not triggered by the Greenland crew…  more from the other end of the planet)

Oh and for those who need to know, as pretty much is always the case around here, this set was created using the fine (and very weatherproof) tools designed in Tokyo by The Olympus Corporation.  I’m not being paid to say that but I’m certainly open to offers!

 

Greenland Landscapes

 

Greenland Icescapes Gallery

ice, ice and more ice

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Finally I’m starting to break the logjam of my photo backlog: I’ve just published a new gallery of iceberg photos taken in East Greenland in September 2019.

GreenlandIceGallery

Feedback is always welcome, even if it is negative.

 

Greenland Icescapes

 

Antarctica, Round 5

if at first you don’t succeed…

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Tuesday, February 04, 2020

On Saturday I finally got home after leaving King George island, Antarctica on Wednesday afternoon. A long trip even if for the first time it involved flying over the Drake Passage rather than being thrown all over a ship for 3 miserable days.

Hans Hansson in Antarctica

So, this was my fifth visit to Antarctica, and third as a tourist, and this time it was pretty intense. Sharing the small ship Hans Hansson with 9 other passengers, 2 guides and 6 crew is a lot more intimate than a cruise ship or research vessel. And the flexibility of a small ship meant reaching little visited locations, and also visiting more popular spots outside of regular hours. With up to three three to four hour landings per day, over 12 days, what little downtime we had was very welcome. The ship is owned and operated by Quixote Expeditions, and was chartered by Visionary Wild. Both companies showed the highest level of professionalism and dedication to excellence, both before and during the trip, with all staff and crew being very friendly and approachable.

Without really wanting to single anybody out, I have to mention Justin Black, founder of Visionary Wild. Justin is a model of what every phototour leader should aspire to. Apart from, incidentally, being an excellent photographer, he was a fantastic leader, always available to help with anything, keeping everybody safe but unconstrained, and proactively ensuring that everybody was happy. His co-leader, Daisy Gilardini, a photographer with well over 20 Antarctic tours to her name, was equally supportive, and in particular able to lend her expertise to the enthusiastic, if not obsessive wildlife photographers that made up 8/10ths of the clientele.

And those 8/10ths were the only slight problem from my point of view, as I am absolutely not an obsessive wildlife photographer. So I did sometimes get frustrated when the odd iceberg was pronounced totally uninteresting because it didn’t have a bloody penguin nailed to it. Being more a kind of ambient landscape person myself, and also fascinated by the human footprint on Antarctica, I have to say at times I just put the cameras down. This was compounded by the fact that I’m continuing to go through a very dark patch photographically speaking, and I only really got into some sort of groove in the last two days, where we were being forced by strong winds to find some very out of the way locations. Generally if I were to consider only photography as a measure, then for me personally this trip was an abject failure and a massive wasted opportunity (and particularly a very rare close up encounter with a playful leopard seal which I completely failed to capture). Fortunately, I don’t live for photography, and on the upside, it was wonderful to see my very photographically modest partner Luchiana suddenly blossom into a very fine photographer, putting assorted Leica, Nikon and Sony mega-camera owners to shame with her simple travel zoom Canon.  It’s always been latent, but now she has received plaudits she cannot dismiss.

As for the what worked, what didn’t work part… well, my Atlas Athlete backpack was fantastic, being flexible enough for full day mountain treks in Patagonia as well as onshore and Zodiac work in Antarctica. A fully dedicated camera bag might have been slightly better in Antarctica, but it is very marginal, and would have been a nightmare for trekking. I continue to be impressed by Sealskin gloves, even though I suffer from chronically cold hands (but never feet). On the camera side, the Olympus E-M1 Mkii pair gave the usual Jekyll & Hyde performance - working fine all day then suddenly absolutely refusing to focus the moment something ultra interesting came along. This might have been down to the new 2x Teleconverter on the 40-150 lens, but generally this worked very well. As usual the Olympus manages sometimes to get into completely mystifying modes now and then, but possibly this has to do with too many buttons and clumsy gloves. At times I was ready to throw the whole damn lot in the ocean, but mindful of IATO rules in pollution and the fact that I can’t think of any other system which I’d hate a bit less, I didn’t.  Certainly I didn’t envy the laughably huge 400 and 600mm full frame lenses my companions were touting, even if I have to admit they are less heavy than they look. As is the Fuji GFX100 which Justin was using, but that camera lives in a different universe to me.

So here I am with 5800 more photos from Antarctica, mostly crap, and nearly 1000 from Patagonia, and I still haven’t completed my edit of 3000 from Greenland or indeed 1600-odd from Madeira. I think I’ve got enough photos for now.

So, will there be a sixth Antarctic trip? At present I doubt it. The piggy bank is gutted, and anywhere there are other places to see. Even Antarctica is now beginning to suffer from mass tourism, with vast cruise ships lining up through the Neumayer Channel and around Paradise Bay.

But never say never…

 

Doubling down

and moving out

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Saturday, December 28, 2019

The frequency at which I updating this site recently hardly justifies the hosting fees, or indeed all the work I put into upgrading it some months back. This reflects my currently diminished interest in “engaging with the community”, where more and more I’m finding that an audience of 1 is all I need.  There’s nothing world changing or meme generating about my photography, so it would only be counterproductive, and probably depressing, to fish for likes and whatnot.  Although you’re more than welcome to boost my ego on Flickr.

Another brake on my visible creativity is my processing, in both a computing as well as a mental sense, of the too vast haul I brought back from Greenland in September. The problem there is that the overall quality is too high. It was really difficult to cull the stragglers when a very high proportion of the photos was pretty good, even if I say so myself. And to a reasonable extent I avoided repetition and taking “just in case” shots. This is problematic because I don’t have to time to edit thousands of photos, and I already have a significant backlog. On top of that, I’ve been busy planning another imminent trip, once again Deep South to Antarctica, with an Hors d‘Oeuvre of Argentinian and Chilean Patagonia. I’m kind of telling myself that the Patagonia leg will be focused on trekking, with at most a little vacation photography, but we all know where that ends up.

Which brings me finally to the point. My last few, far between posts have pretty much been about gear, and so is this one. After quite a lot of thought and dithering, I have decided to redouble my reliance on micro four thirds gear, and in particular Olympus. There is a significant advantage in polar regions to having two cameras, generally one with a wide angle lens and one with a telephoto, so I have replaced my older E-M1 (which did fine in Greenland) with a second E-M1 Mark II. How do I explain this extravagance? Well, lucky me, I work in a Swiss Bank, so I’m insanely rich, darling (well, really less rich than insane). And considerably more truthfully, the fact that the Mark I and Mark II have different batteries means more weight and bulk to carry, and the slightly different control and menu layouts are annoying.  The new Mark II came with a free grip from Olympus, which is also useful in Antarctica. And both, together with a set of Pro zooms covering a wide focal range, snugly fit into the camera bay of my fabulous Atlas backpack, which is perfect for trekking. So there we have it.

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I expect the Sigma dp0 will come along too, although my objective of keeping weight down to 20kg + 8kg backpack for a 30 day trip is under quite some strain.

Regarding the Olympus stuff, I‘ve mentioned the mushy far distance effect which I dislike a few times. Actually I‘ve looked at raw files from other cameras, including medium format, and seen pretty much the same thing, it just sets in at a greater distance or higher frequency. Probably another aspect of the same root cause is a plasticky look which sets in on surfaces like exposed rock in certain circumstances. Processing software has an effect on both of these behaviours - I find Adobe Lightroom / Camera Raw to be the least bad. Interestingly the Sigma cameras seem to be free of these effects, as does film, so maybe it is a Bayer filter thing, but these systems have their own drawbacks.

Mush

This is what I mean by “mushy”.  This is a 1:1 screenshot, probably further damaged by compression, but maybe it shows what I mean.

Finally, does any of that make an iota of difference between a good photo or a bad photo? Of course not. But it can be annoying.

So, my objective now is to take as few photos as I possibly can, and to try to be aware of and work around the limitations of my gear. Oh, and to put a memory card in.

** I was hoping to fit in a “my favourite shots of the year” before heading off, but I ended up spending the time unpacking and repacking everything again.  I’m a hopeless traveller.

 

Flip Flop

indecision strikes again

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Friday, November 22, 2019

Hello? Anybody still reading this stuff? Not that I’m writing anything…  So, I had a mega post ready to go a few weeks back, with the title “Everything Must Go”, and the content was exactly what the title said. I was putting up for sale all my film cameras (Hasselblad XPan, Linhof 612 and Voigtländer Bessa 667), and getting out of film. My main motivation was (is?) to reduce clutter, both physical and intellectual, and to use only tools which enable a painless workflow, so, in my mind as it was two weeks ago, digital. And to be more precise, Olympus digital - I had decided that my experiment with the Sigma sd H was a failure, but I would hold off a little before putting that on the market as well (the dp0 Quattro is here to stay though). I still had a few rolls of film either out for processing or about to go, evidence of my very half-hearted, token engagement with the medium in 2019.

And then the processed film came back…

B667 2019 09 03

So, a photo of nothing much really, but my oh my, that Portra 400 look is just so luscious. There’s no better way to capture that southern Italian light (Bessa 667).

Xpan 2019 02 14

This was supposed to be a farewell, rattling through half a roll of Ektachrome E100 so that I could take it out of the camera before selling it.  And then I saw the result… oh, and I forgot to put the centre filter back on after cleaning it resale, giving a trendy vignetted look (XPan II).

L612 2019 02

This is the least convincing. Well, the location I’d set out to photograph turned out to be the location a couple had chosen for a romantic picnic, so I was really scraping the bottom of the barrel here. Still, those Fuji 160 Pro greens….  And, unfortunately, the 58mm lens flare (Linhof 612PCII).

So I’m back on the fence. On top of all this, it seems I could be giving up film just at the wrong time (typically), if reports on Kodak ramping up production and Fuji bringing back colour film are accurate.

Actually a secondary motivation was to just maybe raise the funds to buy a Hasselblad X1D Mark II. But then I downloaded some raw files from that camera, opened them up in Lightroom, and to be honest, the only major difference between them and Olympus OM-D files are that they’re bigger. Far off detail still breaks down into exactly the same unattractive mush as for the Olympus (neither film nor Sigma Foveon do this). There might be a touch more dynamic range, and just possible more subtlety in colour gradients, but we’re still not in Kodak Porta territory. Far from it. And the cost, especially of the lenses, is just ridiculous for some amateur dilettante like me. Anyway, we’ll see.

Same goes for film. Right now I don’t have any immediate use for it, but I guess it is probably best to leave that particular bridge unburnt, for now.

 

Too Many Photos…

...far too little time

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Sunday, October 20, 2019

I really did promise myself this time: I’d keep things under control, be disciplined, and bring home a manageable number of photos. I’d only take the shots worth taking, not the maybes, and absolutely not the documentary shots,. I’d only shoot under good light. Etcetera, etcetera. So, what happened ? In 8 days shooting in East Greenland, I managed to bring back 2837 photos. Totally ridiculous. In my defence, the location - the fjord system south of Scoresbysund - is the photographic equivalent of a family-sized box of Sprüngli chocolates. Every location is better than the last one, and the first one is better than the last. And when the weather is cooperative, which to my tastes it was, even if it wasn’t quite Wagnerian enough for some, well there are killer shots in all directions at all times. So, maybe 3000 isn’t too unreasonable. Certainly it is way under the count that some of my companions racked up, but still, for me it is close to unmanageable.  On my first edit I’ve managed to knock it down to 696. I need to get down to at least half of that before I can even consider to start serious processing.  On the other, I think I’m being quite ruthless in my choices, which means that the overall quality is pretty good.

Drm 2019915 EM1S6593

The bulk of my haul was taken using my pair of Olympus E-M1 cameras, a Mk1 and a Mk2. Both performed faultlessly and were perfectly happy to be left outside cold and sometimes wet conditions. When not in use they hung from a peg of the sailboat’s forward mast. Without a doubt they’re tough cameras. The image quality is generally fine too, although I still find that at times distant detail gets a little too mushy. And there’s no getting away from the noise issue: personally, for landscape work I think 1600 ISO is the absolute limit, and you need to get the exposure right. I guess 1 stop more is just about acceptable in exceptional cases, but the shot really needs to be worth it. Low light is not a comfortable place for these cameras. In other situations, say street photography, you might get away with ISO 6400 - maybe. But anyway, most of the time I’m close to the base 200 ISO, and in any case, this is just the part of the deal. On the other side you have very portable, superbly built cameras and absolutely top notch lenses.

Speaking of lenses, being very restricted on weight I was very strict with myself on which to take. The 40-150 f/2.8 was non-negotiable.  The 12-40 f/2.8 is its natural companion, so that came too. And I decided to being the 7-14 f/4 wide angle, even if in the past it has been of more use as a doorstop than a lens. The highly versatile 12-100 f/4 was going to stay at home… until the very last moment, when I wrapped it some clothes and threw it into my duffel bag. So, my Lightroom statistics make interesting reading:

Greenland stats

...over half of my photos were taken using a lens I only packed as an emergency backup, and at the last minute. Actually the 12-100 is widely held to be an exceptional lens, but ever since I dropped mine in Venice and had to have it fixed, I’ve had the impression that it is a bit soft on the left side. But I’ve had it thoroughly checked by Olympus Pro Service and they say it is absolutely fine, so I guess I’d better go and my eyes tested again.

So, next comes the processing, and I have no doubt that I’ll be back down the rabbit hole of which software to use in no time at all. For rating and selecting, I really have nothing to beat Lightroom, and since it synchronises to mobile I can do a certain amount of editing away from home. But for processing, although Lightroom is pretty good, I never can stop wondering if there is something better. Certainly Iridient Developer can extract an ever so slightly better rendition of the Olympus raw files, but it too has its limitations.  No selective editing for a start. Photoshop, of course, can pretty much do anything, if only you can remember how to do it. The new version of Exposure, X5, now has what looks like very comprehensive luminance masking, and this allows highly selective refinements to texture, for example, a long way beyond Lightroom’s masking capabilities. But then again, Lightroom has the new Texture tool which is really nice. And Exposure, at least up to X4, has really dreadful sharpening tools.

So, the sensible thing to do, which I will try my best to stick to this time, is to stay in the Adobe stack, with Lightroom as the main tool, Photoshop for refining my top selection, and in a few cases Iridient to do the raw processing. Even within those boundaries there’s enough scope for dithering to last 100 lifetimes.

This then ties in with another decision I have (nearly) made, which is finally to put an end to my my parallel use of film cameras. I’ve come to realise this is just getting in the way of me creating satisfying photography. I’m not saying that digital is better than film: both can and do produce excellent results, and the choice really should depend on what you want to do. And I’ve come to realise that what I want to do is better served by digital. To quote myself in a previous post, “for me shooting film is mainly about finding something to point the camera at, whereas shooting digital is about wanting the photo”. In other words I’ve got a bunch of film cameras I feel compelled to use, but these days either I cannot or do not want to use them in pursuit of my main photographic objectives. Part of the problem is that the nature of air travel has changed so much these days, making travelling with film cameras, especially big heavy ones, a real pain, and other part is that film really is beginning to get expensive. Digital and Film require two very different workflows, both time consuming, and time is something I never seem to have enough of. I need to rationalise if I’m ever going to get anywhere. So, it is looking pretty likely that my XPan, Linhof 612 and Bessa 667 will be going up for sale soon.

Then finally, maybe, I will concentrate on photography.

Drm 20190914 P0Q0883
 

Greenland Return

if at first you don’t succeed..

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Monday, September 23, 2019

In August 1999 I joined a small group trekking in the general area of Tasilaaq, East Greenland. I travelled there via Iceland, a place that didn’t make a huge impression on me at the time. That changed…  Just over 20 years later, much older and no more wiser, I repeated the experience, more or less, although this time I headed further north, and a small boat provided most of the transport rather than my feet.

Photographically, my first trip was a near write-off. This time I grabbed over 2000 photos, which is at least twice what I’d planned to ration myself to. Whether or not they’re any good, time will tell, but it was fun.  More so than I expected.

Drm 2019912 P9120400

A bit of Greenland through an Olympus E-M1

Most of these 2000 photos were taken with my pair of Olympus E-M1s. Although these were definitely the least impressive cameras on the trip, at least on paper, they, and the three Pro zoom lenses worked perfectly. Most of time they lived outside, hanging from a peg on the forward mast.  Unfortunately I missed one fantastic shot, when I suddenly saw a composition, spun around to grab a camera, and discovered that they weren’t there.  Some kind soul, seeing them drenched in rain and spray, had taken them inside for me… unaware, obviously, that the conditions were not even vaguely a challenge for Olympus weather sealing :-). Oh well, they meant well.

At the last moment before leaving for Greenland I tossed my Sigma dp0 “digital XPan” into my bag. I turned out to be a very good decision. Not only were several companions fascinated by it, therefore giving us something to talk about in the long dark Arctic nights, but it was absolutely in its element.

Drm 20190912 P0Q0863

Another bit of Greenland through the Sigma dp0

Of course there is a strong undercurrent to all of this, which I expressed in my last post. But I guess there is still some worth in remembering what we stand to lose.

 

#20 Nerlerit Inaat

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Saturday, September 21, 2019

 

Adrift

Ctrl-Alt-Del

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, September 11, 2019

So here I am, sitting in seat 2F of an Icelandair Boeing 757, on my way to Greenland via Reykjavik, about 20 years and 1 month since I was doing pretty much exactly the same thing. Back then, I had some idea of what I was looking for. In fact it was two things: a life reset following a disastrous relationship breakdown, and a attempt to reconnect with the high latitudes. Photography was not really a part of it, which is just as well as 95% of my film exposures were ruined.

Twenty years later the world has moved on. I’m really not at all sure what my reason for travelling is this time. I’m neither the person of 20 years ago looking for a new direction, or indeed the passionate photographer of 10 or 15 years ago.

Twenty years ago we could sit around and wonder at the first public ruminations on climate change. Indeed these were nothing new to me as up until that point polar climate research had been my career. It was all a bit concerning but somehow a long way off, and anyway, surely “they” would see sense and Do Something. After all, even the Wicked Witch of the East, Margaret Thatcher, recognised that it was a serious issue. Then again, Thatcher was a scientist, and with hindsight, not totally evil. So we all waited. And waited. And here we are. I think that the correct description of our current status is “totally fucked”. Rather than stumbling towards at least some kind of enlightenment, we are hurtling head on to extinction, not only of our own miserable species, but also of the whole amazing biosphere we are part of. Led by imbeciles like Trump, Johnson, Putin, Xi Jinping, Bolsonaro, Salvini and countless others, along with the shady cohort of “advisors” and billionaires who pump in the money to enable them, we are accelerating into a brick wall. It is hard to understand what motivates these people. They’re not all stupid, far from it, and they surely must realise what the real situation is. But they don’t care. Applying Occam’s Razor almost leads to the conclusion that the Legions of Hell are a real thing, and these people are the vanguard. Do they really believe they can eat, drink and breathe money?

The not so slow-motion collapse of the Arctic ecosphere is not highlighted as a last chance alarm bell, as Thatcher surely would have done, but, unbelievably, as a chance for Trump, sodding Putin and Xi to drill yet more oil. Presumeably to throw onto their mate Bolsonaro’s fires.

And yet, here I am, ranting on about this, while travelling in splendid isolation, somewhere over France, in a Boeing 757 spewing out carbon dioxide, so I can take a few photos of what remaining icebergs we might find. By all rights I should not be able to afford this flight. The true cost is far more than I can pay.

I see no reason for optimism. None at all. Sure, there are a lot of good people out there, but there are no good sufficiently empowered leaders. The problems that need to be resolved are immense, and complex on all sorts of levels. The issue of over population needs to be addressed, because this is a root cause. The planet certainly can sustain the current and projected population, but not with the current wealth imbalance.  Us Europeans and North Americans cannot continue to grab 90% of the world’s resources. The misery in much of Asia and Africa, and to some extent South America, need not exist if we had equitable distribution of wealth and resources. Certainly our living standards would need to drop a little (actually not so much) and I would not be sitting on this plane. But is this going to happen, at least peacefully? Not a chance. And that’s before we even start to look at really bring greenhouse gas emissions under control. But hey, even if we solve THAT intractable problem, there’s that little issue we have with plastic pollution. And all the rest of it.

On balance I’m relieved that I don’t have children, and that I was born early enough that I will, probably, escape the worst of this.

And yet, the USA will doubtless re-elect Trump. After all, what alternatives do they have? The numbskull British will obey the Daily Mail and elect Johnson, because Johnson offers the Daily Mail’s billionaire owners, and the billionaire friends, more money. And they’ll come up with some way to bribe the populace with some baubles in exchange for a livable future. They won’t elect Jeremy Corbyn, a thoroughly decent chap with the Achille’s heel of being far, far too honest for today’s politics. Even though Corbyn could save them and navigate a path to a sustainable future. They won’t do that, because they might have to pay a smidgeon more for their beer, and maybe take the bus sometimes rather than the SUV. Of course this is all really Darwin’s law in action, expect it’s in action on us, not on some esoteric concept like the Dodo.

So what am I doing here? If I had a following, or were An Influencer, perhaps I could claim that my matchless photography will open the world’s eyes to these issues. But it won’t. We’ve seen enough photos of Scoresbysund - it is indeed a remarkable place, perhaps we should let it be. No, I’m going for purely selfish reasons. It will be great to meet up again with my friend Daniel Bergmann, although it says something about my ability to form friendships that I have to travel halfway across the Atlantic to do so. And maybe I’ll make some new friends, who knows. But I have no expectations of making any photography of any consequence, and certainly not of alleviating the problems that my very travelling is significantly contributing to.

One hour and twenty minutes out from the slow gentle descent into Keflavik gazing out over the pink tinged clouds shrouding the ocean, it all looks so peaceful and timeless. But when we go down, as we surely will, we’ll doubtless take it with us. All that remains is, for those of us fortunate enough to have the opportunity, to enjoy it while we can. And take some photos.

 

Medium Dilemma

end of the roll?

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, August 28, 2019

This time last year I was fully into a major return to film photography.  In fact I hardly made any digital photos for the whole summer. Things like the reintroduction of Ektachrome (albeit late) and the ArsImago LabBox (ditto, very) were galvanising, as was the new (in English at least) dedicated film photography magazine, Fotoklassik.

And now? Well, so far I have just about managed to finish one of my 5 rolls of first batch Ektachrome E100, and I struggled to shoot a total of 4 frames (plus 1 screwup) of 120 film. I’ve just stopped finding film photography, and film cameras, particularly motivating. Instead I now find them clumsy and heavy, and the whole end to end process unwieldy, unreliable and a massive timesink. And although it’s certainly just me, I’m not finding the content of Fotoklassik very enthralling. The LabBox arrived but so far it has just sat in its packaging (actually I did shoot two rolls of the Ars Imago 320 roll film that came with it, to try out developing. The first ended up as a fat roll, the first I have ever had, ever, in my Bessa III. So that’s a great introduction to the world of Ars Imago).

Drm 20190505 P5050555

Film not dead in 2019

What is dawning on me is that by and large for me shooting film is mainly about finding something to point the camera at, whereas shooting digital is about wanting the photo.  There are a few exceptions, in particular when it comes to using the XPan, but to be absolutely honest I think the last time I wasn’t forcing myself to use it was in Antarctica in 2012. I did use it somewhat extensively in Calabria last year, but it was a bit half-hearted. And I can still remember just what a pain it was carting a full XPan kit along with DSLR around Argentina and Antarctica. I can’t see myself doing that again - or maybe I can, that’s the great thing about being indecisive!

There are some glimmers of renewed motivation from my first roll of E100. It does look very good indeed, seems to have slightly wider exposure tolerance than E100G, and the same slightly muted neutral colour balance I like. And I still enjoy using the XPan, which for quite some time was my primary camera. But can I face packing it up and carting it all over the place? With boxes full of film in hand baggage? I’m far from sure. These days it needs to compete as a second system with my Sigma sd H, and honestly, that’s a competition which is most likely to have no winner. The Olympus stuff is much less cumbersome, and at least as if not more competent in most scenarios.

Drm 20190505 P5050554

Film service industry is big business in 2019

Still, I have two imminent trips. The first to Puglia in Southern Italy, and actually for that film really does work, in the shape of Portra 400 in my Bessa 667.  The next is Scoresbysund and nearby fjords in East Greenland. For this the Olympii are already packed: two bodies and three pro zoom lenses = 6kg, which is pretty remarkable. The question is, is this enough (well of course it is) or should I add either the XPan kit, the Sigma sdH, or even a kind of hybrid of the two, the Sigma dp0. This time last year the XPan would have gone in first, and I’d probably even be rationalising about taking the Linhof 612.  Now… I’m inclined to just accept that simple is better. And film, actually, isn’t simple.

Xpan 2019 01 10

XPan / E100 in 2019

 

 

#19 Venice In Colour

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Tuesday, August 06, 2019

 

Way off the reservation

everybody hates me, etc

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Preface: I’m not entirely sure what prompted me to write this diatribe at this particular time. It is just one aspect of a growing dissatisfaction which I have with all this photography culture stuff. And irritation with pretty much everything that crosses my lawn.

A while ago, quite a while in fact, I made a conscious decision to choose photography as a hobby. Apart from the photography in itself, it seemed like a good excuse to get out of the house, and a way to meet interesting people and make new friends. And as the internet exploded it seemed to promise even more. All those websites, fora, photo sharing - a cornucopia of engagement with like-minded people.

Maybe it’s all my own fault, but it didn’t really work out that way. Over time I discovered that the photographic community, by and large, has the highest aggregation of snake oil sales(wo)men, frauds and egomaniacs in the known universe. In fact I’ve realised that I found very few like-minded people, and hardly community at all. Instead it was just a frantic souk milling with people shouting LOOK AT ME! ME! MEEEE!

Pretty much photographic blogging boils down to self-marketing and selling.  Most photography tweeters are plugging their own or their sponsors’ products. The number of people publishing quality material just for the love of it, be it photography itself or writing about photography is near zero. And as far as I can tell, in the increasingly vomit-inducing world of “landscape photography”, if you remove Guy Tal, it is exactly zero. And to be honest, you can probably have too much Guy Tal.

In less constrained themes there are a few beacons of hope. Andrew Molitor’s writings are largely way over my IQ threshold (no, not that IQ, the other one), but he writes very engagingly, and even when I haven’t got the faintest notion what he’s going on about, I enjoy reading him. The chap behind the Leicaphilia site is good too, and I enjoy reading his stuff even if I have very little interest in Leicas as such. And that’s about it - the other engaging writers gave up about 10 years ago. All the other sites in my bookmarks are full of regurgitated nonsense promising to make me such a better photographer if only I’d buy their workshop / course / ebook / presets, or buy that shiny new camera from the company that’s bankrolling their trip to Outer Wazookstan.

Sadly it’s pretty much the same thing at a personal level. I’m running the risk of upsetting a few people here, but frankly I don’t give a damn. Look at yourselves, people. Especially those of you who are my best friends forever when you want something, or when I buy your stuff, and then don’t write or call until that time you’ve got something else to sell. Fine, you’re in business to sell stuff, but just stop with being so fake about it. Only in the Photography World have I encountered this level of mendaciousness, and I’m getting so sick of it that it is getting close to putting me off photography altogether. The only solution I can see is to pull down the shutters and work in complete isolation, which is totally contrary to my initial motivations. I’ve always tended to believe in mutual assistance, but I’ve lost count of the number of photo buddies I’ve promoted, publicised, helped in other ways, only to see them pull the ladder up as soon as I was of no further use in the Quest to be a Master Nature Photographer. Sure, it could just be me - but really, it seems to be only photography as a pursuit that does this to people.

Why does photography drive such behaviour? Why do we accept that anybody with a camera and some ability in self-marketing can call themselves as “educator”? Is just because is it so easy? Does anybody have any theories?

Of course, there are a few exceptions, and I’m going to assume (if you’re reading this) that you know who you are, because if I included you in the above group, I wouldn’t be buying your stuff…

I’ll go and shout at some clouds now.

 

Some photography

well why not?

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Thursday, July 25, 2019

Summerbreeze is blowing through your window
And summerbreeze is blowing through your hair
Something in your eyes that took me by surprise
Don’t tell me that it ain’t there

Emiliana Torrini - Summerbreeze

Well, that’s a totally irrelevant quote. Although nothing is really irrelevant, is it?  There is no shortage of summer around these parts, even if the breeze part could do with some replenishment. So, I realised I don’t really write much about my own photography here these days, even if it is superficially the point of the exercise.

Therefore I would kindly direct you to some recent uploads. One, I’ve refreshed one of my “recent work” galleries here, with some, well, recent stuff.  It includes a significant representation of photos from Madeira, of which I have lots, and I’m still struggling to edit. The levadas of Madeira have capitvated me in a way that little else in quite some time, but getting that fascination across in photography is a puzzle.

In a very, very convoluted way the above quote sort of points to the next set, which is actually a refresh of a gallery I used to have here: Pyramiden, in Svalbard. A couple of weeks ago I was persuaded to do yet another backflip and agree to join a short expedition to East Greenland in September. Which means I needed to dust of some of “Arctic” stuff a bit. Maybe I’ll add some more.

Anyway, do please take a look. It’s free, it won’t hurt, and something may take you by surprise.

Lord it’s hot here.  Too hot to type.

 

Pyramiden

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, July 24, 2019

 

Best Cameras For Landscape Photography

it’s not what you think…

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Recently the photonet has thrown up a couple of pieces aiming to list the Best Cameras For Landscape Photography. Both DP Review and Photography Life have pretty much concluded that you must have a very big and expensive digital camera to do landscape photography, and frankly, if you don’t have a $10’000 Fuji GFX100, you might as well give up. I will say that DP Review have rebalanced things a bit with a video demonstrating that you can get excellent results with a basic DSLR, but the general theme, as ever, is that for some vague reason, “landscape” photography demands huge resolution.  Leaving aside the fact that neither list includes any camera I own, which frankly doesn’t bother me, this peer pressure pushing people to buy unnecessarily complex and expensive gear makes me angry.  Gear-oriented discussion of Landscape photography comes with a number of tired, ungrounded clichés, which apart from the ridiculous and ever increasing demand for megapixels, includes equating Landscape with “wide angle”, with ultra high end lenses, and huge backpacks.

Frankly it’s all rubbish. Just a couple of years ago people were salivating over 16 megapixel cameras, and winning awards with photos taking with 35mm film.  Those ancient cameras still work, and if your photos (or indeed my photos) are no good at 16, or even 6, megapixels, they’re not going to be any better at 100. You’re just going to have a lot less money to be able to spend on travelling around to actually enjoy photography.

And speaking of travelling, airline carry-on bag dimensions and weight are constantly decreasing. If you like to have a reasonable selection of focal lengths to chose from, even “full frame” is going to become troublesome.  There’s not much point in having that super mega camera or that super bright telephoto lens if you can’t afford to travel with them.

Of course sometimes the biggest and best is justified, but either because somebody else is paying, or because you’re wealthy.  And even then, the difference in outcome is often not much more than size.  Take Julian Calverly for example: while he does a lot of commercial work with a medium format system - where he actually needs tilt shift lenses - he also produces equally fabulous work using an iPhone.

Far be it for me to lay down the law, but I’m just passing on my experience - I spent too many years in the gear acquisition hamster wheel, and frankly it has bought me very little lasting pleasure. If I look at my favourite photos, there is no correlation whatsoever with the perceived quality of whatever camera I was using. Actually most of the few photos I have which have received external praise, and even generated income, were taken using a 5Mpix camera.  A camera which just happened to have excellent ergonomics.

And that’s the key really - the best camera for your landscape photography is the one you feel the most comfortable with, which will get out of the way and allow you to concentrate on the photography. The so-called “image quality” is close to irrelevant, as pretty much all cameras today are well past good enough.  And what differences there are are far from linear - a $10’000 Fuji GFX does not have image quality 10 times greater than a $800 Fuji X-T30. In fact in many cases you’d have to look very closely to see any difference.

My advice is simple - keep the weight down, and buy something digital with weather sealing. The rest will take care of itself.

 

#18 Trümmelbachfälle

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Friday, June 21, 2019

 

So many photos

and so many more photos

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, June 19, 2019

A couple of weeks ago, Kirk Tuck wrote a blog post entitled “What do you do with all the photos you take?”.  It was a very good question. Kirk, it seems - SPOILER ALERT - deletes a significant number of his before they even get on a computer. I probably should do the same, but I don’t. I have got an awfully large number of digital photos, and a whole lot more on processed film. Actually, my Lightroom catalogue, which goes back to 2004, more or less, as of today has 74’702, which I suspect is actually not so many, especially as 50’000 of those are test photos of ducks. But even so I can’t keep up. I continually take new photos, and the projects I have in mind for the previous batch get overwhelmed as I sift through the newer ones, which in turn get overwhelmed by their successors.

I have several projects I’ve actually started, apart from all the ones in my head. One is a fairly straightforward book of Antarctic photography - I’ve even written the text for it. Another is a rather more eccentric concept for a series on Venice.  I’ve got the raw material for this stuff, I’ve got the ideas, but I haven’t got the time, or the ability to focus. And then I had an actually quite well planned and executed harvest of photos of Madeira’s levadas, which I absolutely love, but that’s still sitting on the virtual shelf. I’d get onto that only I have some stuff from the Lauterbrunnen valley from last week which got in the way.  And so it goes. The problem is that I suspect that the part of all this which I most enjoy is taking the photos - well that and shopping for gear. I suppose I have some vague idea of a long enjoyable retirement when I’ll sort it all out - but actually, a retirement spent sitting in front of a computer, waiting for the final shutdown…is maybe not the best idea.

As I was saying, the problem is focus. I also have a lot of material to write about. It’s mostly in my head. I suppose I might manage to publish more frequently if I thought that anybody except me is actually reading this stuff, but pretty much nobody is, so it may just as well stay in my head. I’m not complaining - Kirk Tuck’s Visual Science Lab blog is a whole lot more appealing than mine, and deservedly popular.  Item: he publishes a lot of gorgeous photos of equally gorgeous women. I don’t. Item: he writes extensively about endless buying fabulous camera gear allowing his readers to enjoy vicariously whatever his latest craze is, and to justify to themselves their own spending sprees. I don’t. I sometimes write about gear of very marginal interest to 99.99% of the gear audience, from a very eccentric angle. And always the same gear. Don’t come to me to fix your buyer’s remorse. Item: Kirk runs a successful photography business. I don’t. Item: Kirk has time for (a) at least one hugely interesting photowalk every day, (b) to maintain an extensive fitness program, (c) to write long and interesting blog posts, (d) to run his aforementioned successful business, (e) to have what appears to be a health and happy family life, (f) etc.  Well, I suppose I do too, but actually mostly I procrastinate and read Kirk’s blog.

And I’m forever veering wildly off topic.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll delete all the test photos of ducks from 2005. And publish a set from Trümmelbachfälle. Or maybe I’ll just go out and take some more photos.

Drm 050111 193232

Your time’s up, duck

 

 

Snow what? Snow where?

what’s in a name?

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Thursday, June 13, 2019

I registered the domain name “snowhenge.net” around June 2001. Although I had been running my own website since around 1997, this was supposed to be a step in a more ambitious direction.  The choice of the name “snowhenge” was a bit backwards looking, referring to an incident in the past where my somewhat strange sense of humour had been deployed. I don’t think I intended to be particularly meaningful at the time, although the initial site design had a strong “snowhenge” theme. Rather, it was fairly typical bit of misdirection.

When I walked away from Antarctic research and science in general, somewhat in disgust, I expected that polar regions were firmly in the past. Even though my involvement in research did eventually drag on for a few more years due to unfinished commitments, in my head I’d moved on. Well, more or less. In 1999, having already decided I need a major change of direction, I spent 3 weeks trekking in Eastern Greenland, back when it still had ice. A major motivation for that was wanting to rediscover the unique soft evening light which had enraptured me in the Antarctic. Photographically it was a disaster, as my camera’s exposure meter malfunctioned without me realising it, and my travel zoom lens fell apart. Actually at that point I didn’t have much of a clue what I was doing, and photography was not my main objective. My objective was to find a quiet place to sit on the rocks and gaze at icebergs. It probably still is.

Greenland 02

Greenland, 1999

From then onwards there was little real connection to snow, or polar regions at all on snowhenge.net. I got much more into photography, but this was concentrated on areas adjacent to my my new home in Ticino.  There was a glimmer of a return when I embarked on a bit of an Iceland obsession from 2004 onwards (my first visit in 1999 having for some reason made no impression on me), but still, there was no real direct justification for my web site’s title.

But eventually things turned around. In 2010 I visited Svalbard with a private expedition of 10 people, and then finally in 2013 returned to Antarctic as a tourist, with a somewhat unexpected follow-up in 2016. This, along with beginning to write quite a lot more about the Antarctic, seemed to indicate that I was finally making thematic sense.  But recently I’ve noticed that the home page barely mentions anything polar, and I’m beginning to wonder if maybe it is time for an identity shift. Actually the URL davidmantripp.com points here too, perhaps I should make it the primary name. Then perhaps people will not visit expecting to find a Snowhenge and immediately turn away disappointed.  Or maybe they do that because there’s not much to see anyway…  I’m certainly no Influencer!

I have to confess that I have another Antarctic trip lined up for early next year, something a bit different this time, which will leave me utterly penniless (but maybe also with a new sense of direction). But then again, I’m equally enthralled with other places, most recently Madeira. So I guess snowhenge.net will remain what it seems to have always been, a testimonial to my chronic appetite for digression.

 

Sigma sd quattro H

take it, or leave it ?

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, June 05, 2019

A couple of months ago I finally succumbed to the temptation of buying a Sigma sd Quattro H. Ever since the camera was announced, some years ago now, it intrigued me.  As a sometimes delighted, sometimes frustrated owner of the Merrill and Quattro dp fixed-lens series, this new interchangeable lens Foveon sensor mirrorless camera seemed like something I could put to good use.  Of course, it being a Sigma, things are not as simple as they could be. The camera is indeed mirrorless, and fairly compact, but it is designed to take Sigma’s DSLR lenses. This is not totally bad news, as the recent generations of Sigma lenses have been gaining a strong reputation for Zeiss-like levels of optical performance and build quality at a quarter of the price. Unfortunately, they are not a quarter of the weight, or the bulk, and a quarter of Zeiss prices is still a lot of money.

But anyway, here I am, with a sd Quattro H body (let’s shorten that to sd-H from now on), a 35mm f1.4 Art lens, and a 24-70 f2.8 Art lens. The latter is really huge.  And now I need to be convinced all this was a good idea.

IMG 5741

The Sigma sd Quattro H with 24-70 f/2.8 lens next to the Olympus E-M1 with equivalent 12-40 f/2.8

I have used the Quattro dp0 quite extensively, mainly as a “panoramic” camera with the 21:9 ratio. That, together with previous Merrill dp2 & dp3 experience meant that I was not blind to the potential issues. In suitable conditions these cameras can be jaw-droppingly effective, but the range of conditions that can be reliable considered suitable is narrow, to put it mildly.

Although the usual claim by enthusiasts of these Foveon sensor cameras is of remarkable resolution (which they have, but let’s not go overboard), for me the killer feature is (and again, in the right conditions), a film-like delicacy of colour and colour transition. This can justify me packing the dp0 Quattro as special-use secondary camera, but the question is, are the results clear enough to justify the sd-H and 24-70 lens, four times heavier and bulkier?

Before following up on that, let’s just have a quick recap of what the sd-H offers. There’s a full, in-depth review at DPReview, so I’m not going to spend much time on technical stuff here. The body is very well built, and feels like it cost more than it did. It is comfortable to hold, despite its unconventional shape.  The controls are well laid out and easy to reach, although I would prefer the QS Quick Menu button to be in a similar position to that on the dp body. The menu is a paragon of good design - it’s a pity so few people will see it. The back of the camera has a typical Sigma quirk, with two screens side by side. The second, smaller one is used to display shooting parameters. And unlike the dp series, there is an electronic viewfinder, which is quite large and comfortable, but suffers from the difficulty of getting a high rate video stream from the Foveon sensor. Still, it is serviceable. Basically from an ergonomic point of view things are pretty good.  Oh, and there is an option to produce linear DNG output instead of X3F Raw files, which means you can open them directly in Lightroom, etc. Although I’m not sure I’d recommend that. Oh, and the autofocus can only be described as “****** hopeless”.

I have used the sd-H properly now on 4 outings. One to Venice, which didn’t go well, two quick trips to the local Valle Verzasca, and just recently a long weekend in Tuscany. It’s still all a bit inconclusive. I got some nice results in Verzasca, but I was very constrained by the lack of Depth of Field preview. Also the lack of an orientable screen or finder can be very restricting. Basically it’s not a lot fun using the sd-H on a tripod, but generally that is where it works best.

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this kind of detailed, softly lit scene is where the Sigma cameras do excel

Drm 20190417 SDQH0212

For my trip to Tuscany I went well prepared. The area is one I know extremely well (I even published a book about it) and there’s absolutely no stress to get the shot, because either I’ve already got it, or I’ll get it next time. I also made a DNG colour profile for the camera, and took along my MacBook Air to be able to do some on the spot verification.

So, I did some handheld shots, and some tripod shots, initially all in DNG, and imported them into Lightroom. I was pretty disappointed. For example, the clichéd shots of Tuscan poppies were just smudges, with reds either overblown to flat areas with no detail or clipped to white. Just like digital cameras 20 years ago.  A shot where the ISO crept up to 800 looked like some Chernobyl aftermath. Some shots were inexplicably soft (the 24-70 lens is stabilised, but it’s no Olympus), which I’d also noticed in Venice. And generally the resolution and sharpness was not impressive at all.

Drm 20190601 SDQH0241

Foveon colour at ISO 800. Ouch.

Oh, and the classic Foveon green flare made a unwelcome appearence.

Sdh green flare

the classic Foveon green flare

But then… when I got home, I opened the same images on my desktop computer, which has a fully calibrated Eizo monitor attached to it, and there a rather different picture emerged (literally!). The overblown reds turned out to actually hold detail. The softness in some cases turned out not to be so soft. Some of the poppy field shots turned out ok. And the photos which I took in X3F format are technically not so catastrophic. So the lesson there is that perhaps my 2011 MacBook Air is not the best tool for evaluating image quality.

Drm 20190601 SDQH0240

Foveon colour at ISO 200. A bit better.

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Hardly a portfolio shot, but technically this one worked ok.

Since there was quite a lot of mountain bike touring involved on this trip, I didn’t limit myself to the Sigma. I also took my Olympus E-M5ii, with my old and travel worn 14-42EZ pancake zoom. This, unlike the sd-H, could happily travel in my backpack. Oh, the shots show a somewhat alarming softness on the right bottom corner, but if you don’t look too closely, the combination actually works pretty well.  Of course, putting a “proper” lens on the Olympus narrows the gap quite a lot, making me question the sd-H even more.

When quickly reviewing photos to illustrate this post, I noticed some shots taken in previous years in Tuscany using the dp0. That camera has a smaller sensor than the sd-H (APS-C rather than APS-H), but a fixed precisely matched (and ultra wide) lens. And even as thumbnails, the shots just pop off the screen. I expected the sd-H, with Art lenses, to have the same effect, but so far, it doesn’t. I’m not quite ready to put it on eBay, but as it stands at the moment it could not justify its place in my camera bag on a real trip.  I guess we still need to work on our relationship.

Drm 20190602 SDQH0278

This is beginning to get there.

 

 

#17 Flower Power

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Saturday, May 18, 2019

 

My photos suck

...and I don’t care

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, April 10, 2019

From the vast amount of stuff I’ve read about photography, I can really only come to one conclusion: my own photography is basically worthless.  My take away from Landscape Photography pundits is that to have any worth, photos have to have some deep and mystical connection to the natural world. A photo of a tree is not of a tree, it is a representation of the photographer’s relationship with the landscape. Well, in my case, the photo is actually of a tree, and the reason I made it is because for whatever reason I liked the tree. There’s no message in there, there’s no whispered pseudo-religious revelation. There probably isn’t even any “pin sharpness”.

In the past few days I’ve been editing my latest haul of photos of Venice. Some are geometrically interesting, some have nice colours - some have both geometry and colour - and a few have people in them. Almost all are technically more than competent. All are, unfortunately, totally soulless. I’m not going to kid myself, they may look nice in “Lights Out” mode in Lightroom on a black background, but they have zero artistic or cultural value. They do not in any way communicate the emotions I feel when wandering around the outer zones of Cannaregio or the Giudecca. In the cold light of self-analysis, they’re worthless.

As for the technical side, well, actually, I think they’re ok, but perhaps I really don’t know. I’ve read about all this stuff on DPReview and countless blogs, but when I set the slider to 0 I still can’t see this infamous “noise” in the shadows, or all this (lack of) dynamic range. I guess I just don’t have the skill to see it.

I might once have aspired to reaching some sort of higher level of vision or something, but I got stuck at the snapshot stage, and that’s all their is too it.  There are so many other ageing white male engineer-types trying to pretend they have an artistic side by buying camera gear - some of them call themselves Fine Art Photographers, especially if they’re American - that I just got lost in the crowd.

This realisation that I really not any good at any kind of artistic expression has crept up slowly on me, so it isn’t much of a surprise. I’ve known about it for some time. It also impacts on wider things, sometimes in a good way. For example when thinking about places to travel to or go on vacation, these days I don’t start wondering about what gear to take, or how to get “the good light”.  I just go with the flow - I might take some snaps, I might not, but I don’t feel bad about not being that guy wandering the streets with 20kg of camera tech strapped to his back.

At the same time I’m getting more and more weary with all the photography chatter in Twitter and everywhere else. I’m not the only one who can’t take a meaningful photograph, but I seem to be the only one who realises it. Even more, I’m fed up to the back teeth of people who are convince that a totally dull photograph becomes a work of genius because it was shot on film (or even better, expired film).

So, does this mean I’m giving it all up? No, I like taking photos. But I’m not going to keep stressing myself reading all this stuff about how I should “take it to the next level”, “find a a philosophical basis for what I do”, make a rock be “more than a rock” or all the rest of the depressing psychobabble. I’m certainly not going to dive in some kind of ersatz conceptual art.  Vacations will be vacations, not “photo tours”. I’m just going to take (hopefully) pretty pictures of things and juxtapositions that grab my attention or resonate somehow, enjoy the process of doing so, and enjoy looking at them. And I’ll publish a few here on my website too, just in case they give a few fleeting microseconds of pleasure to others.

 

Hardware

well it’s more interesting than photography…

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, March 27, 2019

A couple of months ago I had two blog posts playing around in my head, on the twin topics of “Software” and “Hardware”. “Software” got published, and here, belatedly, is “Hardware”.  I know: gear isn’t important, it isn’t interesting and it has nothing to do with Art, or indeed Photography. But, hey, it sure gets clicks.

The idea really is to get this stuff behind me once and for all. To choose a solution on both fronts that I’m comfortable with, and from then on just do the photography stuff. I might still browse through gear reviews and those crazy, crazy forums on the train or wherever, but only at a distance. And actually, on the Software side it seems to be working. I did have a bit of a glitch a month or so back, when my faithful Epson 3800 printer finally decided to throw a hissy fit. I replaced it with an Epson P800, and thanks to my investment in ImagePrint, it just slotted in and was immediately productive. In the past it would have taken me weeks, months even to get to grips with a new printer, but with ImagePrint handling everything it is completely seamless.

So, printing, that’s kind of halfway between hardware and software. The real hardware is the glitzy black boxes covered with dials and knobs with big tubes sticking out the front. Since I got into digital, I’ve been a faithful (or maybe lazy) Olympus user. My current “default” camera is an Olympus E-M5 MkII which I actually bought on impulse at a crazy low ex-demo price as a backup to take to Antarctica.  By the time I returned it had become my main camera, and although the shutter count is still some way short of my near-retired E-M1, I’m sure if I could record how long I’d carried both for, the E-M5 would win easily.

My last major outing with the E-M5 was to Madeira, where I was seriously surprised by the wealth of photographic potential. I had just the E-M5 with the 12-100 lens with me, having taken a fairly casual approach. What I sorely missed was a polariser, but still, the combination generally worked very well.  Where it did fall down is on something I’ve noticed before: distant fine detail, especially in vegetation, has a tendency to turn into an unsightly mush, which is noticeable even at A4 print sizes - well, it is to me, anyway. This impression has been confirmed to me by an acquaintance who is a professional Olympus user, and just has to be considered to be a limitation of the relatively small sensor and low-ish 16Mpix resolution. But it really only strikes in very particular circumstances - for example in urban photography I never notice it.  But anyway, this leaves an itch when it comes to some types of landscape photography.  Other than that, the Olympus m43 system fits me just fine. The lenses are just superb, and the bulk / weight, or lack of both, are very welcome.

But still, I wanted a “high quality” solution.  I’ve been seriously toying with the idea of Medium Format mirrorless, the Hasselblad X1 or Fuji GFX.  I briefly tried out the GFX and felt that it was a very nice camera, even if I prefer the aesthetics of the Hasselblad.  But the prices ... especially of the lenses ... I really cannot justify. If I was a professional, maybe, or even if I was a good enough photographer to do either justice, but I’m neither of these, so no. I’d rather spend the money on a trip to Greenland, but since I don’t actually have that kind of disposable income anyway, that’s not an option either.

But there’s another option lurking, which any readers of my past writings on gear might well see coming: Sigma. I’ve been dithering about this for ages, and typically, the death sentence of the Sigma SA lens mount and associated cameras bought about by Sigma joining an alliance with Leica and Panasonic was just the trigger I needed to grab a Sigma sd H Quattro while I still could. I’ve been a strong fan of Sigma cameras since the DP2 Merrill, and have got some very satisfying results from the ultra wide angle dp0 Quattro. But these are fixed lens cameras and rather specialist. The sd is a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, albeit one compromised (in some senses) by taking Sigma SA mount lenses designed for DSLRs.  The Sigma Art lenses are optically fantastic, on a par with the best Olympus can do, but O.M.G are they huge and heavy.  Initially I got the 35mm f1.4 Art, and supplemented it with the 24-70mm f2.8 Art.  I doubt I’ll be adding to the collection.  Being used to micro Four Thirds (or even non-micro Four Thirds), and indeed Sigma “compacts”, I’d largely forgotten about camera weight. The Sigma sd H itself isn’t heavy, but add a lens to it, and it takes me back to the nightmare days of my Canon T90 with solid lead telephoto lens bolted on the front. It’s going to have to really produce the goods to stay off the shelf.

Although people rave about the resolution of the Sigma Foveon sensor, rightly so, my attraction is more to the crystalline clarity and luminance of the photos it produces.  It’s as close to film as I’ve ever seen from a digital camera - indeed much closer than any other. The colour output has a similar character to Kodak Portra, although unfortunately with a dynamic range more like Fuji Velvia.  But in the right circumstances, both the Merrill and Quattro variants of the sensor really sing.

So there we have it - Olympus m43 for general use, Sigma sd H and dp0 for when I need something a little different. I decided to take the sd H, with the 24-70 lens, along with the E-M5 and 12-100 lens for a short trip to Venice last week, thinking I might dedicate a little bit of time to some side by side testing.  Of course I could do side by side testing in our back garden, but I actually need interesting subjects to motivate me to “test”, and our garden, welcoming as it is, doesn’t really qualify, especially not at this time of year.

It all went wrong. Of course it did. The 24-70 lens arrived at the last moment, so I decided to take advantage of an hour between trains to try it out at Milan Central station, and to review the files on the way to Venice.  Then in Venice I took it out in the late afternoon to just do some more familiarisation shots.  The battery ran out at about 70 shots, probably because it wasn’t fully charged to begin with, but also because the lens has an optical stabiliser, which doubtless sucks up power. No problem, I just reached into my pocket to swap in the spare battery, only to realise that I’d bought the dp0 spare, not the sd, and they’re very different.  And of course I’d brought the dp0 charger as well. So the wonder-camera turned into a temporary very heavy doorstop.

Not haven taken any really challenging shots, or indeed been all that careful, and no comparison shots at all, I don’t have much to base an opinion of the sd H in an urban setting on, but to be frank, what I do see doesn’t really blow me away.  It’s early days yet, but I have a nasty feeling that the perfectly matched fixed lenses of the Sigma dp series play a bigger role than I’d realised.  I did, however, take a few landscape shots in December when I first got the camera, and they were promising. We shall see.

Drm 20190319 SDQH0136

Venice, by Sigma sd H Quattro with Sigma Art 24-70mm f2.8 lens

The kind of embarrassing thing though is that I also had my Ricoh GR II with me, and due to the lack of power for the Sigma, and also an unfortunate accident with the E-M5, it got pressed into service far more than I expected. And not only did I really enjoy using it, but the “image quality” is actually quite breathtaking. Of course I already knew this.  Waaaay back towards the end of the last century it was the original film GR1 which shocked me into realising what a difference a great lens can make, and the descendants of that camera have maintained the tradition of optical excellence. In fact, I’m loathe to say this, but the GR, at least at 28mm, may be every bit as good as the Sigma. Ouch.

Drm 20190321 R0000039

Venice, by Ricoh GR II with Ricoh 18.3mm f2.8 lens

The Olympus E-M5 did its job efficiently and reliably, and I certainly enjoyed using it.  It doesn’t quite have the wow factor of it’s two companions, but it provides a far greater degree of flexibility than either, and remains my no 1 choice.  Unfortunately, on a night time shot, I was carrying it on my Gitzo Traveller tripod, and the assembly holding the ballhead to the centre column fell apart just as I was heading home.  The E-M5 hit the paving stones - well the 12-100 lens did so first - rather abruptly. The mount on the lens was visibly skewed and the lens was unusable. Fortunately there was no other visible damage, and the camera seems fine.  The lens has gone off to Olympus for repair, and I’ve ordered a new centre column from Gitzo through gritted teeth. I do sometimes - ok, often - wonder just how much Gitzo actually really deserve their reputation.

Drm 20190320 EM500080

Venice, by Olympus OM-D E-M5 MkII with Olympus m.Zuiko 12-100mm f4.0 lens

So, that’s the hardware story.  I did cast around a little, I looked at the new Nikons, I even looked at Panasonic, but finally I decided that Olympus backed up with Sigma and Ricoh are a pretty good comfort zone.  Actually, if only Ricoh could expand their philosophy to a somewhat wider range (yes I know about Pentax, but no thanks) I could be very happy with just that. The Sigma sd H may turn out to be a big, heavy mistake. But the dp0 is a gem.

Oh, and about film cameras? Yes, well, they’re all sitting on a shelf, along with a drawer full of film. I haven’t used a film camera since last September, and right now I feel absolutely no urge to do so again.  Things may change, but I may, just possibly, finally be done with film.  Anybody want to buy an XPan ?

 

La Magliasina

going with the flow

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Magliasina is a short, scrappy, torrential river which emerges on the slopes of Monte Gradiccioli in the Malcantone region of Ticino, and 15km later drains into Lake Lugano. At its mouth, it marks the boundary between the villages of Caslano, and of Magliaso, where I live, and which gave the name to the river.

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For most of its length it is hidden from sight at the foot of a deserted, steep sided narrow valley. There are a few crossing points where bridges have been built to allow paths to join the two sides of the valley, but mainly the river is heard, not seen.  I’ve been exploring it bit by bit for quite some time. I’ve largely moved on from the more easily accessible spots and, based on large scale topographic maps tried to work out where there might be interesting hideaways. Although such spots might sometimes be approached by following deserted, disappearing paths, reaching them almost always involves some serious off-piste traversing.

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Sometimes I strike gold, sometimes not, but more than once I’ve ended up with more of a scramble on my hands than I bargained for. In a few cases I’ve been forced to question my sanity. In some parts the valley side is very steep, and the soil is unstable. It also tends to be covered in vicious undergrowth in summer, and treacherous rotting tree trunks and branches all year round.  If photos were graded by the physical difficulty in taking them, I’d have quite a portfolio by now.

Throttle

In the lower reaches the valley is much broader, but even more strangled by undergrowth. Now and again I come across signs that in earlier times, the area was actually inhabited, partly farmed, and the river was a focal point. Today few people seem to realise it even exists.  Oh, there are rock pools here and there which are clearly the treasured secrets of teenagers looking for a summer hideaway.  And there are a few easily accessed and popular areas such as the Maglio del Malcantone, but largely the river keeps well away from view.

Overflow

It’s become a bit of an obsession, but unlike my other obsessions, it is within walking distance of my front door. So far I’m continuing to make new discoveries, and there are more to be found. For example, the ruins of a 100 year old hydroelectric plant lurk somewhere in the woods. I think I know where, but it’s a stretch I haven’t explored yet. And I haven’t started on the high upstream section.

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Probably it isn’t all that sensible to go off exploring like this on my own, but nobody seems interested. Every now and again I am reminded that while Switzerland is a very safe place from a society point of view, nature here can be pretty bloody dangerous. I should probably invest in a rope. And a loud whistle.

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You can see more, if you want, in my Magliasina album on Flickr.

 

#16 Como

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, March 06, 2019

 

#15 Levadas

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Monday, February 11, 2019

 

Glacier, by Ragnar Axelsson

ice age

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, January 30, 2019

“Glacier” is the title of what must be the magnum opus of Icelandic photographer Ragnar Axelsson, also known as Rax. Previously his published photography has been more orientated towards environmental portraiture and reportage, through acclaimed books such as “Faces of the North” and “Last Days of the Arctic”, but “Glacier” is pure landscape. It isn’t picture postcard landscape though - far from it. Glacier is a vast collection of aerial photography of Iceland’s ice fields.

IMG 5457

For the greater part the photography discards any sense of scale and proportion, and presents a near abstract, otherworldly view. Photographing in black and white further removes any easy connection to reality, and emphasises even further the quite unbelievable forms shaped by the forces on the ice. The net effect is captivating. Far from being a set of exercises in graphic composition, the emotional impact is remarkable, encompassing everything from fascination to - in the case of some of the volcano shots - terror.

In much of his previous work, Rax did not seem to place an undue emphasis on technical quality, at least not to the extent of discarding photos for purely technical reasons, but here, the precision and clarity is impressive, and indeed important. The fact that as far as I know most were taken from a pretty unstable light aircraft makes them all the more impressive.

IMG 5458

That it is aerial photography may put some off, but this is emphatically not some “Iceland viewed from the sky” kitsch. It is more like a distant relative of Edward Burtynsky’s work, and equally affecting.

Obviously I highly recommend losing yourself in “Glacier” for a few hours. It is one of the best photobooks I have ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot. But I am going to leave off with a minor rant:

Clearly there is an environmental message as well as an aesthetic dimension underlying “Glacier”. I have absolutely no problem with that. But then, why deliver the book wrapped up in a pointless plastic wrapper, with a plastic “Glacier” sticker attached to it, both of which need to be ripped off and thrown away ? Yes, it protects the integrity of the (gorgeous) design concept, but in doing so it totally undermines the message. I am so, so fed up of the torrents of plastic running through this and every household every day. I appreciate it isn’t easy to find a solution, but if it was easy, we wouldn’t have such a major problem. Did the idea of recyclable paper outer wrapper occur to the book designer, I wonder ?

 

 

 

Interesting Times

Fame ...AND fortune!

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Thursday, January 10, 2019

Welcome to 2019. I spent the last couple of weeks off the grid - no forums, no Twitter, no Brexit, no Trump. It was wonderful.  On my return I found quite a few surprises, for example the palace revolution at the veteran Luminous Landscape website - see Andrew Molitor’s take on that. Other than some very helpful experts populating the technical forums, the Luminous Landscape hasn’t been very relevant to me for quite some time, but in it’s heyday it was a big influence on me. I followed the site since the very early days, pre-digital boom, and I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge Michael Reichmann as a major influence on both my photography and my approach.  Some may find that an uncool admission, but it could have been a lot worse.

But the next big surprise was an email from Olympus Europe, telling me that my already forgotten submission to their “snow” competition had actually won.  And netted me a €500 voucher to spend on Olympus gear. Well, I don’t really know what I’m going to do with the voucher, but the praise is very welcome!

I’m also feeling just a little vindicated, because the photograph in question - which I actually took way back in 2006, is reasonably typical of my general approach, and not a blatant attempt to win a competition with some 500px super saturated horror.  To be honest I had no expectation whatsoever of winning.  The technical quality is terrible and the photo was shot using a measly 10 Megapixel Olympus E-3 camera.  Here it is…

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I can only thank the judge, Lukasz Bozycki, for his astounding good taste :-)

Literally ten minutes after the email from Olympus Europe, I got a totally separate email from the publishers of the UK-based Olympus magazine asking to use a photo of mine in an upcoming special issue. Fame AND fortune! The day job must be starting to feel nervous.

Happy New Year.

 

 

 

 

Software

displacement activity I

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Tuesday, December 11, 2018

I’ve recently been going through some kind of phase where I’m reassessing a lot of my work. Initially this was on an aesthetic level, but somewhat inevitably technical considerations started to intervene. First of all, I have been trying to get a little more disciplined in my picture making. Although I like to think that I’m pretty much on top of the basics of using a camera, I have tended to be a little indisciplined in how I apply this knowledge. This then leads to, for example, photos with too much, or too little depth of field, because I was too lazy to think about optimising aperture. It all came about when I started to make prints of some of the recent series of woodland photos I’ve been making. In turn this led me to making a number of “test” prints (to be perfectly honest, I probably don’t make any other kind). And so I noticed that the colour in these prints was actually a bit weird, and so _then_ I just had to re-profile the paper, which more or less fixed the issue, but used up all my supplies. And left me wondering how my previous carefully created profile had “gone bad”. And off we go again.

Untangle II

“Untangle I” - the photo that led me to re-evaluate my printing

Or not - prompted by an article I saw recently, I wondered if maybe it might be a good idea to revisit ImagePrint by Colorbyte Software. I used to use ImagePrint with my Epson 2100 printer, but when this died, and some 8 years ago I splurged on an A2 Epson 3800, I would have had to upgrade my ImagePrint license, and I couldn’t afford it. So I bought a Pantone ColorMunki Photo kit instead, which allowed me to profile any printer paper I wanted. Of course this was not the only option: many paper manufacturer profiles are actually more than close enough, and if they’re not, various service providers can create custom profiles for a given paper and specific printer. But of course I wanted to do it all my own way, and now I think about it, I’ve gone through at least 3 printer profiling setups over the last 15 years or so, none cheap.  And in fact even with dedicated software and hardware, colour science, which this is an application of, is seriously hard and time consuming, apart from being a money drain.

ImagePrint on the other hand does absolutely everything for you. It includes a custom print driver which brings a number of tangible benefits, from more accurate colour to saving paper, and a huge library of expert print colour profiles tuned not only to printer/paper combinations, but also to different lighting conditions. The basic point of ImagePrint is that it offers 100% reliable, plug & play highest quality printing. So you can just forget about all the technical complexities and just enjoy the creative part. This to me is quite enough to justify the fairly high price, but on top of that there are myriad additional features which offer significant advantages in various printing scenarios.  So I renewed my license for the latest version, “ImagePrint Black”, and ever since I’ve been printing a lot more, with no test prints required.

That solved my output problems. Next up was the input. I had been working on a set of photos recently for my 2018 calendar, and revisiting these I noticed that one of them was not quite right. This was a photo of an iceberg, which look fairly spectacular, but after I printed it (see above) I realised it was all a bit too, well, blue. So once again a trip down the rabbit hole of Raw conversion software beckoned. I decided to download a trial of the latest version of Capture One, v11 (now they’re on v12), and opened a few iceberg photos. One of them, not the one that had initially sent me into a spin, really shocked me: Capture One appeared to be showing textures completely missing in the Lightroom interpretation, and better fine detail as well. I cross-checked in Exposure X3, and in Iridient Developer, and the variation across these gave me the clue I needed to narrow the gap - it was simply a case of reducing the exposure, which in Lightroom seems to have a complex relationship with brightness. The much more involved Capture One default processing had, in this case, given better results.  As for the fine detail, well, there, at least with Olympus ORF files, the current iteration of Lightroom cannot match Capture One, or indeed the new Exposure X4. Both extract more real detail, although frankly only us pixel peepers would notice in almost all cases. But this comes with a price with Capture One, as any kind of noise reduction coupled with sharpening gives a horrible plasticky effect in recent ORF files. This is nothing new - I noticed it with v8 and it was just that made me decide to give up fighting and submit to Lightroom for once and for all.

Drm 20161203 PC030310 IridientEdit 3

“float” - the photo that used to be far too blue

However, Capture One has another major card up its sleeve, at least for me: the luminance curve. In Lightroom pretty much any change to contrast, by direct slider or by curve, has a major effect on saturation as well. Apparently this is by design, and it is stubbornly maintained, but personally I hate it. You can compensate by reducing saturation and/or vibrance, but first, this is imprecise, and second, why the hell should one need to? This naturally led me to the realisation that I should just be more disciplined with applying a previous strategy: do the Raw conversion in Iridient Developer, which is far less heavy handed, has not only a luminance curve, but also a chroma curve, and delivers the best detail and sharpness of all, then do the rest in Lightroom. Iridient even includes a Lightroom plug-in to facilitate all of this.

So, after this bit of re-evaluation, I have ended up with a software end to end process (I’m not going to call it a “workflow”, this is fun, not work) which drags the absolute best of my pitiful 16 Mpix sensor camera, and starts to approach the delicacy I’m always aiming for in colour and colour transitions.  Having got those variables out of the way, I can now concentrate on choosing the correct f-stop.

 

Daniel Cox

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Daniel Cox / Natural Exposures

 

#14 Il Molino

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Sunday, December 02, 2018

 

Moving on

moving on up?

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Friday, November 30, 2018

Nearly 8 years ago, I finally gave up on any aspiration to finding an “interesting” job, and settled instead for a stable job which allowed me to continue living where I finally found a place I could and wanted to settle in. And so like many others I surrendered to the gaping maw of Banking IT. It could be worse - a lot worse - but it wasn’t really something I wanted to do when I grew up.

A distinct downside was that it required me to commute a significant distance. A second downside was an office is one of the most dreary, soul-destroying settings you could imagine (well, ok, it’s not Slough), albeit set in the middle of a fairly spectacular pre-alpine valley. To get out of the office I got into the habit of taking a walk at lunchtime, and eventually I started to take a camera with me.  To start off with, I just did “tests” - this, I think, is the first example I published - but eventually I started to see some photographic potential in the area.

For a while I was in a “satellite” office which had a number of advantages, first that being 10 minutes closer to the train station, it cut down my commute just a smidgeon, but the second was that it was also quite close to a path leading up a hill, where I discovered all sorts of wonders. Well, relative to staring at a corporate Windows PC, they were wonders.

Therails

Some photos which might have made it into my idea of a project called “The Rails”

In particular I discovered an abandoned funicular railway, which had been used many years ago in the construction of a hydroelectric plant pipeline, now itself removed and replaced.  The upper part, it turned out, was still very occasionally used to ferry materials up the hillside, but the lower part was completely abandoned, and in some places overgrown or buried. The hillside is also steep and covered in dense undergrowth, but over many lunchtime visits - some a little more extended than usual - I gradually pieced together and documented various parts.  This formed a project, “The Rails”, which, finally, only existed in my mind a few edits on my iPad, but it kept my brain working.

Later, I moved back to the main office. This was much less conveniently located for interesting lunchtime walks, but my route from and to the station did lead me through a fairly dilapidated, partially disused light industrial zone, when led to some interesting compositions. Indeed, there must be some buildings along that route I’ve photographed about 50 times if not more. In different seasons, different weather, different light, with digital cameras, film cameras, different lenses. Any of my colleagues who may have noticed what I was doing must have though I was slightly nuts… apart from the fact they already had plenty of reasons to think that.

But now it has come to an end. This, below, is the last photo from the last day of that walk to the office. There was no conscious intent in my mind to create any kind of symbolism, but it seems that I did do so.

Drm 20181123 R0000038

Up against the buffers: last day in G.

And from today I’m working in the same job but from a new location, which is only 30 minutes away, instead of 90, and while still not the most inspiring location, should give quite a lot of opportunities to explore. And it will give me 2 hours of my life back everyday, so maybe I’ll have a little more time to actual pursue and complete photographic projects. Or perhaps I’ll simply stick to type, and dither even more.

The following is a small selection of photos taken over the past 8 years while walking to or from work, or wandering around a lunchtime.  I’ve got hundreds of them…

Drm 2014 12 17 R0000228
Drm E P5 20160301 P3014050
Drm gr 20150303 0518
Drm 2014 07 10 P7100027
Drm E M5MarkII 20171019 EM590002
Drm 2014 08 04 P8040147
Drm 2014 11 07 R0000006
Drm 20181022 R0000009
Drm dp2m 20131127 1207
Drm 2015 01 19 R0000344

 

Not to be continued…

 

35mm camera clearout

Once they’re gone, they’re yours

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Thursday, November 29, 2018

I’ve decided to trim back on my film camera collection, and I’m offering for sale a “vintage bundle” of 3 compact 35mm cameras, a Ricoh GR1s Date, Olympus XA, and Minx 35ML.

All three are, in my recent experience, in working order, as follows:

Ricoh GR1s
The top place LED has lost a lot of functionality, so some settings are not shown.  However they still work.  The camera switches on fine, the lens extends, auto-focus works, film transport works. However the film transport is a little noisy, and I Dom’t honestly remember if that is normal. Unfortunately Ricoh GR film cameras were never particularly robust or reliable, and what few perfect ones remain fetch crazy prices.  Basically, it still takes photos. I’ve owned the camera since new, and it comes with box, leather pouch and original manual (and original price sticker of £299, which was pretty expensive in those days…)

Minox 35ML
In my opinion this is actually the best of the three, an absolute gem. The camera works fine, the only issue is that the ISO dial on the bottom plate has lost a lot of its paint (actually it seems it was some kind of adhesive film) so you have to guess (a bit) which position is which.  It’s not a big issue.  The meter works fine.  Owned since new, nut unfortunately the box and manual have gone astray.  Bonus - a spare S28 battery is included. Shows an expiry date of 2017 but should still be fine. These are very hard to find.

Olympus XA
Full working order, the rangefinder patch might be a little faded from its new condirion, I’m really not sure, but it is still quite visible. Of the three this is the one which has had the most use recently, for example when trying out the new Ferrania P30 film. Comes with its accessory flash. This one I bought secondhand as a back up a very long time ago.

All three have clean optics and no fungus, etc.  And all three have acquired the odd scuff mark over the years, but nothing dramatic. These are working cameras, not display cabinet queens.

I’m offering all 3 for CHF 120 (or US$ 120, it’s about 1:1 right now) in Switzerland or CHF 150 posted to anywhere in the world, payment via PayPal. Not for sale individually.

To the best of my knowledge the above descriptions are correct, I absolutely don’t want to rip anybody off, but please note, they are offered at-risk, no refund or return.

IMG 5224

IMG 5229

IMG 5225

EM520007

EM520008

EM520009

EM520006

Minox bottom plate

 

 

 

2019 Calendar

shameless commercial break

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Sunday, October 28, 2018

Somehow or the other this year I’ve managed to get my act sufficiently together to produce another calendar. With the help of my better half, who has painstakingly removed all the “arty” shots from my selection, and replaced them with photos that people might actually like, this year’s theme is Antarctica (just like the last one in 2014, but that went down pretty well, so why not).

I have neither the enthusiasm nor the optimism to try to do any kind of commercial deal these days, so sales are on a very limited level via local seasonal fairs and whatever. However I’m also setting aside a few for online sales, so if you are interested please let me know. They are professionally printed on a commercial digital press, not via some online service, and the print quality is pretty good (300gsm semigloss paper). The cost would be €20 + Swiss Post postage costs to be agreed.  Delivery will probably be around early December.

The photography is largely from December 2016, but one is from 2013, and two more from a lot longer ago. From a technical point of view most are Olympus E-M1 or Olympus E-5, with a couple of Sigma dp0 shots, and outliers are Kodachrome 64 via Canon FTb.

Well, it’s neither National Geographic nor Vincent Munier, but it was fun putting it together.

Calendar2019 1

Front cover and first two months

Calendar2019 2

Back cover and last two months

 

Carmencita Film Lab

let someone else do the work

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Saturday, October 27, 2018

I bought my first film scanner sometime in the late 1990s, a Minolta 35mm device. I upgraded to a higher resolution Microtek sometime later, and When I started using the Hasselblad XPan, I really wanted to be able to scan complete frames, so I eventually bought a Minolta medium format model. I used this until it became unreliable and unsupported by current operating systems, and replaced it with the Plustek Opticfilm 120 which I am using today. I started using Silverfast with the Minolta medium format scanner, so I’ve been using it continuously for well over 10 years. So, all in all, I’ve built up a reasonable level of experience, and possibly even expertise, in film scanning.

Apart from a few instances where I got scans for consumer film labs for quick test purposes, I have never outsourced scanning. One reason is the cost - for example, Procine in Switzerland change CHF 7.50 per frame for 120 format film (I guess this makes shooting 617 more economical…) so for a roll of 6x7 this means CHF 75. Add development and we’re practically a CHF 100, per film - scanned to 18Mb JPG (that’s pretty much $100). This is just nuts. In recent years some rather more realistic pricing has emerged from companies such as Richard Photo Lab in the US, and the quality and range of customer service seems pretty good too. However, I’m a little dubious about sending unexposed film to California.  So, when I came across Carmencita Film Lab in Spain offering a similar service, I decided to give them a go. To compare, they charged me €133 including courier delivery for 4 rolls of Portra 400, scanned to (roughly) 120Mb TIFF. It’s still far from cheap, but starting to get reasonable.

Carmencita Film Lab (CFL from now on) offer a range of scanning options. You can choose between Fuji Frontier and Noritsu scanners - I chose the Noritsu, as based on what I’ve read it offers a more neutral rendition with a little less baked-in contrast. I believe most people go with Fuji Frontier for Portra 400, but as long term readers here may have gathered, I’m not “most people”, and if there’s a less popular option, I’ll choose it. CFL also allow you to specify a “look”, but here I had no clue of either what I want or how to describe it (which may be a clue to the underlying reason why I’m not an Award-Winning Photographer). However after this first experiment I may now have a slightly better idea. CFL also recommend that in order to protect the film in transit you pad it with chocolate. I complied with this suggestion.

I accidentally sent my films by economy post, so they took a while to arrive, but once they did, CFL kept me informed of progress, and turnaround was quite fast. A few days later I received a email with a link to download the scans, and a week or so later Fedex delivered the negatives. So, now I can compare CFL scans with my own.

The four films were all shot in Calabria, in Parghelia and Pizzo, late last August. I have already published a selection of the CFL scans as a Photo Diary entry.

Cfl1

In this first screen grab, the CFL version is on the left, and my scan (Plustek 120, Siverfast with Portra 400 Negafix profile) on the right. We can see a fairly significant difference. This can be reduced by adjusting the white balance to be a little cooler, and with a tint shift towards green:

Cfl2

However, the overall colour palette is still quite different. Note the colour of the leftmost door, of the green window frames, and shaded paving stones. These are complex shifts. It is possible to get somewhat closer by playing around with HSL sliders in Lightroom, and certainly in Photoshop, but that isn’t really my intention. Another possibility would be to tune the Portra 400 Negafix profile in Silverfast to a closer match, but that’s getting into rocket science territory.

Another point of comparison is resolution and sharpness. The Plustek scans were done at 5300dpi with no sharpening, and then resampled to 50% in Photoshop. I’m not sure what the nominal resolution of the Noritsu is, but initially it looked a lot better. However, after dialling in some fairly heavy sharpening, the two ended up pretty well matched.

Cfl3

At pixel-peeping levels the Noritsu appears to show a degree of luminosity noise which is not so apparent in the Plustek scans. This may actually be grain exaggerated by heavy sharpening, but in any case, in isn’t obtrusive.

A second example shows a similar behaviour to the first: the CFL scan is considerably warmer, particularly in the shadows. As in the first example, the road and pavement surfaces are much warmer. However, the Silverfast interpretation gives more neutral grays in this area, in fact they are nearly perfectly neutral. Of course, maybe Portra 400 isn’t supposed to be neutral…

Cfl4

Again, it is relatively easy to dial out a large part of the difference with a white balance tweak, but an exact match would be tricky to deliver.

Cfl5

I have to say that I’m pleasantly surprised by the Noritsu scans. They hold up very well against the Plustek/Silverfast combination, which itself comes out quite well against the Hasselblad X5. In fact at a first glance they are better than the Plustek output, but it is clear that the Noritsu process applies some pretty heavy sharpening, which when applied to the Plustek scans evens things out considerably. Nevertheless, from a resolution point of view, I’m not so sure that the extra time required to make my own scans is worthwhile.

The colour is another matter though. Although the CFL scans are very attractive, I’m not entirely sure that they are what I want. Unfortunately, I do not have a grey card shot to compare, or indeed a reference shot on digital. I do have digital shots in Parghelia from the same days, but not really at the same time of day. I can however make some kind of rough comparison based on experience, and that tells me that the Silverfast Portra 400 profile is closer to a neutral white balance digital shot that the Noritsu.

Looking at the following pair, while the Noritsu version (left) is very attractive, my feeling - which is inevitably subjective - is that the Silverfast version on the right is more accurate and closer to what I actually want.

Cfl7

There are two factors at play here: one, the overall colour / white balance, and the second the response curve across the colour spectrum and tonal range. Let’s not forget we’re dealing with actual film here, not emulation, and the differences are due to how two different processes interpret the exposed negative film. There is a kind of “received view” of how Portra 400 is supposed to look, which has emerged over the past 3-4 years, exemplified by Johnny Patience’s published work and writings. CFL’s scans dial right into that look and do an extremely good job of delivering it. However, my reading of this look, which is reinforced by the client work that CFL publish, is that is very much driven by the wedding / portraiture market, where the combination of flattering skin tones and subdued saturation is very appealing.  It can work for other genres as well, but it has to be a conscious decision.

I think I will carry on with this experiment, because potentially it is very liberating. Probably I will ask for cooler shadows, although that might apply only to Portra 400, and the next film I am likely to send will be 160NS.  CFL TIFFs are delivered as 8-bit sRGB, which I fell is a bit restrictive. I would much prefer 16-bit ProPhoto RGB, or at a push, Adobe RGB. But that may be technically impossible.  The fact that the Plustek/Silverfast combination delivers me ProPhoto RGB at 16-bit may actually account for some of the differences, and may indicate that they are more “accurate” - whatever that means when discussion negative film. But certainly what Carmencita Film Lab deliver by default seems to be perfect for their main target market.

 

Antarktis, by Gerry Johansson

the great white beyond

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, October 24, 2018

A few weeks ago I made a serious recurrent mistake: I read the regular newsletter sent out by the magnificent Beyond Words photobook retailer. Somehow or the other I ended up discovering “Antarktis”, by Swedish photographer Gerry Johansson, and immediately ordered it.

IMG 5192

I was not familiar with Gerry Johansson’s work. His website follows the standard Serious Artiste template, a minimalist white design devoid of any personality, with small type, a list of works and exhibits, no sense of engagement and of course the de-rigeur obtuse method for navigating image galleries - if indeed you can find the image galleries, they’re well hidden.  This of course opposed to Fine Art Photographer template which was copied from Squarespace and features a blog talking about Gear, along with photos of said Photog taken 20 years ago (I leave it to you to decide which category this website falls into).  Anyway, I’ve got sidetracked again, but this po-faced white websites are really starting to irritate me.

Having said all that, it is worth finding your way through Johansson’s website, because there is some seriously good work there. I have a feeling I’ve read about his “American Winter” book, it looks very tempting.

Back to “Antarktis”: in the foreword, Thorbjörn Andersson says “...his way of blending foreground and background makes the picture both a representative subject and a structure”. Also, the description at Beyond Words states “The series of photos eventuate in an unusual reality relevant perspective, and capture the astonishing non-distance relationship between physicality and nature”.  This isn’t hyperbole, it is absolutely accurate. These days the expectations of photography in Antarctica are of spectacular mountains, icebergs, treating skies, deep blue seas, and of course penguins. Johansson, thanks a grant from the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat, was able to venture into inland Antarctica, which has none of these things.

I’ve had the good fortune also to have travelled in inland Antarctica, and the sense of disorientation from a landscape with no familiar frame of reference, very little colour, and very few mid-tones, is extremely well captured in this photography. Some frames triggered such a sense of recognition of that strange ambience that it actually made me shiver.

IMG 5193

The photography is black and white, taken with a large format 8x10 camera, which in itself cannot have made life easy. One might expect a certain nod in the direction of polar photography pioneers like Ponting, but instead the approach is thoroughly modern. The standout impression is how in using architectural photography practises Johansson has been able to capture the complete loss of perspective which one often suffers from in this territory.

It might all sound very cold, in all senses of the word, but in fact it is far from that. Antarktis tells it as it is, no HDR, no contrast or saturation boost, but rather letting the utter strangeness of Antarctica speak for itself.

IMG 5194

You can buy Antarktis from Beyond Words, with whom I have absolutely no affiliation other than that of a very satisfied (and over-frequent) customer.

 

#13 Parghelia

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, October 17, 2018

 

Uncompetitive spirit

although with right incentive…

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Monday, October 08, 2018

I’ve never been one for competition, of any kind. I prefer to do things my own way, to set my own goals, and not bother too much what other people are doing. This is not restricted to photography - I have the same attitude towards all forms of work and play. I certainly compete against myself, for example setting time or difficulty targets for mountain biking, but I really have little interest in fitting in with some set of restricted parameters to compete with others. The fact that I’m a miserable antisocial loner doesn’t help much, mind you. But when it comes to photography, and indeed all arts, I really, really do not get the idea of competing. How can we say that one person’s mode of self-expression is better than someone else’s ? It strikes me as being more harmful than anything else. Of course if you treat photography as a technical endeavour then it can work - prize for the razor-sharpest photo of nothing in particular, prize for the highest resolution brick wall, prize for the most slavish conformance to the Rule Of Thirds. Etcetera.

Which is all a long preamble to say I entered a competition. Not exactly National Geographic, but instead a competition run by my local bricks and mortar camera shop, Foto & Ottico Carpi of Bellizona (of which more below). The competition required a submission of just one photo, of an animal. Any animal. And the first prize is an Olympus E-M1 MkII, so not exactly nothing. Still, despite my having plenty of photos of animals (not that I’m any good at all at wildlife photography), I still dithered up until almost the last moment before sending in my entry.  You may be able to spot it in the screenshot below:

Screen Shot 2018 10 07 at 22 07 51

The quality of the entries to the competition has really taken me aback. This is a competition run by a small, if excellent, shop, in a small provincial town in one of the sleepiest parts of Switzerland, open only to subscribers to the shop’s mailing list. It just goes to show how many really excellent photographers there are, and that despite all the sneering about selfies and camera phones, there is still a very significant section of the public who take photography seriously. Of course, these could all be the shop owner under different pseudonyms :-).

I’m not sure when the winner will be announced, but I am sure it won’t be me.

Footnote:

Foto Carpi is a family business, run by the professional photographer Milo Carpi, located in the Main Street of Bellinzona, Ticino. They are an Olympus Pro dealer, Nikon as well I think, and also stock Sony, Leica, Panasonic, Sigma and a surprisingly good range of accessories. They even sell film. I got my last ever rolls of Ektachrome E100G there. They quite often run open days supported by the importers of their main brands. It’s really encouraging to see such a business managing to survive in these times, but the icing on the cake, and really surprising thing are their prices: I only really look at Olympus prices, so I can’t say for sure that this applies to all brands, but their Olympus prices consistently undercut even the lowest prices from Swiss internet box shifters. And this with personal service and advice, the security of being able to personally bring in any defective or damaged item, and a hotline to Olympus Switzerland. I try to give them as much of my business as I can.  And I often find excuses to stroll past their window display.

 

Photokina Fallout

GAStrology time again

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, October 03, 2018

The recent avalanche of new camera announcements (albeit most of them vague promises for 2019) have once again stirred up doubt and Gear Acquisition Syndrome. As a committed and long term user of Micro Four Thirds, and Four Thirds before that, I might be wondering if all this rush towards “full frame” somehow invalidates my photography. It’s a stupid reaction, but not uncommon, and let’s face it, I’m just me against the relentless onslaught of marketing and Internet pseudo-peer pressure. Every telegraph pole out there has a raven perched on it, croaking “Micro Four Thirds is dead, nevermore!”.

I have to confess some of the offerings look tempting. The Nikon Z7 seems pretty nice in theory - I saw one in the flesh yesterday, alongside the Olympus E-M1.2 and Lumix G9 MFT cameras, and the Nikon looks about the same size as the Olympus and actually smaller than the Lumix, despite housing a sensor that’s twice the size. Then again, boy is that Nikon ugly! And not even in a quirky way.

The standard defence of MFT would be that the cameras and especially lenses are smaller and lighter. Well, although there are smaller and lighter variants in the MFT world, honestly if you want reasonably fast, weather sealed lenses, and a rugged body, in many cases you may wonder if the smaller, lighter bit starts to get a bit marginal.

I’m not so bothered, in general, about “image quality”, whatever that means. Generally any modern camera is good enough for everything except very special cases. But nevertheless, recently I have been starting to get frustrated with a certain lack of resolution of high frequency detail in the far distance. Close up, there’s no problem, the Olympus body/lens combinations can deliver all the resolution I’ll ever need. I can understand that MFT might impose too many limitations on, say, outdoor portrait or wedding photographers, but for my mixed urban/landscape stuff, generally it’s not the limiting factor. I rarely need to go over ISO 1600, indeed I’m not that often over 200, and I tend to be scaling for more depth of field, not less.

Anyway, to try to get a handle on the realities of the situation, I decided to make a small series of prints from Olympus files (all 16 Mpix) at the largest size my printer offers, A2. And, frankly, they worked out just fine. They stand up very well to high quality scans from 120 format film, and in some respects to Sigma Foveon files. Honestly, I can’t see me ever needing to print bigger - I have no actual use even for A2. If ever I did, I’m sure I can find professional printers who can go up to A1.

IMG 5179

A2 Prints from Olympus 16Mpix files

IMG 5180

Detail of above A2 Prints

I then started to think about a couple of future trips I have planned, which involve flights with very restricted weight limits. That’s when the apparently marginal weight advantage of MFT starts to kick in. For example, the marvellous 12-100 f/4 lens is practically on a par with any Olympus prime, even the f/1.2 series, and at a push could work as the sole lens for most trips. It weighs 560g, and with Dual IS offers unbelievable stabilisation. There is a 24-120 f/4 Nikon lens that weighs 710g and has less range (yes, I know all about depth of field, but for me this is at best irrelevant, at worst a downside). If we move up to the equally fabulous Olympus 40-150 f/2.8, which weighs 760g, then the closest Nikon I can find is the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II, which weighs 1.5kg and is significantly more expensive and bigger. It’s at this longer end that the MFT weight advantage really kicks in. And if you’re willing to compromise a bit on aperture, then you can find very good MFT lenses that hardly register on the scales.

Certainly “full frame” sensors have an attraction and certain advantages in noise threshold, dynamic range, and resolution. But frankly, these advantages are often not much different from trivial. I’ll take the possibility of carrying an extra 150mm of focal length reach over a 0.5db increase in dynamic range.

Olympus didn’t announce ANYTHING at Photokina, which was another sign that the sky is falling on them, apparently. Well, it might not be the best news for Olympus, as new product drives sales (I suppose), but it’s fine by me: I’ve pretty much got everything I need - although that 300mm lens is sort of tempting. I don’t even have the latest body, the E-M1.2 - it doesn’t really offer me anything over my E-M5.2 or E-M1.1, and it’s noticeably bulkier. What I would like to see Olympus work on, personally, is a range of optically excellent medium aperture primes, along the lines of Leica Elmarits, and a high-end medium aperture medium zoom, within the 14-35mm range. But then again, the “low end” lenses they already offer in this range are really far from poor.

So, in summary, the grass is actually a perfectly nice hue of green on my side of the fence, and I’m sticking to it. I did vaguely hint at the one Photokina announcement that really did have me clutching my wallet: the L-Mount alliance. The thought of a full frame Sigma Foveon camera interchangeable with Leica and Panasonic bodies, all three taking each other’s lenses is really interesting news. Certainly not a solution for weight-constrained trips, but otherwise, I can see this paired with my Olympus kit as the ultimate solution - for me.

 

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