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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.”

 

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:

shackleton1

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.

 

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.

Drm 20161202 DP0Q0544

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:

Drm 20161202 DP0Q0544 helicopter
Drm 20161203 DP0Q0597
Drm 20161203 DP0Q0601
Drm 20200118 P0Q1001
Drm 20200120 P0Q1045 1
Drm 20200122 P0Q1083
Drm 20200123 P0Q1095
Drm 20200123 P0Q1104

 

 

 

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.

Drm 20200121 P1212649

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.

Drm 20200121 P1212691

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…

 

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