30 December, 2013

Thank You, and Happy New Year!

Port Willunga, South Australia

It's late in the penultimate day of 2013. So, unless I'm overtaken with an unexpected burst of energy tomorrow, this will be my last post for the year.

I'm not going to bore you with a review of the year, or with predictions or resolutions for the next one. I only wish to say, Thank You, to my family, friends and readers.

And, of course, Happy New Year!


I never worry about being driven to drink;
I just worry about being driven home.
—William Claude Dukenfield ("W. C. Fields," 1880-1946)

17 December, 2013

The APS-C E-Mount

Port Willunga, South Australia

Yesterday I was watching a Luminous Landscape Video Journal (#9, from late 2003–ten years ago). In one of the segments, Michael Reichmann talks about when he determined that his $7k, 11mp, Canon 1DS was delivering better images than 120 film in every regard. (Not just 35mm film, but medium format film.)

What struck me was that every NEX camera, and even the RX100, has a better DXO sensor score than that early 1DS.

Some people seem to be worrying about the fate of Sony’s APS-C, E-Mount system. I don't’ think that Sony will hand the APS-C segment over to the Panasonic, Olympus and Fujifilm folks any time soon. And, I'm pretty certain that Sony gave assurances to Zeiss about the persistence of the line to induce them to introduce the “Touit” lenses.

Wanna do Art?
First, stop worrying about what the guy at the next easel’s doing.
—Yllib Ybnad (b. 1948)

17 November, 2013

the Arnold Newman Archive is fixed


For a little while, Google was reporting the Arnold Newman Archive as having malware. I mentioned that in an earlier post; so now that it's fixed, I thought I should say that too.

I'm a big fan of Newman. The archive highlights his iconic portraits, but also shows some of his earlier work. Have a look.

04 November, 2013

Dear Sony

Saint Louis Cathedral, the oldest Cathedral in North America

Sony has, once again, grabbed the photography world's attention with new cameras. The new, full-frame, interchangeable lens, mirrorless A7 and A7r are gorgeous. And, these follow hard on the heels of the RX1, Sony's, similarly gorgeous, full-frame, fixed-lens camera.

Small full-frames seem to be the trend. (Must be, if Nikon is paying attention.)

In the years to come I'll probably move to full-frame. But right now, APS-C works for me. (When I started typing that last sentence, I first wrote "APS-C is good enough." But that sounded like it was some kind of trade-off. It wasn't.)

When I chose the NEX system, they were the tools I wanted — still want. The NEX 6 & 7 are small, light, inconspicuous, reliable, have built-in viewfinders, and outstanding sensors. (Pity about the interface.) And, the E-Mount lens line has outstanding primes, in the range that I want.

Sony, I won't be moving to full-frame right now. But you keep up the good work. And so will I.

“It’s a poor workman who blames his tools;”
but poorer he, who fails to exploit those he has.
—Yllib Ybnad (b. 1948)

03 November, 2013

The General




[23/6/14 - Another copy of "The General" bites the YouTube dust. Here's yet another version.]

[20/3/14 - Well, these things happen: The version of "The General" that I discussed below has come off of YouTube. Fair enough. I've replaced it with another version, that lacks the Hisaishi soundtrack.]

In 1926 Buster Keaton made the silent movie, The General. (Yes, I know it says "1927" in the YouTube frame above.) The movie is on just about every critic's list of the greatest movies of all time. Mine too.

The "General" is a train and Keaton is its driver. It's set in the South at the start of the American Civil War. It has romance, comedy and adventure. The trains in the film were real and the stunts were ridiculously dangerous. The movie was hugely expensive at the time.

In 2004, the French reissued a remastered and repaired version with a new musical score by Joe Hisashi, the brilliant Japanese composer, conducting the Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra.

The version embedded above is the remastered/Hisaishi version in its entirety. I wouldn't have come back so soon to foist another movie on you, but this is a special case. The film is in the public domain, but the new score is not. I have no idea how long it will remain up on YouTube. Do yourself a favour and watch it —then go out and buy a copy.

02 November, 2013

Environmental Portraits 01

A friend in his kitchen

There's an Environmental Portraits Group on flickr that highlights some great work. I haven't joined the group yet, because I don't have enough work that I think of as environmental — and that I'm ready to put out there. (I need to find some patient subjects.)

For me, an environmental portrait needs to be about the subject and his or her own environment. So, no tight head shots with creamy, out of focus backgrounds, no pretty girls in disused factories, and no shots of Aunt Edna in front of the Eiffel Tower (unless, of course, Mademoiselle Edna lives or works there). There's nothing wrong with any of those kinds of photographs, but they don't seem to me to be "environmental portraits." Wikipedia seems to agree with me. But, I accept that opinions differ about these things.

I was going to talk about how much I like the work of Arnold Newman and the photographers who have worn the Arnold Newman Prize, but the Arnold Newman Archive site seems to be coming up with malware warnings, so I might leave that to another day. (17 Nov 2013: It looks like the Arnold Newman Archive has been fixed -- have a look.) My point was going to be how well Newman often addressed the environments without losing his focus on his subjects.

Using a sports metaphor
gets you off to a false start.
—Yllib Ybnad (b. 1948)

31 October, 2013

It is what it is.

Windshield Teddy

Is photography art? Sure, sometimes. Does it matter what we call our part of it? Probably not.

The first part is easy: Photography can be art. I liked what Michael Prodger had to say in his Guardian article last year, "Photography: is it art?"
"What some pioneering photographers recognised straight away was that photographs, like paintings, are artificially constructed portrayals: they too had to be carefully composed, lit and produced."
This is the recognition that photography can go beyond the documentary to be a creative endeavour. (It also makes me more comfortable about manipulating images – just a tiny bit, of course – in Lightroom, Photoshop or Silver Efex Pro.)

Am I just a hobbyist with pretensions?

Is it a waste of time? Am I misunderstood? Both?

What's more important, I think, is that we treat our efforts (and the efforts of others) with respect. In regard to our work then, it may a truism, but — It is what it is.

I will not grow old gracefully.
I will fight against becoming invisible by refusing to fade away.
And if that means I have to grow old disgracefully, well so be it.
— Sarah Macdonald

18 October, 2013

Anatomy of a Murder




There are movies that I watch at least once a year. Movies that, even though I have them on DVD, if they're on the tube, I watch them anyway. One of these is Anatomy of a Murder – a 1959 courtroom drama by Otto Preminger. Anatomy is THE courtroom drama.

I was only 11 in '59, growing up in a Chicago suburb. So, I didn't see Anatomy in the theatre when it came out. Chicago, interestingly, banned the movie until Preminger took the city to court.

I did see it on the big screen almost a decade later, however, at the Clark Theatre in the Loop. The Clark was a 'grind house' in the late '60s (running a different double feature every day). The Clark was in the Loop near Clark and Madison; not to be confused with the current Century Cinema (on Clark) further north, just past Diversey.

I've embedded the trailer for the movie at the top of this post. With a Grammy-winning jazz score by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn (there's Billy again), you need to do yourself a favour and see the film.

The judge in the movie is played by real-life lawyer, Joseph Welsh. Welsh was counsel representing the Army in what came to be known as the Army-McCarthy Hearings. Welsh took on Senator McCarthy regarding McCarthy's attempt to smear the name of a young lawyer in Welsh's law firm. Sadly, Welsh passed away a year after Anatomy of a Murder came out.

Anatomy was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, 3 Golden Globes, and 3 BAFTAs – didn't win any of them.

13 October, 2013

Sturdy 30

Visit to the Botanic Garden

The angle-of-view of the 50mm lens on a full-frame camera (about 47 degrees) is still my favourite. It was Henri Cartier-Bresson's favourite as well. I'm not drawing a comparison – just saying.

Of course, in the world of APS-C and micro 4/3 cameras, that angle-of-view is achieved with a 33mm or 25mm, respectively. Because I can't afford full-frame cameras or their lenses, the "nifty 50" is, for me, the "sturdy 30." So my walk-around, "desert-island" lens is now an (APS-C) 35mm.

It's okay

07 October, 2013

Fort Lytton

Guide for traversing the 6" disappearing gun

We visited Fort Lytton, a National Park on the banks of the Brisbane River. The location was once a major defence for the city of Brisbane, 16 km further up the river. It's a small park, now nestled between the river and oil refineries. But the history of the fort touches on much of the history of Queensland and Australia.

If you go, make sure to do the tour – it's both entertaining and informative. The park is only open on Sundays from 10:00 until 4:00 (with the first tour at 10:30 am); and, unfortunately, the park will be closed from Monday, 21 October to Friday, 22 November 2013 for major works.

Path to one of the gun emplacements

06 October, 2013

I've switched on the comments

Not always appreciated

I've switched on the comments. (Of course, messages sent via the "Contact Form for Bill Danby" on the sidebar are always welcome as well.) We'll see how it goes. Some other blogs have had troubles with comments; but with as few readers as I have, it shouldn't be a problem.

William Camden said, 'The early bird catches the worm.'
Well, the worm was up early
and it didn't do him any good.
It's less about whether you're early or late,
and more about whether you're the bird or the worm.
—Yllib Ybnad (b. 1948)

02 October, 2013

RAW and JPEGs

"Stairway to the stars"
I've commented on RAW and JPEGs in a couple of forums, but (until now) I haven't talked about them here.

RAW works for me. I only shoot in RAW. But I recognise that it’s not for everyone.

Many photographers are fully occupied with the opportunities they already have. They seem to be saying that if they have extra time, they want to spend it taking NEW pictures instead of sitting in front of their computers working with OLD ones. I have great respect for that argument.

I understand why a serious digital photographer who is:
  • taking the time to make sure that the picture going in the lens is the one that he or she wants; and
  • does not intend to manipulate the image in the computer; and
  • wants to print at 8 x 10 or smaller (or directly to the web)
will be happy to work with JPEGs.

Also, I think that JPEG users are also right to see the format as future-proofed. JPEG will probably be around longer than most of the RAW formats – but perhaps not DNGs. (DNGs will be a discussion for another day.)

And, finally, many of the pictures that we take are of family or friends. Working in JPEGs means that they are immediately portable. They can go into emails, social media sites, photography sites, blogs, into the new live photo frames, or many of the high-res digital TVs — with no more work to do.

A family friend, for example, is an inveterate traveller and photographer. Her travel compact goes with her everywhere. She has a lovely eye, and is quite satisfied to capture moments in what can’t be described as anything other than Art. (With a capital "A.")

In my youth, I did my time in the darkroom. In those days (the early 60's), the darkroom was the only avenue for photographic control and it was the only way to do photography on the cheap. I think that once you get a taste of that level of control, it’s hard to give it up. So, for me, shooting digital (and RAW) is that control – on steroids.

So, if you have ambitions (and the time) to
  • print at exhibition sizes or quality; 
  • work seriously in black and white;
  • rescue shots that might otherwise be lost;
  • maximise photos taken in low light;
  • exploit the full potential of photographs; or
  • improve the aesthetic appeal of your photos—
then you should be working in RAW.

But RAW is not without its troubles:

Working with RAW as a once-in-awhile thing isn't fun. For me, working with RAW needed to be part of a regular workflow. (For this reason I found saving in RAW + JPEG, and and doing a bit of one and then a bit of the other unhelpful.) 

At first I was using Silkypix, Raw Therapee, Sagelight and Noise Ninja (all great programs), but in ad hoc sorts of ways. I had some success, but I struggled. 

There’s a learning curve with RAW – understanding what makes digital files tick. (If you don’t understand them, it’s harder to fix them.) I see now that, initially, I didn't have a firm grasp of all (okay, most) of the digital elements.

Two things turned that around for me: First I bought Adobe Lightroom. Lightroom introduced me to a real workflow. Suddenly I had a, well, flow. Then I got the Luminous Landscape’s Lightroom videos. In addition to learning the program, that series of videos took what I knew about film and oriented it to digital photography. (While Lightroom worked for me, I'm not suggesting that similar results couldn't be obtained by other programs like Aperture.)

So, Good Luck — with whatever path you choose.

Don't make me come back there....

Sunset
What the heck is going on? I go away for just a few years and the next time I look the whole damn thing has shut down.

"Grand Old Party," my ass. Lincoln will be turning over in his grave.

If I have to come back there the GOP is going to get such a smack....

30 September, 2013

Film vs Digital, Part 1



[There is now a more detailed, head-to-head comparison in Part 2 of Film vs Digital.]

There are more than a few fans of film still out there.

I was reminded of this by the recent offer of a free download of DXO’s Film Pack 3. The “Film Pack” is a program designed give your digital photos the look of one or another of the of the classic films stocks. I suppose that it’s particularly useful for those times when you’re nostalgic for the “good ol’ days” of Tri-X, D76, squinting at contact sheets, dodging and burning, and variable-contrast papers.

And, yes, there’s quite a bit of nostalgia going around. One of my favourite photographers, Steve McCurry, asked for the last roll of Kodachrome that rolled off Kodak's line in 2009. As you can see in the video above, McCurry travelled the world to to take those last 36 shots. McCurry probably used more Kodachrome – and put it to better purpose – than any other photographer. He was a good choice for the honour of the last roll.

Photographer Jeff Jacobson’s also memorialised Kodachrome in his book, The Last Roll, published by Daylight Books. Paul Simon even wrote a song about Kodachrome.

But it's not just colour that being missed. In a post on The Online Photographer, Kevin Purcell talked about the Film Pack and the work of Sebastião Salgado. Salgado photographs in digital, processes his black and white images in DXO's Film Pack, and then creates an inter-negative, from which he prints – using the tools of the traditional darkroom.

Everyone is entitled to go with what they know. If you like film, stick with it.

An image captured on film is different to a digitally captured image. Film is still better at capturing areas in the highlights of a picture. At the brightest levels, film 'rolls off' more slowly. That's just a fancy way to say that the highlights move to completely white more quickly with digital. The manufacturers know this, so in many cameras the built-in exposure is set conservatively in regard to highlights – they underexpose a bit just to be on the safe side. The result is that some of the detail at the other end, in the shadows, is lost. It's not a perfect world.

Kodachrome was around for 74 years. It's debatable exactly how long digital photography has been around; but it's pretty clear that from its rough beginnings to now it's been about 25 years. It took digital about 21 years to not just pass Kodachrome by, but to kill it.

Me? I'm not weepy about the loss of these films. The control that we get from digital more than makes up for its other failings, particularly when working in colour. With the latest cameras, the new printing inks, the current papers – the results are already magic.

My NEX-6 leaves my last film SLR (Olympus) in the dust. And my Epson 3880 printer blows the doors off every darkroom I ever used.

But, just you wait.

22 September, 2013

The Look Remains

This will be my last post on New Orleans. There are exceptions, but the city has done a good job in maintaining the character of the French Quarter. Even the "newer" buildings look like they go back to the antebellum South. A lot can change, but the look remains. This building is typical:

Corner of Bourbon and St Peter

19 September, 2013

New Orleans – Music

Music is almost everywhere in New Orleans.There wasn't enough time, unfortunately, to do justice to all the jazz. So, we made do with some of the music on the street, and (we couldn't resist) a visit to the piano bar at Pat O'Brien's.

At the Market Cafe on Decatur Street
The Band  – Jackson Square
Piano Bar (with mirror behind) at Pat O'Brien's
Almost half the population of New Orleans left the city because of Hurricane Katrina; and almost 1000 of the 1800 deaths caused by Katrina were in Louisiana. There have been a number of efforts to keep the musicians (and the music) in New Orleans. One of those projects is the Musicians' Village, conceived by Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford Marsalis – both natives.

We're just coming up to the 8th anniversary of Katrina, but it's still hard to talk about New Orleans without talking about the storm. (What a sad showing it was by George Bush and his administration.)

18 September, 2013

New Orleans

My Bride and I were in New Orleans last month. It was our first time back in many years – our previous visit was well before Katrina.

We visited the 9th Ward and the terrible damage was still evident wherever we looked. The French Quarter, on the other hand, seems unchanged.

We stayed where we used to stay, The Dauphine Orleans, and it seemed unchanged as well. It's a modest hotel, in the Quarter, on Dauphine Street – parallel to, and one block over from Bourbon Street.Our room looked out over the Quarter, toward the Mississippi River.

window view
I used to come down from Chicago regularly for work, and used it as a jumping off point for Mexico, Belize, Honduras and Guatemala. New Orleans is one of the first cites that my Bride and I visited together before we were married. And, my friends brought me down for my bachelors party. The city holds a lot of memories for me.

It's quite another thing to visit New Orleans from Australia, however, so I don't think there are too many more visits in my future. That's very sad.

My Bride

04 September, 2013

Lush Life

I've been a fan of Billy Strayhorn's, "Lush Life" for a long time. Some of the classics from the 30s and 40s haven't held up well, but Lush Life just keeps rolling on and on.

Many singers have tried to do it, and quite a number have failed. And, up until today, one of my favourites was a Sinagoprean jazz and bossa nova singer, Jacintha  Abisheganaden's, rendition – from her 2002, "Lush Life" album.

Today, however, I tripped over a Queen Latifah version from the movie, "Living Out Loud," which movie I haven't seen. I think I have a new favourite Lush Life:

24 August, 2013

Brisbane's not sleepy anymore



Brisbane - Looking up Adelaide Street

When I first visited Brisbane in 1983, it was almost a sleepy little town. Driving into the city from the north, it was two lanes almost all the way into town. And then driving south, it quickly became two lanes again. Both of those routes are now major highways.

The other day I was struck by this view (above), looking up Adelaide Street. The Soleil Apartments at the top of the street looked like an artist's rendering, rather than a real building. I think I miss a bit of the older, quieter Brisbane.

There's still quite a combination, however, of the old and the new:


18 July, 2013

Markets and Art


In Reddacliff Place in Brisbane (Queensland, Australia) there are sphere shaped sculptures by an artist named Donna Marcus, who I met some years ago. Usually the spheres (which together are called "Steam") stand apart. On market day, however, the art is surrounded by the stalls. They makes for interesting juxtapositions.


13 June, 2013

Fortitude Valley

Brisbane's Story Bridge, from Fortitude Valley

Fortitude Valley in Brisbane is home to its Chinatown and much of the city's night life. While it's not my favourite part of the city, I do like that it's close to the Brisbane River. I had a chance to walk around the area this afternoon because the recent wet weather abated. This is from the Valley side of the river, looking toward the Story Bridge and Kangaroo Point.

The bridge is named for John Douglas Story who, as Public Service Commissioner, pressed for its construction.

11 May, 2013

Swimming season is over


The outdoor pool where I swim has closed for the season. The surf in South-east Queensland is now empty of locals. Tourists, however, still swim; perhaps because they're used to cooler weather. The beaches still have walkers though, particularly in the mornings. And, of course, there are always the sun seekers.

Further north the cooler weather has little bite (so far) and actually signals a swim period as the jellyfish season comes to a close. But for Brisbane swimmers it's now a wait until September.

The picture above is Cabarita Beach in northern New South Wales, not far south from Queensland's Gold Coast. It's one of my favourite beaches.

25 April, 2013

Three generations: Margaret, Bill and Laura
Margaret Agnes (Revak) Danby

Born in Kansas City, Kansas, on August 9, 1919;
Daughter of Slovak immigrants;
Dairy farm raised, in Phillips, Wisconsin;
Sibling to 13;
Child of the depression;
Domestic in Winnetka, Illinois;
Wife;
Soldier’s wife;
Mother of two sons;
Stenographer;
Widow in 1993;
Grandmother in 1995;
Victim of dementia;
Died of pneumonia in Phillips, on March 26, 2013, aged 93.

My mother loved my brother and me all of our lives, and she worked all of hers — until the veil of dementia drew over her. 

There is no way that I can express her love and her unceasing care for my brother and me. So too, I cannot express my love and my debt to her.

Thank you, Mama
__________________________________

I would like to extend my many thanks to all you who have
expressed your condolences, and particularly for all of your
kind words in remembering my mother.

29 March, 2013

There, I've said it.

Brisbane River

I'm not a team player.

There, I've said it. It’s not that I don’t get along with other people. But if I have a choice between a group or an individual effort, I usually choose the individual.

I suppose that’s one of the reasons why I like not taking commissions. There’s only one finger on that shutter release. There’s no committee to decide what should be in or out the frame. No consensus is required about what’s interesting.

No, I don't always want to see things from someone else’s perspective. I'm flat out trying to see things from my own.

I have no message to deliver, nothing to prove;
you see and feel,and it’s the surprised eye that decides.
— Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004)

17 March, 2013

Vertical thinking

It's easy to say that I don't want to think in the same way today, that I thought yesterday. But thinking differently, it turns out, is damned hard work.

My only recent progress has been to try to see the vertical — rather than just the horizontal. And I don't mean "portrait" rather than "landscape." (Those are just the boxes that things go into. Cropping.)

Oh, yes, Happy St Patrick's Day.



23 February, 2013

Kyneton, Victoria

I'm a Queensland boy now, but last month we visited a small town in Victoria – Kyneton – for a couple of days. It's about 85 k's north-west of Melbourne. What's particularly charming about Kyneton is its variety of great restaurants. (Others might be as impressed by its antique shops, but I guess this shows where I'm coming from.)

Hanging Rock, the location of Peter Weir's movie, "Picnic at HR" isn't far.

Below is James Street in the early evening. It's a quiet, rural town, so it's possible to stand in the street to take the odd photo.

Early evening in Kyneton

10 February, 2013

Chinese New Year

In celebration of Chinese New Year, a local Kung-Fu club brought their Lion Dancers to a street festival yesterday.

Lion dancing (as opposed to Dragon dancing) is two-person per animal affair. The dancers were accompanied by the traditional cymbals, gong and drum — followed, of course, by fireworks.

Happy New Year.