31 December, 2014

Happy New Year

Bowman Park, Bardon, Queensland [click to enlarge]

It's New Year's Eve.

When the calendar rolls over to 2015, I won't be anywhere near my computer. So, leave yours, down tools, raise your glass, recollect the year past and appreciate the year coming.

See you then.

Common is the moraliser
who aspires to be the prick of conscience,
but only gets half way.
—Yllib Ybnad (b. 1948)

28 December, 2014

Black and White from Colour

Coffee Shop Window, Bardon, Queensland [click to enlarge]

The image above might look familiar if you visit my blog. I used it in the 10 December post, but want to use it as an example today. (So I used another image for that post and moved this one up. As you've probably noticed, the images don't usually have much to do with the subjects of the respective posts.)

By way of yet another digression, I won't tell you that in the "good ol' days" I carried around a set of filters to accompany my Tri-X. There were times, of course, when I said to myself, "I wish I had a green or yellow (or whatever) filter."

For myself, I have no problem whatever in shooting b&w images with a camera/sensor that captures colour. Because now, instead of limiting the colour that goes into the camera with filters, we can limit the response coming out, in Lightroom. Absolutely, freaking amazing.

In the image above, for example, the post in the center of the fame was a dark green. In Lightroom I selected the colour of the post and decreased the luminance — which is how the scene looked to me when I took the shot. (It was always a dark green post, but it was bright outside and I really didn't notice it.)

I was never wealthy enough to carry two cameras, one with b&w film, and another with colour. Hell, I wasn't wealthy enough to shoot in colour. And, I suppose that I was too lazy to carry around a set of filters. Now I don't miss a beat.

Every photographer has his or her own sensibilities. So, when others say that they find it difficult to photograph black and white with a camera that captures colour, I don't doubt them — I just thank my lucky stars that I'm not one of them.

Of course, all of this carries us to discussions about the abilities of particular cameras to capture black and white in the ways that we want. That, in turn, often leads to the differences between digital and film. Et cetera.

Those are discussion for another day.

25 December, 2014

Happy Holidays

North Stradbroke Island, Queensland [click to enlarge]

Please accept my best wishes for the Holidays.

Thank you for visiting the site over 2014. I plan to continue the blog into 2015 and look forward to your visiting again.

Bill Danby

13 December, 2014

"Somebody's been de-mosaicing my pixels," said the baby bear.

Road ahead — now [click to enlarge]

For the most part, the pixel-count wars have ended. And it seems that the enthusiast camera market has settled, for the moment, on four, sensor-pixel counts: 12, 16, 24 and 36mp.

I'll cut to the chase to say that for me, at this point, 24mp is "just right." I can hand hold 24mp pretty well. The file sizes are reasonable. And I'm a printer, so even with some cropping, the remaining pixels are still sufficient for printing at A3 and larger.

Yes, some pixels are better than others. When there are fewer pixels on a sensor, other qualities, besides resolution, begin to shine. The Fujifilm X100, for example, started out at 12mp and quickly became known for its image quality. (In the later incarnations of the X100, Fujifilm has moved to 16mp on their X-Trans sensor.) And, more recently, Sony's A7s has become a bit of a legend for its 12mp sensor's low-light and video abilities.

Clearly, simple pixel counts don't tell the whole story. I've seen outstanding enlargements from 12mp captures. After all, it was as recently as 2009 that 12mp was still considered high resolution — and digital photographers did great work with those pixels. That was the year of the introduction of the Olympus Pen E-P1, and the year that I was besotted by my 12mp Panasonic GF1.

But that was then, and this is now. So now it's true to say that 24 good megapixels are usually better than 12 good megapixels. But is that progression valid to the next stage, 36mp?

When the Nikon D800 came out with 36mp camera in early 2012 (and then Sony with the A7r late last year), I said, "Wow." I still say, "Wow." But with 36mp, it appears to me that much higher shutter speeds and/or a tripod need to be regular tactics. It will be interesting to see if/when the Sony stabilisation for the 24mp sensor (A7ii) is offered in a version for the 36mp A7r — and how much that helps.

Both Panasonic and Olympus seem to have settled on 16mp for their four-thirds sensor cameras, as has Fujifilm's for its APS-C, X-Trans line.

I can work with 16mp (and have), but working with 24 is easier. It might be different if I used a zoom lens for my regular shooting, as I would be doing more framing in the camera and less cropping in Lightroom. Maybe.

There are also rumours about Olympus using their stabilisation (sensor displacement) technology to capture multiple frames to create much higher pixel counts. I already combine multiple shots using "stitching" in Photoshop; but it will be interesting to see how that very different process can be automated. I fear that the automated results may only be JPEGs, similar to current in-camera panoramas and in-camera HDR.

We can only wonder at the road ahead.

10 December, 2014

Focus assist lamp

Coffee Shop, Bardon, Queensland [click to enlarge]

I'm not sure what the experiences of others are, but I've never found the focus assist lamps to be very helpful. Worse yet, I find them distracting.

Flash is also disturbing; but focus assist is worse, because it happens before the picture is taken — alerting/warning the subject. If you're not shooting people, then it probably doesn't matter. And, very young children often don't seem to notice. Teenagers, however, can be a very different story.

Yes, the focus assist brightens things up enough to ensure that the autofocus has enough contrast to lock onto the scene. But manual focus is another solution.

I've always switched it off in each camera's menus, and I don't think I've missed a shot.

“If you want to view paradise,
simply look around and view it.
Anything you want to,
do it.
Want to change the world,
there’s nothing to it.”

by Leslie Bricusse (b. 1931–) and Anthony Newley (1931-1999),
from the 1971 movie, “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”

09 December, 2014

Horses for courses

A7 with 70-200mm f/4 on the left, and the Panasonic GX7 with 70-200mm (equiv) f/2.8 on the right

In peeking at other systems, it's become clear to me that if my photography was different, I might be using other gear. So, what do I mean by "different?" Let me explain by using longer lenses as an example.

I'm not a regular "long" shooter. I have, and like, the 70-200mm f/4. But I bought it for portrait work. I wouldn't want to carry it around all the time.

Have a look at the photo above (generated using camerasize.com). If telephoto was an arrow in my daily quiver (or if I planned on traveling with it), the Panasonic on the right would be looking pretty good to me. And, it should be kept in mind that the Sony on the left is small compared to the full-frame, f/2.8 models.

Don't take this as a recommendation for that Panasonic lens, however. If anything, it's an admission that I'm probably not the guy to ask if you want to focus on wildlife, or landscape, or sports, or macro.... You get the idea.

A7 with the 35mm on the left, and the Fujifilm X100T on the right
And, as for regular "street photography," I tried to convince myself (without success) that I need the Fujifilm X100T.

Picking Sony was relatively easy for me, because I usually stick to the tried-and-true trio (a moderate wide-angle, a "normal," and a short-telephoto). I find that Sony's 24 megapixel sensors work for me because I print regularly at A3 and above. But, if I did landscape regularly I'd probably gravitate to 36mp.

Horses for courses.

06 December, 2014

Eye focus

Noumea [click to enlarge]

I agreed to take eight, head-and-shoulder portraits for work. There wasn't much time, so I used it as an opportunity to try out the "eye focus" feature on the A7 (it's also on the A6000, I believe).

The camera nailed the focus every time. And, with focus peaking on, when the camera found the eye I could see the sparkle in that eye from the peaking. A "twinkle in the eye," if you will.

I chimped the first couple of shots in the LCD to see that I was hitting it; but after those I trusted in the camera.

By assigning the feature to a programmable button, it's there when I need it but keeps out of the way otherwise. I've never used the "smile" shutter (I actually prefer that people don't smile), but I do like this feature.

05 December, 2014

Peeking over the fence at Panasonic

West End, Brisbane, Queensland

My first Panasonic was a quite capable superzoom, the 5mp, FZ5. That was almost a decade ago, and I remember how files really fell apart when pushed to ISO 400. (We've come a long way.)

But my real involvement with Panasonic began with the LX3. What a charmer. It was my first camera with RAW.

As you can probably tell, I'm a pushover for the rangefinder style, so when the GF1 was introduced, I was ripe for the picking. But after that, things seemed to stall for Panasonic. Their Micro 4/3 partner, Olympus, pulled ahead. And then, Sony trumped that market with the NEX-7.

Despite that, Panasonic still came through with quite a few winning lenses: The 20mm pancake on the GF1 and, later, the 25mm f/1.4 were standouts for me.

If Panasonic had provided cameras like the LX100 and GX7 earlier, I might still be a Panasonic shooter.

There is no question that the 4/3 sensor sits in a "sweet spot," where resolution is great and low light capability is good, but lens sizes are reasonable. But if I was going back to Micro 4/3, it would probably be to an Olympus body. Who could resist that 5-Axis stabilisation?

If I was a videographer, however, then the Panasonic GH4 is probably where I would be.

(There's some speculation at the moment about Sony's newly introduced in-body stabilisation, and whether it will perform as well as the Olympus version. I think this will be another example of the Micro 4/3 sensor size really shining. The M4/3 sensor is less than a third the size of the Sony full frame — much easier to move around quickly with a stabilisation system.)

party (pär’tē) n. Social occasion where a husband
pretends to be the man his wife wants to be seen with.
—Ybnad dictionary

28 November, 2014

The HP 15c app (Geek Alert)

HP 15c (from the Wikipedia entry)

This post is not about photography.

Hewlett Packard has created apps for both Android and the iPhone that replicate the HP 15c Scientific Calculator. On my phone the app looks and acts like the original calculator — for a fraction of the price and without carrying around another device. The app is not a substitute for the real thing when there's heavy use, of course; but it's great for the once-in-a-while.

In the early '80s I bought a Hewlett Packard HP 15c. It wasn't my first HP calculator; and, because my 15c was in my shoulder bag when it was stolen from my office almost 20 years later, it wasn't my last. (The 15c was out of production by then, so I had to buy a newer model.) And, I'm confirming my geekiness by admitting that I've kept my 15c owner's manual for the decade following my 15c's "departure."

HP calculators were a cut above other brands. As a small example, you never had to worry about the numbers on the tops of the keys rubbing off — because the numbers were injected molded. They went all the way through each key. Keys might get a little shiny with use, but they would never fade.

The algorithms in the 10 series calculators were the product of renown mathematician, Prof William Kahan who (Wikipedia reports) was the architect of the IEEE 754 standard for floating-point arithmetic.

HP's "10 series" calculators had/have almost cult followings. The 15c was the choice amongst engineers and maths folk, and the 12c (financial calculator) amongst the money men. (There wasn't a "Master of the Universe" on Wall Street in the '80s who didn't have an HP 12c.)

There were three other, less famous, 10C series calculators: The 10c, a basic scientific; the 11c, a more sophisticated scientific; and the 16c, a specialist computer programming calculator.

HP calculators were distinguished by their input notation. They were not "algebraic" (with parentheses and an "=" key), but instead had an "ENTER" key. Equations were input in a different way, called Reverse Polish Notation (RPN). Briefly, instead of adding 2 and 2 as "2 + 2 =", in RPN that simple calculation is entered as "2 ENTER 2 +".

So, with a slightly more complex calculation like 6 x (2 + 3), the algebraic key entries would be "6 x ( 2 + 3 ) =" (Eight keystrokes). In RPN it would be "2 ENTER 3 + 6 x" (Six keystrokes). The more complex the formula the greater the savings in both keystrokes and time using RPN.

The 10C series calculators, William Kahan, and RPN all have their own Wikipedia pages. And if you would like to see how a 15c works, there's a (non-HP) browser version HERE.

26 November, 2014

Sony A7 family - a brand new day.

Australian Ugg Boot factory, Gold Coast, Queensland

As you may remember, I've been critical of the pressure toward full-frame cameras. With the latest, high-quality APS-C and four-thirds sensors, the 
benefits of the larger full-frame sensors didn't make much sense (for non-professionals) against the increased size and weight of those cameras.

Times they've been a changin'.

The opening salvos came from Sony with their  RX1 and RX1R. They're full frame, but have fixed lenses (excellent, but fixed) and lack built-in electronic viewfinders.

But now there's the Sony A7 E-Mount family.

While a couple of millimetres taller, the Sony A7 family members are smaller than the Panasonic GH-4, smaller and lighter than the Olympus E-M1, and in the ballpark on size with the Fujifilm X-T1.

Soon there will be an A7II, with 5-axis stabilisation. Imagine that.

I've always preferred the "rangefinder" style to the DSLR style of cameras. But these are just tools — the means to an end — the images that we want to capture. Almost every aspect of photography is loaded with compromises. It's a mistake to forget that.

21 November, 2014

The kindness of strangers

West End, Brisbane, Queensland

I've talked about how hard it is to approach strangers and ask if you can take their picture. I'd like to be able to tell you that it gets a lot easier. It hasn't for me.

Even though there are turndowns, there are many who very generously share a few moments. It gives you an appreciation for the kindness of strangers.

When I first approached the woman in the picture above, she politely turned me down. I was disappointed, but I didn't think too much about it at that time. 

About an hour later I was still in the same location in West End, and she came through again. I supposed that she was returning from whatever errand she was on. She came up to me and said that she had thought about it and that she would be happy for me to take her picture.

As you can tell, I was affected by that kindness.

If you're interested doing portraits of strangers, I suggest that you look at the amazing work of Singaporean photographer, Danny Santos. Some of his street portrait work is HERE, and I also recommend his, "How to shoot portraits."

19 November, 2014

Steady on? Thumbs up.

A dog's life.

Thank goodness for higher ISO sensors, 'cuz it's getting tougher to hold the longer shutter speeds.

Yes, it helps to keep the coffee levels down (but I've got to have some coffee). Yes, I keep those elbows in. And, yes, a high ISO is usually better than a low shutter speed. And I do lean against something solid when it presents itself.

But, because I wear glasses, it's hard for me to pull the camera in against my face, so I have an alternative:

ISO 1600 at 1/15 sec.
My right hand holds the camera in the normal way, so that I can use my right index-finger on the shutter release. I wedge the base of the lens between my left index and middle fingers. Now here's the important bit (and you can't see it in the picture): I put my left thumb under my chin and put pressure upwards.

This works best with cameras of a modest size and auto-focus lenses, of course.

When my camera only had the back LCD, I would extend the camera away from me until the neck strap (I used one then) became tight. That solids up the camera nicely.

15 November, 2014

Printing technology

Australian Ugg Boot factory, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia

Epson is teasing us with the details of their new ink set for the upcoming Epson P600, a 13 inch desktop with roll capability. Supposedly, this is not just advertising "new," but really new.

If you print (and particularly if you print on an Epson), then I suggest that you listen to the Epson P600 interview at the Luminous Landscape.

If the new technology is as good as they suggest, then the changes that they're talking about will require new machines, and new profiles for every paper — and perhaps some new papers.

Unlike the leaps in sensor technology, printing technologies have moved much more slowly over the last few years. It looks like that might be changing.

The new set will still have 9 ink cartridges inside (like the current UltraChrome K3 Vivid Magenta set) — at any one time accessing 8. It sounds like that's where the similarities end.

03 November, 2014


Resort 1/3, Bargara, Queensland

Resort 2/3, Bargara, Queensland

Resort 3/3, Bargara, Queensland

I'm not sure why, but if I haven't posted on the blog for a time, I feel guilty.

It's not like I'm being paid. And sadly, but certainly, it's not like a rock concert where, when waiting for the band to appear, the audience begins to chant. Maybe it's watching the blog's page view statistics drop as the days pass.

In any case, here's a recent trio of pictures. 

I'll try for something pithy to say next time.

When you fly under the radar,
you can fly wherever you want.
Just make sure that when you drop off the scope,
they don't come looking for you.
—Yllib Ybnad (b. 1948)

19 October, 2014

Peeking over the fence at Fujifilm

High-key, black and white

I see the ads and the reviews for the cameras and lenses of companies other than Sony. So, it's only natural to wonder what I would do if all my gear was lost.* Would I buy the same stuff again, or try something else?

What about Fujifilm?

I was first impressed by the Fujifilm X100, and, then later, its successors. It was a close run thing; but a fixed 35mm (equivalent) is a little wide for me, so I didn't pull the trigger.

Direct controls for shutter, aperture and exposure compensation are very attractive to me. I like being able see what's set. I think that it's unfair that this is occasionally written off as just a "retro" style exercise.

Happily, the eyepiece data in most electronic viewfinders (EVFs) provide this same feedback, albeit only when the camera is switched on. And, alternatively, I recognize the advantages for some photographers in being able to set up two or more "custom" arrangements on a PASM mode dial, as that allows for almost immediate, global reactions to changed shooting circumstances. It's an admission, I suppose, to say that doesn't often happen to me.

I like the eyepiece on the left (Leica rangefinder) arrangement in both the X100 and the X-Pro1. (Which works well for me as a "right eyed" person.) The SLR/DSLR style, with the eyepiece in the center, ensures my nose presses against the display on the back.

Then came the X-Pro1. I mostly shoot with primes, so what impressed me most was the initial trio of high-quality, fast, Fujifilm primes: the 18, 35 and 60mm.

As I'm a glasses wearer, I was less impressed by the lack of a built-in eyepiece diopter adjustment – a screw-in lens is required. (The X100 had a built-in adjustment.) And, in the minor quibble department, I think that the "pinched" lens-hood designs on the 18 and 35mm lenses are effective, but prevent the hoods from being reversed on the lens in the bag. I admit that it's probably faster using their push-on lens caps to keep those hoods on all the time; but I like saving a little space in the bag. (I didn't like that about the rectangular lens hood on an earlier favourite of mine, the M4/3, Panasonic/Leica 25mm. That didn't, however, have a push-on cap.)

I liked it that Fujifilm dropped the anti-aliasing filter, but the initial problems with Lightroom's demosaicing from the new sensor were concerning. (The X-Trans sensor design is very clever, but the potential for moiré doesn't seem a serious enough reason to flee the Bayer design.)

And now there's the X-T1. I haven't seen one of these in the flesh, but the reports suggest that Fujifilm is moving from strength to strength.

I'm very happy with what I've got, but I think that I could use the Fujifilm line without missing a beat.
*Dear insurance company: There's no need to worry. I'm an honest guy.

Going back to the old ways,
won't get you back to the old days.
—Yllib Ybnad (b.1948)

16 October, 2014

One lens

A strong tidal current in Moreton Bay — off Brisbane, Queensland

I usually carry around a camera and one lens.

When I have an hour or two, however, I take the camera, camera bag and three lenses. But when I get back I often find that most of my pictures were taken with my usual (50mm equiv) lens.

It would be nice to believe that, like Henri Cartier-Bresson, the 50mm equivalent is just natural to me. I fear, however, that it's more a case of, "When you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

08 October, 2014

The Photographer's Ephemeris

The logo for the Photographer's Ephemeris
If you're only looking for the time of the sun or moon rise then the local paper is the easiest source.

But if you want to know on what day the sunrise can be seen straight down a particular street, when the sun will set between two hills from a particular vantage point, or whether the sun will come around far enough to shine in the windows on a particular side of a house before sunset, then you need to know about the The Photographer's Ephemeris (TPE).

TPE is free on your computer. They call it an app, but it works just like many other interactive pages on your browser.

Much of the relevant ephemeris information in TPE is overlaid on Google Maps. This means that it works for everywhere, except at the poles (yeah, I had to try). And that means you can use either the map or satellite views for working things out. And, of course, you can search for places in the usual Google Maps way.

If you want The Photographer's Ephemeris on your iPhone or Android phone, however, it will cost you a few bucks. For those you can go to either the App Store or Google Play.

The home page for The Photographer's Ephemeris is HERE.

The 0nline Photographer's Ephemeris (browser based) app is HERE

Their free, quick-start, 2-page guide is HERE.

And finally, the latest, 80-page, PDF version of Understanding Light with the Photographer's Ephemeris, by Bruce Perry, is available for purchase (£9.99) HERE. Understanding Light talks about more than just the use of the ephemeris. I found it very useful.

(I have no association with TPE and the links above are just their links. I get no benefit.)

03 October, 2014

In our own backyards

The backyard

Personal pictures: Family pictures, backyard pictures and pet pictures. 
Of course we want those pictures to have some grace, and we'd like to think we brought some skill to bear. But, in the end, we simply want to be reminded.

More backyard

That's fair enough.

29 September, 2014

FE 55mm on the NEX

FE 55mm on NEX-7, Noosa Heads, Queensland

The Sony/Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 works very nicely on the NEX-7. It moves from being a standard FE lens, to a short telephoto for the NEX sensor. It doesn't quite reach the traditional 85mm; but makes it to a respectable 82.5mm.

If you don't need the macro capability, I think it makes an excellent alternative to the 50mm Touit. It's faster (by one and a third stops), it's longer, it's a bit less expensive, and it's a hedge against the day you might move to an A7.

With the addition of the Loxia line, there's incredible choice for NEX (and A6000) users, not just A7/r/s owners. And for the NEX cameras the excellent Sony 50mm shouldn't be overlooked — which also brings stabilisation. And, the Sigma 60mm is a wickedly sharp alternative.

55mm, Noosa Heads, Queensland

27 September, 2014

Photographs with altitude

Spring Hill in Brisbane

If there was a man standing on the roof of the building in the picture above, or even if there was a window washer; well, then, it might be an interesting photograph.

Not every outing delivers a worthwhile image. It's just the way it is. 

Many modern urban environments seem sterile to me. In most big cities (in the West, anyway) people work very hard not to stand out; only going out to get from one place to another. Even the number of smokers escaping the indoor prohibitions is way down.

When confronted by tall(ish) buildings it seemed reasonable then, to look up. Oh, well.

Next time.

23 September, 2014

Expose to the right

Noosa Heads, Queensland

People whose opinions I respect, seem to differ about, "exposing to the right."

Expose To The Right (ETTR) is a tactic designed to exploit the way that digital files are organised. The tactic is based on the recognition that half the digital data of any photo is in the brightest stop, half of the remaining data is in the next stop, and so on. This means that when you get down to the shadows, there’s not much information left to be manipulated — or printed.

The "right" in "expose to the right," refers to the right (brightest) side of a histogram. The theory is to expose the image so as to push it to the bright side without going to white ("blown" highlights). The seeming overexposure will then be pulled back down in the post processing of the RAW image. (This is not useful for JPEGs.)

There's no information (except pure white) in a blown highlight. So, unless you really have a bright highlight, like a spectral highlight from a metal object for instance, you probably don't want to go there. If a shiny nose or forehead gets blown out in a portrait, for example, then the portrait is probably done.

If histograms are a bit of a black art, then I suggest the Luminous Landscape discussion of histograms as a precursor to this discussion.

If you're interested in the debate, then here's where to look. (If you don't want the debate, then you can skip down to my view at the foot of the post.)
So where do I stand? I agree that ETTR can be a useful tactic. But care is required when you start pushing up the exposure. And, I agree with Ctein that times have changed; that cameras are now much better at delivering files with lower levels of noise, and noise reduction in post processing is much better at fixing it.

So, if:
  • You know how histograms work in general and how it works on your camera in particular; and
  • the exposure range of your scene falls comfortably within the exposure range of your sensor; and 
  • you're already at the base ISO; and 
  • there's detail in the shadows that you'll want to bring out; and 
  • the shot will be displayed in a medium where that shadow detail will actually show; and 
  • no part of the scene will get blown out unintentionally by moving to the right; and 
  • you have the time to consider all these matters while still getting the shot; then
Go ahead, expose to the right.

18 September, 2014

Pronouncing ISO


For a long time I thought that ISO was pronounced as the separate letters of the word; that is, "I-S-O." (I think that for me, this was a carryover from, "ASA," which was spoken as the three separate initials of the American Standards Association. Showing my age here a bit.)

Then, I heard others pronouncing it as, "EYE-so." That didn't seem right to me, so I started looking around the web and found conflicting advice.

ISO coordinates standards for all manner of things, but this discussion is about what used to be the convention for describing film speed (sensitivity), but is now sensor sensitivity.

Some were suggesting that ISO was an acronym from the name of the organisation — the International Standards Organization. A nice theory, except that their name is actually the International Organization for Standardization — those initials would be IOS.

To resolve the issue I devised a cunning scheme. I went to the ISO videos produced by the organisation itself to see how they pronounced it:

"EYE-so," it is.

Turns out I didn't need a cunning scheme. The ISO media page says this about their name:
Our name
From the Greek isos, meaning equal. Whatever the country, whatever the language, the short form of our name is always ISO.

14 September, 2014

Retirement - not mine.

West End, Brisbane

I was asked to take some pictures at a retirement party for a colleague.

I decided on the NEX-7, as I wanted to be unobtrusive and none of the pictures are destined for prints. If they'll be seen at all it will be on-line and in small sizes. If I had needed better quality, I would have gone with the A7.

I set the ISO to 1600 for the duration. Whenever I can I avoid using the in-camera flash. It's impossible to be unobtrusive with flash, because everyone in the room is alerted to every shot you take.

In unposed settings I take a lot of photos, as I need to be able to weed out the blinks, the yawns and other goofy looks. When you're shooting flash, that's harder to do.

I rarely chimp my pictures in such a situation. If you stop to look at your shots the subjects will join you and you'll be showing your unedited (mostly to be rejected) work. It  slows me down. By simply taking my shots, I can move quickly to my next subject.

Because it was standard fluorescent office lighting, I could have lived with ISO 800; but I wanted the shutter speed high enough to avoid any shake or minor movement problems. It's all RAW, so I'm addressing the white-balance in Lightroom. I also shot wide open at f/1.8, or at f/2.0. I can fix most noise (especially for snaps) but motion blur is very hard. (Yes, Photoshop has some tools, but I suggest you not rely on that when taking pictures, only when you encounter a situation in post processing.)

My 32mm lives on the NEX, but I took a wide and a telephoto to complement that — I didn't use either one. Things moved along pretty quickly and I just said to myself, this will work.

Moderate telephoto lenses are great for portraits. They eliminate the distortion that arises at close distances with a wider lens. I can get the same geometric result by using the standard (32mm on the NEX) further away — and then cropping. 

10 September, 2014

Holding on longer?


So, here we are:
  • Digital cameras are as good or better than medium format film.
  • Camera feedback to users, such as histograms, focus peaking and zebras, dramatically improves the reliability of image capture.
  • The convenience of 32gb cards over 36 shot film, is unbelievable – and memory is cheap.
  • The various flavours of image stabilisation work like magic.
  • Autofocus can be really, really quick, and accurate.
  • Low light performance is off the old charts.
  • Lens selection is better than adequate, and in many cases outstanding.
  • Many cameras are so small the problem is fitting in the controls. 
  • Digital colour is so good they don't even make most of the transparency films anymore. 
  • Digital photography is much, much less expensive than film.
  • The selection of bags, straps, tripods and other accessories is almost unlimited.
  • Digital printers blow the doors off of wet darkrooms.
  • Access to legacy lenses using mirrorless cameras is incredible.
  • The addition of video into cameras is icing on the cake for still photographers.

As digital has finally delivered the goods, I think photographers will be holding on to cameras longer. I know I am.

Tough times ahead for manufacturers?

06 September, 2014

Burning bridges


I was very surprised to hear from Michael Reichmann (in his video – he doesn't actually call me), that he's sold his Nikon gear.

Those who've moved "down" to mirrorless gear often seem to advise that they're still hedging their bets: That there's a D800 on the shelf, "just in case."

I think that some enthusiasts are worried that without the "big iron," they'll erode their status as "serious" photographers. (NB I've got Michael's, 20 Year Photography Retrospective book, and it's clear that Michael doesn't need to worry about securing his place as an artist.)

I, on the other hand, have been creeping up from the other end – smaller formats. The FZ7 (no RAW, but TIFF) was useful in its day; and the LX3 (my first RAW camera) was better yet. (I don't actually get teary-eyed, but I'm still wistful about the LX3.) 

As Michael Reichmann also noted, Canikon needs to be thinking hard about the future.

Can you feel it? I think the ground is shifting.

(As I've mentioned before, however, those who earn their livings taking pictures have different needs. If I was a wedding photographer, I'd have more than one Canikon.)

03 September, 2014

Third World – Small World

Alternate, pretty picture - Fiji

When I think of photography in the Third World, I think of Steve McCurry, ceremonies, colourful portraits, street vendors.

So, not long ago, when I was in Fiji, I had hopes of such opportunities. Alas, the cities where I visited didn't seem to have fully recovered from Cyclone Evan in late 2012. The resorts, of course, are fine, and we didn't have a chance to get out into the villages.

As I already knew, the Third World is not always vibrant and colourful, but can be quite sad. Sometimes it just doesn't seem right to whip out a camera and start snapping away. I was in Fiji in the early '80s, and my recollections are different to what I found this time.

For some time, Fiji has been under the control of the military. This was presaged by a coup in 2000, when George Speight and a small force kidnapped the Prime Minister and 35 parliamentarians.

I worked with George in 1990 when he lived in Brisbane. (My wife, Susan, and I were introduced to kava at a birthday party at his house.) It was a shock, then, to see him on the news taking over the government of Fiji. I remember watching the news and Susan asking, "Isn't that George?" Small world.

George was sentenced to death for overthrowing the constitutional government, but the death penalty was abolished. The current "leader" had a much more effective solution to constitutional quibbles. When the Supreme Court ruled his military takeover unconstitutional, he had the President abrogate the constitution. Easy.

30 August, 2014

Plan, to be disappointed

Mt Coot-tha, Brisbane

I've been talking a lot about Jay Maisel lately, so I'll give it one more go.

I've been watching his videos, and his message (for shooting on the street) is, don't plan:
When I go out, I try very hard not to predetermine what I want to do; and I want to go out as unprepared as possible, so that I can get filled up with what the world has to offer. And, the more I can be influenced by what 's around me the more fun it is for me. [From the video embedded in my 29 May 2014 post.]
With the benefit of Maisel's advice, I've gone back to my Lightroom library. I can see that where I went out with an idea or a plan, it was usually an unproductive outing. On the other hand (as Maisel pointedly suggests), when I looked at the street shots that I liked the most, I had no plan to get those shots before they presented themselves.

It's different, of course, if you're going out to do a portrait of a friend or to take family pictures. After all, a birthday is what a birthday is: Smiling guest of honour, the cake, the blowing out of candles, the opening of gifts – you get the idea.

26 August, 2014

Really, really steady

Most times the light is good enough for handheld. Sometimes there's no chance, and you need a tripod on the ground. But in between is that zone that's too often dominated by shoot and pray.

The Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, Gary Parker, passed along some advice to photographer Ron Martinsen about how to steady your camera using a tabletop tripod. Martinsen, in turn, did a YouTube video to demonstrate it. And that's the video I've embedded above.

This works really well.

Parker and Martinson both used the Leica tripod and ball head, but it can probably work with a few different products.

23 August, 2014

"In No Great Hurry"

I've bought the Thomas Leach movie about the New York Photographer, Saul Leiter, "In No Great Hurry - 13 Lessons in Life with Saul Leiter." The trailer is embedded above. It's a touching portrait of an artist committed to his art, but not celebrity or fame. (Streaming and downloadable copies can be purchased from the film's website.)

Since the movie, Saul Leiter passed away (in November of last year).

Leiter did fashion photography to pay the bills; but, in addition, he took the time to take photographs of his own. We're the beneficiaries of that lifelong effort.

Leiter was one of those who worked in colour, back when black and white still ruled the art world. His book, "Early Color" is outstanding. It shows how the everyday world can afford endless opportunities for art. If the photo below has a painterly look, that may be because of Saul also being a painter.

Saul Leiter's "Waiter" Paris 1959, from "Early Color"
So, how is that a photographer who inhabits the Mt Olympus of street photography went relatively unrecognised for so many years?

Certainly, Saul was not a self-promoter in the ways of some others. I couldn't find, for example, a Saul Leiter website of Saul's own making. In the New Yorker obituary, Teju Cole reported that,
...Leiter didn’t court fame, and though he continued to work, his photographs almost vanished from public view. Then they came back to light in 2006, with “Saul Leiter: Early Color,” a monograph published by Steidl. The book brought him belated recognition, gallery representation, a stream of publications, and a new generation of fans.
Since his death there's been much activity in Saul's apartment, which constituted an archive of his work. The New Yorker has subsequently reported that,
As of last month, they [Margit Erb, his gallery representative, and Anders Goldfarb, his long-time assistant] had catalogued three thousand books, two hundred and fifty thousand negatives and slides, and a host of priceless ephemera, including Leiter’s correspondence with Diane Arbus, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Irving Penn, whose praise for “Early Color” particularly pleased Leiter. They also found a cube-shaped suitcase from the nineteen-forties filled with undeveloped slide film.
Saul Leiter is gone, but his work is still with us. Happily, it's not too late to become a Leiter fan.

(I've been gazumped by a day by Wired, reporting on the film.)