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.)

22 August, 2014


Queens Park, Brisbane

I like electronic viewfinders (EVFs). EVFs are the tiny screens that serve as viewfinders in many mirrorless cameras, as opposed to the optical through-the-lens finders in digital single lens reflexes (DSLRs), or the optical finders in Leica rangefinders.

Focus peaking, focus assist (magnification) and eye focus (detecting the subject's eye and then focusing on it); these are all tied to EVFs and LCDs. And, I really like being able to see a histogram and all the specs for a shot within the viewfinder.

With an EVF I don't need the pentaprism and mirror mechanism of a DSLR; so the camera is lighter, smaller and less expensive.

Finder lag in EVFs is down to almost nothing in the newer cameras.

EVF critics point out that the image in the electronic viewfinder is going to be different to the actual digital capture. Shock, Horror. There's always been a disparity between what's in the eyepiece (of whatever kind) and the final image (in whatever medium). In earlier times, it was a useful bit of the craft to be able to predict what the image was going to look like on Tri-X, Kodachrome or whatever – 'cause it wasn't going to look exactly like what you saw in the viewfinder.

I do think that EVFs are too contrasty, and, therefore, it's correct to to say that the image in the EVF will probably not let you see into the darker areas of the scene. There are, I think, two answers for that: The first is to remember you saw the scene before you put the camera up to your eye. And if you want to, you can have a second peek with your naked eye. Secondly, there's a tactic that helps on my Sonys. (This isn't my own idea. I'm not sure, but I think that I found the tip somewhere on the Luminous Landscape. If anyone knows who's idea it was, let me know and I'll make sure they are credited in this post.) So here it is:

Because I shoot only RAW, I set the NEX-7, for example, to "Portrait" within the "Creative Styles." Within that "style" I can then dial down the contrast of the display. The EVF rendition is flatter, but it shows me more of the detail in shadow areas. This doesn't affect the final images, because RAW ignores the "creative styles."

I love the perfect framing of EVFs – what I see in the frame is what I get in the image. No parallax correction. No mirror slap. So, no mirror lock-up in seeking vibration-free pictures. No lubricant from the mirror box putting junk on my sensors.

Did I mention that I like EVFs?

18 August, 2014

The Cull

West End, Brisbane

I'm terrible at deleting my unsuccessful photos in Lightroom. Unless an image is an accidental shot of my feet, I seem paralyzed and unable to press the "x" key.

Yes, computer memory is relatively cheap; but as a RAW shooter with 24mp images, each image weighs in at 20-30mb. With a street outing easily yielding a hundred (or more) images, we're talking about at least 2.5 gigs of images.

I don't want to guess at my average number of "keepers." That, however, is another story.

And it's not that I don't have a fallback: When I import my images into Lightroom, I convert to DNGs and save the original files to a separate hard drive. When I delete from Lightroom, the original files are still out there.

Family and vacation pics, of course, are a different thing. I keep most of those for different reasons.

I know what's worthwhile, and what's not. I've just got to toughen up. So here's the plan. If, when I have an image on the screen, someone were to ask, "Watcha got there? If my answer would be, "Ohhhh, nothing," then out it goes.

I'll let you know how that works out.

14 August, 2014


Chinese New Year, Ferney Hills, Brisbane

Some people rail against watermarks, but they seem useful to me. I'm not a fan of watermarks that go through the centers of a photos, to make them useless for any normal viewing.

Clearly, I don't have to worry that the millions that would otherwise be mine will be siphoned off by Internet pirates. A discrete watermark, however, serves a few purposes:

© 2014 billdanby.com
  • The copyright symbol reminds people that if they want to use a picture of mine, they should ask; and
  • the year lends a photo a bit of chronological perspective; and
  • the billdanby.com, not only tells them whose work it is, but where to find me. 
I wouldn't put a watermark on a print; but here on the blog or Internet gallery, I think it's reasonable.

09 August, 2014


Central Station, Brisbane

In my (relative) youth I owned a chronometer wristwatch. (I won't name the brand.) In those days, if you wanted a watch to keep good time, then you needed to pay for both engineering and craftsmanship. That's just the way that it was in the mechanical and analog world.

Times have changed and it's now an electronic and digital world. Craftsmanship isn't dead, but in many places it's been supplanted. Some bewail this shift, but not me.

I can't afford a Rol... chronometer wristwatch anymore. But I can afford an equally robust, waterproof, quartz watch with a wind-down crown that keeps much better time for little more than the cost of a service to that chronometer.

And so it is with cameras. I can't afford a Leica with its precision rangefinder mechanism; but I can afford a NEX-7 with (I think) a superior sensor and focus peaking.

I don't have the space for a darkroom, but I do have the space for a Epson printer.

The digital age has delivered into our hands the tools that were out of reach for many not long ago. The challenge now is for us to become master craftsmen/craftswomen with these new tools.

In choosing sides, ask yourself:
Which side would be happy with peace, and
which side would remain set on extermination?
—Yllib Ybnad (b. 1948)

07 August, 2014


Spring Hill, Brisbane

The disparity between the prices for genuine Sony camera batteries and their third-party equivalents is breathtaking.

I don't begrudge a company their profits, but when it seems that they are gouging, then they shouldn't complain when their customers go elsewhere. The prices for one (1) battery for a Sony NEX-7 camera, from various sources look like this:

A genuine Sony battery RRP in Australia: AUS$99.00 (US$92.56)
A genuine Sony battery RRP in the US: US$79.99 (AUS$85.57)
A genuine Sony battery through US Amazon (exc delivery): US$49.95 (AUS$53.39)
A genuine Sony battery from an authorised re-seller in Australia: AUS$82.00 (US$76.65)
A third-party battery in Australia from the same re-seller: AUS$48.00 (US$44.86)
A third-party battery in the US (through the Internet, exc delivery): US$13.99 (AUS$14.97)

Australian companies are complaining to the government about the business they're losing to international Internet sales. They seem to attribute their troubles to the lack of sales tax on those overseas Internet sales. The Australian sales tax (GST) on the third-party battery purchased through the Internet would be AUS$1.50. (It appears to me that the paperwork in assessing the tax and collecting it would be close to the amount collected in any case.)

Just a few notes: The third-party battery from the US (Wasabi batteries from Blue Nook) is a brand that I've used and have found to be of consistently high quality. The third-party battery sold by a Sony re-seller here in Brisbane isn't a brand that I've used, but the re-seller claims is of high quality. The prices in parenthesis are the conversions on 7 August 2014

02 August, 2014

Luminous Endowment

Resting the Dogs - Southbank, Brisbane

A couple of days ago I posted about the Luminous Landscape, mentioning it as a site that I trust. It's only a couple of days later and Michael Reichman takes LuLa yet another step forward: To establish an endowment to support photographers:
The mission of The Luminous Endowment For Photographers is to provide financial grants to photographers world-wide to foster current and anticipated projects. 
Grants allow photographers to pursue specific photographic goals, such as mounting an exhibition of their work, publishing a monograph or book, or photographing a special subject or location as part of either commencing or completing a body of work. Note though that grants are not available for the purchase of photographic equipment.
I urge you to have a look: