Sunday, April 29, 2007

Size Matters

No, not that size, I'm talking about print size. I wrote earlier today about keeping images simple to be effective, but I have been thinking more about it and it seems to me that print size is an issue here. If the prints are small - say 6X8, a size I often print at on 8.5X11 paper, then the objects in the image are pretty darn close together on the print. Blow the same image up to 16X24 and it's a whole different game - now objects that practically touched in the small print are inches apart. They don't interfere with each other to anything like the same degree.

Perhaps this means that complex images need big prints. Of course, the other thing it means is that simple images perhaps don't hang together so well in giant prints, needing more to look at.

I'm going to do some experiments with print size, using my 7600 to make 20 inch by whatever prints for comparison.

Sort o' Cave

Another badlands image from this weekend. Shot with my 17-40 at 17 mm., full frame sensor on the 1Ds2. I don't normally think of myself a wide angle kind of guy, but there are times when nothing else will do. In this case, the cave was at the top of a steep hill and stepping back three feet meant stepping down 4 feet, so either i needed a really tall tripod, not to mention a ladder to get up to the viewfinder, or I needed my 17 mm. lens. Actually, I bought it at the time when I was using the 10D with the 1.6 multiplier effect because of the small sensor, but have used it quite often on the full frame camera, less for near far compositions than for lack of room to operate, but some of those too.


I have written before about complex pictures being a 'hard sell'. I'm just back from photographing the badlands and I am dissapointed with a number of images I had thought would work, and consistently it's a problem of being too complex.

I'm going to go further and say that the primary problem of most failed photographs is a matter of not keeping things simple enough, of not being tidy, of not eliminating things which even if not downright distracting, don't actually add to the composition.

It's tempting to use cropping as a way to solve this problem, but what actually happens in many cases is you 'throw out the baby with the bathwater', that is, you remove some of the good parts of the image in a desparate attempt to remove the distracting elements, ending up with a weaker message rather than one spoiled by distractions - not a great tradeoff.

Truth is, some times you can find something lovely to photograph but no matter how you cut it, you can't find a way to eliminate the distracting, extraneous, surplus to requirement elements and it just doesn't work.

Other times, there are too many good things and it's tempting to include them all, yet even though they are interesting shapes, lovely tones, and well deserving of capture, put together they don't form a harmonious whole and yet again a weak image is the result. One must be as vigilant to not add something which doesn't contribute to the whole as one watches to be sure no distracting elements persist. Our work is cut out for us.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Another Badlands Image

Weekend Trip To Badlands

Drove down to Dinosaur Provincial Park yesterday afternoon (about 3 hours), cought the evening light, crashed for four hours and got up again to catch the morning light this morning and home before 1 - 6 hours of photography in less than 24 hours and now I'm back from picking up some 100 lb. rocks for the front path. I think I can justify some rest now thanks.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Abstract Rock Image

This is a severe crop of one of my rock stitches which didn't really work in full size and the fragment is saved only because of having such a high pixel count in the first place - bad planning, bad seeing, but glad to have the fragment none the less.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Magazines And The Images They Showcase

Popped into Indigo the other night to get the latest photography magazines - they had a good haul - View Camera, Camera Arts, Shotz, Photo Life, and B&W. In addition they had Black and White Photography and Lenswork but I have subscriptions to those.

Thumbing through the magazines, I was quite struck by how many of the images were unattractive in the extreme - this of course is a biased opinion and I may just be revealing my ignorance, lack of culture and just plain bad taste, but I wonder.

I went through pages of bromoil and other antiquated techniques resulting in oddly coloured hard to see images of no particular merit - the process was all - I got the distinct impression the people using these old processes were so pleased to have been able to produce an image at all that content was surplus to requirements. The number of manipulated images, double exposures and so on was high. this was particularly noticeable in Camera Arts which has a reputation for showing this kind of photography. There was a substantial amount in Shotz and View Camera, both of which don't usually showcase a lot of this work. B&W and Photo Life didn't in fact show much of this kind of work at all.

Perhaps it was just a bad month, maybe it's just me. I doubt it's just me - I've heard comments about and seen for myself how Aperture went this direction 15 years ago and lost a lot of subscribers.

I have abstract paintings hanging on my wall, some of my own photographs are fairly abstract, I own (paid for) platinum prints. I can admire portraits and fashion photography, sports and news, the distorted nudes of Bill Brandt, so what is it about these rather messy odd looking photographs that I'm missing if several editors think they are worth showing?

Photographs certainly don't have to be pretty - they can definitely present a message designed to make you uncomfortable - but in the case of these images, the message I get is, 'turn the page'. I can't see people living with them on the walls. I doubt people would collect them were they offered cheaply and unsigned and not made by the photographer, no matter how identical. I have a horrible feeling that they are appreciated more for their being different than they are for for their skill, message or emotional responses. That would make them collectable but not admirable, valuable but not wonderful.

It may be that I simply don't get the language of these photographs, just as I don't get a lot of 20th century classical music. Are they in fact created for a minority of intellectuals and the rest of us poor slobs aren't meant to 'get' it. Is it remotely possible that any of these photographs is going to have staying power - that they will become icons of 21st century photography - I frankly find that hard to believe.

Why is it that editors of some magazines favour this kind of work while others don't. I can't remember any of this kind of thing in Lenswork. Of course, Brooks Jenson is a middle aged white guy brought up through the Ansel Adams, Fred Picker et al school of photography, just like me. Does this mean that the other editors are simply unlike us, perhaps with a political science degree, a background of writing for the radical student newspaper and having values radically different from mine.

I worry that the fault is mine, that what is considered fringe now will be the norm in a few years and that most people will 'get' it, that my dislike for these images is akin to someone criticizing Picasso in the 20's and 30's, only to find out later that there's a lot more to it than first realized, that it took skill and imagination to paint cubist pictures, and with a bit of education it can be appreciated every bit as much as a Rembrandt.

But, what if I'm right and this is the 'emperors new clothes' and we've been hoodwinked into believing there is merit where none exists.

Disturbing... No answers.... Yet....

What To Do With Our Photographs

If you are anything like me you have hundreds or thousands of prints and no where to put them. Sure you can get a few images framed - but at $200 a pop, that eats into one's equipment budget. You can pin images to the wall - when allowed, give them to friends, swap, get published, sell images, but realistically that probably still leaves you with a huge number of images and maybe no idea what to do with them.

This is where I'm at right now. Here's some thoughts about how I am going to go about fixing this problem.

I'm going to create a series of portfolios. Some will be closed editions - 'best images of 2004', others will remain open indefinitely - 'Industrial Abstracts' - images will be added to these and possibly some will leave as better images come along which leave older images looking a bit anaemic. I'm going to create some that by definition will have images leave - '10 best black and white ever'.

I'm going to break down and fork out the money for portfolio boxes, probably from Light Impressions Direct. At present I have dozens of unlabelled paper boxes of various manufacturers stacked up with varied quality images.

I hope to settle on a single type of paper so there is consistency, though I might have to have semi gloss and matte. I think I'll use 8.5X11 paper, even though for a long time 13x19 has been my standard size paper. With working with the f type semi gloss papers on the 5000, I have come to appreciate a heavy weight paper of fairly small size that is easy to hold in one's hands and doesn't require standing back to view. I'll print them with at least a 1 inch border around and generally more. I haven't settled on a paper yet. I feel that Moab Entrada is a bit textured for such small prints, Epson Enhanced Matte a very nice surface but a bit light weight and possibly subject to some yellowing since not behind glass. I have some of the new glossier ultrasmoothe paper from Innova coming that Michael Reichmann recommended - I'll let you know how that works out. I hope Innova fixes their confusing paper labelling - sort of a gloss, glossier, glossiest, only not so obvious which is which.

With such small prints I suspect it will be important that the dot gain (spread of ink on paper) be minimal - some recent 8.5X11 prints on Hahnemuhle Pearl look to be good that way as was Enhanced Matte - not so sure about the Moab. Also, I'm convinced that prints on the 5000 look sharper than from my Epson 4000 I wonder if dot gain is the issue.

As things stand right now, were I to 'pop my clogs' as the English have been known to say (die that is), my family would find a jumble of work prints, reject prints and good prints, none signed, no indications of which are keepers, etc. so I think this will be a good idea.

Preparing For Cruise

I took reader advice and arranged to rent a 100-400 mm. IS lens. Now, this combination weighs nearly 10 lb. and I'm wondering about using a monopod. I understand from reading that engine and other vibration (people walking by) would render tripods less than effective on board ship though I wonder if that still applies with an IS lens.

With a monopod, the deck could vibrate up and down but couldn't introduce any rotatory movements other than slow rolling of the ship so it might help steady pictures beyond what the IS can do - and the IS would help. I could even consider putting something soft on the bottom of the tripod to cushion against said vibration but that might introduce other movements. Anyone have any experience?

Perhaps a tripod with the legs all together and sitting on my foot would be the ideal - just enough cushioning, don't need a separate tripod and extra ball head - I might just experiment with my 300 mm. lens and see what shutter speeds I can get away with.

I'm curious about photographing the ship itself - while on board - anyone with any experience?

I'll be storing images on an Epson 2000 but this only gives me one copy of images so I'll take along my Mac laptop too. It can handle raw files extra software and can burn DVD's for me as backup. Theoretically that makes the epson redundant but carrying the Epson in the field means not having to buy extra cards.

Looks like for lenses, I'll be taking the 24-70 (I'd like the 24-105 but not enough to pay for it), the 100-400 and I'm still tempted to take the 70-200 since it is noticeably sharper in it's range. It's heavy though, hmmm.

I'll take my sensor brush and spinner, lens cleaning equipment, a mini trecker bag, a polarizer (not for skies, for water reflections - to boost or minimize, depending). I'll take my nodal slider - the tripod bracket that lets me stitch.

I presume that there is 110 volts on board for charging camera batteries - for razors if nothing else. I'll check.

Wonder if I can get any semi - abstract images of the ship - or even of the engine room - I hear there are tours.

Whole new experience, starting to get a little excited.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Frank Meadow Sutcliffe

Sutcliffe was a Yorkshire photographer of the late 1800's, based in Whitby, a coastal town. There he photographed the harbour, the villiages and the people.

A few of his images are often included in most historical collections and books. His environmental group portraits do look a little staged but given the equipment of the time this is hardly surprising. His sense of composition and pose is superb and a number of his images are absolutely excellent.

Not only is he good - his images are available inexpensively - really inexpensively - check them out. See if you can pick up a Stieglitz for 100X the price, you'll be lucky.

Dreaming Of View Cameras

I quite like using view cameras I own two - a Technica V and a very pretty and well built wooden Shen Hao. I have absolutely no desire to go back to processing black and white film and particularly to scanning film or heaven forbid making silver prints.

I gave serious consideration to the Betterlight scanning back but found that the maximum exposure was such that it precluded much of the work I do.

At this point, there is no good alternative. One could use a medium format digital back (assuming of course that one had $30,000) but they aren't even full 645 size and need heavy geared view cameras best designed by people who normally make military tanks. They are completely unsuited to 4X5 wooden view cameras. Thus my lovely cameras sit unused in months, and the last time I used them, it reminded me why I switched to digital.

No, for now, stitching is the best alternative for landscape and industrial work, using the best camera one can afford. At my office I have a 16X56 inch print shot from my 10D using 8 images - I have never made a print that big from large format and no one has suggested that the image would have been better had it been from large format.

William Corey

Known more for his work on Japanese Gardens, I was particularly intrigued by William Corey's 8X20 camera portraits. Who would have thought that such an odd format would work really well with portraits. Do check these out, then have a look at his work on gardens.

The whole idea of mounting an 8X20 camera vertically - in itself a challenge, then using it to make portraits is pretty mind boggling. The technical difficulties involved are impressive, but even had the images been shot digitally and cropped, they would none the less be interesting - I have the feeling I know a bit about these people, something many portraits don't in fact show.

Note the use of hands as a very important part of the portraits, and also the good use of background to frame the images.

Badlands Further Edited

Since I presented the previous version of this image, I have cropped from both top and bottom in the belief it makes the composition stronger. I have made both local and global changes in contrast as well as brightness and in general brought the image into better balance (in my opinion). No doubt this isn't the end, if my prior track record is anything to go by - I will find further adjustmens to make as I live with the image.

Black And White

I seem to be in a bit of a black and white mood lately - some of the images I have already shown in colour I'm finding I like even better in black and white.

The image above was in fact a lovely orange rust, but I prefer the more abstract look of black and white. i think the point is that colour can be a distraction.

Tracking Visitors

One advantage of tracking visitors of course is to see the growth in traffic to one's website or blog. Another is that I can check to see how people find me and it's allowed me to visit dozens of other interesting sites and the work of some very good photographers.

My website has now been visited by people from 109 countries, including Greenland, Sudan and Cambodia. It really is amazing how much the internet has shrunk the world - who would ever have thought that a part time photographer from Calgary, Alberta, Canada would have his work looked at by people from such diverse locations.

Had I made a book and were it a riotous success, I might have sold a few thousand copies (that's the nature of photographic books). Instead, my website has been visited by 24,838 people, my blog by 62,513 visitors - that makes my exposure anything from 10 X 20 times more than a successful book.

Of course, photographers sites are largely visited by other photographers, not people collecting photographic art, and more particularly not people who tend to buy photographs. It seems we may achieve fame but not likely fortune. Still, one must not discount the importance of one's work being looked at by other photographers - people who have looked at lots of images, who know a good one when they see it, who appreciate the work we do to get subtle things just right, and who know how to 'read' a photograph.

It may be nice to get money from someone who doesn't even know your image isn't a painting and who asks 'is it a print or is it real?', but sharing our work with fellow photographers is really very nice, thank you.

Friday, April 20, 2007

D.O.F., Sensor Size, Focal Length And Stitching

In any discucussion group, start talking about sensor size, multiplication factors, depth of field and you'd better stand back and hold onto a fire extinguisher because it's opening pandora's box. More mis information couched in scientific terms will be spouted and more harm done than had the subject not been raised in the first place.

Here's a little exercise to warp your mind. We'll take it as given that small sensor cameras have greater depth of field than large sensor cameras given the same f-stop and lenses covering the same angle of view. Anyone who has tried to blur the background with a consumer digicam of normal focal length knows it's nigh on impossible - just too much depth of field, while large format photographers pray that everything in the image is in a single plane of focus such that the lens or back can be tilted to include all, since they know darn well, that no useable f-stop is small enough to get everything from 3 feet to infinity sharp with a 210 mm. lens.

OK, so here's the trick. I decide to shoot an image with one of those 2/3 inch sensor ultrazoom cameras but I'm going to shoot 9 images in a 3 X 3 matrix such that I'm going to end up with a 45 degree angle of view (roughly that of a 50 mm. lens on a 35 mm. camera). I know from experience that the digicam has huge depth of field so I'm going to end up with a stitched image which also has great depth of field, near and far being nice and sharp. That seems to make sense, but then I ask myself, what is the difference between using a single 2/3 inch sensor repeatedly vs. a single sensor 2 inches across (we're ignoring stitching overlap for simplicity). It seems to make sense that there shouldn't really be any difference, except that in one case we use the lens from the digicam to repeatedly move around the image taking multiple shots, and in the other case we need a new lens which will cover the imaginary 2 inch sensor (2/3 inch times 3). We'd need wider coverage for the 2 inch sensor, but we know from our large format days that depth of field doesn't change from a Xenar lens to a Super Symar XL of the same focal length- only the circle of coverage changes, so the fact that our 2 inch sensor needs more coverage is in fact irrelevent.

OK, this is getting complicated. So, if I have discounted the difference in sensor size, how is it that large sensor or film cameras have less depth of field than small sensor cameras? Well, we have to remember that to 'zoom in' to capture 1/9th bites of our image, the small sensor camera has to use a much longer focal length than were it capturing the 45 degrees spread of our subject. In fact, ignoring overlap, we'd need a lens of 15 degrees coverage for each of the 9 images to be stitched, corresponding to a focal length three times that needed to capture the scene in a single shot. We remember of course that on any given sensor size, longer lenses tend to have less depth of field than shorter lenses, distance for distance and shot from the same location. Take a long enough lens (like my 300 mm. on my 1Ds2) and you can run into trouble getting 500 feet and infinity both in focus.

So, when we stitch, depth of field is exactly the same as if we were using a single larger sensor and lens combination - that's to say, less than we thought we were going to get.

Of course, we aren't enlarging those digicam images as much (since it takes 9 of them to make up the image) and we understand that depth of field isn't a done deal and in fact depends on how big a print you make and how close you plan to view it.


Hang in there with me just a little longer.

The mathematical formula for depth of field is directly related to the f stop, the maginfication, and the viewing distance, while varying with the inverse of the SQUARE of the focal length - and that's where the single image from a short focal length lens covering 45 degrees on the digicam (say 10 mm.) has a lot more depth of field than a 50 mm. lens on a 35 mm. type camera. 10 squared is 100, 50 squared is 2500. That's what more than makes up for the magnification from sensor size to print size. It's that business of using a 3X longer focal length to make the parts for our stitched image which means that in the end the depth of field is just the same as if we'd used a 3X bigger sensor and lens of equivalent field of view (which just happens to require a lens of 3X the focal length.

Thus it doesn't matter whether you use a 200 mm. lens and small sensor to shoot multiple parts of an image or to shoot the whole thing with a bigger sensor - and that makes sense.

Now wasn't that fun?

Travelling Light

I'm trying to decide what to do - I get to go on an Alaska Cruise in May and needless I plan to photograph every opportunity I get - no idea what to expect but that's ok. I can't take my usual camera bag - so far I have been able to stuff it in the overhead bins - with a bit of work and adjustment - but it won't go through those airport test rigs and one of these days they are going to turn it down. I'm not sure I want that much very expensive equipment lying around either.

I'm tempted to pick up a Panasonic FZ-50 and just have fun, and plan to shoot 4 image stitches of anything I think I might want to save. I know the sensor is noisy but in raw, I won't lose detail and the lens is damn sharp - better than the kit lens with the Canon Rebel XTI (400).

Problem is, I have a horrible feeling I'll regret not taking my real camera (the 1Ds2) with me. Ideally I'd use it with a 100-400 IS zoom for handheld shots of glaciers and icebergs from ship, but I don't have one and am not about to drop $2000 to buy one.

I have a 300 f4 - damn sharp lens, but it's not IS. I do have a 70-200 which in a pinch could be used with a 2X extender but that is marginal at best and only if stopped down two stops which rather spoils the handholdability. My 1Ds2 is quite noisy at higher ISO's so cranking the speed up to 800 is not an option (400 is mostly ok).

In some ways it would make the most sense to pack a pocketable consumer digital and take the 1Ds2, a couple of lenses (my 24-70 and my 70-200 and perhaps the 1.4 ex I already own) and a tripod.

Of course I could flaunt the norms and go with my lovely wooden 4X5 Shen Hao but no, that isn't going to happen.

In the Fall, I was at a medical conference in Victoria and had a chance to visit Butchart Gardens. The Japanese Maples were incredible and I was able to take a lovely picture with my Canon S3IS which my daughter now has (long story, soft head). One image was great and I have posted it before, but it barely makes a decent 8X10 print - of course why I didn't decide to shoot multiple images for subsequent stitching is beyond me now - sigh! I was so taken with the picture I actually briefly thought of flying back out to the coast with my good equipment to reshoot that one picture. I didn't - I couldnt guarantee the leaves were still as good or that I'd find the right light or no wind again.

So now you know my dilema. I'll let you know how it plays out.

More Badlands

A 5 image stitch on the 1Ds2 means I can make LARGE prints of this image. Do click on it to see a larger version of the image. There's lots of detail to enjoy at that size too.
Below is a very small section of the print - click on it to see it approx. 100%

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Seeing Fatigue

I notice that when I'm out shooting - after a while (anything from 2 - 4 hours), I kind of stall out, not being able to see anything worthwhile in the landscape. I know it's time to go home, or at least to move on to new territory - I know that can work because quite often I see something after I have packed up and started home and it's generally well worth the effort to stop and unpack the equipment again. Sometimes those are the best shots of the whole day.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Right Weather

So, if you had your pick of weather in which to go out photographing, what would it be?

If you are a snapshooter you will almost certainly pick a nice sunny day. If you have a bit more experience, you would like thin cloud veiling the sun to cut the contrast that even digital sensors struggle with. If you have been around a long time, cloudy bright looks more attractive.
Some want super clouds to sit over their landscape images, others like me typically don't shoot sky so clouds aren't a big deal other than as a filter for the light. People who put some effort into their photography often like early morning and around sunset for the softer light, longer shadows and warmer colour of the light which can transform a landscape.

If you are really serious about your photography though, you do the best you can but take what you are given and adjust your photographs to the kind of lighting on offer.

My preference is for a cloudy day with the sky unevenly bright - a really dull day with no cloud detail at all can be very difficult to photograph, but I have photographs from noon on a sunny day to two hours after sunset, with the meter barely reading, storm light, flat light, light reflected off of cliffs into deep shade. Noon may mean short shadows on ground, but what about canyon walls, or buildings - vertical surfaces suddenly acqure long shadows.

Variable cloud cover gives you the chance to photograph in just about any level of contrasting light from flat to soot and chalk, simply by waiting for the next cloud to be in the right position relative to the sun. You can almost dial up your desired lighting. Of course, I can't promise the wind isn't going to suddenly come up just when the light is right, but patience will out, most days.

Mind you, it makes a difference whether you want black and white or colour images - warm evening light doesn't mean much in black and white, but a lower light source and longer shadows does.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

So How Do I Know When I Have Gone Too Far?

Yesterday I wrote about going too far to know you have gone far enough, but didn't address the important issue of then deciding just how much of any image adjustment is the right amount. Here's some ideas for determining just that issue.

1) whatever adjustments you have made, live with them on the wall for a few days.

2) in general if something bugs you just a little when you first look at the print right out of the printer, then it's going to bug you a lot within days, so do pay attention to those nagging doubts - they are often right.

3) Some things are better evaluated in the print than on screen - specifically sharpening.

4) Give yourself a choice - either on screen or in print - one with the latest adjustment and one without - with a single change, undo and redo can be cycled to check, with multi step changes, use snapshot in the history palette to give you two versions to compare.

5) don't forget you can use the levels intensity slider at the right of each level in the levels palette to reduce the effect of changes in that level from 100% to zero and anything in between - I find this a very good way to create an effect then back of a bit so it's just right. I run the slider back and forth from 100% effect to zero and back a few times then narrow down the range that looks best to me. Very handy.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Going Too Far

Having recently worked on some low contrast images in which I substantially boosted the contrast, sometimes to the point that image integrity was damaged, I thought to write about taking things too far - whether it's too long a lens, or too wide, too dark or too contrasty or too much saturation or even too clever composition with lines meeting in the corners, this is always an issue for photographers, or at least it should be.

If you never go too far, how can you tell if you have gone far enough. The real trick is not in never going too far, it's in recognizing that you have done so and having the courage to then back up a bit, even if it means starting over.

The catch is that when you make incremental changes, they tend to build on you , a little bit more would be better, until suddenly you realize you way overshot ideal. Had you for example increased contrast to that degree in a single step, you probably would have seen the problem immediately and backed off.

That's ok, so long as you now fold the print and either back up or restart from an earlier save.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

And No, I haven't Given Up Black And White

More coal mining equipment. It was tempting to keep it in colour as the equipment was orange with rust, but I felt it was a bit too much and distracting from the interesting shapes.

More From Yesterday

The above image was made possible with Helicon Focus which blended 5 images with the focus changed slightly between images. Even though I had access to my tilt/shift 90 ts-e, you will note that there are two planes of focus, across the surface of the pulley but also along the shaft of the pulley - and they are completely opposed. No amount of stopping down or lens tilting would fix this. The only option prior to Helicon Focus would have been to let significant parts of the image drop out of focus, not impossible, but definitely better this way.

This image was a straight shot. You are looking at a flat steel sheet with the remains of water puddles dried out and rusting the metal in the patterns seen. Akvis Enhancer did bring out the patterns more and easier than I could have done just using curves.

Excursion To Drumheller

A first sample of the images I shot today, first at Horseshoe Canyon, then at Atlas Coal Tipple. Weather was good for afternoon shooting - cloudy bright with the sun sometimes showing through cloud. Wind was an issue but shutter speeds were reasonable so hopefully no problems.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Things To Photograph

This is as much for my edification as yours - I plan to read it next time I'm stuck for something to photograph.

Drawers - do some still life images based on the contents of a drawer
Tools - both hand and power, old and new - pick up some goodies at garage and yard sales
Back Alleys
Views From Parking Garage Roofs - or any other roofs you can get easy access to
City Hall
The Local Campus
Fast Disappearing Professions - shoe repair, barbers, sharpening shops, tailors?
People walking dogs - the local off leash area might make an interesting project, hmmn, I quite like that one.

Please add your suggestions if you are willing to give them up - frankly even if you do, I'm sure there are others who have already done all of these things and anyway, any two of us will almost certainly see things differently, and it's a big world - there's room for two of us. John Sexton and Bruce Barnbaum co-exist and as far as I know, don't get into fist fights over which tree is whose.

Think I'll gradually come up with other ideas and if I get lots of good suggestions, eventually upload the whole list. In case of Photographic inertia, read this!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Old technology vs. New

An older image from the badlands, shot on 4X5, wooden Zone VI camera (the original imported one), 210 Symar S lens.

The image below is from 2003 and is a six image stitch from a Canon 10D.

I don't think that one technology is better than the other - with stitching, it takes almost as long to make the series of images with the digital camera as it does with the 4X5. Metering is theoretically simpler with the digital camera but by the time you bring up the histogram and check for flashing highlights and adjust the exposure for what you see and erase the image that wasn't right, well spot metering looks pretty simple.

Focussing is definitely easier with the digital camera but lining up the ends of the image is harder without an actual image frame to work with. TIlt focus with the 4X5 makes up for less depth of field on average so no big diff. there. Scanning is a pain but so was stitching in the old days (easier with PTGui now).

Spotting dust after scanning for flatbed is a real pain, drum is great but at $100 an image for a good size file, it doesn't take too many images to pay for digital equipment - overall I miss the routine of a view camera but I like the bright viewfinder, easy focussing, greater depth of field, clean images and I really don't miss a flapping dark cloth. Latterly I was using the focussing hood from BTZS which was great and with it's elastic collar, stayed permanently on the back of my Linhof Color Kardan - nice camera.

DIgital is certainly faster when in a rush, forget the multiple image stitch and rely on the built in meter and autofocus and bam, you have your image - but that's cheating. With 4X5 you have a permanant negative that is hard to destroy and with modest care will almost certainly outlast the photographer. Still, when I die, my digital files will still be around and hopefully my family could make a print from my already post processed image files - all burning and dodging done.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


No, I'm not referring to whether it's ok to wear a baseball cap (it is, but it lowers your IQ 10 points, 20 if you wear it backwards). What I'm talking about is the way some people (generally people who are better known than you or I), have a defineable style, that their images are recognizable by their style, and that better or worse, this is something that galleries and publishers look for.

So this raises the following questions:

1) is it good or even essential to have a style?

2) how do I go about buying one if they are that important?

3) doesn't sticking to one style translate into boring and repetitive?

4) what the hell is style anyway? If I only photograph frogs is that a style?

OK, here's my thoughts and observations on the subject:

- style is how you photograph something, not what you photograph

- style can change over time - a photographer might be known for his dark moody prints, and for any one of a variety of reasons, decide to or happen to change style to high key printing.

- having a style gives a consistency to a body of work which makes it more salable, looks better in a show and is more likely to be accepted by the powers that be.

- style can be based on equipment and how it's used - grainy hand held closeups , slow shutter speed with the subject showing some movement. On the other hand it doesn't have to be - I have been printing a portfolio of badlands images and they are a mix of 4X5 and digital and I defy anyone to tell which is which.

- style can be copied - Michael Kenna is known for his moody simple compositions, often in poor weather or at night, square format, black and white. These are straight forward ideas which anyone could copy. It begs the question of whether they could do it as effectively as Michael and even if they could, why bother, Michael already does it very well thank you.

- my own photography didn't take off till I stopped trying to be Ansel Adams - an experience a number of us have had judging by magazine bios.

- photography is hard enough without wasting time working on several different styles at once - we need to spend enough time and energy working in one style that we get good at it. There's nothing wrong with changing styles - if Picasso could change style, why not us - but remember he did it after being in the previous style for 10 years - and he worked at it full time - for the average part time photographer, that would imply a change in style about once every lifetime.

- if you can't buy syle at B&H or Calumet, how do you go about acquiring style? I think that for most of us is simply happens over time - we lean towards doing things a certain way, photographing in a particular way, printing to a certain level of darkness or contrast. I suspect that successful photographers none of them went out and decided that to be great they needed a style and planned one out.

- even if people normally stumble into a style over time, should you actually make an effort to acquire a style - should you in fact select a style from an imaginary style catalogue - # 33, with a 5% additional darkness and a sprinkle of highlight bleed - please. I don't know the answer to this one - I am sceptical of doing it deliberately - I suspect that one has to have reason to move in a certain direction - Picasso didn't move into his cubism period because he felt it would be good for business - for years it wasn't - he moved that way because he needed to express himself and this was a way to do it.

- deciding on a style as a plan of attack is rather like deciding to photograph dogs with clothes on (the dog) because you hear it sells well - a bit too calculated - I can't help but feel that style could come from the soul, not the brain. No proof, just instinct.

- having a style implies moving beyond the experimental stage - an area many hobbyists find themselves stuck in - it means that having experimented you find something that works for you, perhaps is even important to you - and translates your ideas into prints.

This then begs the question - do I have a style - I think I do - but perhaps others are far better judges of that - anyone care to describe my style? It can't be subject matter - you have seen me post pictures from landscapes top abstracts to industrial to underwear to a dirty bathtub. I shoot with lenses from 17 to 300 mm. so that isn't it. I shoot both colour and black and white. Some of my images are long and narrow while many are square - so it isn't going to be anything as simple as that. Perhaps what this is telling me is that in fact I don't have a style even if I think I do. I'd be interested in your opinion. Remember, this has nothing to do with good or bad, nothing to do with the quality of images, just simply is there anything which ties my images together?

While you are at it, see if you can put in writing your own style and lets see how people describe their work.

Burned Stump Ver. 2

With more time after the expedition yesterday, I started stitching the multiple image photographs. Above is the result of a three image stitch using my 90 ts-e lens, camera vertical and using vertical shift. I could have done he same with simple nodal point rotation either by using a full 3D nodal point device but devices strong enough for my 1Ds2 are extremely expensive, heavy and bulky and vertical stitches like this are uncommon - less than 1% of my stitches.

There are plans on the web for making such a device but the wooden ones are generally specific to a camera/lens combination. As some people almost always use the same lens for stitching, this could work very well for them.

I still haven't decided whether in the end to go with colour or black and white.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Burned Tree

Not on call today and took advantage despite poor forecast to head to the mountains. My first stop and reason for the trip was to rephotograph a rock cut north of Lake Louise photographed three years ago. Actually it was a bit disappointing - not only could I not see the original images photographed with a smaller camera but I didn't come up with any wow compositions at all - perhaps in the processing - we'll see.

On the way home though, I caught this stump sitting lonely in a meadow - don't know how it could have been burnt - in a national park and well away from other trees (there had been a prescribed burn 13 years ago east of this stump). Anyway, there it stood, about 20 feet high and completely charred, glowing in the cloudy bright to filtered sun lighting (so much for the bad forecast).

Sunday, April 08, 2007


Spring - dirt - mud - water - warm enough to wash the dog - and this is what he left behind.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Viewing Light

There's something I don't understand. A number of respected photographers make a point of recommending and using a viewing light with which to judge prints. Ott light specifically is designed for this purpose. The colour temperature is about 5500 degrees and the lighting is significantly brighter than normal viewing, even in a gallery.

Here's a view of Michael Reichmann's new gallery in Toronto. I'm a great fan of Michael's work by the way.

I remember making a presentation to a camera club. My images were simply held up or leaned against the wall, but when it came time to do the weekly contest, out came two powerful floodlights and a good 15 minutes was spent with these two lights a few feet way from where the prints were to be seen, adjusting the lights just right, even checking with a spot meter to be sure that lighting was 'optimal'.

OK guys and gals, am I the only one who thinks this is patently absurd? Any print which was made to look right under the two floods three feet away would look very poor in just about any other lighting situation. A print that looks good under the bluish light of viewing lights at 5500 degrees is going to look odd under 2800 degree incanescents.

Print viewing in the digital age is simple - let the print dry (time varies with papers and inks - but in my experience prints lighten over the first 20 minutes or so), then view the image under light of a colour and intensity which is consistent with the likely future viewing conditions.

For me I don't have a lot of light over my computer screen so I step away from the printer and go to a table lit with ordinary fluorescents -

Can The Public Appreciate What They Can't See?

In selling photographs I have come to realize that often the public can't see a lot of the fine tuning we sweat over in our images. Show them two images, one on a warm tone paper, and the other neutral and they can't see the difference. Give them a pair of images, one with some dodging and burning over which we sweated for hours and they don't notice the difference.

That begs the question then as to whether it's worth all this trouble, and in fact if we really aren't doing the work just for fellow photographers - rather like a group of model aeroplane flyers who discuss the relative merits of a series of motors or landing wheels or radio control units - a foreign language to those of us on the outside, yet of fascinating and endless discussion for those in the know.

I think our efforts are in fact rewarded. The 'great unwashed masses' may not be able to describe to us what they are seeing, yet react to our efforts. We may react to the enigmatic smile on the Mona Lisa whithout having a clue as to how that was achieved, what tricks of painting and light that DaVinci used to create that effect, yet react to it we do none the less.

It's no accident that the general public revere Ansel Adams - the wonderful tonalities of his images are apparent to all who view them. Michael Kenna sells well because of the mood and simplcity of his images which strike a chord with the viewers, educated or not.

The image above has cost me at least 10 hours of work, not because it's a poor image - it isn't, rather it's cost me that much because the subtleties of the image require perfect placement of the tones. I have been perfecting the image for three years now. In addition, every time I change papers or printer, it's another hour or more of work to express myself as I want. And of course, I can't help fine tuning the image a little at the same time.

The image I made yesterday and rejected this morning as not being good enough is so subtly different from the final image this morning that even I have difficulty figuring out which is which at first glance, but differences there are and even if I can't quickly say what those differences are, I still suspect that the viewer is going to react more strongly to the latest version.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Crop If You Must

The image above is a severe crop from a 4 image stitch. Of course I wish I had seen the crop at the time and framed just it, but I didn't. So I have to make do - and though I can't make big prints with this, it does make a very nice 8.5X11.

It was shot with the 70-200 so I could easily have switched to the 300 mm. f4L lens that is extremely sharp. In fact, I can go back and rephotograph it - though whether it would glow the same way or even look the same is iffy. Still, I will try.

This is about the fourth attempt at cropping this image and is the first that I feel is really successful. This is a portfolio image, size notwithstanding.

Cole Thompson

Cole Thompson

Check out the photography of Cole Thompson. Black and white images, really good photography - great tonality, some interesting compositions, I'd like to see his prints.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Doctors And Photography

As many of you know, I'm a family doctor. Some of you have written to me indicating that you to are serious photographers who happen to be doctors. Actually there is a good tradition of doctors in the arts. Elliot Porter was a physician. Howard Schatz was an opthalmologist (eye specialist) before becoming a prominent New York studio photographer with Time and Sports Illustrated covers to his name as well as a number of books published. Howard Grill is a cardiologist who contacted my blog and has himself an interesting photography blog at .

Another physician who has contacted me is George Jerkovich, a psychiatrist who continues to work on his website but he has a large number of very interesting panoramic small town images at a gallery site, Strecker-Nelson Gallery.

His painterly panoramic images are a fascinating look at small town America and I'd strongly suggest a good look.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

How Tough Is Glass?

We tend to treat our glass as holy relics, being reluctant to clean and extremely careful when we do. Those of us old enough to remember when almost everyone routinely wore ties will remember cringing seeing a photographer clean his lens with the end of his tie.

Truth is, glass is pretty tough. Your windshield stands up to being scraped across with windshield wipers when it's covered in dirt , you clean your plastic glasses every day, yet years later, you are still able to see through with minimal if any impairment. OK, maybe your five year old windshield shows a bit of flare when driving into the sun, but consider the abuse, and a lot of the windshield damage is not the wipers, it's small rocks coming up and pitting the surface.

Even if you do get a major scratch on a lens, it's possible to paint the scratch black (so it doesn't cause flare) and the impact is negligible.

Modern lens coatings are pretty tough too - my glasses are multicoated and two years later the lenses look pretty darn good.

Bottom line: you have to work pretty hard to really mess up a lens. Probably the single biggest reason to fret about the surface is if you think there is a possibility of selling the lens down the road, in which case, a pristine surface does add to the value, but not to the quality of the lens. If selling a lens on isn't important, then go ahead and clean when you need to, and if you happen to not have lens tissue, go ahead with the corner of your shirt - better a clean lens and a good shot than an untouched lens and flare spots in your image (especially with wide angle lenses).

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Take The Shot While You Can

These four images have one thing in common. None can be photographed today.

Those rocks on ice were of course temporary - Spring Thaw and they were gone and I have never seen a similar phenomenon since (even though I drive by the spot daily on my way home from work).

The image of the lubricators are at an historic site gas plant, since shut down because the neighbours don't like it there - even though it was there well before the neighbours. No one is allowed in, the neighbours spy on the property to make sure and are quick to phone and complain if they see anyone.

The underneeth of the roadbridge is no longer there, removed to widen the road to 8 lanes. Not sure yet what will replace it.

The window reflections were shot from the top of a parking garage which has been knocked down to make room for a highrise in downtown Calgary so that view won't be available, except through glass, if at all.

The point is, it took me less than a minute to find four images which could not be taken today, it's a common phenomenon, no matter how permanent you might think the subject matter.

I remember years ago in rural Kentucky on my way to our trailer home outreach clinic, there was an absolutely classic old fashioned general store, complete with old signs that must have been 50+ years old. I drove by many times, telling myself I must photograph it - it was knocked down before I did. In Calgary there was a huge fertilizer plant that was ripe for photograhing - did I get in there before the end - no I didn't - major regrets over that one.

So, don't do like I did and tell yourself you should some day take that picture - get it while you can, you never know what might take the opportunity away from you.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Image Autopsy - Sundance Rose

The Circumstances
I was on a medical conference - lectures from 8 to 12:30 every day, but afternoons off (ok, I skipped some boring stuff). now you wouldn't normally think of mid afternoon as good photographing time, but you take what you can get. Also, this was February and mid afternoon is in fact late afternoon, especially considering I was in the mountains in Banff and the mountains blocked the light well before sunset. I headed straight out from my lecture and decided to check out Sundance Canyon. It seems you can no longer drive there - you park at Cave and Basin and hike 4 km. to the base of the canyon.

At the base of the canyon was a small stream with some ice formations that I spent about 30 minutes trying to find a combination of circumstances that would make a picture but no luck. I abandoned the stream and started up the trail into the canyon. Conditions were brilliant sunlight on one side of the canyon, shade on the other, lit only by the deep blue sky and by light reflected off the other canyon wall - potentially a useful combination. The sunlit side was way to harsh for anything, but the shaded side showed some possibilities. I made a few photographs, nothing really exciting but about half way up the canyon, on my left and right next to the trail was a wild rose, nicely covered with scarlet rosehips. Not only that, behind the rose was a rock covered in light grey material (bird poop?). Whatever it was it provided a nice background for the rose. But even better was an incredible rock further behind in lovely colours which would complement the rose.

The Search
So I knew I had to shoot the rose, but how to do so. THe direction was simple, I wanted the two rocks in the background, now the only issue was what was how far from the rose. I tried a normal lens - didn't work, I tied wide angle, but now the second and background rock wasn't large enough to fill the frame, and it's edges and the material beyond them weren't attractive. Eventually I settled on shooting with my 70-200 at 91 mm. I could shoot the rose and the two background rocks.

The Camera
I hadn't discovered helicon focus at this point so I knew I wasn't going to get the whole shot in focus - just too much to cover, no matter what f-stop. Desperate to get what I could, I stopped down to f32 (this was before I found out that after f16, diffraction robbed any increase in depth of field by blurring the whole damn image). Shutter speed was .8 seconds, tripod mounted obviously, mirror lock, cable release. I had found that my f4 70-200 lens tended to shake on my tripod when the camera was mounted on the tripod. I now use a lens collar with quick release bracket to mount it to my tripod, the camera hanging off the back of the lens. This provides a much sturdier platform.

I focussed a bit behind the rose hoping for the first rock to be sharp, and knowing there was no way the second one was going to be sharp.

Post Processing
Although the colour on the right of the background rock was oranger than I thought ideal to complement the rosehips, after looking at the raw files, it was practically yellow in parts, though the colour on the left side of the rock was just right. I was able to use selective colour and hue/saturation masked adjustment layers to change the colour back to what I remembered and a bit less yellow than even that, to now complement the rosehips nicely. The background was blurred but I didn't think that mattered. The image wasn't optimally sharp as one could have predicted from f32, but I have found that diffraction blurring tends to respond to sharpening quite well (unlike other types of blurring) and as a result, I have been able to make 20X30 prints from this single image photograph.

Local increases in contrast were applied as necessary through masked curves layers. In all there are several hours of work on this image in Photoshop.

Image Analysis
This is another in my images which while almost straight photography, looks both abstract and painterly. The big rock in the background in particular looks like an abstract painting. Note the foreground rock meeting at the lower cornerrs of the image, and the opposite line running from top left down and right, and the streaks on the background rock radiating out from the foreground rock and running parallel to the edges of the foreground rock.

Sunday, April 01, 2007


Friday I was desperate to photograph but completely devoid of ideas - every possibility I came up with had 'good' reasons why not. Finally in desperation I wandered into the back yard and found the lid to the composter sitting on the ground, with a small pool and rotting leaves in it - thus the present image.

This business of not being able to think of anything to photograph is all too common, and frustrating.

Before Working On Image

Eleanor asked to see the original capture so here it is. Note some flare resulting in hazed shadows, particularly in the upper left, but affecting the entire image to some degree - it was pretty darn dark under there and compared to the sky...