Thursday, May 31, 2007

Shadow As Object

In some photographs it is the shadow that makes the image. The shadow may not have substance in the real world, but when it comes to photographs it sure does. next to a big white area, a big black area has the most impact. It's important for photographers to think of shadowed areas as being real compositional shapes compositional elements when 'designing' an image, just as we would approach shape from the other side by reminding ourselves that a rock is actually a rectangular block of gray in the image.

Thinking of shadows as a real shape means that the photographer should pay more attention to the shadow. They are amenable to both moving around in space and in time, and on days with mixed sun and cloud, it's even possible to vary the density of the shadows by choosing the exact lighting you want.

In addition, blending multiple varied exposures can open up shadows by recording a longer dynamic range. Sometimes we actually want to deepen a shadow to give it more substance.

As an exercise, how about going out one day in your neighbourhood and simply walk around taking pictures of shadows. You may include the real thing or not, but the shadow is to be a main part of the image.

How about hauling out a variety of your favourite books of photographs and look exclusively for interesting shadows. Now go through your best work and how often do you take advantage of shadows or use them as major compositional elements.

The next time you go out on a photographic excursion, as a last check before pressing the shutter release, check for shadows, good or bad. Perhaps you will see a better way to arrange your picture.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Painterly Effect Of jpegsFrom FZ50

This 100% crop shows nicely the painterly effect of jpegs. Not all show this - the camera is capable of a great deal of detail so long as the contrast is reasonable.

The first image below is a jpeg version of an iso 200 shot. The second image is the raw image without sharpening - it's hand held from a moving boat and isn't super sharp.

The third image is the same image with fairly agressive sharpening with smart sharpen in photoshop - 300 1.5, much more than I'd normally use. While the result is really grainy at 100%, remember that this is iso 200 and from a 10 MP camera so you are looking at about an inch and a half of print here at 300 dpi for a print that is about 12X9 inches from the full image.

The last image is a 100% crop from a land based image at iso 100, with 300 .7 smart sharpen.

The Grand Landscape

I seldom photograph the grand landscape. There are several reasons why.

1) it means getting up early and traveling far and I'm lazy

2) grand landscapes often depend on perfect lighting or the right clouds or freak weather conditions which means that even if you do get up early enough, 19 times out of 20 the conditions aren't going to be right when you get there. Frankly I'm not into such poor odds

3) there are a lot of people who are good at the grand landscape - the competition is severe

4) with that much competition it's really hard to say something new

5) the more majestic the scenery, the harder it is to put something really impressive into a print - you'd rather be standing at Grand Canyon than looking at a photograph of it. Ansel Adams was able to convey the majesty of Yosemite, the average snapshot makes Yosemite look small and boring.

6) Frankly, I like the idea of seeing something other people don't - recording something every one else would recognize as awesome just doesn't appeal to me (though I can see that the challenge to convey the awesomeness could be attractive to other photographers.

7) I like the idea of creating a picture rather than finding it. I like working the scene until the parts come together to make an image which doesn't really exist until I frame it.

Most of us admire the grand landscape, but that doesn't necessarily mean that's where you should put your photographic efforts or stake your reputation.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

You Never Know When...

O.K., so Holland America lost my luggage between ship and Anchorage Airport. A few phone calls later and they have found it and promise to ship it Fed Ex to my office. Subsequently I get a phone call from Fed Ex explaining that while they will customs clear commercial shipping, they won't do so with luggage and I have to come to Fed Ex, get a paper, take it to customs, get them to stamp said paper, and then return to Fed Ex to actually pick up the luggage.

I'm driving to the far side of town, getting a bit lost on the way to Fed Ex (I know it's somewhere round the airport, but that's probably 4 square miles and of course you can't cut across the middle). On the way I discover parts of the city I have never seen previously and discover this large excavation - without any barriers to access. I don't have my camera with me, but guess what - if I can get my luggage, the FZ50 is in it.

Right - I'm at Fed Ex and not only do I have to go to customs, they may not want to see me, being Saturday and busy with flights. I might even have to go downtown during a weekday - this is getting worse and worse. Fortunately the Fed Ex lady points out that basically I'm asking Customs to do me a favour, and with that in mind, I drive to the airport and beg very nicely for said favour and out comes a nice lady who without asking anything takes her magic stamp, thumps all four copies of the document I picked up at Fed Ex, and voila, I'm done.

So back to Fed Ex, pick up luggage and back to the hole in the ground. I have my good tripod but don't have an arca swiss plate for my FZ50 so I hand hold. The horizontal image is a series of 5 images stitched in PTGui.

A nightmare trip turned out to be fun after all.

Saturday, May 26, 2007


And Yet more

More From Cruise II

I confess that I found the lifeboat propellors fascinating - of a lovely shape with the patina of age and weathering, some with outright corrosion. Some were enclosed in circular collars, others were free, all were hanging a few feet above my head as I strolled round the deck.

Unfortunately this propeller shot has significant motion blur, shot with the FZ50 at the equivalent of about 300 mm. at 1/30 of a second on a moving deck at ei. 200, raw processing. Still, I like it enough in a small print to want to show it to you.

I don't think the definitive propeller shot has been made yet so go forth and have fun.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

What's Wrong With My Picture

The following is written without any particular photographer in mind. It's based on years of looking at gallery walls, seeing people's prints at workshops and online, and going through hundreds of websites. I'm afraid it might come across as 'holier than thou' but is meant only in a helpful way. Each of us struggles with the issues mentioned to some degree or other.

I look at a lot of photographs. Some are by near beginners, others by people in the hobby for 30+ years. Quality ranges widely and some are fantastic, yet a fair number of the images are quite week (even by the same photographer as the great images), more often lacking aesthetically rather than technically. The images have no message and are often just a hodge podge of pretty things thrown together in the image. I've written about the finer points of creating images, but these shots are failing at a fairly fundamental level and at the risk of offending, I think it's important to deal with this issue.

These images fail, not because someone did or didn't use the rule of thirds for composing. Rather they fail because the photograph is a disorganized jumble - bright sky here, deep shade there, branches sticking out everywhere, somehow I have the impression that what the photographer saw isn't what ended up in the print. Giving advice on improving the image is difficult - telling someone I wouldn't have taken the picture at all isn't terribly helpful yet it's true - the image doesn't need improving, it needs replacing. Unfortunately the photographers are often unaware of their faults or if they see something lacking, are convinced that it could be fixed by a better camera, more pixels or some technical fix the experts have and aren't willing to share.

The following are a list of the more common reasons for images to fail. Since lots of my old images, and not a few of my current ones fail for exactly the same reasons, I hope you'll forgive me for raising the subject and for suggesting some image faults to avoid.

1) the image is confused because when you saw the scene you did so in three dimensions with two eyes, the viewfinder not withstanding. There are various ways to fix this - oddly, looking through an slr viewfinder isn't one of them - better is direct looking at ground glass, even better if it's upside down, but a framing rectangle, viewing filter, large screen digicam or even a rectangle with your fingers with one eye closed are all better. The SLR viewfinder with it's dark surround and optics making the image appear at distance and the relatively small size of the image all contribute to making the image look better than it really is.

2) you are photographing less than what you experienced - the image can't give us the sound of flowing water or the sigh of wind in the trees, the smell of new buds or the warmth of the sun on our skin. Nor can it record the emotions you experienced in this location - you're going to have to work to put any of that into the image and the image has to be strong enough to survive the removal of all those things - thus you have to be REALLY selective.

3) Something captures your interest but you can't find (or don't look) for a way to isolate it and a cluttered foreground or background completely spoils the image. It can be hard work to find a simple background and not infrequently you have to walk away - yes, the rock was interesting, but in it's current location it just doesn't make a picture.

4) Good photographs are NOT about cramming in as many interesting shapes and textures and other things into an image as you can. Even if adding a particular element could potentially add to an image, if it comes with excess baggage, it can do more harm than good - adding that sand dune to the left is good, taking the bush that comes with it is bad - short of removing things in Photoshop, adding the sand dune may hurt more than it helps.

5) Not enough effort has been expended to remove extraneous elements. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Clean up that image by moving to the absolutely best vantage point and do remember that knees bend - get low, wet and dirty if need be to get a good shot. You can remove extraneous elements by framing so they aren't included or they are hidden behind something or your position minimizes their prominence. You can reduce their effect by placing them in shadow, or make them significantly out of focus.

6) People include skies when it doesn't add to the image. Skies being bright and horizons often horizontal(who'd have thought), they really are a strong part of the image - for better or worse. I think you need to ask yourself not whether this time you should crop out the sky, rather you need to reverse things and ask yourself permission to use a sky because it's really important to the image. A travel brochure needs the horizon in the image, fine art does not. Should you feel the sky is important, do just about anything to break up that horizontal line of the horizon.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

FZ50 Vs. Entry Level DSLR

Let me say right up front that I don't own an entry level dslr so a direct comparision is not possible here. That said, I did own a 10D 6MP camera so i'm perhaps not entirely 'talking through my hat'.

The FZ50 provides 35 - 420 mm. in a single relatively compact, quite light unit, with image stabilization and noise issues for $650 Canadian.

A Rebel XTI is a bit bulkier in body and were you to put on one of those third party 23-300 mm. lenses and allow for the 1.6 multiplication factor, you'd end up with a package that isn't a whole lot bigger and perhaps 50% heavier than the FZ50. Price would be $900+$400 for the lens or about double the price. There's no image stabilization but you can quite easily increase the ei. by a factor of 3 stops to get the equivalent effect (and stop moving subjects better). That would increase base ei from 100 to 800 and noise is very approximately equivalent to the FZ50 at 100.

Thus the two packages are really rather similar.

The DSLR gives you the option of using a lower ei. than 800 when it isn't needed for truly superb results. On the other hand the FZ50 has a superb lens which walks all over even some of the Canon zooms with superb central sharpness and excellent edge sharpness, instead of adequate centre sharpness and mushy edges of a 28-300.

If you allowed yourself to carry multiple lenses and buy good glass, there would be no comparison, but that wasn't the question was it. The price now goes up to $3000 for camera and at least two lenses and it now weighs something like 5X as much as the FZ50 and requires a 'real' camera bag.

There are other factors which may sway your decision one way or the other
- tilting lcd on the FZ50
- no lens changing and therefore dirty sensors with the FZ50, potentially making it a better choice for iffy environments
- greater depth of field with the FZ50 - can be a blessing for landscape photographers and a problem for portraitists
- dramatically faster focusing with Canon lenses on a Rebel XTI or Nikon D40X - a make or break issue for someone photographing sports (or whales).
- raw shooting with DSLR's is a lot faster
- jpegs with the FZ50 are remarkably smooth but are VERY painterly at 100%. This affects large prints but generally not small ones (eg. 8X10).
- the FZ50 can be very unobrusive, with waist level viewing and no sound image capture. That might be important to some.
- some people can't stand electronic view finders - raised on the Olympus 2100 then Sony 707, it doesn't really bother me but there's no doubt an optical viewfinder is better - still the FZ50's is pretty good.
- the noise on the FZ50, present to some degree even at ei. 100, is quite film like and particularly in black and white, can look very like 35 mm. tri-x. OK, that's not at 400 ei. but with the depth of field afforded by the small sensor and the image stabilization - photographs of tri-x 35 mm. quality are fully to be expected, and that's no bad thing.

So, who should by an FZ50? As a fun, walk around camera suitable for modest size prints (13X19 with a decent border)it has a lot to recommend it. As a landscape camera backup, it probably makes more sense to park one of the 10 MP dslr's on a tripod and use good lenses. For sports and action, there's no question that a dslr is the way to go. Did I do the right thing with the FZ50 - so far I think so - it's been fun using it.

Monday, May 21, 2007

It's Been Done Before

An important issue in serious photography is whether it's valid to try something which has been done before, or possibly been 'done to death'. It's fairly obvious that it is impractical to eliminate entire categories of photography on the grounds that 'it's been seen before'. By this logic we'd eliminate all nudes, landscapes, portraits, architectural shots, flowers, and virtually every other topic, leaving us to photograph extraterrestrials (assuming they visit), and not a hell of a lot else.

OK, what if were a bit more specific - what if we were to photograph nudes with high key lighting - sorry done before. So does this mean we can never ever again shoot a nude with high key lighting? Harry Calaghan did this 50 years ago. Should we then criticize every photographer since who has used this type of lighting to photograph nudes.

I think that categorizing images is the problem here. We need to evaluate images for whether it adds something to our understanding of the world or creates a reaction in us, even if we are fairly educated about the history of photography. Should it do so, finding another image by a different photographer with similarities really doesn't matter.

Think of writing instead of photography. Shakespeare used pretty standard plots, situations and conflicts in writing his plays. He's famous not for his original plots, rather for his fleshing out characters and use of language.

Frankly, if the only thing to recommend one's images is that they are new, then I for one don't think that's good enough. In fact I will predict that they won't last or be remembered, except possibly in a history of photography.

I'd rather be known for taking a great photograph of Yosemite rather than for taking the first photograph.

Rather than spending your time pigeonholing an image, stop, look and enjoy it. If it happens to be very similar to another image you have previously seen and is even better, well isn't that wonderful. If it adds nothing to your experience, well don't bother looking at it again.

Which brings up an important point, photography isn't a contest (or at least it isn't most of the time and probably shouldn't ever be).

1Ds2 Problem

Some time ago I noticed that on a series of images, there was a lighter band across the top of horizontal images. The actual image information was there and with effort it could be burned down to match the rest of the print, but it was odd. Not only that, but it had a poorly defined edge to it and although almost horizontal, the line cut into the image wasn't perfectly square. It didn't seem like sensor problems nor firmware. It happened again on my recent cruise and I woke this morning with a possible answer I was able to confirm - it only happens when I use auto exposure. As I normally work with tripod and manual exposure, less than 1% of my images are done in 'program' mode or Tv or Av mode.

I had wondered at first if it might be related to the lens but I can see the same problem with the 70-200 and even found it on one 24-70 image.

I'm going to contact Canon and see if I can get it repaired. If I can't it isn't the end of the world except for one thing - at some point I will likely replace the camera and selling it with this flaw would be problematic.

I wonder if there is something that sticks up into the image area to meter for auto exposure and which isn't quite folding down before the exposure. I don't know enough about the workings of the camera to know if this is even possible and it doesn't explain why the metering works in manual mode. I'll be calling Canon tomorrow for advice.


Shot while waiting to climb onto boat to take us to Misty Fjords, Ketchikan, Alaska.

State Of Mind

I left off the last entry with a comment that failure probably had more to do with my mood than lack of subject matter so I'd like to discuss state of mind, how it affects us and what we can do about it.

First let me describe some states of mind before reflecting on how that might affect our photography. One doesn't have to have a mental illness to find oneself in any of the following mood states.

How about:

- bored
- frustrated
- angry
- sad
- tired
- sleepy
- insecure
- anxious
- pessimistic
- discouraged
- lazy

I thought some of those might ring a bell. Anyone doubt that each and every one of those mood states can have a significant impact on how well a shoot goes?

As solutions to these mood states vary with the mood, I'll discuss them individually.

Bored - is both a frustration with the current situation combined with a lack of drive to change it. Simply recognizing when you are bored and choosing to do something, anything rather than staying in the current situation is likely to be an improvement. You could make yourself a list of assignments for when you are bored, letting yourself choose one from the list, but acknowledging that you do in fact have to pick one - rejecting all is not an option. If already out on a shoot and feeling bored, it seems self evident that any photographs you do take are likely to reflect this boredom and whether understood by viewers or not, great photographs are unikely to be made. Options include getting the hell out of there - move on, go somewhere else, or possibly trying something different in the present location.

Frustrated - we can be frustrated with other aspects of our lives or it can be our photography. if it's other things, it might prevent us from being creative in coming up with an idea for a shoot, but there's a good chance that once out shooting, our frustrations will be temporarily forgotten and the process of photographing will help us make better photographs.

If instead it is our photography that is frustrating us, then we need to isolate what it is that is frustrating us and either fix it if that can be done in a reasonable length of time, or work around it. This might mean putting aside our current equipment and going back to something more reliable - eg. temporarily putting aside the 4X5 and going back to a 6X6 tlr for a little while, or 35 mm. or digicam instead of dslr, or even a Holga.

Angry - Regardless of what we are angry about, going out photographing is likely to help. Returning to an area of previous success and fertile grounds can be a good strategy. Turning some of that anger energy into determination could be both theraputic and photographically effective.

Sad - is a mood often reflecting our lives in general rather than our photography in particular. Sadness is often associated with a general lack of energy and some of the other mood states listed above - like being bored. Getting out photographing, especially in the outdoors, is a great way to help ones sadness, if only we can persuade ourselves to get off the sofa in the first place. It's necessary to remind ourselves of previous occasions in which this was an effective antidote.

Tired - is a problem I confront on a daily basis as a physician. The patient is complaining of being tired and it's my job to figure out why and what to do about it. I find it helpful to break tiredness into physical and mental. The former causes us to stop doing things part way through, and we can clearly identify that we are more tired during the activities than either before or after. Mental tiredness prevents us from getting off the sofa in the first place and while actually doing the activity, we don't notice the tiredness to the same degree (or at all).

Should the tiredness be physical ( you dug ditches all day), then a simple photographic exercise might be a good choice - how about sitting at an outdoor cafe and photographing people going by - or doing some still lifes - or seeing what you can make out of the back yard.

Should the fatigue appear to be mental, then getting off one's duff is the solution. Simply going for a walk is a good first step, then return home to grab the camera and head out to shoot.

Sleepy - rather than feeling like someone drained your energy (the iron in your blood turned to lead in your rear), you simply keep yawning and can't focus for any length. Time to reflect on life style - are you in fact getting enough sleep? Maybe a brief nap in the car will help before you open the trunk and take out the camera. Computers cause more late nights than just about anything else. You might even have to set an alarm clock or how about a timer that cuts the power to the computer at 11 PM, or mabe you just need to take control of your life, starting with bed time.

Insecure - one may be this way by general temperament, or perhaps it's a temporary state (hopefully) brought about by a recent failure or rejection. What's needed here is some success. That means both putting ourselves in a place where success is likely and just as importantly redefining what success looks like. When a rider repeatedly can't make it over a 3 foot jump, the instructor lowers the jump to 2 feet, and over time (perhaps minutes, maybe weeks), the jumps get higher and before you know it, the rider is flying over 3 foot 6 jumps and it's hard to even rememeber what the problem was with that 3 foot jump. We need to apply the same strategy to photographing. Temporarily we have to lower our goal - simply getting a sharp, tonally rich image of just about anything might be a reasonable 'jump' to hop over.

Anxious - insecurity is about thinking we're not good enough - anxiety is about fearing failure. The best remedy is to embrace failure by reminding yourself that the only path to success is to fail and repeatedly fail, but hopefully coming up with new failures rather than fallining into the same old potholes. One can be forgiven for hiting a pothole once, but after the third time it's like 'oh, come on!'. Failure is never as bad as the fear of failing so the solution to anxiety is trying!

Pessimistic - one can reasonably be pessimistic if the last several attempts all failed. In that case, we need to change tacks - find a way round the repeated failures. Can't hand hold - get a tripod - can't find 'grand landscapes' near your house, then don't try - find intimate landscapes instead.

If instead one finds oneself more pervasively pessimistic - about all aspects of our lives photography may still be what's needed to break out of this funk, but it might take some outside help. A weekend workshop can be a great way to fix it. Sometimes we buy new equipment to help us - often without success - if you do decide that new equipment will be helpful - try to make sure it's equipment that will increase the chances off success - more pixels is very unlikely to be helpful - a macro lens though might just be the thing to open a whole new landscape to photograph.

Discouraged - can happen after a particularly painful failure or rejection, or simply because you have been struggling for a long time and are not where you want to be. I wrote previously about 'dealing with disappointment' which answers the first of the two issues but the second is also a common phenomenon. I can remember working for months, excited about my photography, busy making images, only to come to actually printing and realizing I had nothing of value, despite all my excitement at the time of photographing.

Tacking this kind of discouragement requires a careful battle plan.

1) determine what is the problem. This sounds simple but isn't. What if the problem is that 'I take lousy photographs'? W are going to have to be more specific than that.

Problems include:
a) unrealistic expectations - this can happen after getting lucky - and one or two good shots now set the bar for all future images, perhaps unrealistically.
b) technical problems - generally once isolated, they are quite amenable to a determined effort to fix them - from more careful exposure, consistently using a tripod, filling the frame etc.
c) aesthetic problems - here you might need some outside help to figure out why your images don't match your vision.
d) lack 'vision' in the first place.

Solutions are problem dependent. My articles on 'Taking Your Photography To The Next Level' might be useful.

Lack of 'Vision', that's to say not seeing anything exciting worth putting into an image has also been addressed previously in 'There's Nothing Here To Photograph'.

Lazy - sometimes we lack the motivation to get out there and create. In that case and assuming you are unhappy about being lazy, then you need to do a 'cost benifit analysis'. Yes, I could watch TV this evening - benefits include entertainment, relaxations, a sens of I deserve it after working hard, winding down etc. Costs though vary - some people find that TV doesn't in fact relax them and that their jobs are mentally demanding but not physical and therefore an activity that is exactly that - active, is what is needed. The benefits of getting off one's duff include fresh air, nature, the possibily of creating good images, etc. If after a quick analysis, TV wins, well that's just fine, enjoy it free of guilt, knowing it was the best choice under the circumstances. If, on the other hand; you suspect that the next day or even later the same evening you are going to be frustrated at not having created anything or made any progress in your photography, well you know what you can do about it.

So, there's some moods and a few suggestions for what to do about them. I do think they significantly impact one's photography and there are practical solutions, sometimes requiring nothing more than the recognition of the cost of doing nothing.

What If Expedition Is A Dud?

Having just returned from my cruise, not being able to get within half a mile of the glaciers, the 100-400 turning out to be very poor quality and in general not finding many of the things I expected, this is perhaps a very appropriate issue to discuss.

Lots of times in the past I have gone out photographing and found absolutely nothing to photograph, or if desperate, took some photographs that I knew wouldn't be great but somehow hoped I might be wrong - and of course wasn't - the proofs were crap.

Sound familiar?

Well, I can't say that I have found a brilliant answer to this problem but I can state that it happens a lot less often to me now than it used to. You might argue that this is because I'm better than I used to be - but I'm also a lot fussier and I would have thought the one would cancel out the other leaving a net frustration index unchanged. But it ain't so. That being the case, what could explain the difference? Could it be going digital, or using colour as well as black and white, or is there some other more important factor?

My thought is that none of these explanations is the main one. The big issue is, I think, that I am better prepared to work with what I find. I may have intended to photograph glaciers, but presented with cloud covered mountainsides, I shot that instead. Stuck on a ship far from shore, I photographed the ship instead of bemoaning the lack of landscapes.

There's plenty of precedent for this. Ansel Adams was known to photograph graffiti, back lanes, water towers, people and gardens, successfully, collectibly, and very well!

Does this mean I can guarantee me a successful shoot - absolutely not - I still have bad days - though it's my suspicion that bad days have more to do with my mood than what is in front of me.


Standing in line to return to the ship, I was caught by the pattern, colour and texture of this post used for tying up ships. It's shot with the 100-400 (it was located behind a barrier) and isn't super sharp but does respond adequately to smart sharpening. I did use Akvis Enhancer but had to turn it way down and it's debatable whether it's really useful in this image - sometimes it's magic and other times it adds nothing or detracts from an image - just like any tool - it must be used with caution, intelligence and always giving yourself an out to return to the unenhanced version should you decide it's too much.

I could easily have used curves to increase the contrast in the patterns on the metal but it's the subtlety of pattern and colour that I like here. I might change my mind in the future, but for now this is how I like it.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


I didn't expect any great art but assigned myself the task of coming up with the best possible images- here's some of them.

FZ50 On Cruise

Camera worked flawlessly on trip. It's light weight and relatively small size encouraged me to haul it out when I wouldn't have bothered with my big camera and to experiment more. Generally I shot raw to eliminate loss of detail through noise suppression but shot jpegs when I needed rapid recycling between shots - though slow focusing meant that I didn't find it good for shooting whales.

I did turn down noise suppression in jpegs part way through trip and that helped but didn't eliminate rather heavy handed noise suppression so I do recommend raw for most things and live with the 3.6 second delay between shots. I made use of the tilting lcd screen several times including the image of the bow bulb shot with camera held out over the water.

Overall I think that taking the FZ50 was a good idea and in hind sight I should have used it for some of the long shots that the 100-400 couldn't do well (see prev. entry).

Canon 100-400mm. L Lens

As I commented previously, I rented this lens for the trip, feeling (accurately as it turned out) that a lens which gave me 400 mm. with image stabilization would be really useful.

In practice, the lens turned out to be a great disappointment. It's quite possible that some of my frustration was due to trying to shoot from moving, vibrating ships at the full 400 mm. but checking the images it's clear that this particular example was extremely and unuseably fuzzy near wide open contrary to reviews I had checked and that while at f11 it's resolution is acceptable - it's hardly wonderful. Even then images require substantial sharpening (up to 2 pixels wide which is twice as much as I ever normally use).

The images above were shot at 400 mm. and show 100% crops with no sharpening, at 6.3 and f 10, the slowest shutter speed 1/500 which should be adequate even without IS which was in fact used in both shots. I'm pretty sure the problems relate to the lens and not my hand holding as the results are very consistent across all the images.

The lens had a tendency to back focus which rendered near images hopelessly out of focus.

Edges are poor.

Unfortunately none of the images I made with this lens will make acceptable large prints (17X22) and many won't even make an 8X10 - very disappointing. Whether I'd have been better to use a 2X extender with my 70-200 is something I don't know the answer to. If I can stop down to f11, the results are marginal - bottom line, unless I hand pick a copy of this lens - it is unuseable.

Of interest is that this finding coincides with that of Michael Reichmann and disagrees with a number of other reviewers, suggesting sample variation is a major factor - I'd be very suspicious of any used lens on the basis that if it were one of the good copies, the owner would not likely be getting rid of it.

Needed really is an IS version of the 400 mm. f 5.6. I do have a 300 L but not the IS version - in hind sight I might have been best to sell my non IS and invest in the IS version and shoot with the 1.4 extender - of course I have not tested this.


the vast majority of the images I shot with this lens were in fact shot at full 400 mm. and I probably didn't really need the zoom.

Recommendation: if you consider this lens, test carefully before committing your hard earned money. Questions arise like has quality control improved (ie. are newer lenses more likely to be good ones) and how many old lenses are you likely to have to go through to get a good one - if it's 2 or 3, it might still be practical, but if it's 5 or more, well forget it.

Bottom line: I will be looking for a better alternative.

First Efforts From Alaska

The first image is from Misty Fjords National Park out of Ketchican via boat.
The second image is from Portal Glacier, on way from Seward to Anchorage, Alaska.
The third image is from near Hubbard Glacier.
The last image is another from Misty Fjords.
Three of the four images were shot with the 100-400 mm . lens, generally at 400 mm.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Alaskan Cruise - I'm Back

Well, still unpacking, still dealing with Holland America misplacing my duffel bag with digicam, all my shoes and most importantly my carbon fibre Gitzo tripod and head.

Quik observations that I'll turn into proper blogs in the week to come:

FZ50 - lovely camera but digitams take too long to focus for use in sports or wildlife, otherwise the camera worked well, the electronic viewfinder while not great was ok and the best I have tried, a flipping lcd is useful and I anticipate we will see that added to DLSR's in the not too distant future.

Cruise as a photographic expedition - varied - each of the towns was a tourist trap, largely flogging diamonds and lesser trinkets. The shore excursions are not designed for photography in general. We did go on one photographic safari with an excellent instructor called Cam who had useful advice at a good variety of levels of skill, good local knowledge and a modest and nice guy to boot - out of Juneau - the small boat we took for the water part of our excursion was ideal for photography with flip up windows and an open bow and small enough (13 photographers) to be a lot nicer than some of the 100 people boat excursions we took.

Wonder if I could persuade the cruise line to let me teach a photographic workshop over a week's long cruise - could be really interesting.

100-400 lens - invaluable in places but just checking the lcd, the images near wide open are so soft as to be probably useless - which wasn't what I was led to believe - perhaps rumours of huge image quality variations in this lens are true. It's image stabilization though was good and valuable and when I could I switched to my 70-200 f2.8 which after all I decided to lug - and glad I did.

Whales - didn't get a single great shot - truth is the people who do are out on the water day after day and the odds of getting lucky within a few days is minimal.

Fun - a cruise is relaxing and enjoyable and there's enough to do to keep me from getting bored most of the time - and I bore easily.

1DS2 - a couple of times it locked up and I had to remove the battery to fix it - this has happened occasionally before and I gather is well known but so easy to fix no one gets too excited. On the other hand many of the images show a bright band across the top of the image (in horizontal format). Fortunately it's such a small part of the image it isn't critical but I had noticed this before for a while - it alarms me a bit and I think I'll need to talk to Canon about that.

Camera Bag - I use the Lowepro Nature Trecker and it just barely fits in the overhead bins and loaded as it was weighs more than Canadian Flying rules allow and almost certainly won't squeeze through the tester they have at the gates (bit late for testing). Fortunately no one has challenged me taking it on board, but I wouldn't expect to get away with it on small planes or outside North America so will have to plan accordingly.

Glaciers - too much ice to get within half a mile so photographing them was problematic - I'd recommend a later cruise - perhaps only a few weeks later. Mendenhall Glacier though just outside Juneau is beautiful and I hope t show you images of it soon.

Epson P2000 - worked perfectly for backing up photographs - strongly recommended. Nice to review them on that screen after the shoot too.

Swimming - couldn't believe that in a boat with 1400 people the pools weren't used much - the most people in the one pool were 5 and usually 3 and sometimes just myself - the outdoor pool wasn't used at all, the semi indoors one (sliding roof) was warm and lovely to swim in - hot tubs not crowded - amazing.

People - a bit odd being surrounded by people older than me (fatter too), most of them with drawls (ok, you Americans probably think I speak funny too). Met some very nice people, a few other dedicated photographers.

Anyway, there's my initial impressions. Talk to you soon, hopefully with images - they didn't get lost.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Away For A Week

I'm off for a week of holiday, a cruise to Alaska.

In the mean time, how about (re) reading part three of Taking Your Photography To The Next Level, Part III or how about my four part series on black and white printing starting at Black And White Printing Part 1

With over 480 blog entries, there's probably something in here to keep you occupied till I get back, though come to think of it, you should probably be out shooting.

Here's some ideas for a shoot while I'm away.

- city hall or the law courts
- county jail
- gas stations old and new
- people who visit antique stores, or flee markets, yard sales etc. (and the odd things they buy) - take notes, get releases - might make a good book
- small towns near by
- daffodils (if you live north like me, or appropriate garden flower where you are
- the odd things people have parked round or behind their property
- pet owners - try the local off leash park
- street lamps at night
- roads
- the local mother's day run
- a skate board park
- half ton trucks, old and new, rusty and decorated - I had a friend in Kentucky who to make a point carried his umbrella in the gun rack in the back window of the truck (unlike most other people).

Anyway, if you can shoot even half of these before I get back and make good images, maybe I should be reading your blog.

Innova Ultrasmooth Gloss Paper

this isn't the original f type surface paper by Innova, it's the new glossier paper that Michael Reichmann spoke highly of.

Here's my findings so far.

Packaging - it comes in a sturdy box, with a cover sheet to protect the first sheet and the paper wrapped in thin poly - no damaged corners - full marks for packaging

Surface Imperfections - the first five sheets all had a 1 inch band down the middle of the page clearly visible and rendering the paper useless for anything other than proofing - in addition, each page has minor imperfections - small glossier areas which are a lot more visible before you make a print, but which do show in large light areas - acceptable for routine work but not for selling or framing images - frankly this makes the paper unnacceptable for fine art work, regardless of other features. Oh, and it's extremely sensitive to finger prints.

Paper Colour - oddly compared to the previous f surface which I gather is still available, the paper is a cool bluish gray - definitely not as bright and quite cool in colour - an unexpected finding and frankly not very appealing - suitable only for cold tone images

Surface Gloss - is definitely more than previous papers and yes it is quite smooth - looking more like traditional glossy dried matte silver gelatin papers than anything we have had so far - but it still shows gloss differential - the glossy inks on my iPF5000 printer are still significantly shinier than the paper so gloss differential is less but not gone - still not acceptable for fine art work

UPDATE: Uwe Steinmueller told me that in his experience the IPF5000 shows quite a bit stonger bronzing/gloss differential than the Epson K3 and HP Z3100 printers.

This doesn't deal with the other issues which at least for now prevent me recommending the paper to anyone but that could easily change - it's a very new paper and could be worth checking again on a diffent printer in the future. We sure do need a good gloss paper.

Image Quality - given the above limitations prints do look nice on the paper and were it a bit less bluish gray and minus the imperfections, I'd probably use it for a number of projects, but I would still have reservations about the gloss differential so I can't see ever using this paper for selling fine art images - pity - I really wanted to like it.

Conclusion: still not ready for prime time


it's back to matte fine art paper for me

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Photographing Cliches

The image above is Peggy's Cove. It's to Yosemite is to the US - it's been photographed to death. This raises the question of whether there is any value in even opening your camera bag when you visit such places.

I think there are several reasons you might want to give it a try.

1) You can challenge yourself to produce a good image, regardless of whether it's been done before - it hasn't been done by you yet!

2) You can challenge yourself to see it in a new way - you could get lucky.

3) Working with photogenic material can be a good exercise, you know you should be able to get a good picture rather than doubting that the scene is worth it - now all you have to do is figure out how. The whether isn't an issue. So many of our images we can't tell if we shouldn't have taken out our camera in the first place or we just didn't know how to work the scene.

4) Cliche scenes tend to be popular with viewers and frankly it doesn't do any harm to make some money off of people who prefer easily understood images of classic scenes. It can't be any more prostituting yourself than doing advertising photography.

As it happens, despite the commonality of this scene, specifically Peggy's Cove, and lighthouses in general, I quite like the image. I like that I was able to find a good viewpoint and capture the foreground dark rock and yellow bands and the waves in the patterns they came in.

It took over an hour to get this image, waiting for tourists to come and go and capture at the split second when the busses happened to be spaced out exactly right. That the sky complements the foreground is sheer luck - but at least I was prepared to be lucky - a topic for another day.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Panasonic FZ50 Initial Impressions

Here's what I have observed so far:

- the camera is large for a digicam - but it feels just right
- sure do like the real zoom ring and focusing ring
- looks like manual focus is going to be quite realistic on this camera
- the electronic viewfinder is quite decent and is easier to use in the sun than others I have used
- compared to the Sony H9 which I checked out - the LCD screen is 2 inches instead of 3, but the electronic view finder is substantially larger - for me that works
- on the H9, the camera is small enough that I kept pressing the flash button with my hand - no such problems with the Panasonic.
- two thumbwheels means that you can set f stop and shutter speed easily - nice
- raw files take about 4 seconds to save - not a problem for the kind of work I do - a jpeg is saved at the same time which I could do without and have to manually throw out once the files are transferred - will have to figure out how to work around that
- so far, it looks like raw rescues hghlights to some degree but not perhaps as much as with my Canon DSLR's.

I have already made a 13X19 print from a two image stitch which looks perfect so it will do what I need. I also have a black and white print from an image downloaded from Imaging Resource printed at 300 dpi which is tack sharp to the corners, free of grain and with excellent tonality - very impressive.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Role Of A Fun Camera

O.K., so you are a serious photographer with ambitions to be come known and most of the time are willing to work hard. But sometimes it's nice to just relax and goof around, to be silly, to experiment.

It might be a Holga, or a compact digicam that can slip in your pocket, or perhaps you use your good equipment to take family snapshots (all ideas discussed in recent comments and blog entries).

Problem is, if you do get lucky with your 'play' camera, aren't you going to regret that you didn't shoot with your best equipment?

Think about it this way:

- these are a different kind of image - and they don't have to be so good that they can make mural size prints for sale - after all there are serious photographers who only make contact prints from their 5X7 negatives
- perhaps the images aren't for sale at all, strictly for your own amusement, but even if they might have value in future for submission for show or publication, you just have to think of them differently - these are small images, not inferior images.
- keep in mind that some of the shots you take when having fun you wouldn't have taken if you'd had to haul out your tripod and 4X5 or whatever so the comparison isn't between good camera and poor, it's really between not taking a shot at all and having a nice, all be it small image.

The definition of a 'fun' camera can be pretty loose - how about a hand held 4X5 for street shooting, or a panoramic camera. It can be digital or film, large or small. It should however be easy to use, probably not require a tripod and painless to use - zone spot metering doesn't strike me as 'fun'.

I happened to choose an ultrazoom largely because of going on holiday where I felt I'd need the long reach and it would act as backup to my 'serious' equipment. I also considered the 16:9 ratio Panasonic LX2 - great lens, 10 MP, decent wide angle and the fun of a different format, but in the end was sold on the long zoom large camera FZ50. That might not be to your taste for a variety of reasons but my first digital was the 10X Olympus 2100 which had a Canon IS lens and could take pictures I'd never been able to take before. I next had the Sony 707, picked for it's excellent lens - I didn't buy into Zeiss lenses being automatically better but it tested out by far the best at the time. I did miss the long zoom though. One advantage of a long zoom is if you stitch, you are essentially dividing the image up into small sections which automatically require a longer lens.

You might prefer the low light functionality of the Fuji F31, or perhaps want something that will fit in a shirt pocket so you can have it with you at ALL times. I did think that if I were to avoid a tripod, IS would be important. I wanted as many pixels as I could squeeze in - assuming the lens could use that many. I was prepared to use raw since that wouldn't dramatically impact the shooting - ok it's a bit slower between shots and I wouldn't use it for people pictures but the FZ50 isn't bad at ei 100 and noise suppression at it's lowest setting.

I quite liked my little Canon S3IS and it does make decent 7X9 prints but my daughter has it now and so far the fact that the FZ50 is quite a bit larger hasn't bothered me. I guess that anything feels pretty light and small after the Canon 1Ds2.

What do you do with your fun camera and which camera do you think of as 'fun'?

Too Clever Websites

It's common to use flash to develop websites - I did that for a while - paid for a flash template, custom modified for me, but it was a bit gimmicky. I visited Ryujie's website (great photographer, poor website) and he has a series of rolling thumbnails and if you can catch the right one, up comes a tiny image, not a lot bigger than the thumbnail, with no navigation controls - disappointing. Other sites have images that don't centre on the screen or they don't resize well to my office screen (800X600).

Of course, my own site is a mix of 90's style pages linked to smugmug. I keep it this way for a few reasons - I'm too busy doing other stuff in photography to bother with learning Dreamweaver, I don't like the gimmicks on some flash sites, and most importantly smugmug allows significant flexibility in screen size and viewing methods and it makes editing images quite painless - adding, removing, transferring categories are all simple. Having to re-upload the entire site isn't on when you have hundreds of images.

One of these days I will have another go at improving the site and in the mean time, please people, keep from getting too clever - or perhaps more accurately - put a limit on what your web designer is allowed to come up with.

Projects - For And Against

It's been written that any serious photographer shoots projects rather than simply randomly snapping away at anything that catches his eye. Publishers prefer work to have a single theme and reviewers expect presented work to be cohesive.

There are valid reasons for encouraging or even insisting on a project. it certainly better tests a photographer - what can you do with a particular idea. It gives a better sense of depth - a single good image on a particular subject might just be luck or hard work rather than talent or skill, but a whole body of work on the same theme suggests the photographer is worth paying attention to.

On the other hand, there are problems with presenting your work in project form. This came to me as I was checking out some photographers to recommend. They either uniformly concentrate on a particular subject or they present dozens of shots on a particular theme, and after the first 4 or 5 images, it became a matter of 'oh, another one'.

I don't think this is fair to the work - it's quite possible that had the subsequent images been presented first, each might have been much better appreciated. Had the photographer presented more variation in images, I might have been happier to keep looking.

One could make the argument that if the images of the project are strong enough, they will withstand such perusal, but I'm not sure that's true. Perhaps it's just my own short attention span but I like a bit of variety in the images I see. I like my Weston nudes mixed with his other images.

For my own work - I know damn well I can't count on making every image on a theme outstanding - sure I can put together a body of work consisting of good work, but I can tell you that whatever the category or project, I will always have a few favourites and anticipate that viewers are likely to be the same, even if their few doesn't match mine.

I think that perhaps part of the problem is that too many images within a project look much like each other - same view point and lens, similar lighting, same subject matter. It isn't a matter of image quality - they can be very strong - but if they are too similar to other images in the project, then when they come along second or third or 17th, they sure do lose impact.

Perhaps this says something about the size of a project or of a category on your website - I lump all my B&W industrial images together, but perhaps I'm making a mistake in doing so. Not sure yet. As the images get more numerous, the problem is only likely to become worse. I don't like the idea of multiple levels of subcategories.

When I finally get round to designing a good website, I'll have to think about this.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Technical Beats Aesthetic, Except When It Counts

I have observed on my own blog that the subjects that generate the most comments are those of a technical nature. On Luminous Landscape my third article, on improving one's photography has generated no comments or controversy at all. The number one subject at the moment - the smallest f stop for full size sensors - generating a whopping 135 replies. How could it possibly take that many comments/people to hash out such a mundane subject. Discuss composition or tonality and the responses are few.

I just feel glad that a number of you have provided very insightful comments and just plain benificial additions to my non technical entries and while there may not be dozens to each blog entry - those that are added are frequently illuminating to me, and I suspect you too.

It's possible to read the blog without even looking at the comments but I would encourage you to look at the blog with the comments for a richer experience.

Of course, it's always easier to recommend a tripod than to suggest how to fix boring photographs and probably most of us feel more confident recommending a camera model than advice on aesthetics.

News Flash - Barr Shoots Nude

Already known for photographing underwear lying on the floor, Barr has gone way overboard this time - shooting both nude and a nude! Isn't somebody going to do something about this?

Will this crack the foundations of photgraphy - or just produce ring around the tub?

The mind boggles to think what he's going to do to top this one.

Guess I should have taken a book into the bath with me instead.


My assignment for the day was to move a dump truck load of top soil my wife ordered for the garden. Backbreaking work not helped by a torrential rain which while not soaking into the top of the pile, flooded the bottom of the pile considerably adding to the weight.

Of course the wheelbarrow had a flat tire and several trips later (long sad story), the wheel barrow was fixed, but it had sat out over the winter with some water in it - ok, so I'm not good about putting tools away - but I swear it had the flat already. Anyway, it rusted and I noted as I flipped it back upright that the rust and remaining green paint of the barrow made interesting patterns.

I shot it with the FZ50 including this image which is actually a two shot stitch, hand held and stitched in Photoshop CS3 (trying it out - too early to say if I like it as much or better than PTGui). I did play it safe and haul out the big camera to shoot it that way, 90 ts-e, stitching, and tripod, just in case.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Panasonic FZ50

O.K., so I succumbed and picked up a Panasonic FZ50 this afternoon. The lead image is the second shot I took with the camera, no adjustments, simply turned it on, put it in program mode and fired - don't even know if IS was turned on. Cropped the image, used highlight/shadow adjustment on the image, then converted to black and white (green filter) and opened the shadows further. Had not expected to be able to do that at all, never mind to the degree I did here - you can see the original image below - it feels like a real camera, unlike other 'ultrazoom' cameras I have tried - Canon S3IS and Sony H9.

Shot just before sunset, I crouched down to use the sky for a plain background and a fairly long focal length so I wasn't actually looking up Bill's nose. By the way, I beat Bill 7-3 in the tie breaker (tennis) after he walloped me last week 6-0.

The image isn't great art, but I'd like to think his family will be pleased to have it, I had fun doing it and more fun editing it.

Stay tuned for further developments but I think I'm going to have some fun with this camera!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Pressure To Produce

At whatever level of skill we have, it seems human nature to think that if only we were a bit better, we'd be able to relax and not worry so much about the quality of our images.

I have bad news for us - it ain't necessarily so!

From my own experience, the better I get, the higher my expectations I have for the work produced. I don't worry so much any more about finding something good to photograph but now when I do, I expect more from the image.

Look at it this way. Having produced pepper # 30, or some of his incredible nudes, do you really think Edward Weston didn't feel pressure to do more than capture a simple landscape, no matter how well done?

Unfortunately, I think the pressures will continue, even if they change somewhat over time. This pressure can be distracting from the process of seeing and I think can be detrimental to our work.

There is, however; a flip side to this pressure - it gets us trying harder, it motivates us to go back out and try again, to be more careful with our compositions and camera positioning, with our observation of all the details that frustrated us with the last image we made. It's this pressure which drives us to improve.

I rather think the one comes with the other, like in so many aspect of life, if we want the good, we have to take the bad with it.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Stream Bottom

Another mud abstract from Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta. A small stream separated me from the cliffs I wanted to photograph and in the effort of finding a place I could jump across, I found this detail in the stream bottom. A few tufts of grass were sticking out of the mud/sand and were removed with the cloning tool. Cheating? Sure. Do I care? No.

There's An Image Round The Next Corner

It's all to easy for us to get a bit neurotic about getting a great image and finding nothing great to photograph. While you could 'work' the scene harder in the belief that it's there, you only need to find it, but perhaps it's more productive to admit that while there may be an image here, it isn't here, today, and it's time to move on. A frequent occurrence is to come home with a good shot that has nothing to do with what you went out to take, that the spot you anticipated would work well doesn't, but 10 minutes later you stumble on something really good.

Some photographers will wait for hours for the right light, others move on in the hope that the time they could have spent sitting for the right circumstances is better spent looking for another image.

I guess if you know this is going to be a fabulous image if the light is right, it's worth waiting just about any amount of time. If you think it might be a good image if you wait, then it's perhaps better to cut and run.

Deliberately Flouting The Rules

I wrote about fun photography, but what about deliberately breaking the rules in your serious photography - normally shoot landscapes sharp from front to back - how about trying wide apertures and a small plane of focus for a change. Normally wait for the wind to die to get your shot, how about deliberately shooting in the gusts to record a living moving landscape?

If your norm is a full tonal range from black to white, maybe try some highly compressed tonal images, you never know, you might like it.

Odds are you won't get anything great, but if you are honest with yourself, you are lucky to get one good image in a hundred shots anyway, so just how much worse could this be?

See how many rules you can come up with that you might try breaking and let us know what it/they are through adding a comment.

Separating Fun From Serious Photography

I suspect that a lot of us do both serious photography in which we haul out our best equipment, ofter with heavy back packs and tripods, but sometimes feel like shooting for fun, with a smaller camera, and heaven forbid, we might not even use a tripod at all.

I tend to feel a bit guilty when I do this, feeling that I should be using the time to photograph seriously. It raises some questions though (don't most of the things I write about, huh?).

Is it useful or distracting to do 'fun' photography when you think of yourself a serious photographer?

Does using novice equipment and techniques mean you are going to get poor results?

What do you do with any images you obtain?

Truth is, tripods are a hassle and slow you down and sometimes even limit your position. It may be that shooting landscapes with everything in focus (ie. small f stops and slow shutter speeds) isn't compatible with no tripod, so one has to change one's standards or styles of shooting or even subject matter. Consider some of the lovely work done with Holga cameras which is a perfect example of a serious photographer using a fun camera to take artistically worthwhile photographs.

It may be that with your 'fun' equipment you can't make 20X20 prints but there are photographers with 8X10 view cameras who do nothing but contact print so while not having huge prints of these images to sell might hurt the pocket book, it shouldn't in fact pose any problems in being artistic, creative and producing serious work while actually having fun.

If on the other hand, one tries do do something for which the equipment is totally unsuited out of laziness, then we might have to question our motives, values and drive. Though even here, there are some famous European photographs known for their black and white landscape work shot on 35 mm. and without tripod - parts of the image are out of focus, all of the image is grainy, yet they still get hung in galleries because their work is creative and uses the equipment to advantage.

Perhaps the problem occurs when we pretend we have an 8X10 view camera but actually shoot with 35 mm. Maybe we should be thinking along different lines, or using an 8X10.

With lightweight fun to use equipment, we are more likely to explore our creative boundaries so one could very easily argue that playing around is good for us, that it broadens our horizons and might actually improve our serious work.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Pet Peeve # 2,597 - Cable Releases

I shoot with a Canon 1Ds2. It uses an electronic cable release - surprise surprise. The way it plugs in to the camera, it's forever coming loose and the cable itself gets angled backwards which can't be good for it - I reguarly find it doesn't work and it's because the plug has come loose.

The other day I picked up a digicam for my holiday (backup and fun) and it comes with a remote control. It works from 40 feet infront of the camera and 15 feet behind. How come my $10,000 camera can't do that - remotes have been around for years. Never to step on the cable release again when the camera is low - or dip it in mud or water. No cords to fail, no need to replace it or carry a spare as I do now, it would actually work most of the time. Guaranteed no vibration transmitted from the device to camera or problems of it swinging in the wind, or getting wrapped round the legs of the tripod or caught between the legs and the head, hell, the remotes a lot smaller and does more too. Get with the programme, Canon!

Picking Our Best Work

Someone mentioned that we are not the best judges of our own work. This raises a number of questions.

1) is that right?

2) if it is, then what does this imply?

3) and what do we do about it?

I have heard this expressed before, though of course, something being stated multiple times doesn't necessarily make it so.

Lets assume you and I are reasonably talented photographers, with something to offer the world. Some of our images have been admired. We normally present only our best work to the public, burying our mistakes.

Here's some real life examples and some fictional for your consideration.

We send some images to a gallery or magazine and they decide they like our work, please send more images of the same ilk. Thrilled, we do so, but of course, we had already sent our best images. The implication naturally is that anything else we send them is 'second rate', or to be more polite, not quite as strong as the first batch. Still, it's a chance for a show or publication, we are not likely to refuse. We gather together another batch of images. A couple that hadn't seemed good enough to work on, on second thought turn out to be very nice and we are pleased to be sending them. Others, even with work, are frankly just not as good as the first batch, but they wanted more and that's what they are going to get. Of course, we don't send them any real dogs - we do have our principles.

Lo and behold, our curator or editor rejects some of the original batch and publishes or shows some of the 'also rans' sent out in the second batch. We respect the skill and opinion and eye of this person who rejected our better images and accepted our weaker ones. We have to come to terms with this. Perhaps the opening statement about us not knowing our best work is right.

First, let me make some bold statements.

A dog is a dog is a dog - if we think it's a bad image, chances are every body else in the know agrees. That's not to say that these images might not get positive feedback - no matter how bad they are, they may be better than the images our friend can take and so he's enthusiastic about them. Perhaps the person looking at them doesn't have an educated eye and simply doesn't notice the compositional or technical flaws which are so glaring to us. Still, a skilled viewer is likely to see the same fatal flaws we do. Flaws don't fade with time, they amplify.

When it comes to sorting our good from our best work, we are not necessarily good judges. There's a reason that in the movies, there are directors and there are editors and for the most part they aren't the same person.

Here's another story. For a recent show, I sent a number of images, some strong enough I'd stake my reputation on, others good enough to sell but definitely not amongst my best. Of course it's one of those images they chose for the catalogue, web site and advertizing. My first reaction was to be upset that my 'name' was going to be made or not on the basis of this image. I thought of asking them to change it, but I'm not the one to tell a curator they are wrong when they have offered me a show, so I kept quiet. It's now six months later and I remember when they sent me copies of the advertizing material (my name spelled wrong, but whatever), and I saw this image for the first time in a different light - more as an abstract in forms rather than a picture of a frozen waterfall - maybe I had under valued the image - either accidentally or intentionally I'd put more into the image than I recognized when I made the print. In hind sight, I can see why they picked the image. I'd still not pick it to represent me, but I can now see why someone else might, and it's a bit disturbing - it clearly means I can be wrong about image choices, so yes, I'd have to say that it's true, we aren't always the best judge of our work and yes, we do need help from editors and curators, even ignoring the fact that these shows and publications represent their best efforts and their reputations stand on what they show.

I have read several times of photographers needing and seeking outside help to select images for a book.

Here's a fictional story. A photographer strongly dislikes an image. He junks it as a failure, but a friend notices it in the garbage and rescues it, exclaiming over it's worth. Our photographer is persuaded by said friend to include it after all in his catalogue. This image turns out to be tremendously popular and our photographer is asked to reprint it many times and it becomes the image by which he is known. But he still hates the image and cringes every time he sees it.

I think it means that we need to divide our images into:

bad - I don't want anyone to see this
ok - I'd be willing to include it in my sales catalogue and actually sell it, but I'd not want it in any shows or publications
good - I think it's a decent image. I'd prefer it wasn't the image by which I'm known but I'm ok with showing it to the powers that be.
Great - these are the images by which I stake my reputation and by which I want to be known, sink or swim.

So, when picking our best work, it's fair game to pick from the great and the good, but not to use any of the others, no matter how enthusiastically someone else might recommend an image.

We run the risk of missing an image that others will get excited over, but we can always change our minds - there are a number of images which I have decided a long time later are good after all or more commonly, I can now make good prints of when I couldn't before (I see how to work them).

In the end I think it's better to hold back an image that you are less than happy with.

In terms of sorting out the good from the great - looks like we might need some help here. Two problems immediately arise.

We may love an image for reasons which aren't apparent to others and so they never pick our favourites (and I have written about this before). The second is what we have been talking about - we like the image less than others, but enough that we are willing to share it. Perhaps it's an image that we will appreciate in full later on. Perhaps there's something about the image which prevents us seeing the image to it's full advantage. We might be obsessed with a minor flaw in the image and can't get past it while others pay no attention to it at all and even when explained, can't understand why we fuss so much. Just as we can ascribe wonders to an image which aren't actually there (they are remembered), we can also remember things which spoil the image and yet which don't actually exist in the image and come from other memories and associations.

Bottom line: if you hate an image, don't show it to anyone. Maybe you'll change your mind in time, but ultimately they are our images and they make a statement about us and if one or two images don't get shown which could have been, well that's just too bad.