Thursday, October 30, 2008

Another Medical Analogy - Response To Images

If you get excited with your images, there are almost certainly other people who would feel as you do. Of course you may not have met them yet!

I treat Attention Deficit Disorder and use Ritalin and Dexedrine. They are both stimulant medications, far more alike in their effect and side effects than they are different, yet the individual response can be dramatically different. One person can find one useless and the other great, while the next person finds the exact opposite. I don't have a good explanation for this other than to say that everybody's different, and some of you (us?)are more different.

So it is with images. One person will really get your images while another person is left completely cold by them, so much so they can be quite rude about the quality of your images. If you don't believe me check out some of the comments on my book at

It can certainly be frustrating when you receive such negative comments about your work but if we can please some of the people some of the time, well, we're doing pretty well.

If you have not found an appreciative audience yet (mum doesn't count), then it doesn't mean you have to give up what you are doing, but perhaps you do need to fine tune your seeing, selecting and editing, without dropping your subject or your style. Maybe you just need to shoot more and be pickier. Lots of photographers have overly high expectations of their success rate and perhaps should be happy to get one or two really nice images a year, or go out shooting a lot more often.


I was listening to a medical lecture and the doctor mentioned a study which showed that women had statitically fewer hot flushes on a particular medication but that it didn't make the women exactly pleased about the difference - the change? they had 11 hot flashes a day instead of 12 - but hey, it was a statistically significant difference.

This reminds me of some of the pixel wars and differences in number of pixels from one camera to the next. Anything less than a 25% difference and you probably can't even see it in tests and in real world shooting it's totally irrelevant - eg. the difference between 10 and 12 megapixel cameras, or for that matter, between 12 and 15 megapixels. Of course we know that to double print linear size (ie. 16X20 instead of 8X10 requires 4 times as many pixels for the same nose on print resolution (you are dealing with both length and width).

DPReview has just released their review of the 15 megapixel 50D, saying that in their opinion, the 50D is not sig. better than the 40D and in some ways not as good. Now, I couldn't quickly tell what lenses they used but it was clear from the examples that whatever lens they used, it wasn't good enough to take advantage of that many pixels. Additional sharpening might have made things look better but would not of course have added any more information to the images.

This finding, if it is replicated by other reviewers, will have profound influence on the future of the industry - specifically because it suggests that cameras which extend the pixel density of the 50D to full frame will be pretty much at the limit of useable pixel density. Frankly high resolution lenses which are only high when used at 5.6 and wider are not much help to a landscape shooter (or industrial or architectural).

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. It would seem that the limiting factor is diffraction but if that's the case, why is it that you can take the tiny sensor of a Canon G10 with 14.7 megapixels and produce decent images yet the far larger sensor of the 50D struggles - odd that. But how else can you explain that 60 megapixel medium format sensors can show improvements over the previous 39 MP backs.

I'd like to think that somewhere here is a loophole which will allow ever higher resolution ina 35 mm. format camera. Perhaps if the resolution is high enough we won't need fuzzy filters to avoid moire patterns but a recent interview with the head of Canon development suggested they aren't going to get rid of them any time soon. The assumption seems to be that medium format users are willing to take the time to shoot a reference colour card, to use software to fix moire etc. but that 35 mm. users aren't. There may well be some truth to that but for us landscape shooters it sure would be nice to have the option. Then there are those of us who'd seriously consider buying a full frame high pixel count camera that had no colour filters at all, ie. a full frame no bayer black and white sensor of 21 megapixels. Now that would be cool!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tree Trunk

Not sure if this is going to be a good idea but I will explore further. I photographed a large old tree nearby - 23 images as I circled the tree, trimming each image into a high narrow slit and then stitching to produce the equivalent of peeling the bark and laying it out flat. Clearly some trees are going to be more interesting than others but we'll see. Stitching had to be done by hand in Photoshop as neither Photoshop or PTGui could deal with the change in position and viewpoint.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Small Walk Around Camera

With the publication of Michael Reichmann's review of the Canon G10 and Nikon P6000, it might be a good time to consider the whole genre of small portable cameras - something small enough to fit in a coat pocket or smaller, one not to be used with a tripod, with no interchangeable lenses to worry about or carry, yet capable of producing a decent 13X19 print. I'm not going to get into a discussion of which is better than what - I haven't tried most of them - but I thought it might be worth considering how such a camera might be used.

My experience at home and while travelling is that every single landscape or architectural image I was able to capture hand held would have been better had I a tripod and I have gone back and recaptured the image where possible, with tripod.

It seems to me that a small unobtrusive camera would be best for people pictures - fast moving or developing situations in which a tripod would not be practical, even if you were willing to carry one.

This would suggest that maximum resolution and quality at low ISO's are of significantly less importance than they might be otherwise. Things like fast accurate focusing become a lot more important as do things like shutter lag and how fast you can take a second shot after the first. I don't need continuous fast shooting, but I'd sure like to be able to take three consecutive pictures without the camera getting in my way - something that many present small cameras cannot do.

Interestingly I have noted a real trend in small cameras - they can capture fine details in a landscape but often do a terrible job reproducing a face with any kind of resolution - I think the problem may lie with being unable to use edge sharpening to capture soft rounded faces and low contrast detail in the eyes but admit that's shear guesswork.

Quite frankly, my Canon 40D is pretty close to ideal for this kind of shooting apart from being a bit large and needing at least two lenses to cover a decent range of focal lenghts - it focusses fast, can take multiple images in a hurry, has relatively small zoom lenses in black which don't stick out a mile and aren't terribly noticeable (the 55-250).

It will be interesting to see how effective people find cameras like the G10, P6000 and LX-3 are for people imaging. I look forward to reviews which stress these aspects of the cameras.

In the mean time, I'll trouble to change lenses and use my 40D where someone else might consider a G10.

Monday, October 27, 2008


The other day on the radio, some interviewer asked his subject, a musician, which they would want most, a million dollars, huge popularity or respect of the critics. The musician pointed out that critics often don't get it right and can't predict future success so were not to be sought, being popular was nice, but money sure was handy, artists typically being short of same.

Arguably money is a very good marker for the greatness of your images - it's one thing to say nice things about your pictures, but to actually lay out cold hard cash to acquire them, well that puts things on a whole other level.

The problem with this thinking is that financial reward is often a matter of luck but it's hugely connected to marketing yourself and most photographers are not marketers, by inclination, energy or resources. The small number who are marketers, who push their work every opportunity and sometimes when there isn't one, who spend far more time selling their work than making it, who have absolute confidence in their ability and have the balls to persuade everyone else of the value of their work, even in the demonstrably clear evidence to the contrary, well they are the ones who sell individual large prints made by someone else and for huge sums of money.

Who wouldn't want to sell a single print for $30,000? After all, it really doesn't take any more talent or even effort to make a large print than a small one these days, with inkjet printers. But do you really want to give up creative time for marketing - yes, that's the problem.

To have the critics keen on you - well I'd guess it would depend on who the critics were, what kind of work they like and what their track record is. to have a single critic enthusiastic doesn't really mean a lot but what if most seem to like your work? I'd guess it would make a difference why they like your work - whether for originality or strength of seeing or just because you photograph the hot topic of the period.

Popularity is unquestionably nice - there's not a photographer alive, not even the hermits, who doesn't like someone admiring his or her work, but let's face it, some of those people buy black velvet paintings on street corners and only like the pretty pictures, not the ones you put your heart and soul into.

Perhaps the greatest appreciation comes from fellow experienced photographers, who can recognize the effort, see the tonality, appreciate the compositional efforts and get the message. But if the admiration comes from novice photographers who are only impressed with how expensive your camera is and how many pixels are in the image, then give me an informed non photographer audience every time - someone who may not appreciate the toning and paper surface and printer quality but who has an eye and can see and understand images. Someone who likes black and white and who likes images other than pretty landscapes and baby pictures. I have been impressed that these are not that uncommon. Among my patients there are a number who can tell me what I was trying to achieve in an image, who see what I see. I was back at the lime plant on Friday and took a copy of my book and they thumbed through it and the comments on images were perceptive.

Bottom line is we take our kudos were we can get them, but some are appreciated more than others.

Where Things Go Wrong

I've just finished judging a photographic contest for medical residents (doctors in post graduate training). Not uncommonly I get asked to evaluate photographs and I look at the photographs of photographer friends.

Often I can see what they are getting at, what attracted them to the scene, yet somehow the image is lacking. It isn't a matter of compositional "tricks", lines that cross, things that go to corners, etc.. Rather the problem appears to be that the message is masked by extraneous detail, distracting elements or perhaps most commonly the sin of taking on more good stuff at the price of complicating, not to say muddying of the message.

So, if your images aren't as strong as you'd like, go through your images and see if you have committed some of the faux pas listed above. Have you been guilty of adding the fifth fence post only to accept a tree that spoils the repetitive pattern, did you add that lovely rock on the left only to get a distracting bright sky through the trees in the background, or did you find something interesting but not find a position from which to photograph it that is uncluttered?

Unfortunately sometimes you won't find the ideal view and then you have a choice - shoot the image anyway or walk on. When I'm shooting, if I'm not sure about the strength of an image, I might well shoot it anyway. If I know that there is a fundamental flaw with the image and I can't think of a way to overcome it in the field or in post processing, then it's time to walk.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Back out at Graymont yesterday and took them prints from the first venture two weeks ago. They suggested I might want to see the quarry and quickly I was driven over to it by Wayne and taken to the top of the working (hundreds of feet higher and a quarter mile along) and given a as much time as I wanted to photograph. It was one of those dial-a-light days with clouds alternating with sun. The only thing I couldn't do was easily stitch since the light was changing rapidly in the strong wind but I could literally decide did I want the light on the foreground or background or middle, or some combination and with a modest wait get what I wanted.

I finished back at the plant and some rail cars were parked for loading, the ground and the tankside covered in limestone dust.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Aachen Dom

Last night I decided to go back through the images I made during our trip to Germany and Prague. I had thought I'd pretty much mined the files for useable images but decided to be a bit less critical and see what I could do with what I'd taken - after all - I'd gone to the trouble to take the images in the first place - so what if the thumbnail didn't look useable.

In this particular shot, I was trying to capture the sense of fine detail - layers upon layers of it which the builders had created hundreds of years ago. It's hard to capture the ousides of cathedrals - they tend to be tightly surrounded by other buildings and a shot of the whole thing looks more illustrative than artistic and besides the whole is what the architect designed - if I want to bring something to the image I need to use light, shadow and composition to bring a fresh point of view if possible.

From a practical point of view, many of the angles are spoiled by awkward composition, or a bright bit of sky showing through or poor lighting and so on. The whole business of perspective with the building falling backwards as you point the camera upwards is problematic. It seems to work inside when there is no edge to the building and the receding lines show more of the ceilings but ouside it's a bit more difficult.

I elected to correct rotation and vertical perspective (and if need be barrel/pincushion) via filter/distort/lens correction in Photoshop. I liked what I saw. Many cathedrals suffer from millenia of soot and are almost black - Cologne was disappointing in that way - but they'd been working on the Aachen cathedral and sig. parts of it showed very nicely. This particular view avoided much of the black stone seen elsewhere.

I like the gradual ranking upwards and to the right of the spindles tops while the background building lines slope down to the right. These opposing lines often work well together and are to be sought.

There is a glow to the light stone to the right of the window and some judicious lightening of some of the other stone results in a richly toned yet balanced image.

I particularly like the lines of the corner stones in the top right, 1/3 from the bottom on the left and at the bottom 2/3 of the way to the right - they feed off of each other.

You might well ask how much of this I saw squinting through the viewfinder and the answer is not much - I simply saw a sense of "rightness" about the image and much of what I have explained above has been discovered after the fact. You might think that this is a bit strange and perhaps has more to do with luck than skill but if that's the case, I'm awfully damned lucky.

Let me illustrate. You see someone across the room who is really attractive. Lets simplify by saying you only see their face. Now stop and think about this - did you analyse the shape of the nose, carefully consider the cheek bones, check out the profile - of course not, you simply looked and found the whole appealing. It's quite possible that in fact if you break down the face, the parts themselves are unremarkable, it's the whole package that somehow works together in a way that appeals to YOU. You know damn well that others might well be admiring someone else in the room, that you might be the only person there who thinks this person's face is wonderful. With one glance at the face and no analysis, you might well already have a sense of this is someone you want to take to bed, or introduce to your mother or simply to get to know.

Going back to photographing and simply seeing a composition that "looks right", the analogies are pretty close. Not only do you see something appealing, you may well infer some feelings about it in the same way you inferred the personality of the face you saw across the room. That feeling may be of fragility, delicacy, endurance, strength, magnificence, reverence, or any number of inferences. All of this is entirely personal and that is what you bring to the image, even though you are photographing the creation of someone else. When others look at your images, they see your viewpoint. Either they are going to find it interesting or not - you can't control that and to some degree it doesn't really matter if you enjoy the images. Odds are though, that if you get the technical issues behind you and if you learn to effectively present your viewpoint, some others will appreciate it and you will acquire an audience. Whether they throw money at your feet or just kiss them is a whole other matter.

In the end, it's still just a picture of a building but I do think it goes beyond the ordinary postcard.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Bow River and Rockies Edited

Do remember to click on the image to see it at a half decent size.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Editing Images 1

In the sequence above you first see the unedited colour image straight from stitching. Next is the result of a black and white conversion with the default settings in the Photoshop BW conversion adjustment layer.

Next is the result of a major lightening of the yellow at the same time as doing a significant darkening of the blue. While this is somewhat akin to shooting the original with an orange filter, it's not quite the same, and of course is infinitely adjustable via the sliders - who'd go back to film?

The last image is the final edit of a few days ago that I previously showed you - in which the mountains have been brought out somewhat (though not enough according to Chuck and he might well be right), darkening of the lower right corner and of the left side, and not quite so much lightening of the yellow - I kinda like the even lighter yellow of the "filtered" adjustment shown above.

Note how wishy washy the bluffs on the right are after the filtered BW conversion. Much improved after a few extra masked curves darkened them more and more.

Just to see if Andy (note, I'd earlier mistakenly put Chuck down for the suggestion on the mountains) might be right, here's a crop of the mountain range before and after a quicky contrast adjustment via a masked curves layer.

Looks like Andy's right - significant improvement - I'd been afraid to push things this far but hey, I like it.

This brings up the point that images are always a work in progress - when requested to make a print after a few months, I often make further adjustments and sometimes go back to an earlier save so I can redo the further steps. I don't always prefer the new version, but sometimes I really do.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Rich Tones In Black And White

Quite often I'm asked how I manage to get the rich tonality in my black and white images and photographers indicate this is an area they struggle with. Without going into an entire workshop on black and white workflow which may not in fact answer the question, here are some points to consider if your images look either flat or in fact harsh.

1) choose your lighting carefully. While harsh lighting can be to some degree compensated for with HDR techniques, I still find it's a lot better to photograph just before sunrise or just after, or to catch the subject just before the sun pops out from behind a cloud.

2) It's hard to get lovely tones in an image if in fact it's full of small details which alternate dark to light - eg. branches against the sky. Other subjects that have fine patterns of dark and white are also difficult. Ideal are relatively smooth objects which have nice gradations from dark to light (or to which you can add the gradations in the editing). Bottom line, some things photograph better than others.

3) Even well known photographers continue to claim they can manage without doing a lot of editing in Photoshop. While Lightroom 2 does have some basic local editing tools, it's a bit like building an entire house with a single hammer and saw - it's possible, just not convenient, efficient, or most effective. I spend hours working on each image in Photoshop to balance the tonalities and to achieve those subtle highlights and shadows. Perhaps you are trying to do it the "easy" way and shortchanging your images.

4) I think a lot of people tend to think of image editing as a "correcting" process - ie. fixing the deficiencies in the image. That's good enough for novices but that's like telling a painter he can't use his imagination, no interpretation, brush strokes or choice of colours - painters won't accept that and I would suggest that if you are serious about the fine print, you shouldn't either. Perhaps the single most important reason that people comment on the tonality of my prints is how I go beyond accurate to creative in my print adjustments. This can start with my choice of colour settings in the black and white adjustment layer in Photoshop CS3 and extends to the creative use of the curves adjustment layers, used of course with masking to control both where the effects are applied and the degree to which they apply.

In the next week or so I will show you some examples of the straight recorded file as it comes out of Camera Raw and what the final image looks like so you can get a better idea of what I'm talking about.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Bow River And Rocky Mountains

We were on the way to Jura Canyon and my friend Lawrence wanted to show me an outlook on the Stoney reserve with public access. The view was wonderful, the light nice, if not perfect. In colour the image lacked power but in black and white and careful handling of contrast the result is pleasing. - 6 images stitched with the 1Ds2, 70 mm. with the 70-200 mm. lens, hand on camera even though using tripod because of a goodly breeze. I took the lens hood off since it increased vibrations as it caught the wind.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Jura Canyon Again

It can be challenging revisiting a site, especially a site which had some pretty obvious views such as this narrow twisted canyon.

I made an effort to look for alternative views. Previously I'd centred the canyon opening and decided this time to heavily bias the left hand side. I had doubts about adequate depth of field but as I was stitching, I didn't want to both stitch and blend for focus. In reality the depth proved ok at f16 and 17 mm., mind you I have noticed that this lens (17-40) tends to have a curved plane of focus, that is the edges focus nearer than the centre so it actually worked to my advantage.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Graymont Lime Plant

This plant crushes limestone then cooks out the CO2, leaving corrosive Calcium Oxide. It's then hydrated to reduce corrosiveness and then the final product used largely in mining (especially uranium) and in the oil industry. Lesser uses include whitening paper and making the Hydrocal that model railroaders use for tough as rock scenery.

Much of the plant is covered in white limestone powder and I wanted to emphasize the whiteness.

I hope to go back and spend more time photographing the plant. The staff were very supportive - in fact Michael Schultz had been there three weeks ago - odd really, I'd not heard of him but my friend Lawrence Christmas (known for his images of Alberta miners and the book made from same) had mentioned his name last weekend. I'll be interested to see how Michael interprets the plant.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Photographing The Photographers

here's an idea for a project, hardly original but I think with a lot of potential - especially if you are photographing the happy snapper as opposed to the posing artist.

This happens to be a sculpture just below Cologne Cathedral and right next to the railway station.


Sadly I don't have vast experience of the most beautiful cities in the world, but none the less Prague was absolutely wonderful - with literally miles of preserved buildings and narrow alleyways, attractive buildings, cobblestone streets, the river and the hills. We were only there for three days and have already promised ourselves to come back to Prague at the first opportunity.


Just back from our trip and thought I'd jot a few notes about experiencing Photokina. Much as it's a big circus - it's a well run one. 10 buildings, multiple connections, lots of walking, goodly sized isles, too bad about the smokers lined up along the sides and at the doors.

I enjoyed looking at hundreds of exhibit images from historical to student work, some of it excellent. There was a display of 1930's movie theatre photographs, made on 8X10 and printed digitally on Epson Traditional - they looked wonderful though I discussed the display with the owner of the studio which had the negatives and he still felt that an 8X10 contact print was dramatically better than een these lovely scanned and inkjet printed images. I must check into this paper now that I'm home.

Didn't bother getting near the Canon 5Dii display and what would have been the point in touching it - not exactly a religious experience. I did on the other hand have a look at the Panasonic G1 since I feel that electronic viewfinders are the future and mirrors bouncing is history. I was very impressed - nothing like your typical didicam EVF - it was bright (brighter than real life which didn't hurt shooting indoors, focused confidently and fairly fast, and panned beautifully (which previous EVF's never did). This is the future, people! As displayed the camera was still fairly bulky and I can't see anyone rushing off to replace their DSLR but see no reason why small lenses and a slim body can't be made.

Leica had a nice wooden S2 on display - wonder if it comes in light oak?