Monday, April 29, 2013

Question - When does social media photo sharing become good photography?

Good Monday from Prospect.
Winter here in Prospect. Glad that's over for another year.
iphone and best camera app

So here's the deal. I hinted at my desire to rant as of late, which has been holding me back from updating this blog.

I like to add positive content not negative, but this has been bugging me for a while. 

Before I start I want to be clear, to each his own and far be it for me to lay the map of whats right and wrong. Creativity is subjective in it's nature, but bad is still bad. This is simply my personal opinion and nothing more. Take it or leave it.

Waiting in the airport before, Christmas,
for the plane to arrive.
iphone with best camera app
Seems to me these days that anyone with a phone can be an artistic photographer. Really? Personally, I dig the use of mobile devices to share, visually, the events that shape our lives and this planet as a whole. Personally I thoroughly enjoy the freedom of using my iphone to explore new ideas and document locations (GPS built in). I also understand, generally, the concept of Lomography as an art form.

Social Media allows us to tell our stories, to share our experiences, with anyone who'll listen, Instantly. I mean the simple name Instagram explains it all, no lag in sharing an event as it happens.

This recent past Superbowl, as a great example, was shared by thousands in the stands to millions that couldn't be there. It allowed us to see what went on outside of the networks choices in broadcasting the event ( mind you they spread their story to millions of sports fans). By Instagrams' accounts, over 3 million photos at approx. 450 per second were taken and shared. It's that "being there" experience that happens.

Wow, what an amazing event share. Now that's the power of social media! Hmm, one picture worth a thousand words times 3 million? Now there was a story, albeit there was lots of duplication that would need to be edited, but you get the picture. As well, I suppose, that adds endorsement and credence to the event share (another story for another time).

Story Link here from intragram (

But I have an issue with individuals, especially self proclaimed professional photographers,  randomly taking pictures with their phones, dragging it through some obscure, god awful preset developed for their phone and claiming it the most wonderful artistic photograph of all time that they simply must share.

I have even heard some claim that they use their good gear to make these low end, noisy, pieces of trite and say it's okay because they used expensive gear. Once again I say, Really? (A snow covered bush with trite preset post processing, with a funky ragged frame, does not a good photo make.) "Substance over style. Content over Technique!"

I have never been a fan of presets of the extreme. Yes I have been as guilty as the next guy for experimenting with the weird and unusual technique to explore another avenue of image processing ( I do have one image on my photo site with over the top HDR to accentuate the high contrast and crisp reflections of the car in the photo and the texture of the surroundings. It was an experimental personal project). But fortunately for everyone concerned I dropped the continuous use of presets art conversions back in the 90's where it belonged. I still experiment with a multiple array of post processing techniques to enrich the image, I see within my own vision, to come up with that final minds image. I'm even not beyond shooting film and cross processing to experiment. Creativity reigns.

I will pay tribute to Chase Jarvis's concept of the idea that the best camera is the one you have with you when it comes to sharing an event or exploring an idea to come back to. But,  Great images take time, planning and thought. They are not random in nature but are deliberate. The democratization of photography is just that, sharing real ideas free of limits. With that said, in a random moment, and using Murphy's law, the best camera is the one you left at home (unless you are truly prepared and committed to photography).

A good friend of mine and landscape photographer, never just grabs his phone, or a cheap lomographic piece of junk for that matter, and shoots a "pretty" sunset. He invests his time and energy searching for just the right light and frame to capture the most elegant and enriching moment in time as our planet expresses itself to us it's guests. Ooo, that gave me the chills. But it's true. His work is deliberate and thought out. He views the subject in his mind and arranges what he wants through his lens to share that scene and moment with us.

Waiting yet once again for my daughter and wife. See a trend.
Maybe this will be my next personal project.
Waiting, waiting and waiting again. Where is everybody?
iphone with best camera app.
Maybe this all stems from being a designer. I look at every project from a logical perspective. I analyze my client and their needs and try to express those outcomes visually to help them with messaging that expresses what they want to say with a solid graphic voice. I never simply drop a random image on a client, that has no bearing with their message, because it looks nice. The brands I develop are planned and deliberate.  Expressions of a message from the client to their audience, nothing less. So why should photography be anything less.

For that matter why should graphic design or fine art be any different. Once again another story for another time.

So as not to point at anyone in particular, although I think you know who you are, I've simply posted a couple of images I have taken with the camera at hand to express my feeling at that moment in a place and time that needed to be shared. May turn into a personal project, who knows. I did use the software I installed on my iphone to clean up an image or two, and photoshop some others, to express how I felt (simple b&w conversions are usually the best way to fix lousy quality, phone images, IMHO).

BTW, if you want to look extra dorky here's a skin for your phone, at least you'll look like you have a Leica in your hands (personally I have a skin of a cassette tape, since I have music on my iphone, Ha ha).

Remember, art is deliberate and not trite. Randomness is how you explore an idea, not what you use as the final presentation.
Photography is as much an art form as any when it's treated as such and carries a deliberate message.

On a lighter note the cover came off the boat this past weekend. That should get me out of my winter funk.

Okay, I'm done and it's off my chest, Thanks and Enjoy, IMHO, Derek

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Shoot, shoot, no wait, well sort of…no stop, no, shoot again

Good Wednesday from Prospect.

Canon EOS 5D, ISO 100, f/1.4, 1/500th with Sigma 50mm f1.4
Nice shallow DOF straight from the camera

This may sound a little repetitive to some but I'd like to talk about shooting non stop. You know what I'm referring to. Everyone and his dog on the net that even opens his or her mouth about photography says just shoot, don't stop. Hit that shutter as often as you can. They all say that's what makes a great photographer. But the one thing they don't explain is what the hell you should be shooting.

I do agree that the more you click that shutter the better you will get. About 70 percent of that statement is true. With time, if you experiment, you gain invaluable knowledge about your gear and your surroundings. With practice, accurate exposure and the use of DOF will become second nature.

But without purpose shooting is meaningless. Useless images with no thought are also just that, useless.

It is important to slow down and think before you press that shutter.

Sometimes going backwards sends us forwards, Shooting film is one way that gives us the thought process we are looking for. Using up a frame that we can't chimp right away makes us think about what's in front of us. Film, whether you scan on not is final. It's permanently fused for the future to see. No excuses and no photoshop will change that.

Now there is the argument that the ability to instantly see your mistakes allows you to learn and grow much quicker. except without direction we simply repeat past errors. I'm not referring to the beginner that is just learning what a camera is, beyond an automated point and shoot, but the photographer that's looking to grow. 

I mean do you really need to shoot your reflection in a mirrored elevator? Well it's not like it's been done before has it. And you wonder why you aren't progressing?

So called good photographers that don't have a clue about their gear are not good photographers, just lucky. You can't rely on them to deliver consistently. And what do they usually say about their technique? Ahh I'll fix that in photoshop, no one will know the difference. Or, hey it's art.
Yeah they will, shit in is shit out, period.

Take the time to think about what you're shooting, slow down and compose, following the rules you know will make a better image and you a better photographer. Start with a conceptual process of what you want to achieve. Goal making works in photography and real life, no really it does. Just in life it can be life altering. With a camera, not so much, but treat it as something important. You're not curing cancer with a camera but you may alter another individuals ideas about life in general. Photos can tell great stories.

I read today that the world is over flowing with more photographers than ever before with the accessibility to digital cameras. Everyone's a photographer. Well sorry to say only a few are ones that we want to see what they've shot.

Think about the value of what you're capturing and think about what you may learn from it. That will make you a better photographer than just snapping away. Spraying and preying gets you nothing but wasted time.

My first photography instructor in 1978 told me " Don't be afraid to press the shutter, it's only film" I add, "Just be afraid of what you might bring back". 

If great photographers are great problem solvers then find problems to solve and make your image. You'll chase your tail if you can't see the path to follow.

If I don't see it I don't shoot it. I mean here I sit writing this post and I have 2 frames of Provia in one film back and 4 frames of Ilford in another with shitty weather outside and no thought on what to shoot. Ahhhhh! If I just shoot them they'll just suck. Need to think.

Until next time, Enjoy, Derek

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Accurate Metering for the right exposure.

Good Thursday from Prospect.

Today I want to extend a bit I touched on two posts ago. I'm referring to using an exterior meter to gain correct exposure.

You can see here what the correct exposure should be here.
All shots, except this one were shot with Canon EOS 5D mk1
with a Sigma 50mm f1.4 (best 50mm ever)
As I hinted, rather openly, incident light meters are the only way to accurately measure the light hitting your subject. Reflective meters, which reside inside todays cameras,  measure the light that has bounced back from your subject and assumes the brightest area is 18% grey. This is just the way these meters are engineered. Don't ask me why.

What then happens it compensates for that and setting that to white and usually over exposes the shot making it look like midday bright. When in fact the shot was taken late afternoon and overcast. The result may look pleasing but it's wrong.

So let me show you the difference between reflective meter readings and incident readings and their results. I have included a shot of my Sekonic L-398 studio meter with the resulting reading.
The camera gave me a reading of 2 stops brighter. I set the aperture and ISO in cement so the only change would be shutter speed. Film rules here.

Now my habit has always been to over expose by 1/2 to 1 stop for reversal film (I said usually, it goes back to film days when you couldn't chimp the shot and had to rely on your experience to get it right).

The shot of the meter shows my reading 20 feet away from the scene but is reading the available light reaching the subject.

Accurately exposed based on the environment
and time of day
You'll notice at ISO 50 we should be set at 1/3 stop open from 5.6 and 1/500th. The reflective meter gave me a setting of 1/125th for shutter.

Quick note here I've deliberately cemented the ISO at 50 to demonstrate the changes on a level playing field. ISO 50 is the slowest sensitivity I have ever shot film. As well my Hasselblad only has a max shutter speed of 1/500th which dictates I use slow film to stay inside the limitations of that shutter for outdoors. (It's great in the studio since, being a leaf shutter it syncs at all speeds).

The point here is, you may think the reflective meter shot seems okay but it's over exposed in relation to the true lighting of the scene. That shot left our grey in the foreground completely blown while the sekonic gave us a better balanced exposure we can use.

If you think this just isn't so then here's a challenge for you. Turn off your preview, stop chimpping, and just set your exposures manually by the built in meter in your camera and check them after you have shot all day. If you aren't upset with the results then let me know. Heck, even if you're unhappy with the days results let me know that too.

May look right but way too bright
for the time of day and lighting conditions.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Note: all the shots are as shot in camera as RAW, opened in photoshop camera raw, tags added and saved for web at 1920 px, long edge.

I hope this helps you make better shots. Enjoy, Derek

Aperture at f5.6,
underexposed but still usable.
It's easier to lighten the shadows then
recover blown high lights.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Letting Your Work Breath

Good Monday from Prospect.

My favourite of the set. Processed through Nik Silver Efex.

This one comes out of a long and frustrating winter for me. I'm not a fan of winter shooting so I tend to shoot indoors and spend time going back over the years work.

I also take the time to update myself on new gear and software. Honing the skill set is always a good thing.

What I want to address is all those images we keep that don't make our first cuts. 

As all photographers know we hold onto, no, protect, every image we ever shoot, unless of course they are pure black or white.

It's not that they totally suck but are rather just over looked in comparison to what we had in mind when shooting. Sometimes we just over look a few gems.

There is a value in allowing your work breath. Taking a moment to go back and search for those images you may have passed over.

For instance here's one that, although I thought was okay but not great, turned out to be a wonderful image. When I went back to the RAW files, yup the Raw ones, I realized how good and interesting it is.

If this had been just a jpeg and fully processed I never would have had the opportunity to reprocess and bring out what truly makes it good.

This is the original (as shot). (ISO 100, f6.7, 1/180sec at 35mm)
I thought it was okay but I was more interested in everything else
I shot that day to put it up front
I regularly shoot RAW + JPEG. The Jpeg allows me to quickly and effectively meet short deliveries (especially when I need an image for social sharing) or to discuss the final goal with my client. I can even set my jpeg small enough to email, right out of the box, then go to the RAW and process for high res delivery. Yes this may take a bit more space but compared to duplicating files for back-up it's minimal.

Learned my lesson in 2010 following the New7Wonders of Nature campaign, for the Bay of Fundy Tourism Partnership, advisory week events. Fortunately we made wifi stops on the road so I could process in the car until we arrived at an access point. But now I can shoot the jpeg, upload it to my ipad, attach a description and email from anywhere I have 3G. 

Slight HDR processing makes this a great colour shot,
but I think the B&W is best. Comment and tell me your choice.
Wish I had that when we were covering the event. To meet the on road demand I had to quickly update my laptop so I had enough power to process on the road and connect to the hotspots. I had a G4 Powerbook that just wasn't up to the task and ended up buying the last MacBook Pro available in Halifax and prep it over night to hit the road the next day (one of those last minute things).

I know it seems a bit much but you have to be prepared to meet the clients requests. Fortunately I was prepared for an upgrade, just not that one. I had just added an iMac (planned to process the images when I got back not on the road) and wanted to hold off on the laptop upgrade until I figured out what would fit best. Don't get me wrong, this macbook is great, just a little over kill. A mac air would have done as great a job beefed up to my needs and smaller to carry. Oh well, next one.

Any way, to get back on topic, here's what the original looked like. Not a wonder but has potential. I recently opened this up in Nik Silver Efex Pro and did a BW conversion. I don't know if you agree with me but what a difference. Diamond in the rough for sure.

So let your work breath. Go back over them during times of the year you're not shooting, like the dead of winter, and don't be afraid to experiment. Above all shhot those in RAW and you'll find you have a lot more to work with than you thought you did.

Enjoy, Derek

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Calibrate Your Gear

Good Saturday from Prospect.

Today I'm going a little geeky. I'd like to share a little calibration exercise every photographer should do wether you are shooting film or digital. It's about knowing your gear.

A fitting layout for these guys. Remember them?
Recently I decided to put film back into my work flow, if for no other reason than self gratification.

Film has and always will have it's place. I'm not getting into all the reasons here in this post. It's been argued to death and this is purely a personal decision on my part to increase the quality of my work and make me a better photographer and designer.

To quote Zack Arias, I just want to suck-less every day.

Shooting film is about taking your time not shooting away and hoping you get a good shot. I will be the first to admit I fell into that digital trap early on and learned my lesson quickly. The trick to getting your work right starts with knowing your gear and planning your out comes.

The exercise before you is about aperture, shutter speed and multiple lenses in your kit, no matter what you shoot with.

Fortunately I have some great glass but every piece can have it's own little nuances that change the resulting final image. It's important to know what that is.

Here I'm setting up some interesting subjects in studio (a controlled environment) to judge those variances.
By taking the time to set-up (including using a proper light meter) a test environment like this we can judge on a common ground (good basis so to speak). 

I use Sekonic 398 and 358s depending if I'm inside or out. Although we have built in meters I have never truly trusted reflective variation in camera. I don't care what light is bouncing off a subject, I want to know what is lighting my subject. Incident meters do that. In camera meters don't, never have and never will.

Shot of my set-up
Anyway, as I said, I need to know what my gear does so I simply set-up and shoot adjusting aperture and shutter to simply see what the camera does compared to what my meters say. Then process the film and compare with the results I have for my digital gear. I've done this before with my digital gear but it was time to do it again, with everything.

My basic set-up was with two strobes. Main at 1/4 power (what you set your camera to) and the second at 1/8 power for fill (one stop difference f8 for main and f5.6 for fill). I usually shoot this way in studio or on location depending on the goal. Sometimes two umbrellas, sometimes, as you can see here, a softbox and an umbrella. Sometimes I go just for the one light (undetermined modifier) with an open strobe on the seamless to blow it out (one stop brighter).

The set-up is something that always changes and grows depending on the desired result. This one is my basic 45s so I know what it does.

This set-up let me start at my ISO, which is 100 (using Provia F100 in the Hassy and Velvia in the EOS 1V 35mm), sync at 1/200th and fstop at 8.0 shooting 1/3 increments to determine which suits my taste and accuracy on exposure. I chose 1/200 to kill the ambient and it's the fastest my Canon will sync, the Hassy goes to 1/500th but I want them as close as possible.

I've posted the digital resulting image, tweaked , to show what I've used to set the calibration, and a shot of my set-up in this post. I slowed my sync/shutter speed down to show you the overall set-up. 

Note: the test image contains all of what I want to test. Bright whites, deep blacks, shin tone, wood tone with grain, my calibration fan and background texture with primaries. I'll get everything from exposure, depth of field to detail and colour accuracy from this set-up. I don't need to pixel peep this to death, just understand the basic differences between my gear so I can compensate for it on set.

Another view with the shutter speed slowed down to let the ambient light in to show the set-up a bit better

You can make up what ever interests you just include the basics of what you shoot day to day.

Once I get the processed film back and can scan them I'll share those results.

Next post is about Letting your work breath (on Tuesday).

Enjoy. Derek

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Halifax Public Gardens visit

Good Wednesday from Prospect.
At the front gates. Corner Spring Garden and South Park

This is the live band Gazebo in the centre of the park.
Live music is usually held on the weekends.
Last year you may recall, if you've been keeping up with this blog, I posted a piece on the Rock Camp here in Halifax
One of the many statues and floral arrangements you'll find in the Park

Well what I didn't mention is that we arrived a little early and went for a stroll through the Halifax Public Gardens. This is a space dedicated by the city as a Victorian era garden green space in the heart of the Halifax peninsula. It was founded in 1867 the year of Canadian Confederation and has been designated a National Historic site.

With the onslaught of Hurricane Juan in September 2003 it was all but completely decimated. But with the strength and determination, that the people of Halifax are known for, the Gardens once again blossom in the heart of this fair city.

Unfortunately the day was a wet one and just finished up a July shower when we arrived so the grounds were wet and still over cast. Colours were muted and a bit dark, not the best lighting for a garden shoot, hence the black & whites. 

Note: my favourite medium has always been b&w. 

As a favourite of tourists and newly wed couples on their wedding day, I can just imagine how many photos have been shot in this park over the last 146 years.

If you ever stop by Halifax take the time to stroll through these beautiful gardens. Here's hoping for good weather when you visit.

Enjoy, Derek