Repost: Achieving visual consistency

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Cue one from the archives, with updated images: tomorrow’s post will make more sense when viewed in context after this…

One of the questions I’m asked also (unsurprisingly) happens to be one of the biggest challenges for a lot of people: how to achieve visual consistency across multiple systems/ cameras/ media, and across multiple subjects. Though the latter is really getting into the question of what constitutes style and how can one consistently apply it, there are still things you can do to ensure that you are in control of the final presentation: not your camera. I certainly cannot tell a client ‘sorry, it looks different because I used two different cameras.’

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The continued adventures of the traveling audiophile: going wireless

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As with everything, it’s very easy to go off the deep end with audio – even personal, in-ear audio – and land up in a position where you have an extremely expensive piece of hardware that has zero secondary value (anything custom, for instance) and feel compelled that you have to make that decision before trying all options. And even if you’re lucky enough to be able to try all feasible options, 10-15 minutes of listening and A-B comparisons in an often less that representative (let alone ideal) location simply aren’t enough to make an informed decision. It also doesn’t help that you (I, at least) hit fatigue after perhaps half a dozen samples and can’t really hear the difference anymore – even if I might have fairly acute hearing on a normal day. But, I digress before I’ve even started. Last year’s move to the iPhone 7 and its forced choices of a) no charging with music if you use the Lighting to 3.5 adaptor, b) charging if you use the bulky as hell USB multiport thing and a small amp such as an AudioQuest Dragonfly Red, or c) wireless – has left me with a messy solution when travelling, which with involvement in three businesses in four countries and international clients, I seem to be doing even more of these days.

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Crystal ball gazing – have we reached a plateau?

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The split, redux: all will be explained in the article…

In the late 90s/early 2000s, film photography arguably reached its zenith in many ways: you could get all sorts of hardware in all sorts of form factors; emulsion technology peaked in both proliferation and quality, and it was easy to get anything developed and printed, and developed well. There were high end pro compacts, super fast DSLRs, consumer megazooms, large format folders, sub-frame cameras…films varying in speed, look, positive/negative, and even crossover-types like C41 process black and white. I’d even argue that since then, film emulsions have not really improved (undoubtedly due to the vanishingly poor business proposition created by the emergence of digital) – and we’ve lost most of the major manufacturers and choices. (To say nothing of the labs.) The core technology reached a balanced plateau: lenses were matching emulsions in resolving power; AF systems were matching the rest of the system in precision required to consistently deliver the aforementioned resolution. On film, there’s not much difference between one of the better 50mms of the time (say a C/Y 1.7/50 MM, A Leica 50/2 Summicron, or a ZF.2 2/50 Makro-Planar) and arguably the best of today – the Zeiss 1.4/55 Otus APO-Distagon. I tried this experiment on an F6 some time back, with Fuji Acros: I couldn’t really see much of a difference in resolving power. Drawing style, yes, but not resolving power. Your ability to focus made far more of a difference. And running the same film through my 1979 F2 Titan or the 2005 F6 made no difference at all, of course. Ultimately, during the film era: image quality was proportional to format size. How is this relevant to now?

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Heresy and sacrilege: MT and SOOC experiments

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Due to an idle browser, more idle hands and pre-Raya* specials, the un-camera is no more. I traded in the GX85 for an Olympus PEN-F (previously reviewed here), available now at just half of its original launch price (at least in Malaysia) and with bonus goodies of grip with built in Arca rail and extra battery. For a modest supplement, it seemed like a good deal. I’m getting a bit ahead of myself: firstly, why? Well, a couple of things: if I’m going to shoot something serious, then I’ll break out one of the ‘Blads. If I’m not, then managing a three year old and the associated peripherals means that you don’t really have a lot of payload left over for hardware, let alone time to use it. But there are still opportunities to be had, and often single interesting grabs that require something quick**. On top of that, I admit the un-camera had a couple of serious deficiencies: firstly, the body was plastic and felt like it – grip it with moderate force and you’d be rewarded with a squeak or three. The back control dial was a bit recessed to access easily, and turned stiffly. Default color needed serious help (more on this later) – and lastly, I just didn’t like the fact that despite having a very comprehensive feature set (4K, dual IS etc) it felt like an appliance and had nigh on zero emotional value to shoot.

*end of Ramadan
**I’ll be the first to admit this does not describe the current generation of Hasselblads; but we
are working on it.

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Format equivalence, engineering and practical envelope

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So which one has the biggest practical shooting envelope? They’re all the same; read on to find out why***.

Much has been written about depth of field, angle of view etc. equivalency for the various common sizes – I won’t repeat that. What I’m more interested is what consequences it has in practical terms on shooting envelope limitations, and how the apparent multitude of choices aren’t really choices at all – with a very few exceptions. To complicate things further, just because something can be done from an engineering standpoint doesn’t mean that it’s desirable from a marketing standpoint, and that’s before we even attempt to factor in how other things like haptics, controls, build quality etc. affect the overall shooting experience. Two examples: a consumer APS-C-sized camera with weather sealing and no feature or control compromises (think D5600 or 200D size); or a 1″ camera with really top class interchangeable optics (well, Nikon tried, but the market didn’t accept it). Or a rugged ‘professional’ compact, sensor size irrelevant. See what I mean?

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Working with difficult subjects

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Negative space in pastel

…Or, “how to shoot without inspiration”.

Pessimistic? Depressing? I’d see it as the opposite: this line of thinking wouldn’t even exist if that was the case. We’d have packed up the camera and gone home otherwise. But sometimes: we’re either masochistic, or working pros*, and we want/need/must make an image. Example: you’ve finally manage to scrape together the leave and spousal permission for a photography trip…and it rains all week, or worse, it’s overcast and rain is threatened but not implicit. It’s Alanis Morissette’s updated Ironic. Or you sign up for a job that turns out to have quite different subjects in reality to what the client claims; or the model arrives and let’s say heavy photoshop is probably insufficient and one should consider illustration. Consider today’s post not quite a tale of woe, not quite an instruction manual, not quite a catalog of humour, but perhaps a little of all three. What all situations have in common though is that some (well, quite a lot) of creativity managed to squeeze out images the client and photographer were happy with, but at the time – all early in my career – they were the cause of a lot of stress…

*Arguably, the former group also includes the latter.

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The best value in photography today?

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Fighting words. When your three year old decides she wants to be like daddy and bugs you pretty much every day for a couple of months for a ‘real camera, not a toy one’ – what do you do? It seems a little painful to sacrifice a new camera to what will almost certainly be death by something that makes perfect sense only in the mind of a toddler, but at the same time I’d really rather she not start helping herself to the Hasselblads. Cue every photographer’s favourite activity: gear shopping*. Initially, I considered something shockproof, waterproof and submersible; but the good ones weren’t cheap, the cheap ones were really quite painful to use, and the controls were oddly not very small-finger friendly – requiring a lot of force to press and cryptic icons to decipher. She recognises ‘on’ and ‘play’ icons thanks to iPads and youtube, and that’s about it. Perhaps the big silver button too, since that makes a noise to take a picture. By now you’ve probably seen the header image and figured out my solution…

*To be read with extra sarcasm.

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Creativity by the yard

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The split

I’ve heard it said more than once that the world is divided into three kinds of people: those who create, those who support, and those who criticise. The former see the world differently and as a result land up being mostly societal misfits; at least until you become successful (which is nearly never, since the deck is stacked against you for reasons I will explain later). The corporate world wants to have the output and the commercial results, but is unprepared to support the infrastructure and requirements. The second group forms the majority of the population: ‘support’ can mean anything from consumption and patronage to supplier of key enablers such a services, environment or tools. And the latter – some serve as useful moderating reality checks and balances, but most just become bitter and jealous internet trolls. Today’s post is several things: an exploration of these roles, a series of suggestions from the point of view of a creative, and perhaps an apology (excuse?) for my wandering attention.

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Leica M mount lenses on the X1D

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f1.4, medium format, comparable size and weight to ‘pro’ M4/3. What’s not to like, other than the price?

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been shooting with the rather unorthodox combination seen above. I’ve found it answers two questions/ solves two problems for me: firstly, the desire for something that operates in the way you want (i.e. transparently) and that makes you want to shoot with it; and secondly, the small/light question. (There’s also a whole separate discussion on the concept of practical equivalence and envelope that I’ll discuss at some later point). But the journey getting here wasn’t quite so straightforward, unfortunately, and this combination is not a Swiss Army knife – it’s got some pretty big limitations. But when it delivers, I find that it delivers something quite special by the truckload.

Additional X1D coverage is here: long term review; assessment with Nikon F mount lenses; field use in Iceland.

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On emotion and images

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The previous image post with leftover single images from Iceland got me thinking: what exactly makes it so difficult to let go of them? The simple answer is one of emotion: they appeal to us at some level which is irrational and defies explanation. It is almost certainly experiential: the images trigger a memory of the surrounding events and conditions, or the making of the image is the memory – you’re far more likely to be attached to an image if you had to climb a mountain to get it, even if the image itself is nothing particularly special. The more effort and emotional investment in the subject and making of, the less objective we can be as curators. Notice I didn’t say photographers: I think there has to be emotional investment at some level as a photographer otherwise it’s too easy to treat the subject with cold dispassion and land up with the resulting image simply being purely an image of record and nothing more.

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