Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Great news! Lenswork Magazine just picked up some of my work!!

Ce matin, après nous nous sommes levés, après le petit déjeuner, et après j'ai pris une douche, I opened my morning email to find the following.

Congratulations! We've reviewed your PDF submission to LensWork titled Hauntings of Gothic Ghosts and have selected it for publication in issue #111 (Mar-Apr 2014) of LensWork Extended. We are very excited to include your work and know that our readers around the world will find your photographs of interest an inspiration.

This is great news!

It will be the second time Lenswork Magazine has picked up my work to share it with their readers.  The first time I got to share some of my steamlocomotive images.  That was in Lenswork Extended #78.  During the interview I was very nervous and the room I recorded my answers in sounded like a barn.  It was the restart of a growing list of published works.

When I was much younger, my images were published from time to time in motorcycle and automobile magazines.  Southern California was the place to be for photographers and motorsports writers at that time.  While I never participated in that culture to the degree successful artists did, it is fun to look back and consider those early days.  I still have some of the magazines in storage back in the States and may have to dig them out and bring them back to France with me.

Over the past ten years as I have engaged digital photography, my image output has increased dramatically.  I always shot a lot of film, but the new technologies allow me to simultaneously explore numerous veins of creative expression.  Wherever my mind's eye looks, it seems, I'm off and running to see what can be created.

Two years ago my wife and I moved from America to Paris, France.  When we made the move, I knew I would have the chance to spend time in places that tourists usually only get a few moments in.  The great monuments, the wonderful parks, and the lesser known places are all within 20 minutes of our apartment.  It would be a shame to squander such a fabulous opportunity.

When I shot the Hauntings of Gothic Ghosts, I wanted to express how I feel whenever I visit one of Paris' great 1800's cemeteries.  The history, funerary art, and roll-call of who is buried in these sites is to me continually impressive.

Looking at some of the themes I tend to shoot in (heavy textures, modified color spaces, subjects who dress at the edges of culture) I am smiling to think the Hauntings of Gothic Ghosts series is nearly "straight" photography.  "Straight" in the sense of fewer rather than more image manipulations.

Those who know me are probably laughing, shaking their heads, and wondering what I'll be up to next.  "Stay tuned", as we used to say.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Photography around Paris ~ Palais Garnier

I've been cranky lately.

My prior two posts have been rants and challenges about camera equipment, how we think about it, and what we really know about what's important in images.  You see, I made a mistake of looking at an on-line forum and saw that questions regarding what is "best" or what is the "sharpest" lens remain evergreen topics.  I shouldn't have looked.  Really.  I don't like being that worked up for other people's problems of reality.  I need to simply stay away so I can concentrate my energies on image making and the exploration of image art.

Yesterday, Jude suggested we visit the Palais Garnier Opera House.

We'd never been before.  Sure, we'd been to Paris as tourists many times and we moved here two years ago.  Somehow, the Palais Garnier never rose to the top of our list of things to do.  After discussing the possibility of visiting the Little Corporal at Invalids, the opera house won out.  There's always time for death and destruction and so little time for beauty.

Into a driving rain we dove and up to the metro we went.  It was nice and warm in the metro and we knew that would change at metro stop Opera when we re-emerged at ground level.

The good thing about rain, and cold and winter too for that matter, is that it tends to keep the Pesky Tourists to a minimum.  Sure, the Chinese Hoards still show up, but nearly everyone else stays away.  The ticket line was non-existent and we were "in like a cheap suit."

As we approached the staircase I knew I'd chosen the right way to photograph the adventure.  Floating ISO (200 to 1600 on this particular device), set to Program mode, with the image style set to B&W.  Saving files in both RAW and jpg is a great trick when using in-camera "filters", or whatever the marketing guys like to call such things.  If needed, I could always rework the RAW file as it retained all the original information of the scene in color.  Only the jpg was in this case saved in B&W.

I wasn't prepared for how incredible the Palais Garnier is.  I'd read about it, which didn't amount to much.  Reading and experiencing something can be two completely different things.  Such was this opera house.

The light in the Palais is beyond description.  The marble carved balustrades and stairs are lush and rich.  The bronze castings are voluptuous.  Incredible opulence, all of it.  I could see why the Rich and Famous love this place.

As I wandered from space to space, from room to room, I let each scene unfold before me.  When I saw something that I liked, I tried hard not to over-think the composition or the subject.  I simply raised the camera and hit the button.  I let all that modern technology that comes in current digital cameras do what it was meant to do, while freeing my mind and vision to respond on an emotional level.

The curator of the Portland, Oregon gallery that was started by students of Minor White has been following something called "miksang".  Doctor Scott Jones explained it to me as a way of photographing something without engaging it in what has become the traditional photographers way of making images.  Look at his site and perhaps you'll see what I mean.

I can't say I was able to enter the Open Mind state as I photographed the Palais Garnier.  What I can say is that I very much enjoy the fact that I now have over forty images that please me in ways I was unprepared to experience.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Contest Time!... um... let's take a closer look at this...

Yesterday I posted a contest to win a free beer.

As you think about the two lenses whose images I posted there, I thought I'd throw four more lenses at you.  This time to illustrate several ideas which we will get to in a moment.

As background, I chose similar effective focal lengths so as to retain a common perspective to the scene.  For the first run I shot the lenses all at the same aperture.  For the second run, I let just one of the lenses shoot wide open where it was stopped down during the first run.  Three lenses were shot wide open for both runs.

To start, here was the "test" setup -
  • Canon 5D MkII or Canon 7D
  • ISO50 (5D MkII) and ISO100 (7D)
  • 2 second shutter release delay
  • With manual lenses I Live View focused, otherwise AF was used
  • Stout tripod
  • In-camera sharpness set to 3 in both cases
  • CR2 output converted straight into jpg without any processing
  • Light "curves" adjustments applied to help match the subtle difference between the images after conversion
To start, here was the overall scene shot with four lenses.  As in yesterday's contest, enlarge these images to 100 percent to observe any subtle, or not so subtle differences.

Here is the first run.  These are 100 percent crops of the sharpest area in the scene.  There is one image where I sharpened the output.  It should be fairly obvious.  And if it's obvious to you, think about what kind of lens might make the original image.  Then think about which lenses made the other three selections.

Here are 100 percent crops of an out of focus region.  One of the lenses was stopped down to match the aperture of the other three lenses.  Knowing what you do about lens design, consider what kind of lenses might be used to render the various out of focus areas.  Then consider which you find most pleasing.

Here are 100 percent crops of the same out of focus region as the images we just considered.  This time only three lenses are used.  One lens was shot wide open (instead of stopped down to match the aperture of the other three lenses).  Consider which it is and take another close look at the comparative images.

Can you answer the following questions?
  • What focal lengths do you think these are, remembering that I shot two in APS-C and two in Full-Frame
  • What lens would have made the sharpest images?
  • Can you tell if zoom lenses were used?
  • Conversely, can you tell if fixed focal length lenses were used?
  • If you can tell any of these things, can you tell the apertures these were shot at?
  • If you can tell any of these things, can you name the lenses?
I am being deliberately provocative in presenting these "tests" in this way and asking the previous questions.

Here is a processed image.  While I will give the full set of answers to all the questions asked in this post later in the comments section in a week or two (so as to give people time to consider their answers carefully), I will say that the lens used in the making of the following image is ancient.  It's purpose is more in line with late 1800's Pictorialism than modern ultra-sharp, ultra contrasty image making.  With all this in mind, I like the style and the way the lens behaves.

Think about it.  Ponder it.  Then answer the next set of questions.
  • What are the important factors in making a fine image?  
  • Do you rely on people to inform you what is the "best"?  
  • Do you rely on the latest "advancements" in imaging technologies to give you a "edge" in image creation?
  • Are you handing your creative process and artistic output over to the control of others (private or corporate) who might not have the same goals as you?

For myself I've found that answering all of these questions openly and honestly can provide real insight into what I do, what I have control over, what I expect others to do for me, and what is very much my responsibility to understand and manage.

Which leads me to asking this very provocative question:
  • If you can't tell which lens made which image, what other ways might you have in deciding what makes a fine image?

Artistic liberation is just around the corner.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Contest time! WIN a free beer!!

Here's another in my long running, never yet won, series of "Guess the Lens!" photography contests.

The game is this: Correctly guess one of the two lenses and I'll give you one of the bottles of beer I photographed.  To collect your prize, I will be happy to meet you at the Rugby Bar of my choice in Paris, France.

For this contest I will increase your chances of winning by 100 percent by giving different two lenses, with side by side photos to study.  Make sure you look at the images at 100 percent.  No sense in throwing away resolution by looking at just the small images posted here.  Enlarge them.

To make things even easier, I will eliminate some of the extraneous guesswork by providing a few details.
  • Canon 7D
  • In-camera image sharpening set to 3 (considered by some to be too low for the 7D, but I like it)
  • Tripod mounted
  • ISO set to 100
  • Exposure set to AV
  • Careful manual focusing in Live View
  • Shutter release by 2 second delay
  • CR2 images converted to jpg in DPP
  • Tasty subject worth buying cases of (IMNSHO)
Here is the overall scene.

Looks tasty, just as advertised, right?  :-)

Here are 100 percent crops of the off-lens-center label area.  There might be a clue or two in this by considering how fast each lens drops resolution as you head to the edges of the frame.  Or not.

Here are 100 percent crops of the center of each frame.  This should be where both lenses are at their sharpest.  Right?

Finally, here are 100 percent crops of the top of the liquid in the foremost bottle.  Take particular care in observing the window highlight area found on the right of each image.  The lenses treat this area differently.  There could be a clue in this.  Or perhaps not.  You get to decide.

For extra points and a second bottle of beer, tell me what aperture each lens was set at.  Half marks (as in half a bottle) if you correctly indicate the lens makers.  Are they some combination of Zeiss, Leica, Canon, Pentax, Jupiter (Russian), Sigma, Schneider, or something not yet mentioned?

Good luck.

On your marks.  Get set.  Go!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Photography Around Paris ~ Steamlocomotives!

I recently posted a (growing) list of fun photography things to do in and around Paris and started this series of blog entries by talking about how I like to photograph la traversee de Paris (involving 600+ voitures anciennes).  This entry is dedicated to my French Photography Adventure in Steam.

8x10inch Palladium contact print from original film negative

Years ago I worked for a software start-up.  The offices were in an old building that backed up to Union Pacific's freight tracks.

One day an engineer came running into my office and said "Come with me.  You NEED to see this."  Out the back door we dove as he gestured to the railway an said "There!"

Sure enough, "there" it was.  SP4449 was running hard up the tracks.  It was just the steam locomotive and it's tender.  That was it.  But that was enough to get me interested.

SP4449 steamed up and ready for the first run of the day

It took me a year or two to figure out where the locomotive lived.  Once it found her, I spent the following decade making images in and around the roundhouse, getting to know two other engines that lived in the same shed, and enjoying old railroads around the western US.  That is when my adventures in rail photography led to my work being published in Lenswork Magazine Extended #78, and the Center for Fine Art Photography's volume #4.

Moving to France, I was eager to find European steam to continue my love affair with light chasing as it bounced and wriggled it's way off old iron and early steel.

I started my rail photography by working in 8x10, 7x17, and 4x5inch large format film.  I still have several 8x10 Palladium prints that I made.  To me they are still some of the most beautiful images I ever made.

Running gear details differ from their Anglo/American counterparts

The challenge always was how best to control the extreme contrast ranges typically found when trying to photograph black iron against a brightly light background.  The advent of digital photography helped me solve that problem.

I've written a little about high dynamic range (HDR) photography and it's a technique that has it's good uses, particularly when dealing with trains.

Finding steam in France required a rather diligent search.  A little creative googling revealed a privately held rotonde located somewhere east in the vasty fields of Paris.  It's called AJECTA.  Taking the metro to Gare l'Est and jumping a Translien to Longueville is an easy hour and a quarter spent riding modern rail.  A ten minute walk from the modern station led to the early 1900's roundhouse and it's 14 steamlocomotives.

On the day I visited they were firing up one of the three working steam engines to ready it for un tournage that was to take place the next day.  I was thrilled as it had been a very long two years since I witnessed working steam like this.

In the cabin and ready to stoke the fire

For this photo-adventure, I shot my Canon DSLRs at their lowest ISO settings.  This ensured that I captured the maximum dynamic range in each shot as well as making sure the slightest details were revealed.  Keep in mind that the higher the ISO setting, the lower the dynamic range.  This meant that I needed to use a tripod.  Roundhouses tend to be dark, dank places to visit and it's no use trying to handhold a camera when the shutter speed extends beyond 1/60th of a second.

On one of the last shots of the day my tripod broke one of it's cheesy plastic locks.  I didn't feel too bad as it was the very same tripod that'd seen heavy use in India years ago when I took an ultra light weight Anba 4x5inch film camera and Docter Optics Germinar Zeiss lenses, along with several stacks of Kodak TMax100 readyloads.

 Extreme dynamic ranges can be modulated thru the use of HDR techniques

Those days are long gone.  I no longer shoot film.  But, a sturdy tripod is still a requirement, particularly when working at the edges of extreme detail.

When photographing trains in a museum, here is my preferred approach.
To leave no artistic stone unturned, a quick study of O. Winston Link can be helpful too.

Happy French Steam Rail Fanning!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Photography Around Paris ~ la traversee hivernale 2014

I recently posted a list of events that might be of interest to photographers living or visiting Paris, France.  This is the first installment of a series of blog posts devoted to checking off items on that list.

My sister blog, Retiring Out of America, will cover each event or location from the perspective of "alternative" things to do and see.  This photography blog will cover these things from the perspective of cameras, lenses, and image making technologies.

I begin with la traversee de Paris, hivernale, 2014.

Twice a year, once in January and again in July, l'Association Vincennes Anciennes hosts a great photo-op.  Over 600 old cars, motorcycles, and (in winter) bicycles work their way around the streets of Paris.

In winter, they leave the Chateau de Vincennes around 08h00 in the morning, go to Monmartre thru la place de Republique, come down the hill to spend time in conversation while eating a bit of cheese and baguette, and drink a draught or two of le vin.  They then continue on to la place de Concorde, up the Champs Elysees, around the Trocadero, across the river to le tour Eiffel, down the Blvd Saint Germain des Pres, across Pont Sully, and back to the Chateau.

The summer route is different.  It starts at the Chateau de Vincennes, it ends on the west side of the river Seine at the astronomic observatory at Mudon.

Early in the morning, French enthusiast photographers set up their tripods and get to work photographing the early arrivals.  Later, many tourists wielding low-end cameras can be seen wandering around the city snapping images as the cars blast by.

A good approach to photographing the event could be to spend a few hours in a location where everyone has parked their cars.  There are several such locations around town.   The following is what I've watched being put to good use in those situations.
  • Camera on tripod
  • Standard zoom or fixed focal length lens
  • Image stabilization turned OFF
  • Sensor sensitivity set to a very low ISO (ie: ISO50 to ISO200)
  • Lens aperture set to f/8 or f/11 for crisp detailed static display images.
  • Triggered using the two or three second delay

For wandering the crowds as they gather, here is what I've seen put to good use.
  • Camera hand-held
  • Standard zoom
  • Image stabilization turned ON
  • Sensor ISO set to float
  • Aperture set to wide open (to limit depth of field and separate the subject from the background)
  • Shutter speed set to at least 1/150th of a second (to kill blurry images) 
  • Triggered in Single Shot or Continuous mode

If you choose to photograph the cars as they move, you might keep the following in mind.
  • Camera hand-held panning _with_ the chosen vehicle
  • Longer than standard zoom (I like 70-200 on APS-C or 100-400 on Full Frame, but YMWV)
  • Image stabilization turned OFF
  • If you want sharp images of cars (that might not give a sense of speed) - Sensor ISO and lens aperture set to float, and shutter speed set to 1/500th of a second or higher
  • If you want to capture the sense of speed - Sensor ISO set low, lens aperture set to between f/8 and f/16, and shutter speed set to between 1 second and 1/15th of a second (depending on how much background blur you like)
  • Triggered in Single Shot or Continuous mode (depending on your shutter speed)

When you're done, you can post your images to Flickr for all the world to see and enjoy.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

One camera. One lens.

I know.  This has been plastered all over the 'net.  Still, it's great stuff!

It looks like the artist uses a Canon 5D MkII and a Canon 135mm f/2 L.  That's it.  Or at least that's it for the images shared in the link.

While we're wondering over the sparse equipment she used, consider instead her use of light and composition.  Outstanding, isn't it?  Classic.  Artistic.  Gorgeous.

Why don't we all make images this good?

Something to think about.  I know I am.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Canon shutter count and Linux...

Canon is well known for not allowing easy access to a camera's total shutter click count.  Apparently other manufacturers are not so guarded.  I use Canon cameras, so what to do?

A quick search using the Force (google) revealed several methods.
  • EOS Count is a for (small) pay website
  • EOSInfo is free, but can't report some DSLR shutter counts (including the 7D)
  • Linux + gPhoto2 is an Open Source Software solution that might drive some people nuts
You can probably guess which approach I took.  Yes, it was the Linux + gPhoto2 approach.

To be completely honest, I tried EOSInfo first.  It gave a correct count when I connected a 5D MkII, but it did nothing for a 7D.  This is why I turned to Linux and gPhoto2.

My recipe for getting at the 7D's shutter count and confirming the 5D MkII's shutter count is as follows -
  • MintOS Linux
  • Installed on a 4 gig USB stick using unetbootin
  • HP Pavilion dv7 booted to Linux
  • gPhoto2 installed from a terminal command line "sudo apt-get install gphoto2"
  • USB connect a camera to the computer
  • Turn on the camera
  • Open a terminal to access a command line interface
  • Type "gphoto2 --get-config /main/status/shuttercounter" to read the shutter count

I experienced two wrinkles, both having to do with being unable to lock the port or finding the port in use by another program.  The 7D required the following to work -
  • Terminal command line "ps aux | grep gphoto2"
  • Read the process(es) ID (PID(s)) of anything that says "gvfs gphoto"
  • "kill -9 " of all processes found in the prior command
  • In my case, the "gphoto2 --get-config /main/status/shuttercounter" command then worked
 In the case of the 5D MkII, I needed to do the following -
  • Connect a USB cable between the computer and camera
  • Turn on the 5D MkII
  • Terminal command line "gphoto2 --get-config /main/status/shuttercounter"
Attempting the 7D approach of finding and then killing PIDs related to gPhoto2 when connecting a 5D MkII did nothing but bump the PID by 2.  Go figure.  I'm sure there is plenty of detailed information in the various bug lists for Debian based Linux releases for what's happening or how to properly operate gPhoto2.  I didn't take the time to read any of it after finding my own work around. 

Brute Force and Ignorance (BF&I) rules!

In the end, the 5D MkII reports just a few ticks over 58,000 shutter actuations after five years of very hard use.  The 7D is much more lightly used, reporting just over 17,000 shutter clicks.  The 7D is still a youngster.  Though I heard from a friend yesterday that he knows of an original 12.8mpixel 5D that has over 800,000 shutter releases after having it's shutter mechanism attended to on a regular basis.  So with that in mind, the 5D mkII is also a youngster.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Photo-adventures in and around Paris ~ 2014

When we lived in the US, our city played host to all manner of wild and wonderful parades, festivals, and artistic adventures.  Moving to Paris I learned that I would have to dig a little deeper to find a similar level of creativity.

The laundry list of tourist photo-ops is well known.  I quickly am bored by such things.  While there is always a uniquely personal way of expressing and sharing a scene, Paris has got to be the most photographed city in the world.  People don't typically like to have a camera thrust into their face by strangers, which can make street photography challenging here.  So I tend to prefer the side-shows, the creepy or odd, and the less known events or places where seemingly every is carrying some kind of camera.

With this in mind, here is my short list of must do photography "friendly" things for 2014.  It's a list dedicated to serious photo-making opportunities.  Many of the events involve costumed people who are happy to pose for you.  So dust off your camera gear or cell-phone camera and meet me somewhere around l'isle de France.

Year round -
  • La Rotonde de Longueville ~ steam locomotives.  Lots of them.  Some working.  Some not.
  • Catacombs ~ the remains of millions of Parisians.  Take your own flashlight for the darker, creepier areas.
12 January -
5 to 9 February -
  • Retromobile ~ Old cars, motorcycles, and motor memorabilia at la porte de Versailles.
2 March -
30 March -
  • Carnival of Women ~ Men and women dressed up as royalty, queens, and other femininity.
14 to 15 June -
2 to 6 July -
  • Japan Expo 2014 ~ Anime, Manga, Cosplay, Lolita.  It's how France's youth "puts on the dog."
4 to 6 July -

I'll be attending as many of these as I can.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Now what...?

A recent Dear Susan blog entry sparked my following (edited) response to the questions raised concerning the present state of photography.

There are raised a series of questions that many of us have been struggling to answer.

For me, here is the nub of it: We _must_ decide what is important _to each of us as individuals_.

Why do we pursue photography with the level of passion that we do?

Is it the feeling of joy that a "superior" piece of photographic equipment can give?

Is it the prospect of making money from photography?

Is it the art of a final work-product?  That is, is it an image or project of images that fully expresses what you feel, or what you must say?

I dare say that we must be honest with ourselves.

I put it this way because I see many people tend to confuse these three elements into believing in there somewhere some kind of magic will mystically appear.  It won't.  Not even the world's greatest artist ever had a style or approach drop into their laps, unbidden, without fully engaging their art.  Tools, in those cases, become utterly secondary to what's going on in the artist's head and heart.

If you love camera equipment, then love camera equipment.  Realize that you might not make a pleasing image, but let's be honest about your motives, shall we?

If you want to make money from photography, then pursue it in full knowledge of the styles and practices that are currently selling.  This, so you can increase your chances of financial success.

If you want to make art, then it's possible that money and equipment will only be a means to an end.  Your results may successfully reflect what you feel you must say.

Answers to these questions will be vitally important.  Why?  Because what is happening right now is a redefinition of photography.

It's had a great run for the past nearly (but not quite) 200 years.  The technologies that enable image making have evolved to the place where the act of photography has been made commonplace and easy.  Practically no thought, planning, or practice is required.

Someone wrote an article that triggered a cascade of realizations in me about the present state of photography.  In short, there has been a mass movement from the potential for photographic art and reportage to an instantaneous sharing of experience.

Think about that a moment.  Experience.  Not art. Not informative reportage.  Experience.

When we think about what we want to say to each other (in our blogs and social media outlets) we come constantly straight against the question:  Who cares and why?  Why does what I say matter? 

The worst part if it is that even with all the effort it takes, you run the ego-deflating risk that no one will look.  That no one will care.  Then what?  Why are we doing what we do?

It takes a strong person to look boldly into the face of reality, doesn't it?

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Study image post-processing in Paris, France

Bonne Année!

I am leading a 4 day, once a week, photographic image post-processing class in Paris, France.  There are three slots left.  So if interested, sign up and take part in the fun!

Here is the announcement.

Here are the details (from the announcement) -

Thursdays Jan 9, 16, 23, 30 3pm - 5:30pm
The "taking" of a good photograph is quite often just the start to "making" a wonderful image.  The great photographic masters learned this by studying the great painting masters.  We, in turn, can learn from all of them.

After reviewing how we can organize our photographic workflow, students will learn how to apply film-era print techniques to digital images.  We will be learning from the Masters of the Chemical Darkroom Age.  Students will explore important details of what goes into making a good photograph great.

We will learn how to properly vignette a scene to direct a viewer's eye.  Next, classic techniques of dodging and burning will be studied.  We will then experience the importance of spotting and correcting image defects.  Using our new-found knowledge, we will review and comment on each other's work.

Course Requirements: Students need to bring their own laptop computer with image processing software, as well as their own images to work on during class.

Instructor: Christopher Mark Perez is an internationally published photographer (LensWork, PhotoLife, Gimp, and SilverShotz Magazines, as well as several books of Steampunk creations) and competition winner (including The Strobist, and The Center for Fine Art Photography). Christopher recently moved to Paris to connect with creative people in the pursuit of making fine photographic images.