MY BLOG & SOAPBOX

To help order and sort some of the things in my mind, it often helps me to write them down. And this is the place I do just that. Not always related to photography. Not always in English. Manchmal auch auf Deutsch.
I have recently switched blogging platforms. Here is my new blog:
I have recently switched blogging platforms. Here is my old blog:

MEIN BLOG & SEIFENKISTE

Die Dinge niederschreiben hilft mir, sie zu ordnen und einzuordnen. Hier ist der richtige Platz dafür. Nicht immer geht es um die Fotografie und nicht immer schreibe ich auf Deutsch. Manchmal auf Englisch.
Ich habe kürzlich die Blog-Plattform gewechselt. Hier ist mein neues Blog:
Ich habe kürzlich die Blog-Plattform gewechselt. Hier ist mein altes Blog:

My Mac Essentials

I'm just in the process of installing a new Mac and while I add my pack of essential software one by one, I thought I would use this place to keep some record in case I will do it again in the near future (unlikely, but you never know). And of course in the process I will share my Mac essentials with you too.

These are the ones that I can't live without and that need to go on all my Macs.

(Sorry, I'm in a bit of a hurry, no time to include links, but the Google is your friend)

Dropbox. It's a big enabler, especially with tons of applications now integrating with it. Apple should buy them and replace the technology behind iDisk with this. As opposed to Apple's iDisk, Dropbox simply works. Free.

1Password. Holds all my passwords, software license keys, credit card information. Syncs between different installations using Dropbox.

Textexpander. Big typing time saver. I type siggg and it expands this to my German email signature. I type sigge and it expands it to my English signature. I have a lot of snippets in there and it has enabled me to answer emails much faster without making the recipient feel I was rude or short with them.

Lightroom. Are you kidding me? Chris without Lightroom? No way.

CrashPlan. I'm cheap. I use the free CrashPlan software to do backups over the net in the background. For free. Warning: the free version automatically only backs up once every 24 hours. If you want more frequent automatic backups (I think even close to continuous) or if you want cloud backup, you'll have to get the paid version.

Google Chrome. I like it better than Safari. Also comes with its own flash plugin, so I won't have to download flash for Safari. In addition installed Flashblock (by ruzanow) extension in Chrome, so I have a bit more control over the flash content I see. Bye bye ads! Free.

iStat Menus. Yes, I admit it. I'm a geek. A quick glance to the menu bar and I'll see how full the hard drive is, how much memory is being used. Also replaces the menubar time/date display.

Notational Velocity. Syncs with Simplenote, which I use on iPhone and iPad. Super easy no fuss note taking application. Small, fast, rock solid sync. Plain text only. Also lets you access the notes in a web browser at Simplenoteapp.com. Free.

Skype. No-brainer. Video call, chat, free.

Evernote. Another no-brainer. Keep important information and clippings in the cloud. Not as fast as Simplenote, but better organization features. I use it to prepare tfttf, and the A BUNCH OF LINKS newsletter. Free.

Scrivener. Writing program. I use it to write on various projects, including PocketChris. In the just released version 2 it can sync selected notes with Simplenote. Writing long texts with one finger wouldn't be my first choice, but if I wanted to, I could now even work on my wriring on the iPhone while on the bus. They are working on a Windows version too.

YoruFukurou. Japanese Twitter client. UI is in English. You'll either like it or hate it. I happen to love it. Free.

MarsEdit. Blogging client. It's good to have all your blog posts in one place. Great for offline blogging.

Skitch. Need to quickly show someone a screenshot? Snap one, add an annotation, click a button and it's hosted online at a place of your choice, giving you back the URL for the picture. Free.

WhatSize. Tells you where exactly you are wasting the most space on your hard drives. Very handy for systems with smallish disks.

Applejack. Little command line utility that lets you do a quick disk check and some other OS maintenance from a single user mode command line. Has already once come in handy to fix a disk that didn't want to be fixed from within a regularly booted OSX. Free.

AJA Data Rate Calculator. A bit esoteric, but comes in handy if you produce audio or video. Give it your video codec, the bit rate of the audio stream and how long the recording is and it'll spit out how many gigabytes you will need. Free.


What are your essentials, no matter if Mac or Windows?
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Undsoversity-Professor

English speakers: sorry, this one is for the German readers, but you might want to give Google Translate a try, sometimes it produces hilarious results..



Ich wollte nur eben kurz zu Protokoll geben, dass ich jetzt
ganz offiziell Undsoversity-Professor bin!

Das fing irgendwann letztes Jahr an, und brachte mich im Sommer 2010 nach München. Dort habe ich mit Timo Hetzel für die Undsoversity einen Lightroom-Workshop aufgezeichnet.

Und was dabei entstanden ist, finde ich sehr gelungen. Der Workshop behandelt alle wichtigen Facetten von Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, der meiner Meinung nach am besten gelungenen Software rund um die Verwaltung und Bearbeitung von Fotos.

Der zweistündige Workshop ist als HD Video und in einer iPhone/iPod-Version erhältlich und umfasst alles Wichtige zu den Themen Bildimport, Bildauswahl, Bearbeitung, Schwarzweiß-Umwandlung, Workflow und Export der Fotos.

Dazu gibt es (ab KW47) auch einen Lightroom-Beispielkatalog zum Download, mit dem man das im Video gelernte sofort selbst an den Beispielen ausprobieren kann.

Lightroom selbst kann als 30-Tage-Testversion hier kostenlos heruntergeladen werden.

» zur Undsoversity
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The Invisible Camera

Fluke

It doesn't really matter if with an iPhone, a full frame DSLR or a medium format analog camera, I simply love photography. Capturing that moment and telling that story is
what it's all about for me.

Whatever tool works best for the job is the right tool. But at the same time it's always the photographer who takes the picture, the equipment can merely help you with getting that one picture that tells the story and add its flavour, both during the taking of the picture and in its visual representation later on.

But it is clear that there are always two sides involved: you and the camera, the camera and you.

Years ago someone asked me "when are you a photographer?" and I didn't have a good answer back then. I think I have now found it while surfing the web.

User imaphotog posted this on reddit:

I've been taking pictures since I was a little kid. I've been working professionally for five years. And only now is my camera disappearing.

What I mean is that while working, I can see in my mind's eye quite accurately what frames are possible with the given conditions. I can envision composition, perspective, contrast, depth of field, and metering pretty well. I'm pretty sure it's by virtue of hours and hours and hours of practice with 35mm.

Now I don't think about the camera. I just dial in and shoot. Look at the scene, see the images in my head, and grab them. I might snag a glance at histogram every now and then to confirm myself, but no more of the LCD chimping that slowed me down for so long. (except when I shoot film)

Am I crazy?



This is what happens if you spend time doing something instead of just reading about it. Someone said it takes 10 years until you master something. That is 10 years of spending time, not 10 years of taking the camera out an hour on the weekend.

I don't think you're crazy imaphotog. I think you nailed it!

Now.. go out and shoot!

(source: reddit)
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Large Format: Anarchy And Restriction

Playing With Light - 1 Okay, seasoned pros will smile at me calling 4x5" large format, as it is just the baby of the larger formats in photography. But hey, I have become super excited about it!

As you know I am right in the middle of my journey rediscovering film photography in all its glory. I don't believe I am doing this because I'm a hopeless nostalgic, trying to desperately preserve some of the long gone good old times. Far from it! It is actually much more a combination of realizing that next to the obvious weaknesses, analog photography does
have a lot of strengths that go far beyond some of the aspects of what digital can do, and that there is something wonderfully refreshing in having to work within a restricted environment.

I grew up shooting 35mm film with a Minolta X700 SLR. The 35mm format (today also known as "full frame") is the format that defined me. The 35mm format speaks a visual language that I understand very well and that I know how to handle. It feels comfortable. Sometimes almost too comfortable.

Then came medium format. 6x4.5cm, 6x6cm, 6x9cm. Later even the in-between 4x3 and 4x4cm film size. Again, a different visual language, supported by having to use a different approach in composition, workflow and by having different depth of field to work with. Initially that felt strange, and it took some time to get used to the new language and find its strengths and weaknesses. And I actually can't claim that I am completely there yet. But I feel I'm getting pretty close, and a certain level of comfort has started to set in. Still far from the too comfortable level

Then two weeks ago I attended a large format photography workshop. Two days of venturing into alien territory. And boy have I seen the light.

If you take a look at your non large-format camera, no matter if digital or analog, if compact or full-frame SLR, even at most of the medium format cameras, you will realize that they all have a clearly defined reference framework. The film plane is parallel to the lens plane, they are both on the same visual axis and the distance between film and lens is usually fixed.

On the one hand those conditions help to get to a defined state, which inevitably makes photography easier accessible to more people, on the other hand photography didn't really start out this way.

There are ways to work around those: you can use a tilt lens to leave the parallel universe (sorry, couldn't resist), moving outside the optical axis can be achieved by a shift lens, and the distance between film and lens can be changed by adding bellows in between. Or macro rings.

Enter large format photography.

The lens and the film plane are situated on two independent boards that are connected by bellows. Tilting, shifting and changing the distance are second nature to a large format camera. Total freedom. And we are not just talking about tilting and shifting the lens, you can also tilt and shift the film. Or both.

To say it in the words of a large format photographer friend: PURE ANARCHY!

But wait. A large format camera is heavy. And the film isn't on a roll, it comes in sheets that individually go into film cassettes. If you use a double-sided cassette, you have two shots per film. But you will have to reverse the cassette to take the second shot.

So doing large format photography is not only anarchy, it also is a lot of restriction. If you want to shoot outside, you will have to carry a heavy beast and a heavy tripod, just to return home with a hand full of pictures.

Restriction combined with the ultimate level of freedom. What a crazy combination! And what a refreshing one at that.

I for my part have caught the virus big time. The Fotobörse Darmstadt, one of Germany's largest trade shows for used photography gear, is less than two weeks away, and at the top of my shopping list is a 4x5" large format camera. Maybe a Toyo, maybe a Cambo, or a Plaubel, a Sinar, or maybe even a Linhof, a Horseman or a Tachihara. Or a folding Graflex.

I have the feeling that this might not be the last time you see me writing about this...

Photo: mikefiction
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Youngster vs. Old Lady

As my analog journey continues, I get deeper into trying different film combinations and different developments with different cameras - I'm in fact almost turning into a camera and film collector, even though I am making a point to actually use the cameras and not just put them on display to let them collect dust.

Last weekend while on a large format workshop (I'll talk about this another time) I took pictures using my 35mm Minolta X700 with a 35/1.8 lens on it and a roll of Efke 100 film, which I later pushed to ISO 400 in Rodinal R09 one shot developer. I used this 1+50 recipe for development.
(click for bigger size and comments)
Hotel Room Sink
Night RainFlag

Then today I got the package with a Zeiss Ikon Ikonta B (this is what it looks like, here's a review) that I got from eBay. It's a 6x6 medium format camera with a folding front, has a 75mm lens and takes 120 roll film. It also has an uncoupled rangefinder built in, which means you'll focus with the range finder, then take that result and dial it in on the lens. A two step process for focussing with a nice built-in error margin. And it doesn't come with a light meter, so you're down to external metering. All this slows down the process quite a bit, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, just a different way of working.

Wrapped TreeParkRain Drain

To me there is quite a different feeling between the results that come out of those two cameras. The 35mm pictures from last weekend give me an upbeat feeling. Even though they are on the darkish side, they feel very open and inviting to me.

In contrast the pictures I took today almost freak me out. In a good way. Almost a depressive vibe, which is what I was going for when I took them. That and a bit of luck, as it was the first time I used this camera and the first time I developed this specific film in this specific way.

The pictures from both these sessions touch me in different ways, and evoking emotion is one of my main reasons for doing photography. For me a good picture is the one that touches me.

So what makes those two photo sessions have such different results?

Let me try to analyze:

Weather
The weather was almost the same, both times the sky was overcast, but the 35mm pics were all either taken at night, or indoors, so there was definitely a different quality of light by default. Hard to compare from that perspective.

Film
The 35mm pictures were shot on Efke 100 film at ISO 400, then pushed during development. The Ikonta pictures were shot using Rollei Tonal 100 (an orthopanchromatic film) which is also an ISO 100 film, also pushed to 400 during development. Both films are different animals, and I intentionally did not scan both of them to grayscale, but left the color information intact. You can see the Tonal 100 having a slightly warmish tone which I think helps the vintage nature of the camera I used.

Both films also get a bit more grainy due to the push development, but it doesn't show as much in the medium format film due to its much bigger size compared to the 35mm negative.

Format & Lens
6x6 medium format, that's 60x60mm. Compare that to the 24x36mm that a 35mm camera does. 3600 vs. 864 square millimeters.

Let's try to compare: the 35mm camera's normal focal length would be 43mm, the diagonal of the film. The 35mm lens is therefore slightly wide angle. The normal focal length for a 6x6 camera is about 85mm, so the 75mm are also slightly wide, so in that respect they sort of compare.

There is one big difference though: The size of the film has a big influence on depth of field. At the same aperture and distance and comparable focal length, the medium format camera will give you less depth of field, which you can see in the pictures. In order to get the same shallow depth of field with the 35mm camera, you will either have to get closer to the subject, or you have to use a wider open aperture.

Crop
The 35mm format has an aspect ratio of 3:2, the medium format of the Ikonta B is 1:1 - square. The pictures I tend to get out of a square format are often much more closed and less dynamic compared to the more open 3:2 crop. In one of the 35mm images I even used an almost 3:1 ratio.

Composition
The two series are fundamentally different in composition. With the 35mm I used much more close-up action, and the compositions are overall more dynamic. The faucet is dynamic in it's assymetrical nature, the rainy window balances out the light sources, one behind a rainy window and many other blurry ones in the far distance. And the Canadian flag is a very dynamic experiment where I moved the camera while exposing for a second. There is also not much that connects the pictures. (Maybe water could be the connecting element, but then you'd have to soak the Canadian flag, and I like Canada way too much to do that)

In contrast the 6x6 pictures from today are all very static. They all share strong verticals and those verticals are dead center. This is something the 6x6 format makes me do. I can't help it. I didn't notice until I returned home and scanned the pictures. Looking at each individually, I think those three pictures are okay. I believe putting them together in a triptych creates something bigger than the sum of the individual pictures.

Vignetting
All vignetting that you see is a product of the lenses used. The 35mm lens has some vignetting when shot wide open - and all the shots you see are shot wide open. The Ikonta also does vignetting, even stopped down one or two f-stops. In fact, while the 35mm pictures were shot at f1.8, the Ikonta pictures were all shot at f5.6 - that's a difference of over three stops. And the vignette the Ikonta's lens produces at this aperture is just very silky and smooth and vintage feeling.

Conclusion
I'm not sure what to draw from this comparison, but I will take a few personal observations away from it:
  • The 35mm format tends to produce more dynamic results, the 6x6 Ikonta ends up with more static pictures
  • The vignette produced by the Ikonta looks great. Must. Use. Ikonta. For. Portrait. Session.
  • Due to its warm tone, the Tonal 100 film is a good choice for vintage type results. Its orthochromatic nature helps this feeling too
  • Both the Efke 100 and the Tonal 100 can easily handle push development to ISO 400. The Efke 100 reacts with a bigger contrast boost than the Tonal 100, which is more soft in that respect
  • Working with the 6x6 is much slower (no built-in light meter, two step focusing), and as a result I tend to end up being a bit less experimental than I am with the 35mm
  • This is also helped by the fact that a roll of 120 film on a 6x6 camera yields only 12 pictures, the 35mm film allows for 3 times the exposures
  • Grey November weather is great for shooting with the Ikonta, it allows me to be lazy with the light metering, because nothing changes much. The 35mm with its built-in meter is more agile in quickly changing conditions
  • The depth of field on the 6x6 is much more shallow than on the 35mm, which will help isolate subjects even if they are not very close
  • The Zeiss Ikon Ikonta B is a vintage camera with bellows, which makes it much more interesting for passers-by than the much more modern and regular looking Minolta. This can be a great conversation starter, but it can be in your way if you want to inconspicuously take pictures. Street photography with the Ikonta? Probably not.


Do you have any specific camera/film combinations that help you take pictures of certain moods and with certain characteristics?
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3D Image Through One Lens

Whenever I look through the waist-level viewfinder on my Mamiya 645 medium format SLR, I have this immense feeling of depth. Almost as if the image was 3D.

Then one day I started squinting my eyes. Left, right, left, right, .. and I noticed that in fact each eye sees a slightly different picture.

TWO DIFFERENT IMAGES.

THROUGH ONE LENS.

ON A SCREEN.

That's kind of the definition of 3D vision right there. Implemented in a 30 year old camera.

My best guess for an explanation is that instead of being a point, the lens is a surface, and thus light can travel through it in different paths. How the different paths reach the different eyes is a different question.

I see you shake your head in disbelief... let me convince you with this video I just made


Can you explain what's going on here?
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There Will Be Fire - 2011 Workshops Taking Shape

2011planning.jpgIt's still a bit longer until the 2011 workshops will be ready for you to register - I'm shooting for late November - but it turns out juggling over 16 dates, with some of them lying a year in the future, is almost as hard as lugging around a Cambo 4x5 view camera all day.

I believe I finally got the list of workshops down. For you English spekaers there will be
one in Berlin, Germany, one in San Francisco and the Brooklyn Cookin' workshop. And potentially a workshop in Washington D.C. but I still need to confirm some of the dates before I can be more specific. And of course there's this year's workshops to the Himalayas!

The Himalayan Workshop & Trek will be shorter than last year. The duration was one of the biggest factors that kept people from signing up and this is why we changed it this year. Including getting to Kathmandu and back home, you can expect the entire trip to take about three weeks. We are in for a great mixture of sightseeing while crossing parts of Tibet in Jeeps, and a trek around Mount Kailash, the holiest mountain for the Hindus and the Buddhists. Of course complete with some of the greatest Sherpas from Nepal and yaks to help us carry the really heavy stuff.

The workshop in Brooklyn is the one about food photography and cooking, perfect for couples, unless they are both photographers. Or chefs. Chef Mark and I have teamed up again to offer a workshop with strictly limited attendance (five couples max) and double the fun! If your significant other loves to cook, this is your chance to spend a fun workshop weekend together!

The San Francisco workshop used to be all about street photography. This year it will sport a few completely new angles, one of them having to do with fire. I can't say much more at this point, but I suggest you begin dusting off your tripods and get that remote shutter release squeaky clean.

The Washington D.C. workshop is still in the making and I really hope it will happen. It has been requested over and over, so we are looking at a 50/50 split between learning to take great pictures, and post processing the images using Lightroom. This is the workshop where you will learn to squeeze the most out of RAW using state-of-the-art processing and some serious digital magic. If you want to take your digital photography to the next level, this is the workshop!

The Berlin workshop is going to be special in several ways. First our workshop location will be in the heart of Berlin, right at the Friedrichstraße, just a few minutes walking distance from a lot of the historic landmarks, including the Brandenburg Gate. We will have a guide for a custom half-day photography tour, that will be tailor-made to the group's needs and wishes. And last but not least, even though this is one of the most requested workshops, the attendance will be strictly limited to a maximum of seven participants. This will ensure everyone in the group will get the maximum personal attendance and time by yours truly. We are of course also planning for a traditional German meal and some great beer in the evenings!

And last but not least, after having had such a wonderful time in Toronto, it is back on the list for next year! It's still not clear what the workshop will be about, but as I will hold it at photographer Sean Galbraith's place again, and as he is an avid analog photographer, I'm seriously thinking about working a strong analog component into that workshop. It is still far enough out to make those final decisions later. It's all a matter of what makes sense to pack into a three-day workshop. Let me know what you think.

The workshop page is still spotty to say the least, but have a look yourself!
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The Post Digital Photography Era




Because I do two shows on photography, and because I'm a very curious person, I keep close tabs on a lot of the things that go on in photography. Every day something new happens, something gets invented, something becomes popular or disappears back into obscurity. Remember the disposable flash bulb? Remember the Kodak Disc? Photography is very much alive. It has always been. Some trends will only be of interest to a select few, some will gain wider interest and some even become so well known, that you see them being used over and over.

An example? HDR became pretty hip pretty fast back when HDR processing software Photomatix was released, especially when used in the form of a way-over-the-top effect. Now, several years later, I see more and more people using it the way it was originally meant to be used: to subtly increase the dynamic range of an image. Another example? The tilt effect (also often mistakenly referred to as the tilt/shift effect) that allows you to make regular scenes look like miniatures is one of those trending examples. It has been around forever, but it only became popular a few years ago. And it already is beginning to look somewhat old and dated.

It's easy to look at these trends as unrelated events, but the sheer amount of interesting things that have popped up over the last few years makes me believe that we are actually at the beginning of a fundamental shift in how the medium of photography is perceived and how it's being used in more creative ways than ever.

The Analog Clean Room

Some of us, myself included, come from a film SLR background where it was crucial to get the best, the slickest and most reproducible results. Good glass and technique helped to make sure you didn't end up with any unwanted vignetting, and it was a sign of quality of your equipment and work if you pictures had the desired level of sharpness and contrast next to a good composition. Cropping was done when enlarging photos, but it was less practical when shooting slide film, unless you used my method of cropping the slides by sticking black electrical tape on them.

The Digital Clean Room

Then all of a sudden digital was there, and even though I gave up a lot of control, my first two mega pixel camera with its tiny sensor, its from today's perspective horrible dynamic range, and the overprocessed JPG images that it produced - JPG was the only choice - even with all that, there was something magical about the instant feedback and the possibility to try as often as I liked to get the desired result. The first DSLR followed a while later and it gave me back control. And perfection. Overexposed? Correct and shoot again. Got the framing wrong? Move the camera, shoot again. White balance off? Fix in post. Almost like a computer game where you have an infinite amount of lives. Died during the boss fight? Try again. And again.

Spray and Pray

There are a lot of situations where the spray and pray approach is the only one that will allow you to get the exact result you want. There are a lot of jobs and situations where digital is the only way to go, and I love to be able to quickly grab the camera, take a 21 mega pixel picture and post it online before an analog photographer can even get the film to the lab.

But if you take a look beyond that, you are bound to realize that for more and more photographers the digital way is becoming less and less satisfying. And I'm not even speaking of the massive backlog of pictures un-dealt with that more and more photographers fight.

Imperfections

Thanks to the fact that Lightroom, Aperture and other photography software allowed us to move the vignetting slider in both directions, a lot of photographers started to add vignettes to their pictures as opposed to removing them. Artificial grain was added to make digital black and white images more moody, more analog looking, and to bring back some of the overall grittiness that the analog world used to have. In fact my hard drive still hosts a high-res scan of a gray medium format slide, that I used to overlay on some of my pictures in Photoshop.

Lenses With Flavor

Now we have Hipstamatic, Camera Bag, The Best Camera, Lo-Mob and more. These are iPhone apps that simulate an analog look, and you find a lot of them on other platforms too.

When it comes to your DSLR, you can buy creative lenses like the Lensbaby, the Subjektiv, the Dreamagon, adapters to use a Holga plastic lens on your Nikon D700, or even stereo lenses, all optical ways to turn your camera into something entirely different. Ever shot with a zone plate instead of a regular lens? How about a pinhole? The sometimes not very predictable results that those lenses give you, make it really exciting to finally look at the pictures on your computer and be delighted with the imperfections that they add to your photography. Without using a single digital filter.

The Music World

In my other life I produce audio, and I can't help noticing big analogies between photography and the field of sound. Audio went digital quite a bit earlier than photography did, and I suspect a bit of a parallel development (pun not intended). Back in the 1980s, when the CD came out and everything in the production world all of a sudden turned digital, a lot of productions started to sport a very clean and almost analytical sound. Drum tracks turned very sterile thanks to clean quantization, removing the flawed human element. And the loss of that often went hand in hand with the loss of emotion. Consequently it didn't take the drum machine manufacturers long to introduce humanizer circuits into their boxes to get some of the feeling back. And the clean and digitally recorded sound ended up being fed through digital algorithms that simulated the warm sounding distortions of analog tubes and tape machines.

Hipstamatic anyone? I'm actually surprised neither Canon nor Nikon have introduced any effective "make it dirty" sliders in their DSLRs yet.

Today with audio,I do the same many other producers do: I add dirt by running my microphone through an amplifier that uses an actual analog tube. I do that because neither have I found an equally good sounding digital version of analog tube distortion, nor am I patient enough to spend the time it takes my computer to make all the intricate calculations to add those fake distortions. This is simply more authentic and faster. Many music producers still (or again) record certain things on actual tape machines, because the punch their productions get through the tape saturation is unparalleled in the digital world. Analog is alive and kicking in the music business.

The Right Tool For The Job

There's a really interesting shift happening in photography too, and I believe it goes beyond being a fad, beyond being a trend that will have disappeared again a year from now. At least for their creative expression, a growing amount of digital photographers is moving (back) into analog photography, and away from the clinically perfect digital world. Why? Maybe because digital photography makes you unhappy? Maybe because it is missing some of the human element? Maybe because it allows you to re-introduce a certain amount of randomness back into your art? Maybe even because photographers are too impatient to spend all the time and effort (and in case of expensive digital filters the money) to re-create a digital version of their beloved Ilford HP5+ pushed to ISO1600. Actual Ilford HP5+ pushed to ISO1600 simply does a better job. And a more authentic one at that. And if you still feel like playing, there's always the hybrid approach where you scan your negatives and continue working on them in the digital realm.

We Want Our Flaws Back It Seems

We have all seen a lot of perfect, we have been marinated left and right in crisp, noise-free and predictable digital photography. It almost seems, people want the flaws back. And that clearly shows in a lot of developments (sorry, douldn't resist). Look at all the creative films that you can get today. Some of my favorites are the Rollei Crossbird (a slide film that has been made to work really well in cross processing), the Redbird (a red-scale film that has the color emulsion reversed, resulting in some intense red color cast), and even the Fuji Astia 100F 100F slide film, which produces some pretty intense results when processed in negative film chemistry instead of its intended slide film soup. Cross processing gives you results that are somewhat unexpected, results that you probably wouldn't have achieved (or even tried) in digital, that's how different they can look. But nevertheless results that are much more likely to make you come back and look at these pictures for a second time.

The Trust in Chance

Instead of fully controlling every aspect of their work, more and more photographers deliberately introduce elements into their workflow that are hard to reproduce exactly the same way. Look for instance at some of the instant film materials you can get through the Impossible Project at the moment. Predictable results? Hardly. Or look at double exposures. Taken by different photographers. Did you know you can buy exposed film on eBay to add your own second layer of exposures, then develop it to find out what you've got? What an element of surprise! Some deliberately shoot film that is far beyond its best-before date and take advantage of the interesting characteristics some aging film materials get. Some expose the whole 35mm film, including the sprocket holes, and some even partially remove the lenses from their cameras and tilt them to achieve effects similar to lensbabies and tilt lenses - that's called "freelensing". Or the deliberate manipulation of the medium, as seen in the emulsion lift, where integral instant film is taken apart and the photo emulsion gets transferred onto a different material.

Innumerable interesting and important developments that define a new style and even more important, a new approach to photography that is much more playful and unpredictable than anything else in photography has been for many decades.

Photography goes far beyond the clean and perfect results that our 24 megapixel DSLRs and our impressive L-class lenses will give us. And even if you don't want to take a step into the analog world and instead opt to use Hipstamatic or Camera Bag on your iPhone's digital camera, at least you give the random element some level of chance.

And maybe, after a while, you're ready to spend twenty bucks on eBay for a used old brownie, you load it with a roll of 120 slide film, you shoot some fun pictures, then you drop the film off at the next drug store with the note "please develop this slide film using the C41 negative process" - and after a few days, you'll get to enjoy the prints of your first batch of cross-processed pictures ever.
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Why Digital Photography Makes You Unhappy

flower.jpgYesterday, while waiting for Monika outside a store, I had an epiphany.

Rewind. About a week earlier, we had spent three days holding an analog photography workshop and, still being in the spirit of this old and slow medium, just minutes earlier we had talked about the analog photography time we had planned for this weekend.

And then while I was waiting for her outside the store, it hit me right in the face. All the talk about reducing and simplifying, all the thought about limitation and constraint, all the ideas of slowing down and removing choice from the equation, it all of a sudden clicked into place with a massive *THUMP*.

At this point I'll have to rewind even more. It all started with Harvard professor of psychology Dan Gilbert, the author of Stumbling on Happiness. About a year ago I watched his TED talk about how external influences don't determine your happiness and how making a choice and sticking to it will make you more happy than having too many choices all the time. And about how we human beings so easily fall into the trap of making the wrong choice to set ourselves up for misery.

Here is the link to the video, if you haven't seen it, I highly (!) recommend you watch it and think about the implications of what Gilbert talks about. In the long run those might as well be the best spent twenty minutes of your life.

» Video: Dan Gilbert, Why Are We Happy?

Finished? What I write in this article will make a lot more sense after watching it. While writing this article, I have watched it again, probably my seventh time, and every time the implications of his research become more clear to me. And I can't help thinking "...now *that* explains..." over and over.

The essence of his talk is very simple, but the implications are huge: up to a certain point choice is good and desirable. But having too much choice makes us unhappy. Yes, this is pretty much at odds with the freedom that we all hold up so high. Which is why if you haven't by now, you need to watch the video. Really really.

An example: if you take into account all the different types of coffee, milk, flavorings and ways to combine them, you could come up with over 16,000 different drinks at Starbucks. And when asked "which would you prefer, sixteen thousand choices or ten?", it's almost a no-brainer to go for the larger number. More is better, right? But if you watch what Gilbert has to say, you will end up at a very different conclusion.

I'm no psychologist, but it seems our level of happiness is inversely related to the amount of choice we have. The more choice, the less happy. Yes, this sounds wrong to our western minds, after all our entire life is all about choice. A gazillion different cereals, toothpastes, detergents, cough medicines, .. something in it for everyone. We are taught all our lives that more is better. But to me, somewhere in a deeply buried part of my mind, all that choice has always felt a bit wrong.

But what does all that have to do with photography?

Whenever I talk about photography and how to get to the next level, sooner or later you will hear me bring up how limitation and constraint can help you discover new creative ways to approach photography and give your creative process a frame. I find myself more and more shooting with one single prime lens. No zoom. Or I restrict myself in some other way, working along an assignment, collecting things, trying to squeeze out the last bit of composition that a single location has to offer before I move on. And whenever I do this, I return home with a deep feeling of satisfaction. A lot more satisfaction than when I haul around seven lenses, a reflector, three filters, two strobes and two camera bodies.

Restriction leads to different results than no restriction. Some might argue that the more possibilities you have in approaching the shot, the better you will be able to capture it. In turn I argue that through limitation you will have to force yourself to approach the shot in different ways, often in ways that you would have never done any other way. Instead of doing things the way you always do, here all of a sudden you can watch creativity in the making.

But it gets better! Adding Gilbert's talk into the mix, it turns out that not only is limitation good to help you focus on the task at hand and find new approaches to old challenges, restricting your choices will also leave you more happy in general. Hey! You've just found happiness!

Digital photography is about choice. Sheer endless choice. When I'm in the mind-set of digital photography, many of my decisions come down to choice. I try to avoid strong contrast to allow for more choice in post processing. I sometimes frame a bit wider, just to be able to make the choice about the final crop later. I shoot black-and-white pictures in color, which gives me the maximum choice in how the individual color channels factor into the final result. I sometimes even shoot several different exposures of the same scene, just to bake them into an HDR and decide on the proper exposure later. When I finally sit in front of my computer and work on the pictures, I'm presented with more choices: contrast, white balance, crop, rotation, filters, black-and-white conversion .. it doesn't stop.

"But wait" I hear you say, "isn't choice what makes digital photography so wonderful?"

Sure. On the one hand you can quickly try out many different things, do several "developments" of the same picture and compare the different versions, maybe one to print, one to put online and two different black-and-white versions, one with higher contrast and one with a slight sepia tone. And then there's Dan Gilbert. Still haven't watched his talk? Here is the link again: link. It hits right where it hurts, and it'll leave you with a ton of food for thought.

I love digital photography for its speed, its surgical precision, its endless ways to get to a specific result, its low-light magic, its super cleanliness and its way of being a wonderful learning tool. I owe a lot to the advent of digital SLRs. But incorporating film photography back into my work, I more and more realize that there was this huge gaping hole that is now slowly being filled.

In the past I have talked about the different motivations that make people shoot analog. I have just added another one and I think it's the biggest one so far.

Whenever I spend time in the analog realm of photography, be it at a workshop or spending a weekend with just one camera and two rolls of film, I am making a choice. A choice for a more conscious approach, a choice to be less casual about what I shoot and how I shoot it, a choice for a type of development as the film has its very own characteristics built-in, a choice that just by the givens of the medium I will have to stick to. Analog photography won't give me as much wiggle room as its binary cousin will.

There is now a new generation of photographers who have never shot a single roll of analog film. I might sound like an old fart, but I think they could massively benefit from spending an entire weekend with one single camera, one fixed focal length and two rolls of film in their pocket.


Got something to say about what I wrote? I'd love to hear your thoughts!


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My Beef With CFLs

Heya and welcome, it's geeky soapbox time again and I'll talk about one of my latest pet peeves: CFLs and photography. Sit back, relax, break out the popcorn and let's start ... NOW.

This one's about compact fluorescents (CFLs) and the completeness and smoothness of their spectrum. Or rather the lack thereof. If you want the short version: CFLs pretty much suck for photographers and videographers. If you want to find out why, read on.

Have a look at this picture:

Spectrum CFL daylight fluorescent incandescent

Illustration: Chris Marquardt (License)

I'm not a color scientist (but I play one on a podcast) - and as a photographer I'm dealing with color reproduction a lot. I love good skin tones in portraits and in general when I'm in photo geek mode (and when I'm not having an artsy phase), I kinda sorta like the colors of things to be faithfully reproduced in my photographs.

Tech information: The spectra in the above picture have been taken with a small hand-held spectroscope that is using a diffraction grating (1000 lines per millimeter) to make the light spectrum visible to the human eye. It's not a precise scientific instrument, but it certainly is good enough to show a qualitative picture of a light spectrum.

It's Not Easy Being Green

Okay, so what are we looking at in the above picture? It is the spectrum of different light sources. Different parts of the spectrum correspond to different wavelengths, and the spectrum of visible light lies in the range of about 400nm (nanometers) to 700nm. White light is a mixture of all sorts of different wavelengths.

If you shine that light source onto Kermit the frog, Kermit will reflect mainly the green parts of the light source's spectrum. That reflection then hits your eye and you see Kermit being green.

If the spectrum of your light source contains a lot of different wavelengths (a complete spectrum), chances are there will also be light in the wavelength of the color of the object you illuminate, which in turn results in the color reproduction being rather accurate.

Are you still with me?

If the spectrum of that light source contains holes (e.g. parts of the spectrum are just not there), and if those holes coincide with the color of the object I'm shining that light at, the object doesn't get a chance to reflect its color.

In terms of Kermit, this means: his shade of green will look different, and the color reproduction is out the window.

Metamerism

The effect of an object changing its color appearance under different light sources is called illuminant metameric failure. Yep, that's a mouth full. You can read more about it on Wikipedia.

My super simplified and entirely non-scientific version of it is that especially under fluorescent light with it's typically very incomplete spectrum, you can almost be sure that the color you see is not the actual color. Let that sink in for a minute.

Enter Photography

Scroll back up and look at the spectra again. Notice how smooth daylight and incandescent light are, and notice the gaping holes and sharp lines in the other light sources? The picture doesn't give you any quantitative information, but it says a lot about the quality of light. The peaky-ness of some of the light sources has to do with what gasses they are filled with, or what other medium they use to produce light.

Yellow Vapors

One of the more extreme cases (and one that's not on the above chart) is the very yellow sodium vapor light. Here in Germany we often see these light sources used at zebra crossings. About 90 (!!) percent of the spectrum of those lamps lies at a thin peak around 600nm, which we see as yellow.

File:SOX.png
(image source)

Next time you're at a zebra crossing, have a look at your blue jeans... good luck trying to see the blue in them.

White Balance

How does your camera handle different color temperature light sources? The mechanism is called white balance and it is mainly the camera's way to shift the spectrum up or down. But guess what happens if the spectrum only has one sharp peak as is the case for sodium pressure lamps?

Errrrrrr rrrrrrright.. you can move that up or down the spectrum as much as you like, you'll NEVER EVER get a good skin tone out of it.

Now back to the fluorescent lights - and the CFLs, aka Compact Fluorescent Lights. They are little fluorescent tubes, made to fit in light bulb sockets. Nothing more and nothing less.

No matter how warm the manufacturers make those CFLs to resemble the color temperature of our good old light bulbs, the spectrum will still be comparatively incomplete. And no matter how hard your camera's white balance tries to shift that perforated spectrum around, it will not change the fact that parts of the spectrum are missing and some colors will just not be rendered as they should.

Back To Daylight

It's actually really really simple: If you want the best color reproduction, your best friend will always be daylight. Although rather warm, incandescent light bulbs are actually a pretty good choice too. Their spectrum might be leaning a lot more towards the red than afternoon daylight, but at least it is pretty complete and can usually be made into something very neutral with either good white balance, or with some of the profiling solutions out there.

As long as the industry doesn't come up with fluorescent light that has a more complete spectrum, you should never expect good color rendition from them.

I'm all for saving energy and being green, but from a photographer's perspective I am really sad that CFLs will sooner or later be everywhere.

And I haven't even started talking about their flicker and what that means for very short shutter speeds and for videographers...

Do you have any fluorescent light photography stories? Tell them in the comments!

Update: I have not covered LEDs yet, simply because I don't have any white LED light sources here, but their mechanism to produce light is similar to fluorescent lights and therefore peaks and holes should be expected.

Update 2: I also didn't cover flash yet, it is difficult enough for me to photograph the spectra of continuous light sources with my little handheld spectroscope at the moment. I'll try soon though.

Update 3: For many more spectra and a much more scientifical discussion about them, please see this excellent resource.
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