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:

Why I quit facebook

Fblike Yes, I deleted my facebook account. Or at least I'm on the way to. They don't let you delete it right away, they tell you they'll deactivate it for two weeks, just in case you change your mind, we don't want to rush things, do we? And then if within those two weeks you don't log back in, they delete your account. I'm not sure what exactly they delete, if they'll leave pictures up or some other things I wrote, but to be honest, I don't really care. I just want to send a message out that I'm not on facebook anymore.

Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of great people on facebook, a lot of my friends, a lot of my relatives, and so on. I didn't quit facebook because of them. The facebook platform has a lot of value for a lot of people, just not for me at this point. I quit facebook because I never actually used it. All I did was pipe my Twitter messages into facebook. And sometimes, maybe once or twice a month I actually logged in, just to find out that I had a ton of pokes, things on my wall that I didn't want, and a lot of friend requests from strangers.

The facebook concept of mutual friendship doesn't really work for me in the online world, facebook only lets me friend someone when they friend me back. It doesn't scale. Wait... "friend"?! Wrong on so many levels. Where I come from, a friend is someone I like to spend time with. A person that I'd be comfortable enough with to share personal things. I can't really deal with the concept of "friends" as a currency, and that's exactly what facebook does. He who has the most "friends" wins. I'm sorry, you could be the coolest person in the world, but if I don't really know you, why should I call you a friend?

My circle of real friends is small. Maybe a hand full of people who I would call actual real friends. I can ask them anything, I can tell them anything, I can share with them whatever I want. Friends. True friends.

The concept that other platforms use rings much more with me. On Twitter I follow someone because I'm interested in what that person has to say. They don't have to follow me back, they don't even have to know me. On Google+ the circles work in a similar way, with no real expectation of following someone back. If someone posts too much, I can remove them from my circles. If I post stuff that's too much or not relevant to other people, they are free to ignore what I do.

That just makes so much more sense to me.

And no, I haven't done this because Leo Laporte did it in the past. He deleted his account, but he's back on facebook now. I guess because with what he does, he just can't afford not to be there, but I don't have the feeling he particularly likes it. But I remember the feeling that I had when Leo pulled the plug a while ago. When he announced that he had deleted his account my first thought was "You @#$%!$%, doing what I wish I could do." I had wanted to do that for quite a while. And I didn't have the guts to do it back then. Lots of "friends" and connections, a network holding me back. But the simple fact is that I never really used that network. I had an account there because I had the feeling that I had to.

My life is a bit more clutter free now, I reduced my number of social networks to two: Twitter and Google+

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Video time II

You though one video was enough for me? Naaaah, here's another one - this one was taken at our last analog photography workshop which was about "photography at the end of the light" - extreme light situations, extreme pushes and pulls, very cool results!



More about the workshops at discoverthetopfloor.com
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Video time I

Last week we did one of the most fun workshops of the year, we dubbed it "Klostergeister 2011" and it took place in an old abbey all the way down in southern Germay, about an hour from the TFTTF studio. The workshop is in German, but I'm sure you'll still enjoy the video.



More about the workshops at discoverthetopfloor.com
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Pimp My Cam

Some photographers pimp their cameras by buying longer or bigger lenses or by attaching super sturdy tripod accessories or harnesses. I have decided to give a bit of attention to the Chamonix and invest in a better focusing screen.

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There's nothing wrong with the screen that came with the camera in the first place, but I've recently purchased a used 30-year-old Schneider Kreuznach 65mm f/8, which translates to a prety wide angle. The normal focal length for 4x5 is about 160 millimeters. It's a fun lens to work with, but it's also pretty dark.

In the large format world, such a wide angle means that the distance between the center of the lens and the edges of the screen are much longer than the distance between the center of the lens and the center of the screen. And that longer distance translates into an image on the focusing screen that's much darker at the edges. In addition f/8 as the widest open aperture has its challenges too. I guess everything in photography comes with a price tag.

So I did some research, and I repeatedly ended up being pointed towards Maxwell Precision Optics, a small company that among other things has specialized on focusing screens. Smooth and bright focusing screens. We're talking several stops brighter.

And today, after two weeks in German customs, the new screen finally arrived!

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Taking the old screen off the wooden holder was only a matter of removing four screws.

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The new screen came well protected in lots of bubble-wrap and wrapped in soft paper.

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In addition to the screen I had ordered a protective screen with a grid and medium format markers on it. You don't want to trap dust or fluff between the two layers, or it'll annoy the hell out of you. The brush helped a lot there. It is the awesome fluff-off by Spürsinn, which I also very successfully use to take dust off negatives before scanning.

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Finally the first tests - lookin' good!

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Composed in almost total darkness:

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How do you pimp YOUR camera?
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Google+ and other venues

Google+ logoWhat is the value of a blog if nobody reads it? Well, okay, you are not nobody, but looking at the access stats and at the level of engagement (e.g. the amount of comments and mentions), this soapbox is pretty much barely alive.

This blog (aka soapbox) is my little well-hidden space that I post and that a few hands full of people read. Some have subscribed via email, some via RSS, some just stop by every now and then and read. People come to consume, not to interact.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not blaming anyone, on the face of it, this soapbox is simply a sub page in my web site, not even the front page.

In contrast there's Google+ now. From an engagement point of view, the difference between the soapbox and G+ is the difference between a warm summer breeze and a storm. The first time I stuck my head out into G+, it's been pretty much one of the most refreshing interactive experiences I had in a long while.

Engagement is what it's all about in social media and just in case you miss my posts here (yes, they will still come and yes, they have been more frequent in the past), then you might want to stick your head in over at G+ and say hello.

They are in closed beta at the moment, but I've got a hand full of invites to give away, so shoot me an email if you want one.

» Visit me on Google+

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Final Cut Pro X - wrong gamma in viewer? [updated]

Update Jun/28/2011:Thanks to a comment from jhazelbaker and some more experimentation, it's now clearer what caused the issue. Apparently FCP X does indeed honor ICC display profiles... as long as they are ICC version 2. Profiling your display with an X-Rite ColorMunki, which is what I use, will by default create a v4 ICC profile that apparently gets interpreted in the wrong way by Final Cut Pro X. Other applications such as Adobe Lightroom don't show this issue, which lets me assume that it is an FCP X bug. The best place that I found to report this to Apple is at http://www.apple.com/feedback/finalcutpro.html which still references older FCP versions, but it seems to be the most official way at the moment. If you suffer from the same issue, I encourage you to let Apple know about it, this will give them a reason to look into this.

Final Cut Pro X has been out for a few days. And I've given it a test drive on my MacBook Air 11" (1.6GHz, 4GB). It works amazingly well even in that hardware configuration, and not working in a broadcast environment, I like most things about it. A lot.

But here's something I don't like about it. Or maybe I just don't understand it.

FCP X claims to be fully color managed, using Colorsync. However, the viewer inside FCP X seems to show the wrong gamma. Look at the picture above.

  • Left top: the source clip in Quicktime X, as shot with a Canon 5DMkII
  • Left bottom: the storyline preview thumbnails as automatically rendered by FCP X. They match the original.
  • Right bottom: the clip in Quicktime X after exporting it to ProRes422. It matches the original.
  • Right top: the preview in the FCP X viewer. Clearly not matched.

Now before you go "but you need a calibrated broadcast monitor for a good preview" - no, I don't. The original files are H.264 progressive 1080p. They are RGB. They will never see a TV set, they will always stay on computers. They will be only viewed on computers, so I should be able to edit and view them in FCP X on a computer while they look the same way they are exported to a computer.

It took me a while to figure out that the viewer in FCP X needs a color profile with a gamma of 1.8 in order to show things the way they are.

I'm a photographer. I have worked in Gamma 2.2 for years. It's the default. And a lot of photographers have started adding video (DSLR video that is) to their portfolios. Ask wedding photographers. They don't want to switch back between different gammas depending on what they work on. They also don't want to have separate computers or monitors fixed to these gammas. That is simply not practical.

The way it works right now feels wrong to me. With Mac OS X 10.6, Apple officially switched the default gamma of their Macs from 1.8 to 2.2. If FCP X is really as fully color managed as it claims it is, then its viewer should honor a gamma 2.2 color profile the same way the players and the other parts of the system do.

Or am I missing something essential?

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When MEH becomes HOLY COW

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Group shot, Berlin LIMITED workshop 2011. Photo: Sean Galbraith

Large format photography has the potential to seriously mess with ones mind. The photographer's mind and that of the audience.

For a photographer it is still the most affordable way to get spectacular resolution. The camera movements allow for compositional freedom beyond anything that is possible in smaller formats. Due to their simpler and much more symmetrical design, the image quality of the lenses is generally superb. And last but not least, the different workflow and the more thorough approach to each individual photograph generally make for more thought-out pictures.

The audience reaction to large format pictures is often a different one than to 35mm photography. Due to the higher resolution, the pictures will typically have more detail, which oddly enough tends to be true even when downsized to web resolutions. The large size of the medium (4x5" and higher) results in a very different look and depth of field. And the typical lack of falling lines tends to give even very busy pictures an amount of structure and a tidy appearance that is hard to achieve with smaller formats.

My typical reaction to the higher resolutions used to be: "meh". My impression was that at the sizes typically used on the web, it wouldn't make any difference if the picture was shot with a DSLR or if it was taken with a large format camera.

After having immersed myself in large format photography for a while now, I had to change my previous "meh" into a "HOWLY COW" though. The amount of perceived detail even at smaller resolutions tends to be spectacular.

I should have known about the detail thing from the video side of things though. A very similar effect happens when you downsize HD video footage (1920 x 1080) to SD resolution (544 × 480). The amount of perceived detail is just a lot higher than with native SD footage.

Here's my audio engineer's look at it: sound recordings are often made at a much higher bit-depth (24 bits) and higher resolution (96 kHz) than the resulting CD will ever have (16 bits / 44.1 kHz). Why? Higher perceived resolution, even at the final down-sampled stage.

My next step is to print one of these pictures at 25x50" to see the ACTUAL detail. Zooming in to tiny portions of an image to see them at a 100% pixel resolution on your screen just isn't the same.

By the way, here's a little detail from the above shot:

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Group Shot (detail)
, Berlin LIMITED workshop 2011. Photo: Sean Galbraith

What's the largest print you've ever made?

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Die dunkle Ecke der Monster

Car Train by Chris Marquardt
Car Train (click to view and comment on flickr)

Man muss analoge Bilder auf die Schatten belichten, die Lichter finden sich dann schon von alleine. Solches hört man immer wieder, und es ist schon ein Stück weit berechtig, speziell wenn man sich im Bereich der "guten" und "normalen" Belichtung befindet.

Die wirklich spannenden Bilder finden sich allerdings oft in den Extremen.

Was, wenn man sich an die Enden heran pirscht, an die Bereiche ganz im dunkeln oder im hellen? Bereiche, die sich an anderen Stellen auch gerne mal "Zone 2" oder "Zone 9" schimpfen. Bereiche, die man als guter Fotograf gefälligst mit einem Reflektor oder einem Blitz aufzuhellen hat?

Dort begibt sich so mancher Fotograf dann in derart unbekanntere Gefilde, dass er sich nicht mehr so ganz auf die Dinge verlassen mag, die er viele Jahre lang gelernt und praktiziert hat.

Ist Schattenzeichnung wirklich so wichtig? Darf man nicht doch diese Ungewissheit ins Bild legen, die dem Betrachter Spielraum zur Erforschung gibt?

Von 15.-17. Juli 2011 halten wir in Braunschweig einen Doppelworkshop gemeinsam mit Spürsinn zu den Themen Fotografie am Ende des Lichts und Entwicklung am Ende des Lichts, in dem wir uns ganz analog und mit viel Spielfreude in die Extreme begeben.

Die dunkle Ecke im Keller, in der sich die Monster verstecken, mag beängstigen...

...spannend ist sie allemal.

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Black Forest Large Format

Being confined to the studio with the Plaubel Peco for several months was a good thing as it allowed me to experiment and try out large format photography within a safe environment. But taking the Chamonix out for a first spin felt really really good too!

I took my friends Sean and Michelle for a spin in the Black Forest during their Germany vacation, and Sean brought his foldable Shen-Hao large format camera, which is virtually the same as the Chamonix.

Two guys with large format cameras in the black forest. Imagine the amount of geeking .. and eye-rolling from non-geeks ;)

Black Forest
Black Forest (click to view and comment on flickr)

Photographing large format is a very different way of working, and there are several things that blew my mind when I used the camera in the field and when I returned home and had a look at the pictures. One of the mind benders is the amount of freedom you have with the camera movements, also known as tilt, swing and shift. Perspectively correct pictures automatically become the norm, not the exception. You set the camera up straight, then shift to your heart's content. If the lens has a large enough image circle, that shift can be quite extensive.

And then there's the massive amount of data in these pictures. I scan my negatives on a regular Epson V600 flat bed scanner. Still, my digital files end up at about 100 megapixels and that's far from what would be possible if I cranked up the settings. My little MacBook Air 11" sure takes a bit of time to render the full size Lightroom previews.

If you're not used to this resolution, zooming in has the potential to cause a bit of mental damage to the viewer. And drooling.

Black Forest detail2

By the way, this detail is a crop from a down-sampled 50 megapixel version of the image.

But having all that said, large format is only partially about resolution. I love pictures to tell stories and that doesn't depend on resolution at all. Large format photography gives you the tools to take your time, enjoy the process, set up the pictures while thinking about their details, composing well and then taking a well-metered shot. Usually.

I have just dipped my toe into the large format waters though. There is so much more to learn, and I'm looking forward to diving more into its creative potential.

Black Forest Drama
Black Forest Drama (click to view and comment on flickr)

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New Camera In Da House

I've been playing with large format photography for a while. Last year I bought a used German-built Plaubel monorail large format studio camera, I'm in the process of building the Marquardt International Pinhole large format camera, which is by the way moving forward and if you are on the list, you should soon get an update.

I had been missing one important piece in the puzzle: a 4x5 camera with all the required movements that I could use in the field without needing yak and two sherpas to carry it for me.

A few weeks ago I discovered the Chinese manufacturer by the not so Chinese name Chamonix. They are a small company with 8 employees and they build various foldable large format cameras, 4x5" being their smallest one.

It's the model 045N-2, it comes in at about 3 pounds without a lens and this morning one of them arrived here at my studio.

I'm going to spend some time with it to get used to the camera and to experiment. The initial impression is that it's really well built and that it is very functional for a camera of that size.

Stay tuned.

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