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:

We Need Less, Not More

Hole by Chris Marquardt
Hole by Chris Marquardt

Haven't been up on my soapbox in a while…

I have taught photography to over a thousand of students, among them many really good photographers who often weren't aware why they were great, but I have also been surprised at times as some of the more professional appearing ones weren't even able to do basic things like setting up custom white balance for a specific light situation.

There is a part of me that loves to see all the nifty photo gadgets that brilliant people come up with, but I've also been watching the development of the camera landscape with a concerned eye.

There are a lot of automated sub-systems in our cameras. Focus, exposure and white balance are the important ones among quite a few.

But the smarter these systems seem to get, the more decisions they take away from the photographer, the more the photographers lose the ability to make the right decisions.

I've seen this over and over again this year during the workshops.

It's not the photographers' fault of course. The philosophy of the camera manufacturers is quite understandable: take as many of the complicated photography stuff as possible and make the decision (and set the setting) for the photographer. This way many of the less technically inclined people out there can pick up a camera and quickly get results, which will make them happy, and as a result they will buy more cameras.

The big issue with this approach is that even though the automatic systems get it right most of the time, the camera will never be able to know the photographer's intention. How can the camera know that I'm not at all interested in exposing for the face, but instead I want to show a silhouette? How should the camera know that I actually want this shot to be bluish cool and unfriendly instead of giving it a caribbean sunset white balance? And how should the camera be able to anticipate that I deliberately want to blow out the sky in this picture?

The philosophy of me as the photography trainer is substantially different from that of the manufacturer: if you want to tell a story (and let's face it, a good story is usually what makes a good photograph), you need to make the tools that help you tell that story do the right things. The tool in this case is your camera. And making it do the right thing means to know how to make it expose, focus and white balance in exactly the way you want.

And that's a skill set that more and more photographers have either lost, or they never had the incentive to learn.

Relying on the automatisms of the camera and getting it right 80% of the time might be good enough for many photographers.

I want those remaining 20% to be under my control too.

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Don't fly and scan

20111001 scan919 Edit

It happened again. This time not on purpose, but by accident. After returning from Toronto the other day, I decided to develop some of the pictures I took on the trip. Looking through my stacks of stuff, I ran across an older batch of undeveloped negatives, that should have been developed long time ago, but wasn't. Probably too busy back then.


The problem was that I didn't know what type of film the negatives where. To find out, I took the film cassettes into the dark bag and felt the notches. Each sheet of large format negative film has a characteristic pattern of notches on one side that help you to face the film the right way and identify it in the dark.

The problem was that when I tried to detect the type of film, I was too tired, having not slept in over 30 hours, and I got it wrong.

This is why six sheets of Velvia color slide film ended up in black and white development chemistry. But as we know from my experiment a while ago, it should work in theory.

And it did work. I ended up with black and white negatives and there was even something on them. So I scanned one and you can see the result above.

Any photo accidents you'd like to share? Leave a comment!
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Minus is a Plus

NewImageThe other day I found out about minus, a new service that has set out to make sharing files really easy. It's free, it comes with apps for multiple platforms and it has a few of the standard social networks built in to share stuff on.
minus comes with a desktop application (Windows, Mac, Ubuntu), mobile apps for Android and iPhone (WP7 announced), Browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox and a Chrome Web App. It looks like there is more to come.

The Mac desktop application links itself into the menu bar. It lets you drag and drop files onto it and you can define a hotkey for saving screenshots.

Being used to two gigabytes on other services, it surprised me to get 10 gigabytes of free space and no traffic limits. We'll have to see how it will hold up over time, but this sure looks interesting.

minus doesn't try to mimic Dropbox, as it won't sync. It's a plain upload-and-share type system with a social twist. minus creates an Atom feed per user, so you can subscribe to someone's shares in the feed reader of your choice.

I will give it a fair chance, maybe for pictures and for some collaboration, as I haven't really found that one place for file sharing just yet. And the pictures integration looks quite nice too, a folder is like an album that can have its own shortlink, I like the look how pictures are presented, especially using the lights out mode that dims the white background to dark grey.

Oh, and here's another nice thing they do. If you sign up using this link, we will both get an extra gigabyte.
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Red is the New Black

Black and white film has undergone a lot of changes over the years. One of the bigger changes was making it less blind to certain colors.

Colors
Colors by Chris Marquardt

Yes, less blind. If you look around you, different colored objects will appear to you at different brightnesses, and you might be able to imagine how the scene looks in black and white, simply by translating the brightnesses into grey levels.

And that's how many black and white films work these days. They try to create a black and white picture that reflects the perceived brightness levels that you see with your eyes.

But originally, black and white film would translate colors very differently.

Look at the visual spectrum. It starts right beyond infrared, goes through red, orange, yellow, green, blue to violet and then disappears into ultraviolet. Infrared and ultraviolet are black to our eyes, simply because we don't have the right receptors to see these colors.

Now imagine a black and white film that can see an even narrower range, film that can only see part of the colors. And that's exactly what black and white film did in the old days. It was blind on the red side of the spectrum, so whenever it saw red light, it would register that as black. We call that an orthochromatic film. Only some time after the 1950s did black and white film become more sensitive to other colors. A film that sees the entire visible spectrum is called a panchromatic film.

Here's a snap I took of the same scene, but this time with a digital camera:

IMG 0572 20101016

Compare the two and you will notice that the black and white film is very sensitive on the blue side, but it almost doesn't have any sensitivity on the red side of the spectrum. Blue renders almost identical to yellow, and green is somewhere in the middle grey area. In the early days of black and white photography photographers had to learn how to see in black and white to get to the picture they envisioned, and still today a lot of films have their characteristic look that's at least partially based on how the different wavelengths are rendered on a scale from black to white.

Back in the day, art went so far that during early black and white film productions, the actors had to wear bright and colorful make-up so that a normal looking black and white image could be achieved. Imagine an actor with green lipstick to avoid the lips from going all black on the film. These early film sets must have looked very colorful.


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Pictures and their stories

I recently posted a bunch of pictures that I took back in the United States in August.

Here are their stories.

Clicking on pictures opens them in a new window.

Lili

Let me start with the one picture that is my favorite of the whole bunch. It's Liliana, the daughter of my friend, photographer and parfumeur Douglas Hopkins and I made several pictures while we spent some time during my stay in Washington D.C.

I try my best to treat children with the same respect and at same eye level as I treat anyone else, and I try to carry that into my photography whenever possible. Lili sat on a structure in front of the Washington Air and Space museum, and when I noticed what the sun and the wind were doing with her hair, I took a few shots. What came out was one of those in-between pictures, where the posing stops and the real emotion happens.

Pilot

Lili again, at the museum's gift shop, trying on props. This time I deliberately didn't shoot her at eye level, so I could emphasize the huge gap between the little girl and the pilot's gear, making for quite some contrast and fun. The goofy look on her face helped a lot to make this a humorous picture.

Double Facepalm

This is one of those street shots where I'm really happy that everything has it's place. The guy in the foreground sits very comfortably in the corner, facing outward, which gives him a bit of a lost feeling, and the fact that he's sitting on the curb holding his face, helps a lot in conveying that feeling. I shot several frames while different people walked past, the guy in the background also touching his face was the final winner.

Peter

Meet Peter, his friends and his dog. This one I'm very proud of. At first I walked past them, and the stream of thoughts in my mind went a bit like this: "Awesome, three guys in wheelchairs, with a tiny dog, I totally should take a picture of them. But how would you feel sitting in a wheel chair and some stranger asking to take your picture? But it's such a great scene! But I really don't want to hurt anyone's feelings…" and so on. At that point I had long walked past them, but then luckily the urge to get that picture won, I turned around, approached them, asked if they'd mind me taking a picture of them and they said "Oh sure, absolutely!" and I took about 10 shots of them from various angles.

I tried from their eye level, which I felt was the appropriate thing to do, but the busy background (it was at a street festival) didn't work, so I had to revert back to a standing perspective. A bit of tilt on the lens helped guide the attention to the three - and to the dog, wearing an SF Giants jersey.

Exhale

I come to the United States every year to hold photo workshops. One of them was the Fire & Night workshop in San Francisco. I always wanted to include night photography in the workshops, and adding fire to the mix turned this into a really exciting one! There were a lot of pictures with lots of detail in the flames and great color contrasts between warm and cold, but in the end this is one of my favorites, even though the flame itself is blown out. I love how it shows the raw power of the flame, its strength to light the entire scene, its heat, and the motion of the fire breather juxtaposed with the other guy waiting.

San Francisco

Last but not least, the Fire & Night workshop also took us out to Treasure Island to take pictures of the San Francisco skyline at night - or rather at the blue hour. That term is misleading though, as it actually describes a window of maybe 10 to 15 minutes. It's the time shortly after sunset, where the sky turns a deep blue. We were really lucky to get the fog behind San Francisco lit by the city lights and glow in a bright orange. The color contrast with the sky turned out very dramatic. Initially I was unhappy about the clouds in the sky, but they turned out to add some great drama to the pictures.

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Time to meet - Thursday night in San Francisco

I'm back in the States, getting ready to hold the Fire & Night workshop in San Francisco. (still got some room, if you're interested).

And as the tradition goes, there will be a meet-up downtown SF at Annabelle's (5 4th street, next to the Mosser hotel) Thursday, Aug/18 at 6pm.

You don't have to be on the workshop to drop by, it's open to everyone!

Want to join for a drink or a bite? Drop me a quick line at chris@chrismarquardt.com

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Time to go back - to the TWIT BRICKHOUSE!

Remember the time when I broke Leo's Tricaster? Well, I didn't exactly break it, but it broke while I was at the TWiT Cottage.

It is now three years later, and after having been able (thanks to Leo Laporte's incredible generosity) to hold the Photo Day for several years (yes, he repeatedly handed me the keys to the TWiT network!) it is now time to go back.

Not to the TWiT Cottage, but to the TWiT Brickhouse!!

Leo and his network have come a long way since that Tricaster disaster. They have recently built an amazing new studio and moved into a new building, the TWiT Brickhouse.

Tomorrow I will make my way up to Petaluma again to record an episode of Triangulation, together with Leo Laporte and Tom Merritt.

You can watch the show live at 4pm Pacific Time at live.twit.tv - or if that doesn't work for you, you can watch or listen to it later as a recording.

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Washington D.C. - Have a drink with Chris!

Hey Washington D.C folks. do you fancy some photo chat, or a drink with Chris?

We reserved space at the Jackson 20 at 7pm on on Friday, Aug/12/2011 (address: 480 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314)

This meet-up is open to everyone, you don't have to be on the workshop for this!

Please drop me a line if you want to attend, so I can make sure to reserve the right amount of places.

See you tomorrow!

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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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