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:

Changing the Laws of Physics

IMG 0558

I just ran across another blog article that asked the question if mobile phones would take over in the long run and overthrow all other cameras because the sensor technology and the fact that you tend to have one with you all the time.

I'm not so sure for a two main reasons.

1. Control. Cameras tend to get better and better, but even the best automated decisions will not necessarily reflect your intentions.

An example: think about a backlit portrait. Without built-in intelligence, the camera's light meter will tell the camera that there's a lot of light and the image that comes out is likely to be a silhouette of a person. Most cameras nowadays will detect this and compensate for it, resulting in a well-exposed person (and most likely a slightly overexposed background). I guess in most cases that's what the person behind the camera wanted anyway, so it's okay.

But how about the times when a photographer intended to produce the silhouette picture but didn't have a way to tell the camera that that's what they wanted?

The way the current mobile phone cameras look, it's very hard for me to believe that they will get to this level of control any time soon.

2. Sensor size. Different sensor sizes result in different depths of field (DOF) and control over DOF is a very important tool for most photographers.

In-focus and out-of-focus areas in a picture are one out of a whole array of essential tools for photographers when it comes to telling a story in a picture. Focus will show or hide things, focus will help you guide the viewer's eyes through a picture.

Smaller sensors make it very hard to control DOF. Everything tends to be in focus. Bigger sensors make it easier to control DOF. A photographer can place focus where it's important. And as things look right now, mobile phone cameras are pretty unlikely to get larger camera sensors.

Even if mobile phone cameras got larger sensors, that would mean that the lenses needed to be bigger and further away from the sensors, adding bulk and size. Very unlikely.

Will newer technologies and computational photography replace the need for bigger sensors in the future?

Who knows, but at this point in time, even the Raytrix and Lytro cameras cannot do their job without a certain level of bulk, and the results are by far not where they'd need to be.

What do you think? Are we going to see DSLRs disappear any time soon?

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'Tis The Time

Yes, 'tis the time where we say 'tis again. And it's the time where we bring out the box of Christmas tree ornaments and decorate the tree. Yes, the Brownie Tree is back! And finally.. FINALLY the Christmas spirit kicks in.. and it feels good again.

Brownietree2011

My goal for 2012 is to keep photography in the center of my life, and to look at my images at the end of the year and see that I've learned something new again. So far this has worked, so let's make it work again for next year.

Here's to a wonderfully photographic 2012!

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iTunes Match, Me Gusta

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I have used iTunes Match for a few days now, and it has quickly turned into one of the best things since sliced bread for me.

No more sync trouble, as everything is available on all devices, either to download or to stream*

The complexities of multiple-device sync and having to decide what to take with me on which of them turned into the main reason that I never ripped my entire CD collection (and there are several hundred of them, I'm *that* old ;)) - in the end maybe only 20% of my music was on my computers, distributed between several machines and iTunes libraries. Bit of a mess.

As a result of the new convenience I have now gone back to rip all the music that was still sitting on my shelves, I'm about halfway through my CDs (the picture above shows a small fraction of it) and every time I open the music app on my iPhone and see new/old stuff popping up, it makes me smile as I rediscover some great music I almost had forgotten about.

Thanks for making things quite a bit easier, Apple!

* quick note about the "streaming" part: apparently it's not really streaming. There seems to be a fine distinction between streaming and the "playback while download" implementation that Apple chose, possibly for political reasons. Factually it doesn't make a difference to me as an end user. What I particularly like is that even though if you play an album from the cloud, the first title takes a second to begin playing, the subsequent tracks are 100% seamless. Apparently it's implemented so that it starts downloading the next track if that is less than one minute away. This should pretty much guarantee continuous playback even on slower connections. I like that a lot!


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Do We Still Need Photoshop?

Psquestion

The Hoopla

With Creative Suite 5.5 Adobe is introducing a new subscription pricing model. For many professionals this is a welcome way to spread out the cost for the software over a year instead of having to do the big upfront payment for the software.

Customers can still buy individual products or product suites, but you will now also be able opt for a monthly plan. I will mainly look at what this means for photographers and Photoshop. But just as an example, instead of buying the Design Premium Suite for a retail price of $1899, if you commit for a yearly plan, you'll apparently get it for a "rental fee" of $95 per month or $1140 per year. Mind you, this is not a payment plan, so you won't own the software at the end of the year. Adobe is offering upgrade pricing for those who paid for a year though.

As mentioned, you can still buy the products, but as I understand it, as opposed to being able to upgrade from older versions (I believe you could skip up to two versions), with the new pricing model you can't skip versions anymore to get upgrade pricing.

And this seems to be the biggest rub for a lot of people. Enough of a rub that Adobe went ahead and closed (and apparently even removed) the comments on the blog entry where they announced the change.

International

International pricing of Adobe products has always been one of my pet peeves. In Germany and other European countries, prices for Adobe products are dramatically higher than the US prices, in some cases we Europeans get to pay more than a 100% premium for the same software.

Back in 2007 when I interviewed Adobe product manager John Nack I brought it up, but mainly got an evasive answer.

This might also explain why a lot of people on this side of the pond appear to use pirated versions of Adobe's products.

Skipping A Beat

Over the years a lot of photographers have become Photoshop users. Photoshop isn't the most intuitive product - I usually compare it to a huge toolbox full of tools but without a good instruction manual - but it is very powerful and many photographers have taken the effort to learn its intricacies, to adjust their workflow and to master it to a certain degree.

As I said, I'll mainly look at photographers in this article, but this might also be true for small agencies.

While Lightroom has pretty much taken over when it comes to 98% of my pictures, many photographers have spent years and year refining their Photoshop workflows, they have learned tricks and spent time learning from tutorials. The investment not only on the financial side is huge.

But for monetary reasons many individuals and agencies have also had to adopt a model where they would skip a version or two before they upgrade to a higher version. This possibility is now pretty much gone, so my guess is that the sentiment of many Photoshop users is that they are now expected to pay double or triple the amount they used to pay in the past.

What's Great

Not only is Photoshop a powerful tool, it has also created a massive ecosystem of books, trainings, tutorials, video classes and even entire user organizations.

Aside from that ecosystem, let's have a quick look at what makes Photoshop so great.

The thing that intimidates new users most is also one of Photoshop's greatest strengths. It is a collection of hundreds of powerful image manipulation and design tools and if you know how to use them, there is almost no limit to what you can do with it.

Layers, masks and layer modes let you do everything from complicated composites to things as simple as slapping a layer of text to an image. The mix of vectors and pixel graphics and the resulting flexibility is unsurpassed and I love being able to use smart objects to treat pixel graphics almost like vectors.

Profiles allow for a color-managed workflow in pretty much any color space you like and over the years many specialized tools have found their ways into Photoshop, from handling animations to stitching big panoramas to 3D and perspective work.

The plugin model is another part of that ecosystem, with a ton of add-ons available to do virtually anything you can imagine.

What's Troublesome

But its strengths can also be seen as weaknesses. Photoshop tries to be everything for everyone and its user base is so diverse that it is hard to find a common thread. Illustrators use it, it has its applications in the pre-press processes, it has even medical uses and of course there are the photographers.

Because Photoshop wants to be for everyone, it feels like a big piece of patchwork rather than an integrated application.

What I Use Photoshop For

The uses for Photoshop have become less and less over the last years, especially for photographers. One of the main reasons for that change are products like Lightroom or Aperture.

There are still a few areas where I tend to resort to Photoshop. These include simple illustrations that use layers and masks, adding text to images, more complex cloning operations, adding transparency and stitching images.

That's pretty much it. I do everything else in Lightroom.

So, Do We Need Photoshop?

I can only answer that question for myself, and it's pretty much a resounding no at this time. The few uses that Photoshop still has for me are easily covered in the CS4 version that I still own and there are a lot of great alternatives out there that cover a lot of Photoshop's bases.

What Are The Alternatives?

One of the strongest alternatives on the Mac platform at this point is Pixelmator. In its new 2.0 version it supports layers, layer masks, over 100 file formats, plenty of filters, and even some of Photoshop's "killer features" such as content-aware fill. For €23.99 it's a bargain. Is it a full Photoshop replacement? No, but it covers 95% of what I need as a professional. The one item it doesn't have and that's high on my wish list is 16 bit support, but for most of the things I use it, I can live with that. If that's a must for you, I suggest you have a look at PhotoLine. It's not as pretty, runs on Mac and Windows, and it supports 16 bits and more, for a mere €59.

As a Mac user I can cover most of the remaining 5% with the tools that Mac OS X already has on board and I'd be surprised if Windows didn't have similar things on offer. I use the ColorSync Utility to do color space conversions, which includes converting pictures to CMYK, so they are ready for a printing house. Preview, one of the Mac's most underestimated apps, lets me use any ICC profile to soft proof images. And Image Capture (the second most underestimated OS X app) serves as a great front-end to any scanner.

When I got my MacBook Air with its 128 GB SSD, I went through a long software list to decide what I needed on the road and what I could go without. Lightroom made it onto that list, Final Cut Pro X did, Scrivener too, and even Apple's 4 GB heavyweight XCode development environment.

The one thing that I left off the system was Photoshop.

That was half a year ago. So far I haven't really missed it.

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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

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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:

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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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