My Blog and 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.
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How's THAT for a constraint?

It's constraint time again.


I've lately been in an experimental mood. Experimentation is where I usually cast my caution in the wind and do the things I wouldn't usually do.

Over the weekend, Monika and I held an analog photography workshop here in Tübingen, we were sold out and our group was wonderful! We did a lot of shooting and developments and all was good and fine.

One of the things these workshops do with me is they help me get into that experimental mood and this one was no exception. After the workshop was over on Sunday afternoon, I stayed in the studio to catch up on some office work and tidy up the chemicals and other workshop stuff.

I then decided to take my good old Mamiya 645 with me on my way home. Every sane person would've loaded a roll of TMax 3200 or some similarly sensitive material, but as I said, I was in an experimental mood. So I decided to drop in a roll of Fomapan 100.


As its name suggests, Fomapan 100 is an ISO 100 film. Kinda. I've read somewhere that it is even a bit lower in sensitivity. But that doesn't mean I can't try something weird with it, does it? So I took it to the test, exposing it more in the range of ISO 800 and due to the lack of a light meter I had to wing the exposure, trust my gut.

To add insult to injury, I also didn't have a tripod with me, and it was raining.

With an estimated exposure time of 1 second at f/2.8, the lack of a tripod meant that I had to find places to rest the camera on or against while shooting. Speak of a constraint when it comes to choice of perspective.


But the pictures themselves were just one part of the equation. In the end I also remember quite a few voices that claimed that you can't do a 100 to 800 push with Fomapan 100. What they didn't know is that "you can't do that" is a trigger for me. And it usually evokes the exact opposite reaction from me.

Long story short, I'm extremely pleased with the results. The constraints of using the wrong film, leaving the light meter at home, not having a tripod and having to shoot in the rain allowed (or better: forced) me to take pictures that I wouldn't have taken any other way.

You can see all the pictures here.

What is most remarkable: out of a single roll of 15 shots I liked six (!) pictures enough to post them online. That's a keeper ratio of almost 40 percent. With digital I would've NEVER had a ratio that high.

How about you? Does your choice of medium and the constraints that you shoot under change the percentage of pictures that you like?

Dropping the big camera and the viewfinder

2012 02 19 150534 IMG 1039
Frog Umbrella by Chris Marquardt

It's not the camera, it's the photographer. We all know that. Do we live it? Not always. Which is why I did a deliberate "lesser photographer" thing.

Where I would usually have the iPhone in my pocket as an emergency or backup camera, this time I made a deliberate decision to go out and shoot with nothing but the iPhone. No big medium format camera. No DSLR. Just the iPhone 4s.

Our creativity strives under constraints. Some of the greatest photography has been made with cameras that some of today's photographers wouldn't even touch with a ten-foot-pole. So I went an extra step and instead of using the iPhone's built-in camera app, I used one that most people would call crippled. Its name is NoFinder and it is pretty much what the title of the app says: a camera without a viewfinder.

Now adding that kind of a restriction might initially sound silly, but it has turned out to be surprisingly good for the creative side of things. Not being able to look through a viewfinder helped me concentrate on the actual scene a lot more than if I had looked through a viewfinder. Pointing the camera without a display also left a certain margin of error, but in the end for many shots that lead to interesting and unusual framing choices that I wouldn't have made with a viewfinder.

Most of those accidental choices of frame weren't that exciting, but then there were a few that I found really interesting. And again: I wouldn't have arrived at them any other way.

The last two constraints that I placed myself under turned out to be pretty much the most beneficial ones: my decision to set the app to only take square pictures and to work in black-and-white only.

The lack of a viewfinder initially made it harder for me to judge the angle of view, but after a few shots it became pretty clear how much would be in the picture. As an added benefit I now have a pretty good idea of the field of view that I can get from the iPhone. I didn't really have that angle visualized before.

And in the end that's how Frog Umbrella came into existence. Being able to see the entire scene with my two eyes, I could watch the umbrella kid walking away from the building and while it was doing so, I fired three shots while trying to anticipate the framing.

And the third shot was the charm. That's my kind of picture - everything fits nicely, the frog's eyes are doubled in the building, every element in the photo feels like it belongs exactly where I put it. I'll be happy when I bring home one single picture like this every time I go out shooting. I'm still working on that.

» Frog Umbrella on Flickr (leave a comment)


The DTS 5.1 conversion is getting closer

I did the sys admin thing where I'd call myself and ask what to do, and I found a partial solution to my DTS issue. I'm far from having this process completed, but I'm a few steps closer of getting my collection of 6-channel DTS 5.1 CDs ripped onto my Mac and into a somewhat useable format.

It's still a fairly manual process, but here's what I've done so far:

Step 1: rip the DTS 5.1 CD to iTunes using the WAV encoder as the input format (no MP3, AAC or similar). This process seems to get the track names right. Not sure if it takes them from Gracenote or if it reads the CD text, but the titles end up in iTunes.

At this point, the ripped files are recognized as 2-channel WAV files, and their content is DTS-encoded 5.1-channel audio. iTunes doesn't give me that information though, and it doesn't seem to be aware of this, so playing these over a normal system will result in noise. In order to play them properly, they have to be played over a DTS decoder, or they have to be decoded on the system.

Step 2: convert the ripped WAV files to 6-channel WAV files using VLC. This partially works, VLC can even be kind of coerced into converting them in a batch, using the Streaming/Transcoding Wizard, but for whatever reason VLC refuses to convert the last track.

My process: open the imported WAV files in VLC, File - Streaming/Transcoding Wizard, Transcode/Save to file, select items from playlist, only check "Transcode audio", set codec to Uncompressed, integer, 192 kb/s, select WAV, select output directory, go. Again, this process will not convert the last file in the list for whatever reason. My workaround is to add the last file twice.

The file names get messed up a bit in the process, spaces end up being replaced by 20, probably due to URL encoding.

At this point I have 6-channel WAV files that work. That's a pretty good start, because from here I should be able to convert the files to anything else I need in the future, using Compressor.

It's easy to visualize with Final Cut Pro X at this point, all 6 channels work and they seem to be even in the right order (something that surround audio fans know isn't always a given..)

Hattler Surround Cuts (also available as a DVD)

Step 3: fix the broken file names using an Automator action. Replacing 20 with a space in the filenames is easy this way, I do all other URL encoded characters manually for now. If this were a process that I'd need to do several hundred times, I would try to fully automate that. As it's now, I am okay with doing a bit of manual work here.

What's next?

Next steps: find a way to make this process simpler and more automated. It's not that I have hundreds of DTS 5.1 CDs, but I'd still like to find an easier and less error-prone way to do this. I'm also going to need to find a good way to play or re-encode those files into something that I can easily play. But the 6-channel WAV gives me at least a great uncompressed starting point to continue using them down the chain.

And then: find a way to play all this back over my existing infrastructure. Fun times!

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