New Camera!

I’ve been running an original Canon 5D for the past 12-13 years (basically since it came out), and decided to finally pick up a new camera in anticipation of my upcoming trip. I’ve been a Canon user since I went digital, but decided to mix things up a little bit and try a (well-reviewed) alternative this time around, eventually settling on the Fujifilm X-E3.

I took it out to Vista House on Crown Point on Sunday afternoon, in time to catch the sunset. Other than feeling incredibly rusty (I haven’t been shooting a lot in the last year or three), it was a lot of fun, and got to experiment with some of the features of the camera. For instance, I was pretty impressed with its panorama feature — even zoomed in, the stitching is damn near perfect.

Panorama from Crown Point

The colors are also nice and vivid. (For the record: I adjusted the highlights slightly on the panorama, didn’t touch the Vista House shot at all, and fiddled with tones on the highlights and shadows with the shot looking east up the Gorge.)

Vista House in Afternoon Light

Sunset in the Gorge, looking east

Looking forward to playing with this more.

War on Photography

War on Photography: Quite possibly one of the most enraging sites I’ve read in a good long while. It documents reports of photographers being harassed for no reason by police, security guards, and even random passersby. If you’re remotely interested in photography or first amendment rights (or, heaven forfend, both), it’s a quick way to raise your blood pressure about 30 points.

Detroit Book Depository

The deteriorating remains of the Detroit Book Depository. Jessica showed me this the other day, thought I’d share, as it’s really pretty impressive. The short version of the story is that they used to use a warehouse system for school books and materials, until a fire broke out, and decimated the building. Due to insurance settlements, they were never allowed to salvage from the building, and it was all left to rot.

HDR Experiments

Seattle Monorail at Night
The Seattle Monorail at Night
Last night, I spent a fair bit of time out and about — simply didn’t feel like going home, for a variety of reasons. I hung out at the coffee shop til they closed, and then took their recommendation on an all night diner, which was delightful, greasy, and good. Jabbered there for a bit, and then I ended up wandering down to downtown Seattle to finally get around to taking some shots for experimenting with High Dynamic Range photography.

For some quick background, let me fill in some details (CS2s “Merge to HDR” doesn’t retain exif data… which makes sense, since it’s a composite of multiple images, so which exif data do you keep?): it’s around 1:45am, on 5th Ave just north of Teatro Zinzanni. For those not aware, Seattle has an elevated monorail system that runs down the middle of 5th Avenue, connecting downtown with Seattle Center, which would be the pylons you’re seeing running down the middle of the street (and providing a handy protection from getting run over while standing in the middle of the street). This particular image is a set of 4 images composited together, each a 1/3 stop apart, with a roughly equal balance between over and under exposed. In hindsight, I wish I’d gone heavier on the under-exposed range, even a full stop apart, and opted for the “proper exposure” to act as my high end. As it was, I ended up dropping a fifth over exposed image from the composite, because I found it too “bright”. I was running at f/22, with an exposure time ranging from 13 to 30 seconds, and using my 17-40mm f/4.

Seattle Monorail at Night with Ghost Nabil
Seattle Monorail at Night with Ghost Nabil
The next set is a composite of around 7 images, of which I dropped two. I decided to play a bit with ghosting (go stand in frame for part of a long exposure). It’s also worth noting that this set had a few cars passing through the frame, which left those delightful light trails on the right side of the image. Again, I was running f/22 with the 17-40, and a range of 13 to 30 seconds per exposure. I’m not entirely sure whether I’ll keep the ghosting (I took two shots at the same exposure, one with ghosting, one without, so it’d be easy enough to alter it without affecting the rest of the composition).

It felt really good to be getting out and about with my camera in the night again. I don’t know why I find it so appealing, but I do. Maybe it’s the introvert in me. In either case, it was rolling past 2am, so I opted to pick up and move over to a different location, further into the city. I’ve been wanting to take some pictures of the Seattle Library for a while now, as it’s this awesome conglomeration of odd angles and glass, right in the heart of downtown Seattle. (How they managed to get the city planners to approve it, I dunno, but I’m very glad they did!) Another nice aspect of doing night photography in the city is that parking is a breeze. No traffic, no passersby, plenty of spots to just kinda pull over and fiddle with things or ponder grabbing the camera. In both of these cases, I was able to park no more than 50 feet from where I took the shots.

Night at the Seattle Public Library
Night at the Seattle Public Library
This first shot is a composite of 6 or so shots, and once again I found myself dropping the higher exposures, ending up with a 4 image composite. Not that you can tell, to be honest — in the case of the Seattle Library shots, frankly I’m not gaining much of anything from the HDR process. The building is already relatively well lit, so I’m not filling detail into shadows or highlights, nor pulling much of anything in the way of a higher saturation of color (even with the heavily orange light of the streetlights). But, I still like the shots, and so I’m sharing them anyway. (This is definitely a picture-heavy post.) Again, f/22, speeds ranging from 15 to 30 seconds, with the 17-40mm. (I should also mention: Canon 5D, running RAW.)

The Seattle Public Library at Night
Seattle Public LIbrary, Night, Exterior
This second shot is similar to the first, though from a slightly different angle that was apparently enough to alter the metering markedly, to the point that I ended up dropping down to f/16 just so I could avoid using the Bulb function, keeping my max exposure length at 30 seconds. Other than that, it’s largely unchanged… half a dozen shots, once again dropping the higher exposures (something to know for the future for the shots I like to take), taken with the Canon 17-40mm f/4. It’s such a neat building! I’d love to get in there at night sometime, to be able to photograph the interior (also trippy and fun) without pesky people all over the place. Anyone have thoughts on who to talk to about that?

Seattle Library Exterior Geometry
Exterior Geometry of the Seattle Library
Alright, this is the last set (I’m calling it a set despite being a single image because it’s a composite, if that makes any sense). I decided to try a different angle, and really ended up enjoying how this came out. It’s notable that you actually can see into the windows of the building across the street better than you could that night (THAT would be a benefit of the hdr merging), and the mishmash of geometry between the grid of the library and the building across the street I just found really pretty appealing. I like how you get a mesh feeling from the reflection of the library in the other building.

Overall, it was a really fun evening, and it felt great to finally get to experiment with something new. I wouldn’t exactly call any of these images exceptional, but I think they came out decently enough. I’m looking forward to heading out in the evenings some more, though given that I start work again next week, I imagine I will be somewhat curbed in my late night escapades (so unfortunate, this “needing money” thing). Days like this that I wish this work was salable, and for good enough money to do it for a living. Going around and taking late night photos of the urban landscape sounds like a pretty awesome career to me!

Night Photography

Setting Your Night Photography Goals: I found this blog through my father, and have been enjoying the photography and writing he posts. While he’s primarily focused on the topic of night photography (as fits the topic of the blog, and a subject near my own heart), what he talks about with keeping yourself motivated and on track by setting yourself good, clear, reasonable goals is really worthwhile no matter what sort of creative work you’re endeavoring to do.

Essay: Digital Photography: A Different Media

This will hardly be an essay that most people at this point and time will agree with. Nevertheless, it is how I feel, based on what I’ve seen and done over the past few months. There is an underlying animosity towards digital media and computers in a great deal of the traditional artistic community (photographers included), much in a similar fashion as there was when photography was introduced. This is further exacerbated by the unwillingness of the photographic community to accept digital photography in the same fashion that it did with film. They consider it to be “modified” from the original print, meddled with and thus relegated in general to digital awards. My hypothesis is that perhaps they are not entirely incorrect. Digital photography in many ways is a different medium altogether from film.

Digital Photography is a multistep process. Like film, it involves a camera. Like film, it involves exposing a sensor (film being the sensor in film’s case). They both record an image. But really, they start to diverge at the point of recording the image. In one case, it involves an emulsion, light sensitive chemicals recording the image displayed. In the other case, however, it records it as data, collecting the color information for a particular point. While the image may look the same in the end, the process itself is the beginning of divergence. For instance, because of the difference in recording method, it is possible to counteract the reciprocity factor of film to do multiple or extended exposures on the same piece of film, to great effect. With digital media, that just isn’t possible: once a sensor is saturated with data, all that is added from an extended exposure is noise. It is VERY difficult to get an extended exposure digital image that is not noisy to the point of making the image unusable. Because of this, you simply cannot do multiple exposures in the same shot with a digital camera. At least yet — I’m sure a method at some point will be discovered.

We persist in treating digital photography as the same as traditional photography, because of the similarity in output. But technically, there is a great deal that can be done with digital photography that is unique to the medium, that doesn’t get touched upon, because of this mindset. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that there is a difference between a cyanoprint and a photograph, and likewise, there is a difference (albeit more subtle) between a digital image and a photograph. There is data within a digital print that could be used to great effect, if the appropriate tools were created. Instead, though, we restrict ourselves to trying to get it to look as much like a traditional photograph as possible. What about applying ourselves to finding ways of getting the images to look like various painterly techniques? The information is there to do so, we simply have to elect to do it.

I suppose what I am trying to say, is that I would like to see digital media not put in the corner in the art community. If people would stop being so arrogant and close-minded about it, they would see that it has as much validity as an artistic medium as any other. It is what is DONE with the medium that matters, not the medium itself.

Annotation: The Mind’s Eye

As much as he gets talked about, and as much as I love his photography, I must say I’m not too impressed with Henri Cartier-Bresson’s writing. The Mind’s Eye is a collection of writing that Henri has done over his career about photographers and photography. Unfortunately, Henri is french and as such thinks in French. Different languages foster different modes of thought and different styles of communication. Personally, I found his writing style very quotable in small vignettes, but lacking greater substance when taken as a whole. This is further exacerbated by the relative shortness of each piece, the average length being 3-5 pages. Since it’s so many short pieces, it isn’t really worthwhile, in my eyes, to address each. Instead I’ll address my views on the three major topics: “The Camera as Sketchbook”, “Time and Place”, and “On Photographers and Friends”.

“The Camera as Sketchbook” was the most coherent and pertinent section of the book, in my opinion. It discusses the process of photography, using it to capture those decisive moments about topics you are passionate about. It also has the title essay, “The Mind’s Eye”, which discusses developing your inner senses, learning to be in tune with your surroundings so that you are both aware and prepared for when a key moment comes. These tidbits would be more useful, of course, if he bothered saying more on possible methods to develop one’s abilities, how to capture the decisive moment, how to work your passions into your photography, how to refine the mind’s eye, instead of just saying they are necessary. This was when I first started to become disappointed in this book; when you realize you are halfway through a book and keep on waiting for the author to get past summary and to the rest of the content, it’s probably a sign that it’s not the proper book for you.

“Time and Place”, you would think, would discuss time and place as it pertains to photography. Perhaps a discussion on when and where it is appropriate to photograph, and when one should just set aside the camera and appreciate it as a personal moment, perhaps that would make sense for such a chapter header. Perhaps Cartier-Bresson just had a really bad editor who gave the collections poor titles. Because it was just a collection of his writing on his photographic escapades to various places at pivotal times in history (Mao’s march in China, for instance). This was not really what was described and sold to me as. I felt vaguely betrayed by Aperture (the publisher) for describing the book in one fashion on the cover and in the book leaf, and then having it actually being a significantly different book.

“On Photographers and Friends” was really pretty boring. It had even less continuity than the previous sections, which either segued from one topic to another relatively smoothly, or was done in some semblance of chronological order. This section, however, had none of that. It was just a mishmash of eulogies or statements on various friends Henri has had over the years, like André Breton, and Robert Capa. It’s nice to hear his thoughts on these influential people, but come on. That said, each commentary is extremely brief, and really isn’t very useful in any sort of scholarly sense. To put it into perspective: Henri discussed 15 photographers and friends, which took him 29 pages of large, spacious type in a small book, including pictures and copies of his handwritten letters (where applicable).

I hate to say it, but I really do feel like this was a case of Aperture collecting the random ramblings of an old man, feeding like vultures on the carcass of fame. This sort of obsessive capitalization on the fame of an individual is something that is truly offensive to me. It gluts the market with wasted time and wasted shelf space, and obscures the truly effective and useful books from the inexperienced reader (and how is one to know what books to seek and what books to avoid? You can only make a guess, albeit a somewhat more educated one as you go along). Between this and other books I’ve read published by Aperture, I really am beginning to develop a strong distaste for them — a shame, since they are such a large publisher of photography and I feel like I should do what I can to support such endeavors.

Cartier-Bresson, Henri. The Mind’s Eye. Aperture, 1999.