Goodbye jack

On Tuesday December 11th after 15 joyful years, my wife and I lost a good and loyal member of our small family.

A hard to describe mix of Smithfield and Spaniel, Jack was truly unique.

On the day we found Jack (a few months after loosing Ziggy our 12 year old Schnauzer), both my wife and I, separately and without any coordination found the same litter of pups at a local pet shop and excitedly shared to news with each other simultaneously. Armed with the surety of fate’s intervention, we returned. I picked up one little black puppy (I think I remember he stood out because he came to me), who promptly gave me a little lick of acceptance on the chin and settled in to my arms. Resigned to a choice made by us for her, my wife paid and we went home. More coincidentally a friend of ours got a girl from the litter and named her the name we had for him George (Georgie who is still going ok also), so naming him took a little longer than we anticipated. After a little consideration, Jack (Jack-flash, Jack-in-the-box) seemed to fit his rambunctious personality so Jack it was.

He never looked back.

 Soulful eyes. He was 13 or 14 here, full of life, although the signs of decline were there.

Soulful eyes. He was 13 or 14 here, full of life, although the signs of decline were there.

Always torn between herd dog and hunting dog instincts he developed some curious habits of finding, retrieving and delivering his favourite toys (usually Duck-bear, an odd stuffed toy mostly bear but with a ducks bill!), presenting them with a strange delighted wiggle, but then not releasing. We called this the “here is this…but you cant have it” game.

To say he filled a room with his presence is an understatement. We feel that dogs (and people) have two sizes. Their physical one (13kg/1 foot at the shoulder) and a “pack” size. In this Jack was at least 6 foot tall! Pepper, his house mate for the last 7 years is three times his size, but always seemed to take up less room. She can disappear under a table amongst the feet of dinner guests, where Jack would be in a corner interacting periodically.

Never one to whine (I do not ever remember hearing him actually whine), he had several barks that we all instinctively recognised.

The most used was the inclusive or “fishing” one, which he used to connect. It was a simple, quite deep for his size, single woof. As he grew older and slower, with failing eye sight and hearing, he would use this when he needed to go outside*, or just to stay in contact (often when I was on the computer at the other end of the house I would be summoned to at least wave down the hall, which would be enough).

*We learned quickly to react to this, or to his and our embarrassment, there would be a very rare accident (he hated to disappoint, toilet training himself at a very young age and even at his late stage in life only had a very few accidents if left inside all day).

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The second was the cheeky, playful bark. With the smallest lift of my chin or eye brow, I could get him anticipating a game on the floor or his favourite, “hide and seek”. The game would start with his head dropping, a low growl and his jaw would drop, revealing a cheeky smile and then it was game on. The actual game usually ended with a gentle nuzzle and we quickly moved on. It seemed the anticipation and contact were often greater than the need to play.

 Ready to go. This also shows a slightly ragged rear end, due to the allergies that plagued him for much of his life.

Ready to go. This also shows a slightly ragged rear end, due to the allergies that plagued him for much of his life.

The third, less endearing one was the leash or fence line bark (a bad habit taught to him by his predecessor/mentor Pippin the less friendly Spaniel, Fox Terrier cross). He knew every dog in the neighbourhood and they new him. You could walk Jack down a street he had not been down for years and he would remember all of the possible dog encounters on offer, often sneaking up on the suspect gate (I swear with a mischievous giggle), launching out with a bark, then moving on to the next one.

Not a fighter, he was a rabble rouser, an agitator. He had the ability to bring out the worst in the best behaved, trotting off laughing, job done. We could often picture him hoisting his pants up around his rib cage in anticipation of a friendly bout, but it mostly smoke without fire. Strangely, when he was young he was off the leash at a park once and another dog entered from a hidden pathway. We immediately assumed things would spiral downward quickly, but he simply sat down on all fours as if waiting for instruction, a Smithfield instinct we assume. We sometimes wonder if, without Pippin’s bad influence early on, whether he could have been one of those always off lead dogs, able to handle himself in any situation without fear of pending disaster.

before I paint him as a total rat bag though, I must remind myself of his deep sensitivity. When I was ill a couple of years ago, he was a stalwart companion. It was only right that I did the same for him.

 Playing Fooh.

Playing Fooh.

The need to please was the driving force with Jack. Although he had a very Alpha male vibe, usually sitting away from other dogs, magnetically drawing them to him, then feigning disinterest, he was keen to do the right thing and was fiercely protective of his “pack”. People were his focus and he could win anyone over. You always felt with Jack, he knew you were there for him.

I can only remember scolding him once or twice in the 15 years we had him. Usually the hint of our displeasure was enough to bring him back from crossing the line and once learned, he never forgot. Ours was a partnership of mutual understanding, not a one way master/servant one. He had no formal training, but picked up (mostly) good habits from day one.

Jack’s hair smelled like a favourite old jumper. Rarely bathed (and never sporting a particularly good hair cut), he was always pleasant to be around. He took grooming seriously, but unfortunately did not have control of the scissors, something I am sure annoyed him a little.

 Really….best you could do?

Really….best you could do?

It is impossible to describe how much my wife and I will miss him. Even people who do not connect with dogs will notice his passing from our family group. There is a genuine hole in our lives, making our house feel bigger, emptier and less alive with his passing (I feel it most at night, my wife in the morning). On the final day he went down hill quickly and our distress from loosing him quickly changed to a strong need to make him comfortable and quickly.

This is always a tough time. Two days before he has a slightly wonky, but fully involved member of our family, the next day he was lethargic, probably caused by a bleed similar to one he had last February when the vet told us his prognosis (he had a large benign growth on his spleen*, that caused little pain, but was growing big enough to limit his normal functions), the next day he refused food for the first time and clearly did not have the energy to even relieve himself without help (but the little trooper still growled to let us know he needed to go out).

This was enough. With little left in the tank to recover with and not even eating his favourite food, roast chicken (we called it the “chicken test”), we knew it was time.

I think if you are torn between guilt at possibly stealing away some days from him and guilt that maybe he should have gone sooner, then you have reached the time for the tough decision.

I will confess to some relief. Feeling him slowly fade away was hard. You are constantly aware he is not who he used to be, but is still a relevant and vital force in your life. We are also locked in for a trip away at Christmas that was threatening to fall flat if he was not either in good enough health to leave with family or (as it turned out) declining quickly and clearly.

Time to move on, but never forget. There will be another dog in the near future, as we are dog people, and Pepper our gorgeous 10 year old Ridgeback/Cattle dog cross would like the company. There is no feeling of disloyalty to Jack, more a feeling of doing our part giving a new life a loving home.

I am glad I have an interest in photography. I feel for those who loose their little friends and do not have any decent photos of them. Unlike Pepper (my muse), Jack was harder to photograph, but over his 15 years managed to keep a record of him and his funny habits. I am sure I will add to this as I go.

*Add to this almost total deafness, poor short range vision, dicky hips (from berth) an obvious heart murmur, another small growth on his heart, summer heat stress (often leading to odd habits like straddling a cool wooden table brace with his tummy) and two replacement knees from his 8th year on, he could probably be classed as a minor walking miracle, especially when you consider how well he handled all of these issues. Oh and the skin allergies, can’t forget the allergies.

Bye mate.

Purple Patches

Ok, so long story short. I have a couple of friends/customers (yes, they can be both) who, after a short but intense search for the right cameras for their wedding business, settled on a pair of EM1 mk2’s with F1.2 primes.

All looked to be going well enough until they came across a purple “quilt pattern” issue in the flared areas of the image. I must admit, it had not crossed my radar (I cannot help but think that if I was shooting/buying for myself, I would have come across it, but being more camera agnostic in a shop environment, it slipped through the masses of data).

A little research yielded little. A little testing even less.

All I can say so far is, I cannot get my EM1 mk2 to show any patterned artefacts in the purple flare areas of the image with either the 25mm f1.8 or the 45mm f1.8. I shot 30 images into the sun through some leaves or the edge of a building, trying to get it to come out. The images do show some purple in the flare areas, but Olympus lenses, especially the f1.8 ones do have a tendency towards purple CA (my 25 especially), so this would be the colour, if any, that would show through.

Obviously more information and more testing are needed. I would have put the problem down to the new F1.2 lenses (maybe a coating issue like the old Nikon 50mm f1.8 blue reflection one, or the unusual element design in those lenses or maybe even the lenses speed). It is likely an issue that post dates the EM1’s release, but one thread had a comment about it showing up on most of the lenses tested.

As modern manufacturers push harder and harder, the simple things seem to be paying the price. If there is an issue I hope Olympus fix it, quickly and efficiently.

Come Fly with me

Australia, the land of the fly. Apparently there a million of them for each one of us. I would believe it.

Even in quiet and relatively temperate Tasmania, we can produce plenty.

They can be an easy and surprisingly interesting study point in the morning, before the heat comes on.

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 They seem to like each others company,

They seem to like each others company,

 The proverbial “blue assed fly” (and friend).

The proverbial “blue assed fly” (and friend).

Small things…

Kind of like shooting slide film.

Using slide film was tough. There was the exposure accuracy to consider, the waiting for processing (1 week for Kodachrome) and of course the not insignificant question of what to do with your slides when done. Of course the pay off at this time was the best quality colour image available.

Negative film was more immediate and more flexible/forgiving and black and white gave you the (illusion) of complete control.

A passing thought. If I am happy with the jpeg files form the Pen F and they give me HDR, HiRes and other multi file options as well as built in lens corrections, then could (should) I switch to jpeg for landscapes.

This would in effect be the same as shooting slide film without all of the problems mentioned above. In fact it would reduce a few issues I have now with file storage and processing. Is it too limiting if I intend to process aggressively?

Hmmmm….thinking.



print or screen?

We all spend a lot of time and effort creating our art form (and not inconsiderable funds). What is your personal ideal end destination for your work?

Are you attempting to break even on your investment, even get a little ahead?

Are you more content with more emotional reimbursement?

Just as importantly as why is what you do to secure this?

The pinnacle of the process for me is a fine art print. I feel there is nothing that compares to a high quality print, correctly sized, under glass and framed tastefully*. This both a visual and emotional commitment and requires a good amount of courage to apply.

The print is your vision in hard copy, placed in full view and intended for extended viewing, there is no escaping it’s presence. This is a bold gesture in this era of 3 second viewing and semi anonymous posting. The extra effort and expense involved in printing forces the artist to make decisions often at odds with our modern way of working. I know for a fact that I post images that I would not print and I do not mean just the crops and examples, but images that I am happy for the world to see at low resolution, surrounded by words, but would not hold up as a constant companion in a room or hall.

An image that is good enough to print has to transcend technical quality. It has to be more than just the better of a lot of similar images (i.e. least worst). It must, to my mind be the best you can do to tell the world who you are as an artist. Technical short comings can be overcome by a strong enough image, but ideally, the print will be completely and fully accomplished. For me, it is a baked in assumption, that any doubts I have cancel an image out as a contender.

If it is good enough to print, it also needs to be framed and placed well. Any short fall at any step in the process undoes the whole*.

Should this be everyone’s premier end point?

Of course not. The reality is we all photograph for different reasons with any number of applications. The irony though is the whole industry is geared up for “the big print”. The only other uses we have for super high resolution cameras are technical/scientific applications or for viewing/reviewing at 100 percent or bigger (photo nerd stuff).

If a screen is the limit of your vision, then a reasonably low-res image, taken technically well will always do (perceived sharpness, contrast and composition have little to do with pixel counts). Screen resolution in the future may change this quality gauge, but not by much in real terms and even if it did the experience of the viewer would need to change to suit (that is to say we would need something better than the human eye at normal viewing distances).

 Once again I roll out one of the test images I mistakenly shot on small jpeg (about 3 1/2 MP). Even on a 29” screen I did not realise my mistake until I went to pixel peep and the images would (could) not increase. Let there be no doubt. At this size I have rarely seen a sharper or glassy smooth image from any of my cameras. It only lacked the ability to “embiggen”.

Once again I roll out one of the test images I mistakenly shot on small jpeg (about 3 1/2 MP). Even on a 29” screen I did not realise my mistake until I went to pixel peep and the images would (could) not increase. Let there be no doubt. At this size I have rarely seen a sharper or glassy smooth image from any of my cameras. It only lacked the ability to “embiggen”.

Another ironic twist here for me is the reversal of roles cameras and prints have made in the last 10 years. For years, film resolution and enlarge-ability were the limiting factors for printers. Now we are free to print as we want while the ratio of printing to image making is at it’s lowest point ever.

Finally we can all print as well as the masters, even at home. We have the front end cameras, editing tools, speed of turn around, low running costs and can even be more comfortable doing it, but printing has become the poor forgotten cousin to screen viewing.

When I first began with film in the 80’s, printing was the only form of sharing. The bigger the print the grander the share. Shooting mostly slide film, I am guilty of having some of my best work lost to apathy or the inadequacy of presentation options and skill. The black and white darkroom was better by a hair, but still a place where I found I lacked commitment and enthusiasm, seeing it mostly as a severe money and time drain**. Rare were my prints and meagre my talent in creating them. I did not realise it at the time, that I was part of a small community (most more committed than I), who had a chance to put into print, for the long term, their (our) little place in time. It also escaped my notice that connecting with friends and family about my passion only came from showing them my prints, not my gear or books of others work.

All this comes down to the question the photo industry probably does not want asked (up front anyway). “What is the realistic end result of your work?”.

The answer to that question is at odds with the illusion required for camera sales to continue or increase. The most honest customers, when it comes to matching perceptions with needs are at the two extremes of the market.

The cheap compact camera purchaser (also known as the bus user) knows they only need something basic to get the job done. What they do not realise is, most people who spend a lot more have the same technical needs, they just pay into the industry perpetuated illusion they need better tools.

At the other end of the spectrum are the fine art, technical and commercial photographers (AKA the racing drivers) who may indeed print big or have their images scrutinised closely. Realistically very few and far between, the industry needs more than just these few to justify the volume and quality of cameras they produce. The industry does this by selling the emotionally charged promise of something truly special, by directly connecting to technical minimum requirements.

The rest of us are just like regular car consumers. We buy cameras the same way we buy cars with potential top speeds well in excess of the speed limit. Some by a sports cars, some basic sedans and some motor bikes, but all limited by the speed limit or our own skill regardless.

In a previous post I posed the question “Is M43 good enough for printing reasonably big fine art prints"?”. The better question, assuming the content of the image itself is the most important indicator or quality, may be “Is it realistically more than I need?”.

Anyway, a bit off topic as usual, so lets return to the real question.

What is the realistic end product of your images and how do you get there.? Once the journey is defined, it often becomes much easier to facilitate and we can get on with doing it.

*I am not a fan of canvas prints in most cases, as I see them as an object that is self-justifying, almost regardless of the image content, but can also reduce the impact of a good print by their very nature.

** Funny though that I could easily spend hundreds of hours reading up on all aspects of the subject and pore thousands of dollars into it also, just not commit at the output end.

JPEg and Raw comparison

Just a quick look at a RAW and jpeg image comparison from the Pen F and 12-100 (at 100mm f4, supposedly it’s worst performing setting and hand held at 1/60th)

Standard, fairly mild pre-set for the RAW, nothing for the jpeg, then some mild brush work over the focus area.

The first of each is the RAW. Getting increasingly hard to tell. This bodes well for the jpeg based HDR, HiRes and other features the camera offers for landscapes.

A serious look at the fine art potential of M43

Readers of this blog would be aware that i not only like to use Micro Four Thirds (M43) equipment, but that I also make high claims for the format, especially from the perspective of my (and I believe most peoples) realistic needs.

What about unrealistic or extreme needs?

One of the fields I intend to pursue in the new year is the fine art landscape and abstract field. This is one of those itches that I have never properly scratched and like a lot of itches, it refuses to go away. Living in the beautiful place I do, I often come across something that translates well to imaging and so the seed of “what if I actually tried a bit harder” is growing.

 Stumbled over twice (once on a camping trip and the second time is post processing almost a year later). To put it into perspective, every ripple in the dunes is sharp and clear at 12x16” print size. The image came from a hand held file made with a budget tele zoom and with a 6 year old 16mp sensor (and it is a fairly aggressive crop).

Stumbled over twice (once on a camping trip and the second time is post processing almost a year later). To put it into perspective, every ripple in the dunes is sharp and clear at 12x16” print size. The image came from a hand held file made with a budget tele zoom and with a 6 year old 16mp sensor (and it is a fairly aggressive crop).

This comes inevitably to technical considerations.

Fine art and Landscape photography both scream quality needs. Landscape imaging is one of the few styles of photography genuinely demanding of detail and consistency across the frame.

Fine art also says to me “big”.

Can my (puny) Olympus M43 cameras and lenses actually cope with this level of scrutiny?

Lets see.

Viewing distances and ideal resolution for fine art prints I am sure has a mathematical formula for acceptable quality. Without going to the trouble of finding, understanding and translating this on a purely technical level, I will posit my own quality minimum based on what my own eyes see.

The A3+ print is the limit my own printer can manage, but I may go up to an A2 (Canon Pro 1000) in the near future. So A2 or A3+ with a little wiggle room is the goal. A viewing distance of say, 3-6 feet at the closest (lets not worry about quality obsessed photographers who may “pixel peep” a paper image at a few inches), up to several meters on a more casual “print you pass hanging on the wall in a working space” dynamic. I am achieving this (A3+) already with EM5 16mp files (some cropped reasonably heavily) on a Pixma Pro 9000 mk11 printer. I actually think the printer, which prints very fine ink jet droplets cannot show all of the file quality.

I know that the gold standard in the past has been 6x7 film or bigger or in the more recent past a full frame 20mp camera did the job for years. Nobody complained about the base image quality from these camera’s at A3+ or bigger sizes. When using a 5D2 I was plagued with technical issues, such as mirror and shutter vibration, stability and sometimes lens calibration, but still managed to reach the minimum required quality most viewers appreciated. In the film era, I did not have the luxury of a 6x7 camera (645 was my mightiest tool), but even well handled 35mm, could stretch the printing limits available at the time.

How does M43 (the Pen F specifically) compare?

High ISO comparisons aside (not relevant for landscape work where time is a controlled element), I now have a smaller, silent and gently operating, calibration guaranteed, 20mp sensor without strong aliasing filters, and an edge to edge sharp all-in-one lens, so technically I have exceeded the 5D2 in realistic field applicable quality. As an option, when conditions are right, I can even match or exceed the pixel count of a 5Ds using the HiRes mode without moire and lens resolution issues.

As a time friendly process (usually anyway), issues of dynamic range, perfect exposure, focussing accuracy and framing constraints are effectively irrelevant.

The set above is a 20mp Raw, 50mp jpeg and 80mp RAW. Not practical for moving subjects, it is as useable in the field as a full frame camera working with smaller apertures for deeper depth of field at a low ISO. The last file is still 4-5mp.

As for film comparisons, Ctein, a noted colour fine art photographer and printer is on record as saying the older 16mp EM5 mk1 sensor is equivalent to a Pentax 67 negative. He used both for long enough to know and regularly prints big (A2+). I guess this puts an improved 20mp sensor in the middle ground between medium and large format.

M43 sensors were the first and only major format sensors made to purpose in the digital world. One of the reasons Olympus and Panasonic chose it was lens design. The smaller and slightly squarer sensor allows the designer to make not only smaller lenses, but consistently better ones or even near perfect ones with little design compromise. Ask a full frame lens designer how hard it is to cover the big, rectangular sensor and they will tell you a long and frustrating story of many lens model re-thinks, each better than the last, but none without flaws as an ever higher bar is raised.

In the M43 world, some really good glass came out from the get-go and the offering has continued to surprise. My ideal is a good quality super zoom allowing for perfect framing without constantly avoiding don’t go areas. The 12-100 is that lens for me, no other super zoom would cut it.

Of course the proof will be in the pudding, so time to cook.

Creativity or accuracy?

Photography sits is in a difficult and delicate position in the artistic world. On the one hand it is generally accepted as an accurate enough recording system for every thing from dinner to dinosaurs, where most other forms of art disqualify themselves by their difficult and bespoke nature. On the other hand, the art world often assumes it to be a traitor to it’s own best characteristic, accuracy. It is assumed it is manipulated and compromised as a matter of course

Photoshopping has even become as much a household word as “Hoovering”, giving the modern photographer, in the eyes of their viewers, little solid ground to stand on if they claim to produce “pure” or untampered with work. The reality is, it never has been.

The fact is, no image making can be or has ever been perfectly accurate or unadulterated. There will always be forces out of the control of the photographer. Even in the film era, often cited as “real” or true photography, the choice of film, processing, light, filtering, lens coatings, film age, exposure, printing paper, printing chemistry, framing options etc. etc. would inevitably erode the accuracy of any attempt at literal reproduction. Ironically, this was how photographers controlled their style or signature process, by harnessing these differences.

So, does it matter if an image is not perfectly accurate? If it does, then how far from accurate is ok and how far is too far?

The argument of whether or not to manipulate a digital image will never be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. Many reject too much obvious processing, added and fake elements, while others make a strong body of work doing exactly that (just look at most novel covers). The trend of regular over processing seems to be behind us to some extent, but these things do have a habit of coming and going. The biggest offenders recently seem to be well known film era photographers who have had their old work manipulated (knowingly or not) from it’s previously accepted form (Steve McCurry, as an example has copped a lot of criticism for this lately and my personal bugbear is the difference between Ansel Adam’s colour reproductions old and new).

Anyone shooting in RAW is by definition deciding to process to their own tastes, aggressively or gently. Those who subscribe to an “untouched”, straight out of the camera jpeg. file are simply letting the preferences of the camera manufacturer take precedence. There is no escaping the fact that someone’s ideal is being applied. The logic of then processing the jpeg file heavily escapes me.

Where to draw the line is a personal decision. I cannot do more than offer my own thoughts, with no intention other than to share, not judge.

Lightroom is my line in the sand. It allows me to manipulate the same functions that I could in a purely photographic sense when using film, but much more accurately and easily. Some of these decisions would have been at the film selection stage, some during processing and some in the Darkroom. Lightroom gives me much the same control in a more repeatable and cost efficient form. Printing also, is now simply a matter of accuracy (although instinct rather than technical processes is usually applied).

The basis of this approach is because of it’s inability to add anything that was not there. It only allows manipulations within the file as captured or the removal of extraneous details and flaws. These are exactly the same limitations we had before.

The more “graphic arts” applications of Photoshop leave me cold, but I also know that their lure would be too much temptation to ignore. I am aware however that the controls in Photoshop are sometimes more refined and powerful.

There are many other programmes similar to Lightroom, some with superior core pre-sets for some cameras, but the features I love to use most are only found in the Lightroom suite.

The all-in-one nature of the programme is helpful. It is my filing system, my processor and my printing interface. If I have the need it can also produce books or other styles of presentation, so for now, it provides all I need or may need.

The tools that are the most useful to me are;

The Brush tool. This gives greater control and subtler application of the more aggressive editing functions. Localised contrast, clarity and sharpness are simply better to look at than global settings. If you use global sharpening or clarity, the entire image, even the soft parts will change. If on the other hand you apply mild (positive) clarity, contrast and sharpening to the area of main interest and negative values of the same to the softer areas, the image gains “pop” and three-dimensionality. The thing to remember with the brush tool is to apply it in multiple sweeps of gentle settings rather than heavy, one off sweeps.

The first image above only has a basic pre set applied. The sharp and soft elements are too close to give a real feeling of separation. The second image has global contrast, sharpening and clarity added. The rose looks stronger, but the out of focus elements have become rougher. The final image has the same settings applied with the brush, but only to the rose and negative settings applied to the OOF areas, making the slightly less than perfect “onion ring” Bokeh smoother and creamier. This also add the three dimensional effect.

Camera Calibration. This one slipped under the radar for ages, but once discovered it gave me the ability to change the core colour rendering of my camera’s sensors. The EM5’s in particular have a colour base that is not to my liking. For ages I was frustrated with a magenta-yellowish baseline that took too much fixing to be comfortable (the more you process, the more file quality you potentially loose). The Camera Calibration sliders don’t just adjust colour like the normal colour sliders, they change the core colour bias of the file on a fundamental level (think of it as adding raspberries to a cake mix rather than putting them on top of the baked cake later). Just a little (+20) blue channel saturation for example makes my files cooler/deeper/more mysterious in the cool tones and by contrast warmer/richer in the warmer tones and not murky.

In the set above the first image looks cold and a little dull. The second image, with +20 added blue channel saturation warms it up and adds some brilliance. The colours could be played with individually, but this simple fix usually suits and I feel it does a lot more to the base colour than is obvious.

Black/White sliders. These two, again for the EM5 mk1’s add a richness and bite to the files that the simple contrast control cannot. Darkened blacks and lightened white make the files more contrasty and brilliant fashion. Each needs adjustment to compensate with their less aggressive siblings (+ shadows, - highlights). This is not as necessary for the newer sensors, but for the older 16mp sensor, it adds clean punch. I have heard that using the curve tool to do the same is a cleaner application, but I cannot confirm that.

This is my style, applied to my liking. It may be more (or less) than you prefer, but it suits me.




Lets not forget old and faithful friends

Lots of talking about, playing with and thinking on the merits of new cameras, but lets not forget old friends.

I have 3 OMD EM5 mk1 cameras, ranging from 4 to 6, nearly 7 years old, all with a 100k+ frame count, each going well with the following minor “faults” recorded.

  • The second oldest lost the cap off it’s top rear thumb dial about 3 years ago, I stuck it back on with double sided tape and it has been fine since.

  • The youngest and special edition model produced at the end of the production cycle, very occasionally (twice?) had to be turned off/on again to get the sensor to power up, although this may be a lens contacts issue.

  • The oldest one, purchased out of the first batch we received, had a spot on the sensor once very early on (oh the horror!), but it disappeared next on/off cycle and has never happened again. It is also sporting two pretty deep gashes on it’s top plate, with no known after effects.

The two older ones have not had their firmware updated since purchase, but it does not worry me.

What they are still great at;

The sensor/processor combination creates beautiful, uncomplicated, cleanly sharp and rich images especially in strong light. They really love late afternoon sun, shiny things and strong contrast with deep blacks, reminding me of how film rendered the same.

 75-300 at 75mm. The two make an amazingly capable combo.

75-300 at 75mm. The two make an amazingly capable combo.

 17mm at f5.6

17mm at f5.6

 45mm. Kyoto has a series of odd chrome buildings in and around the city centre.

45mm. Kyoto has a series of odd chrome buildings in and around the city centre.

 75mm. Building detail Tokyo Japan.

75mm. Building detail Tokyo Japan.

 25mm

25mm

 75mm at f1.8. The slight “CA” on the dog tag was actually from a green tinted, hardened glass window, not the lens, but it could/should have been cleared up anyway.

75mm at f1.8. The slight “CA” on the dog tag was actually from a green tinted, hardened glass window, not the lens, but it could/should have been cleared up anyway.

 I just love the simple 70’s film glow that some files have.

I just love the simple 70’s film glow that some files have.

The image above was taken “loosely” on a day when both Fuji and Canon FF were in the final mix. This file was the only one that came easily and well (the Canon missed focus and Fuji at that time was just too slow and “detached”). I had at that point decided to go back to full frame. After trying this image on an XE-1 and 6D mk1, I added a couple of lazy grab shots from the Olympus . On examination, these 2-3 files were the best focussed, easiest to manipulate and fastest/surest to take. This one ended up printed as an A2 for work, helping sell a lot of M43 cameras.

 40-150 f2.8 through a hazy window.

40-150 f2.8 through a hazy window.

 75mm at f2 through a reflective window.

75mm at f2 through a reflective window.

The controlled highlight rendering matched with good shadow recovery combine to make post processing surefooted and consistent.

 45mm

45mm

 75mm

75mm

They are still quick to fire, reassuring in operation and low profile enough to go under the radar more often than not.

 17mm. this set is jut a small showing as a brilliant day in Tokyo. Hitting a real winning streak, I captured 20+ “keepers” in an hour.

17mm. this set is jut a small showing as a brilliant day in Tokyo. Hitting a real winning streak, I captured 20+ “keepers” in an hour.

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The first acquisition AF is still cutting edge, surprising me still to this day, as long as you do not need tracking.

 17mm. One of many hip level snaps, using the tilted-up rear screen.

17mm. One of many hip level snaps, using the tilted-up rear screen.

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High ISO performance is still good as long as the lens used has strong micro contrast and the exposure is accurate.

 Shot with the 40-150 pro and a slight crop. This lens allowed me to use ISO 3200 cleanly for a series of images shot in on unlit stage, without flash.

Shot with the 40-150 pro and a slight crop. This lens allowed me to use ISO 3200 cleanly for a series of images shot in on unlit stage, without flash.

One of the big advantages of M43 cameras is the combination of format (rendering better depth of field at lens wider apertures), and stabiliser means you do not have to use high ISO’s as often.

 17mm wide open. Taken in near darkness, this was one of my first revelatory images with the new (then) EM5. The combination of a lower than expected ISO due to an excellent stabiliser, good shadow recovery, natural “filmy” grain and the ability to shoot with a 17mm lens wide open made this possible.

17mm wide open. Taken in near darkness, this was one of my first revelatory images with the new (then) EM5. The combination of a lower than expected ISO due to an excellent stabiliser, good shadow recovery, natural “filmy” grain and the ability to shoot with a 17mm lens wide open made this possible.

Black and whites can be either smooth and very tonally pleasing of have a very film like and natural grain.

 75mm

75mm

 17mm

17mm

 45mm

45mm

 From early on I found myself keen to shoot in available darkness.

From early on I found myself keen to shoot in available darkness.

What I feel needs addressing for best results.

I personally do not like the colour straight out of the camera. Jpeg’s need the warm tone setting taken off then -1 magenta in the tonal slider (camera back).

RAW files get a pretty strong Lightroom pre-set applied (Darkened blacks, lightened whites, reduced highlights, increased shadows and added blue saturation in the camera calibration window). This gives me a cleaner, cooler-neutral and richer look without the yellow/magenta caste the base images tend to show. I also find the brush* with a little added sharpness/clarity/contrast really makes important parts of the image jump out. Although highlights recover well, I lean on under exposure to make the shadows deeper or stronger, knowing I can recover them if needed.

*Generally I lay off global sharpening, saturation and contrast/clarity. You get better results by locally brush-tool applying these.

Images on bad light days can be a little flat and dark, almost too literal. This is to be expected, so Fuji cameras, compared at the time were my go-to’s for poor light quality shooting as their jpegs added a little (possibly fake) brilliance to dull day images. I think part of the problem comes from the expectation you can get something useable from every file and sometimes, the simple, honest images form the Em5’s are just too honest. Often reviewing them later, they look better than their first impression. Another thing I need to remember is the blue saturation slider in camera calibration trick came later, after the first two trips to Japan that were plagued with cool, wet spring light.

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 The basic adjustments outlined above, quickly (too quickly probably) applied. Sometimes I feel the more I dig, the more I will find.

The basic adjustments outlined above, quickly (too quickly probably) applied. Sometimes I feel the more I dig, the more I will find.

 As above, nothing added, only found and enhanced. All the colour in both images is natural to them. Post processing need only strengthen the better elements and reduce the weaker ones.

As above, nothing added, only found and enhanced. All the colour in both images is natural to them. Post processing need only strengthen the better elements and reduce the weaker ones.

In comparison to the Canon sensors I came from using (5D2, 550D, 50D) 6 years ago, they held much better highlight detail and were generally more robust in processing. Canon’s issues with burned out highlights, lens calibration and accuracy issues and general “softness” in operation really pushed me over the edge and at the time and Olympus/Panasonic were the only viable alternative if you wanted to swap fully into mirrorless, not just fiddle.

Many of the little niggles I had with the EM5’s have now been addressed and the new sensor and processors have raised the bar, but there is still much to like in the older cameras.

Exciting times.

The 4 Stages of Street photography (according to me)

You may or may not have heard of the 5 stages of photography? If not, they are the recognised developmental steps (most) photographers go through from beginning, accumulating, adapting and finally settling on their gear and technique. I cannot say it is bunkum as I recognise myself, sometimes repetitively in these steps.

Street photography, I feel has a similar set of recognisable stages.

Stage 1. Recognition.

The first is often the step that creates interest for the budding street photographer. Full of the desire to experiment, but lacking direction, the enthusiastic and increasingly competent early shooter may be aware of all sorts of things on a purely photographic, compositional level and may naturally find human interactions, observed normality or urban detritus draws them. The moment they recognise this as a recognised form, they have started their journey as a street photographer. This may come early or late in the photographers journey, depending on their interests.

Stage 2. Luck and effort.

 One of thousands of grabs taken over 5, 2 week trips to Japan. Sometimes the frame fills itself with balance and interest, creating the organised chaos style I favour, often not. (EM5 mk1 17mm Kyoto Japan)

One of thousands of grabs taken over 5, 2 week trips to Japan. Sometimes the frame fills itself with balance and interest, creating the organised chaos style I favour, often not. (EM5 mk1 17mm Kyoto Japan)

Once recognised, more concentrated effort is directed at fast accumulation of images. The new adherent now has to decide what style of street photography they are going to subscribe to. This is often subconscious, maybe an extension of what has worked before, but if they have also become a deep researcher on the subject, then maybe more deliberate. The reality is though, at this early stage, luck and dedication will determine the volume and then the overall look and feel will come from habit. This constant practice will come easily as long as the feeling of excitement and exploration lasts. Often the most satisfying images at this stage are the “coincidental” or clever ones, which often come down to saturation of the subject coughing up the odd perfect image.

Stage 3 The divergence.

 One of many potential images from a series of Japanese shop windows I am working on. (EM5 mk1 25mm Kyoto Japan)

One of many potential images from a series of Japanese shop windows I am working on. (EM5 mk1 25mm Kyoto Japan)

As the practitioner gains confidence and accumulates a library of images (including a reasonable set of favourites), they pair down their gear to just what is needed rather than what they may need (street shooters usually find simplicity and self discipline their best friends, not a heavy bag full of options), they start to gravitate to a clearer path, often in contrast to other styles that also fall under the banner of “street”. Unfortunately this where many become judgemental of others work citing theirs as the only true form. For those I feel their journey often ends here.

  • The Portraitist will approach their subject, taking candid, but fully cooperative environmental (or not) portraits, often with a short introduction or story to provide context. This is a modern style that is so recognisable with movements like “Occupy Wall Street” or the work of Robin Wong or Eric Kim. Their style is inclusive and completely overt, more about community than documentation. The photographer needs to built confidence (courage) and good communication skills. They may find language their biggest barrier, but they have the advantage of time. This also includes the documentary shooter, who will include other images to fully flesh out the story, but their anchor will be the portrait. Of course the biggest problem portraitists face is one of variety. People come in all shapes and sizes, but portrait image tend not to, so unless they rely on gimmicks, the portraitist must always find relevance for their work.

  • The Watcher on the other hand will try to stay invisible. Choosing not to intervene or interrupt their subject, the watcher is trying to capture fleeting moments of life without their presence influencing it. To this practitioner, the unadorned, natural and intimate moment with emotions stripped bare, is like gold. This style has it’s roots very much in the dawn of street photography and went all but unnoticed, for most of the 1950’s to 2000’s, classed loosely as documentary photography. Among my favourites here are Kenneth Tanaka, David H Wells (especially his early mono work), Hiroki Fujitani, Saul Leiter, Ernst Haas (most of the early colourists), Vivian Maier, Helen Levitt, Alex Webb just to name a few. Although each very different from the next, all share the same desire to see, capture and move on invisibly, non-destructively. The detached nature of this style runs the risk of alienating the viewer, relying on composition, clever message and technique rather than an engaged subject to anchor it, and it can be seen as invasive or sneaky by the subject. Personally I love it. I want to see the natural way of life people live.

  • The Rule breaker who carves out a style alien to some (often shunned by the “purer” forms above), but adhere to the basic, broader precepts of street shooting. Kate Kirkwood, substituting streets for country lanes and cityscapes for hills and cow spines or Phil Borges making the landscape look like a studio for his thrid world portrait subjects and even Jan Meissner making New York streets look like carefully managed stage productions are all exceptions to the rule. These photographers are hard to categorise and often do not even get included under the broad umbrella of street photography. Strict rules are contradictory to the street shooting ethos which since day one has been filled with rule breakers.

 Very much in the watcher’s style (EM5 mk1, 17mm, Nara Japan).

Very much in the watcher’s style (EM5 mk1, 17mm, Nara Japan).

Stage 4. The Deep Connector is the fully developed street photographer. No longer relying on luck, coincidence, nervous approaches or subterfuge, this photographer is style agnostic and very adaptable. They are now fully immersed in their subject and embrace any and all styles. Their guiding force is to connect on a level they have not reached before and continue to develop that connection. Peter Turnley is a good example of the fully developed, mixed style street shooter as is Eugene Smith. This also includes the bulk of National Geographic travel-doc photographers such as Sam Abel, David Alan Harvey or Steve McCurry.

 Again the watcher at work. EM5 mk1 25mm Kyoto Japan.

Again the watcher at work. EM5 mk1 25mm Kyoto Japan.

The journey may be shorter or longer with each photographer, but for many this is the shape of a street photographers development.

Personally I feel I am at a transition point between stage 2 and a stage 3 watcher with a dash of rule breaker. My “Kensho”* is stage 4. I can only hope.

*Kensho is a buddhist term meaning roughly the initial “seeing” or understanding of one’s true nature, but not yet reaching the perfect form of it.

Some thoughts on two zooms

Not a big fan of zooms. When I do have one I usually fear the worst, to the point of more often than not thinking myself out of them in reasonably short order.

The 75-300 is a different story. It has never owed me much (even after my second one), but has delivered well out of proportion to it’s cost.

 300 f6.7. Too long and too slow? It never fails to deliver.

300 f6.7. Too long and too slow? It never fails to deliver.

 A surprise jpeg from a burst I took testing one of the EM1’s wonder features (maybe Pro capture?). Something I have noticed about the new cameras is that I import the files with a much gentler pre-set and often cannot automatically pick their processed RAW files from their jpegs as I could with the EM5’s.

A surprise jpeg from a burst I took testing one of the EM1’s wonder features (maybe Pro capture?). Something I have noticed about the new cameras is that I import the files with a much gentler pre-set and often cannot automatically pick their processed RAW files from their jpegs as I could with the EM5’s.

 Good enough? I think so. It is this regular over achieving that makes me grateful to have this lens around. Keep in mind also, this was shot in poor, early morning diffused light.

Good enough? I think so. It is this regular over achieving that makes me grateful to have this lens around. Keep in mind also, this was shot in poor, early morning diffused light.

 Time after time wide open at the long end. It is sharper at f8 and even sharper at 200mm or shorter (I even found it to be effectively indistinguishable from the 40-150 Pro and the 75 prime at the short end). Notice the nice Bokeh, often difficult to achieve with a slow lens.

Time after time wide open at the long end. It is sharper at f8 and even sharper at 200mm or shorter (I even found it to be effectively indistinguishable from the 40-150 Pro and the 75 prime at the short end). Notice the nice Bokeh, often difficult to achieve with a slow lens.

 The tight lens cropping and reasonable quality allows for even tighter cropping after. This bird was about the size of a seagull at about 10 meters away. A little gentle brush work and some mild contrast correction and noise reduction.

The tight lens cropping and reasonable quality allows for even tighter cropping after. This bird was about the size of a seagull at about 10 meters away. A little gentle brush work and some mild contrast correction and noise reduction.

The 12-100 has a lot more work to do to convince me. It cost a bomb compared to my current kit (I have had dearer, but not by much and not anymore), it is out of my comfort zone weight and size wise and it is my enemy of enemies, a superzoom.

 Nice rendering, but nervous Bokeh.

Nice rendering, but nervous Bokeh.

 Similar cropping and post processing to the one above, showing the benefit of the long lens. At 100mm f4 this was quite soft before processing, but that is not a scientifically provable observation due to “field” factors.

Similar cropping and post processing to the one above, showing the benefit of the long lens. At 100mm f4 this was quite soft before processing, but that is not a scientifically provable observation due to “field” factors.

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The 100 f4 seems to be about on par with the 75-300. Is that a compliment to the cheap lens or a disappointing result from the pro lens? I tested the 12-100 against a bunch of good to great lenses at 12-45mm focal lengths and it did well against the pack, beating most, but I did not test it at the long end.

 Very sharp image taken with the Pen F. Maybe these two like each other more? I will investigate.

Very sharp image taken with the Pen F. Maybe these two like each other more? I will investigate.

I will do some more scientific testing soon, mainly out of curiosity, not necessarily fear of a dud. I know it will do the job it was bought for (landscape), I just need to get back to using my primes more for general stuff and stop using this lens out of laziness. It was specifically bought for another purpose.

 The lens seems to take processing well, a little like the 17mm but without the soft corners. The Bokeh is a little distracting. EM5 100 f4.

The lens seems to take processing well, a little like the 17mm but without the soft corners. The Bokeh is a little distracting. EM5 100 f4.

 This image shows a nice level of snappy focus plane and pleasant Bokeh, but nothing on the level of either the 75-300 or 75mm prime.

This image shows a nice level of snappy focus plane and pleasant Bokeh, but nothing on the level of either the 75-300 or 75mm prime.

 Focussing is generally spot on and a little faster than the 75’s. Colour is good (rich, neutral and contrasty without being over the top) Bokeh is fair without being spectacular.

Focussing is generally spot on and a little faster than the 75’s. Colour is good (rich, neutral and contrasty without being over the top) Bokeh is fair without being spectacular.

I purchased this lens as a work horse do-it-all landscape and semi macro lens, with added AF benefits if needed for paid work. That is what it is good at and that is what I have to remember when choosing my gear. It takes months, often years before I can fully settle down with a lens and my expectations seem to be ever higher*. Early jitters have to be worked through. The reward is a reliable friend with a known personality.

*It seems I have already moved on from the relatively fine 16mp files of the EM5’s. How quickly we forget.

See the technical section for a more recent field test of the 12-100 f4 on the Pen F.

The power of f1.8 and the little 17mm

I have often talked about the usefulness of the Olympus 17mm f1.8 at wider apertures. It seems to share a similar characteristic to the 17mmm Pro in that it keeps background Bokeh very coherent, letting you use it compositionally rather than avoid it as useless. Useless could mean messy, too strongly blurred or simply visually unsettling in some way.

Where the Pro lens uses it as a way of creating harmony in a shallow depth image, the little 17 uses it more for inclusiveness. It’s less perfect wide open sharpness helps with this inclusive nature. You do not have two forces working at odds, but rather in support of one another.

It also has the benefit of the point of best focus seeming to gently “pop” out of the frame, but only when you are looking directly at it, not stealing the show.

When used with black and white, it becomes a creative tool like texture or tone, so important to mono images.

All images taken with an EM5 mk1 with the 17mm at f1.8. The combo was used with auto focus applied for the more distant subjects (bottom 2), manual focus for the nearer ones. I have never known a lens to be so supportive of focus misses as a deliberate (or not) tool.

Notice also that the top left image, even with a little motion blur is still sharp on the main subject. This lens suffers from a fair share of lack lustre reviews. I find it an interesting balance of contemporary and old fashioned design. I feel it was designed with street photographers in mind, where it’s application of elongated transition and useful “non” modern super smooth Bokeh will be often be lost in review quantifying*. The result is a lens that reviewers often treat poorly but many users love more and more over time.

Recently I tried out the 15mm Leica again as a landscape alternative. It was indeed sharper across the frame and it had a brightness I found appealing. The Bokeh, for street work would be too “nice”, dropping off smoothly far too fast, like a good portrait lens.

Bokeh seems to be viewed as either a deliberate tool, where more is always more, or an unfortunate side effect to avoided if possible. The 17mm makes me feel like using it against the trend. It is the only lens I have that makes me look excitedly into the transitional areas and treat them as fully useful part of the frame, not just as lost or dead spots.

With my 25, 45 and 75 lenses out of focus areas may be used, but only occasionally and more deliberately.

 45mm at f1.8 used in a role that is less common for me.

45mm at f1.8 used in a role that is less common for me.

*Ming Thien is the only reviewer I have seen that commented on and compared the Bokeh to similar lenses, highlighting the extended transition.

late evening Shibuya

Wet, blustery and all together too late in the evening to work, a twilight stroll through Shibuya in spring is always as close to the stereo-typical bustle of Tokyo as you will get.

The images are all taken with an EM5 mk1 and 17, 25 or (top right) 45mm lenses. Using mono allowed me to make the images more about the people than the environment.

How dark was it in reality?

mono and colour contradiction.

We are all trying to find our niche. Some latch onto a trend or fashion, milk it for all it is worth, then try to adapt to the next look. I have done this as have most of us. I think it may be one of the “5 steps” of photography.

Stubborn as I am, I tend to come back to traditions, even if they are traditions of my own making, possibly making what I do irrelevant at any specific point in time, but hopefully staying relevant over the longer draw of time.

For street photography I prefer colour to look at and to take. Black and white is easier as it eliminates colour tone, exposure and contrast issues to a great extent, but the images that have the greatest effect on me (taken by others or myself) are colour. The early colourists were my early inspiration and in more recent times, colour shooters have again been preferred. Colour stuck.

I have tried mono and even have series of work that ended up as black and white, but the early adoption of mono was usually because it allowed a release from technical issues (usually colour).

Why colour in a traditionally black and white friendly genre? I like the compositional depth it adds, the mystery and emotion id engenders. I also feel colour is more relevant to the subject (capturing reality), where mono is an artistic interpretation. Mono to me strips the image too bare. It becomes all and only about interplay of the main forces in the image and is far too democratic (faces often jump out more). I am after a deliberate complication that it does not offer.

As much as I appreciate the simple and clean message that a mono image can deliver, I would miss the more complicated power of colour.

Why not mono? I tend to shoot my black and white “straight” without any adopted gimmick . I turned my back on faux grain, toning and other cosmetic adornments a while back and find that the beauty and glow of a vanilla mono image is often at odds with the added dimension of colour.

A strong composition in mono, highlighting the personal moment taken by the central figure. The colour image adds the depth indicators that only contrasting colours can. The yellow line, red shirt and the deep shadow vs. the warmth of the sun light complicate the image, making (I feel) the main subject stand out against the chaos. Opinions differ on this one, which makes the choice all the more personal. The colour image is just more balanced.


Landscapes on the other hand are more problematic. I will usually gravitate towards black and white, using the clean strength of mono to empower the composition. The draw of colour is still strong. The process is often reversed to above. Intent on finding a good mono image, sometimes the colour one just jumps out, refusing to be ignored.

As much as a mono image was the intent, the colour one is just more, emotionally. It seems to have a stronger effect on people (warmth against cool, light against dark) and is more balanced visually. The black and white is just an exercise in tones and textures. Interesting that the cropping even changed when editing these two. I revisited them after uploading and the cropping suits each best. The band of darker seaweed in the frame complicates the mono image.

The above set is much easier. The colour just fails to excite, where the mono image has drama in abundance. Actually I prefer the water in the colour image. I feel it has a more mysterious look, but the mono splits the frame evenly and makes the water look more tumultuous against the immovable rocks.

Traditions can be a trap. Old traditions can be seen as a “reinvention” of a classic ideal or simply someone unable to let go. I think there is a little of both in this for me, but I am happy personally to continue as I am, because at some point you have to choose or nothing ever gets done.

If you are not shooting for your self it will show in your work. I would hate to be one of those photographers who shoots to fill their customers needs, ignoring their own.

put down the monkey (or stop chimping)

“Chimping”, or the habit of checking the image on your screen so you can, detect errors, or bask in the glow of your success, is a big creative disconnect, but a habit many of us are guilty of.

One of the best features of a digital camera is the screen provided for instant review, or optionally pre-shutter fire modifications. The big problem is the disconnect it can cause by being too often viewed, sometimes after every frame.

Imagine you were reading a book and had to look up a work or term every sentence. The book would easily loose it’s appeal as you break your flow. An even better example may be a conversation being translated into another language every few words and back again. How well would you be able to keep your train of though, your empathic and creative connection?

Chimping has much the same effect.

You emotionally connect with your subject, take an image or two, then break that connection to look at the resulting images, effectively closing the circuit. Even worse is the dreaded magnification of specific points, where you can become engrossed in the screen, forgetting where you are. You have broken not only your creative connection to your subject, but they have possibly broken their connection with you, feeling like they are trying to have a conversation with someone distracted by their mobile phone. It may even be they loose confidence in you, due to your constant need to second guess yourself.

Each time you break and come back you loose the ability to move into the image. You literally take a step away from the process, paying more attention to things that are more the provence of post processing. When a job is important, it is very tempting to double or triple check your results. I know there is no excuse for walking away obliviously without the image in the digital age, but better images come from deeper involvement. Save your reviewing until after the shoot, not during.

Good technique and a strong visual connection should allow you to feel confident you are getting the image (mirrorless cameras add the more empathic benefit of “pre-chimping”), allowing you to stay immersed in the subject or “in the zone”. You can creatively move forward* image by image, taking multiple, connected steps towards a better composition.

 This image came a split second after a a couple of shots of the group before. I was tempted to “chimp” to see if I had grabbed anything of worth and would have completely missed this girl (dancing to a tune only she could hear, at odds with the stoic faces around her). Shame I missed the front foot, but at least I got the moment.

This image came a split second after a a couple of shots of the group before. I was tempted to “chimp” to see if I had grabbed anything of worth and would have completely missed this girl (dancing to a tune only she could hear, at odds with the stoic faces around her). Shame I missed the front foot, but at least I got the moment.

The perfect shot can be elusive. It is surely a lot more elusive when you continually interrupt the process.

Street photography in the style I adhere to is a release from this. Grabbing fleeting moments often does not allow a second bite at the cherry. It is freeing and satisfying. I get the shot and move on. No point in checking until I get back to my hotel room or home, because I cannot repeat the fleeting compositional “shape” of the image. This often allows me to be satisfied with what I do get also, perfect or not.

*A vision of a photographer with a strong cockney accent saying “work it baby, work it” comes to mind.

Getting There

After my “smaller is better (or is enough anyway)” rant yesterday, I got to thinking about the end product for most of us in terms of accuracy of representation and satisfaction in our work.

My favourite form of presentation and the one form that I think heightens photographic work when well handled, is printing. Printing adds the element of tangibility and longevity like no other form. All things digital are transient, but a a good print can actually become part of a living space for many years, immune to break downs, financial upkeep and in compatibility issues.

I think one of the things that stops many photographers from printing their work, is the lack of control they have over the end product. Ironic considering that it is exactly that control that makes the print transcend digital media.

The reality is, prints do not look like digital renderings. You can calibrate hardware, soft proof and install the best paper to printer profiles, but 1:70 contrast ratio, reflective only, paper prints will never look like 1:1000 ratio, backlit screens.

Their magic is that they don’t. What paper prints bring to the table is the subtler but no less powerful strength of image depth and reliable permanence. The screen catches the eye, the print holds it.

There is also the not insignificant aspect of viewing location. A screen image is encountered in a chair, in bed, a train or on a couch while you are searching for it (like inspiration) and many others like it. You do not find it and leave the screen locked to it permanently, you move on to the next, then the next.

The paper print is encountered in a hall or a wall space in a living room* on it’s own or amongst matching friends. It is usually where the light is the best and distractions of other media are eliminated. They become part of our identity and your living space like the books on our shelves or the clothes we wear.

To get the best out of your images in print you have to process with these differences in mind. If you go to a lab for your printing it is unlikely you will be satisfied by the result you get unless;

The lab is a pro lab, capable of adapting to your requirements or,

The lab is consistent in output, allowing you to adapt to it,

You then pay attention to presentation (location, framing, mounting etc.)

The best approach for some is to home print. This gives you a steep learning curve (one I am not an expert at by any means), but allows you to experiment, then be consistent in your own processes and control the important variables such as paper type and presentation.

 This image is a case of random experimentation creating a pleasing nostalgic 1970’s look. This would be hard for the printer to get right as provided. If I was really keen to get the image on paper, I would print it first in a small size, then adjust the image until the adjusted print copy matched the unadjusted screen one, or even grew past it in the process. There are more scientific ways that this I am sure (half a dozen books on the subject within reach where I sit), but the reality is, I like to “intuit” the best feel out it like I would in the darkroom. I would use a sheet of the same larger paper intended for the big print, to insure batch consistency.

This image is a case of random experimentation creating a pleasing nostalgic 1970’s look. This would be hard for the printer to get right as provided. If I was really keen to get the image on paper, I would print it first in a small size, then adjust the image until the adjusted print copy matched the unadjusted screen one, or even grew past it in the process. There are more scientific ways that this I am sure (half a dozen books on the subject within reach where I sit), but the reality is, I like to “intuit” the best feel out it like I would in the darkroom. I would use a sheet of the same larger paper intended for the big print, to insure batch consistency.

I can only recommend printing at home from the perspective of someone who has had some mild success doing so. That success has completely over shadowed the prints I have had from a lab, proving to me that small but critical choices in tone, colour, exposure, size/shape and paper can make all the difference, even if you are technically fumbling.

Although technically flawed to my mind there are 30 odd prints hanging in the class rooms and halls of my wife’s school supporting their student wellbeing movement. This is my greatest achievement simply by being physically real. All of my other work relies on the limited longevity of the digital age.

If you never print your work, all of it has the life span of your internet accounts, your hard drives and your updating and back up habits, while the humble print sits on a wall, being seen by those close enough to you to be in their space, for many, many years.

We should surround ourselves with their gentle visual stimulus. Screens are a distraction, useful for information gathering, but they lacking the stasis required to influence us passively, as we pass by or stay and discover.

*Each afternoon, a print (not a photograph) that we picked up in Japan “comes alive” as the low evening sun strikes it. Every so often that print catches my attention and can take my breath away as a series of yellow windows in an otherwise mono-tonal image take on an obvious glow. I might visit this image if it was a book marked page on the web, but it would not have the ability to get my attention, relying totally on me deliberate searching for it. It always feels to me that I do not take possession of an image in any true sense unless it is in print form or in a book. This goes for my own images also.


enough?

I have been on a bit of an anti technology or more specifically an anti technology vs emotional and artistic connection bent over the last week or two.

I thought it might be worth looking at the realities of the argument a little closer.

First up, what do you (we) do with your images?

As this is surely the end of the process, what do you do with your images. If any endeavour is to be undertaken, surely the point of sufficiency must be determined first so you know whether you have reached or exceeded it and by how much. Lets look at the likely end point for most images, what is required to capture the images and how relevant a super camera would be in that circumstance (assume a state of the art full frame 24-30mp or similar).

The social media upload. By far the most common type of public sharing of art, in many forms, is the social media upload. It is realistically where most images will end up, so lets look at it’s requirements. Technical requirements. A 2+ megapixel image that is taken quickly and efficiently, with good enough lighting and a subject that will hold the viewers attention for the required time. The main contributor, the mobile phone is getting ever better at doing just this. The forced limit of a (usually) fixed lens with a reasonable aperture helps the user by limiting their choices and training their eye, making them learn their device and it’s limits. Ironically this is what most of us should do with our “better” cameras. The super camera? Total overkill in every way unless the camera helped facilitate the capture of a particularly difficult image or the intention is for a file that can do more (see below). Probably the perfect social media device would be a mobile phone with a semi wide lens, clip on-flip over portrait/macro and a 2-3mp sensor with huge pixels for clean low light shooting.

The non-photographic web page. This is a the next step up from the above, requiring a better and more relevant image with decent to excellent creative technique. The image is expected to have a longer viewing life and will be accompanied by relevant text, hoping the combination will invoke a deeper connection with the reader. The image becomes the grab or visual example to the written concept. Requirements. A camera with enough controls to give the photographer creative freedom, good performance in poor lighting if required and enough file quality to print bigger, again only if required. Generally 4-8 mp would do, in a 1” sensor “super compact” and a reasonable lens or a basic mirrorless/SLR. The actual capture size could easily be a small jpeg if the web page is all it will be used for as most down size images anyway (I expert my files at 50% from Lightroom and this web host still down sizes). The super camera. It again may allow some tougher shots to be captured, but would be overkill in file size.

The Fine Art Print. Ok, so how many of us really print our work? When we do print how big do we go? Then when we do print that big, what viewing environment are we printing for? I will take a wild guess here and say that most serious, hobbyist digital photographers only print on demand for their family or friends and then only print up to a certain comfortable size (maybe 16x20” before framing), and let a lab do their printing. I work in a lab/shop environment and see a lot of images that are important to the owner, printed to a size based on the importance of the image to them, regardless of technical quality. The irony of selling high pixel cameras with all their virtues at the shop front and then more often than not trying to lift a reasonable image from an important (often old) phone file to make a massive canvas print of a loved one, in the lab is not lost.

If you are a serious fine art printer, then other realities come home to roost. Personally I can max out the visual quality of my A3+ printer (an ink jet Canon Pixma 9000 mk2 which is slightly finer rendering than an equivalent pigment dye model) with a mildly cropped 16mp image. Ctein, known as one of the premier colour printers from the wet process era through to digital, made a 17x20” fine art print from a 12mp Olympus Pen file (the first model, with the softer/stronger AA filter configuration) and sold it on cheaply to anyone interested, just to prove a point. You can count the rivets on the bridge used as the main subject. He has also gone on record as saying the 16mp sensor in the EM5 mk1 is equal to a Pentax 67 medium format camera when comparing print quality.

Sure there are those who legitimately need prints measured in feet rather than inches, but they are the few and they would likely argue that their work is no less relevant for the want of a few megapixels previously unavailable. Printing allows the artist many many choices in texture, colour rendering and presentation. The base quality of the file is just one of these factors. Requirements. A controllable camera with a mid sized sensor (1”+) and 16mp+ resolution if you intend to print big, less if not. Good photographic, post processing and printing technique and of course a relevant subject. The super camera could of course help, especially if colour, ISO and dynamic range are to be pushed to available limits (for now anyway), but they have been dealt with in the past, so surely we can get around some minor technical difficulties?

The photographic web page. Finally we have found a use for all of those pixels. 100-400% comparison shots between new cameras and seemingly good-enough-yesterday-but-no-longer ones, lenses/process/noise etc. and simply the bragging rights of better being better are the most common destination for big pixel files. Requirements. What ever floats your boat. The photographic web page is probably to only place where every camera is relevant, for better or worse. Where else can the actual process be examined so closely. Who else would care? Super camera? Why not? bring them all and lets pull apart what they can do. Lets take these wonders of modern engineering and find fault by comparison. The whole industry relies on this to stay alive. Pity really. Conversely, try to convince a non photographer it matters.

*

If we only post images at normal sizes, print to the sizes that will hang on a normal wall for an extended period of time and do not pixel peep, the basic requirements for good photographic imaging are suddenly most devices old and new. There have only been a few periods in photography since it’s earliest days where quality was a genuinely limiting factor to the photographers vision. I will embrace useful camera advancements when they come. I am not going to look that gift horse in the mouth, but bigger pixel counts do not impress me. Anything that will help me get a better image is fine, but there is nothing tangible in more pixels for their own sake.

I am not pushing or recommending the use of 3 mp images as the norm, but before we get too caught up in the pixel race, maybe enough is easily reached for most uses.

 A few years ago I had the chance to compare the Fuji 23mm f1.4 and Olympus 17mm f1.8 on their respective cameras for the time (XE-1 and EM5). Stupidly I had the XE-1 set to small jpeg (3-4 mp) for some ebay shots I was taking. I did not realise until I clicked on the images for a closer look and basically nothing happened. They filled my 29” screen beautifully, printed really well, but had nothing in the tank for bigger sizes. They also looked a little sharper than usual.

A few years ago I had the chance to compare the Fuji 23mm f1.4 and Olympus 17mm f1.8 on their respective cameras for the time (XE-1 and EM5). Stupidly I had the XE-1 set to small jpeg (3-4 mp) for some ebay shots I was taking. I did not realise until I clicked on the images for a closer look and basically nothing happened. They filled my 29” screen beautifully, printed really well, but had nothing in the tank for bigger sizes. They also looked a little sharper than usual.

 The quality was every bit as good as (but different to) the RAW files from the EM5 on a screen from these sizes,

The quality was every bit as good as (but different to) the RAW files from the EM5 on a screen from these sizes,

 but started to fall apart when cropped heavily. The lesson I learned that day was, size is not quality, just quantity. I could have printed 16x20” (exhibition) sized prints off these files with a little careful post processing, allowing the paper medium to hide some of the mild crunchiness.

but started to fall apart when cropped heavily. The lesson I learned that day was, size is not quality, just quantity. I could have printed 16x20” (exhibition) sized prints off these files with a little careful post processing, allowing the paper medium to hide some of the mild crunchiness.

 The glassiness of the image is truly beautiful and part of the Fuji signature. Size is only one part of the overall equation.

The glassiness of the image is truly beautiful and part of the Fuji signature. Size is only one part of the overall equation.

 This is a 1400x1700 crop from a 1D2 mk2 16mp file (the full image shows the full monkey and surroundings). It can print well enough to fool most up to A3+ print size. As an aside it was taken with a “budget” 400mm f5.6L and 1.4x teleconverter, hand held at 1/125th without any stabilisers.

This is a 1400x1700 crop from a 1D2 mk2 16mp file (the full image shows the full monkey and surroundings). It can print well enough to fool most up to A3+ print size. As an aside it was taken with a “budget” 400mm f5.6L and 1.4x teleconverter, hand held at 1/125th without any stabilisers.

A new club, membership is open.

Want to join a new club?

It has the following benefits;

Going against the trend.

Going against commonly held beliefs.

Creative freedom in a way you may not have (deliberately) tried before.

It’s called the “Anti Bokeh” club.

The name is a bit misleading, because any image in any format in any circumstances with any transitional or fully out of focus areas has Bokeh, but the common thinking is more is more and less is irrelevant, so the “anti Bokeh as we know it” club.

What you need.

A (prime) lens or two set to an aperture that is 1-2 stops past it’s expected diffraction limitation (f8-11 on a M43 camera, 16-22 on a full frame). This will have the effect of increasing depth of field*, allowing reactive manual focus with a wide latitude for error and will gently soften the image in a pleasantly old fashioned way. There will still be some shallow depth when you are really close to things, but generally images will tell a story from front to back.

An ISO set a little too high for the camera’s comfort (if possible), but not so high that movement blur is impossible in poor light (1600 on an EM5 mk1, don’t bother on an A7s). This will have the dual benefits of desaturating colour a little and add a little texture (noise/grain) to the image. No noise reduction required unless excess colour blotching looks decidedly ugly and digital.

Manual focus (see above), allowing for some slight focus misses. Pay attention to the characteristics of your chosen lens.

Lean a little on negative exposure compensation for a little added mystery, saturated colour and deeper shadows and also to protect highlights.

A purposefully gentle, but determined post processing work flow, designed to find the hidden beauty inside the image, not the more overt digital perfection on the surface. It is up to you whether you use colour or black and white, but try to avoid “perfecting” either. Just go with the beauty.


*Remember, Bokeh is not just wide open performance. It is the rendering of any transitional or out of focus element in any image that does not have perfect focus everywhere.

 Poor old Pepper is my muse again. This is the look I am after, just a little more interesting subject (sorry Pep). Depth of focus from front to back, with some transitional softness at the extremes.  Imagine the photo is of a migrant or refugee looking wistfully towards their destination, their salvation. Dramatic I know, but the compositional and cosmetic seeds are there.   EM5 ISO 3200, 17mm f11, +35 red, orange and blue channel, no added anything else (+0 sharpening).

Poor old Pepper is my muse again. This is the look I am after, just a little more interesting subject (sorry Pep). Depth of focus from front to back, with some transitional softness at the extremes. Imagine the photo is of a migrant or refugee looking wistfully towards their destination, their salvation. Dramatic I know, but the compositional and cosmetic seeds are there.

EM5 ISO 3200, 17mm f11, +35 red, orange and blue channel, no added anything else (+0 sharpening).

 Like many a famous film image, grain, close in softness (movement blur and diffraction), but at normal distances a pleasant and natural look. In a book sized print, the texture added by the grain would be preferred, not shunned and visual acuity would not suffer.

Like many a famous film image, grain, close in softness (movement blur and diffraction), but at normal distances a pleasant and natural look. In a book sized print, the texture added by the grain would be preferred, not shunned and visual acuity would not suffer.

 My normal processing and style. Pushing the little 17’s comfort envelope (and the EM5 sensor), I would shoot wide open and process to a more modern clean/punchy style.  The same hypothetical scenario as above, shot in the modern style, making the primary subject a portrait subject, blurring out the background. Maybe no less powerful, but different and over used. This single dimensional look is strong, but it is also lacking layers of story telling elements.

My normal processing and style. Pushing the little 17’s comfort envelope (and the EM5 sensor), I would shoot wide open and process to a more modern clean/punchy style. The same hypothetical scenario as above, shot in the modern style, making the primary subject a portrait subject, blurring out the background. Maybe no less powerful, but different and over used. This single dimensional look is strong, but it is also lacking layers of story telling elements.

 My normal import processing and a little brushwork on the focus point. Notice the texture on the blanket is effectively gone, removing a story telling element, adding a solid colour block.

My normal import processing and a little brushwork on the focus point. Notice the texture on the blanket is effectively gone, removing a story telling element, adding a solid colour block.

Result?

Hopefully a deeper image emotionally, less fixated on technical perfection or technique, freeing up unused parts of the compositional brain.

And a little bit of do it yourself film camera therapy.

Still Feeling it

Really impressed with the 12-100 lens.

 500x400 uber crop, standard res, hand held, normal shutter.

500x400 uber crop, standard res, hand held, normal shutter.

Pushing the Envelope

Ok, so you have a slow telephoto on your new EM1 mk2 and feel a need to shoot at 1/1500th indoors in poor light. Not a realistic scenario probably, but what the heck.

 ISO 25600, no processing applied other than Lightroom default settings.

ISO 25600, no processing applied other than Lightroom default settings.

 Good impression of detail, but obvious Olympus “film grain” noise.

Good impression of detail, but obvious Olympus “film grain” noise.

 Processed for a pleasing balance of smoothness and detail. Colour has gone off a bit.

Processed for a pleasing balance of smoothness and detail. Colour has gone off a bit.

 The crop of above showing a loss of implied detail in favour of visual cleanness.

The crop of above showing a loss of implied detail in favour of visual cleanness.

 This is an unprocessed ISO 6400 image. It shows much the same detail and noise, but the colour is more accurate. Up to 12800 the colour stayed pretty true, but at 25600 it went into cold hues.

This is an unprocessed ISO 6400 image. It shows much the same detail and noise, but the colour is more accurate. Up to 12800 the colour stayed pretty true, but at 25600 it went into cold hues.

 The truer colour

The truer colour