Tag Archives: Cameras

Jellyfish

Last week, we stayed overnight at a beach south of Dunure on the west coast of Scotland. At low tide, we were able to walk along the sand to Culzean Castle. If we’d been more ambitious, we could have continued along to the village of Maidens where Donald Trump has lent his name to a luxury resort. If we’d been really ambitious, we would have duffed golf balls through the windows, but why waste perfectly good balls?

Algae & Seaweed

What caught my attention most were the jellyfish washed onto the beach. It gave me the perfect opportunity to play with new gear. I was putting a Sony Alpha A7 II through its paces and brought along a Metabones adapter so I could use my Canon lenses with it. Yeah, whatever. I used a 100mm f/2.8 macro for the jellyfish. The great advantage of the Sony body is that the rear LCD monitor tilts so that you can place the camera on the ground or, in this case, on the wet sand, and shoot low without getting a soaker every time you try to frame a shot.

Jellyfish

I took my first shots in the late afternoon. I shot into the light. The translucent jellyfish bodies acted as a natural light filter, adding a tinge of purple to the images. Reflections from the background water produced a nice bokeh effect. As an aside: in some places there were so many jellyfish, we had to watch where we were going. Stepping on a jellyfish is a bit like stepping on a cow platt.

Jellyfish

The effects of backlight & bokeh were more pronounced when I went out at 9:30 pm as the sun was setting. That introduced oranges to the purples.

Jellyfish

Shooting jellyfish seems a far cry from my street photography but, maybe, from a jellyfish point of view, these are candid portraits capturing life in the raw. I walk along the beach like some gigantic—I don’t know—two-legged oppressor?—and all the jellyfish scream in terror as they catch sight of me. I capture the panic in their, um, eyes, or whatever. Oh the humanity! Oh the snot-like goo!

Jellyfish

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Ode To Spot

In the 6th season of Star Trek TNG there is an episode called “Schisms” in which Data delivers a poetry reading. While he recites an ode to his cat, Spot, listeners squirm in their seats.* Data has enough insight to recognize that his poetry makes people feel awkward, but not enough insight to understand why. After the poetry reading is over, Data coaxes Geordi La Forge to explain things to him. Data understands all the formal properties of a poem—metre, rhyme, stanzas, specific formats like sonnets and odes—but he hasn’t the slightest idea what a poem is for or what effect it’s supposed have on a listener. His intelligence is like the intelligence of a person with Asperger’s Syndrome—formal intelligence without emotional grounding.

Cat & Owner

I think a lot of photography (including a lot of my own) is the sort of photography Data might make if he ever decided to wander through the Enterprise with a Nikon D810 or a Canon 5DS slung around his neck. He would have a grasp of all the formal properties that contribute to a good photograph. He’d know all the “rules” about focus, depth of field, white balance, saturation and composition. And he’d have instant access to all the great photos shot by masters of the discipline. All of the hardware, rules, and historical knowledge would allow him to make technically correct images. But so what? Without more, those images would be the visual equivalent of his Ode To Spot.

In an age when it’s increasingly easy to make technically “perfect” images, it’s correspondingly easy to be complacent about whether or not those images do what images are supposed to do. Do our images merely allay anxieties around formal requirements? Or do they satisfy deeper needs? While the two are not mutually exclusive, there are many photographs that move us deeply even though they are deeply “flawed”. I think it would be an accomplishment to make even one such photograph.

A flawed photo.

A flawed photo.

_______________

*Felis Cattus, is your taxonomic nomenclature,
an endothermic quadruped, carnivorous by nature?
Your visual, olfactory and auditory senses
contribute to your hunting skills, and natural defenses.

I find myself intrigued by your subvocal oscillations,
a singular development of cat communications
that obviates your basic hedonistic predilection
for a rhythmic stroking of your fur, to demonstrate affection.

A tail is quite essential for your acrobatic talents;
you would not be so agile if you lacked its counterbalance.
And when not being utilized to aide in locomotion,
it often serves to illustrate the state of your emotion.

O Spot, the complex levels of behaviour you display
connote a fairly well-developed cognitive array.
And though you are not sentient, Spot, and do not comprehend,
I nonetheless consider you a true and valued friend.

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Playing with MacPhun Software

I recently bought a suite of photo “enhancement” apps from MacPhun. I use the word enhancement in quotes because I feel conflicted about such tools. They make it easy to inflict an endless array of cheesy effects on unsuspecting photos.

The “to app or not to app” debate reminds me of an episode from the novel, Diva, by Delacorta (Daniel Odier), which also appears as a scene in the movie of the same name. The opera singer, Cynthia Hawkins, is giving a statement to the press when a reporter asks why she refuses to record her performances. She answers that the performance is a special moment which a recording can never capture. She then mentions Glenn Gould by way of contrast. Gould famously refused to perform and devoted himself, instead, to the post-production process.

A analogous debate has raged in the world of photography since the discovery that film negatives could be manipulated. But what was once an esoteric art practised by a handful of darkroom geeks is now accessible to anyone who owns a smart phone. And so the debate has gained new force. Purists insist that everything rests on the process; their aim is a Platonic photograph captured fully formed in camera without the need for post-processing manipulation. The rest of us aren’t so skillful or we’re lazy or we like to play with all the latest digital tools. We draw an analogy to Glenn Gould and wonder: if the object is to produce a compelling image, what difference does it make which process we use to create the image?

My position in this debate? I begin with the observation that recent developments in camera technology make photography almost idiot proof. Auto-focus has become blazingly fast. In fact, it’s possible to dispense with focus altogether. The Lytro Illum allows you to take your photo and decide what to pull into focus after the fact. Add to that the proposed technology that would allow you to take perfect HDR images every time, and it becomes impossible to take a technically bad photo. Stripped of technical challenges, all that remains for photography are creative challenges. Composition and post-processing.

Maybe purists will insist on using old cameras so they can claim bragging rights for all the technical challenges they’ve overcome. But for those who adopt new tools and still want to call themselves purists, all that remains to them of creativity in the process is composition. Personally, I find that unnecessarily limiting. I like to play.

With a name like MacPhun, you get the feeling this app developer panders to people who like to play (especially if they are Mac users). Each of the tools in the suite can function as a plugin in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. Although they aren’t non-destructive editing tools as you’d find in Lightroom, they get around this problem by automatically making a copy of your image source file and editing the copy instead. (The downside of this is that a copy in .tif format of a 50 megapixel image can be as large as 250 Mb and I begrudge the space.)

What follows are before and after shots to illustrate some MacPhun possibilities using 4 of the 5 tools. (The 5th is SnapHeal Pro which you don’t need if you have Photoshop but would be useful for people using other image editing software.)

First, let’s play with Tonality Pro, an app for conversion to black and white. To illustrate, here’s a shot of a horse eating grass framed by another horse eating grass. It’s compositionally interesting, but not a great shot because I was facing the technical challenge of shooting into the shadow side of a dark subject. But convert it black and white and use the handy slider to reduce the shadow and the result is vastly improved.

macphun-564-1

macphun-564-2

Next are a couple samples using Focus Pro. In the first, I apply a tilt-shift effect to a rooftop scene in Paris. In a way, Focus Pro allows you to simulate the Lytro Illum camera. If you shoot with a small enough aperture so that most of the image is in focus, then that gives you a lot to play with in post-processing. In this case, I angled the plane of the tilt from bottom left third to top right corner. It produces the “toy town” effect, especially in the trees, that is characteristic of tilt shift lenses.

macphun-564-3

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I used Focus Pro to try a different effect with an image I took last weekend at Toronto’s Buskerfest. I mask the woman in the foreground, then give everything else a motion blur. Again, what makes it work is the fact that I shot the source image with a narrow aperture – f/11 – so I could start with most everything in focus.

Toronto Buskerfest 2015

Toronto Buskerfest 2015

Intensify Pro is probably the most dangerous of the apps because it’s the one with all the cheesy HDR possibilities. Use with moderation. I’ve applied a moderate “punch” to a photo I took during this year’s Pride celebrations. It brings out the colours in the umbrellas and their reflections in the wet pavement. Too much? Maybe. The app also allows for black and white conversion.

Boys Holding Hands

Boys Holding Hands

Finally, a sample using Noiseless Pro, a tool for reducing (or increasing) noise. I shot these fireworks from Ward Island across the Toronto Harbour at the end of the PanAm Games. I was shooting at ISO 1250. (Despite Canon’s advertising, I find the 5DS doesn’t handle low light as well as other DSLRs, not even as well as the Mark III.) I reduce the noise in the sky, then use Intensify Pro to give the colours some punch.

macphun-564-11

macphun-564-12

Bottom line: it’s a decent suite and works effectively (and efficiently) as a plugin to Adobe products. If you have self-control, it can be applied to make subtle enhancements to your images.

You may not need the full suite. SnapHeal seems unnecessary. There are black and white conversion and de-noisifying tools in Intensify Pro so you can probably dispense with Tonality Pro and Noiseless Pro. All the apps are available on a trial basis, so you can judge based on your own needs.

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Canon 5DS Sample Images

It seems everyone who has their hands on a 5DS has been posting samples so people can download giant image files (50 megapixels) to see how giant an image file can get. I’ll offer a couple images here (just to get it out of my system), then side step the whole giant image thing which, after all, is nothing more than a photographic pissing contest.

Here you go. Image #1 is an early morning shot of Toronto’s skyline as viewed from Governor’s Hill overlooking the Evergreen Brickworks. I used a Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens. ISO 100, f 8.0, 1/60.

5ds-samples-564-1

I’ve also attached a 564 x 846 pixel swatch from the above image so you can see the level of detail possible when an image is viewed at %100 resolution on a monitor.

5ds-samples-detail

A few things are immediately apparent. First, if you inspect photos at %100 on a computer monitor, you’ll end up thinking most of your images are garbage. Even the slightest shake produces blurred pixels. The old rule about minimum shutter speed (i.e. for hand-held shooting, your minimum shutter speed should be the inverse of your focal length) gets tossed out the window. With a 50 megapixel sensor, clarity on a pixel by pixel basis is impossible without a good tripod. That said, when you DO achieve that level of clarity, the result is amazingly crisp. After my first day out with the 5DS, I was getting images that pop in a way I’ve never been able to achieve with my Mark III. Download a full size (8688 x 5792) jpg here.

Image #2 is a graffiti-covered trestle that crosses the Don River. I used the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L USM at 70mm. ISO 100, f/11, 1/50. Download a full size jpg here.

5ds-samples-564-2

The second thing that is immediately apparent is that images become grainier at lower ISO settings than with the Mark III. Maximum ISO on the 5DS is 12800 whereas on the Mark III it’s 102400. Simply put: the 5DS doesn’t perform well in low light. That’s another argument for using a tripod. For best results, shoot in the ISO 100-400 range and slow everything down.

Now let’s side step that pissing contest. One of the great advantages of the 5DS is NOT the size of the image it produces, but the huge amount of play it offers in terms of cropability (is that even a word?). If you’re a purist who believes everything should happen in camera, then you may want to ignore everything else in this post. But if you believe it’s okay sometimes to reserve framing and composition considerations until post production, then read on. The 5DS is your friend.

Take my 3rd image as an example:

5ds-samples-564-5

I shot this hand held with Canon’s EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens. ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/80. Because damselflies are easily spooked, I stood back a discreet distance & subsequently cropped the image to 5760 x 3840. The reason for those dimensions is that they are identical to the Mark III’s maximum image size. I simply wanted to demonstrate that I can sacrifice nearly 60% of the image and still end up with something printable to the size of a large painting.

Here’s a more extreme example:

5ds-samples-564-6

Also shot hand held with the Macro lens, I’ve cropped this fly to 3093 x 2062. While the resulting image can’t fill a wall (& who would want it to?) nevertheless, I could print it at a high quality resolution on a letter-sized sheet of paper.

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First Peoples at the ROM

As a photographer, I’m naturally drawn to a display in the First Peoples Exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum. It’s a “Mohawk Family Life Group Diorama” composed of plaster figures by an American sculptor who completed them for the museum in 1917. As the accompanying description indicates: “Such static displays give a misleading picture of indigenous cultures as unchanging, trapped in the past, and out of contact with other groups or historical events.” The museum tries to disrupt the static quality of the formal exhibit by challenging the museum-goer’s assumptions. Here, among other things, an indigenous woman in traditional dress holds a digital camera on a tripod.

first-people

Not only does the figure challenge our assumption about indigenous culture as static and isolated from other (Western) cultures, but it also challenges our assumption about who is entitled to make observations about the relationship between cultures. Typically, non-indigenous people regard themselves as the observers. The act of observation imposes a distance between subject and object and relegates the indigenous object to “the observed.” But in this instance, the observed is using her camera to make observations of her own.

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Kirk Newman’s Community

Standing on the southeast corner of Manulife’s Corporate headquarters in Toronto is a bronze sculpture called “Community”. It’s creator is Kirk Newman. The sculpture has 21 life-sized figures doing a variety of things, as you’d expect from people living in a community of diverse interests. I appreciate the fact that Newman recognizes photography as one of those interests. The photographer is using a long lens which he points up towards a tree that stands behind the sculpture.

Kirk Newman's Community

Kirk Newman's Community (detail)

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Canon Coffin

In the British Museum, there is a coffin that I’d like to be buried in (when I die). It’s in the Wellcome Trust Gallery (Room 24), a themed gallery on Living And Dying. The coffin is in the shape of a camera, an imaginary Canon EOS 300. Beneath it is a placard that says: “According to one story, in 1951 two carpenters, Kane Quaye and his brother, Ajetey, from Teshie — a fishing community near Ghana’s capital, Accra — made a coffin in the form of an aeroplane for their grandmother’s funeral. She had always wanted to fly but never had the chance to. This new type of coffin became so popular that Kane Quaye expanded his workshop with his apprentice, Paa Joe. Today families commission coffins with designs that represent the life or dreams of a deceased relative, or characterise their personality.” I wonder if they would cater to my friends who shoot with Nikon.

Camera Coffin

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