Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Web Patrol

 The web is strung between a high brick wall and the plant you see later. Behind it curves a white wall, accounting for the light that falls so conveniently on the spider at the centre of his web.

He's too close to the wall for a head-on shot from this side. There is a ring of dead flies around him on the web, his larder laid out.
Moving in closer I'm my usual inept self with focus on the macro, always over-estimating my depth of field. Luckily, with the help of Lightroom (fab tool that it is), there are enough colours, shapes, and textures to keep the eye amused

A moment later, and he's off on patrol, heading up the top of the support rope, motoring along as if on a tight schedule. Perhaps he has to do an entire circuit of the web...

His destination is the flower head to which this side of the web is attached.  In the images  taken earlier there appears to be a big stash of web getting tangled up, so maybe he's stretched that out ...

There's certainly a few loose strands on that rope. I give you a spider.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Greek Victory

At the bottom of the street is the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of London. That makes Moscow Road, on which it sits, a cultural collection point for Greeks in London.

In 2004 Greece won the Euros, much to everyone's astonishment, not least their own. That night the celebrations filled the street, with dancing and shouting and music and fireworks and real joy.

People wrapped themselves in flags, the whole street turning blue and white. I was out there with an early Nikon DSLR, the D100, I think. (The exif datas has gone from this copy, and I'm not about to connect the archive.)

I took hundred of pictures, but this one seemed to sum it up. He was sitting on his girlfriend's shoulders (they took turns), the upward angle giving that slight sense of movement to the image; the blue of the flags has all but gone, yet still makes itself known, even under the sodium light; the noise has the same dramatic effect as grain; and, above all, he looks properly happy.

Who is he?

It doesn't matter, because all I have to do to make this picture complete is to give it a name, and it can only have one name: Greek Victory.

This evening, Greece plays Germany in the second Euro 2012 quarter-final. I don't think Moscow Road will be blocked tonight.

upside fucking down

The overriding stunner on the D4 is its high ISO performance.  In other words, it takes damned good pictures in very low light. This is great fun indoors, with people, but it becomes positively transformative outside with a macro lens. The usual problem with these is finding enough depth of field to make a picture in which the whole of the bug is in focus. With a high ISO and low noise, ramping up the numbers bring the focus under control.

As this is the big time of year for all things creepy crawly and flowery, I took the D4 and an old 105 macro out for a run the other day. The cow parsley alway offers a captive show, being apparently irresistible to any thing resembling an insect.

After a few minutes I came across this couple.

In my usual short-sighted way, it wasn't until I was checking the image for focus in the monitor that I noticed the couple-ness. In approaching the plant I brushed some grasses which, although not directly touching the cow parsley, did appear to have some kind of mechanical connection. The insects' ground moved beneath them. They ignored it, far too absorbed in what they were doing.

After a few of these transmitted wobbles, they became mildly pissed off, muttering about respecting an insect's privacy. They headed slowly towards the edge of the flowers as if preparing to take off and disappear, the last inhabitants left on this particular planet.

But I had misinterpreted their intention. There was still stuff to do, so they weren't about to leave their love nest. Rather than taking off from the edge, thy did that one thing that makes me want to be an insect: they walked over the edge and turned the floor into the ceiling, and the ceiling into the floor.

A moment later, they were back doing what they wanted to do, only this time hanging upside down from the underside of the cow parsley

Getting these pictures onto the computer,  I fired up Lightroom 4 and pulled the pictures in. The latest version has the controls layed out in a new way. It's the first time Adobe have moved away from the old wet, darkroom, analogy, and it's a triumph. Backlit images used to be hard to control. Not any more.

Looking at these, in this colour space, there's more that could be done, but I'll leave them like this for now. Anything you you think of that might improve the images, it can almost certainly be done, and easily.

It would be useful, but not essential, to know what these insects are.  It's not that I'm a bug freak, just that there's something frustrating about having a picture in which I can't put a name to the contents although there are occasions when having to make up a name serves the image better. I'll show one of those in the next post.

Saturday, 28 April 2012


So: the big excitement over here at PhotoBof Towers is the appearance of a Nikon D4. It's been here for a few days but a birthday intervened, so today is the first time of use. Examples might appear...remarks might materialise ...but mainly, buttons will be pressed, with equal measure of trepidation and enthusiasm. I can remember some of the reasons that convinced me to tell the Grey people that I wished take my place on the waiting list: new live view to make the tilt/shift easier to use, Full HD movie capability, a general improvement. But I cannot remember what tipped me. Today will tell whether I've been extravagant or wise.

Friday, 3 February 2012


St Martin's Lane - for a few days only - go see!

Monday, 23 January 2012

they must be on one

For some years the photographer's number one tool after the camera has been Photoshop. I've been using it for about 18 years. There's probably still more about it that I don't know than I do. Working in a design office, where there were graphic designers, product designers, and architects, there was something new, some little tweak or alternative route that I discovered every day. It is an amazing tool.

That amazingness leads to some unfortunate perceptions. To say that an image has been Photoshopped tends to be derogatory, but also tends to display the ignorance of whoever says it. Pretty much every professionally made image will have been through Photoshop (or perhaps Lightroom, its equally amazing but leaner, younger sibling) even if only to leave a printable file: RAW files, the basic building blocks of the photographer's workings, are not viewable or printable in themselves.

There is no doubt that as many bad things have been done with Photoshop as good things; but we don't blame Word for bad writing ("O-o-oh! It's been Worded!") so why blame Photoshop for the crap produced by bad photographers and designers?

Sadly, the industry itself is partly to blame. This morning's email produced a good example. A company called onOne Software has been buying up good software companies and turning their product to shit. I hear from them because I have used the Genuine Fractals plugin for years. When I last checked it was the best image enlargement software easily available. For no good reason, onOne have renamed it Perfect Resize; this has obviously had such a negative effect that they now have to say (formally Genuine Fractals) every time it's mentioned, a good indicator of their idiocy.

Of all the new techniques, the one which can produce the most hideous results is HDR, the trick of making an image look as if all the dark bits and all the light bits are equally well exposed, something which tends to be impossible in reality. This is what makes those vile pictures with over-blue seas and over-red mountains. Even in expert hands it's ugly, but in the mits of an amateur it's positively shocking.

onOne have a plugin dedicated to this, and their video shows how horrible it is (although they seem to think it's pretty.)

But it wasn't this which turned on the light for me today - it was the blurb for their Perfect Layers software which rang the bell that turned the switch: "...the fast, easy, and affordable way to create layered files outside of Photoshop."

Has nobody at onOne seen the VW Golf ads, "Just like a Golf"?


Tuesday, 10 January 2012


On closer examination, the prints at Leibowitz's show have remarkably little pixel mangling, particularly the point-and-shoot shots. Others, such as Elvis's bike, appropriately have no pixels, only detail. Water, in all forms, seems to respond well if the pixels are left alone. I've been banging away at this for some time now, so it's a relief to see that others feel the same.

This shows a 100% detail of the solo picture currently on my site, where the phenomenon of water droplets painting on the sensor with white light is well demonstrated. Perhaps some see it as a grey mess, but this is what water looks like; it's not milk, and it's not glass. Back to Sid later.

back to the pixels

I remember discovering grain. Obviously, I was no pioneer or scientist, but in my world there had been, up until then, photographs or photographs which looked a bit blurred. I started processing and printing before I was ten and had a darkroom by fourteen, so the discovery of grain must have come by the age of nine years: I've always found it difficult to start something new without understanding something of how it works, and film works with grain.

The beauty of the way in which it tended to be used was that it appeared to absorb subject and object into the same space - somehow, a grainy picture is more accessible, more transparent than one in which the grain is invisible. This worked well for hard subjects. The word most often used is gritty, but it would seem likely that this usage arose from the coincident similarity to the the word grainy.

It's hard to tell how much of this attitude is learned and how much came unbidden. There is of course a strong pragmatic reason for visible grain: the faster the film, the more pronounced the grain. Shooting difficult, fleeting subjects often means low light, and low light means high speed (or flash, but that's for another day.) It doesn't take long before the mind automatically applies the equation grainy picture = interesting subject - useless as a shooting equation, but useful for interpretation.

This is not an attitude generally applied to digital imagery. It's as if the whole arena is in the hands of photographic puritan dullards. They abhor visible pixels, hence the dismissive description, noise. But the pixel is the basic brick of the photograph, and to be embarrassed by its presence is like a painter being embarrassed by his brush strokes.

It's therefore interesting to visit Annie Leibowitz's current show, Pilgrimage, at Hamilton's Gallery. Many of the pictures were taken with a point-and-shoot. I asked the slime-ball in residence whether Leibowitz had printed them herself. "No" he sneered, "They're all printed by master-printer David Adamson." I asked whether he was primarily a wet print master or digital. "Obviously, wet originally, but they do everything now."

Wrong, slime-ball. Adamson moved directly from lithography to digital. Such a lack of interest in an important part of the process characterises much of this end of the photographic market. It's hard to tell from a first look at the prints how much noise reduction and sharpening (both of which destroy pixels) has been used, but I suspect that even the master printer is toeing the line of using "at least some sharpening and noise reduction."

I am about to go there again to examine further. Meanwhile, this is shot which I believe benefits from being shown entirely without the two pixel manglers. This is, of course a reduced version, so has some inevitable mangling. More (or less) detail later.