Category Archives: Philosophy+Opinion

Have a Bokehlitious Christmas

In photography, bokeh* is the rendering of the blur produced by a lens in the out-of-focus parts of an image and is thus affected by the aperture, iris-blade construction, lens design (aberrations), and diffraction (Airy diffraction patterns). Photographing point-like sources of light such as Christmas-tree illumination is the best way to check the quality of bokeh, i.e., uneven or sharp luminance transitions, ni-sen (Japanese for double lines), irregular textures, and color fringes.

But there is no general consensus of what good or bad bokeh is. If you like it, it’s good, if you don’t like it, it’s bad. The same with Christmas celebrations, gifts and cakes. Some don’t like it at all. But if you had it, it might as well be smooth, round, and creamy rather than nervous, polygonal, and harsh.

And remember; to optimise bokeh keep reducing the distance between yourself and the subject while increasing the distance between the subject and the background.

In this sense, have a bokehlitious Christmas. SR

Christmas Tree Bokeh; Nikon Coolpix A, f/2.8

*The word bokeh is derived from a Japanese word, which means something like  “fuzzy” and is used to describe, among other things, the “flavour” of out-of-focus areas in photographs; “boke-aji.” Mike Johnston, Editor-in-Chief of PHOTO Techniques magazine from 1994-2000 and now running the website “The Online Photographer”, added the “h” because English speakers would mispronounce boke like “joke”, instead of the “bo” as in bone, “ke” as in Kevin, and with equal weight on each syllable.

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Gear and Gadgets at Photokina

I am back from Photokina; what used to be the world’s largest trade fair for the imaging industry has turned into an event for the generation selfie: drone airport, video-blogs, action-camera arena, and yes, Mazda car exhibition. More gadgets than gear.

In any case, it is unlikely to discover stuff that has not been already discussed at the numerous rumor sites. Camera manufacturers have been launching new products all year, reports, tests and even videos are uploaded within hours of release and progress has become so incremental that there isn’t anything that shouts game-changer. For hands on experience with new equipment, it’s better to negotiate with a dealer or to sign up for a demonstration. What triggered me were not so much the new camera releases but rather the photographic exhibitions, printers and papers, and the future directions in photography at large.

I have to give it to Leica for organising the exhibition “Masters of Photography” occupying about 2000 m² of Hall 1 and including Bruce Gilden (Face), Ellen von Unworthy (Wild wild west), Per-Anders Peterson (African catwalk) and Ara Güler (Leica Hall of Fame Award), among others. This alone justified the admission fee. That camera manufacturers advertise and support the printed image makes perfect sense. For sharing on the social media, camera phones are sufficient and even for viewing on the best screens 20 MP is enough. What used to be commonplace about 15 years ago must now be promoted; the images is only complete when printed.

Leica’s booth, on the other hand, looked like any Leica store, augmented by an area that much reminded me about Rolls Royce exhibits at car shows; you don’t really feel welcome. But this marketing strategy seems to pay off. While basically all systems have passed the threshold of sufficiency for most, it makes sense to establish them as luxurious items (Leica M-P 240 Lenny Kravitz Edition, anybody?).

bruce

Masters of Photography at Photokina 2016

Talking about the Aston Martin, rather, in the world of photographic equipment, the title goes to the Hasselblad X1D. Beautiful nordic design and noble materials, touch screen and a well thought-out menu, with the main functions on dials and buttons. However, the camera cannot be triggered by a sync cable, and because the body has no shutter, the options for third party lenses on mount adapters will be limited. And there is only one central focus point, although focus and recompose is not precise enough for this pixel count. Focus peaking will come with the next firmware upgrade, so they say.

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Moving to Medium Format?

I wouldn’t comment on product announcement unless the product is exceptionally interesting, or as the teaser said, a game changer. However, those words have been (ab)used before, in particular in the mirrorless* world, and have eventually left something to be desired.

For everyone who missed it: Hasselblad have announced a 50 MP medium format** (44×33 mm) mirrorless camera with a 2.36 MP electronic viewfinder (EVF). There also will be a new lens line with leaf shutters, for a large range of shutter speeds (60 minutes to 1/2000 seconds) and with full flash synchronization to boot. Rumors had it for Sony and Fuji for a while and I would not be surprised to see a similar offering by Pentax; possibly at Photokina in September (my flight is booked).

Linhof

A DSLR (Nikon D810) as a digital back on the Linhof Technika. A medium-format mirrorless camera would make a better combo because of the shorter flange-focal distance and the larger sensor.

*They really should come up with a new name for those cameras, on the same footing that we are not driving horseless coaches.

**Well, not quite to medium-format film standards ranging from 60×45 to 60×90 and even 60×170 panoramic.

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Testing a Preproduction DSLR in Sri Lanka

I have been given a camera to test. Not just any camera but one that is not available yet. At first glance it is not even terribly exciting, no Foveon-type full-format sensor, no digital medium-format camera in a Mamiya 7 gestalt, no curved image sensor, and no 36 MP light field camera. It is simply a major update of a full-format DSLR.

I am not allowed to reveal the brand and model name, but I was told I can post a review and images from it. I was lucky enough to have this camera for a test during a recent trip to Sri Lanka (more about this trip in future posts).

Stilt fishermen, Koggala

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Also posted in Equipment reviews, Image quality, Travel photography

2015 in Review

Another year has passed far to quickly, in particular for someone who was taught photography on a Kodak Retina IIIc. For me it has been a year without new gear but lots of opportunities to increase my return of investment. So was it successful? Ansel Adams said that if you are able to retain 12 images in a year, then it has been successful one. So let’s see what we can do; my favorite photos and memories from 2015, in captured order.

All the best for the new year. SR

Venice

Venice Cliche 1, Italy

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Portraits of Strangers

I don’t believe in sneaking photographs of people. Street photographers may argue that asking a person to pose for an image is taking them out of their natural routine and, therefore, ruining the decisive moment*. I couldn’t disagree more. My objective for taking portraits is to make contact with people, to establish a two-way connection that reflects their openness toward me and thus, indirectly, toward the viewers of the image themselves. In this way, the portraits speak a thousand words about their subjects and the environment they live in.

*Beware of the legal rules for photographing people, which vary from country to country. In short, if you don’t have a consent release, you cannot use these images for commercial purpose. The models can sue you, because you, or your publisher, are using their image to advertise a product or service to which they may not agree. Yet it’s fine to use an image for editorial purposes, for example, this blog post, because I am not promoting or selling any product.

The shot discipline required to make best use of high pixel counts, aggressively looking DSLRs with long lenses mounted on a tripod or monopod (a setup that probably costs more than some peoples’ homes), and considerations about the light and background excludes the run and gun approach anyway. It takes usually a large number of images to obtain a natural look of the person and a final image that doesn’t look staged.

I have found that most people like to have their picture taken. Think if a photographer from a far away place asked you; would you say no? Being 195 cm tall, I have been approached often by Asian girls. This has somewhat faded, which I believe is due to Asians getting taller, rather than me getting less attractive.

People respond well to respect towards themselves and their culture, knowing the local language is important to interact. Where communication problems are to be expected, it is good to hire a guide through a local agency, mentioning the photographic ambitions. Moreover, guides can help to approach a stranger and ask for permission. But avoid those self-proclaimed guides waiting in front of iconic places; you will for sure end up at the wrong place at the wrong time.

I always offer to send prints, but I am also not offended when the person asks for small change. In particular with street vendors, you can break the ice by buying a little souvenir.

So here are some stories behind the images. More portraits can be found in this post. All images were shot with the Nikon D800e and the 70-200 f/2.8 VR II (at 150 mm and f5.6).

 

Nun smoking cheroot, Myanmar: In Myanmar women are often seen smoking large cigars, called cheroot, made from mixtures of dried, seasoned softwood and crushed tobacco wrapped in a dried leaf of carbia myxa. I met this nun outside the Hpo Win Daung Caves in Monywa, Myanmar and was attracted by her rejoicing in the cigar. Having never smoked I was not able to check these out.

Nun smoking cheroot, Myanmar

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The Crackpot Index for Photographers

There is this recurring discussion of what defines fine-art photography. Can the image of a lemon tart be art? Is photography an art form at all?

Easier than defining art is defining what is not. According to the philosopher Walter Benjamin, kitsch is, unlike art, a utilitarian object lacking all critical distance between object and observer; it offers instantaneous emotional gratification without intellectual effort.

Bagan, Myanmar

Cliche image of an iconic place: sunset over the temples of Bagan, Myanmar. An image accounting for one point on the crackpot index. Therfore, one or two of these images are allowed in a portfolio.

I would rate a large amount of the current professional landscape work, published in magazines and catalogues as kitsch. Probably this due to art directors and editors having grown up with artificial flavor and visual over-saturation. Look at the tutorials of Phase One, a company catering for professionals: they are proud of the fact that a lake in Scotland, captured under a gray sky, can be made to look like the waters of Anse La Digue (Seychelles).  Bad enough that this might be required to be successful in the market place.

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