Brutalist Architecture

Cold-hearted, inhuman, monstrous: there is hardly a more controversial architectural style than Brutalism. The term stems from the French word beton brut coined by Swiss architect Le Corbusier to describe his choice of raw concrete for its raw and unpretentious honesty.

Brutalism gained momentum in the 1960s for pre-fabricated, low-cost housing, shopping centres and government buildings, and had a strong position in the architecture of European communist countries. This architectural style, sometimes also referred to as bunker architecture is almost universally considered as ugly. Urban decay due to the poor ageing of steel-reinforced concrete, and the surfaces being prone to graffiti, has not helped in this perception.

And yet, these minimalistic interactions of patterns, light, and form have a potential to lead to powerful images. It’s all about leading lines and details, accentuated by focal lengths in the ranges of 14-18 mm and 130-200 mm.

Habitat 67: Montreal, Canada. Moshe Sadie, 1967

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Posted in Architecture, Photoessays Tagged , |

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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Posted in Equipment reviews, Image quality, Philosophy+Opinion, 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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Posted in Philosophy+Opinion, Photoessays, Travel photography Tagged , , , , , , |

Testing Lens Alignment

A year without new gear hasn’t been really successful. And although we have seen a lot of new equipment this year, there was nothing to merit a complete system change (to the Sony mirrorless or the Pentax 645, for example).

align1

My target for testing lens alignment. Almost a nice image in the autumn fog.

After the disappointing test of the Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 VR, I thus treated myself to a Zeiss Distagon T* 25 mm f/2.0. Great deals can be had on these “classic line” Zeiss lenses, because they will be replaced by the Milvus lenses. The Milvus 50 f/1.4 and 85 f/1.4 are new designs, while the others are basically avatars in an Otus gestalt.

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Hands on review: AF-S Nikkor 24-70 mm f/2.8E ED VR

I love my holy trinity of Nikon f/2.8 zoom lenses covering a total range of 14-200 mm focal length. The mid-range zoom AF-S 24-70 mm f/2.8G ED N (short G-version) has become my workhorse and go-to lens with its most versatile zoom range; from wide-angle landscapes and panoramas, to portraits and events. Not that it is lightweight, but the built quality is excellent, the out-of-focus areas are smooth, and there are very little chromatic aberrations along the entire zoom range and at all apertures. The lens snaps into focus instantly and silently and it never hunts, even in most challenging lighting conditions.

The public library in Stuttgart, Germany. All you need to test corner to corner sharpness, lateral and longitudinal chromatic aberrations, flat field, out-of-focus rendering, and geometric distortions

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Bastard Chairs, Beijing

Back from my second time to China (after 10 years) with images quite the opposite of what I had expected and planned for.

The reason is that most of the traditional living quarters in Beijing and Shanghai have been cleared for wide boulevards, and their inhabitants have moved to gated, high-rise apartment complexes.

Chairs 1, Beijing, China

Yet some of the Hutongs (alleys formed by lines of ancient courtyard residences) have been declared protected and are being turned into amusement quarters with boutiques, art galleries, and hotels disguised by faux historic façades.

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Posted in Photoessays, Travel photography Tagged , , , |

CERN Restarts Large Hadron Collider

After more than two years of maintenance and upgrades, proton beams are circulating again since the Easter weekend at the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

What’s the point of this news on a photographic website? I admit that I have not talked much about my professional career, having participated in possibly the largest endeavor in fundamental science, the LHC at CERN in Geneva*. LHC is the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator, consisting of a 27-kilometre ring of superconducting magnets and a number of accelerating structures to boost the energy of the particles along their way.

Information on CERN and its accelerators can be found here, if you are interested in my scientific work you can follow me on research gate

CMS2

© Copyright CERN 2015

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Posted in Photoessays Tagged , |

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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Posted in Philosophy+Opinion, Photoessays, Travel photography Tagged , , , , , |

Digital versus Film: A Photoessay

Film shooter: Film slows me down; I shoot less and thus increase my keeper rate. In a world of instant gratification I love to wait for having my film developed. The look of film is more organic and natural. I concentrate on the subject, not on the histogram: just the camera, the subject, and me. The film camera of my grandfather will outlast you and me. It still takes better images than the modern, disposable DSLRs. Film does not require a laptop, extension cord, power strip, Terabyte backup drive, mouse, card reader and all that junk filling my suitcase. Shooting film, I will have the evening free for my wife/ girlfriend/ partner; no downloading, backing-up, RAW processing, and sensor cleaning. Film has better resolution and is future proof because scanners will always improve.

Digital gearhead: Even my 10 year-old, 6 MP Canikon has a better dynamic range and color accuracy than film ever had. My digital file at ISO 409600 shows less noise then Kodak Extar 400. We have long surpassed the state of sufficiency and I have made 6-foot prints from my DSLR that look gorgeous. It’s the guy behind the camera that matters, not the equipment. Street-shooting with my mirrorless I can be very stealthy. Hard drives store billions of images in far less space than binders full of film. With digital it is common for me to shoot a thousand images in an hour-long football match at no cost.

Mandalay-digital

Fig. 1: Mandalay (click to enlarge)

Now with these fanboy statements out of the way, I must admit that after 20 years of shooting large-format film I have become pretty much a digi-convert myself. Yes, the almost total lack of noise on the D800e at base ISO far surpassed that from even the finest grained film. Yes it was much easier to nail correct exposure checking the histogram. And it was easier to remove the few dust spots that might turn up on a digital file, than the lengthy spotting necessary on even the most carefully processed and handled film. But was it the right move?

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Why I Hold Out Against the Otus Lust – For Now

Yesterday I picked up some accessories at Euro-Photo Puig in Geneva, where they had on stock a Zeiss Otus 85 mm f/1.4 Apo Planar T*. This is a mouthful of a name, so I call it Otus 85 from now on. I had the opportunity to take a couple of sample images, however, not out the store’s door as originally planned. It had started snowing, which rendered the scene useless as test for sharpness and micro-contrast. So what else is there to photograph inside a photo store than a nice vintage camera?

Otus

Zeiss Otus 85 f/1.4 Apo Planar shootout. 100% crops, click to enlarge. From left to right: f/1.4, f/2.8, f/5.6. Top: Nikon PC-E 85 mm. Middle: Otus 85. Bottom: Nikon 85 f/1.4 G.

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Christmas Gifts for Photographers

Buying christmas gifts for photographers can be a tricky business, in particular, if you are not technically inclined and discard kitschy nonsense like lens-shaped coffee mugs. So here are some proposals for equipment that will not end up on the bottom of the gear closet.

Mingun

My Christmas gift: A 16 MP, 17 MB image from the Hpo Win Daung Caves in Monywa, Myanmar. For ultimate viewing experience on the iMac 5K Retina. Click to enlarge, then zoom to full size.

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What’s in the Bag – Loaded for Yak and Yeti

I am on the road (trek) for more than four weeks around the Annapurnas in Nepal. If it was only for the mountains, I could stay in the Alps and actually climb some of them. Obviously, in the Himalayas the peaks are higher and their faces larger, which is difficult to convey in a photograph, however. There is simply a lack of scale.

What keeps dragging me into the Himalayas are ethnical diversity, architecture, culture, and high-altitude wilderness. Moreover, there is this fascinating, rapid change in the way people live in the remote mountain areas. From no access to electricity, phone and television, to wireless Internet and smart-phone (cameras) in less than a decade. On this trip it will also be interesting to study the change brought about by the recent construction of the road in the Annapurna region. Indeed, there are a lot of very different subjects for a photographer.

So what do I bring, and why?

Bag2

It’s not the equipment that takes good images, it’s the photographer. I know.

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Review: Nikon Teleconverter TC-14E III

This is a review of the mark III version of the Nikon TC-14 teleconverter, which was announced in May. Teleconverters had the reputation of reducing image quality by a noticeable amount. But already the predecessor TC-14E II model has been praised for its performance and very little performance degradation when combined with the professional telephoto lenses. I ordered the updated converter on the day it was announced and got it delivered from Calumet Munich last week.

TC-14E III

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Posted in Equipment reviews

Four Ways to 85 mm: Three Nikon Lenses and the Carl Zeiss Planar for the Hasselblad V-Series

Fighting hard against GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome), I still have four ways to arrive at 85 mm focal length. I may therefore check out some widespread myths about lenses: 1) Prime lenses are better than zooms. 2) Vintage lenses are ill suited for digital sensors because they are not telecentric, that is, the ray angles at the edges of the sensor exceed the acceptance angle of the microlenses, which results in reduction of color saturation, and color fringes. 3) The 35 mm lenses have a better resolution than medium and large-format lenses, simply because they need to cover only a smaller caputure area and can therefore be made from more expensive glass.

Lenses

From left to right: Nikon AF-S 70-200 f/2.8 G ED VR II, Nikon AF-S 85 f/1.8 G, Nikon PC-E 85 f/2.8 Micro, Hasselblad Zeiss CF 80 f/2.8 Planar T* mounted on a Photodiox adapter.

The contestants

  • Nikon AF-S 70-200 f/2.8 G ED VR II
  • Nikon AF-S 85 f/1.8 G
  • Nikon PC-E 85 f/2.8 Micro
  • Hasselblad Zeiss CF 80 f/2.8 Planar T* mounted on a Photodiox adapter

I hated the Nikon AFS 70-200 f/2.8 and the Canon equivalent, because having set up my large format camera, I was more than once harassed by photographers carrying these lenses. Considering their form factor it does not need much to imagine what some guys are compensating for.

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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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