Monday, August 31, 2009

Dont always delete your just 'ok' photos.

DSC01076, originally uploaded by PMac Imagery.

Not the best photo I've ever taken and absolutely not the best shot ever taken of this scene but it was certainly the best shot I got of this classic skyline. Now a couple of years later I'm so glad I've got this image and a little sad how close I came to deleting it.

The lesson here is we semi serious amateurs with pretensions of being artists have to be careful sometimes not to set our sights too high and lose simple but great memories because a shot doesn't meet our standards.

Not every shot has to be a work of art, always remember sometimes a decent shot is enough for a great memory.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Well they are out - A850, A550, A500

Well its the day after Christmas and the new cameras are out and about.

After all the leaks there isn't much we either didn't already know or at least strongly suspect so and understand that there isn't much excitement in this release but actually I'm pretty happy.

1. A850. essentially an A900 with some very small bit missing for a 26% price reduction. The first 'new'(ish) FF under 2k. I love that.

2. A500/550. A nice little pair of cameras that might not be cutting edge but offer a good balance of features, move forward a little from where Sony had been before and show that Sony is sticking around for the long haul. One interesting, and a little disappointing, thing is that in an effort to squeeze new features and old features into these bodies it appears Sony has lost their way a little in ergonomics. Well thats based on the DPreview hands on preview at least.

Hey - while I'm hear I'll take a little credit that my guesses on pricing and features for these cameras was pretty close as discussed here.

Some interesting things for me:

3. Sony has shown its happy for its price ranges to overlap - ie the cheapest 5XX is near as dammit to the priciest 3XX, the priciest 5XX is similarly close to the 700. This is good news, it suggests that any future A7XX series wont be constrained to stay away from the A850 and an uber APS, Nikon D300s competitor is possible.

4. Sony has a new 14 Mp CMOS chip capable of supporting 7FPS, main sensor live view and ISO 12800 that was not announced to the world by the sensor division and did not appear in a Nikon. That is a clear indication that the balance of influence on the Sony sensor division is shifting away from external customers.

Pushing the boundaries of Lightroom

an odd conveyance, originally uploaded by PMac Imagery.

I am essentially lazy so in the main I've confined my editing to Lightroom. I know, I know, you really need layers and curves and all the power of a proper editor to really go to town and I promise I will learn to do that.

But in the meantime I've begun experimenting to see just how far I can push the processing in Lightroom and so far I've been very pleasantly surprised with what I can achieve.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


chairs, originally uploaded by PMac Imagery.

A simple photo taken at the Seattle Sculpture Museum in, funnily enough, Seattle. In this shot I was grabbed by the lines and textures and curves of the scene. But on the screen it just wasnt that strong.

Perhaps with a cool lighting setup I could have got all the interest in my head onto the screen and/or paper.

Instead I played with the processing a little in lightroom, using a "Dragan" preset I downloaded as a starting point but then darkening up the green even more, cooling down the colour temp and toning down the artificial vignetting. I still dont think I've done the scene justice but I do like it anyway.

Dyxum - I used to love you

Dyxum, an A mount forum and information source on the net (probably THE) internet resource for we Minolta and Sony users is brilliant. It has great features like the lens review databases, fantastic forums free of the worst of the obvious trolling of DPreview and generally a friendly and helpful community feel. Oh, and I should also add a really good photo sharing vibe for when talking about gear gets you down.

And yet I'm not feeling the love any more - what went wrong?

I think the constant moaning has simply left me feeling withered and dry. The forums seem to be littered now with a never ending stream of angst and woe. If I want that I'll get off the net and watch tv designed for teens (like Skins - is that the worst series ever made?) Its like all the posters have turned into 15 year olds with a serious case of "the normals" whining about how terrible their utterly fantastic lives are.

And that the harsh truth. If you own a modern DSLR, and I dont care if its a Canon, Sony, Nikon, Pentax, or Olympus its a brilliant camera. If you've bought good quality lenses, and I dont care if they are name brand, Sigma, Tokina or Tamron you have some of the best lenses ever made. Whatever brand you have, your stuff is almost certainly wonderful.

And yet right now I suspect there are people on DPreview or Dyxum wringing their hands over the fact that the new Sony A500 doesnt offer some mode that the Nikon D90 does or that the A850 has half a stop more noise at ISO 6400 than the Canon 5D MkII. So I've pretty much given up.

Not completely, I'm not leaving the forum, I'm not handing over my registration, but I havent posted anything for a few weeks and I dont know when (or if) I will again. Perhaps when some of the whiners actually bite the bullet and leave, perhaps when someone says something so stupid I just cant hold back, who knows.

But I am sad that I feel this way.

It was the night before Christmas

Well all the rumour mills are running hot, screen dumps from small country sites are popping up, the doomsayers are saying and the fan boys are braying. All that means only one thing - new cameras are coming soon.

The rumors say three new cameras, the A850, A550 and A500 all to be announced tomorrow. Oh please, please please Sony please give us something new. Please please please dont hold back. You are one of the largest and most diverse electronics houses out there. You used to lead the market. Please remember what that was like and stop playing safe, lead.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

the fun doesnt end with sunset

ribbon, originally uploaded by PMac Imagery.

Recently I resorted to one of the old stand bys for a photographer - the sun set. Hey, dont get me wrong, that sounds a bit dismissive, I dont really mean it to sound that way. I've actually had a pretty good time lately chasing sunsets and I've captured a few decent images.

But the point I wanted to make today is that these days the fun doesnt end with sunset. In 2009 with DSLRs that have such wonderful IQ up to and beyond ISO 1600 and bodies like the Sony A700 with in-body stabilization we can keep shooting for ages after the sun had dipped below the horizon.

Which brings us to this image. I took this late one evening, about 45 minutes after the sun had set just beside Stockton bridge in Newcastle NSW. I love the colours, the shapes and the overall feel.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The rampant hypocrisy of camera forums

Has anyone else ever noticed that the same people that are the first people to claim that no one should buy a new lens or camera are also the loudest whingers about new cameras when they come out.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Photographing models - another new frontier

i see you, originally uploaded by PMac Imagery.

A little while ago I tried something new - taking photos of animals on the beach with a slow shutter allowing the motion blur to add to the sense of movement.

Well here's another new thing for me - models.

I'm not a sociable photographer, I usually love putting on my iPod, isolating myself away from all the other people out there and just photographing them. But in a small step forward in a recent event organised by the Newcastle Hunter Valley Photographers flickr group one of the others brought a model along and I had my first, halting, tentative and shy attempt at photographing a model.

This isnt really something I've ever thought of doing before and I wasnt really emotionally prepared for it so I didnt exactly cover myself in glory. In my defence I didnt exactly have all the right gear like a decent flash for a bit of fill flash etc.

Still amongst all the dross I think I captured one or two images I actually like - and this is one. In this case, the natural light and shade has produced a nice contrast while the model has stared straight down the barrel of the lens and given me a really cool 'look'.

And like a decent golf shot - getting one right can be enough to make you want to come back.

I will get better at this.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Composition - pushing the rules

getting amongst it, originally uploaded by PMac Imagery.

There are lots of rules around composition - perhaps the single most famous is the "rule of thirds". Basically this means putting the subject a little off center so that its interest is emphasized by the use of space and perspective.

This is a good rule and one I use a lot.

But sometimes it nice to push the rules and this is what I've done here. In this case the subject inst at the one third point across the frame but rather at about the one sixth point. But I think it really works better this way. This image is all about the girls location, by placing her so close to the edge with so much empty water (and frame) in front of her we see just how big the lake is and where she is in context.

I like it and I think this is a good reason to always be guided by the rules but not bound be them.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sony A850, A5XX - whats the future for the A7XX?

Lets imagine the rumours turn out t be true and over the next few weeks we Sony users get a couple of new cameras, what are they likely to be?

A850 - an A900 lite. Well the A850 seems to be so certain that one of the best Sony/Minolta mount sites on the net (Dyxum) has already created an A900/A850 forum area. Historically this has only occurred when the site owner has had an inside tip that he really trusts. So far he hasn't been wrong and I'm willing to trust Mladen again.

Right now the only outstanding discussions on this revolve around price - most "responsible" net guessers seem to be saying something around $US2000 - so a $600 discount from the A900. There is some thought it might go even cheaper but as much as I hope this is true I wouldnt be betting my money on it.

A5XX - an A700 lite. Its widely believed that the A5XX series will be related to the A700 in some way and retail for about the price the A700 does at present. In truth if you took the A700, put it in a slightly cheaper body, gave it main sensor live-view and video and sold it for $US990 it would be a killer camera. I reckon thats pretty much what we'll get.

That leaves a Sony lie-up that goes something like this:

A230 - $US450
A330 - $US650
A380 - $US800
A500 - $US900
A550 - $US1200
A850 - $US2000
A900 - $US2600

Now thats based on a huge number of guesses and approximations but its close enough to draw a couple of conclusions. These are:

A7XX - Going uptown. There is space in this lineup for a 'higher' APS-C based 7 series but its going to have to push further up the price range to get away from the A5XX. Does the A7XX have to stay clear of the $US2000 A850? No!

I think it would be smart for Sony to have the A7XX and A850 both in the $US1800-$US2000 range. These could be very different camera's catering to very different user communities. I wouldnt see these camera's so much stealing sales from each other as vastly expanding the range of people that might consider buying a Sony.

Anyway - there's a solid rumour going around that a lot (not all - its never all) will be revealed on 28 Aug 2009. I'll come back and have a chat on this topic when (or if) this announcement happens.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tele vs wide - perspective

You know I could right a bunch of words here but why bother - there is an excellent little article on Luminous Landscape by Peter Cox on Changing Perspective that covers this really well.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Canon G11 - the megapixel race shifts into reverse

In a first, Canon has put the headlong race to ever higher megapixel counts into reverse with their latest incarnation of the serious photographers compact, the G series, the new G11 (thanks DPreview).

While there are undoubtedly many fine new features with this camera the single most interesting feature from a whole of market point of view is the fact that the new G11 is a "mere" 10Mp compared to the 14.2 Mp in the G10 it replaces. Not only that there is the constant reference to the new chip being a "high sensitivity" sensor.

What has driven this shift in direction? Well ever since the release of the amazing 12Mp FF D3 the benefits of high ISO shooting have certainly become better known and in many way ISO is the new Mp. Also, the advent of new micro 4/3s cameras like the Olympus E-P1 that offer the small size of the G series compacts with vastly better noise performance must have been a consideration.

But I also wonder if Canon was feeling the heat from other directions as well. Its interesting that in order to improve the noise performance of its G series compacts Canon has felt the need to drop resolution by about 35%. Time will tell how the IQ of this camera will stack up against some of the newest kids on the block, especially the ever popular (and now CMOS equipped) Ricoh's and even more interesting back lit Sony DSC-WX1.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Photographing Airports

First I should say that taking photos at an airport can be hard, not because of a lack of subjects, god knows there is actually the opposite problem, but the ever present risk of being considered a terrorist is not to be taken lightly.

The other day, waiting for my daughter I took my camera and was wandering around outside the terminal looking for interesting shots and I overheard (as I think I was meant to) the security guys talking about me and that if I walked past them again I'd get pulled up. This was a little confronting and also a little tempting. I wasn't actually going to pass them again as the plane I was waiting for landed, but hearing that I almost wanted to, but then again I didn't want to, and then I felt guilty about feeling some concern and almost started courting their scrutiny to prove to myself I wasn't afraid.

How fucking dumb was that getting?

Anyway, the real point. Airports are really cool place to photograph, not just (or even) the planes. Its the people, the buildings, the anticipation, longing, heartbreak - its all there. Actually I wasnt able to get much on my last trip except for this which I really like. The sense of abandonment and irrelevance really hits me.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sunset - the last refuge of the desparate photographer

Earlier, one of the suggestions I had for people running out of inspiration was to consider collecting street art and try and compile a record of the place you live in a slightly unconventional way. Well here's another look at an old standby for those times you are running low on inspiration.

Ok, first I should admit that living in Newcastle, NSW makes this pretty easy. Mid north Coast weather means nice clear skies, easy temperaures and lots of water - all in all golden hour/sunset gold.

Still, it might be all set up for you but you've still got to get out their and actually take the shot which is what I've tried to do here. The first shot is kind of obvious, a fishing boat navigating out of the harbour on sunset. An pretty unoriginal image but still pretty strong (in my mind at least). The second shot is probably still pretty obvious but here I felt comfortable pushing the processing quite a bit further. In a particular I sucked almost all the blue out of the picture leaving a pretty surreal, surface of mars sort of vibe, but with a Pelican sitting in the middle of it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Pushing a new boundary - slow shutters

I tend to be a "literal" photographer. I mean I'll push and pull colours a little, tweak the contrast and occasionally play with filters but thats about it. However, the other night I headed down to the breakwater near the Nobbies lighthouse in Newcastle to catch some sunset shots over the harbour and heading home caught a scene that inspired me to try something more.

Near the end of the breakwater, inside the harbour is Horseshoe Beach. A wonderful little stretch of beach that is open to use as a leash free park for dogs and their owners. On this night, as the set dropped below the horizon and twilight settled over us some locals were still out there with their dogs, just eking the last bit of play from the day. A combination of the light, the dogs running, the headiness of having having a night to myself with my camera all combined to produce a kind of magical, fantastical, feeling.

I was inspired to try something new (for me) in an attempt to capture this magic. I was thinking of a photo I once saw of a jackel running in the night holding the head of its prey that I always admired (taken by Roy Toft - I cant find his jackel photo but this wilderbeast one is excellent too). I tried a couple of things but the slow shutter and partial pan gave me the result I was after. What I wanted to get was not a picture of the dogs, but rather pictures of the memory of dogs. Like cave painting arent pictures of animals but rather pictures of stories of animals.

I know others have done this better but I'll admit I'm pretty happy with how these two images worked.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A little more brand validation for Sony

Sony users always run the risk of becoming, or at least being seen to become real fanboys (and girls I suppose but they seem pretty rare). At the other extreme it can be tempting for we Sony users to go the other way and become in-house trolls, doing nothing but undermining the mount we feel trapped in. I wrote about this tendency in this blog post.

Therefore, its always nice to read an article that doesnt gush or decry but simply says nice things about the camera brand I'm using. And thats pretty much exactly what Andy Biggs has done with his short "review" of the Sony A900 and lenses in Namibia. Coming on the heels of the good things said by the online photography blog this is some cool brand validation.

And yes its sad that we Sony Shooters feel the need for this pep up.

The trouble with people....

shattered, originally uploaded by PMac Imagery. that we are all different.

I really like this image. The shattered glass, the hole punched through the wall behind it and the hasty blobs of silicon trying in vain to hold it all together. It captures the idea of horrible, mindless, sudden violence and the desire to do something about it, to hold back the breakdown that follows.

Its not quite perfect, if I'd taken more time I would have liked it to be sharper and I think I could have got a little straighter but all in all I'm pretty happy.

Funny then that it sinks like a stone in forums and passes with virtually no views and/or comments.

That's ok. I don't feel slighted or confused or mystified. This isn't a rant that people aren't appreciating my genius its just yet another acknowledgment that when it comes to aesthetic choices we are all different and one persons great shot is anothers' time waster.

So is there advice out there for the reader who stumbles on this blog? Yeah. If you arent getting the views, the comments, the favorites that you think you deserve get over yourself. We all have those moments but ultimately stop looking at the view counters and the comments and go back to the pictures. Do they still grab you, are you still proud of them?

That's all that matters.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The beauty of colour

just colours, originally uploaded by PMac Imagery.

What we like in photos is highly variable. Personally, I have a real weakness for colour. This shot is super simple and from a composition point of view doesn't have much to recommend it but the colour just blows me away.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Looking for inspiration - street art

Sometimes it just feels like you've taken a photo of everything you can possibly find. The kids run when you pick up the camera, your wife rolls her eyes, even the dogs just look bored. Every flower has been shot 100 times and if you chase one more bee or ant or bug of any sort you'll just scream.

Well occasionally its ok to stand on the shoulders of others and use their art to make yours. This doesnt come easy. First you have to find it. Yeah I know finding any old street art is easy and hardly a challenge. But finding something new, interesting and fun is much, much harder. However, its also rewarding.

The next step is to do something interesting with the shot, to ensure that you are really making something, not just copying it. Now thats a tricky issue. How far do you have to go? I dont know what you have to do, however, I know I feel comfortable with what I've done here.

Dont let it stop here, dont stop at one or two bits of art. Keep your eye's out and you'll find dozens of pieces like this, all around your neighbourhood. I promise. People, god love them, want to make stuff, they want to create, they want to express themselves. Go look you'll be amazed.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Sometime art trumps craft

PMac Imagery flickr-00692, originally uploaded by PMac Imagery.

I'm not a portrait photographer, almost never trying to photographer people expecting to get a photo. Two reasons, one, dealing with people isnt why I do photography and, two, I'm crap at it.

So with that in mind when I got the chance to practice with some children through a local photography group I leapt at it. Funnily enough though, despite my recent post on the importance of paying attention to the craft of photography the truth is this is my favorite shot. Its out of focus, flare has destroyed the contrast and put spots into the shot but I still love it.

So yes, the craft is important, but the art will trump it when you get it right.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Why the disproportionate weight to high ISO results

I can never understand the fascination people have with high ISO performance. No camera, even the low light geniuses like the D700 and D3 gets anywhere near its best performance more than 2, maybe 3, stops above its "base" iso. So with a base ISO of (say) 200, you will get your very best sharpness, colour, DR, noise etc etc at 200. This will hold up really well at 400, be pretty close at 800 and be noticeably different though probably still pretty good at 1600. Beyond here the quality fall off is obvious and clearly something you would want to avoid.

And this isnt a Sony thing, or a Nikon thing or a Canon thing - its a physics thing. Look at test photos from any camera and compare its output at ISO 100/200 to what it gets at 800/1600. Its obvious, while the high iso shots might be useable, side by side with the ISO 100/200 they will suck.

Thats probably why as I look through the 20000 odd photo's in my catalog, 95.2% of them are taken at ISO 800 or lower. Another 4.4% are at ISO 1600. And yes, do the maths and you'll see 0.4% of my photos are taken at ISO 3200 or higher.

So frankly I dont really care about high iso performance and whats more, given that most people I speak to have similar sorts of usage patterns I dont understand why most people seem to.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

a challenge - an example of the direct positive

a challenge in the sun, originally uploaded by PMac Imagery.

In my earlier post I described the Direct positive look - well here's an example (that I've punched up even more).

Processing - the Direct Positive look

One of my favorite "looks" when processing images is the "direct positive" look I discovered totally by accident when I bought Lightroom. So what is the direct positive look?

Well first lets go back in time. The term Direct Positive is defined as:

"Made from a transparency without an internegative on a direct positive colour paper. A high contrast positive image slide made only from camera ready originals with no negative required."

So basically the direct positive gives a kind of 'slide' characteristic. The colors are punchy, the contrast is high, the highlights are right on the limit of the clipping and the blacks are deep and luscious.

So what does that do in Lightroom?

Well it does pretty much the same thing - it pushes the exposure just over a stop, deepens the black point, applies a pretty strong S shaped contrast curve and also punches up the saturation in the blue channel.

The resulting image is really powerful and has a lot of visual "pop". That said it actually doesn't appear to be a particularly popular. I think in today's world the 'direct positive' look is seen as a little old fashioned, a little simple, perhaps even twee. Its not gritty, or 'street', it has no cred. A "dragan" look is so much cooler.

I dont care, I still love it.

Monday, August 3, 2009

ghost rider

ghost rider, originally uploaded by PMac Imagery.

Reaching back in time just over two years to when I had just started in this hobby. this is still one of my all time favorite images. I think its that the seat and wall and window are all so clean but with the slight ruffling where someone was sitting its as if a ghost was still there enjoying the view.

I find its fun sometimes to take a journey back through our older photos, not to learn or poke fun or wonder at the equipment but simply to enjoy them. Sometimes it can be easy to become fixated on the next image and forget the great ones we've already got.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Sony A850 is peeking out of its hidey hole

Well a manual for the A850 has surfaced and been downloaded from Sony sites (thanks to Kyle Batson for the web version). It confirms the idea that the A850 isnt an uber APS body and is, instead, a stripped down A900, so an affordable FF 25 Mp. No I don't doubt the veracity of the manual downloads but something appears a little fishy. What I mean is the very deliberate looking leaking of virtually all the details of the new camera (barring price).

My theory?

Look at the threads on the A850. The user community is deeply split and no matter what Sony did a lot of people were going to be upset. By this leak Sony is able to let a lot of the venting take place before the release and let us concentrate on the real party trick - the price.

PS - I was completely totally, utterly and unambiguously wrong. I completely misread the tea leaves and admit it freely. Read how wrong I got it.

PPS - I'm actually pretty stoked by that - personally the A850 is looking like the camera I really want.

PPPS - But I am a little concerned on the apparent lack of progress from Sony on some core photographic issues like autofocus.

Simple things

simple things, originally uploaded by PMac Imagery.

We often get wrapped up in exotic locations, big scary animals or shots of amazing people. And yet, this photo I got of just some grasses being blown in the wind really strikes me and makes me want to just be there again.

Whether its a photo or just the rest of our lives, sometimes I think we could all benefit from giving up on the chase for the complex, the distant, the amazing and simply embrace the simple.