From my Twitter feed

Every cloud….

Keswick’s landing stages must be one of the most-photographed locations in the Lake District. You can still get lovely images if you choose your time or conditions – early morning mist, still water, autumn colours, even the unusual angle of sunset in late June – but there will always be other people hanging around, and other photographers to avoid. If you do make eye contact with another photographer, you know you share his guilt of laziness in your choice of subject.

I certainly wouldn’t be around that part of Derwentwater in the middle of an afternoon at the height of summer, but last month I had a week up in the Lakes and I simply couldn’t motivate myself to fight the weather. There is a saying that for the photographer there’s no such thing as bad light, just a bad attitude, and it seemed to sum up how the week’s unchanging grey skies had affected me. Sunrises seemed too early, sunsets didn’t really happen, everything was just green, green, green, and so I caught up with some reading and worked my way through the previous weekend’s pictures from Hoghton Tower. But by Thursday, while the skies were still overcast, at least I was beginning to recover and needed to get outdoors.

For me there seems a problem with timelapse photography – I only want to do it when I’ve nothing better in prospect. If the light’s interesting, do I really want to hang around in one place for half an hour, or much longer, while the camera snaps away? But if I shoot a timelapse sequence merely to fill time, when I can’t see opportunities for normal photography, are the results ever likely to merit the effort of standing around all that time? That’s a mental barrier I can’t easily overcome!

I haven’t shot many timelapse sequences and this afternoon I was testing my sense for how to match frame rate to different subjects. I think I’ve settled on 5 second intervals for  big landscapes as it allows cloud movement to dominate the movie. The downside is that since 12 frames per minute produces a mere half a second of video, I’d have to stand around for at least half an hour to record a useful 15 seconds of landscape footage. With a busy scene like this, I was trying 2 second intervals and shot for about 90 minutes. It still seemed rather manic, so I’ve halved the speed and plan to use 1 second intervals next time.

Sound required a bit of ingenuity. I tried recording a movie on my iPad so that I could strip the sound off it, but I still could hear the D800’s shutter release from 20 metres away – at least when the ducks and geese fell silent. So when I had finished shooting the timelapse sequence I simply recorded some standard video on the D800.

I am a complete beginner with video editing. I have recently got my hands on Adobe’s Premiere Pro and After Effects, and I am enjoying learning them, but for relatively-simple video projects you can use Photoshop. So here it was Photoshop that was used to splice the sound onto the timelapse movie and then render the final result, and one advantage of Photoshop is that you can use your existing experience and techniques – in this case a Curves adjustment layer darkens the sky, and a couple of other things are going on too.

File format also deserves some thought. Here I shot directly to movie format because my D800 has a timelapse feature that bakes a 1920*1080 pixel MOV file. While this seemed simpler than shooting hundreds of raw files and baking the timelapse movie in Lightroom or Photoshop, the latter approach would allow more scope to adjust the results and more pixels might allow you to add interesting pan and zoom effects during post production. I’m unsure if I would use Photoshop or Premiere Pro or After Effects for panning and zooming, but figuring it out is a big part of the fun.

And isn’t that the point? The weather might be dull and uninspiring, the subject may a cliche, and “l’enfer c’est les autres”, but isn’t experimentation interesting enough in its own right to get you out of the door? It should be, shouldn’t it?


Silence is golden?

Blea Tarn

Blea Tarn in March

If you are worried, don’t be, I’ve not disappeared. I’ve just not posted anything for a while, but I’m frustratingly the same John as ever. Though with a beard, that is different!

In the past I might have done quick posts on things such as the 2015 election which never happened here in Dulwich, apart from just 2 window posters, and our fraudulent system that allowed 1.5 million Scots to elect 56 MPs and 4 million UKIP voters to elect one (and I’m not pro-UKIP). Yes, I’m still angry at that, at least as much as one can be after being a supporter of PR since the days of the SDP, if you remember them.

Or I might have spent 5 minutes making a post about:

Over the last few years I just don’t seem to post as often as before. Partly, I sense I have become more private as others have become more open about what they’re doing. But also the rise of social media makes one feel that nowadays everyone sees such funnies, and that Twitter or Facebook would indeed be a better place to point them out. But I’m not a big Facebooker, limiting it to people I know in person, and I’m less enthusiastic about Twitter than in the past, so I might not post much there either. As a result I get the occasional nice email enquiring about my well being. Thank you :)

As for the photo, it was taken in mid March at one of my favourite Lake District locations, Blea Tarn in the Langdale valley. I’d been along the tarn’s shore, from where a million photos are taken, and as I was about to wander back to the car I had noticed the stile and the rocky outcrop from where I took the picture. Usually at that time of year the lovely orange reds of autumn are dead-looking, sometimes mixed with the greens of an early spring, but the winter must have been pretty dry and everything was this lovely golden colour.

What you don’t see though, is that for maybe half hour it wasn’t anywhere near as serene as it looks. Just after setting up my tripod on this outcrop, maybe 50 metres to my right a drone was buzzing up and down, its owner just playing with it as if it was the first time he’d used it. I don’t think he noticed me glowering in his direction, and how I wish I’d marched over and told him drones were banned in the national park (they may be in the US but not here!). But no, I quietly got on with my photography.


Speakers Corner

Speakers Corner

I must have taken my first photos of Speakers Corner around 1989-90, so I’ve got thousands of negatives and digital files recording what’s supposed to symbolize our tradition of free speech.

There was a time when I went quite often, and an hour at Speakers Corner seemed to fit in with meeting friends for dim sum or a bit of shopping on Oxford Street.

I’ve gradually gone less and less, and I was quite surprised to discover that last year I’d been there four times. The year before it had been twice, and I’m pretty jaded by it. I don’t really get much out of listening to the ranting of one deluded religious zealot after another, and you can’t get a clean photograph when everyone in the crowd is holding a camera phone to record what’s really just a freak show for tourists.

But I wasn’t doing anything last Sunday and the Charlie Hebdo atrocity made me think it might be more interesting. It wasn’t, and it was as if the events in France had never happened, but thanks to a Metropolitan Police horse I think I finally managed to convey a flavour of the debate….


War crimes

Stacy Kravitz‘s series of photographs of re-enactors depicting World War II Germans is interesting partly for her inclusion of herself in the pictures:

stacykranitz-01.jpg.CROP.original-originalFor three consecutive years, Kranitz participated in nearly weeklong Battle of the Bulge re-enactments at Fort Indiantown Gap in Annville, Pennsylvania. She took on the part of Leni Riefenstahl—the “super brilliant,” “gifted,” but ultimately “fucked up” German filmmaker behind the infamous Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will—with whom she’d been fascinated since she was 15.

While Kranitz and Camp were mostly well-liked at the Pennsylvania event, their presence was always contentious. They were the subject of many suspicious message board threads, and were once nearly told to leave an event. It didn’t help that, at the beginning, Kranitz’s Riefenstahl costume was “awful” and she mostly failed to cover up her modern Nikon camera with the prescribed historical camouflage.

To make matters worse, Kranitz is Jewish, a fact that didn’t escape her subjects, some of whom had histories as members of hate groups. Initially, she was accused of being an Israeli spy, and once, while hanging out at a recreated French Resistance café, she was singled out by Gestapo re-enactors, taken outside, and “shot.”

In my experience of re-enactors of World War II German units in the UK, it’s very rare indeed that they have “histories as members of hate groups” (though I have seen David Irving at an event). Mostly they go out of their way to tell you they’re not Nazis and deliberately choose to depict the regular army, the Wehrmacht. The few who do portray the Waffen SS are often shunned by other re-enactors and lurk on the fringes.

But it’s not just re-enactment of World War II Germans that can appear questionable, and there does seem to be a hierarchy of acceptability. World War II British and US armies seem OK, the Italians too, at least to my British eyes, but a group depicting our allies, the Red Army, produced a completely-different reaction from a Polish friend. Other 20th century re-enactment periods also struggle to become innocent escapism, so for instance I’ve seen Spanish Civil War enthusiasts portraying the Republicans but never Franco’s Falangists. The same unease can apply to earlier periods too. Does depicting redcoats during the Zulu War mean someone approves of imperialism, or does dressing as a Confederate align one with slavery? Of course, people can adopt a period without becoming remotely guilty of its crimes, but some of these events are still within living memory and still have strong contemporary relevance. Far better to stick to the 17th century?

Thanks to Richard Baker

A not-so-remote quarry

Dalt's Quarry

Dalt’s Quarry is in Borrowdale, just off the path from Grange to Castle Crag

I got back from the Lake District at the start of the week. Before I went the forecast really hadn’t been too promising – a series of low pressure systems rolling in from the Atlantic – but for various reasons I’d only made one trip up there this year, so I was really missing the place.

In any case, early November is often the ideal time for autumn colours, and I also wanted to get to a vintage sports car rally I’d photographed last year at the top of the Honister Pass. The rally was on the Saturday and luckily there was no repetition of the freezing rain and driving snow that almost broke my spirit, but I still got a good soaking just when I thought the weather was going to be kind. That was pretty typical of the two weeks.

Of course, Lake District weather is famous notorious for its bewildering changeability. You do get spells like this September when high pressure dominates and I had two weeks of morning mist, still water and not a single drop of rain. Or you can get last Christmas when the downpours barely ceased. But usually you just get change, and as the saying goes, if you don’t like the weather now, just give it another ten minutes – it’ll be worse. Or it could be better. You just never know.

This time though, it wasn’t really changeable – a better word is “capricious”. This place, Dalt’s quarry, isn’t far from where I stay but I’d only seen it for the first time in September. That day, this scene was very green, but it looked like an autumn location and I made a mental note to return in November. On the first day I went, the forecast had been grey but dry – yet it was pouring down by the time I got there. My walking gear is fine, my camera gear is well-protected, and I believe there’s no such thing as bad weather, just different light – but the photos just weren’t up to much. So when I tried again later that week, I’d only been walking for 5 minutes when the clouds parted and wasn’t going to repeat the same walk in the rain and the same rotten pictures – not when I could turn back and go for a pint instead! I’d more-or-less decided that fate was against me and Dalt Quarry.

On the final morning of the trip though, I had so-nearly decided to set off and drive straight down to London when a bit of sun made me give Dalt’s one last go. And that’s what you see here. The cloud had cleared by the time I reached the quarry, the sun was nicely at an angle behind the trees and falling on the famous yellow streak, the air was still and the reflections perfect – and I had the place entirely to myself. It’s a 0.6 second exposure at f22 on the Nikon D800, with a Lee 3 stop soft graduated filter holding back the sky.

Fate did eventually intervene, though in a different if not unexpected way. I’m pretty good at not dropping photo gear or getting stuff wet, but there is one big exception – cable releases. Since I first picked up a camera, I consistently need a new one every couple of years, almost always because of moving around with the cable release attached to the camera and it dropping off somewhere. So it’s totally my own fault, and I’m pretty inured to the thought of giving Nikon £50-70 for a replacement every other year. This time was only unusual in that the cable got caught under my size 12 boot as I clambered up the left side of the quarry – as I pushed myself up a steep bit I tore it apart. Here we go again….

Anyway, this time my £70 hasn’t gone to Nikon. I did look at their fancier £130 release because it does something that really belongs in every high end camera – it lets you set manual shutter speeds longer than 30 seconds. Camranger is great, but it’s more than a replacement for a cable release, while I had seen Triggertrap being used by Richard Leishman when we shared Brandelhow jetty one morning, but it required a smartphone and mine remains in the stone age. So instead I went for the Hahnel GigaPro II wireless remote control. It’s small, worked first time, works when I’m half way up the street and the camera is behind a glass window – and it cost no more than a simple Nikon cable.

So after two good soakings, sometimes fate does work to your advantage.

Norway in 5 minutes

For one reason or another, something always crops up whenever I’ve planned to visit Norway. Long ago, a Norwegian girlfriend moved on before our summer trip, a business conference was cancelled at the last minute, and more recently a tour company had booked me to lead a tour to the fjords but seemed to go out of business and disappeared without trace. Norway remains one of the few European countries I’ve never seen.

I imagine it’s very beautiful and that it’s great for photography, so maybe one day, but I enjoyed watching this short set of timelapse movies by Morten Rustad who travelled the length of the country to capture spectacular scenes in all kinds of weather. I’d also recommend looking at his blog where he describes the project and includes pictures showing some of the gear he used. I always like comments like this:

As I was standing on top of the peak, I could get a more complete overview of the landscape, and found what I thought was a much easier and faster way down. I started the hike, and in the beginning it went very well. But as I walked, it started getting steeper and steeper….

Now that rings so very true, doesn’t it?

Nikon’s D750 – now that’s an upgrade

So Nikon have just announced a D750, and it’s got some interesting new features for Nikon’s higher end bodies.

New-Nikon-D750-DSLR-back-300x232Early this year, when I switched from a D700 to a D800, I wrote about how it felt a rather old-fashioned camera. And no doubt I would say the same of its replacement, the D810.

OK, the D800/810 does offer video, but things have moved on from when video felt new in a still camera. Articulated screens aren’t new, and I’ve loved using them on cameras like the Fuji XT1 and I have been puzzled by the feature’s absence on newer Nikon bodies. The D750 has one, and I suspect I would use it in many ways to gets pictures that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to take. That might be candid shots of people, or in less-sneaky situations where you want to maintain face contact with your subject but quickly glance down to review the composition, a bit like using a medium format viewfinder. And thinking of one thing I’ve been doing this week, photographing mushrooms, an articulated screen would certainly mean a lot less rolling around on the ground!

Another way the D800 felt old-fashioned was in the lack of wifi. Again, that’s arrived in the D750, so it will probably enable remote shooting without a Camranger or other third party gear. The other aspect is transferring recent images directly to a phone or tablet.

If I’d been switching now, I might still have gone to the D810 (despite a fixed screen and no wifi) but I can certainly see D700 users finding the D750 very attractive.


pablo1copyI enjoyed this interview with Magnum New York’s darkroom printer, Pablo Inirio, Magnum and the Dying Art of Darkroom Printing:

I was curious to see how the last few years of digital progress have affected things at Magnum, so I checked in with Inirio by phone this week. He was still there, bubbling with the good cheer that, along with his darkroom skills, have made him a favorite with Magnum photographers. In the three years since we met, he said, surprisingly little has changed at Magnum. He had to switch to Ilford paper when Agfa closed, and he hopes Kodak doesn’t take his stop bath away—but otherwise, things are the same. “Collectors and galleries still want prints on fiber paper—they just like the way it looks,” he said. He’s often called upon to print from current members’ film archives, and for the estates of various deceased members, like Dennis Stock and Henri Cartier-Bresson. The prints go to exhibitions, book publishers and private collectors. “I’m still pretty busy—in fact, I’m backed up,” he said with a laugh.

Magnum has been digitizing its archive, but so far, Inirio hasn’t been tempted to transfer his skills to the digital realm. “Digital prints have their own kind of look, and it’s fine, but fiber prints have such richness and depth,” he said.  He thinks darkroom printing will always be with us—after all, he pointed out, “people are still doing daguerrotypes.”

You can’t disagree that there’s a difference in look and feel, but I wonder how often people making such a comparison are thinking of digital images printed on ordinary inkjet paper, rather than on the more modern baryta-based printing papers. Even as one whose photographic roots lie in the darkroom, I’m enormously impressed by the look and feel of inkjet papers like Permajet’s Royal or Hahnemuhle’s Glossy FineArt (the two papers I use most with my Epson 3880).

But I was particularly struck by Inirio’s printing plans for some well-known pictures. It’s ten years since I really got my hands wet, and my own dodging and burning plans were usually sketched out mentally, but the method is familiar or second nature to any serious darkroom printer. More than that though, don’t his lines and ovals remind you of Lightroom’s local adjustments?


Aperture to Lightroom

Even before yesterday’s announcement  Apple To Cease Development Of Aperture, consistently the most-visited page on my Lightroom site was Moving from Aperture to Lightroom. Since the devil is always in the detail, I would encourage any Aperture refugees to read the comments as well as the article itself – there’s a lot of little insights from different people.



What seems to ruin a photograph can be its making?

I’ve always thought that photography helps you experience any subject – we appreciate clouds, architecture, events, faces – and when I first started taking pictures in the early 1990s I used to love nipping round to Speakers Corner, usually before or after a dim sum with friends.

Speakers Corner

Mobile video means there’s no longer a decisive moment to get a photo without phones. Is it really worth elbowing your way to the front?

In the beginning I certainly felt in tune with the underlying concept of the place. I saw Donald Soper, the great Methodist and Socialist orator, who had been familiar to me from his appearances on the BBC’s Any Questions and was well-known for having addressed Hyde Park crowds for 50 years. While I had my own doubts, and the dim sum gang used to tease me about going there, fundamentally I did believe that Speakers Corner was indeed a symbol of British free speech and open debate, and Soper seemed to embody that tradition’s continuing health. In those days other speakers engaged in serious political debate, there were Christian evangelists, one or two black nationalists, someone called William who claimed he was the reincarnation of Jimi Hendrix or Jim Morrison, and there was the odd Muslim, usually a British convert who had already morphed his way through a range of other religions before deciding to grow his beard and wear a turban. The exact mixture varied from week to week, and as a photographer you could happily develop your documentary skills. Shouldn’t every photographer know how to use their elbows?

As life moved on, I visited less often, maybe not for months, but by the end of the 90s it was very obvious that Speakers Corner was different. Soper had gone, politics was peripheral, and the place seemed dominated by religion. On one side were the bible bashers, West Indians, Americans, Northern Irish – no English, of course. On the other were Muslims who were much less benign than the hippy convert. These speakers, all men, seemed to arrive with small bands of bearded followers and were either English-speaking first and second generation immigrants from India, Pakistan, East Africa, or spoke Arabic and addressed an audience of foreign students and Arab-speaking visitors to the UK. Debate seemed far less important than preaching their word, and as an atheist it felt like photographing something that was of little more value than a freak show. Yes you could still exercise your picture taking skills, and the results could still be surprisingly interesting – I have pictures of at least one Muslim activist who subsequently got 10 years for involvement in terrorism.

Speakers Corner

Or when something gets in your way, can it become the subject of your picture?

In the last few years my my visits have become much more sporadic. Each time I go, the place just seems ever more frozen in religious dogma, the same tired characters pumping out variations on their tedious themes, and each time I go I seem to have even less sympathy – so much so that I struggle to find a lower description than freak show.

But something has certainly changed – “non-photographers” aren’t snapping photos any more, they’re recording video. You can’t just wait for them to compose their shot and put their phone back in a pocket because they seem to want to hold it in your way until their arms fall off. Even if you can elbow your way past them and get to the front, more phones are then ruining your background.

It means that I’m not sure I’m photographing Speakers Corner any more – it’s as if you’re photographing how people experience any event. And I’m not sure that’s totally a bad thing.

A perverse choice?

Getting a D800 has taken my mind back to my “Peak Film” years around 1999-2000 when I went for a 6 week trip to Australia and Japan, then did a couple of trips to Iceland, Italy too, and routinely carried two Nikons and a Bronica SQA with a pair of film backs. The bag, a Billingham, also contained all the lenses and filters and the other things a photographer needs, plus rolls of Velvia, Ilford FP4 and HP5, Agfa APX25, and Tmax 3200, many in both 35mm and 120. While Beardsworths may be bred for manual labour, it was about as much as I could carry in comfort.


Remember the film leader retriever?

I did have a lighter setup. This involved winding back the Velvia mid-roll, retrieving the film’s leader so it was ready for re-loading, scribbling the frame number on a scrap of paper, and then loading whatever black and white film suited the subject. So “light” meant just a single Nikon and its lenses, my Bronica and the spare back….

So while not a stranger to carrying two camera bodies, when I bought my first digital camera, a Nikon D100, one thing I immediately enjoyed was no longer feeling a “need” for two bodies. I could choose the ISO for individual shots, and decide upon colour or black and white later in the digital darkroom. After a while the D100 was replaced by a D200 which would itself be replaced by a D700, but the older camera always went into a drawer – not into the camera bag. So while my usual ThinkTank backpack is probably heavier than most people would tolerate, for the last 10 years I’ve only carried a single camera body.

Two things have made me wobble though.

Much of the time I don’t need a second camera body, but there are occasions when I lose great opportunities to get pictures. For instance, at historical re-enactments you just don’t get time to switch from a 70-200 zoom to a wide-angle when the cavalry comes charging right past you. On important occasions I can rent or borrow, but I had been thinking the best solution would be a used D700. But then the D800 was launched, and for all its 36 megapixels and video, I wasn’t ready to replace my trusty D700 and I was still pretty reluctant to buy it a second body. It’s usually best to “keep your powder dry” until you’re clear what you want, isn’t it?

The other reason was curiosity about the rise of the mirrorless camera. Over the last couple of years each new Olympus or Fuji seemed more credible than the last, and every so often someone whose opinion I respect would have bought one and was enthusing over it. In some cases they had even switched entirely and disposed of full frame Canon or Nikon gear. But while I handled many of these models, none had won me over and to me they all seemed more like alternatives to something like a Canon G16 than a a second main camera body. That was until I saw the XT1. The electronic viewfinder was the best I’d seen, and I liked the articulated LCD screen. For me the key to a new feature is if it lets you capture pictures which you wouldn’t have tried, and these screens let you compose with the camera placed on the ground or held way above your head, or maintain eye contact when you’re shooting portraits from a tripod. Although I suspect in the near future we’ll do that with phones or iPads (the XT1 already has wifi) I wish all high end cameras had these screens. And the XT1’s was nice.

On the other hand, these Olys and Fujis are called “compact system cameras” for a reason. A Fuji might weigh less than a second full frame body, but a second system would soon mean extra Fuji lenses and other accessories. I doubted I would be able to stop myself.


I like the redesigned focus mode switch that’s on new Nikons. The button provides access to focus point controls.

But what finally pushed me back to two bodies was something the Fuji also offered – video. Now, I confess, I have often teased videographers by questioning if moving pictures would ever catch on, and semi-seriously by likening video to vacuuming a scene rather than choosing the decisive moment (Jarvis Cocker says making the Pulp documentary ‘like emptying a hoover’). I’ve not really changed my mind. I don’t want to get too deeply into video, but I’d like to see what I can do at re-enactments. One guy has been doing it, and the results seemed amateurish, but another is an experienced TV cameraman and did some fascinating 1200 frames/second slow motion on a £200 Nikon J1. With the kind of privileged access I get, plus knowing how to use the video features in Photoshop CS6 (and here), I’ve been wanting to see what I could do – and if nothing else, at least I’d get some sound effects I could use for slideshows. So one morning a few weeks ago, a D800 arrived at my door.

My first reactions were that  the D800 felt resolutely old-fashioned – no articulated screen, no wifi, no built-in GPS. On the other hand, it felt like a nice progression from the D700 and I really liked the biggest change in handling, the replacement of the fiddly focus mode switch with a new design that’s nicely-integrated with focus point control.

It’s easy to switch to recording video, and the hardest aspect has been to learn:

  1. You don’t reach for the shutter release when you see something interesting – it’s already rolling!
  2. You don’t compose video in portrait mode
  3. Be prepared to wade through 5 minutes of crap – and find that’s all there is

Simple things, but it’s quite a mental shift between still photographer and videographer. Maybe it is temporary, and soon I’ll be switching just like I used to drive to the airport in my own car and then rent a left hand drive at the other end, or could it be more fundamental like when I used to play a lot of squash and could only adapt to playing tennis by switching to that sport for the whole summer. We’ll see.

Cattows Farm

Don’t be fooled. They may be portraying Scots, have the right gear and even a bagpiper so competent that h=the sound doesn’t make you hope the Scots vote for independence. But these guys are mostly German (in fact Scots mercenaries had fought in the 3o Years War).

And one other thing the D800 has taught me – don’t forget your old disciplines. I say that because when I ran out of space on the SD card I put a Compact Flash card into its second slot. Surprised it still contained some pictures from months ago, I formatted it – and managed to wipe the 32Gb card in the SD slot and which had all the video and photos I’d shot earlier that day. It wouldn’t normally be a mistake I would make, as I usually download everything each evening and format all the cards before the next day, but 32Gb cards had made me complacent, and in the heat of the moment is when accidents happen. Luckily it had been near the end of the day and thanks to ImageRescue I lost nothing of value – apart from a day of my time.

A couple of weeks in. I still think getting a D800 feels like a perverse decision, but I’m definitely getting used to it.

Future publishing

Interesting article on Future Publishing (hope my friends there are OK):

Magazines were once a two revenue stream business. You got money from advertisers and readers. Successful publishing depended on holding the balance between the two. This delicate equipoise has gone. As cover price revenue either declines or refuses to grow then the bulk of the money that pays your salary comes from advertisers, sponsors and commercial partners.

Seems to apply to photography publishing in general? We’ll all have to sully ourselves.

Driven to edit

Next time you scoff at the idea of using an iPad to edit photos, remember this ad – filmed on iPhones, assembled on an iPad, edited in a Bentley.

Just in case you’re wondering, I don’t think you need a new Mulsanne for this – you could do it just as well in an Audi.

And do it in black and white too – it looks better and there’s less need for colour management than the iPad can offer.

Via John Nack.

Is anyone still interested in Photoshop: Spring Cleaning?

I don’t know whether to post this on my Lightroom blog, as it’s a bit techy, or here since it’s really not about Lightroom. Also I’ve no idea if people read both sites or if visitors here would pick it up from the Lightroom Solutions feed at the top of the page, or to reveal a nagging doubt about blogging in general, maybe no-one reads either and am I just writing this for my own benefit? Feel free to reassure me. Is anyone there? 😉

Anyway, for my own interest or hopefully for yours too, after seeing something Rory Hill wrote on aspects of Bridge’s scripting being broken since CS6, I dug around a little and thought I should point out this post by Adobe’s Jeffrey Tranbery Photoshop: Spring Cleaning which provides some important information about the future of scripting and automation in Photoshop [CC]:

the following features will be removed from the next revision of Photoshop.

Extension Panels using Flash, including:

  • Mini Bridge
  • Kuler
  • Party Panels [Configurator]
  • Oil Paint filter

The decisions made were based on customer usage as well as the cost and ability to support and maintain changes in underlying technologies.

I always thought Mini Bridge was a waste of effort, so good riddance, but I liked Configurator and thought it was promising – not least because it could be used by people with fewer coding skills than me. However, my need to automate Photoshop is much less than it once was, and multi-image processing is handled much better by Lightroom with the addition of Photoshop droplets on the few occasions when the pictures needed some extra batch processing. So if I ever have the need, I suspect the Adobe Extension Builder and A Short Guide to HTML5 Extensibility will prove more than enough.

I like Kuler as a quick way to build colour schemes, and it’s good that an HTML5 version is coming. As for the Oil Paint filter, I did have a brief and passionate fling with it, but I can’t believe it’s a big loss.


Distilling the Karakorum

Well done to Richard Earney for pointing out this hour-long programme on Colin Prior which looks like it was on BBC Scotland last night. It concentrates on a project to photograph the Karakorum range in northern Pakistan and it’s particularly amusing to see the usually-rugged Prior needing a porter for his camera bag because of the altitude. As if the area wasn’t already remote, the expedition coincided with a massacre of climbers not far away. You don’t get to see many of his photographs for long and I couldn’t find any online (he seems to hold them back for book or other sales) but you certainly gain an appreciation of his dedication to “distil the landscape” – which seems such an appropriate phrase for a Scot.


1909 panorama by Vittorio Sella

There’s more about the filming here, and the programme will be on the BBC iPlayer for at least a week.

One major theme was the panoramas made by an Italian photographer, Vittorio Sella, during a 1909 exhibition. I couldn’t hear if it was the Duke of Abbuzzi whose baggage weighed 6 tons, or Sella’s, but it’s nothing new that royal families find ways of misspending public money like buying league titles or flying around Australasia shaking hands and waving, and Sella must have been glad that this member of the Italian royal family funded the trip and paid for the porters who lugged his glass negatives up into the mountains. If you’re interested in seeing more work by Sella, who was much admired by Ansel Adams, see this site.

Distant afternoons

No doubt a reflection of one’s own age, I fear this blog is in danger of becoming a series of obituaries. Not long ago it was Lou Reed, then Tony Benn, and I could easily have rambled on about Tom Finney even though his playing days were before I was born and he seemed the closest thing my Dad had to a hero. And now Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

I was in my second year at university when an Italian girlfriend introduced me to his work. She was already in her mid-twenties, and she seemed even more sophisticated and worldly a few weeks later when it was Marquez who won the Nobel prize. It was a time in my life when I was first encountering the wider world. Before then I’d never been outside England, and at school English Literature had never caught my imagination – endless analysis of “character development”  – but I’d recently discovered Kafka and Grass’s Tin Drum and would soon be a huge fan of Faulkner. I ended up reading one book after another, until I’d devoured everything he had written – or at least that I could find in Cambridge’s book shops and university library. As it’s a copyright library, that did mean everything.

I immediately took to Marquez’s flights of fantasy, always cut through with sharp reality – a priest who raised money for the village church by learning to levitate, until the soldiers came and beat him with their rifle butts. It’s interesting that this intercutting of the idyllic with polemics is highlighted in the Guardian’s 1970 review of his masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude:

The villagers are … astonished to find in the cinema that “a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears of affliction had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one.”

There is no agreement among the inhabitants of Macondo on the exact location of the borderline between fantasy and reality. Yet not even Macondo’s most obsessed lunatics are so arbitrary in their deployment of fantasy as the Colombian Government and its ally, American capital.

Thus a strike in a banana plantation that an American company establishes in Macondo is discouraged by the company lawyers’ assertion that its workers simply do not exist: ‘The banana company did not have, never had had, and never would have any workers in its service because they were all hired on a temporary and occasional basis.

When the workers finally do strike they are all shot and their bodies are secretly whisked away from Macondo by train at night. Yet a solitary surviving witness of the incident is not able to convince anyone that the slaughter ever occurred, and future generations of Colombian children are to read in their school textbooks not only that there was no slaughter, but indeed that there was never even a banana plantation in Macondo.

Sounds familiar? Certainly this passage reminded me of the little green men who weren’t in Crimea.

If you don’t know his work, try 100 Years of Solitude itself. It’s not heavy-going, unlike some big L literature, or just dip into some of his short story collections. Look for the story Big Mama’s Funeral, or No-one Writes to the Colonel.

I’d read somewhere that he had Alzheimer’s, but in his last moments, wouldn’t it have been great if García Márquez had looked back and remembered a distant afternoon in Macondo?

Photography on the BBC

I wonder if the BBC is having a photography week. On Sunday I noticed What Do Artists Do All Day? featured the great Albert Watson dragging his team of assistants around the beautiful, windswept landscape of the Isle of Skye. Driving round in an Audi and backed up by his team, it had the impression of photography on a big budget. While that takes something away, on the other hand it’s nice to see such a commercially-successful photographer enjoying taking pictures (I know some who no longer can do so). You just have to pity the poor tech assistant trying to use her laptop on a bleak hillside as the rain came in, again.

Then last night there was Which Way is the Front Line from Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington who was killed in Libya a couple of years ago. He comes over as charismatic and brave, but what was amazing was how much he seemed to be revelling in the danger of places like Liberia and Afghanistan that would terrify most of us.

Is this stuff accessible outside the UK? I don’t know, but well worth watching both.

On great leaps forward

Is it such a bad thing to have a strong sense of diminishing marginal returns from new camera gear, or is it more a sign of confidence and feeling you know what counts? I ask this because over the last week I’ve looked at a new Nikon, the D4s no less, and expressed disappointment that it didn’t have an articulated rear screen. OK, I’m sure that the D4s is as wonderful as it is beyond my budget, but shouldn’t a camera that does do almost everything also give you the opportunity to compose a shot with the camera held high above your head or resting at ground level? I really see this omission as disappointing.

So I’m less of a gear head than people might suppose, more a May than a Clarkson or Hammond. Yet every so often I encounter a piece of kit that really, really impresses me, which is why I post this screengrab of the CamRanger.

Unfortunately the loan was both at very short notice and brief, and I didn’t have a better use for it than testing it on the corner of the living room while sitting in the kitchen, at the back of the house and with no clear line of sight back to the camera. But CamRanger really felt like a polished solution, from the small iPhone-sized device that plugs into the D700 and wifi-enabled the camera, to how the corresponding iPad app quickly connected to the camera and accessed its crucial settings.

A day’s play isn’t a real test, but CamRanger is definitely worth a try if you have a need to remotely control a camera. I have been a fan of Capture One’s Capture Pilot, but it is for tethered shooting and so it means carrying around a computer. I hadn’t even heard of CamRanger until a month ago but immediately thought it might interest a friend who shoots performing arts. Fixation loaned him one and he loved it, setting up his third camera on a tripod in a different part of the theatre and capturing alternative views without moving away from his position. One interesting observation was that although an iPad is in his bag, he found he preferred to control the CamRanger from his iPhone.

What really impressed me was the level of control that CamRanger provided:

  • In the screengrab you can see the live view image – you just have to imagine the camera’s nestled in the corner of the net as Wayne Rooney goes one-to-one with the keeper. There is a fractional delay when you press the Capture button, but in such circumstances you would often be shooting a burst of frames.
  • Along the top you can see the images you’ve captured – shooting RAW+JPEG seems the best way to see results quickly
  • Working down the right side, you can see focussing controls –  but what I really liked about CamRanger was that you can focus the camera by touching the picture itself. This was very slick.
  • At the middle right you can see “A”, so the CamRanger is picking up the stored settings on my Nikon. Nice.
  • Below the A are all the main exposure settings including bias. Are any crucial settings left out? I don’t think so.

So the overwhelming feeling I had from CamRanger was that it was a very polished and intuitive solution.

Returning to my initial thoughts though, I should soon be getting my hands on a Fuji XT1. And what has it got – an articulated screen and built-in wifi….

Tony Benn


Tony Benn at Wapping, 2013, unveiling a plaque to Thomas Rainsborough, the radical Civil War colonel

Sad to hear this morning’s news about Tony Benn. He’d been quite frail when I saw him speak last year at the unveiling of a plaque to Thomas Rainsborough, and I’d recently heard he had been taken to hospital. So I wondered about him when Bob Crow’s sudden death was announced earlier this week, thinking that two of the great left wing figures might pass in a single week. But what coupled them in my mind wasn’t their political position but that both always put forward their views with a cleverness and charm that won them admiration and affection from those who disagreed and opposed them. From the other side I’d put Boris and Nigel Farage in the same group, but others like Thatcher or Scargill may gain the love of their supporters or followers but only earn grudging respect, if that, from their opponents. Benn always seemed a cut above the rest.

I heard him speak a few times, and met him twice, the first time back in the early 1980s when he was in his pomp and by a long way one the most inspiring orator I’ve ever heard. You didn’t have to agree with him, and I didn’t always, but his clever deployment of his ideas was wonderful and carried you in his slipstream. He looked frail when I met him last year, yet there was still the same old fiery glint in his eye as he wound up his speech and thanked the Sealed Knot for their role in the commemoration of Thomas Rainsborough. In the 1640s the radical Civil War leader had advocated one man one vote, and I wish I’d recorded what Benn said, but it was along the lines of… you know [pause for effect], if those in power thought voting would change anything they wouldn’t have given you the vote, and we’ve always had to be ready to fight. I think he was talking about the 1640s, but it sounded like a call to take up arms in 2013 and made me laugh, and I subsequently sent him a copy of this photo.

Ultimately though, I’ve long thought that Benn lost his way or rather chose the wilderness, so last Christmas I gave my nephew a copy of Benn’s memoirs and wrote in it something suitably Blairite about the price of holding tightly to principles being that you never gain the power to implement them. But that’s too sour a conclusion on one of the most engaging figures of our times.

What’s the (U) Point?

Interesting to see Nikon have sneaked out a beta of a new incarnation of Nikon Capture – called Nikon Capture NX-D – which is free to use until September  2014.

Capture NX, which I’ve owned ever since I went over to digital in 2003, never lit my fire. For one thing, I’ve just never felt there’s much benefit in a raw converter picking up in camera parameters such as white balance or monochrome which I would never set. In the heat of battle you go for composition, focus, exposure, maybe one or two others, but the very point of shooting raw is to choose most adjustment settings afterwards. Who wants to miss a shot because you’re looking for the camera’s sharpening menu? A second factor was that it’s always been a curious program with a disjointed interface that was only made palatable by the U points. The one potential benefit was that it could update the embedded preview in the raw file, so I could see a picture’s adjusted appearance in other non-Nikon apps such as my cataloguing program. But that wasn’t a big benefit, and was done better by Adobe’s DNG. So while I’m surprised to discover Capture NX2 is still on my computer, I’ve not the foggiest idea when I last opened  it.

It’s never been obvious how many copies Nikon Capture ever shipped, and it never seemed hugely-popular even before Lightroom and Aperture gobbled up the market. It looked very much as though it was on life support with no significant updates for almost a decade.

More recently Google bought Nik, the company Nikon had apparently hired to write Capture NX and who had supplied their U Point technology, so one did wonder what the acquisition might mean for Capture NX’s future. Perhaps now we have the answer, because it looks like Capture NX-D is a ground-up rewrite of the program that doesn’t include anything from Nik. For instance, they seem to have discarded Nik’s great contribution:

  • Q: Do you plan to include U Point functions (for portional editing) later?
  • A: No, we do not plan to include these functions. We are looking into the possibility of being able to open and display images to which effects have been applied using U Point functions for support purposes with future versions.

A minor detail is that they’ve gone down the route of saving adjustments back to sidecars files rather than updating the raw files themselves. Apparently that was good before, because you can trust Nikon software to update Nikon proprietary raw files, but now it’s supposed to be good that it’s not doing so.

I’m curious to see what it’s like, but it’s hard to work up much interest. Perhaps that’s because I also find it hard to understand why anyone would want to invest time in raw conversion software that’s limited to a single brand of raw files. I just don’t need Nikon software to keep me loyal to Nikon.


Update – Thom Hogan thinks they’re now licensing code from Silypix. I really agree with his closing comments about “The correct strategy all along was: (1) make sure every software provider and company supporting digital imaging could get the best possible results out of Nikon data; (2) if you want to create for-sale software make sure it continues to fit into the best existing workflow, not change the workflow;” They could do that if they’d offer the non-proprietary DNG as an option, of course, and paraphrasing my earlier comment – I just don’t need a Nikon proprietary file format to keep me loyal to Nikon.