Thursday, May 31, 2012

"Not to 38 in 10 Days"

As I might have expected, I converted this picture to Black and White, and it got a lot more traffic on Flickr. A lot more views in less time, and a few good comments besides!

Food Photography

I recently discovered I have a good fan of this Blog - a great guy named Mohammed Nasir, the proprietor of the Chile and Olive Grocery in Saint John, New Brunswick. More than just a grocery store specializing in foods of Asia and the Middle East, you can sample wonderfully delicious daily specials made from those goods in their very own kitchen in a simple, well lit and clean dining room. Here is the Butter Chicken with Yoghurt Cucumber Salad. Have you ever seen so much rice on a plate??? The rice alone is superbly done up with spices and nuts, and the idea is to add the Butter Chicken with sauce over the top. I was told this is their mildest curry dish, but I was thankful that I had the Yoghurt salad to cool things down when needed!

Food photography is just such a natural thing to do with a Smart Phone Camera, whether dining out or at home - the only thing you have to remember is to do it! I usually remember after I take the first bite, and if it's wonderful, then I'll recall - I simply must take a photo of this!!

I could've done better for this one - I had a bit of a family reunion going on and wasn't paying particular attention to my photography, and the fact that the camera was too close. But the thing about food photography, I think should be more about the food itself, than the actual picture. It should make you WANT IT!

Monday, May 21, 2012

"Not To 55 in 7 Days"

This post is about a lot of things. Mostly it is about my life on Flickr, and the questions that it raises about the art of photography. It's also a little bit about Black and White photography, so lets cover off on that first, by posting the coloured image from which this picture was made:

Now you are able to compare the two as I enter into a purely artistic, and non-technical (yay) discussion. I took this picture from a Hotel window, to show what a lovely view we were provided. Foremost in my mind was to make the best composition possible from the only position I could possibly be standing in at the time - a challenge to self. So in that I succeeded - I actually took three pictures and trust me, this was the only one that would even qualify as a "good" composition. There is one flaw in it that is distracting, but for this discussion doesn't matter - you can see a dark vertical band down the left of the screen that is a reflection of the edge of the window curtain. I wish I had seen that in my viewfinder and I would have simply moved the curtain over, but I didn't.

This picture is a natural for Black and White. There is no colour that is worth keeping. There is just enough colour to be totally distracting from the wonderful tonal patterns. Finally, in colour, the picture is lifeless, boring and forgettable. But in Black and White, the picture assumes a life of its own - a grand abstraction of tonalities that speaks volumes about man's existence in the natural world. In colour, there is a huge question mark layered on top of all this - by removing it, there is at least enough to make the photo interesting.

How do I know it's interesting? Because on Flickr, it went from "Not to 55 in 7 Days". I very loosely judge the quality of my own pictures by how many people actually want to stop and look at it. Most of my pictures on Flickr take forever to get to "50 Views", and some never get there. This one made it to 55 exactly a week after I posted it. And this is typical for the ones I would call "good".

I've also noticed a pattern. Without exception, it is always my B&W photos that get the most views quickly, and it was a B&W that got the most views ever by far. Compare this to the subject of my last Blog, which after several days is only sitting at 17, and will never make it to 50. I knew the pretty red tulip would not do well, in spite of it's spectacular colours, and the happy feeling of springtime it provides. But, if I were in the business of selling my pictures, which one would you rather have on your wall?

That poses many good questions. Between the two I personally would not want the tulip on my wall, but the question is "why would you want one or the other"? If you simply want to brighten up your room and set a happy mood, the tulip is the natural choice, and if I were to set up selling my pictures at a flea market, I'd probably sell more prints of the tulip. Yet, why is there such a big gap in my Flickr view counts between these two pictures in favour of the B&W, and why is Black and White photography so popular? I honestly don't know. I make some of my photos B&W simply because I have a feel for the ones that "want" to be B&W. But I've also read enough about B&W photography specifically to know that I'm not a "real" B&W photographer, if that's all I'm doing. A "real B&W Photographer" knows how to purposely set forth seeing everything in terms of tones and abstractions, and has probably been shooting with B&W film for decades. That's not me, but I think that's what I wanna be. This all tells me one thing very clearly - that I'm not yet ready to "go pro" and start marketing my pictures. But I'm interested in trying to establish a market for my photography. I feel that what keeps me from doing so is that I cannot figure out what it is that people would buy - I can't quite figure out why Black and White seems to get looked at on Flickr more than colour, and so I don't feel ready if I can't yet figure this out.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


Macro photography, like Telephoto work, can be one of those specialized methods that generally don't get engaged in too frequently, but on the other hand, who doesn't enjoy taking a close-up of nice flowers once in awhile? Again, doing Macro (close-up) photography requires a bit of a "stretch" from the normal optics of a lens, which is why most compact cameras, even the least expensive ones, have a special "macro" setting, usually a little tulip icon that can be selected with a button, or from the cameras' menu. This special setting consists of two things - 1) the ability to focus very close to the object, and 2) a higher magnification factor (think magnifying glass). Invariably, with your camera set for Macro, the lens will no longer focus to infinity, so you can't just go from photographing close-ups of flowers to doing landscapes without flicking the switch.

For interchangeable lens cameras, it becomes a question of how much macro photography you plan on doing that dictates the best lens for the job. For serious work, if you specialize in taking pictures of floral arrangements, insects or miniatures, there are special Macro lenses that usually cost more than your camera itself, and do not focus to infinity at all, but naturally, will make absolutely spectacular close-up images, with very high magnification factors. Otherwise, if you are less of a specialist, many interchangeable zoom lenses do a nice job of moderate close-ups, and still able to focus to infinity for general photography, without switching anything. The sacrifice is in the magnification factor, when compared to the specialized Macro Focus Lens.

The photo I took above came from another of my inexpensive acquisitions. Today I bought a Canon EF 70-210mm Telephoto Zoom from the pre-digital era, but being a Canon EF, it mounts right on my DSLR with full electronic focusing and auto-exposure capability. What's more, it is a Telephoto with a dedicated Macro switch which provides some extra magnification when needed. To buy a modern lens with these capabilities would cost over ten times what I paid for this one - what a find! It has amazing optics, and stays at f4 through the whole zoom range (very expensive to get this these days). You can see from my sample how well it renders colour and makes a beautiful blurred background set at it's biggest opening of f4.

I love doing photography on a tight equipment budget! It may not allow me to go to the ultimate degree of whatever I'm trying to do, but for very little cash, I always get 99% of the way there I usually find.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Abandoning Automation

As I've hinted here frequently in the past, I love using my old Manual Lenses on my newish Digital SLR. It's plainly obvious that almost all Digital Cameras now offer the ultimate in automation - absolutely without precedent in the photographic world. Now away beyond autofocus, auto ISO and auto-exposure, todays' digicams, and even smart-phone cameras now have completely automated the creativity of photography, with features like face-detection, smile detection, pet-recognition, and even the ability to stamp the exact location info to your photo's via GPS, and automatically upload to Social Media via wireless networking. This has even already gone past being a revolution; there has been a totally new photographic aesthetic created with all this capability, and the results have forged forever an entirely new entertainment sector, based on photography and video making. I'm rather new to the whole thing but really beginning to enjoy it. I would now much rather look at people's spontaneous Instagrams and amateur Youtube videos than to watch sit-coms on TV any-time.

But when it comes to taking pictures, I'm still split 50-50 between the deep past, and just plain having fun with my Android phone camera. It's truly amazing really how there seems to remain a huge void in "real camera" design and the remarkable miniaturization accomplished with the smart-phone. I had mentioned before that serious camera enthusiasts still really have only one choice - the Digital SLR. Why would I say that, especially with the recent pitch toward Mirrorless Interchangable Lens Cameras (MILC's)? Because to perform creative photography accurately, you still need an Optical Viewfinder (OVF), and very few of the MILC's have one. Sure there have been great strides made with the rear LCD display (the only choice available for phone-cams, yes), but these are still difficult to see in bright sunlight, even the best of 'em. Many Mirrorless cameras include, either built-in or optional, an Electronic Viewfinder (EVF), a miniaturized LCD display housed in a small view-finder-like window, which can be easily used in bright sunlight. My last experience with one of these was a few years ago, and the resolution was so poor, I found it next to useless - I know there have been vast improvements lately with EVF's so I really should give these another chance. But still, it's hard to substitute the focusing of your picture through the real glass of a Digital SLR.

Obvious question - why am I talking about "focusing" when the camera will do that for me? This brings me back around to the main reason I'm writing this - I only have one autofocus lens, which cost me over $600 (which is not that expensive as far as decent DSLR lenses go). It's wonderful, but is also very large, bulky and heavy, with it's 17 glass elements, autofocus motor, and image stabilization mechanism. Aside from this, I have 11 other lenses. They were all made in the 1970's for use on film SLRs, all totally manual, and on average, have cost me around $20 each. Most of them are superb, some were state of the art and very expensive in the '70's, and optically every bit as good as today's new mid-range lenses.

So, what I'm saying so far is that I like viewing the world through real glass, and old manual lenses provide a very inexpensive way to do it. But I'm losing all the automation that my new-ish digital camera gives me. What other advantages, if any, make up for that loss?

Let's consider "automation" for a minute. It is truly wonderful to have, but in a sense, there's still a lot of manual effort involved. Think of it this way - the camera's built-in computer is making all the adjustments for you, right down to detecting when everybody is smiling, and delaying the shot until then. Great stuff. But to use it most effectively, you still have to tell the computer your intentions, like do you want it to wait until there's a smile on everybody's face, or do you want your shot instantly? Or if there's a lot of back-lighting, do you want the subject to be correctly exposed against it, or do you want silhouettes with lot's of rim-lighting effects? Such decisions are still very possible using a totally manual approach, obviously, because photographers were doing it with great success for decades before digital cameras came along. Getting things set up for automation can be more puzzling, with all the camera menu choices that have to be made, than it is with the purely manual approach of twisting only three dials - shutter speed, aperture and focus, and clicking the shutter at the exact right moment and having your camera respond instantly. That's the beauty of abandoning automation for the manual approach - it's actually much simpler when your whole mind and emotions are connected with what your eye is seeing, and in control of taking a picture, as long as you're familiar with a few basic optical principles.

Let me summarize by listing all of the advantages of using old manual lenses on a DSLR - viewing through real glass all the way, much cheaper for equal quality, greater simplicity in using your camera, greater involvement of your inner self in the process, the lenses are almost always much smaller and lighter than their newer automated equals, and there's an added benefit of much nicer industrial design with the old style lenses.

Finally, as I've hopefully shown by way of previous postings, I can still participate in the "new aesthetic" by post-processing my photos, and uploading them afterward, which adds another advantage - I'm spending lots of time with my own pictures.