Aramoana, no card in camera

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We went up to Aramoana as a family trip, a chance to do some photography, and a chance for Sophie to get out with her new camera. But I go to take my first shot, and see “No card in Camera”. Dang!

But the best camera is the one you have with you, so the ‘proper’ camera stays in it’s case and I’ll have to make do with my phone. It’s a brilliant day, with clear skies and the sun low on the horizon. It’s set to randomise the settings. I like this since it gives me the unpredictable joy of using a truly wonderful/awful film camera without the expense of processing the film. (Matty ALN + BlackKeys 44)

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Here’s Sophie showing off that she has a ‘real’ camera… (Libatique73 + Big Easy)

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This sand dune was catching the light perfectly. (Libatique73 + Big Easy)iPhone-3381

Someone ele’s do wanted to get in on the image. Kind of weird with the dogs head not showing (I have another shot where you see the dog more clearly, but I think I prefer this one for sheer funk). (Sergio + Black Keys SuperGrain)

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You can see she likes her camera. (Diego + Dixie)iPhone-3403

Hipstamatic has given this one some cool light leaks. (Hannah + Dixie)iPhone-3418

Shooting into the sun will never give you an ordinary shot. But who wants another ordinary photo.
(Jack London + Rock BW-11)

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The last one of my favourite sand dune. (Akira + Rock BW-11)iPhone-3423

Emotion and Photography

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How can a photograph embody emotion? How can a photo capture your feelings? My answer is that it’s a matter of opening your eyes to what is around you. I was visiting an old friend of mine who was dying in hospital. I spent a couple of days beside his bed, and the time was filled with laughter and tears. My friend Ralph is a musician and songwriter, and I’ve known him for three decades. Eventually I needed to say goodbye, and face a long walk back to the motel I was staying in, before catching a flight back home. Ralph was born and raised in Taranaki, noted for the big mountain, Mt. Taranaki, that looks down on the entire province. I remember when he and I left the province in ’79 or ’80 Ralph wrote a song about the mountain, using it as a metaphor for his feelings about the province…

I looked over my shoulder,
and saw the cause of my misery.
It’s a big white mountain
Pretty as it can be
But its ice cold breath, boys,
Be the death of me.

Walking down the road from the hospice I looked over my shoulder, and there was the mountain, looking down on me. Some days the mountain is hidden by cloud, but on a clear day it seems to be visible from almost everywhere. The mountain seemed to embody the complex feelings I had, having just said my last goodbyes to Ralph. I tried taking a photo of it with my phone, but the moderately wide lens made it look further away, and the suburban houses in the foreground seemed to be sending the wrong messages. The mountain was just too small in the image, and you didn’t really see the point of the photo. But when I got to the top of a hill near the motel I saw the mountain between a nest of signs, including one sign pointing towards a cemetery, a give way sign, and a man walking image. It was as if this is what I was put here to photograph. The place was asking me to photograph it. The best photos are not taken, but allowed to be taken. Knowing that the phone camera would not cut it, I unpacked my bag on the roadside – the 6D was at the bottom. I tried a couple of shots but I knew I needed something more. I re-assembled the tripod that I had packed away for travel, and found the ideal spot for the camera (on the road, pretty much in the path of passing cars) with the longest lens I had with me (70mm). I knew a longer lens was what I’d need to make the mountain large in the image relative to the foreground. I took a series of photos with long exposures looking for cars moving, and avoiding getting run over. I figured that a ghostly blurred shot of a car passing would complete the photo, and I think the result works really well. Mountain-8270

In post I’ve adjusted contrast and increased the saturation. I’ve applied a mask to the sky and lowered the colour temperature to get the Japanese-y woodblock like colour in the sky (actually that was what the sky looked like, but it bleached out in the photo). I’ve also applied a mask to the signs and brightened them a little to make them more visible. Back at the motel I slept badly, and dreamed about Ralph. I was already wide awake when the alarm sounded at 5:00 am to get me ready for the shuttle to the airport, so I was outside, waiting for the shuttle in the predawn darkness well before the shuttle arrived. Lights over deserted roads and pedestrian crossings on still nights have always fascinated me, although given my state of mind they seemed like crossings over the river Styx. Since I had time to kill I ‘worked the scene’ with my phone. The first image was taken with the Hueless app that is a great little app for black and white photos, and seemed fitting for a fairly noir image. Mountain-3094

Then I tried my favourite app – Hipstamatic – and took a bunch of shots with the randomise setting on. I really like the joy of finding a gem in the random combination of “lenses” and “films” you can get with this app. It reminds me of the joys of using a lo-fi film camera where you never really know what you are going to get. Mountain-3103

The last shots of this trip are a little more optimistic, but nonetheless are dominated by that mountain, and I still have the words of Ralph’s song ringing in my ears. From my seat on the plane there was a wonderful view of the mountain (that damn mountain) and again I used Hipstamatic to take some shots. These work best in terms of composition – the mountain juxtaposed against the plane’s engine. With the random settings I’ve ended up with two very different treatments – choose the more colourful one for a more optimistic ending, or the muted one for something sadder. Mountain-3125 Mountain-3124

Let’s return to the question I posed at the start. How can a photo embody emotion? Well, the images above certainly resonate to me with some very complex emotions connected with my friend’s passing, and when I look at the shots of the mountain I can’t help but hear the words of his song. They are certainly emotionally charged to me, and I guess you’ll pick up some of that charge from the images now that you’ve read the story behind them. But if you are just looking at the images? Probably the phone images won’t count for a great deal. The last two images are nice shots, but I doubt if they will convey the feelings I had without hearing the story (even though they work well as images). The two street shots are a little obvious. The one that I like though is the one at the top of the page, the shot where the universe asked me to take the photo. At first glance it’s a pretty shot of the mountain with the interesting lines made by the power poles, but the text in the image (on the signs) and the implied movement to and from the cemetery – the main walking towards his grave and the car recoiling from it – give the image more substance.

The end of Aperture…

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Apple have announced that they are no longer developing Aperture.

The software is still for sale, but it does mean that it will slowly seem to become a poor relation to Adobe’s Lightroom (assuming that Adobe continues to improve Lightroom). It also means that the writing is on the wall for Aperture – eventually Apple will release an update to the operating system that will leave Aperture non-functional (but that’s in the future – apparantly Aperture will work on the new Yosemite system which is soon to be released). Apple does say that the new Photos app coming next year will make Aperture redundant, but that does seem to be a consumer oriented app, rather than the professional approach you have in Aperture.

If you are an Aperture user, you’d be best advised to wait and see what the forthcoming Photos app is really like and whether it will fulfil the functions you need of it. Apple does say it will have sophisticated raw image editing functions, but we can only wait and see.

There is an unconfirmed report that Apple will offer some sort of migration software to Lightroom. If this can be made to work it will probably convert your keywords and colour labels, but I think you’ll be lucky if it converts your raw files the same way.

It’s sad to see Lightroom’s rival disappear. I hope Adobe will have the same enthusiasm for updating Lightroom, now that they are practically the only game in town for affordable professional photo management software.

When Adobe changed most of it’s creative software to a cloud/rental price scheme I almost switched to recommending Aperture. I have both packages on my computer since I teach the use of both packages, and each one has advantages over the other. I generally use Lightroom, but I think the cloud/renting model is not appropriate for photo managing software. Renting Photoshop is not such a bad idea – if you finally decide to stop renting you can buy one of the competing packages or go back to CS6. But if you are using Lightroom, and you decide to stop using it, well, all the adjustments and edits you’ve made to your images are gone. It’s almost as if you lose access to your own images. Well, perhaps you don’t loose access to your images, but your images become a sea of unedited raw files. I have 10,000 images in my Lightroom catalogues – I really don’t want to face having 10,000 images all unsorted and unedited.

But fortunately Adobe has allowed Lightroom to be purchased, even though you can use the software if you sign up to Creative Cloud. I’d strongly recommend paying the small fee to own Lightroom outright so that you are not locked into Adobe’s rental system for ever.

There are some features in Aperture that Lightroom can’t compare with. In Aperture you can brush any adjustment on or off, while in Lightroom you are limited to the controls in the adjustment brush tool. The portrait retouching tools in Aperture are far superior to those in Lightroom. The ability to customise the order of adjustments (and even apply multiple iterations of the same adjustments) is something fundamental to Aperture that I can’t see Lightroom being able to implement. Those features will be sadly missed.

Of course Lightroom has other advantages over Aperture, such as the Lens Correction tools.

Photo managing software makes your life easier. It simplifies everything, enables you to make the most important adjustments easily, and allows you to find your photos far more efficiently than you could using Bridge alone. So where I used to tell people that that really should be using either Lightroom or Aperture, now there is only one player in town, and I can only hope that Adobe does not abuse their monopoly.

Aramoana – “What sort of photos do you take?”

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It was a family day trip to Aramoana. I’d left the rest of the family playing on the beach while I took off and stalked around the spit in search of images. Of course I’ve done this walk plenty of times before, but the weather was good, with a clear winter’s sun, and I’m an advocate of visiting and revisiting an area.

Walking along the dirt road to the pilot houses I looked up and saw this image.

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A little further along, as I passed the Pilot houses, I heard a shout from one of them. Joseph, who lives in one of them, was giving me a pleasant hello. Seeing the camera he asked “What sort of photos do you take?” and that stumped me. What sort of photos do I take. What sort of photo was the shot above? Should I say “I take photos of random bits of industrial stuff against blue skies”?

I told him I took photos of whatever was there, and walked on not really satisfied with my own answer.

A little further around I came across one of the resident sea-lions, and also caught a glimpse of a gigantic leopard seal, but neither of these were happy to model for me. However at the old wharf the sun was striking the aged timbers at a good angle so I caught this shot.

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It’s a little too Adams/Weston to count as one of my better images – those guys have already been there and caught this sort images before me, but it is pleasant nonetheless.

At the tip of the spit the view out to the opposite headland was working well. As is often the case, the good shot was one where the camera was low, and the rocks and waves lead your eye towards the distant headland.

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This is working better. I like the quality of the light on the distant grassy hills.

Then walking back along the beach I found a rock pool, which made a great foreground object to set against the distant headland.

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The close up rocks sort of echo the shape of the distant headland, and the transparent water adds interest to the foreground. The beach at Aramoana Spit is an enchanting place, but often resistant to being photographed. The place is wonderful, and you have this great sense of the ocean framed by the mole on the left and Taeri Heads on the right. but usually the experience of being there disappears when you raise the camera to your eye. This shot is probably the closest I’ve got to it.

So how can I answer Joseph’s question now? What sort of photographs have I taken? “A mix of landscapes and found objects” doesn’t seem to be the right answer. I certainly did not set out to take photos of landscapes and found objects, even though that is what I came home with. I don’t think Joseph was intending to engage me in a philosophical discussion when he asked his question, but nonetheless, that’s what has happened.

I think the answer is that I photograph as an aid to seeing.

I could take a pleasant walk around the spit, and it would be a good experience. But when I take the camera my eyes are more open. I’m more engaged in what is there. Would I have noticed the light falling on the timbers of the wharf if I did not have the camera? What about looking up to see the power transformer or noticing the leading lines and rocks-as-a-foreground elements to the landscape shots? Perhaps I might have, but I don’t think they would have registered with me the same way.

So I think this was really about process. The important question is not “What sort of photos do you take?” but rather “Why are you taking photos?”

And the answer is: to help me be present in the world better.

Enrol now before the price rise!

OPI prices are set to rise on 21st April. We’ve had a reduced price structure over summer, but now it’s time to put the prices almost back to the regular prices. Twelve unit courses will go to $NZ238, and six unit courses will be $NZ125 (or equivalent for other currencies)

Remember that you have one year to complete OPI courses, so it might not be a bad idea to enrol at the low prices even if you are not ready to start work yet.

Yongnuo 460II Flash & RF603 radio trigger review

The Yongnuo 460II flash unit is an outstandingly inexpensive flash unit, simple to operate, but only works in fully manual mode.

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Build Quality – the build quality is better than one might expect for such a cheap unit. It’s not as well made as flashes costing ten times what it costs, but the quality is adequate and certainly good for the budget price.

Function – the flash unit is dead simple. There is an on/off button, a rocker switch to adjust the power level, and a ‘mode’ switch that lets you change between the hot shoe triggering the flash or using the flash as an optical slave unit. There’s not much to read in the piece of paper that constitutes a manual, but the use of the flash is quite obvious. There is no TTL metering function at all.

The guide number of 38 is a little optimistic, but there is adequate light for most applications.

The head fully tilts and swivels, and you can pull out a wide-angle adaptor and bounce card from to top of the head

The obvious partner for this unit is the Yongnuo RF602 or 603 radio trigger. The 603 is the later model and can also be used as a remote shutter release. The 603 unit is a transceiver – it does not matter which you mount on the camera or flash, whereas the 602 unit has send and receive units. In terms of operation, just put one unit on your camera, and another under each flash, and turn them on. In my experience with them the only time they have not worked was when I had forgotten to turn one on, or had incorrect settings on the camera. The on/off switch is poorly located – it’s hard to turn on when mounted under the flash unit, but not impossible.

Overall there is a lot to like about this flash and the trigger unit. It’s very simple. It just works. It doesn’t connect to your camera’s metering system, but that also contributes to its simplicity and certainly is a factor in the low cost.

And that is ultimately the reason for recommending it – for significantly less than the cost of a flash unit from the major manufactures, (even less than the cost of a used Canon or Nikon flash!) you could buy two of these units as well as three 603 triggers.  And that’s what makes this flash so special: its easy to use, and you can afford more of them.

However I do have one word of warning – I purchased two of these units and one was defective. Fortunately I purchased from a reputable dealer (john Thompson) and he replaced the defective one immediately. Possibly the quality control on these units is not what it should be, so make sure that you purchase form someone who will replace a defective unit if you have that problem.

If you are looking for a flash to use mounted on your camera this is probably not the one (but why would you want to use a flash mounted on your camera?), and if you have infinite amounts of money there are also better choices, but for a budget-oriented multiple off-camera flash set up this unit hits the spot.

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Tamron SP 24~70 Di VC USD Review

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This is going to be a quick review of this lens. There’s not a lot to say since the lens pretty much works as advertised. I’ve used this lens for a couple of months and have tested it and compared it to my other lenses.

The lens is intended as a ‘walk-around’ workhorse for full frame cameras and is in direct competition with Canon and Nikon offerings. The first point to make about the lens is the cost. Canon’s 24~70 f2.8 has a list price in NZ of $3,390, Nikon’s 24~70 f/2.8 is $2,400. The Tamron is only $1,398. Of course all of these lenses would be available cheaper if you shopped around, so this is for comparison only.

The focal length range is very useful. At the wide end 24mm gives you a decent wide angle. I find 28mm a little conservative, and I much prefer 24mm. At the long end it is just long enough for looser portrait shots. With a wide maximum aperture you have plenty of scope for shallow depth of field shots. But if you have an APSC camera (Canon 700D, Nikon D5200 and similar) the focal length range is not so useful, taking you only from standard to moderate telephoto range, with no wide-angle)

At first glance the lens looks like it would be the ideal companion to a Canon 6D or Nikon D610.

In terms of sharpness the lens performs very well. The lens is as sharp as my prime lenses. In the centre the lens retains its sharpness very nicely except for the most extreme apertures. In the corners there is some loss of sharpness and vignetting at wide apertures, but compared to other lenses this is nothing more than what one could expect. Stopping down from f2.8 to f/3.2 produces a noticeable improvement with very little loss of light. The lens performs brilliantly at f5.6 and f/8, with only a slight fall off in quality as you move away form the ideal apertures.

The lens does exhibit some rather obvious barrel distortion at the wide end and pincushion distortion at the 70mm end. Seeing the rather obvious results on my shots of a test chart I went into the dojo and photographed a rack of naginata – this subject being full of horizontal and vertical lines which should be about the worst case scenario to show this up. Fortunately the results are not nearly as bad as I expected. You can see the distortion if you look for it, but it’s not too much in the way, especially considering the subject.

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Can you tell which is which? I’m sure you can if you know what you are looking for, but if you can’t, then the distortion will never worry you. The distortion can also be corrected by applying the Lens Profile correction in Lightroom.

In terms of construction the lens is well put together, and feels more solid than most Tamron lenses I’ve used in the past. The switches for manual/auto focus and the on/off switch for the VC (image stabilisation) are a little small and fiddly. For the VC this is not a problem since it is not something that I would want to accidentally knock out of  place, but I would prefer a more accessible autofocus switch since this is one control that I will access during shooting.

The focus ring can be adjusted during autofocus, but the manual warns against doing so, saying that this could cause damage to the autofocus system. This does seem a little confusing – if indeed the lens can be damaged this way it would be a very easy mistake to make, especially if you did not bother to read the manual. The auto focus is fast and silent.

The closest focusing distance is not a true macro lens, but better than I expected for a general purpose lens. The shot below will give you a practical idea of how close you can get. The battery is an AA size.

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The lens appears to be weather sealed, but to what extent it is I do not know. I don’t plan to leave it out in the rain, but it’s nice to know there is some attempt to prevent weather damage in the design, should an emergency arise.

The lens is not small. when you put it on a full size DSLR you have quite a big camera – here the lens is mounted on a 6D, beside a more compact Canon 350D.

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But overall how do I think it stacks up?

I think this is an excellent lens. The image quality is excellent. The fiddly auto focus switch is the only real niggle I have with it, but I can live with that especially at the price.

And the price really is an issue. What we have here is a well built 24~70 with great optical performance and good build quality that is half the price of the Canon or Nikon lenses, and it is stabilised. Neither the Nikon or Canon equivalents are stabilised and that really sets the seal on the lens for me. Stabilisation is a really important factor in low light photography. I always seem to be shooting in situations where there is not enough light, and I know form the student work I see that this is true for most people.

So we have to ask… I’m sure the Canon and Nikon lenses are very nice – but why would you pay twice the price for a lens that is probably no better optically than the Tamron, yet is not stabilised?

In short this lens would seem to be the obvious lens to own if you have a Nikon 610 or Canon 6D. And the more I think about it I can’t see why you’d want to spend more money even if you had a 5DIII or D800E

The shot below is taken at 70mm, f/5, 1/30th of a second at 1600 ISO. I could have probably dropped down to f/8 or maybe even f/11 if I had needed more depth of field, but if the lens had not been stabilised I’d probably be thinking about opening the aperture until I had a higher shutter speed.

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