April 29, 2006

Tripod, isn’t it?

Filed under: Technical posts — Tony Bridge @ 12:40 pm

Kia ora tatou:

It’s time to talk about that photographic add-on that so many of us take for granted, that rather ugly accessory that most of us buy last, perhaps as an afterthought, maybe even with a touch of guilt, the contraption which often rattles around in the boot of the car gathering dust. Yes, you guessed it-the tripod.

I don’t know about you but tripods irritate me immensely. They are clumsy, awkward to put up, and frustrating to use. An ergonomic tripod is an oxymoron. I would frankly be happier if I never had to use one again. I bet a few of you feel the same way. I tried really hard to avoid using one.
That is until I “went digital”. However I confess to having had a bit of an epiphany on the subject. So herewith may I read from the Gospel according to St. Tripod the Microfine Resolver.

  1. Tripods have their place. They are as the birds in the trees and the flowers in the meadow. In another words highly necessary. If you are going to shoot landscape, nature or similar, you need one.
  2. Those who have taken the Digital Path need one even more. Here is why. Digital cameras are able to resolve such fine detail that the slightest shake will disturb your ability to capture those microfine contrasts like the texture in a bird’s feathers. Fine detail in a landscape or subtleties of texture in a subject’s hair require precision of technique and as rigid a support as possible. There are times when even the Mighty Image Stabiliser is not up to the task. Try it for yourself. Make an image with lots of detail in it. Aim for a slower shutter speed. Then make the same image, but this time, as it exposes, tap the end of the lens barrel. Enlarge both images to 100% and look at the fine detail. Note which one renders finer detail.
  3. The sharpness of your images will be in direct proportion to the sturdiness of your tripod. As ye purchase, so shall ye reap. Those cute little things that look like a bunch of car aerials having a gossip session will not cut it, even with a point-and-shoot. Buy one that is as heavy as you need. Now buy one that is heavier again. If you are digital, you need all the tripod you can carry.
  4. Note well that the Inverse Shutterspeed Rule does not apply with digital photography. The old rule about the slowest Shutterspeed being 1/focal length does not apply for digitals 6 Mp and above. For really Big Boys Toys, you should work on 1/2x focal length. That is, if you want to shoot with a 200mm lens handheld, then aim for a Shutterspeed of 1/400 or better. A rider to this; if you only make A5 prints, then disregard all of this. If you are in to A3 or larger printing, then you may want to go higher still. Again do some comparison tests.
  5. Bridge’s First Law of Tripod Usefulness states that the value of the tripod is inversely proportional to the beauty of the scene and the prevailing weather. The more appealing the image the more likely a wind will come to shake your equipment and disturb that fine detail, restricting you to an A4-if you are lucky. Buy a tripod with the worst possible conditions in mind. Of course, if photographing arrangements of chocolates and fruit in the privacy of your boudoir is your thing, disregard all of this. No, we don’t want to hear any more!
  6. Bridge’s Second Law of Tripod Usefulness states that the build quality of your tripod is proportional to the amount you are ready to spend and usually inversely proportional to the amount you have to spend/the balance left on your credit card. There is a truth here. You get what you pay for. Buy once, buy right. And there is a reason why so many pros buy Gitzos and Manfrottos. They last. There are plenty of people using Gitzos more than 20 years old. And not a lot using Sliks and Kamakuza brand tripods that old. Also you can get spares when things do wear out-and they do. By the way, did you know Manfrotto own Gitzo?

So they went forth and bought a quality tripod. And hid the actual price from their spouse/de facto/partner.
Then they went forth and made photographs. And the results were pleasing, even at A3+.

Ok. Ok. I haven’t mentioned tripod heads. But I will. They are as important as the legs. More on the subject later.

Ka kite ano

April 7, 2006

Shout out

Filed under: Shout out — Tony Bridge @ 12:49 pm

Kia ora tatou:
Have a look at this photo. You are looking at tomorrow’s graphic and web designers, film makers and photographers. Oh and did I mention animators. I have had the singular honour to work with these guys, an amazingly talented group. They have taught me at least as much as I have them.
Watch this space. These guys are the future.
But I am handing them over to a new teacher. So a big shoutout to you guys, to Megan,Hattie,Sammie, Noknok, Puk (aka Chickengirl), Mattie, Hamish, Amanda, Lambie, Stacey, Katie, Fishhead, Deborah and Ashleigh.
It has been great.
You all rock.
ka kite ano

The Art of Seeing part II-In the twilight zone between film and stills

Filed under: Thinking about Photography and Art — Tony Bridge @ 10:35 am

Warning: heavy-duty Post!!
Kia ora tatou:

It is time to revisit the question of how we see. This time I would like to talk about format, in particular the panorama. It is immensely popular today. Filmies can chose between the Hasselblad X-Pan, the Noblex, or the Fuji 617, to name a few. Digies can use stitching software to get a result. The options are all there.

You may be interested to know that the panorama is one of the oldest formats in photography. It has been popular since photography’s earliest days-since 1843 in fact, when Joseph Puchberger of Retz, Austria, patented a hand crank driven swing lens Panoramic camera that used Daguerreotype plates 19 to 24 inches long. Josef Sudek used it extensively in a series he did in Prague. Josef Koudelka worked with it some years ago. The list goes on. So why is it still popular? Here is my theory.

Think about the way we look the world around us. Assuming we are standing upright, it is easier to look from side to side. Our spine is designed to facilitate horizontal articulation. Looking up and down requires greater effort. Maybe our forbears were more worried about the sabre-tooth tiger lurking in the grass than the one about to drop out of a tree…

Looking laterally involves no change in perception of scale. Everything maintains its proportions. The only scale change involves near and far, and these are a function of distance. Perspective, a Renaissance invention in Western Art, seems quite natural. Compare this with the act of looking up and down. If we stand in one of those concrete canyons in a city and look up at the skyscrapers, we can get quite dizzy. We lose contact with the ground and the horizon, a vital point of visual self-reference. The buildings stretch up and seem to get thinner at the top. This is called keystoning. The ancient Greeks were well aware of this and made the columns on their temples a little wider at the top to compensate for this visual effect. While the perspective that occurs is the vertical equivalent of what happens with near/far, somehow it seems less…ordinary.
Again if we look down at our bodies, a real foreshortening effect occurs. Observation of our feet (assuming we can see them) occurs on the periphery of our vision. Looking down means looking around/past our nose. Looking up brings our eyebrows into the periphery. Note that our eyebrows project more into our vision than our cheeks. This might suggest that we are more naturally-evolved to perceive in horizontal rather than vertical planes. Lateral observation on the other hand means much less clutter on the edge of our vision.

And there is other historical evidence to support the durability of this way of seeing. The ancient Romans and Greeks made friezes, horizontal images that stretched for meters. Curiously enough, these involved extended stories that unravelled as a viewer moved along them. In a way these were the original forbears of the movie. The viewer moved with the story. In fact one of the very first westerns shot was made by putting the horse on a carousel, so that the background moved behind the rider. Thus the story unfolded, a bit like a (then) hi-tech frieze. However, unlike the frieze, the viewer remains static. Likewise with the panorama.
Note that friezes tend to unfold laterally, as does text. In the East there seem to be a large number of 2D artworks that unfold vertically. Curious then that eastern calligraphy moves vertically. Which raises the question of why Chinese writing is all about up and down.
Film on the other hand is like a kind of moving frieze over a kilometer long. What has film got to do with the panorama, you ask? Bear with me.
Because we only see one frame at a time, because it passes through the projector gate one frame at a time, we get the illusion of a single image. We all know that in reality film is a series of still images, each one different from the one before. As it moves past the gate, things appear to change, and thus a story unfolds. We are happy to go along with the illusion. The key element here is time.
The still photographer deals with fractions of a second. The filmmaker deals with multiples of this. A frieze (sic: panorama) sits somewhere in the middle of this, reflecting the passage of time.

I would suggest that the panorama is the closest a still photographer can get to the philosophy behind the moving image without reaching for a camcorder.
Here is why.
All photography is about storytelling. Whatever and whenever we photograph, we are telling stories. It is all about narrative. It may be as simple as a record of a time or place or person. It can be as complicated as telling a story about human life and expectations. We attempt to condense our story into a single moment in time, to abstract reality using an agreed codification. The still image uses a given format (6×6, 35mm, 8X10) and thus defines the nature of that codification. As an example, 8×10 encourages a considerable degree of formalism. You just can’t work spontaneously with one. 35mm, on the other hand, is a format that begs to be used in a spontaneous way. Look at Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work and you will see what I mean.
The panorama, with its enlarged picture space, encourages the exploration of time and telling a story with a longer timeline. The picture space is so expansive that you need to inject a narrative into it to make full use of its potential.
What got me travelling down this line of thinking? Looking at the image at the top of this post. I was experimenting with the cropping and found I liked a panorama format. But cropping off the top and bottom changed the nature of the narrative. The surfer walking past both added to and created a new narrative. Time elongated. A new line of enquiry?

For the last couple of years I have given my students an assignment using the panorama as their format. They have to create a narrative about their life and self-perception. What makes it a little trickier is that they have to appear in it at least 3 times, each time doing something different. They can make it as long as they like, that is, choose the amount of time they will incorporate. Thus they become the actors in their own story. Unlike the conventional panorama, in which the camera is at the focal point of the image, it possible to use multiple viewpoints and still create a panorama.
They shoot it with their digicams, stitch it in Canon Photostitch, and print it across multiple pages. They then join and mount the images. The results can be amazing. They are part movie, part still. They break the boundaries of what constitutes a still image. Some, of course, do not go that far. But they have all begun to get a grip on the concept of narrative in the image, of telling stories. the example here is from Wendy. She has incorporated anime into her image, because it is part of who she is (see the section from the image)

Why not try it yourself? Email your attempts to me (72dpi, max of 600 pixels across) and I will publish them.
I look forward to publishing posts!
Ka kite ano

April 6, 2006

Cute little bubble thingy

Filed under: Technical posts — Tony Bridge @ 12:42 pm

Kia ora tatou:

This is an old bite from my newsletter (now this blog). I came across the image this morning and it seemed worth putting it in again, especially given there are more of you out there reading this.

This is the gadget of choice for those of us with astigmatism and/or an inability to keep our horizons straight. It’s simple and effective. You plug it into your hotshoe and use the bubble to check everything is nice and level before you take the shot. It means you don’t have to invest in an expensive tripod head with inbuilt levels. Oh yes, with a little practice you can use it while shooting handheld. Just lift your eye off the viewfinder and have a quick peep before you press the shutter

Sometimes the best ideas are the most obvious.

Oh by the way, it’s manufactured by Hama, and most good photo stores should be able to get one for you.

Ka kite ano

April 2, 2006

Counting sheep-keeping track of your images

Filed under: Technical posts — Tony Bridge @ 10:14 am

Kia ora tatou:

Workflow. If you read digital photography sites, you will find it mentioned often. If you are experienced, you will know what it means. Everybody has their own ideas of how to go about it, and their own way of doing it. An explanation is in order.

With digital photography, you will almost certainly end up shooting a lot of images. Keeping track of them, keeping them protected and being able to retrieve them at a later date is critical. Unlike film, digital images can get lost, corrupted or be hard to track down later on. You need to develop a system that makes sense to you and one that ensures you can get to image X quickly and efficiently. This is known as workflow, and it requires a certain amount of discipline.

So here is a suggested way of going about it. This is the method I use and it works for me. Feel free to develop your own system.

  1. Let’s begin with the camera. Format your card regularly. You might be interested to know that deleting doesn’t actually get rid of the file. It only removes the header tags. Provided you haven’t written over it, you can recover an accidentally deleted file with an application like Image Rescue. Formatting means you scrub the card clean ready for new images to be added. Some people format every time they shoot. I do- but only after all the images have been safely archived!
  2. Coming in from a shoot, I will download the images to my hard drive, storing them into a suitably-named folder.
  3. I will then examine them in a program like Adobe Bridge or Picasa. Any obvious duds, like accidental shots of my foot get deleted.
  4. I will then batch rename the files, again using Bridge. I have evolved my own system of renaming that includes location or job, shoot date and finally the sequence number. So a file like X10E6157.CR2 becomes Backlit sheep_21082006_325.CR2. Retrieval then becomes a snip-usually.
  5. I then add in my Copyright and contact details to the file metadata. If you have Bridge, this is relatively easy. Other apps allow this as well.
  6. The next step is to archive. Since my cameras produce big files (and I have an eager shutter finger), I burn to good-quality DVD. 2 copies. Note: I have resisted the temptation to open and fiddle with any images. This is especially important if you are shooting jpegs. You want the archived files to be as pristine as possible. I use a CD marker pen to label each of the DVD’s. Each is labelled something like this: Backlit sheep Waihora 210806 1/2 or 2/2. The 1/2 label tells me that it is disc 1 of 2.
  7. I then backup the data to a removable hard drive. My PC is fitted with a removable hard drive bay. The drives come in cassettes that slot into the bay. Insert, reboot and archive.
  8. Both discs and drive are then stored in a fireproof safe.

Now I can play!

Oh yes, I absolutely did NOT shoot the image at the top of this post!

Ka kite ano

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