Archive for the ‘Technical’ Category

Cable St 80 years on.

Wednesday, July 5th, 2017

I wasn’t of course at the ‘Battle of Cable St’, commemorated in a fine mural, as it took place nine years before I was born, but there are still a few who were there around, notably Max Levitas, who not only came to the rally, but spoke at it.

There was such a crush in front of the stage that I couldn’t get close enough to really see him, and was photographing over people’s shoulders and between heads, straining on tip-toe, and even taking some with camera held in the air, though on the D810 where the screen doesn’t tilt the Live View image is hardly visible in bright conditions. It was bright where I was standing, but not particularly on the stage where Max, who I’ve met number of times before, most recently just after his 100th birthday in June 2015, was sitting to speak. If his legs were a little weak at 101, his mind and voice were still strong. I needed ISO 3200 to combat camera shake, working with the lens wide open at 200mm (300 equiv) 1/320 f5.6 – though I found I needed to overexpose a little (+0.7) to get a decent histogram.

This is a fairly extreme crop, even from that 300mm view, taken with the camera in landscape orientation and cropped to portrait and then some. I only went into that rally when Max was speaking and left as he finished, though I had photographed other speakers elsewhere on the day. There were plenty of other speakers, but more interesting things were happening outside.

I’d started the day in ‘Itchy Park’, now Altab Ali Park, where some of those attending did looks rather more like the 1936 originals, and although I photographed as always now in colour, I was pleased to be able to give the image just a little of a hand-coloured look. There were plenty of speeches before the march, including by East End historian David Rosenberg, who I’ve listened to talking about Cable St on various occasions, and TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady who is someone I always enjoy photographing.

The march itself was something of an anti-climax, and disappointing in that for much of its route the march, celebrating an event when people really did show that the streets were ‘Our Streets’ marched along the pavements or cycle path instead. I’d gone on ahead on Cable St and so missed the only real battle of the day, when anarchist groups defied the stewards and police and insisted on marching on the road.

I’d gone ahead of the march to meet up with Class War who I had been told would be at the Cable St mural, setting up there for a rally outside the main rally in the park beyond, where they were joined by other autonomous groups including London and Merseyside Anti-Fascists, 161 On Tour, Hunt Sabs and the Italian Communists for a celebration with rather more panache and colour and better music.

Cable St has become a legend of the Labour movement. It’s perhaps worth pointing out that it wasn’t a fight with the fascists but with the police, that the Labour Party told people not to go, and the fighters were mainly the Jewish population of Whitechapel, Irish dockers and the Communist Party. And that the East End itself was full of fascists, with Bethnal Green just up the road a particular stronghold.

So that party outside in front of the mural really had more right to celebrate than Jeremy Corbyn and the other Labour Party members crowding on to the stage and into the park next door. And although one march was stopped, Mosley’s real defeat was not here but south of the river a year later, the Battle of Bermondsey on 3rd October 1937.


Wood St final

Thursday, April 27th, 2017

We didn’t know it on the day, but this was to be the final protest in aid of the Wood St cleaners, on the 50th day of their strike. Eight days later, shortly before the next protest it was called off as the UVW had arrived at a satisfactory settlement. The strikers had been there on the picket line for 58 days which says a great deal for the determination of the workers – and for the obduracy of the employers.

Strikes are costly for those taking part, who lose their wages, though it helps that there was a great deal of support and contributions from other trade unionists to the strike fund. This strike was particularly expensive for the UVW union, which was almost bankrupted by being saddled with over £10,000 in legal costs after being taken to court by the employers. Fortunately people came to their aid.

Financially strikes don’t always make sense, but generally they are more about issues such as fairness and being treated with respect by management. Often, as in this case it is unfair sackings which precipitate strikes, which are a demonstration of solidarity with fellow workers.

But the costs were surely higher for the employers, starting with their own legal bill, but more importantly in terms of their reputation and the likely loss of future contracts. Who would want to be associated with a company that led to people protesting outside your offices for 58 days – and during that time delivered an obviously inferior level of service? Rational and well-managed companies seldom suffer from strikes as they realise that their best interests are served by a motivated workforce that is well-managed and given reasonable pay and conditions.

But outsourcing, with contracts being awarded for the short term to the lowest bidder encourage cowboy companies who try to cut costs by overloading the workers, and pay them and the lower levels of management as little as possible. Often when they take over the workforce from a previous contractor they renege on agreements made previously. It’s a recipe for strife and for poor quality performance which I’ve personally seen proved in schools and hospitals.

I don’t know how many pictures I took in all of the protests at Wood St, but it must be several thousand, and the 50 or so I posted on My London Diary for this evening’s protest were probably less than a tenth of those I took on this occasion.

Roughly a quarter of those that made it into My London Diary were taken with the 16mm fisheye, an unusually high percentage for me. It is a lens that comes into its own when working in crowded situations, and the protest outside the back entrance to the CBRE offices involved a large group of people in a very confined space.

But more than any other lens I think it is one that I have to be in a particular state of mind to use – and sometimes it will stay unused in my camera bag for weeks or more. And at times I’ll find myself wondering after covering an event why I didn’t think to use it. It isn’t easy to work with but sometimes it is the only tool for the job.

I do use it with a little reluctance. It adds time to my processing as almost every image made with it needs to be taken into Photoshop so that I can straighten the verticals using the Fisheye-Hemi plugin. As well as taking time, this also uses up a ridiculous amount of hard disk space, as the image needs to be converted into a Tiff file to allow this to happen.

Working with the D750, a typical RAW file is around 22Mb. The Tiff file from this will be around 141Mb giving a total for a single image of 163Mb. I’ll store images on two different hard disks – so that doubles the storage needed to over 320Mb. Add two copies of a full-size high quality jpeg and the full amount is around 350Mb. Even with hard disks now available with 6 or 8Tb of storage these files soon fill them up.

If I work on the D810 with its larger 32Mp files the total gets to over 500Mb per image. I like to do this with landscapes as the camera can provide level indicators in the viewfinder while taking pictures, essential in avoiding converging or diverging verticals in the processed image, but I think these can actually help in pictures of protest such as a couple of those here.


Fuji blues – and greens

Monday, January 30th, 2017

I’ve been using Fuji-X cameras for some years when I want something a little lighter and more compact than the Nikon DSLRs. They are usually the cameras I turn to when I’m not photographing events and don’t need the file size of the D810. The cameras I take on holiday.

But though I like some things about them, and have got some decent results, I also have some reservations. They are just too complicated and the controls and menu system lacks the simple and logical pattern of the Nikons. And there are too many ways in which they are just not so responsive and so reliable.

I can leave a Nikon switched on all day, safe knowing that the battery won’t run down and the camera will respond at the slightest touch of the shutter release. With all the Fujis, even if you switch off the rear screen and digital viewfinder, and don’t make any exposures, the battery still runs down. It’s kind of the worst of both worlds in that it Fuji cameras have an auto switch off that you can set, which does switch the battery off after the set time, but fails to stop the battery running down. When you want to take the next picture, even if the battery is still in juice, you have to wait a second or two while the camera starts up – and while you miss the pictures.

With the first Fuji I bought, the fixed lens X100,  things sometimes got even worse and the camera refused to switch on, either until you took the battery out and back again or pressed the shutter for ages, turned around three times widdershins and said the magic word. At least later models more or less fixed that, but still too often meant that when you pressed the release nothing at all happened.

Then there is the colour. Most digital cameras I think have problems with intense reds, losing the highlights, but Fuji has its problems with greens as well – unless you like your grass super-emerald rather than au naturel. And my XT1 has another problem – which needs extra work on the raw files – in that some Fuji lenses give results that are far too magenta, typically needed a correction of perhaps -35M in Lightroom. It doesn’t seem to be something that every XT1 suffers from, though I have found fellow sufferers, and possibly it could be solved by sending the camera back to Fuji for repair, but it only came to my notice after the guarantee period (when the camera went back to Fuji twice for other issues) was up when I bought another lens.

Then there are the mickey-mouse modes. I’d like to ignore them, but the combined ISO and mode knobs on the XT-1 are tricky to use, and changing ISO all to often puts you into what Fuji laughably call the Advanced Filter mode. The two dials are supposed to move independently – and sometimes they do, but other times both turn together. The resulting images are not nice. Jpegs rather than RAW and with impossible to correct contrast or colour or both. You can’t convert from ‘Dynamic Color’ or any of the others back to sensible colour, though you can just about get a half decent black and white.

It’s a shame because all of the Fuji cameras I’ve bought – X-Pro1, X-E1 as well as those already mentioned  have been almost there. Delightful in many ways, which is perhaps why I’ve several time bought another, but…. I’m even hoping that Fuji have at last got it right in the X-T20, and mug that I am, I’ll probably buy it.

And then there are those X-Trans sensors. It seemed a good idea to get away from the Bayer pattern, but I’ve never been convinced that they really improve things, though Lightroom at least seems now to have learnt how to get usable results after a really shaky start. But if  you still feel they are definitely an improvement (and Fuji cameras seem to have a unique facility to produce fanboys) you should read an article by Jonathan Moore Liles, which I first saw in PetaPixel, but is a little better read on medium com, where the pictures are larger.

Its an article which I think more or less destroys the claims of superiority of the X-trans sensor, which can perhaps at worst be seen as a marketing gimmick and at best simply a different balance between colour and luminance, and one which has some unfortunate side effects. In practical terms these are seldom if ever particularly important, and are often mitigated or eliminated by suitable corrective processing which I tend to apply fairly routinely in Lightroom. There is a tendency in portraits – whether on Nikon or Fuji – for faces to look a little flat that a little brushing with a positive value of ‘Clarity’ can improve, and the whites of the eyes (sclera to use the technical term preferred by Liles) usually benefit from a little more brightness and contrast which I think reduces the colour bleed into them.

Then there is the question of the Raw processing software preferred by Liles:

The RAW file was processed using Darktable’s Markesteijn demosaicking algorithm (3-pass mode) with a single iteration 9×9 chroma median filter followed by application of a bilateral filter on the chroma channel and light sharpening. The color profile is my own, generated from shots of a Wolf Faust IT8 chart and should accurately represent the colors in front of the camera.

Most of us just rely on Lightroom, though Fuji purists stick with the free Silkypix converter that Fuji provides, insisting on its superiority. Like me, unless you are a Linux user you have probably never heard of darktable, but Googling takes me to the site which tells me “darktable is an open source photography workflow application and raw developer. “  There is a MacOS version but not one for Windows, though I wouldn’t be rushing to try it out if there was, and there is a page about its X-Trans support which gives you some idea about that Markesteijn thingy, but includes the statement  “Though darktable now can read and process X-Trans files, there are plenty of opportunities to improve camera support. In particular, as mentioned in “What’s involved with adding support for new cameras“, each camera model could benefit from its own basecurve, white balance presets, lens correction, and noise profile.”

Although I have nothing against open-source software – and there are several programs I use or have used (including before Lightroom got better another RAW converter) – I think the use of it here is a serious weakness in the argument. First it entirely locates the article in the high geek rather than photographic sphere, and secondly it raises doubts about whether this particular software is as effective as that recommended by the manufacturer (and privy to their unreleased data), or to the commercial software such as Lightroom (and Adobe have enjoyed some cooperation from Fuji) and Phase One.

Of course, the debates about X-Trans and Bayer are marginal. Both can produce decent images and the differences between the two will seldom be apparent or important. Photography really isn’t about the minutiae of technical differences, but about what your images speak.

Found at last

Thursday, January 12th, 2017

Back in 1983, the Radio Times and BBC2 held a ‘Photo-Assignment‘ competition for the BBC2 National Photographic Week Competition, and although I didn’t like the idea of having to send off my film along with the two 10×8″ prints I decided to enter a set of pictures taken in Hull. I loaded a roll of FP4, 36 exposures loaded from bulk into a camera body and set out on a Sunday morning in early August for a trip around the city taking pictures for the competition on that body as well as some just for myself on a second camera.

Back home later in the week I developed the film, selected my two pictures and sent them off to New Broadcasting House in Manchester on 22.8.83. I was reminded of this today when I read the label on the back of an old print with my entry form stuck to it. It wasn’t the picture they chose, but the other I sent in was selected and they made two 12x9s and a 16×12 of it for showing on BBC2 and the touring exhibition. Not owning A TV (I still don’t, seeing enough in life and not having the time to watch it secondhand), I got my college to record the programme so I could see my picture on it for a few seconds.

But it was the picture rather than the reverse of the print that caught my attention, and I realised it was an image I hadn’t seen since 1983 and had forgotten about completely. And it wasn’t a bad picture and would certainly have been included in my Hull book had I had it to hand. So I looked for it in my file containing the contact sheets from Hull, searching for it at some length, but it was nowhere to be found.

The BBC had of course returned my negatives in the stamped addressed envelope I had included, and they came back in October or November and were filed with the work I was taking then – but somehow I forgot to make a contact sheet, which made the negatives were very difficult to find. Finally I did find them, and made the digital contact sheet above, rather too small to be seen properly in the small version on this post, but good to see at full size on my screen.

Looking at the set of 36 pictures, it’s obvious that I had decided to go an visit some of the favourite locations I’d photographed earlier and retake versions of images I’d taken before. This isn’t generally a very good idea, as if you have made a good picture before you are likely to get something that doesn’t match up to it when you return.

Though mostly I seem to have tried hard to make pictures that were just a little different, and in some parked cars or other obstructions made a repeat performance impossible. If you have are following my daily posts on Hull Photos for the UK City of Culture 2017, then today’s image showed the shadows of the chimneys of a Fish Smoke House, perhaps even the one in the image above, though there were several others in the area, all now gone – a piece of heritage lost.

The other of the two I printed for the BBC – which was the one they selected I also took on the other camera I was carrying – and I think did it rather better, and in time two better images will appear on Hull Photos – and I’m unlikely to post it myself (its the fourth frame from the left on the fifth row down.)

But the image I’d found this morning I’d only taken on the film for the BBC and it’s  only one in the 36 where I made two exposures, presumably because I realised I had over-exposed the first. The two are almost identical  so far as the three people in the foreground are concerned ,though the over-exposed frame is just a little better framed and has the woman and child in the background in a different position. It would have been hard to get a decent print from the negative in the darkroom, but I may be able to rescue it digitally.

The pictures were taken using an Olympus OM-1 camera, and the FP4 was processed in Acutol. There are two slightly darker bands across every frame, only noticeable in even areas such as sky. I’m unsure whether these represent a film fault or uneven processing, but at least with digital these can be treated, and they are almost entirely invisible after a little work in Photoshop.

Faulty film was not that unusual, particularly in bulk film, and I had some batches replaced by Ilford over the years, though they ever admitted the faults. Now I might be able to reclaim some of those faulty negs by digital retouching if I have time and patience.

I had found the print when I went up into the dark recesses of the loft in my house, looking for more of the actual prints I showed in Hull back in 1983. I didn’t have a great deal of luck with these, only coming across a handful to add to those I’d already found. Perhaps I had sold a few, and others might have got lost or still be hiding in a cupboard or lost after taking them to talks or shows.

But as well as the  print which led to my rediscovery of that BBC competition film, I also found a slide filing sheet with 14 sides from Germany in the early 1980s, including an image I’d spent several days searching the house for when I was producing the book ‘German Indications‘ and had to leave out, and a couple of others that might have been included had these slides, obviously selected to send to a gallery at some point along with some black and white prints been available.

A couple of others are probably the originals of images which I reproduced from duplicate slides, although most of the duplicates, made using an Illumitrans slide duplicator, were of exceptionally high quality. The only way I can identify the originals is if they are in the original Agfa slide mounts, but some of them I will have taken out of these for various reasons, especially if I wanted to reproduce the full image, a small part of which is hidden by the slide mount.

The image above is in the book (and the preview on line) but with a different colour balance to the new scan. I’m not sure which is more accurate, but the book image, considerably more yellow, is closer to the slide, though my memory prefers the bluer version above, though perhaps it is just a touch too blue… 

Which reminded me of a post on The Online Photographer a couple of days ago, on Color Correction (which I’d spell as Colour Correction) which is worth reading, including some of the comments. And you are welcome to download the above image as one to practice on though of course despite the lack of a watermark it is still copyright.

Slide films always added their own personality to the colour pictures we took, and we have now rather got used to the more accurate rendition of digital, though digital cameras too have their own differences. I generally prefer the results from my Nikons to those from the Fuji cameras I less often use, but others rave in admiration of the Fuji colours, especially in jpegs. I just adjust their RAW files to give something that seems more like I see.

November 2016

Friday, December 16th, 2016

Justice & Reparations for Ricky Bishop – march through Brixton

November is now complete on My London Diary. It’s a month I remember for being dark, cold and wet, certainly not my favourite time of year. I hate it when we change the clocks at the end of October, plunging into darkness around 4pm – by the end of the month sunset was at 3.55pm. London did get more rain than in the average November and most of it seemed to fall on me and my cameras.

It was also the month when my Nikon D700 more or less gave up the ghost. I can’t complain as it has made well over 500,000 exposures, but repair costs are so high now that it is almost certainly beyond economic repair. It is still actually working – at least at times. I took my last image with the D700 at a protest a few minutes after the image above, taken on a D810. That last D700 image has the shutter count information:


embedded into its EXIF information  (you can, with difficulty find this Photoshop.) According to Nikon the carbon fiber composite shutter in the D700 should at least last 150,000 exposures.

It isn’t actually the shutter but the mirror that is the problem – it sticks in the up position, blanking out the viewfinder. It happened first around half an hour or so earlier but I managed to free it by using the menu to ‘Lock mirror up for cleaning’, then switching the camera off and back on again, but after a few exposures stuck again and I had to repeat the process. I missed a few opportunites to make pictures doing this, particularly annoying when the police came to interfere with the protest.

Back home, and testing the shutter it has been working perfectly, but a camera you can’t rely on isn’t worth carrying. And I am fairly sure the cost of repairs (and there are a number of other minor faults) would be prohibitive. So since then I’ve been working with the D810 and a D750, which I’d tried out a few days earlier. The D750 is a noticeably lighter, which is good, gives larger files – sometimes a bonus, but normally unnecessary – and has a tilting read screen, which is great for some things, though the ‘Live View’ you need to use is still clunky. And it somehow feels a bit cheap and has a nasty shutter sound compared to the D700.

Nov 2016

Class War protest ‘Fascist Architect’
Axe the Housing Act Autumn Statement
Brexiteers say ‘People Have Spoken’
Class War Croydon ‘Snouts in the trough’
Justice & Reparations for Ricky Bishop

Climate Crisis rally against Airport Expansion
Rally against Heathrow Expansion
Release British father from Israeli Jail
Cleaners at Claranet for Living Wage

Cleaners at Mace protest Dall nepotism
Cleaners in Lloyds against racist sacking
End Discriminatory Welfare Reforms
Custody Summit at the Tower
No Garden in the Sky
Kurds march through London
Hope Trumps Hate rally and kiss-in
US Election Day Guantanamo protest
Vigil for Fazel Chegeni

Make John Lewis cleaners Partners

Save Libraries, Museums & Galleries
Kurds march for Peace & Democracy
Bill to reverse NHS Privatisation
End mass deportations
Standing Rock Sioux – emergency protest

London Images


Epson Scans

Friday, May 13th, 2016

Today I’d doing some serous scanning despite it being a lovely day to go out and perhaps take some pictures. But I’ve a busy few days over the weekend and don’t want to get tired before this. I’m trying hard to finish a whole month of black and white work – July 1986. The pictures here are just a small sample from those I took that month, all in London.

Free Trade Wharf, Limehouse, London. July 1986

But before I started did something I should have done several years ago but always put off – something I’m definitely Grade A* at.

I’m scanning today with the Epson V750 flatbed; it’s much faster than the Minolta Dimage Multiscan Pro, and with care the results are virtually as good. I’ve been having problems with the Minolta – the Firewire interface has become unreliable, working for a few scans then giving up halfway, and it had become very difficult to use. It’s the way most of these scanners eventually fail.

The scanner also has a SCSI interface, but getting the SCSI card I have to work in my current computer might be difficult – though I mean one day to try. But SCSI is really now a thing of the past.

For some time I’ve been photographing negatives instead of scanning them, and I had everything set up using the D800E – and then that decided to internally destruct. Again another thing I mean to try is to get it working sufficiently to use for this, but that’s another job I’m putting off. And although the images were sharp and detailed I also had problems with getting even illumination across the frame.

So I decided to use the Epson V750 flatbed that I have on my desk and have mainly used for making scanned ‘contact sheets’ and as a photocopier, or a quick method of getting web-size images from slides or negatives. It is a capable scanner, and the only real reason for not using it before is that I had other ways of scanning negs that were just marginally superior. I’ve used the V750 both at home and elsewhere to produce scans for books by a couple of other photographers, and they have been very happy with the results.

A new Neg carrier

One of the problems that I think Epson themselves acknowledge is that the 35mm filmstrip negative holder just isn’t quite up to the job. They’ve never I think said so, but when they came out with the V800 it had a new holder. Unlike that provided with the V700 and V750 it was not glassless but incorporated anti-Newton’s rings glass as well as more flexible height adjustment to ensure correct focus.

Columbia Market, London. July 1986

Looking at the pictures in the reviews, some of which commented on the improved design, it looked as if it would fit the D750, and I checked this was so before ordering one – rather expensively – from eBay. As well as the A-N glass, it also has better height adjustment than the D700/750 holder. Overall it does seem possible to get flatter negatives and better overall sharpness – though before things were already fairly good

Having the glass does of course make dust more of a problem. But with care and a powerful blower brush, along with the Pro Co Statbrush 2000* conductive brush I used in the darkroom and a lint-free cloth or two it isn’t too bad – and Photoshop sees off much of it very quickly. I seem to get slightly less dust spots than with the Minolta, and so far none of the problems with Newton’s Rings that sometimes plague my Minolta scans. It was an effect I hardly saw in the first year I used the scanner, then told another photographer I hadn’t seen them, after which they became a real problem.

Cleaning under the scanner glass

For several years I’ve been looking at the V750 and seeing smears and dust on the underside of the platen glass; I could clean the top easily, but these remained. The manual didn’t help, and on several occasions I’ve done a quick search on the web and read dire warnings from various people and decided perhaps it didn’t really matter.

Bridge over Regent’s Canal, Bridport Place, Islington, London. July 1986

This time I was a little more assiduous in my search, and found a few people who said it was a quick and easy job. A link to Epson’s exploded drawings of the scanner on the ‘Better Scanning’ site which has a page about dismantling various Epson models confirmed it was a matter of lifting the lighting module off from the scanner bed and then revealing and removing 4 screws and the top would lift off. And so it did.

The hardest part was removing the four plastic plugs which hide the screws, which I did by kind of digging at their edges with a craft knife and easing them up. They have a V on their top and are easy to spot, one fairly near each corner of the glass bed. Once the screws are removed the top can be pulled off – mine caught a bit at the front a needed a little persuasion. Fortunately fitting it back on again after cleaning turned out to be as simple.

Using Epson Scan

The Epson scanner software isn’t bad when used in ‘Professonal’ mode, though some features – like the ‘Thumbnails‘ which always seem to crop your images are best avoided. I do a Preview scan, click the Normal tab if thumbnails have appeared, then drag a marquee roughly around the first neg I want to scan, and click to ‘zoom’ in. It’s best then to adjust the marquee to be entirely inside the image area to avoid any black and white areas outside the frame which might affect exposure before clicking on the auto-exposure icon.

Auto-exposure will always give a less than optimal result, but does get in you the ballpark. It’s best to keep the Histogram panel open all the time you are scanning and click on the ‘show output’ button to check if there is any black or white clipping. Adjust the input values to get rid of all or almost all of this, then move the midpoint slider to get the image looking roughly how you want it.

I can’t see any real point in not having the output as the default visible in this panel as it is what you really need to see, although sometimes you might want to be able to view the input. It’s one of several minor annoyances about the software, but otherwise it works well. I could instead use Vuescan, which I’ve used with the other scanners, but somehow never bothered with the Epson. Perhaps I’ll download the latest version and give it a try, certainly when I start to scan some colour negs.

It’s best to scan in 16 bit grey for black and white (48 bit RGB for colour) as then you can make final adjustments to brightness and contrast in Photoshop (or other image editor.) You are going to have to open the images in Photoshop anyway to retouch the dust etc. So concentrate on getting all you can from the neg by avoiding clipping.

Re-adjust the marquee boundaries to the edge of the image, and then you are ready to scan. Of course you will have already set the directory for the image to save in and for it to be saved as 16 bit tiff, as well as a suitable stem for the name – to which Epson Scan with add 001, 002…

Closed Turf Accountants, Micawber St, Islington, London. July 1986

When the scan has saved, click on ‘Full’ in the preview pane, shift the marquee to the next image on the page you want to scan, and then ‘Zoom’ to view it and adjust exposure. Only use the auto-expose icon if it comes up way out, otherwise it is generally quicker to adjust from the previous values. And ‘unsharp mask’ has a habit of sneaking itself on. You don’t need it – if you want sharpening, Photoshop can do it better.

One further hint. Always go through the negs and decide exactly which are worth scanning – I mark the contact sheets, but if you don’t have these, you can write down the negative numbers. Otherwise if you are like me you will end up scanning twice as many.

* Not quite as effective as those Polonium 210 based StaticMaster brushes we used to use, but which now appear unobtainable in the UK. Quite safe so long as you remembered not to stir your tea with them!


Creative Cloud Woes

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

There was a great outcry back in 2013, particularly in the photographic world, when Adobe decided that their new software releases would be made on a subscription basis.

I didn’t really go along with this, not least because I think I was the only photographer I knew using a more or less legal version of the software and having over the years turned down offers of ‘cracked’ upgrades from friends.

I’d got copy of Photoshop when I was a teacher at education prices, which seemed to me to be a sensible amount to have to pay for the software, and had upgraded it over the years as far as Photoshop 7. Then I’d given up, as it seemed to do all I wanted, and the upgrades weren’t cheap. Like most photographers, I only use a small subset of Photoshop’s features, and it was priced too high for the market, while Elements seemed clunky and lacked just a few vitals.

I’d also got a legit copy of Lightroom 4. I’d had it from the start, after Adobe had bought up the superior technology of Pixmantec’s Rawshooter in 2006 and closed it down giving registered users a free copy of Lightroom 1.0 in 2007.

It wasn’t really much of a bargain, as Rawshooter was rather better at converting raw files than Lightroom, but I could see the advantages of incorporating image management. And when you bought a new camera – and things were then developing fast on the digital camera front – Rawshooter would no longer handle its files. I looked closely at the alternatives, owning copies of several on my computer and decided for all its current weaknesses that in the longer term Ligthroom was likely to be the best bet.

Though version 1.0 came free, I had to pay to upgrade to v2 in 2008, v3, v4 in 2012 and v5 in 2013 as I upgraded cameras – and also wanted the new features. So when a reasonably priced subscription including both Photoshop and Lightroom became available it seemed a reasonable price to pay, especially as Photoshop now included rather better and much faster retouching tools for working on my scans from negatives, many of which are in poor condition.

And so far, despite the many warnings when the subscription scheme was introduced, Adobe have played fair. Every month I pay them £8.57 (inc vat) and the software is fine – with a recent update to Lightroom CC 2015.5 and the latest Photoshop.

But while I’m happy with these programmes (and an old version of InDesign CS5.5 which I got as a relatively reasonably priced upgrade from Pagemaker), the actual Creative Cloud application is something of a pain, as it seldom works for more than a day or two, giving a message on starting up the computer that it needs the latest version to be installed and refusing to load.

Looking on the web, I seem to be among many others having a similar problem. I’ve tried ignoring it, but that means I don’t get notified of any updates – and eventually the software refuses to work properly.

Adobe does provide some helpful advice on resolving these issues, and if you have a similar problem you might try their suggestion that seems to work for me, deleting the opm.db file and running Creative Cloud again. The file may be hard to find, as the folder containing it is often hidden and you then need to unhide it first. But here’s where it should be:

Windows: C:\Users\<user folder>\AppData\Local\Adobe\OOBE
Mac OS: /Users/<user folder>/Library/Application Support/Adobe/OOBE

If that doesn’t work, you can always log in to Adobe and download and reinstall Creative Cloud. But deleting the file has been a quick and easy fix for me – though of course I disclaim any responsibility for what it might do on your system – it’s Adobe’s suggestion and not mine.

[If you are having problems with Lightroom itself, the obvious place to go for help is of course The Lightroom Queen.]

Given the problems that many of us have, surely Adobe could and should do something to make Creative Cloud more resilient and less liable to sulk in this way? It’s really the only little thing that stops me wholeheartedly recommending their photography plan to all photographers.

Captions & Keywords

Monday, March 21st, 2016

I’m currently struggling through the key-wording and adding other information for several hundred images which are moving from ‘news‘ to ‘stock‘. It’s a slow and tedious business, and one that I find rather annoying, partly because of the software I’m forced to use by the particular agency involved, which doesn’t allow any sensible batch processing.

Among other things this means that I have to go into every single one of the several hundred images and click to say how many people are present and that I don’t have model releases, that they have property which would – for advertising use, but these are editorial images – a property release which of course I don’t have any either. Just being able to set a sensible default would save me several thousand mouse clicks today.

I might have taken 30 pictures in the same location, but again I have to load up each image individually and past it in. Often most of that 30 will have very similar keywords, but those too have to be pasted individually.

What might, with well designed software take perhaps 30 minutes, ends up being a day of tedious work – and what seems to me a real expression of contempt by the agency concerned for its photographers.

Most of it would actually be unnecessary, in that all of the images when supplied have captions and keywords. The captions probably contain most of the information that would be most useful in searching, but the agency has decided to give them a very low priority in their search system, and the keywords have to be re-allocated into different groups. Its a total mess, and one which I’m sure doesn’t help sales.

It would help photographers if there were some consistency across the ‘industry’, but of course there isn’t. Back in the day we were taught ‘Who, What, Where, When, Why’ and possibly ‘How’, but that appears to have rather gone out of fashion.

There is a useful brief guide to captions and keywords written by John Smock
which starts its section on captions:

In most photo captions the first sentence identifies the people and place in the photograph and supply the date and location where it was taken. The second (and perhaps third) sentence should provide contextual information to help readers understand what they are looking at.

and he goes on to give quite a lot of useful advice and examples in the five page document (the last of which is blank!) It includes some good advice on keywords too, a great deal of which I find myself ignoring, sometimes intentionally. You do have to think about the system that you are contributing too, and work to its expectations, however nonsensical they may be.

There is a great deal to be said for the use of controlled vocabularies, but I’ve never found a list that suits the kind of work I now do. When I was photographing buildings and industrial sites I made use of a simplified list of terms derived from IRIS, the Index Record For Industrial Sites, which was set up in 1991 to provide a standardised format for reporting in this area.

A considerable further simplification provided a basis for my only professionally produced web site, ‘London’s Industrial Heritage‘, written by my elder son. By the standards of the time (it was a birthday present for me in 1999) it was impressive, and is still a rather elegant solution, although the image size and quality now dates it.

Perhaps now we should have some rather more clever solutions, perhaps through the application of AI technology to the searches that picture researchers make and perhaps the keywords that photographers use, as well as image description technologies.

For the moment, its time for me to get back to that tedious business of adding information the slow and hard way.

Keep Trying!

Thursday, March 10th, 2016

Some days I get home, go through the images on the cards from my two cameras and find virtually every frame is sharp and usable and I feel rather dissatisfied.

Because I know I can’t have been trying hard enough.

Particularly with modern digital cameras it has become too easy to take pictures that are technically fine – the camera generally takes care of most of that for you, with auto exposure and autofocus. Mostly too, using Program mode on the Nikons give a sensible choice of shutter and aperture, and Nikon’s Matrix metering does a pretty good job with most of what used to be ‘tricky’ exposure problems in the old days.

I notice the difference with exposures when I use the Fuji X cameras – where I spend far more time twiddling the +- exposure dial to get acceptable results. The Nikons also do a rather better job on auto white balance, though since I almost always shoot RAW that can be corrected in Lightroom.

Of course there is composition, but it isn’t hard to compose safely unless things really kick off and you don’t have time to think; and careful framing has become something of a habit over the years.

So, barring my occasional senior moments (I’ve been having them since I first picked up a camera seriously around 1970 at the age of 25), on a day when I’m coasting perhaps 90% of the pictures are fine … but.

(The other 10% are generally with the 28-200mm, a nice lens but one that sometimes has a little problem with focus, especially when you are in a hurry, when the D810 often ignores its AF-S Focus Priority – Custom setting a2 – only to take pictures when in focus.)

But on the good days, the number of usable images is much lower, sometimes well under half. But if I’m lucky there may be just a few that really make me smile. My best images always come from working a little on the edge, being visually (and often technically) more adventurous. And you always learn more from your failures than from those that go too easily right.

It’s one reason why I like working with the 16mm fisheye, though on so many occasions it would be totally hopeless. But its different view forces me to think differently, to work at things rather than take the easy route.

D5 or not D5?

Thursday, January 14th, 2016

We can get some idea of the quality of the extreme ISO pictures on the new Nikon D5 from some sample image by Leon Ostrom of Randorn in a post on PetaPixel.

Not able to take away any images on a memory card, he photographed a series of test shots on the Nikon stand at CES 2016, then photographed the results displayed on the LCD screen on the back of the camera, both showing the full frame and a magnified detail, at Hi-1 (ISO 204,800) to Hi-5 (ISO 3,280,000).

Although these are only pictures of the image on the LCD screen.they give a very good impression of the possibilities of the camera, although the actual images could be greatly improved by appropriate noise reduction in post. Most impressive is the quality at Hi-1, which of course drops off as amplification increases. Hi-2 (IS0 409,600) looks to be usable for many purposes after noise reduction, while higher ISOs are distinctly emergency only.

Its a remarkable achievement, and one that makes me lust after the D5, though it isn’t a feeling I can sustain for long given the price and weight of the camera. But certainly it does make me hope for better high ISO and more affordable and lighter new models from Nikon. Even going back to DX with the D500 might be an option.

It also is a stark reminder of the ridiculous nature of the arithmetic ASA system. which was incorporated into ISO along with the much more sensible logarithmic DIN scale, where a one stop difference is an increase in 3, which makes it much easier especially when the ASA numbers get astronomical.

Back in the days of Tri-X, it was a 400/27 film (though we actually often rated it differently depending on which developer we were using and how we liked our negatives.) But its a good starting point for thinking about film speeds, and my starting point for this little table (more about film speeds for geeks on Wikipedia):

400	27
800	30
1600	33
3200	36
6400	39
12800	42
25600	45
51200	48
102400	51
204800	54
409600	57
819200	60
1638400	63
3280000	66

Either using this little table (or being able to divide by three) you can see that Hi-2 gives us a 10 stop advantage over Tri-X (or 8 stops over Tri-X pushed a couple of stops) which is certainly not to be sneezed at.

With the D700 and D810 I’m now working with, the practical limit I find is around ISO 6400 – so the D5 is performing at around 5 or 6 stops down the scale better. The D4 and Sony A7SII both claimed 409600 in 2014, so the D5 claims 3 stops more than them. It does seem pretty remarkable.