Archive for the ‘Reviews etc’ Category

Solidarity with Palestine

Saturday, September 21st, 2019

As someone born as World War II was finishing it isn’t surprising that I grew up with with a great deal of sympathy and support for the young state of Israel, which had won its freedom from the British mandate by a number of terrorist attacks, most notably the King David Hotel Bombing, a massacre which killed 91 people and left around 50 badly wounded.

I was too young to know anything about it at the time of the attack, but in later years the Zionist underground organization the Irgun  was the first which I heard some call terrorists and others freedom fighters. Around 15 years later when I started a real interest in politics and free cigarettes at the local young socialist meetings in the Co-op Hallit was certainly the latter view that prevailed, not least because many of those in the Labour movement were Jewish.

Then we believed the lies that were told about Israel occupying a largely empty land and making the deserts bloom. Since then we have become aware of the properties and land stolen from the Palestinians, many of whom were forced out as refugees, and of the shrinking map of Palestine and the attacks on Gaza. The Zionist Israeli government has become increasing right-wing, violating the human rights of the Palestinians and international law over the years, setting up an apartheid system in Israel, making it impossible now not to support the Palestinian cause.

The protest on 11th May came at the start of the week remembering the Nakba and called for an end to Israeli oppression and the siege of Gaza and for a just peace that recognises Palestinian rights including the right of return. It urged everyone to boycott and divest from Israel and donate to medical aid for Palestine. Many of those on the march carried keys, some those of properties they had been forced to leave back in 1948, others simply as a reminder of the dispossession.

Among those marching was Palestinian teenage activist Ahed Tamimi, arrested after slapping an Israeli soldier in December 2017 after soldiers had entered her home and severely injured her 15-year-old cousin Mohammed. It wasn’t easy to photograph her on the march as stewards kept photographers outside the area in front of where she was marching holding the banner at the head of the march.

I wasn’t able to get close to her, but had to photograph with a long lens from a distance. With the 14-150mm lens on the Olympus E-M5 Mk II I managed to get a decent image with her filling much of the frame. The lens is equivalent to a 28-300mm, and for this picture I was using it at its extreme and at f5.6 and 1/250th at ISO 1250.

I think the result is rather better than I would have expected using a Nikon, thanks to the stabilisation of the OM body. And I would probably only have been carrying a lens with a maximum focal length of 200mm, so would have had to crop to get a similar image, thus losing some of the advantage of the larger sensor. I think the autofocus is almost as good as the Nikon, close enough to show no real difference in speed, and face detection is sometimes a help. And as a final point, despite weighing half as much, the Olympus lens is I think a better performer.

As well as the Olympus, my second camera was a Fuji X-T1, with a 10-24mm lens (15-36 equiv) that is also a fine performer. It doesn’t have quite the advantage in size and weight over Nikon that the Olympus has, and the camera somehow feels a little less responsive. I bought it when I was hoping that a Fuji system could replace my Nikons, but now I’m more likely to move to Olympus, keeping a Nikon only for the larger file size when used with bellows and a macro lens for digitising negatives and slides.

As with most events showing solidarity with Palestine it was joined by several Jewish groups, including the ultra-orthodox Neturei Karta  and also opposed by a small group of Zionists. You can see pictures of both on My London Diary, along with coverage of the rally close to the BBC before the march. I left and went home before the rally at the end.

More pictures at National Demonstration for Palestine.

St Ann’s – End of an Era

Friday, August 2nd, 2019

Although the ‘stars’ of photography so far as the media are concerned tend to be those who fly into trouble spots around the world to report on various crises – usually backed by the big international agencies, much interesting documentary work is carried out by people who never get an international reputation, and whose work is made inside communities in which they are embedded, sometimes for years, occasionally for a lifetime.

I’ve long believed that there is a huge unseen body of work out there which has never attracted museum shows, publications or any real exposure, perhaps just seen by a few friends or shown in a local library. Of course now, it may appear on Facebook or Instagram, but tends to remain hidden among the dross and the cat pictures. Of course there are some good cat pictures, probably at least three a year.

My thoughts were directed to this by a Facebook post linking to an article in the Nottingham post, Photographer reveals unseen images of St Ann’s before demolition, about work in the area of Nottingham which was being comprehensively redeveloped when then student photographer Peter Richardson was working ina temporary summer job as a labourer on buildings that were replacing the Victorian housing.

Now, around 50 years later, the freelance photographer has put together a book with 98 photographs that show a real insight into the crowded neighbourhood before demolition. You can see rather more pictures from it in the preview of St Ann’s, End of an Era on the Blurb website.

As well as the quality of the work, the book has other interests for me. At the time when Richardson was taking his pictures I was heavily involved in a similar redevelopment in a similar area of inner-city Manchester, not as a photographer but as an activist. Groups working in the two areas made contacts and learnt from each other – and I think were the first two areas to bring ‘planning for real’ modelling exercises which had originated in Sweden to local community groups in the UK.

I regret very much that I was not at that time an active photographer, being penniless, unable to afford a working camera and lacking any practical training in photography that would have enabled me to work on a shoestring – both things that were remedied a couple of years later. But Richardson’s pictures remind me very much of the people and the homes that I met in Moss Side.

Like Richardson too, I’ve also published books on Blurb – with 16 of them still available. It isn’t an idea way to publish, but does give you the freedom to do so at relatively minimal expense and being print on demand comes with no problems of storing and distributing editions, and the print quality can be good, though not state of the art.

But the problem is price. A single softcover copy of this book costs £44.99, plus an excessive postage charge. Authors can benefit from fairly large discounts offered from time to time by Blurb (and don’t pay any author’s markup), but even so the books are expensive. It makes it impossible to sell through bookshops, where a realistic price would need to be at least £75. There is a cheaper EBook for £9.49 which is more reasonable, and I always advise people interested in my works to buy it in electronic form, though I also sell most of my books direct a little below Blurb prices.

Personally I’ve been thinking for the last couple of years of abandoning Blurb for any new publications. Perhaps publishing a small short-run print book, but making my work available free as PDFs or at higher quality on the web than my current web site. I do make a little from Blurb sales, but hardly enough to notice. For me the point of publishing is to share my work, not to make money.

Neuran

Monday, June 17th, 2019

It’s a little hard to write about image quality in a blog post, because the quality of reproduction, particularly if like me you restrict yourself to posting 400×600 pixel images is hardly great. And although I use images that size, if you simply view them on the blog post you will be seeing them at only 300×450 pixels if they are in landscape format.

Apart from size, there is also a matter of jpeg compression. To allow pages to load at a reasonable speed I post jpegs with a reasonable amount of compression, and the JPEG algorithms introduce their own artifacts, the quality of the image getting worse as compression increases.

There are now better ways than JPEG to compress images, but JPEG has two big advantages. Firstly that it is a set of methods that anyone can use free of charge, and secondly that it has been pretty universally adopted, which almost any software capable of displaying images can read. So until we get another non-proprietary method which becomes universally adopted we are stuck with it.

Neuran are a company which has developed some very smart software that is supposed to address some of the problems of JPEGs (its also an Anticonvulsant drug, but that’s something quite different) using Deep Neural Networks trained on thousands of real images to enable it to reduce jpeg artifacts and also to scale up images without quality loss.

There have been other methods that have been developed, particularly for scaling up images that have made sometimes extravagant claims in the past, and back in the old days I reviewed some of them, but ended up finding the methods already provided by software such as Photoshop and QImage generally worked as well.

But the examples on the Neuran web site and Neuran’s Instagram feed make it look promising (though their Youtube video lacks any real content) and so I decided to give it a free try – and to sign up for its mailing list to get news of when it launches on Kickstarter. And I took advantage of the web site to get one of my small jpegs enlarged.

The original web image:

Here’s a detail, enlarged in Photoshop

And a similar detail from the Neuran enlarged version

The effect is fairly remarkable, particularly for her hair. Comparing the two the out of focus background is little changed but those parts of subject that are in focus are much sharper.

The whole enlarged file is too large to post here, and the 1:1 detail shows the effect better, but I also reduced the whole enlarged image back to the original I sent to Neuran in Photoshop.

As you can see, both Ahed Tamimi‘s eyes and hair are considerably sharper now. The picture (almost all the four thirds frame) was taken with an Olympus 14-150mm lens at 150mm (300mm equivalent) and at 1/250s wide open, and at the extreme end the lens is not quite as sharp as it might be.

Rather than take my word for it, you can log on to their web site and upload your own image to try Neuran’s processing – and the result will be e-mailed back to you.

Of course, most of my images are large and sufficiently detailed not to need the Neuran treatment, and the software will be of more use to those working on camera phones, but I can see occasions when it could be of great use, and I look forward to seeing more about it on Kickstarter.


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My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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Simple Cyanotypes

Monday, May 20th, 2019

Congratulations are due to Mike Ware for both his development of a new ‘Simple Cyanotype‘ process and for his generosity in making the details of this and all his other contirbutions over the years to alternative photographic processes freely available to all.

Back in the days when I had time for such things, in the 1980s and 90s, I played a little with most of the methods for photographic print-making using hand-coated paper, largely out of interest in the history of our medium, which was one area of my writing and teaching. I made cyanotypes, along with kallitypes, palladium and platinum prints, gum prints, salted paper prints, carbon prints, photogravure and more, some more successfully than others.

I’ve written before about how I started in this area, together with friends Terry King (and here) and Randall Webb, both sadly no longer with us. Terry went on to make a considerable reputation and something of a living as both a teacher and printmaker using these processes, developing his own tweaks on various of them. He came to alternative processes as a poet and an artist, and occasionally I and later several others helped him out a little with the science.

Mike Ware is a scientist, and approached the processes in a much more scientific way, though that did not stop him making the impressive images you can see on his web site galleries. But it did mean that he was able to develop the chemistry in new ways, notably in his improved cyanotype process, and now with the new Simple Cyanotype.

You can read a discussion of the short-comings of the traditional cyanotype, first invented by Herschel in 1842 (and used most effectively by Anna Atkins the following year) and the advantages of Ware’s new simple and safe method in Towards an Unproblematic Cyanotype Chemistry. I found it particularly illuminating in helping to explain why I never encountered some of the problems so many others had – simply the good fortune of having purchased an excellent sample of the light sensitive but “ill-characterised” ferric ammonium citrate, and chosing the right papers to use it on.

The Simple Cyanotype uses readily available chemicals which are relatively safe, though still need handling with care, particularly ammonia. I once made the mistake of sniffing from a bottle whose label had fallen off (having trained as a chemist I should have known better) which turned out to be concentrated ‘880’ ammonia, and staggered back as if punched with my nostrils cauterized.

We are now much more environmentally conscious, and some of those materials which we handled carefully but perhaps disposed down our drains with too little thought are now often rightly subject to much tighter controls. I was rather pleased a few years ago to dispose of virtually all of my extensive chemical collection collected over the years I worked in alternative processes rather than leave a possibly tricky and expensive problem for my executors. Chemical safety is important – and some of those needed for old processes are now unobtainable by private individuals in some countries.

It also allows control of contrast, something which was always a problem in making cyanotypes, where negatives had to be produced specially for the process. It relies on the production of a relatively newly discovered iron complex, made in solution from the cheap and pure iron(III) nitrate – perhaps coincidentally the same starting material that I had used for many of my later iron process prints, though I used it with the much more toxic oxalates. It wasn’t then an orginal idea, but one I adapted from another source and used the same solution with its excess nitrate ions still present to produce various types of print.

Ware gives full details of how to make the solution, coat paper, expose and develop, and it does really seem to be a useful new process, and I feel quite excited by its possibilities. If I had the time and not so much else I want to do it might be something I would try again, but exactly the same thing that stopped me making cyanotypes twenty or more years ago would do so again.

I didn’t really want blue prints. But if you do, this seems the way to go.

Zeke – the Roma issue

Sunday, April 28th, 2019

Zeke Magazine is published by the Social Documentary Network and “presents outstanding documentary photography from the Social Documentary Network on topics of global concern.”

SDN was launched in October 2008, and “is for documentary photographers, editors, journalists, NGOs, lovers of photography and anyone else who believes that photography plays an important role in educating people about our world.” I signed up for a free membership back in 2008, but never got around to becoming a paying member, though probably I should have done. When it started I think it was free to submit work, and I seem to recall doing so, but soon there was a fee to retain the work on the site. It was, as they say, a modest fee, but I decided against it.

You can read more on their ‘About SDN‘ page which includes the following requirements for the images they publish:

  1. Aesthetic quality. The photographs must have a strong point of view and have a deliberate and meaningful composition.
  2. Documentary integrity. The images and the writing must avoid sensationalism, factual information must be accurate, and the images must be respectful of the subject and viewer.
  3. Technical quality of digital files (resolution, focus, exposure, etc.) Only fewer than 10% of exhibits are not approved and we work with a photographers to bring their exhibit up to the level required to go live. We do not edit or curate exhibits. The content on SDN is completely user-generated.

If I hadn’t already got an extensive web site – or rather several, including My London Diary and of course this blog I would probably have thought more seriously about becoming a paying member, making more submissions and paying the fees to keep them on-line.  The membership page makes the benefits clear.

I still get the monthly newsletter, and this month’s links to an article in the Spring 2019 issue, which you can read online or susbscribe to get a print version. This is The Roma and Traveller Issue, with some fine documentary photography and some very informative articles.

I first became involved with travellers back in the 1960s – before I really took photos – when along with other students I went to protect them from eviction from one of the many cleared areas of derelict land close to the university in Manchester. We sat down to stop site clearance and were invited into several of their caravans for tea and conversation.

In more recent years I’ve been occasionally involved in Roma protests, visiting Dale Farm and in central London, but have never really photographed in depth, perhaps put off from doing so by several rather fine bodies of published work featuring them. The best known of these is of course by Magnum’s Josef Koudelka, very much a traveller himself (though not from the community); Zeke includes a largely positive review of the re-publication of that work, though having a copy of the 1975 book (the UK edition) I don’t feel the need to buy the new revised version, despite the apparently superior quality of its quadtone reproductions. Perhaps the more graphic nature of that earlier publication suits the pictures, though I’ve not yet been able to compare them directly.

Migrant Mother

Sunday, December 9th, 2018

Had you asked me a few days ago I think I would have said that there was little more to say about Dorothea Lange‘s ‘Migrant Mother’ which has already had so much devoted to it, as one of photography’s truly iconic images. But there appears to be at least one significant fact I was not aware of in the new book from the Museum of Modern Art, written by Sarah Meister.

Perhaps not enough to make me want to read the book, but James Estrin, the co-editor of Lens, the New York Times photographic blog, has written a post on it, as always clear and concise, Unraveling the Mysteries of Dorothea Lange’s ‘Migrant Mother’.

As the image was one of a set taken for US federal Farm Security Administration, it is of course available at the Library of Congress, where you can download several versions of it and the others Lange made of Florence Owens Thompson and her children.

This is a smaller version of my favourite of this image, and probably the oldest. The current version of it, available for download as a large tiff if you want to make your own print, has slightly different scratches on it, and both versions would take considerable retouching to make a really good print. As the LoC page above states “This is an unretouched version of the image listed in #1. This version of the image shows a thumb in the immediate foreground on the right side.”

There is more about the retouching to remove the thumb in the book and Estrin’s post, which remind us that Roy Stryker, “Lange’s boss at the Farm Security Administration … thought it compromised the authenticity not just of the photo but also of his whole F.S.A. documentary project” although such practices were widespread at the time and “Ms. Lange considered the thumb to be such a glaring defect that she apparently didn’t have a second thought about removing it“, getting an assistant to retouch the image in 1939, some 3 years after she had made the image in February 1936 (according to the FSA, though possibly March.) Personally I’m with Mr Stryker on this.

Perhaps the most interesting issue raised in the book is that after Florence Owens Thompson came forward and identified herself in 1978, an Associated Press article revealed that she was not as had been assumed of European descent ‘but “a full-blooded Cherokee Indian” from Oklahoma‘, something that would certainly have caused the image to have been seen differently had it been known when it was widely published – and even now where considerable prejudice still exists against Native Americans.  Lange appears not to have provided the usual field notes and captions for this set of images, and to have known relatively little about her subjects.

Sarah Meister’s book is one of a series “One on One” on individual items in the collection of the New York Museum of Modern Art. Surely a prime candidate for such a series should be a book by A D Coleman on Robert Capa‘s iconic D-Day landing image, for which the material by Coleman and his collaborators has been published online in voluminous and convincing detail at Photocritic International in the Robert Capa D-Day Project. While I’m sure that this will one day emerge in book form, I think it is unlikely it will be published by MoMA.

On the street

Sunday, November 25th, 2018

Although I take almost all of my pictures on the street I’ve never really though of myself as a street photographer, largely because I think of it as a meaningless category. If you disagree I think it is worth going back to what many think of as the ‘bible‘ of the putative genre, Bystander, and read through it carefully and critically looking at the examples. Of course there are plenty of photographs we can say are definitely not street photography, but nothing really emerges which amounts to a clear definition of a genre.

Yesterday I watched a couple of videos about street photography, both of which were mentioned on PetaPixel. For some reason the link to ‘Cheryl Dunn’s highly-regarded 2013 documentary Everybody Street‘ which is now on YouTube refused to display in the PetaPixel page in my browser, but a search on YouTube found it without problems and I was able to watch it full-screen in fairly high quality and I didn’t notice the ads.

It contains a number of photographers who have worked on the streets of New York speaking about their work, and shows them taking pictures and some of the pictures they have taken. Some are very well-known, while others less so, and their work covers a fairly wide range of practices. There is some attempt to give a historical perspective, with Max Kozloff talking about a number of other photographers from Alfred Stieglitz on.

One of the featured photographers, Rebecca Lepkoff, talks a little about the New York Photo League which brought her into photography, though it would have been good to have had a interviewer drawing her out more about this. She was one of the photographers I wrote about years ago in a series on the Photo League, but it would have been good for the film to have looked in a little more detail on some of the others, though few now survive. I think it is impossible to overstate the importance of this organisation in what later became known as ‘street photography.’

Some of the work shown and discussed in the film is quite clearly documentary photography,  and the rest seems to me too varied for the overall category of street photography to have any real use.

I think the film was about 80 minutes long, and it is certainly a very professional film, with some nice footage of New York, making me feel I should have gone there and lived and photographed on its streets, but there were times when I felt it dragged and I did skip forward a little at times. The making of the film was made possible by over $45,000 of crowdfunding but it looks as if it cost considerably more

The second film featured on PetaPixel was the curiously capitalised ‘Why you SHOULDN’T do STREET PHOTOGRAPHY‘ by UK photographer Jamie Windsor, which I have to say I found far more difficult to watch. Not because of what he said, which in part echoes things I’ve said and written in the past, but because of the production and personality of the presenter. He looks at the work of several photographers, particularly the late Hong Kong photographer Fan Ho, Nan Goldin and Martin Parr.

I wasn’t familiar with the work of Fan Ho, but by the time I’d seen a few pictures found it extremely repetitive, and failed to see that it represented in any real way the changing times of the city. If you like pretty, arty photos it may be for you.

Goldin of course did as he suggests live the life of the subjects she photographed, recording moments in the lives of her friends and their particular subculture, with her work something of a ‘family’ album.

I share some of Windsor’s misgivings about Martin Parr and his depictions of working class life. His approach was clearly rather more distant than that of – for example – the Picture Post photographers, and sometimes appears to be very much as he suggests reflecting he prejudices of a middle-class photographer, making judgements about those he photographs.

But not all those Picture Post photographers were Bert Hardy, who grew up a working class kid in the Borough and some who managed a much more empathetic approach came from rather more patrician backgrounds than Parr.

Despite Hardy’s working class background he appears to have had no problems relating to and empathising with people from all walks of life and all levels of society. The nature of Parr’s work came from his intention to be a social commentator rather than to engage with the people he was photographing.

Taking a photograph always implies a point of view. We shouldn’t pretend to “accurately represent a culture” whether or not we are part of it, and I’m not at all sure what that means. For me, empathy with the people I photograph is vital, and to that extent I agree with him.

Much of the uneasy interest I have in, for example, Martin Parr’s New Brighton pictures, comes from knowing that his is a rather snooty middle-class exploitatative view of the working class. It gives them the edge that makes them stand out, just as Bruce Gilden’s photographic street assaults do, though in Gilden’s case I find the approach soon gets to be rather boring, the pictures more about his antics rather than the subjects he photographs. I want photography to be about the world, not about photography.

And it is perhaps empathy that I find absent in Fan H0’s work, which uses people as tokens or ciphers, something which the presentation in this video emphasizes. They remind me of my least favourite of Cartier-Bresson’s work, what another photographer called the ‘waiters’, where the photographer had clearly identified a situation and then waited for a person to put themselves in just the right spot. It’s a side of ‘street photography’, particularly loved by amateurs, that I find just boring. But I wouldn’t want to proscribe it. By all means let a thousand Fan Ho’s bloom, just don’t expect me to spend much time looking at them.

Both for the people who do it and for the audience (if any) for it, photography can be many different things. It’s fine for Windsor to state what he thinks and to ask others also to think about their own practices, but not, as his title says, to try to impose a straitjacket on others.

A Forgotten Street Photographer?

Friday, October 12th, 2018

While it’s great to see a film being made about Garry Winogrand which shows some insight into the man and his work, the description of him as a “forgotten street photographer” seems rather lacking in credibility.

Of course most people who think of themselves as “street photographers” nowadays are woefully ignorant of the history of photography including that of so-called street photography, and most people outside the photographic world would be hard put to name any photographer, certainly anyone who has been dead for over 30 years. Perhaps soon we will see a film about another of these “forgetten street photographers” like Henri Cartier-Bresson?

I’ve not seen the film, currently enjoying an extended run in New York, but I have watched the trailer and another introduction to it with more of WInogrand’s voice, as well as the preview – and many other videos about WInogrand, some of which I used in my teaching over 20 years ago. And I think the film will be something photographers should not miss. It will apparently be available later as a part of the ‘American Masters‘ series on PBS.

Vice has an interview This Forgotten Street Photographer Shot Some of Our Most Iconic Images with film director Sasha Waters Freyer which I think makes interesting reading and shows some fresh insight into the man and his work.

I’ve written about him and his work at some length, and have copies of most of his books as well as the most important works on him published since his death, and have been able to talk with one or two people who knew him working on the streets of New York. As well as this article, he gets a mention in 45 other posts I’ve written for this blog (and one other draft, about his work in Picture Post, that somehow never got finished.)

One of the problems with Winogrand is that he took so many pictures – including the many thousands on the undeveloped cassettes found after his death. Many of them didn’t really work as pictures, though without the openness they represent he would not have made those that, sometimes spectacularly, do. I feel sure that there are many images that have been published since his death (and a few during his lifetime) that do nothing to enhance his reputation, and the last show of his work I saw in London had far too many of them. Part of the reason for this lies with the art market, where anything attributed to him sells.

It’s interesting to look at his ‘Women Are Beautiful’ which Sasha Waters Freyer says “really hurt his reputation”. It obviously drew some attacks, but I don’t think he really had a reputation to destroy, and most of the attacks were based on the idea of a man publishing a book of that title rather than the work in it. As she goes on to say, “there are a lot of ways in which it is a celebration of women. It is a really important document of this period when women are entering the workforce and making themselves visible in a way that was completely new in American society.”

Winogrand thought it would sell, calling it in private “The Observations of a Male Chauvinist Pig” and hoping it might appeal to a different market, but it alienated too many and was too highbrow and insufficiently raunchy to attract the ‘Pigs’ he had anticipated. But it remains one of his best books, perhaps because of the focus given it by the problems in his personal life and the film sets out to examine him as a male artist and to understand how his “relationship to marriage and children and family … impacts (his) artistic output.”

Of course there are many other articles and reviews of the film (which has a Facebook page) you can find on-line. One from IndieWire by David Erlich caught my attention for this paragraph:

“Street photographer?” What a sterile way to describe someone who just captured what he wanted — who didn’t wait for permission to take pictures, or require an assignment.

Memory Card Failures?

Monday, October 8th, 2018

I’ve generally been lucky with memory card failures over the sixteen years I’ve now been using digital cameras, and I don’t think I’ve lost a single image due to them, though writing this is likely to provoke disaster. A few times cards have simply refused to work when I’ve put them into the camera either on first use (and one batch turned out to be very convincing ‘fakes’ for which I got a refund) or after some time when they have worked without problems. Once or twice I’ve had cards fail with pictures on them (or formatted them by mistake in a camera with dual card slots), but so far I’ve always managed to recover the images, though often it has been a lengthy process.

What I have found is that many ‘recovery’ programs have failed to recover any images, and the only one I’ve found to work reliably has been an old version of Rescue Pro, which came free years ago with SanDisk cards but is no longer supported by them. You now have to pay to get a working version, though a free download will show you whether files can be recovered. I didn’t try every other product on the market, but most I did failed. They may work for some causes of card failure, but didn’t help me. An article recommends some cheaper alternatives to Rescue Pro I haven’t tried (and links to more) that are cheaper and might be worth considering, and I’ve also found Recuva useful – and there is a free version.

That old version of Rescue Pro is slow and rather opaque, but it still works on WIndows 7, though I think it was written for Windows XP and may not run when my next computer is on Windows 10 (or 11.)

I began thinking about this after I put the SD card with all my pictures from last weekend into my card reader. Windows gave an error message asking me if I wanted to format the disk. Fortunately after I declined the offer the card read without problems. I do try to remember to always format cards in camera after I’ve copied the pictures from them and before using the card again, which I think is good practice.

Also when I’m away from home for more than a day or taking pictures I try to back up the cards I’m using on to my notebook computer every day, so that at worst I should only use a day’s work.

Catching up on my reading this morning I came across an article on PetaPixel by photographer QT Luong, Lessons from Losing a Week of Photos to Memory Card Failure, in which he recounts his problem with a corrupted SD card. He tried various software recovery programs without luck, and then some commercial recovery services who again were unable to bring back his files by their normal methods, eventually offering to charge large sums for further detailed examination of the card with no guarantee they could recover any data. At which point Luong decided it was simply not worth continuing.

It is an interesting article and very much a warning to the rest of us not to be complacent about the problem, as well as suggesting some strategies. In particular it might be a good idea to back-up while working using both card slots on dual slot cameras, even though this may slow down the rate at which the camera will work.

As Luong states, not all cameras have dual slots, and when Nikon and Canon recently announced mirrorless cameras with only a single card slot (like the Fuji cameras I sometimes use), there were many comments from photographers that this made them unsuitable for professional use. I’m more inclined to think that way after reading Luong’s article, though I do still wonder how many of those making the complaint actually currently use the second slot in their cameras for back-up.

Luong also quotes some statistics, looking at the star ratings given to several UHS-II cards in Amazon reviews. Although overall ratings are generally high, there were an alarming number of 1-star reviews for some cards from top brands, as high as 17% for the Lexar 2000x, while others were a more reassuring 3%.

Of course people who buy a card that fails are far more likely to contribute a review than those whose cards just keep on working without problems. I don’t think I’ve ever submitted a star rating for any of the cards I’ve used. But these 1-star ratings almost certainly give a good comparative rating of the reliability of the different products.

It also seems likely that the faster the card and the more complex the higher the failure rate is likely to be. My good luck so far may well be because I’ve never bought the fastest cards and I don’t think I have any UHS-II cards.

I’ll keep using that card that gave an error message as I suspect it was itself an error, as it was not repeated when I re-inserted the card into the reader. And I’ll make sure to format the card before next use. It might too be worth carefully cleaning the contacts on the card in case they have picked up some dirt or corrosion.

Lightroom Sucks?

Tuesday, August 21st, 2018

PetaPixel recently published an article by wedding photographer Andy Hudson with the title Lightroom Sucks: An Open Letter to Adobe in which he goes through a number of the problems – mainly fairly minor niggles – that he has with Adobe’s Lightroom software.

I’m not an uncritical user (my wife says of anything…) and there are a lot of things I would like LR to do better, but for me it’s still the best of the bunch and seems to show some improvement with virtually every new upgrade. A recent one which made the ‘Auto’ button in the Develop module work so much better has cut down the work needed considerably, though there are some types of high contrast images it consistently gets very wrong.

There was one fairly disastrous upgrade recently, so buggy that Adobe had to replace it at short notice, but other than that I’ve had no real problems with the upgrades. I’ve tried some of the alternatives over the years and have not found anything yet that suits me better.

One big advantage for me is that for my subscription – about £10 a month – I also get the latest version of Photoshop. It isn’t a program I use a great deal now, but there are some things it can do that I need, and the old version I actually owned wasn’t always up to the job. Photoshop also gets new and improved features, though nothing in recent updates that really makes a lot of difference.

Where I am in full agreement with Hudson is that it would be good for Adobe to spend rather more time on sorting out bugs and issues and concentrate on this rather than new features. It would be good too if they could improve the speed, but I suspect any really useful improvement could only come from a complete change in the way it is written and developed, really going back to square one.

My computer which runs LR is now antique in computer terms, bought in 2011, seven years ago. It beats the minimum specification but with Windows 7, an Intel i5-2500 CPU at 3.30GHz and only 8 Gb of memory it isn’t as fast as I’d like. So sometimes I do find myself waiting a few seconds for the screen to reflect a change I’ve made.

So far, the hassle of re-installing everything on a new machine has put me off upgrading, though at some point I will have to do so. I’d expect LR to be a bit nippier when I do.

One thing that makes LR easier to bear is that I don’t rely on it to do an initial edit of the pictures I’ve taken. It is agonisingly slow at going through perhaps 500 pictures on a memory card, even with a USB 3.0 card reader. Some years ago I tried out FastPictureViewer Professional, which claims to be the fastest image viewer in town and also features:

“full color management for faithful color rendition, instant zooming to 100% and back, to check for sharpness, instant RGB histogram to evaluate the exposure, instant lost shadows / highlights view to see where the blocked-up shadows and burned-out highlights zones are located and their extent, and instant EXIF shooting data at a glance”

As well as selecting the images you want, FPV can also give your pictures a star rating that LR understands – and you can use this to select them, and you can export them either as you go through them or as a batch.

It’s software that solved the worst of my speed problems with LR – but it is Windows only. Possibly there is an equivalent for Mac users, though I doubt if it will quite match FPV, which claims to let you review up to 4,000 pictures an hour – surely enough even for the most profligate wedding photographer. And for the same money you can still get a rather faster machine using Windows than Mac. Macs have their good points, but value for money generally isn’t one.

FPV can actually do  considerably  more than I’ve suggested, including an IPTC editor and lots of other stuff – like using your camera tethered, none of which I’ve really explored, though I expect some features could save me even more time. It has become my default image viewer for almost any kind of image file. Now costing around $50 it has kept my sanity. Probably. So highly recommended – and I don’t get a penny for saying so.

I suspect some of the problems I do have with LR are ones that I could solve if I really read the on-line help and found out how to do things properly. But things have to be seriously impossible before I turn to the help.

The most annoying thing for me happens when going through a number of images to refine my selections (once imported into LR and previews have been made I don’t find this too slow) If I’ve held the arrow key down for too long (often a momentary sleep after a long day and a few glasses)  LR starts going though tens or hundreds of images after I’ve taken my finger off instead of simply moving to the next image as intended.

I’ve found no way to stop this (though it shouldn’t be too hard to change the programme to avoid) but at least it doesn’t usually move the film strip and if I click on the image I wanted to move to it will finally jump back to this. But for a minute or so there is just nothing I can do other than watch and curse.

I’d also like to be able to lock the sort order of the image. Usually I want it to be date ascending and set it to this, but after various selections and exporting etc it generally changes to some order based on these operations. Perhaps someone somewhere thought this was a good idea, but I don’t.

It would be nice also to be able to change the sort order when in the develop module, rather than have to go back to the Library module, but that’s a minor gripe.

I only suffer from a few of the problems that Hudson describes, mainly that there are sometimes a few seconds wait for the display to catch up with what I’m doing. Several I’ve yet to encounter – changing catalogues for example have never given up on me.

I do have a problem with loading images from LR to Photoshop, but the reason is not a LR problem but simply that PS is too slow to load. The simple solution is always to have PS already loaded when you want to export an image from LR.

We’d all like every piece of software to work better, but I do feel that Hudson is going a little over the top. Though perhaps I’ve just been luckier than some, and I do wonder if Mac users may have more problems.

At the bottom of the article is a poll – and I voted ‘I use it and it’s ok’, which turned out at that point to be the majority view.

Thank you for voting!
I use it and it’s perfect 5.95% (155 votes)
I use it and it’s okay 37.12% (967 votes)
I use it and it’s bad 25.87% (674 votes)
I use it and it’s horrible 11.67% (304 votes)
I switched to something else 14.4% (375 votes)
I’ve never used it 4.99% (130 votes)

I think it would be fairer to discount the votes of those who are not current users, which on the results below would leave 2097 votes. Of these, 1122 thought it OK or perfect (53.5%), which is a rather low satisfaction figure, and ought to worry Adobe. Of course those who are happy with LR are probably rather less likely to read to the end of the post and less likely to vote than those who are dissatisfied.