Archive for November, 2012

Zombie Time

Friday, November 9th, 2012

© 2012, Peter Marshall

As usual zombies were thick on the ground in London in October, although the group who were putting in an early pre-Halloween appearance for charity on October 13 were  a very much more organised group than most, on a charity pub crawl raising funds for St Mungo’s, a charity that really does help the homeless to help themselves. Despite the name it isn’t a religious organisation, but took its name from the patron saint of Glasgow, the home town of its founder, although it began with a house open for rough sleepers in Battersea, and it seems a very good cause which people can get involved with in different ways – giving money, fund-raising event such as this and volunteering to help in some of the over a hundred projects it runs.

So perhaps this event attracted a better class of zombie, as the undead aren’t generally  noted for their charity, which perhaps just doesn’t usually go with eating flesh and brains, although most zombies I’ve actually photographed in past years have seemed to have a greater interest in drinking alcohol. And I was photographing them at the start of a day-long pub crawl around London, a fun event with a serious purpose.

There may well be a special connection between zombies and Glasgow, certainly my first experience arriving in the city centre there around closing time in the early 1960s was interesting, as was a week staying on Sauchiehall Street in the  European City of Culture in 1990. Seriously it is a city I liked and we went back to stay there for a few days in 2008

© 2008, Peter Marshall
Were these zombies on a Glasgow street in 2008?

But probably the start of their day, around lunchtime, wasn’t the best time to photograph them, and things would have got a little livelier (perhaps not the right word with zombies in mind) after a couple of pub visits. Zombies are after all really creatures of the night, and despite the horror costumes (or because of them) some were still just a little shy.

The bright low winter sun gave me a few problems, and at one point I found myself needing fill flash but having the SB700 on the wrong  camera, and no time to swtich it over in the fast-changing situation I made the wrong decision to keep on working without flash, forgetting completely the built-in flash on the Nikon D700, which would have helped at the flick of a finger. Stupid. I’ve just got out of the habit of using it, as the accessory flash units usually do a better job.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

Of course it was possible to more or less rescue the images in post-processing thanks to Lightroom, but certainly some of the better pictures I took would have been improved with some fill flash. By the time I’d paused long enough to change the flash around the situation had disappeared.

The other reason it was probably a bad time was quite simply the huge number of other people around taking pictures. Perhaps later in the day they would have thinned out a little. This was an event that seemed to attract a real crowd of photographers, perhaps the kind of event that gets listed in amateur magazines as a photo-opportunity.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

I had other things to photograph, and so wasn’t able to spend more time with them. I knew too that I would be photographing zombies again in a couple of weeks time.

More pictures on My London Diary: Zombies Invade London.



Thursday, November 8th, 2012

© 2011, Peter Marshall
Occupy protesters shout at police who stop them getting to the Stock Exchange – Oct 2011.

I wanted to photograph the first anniversary of the unsuccessful attempt by Occupy London to go to the Stock Exchange which led to their camping outside St Paul’s Cathedral both because of an interest in the Occupy movement (see Occupy London Kept Out Of Stock Exchange), but also because I had been there last year, as well as seven and a half months later when they finally achieved – if only for a couple of hours – their objective.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Occupy tent in the Stock Exchange doorway – 1 May 2012 (Stock Exchange Occupied)

I wrote more about the anniversary event almost a month ago in
Occupy London, and you can now see more pictures from the day on My London Diary in Occupy Global Noise Street Party.

One of the pictures I took early on that day, taken with the 20mm, was of a small boy kneeling in front of the very tall Cathedral door.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

Processing the image  in Lightroom, it is possible to correct (or nearly correct) the convergence of the verticals, which gives this © 2012, Peter Marshall

second version of the image. I actually prefer the original, which to me gives a greater sense of the looking up that you have to do when you are standing there under the portico, although the lower version gives me a greater impression of the huge scale of the door compared to the child. The ‘corrections’ also means that most of the tiles on the floor have to be cropped, which I think is also a great loss, giving a picture of a flat vertical surface rather than the three-dimensional quality of the original. And simply graphically the expanse of tiles is more interesting, whereas the narrow strip left of the lower image simply distracts. Somehow too, the lines and diagonals seem to direct my eye towards the child, an effect that is lost when they are reduced to the narrow band.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with correcting verticals, and it is something we all learnt to do in the darkroom days, though digital makes it considerably easier and more powerful. [You can also use horizontal correction and make the doorway rectangular, but this simply would look unnatural as you see the inside of the door frame at left, but not at right, so the image is clearly taken from that side.] We are seldom aware of the vertical convergence when we view a seen, and in some respects correcting it better fits out visual experience – as too does the kind of correct I often make from fisheye to cylindrical perspective.  Sometimes it works, and other times, as I think in this case, the image is better left more or less untouched.


Controversial Landscapes

Monday, November 5th, 2012

Many years ago now, I went to an exhibition of landscape photographs on the South Bank, perhaps in the National Theatre and was saddened at what I saw there. This was a show by a photographer who was then being widely published and referred to in the press as Britain’s leading landscape photographer and these were colour images and almost every one seemed to be more about using what were then the fairly recently introduced graduated colour filters from Cokin and other manufacturers than about the landscapes that were depicted.

Things of course have changed since then, with the advent of Photoshop, effects filters, cloning, HDR and all the rest of the techniques now available to mess up photographs. Of course I’m not averse to a little correction of images, cleaning off the dust, adjusting the contrast, dodging and burning etc, but I think there are fairly clear limits between things intended to enhance the vision and those which are aimed at creating fantasy.

Back in the early days of photography there was a good practical reasons why landscape (and seascape) photographers had to use separate sky negatives. Emulsions were only sensitive to the blue end of the spectrum and with exposures made for the land the sky was almost always an opaque black on the negative. Given the difficulties of photography at the time it was understandable and excusable that photographers might rely on a few good sky negatives they had made to supply what the process failed to deliver. Something, almost anything, was better than nothing.  But once we moved to panchromatic film – sometimes helped a little by yellow-green, orange or – often far too much by red – filters I think there was little justification for the practice.

Probably most of those who take part in contests such as the ‘Landscape Photographer of the Year‘ will think of me as an incredible purist, and sneer at me as a ‘record photographer’, but for me the idea of the record is at the heart of photography. It isn’t of course a case of mechanical or objective process of reproduction, but a highly subjective interpretation of reality, if one whose subtleties would appear to be lost on those sneerers.

When I saw that show years ago, my favourite living British landscape photographer was probably Fay Godwin, who I’ve written about on various occasions. I knew her slightly, having first met her when we both went to study briefly with Ray Moore – another great British landscape photographer – in the 1970s and we shared similar views on photography, which I was reminded about a couple of days back by a Facebook post which linked to her work shown on the British Library site.

Fay and I stood in some of the same places, both metaphorically and literally for our photographs, at times with rather similar results taken some years apart, although she travelled our country far more widely than me. Her pictures, dramatic as some of them are, are always records of a particular time and place and her response to this. If you stood in the same spot, while the weather and the light might be different and trees and crops might have changed and you might experience the place differently you would have no doubt you were in the same place and that it was a real place. Not so with many of the landscape photographs of the year.

© 1985, Peter Marshall
Fay and I separately walked alongside the Thames Estuary – Gravesend, © 1985, Peter Marshall

So the controversy over the excessive manipulation of what had been the winning photograph in that contest left me a little amused but not concerned when I read about it in a PetaPixel blog post (from which some other links here come.) Apparently there are different classes to the contest, and the kind of tidying up that had been done wouold have been perfectly acceptable in some of them but not in this. Perhaps even more amusing (or depressing) is that the picture has a  virtually identical viewpoint and composition to that of another photographer – and that it was made with that image in mind. Also impressive in some ways is the kind of detailed detective work that has been applied to this and some other images in the contest, with people using Street View and going to the actual locations where some images were taken to prove their various points.

I’m always suspicious of photography competitions and of rules and of people who promote and enter them. Back in the old days of camera clubs (and yes I know they still exist) the rewards were points, a little respect in their very limited circle and possibly a cup to keep on your sideboard for a year. Now the ‘Landscape Photographer of the Year’ gets ten grand (around $16,000.)

© 1985, Peter Marshall
Cliffe, © 1985, Peter Marshall – another from the path we both trod.

I should end with a confession. I once owned a graduated tobacco filter, though I don’t recall ever using it to make a photograph, though I did try a few with a similar graduated neutral density before I saw the error of my ways. I may still have both at the bottom of a box of photographic oddments in my loft. Both were the result of getting a prize in a competition in a magazine in the 1970s – and I think it was the second prize which turned out to be £50 which had to be spent on filters. In my defence it was tricky then to find things that I really wanted to make up that vast amount.

A New Lens

Monday, November 5th, 2012

Well, actually a second-hand lens, always the best way to go if you can find what you want from a reliable source at the right price. A friend happened to mention he was about to put his Nikon ED AF Nikkor 70-300mm f4-5.6 D lens on eBay, and I told him I’d be interested.

I’m not a great fan of telephoto lenses. I’ve always thought of photography as a very tactile medium and of taking things from further away than you can touch as some kind of occasionally necessary aberration. Even with landscapes, I’ve always been happier with those that at least start more or less where I’m standing, and if possible I’ve always included foreground, particularly with the panoramas. But of course there are times when you have to work from a distance, and things that only a lens with a very narrow field of view can do.

The 18-105mm DX Nikkor I usually have sitting on my D800E body actually does most of what I need, but just occasionally I want something longer. When I started working with a DSLR I had a cheap Sigma telephoto zoom, something like a 50-210mm, though I don’t remember the details. I think it cost me under a hundred pounds new and was only a DX f5.6 lens, but it gave reasonably sharp results. But it’s real value for me was it’s small size and low weight, I think around 300g.

© 2005, Peter Marshall
Red Army Choir members talk to a fan who had brought a 1956 record to sign

It’s also the only lens I’ve had stolen from my camera bag while I was working, otherwise I’d probably still be using it. I use a shoulder bag with an easy access zip across the top so I can just put my hand in and grab a lens or a flash, and while I’m working seldom bother to zip it up. One day in Trafalgar Square I was in a crowd photographing the Red Army Choir, using a wide-angle lens and towards the end of the day reached into the top of my bag for that Sigma and it wasn’t there. Of course I try to be more careful after this, but I did lose a SB800 flash the same way a few years later during a packed underground journey.

I tried to buy another lens exactly the same, but it had been discontinued. While its mediocre specification had attracted me it obviously hadn’t sold it to many others, and the replacements were larger, heavier and more expensive and didn’t appeal. After a while Nikon brought out its first Nikkor 18-200mm DX, which was twice the size and weight (and about 5 times the price) and I bought that; more versatile but not as sharp, it served me well until I dropped the D200 with it attached on the road photographing the front of an EDL march a few years later. The D200 survived but the lens was only fit to bin.

I tried and bought a few possible replacements, complicated by the change to FX format cameras with the D700 (and now the D800E) including a disappointing Sigma, but ended up with just using the cheap Nikkor 18-105mm. It isn’t a pro lens, and it shows in the build quality (I’m now on my third, though again I managed to drop one) and the price, but with Lightroom’s profile doing a little correction – as with all my lenses – it works pretty well. But just sometimes not quite long enough.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Nikkor 70-300 on D700

The Nikkor 70-300 is also not a pro lens, so it is reasonably small and light, a little over 500g and it fits neatly into my camera bag. It covers full frame, but I intend to also use it on the DX format, where it becomes a 105-450mm equivalent. At the near end it has excellent sharpness, but does seem a little soft towards the longer extreme.
© 2012, Peter Marshall
Nikkor 70-300 on D800 in DX mode

On my first day out with it I used it rather more than I will normally to try it out, taking 131 frames, almost half as many as I took with each of the 20mm and 18-105mm. The second event I covered, an anti-nuclear protestoutside the Japanese Embassy in Piccadilly and later outside the London offices of the Tokyo Electric Power Co who run the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant, gave me plenty of time to play with the new lens, both on the D700 as an FX lens and on the D800 working in DX mode.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Nikkor 70-300 on D700

Later, outside the offices of G4S on the second anniversary of the killing by G4S employees of Jimmy Mubenga when they used illegal restraint techniques on the plane when he was being forcibly deported from Heathrow, I took a few more. This  EXIF data shows the focal length in use for this frame, taken full frame on the D700 to be 155mm.

More about the events – and more pictures:

Solidarity with Japanese Nuclear Activists
G4S Killed Jimmy Mubenga


More With the 20mm

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

© 2012, Peter Marshall

The next day was a busy one where I was able to put the 20mm to rather more use. It was also a day with some very contrasty lighting with low sun and a fairly clear sky, which gave me some problems, both with the 20mm and the 18-105mm. I started at Shepherd Bush, working in the small crowd waiting for the start of a protest against the downgrading of services at hospitals in West London. I was using the 20mm to work in close to groups of people and didn’t want to use flash to fill in the shadow areas. The smaller size of the 20mm compared to the large 16-35mm seemed to work better in this situation.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

From there I went to Whitehall, where a fairly new group, Britain First were protesting against the grooming and abuse of young girls by Muslim gangs and the failure of police and the authorities to take some of the complaints made by these girls seriously. The 20mm worked pretty well here too, and it was only when they marched to Parliament Square and started to burn an Islamic flag that I found I had a problem. (The protesters also had a problem in that they had chosen a flag made from a material that didn’t burn at all well – eventually after it had smouldered a little they gave up an waved a shoe at it instead.)  It isn’t obvious from the pictures, but I was hemmed in at left and right by other photographers as I took these pictures, and was unable to move further back (or closer) to the subject. For some of the pictures I really wanted a slightly wider view, and this would not have been a problem with the 16-35mm zoom. Again, although I had the 18-105mm DX, its 27mm equivalent widest view didn’t cover the range down to the 20mm. At times like this, when you are more or less stuck in one place, the zoom really comes into its own.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

A couple of hundred yards down the road from the small group of Britain First was a large assembly of Muslims protesting about the internet video which has led to violent reactions around the Muslim world. Here there was certainly plenty of anger, but it was a peaceful event. Most of the time I needed a longer lens, but the more interesting pictures perhaps came when I went into the fairly densely packed crowd to photograph, mainly with the 20mm. Although I was fairly happy with what I managed, I did miss the slightly wider view of the 16-35mm, and again with the very restricted movement imposed by the crowd around me, the ability to zoom would certainly have helped.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

My final set of pictures came from a rally and march in Kilburn over the failure of Brent Council to deal fairly with a large family and their housing needs. Here there was plenty of room to work, and I really began to appreciate the advantages of a fixed 20mm lens. When you’ve had a couple of cameras around your neck most of the day, its light weight is also a great advantage, but there is a kind of discipline it imposes on you. One of the vital things about photography is that you need to be standing in the right place to make good pictures, and there is more definitively a right place with a fixed angle of view than with a zoom.

You can see and read more about these four events as always on My London Diary:

Rehouse the Counihans
Muslims against Anti-Muslim Film
Britain First – Muslim Grooming
Save Our Hospitals – Shepherds Bush


Reminder Radical London

Saturday, November 3rd, 2012

Just a reminder about tomorrow afternoon’s free event at Rich Mix in London (details here), with the screening of Radical London Portfolios from around 20 photographers and groups. As well as my own portfolio I also have work in the 2012 pics project presentation.

© 2004, Peter Marshall
London Underwater 2050 Tour of the G8 Climate Criminals’, European Social Forum, Oct 2004

Rich Mix is on the Bethnal Green Road, close to the top end of Brick Lane, which houses one of London’s more interesting markets, where many of us have photographed in the past and quite a few are still doing so. Also a short walk away is Columbia Market, where people come from across London to buy plants, and walk away sometimes carrying rather large trees.

© 2007, Peter Marshall
Sewing for the final harvest at Manor Gardens Allotments, Apr 2007

Before the screening from 12-3pm there is a screening of short films by various photographers, but if the weather isn’t too bad I’ll probably take a camera to the markets and then relax a little in one of the local pubs before making my way to Rich Mix for the Radical London screening which starts at 4pm.


Instagram Mad

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

I’ve seen a few Instagram images that have a certain appeal, and rather too many that are at best so-whattery as well as the great majority that can only be classified as visual garbage. I suppose they are not so much worse than the many hopeless photographs that clutter my Facebook feed, even though I’ve managed to turn off photographs from some of the worst offenders, but often they are more annoying.

Kenneth Jarecke is one of many fine American photojournalists, someone who worked for Time for 9 years, producing one of the best-known images of the first Gulf War which gained him a Leica Medal of Excellence in 1992. After Time he spent 10 years working for  US News & World Report, and his work has been represented by Contact Press Images since 1986, and you can see more about him on their site.

Jarecke is also a blogger, and his Mostly True gives “an inside look at the world of photography and photojournalism” from someone well placed to write it. On October 30, the reliance of so much media coverage of ‘Sandy’ on free content, in particular from Instagram, a rights-grabbing company owned by Facebook, prompted him to write Instagram, the Devil, and You, and the reaction that caused led to a follow-up post, Great Job, You’re Fired!  Both posts, along with the comments are worth reading for what they say both about the present state of our media and the future for photojournalism.

If you are one of those photographers who like to use Instagram, you should certainly be aware that by sharing your content publicly using it, you are giving them all rights to that image.  As Jarecke points out, were it to be used as the cover image of Time Magazine (and Time has already used a microstock image) they and not you would benefit.

Sewell on Photography

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

When the photographer pretends that he is an artist, he is a trespasser.”

Brian Sewell is one of the few reasons for ever reading the London Evening Standard, which I often get to flick through on the train coming back from London.  Sewell is a critic whose views are always interesting to read, even when one disagrees violently with him – as I often do. But his review Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present, National Gallery, WC2 I think often hits the nail straight and firm on the subject of photography and its relations with the art establishment.

Sewell recognises the true power of photography as a recording medium as well as the triviality of using it to ape the output of painters with none of the richness of the surface. Photography went down this blind alley in the nineteenth century with the work, splendid though in some ways it was of HP Robinson and a few others, went down it again with the gums and splodges at the end of the century and the beginning of the twentieth century.

Of course some of the results of this seduction are of interest, and I would be rather less dismissive overall than Sewell of the actual work on show. Given the talent of some of the photographers involved in the National Gallery show, there are works of interest as photographs, and there is nothing inherently wrong in photographers taking some inspiration from the old masters which Sewell regards as rape and sees photographers as trespassing on art.

There are works here which I think transcend the somewhat ridiculous concept of the show. A good photograph is still a good photograph for all that.

He is right to condemn the approach that merely seeks to imitate – just as he condemns at the gallery next door “ghastly portraits based on photographs (that) are jubilantly exhibited as art.” The National Portrait Gallery should also be condemned for collecting and exhibiting rather a lot of ghastly photographs, most ghastly because they are based on ideas from painting. But the best of the photographers here are using the earlier works as references but very much developing them in their own way, much as other artists have always done over the years.

Perhaps the real problem lies with the idea of ‘fine art photography’ which would beeter have been kept reserved for the tricky task of making images for the reproduction of art works.  Sewell might label ‘fine art photography’ an oxymoron, and I’m certainly more interested in ‘fine photography photography’.

For me, the photography that is interesting isn’t worried about being art or not, and little of it stands much chance of being exhibited in the National Gallery.  There is I  think a great deal more to photography than Sewell is prepared to acknowledge, and if we had a leading gallery in London devoted to photography in the same way that, for example, the Maison européenne de la Photographie is in Paris he might have by now been educated into a slightly different view. But while our major photography gallery dedicates itself to chasing after art and presenting the medium in such an apologetic manner his views are hardly surprising.

Sewell’s review does indeed contain some interesting comments on photographers whose work he admires, including Lewis Morley – of whom he comments (all but forgotten?) – but that much despised NPG does have around 300 portraits by him.

I find it hard to disagree with Sewell’s overall view of the show, though I think I would find some work of interest despite dismissing the overall concept, and certainly lack the wit and incisiveness of his review, as well as the elitist disdain that he either believes or effects. There are times when I’m sure he takes a wicked delight in self-parody and he does it so well. Don’t miss it.

Zoom to Fixed

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

 © 2012, Peter Marshall

One of my favourite lenses, though not one that I’ve used a great deal for a while is the 20mm f2.8 AF Nikkor, which is a relatively small and light lens. Even with its lens hood it doesn’t make a huge impact on the front of the camera. I had it for a couple of years before I bothered with the hood, as I’d bought it on e-Bay without one, but more recently I’d got round to getting a cheap version of the HB-4 for hardly more than the cost of postage from Hong Kong. The main purpose of lens hoods for lenses this wide is of course to stop your fingers walking onto the lens and leaving their greasy prints to leave their marks on your images, invisible until you see the image large on your computer screen.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

I thought the 16-35mm had recovered from its soaking a couple of days before, but the next time I tried it out the electronics had completely gone – now autofocus would never work and there was no tiny buzz from the VR whether it was switched on or off. The time had definitely come to take it in for service.

It was a few days later that I got the bad news from the repair company. It had, the report said, been subject to impact and water damage and was in need of a new body. I was disappointed – surely one point of pro lenses is that they should take a bit of hard wear and not go legs up; what this lens had been subjected to was what I’d think of as normal professional use. If I can get away without having to have a new body after it (though there are a few bits I could do with a replacement for) surely a lens should.  The repair cost was almost half that of a replacement, which was a blow, and it would take around a week to get the parts and get the job done.

So for the next week or so – it turned out to be a little longer before I could go and collect it – I was without the 16-35mm. I had a choice of lenses available. I still have the old Sigma 12-24mm which covers the full 35mm frame, but is better used on DX, where it becomes an almost direct replacement in terms of focal length – an 18-36mm. I’ve also got a Sigma DX 10-20mm – which is a little smaller and lighter and gives me a 15-30mm equiv.

It was the weather that put me off the 12-24mm, which has a bulbous front element and can’t have a front filter fitted. I’ve been worried about this since I had to have another expensive repair to replace a scratched front element. All the wiping that you need to do in the rain isn’t healthy for optical glass, and while I don’t mind replacing a £2.50 best Chinese UV filter I baulk at the £250 or so for a new front element – as well as the 6 weeks it took Sigma to get one from Japan to London. The 10-20mm was more of a possibility, but although it was fine on a D200 body, I’m not sure about it on the D800E which is more demanding because the sensor is more crowded. Using it on the D700 was perhaps better, but the files are rather small, under 6Mp. So in the end I decided to try working with the 20mm f2.8 as my only wide-angle.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

The 20mm on the D700 was teamed with my usual 18-105mm DX lens on the D800, which may seem a strange way to use the D800E, but one that I really do like. At the wider end it’s a fairly mild 27mm equivalent and at the long end a useful but not extreme telephoto, but the real advantage is in the viewfinder where you can see outside the image area. I’ve moved from using it  with just a frame line for the smaller format to having the non-image area greyed over but still visible. It is incredibly useful to be able to see outside the frame – like with a rangefinder camera, though I’d perhaps like an option to make the grey area just a little less dull compared to normal.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

The only problem I found was that the 20mm wasn’t quite wide enough for a few things I wanted or needed to do, particularly when working as I sometimes have to with a pack of photographers. You do need 16mm at times – and there are even times when that isn’t wide enough, which is why I usually pack the 10.5mm DX semi-fisheye. If that isn’t wide enough you are trying to do the impossible. And that does work pretty well on the D800E, so well I’ve hardly though about replacing it by the 16mm FX equivalent.

During the couple of weeks I used it as my main wideangle I really got to like working with a fixed rather than a zoom lens again, and the smaller bulk and weight certainly felt better around my neck. But it is just a little less versatile.

Though I’ve also been using it at times when I’m not really working but just want to go out without a camera bag, just one camera around my neck. The 20mm on the D800 is a bit like a Tri-Elmar on a Leica (not that I’ve ever afforded one) but by switching from FX to 1.2x to DX you have a 20mm, a 24mm and a 30mm all from the one lens.

All the pictures on this post were taken with the 20mm f2.8 in FX format on the D700 and come from two stories, Shut Down Guantánamo, Halt Extraditions and Justice For Yarl’s Wood Women which you can see on My London Diary.