Posts Tagged ‘Kickstarter’

A Rich Seam

Thursday, July 18th, 2019

It has been great to see the recent awakening of interest in British documentary photograph from the last 30 or so years of the previous century. The 1970s began well, but by the end of that decade it was an area that attracted little interest and even less funding. Apart from a few who had established a reputation, most were left to continue their work not because of any community of support or wider interest but because of a burning personal conviction.

It was an era when people were beginning to set up galleries and photography was increasingly bought as art (and investment) but while gallery owners might look through portfolios and admire documentary work, often at length, they would then regretfully say “I’d love to show this, but it wouldn’t sell“. And the non-commercial world, increasingly dominated by the world of education had become obsessed by theory, and it became the idea expressed in words that mattered more than any quality of its expression in visual form. Documentary was old hat, and while it might get a showing if sufficiently historical (particularly if its creators had become a part of the established canon) there was little interest in new work – and its value was increasingly questioned.

One major operation that in recent years that has begun to mine this rich seam of largely unpublished work is the series of Café Royal Books, small low-cost volumes published weekly by Craig Atkinson, dedicated to “Publishing, Preserving and Making Accessible British Documentary Photography“. I’ve written about this before, and have to declare an interest in that a few of the many volumes have been of my own work, with another due shortly.

Others too have played a part, among them Bluecoat Press in Liverpool, who have used crowd-funding to finance the publication of a number of fine volumes, including books by Paul Trevor and Trish Murtha. Their latest crowd-funder, already fully subscribed but open for more pledges (and rewards) until  Wed, July 24 2019 10:28 AM BST, is for Coal Town,Mik Critchlow’s epic documentary about the last years of coal mining in Ashington and England’s North East.”

It would be hard to imagine a photographer more embedded in the community he was photographing than Critchlow, who has for 42 years photographed the town in which he was born and lives.

” His grandfather worked at Woodhorn Colliery for 52 year, his father was a miner for 45 years and his two brothers worked for 25 years before taking redundancy shortly after the 1984 Miners’ Strike “

Of course this wouldn’t matter if the photographs weren’t worth looking at, but they show a fine and intimate view of Ashington and its people by a photographer who is clearly aware of the history and possibilities of the medium and capable of using it in a personal fashion. I’m moved by them, and possibly strongly enough to overcome the domestic fatwah on buying any more books. And I know I’ll regret it if I don’t make a pledge.

The north-east, thanks largely to Side Gallery and the Amber-Side Collection was one area of the country where documentary remained in high regard during the fallow years for the rest of the country.

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.


There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.

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.

To order prints or reproduce images


Tripod rethink

Thursday, May 23rd, 2019

I am not a tripod user. Of course like many photographers I own a small collection of these objects, but they stay tucked away in boxes or cupboards or gathering dust in a corner. They range from a hefty large Manfrotto job which used to be able to hold a 4×5 camera down to a tiny twisty table-top thingy that came free with a roll of film. Somewhere in the loft there may be still an even more massive beast from Linhof. It’s several years since any of them have left the house.

Of course tripods are sometimes essential. I used one when photographing ‘The Secret Gardens of St John’s Wood‘ in 2011, where I needed to take multiple pictures from the same camera position to build up panoramic images, though more to mark the spot than support the Nikon I was using which I often didn’t actually bother to attach, as I didn’t have a proper (and expensive) panoramic head.

I’ve also occasionally resorted to a monopod, though not to hold the camera steady but to hold it in places I could not otherwise put a camera – around 5 foot above my head for the picture of the druids on Primrose Hill. This picture was taken with a Nikon, and peering at the screen on the back of the camera at a very distant arms length iinvolved considerable luck to get the camera level. Using a mirroless camera would be an advantage as it is rather easier to operate them remotely from a phone app.

Tripods have changed a little over the years, with various attempts to make them smaller or lighter. I’ve used ones made of wood, aluminium and steel and cursed them all. Even plastic, though I’ve never paid the extra for carbon fibre. But there is a general rule, that if a tripod is light enough to carry it’s too flimsy to be of much use. Of course if you can afford an assistant, things are different, and he or she can add the tripod to the umbrella, step ladder and lighting gear. But that isn’t my sort of photography.

Peak Design have embarked on a new project to redesign the tripod and are now seeking funding on Kickstarter to produce their Travel Tripod, which they claim is “A full-featured tripod in a truly portable form.” And it does look to be a decent tripod. They claim too that it can be fully erected ready for use in 9 seconds. The project has already been funded to around 6 times it’s goal with a couple of months still to go, so clearly plenty of relatively wealthy photographers beleive their claims and want to save the $61 off the aluminium version or $121 from the carbon version for a tripod which should arrive around Christmas. The carbon version has so far attracted almost 3 times as many pledges – at US$ 479 (or more). Spiked feet are extra and you’ll need more than the one standard plate to fit on the bottom of your camera provided if you want to be able to use more than one camera, though Peak say it can be adapted to take similar third-party plates.

It does look a nice tripod, but that’s around £377 (or a little more as the exchange rate falls), which to me seems rather a lot and even the cheapskate aluminium at US$289 (£227) seems prohibitive. But if you are a genuine tripodophile it’s worth a look, if just to drool. The Kickstarter offer ends Fri, July 19 2019 1:00 AM BST.

Mostly the improvements seem small; a different leg profile that makes them fit neatly when folded so it takes up less space; cam levers to lock the legs (rather similiar to some on at least one of the tripods I’ve owned.) The big improvement to me seems to be in the ball head. For some the phone adapter that hides away in the centre column until needed will be useful. But you still end up with a package that is 15.5 inches long and weighs 1.56 or 1.27 kg to cart around.


There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.

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.

To order prints or reproduce images