Monthly Archives: October 2011


Wanna know what I have been up to in terms of sanity projects? Don’t answer (ah well, you never do, anyway, you great big mass of anonymous lurkers people out there… ;-)) I’ll tell you anyway. While I am completely immersed in LF photography at the moment – both my current college project is being shot on LF and my final project (due next summer) will be done in LF as well – I am trying to keep Marky Mark occupied too. And so it was great pleasure that I went on a little night-time shoot with my esteemed friend J___ the other night.
J___ was keen on some action photography but gladly went along with my suggestion. You see, I have been having this idea in my head since the beginning of the summer. I want to take pictures of the night sky, capturing the trails of the planes on camera. This has been inspired both by some of my friends’ experiments with star trail photography, and my friend A___ shooting car trails for college last semester. When I came up with my *wonderful* idea, I had not taken into account a number of things: In order to catch plane trails you need a) clear skies and b) darkness. Sounds kind of logical, doesn’t it? Well, unfortunately I am living in Ireland, where clear skies are a thing of rarity. I’ll only say clouds, rain and more clouds. And b): trying to catch planes against the dark sky in May is hardly possible as it doesn’t get dark until half past 11. And that is when the local airport shuts down. Fail-fail, you could say.
Well, it is six months later and the sky is dark by 7 pm. The skies are not much clearer, but if you are reasonably spontaneous, getting a clear night is eventually viable. And so it was that J___ and I set off an evening last week to the airport. We arrived in total darkness at one of the plane-spotting car parks at the circumference of the airport. Much to my surprise there were loooooads of cars there. So many, that we couldn’t even park our cars next to each other, actually. Well, apparently there is more going on in those locations than simply plane spotting, or so I have been told, but that is a matter for a different blog…
Suffice to say that there were some rather fast take-offs once J___ and I started assembling our tripods and putting large cameras on them. And I am not talking about planes taking off, here. In any case, we spent about an hour photographing the incoming and outgoing planes. My usual nonchalance as regards preparation caught up with me. Neither had I brought the remote release, nor had I familiarised myself with the B setting on the camera. Bummer.
And so I simply shot at the slowest shutter speed I could get (30 secs) at the smallest aperture (f22) to get as much general focus into the shots as I could without being able to focus properly. Some of the shots came out *interesting*. None came out great – for a number of reasons: We were photographing from the other side of the road so we kept getting traffic going both ways through our frame. The lightspill from the airport was considerable. And since I couldn’t remote release, there was always a bit of camera shake when pressing the shutter release and there is some blur in the images. But sure, here is one, just to illustrate:
Right, so what you see here is the *lovely* airport fence obscured by passing traffic: red from the left and white from the right (kind of politically correct, somehow…). The lines at the top are the aircraft flying in. The landing lights are switched on, hence the thick white line. Above that are the starboard and port winglights (red and green), punctuated by flashing white lights (hence the dots) and another thin white line from the taillights. Interesting how wobbly that line is…
Now, this could be done better and give clearer, less fuzzy and sharper results, if I brought a proper tripod and my remote release. But even with that in place, this shoot just didn’t yield the results I had hoped for. The location is simply not right. The lightspill from the airport is just too much. The traffic is adding distraction to that. Plus, I do not really want to catch four plane trails in one, I just want one clean line against the sky. For that I need to find a location further away from the airport. But not too far away because I need the planes to fly a big circle or so – a straight line is just boring. A slightly raised vantage point would be ideal, with a clear view of the flightpath. 
Well, if you can think of a place somewhere, please let me know. I might try it again, there.


Furthermore to my post from Saturday – I have calmed down a bit and am feeling a little bit more positive about my negatives. Hehe. No, seriously – the initial reaction was a bit disappointed. The negatives turned out scratched, blotchy in places, some foggy. But maybe that was all premature. After all, you will only see your image properly when you have printed it.
That was my intention at the weekend. I was so looking forward to stepping into my own darkroom in my basement and make a few contact prints. Well, I was pushing it, thinking that the chemicals that I had last used pretty much exactly two years ago were still fine. No can do! The developer, when I poured it into a measuring jug, were a lovely coffee-colour. As far away from the clear liquid that you bathe your exposed paper in as it could be. No printing for me, then.
But hold on – this is the digital age, and a preliminary view can be gained from scanning and inverting the negs. So that’s what I did. And it appears as if at least the photography is largely fine. And just for the fun of it I have made a little gif of it *winkwink*.
gif make

If you look closely you can see some kind of fogging or blotching at the top left corner. To determine, where that comes from, is now the next step. Any ideas? Let me know.

Back to Square One

Or maybe back to semester one? It very much felt like that today when I was in the darkroom in college with A___. The LF experiments are moving nicely. In the past two weeks we have shot 16 sheets. As the processing costs for sheet film is just astronomically high, we had to get into the darkroom and do it ourselves. Thankfully there is a colour darkroom in college – which up until now was completely unbeknownst to me – that has a Paterson Orbital Developing Tank.  A brilliant device that makes the whole developing slightly less scary. Or so we thought…
But not having been developing myself for about two years meant starting from scratch. Sure, the general process is unforgettable easypeasy. Develop – Stop – Fix – Wash. And yet the whole manual process is predictably unpredictable. There are always issues – whether it is the temperature of the solution (not helped by the fact that there was no running hot water in the darkroom), the to-the-second timing of the various baths. Or even pre-processing variables that have an influence on the outcome.
Processing is not quite as magic as printing – you do not see the image slowly appearing before your eyes because it happens either in total darkness or inside a light-tight tank. And yet the satisfaction of making all of the image yourself is so big, I gladly take all the risky business of ruined negatives into account.
Here’s the negatives in the wash. The blueish tint I had never come across before – that is the developer being washed off even after the negs had been fixed in the tank. You never stop learning – and mistakes are probably better lessons than everything going swimmingly.
I have to keep telling myself that this is essentially back to the beginning. Do not get ahead of yourself, Sonja, and don’t expect so much! Sure, manual processing can deliver perfect results. But for that you need to be processing every day and have the experience that comes with that. 50 more sheets and I’ll be pro…

Shoot Now, Focus Later

The world of photography is about to be revolutionised! Or maybe not? In case you haven’t heard: The Lytro camera has just been launched yesterday. The Lytro is a consumer camera which claims to take “living pictures”. Essentially, what it does is *catch all*: The camera takes a picture of the whole scene, no manual setting involved in all. It is the “point and shoot”-concept at its most basic. Focussing of the image will happen later in fully automatic post-production. Apparently. And therefore images like this would be a thing of the past:
A shallow dof shot where the focus was misplaced on the wrong part of the sculpture.
So how does this “revolutionary” camera do it? First of all, it doesn’t confuse its users with a plethora of buttons. There are only three manual “settings” to use: on/off, the shutter release and a slider that controls the zoom. And there is an interactive touchscreen.
The interesting thing is the insides of the Lytro: The camera comes with a constant f2 lens. So no matter where you are and what you are shooting, the aperture will be at f2 and the shutter speed will automatically and accordingly be set by the camera. That gives a nice shallow dof – which under normal circumstances means that whatever you have focussed on will be nice and sharp, everything else will be blurred out. That is a particular aesthetic which a lot of people like, myself included, but can lead to desaster, as exemplified in my shot above: If you happen to focus on the wrong part of the image – maybe because of only a slip of the wrist while half-pressing the shutter release to get the little focus “beep” – you can throw the image into the bin.

The revolutionary thing about the Lytro technology is that the camera not only record *one* particular focus, but *all* possible focuses (plural? foci? focuuuuuuuuuuuuuuus??? – It’s a contradiction in terms, isn’t it?) through an array of mini-lenses which can record the various directions from which the light is hitting the sensor. And thus then the focus can be adjusted afterwards, as all this information has been stored on the camera.

In practice that means that had I taken the above image with the Lytro, I need only click on the sculpture’s face and the software would change the focus onto the face and blur everything else out. Pretty cool, I must admit. And Lytro is taking this even another step forward: The camera is marketed as an interactive device in the sense that the images can then be uploaded into social networks or albums and other users can make their own changes to the focus of the image.
So is this going to revolutionise photography forever? Will we be pointing colourful little tubes at models and still lives and landscapes from now on? I seriously doubt it. In my opinion, this is all quite clearly a novelty, sensational and interesting, but also strictly directed at the amateur market. No serious photography buff would be interested in giving up manual control of the camera. I mean – what is the point of photography if you don’t use the various parameters to manipulate the image aesthetically?
The interactivity of the concept is laudable on the one hand: I am waiting for camera manufacturers to finally WiFi-enable cameras for quick and seamless picture uploading straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. (And incidentally Canon has incorporated that in their recently launched 1D X, as far as I know.) The Lytro lets you upload straight from taking – hence no memory cards needed. A great thing, if you want to get your pictures into the social network of your choice with no delay. The interactive concept also includes the unlocked manipulation of the image. I.e. an image that is accessed by third parties on Facebook can then be refocussed to their tastes. Great if you have been caught in flagrante delicto and want to pull the focus away from you… That, on the other hand, is a serious offense in photographers’ eyes: A picture once finalised by a photographer is a finished product that cannot be re-manipulated by others. It certainly shouldn’t be – because it leaves questions about the authorship of the re-focussed image.
My conclusion: If this camera could incorporate manual settings, it would be an interesting tool for photographers to use – because even the best of us occasionally slip up with focus. But there would also have to be a way of “locking” the final image in order to control the manipulation of it. Sure, if someone made my image better by refocusing it, I would have no problem with the openness of this concept, but what if people change it for the worse, with my name still on it???
Anyway, what do you think? Is this going to catch on? Who is going to buy this and what for? Or is it a gadget and a fad and another step into a dumbed-down future? I’d be interested to know!


Large Format photography is my new love. But boy, is it slow!!! Yesterday I was out with my friend A___ experimenting with the Cambo. Four hours later we had ten shots in the bag. TEN! Serious slowing down for anyone who is used to shooting the same amount of images digitally in about four seconds!!! And yet I am not put off, because LF shooting is just something else. It makes you feel like you are photographing, not merely pushing the roundy little spot on the top right of your camera body. 
Shooting LF at Poolbeg Power Station
Ok, some of it may be because of the novelty of releasing the shutter via this old-fashioned and yet professional looking release cable. Every time we released the shutter, we kind of stopped for a moment, almost celebrating the process. “Ready?” “Yes.” “Shutter cocked?” Yep.” “Let’s go for it.” *ssssssssssst* And you really need to, because LF photography is a lengthy and costly process.
Let’s compare SLR and LFP just for the sake of it. LF photography involves shooting with what is called a view camera. Where the light that falls through the lens meets the back, a translucent glass screen makes the caught image viewable for the photographer. But since light travels in straight lines, the image on the screen will be upside down and left to right. The SLR sets this right through the use of a finicky system of mirrors inside the body (hence the “reflex” in the name!) that bounces the light around so the photographer sees exactly what he is shooting through the viewfinder.
The beauty of the SLR of course is, that you can focus and frame while the film is loaded. The mirror will obstruct the film/sensor while you view and compose and only get out of the way as you push the shutter release to let the light come through. With the LF camera it is a different story: The actual capturing of the image with the LF camera involves pushing the film in front of the glass screen before you take the exposure. The resulting negative or transparency (theoretically you could also put a sheet of light-sensitive paper in there and create a paper negative, btw) is as big as the screen and therefore hugely detailed. But it also obstructs the screen and therefore makes focussing and changing camera movements impossible with film loaded – all focussing, framing etc has to be done before the film is slid into the back. 
That is basically why LF photography is such a lengthy process – because you need to take your time and make sure you have focussed correctly, framed properly and worked out your exposure times (no handy TTL metering here!). And you really should, cause processing one sheet of film will set you back 7 Euro. *shock* (Or you do it yourself. Cheaper – riskier.)
I feel as if I am not making a good case for LF shooting here. But believe me, I love it. The fact that it challenges me – understanding the physics of photography, abstracting what I am seeing, making creative choices about the camera movements – outweighs the disadvantages. It is a special way of creating images. Less fleeting, more unique, more valuable.

Good Girls Go to Heaven…

Photographers go everywhere! Seriously, I love being a photographer, it gets you into places you didn’t think you would ever be able to look at. Actually, the example I am going to give you today is not quite correct. Because access to what I saw was not granted because I was a photographer, but because of the day that was in it.
On Sunday it was the Irish Architecture Foundation’s Open House Day. All over Dublin buildings were opened to the public which are usually not open for viewing. I only came across this by coincidence – walking on Library Road in Dun Laoghaire, where the Oratory was open (which we looked at, too – strictly no photography, though). A quick search on the internet showed that there were other venues open in Dublin, among them Busaras. 
Busaras is Irish and means “bus house”. (Yeh, I thought I’d impress with my superior knowledge of Irish here *ahem*…). I.e. busaras is the central bus station in Dublin. For a long time I hated the design of that building, thought it was hopelessly old-fashioned and weird looking. That attitude had long been changed and then – just a week ago – my interest in the architecture of Busaras was re-awakened in college. Why, I will tell you another time, suffice to say it involves final projects etc. Therefore I was more than pleased to see that there were free tours of Busaras available on Open House Day. So off I went, roping in my friend J___ who had thought she was going to do some street photography. Hehe, well, only from above…

The tour took us right up to the staff canteen. Initially this was built as a public restaurant – even a night club where members of the public could use the Busaras building not only for travel purposes but also for leisure activities. (For that purpose there was also a cinema in the original plan of the bus station.) Hence the canteen has architectural features that are more befitting for a public venue than for the staff canteen of the Department of Social Welfare. Like these beautiful inbuilt roof lights, dome shaped and tiled with yellow mosaic.

The whole building amazed me. It was built from 1948 until 1953. That effectively means that Michael Scott designed Busaras in the 1940s. What an amazing modern space for that time!!! Just from the look of it I had always assumed that it was a 60s design. The colours, the shape, the details seemed to suggest that. Scott was seriously ahead of his time there! And even if architecture is not the focus of my studies here, I have to say I was very interested to learn more about how this building was designed and constructed, from the first in-built hoovering system in the canteen down to the cantelevered canopy over the busses. I actually wish I had looked and admired less and taken more pictures. This would have made a lovely calendar project for some of my architecture friends… Ah well.

Social Media for Photographers, Part 2

No navel-gazing today, let’s be practical. I have decided to shaaaaaaaaare with you something that might come in handy for you if you are a photographer with a) a Facebook fan page and b) a photography blog. Or even if you haven’t got a FB fan page yet – cos, let’s face it, a lot of people shy away from “yet another platform” because they think it is too much work to maintain it all. Well, here is the good news: There are plenty of Social Media clients out there that actually make it fairly easy for you to use all the available channels for self-promotion on the internet! You can, for instance, be active on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace by only writing your status update once – applications such as tweetdeck or seesmic provide a desktop or mobile app which lets you post cross-network.
Sorta navel gazing… well, gazing through something roundy, anyway…
As you know, I have only recently started my own FB fan page for my “serious” photography. On my private profile I have been integrating the posts from my various blog endeavours for quite a while already. Since inaugurating Sonja Kroll | imagewerk I had actually manually imported my blog posts into the fan page’s news stream. Not very satisfactory. But strangely, the automatic import app did not seem to be available for fan pages. However, I have found a way of getting my blog posts fed into the page eventually. And I’ll show you how to do it because it is not particularly intuitive:
  1. Log into your FB fan page
  2. Click on “Edit Page” and go to “Apps” in the menu on the left, then click on “Edit Settings” under the “Notes” section. A new window will pop open. Click on “add” in the middle and then OK.
  3. Click “Edit Page” again and “Apps” again. This time under Notes you click “Go to application”.
  4. In the menu on the left, click the link “Edit import settings”. You will now be given the option to import one blog into your fan page stream.
  5. Simply paste the URL of your blog into the box, check the tickbox stating that you are importing your own blog and click “Start Importing”. That’s it.
FB will let you import only from your own blog and only from one blog. I understand point number 1 – for copyright issues. Why they assume that you may only have one blog to import from, I have no idea. I personally have about five blogs at this time – and I know plenty of people who have more than one, too. But hey, don’t worry – I am more than happy that I only get to import the one relevant blog into my fan page.
Hope this helps!

Sanity Photography

My lecturer Michael Durand last week explained a concept to us that I knew without having a term for it. Michael is a photographic artist who has had a lot of commercial and artistic work commissioned which has been critically acclaimed. Particularly his series of images for the Central Bank made waves in Ireland. Working on commissions is – however much it is a photographer’s own project – still work. And photography can be hard work, involving a lot of preparation, organising and even physically hard work (although that is why you have an assistant who carries the lights and sandbag stabilizers from one set-up to the next *ggg*) – not to mention the mental drain that working creatively leaves in its wake.
It is therefore essential to have what Michael called “therapy photography” to keep you happy as a photographer. I call the same thing “sanity photography”: It describes the photographs that I take for no other reason than my own enjoyment or for projects that are close to my heart. Something that takes my mind off the projects I have to work on for college. I wouldn’t say that the latter are only “work” and no “play”. Of course I enjoy taking *any* picture. But the lightness of experimentation and just simply “snapping” is all but gone when you feel the pressure of “delivering”. And with the high standards of contemporary art criticism breathing down our necks, a beautiful landscape or a glowing sunset are unfortunately deemed irrelevant, tacky and unoriginal nowadays. Yet those are the images that would keep me happy and sane. Therefore I call the process of taking pictures only for my own enjoyment “sanity photography” – because it keeps me sane in the face of deadlines, technical intricacies, hardware problems and conceptual wanking theorising.
My sanity photographs are often holiday snaps. Just taken for the sheer memory-assistance that they will provide in years to come. Or projects like “Friends of Analog” where we were dabbling with film photography despite most of us being very busy with college deadlines. Or a return to my first ever photography co-op with my friend M___ which resulted in a successful private exhibition a few years back. Or simply snapping anything that catches my attention without it fitting into a project or a highly theoretical concept.
Conincidentally, this “sanity” image has a rather calming, therapeutic feel to it. I think. Probably wouldn’t be altogether out of place in a nice little brochure, advertising the services of a retreat center or some such institution. All blurry dof and then the water droplet that contains and concentrates the world in 3ml of water… Ooooh, I have to resist the urge to develop a whole highbrow superstructure of concept for the pic… I am obviously already damaged by college *haha*
Anyone know the feeling? What do you take pictures of when you want to relax?

Large Format Photography

Back in college after the long summer break. It is great to be back, I must say, especially as the first semester started with three really interesting classes, among them my first elective for this, my final year. I had no trouble at all deciding on Large Format photography in the end – and the first session in class more than confirmed my choice: It has re-awakened my interest in photography; I am almost giddy with excitement.

On day 1 we were shown a LF camera. And what we got to see of the camera has re-ignited my excitement for hands-on photography, big time. I am actually burning with curiosity, like a house on fire. 
Essentially, LF photography brings us back to the basics of photography. Because all this piece of equipment is – a Dutch made Cambo 5×4 – is a simple box. With a lens at the front and a place to stick the film in at the back. Bang, that’s all. No fancy electronic stuff – no digital sensor, no flashy knobs and dials and buttons. Just a black box that will catch the light that falls in through the aperture in the front. I love it, I am actually really excited about this.
Anyway, our lecturer preceded to take apart the camera to show us everything in detail. We are going to work with a monorail camera. That means the camera is mounted on a single rail upon which you move the back and front bits of the camera. This also works as a way of focussing the image. 
The camera box itself is suspended in two “frames”, which means you can move the front and the back of the camera separately and independently. These camera movements are what makes LF photography so special, because it enables the photographer to play with perspective and planes of focus much more than 35 mm or medium format cameras. 
This session, we were given the basics of LF camera movements. There are basically 4 movements, logically thinking:
1. You can move the back and front to the side. This is called slide.
2. You can move the back and front up and down. That is called lift.
3. You can tilt the front and back.
4. And you can rotate the front and back, which is called swing.
All these movements have an effect on the perspective of the image because they affect the amount of light that travels through the lens onto the film. Logical. 
Where the cookie crumbles, however, is, when you combine these movements, I presume. But for that we have got to wait until next week…

Christmas Comes Early

The first day of October. Autumn has hit Ireland with a vengeance. After a last and late bloom last week where we had temperatures of 25,5 degrees – apparently the hottest day of 2011 *you’vegottolaughevenwiththesheerdesperationofitall* – the temperatures have fallen by ten degrees and we have rain bucketting down, to boot. Yes, boots would be quite useful, too. I donned them today to nip into town through the pissing torrential rain. And then I was stopped dead in my tracks: The first Christmas stock is in the shops. *graaaaaaaaaaaaaaah*
Is it really that time of year already? Do we need to be thinking about making Christmas cards? To tell you the truth, I had already been thinking about Christmas cards way back in July. I had been asked by an Irish charity to supply a range of photographs with Christmassy themes for them to choose one for their Christmas card project. I can tell you – it was not that easy coming up with images. Not only was I really not in the frame of mind for holly berries in snow and close-ups of baubles-on-tree, but I also was in between computers at the time and had trouble accessing my archive. Luckily it had snowed so much in December and January last, that I did find something in my recent work. 
Anyway, Christmas comes earlier than you think, and therefore it may actually be a good opportunity to start thinking about these things now. Get it out of the way and get ready for what the Americans euphemistically call the “holiday season”. But for now, greetings from rainy season…