Monthly Archives: September 2012

Playing Around

I love colour. And I love playing. Great, when you can marry both interests together and produce something funny and colourful.

Recognise the scene? This image was shot as a still life exercise. The lighting consists of one lightsource, a softbox, that illuminates the scene from above. With the softbox from above I attempted to recreate the lighting as depicted by da Vinci – the scene in the original is illuminated from above. There are hardly any shadows on the table and the diners. This of course was necessary so that the facial expressions of the subjects are clearly depicted. I experimented with sidelighting as well. However, the figurines have only painted on facial features (eyes, mouth, beard). I found that the sidelight obscured the faces too much, as the figures were placed very close to each other. Lighting them from above instead illuminates their faces and gives a better overall result.

While setting up I already realised that my picture was going to be very wide but not very high. There is a rather limited scope to arranging arms and heads of the figurines. The bodies of the toys cannot be bent. This meant I had to place the figurines next to each other and avoid placing them in front of each other. Unfortunately that spread the scene even further. But then again, da Vinci’s original is about twice as long as wide, too.

The camera settings were f 6.3 and a shutter speed of 1/60. (I could have used a much faster speed here, but since I was using a tripod, it didn’t really matter that much, anyway.) The scene is arranged on black, shiny perspex. 

Amazing what you can create from your kids’ toybox…


On my way down memory lane I have decided to schedule a few posts more on analog photography. But let’s start at the beginning, with the first ever image I developed photographically:

Making photograms is a great way of understanding how photography works. Essentially you take a piece of light-sensitive paper, arrange a few things on it, expose the paper to light and then develop it. (Possibly be a little bit more careful than me and make sure NOT to get stray hairs exposed onto the paper, either…)

The development process is rather straightforward for photograms, too. The exposed paper is first placed in a bath of chemicals for 90 seconds which will develop the image. Next it goes into another solution for 30 seconds to stop the development process. Then it has to go into a third set of chemicals for 10 minutes to fix the photogram. After that it has to be washed for about 30 minutes in water to clean off the chemicals. And presto – there is the developed photogram. Well, not a Man Ray, but a Part-Time Punk!

Vanity Humility Project

I’m so vain, you probably think this blog is about me, I’m so vahahahain… Actually I am not. If I were I wouldn’t post unflattering images of myself on the interweb. But well, you are forgiven to think otherwise, after all I have shown myself here a few times recently. No, I won’t present you handy links to all the relevant posts – and feed your suspicions of my overestimated self-importance. The point of it really is: If you are a budding photographer, you need to practice. And when you have no willing victim, never forget that you can always play practice with yourself.

The reason I am coming up with this [irony mode] gem of advice [/irony mode] is that I just found something in the deepest depth of my long buried visual diaries from 2009. It kind of pays to write those things. You wouldn’t belief how much fun I have had, reading through my bungled, f*cked up 15-year-old thoughts. And even a look back just three years into the past can provide much entertainment.

I really wish I was better at bullsh*tting. Maybe then I wouldn’t just see the hilarity in these images, but would find the eloquence and far-fetched theoretical superstructure for an artistic interpretation of what really comes down to photographic failures.

In fairness – particularly picture 2 is not bad considering that these were all taken by pinhole camera! They were all taken in the bright sunshine and I exposed pic 2 for 30 secs. No wonder I am all fuzzy. (Mind you – not that fuzzy – I am almost impressed by myself… Have you ever tried to hold still for 30 seconds? Impossible if you are not lying down or not tied to something.)

Picture 3 is all nicely artistic. I wish I had intentionally just exposed my shoulder and done away with my head (much as in real life, so to speak). It could be such a wonderful comment on the hardness of life, resting on my shoulders while my head is in the clouds – or some such nonsense. Exposure time here was 15 secs on account of the bright sunshine and a background which I calculated to be lighter. I also shook the camera a tiny bit which probably also accounts for the blurriness of the image.

As for picture 1: Again I have managed to do away with my head. (There seems to be some kind of pattern in this…)  I left the shutter open for 30 secs. Again, I did get a result, but the long shutter speed means that I appear rather fuzzy in it – well, impossible not to move.

So, there. Abusing myself. At least I know how to do that properly.

Film Love

I think I will go back to some film photography. Somehow the thought of getting my hands into chemicals again, appeals to me. I was experimenting with it, recently, and essentially I had to re-teach myself a lot of stuff that I learnt three years ago. Wow – is it really that long since we spent all our Saturdays in the college darkroom, developing our negs and wrecking our brains about the perfect prints? Oh my – the amount of worry that split grading used to cause me…

It is actually amazing, what a difference the split grading made! I decided to do a split grade on an image and take no short cuts, just to show myself how it works again. My photo of a leaf on wet grass was a good example as there are a lot of different greys in the image. But the details of the leaf and the water droplets also need a lot of contrast.

So, in order to compare, I developed one version of the print to get the greys all balanced; and another one to get the details all right. In the two smaller images in the top row you can see the results: filter 5 at 16 seconds (left) and filter 1 at 16 seconds (right) .

Note how the image on the left is all very detailed and the highlights and lowlights are clearly defined. The grass and the leaf itself look rather washed out, though, and the water droplets are hardly visible. In contrast, the image on the right has lovely grayscale tones and gives more definition to the individual grass blades. The leaf looks textured and you can see the droplets.

Logical conclusion: Use both filters and split grade, yoohay! Which is what I did for the main image in my little collage here. I like it and I think it is just about right. But whoa – it is time consuming. Maybe Photoshop is not so bad after all???

Impro Rules

Something that occasionally holds me back from shooting slightly more “concepted” ideas, is the amount of organising it can involve. And by that I don’t mean agreeing on a time and day for the shoot but getting the necessary props and finding a suitable location. That was until a while ago, when I realised that improvisation is king. And that it helps when you are actually NOT control-freaking but willing to work with a bunch of people. Cos: The more the merrier. Never was this truer than at that shoot below.

I was shooting for friends of mine who needed promo pictures for their upcoming venture. The shoot had a James Joyce theme, and while I was not responsible for the art direction of the shoot, it was nonetheless the collaboration of us altogether, that produced some really good, funny, memorable shots. There are so many of them, I don’t even know which ones to show.

Which reminds me – must ask for that suitcase back. I think it went from prop to show stopper. In any case, the guys in the shoot were just so easy-going and relaxed, it made everything really fun. It obviously helped that the resulting images were not intended to be serious and highly aestheticized (anaesthesized???) fashion pictures, but more like a static re-enactment of a scene in a particular book (English Lit buffs pipe up now and impress me with your knowledge of seminal novels. Participants and relatives of participants of the shoot are excluded from entry. Your statutory rights are nor affected.)

Loocation Shoot

“A picture says more than a thousand words.” Really? Well, I suppose there’s always more to see than just shapes and colours. There are various levels of meaning and interpretation. (Don’t stop reading. I promise I am not going to launch into some semiotic analysis of connotations, denotations and signifiers!) And some pretty strong clues in this one. Quizzy Quiz. I wonder whether my readers could identify what exactly this image represents and or refers to:

Too high-brow? Or too much along the lines of toilet humour? Did I once say that I do not appreciate pictures of ghost estates and empty car parks? In what way is this different? I suppose it is the humour that allows the taboo to be shown. A man sitting on a loo. Not quite what you want to look at (even though all “bits” are covered). Great fun to shoot, though. We were all in stitches, laughing. It was hard for me to keep the camera steady – and for my model to keep his face straight. 

I think that particular location should really be used more often. Fashion shoot in my loo, anyone? A loocation shoot, so to speak…

Skates on

Jeepers, I really need to get my skates on. Or maybe that is the wrong colloquialism to describe my particular area of deficiency. I need to get my lab coat on. For critical analysis. Or perhaps even my 1980s style glasses for up-to-the minute insider knowledge? I am so out of the loop – when it comes to contemporary photography and its practitioners. And with college and its handy force-feeding of other photographers’ work gone from my life, I am now on my own when it comes to recognizing trends, concepts, names.

The latter are a problem for me in particular. I used to pride myself on my memory when it came to names. Now it seems I have trouble remembering names. Early on-set Alzheimers? I am just back from a brainstorming seis for a future project. My three companions were throwing names around, and all I could add to the discussion was “ah, do you remember, you know, the guy with the war photography…” or “you know, whatshername, she was in that exhibition on women from all around the world…” Pretty much along the lines of Monty Python’s “you know, the fella from TV, with the glasses”… (can’t remember the name of that sketch, there, another instance of braindeath!)

Right, time to get my priorities right. Dial back the fangrrling a notch, Sonja (My area of expertise has recently shifted from critical analysis of visuals to uncritical appreciation of visuals aka ogling. No excuse!), cancel all the fangrrl blog subscriptions and get some photo blogs into the stream. Here’s what I have on my FB timeline:

1. PetaPixel – a funky mixture of updates on emerging photographers, classics, interesting projects, hardware news, the occasional crafty submission and must-see classics.
2. FStoppers – showcasing contemporary artists and projects, hardware news.
3. Philip Bloom – for all video needs, very entertaining but largely personal posts with lots of seriously nerdy videography talk, an authority on 5d2 videoing
4. PDN – no-nonsense hardware news, project showcase
5. American SuburbX – must see lens-based work and artists, many classics, mainly previous work (not current)
To name but a few. Any recommendations out there? Please yank me out of the dusty broom cupboard of photography gone by. I cannot forever continue to cite Dorothea Lange as my role model!


Photography and smartphones so far have been uneasy bedfellows. Thrown into the same device, it invariably ended up with the phone dominating the relationship. Poor little photography was only allowed crappy glass while telephony played the slavemaster. An imbalanced coupling with the phone cracking the whip over the camera (“stop nibbling your lip”) á la kinky, blingy Christian Grey and the camera – futilely resisting its phone-y master – in the shape of inexperienced, wide-eyed Ana Steele. 

Fifty Shades of Cr*p aside – in an ironic turn of events it has eventually fallen to a smartphone manufacturer to take up the cause of enslaved photography. Samsung – number 2 in the smartphone market with their enormously successful Galaxy smartphones – have just released a camera with smartphone abilities. The Galaxy Camera comes with a 4.8″ display. Like a smartphone, the camera has hardly any buttons – the controls are accessed via touchscreen. Eight GB storage is available while there is more mobile storage via SD card. The camera runs on Android 4.1 and has a 1,4 Ghz quad-core processor. I.e. – this is a little PC which is not much different from your high-end smartphone! WiFi and 3G enables seamless communication, much as you are used to from your mobile. Apparently the photographic hardware is not yet quite there: While it produces shots of 16.3 Megapixel and comes with an optical zoom, the quality of the output leaves a lot to be desired.

However, I love the concept behind the new Samsung Galaxy Camera. I admit – as a photographer I am prone to succumb to the temptation of gadgetry. We love our accessories. There in my designated camera accessory shelf I have two remote releases (one cordless), an as yet unused camera grip, my (also unused) flash, the indispensible Black Rapid camera strap. On my iPhone I have handy f-stop calculators, a darkroom-compatible developing timer, nifty little photo-sharing apps for flickr, instagram and 365 project, a digital grey card and the funky geo-location app GPS4cam. But wouldn’t it be cool, if you could do away with jumbling your phone while you are shooting? And share proper pics instead of shaky, grainy iPhone images. Straight from the horse’s mouth i.e. the camera? 

I am actually flabberghasted at why camera manufacturers who can come up with amazing technology such as the 5d mark whatever or the Nikon d bladibla have not yet been able to find that little inch of space in their bulky hardware for in-built wifi or bluetooth. Just imagine the possibilities – doing a commercial shoot with a client sitting in and transmitting the image to the client’s mobile device for instant viewing. No tangly cables to connect to a laptop for tethered shooting. The ability to automatically geo-tag your landscapes taken on an outing. Quick and easy upload to your own web-based photography portfolio or the photo network of your choice straight from the camera. Ok, I admit freely that I am the queen of social networking and therefore more interested in such possibilities than most. But in a world that is becoming more digitalized by the minute, these functionalities are more than overdue.

Cobblers? Nonsense? Piddlepaddle because it is a compact? Come on, shelve your arrogance for a mo and consider the technology. Samsung has taken a step in the right direction. Sharing has become a part of human interaction – both privately as well as professionally. And time is of the essence when it comes to passing on news/images/updates. So I applaud this first attempt at moving away from the smartphone with camera abilities to a camera with smartphone abilities. Go on, Canon – I want a talking, sharing, e-mailing Mark iv!