23 September, 2006

This Blog Has Moved

I'm moving this blog over to Wordpress. The site is now http://panographic.wordpress.com. See you there!

22 April, 2006

More Italy Shots

I've uploaded a new set to my Flickr account, with my favorite (non pinhole) shots taken in Italy. Click the picture to go to the set. This shot is from the Camposanto in Pisa.

It was a bit tricky shooting, as I was there to take pictures, but I was also there on vacation, meaning I didn't want to spend an extraordinary amount of time on a given shot. Many of these shots would have benefited greatly from an HDR process, or at least from an underexposure followed by exposure tweaking in iPhoto or Photoshop. Most days it was bright and sunny, meaning many of these shots have blown out highlights.

I guess I need to go back and re-shoot.

19 April, 2006

Florence! Pinholes!

Originally uploaded by mjm1138.

Sarah and I have just returned from a trip to Italy. While I was there, I experimented with a pinhole fitted to my D70s, with some interesting results. Overall I think the pinhole might be better suited to smaller scale subjects than the ones I shot, but I got some lovely effects, and I love the way people blur out when taking pictures of city squares.

Click the picture to go to my Flickr account, where there are many more such pictures. Coming soon: more Italy pictures!

16 January, 2006

D70S landscapes

Trees, Trees
Originally uploaded by mjm1138.

Got some good light up on Switzerland Trail today. Mist and clouds rushing past made for some interesting mixed lighting. I think this shot ends up looking almost like a diorama.

Okay, so I'm having a very good time with the digital camera. It shoots very quick and produces lovely color at its default settings. I'm hoping to pick out a couple of images I can test BW conversion on, but for now I'm just appreciating what this camera can do with virtually no effort.

First Attempt at HDR

Switzerland Trail Looking East - hdr
Originally uploaded by mjm1138.

Here's a composite image created with Photomatix Basic. If you click the image and go to my flickr account, you can see the underexposed and overexposed images from which this "HDR" image was created. I like the results, though it's notable that even using a tripod to do the bracketing, I was forced to do a little judicious cropping in photoshop to get the two shots to line up, and even then it wasn't quite perfect. So while you pick up a lot of color detail, it seems that you're likely to lose some image sharpness using this technique. I suggest using a cable release or self-timer to minimize camera movement. Not much to say about the image composition; it's not very exciting. I did take quite a few pictures on this trip however, so I hope to find one or two worthy of posting.


Dragon mask
Originally uploaded by mjm1138.

Well, I'm shooting with a DSLR now. So far I haven't gotten out to do any actual creative work, I've just been getting accustomed to the controls and getting a feel for how it shoots. This dragon mask hangs in the hallway of my friend Chris's house; this is really just a snapshot. But it does good justice to the sharpness of the lens and the quality of the output from the camera.

There are three primary challenges to digital photography, now that I've been doing some research, resolution, noise and the lack of dynamic range. Resolution just means that, at the present time, you're not going to get as many pixels of information out of a digital image shot with a consumer SLR than you can get with a 35mm negative (shot in ideal conditions). For that, it is simply to wait until improvements in technology make superior resolution more affordable.

Turns out that you can do something about the noise and dynamic range situations today though. There are lots of good products out there for reducing sensor noise on shots taken at high ISO, or long exposures. Noise Ninja seems to do the trick, and is likely what I'll use when I find myself needing that. Since I prefer to shoot with available light whenever possible, I expect this to be quite a bit.

For dynamic range, the emerging technique is to make multiple exposures using the camera's auto-bracketing function, and combine the images in such a way that you're rendering the shadow detail from the longer exposure and the highlight detail from the shorter exposure. There are various techniques for doing this, and software to automate the process. I'm hoping to shoot for HDR this weekend and try out Photomatix for this. They have a free edition of their product that can do some of the simpler techniques. More posts to come.

05 January, 2006

Marshall County Iowa - December 28, 2005

20051228 - marshall county - 2
Originally uploaded by mjm1138.

This was taken as Sarah and I drove through Iowa a few days ago. We were visiting family for the holidays. When we're there, we enjoy driving on the back roads as we travel from city to city. Rural Iowa in the winter can seem desolate, but here the land is almost entirely domesticated, so it's not the same kind of desolate as when you're out in the desert. There's always human development surrounding you, it's just very tranquil and expansive. Click the photo to see my flickr account, where there's another from this day.

01 January, 2006

Woodman Headstone

Woodman Headstone
Originally uploaded by mjm1138.

Spending the holidays with our families in central Iowa, my wife and I stopped in Woodland Cemetary in Des Moines for a bit of shooting on Christmas Day. Two days later there was a thick fog over the whole city, so we returned for a few more shots. Follow the link and I think you'll be able to see the whole set. The conditions were lovely, and this cemetary is incredibly rich in local history and contains some unique and beautiful monuments. Notably, there were several like the one pictured here, forming a tree stump (sometimes with smaller stones resembling logs on the ground surrounding.

This was shot with our little Sony P/S digital, which did a fine job. Turns out the optical viewfinder is wildly inaccurate, so if you want to use the full frame, you have to compose on the LCD monitor.

It is with some trepidation and (admittedly) a great deal of excitement that I've decided to shelve my stodgy old complaints against digital and purchase a digital SLR. I've ordered a Nikon D70S with a Nikon 28-70mm zoom. We have a trip to Italy coming up in April and I decided I'd ultimately be much more productive with a digital outfit. With the included memory card I'll be able to shoot 800 frames or more before filling it up, and download everything to an ipod at the end of the day. That's a lot of images, many orders of magnitude over what I could hope to shoot with any kind of film technology. It's also an acknowledgement that my film workflow is hopelessly cumbersome, slow and low quality, and the key to improving my technique right now is to shoot frames, and not back myself into corners with doctrinaire attitudes concerning medium. It's a fair investment to get into a digital SLR outfit, but I expect it to quickly recouped in savings on film, chemicals, processing and printing. We'll see.

25 June, 2005

Weathered Tree

Weathered Tree, Copyright 2005

I'm working through the images from the XA from my May trip to Moab. In case you hadn't noticed, my work pace is excruciatingly slow. I think I need to work on improving my workflow efficiency. One nice thing a rangefinder-type camera can do in a landscape setting is pick out an object in the foreground. This tree shows years of being worn away by the wind. In Utah, there are whole forests of trees that never grow beyond 5-7 feet high, due to the constant barrage of wind and sand.

UPDATE: I'm shutting off comments for this post, since someone spammed the comments.

19 June, 2005

What About Digital, Mike? (updated)

Gordon Gulch - 2005
Originally uploaded by mjm1138.

Ah yes, what about digital. It's certainly easier to deal with than film. And I suppose digital photography is far more ecologically friendly than film. I mean, I probably waste 20 gallons or more of water every time I develop two rolls of film. That along with the chemicals I use and discard, film photography is really kind of an environmental nightmare. It's just that digital photography is so...digital.

I like to think back to the analogous time in music. It was the mid 1980's. Synth pop was a fully established force in music. Then came the advent of digital synthesizers. They were cheaper, more reliable and easier to use than their analogue ancestors. Suddenly analogue synths were begging on the market (I remember seeing micromoogs in music shops for $100) as everyone jettisoned their old gear for the new. Then, pop music died, and its putrescent corpse became what we remember as the music of the late 80's and 90's. In case you didn't know, that's what happened. Everyone in the world started to sound exactly the same since, as it turns out, the digital synthesizers of the time had a far less organic and creative feel. Most of the sounds from them were pre-programmed at the factory. Music has recovered somewhat. Nowadays, three things are happening: vintage analogue synthesizers are commanding ridiculous prices on eBay and at music shops, manufacturers are actually re-introducing 25-year-old models to the market, often with few refinements over the original, and the current generation of digital synthesizers are prized for their ability to accurately emulate old analogue gear.

And so with photography. Is digital photography today of sufficient quality to supplant film with no disadvantages? I mean, I don't print on photographic paper anymore, so any darkroom tricks have long since moved to the computer. The answer though, at least at the price range us mere mortals get to play in, is no.

The image above was taken yesterday on my Sony DSC-P9 "CyberShot" digital camera. It's a little 4 megapixel point-and-shoot that my employer gave out as a holiday bonus a few years ago. It does a fine job, especially considering it's a few years old, but as a consumer camera it produces images that wouldn't stand up to real close scrutiny. Zoom in all the way and you can see the artifacts of image compression and detect the limits of color contrast (that is, the ability to differentiate shades of color). It's great for snapshots and the like, but is not quite there for serious shooting.

It also bothers me, the comment I made in the paragraph above: "especially considering it's a few years old". A fine camera should last indefinitely, and I don't cotton well to the notion that your camera should join the ever growing list of "stuff you have to replace every three years because it's obsolete". I mean, I guess film formats have come and gone, but within the standard set of formats (35mm, 120/220, 4x5, 8x10), your 1930 camera should be as usable today as it was the day it was made, if you've taken care of it.

We're just not quite there yet. My guess is, as with the music industry, the photo industry will be entirely digital (i.e. no new film cameras being made, except in niche markets) before the technology is really ready, and then it will catch up a few years later. Here's hoping Ilford, Fuji and Kodak keep making their emulsions and chemicals in the mean time. Kodak recently announced that they're no longer making black-and-white photographic paper, so I guess I wouldn't bet on it.

Update:Well, okay so I'm on the digital bandwagon now. There are still some very real limitations of shooting digital, and here's hoping I actually advance to the level where I'm encountering those limitations, I guess.