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On picture taking... and pictures
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31 January 2010

Sitting under a burned tree

Sunday photo hike

Took a little Sunday hike, took the Arca with me. I'm mostly walking, secondly thinking, but I even snapped one picture.
Now I'm sitting underneath a burned tree (all the hill has been burned down last summer) and doing more thinking. I can now hear you all asking in chorus: "with what?"
It's kind of cold, but not really, so I'll finish this post and move on. Walking will warm me up again. I want to take another picture, the little white church at the top of the hill.

Posted by betabug at 13:29 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
21 February 2010

Pictures in the Mountains

Only a few of them

Today I was on an excursion with a mountain club. They were celebrating the cutting of the βασιλόπιτα, the cake with a coin inside. Clubs and companies are often late for this.

Apart from the food and drink we also hiked up a small mountain, the Κιθαιρώνα (Kithairona). It was nice to get into fresh air.

I also got around to take two pictures with the Arca Swiss. That doesn't sound like much, but when I'm with other people, I can't just stop for 20 minutes to set up the view camera.

Posted by betabug at 16:30 | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)
13 March 2010

Pictures of Burned Trees

Another photo walk on the burned hill

All this week I had a lot of appetite for photography. But my camera was somewhere else, in the evenings after work it's still dark and in the mornings it's hard to get up earlier for pictures. That leaves the weekend.

So this noon I packed up the Arca and went up the burned Hymittos hillside above Ano Glyfada. I passed by the area with the freshly planted trees, the one's we had helped to set. They look like they are doing fine.

I took three pictures, taking my time. The weather wasn't really on my side, with a mostly featureless overcast sky. Only rarely did the sun peep through to give a bit of structure to the landscape. It felt good being in the fresh air, walking and moving.

Posted by betabug at 23:05 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
18 March 2010

A Film of 8

And a lot of burned stuff
Burned branches of a tree on the Hymittos hills

Monday morning I dropped off 2 films at the shop where they develop my color films. Tuesday morning I got them back, developed and scanned. One of the films is a roll film "120", that I exposed on the Arca-Swiss over the last weeks. The Arca's format is 6x9cm, on a roll of film like that there is space for 8 pictures. I took 2 pictures on an excursion on Kithaironas, another 3 a week later at Parnitha, the last 3 another week later on the hills of Hymittos.

Eight pictures doesn't sound like much, but the philosophy of lugging around a "large format" camera (even if the Arca is a very small large format camera), is that you take fewer pictures and attempt to take better pictures. Personally I try to be ever more relaxed, tranquil about the whole affair of taking pictures. If I get nervous about doing things right, something's wrong.

Now, even if the pictures would have been lost or bad, I had done three small excursions full of nice views and experiences. Turns out, I also got back a film with 8 "good" pictures. No more light leaks so far, no misfiring shutters or operator mistakes. Now, that was a good feeling when looking at the results. I had quite enough of "this picture wouldn't have been half bad, if it hadn't been ruined". I'm also confident with the images themselves, even if I still see a lot of potential for artistic growth.

I'm giving a small example here, the burned branches of a tree on the Hymittos hills. There are a lot of burned trees in my pictures, both from Hymittos (from a part that burned down in 2009), from Parnitha (burned 2007), and on other films from the lake of Marathon (burned 2009).

Posted by betabug at 18:36 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)
29 March 2010

Windy on Sunday

... and a stoned Arca
Stoned Arca-Swiss... due to a heavy headwind

We came back yesterday evening from a great 4-day weekend. As mentioned before, I was with friends in a little village near Patras. I took a few pictures with the Arca. Mostly at and around the waterfront. I took some pictures of the bridge connecting the Peloponnese to the Greek mainland at Rio/Antirio. Even got a series of evening and night pictures, with the bridge illuminated in blue at night, we'll see how that worked out.

At some point I noticed that the shop where I had bought 2 extra films last week had given me the wrong film. Instead of Kodak's 160NC, they gave me 400VC. More grain, more contrast and "vivid colors" instead of "neutral colors". I noticed when I was about to load the cassette, so no real harm done, but I got so angry at the store and myself (partly because at the same moment I also had problems with the camera's filters), that I became a major pain for my friends around me. Sorry guys.

On Sunday it was very windy. I took a few more pictures of the bridge. At one point I was venturing out on a little wave breaker, found a great spot, but had to abandon it, as the spray of the waves was hitting me - and worse - the camera. I went a little bit more to the side. Still in the strong headwind I had to secure the camera and tripod with a big stone. The exposure time was short enough that I hope the vibrations didn't cause problems on the picture, but I'll find out later when I get the film back.

All over the long weekend I saw many more things that I noted down for future photo excursions. In and around the gorge where the rack railway goes to Kalavryta, especially in the evening light. Lots of other places in the hills and mountains on the north coast of the Peloponnese, the north coast with the Greek mainland opposite itself.

Posted by betabug at 10:14 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
10 April 2010

10 Days of Work and Fun

All kinds of creativity
The good old Arca-Swiss on the rocks

Right after the Easter weekend, I stayed here in Naxos for another week. From Tuesday till Friday, I worked relaxed and creatively on new features in one of our office's projects. Apart from a somewhat restricted Internet connection (restricted per max bandwidth), I can work as if I was in the office. Things moved well, the relaxed environment always motivates me.

After work I used to pack up the Arca-Swiss, pick up a map and a guidebook and go roam the old hiking paths in the center of Naxos island. That way I'd get the last afternoon light and evening light, when landscape photography is most interesting. Only problem is that sometimes the light fades fast, so you have to work fast... and working fast isn't one of the strong points of the Arca.

Now I'm left with not even one frame of unexposed film. Time to go home and see what I have done. Even if nothing was on the film (knock on wood here), I had a splendid time roaming the hills and fields.

Posted by betabug at 19:49 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
18 April 2010

Ansel Adams' "Museum Set" at the Benaki Museum

Better in Real Life

Saturday at noontime I went to see the Ansel Adams exhibition at the Benaki Museum. The exhibition shows the "Museum set", 72 pictures, selected and printed by "Saint Ansel" himself, to be shown to represent his life's work. Adams is one of the, maybe the best known photographers. In the field of landscape photography and/or large format photography, he's the big name, not only having done outstanding photography, but also having published books about how to do it. Not to forget, he also worked out the "Zone System" for exposing and developing photos.

Myself, I had seen his pictures only printed in books. Some of them were printed good, but more often than not, the resulting pictures were just ok. Now for the first time I saw the real prints.

They are worlds away from what you see printed in books. Just not the same thing. The prints were shining, emitting light and shade. I wouldn't be surprised if they glowed in the dark when held next to a photo printed in a book. Most of all, they went out of the way and let you see the picture, the "vision of the photographer". The philosophy, you know, of Ansel Adams for a large part comes down to the photographer envisioning the final product, the print, when he is out in the nature, at the scene of taking the picture. He then takes all the decisions, does all the hard work to produce that vision in the end result.

Some of the visitors did not seem to have gotten that particular message. They were obsessing (some quite loudly) about "look how white the white here is" and "look how it makes the tree stand out" and the likes. Au contraire, my own company, without knowing any of Mr. Adams work or story, but with an artists background, after only a short view around, dragged me to "Moonrise, Hernandez", saying "this one is really special, I like it." In fact, yes, some of the best known picutres were standing out from the others. But given such a selection, there were many, many good pictures.

I spent a lot of time there. I obviously looked at all the pictures - not necessarily in the order presented. For long times I would step back and look at them from afar. Thanks to the setup at the Benaki Museum, there was enough space to do that and at the time there weren't many people to disturb.

I did learn some things for my own photography. Things that I won't spell out in words here, things which I often only understand with my heart, about what's important and what's not.

Some of the pictures in the exhibition could appear as if the photographer had become "lucky". Considering the amount of time spent at it though, the persistence, the effort put in there, it's no luck that apart from the right spot and time, there were also the right clouds there and there was a horse in the only spot where the sun hit the meadows under the mountains.

So, one of the important lessons I got from this exhibition is to continue and do more photography in order to learn. I've received an order of 40 rolls of film some days ago. Taking pictures with all those I might produce a lot of trash, but if I keep my eyes open, I might also improve a bit... and get a tiny bit lucky.

Posted by betabug at 22:41 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
23 April 2010

Flickr Shoulder Slapping Evaluator

... an idea for a funny app

If you use Flickr (or, as some people lovingly call it, "Fuckr"), you might have noticed, that it's almost impossible to get real critique or even real comments on your pictures. All most people ever seem to get is shoulder slapping in the form of "Good shot", "wonderful capture", and "well taken" etc.. This might be feeling good for an average of 3 days when you start out, but it turns sour and empty fast. Well, being a geek and all, I thought about a technical solution or, failing that, at least messing with the stuff in a fun way.

To be honest, I haven't even looked at the flickr API, so no idea if this is possible, but here is what I propose: Write a bot that trawls the comments on your photos. Analyse the comments (maybe some bayesian playtime is needed, maybe not even) to see which comments are shoulder slaps. Have the bot check out the users who posted comments, analyse the comments they get vs. the comments they make. Find some magic pagerank style number to give a real value to the comments people give you.

What you want to know is if the comment "wow, great capture" on the picture of the red plastic bathtub in your backyard comes from a user with a firehose of such shoulder slappings or if it's the one-off comment from someone who usually does careful analysis. While you're at it, discard all the "please add this picture to the worlds-greatest-red-bathtubs group" group invitations. Then assign a score to your pictures. Something that tells you "people who care really cared for this picture". Or at least it tells you "the shoulder slappers will know I see through them". And if you didn't like it you can still look at all those "amazing picture" comments.

Update: Had a short look at the flickr API, this stuff should be well inside the realm of the possible.

Update 2: Just found this flickr comment generator - wonderful work!

Posted by betabug at 10:03 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)
02 May 2010

Shutter Service

So much easier now

While Greece is being "saved" from bankruptcy by bankrupting the Greek "man on the street", I'm happily busy with my photographic hobby. Last weekend I had some major equipment problems: apart from the usual stuck shutters, a cable release broke off and there was a piece left in the thread on the shutter. No fun.

The good thing was that it finally annoyed me enough to pack up my lenses and give them in for a shutter servicing. On monday I handed them over to Mr. Picopoulos camera repair shop in Lekka street. On tuesday I was to get informed what it would cost and if I gave the go-ahead, I'd get them back by the end of the week.

First good surprise was that they called on Monday already and - second good surprise - quoted me a very reasonable price: 20€ + taxes for each shutter. Still I was nervous, having someone working on my lenses. It's not that they have much monetary value - they are old and quite obsolete for "professional" work - but they are what I have, I had them for more than 20 years.

So, in the end everything went well. I went to pick them up on friday. Had a nice chat with Mr. Picopoulos, about his time in Switzerland, when he got trained at Bolex.

Yesterday I took my first pictures. I'm happy. Not only do I have one lens more to work with now - as the 180mm had become completely useless stuck. But the shutters on my other two lenses are a joy to work with too now. They used to be stuck on the longer times, especially if the weather was slightly colder. Now they even sound better, they feel different to cock and when changing the time. The cable release thread is clean too now, I found a new cable release for a good price, so I'm all rock and rolling again!

Posted by betabug at 11:04 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
07 May 2010

Cable Releases Received

... freshly shipped in from Germany
2 nice new wire releases fresh from Germany

A few weeks ago I had an accident with a cheap cable release. The stupid thing broke, leaving a piece of itself inside the shutter's thread. Not nice, but it was probably something that was machined to the cheapest possible specs.

So I went and ordered two nice new cable releases from - a German manufacturer, who makes exactly this product. The funny part is that they were cheaper than what I had paid for the "cheap" chinese wire release at the photo store here, even considering the postage. It's also nice to be able to buy something not "made in china" for once, just for a change. (At least I presume they are made in Germany, I think these manufacturers should write that all over the place.)

They are smaller and "leaner" than I had expected. Well, I had ordered the 25cm size, the larger sizes probably are thicker too. But they suit me fine the way they are, they seem to be well made and will hopefully serve me for a long time.

Posted by betabug at 12:48 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)
15 May 2010

First Films in Years

You never unlearn it, it's like flying a fish... or was it a bicycle?
Some of my fist black and white negatives after a long time

This afternoon I developed my first black+white film in I don't know how long... likely more than 10 years... or thereabouts, hard to remember. All the time that I got the Arca-Swiss back, I took pictures with color negative and b+w film in parallel. I have two cassettes for the Arca, so that is easy to do. The color negs I give for development and scanning at "Tolis" lab (Nikitara 9 / Em. Benaki, they do C-41 up to 120 film). The b+w films went into a box.

Now I signed up at the Photoclub Ennea, which is a photography club, which has its own darkroom set up with all the necessary equipment - up till 6x9cm, which is by coincidence just what I need. The yearly membership dues are a bit steep for me, but since all the equipment use and the chemicals is included, it's better than buying all the darkroom stuff myself.

After I signed up, I went right to develop my first batch of films. The place is well organized and apart from some leaking development tanks and some spirals refusing to wind up my films for a short while I didn't have any problems. I developed first 2 films, then 4 in one batch. Next week I'll do some more and then I'll start to print stuff.

It feels a bit weird to do this kind of thing again. I haven't really forgotten anything. All the little tasks feel completely natural and normal, like I've never stopped. Working in another lab sure is different though, gotta find where stuff is and how "they do it" there. In the end though it's nice to take the neatly processed films home and look at the negs!

Posted by betabug at 19:25 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)
15 July 2010

Yes, I'm Back in Athens

Since Sunday actually

Last Sunday I returned from Naxos. On a boat filled to the last place. Lots of tourists too, so I guess the tourism industry can't complain that there are no tourists at all. It was good to leave in a place that's easy to get to from the port in Pireus. After traveling by boat it's nice to get home fast and take a break.

On Monday I went to the National Garden (next to Syntagma square) with the Arca and took lots and lots of (well, for the standard of working with the Arca... about 27) pictures of Vana Xenou's sculptures there. I got the films developed and (rough, low quality) scanned on Tuesday. I think I did a good job, except for the last few one's, when I was too tired after a day out in the dust and the heat. The main point was to be at each sculpture at the right time when the sun would peep through the large trees around everything... and then get a good point of view and don't f* up the composition. Maybe I'll post some pictures somewhere.

The duration of the exhibition was extended to somewhere in September. Plenty of time for a pleasant stroll through the park to see some sculptures!

Posted by betabug at 10:21 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)
24 July 2010

So I bought a Scanner

Another first for me

For quite some time now I had been contemplating to buy a scanner. The thing is, where they develop my films (Tόλης / Tolis in Μπενάκη street), they scan them. But those scans are below the possible resolution with 6x9cm negatives and quite often, shadows and highlights are clipped. Whenever I had taken a night picture, that scanners automatic setting got way off too.
So, finally I searched for a shop that had an Epson V700 on short notice, called for the order and received the box on Wednesday. It was 30€ cheaper than the quoted price, nice surprise. Only thing missing was the power cord, but I found a spare one at home.
Since then I have been fighting with the beast in my spare time. I went several times through highs and downs, praising and cursing me for my decision to buy my first own scanner ever.

On the upside, the machine produces huge scans from my negs (e.g. 80 megapixel are no problem). Even better is that I have no more clipped highlights, I get files with 16 bit per channel. The end of banding and washed out skies.
The downside is that this machine needs some awkward checking and setting of the focus distance - and even with that you have to check and double check each scan for focus, due to the film holder, it being a flatbed scanner, the negative's tendency to curl and flap - all that. The scans from Tolis are much sharper. Still good scans are done for the Epson's money, if I had the cash, I'd have gone for a dedicated film scanner.
For scanning software I forked out some more money for Vuescan, a 3rd party software that works with almost all scanners and does a great job.
So, here I am, happy with my new toy and ready to learn a lot more and ready to fill up some hard disks with huge files - a 6400 ppi TIFF in 48 bit RGB fills up a meager 1.7 gig on disk (never mind that 6400 bit is really beyond the scanner's true resolution).

Posted by betabug at 14:17 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
29 July 2010

Setting the Focus Distance on the Epson V700 Scanner

... and see what you're doing
Sunset next to the Belltower of St.Georges on Lycabettus

The biggest problem with the otherwise quite splendid scanner Epson "Perfection" V700 (pretentious little product name there) is hitting the right focus distance... and keeping the film flat. Here are some little hints to solve part 1 of that riddle, to find the right focus distance.

The usual procedure is to make a series of test scans, setting your film carrier to each of its three possible heights (or, if you bought the Betterscanning holder, an binary search through a lot of different heights).

The problem with that is, assuming you're using large format (or even "baby large format" 6x9cm, like me), that you won't really be able to see any grain to focus on. So you'd have to rely on having a sharp negative. But how sharp is sharp? When I tried it at first, I didn't know if I'd hit the edge of what's possible with the scanner or if my negative was really not that 100% sharp. So here is what I've learned.

First, switch off any ICE (or in VueScan "infrared") dust removal. It will give you a slightly reduced sharpness, which makes your job to find the right focus hard. It will also speed your tests up a bit, since the scan head doesn't have to make two passes.

Second, use a large resolution, even if it's more than you usually would need. 3200 spi (samples per inch, also called "pixel per inch" sometimes) is probably safe. To save some time, I set the output format to JPEG and only 24bit RGB. I learned to resist the temptation to try to do something that you can later use at the same time.

Detail in the dark parts of that image

Third, the real secret: Use a color negative with some parts that are underexposed (e.g. stuff that is in the shadows). You will get big, fat grain in those parts. See how the grain looks in the "ghosts" of these people there? You can see that you have the right focus distance, even though that part of the image is not technically "sharp".

This is a small piece of that big picture, some people looking at the sunset. The scan is done at 1600 spi, you'd see it even a bit better at 3200 spi. (The small sample pictures are at 100% of the 1600spi scan resolution and not sharpened.)

Detail in the dark parts of that image, corrected

Here is the same piece of the image, with proper color correction and "curves" adjustment layer applied. The grain has disappeared, because well, it's in the shadows anyway.

Fourth, for once, dust is your friend. As much as we hate dust on our scans usually, here it helped me quite a bit. Because dust has 100% sharp outlines most all the time. So when you see a little spec of dust that is sharp... well, you're quite close to the optimal film focus height. The difference of the height of the dust spec probably won't matter much.

As for the 2nd part, getting the negative flat, I can't be of much help there yet, still fighting with that!

Posted by betabug at 16:01 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)
31 August 2010

No more snap

A new meaning to the term "shutter bug"

I'm again on Naxos, working in a quiet environment on some python code manipulating PDF files. Yesteray I worked from 9 to 5 and after work friends came to pick me up by car and deliver me to... the beach. Currently there is a kind of weird weather. There's almost no wind, high humidity, temperatures higher than usual. It's still fine with me though, compared to Athens it's really, really easy here. Especially if you can get to the beach after work.

The water yesterday was spectacular. We were on a beach where usually surfers and kite surfers rule. Now they are on leave. The water was cristal clear. It had that famous blue of the Aegean, only more so. I've got no underwater pictures of it though. My Pentax W60 broke again on Sunday. Same problem as last year: The shutter button is stuck. Sometimes it thinks the shutter is pressed down, sometimes it's stuck on "not pressed". No way to take proper pictures like that. I should start to drag the Arca-Swiss to the beach and buy a Nikonos for the underwater work.

Posted by betabug at 09:46 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)
14 September 2010

Camera Choices

... now I have some!
Canon New F-1 sitting next to me in the office

Yesterday I picked up two cameras from the repair shop of Mr. Picopoulos in Lekka street in the center of Athens. There's the Canon "New F-1" handed down from my daddy. It had needed a general service, with some of the rubber seals replaced (they had turned into goo), some spring was broken behind the mirror mechanism (which resulted in the focus distance in the viewer being wrong) and the battery contact spring mechanism was gooed up. It currently sits next to me with a test film inside.

Then there is the Firstflex. This is a japanese copy of the Rolleicord from the 1950s. It's a twin-lens-reflex medium format camera (6x6cm negative format). I've bought it in 1986 or so... from the father of Mr. Picopoulos who serviced it now. The mirror was oxidized and got replaced, the shutter and the rest of the camera serviced. This morning as I saw it sitting there at home, I had a flashback... for one or two seconds I felt like I was at home in Kolonaki, back in the 80s, with the early morning sun and all. I couldn't recall the feeling any more even 5 seconds later, but it was very strong.

I will now run a test film (a Fuji Reala 100, color neg) through the F-1 to make sure everything works. On Saturday I'll take some pictures at a friend's friend's wedding and I want to make sure the camera is really ok. I guess it is, because even back in Switzerland I had done a film that turned out fine (by guessing and setting focus distance using the DOF-scale and wedging a piece of aluminium foil on the battery contact).

Posted by betabug at 10:20 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
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