Friday, December 30, 2011

Farewell M-Audio

I have owned (and still own, for that matter) a number of different M-Audio products. What they all have in common is that they have failed me somehow.

My first was a MIDI keyboard, which failed me in a faulty MIDI out port when I was going to connect it to my M50.

Second was the Firewire Solo audio interface, which failed me after a couple of years in that noise and glitching started to appear, both in the inputs and outputs.

Third was an expression pedal, which failed me just recently by spontaneously breaking, even though I hardly ever use it. As I was moving it around I heard something loose inside it. Turning it around a bit produced a plastic piece from its innards, and when I tried to hook it up to my synth there was no effect from activating it.

With this behind me, I have made the decision to try to avoid M-Audio as best as I can in the future. And I have found good replacements for two of the three products!

For the keyboard I went with Korg, once again. The expression pedal wasn't really worth replacing since I found I didn't really take it into use anyway... But for the audio interface I found a second-hand Presonus Firebox for a nice price!

Looking back I wish I had had the good sense to just get the Presonus from the start, since it's a better product in pretty much every aspect. More outputs, more inputs, better control of the audio signal in every way. The only little thing that I miss about the Firewire Solo was the M-Audio drivers which allowed you to set the audio level in software with the keyboard volume keys, but for the features I gain it's a small loss.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Speaking of which

Speaking of the stand, I also noted on the Christmas list from two years ago that I eventually got every item on the list (except for one which I don't want/need any more).

The 1000D I got as one of the first ones, if I remember correctly, only a few months after Christmas. Then the order gets a bit hazy, but I have some order confirmation e-mails to help me. The Yuki Kajiura DVD I got in April 2010, the Professor Layton game I got this year in October; the YPK2030 cable I'm not sure when I got, but I remember I got it at the same time as the M-Audio expression pedal. (Which is now broken, which is another story that I will deal with later.) And now the keyboard stand.

Maybe in two years I will have what I'm wishing for now..!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Good things come...

... to those who wait. Two years after writing about my wish for a two-levelled stand, it is now here!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Updates

Where to start? Perhaps with a lens: the Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6. Ultra-wide is amusing, though I doubt it will see very much use.

And then? Maybe a photo.



As for what I have been up to lately, mostly work. Not as much photography as I would prefer, but some images are taking shape in my head that will eventually want to come out.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Farewell nifty

The other day I sold my "nifty-fifty" 50mm f/1.8. It was the second lens I bought and it had some emotional value, but in the end I just couldn't rely on its AF for my uses.



Some will probably say I'm crazy for selling on a mk1 version of the lens, as it's somewhat of a rarity, but I'd rather someone who would put it to better use have it than I keep it just gathering dust.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The frame makes the artwork

First a rhetorical question: what is art?

As with all things, that is relative. Beauty is, as they say, in the eye of the beholder. But where everybody have their own opinion on beauty, what is art is very often as dependant on the context as the substance.

Take, for example, a world-class violinist and place him in the subway, and very few will recognize him for what he is. Put him on a stage in front of an orchestra and people will pay several hundred dollars to see him perform.

And in an example from the other end of the scale, take a virtually talentless videographer and give him the tools needed to make derivative pop art, boosted by the words of already known street artists, and you have people flocking to his exhibition.

What to make of all of this? Simply put, people can not recognize art by themselves; bombarded with impulses, people need a large message, something to grab their attention saying "hey, look at this, this is really nice". Art needs a frame. Present a person with 100 of the best photographies on postcard-sized prints the reaction will be muted, but show him a really large print and the reaction will grow proportionate to the print size. This is what he is used to seeing as art, this is what he imagines it is like to walk around in a museum looking at all those large, splendid works of art. To him, it is equal to art, because it is presented to him in a form he recognizes as art.

If you want to be a big artist, make big art.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Small things

A collection of gear wouldn't be complete without loads of small things, so here are some that can always find a place...
Green EOS strap (because I like something a bit less conspicuous than the EOS DIGITAL with red)
PC sync cable
Looooong 3.5mm stereo cable (I use them for my homemade sync connectors)
Sandbags (for holding down lightstands, don't know exactly where to get those)
Film (Fuji's Superia is what I usually use)

Monday, June 20, 2011

What are they doing to Natalie Portman's face?!

It's interesting to compare Bluray and DVD releases, because the makers in most cases end up differentiating between the two in the colour representation of the cover images. Sort of like how they try to show advertisements for high-definition TVs on regular TVs, trying to illustrate the difference in image quality by simply using a clip with boosted contrast and saturation for the "high-def" experience.

In the case of Black swan though, it's not only colours that's undergone a change...

First the DVD and Bluray covers.
But something looks a bit off, let's outline the edge of Ms. Portman (brightened a bit to see the real outline hidden in the shadows).
And now the same outline applied to the Bluray cover.
It appears as if the makers of the Bluray also felt the need to show the splendidness of the format by slimming down the face of the lead actress. Buy Bluray for even slimmer ladies!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Frequency separation


Lately I have been investigating the prospects of frequency separation. Experimenting with the high pass filter in Photoshop for sharpening, inverting the layer to soften. As usual there are at least ten ways to do any single thing in Photoshop, which leads me around looking for one that can fit my workflow, and this approach by Natalia Taffarel seems like it holds potential.

The idea is basically that you can separate each image into separate layers holding texture and colour tones; with that you can then make adjustments to texture without affecting tones and vice versa. If this all sounds greek, don't worry, you're not alone. It took me quite a while to even start getting my head around it, but I feel the image of Albert Einstein/Marilyn Monroe in the above link shows the concept far better than I can explain it...

Picture at the top is from a portrait shoot I did some time ago that I thought would be good to practice on.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Self-portrait


Continuing a bit on an earlier theme, I got the idea of a mental patient-style self-portrait.

It's probably a side-effect of reading so much about lighting that I have, but I always start the process of making an image with the figuring out the lighting. In this case, the picture was always going to be centered around the shadows under the eyes, so I knew right away I needed a hard light coming from almost straight above.Working with my surroundings, I also saw a suitable shape at the kitchen/livingroom shelf. A cardboard box as a large snoot? Why not.Indeed that seemed to work quite well.I also added a green-gelled (though it's not real flash gel...) snooted flash on the floor shooting up into my face. I didn't get a pic of that setup, but you can see a bit of the effect as a green light on the wall above my head.

After that it was mostly a case of adding scribbles on the wall and some tossing about of chicken marinade to get the scene ready. Unfortunately I couldn't get a real straitjacket, so I had to settle for a fake one ordered from a costume store. I made a lucky find at a second-hand store for the pants, and the hair was already quite long and it was just a matter of messing it up with hairgel. And then some amount of post-processing, of course...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Photographic pondering

Going through 30 year old photographs isn't just nostalgia-inducing, but it also makes me question my own photography.
Of the many pictures I go through, the ones that I find most fascinating are the ones with people as subject. There are many, many landscapes, scenery, birds, cats and other animals, but none of those catch my eye as the people photographs.
So what am I photographing now? In the beginning it was mostly what I think is the most boring of the pictures I go through now, flower-macros, landscapes, sunsets... Luckily I've adjusted my goals a bit and photograph more people now, but beyond that there is another question that has awoken inside me.
One of the things that struck me about these images is how well they have lasted. Most are probably more than 20 years old, and they still hold incredible detail, even when compared to images taken today with modern DSLRs. And even more when compared to digital cameras from the time they started coming into popular use.
And what of the images taken with the first digital cameras? How many images have not been lost in computer crashes, harddrive malfunctions or just simply archived on CD or DVD and then forgotten about? And when they are found, will future generations even be able to know what these discs are, how to access the files, or even be able to open the file formats with the computers of the future? Luckily the JPEG file format is widespread to be relatively future proof, but the digital RAW files are often proprietary and are at the mercy of manufacturers to maintain compatibility.
Not many people think about it nowadays with online picture galleries and social networking sites, but it's a very good idea to occasionally look through your photos and get them printed on actual photo paper. Not only will they last through your next harddrive crash, but it will give you perspective on your own photography to see your pictures printed. Digital photography also meant the big economical obstacle of photography itself, the film developing, was removed, bringing with it an abundance of digital imagery. With digital photo libraries containing possibly tens of thousands of pictures, we could soon be unable to even get a proper overview of our images. By occasionally culling and selecting only the best to be printed we are consciously critiquing our own images, thereby, hopefully, becoming better photographers in the process.
And while reviewing and grading our own pictures, maybe we will gain some insight into what is important to us personally. What kind of images we want to leave after us, what our future, grown up, children will be interested in seeing of our daily lives, and what kind of pictures will we want to retain to reminisce over when we are old.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Hunting for primes

It feels like ever since getting starting with photography I've been on the search for the one prime to rule them all. In my heart I know it's the 35L f/1.4, but that is a bit over my budget at the moment, but that is the focal length I am after: a ~50mm equivalent.

The Canon offerings are at 28-35mm, but it seems like I have some issues with almost all of them. The lowest in price, the 35mm f/2.0, seems good in image quality, not much slower than the "prime-standard" f/1.8, but the lack of USM bothers me. After having experienced it on the 85mm f/1.8, I don't want to go back!

The 28mm f/1.8 is one of the top two contenders. It has USM, slightly wider than 50mm equivalent (which is fine), but from what I've read it has some image quality issues.

Then there's the one pretty much made for the purpose, the Sigma 30mm f/1.4. This has all the aspects I want: almost exactly 50mm equivalent, the Sigma version of the ultrasonic focus motor, HSM, and a very good maximum aperture. There are two things that stops me from getting it right away. First is the focus issues I keep hearing about. Knowing that my 1000D had issues with my Sigma 17-50 f/2.8, it feels like probability is high that it would have issues with the 30mm too. Second is that it's made for crop-sensors. This isn't that important, but I sort of want to move away from crop lenses in case I want to go full frame in the future.

What I'm hoping for are some updated primes from Canon to decide the issue.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Plastic fantastic

Found this little thing at a second-hand store and couldn't resist the price! Simple as can be, load the film and press the button, no settings that you can change. I loaded it up with ISO 100 film which might have been the right choice for sunny days since I read its exposure settings are at f/8, 1/100...

Macro

Lately I've also discovered the wonder of reversed lenses.This was taken with the 55-250 with a reversed FD 50mm f/1.8 taped onto it. The FD lens is pretty heavy though, being old-school with lots of metal. I'm almost considering getting the mark II of the EF 50mm f/1.8 just to have less stress on the mount...

An experiment

A little experiment I tried while thinking of getting smoke without smoke... Clear plastic from a plastic bag scrunched up and held in front of the lens. The idea came from remembering Burning Money Away.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Ghetto rig

Another in the series of ghetto-style DIY, here's my simple and somewhat fragile slide holder.
I had some problems at first finding a good way to keep the slides in place. I didn't want to tape the contraption right to the lens, so I needed something to go between. I figured a lens hood would be suitable, but I don't have the hood for the 18-55 kit lens. I do however have the hood for the 55-250, which I thought I could use instead, until I noticed that the same hood fits on the 18-55 too. And since I'd only be using it at 55mm to get the highest magnification it didn't matter that it obscured the image at the wider focal lengths.
Having found a go-between, it was only to start constructing. I used the ever-handy empty milk cartons to make a couple of prototypes, to check what I needed. Eventually I ended up with the bottom of a milk carton, with a hole at the end, a small frame attached with adhesive tape to hold the slide in place, and more adhesive tape to hold it together with the lens hood.
Then the whole contraption is placed in front of a flash with a white paper to create a pure white, bright background.
With very acceptable results, in my opinion.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Blast from the past

I was visiting my parents, and while looking through some cupboards I realized that they have a huge amount of old slides. These are some 30-odd year old pictures that still look good, so I got the sudden urge to try to digitize them.

First I tried the all-in-one Epson scanner, but that failed miserably. Rethinking it, I remembered I had seen instructions on how you could use a DSLR to "retake" the pictures, thereby getting them into digital. With some ghetto-style construction using a milk carton, I got surprisingly good results.

I don't know if it's my brother or sister or somebody else, but looking through the slides was almost like peering into a time-machine. I will definitely have to build a better rig for getting these digital.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pizzabox softbox

What to do when you are in need of a new softbox but don't have proper cardboard at hand? Pizza boxes.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Go-to gear

I'm quickly getting a feel of what gear I like and what I will reach to first when going out shooting.

I got a message (on short notice) from our conversation teacher who asked if I could come take some pictures of their volunteering for the Red Cross in favour of the Tsunami-victims in Japan. Didn't want to bring too much, figured no more than two lenses. I didn't even make a conscious choice about the body, went straight for the 40D, which meant the Sigma 17-50 that I use as standard on it. As second lens I chose the 85mm f/1.8. Now I have a real tele-zoom in the 55-250 EF-S, and it's not like I needed the extra light of the 85mm, so why not go with the longer zoom?

It boils down to the fact that I just really like the 85mm more, despite the limits of the fixed focal length. It's long enough that you can get some distance from the subject, so you can get more candid shots, but the form factor of it is still small. It's the same size as the 18-55 kit lens, as opposed to the long, thin 55-250 that protrudes noticably. It also has USM AF, which is a dreamily fast on the 40D. To me, it's a real performer of a lens.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Fresh aspects

It's all too easy getting stuck in the digital-only hole of photography, where you take the picture then only view them on a computer. It's too easy. Just transfer the pics and you're done, everyone has a computer anyway, just upload to Facebook and they're there for everyone to see, without the hassle of printing everything out and having 100 images to go through by hand.

But with all the simplicity, the act of making a physical image, rather than a digital, is significantly overlooked.

Recently I have been doing some exploration outside of digital.

Firstly, I started using my dad's old Canon AE-1 some time ago, shooting on film for the first time in perhaps a decade. (I remember taking a picture of a comet with it some time during the 90's, most likely Hale-Bopp, which puts it at 1997.) Results have been mixed, but I've gotten a couple I like, currently up on Flickr. Among them is this, which I really like:
40250010s

That's not all though. I have thought for a while about making some larger prints, and today was the day. Five of my favourites got the honour of being reproduced on 20x30cm photo paper. And I have to say that you get a completely different view on them once printed, especially at such a size! You feel much more that you have created something when you can hold it in your hand and look at it without the glow of a computer monitor supporting it. Next is to find a good way to display them! I almost feel like taking pictures of the prints just to show their coolness...

Update: an image to show a bit what it looks like...

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Wacom Bamboo

So at some point I started thinking about getting graphical tablet to assist me in photoshopping. I guess it was a combination of seeing someone else use one to do image editing and my hand cramp that sets in after long sessions. In any case, the stars aligned, the time was ripe, and today I got a small Wacom Bamboo, Pen and Touch. (What this means is that the tablet also functions as a touchpad.)

It'll take some getting used to, but I've already started adjusting my workflow to it. Losing the mouse also means losing the scroll wheel, which deprives me of my "hold Alt-key and scroll to zoom in/out" method, which is a bit of a shame. So far I really like it though, I can see myself growing attached to this method of editing.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Movies

After watching Black Swan I realized something important about my movie watching. It will probably sound sort of bleak, but I have the best movie experiences when I'm watching a movie alone. It could be based on insecurity, but for me a movie is a very personal experience. When I watch a movie I want to completely immerse myself in it. Discussions, comments, everything like that can be left until after it's done. With an increased amount of people simultaneously watching the movie, the more inter-personal communication will inevitably arise, and the less I can immerse myself in the movie.

My best theatre experience was watching Hero in an almost empty movie theatre.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Death of Vincenzo




So perhaps I'll say something about this one, since I like how it came out.

I had originally intended it to be a bit more intricate in story, having a grieving woman hunched by the sofa with her head up next to waist and the doctor standing more to the side, but you have to work with what you have.

The lighting for this turned out to be my most controlled yet, I feel. Instead of just blasting the area with light I wanted something more restrained, which meant lots of gobos in various shapes and forms. The light on the left was originally intended to be a softbox, but trying it out the spread was just too much and too soft. I wanted a window-like light, for which I figured a softbox would be ideal, but the light turned out to be way too soft when I tried it out. I realized what I wanted was the look of the sun shining directly in through a small window, so what I did was simply take a Speedlite and put it inside a cardboard box, thereby restricting the light, then taped a cardboard cross-shape at the opening opposite of the flash so it would look a bit like a window.

The light on the right should be easier to figure out as I just stuck a Speedlite into the empty lampshade. I didn't want it to light up too much though, so there too I stuck in a gobo in the shape of a tube to stop the light from the flash hitting the shade itself. At the end of the tube I taped some blank white paper to soften (and weaken, since it was so close to the subject it was already at the lowest power) the light a bit.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Photography and Photoshop

Wherever there is digital photography, there will be Photoshop. The two go hand in hand like horse and carriage, to the extent that "to photoshop" has started being used as a verb meaning image editing and manipulation. "Just photoshop it." In the digital age I've been faced with a problem, one that is still ongoing. When you can change every aspect of an image in post-production, how much should you change?

There are the obvious things for me that I do to every image, basic colour correction. But these quickly expand into a myriad of options. If the subject is in the shade, should I adjust skin tones for shade or the sunlight of the background? Or should I use a separate layer for the subject and mask the rest out, effectively creating two different "images" in one?

Let's take an example. Below is a vacation image of someone who was out on a bit of a cloudy day.
With the basic fixes the image brightens up a bit, but it's still a bit dreary.
Using a rough feathered polygonal lasso selection of the subject, I create a new curves adjustment layer and brighten only the subject.
And since we've gone that far why not make the view a bit more colourful with a bluer sea and sky? And perhaps brighten the whites of her eyes to give a bit more presence, oh, and that little bag under the right eye could use some fixing...

It quickly adds up. So how much is enough? When I first started shooting with a point-and-shoot I was adamantly against any sort of post-processing, thinking that it took away from the purity of the image. Now, however, I am of the mindset that post-processing should be used to maximise the full potential of an image. Whether that is just making it look pretty, or fulfilling an artist's vision.

But then again, how much manipulation can be done before an image loses its credibility? Doing all these edits is to be intentionally misleading. The weather on that vacation was not at all that good, the sea wasn't the wonderfully blue as can be seen in the manipulated version. Yet all of this and more is being done every day by professionals and amateurs alike. That model you see on the cover of a magazine probably doesn't have flawless skin, or even as large breasts and perfect thighs as on the picture. But none of that goes through the mind of the average person, who most likely just sees a beautiful woman.

This is the nature of photography. To show only one narrow frame taken out of a larger context, showing you one thing while the reality of the situation might be completely different. A lie disguised as truth.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

New year's party-shoot

2011 started with a snap and a flash for me as I had brought the gear to a party! Here are some of my favourite pics from the event that I have spruced up a bit...

Lighting was pretty simple, white shoot-through on the right and a flash with some coloured paper taped to it behind.
Really fun to shoot! I should make it a rule only to do photography when I'm drunk.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Late night self-portrait

Coming home from a meeting with the guys, half-drunk, I decided to do some lighting in the kitchen. (Today was I had scheduled to do a quidditch-shoot, but that fell through because of -20°C weather, so I was itching to do some shooting.)

During this shooting I was struck by two things: 1) I feel I'm really getting used to setting up lights, and 2) I was once again struck by how much you can do with so little. This was done with two flashes, the Nissin Di866 camera left and an old SB-24 camera right, both snooted with empty milk cartons (though you could just as well have put a cheaper flash on the left). The camera I used was my old 1000D with the lowly kit lens, not even the IS version. And yet when you look at it you wouldn't really think it came from Canon's cheapest DSLR. Even though I have a great semi-pro body in the 40D and a lens that cost twice as much as I paid for the 1000D way back when, I still use 1000D regularly for testing lighting like this. (Though a large reason for this is that the Sigma 17-50 f/2.8 is so heavy that it ends up pointing downward when mounted on the tripod in portrait mode...)

A large part of me ending up on the road of lighting is of course the Strobist site, with nuggets of wisdom like this:
Knowing what I know now, I would have approached things very differently. I would have started off with a low-end body, a cheap 50mm f/2 (or f/1.8) prime lens and a modestly priced (slower) do-everything zoom. [...]

After that, I would go straight to a small light kit. For less than the price of even turning that f/4 zoom into an f/2.8 model, you could be set with a small-strobe, off-camera light.
That is pretty much what I ended up doing. Even though I got the f/2.8 zoom down the road, it wasn't ever anything that was required for the style I ended up doing. Rather, it was to get the better image quality that I bought it.