black and white

Yesterday I have been working on a street portrait picture of a beautiful woman. I processed this picture for hours in color, changed the skin color slightly, applied some frequency separation to clean and smoothen her skin (a technique I just had learned a few days ago), played with background luminosity and colors and created several versions of this one picture.

_DSC1159-FS5*.jpg



I was quite chuffed with myself because I had learned how to do these things in Photoshop (although I am certainly far away from mastery). And still, I had the feeling that something is missing. Maybe I over-processed my picture? Maybe I did not know exactly how to relate color and luminosity to each other? Maybe I am just not good enough? I couldn’t put my finger exactly on it but it felt as if something was wrong.

And then I just converted the picture into b&w. And I loved it. I loved the tones, the light fall-off between main subject and background, the skin texture (although there is clearly space for improvement). I loved the lines of her face and the blurred ones of the background. I loved the expression of the picture and her portrait. I really loved her in black and white.

_DSC1159-FS-B&W3*.jpg



So what? Do I need more proficiency at processing color pictures? More learning? More understanding of how to interpret a picture during post-processing? Yep, all of this, sure. I need to learn a lot. But maybe I just have to admit that I am a black and white photographer... :-)

Shooting Portraits - the story of a long journey

Shooting portraits has ever been my dream. A dream that I barely fulfilled until now. And the main reason is that I didn’t dare doing it. I found the interaction between photographer and potential model quite difficult. In other words - I was too shy to approach people. And the idea of ‘directing’ somebody in a photoshoot felt nearly intimidating.

In the past years I have developed a little bit of chuzpe by starting to shoot street photos in Athens. On a good day I could shoot people and expose myself to the adventure of becoming part of the scenery in Athens city centre.

Eventually I started trying to find other photographers that shoot portraits and to collaborate with them. That however did not lead very far. We never got to the point of shooting together.

And then my Nikon D800 broke. And I had to decide how I wanted to replace it. Having these beautiful ideas of a Leica SL on my mind (and not the money to fulfil them) it seemed a little sobering to eventually decide to buy the latest successor model of the D800, the D850. But when I used this camera for the very first time something very unusual and unexpected happened, something that never happened with the D800 before: it clicked. I connected to this camera. And just a few days after receiving the camera I put my 85mm prime lens on it and went out to the city to shoot people.

 Ηώ and her friends playing in the streets of Athens

Ηώ and her friends playing in the streets of Athens

And I really enjoyed it. I found a group of street musicians that were playing for tourists in Athens’s street restaurants. And I easily approached them, asked them if I could shoot them at work, they agreed and co-operated nicely. It was nice and easy and from there I made an appointment with the singer of this group and some friends of hers for a portrait session. This session has also happened in the meantime and I and I believe my models also enjoyed this thoroughly.

_DSC0473-1**.jpg


I have now bought a 70-200mm f/4.0 zoom for portrait purposes. I got it used from Ebay and apart from the zoom ring being a little too loose this lens seems to be in good shape. I just used it during a public event in Athens. And again I approached people, asked them if I could take pictures of them and took a few portrait shots. I am actually sort of enjoying the interactive aspect of this kind of photography. Talking to people, learning a little about them and making pictures of them, it all becomes a nice and interesting experience.


_DSC0712-1*.jpg

So what has changed? And why is this approach all of a sudden possible? I don’t know exactly. It is most likely a combination of reasons. On my photographic way I have probably dealt with this question so many times and my wish had become so strong that I was eventually ready to start doing it. On the other hand it seems that the new camera and my connection to it has also helped.

Having read a lot about portrait photography in the past months and having viewed pictures of many portrait photographers has certainly also helped. Particularly the work of Peter Lindbergh has done something for me. He has an interesting very simple style of b&w portrait and fashion photography that has impressed me a lot. I think I have learned a few things just by watching his pictures. Here is the link to his website:
http://www.peterlindbergh.com

So after all it seems that I have eventually arrived at portrait photography. The next steps will be consolidating, shooting more, meeting people and finding out how I can create quality pictures. And I am looking for ideas for projects. Yes - a journey. A fascinating one.



About Photoshop (again) - The Pen Tool

I have complained about Photoshop many times. That I find it counter-intuitive and that my brain doesn't work its way and that I hate it. True. I don't think that that will ever change. But on the other hand it is without doubt the most versatile and productive processing tool that we have in photography. And for that reason it is difficult to ignore it entirely. 

In the past weeks I have taken a few online tutorials and I have tried out some new things on my pictures. On Youtube I found a tutorial channel called Pixlimperfect. They have great tutorials for people who need every basic step of a Photoshop tool explained, exactly what I need. 

The most important thing that I have discovered there is a tutorial about the Pen Tool. 
https://m.youtube.com/watch?list=PLj40xStto51QOIeAlaICeE1hsTETost6s&v=5kAQUNFZJXY
For the very first time I am able to make halfway precise selections. All other tools, particularly all types of lasso tools I just can't work out. With lassos I never get the selection right and the fumbling with these selections drives me nuts. Using Quick mask is nice if you want to change an area where you don't need a very precise selection but for creating exact lines I don't find it very helpful. 

The pen tool however is clean and neat and not very difficult to use. I still need to learn how to create very precise curves but for the beginning I am happy with the result. 

Eventually it boils down to the fact that in processing you want to manipulate certain well defined parts of an image in order to change the impression (or expression) of that picture. And in order to make selective changes you need to be able to make precise selections that you can then manipulate. For PS pros this is common knowledge but for me it was important to discover the power of local manipulation. The Pen Tool helps me with that. 

I can only recommend the tutorial series by Piximperfect. Here is the link to their channel. https://m.youtube.com/channel/UCMrvLMUITAImCHMOhX88PYQ   And of course this is my very subjective opinion. You may come to very different conclusions. And maybe you are a PS wizard anyway.... :-)

Taking Part in Competitions  - Interview between the left and right brain of a photographer

(This morning my left brain told me that it wanted to know more about my motives to participate in photo competitions. I agreed to divulge a little information and so they sent an interviewer. He focussed mainly on talking to the right hemisphere but of course I am not entirely sure who he talked to. Have a look at the transcript of this interview.)

So you are participating in a photography competition. Could you explain to me why? 

Well, I am actually participating in two competitions. One is a landscape photography competition by Blankwall Gallery in Athens. http://www.blankwallgallery.com 
I am participating with a long exposure landscape picture from Invercargill, New Zealand. 

The other one is the annual street photography contest at LensCulture, a website that promotes photography by publishing articles about photographers and showing their pictures and books as well as organizing exhibitions and competitions. 
https://www.lensculture.com
And here I am participating with a series of five long exposure motion blur street shots. 

Ok. Now tell me why! 

I think participating in competitions helps me understand a better way where I am at with my photography. Is my work good and interesting enough to compare itself with other photographers' work? Does my work get chosen? Do I have a chance of winning a competitions (which I currently don't believe)? 

Ah, you want to win. So you want to become famous then? 

Well, if I wan and if I became known in the photographic world I would not mind that....
But my current goal is to compare my work with that of other photographers, to receive input from exposing my pictures to a jury and to learn. The LensCulture competition includes a feedback by a professional photographer about the quality of your work. 

Well, if it's about the feedback you could meet some photographers at your place and ask them for feedback. You don't need a competition for that. 

OK, yes, I want people to look at my pictures and I want them to tell me that they are interesting. Are you happy now? 

Well, as long as you are honest with what you are saying I am happy. 

I think that it is a mixture of finding feedback that helps me shooting better pictures and the encouragement that you want and need to carry on and work on the quality of your images. 
In the past year I have found that I want to focus on two photographic subjects that I want to expand on. One is working with motion blur and the other one is taking tripod based night pictures of urban environments. It is good to know what I want to do, now I want a feedback about the quality and where I am at with my work. 

Sounds honest. Good. 

In case I get a "honorable mention" or something it would mean an encouragement and a boost for me. 

So you will stop if you fail?

By any means, no! I will carry on shooting and posting and I will show my better work on my website as before. But it would be nice to be recognized, wouldn't it?

Thank you very much for participating in this little interview and for giving mainly honest answers.

(And I really think that this guy from the left side was bloody impertinent and indiscreet with his questions, wasn't he...??)

Why Do I Shoot?

Every now and then I start asking myself this question -  why do I shoot?  Why do I post?  What is the purpose? Why do I show my pictures on Flickr? Why do I have a website? 

Yeah, I like being liked. Yeah, I love collecting faves. Yeah, I want to be "successful".  Really?

Finding expression. That is the answer. Finding meaning. Adding something to my life that I wouldn't have otherwise. Being creative. Being expansive. Finding new ways of seeing myself. Trying to hit the ceiling. Trying to break it. Trying to overcome my own obstacles.

And dancing with my demons. Taming them. Using them. Getting acquainted to them. And finding a better way of living with them. Creating art can be therapeutic and can help to be in balance.

And being liked? Well. Yes. That too. That too. And hoping that this is not too much in the way of the other reasons for shooting. 

About Re-Interpreting Art in Photography

You have a walk through an art exhibition. Let's say the big documenta14 exhibition in Athens. And graciously they allow you to take pictures. "No flash lights!" Of course.

And you take some pictures of work that you find interesting. You take pictures the way you think it represents this art the best way. You chose the POV (point of view), the angle, the exposure to complement the oeuvre.

 

 The Chess Society by Bili Bidjocka  documenta14, Athens School of Fine Arts

The Chess Society by Bili Bidjocka  documenta14, Athens School of Fine Arts

 

And whilst you are taking these pictures the piece of art is doing something with you. It makes you aware of its presence. It occupies your mind. You start thinking about the meaning of this piece of art. You start asking how the picture that you are taking interacts with this piece of art. You start interpreting this piece of art by taking a picture. You are getting involved into the process of creating a little piece of art yourself. You create art about art. With the help of photography. With the help of your mind and your camera. So it becomes a little piece of your own. Your own creation.

Does it? Is this picture your own? Do you become the creator of art? By just taking a picture of a piece of art? Can you call yourself an artist because you interpret somebody else's art? I am not sure.

I personally feel that I am changing the perception of this particular piece of art by taking a picture my way. I get into a dialogue with this piece of art. I try to find answers to its message. So from that perspective I regard myself as the creator of a new piece of art.

But am I really? I don't know. I will leave this to you to decide. And maybe you comment on it and tell me your opinion. 

About Darkness in Photography

Shooting light is not possible. Only darkness makes us see. And yet there is the question how much darkness there should be. Do we want light darkness or in other words light greys if we talk about black and white photography? Or do we want deep darkness or in other words strong contrast? Or do we even chose a darkness that leaves barely any light, a darkness that swallows nearly everything? 

What do we want to express? How is our mood? How dark or bright do we perceive our lives and ourselves? Is the use of darkness in photography an expression of how we see life, how we judge the quality of life? Light is life. But darkness is too.

Does darkness represent the demons in us, tamed when we approach them in photography? Or is light in deep darkness maybe the expression of the slightest subtleties of hope and so an expression of vitality and deep positive feelings?

I work with darkness in my photography. I am fascinated by it. I find tiny little bits of light in deep darkness highly attractive. My heart opens when I watch the minimal subtle light that makes us see not more than just the shapes of forms. It makes my phantasy rave, gives me the thrill of the unknown that I can fill with my own thoughts and feelings.

Yes, darkness also has a scary aspect. The darkness of the unknown can be terrorizing. Maybe something evil hides in the darkness that I cannot discern and that jeopardizes me and my life? Maybe the darkness in a picture represents the dark side within myself, in my soul? Maybe I can see the abyss but not gaze to its ground? Darkness can make me shudder. Darkness can be threatening. But by inflicting this threat on us, darkness also exudes a thrill.

It is a game. An experiment. An experiment with our own nature and personality when we take pictures. When we impose our own taste on the frame and what it expresses.

And that is the fascination of processing pictures. When taking the picture with my camera I have a real environment, a scene that allows a limited number of interpretations. Processing a picture gives me the opportunity of widening my options, of adding new meaning by interpreting what I find in my original image. 

Processing is interpretation. Is enhancement. Is adding meaning. And that is when I process a picture into dark. I imprint on this picture my interpretation of a meaning of darkness. And I give others the opportunity of reading me through my picture.

Yes, please read the darkness in my soul. But be aware of the gate keeper.

CURATING

I have been asked to become one of the curators of the online photographic gallery ****Contrasted Gallery on Flickr.  https://www.flickr.com/groups/contrasted_gallery/pool/

Contrasted Gallery is an exhibition project founded by Manuel Diumenjó in 2007. The gallery exhibits interesting artistic pictures by photographers that post their pictures on a Flickr stream. Currently three curators share the task of finding artists and asking them if they are interested in showing their pictures in this online gallery. The curators are free to decide who they invite and which criteria they apply with regard to their choice.

So all of a sudden I find myself in the situation that I need not only to find an artist every three months who wants to exhibit his work but I also (and that is the trickier part) need to define my own criteria of quality that make me approach a photographer and ask him or her.

It is similar to my question in my last blog. What are the criteria for taking or processing a picture? In this case it is the question how I define "artistry" and "well taken" and "interesting". And honestly - I don't know. I have likings and dislikes. I have moments when a picture or a picture gallery appeals to me, speaks to me and other moments when this doesn't happen. As a decision making criteria this doesn't seem very strong.

Yes, criteria like composition and use of light I take into account. Is it a picture that tells a story? Is the whole gallery able to captivate the viewer? Am I interested in watching the next picture and discover what t is all about? Does the photographer communicate with his subjects (and if it is even on a remote and virtual basis)? Does he or she communicate with his viewers?

What I don't apply are criteria of so called "modern photography". I made once in New Zealand an experience with a gallerist that I had approached with the question if he was interested in exhibiting some of my pictures. He declined my request with the reasoning that my pictures did not exude the feel of modern photography and that it was stuck in the 80s. I pondered about this for a long time and I could really, really not find out what exactly he meant. Sure, some photography deals with the latest social and political dvelopments. The photographers that are represented by the Magnum group work that way, and they do it brilliantly. But other photography is timeless, does not refer to certain new socio-geographical developments. I have come to the conclusion that this criterium is nonsense, at least for my own decision making.

So I approach artists whose pictures "speak to me". I apply my subjective criteria. I get into an dialogue with the artist and his work. And if I am able to maintain this dialogue for a while and if the overall work communicates a message that captivates me I invite them.

I am currently working with the Brazilian photographer Zé Lobarto. Zé creates beautiful street photography where each single picture tells a story of light, lines and drama. But I don't want to ramble. I want to attract your attention to this amazing artist and make you follow this link to his Flickr stream. Yes, exactly this one. Click!  https://www.flickr.com/photos/ze_lobato/

And on 10 June, when the exhibition opens I will add here the link to his work at ****Contrasted Gallery.

The first exhibition that I have curated was with pictures of the German photographer Stefan Speidel who has been living in Tokyo for the past 30 years. His strong black and white pictures of Japan and Japanese life and culture give an impression of how life shapes the view of expats who have to embrace their new environment. And external view from inside. I find it fascinating.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/rifugio_bobo

I am captivated. By them. By their work. And by choosing artists and applying my own very subjective criteria. I love it!

The Processing Workflow

I had recently a request to explain my workflow in post-processing and how I get to my final results. So I thought I could write this up and post it on the blog. I actually don't think that photographers should make secrets out of their way of working. At least not in the amateur field. In that way I fully agree with Eric Kim who discloses everything about his way of picture taking and processing in his blog. A very worthwhile blog by the way, just take a look.  http://erickimphotography.com/blog/

First of all I shoot RAW. Raw files are so much more versatile and malleable. JPEGs don't give half the opportunities of making changes and influencing  mood and expression during the processing workflow. And that is what we want when we process pictures. We want them to look 'better' and from my perspective I want to give my pictures an expression that represents the feelings that I want to create. RAWs are bigger and you fill your hard drive quicker but I think if it is about picture quality this aspect doesn't count. 

I save my files in Capture 1. I have changed from Lightroom to C1 about a year ago. This was mainly because the LR app was so big and clunky that it slowed down my old Mac computer. C1 works much faster on my laptop. But I had other reasons as well. C1 has features that you don't find on LR, for example the very nice layer tool where you can 'paint-select' certain areas of the picture that you want to process locally. This is similar to working with layers in Photoshop but to my mind more intuitive. And colours look better when processed in C1 than in Lightroom. This is an important reason for many photographers to change to C1 but not as important to me as I mainly create b&w pictures. 

In C1 I create a duplicate of my picture file before doing any processing. I then work on the double. So I can always go back to my original and start over again if I am not happy with the outcome of my first processing. This first step is important to me because C1 doesn't provide a processing history. So you can't go back some steps in the processing list and start again from that point. I find this a real disadvantage with C1 and I don't understand why the C1 people have not added this relatively simple feature to the software. 

It is by the way also possible in C1 to re-create the original version of the picture file during the editing process but I prefer having the original right from the beginning. 

Because C1 doesn't provide a processing history I always create a so called new 'clone variant' of my picture when I make processing steps that could mess up my already processed picture or if I think there could be two different ways of processing the picture from a certain point in my workflow. 

Back to the workflow.

1. I create a duplicate in C1.

2. I do the cropping in C1 before I take further processing steps. So I  have a better feeling for the final picture. Re-cropping at a later stage is of course always possible. 

3. For conversion to b&w I then export the picture to Silver Efex (SE) Pro. I find the b&w files that Silver Efex produces more pleasing to my eye than the ones that C1 creates. 

4. In SE I nearly always use one of the presets that the software provides for a starting point. But I have also created some presets of my own. Presets are only a starting point, I usually tend to make many changes to the preset in order to achieve the effect that I desire. 

It is worth playing with brightness and soft contrast, you can achieve interesting results by just playing with these two features that have opposite effects on the file. But all brightness/contrast/structure sliders are worth trying as well as the tonal curve. Over the time I have developed a feeling for which effect I can expect from  which slider so that my processing has become more purposeful and less random. But finding out this has taken quite a while and a lot of try and error. Good thing is that Silver Efex has a history panel with a list where you can always go back some steps and start over agin from that point if you have messed up your picture. 

Some of the SE presets come with grain but I nearly always change the grain strength and coarseness during my processing. To my mind the Silver Efex grain is the most beautiful grain of all softwares I have worked with until now. So using the grain sliders is an important part of my workflow. 

Silver Efex also provides frames and tints and vignetting. I find the vignetting very effective, clearly more effective than the one in C1. You can define the centre point of the vignetting and change strength and size. When working with presets it is important to be aware that many presets add a certain amount of vignetting that you might want to change for your own purposes. Tints I rarely use but that is certainly a matter of taste. And the frames are somewhat annoying because if you really want to use a frame (do you really...?) and you create it in Silver Efex you can later not crop the picture anymore without destroying the frame. This is because the frame has become a part of the picture the moment you export the file back to C1. 

5. I then save the picture back to C1.

The following steps depend on what I want to achieve with my pictures and what kind of changes I would like to make further on.

6. I continue processing the picture in C1. If I want to make some simple adjustments like some local adjustments with the layer brush as previously described or sharpen or increase or decrease clarity I will do that in C1. Also working with levels and curves to adjust tonality particularly in the greys can well be done in C1. 

If however I want to make some more complex adjustments or play with distortions and blurring I take he next step and export the picture to Photoshop.

7. Export to Photoshop
Here you can work with layers (I hate layers! I find them completely counterintuitive but they are handy to make non destructive changes that you can switch on and off and tweak as often as you like). In order to use layers in an effective way you need to learn how to select certain areas of your picture in Photoshop for example with the 'Quick selection tool'. This is something that you should learn from a tutorial on YouTube or the Adobe website. It's too complex for me to explain here. 

The same with using luminosity masks. They are a very elegant way of selecting areas of your picture according to luminosity differences. I read and watched many tutorials and found the whole topic very difficult to understand. Eventually I ended up buying Greg Benze's Lumenzia, a pre-fabricated luminosity mask tool that is very well done. I have not used it in a comprehensive way but it's great to make local adjustments avoiding the look as if it was "photoshopped". This is clearly well invested money. The link is https://gregbenzphotography.com/lumenzia/

Very helpful in Photoshop is the Camera Raw tool. You go to the 'Filters' menu and click 'convert to smart filters'. By doing so you enable the function of using all filters in a non-destructive way that can be revisited and changed as long as you have the picture in PS. You can then click in the filters menus the 'Camera Raw' tool. This is essentially the same tool that you find in Lightroom in order to process your picture with some local adjustments like gradient tool and radial filter tool. Particularly the latter together with some brush adjustments can be very handy to make local adjustments like creating light streaks or enhancing local contrast. As usual you need to play with the tools to get a feeling for what is possible or not and how you can make the desired changes. 

When you are in the smart filters section anyway you can take a look at the blur galleries. I am not very experienced with them yet but apparently you can create some nice artistic effects with blurring the picture. I clearly don't like artificial peripheral blur in order to emphasize the focus on the main subject of a picture. But using blur for creating artistic effects particularly in abstract pictures I find nice. 

The last thing that I do in Photoshop is fixing blemishes like dirt on the picture from a dirty sensor or lens. The spot removal tool in C1 is not good at all, the 'spot healing brush' tool in PS however is brilliant. I sometimes import pictures to PS only for the purpose of fixing dirt and dust etc. It's worth the step. 

7. Then I re-save the picture back to C1. And from there I create a JPEG that I save on my external hard drive in a special section.  Done. :-)

By the way I tend to sharpen my picture already somewhere during the editing process and not at the end of the whole process. Reason is that particularly when you have grain in the picture a tiny little bit of over sharpening can ruin the picture. So working with the already sharpened picture can save you this worry. But many other people do that differently, that is just me.... :-)


You can of course re-export a picture from C1 to SE or PS if you find some things that you would like to improve. C1 creates a new variant every time you export a picture to a different software so that you don't lose the version that you exported. When saving back from SE or PS these apps save the picture in the previously created variant of C1. 

That is a short description of my workflow. I am very interested in your experience and what you do and leave and how you achieve your results. There are so many ways of skinning the cat in post-processing that there is always a lot to learn. Just give me a feedback if you like.

Indeterminacy - criteria in street photography

What is it that makes some of us take pictures? What makes us take pictures of random strangers? Why do we shoot? Why do we shoot street? And what can we express by doing this? And what are our artistic criteria? If there are any. 

When I shoot in the streets I cannot determine what I will shoot. I have to accept what I see and decide in an instant if I want to take this picture or not. And  now I am wondering about the criteria. What is it that makes me/us take this particular picture? An interesting face? A posture, a movement that attract our attention? An overall composition that attracts and pleases the eye? Yep. All that. We use our aesthetical sense to decide what we want to shoot. And we also use experience and technical know how. 

But what if we take a different approach? What if we let chance decide what to shoot? Just hold the camera. And shoot. A random person. A face. Take a picture every 30 seconds of the person that passes by at exactly that moment. Change the criteria. Change the decision making. And work with what is available and not what is on our mind. 

 

Chance operation...?

And then later at home - doing the usual processing or leaving this to chance? Enhancing expression or just accepting what we found? Let our taste decide or leave it open and don't care about 'the strength' or 'expression' of a picture. And again - what are the criteria? I do it the way I like it.  Sure. True. But why? Are my likings very strong arguments or criteria? Why am I doing it exactly that way?  What leads me to use certain processing steps? And why am I not happy to leave this to chance as well (and I am not happy the relinquish my personal taste and decision making)? 

"Enhanced" or not....?

 

Why am I asking all these questions? Take a look here.  
https://www.slideshare.net/HiroshiNocum/chance-music

Or here.
http://johncage.org

I recently read a book about John Cage, the ground breaking modern composer that introduced chance operations to composing music. Cage did away with conventional composition criteria and found a way of 'liberating' music from form and aesthetical criteria. He called that the principal of indeterminacy. Of course he was controversial. And of course he was commercially not the most successful componist. But he had a huge impact on the development of modern music and art in general. 

So John Cage has taught me something. About art. About our way of making decisions when we create. A piece of music, a poem or a photograph. I learned that I need to take a look at my personal decision making. At my criteria. At why I do or leave certain things. He taught me to be more conscious with my decisions. And I learned that not always what we find 'nice' is the right thing in a creation process. 
So do I want to continue with using my internal criteria of 'niceness' in the future? Or can I accept other ways of creating and processing pictures, for example the criteria of pure chance? 

So - what is beauty? What is art? What is photography? Not new these questions. But still relevant. And the answers can look different when we think about why we do things the way we do them. 

Favomania

Flickr members (and probably those of other photo sharing social communities as well) are addicted to faves. We want that our pictures are appreciated. We want to be faved. We want to be loved. Pleaaase....!!!

And because we count our love in numbers there are these very special people that apply very special tricks in order to gain more faves (and feel more loved or important or what....??). The more people you follow, the more follow you, the more faves you get. That's probably the train of thought. And so some of these individuals easily gather 50.000 people they follow. Great. And very personal. Or at least you could fave randomly. Don't care if you really like the pic, but fave it and you will be faved back. And in addition you could post your picture to 150 (well, better 180) Flickr groups that you have never visited before and where you would never ever fave any picture of any other poor fave craving Flickerista. And there are these interesting people who only fave you after you have faved a picture of theirs. Reciprocal limited love you might call this. And then the ones that appeal to their followers: "Please fave me...!" "On Flickr and as you are just doing it anyway please carry on on my 500px, Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter account!" And the crown of Favomania is to gauge the Flickr Explore algorithm and to post a picture that you guess meets all criteria for being explored. The pinnacle of sophistication! 

Well - we are all so inventive when it comes to being faved. And of course everybody knows that the number of faves is not to the least in any way any kind of representation of the quality of the work that we display. There are wonderful artistic works out there with 17 faves (or less) and many 130+ pics are artistically - well - just crap. 

So why the hell do we want it? Probably because we are little innocent children that want others in our sandpit to tell us that our little sandcastle is the nicest in the whole wide world. 

And the emancipation process takes a while. And it hurts. Because when you realise that you are fave addicted and that you want to get off this addiction and if you change your behaviour, your fave numbers drop. I know it. I did it. I stopped reposting my pictures. I am limiting my group postings to 15. And I am posting pictures because of artistic reasons knowing that fave numbers will be low. I went on turkey. And I am trying to regain my pride. 

Greetings. From the sandpit. From addict to addict. From artist to artist.

Colours

Most of my pictures are in black and white. And this is for two main reasons. Firstly I think I can express myself a better way by creating contrasty black and white images. They come naturally to me and represent quite well what I want to express. Secondly (and that is at least equally important) this has to do with the fact that I find colour images more difficult to process and due to a lack of precessing skills on my side I just can't get them the way I want them. 

The latter is something that I am certainly not happy about. You don't want your artistic expression to be limited by lack of technical skills. And there is a clear need to fix this problem. In the past I have been struggling to use Photoshop mainly because it is not intuitive to me. I just couldn't retain the information of how to use certain tools because the workflow and particularly the logic of layer masks just doesn't make sense to me. 

And it seems that recently I've got a better grip on how to process pictures in PS. Maybe this is because they have developed their software further and have made it a little more user friendly. Maybe watching dozens of tutorials had an effect on my mind. Now I can even enjoy using certain tools like 'hue/saturation' adjustment layers. And Capture One provides quite a few great options for colour processing anyway.  

The result is that I have been trying it again and in the past days I have processed some colour pictures with results that are at least kind of acceptable. 

With regard to artistic expression I have clearly not yet found my purpose. What exactly do I want to say in a colour picture? It is obvious to me that I want to continue shooting and processing dark and contrasty pictures. I feel at home with this type of photography.  And eventually it is probably about developing series of pictures similar to the way I work with monochromes.

Some months ago I discovered the photographer Rémy Soubanère on Flickr. He is my current hero of dark colour photography. I love his pictures and the way he processes them. I don't want to emulate or copy his style but I find him highly inspirational. Here is the link to his Flickr page. https://www.flickr.com/photos/remysoubanere
And his website  http://remysoubanere.com

 As a result of all this I will be posting some colour pictures that I have taken and processed in the past few weeks. That's a starting point. And then we will see. 

Capture One

I had enough of Lightroom. After the recent upgrade to LR 6.2 I could not work with this software anymore. The laptop got completely stuck and each single processing step took ridiculous 3 to 5 minutes. And it also felt as if the computer slowed down in other programs too. I have to admit that my MacBook is now 8 years old and certainly not the fastest computer on earth. But this kind of slow-down was new to me.

Taking a look at the web and viewing articles of hundreds of frustrated users confirmed my suspicion. Lightroom is a bulky piece of software that gets harder to utilize with every upgrade they make.  

To get my computer going again I deleted LR from my MacBook, removed also the two older versions that I had accumulated over the time and went to Phase One's website and uploaded a trial version of their Capture One software. First impression when uploading - it's sleeker than Lightroom, it has 400MB instead of 1400MB that LR has. And thus it's running clearly faster and smoother.

I had read about C1 some weeks ago and that many people who have enough of LR consider this as a very valid alternative. And not only because it's quicker and less bulky but first of all because of better image quality, particularly in colour images.

So now I am reading the instruction and I'm trying to get my head around how to use it. To me it's not counter-intuitive as many people have written. However I still need to understand its workflow and idiosyncrasies.

My first impression is that I can work with it. The structure of the software makes sense to me. I don't know about image quality and the final results as I have not done a whole processing cycle yet.

What I clearly miss is a history panel where I can go several steps back and start at a point of my processing history that I can define. C1 does not seem to have this tool.

It would be great to hear from people who use C1 and who can compare LR and C1. What do you prefer? And why? Please write me either a comment here or an email (Flickr email or c_ms@gmx.de) or send me a Facebook comment.

Über die Griechische Seele - und über die Europäische

Über Fairness, Liebe und Gerechtigkeit. 

Da ist dieser Fischer von der Insel Samos. In den letzten Wochen und Monaten hat er 4000 Flüchtlinge aus dem Meer gerettet. Ein Fischer der Seelen. Ein Fischer, der Leben fischt. Ein Mann der einfach tut, was er zu tun für notwendig hält. 

Neun arbeitslose Griechinnen. Zusammen kochen sie für Flüchtlinge. Für die Gestrandeten. Über die Monate Mahlzeiten für 240.000 Menschen. Nahrung für diejenigen, die keine Heimat mehr haben, und kein Heim. Anders als sie selbst. Neun Frauen, die zwar kein Geld mehr haben, dafür aber wissen, wohin sie am Abend gehen können um sich auszuruhen. Und so denken sie, dass es ihnen immer noch viel besser geht als den Geflüchteten. 

Und da sind die Bürgermeister aus den Dörfern, den Gemeinden und auch aus den Städten. Zum Beispiel der, der Willkommensbriefe in Arabischer Sprache schrieb. Sein Kommentar: "Wenn Du Hass gibst, wirst Du Hass ernten. Wenn Du Angst hast, erzeugst Du Angst. Wenn Du Liebe gibst bekommst Du Liebe zurück." Und der, der sein ganzes Dorf zusammentrommelte und innerhalb von zwei Stunden in einer Turnhalle eine Flüchtlingsunterkunft einrichtete. 

Und tausende von Essensrationen, die Freiwillige Tag für Tag für die Flüchtlinge zubereiten. Und Zeitungsartikel über die humanitäre Pflicht, den Hilflosen zu helfen. Denn: "Uns geht es doch immer noch so viel besser als ihnen."

Und selbstverständlich keine Demonstrationen gegen die Flut, den unendlichen Strom der Fremdlinge. Und selbstverständlich keine brennenden Flüchtlingsheime. Kein Hass. Keine Anschuldigungen. Keine Proteste. Nicht einmal Beschwerden darüber "dass sie uns ausnutzen." Keine Kommentare über "die Belastungen für unser eigenes verarmtes Land". Keine Diskussion über die Frage "wie das alles gestoppt werden kann." 

Das ist die Griechische Seele. Die großzügige und weite Seele. Die liebevolle und hilfreiche Seele. Eine Seele die zuerst an andere denkt. Eine, die nicht glaubt, dass es das Wichtigste ist, zuerst sich selbst zu schützen. Eine Seele die Dich anlächelt und Dich selbstverständlich zu sich nach Hause einlädt.  

Und ihr, ihr Europäer, was bietet ihr den Hilflosen? Ihr Deutschen, was habt ihr übrig für die Flüchtlinge und das Land das den Heimatlosen hilft und das nicht einmal in der Lage ist seine eigenen Bedürfnisse zu befriedigen? Was bietet Ihr dem Land an, das überflutet wird mit Menschen in Not? Was gebt ihr den Flüchtlingen bei Euch und in diesem Land? 

Druck. Um sie klein zu halten. 
Feuer. Um Ihnen zu zeigen dass sie niemals und an keinem Ort sicher sind. 
Hassreden. Damit sie sich unwillkommen fühlen in Eurer reichen Welt. 
Pegidia. Wegen Eurer Angst vor Überfremdung.
Gesetz und Ordnung. Damit sie wissen wie der Hase läuft. 

Und Sie, Herr Schäuble? Was bieten Sie denen an die den Hilflosen helfen? 
Steuererhöhungen. Druck. Herablassende Worte. Ihre Partei nennt sich Christlich. Erinnern Sie sich an die Botschaft? Die von vor 2000 Jahren? Erinnern Sie sich daran was es im Kern bedeutet ein Christ zu sein? Glauben Sie an Menschlichkeit? 

Denkt nach. Alle. 
Denkt an die Hilflosen. 
Und helft ihnen.
Es ist nicht schwer. 

PS.  Ja, ich weiß, dass es auch in Deutschland Hilfsbereitschaft gibt. Dass es Menschen gibt die wirklich helfen wollen. Ja. Aber...

About the Greek Soul - And the European One

About fairness, love and justice

There is this fisherman from Samos Island. Over the weeks and months he pulled 4000 refugees from the sea. A fisherman of souls. A fisherman for life. A man who did what he felt he needed to do. 

Nine unemployed Greek women. Together they cook for refugees. For the stranded ones. Meals for 240.000 people over the time. Meals for the ones that have no home anymore. Other than themselves. Nine women who don't have money but who know where to return to in the evenings. Who think that they are still better off than the fleeing ones. 

And the mayors. The ones from villages and towns and even cities. The one that wrote welcome letters in Arabian language. "When you give hatred you will receive hatred. When you give fear you will receive fear. When you give love you will receive love." That was his comment. And the one that assembled the whole village around him and set up a refugee camp for 2000 in a gym within two hours. 

And of course the thousands of portions of food every day that volunteers provide for refugees. And of course articles in papers that call it a duty to help the helpless. And of course "we still are so much better off than they are". 

And of course no demonstrations to stop the flood, the incessant stream of foreigners coming into the country. And of course no burning refugee camps. No hatred. No allegations. No protests. Not even complaints that "they exploit us". No comments about the "strain on our own poor country". No discussion of "how we could stop all that". 

That is the Greek soul. The wide and open soul. The loving soul. The helpful soul. The soul that thinks of others and puts them first. The soul that doesn't think of itself as the vulnerable one. The soul that smiles at you and invites you into its home. 

And you, Europeans, what do you have to offer to those who help the helpless? You, Germans what do you contribute to a country that helps the homeless and is still not even able to maintain its own needs? What do you offer to the country that gets flooded with people in need? What do you offer to the fleeing ones? 

Pressure. To make them comply. 
Fire. To show them that they are nowhere and never safe. 
Polemics. To make them feel unwelcome in a rich and affluent world. 
Pegidia. To express your worries about foreign infiltration.
Law and order. To show them how the clock ticks. 


And you Mr Schäuble, what do you have to offer to the ones that help the helpless? 
Tax hikes. Pressure. Condescending words of superiority. Your party calls itself Christian. Do you remember the message from long ago?  Do you know what it means to be a Christian?  Do you believe in humanity? 

Think twice. All of you. 
Think of them. 
And help them. 
Just help them.

The Pace of the Soul

For many years I wished I could lead an international life. Travel from place to place, visit countries, live like a modern nomad. Exposing myself to the influence of many cultures, assimilating influences, breathing deeply and understanding more of this world. All that seemed deeply desirable to me. 

I now live this life. I do travel between continents. I do meet people of different ethnicities and cultural background. And I do have this variety of influences. So what does it do on me?

Yes, it is fascinating. Sitting on a plane from Athens to London and knowing that I will wake up in Auckland after a day and a half is truly fascinating. Knowing that I can work in different environments, that I can learn from them and give my bit of experience to them is very satisfying. Photography in different countries, switching from one mood to the other within a day is fascinating too. 

And still - it is all very tiring. There is on the one hand simply the jet lag. And as I am approaching an age where physical fitness is not an automatically given feature the recurrent jet lag does something on me. It tires me and it wears out my body physically. 

And there is something more. And this is about the soul. About the pace of the soul. Yes, the soul has its pace. I feel that the soul travels at a pace that is much slower than our modern means of civilisation suggest. The soul walks. Maybe it is able to travel at railway or motor vehicle speed. But the soul clearly can't follow an airplane at sonic speed from one continent to another. It lags behind. And waking up in a completely different environment confuses the soul. It makes her feel lost and lonely. And it makes it necessary to her to adapt for several days. 

My soul tells me during every travel that what I am doing is too quick. That I am overwhelming her. (Is she female? Is she sitting in the right hemisphere of my brain? Can I localise her?). She tells me that my lifestyle might be modern and interesting but not healthy to her. My soul is wise. She is wiser than I am. And she will tell me what to do in the future. She will guide me. 

For now she is tired. And so am I. 

About Processing

The more I take pictures and the more I develop a purposeful vision of photography the more I feel the need to process my pictures after just ‘taking’ and uploading them.  I want to make them mine. I want to add what I think helps them express my vision.  And I want to be able to evoke emotions in my viewers. 

All that can be done by getting the exposure right in camera, by framing, by applying rules of third and all the skills that we as photographers are supposed to have. But I think by focussing on the picture-taking process only we miss out on an essential aspect of creating pictures. The processing adds so much, the picture becomes different, more emotional, more purposeful by working on it in the computer (yes, the technical device that we need to work on our pictures puts me off, but this is the legitimate successor of the good old darkroom). 

And the more I think about processing and the more I do processing the more I come to the conclusion that the image developing process is supposed to transform a basic picture file into the final image.  And that includes changing it considerably. It means that the vision that I develop during the process is what guides me.  And it might well be that the picture will look completely different from the original photograph that I have taken with my camera. 

The photographer Juliana Gospodarou (http://blog.juliaannagospodarou.com) has developed a processing technique that she calls (en)Visionography. She uses purposeful processing in order to achieve a look that she calls emotional fine art photography. I just discovered her a few days ago and I don’t have a clear opinion on her ideas yet. I will need to look a little deeper and try to understand her vision and her technique. But her idea of detaching the final image from the source and of creating a new and independent piece of art in the process of development appeals to me. 

Apparently you need technical skills in order to process pictures on the computer. And according to Juliana you need particularly Photoshop skills. In the last few days I tried to get an idea of how to enhance my PS skills and I have to admit that I was not very successful. Online PS tutorials don’t give me the selective knowledge that fills my particular gaps. And I will need to take a closer look at what I need in order to develop my processing further.  And I think I will just start with the tutorials on her website and then take it from there. 

In the meantime I have tried to develop some iPhone images in Lightroom and PS. These pictures will eventual constitute a new mini series of the ‘modern world’. The development did not work well and so I eventually went back to the VSCO iPhone app and processed the pictures there. This is better than nothing but it does not satisfy me.  Still a lot to do and learn. 

 

About Gear (again)

Well, I bought a Leica camera. I must be crazy. Or maybe not?

For over three years the Leica M Monochrom has been my dream camera. I have been thinking about buying one again and again. It was the costs that put me off. But now I have made my decision, I bought a used one together with a used 28mm f2.8 lens.

Some weeks ago I sold a good part of my gear. I had enough of microchips and computers being in my way and deciding how my cameras were working. At a used-camera shop in London I sold my Sony RX1 and my Olympus OMD EM1. I believe that a camera has to be invisible to the user. It has to work like a glove that you don’t feel on your hand. It has to become a part of you seeing the world and has to capture your vision of the world without you being aware of the tool that you use. And exactly that was not the case with my previous cameras. I always thought ‘camera’ when I was using one of them.

And I always thought ‘program’ too. Do I use P or A mode? Which type of metering have I switched on? And more than once I forgot which ISO I had selected during my last shooting and for the next shooting I forgot to change it. And I never used any of those arty programs that the microchip in all these modern cameras provides.

So I wondered what if I returned to the simple craft of manual photography? To choosing aperture and exposure time manually. To finding my ISO button right in front of me on the back of my camera. And to focussing manually without any bleeping and flashing autofocus program. Well, that is what Leica rangefinder cameras actually provide. You are on your own with your motive, the camera and the light.

I convert most of my pictures to black and white. I love the mood that monochrome pictures exude. And I love processing and manipulating monochrome files trying to find the expression that I want.

And so I bought a used MM and a 28mm f2.8 lens. 28mm has been my favourite focal length for quite a while, so this decision was not difficult. Justifying the astronomic price for a used camera was. But that is over now. Done. Decision made.

And now I have been using my new tool for the last three weeks. And I love utilizing it. I love holding it. People have written about the ‘haptics of a Leica camera’. And it’s true. It feels special to hold one. Just holding it is great. I love framing with it. And I love the results.

The rendering of this camera is amazing. I can create grey tones that I never had available before. I can process my pictures and torment the files the way I usually do it without loosing tonal graduation. I can import them into Silver Efex2 and create a huge variety of different moods from one single picture. So at last I have the choice of editing my pictures exactly to my liking.

And yes, this camera blows highlights. I read about it in many articles. In bright sunlight with strong contrasts the MM is a pain in the ass. You need to underexpose the picture into nearly invisible greys in order to prevent losing the whole image due to blown highlights. And I am not really sure how I can handle this problem in the future. But apart from that issue, using it and viewing the results is a pleasure. The camera complements my style and I feel that I can develop my art further with this new tool in my hands.

And one last word about an issue that I had before I bought the camera and that I actually still have. Reading articles about MM shooters and their lack of ability to make “the camera sing” made me wonder how using a simple photographic tool creates expectations in your viewers. You need to be able to use its abilities to the full. You need to be able to make it shine, excel, sing. You need to prove that you are worthy using this extraordinary piece of craftsmanship. Well. I shoot light and shadow. Am I worthy? Bullocks!

Eventually it comes all back to personal choices and likings and fun. Yes, fun and joy. And I enjoy this new thing in my hands and I enjoy what I can do with it. Forget the money. Forget the rest. Just enjoy it! 

Living with a Cat

I live with a cat. Or, in order to put it more appropriately, I have become the servant of a feline. His name is Sufi. He is a philosopher. He ponders a lot. He sits and watches and thinks about how to direct his humans. How to make them stroke him, mainly before and during his meals. He meows to call his domestics into the kitchen. He demands instant stroking, before and during his meals. Then, if we get it right he starts purring as his sign of approval. 

Anna brought Sufi into our relationship. She had been serving him for the past three years and very early in our liaison she started teaching me how to do it right. I mean, he had demanded from her to educate every human male that enters his personal space. That is what we call a flat but in reality it is the space where the cat resides. The place that he has taken possession of. The place that he defends against invaders and mice. With a purr. With a slight stir of his whiskers. With a silent glance. 

He doesn't require a loud or shrill voice. Some soft meowing, some purring, some elegant steps along his servants' legs will tell them what to do in order to be of use to him. And of course he doesn't thank us. Cats never do. He eats, expects the nutritional stroke, turns his head in disapproval if the stroke comes not frequently enough. And then, abruptly, he decides to leave the place. Up he goes, no thank you, no final purr. And he  leaves his servants sitting on the floor looking at each other in puzzlement. "What about us?" You don't ask this question when you have become the servant of a cat. It's futile. 

But there is one more thing that you need to know. I will tell you my secret, but only if you promise not to pass it on to him. Promise?  Ok.  I know catish.  Yes, I really do. I understand his language. And I know how to speak it. And that's why I leave him after some strokes sitting in the middle of the room. Or fondle him a tiny little bit too roughly. Or let him wait for my caressing hand for a few seconds longer than expected. And guess what - he adores me.

Yes, I speak catish.