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DAFOS Photo World

Why??

To catalogue my thoughts and experiences on things photographic and related topics, aiming to promote open-minded creativity and respect that hopefully contribute in some way to general peace and well-living.

Serendipity rules

General Posted on Sun, May 02, 2021 15:45:34

An interesting concept popped out of a recent conversation with an artist friend.(Well, I thought it was interesting…). I was admiring the creativity of the underlying concepts in their work, explaining that – as a photographer – I regard myself as something of a ‘functionalist’ (at least, as far as my little business goes): I make photos that people need, mostly for purely practical reasons (and, increasingly these days, making pictures of others’ artistic creations). I set up my kit, adjust the lights, make some necessary steps to be able to calibrate the outcome later and click…

“Oh, that’s very technical” they said. Which made me think – well, isn’t the knowledge of how your paints and colours combine and flow, how they cast their shadows on the canvas; how the clay and plaster forebears of your bronze sculptures bend to your will, expressing that inner purpose and beauty in a way I could never imitate; is that also not “technical”?

I am starting to wonder now if there is indeed such a clear polarisation between the “technical” and “creative” aspects of any art. It is so that technical parts, once mastered, become second nature and we tend to no longer think about them: we concentrate on what we somehow feel in our mind’s eye when constructing the [insert name of artefact in question here: e.g. photograph] . We are in that sense “being creative”.

But if we never question the technical part, won’t the output of our endeavours somehow converge to being the same after a while? Is it not a good idea to try out different technical approaches to see the result?

Experimentation costs nothing, but it does challenge the imagination, and from this can come some new, really great art.

In the creatively technical land of technical creativity, serendipity rules …



Time marches on …

General Posted on Wed, March 03, 2021 20:20:17

It’s March already. Spring is upon us, and with it come many more opportunities than we have had of late, to wander out into the wilds of [insert town/city of residence here] to capture another new phase of the world around us. The weather has certainly been very spring-like lately, adding to the joy. But it’s all too easy, I find, to lose track of what we want to achieve with photography when randomly shooting while out and about. A project to focus on is a useful tool, but it’s not always easy to come up with something concrete.

Our Viewfinders projects can provide inspiration, and – I discovered – so can acquiring a new piece of kit. Buying new kit is something I rarely do, and I realised this when I recently purchased a second-hand lens. A macro lens – the first one I have owned (would you believe?), which is a step way beyond the makeshift (i.e. not very portable) solutions of self-made extension tubes or reversing rings I’d used in the past. And getting in close to a subject can reveal a veritable playground of possibilities. Highly recommended! (As are our Viewfinders projects, by the way… 😊 ).

Here’s a collection of pictures taken with that newly bought lens – a walk around sunny Brussels…

I’m – er – keeping the up-close pictures for a Viewfinders project… You’ll get to see them some other time 😉



Three-legged race

General Posted on Wed, October 28, 2020 23:02:01

Someone in the Viewfinders photo club asked an interesting question. What to look out for when buying a tripod?

Maybe not the most high-tech of questions, but interesting none the less!

I don’t know the particular brand of tripod they were looking at, but my experience covers things to look out for which are not really brand-specific. Here’s my list, in no particular order.

For the record, I use Manfrotto with quick-removable plate.

– Is it TALL enough? What is the maximum height you can get out of it with the legs still being reasonably stable? Sounds odd, but all my first tripods were too short – I had to stoop to use them, which gets tiresome after a while. One with a central pole that can raise up quite high is surprisingly useful. I also use the tripod as a flash stand for special effects, so it sometimes needs to be quite high.

– Rigidity/stiffness. THE most important. Mine is aluminium tubing and is really very rigid. I have seen some good quality carbon fibre ones of comparable stiffness, but also some cheaper ones which flex far too easily. Definitely a false economy.

– A model with some soft wrapping near the top, where you might want to hold onto it (mine doesn’t have this, and I miss it). This has no photographic function, but if you’re outside in the cold, without gloves (so you can feel what you’re doing), the tripod can be VERY cold to the touch, and these soft wraps make it more manageable.

– Flexibility to do alternative configurations. Standing straight up, they’re all OK, but ones where the legs can be independently splayed much wider, for example, and where the central column can be mounted “upside down” and/or placed fully horizontally are very useful. Use for macro shots close to the ground, document copying (horizontal), positioned on uneven surfaces or on stairs, … you name it, this is probably the most useful.

– Fast release plate, of course. And I find the butterfly screw tightening used on the legs of my (already quite old) model fiddly but they have one big advantage: they don’t go “CLICK!!!” in that quiet church when photographing weddings. (No Velcro on the camera bag for the same reason).

– Light weight is good, but if it compromises on any of the above, it would detract too much from its functionality for me. I borrow a cheaper portable one for more touristic applications.

– Some models have a hook at the bottom of the vertical column, on which you can hang a heavy bag. Good for stability in windy conditions.

– The head. Mine came with 3 locking levers, for “roll/pitch/yaw”. I actually left only the pitch in place, and pre-tightened the other screws to be able to move them by hand, yet still tight enough hold their position. I find this most useful in practice. (Heads designed for video applications don’t work too well I have found, but that’s maybe just me).

– Can you put the plate on backwards? I sometimes do this to allow me to point the camera to very high elevations (star photos).

– Can you use it as a monopod too? I have used mine with just one leg extended for extra stability in difficult lighting when doing events (where you need to be agile).

  • Oh, and a spare plate. One on the camera, of course, but also one on the tripod mounting plate of my pretty hefty 70-200 f2.8 zoom. Really useful, that!


Trigger happy

General Posted on Sat, May 30, 2020 23:43:34

Some time ago I bought a multi-purpose camera/flash trigger (at the last Photo Days, actually) but had not yet used it “in anger”. Recently, a squirrel came to say hello while I was eating lunch outside. Cute guy, but rather shy. These two events sparked the idea that I should take a foray into the wilds of our tiny patch of Brussels, to see if I could grab some shots of frolicking fauna – of course setting up a camera, a trigger and some bait to lure my unwitting victims…

The trigger unit I have is the “Captur Module – Pro” by Hähnel, which comes with a source of infra-red (i.e. invisible) light to use with one of its triggering modes (if an object or animal breaks the beam, it triggers the camera). It can trigger a camera directly, like a cable release (using a cable to connect to the camera), or it can fire a wireless camera/flash trigger of the same brand, which has the added advantages of distance (gets the camera further away from the trigger than the length of the cable would otherwise allow) and – yes – it can trigger a flash/speedlight, too.

My “frolicking fauna” set-up had the trigger and the IR light source sat atop a wall, in the shade of some plant boxes, where I could also put some tasty morsels to lure whatever animate being that may fancy to trip the light (fantastic) and so take a selfie… Camera on tripod, manual focus (pre-focussed on the bait), Aperture Priority (Av) mode at f8 and leave it for a few hours…

The Captur unit can trigger the shutter or a flash using an interval timer (pictures at regular time delays), on ‘hearing’ a sound (burst balloons, anyone?), when a light flashes (slave to another flash, for example), or when the beam from a laser-pointer (not included) or the included IR light-source gets interrupted. Once triggered, it can be set up for various delays, repeats and maximum number of shots in a session. Very flexible and limited seemingly only by one’s imagination. The Captur module Pro is independent of the camera manufacturer/model, but you need to get the remote flash trigger specific for your camera brand (Canon in my case). See the Hähnel website (hahnel.ie, in English) for the various options.

The complete “Captur” kit I have

Working as a remote camera trigger is just that: set up the camera as you would if physically pressing the button and off you go. Using manual focus is probably best, and possibly manual exposure if the available light is fairly stable over the time you expect to take pictures. In my animal shoot case, the sun would occasionally go behind a cloud or my “trap” might get into the shadow of a tree as the sun moved around, so I opted to use Av exposure mode. Triggering a flash to capture some fast-moving event requires a dark environment with the camera set to “Bulb” (shutter constantly open), so that the flash itself sets the exposure time. Not so useful for my animal shoot, even at night – it’s never really dark in a city: that’ll be for another day.

The “trap” end of things
The camera end
The complete “shooting range”

And the result of this? Apart from some nice pictures of my own hand or other body parts, taken while I was testing the set-up, absolutely nothing. Zilch. “Rien de knots*”. It stood there all alone for 5 hours – no humans present to scare anything off – and not a single bird, let alone the squirrel, deigned to partake of the juicy treats I had so carefully selected to delight them. The only thing that triggered the camera was the interference of direct sunlight, as the sun moved around and shone into the Captur’s IR receiver … and filled the memory card (note to self – remember that for next time).

(* dialect from parts of Flemish Brabant, meaning nothing at all – literally).

The following day, while seated quietly on the same terrace (with the same camera to hand, luckily) enjoying the evening air and actually writing this article, the unbelievable happened. Friend Squirrel came back for another visit, so I managed to get a photo of him anyway! Hand-held, no high-tech traps. Just plain-ol’ focus, frame and push the button…

Hello !
Sciurus vulgaris

I’ll keep trying though. More pictures will follow, I promise.



Photophilic conjecture in times of coronal isolation…

General Posted on Fri, April 17, 2020 12:16:43

Our concept of what matters in life has been changed by a Great Event. Not brought about by a large-scale disaster or human creativity, but by a measly strand of RNA with some 30k bases stuck inside a ball of grease with spikey proteins sticking out of it, no more than 120nm big, that someone (I think in the 1960s) thought looked like a crown or the Solar corona.

What first was reportedly a mild kind of ‘flu with some occasional but fatal complications very quickly turned into a Very Big Deal, with a pandemic putting many hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of lives at risk and closing down our usually oh so busy and oh so important activities. It’s scary and it hurts. It’s bringing us back to basics. It’s teaching us who really matters in our lives, as individuals and as a society. And also who and what are maybe less important than they sometimes want us to believe.

But in all this sadness, danger and confusion there lies opportunity to change things for the better. What things in our lives will become more important than before? What can we do without, and how can we replace the practical benefits some of these unwanted things in fact offer?

Until we can be in a position to actually act on this change, all we can do is dream or imagine what good may come from it. Or try to photograph it. Social media is already flooded with photos of “life in the lock-down”, most of them (thankfully) with positive messages for how to get through it, leaving the mainstream media to report on the human drama that unfolds around us. But what about “after”? Can we photograph now our dreams and aspirations for a plausible and sustainable future?

I suddenly feel a photographic challenge coming on…



To edit or not to edit, that is the question…

General Posted on Wed, April 24, 2019 22:28:28

A recent post in our Viewfinders Facebook group set the quite polarising question of whether photographic ability, or the ability to edit an image “post factum”, was more important. It resulted in quite an interesting and revealing discussion!

This is in fact a very deep discussion indeed. We can look at photography in so many ways – both literally and philosophically. Basically, at two extremes, it comes down to either “registration of a physical fact” or “registration of an emotion”.

If your photograph is meant to convey a physical fact – like “person x was at place y on date/time z”, then technology places few limitations on what gets recorded. As long as the key facts are clearly visible at the end of the chain (i.e. from the camera lens to the print/computer screen), then all is OK. Technology today is basically designed to do only that – by setting up a predetermined solution to all the physics involved, the result can be acceptable. The only limitation is then the choice (of the photographer) about what to include or not in the frame of view. Further “editing” of the image is, in this case and rightfully so, a very questionable act. However, given the complexity of the physics and the variabilities of the real world, some compensation for offsets in exposure, contrast or colour rendering may be regarded as acceptable, especially as “factual” need not necessarily mean “clinical”, or bereft of all beauty.

If your photograph is (clearly) meant to be an artistic compilation that reflects upon a possible reality, then editing can be considered an option. But why? Was the sunset not beautiful enough (i.e. did the colour reproduction of the technology not match the expectation)? Was that waterfall really not marred by the bloke in a bright red anorak (i.e. was it really impossible to get a clear view of your subject because of all the tourists)? In these cases, I think all would agree that judicious application of “Photoshop” (to use a generic term) is probably an OK thing to do, as the emotional impact of the work of art prevails over a factual rendition.

Fact is, if “photography” as a technology is to present something that exactly replicates reality (i.e. “being there”), it has an impossibly phenomenal task to fulfil. Physics simply gets in the way. Any perceptive bias on the part of the viewer aside (due to social, cultural, cognitive abilities, down to the precise individual capability of their vision), the photographic technology would have to mimic very precisely the full range of capability of human vision. And that is quite an impressive task.

Let’s just look at “dynamic range”. This corresponds to the most basic adjustment of a photo – its exposure and/or contrast. An average human eye has a dynamic range of about 30 stops (I looked it up), going basically from seeing a grimy coal-miner’s face deep underground, to observing a polar-bear on a brightly lit ice floe in full sunshine. As a first approximation, using a three-colour scheme like “RGB”, that’s equivalent to about 28, digital bits per channel, from end to end (front of the lens to the print or computer screen). Your average consumer computer screen renders the equivalent of about 6 bits per channel… With each extra bit representing a doubling in technical difficulty, that’s a massive gap to bridge {1}.

Since long before Joseph Nicéphore Niépce captured the first (as we know it) photograph in 1826, enormous volumes of research have gone, effectively, into finding ways of cramming that huge monster that is the real world into a teeny tiny box that we can call “technology”, to make presenting a recorded image in some way possible. What must we keep? And what can we safely throw away? This requires a massive set of compromises, that (fortunately) the manufacturers of the kit we use understand well. But they are compromises: subjective choices made at a given moment for what’s “best”. Which is why Fuji pictures may be perceived as “more colourful”, or Canon ones as “brighter”, or Nikon ones “silkier”… Or whatever.

So, if the particular photo you took doesn’t QUITE match what you expected, there’s lots of possible reasons why. And they are nothing in particular to do with your ability as a photographer. They are, as much as anything, to do with the particular technological choices made by the manufacturer of your camera, and everything that comes after it, and how these responded to the very specific circumstances of your chosen image.

Ultimately, there is no shame at all in feeling that your “SOOC” picture is less than the perfection you want to portray. The engineers that designed your camera system may be very cleaver, but they may need a helping hand to make it look just the way YOU want. So, learning how to edit is, in that sense, an integral part of being a photographer. As is the control of your equipment, to make the initial image “in camera” as relevant to your aim as possible.

{1} Once in the digital domain, adding bits is not really difficult. After all, computers went from 4 to 8 to 16 to 32 to 64 bits in the blink of an eye! The same is true for the number of pixels a camera offers. It’s the steps from the real world into the digital one, at the input end and at the output end, that are problematic. A camera or printer may boast “14 bits”, but in reality, only 12 of those bits may do something useful: the others are just marketing.



Brand Loyalty

General Posted on Wed, April 24, 2019 21:06:35

I recently came across a Facebook discussion about an article on the Interwebs, that was effectively asking what features a specific brand should offer in order to increase its market share. The usual flurried mix of comical nonsense and useful insights followed 😊. This made me think about why it is that new brands (or existing brands toting new technologies) can sometimes have a hard time in this.

“Brand Loyalty” is something that indeed is an important factor, but its importance and reason for existing, at least in my opinion and experience, has little to do with the actual company, and a lot to do with the expectations and demands of the customer base. That customer base is in fact a very broad and very complex entity.

“Sony did it”, I hear you say. Indeed, but only after they acquired Minolta – a company with a long history and experience in the field. And a customer base that appreciated its products.

For full transparency, I am not a “Gear geek”. I happen to use Canon cameras and brand-related kit, because it met (for me) a certain set of requirements when I set out to make photography a source of income for myself. My business was based almost exclusively on “events” – mostly commercial things but also weddings. Though my original ‘choice’ of Canon was dictated many, many years ago by me receiving one as a gift, there were (and still are) several compelling reasons for me to stick with it.

  • Optics. Very expensive items that are probably the one most critical component in the work flow. I have a small collection of pro-grade lenses that together represent a significant financial investment that I could not really justify “doing over”.
  • Job-specific features. The “events” type of work puts great demands on the “camera response time”, often under low-light conditions. So, anything that contributes to “shutter delay” (like focus acquisition, …) is just “no”. The kit I have works well for this, and where it does not, I have learned to control its foibles well enough to get through. The requirements of other types of photography will most certainly be different, but equally imperative to the photographer.
  • Trust. As a small jobbing photographer, you are only ever as good as your last gig. When on a job, the kit must work. Other manufacturers undoubtedly also make good, reliable kit, but am I sufficiently familiar with them to trust a reputation on? (And yes, I do have duplicate kit when on a job, before anyone asks…). It takes a while to build up such a relationship.
  • User Interface. Over the years, one builds up a specific feeling for the tool – that is a camera – that you are using. Having to think twice about how to adjust this or that when on the job can mean you miss that critical shot, and in many cases the moment cannot be done over to let you capture it as needed (think “Wedding…”). The number of  variables here may be small in practice, but it means reprogramming an instinct, which for me takes time and energy I’d probably prefer applying elsewhere.

So, if a new brand or technology is going to tempt me away from my current kit, It would have to be sufficiently compelling to surmount these
factors.



Music Maestro…

General Posted on Wed, May 03, 2017 23:59:45

I also do music, in a small, amateur kind of way. I make arrangements from time to time, too. I made this piano arrangement + solo instrument or voice, for a friend to do a Christmas concert last year. Very sad when Greg Lake passed away, just while I was in the process of doing this. Still, I hope no one complains about copyright or anything – it’s not for commercial use and it is a lovely song, and meant as a tribute to a lovely musician and human being. (And from all that, you now have to guess which song it is). So, you’ve some months to practice (if you want) before Christmas comes around again. Also available for Bb Clarinet, by the way…



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