Sunday, March 31, 2013

je ne sais quoi

waiting for service
We attended the Easter service this morning at First United in downtown Orlando. This marks the second successive Easter we've attended, and two years of attending First United, on a semi-regular basis. This year I brought the E-M5 with the PL 1.4/25mm attached. I wanted to walk around before the service and see if I could practice candid photography. I had a general idea what I wanted, but I can't say I achieved it.

Regardless, I still like these two out of the group. They won't win any awards, but regardless, I love the light, the color, the interesting expressions and poses of the choristers waiting for the service to start. I opened the 25mm to f/1.4 for a softer, more romantic[1] quality across the frame. I let the E-M5 pick the shutter and the ISO.

They're not particularly sharp, especially if you pixel-peep. And I don't care. There's enough of a hint of sharpness and detail to satisfy the eye as well as the soul of the viewer. More than anything I love the light. Of all the churches I've ever visited, I love the light in First United the best of them all. It has a certain property, a je ne sais quoi that gives everything it touches a bit of visual quality and glow.
waiting for service 2
I've been blessed with an interesting and powerful collection of µ4:3rds lenses and bodies. I am slowly learning what each lens is capable of producing, under quite varying light conditions and subject matter. Each lens is good at some specific capability, but none of the lenses are any better or any worse than the others. They're like the paints, paint brushes and pastels I used to have when I was in art school nearly four decades ago. I learned to appreciated each one's unique qualities. Oddly enough those insights didn't transfer to my film photography at the time. My photography was too centered around the machine aspect of the cameras and lenses to the exclusion of the artistic aspect, which may explain, in part, why I failed as a working photographer back then.

It seems like I've been given a second chance to learn the artistic side of photography, and I don't want to waste it. I have a Pen camera and one lens with me where-ever I go.

[1] From the Romantic period in art during the 19th century.

easter 2013

road to perdition
Meanwhile, Francis decried a greedy affluent world looking for `'easy gain," the Associated Press reported, also condemned the "iniquitous exploitation of natural resources".

The former Argentine former cardinal, who has made defense of nature an early hallmark of his pontificate, urged everyone to be "guardians" of creation.
From "Pope Francis calls for world peace and solution to Korea crisis in Easter Sunday Mass", the global post.

the hulk
fenced oblivion
the fence
the warning
old pasture, new bridge
I didn't realize until I went back and searched, but it was exactly a year ago today when I wrote "Paving Paradise, Inc." That's when I discovered the beginning construction of a bridge crossing I-4 from Palm Parkway to the south end of International Drive, just north of the Orlando Premium Outlets. I've since pieced together that developers are building more hotel rooms for tourists visiting Disney World, which is very close to where the new bridge ties into Palm Parkway. The bridge and subsequent road system radiating from it will, according to theory, bring more tourists to fill existing rooms on the end of I-Drive. It will also, unfortunately, open up that end of I-Drive and Palm Parkway to more development, more destruction of land, and greater encroachment into the wetlands.

The last photo in the sequence is the I-Drive side of the bridge as seen from Regency Village Drive. You're looking across what's left of old pasture land. This whole area was one given over to cattle and citrus before all the heavy development in the area.

Now that the economy is beginning to step up, construction is begging to pick up the pace as well. The new construction in the area is where I documented the empty Tourist Bureau. Apparently someone bought the property, tore it all down, and is now building something different. Incredibly the hulk remains. I first documented this area last Easter (Easter 2012).

I have heard some noted photographers chastise those of us who merely document the world with our photography. I choose to document because, over time, it tells a dark tale of the greedy affluent iniquitously exploiting our natural resources for easy gain.

Technical

Olympus E-M5 with PL 1.4/25mm  and E-PL2 with MZ 2.8/17mm. Some images taken straight out of the camera (E-PL2), some post processed in Lightroom 4.3.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

my florida camera

Golden
I have discovered a little corner of photographic heaven on my Olympus E-M5. It's called the key-line art filter. I came across it quite by accident, flipping through the art filters one after another, trying each one out. When I finally selected this one it was, for me, utterly fun. Freeing. I've been using it through the afternoon and evening.

For me the filter is a bit like expressionism in a can (see "The Scream" by Edvard Munch, for example) combined with the works of Leroy Neiman and the rotoscope effect of the movie "A Scanner Darkly." I find the art filter's effect marvelous. All of these were taken from late afternoon until early evening and come straight out of the camera. I used Olympus Viewer 2 to resize the JPEGs.

Some of the techniques I used for a number of these exposures was to deliberately defocus the 17mm lens on the E-M5. Out-of-focus areas wound up looking rather creamy and pure of color. The posterization effect still gives the lock of focus, of sharp lines demarcating areas, as if the lens were still in some sort of focus. Under extreme defocusing the image was very abstract, such as the last image at the bottom of the post.

The E-M5 is now my Florida camera, capable of taking the bright colors of a Florida day, or the crazy colors of kitschy I-Drive, and give me what I've been searching for for some time now. I like everything about this filter except the black boards. I've gone back into the E-M5 and turned that part of the art filter off. I'm sure you're going to be bored silly by my photos during this period long before I'll be.
Mikey D
Prepare To Be Dazzled
The Diners
Flowers
Palms and Wall
Road Traffic

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

chrome

Harley
Harley - Olympus E-P2 + Panasonic Leica 1.4/25mm @ f/2, ISO 200
I have been going back through my now sizable photo collection on Flickr, which contains almost 5,000 photographs stretching back to April 2006. I go back and look at what I've taken, many times surprised by what I find in the collection. I'm surprised because I forgot I took them, doubly surprised that I would have taken such a photograph. Such as these two found photos in this blog posting.

I do remember what I was doing at the time when I took these. Back in July of last year my wife and I were up around the Mt. Dora area sightseeing and we stopped at a local spot for lunch, The Palm Tree Grill. I was wondering around with the E-P2, my first Pen, and the Panasonic Leica 25mm.

The Harley I used for the chrome study was parked on North Donnelly Street, just a half block down from the Grill. I remember taking a number of photos of the bike, trying various angles and exposures, not sure about any of them.

We weren't parked near the restaurant, but instead in a parking lot next to a place that rented Segways. It may still be there for all I know. I found this alley next to the Segway shop and stopped to make a few architectural photos of this view and a few other of the older buildings right next to it.
Building Still Life
Building Still Life - Olympus E-P2 + Panasonic Leica 1.4/25mm @ f/2.8, ISO 160
What I keep re-discovering every time I look through the trove are these little treasures. This has become what Isaac Asimov once jokingly referred to as his near-photographic memory; if a photo was near by then he would remember some aspect of his life. That's turning out to be me. As I get older I find I'm using my photography as a secondary storage; grab the photo, store it away, and then at a later and more leisurely time, go back and remember the moment and enjoy what I was in too much of a hurry to enjoy the first time.

I also find I re-kindle my appreciation for the first Pen I ever owned, the E-P2. The camera still works just fine, and every photo that comes from that body is as stellar as the day it first arrived on my doorstep. That's why I won't get rid of any of the bodies. I'll give them to my girls before I'll ever sell them, or else use them until they break.

Both photos were post processed in Silver Efex Pro 2. The top one was difficult for me to decide when it was finally done. I chose to darken it and give it a sepia cast. I wanted just enough exposure in the final print to really pick out the chrome detail on the engine. I wanted the metal to look like it was almost glowing from within. The lower photo was a more classic black and white, where I was trying to hit a proper mid-tone gray, and show detail from the brightest highlight to the darkest shadow. And yes, that is ISO 160 on the second photo. Remember that the E-P2 and E-PL1 still allow ISO 100 exposures. I may yet get another E-P2 body just for that one capability...

I know how I wrote earlier in the month I would stick to nothing but color for the foreseeable future, and I probably will. But this is a personal reminder not to stay away from black and white for too long.

Monday, March 25, 2013

fickle

Lil' Champ
Photographers are as fickle a bunch as you'll ever deal with. We can never settle down with any given camera or lens before we grow tired of its charms and yearn for something newer, fresher, more attractive and exciting to us. Take as an example my affair with the M.Zuiko 2.8/17mm.

I've written about the 17mm in the past. The copy you see mounted on the E-PL1 above is my second. The first copy I had was silver. I purchased it because of its small silver size and because it was considerably cheaper than the Panasonic 1.7/20mm at the time. I used it quite a bit on my E-P2 until one day its front cosmetic element fell off into a Boston street back in March of 2011.

The lens didn't stop working, but it fell out of favor when it lost a bit of itself. I was a fool to feel that way, but a friend wanted a µ4:3rds 17mm to play with so I sold him that one for $100, less than half what I'd paid for it a year before. And then a short time later I went out and got this copy, but in sexy black. Being black it blends in with all my Pen bodies a little better (so I believe), but it works no better than the silver, which is another way of saying it works as marvelously as the silver did. But I've learned my lesson (I think). This time, if the front cosmetic element falls off, the 17mm stays.

Late this evening I plopped the 17mm on the E-PL1 and went out back to grab some shots in the fading light. In spite of what you may read on the interwebs the E-PL1 and the 17mm focused and locked just fine. I used the art filters with Olympus Viewer after the fact instead of in the camera like I wanted. But I still used the art filters on Max. The combination might not be as sexy as this years new favorite, the Fuji X100s, but then it cost a fraction of what the X100s costs, and I can change the lens on it if I want. But if I didn't would that really be so bad?

All the photos after Max were taken earlier in time with the 17mm and the E-P2, E-PL1 and E-PL2 bodies. Some of them are color, some heavily post processed in Lightroom and Silver Efex Pro 2. The M.Zuiko 17mm f/2.8 is a great little lens, and it looks like the newer f/1.8 version is even better. All this fun for a fraction for what you'd spend for the Fuji, or Nikon's latest red-headed child, the Coolpix A.

In closing I'd like to point out that close up or distant, wide open or closed, the 17mm f/2.8 is every bit as good for photography on the µ4:3rds system as any other prime. Buy one and go out and have some fun.
Old Boy
Cab Inland Lakes Railway
Under the Bridge 1
Breakout
EP084865
Play?
Human Need Not Corporate Greed
Red, White, and Blue
I Had Customers Once
.
Three In A Row
It's Green (13/365)
Green Bike #3
What?!?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

the rain - rain - rain came down - down - down

What the hell?
What the hell just happened?
The rain rain rain came down down down
In rushing, rising riv'lets,
'Til the river crept out of it's bed
And crept right into Piglet's!
Poor Piglet, he was frightened,
With quite a rightful fright.
And so, in desperation
A message he did write.

When the girls, who are now in their 20s, were in elementary school, their favorite cartoon character was Winnie the Pooh. This song, first heard by the girls in the Disney movie "Winnie The Pooh and the Blustery Day," was an immediate hit. The youngest identified with Piglet, and so the song took on an even more special meaning for her. They loved the story in the song and the alliteration of the lyrics.

After all these years every time the rains come and the little creatures all come to camp around me until the weather passes, I still hear this snatch of song play in my inner ear.

Although no load thunder was heard this early in the season, the wind and rain kept banging tree branches around the house and blowing them onto the ground. And then, a bit after the the storm started came the wailing sound of sirens. Every time a loud bang or the sirens were heard Ruby would raise her head and give low, chuffing barks, just to let us know that something wasn't quite right. Never fear, Ruby was on duty.
Up the street
Being a coward, I waited inside with the little animals until the worst of the squalls passed, then grabbed my E-M5 and grabbed a couple of shots. This one, out the garage towards the street, shows what I feared most: a lot of standing water and mud. Until the middle of last week we had a paved street until a crew came through and stripped the old asphalt off. They will eventually return and re-pave the road, but until then we've got this to deal with. To top it all off they've now got to came back through and re-sweep the roadbed before they repave it.
Back patio
The winds blew down everything that wasn't tied down and littered the back with limbs from the maple at the corner of the house. I get the fun job of cleaning this all up once the rain has passed. Oh well, it could be a lot worse. We were under a tornado warning for several hours, and this could have been the very beginnings of a very long hurricane, like the hurricanes that lashed us severely in 2004 and 2005. Yes, it could certainly be a lot worse.

One oddity I've not noticed before. Before the rain hit the outside temperature was 82°F. After the squalls passed the outside temperature had dropped to 62°F.

standards, fairness, and openess

Street Machine
Street machine - Olympus E-M5 with Panasonic Lumix 14mm f/2.5
Every once in a while (far less than I should) I mosey over to Wolfgang Lonien's blog and check a different photographer's perspective from half way around the world.

Literally.

Wolfgang lives in Germany and views the world through a far different cultural lens than I. On the majority of issues I find we are in surprisingly close agreement (which I think goes to show, perhaps a little unfortunately, the over-homogenisation of world cultures). One of those issues we seem to agree on concerns technological openness, in this case concerning digital cameras and post processing software.

Wolfgang is a strong believer in open systems and open software. He practices what he preaches, choosing to use Debian at home and supporting Redhat where he works. At home he uses dcraw to process his raw images from his Olympus cameras, feeding the results into RawTherapee. Both of these applications are open source software.

Wolfgang noted in one of his latest posts, "Fuji is the new Leica", that his concern with using the latest Fuji cameras (such as the new X100s, although I did see it supported for the older X100) is Fuji's lack of decent support for dcraw, the front end that processes the raw files. His concern is justified, not so much because of Fuji's lack of raw support for dcraw, but poor third-party raw support in general. I don't know now many posts I've read by users lamenting the lack of decent raw support, especially in Adobe of all applications.

I agree with Wolfgang's sentiment when he says "Zack’s idea (“outsource your software to Adobe”) isn’t the best one..." I don't trust Adobe. I don't trust anyone who controls key tools that help me work with my photography. I don't like the idea that somebody could arbitrarily and capriciously one day decide that because I'm not paying enough, or not doing things quite the way they want, that my access to the tools that allow me to work with my raw photography would suddenly cease to exist. That's a very short step away from denying me complete access to everything because my work, for convenience sake, is stored up in the same cloud with those tools.

It's those kinds of concerns that have led me to adopt the following rule: Trust but Back Up[1] if I have to live in the cloud. With the notable exception of email primarily I do everything locally on my computers. This especially includes my photography. While I may have thousands of photos on Flickr, I don't use Flickr as a backup. I don't use the cloud as a backup for anything.

I think Wolfgang and I are both being swayed by the Fuji siren song, backed up by the Leica legend, especially when we hear how Leica-like the Fuji is. I have pretty much developed a resistance to the Fuji attraction that doesn't involve having me lashed to a ship's mast. I've been disappointed by enough by too many past promises that I've become pretty much inoculated to the current level of hype coming from Fuji's direction. For me photography is more than just hype, a fad. Fuji bears too much of both for comfort.

Instead, I go and grab the Panasonic 14mm and put it on one of my Pens, especially the E-M5, and I go out and photograph. A lot. With its 28mm equivalent field of view a little wider than the equivalent 35mm FoV the Fuji X100s provides, it's bright enough and good enough for street work (to be honest it's about 2/3rds of a stop slower than the Fuji's f/2 maximum aperture, but the E-M5's excellent high-ISO performance helps compensate for this). Gaff up the white paint on the body and a camera that's already pretty inconspicuous almost disappears in your hands. The E-M5 is fast and silent and has amazing high ISO quality coupled with its five-axis IBIS. And when you're done, dcraw supports your E-M5 raw files if that's what you need.

Right now I'm beginning to reduce my dependency on Lightroom and switching more to just taking what comes from in-camera. If I need to tweak anything I use Olympus Viewer 2 on the old Macbook. That use is primarily rescaling the JPEGs in the camera, and I could probably use RawTherapee for that. For deeper work I need to check the dcraw to RawTherapee work flow. My major concern there is dcraw's lack of use of the lens correction information built into µ4:3rds raw files for all the lenses. That correction is applied silently by Adobe, but not so (at least in the past) by dcraw/RawTherapee. That may have changed since the last time I tried RawTherapee. If it doesn't, then I don't know what my alternatives currently are because a number of those lenses can produce some serious barrel distortion without correction.

All this writing comes down to a deep desire on my part not to loose control over what's mine. I want control of the entire creative photographic tool chain, from the camera to the finished file. I don't like anyone standing in the middle who might break that chain.

[1] A variation of Russian leader Vladimir Lenin's, and later President Ronald Regan's "Trust, but Verify" proverb.

a bit of a changeup

You're looking at a screenshot from my Nexus 7, Google's 7" reference Android tablet. It's a screenshot of my blog with the tablet in its default portrait orientation.

I changed my blog's default layout from 'magazine' to 'classic' because 'classic' displays best on the tablet. In magazine mode the blog crammed everything onto the page, regardless of its orientation. It made it very difficult to read and navagate. If you selected a story, it made it very hard to scroll up the story. If I may borrow a phrase and mangle it a bit, magazine layout is very finger unfriendly, while classic isn't. This layout also has the added benefit of showing the blog's navigation bar off to the right. There's just a smidge of irony in this selection of classic, as it was never originally designed for touch in mind, but for an earlier time on the web when simplicity was held in higher regard.

I changed up the color a bit from tan to green. It's spring bordering on summer here in central Florida, and we've started to receive a bit of rain. All the plant growth we haven't bulldozed down is coming out in riotous hues of green. Besides, if Picasso can have his rose and blue periods, then I can have my green-as-summer period.

As a nod to a bit of skeuomorphism I changed some of the fonts (blog description and entry title) to Google's 'coming soon' font, which you can find it on the design tool within Blogger itself. I kind of like the pseudo hand-written printed look, like comments across the top edge of old photos and polaroids.

And just to show that every rose has its thorn, there's a "feature" between the Android version of Google and Blogger's implementation of this layout. The labeling across the top that shows "Classic Flipcard Magazine..." won't display on the Nexus 7 (or Firefox for Android, for that matter). I guess somebody is checking the agent string on Google's side and disabling the menu if it's coming from a tablet, but I'll be damned to explain why they should bother. But if you're reading this on a regular machine (notebook, laptop, desktop) and you see the menu then you can select the old magazine layout and continue on.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Coming Back Around Again

Jesus Is God
For some reason March of this year has been rather tough to get through. Lots of work, lots of problems (both professional and personal). All of March's hurdles notwithstanding, I decided to grab all the Pens and all the lenses and even the Sony 5N and go out and photograph - something. While we ran our errands I stopped and photographed as well as photographed where we normally stopped, coming up with this eclectic collection of snapshots.

For today's use I selected the Olympus E-M5 with the Panasonic 2.5/14mm and the Olympus E-PL2 with the Panasonic 1.4/25mm. Both cameras were set to the dramatic art filter, and I'd further tweaked the E-PL2's dramatic filter by adding the border effect.
Jesus Loves Me
I came across the van at the top on the way to our local Whole Foods. I'd seen it for several weeks parked on the side of the road. I assume it was there because of Easter, and the owner's desire to publicly express their faith. This is the second large vehicle I've seen decorated this this, for this reason, in the area. The first I saw was back in October 2011, and it was a finely scripted Toyota van. This one is radically different in it's underpinnings and decoration but no less staunch in its declaration of faith. Even the bike, which travels with the van and allows the driver to get around locally, is an expression of the owner's faith.
Put Lady In Van
The only odd spot on the van was this taped-on, hand lettered sign to put the lady in the van, followed by a $265 dollar fine. A warning? It's one of those little details that I'm sure has a rather pedestrian explanation but can certainly stir the imagination a bit in the mean time.
Parked
Healthy Hydrangea at Whole Foods
When we got to Whole Foods I left the E-PL2 in the Prius and took the E-M5 with me. On the way in I grabbed a few photos that appealed to me because of their color and composition. Colors have always been a big aspect of Florida, especially during the green season (March to October, basically). Especially in our spring, when the greens are really bright and the temperatures really begin to rise. Today the temperature hit 82, and it was pretty humid. Nothing bothersome like it'll be in May, but warm enough.

A Change of Pace

I have all these Pens, and the Pens have all these interesting capabilities, most of which I tend to ignore. For this group of photos I've used the pop art and dramatic tone art filters. I'm beginning to get a hang for when to use them. And I'm having a lot of fun in the process.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

It's a World of Colour

Hall & Oates - Abstract
Sunset Light

Whether it's stark colors and sharp edges or muted, rich colors that remind me of the old Renaissance masters, the world is full of color, even if those colors border on black and white. That does not mean it's a black and white world. Black and white is an artificiality we imposed on our world because that's all we had for the most part, especially in early photography. From black and white prints in old newspapers, to monochrome photographs stretching back to the late eighteenth century, black and white was de rigueur. Color was the very rare exception.

My first camera was an Instamatic 104. The first photos to come out of it were black and white. When I started developing film on my own it was Tri-X, both 35mm and 120/220. Color, while certainly available, was expensive and required someone else to process and print, adding to the cost. That all changed with digital. All of a sudden I had the ability to work with color to a degree I never even had with film-and-paper based black and white. And yet, in spite of the incredible flexibility provided by the technology I did one of two things; create pseudo black and white, and try to create clinically correct color.

I'm moving away from black and white the way I'm moving away from larger cameras. The little cameras are powerful enough (have been so for a good while now) to be rich tools to explore the incredibly rich color palette of the world. After 50-plus years of personal photography, it's time to truly walk alone.

Technical

Top photo taken with E-M5 and M.Zuiko 40-150mm R. Saturation was boosted to 20 in the Olympus photo, blacks deepened. Bottom photo taken with Sony NEX-5N and Sigma 19mm. Bottom photo was post processed. Clarity in the Sony photo was adjusted -50 to soften the details through the photo.

The Menagerie

Ruby Eyes
Don't Bother Me
Lucy Snooze

All taken with the E-M5 and the M.Zuiko 14-42mm II kit zoom. The E-M5's quick focus, touch screen, and very quiet operation allowed me to get close enough to the animals for the captures. That, and the high ISO performance of the sensor (Ruby at the top and Lucy at the bottom are ISO 3200). The E-M5 is, without a doubt, the best Olympus digital camera I've ever owned, 4:3rds or µ4:3rds. And the consumer zooms I've used, specifically the 14-42mm and 40-150mm, have done excellent yeoman work, especially on the E-M5 body.

This is the digital camera that Olympus has always been capable of producing (see the OM-1), and the digital camera they should have produced before they did. I sincerely hope Olympus produces more cameras like the E-M5, but more importantly, I hope Olympus survives to produce more like the E-M5.

Hall & Oates

Hall & Oates - Jammin'
So it's a new Bands, Brew and BBQ concert season at Sea World, and there's at least three acts my wife wants to go and see. The first act she wanted to see was this past Saturday, Hall & Oates. For those too young to know who they are, Daryl Hall and John Oates are a rock duo who made were best known from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s. Like many rock acts they faded a bit into the background as different rock fads came and went. And like many other rock acts that are still capable, they're touring around the country. Many of them are touring through Sea World in Orlando.

The concert started promptly at 4pm, and finished right at 5. The band came back for three more encore numbers, much to a very appreciative crowd. The music and act was tight and very well done. The backing musicians were excellent, especially the sax player and the third guitar player (to the left). The playing was tight, with only a few (minor) off-notes during the entire set. I kind of miss the rougher, more spontaneous performances from decades ago, but then that's irrational me talking.

The next two acts we'll be seeing is Michael McDonald and Sheryl Crow. It will be interesting how those shows go.
Hall & Oates
Hall & Oates - Crowds 2
Hall & Oates - Black Harley
Hall & Oates - Identifier

Technical

I used the Olympus E-M5 with the M.Zuiko 40-150mm R and 45mm lenses and the Sony NEX-5N with the Sony 19mm for the wide shots. Both cameras produced excellent results image-quality wise. But it was the E-M5 with the 40-150mm R that was the fluid photo-capturing machine. The E-M5 lives up to its considerable reputation. It makes the 40-150mm zoom, a consumer zoom, a very good zoom. My only wish is that Olympus would produce a µ4:3rds version of the High Grade 50-200mm f2.8-3.5.