Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Eating Pudding

This past Monday I spent the better part of 4 hours in front of my laptop trying to play a serious game of catch-up on all the photos I'd taken in the week-and-3-days prior. It's always those late night stretches in front of that digital glow that remind me why, as much as I love the process of taking a photo, I absolutely despise the post-process involved. Luckily a majority of the images were simply snaps that just needed to be re-sized, contrast boosted and maybe given the warming touch of an 81A - nothing too complicated. But that swamp of snaps stood in the way of what I really couldn't wait to get to - the crop from a recent explore.

As many times as I've ventured into "The Valley", my coverage of the area always seemed to stop on one side of the dividing river. My portfolio is full of images of the power station on the South side, but not once in a year of wandering have I managed to document the mill on the North side. This past Sunday, with the company of a new friend and photography junkie, the decrepit innards of the mill finally got their 15 minutes in front of my lens (gee, that sounds kind of pompous now that I'm re-reading it).

Needless to say it was an exciting explore. Easily my first foray into an unfamiliar, unknown location since February. Despite being a comparatively low-risk endeavor compared to other "missions", the adrenal rush of excitement I so missed welled up right away. I'm starting to wonder if perhaps the secret ingredient to a heightened state of creativity isn't the adrenaline rush itself, much as it works for athletes who pull out dramatic maneuvers in desperate moments. Much unlike my other shooting as of late, I certainly came away with more than a dozen images I saw as quality enough to merit some time in post. However, it was in post that I hit something of a brick wall of limitation.

I am happy to be shooting in JPG again... most of the time. When candidly photographing people or snap shooting an event or anything that to its core involves a more reactive method of shooting than premeditated, JPG seems to serve me just fine. Photographing what matters to me, however, the decay and peel and dirt and dust of forgotten places, despite having all the time in the world to set up, compose, frame and shoot, the JPG is not enough. Dare I say it, the GF1 spoiled me when it forced me to shoot in RAW.

Compared to the post techniques exercised by some, my own process isn't particularly heavy or involved. Each photo I carry into post sees a pretty uniform list of edits done upon it that typically doesn't run over 6 adjustment layers. The adjustments are simple and straightforward, but where the catch 22 has managed to surprise me is in how hard those adjustments punish the JPG for discarding rather specific image information. Specifically, I'm referring to color channel adjustments, especially the red channel. Given the layout of the bayer matrix generating color on the sensor, the red channel is right next to blue as being the noisiest of the bunch. This is an issue for me, because one of my crucial methods of recovering shadow detail is to tweak that channel. In RAW, there is no issue because, despite being initially concealed by the way the image was exposed, that concealed image detail can be recovered via channel mixer tweak. In JPG, however, the image information hidden in the shadows is discarded during compression to reduce file size. Thus, when attempting to recover that image detail with the channel mixer, all the JPG files give me are blotches of chroma noise. Not attractive, and not what I'm looking for at all.

So the old proverb "the proof of the pudding is in the eating" has struck again. Despite thinking I could get away with an exclusively JPG process, there are just some things that won't stand up to my abuse without being shot in RAW. For these kinds of images, however... they're worth the time in post, and therefore worth the "RAW treatment". I just need to figure out if E-P3 RAW files are supported in software, yet.

In any case, it was a great day to explore.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Accidental Fame Monster

I've posted this photo to the left before - it is the image that seems to incur the most bizarre and unexpected steady flow of high traffic. Of all my Flickr-hosted images, this one would be the Malaysian Whore. It gets around to people and places and I simply cannot fathom why. Perhaps I've just seen it so much that the original effect it had on me has dissolved? I don't know. But I do know this image has gotten to places without my knowing.

One of Flickr's nifty features is a stats screen to show view traffic of the gallery. Not being much interested in those numbers, I never really dove into it too deep, just noticed it was there. Curiosity got the better of me this weekend and I ventured to that screen to see the view traffic of the day and sure enough this image was again on top of view hits. Something I hadn't noticed before was a panel that shows image referrer's URLs to source the flow of traffic. It only seems to keep a log of traffic over "today" and "yesterday", but that was certainly enough for me to get an idea of why this image seems to engulf the numbers on the traffic counter:
Unbeknownst to me, some time last year The Inspiration Blog and Base Digital Photography both produced articles on low key photography and utilized my image as a reference piece for their material. At last, the puzzle is solved!

Late as my recognition of their credited use of my image is, I am deeply flattered and thank both sites for finding my work of a high enough caliber to be paired with their writing. I do wish, however, that they'd have let me know of their use of the image, if only to extend a mutually credited thanks. Not that I'm one to complain about any kind of credited use of my images (especially when the images link directly back into my main Flickr gallery), but it would've been nice to have known the cause of this inadvertent fame monster of a piece.

Again, to the writers Lucas Cobb and "Admin", I thank you!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Jealousy is the Ultimate Flattery

A good friend and fellow photog I've followed on Flickr and lives local has just recently managed to not only publish a photo book of his work, Monodrift: Volume One, but achieve the coveted Staffer's Choice recognition for producing a photo book chock full of deliciously wonderful images. His accomplishment is one I've often hoped to achieve myself (the production of a book, anyway, not necessarily the exclusive recognition, although that would certainly be nice). I find myself in a weird place of admiration for his dedication and talent, respect for his drive to push forward with it in face of the costs associated and insane jealousy that he managed to beat me to the chase and produced a book before I could. But as another good friend always told me, jealousy is the ultimate expression of flattery to the successful. And sure enough, Jake deserves it.

Barring the jealousy that he managed to publish his favorite work in this manner first, his achievement has rather inspired me to put forth more effort in publishing my own work. Jake's Volume One is a clean, crisp display of his photographic work over the last year, sans text blurbs and explanation. Rather, he lets the images speak for themselves. It's a gorgeously arranged approach, but mine would certainly be a bit different (different strokes for different folks).

Before my accident, while in the process of acquiring my studio, I had it in mind to produce a photo book of my own, but aside from straightforward display of images I had planned on a strong literary element to pair with them. Other photo books on the topic of abandoned and decaying Western architecture have traditionally concerned themselves with building history, detailing in fine detail the progress of their function's decline into vacancy. Myself, I've never been too overly concerned with the history of the buildings I've photographed. Much like Jake, my interest is heavily geared to the aesthetic of decay. In the greater picture of photography as a hobby overall, however, my focus leans heavily on the experience behind the capture of the image. As such, my original plan back in April was to produce a photo book with short, frankly written yet eccentric and stylistic descriptions of the experience behind each image.

Like any literary material, it would take time and good editing before it ever reached a published state, and 4 months ago I was more than ready to invest that time. Lately, however, I've been very lackadaisical in my pursuit of a more polished self image as a photographer. That lethargy that plagues me is the one obstacle I have left to counter. And again, I find myself brought back to the talking points of my post-before-last where I'm finding it incredibly difficult to climb back on the horse from which I was thrown. These days, however, I'm getting much more support from key figures in my daily life which is countering that personal woe with success. At this point there is only the doing left to be done, financial and support concerns are not an issue. So frustrating that the doing has become so difficult, though.

In other news, I ordered that 45mm f/1.8 Olympus recently released. Excited about it showing up at my door and putting it to good use. Right now this whole photo book thing is dominating my thoughts, however.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Anticipation is Mounting

First off, let me apologize for the previous post - among many things it was incredibly cryptic, and especially to those who know me, when cryptic ramblings escape from mind to text it's typically a sign that I am at an emotional low. And certainly I was, but have managed to crawl my way out of the pitfall of my own making. The cause has been brought up on this blog before, I believe - I am perpetually terrified that I have lost all capability to generate momentum anything like that which I carried prior to my accident. Some... okay, let me try that again... ALL of that paranoia has to deal with the dramatic change in my relationship with certain ethanol-infused liquids of which I had the habit of partaking in frequently. For my health and for a much broader, overall well being, I have sworn off various gentlemanly named bottles, a move that has undoubtedly resulted in an overall happier mood and ability to deal with important issues, but only at the sacrifice of a great amount of my creative drive. An odd thing, though functionally stunted by the manner in which I consumed alcohol, creatively I don't think I will ever feel that inspired and driven ever again. For the greater good, however, that is something I will learn to live with, and even if I can't attain that high of creative flow, I have to believe I can work my way close to it. One more issue with the lack of booze in my veins these days is horrible lethargy. Again, something I will learn to deal with, possibly with the aid of several boots to the ass.

That depressing topic aside, I am excited! The Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens is finally starting to ship in small quantities, and finally, after paying a large bulk of bills that have plagued my account for the past 4 months, I am in a position to treat myself to the shiny new piece of glass! I've been looking forward to getting my hands on it ever since 43Rumors leaked it on the Olympus lens roadmap. A medium telephoto prime may very well be the only kind of prime lens I haven't tooled with at all, yet, and judging from the work I've seen done with fast primes in the 75-85mm range I'm certain it won't be disappointing. It would tie in very well with the work I've been doing lately (photographing people), and I sure am tired of shooting people with the wide 14mm f/2.5 I've been using almost exclusively for the last month (sure, I could just pop on a zoom, but eww, zooms). Although the 14mm has been serving me well for portraits lately, it's kind of uncomfortable for people when I get inches from their face to frame the image correctly. Luckily my "models" have all been people I know and with whom personal space is a non-issue.

More importantly, a strong portrait lens (and there should be no question that a 90mm equivalent f/1.8 lens is anything but) will be required for my planned venture into a more professional kind of portraiture. Case in point, a good friend from high school and keeper of the blog Decade Displacement and I are planning to meet up sometime soon, not just to catch up on our lives post-high school but also to brainstorm a collaborative effort in which I could photograph the material for her blog. For those who read this far without clicking the link, she's a fan of vintage style of clothing and often purchases patterns and sews her own iconic 60's fashion or sifts through antique stores, Goodwill and EBay to find shoes and other fashion accessories of the era. The opportunity for some fun creative collaboration is impossibly obvious and far too rich to ignore. Assuming we pair up in the manner I have in mind, the 45mm f/1.8 is only one step - next up I would likely be aiming to purchase a softbox for her smaller items and then the classic background and diffuser screens for clean WYSIWYG lighting. More than anything else, I'm crazy excited about working with someone else in this manner. I did it in 2008 when doing shoddy docu-drama with another good friend covering the Baltimore areas street racing underground, and that still stands as one of my most creative periods. This has the potential to shape up in exactly the same way.

Hopefully we meet up soon and material from our melded minds comes to light quickly. This weekend proves to be busy, but I'm sure we'll find some time to sit down together for a mind blowing creative discussion.