Norman is an Island

Norman works for the Royal Bahamas Police and takes his job very seriously. So do the drivers when they set off at the lights on Bay Street, Nassau. Officer Norman stands proudly in the center of the road as an island of calm and gives you the eye. You had better do as he tells you or there will be consequences…

160331_NormanIsAnIsland

~ Richard

Haiku: Space Invaders

I have just finished reading the War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches, an excellent collection of short stories written from the perspective of many of H.G Wells’ contemporaries and their interactions with the Martian invasion of 1900, as described in his classic sci-fi novel.
Although there were stories from as far apart as Europe, Africa, Russia, China and Alaska there was nothing from Japan. As such, I offer my own comment, using the Japanese haiku and with my humble apologies to Masaoka Shiki, 1867-1902, who would have been a most appropriate author:

~ S p a c e  I n v a d e r s ~

conquering tripods
firestarters in vampire cloaks
humbled by microbes

~ Richard

The prime numbers don’t add up, at least not initially

There seems to be few things that some photographers like to do more than argue the relative merits of their opinions on equipment; whether it be the age-old Nikon vs Canon battle (see here for my parody), or whether DSLRs are better than mirrorless cameras, what is the best crop-sensor size or, one of my favorites: the time-honored argument of prime lenses vs. zoom lenses.

Thus, when starry-eyed, enthusiastic newcomers graduate to cameras with interchangeable lenses (ILCs) from their point-and-shoot kits (P&S), as we pompous photogs like to call them, they are barraged by a “wealth” of conflicting gibberish about the latest must have lens in order to take their photography “to the next level.” In fact, a quick look at my twitter and pinterest feeds show that around 10% of the traffic crossing my path concerns this crap at the moment.

Well, not to be outdone I’m going to add my opinion to what I view as a sea of consumerism, shrouded in pointless perfectionism, specifically focusing (!) on the prime vs zoom lens argument. So, here goes:

For the uninitiated the logic goes like this – camera lenses are a complex set of individual glass elements which fit together to allow image focus at a certain distance. Prime lenses have a fixed focal length whereas zoom lenses, by very definition, do not. Zoom lenses give you much more flexibility on composing your shot but this comes at some cost to image quality. In order to achieve this flexibility the zoom lenses must have more elements and therefore be more complicated. It also is not designed to be “perfect” at one focal length and therefore has to compromise throughout the focal range. This compromise is what drives many photographers nuts, mainly because they are obsessed with the concept of obtaining the ever-elusive “tack sharp” image.

To be brutally honest the there is one huge advantage that prime lenses do have over zoom – the availability of much wider apertures for the same focal length, but please read on…

My view is that unless you are planning on producing a print that it larger than, say 40” (100cm) on one side, or have a penchant for specialist photography such as macro, or starlight, or you want a compact 50mm (that’s a 25mm for us m4/3 users!) for street work, then generally speaking, swapping a zoom lens for a much more expensive prime lens isn’t really worth it, at least not until you discover your niche area of photography (if you ever do). In fact, given that the vast majority (>99%) of images are never, ever printed at any size, I’ll put it another way –  don’t rush out and spend your cash on expensive prime lenses, until you have worked out if you have a real need for one.   

As a budding photographer, surrounded by a maelstrom of magazines and blogs that are often nothing more than pages of advertisements,  what does matter is honing your skill as a photographer in understanding the relationship between aperture, shutter speed and (that so-antiquated term) ISO. That, and the ability to actually focus and knowing how to compose a shot to tell the story you want to convey! It is for this reason the good old zoom lens is a great lens to have as it allows you to experiment, and experimentation is the best way of learning any new skill.

In my experience the kit lenses (usually zoom) that are provided with an ILC have been perfectly adequate for 95% of the photographs I take.

And if you think this is all bull, then here’s a sobering thought – I have sold several large prints to buyers, some up to 27” x 36” (68 cm x 91 cm) taken with an iPhone 5, so where does that leave the “you must invest in an expensive prime lens to take a good photograph” argument?

~Richard

52-week Challenge: week 13

WEEK 13: Portrait: High Key – Expose to the right and create a light, airy high key portrait.

Oops, my bad. For some reason I was more hung up on trying to figure out the concept of “high key photography” versus “high key lighting” and simply exposing to the right (ETTR) than actually looking at the brief in sufficient detail. Anyhow, as usual there’s a lot of highfalutin crap written about high key photography, and I don’t have the interest or time to argue. To me it simply means light tones and no shadows.

I have produced a high key image but not a portrait (of a person). And now the weekend is over my models are no longer available! I will have to try again…

160328_TulipHiKey

 

~ Richard

Easter Eggs

As British ex-pats living in the US one of the quirky things we miss from our immigrant tradition at this time of year is the chocolate easter egg. The supermarket shelves are fully stocked with colorful, but ghastly, marshmallow peeps in a variety of shapes and sizes, there may be myriad easter-themed other chocolates, and mounds of chocolate bunnies, but alas, no hollow eggs. I do see mini-eggs and creme eggs, but where are those large hollow confections we used to love as a kid in the UK?

When easter came round we would usually get a couple of these from family. Displayed in their quirky half-boxes so that you could see the bright foil that encased the chocolate, they were a welcome treat for all children. In fact in the UK there are still around 80 million sold each year, which has to be about 3 per child!

In the “good ol’ days” the eggs would also contain a surprize of some sort. Usually in the form of more chocolate goodies, or other candies, but sometimes a small toy or a keepsake. Over the years, this seems to have changed, with these “extras” now being included in the box rather than the egg itself. I don’t know if that’s because of production costs or some kind of “health and safety” directive, but either way it’s a shame in my opinion. It spoils the fun of cracking open the egg.

So, what’s a man to do? Well, only one thing for it – get some molds from eBay and make my own, and what’s more this has the added benefit of me being able to choose the chocolate too! (I won’t bore you with my rant about the concept of American ‘chocolate’ here…).

A quick trip to purchase the last 3 bars of the increasingly elusive Scharffen Berger Milk Chocolate (the best American chocolate there is) at Wegman’s and a few hours later, my handmade gift is ready for my wife:

160326_EasterEgg

Happy Easter (egg) to all!

 

~Richard

Lasagna’s Law, Buses and Photography

In 1970, American physician and clinical pharmacologist, Louis Lasagna, described the phenomenon that is well known to those of us who work in the field of clinical research: “The incidence of patient availability sharply decreases when a clinical trial begins and returns to its original level as soon as the trial is completed.”  In other words, when discussing with physicians to see if a clinical study with a new drug or device is feasible, it’s amazing how many suitable patients “disappear” from the face of the earth as soon a study starts, thus making the study slower, more expensive, and overall more difficult than had been “promised.”  Over the years, this became known as “Lasagna’s Law (of patient recruitment)

Similar phenomena, however, are not isolated to research.  For example, users of public transport (at least in Britain) are familiar with the oft-quoted idiom:  “you wait for a bus for a longer than you should have to and then three come along at once.” *

So what is going on here?

My conjecture is that much like the phenomenon of pareidolia, this is linked as much to human  perception as to anything based in reality: the physicians probably think they see more suitable patients than they do as they are concentrating on a particular set of criteria, but probably in a too generalized manner (if that makes sense).

I bring this up because in order to complete my week 12 photography challenge I finally settled upon the idea of photographing a yellow school bus, as I blogged yesterday. How many of these do we see every day? How often do I wait for the flashing red lights and pop out stop signs? I would have estimated at least a dozen a day for the first question and at least once a day for the second. But when I want to see them, what happens? I start to question my reasoning, that’s what!

This seemingly easy, self-inflicted assignment suddenly became a challenge. A man with camera pitted against fate. The buses all seemed to me to have left the streets or only appeared briefly when my camera wasn’t handy, sneaking behind other vehicles, billboards, road signs and nature. I decided that I don’t want to appear as some weird stalker, so I wasn’t prepared to hang around the school yard with a camera, so that left me with no option but to treat this like a pseudo-wildlife shoot.

I managed to snatch some shots from the parking lot at the local Wawa store, but for some reason I felt a bit like a private investigator digging up dirt – not a nice feeling. And I got glared at by one car driver as she drove into the lot.

160325_SchoolBus01

In the end, I changed the scope of my assignment. When driving to work that final morning (I like to keep to the weekly timing) I decided to visit the equivalent of the wildlife “watering hole” in the savanna, namely, the local bus lot, to capture these elusive beasts.  So,  at lunchtime I snatched 20 minutes to drive out to one which is nearby and to sheepishly ask the guy in charge if I could photograph some buses.  As it happens, there was no-one in what appeared to be the gate house so I just stood outside and clicked away.

Job done, at last!

So, what, if anything, is the lesson here? Well, although it ended well enough, albeit under pressure, I should probably think more about setting a realistic goal in the future. And to that end, I think I will finish with the old British Army adage of the 7Ps, which always holds true, in my experience, and should be well heeded by us all.

l leave you to look up, dear reader 😉

~ Richard

* As an aside, there does appear to be a totally different rationale for this one, though – it’s called “platooning” apparently.

52-week Challenge: week 12

WEEK 12: Artistic: Transportation – Our world is one defined by how we get around. Literal or interpretative, find inspiration in transportation.

I had too many ideas for this one; cars, trains, bicycles, buses, perhaps even an Amish carriage, if I were to travel west a few dozen miles.  I mean, how can so much choice be a problem, right?

Well, it can because the issue then becomes one of creative overload, at least in my case. Yes, I need to focus (pun intended) on what I actually want to achieve with this assignment.

So, a day or two to think and then here we go:

Idea 1: Panning cars traveling on the highway to give a blurred background. It didn’t happen.

Idea 2: An arty shot of an AMTRAK train or the SEPTA regional railway, maybe in black and white. It didn’t happen.  

Idea 3: A bustling street scene in the center of town, or a commuter ride showing traffic congestion. It didn’t happen.

Idea 4: Cyclists – there’s always several of these guys on the back roads at the weekend. That one didn’t even start!

Grr, what’s going on?

Then, on the Monday morning drive to work, an epiphany: the American school bus – it’s so obvious!

As an immigrant from England the yellow school bus is as much an internationally known icon of US society as the red double-decker bus is quintessentially British. It instantly identifies any scene as being American. I would venture more so even than a slice of mom’s apple pie cooling on the window sill…

… and I know where they park a lot of them 🙂

160324-SchoolBusMirror

Oh, and there’s a backstory to this as well – I will share that on tomorrow’s post

~Richard

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