More on show: projector problem

Data projectors ('beamers' in our corner of the Continent) are tricky enough even when not miniaturised into photo cameras (see previous post): during our Club evening, yesterday, I counted on using the room's built-in projector with the special settings we had laboriously made for it. In fact, Louis and me had spent the best part of two hours fiddling with all settings and had stored our best (i.e. reasonable, not perfect!) settings. Friday night I loaded "our" settings, but when we watched and discussed forty or so photos over the evening, the bad rendering of colour and contrast on the screen made serious photographic discussions quite difficult. And then to think that this ASK Proxima was judged to be one of the best of the € 1,000 projectors, a year ago by Focus. What is the solution? Should our camera club buy its own projector, of € 3,000? Unlikely--but if not, what then to do?


Compact to show

I'm a bit behind on the camera release front, and no wonder (I soothe myself), because new cameras are announced almost daily. But this one is worth noticing: early August, Nikon announced a compact camera with built-in projector. It should give you a view of up to 40", instead of the 2 to 3" screens at the back of compact cameras before which we now have to rub our heads with other onlookers to get a faint idea of the new baby, or whatever people take pictures of. I like the idea of being more aware of the fact that photos are there not just to be taken, but to be viewed. Viewing should be made as simple as possible--quite in agreement with Nikon, and also with other camera makers who let you upload seamlessly to web galleries and social network sites. But will this built-in projector work?

There are some drawbacks. Not the 40" maximum size; that's more than most home tv screens. But that is the maximum, probably only reached under ideal circumstances (no disturbing environmental light, a good flat and white background, I guess). Besides, your tv nowadays has up to HD resolution (1920x1080 pixels, about 2 megapixel--still less than modern phone cameras, let alone good compacts or DSLRs), while this camera-projector is said to have VGA resolution; that means 640x480 or 0.3 megapixel. That won't look good at 40" size, not even if you take the larger viewing distance into account. (The relevance of viewing distance: People look at a small-size picture from a small viewing distance, so it needs a higher resolution to seem sharp than a large-size picture, which they need to step back from to take it all in at a single viewing.)

Besides, I wonder about the colour rendering of the small built-in projector. In our camera club, we worked for close to two hours with a normal-size projector to get its colours more or less right by tweaking all kinds of menu settings against a number of test pictures, from colour cards to 'real life' photos including landscapes, portraits, etc. (No, we don't have a calibration apparatus for LCD projectors--but that's another sad story.) And that was with a fairly new projector already in use, which had been installed by a professional seller and which the non-camera club users found quite alright and convincing as for its colour rendering.

I don't want to forget to mention that the battery time for projecting would be no more than one hour. Probably that's even quite a feat, technically--and more than enough for the slide shows you want to submit your family and friends to. Maybe they should have limited slide show duration to twenty minutes, for the sake of the family and friends ;-)

All in all, Nikon had a good idea, but I'm sceptical as to its practical use. I'll wait for the third generation of such cameras-cum-projector. At least the third generation.


Every so often... you just have to take that picture

"Every so often, you turn a corner and there it is--a great photograph." That is how Guardian photographer Eamonn McCabe summarised his fascination with (black & white) photography. He felt inspired by a book of the same title, Every so often, by another photographer, Raymond Moore. It's a matter of (quoting McCabe's column in August's Black+White Photography again): "just enjoying the process of looking". I agree, and whished I had a camera built into my eyes: you just click your fingers (that is an allusion to a recent song by Daniel Lohues, of course) and then it's stored in your memory. So even when I don't have a good camera with me, sometimes I just have to take that photograph--as this one, in the streets of Athens, in 2007. What did that junk do in the street? Why is the passer-by looking at it, or beyond it through the window? Never mind the technically bad quality of the photo, use that little old compact (as in this case) or even your phone's camera. Point and shoot--to keep wondering whenever you see the picture again about a moment you otherwise would have forgotten.


Landscape book -- little gem with flaws

A book on landscape photography is what I picked up in a 'modern antiques' bookstore ('ramsj', in Yiddish-Dutch), when my daughter drgged me into it. (A matter of self-protection, as I would be certain to come out with too many books if I let meyself loose in such a store...). It was the Dutch version of 'The World's Top Photographers - Landscapes' edited by Terry Hope. You may find little gems among the rubbish of those cheap bookstores, so do go and have a look--if you can control yourself ;-)

The book itself is still on sale in the main online bookstores (no advertisements by me; you can find your own).

It contains two spreads with a little bit of text and one to circa four photos from 38 photographers, ordered alphabetically. The photos are quite nice--'inspiring' in the not too far from true enthusiastic parlance of the Introduction--and the texts give a good impression of what it takes to be a good landscape photographer. Knowing your special corner of the world and a lot of persistence are among the key ingredients, so much is clear to me already after leafing through just a few of the photographers' little chapters.

It is only too noticeable that the book originally was published in 2003, before the digital revolution in photography. All photos are made on film (almost invariably Fuji, just a few on Kodak--I used to prefer the fuller Fuji colours, too). Of course, there still are many landscpae photographers who work on film, especially in the large cameras (4x5 inch, etc.). But many now also work digitally, and that is not found in this book. Besides, I would have liked more detailed technical information with the photos: what is the use of knowing the brand of camera or film, but not the aperture and shutter speed (plus ISO setting)? For instance, the trick of getting the 'glazed' smoothness of the sea in some photos depends on the shutter speed and then I'd like to learn if it takes 2, 20 or 200 seconds for getting that effect.

Annoying about the Dutch translation is that it was not done by a photographer, otherwise the translation of 'tripod' would not have been the literal 'driepoot' but the correct 'statief', for instance. So I found the book a gem with little flaws, but it will be useful on many rainy days for getting more inspiration!

The photo here is just a little illustration of landscape and nature photography 'learned young'. As my daughter had my DSLR, I took her picture with the small compact camera--good enough for the purpose. I tried to take care of some composition rules (object at 1/3), and felt aided by the S-curve in the park's path to suggest depth. What's the flaw in this little gem?


Pokeweed revisited with bonus

Ladybird on pokeweed
Originally uploaded by DFW-Photo
Looking at the same spike of the Pokeweed that I showed here a week ago, it looks quite different now (overview of the plant below), with all berries that were ripening last week already disappeared (eaten by birds?) and the last few, at the top of the spike, blackening now. But the bonus this time was the orange ladybird (there must be umpteen kinds of ladybirds!) scourgng the little berries for aphids and the like. Problem for the photographer: such a little insect is faster than you think, and it always seems to sit at the wrong side of the spike.
Info for other photographers: although this photo was made in subdued daylight (it was a cloudy day), I used a (normal set-up) flash to get the highlights. More importantly: the flash enabled using a short enough shutter speed to avoid blur due to the wind.


Hazy Sunday morning

Hazy Sunday morning
Originally uploaded by DFW-Photo
Found the new issue of 'Black & White Photographer' with quite a few landscape pictures (almost all of seaside locations on the British isles). That inspired me to play in Lightroom with a picture of earlier this year, and which has some water--no seaside in my neighbourhood, a ditch is all you can find here! But then again, with a few wild ducks and the haze of a Sunday morning in spring, what more do you need?


Sensible suggestions: Photographing dragonflies

The magazine Vlinders of this month (3/09, the journal of the Dutch butterfly foundation—they also include working groups on dragonflies and the like) has an article on photographing dragonflies by Kim Huskens, from which I’d like to copy some of the many[!] sensible suggestions.

Camera talk
Apart from the usual arguments about technical pros and cons of DSLR’s versus compact cameras, they include some things specific to photographing insects and especially the fast-flying types, such as dragonflies.

Starting with flying fast: you need a camera that reacts very quickly, both when it comes to focussing and to the delay between pushing the button and the actual picture. Most of the time, DSLRs win out on these points from compacts. However, some of the newer ‘megazoom’ or ‘bridge’ cameras score very well on these points, too—Huskens does not mention those, and I admit I’m not aware of the state of the art either, but with 30+ pictures per second, or HD video options, you’d stand a good chance of capturing that dragonfly that the DSLR-amateur misses with ‘only’ 3-6 frames per second.

Another advantage of compact cameras lies in what often is a disadvantage: their small sensor. For that means they also have a large depth of field: you can make great pictures of insects in their environment and get a great view of the environment. Their disadvantage is of course that you cannot get that insect free from the optically disturbing background.

For the rest of this blog, I am thinking of a DSLR, because now we get to changing lenses). Often, you’ll have to get close to get the beast filling a good deal of the screen/viewfinder. With special tele-macro lenses, you don’t need to get that close; with a normal 50 or 90 mm you’d have to get within a couple of centimetres of the target and they do not often wait for that… Bumble bees may sometimes be slower, early in the day or when they are cold, so the secon picture was made with a 50mm macro lens (thanks to the crop factor, that was 75 mm equivalent on a full-frame (D)SLR). The pictures in Huskens’s article were made with, I suppose, the famous Sigma 2.8/150 lens (she does not say if it is the current 2.8 version). For me with my Minolta/Sony stuff, there is the Tamron 3.5/180, with the advantage of a bit longer focal range. High on my wish list, because getting a dragonfly filling the viewfinder in real is better than using my 100-300mm at around 1.5 meter and cropping afterwards (as I did in the first picture here).

Making the picture

With insect photography, there are a few special things to think about. When you get close, you must take care not to cast your own shadow in the photo. Apart from losing a few stops of light, you’d scare off the dragonfly before you can press the button. So keep the sun behind you (for getting the detail of the animal) but not straight behind. Don’t try backlight.

Walk slowly and keep your distance while circling to a good angle. Huskens advises to get low, so that you don’t seem so big and threatening.

For determining the dragonfly (if you can…): keep in parallel to the long body (not as in the third picture) so that it I sharp from front to tail. Often you need to see both the side and the top of the dragonfly’s body; sometimes you need two photos, then.

It helps to know the behaviour of the dragonfly: some families of dragonflies sit still quite a bit, others keep coming back to the same spot after short hunting flights, but there are also families that keep flying—obviously, those are the hardest.

Shoot first, ask later

‘Shoot first, ask later’ is one of my favourite one-liners when it comes to taking photos: when you see something promising, release the button as soon as you can, so that you have at least one memento of what you wanted to put in the picture. Only then begin to follow all the rules and tips to go for a good picture. Especially with dragonflies and the like, if you begin slowly, you may miss your one and only chance to get the beast at all.

Silly season is over, and so is the rain

The French just started their month of holidays, but I’m back again, back to photos and blogs! Hope you all are on the net, too!

It rained this morning, but after the rain the diffuse light filtering through the clouds showed all details of the plants in the garden to their utmost advantage. Subtle colours on the Phytolacca esculenta (pokeberry) are my sample picture of that. These weeks I find the pokeberries fascinating with their berries changing from green to blackish-red.

The raindrops on the leaves make the sights in the garden even better. Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s mantle) is famous for the way it keeps drops of rainwater—or dew, for that matter—on its leaves for a long time. How come some kinds of plants do, and others don’t? No idea! But I do know another advantage of Lady’s mantle: it has short, stiff stems, so that the leaves do not move with every whiff of wind; I tried to take a picture of raindrops on fern leaves (to have something different than the eternal Lady’s mantle macros), but they would not hold still for long enough, even though there was just a tiny little bit of wind around the house.