Retro Vibes

SONY DSC
Taken at Sundsberg, Kirkkonummi, in Finland, on the 1st of August 2018 (Sony a700, f/2.2, 1/250, 75 mm (35 mm equivalent), ISO 200)

I love second hand stores. They’re the best, because you never know what you might find, but can be pretty sure that it won’t cost you a fortune. I went in to one the other day, and happened to find a really interesting book, The New Book of Photography by John Hedgecoe for 3 euros. It was written in 1994, when film was still the most popular format for capturing images, but I figured that it really doesn’t matter, since many aspects of photography, the most important ones I would say, have not changed since those days at all. There was a very interesting chapter on choosing between color or black and white film, where he demonstrated with pictures how you can use black and white film to direct the viewer’s attention to the important parts of a picture. Or make form versus color stand out.

I was out watching the sunset one evening, and I had with me another recent acquisition, a Minolta AF 50 mm 1.4 from 1985, that I bought used through Facebook Marketplace for 70 euros (which is an absolute steal in my opinion, I have found it to be an excellent lense), together with a fairly old Sony a700 DSLR, that I really like and use as a digital back for my (steadily growing) collection of Minolta lenses. I took this picture of some swans floating around in the water, but felt it was just too noisy in color for my taste. There was too much of everything. So I decided to try out the advice of John Hedgecoe from 1994, and just get rid of everything that’s irrelevant, including color. I tried some different variations of black and white, and actually ended up using a Lightroom preset that I really liked. I got the swans to stand out nicely, and also really like the separation in tones in the background that adds depth to the image. And also the grain is really cool, adding a vintage look that I really like.

By the way, the preset adds quite a bit of grain for a vintage look, so it’s not the sensor of the camera. The Sony a700 actually takes really great images in my opinion, even though it was produced back in 2007. Really makes me think about what the point is of paying so much for new gear, when you can pick up old well-built, weather sealed and durable cameras so cheaply. This one cost me 150 euros and I’m really happy with it. Of course, this is not my only camera, I most often use a Panasonic Lumix GX80, a micro four thirds camera. But I do think I would manage with only the Sony a700 just fine image quality vise.

Advertisements

Öckerö at Night

P1070224-HDR
Taken at Öckerö in the archipelago of Gothenburg, Sweden, on the 27th of June 2018 (Panasonic Lumix GX80, f/10, 350 mm (35 mm equivalent), ISO 200, merged image of seven exposures at one stop intervals)

I’ve been analyzing my photography a lot lately, trying to find factors that help me take better images. For me, one of the biggest factors is time. I’ve found that most of my pictures that I really like and feel, for instance, comfortable sharing online, are taken on longer trips, and especially on hiking adventures. You could argue that this is simply caused by the scenery and settings being more beautiful, and would probably be partly right. But you can find excellent photographic opportunities everywhere. For me it is really important to just take the time to relax, enjoy the scenery, look at things from different angles and generally not be in a hurry. And I guess this is often easier to do when you are on a break from the hectic everyday life.

One of the best recent examples of this was me and my girlfriends recent trip to Öckerö in Sweden. We were there on vacation for a week, but I didn’t even touch my camera for most of the trip. One day I saw that the clouds were forming interesting patterns, and decided to go out to the shore to look at the sunset. My girlfriend wanted to sleep instead, and I told her not to expect me back until well after midnight, simply because I wanted to see what would happen after sunset, and how the island would look like in moonlight. And I didn’t want to be in a hurry. I found a great spot on a cliff by the water, and just sat down and watched the sun slowly set, birds flying by and boats float in the distance. I took a picture now and then, but tried to enjoy the evening without looking through the viewfinder all the time. When it got dark, I turned around and looked at the moonlit village of Öckerö. I managed to take this image, among others. I find this one really compelling for some reason. I like the bleak colors and the mood of the sleeping village.

I ended up with so many images I’m absolutely thrilled about from just this one night. And, most importantly, walked away with great memories of a beautiful evening in the archipelago of Gothenburg. And I will definitely try to find time for these kinds of moments even at home.

The Black Beach

P1050911
Taken at Reynisfjara, near Vík í Mýrdal in Iceland, on the 13th of June 2018 (Panasonic Lumix GX80, f/4.3, 1/800, 38 mm (35 mm equivalent), ISO 200)

The black sand beach at Reynisfjara was one of the most impressive places we visited while on vacation in Iceland. I was particularly fascinated by these beautiful basalt sea stacks close to the shore.

I rarely end up making pictures in black and white, but I made an exception for this scene because I wanted to play around a bit with the mood of the sky and the texture of the sea stacks. And I must say, I really enjoyed post processing this picture in black and white.

When I make pictures in color, I restrict myself quite a lot in post processing, simply because I usually want to stay as true as possible to the scene as I remember it. Now, to be clear, I don’t have anything against doing as much as possible in post processing to make your pictures more compelling, or to enhance the message or feeling you are trying to convey. I admire the photographers who have the skills and eye for that. It’s just a personal thing, that I don’t tend to stray too far from reality as I remember it. With black and white photographs all that goes out the window, because transforming the image to black and white is already such a long leap from reality. After that, it really doesn’t matter how you decide to present the colors from a “staying true to the scene as I remember it”-perspective. This gives me, personally, a lot of freedom to just try to get the right feeling across and not worry about if it reflects reality or not.

Sunset at Öckerö

P1060957-HDR
Taken at Öckerö in the archipelago of Gothenburg, Sweden, on the 27th of June 2018 (Panasonic Lumix GX80, f/7.1, 122 mm (35 mm equivalent), ISO 200, merged image of five exposures at one stop intervals)

I am currently on holiday at Öckerö, Sweden, and the weather has been amazing the whole week. Me and my girlfriend have been out watching the beautiful sunsets almost every night, but mostly it’s been completely clear skies. A couple of days ago, however, it was a bit cloudier, so I figured I would take my camera with me and see if something interesting happens. Luckily I did, because it turned out to be one of the most beautiful sunsets I have seen, and I’m happy I was able to capture at least a part of the burst of color with my camera as well.

This image is actually made of five exposures at one stop intervals, merged in Lightroom to get an image with higher dynamic range than what the sensor would achieve with a single exposure. So it’s a High Dynamic Range (HDR) image, which is why I left out the shutter speed from the caption. This is actually the first HDR image I have ever taken. I’ve been reading about it out of curiosity, and decided I would give it a try once I understood what it’s all about. I found that for my style of photography, at least in this setting where you have such stark contrast, I really didn’t end up needing the extra information available to me in post processing. Obviously I could have lifted the shadows to reveal all the highlights in the rocks in the foreground, the information was there, but that would have made the image look weird and shifted the attention of the viewer from the beautiful sunset.

I actually compared this merged image and the original image with the correct exposure for the sunset, just to see if there was any benefit for me in using the HDR image. I found that the final products were more or less identical, except for the fact that the HDR image had a bit less noise in it, which is why I went ahead and used that one as my final image. This was actually a bit surprising to me, since I have read that HDR images tend to be noisier. My best guess is that the algorithm Lightroom uses for the merging does some sort of averaging across pixels when making the final image, which can reduce noise when noise between exposures is random. Or then some pretty good noise reduction algorithm is applied as well. I don’t know, maybe some of you guys have an explanation to this?

Mist Dragon

P1060452-2
Taken at Dettifoss, in the north of Iceland, on the 15th of June 2018 (Panasonic Lumix GX80, f/10, 1/400, 98 mm (35 mm equivalent), ISO 200, selective exposure painting in post processing)

One interesting aspect of the Dettifoss waterfall, was the mist that formed when the falling water hit the rocks below. I took a lot of different pictures of just the mist, and I felt that I could make out all kinds of shapes, from hooded faces to all kinds of mythical creatures. The picture above was for me the most striking, because I can clearly make out the shape of a dragon flying against the stream, blowing fire, or perhaps venom, from it’s nostrils.

Identifying things from vague shapes is very personal, and I guess different people will see different things. I’ve always been big a fan of fantasy literature, and recently I found this great blog Writing Dragons by Jamie Lyn Weigt, that regularly posts artwork with dragons from different artists. So I guess finding dragons comes pretty easily for me at the moment.

During our trip to Iceland I read the book Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman, that tells the stories of the Norse gods and their world from their origin to their upheaval in Ragnarok. In his book Gaiman tells, among others, the story of Jörmungandr, the Midgard Serpent. Jörmungandr is the middle child of the giantess Angrboða and Loki. According to myth, Odin tossed Jörmungandr, one of Loki’s children, into the great ocean that encircles Midgard and the serpent grew so large that it was able to surround the earth and grasp its own tail. So maybe it’s actually The Midgard Serpent that formed in the mist!

To be fair, I did paint in some exposure, about half a stop, on the dragon, to guide your eyes to see what I see. If you still can’t spot the dragon, here’s a black and white version:

P1060452-3

Can you see him now?

Dettifoss

P1060417
Taken at Dettifoss, in the north of Iceland, on the 15th of June 2018 (Panasonic Lumix GX80, f/10, 1/800, 90 mm (35 mm equivalent), ISO 200)

While driving around Iceland, we took a small detour off the Ring Road to Road 864, to visit the most powerful waterfall in Europe, Dettifoss. From all the waterfalls we saw during our trip, for me this was the most impressive by far. My girlfriend, however, preferred the beautiful Seljalandsfoss.

I had brought a ND filter along for the trip, knowing we would visit many waterfalls. I wanted to experiment with longer shutter speeds, to get that smooth, eerie and beautiful effect that you see on so many pictures of waterfalls. In the end I found that I actually preferred shorter shutter speeds, because standing next to a massive waterfall is really not a calm experience. It is a humbling exhibition of the strength and power of nature. I wanted to convey the unlimited power of these falls, and with longer shutter speeds I felt that aspect just got lost in translation.

I like this picture a lot, because i feel it does convey the power of the waterfall. The falling water, the rising mist, and the cliffs that the water brakes against, that you can barely see through the mist, gives the image a stormy and epic feeling that I really like. There is a man standing on the cliff in the foreground on the left. You can see his head and shoulders if you look closely. I actually chose to include him, because for me he puts the waterfall in proportion and emphasizes the size of the waterfall. If there is one thing I don’t like about this image, it is the dull sky. I would have liked a bit more detail and interesting clouds, but since my main priority was obviously traveling and experiencing Iceland, and photographing as a distant second, I wasn’t gonna sit and wait for the sky to change.

Iceland

P1060116
Taken in the southeast of Iceland, on the 14th of June 2018 (Panasonic Lumix GX80, f/8, 1/400, 64 mm (35 mm equivalent), ISO 200, polarizing filter)

Me and my girlfriend kicked off our summer vacation by doing a round-trip of Iceland. We rented a Jeep, and drove around the island, starting off towards the east. The scenery was amazing, and also very varied, shifting from dark-green mountains to dark-brown volcanic rock and vast lava fields covered by this yellow-greenish moss. And in the background you could often see the glacier of Vatnajökull, Iceland’s biggest glacier.

I really like this picture, because it captures many of the spectacular colors and features of the Icelandic landscape that i found so impressive, and still feels well balanced. On the left there is the dark-green spiky  mountains with a lot of detail. On the right there are more “traditional” snow-capped mountains, and in the foreground is the yellow-greenish moss that covers the lava field. In the middle of the image you can see the glacier, Vatnajökull, the size of which is just so hard to grasp, it’s massive!

Free Online Learning Resources for Beginning Photographers – My Top Recommendations

DSC_9073
Taken in Kokkola, Finland, on the 1st of October 2016 (Nikon 1 V1, f/5, 1/500, 233mm (35 mm equivalent), ISO 100)

As an amateur photographer I’m always looking for ways to improve my understanding of different aspects of photography. Nowadays there is so much excellent free material available online, that I don’t really see the point of paying for online courses. That is, of course, if you guys can’t convince me otherwise! If you have any recommendations on free or paid resources for improving your photography, then please comment below. Anyway, here is my top recommendations for free online material for improving your photography!

 

1. Marc Levoy – Lectures on digital photography

Marc Levoy, the VMware Founders Professor of Computer Science (Emeritus) at Stanford University and a Principal Engineer at Google, has posted on YouTube a version of his Stanford course CS 178 that was recorded at Google in Spring 2016. This is easily my number one recommendation for anyone interested in photography. Nothing else on this list comes close, it is that good.

The lectures cover a broad set of themes, from image formation, optics and color to the history of photography and everything in between. You can see the full schedule here. To find the lectures on YouTube just click on the link below:

https://www.youtube.com/user/marclevoy/playlists

I hope you will find this as useful as I have!

 

2. Sean Tucker’s YouTube Channel

Sean Tucker, a professional photographer, has a really awesome YouTube channel, which I just recently discovered, covering different aspects of photography. The thing i really like about his channel is the well produced videos and the slow pace compared to many YouTube channels out there. The videos are just a pure joy to watch, which is a really important aspect for me. Check out his YouTube channel by following the link below:

https://www.youtube.com/user/seantuckermerge/featured

 

3. Reddit Photoclass

If you prefer reading, the Introduction to Photography Class, also known as Reddit Photoclass, created by Alex Buisse, a professional adventure photographer, is a good option. It covers the basics in a compact, easy-to-read way. You can find the lectures here:

http://www.r-photoclass.com/

 

4. Flickr, 500px or any other photography community

Every once in a while, I start looking for deals on new lenses or camera bodies, thinking that somehow that new piece of kit is the magical missing puzzle piece that is going to take my photography to a new level. A good remedy, for me, for this urge to just buy all of this stuff that I really don’t need, is to have a look at what other people are creating. I quickly realize, that gear is not the limiting factor here, and then I head out and continue taking pictures.

So, these are my recommendations on online resources that I have really enjoyed and found helpful. I hope you guys will find them as useful as I have!

Odin

Odin muokattu
Taken in Espoo, Finland, on the 18th of September 2017 (Panasonic Lumix GX80, f/2, 1/20, 50mm (35 mm equivalent), ISO 3200)

My dog, Odin, is one of my favorite subjects. The biggest reason for this, I guess, is that he has the patience to sit still for quite a while in return for some treats! The thing about photographing your pet, though, is that you yourself might think that 90% of your pictures are great, while an average spectator probably couldn’t care less about pictures of some random dog. A picture of a pet has to be really good to be interesting to someone who has no connection to the pet itself.

So I’m a really bad judge when it comes to pictures of Odin, I think they are all great! This particular image is still probably one of my favorites. It’s a bit grainy, because I had to boost the ISO, but it’s not too bad. I especially like the lights of the buildings and the car in the background. The blue light comes from an LED-collar he has to stay safe when it’s dark outside. For this picture, it adds some much needed light on Odin to help draw the eyes to him.