Gas and Gearporn – A Confession

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“I do not need all those lenses, flashes, full frame bodies, camera bags, tripods etc. to be a good photographer.”

 

There, I said it, it’s out. I felt that this statement had to be made since many photographers (me absof**kinglutely included) are crazy about hi-tech gear, about the newest lenses and bodies, about all those wonderful things the camera industry produces. That is called “gas” – Gear Acquisition Syndrome. Monkey see, monkey buy. And again, yes ! I am totally infected with gear acquisition syndrome.

In today’s post I want to express that a.) I stand by this, no denial here and b.) that I still know that all this gear is not what makes me a (supposedly passable) photographer.

The phrase “it is not the gear that makes the image, it is the photographer” is repeated by many photographers like a mantra to counter the statement “You have a good camera. It must make really good images”. And to a certain degree I agree that gear is not important. It does not matter whether you have a full-frame DSLR or a mirrorless system camera or a bridge camera. With all those cameras stunning images can be (and are being !) created on a daily basis. But more (or more expensive) gear adds possibilities. Too dark ? A pro body with outstanding high ISO performance is your best buddy. Want to photograph that spider ? Better have a macro lens. Shooting a soccer game ? High framerate and a tele lens help.

Let me illustrate this with an example. A few years ago I did a trip to Iceland. We booked a whale watching tour and headed out to see humpback whales. I had a D300s, the guy standing next to me an entry-level DSLR with a lower framerate. As the whale surfaced and shortly popped his fin out of the water I could go clickclickclickclickclickclick and select the best image from the series. The guy next to me had to wait for the best moment and only then press the shutter. Where I took ten images he made two perhaps. Who is the better photographer ? Can’t say. What my “better” gear managed to achieve was to merely heighten the chances, that a good image was among the ones I took.

So certain situations require special gear. As mentioned above, close-ups of insects are not possible without something that enables you to get close, be that a macro lens, a lens reversing ring or a conversion lens. That stuff simply makes the macro photo possible in the first place. But even with the best macro lens one can take a crappy photo. It is still the photographer who makes the composition, chooses the lighting parameters and presses the shutter in the decisive moment.

But since I had this epiphany, why do I still drool about new camera bodies and lenses and whatnot ? Simple. Because I am a guy, a geek, an engineer. I am interested in technology. It’s just as plain as that. I have a lot of fun reading about new equipment, comparing it to my current gear, selling old, buying new gear. I just love it. New gear will always have something that your current gear does not have. Why did I transition to full frame for example ? To have a good high-ISO performance. And indeed: Suddenly I could take pictures in situations where I previously had put my D300s away. Suddenly I discovered that Auto-ISO is a very practical thing and that it gives you more flexibility. I could extend this list endlessly, but I think the message has been delivered.

Bottom line: High-end gear means that you have appropriate and good tools to work with. In most cases you can take the same images with the same quality also with entry-level gear. But this will require more skill, patience and perhaps some luck (e.g. catching fast-moving objects). Knowing this one should sometimes step back and take less or simpler gear when shooting in order to learn, improve and hone your skills.

Summertime insects

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Insects never fail to mesmerize. They are everywhere around us and nobody realizes them (if they are not of the bloodsucking kind). But once a macro lens is pointed at them the intricate beauty is revealed. Here are some macro shots I took with my Nikon D610 and the Nikkor 105mm f2.8 macro lens. Nothing special to report about the shoot. I worked handheld with a fast shutter speed (bee and moth/butterfly: 1/1250s) to avoid motion blur. The insects were resting on grass and flowers which moved in the wind, so a quick shutter speed, continuous autofocus (AF-C) and stabilization at the lens turned on was a must.

Getting a sharp shot in a situation like this is a mixture of luck and patience. The insects move quickly and don’t stay at one place very long. Especially bees usually only present their rear to the camera since they dive into the flowers head first while gathering pollen. Only when arriving or leaving at a blossom they can be photographed from the front. I went into a stable position (I kneeled down and rested one elbow on my knee) and did my best  to get the focus on the insect’s eye.

Enjoy and comment/like/share this post as you wish.

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The making of “Hau-B”

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I listen to an excellent German photo podcast called “Happy Shooting“. The podcast is hosted by Chris Marquardt and Boris Nienke, two photographers who are very active in the podosphere and blogosphere. The Happy Shooting podcast is published weekly (for over nine year snow, the show number is in the 370s…) and every two weeks Chris and Boris hand out a new photo task. The task always consists of one word and one is free to participate and interpret the task as far-stretched as you like. The winner of the contest is determined by the dice, the image critiqued during the show.

This week’s topic is “Haube”, which is German for “hood”, “cap” or “bonnet”. I took the challenge and made my own version. The image you see above is titled “Hau-B”. That is a play on words (in German, therefore quite cheesy to write about in in English…) and means “Ich haue das B” – “I strike the B note”.

I shot the images in my studio against a white backdrop. The camera was on a tripod and I triggered it using a remote control which I held in my left hand. That way I could hide the remote easily behind the neck of the bass guitar. Then it was just a question of fooling around heavily and triggering the camera at the right moment. It was a fun, yet odd experience. Jumping, making faces and acting as if you were rocking like hell while standing on a stage with a wild crowd in front of you….

The rough workflow to create this image was as follows:

  • studio setup (camera on tripod, manual, 36 mm, f3.2, 1/160s, ISO 100). Unfortunately I can’t sync faster than 1/160s with the studio flashes I have.
  • shooting, triggered with this wireless remote control
  • importing and sorting in Lightroom
  • edit in Lightroom: Brush tool set to maximum exposure and maximum lights
  • edit in Photoshop: erasing the last contours, which could not be removed with Lightroom’s brush tool
  • creating the collage in Photoshop

And here is the making-of-video:

[Opinion, Safe for Work] Nudity and photographing children

Today’s post is about a very sensitive subject: photographing nude children. The background story:

I read an article about US-based photographer Wyatt Neumann. He made a road trip with his two-year-old daughter Stella, photographing the country. Stella makes an appearance in several images, sometimes normally clothed, sometimes nude or partially nude as two-year-olds sometimes are. The images are skillfully made reflect situations of the carefree life of a small girl.

He blogged images from the while being on the road and, as the story got some attention, a shitstorm broke loose. The criticism came from the (ultra) conservative/prude wing and all kinds of horrible accusations were thrown at him. People accused him of pornography, creating obscene photos, being a pervert, a bad parent, that his daughter will be traumatized and so on. The language was very aggressive and often contained many nasty words. Follow the link above to the original article, where some images and corresponding comments are displayed.

The angry crowd managed to suspend his Facebook and Instagram accounts by filing complaints. Eventually his project, which started as a portrait of the American country, evolved into another form. Today he exhibits in a New York gallery called “I feel sorry for your children – The sexualization of innocence in America”.

Let’s transit from Mr. Neumann to my personal situation. I am the father of two daughters. The older one is about the same age as Stella. Since I am also a photographer I have been confronted with the topic of nudity and photographing children from the moment of their birth. I produce heaps of images of my children (perhaps too many…) and share the images on a private blog where only family and friends have access to. Of course the girls are sometimes naked. Running naked in the garden, splashing in the pool, allowing the bum to dry after a diaper change… all these moments are totally natural in a small child’s life. They are absolutely carefree and unprejudiced about nudity (I wrote “carefree” because I don’t like the term “innocent” – am I guilty as a grown-up ?). Therefore I have photos of my naked children on the hard drive. But when it comes to selecting the images which should go on the blog one has to define a criterion to decide which image is publishable and which should not be published. I personally decided to post no images where genitalia are visible, Don’t get me wrong, I find absolutely nothing offensive or distasteful about a naked child. It is more the idea that private parts should be kept, well, private. Although my children are too small to grasp the concept of privacy they are nevertheless entitled to some.

Of course this is a decision that I made out of my own ethical understanding. Other people might see it even more relaxed, other people might see it more strict.

Closing statement: I personally can’t see anything wrong with Wyatt Neumann’s work. Nudity is a part of small children and images of them, when decently photographed, convey no other message than exactly that natural feeling. It is more the question of with whom such images are shared that should be the point of intense thought and discussion.

What are you thoughts on this topic ? Leave a comment below, subscribe to this blog if you like it.

LR/Mogrify 2: Augmented Export for Lightroom

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Have you ever had the situation that you wanted to do something with Lightroom which is not within the standard scope of the application ? Think about including metadata in the image (e.g. ISO and shutter speed, aperture) or the date you took the photo. Or did you ever want to create a border around the images ? Well, these are very simple tasks but Lightroom (in its current version 5.6) does not offer them. But there is a plugin which can help !

LR/Mogrify 2 is a plugin which augments Lightroom’s native export functionality. It is donationware, meaning that you must donate an amount of your choice to the author in order to use the full functionality. Note that 20% sales tax are added to your donation. Here is a sample image to which I applied an outer border and a lot of text using LR/Mogrify 2:
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The current version is 4.48, installation is very simple. Just download the files from the website and follow these simple instructions (quote from author’s website):

  1. Move LR2Mogrify.lrplugin to a convenient location of your own choosing.
  2. Open Lightroom’s plugin manager from the File menu.
  3. Click the “Add” button.
  4. Browse to the plugin and click “OK” on a Mac or “Add plugin” on a PC.

End Quote. On a PC you will have to install another tool first, ImageMagick. Installation instructions can be found here. Don’t forget to donate to the author and unlock the plugin. Once installed you will have an additional set of options in the export menu, lower left corner. Since I am using the German version of Lightroom I can’t offer you English screenshots. Ich schäme mich so mein Kaiser :-(

The additional export functions are as follows:

  • Adding outer and inner borders,
  • adding a watermark (image watermark; not sure why this has been implemented since Lightroom offers image watermarks as well),
  • test annotation (metadata or free text)
  • image size (ditto),
  • canvas size (putting the image on a larger background or a smaller one, in which case the image is cropped),
  • compress to file size (wonderful, why is it not implented into Lightroom ?),
  • sharpness, color profile, color settings (=saturation and brightness, also not clear why the tool offers that).

To apply one of those settings to your export simply highlight the option and click “add” (“Einfügen” in my German version, jawohl). The chosen option is then added as a fold-out tab on the right side of the dialogue. The options are implemented in a very practical way. The border size for example can be given in pixels or as a percentage of the height, width, short or long image border. Same applies to the text annotations.

To create the text annotations (which were the reason for acquiring LR/Mogrify 2) you can choose from an abundance of metadata, here is an example. Everything you might want to include into an image can be chosen here.

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Bottom line: I found LR/Mogrify 2 to be a very versatile and practical tool. It adds some simple but sometimes necessary functions to Lightroom. Highly recommended for Lightroom users. Donate what you feel the tool is worth – it’s up to you.

Lumenatic.com turned four today

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Four years ago I started the lumenatic blog. It has been my personal project since then to write about my experiences from shoots, interesting gear and other photography-related topics. Thanks for being a reader of this blog ! I learned a lot about photography from other blogs, podcasts and websites and with my blog I want to give something back to the community.

Sometimes it is a struggle to deliver an article every week (remember, this is a one man show), but I have managed to establish Sunday 8am as a regular publishing time. I have nearly 200 followers and 50-100 daily views on the website. That is not much compared to the large players on the web, but for a hobby project I count it as a good success.

If you enjoy lumenatic.com please subscribe, share, tell your friends.

Best regards and keep being crazy about light,

Julian

Frog evolution

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Last week I showed some close-ups of frogs I photographed in a small aquarium. I mentioned that the aquarium glass added a milky haze to the images. In this evolution-post I will show how I edited two of those images. Note that I introduced a new category for such posts as this is the third post of this type. Formerly I did the dragonfly and the grasshopper.

Here is the original. Not bad but the the image doesn’t pop. A slight milky haze, what we are missing is contrast and clarity.

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Contrast +38, clarity +32, lights -68. Most of the work is done, some details still need attention.20140802-FrogEvolution2

Brush tool. Added some sharpeness and extra clarity to the frog`s eyes. Cloned away ensor dust in the upper right corner. Slight vignette applied to draw the viewer’s attention more to the center of the image. This is the final version.

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The above image did not need too much attention. I was lucky, because that was the only image in the series where the frog did not cling to the aquarium walls but rest on a branch more towards the middle.

The following image requires more attention as there were more distracting elements ins the image (particles floating in the water, aquarium wall etc.). Here is the original:

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Contrast+49, clarity +67. Looks much better, but the aquarium wall in the upper corner is not very nice to look at.

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So I employed the brush tool to darken the area of the glass.

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Now for some serious cloning and repair tool action. Distracting elements are removed. I intentionally left some spots in the upper area of the image to keep the image from being too sterile. Looks ok, but I did not make a good job in the are between the glass and the water.

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Last corrections and again a slight vignette – violà, final image.

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