Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy new year! Frohes Neues Jahr! Gott nytt år! Hyvää uutta vuotta!

Pine, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Forgotten, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Rose bush, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

I'm going to try to take photos of fireworks this night, but I expect that I won't have much success with that. I haven't managed to do it properly any time earlier, either.

So, to celebrate the new year, I'm posting a little story of photos from the last day of 2008. I feel these photos have a lively spirit, and at the same time they reflect typical subjects of my photography.

Thus: Happy new year! Frohes Neues Jahr! Gott nytt år! Hyvää uutta vuotta!

Photographing ice

Ice patterns, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Ice on rocks, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

One thing which I have found very difficult is to take photograps of ice. Somehow I never seem to get the exposure and color balance right - overexposing the bright areas, getting too warm feeling to the colors, or some other problem.

I wonder what is the key to making good photos of ice formations. I do hope the only way to do this is not by extensive post-processing of photos, but by doing it right at the time of the shooting. But what then is the right approach?

Here are two photos from today, which are relatively close to the images I was trying to catch. I did some processing in LightZone to emphasize the ice.

Two Magnum photographers

Shadowed, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

I have read three fourths of the book "Magnum Magnum", which contains some great photography (and perhaps also something not so great).

One of the connections I made from the book was Bruce Gilden, of whom I had heard previously, but whom I hadn't understood to belong to the Magnum organization. The Online Photographer recently brought up (once again) an excellent video about Gilden's street photography technique, really something to see. The Magnum book pales in comparison to this video, although the printing of the photos is excellent. Somehow Gilden fits the Youtube better than a pompous book.

Another interesting photographer was Hiroji Kubota, who according to the book made a 1000 day long photography visit to China, shooting over 200,000 photos in all.

I have been shooting 200 photos a day also, so there is a connection. But of course my photos don't aspire to such massive works as the Magnum photographers.

However, this started me to think of a possible project to do: 1000 days of Finnish environment and life, 200 photos per day. Would that be feasible? Would that have any point at all?

One thing which I have noticed is that there is a lot of published photography in Finland, but it doesn't really cover the everyday and the ordinary. So, there probably would be some meaning in such a project. But I'm not going to launch such a thing without thinking about it in earnest.

The photo here was taken today, one of the rare sunny days this winter. And of course I wanted to catch the shadows, which haven't been visible in daytime.

I like color (apparently)

54 favorites, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

I once again updated my Flickr group containing the personal favorites of photos taken so far. (Not the last three weeks, I'll do those later when I have some time to forget about them and can see the photos with "new eyes".)

When I did the last update, I noticed that I seem to prefer colorful photos, although I had thought I was mostly producing quite subdued photos. Once again, this seems to be the case. Colors have impact, I can't deny it.

And although I'm not so much into collecting photos and organizing them for all eternity, it is nice sometimes to return to them to have a look what has happened during the year (or the last few months).

One interesting thing was that many of the photos are such that I could immediately see ways of improving them, either when doing the photography or in post-processing. I guess there has been a bit of improvement in the skills. Or then this is just hindsight, not really an indication of better photography skills.

Update: I added the address of the Flickr group. I must say that I'm not always pleased with the Flickr service, it has some limitations in presentation and organization which make some things a bit bothersome. (And it isn't always as speedy as you would like.) But as I'm not looking for a professional-looking impact with the photos, it is mostly okay.

Update 2: The previous time when I noticed that I picked the more colorful photos as favorites, I was mainly using the Ixus 400 as my camera. Is there a difference compared to the LX3? I think I have moved towards a bit more wide palette of effects, not always trying to build the photo around strong colors. And so perhaps the current favorites are a bit more subdued in the color department - however I hope they are better photos.

Update 3: Sometimes I think that post-processing digital photos is cheating, despite the fact the I'm doing it more and more. Should you get the photo right when you take it, or depend on making it right later?

Two aspects of digital photography which I have grown to accept are the limited dynamic range and problems with color balance. In these situations there is not much alternative for post-processing, even for a jpeg shooter like myself.

What I would like to see is that the camera technology would take care of some of these things, moving towards wider dynamic range even in dim lighting. Of course, I understand the DSLRs have much better capabilities than compacts, but as I have written here previously, I don't want to carry an anvil around my neck.

Update 4: The Online Photographer has an interesting comment about post-processing, A Note From Underground, discussing the photography of Ms. Leibovitz: "Bottom line is, what is handed to the retoucher is a big pile of doo-doo handled by dozens of her staff—then have to produce images that look impeccable."

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Colors of the night

Shapes at night, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Path, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Once again, this was a clouded day, and there wasn't much inspiration for photography (especially as much of the daylight time was spent in a shopping mall).

But I took a couple of photos during an evening walk outside. It was windy and a few degrees below zero (Celcius), so I had some trouble keeping my fingers warm. And I'm not sure whether I like the landscapes colored by city lights reflected from clouds. But they are certainly different from normal, that is for sure.

Shopping mall as a photography wilderness

View, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Frenzy, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Waterworld, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Chains, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Today we did not go for a walk in the forests. This time our target was another kind of wilderness, a shopping mall. At first it was kind of nice, but then I noticed the frenzy of people there. The discount sales were at the most hectic, making people busy and frantic. After noticing this it felt like being caught in an aquarium, or being chained (with gold chains perhaps).

Here is a little photography story to complement this little story. I have done little of this kind of photography, but having the LX3 in a pocket, I took some photos while waiting for the family. Unfortunately I mostly failed to catch what I wanted to catch, but once again, this was a learning experience.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Horses are more difficult than dogs/children/cats

Look, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Horse look, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

They say that dogs (or was it cats?) are difficult to photograph, even more difficult than children. I don't know about dogs, but today I tried to take photos of horses, and it was not easy.

The horses seemed to move slowly but their heads were in almost constant motion, making it difficult to catch them without motion blur. I should have raised ISO to freeze the motion, but you never know until you try. In any case, here are two photos of the horses, taken during our walk today at Siikajärvi in Espoo.

Triple lakes and triangle sandwiches

Leaf, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Small bridge, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Heather, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Rock and labrador tea, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Today was a clouded day, but dry, so we decided to go for a walk in the forest. The previous two days we visited Pirttimäki, east of the Nuuksio National Park, today we went west of Nuuksio, to Siikajärvi, where there are a lot of small lakes near each other. They are called "Triple Lakes", and we had triangle sandwiches as our provision. Here is a short photo story of the excursion.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Cold and yellow and blue

Frosty grass at sunset, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Frozen sunset, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Frozen plants, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

This was a second sunny day in succession, after weeks of clouded weather. It was great, and at the end of the day we got a nice sunset display as a bonus. I was outside walking and doing some photography for three hours today, and the air was nicely frosty but not too cold at all.

Here is a little photography story from the end of the day. I did a little bit of tuning in LightZone to get the colors show better in the images.

Return to Pirttimäki

Pirttimäki, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Old mossy forest, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Frost is coming, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Meshes, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Yesterday we went for a walk in the Pirttimäki forests, but our eldest daughter wasn't with us. Today she wanted also to see Pirttimäki, and as the day was sunny and the temperature nicely a bit below freezing, we all returned there for a walk.

Here is a little photographic story of our walk in the forests today. (We didn't use the same route as yesterday.) There seemed to be fewer visitors today, perhaps the colder weather was the reason.

Losing weight and engaging in philosophy at Christmas

Ice and water, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

The photo here is a result from my continuing struggle with post-processing techniques. The original photo had warm tones, thanks to the winter sun low at the horizon, but I wanted to get something different. Also, the ice structure wasn't really visible - just whitish colors.

What I did was to use LightZone polarizer and bright scene filters for basic work, then Pixelmator curves to decrease red and green a bit and increase blue. And finally, a bit of more saturation to the colors.

I probably did everything the wrong way, but at least the photo is closer to my vision that the original one was.

But coming back to the title of this posting, it seems that this is the first Christmas for a long time that I have been losing weight despite eating really well. The long walks with the camera desperately seeking subjects is the reason for this, and perhaps also sleeping very late. (You can't eat when you sleep...)

Paul Butzi has been continuing the conversation about creativity, branching into a discussion on creation/destruction. (And there is also some heavy armament in use.)

I'm not sure whether I like to engage in such philosophy, but I like the original topic. Andreas already commented my thoughts here, and I responded, but I decided to pick the thread again in this posting.

So, coming back to the excellent topic “Productivity, creativity, proxies and goals”, and the reason for why we are doing things…

However sophisticatedly we argue about the reasons and motivations, in the end the reason for doing something demanding comes from inside, a part of us. The reasons may be good reasons or bad, known reasons or unknown, but not much to do with measurement.

As an example, I suspect my interest in photography has less to do with photography than with finding a balance as a human being. It is a kind of meditation, of shutting down the too-much-thinking type of creature in my the head. Photography does the trick for me especially combined with walking outside in the nature. (And losing weight is not a bad thing either.)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

To be measured or not?

Ice patterns at sunset, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Paul Butzi had an excellent posting on Productivity, creativity, proxies and goals, making several good points, for example this one: "At some point, each of us is on a solo journey."

I commented (unfortunately not thinking very deeply) as follows:

I wonder whether productivity, creativity etc. are not just ways of trying to find a way to measure ourselves, to somehow find a way to be valuable in the context of other human beings.

If just being is not enough, and if you need a measure of value (or progress), then there is an endless series of measures to invent - the turtles in your metafora. But I suspect this is an endless road to nowhere.

To be - or to be measured?
I must admit these thoughts are familiar to me [from various things I have trying to do along the way], and I have been trying to invent ways of measuring my progress. Number of things, quality of things, novelty of things, etc. But that way hasn't really lead to progress, perhaps the opposite, being stuck on a track leading to nowhere.

Finally some sunshine

Sunny wall, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Bubbles, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Two ways, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

It seems that we have a clouded week between days when the sun shows up. Today was a nice day, and even though there are only a few sunlight hours, we took advantage of them all by going for a walk in the Pirttimäki forests in Espoo.

The area is hilly and the forests are quite thick in many places, so the sun was not directly visible most of the time, but it was light anyway. There was not much snow, but at some places there was ice and packed snow still remaining. An excellent place for even a longer walk.

When we were leaving, a couple asked for directions to the Nuuksio national park. Well, you can walk there along the paths from Pirttimäki, or then you need to drive around a quite long way via the roads to the south. Nuuksio is a bit different place (and often much more populated by visitors) but certainly not a better place than Pirttimäki for a walk in the forests.

Friday, December 26, 2008

What is the value of a photo?

Brush, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

I'm about halfway through the book "Magnum magnum", and I'm slowly getting an idea what the book (and Magnum Photos) is about.

There is a wide scope for varieties of photography, and Magnum is on the other side of the table from "fine art photography". But sometimes the journalistic approach may result in art nevertheless.

On the other hand, the book begs to ask the question of what is the content (and aim) of a photo? Is it usually just empty surface - just a snapshot - or can (and should) it be more? How you can tell whether a photo has more value than just the surface? And finally, what is the value of a photo, or a body of photography work?

Magnum is a self-made legend (a part of which is a kind a hubris) as defined in the lofty targets by Henri Cartier-Bresson, "Magnum is a community of thought, a shared human quality, a curiosity about what is going on in the world, a respect for what is going on and a desire to transcribe it visually."

But there is no escaping the impact of some of the photos, and their photojournalistic value in shaping our joint worldview. Therefore, a big question is whether photography (or any other craft) should aim to wield (or be able to wield) such power.

The photo here has nothing to do with Magnum, except that I find it enlightening in a funny sort of way. Perhaps all photos don't need to take themselves so seriously?


Stump, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

This is the 20,461th photo taken with the LX3, from today. I forgot to note the milestone of 20,000 photos taken with the camera, but here goes.

I did a new analysis with exiftool of the focal lengths I have been shooting with the LX3, using the photos between 10,000 and 19,999 as data points. Of course, I only used those photos which I have saved, 1391 of them.

Here is a chart of the data:

You can compare these results with the previous analysis. I'm using heavily the 24 mm side of the lens, but increasingly also the 60 mm. Perhaps I need another camera for longer tele work?

Is winter good or bad for photography?

Cattail in ice, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Black cherry, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Buds, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

If someone would have asked about my attitude towards winter in August or September, I would probably have said that I look forward to winter, the contrast between the snow and the dark tree and plant silhouettes, the sun low on the horizon during daytime, and so on. But now I'm fed up with winter, the bleakness, the clouded sky, the mud, and the moisture. Of course, my attitude hasn't really changed, it is just that we have had a different kind of winter than what I would like to see, an extended autumn which never seems to end, only get darker all the time.

There are some interesting things out there, but usually that means going for the details, not trying to capture the grayness and flatness of the landscape. Here are three photos from today.

Only after searching the English name for the tree with the shrunken berries i noticed the appropriate English name - black cherry. At least one new thing learned today.

Man-made things

Pot, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

I don't know why, but for some reason I find abandoned man-made things interesting, especially when they have started to get broken down by nature. For example this pot (or whatever it is), which has started to remind of the environment around it. Perhaps this is debris, but it is not altogether without a visual interest. All those scratches, dents and color splotches. However, for some reason I have difficulties with taking photos of these things, be it abandoned cars, houses or objects. Perhaps they need a different visual style from the usual landscapes.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Family portraits

LX3 self-portrait, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Painted, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Play, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Today went meeting relatives. I took many photos of family members using available light, and got about a dozen nice portraits. Me using a camera is such a common thing that nobody much notices it.

The LX3 is practically silent, and when using manual focusing there is no focus delay. It is a good tool for street photography as well as family portraiture. (I have done only the latter.)

However, our youngest one posed problems, as she was almost never still long enough to take a photo. But I did succeed once in taking a sharp photo of her. Here are a couple of photos from today, a bit of earthly feeling in them, I think.

Update: Shooting in available light today again confirmed that the firmware version 1.1 improved greatly the automatic white balance of the LX3. Only a couple of photos had a bad color cast, all the other photos were ok straight from the camera.

Colors and shapes

Rose, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Today was once again a clouded day, although the sun peeked out a bit after sunrise this morning at 11 am. But when we went out, it was already thickly clouded. Once again I resorted to taking photos of rose berries. However, in this case the reason was more the shape and not the colors. You could imagine a creature from a science fiction movie looking like this.

Today we are visiting relatives, and the children have had a nice time with their presents. We try to limit the amount of stuff, but there always seems to be quite a lot regardless of our intentions.


A little snow, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Spillover, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

There is a danger in looking at masterworks - your own modest work seems insignificant in comparison. I have today been reading (and seeing) the book "Magnum Magnum", and it is indeed inspiring but also very challenging. Does my photography have any value compared to the Magnum photographers?

Another thing which I have been continuing is reading photography blogs. I have been going through Andreas' blog sequentially, but I'm not yet halfway through, only at posting number 379. A lot of excellent photography there. But as I mentioned, it is also challenging to see great examples of the art.

I managed to read a few pages of the Photoshop book, but not really do anything with it yet. Perhaps I'll have some time tomorrow.

In any case, here are two photos from Wednesday. They are bleak winter landscapes, but such is the situation now here in the Helsinki area.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ground level

Stump, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Leaf on stone, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Grass in winter, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

As the grey cloud cover was supremely uninteresting today, I looked at the ground searching for subjects for photography. I'm sure that with better post-processing skills these grayish photos could give some impact, but I don't have an interest to do much on the computer today. But perhaps I'll start reading the Photoshop book I got recently, "The Creative Digital Darkroom". I have done quite a lot of experimenting in Photoshop and LightZone, but I find it quite difficult to progress.

The rugged beauty of winter plants

Beautiful in winter, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

A broken rose berry, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Catkin, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

We got for Christmas a little bit of snow in the Helsinki region, perhaps two millimeters, so it is not possible for the children to play in the snow, but at least the landscape is much lighter.

We had a long walk before dinner, and there was quite a lot to be seen in the winter landscape. Here are a couple of finds from the walk, things which give some beauty to the bleak lanscape.