Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Photography's Serendipity

Image by Art Wolfe

I just wanted to share with you the latest article from "The Luminous Landscape" a great photography site that I normally follow. Give it a good look!

In his article (click on the immage), Art Wolfe explains how did he get the picture above. I think it's a great image and loved the way he shares his outtakes with the readers. I picked the title for this post because I believe photography is a little bit of technique, lots of patience and a great deal of luck (not chance, because you make your own luck in photography by choosing the subject, the site, the equipment, the time of the day, etc) and the article shows precisely that.

Have a look at the different outtakes and pay attention to "Pic 3 Flash Failure", do you see any similarities to your party pics? I believe anyone could have taken that image and that is why I really enjoyed that article. It is not the equipment but how you use it, and sometimes you are bound to have some bad pictures. The key is to persevere! as he did and he went away with a great image to show for his trouble.

I'm working on a series of photography tips, stay tuned.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Beneath Murky Waters...

She made a run for the alleyways near the canal in a desperate attempt to lose him. She had no clue on his intentions but had no plans of finding out, not with the news she read this morning – “Sixth victim of the Jackal found in a dumpster” – suddenly the idea of walking back home with the obnoxious Johnny from the office didn’t sound too bad.

Amanda was kicking herself for not driving to the club tonight; drinking and driving seemed like an excellent idea at that moment. Wearing those high heels was not helping either – she was proud of her legs and those heels were the perfect final touch, so much for that now! She stopped a moment to listen … nothing … “where’s everyone?”… no sound! … “maybe I lost him!”… two more steps… damn clacking noise! … a shadow!! … silence.

Amanda was nowhere to be seen, only a couple of rain-washed blood drops that went unseen by the inspectors searching the alleyways…

I know, I know terrible story! that's why I'm a photographer and not a writer. However the pictures I want to show today made me think in criminal novels and wanted to give it a shot. Obviously it's more difficult than I thought ;¬)

With TV shows like "Life on Mars" shot in my adoptive city - Manchester - I always considered the canal banks like something mysterious and full of stories. Despite being renovated now I cannot stop thinking it could have been a good place to hide something or err someone...

"“What the hell does that fish mean?” ... "It's a Sicilian message. It means means that Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes"”

Last year I had the chance to take some pictures when the water level dropped in the canal for some reason and this is what I found. No skulls or anything like that though ;¬) only rubbish.

Flying home see more images after the jump >>

Can this be considered urban art?
Urban Art?

City's Archives?

Canal Rubish?

Let me know what you think!!


Wednesday, 6 May 2009

What camera to buy?

Recently I have been asked by three different friends (that don't know each other) to recommend them a "good" camera. When I asked why they needed a new camera the answer was more or less the same:

"Because I want to take good pictures!"

That immediately brought to mind this comic from WTD of Aaron Johnson:

There is the common belief (or so it seems)-and not particular to photography but to any craft- that the tools make the master and that is definitely not the case (I'm not saying I'm a master BTW).

We tend to be obsessive about gear and leave the technical aspects of the craft for later (once we have got that expensive "full of bells and whistles" camera). I totally understand that because I used to think exactly the same. But now I know better: Cameras don't take good pictures!, it is you who tells the camera what it should see. Even though cameras are now very advanced micro-computers they do not have a brain to decide what is the right feel you are going after in a particular image.

Feeding Hands(Taken with Canon 40D 10.1mp DSLR)

So forget about the myth saying that "good cameras take good pictures!" I am not picking on anybody in particular here but I thought it would be a good time to explain some things about photography and its tools and this is an excellent forum to do just that. Myth-busters kinda style mind you (hence utterly uninformed rubbish). Keep reading at your own risk :D

Hit the jump for more!!

Disclaimer: I'm neither implying that I'm an expert on the subject nor that I have tried every camera in the market. Also, I don't favour or get paid to favour any particular brand over another. I talk from my own personal experience and about what I've learnt when I made myself exactly the same question. I hope this can be considered an eye opener for some of you thinking about parting from your dough for a new camera.

My mobile (cellphone) has 8 mega pixels!

Users have become obsessed with mega pixels and the companies have follow them by offering just that. More and more mega pixels contained in smaller cameras. The only thing it means is that now we have more mega pixels compressed in smaller sensors! In plain English: you can fit five people within an old beetle or in a Land Rover. Certainly your five subjects inside the beetle will end up all cramped after a couple of hours. The same happens with this new mobiles or pocket cameras the pixels are so cramped together that you are not really getting the promised resolution.

Sensor Size: just as a reference, popular compact cameras have a sensor around 0.5 cm2 (0.45 on the new Fujifilm F200EXR and 0.43 on the canon G10). In comparison a midrange DSLR like the 40D has a 3.3 cm2 and still it's pretty small when compared with an 8.64cm2 sensor of the fullframe Canon 5D MKII (same as in the Nikons' D3 and D700). You do the math, megapixels mean shit under those circumstances! there is just no comparison [Click here for more info]

Another point to take into consideration is that it all depends on what are you going to do with your images. Are you planning on plublish them in a magazine? or you only need to print the odd 6x4 and to upload to facebook or flickr? If the latter is the case then you don't have to worry about megapixels and you won't know the difference after 6MP. If you are going for quality you have to worry about the size of the sensor and the performance under low light conditions (aka high ISO performance).

I want the perfect camera! small, fast, great under low-light conditions and with a lens that covers from wide-angle to super zoom (10x)
err... if you really find something like that let me know. I'd like to marry that thing. Oh sorry, I am married already! in any case what I am trying to say is that there is no such thing!!

Lets say there are three groups of cameras each of them with pros and cons. The first group includes the "Point and Shoot" cameras, the second the "Compact Cameras" and the third comprises the "DSLRs" or the big chunky ones. You have to decide which one is the best for you according to some questions I'll write at the end of this post.

The point and shoot (PS) cameras are the very little ones, pocket size that you can take everywhere! as their name implies these are very easy to use because of their automatic settings. If you are looking for memories, this is the group for you. Because you will take the camera everywhere (until you lose it), and these days they come with good video capabilities. Sadly you will get tons of those party pics where everyone seems to be close to dying ;¬) and no matter how much they promise you their little flashes are super intelligent, let's accept it: they suck. Pros: the small size and lightness, images good for web display and the odd small print, huge amount of megapixels to boot. Cons: no manual controls, limited zoom (around 3x), very small sensors, normally not very good at night. Not a creative solution per se but remember you can be creative with anything, even with your iphone camera. I don't know much about this group but if possible try it at the store before buying and ask about shutter lag (that is the time between pressing the button and the thing actually taking the picture) and flash recycle times (I believe that cameras with dedicated batteries are faster than AA batteries cameras).

The "Compact Cameras" sometimes they actually look like small SLRs and bring manual settings to the table. That is, you can change the values for aperture and speed manually. It is normally done either by accessing the menus of through combinations of keys. Not very straight forward but the option is there. If you have previously own a PS and noticed that many of your pictures came out pretty flat, good news! it's not your fault it's the camera's. They are programmed so that they could do fairly regular under most conditions and sometimes "properly" (according to the camera) exposed pictures are flat and colourless. If you want your pics to be vibrant try under-exposing them just a little bit. That's when the manual settings come in handy!

In addition have you noticed that when the background is bright either your subject looks too dark with a nice background or your subject looks ok with a totally white background (we call it burned)? Or that when you take a picture of your friends in a museum they look ok but the background goes pitch black? well that is what the cameras are told to do straight from the factory! with the manual settings and the flash you can even things out (I will post a tutorial some other time). Believe me, having at least some manual settings give your creativity wings. Now, Pros: better optics, bigger sensors compared to PSs, more zoom (10x or so), manual settings. Cons: fixed lens, they start getting bigger, slow shutter lag compared to DSLRs, it takes sometime to get ready (moving that long lens is time consuming when you turn them on), bad high ISO performance (there are always exceptions). Tips: look for one with a hotshoe (promise to post a glossary soon), it will let you put a professional flash or control another flash if you ever have the need. A camera I've used and I'd recommend is either and old Canon G9 or the new G10. This camera is still small and packs very good optics as well as image stabilization. Having said that, I took the picture below with a Fujifilm S-5000 very old for today's standards but I was very happy with it. I sold it only to buy my first DSLR.

Manchester 12(Taken with compact camera Fujifilm-S5000, 3.1mp compact camera)

And the last group, the DSLR for Digigal Single Lens Reflex, remember the old Reflex cameras you maybe shoot with film at some point? well these are their digital equivalent. You have total manual control as well as fully automatic modes. The lenses are interchangeable which means now you have to pack much more if you want to get the same focal length as with PSs or Compact cameras. The benefits? better optics (depending on the lenses you buy), very short shutter lags and recovery times, more frames per second, very good focusing systems and good high ISO performance. I don't regret moving to this last group but I have to say that my wife complains that I am not taking as many family pictures. It is just too cumbersome to carry the equipment everywhere so if you go this road keep your old PS just in case you need to keep a memory and not a piece of art every now and then ;¬)

In sum, you have a huge array of products that cater for all needs, you only have to figure out what are your needs!! For that you need to ask yourself some questions:

How often do you want to use the camera?
How much are you willing to carry with you?
What kind of photography do you like? street, buildings, portraits, sports, etc.
How close will your subject be?
Will you be willing to swap lenses and consider the extra weight that implies?
Are your subjects fast moving (like kids, pets, footballers)?
How much do you want to spend?

Take a moment to answer those question and you will learn a lot about why you want a new camera. If you want to free your creativity without concern about the heavy lifting then go DSLR. If you want an all round good performer but without the weight and burden of changing lenses and shutter lag and low light performance is not a must then go Compact. If you can't be bothered and are sure that you won't take any fancy camera out for a spin then just get a PS or your mobile will do.

If you want to compare cameras and read reviews try this site (Digital Photography Review) and if you have more questions send me a line and I will be happy to help.

Back to PhD mode...


Saturday, 2 May 2009

H1N1 en la Ciudad de los Palacios

Please hit the jump if you follow us in English...

Antes que nada si estas buscando información específica y objetiva sobre la enfermedad y la epidemia te sugiero mejor consultar aquí y acá ya que mi intención mas que informar es comentar algunas imágenes e ideas con las que me he topado y tal vez dar mi punto de vista como alguien que se encuentra lejos de su familia y amigos en estos momentos de angustia (porque la amenaza es real sin tampoco llegar a pánico desmedido).

Ya saben que mis imágenes se encuentran principalmente en Flickr y es ahi en donde me encontre esta imágen del Angel de la Independencia que junto con el texto incluido en ella -y del que copio parte en este mensaje- me puso a pensar (la imagen y el texto pertenecen a Tomás Chávez Hurtado quien me permitió amablemente usarlos en este bló y si das click en la imagen te llevará al sitio original checa sus demás fotos).

"La ciudad de los palacios es ahora la ciudad paralizada, desolada unas cuantas gentes con cubreboca (los que tengan posibilidad de conseguirlos) mirándose unos a otros desconfiando de todos, prohibido escupir, toser, tener fluidos nasales, cuanto tiempo pasara para que superemos esto.

No concibo ver esta ciudad sin gente, sin músicos callejeros, con estadios vacios, no hay lugar para tomar un café con los amigos, o un buen tequila en una cantina del centro, nos sentimos solos, ni siquiera nos vemos entre familiares, hasta de ellos desconfiamos, y esa esencia que nos caracteriza a los mexicanos se quedo atrás del cubrebocas, la gente no ríe, no platica, que pensaran, tienen la mirada ausente, que tanto cruza por su mente que hay momentos en los ojos se llenan de lagrimas, así es como se manifiesta el miedo".

Ahora a lo que quería llegar es a que aprecio las imágenes y pensamientos de gente como Tomás ya que al estar lejos de casa la unica manera de tener una imágen mas clara de lo que viven y sienten mis coterraneos es a través de ellas. Es difícil concebir un paro nacional de esta magnitud y solo puedo imaginarme lo impactante que debe ser el verlo de primera mano. Un aplauso (ya me sentí José José ♪♪) para la gente que sigue las recomendaciones y para los que no pues un buen coscorrón, más vale jugar a lo seguro. Ya después se verá si se requería en relidad o no.

Gracias por leer esto y espero pronto podamos reirnos de esta como lo hemos hecho de muchas otras anteriormente con una buena pinta de cerveza o mejor aún, un buen tequila en la mano.

:) Si quieres reirte de mi mala traducción sigue leyendo si no, pues hasta pronto!!


I found this image on Flickr and along with the text accompanying it made me think about the pandemic infection that we are witnessing. I've tried to translate its message as best as possible and after that I made a comment (the image as the quoted text belongs to Tomás Chávez Hurtado and you can see more of his flu-images if you follow the link in the image). The image depicts the Independence Angel which is considered an icon of Mexico City (aka La Ciudad de los Palacios - The City of Palaces).

"The City of Palaces is now the paralysed city, desolated, a few people with mouth covers (if they managed to find them) looking at each other, suspicious of everyone -Prohibited to spit, to cough, or to have a running nose - how long would it take to overcome all this?

I cannot see this city without people, no street musicians, vacant stadiums. There are no places to have a coffee with some friends or a good tequila. We feel alone, we can't even trust the family.

That essence characteristic of the Mexican people was left behind the mouth cover, no laughs, no chatter. What are they thinking? they have a vacant stare. What's in their minds that at moments they have watery eyes. That is how the fear shows itself".

Not a great translation but you get the idea. Now the only thing I wanted to say was that being away from Mexico at this moment is difficult to discern what is real and what is not. I wonder if the media has been responsible but in a sense we all know the answer - they profit on bad news- but if that is the case then whom is there to trust? The WHO? Our families and friends? Looking at the plethora of images available and the conflicting information in the news I wonder if my family there is at risk and if we are safe and prepared at the other side of the world.

I am not from Mexico City and it seems that things in Guadalajara are still pretty stable. However people have already run out to buy antivirals, vitamin C, etc. to weather the storm at risk of leaving people with real needs with no stock. Being this far away it is difficult to trust the one that says everything is fine versus the one that says the world is over.

I consider myself and optimistic so I won't dwell in this too much but I wanted to share this with you because reading what other individuals have to say (not the government or global organizations) has been a good way to get a picture (pun intended) of what is going in others head -interesting at times and shocking at others.

I really liked this image cause it shows there are still some sense of humour around and the text because it tells a story. A story of a city of 20 million people that stopped and that is a huge thing to consider.

I am sure we are coming out of this, but it will require responsible actions from all of us. Get informed, take this seriously without spreading panic and be tolerant.

Till next time writing from sunny, rainy, windy Manchester (wish it'd made up its mind already) :¬)
Back to the thesis!