Sunday, November 30, 2008

Blurry day

Underpass, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Glass tower, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

As I anticipated, today was little time for photography, although we managed to do a short walk outside. All the day it was dark, but the rain ceased at some point in the afternoon. The snow that remained had turned dirty-looking, and wetness permeated everything. Even the red rose berries that still remained had started to turn yellow or brown.

I took a couple of blurry photos once again, trying to catch movement. Here are two examples, not really what I was aiming at, but on days like today you take what you can get.

Kindness of strangers

Stones, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Today it is raining, and I suspect there are little opporturnities for photography, so here is another photo from yesterday. It was only afterward, viewing this photo on screen that I realized what kind of compositions would have been possible with these three big stones in snow. But so it goes.

When I started Light Scrape some months ago - Sunday July 13th, 2008 - I was not expecting much feedback. I had started storing some of my photos on, but then I wanted to write blog-type commentary on the photos as well.

Of course, I haven't received much feedback in terms of quantity, but much more than I expected in terms of quality. It seems that photography is a topic where a kind of patience and communality is abundant, even towards a beginner like myself.

Also, most bloggers on photography are helpful towards others, so I often feel a humble sense of gratitude. It is not only a matter of sharing tips and tricks, but also encouragement of various types. An example of this is seen at Digital Photography School in the popular posting Never Give Up.

Some years ago I used to blog about using the Mac, and then I got involved in quite interesting and encouraging discussions. Perhaps because Mac users were then a neglected minority among other computer users. (That situation had dramatically changed since then.)

I feel that the photography community is more open, more supportive, and most of all - more patient and tolerant with different viewpoints. Mac users were more like the Nikon/Canon/Olympus/... camera enthusiasts type of community, not like those who actually take photos. (Perhaps I am a bit unfair here, sorry.)

In any case, even though my photography is developing really slowly, despite (or because) of the big amount of photos I take daily, I have got a feeling of support from the other photographers, despite the very different viewpoints and approaches to photography. Or perhaps because of the differences. And I guess you have to develop a patient attitude to be able to stick with the process of developing your skills in photography.

Update: While doing some housework I thought on the word "stranger", which in Finnish is "vieras". It so happens that this word has a dual meaning - both "stranger" and "guest". You can play with this, in sentences like "the stranger is a guest", "the guest is a stranger" ("vieras on vieras"). But I feel that perhaps I should have written "guests" instead of "strangers" into the title, referring to the readers and commenters of blogs.

Thinking further on this, it is interesting that the Finnish language has such two meanings for one word, guest/stranger. Perhaps this arises from the time when we were not yet living in the cities, when guests and strangers were not necessarily distinct categories. Nowadays the old style of Finnish hospitality is disappearing, I feel - the reason may be urbanization, or the busy lifestyle of today.

Craft of photography vs. Art

Lights by a melting lake, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

What makes a photograph acceptable? There are all kinds of technical requirements - how black the blacks should be, can there be blown highlights, how the subject should be framed, is there motion or out-of-focus blur etc.

And then there are ways of naming some photos to be Art, and others not to be. I have never really understood what makes Art in the visual arts - in writing I do have some idea, but even that is elusive to put into words. Perhaps it is the same with photography - there are things difficult to define except by seeing from the inside, so to speak.

In any case, what I have learned from my personal, documentary, memento kind of photography is that some photos contain a bit more stuff than you seemingly put in, a kind of secret, mystery, even sprituality - which a lot said from a materialist like me.

But some photos are just the surface of the image, not much more. Here is (I think) one such photo, taken Saturday evening at a nearby lake. The colors are a bit strange thanks to difficulties with the white balance due to different kinds of light sources plus city lights reflected from clouds.

But even though this image is basically just eye candy, I like it. For me (because of the moment in time when I was taking it) it contains a meaning. For others, probably not.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Spoiled by special effects - or: When nothing is enough

Path at night, with a little snow, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

I feel it is often difficult to do that kind of photography I like - personal, documentary, earthy - when you are bombarded by flashy images in advertisements, in movies, in magazines, in documentaries on tv. Of course, these images are not bad images, but they tend to emphasize the "special effects" kind of photography, where technology is a key, as is a big budget.

There was a nice piece in the Onion recently, titled Well, That Sunset Sucked, which I feel touches exactly this topic:

I left work early, picked up a bottle of wine, and drove Jenny out to the country to have a picnic and watch the sunset.
I had high hopes. All the signs were right. The sun was dipping down to the mountain peaks, which looked almost purple in the autumn dusk. But as the light spilled over the landscape in a flood of fiery streaks—if you can even call them streaks—I thought to myself, "Where is this going?"
After a few minutes of the most monotonous cascade of delicate apricot and peach tones I've ever seen, a cloud, pushed across the drooping sun by a faint breeze, became instantly illuminated from behind, sending spears of light down to the earth below. "What a crock of shit," I thought. All my planning and one wispy cloud has to go and ruin everything.
What are our expectations of photography? And of life? Do we really see what is in front of us, or are we spellbound by the special-effects kind of reality?

Snow mysteries

Marks in snow, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Tracks, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

While walking out in the forest today we noticed a lot of interesting tracks still remaining in the wet snow. Dogs, humans, and a few others a bit harder to identify. Here are two examples, the first one was a puzzle. These tracks continued up over a rocky hill away from the path.

Melting snow

Flaking, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Ice, fog and trees, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

It has been warm enough to melt most of the snow we got a week ago. Some is still remaining, but it is melting away fast. Lakes which got an ice and snow cover are opening up again, but their snow is disappearing slower than in the forests.

We went for a walk in the Luukki forests, visiting a couple of lakes. Not many people were about - one other family, some dog-owners, and one guy riding a bicycle. It was quiet and grayish, and there was even some fog thanks to the moisture generated by the melting snow. I'm not sure if any photos I took were any good, but at least they succeeded technically, as there was enough light coming through the cloud cover. Here are two photos taken at lake Väärälampi, "wrong lake". (Name is fitting as there are quite a few other lakes nearby.)

Week end

Ice reflections, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Once again, an end to a week. I'm hoping to see a bit of the sun this weekend, on Saturday it should be possible. But it is warm, so the melting snow will generate a slushy landscape.

Today I took a few photos just before sunset, and there some more after sunset. Once again the artificial lighting provided some colors to the otherwise subdued landscape. In this photo the reflection from the ice and snow were nice - although I had once again trouble finding a good spot where to put the camera on a mini-tripod. And no, I'm not going to buy a bigger tripod, although it would be convenient - I don't want to carry big thigs with me.

I have been quite active in taken photos even during this dark time of the year. It is remarkable how well the interest has survived even the loss of daylight.

I have been thinking that perhaps I'm just that type of person who needs to invest a lot of time to something, whatever that is, where there is a possibility to meet challenges and develop. And there are plenty of challenges.

Once again I read a few chapters from the book "The Simple Secret to Better Painting" by Greg Albert. I noticed that I have been making basic mistakes with composition - these are well demonstrated in the book. These mistakes result in either boring images or images where the eye is not kept inside the frame but is lead out of the image. I need to pay attention to topics like that to be able to take photos that provide more interest to the viewer.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Little snow remaining

White on white, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Lammaslampi brook, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

After a record-strong snowstorm it didn't take long for the snow almost to disappeard. There is still some left, but it may be that in a few even that is gone.

This night I took some photos after sunset, trying to catch scenes created by the last snow. Here are two images on the big contrast between light and dark in the landscape, both taken from a small bridge across a brook. Before taking the "White on white" photo I accidentally dropped the camera onto snow. The front lens had some moisture on it, which explains some of the blur.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Night motion

Night walk 2, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Slide, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Once again I did some long exposure photography at night. Now that we have snow (at least for a while), the white background changed the results dramatically. The shadows are emphasized, as are the outlines of people. Here are two examples which I found quite illuminating (or should I say shadowy?).

Update: By the way, the snowstorm we had in Finland last weekend was the worst since 1961. No wonder it felt afterwards that we had quite enough snow, and it was even difficult to be positive about the first snow. But now it seems that this snow may not last for long - warmer weather ahead.

Snow landscapes

Birches and snow, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Laajalahti buildings, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Today I took a few more photos of winter landscapes, this time by the sea at Laajalahti. It is quite challenging to capture snow in a photo, and it was also very clouded and thus - in contrast to yesterday - the light was a bit dull. But there were some interesting shapes and colors nevertheless, which I tried to capture.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Snow at night

Skiing tracks, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

I took some photos late at night today, trying to catch the snow landscape as long as it lasts. Tomorrow will be a warmer day, and some of the snow is going to melt. Already today we had slush on the streets.

I had only a mini-tripod with me when taking photos at night, but there was one benefit to moist snow: you could build a base to hold the camera where you wanted. It was dark enough that nobody probably saw me playing with snow, but if someone did watch it probably appeared quite strange.

I struggled a bit with the white balance settings, trying to define a custom white balance, but unfortunately there were so many different light sources that this proved impossible for me. Finally I ended up using AWB. With this scene it did a quite nice job.

Update: Panasonic just announced that they are releasing a firmware update v. 1.1 for the LX3, which - in addition to supporting a new flash unit - "improves auto white balance performance under different color temperatures and lighting". This will be available on December 15th.

Quick landscape photography

Seaside trees, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

While driving to a meeting after a quick lunch I realized I had a couple of minutes to spare. I happened to be driving past the Seurasaari park region in Helsinki, and stopped at the parking place for a quick landscape photography session. The sea was quite calm, clouds had an interesting variety of gray shades, and the snow provided some extra contrast to the landscape.

I did not have time to study the landscape, but instead took a couple of photos quickly from the bridge to Seurasaari. The routine I have developed for photography was useful here, as I rapidly scanned the view for potential subjects for photography.

Afterwards I had mixed feelings. I was happy to finally be able to do some winter landscape photography in daytime, but due to rush I felt that the results would be bad.

However, I rather liked some of the photos I took. The interesting winter light generated a kind of shine to the landscape, and this was visible in the photos. Once again I was happy how the LX3 performed - it is a good tool for landcape photography. The muted colors and the strong contrast between dark trees and white snow were captured nicely.

Camera work

Sled hill, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Yesterday I started reading the book Stieglitz, Camera work which is a collection of photography images and essays published in the magazine Camera Work: "[it] was a quarterly photographic journal published by Alfred Stieglitz from 1903 to 1917 that was known for its high-quality reproductions and its effort to establish photography as a fine art." The introductory essay was quite deep, providing insight in the early stages of photography as a unique art form. And the photos are inspiring even today.

To provide some contrast to the fine art aspects and the roots of modern photography, pointed to an angry but entertaining posting titled Photography is for Jerkoffs: "5) Take pictures of everyday shit from stupid angles but make sure it's all SYMMETRICAL and that it isn't MOVING."

I guess you do have very different views about photography. And from the earliest times, the tension between "art" and "commercial" photography remains. My photography is something different - you could say "snapshots", or "personal", or "not art/commercial" - but at least it is mine. Such as the photo here, where I tried to capture some motion - not symmetrical and moving, and of course blurry.

I ordered from eBay (my first time shopping there) an accessory for my LX3, "Lens Adapter UV Filter Set for Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3". I think this allows better use of the camera in a snowstorm or such bad conditions - with the adapter (extension tube) I don't need to protect the lens so much, and I can also try out various filters to experiment with photography. I'm thinking about getting a polarizing filter, and for next summer also a neutral density filter to get motion blur even in bright daylight.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Camera reviews - a spectator sport

Beside a church, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Today appeared the long-anticipated Dpreview missive on the Canon G10. The review caused quite a reaction by giving the camera only an Recommended rating.

For me it was quite sad to see another confirmation for the megapixel problem with the G10 - there is too much noise to make it useable over the base ISO. I would very much like to see compact cameras competing in the image quality department, but Canon at least seems to be doing a far from class-leading effort in this area.

It is sad situation indeed that the LX3 seems to be (almost) alone in that sector of the market. When mine at some point ceases to function, I sincerely hope the camera technology has progressed from the current situation, but at this moment there is not much hope for that.

The photo here was taken this evening after it stopped snowing for a while. New white snow is a beautiful thing. Currently it is snowing again - and tomorrow we will probably get rain. So it goes.

Here is for reference a list of Panasonic LX3 reviews, of which the two first are quite recent ones:

Snow landscapes

Tracks, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

There is so much snow out there that it really feels like winter. Tomorrow we will get rain, so it may be that the snow does not remain on the ground for very long. There are all kinds of new things in the landscape, and it is unfortunate indeed that there is no daylight time for doing photography. But on the other hand, artificial light provides some interesting subjects as well.

I don't really know why I focused on this roadside view, perhaps it was the great contrast with the black and the white, or the interesting shapes. But somehow this photo captures some thing I was pondering at the moment. However, it may be that after a few days this photo is revealed to be meaningless.

Photographers and terrorists

Snowflakes, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

How does the society feel about photographers? While I was out in the snowstorm taking photos using flash, I got some curious glances from passerbys. Somehow I was reminded of articles from abroad, discussing the changed attitudes towards photography. Are we learning to fear photographers? On the other hand, someone using a camera in a snowstorm is certainly an odd sight.

In March 2008 Times Online published an article titled Street photographers fear for their art amid climate of suspicion: 'Now, a new poster campaign by the Metropolitan Police is inviting Londoners to call a hotline if they don't like the look of a photographer. “Thousands of people take photos every day,” runs the text. “What if one of them seems odd?” The poster states that terrorists use cameras for surveillance. Life with a camera might be about to turn tougher.'

This campaign generated a lot of opinions, encouraging photographers to resist, for example by learning How to Shoot (Photographs) Like A Terrorist. Bruce Schneier wrote an excellent essay (as always) on this, titled The War on Photography, using the term movie-plot threat: "The problem with movie-plot security is it only works if we guess the plot correctly. If we spend a zillion dollars defending Wimbledon and terrorists blow up a different sporting event, that's money wasted. If we post guards all over the Underground and terrorists bomb a crowded shopping area, that's also a waste. If we teach everyone to be alert for photographers, and terrorists don't take photographs, we've wasted money and effort, and taught people to fear something they shouldn't."

What can be done? Well, I for one will just go on taking photos in public places.

Photography as an interview

Snow play, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

On Monday I was thinking about two sayings about photography - "a photo is a secret about a secret", "a photo allows the viewer to study a secret". Actually, I'm not sure how the original versions of the sayings go (I could check with Google but prefer not to). What was interesting was the point about the secret. To be interesting, should a photo contain a secret? And do all photos have such?

I'm often listening to radio when I'm driving a car, and every once in a while there is an interview where the reporter is not allowing the secret to come out. Or rather, he or she has a fixed idea and tries to get the interviewed to person to say things which fit that idea. But when the reporter stops being stuck on a routine and starts to listen, sometimes a really interesting and big "secret" comes out, much more interesting than what was the expectation. (And of course, sometimes there is no secret at all.)

My photos typically contain only little secrets, if any, but I feel that the saying about photography "allowing to study a secret" relevant nevertheless. Through viewing a photo you can gain understanding - or at least an appreciation - of a secret.

And here is also why I'm very much against "playacting" in photography, with which I mean setting up a photo shoot with all kinds of paraphernalia not included in the "original scene" (if there ever was one). Many photos of this kind have great visual impact (and thus they are used in advertising etc.) but I don't really appreciate artificially produced "secrets".

Finally, a comment about languages and words for snow. While writing about the Inuit language and Finnish, I forgot to say that also Swedish has a lot of words for snow. This is of course quite natural given the Nordic climate.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Winter photography

Path in snow, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Snow changes the landscape totally. Unfortunately today it was not possible to do photography during daytime, so it was necessary to use what artificial light was available. It is surprising how many different colors the street lamps have - there is no setting of white balance which would fit all occasions.

Having used the LX3 in a snowstorm yesterday and also while it was snowing today I must say that I'm impressed. The camera coped without problems of the winter environment. I have also developed a technique for handling the lens cap with hands in gloves.

I started to use modified custom settings, + 2/3 EV exposure compensation and max ISO 400. I also defined another custom setting to be used on a mini-tripod, with ISO 80 and exposure bracketing. But it turned out that the exposure bracketing feature seems not to be included in the custom settings - when you reset it, it is reseted everywhere. But in any case, I have now a nice setup to be used on a tripod, and another for handheld photography.

Photographing snow

Snow at the school yard, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

I'm slowly getting used to photographing snow with the LX3. I set up the camera a bit differently and experimented with settings. I'm using + 2/3 EV exposure compensation as standard, decreasing it if needed. Also, I changed the max ISO to 400 - perhaps there is more noise, but it is better than not getting a photo at all.

Today we spend a lot of time out while it was still snowing. There is about a half meter of snow at the moment - great for kids and perhaps also for adults. I had to visit a school, and while waiting there I took a couple of photos of the school yard where the falling snow was caught by the lights. Also, there is a portrait of the photographer (at least the hands) reflected from the window.

A slightly surprising feeling in the photo, I'm not quite sure why. Perhaps it is the differently colored lamps out there on the yard. Also, the falling snowflakes did not produce continuous "tails", thanks to fluorescent lamps which switch on and off in rapid succession. You can find out the exposure duration from the photo by counting the "light pearls" and remembering that we are using 50 Hz electricity here in Finland.

Slush forecasted

Snowstorm, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Apparently the half-meter snow cover we now have here in Finland may not last long, as warmer weather is expected after Wednesday. But we will have a lot of slush.

The photo here was taken on Sunday, using vertical panning and flash to get some motion blur to the trees and to highlight the closer snow flakes.

Speaking of different types of snow, it is sometimes said that the Inuit language (and to a lesser degree, Finnish) has bigger variety of words for snow than English. But that may be just an illusion - probably those English-speaking who live enough up north can discuss snow as fluently as any other Northern tribe.

However that is, here is a short list of snow words in Finnish (from Finnish Wikipedia): sohjo, räntä, loska, söltsy, iljanne, ajolumi, puuteri, tykkylumi, viti, nattura, utukka, höykkälumi, nuoska, suojalumi, suvilumi, rääpäkkä, mätälumi, takkala, huove, kinos, nietos, kohva, hanki, hankiainen, huurre, härmä, kuura, siide , riite, riide, riitta, riitto, kerte, kohma, hyyde, tykkilumi, vuotos, hyöty, hitva, hile, hiutale, kuurankukka, aito, tiera, tilsa, paakku.

Interestingly, the most common word for snow in Finnish, lumi, is also a first name in France.

Update: Apparently reporting on the snow storm of yesterday is a bit lagging. Now it was reported that the amount of snow and the force of the wind we had is nearly a record. Getting 30 cm of snow in one day and land winds of up to 21 m/s is quite impressive. As if we didn't realize that yesterday.

Winter tired

Roots, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

There are so many ways of looking at winter. Now I'm already tired of it, after only a few days of snow. It was the snowstorm from yesterday which did it - too much snow at once, and I had to shovel the snow into piles away from the walkway and around the car. Today I need to do the same again.

A little snow is a beautiful thing, though. And of course, I'll probably change my mind when the first sunny winter day appears. Then it will be all different, not like now when it is clouded and snowing.

It seems that you also need to develop the photography skills further. I didn't remember to turn up the exposure for some of the photos from yesterday, making the snow look gray instead of white. Of course, you can do that in post-processing, but it does not help in all situations. And I would like to get it right at once.

So, what I'll do is modify my custom settings a bit on the LX3, putting perhaps + 2/3 EV exposure compensation as default. That should help somewhat.

Update: After thinking about this for a bit, I realized that it is not so simple. For example, in the photo here, there are many dark elements combined with the white snow. This is more or less how I wanted the photo to look like, but I could also tried to get more of the snow shades to appear. So, clipping the highlights may be a problem, and getting it right is more a question of how you are metering the exposure than on the EV compensation. In any case, what is sure is that I have to be much more careful about the exposure that during summer and autumn.

But snow is not only a problem. It also simplifies the scenery, covering a lot of complexity away from view. In that sense there are new apporturnities for photography, especially towards more abstract compositions. Have to see if this direction is fruitful.

Update 2: Yesterday the latest weather reports said that we would get about 10 cm of snow here in the Helsinki region. I thought the this is not right, as on our yard there was already 10-30 cm of snow. Now the reports say that we got 30 cm of snow, and there will by 10 cm more today. So there. No wonder I'm a bit tired of the shoveling.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

And then we got a lot of snow

Reeds in snowstorm, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Snow, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

A snowstorm went over Finland, delivering 10-30 cm of snow in a few hours. The snow was piled in dritfs thanks to the strong winds. I did a lot of shoveling out in the yard, removing snow from around the car and the walkway. I think the same needs to be done tomorrow morning.

Here are two snowy photos from today. It is surprising how quickly you get used to the snow. A few days ago I was wishing for snow, now I'm thinking that this is enough, thank you very much.

I'm still trying to develop a good routine for doing winter photography with the LX3. With the Ixus 400 this was easier, because the camera was easily carried in a small pocket. But the LX3 is sufficiently bigger that this is not so easy. Also, the lens gets in the way. And as I'm using more manual controls, not shooting in automatic mode, the hands tend to get cold before I'm done with a scene. But I'm sure it is possible to find ways of coping with this.

From a little snow to a lot of snow

Snow by a brook, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Snowstorm, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

This morning we had a little snow on the ground, and then the forecasted snowstorm arrived. Due to the wind the snow came down almost horizontally, in gusts which swirled it around. Out on the lake the snow every so often made the opposite shore disappear, and collected drifts here and there.

I managed to prevent getting the camera lens covered with snow, but it was harder to keep the hands warm. I used the flash to make the snowflakes visible in the camera, and it worked surprisingly well. Of course, it is a matter of taste whether you like this kind of photos. I feel that it suits well to illustrate the snowstorm.

Touch of the first snow

Snow on poisonberry, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Today afternoon we got the promised snowstorm - it is expected that we get 15-20 cm of snow today. That is quite a lot for one day.

We took a walk outside before it started to snow seriously, and then there was a bit of snow on the ground. Bright colors were hard to find, so I took the opporturnity to take photos of poisonberries with a snow topping. They are quite beautiful although not at all edible.

I tackled the "frozen photographer hands" problem by having mittens which contained separate fleece gloves inside. Mostly I managed to cope rather well, nowever a couple of times I forget to warm up the hands and they got quite cold. But after warming up the hands for a while in the mittens I could continue with photography.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

One rule only

Red fence (warm), originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Today I started to read a guidebook on painting, "The Simple Secret to Better Painting" written by Greg Albert. On the back cover it is advertised that the book describes a single rule which ensures that your compositions work every time. The rule is "Never make any two intervals the same". I bit simplistic perhaps?

Well, actually the book is quite interesting, as it focuses on what makes a painting (or a photography) interesting. The hypothesis is that there is a region of interesting compositions in the middle of a scale from boring to chaotic.

And there is something there. It appears to me that I have often tried to "balance" my photographs, using symmetry and an even number of elements - when I should have strived towards breaking the similarity, using deliberate means to avoid stable and repetitive elements.

I have only started with the book but already I have several new ideas to test. Making photographs more interesting is definitely something I want to do.

But why it is that some photos which are quite regular and repetitive still have a great visual impact? This is worth thinking about.

This photo is from today. The original had quite cool colors, and made me shiver, so I used the "Sunset scene" operation in Lightzone to tune the photo a bit. Now it is not so shivery any more. What I like is the tilt in the fence - I feel it generates a nice tension in the photo.

White and red day

Hanging, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Eaten rose berries, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

I took today a lot of photos of rose berries. Perhaps this was because they are now one of the rare sources of bright color here in Finland.

It was a nice, partly clouded day, and we took a walk which all in all lasted about three hours. Tomorrow it is expected that we will have a lot of snow, perhaps even a snow storm, so then it will be quite different.

In addition to the rose berries, I took a lot of photos of the children playing. They are used to the camera (well, with all this photography they should be), so I didn't much affect their playing.

Before today I didn't remember one of the big problems of winter photography: freezing hands. It seems that I have to develop some kind of technique for this. Of course, this also limits the number of photos taken, because you need to keep your hands warm and can't be shooting all the time. Perhaps a combination of thin gloves and leather mittens might do the trick. But the LX3 at least didn't have any trouble functioning in below freezing temperatures.

On automated photography

Path, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Paul commented the posting Use camera automatics or not? reminding that automatics helps to concentrate on the photo.

I'm of course very happy to use automatics, and couldn't really do photography without it, except perhaps for the fact that with a digital camera you can easily do bracketing or use other iterative techniques to find the right exposure.

When using the LX3, the program mode which selects both aperture and shutter speed does often a competent job. But when you need a certain depth-of-field or want a deliberate motion blur, then that does not work. I have been using aperture priority for most of the time, although with a compact camera there is not so much to do in controlling the depth-of-field.

However, the Panasonic iA is a different kind of automatics, and I have found it unpredictable. (And I feel that automatics should be somewhat predictable.) The iA mode raises ISO automatically, uses different focusing and exposure metering modes depending on the scene mode it selects, and so on.

In the iA mode you have "an artificial photographer" living in the camera, and I don't like to out-guess and compete with it.

But I have used it occasionally, such as in this photo where I wanted to see what it would do. Well, the camera raised ISO to 800, used a shutter speed of 1/8 seconds, and struggled with focusing quite a lot. (You can't use manual focusing with iA.) But the result is not so bad despite the noise.

Moving from automated photography to humans, BBC had an interesting article titled Four philosophical questions to make your brain hurt. Here is a quote: "Consider a photo of someone you think is you eight years ago. What makes that person you? You might say he she was composed of the same cells as you now. But most of your cells are replaced every seven years. You might instead say you're an organism, a particular human being, and that organisms can survive cell replacement - this oak being the same tree as the sapling I planted last year. [...] In the end, then, no attempt to make sense of your continued existence over time works. You are not the person who started reading this article."

Humans are of course much more unpredictable photographers than any camera automatics.

So, who are you now that you are here at the end of this posting?

Friday, November 21, 2008

On the ice

Lammaslampi ice, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

When I went to the nearby lake (Lammaslampi) today night, my eyes were not yet adapted to the night, and so when I walked to the shore I went a bit too far and stepped on the dark new ice near the shore.

Fortunately the ice was thick enough to carry me, but it made a quite worrisome noise until I got back to the shore. I had the LX3 in my hands, and so it was quite close that the camera (and me) did not get a cold bath in the lake.

Here is a photo stiched from two images in PTGui. Here, once again, I was not planning to combine the photos, but in the end I decided that this was the best use of the original photos.

I got several nice comments to the posting on how to develop as a photographer. The most recent commenter was Lynn:

Another way to develop as a photographer is to look at photography in terms of the visual arts, and study the history of visual art, to gain an appreciation of the "ways of seeing" that have evolved since prehistoric cave art right through to modern art, with photography being one branch of that story. The ways that artists and photographers perceive and represent their world, and how conventions have developed over time in our visual language, can be helpful in developing one's own visual style. So read up on the history of art, visit art galleries as well as photo galleries, you will find much food for thought.

This is indeed an excellent suggestion. It brough to mind some of the interests I had as a teenager - before going to study physics, mathematics, and information technology. In high school I was quite interested in the arts, painting with watercolors etc., even planning to study architecture. (No, not the information technology type of architecture.) But the interest somehow stopped when I was a student, and never really surfaced again.

It so happens that when browsing some photography books at I noticed that many of the comments recommended a guide to painting as a source for photography inspiration.

And - it so happens - today I opened a package from Amazon, and that book (with two others) is now on the table beside the computer as I write this. The book is "The Simple Secret to Better Painting", written by Greg Albert. At first glance the book seems promising - and although it discusses painting, I think many of the points do apply to photography as well.

The other two books in the package were "Camera Work" by Alfred Stieglitz and "Tao of Photography - Seeing Beyond Seeing" by Gross and Shapiro. Both contain photos, and some text. But mainly excellent b&w photography. I think they will provide excellent reading (and seeing) these dark winter nights.

Winter nights - full manual

Lammaslampi night, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Today at night I suddenly got an idea to go out and try to take some photos of the stars. But then it turned out that clouds were covering most of the sky, so I decided to try something else. I went to the nearby lake, which had gotten the first ice cover today.

It was a good silent night for doing winter landscape photography. I took a couple of dozen long exposures at ISO 100 with the LX3. I used manual focusing and manual exposure, and after some trying ended up with 13 second exposure at f/2.0 for most of the photos.

This photo was stitched from two separate photos, which I didn't originally intend to combine. But the PTGui panorama software turned out useful once again. The sign in the photo warns of the weak ice.

Later at the post-processing stage I experimented with some of the other photos using the Lightzone software. I ended up using the "Bright scene" operation, trying to open up the shadowed parts of the night landscape photos. I'm not quite sure if the results were good, but it was nice to experiment.

Light and darkness

Lamplight, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Thanks for the first snow, it is no longer as dark here in Finland as it was two days ago. However, nights are still getting longer and the days shorter.

I'm not sure whether it is the darkness or whether the busy schedule at work, but I have been quite tired these last few days. Even photography hasn't been as much fun as it used to be.

But now that we have snow, I have a feeling that winter has taken a turn for the better. After all, in four months or so this will be over, days will be much longer and the spring almost here.

Some trees haven't yet realized that winter is here. This birch grows near a lamplight, and perhaps that is the reason why it still has some leaves - of which some are green. Almost all other birches are bare of leaves.

This photo is a composite made from several photos, stiched together in PGGui. Subjects like this demonstrate the need for an even wider lens than the 24 mm of the LX3.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Use camera automatics or not?

Lighted, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Some users of the Panasonic LX3 are recommending the iA mode, which is fully automated "scene-mode" based system for novices. When I got the camera, I used iA, but then I moved to aperture priority and manual focus as the primary settings. However, I'm still using automatic white balance (though a bit tweaked), and auto-ISO and intelligent exposure. Perhaps I should move away from these as well.

Here is a photo where using the RAW format might have been useful to determine the correct white balance settings in post-processing. I'm not saying that the results is bad, but it would have been interesting to explore the possibilities.

As a sidenote, I have been planning to do some work in finding the right white balance settings to use with street lamps etc. There are a lot of options for doing this with the LX3, so I'm hesitating before tackling the problem. I want to take photos, not tinker with the settings.

Crazy photography project #2: Shiny garbage/trash can covers

Cover, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Here is another in the series of possible long-term photography projects, commenting on the modern life: photos of shiny garbage/trash can covers. (It seems that here is also a terminology problem, as with washroom/restroom.)

These photos should be taken with a full-frame DSLR or perhaps - even better - with a H2D-39 or similar large-format camera, to deliver exceptional rendering of the details: dirt, fingerprints, splashes, blemishes etc. visible on the covers. This would be an exploration of a forgotten landscape, classical in scope and implementation.

I'm of course making fun here. (At least partly.) But you are welcome to the idea.

Crazy photography project #1: Self-portrait in washroom/restroom

Mirrored, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Many photography sites publish regularly (sometimes even daily) how-to or do-it-yourself type articles or themed photography exercises.

I have found these more funny than useful, although sometimes they may provide an interesting view on the photography practice. In a similar way, I'm interested in the work of certain photographers who tackle a single subject and beat it to death with endless repetition of the same idea.

What kind of things would be feasible for a photographer tackling a single topic and continuing with it for ages, or at least dozens or several hundred photos?

Here is a possible topic for someone to try out: self-portraits taken in the washroom/restroom mirror using a mobile phone. (Terminology is bit of a problem - washroom/restroom/public toiled - you get the idea. Here in Finland we just say WC.)

I'm sure you could find all kinds of interesting interpretations for such a series. A commentary on the modern life, a glipse of a reality often hidden, anguished glimpse into the scenery of modern life... I'm not going to try this, you are welcome to the idea.

First snow in Finland

Snow games, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Today we got the first snow in the Helsinki region. It was wet, but towards night the weather turned colder. For children it was nice, they made things out of snow and carried snow balls with them. In this photo I combined still and motion photography, aiming for a dual-meaning.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How to develop as a photographer

Lammaslampi sunset panorama, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

The photo shown here is a bit of a joke - a panorama combined from three LX3 photos, cropped wide but shallow. This was a sort of response to an inverted photo which I for a while though was actually a reflection from water. There is a hint of what this actually is.

But how to develop as a photographer. I guess having fun is one aspect of this. Another aspect which I don't really know the answer to is: Should one return to photos taken earlier?

There is a quite good argument that recommends waiting for a while until you make a decision about a photo - is it good or not? The argument for waiting is based on the fact that you have a certain image in mind when taking a photo, and the result may disappoint. But later on - with fresh eyes - you may find that there is something even better in the photo. And you would never have gotten that insight if you deleted the photo at once.

Another viewpoint argues for making the decision early and not returning to old photos. If the photos do have some value, you notice it right away. So just delete the bad, post-process the good ones, and move on to shooting the next set of photos.

I'm a bit ambivalent. I like browsing photos taken earlier, and sometimes there are positive surprises. A not-so-good photo turns out to have an unanticipated meaning. But I also delete most (over 90%) of my photos the same day they are taken.

I'm a bit excessive in my shooting habits - I have written about this previously - taking a photo even if I'm not sure there is something worth photographing. For example, today I took about 250 photos during a two-hour walk outside.

Some photographers like to "simulate" photography by looking, not shooting. I have found that this does not work with me. I want to experiment, to iterate from one photo to another, as a process of stepwise refinements. This is how I function best, and I'm not keen on changing this any time soon.


Clouds on fire, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Sunset views, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Clouds are not always a bad thing. Today at sunset we got a nice display of colors - red, yellow, orange, shades of blue, white - in stripes and various other patterns.

I tried to take some photos at the lake nearby, but it was difficult to capture both the sunset and the landscape colored by it. Many of the photos were underexposed. I should have allowed some burning of the highlights. Or bracketed the exposure. Here are two examples.

Blur is good

Swing, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Fire walk with me, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Today I took both non-blurry (with a mini-tripod) and blurry photos at sunset. Here are two examples of the blurry ones. These were quite fun to do - and I didn't take dozens of photos - only a couple, and selected the best. I'm slowly learning to know what kind of results handheld long-exposure photography produces.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

LIFE photo archive available, thanks to Google

Field at night, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Check out the LIFE photo archive: "Search millions of photographs from the LIFE photo archive, stretching from the 1750s to today. Most were never published and are now available for the first time through the joint work of LIFE and Google."

This is an extremely interesting site for anyone interested in history, culture, politics, humanity, photography, ...

The photo was taken last week. A challenging situation for automatic white balance - but I feel that this version is quite nice.

Motion blur photography with a mobile phone

Tablecloth, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Light passing, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Today was a day when I didn't have the LX3 with me for taking photos. So, what I did instead (in a restaurant) was to experiment with my Nokia E90 mobile phone. As I have written here previously, the E90 may have one of the worst cameras ever in terms of the unpredictable shutter (focus/exposure) lag. Also, the sensor is extremely noisy in low light, and the camera interface is a nightmare.

But I thought that perhaps the badness of the camera could serve a useful purpose. What if I would use the E90 in the same way as a Lomo - photographing random things, shooting "from the hip", not minding the blur.

Well, this was not so easy, but after switching of the flash and not using the automatic exposure mode I got a bit of progress. I experimented with macro, portrait and night photography modes, switched off the auto ISO feature (the photos were still noisy but not so extremely), and learned to estimate the probable focus/shutter lag. I moved the camera around, tried the same subject several times, and finally got some results which were not impossibly bad. Here are two examples of the results.

Perhaps this way of photography is worth exploring further. I wish there would be a way to save the camera settings, but it seems that you need to do the setup again and again. Is this so?

A further thought: is the E90 as good as a Lomo? (At least is is not cheaper.)