I Remember Why I Dream In Black And White



Cairo, November 2011 by Tim Baker

Posted my full set of Egypt photos over at Flickr – here are some of the best ones, I went during the 2nd revolutionary protests last November – so I had a very different experience than most tourists – I took photos in Tahrir Square and of the graffiti, the ancient and the modern. I always try to get a sense of a place – and a view you’d not get from a brochure or tour book…although i took some of those shots too, I mean with one of the greatest wonders of the world how can you resist?

Pyramid, Nov 2011 by Tim Baker

Cairo, November 2011 by Tim Baker

Cairo, November 2011 by Tim Baker

Tahrir Square, Nov 2011

Cairo, November 2011 by Tim Baker

Mosque, Nov 2011

Tahrir Square, Nov 2011

Old house, Cairo Nov 2011

Abu Simpel, Nov 2011

Bird at Abu Simpel, 2011

Ancient pepsi can, Aswan 2011

Rameseum, Nov 2011

Motorcycle workshop, Cairo 2011

Habbu's town, 2011

Arabic sign language, 2011

Donkey at cross roads, Luxor

Street food, Luxor


Cairo motorcyclist

Virtual Light Studio

A friend posted this, a virtual light studio. A really useful tool to try out and learn some of those lighting layouts, although obviously nothing replaces real studio time.

I put in my usual lighting rig as I used for the shots of Kirk and others, and got some quite nice results:

Virtual light studio setup

Although I tended to quite often in my earlier portraits use a softbox of at a 45 degree angle to the side and a reflector on the other, I found it more controllable and reliable to use two lights of differing power, sometimes with a snoot (although I never really got good results with one of those, or barn doors…practice I guess). The fun (ie hard part) of lighting is to accent the modelling of the face without getting shadows under the nose or eyes – unless you are going for that moody/Halloween look. As I was taught sculpture and drawing and learnt about light and modelling through that, I think I approach it in sculptural terms, light and shadow, chiaroscuro.

What I find in a lot of commercial shoots is they pour a lot of light at the subject, mostly directly on, equally balanced power. It tends to lead to a flat high-key look, which can in the right hands look quite cool (always fond of that ring-flash look, or the use of silver or gold reflectors, overused but can be really striking!) but most often than not looks boring. It’s good for catalogue or some fashion/supermarket magazine photography, but the lighting of a portrait subject should say as much about the subject – or at least show off their features – as the choice of pose or lens or location. Those ‘flat’ studio shots to me look as if the person is treating the subject as a still life, static and on some kind of conveyor belt. Also truly good high-key photography is hard, since throwing a lot of light at a subject is actually rarely flattering unless you bounce the light, and as I’ve found that’s quite hard to control. Unless major studios have a lot of dwarves with last-o-lites scattered around the set out of shot. I wouldn’t be surprised…;-)

It’s why I was taught to only use one light and reflectors at first, it’s a really good training in economy in lighting, You can get perfectly good shots with a single tungsten light, or a strobe flash, and a white board or wall. Harder to control the reflection, especially the angle of reflected light since it scatters as it bounces but certainly it teaches you how much you can change mood by swinging the light around by a few degrees, and how much light can be bounced back onto subject (or not if you want very moody/introspective shots) and how that changes the feel of the portrait. As with all things, experimentation is the key.

Quirang, 2001

2001 Isle of Skye On Top of the Quirang by Tim Baker

While the world was going mad in September 2001, I was walking in the Isle of Skye taking pictures, mostly monochrome…seemed the safest place to be. This is shot of a rather disturbingly shot up PASSING sign on the top of the remote Quirang – well not so remote as it doesn’t have a road, but after 5pm there was no traffic, and I decided to walk across it in late afternoon which yes, meant walking at night by the time I got over the top….where there was only sheep (including spookily dead ones – that shot I used for KLF Dead Sheep show is from this walk) and remains of ancient huts for company.

I lost my Smith & Wesson cap up there, too – wearing it ironically, was doing a sort of Unabomber/Crazy Gunman Chic thing which really wouldn’t translate in the US and I wince thinking about that now (was trying to prove a point at work, freak them out, punk in a way…) a gust of wind took it off my head and I couldn’t find it even though I saw it go. Just vanished….the feeling of place on the top was, odd. Very strange vibes and felt very remote – I mean after 11 years I can still see and feel that place, where people used to live a long time ago.

This is scanned on my new 120 glass holder* for the Nikon Coolscan 8000 – one of the problems with the holders that are supplied is they don’t always keep the negative completely flat – not usually a problem but with curved or bent negatives that’s a real problem as those bits that curve drop out of focus.

I doubt any of you have noticed this, but it bugged the hell out of me that such an expensive scanner couldn’t do edge to edge sharpness – which it can now, even with 35mm. The glass holder just has special glass in it that sandwiches the negative flat…less scary than ‘wet mounting’ which is what it sounds, it’s applying a special alcohol based solution with a glass holder which keeps the negative flat in the same way that a piece of paper ‘sticks’ to the floor when wet. A lot of professionals use wet mounting, but the idea of putting liquids on my negatives and in my scanner, well, I don’t really like that.

* What’s the holder? Well negatives are held by a large plastic flat cartridge, which keeps the negatives from 35mm upto 120 size in place as the motor moves it around from negative to negative – probably different to scanners people have used, the idea the negative moves rather than the scanner head, rather than the other way round – but in professional scanners that’s usually what happens (drum scanners I think also rotate the negative in a drum around the ‘slit’ where the scanner is). It also means you can batch scan negatives, Upto 3/4 120 negatives, 12 35mm and 6 slides.

It’s a wonder of technology, anyway…

And thanks to Jeb 50poundnote for helping me ship it here, the taxes and shipping cost MORE than the holder, and of course you can’t get it here, or if you can it’s actually more than even direct $ = £ conversion which is crazy. Or Cray-Cray as the song goes.

Anyway planning to scan all my 2001 Skye pics, as I think the prints really didn’t do them justice, and also my early 2000s shots of East London in protest of the Olympics.

Riverwalks and GPS tagging…

Rower, Thames 2012 by Tim Baker

Started the riverwalks (the longstanding project where I walk along the Thames and tributaries, been doing it since 1999) and cliffwalks again for this year…this was taken during the good weather of last week walking from Hampton Court to Walton Bridge there seems to be a lot of rowers on the river – Olympics practice? Or just I’m getting closer to Henley and the traditional home of rowing in the UK? I did Walton to Chertsey yesterday – Shepperton and Chertsey are a strange place, loads of riverside holiday homes with statues, English flags and clocktowers – little England indeed!

The idea of river walks is to photograph the Thames and it’s tributaries in sections creating a photographic essay or book…I’ve done from Chertsey down to Thames Barrier so far following the Thames Path with a little bits after there (Gravesend for instance). Part of the scanning is I want to scan the photos I took of those central sections and east London – which has partly undergone great changes since because of the Olympics and development – and put them online/store them and sort them. There are many more photos  I took 1999-2004 than in that set! I redid the Royal Docks area recently, so in some cases I can have a ‘layer’ of then and now, amazing how in some cases little changes, like Woolwich/Thames Barrier area, and how some areas have very much changed in the last 10 years.

Rather proud of the one above, especially as it was a grab shot and this is a detail of a bigger picture which you can see at the Flickr Riverwalks highlights set  which contains the ‘best of’ most of the walks so far since 2004/5. The idea of making a site or book is definitely still on the cards, still thinking about that. Certainly having location data will help with those.

Oh and these are the first DSLR images I’ve posted that should be properly geotagged, using Geotag Photos Pro app and syncing the camera clock to the GPS/app clock. It works pretty well, as you should see from the newer pictures at the end of the set they should all appear on the Map over at Flickr (or the EXIF should have that info too). Geotag Photos Pro costs a little money and also I prefer to be platform/server independent, I don’t like uploading my data to someone else’s server to convert to GPX – always thinking ‘but what if the server goes down/bust?’. But I tried free apps such Osmand which is a really good Android mapping app, or GPS Logger but the quality wasn’t as good, they weren’t as accurate or in the case of GPS Logger they logged nothing at all – rather frustrating. Geotag Photos Pro was simple and just worked, and was pretty accurate, only a few jumps courtesy of the US Military (they put errors into the GPS data, it can do down to <1m on the military version, but of course they don’t want to give that ability to the ‘enemy’ so put intentional errors into the consumer version so hence those 10m jumps, frustratingly.).

If you want to see the full set (ie. all photos) in a map type format, try my Picasa set – I tend to keep Flickr for ‘best’ photos and dump all sets and social stuff onto Picasa….but it’s better mapping is also useful.

We Done This, 2012 by Tim Baker

Dog, 2012 by Tim Baker

Walton Bridge by Tim Baker

More lost films: Tynemouth/Newcastle

Tynemouth Priory, 2003

I’ve not forgotten the whole lost films project, just that I think we’re pretty much there bar a few C41 films I’ve not posted, and maybe the slide films (I know I posted one of those early on). This one needed complete ID, I had NO idea of where it was – thought it was Warwick for a long time. Enter Google Image Search, which amazingly ID’d the lump of stones as Tynemouth Priory – I wasn’t expecting that. Then I managed to date it exactly because while we were there jousting was happening…a quick Google search brings up the local paper article about the event – which pegs it exactly to July 11th 2004 – because I remember we visited on the Sunday.

Jousting at Tynemouth Priory, July 2004

There’s a disused fort and a gun enplacement right by the Priory, and a graveyard. The weather was as stormy as it looked, a typical English summer’s day!

Tynemouth July 2004

Tynemouth Priory July 2004

I like this shot, seems to have a real Military Complex, Church and State, Army and Death thing going on. But they were that close to each other, with a jousting contest going on around the corner. It was rather odd, actually.

I loved the fact the older gravestones were literally melting cos of the weather erosion:

Gravestone, Tynemouth Priory July 2004

These were a complete pig (or something rather more stronger) to export and edit…somehow, and I think this is a Lightroom 4 bug, they would not export and kept creating an ‘unknown error’, and even when editing them I’d get ‘This photo cannot be edited due to an unknown error’. They are fine in Preview and LR 3.6 (and still fine, I went back to LR 3.6 and re-exported them as DNGs – did not fix it sadly) and I tried taking all metadata out, exporting as other formats, nothing.

So to keep all my settings I had to download Camera RAW 6.7 beta and export them one by one, partly because Photoshop CS5 wouldn’t open more than one PV2012 image without freezing/crashing, so I couldn’t batch them. Again, it’s fine with other RAW images, be they PV 2010 or previous, or TIFFs and NEFs etc. This all points to a serious problem with Process Version 2012 or a nasty metadata compatibility somewhere, but the common feature seems to be PV2012.

So -1 to Lightroom – I think there is a bug in Process Version 2012 that they’re not talking about, because I’ve had this happen to new scanned TIFFs that haven’t been touched by LR 3.6 (previously I thought it was some import failure)…thankfully in that case a removal and re-import seemed to fix it…. and converting back to PV 2010 seemed to fix the issue. Adobe’s forums are full of people having problems like this from the Beta version, as someone who didn’t install the beta but installed the ‘final’ version over a paid-for download I think there’s a more serious issue here.

Lightroom 4 does kick out these strange ‘Image cannot be edited due to an Unknown Error’ sometimes, usually on large TIFF scans, but I’ve not been doing that much photography so I dont know if that will have the same problem (this is now changing because with the light and BST I’m now doing my cliffwalks again). But usually switching to another file and or closing and restarting solves that temporarily, this was the first time it was regularly happening with the same batch of images, and wouldn’t let me export them at all.

I would say: keep your LR 3.6 and 4 catalogues separate for the moment if you can, and don’t uninstall previous versions. And hope Adobe ‘solve’ this in a update. Disappointing since I now prefer PV 2012 for editing, and I can see the quality change side-by-side (and below). It’s far better…IF you files don’t get ‘corrupted’ or an ‘unknown error’.😦

Back to the photos: we visited Newcastle & Gateshead for a weekend in July 2004 so this all fits…on another film, one of the C41 Kodak C400CN films, we have shots of Newcastle…love the Tyne Bridge shots:

Newcastle July 2004

Newcastle July 2004

Newcastle July 2004

Newcastle July 2004

Newcastle July 2004

A few more scans…Kirk & Me 2003 Cross Process

2003 Kirk Cross Process by Tim Baker

(yes I know but Doctor Who copied me, this shot was made in 2003 and online WELL before the David Tennant shot :-P)

Here are some of my recent scans – in 2003 I reckon this was my first photo studio session with Flash, or one of them…I kind of snook in (with permission, although the teacher wasn’t too keen) to the studio after waiting WEEKS to ‘introduced’ like some odd genteel dating game. As soon as me and the studio were ‘introduced’ I ran off intp a torrid love affair and got married at Gretna Green, or something.

I think for my first session with Flash I did really well…although I think the first actual studio session was a black and white one I did with Kirk, or John…I suspect so, I remember inflicting the Tungsten Lamp of Death on them, very hot! Obviously you can’t use tungsten lamps with colour film because of colour casts (although I suspect I did some lamp work with this because of the cross process) and I can see the softbox in Kirk’s eyes!

Here it is then…cross processed Kodak EL-2 (Elite Chrome! OMG!) even with a few shots of yours truly:

Kirk and Tim, 2003

I seemed to be obsessed with eyes at this point…

The real challenge with cross process is colour…whether to leave the green ‘cast’ in – partly that gives cross-process it’s character but green skin tones aren’t really that nice to look at – and the fact that all the colours go crazy, so when you get an accurate skin tone, the others colours go completely haywire. Interesting however ‘normal’ you try to make a cross process shot, it always looks a little odd, especially in the shadows. I like that creeping oddness😉 And the highlights blow, the contrast and grain ups, and colours tend to get luminescent if you turn up the saturation in a way that normal process doesn’t.

It’s for these reasons I spit on the ‘cross process’ presets on digital cameras…or Photoshop Infrared or Cross Process curves. They look OK, but nothing like the real thing (also see Hipstamatic etc.) – partly because both processes have elements of *randomness* – based around old expired and possibly faded slide film vs exhausted C41 chemistry, or halation and different frequencies of light zinging around the place and colliding with the grains or film, fogging and loose developing times (HIE at 1:1 D76 is between 7-11 minutes, take your pick!). It’s hard to get truly random from a computer – impossible in fact.

Lightroom 4 mini-review

Just updated to Lightroom 4, and you can see the difference below as I redid one of my medium format images with the new ‘Process Version 2012’. Warning: on problem images it does tend to screw up your converted LR3 2010 pictures somewhat, coming out really light. It seems big changes in Contrast and the introduction of Highlights, Shadows and Whites sliders and changes with Clarity means if you have a photo using a lot of those (say a dark underexposed image, or with a lot of haze/flare) you might need to tweak it quite a lot – but my other more standard images hardly changed at all – the shot of Kirk for instance the auto-tone and the skin tones looked far more pleasing.

One good thing though is you’re given the option to view Before/After and can edit your image to match the previous Process Version, so it’s quite a quick process unless you have quite a ‘challenging’ image, in which case unless you feel there is something in the new Process Version you want, I’d leave old images be. What I found though is those old images looked rather odd in the old PV2010 in 4, they looked overexposed/light as if the brightness was turned up too high, so I’m not sure how good the claim is that your old images stay as they are…that’s the theory, but it seems a bit of a one-way upgrade so if you’ve got images you’re editing I’d recommend you finish and export them in LR3 before moving to LR4 and accept some of them will ‘shift’ and lighten.

The spotting is far faster – it tends to drag on the massive medium format scans in LR3, only slightly in LR4 as you click, then you can add another, speeding up the process no end. Also the gamut has been tweaked so highlights don’t blow so easily and it seems a softer curves at the higher end, leading to more pleasing skin in portrait shots.

Something strange when I first imported the catalog it took closing and reopening the program and some time before the previews showed (maybe they’re being ‘converted’ but there wasn’t an indicator for that, although it said it would), so if you get ‘no images found’ in Develop module try restarting the program, or opening up LR3, closing it down, then opening LR4, that seemed to do it.

I’ve also used the white balance temp/tint function on the mask brush – it’s great for when you have mixed lighting or the shift in colour due to being too close or too far away from the flash, noticed that bringing underexposed areas the colours tend to have a red bias (and too close a greenish tinge?) – this slider will help you balance the colours.

Check it out – here you can see the new PV 2012 image and to compare you can see the original JPG of the PV2010 version three posts below…it took more work to get ‘back’ to this state, but I do prefer it, the higher-range tones looks much more natural and less contrasty and highlights seem less likely to ‘blow’ – and better Clarity results although now needs to be more lightly applied :

Steve Medium Format (LR4 version) by Tim Baker

There also seemed to be far less obvious ‘noise’ (look at the black jacket, the white bits are on the image, less prominent in the LR4 version) and colour seemed less likely to go to vivid when you turned up the contrast – this was slightly annoying actually as I liked the more saturated look so I had to play with Vibrance and Saturation, but it’s good news if you have images like this which usually when you turn up the Exposure gain and contrast things used to get a little day-glo. Opposite seems to be true now, it seems to err on the other side of neutral.

And here you see the original scan – ugh indeed. That’s the magic of the tools in Lightroom and also a decent colour negative scanner (transparency might be a different story) you can get something out of a failed negative like this (what happened is I was trying to bounce light from behind, I now know I probably should have put a small flash in front, or put large reflectors closer – the balancing in this high key soft type shot, something that’s used a lot in fashion, is very hard.

Steve Medium Format unedited by Tim Baker

Not tried the other features in LR4 – import seems a LOT faster, though…but looking forward to reverse geoencoding using GPX Logger on my Android phone and using the new Map feature where you can sync a GPX file to a set of pictures so you can use any camera and don’t need an expensive device trailing a cable off your camera to tag the GPS location – yes that’s more accurate but it’s the hassle of having wires I don’t want…and this is free!

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