It’s been a slow year for posting here on the blog. As I noted in my last post here in February, I’ve been living my online life in Instagram, posting images of my cooking and samples of my photography.
But yes, I have been working on a long form work to sum up what I’ve learned writing here for the last 20 years. It’s about a third done because it turned into a bit more of an exploration than I expected.
Photographically, I continue in my approach to casual photography. We’re in a great time to be a photographer with more powerful tools than ever before, allowing capture anywhere, anytime and in the digital domain, as Vincent Versace likes to say, “Impossible is just an opinion.”. I’m shooting with film, I’m shooting rangefinder, I’m shooting with a monochrome sensor, I’m shooting mirrorless, I’m shooting compact full frame. Mostly Leica these days. I’m processing on my iPhone, my iPad, with Photoshop, with Capture One, with the Nik Filter suite. So check my Instagram feed for the recent work. But regardless of the camera in hand or the processing workflow, I capture what’s interesting in the visual environment. That’s the body of work- urban, landscape, travel, and family provide subjects.
The COVID-19 pandemic? Well I work from home to begin with, so life is not so different. I do miss my usual travel schedule as one of the fuels for my photographic efforts. But humans seem infinitely adaptable so I’m capturing more local images and more family images. At the end of the day, the need to create must be met one way or another. On the other hand, I’ve had more time for structured cycling training, so my fitness is at an all time high.
Having a varied set of interests provides ample opportunity for natural selection and a stable life work ecology.
Without meaning to, I seem to have moved my image posting activity over to Instagram, largely abandoning Flickr. I didn’t mean to, but the photographers and websites I want to follow on a daily basis were all there. Flickr remained a nice community, but didn’t have the engagement of prominent names in photography. Once I started my exploration of casual photography, it seemed natural to just start putting up images there.
Instagram feels more casual. Flickr creates a gallery and I felt compelled to maintain a certain quality of finished work when I posted. I’ve mostly posted iPhone images to Instagram in the past, so it feels easy enough to post a modestly post-processed image out of Photos.app to the site.
I don’t know what to make of the report that 5G wireless is going to seriously impair weather forecasting. There are quotes from public officials and academics who all assert that interference with satellite measurements of atmospheric moisture will set back weather forcasting by decades. I often use atmospheric models and hurricane track cones of uncertainty to illustrate how mathematical models aid decision making. Here that decision making can save lives and millions in property losses.
Why do I resist believing this is as big a problem as it appears to be? Perhaps I think the idea that my government would act so contrary to the public good is inconsistant with my core beliefs about how society functions. The report is full of both the usual equivocation we scientists love (“it appears…”, “if true, this would mean that . . .”) and bombastic flat out assertions of crisis. There’s no reporting from the other side even. No industry scientists claiming the threat is overblown and there are simple technical fixes. Even though it seems that the problem real, I’m left with the feeling that this is interesting and a potential threat. Well, I think, let’s see what happens.
I recently wrote about how we make perceptual decisions in our view of the world at levels that are not accessible to awareness. Certainty is one of qualities we seem to be able to access. Belief can feel strong or week, but the reasons for doubt seem post-hoc and come after the gut feeling of belief. So if I’m doubting that our weather forecasting systems are about to be deeply impaired by the greed of commercial interests working hand in hand with my elected representatives, that’s a feeling not some deeply argued rational conclusion. I really deon’t know. I don’t have any more information that might strengthen or weaken that belief. I’m not really motivated enough to dig deeper, confirming my level of uncertainty.
And yes, if people start dying because of increased uncertainty in extreme weather event forecasting, I guess then at least I’ll remember having read something about this possibility. Certainly the overwhelmings odds will be that I’ll be enjoying my fast 5G mobile internet connection from somewhere safe and not be in the midst of a deadly hurricane that wasn’t forecasted accurately enough.
Beginning in the mid 1980’s we noticed all cars started looking the same. They’d all been through the same wind tunnel. Yes, ads all look the same. Phones too. Fashions persist particularly in user interface design (via dangerousmeta!), but devices tested in similar ways yield similar results and convergent design.
Now camera lenses seem to be getting huge and heavy:
At 136.2mm long (5 1/3 inches), with 17 elements in 12 groups, with a filter size of 86mm (bigger than any medium format lens I ever owned), and tilting the scales at a staggering 1,090g (38 1/2 ounces, not far short of two and a half pounds), it’s got to be a big zoom, right? What, a 28–200mm?
Wrong, aperture-bouche. It’s a 35mm normal prime. “Prime” being, of course, slang for single-focal-length lens.
I assume that optical bench software combined with digital camera sensor characteristics led to common considerations: make the lens mount as big as possible and stuff the big lens full of fancy glass. Thus we get the larger mounts of the Leica SL and Nikon Z mirrorless cameras. Then for best edge to edge sharpness, that hulking barrel of a lens holds precisely aligned specialty glass that’s been molded just so.
And so we’re presented with huge, heavy primes and zooms of astonishing quality. Personally I think the Nikkor Z mount lenses are the best they’ve ever made. I get the impression the Leica SL primes may be the best lenses ever made. All very pricey, but very sharp, very high contrast. Thankfully still with some personality in how the scene is rendered, leaving some art in the design for sure.
Why not compromise at least a little bit? After all, the Jeep still looks like a Jeep. These big systems are specialty outfits used for the best possible capture when the subject is aware and generally allowing their picture to be taken; these are not cameras optimized for stealth or style. Or carrying around all day.
For the casual photographer there are a range of other systems like the Fujifilm retro styled cameras or the Leica Q2, M or CL. Or the iPhone for that matter. I’ve found that the big professional tools are now only welcome in places where photography is expected- family events, national parks, tourist attractions. They are not welcome in residential neighborhoods or on most city streets. Big cameras draw suspicion and hostility in equal measure.
For casual photography, documenting life and environment, a more casual camera is needed. We still need to work on once again accepting that cameras can be used in public. I’d like to see the return of casual photography driven by social media sharing. Perhaps we can get back to a place where the guy with the camera is a bit odd, but no longer a threat.
Shooting with the Leica Q2 has pushed me out of my exclusive use of the 50 mm focal length lens for shooting. I seem to still be stuck with the idea of putting a particular prime lens on a camera and then seeing at that focal length for the duration. So I’m trying the 35 mm view for a while
Now this is not true of event photography, when shooting a family gathering or party. Then the Nikon with a zoom comes out- currently the Z7 with the 24-70 mm f/4 zoom. The relationship of camera and subject is completely different and I need the flexibility of changing point of view in a physically constrained space.
I feel like I’ve taken advantage of the quality of the lens in this image, being sharp edge to edge, with focus falling off quickly when wide open at f/1.4. And the winter light of the low sun even in early afternoon renders a suburban park in beautiful light.
The quest for casual photography, capturing my daily environment in some ongoing documentary fashion has led me back to looking at the suburban landscape. When traveling, looking at the novel environment is a natural partner with photography. But when home and running errands, the environment fades into the background. Hopefully looking for the image is helpful in being more present and appreciative of a more ordinary world.
After my trip to the Netherlands and Sweden last week, I’ve thought a bit about my casual photography workflow experiments I tried during the trip. I brought just the Leica Q2 and my iPad Pro. No laptop, no interchangable lens camera- just the 28mm wide angle camera and the SD card reader for the iPad’s USB-C connector.
I’d like to thing that I’m still here writing in that spirit of using using imagination as the path to better decision making. I’m way less enamored with the technology of computer simulation, but have to recognize that 20 years on, AI and Machine Learning have brought a lot of that promise into the world, but create algorithms that tend to diminish our active imagination rather than augment it. When my phone can make better images than I can, I have to admit defeat before ascendant computing as deciding.
I had hoped to create some longer form writing to mark the occasion, but instead I’ve simply renewed the writing and image posting habit, putting out a pretty steady stream of posts. Looking back as the initial months of the Edit This Page sites, I’m impressed at how much like Twitter it was. Pointing at content, making short remarks. Never thinking to create evergreen content to build a search audience.
Every smartphone is a GPS device. Every smartphone is a camera. So the images we save are all geotagged; the location is saved as metadata as part of the image file.
You might think that for competitive reasons, camera manufacturers would put one of those cheap little GPS chips in their cameras to enable that $3000 full frame camera to geotag like a smartphone. You might think so, but you’d be wrong. Most of the high end, full frame cameras from Nikon, Sony, Canon and Leica depend on a smartphone connection to geotag images. Mostly you’ll find GPS chips in lower end compact cameras. Leica had GPS in their SL full frame mirrorless, but removed it in the just released SL2.
Why? As far as I can tell, GPS chips are just too power hungry to run continuously in cameras. Smartphones get GPS fixes at intervals plus can use cell tower info to figure out where they are. So it makes sense for camera manufacturers to rely on a smartphone app to pass a GPS location for geotagging. Plus geotagging has never been a feature of these cameras, so unless you look for it, it’s not missed. Probably wouldn’t be used by most users in fact.
Since my casual iPhone images are all geotagged, I’ve looked at a few approaches for geotagging images from my current group of cameras from Leica and Nikon. For now I’m making do with inconsistent apps and manual input. But it’s clear that Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) connections between camera and phone has become the favored solution.
I’m now finishing my fourth year using the Hobonichi Techo as my daily journal. The Hobonichi is a one page per day, fountain pen friendly journal from Japan. As I wrote last year, I open it every morning to plan out the day, record a few notes and capture key actions for the day. Sometimes it’s a shopping list, sometimes phone calls or appointments that need to be made. If the daily pages are my roadmap for the day, the big monthly calendars at the front are my longer range planning tool, knowing when trips, holidays and other blackout dates are going be coming up so I don’t make mistakes about committing to being somewhere or taking on a project. As much as I’ve tried over the years to use digital systems for this, for me paper is a better way to see what I’m doing and when at a glance.
I’ve made two changes this year. One is adding in just a few photographs. And the other is becoming a bit more systematic by including some Bullet Journal conventions into my daily jottings.