Saturday, 7 February 2009

What is Lacking in This Photo?

R0012679 (Small) (2)(A Busy Street: Before reading on, think of one desirable element which will improve this image)

The other day I had a shootout with a friend who had been into photography lately. We had a coffee break and soon, leaving the cafe, noticed people bustling about in the street. At a confined corner facing the street near an entrance to a shopping centre, I asked the fellow, “Now, how would you express this busy street?”

Shoppers were trooping past us. The confined conrner didn’t allow much room for maneuvering for a good angle. So, my friend pointed his camera to the crowd on the street and pressed the shutter, ending up with a usual image of a street full of passers-by. It was as bland as bland could be.

So, I cued him to notice a flight of stairs behind us and the reflection on the ceiling. At once, I stood a step higher on the stair for a better view of the street, zoomed my GX200 to 72mm to tighten the frame and for the desired perspective, dialed the exposure to one step down to darken the heads appearing at the near end and took this picture. I got the information in the background (more passers-by), the foreground (passers-by)  and on the upper part of the image which says something interesting about the busy street (people crossing the street and a lady on her cellphone), forming progression in the image.  The middle part of the image with the character “Eat” and the name of the shopping centre also add to the story for the theme.  I used almost every part of the frame.

This is my expression of the busy street.  Not too bad at a confined corner.  But It has left much to be desired IMO.

3 If there is one element which I can add to the photo, I will fire the flash to brighten up the faces nearer to the camera.  In this way, I can let the viewers “smell” the street as if they had been there.  The sense of progression of passers-by from afar, crossing the road to appearing in the foreground is much stronger too.

(Digitally engineer-ed to illustrate my point)

Friday, 6 February 2009

Selected Excellence: Grandpa In Hospital

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By SY Hsu (translated by Nevin):

Why only so little can I recall things about him?

Why only so few and far between did I go see him then?

Why the grin I saw on his face was when he no longer had any idea of who he himself was?

When Grandpa was about to be admitted to hospital, he, lying in the Emergency Ward, hemmed and hawed. At long last, he asked me to call my Mum and spoke to her over the phone, “There is nothing to worry about, my dear. A cold, and that’s all. I’ll be alright in an instant .” There I could hold my tears no more. The other day Grandpa was immobilised in the living room by such a grave stomach pain that he insisted Mum to fetch him some sort of gripe water. As hard as could be, he tried with his trembling hand to write the Chinese characters for “Seirogan” (a Japanese gastrointestinal pills), which ended up in some illegible lines and strokes even though Mum, the nurse and I made our best guess to figure out his twisted handwriting. At a loss for a while, we finally made a sense of what the words were but at the cost of an effort to suppress our sadness and pity for him deep down in us.

From cradle to grave is what it always is. But can the way to the ending be made in a less lonely manner? At least, the heaven should have let Grandpa know that those by his side were his beloved in the family, shouldn’t it? The answer, however, forever remains a mystery to us.

--- Further reading here (Editor’s Note: A very touching photographic story; highly recommended)

(Published with courtesy, the copyrighted photo and original verison of SY Hsu, a Taiwanese photographer introduced to readers in the first instalment)

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Why Are My Photos So Hazy?

R0012583 (Medium)(Fruit Spies: The couple are looking for fruits to give as gifts for the Chinese New Year goodwill visits. This is an unedited image straight out of my GX200. Check it out and I think the image is colourful)

I was met with this question from a friend of mine who just bought a new camera. In fact, probably so do you, I have came across photographers grumbling about the hazy colour of photos taken with their cameras. Maybe the GX200 has a tricky in-camera setting which I am not aware of, or maybe it is a more advanced piece of machine, I have read similar questions more often from GX200 users.

Every where has a wherefore. To name a few possible explanations:

1) The sky is hazy.

2) The sun is not shining at the desirable angel.

3) The air is polluted.

4) In case of a night shot, there is heavy light pollution.

5) The exposure combo is not right.

6) The EV has been pulled up for an average scene.

7) The scene is too contrasty and spotmetering is not used.

8) The previous exposure is accidentally locked for a new scene.

9) The metering system is turned away from “multi” and the camera meter is pointed at a scene with atypical lighting in the center.

10)The colour setting is set to “my setting” 1 or 2 which has been adjusted undesirably.

11)The colour setting is set to “soft” (which I like for my taste).

12)The lens may have been pointed to a light source which blind the metering somehow.

13)In case of a photo with flash, the flash output is under- or over-powered.

14)GX200’s way of handling colour is not your cup of tea.

15)The WB setting is upset.

16)You actually have a penchant for vivid this and vivid so that you remembered the scene with the colour of your taste.

17)You have been spoiled by, say, Canon camera’s ultra vividly colourful way of handling the photo.

R0012647 (Medium) (2)(Fruit Baskets: The utter splendid way to give fruit as a gift is to shell out more money for a specially decorated basket to hold the fruit. The Chinese New Year is the big business time for fruit retailers. This photo was post-processed to beef up the otherwise hazy colour)

R0012647 (Medium)(This photo is the striaght-out image with bland colour. There are several reason for this. First, I use the “normal” colour setting, which I like its soft character. Second, the sun was not at the angel to bring out the colours on earth. Third, it is a kiosk next to a busy, polluted road. Fourth, I deliberately turned the EV to +0.7 for the sake of getting more information in the image. In fact, the real scene looked as soft in colour as in this image. The GX200 is quite accurate for its AWB)

Talking about explanation no. 17, the final images taken with cameras of different brands are destined to look differently. Call it character of the image or a matter of taste, this is comparable to the distinctive handling of colours by different films. In fact, I quite like the soft character of GX200’s images; for one thing, it appropriately interprets the skin colour of oriental people to my eye and, for another, the transition of colours is smoother (nice for B&W) and details are better preserved IMO.

So, maybe next time you hear someone ask a similar question, you may ask them to at least check out the above 17 reasons. Better still, ask them to get a habit of reviewing the photos and jotting down their insights. Photographic skill has to be learned and practised to make it perfect. Keep going! Leave a comment if you have discovered some other explanations for a hazy image.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

A Photography Learning Tool

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I have met quite a number of people who are gear freaks which actually doesn’t matter because most of us are, wanting and buying new gear regularly. What is sad about it is that these people acquire new gear without actually learning about, to take photography as an example, what the old camera can do and how to use it well.

Sometimes, I am almost emotional for an advanced camera which is retired with its dial still on the P mode while its advanced buyer-owner is lauding an upgrade and use it for the same mode, which his the P mode. P-mode is not a sin but a photographer should try to use all available means to experiment his or her creativity.


Improve Photographic Skill

It will stand us in good stead if we spend at least as much time studying how to do photography as comparing the specs of almost every new camera. So next time your Acquired-gear-In-Defciency (AgIDS) symptom revives to haunt you, buy something other than a new camera which can help improve your photographic skill.

To me, most of the improvements come from regularly comparing my photos to the exposure data. This has been my habit since I bought the Dynax 7, which can store exposure information for six rolls of film. With the GX200, life is easier because I can instantly check out the EXIF, the composition and the actual image on the computer screen in one go. A nice way to learn from errors, I would say. In fact, I have been inputting the insights of mine in a MS Word file.

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These postmortem reviews take a long learning curve to yield results because the reviewer must have accumulated certain experience in photography to make sense of the data, come up with solutions to the errors and try them out next time.


PoGo Comes in Handy

So, if a photographer can do the review on the scene, experiment the solutions right away and jot down some notes, he or she can make quantum leaps in photographic skill in a short span of time. It is when the PoGo will come handy.

This is how: bring your camera, the PoGo, a notebook and a pen. Take a photo, and review it on screen. Adjust the exposure combo and the composition to see different results. Use PoGo to make prints of your initial work and the best one. Peel and stick the prints on the notebook and write your insights.

The PoGo seels for about US$137 or GB£96, costing about a fourth of the price of a serious compact but adding great value to your camera and photos.


A User’s Account of PoG0

Thanks to Kiyoshi Ikechi, a photographer located in Japan, for letting us use his box-opening account of the PoGo. First, some facts about the PoGo printer: It saw the light of the market some months ago but is not available even in Hong Kong (I have actually asked around in big photo stores and chain stores). It utilises inkless printing technology code-named Zink which is made possible by the special tear-and-water resistent thermal Zink papers. The printer is of 4.7 by 2.9 by 0.8 inches, weighting 181g (GX200 weights 238g with battery). The battery operated PoGo can produce 14 to 15 prints per charge. Printing a 10MP photo takes an average of one minut, counting from a camera starting data transmission to the PoGo completing the print.

Let’s check it out (Photos by Ikechi, with my comments added to Ikechi’s captions to his Japanese posts here and here):

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2 Included in the package are the PoGo, an AC adapter, a lithium-ion battery, a user guide and a warranty card.

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4On the front of the PoGo is a big, unmistakable character “Polaroid” in glossy relief.


5There is the ZINK (zero ink) trademark too.

9This is the paper tray latch

6Open the paper tray door and this is what you see. No inking features whatsoever.


7On one side is a plain AC adapter input terminal.

8On the other side is an USB port and a power button. A press and hold on the power button turns on the PoGo.  Check out the upper light indicator next to the battery mark. It functions during charging, with the light changing colour to indicate the battery fully charged. Now, the lower light indication next to the exclamation mark. It blinks to indicate functioning or malfunctioning like paper jams and data transmission errors.

10Remove the battery cover on the back. There you see an information plate. The PoGo boosts Bluetooth connectivity.

11The 450mAh Lithium-ion battery (average power as compared with even a general cellphone Lithium-ion battery of 800mAH; you’ll definitely wish for a spare battery)

13 Size-wise, it is perfect.


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15 Now the magic paper. The ZINK papers are sold separately in a pack of 10, 30 or 50 pieces. The 50-piece pack comes with five loads of 10 pieces each. The peel-and-stick ZINK paper is 2 by 3 inch (What the world do I need a diminutive print like that? Be patient, I’ll explain) and semi-gloss surfaced.


16 For each new load of ZINK papers, a blue sheet is first discharged to clean the head when the PoGo is powered on.

17PoGo is Bluetooth and PictBridge capable. Unfortunately, most cameras are without the Bluetooth capability and cannot establish wireless connection with PoGo. But with PictBridge functionality and the USB connection, PoGo can easily make prints direct from the camera. 
 

19When my EOS 50D is connected to PoGo via the USB port, I can choose from the camera LCD display which photos to print the camera, thanks to PictBridge.  Generally speaking, the whole printing process (transmission plus printing) take about 60 seconds for a 10MP image. The printing itself takes only 30 seconds.


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20

21 A great scenery. Take a photo. Print the image right the way and stick it on a notebook. What fun it is to be able to write in real time on the spot!

A further note by Nevin: You may well guess that the colour quality of these prints is far from great. From what I read online, bingo. With the small size of the ZINK papers, no one will fancy to use it for mass production of prints. Nor will that be cost-effective. But the PoGo can be a good learning companion for photographers. DON’T mix the PoGo with Polaroid’s latest PoGo Instant Digital Camera, which I am sure will meet its fate soon.

Now, you may check out the following videos for a brief (the first one) or extended (the second one) introduction of PoGo.  An Amazon PoGo ad is in the right sidebar if you’re interested.  An exchange rate caculator link is in the upper left sidebar.

      

    

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Meet-up of the Three Musketeers

R0012709 (Large) (Very, very busy hands with three great cameras in one go)

The three inseparable friends in The Three Musketeers, a novel by Alexandre Dumas, live by a well-known motto, “One for all, all for one”. Last Saturday, I managed to arrange a meetup in my citadel for the three modern musketeers (LX3, G10 and GX200). A variant version of the motto sprang to mind, “One camera for all purpose, all great features for one camera”.

Before the meetup, I had a shootout with both the LX3 and the GX200. Then I returned home and played with the G10. I had actually played with the LX3 and the G10 before. But this was the first time I could sit down, compare notes with the users and feel the differences of the three in real time.

R0012562 (Small)(Focused: I walked behind the lady and, noticing the captivating gaze of the little girl, turned on my GX200 to MY2 which is set to MF at less than 1m and shot)

The Focus

This post is not going to compare the photos and give a review. There are already enough of them. I am more interested in writing about the strengths of the three for integrating into one dream serious compact which will sell like hotcakes. I will concentrate mostly on the egronomics and focusing speed because it is my belief that all serious compacts give comparable image quality. What make the final image differ are the users’ photographic skill, personal taste and the techniques in post processing. As regards photographic skill, for even someone adept at photography, a shot can make or break because of the egronmics and focusing speed of a camera.

The Strengths

First, the LX3. For its sturdy build and glossy finish, the LX3 looks more classy. Interestingly, its lens cap is also of higher quality as compared with the GX200. Unlike the lens in GX200 which feels wobbly, the LX3’s lens is perfectly in place. Probably for the brand name effect, the Leica lens gives me a sense of “Everything is under control” (in fact, its distortion control fares not as good as GX200’s). It goes without saying that the F2.0 lens is a gem which gave me a wider elbowroom to push up the shutter speed during the shootout.

R0012711 (Large) Second, the G10. Since I tried the G10 months ago, I have suspected that it is actually Intel Inside. Otherwise, there is no reason to explain why its AF is lightning fast. Honestly, the implementation of Digic 4 works so well that the G10 feels like a DSLR in focusing speed. Not missing a great shot when it arises is important for the survival of photographers. The G10 scores full marks here. The LX3 has a little slower AF speed (but I suspect that its AF mode implements something similar to a snap focus) and the GX200 lags behind save its snap focus mode. It is a nice idea to put the optical viewfinder on the body for emergency use. An add-on viewfinder costs too dearly and defeats the protability of a compact. Lastly, although the 28mm gives me a wistful feeling at the short end, I found the long-end focal length of the G10 desirable for a compact.

Now, the GX200. As always, being a GX200 user, I can be leaning towards it in my comments. But, really, the other users were amazed by the light weight of the GX200 when they held it on their palm. That is what a compact is meant for in the first place: lightness. For lightness, the LX3 ranks second and the G10 third. As an aside, I cannot bring myself to like the heavy weight and appearance of G10. It is certainly my prejudice that the G10 looks too intimidating and obstentious (not the users, please). For its heft, the G10 is almost out of the range of compact. Also, the protruding lens of the LX3 adds an unnecessary dimension to its size.

A line-up of the three clearly showed why the GX200 won the international design awards. The GX200 is the smallest in size and the lightest in weight, doning a modest exterior which gives the user almost instant access to different functions and settings. The LX3 and the G10 have lots of buttons on the outside, which is right for a DSLR. However, the buttons on the LX3 are rather confusing and those on the G10 could be overkill. It is no doubt that the bottons give fast access to various functions. But the buttons are not big enough to be comfortable for users. Take for example the focus mode button of the LX3 on the lens and the ISO dial of the G10, I had to look at the buttons to fumble for the right setting. I also noticed that the function dial on the LX3 lacked the “clutching”, resulting in an error when the dial was not turned to the exact point of the desired function. This has never happened to the GX200.

R0011425 (Large)(Three in One: The cosmic line-up of the three planets. This photo may as well illustrate the usefulness of bringing along a mini tripod with me, without which this photo could not be made. I took this on a safety island with the GX200 set on the mini tripod atop the pedestrian signal light. The passers-by were curious about what I in all my seriousness was doing in the middle of the road with such a tiny camera at night)

The 3-in-1 Dream Compact

If you are a LX3 or G10 owner but have not tried the GX200 or the GRDII, you must wonder if my comments about the tangible buttons are fair. If that is the case, you should try either of them for Ricoh’s implementation of the dial/ rocker, the Fn buttons, the customisable quick menu and especially the M mode to make your own conclusion. The G10’s dial for exposure adjustments is close, but not as good in my opinion. A point of note is that the LX3’s round rocker (for accessing the exposure adjustments and quick access menu) was a pain to use, literally hurting my big thumb.

So, the “One for all, all for one” compact should boost the sturdy build and fast lens (minus the barrel distortion) of the LX3, the rapid focusing speed and useful long-end focal length of the G10, the unassuming design of the GX200 plus its fastastic egronomics.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Dragon Hunt GRD verison 2.0

R0012399 (Medium)
Yesterday was the seveneth day of the Chinese New Year, which is also called "Yan Yuck" (Everyone's birthday). Back twenty years ago, shops generally returned to business on this day after the long Chinese New Year break. And it was on the seventh day when people could try their luck whether they could see the Chinese lions or even dragons dancing to give well wishes to shop owners.

Colin Bradbury, who gave us a mini review of his GRD2 some week ago, was lucky enough to see a dragon dance and took some photos of it. He is going to share his luck with us. Thank you, Colin.

By Colin Bradbury: I took the children to Sai Kung (literally, West Tribute; aka the backyard garden of Hong Kong) square last Sunday and at the last minute put the GRDII in my pocket. Just to prove the old saying that "the best camera is the one you have with you when you need it", while we were there the local lion dance around the square and in and out of the shops happened. I grabbed the camera and followed them around for half an hour with the GRDII doing a great job of wide angle close ups and a quick candid shot of some of the spectators. I'm always impressed with what the camera can do in a variety of situations and,most importantly, I had it with me when I needed it. With two children and a dog in tow, there's no way I would have taken my big, heavy DSLR with me. And for the photo of the local spectators, I was sitting on the floor with the dog (every street photographer should have a dog), watching the dragon dance, and I just held the GRDII at ground level, glanced at the screen to make sure the ladies were in the frame, and shot. That's the type of picture that I REALLY couldn't have taken with a DSLR.

The more I use the GRDII, the more I love it.

Kung hei fat choy!*
(* "Kung hei fat choy" has nothing to do with anything fat or slim. It is a well wishing phrase for the Chinese New Year, meaning "Wishing you a good fortune".)

SaiKungChineseNewYear01
 
SaiKungChineseNewYear02
SaiKungChineseNewYear03
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 SaiKungChineseNewYear05
(Published with courtesy and copyright of Colin Bradbury)

Extra information by Nevin: A dragon dance is started by an eye inking ritual. Inking the eyes of the dragon, done by the most important big wig on the scene, has a connotation of praying to the gods to bestow spirits on the dragon. Having turned sacred, the dragon can start dancing around to give people blessings of a good weather and big harvests for the year.

Like the Chinese lions, the dragons branch off into the northern and southern breeds. The main difference lies in the most important part of the dragon, which is the head. In a nutshell, the southern breed has a bigger, heavier head. For that matter, the northern breed is usually chosen for performances to keep the stamina of performers. That said, dancing either dragon is physically demanding. A dragon can be as long as 20 to 100 metres or, even though rarely, 1,000 metres.

Besides the dragon dances in the Chinese New Year, there is also the special "Fo Nong" (Fire Dragon) dance in Hong Kong during the Mid-Autumn Festival day and the days before and after. The fire dragon is decorated with joss sticks and the dance in the evening is certainly a must-see in a lifetime.

Although there are religious myths about the origin of Chinese dragons, I learnt from an academic-turned-curator that the dragon was suspected to be an ancient Chinese totem evolved from the Chinese drawings of clouds. For futher reading, go here for thumbnails of the northern (top), southern (second) and fire (bottom) dragons and a brief religious explanation on their origin.

A last note: There are some photos of lion dance on peg array here and here, which I mentioned but had not a chance to photograph for the Chinese Lions post.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Free Ride

R0012502 (Small)

Sunday is meant for a relaxing day. So, forget about the technique stuff and let me tell you a story.

The above photo was taken in a typical open wet market in Hong Kong. Usually it is a road which has been flanked and occupied by the kiosks for so long that it becomes an open market at last. The kiosks continue to expand as time wears on. Eventually, the road is reduced to the width of a single lane carriageway. As the open market is actually sitting on a traffic road, cars are allowed to drive through it. Shoppers have to shun the moving cars, retailers sometimes to relocate the goods to make way for the drivers, who must drive in a cautiously slow speed while honking all along the narrow road. This is aptly illustrated by the photo.

When I was a small boy, a friend of mine had to walk through an open market on a long ramped road to his school and back home. It was a long time ago and the environmental hygiene was not good. The road was uneven with numerous holes holding waste water to become dirty puddles. The unruly kiosks were blocking the road with shoppers and hawkers alike standing in the way. Flies were hovering in the air to look for sumptuous meals at the fishmonger’s shops and the butcheries where the dead meat was very deadly smelly.

It went without saying that walking through the open market was not a pleasant thing to do for my friend. And he had to do it twice, six days a week (school had classes for six days a week then).

So, one day, this poor schoolboy walked along the open market behind a small lorry moving forward excruciatingly slowly. There he got an epiphany, “Why don’t I take a free ride?”

From that day, he would wait for some lorry to come, go behind it and hold onto anything secured at the back of the lorry. He stepped his legs on the bumper and off he went to school and back home in the same fashion.

It is one of the fondest memory of my childhood. And it always remains me to let my own children be naughty as long as it does not hurt anyone.