Wednesday, April 22, 2009

This is what it looks like when you have an internally contaminated rear group on your brand-spanking-new 18-50mm f2.8 lens. See the flare around the plane? It wasn't even that bright. In pix where, say, an LCD TV appeared in the image, it was blown completely out - haloed like mad, with complete loss of contrast anywhere near the TV screen.

The repair facility for Sigma doesn't stock groups, apparently. I have their assurance I should get it back in two to fourteen days. Way to narrow it down, eh?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

iPhone Experimentation

My brand-spanking-new Sigma 18-50mm f2.8 is away at Sigma getting fixed, and I've been jonesing for it. So yesterday evening I was out in the yard with the daughter, and I snapped a couple of images with the iPhone. This made me think about the whole gear vs talent debate. Is it really the hardware? Are good images actually good images by dint of the proper exposure and sharpness and color reproduction? Or is there some ability, talent, training, or what-have-you that translates into "photographer"?
I know where I stand on this debate; same place I always have. Art is, by definition, opinion. It has always been opinion, and it will always be opinion. There's no chart that discerns Art from more mundane products of human effort, no hard-and-fast yardstick by which we can measure artistic integrity, beauty, or talent. I have always main
tained that if a man says what he does is Art, then I must, in good faith, accept that it is Art. I may then discern only whether or not I appreciate it as art. I can argue that it is bad art, or that it is good art, and I can certainly argue for or against it, but I cannot in any reasonable manner proclaim that it is not art.

Ultimately the things that are judged to be great art by history are those which hold the fancy of society over a great period of time. This is what separates a fad, a fashion, from a great work of art. It's not simply that people like it; it's that people like it beyond its contemporary milieu. If someone is humming "Eleanor Rigby" one hundred years from
now, I think it will be safe to say that The Beatles created great music, not just popular music. If someone regards Jackson Pollock's work with reverence in the year 2100, I will stand corrected.

How does all this relate to the hardware vs. talent debate? Well, it's because these things make it painfully obvious to me that cameras are tools, just as paint brushes and guitars and chisels are. They create nothing without an actor, without a spark, and ultimately their record is not a mere collection ofpixels, but a record of the intent - however whimsical - of the photographer, whether that photographer is Robert Mapplethorpe, Leonard Nimoy, or your old aunt Jeanie. That image is art. Good art, bad art, nonsensical art, ridiculous art - but it is art.

The modern digital camera has certainly democratized photography in a way nothing else has. Now anyone can have their own digital darkroom for a ridiculously small quantity of money, and the cost per shot has plummeted. Thus, almost anyone can produce a few good photographs over time by sheer numbers. The shotgun approach, if you will. Take enough pictures, point that camera at enough things, and a few are bound to be worth noting. This is a good thing, not a bad one. It does have the unfortunate side effect of making many who have created such 'lucky' images believe that it's simply having the right hardware, because they didn't put any effort into the image. Let's face it; you can't accidentally draw a wonderful charcoal rendering of Mt. Rushmore, but it's quite possible for events to conspire in your behavior as you record exactly the right light and composition as you pop off your seven-hundred and twenty-fifth vacation picture.

No matter how you cut it, though, I hold to my mantra, in every aspect of life. If you give a tool, no matter what quality, to someone with talent, the result of its use will be better than that of someone with no talent. Sounds generic, I know, but it is generic. Just for photographers, though: If you give any camera to a talented photographer, and the same camera to your Aunt Jeanie, when the memory card is full, the pictures from the photographer will be visibly better images. Now, better Art? Only time can answer that question.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

One Of Those Days

(c) Copyright 2009, J. Steve White, All rights reservedSo way back in the 80s, my wife and I went to the zoo. We were without child then, but were both animal lovers just the same, so off we went. I took my T90 and canon FD lenses along so I could shoot pictures along the way.

This poor llama had just given up on life, I think, and resigned her(or him?)-self to the amorous advances of the warthog. I thought this was such a clever metaphor I had to shoot it. How often do you see anything actually getting screwed by a warthog?

I came across the slides of this event a few months ago; this is a re-photographed image taken with my K20D and a reversed 50mm f1.4.

I keep thinking about printing it out on tee shirt transfers, or coffee mugs, or something like that on Cafepress or similar. Think it would sell?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Little Pink Flowers

Little Pink Flowers
Originally uploaded by jstevewhite

For some reason, I have always loved taking pictures of flowers. I know I'm not alone - there are lots of such pictures to be found on Flickr. But the common nature of such images hasn't reduced my fascination one bit.

I tried for days to get this image. I know, it seems fairly simple, but the flowers are under the roof on my back porch, in shade, and I had a really hard time getting an exposure that I liked. I either had too little depth of field or too much, too little contrast or none at all, or subdued colors - for some reason, I couldn't capture the intensity of the colors.

Then I got my 100mm Macro (an old Pentax-M lens originally destined, I believe, for a dentist's office) and things came together. I finally got the right balance of contrast and color, and got the right bits in focus (I think). At least this captures fairly closely my internal representation of these little pink flowers.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


Originally uploaded by jstevewhite

Macro photography is probably my favorite type of photography these days. back when I was younger, it was glamor photography, but things change. Anyway, I came across this beetle - he was about 1/4 inch long - and popped off a few caps of him. I didn't even know until I got the image on my iMac that his shell was transparent. I'd have taken more pictures if I had.

This was shot with an old SMC Pentax-M 100 f4 Macro. It's an old lens that was popular with dentists, and it only does half life size. But it's contrasty and sharp and works well on my K20D. Old tech meets new and works really well.

That's one of the main reasons I chose Pentax, rather than Canon (which is what I shot, mostly, in film). I'd always loved the old SMC Pentax lenses - they had an almost Zeiss or Leitz type contrast and saturation - but I couldn't afford an LX, while A1s and even F1s were a couple hundred dollars. But nowadays, I can indulge my old fetish - and I have, with several old Pentax lovelies.

For hand held macro, I use a 'point and shoot' system. I have an ancient Vivitar 283 with the manual adjustment plug, and a Lumiquest on-flash softbox made for event photographers. The softbox nearly hangs over the end of the lens, giving me a very diffuse light source. I run the lens out to (usually) maximum magnification. I set the K20D for "Catch-in-focus" (where it fires the shutter when the sensor detects something is in focus), and I walk up to a test subject until the shutter triggers. I adjust flash power, test again, adjust flash power - then delete all the test images and head out to the garden. By now, I know that anything that's in focus will be properly exposed.

You still have to pick your target's pose properly. Because of the extremely short distances involved, something a little closer to the lens can get significantly more exposure. Also, if you're not shooting in bright - and I mean BRIGHT - sunlight, you can get the "flash look" where the background is pitch black. So if you want to do this hand-held macro work, pick your "stage" carefully.

You can spend (literally) hours walking around your back yard photographing tiny stuff. Give it a shot, it's fun.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Reflections of Mortality

Reflections of Mortality
Originally uploaded by jstevewhite

I hate spiders. A LOT. I hate them the way slugs hate salt. And of all the spiders I'm ever likely to meet, I hate Loxosceles Reclusa the most. They're just evil. You can tell in this picture just how evil they are.

The discovery of a big mother brown in our bathtub led me to cruising the internet looking for information on this beauty. Turns out the only way to be SURE is to count their eyes. I have a couple of images that allow me to do so, and she has six, in just the right places. Anyway, after spending way too much time on sites about spiders that had .edu in the URL, I learned more about browns that I ever wanted to know. Including lovely trivia like, they can live in a sealed box with no food or water for over a year. That's when I decided they're evil.

The sites often question the brown's reputation for producing disgustingly damaging bites, but there was enough waffling that I'm not ready to discount their bite as potentially SUCKING out loud.

This one got stuck in a plastic bowl that I had left under the toilet's shut off valve after replacing it, just in case it dripped. When I came back upstairs and checked for drips a couple days later, I found this scene. Her body is 3/4" long, and the long leg span you see there approaches three inches. Well, it did. I followed this up by flushing her and her dinner down the toilet.

Because I'm so scared of them, I have to take their pictures. It's a compulsion. I'm not sure why, and paging through my photos gives me the willies sometimes. But I kinda liked the way this image turned out, anyway.