Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Photographic Perfection is Overrated

So how is that for a bold proclamation? Here is the catch: I am trying to convince myself that photographic perfection is overrated. It isn't as easy as you might think.

Perhaps I should start with Exhibit A. This was a grab shot from my car, parked in a precarious spot. The file was clean and comes from a nice Fuji rig, but it was dark gray out and spitting rain. I spent around 5-10 minutes tweaking it to a '70s magazine look that I liked and posted it to Google+. Three days later, it has over 1,800 views, 49 Plus Ones and 3 reshares. Perfect? I think not.

I did this for fun and to my tastes with synthetic light leaks substituting for actual light. Who am I to argue with my G+ followers? It was posted to my stream instead of a Community.
Here are Exhibits B and C in recent popular rankings among my 2,000,000+ views on Google Plus:

Spawn the Second. I recognize that smirk. It's like looking in a mirror.

Seen in a high school parking lot. Mutated in chrome.

Are you as confused about what other people like as I am? Don't worry, I refuse to be one of those people that posts recycled cat memes. I am a content creator, not an SEO specialist. Now on to the perfection theme...

Once upon a time, my vision of photographic perfection looked a lot like this:

January 20, 2014: The spectacular sunset prior to an approaching snowstorm as seen from the back of the Lincoln Memorial. Shot with a Panasonic LX-7 compact camera.
All the elements are there: tripod, DSLR, live view, separate light meter, hand timed exposure, remote release and I'm betting a split neutral density filter on front. My personal list still includes obsessive reading about gear and the never ending search for the perfect combinations of compacts, bodies and lenses. All of that obsessing over fast glass and perfect exposures works... but all of that technical perfection starts looking the same. You know, like those wallpaper images for your desktop.

Florida pier by moonlight. Canon DSLR and EF-S wide with tripod, etc.
The more I look at perfect landscapes, macros and studio shots online, the more I appreciate people that are playing with old analog tech, including the mystery Typospherian who sent a Polaroid through the mail recently.

Thinking back, my drivers for personal perfectionism includes the legacy of working with film and early digital. Do you remember film? ISO 400 was pretty fast and really grainy. The conditions had to be just right to capture images like this.
Seven Mile Plaza, Colorado. The house my mother grew up in. Canon SLR - Probably Elan 7e; badly scanned from negative.
In the film era, we obsessed about fast glass, film grain and the type of emulsion that worked best in forests vs. portraits. Fast glass was as much about depth of field as being able to capture a clean image. Even portrait film came in many varieties. Don't get me started on black and white and its special films, paper and filters.

Not that striving for photographic perfection is wrong. For some people it is amazing! I admire awesome landscapes and studio portraits and the technical skills they require. However, I have the luxury of enjoying photography for its own sake without need to make money on it or even have the equipment pay for itself. In theory, I could create lots of photos and never show them to anyone.

Part of my change of heart comes from a love a street and candid photography. The image below received the most views and +1s of those I posted to various Google+ communities in the last year. It is in no way perfect. Taken handheld, after dusk with a Panasonic LX-3, it is grainy, relatively low resolution and messy in ways difficult to count. But viewers loved it. Who am I to argue with viewers?
 I've been trying to let photographic perfectionism go and have been joyfully taking and posting images from an iPhone 5s and compacts. I am even learning to love some really imperfect images like this one from January with totally blown highlights.

Or this over processed iPhone image with crushed blacks. That it even worked at all at 10 degrees Fahrenheit was enough. My fingers stopped working around the temperature the phone did.

Way less than perfect, but I was able to capture the image before the snow was churned and post it to social media once the phone thawed out. My brain was still frozen when I processed this on the phone.
Or this processed iPhone image with the funky colors that has a certain 70s Kodachrome snapshot look to it.
Yep, taken with an iPhone. The camera you have with you really is the best one. Blotchy blacks and poor overall contrast, but it is good enough.
None of these images could have been captured with my orthodox DSLRs of old. I simply would not have been carrying the beast on a plane or in between dinner meetings and a hotel.

Could it be that I might enjoy photography for the sake of photography? Honestly, I did enjoy the near Zen experience of stalking the perfect sunset or sunrise with a camera on a tripod. However, somewhere buried under the layers of gear and obsessive search for perfect light is a balance point of being Zen and going with the flow.

These buskers were encountered on one of those amazing evenings when interesting things were happening around every corner on the streets. Certainly, the images would have been difficult without fast glass an modern APS-C sensors, but it was an evening of mobility and discovery.

Sony NEX-6 with Lens Turbo and old school Pentax SMC Takumar 50mm f1.4

Had I been focused on perfection, this encounter with a late night skate crew would not have occurred and would not have been nearly as much fun. Me, ten years ago, might have passed because the light sucked and I was tired and shaky hungry after wandering for hours. But not only was the shoot fun, these kids were super excited to see images on the back screen!

Sony NEX-6 + Lens Turbo + Pentax 50mm f1.4 from the 1960s. Whether anyone else liked this photo or not is irrelevant. It is one of my favorites from 2013 because of the experience and the vibe. My thirteen-year-old daughter was with me and amazed that they did not have the sorry attitudes that our suburban skate kids seem to have. Bustin' stereotypes is one of the joys of observing the world closely enough to make images.
We could not have dreamed of this kind of capture in the early 1990s. Moore's Law is our friend.

This shoot was made possible by lightweight, mirroless equipment. I was tired enough that using a DSLR would have been too much.

And it is here that you learn what a hopeless, gear addicted hypocrite I am. My current shooting rigs include an iPhone 5s (employer leash edition), Panasonic LX-7, Fuji X-E1(super cheap) with vintage glass and a newly acquired crazy-sexy-black first generation used Fuji X100. I have now gone full Fuji Boy with an X-T1 in the stable and sale of all the Canon DSLR gear coming soon. So how does this motley crew of lust-worthy high technology supposed to magically help me let go of photographic perfectionism?

Sony NEX-6 + Lens Turbo + Pentax 50mm f1.4 Imperfection can be beautiful.

The honest answer is that it might not. On the other hand, I expect the iPhone that is always with me will capture the most images on its totally inadequate sensor. The LX-7 is cheap and semi-disposable and will be close behind. I find the fixed lens simplicity of the Fuji X100 is really a joy as an all around travel camera and it introduced me to the world of Fuji. It is a timeless instrument good for years of service.

As for the Sony A7, now that I have tasted full-frame goodness for the first time since film it has been very hard to turn back. I had intended to use it hard and heavily in the desert, the rain, snow, at car shows and county fairs and anywhere else the loud shutter snap would not be a distraction. There were, however, several reasons I chose to back off from Sony for now:

1. After advertising the A7 as weather sealed, Sony later backed off of water resistance claims. Online tear downs revealed admirably tight tolerances, but no actual gaskets. That is a deal killer for me after having a semi-drowned NEX-6.

2.  Innovation is wonderful and moving at full speed, but that just means Sony holds back usability improvements for future models. The horrid NEX menu system could have been fixed with a firmware update. Fuji chooses to do firmware updates for discontinued products. I work for a small company and appreciate this kind of dedication to consumers.

3.  I see no indication of how dedicated Sony is to the new full-frame, E-mount platform.

4.  I gave up on the time and effort necessary to catalog, store, sort and process RAW files with the Canon 40D. I like my JPEGs clean and ready to tweak. In my opinion, Fuji pumps out better JPEGs with cleaner high ISO files than the Sony NEX-6. Granted, the newly announced A7s may kick butt - for now it is a product announcement.

Wintry test shot in all of its full-frame and Carl Zeiss Contax-G glory. Addictive, it is, but I am looking forward to seeing what the X-T1 and Fuji 35mm f1.4 is capable of.
And now enters the Fuji X100. It is three-year-old technology already replaced by something faster. No matter - I love the rendering and using a single focal length for a couple months already has me thinking and framing in a 35mm filed of view. The macro mode is soft and it tends to overexpose in bright sunlight, but I do not care. It is now a source for raw material that can be shared as is or easily molded in post processing with simple, free software tools.

Love the silent shutter. Love the Kitty and walk like her, or else.

Look Ma, no dedicated macro lens, and the photo is blurry but good enough with no post-processing whatsoever.

Once upon a time, this would have been on a tripod with custom white balance. Not today. It was handheld and good enough.

And the X100 lead me to the next generation of Fuji sensor technology. Their equipage is the absolute boss in crappy lighting. I love night photography and Canon excelled at making everything muddy orange.

Alpaca Fest with the Fuji X-E1 and the extremely nice 18-55mm kit lens.
Perennial winners of the Kansas City regional FIRST robotics competition
Reserved for Sugar Pants

Modified for fun because it sums up street life and style for me.

Some people surprise me with their observational skills.

It has been a great ride and I am looking forward to what comes next. I've been shooting for over 25 years and still love it. Perfection be damned. I am still having fun.

As for my old Canon 60D DSLR tankosaurus, it sits in the back of my car gently weeping while the little cameras have all the fun. It was a good companion and racked up tens of thousands of exposures. It was a fun twenty plus year run with Canon. Life moves on.

Thanks all for the long read. You can also find me on Google Plus

I'd love to read your thoughts on this topic either here or at G+. Comments on this blog are moderated. Type, submit and I will post after reviewing because typing Captchas really sucks on mobile devices. I refuse to subject people to them.

Yet another tedious, long-winded and vaguely original copyright notice: All images and words on this blog, unless stated otherwise, are copyrighted, intellectual property of Dwayne Fuhlhage. Please feel free to link, share, comment and otherwise use social channels for their intended purpose, but with attribution. Sure, the Internet is just full of free images for the taking. Mine are not special; except they must be pretty special if you are thinking about stealing them. Godzilla 2014 is coming, and I intend to have him as an enforcer because Kaiju are just amazing.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Enigma Machine - And other Ike museum holdings

Rather than having options paralysis and not getting around to this blog, I'll present photos of a German WW-II Enigma Machine and leave the commentary to Wikipedia. This one of the magnificent relics residing in the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential library and museum. We were there today as Spawn the Younger (aka gingercat) competed in the statewide National Geographic Bee.

As amazed as I was in seeing one of these in person and the appreciation I have for human ingenuity and engineering, the museum also has a few reminders of the Reich who used it against much of the world.

Some of Hitler's personal artifacts. This case radiated pure evil.

But do not despair, this museum is full of Allied goodness as well. It even has artifacts from early in the Cold War.

Norden Bombsight: Used by Allied forces for precision, high-altitude bombing runs.

American individualism exhibited in the form of a jacket from the Big Red 1

Recreation of home fallout shelter

Ike's presidential era podium for telecasts. Don't worry, gingercat will only use her powers for good.

Gemini and Apollo memorabilia

The actual teleprompter reel from Ike's speech on the dangers of an emerging military industrial complex. Ike was the only President to win an Emmy Award. There is big money in war machinery. I'm reminded of this on seeing full page ads in the paper versions of The Hill and Politico in Washington, DC.
Mommy! Are you my Mommy? For the uninitiated, this is a Whovian moment.
Early Jetsonian living room. This one is special for Ted Munk.

In case you are curious, all of these photos came straight out of a Fuji X100. I am in love with this camera.

Copyright notice: The images and text on this blog, unless stated otherwise, are the property of Dwayne F. Kansas brought the world John Brown and Dwight D. Eisenhower. You are best off not messing with Kansans.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Analog Awesome in the Mail! (And randomish things)

Today I received the most amazing bit of analog awesome in the mail with an exhortation to seek the solace of the type bar and platen. And so I did, with a recently acquired Smith Corona Silent Super. The loop script looks fabulous with NOS silk ribbon I found at an estate sale last month. First, the card:
Nerdgasm! Photography and typewriters in one bit of awesome.
Thanks to the mysterious Typospherian from the Phoenix area who inspired me to do a first run with the new ribbon. This photo is going on the pin board in my office at work.

Yep, I finally got one! It showed up BIN on ebay and had been sitting there for two days. Maybe I will get lucky on the last Holy Grail Fractur machine. Or I will win the lottery.

This blog has been sadly neglected as I post my photography on Google+. The hit counts are based on some assumptions that only Google's data geeks understand. I assume that anytime an image is clicked on that counts and perhaps being refreshed inside a community does as well. Either way, last night when a number appeared on my profile page I was just shy of 2,000,000 views. It is only a digital ghost town to those who do not post and interact.

Interestingly enough, a Polaroid connection is one of the things that has kept me busy was attending and participating on a panel at the BuildWell 2014 conference located at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. The keynote speaker was John Warner of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry. His career as a rock star chemist started with improving process and chemistry for Polaroid.

Normally, sustainable building policy is hatched in never-ending meetings in dark and poorly ventilated conference hotel spaces. This conference was an exception to the rule.

Everything is still brown and dead in Kansas. I hate/envy Californians.
It was a whirlwind trip featuring a loud and nasty turboprop to Denver and an unexpected Japanese toy exhibit inside the San Francisco airport. I had trouble leaving and took plenty of photos with my new traveling companion, the Fujifilm X100. Here are a few samples. There are more images on my G+ collection. San Francisco 2014

Hello, spinning blade of death! United did a bait and switch and changed planes from a regional jet to 1940s turboprop technology. The view was cool, though.
Kitty exercises mind control. All shall walk like her. Obey the Kitty.

Fly the friendly skies! These carnival ride parts might be better than a United regional plane. They might be better with luggage. My bag took more abuse in one round trip than in 30+ before.

Pay no attention to the robot army. Robots are your friends. Mostly.

Me, after United delays and crap planes arriving eleven hours after leaving home in Kansas City. I will avoid United like the plague if at all possible. Live trips will be replaced with webinars and Hangouts given the sorry state of air transport in general.

Well, this entry took a couple of unanticipated twists. It was good to bring the blog back to life. I am lurking on the Typosphere. Busy is a regular state of being with two teens and work. Teen one will start the college search next year. Life just blurs along and I shoot street and candid because it makes me happy.

Thanks for reading!

Obligatory Copyright statement: The words and images here are mine and mine alone. Please share the Google love by resharing, +1s, comments and linkage. Image borrowing without attribution is stealing. Beyond digital copyright issues, I has friends among the giant robots and Kaiju. You have been warned.