Photography should be about picture-making. That is, after all, why we get into it in the first place (well, most of us). This blog is for photographers, people passionate about making photographs, who want to share ideas and concepts, approaches and attitudes. And yes, there will, from time to time, be gear stuff. Oh, and by the way, while you can download and share this blog, all the material on it is copyrighted. All rights reserved, etc.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Gone to good Home

Kia ora tatou:
In case you have been dropping in here from time to time, hoping something would happen, well it is.
Only not here.
The blog has been relocated inside my website and there is lots of stuff there for you too check out, and places for you to comment, should you so desire.
Just go to the site, click on Ezine, and voila!
Ka kite ano

Saturday, November 25, 2006


Kia ora tatou:
I have a confession to make.
I have been going behind your back.
I have been seeing another blog.
While you have been faithfully posting, I have been building another blog.

To bring you up-to-date....
James, my web designer, has had some major issues getting my website loaded to my server, so the upgrade is on hold until he gets it all sorted.

I have been wanting to do a lot of work on my blog, to give it a newer, fresher look and lose a lot of the negative space in the old one. My daughter talked me into a gmail account, which is only by invitation (Google have bought Blogger) and that gives me access to the new Blogger Beta, which is way more sophisticated. At sometime in the future I will be able to integrate Blueprintx and the new one.
So from now on, i will not be posting to BlueprintX.
You can reach the new one here
Or here
Or here
( they all go to the same place)
Please adjust you bookmarks/favourites etc.
I look forward to hearing your comments.
For the foreseeable future, BlueprintX will remain.

Ka kite ano

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Shout out


After a couple of the last few comments, it has struck me that this blog is veering way off track and that what I am putting up is becoming way too esoteric to be of much use to you. So it is time to take stock.

I originally started it up so I could keep faith with those of you whom I care about (and there are lots of you), who had been friends and/or students of mine, and whom I was unable to help in the way I wanted to because of the insane pace of my (former) life. It was a way to be there for you and to conitinue to be of service without doing( a bad job of) AP3. After all, you had paid good money to put up with my diatribes and thoughts on photography, and I felt I owed you all( I still do). Your friendship did ( and still does) really matter to me.

Then my personal life went nuclear and it was difficult to keep faith and maintain perspective. But I have tried.
loking at few of the comments of late, it occurs to me that I may be in danger of disappearing up my intellectual .....maybe , like Iago, i think too much. Maybe I have become intellectually arrogant.

I want to hear about it.

So, to all of you out here, especially those of you who visit, and don't comment, I issue a challenge.

Tell me.

What do you need and what do you not need?

What is helpful and what is not?

What posts do you like and what do you wish there were more of?

What do you hate?

100 people a day hit this blog. I want to hear from all of you, wherever you are-and I would love to know where you are!

Help me out- I want to continue to be of service (and don't hold back!)

As an incentive, I will personally make and freight a signed, numbered image I have made
to the comment that contributes the most to the future direction of this community. To anywhere in the world!

Just add a comment to the bottom of this post.

muchas gracias.


Vielen Dank


Sunday, November 19, 2006

Exposing in digital

Kia ora tatou:
I came across this article on one of my favourite sites,, and rather than write it myself, I decided to rip it off and post it directly. Bill says it way better than I could.

Color slide film, the first color film used for photojournalism in the newsmagazines, was easy to edit but hard to expose correctly. Digital images are even easier to edit and even worse to expose correctly.

Both mediums capture only about a five-stop brightness range, a nightmare for those who have grown up on black-and-white or color negative film. More important, with transparency or digital, overexposure reduces highlights to clear, informationless cellophane or its digital equivalent.

A dark color transparency is often reclaimable, sometimes even more desirable, in reproduction. However, a "dark" or underexposed digital image shoves a great deal of the image into that region of the digital record that holds less information. Simply brightening it up in Photoshop makes it look like (I have looked for a word from the technical photo glossaries and found none that does the job) CRAP. If, as a journalist facing a deadline, you shoot JPEG instead of RAW, it looks even CRAPPIER.

Fortunately, every professional-level digital camera has a tool that can serve as the best possible exposure meter: the histogram.

Most of the information in a digital image is carried by that area represented by the right side of the histogram, what we think of as the "bright" side. We maximize our technical quality by keeping as much of the image information as possible in that area.

Here are the important things to look for in the histogram.

(1) Hold the highlight detail. Don't let important highlight detail slip off the right side of the histogram into "cellophane" land.

(2) Adjust your exposure so you are giving the maximum exposure that preserves this highlight detail. Absolutely, do not just protect the highlight detail by underexposing. Underexposure leads to increased noise when it is corrected. The image manipulation that follows is more likely to produce posterization in addition to the empty shadows and other problems that occur with any underexposed image.

(3) If the scene ends up using less than the full range of the sensor, taking up only a portion of the full histogram, still keep the brightness range of the image on the right side of the histogram. Achieve rich dark values in Photoshop or any other "after-the-shoot" image processing program. In this way you eliminate using that part of the image that is most likely to produce noise or posterization when you make image adjustments.

(4) Shoot RAW. Of course it's often wise to double shoot and produce a large JPEG at the same time, one that sets appropriate color, contrast and sharpening controls ahead of time. If it turns out you don't have to do post-production work to achieve an excellent image - hooray, don't. More than likely, however, the JPEG will simply save your tail when the editor unexpectedly moves up the deadline.

I certainly do not recommend checking your histograms while covering riots. Fortunately, with some riots you can auto-bracket your exposures and pick the frame with the histogram that doesn't show blown highlights and is filled on the right side.

On features, check the histogram.

You will certainly encounter situations with a brightness range that exceeds the capturing power of the digital sensor. The parallel to color transparency film can give us some clues as what to do.

(1) Let the shadows go black. Proclaim loudly that the image is dramatic and has impact.

(2) Use fill flash. Here automatic flashes which can be set to deliver less than a full flash exposure take what used to be a complicated task and reduce it to child's play or skilled professional photographer's play - your choice of phraseology. Try setting the flash to deliver two stops less than its normal intensity. Tweak the results to match your equipment and taste.

The exposure automation and TTL meter that we first used in film cameras now show up in a lot of high-end digitals. With latitude-rich negative films this combination yielded a high percentage of good exposures. If you were a little beyond the push-and-pray automation, you went manual and exposed for the shadows.

That would be a disaster with a digital sensor. However you choose to do it, when you move off automatic, expose for the highlights. Yes, in the last decade digital photography has moved forward to a degree unimaginable and is now right back to Kodachrome.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Rhythm of the Road

There's so many different worlds
So many different suns
And we have just one world
But we live in different ones
-Dire Straits

The most important skill of the photographer is to know how to see. Yes, one sees through one's eyes, but the same world seen through different eyes is no longer the same world; it's the world seen through that individual's eye. With just one click, the lens captures the exterior world at the same time as it captures the photographer’s inner world.
-Germaine Krull (1897-1985)

Sifting through the thoughts that lead you on
Find the door that's open, now you're gone
We softly say to our-ourselves
If we could be anybody else..

It had been one of those days. One of those frantically busy days where you have a lot to do, a lot to cram into a short space of time. But it was done and the road home was calling. Three days in Christchurch, three days of catching up with friends, three days of taking care of business. But it was done, and the clamour was behind me. I was looking forward to getting back to the open-armed welcome of the Maniototo.

I stopped for tea with some friends just north of Oamaru. Kathryn asked me which road into the valley I would be taking and naturally assumed I would cross over the Danseys pass. No, I replied, I'm going up the Pig Root. I really enjoy the surprises on that road.

I left just after 7 p.m., and by the time I turned off the main road at Palmerston, the shadows were beginning to claw their way east across the landscape, filling in the hollows in the landscape, putting day on the back foot. Night was on the advance, and the brazen bowl of the day was in full retreat. Changeover is a fascinating time for a photographer, a brief period when night and day seem to be in balance. I think being a Libran really makes me appreciate this time.

The road winds in and out of small river valleys, rising around 2000 feet over the 60 odd kilometres it takes to break into the Maniototo. It begins in the lower section of the Shag River and follows it, keeping a respectful distance and then dropping in from time to time to see what has become of it. The last glimpse, somewhere near the summit, shows a wide expansive trout stream that has shrunk to a nervous jittery creek. Every corner offers a new perspective, a new take, a new angle, a new surprise to be considered. It's a driver's road, with sweeping cambered corners that coil, that compress, that slingshot you on to the next, that allow you to dance with and build up a rhythm for the road.

It's a beautiful stretch of road at any time of the day, but in the early evening the pointing fingers of shadow give it a mystery, a magic that is quite unique. It's not one of those roads where you drive for hours and, somewhere near the end, realise you can't really remember any of it. It's a road with a vocabulary you have to learn, it's a road that builds upon itself and offers you something new you every time you drive it.

The road builds and builds and climbs towards the light towards the shadow end of day lying along the horizon, lying above the hills to the West. It rises to a crescendo then, offering another surprise, drifts softly and knowingly away. The Kakanuis off to the right reflect the tail-end of day, basking in the last fading remnants of daylight.

Now the hills, which have held me in for the last 40 minutes, which have made sure I kept my eyes on the road, fall back to either side as I slide down into the wide-open swoop of the plain. The diesel relaxes its shoulders and drops happily into overdrive as we murmur our way across the plain.

The long slow angle of the light is breaking up the landscape around me, disassembling it, showing me a component view of what is around me. I'm itching to make a photograph, because I have a new toy. Hayden, who cleans the sensors on my cameras, has given me a 50 mm Leica Summicron lens machined to fit on my Canon. As he hands it to me, he gives me a quiet smile and says, I'll be interested to know what you think of this. It's the end result of a series of discussions we've had about the resolving power of the L-series lenses I've used since I switched to Canon a few years ago.

One thing I've come to realise is that a digital sensor can resolve far more detail than film. At 100%, micro-detail is rendered far more precisely than film ever could. But there is a corollary to this. To get this detail requires rigorous picture-making technique. The old 1/focal length rule, where the slowest speed you should handhold is the next one above the focal length of the lens you're using, just doesn't hold true for digital. To get that super fine detail you need when you're making big enlargements, you should use 1/2x focal length. You need to use a heavy tripod and, where possible, mirror lock-up. Good filters, if you use them, are a must. Because I want to make very large works, I've had to get fussier and fussier about my technique.

But there's still not enough. Shooting in Raw and correcting my pictures, I've come to realise that the weak link in the system is the lenses. A 16-megapixel sensor is capable of resolving incredibly fine detail. Once you become aware of that, nothing less will do, but to get it you need the best optics possible. Ordinary optics just mush the microcontrast necessary to bring that detail out. The higher end Canon optics, to my mind, just don't do the sensor justice.

So call me anal.

For some time I've heard rumours about photographers who use Leica optics, generally accepted to be the finest glass in the world, on their higher end Canon DLR’s. I know of one leading New Zealand landscape photographer who does this very thing. And I wanted to find out for myself.

When I began in photography, every camera you bought came with a 50 mm lens. Of course, the first thing you did when you bought your camera was trade in the 50 mm lens for a zoom or a telephoto or a wide-angle. It took me some 25 years to realise that the 50 mm lens is actually one of the most useful focal lengths. You just have to know how to drive it. In the right hands it can look like a tele, or a wide-angle or something in-between. I have heard that it was Henri Cartier-Bresson’s favourite focal length, and a pretty much all the great photographer Ernst Haas ever used. Using a single focal length is also incredibly good discipline and helps you understand the unique personality it can give to your photograph.

Somewhere on the hill between Kyeburn and Ranfurly the opportunity came. The sun was just touching the old man range out to the West in the shadows for as long as they would ever be. If I was going to make some photographs I had little more than a couple of minutes in which to do them. As I came round the corner, off to my right light and shadow played against each other like interlocked fingers. The sky had that serene quality peculiar to this area. I made maybe 20 photographs my final images included the road sign; the very last of the sunlight, skimming the road, had picked up the sign and made it glow against the green fields in the blue sky.

It seemed fitting and somehow iconic end to a magic drive.

Oh yes, the answer to the question I can hear a number of you asking. When I processed the file in Lightroom I was somewhat stunned by the results. Yes, the ability of the Leica lens to resolve microfine detail is to my mind, at this stage, streets ahead of any Canon optics I've used so far. Frankly it's quite staggering-and I didn't have time to use a tripod. What I found distinctly interesting however, was the way that it renders colour. The processed image doesn't have anywhere near the saturation and contrast that my other lenses deliver, and I found myself reaching for the vibrancy and saturation controls and tweaking them up. What it does deliver is a smoothness of tonal transition that is quite analogue in its characteristics.

I'm impressed.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Exhibition Opening-an invitation

Kia ora tatou:

As a number of you know, I have been working towards an exhibition( well, two in fact). The first opens on December 1 at the Selwyn Gallery in Darfield.

Those of you can make it( I know it's the party time of the year) are invited to come along and share the work, most of it from my travels this year, and have a glass of wine to celebrate. I am feeling pretty good about what is coming together.

If our only contact has been an E-friendship, I would love to meet you in person.Please make sure you introduce yourself.

If you are on my newsletter list, you will also be getting an e-invite.

Coming up soon, a technical post. I have to- Lost Pixel is on my back!

Ka kite ano

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Letter to Ian

The use of the term art medium is, to say the least, misleading, for it is the artist that creates a work of art not the medium. It is the artist in photography that gives form to content by a distillation of ideas, thought, experience, insight and understanding.
Edward Steichen

Photography would have been settled a fine art long ago if we had not, in more ways than one, gone so much into detail. We have always been too proud of the detail of our work and the ordinary detail of our processes.
-Henry Peach Robinson

Kia ora tatou:

If you read the comments in this blog, you will see that occasionally I push somebody’s buttons enough for them to post a comment. This one came in on my Roadmarks post, and it needs to be talked about. Ian (who should be thinking more about getting his passengers down safely, and less ruminating as he stares at the landscape sliding past underneath) wrote:

A question for you. I’ve got my name on the list for one of the Freeman workshops next year. I was discussing this matter recently with some other photographers and an opinion was related that a lot of what Freeman discusses in his books (and I assume his workshops) is primarily about design rather than art. I’ve got some of his books (I love them) and I can see where that viewpoint comes from. So my question is - what is the difference between design and art? Does good art require good design? Is good designing enough?.......... I haven’t really got this completely sorted but my answer is that art also has passion or story (or both).

Looking at Roadmarks before I read your post and I thought, "nicely balanced image. Interesting contrast between the snow and the almost summer baked grass in the foreground. Love the mono treatment." Technical/design thoughts??

Well, there are several issues here that all tie together. Yes, Freeman teaches visual design. He is quite unashamed about it. There are very few workshops where that is done. Most of them tend to be how-to workshops (everything you wanted to know about jpegs or your DLR and wish you’d never asked). Very few are why-to workshops. To the best of my knowledge Freeman has never used Art (art) and Design and photography in the same sentence, or indeed in the same workshop. I have taught with him 5 times and listened to him, both formally in lectures and informally (usually in the company of a fine pinot noir). He stresses the idea of design as a craft, or at least an aspect of the craft of photography.

It’s probably important here to talk about Craft and Art and to make the distinction. Craft is the skillset you develop as a photographer. At its most basic level, it is things like depth-of-field, exposure, lens choice (although that is not as basic as it seems) and lighting (which you never master). The gears, steering etc which you come to terms with when you are learning to drive; the clay, glazes and throwing techniques that the potter has to master.

Then there is the issue of composition. Frankly I hate the term. It reeks of the Rule-of-thirds, never centring your subject, and cups of tea after a C-grade competition. Composition is what you do when you want to get an honours in the Set Subject and you know the (judge?). Composition is what you do when you take a photograph.

Design is what you do when you are actively considering your subject. Design means you are actively weighing the importance of the elements in your picture space, and considering both their visual and spatial weight, not to mention their significance. Design is a higher form of Craft. Design is beyond Composition. It is the next plane beyond technique (a subset of Craft).

But it is Craft nonetheless. Because you can learn it. Craft is not to be dismissed, because you have to learn it. Ansel Adams said: the Way to Art is through Craft, not around it. Incidentally Ansel never considered himself an artist, rather a craftsman. He saw his work as being to depict the landscape the best way he could, to distil something of the magnificence he experienced into the images he made. He was as concerned with Process as he was with Content.

Art is another whole ball of wax (excuse the cliché), a product of feelings, ideas, prior knowledge and Weltaussicht. Art is about ideas. What those ideas may be is the domain of the artist. Art informs. Art makes us think, art seeks to engage us on a multiplicity of levels. It may be visceral, in the realm of feelings; it may be on a cerebral level. Or may be all of the above. But it seeks to inform.

Art is the concrete expression of the ethos of a society.

Let me unpack that. David Hockney, the celebrated English pop artist, had an 18-month affair with photography. In that time he made photographic work that had never been seen before (note: he didn’t take photos). His final image, Pear Blossom Highway, brings all those ideas together. F you study his work, and you have done a little Art History, you will see the connections. He was heavily influenced by cubism, by Picasso and Braques, by the nature of Representation and the depiction of Time and Space. Picasso questioned the concept of perspective and its depiction from a single point in Time and Space (remember those cubes you drew in Technical Drawing or Third Form Art). It’s worth noting that before the Italian architect Brunelleschi invented it in the Renaissance, all art was essentially two-dimensional. Hockney took Picasso’s ideas and added his own take to it, specifically a photographic one. Consider this: photography with a camera depicts time and space from a single point in that time and space; the human eye works quite differently. We gather a variety of different images from different points in space and from different times (or rather, over an extended period of time) and then our brain assembles them into a composite collage with a single meaning. It could therefore be said that Hockney’s images are truer to how the human eye/brain works than to the artificial representation of the camera. Human seeing is organic; the camera is a mechanical device able to function only from a single viewpoint. Hockney's oeuvre is really an essay on that difference.

The point I am trying to make here is that Hockney’s work is ideas-based, not representational. What he photographs is less important than the ideas behind the image.

Another example. If you have any interest in New Zealand art, you will at some time have seen the work of the great painter Colin McCahon. At first glance his works look huge but incomprehensible. His palette is essentially monochromatic; his subject matter is painted quite loosely and seems infested with letters and religious symbology. Look harder and you begin to see the landscape, or rather the forms of the landscape, represented in quite a symbolic way. To get a grip on McCahon’s work, you need to spend a little time looking at the life of the man himself. McCahon was a deeply spiritual but troubled man whose Roman Catholicism was a key factor in forming both his vision of the world and how he chose to depict it. In addition to this he was deeply sympathetic to maoritanga and Maori spiritual values. His painting, done as it was in essentially dark monochromatic tones, showed a strong awareness of the wairua of our landscape. He was a very complex man but a master craftsman, whose understanding of the craft of painting was profound. The questions he asked in his painting are still being uncovered. Ditto Picasso.

You will notice that in talking about these two great artists, I have made little reference to their technique. And yet, their technique is consummate. However, when we look at their work, we are faced with a wonderful puzzle that we want to unravel. We are faced with the world of ideas. Sometimes those ideas may appear simple, but they are present nonetheless. Sometimes they may seem so complex, presented in such a convoluted way that we can find no way into the maze. This is the trap that Fine Art often falls into; it becomes so self-absorbed and lives in such a rarefied place that only those who speak the language can understand it. How many exhibitions have we been to where we didn’t have a clue what the artist was on about, and so, mystified and perhaps feeling a little intellectually inferior, we left, completely dissatisfied? I know I have, and I still continue to.

To recap on a previous post: science’s job is to discover; art’s job is to explain. A great artist may show us the mundane from a totally new perspective; or equally may unpack something we may never before have considered. He/she may give us a completely new perspective on something we have taken for granted.

To return to the craft vs. art debate.

A potter who makes a teapot so perfect in its design that it doesn’t spill a single drop is, to my mind, a craftsman. Possibly a master craftsman. A ceramic artist may make the same teapot but in its design and its methods ask questions or draw comparisons with geomorphology. He might make that same teapot in a way that draws my attention to plate tectonics. Every time I break out the Dilmah, I get a mini lesson on the structure of the planet, and the earth from which the teapot was made. That is Art. It feeds me on a variety of levels. (Besides waking me up in the morning).

Ian, I sense a somewhat subtly stated question here. Do I consider my work art or craft? Am I a photographer or artist? And do I care?

Frankly, no.

I have a very close friend who has world-class status as a martial artist. He is three weeks younger than me but his reputation worldwide is phenomenal. His dedication is such that he turned down an invitation to the 1000-year birthday party of the Shaolin Temple in China because he preferred to spend the time training. A good friend to have when you go out clubbing. We have just spent some time talking about the nature of learning our individual arts, he has a level of understanding of martial arts that I will never have. Similarly while he loves photography, he acknowledges that my mastery is well ahead of his. What we do talk about is the nature of understanding, what lies beyond craft, the subtle levels of understanding that come past a certain point. In essence, the fascination lies not in the end product, it is about the journey itself and the discoveries made along the way. It is about the finer and finer, and yet increasingly significant, layers of understanding that come from constant practice of your craft and reflection upon it.

What drives me these days is a desire to see round the next corner, to discover that which I had never before considered. As I said in the post Roadmarks, I am still considering the picture made in Kyeburn. In terms of its craftsmanship (that is, exposure, technique and design), I am satisfied. For the moment. But something new has emerged for me, some layer of understanding that I am still trying to get a handle on. I am going to make a print of that image and stick it on the wall in the hall of my flat. That means I will have to pass it many times a day, and each time I go past, I will have a quick look out of the corner of my eye, in the hope that it drops its guard and gives itself away.

Today it is the best picture I have ever made. I know it’s the doorway to a room I’ve only just discovered, and one which I’m dying to explore in greater depth.

It’s just the Why of it that’s eluding me.

Ian, after having waded through all this, you possibly think I haven’t answered your question. You didn’t think I was going to do this in twenty-five-words-or-less. Did you?

Actually I have.

I have far too much respect for you to denigrate you with a cheap and facile response.
Arohanui e.