Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Black and White and Science

Up until 1935, when Eastman Kodak Company brought Kodachrome, the first modern colour print to the public, black and white was the main method for capturing photos. This gives black and white photographs a timeless, elegant, nostalgic effect that cannot be replicated in colour. This applies to resizing photos, since a grainy black and white photo will maintain its allure with loss in quality, where a color one will be at disadvantage. However, if shooting in black and white, this also gives the impression that you are recording history, where colour is contemporary and current.

When shooting in colour the eye is primarily drawn to strong colours, distracting away from the subject being photographed. When removing colour in monochrome, the viewer is led to see shapes, lines and form within the image that may not have been obvious with colour. On the other hand, colour adds definition to shape, and picks out minute details that black and white would not have shown. If shooting in darkness, then lighting has increased importance to black and white photography. Since the principal lighting will be coming from flash, or artifical lighting, black and white images can end up looking flat and dull because the interplay of light and shade has been removed, whereas colour will appear to have more depth and shape.
The main argument for colour would be that it shows life as close to realistic as possible, and for a discipline such as scientific biological photography, the main mission is to portray the subject as accurate as possible.

Photography has become an essential component of many areas of science. The science of photography dates back to the 1830s, and by the end of the 19th century, photography was being used as an instrument of observation of events that were otherwise unobservable with the eye, as well as use as a form of measurement. One reason was the arrival of reliable and standardisable photographic emulsions. Its mechanical, reproducible and reliable nature was reason to believe it would function as an artificial retina. With the discovery of X-rays, photography was shown to be an extremely flexible medium, which could be manipulated to show otherwise unseen worlds. For some time however, artistic appropriation and the forgeries made by spiritualists undermined the objectivity of photographs. Since then, it has played a crucial role in the study of anatomy (after US surgeons office compiled a record of Civil War wounds) and provided objective standards for defining visual characteristics of species of animal or rock type.

But photography can also, more and more frequently, be used to depict subjects that the human eye cannot see, such as hour long exposures bringing out astronomical details, or at the other extreme, high speed photos that can show a bullet in flight. Such discoveries as neutrons in 1932 and viruses in 1942 show photos to be invaluable source for science. In addition, non visible spectrum photographs can be taken, such as X-rays taken in hospitals, and UV photographs in astronomy and medicine.

As in the case of von Hippel, some scientists can become so entranced with photographs that they continue to use photos created for experimental purposes as a form of art. For example, the X-ray photographs of atoms and molecules made by Dorothy Hodgkin, which were turned into textile designs for 1951 Festival of Britain.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Nikon vs Canon: Goliath vs goliath

The age old argument of Nikon vs Canon has lived on through the change from film to digital, and now hits the age of DSLR HD video. Lets for a moment ignore the other makes, such as panasonic, sony, olympus, pentax etc, and focus on the two. Why choose these two over others...well, I suppose historically, this is because Canon and Nikon dominated the lens market, and this meant that photographers could use their old film lenses on these new DSLRs. Lots of companies are coming out with quite good cameras, some of which can rival some of the Nikon and Canon cameras. I'm not mentioning such cameras as phase 1 and Hasselblad, which are out of my price range, and really for high end photography (eg. pro studio work).

One major issue is compatibility with other lenses. Being a Nikon D40X owner, I was partially victim to this, since in many instances, AF does not work with the D40X, which lacks its own focusing motor. However, this small limitation is nothing compared to the EOS dilemma witnessed on Canon's mounts. Rendering all FD manual focus lenses impotent on the new mounts, a lot of lenses became extinct! If you are starting out as a new photographer, then this issue is redundant (unless you happen to be inheriting lenses).

Now some more technical issues:

Traditionally, Canon were used by sports and action photographers because of the speed of autofocus, but Nikon are now equal in the expensive high end lenses. In cheap lenses, there still seems to be a little bit of difference. There is a bit of a rumour going round that Canon are still dominating this market, however, this could be due to the huge amount of money they put into advertising and marketing, as well as the fact that L-series lenses (which are bright white) are so easily picked out in a crowd. The sudden move of wildlife photographer Andy Rouse would say otherwise, praising the D3's high ISO performance, and consistent AF.

Flash control is a lot better in the Nikon camera, where Canon hides a lot of functions in its warren of menus. In TTL, Nikon flashes present information in an easy way, and the photographer has complete control over each independent flash. In this respect, Canon has an advantage where a quick turn of a dial can change the entire flash exposure quickly and simply. Nikon also carry an on camera wireless system, where Canon forces you to buy a pocketwizard.

In Nikons, there are only 2 sensor sizes: Full frame and 1.5x, whereas Canon has full frame, 1.3x and 1.6x. if you're going to use different lenses on different cameras, this can be annoying, as they each perform differently depending on the frame size (full frame being very wide, while cropped zooms in). Full frame tend to be more expensive as well, though I think the quality of image and wide angle ability is well worth a look.

I could talk about the differences in image quality and lenses for a quite a while, however, my next point is going to by about video. There are a few reasons why Canon video is generally considered better than Nikon. To avoid European Taxes placed on camcorders, Canon placed a limit of 12 minutes on any single clip (this might also be to do with buffering space on camera). In comparison to this, Nikon only have 5 minutes, which, having recorded lots of interviews, is not particularly helpful. There is no 1080p on Nikon video, which for most situations is OK, but soon, this will be the min requirement for HD. The quality of the two codecs is incomparable. The Canon H.264 beats the Nikons m.peg every time.

Finally, comes personal choice. I started on Nikon cameras, and while I learnt photography with this set up, I also think that the Nikon camera is set in a much more user friendly way. All the controls seem to be in the right places, from the on off button to changing apertures and shutter speeds. I have found that the AF speed on cameras is generally pretty similar, though on my D40X (my first camera), I had the problem of lens compatibility. If I was going into photography, I would certainly choose a Nikon camera, starting out on a cheap model, say the D70, moving to a more pro camera, possibly the D3 or go to medium and large format. The inclusion of such good quality HD video on the Canons has forced my hand, and I am currently using a 7D to shoot video. Aside from the slightly annoying controls, and somewhat convoluted menu system, I haven't got any major issues using it, except, I have to get all new lenses, or an adapter.

Cameras are largely down to consumer choice and feel. The best thing to do is go into a shop (Tottenham Court Road has quite a few camera shops, and you might be able to bargain and get a good deal), and try a few cameras out. I will probably blog about lenses at some point, but kit lenses tend to be pretty useful, and a lens like the Nikon 18-200mm VR is always quite good. If you are saving up, I quite like a 100mm macro, which encompasses portraits and macro work. Fixed focal lengths or prime lenses tend to be better quality, but only if you are going into photography as a profession, otherwise, there are a lot of good zoom lenses out there, including other third party companies, like sigma and tamron.


Canon and Nikon are both massive multi million companies, who seem to leapfrog each other each year. At the moment, i would choose Nikon for photography just, but Canon in video by a long way, but this could change at any instant!

Final Cut vs Adobe Premiere

Final Cut vs Premiere

Having applied for quite a few jobs now, the most pressing requirements for a lot of companies appear to be the ability to use and manipulate video in either final cut or premiere. What are the two, and what are the differences?

Having recently completed an MSc in Biological Photography and Imaging, where we predominantly used Final Cut and Motion, I have had quite a lot of experience in the advantages and disadvantages in that system, but quite recently, I have been lucky enough to use adobe premiere.

Final Cut Studio is the main video editing software for Apple Macs, while Premiere tends to be for windows, however, premiere is now supported by macs, and I am not sure if the same can be said for Final cut on Windows. Generally, Final Cut is the choice of the professional editor, however, this could be seen as the mac system winning over the Windows, less reliable and slower system.

Initially, I was blown away by the similarities between the two. There are a few small technical differences in the two, which for me, Final Cut is better for (a lot of the tools and viewers just seem more sensible), however if you are looking for a reason to buy one or the other, this doesn't seem a strong enough argument, and once you use it for a while, you will soon adapt.

My main issue with Final Cut is its compatibility with Motion compared with that or Premiere, which integrates well with After Effects and Photoshop. Now, I don't claim to be an expert on either of these, only using them mainly for titles, logos, idents and DVD menus etc, but I find After effects a lot easier to use, using keyframes rather than behaviors, and hugely more powerful! In addition to this, After Effects is a 3D program, where Motion is not.

Personally, I cannot afford the packages, so I am going to buy whichever I can find cheapest, since the difference in the actual editing software is so minimal that it has little to do with my decision. Since I am more comfortable with Final Cut, I guess I might just play safe and get Final Cut Express, until I need something a bit better!

Friday, 12 November 2010

3D films

3D films seem to have gone into a bit of a revolution of late. The earliest memory of 3D for me is posters I used to get in the sunday times and other such newspapers. These used to come with the little red and green glasses, and yes, seeing a brachiosaurus in vivid 3D detail was quite exciting (until the glasses go missing/break). Since then, 3D has broken from stills to the movie industry, and recently to TV. The question I would like to pose is whether the hype really lives up to much?

Though, I am informed (via wiki) the first film in 3D was "3D Jamboree" in 1956, the first film I saw in 3D was Avatar (Yes, I finally succumbed to the media frenzy). Initially I was very impressed by the technology behind the film, it was genuinely amazing! But it ends there. As has been proved by public reaction, the film really was too long, with a fairly cliched and monotonous story-line. Since then, I have seen films like "UP" and "the last airbender" in the cinemas, and I've felt that my experience was really ruined by the 3D effects, which were in many cases completely irrelevant and pointless to the point of me questioning whether they were in the film to boost the visual effects, or just to prove a point.

Primarily, for someone not used to wearing glasses, having these cumbersome, chunky glasses on your head is a bit of a strange feeling, unavoidable I know, and a bit pathetic of me to mention it, they do hurt your eyes! But my main problem with the glasses is that they are slightly tinted, so that the film seems dark. It seems that way to me anyway, and to counter this, film producers should brighten the original movie or perhaps play with saturation/contrasts.

Another niggle for me is that in a cinema, a place which is essentially built for total immersion into the narrative, one cannot really fall into the spell or magic of the big screen when cartoony and unrealistic elements of the film decide to spray out from the screen. It goes some way to explaining why animated films are successful with this, whereas lots of the live action ones haven't quite hit the same plaudits (I don't even need to mention last airbender, which was butchered by m.night). I understand that the CGI may not be there yet, but if thats the case, then don't put it in!

Last year I went to the video expo in london, where I saw close up 3D television for the first time (I think they were showing tri nations rugby or something), and I had to admit, again, my initial reaction was WOW, this is amazing, the picture quality and everything was great. It doesn't mean that I want to watch a whole game in 3D, nor for that matter, a whole season. With 3D, it seems you are spending too much time trying to enjoy the nice and expensive effects that actually watching the sport. Its hard to follow, and not a pleasant experience.

Finally, it seems that porn has the final say on any technology, VHS and DVDs were born through porn's backing, and I for one am not in favor of 3D porn, im sticky enough after the cinema, covered in coke and popcorn to have to worry about other substances!

My conclusion is that while 3D is a very clever technology, and could have a great effect on films in the future, I believe that it is in a stage at the moment, where it only detracts from the enjoyment of the film. Can we imagine Casablanca in 3D? Would Schindlers List have benefitted from Jewish blood spraying from the screen? I wish hollywood would sort itself out, and actually try and write an original storyline, and not just rely on CGI and effects to cover their arses!

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Aesthetics over ethics

I am astounded as to how powerful Photoshop is in creative a whole new persona in portrait shots. For example: see photos below. Here is a prime example where Photoshop has been used to enhance someones face. The before picture was taken in student halls, with a handy camera and poor lighting. This picture was destined to be used as a passport photo, so it was meant to represent the subject with a certain degree of accuracy. However, I gave him the supremodel treatment and added whitening on the teeth, took roundness out of the chin, sharpened the eyes, took out blemishes, softened the skin, colour corrected, and corrected the exposure. I think this proves that with an alright photograph, one can make something of professional quality.

However, is this ethical, especially in this instance, where the photo is taken to represent real life. In my opinion, the categories of photography are split into the realistic (wildlife, scientific and records) and unrealistic (eg. advertising). My friends Peter Moonlight and Sam Waldron at 'Exposing the Wild' (http://www.moonlightimaging.co.uk/captioning.html) have written extensively on this subject, and have come up with a snazzy system using captions to highlight certain characteristics of a photo, for instance, how much post production has been used, or whether it is a wild photo or in studio. In principle I agree with this system, what with the recent scandal in the British Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award. It would provide just enough information to prove the photos authenticity, while keeping the trade secrets underwraps...but, what's to stop people lying, and who will maintain these standards? All I can do is wish them well with their endevour, and secretly hope that it is not a success, because I don't think I have the patience to wade through all my photos and reclassify them.