27 February 2008

Water Filaments

Pentax Norway has generously allowed me to play with a DA* 200/2.8 for a couple of days. The main purpose is to test it for extreme macro, stacked with other lenses. Sunday is marked in the calendar for that. Today I was just playing around. Mostly with long exposure times and camera motion. Here's one of the results.

Pentax K10D, DA*200/2.8
1/6s, f/11, ISO 100

23 February 2008

Hibernation thoughts

Alunfoto has temporarily gone into mental hibernation.
This state has been forced upon yours truly by the necessities of being a father during school holidays spent visiting theme parks in a certain peninsula state of the U.S. of A.

One of the themes on the park agenda was SeaWorld. In case you don't what that is, I can tell you it's all about whales and dolphins, and entertainment. Mostly in combination.

Oh, and the Kraken, of course.

But I'll get back to that. It was the experience with Shamu that stirred me out of hibernation and into reflection for long enough to write this post. Shamu is the stage name for all of the killer whales performing at the "Believe" show at SeaWorld. It was a marvelous show. The multimedia, the whale tricks, the circus acrobatics of the "trainers", the stage, everything was carefully pieced together to bring about an "experience" of mostly religious nature. At times, I felt the only thing missing from the show was a couple of hallelujahs and praise-the-lords.

To me, this brought a sad feeling rather than spiritual uplifting. Perhaps because one of the killer whales had a bent dorsal fin, much like the one that Keiko had. Keiko died from pneumonia on the Norwegian coast, lonely and seeking human attention. He had failed to integrate into any natural killer whale group, and thereby demonstrating the futility of releasing captive animals into the wild and "believe" that everything will be all right.

Another thing is the concept of using invitation to belief to stimulate respect for wild creatures in a show with captive animals. It just screams of inconsistency. Well, that's a common feature with other religiously motivated shows but in this case the contradictions slaps the viewer in the face. In a way most aptly described by Douglas Adams as by "a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick".

What has faith got to do with respect for Nature, climate, habitats or wildlife anyway, whether it's whales in particular or by a broader perspective? I think that mingling of concepts is what brought a lump to my throat today. Wildlife conservation will do much better with people honing scientific thinking than with a bunch of fanatic "believers" having romantic dreams about swimming with tame whales for show all day.

Then back to Kraken. It's a rollercoaster, in case you didn't know. Most members of my family are very, very, skeptic to rollercoasters, all except my 11 year old son. He took the ride, and even suffered himself through the longest queue to get a seat in the first row of the coaster train. After the ride he was high on adrenalin rush for half an hour! How's that for putting Alunfoto firmly back into fatherly hibernation for the rest of the holidays, eh? Fatherly pride is certainly soothing...

I feel there ought to be some pics accompanying this post, but my laptop for the holidays don't have such luxury as imaging processing software.

15 February 2008

Next leg on the Interview relay

Just a teaser.

Karen is a very productive blogger, and my interview with her has to line up in the queue for publication. I know she's pretty close to ready, though, so check out her blog often:

A day in the life... one glass at a time

When I found myself at the interviewee end of the table, it was fun. I really hoped to relay that experience to Karen, so I figured I had to do a fair bit of research on what she, and her blog, was all about. First of all, I found that she's a blog veteran compared to me, she's been around since 2005. Her posting frequency is also breathtaking. Since October last year she has produced a post almost every day!

So, as the interviewer, I found myself with plenty of material. There's much about this lady... :-)

But as I said first, this is just a teaser. No details disclosed here.

However, I do raise my glass to Karen. This interview-thing has turned out to be just as much fun on the interviewer side. Thanks also to Neil Kramer who started the whole thing, and to Doug Brewer for getting me into it.

14 February 2008

Pertaining mystery

"There are few Nordic nature photographers who really hit a big audience in the rest of the world. According to Frans Lanting, this has nothing to do with technical quality of their images, but rather with a lack in ability to put their images into context."

This quote is, in my translation, from a talk given at BioFoto last night, by Sweden-based Norwegian photographer Terje Hellesø. His perspectives on "context" pointed at the photographers' general purpose, agenda, outlook, or in its most general form, engagement.

He began to list examples of photographers exhibiting such context to their work, and first mentioned was Galen Rowell. He went on to name a number of excellent photographers, but lost me because my thoughts went to one particular quote from Rowell's book "The Inner Game Of Outdoor Photography". According to Rowell, the determining ingredient of photographic success is "the size of the rat".

The "rat" is that little thing gnawing inside one's stomach, demanding one to pursue ambition beyond the limits of one's ordinary life. His point was that it's not necessarily the best photographers who make success, but the ones who feel compelled go the next mile to get the picture. Or as in Rowell's case, to climb the next mile. He had in turn, borrowed the expression from his mountain climbing friends who used it to discern between those who actually went to climb the remote peaks in the corners of the world, from those who didn't whether they yearned to or not. Predispositon to become a nature photographer would depend on the size and cravings of that rat.

I think both Hellesø and Rowell are right, to a certain extent. It is notoriously hard to point at any particular "trait", "factor" or "skill" to define the successful nature- or outdoor-photographer. But surely, Hellesø, and Lanting if he's quoted correctly, has a point. The quality level of images produced by Nordic photographers is very high. I can attest to that by the humble feeling I get when lurking home from every meeting in BioFoto, thinking my own shots has a d*mn long way to go to match the best. One has to wonder what bars them all from international success.

But that's not the only mystery I was after this time. Back to Terje Hellesø, who seeks to produce images that doesn't yield all its content to the viewer in one go. "I don't shoot for commercials", he said.

He loves to create images that are open to interpretation, and seeks to introduce ambiguity between rivalling interpretations. in my point of view, that may be the most ambitious undertaking a nature photographer can attempt. Especially with an agenda of emphasizing context. Trying to combine these two, he is dangerously close to becoming just "artsy", since ambiguity in itself is without direction and will leave the viewer clueless.

There has to be some references, by means of image elements, to set the viewer's thoughts in tenable directions. However, recognition of the symbolism in any set of image elements from Mother Nature is very much dependent on the viewers own experiences and cultural background.

Nordic nature, Nordic culture, Nordic mindset. I can't stop wondering if Terje himself is restricted to Nordic fame by this.

Would you "catch" his kind of imagery? Make up your own mind. His website is in both Swedish and English.

10 February 2008


Cog's a guy always in for a challenge. He must be, having the nerve to host the PDML (Pentax Discussion Mailing List), and still be sane enough to write an entertaining blog.
One of his recent posts was about The Interview Experiment from blogger Neil Kramer, a sort of relay-stick handed from blogger to blogger, giving everyone a chance to shine up in blogspace for a while. I thought this could be fun, and signed up.
Shortly after, I found myself subject to questions from Australian Single Mom Frogdancer. To my surprise, and relief, the first question was not "Why do you blog?". Instead, I got a list of lightfooted, entertaining questions. Hope I've managed to reply in style.
This part of the Experiment has been very entertaining, so thank you, Frogdancer! :-)

Here's the interview:

1. Have you ever licked an icicle or something cold like that and hadyour tongue stick to it? (Does this ever really happen in coldcountries, or is it something only seen in movies?)
Munched plenty of icicles as a kid. The only time I got stuck was when licking a metal fence. Had a sore tongue for weeks. :-) Metal conducts heat well enough to pull it away from your tongue_very_ quickly, and so the spit between your tastebuds freeze up.

2. Is it really true that the sun doesn't set AT ALL at certain times of the year? If so, does this mean that Nowegians get really grumpy at these times because of disrupted sleep patterns? (We tourists need toknow. We'll come visit after you all get a decent night's sleep.)

From the polar circle and northwards it holds true. It certainly disrupted my sleep patterns last summer when touring the area for a fortnight. I think people respond in very different ways, depending on disposition. For a landscape photographer, the best light happens when the sun is close to the horizon. With the sun low all night,well..., I just don't get tired before I reach exhaustion.

Here's one shot from last summer, showing the sun dipping behind the cliffs of island "Lovund". Captured at 19 minutes past midnight.

People I know who lives or have lived up north tells me that winter is worse for disrupting sleep patterns. It is common to celebrate the return of the sun, even if they have to climb a mountain to greet it.

3. We come from opposite ends of the Earth. In your blog you talk a lot about climate change. In Australia we're battling a savage drought. Are there any weather patterns in Norway that are seeming a bit out of the ordinary?

The meteorologists warns us that we will see "extreme" weather more often than before. The South coast towards the North Sea (silly names, eh?) has, on several occasions over the last few years, received huge amounts of snow in a very short time. Add the wind of the storm bringing the snow about, and you get snowdrifts to above ground floor. :-) In summer, we seem to get hailstorms more frequently than before, but I'm not sure if anyone ascribes that to global warming.
However, the most most telltale sign doesn't show in daily weather. We have photographic records of the landscapes around the glaciers dating back to around 1870, and all of them have retracted significantly (well, not the photographs...). If you want to come here to experience glaciers, you better hurry while they're still nice to look at. Below is another shot from last summer. "Engabreen" is an arm of "Svartisen", extending almost to sea level. It has retracted from the obviously barren slopes only in the last thirty years.

4. Have you ever lived or travelled outside of Norway? Are you a city or a country person at heart?

Never lived outside Norway, but travel frequently. Both for leisure and business (non-photographic).

At heart? I dunno... I grew up in a suburb of Oslo situated on the very edge of a large forest, and with some abandoned cultural landscapes in immediate vincinity. Best of both worlds, I think. We used to hang out at a shopping centre one day, and go chasing butterflies or fishing the next.

5. In your opinion, are people or animals harder to photograph? Why?

People are more difficult to me because they're my own species. The viewer expects to connect with facial expressions, body posture, etc., etc., in a much more complex way than with animals. As a photographer you move in the social context you are about to photograph, and have to anticipate the Right Moments to catch them consistently. A good friend of mine who is a newsteam camera man for a living maintains that "if you can see the moment, it's gone". I think he's very right about that.
With animals, it's all in the preparations. Here you seek to remove yourself the best you can from the social context of the animal. Insects and such don't demand much as long as you don't scare them, but mammals and birds have complex social contexts. With them, a hide is usually the best option. Often in combination with a bait.

I do mostly landscapes and flowers, though... :-)

6. That project for taking local photos. How's that coming along?

Not as well I would like. But looking through my archives I realise that 2007 was an improvement over 2006, at least. I have also commenced two local projects that seem to sustain my curiosity. So far I don't have any shots from those suitable for any audience, but I think I'm homing in.

7. How old were you when photography first took your interest? (I'm asking because my 11 year old has his own little photo blog. If he ends up taking shots like you I'll be very pleased. Oops. Didn't mean to interrupt....)

My mom bought me a Kodak Instamatic when I was about 10. However she quickly refused to pay for developing the films. Both because of cost and because my pics didn't match her own expectations. She's never admitted the latter of course :-).

8. What has drawn you to Pentax cameras in particular?

You know how newly-weds give each other morning gifts? I thought it was a male-to-female tradition only, so my wife took me completely by surprise by giving me an SLR camera. Guess which brand...

It's twenty years ago, but I haven't seen any point in changing.

9. What is the best advice you could give to a young photographer?

Pursue your interests. When interests wane, look elsewhere instead of lingering. Then the joy of it will return later.

10. Australians eat Vegemite, which everyone else in the world finds revolting and inedible. (It's a black, salty yeast extract like Marmite BUT BETTER TASTING that we spread on toast. Mmmm yum.) Is there anything that Norwegians eat that the rest of us just don't understand?

Oh, man... This can be a long list, I'll pick a few. It's hard to find one single dish that unites all Norwegians, though. Each region has their own die-hard traditions.

1. Flatbread
Made from flour of potato, wheat or rye, or a blend of any of those. Milk and salt, no yeast. Baked on big hot plates, almost like pappadums.

Ubiquitous accessory to traditional dinner dishes.

2. Rakfisk (cured fish)
Made from brown trout or arctic charr. Local varieties with other species exist. Freshly caught fish cut in filets are put in sealed containers with a strong salt/sugar solution for a couple of months. Well made, it's a delicacy. Probability of getting a nasty strain of bacteria into the mix is always present, and will give itself away by the smell. Usually akin to pungent old socks.

The addicts among us will ignore the smell. I'm not an addict, but find the well made ones irresistable.

Served with potatoes and flatbread. And usually a good ale and Aquavit.

3. Brunost (brown cheese)
Not a cheese at all. Made from the stuff left over from real cheese production. Cooked until it almost caramelize. Palatability depends on the ratio of cow milk over goat milk. The more goat, the more weird.

Made from cow milk only, it sells as "mysost". Which is yummy.

Used as spread on bread (not flatbread).

4. Lutefisk
Made from cod. First dried, then soaked in lye. It needs careful boiling to give it a sort of gelatinous consistency. Overcooked, it simply dissolves.

Common part of the Christmas Eve dinner menu, especially on the West coast. Served with potatoes, vegetables and flatbread.

5. Raspeball
Many local names and varieties. Basic form consist of shredded potatoes, flour and milk, recompressed into lumps the size of tennis balls and then cooked.

Served with extra potatoes and mashed yellow turnip (Kålrot), and of course flatbread. Some serve Lutefisk and Raspeball together, even.

That's it, but please don't ask me for recipes...

Next in line is Canadian blogger Karen MEG at A Day in the life. She's a fast typist (90 words per minute - three times my speed), so I've got a fair bit of reading to do. But stay tuned. I'll do my best. :-)

08 February 2008

On a windy day

Again, I have failed (grin).
I should of course have spent that week-end photographing close to home, but the opportunity was there and I seized it. To the mountains I drove.

This is from a mountain road between Tolga and Drevsjø. A storm was passing on the coast out West. While the Eastern mountains are quite sheltered, they still get to feel the wind. I was just fascinated by the snowdrifts and the light.

Pentax K10D, Sigma EX 70-200/2.8
f/32, 1/500s, ISO 200.

06 February 2008

Slow day

This is written at a time when I shouldn't. There are at least a dozen other things to do; including picture-taking. But where to start?

It's a bit like cats that will, in situations where they don't really know what comes next, start licking themselves. Or birds pecking randomly at the ground while uncertain whether to stay or flee.

According to Wikipedia, a prime example from humans is head-scratching. Surprised they don't mention blogging.

"Displacement activity", they call it.

Nice term...

05 February 2008

Tarball errata

Curious about my "tarballs", I shot off an email to Kenneth Libbrecht (www.snowcrystals.com) to ask his opinion. He thinks they are not related to pollution at all.

"I see similar things quite frequently. I believe your blobs are simply water droplets that collided with the falling snow crystal."

And here I was, thinking I had a photo making a statement...

Oh, well...

01 February 2008


Nothing about Linux here, just a photo.

Right now, we have a decent winterstorm. Norwegians have since long ago adopted the American custom of giving names to storms, and the current one is called "Tuva". So far she's given us more than 20 cm snow in the garden, all in one day. Unfortunately she's too mild for producing any good looking crystals.

In the aftermath of a similar storm in January 2006, however, I captured the shot below. It was the best of a whole series, where all the crystals had at least one of those curious spheres attached to them. Those blobs stuck to the glass long after the crystal had evaporated, and were notoriously difficult to remove.

It speaks volumes about airborne pollution, doesn't it? :-(

Pentax *istD, 645A* 300/4 stacked with 645FA 75/2.8.
1.3s, f/22, ISO 200.