15 December 2009

Thoughs on photographic influences

I said I would have a break from blogging until Christmas. I was wrong. :-)

Thing is, I found a Swedish blogger posting about his 10 most inspiring nature photographers (link). I figured I should do my own list. If not for anything else, it would be a good excercise in recognising my own influences.

The first influence I can remember was the beacons of my first local camera club in Bergen, Bekkalokket fotoklubb. It is a club of very high quality, and it was both humbling and very inspiring to be part of it. Some of the people I remember are still active and still produce great stuff; Rune Fjæreide for his macros, particularly of dragonflies, and Roald Synnevåg and Tor Henning Olsen for their general interpretation of light. It's where I learned my basics; but had I stayed in Bergen I think I would have learned a lot more.

But I moved. Far out into the coastal countryside of Norway. This was in -95, and the web was just beginning to flourish with photographers presenting their images. Through the Pentax Discussion Mailing List (PDML) I found guys like Doug Brewer, Mark Roberts and Mark Cassino. Just as much as Bekkalokket was a warm, including and inspirational club in the physical world, PDML became the cyberspace counterpart for me.

I also joined the nearest photo club in Sandnes, but it was an hour's drive and a ferry ride away. Many good photographers there too, perhaps most notably John Sirevåg. but not the same intensity as in Bekkalokket.

In the same period I discovered Biofoto. When receiving the first issues of the member journal I was awestruck. Firstly, with the quality of the photos and the quality of the publication. Had it been in a larger market like USA, UK or Germany, the magazine would have sustained widespread circulation beyond the society's members. Secondly, I was struck by the close match between my own way of seeing and what I saw in the magazine. It was perhaps the single most inspirational event I have experienced. To discover that many other Norwegian photographers thought about nature in roughtly the same way as myself. It's futile to list names to represent Biofoto. Many of the most profiled Norwegian nature photographers have emerged through Biofoto. Some are still members, others have moved on. New photographers continue to emerge. So it continues to be a major source of inspiration. Check out the website and look at the gallery of images submitted by members.
My promotion of Norwegian photography is perhaps shameless. Writing in English and all. I guess it's a culture thing. Something I've previously alluded to (here) with regards to the Nordic countries, and also in a post about the emergence of the Pentax Photo Gallery and the persistence of the old Pentax Photo Annual -books. By the way, I remember it tickled my inspiration a lot when I realised how different aestethics are across the world. Maybe I'll be able to use that conciously some day.
This became a very long ramble. Thanks for reading it through.

11 December 2009

Gentoo jump

Pentax K-7, DA* 60-250/4
1/1500s, f/5.6, ISO 400, Processed on laptop
Click image for larger version

I have reached the bottom of the pile. That is, with this image, I have now posted one image from each day of photographing on the trip. It's prepared for blog on a laptop with screen of dubious quality, so I hope I've hit the ballpark in the post processing. At least the histogram looks good.
This string of images is a far cry from being representative for the trip. I have yet to finish the post-processing of all the files. From South Georgia, for example, there are hundreds of pics from every session, and on good days we had up to four of them. And also, I have already improved the rendering of many of the shots posted, so I must admit to have been too hasty. On the other hand, the self-appointed obligation to publish has forced me to work my images more than I otherwise would have. Without it, I wouldn't have begun the post processing until January, most likely.
I will now take a pause from posting to the blog until the week between Christmas and New Year. Hopefully I will then post some thoughts on the AF performance of the K-7, and maybe some other thoughts about the camera as well.

09 December 2009

Imperial Shag

Pentax K-7, DA*300/4
1/500s, f/5.6, ISO 200
Click image for larger version


The day after Deception Island, we made landing on the Antarctic Peninsula itself; at Paradise Bay, by the Argentine research station Almirante Brown. There was a colony of nesting Imperial Shags close by, and our Zodiac drivers didn't let us down. :-)

08 December 2009

Departing Chinstraps

Pentax K-7, DA* 60-250/4
1/180s, f/5.6, ISO 200
Click image for larger version


The day after negotiating the icebergs around Elephant Island, we turned into the broad Bransfield Strait separating the South Shetland Islands from the Antarctic Peninsula. We made stops at the Aitcho Islands first, and then at Deception Island. The latter is an active volcano, its last eruption was in the ninteen-sixties. In the area affected by this eruption is a large chinstrap penguin colony. It's rarely accessible, though, because it involves landing on an extremely exposed beach. As you can probably guess from the above pic, there wasn't much of a swell at all; we were once again lucky with the weather to allow us the landing, even if the sky was a dull overcast and not fit for the most amazing shots. The experience mattered most. :-)

07 December 2009

Chinstraps adrift


Pentax K-7, DA* 300/4
1/1000, f/9.5, ISO 400
click image for larger version

Two days out from South Georgia we passed North of Elephant Island. All day we encountered small and medium sized icebergs, some of which had passengers. Gentoo penguins, or as here, chinstrap penguins. The blue tones in the ice were just amazing. Scouts' honour and cross my heart, I have not increased saturation or colour vibrance in this shot. The only adjustments are to increase white balance by about 400K and use the curves tool to pull the shadows down a bit.

06 December 2009

Southern Fulmar

Pentax K-7, DA*60-250/4
1/1500s, f/5.6, ISO 400
Click image for larger version

The DA*60-250/4 zoom was by good margin the most used lens on my trip. Combined with the K-7 it's adequate for many wildlife action situations. Consider this one, for example. The autofocus was set to multi-segment, and as all AF systems it tend to prioritise the brightest elements in the frame. Yet it had the wits to stick to the bird.

That said, I think Pentax still has a way to go with their AF system. I notice the K-7 is a big leap forward compared to any previous AF camera from Pentax when it comes to track-focusing, but there's still a good gap up to Canon and Nikon in this respect. And Sony too. To get a sharp shot in a situation like the above, one has to expect a considerable number of mis-focused shots. There's a lot of variables, though. White birds against dark background gives a good hit rate. Lower the contrast, and Pentax bails out sooner than the others. Try to photograph brown birds against blue sea and you're lost with Pentax. I threw away 90% of my pictures of giant petrels in flight obtained under similar conditions.
But then again... The main key to successful photography is to know the strengths and weaknesses of your gear. The K-7 has a lot of strengths to show for itself. And I think I'm getting better at catching these critters as they fly by, too.

05 December 2009

Curious pup

An experience from Gold Harbour, South Georgia.


Pentax K-7, DA 14/2.8
1/90s, f/6.7, ISO 200
Click image for larger version


The infancy of elephant seals ends abruptly when the mothers wean them by leaving the beach. The pups linger for a while, and as hunger builds, so does their curiosity. They will eventually leave the beach on their own to figure out how to hunt, but in the meanwhile, tourists are apparently good entertainment for them.

We had a strict policy of not approaching the animals to less than 5 metres. Standing still, however, immediately made us targets of close scrutiny.

03 December 2009

fur seal at Godthul

Pentax K-7, DA*16-50/2.8
1/500s, f/5.6, ISO 200
Click image for larger version


Godthul was one whaling station that never got a cookery on land. Just a few sheds, a pier and access to freshwater. Human activity must have been less abrasive on vegetation here, because the Tussock grass has reclaimed all of the area and many male fur seals defend it as theirs.

02 December 2009

Sunrise, St. Andrew's Bay



Pentax K-7, DA* 16-50/2.8
1/125s, f/6.3, ISO 200
Click image for larger version

Still from South Georgia, one of our early morning landings. Also one of the most productive landings in terms of pictures taken. I still need time to sort this one through.

01 December 2009

Prince Olav Harbour


Pentax K-7, DA* 16-50/2.8
1/640s, f/8, ISO 200
Click image for larger version

Prince Olav Harbour was an old whaling station estabished by South-African whalers. It changed hands a couple of times, and was eventually abandoned in the thirties. Most usable equipment were relocated to other stations. Now all rust and wreckage, we were not allowed ashore lest the ruins collapsed on us.

30 November 2009

South Georgia; Salisbury Plain


Pentax K-7, DA*16-50/2.8
1/180s, f/7.1, ISO 200
Click image for larger version

Salisbury Plain was our first stop at South Georgia. We had been warned about how the weather could change abruptly, and it certainly did. More than once. We experienced two blizzards in four hours, with blue sky and still air between. I chose this picture to represent the place because I think it captures a bit of both.

29 November 2009

Birdwatcher

Pentax K-7, FA-77/1.9 ltd.
1/200s, f/16, ISO 200
Click image for larger version
It's a fair bit to travel between the Falklands and South Georgia. Those of us signed up for the general photographic interest roamed the deck every now and then, if the light looked good from the lounge. The birdwatchers, on the other hand, spent as much time on deck as they could. Apart from a passionate interest for birds, they must have the patience of saints.


I brought the FA 77 because I wanted to have one fast prime in my bag. This was the only time I used it.

28 November 2009

Black-browed Albatross

Pentax K-7, DA* 300/4
Metz 58 AF-1, BetterBeamer
1/180s, f/9.0, ISO 400
Click image for larger version

There were always birds around the ship. Cape- and Giant petrels, mostly, but also this handsome albatros. Captured at dusk, just East of the Falklands.

27 November 2009

Rockhopper at Saunders Island


Pentax K-7, DA*300/4
1/250s, f/8, ISO 200
Click image for larger version
Saunders Island is also in the Western Falklands. Our first penguin rendezvous, we got to see Gentoo penguins, and these guys, the punks among penguins. Their rookery was high up on a cliff some 50 meters above the beach, living up to their name as they passed between feeding and nesting.

25 November 2009

Carcass Island

Currently in transit at Terminal 5 on Heathrow with nothing better to do, I figured I might as well start the picture flood. I will present one pic from each of our landings, or from our passage of the seas where I was fit for photography.

On our first landing at Carcass Island (West Falklands) we had bright sunshine and balmy temperatures. Beautiful start to the trip. Spring was bursting all over the place, with the usual compliment of seasonal activities performed by the local wildlife. And they weren't shy about it either!



Pentax K-7, DA* 60-250/4 at 250mm,
1/1000s, f/7.1, ISO 400
Click image for larger version

24 November 2009

Buenos Aires again

Just a quick note.


First of all, many, many thanks to all of you who have read my blog; and all the more to those who bothered to leave a comment! This is the first time I've had the occasion to see them, and it really warms my heart! Even the shake-up from Maritimtim on seasickness! :-)


To my defence, in that department, I can brag about NOT having been seasick at all across the Drake passage! Despite ocean swells comparable to those that knocked me flat to and fro South Georgia. It seems my system is gradually, ever so gradually, getting used to being at sea.


Actually, as we anchored up outside Ushuaia waiting for the pilot to take us to harbour, I was wondering how much "residue" the ocean swells would leave in my organism when back on solid ground. I guess I will find out for sure tonight when my head hits the pillow, but so far I haven't noticed anything. Much to my surprise. ;-)


Ushuaia is a town that puzzled me. It shares the building style of Buenos Aires, which means that it's a pretty strange conglomerate of ramshackle tin-roofed build-as-you-go houses, and fancy modern stuff. And of course yesteryear's modern stuff; in a variety of states of maintenance. The concept of neighbourhoods does not seem to exist, though. Shacks and middle-class houses may stand wall to wall. The approach to choice of coloring on the house walls seemed also rather haphazard. We saw a B&B, for example, with details in oiled oak and green-painted concrete. And we counted at least 3 distinct varieties of green, ranging from the matte colour of avocado meat to the juicy greens of lime rind.


Tonight we were honeypotted (sorry about verbing) to another tourist trap; a beef restaurant with a live show of the history of Tango. Wine was included, and so it was that I, after nearly a whole bottle of Argentinian Red, tried my hand at stage photography. My mind was blurred (a bit clearer now, thank you), and my pictures got blurred. Most of them anyway. I think I managed to isolate a couple of moments; judging from the rear screen of the camera. Might be worth a blog post after all.


Tomorrow is leisurly; at least compared to some of our schedules on the boat, we only need to be ready for going to the airport at 10:00 AM. A fifteen hour flight to London awaits. Then another couple of hours to get to Oslo; which we'll reach around 16:30 wednesday afternoon. Boy, it will be good to get home.


Thanks again to all of you who have bothered to read my ramblings, I promise I will respond to each of the comments in turn when I get back home.


In the meanwhile, here's a pic I meant to post from the Falklands, but which would never upload through the crappy link. Taken from the whale safari off the Valdez peninsula, Argentina:




Pentax K-7, DA*60-250/4
1/250s, f/8, ISO 400
Click image for larger version

20 November 2009

Towards conclusion

Today is our final day in Antarctica. As advertised in the previous
post, we got up at 05:00 and went ashore to yet another Gentoo penguin
colony. I had my doubts about going this time. There are limits to how
many ways one can photograph a penguin. Or more penguins. We got the
full reportoire a long time ago already; fighting Gentoo penguins,
courting Gentoo penguins, mating Gentoo penguins, swimming Gentoo
Penguins... Closeups, group shots, animal-in-environment shots, you name
it. The Gentoos are ubiquitous; we have encountered them at nearly every
landing site on the Falklands, South Georgia and around the Peninsula.

Yet, Neko Harbour turned out to offer some unique possibilities. The
rookery is situated right beside a glacier, on a moraine ridge that has
quite deep snow all the way down to the beach. There are only a few
places where the penguins can actually get in and out of the water, and
at times there is a lot of bird traffic coming past. It was a treat to
just sit down and watch them transit from one element to another. I even
remembered that my camera has video capabilities, and did some
recordings. Not fit for public scrutiny, though. Don't expect to see any
videos posted on this blog.

Breakfast was waiting when we got back to the ship. Then we sailed
through another narrow stretch called Gerlache Strait, to make the final
landing at Cuverville Island. Access to the beach was blocked by ice,
however, so the guides made an ad hoc decision to go for another zodiac
cruise among the intensely blue icebergs. As we cruised along the stony
shore of Cuverville Island, past yet another Gentoo penguin rookery, we
noticed that there were unusually many birds in the water, swimming
together like a swarm. When at the surface they made the water boil. As
if on cue, they would all disappear, and resurface some distance away.
We paused to look at this for a while, and suddenly the cause of their
behaviour emerged. A leopard seal was hunting along the beach. The seal
got curious about the zodiacs and checked us out.

By fortunate accident, my 77mm polafilter is stuck in the thread of my
14mm lens at the moment. I had decided I wanted to use a polariser for
pictures of underwater ice, and so the 14mm was mounted on one camera
instead of the more general-purpose DA* 16-50mm. For the Leopard seal
encounter the 14mm was a better deal. That's how close we got.

Fantastic experience.

At the moment we're leaving Antarctica for the Drake passage. We have
been told to pack away all loose items and apply remedies for
seasickness as needed; it seems we're in for some rough weather towards
Ushuaia.

Indeed, I had to enter the bridge to post this, that's where the
satellite connected computer is, and I don't wish to do that again in a
hurry.

Unless I get some idle time in either Ushuaia or Buenos Aires, this will
probably be my last blogpost until getting back to Norway. It's been
three amazing weeks. So many amazing places, and so many nice people.

Truly a fantastic experience.

Antarctica Proper

This morning started with passage through the Neumayer Channel. A
stretch of fjord with spectacular mountains and glaciers on both sides.
Some of us even skipped breakfast to see this. For the first time we
also met another tourist ship. A vessel larger than ours, somewhere
between luxury yacht and full-blown cruiseliner. Very sobering
correction to our sense of proportions, making the nature experience all
the more humbling.

Just after this encounter I sneaked into the kitchen and begged some
food. As I was just finishing a bowl of cereals, our guides announced
arrival at Port Lockroy in a few minutes. No rest for the busy tourist.
:-)

Port Lockroy is a small British station where they run only one
scientific experiment. The station is build on a small island that hosts
a Gentoo Penguin colony. Half the island has been fenced off; allowing
the station crew to study the effect of tourism on the penguins.

To lure the tourists into this experiment (ie. a genuine Tourist Trap!),
the British Antarctic Survey has made a museum of the whole station,
restored into a snapshot of what it was like in its heyday in the
nineteen-fifties. It is also possible to have one's passport stamped,
and buy a variety of souvernirs. All major credit cards accepted.

In total, the station attracts around 30.000 tourists every season. And
though nobody explicitly told me so, I got a distinct feeling that this
little business is doing a good job of funding other research activities
for the British Antarctic Survey.

The penguins seemed quite satisfied with the arrangement too. According
to the staff, the breeding success is slightly higher in the tourist
zone. The suspected cause is that skuas are more intimidated by tourists
than are the penguins, and so leave the eggs and chicks in the tourist
zone alone. This sounds quite puzzling to us, because skuas have been
quite ignorant of our presence at other landings.

Our second outing for the day took place in "Paradise Bay". It's a name
I have been unable to locate on any online map, but it refers to the
fjords around the Argentinian Brown base. There are several glaciers
feeding into this bay, leaving the waters full of little icebergs.
Apparently the sea ice had recently broken up too, because there were
also thousands of small and larger flakes of sheet ice floating around.

Into these waters we were taken on a "zodiac-cruise". Zig-zagging
between the icebergs was amazing. There was no wind and only partly
clouded. Excellent weather for shooting ice in water. With a
polarisation filter it was amazing how much submerged detail we could
discern through the crystal-clear water. And what colours. The shades of
blue and green were almost otherworldly.

In fact, a thought about these colours have nagged me ever since this
morning in the Neumayer Channel. It is said that many people who travel
the polar regions are infected with a sort of "polar bug" that makes
them go back time after time. Today's visual impressions has made me
wonder if it isn't the colours themselves that are infectious. Some
imperative quality of the light itself. I already fear I may have caught
that bug.

But I digress. The landing at Brown base was the first touch of the
Antarctic continent itself. The Argentinians were not at home, but a
host of Gentoo penguins played caretakers. By now, I feel more or less
saturated on penguin photography, but I still think they are some of the
funniest animals in the world to watch. How they come swimming like
little torpedoes between the ice flakes, and use their swimming speed to
get out of the water in their stride, running for the first couple of
steps to brake down. And then the clumsy looking walk with
characteristic swing of the head and wings straight out to the sides to
keep their balance. If you sit still, they will ignore you unless you
are in a straight path between the penguin and its destination. If you
are, it will stop at two meters' distance and consider. What exactly
their bird brains do consider is a mystery, but apparently it takes a
long time to figure out the options. In most cases the bird will just
walk around. However in deep snow they make regular paths, or "highways"
as our guide calls them, that they do not lightly abandon. We had to
take care not to trample all over such paths at times. Fortunately they
are easily distinguishable by the pink remnants of digested krill...

Tomorrow we will rise at 05:00 for another landing on the Peninsula, so
I better get this posted and hit the pillow. It's 21:15 ship time, and
I'm just about finished taking backup of the afternoon's 700 images.

18 November 2009

Live report from South Hebrides

This post is made just to get a hands-on description of how we are
doing.

I am standing on the front deck with the laptop resting on some metal
structure. Almost everyone is out, and PolarQuest is handing out beers
or soft drinks. We are cruising along the Southwest side of the South
Hebrides in bright sunlight and nearly flat sea. Temperature is an
amazing five celsius above zero. My hands get a little cold as I write
this, but not really impairing my typing speed. But please allow for
more typos than usual. :-)

This morning we made another successful landing; the Aitcho Island was
another fascinating closeup with Antarctic wildlife. Gentoo and
Chinstrap penguins for most part. What was new this time was that the
animals came ashore just where we landed, so we got all the images we
could wish for, of penguins in water.

One of the guides just interrupted, calling our attention to feeding
gentoos swimming just in front of the ship. I got a few shots before
they vanished.

The landscape gliding past on our right hand side is spectacular.
Glaciers and nunataks, sometimes with icebergs just broken off, or with
visible moraines towards a bit of beach. All the mountains are jagged
and sharp; adding to a feeling of majestic desolation.

Okay; now my fingers _are_ getting cold. :-)

But I couldn't pass the opportunity.

Icebergs and whales

The following was written yesterday, 17. November:

After completing my previous post, something interesting DID turn up.
Today we got to see the humpback whales. They played around the sides of
the ship; we could see their white bellies down in the water. They
surfaced occasionally to breathe, but no spectacular jumps. Our guides
are puzzled by their presence, because they have a long way to swim from
the breeding grounds in more tropical areas. Normally they do not arrive
in Antarctic waters until the turn of the year. This brings our total
whale sightings list up to four species. We saw the Right Whale in
Argentina, Hourglass Dolphins on the leg between Falklands and South
Georgia, fin whales yesterday, and today the humpbacks. Today we also
encountered the first really big icebergs. Big as in more volume than
our ship above the water line. Man those structures are awesome.

On many of the icebergs there are chinstrap penguins chilling out. They
bring the total penguin species count up to five; Gentoo, Rockhopper,
King, Macaroni and Chinstrap. The Adelie penguins have not shown
themselves yet, but I expect they will turn up further South.

Whenever I have seen pictures of icebergs, I have always thought the
blueishness of the ice was a Photoshop construct. It is therefore doubly
stunning to see the actual blueness of the icebergs. Especially close to
the waterline. Must be something about how the light is reflected from
the ice below the waterline, onto the parts we see. Together with the
sheer dimensions of the icebergs it's awesome. Beyond awesome.

Just before dinner, when going through the captures from this morning, I
had a hard time deleting any of the images at all. Even mediocre images
are kept. The landscapes just so blows me away that I can't find the
heart to delete them. But heck, I have already weeded pretty well in the
collection, so I would have to shoot 10.000 images a day for the rest of
the trip to exceed my storage capacity.

Just after dinner, most of us rushed back on the deck to photograph
icebergs in the sideways light of sunset. It was a beautiful sunset in
its own right, but the floating chunks of ice turned even more blue. It
may well be the most stunning sunset I have ever seen. The captain is
performing some kind of ballet with the icebergs, dodge one, swing
around another, and still keeping between 10 and 12 knots. Fortunately
the sea is nearly flat and with no winds. We are indeed on a lucky
streak weatherwise.

The plan for tomorrow is to land at Aitcho Island in the South Hebrides,
receive a crash course in snowshoe walking, and go for a hike to another
penguin colony. If the weather stays like this it will be just a stroll.

Fingers crossed.

Another day at sea

After completing my previous post, something interesting DID turn up.
Today we got to see the humpback whales. They played around the sides of
the ship; we could see their white bellies down in the water. They
surfaced occasionally to breathe, but no spectacular jumps. Our guides
are puzzled by their presence, because they have a long way to swim from
the breeding grounds in more tropical areas. Normally they do not arrive
in Antarctic waters until the turn of the year. This brings our total
whale sightings list up to four species. We saw the Right Whale in
Argentina, Hourglass Dolphins on the leg between Falklands and South
Georgia, fin whales yesterday, and today the humpbacks. Today we also
encountered the first really big icebergs. Big as in more volume than
our ship above the water line. Man those structures are awesome.

On many of the icebergs there are chinstrap penguins chilling out. They
bring the total penguin species count up to five; Gentoo, Rockhopper,
King, Macaroni and Chinstrap. The Adelie penguins have not shown
themselves yet, but I expect they will turn up further South.

Whenever I have seen pictures of icebergs, I have always thought the
blueishness of the ice was a Photoshop construct. It is therefore doubly
stunning to see the actual blueness of the icebergs. Especially close to
the waterline. Must be something about how the light is reflected from
the ice below the waterline, onto the parts we see. Together with the
sheer dimensions of the icebergs it's awesome. Beyond awesome.

Just before dinner, when going through the captures from this morning, I
had a hard time deleting any of the images at all. Even mediocre images
are kept. The landscapes just so blows me away that I can't find the
heart to delete them. But heck, I have already weeded pretty well in the
collection, so I would have to shoot 10.000 images a day for the rest of
the trip to exceed my storage capacity.

Just after dinner, most of us rushed back on the deck to photograph
icebergs in the sideways light of sunset. It was a beautiful sunset in
its own right, but the floating chunks of ice turned even more blue. It
may well be the most stunning sunset I have ever seen. The captain is
performing some kind of ballet with the icebergs, dodge one, swing
around another, and still keeping between 10 and 12 knots. Fortunately
the sea is nearly flat and with no winds. We are indeed on a lucky
streak weatherwise.

The plan for tomorrow is to land at Aitcho Island in the South Hebrides,
receive a crash course in snowshoe walking, and go for a hike to another
penguin colony. If the weather stays like this it will be just a stroll.

Fingers crossed.

17 November 2009

Towards Antarctica

We hit the ocean swells again after leaving South Georgia. And again I
got knocked out flat with seasickness. Scopolamin patch to no avail; I
have had another 36 hours doing nothing but to lie as still as possible.

It's a bit of comfort, though, that many of the other passengers are
going through the same. I may be a chicken, but not the only chicken...
:-)

By the time of posting, we have covered most of the distance between
South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula. We are currently heading for
Elephant Island, but with little hope of actually getting ashore
bedcause of the sea ice. We have the huge advantage of having another
ship ahead of us, that can report on ice conditions before we get there.

Even if we don't make a landing on the island, there's a good chance of
seeing whales along the edge of the ice, so we keep our fingers crossed
for another good nature experience.

During a recap and debrief of our days at South Georgia, we learned that
our luck with the weather is almost unprecedented. We made landings at a
total of 9 sites; and one of the guides even got a first-time landing on
one of the more exclusive sites; featuring Macaroni Penguins, among
other things.

As of now, the ocean swells have either dampened down, or alternatively,
my brain has been sufficiently dampened down not to notice. Anyways,
there are many people out on deck photographing icebergs while hoping to
catch a glimpse of a whale or two.

I can't wait to start posting images from this trip. Hopefully I can
convey some of the sense of wonder from being here.

Oh, and someone mentioned in the passing that this is the very ship that
Michael Reichmann from the Luminous Landscape website travelled on a
couple of years ago. I relay this information just to give you a hint of
how used they are to accommodate for the wishes of photographers.
Yesterday we got a good example of their understanding for our desires
when they turned the ship to follow a group of whales for a while, in
hope of getting some good shots. The whales however, were busy and hard
to track, so eventually we gave up. But it was very kind of the captain
to try anyway.

More later, now I wish to join my fellow passengers on deck, in case
something interesting turns up.

14 November 2009

South Georgia

South Georgia has, after its own fashion, given us a warm welcome!
Surely, we have had showers of snow and katabastic wind-attacks, but
every beach landing so far has been smooth, and we've had more sunshine
than clouds. The experiences will be etched on my mind forever. The
wandering albatross and its half-grown offspring at Prion Island. The
king penguins, elephant seals and fur seals at Salisbury plains and St.
Andrew's bay, and the old ruins of the whaling station at Prince Olav
bay. At the latter we were not permitted on shore, however, because the
buildings are in such a condition that they may fold like a card house
over any visitor careless enough to just sneeze.

Not sure I'm able to put down a lot of words to describe these events
yet. They are all grand, both on geographical, emotional and
photographic scale. From the last 36 hours I have obtained about 20000
images. I haven't had time to do anything but to just store them on the
computer and make backups.

Oh, yes, and one more thing; geotagging the images by matching them with
the log from my little GPS unit. The job has just insinuated itself into
my workflow, and it seems like the most natural thing of the world to do
by now. It's just a few clicks to harvest the data from the GPS and
store it. Then another few clicks with GeoSetter to match the log with
the images. Works every time!

I have also experimented a little with the video functionality of K-7.
More on that later, when I begin to make heads and tails of it.

Further, I have also FINALLY got around to use a good-quality sound
recorder I bought 3 years ago. I have made recordings of the somewhat
obscene sounds of elephant seals, and the all together puzzling sounds
of the king penguins and their chicks.

To visit Grytviken was also quite an experience. The place is simple
enough to tour, there are only a few stops. Ernest Shackletons grave,
the whaling museum, the church, the old derelict buildings and stranded
ships from the whale industry, and the recently opened hydropower plant.
And the souvernir shop, of course, where I bought an obligatory "been
there" t-shirt and some christmas presents. The bill was paid by credit
card, which gave a certain feeling of paradox; being so far, far away
from anywhere else and yet pay with plastic money.

We still have one day left here before heading towards the Antarctic
Peninsula. The landing tomorrow will (most likely) be our only chance to
see Macaroni penguins. Fingers crossed it works out.

10 November 2009

Days at sea

North-westerly winds have nudged us in the back all the way from the
Falklands towards South Georgia. The ship has been making roughly 13
knots, and our guides are pleased to remind us, often, that it will mean
more time ashore at South Georgia.

At the time of writing we have had just over 50 hours at sea since we
left the Falklands. A lot of time has been spent weeding the pictures
from the beaches at Falklands, and subsequently assigning keywords and
making backups. The most convenient place for these activites is of
course the ship's lounge, where we also get to glance enviously at each
other's captures and exchange experiences from the various shoots. Some
of us have also spent a few hours on deck, photographing seabirds as
they zoom past in their search for food surfacing in the wake of the
ship. Albatrosses, petrels and so on. Don't ask me to recognise those
species yet, they all look like some kinda fulmar to me. But it's great
practice to have a go. The DA*300/4 lens is seeing a lot of work, as
does the Metz flash and the BetterBeamer. The latter is really doing
wonders for the effective flash range, and enables me to shoot images I
would definately have missed without. It also opens for some creative
flash photograpy. I will pursue this as my stomach allows; my
seasickness has begun stirring again. It feels a bit unfair, because my
roommate is having a great time. Apparently completely unaffected. I
applied another patch of scopolamin a couple of hours ago, but I'm still
not good. Have to lie down frequently to calm the system.

Yesterday our ship was accompanied by a flock of Hourglass dolphins for
nearly 20 minutes. They made beautifully gracious jumps along the side
of the ship, sometimes two or three together, and all of them in
suitably photogenic distance from the ship. However, again I fumbled.
Just like on the whale safari at the Valdez peninsula. Seems like me an
whales don't go well together. All my dolphin shots came out slightly
blurred because my shutter speeds weren't short enough. Grrr...

A few hours ago we passed Shag Rock, a set of jagged peaks protruding
out of the sea in the middle of nowhere. Coloured by guano and inhabited
by thousands, it was indeed a Shag's rock. Our guides were very pleased
to have the opportunity to sail close by, explaining that this point is
normally passed after nightfall. The favourable winds are credited for
this one too.

As of now, our preparations for landing at South Georgia have begun. We
have been instructed to vacuum-clean all outer garments we intend to
bring ashore, as well as all photobags and other equipment that may
become exposed to the island's soil. We will also have to scrub our
boots thoroughly in a disinfecting liquid before setting foot on the
island. Their hope is that these precautions will keep foreign seeds,
micro-organisms and insects from spreading into the ecosystem. It's
tedious work, and with only two vacuum cleaners and over 40 passengers,
it's quite a queue to get it done.

If you have read this far, it might now occur to you that I'm babbling
about trivial and rather insignificant things. You would be right. I'm
bored. :-)

And looking forward to seeing South Georgia tomorrow.

08 November 2009

The Falklands

Since the previous post we have moved a long way. The trip has taken turns, both for the worse and for the better. I will take the better first and last, and mention the worse in the middle.
Our next stop after Buenos Aires was Puerto Madryn. A harbour city of 100.000 people situated by the bay Golfo Nuevo. A dusty place at our time there, and probably most of the time. The Argentinian steppe goes all the way down to the ocean, and doesn't even allow a sliver of greener country towards the beach. There are long, shallow beaches everywhere, and the harbour of Puerto Madryn is just two long piers erected far into the water.

After a very short night in a Madryn hotel, we were stirred at 5:00 AM, stacked into a bus at 6:00 AM and hauled along around the Golfo Nuevo to a place called Puerto Piramides. Like Madryn, it wasn't much of a Puerto, but nonetheless the starting point for all official whale safaris in the area. Unlike Madryn, the Piramides is situated within the nature park of the Valdez peninsula; a UNESCO world heritage area with strict regulations on tourism. Strict as in "No camping outside designated areas" and "No walking outside of marked paths". Yet there are sheep ranches in the area, and most if not all land is private property with fences to restrict the movements of sheep.

The whale safari was no disappointment. We were on the water for a couple of hours, watching the social interplay between a Right Whale mother and her calf. Photographically I fumbled a lot and got back with mostly useless images. The swaying boat, the constant competition for the best spot to photograph from, and the unfamiliar behaviour of the subjects all contributed to confuse the hell out of me. But I think I got a couple that will survive posting on the blog when I get the chance.

After the whale safari and a short visit to a Magellan penguin colony, we boarded the expedition ship, and left Argentina in the afternoon. Some time after dark we got caught up in strong winds and big, rolling waves. I don't remember much of it. Slept my way through the first night and most of the following day, dozed through the second night and spent the second morning finally emptying my stomach. Not much to let go of, but it released the tension for a while each time. The ship's doctor patched me up with a scopolamin plaster, and it seems to work. Much to my surprise.

At the time of writing we have arrived at the Falklands. First stop was Carcass Island, where we were invited to tea by the local residents. I skipped that, in favour of photographing a plethora of bird species that weren't really afraid of humans at all. Got lots of nice bird portraits. Took some landscape shots too, but the light wasn't the best for that.

Second stop at the Falklands was Saunders Island, with penguin colonies aplenty. Rockhoppers, King, and Gentoo penguins. Skuas, cormorants and albatrosses were also present and photogenic.

Right now it's Sunday morning, I'm sitting in the lounge at the Malvina hotel in Port Stanley, accessing Internet through a local wireless hotspot that I had to pay outrageously much to get access to. But it's cheaper than the satellite phone text-only option onboard the ship anyway. I have tried to upload some images, but the outgoing bandwidth of the connection is too small, I don't get them through.

03 November 2009

Buenos Aires

First leg of the trip has gone smoothly.


Well... - As smoothly as a 13 hour flight can go, for a man that barely fit between the seat rows of a British Airways Jumbo jet. It's been a touristy, eventful day. And kinda long. We have traversed 4 timezones since Oslo, and though my watch says 22:00, my body insists that it's about 02:00, and bedtime much overdue. I suspect my grammar will confirm this... :-)


Buenos Aires is a city easy to like for a European. It looks like Portugal. Or Spain. Or Italy. Depends whom you ask. But it looks like no other too. And people are slightly more laid back that I have experienced them in, say, Lisbon, Milano or Palermo (unfortunately I've never been to Spain). This afternoon my room-mate, Per, and I sneaked around and did some street shooting. One motif we both found was this young lady making a phone call. Dunno if she missed her car, but the sign was too well juxtaposed to pass up.



Tomorrow we'll start early and head for a wetland reserve practically inside the city. According to our guide we will spend a couple of hours there shooting wildlife, before heading to the airport for the last airborne leg, to Trelew airport. From there we will go by bus to Puerto Madryn, deliver the luggage to the expedition ship, and go on a whale safari with a smaller boat.


18 October 2009

The location challenge

Antarctica is a place where relatively few geographical features are named. Many of the names are also disputed because explorers from different countries have assigned different names, so what's "official" will depend on who you ask.
So I figured the safest way of keywording landscapes from this trip would be to assign geographic coordinates. Geotagging. Much like the way I've used my Garmin heart rate monitor, I assumed. Just log the positions, upload to computer and match with images based on time. It shouldn't be much harder than to make sure the clocks of the GPS and the camera are synchronised, right?
:-)

Right. Step one: buy a cheap GPS logger with long battery life. This one looked good, a GlobalSat DG-100.

When it arrived at my house, I realised the software did not support 64-bit Vista. Fortunately, after a bit of googling, I found that the obstacle was actually the USB driver, which could be downloaded from the USB component's manufacturer, Prolific. Link here.

Latest version of the GlobalSat software can be downloaded from the GlobalSat product link above. It's pretty amateurish but do the job I want it to. An open-source alternative also exists at SourceForge, if you'd like to try something else. Link to DGmanager .NET.

The only thing I use this software for is to collect the GPS data-log from the unit, and save it as a file on my desktop. Both programs support the Garmin *.gpx format, which is what I prefer at the moment.

Next, I dug around for a program that would match the GPS data with my images. There are lots of tools out there, but not many that support raw files. I chose GeoSetter, which is a very decent piece of freeware. I also found a LightRoom plugin that seem to work, but I get a bit confused about the author's explanations of "shadow data", so I have steered clear of this.

The total workflow seems now to end up something like this:
1. Turn the GPS on before going out for the day, and make sure the clocks of the GPS and camera are in synch.
2. Happy snapping.
3. Upload GPS data to PC and save as *.gpx
4. Upload images to PC. In my case also import to LightRoom.
5. Run GeoSetter on uploaded images
6. Reload metadata from files in LightRoom.
7. Further processing and backup.

11 October 2009

The packing challenge

Photographic equipment is typical carry-on luggage. The callenge is to fit all the gear into a bag or case that meets the maximum size limit for the airline. Here's the list of things that must fit into my bag:

  • FA* 600mm f/4
  • DA* 300mm f/4
  • DA* 60-250mm f/4
  • DA* 16-50mm f/2.8
  • DA 14mm f/2.8
  • one K-7 with vertical grip
  • one K-7 without grip
  • Metz 58 AF-1 flash
  • 14" laptop
  • portable disks for backup
  • A few chargers and power supplys
The physical dimensions of the 600mm is of course the biggest challenge. The largest diameter is 23 cm, and it's nearly 49 cm long, including lens caps.

I was quite optimistic at first, because there actually are a couple of photobag solutions that will hold a 600mm and, according to the marketing, fit into the overhead lockers in airplanes. The ThinkTank Airport Security v2 is one such example. It's built specifically to meet the limits for domestic flights in USA.

USA limits, however, are far more generous than elsewhere in the world. Check the wording on American Airlines' website for example. ThinkTank also acknowledge this, and recommend their "international" model for flights outside US. But it doesn't hold a 600mm.

My heart sank a bit, but based on previous experience with various European airlines I decided that I'll probably get away with the USA version anyway, and shelled out the money. Since then I've even brought it from Oslo to London and back with two different airlines without trouble, so my confidence grew. But my upcoming trip will also involve domestic flights in Argentina, so I felt I had to check the allowance there too. Just in case.

That's what I should have checked first. Aerolineas Argentinas have even stricter rules for the size of carryons. 55 x 35 x 25 cm. The good news is that a 600mm will, in principle, fit within these limits. The bad news is that no photo bag exists that makes the most of these particular volume restrictions.

My best answer is an ordinary soft-walled carryon bag from Carlton. It's slightly over the limit on paper, but in practice a tight fit. And the 600mm fits neatly inside.

And bless Pentax for supplying pouches with their lenses. In airports and planes, those pouches are sufficient as padding between the items. With all the lenses separated by pouches, I'll wrap some clothes around the cameras and the laptop, dress up the 600mm in its rain cover, and that's it. I test-packed today and it looks really good. I could even sneak in my passport and a couple of dollar bills.

And I will just have to hope that nobody wants to check the weight of the thing...

01 October 2009

Where birds don't fly

Pentax *istD, FA* 400/5.6, tripod
1/150s, f/11, ISO 200

Figured I might as well go public on where I'm headed on that ship mentioned in the previous post.

I'll be seeing a lot of penguins in November. Not the species above, which is native to Chile and Peru, but lots of others. Starting from Argentina, we'll go by the Falklands, South Georgia and the South Orkney Islands to the Antarctic Peninsula. The travel agent is a Swedish company called PolarQuest, and the ship is a refurbished ice breaker taking 50 passengers.

I have dreamed of a trip like this for years. The booking was made half a year ago, but the reality of it hasn't begun to really dawn on me until now. The practical preparations has begun, the packing list made and revised several times over the last week.

The subtitle of this blog is "an attempt at photography close to home". I am, once again, failing spectacularly in my attempts. But it would be futile to deny that this make me tick, this kind of adventure, this kind of opportunity to see. The penguins may not fly. I feel like I already do.

28 September 2009

Words alone (test)

In November I will be without web-access for most of the month. I will be on a ship with a satellite link that allows text-only emails, once a day. That's what this test is about; to post to the blog via email.

It's a shame I'll be unable to post pictures while on the go, but I promise I'll pester you with them when I get back. :-)

24 September 2009

Frosty Morning

Pentax K-7, DA*60-250/4, tripod
1/400s, f/6.3, ISO 400
Click image for larger version

Still from the canoe trip. Temperature dropped just below zero one night. At sunrise there was a thin layer of frost on everything, and the water steamed because of being slightly warmer than the air.

23 September 2009

Along the river

Pentax K-7, DA* 16-50/2,8
1/160s, f/8, ISO 400
Click image for larger version

22 September 2009

Autumn tradition

It must be called tradition by now. Nearly every year I go to Rendalssølen to photograph autumn colours. That's how it started out, anyway. The first experience made me want to go back. And so did the second experience, when I did go back. This was the fifth time I returned, and it won't be the last if I can help it.
For two years now, I have had my eye on a watershed in a broad valley, right in the heart of the area, and have been wondering whether it would be traversable by canoe.
Long story short, it is.
And quite probably the most beautiful stretch of canoeing I have ever done. Quiet, meandering rivers and streams, wide wetlands with birds and beavers. All the animals were very shy and difficult photographic subjects. I will keep that in mind for later, but for now I'm content with the harvest of landscape shots I got this time. I will post a couple as I get around to process them.
Here's one shot from the first evening's campsite, the title is the name of the lake.

Pentax K-7, DA*16-50/2.8 at 50mm
1/4s, f/16, ISO 200, tripod.
Click image for larger version

.

17 September 2009

Ops...

It's been a month since the last post.
There's been very little photography lately, except a good gathering with friends in Greenwich last week-end. A whole lot of other stuff has happened, though, and my anticipation is rising before a Big Event in November.
Tomorrow, however, there will be a small event. It's time for the yearly trip to Rendalssølen, my favourite spot in the Norwegian mountains. There should be a good dash of colour up there now, and the weather forecast looks half decent.
Fingers crossed that I'll catch something to show for myself when I return.

16 August 2009

Metz flash experiements

My Pentax AF 540-FGZ may have been broken for some time without my noticing. I realise that now, after a few sessions with my new Metz flash. In a previous post I mentioned how easily flash photography leaves me confused, but maybe it hasn't been all my fault after all.

In a friend's wedding a week ago, the exposures made with the Metz were far less confusing than my previous flash sessions. And so are the results for macro, it seems.

However a reliable flash is not the only factor adding improvement. Combined with a A* 200/4 macro, the K20D tended to underexpose by 1 or 2 stops. The K-7 is much closer to the mark.

So again, as it always ends up, the weakest link my technique. I really don't like the specular highlights in the fly's carpace below. And my skill at approaching the subject is still weak; not to mention that I still jump with suprise every time that snap-in focus triggers the camera. :-)

07 August 2009

2469

Today I am particularly proud of my family. Yesterday we hiked to the summit of Norway's highest mountain, Galdhøpiggen, 2469 meters above sea level. Not a terribly big feat in itself, but considering who's involved, the achievement is quite monumental. I see no reason not to brag for people I love. :-)



The summit is the rightmost peak in the background. Over the last two decades, it has changed from a remote and majestic peak to something reachable by any old flatlander on a one-day hike. Under surveillance of a guide, that is, because the shorter route goes across a glacier with many nasty crevices.

The glacier covers roughly one third of the distance to the peak, and we crossed it single-file, tied together with ropes. I hope the images below convey some of the mood from the glacier, with multiple teams crossing simultaneously.



At the summit it was rather crowded, but I got a clean shot of the guy below. A posture that was far from unique up there, but interesting nonetheless.


All pics with Pentax K-7 and FA 43mm f/1.9 ltd. Post-processing done on a laptop with screen of dubious quality.

01 August 2009

Sigma flash woes

Since my Pentax AF 540-FGZ flash began acting up a couple of weeks ago, I've been considering other flashes to replace it. Both Sigma and Metz have alternatives sporting the same functionality and output power. Today I gave in to the shopping lust and grabbed a Sigma EF-530 DG Super, which was a good 500 NOK (90 USD, 50 Euro/GBP) cheaper than the Metz.

Well at home, I subjected the flash to some tests. Exposure looked nice on both K20D and K-7 and P-TTL seemed to work as it should. But alas.

As you know P-TTL actually requires two blinks for each press of the shutter button. One blink to meter, one to expose the shot. So the flash needs to be sufficiently charged for two blinks before communicating "ready" to the camera. The Sigma reports "ready" when charge is sufficient for one blink. Which means that the camera can be fooled into metering for flash, but receive no output from the flash when the actual exposure takes place.

I discovered this by taking a series of shots with the K-20D. The first two shots were correctly exposed, but then followed three or four completely dark frames, and at last one correctly exposed frame with ambient light only. I waited 30 seconds to let the flash recharge, and repeated the series while watching with the camera away from my face. First there came two exposures with double-blinks. Then came three exposures with one blink, and at last a long exposure without flash. The three single-blink exposures turned out black.

So back at the store, I did a test series right there for demonstration. The salesperson sighed. "Worst thing is," he said, "I don't think your flash is faulty. We've seen this on Sigma flashes in combination with Canon as well".

I was offered to return the flash without any cost, but chose to trade it for a Metz 58 AF; spending the additional 500 NOK. Naturally, I asked to test the Metz before committing the money, and this flash behaved as expected. All P-TTL flash exposures correct.

Lesson learned.

Oh, and the Metz is still a good 1000 NOK cheaper than the original Pentax AF 540-FGZ, in case you wondered... :-)

18 July 2009

Autofocus performance of Pentax K-7

Half a year ago I agonised over the K20D not being fast enough for capturing the action when photographing birds, and I sincerely wished for Pentax to build a faster camera (link to old blogpost). So when I learned about the coming K-7 I had hopes that this was the kind of camera I had wished for.

Over the last couple of days I've tried to compare the AF performance of the my K-7 to its predecessor K20D in some real-life situations. At first I was quite informal about it, just to get a feeling of the new camera. It was an enjoyable experience to track birds through the air with the K-7. When comparing the percentage of in-focus shots I got the impression that this camera was more than three times as precise as is the K20D. But that was just a gut-feeling, my photographic material was not extensive enough to draw any conclusions. For that, I needed some photographic subjects with a more predictable behaviour. So yesterday I got serious. Well... as serious as I'm capable of becoming when this kind of peeping is involved. This kind of testing is very much limited by the skill of the photographer at keeping the subject inside the frame, and within the area reachable by the 11 autofocus sensors. So take the results with a suitable measure of salt-grains. :-)

My subject of choice was trucks, driving 100 km/h on the highway just North of Oslo. I found a nice bridge where I could shoot whole series of them as they approached. Back home I studied the AF precision by inspecting the shots at 1:1 in Adobe Bridge CS4. I took a conservative approach, and judged everything that wasn't pin sharp at the front of the car to be mis-focused. The typical determinators were details in the grille or the number plates, as in the two examples below, shot with the K-7 and FA*600/4.



The camera settings were:
- SR on for shots with DA*300, shot freehand
- SR off for shots with FA*600, shot from tripod
- AF-C, multipoint
- ISO 800
- Av-mode (aperture set to f/8. shutter speed varied between 1/250s and 1/4000s)
- DNG file format

Between each series I allowed the camera to save all files before commencing a new series, to make sure camera speed was not held back by a full buffer.

Results:
1. K20D + DA*300/4:
13% mis-focused, averaged over 9 series

2. K-7 + DA*300/4:
7% mis-focused, averaged over 7 series

3. K20D + FA*600/4:
43% mis-focused, averaged over 7 series

4. K-7 + FA*600/4:
25% mis-focused, averaged over 11 series

Each series held between 10 and 19 shots.

So on the whole, I "lost" 50% less shots to mis-focus with the K-7 than I lost with K20D. That's quite an improvement, in my opinion.

Both lenses are focus-calibrated with the K20D, but not with the K-7. I therefore suspect that the K-7 results could be even further improved. Somewhat.

However, there are many other factors influencing this result. I may have misjudged the focus, and the mis-focus may have been caused by motion blur. For example, if a truck has no cargo, it tends to bounce more after passing dents or bumps in the road. I'm pretty sure my longest shutter speeds were inadequate for freezing this kind of motion, but when comparing mis-focus to shutter speeds, I can't see that the shortest shutter speeds (1/2500 - 1/4000) has fewer mis-focused shots than have the longest shutter speeds (1/250 - 1/640). Yet I can't rule out this effect, particularly for the series with the 600mm.

So back to the mentioned measure of salt, this is not a scientific study. However, I feel for my own part that the K-7 is vastly improving my odds of obtaining sharp pictures of moving subjects.

10 July 2009

Ninja alert


This guy was part of a game that thrilled 130 kids to no end at a karate summer camp. Us parents who stood ringside had a good laugh too, as the children fought down the scary, but for the occasion ever so slightly stupid ninjas.
For the first time in my life I have used a monopod, and was quite surprised how useful it can be. This shot was obtained at 1/40s, at a focal length of 220mm. Had you asked me one day earlier, I would have said I'd need a tripod for that. :-)
Camera: Pentax K20D,
Lens: Pentax DA* 60-250/4

27 June 2009

Rust


Pentax K20D, FA 43mm f/1.9 ltd.
f/10, 1/125s, ISO 200
At Runde, there is a 3m high iron stub left from the previous light, a tall tower built in the thirties and disassembled by the Germans during WW2 for its easy supply of metal. Now it's left to rust in the salt sprays of the ocean, and the corrosion creates many fascinating patterns. I thought this one resembled a jellyfish over kelp.

22 June 2009

Armeria maritima


Pentax K20D, DA 14mm f/2.8, AF540-FTZ flash with LumiQuest Mini-Softbox
f/7.1, 1/100s @ ISO 400

On this particular occasion I was trying out using flash and wide-angle for closeups of flowers. I've never been good at flash shots. That is, I've never been particularly happy with my results from flash-aided photography. I fumble a lot, lose control, and end up mostly confused. One of the things I have hated is all those weird shadows that end up in places where I don't want them. So I've experimented with indirect flash, small softeners, off-camera flash, etc., etc.
However the fumbling factor has got the better of me. Every time. Quite discouraging really.
So it was with considerable suspicion and a slight feeling of recklessness that I bought a LumiQuest mini-softbox a couple of weeks back. When at Runde last week-end I braced myself and tested it. A good many miss-outs and screwed-up shots later, I got this one. The flash is placed off-camera to the left; the soft-box is so close it's just outside the frame.
What still puzzles me a bit is the combination of exposure settings I had to apply to get a decent balance between natural and flash light. I dialled in a +1 stop compensation on the flash, and a -1 compensation for the total exposure. This turned out to be some kind of sweet-spot combination, and I used it successfully for another hour and maybe 50 shots; providing reliably good results with many different motifs. I'm at loss for an explanation for why this worked so well, but I'll surely try it out more. :-)
Th flower is called "Marsh Daisy" in English, according to Wikipedia. A salt-tolerant plant that grace the coastal landscape of nearly all of Norway. The light at Runde fyr in the background.

20 June 2009

Puffin

Pentax K20D, DA* 60-250/4 @ 88mm
f/6.3, 1/1600s, ISO 800


Another puffin. We were particularly keen to get photos of puffins with fish in their beaks this time. Because last year, the entire colony gave up breeding soon after the chicks hatched. There were no fish in the waters. A local ban on trawling for sand eels seems to have made all the difference this year.

19 June 2009

Gossipers


Pentax K20D, DA* 60-250/4 @ 250mm
f/8, 1/500s, ISO 200

From the puffin colony at Runde. Last time I was there, I shot mostly with the DA*300/4 and the FA*600/4. This time, the DA 60-250/4 was the only lens I used.

17 June 2009

Tailnapper

The Great Skua is a pirate. It steals food from other species by harassing them until they drop their catch. Here is one, caught in the act of napping the tail of a Gannet at Runde.

Pentax K20D, FA* 600/4, tripod
f/6.3, 1/1600s, ISO 400

16 June 2009

10.000th frame


Two days ago my K20D took its 10.000th exposure. This is it.
Obtained at Runde Fyr, a lighthouse on the West coast of Norway.
The lens was an FA 43mm f/1.9 ltd.


07 June 2009

Lingonberry Flower


Pentax K20D, A* 200/4 macro
1/250s, f/8, ISO 400
Click image for slightly larger version


The lingonberry is a small, red and bitter berry ripening in September. It is used for jam to go with dinner courses, much like cranberry jelly. In the forest today, its flowers were more abundant than I've ever seen them before. Fingers crossed it will mean a lot of berries too, in a couple of months.

05 June 2009

Consolidation complete

...for now anyway.
I'm talking about the Personal Lens Roadmap, of course. Back in January, Yvon Bourque suggested creating personal lens roadmaps akin to the official one that Pentax publishes bi-annually. That idea had struck me too, already when I saw the first incarnation of the Pentax roadmap. So I published mine as a response to Yvon's post. With the reservation that roadmaps are of no value if not kept alive.
Today I updated mine, after having purchased the 60-250/4, and offloaded the FA 50/1.4 and Sigma EX 70-200/2.8. I have now reached a state of balance, with no more lenses on the wishlist and no more lenses for sale. I still have a redundancy for normal zooms, and will have to think that one over once more. Otherwise it's consolidation complete.
Feels good, actually. :-)

01 June 2009

Iridiscent Camouflage

Pentax K20D, A*200/4 macro, AF-540FTZ and Lumiquest mini-softbox.


Have had a couple of enjoyable days off-work. Nice time for insect macros now, with warm weather and lots of wildflowers out.
No clue what species this is, but probably a relative of the bluewings.

26 May 2009

DSLR modularity

Fellow blogger Miserere has called for a new DSLR paradigma with one key feature to separate it from status quo; modularity.
He points to how different photographers have different needs and how manufacturers could save money by building cameras with discrete modules to be fitted at the photographer's need.
It seems like a good idea at the surface. And indeed, Hasselblad's digital medium format cameras are taking a similar approach. What used to be film cartridges are now digital sensor modules.
My immediate thought was that if this was a good idea for the mainstream DSLR market, we would have seen modular DSLRs a long time ago already. And the more I think about it, the more certain I am that the nemesis of modularity is integration. The components of a camera are finely tuned to each other. By making cameras discrete and integrated units, one assures that the components are truly compatible and scaled to fit each other.
For example, Miserere suggests that mirror/shutter assembly and imaging sensor could be separate modules. The upcoming Pentax K-7 is an excellent case in point. It has the same CMOS imaging chip as its predecessor K20D, but with one important modification. In the new chip they have doubled the processing capacity of the output. To match this, the K-7 has a mirror/shutter assembly that moves to capture 5 frames per second (fps). In the K20D, the two components are matched to do 2.5 fps. In a modular approach, you'd need both modules to get the advantage of high fps. If you don't need high fps, you're unlikely to bother about paying extra for either module, just to make future upgrades easier.
I also notice that one component is spectacularly absent from Miserere's list. It is the one component that has caused me the most headache when building PCs from components. The power supply. When estimating the needed power for a new machine, one needs to know the power consumption of all the components. It's doable for stationary machines, but I'd never dare to choose battery for a portable computer, for examle. By the way, have you noticed how different generations of portable PCs have different batteries? And have you noticed the same trend in digital cameras? Looking at Pentax again, their first generation of DSLRs, the *istD series from Pentax used AA batteries. The K-series, however, switched to a videocam-style lithium, providing a higher and more stable power output. The K-7 will raise the bar another notch, presumably because of its higher processing power. For each upgrade bringing new and more advanced tech to the data processing parts of either PCs or cameras, it brings new power requirements. So upgrading the processing module without upgrading the power source doesn't make much sense either.
In all, I'm glad the camera manufacturers make these choises for me, rather than having to make them myself. I'd rather sell my old camera and buy a new one, just as I do with my laptops and stationary PCs. And my other advanced machines, such as cellphones and toasters. :-)

24 May 2009

Buttercup Basking


My back garden has a small patch of wild flowers. I tend to forget about it all together. It seems too small and insignificant to provide any good motifs. But perspectives change once a macro lens is employed. This shot was made with an A* 200/4 lens on a Pentax K20D.

23 May 2009

Congrats, Peter Lee!

Kudos to fellow Pentax photographer Peter Lee, who has also turned 100 photos in the Pentax Photo Gallery. He has even pushed me down to second place in numbers. :-)
Here's one photo taken almost exactly nine years ago in Hardanger, using the Pentax 645 and a 645A-75mm f/2.8 and a pola filter, on Kodak E100VS film. Really seems like a millenium ago, but I thought it would make a nice greeting to a very skilful fellow photographer.

Click on image for slightly larger version.

20 May 2009

As if Pentax listens

Click image for slightly larger version


After my little eagle adventure in January, I bitched about some missing or low-spec'ed features in Pentax DSLRs. I made a wish-list here.

Today the Pentax K-7 was presented. It boasts 5 frames per second and "improved autofocus". Fingers crossed that this is a kind of camera that will improve my success rate with wildlife. DPreview has made a relatively sober comparison to K20D here.
The above shot was made with Pentax K20D and FA* 60-250/4. It's a bit cropped at the top and left hand side. Full resolution JPEG can be found here (warning: file size 7.4 MB). EXIF data should be intact, but just in case:
Focal length: 250mm
Aperture: f/4.5
Shutter: 1/2000 s
ISO: 400
SR on.
The full res image was processed with Adobe Camera Raw v4.6 (CS3), all adjustments at default values.
Detail rendering is impeccable. I can only conclude that this lens is worth every penny.

15 May 2009

Bird cherry


Still testing the new DA* 60-250/4. I like the way this lens renders the transition from in-focus to bokeh. Shot with the K20D, at 1/2500s, f/4 and ISO 400. Focal lenght was 250mm. It was as close as the lens would focus. The close focus limit, by the way, is constant throughout the zoom range for this lens. Not bad for a trombone-style designed lens.

13 May 2009

Plum Twig

Our garden plum tree is forever optimistic. It blooms in splendour every year and doesn't seem to mind us cropping it down quite drastically every winter. Here's one shot from this afternoon, in the last rays of a sun that hasn't quite begun warming us properly yet. But spring is definately here. :-)

The photographer is quite optimistic too, by the way. This photo is obtained using the long awaited Pentax DA* 60-250/4 zoom lens. To try out a new piece of promising equipment is always a bit intoxicating, but this one seems indeed to have been worth the wait. The first few raw files I have examined look beautifully sharp, without vignettting, and without much colour fringing in high-contrast areas.

10 May 2009

Digital archiving: ThumbsPlus

Version explored: 8 beta 3

I have used version 7 of ThumbsPlus (T+) for five years, and was reasonably happy with my choice until halfway through my previous attempt at keywording my images. However it would be unfair to say my discontent was caused by the program itself. It was just that I found the job so boring that my mind frequently began to wander, wondering how T+ could be improved.

As it turns out, Cerious.com has implemented a lot of nice new features in the coming version 8, and some parts of my wishlist has been granted.

1. Magic words
Drag & drop for keywording works both ways with T+. Drop a keyword onto files, or drop files onto a keyword. I like that. In addition, there is a comprehensive tool for managing keywords. It has also picked up on XMP, so potentially the keywords could be compatible with other imaging software. Further, it simplifies keywording on the raw files directly.

Support for hierarchical keywords will be added to version 8. Here's a quote from the Release Notes:

  • Lengthened keyword size to 255 characters, with the ability to define categorical keywords, such as "Animal\Dog". The keyword list will be available in tree format easier handling during assignment.

Unfortunately, this doesn't work in the beta 3 version, so I can't make any assessment of it.

2. Version handling and bundling
T+ does not support any of this.

3. Backup, restore, and migration
T+ comes with support for many different database engines. The simplest one is actually a royalty-free Microsoft Access database, which can be backed up by ordinary file copying as long as T+ is not running when you make the backup. For more advanced database engines, you'll need a dedicated tool to make backups. I use MySQL, and rely on making database dumps to file which then gets backed up with the rest of the backup-worthy files on my system, but this assumes a geek factor that's probably too high for many.

And this is one area where T+ falls short because it does not provide any integrated backup. You have to set it all up using other software. Not a big deal if you know what you're doing and remember to do it frequently, but it's a hassle.

Restore is, of course, dictated by the routines you have set up for your backup. The upside of this, however, is that T+ is quite flexible when it comes to migration to new hardware. You have to retain the filesystem folder structure of your old disk, but that's just about all. Nice and simple. The only additional thing it requires is that you assign the same label to the disk as you had before the migration. Ie., if the hard drive of your old system was labeled "System" before the drive letter in Windows Explorer, it should be named the same way on your new system. The drive letter itself doesn't matter, just the label. Saved my ass once, this feature... :-)


4. Support for offline archives
The only features T+ provides to this end is an "import" and an "export" function that can assimilate or dump a text file containing selected fields from the database. Selecting the full range, you can have all the metadata stored in the database except the Galleries.

Galleries (equal to albums in Adobe nomenclature) are very convenient for visual grouping of related images. The manual warns against using Galleries for anything but temporary assemblages, but in practice it's terribly easy to let such structures become at least semi-permanent. However, T+ is neither better or worse than the other programs for overlooking the Galleries in export/import routines. And it's not a terribly big deal. Keywords and categories are much better for organising than Galleries anyway.

T+ can not branch out a portion of its archive for use on a laptop, and it can not add a branch to its main archive. What it can do, however, is to automatically import IPTC metadata from newly found files (see below). I assume this will apply to XMP too, when this becomes fully supported in the production release of version 8.

5. other stuff
T+ is a vigilant little piece of software. It looks out for changes in the folders you tell it to monitor, and updates its own database automatically. It will add new images and update thumbnails and metadata after edits. This is one of the things I really like with T+. It saves me from being mindful about telling the program to update such things.
I also like the interface in T+. Granted, it's old fashioned enough to look like something designed for Windows 95 or thereabouts, but it's clean and efficient.

T+ is usually also very quick to release support for new raw files. The only exception to the rule is K20D. Basically, I was told in the support forum that they didn't care since the camera supports DNG raw format.