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.