Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Keeping History Alive

Meet Ernest.  He's the curator, collector and owner of a tiny little museum in the village of Tanolieu on North Western coast of Efate in Vanuatu.  Actually his place is hard to miss - outside the tiny hut are three flags: Australia, the US and Vanuatu.  Ernest collects war memorabilia: bottles, shell casings, aicraft propellors, old radios, mess kits, water bottles and a whole lot more stuff.
His treasure trove mostly comes from rubbish tips where, at the end of the Pacific War, US forces dumped what was not deemed essential enough to bring home.

Coca-cola or a hand grenade? While Ernest's collection is somewhat haphazard,
he was quite funny pulling these two completely different objects off of the shelf to show us:
a coke bottle and a hand grenade!
Ernest's collections includes medicine and perfume bottles, huge glass containers designed to hold acid for submarine batteries.
Military equipment is littered all over the Solomons and Vanuatu. Port Vila and Luganville in Santo were two of the largest staging points for the US as they pushed the Japanese North. Ironically once the way was over the Americans offered to sell the stuff they were not taking home with them to the British and French who showed no interest - thinking the Yanks would simply leave it anyway. Apparently not. Their bluff was called and most of the war materiel was dumped into the ocean rather than letting their allies have the benefit.
Besides coca-cola, beer was another commodity consumed by the military in vast amounts. Some of these bottles were made in Australia, others from the States.
The Yanks brought shiploads of Coca-cola with them for the massive troop build up during the Pacific Campaigns. In fact I read that the rise and rise of coke globally started as a result of the Americans setting up cola factories where ever their military operated. When the soldiers went home, the plants remained and the rest, as they say, is history. Each bottle has an identifying date and place of manufacture stamp on its base.

Casing that once housed a camera gun sight of the sort that was used for recconoitre missions.

A pair of Japanese naval binoculars in not quite working order.
Ernest standing in the doorway of his tiny beach side museum

Monday, 18 August 2014

Two for Tanna

One of Vanuatu's most popular destinations, Tanna Island is home to one very specific tourist destination, its active Strombolian type volcano, Yasur
This sizeable island lies around 50 mins flight due south of the capital, Port Vila.   Mount Yasur is named for the volcano god and is one of those rare active volcanoes that puts on a pyrotechnical show around the clock, seven days a week, 365 days a year, with only occasional catastrophic eruptions causing damage to surrounding villages.  Its activity is carefully monitored by the locals who decide when the activity passes the danger point from Level 2 to a Level 3, unsafe to approach, standard.  About 25 years ago three people, a tourist and two local guides, were killed by flying debris so, like all things to do with with Mother Earth, predictability is never guaranteed.

Local kids sing a welcome to the visitors passing through their tiny village.

Once over the backbone of the island we stopped to get a good panoramic view back north up the east coast of Tanna.

Some tourists simply fly in from Vila on a day trip - we stayed two nights at White Grass Ocean Resort which is only two kilometres from the airport. We left in the early afternoon on our Volcano Tour, driven in a 4WD by an extremely knowledgeable Tanna local named Phillip.   He filled us in about many aspects of life in Tanna on the way to the volcano, proceeding through numerous villages made up of huts constructed from bamboo and coconut leaves.   On the way we stopped at one of the villages where, by prior arrangement, an adorable group of children had been assembled and were waiting to regale us with some songs and present us with flowers.   It was their way of supplementing their meagre income and brought us great delight as well as photo opportunities.

This is taken from the same vantage point as the shot above, but looking due south.
Mt Yasur and its ash plain clearly visible to the left and a larger, older extinct volcano extreme right.
It takes an hour or so to cross the island heading south on roads that are at one time solid concrete interspersed with a very knobbly, pot-holed old road.  As no one in Vanuatu pays income tax, there's very little revenue for luxuries like roads.  Some bridges were rebuilt by British Army engineers after severe cyclone damage, while countries like Australia, France and New Zealand send regular aid packages to Vila to help with the country's burgeoning infrastructure - though clearly precious little had filtered through as far as Tanna island.
For us one big highlight was the ash plain - a vast, desolate area spreading down the sides of Yasur and into the jungle for several kilometres.  A lot of the wind-borne ash gets dumped here leaving behind quite an eerie landscape amidst an otherwise incredibly verdant jungle backdrop.

Photo opportunity in the ash field. 
I found this place quite striking - the cinder cone is not that high but the ash desert surrounding it is impressive. 
Philip our driver seemed to know exactly where to take the 4WD (possibly because he's been here before a few hundred times...) however a local family out for a drive became heavily bogged in the loose, light volcanic ash.

Note the big guy who did nothing but record the event on a video camera while the tiny kids
were literally under the truck trying to clear out some of the sand around the rear wheels.
I tried to help push the front end round but it became hopelessly bogged.
Philip came to the rescue with a tow rope and had the vehicle shifted in a matter of minutes.

My particular favourite from the Yasur volcano visit.  Shooting just after dark makes the gaseous lava explosions really pop out of the gloom in an orgy of spectacular colour, but you need a tripod to get a result like this!
FujiFilm X-T1 Pro camera,  18-55mm lens set to 45mm focal length, ISO 200, f16, 8.5 secs.  I specifically chose this camera to shoot on Yasur because it's [nearly] 100% waterproof, and therefore well protected from the fine ash particles and sulphurous smoke blowing across the crater ridge.
One of Natalie's best (daylight) shots.  ISO 1000 gives a pretty fast 1/280s shutter speed that does the job of 'freezing' motionless the trashcan-sized blobs of molten lava being ejected from the core.  Correct focussing was the hardest thing to achieve here partly because the eruptions were coming from different parts of the volcano's floor - out of sight to the spectators.
You hear a muffled boom, then see a flash of red light and almost instantly these massive blobs of red hot magma sail into the air.
A beautiful light illuminating the back of the Yasur cinder cone and the jungle in the distance. 
Snapped, literally, from the car park on the final walk to the summit.
FujiFilm XT-1, 18-55mm lens. ISO 200.
Spectacular thump and boom eruption from Yasur.  When these mini explosions go off you have to be quick because within a few (more) seconds the flying lava is completely obscured by the sulphurous gas emissions.  What's more focussing can be next to impossible in the low light and the smoke.  Setting the lens to manual focus (MF)  helps a lot - pre- focus on a spot and stick with it (but of course, test the focus to make sure your clarity is on the mark.
Canon 5D Mark III, 1/60s @ f4, 1250 ISO.  
For me, a panorama usually does the job of capturing the real feel of a wide open space so much better then a single snap. Natalie went a bit overboard here shooting 14 sections - I processed half of them to get this great-looking result. Panorama sections should by vertically framed, be overlapped by 15-20% and shot in Manual metering mode to avoid problems matching brightness values between frames.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Learn Photography Essentials Class

Here are some of the best shots from my recent Learn Photography Essentials Class.
Held at CCE in Sydney, it's a more advanced version of my one-day Basics class, runs for two days and is held entirely on location.  Students are encouraged to experiment as much as possible with their camera settings, using specific shutter speeds, apertures, ISO and colour adjustments to achieve a specific look.
On the final day there's a bit of pressure as the students have to shoot to a theme, then submit 10 of their best, for assessement after the class has finished. These are a few of the tremendous images submitted for the July class. Excellent work all round!

Intense colours from Syd Reinhardt recording signs and written notices
distributed with
apparent random around the shipyard.
Canon 5D, 21mm lens

Another tongue-in-cheek sign spotted by Syd Reihardt
Canon 5D, 21mm lens
A tough shot to capture, these guys were grinding part of the cabin superstructure.
Pic by Francesco Bova
This swarf bucket appears to be glowing inside.
In this case an off-centre composition works well.
Close-up by Jesslyn Wiraputra

Worms-eye view of the John Oxley in the Heritage Shipyard, Rozelle.
Pic by Jesslyn Wiraputra. Canon MkII, 24-70mm lens
Detailed shallow focus close up of the Kanangra ferry's ropework.
Pic Li Ozinga.
Again high colour and a good use of a shallow depth of field (f2.8).
Pic by Li Ozinga
"Ropes" was a theme chosen by Clive Saunders for his ten shots.
No shortage of subject matter here!
A massive drill bit is brought into sharp focus by Clive Saunders.
Macro often reveals details otherwise invisible to the naked eye.
The creatively-titled rivet dreamtime.
Great, punchy colour from Francesco Bova

Friday, 18 July 2014

Choosing the right Colour Space

When it comes to the choice of a colour space for the digital photographer, you’ll find a great deal of confusion.  This is understandable because it’s a complex topic.  Actually finding the truth about colour spaces gets tougher simply because there’s an awful lot of mis-information about colour calibration circulating the ‘net.  So, it’s not surprising that many have no idea what a colour space is, or whether it’s of any use to us.

Definition: On a superficial level, a colour space describes a range of colours in a particular colour model. This model might be the RGB seen on all computer displays (i.e. sRGB) or it might be the model used to describe an offset litho press (CMYK).

Here's a standard colour model illustrating the different colours available through different colour spaces.
It also includes an indication of how matt printing paper reproduces colour - all four spaces have unique colour ranges.
To help understand this concept, a colour space can be displayed in three dimensions by showing cyan along the X axis, magenta along the Y axis and yellow along the Z axis (for example, from the CMYK print colour space).  This provides a 3D model demonstrating the range of tones possible through a combination of all three colour axes.

Though a somewhat childish analogy, printing is like using a palette of 24 crayons. But if you start out with 36 or 48 crayons, which ones go and which ones stay when you downsize from a wide gamut space to a narrower one...
On a purely simplistic level, a colour space is a bit like having one giant colour crayon set containing 75 crayons.  Let’s say this represents a wide gamut colour space like Pro Photo RGB.  To represent Adobe RGB, which has a narrower gamut (range), you might remove 25 crayons.  The smallest colour space used by photographers is sRGB so this might only have 35 crayons. (Note: The precise numbers here are used only as an illustrative tool).

The missing crayons in the Adobe RGB and sRGB analogy are not just from one colour region but, in the example comparison between sRGB and Adobe RGB, they come from the green/cyan part of the crayon box.  So looking at the 2D illustrations of what colours these different spaces represent, you can see exactly how much more green/blue Adobe RGB has when compared to sRGB, and how much more of the same colours ProPhoto RGB has over the narrower gamut Adobe RGB.

But before we get too excited by this newfound knowledge and rush to change everything to ProPhoto RGB, here are some basic colour space facts:
- ProPhoto RGB certainly does represent a very wide range of possible colours.
- sRGB however contains sufficient colour information for most practical applications.
- Most digital cameras only offer sRGB and Adobe RGB colour spaces in their feature set.
- Most consumer monitors can only display the sRGB colour space.
- Therefore you cannot physically see, let alone appreciate, the additional tones found in a broader colour space on a monitor.
- Most consumer printers can only reproduce colours from the sRGB colour space
- RAW files are definitely the best file format to use.  They save approximately five times the amount of image data as a JPEG.
- If the file is being used for the web it has to be converted to the sRGB colour space anyway, because that’s the default colour space for the web.
- JPEGs, because of their shallow bit depth, are always sRGB
If you digest the above facts, it would seem that most of our photographic lives work best in the sRGB colour space.  There seems little logical reason to set cameras to a colour space that produces a range of tones that cannot be displayed, nor seen correctly under normal viewing conditions.  It then follows that choosing a space that is wider than sRGB could be a waste of effort.
My thoughts on this are that it’s probably better to choose the sRGB colour space throughout your workflow.  Doing this ensures that at no time do you have to compromise what you can already capture, see onscreen or print.

Others espouse the benefits of shooting Adobe RGB and editing in that same space under the impression that they will retain the best possible outcomes.  I think this is a pipedream because at some stage in the edit process, you will have to compromise the colour space in order to output/upload to the web, to print (inkjet), or to publish (offset). 

So clearly when the colour space is reduced from Adobe RGB to sRGB, we need to mitigate any colour and contrast loss using very careful editing techniques.  To do this we have to investigate individual colour channels, something that you can do with Photoshop but not using Elements.

sRGB is the easiest and perhaps most reliable colour space in which to work because being the smallest, it presents few colour limitations (and fewer nasty surprises) when outputting to the web or any kind of consumer print.

Adobe RGB is a wider space - but care must be used both at the editing stage (to preserve colours when downsizing to sRGB for print) and especially so once the file is being handed off to a third party simply because there's guarantee that the person receiving the file knows what they are doing either.

ProPhoto RGB can encompass a huge range of colours but great skill is required to process these files in order to retain otherwise fragile tones once the file is output to the web or print. You can retain much of this space’s colour gamut in print but this also requires both high-end printers and skill in executing the process.