OlegNovikov.com

What's New 2007

December 29th, 2007

Epson 3800 vs. 4880 is a rather tough choice and I had to have a long look at the two contenders before I could make up my mind. Having conducted a fairly thorough research as well as gone to an Epson centre to see and compare the printers in person, I have compiled a summary of their relative benefits—see below.

Pros—Epson 4880

  • First and foremost, the 4880 boasts a host of new technological advances including new head technology, advanced screening technology, UltraChrome K3™ inks with Vivid Magenta, 16–bit printer drivers and so on (visit here for the full list of innovations). It should be noted, however, that inkjet printers already are very mature products and further enhancements offered by new models tend to be marginal and evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Of course, all the improvements of the 4880 are a very welcome development. It, however, remains to be seen and analysed to what degree they will be noticeable in final prints. From this perspective, differences in features (including those mentioned below) remain a very important consideration in the purchase decision–making.

  • The 4880 takes both roll and cut sheet paper while the 3800 can use cut sheet paper only. This has several implications and, to me personally, constitutes a major advantage for the former.

    First, many of my images are of irregular sizes (notably the square images from my Hasselblad system) and printing them on standard–size cut sheet paper would be uneconomical.

    Second, when you use roll paper and notice a problem you can cancel printing and only the strip of paper that has been printed will be wasted; with cut sheet paper the entire sheet will have to be tossed. Similarly, roll paper is very useful for making partial test prints to check for, say, output sharpness.

    Third, some papers (including those from Epson) have significant cost differences on the per–square–inch basis between large cut sheets and rolls for the same type of paper.

  • Ink economy. The 4880 takes 110ml and 220ml cartridges while the 3800 only accommodates 80ml cartridges. If we look at the current ink prices at, say, B&H Photo, the following transpires:

    UltraChrome Photo Black Ink Cartridge for the 4880, 220ml: USD112, or USDUSD0.51 per ml.
    UltraChrome Photo Black Ink Cartridge for the 4880, 110ml: USD69.95 or USD0.64 per ml.
    UltraChrome Photo Black Ink Cartridge for the 3800, 80ml: USD59.95 or USD0.75 per ml.

    It is obvious that the 4880 should be more economical to run in the long term. However, if and when one can actually take advantage of this benefit will largely depend on the amount of printing that you do. If the larger cartridges of the 4880 are not used up before they expire, then they might end up being more expensive than the smaller cartridges of the 3800.

  • The 4880 boasts a vacuum mechanism for holding paper flat against the platen, while the 3800 uses "pizza wheels". Some users of the latter have reported problems with the print heads bumping into paper that has a strong curl; other users have also complained about pizza wheel marks on some glossy papers.

  • It is difficult to evaluate quality and reliability of the internal parts of the 3800 but the printer's outside construction appears somewhat flimsy and does not inspire confidence. The 4880, on the other hand, is much more sturdily built and gives an impression of a solid professional instrument that is ready for heavy use. Unit–to–unit variation of the 4880 model is said to be very small, too.

Pros—Epson 3800

  • The 3800 has significantly smaller size, weight and footprint. While the printer is on the big side it still marginally qualifies as a desktop printer and can be handled by one person. The 4880, on the other hand, requires a separate table of its own (and a very sturdy one) and two persons to move. At the risk of repeating myself, do not underestimate how big and heavy the 4880 is.

  • The 3800 is cheaper (USD1295 vs. USD1995, disregarding the ink economy factor mentioned above).

  • The 3800 has both photo black and matte black inks resident simultaneously and automatically switches between them based on the user's choice of paper in the printer driver.

Naturally, every prospective buyer will have to draw conclusions based on his particular circumstances and preferences. As far as I am concerned, the issue of space was not terribly pressing and the difference in price, if allocated over the number of years that I intend to use the printer, did not seem unbearable. At the same time, the idea of being able to use roll paper was very appealing. Bigger cartridges and sturdier construction were very attractive, too. And of course, all the technological innovations incorporated in the 4880 are the topping on the cake.

(Report to be continued—stay tuned)

December 26th, 2007

I have finally got tired of not being able to print photographs in–house, bit the bullet and become a proud owner of an Epson Stylus Pro 4880 inkjet printer. As you are most likely aware, there currently are three major players in the domain of pro–grade inkjet printers, namely Epson, Canon and HP. Choosing one particular printer model is not an easy task and I thought I would first share with you how my selection process unfolded.

To begin with I decided that I wanted a 17–inch printer. In my opinion, 17–inch printers represent the best balance between maximum print size and cost and size of printers. As of early 2008 HP do not offer 17–inch printers and my options thus were narrowed down to the Epson 3800, Epson 4880 and Canon iPF5100. All three printers have been reported to deliver equally outstanding (albeit slightly different if prints are compared side–by–side) print quality.

Online reports generally suggest that Canon printers are very competent performers and even have advantages over Epson printers in some areas. The biggest drawback of the Epson 4880 compared to the Canon iPF5100 is the well–known and much–talked–about matter of wasteful ink swapping. In short, the 4880 uses one slot for both photo black ink (used to print on glossy and semi–gloss papers) and matte black ink (used to print on matte papers) and swapping the ink cartridges flushes a considerable amount of ink down the loo. The predecessor of the 4880, the 4800, purges all eight ink lines and thus squanders about USD70 worth of ink; the 4880 is said to waste less ink but this, nonetheless, remains a problem that has to be addressed.

The Epson 3800 has two separate slots for photo and matte black inks and partially solves the problem of wasteful ink swapping. Note, however, that I say "partially"—the two black inks share a single channel to the printer head, which means that the printer still must purge that line of ink before switching. Canon (and HP for that matter) use separate slots and separate lines and are devoid of this inefficiency. This issue, obviously, will be a deal–breaker for photographers who envision equally using both glossy and matte papers. I, however, am primarily a matte kind of guy (for both monitors and papers—just cannot stand the reflections) and, to me personally, this concern is for the most part inconsequential.

Another major advantage of the Canon iPF5100 is that printer heads are said to never clog. While this undoubtedly is very valuable from the standpoint of the daily use, a closer examination reveals that this benefit is not absolute as it might come at a cost. Epson and Canon use different technologies—while Epson's printer heads might clog and need occasional cleaning, they nevertheless are permanent; Canon printer heads, on the other hand, use extra nozzles to automatically replace clogged ones and once there are not enough additional nozzles the heads have to be replaced. As you might have guessed, replacing the heads is a very expensive undertaking—to the point that it might be reasonable to buy a new printer instead.

There also are several other issues to be considered (for instance, Canon's documentation is reported to be poor and the company does not warrant printer heads) but the bottom line is that none of the printers is best in absolute terms. As Epson printers have been around and leading the market for considerably longer and overall appear to be better–sorted products, I decided to go with one of the company's offerings, i.e. either Epson 3800 or 4880.

December 24th, 2007

My best wishes and compliments of the season to all readers—I hope you enjoy a safe, prosperous and happy New Year!

December 11th, 2007

"It was three whole hours before she woke up. And another five minutes before she put things into some semblance of order in her mind. However long it took, I stood, arms folded, gazing at the thick clouds on the horizon slowly changing shape and drifting east."

I could not quite let the passage go and rummaged through my scans library in a vague attempt to hopefully find a remote photographic approximation to it. Here is the best shot I managed to come up with:


 
 

December 9th, 2007

You know that you have been in China way too long when you unconditionally and irrevocably fall in love with this. However, a complete fascination with this suggests that you are still reasonably sane. Or is this an indication of dual personality disorder?

December 8th, 2007

As you might recall, I mentioned in the beginning of the year that I would look into revamping the Gallery. I actually have been quietly working on it during the past couple of months and it has pretty much been done. There still are a couple of minor things that I have to fix but most visitors will not notice them.

First, I have removed more than sixty images and the Web site now has "only" a hundred and fifty photographs (excluding the casual photos I post on this page, which will essentially vanish into the past once the page is "turned over" in January 2008). Some of the pictures made me feel embarrassed and deleting them was a pleasure; others, however, were a tougher call and took days of looking at them really hard. Then there also were photographs that were precious for personal reasons yet not good enough aesthetically. They had to go, too.

Second, most of the photographs that remain have been re–developed (some completely from scratch starting with re–scanning); technical flaws (e.g., blown highlights or inappropriate colour casts) in some images have been corrected. I am quite pleased to notice that my eye has become more discerning during the past several years.

Third, some pages have been consolidated and/or reorganized. This has resulted in a more streamlined presentation of content and provides a better platform for posting photographs from future photographic expeditions.

Finally, the design of the Gallery page has been changed to a cleaner and more consistent look.

All in all, I think the Web site and my work in general have been taken onto a (notwithstanding slightly) higher level. To me, this pleasantly creates a more demanding and stimulating basis for future undertakings. I have to say that having accomplished this before the end of the year feels great and provides an opportunity to have a fresh start in the New Year.

December 2nd, 2007

"It was three whole hours before she woke up. And another five minutes before she put things into some semblance of order in her mind. However long it took, I stood, arms folded, gazing at the thick clouds on the horizon slowly changing shape and drifting east."

Properly shot, this would amount to a really, really great photograph.

November 28th, 2007

I have been reminded that I have got this interesting shot:


 
 

Happy pork seller

The picture was taken in Manigange (马尼干戈), a remote small town in Western Sichuan where the march of tourism has not gotten to yet. The woman runs (and probably owns) the one and only pork shop in town.

A survey: do you reckon there is consistency between the amount of shoes in your closet and the number of lenses that you own?

November 19th, 2007

Travel and photographic destinations in China can be divided into "developed for tourism" and untapped. The former usually means that there is an adequate infrastructure for easy access and (relatively) comfortable lodging. The process of developing new tourist destinations seems to have a similar pattern: find a nice place, build (or improve) a road leading to it, erect several hotels in the vicinity, dig up (or invent) some history or culture related stories, events or relics to boast, and you are all set. Sometimes all the steps are well planned and thoroughly implemented; every so often, however, implementation of some of the aspects is simply a spontaneous reaction to obvious business opportunities. And whereas I would imagine that in either case it all starts with the very best intentions I seriously doubt that too many people think of (or are concerned about) where this leads and what consequences it brings about.

Unfortunately, successful development for tourism is often followed by brutal commercialisation and deep–reaching tourism pollution. These ills tend to have two sources: in case of populated locales, they come from uncontrolled and sweeping commercialisation (e.g., Yangshuo (阳朔) and Lijiang (丽江)); in case of unpopulated locations, they arise from the fact that their development for tourism is primarily approached from the return–on–investment perspective and they are inevitably turned into merciless money making machines (e.g., Lake Kanas in Northern Xinjiang (北疆哈纳斯湖)). And at times unrestrained commercialisation and return–on–investment approach go hand in hand and make things even worse.

Traveling from Chengdu and into remote parts of Western Sichuan provides an opportunity to observe the march of tourism development westwards. Take, for instance, Tagong Temple (塔公寺)—a well known landmark of the Sakya Sect (built during Qing Dynasty; in 1265 Phagspa, who was granted the title of Grand State Tutor by Kublai Khan, stopped there on his way back to Tibet from Beijing and presented the temple with a statue of the Buddha). Relatively easy access from Chengdu? Check. Places to eat and stay? Check. Historical and cultural relics in abundance? Check. Tagong is a brilliant place but, and it is a huge but, admission fees to monasteries, harassment from beggars and attempts to sell you something and anything leave an aftertaste that does not really make me want to go back there again.


 
 

Tagong grassland at sunrise

As you move westwards things gradually get better (or, if your main concern is how comfortable your stay is going to be, worse). When you get to, say, Ngawa, monasteries are simply monasteries again, people approach you because they are interested in you and not your money and harassment from beggars no longer spoils your experience of the place. The march, however, goes on and I wonder where it is going to stop (or is all of it going to get marred?) as well as who and when is going to deal with the consequences. I hope it will not be too late.

A couple of my favourite photographs from the Yulongla Lake area have been posted.

November 4th, 2007

One more article from the unpopular series, Fujifilm Fujichrome Velvia 50 (RVP50) vs. Kodak Ektachrome 100VS, has been posted.

November 2nd, 2007

Once again on reconciling experiences and places, how did we ever get from this...


 
 

Tibetan village in Western Sichuan

...to this...


 
 

Shanghai

...while some of us still live like this...


 
 

En route in Western Sichuan

...and how do you get back?

November 1st, 2007

Talking about reconciling experiences and places, here is a photograph from Western Sichuan that, at least partly, illustrates the point I tried to make on October 24th:


 
 

Parallel worlds II

October 25th, 2007

For what it is worth, my favourite photographs of Ngawa Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, all taken with a Hasselblad V–series system. Let me know what you think.

October 24th, 2007

How do you reconcile the experiences of sleeping in a sleeping bag at the edge of the world and, shortly after that, staying in a five–star hotel in downtown Hong Kong? Would the lack of necessity to bring them together be an indication of sanity, humbleness and tolerance?

Home page photograph has been updated.

October 11th, 2007

Coming back from the edge of the world offers a fresh look at the city–dwelling life. What do you notice first? That it is prevailed by materialism, consumerism and an emphasis on the appearances. I will be the first to admit that I am as guilty of being spoiled by these traits of our age as the next person. However, the fresh perspective also reveals that they unnoticeably bring hollowness—they create a vacuum in our inner selves that craves to be filled; this vacuum ultimately transpires into subtly stinging, ever present loneliness and becomes an invisible background to our existence. When you go to the edge of the world the emptiness and loneliness brought by it somehow disappear. You lose convenience, variety and abundance but get closer to obtaining completeness.

Every thought is like a raindrop falling onto the surface of still water. Each drop invariably causes ripples but the question is how far the ripples go and what consequences they bring.


 
 

On the way from Kangding (康定) to Chengdu (成都), near Mount Erlang (二郎山)


October 10th, 2007

I am now back from the trip to Western Sichuan. The expedition was a combination of inspiration and excitement with hardship (long, long hours on the road, challenging accommodation conditions and very basic sanitary facilities or even complete lack thereof). There also were a few significant mistakes, both organizational and related to photographic technique. However, both hardship and mistakes were largely subdued by the brilliance of what was unfolding before my eyes, great photographic opportunities and constant anticipation of what the next moment would bring. 28 rolls of 120 film from the trip are being processed and I hope to post some of the photos in the near future. Meanwhile, home page has been updated with one of the pictures that I like; I also thought I would share with you several interesting episodes from the trip—here goes.

  • I have been carrying two cable releases on all photo expeditions for years. Preparing for this trip, though, it occurred to me that I had not used the second one even once and, consequently, I left it at home. And guess what—I lost my only cable release on the very first day of serious shooting. Luckily enough, I figured where I lost it, retraced my steps and found it. Two days later, however, another photographer on the team lost his and there was no salvation. Lesson learned!

  • Here is an interesting episode for wedding photographers:


     
     

    What is so out of the ordinary about this mundane picture? Well, if you think that it was shot in a local park, dig this: the picture was actually taken by the shore of mountain lake Yulongla (玉隆拉措), which is at an altitude of 3900 meters above sea level and takes about 18 hours to drive to from Chengdu (yes, the only way to get there is drive). I have no idea whether this was a request of the customer or a creative idea of the photographer, but it certainly is a fine example of commitment and creativity.

  • At one point we decided to alter our initial schedule to be able to photograph one more sunrise. The change meant spending three more hours on the road (roughly ten hours altogether) as well as staying in a much worse boarding house. And the funny thing is that when the issue was raised all six photographers on the team unhesitatingly said "yes!"—yep, everyone was immediately prepared to bear even more hardship for the sake of photographing one more sunrise. I suppose only landscape photographers can comprehend this.

I have to also note that as much as I enjoyed being at what from a certain perspective would qualify as the edge of the world, I cannot describe how soothing the first sip of coffee and the sound of jazz in Starbucks Chengdu were .

P.S. An aside observation: there were three people with notebook computers in Starbucks and I was the only one with a book, a paper notebook and a pencil (why a pencil? because pencils are light and do not fail on you in cold temperatures).

September 27th, 2007

I thought I would let you know where in Western Sichuan I am going. But first have a look at the (partial) map of China and notice the location of Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan Province:


 
 

Second, have a look at the map of Sichuan Province below. I always talk very fondly about Western Sichuan and here you can see why—Eastern Sichuan, roughly speaking, is dominated by the Sichuan basin, which is mostly flat and featureless; Western Sichuan, on the other hand, is dominated by mountains, rivers, glaciers, you name it. This, in fact, is a part of the eastern border of the Tibetan plateau; it is known for dramatic landscapes and persuasive presence of the Tibetan culture.


 
 

Finally, here is my route (see the map below): Shanghai –> Chengdu –> Ngawa (阿坝) –> Markam (马尔康) –> Garze (甘孜) –> Taofu (道孚) –> Xinduqiao (新都桥) –> Chengdu –> Shanghai (I am not mentioning some of the smaller places that are not on the map). Notice how an hour's drive from Chengdu gets you from the monotony that surrounds the city into the mountains; this could be perfectly illustrated by Pink Floyd's song "Speak to me / Breathe" played roughly from 0:30 to 1:20 (you might disagree and I do not insist—the only excuse that I have is that associations are always personal and fundamentally strange creatures). I expect to do a lot of cultural photography in Ngawa and landscape photography throughout the route.


 
 

As a side note I have to mention that Google Earth and Google Maps are absolutely indispensable tools for photographers (mostly landscape but not only). While finding written information on a new place and viewing pictures of it that were taken by others do diminish initial ignorance, they usually are not sufficient to put the information into the context of topography and give guidance as to how you should photograph once at the location. Google Earth gives you a very good idea as to what kind of scenery you can expect to see en route to the destination, provides information on whether you should photograph the place at sunrise or sunset (or possibly both), as well as hints at the possible location of the best shooting spots. One day I should probably write an article about this.

Hasta luego—catch you on the flip side!

September 26th, 2007

A while ago I had a brief correspondence with a reader who had a few questions about photographing in Yunnan Province, China. He has written again to say that he had a great time taking pictures in the area but, unfortunately, his photo bag was stolen in Kunming as he was waiting for his bus to Guangnan. Generally speaking, China is a very safe place to travel but, alas, theft can be a problem in any country. That is exactly the reason why I always carry my photo bag with me when I am on a photographic expedition. I never leave it in the hotel room (or yurt for that matter), in the car (or on the bus), or anywhere else, really—not even after a long busy day when the last thing you want to do is lug your heavy camera bag around. One just cannot be too careful!

September 24th, 2007

Fujifilm Velvia 50 (RVP50) vs. Velvia 100 (RVP100) comparison has been posted. The bottom line is that preparing for the upcoming expedition to Western Sichuan (川西) I have bought several dozen rolls of RVP50.

This, of course, is not the kind of articles one writes to attract more people to visit his/her Web site. I mean, think about it, how many people can possibly be interested in minor differences between two similar types of film? If you need more clicks, write about the latest and greatest digital stuff; here, the quality of writing or the depth of insight does not really matter as long as you offer a bit of spice in the form of controversy, speculation or prophesy.

To be honest, though, I did not actually write the article on purpose. I simply happened to see something very peculiar, had a few questions about it and conducted a research to have the answers (the questions were fundamentally different from the ones that require staring into space). By the time the research was over putting the article together was pretty much a matter of copy–and–paste and writing down some of my observations.

September 17th, 2007

Photographs from Rainbow City, the last place that I visited in Northern Xinjiang, China in August, are now online. All pictures from the expedition have been posted and now is the time to start relentlessly deleting the not–so–good ones. There are currently 39 photos altogether—let us see how many will remain in the end.

One of the curious things about Rainbow City is that it is located smack in the middle of oil fields and visitors are not really welcomed. I actually had doubts whether we would be able to get there at all. The photo below was taken (with my Panasonic Lumix DMC–LX2) about twenty kilometers away from Rainbow City from the car as we were driving towards the signs. The two signs on the right basically remind you of the importance of production safety, the third sign from the right says "DANGER" and the small yellow sign on the left shows the direction to Rainbow City. Kind of makes you wonder, would not you say?


 
 

Welcome to Rainbow City

Photographic Gods (and my boss) have been good to me this year and I am now scheduled to go on yet another (third this year) dedicated photographic expedition to yet another fascinating location, Western Sichuan Province (China), in early October. Boom bam baby!

September 15th, 2007

I do not remember when or how I came across the question of "What is the difference between thinking and staring into space?" but I could not let the matter go ever since it entered my mind. At long last I think I have come up with an answer. Staring into space is the waiting part of the thinking process. Let me explain.

The common notion of thinking is that it is a rational process of logical deduction. I tend to look at it differently—I believe that it is rather an interweaving and never ending process of asking questions and waiting for answers. The questions originate from one's curiosity or, more often, inner cravings and are sent to the black box of his mind—not entirely dissimilar to how you drop a line and a hook into water and hope to catch fish. Now and again you wait in vane, occasionally you catch fish but it slips back into water, and every once is a while you celebrate the moment when the waiting was well worth your while.

The timing of the replies that come from the black box is completely beyond our control. Sometimes answers come very quickly; sometimes a question might take years to be answered; and some questions remain unanswered throughout our lives. The timing has also nothing to do with how eager we are to receive an answer—the more torturous questions quite often take longer to be answered or never get answered at all. Finally, the timing has no apparent connection with the stimulus or circumstances of the outside world—answers to important questions often come when we least expect them and valuable ideas may surface in the most inappropriate circumstances. The answer to the question that initiated this post came on a packed–like–sardines–in–a–can subway car on the way from work.

The question–answer sequence is rather random, too. It happens very seldom that a question is followed by an answer to that question. Much more often, you ask question one, then you ask question two, question three, and so on. By the time you ask question twelve an answer to question five surfaces; an answer to question three might come when question ninety is born; and question ten might never get answered at all. One thing, however, is certain—answers, even though not to all questions, do keep coming. And the chances of them surfacing are much higher when you stare into space.

At first glance our role as thinkers might appear too passive. That, however, is not the case—the black box, after all, is on our side and it does the best it can. We know nothing about its internal workings but we can help it by, first, keeping sending questions in and, second, actively waiting for answers. The latter means being attentive and ready to pick up on whatever answers the black box might send to the other side; this is exactly what staring into space is.

I have asked a million and one questions, including all the big ones, and have a whole lot of answers to wait for. When I stare into space I seldom think about something concrete (staring into space is too much of a tool for that); were you to ask me what I am thinking about I would have a hard time coming up with an immediate answer (does this sound like a black box, too?). When I stare into space I am either sending in more questions or, much more often, simply waiting for answers. I never know when, if ever, they will surface; neither can I be sure what questions, if any, will be answered. But I keep on staring into space. To me, this is a matter of natural disposition.

Please do let me know if you have a better theory—I will be happy to share and discuss it.

September 13th, 2007

Photography is a strange medium in the sense that it is not a means that allows depicting our impression or overall perception of a subject in a linear way. It is often possible to create a photographic image that is better than the subject generally appears in real life; such images set expectations that result in disappointment if the subject is experienced in person after seeing the images. Every once in a while, however, I come across subjects that undeniably exude charm yet I fail to capture even a fraction of the magic photographically, leave alone producing images that would be better than my perception of them. It might be suggested that I simply do not work hard or long enough to produce adequate photographs; whereas this might be partially true, I, however, have a strong feeling that the main reason for the failure is that a significant part of the charm simply does not exist in the domain of visual interpretation. In other words, photography allows creating charm where it generally does not exist and yet sometimes fails to capture it when it is found in abundance.

Case in point? Hom in Northern Xinjiang Province, China is an absolutely fascinating place. I find my photographs of the place mediocre; photographs of better photographers who visit and photograph it on a regular basis, such as Zhang Xinmin (张新民), are much better. Nevertheless, Hom is still bound to pleasantly surprise you even if you visit after seeing Zhang Xinmin's excellent book.

Mumiy Troll gave their third concert in Shanghai on 11 September. I hope to post several photographs from the concert in the near future (have a look at the photos from the second concert if you have not seen them yet).


 
 

Mumiy Troll in Shanghai with their new album "Amba"

September 6th, 2007

We all think we know what we like. Quite interestingly, however, there often is a considerable gap between what we think we are fond of and what we actually cherish. If you do not believe me, try doing this simple experiment: write down five or ten pieces of music that you think are your absolute favourites; then open iTunes (presuming you use the programme, that is), sort all your music by play count, and compare the top five (or ten) compositions with the list you have just written down. I am willing to bet that you will be in for a bit of a surprise.

I reckon a similar discrepancy exists between what one thinks of his personality and what that personality is in actuality, albeit the correlation is much more complex and I would not call coming up with a simple way of demonstrating it a piece of cake.

Have a look at the photographs from Kanas Lake. I hope that the image of Northern Xinjiang (and its diversity) is gradually starting to take shape.

September 1st, 2007

Photographs from Wucaitan (五彩滩) have been posted and home page photograph has been updated with one of them. A couple of random comments in relation to these pictures:

Some of my friends have mentioned that colours seem unbelievable, as if photoshopped. The truth of the matter is that they are true to the original transparencies and, in fact, is one of the reasons why I absolutely love slide film. This being said, for film to record the colours they have to be there in the first place. This means being at the location at the right time, which always entails missing a few hours of sweet sleep in the morning and dinner in the evening.

Photographers are not the best editors of their own work and selecting the best photographs as well as presenting them in a meaningful manner is a long and intricate process. At this stage there still are many creative possibilities that I might want to explore and, consequently, what photographs will finally remain, as well as what text will accompany them, if at all, will be a gradually unfolding development.

One of the things that occurred to me during the trip is that the concept of bracketing needs to be significantly expanded. When we say bracketing we usually mean bracketing exposure. For crucial shots, however, I believe that every important aspect has to be bracketed and this most importantly includes composition and filters (when you use them). In case of the former you might want to try slightly different composition with that rock a little to the left or a little to the right or with a little bit more or a little bit less of the sky. As to the latter, it is often difficult to predict what exact effect using a particular filter will have and, say, trying graduated ND filters of different densities might be a good idea. In some cases 81A vs. polarizer is also a tough call and having a few shots with each filter is desirable. This, of course, will result in a significant increase of film usage but, considering the time and overall costs involved in a photographic expedition, film is cheap.

I worked on the photos while listening to my latest music discovery on auto–repeat. And today being September 1st, I also savoured Supertramp's "School" earlier in the day.

August 27th, 2007

As I am sure you already know Nikon have announced the D300 and the D3. The former further improves on the already outstanding Nikon D200 and, as Thom Hogan quite rightly put it, for all intent and purposes replaces the pro–caliber Nikon D2Xs. The full–frame 12.1MP D3 shoots at 9 fps, boasts ISO25600 (!!!) and offers a whole lotta... listening to Led Zeppelin I was about to write love but of course I mean other significant improvements . The camera is, without a doubt, a "wow" product and appears to have eclipsed competition in the range for the time being.

For a couple of days after the announcement I was badly struck by the EAS (Equipment Acquisition Syndrome) and thought about how the new camera(s), not to mention the revolutionary Nikkor 14–24 lens, would improve my photography. Then, however, things cooled off a bit and I could think more rationally about it all. First, I realised that all the improvements of the new cameras have very marginal implications, if any, to the types of photography that I do; I might want all the new gear but I do not actually need it. Yet more interestingly, I have been thinking about what implications all of this has for... film.

Several years ago when digital technology was developing by leaps and bounds quality of digital cameras improved dramatically with each iteration. This very naturally created the impression that, at that pace, film would be left in ashes in no time. However, for the past several years we have been for the most part locked in the 6–10MP range of resolution; the new cameras just announced by Nikon and Canon indicate that most of us will be pretty much locked in the 8–12MP range of resolution in the upcoming couple of years. No one knows what will happen afterwards but I reckon that digital cameras will be improving at a slower pace heading towards maturation and gradually perfecting all aspects of performance of the existing mega–pixel counts.

From this perspective, the only area where digital has undoubtedly surpassed film is convenience and, at least so far, none surpasses the other in terms of absolute image quality. It has been widely suggested that 10MP DSLRs roughly replace 35mm film but we have medium format film; top–quality 12MP cameras probably start approaching the quality of scanned medium format film (645 or 6X6—but not bigger) and the grossly expensive 16MP camera bodies and digital backs (USD8000) arguably surpass it; the insanely priced 39MP digital backs (USD20,000 and over) start approaching the quality of drum–scanned 4X5 film but then, for the sake of the argument, we also have 8X10 film. Put differently, increasing the area of film used is cheap but adding megapixels is exponentially costly and as of 2007 anything beyond 12MP is still rather a theoretical consideration and science fiction for most mortals. And in the viable range of under 12MP the differences between the two mediums (workflow and aesthetic appearance) are significant enough for them to co–exist.

In other words, I reckon that the status quo is likely to remain for quite a while and film is not going anywhere in the foreseeable future (I actually used the recently re–introduced Fuji Velvia 50 slide film during my trip to Xinjiang). Also very importantly, many "obsolete" DSLRs of previous generations still remain perfectly adequate tools—as an example, this is what a D200 with the 18–200 zoom is capable of despite the fact that the D200 should be dragging its magnesium–alloy body towards the digital cemetery now that the D300 has been announced:


 
 

Seagull dance © Maxim Ivanov

I am still in the (long) process of working on the slides shot during my expedition to Northern Xinjiang Province. As there are so many photos to process and share, the best way of doing it is posting pictures from one place at a time. Today, five best photographs from Ghost City have been posted. Please note that as of now the links to the other destinations lead to empty pages.

August 20th, 2007

My photo expedition to Xinjiang (新疆) was an absolutely brilliant endeavour. Driving over 2200 kilometers in eight days, I had a great opportunity to witness and photograph landscapes ranging from yardangs of Gobi desert (where it was boiling at +36C) to greenery and lakes of Altay Mountains (where it was very chilly at only +4C in the night). For those who are familiar with the area, my route was as follows: Urumchi (乌鲁木齐) –> Moguicheng (魔鬼城) –> Wucaitan (五彩滩) –> Kanas (哈纳斯) –> Hom (禾木) –> Wucaicheng (五彩城) –> Urumchi (乌鲁木齐). Home page photograph has been updated with one of the pictures from the expedition and I will be gradually posting photographs from each of the places as I sort through the 38 rolls of 120 film (colour slides and B&W negatives) shot there.

While en route, I read (and then re–read some parts of) David Hurn/Bill Jay's "On being a photographer", which can be bought directly from the LensWork Web site. Although Bill's voice is not as pronounced and assertive as it is in the end notes of the LensWork Magazine and keen photographers are likely to find some suggestions and statements rather merciless or even hurtful (but true), the book is very well written and packed with professional and experienced advises. This is one of the rare no BS and no pretense books on photography—highly recommended (but do not expect to find many technical discussions in it).

August 10th, 2007

August has been a heck of an exciting and busy month. In the beginning of the month I was in Spain and had a chance to stop by in Moscow for a weekend. Having just returned from Xiamen and Shenzhen (Southern China), I am writing this in Shanghai. This weekend will be seeing me going to Northern Xinjiang (新疆; again, China) on an eight–day dedicated photographic expedition. Gee, I do not even have the time to properly digest everything I encounter on the way. I thought I would slow down and give it all some quality contemplation time in the upcoming months but then realised that both September and October look to be very hectic—and exciting—too.

As a Zambian saying goes, "We all come from different places and we all go to different places; but we do meet at some places." Put differently, the wavelengths we—and the world around us—are on are constantly, even though imperceptibly, shifting. The changes, however, accumulate and there comes a day when it hits home that something that was dear to you can no longer be found on the same wavelength. Is it relevant whether you moved or your companion shifted? It probably is if you intend to analyse the process of the change; however, once it happens, the shift is generally irrevocable and once the connection is impaired it no longer has present value. "It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing", I suppose.

While in Europe I read Murakami Haruki's latest novel called "After Dark" and, quite honestly, was very disappointed. I sort of felt a bit of a disconnection when reading his other recent work but "After Dark" stretched my generally generous ability to give the benefit of the doubt to an impossible degree. Descriptions for the sake of descriptions, extravagant metaphors and exaggerated figures of speech, the same old bag of tricks and ideas scattered among a number of characters that lack depth and distinctiveness. And most disappointingly, a lukewarm depiction of the after–dark world with the use of a very limited palette of grey (or was the novel intended for junior–high students?). If I had to sum this up in one word, lame would be it.

This, however, is just my perception of the work which, I reckon, will become yet another highly–acclaimed bestseller. Obviously, it is me who has imperceptibly shifted to a different wavelength. But then again, how come I still like Murakami's early work?

July 27th, 2007

Creative approaches in photography—depicting Beijing Hutongs is now online.

July 5th, 2007

Yuanyang Photo Travel Guide has been posted. Finally I can move on.

June 25th, 2007

To illustrate the last thought here, I am posting a variation of the photograph that appeared below on March 13th, 2007:


 
 

A view of Shanghai from the 18th floor—II
Nikon D70s and Nikkor 18–70 DX lens

The photograph posted on 13th March was taken on 6th March; the picture above was taken on 5th June. And between these two dates (i.e. we are talking about a period of almost three months) there pretty much was not a single day when pre–sunset light was decent enough to produce a worthy photograph. How can I be so certain? Well, I happen to be lucky enough to be able to see the view Monday through to Friday; I normally do not see it on weekends but I always look out for interesting light. As anyone who has been in China for a reasonably long time knows, grey colour and flat lighting prevail in many regions of the country and encountering fascinating light is no easy task.

June 19th, 2007

Last Sunday was one of my mate's (Sergei Litvin's) birthday and we spent the weekend in Suzhou (苏州) celebrating his birthday and just hanging out. We had tons of fun, photographed quite a lot and, given the special occasion, even savoured the free–flow champagne brunch at Suzhou Sheraton Hotel .


 
 

Sergei Litivin and the gang in Suzhou
Nikon D70s and Tokina 12–24 F4 lens

Sergei mentioned several times in the past that he was not entirely happy with his slowish point–and–shoot camera and its dinky screen and wanted to move to a DSLR. In particular, he was thinking about a small camera with a large LCD screen and no shutter lag. High–quality out–of–camera JPG files was another important criterion because he is not going to shoot raw and/or spend much time on post–processing. As to the number of mega–pixels, it was unimportant as he seldom prints and when he does the prints are never larger than A4 paper size. And so, upon my suggestion, we gave him a Nikon D40 kit as a collective birthday present.

Apart from yours truly there also were several other keen photographers and, as two of them shoot Canon, we, very naturally, had a brief Canon vs. Nikon chat (unlike so many discussion forums in a friendly and forgiving manner). When we came to the point where I sort of had to explain why I chose Nikon D40 instead of Canon 400D I, basically, gave two reasons. First, I suggested that the differences between cameras of different levels (entry—prosumer—professional) within a given system are more significant than the differences between cameras of the same level of different brands (with the exception of user interface, of course; there also are a lot of nuances but one has to be at a pretty high level to know and care about them). From this perspective, both D40 and 400D would perfectly address Sergei's needs. Given this, the deciding factor was simply that Nikon is what I know fairly well and thus can help with or give advice on mastering the D40 at any time. As far as the matter of differences in ergonomics and user interface is concerned, Sergei was not familiar with any of the brands and, due to this, the issue did not come into play.

I suppose after all the years of using all sorts of photo gear I finally start approaching the stage where I can give an objective and honest advice based on another person's needs and without fussing too much about what in the end of the day belongs to the realm of things inconsequential .

June 14th, 2007

Luoping Photo Travel Guide has been posted.

June 2nd, 2007

So Mamiya will be selling their 22MP medium format digital back for just under USD7000. At long last, prices of digital backs seem to be coming down to earth. This, however, is still far from what I would call affordable; 22MP is most certainly nice and dandy but I would really like to see a truly affordable 16MP back. It would suffice for most photographers' needs, sell in relatively high volumes and breathe life into medium format—both second–hand and new—equipment. Something, however, tells me that such a back will not be coming from Hasselblad .

May 31st, 2007

In preparation for a major photographic trip later this year I was looking into buying a backup body for my Hasselblad V–series system as a technical failure in the place I intend to go to would be an irrecoverable disaster that I cannot afford. Instead of buying a conventional camera body I decided to buy a Hasselblad FlexBody. The FlexBody is a hybrid of a medium format and a view camera—it is small and light and takes Hasselblad lenses and film backs; at the same time, it has bellows and allows for camera movements (albeit rather basic and limited if compared with a proper view camera). The reason why I did not buy a view camera instead is that I only wanted a backup body and, to me, camera movements were the topping on the cake. Also, I will not be able to take two full systems on the upcoming trip.

The FlexBody boasts two types of camera movements—rear standard shift and rear standard tilt. The former, basically, allows to avoid having converging parallel lines; the latter can be used to increase DOF (depth of field) or achieve the selective focus effect to a far greater degree than can be done by simply varying the aperture. (The FlexBody also has an integral continuously variable bellows extension but I am not a macro kind of guy .)

So I took my FlexBody for a spin on last Sunday and have to say that the ability to have no converging lines in cityscapes and the selective focus effect are much, much more intoxicating than I expected. Here are a couple of casual examples:


 
 
 

Goodbye to converging lines...


 
 

...and hello to selective focus

As far as I am concerned, these simple and fundamental techniques are far more intriguing, promising and irresistible than all the wizardy features and ever–increasing megapixels offered by new DSLRs. Who knows, maybe in time I will not be able to do without the toppings and have to look into buying much more basic cakes that cater for them .

May 21st, 2007

Brooks Jensen once mentioned in one of his podcasts that life is a process of letting go and I could not agree more. We let go of some things because we feel that whatever role they were supposed to play has been fulfilled, or because our perception moves onto a higher level and we leave them behind as clothes we can no longer wear or all of sudden find tasteless, or simply because we realise that holding onto them or acquiring more of the same simply is not going to resolve or significantly change anything. There also are things that we have to let go of once we reach a certain point. They, however, are fewer, take a discriminating eye to recognise them as such and, unlike the former variety, require a persistent determination to part with.

From a certain perspective the course of a photographer's artistic evolvement is a process of letting go, too. As one gradually becomes a better photographer and his artistic perception matures he lets go of the photographic subjects that are not immediately consistent with his essence as well as of the compositions and lighting that are likely to only bring about triviality; this often coincides with moving to bigger and bigger formats—from 35mm to 645 to 6X7 and on to 4X5—as well as results in an ever–decreasing number of total shots and an ever–increasing number of keepers. He steadily learns to identify less successful photographs and disposes of them increasingly easier. And he discovers that with time he needs fewer and fewer pieces of gear, suffers from the E.A.S. (equipment acquisition syndrome) less and less frequently and, quite oddly, even starts bordering on becoming cool.

Are there any things that photographers have to let go of? I would venture to say older technologies, as for any new technology there comes a time when it matures to the point whereby the benefits that it offers are worth the trouble of leaving the comfort zone of the familiar and well practiced. This, however, is not entirely absolute as the medium associated with a given technology always has its unique signature that cannot be completely reproduced by the technology that replaces it. Unlike things unrelated to photography that we have to let go of in the course of our lives, sticking to the look of a particular medium is not detrimental and might even be trendy.

May 20th, 2007

Where to buy photo gear in China page has been updated with recent prices of photo equipment in Shanghai.

May 1st, 2007

You gain or lose weight, the way you look invariably and constantly changes with time, the way you think gradually transforms, you listen to different music and start preferring wine to beer or ditch both altogether. Is there a point where you become a different person? And what point in time is your reference to the real "you"?

April 30th, 2007

I was recently rearranging and organizing my slides and digital files. I have never counted how many frames I shoot or retain in a given period of time and did not have the foggiest idea of the number. As it turns out, from all medium format slides shot during the past two years approximately four hundred have been retained. Now, is this too little or too much? I am not sure, really. On the one hand it does not seem like a lot for two years; one the other hand, if you think about it, what do you do with four hundred slides? And this is only what I have kept (i.e. consider serious work) as well as does not include the thousands of files shot with digital cameras.

In the end of the day I seem to lean towards harsher discarding. It, however, has to be exercised carefully as some of the pictures we take get uncovered significantly later—here is an example of a photograph that was shot quite a long time ago, went unnoticed at the time and have become a favourite only now:


 
 

Lazy afternoon

April 26th, 2007

I find it curious how certain things—and people—come and stay in our lives for relatively short periods of time. They fascinate us, teach us new things, open new doors and ways of perception. They, however, burn out fairly quickly and, once devoured, are no longer a part of the intense attention and inevitably become a thing of the past. They are like stepping–stones—but stepping–stones to what? Uncovered yet not–too–deep parts of ourselves? Or parts of ourselves that are not essential in the grand scheme of things? Or are they simply minute fascinations?

Then there are things—and people—that stay much longer or, in terms of the limited span of our lives, even infinitely, suggesting a connection that is much more fundamental to our beings. Upon first encounter they usually give a strong impression of importance, even though at a subconscious level, and take a much longer time to fully understand and appreciate. By the time we completely grasp their depth and importance they have already witnessed and accompanied a considerable stretch of our evolvement and thus become an indispensable part of the process, of the memory of the process and of the resulting self.

And, of course, there are things—and, again, people—that just do not touch us.

What does this all have to do with photography? It seems to me that photographs that we take or see tend to fall into these categories, too.

April 8th, 2007

You might have noticed that an icon () now appears next to the Web site's URL in the address bar of your web browser (it actually took a couple of days' worth of my free time to make the thingy—yes, pixel–level design can be that tough). Also, left–hand side menu has been redesigned and rearranged to reflect the structure and content of the site better. Small refinements that gradually lead to perfection...

March 28th, 2007

As far as the pictures from Yuanyang are concerned, only four (out of eleven) made it to the finals. I have combined them with some musings on photography into what now is posted as Random thoughts on photography. Of course, I could have (some will argue should have) directly posted the best photographs with the text but I thought I would let you have a glimpse at how things boil down under my hood . I now hope to do the same thing with the photos from Luoping.

March 15th, 2007

Have a look at my favourite photographs from Luoping. Again, this page is just my playground and an intermediate stage in selecting the best pictures. Quite a few of them are very similar and I am having a difficult time picking the greatest; some of them need to be worked on further but I need to be sure that they are fundamental keepers before I invest more time into them. Once more, your comments and critique will be highly appreciated.

March 13th, 2007

PMA has come and gone. It has been widely perceived that, as far as serious Nikon users are concerned, it was a bit of a disappointment—many expected to see a D3 and new pro–level lenses but we got yet another consumer camera (D40x) and a prosumer lens (AF–S 50–200 f/4–5.6 VR) instead. Nikon have been churning out consumer and prosumer products for quite some time now and many have a very strong perception that the high–end user has been seriously neglected. On a personal level I am not that upset that the D3 did not surface at this particular time (it would be reasonable to expect it to be a full–frame and, therefore, not immediately affordable, camera—hence the lack of an active interest). The situation with the lenses, however, is both frustrating and ambiguous.

Continuing lack of some pro–level DX lenses goes in hand with the knowledge that we are more than likely to see a full–frame camera body in the not–too–distant future; this creates an unequivocal message that there is a possibility that, in the long run, DX format is designated for consumer and prosumer cameras only and, as such, will be limited to the few pro–level optics that already exist and a whole bunch of prosumer lenses (i.e., plastic and slow). If that is the case, many serious photographers, including yours truly, might question the merit of buying Nikon DX format cameras in the future—and now.

Although this might sound like whining for the sake of rhetoric (or vice versa), it is not—I, for one, need a high quality AF–S Nikkor 50–135 (or 50–150) DX f/2.8 VR lens (if Nikon still have any serious intentions for the future of DX format, that is; and no, any slower version would not do). Sigma have one, Tokina have one and Pentax have just announced one, too. Now, I could (and have been contemplating to) go with an off–brand lens; the problem, however, is that I am not entirely happy with what Sigma and Tokina have on offer (no VR). Even more importantly, going with one of the off–brand lenses would imply giving up hope that Nikon will ever produce one and, if so, investing any more money into DX format would not be very prudent. Why is it that every once in a while Nikon put us into the situation where the grass on the other side seems greener even to the most loyal folks?


 
 

A view of Shanghai from the 18th floor—the altitude is perfect to have a nice composition with no converging lines
without resorting to any convergence control equipment/techniques.
Panasonic Lumix DMC–LX2 @ 28mm (equivalent)

March 7th, 2007

My favourite photographs from Yuanyang have now been posted here. A couple of them are definite keepers (at least by my humble standards); the fate of a few, however, is currently in limbo and some of them, very likely, will ultimately have to go (merciless suggestions are very much welcome!). I have also started working on an essay but am not entirely sure whether I will actually be able to finish it. Given all this, the page is nothing but my playground for the time being—it might end up being just a home for a couple of nice pics or, hopefully, become something more meaningful. Sorry for being so vague but creativity is never a straightforward undertaking.

I am deliberately postponing working on the slides from Luoping, too, as I do not foresee going on any photographic trips until at least mid–April and thus have plenty of time to savour the creative endeavour. The good news, however, is that this should allow me enough time to finish my review of the Tokina AF 12–24mm f/4 lens .

March 8th, update: thanks very much for all the feedback and constructive criticism—it helped me making up my mind; three photos are gone now, more to go ("You're being let go, your department's being downsized, you're a part of an outplacement, we are going in a different direction, we're not picking up your option... Take your pick." ).

February 28th, 2007

With the reference to the current home page photograph a reader has written suggesting how lucky I was to come across such nice yellow flowers. I have to disagree—even though I mentioned several times in previous posts that luck plays a considerable role in outdoor photography, the trip to Luoping was a carefully researched decision and running into the yellow flowers was a perfectly anticipated encounter.

There are several places in China where one can photograph rapeseed flowers and in different locations they bloom at different times. For instance, in southern Anhui Province they normally blossom in the second half of April. In Luoping, they blossom for three to four weeks surrounding mid–February, which is precisely why I was there at this particular time; you go there at any other time of the year and you get nada. In case of Yuanyang it was a bit easier, though, as terraced rice fields in the area are filled with water from the end of December through to early April. And talking about luck (unfortunately, it is impossible to eliminate its role completely), I actually was unlucky—in Yuanyang the water was there but seas of clouds (云海), which are considered a must for successful photography in the area, were not; in Luoping, the flowers bloomed alright but the blue of the sky was not transparent and deep enough.

Generally speaking, conducting a thorough research on your subject to know where and when to photograph it is one of the key elements of successful photography; it is also the only way of eliminating the element of luck as much as possible. Professional photographers do not just "happen" to photograph, say, rare animals—they do their homework, know exactly where and when to find them and eliminate the element of chance even further by being in the right place at the right time over and over again. From this perspective I find it rather strange that very few amateur photographers research their subjects properly. We all know that we should photograph snow in winter and flowers in spring and summer; however, when it comes to actually taking pictures very few of us venture further than our neighborhood or choose timing sufficiently carefully. Photographers are artists and may sometimes be romantic and impractical; however, when it comes to choosing locations and timing, we should be utterly realistic and purpose driven.

As far as my trip to Yuanyang and Luoping is concerned, I was in the right place at the right time; unfortunately, I did not have enough time to wait for the moment when all the aspects simultaneously were at their best and luck had no say whatsoever.

February 27th, 2007

I spent the Chinese New Year holiday (19—24 February) photographing in Yuanyang and Luoping of Yunnan Province in China. The former is arguably the largest terraced rice field area in the country and impressive to such an extent that it goes far beyond serving the purpose of growing rice in a mountainous region and borders on what one might call the art of earth carving; the latter is the biggest, at least to my knowledge, area of continuous rapeseed fields, which stretch as far as the eye can see. To be honest, both are not the types of the landscape that I am used to seeing on a daily basis and, at first, I could not do any photography because I was simply stunned; later on, I could not stop photographing because, again, I was simply astounded.

When I say I could not stop photographing I mean it literally—I shot 29 rolls of 120 film with my Hasselblad system in four days and a half, which, by my standards, is seriously going overboard and reminds me of the first time I went to the Yellow Mountain. Another interesting thing about the trip is that despite all the excitement I was conscious enough to use all sorts of filters (polarizer, graduated ND, ND and even combinations of them) and techniques (hyperfocal DOF to mention the simplest) when it was necessary. At the same time, unfortunately, my camera had a technical malfunction which I discovered only upon getting slides back from the laboratory and now have to investigate; quite luckily, though, it was not lethal and most of the images were not ruined.

To give you an idea about the places home page photograph has been updated with a photo from Luoping and a picture of terraced rice fields of Yuanyang can be seen above. I will be posting more photographs from the trip in the nearest future.

February 13th, 2007

Furthermore on the subject of Hong Kong and clouds:


 
 

Clouds over Hong Kong

To me, this set of unsophisticated photographs has a rather strong association with Miles Davis' album Kind of Blue and Flamenco Sketches in particular—not for any particular reason other than that the hotel I stayed at, quite uncommonly, plays the album on auto–repeat day in and day out. When two things that genuinely speak to you (in this case the music and the clouds) happen to be present at the same time they tend to naturally cling together, expand richness and depth that they possess individually and, at times, even become an independent entity with a whole new dimension.

February 10th, 2007

Photography is primarily about what you point your camera at and, especially in case of natural light photography, light; one of the last things photography is about is the camera that you use. I know that I am stating the obvious but we tend to forget and quite often neglect this simple truth. Last week I was reminded of it once again.

I was in Hong Kong on a hectic business trip that allowed no time to think about, leave alone doing, photography. One day, however, I had about an hour for myself, went out for a walk and happened upon some dramatic clouds in spectacular pre–dawn light. Fortunately, I had my Panasonic Lumix LX2 with me and, among other pictures, captured the photograph below. And the thing is that it could be taken with pretty much any camera—apart from some extreme cases such as LF and provided you are able to recognize the artistic opportunity.


 
 

Home bound

It is ironic how I often undertake several–day–long dedicated photographic expeditions and use some very fine equipment yet am unlucky and encounter no adequate light; at the same time, I have produced a number of great photographs that were taken with relatively primitive tools when I unexpectedly came upon interesting and/or unusual light and subject. To put it differently, when light is no good any camera is of no use; when light is great any modern camera, including point–and–shoots, will adequately capture the scene. There, of course, are nuances but they generally are not as important as is often suggested.

This also makes me think of the typical advertisement of point–and–shoot cameras where you see a beautiful landscape or a portrait of a stunningly gorgeous woman shown on the camera's display. The not–too–intricate and partially misleading message is that you will be able to take similarly beautiful photographs if only you buy the camera; what is hidden, however, is all the efforts that went into creating or finding that beautiful scene or portrait and that, once created or found, it can actually be photographed equally well with pretty much any camera. It is about the scene, not the camera.

Conclusions? Try to always have an aesthetically perceptive attitude, look out for interesting light and carry a camera with you. If natural light and interesting subjects are the sellers and photographers are the buyers, then it permanently and fundamentally is a seller's market.

February 1st, 2007


 
 

中漕新村

What's with this mediocre shot, you will most likely ask. Well, the thing about this uninspiring picture is that all the old houses you see in the middle and on the sides... will give way to a nice park and be no more in a couple of months' time. OK, you say, so what's so special about these shacks? Again, nothing, really. However, the lack of any distinctiveness makes this block representative of a number of very similar blocks in Shanghai that are being demolished and give way to either parks or new buildings. And the process of their disappearance in general represents the changes that the city is undergoing and hints at the direction in which it is headed.

Granted, Shanghai is on the right track and all these changes are, generally, for good—the city is becoming cleaner, greener and more spacious; also very importantly, its citizens are given a chance to live in better homes (albeit quite further away from city centre). This being said, when the old gives way to the new something is invariably and irrevocably lost. What is? Well, mostly things intangible—a style of life, if you will, or, at the very least, the way it used to be. And, irrespective of the fact that the new is (mostly) better, the old and the process of change deserve to be recorded—if only to know the roots of the newly emerging identity.

So I have started a small self–imposed project of producing a photographic record of the change. I photographed in the area before and thus have a record of how it used to be. These days I head into the alleys in the morning before work to record the process of the change. Finally, there will be a day when I will take a colourful photograph of the new park, or whatever it will be.

Now, why do I have to do this if it is not my identity that is changing? Or is my identity changing with it, too? Do not know, really. It probably is one of those instances in life when your intuition firmly tells you that it should be done and, in spite of the fact that logic fails to catch up in a timely manner and come up with a plausible reason for doing it, you rush in. If I do not do it, then who will?

January 29th, 2007

Another photograph from The Yellow Mountain that I like:


 
 

The Yellow Mountain Pines in snow and fog—II
Hasselblad 503cw, CFi 4/50 lens and Fujifilm Provia 100F slide film

Unfortunately, the low resolution of your screen (in fact, of any display—only 72 pixels–per–inch) and the small size do not allow appreciating the intricate detail and crispness that a real–life print of even a moderate size shows...

January 27th, 2007

Huangshan Photo Travel Guide and Photography–related links page have been updated.

January 23rd, 2007

At long last, my review of the Panasonic Lumix DMC–LX2 is online. Here is a shot taken with the camera today during lunchtime (and no, I was not thinking about buying the shack—too late at this stage ):


 
 

Rebuilding Shanghai
Panasonic Lumix DMC–LX2

After work a couple of more serious questions occupied my mind, namely: What is worse for your health, a few beers after work on your sofa in front of the TV or jogging along a busy road in Shanghai? and What is more sophisticated, Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew" or Bela Bartok's first piano concerto? Suggestions, anyone?

January 21st, 2007

Home page photograph has been updated with a picture that was taken last week in The Yellow Mountain. I really like the shot—what do you think? With all the fuss I probably created around the trip to the mountain, does it live up to your expectations?

January 16th, 2007

Well, I have to say that with a bit of luck persistence tends to pay off—I got to see a helluva lot of snow in The Yellow Mountain over the last weekend. As always up there, though, it was much more than just snow—Bitches Brew is still the anthem and, apparently to reaffirm oneness with the music and keep its reputation of being unpredictable and subtle intact, the mountain masterfully performed an improvisation on a flow of fleeting expressions. To help with the act, the sun appeared for literally a couple of minutes to humbly accompany Pharaoh's Dance. While being elusive, the ever–present fog patiently helped to Run The Voodoo Down. And the underlying theme, snow, firmly dominated Sanctuary yet gave up the rhythm on Sunday afternoon and, melting, dragged everything with it into nothingness.

The slides shot during the trip have now been developed but I need several days to further work on them and listen to more Miles Davis—more to come later. Meanwhile, here is a casual shot from my digital point–and–shoot that reflects the spirit of the trip:


 
 

The Yellow Mountain Pines in snow and fog—I
Panasonic Lumix DMC–LX2 @ 28mm (equivalent)

January 12th, 2007

 

Just before I leave for The Yellow Mountain, here is what the weather forecast has changed to in only one day. I have always known that weather forecasts are very unreliable in the mountain; well, I just hope it does not rain for two days and am happy to go regardless of what weather conditions I will have to deal with.

January 11th, 2007

 

The Yellow Mountain (黄山, Anhui Province, China) is stunningly gorgeous in snow (as an example, home page has been updated with one of the pictures taken there a couple of years ago). It, however, snows only a couple of times a year down (or, rather, up) there and being in the mountain at the right time is quite challenging. To the best of my knowledge, The Yellow Mountain has not seen snow this winter yet—I have been keeping an eye on the weather forecast from about mid–December—and when on Wednesday I saw a forecast of snow for this weekend it was an instantaneous decision to go.

I am now off photographing in the mountain over the weekend and even thinking about going next weekend again depending on how long it is going to snow. This is a very rare and great photographic opportunity and if you are in a position to take advantage of it I would strongly suggest not missing it.

Quite interestingly, this is going to be the first trip in my life when I am not taking any Nikon equipment with me...

January 9th, 2007

Several photographers have written on their Web sites about what they envision for the year 2007 in terms of possible developments in the photographic industry and their personal work. This had me thinking about where I should be heading photographically during this year, what my priorities should preferably be and, accordingly, how my photographic resources (read available cash and time) should ideally be distributed.

I have no doubts that it is going to be a big year for both Canon and Nikon (especially for the former); other major players are more than likely to introduce a number of very interesting (and seductive) products, too. Even though you can count on me to fail resisting E.A.S. (Equipment Acquisition Syndrome), I, nevertheless, am planning to primarily concentrate on, first, photographing more (hopefully while traveling) and, second, processes, by which I mean both creative and technical aspects of photography. In other words, I would like to switch emphasis from lenses, cameras and "pixel peeping" to further cultivating my vision, improving images regardless of what cameras and lenses they are captured with, as well as producing better final pictures and actual prints from slides and RAW files.

To start implementing this intention I have finally subscribed to Lenswork Magazine and bought John Shaw's Photoshop Field Guide—I am sure that these are not the last purchases in this category. I will also look into revamping the Gallery—some of the photographs do not look up to par to my eye anymore; others need to be worked on a bit more or completely "re–developed". Lastly, I hope to do a bit more of inspirational writing (as opposed to equipment reviews) but this, of course, will depend on how often Muse stops by.

We will see how it all unfolds.


 
 

Parallel worlds
Sri Mariamman Temple, Singapore

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