Lessons in photography: RAW versus JPG

When you experiment with in-camera settings in black & white for instance, the raw-file will record ALL information for you, including the colors. Should you decide that black & white was a mistake for the motive, you can always go back to the original data. And vice versa, you can always convert a color file to black & white without losing image quality. (1) jpg black & white in-camera (2) corresponding raw file in color after post-processing and conversion to jpg (3) corresponding raw-file after post processing conversion to black & white and jpg.

I have stressed the idea of shooting raw-files rather than jpgs in my first article in the section “Lessons of photography” already. And you might have heard this over and over again from others as well, if you are still shooting jpg. I only see one advantage of the later, you simply don’t need so much hard drive space if you continue doing what you do. But this little advantage leads us to the main problem, to save storage by shooting jpg, your files are being compressed. Compression deletes useful information that you can collect using raw, it might even create artifacts on your images. And hard drive space has really become quite affordable (and fast, too!) these days, so why not use it?

Even when you’re not ready to dive into the world of post-processing, use the low prices of hard drive space and start storing raw-files. If you are really into photography tomorrow as well, I promise you, the day will come when you will be thankful for that decision. As mentioned before, most modern digital cameras support shooting both at the same time, raw & jpg, so for a while, you can easily go on with what you’re doing until you feel fit for another level. But seriously, start storing those damn files!

I will use an example from classical analog photography to illustrate the difference between raw-file and jpg better. The jpg-file is equivalent to the automatically (!) developed image of your analog shot. Imagine, after a machine developed your analog image, your negative gets lost. You will be stuck with the version of the image the machine created for you, forever. Here is your jpg!

The raw-file in comparison, is like the digital version of the negative, only without the inverted color scheme. With an analog negative, the outcome of the final image depends on your way of doing the development in the darkroom. Leaving it in the chemicals a few seconds longer to achieve a certain effect? That is, what your digital post-processing program is, a virtual version of your old darkroom. If you only photograph in jpg, you are giving the key to that darkroom to a machine. Does that sound smart to you? I hope not!

You might sigh again by the thought of learning post-processing. But here is the good news, you can’t destroy a raw-file with doing something wrong. The raw file will always contain ALL the information that you shot, no matter in how many ways you fuck it up while learning. You can always go back to the originally recorded camera settings and see the original “digital negative”. Your jpg on the contrary, loses quality EVERY TIME you open it, readjust it, save it. And lets be honest, you might see it as a disadvantage to need to process your raw-files, but do you really really never touch one of your jpgs for some minor adjustments after the shooting? Really? REALLY?

Last but not least a recommendation for your “virtual darkroom”. There are a lot of programs out there, to do post-processing. Maybe some came with your camera already, try it for a start! Many professionals count on Adobe Lightroom, which is absolutely a great program. Personally I prefer using the raw converter of Adobe Photoshop CC though, because simply I like everything in the same place and Photoshop is always my “weapon of choice” when it comes to digital visuals.

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The image I used for the illustration of this article is available in the Ateliershop. Like most of my images it is limited to 23 copies and you can choose between two different photo papers, a silk matte paper and a metallic photo paper and two different sizes, 20×30 or 30x45cm. Just click on the image to go directly to the offer.

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Disneyland can wait

(This true story is based on the original text from October 2014, that I had written in German language. With the translation I also added some details that got lost in the first version.)

disneyland

One of the countless displays within the hotel

I met quite some people in my life who would be delighted to go to Disneyland, but be assured I have never been one of them. Theme parks, amusement parks, all that sounds like a nightmare to me. I would probably get drunk, beat up Mickey and end up peeing into some fountain. But as we know, the universe loves irony.

In October 2014 I spent some time in Portugal (again) and on my way home, I had to catch my connecting flight to Leipzig in Paris. My flight in Lisboa left in the morning already and I arrived in Paris before noon, but it made no sense to leave the airport, so I waited bravely for a few hours for my connection. When the flight was finally ready for boarding, the responsible airline decided out of the blue rather not to fly. Without any informations, the flight was cancelled. For hours the airline company chased the passengers from one counter to another, it was spoken about alternative flights to leave Paris, but in the end it turned out that none of the passengers would fly anywhere that night. The fight about the morning flights started amongst the passengers, the first airplane flying out did not have enough seats to take all. I managed to get promised a seat, because I told the woman behind the desk, that my cats were home alone. Which was true, my cat sitter had left my place in the morning and had no time to return.

It was after midnight already, close to 1am, when finally someone gave every passenger a hotel voucher. We were told that whole Paris was booked already, and a bus took us on a quite long ride, spiting us out in front of a huge Disney Resort Hotel. The reception was closed already, bar and restaurant as well. Two people were called to check us in. I asked for something to drink and some food, I got a small papercup with water and some candy instead. And a keycard to a room that I wasn’t able to find for quite some time because the place was huge.

It was so late at night and the bus for the morning flight was going to leave at 5am, so I decided not to go to bed at all. Instead I took a long shower, to find out that my only clean t-shirt was a bandshirt of NON/Boyd Rice. How naive I was, when I bought it and thought that DISNEYLAND CAN WAIT (1). After the shower, I went exploring.

The whole place seemed to be made out of plastic. Completely air-conditioned, the windows would not even open. Huge glass displays filled with Disney figurines everywhere. I started to feel trapped and went outside, passing by a vending machine with water and more candy. I had no small cash and starred longingly at the overpriced small Vittel bottles. I did not dare to drink water from my bathroom, not in plasticland. Who knows, maybe I showered with recycled urine of other hotel guests. With candy flavour. In a place like this, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out. The reception was closed again, of course, no one to change some money.

I had a few crumbs of tobacco left, which I forced into some paper, to pretend to be a cigarette. Smoking, wandering around, I was quickly caught by two security guards. One huge black guy and a tall skinny white fellow, both in uniforms.

WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE? – What does it look like, I am obviously smoking! The guards seemed to have problems to process this information. It seems no one ever smokes at night in Disneyland. Next they asked me, almost with an impending voice, do you have a problem!? – Well yes, actually I do have a problem. I need food, a strong drink and now also obviously tobacco. Both of them looked at me with regret and shook their heads. I raised my eyebrow and replied: Well then, Disneyland clearly sucks!

*squeal* WHAT???? NO!!!! You are going to see Disneyland tomorrow, how can you say that? (The big black fellow suddenly spoke in a very high voice) – I HOPE NOT, with some luck I am out of here before dawn. – BUT, but, you’re a girl! Every girl loves Disney!!! *squeal*

Did those guys look at me? I came from the forests & mountains of Portugal, and although I had showered, my fresh shirt did not really smell fresh after mingling with my dirty clothes a long hot day in Paris. I wore army boots, an army jacket and I roll my cigarettes myself. All in all, that doesn’t sound very girly to me. Also, I am not 12 years old. A few minutes earlier they seemed to want to arrest me, to  squeal like happy cartoon pigs a minute later, every time they say Disney. The big black one with the more badly-fitted uniform even jumped into the air a bit when squealing DISNEY! DISNEY! DISNEY! *jump-jump-jump* I was not really sure if I wanted to listen to the song “People”(2) or “All Pigs Must Die”(3) first.

I wish the story would stop at this point. But it didn’t. I booked Etihad, I paid the price. Lesson learned. In the morning, the bus brought me back to the airport. The airplane did fly. Just not to Leipzig. I landed in Berlin instead and the airline company did not really feel responsible to get me to Leipzig, my booked destination. Most passengers gave up and took the train or bus on their own cost. But I was not willing to pay for that transfer. No one fucks around with me when I am that hungry and tired. To make a long story short, I ended up traveling in a bus with an Indian travel group, who did fly in from Paris as well, and needed transfer to Leipzig. I functioned as their translater and with a group that big behind me, no one ignored me at the airport anymore. The old German bus driver was very happy about my presence, because he spoke no English and all the continiously babbling Indian students seemed to scare the shit out of him. He has never been to a Disney Resort Hotel I guess.

All in all, I arrived home almost 20 hours after my planned arrival. The cats were fine, but very very hungry. Disneyland waited in vain.

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(1)

(2) Boyd Rice: People (album: Music, Martinis & Misanthropy)
(3) Death In June: All Pigs Must Die (album: All Pigs Must Die)

How to catch a shooting star

To catch a shooting star with your camera, you need one thing more than anything else -apart from a camera of course- you need patience.

This image was shot on August 13th 2015 at 0:22am. The peak of Perseids was forecasted for August 13th, but during a daytime with too much light to see them. So the night into August 13th was the best chance to observe the phenomena as well. At that time I lived on the countryside of Saxony-Anhalt, close to the border to Thuringia, so I naturally had a good position without too many distracting lights.

I have no special equipment to do something like this, I used a (fairly old) Canon 50D and my favourite wide angle lens (Canon EF 10-22mm) for it. A wide angle lens completely makes sense for this endeavour, because you can cover the whole sky and not just a small part, while maybe in another part something is happening. The lens was set to 10mm. I used a very high ISO setting here (3500), which required some post processing work on the image, to reduce the resulting noise. I always shoot .raw-files, because I feel that any post-processing on a jpg is like beating a dead horse. A good image should not require much post-processing at all, but having the option sometimes adds a little extra to make the image even more special.

(Speaking about .raw-files, I want to add a little sidenote. If you are learning to become a photographer, or a better photographer, use this option! You might sigh about the thought of post-processing if you have never done this before, but if you seriously want to take good pictures, you will turn to .raw-files sooner or later anyway. And you will find yourself angry, when you realise that years of photography have passed by and you’re stuck with a ton of .jpg-files from those days. Most digital cameras have the option to do both, so if you’re not ready for .raw, consider to archive the files anyway. I will write more about this in another post some time.)

But back to the camera settings. As the ISO setting was still not enough to get a decent picture in a fairly dark environment, I had to open my shutter much more than I intended to. Usually I would recommend to use the highest value possible in this case, but I had to use the smallest (3,5 on this lens) to make this work with the equipment I had. I switched off the autofocus of the lens and focussed manually, attached a remote-control release to the camera and mounted it on a tripod. I used the remote to avoid shaking the camera during the process of bulb exposure. Bulb exposure, because the secret to catch a falling star with your camera is, to push the trigger before it happens. Also, it gives you the option to end the exposure at any given time you see fit. Because if you catch one shooting star really well, it is wise to end the exposure shortly after, or you end up “overwriting” the phenomena with an image of the normal sky.

One more problem are airplanes. It is hard to find a place where non passes, in most locations they will ruin a larger percentage of your images. Alltogether it took me about two and a half hour to get the shot I wanted. I used an exposure time of 33 seconds. The shooting star I caught was much more intense than a lot of others, actually there is more than one pictured in this image, but the other one is not visible at first sight. As you can see, the night was not completely clear, but had a few small clouds coming up. I went home feeling quite lucky nevertheless. If you are going to try this yourself, I wish you good luck… and a lot of patience.

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This image is available in the Ateliershop. Like most of my images it is limited to 23 copies and you can choose between two different photo papers, a silk matte paper and a metallic photo paper. Personally, I prefer the later one for this shot. Just click on the image to go directly to the offer.

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The “Wheel of Seven”

The “Wheel of Seven”, made of bones, teeth and vertebrae

Although I do prefer to not explain every artwork I create (and there are for sure ones, you will never find me writing about), I like to continue to introduce some artworks to the interested reader. This special introduction I am writing on the request of the new owner of this piece.

This is a unique sculpture piece that I have created in March this year, in a series of various sunwheels made of different natural materials, it is called “Wheel of Seven“. It is one of my personal favourites.

There are many ways of interpretation and I will start with one that I did not primarily have in mind when creating it, but that also correlates nicely. If you are familiar with Greek mythology, which was actually a hobbyhorse of mine when I was a child, along with all the old mythologies and their pantheons of gods, you sure are familiar with the Greek god and personification of the sun, the god Helios.  Helios wears a crown of a radiant halo and drives the chariot of the sun across the sky each day. In many depictions (not in all) his radiant halo is seven-pointed. Same goes for the equivalent in Roman mythology, the sun god Sol.

While I originally refer to it as another sunwheel because of its radial structure, I also see it as a “wheel of planets”, where the sun is only a part of the bigger image. The seven refer to the so-called classical planets, that are visible with the plain eye and have therefor been known the longest in astronomic history. This dates back to the Chaldeans, from the far southeastern corner of Mesopotamia, that was later assimilated into Babylonia. Sun and moon where included into the list, to correlate to the pantheon of gods. The Chaldeans had a special order for the planets, each refering to one of the seven weekdays it is supposed to rule: Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Sun.

If you would connect the seven endpoints of this sculpture, you get a (slightly distorted, due to the features of the natural materials) seven-pointed star (heptagram), that is open for many other interpretations as well, from christian to neopagan to thelemitic, and even Game of Thrones fans will find their own point of view I guess. But if you have to make this connection lines, I very much prefer the alchemical point of view, which leads us back to those seven classical planets mentioned above.

The Wheel of Seven is made of natural materials. No animals have been killed for this sculpture, of course, all parts are from animals who died for different reasons quite some time ago. The radial bones are of goat or sheep (I am not a biologist, so sadly I can’t tell the difference) found on the Canary Islands. The fox teeth ornaments at the end of every bone are of German origin. The vertebrae in the center of the piece is from a dolphin, I found it many years ago on the beach of Heimaey, the small volcanic island southwest of Iceland.

The Wheel of Seven is not available anymore, it has been sold and will very soon travel to its new owner in Munich, Bavaria.

On my own account I like to add something to this post. I have a few ideas and sketches for more bone sculptures, some small, some larger scale. These mainly require older bones, that have preferedly been exposed to the elements for quite some time, like the ones I used in the Wheel of Seven. Although goat and sheep bones are very nice, the bones I am looking for can be of any animal and size. From where I live, such bones are hard to come by. I found such in the South of Europe, specially in Spain and Greece, but also in Northern countries. If you live in an area where it is possible to find them in larger amounts, please send me a message to atelier(.)abraxas(at)gmail(.)com. I might include such locations into my future travel plans. If you should be willing to collect some bone material for me yourself, I am willing to pay a small finders fee as well as the packing & postage for it of course. 

Beltane | Walpurgis

Altar installation

Beltane, Walpurgisnacht, or just a day off work tomorrow (not for me though, the preparations for the exhibition are keeping me busy), whatever you celebrate under the full moon tonight, enjoy it!

For me personally, the best time of the year starts now, spring has fully arrived and summer awaits, the next winter seems far away. For me it is a time of planning new journeys and sketching new work pieces. I will also follow some personal tradition of spring cleaning today (and probably tomorrow in the atelier as well). The hibernation is finally over. That is, what I celebrate.