Thursday, May 24, 2012

Talking photography and photographs

A few weeks ago I was browsing Facebook when a photo that appeared in my news feed grabbed my attention. It was a very nice picture of sunrise over the Homer Spit that had been posted by a friend of one of my FB Friends. The weird thing was that it belonged to me - it was my photo. Apparently someone had been looking through my Alaska Scenes Album on Facebook, took a liking to this particular photo and decided to Share it on their own wall. This friend of a friend liked it and also shared it. Neither person claimed it as their own but I nevertheless felt somewhat slighted.  Many people who include their own original photographs in their blogs watermark them with their name and copyright info. I've always been reluctant to spoil the looks of a nice photo with such legalese nonsense — I'm a believer in the concept that "information wants to be free" and I reckon that includes photographic information. But then again ...

I'm happy that someone liked my photo enough to appropriate it for wider use but not overjoyed that I didn't get credited for it. In this much wider circle of viewers it received many more positive comments than it did when I first posted it. This motivated me to re-appropriate it  as my own.  You see it now as the new cover image on my blog. Btw, for those of you who aren't familiar with Homer or where it is in Alaska, here are some coordinates you can copy and paste into Google Earth or Google Maps. This location will put you right over the Spit. (N59.624274, W151.466733)

The day I captured the first three photos you see in this blog entry, including the image at top, was a fine day for photography. It was a cold, crystal clear winter solstice morning, Dec 21, 2008. I was living in a borrowed house just after the breakup of my marriage of 10 years. It had been a hard winter — a winter filled with much soul searching and many blue days. Just before the split my wife and I had bought tickets for a month's vacation in Fiji, a vacation we had hoped would heal the growing rift in a relationship that had bridged more than 20 years. Long story short and not surprisingly, she decided to stay home and take a refund for the tickets. After a lot of vacillating I finally decided to take a chance that I might be able to enjoy an exotic, mid-winter vacation on my own. I kept the tickets and began making plans. Part of those plans was the purchase of a camera to replace my venerable Nikon Coolpix 995. The new camera was a Canon G10.

That's how it came to pass that on that cold winter morning I found myself scraping the windshield of my old Camry in the dark so as to get into a good position up on West Hill Road to watch the sun rise over my beloved Kachemak Bay. I wanted to check out the G10 to see what it was capable of and to learn how to use it to make the coming trip to Fiji more fun and more memorable.

I've always enjoyed photography. My cousin Don and I had darkrooms in our basements back in the fifties and together developed many rolls of Kodak 620 film shot with our Kodak Hawkeye cameras. Then 20 years later, with my girlfriend Jean at our apartment on East Avenue in Rochester, New York, I put together a full featured darkroom in a second bedroom where we developed lots of Panatomic-X and Tri-X film from our 35 mm SLR cameras. We both had Nikkormats at the time. I sold mine to my good friend Joseph when I left New England for Alaska back in 1983; the last time I talked to him he still had it.
Brownie Hawkeye
Nikkormat 35mm SLR
But that was back in the day. Digital photography has changed all that. No more darkrooms, no more Dektol developer, no more tedious washing of prints or yellow boxes of enlarging paper for high and low contrast negatives, no stinky fixer baths, and no ferrotype plates. Now there's only Photoshop — it's darkroom, airbrusher, color-balancer, beautifier, post-processing, photo manipulator par excellence, rolled into one magnificent computer program. As I've remarked on many occasions, there is probably not a single image you've ever seen in a print or web publication that hasn't been run through Photoshop. The following photos are no exception.

The G10 can shoot in a mode called "camera raw". This mode produces a large file, on the order of 15 MB, that contains 16-bit color information recorded by the camera's sensor. Your computer monitor by comparison can display only 8-bit colors. Having 16-bits of color data to play with means one can minimize exposure errors, adjust color balance, and a host of other things before the in-camera firmware has transformed the sensor data into the standard 8-bit JPEG format you see at the end. By shooting in camera raw you're working with image data without having to sacrifice anything to the camera's internal JPEG algorithm. Now, the G10 is not a high end DSLR but it can produce images with a fairly high quality. Luckily when I shot these, I captured them in camera raw. (clicking on them should load a larger version.)

Solstice sunrise over Kachemak Bay, 9:50 am

Alaska and Kachemak Bay are very photogenic  —  I'm sure many gigabytes of images have been collected of scenes similar to the ones I've shown here. For those of you stuck in cities in the lower 48, take a gander at what for many years was the view I had from my car window during my short commute into town. Most of the mountains over there have no official names and with the exception of the tiny town of Halibut Cove practically nobody lives on that side of the bay. It's part of the allure of living in Alaska. I reckon the mere idea that there are no people, towns or shopping malls anywhere in one's field of vision is an attractive idea for most Alaskans, myself included.

Later that morning I caught this bull moose grazing peacefully in a meadow above the town. Moose cows and calves are quite a common sight in our neighborhood but bulls like this one are rarely seen, at least by me. Looking at these images now I'm asking myself why I don't get up early more often to take photos when the lighting conditions are so nearly ideal.

Solstice Bull, December 21, 2008 10:23 am
I don't work that much in camera raw anymore seeing as what I do with most of my photos is post them in my blog, on the web. Larger image files are harder to download and slow things down significantly. The JPEG format sacrifices some image quality as a means of reducing file size. The JPEG format was, in fact, developed to make it easier to load and use high quality photographs on the Internet and with computer monitors. (Exactly the same rationale pertains to the MP3 format for music.) Consequently most of the images I have are stored in medium size JPEG format and take up between 3 and 5 MB each. Here are a couple more Homer photos to complete this story.

Ashfall from Mt. Redoubt fills the sky over Kachemak Bay
On the morning of April 4, 2009, Mt Redoubt was active, spewing smoke and ash into the air. There was ash falling, the sky was almost black and one could see lightning flashing now and again. The mountains across the bay from Homer took on this weird reddish hue that I captured in the image above.

Magnificent Kachemak Bay
I'm enjoying my last couple of days with Tuli and Harper. I'll be sad to leave them but I'm getting stoked about being back in Homer too. Spoke with Nut today on Skype. She has just now gotten back to our place in Chiang Mai after an extended visit with family in Bangkok and Betong. Her daughter Dui Dui presented her with a granddaughter, her first grandchild, back in March so she was off being a grandma while I was playing grandpa here in Eugene. We both enjoyed it.