Saturday, 29 December 2012

Over the Mountain

Wolhuterskop with impending thundershower

Wolhuterskop is a koppie situated in a nature reserve of the same name and it's the highest point overlooking the town of Bethlehem in the Free State. The reserve is home to many species of game including springbok, wildebeest, eland, blesbok and rhebok amongst others whilst the lovely Gerrands Dam has been a favourite fishing and camping spot for many families as well as drawing a host of waterbirds. This reserve holds a very special place for me as I spent countless hours there in the late nineties photographing the landscape. The thrill of waiting for the late light and the anticipation of capturing these wonderful scenes on colour film was where my love for photography was revived. The magnificent sunsets and late afternoon thundershowers with the surrounding game was simply beautiful beyond words.

Wolhuterskop West Face with three Gemsbok and distant thunderstorm

Wolhuterskop Nature Reserve with sunset over Gerrand's Dam

Of late this very mountain has been the point of much controversy as it has been used as a venue for the Apostle Mokoena of the Tyrannus church where thousands congregate over a weekend as he addresses the people from on high on the west side of the mountain. Our President Jacob Zuma was a guest in October 2012 during a weekend conference held in the reserve as thousands camped at the foot of the mountain. A fire broke out that very weekend and a substantial portion of the game's grazing was destroyed. There are numerous allegations and rumours regarding the church's integrity and intentions particularly as to plans to acquire the very koppie of Wolhuterskop.

Love Prevailing at the foot of Wolhuterskop

As a citizen of Bethlehem I oppose any scheme to annex any portion of Wolhuterskop nature reserve especially the very centrepiece of Wolhuterskop itself. South Africa is currently in a grip of power struggles and it would be a very sad day to see a well preserved nature reserve and a Landmark of Bethlehem be taken from it's very own people. I pray that Wolhuterskop stays put and that is with faith that will move mountains!

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Thinking Outside the Boxes

During the last few weeks I have been given a number of Brownie Box Cameras all by different people. Receiving a gift albeit a camera that you won't run a film through, is always special. I already had a few from my father and these little boxes just seemed to be asking to be stacked. I had spent a number of hours trying to get into the strobist thing with homemade aluminium arms for reflectors and playing with the Nikon SB800 flash with some older Sb26's. I had some problems with the SB26's interfering with the exposure using the SB800 in remote CLS mode even though I had them both on delayed slave triggering. Some reading to do but was rather fun experimenting with the flashes.

Looking at the Box cameras each has it's own distinct personality. Most have a comical Mickey Mouse look and some are rather battered. All have a story to tell and some I am sure have seen and recorded some wonderful scenes and family memories whilst others would rather forget some images they were forced to capture. I can just imagine the tales that are exchanged in that cupboard at night when the lights are turned off. Would you like to have travelled the world and bare the scars of your journeys or would you like to have been stuck in a Box only to be sold later in mint condition? Somehow in Life we fortunately have the choice to decide which Box or Bed we choose to remain or lie in!

Saturday, 6 October 2012

There is More, So Much More

This Abandoned Home was shown to me by my daughter in Harrismith recently. It's doors were wide open and we wondered who lived in this beautiful home with it's delicate choice of colours. As yet I don't have a wide angle for my Nikon D600 other than a manual focus 24mm f2.8 but on this particular day I was travelling light and had the 35mm f1.8 DX lens with me. We were rather pressed for time so I used the 35mm lens and I did some spraying and praying to be stitched later - bokeh panorama or the Brenizer technique style. Below is a single frame taken with the 35mm DX lens which does reveal vignetting even though using the new Adobe Camera Raw 7.2 with a high +75 vignetting removal setting was applied. After downsizing 32 images the Spherical photomerge option in Photoshop CS6 gave me the best result and the curved lines don't bother me too much and I actually prefer this look. There were some fixes to be made where some joins had jagged lines and I have found the free transform tool in warp mode most useful. Some adjustments were made to lighten the distant doorway and darken the entrance hall while some Nik Color Efex filters were used too. The final image that was created would be the equivalent of a 17mm F1.2 view calculated using Brett Maxwell's calculator. The 35mm DX worked admirably in this situation and as for now it will remain in the kit bag despite it's vignetting shortcomings.

I would be honest in saying that I did not pre-visualise this image other than that the arch with it's pastel hues caught my attention. Whilst working on the image the distant doorway and the light in the other room kept drawing my eye. What started out as a quick trip to a neighbouring town to fetch my daughter from school turned out to be a most pleasant surprise on so many levels. We had a great time together and as for me I just realised there truly is more and so much more waiting out there for us. There are so many new thresholds waiting to be crossed and so many rooms full of treasures waiting to be explored.

Monday, 1 October 2012

A Walk in the Park

It was late Sunday afternoon and the low light was particularly beautiful. The perfect opportunity to try out the new Nikon D600 with Nikkor 85mm f1,8 lens. This magnificent oak tree with brilliant backlighting caught my eye and I was keen to use the bokeh panorama or Brenizer Technique. This technique is usually done taking numerous photographs (35 in this tree's case) using a fast normal or short telephoto lens wide open which then gets stitched together in any panoramic software creating the look of a wideangle with a very shallow depth of field. This is a look that cannot be photographed conventionally as such superfast wideangle lenses don't exist.

As I approached the tree there were two young girls playing nearby and I was so keen to photograph them however nowadays one has to be so careful as one's intentions can so easily be misconstrued. Then the younger girl shouted "photo, photo!" and I gladly obliged. She was so full of life and only when I photographed her did I see her squint however in no way did that rob her of any confidence.

 She said her name was Believe and then she boldly asked if she could take my photograph. I was taken by surprise but then hastily put the camera on Auto and showed her where to press. The camera was too heavy and her little fingers struggled but after a few blurry shots suddenly there I was in focus and off she ran. Strangely in that brief interlude and reversal of roles something shifted inside and the sweet innocence of a child rubbed off. So spontaneous and carefree and with her name Believe it was rather a little taste of Heaven! The new Nikon and lens is such a great combination and hits the sweet spot for me but this little unexpected encounter was priceless and yes Believe it or not, anyone can take a photograph!

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Stark Naked Truth

Zan the Leica Man

 Zan was a volunteer in the Israeli War of Independence and has many stories to tell. He bought a Leica IIIb in Israel in the Forties and took many photographs with it. Roughly about twelve years ago he advertised it in the local newspaper and I purchased the camera. Recently whilst collecting some Black and White film from the Post Office Zan was in the queue in front of me. At eighty six years of age he has an amazing memory and he shared some intriguing events that had recently occurred in his family. We had a great chat and before we knew we were at the counter and I had some film to stockpile.

Zan's original Leica IIIb and 5cm f3,5 Elmar with Kodak Tmax100 and Perceptol 1+3
Some time later I phoned Zan and asked him whether he would mind if I took some photographs of him with his original seventy year old Leica and he kindly obliged. After downloading an online manual I was pleasantly surprised to see everything working as it once did. Zan still plays bowls and we agreed to meet at the bowling green one afternoon. With such an opportunity I took along some other cameras and Zan was very patient while I hurriedly switched while the light faded. Thanks Zan and what an inspiration you are!

Rolleiflex 3,5f with Kodak TMY2 400 and PMK Pyro
Mamiya 7 and 65mm lens with Fuji Acros and PMK Pyro

 Mamiya RZ and 140mm lens with Kodak Tmy2 400 and developed in PMK Pyro

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Spray and Pray

Late March 2012 I had the privilege of visiting Sehlabathebe in Lesotho with two fantastic photographers Danie van Niekerk and Kobus Potgieter. Although we coincidentally all live in the same street in Bethlehem we don't exactly share the same views when it comes to our mediums of choice for photography. This was my first trip as a passenger to Lesotho and when I made peace with the comfort of Kobus's Toyota versus my Land Rover Defender, I had a suspicion that some paradigm shifts of continental proportions might occur! Being the oddball film shooter in the presence of two very competent digital photographers for a day and a half of travelling wasn't exactly easy however these two digital disciples were starting to make sense and they had a ton of cracking images to show.

Mark, Kobus and Danie
When most people were going digital and paying astronomical amounts for the early wave of digital cameras I was quite literally in my B&W darkroom and enjoying my new found love for medium format film. The prices of secondhand medium format kit was a fraction of new as they were being dumped in droves as photographers hailed the new silver bullet of photography, no pun intended. Shooting mainly B&W I was still convinced that the resolution and latitude of B&W film developed at home in some Pyro was as good as it gets. I had been in this restless stage of trying to get back into colour photography and here I knew that digital had a number of advantages. To be quite honest the film vs digital argument had been wearing thin for some time prior to this trip as it was more than pixel peeping, hardware and processing. I had been on a trip to Sehlabathebe before with these same two photographers and I remember the shock when I first heard the sound of the shutters rattling off as they bracketed a scene, a far cry from a ten shot 120 film with a cable release!

On arriving at the beautiful Sehlabathebe and hearing words like blending, layered masks, tonal contrast control, Viveza and many more I realised that it was time to explore digital properly and by default I would shoot in colour. I had with me a Nikon D7000 and used a Tokina 12-24mm lens mostly. Just in case I had the Mamiya 7 with B&W film and I even had some colour slide film Fuji Provia 120 which I kindly received from Lawrance Brennon. The light was not brilliant however it was still such a pleasure exploring and visiting this beautiful playground. The D7000 was soon firing away and with a calibrated rail and L bracket there were many "new" images waiting to be created with superwide stitching. Listening to my digital friends I too did the exposure bracketing and was now in full spray and pray mode! There is a spot near the border which overlooks South Africa with a beautiful waterpool (or tarn as one says in SNP), an arch and protea tree which quite literally took my breath away the first time I laid my eyes on this magnificent vista.

This was the place I had dreamt of capturing and as it was a morning shot with a fair walk for a not so fit photographer it meant leaving the lodge in the dark way before sunrise. To my surprise I managed to get there quite some time before sunrise and set up the D7000 with the premise of doing a panoramic stitch. The exposure times were like thirty seconds and in the distance clouds with a rain shower looked promising. All along I kept shooting and with long exposures and bracketing the sunrise soon approached. The anticipation was building and the stakes high so I decided to spread the risk by shooting digital and colour slide film not being entirely comfortable with either. The big moment came when the sun popped, the exposure changed, the stitching was furious yet controlled as one unsharp image in the series ruins everything and the camera for this auspicious occasion was the Mamiya 7 with slide film. This incredible scene was too big for me and my heart still lay with medium format film. Six shots for a panoramic series and soon two 120 slide films were finished.  It was time for digital's turn now and the light was changing rapidly as the sun rose. With the Nikon D7000 I did three shot exposure bracketing and mostly shot pano series of six images knowing how quickly the light changes in the scene whilst the wind had picked up significantly. This was spraying and praying on a whole new level and I didn't even mention the XPan stitching!

Once back home I could see how many digital images I really took. My hope lay in the two rolls of Fuji Provia taken at sunrise however I hadn't taken slide film in ten years and since our local lab had closed down  the colour film was sent to Orms in Cape Town who did a sterling processing job. I started photomerging the digital images and with help from Danie the digital images were really coming to life. Having just used Photoshop before Color Efex Pro had some fantastic tools to enhance the images.I was honestly pleasantly surprised at the digital results and after plenty of blending could remove the flare streaks. The position of the sun when I shot with the D7000 was much warmer and livelier as opposed to the film version. Not having worked too much with colour my Photoshop skills are not quite up to scratch and the film version or both could probably do with some tweaking.

Despite the confusion and all the spraying and praying with film, digital and different formats hoping that some great photograph would somehow emerge it still was a morning to remember. As my wise friend Danie often quotes "when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail" and here I would take it as the one driving the digital nail or the one forcing the film nail however on the other hand there is always my friend Jack who could easily be the master of none! Finally a huge thank you to my photographic friends Danie and Kobus for the great trip, the enlightening conversation and huge inspiration. Thanks too to my Film Buddy Lawrance who like a wise sage has come full circle.

Original six images from Nikon D7000 with Tokina 12-24 @ 12mm
Photoshop stitching using different images resulting in different flare streaks
Final Blend of Nikon D7000 images
 Sunrise Panorama taken with Mamiya 7 and 43mm lens, six images using Fuji Provia

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Visit to Moteng, Lesotho

On 12th May we visited the Moteng Village in Lesotho to lend a hand. The Basotho are a warm and friendly people however many do struggle financially resulting in many husbands and fathers working in neighbouring South Africa to feed their families. A group from our local church helped the village with painting some classrooms, providing a lunch, fixing a few things while many enjoyed just being there and meeting new people.

Arrival at Moteng Church
Furious Painting
Basotho Lady
The Children being fed
Many more children arrived than what were anticipated and soon the team dishing up fairly generous portions started doing the sums. They prayed whilst still serving and when it came to the end of the queue, nobody went hungry including some visitors who offered to sit this one out! We marvelled at God's provision and arithmetic!

We need More!

Panorama from church overlooking Lesotho Mountains (x7 shots)
After Lunch and a brief rain shower we walked down to a beautiful spot at the river. My son Jude wasn't into walking that day and so was piggybacked however there were so many photographs to be had! I had decided just to bring the Samsung TL500  for the day which is a great and underrated little compact digital camera. It has a solid build, a fast f1,8 lens starting at a wide 24mm equivalent  and shoots in RAW. Took a few photographs with a panoramic stitch in mind however not all were sharp, the trouble when you do a panoramic series. I managed to stitch these three images together in Photoshop with the spherical option giving a realistic representation. Some tweaking and playing later and a satisfying image appeared.

Photographing interesting river rocks with Jude  checking over my shoulder

Three Photos for Pano

Moteng River Pano

 We all had a great day and many new friendships were forged as we just enjoyed the time spent with endearing people and the splendor of the scenery. The mountains were soon bathed in the light of the warm afternoon sun and a rain storm was looming on the horizon. Oh thank God - He's so Good! His Love never runs out!

Moteng River Fun

Late afternoon Shower over Moteng

Monday, 13 February 2012

Tree with a Twist

Went driving around with my son Jude looking for photographs. It was fairly late in the afternoon and my creativity was rather dull. I drove down one of the main streets with a row of trees of which one in particular  regularly catches my eye. This tree is like a conjoined twin with a beautiful twist. The tree being right on the roadside allowed me to very conveniently park next to it, wind down the Landy's window and photograph. The light was fairly flat and I was just going to shoot with the Nikon D7000 and 35mm F1.8 to see what possibilities there were and how the background would look. 

 From further down the street this young man slowly approached. Living in South Africa one is still wary of the dangers on the street and with this in mind I still kept photographing but with the other eye tracking him. He slowly arrived at the tree and then slowly moved out from behind it. It was clear that this young man was not in the best of shape and had the appearance of a typical streetkid. 

I then asked him his name and if I could photograph him. I had the Rollei Sl66 with 80mm loaded with Kodak TMY2 in the car and with 1/60th and f3,3 took a few shots. There wasn't much time for metering but I knew that shooting below 1/60th would be tricky and I set the f-stop between f2,8 and f4. A few of his friends had then arrived and we exchanged names and the the first fellow, Paulos asked for food and money.  I had none of these with me however I think we were both equally surprised that we could have a bit of a chat and a laugh together.

The others were younger and didn't have that streetkid look. Streetkids have a tough life and are often orphans due to their parents succumbing to AIDS. They often hang out at food outlets and are often pretty smart. I still have to give them their photographs however this interaction was a breath of fresh air. The Twisted Tree still eludes me but the true twist was that I had a moving encounter with some real people!

Monday, 16 January 2012

Food for Thought

Whilst channel hopping on TV recently I came across celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay's "Kitchen Nightmares!" He was helping out an Italian restaurant Anna Vincenzo's in Florida, USA where the owner and chef  Cece was having a hard time accepting his remarks about her food. After much shouting back and forth Gordon Ramsay eventually literally spat it out that her food was "F###ing Shit" which ended up in a huge flurry of tears. Chef Cece then agreed to heed Gordon Ramsay's expert advice and a turnaround was on the cards. Some obvious errors responsible for the restaurants dismal performance was a massive menu and secondly nearly 80% of the food served was initially frozen. Needless to say with these faults corrected, a decor revamp and a relaunch with huge media coverage the restaurant was back in business with smiles all around.

Was thinking about the chef's reaction to hearing an honest appreciation of her food and how that painful realisation started to swing the mess around. As photographers we all inherently seek a feedback mechanism by which we can gauge whether our work is up to standard or not. It is rare to find fellow photographers willing to evaluate one's work honestly as it can be so subjective. Camera Clubs give great feedback however one is at risk of then producing cloned, stereotypical work that appeases these judges. Other avenues such as websites like Flickr are very helpful however most fellow photographers are polite and will leave complimentary comments and few would be so forthright to express their real thoughts. Gallery sales can reflect the buying public's appreciation (or disapproval) of one's work but ultimately the honest opinion of an esteemed photographer personally carries far more weight.

Looking further at other photographic parallels in this dramatic episode I realised that a huge menu would compromise any kitchen. Personally I have enjoyed dabbling in different photographic genres but there are only a few in which the photographs are more satisfying and I daresay of better quality. When it comes to freshness it is rather refreshing to see photographic work that is new and invigorating as opposed to another rehash of stale subjects or techniques. That reminds me to check my stock of refrigerated film and fortunately dated film doesn't spoil too readily.  If there's one thing I miss about Agfa films was that they had the best tasting film tapes, a lingering bouquet of flavours that made the end of the film so much more palatable!