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