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More Sony? (This time, its P&S)


Sony RX100iv f4; 24mm Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Last week I posted about my experience moving from the venerable Nikon SLR/DSLR family to Sony mirrorless. At the end of the post, I foreshadowed this week’s (once again, gear-centric) post.

A pro – friend and mentor noted to me privately that, although we all know it’s not about the gear, it’s about making pictures (he does know – he makes very good ones – and rarely talks about what gear he used to make them), the tools we use clearly influence our shooting and our ability to capture imagery. And, there is little doubt that technology has made that process potentially better.

Ironically, we had not spoken about the camera I mentioned last week (Sony’s RX100 iv, compact point and shoot). I have been looking at it on dpreview and other sources and wondering whether the talk about the image-capability of their new “exmoor” stacked sensor is just “hype.” In our private conversation shortly following my posting, he told me had had just purchased it and gave me the benefit of his early-thinking. Well, I ordered it, so you know his comments were positive.

There is an old saying that goes something like: “the best camera is the one you have with you,” or something similar. I will change that for my own view: “the best camera is the one you use.”

I never found a P&S camera that produced image quality that satisfied me

I have owned some pretty nice DSLR cameras over the years, including my current full frame sensor, Sony a7. I won’t be getting rid of that camera. It has its uses and purposes, particularly when I have a dedicated photographic outing planned. But even with the reduced load the mirrorless system has made, I still need to lug around a couple extra lenses, a tripod, and other gear.

  in my own view: “the best camera is the one you use”

Lately, I have found myself grabbing the smaller, NEX-6 with its compact “kit” lens for daily use, keeping in the car, and on much of my travels. I have several nice lenses for the NEX-6 (including a couple Zeiss primes), but they were gathering dust. The convenience and compactness of the single camera has driven me to use it the most over the last couple years.

I have done that before, with a series of P&S cameras, including a couple Nikon Coolpix models, a couple of the Canon G-series, and even a raw-capable Olympus P&S. Some were touted to be “professional” backup quality. But I never found one that produced image quality that satisfied me. They looked pretty good on screen at small size and 72ppi, but just wouldn’t hold up when made larger. And they just didn’t do well in low light situations. That, is, until the NEX-6. That camera has surpassed my highest expectations.

So, when credible sources indicate that I should expect similar quality (or perhaps better?) from a compact P&S with a Carl Zeiss zoom lens, I have to take notice.

The new camera arrived Friday, so I have only been able to charge it up and play with it a little. It is new enough that the current Photoshop ACR version does not yet support the raw images, so all I have to look at so far is some jpegs. Until I get raw support, I have set the camera to capture both jpg and raw, so I should be able to go back and do some comparison.  Images are pretty much right out of the box.  Just some minor “pre-sharpening” done in PS.

Sony RX100iv 24mm; f2.8 Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Sony RX100iv
24mm; f2.8
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

What I can say is, so far, I am impressed. As the posted images show, image quality is pretty good on a computer screen. And lens bokeh is remarkable, given the physics involved. I read somewhere that f1.8 on the 1 inch sensor in the RX100 is about the equivalent to f3.5 on a full frame sensor. So, I don’t expect it to match up to a prime, Carl Zeiss f1.8 lens on my a7. But nonetheless, it is pretty nice.  Of course, the only images I have made are of flowers, fairly closeup, at longer focal lenght of the lens.  I need to find some cityscape or landscape to shoot at shorter lengths, and to see how the different depths of field look.

Images seem to be sharp, and the AF seems to be quick and accurate. The in-camera menu system is very much the same as the system in the a7 cameras (the older NEX system was a bit different and there was always at least a brief “disconnect” when switching back and forth).

For those of us who were brought up on a viewfinder (and I expect is shows our age), the pop up viewfinder is pretty cool. And it has the same “realtime” look to it as the viewfinder on my a7. For those who don’t want a viewfinder, it stays flush into the body of the camera (much like the popup flash). The rear LCD is large and clear. I have read that it is remarkably easy to read even in sun. I have ordered a screen protector for it and that may defeat this. We will see.

Sony RX100 iv f2.8; 70mm Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Sony RX100 iv
f2.8; 70mm
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

The RX100 is clearly quality-built, mostLY metal, and fairly hefty. The last film camera I owned was an Olympus OM – something or other – point and shoot. This camera is remarkably similar in size. Smaller in both length and width than my android LG G2 phone, it is about 3 times as thick. It will easily fit in a pocket.
I travel to a far-away land in a couple weeks. It will be fun to do some side by side shooting with my new “toy,” and my a7. Both will have Zeiss 24-70 lenses, so this should be as close to “apples to apples” as I can get with 2 so very different cameras.

More on this one later………

One Year with Sony; It only gets Better!

Sony NEX-6; Sony-Zeiss 24mm f1.8 lens

Sony NEX-6; Sony-Zeiss 24mm f1.8 lens

One of my buddies, a Nikon shooter forever, asked yesterday if after a year, I was happy with my switchover to Sony’s mirrorless systems. My previous answer to that question has been equivocal. Today, it is an unequivocal “yes.” Today, I will muse a bit about changing systems and on my amazement at how far Sony has gone – so fast.

there has been an internal change in mental approach to my photography

I think for the reader, a related question, is whether you should consider switching systems at all. For me, in addition to some of the “mechanical” aspects of the system, there has been an internal change (however subtle) in mental approach to my photography. I don’t think this is a “brand” issue. One of my “mentors” has said to me that my change to the use of “small cameras” has changed my approach to photography. I guess that could have happened with any brand of smaller camera. And, I think my place in life right now has changed things. More travel which is not dedicated solely to photography has made me adapt my gear and shooting styles.

The biggest factor in gear choice is always going to be external factors like travel considerations, the type of photography you mostly do, and want to do in the future. There are other factors, too. What is your “level” of photography? I know a lot of people who just want to carry a camera around and take “nice pictures.” I will suggest a new Sony cam that I think is ideal for those folks who want a “higher end,” fine piece of equipment without the hassle of “gear,” below.

Original Columbia Restaurant; Ybor City; Tampa, FL Sony a7; Sony-Zeiss 24-70 f4 Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

Original Columbia Restaurant; Ybor City; Tampa, FL
Sony a7; Sony-Zeiss 24-70 f4
Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

I also think it is important to consider where you are coming from. If you already own a system, the considerations are very different, in my view, than if you are just coming into either photography or digital photography. In the latter case I wouldn’t hesitate for a nanosecond to recommend the Sony system (more on that in a minute). If you already own a good system, then something other than a yearning for the newest needs to drive the shift, in my view; especially if money is an issue. In my unfortunate experience, it is very rare for equipment to hold its value (with the possible exception of some very high-end glass, like Leica). Thus, a shift is going to mean taking a “loss” on your gear (especially if, like me, you always babied and maintained it). It means that for a true “lateral” move, you will probably be “out-of-pocket.”

The biggest factor in gear choice is always going to be external factors like travel considerations and the type of photography you do

Having said all that, I continue to be impressed with the vision of Sony’s photographic division. They started out modestly enough, with their NEX series, APS sized mirrorless cameras. The first were more or less “point and shoot” cameras that were adapted with the mirrorless system to interchange lenses. Others, including the Nikon 1 series (which never seemed to catch on, in spite of Ashton Kutcher’s commercials), Olympus, with its micro 4/3 sensors, and Fuji, which also incorporated the APS sized sensor. The Nikon mirrorless experiment has been nothing but disappointing for me. I could never warm up to them. Sensor size was really too small for a “serious” camera in my view. There was never a really sexy lens array offered. And for their price, they were always simply a non-starter for me. I used to carry a Canon G-series point and shoot as my preferred “small camera.” I have always been curious about why Canon has not jumped into the mirrorless system.

The Olympus cameras are mechanically very sexy, very retro in look and feel, and very well made.   They are a nice small size, but feel good in the hand. And Oly’s Zuiko glass was always known to be really good quality. But the 4/3 sensor is – in my opinion – just not quite big enough to produce the image quality I look for.

Point Bonita Lighthouse Marin Headlands, CA Copyright  2014  Andy Richards Sony a7R; Sony 70-200 f4

Point Bonita Lighthouse
Marin Headlands, CA
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards
Sony a7R; Sony 70-200 f4

The one “contender” in my mind, seems to be the Fuji mirrorless system. They, like Sony, use the APS sized sensor. Their current offering is 16mp. The Fujinon glass, again, has a reputation for being very high quality. In the early days of mirrorless, the Fuji was slightly more expensive.

When I bought my first Sony mirrorless camera – the NEX-6 – its sensor was essentially the exact same sensor as my Nikon D7000. For those who owned or tested the D7000, it was a very impressive sensor, with high image quality, even in low light shooting situations. So I knew I could expect good image quality from the NEX sensor.

I continue to be impressed with the vision of Sony’s photographic division

But the NEX series was only the beginning for Sony. Shortly afterward, Sony took a very aggressive marketing path and announced and then released the a7 / a7R full frame mirrorless bodies. They really haven’t looked back. Within months, they released the a7S (made for low light and video shooters), and more recently the second-generation, a7II and a7RII.

Alamo Square Row Houses Copyright  2014  Andy Richards Sony a7R; Sony-Zeiss 24-70 f4

Alamo Square Row Houses
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards
Sony a7R; Sony-Zeiss 24-70 f4

The a7RII is clearly aimed directly at the top end DSLR market. And, at a price point slightly lower than Canon’s top DSLR and a lot lower than Nikon’s, they have made a big impression. The a7RII retails at about $3,200. The Canon 5DS is $3,600. As I write this, I am not sure there is a comparable Nikon to the a7RII. The 16mp Nikon D4S is $6,000 and the 36mp D810, $3,000. The a7RII has “in body image stabilization” (IBIS), no low-pass filter on its 42mp full frame sensor, and 399 point “phase-detect” auto-focus capability. And, they have fixed the “shutter shock” issue which plagued the first generation a7R with an electronic first curtain shutter. There are, of course, a number of other features.

And, the icing on the cake is the growing availability of Carl Zeiss lenses. Sony, on its own, cannot (currently) compete, in my view with Nikkor and Canon glass; or for that matter, Olympus or Fuji glass. But in partnership with Zeiss, they seem to have made some estimable glass. And even better, Zeiss – on it’s own – now offers some very nice glass specifically for the Sony full frame mirrorless cameras. All of this in a smaller body makes it really the closest thing out there to the “every man’s everything” camera.

For a true “lateral” switch, you are probably going to be “out-of-pocket”

I don’t think most of us need all the bells and whistles on the a7RII. Would I love to own one? You bet. But it is not in my near future at $3,000, considering that I already own the a7 and am perfectly happy with it. And the upside to that is that the a7 is now selling for $1,100, which means it is in the reachable range for many aspirational owners.

For a new shooter, I am not sure why you wouldn’t look at one of the several offerings from Sony. I don’t see any reason today for the bulk and size required by the reflex mirror system in cameras, given the place mirrorless technology has taken – lead by Sony, in my view.

Light and color make this gondola image the quintessential rendering of "Venice" in my view Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Light and color make this gondola image the quintessential rendering of “Venice” in my view
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

For the more casual shooter (it may become my own substitute for the NEX-6 I still carry and use), I think Sony has hit a grand slam home run with the newest version of its venerable point and shoot RX100, the RX100 IV. This “enthusiast” camera (read: expensive, but feature-laden), is pretty impressive. It has a Carl Zeiss f1.8-2.8 variable aperture 24-70 (35mm – equivalent) lens, a newly designed, 1” size “stacked” backlit sensor, which is capable of 20mp, raw capture. All of this is packed into a very sweet little compact body that is a very pocketable, 4”x2”x2.” There is a large, articulating LCD screen on the back along with a pop-up electronic viewfinder. As I think about all of this, it occurs to me. My “walking around” rig right now is either my NEX-6 with a “kit” zoom, or my a7 with the Carl Zeiss 24-70 f4 zoom. Maybe the smart move is to get rid of the 24-70 in favor of faster, fixed lenses for the a7, and pick up this nice little P&S for a travel camera.  There is a similiar, less expensive RX100 model, which still has a Carl Zeiss lens (slower), but it just doesn’t have the pzazz of the IV.

I think Sony has hit a grand slam home run with the newest version of its venerable point and shoot RX100, the RX100 IV

Watching technology get smaller and smarter, it is pretty hard to imagine what is in the future for us as photographers.

4th of July; What’s the Big Deal Anyway?

Split Rock Fireworks Finale

Split Rock Fireworks Finale

Hot dogs, beer, barbeque, fireworks, and the biggest party of the year. Why? What is the big deal?  These things seem to have become symbolic of “everything American.”  On this day, I cannot help but reflect and ask:  symbols of what?

The original fireworks were not pretty, exhilarating, or festive

Fireworks celebrations are everywhere. What is the significance of fireworks? The original fireworks were not pretty, exhilarating, or festive. They were not integrated with music. Indeed quite the opposite. Canons and muskets and humans who were once fellow countrymen and brothers killing each other over “principle.”  A sobering thought as we contemplate the weekend fireworks display.  And so, it seems to me, that “princple” must have been something pretty darn important to go to war over.

“When in the course of human events …..We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Today is a celebration of the actions of some courageous men with strong convictions, who acted, on behalf of all “Americans” (as we were to be become), to secure “Liberty.” It is a celebration and acknowledgement of the everyday men who, following their Declaration of Independence, fought and died for freedoms which – in modern days – it is difficult not to take for granted. Since then, many men and women have died in numerous wars, beginning with the U.S. Revolutionary war, most of them dying to protect the freedoms once “secured.”

we live in a nation and society where we are free to openly disagree

Recently, there have been some historical developments in our laws and society. No matter which side one takes on some of these issues, what we can all agree upon is that we live in a nation and society where we are free to disagree – openly, with each other, our government and our laws. We have a process in place for resolving our disagreements. It rarely results in a “clear win” for either side. Perhaps that is the strength of the process? But it is designed to be civil. And there is – it seems to me – an element of balance and tolerance. As I assert my rights, I hope that I can always keep in mind how they may impact and limit the rights of others. As I reflect on the meaning of this holiday, it is my hope that no matter how divided our views; no matter how fervent our opinions; that we continue our disagreements civilly and that we respect the right of others to have differing views.

I hope everyone has a happy, safe, and yes – even thoughtful – 4th!

Copyright 2011  Andy Richards

Copyright 2011 Andy Richards

Paternal Photographic Influences?

Mackinac Bridge Mackinac City, MI Copyright  2012  Andy Richards

Mackinac Bridge
Mackinac City, MI
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Since it is Father’s day, I thought some reflections on my father might be appropriate. My dad was not a “photographer.” At least not the way I think of myself as a “photographer.” He shot pictures, and owned cameras, but for him it was more for shooting images of his travels, and documenting things (I remember seeing photos – cannot remember whether he took them or just had them – of the Mackinac Bridge being built) families, etc. So, other than very indirectly, how do I tie in those paternal influences to my photography today? The nice thing about a blog is that it does not have to have scholarly, essay-quality content. So today’s blog will be more of an extemporaneous reflection-generated piece.  Often, as I photograph something, thoughts of dad come to mind.  For many years, he served as the Engineer for Mackinaw County.  I remember going there with him sometimes as a young boy.  The bridge “connects” that memory up.

I cannot help but think that some of his “process” rubbed off on me

There is no doubt that the people we grow up around influence who we are and how we think as adults. And there is perhaps nobody more influential than parents. I had the great misfortune of not having my own mother for most of my life, as she sadly died when her children were quite young (OTOH, I had the good fortune to have my second mother – for most of my life – still living today and still influencing all of us). But my dad was always there, and always influential, up until the end of his life in 2008.  Thanks, dad, for that.

Dad was an engineer, with an engineer’s mind. I am not

Dad was an engineer, with an engineer’s mind. I am not. But I cannot help but think that some of his “process” rubbed off on me. He loved tools of every kind and nature, and had a keen appreciation for finely crafted tools. And one of the things he drummed into me was that when someone takes the time and effort to create a finely made item, it is a matter of husbandry to care for it properly. I know photographers for whom it is almost a point of pride to reflect on their beat-up equipment.  Not me.  I am equally proud that I have been able to maintain the like new condition of my equipment.  That doesn’t mean it doesn’t get used (and therefore owns some wear and tear from that use).  Almost every item of photographic gear of my own still looks the way it did when I bought it. I baby it. I take special care of it. Maybe to a fault.  I think the equipment deserves that.  Maybe more important than the care, was inheriting a small portion of his “mechanical” abilities.  Because of that legacy, I have been able to do a lot of my own work, framing, matting and mounting my own images.  Thanks, dad for that.

Some Tools for DIY Matting and Framing

Some Tools for DIY Matting and Framing

When we were kids, dad had an 8mm wind-up movie camera. Sometimes, he used to set it up on Christmas morning. As adults, we have had some fun watching those movies (now repurposed for digital viewing). He also made a few hundred 35mm slides during his military days in Korea and Okinawa. They are mostly memory snapshots (unfortunately, today – mostly his memories, which sadly left him in his early 70’s), but still fun to look at and see where he was and what he was doing. And maybe, as a young person, seeing those images influenced something subconsciously, to stimulate the inner drive to shoot that was to surface years later. So, again, thanks for that, dad.

Dad’s Asahiflex 35mm SLR was my first “serious” camera

If you have ventured into the tabs at the top of the blog, and slogged your way through “My Story” (the “about me” section of the blog), you will have read about perhaps my dad’s only direct influence on my photographic journey. When he was stationed in Okinawa back in the early 1950’s, he became acquainted with a local resident who owned and ran a department store (for those who even remember what those are). His friend was able to assist him in purchasing a 35mm film-based camera. The 35mm format Single Lens Reflex camera (SLR) – which would soon become the most popular media for shooters in history, was fairly new phenomena at that time. The Japanese, Asahi Optical Company (pre-cursor of the Pentax branded SLR), manufactured a small, 35mm SLR. Dad bought a kit with 55mm and 235mm, screw-mount interchangeable lenses. The were finely manufactured, solid, quality metal (probably stainless steel), with clear, crisp optics. When I shared a sudden and newfound interest in photography, my dad gave me the outfit (which he had not used in years). I made some nice images with that camera, but in some idiotic manner, no longer have them. But that camera was my first “serious” piece of photographic gear. And so began my own personal photographic development (pun intended, of course). So, really thanks dad, for that!

Of all of the things I remember about dad, his sense of humor was perhaps the most vivid and meaningful.  He had a dry, occasionally playful, and sometimes sarcastic sense of humor.  I think I may have inherited most, if not all of that, and whenever possible, try to incorporate it into life — and into some of my imagery.  Dad was also a deeply religious man.  I like to think he would have enjoyed the sign pictured here.  Thanks, Dad.

Sometimes signs can just be funny Knock, Ireland Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Sometimes signs can just be funny
Knock, Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Dad wasn’t ever a vociferous political person (grandpa was, and dad was an only child, and they saw “eye-to-eye” on most everything, so I could extrapolate his views). But his native conservatism made it likely that he would influence his children’s political views. 6 of 7 of his children are moderate to conservative. One is liberal (which shows that “influence” doesn’t necessarily result in parallel views). But I became politically interested in my college years, spent some time in Washington, D.C., and made some memoreable (though not so artful) images while I was there. I’m pretty sure he approved of Ronald Reagan. More indirect influence? Thanks, dad.

Reagan Bush Campaign 1982 Copyright Andy Richards 1982

Reagan Bush Campaign 1982
Copyright Andy Richards 1982

Where am I going with all this? Not sure. It’s a blog, which means its o.k. to ramble. And even if its not o.k. to ramble, its my blog, so I can. :-)

I guess I am just saying, “Thanks Dad.”

Book Revew: “The Digital Print,” by Jeff Schewe



This book is the companion to Jeff’s “The Digital Negative” (see my review). I view this 2- volume series as the modern day (“digital”) equivalent of the Ansel Adams 3-volume series, “The Camera,” “The Negative,” and “The Print.” Since these reviews come quite far apart, I recommend a quick read of my review of “The Digital Negative,” which was done way back in 2012.  There are a couple reasons for the long gap.  First, when I read the first book, the second was not out.  Second, though I finished it many month ago, I am just now getting my thoughts together.  :-)

This 2-volume series is a distillation of the essentials for capturing, processing and printing for the digital photographer

While I am not by any means comparing Mr. Schewe, the photographer, with Ansel Adams, the photographer, I can say with some confidence that he, along with the late, great, Bruce Fraser, were two of the foremost pioneers of digital processing of images. I have read a number of other, fairly technical books written by them, this 2-volume series is a distillation of the essentials for a digital photographer, of capturing the best quality image, and printing it.  Like anything in life, some of us will relate to the writing style of certain authors.  This book is far from a “for dummies” style book.  Yet it is not a mind-boggling technical tome, either.  I appreciate Jeff’s conversational style of writing, with some dry humor interjected here and there.  Others like the more entertaining style of a — say Scott Kelby.  To each his own.  If you think you will never have an image printed on paper (or other substrate), read the first book and skip the second.  Most of will want to read them both.

I have previously noted that I am a “get under the hood,” type. For those who just want to get on to printing, today’s printers, with their built-in drivers, will probably produce a satisfying result for you, “out of the box.”  Or perhaps even easier, upload your images to one of the many, very good, commercial printers out there. But if you like to see how to optimize the pixels you have captured on your “mega-pixel” camera, then these two books are a “must read,” in my view – and will probably mean you don’t have to read any other books on post-processing and printing.

I am a “get under the hood,” type

Before executing the “send to print” command, there are a number of (some of them very technical) steps that must occur to get the image ready for printing.  If you are interested in getting the most out of your digital image, this book gives you all the information you need, in a manner that — to my mind — has just the right mix of technical and down to earth.  The companion (first in the series), “The Digital Negative,” covers both the Adobe Photoshop (ACR) engine and the Adobe LightRoom engine thoroughly.  As one might expect from a continuation series, “The Digital Print” does likewise.  But in this book, Schewe goes into a bit more detail about the two.  Toward the end of the book, in the section on actual printing, he opines that Lightroom (generally) is a better place to print from.   But first, he gives us a brief, but interesting history of the development of digital printing technology.  I have become set in my ways.  I need to spend some time in Lightroom.  I have never printed an image from Lightroom, but I will be trying that in the very near future.

You don’t have to read any other books on post-processing and printing

He next gives some insight into choosing a printer and the different “flavors” available today. Printer and ink technology continues to evolve favorably, so look for updates to these texts in time. The book spends a fair amount of time discussing use of printers and drivers on different platforms, and printing from two software sources: LightRoom and Photoshop. He also covers printer-specific settings, and when and how to choose between printer and software drivers. There is also some coverage of B&W printing. Different printer technology creates the print differently and Schewe explains how to “purpose” your digital file for the particular output method.

There is a chapter on color management.  There are a number of great books available on the subject of color management.  Though the term, itself sounds intimidating,  the concept is simple enough.  When we go from one display medium to another we need to have a way to “communicate” the information so the viewable result is consistent.  Because of the different technologies employed in capture, post-processing, and displaying, that is much more easily understood in concept than in actual practice, however.  When you do “look under the hood” of your Photoshop or Lightroom (or any other) printer driver, you see lots of scary words and checkboxes like “color space,” “rendering intent,” “profiles,” etc.).  So most of us need some “plain-English” interpretation.  This book does that.  Schewe does a good, and succinct job of making this very complex subject understandable to us laypersons.

The Digital Print completes the journey following capture and post-processing, to final output

The Digital Print spends some time covering important aspect of post-processing for preparation of a file to print.  For those who did read “The Digital Negative,” there will be some repetition here.  I have two observations about that.  First, a little repetition/review will do most of good.  Second, and more practically, the author had to consider the at least a percentage of his reading audience would not have read the first book.  So he includes the essentials again. :-).  It then moves on to an oft misunderstood topic:  resolution.  Schewe gives us an understandable explanation of image resolution vs. printer resolution and why the really aren’t identical concepts.  Most importantly, he explains how it relates to the final print and how to choose resolution, re-size images for print, etc.

There is coverage at the end for purposing your digital file for a third party printing company.  If there is a weak area in the book, this is it.  I am not sure it matters, given what I percieve to be the intended audience:  those of us serious (geeky :-) ) enough to want to do our own printing and own our own printers.  For those who spend significant time and effort getting images ready for the third-party printer, perhaps an entire short text could address the more aptly.  In my case, for the few times I have engaged a third party printer, I have worked closely with them, obtaining specs they want, giving them proofs, and discussing my vision of the final image.  That has worked well for me.  The book concludes with a discussion of inks, papers and other media, viewing distances and environments, longevity, and workflow.

A little repetition/review will do most of good

The Digital Print completes the technical journey following capture and post-processing, to output.  In my view the books are a great companion series, but are not necessarily equally weighted. If I only had the interest, patience, or budget for one of the two books, I would recommend the first book, “The Digital Negative.” But for those who like closure and the whole picture (pun intended), I can wholeheartedly recommend both books in the series.

Do your Images make the “Cliche” List?

Lombard Street; San Francisco, CA Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

Lombard Street; San Francisco, CA
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

This past week, I saw a link on Facebook to a personal blog site with a reference to “cliché photos.” Naturally, a photo oriented post catches my interest. I clicked on it and the link was to a request to post your idea of what is the “most cliché” photographic subject (it was actually couched in terms of a list of the “worst subject-matter clichés in photography).  I guess, according to the list, my Lombard Street image is a twofer.  Certainly Lombard Street has to make the list of “cliche” photographs.  And oh, those flowers. :-)

The whole idea of creating such a list strikes me as a rather worthless exercise. But to my own surprise, I felt mildly offended. As I thought more about it, I wondered about the idea that was being posited, and it just doesn’t hit home. I will be the first to acknowledge that I have created my share of images that could be characterized as “clichéd,” and perhaps I am just being hyper-sensitive, but I have also made my share of images of the subjects on this so-called “cliché” list.

With perhaps a few exceptions, a photographic subject cannot be cliche’

The word, interestingly (or not, depending on what may or may not interest you :-) ) comes from the French word for a type of printing (or printing press – also interestingly called a “stereotype”). In modern usage, it is defined in the dictionary as a noun, which is “a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.” The word has also become acceptable to use as either a noun or an adjective. Wikipedia defines the word in the following way: “A cliché or cliche is an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, even to the point of being trite or irritating, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel.” (emphasis mine).  Waterfalls are on the list, too.  Don’t you just hate this one?

Elliot Falls

Elliot Falls

Pretty clearly pejorative in usage, and perhaps why it struck that proverbial raw nerve. The list includes such ubiquitous photo subjects (and real-world objects and natural ocurrences) as sunsets, flowers, waterfalls, old barns, reflections, lighthouses, and on and on (one poster even says any photograph of an entire country is cliché!). The list is 36 items long and counting. I reject the premise, as such a “list” implies that these subjects should be avoided.

My first objective is to make an image that I like

With perhaps a few exceptions, a photographic subject cannot be cliché. The way the photographer depicts it most certainly can. And, in my view, all of this is very subjective and completely dependent on the perspective of the viewer. When I make an image, my first objective is to make an image of the subject that I like. Somebody else may have already made that identical image. (see are there any unique images?).  I once made an image of an “iconic” scene in Vemont that was all my own vision (of a scene that had been shot thousands of times of course).  Months later a reader pointed out that the WalMart brand tissue box had my image on it and he hoped I was being well paid for it.  When I looked at the box my heart skipped a beat.  That was my image!  But it really wasn’t on closer study, it was a different shot (but the shooter could well have stood in my footprints, or me his on the very same day).  Was my image cliche’, or was it his that was cliche’ (thats rhetorical – no need to answer :-) )?

Sony Nex_6; Sony 50mm f1.8 Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Sony Nex_6; Sony 50mm f1.8
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

We all have a mental “bank” of images and particularly of images that have become so well-known that I have come to identify them as “iconic.” When I travel to a new place and know about an iconic subject, I still want to photograph it. Again, I will first make some images that I personally like. Then, aware that it is iconic, and therefore already been done, I start looking for unique shots and perspectives, using my own – possibly unique – vision. I have stood side by side with fellow shooters and framed up the same subject and been surprised at how different the “takes” we come away with are. There is simply nothing with making an image that has been done before (as long as you don’t pretend it is some unique new thing).  According to the list, “flowers” are a top 3 cliche’.  Of the millions of potential flower shot opportunities, there are apparently no unique perspectives that have any photographic worth.  Guess I need to remove this framed print from my office.

I reject the premise, as such a “list” implies, that these subjects should be avoided

There is much to be said for making unique and creative photographic images. And that is a large part of what photography is all about. I think all of us who shoot seriously try to bring unique and creative vision to our imagery. Sometimes we are successful. But it certainly can be done with virtually any subject. So, I struggle with the concept of “cliché” in art – and even more, with the creation of a list of “cliché” subjects. Of all the responses, my favorite was “asking for a list is cliché.” :-)One would have to guess that images of the Blue Angels would be near the top of the “cliche'” list.

Blue Angels; Fleet Week Airshow; San Francisco, CA Copyright  2011  Andy Richards

Blue Angels; Fleet Week Airshow; San Francisco, CA
Copyright 2011 Andy Richards

I don’t do much rah rah. And I try (albeit sometimes unsuccessfully :-) ), to give unsolicited advice. But, I’ll give some gratuitously here. Go out and find a subject that interests, intrigues, or even excites you. Don’t worry whether it is on a list, is trite, overshot, or whatever. Work with the subject and my your image of it. If you truly apply your own vision, it won’t be cliché.

“Playing” with Photographic Imagery

Daffodil Closeup Copyright  Andy Richards  2015

Daffodil Closeup
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

As I have said here before, I started seriously shooting in 1977, using mostly color transparency film as a medium. After a hiatus in the 1980’s (some casual shooting only), I rekindled and embraced the new equipment then available, eventually moving on to digital in the early 1990’s. As I got back into the swing of things later in the 1980’s, I developed a fascination with close up flower imagery – not necessarily true “macro,” but close up.

One of the cool things about digital is the freedom to “play”

Maybe it was because it was an easy subject. Close up on the frame, flowers are colorful and there is much less work trying to isolate the subject, place it properly in the frame, and eliminate distracting or detracting elements. And, it was a great way to “study” all of the foregoing. As you examine a close up shot, you begin to see details (many of them unwanted in the image) that your eyes may not have seen. Because of the close proximity, you quickly learn about depth of field. At the same time, you see the beauty and advantage of a lens that renders nice bokeh. In the early years, I used to keep a notebook on conditions and go back to the same place and subject and re-shoot. I still use them as a primary “test” subject when trying out new lenses, and cameras. Flower close ups are a great learning tool, and sometimes make great art.

But after a while, it seemed like it was time to move on to “bigger and better” things. When I cannot get out to somewhere photogenic, but get the “itch” to shoot, I still seek the backyard flowers that are ubiquitous. But I don’t shoot them with the “innocent” joy I once did. I find that these days I discard many more than I used to. Sometimes the images I retain are marginal.

One of the cool things about digital is the freedom to “play.” I mostly don’t, because I mostly prefer more traditional photographic presentation. But the image here, seemed draw me to want to “play.”

Cropped Daffodil Closeup Copyright  Andy Richards  2015

Cropped Daffodil Closeup
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

A few years back, I grew lazy (for good reason, I think). I had worked to learn selection, blending, masking, and other Adobe Photoshop skills to work with my imagery. Then along comes a company called NIK Software, and takes all that work and does it for me, with a simple, easy-to-use, interface that works 96.49% (I measured it) of the time. I still need to resort to PS for some things, but less and less. Again, I use my NIK (now Google-owned) package primarily to make traditional photographic adjustments to images. But there is plenty of room inside the software bundle to “play” (it is worth noting that there are a number of other “plug-in” software programs out there today that do similar, or complimentary things. Most of them are made to work with Photoshop, LightRoom, or both).

One of the NIK programs that I use occasionally is ColorEfex. It has functions, like one called “detail extractor” which allows you to make images appear similar to oil paintings. Of course the capability already exists in PS, but again, the NIK program makes it very easy to use and “play” with. I have an image of a Venice canal that looks like a blend between an oil painting and a photograph. It hangs in my office as a 24 x 36 framed and matted print, and it came out pretty nice.

Daffodil Close Up - ColorEfex Copyright  Andy Richards  2015

Daffodil Close Up – ColorEfex
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

The first image here, is the uncropped, image, originally capture as a raw image, and post-processed to look as good photographically as I could make it. It has some issues, including composition and critical sharpness. I have learned that yellow flowers (and white is a close second) are very difficult to expose and get sharp looking, particularly in contrasty or bright light conditions.

Canal, Venice Copyright  Andy Richards  2013

Canal, Venice
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

So, I cropped it, which is the second image. I like the composition better here (one thing that I dislike about he image as a whole, is that the flower just seems to “float” in mid air. I wish I had done a better job of portraying the stem to anchor the flower to something). To me, it was still kind of “eh.” Certainly, it was not going to make it to my wall or to my website.

San Francisco Fishing Harbor Copyright  Andyr Richards  2011

San Francisco Fishing Harbor
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

Time to play. For the third image, I took the cropped image and used the NIK ColorEfex “detail extractor” tool and began to play. The result looks something like a chalk sketch. I would like to have the petals a bit whiter, but that was more work than I wanted to do for this exercise. I rarely like these “play” results. But this one, I kind of do like. I can only think of two other ones that I have felt were successful – the Venice image, and an image of fishing boats in the SF commercial fishing harbor. Both made successful prints.


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