Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

War memorials

One of my interests is military history, and I think it would be fair to say that one of the defining moments of my life was nearly 30 years ago when I first travelled to France. Not for the reasons that one might expect (food, wine, more food) but because of the way that every time we detoured off the Autoroutes, we seemed to come across a small Commonwealth War Graves cemetery. It brought home to me the enormity of the cost of the two World Wars and their effect on successive generations.

My wife and I went to France and Belgium last year specifically to go on a tour of WWI battlefields, including Ypres and the Somme. My maternal grandfather fought, and was seriously wounded on the the Somme, and carried the effects of being hit by a trench mortar round to the day he died in the late 1970s. Like most veterans, he didn't like to talk about it, and to be honest, at the time I wasn't much interested. Of course, now it's too late. I have managed to find out that he was almost certainly in the Rifle Brigade, and I believe stationed near Beaumont Hamel when he was wounded.

What appals is the scale of the killing, and the senselessness. A few weeks ago, while working in Staffordshire for a client, I had some free time and visited Cannock Chase. I was amazed and disturbed to find two large war cemeteries in the Chase, one Commonwealth, one German, Apparently, virtually the whole of the Chase was a military training area, particularly during the Great War, but also for the RAF up until the 1950s. Most of the graves in the Commonwealth cemetery are of soldiers of both sides who died in the 1918 influenza epidemic. I was particularly disturbed to find numerous New Zealanders, who had come to fight for the "mother country" of the Empire, only to die from a virus.

The German cemetery is a different proposition. It is a small piece of Germany in England, with around 5,000 burials. All the Germans who died on British soil, during or after both World Wars whether of wounds, or disease or whatever were "concentrated" here. The cemetery is huge, but, unusually, there are relatively few "unknowns". It is a very peaceful, and very moving, place, set amidst very English woodland.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Lightroom 2.0

I've probably mentioned before that I'm a big fan of Adobe Lightroom. For anyone who shoots RAW (and almost anyone serious about photography should) and uses a PC, it's an invaluable tool for processing and cataloguing images. The big problem with digital is that you end up shooting lots more, as there's no constraint as there is with film. I estimate I shoot about 10 times the quantity of images that I used to in film days - and that's with very infrequent use of "continuous" mode. I have no idea how many frames the guy with the white-lensed Canon EOS1Ds that I saw on the boat to the Farne Islands the other day got thru just getting there - it sounded like tearing cloth...

Anyway, Lightroom (LR) gives the best way I've found yet of sorting thru images, cataloguing them, tagging them and evaluating them. I was a user way back in the v1 public beta days, bought it as soon as it was available, have upgraded religiously, experimented with the public v2 beta, and finally loaded the new v2.0 version last week. It's worth every penny of the £69 for the upgrade with some important new tools, including a localised adjustments brush and a graduated filter.

There's a run down of what's new on Matt Kloskowski's excellent "Lightroom Killer Tips" blog ( http://www.lightroomkillertips.com/ ). Also see here: http://www.photoshopuser.com/lightroom2/features.html

On Tuesday (Aug 12), Matt drew attention to some really useful presets (templates for adjustments in LR) for grad filters produced by Sean McCormac. Sean is a regular contributer to the Adobe Lightroom Flickr Group I co-admin ( http://www.flickr.com/groups/adobe_lightroom/ ), and extremely knowledgable. His comprehensive set of filters cost just €5 (plus VAT) and are a huge timesaver (see http://lightroom-blog.com/2008/07/lrb-graduated-filter-presets.html ). In fact, I notice that one of my co-admins, who quite rightly objects to people ripping the unknowledgable off for presets that they can easily make themself, has also downloaded them.

Adobe have posted a really useful video tutorial on the "Develop" module - where the above changes are located - here: http://www.adobe.com/designcenter/video_workshop/?id=vid0386

I couldn't realistically do photography without LR (I suppose other tools are available, but not necessarily on a PC platform). The more you shoot, the more you need it. The following image is an example. Not much changed, except tweaks to exposure, contrast and saturation, plus sharpening, but take my work for it that the image would have been pretty dull without it - and processing probably took less than five minutes!

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Perspective Correction

I've been writing quite a lot on Flickr lately, and it occurred to me I might post some of it here (especially as I'm so rubbish at keeping this blog updated). The following was published on the Olympus E-System Information Links Group I co-admin ( http://www.flickr.com/groups/olympus_e-system_information/ ). This is an offshoot of the Olympus E System Community Group ( http://www.flickr.com/groups/olympusesystem/ ) - the largest and most active Olympus group on Flickr, which I co-moderate.

Lightroom, for all its good points lacks a perspective correction tool. I find my version of Photoshop (CS) excessively clunky, so I tend to use specialist software. The two products I use are:

PT Lens 8.5 and ShiftN

These two utilities are effective ways of correcting perspective distortion ("tilting building syndrome") and similar problems caused by the lack of a Tilt/Shift Lens in the E-system. While the same corrections can be applied in Photoshop, these utilities make it rather easier IMHO.

PT Lens (PC and Mac versions) can be downloaded from:

It corrects lens pincushion/barrel distortion, vignetting, chromatic aberration, and perspective. It will also de-fish an image. There is a free trial version (10 conversions only), and a licence costs $15. The program requires a bit more manual input than ShiftN.

ShiftN (PC only) can be downloaded from:

"ShiftN permits correction of converging lines; a majority of the correction work is taken over automatically by the program. Using the 'automatic correction' item in the menu is in most cases sufficient to produce a satisfying result. Both the effects of converging lines and poor camera angle are corrected automatically." ( www.marcus-hebel.de/index1.html ). Manual corrections can also be applied. ShiftN is freeware, but donations are welcome. There's a small Flickr Group: www.flickr.com/groups/shiftn/

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Micro Four Thirds

The recent announcement by Olympus and Panasonic of a new "Micro Four Thirds" standard deserves notice. Many people have greeted it with squeals of glee, anticipating what amounts to a Four Thirds Leica Rangefinder. Yeah, right.

This is an obvious attempt to seize the "bridge" market - but guys, it won't work without seriously more megapixels and flashy bells and whistles offered by any current four thirds camera. I don't care much about micro four thirds as a photographer or as a potential purchaser.

My concern is with the future of "ordinary" 4/3rds. Those of us who bought into the concept, and have significant investment in glass (recognising that the body technology means that whatever we buy will be "obsolete" in a year or three) must wonder whether our investment is safe, or whether we will find ourselves in a stagnant backwater, just as we were with our OM4s and OM4Tis all those years ago.

Not that my OM4 doesn't still take pictures as good as the incompetence of the operator permits: so does my E1, for that matter. But I retain the painful memories of being denied access to the benefits of technology as Oly failed to update their cameras - and the anger at discovering that my expensive wide angle glass had been all-but turned into paperweights when 4/3rds came along.

Of course, Olympus have said they remain fully committed to 4/3rds proper, and I have it on excellent authority that there will be significant new additions to the Olympus "roadmap" at Photokina in a few weeks. However, am I the only one for whom that "commitment" sounds like an echo of Oly's commitment to 35mm post OM4?

What they need to do to convince me (and looking at many forums, a lot of other people) is to announce a substantial upgrade for the E3 "professional" body very soon. Otherwise the echoes of Olympus's past betrayal of their customer base may overcome the sounds of marketing hype over their new baby. Will Olympus listen to this? Their track record is not encouraging.