1. Well I bought the Leica M240 and it took me a few hours to realize that the bags I had with my DSLR were not going to work with this camera. It is so much smaller and the lenses are si small compared to a DSLR, that having that big huge Zkin bag that I had for the 5D MkII just didn't work anymore. Even the more intermediate bags still felt still too big for the Leica and a lense.

    Now lets make things clear here: Bags are not only for girls and you can be a guy and be a bag addict... Actually I don't know any photographer who is not a bag addict. Small, large, trendy, outdoorsy... There is a camera bag for EVERYTHING! There are hundred's of brands, from the China made low end bag that will break into pieces after 2 weeks to... Louis Vuitton (Yes they do camera bags too!). It's a question of price and taste, but there is a bag for everyone! 

     

    Historically, I have had a rough Zkin
     
    I absolutely love the Zkin bags. For many reasons, one is that they are made by HK people, the second reason is that they are very well designed (side zips, enough storage for everything you need, great pockets, you need? You name it! They have it) and third is that they look cool. They don't look like you everyday camera bag, the one that makes you look like you are a nerd strolling around town with the failed result of the cross breeding of an accountant black bag and a Samsonite carry-on luggage. Those bags look vintage, and the feel is really good, they are really great for DLSR, I highly recommend them.
     
    I've had the "Yeti" bag for a couple of years now and its a very good bag, sturdy and I used it in quite extreme conditions including a trip to Burma. It saved my gear a couple of times from the very fast changing weather over there (went in July, during rainy season even though it wasn't as bad as I thought, sometimes all hell would break loose without any warning... The integrated rain protection saved me!).
     
    I love those bags (am I repeating myself? :) ), these are camera bags that don't look like camera bags as I mentioned earlier and to me, this is a must. I am not the guy that carries two DSLRs in a holster with ammo racks on the side to put... errrr... whatever those guys have in those gazillion pockets. Am going shooting for sure, but not to war!
     
    On the cons, I had a problem on one of the shoulder straps as I kind of overload the bag and use one strap only when I am taking pictures and always the same side (I am quite binary!), so the strap was falling appart, had to do some stitching.... myself (well asked for a pro to do it, but the price was nearly the price of the bag!). Yes, it's not pretty to see... But it worked and I now have a reinforced Yeti bag, one of a kind!
     
    Now, the big Zkin bags are really great and handy, but am less thrilled about the smaller ones. The design, the looks just doesnt quite cut it for me, but am a little bit of a complicated guy on looks... And since I needed something smaller for the Leica, I started looking around and searched on the Internet.
     
    So if I ain't got no Skinz, then what?
     
    Well I looked at two brands that came back everytime I was reading a comment about the Leica bags and where most of the feedback were positive.
     
    The Billingham bags and the Ona Bags.
     
    Billingham:
     
    Now the Billingham Bags are quite nice and all, but if I compare to the Zkin, it's pretty much the same style but it seemed more expensive at least here in HK and they where quite hard to find.
     
    I am not making a judgement on those bags, they do seem very good and I have never used one no flaming here please!
    This is my personnal preference but I actually didn't like the design that much as it is very similar to everything I have owned so far (and I have A LOT of bags). So I decided to pass on the Billingham, but I may change my mind in the future and decide to give them a try.
     
     
    So Ona it is (am sure you are in total shock right now, not expecting such a surprise were you? Yes, I am a master of deception!).
     
    So anyway, finally I went for the Ona Bag (bought it from B&H, special kudos to those guys, got the bag in only 3 days in HK! Fast and at the right price, package was neatly prepared, B&H is really impressive, here is a link to the bag on their website).
     
     
    Ok, lets cut to the chase: this bag is really nice.
     
    It arrived in a nice package, earlier than expected (well not so much as I was tracking the package! Am just making it look more dramatic...). Opened my box and Tadaaaaa! here is a nice brown leather bag.
    The inside, clean and stylish
     
    When it first arrives it's a brand new piece of leather, clean, perfect.

    However, after a few weeks of intensive use, it started getting some patina, just like the old bags my father or grandfather used to have.
     
    
    The front with the buckle scratches
    First, I have to say I was a little annoyed. I am no maniac, but I liked the brown clean feel of the bag when I opened it. The part that wears out the fastest is the front part of the bag. The buckle especially is the place of the bag where you get most of the scratches as you can see on the pictures, obviously because of the constant opening and closing of the bag! Once the bag starts getting this old style patina all over (count a couple of weeks at least) then its a totally different and nicer bag (don't freak out during the transition period like I did, just give the process a little bit of time!).
     
    
    A Leica and a lense fit easily in this bag
    The bag easily fits the M240 and a lense (I am sure two lenses would still be fine). There are two (quite narrow and not so deep, basically the size of a passport) front pockets tu put your SD cards wallet and phone and there is a larger rear pocket where you can fit an Ipad mini (not the classic, won't fit), a kindle or if you are old style like me, a tourist map of the area you're in! In addition to that, I carry a small tripod that I can actually attach to the side of the bag (it's not built for that though... and it definitely doesnt look nice).
     
     
    You can feel the inside is clean and that the camera is well protected. I actually dont put the lense cover when I put it back in the bag as I am quite comfortable with the quality and I am sure the camera will not get hit (unless I get hit by a truck but at that moment, I don't think the camera will matter anymore!).
     
    All in a very good buy. Small, discreet and yet stylish, I absolutely love my Ona bag and have been using it ever since I got it a month back! 
     
     
     
    My everyday bag! 50mm, 28mm a light tripod and an Ona bag, what else does a man need?
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     




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  2. It's been quite a while since I haven't written a post. It's not because I've been lazy (well, ok, not ONLY because I've been lazy) but it's also because I was on holidays testing my brand new acquisition... the infamous and bankbreaker... M240 from Herr Leica (wunderbar! I've covered all my German knowledge, won't have any more from here on... :) Promise!).

    It's now time (tadaaaaaa!) for me to reveal my first impressions on this camera after owning it for a month and testing it thoroughly during my holidays.










    Inception (if you want just my impression on the M240, skip this part, this is my usual blabla!)

    Saint Malo - France - the Leica is weather proof! So are the people there... :)

    Ok so you all should know by now how I am going from bigger to smaller, after I went the opposite direction... You also know how after thinking that the more gear I owned, the better photography I would be taking and realizing, as many of us, that this didn't make any sense, I have gone to a minimalist approach, going even as far as using film (yes, shame on me as I anyway scan them  which makes them digital files in any case...Am snob, it's just because of that!).

    Well a few weeks back, I went one step further in my minimalist aproach... As much as I love film, it's very hard for me travel abroad with my Hassie and all the films. Going through X-ray and explaining in Thai to the Thai border patrol guy that films should not be exposed to an X-ray machine as it can burn the films (explain THAT in Thai!) and that its not because there is a sticker on the machine that its really safe was a lot of hassle and could end up in quite complicated situations for yours truly. I needed something easier, and more portable (the Hassie is NOT the must of portability but what a camera!).

    Anyway this is a lame excuse. This year, I moved truly and irrevocably (I haven't met Mephisto unfortunately so I had no choice) in my forties. Am an "old" man now, I have grown a beard and the belly that goes with it (am working on making sure that the belly is just a passing but man its a tough job!).  Anyway, with age comes wisdom they say, well let me tell you, this is horse turd... With age comes a little bit more money that you have been able to put aside, like the squirrels in Tribeca put garbage aside (but a more useful version of that...) and with age comes the idea that it's now time to do the stupid things we couldn't do younger because we didn't have the money or the time. That's right where I am today, and this was at the top of my list!

    After looking at various options, I decided to jump on the rangefinder bandwagon all guns blazing.  I had tried rangefinders a long time ago, when film was the only option and still remembered a little it's versatility and discretion. It was time to see if those old memories, with the passed colors of a poor Instagram filter, were right.
    So I did it! Not the 5 feet jump that scares you for half a second, the jump from the cliff, the one you don't even know if the water below is deep enough... The one where you feel your heart pumping in your throat... I looked, thought, went in and out and finally did it, I bought the M240... I was shaking... (ok I may be overdoing it slightly here...).
    I had seen those in France for more than 7000Euros (that's around 70K HKD and 9000USD). That price was a no-no for me...
    Time to bargain? Avignon, France Leica M240 and 28mm
    In HK, I have my personal dealer. I can't disclose publicly his name because I don't want anyone to go and ask him for the same price as me, I don't think he would do it and I think I would upset him and never have a good price ever again. I have bought him all my cameras since I have been in HK and he has seen me grow slowly, From my 7D to this new Leica, he's like my camera father... Ok now I sound weird...
    Everytime, his price has been lower or at the same level as  the shops in Mongkok (if you want good deals, you can try Sim City in Mongkok, I'll do a post on this later on) despite being in the very heart of the city.

    So one day, out of silly curiosity, I went to him and asked him the price as I had seen the second hand prices and I was really thinking about buying it. He gave a few calls and told me "35K HKD for a ME and 42K HKD for an M240".
    Wow, this is the price that I had seen a second hand Leica for in another shop in Stanley Street (not the cheapest around though, I know, but still...)! I was in shock and it got me thinking. I asked him to give me some time, which he gracefully did, as he always do (am a good customer, he knows that!!!)!
    I know what you are thinking and I was thinking the same. It's a lot of money, but if you are reading that post and know a little bit about Leica, it's what it costs. I then checked on Internet, its more than 1200USD less than the price I would have to pay for it on Amazon and even my beloved B&H (which I buy things from, even in HK) is around the same price.
    So, for slightly more than the price of the new Leica M from an internet company, I could get the Leica M250 and a 50mm Summicron 2.0 lense... Wow.
    So I jumped in the cold waters of the Rangefinder world.... When I used the credit card, I think I heard it scream... But there I was, I came out of the shop with my little box and this brand new camera inside.

    First impression (This is the part about the M240, stop scrolling down lah!):
    First Portrait, Check
    My cousin and actor Nathan Willcocks
    Just as a foreword and a disclaimer, don't expect some mumbo jumbo about the specs, I suck at that (among many things, but this one thik, I am fully aware of!). I don't count pixels for a simple reason, I can't count! I don't compare colors, because am color blind (not true...ok, am overdoing it again!) and I never, ever ever play in the famous game, who's got the biggest... Camera (among other famous games...).


    Unravelling the beast:
    So there I was, in front of that camera or should I say THE camera, the holy Graal of the Street Photography nerd...

    I opened slowly the package. I have to say that everything is made so that you have an impression of precision and kraftsmanship. The box has many little drawers in which are stored all the necessary elements of the camera. On the top part is the Graal. The Leica M240 is sitting there, waiting to be taken out of it's black velvet coffin (maybe not velvet... Ok!).
    Given all the efforts that had been put in the camera and the packaging, I did something I NEVER, ever.... like ever, do! I RTFM (Read The Freakin' Manual).
    Yes, the kraftmanship is such that you feel compelled to read the manual, in a quasi religious state. You kneel and then open the booklet and start reading out loud (mmm, maybe not that religious though).

    First launch... And we have a lift off (oooh no, you didn't think that!).

    After that (it's not that long, don't worry!), I took out religiously the M240, a little bit like the Holy Grenade in the Monthy Python Holy Graal movie ("ye shall count to three...").

    The first impression is that it feels sturdy and strong. It's a piece of engeneering, but like all German things, it's a piece of durable engeneering and you feel it when you take out this camera from its box.
    Put the battery in, an SD Card my salesman had offered me, screwed in the 50mm (I will come back in another post on this but again, we are talking steel, sturdy fabric here, nothing like the plastic elements I am used to with my beloved DSLR).
    Turned it on and there it was, the M240 ready for action. Menus are simple. This is a great change compared to my Canons (Even though Canon menus are fine, they lack simplicity!). There is no useless options, everything is there, clearly stated and it all finally comes to four things: ISO, Aperture, Speed and the guy behind the camera (this last part is my weakness!).
    The camera (you're here for that no?):
    Low light? Check!
    The design has been there for decades. Its a slick design, black, simple but still has this old school feel that I personally love. The camera is easy to take and hold and doesn't require you a special gymnastic or to develop a tennis thumb (yes, its a remake of a tennis elbow... is there something like this?) as everything just falls perfectly in your hand. The knobs are just in the right place and so easy to find, even when not looking at them (it does take some practice though, don't expect mastering it right away).

    The menus are simple and are quite limited in quantity ("only" 5 pages). Everything (well nearly) that has no use has been stripped down compared to DSLR. Still there are some fancy things there such as the HDR option (3 or 5 shots) and some other things I didn't even bother looking at. This camera is all about simplicity and this is all a Leica owner is looking for.

    The getting used to (it does get some!):

    It's not easy coming from the DSLR world but it comes in quite quickly as, as I mentioned earlier, it's all perfectly studied to make the experience optimal. After a few hours, everything becomes intuitive. The knobs are there you just need to memorize which is what and then, you won't need to take off your eye from the viewfinder, you will turn them without even looking at them.

    Simplicity?

    This is probably one of the key points. As Leonardo da Vinci used to say "simplicity is the ultimate sophistication". And Leica does just this, make things so simple coming from such a complicated and fine kraftmanship. All the other camera makers will add those dials, modes, screens, rotating backscreen, selfie enhanced camera, coffee machine (am sure we'll get that someday) that you just can't choose anymore. There was a study a few years back saying that we faced too many micro decisions, the Leica takes many of those off your hands, there is no place for useless decisions, and I love that!
      
    Ok, for the DSLR nerds like me, what are the real changes?

    Well, for one, everything is manual. There is no autofocus with the super fast hyper great one touch of a feather button and the hawk view (am not sure that exists yet but do expect to see it someday). There is nothing that pretends they will do the work for you and that with this camera, you will become the new Joe Mc Nally (love you Joe! :p) as knowlegeable as Steve Huff (here, go and check his website, amazing source of info on the Leica but not only) or even Adam Marrelli (this guy is good, interesting and knowledgeable and yes, he shoots Leica! Go check his website!).

    Forget the "scenery" mode, "Portrait", "fireworks" (ahahahahahhaha.... errr... sorry) or other useless modes also, this is not the camera for you if you think those modes (hahahahaha.... sorry again) are useful.

    Oh I digress here, but quickly one small advice here, if you are starting photography: a) don't buy a Leica b) don't use those modes. Will come back on that in a later post.

    Here, there is you, your creative view and your (up to) ten fingers. The camera will only go as fast as you. Auto Iso? There is, but honestly, who the hell would buy such a camera and give creative control to a chip? Not me. You? Get out!
    There is no through the lense view (well this is not completely true). You look on the side of the camera and you will not see if you are under or over exposed. You have an indicator (a dot if you have correct exposure and some small arrows if not to show you if you are under or over exposed).

    Depending on the lense you use, there is a small frame, red (you can change that) that indicated your frame. With a wide lense (I bought the 28mm subsequently) you cannot see a small part of the frame as it's blocked by the lense itself on the right of your viewfinder). It does need some getting used to as I mentioned, but its quite fast and intuitive. 

    One missing item is the bulb possibility to add a remote control. If you are doing long exposures, am not sure how that works but it does not seem to be possible unless you buy the additional grip (which is quite expensive!)

     At first, I cursed...
    At first, if like me you are used to DSLR and through the lense view, you will be struggling a little (not long don't worry). In the viewfinder, you need to align, in a small center square, two images so that they match perfectly and become one, this is when you know you are in focus.

    in focus; only one red dot! Good to shoot tiger!
    You see double! Two options; you're still drunk or it's out of focus!


    You will forget to do it at first (where is the autofocus mode damnit!), and you will miss some shots because of that . You will curse, and swear and you will maybe miss that decisive moment (love you HCB!). But it's fine, you fell when you first started cycling and look at you now! If you missed it, you will have other opportunities.  Another reason to curse. is that there is no through the lense view... you will sometimes forget to take out the lense cap! This is annoying and you only realize after you've taken the shot or because whatever you do, it seems you are way underexposed... :) My advice, dump the lense cap, if you have a clean bag, you should be fine (or make sure it's a reflex to take it out the moment you take the camera off your bag).
    To solve this problem of lense cap, underposure and all, for the first time since they went digital, Leica offers a Liveview option. This button is easily accessible and will allow you to see exactly what you are shooting and the current exposure and what will the final result look like.

    Also, WYSIWYG as they say (what you see is not what you get). What you see through the viewfinder is larger (if using normal lenses) than the frame itself that is outlined by a red square. It takes a little getting used to but there is a major advantage, you can see what is coming in the frame, unlike the DSLR where you see exactly what will be in the frame. Both are useful and both have their pros and cons.

    But then, I decided to trust the force...

    With experience, you adapt and adjust. I have only used the Liveview on a few very rare occasions, it's useful, but not sure it's a necessity for street photography (but haven't tried for landscape, the magnifying can certainly be useful in that situation).

    After a while, I became like Luke Skywalker (yes, I did!). I started trusting the Leica force, and this voice in my head of a weird old man (HCB is that you? Meh I doubt given the quality of my pics!) telling me to trust my instincts and not rely on the crappy rebel technology (am I pushing the analogy too far here?!).  

    And guess what, it works. Ok, it's not always perfect but with a good exercise and reading some intereviews of Henri Cartier Bresson (did I say I loved him already?), I know now that for street photog, the basis is 3m distance, 1/125 and something not too far from F8. Starting from that, you cover 70% of the shots, now it's time to find a theme or a topic.




    Conclusion:

    Will I discard my DSLR forever and let it rot?
    Let's face it, I took a huge and very expensive bet when I bought this camera and it turns out that the Leica is all I was hoping for. The quality of the images is litterally outstanding and to me gives a way better result than the DSLRs I have (I don't have the top of the line DSLR though). I know when I was reading others saying that, I would raise my shoulders and call them snobs. But trust me, there is a difference (stop saying am snob! I can hear you from here!).

    My new backpack.... I just saved ostheopath money!
    The great advantage of this camera is size. I have gone from a backpack full of useless lenses (well not useless, but I would carry way more than I need) to a simple side bag. My camera, two lenses and that's it. You are faster, more discreet and you look less like a DSLR nerd (but that has never been a problem to me!).
    Now, let's go to the bottom of this. Am I going to sell my 5D MkII and all my heavy lenses because I now own a Leica and I had to pawn my left arm for that? The answer is a clear no. To me (don't start sending me emails about this) the Leica is the perfect camera for street photography, personnal work and given its size, travel photogaphy.
    But when it comes to sport, heavy duty, strange places, I am not sure the Leica would either work (for sports obviously but am sure some people manage to take amazing pics) or I would feel comfortable taking the camera in a specific environment (am thinking about the series I did in the slums and Manilla, I never ever felt unsafe, but I wouldn't take such a camera there).
    Also, one other point is that the reach may sometimes be insufficient. I know, if the picture is not good, you're not close enough. But sometimes (when taking a picture of a lion for example) am not sure you want to be too close. A longer reach (above the 120mm currently available) can then be useful!
    But despite those two points, the versatility, discretion, precision of this camera makes it an amazing tool and definitely a camera to own. It's not cheap, but there is a reason for this, it's worth every penny invested in it and given there aren't that many, depreciation is not as bad as for other types of camera (this is something to consider on the long run!).
    So for now, as you have understood, I am a happy bunny. I have, I think the best camera I can find to do street and travel photography. This is clearly a tool that is a great addition to my Canon camera. I will still use both and the Canon (Which I used to shoot the Leica by the way... ) will have my preference for heavy duty works, sports or studio shoots but on a daily basis, for walks, street etc, there is no doubt that the discreet M240 is the camera I would choose without any hesitation when I leave home!




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  3. Epic Fail, Light leak - Film
    Its' now been more than six months since I decided, as a personal challenge, to take on a film camera (a Hasselblad 500cm to be precise) and try to relearn how to shoot in a different way. Started film in the 80's when I was a kid, went to digital in the mid 00's and invested back in film last year.

    Let me be a little bit nostalgic to start with... yes, here comes Granpa' with his stories of how things were amazing before... 

    When I stopped serious photography in the mid 90's, digital cameras did not really exist (or the quality was so poor that nobody took this option seriously). I was still able to process my own films and to print my pictures in an improvised darkroom in my parent's bathroom. I spent countless hours learning how to photography and print pictures. Back then, there were no real online ressources to learn from and I had just a few books I paid with my weekend job money (as a salesman at Ikea among other things, I was pretty bad at it and hated it...). It was all trial and error and I had only started to really understand the link between the holy trinity (light / speed / Aperture) as it was a few days between the click and the final picture (chimping, ie looking at the small screen in the back was not an option in those days). Still those days were amazing and I was one of a very few of the people of my age I knew to do photography on my own, without going through a lab.

    After this, and with more than 10 years of interval, I hoped on the digital wagon.

    In 2007, I jumped into digital like there was no tomorrow. As I was in Japan, I decided the technology was finally good enough and also affordable enough, so I bought a Canon EOS Kiss Digital X (the equivalent of the EOS 400D) with a staggering (!) 10megs sensor and two lenses (an 18 55mm and a zoom lense). Used it, abused it for a couple of years in France and during my first years in Asia. It was all I ever dreamed of, click and see what you done, click and see again, and again... Chimping was my new religion. No cost, no problems, no films to carry just CF cards, liberty was finally there at the tip of my index!


    Scanner Lucky problem - Film
    After a couple of years and near loss of my complete gear under the heavy rains of Agra while visiting the Taj Mahal (where all hell broke loose on my head while I was right in the middle of the path leading to the Taj; if you've been there you know, there is no shelter whatsoever for 500 meters each way!) I decided to move to a bigger and more rugged camera, a 7D. I also wanted something that would allow me to take larger pictures and make larger prints, the Kiss was an excellent camera, but far from a semi-pro camera. This was perfect as I was at the same time moving to a more outdoor photography (portraits, landscape...). This camera was good, but GAS (Gear Addiction Syndrome) started to hit me less than a couple of years after I bought the 7D. So I wanted a larger sensor and a better quality of image and went to the 5D MkII. Man this camera is amazing. There it was, we were now close to the holy grail... a camera that could shoot as well or even better than film and that could allow to print very large formats (not that I do this on a regular basis...but this is what GAS is about, having what you don't need).  And on top of this, I could have made the switch to Nikon (I am not the kind of guys who preaches for one manufacturer or the other) but truth is most of the lenses of my 7D worked on my 5D so I did not need to buy new lenses (which is the expensive part of the gear in reality!).

    After that, I decided I was done with GAS and that I needed to get back to something more "simple".... so to get read of GAS, I went out and did what each person that has GAS syndrome does... I bought a new (well technically old) camera (yes, that is still GAS!). This is when I bought the Hasselblad 500cm and I moved back (partly) to film.

    Why did I do this? Well, its simple, I was a complete chimpanzee by then and I was living in the moment. I wanted everything now (isn't it what we all want?) and was not really thinking about photography anymore but was in a mood to accumulate useless pictures, many.. Gigs of useless pictures... My photography was clearly at a standstill and I needed to take on a new challenge to move forward. The Hassie helped me, I beleive, achieve this.

    There is no shooting and praying option, each click of the button is a few bucks out the window. You don't take pictures of a puppy or a your cute cup of coffee in the morning and you start putting some thoughts in what you photograph and the message you want to get accross.

    After a few trials and errors (more errors and less trial i have to admit!), I decided I would have 2 chargers (the Hassie can change chargers anytime). A color and a black and white. I used both very differently (lines and colors) and have started learning a lot about composition and taking the time. I can now prepare a shot, seat at an interesection for 20 minutes waiting for the right thing to happen. It's not about quantity, its about getting the shot I want. 

    Am I going to throw all my digital gear out become a vegetarian and go and raise sheeps in the south of France? May... errr... Hell no, I love my digital gear (and my meat!), how easy it is to use, process, work with etc.
    But I still love the film and I beleive that the two are useful. I use film for fine art and when I decide to stroll around and take the time to think and enjoy the moment. I use digital when I need to take action shots or I have a very precise idea in mind (or when I use lighting, there is no way I will use lighting with a film camera; too painful!).
    Imperfect film adds texture without post processing!
    The Hassie has a very positive side effect also, given its very bizarre, it attracts people's sympathy and they let you shoot their portrait more easily than if I was with a chunky digital camera.

    Of course, don't get me wrong, it's far from perfect, I get those rays of light on the film that make a part of it totally overexposed if not burned (see first image!!!). Sometimes you get it completely wrong in the light reading and also sometimes, by the time you read and sort out the light, the moment is gone and you look like an idiot that stayed on the pier while the ferry is leaving. But all those negatives are offset by the magical moment when you go to the lab (for color) and pick up those shots you did 2 weeks before and you remember. You have a fresh eye on those pictures.

    Finally, on the Digital camera, I would say that 1% only of the shots are worth keeping. On the Hassie, I believe that this ratio is around 20% (and I count all the failed shots because of light leaks and there are a few!). This is only because I take the time for composition and I take the time to answer a simple question each time I press that button: Is this picture worth (litterally) taking?

    More on my Film Series on Hong Kong here



    When it all works out - Only film gets that creamy feel

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  4. Want to swim with the... errr running sharks? Learn the walk first!

    Ok, so in my post called "back to basics" that you have not read (don't deny, I know it!), I said I would explain the basic settings of a camera. I regret saying that as it means more work, more tying but anyway, I have one word so here I am...
    So, appart from the shutter button (the thing sitting on top of your camera that makes this click sound... ), there are two main settings (Speed and Aperture) and a secondary setting (Isos) that you should be able to understand before you turn that dial from Auto Mode to M Mode (the one only true photographers use... Meh, not true, some use Auto... Well I do, sometimes! When I need to be fast and my brain is tired, I ask the camera to think for me!).
    Anyway, before we can continue this lesson, there is a cleansing ceremony, you must repeat after me: "Auto is evil, it takes my humanity away and makes me think like a robot, and I am thinking like a human when I repeat in my head what this guys is writing...". Oups, sorry.
    So, let me try to explain why only 3 settings. For a long time, Iso (which is the sensibility to light) has been a "fixed variable" for me. As I started with film, there was no way I could (and had the money) to change Iso settings in the middle of a film. At best I had to wait for the film to be finished but the reality is, I could only afford the cheapest Ilford films (I processed them myself to save more money) so I had Ilford FP4 only... So I first worked on Aperture and Speed and then I learned to throw in ISO in the mix.
    I have tried to simplify as much as possible how all this works, I won't be entering into half stops discussions or detailed analysis of the numbers, I will just try and make it as simple and intuitive for all my friends and readers who just want to know how the heck does that black thing they bought for the price of a kidney works!
    Soooo... that being said, here is the main topic of this post (tadaaaaa!):
    a good shot will depend on how much lights enters the camera.
    Wow! You've seen the light right now uh? Mindblowing! I know right? That's an epiphany!

    That's it folks, time for bed. Nighty....
    Lights off?
    Nope?
    Oh you're still here... So I guess I'll have to go more into details then. Geee you never give up do you?
    Ok, let me just make a rough explanation: The more light, the more burned and overexposed your picture is. the less light the darker / black your picture will be (you can now talk like a pro photographer and yell while looking at the back of your camera that your "highlights are blown", nope, even though it may sound like it, there's nothing sexual in this comment... move on!).
    Sometimes, as you are also an artist, you may want to overexpose or underexpose (like for HDR pictures) we'll come to this one day but for the moment, let's assume you want to hit the exposition spot on because you are just here to take pictures of your holidays in Greece, not to compete with Henri Cartier Bresson (you are way better than him and you know it!).
    You will play on two main variables that usually have to be looked at together, depending on what you want to achieve. 
    Now, here is a graph I did to try to explain how it works:


    Let me try and put that in words (hey am French so don't be too demanding!!):
    Normally, at constant Iso, you will seek to balance Aperture and Speed each time but depending on how you do it, you will get a very different result! Hence, you will try and work those two components, as long as you are in a normal environment (say a normal sunny day). The third part of the equation, your ISO is a way to make move the scale further away from the ground. If the scale is too low, it will touch the ground and you will not benefit from the full swing available, you will be limited. Increasing the ISO allows the scale to be higher above the minimas and benefit from all the potential of Aperture and Speed.
    Not sure how much that is clear... Even when writing it, I feel it may be confusing.  I think examples are a must here.
    Let's see some (well two, that should be enough to get you to sleep) practical examples of how I use that scale (in my mind, I have enough gear not to carry also a scale!):
    First example: playing with Aperture and Speed
    I am Japanese (sorry! French are next and all my readers know how much I love Japan!). I am in a beautiful parisian restaurant, it is so romantic, I am on a little cloud and to seize that perfect moment, I want to take a picture of my fabulous cake (am I overdoing it here?). So, I set my camera to the average settings (maybe even P mode, Auto mode or whatever you call it)  and take my shot, I look at the backscreen but to be honest, I don't have that wow factor I usually see in Gourmet magazine. I am upset, the moment is gone and I hate Paris. It's as binary as this, without a simple knowledge of camera, I just screwed up my parisian dream forever... I fly back to Tokyo and never leave japan again, ever... like ever ever.
    Well this is where our little graph comes in handy. If you want that soft creamy look with a sharp middle (it's a cake we're talking about right?) that will capture that moment of bliss you are going through, then you need to open the aperture of your camera (IE decrease the number from say 8 to 2), this will increase your Depth of Field and make that creamy look. However, if you do that and only that, you change the balance (you are heavy on the left)and your picture will be completely overexposed. You need then to increase the speed accordingly to have a faster speed and let less light come in. By doing so, you increased the light coming in by opening the aperture and you decreased it by increasing the speed (and letting less light in), the balance is... balanced again, you are happy, your holidays are a success and you stay more than expected in Paris trying to take pictures of all the cakes you come accross until one night you get mugged in the Parisian subway at two in the morning because you were on a cloud thanks to that amazing picture... Err... ok maybe not the best ending here but you now understand better the graph right?
    Second example: playing with Aperture and Speed and using ISOs as adjustment tool

    Now, you're French and you've been invited to watch a game of football where France gets his butt kicked by Croatia (that will certainly bring up bad memories for many French readers). It's nightime so you've set your settings slightly higher for the ISO's (say 800). You take your shots at 1/80's of a second with an aperture of F8. The pictures are fine but there are a few problems. The players when in motion seem blurry (this is due to the speed as in the 1/80's of a second, you will see more movement than in 1/1000's of a second, which is the speed of a fly's wing... Just try to see if you can see one wing movement...).
    In order to get a clearer picture, you will then need to increase the speed to something more acceptable which for a football game, should be somewhere around 1/160's of a second or higher. Here again, you've solved part of the equation, you will need to rebalance our graph in order to get the proper lightning. To do that, you will have to open more (if possible) your aperture (ie, you go in the smaller numbers, 2.8 for example). You've solved your problem but created another one, as you now know, wider aperture means shallower depth of Field and some of the things that were sharp before, may now end up being blurry.
    To go one step further, you may want to increase your iso. This is the last available step for you to make better pictures. But beware, high ISOs allow you to take pictures in darker environments, but the flipside is that there will be noise (ie, the picture, once you go above a certain ISO level that depends on your camera, will look like somebody got seasick and puked on your picture...).
    In this case, you may raise the balance's base by using ISO. Your two settings (Aperture and Speed) will still need to be balanced (just like in the first example) but the higher ISO will allow you (maybe) to take pictures without having things too shallow.
    So there we are,  I hope I explained those 3 main elements clearly enough so that you now know what is happening in your camera when you are fiddling with the dials!
    If you've never done so, you can now start playing with your camera and try to make something different. Don't be shy, photography is about trial and error.
    What I am trying to do here, is to tell you to ditch that ridiculous Auto mode and try to experiment. Having in mind the balance graph I prepared for you, you now have the basics to make different pictures than the boring auto mode pictures, you can play and experiment.
    The camera will always take decent pictures in Auto mode, but it will never, ever replace your creative eye (don't try and pop someones eye out because you consider them creative...).
    Anyway, go out, experiment and share!

    Slow speed and medium aperture to catch movement... 

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  5. Well I did my first pro photoshoot two weeks ago.




    If you have read some of my older posts without falling asleep (congrats first of all!), you will know that I am not that familiar with Studio shooting and that this is not what I usually do. Am more into portrait and travel photography... Yeah I can hear you from here thiking; this guy likes to travel and take it slow... I do, but sometimes I like to do things differently! 

    So this was the opportunity to throw in a new challenge and to test my photo skills in a different context. I had been very clear about this to Alexandra (the founder and owner of Alex Black Collection / website currently in construction with the pictures we took during the shoot! www.alexblackcollection.com ; and the Facebook page ) but she insisted I should do the shoot as she needed badly a photographer (Not the Princess Leia call "You are our only hope" but not far from it!!! ;)  Am joking Alex!). one quick comment; Alex is a great person to work with, she goes into details and has designed dresses that can be worn in any situation, I encourage you to follow her and to check out the dresses on her website as soon as it's on!

    As I already had some experience with Studio photography (personnal projects involving pictures of people dressed like in the 60's HK Style... Don't ask...) and since I was now used to work with other portable lights  than my headlamp (went from a Phottix 3 light setting to an Elinchrome Quadra) I decided to give it a try, but to be honest (now you should know the truth Alex!!), I was not so confident at all in the result I would get as I had never done a "real" studio shoot (done the other one for me but the pressure was limited as there was no one but me to blame in case of failure!).

    This time the exercise involved a full fledge studio, two professional (and very good) models a full day agenda / workflow and a lot of money thrown in by Alex to make this a success... Litterally this was giving the nuke codes to a 5 year old (yes, the 5yo is... me!) .... Now that I look back a it; it's a lot to deal with for a first shoot and let's be honest, quite a lot to chew for a newbie like me even for someone like me who HATES to loose (ask my former rugby team mates...). But hey, I remembered Henri Ford's quote: "wether you think you can or you think you can't, you are right". I thought I could do it... Hence my title; I think I can!

    So the date was set on the 9th of May in a local studio called Pasmworkshop (http://pasmworkshop.com/ ) close to Diamond Hill (that is far in Kowloon territory for those not familiar with Hong Kong).

    This is a very good studio, great equipment and excellent people, I cannot praise them enough, if you need a good studio in HK, don't think twice this is the place to go and no, I don't get a discount by saying that (but will ask for it next time I go there! :p )! 

    We hired a lightning assistant, Harris, who is in reality a full fledged photographer which helps a lot... the guy knows his stuff. Also, in addition to be an excellent photographer, he is a very good... errrr.... cleaning guy, he is THE king of Mop (Harris; if you read this, so sorry you and your friend had to clean the floor each time someone stepped in the cyclorama... I must have apologized 200 times during the day! And am still apologizing in my sleep, I have nightmares about this! Am thinking about going to a schrink :p).
     
    When I arrived in the morning, I discussed with him and explained the look I was going for. As it was for a website (mostly but not only) the feel was white, bright, I wanted the model to be evenly lit (so the clothes would pop out and not just their pretty faces, yes, I am a mean photographer not to want my models to stand out too much!) and I wanted the background to be white to avoid too much post processing (I did mention I am lazy right?). With these comments and some discussions, Harris Hui worked his magic (can't find of a better word here, he is a magician when it comes to lightning) and started setting up a simple set up (I wanted this, am sure he can do very elaborate set ups). 

    Two large octos in the front with Elinchrome lights and two other lights lightning the back of the 17 foot cyclorama to make it as white as possible.

    After a few adjustments to get the light even, we were ready to start the shoot. I used my portable computer (a little slow to get the pictures on the screen though) tethered to the camera to have a direct feel of the result and had an extra grip on my 5D MkII to make sure I wouldn't run out of battery during the shoot and to have a portrait grip (way easier as 95% of the shots are portrait oriented).







    The weather outside was a rehersal of the end of the world, pooring rain, cats , dogs, I think I saw a Lama buffalo too...Thunder and all the like. Of course that means that everyone arrived in dispersed order between 8 and 8:45 but we were still on schedule as Alex had planned a buffer. Given the number of shots to be taken, I needed all the time I could have...
     
    After that, showtime! Fred Dormeuil was here to help support and keep the spirit high, it was now time to roll and get this shoot on track!

    This was the workflow:

    There was a total of 8 dresses. For each dress, we had to take the following shots:
    Front / side / back / walk / props / fabric and details.
    On top of that, to make the pictures more dynamic we had planned shots with the two models in it.

    This meant that for each dress we had at least 10 shots to take but sometimes more (props were usually 3 or 4 different styles). Quite a lot but nothing that couldn't be tackled in one day... yes; I am an optimistic person and maybe a little stupid, but I felt this could be done! So I went for it (cf supra, Mr Ford is the one to blame!).

    Once the two great models (Lucy Nichols ModelMayhem number #1011126 and Nat Burge) were prepared by the magic hands of Anna, our excellent  make up artist (http://www.anamakeup.com/), we started shooting at around 9:30.

    I had a few lenses ready for the shoot but sticked most of the time to my 24/105mm F4 (do I really need to mention again I am lazy?). Not a very good F stop lens but given we were using flashes I was shooting between F9 and F13, I didn't need a 2.0 or a fancy lense, just one that allowed me to do the job and this one was perfect! I also tried a few shots with my 70/200 but I had the feeling the shots were a bit smooth and missed sharpness so I decided to put it aside. The result with my Zeiss was way better but given its a fixed 35mm, it wasn't doable for the entire shoot. I also used my 100mm Canon macro lense for the button shots and the details, sharp as a razor, perfect for the job.
    One comment on that that may be useful if you are preparing your first pro shoot: remember to take off all the artifices like the extra glass in front (anti UV typically) and also to turn of the image stabilizer system as this will not help and seemed to add extra blur to my shots (maybe am too much of a maniac...).
     
    After 3 hours, we were only 3 dresses in (and not finished the third one). That was not really the pace I wanted the shoot to go but with the bad weather, shooting outside was out of the question so we had a little bit more time to work on the studio shoot but I had not given up on the side shoot (I never give up! Lazy AND stubborn).
     
    We did a 30 minutes break for lunch. I grabbed some food quickly and right after, rushed outside of the studio to scout for a location where I could take some different pictures that matched more my usual style of portrait (more grungy and edgy!). It happens that just outside the studio was a flight of stairs with a door and a large window with white glass. The window was perfect to act as softbox for one of my two portable lights.

    Before resuming the shoot, I asked Harris to prepare my two lights outside and explained him how I wanted them, 2/3 power in the Deepbox I had on the first light and the other light as a hair light behind the window). While I resumed the shoot, he took out my Elinchrome (which we had prepared before) and set them up outside. The moment we had a break (model change) I grabbed the other model and took her to the alternate shoot place. Clearly those pictures are for me and my personnal work and do not work with the look Alex is going for; but I wanted to use the opportunity of having good models and an expert lightning man to work on this. I like the result; there is a sense of fear and still she looks great.  It worked out fine and when I came back to the studio; we were ready to shoot the new model.

    Slightly before 6pm we did the last shot. We had finally catched momemtum on the pictures and with the help of everyone involved, we closed this day successfully, exhausted but happy!

    If I had to do it again here are the things I would do or not do:
    - Prepare a better description of the shots to be taken and make a screenplay of each shot in order to make sure all the shots are taken the same way. With so many shots, it seems that beeing tired, I took some shots slightly differently. As we are talking book to sale on Internet, the shots need to be identical so they can be compared by the shoppers.
    - Make sure there is a clear flow in the pictures.
    - Limit the number of pictures. Each shot is actually 3 to 5 shots. When I look at them, most of the time, I nailed it in the first shot (am good right? Lucy and Nat helped a lot on this; they are real pros!!) ; the others were only reassuring shots.

    Anyway; live and learn, we did manage to finish the shoot and I did all the pictures I needed to do!

    All in an excellent experience for me. Even though I enjoyed it; am not sure fashion photography is for me. I would probably do it again but with on location shooting; not in studio as I consider this too artificial (but this is clearly my travel portrait photography side speaking!!!).






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  6. This way to finish...
    Well, took a few days off lately to try something new. I have done a few long races since I started running a few years back and was more and more eager to do more outside of Hong Kong where I currently live.

    So I thought I would register for the STY (STY stands for SHIZUOKA TO YAMANASHI), the little sister of the UTMF. For those who don't know what the UTMF is, it stands for: ultra Trail of Mount Fuji, the twins sister of the (in)famous, Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. It's a 168km race around the Mount Fuji, STY being "only" 92km this year (my gps said 95,5 by the way!). If you would like a word that describes the UTMF, the only one I can come out with is: brutal. 168km, close to 10k positive ascent and 46 hours to go through that. 

    This was the opportunity to bring my camera and discover another side of Japan: it's amazing mountains. Also, as the weather is cold up there, the Sakura (cherry blossom) season was still in full swing which made the scenery absolutely amazing.

    The calm before the storm
    So I travelled light.... Well sort of. One fuji X100s and my 5D Mark II with a couple of lenses. While we visited the trail, I had the opportunity to take a few pictures. We also went to walk with some fellow runners in the city and found an amazing temple. It was all blossoming and the view was amazing. Had a blast taking the pictures there but the important part of this post is the race report! Will just add some pictures for your eye comfort!
    For the trail runners out there wondering what it's like, here is a short idea of what is the STY race (not so many info on the web compared to its big sister, so I thought you may be interested in my report on this).

    First, if you signed up for the STY and think you're signing up for a walk in the park, I urge you to reconsider this... It is not a small challenge and despite being used to tough races in HK like Translantau, Oxfam, Two Peaks and all the alike, this STY was the toughest race I've done so far, and by far too...

    The first part of the race was "easy". 26km on mostly downhill or slight uphill conditions. Nothing to complain, everyone I was with was mostly running there, trying to gain some time on the cut as this is where the problem lied: the first cut was set at 4 hours. May seem long for a 26km portion but it's not. First part was road and easy, ran it all the way, then beneath a powerline slightly more challenging but nothing bad. After a little bit more than 2h30 , we were at our main CP, 1h30 ahead of schedule. Ate, relaxed sore feet already (bear in mind we already did a semi marathon by then) and went back out to attack the most painful part: the beautiful but treacherousTenchi mountains...
    Guess what we were all here to do?

    This is where my race was trashed (timewise). Climbing the first hill wad very demanding. Steep uphill for 700+ meters to get to the top and then a roller coaster of ups and downs... Like neverending roller coasters, one after the other... This is the moment my stomach decided he needed a break (what better moment right?). Threw up twice on top of the Tenchi (there will literally always be a part of me there... :p ). All the japanese runners were very nice and all asked if i was "ok?" With a thumbs up,  which I replied with a loud (and probably breath stinking!) "Hai". As i was getting dehydrated, cramps (already had a few at the end of the 26km) started being painful. Had to stop quite often and try to get rid of them.

    There I was, in the washing machine, with my stomach taking a break, all cramped up... Gee in wht s... Did I sign myself for?! Night was falling and as the cold started to get more vivid and the trail more technical (downhills had to be negociated with ropes) people slowed down and started creating traffic jams... This meant stopping and getting colder and colder...
    After a few hours, I was knackered. Arrived at the following support and if it was not for the amazing support from fellow runners of UTMF who had to drop the previous night and the relatives of the people running, my race would have ended there. I was dehydrated, cold and tired. My brain was not processing properly, I was lost and the cut off time was getting closer by the minute. I sat, drank some hot beverage (no clue what I drinked) had a chat, reloaded my water and after thinking about quiting, decided to leave (forgetting my front bottle there). Left the CP and after 10 meters I started shaking like a leaf, my teeth were playing "la cucaracha" and I had spasms shaking my entire body. This is the turning point of my race, where the mental takes over the body. There was no way in hell I would drop off after going through the Tenchi mountains, I needed to try and My race was nothing compared to those guys attempting the UTMF and still alive and kicking! Manned up, pulled my buff on my face to get some hot air all over it and started power walking. After around 500m I felt my body was finally back and up for it. I was amazed to feel that things seemed to be working again. But all was not done, the cut was very close and given the huge traffic jams I experienced in the Tenji, I was quite concerned about the upcoming hill that was a new excursion over the 1600m mark. That meant a new brutal uphill. Night was slowly taking its toll on the runners. While going there, I could see all those runners, mostly UTMF, sleeping on the side of the road. One had kneeled down and then fallen forward, his frontal lamp on in the mud... Brutal as I said already. 
    I walked up the hill with my stamina finally coming back, was feeling better. Still cramped but morale was now going better. When going down, I encountered a new traffic jam. This time, it was becoming crucial to move if i wanted to get to the CP before the cut. I queud up for a while and then realized two things: the guy creating the traffic jam was only 20 people ahead of me. When I looked back up, I could see a snake of headlamps, probably 100+ runners, going down at this guy's snail pace. 

    Now would be a good time to pray...
    As I am French, I first whinned, sighed and was kind of pissed. I mean come on, I made it through dehydratation, mountains and all to be cut because of a slow runner? Nope, not on my watch, the turn of my race was going out of the CP9,  I now had a mission.

    I turned and asked the guy behind me if he spoke English. He did.
    "- can you ask the guy down there (we where close enough he could hear us if we shouted) to step aside so we can pass?
    - etooooooooo.... Not possibleeeeeee
    - Errr... Why?
    - He olde maneeeeee!"
    Oh for Pete's sake! Really?! I mean come on, trash a race because its not nice to say to an old man he's too slow?!
    "- what? But we have a cut off! 
    yessu... You can overtake all runners if you wantuuuu.."
    What?! I mean if so why is everyone waiting politely in line? Well, you know what, my brain was aleady turned off and I thought, "screw that, am not missing this cut".

    So I decided to push and started to go all "sumimasen / gomenasai" on the japanese runners who were all surprised to see the Gaijin (which means barbarian by the way...) overtaking everyone. My neighbor took advantage of my ruthlessness and followed my trail with 5 or 6 other runners. When I passed the man I told him "can you step aside, please?" and stormed on his left, don't think he understood english... Anyway, I was out and running, well power walking at least. It was good to run a little bit and get warmer. Arrived at the CP and only had 45 minutes before the cut (only realized that the following morning when a French runner I was running with pointed it out to me... Was still a little lost). 

    This is where I saw Xavier who I came with me to Japan to do the race. He is must faster (and younger!) than me but his knee had suffered from the initial push to make the first cut. He was unable to run. We agreed there that we would finish together time was of no importance any more. 

    After hours of painful power walk (around 6k in average), we were blessed with one of the most amazing views you can have, the sunrise over the mount Fuji, this orange color on the side of the mountain was absolutely stunning. I was so tired, I didn't even think about taking my camera out to take a snapshot... 
    We pushed through and entered this forest called Aokigahara Forest. This was a long walk in a creepy place. There was some fog in the forest, black rocks, covered with green, it was cold to a point where you actually feel the cold getting in your bones, the kind of forest you would see in the creepy stories.  We learned from Bei, one of our fellow runners after the race that this forest was a famous spot for committing suicide... I can see why! There is a documentary on this forest no Youtube... It's creepy!

    After that, there were no real technical challenges, we needed to cope with the pain and the exhaustion but we knew we would make it. We decided to enjoy and walk, the time we would do was very far from what we where aiming at so it didn't matter amnymore, we enjoyed our amazing arrival on the finish line with all these people waiting and cheering, it was a great moment and we crossed the line hand in hand, as a team.

    A few comments:
    - the race lacks an "etiquette". If you are too tired, step aside, not always but at least once in a while. An etiquette would never work in the rest of the world but am sure in japan it would. Could really be somehing to consider
    - Japanese are amazing and really always nice to foreigners. Polite (maybe too much as explained above) and always trying to help, its a pleasure and an honor to run among japanese runners.
    - The cut offs were crazy. Some too short, especially in the start for both UTMF and STY. This meant that people could not go at their pace, had to adapt and probably there was a lot of samage taken from this strategy from the race organization. I dont know the finishing stats but it must be pretty bad this year.
    - You need to come prepared for the cold and for something brutal. I was told by runners that this course (clockwise) was the hardest they've done. I beleive them! Dont't take this race lightly, mount Fuji will crush you
    - If you go there and want a hassell free race, go with the guys from Avid Adventure, they are all great people and will definitely make your race en enjoyable experience!
    To conclude, a huge kudos to all the racers that finished this edition, its's an amazing acheivement, especially for the UTMF ones, you finished a brutal race, you should be proud to wear that black finisher jacket. I have seen only half of the UTMF  trail and I can testify it's no walk in the park. 

    Kudos also go to the ones who tried and failed. Despite what you may have thinked when you dropped off or were cut, you haven't failed, the only failure is never to try (Passenger - Things you've never done).
    I was impressed, amazed, stunned, to see those guys running, out of breath, out of health, out of sleep and out of food,  this army of zombies at the end completely dead to try and get to the finish line. Those people lying on the side of the road, in the bushes trying to get the stamina to get to the finish... Still people were helping each other, encouraging and pushing people they had never met.

    This is what trail is about, and this is what I like in this sport, it's a community of people with a common goal, not to win but to finish and this is what makes this sport so different from the other running sports for me.

    All in had a blast during this race. Met amazing runners with a real spirit, there is no copetition among the runners, it's just about finishing. Lads from Singapore, China, Taiwan, Australia, France, DOM TOM and not what... All (even the best ones!) humble people with a common goal.

    The winner this year of UTMF was Francois Dhaen, a real nice guy who made hell look like a walk in the park!!!



    168K? Yeah so what?



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  7. Just read in the news that Daniel Gordon, an American Photographer and collage artist just won the Foam Paul Huf award that comes with a hefty 27,700USD award. That's nice and I have to say that his pictures are quite amazing.

    This actually reminded I had never mentioned anything about Antoine, a French artist based in Hong Kong that specialises in Collages (his Facebook page is here).
    I came accross Antoine a few months back when I was approached by a friend of mine who I had sold one of my pictures for her home, telling me she had a friend (its the old "a friend of a friend" story...), an artist called Antoine, who was preparing his first exhibition based on collages. He had just set a (very short) date for his exhibition but had realized that he had not prepared anything for the exhibition per say. He was now in the mayhem of preparing his expo and in desperate need of a quick working photographer, contacts and ideas of where and how to print.
    Among other things, he was looking for someone to take pictures of his collages so he could sell the pictures at a decent price (the collages themselves are not yet for sale as he is having a hard time putting a fair price on it which is understandable given the huge amount of hours of work each picture represents). Anyway, as it's the friend of a friend, I had just finished my own expo and remembered how painful that experience can be for a first time, I decided to help him out and headed on a bright sunny Saturday to his place with all my lightning gear (two strobes) to take care of this.

    The work that Antoine does is amazing at the crossroad between painting, photography and design.

    It is a very detailed, difficult and intricate piece of work where the artists puts a lot of thinking. Each of these pieces are put together to form a picture but each of the items, glued to this piece of paper have a reason to be there whether its the color, the shape or the message.
    There is no photoshop involved in this process. Antoine works on a wooden table, with pieces of papers and a large cardboard to paste them on. A ruler, a cutter and he is ready to roll. Don't get fooled by the simplicity  its endless hours of work.
    The good thing for me, when I spent the day photographing those pieces, is that I got a detailed explanation of each of the pieces, the meaning the reason, the thinking behind the execution. It's always fascinating to hear the thought process of an artist in a different medium than photography. Most of the time, photography is a thought process but execution is done in the moment and in an instant. Here there is a long and clear thinking behind everything, it's all imaginary and the combinations are sometimes surprising, but there is no place for improvisation per say. When a piece is glued, it stays there and a simple misplacement can be fatal (litterally, once glued there is no "undo" button).
    The collage themselves are of various sizes ranging from the size of a magazine to the door of a fridge (am not good at maths... Don't start complaining!).  Anyway, those collages represent a huge amount of work. This is something you realize the moment you set your eyes on one of his collages. The first one I saw was based on China and Taiwan and I was really amazed. Every corner, every cut is executed to perfection and the final work is a mix of painting, design, colors and personnal message on a aspect of life.

    Antoine is getting ready for his second expo for the French May in Hong Kong. A good opportunity to go and see what he does! All the details in the pictures attached.







    Now let's talk about what this blog is all about, the photography part of the job...
    I had a real challenge here and as much as I am happy to help, when it comes to photography, I dislike when a job is unfinished or poorly done. However, I was a little worried as I had never really done this type of photography other than to take a picture of something just to have a souvenir of it; but I thought like Richard Brason rightly says, "the best way to learn about anything is by doing". So screw it, let's do it!

    Here, the process involved being able to reprint something, same size (big!) that was clean and sellable.
    The problem was that given the time it takes him to make one of those, he needed to frame them. Each frame is quite expensive and taking them out of it was not an option. So I needed to be able to set the lights in a way where the reflexions on the glass would be minimal. I acheived that by putting the 2 lights in a 90 degree angle and managed to neutralize the effects of the lights on the glass as much as possible. The only problem I had was that the frame was actually dropping a shadow on the edges of the art piece and we ended up reducing the sides to avoid this shadow that was inconsistent with the rest of the picture (we are talking less than half a centimeter there).







    The second problem I faced with collages was that given it is collage, there is a overlap of paper when using side lightning. In some places, you could actually see where the paper was ending as it casted a shadow on the picture. This could not be removed by lighting (although I have not tried using HDR which could have worked here) but was actually quite simple to remove with minimal photoshop work (rectify tool mostly).

    All in, the results where satisfactory. It's interesting to see that I was even able to make some minor corrections on the color brightness (paper tend to fade in terms of color with time) and the result was bright and shiny pictures which looked very good when Antoine did his first ever expo end of last year.

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  8. Hasselblad Film
    Today I was listening (and kind of looking but I usually doze as I do that during my lunch break... but not this time, Joe kept me awake :) ) at one of the lectures of Joe DiMaggio in the B&H Youtube TV and related to one of his comments.
    No, Joe DiMaggio is not the baseball player you've all heard about (even me, in the old continent, I've heard about Joe Dimmagio), the Joe Dimaggio I am talking about has a link to sport though as he is, among others, a reference in sports photography (here is his website). If you don't know him, shame on you, go there and have a look, he does amazing photographies and has been doing that for... well forever!
    So Joe, who is from NY comes back once in a while in the city to give a talk in the B&H conference room and people like me, living on the other side of the planet have the chance to be able to listen to his words of wisdom through Youtube.

    Anyway. I diverge. So Joe was mentioning the usual "back to basics" that we hear from all photographers, which got me thinking...
    I get many questions of friends who are thinking about buying a brand new camera, one of these Digital SLRs or mirrorless cameras that cost circa 2000USD and that everyone is drooling about (including yours truly). They can afford it or are ready to go in debt to get it (not a good idea, go to GAS for more about this...).
    How about... you do it yourself?
    So they usually come to me with a pile of specs for the camera, documentation, websites, comparables and all the rest... Then after showing me this documentation that would put to shame War and Peace in terms of size, they tell me, "oh I like this Canon because it can shoot 12fps but I like the weight of the Sony mirrorless but the image of the Fuji seems better, what do YOU think?". Well first I think Iend up drowned under camera specs, speed, night ability lenses line up (pin up?), camera porn basically with numbers, more than I can and want to handle and I don't like that but also, I think you're missing the point.
    Despite what all these nice adverts tell you The camera is as good as the photographer behind it. If you think you can match the craft of Joe, think again... On the other hand, you'd be amazed to see what some people can do with a simple iphone. Its not the tool, its how you use it to craft your pictures.
    The back to basics goes in that direction. The digital cameras are absolutely amazing. They allow you to have an infinity of option, choices, variations. You can even choose in camera colors, effects, auto panorama option and what not and your camera color (I like mine in a discreet pink...)...
    But as those cameras come with all those gimmicks, people tend to loose the most important things in a camera which is what camera's were built for initially, taking pictures (not taking Instagram like pictures).
    So, apart from focusing, there are only 3 things that  really matter and with these 3 essential things, you will make or fail a photography and they are all 3 related to light (Phos that comes from the greek word for light):
    - Shutter speed
    - Iso
    - Aperture
    These 3 items can make very different pictures and allow for a huge number of variations and applications, here are some examples:
     
    Long exposure
     
    Shallow Depth of Field
    Different Focusing point...


    My point here is, people should not go directly to the most elaborated cameras and should not necessarely jump the gun... What usually happens is that, some of those people end up in auto mode because they can't really figure out what the 3 above settings are and the get discouraged... What color should I choose, what K, what Iso. Before running, people walk, before walking they crawl. Photography is the same, start walking before trying to run or you'll get badly hurt...
    Let me try another analogy, you'd never put a jet fighter in the hands of a man who just flew his first Cessna plane. Of course he can fly but flying a Cessna and a modern jets are two completely different things...
    When I first started photography (yeah the boring veteran part!) it was film photography. When I took a picture, I couldn't see what the result was before a few days and sometimes (money matters!) weeks. By then, as I am not an organized person I had forgotten my settings and it took me a very long time to learn from my mistakes, way longer than if I could have experimented first hand the effect of the changes I was doing on the settings. That led to a large waste of film...
    The first lesson in photography should be about these 3 settings and how they interract together, I will do a longer presentation of this in another post, later.  This is why I went back to basics on the Hasselblad. Let's face it, film is nowhere as convinient as digital, its cumbersome, unpredictable, unstable, fragile... But going to a camera like the Hassie achieves this back to basics comment. I am only as good as what I can get the camera to do... no gimmicks.
    So to all aspiring new photographers out there, don't go for the photo pimping you see on the websites, get a decent camera that has a manual mode, even if its a few years old, learn to shoot a good picture... Walk, more and more, and then you can run but trust me, the moment you'll be able to run, you'll want to walk again because this is where you get your better shots when you master the complexity and go back to basics... 

    Here is the gallery from which I extracted the picture from
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  9. Am sorry, there wont be any pictures in this post...  You will understand why.

    Last week, Getty, the portfolio company owned by the large Private Equity fund Carlyle, decided that they would now make all the pictures available on their website for online use. This came as a shock to the entire photographic community as Getty was seen (less and less though) as a quality Stock Photography provider.
     
    I beleive there is more to this story than what was said by the officers from Getty, let me walk you through my understanding of the situation:
     
    A) Inception:
     
    In 2012, Getty Images was acquired by the PE Fund for a staggering USD3.3 billion. This acquisition was made on the prospect of good revenues that were expected to come from the consolidation (at the time fragmented) of the picture databases. Getty had been a major consolidator of the market for Stock Photography but despite this, the revenues are far from the valuation that the company's acquisition was based on (
     
    The problem (well its not rocket science, its a known fact) with PE Funds is the following:
     
    Those funds are looking for short term profits, they want to increase the EBITDA to show higher multiples and resell their assets to a new PE or a needy industrial usually 3 years after the acquisition was made. In the 3 years the PE's buy the assets they cut all costs and try to control everything that is above the EBITDA line to inflate the numbers. Investments are cut down to the minimum acceptable (sometimes below) and the interest of the employees and customers are the least of their concern, and they seek all opprtunities to increase the revenues as making a s***load of money is all that they are looking for here (well let's be honest, this is not just the PE Funds...).
     
    Second important point for understanding the problem is the following:
     
    When they make an acquisition, they are looking for cheap long term financings with no recourse on them just in case the project goes belly up. In that case, the acquisition was valued USD3.3bio, I have not found many details but the total debt was USD2.6bio (details found here). That means that the equity injection (ie the real money from the PE Fund) was "only" USD700mio. Thats a ratio debt to equity of 79%, meaning that Carlyle only invested 1 out of 5 USD in the deal, the rest was funded by the banks and the investors. Anyway, I digress, the financings that are usually put in place for these types of acquisitions are usually 3 to 5 years financings, with amortizations. As we reach 2 years after the acquisition, the PE fund will look at two main factors: find the necessary sources to repay its interests and principal (which should start to amortize now, the debt is a circa USD2bio Term loan and Revolving Credit Facility and a RegS ) and find a buyer to the asset in order to get out before there is any need to reinject equity or repay debt.
     
    b) The Way out for a PE Fund?
     
    I think you see where I am going but let's get the full picture shall we? 
     
    Selling photography is an old business, as old as photography itself... This business is very straighforward, a buyer comes on the website, selects his photo and pays for the utilization of the picture on a website, magazine. This has been the way to do it for years and was the method used for selling pictures to large editorials and to printed magazines / books etc. Growth until know has come from market consolidation and the prices given the competition have fallen drastically for the pictures, driven by... Getty among others.
     
    In addition to this the model is changing and the way Internet works is slightly different. Over the past 5 years a new bubble (well I consider it as such) has been growing based on the following assumption:
     
    "The value is in the client data, not just the revenues".
     
    This is partially true, but we'll come back to this later. Given that assumption, everyone has started to develop the client database, the first one doing this was Facebook.
     
    You may not be aware but despite what one may think, westerners are late in this new game. The Chinese internet giants (Tencent and Ali Baba) have been working on this very actively lately and the acquistion of Whatssapp by Facebook is not a bald move but more a way of catching up on this. This winter for example, Tencent decided to make the possibility for the Wechat users (a better Whatsapp application) to be able to pay what in Asia is called the Red Packets (a red enveloppe offered to friends and family on Chinese New Year). This was a master strike, millions of Chinese (and non chinese) opened a bank account with Wechat to send the red packets through the app, giving access at the same time at millions of account numbers to those privately owned companies. This had an impact on the company's perceived valuation given that having the account number (for Wechat) is even better than having the phone numbers (like in Whatsapp).
     
    So this is the big picture. We have a PE Fund that is eager to monetize its investment. The asset as it is will not allow sufficient growth to allow the return on investment the PE is looking for. So they look for other ways of monetizing this asset. When they look at the recent market evolutions, the moves that have been made by the large internet company it is very clear that the client base is the another way of unlocking value, especially if you are planning to exit in 1 or 2 years as this is what will drive the valuation up then.
     
    Now, Getty has no "client base" per say (they do, but not by hundreds of millions like the Internet giants), other than the buyers and this has very little value as it is very specialized and small.
     
    So, they probably had all those guys sitting in a room and brainstorming. Most of them are finance people with no interest in the work or even what the company does, they only look at the bottomline. And then someone in this meeting has this genius idea; I imagine it must have gone something like this:
     
    "Hey, I know! We can destroy an entire industry just to make our quick buck. We say the market is dead and under a false excuse, we give the pictures these photographers took years to take (trips, hotels, people, hard work, expensive gear, you name it) for free and in exchange we get the names and websites of millions of people and then, we claim we have those millions of contacts and boom, the value of the company increases significantly, we sell to Face-Gle (either one) and we are rich, anyway who cares about art, we need money".
     
    And here we are, a large number of pictures are now available for Internet use under the false excuse that "this boat has already sailed" and that anyway, all these pictures were already available online and people were using them...
     
    This is complete nonsense. If we all decide to go to a shop, take a candy each and eat it, do you think the shop owner will tell you "oh well, you started you might just as well finish it" or call the cops... I think we all know the answer. Also, for music, even though that meant a complete change in the way the industry worked, after trying to chase the illegal downloading, the industry adapted and made a model that made the illegal downloading less interesting but never agreed to make music available for free.
     
    Conclusion:
     
    Anyway, it is amazing to see a company take such a decision without having the contributors ie the photographers (Getty would be nothing without them) involved in the decision making process or aware of the process. I can totally understand that Getty may be looking and exploring other ways of making money as it is a tough market for everyone out there but still, this kind of decisions should not be taken unilaterally, especially when they can have such deadly consequences on the work of others but also, on the entire industry as now some people will think that "it's ok to take those pictures".
     
    Well at the end of the day, if you dont pay for something, you should be careful as there is no such thing as a free lunch and despite all the positive reactions that I see from people here and there, they will be a rude awakening on this one day...
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