Sunday, 27 April 2008

Semantic Video Analysis... or why I hate keywording

The Economist has an article about how computers are now beginning to be able to recognise the content of photographs and video. Modern point and shoot cameras now all have a 'face detection' mode to make sure they focus on the person you are trying to take a picture of and not the wall behind them. And some even now sport 'smile detection', only taking the picture once everyone is at full grin. Useful for granny's birthday party no doubt.

But the new technology being developed has a far more useful application. It may eventually allow the content of pictures and video to be determined automatically. Currently if you search for a picture online, e.g. at a stock agency, you can only find images if they have been carefully keyworded. These keywords are then stored as 'metadata' along side the actual image file.

As someone who submits images for stock I can vouch for how time consuming this can be, so I'm looking forward to the day when our computers can do it for us - even if it does mean I have to get my mouth around Semantic Video Analysis.

Friday, 25 April 2008

The future is now

Michael Reichmann over at The Luminous Landscape has an interesting essay about the forthcoming convergence of digital stills and video.

This has already begun to take place at the top end of the market, with a number of films and TV shows now being shot using the RED One. Shooting 12 megapixel 30 fps video in RAW format, it allows film makers to treat their video output just as us still shooters treat our RAW files - colour correction, cropping and other post processing can be done much more quickly and efficiently than with film or JPEG output. And if a still shot is required, a 12MP RAW file can be pulled from the sequence and used, just as if it had been taken with a still camera.

He also has a review of the new Casio EF-X1. This is the first of a new generation of consumer cameras that combine high definition video with RAW format digital stills. Over the next couple of years we can expect to see more and more of these products come to market. What does this mean for stills photographers? Right now I don't know.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

On Assignment: Trying to avoid the cliché

I spent most of February in India shooting photos for a new guidebook. One of the locations on my shot list was the Taj Mahal. It was great to have an excuse to visit one of the most famous buildings in the world. But how do you photograph it without just endlessly repeating what's been done before?

The Taj was completed in 1643 and the earliest photograph I can find of it was taken in 1854 by a Dr John Murray. He put it on display in the Bengal Photographic Club. With a photographic legacy stretching back over 150 years, how can you hope to come up with something that is new?

Often I find the answer is not even to try.

I arrived at the entrance while it was still dark and waited for it to open at 6am. There were about 20 people behind me when they let us in, and after a short walk to the massive southern gate I was face to face with one of the most photographed views in the world. Through the darkness I could just make out the line of the rectangular lake leading up to the silhouette of the four towers and perfectly proportioned dome. It was magical. We all just sat down and watched as the sky slowly lit up as the sun rose.

And when it did, I took a photo. More than one in fact. Yes, it is a view that has graced a million postcards and been on the front cover of hundreds of books. But there is a very good reason for that - it's a truly beautiful view! I can't imagine any photographer visiting it for the first time not taking that picture - you can't help it. 

Over the next few hours I wandered through the whole complex and took maybe 200 pictures. Some of them I think are a bit different - like the one at the top of this post - or at least I haven't seen one from this perspective before. But whenever I visit a famous place, it's the same. I have to get the cliché shots out of the way first. Only then can I free up my mind to see the subject in a different way.

So don't be afraid of shooting clichés. Just make sure you give yourself enough time to get beyond them.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Cairo as you've never seen it before...

Cairo is a city dear to my heart. I worked there for 5 months in 2005, and have returned every year since. I'll be back there next month for an assignment.

American art photographer Philip-Lorca di Corcia has done a fashion spread in the May issue of W Magazine with Cairo forming a beautiful and evocative backdrop. For a fresh take on this wonderful city see the slideshow online here.

Canon shoot too soon?

Wired reports that details of the hotly anticipated Canon 5 D Mark II camera were briefly leaked on Canon's German website. The specs looks great so let's hope its true...

On Assignment - Travelling light(s)

Most travel assignments present the photographer with something of a packing dilemma. On the one hand the very nature of travel means that you don't quite know what you're going to encounter, so need to be prepared to shoot anything. But on the other hand, travel also means you have to be mobile, and don't want to be loaded down with a ton of gear.

The portrait of this jeweller in Sri Lanka is a case in point. The island is famous for its sapphires, and they are mined, polished and sold near the southern city of Galle. On the day we were in the city I asked our guide the best place to get a shot of one of the gems. It turned out a  friend of his was a jeweller in the city - one quick phone call later and we were on the way to his shop.

I had pre-visualised a shot similar to the one above, with the jeweller peering at a sapphire through a magnifying glass. On arrival at the shop I was presented with two problems.

Firstly the lighting inside the shop was terrible - small windows, necessary for security, meant there was almost no natural light, leaving the overhead fluorescent tubes to do all the work. Secondly, the jeweller was a youngish, slightly overweight chap wearing a dirty t-shirt. Not quite what I had in mind.

I solved the lighting by using two flashguns. It's impossible to travel with studio lighting equipment on assignments like this - there just isn't the space to carry them. But a couple of flashguns, light stands and radio triggers is perfectly manageable.

I set up one 580 EXII with a silver umbrella as a key light on a stand about 2m and 45 degrees camera right and another with a snoot to restrict the light and provide a highlight down the left side of his face 2m camera left, about 30 degrees behind the subject. Both were triggered with Pocket Wizards. By using a shutter speed of 1/250th the ambient exposure was zero, so I didn't have to worry about gelling the flashes to get the colour temperature to match the fluorescent lights above us.

However, solving the second problem required diplomacy rather than technology. I set up and shot several pictures of the shop owner. But while I had been setting up I noticed one of the store assistants looked rather more like the kind of jeweller I had in mind: older, wearing glasses and a clean button up shirt. So after shooting the owner I politely asked if I could take a photo of the assistant. Of course he obliged, and I got the far superior picture above.

So next time you are packing the kitchen sink into your camera bag, remember that a lot of travel photography relies on similar problem solving skills: making do with lightweight equipment, and planning and interacting with people to get the shot you need.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

On Assignment: Why you carry a backup

The iconic travel image of Sri Lanka is the famous stilt fishermen. Sometimes grouped in hundreds along the southern shores of the island, they rest on their perches, rods draped over their arms, waiting for the day's catch.

So it wasn't a big surprise when the Creative Director sent through the shot list for the Sri Lanka assignment. There it was, right underneath coconut plantation: stilt fisherman.

I'd talked the shot list through with Nisanka, my guide, right at the start. The bad news was our schedule was so tight we were only going to get one chance to get the shot. The good news was that chance was going to be at the end of the day, so I'd be able to shoot against the setting sun.

On the day we left the tea plantation we'd been staying at nice and early, but I hadn't been prepared for the drive. The mountains and valleys were beautiful, but the winding hairpin road was slow going. We were only averaging 40km/h. And we had 400km to travel...

We had a brief stop for lunch and to stretch our legs, but as the afternoon wore on I was starring to get edgy - here in the tropics the sun dropped under the horizon at 6.30 sharp. If we arrived after sunset then there was no shot, and our schedule meant I wouldn't get another chance.

By 5.30 I had almost given up hope, but out driver made a Herculean effort, forcing his way through the traffic as the sun dropped lower and lower until we finally reached the sea and pulled up beside the a long row of stilts. I glanced at my watch - it was 6.20. The sun was about 3 diameters above the horizon, and quickly dropping into haze.

Just one problem. The stilts were empty. While Nisanka raced to the local cafe to find some fishermen, I grabbed my camera, 24-105 lens and tripod, stuffed the 70-200 into the writer's hands and telling him to follow me, scrambled off over the boulders along the shore to set up the shot.

I hadn't counted on the tide going out. The rocks were glistening with moisture from the departing sea, and sure enough as I lost my footing the camera came crashing down on the nearest boulder.

My heart stopped. I picked up the camera and could see a huge scrape on the top plate where the black paint had been chipped away. I held it up to my eye and checked a few functions. It seemed to work. I took a picture - it showed up on the LCD. I checked the lens - not even the filter was broken. Against all the odds it looked like I had got away with it.

By now a couple of fishermen had climbed up onto their stilts. My hands still shaking with the adrenalin, I took a few shots and began to concentrated on the most photogenic one. I asked Nisanka to tell him to lean back to give me separation between his hat and the stilt. I nailed the shot just before the sun disappeared into the haze on the horizon.

It ran as the opening shot for the feature.

Lesson 1: Buy tough gear - you never know what will happen. It's not the first time my 1Ds II has survived a big scrape and I'm sure it won't be the last.

Lesson 2: Always carry a spare. If the camera had failed and I hadn't had my 1D II backup in the car, the assignment would have been over right there and then. And the chances are you'd never be hired by that publication again.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Sri Lanka with Food & Travel

In January I travelled to Sri Lanka on assignment for Food & Travel magazine, accompanied by well-known food writer Michael Raffael. We were met at the airport by our guide and a driver, and spent the next 7 days in a frantic whistle stop tour of the island.

In between exhausting 10 hour drives on twisty roads and dropping my camera in the sea, we managed to squeeze in a tour of a tea factory and a ride hot air balloon, all the while enjoying the exceptional hospitality of the Sri Lankan people. You can see a selection of pictures from the assignment on my main website or, better yet, pick up a copy of the April issue of Food & Travel at your local newsagent.

While assignments like this sound wonderful, and believe me they are great fun, don't underestimate how difficult they can be. We were on the road for 7 days with no time to recover from jet lag, spending each night in a different town with some of them separated by as much as 10 hours driving.

If you do the maths you will see that doesn't leave much time for shooting. And even at the end of the day my work was not over, as I would then have to photograph my dinner before I could eat it!

In future posts I'll talk in more detail about how some of the pictures were made.

It's not just about taking pictures...

I'm sitting at my desk slowly recovering from jet lag after landing from Chicago at 7am this morning. What was I doing in Chicago? Learning all the stuff that happens after you put down the camera, that's what.

Chase Jarvis, Seattle-based commercial photographer and all-round good guy, had sponsored me to attend the Strictly Business 2 seminar given by ASMP - American Society of Media Photographers, the US equivalent of our own AoP.

I think I learned more about the business of photography in the 3 days of seminars and 1-2-1 consultations than I have in 2 years of reading books. The covered ranged from marketing and self-promotion, to preparing estimates, pricing, negotiation and managing clients.

More about it all over the next few days, so stay tuned!

N.B. - the photo above is from the observation deck of the Sears Tower, taken in July 2006. On this recent visit it was raining and only just above freezing. Nice.


Monday, 14 April 2008

Welcome

Welcome to the Adventure Photographer blog. For those of you that have stumbled here from elsewhere, my name is Julian Love and I'm a travel and lifestyle photographer based in London - check out my website here

So what am I going to write about?

Well, it's my blog, so pretty much anything I want. But everything will be related to photography. I'll take you behind the scenes of assignments, talk about how I made some of my favourite shots, how to get started as a travel photographer, and how to run your photography business when you do. In between I'll have the odd post about cameras and gear and other developments in the photo industry. So if any of these sound fun then please come along for the ride.

And why am I bothering to blog anyway?

The last 6 months have been a revelation for me. When I discovered David Hobby's blog at Strobist, it was like someone had finally switched on the lights. That led me to Chase Jarvis, A Photo Editor, Burns Auto Parts and many others - see the blog roll on the right. Read these and hang out on Flickr, and it's clear the future of photography will be set by what happens on the web.

So this is me putting my toe in the water. I've learned a huge amount from David, Chase and others. This is my attempt to give something back to the photo community and add my 0.02 (insert currency of your choice) to the pool of photographic knowledge on the web.

Enjoy!