Jun 022014
 

I recently upgraded my Mac OSX to the 10.9 Mavericks version. About time, I hear you say but my guiding principle tends to be: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

I still vividly remember an update to Mac OSX Panther that crashed my system and that of many other Mac users worldwide. My days of being an early adopter ceased from that time on. I now prefer to wait a few months to let the initial bugs get ironed out.

Keith Cooper, who runs the Northlight Images website — a valuable source of photography information and excellent reviews – happened to mention he had experienced a problem with the Google Nik Collection after he had upgraded to Mavericks. I checked out the Google Nik Collection website to see if Keith’s problem was widespread. I discovered it wasn’t and also became aware of the existence of Analog Efex Pro 2.

The original Analog Efex Pro had appeared as an icon in the folder when I downloaded the Google Nik Collection in March 2013 but the actual plug-in failed to materialize. Bearing in mind that Google at that time had offered me the entire collection as a free download, I wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth and let the absence of Analog Efex Pro ride.

Analog Efex Pro 2 was a different matter. I now felt like I was missing out on something and so duly downloaded the Nik Collection again and the plug-in arrived in full working order.

I watched the Analog Efex Pro 2 tutorials and put the software to work. The software offers an array of filters to recreate vintage cameras, classic cameras, black & white, toy lenses to name but a few. Within those filters it is possible to control parameters such as bokeh, vignetting, dirt and scratches, and light leaks. And, of course, Nik Software’s control points are available to fine tune the effects.

I find a certain irony in this age of digital photography that we now wish to recreate photographic technology from as far back as the late 19th century, with the Wet Plate option, but such is the human condition. In the age of digital sound — CDs and mp3s – some people still prefer the sound obtained from vinyl. It is not hard to see the origins of the English expression: There’s nowt so queer as folk!

Here is my first attempt using Analog Efex Pro 2 with a vintage camera filter on a color shot.

HSC Mananna heads for Liverpool past Crosby Beach, Merseyside.

Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L. ©Calvin Palmer 2014. All Rights Reserved.

The same shot with my usual color workflow of Viveza 2 and Color Efex Pro 4.

HSC Mananna heads for Liverpool past Crosby Beach, Merseyside, England.

Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L. ©Calvin Palmer 2014. All Rights Reserved.

I enjoyed playing about with Analog Efex Pro 2 and without a doubt it does tend to provide a dramatic impact to color photographs. I must confess to mixed feelings, as part of me cannot help preferring the greater integrity of my usual color workflow using Viveza 2 and Color Efex Pro 4. I use “integrity” in a loose sense since any image is manipulated if subjected to Viveza 2 and Color Efex Pro 4.

I found my “integrity” was not so compromised using the Wet Plate option to convert a color shot to B&W.

Couple on Crosby Beach, Merseyside, England.

My usual processing (left) using Viveza 2 and Silver Efex Pro 2, with the Analog Efex Pro 2 version (right). Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L. ©Calvin Palmer 2014. All Rights Reserved.

It may be that I overstepped the mark a little with my attempts on color images. Subtlety is often the key when it comes to applying effects to images. Sadly, I am not renowned for my subtlety.

I would be interested to hear which versions of these shots readers prefer.

Here is a final shot I processed straight from the RAW dng file in Analog Efex Pro 2, completely bypassing my normal workflow just to see how it fares as a standalone.

New Brighton Beach and Perch Rock Lighthouse, New Brighton, Merseyside, England.

Ricoh GR ©Calvin Palmer 2014. All Rights Reserved.

I am undecided whether Analog Efex Pro 2 will become a regular feature of my workflow. The jury is still out at the moment. I think it is more likely to be applied to certain shots when the mood takes me. Your feedback could well change my mind.

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Feb 222014
 
Wave ripples on Southport Beach at low tide.

Ricoh GR. ©Calvin Palmer 2014. All Rights Reserved.

I am still coming to terms with being the victim of a gray divorce. To borrow from The Ballad of John and Yoko:

Christ you know it ain’t easy,
You know how hard it can be.

Very hard!

I find myself listening to a lot of Blues these days – Buddy Guy and BB King mostly – and the lyrics are often like barbs striking into my  being. I take some comfort from what has happened to me has also happened to countless others before and countless more to come.

Christ you know it ain’t easy,
You know how hard it can be.

My emotional pain is compounded by trying to find a job to secure my future. I fire off application after application but never hear back.  I even get the silent treatment for survival jobs. It would seem I am too old to resume a career and overqualified for jobs just to get by.

Christ you know it ain’t easy,
You know how hard it can be.

With no family, all alone in the world and struggling to find a job, my thoughts often turn to the empty and unfulfilled life that in all probability lies ahead. It is no fun being cut adrift at my time of life.

Christ you know it ain’t easy,
You know how hard it can be.

A couple of days ago, a sweet girl from the Midwest commented on a photograph on one of my other websites. When anyone pays me the courtesy of commenting, I always check out their blogs.  This twenty-something had posted a blog featuring a graphic that stated:

If you don’t like where you are, move. You are not a tree.

That got me thinking. Having no family ties does give me a huge advantage. I am not, in theory, tied to one particular place and could live anywhere in the world – in theory! The stumbling block is accommodation, my modest and limited funds and no guarantee of an income.

Christ you know it ain’t easy,
You know how hard it can be.

The place where I really want to be is back in the United States. The past 13 years living in Texas and Florida have left their mark. I may be British but I am no longer part of the British scene. America is my home. I have become Americanized and miss so many features of American life, the friendliness of American people is perhaps the greatest one. I still have my US Permanent Resident status.

I got to thinking some more.  What if I were to trade my labor for accommodation, a roof over my head? A great many US professional photographers could probably make use of an assistant but would be hard pressed to pay a wage. I would be happy to work for free — loading gear; setting up studio lighting and props; doing the grunt work of image editing in Photoshop; uploading images to websites; proofreading and managing website content. All I ask in return is decent accommodation. I will even help with chores around the house.

I just need some breathing space to get back on my feet, find my direction and start to feel good again about the future.

Anyone who may be able to help can check me out at http://www.linkedin.com/in/calvinpalmer and get in touch at info@calvinpalmerphotos.com.

I openly admit to feeling kind of lost and would be grateful for any advice. I am running on empty at the moment. Sing me back home.

Sep 242013
 

I threw caution to the winds and bought a Ricoh GR. I figured that after all I have been through, I deserved a treat and the only person who is going to treat me these days is me!

I have had the camera nearly two months, sufficient time to put it through its paces. All I can say is that it is a gem of a camera and not difficult to understand why they are so hard to get hold of.

The scarcity of the Ricoh GR is another reason why I decided to take the plunge and buy one. It seems as soon as retailer takes delivery of a new order, the cameras are gone within a matter of days and that happens on both sides of the Atlantic.

I took to the Ricoh GR instantly but I was lucky enough to be familiar with the Ricoh user interface through my work with the GRD III. Someone coming to Ricoh cameras for the first time may be a little overawed initially but Ricoh’s interface is highly intuitive and they will quickly be up and running.

Ricoh GR. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Ricoh GR. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

With Ricoh cameras, one always gets the feeling that the people who design them are themselves keen photographers as well as camera or electronics engineers. Everything is to hand, so much so that it is possible to operate the Ricoh GR with one hand, useful for when taking candid street photography shots.

The absence of an anti-aliasing filter combined with the incredibly sharp 28mm equivalent f/2.8 lens provides stunning high-resolution images. The removal of the anti-aliasing filter can cause problems with moiré. I experienced that for first time on Saturday when photographing some oil storage tanks at the docks in Bootle, Merseyside. I have yet to process the DNG file and am hopeful that Photoshop CS6 will be up to the task.

When the Ricoh GR first hit the streets, some people – probably owners of Sony NEX or Fujifilm XP-1 cameras – suggested it had problems handling reds. Whether that is a problem with the internal processing of JPEGs I don’t know because I shoot exclusively in RAW. I would be happy for the naysayers to tell me just exactly how the Ricoh GR isn’t handling reds correctly in the shot below.

Gate with Chevrons and No Entry sign at Langton Dock, Bootle

Ricoh GR. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Where the Ricoh GR has come into its own for me is in stealth street photography. The Snap Mode on the Ricoh GRD III helped in this area but the Snap Mode on Ricoh GR seems so much quicker and precise than the GRD III. It could just be my imagination but I had a greater ratio of keepers using the Snap Mode function on the GR than I did on the GRD III.

Ricoh GR. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Ricoh GR. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Ricoh GR. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Ricoh GR. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

My only criticism of the Ricoh GR concerns the holster-style case. Quite simply I don’t like it. The case is too open for my comfort, allowing easy access for dust. The case will not accommodate the Ricoh GR with an optical viewfinder attached. The case for the GRD III did.

Fortunately, the GRD III case will take the Ricoh GR with viewfinder attached. It will not close completely but at least I don’t have to carry the viewfinder separately and attach it and remove it every time I use the camera.

I have to admit that I rarely use the optical viewfinder but I like to have it in place for those occasions when bright sunlight can make viewing the LCD screen difficult. The optical viewfinder was always attached to my GRD III and I am a creature of habit.

On a couple of occasions with back-lit scenes, the multi metering has resulted in darker than usual images. In those kinds of situations, it is probably best to switch to center-weighted metering. By and large, the metering has been spot on. In the normal course of my photography I do not use the EV compensation function as I do with the GRD III and my Canon 40D. I would say the greater dynamic range is down to the state-of-the-art APS-C sensor of the GR.

On a trip to Liverpool, my photographic stroll was unexpectedly cut short when the battery became exhausted. It was the spare battery I carried with me and it could be that it was not as fully charged as I thought. I have since activated more of the power-saving settings on the GR to place less strain on the battery. My advice, not only for the Ricoh GR but also any compact mirrorless camera, is to always carry a spare battery.

As yet I have not pushed the GR above ISO 800 but the results I have obtained at that setting suggest that ISO 1600 and even ISO 3200 should provide images that can be worked with, especially in B&W where any noise will be reflected as grain. I am not sure I would go as far as ISO 25600 in the ordinary course of my photography but if it was a question of being in a situation where a photograph of the scene before me would go viral and earn me a six-figure sum. it is comforting to know that capability exists.

Ricoh GR at ISO 800. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Ricoh GR at ISO 800. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

The Ricoh GR has become my camera of choice. It is unobtrusive on the streets, making street photography just that little bit easier. It is certainly a lot lighter to carry than a DSLR and my urban strolls tend to cover upwards of three miles on any given occasion. Best of all is the quality of the images it produces. It is small wonder that it is a camera in such high demand and is already being hailed as a classic.

Ricoh is once again to be applauded for designing and producing such a superb photographic tool. I have no regrets about my purchase, only a smile of satisfaction at the great results the Ricoh GR provides.

Ricoh GR. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Ricoh GR. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

May 142011
 

The day has arrived. In a few hours, the outcome of the 130th FA Cup Final between Manchester City and Stoke City at Wembley will be known.

One of the teams will go down in the history books as the winner; the losing side will fade into obscurity.

As a Stoke City supporter for 51 years, you don’t need me to tell you who I want to win.

Stoke City 1972 League Cup Final shirt. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Manchester City are the obvious favourites with a team that cost in excess of £200 million, while Stoke’s was assembled for £26 million in transfer fees.

In their last Premier League games both teams faced north London opposition. Stoke City convincingly beat Arsenal 3-1 at the Britannia Stadium; Manchester City beat Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 at Eastlands to clinch a place in next season’s Champions League.

But the saying in football goes – you are only as good as your next game. And that game is the FA Cup Final.

The last time Manchester City won the cup was in 1969 thanks to a Neil Young goal. Sadly, Young died earlier this year and City fans believe the FA Cup will be one by them in memory of Young.

Bolton Wanderers fans believed they were destined to win the FA Cup in memory of Nat Lofthouse who died this year. But when Bolton met Stoke City in the FA Cup semi-final, they were thrashed 5-0 by the Potters.

Dead men do not win football matches.

In this David versus Goliath clash this afternoon, the TV pundits are going with Goliath. On paper that seems a sound assessment but football matches are not played on paper.

It is what happens on the Wembley turf this afternoon that counts, where 11 men wearing the sky blue shirts of Manchester City take on 11 others wearing the red and white stripes of Stoke City.

May the best team win. I just hope it is Stoke.

In the League Cup Final of 1972, Stoke City were the underdogs against Chelsea but won the game 2-1. A similar scoreline in Stoke’s favour this afternoon would suit me fine.

May 022011
 

I woke up on Friday morning just in time to see Prince William and Kate Middleton emerge on to the balcony of Buckingham Palace and the couple kiss.

I didn’t get chance to see any of the earlier coverage until Friday evening. My wife and I were on the road most of the day heading to Charlotte, North Carolina, to visit with her brother. Actually, her brother lives in Rock Hill, South Carolina but who has heard of that.

BBC America showed highlights of the Royal Wedding. I particularly wanted to see, and hear, the hymn Jerusalem being sung during the service at Westminster Abbey. My patience was not rewarded. The highlights reached the point where the couple left the church and there had been no hide nor hair of Jerusalem.

Fortunately, Channel 113 was showing a re-run of the wedding in its entirety. Sure enough, the strains of Jerusalem rang through Westminster Abbey followed by a fanfare by members of the Royal Air Force Band and the singing of God Save The Queen.

Jerusalem is a firm favourite of mine. The words by William Blake set to a stirring tune by Hubert Parry embody England and all that it stands for. As an expat, it sends a shiver down my spine and brings a lump to my throat.

BBC America saw fit to exclude both those items from its highlights. And I think we know the reason why. The BBC may well be the British Broadcasting Corporation but anything that smacks of patriotism, flying the flag or Britain’s proud heritage is a no-no these days, unless it serves to denigrate Britain.

I would imagine many in the BBC positively winced at the prospect of having to cover the Royal Wedding, especially in view of the last two Labour Prime Ministers not being invited. It was possibly the prospect of being lynched by an angry and outraged license-paying public that made the powers that be in the organization concede to showing the event.

And I guess the programme controllers thought they could get away with omitting Jerusalem and God Save The Queen from the highlights for viewers in America. Wrong!

Apr 202011
 

Two things caught my eye during my recent rail journey from London to Stoke-on-Trent.

First, the presence of spring lambs in the green fields of middle England. In the 11 years that I have been in America, I have yet to see a single sheep in a field let alone a lamb. I obviously need to travel more extensively within the United States.

Second, for much of the journey the railway line ran parallel to its mass transport predecessor — the canal.

Trent & Mersey Canal, Stoke-on-Trent, England. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

The pace of Britain’s Industrial Revolution and the growth of the canal network went hand in hand. A system of transport was needed for the safe and large scale  movement of goods and raw materials and canals provided the answer.

The pottery manufacturers of Stoke-on-Trent were in the vanguard of the move to building canals. Transporting a fragile commodity such as pottery by pack horse had the inevitable consequences with such a fragile product.

Trent & Mersey Canal runs by the former Dolby Pottery works, Stoke-on-Trent England. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

The success of the Bridgewater Canal in transporting coal from Worsley to Manchester, and also cutting the cost of coal to consumers by two-thirds, was taken up by the famous potter Josiah Wedgwood. Wedgwood saw canals as the ideal way of transporting clay, particularly the china clay from St Austell in  Cornwall, to his factory via the port of Liverpool and also as a means of getting his finished goods to the domestic markets of Manchester, Birmingham and London, as well as markets overseas, particularly North America.

Wedgwood was a driving force behind the construction of the Trent & Mersey Canal and shared engineer James Brindley’s vision of a canal network linking the four major rivers of England —  the Mersey, Trent, Severn and Thames.

The Act of Parliament allowing the construction of the Trent & Mersey Canal was passed in 1766. In 1777, the 93.5-mile canal, including more than 70 locks and five tunnels, was completed.

Narrowboat on the Trent & Mersey Canal, Stoke-on-Trent, England. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

At the peak of canal transport, the canal system extended for 4,000 miles before it was eclipsed by the advent of the railways, which from 1840 onwards could carry greater loads and at a faster pace.

The growth of road transport in the 20th Century also spelled the death knell for canals and many of them fell into sad decline after the Second World War.

It was largely thanks to canal trusts and an army of volunteers that the waterways have been preserved not only as part of England’s industrial heritage but also as a valuable recreational amenity.

Glebe Street Bridge and the Trent & Mersey Canal, Stoke-on-Trent, England, ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

In urban areas, such as Manchester and Birmingham, the old canal basins have seen a rejuvenation in the past 30 years, with the development of Salford Quays and Gas Street Basin, respectively, as entertainment and upmarket residential areas.

Canals, with their narrowboats, locks, bridges, tunnels, warehouses and wharves, also provide a great subject for photography.

Growing up in the Potteries, the canal was always referred to as the “cut” as in, “Ast bin dine cut?” In Queen’s English it translates to,  “Have you been down to the canal?”

The construction of the canals by men known as navigationalists, usually Irish in origin, led to the word navvy, to describe a general labourer, passing into the English language.

Apr 062011
 

Other London churches may be greater and grander but for me St Martin-in-the-Fields offers splendour on a more manageable scale. The name itself evokes visions of a London where the countryside was just a stone’s throw away from the centre of the city.

The front entrance of the church. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

The present church was designed by James Gibbs. Work started in 1772 and the building was completed in 1722. Recently, the church has undergone a £36-million facelift by Eric Parry Architects, which won a Europa Nostra Award.

Part of the facelift turned the crypt into a bistro, a highly imaginative use of space and exposing the original brickwork lends considerable character, as do the headstones that form the floor.

The crypt at St Martin-in-the-Fields. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

The church also plays host to musical concerts — evening concerts by candlelight, free lunchtime concerts and also jazz concerts in the crypt.

I was lucky enough to attend an evening concert during my trip to London.  The Belmont Ensemble of London, conductor Peter G Dyson, played works by Bach, Handel and Vivaldi. With the strains of Baroque music filling the church’s opulent interior, it was not difficult to imagine being among London society of the 18th century, the women with their low-cut gowns, the men resplendent in their wigs and finery.

Ornate decor of St Martin-in-the-Fields. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

The concert, and the magnificient setting, will live long in my memory, an experience to be treasured. My only regret was not to have been able to catch a concert featuring a choral work, such as the one on May 7, when The English Chamber Choir will perform Mozart’s Requiem.

That’s something to look forward to on my next trip.

Chancel window St Martin-in-the-Fields. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Mar 312011
 

A family bereavement saw me back in the UK last week for the funeral. The next few posts will have a distinctly British flavour, relating to my hometown of Stoke-on-Trent and London.

A week ago I attended an evening concert at St Martin-In-The-Fields Church, more about that in a subsequent post. During the intermission I went outside for a cigarette. The church frontage offers a vantage point from which to survey Trafalgar Square, the site of Nelson’s Column.

Nelson's Column, London, England. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Like most cities in the world, London has floodlit many of its famous old buildings. The domes of the National Portrait Gallery on the north side of the square were bathed in a soft light. But Trafalgar Square itself was shrouded in darkness. It struck me that it would be a good idea to illuminate the statue of Admiral Lord Nelson that stands atop Nelson’s Column.

When Nelson reportedly said: “I see no ships.” I am not bloody surprised. It’s too damned dark to see anything.

The floodlighting of Nelson’s statue would provide a point of focus in the nightly gloom and enable it to dominate the square as it does during the hours of daylight. It would also make for a great nighttime photograph.

I suppose the argument against such a proposal these days would be that such expense cannot be justified. For all of Britain’s current economic plight, it didn’t strike me as a country scratching around for its next loaf of bread. The wealth is still there, it is just a question of tapping into it for the common good.

If any Londoners read this post, may I suggest that you contact the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and put forward my idea.

Come on, Boris! You know it makes sense.