Going Flash Free

This morning I got pissed off at my Mac.

I use a MacBook Pro 15″ for much of my work. It is a great machine that mixes suitable portability with a decent sized screen and can run a much larger screen when I’m in the office. Love it.

But there are times when it gets really slow and unresponsive. I’ve been investigating this for some time and have slowly removed things that were not helping. But still today my machine went really slow and I decided I had enough of it. Running Activity Monitor (Applications/Utilities) showed the culprit to be Flash, both in Chrome and in Safari, which were both open. I stopped the Chrome Plug-in (Window -> Task Manager) and closed the tabs that had Flash running. I also closed Safari. My machine came back to life, being responsive and fast. So there lay the problem, Flash. I am in the habit of leaving multiple tabs open in my browsers on content I want to look at later and this was killing me if there was Flash content on the page, usually crap I didn’t want anyway, like adds.

So I decided it was time to get rid of Flash once and for all. At the system level you remove the Flash plugin by going to Library/Internet Plug-Ins/ on your boot disk and removing them or (as I did) moving into another folder the files Flash Player.plugin and flashplayer.xpt. This removes Flash from Safari after a reboot.

To remove Flash from Chrome (or rather force Chrome to use the system plugin, which is now gone) you type About:Plugins into the Address field and disable Flash.

You may be asking how I can do without Flash. Well, much of the time I view the web on my iPad. That handles most things well, including playing Youtube videos. I don’t like Flash games and most Flash on normal web pages is ads, which I don’t want to be annoyed with anyway. If I have trouble with this approach I’ll re-enable the built-in Flash plugin in Chrome and simply use Chrome for viewing such content. At least I know now how to just kill the Flash plugin in Chrome anytime it is slowing my machine down.

I’ll report back on my Flash-free life.

 

Thoughts on the Nikon D800

The Nikon D800 seems to be generating far more buzz and interest than other cameras released recently. Why is this?

On first sight it can be pure technological lust – here is a camera with a MUCH higher resolution than anything with a 35mm camera price tag. You need to go to medium format to find anything that competes on resolution. Is this all the interest is – size matters? I think the answer is partly yes, but only partly.

I think a lot of photographers are craving more flexibility in their cameras. This is one reason why so many of us accept the limitations but use our iPhones for a lot of photography. It is convenient and also flexible because of the enhancement of the shooting experience that apps bring us. One key part of flexibility is the ability to crop and crop savagely. With a digital camera this requires resolution and guess which camera is top of the heap on that regard at present? The D800.

Life is complex, we have so many competing demands on our time and there seems to be less time available to actually shoot. Think about the implications of having so much resolution available. I can go out with a 70-200, say, and crop to get the shot I might have taken if I had a 400, 600 or even higher focal length lens with me, without the hassle of paying for and carrying the damn thing, let along the time and possibly missed shots spent changing lenses, and still end up with an image with more resolution than I actually need for the end uses I have in mind. Yes I can use cropping as a substitute for swapping lenses or even having such a lens in the first place. This allows me to move the decision making to later, when I am sitting in front of a nice, large computer screen. It gives me flexibility in how I use my images later. I can really afford to not crop so tightly in camera and choose later whether I want a landscape, portrait or square shaped image.

Frankly, right now, if I had the spare cash I would get a D800 and a good lens or two even though I own Canon gear. It would make some of my landscape photography trips much easier. Even when going on holiday it would mean one camera and one lens could do it all, because I could crop the hell out of images to produce the shots I would have needed a telephoto lens for. One of the most common questions I get asked in my workshops is whether people can get away with just one lens when going on international holidays. The answer has always been that to get the range of focal lengths you need in one lens produces compromises in image quality. If you can get by with a much shorter focal length range and then crop to get the long end it becomes feasible at a higher image quality.

Photography should be fun and let’s be honest, it is not fun carrying a lot of heavy lenses around and having to swap them all the time. Having more resolution than you need gives you options. Use them.

 

A Hermetic View of What Makes An Image or Work of Art Great

Yesterday I was in a conversation with my closest friend, Steve Danzig, about how art affects us. I put forward to him what makes a work of art or a photograph great and it got me really thinking about it. So in this post I want to explore that.

For those who don’t know, Hermeticism is a philosophical system that has greatly influenced Western esoteric thought. For the last few weeks I have been totally absorbed, to the exclusion of all else, in Western Kabbalistic and esoteric thought as it relates to the arts as part of a Masters degree I am working on, so the topic is forefront in my mind at present.

One of the core concepts of the Western esoteric tradition, including Hermeticism, is that of the four classical elements: earth, air, fire and water. These four classical elements are tied to aspects of our being, so earth is the physical, air is the mental, fire is the inspirational and water is the emotional. In many systems of esoteric thought there is a fifth element, spirit. So at the personal level we consist of five ‘dimensions’ of ourselves: the physical, intellectual (conscious), inspirational (subconscious), emotional and spiritual aspects that as a whole make up who we are.

When I consider the artwork that has really touched me profoundly over the years I realise that such work has impacted me at all five levels or dimensions of my being. Take, for example, the large, dark paintings from Rothko’s mature work, the viewing of which I consider one of the most profound experiences of my life. These works impacted me on all five levels:

  • physically, by their size and dominant ‘presence’ in the space;
  • mentally, by stimulating thought of colour resonances, use of space and proportion, etc;
  • inspirationally, in that they appear in my dreams and have inspired some of my own, meagre in comparison, art explorations;
  • emotionally, as they evoked deep and profound emotional reactions;
  • spiritually, in that even now, many years later, when I bring them to mind there is a shift in consciousness and a profound connection with the ‘other’ that is impossible to put in writing.

I have had similar reactions with other works of art: Pollack’s action paintings, especially Blue Poles, some of Bill Viola’s video works and such.

In thinking about all this I realised that, informally, I rate art and photography on this five point scale: the most profound work hits all five levels, other work may only hit one, two, three or four of them.

Contemporary art has stressed the intellectual, the conceptual and, indeed, there has been an active pull away from emotional and spiritual art. However, as the research I’ve been doing has shown, whilst the pull away from the emotional and spiritual in art has certainly been there at the institutional level and among most art critics, curators and art historians, it has certainly not been there for the actual creators themselves. A careful examination of the literature shows large numbers of artists who are connecting with their work at all levels and certainly aspire to state something profound in their work on all five levels. It is just that, for the sake of their careers, many artists are reticent to speak of such things until such time as they are well enough established that the institutions will want to show their work no matter what they say.

This idea of multi-dimensionality also explains why much of contemporary art is shallow. Certainly when I examine new work being shown I find it appealing at some levels, perhaps physically from its presence or use of materials, or intellectually from the conceptual aspects. But if that is as far as it goes it only rises to a one or two on my five-point scale. This is a particular problem for digital art and photography, which can often even miss out on the physicality aspect.

As an artist, I strive to bring all five aspects into play in my own work. I’ve not succeeded yet, to my satisfaction. In my writing I try for the same, as yet, unachieved target. And that is the thing that pushes me to keep trying, to keep going deeper into my own self and tap all levels when making my art.

It may benefit you in the production of your own work to just try looking at things from this way too and seeing how you feel about it.

iPhoneography and MagCloud For Photographers

As you might know, I blog for HP on their Professional Photography blog.

My two recent posts have been:

MagCloud and Publishing for Photographers

covering my experience using MagCloud to produce the DIMi print edition

and

Why Apple’s iPhone Can Be a Fun, Useful Camera for Photography Pros

covering my ideas on why we should embrace the iPhone even when we have far more sophisticated gear.

Both articles are worth a read and I’d encourage you to read the other articles on the HP Professional Photography blog. All the other contributors are great writers and photographers and the articles are informative.

 

iPhone 4S – The Photographer’s Camera

Photographers need to take pictures. It’s a practice thing. Like every skill, you need to practice. But that means having a camera with you all the time. The one thing pretty well everyone has with them all the time now is their mobile phone.

The iPhone is a great platform for photography. Not only have the cameras been decent, by phone standards, but the app architecture nicely supports enhancements to your photography. The camera that you have with you always takes better pictures than the great camera you left at home or the studio.

So, whatever the specs of the upcoming iPhone 5, it will be a great phone for photographers. Some HDR capabilities were introduced with the iPhone 4. Hopefully more advanced capabilities, along with higher resolution and better optics, will come with the iPhone 5.

Apps like Instagram make enhancement and sharing easy. Various HDR, long exposure and image processing apps let you have fun with your photography, rediscovering the spontaneity that you may have lost years ago. I find a darkroom like feel of alchemy and spontaneous chemistry errors with iPhone photography and app exploration.

Whatever iPhone you have, give it ago.

Update – So now we know it is called the iPhone 4S and it does have the forecast 8MP camera, with better HDR capability and more.

 

The Dilemmas of Digital Image Making

I must admit to being deeply conflicted as a digital image maker. I love the image making. But, and this is a big but, I really hate the physical stuff necessary to present my work, like printing and framing. Truly and profoundly hate it.

Photographers and digital artists come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, for sure. Some like the chemical darkroom, some like the alternative processes, some adore the perfect lab print and others love a perfect digital print they have done themselves. Others love to experiment with digital printing on all sorts of surfaces, doing transfers and such and others treat their print as only a starting point for a long development journey.

A recent conversation with a friend also showed that there is another type of image maker, the type who enjoys the making of the image, whether it is the capture with a camera or the rendering on the computer, but who do not really like the steps involved in presenting our work physically. I had thought it might just be me, but obviously not. And this got me thinking.

My wife is a painter and the great thing for her is that the process of making her art also makes the artefact that gets exhibited and sold. Now I know that is not quite true of all painters: watercolourists need to matt and frame their paintings, as do printmakers. But acrylic and oil painters can, if they want to, just exhibit and sell the painted, stretched canvas.

In discussing this with my friend Tony we both came to the conclusion that, in so many ways, the old Polaroid film that gave use both a nice print and a negative for later work, was perfect for us. Well of course it wasn’t perfect, with the negative and positive having different ISO settings. But the idea of a shooting process that automatically produces the resulting artefact to exhibit is not a bad one.

Sadly, it isn’t there with photography these days. We can shoot with digital or film, but either way this is only the start of a long process. And no matter what you do it is a lengthy process from there to a finished, exhibitable image.

Now the printer manufacturers claim it is a one stop job to print, but we all know that is not true. Aside from the processing to get your image ready to print, there is also the stuff to do just to get a good print, from calibrating your monitor to adjusting profiles and more.

It strikes me that my feeling about it cannot be that rare. We see masses of people uploading huge numbers of images to places like Flickr and Facebook (F is for Foto, after all). But those numbers are not also appearing in people producing hangable images. So something is stopping them, either the cost, time, expertise or just the interest in going to all that hassle.

So what is to be done? Well, for many people the solution is not to print, but to simply upload to some site.  For others it will involve only occasional printing. And of course many photographers and digital artists actually enjoy all that mucking around with printers, matt cutters, glass cutters and framing. It would be nice of the printer manufacturers and others found ways to make the whole process from printing to a hangable image much simpler.

Of course, it is also a waiting game. Eventually large electronic flat panel displays will be cheap enough to allow, those who want it, to avoid the whole issue of printing and then framing and go straight to the electronic display. I know I am one who can’t wait.

 

 

Infographic of the Day: Wayne’s Movements Courtesy of iPhone

As you may have heard, the iPhone tracks your movements continuously and stores this info in a file on the iPhone that gets backed up to your computer by iTunes. It does this using the mobile phone tower triangulation that is used as a backup for and to speed up your GPS system.

Below is a non-infographic (non because it really contains no useful info at all) I produced from this data in my iPhone using the free iPhone Tracker software (http://petewarden.github.com/iPhoneTracker/).

Below are some of the individual images that make up layers in the above:

One of the benefits of being on the somewhat challenged 3/Vodaphone network is that my iPhone does not appear to have done a great job of tracking my detailed movements. My home does not show well (1 bar reception), whilst where I run many of my workshops does, but then my phone is roaming there (which seems to record more accurately).The lesson from that is that spies, terrorists and serial adulterers should use the same network I do. You’ll be safe (and uncontactable).

The first image above shows a very blurred map. The map download seemed quite slow, presumably because so many people were busy as the news broke checking on the movements of their spouses before they wised up and deleted the info.

iPhone Photography: Reinvigorating Some Photographers

As I look around the web I see so many photographers, including serious, well-respected professional photographers, getting all excited about photography with their iPhones. What’s going on?

Well, in the spirit of scientific investigation I have downloaded a bunch of photography apps for my iPhone and will start shooting with them and see for myself.

What I think is going on is a combination of nostalgia for a simpler time in photography, a reappraisal of just how “perfect” an image needs to be effective and a wish to reconnect with personal photography in what are often busy professional shooting lives.

Nostalgia in photography with a widespread thing. We see that in the passion for old photographic processes whose look can frankly be recreated far more easily and often in a more environmentally friendly way by using a good inkjet printer and Photoshop. We’ve seen the popularity of plastic cameras, cheap plastic lenses, grungy photo filters and so on. Even the resurgence of interest in film fits into this.

We have all been spoiled by the perfection of the images we get from our cameras. Modern autofocus and auto-exposure systems are accurate and amazingly good at giving a workable image in one shot. We usually have resolution to spare and our images can be amazingly noise free. The problem with this is that we have removed much of what makes an image look real and not some plastic fabrication, and we have removed many opportunities for the “happy accident” that suddenly lifts an image to a new level.

With busy professional lives it is very easy to lose interest in our own photography and push it to the side. Also our modern gear may be heavy. A phone we have with us all the time, even when we whip down to the supermarket for some forgotten necessities. So if we start to engage with this device as a photographic tool for more than just documenting the kids we can have a more immediate, dare we say fun, relationship with our photography again. Sounds good doesn’t it?

So I am going to embark of an iPhone photography journey and see where it takes me. Stay tuned.