Photo Book Review: Walden, by S. B. Walker

When you hear the name Walden, you most likely think of some peaceful landscapes, a calm pond surrounded by green trees, and, if you’re of a literary bent, the two years and two months that Henry David Thoreau spent living in a cabin by the lake. And if you encounter S. B. Walker’s new photobook Walden, you might think that it’s just a bunch of photos of this calm locale. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

But it’s not. In many ways, this book shows the dark side of Walden: the way the world has changed and become crowded, dirty, how people have given up on the values that Thoreau presents in his book. Walker’s photos are the rural equivalent of street photography, showing people by the lake fishing, talking on phones, standing by their cars. There are photos of people at a landfill, a fallen ice cream cone, and a bag of trash by the edge of the pond. Even one of the first photos in the book, showing two people frolicking in the pond while a zodiac labeled Walden Patrol speeds by – most likely leaving behind a wake of noise – makes it clear that this book is not about the Walden Pond that is considered a national treasure.

But in showing the other side of Walden – all these photos were shot on or near Walden Pond – Walker shows how the world that Thoreau warned us of in his writings has come to be. How we disdain the beauty of a location that Thoreau felt was almost holy.

This is the dark reality of modern America, in stark black and white, a documentary built around a central idea, perhaps that the utopia of Walden never really existed, or it only existed in Thoreau’s mind. As good photography often is, this book is disturbing, but it is honest.

Here are a few photos from the photographer’s website to give you an idea of what the book contains:

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Bokeh is Overrated – Eric Kim

In an article called Why Full-Frame is Overrated in Photography, Eric Kim discusses “bokeh.” When I got back into photography seriously a few years ago, I had never heard of this word. Back in the day when I shot film, it was simply called “shallow depth of field,” or “background blur.”

A lot of photographers, myself included, thought buying a full frame camera would give you better bokeh, which would make you a better photographer.

But, making photos with creamy bokeh doesn’t make a good photo.

In fact, most of the best photos of history were NOT shot wide open.

Henri Cartier-Bresson had a 50mm f3.5 Lens. His best photos had deep depth of field.

Richard Avedon shot with the smallest aperture possible, to get insane detail with his large format portraits.

Why is bokeh so popular in photography? My theory:

1. Photographers want to differentiate themselves from phone photographers, therefore they want the visual “wow” of bokeh photos. Because phone cameras cannot make bokeh, blurry background photos like high end digital cameras. There is software that can mimic it, but it doesn’t look the same.

2. Camera companies want to sell more expensive lenses (f1.2-f1.4 lenses). Therefore they pay photography bloggers, or give them free gear, to influence the market– to increase demand for fast Lenses.

3. Blurring the background while shooting wide open is an easy way to simplify the scene, and remove distractions from the background.

But to be frank, to blur the background is a lazy technique. A truly great photographer will consider the background, to make a strong environmental portrait. Or easier, just to use a simple black or white background is a good way to make a better portrait.

Takeaway point: Full frame is overrated, because the selling point of full frame is better bokeh. But better bokeh doesn’t lead to better photos.

As Kim says, this is a lazy technique. I see lots of photos on the usual photo sharing websites where it seems that “bokeh” is the point of the photo. I don’t think it’s always a bad thing. Here’s a photo I shot just today, where I wanted to highlight this fading rose against the background of a church and cemetery.

Fading rose

I think the shallow depth of field here works well to separate the foregrounded item (the flower) from the background. It also has, to me, a bit of a nostalgic effect. (Note that I shot this at f 5.6, not wide open; I didn’t want the stronger blur that would show with the lens at its widest aperture, f 2.)

But here’s a shot with pretty much everything in focus. I often see photos like this online with blur, where the photographer has focused either on the near elements or the center of the image.

Kim is mostly talking about portraits and street photography; you certainly need shallow depth of field with macro photography to highlight your subject. But this depth of field trickery is overused, and overrated, and it is often a cheap effect. Like any effect in photos, it should be used sparingly.

Source: Why Full-Frame is Overrated in Photography

Leica’s Owner Dreams of a ‘True Leica Phone’ – PetaPixel

During an interview with CNBC, Andreas Kaufmann (the owner and chairman of Leica) said that it was a “personal dream” of his to reinvent the smartphone camera.

“Every smartphone is wrong for photography at the moment… the phone nowadays is not fit really for photography… it’s used as a camera, it’s used as a video camera, but it’s not built that way and I think there’s a long way to go still,” he tells CNBC.

Despite offering no clear solutions, he said that he was “not sure whether the company can do [this]…[but] one dream would be my personal dream: a true Leica phone.”

The problem with this is that, while it might be a good camera, it would likely be a crappy phone, because it would run Android. So what’s the point? Or is he subtly suggesting that he wants the iPhone to integrate a Leica camera? I can’t really see that happening; Apple has too much invested in its own camera.

Source: Leica’s Owner Dreams of a ‘True Leica Phone’

Apple’s Photos App Has a Hidden Feature for Tweaking Adjustments Even More

I’ve been writing about Apple’s Photos app a lot lately, because I’ve decided to master this app rather than spending my time learning how to use Photoshop and Lightroom. Sure, those Adobe apps are powerful, but you can do a lot with Photos, and I’d rather spend my time taking pictures than tweaking them with complicated workflows and settings.

When you edit photos in Apple’s Photos app, by clicking the Adjust button, you see a number of sliders. They affect things like Brightness, Exposure, Contrast, and more. You click and drag the central lines of those sliders to increase or decrease each of these settings from -1.00 to +1.00.

Light settingHowever, if you press the Option key, then drag a slider, the scale increases, and you can move it from -2.00 to +2.00. Here’s what the Light adjustments look like after I’ve pressed the Option key and dragged the Brilliance slider.

You can also double-click any of the numbers that display on those sliders (this is tricky, since a single-click moves the slider; you may have to double-click a few times to get the number selected), and type a number from -2.00 to +2.00 to apply that setting.

And if you don’t like your adjustment, you can reset each slider by double-clicking anywhere on the slider (but not on the number that displays).

It’s probably rare that you’ll need to make such extreme adjustments, but it’s good to know that you can.

Batch Processing in Apple Photos

You may have shot a lot of photos in a particular area, or with specific lighting, and want to process them all in exactly the same way. For example, you may want to apply the same adjustments to correct color, heighten contrast, and tweak brightness. With some advanced photo apps, you can perform “batch processing,” where you apply the same settings to a group of photos.

Apple’s Photos app does not allow you to perform batch processing. However, there is a way that you can quickly apply the same changes to multiple photos.

Start with any photo in edit mode; to edit a photo, select it and press Return. Photos switches to its editing interface with controls at the right side of the window. Make whatever changes you want to the photo: adjust the color, contrast, brightness, or apply a filter.

Next, choose Image > Copy Adjustments, press Command-Shift-C, or right-click on the photo and choose Copy Adjustments. Photos places all the adjustments that you have made to this picture on the clipboard.

Copy adjustments

You can then switch to another photo in edit mode and paste these adjustments. To do this, choose Image > Paste Adjustments, press Command-Shift-V, or right-click on the photo and choose Paste Adjustments. Photos applies all the adjustments you made to the first photo, with the exception of cropping or rotation.

There are ways that you can streamline this process. Create a new photo album (File > New Album), and add all the photos you want to batch process to that album. Edit the first photo, copy its adjustments, then press the right arrow key to move to the next photo — you will still be in Edit mode — and paste the adjustments. You can go through all the photos in this album paste in the adjustments with just a few keypresses.

While this isn’t as efficient as the way more powerful apps perform batch processing, it is a great way to apply the exact same adjustments to a group of photos. Try this when you have spent a lot of time tweaking, say, one of your vacation photos. If you have other photos that were taken in the same light at the same location, you can probably just paste the adjustments he made from one photo onto them and save time.

How to Post to Instagram from Safari on a Mac

It is well known that Instagram only really works on a smartphone. There are apps for iOS and Android, but there isn’t even a tablet version of the app. You can, of course, view Instagram from the desktop or on a tablet, in any browser (check out my photos on Instagram), but you can’t post or manage your photos.

Well, actually, you can, with a bit of trickery. If you use Safari on macOS, you can do anything that you can do in the Instagram app. Here’s how.

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A Look at New Features in Apple Photos for High Sierra

Apple’s macOS High Sierra is due out in a couple of months, and beta versions, both to the public and for developers, have been circulating for a while. We’re up to the third version of this beta software, and we can now see many of the more obvious improvements in the operating system, and in specific apps.

Photos sidebarPhotos is one app that is getting an overhaul. The sidebar that lets you browse your library has been updated to include sections, as in iTunes:

The Library section includes Photos, Memories, Favorites, People, Places, Imports, and Recently Deleted.

The Shared section shows Activity and Shared Albums; a top-level Shared Albums folder contains all the albums you have shared.

The Albums section contains two top-level folders:

  • Media Types, which houses everything other than regular folders, such as Videos, Selfies, Live Photos, and more.
  • My Albums, which includes all the albums you’ve created, though the All Photos album is no longer present; it now shows at the top of the sidebar under Library.

Finally, a Projects section displays with a My Projects folder, which contains any card, book, calendar, or print projects you may be working on.

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