Mar 29, 2010

Reality TV

Just like literature and music, movies and video, photography sometimes takes us to places that don’t really exist. It comes from the power of our own imagination, through subtle and hidden suggestion, or even as a result of conscious manipulation.

At other times, our images just show the world as it happens to be: charming or shocking, beautiful or cruel, intriguing or revealed.

I sat idle on a sunny weekend morning, reflecting on these thoughts, while our TV set was reflecting its own bit of reality.

Gear notes: D700. 50/1.8

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Mar 27, 2010

Because we can…

Ever since Adobe Lightroom became available, I have been a big fan. I did take the time to become familiar with all the features, watched countless video tutorials, read the blogs and even own a couple of books on the subject. By now, it is my workflow tool of choice and touches all the images I shoot. It has enabled me to shoot RAW under all circumstances, and never look back.

Does Lightroom serve all my post-processing needs? Of course not! There is the occasional image that needs solid clone brush surgery or even stronger Photoshop manipulation. But I have to confess that, since adopting Lightroom, I tend to restrict my retouching actions to whatever that program allows me to do – emergency actions excluded. If I cannot do it with Lightroom’s tools, I seriously consider whether it’s worth doing at all. Even for lens and perspective correction or for HDR processing, I stick to plug-in capable solutions (in my case, PTLens and PhotomatixPro).

A few days ago, Adobe released Lightroom 3 beta 2, and I was giving it a try almost immediately. Among the newest goodies: the ability for tethered shooting without additional intermediate software, and a real Photoshop-style point curve! Grab the camera, pull out that USB cable, and fire some quick shots from right behind my desk.

Studio Session-007w
One of the advantages of a point curve is that you can abuse it when and as you like. That’s the key to colorful and wild creative effects as shown above. Something I had been missing from within Lightroom’s confines. Just like I keep longing for direct plug-in support for Topaz and Nik software.

Why do we sometimes want to take our images beyond photo-realistic reproduction, and more towards artistic interpretation? Besides aesthetic pleasure, for the same reason that man climbs mountains: because we can…

Gear notes: D700, 27-70/2.8

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Mar 24, 2010

Chess on the square

Amsterdam, on a rainy Saturday afternoon. I had some time to kill before an appointment, near the famous Leidseplein. I wandered around, camera at hand, but found the atmosphere spoiled by the steady traffic of weekend shoppers.

I went through a short passage and arrived at a quiet square, lined with shops and pubs. And so I arrived at a ‘scene’…

_DSC6541w _DSC6539w

It’s not that unusual – at least in some countries – to discover a large chess set outdoors on the pavement, surrounded by a flock of players and spectators. But you don’t expect it just around the corner from one of Amsterdam’s busiest meeting areas.

The square is named after Max Euwe, the famous Dutch chess grandmaster, mathematician, and author, whose (small) statue overlooks the chessboard. He was the fifth player to become World Chess Champion, from 1935 to 1937.



My wait took me just long enough to enjoy the game, witness the finale (white won), and grab these couple of shots. In black and white, of course. What else would fit the noble game?


Gear notes: D300, 18-70DX

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Mar 18, 2010

Meet the cats

You can’t return from a trip to a zoo or animal park without some shots of the Big Cats… Hence this portrait collection from my recent visit to the Balen-Olmen zoo.




On that cold and somber day, only a few of them ventured outdoors, and let’s just say there wasn’t all that activity to see. Waiting to see them positioned against a background clear of wire fences was not always an available option…_DSC6469w-2



Gear notes: D300, 70-300VR

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Mar 13, 2010

Generations III

The family saga continues, time to start telling you about the second generation: my father. In May of 1945, at the age of 17, he left his hometown to start as an apprentice with my mother’s father (see earlier posts). For the next five busy years, he learned the tricks of the trade, passed the necessary exams, and along the way fell madly in love with the boss’ daughter…

Ray_juli1952w July 1952: my father, with his precious Exakta camera

As early as 1949, he started a portrait photography activity  during the weekends he spent back home. Gradually, he built up what it took to run a ‘real’ business: a studio and a darkroom.

doka_marijve_juli1951 (1 of 1)wThe darkroom, July 1951. On the very left: an enlarger and a heat press to apply gloss to photos. Against the wall just left of center: a contact printing frame for glass plates and sheet films

pomp_mei1952wHard to believe from today’s perspective, but there was no tap water available in that neighborhood until 1952. You just had to be ingenious to set up a makeshift negative rinsing installation!

By the early 1950’s, graduated and fully licensed, my father started to work full-time as independent ‘master photographer’. The family house became a photo store, and a new business was born! (And soon thereafter, so would I…)

Marijve_april1953w Studio Ray’s storefront, April 1953

paspoort_file_5sept1954w Queuing for a passport shot, September 1954

During 1952-53, all Belgian citizens were obliged to renew their identity cards. As my hometown lies exactly on the virtual border between the Flemish and French speaking halves of the country, politics took its time, and it wasn’t until late 1954 that the action finally spread to that area. Meaning: all 30,000+ inhabitants were to be processed in just a couple of weeks! The sudden demand for passport pictures (shot on 6x9cm sheet film, each one hand retouched!) turned out to be a big boost for the young business.

To be continued…

Gear notes: long forgotten

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Mar 8, 2010

A touch of frosting

Looking out of the window this morning, I saw that little layer of fresh snow on the bushes in our front yard. Light wet snow was still falling, but that did not stop me from grabbing the camera and scanning for some nice images popping up through the lens.


Still outside, I noticed the bunch of tulips on our living room table. Time for a little impromptu composition!


Gear notes: D700, 70-200VR

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Mar 4, 2010

A horse with a name

When I take my usual walk along the fields in my neighborhood, I pass by this patch of land that is home to two fine horses. Most of the time they are just grazing, completely ignoring any passer-by. Once in a while they are more curious and will come to see what that funny creature behind the barbed wire is all about.

_DS76549w On a cold but sunny afternoon

Not long ago, when the fields were still covered by snow, I managed to get their attention long enough to shoot their portraits. My 180mm f/2.8 prime was just perfect for the job.

_DS76393w Micky kept a reasonable distance, as usual. An overcast sky and the snow blanket on the ground produced great soft lighting.

_DS76391wFreggle, always more intrigued by what’s happening, let me capture this great shot. No, I did not bring along a black backdrop, nor did I manipulate the picture in Photoshop.
Freggle gracefully posed right in the ‘doorway’ of their small shed.

_DS76554wFreggle, keeping a keen eye on the photographer

How do I know the horses’ names? Quite simple: that information is to be found on the side wall of the shelter. It also lists dates for a companion that – I guess - sadly is no longer around…


How often do you run into animals that come with EXIF data?

Gear notes: D700, 180/2.8, 28-200G

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Mar 1, 2010

Generations II

I have blogged before about my grandfather, who worked as a professional photographer from the mid 1920’s until his retirement in the 1960’s. Digging into the family archives has revealed some more pictures from these early days.

MPauwelswThis is my grandfather, proudly posing in front of his shop, in 1926. As you can see in the background, formal portraits made at all kinds of (family) occasions were big then.

shop_outside_1936wA typical showcase of ‘portfolio’ portraits and various products for sale, from around 1936.

shop_inside_1936w And this is how the shop looked from the inside, in the same period. This was the realm of my grandmother (at right), here assisting some customers that perhaps walked into the impromptu shooting session…

Just a few years later, my father would start his apprenticeship there. But that’s a story for another blog… (to be continued)

Gear notes: long forgotten

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