2012, Photography


In August Jamie Pillers suggested in a comment on one of my blog posts to make a Blurb book. Now the idea to make a book is not really new, but he said to just select images that pleases me. Nothing formal or project based.

For a couple years now I have a few numbers of selections for a book resting on my computer waiting to be printed and bond together. But each and everytime I doubted. Was the concept strong enough? Would my purposed intentions meet my expectations? How about the B&W printing? Would it bring color casts? Somehow there was something holding me back from letting go my photographs.

Jamie’s suggestion to basically make a random selection gave me new inspiration and energy. And a fair method to temper my personal expectation too. What kept my mind occupied though was the form. A large book, something for on the coffee table, or something differently? For a first book I didn’t want to pay and charge too much, but a large book with quite a lot of photographs really sets the price.It became even more obvious to me at Photokina where Pentax displayed their photo books. The high quality paper, the size of that book, the dedication of the printers, and the price set me a sight.

It was later in September when I read an article on Daniel Milnor’s Smogranch blog where he talked about the Blurb trade book format. Small, 6×9 inch, easy to take with you, and fair in price. Perfect for me, a small book format that doesn’t raise the bar too high. Together with the help from my German friend Jan Klose, who suggested to make a playful book, I did it.

And so I am proud to say I finished my first photo book, titled ‘Saudade’. Saudade is a Portugese word I learned about when I heard a Fado a couple of years. The nostalgic and longing feeling associated with Saudade sounded perfect to me.

The can be ordered here.

Be smart, call it the end of the day

2012, Photography

I think my creative process is generally split up in two steps. The first step is making things. It involves fun and the desire to play, to try and experiment, to be free and unrestricted. The other step is evaluating what I have been making, editing my work, being critical of myself.

That first step of generating photographs is what I love to do. I have said it so often before, but with limitations I feel completely unrestricted. That moment when you are full of ideas or when you see interesting subjects everywhere is absolutely inspiring.

The second step is absolutely necessary. No doubt about that. It helps to be critical of your endeavours. It helps to challenge yourself and to push the creativity forwards. Realistically though I also know that due to my fear and uncertainty this evaluating step can become my master. And when it does it actually restrains me. Then I hate my work, I get annoyed by the things I do and the tools I use, doubt sets in, often followed by those doldrums. Moments when I feel uninspired and take no photographs. Doubt, always this doubt.

At such moments I take away the spontaneity, the joy, the passion. I hate these moments, although I always seem to fall for it. Is there really a need for perfecting what I do?

I haven’t been photographing so extensively the last few months and this gave me the opportunity to do a retrospective of my work from the last couple of years. And I realized that many of my finest moments, I say finest, were when I felt the most restricted by my tools and the least restricted by my ideas. Vague? Likely so, but when I threw overboard my high expectations and the desire of perfecting myself I felt most liberated by what I could do. For me, it is that tantalizing feeling that you play, that you feel open and free like a child.

Like this week when I felt uncomplicated photographing and editing with my cellphone (the photographs in this post are from this week and I posted these earlier on Instagram). Or in 2009 when I first tried the Ricoh GRD3. And most importantly in 2011 when I did my photo a day project. Especially in the months January, August, and November it felt like everything came naturally. And I shouldn’t forget March 2008. I made some of my best landscape photographs. Like the moment I ditched my SLR and lenses for the GR1. When I started to do B&W landscape photographs with my compact camera to get that sketch look.

It sets in that when I start to look differently at subjects I see almost always on a daily basis. Moments when I got out of my comfort zone experimenting with compositions and purposed intentions. And also when I least worried about the cameras I used and the image quality these provided, and when I tried new post processing methods. I played at such moments. Nothing formal, no complications.

I love it when I can liberate myself from the habits that set in after many years. When I just point my camera or cell phone and press the shutter. When I go further or do different stuff in my post processing. It makes me realize that I really don’t need that much to make photographs, to be creative. The best though is when I feel the desire to shoot.

All photographs by Wouter Brandsma


2012, Photography

I feel like I neglect my blog. I don’t publish a lot or frequently. I don’t respond to comments so quickly and I really regret that, because I appreciate the time people take to interact with me. But I find it hard to concentrate on this when I am busy at work and have/want to be ready for my family (especially my wife since they diagnozed osteoarthritis in her neck). And while I am full of photographic ideas I haven’t been photographing at all for nearly a month. I guess there is more in life than photography. I don’t regret it, but I do miss it. For sure.

But as mentioned in a recent blog post I have been using and trying a couple of Lightroom and Nik Silver Efex Pro presets developed by another photographer, Don Springer. Before I tell about my impressions with these presets I first like to get my thoughts straight on some things that usually seem to fuel a lot of debates, but are of no interest to me (anymore).

RAW versus jpeg and digital versus film
Yes, I know that raw is technically superior to jpeg. You can recover highlights and shadows, adjust the white balance and squeeze every bit of image quality out of a file. Additionally there are many great B&W conversion techniques available with color channels. I know, I have used them and I experienced it all.

Film versus digital
Another argument I read a lot is that if you want to get the best B&W photographs use film instead. Likely this argument is so true either. I know it, I have used film too. You see, time and money. Family and work takes up my time and I simply don’t have that time available for developing and scanning. Most importantly though I just don’t have the money for using film.

Digital has so many advantages and it makes a lot of sense exploring and using it all. The immediacy, the possibility to correct in post processing, but these arguments don’t matter to me either. They did and at some point could do again, but just not now.

Personal take
You see, maybe I am lazy. Maybe I am very nostalgic and romantic about some things in photography. I have said it often before, but I like it when decisions are irreversible. Just like film (I hear you thinking). Therefore I choose for B&W jpegs even though I know that the raw images have more benefits. There is nothing rational in my thinking and I do realize that these decisions have consequences.

The harder you tweak the adjustments in post processing the stronger the degradation of your photograph will be. I know that. With a raw image there is always some information preserved in the highlights that enable some degree of highlight recovery. With a B&W jpegs all this information is already pressed into a greytone and you loose that possibility. For me exposing is a conscious decision though. I don’t expose with the post processing features in mind. I photograph what I feel and take blocked highlights or pitch black shadows for what it is. For me these are not the trade offs, but aspects that add to the mood I try to convey.

I like using Lightroom for organizing my photographs and some finer adjustments. Lightroom is very capable of handling jpegs too for post processing. Some options though I try to avoid. These are especially highlight and shadow recovery. Options favored by many others. Lightroom is OK and some things just work really well, but if I had to make a final decision keeping Nik Silver Efex Pro running is currently what works best for me.

In my opinion Don’s Lightroom presets do work really well on raw photographs, but don’t work really well on my B&W jpegs unless I tone down some of recovery adjustments. When doing so I kind of like what I see happening. Not quite similar to what I do, but the gritty style emphasizes the sketchy look I like. Regarding Nik Silver Efex Pro (from now on named SEP) things look quite differently. In my perception SEP somehow handles my B&W jpegs really well. At first Don’s SEP presets seem to be quite aggressive, but look really need when SEP saves the processed photographs as tiffs. Personally I prefer a little bit less grain, but I do like the high contrast from these presets. Each presets for both Lightroom and SEP come in different variations with more or less contrast, more clarity (Lightroom) and structure (SEP) or less, and more or less grain. Depending on your initial exposure and amount of contrast you likely find a suitable preset. In case you’re interested make sure to have a look here. I liked the presets a lot and have been fighting hard with my own workflow the last couple of weeks. For me presets are like a starting point and I keep tweaking them until they fit me.

All photographs by Wouter Brandsma