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

Compact camera limitations

2008, Photography

There is a distinctive demand among serious photographers for a high quality compact camera. Small sized, fast, and easy handling camera with raw capability, good optics, and good image quality. Many serious compact cameras do bring some of these features, but no camera comes with everything.

My camera for instance, the Ricoh GX200, has probably the best camera handling in the business together with the GR Digital 2. Excellent raw capability, is fast, and has a very good lens. The image quality is really good at base ISO (64) and ISO 100. It can be good at ISO 200, but don’t underexpose, and becomes less usable at ISO 400 and higher with more noise and considerable loss of detail. Now, the GX200 is not the only camera suffering from the limitations of the sensor. It becomes apparent that the Canon PowerShot G10 has the same caveat. It makes fun to photograph with a great handling camera, but in the end it is still the photograph that matters to me.

Image quality wise the Sigma DP1 is in a different competition. It is yet the only compact camera packed with an APS-C sized sensor, but at the cost of speed and handling. The lens starts at f4 and raw writing times takes longer then on the recently released serious compacts. Nevertheless the lens is very sharp, and the DP1 is also the only compact camera were you can play with shallow depth of field without the macro mode.

Although I personally don’t think Panasonic made the most intuitive user interface, their Lumix DMC-LX3 is probably the best current serious compact camera on the market. Instead of adding more pixels on a sensor, they didn’t increase the numbers. They improved the software engine of the camera that results in some of the finest jpegs from any small sensor camera, especially at higher ISO’s. But at what price? A limited choice of raw processors, more barrel and CA distortion (though cleverly handled by the in-camera software and Silkypix raw processor). But talking about price, it is probably also the cheapest high quality compact camera too in most parts of the world. Unless the Ricoh GX200 is well available in your country.

But what too expect from the near future? I think it is harder to predict future plans since the financial crisis. Many had hoped that more camera manufacturers would follow Sigma developing a compact camera with a larger sensor. This however would result in very high costs in the research and development, and that seems less likely today. At photokina, Ricoh stated to me that they want to improve the image quality of their GR Digital and GX cameras. I am not sure how, but I think the Panasonic method seems most likely. Less pixels, faster lens and better software engine. Sigma introduced the DP2 with a 40mm lens and faster processing at photokina, but with an uncertain release date for 2009.

Less compact, but still more compact then a dSLR is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1. Together with the kit lens it is not quite compact, but together with a M-mount wide angle lens it sure is (see it with a C-V 15mm here). And what about the expected Olympus m4/3 camera? The G1 is not at all cheap, and you can get better dSLR cameras for less. The Olympus camera will probably be in the same price range too.

Many, including me, had high expectations about the introductions of many serious compact cameras this year. In the end it was still much of the same though. We might still have to deal with many of the current limitations in the next few years. But these cameras will probably produce increasingly better jpegs with better denoising and dynamic range. But the raw files will make their flaws more noticeable too.

It is still good to know that a manufacturer tries to listen to its customers. Upcoming Sunday there will be a Ricoh meet up in London and some of the Ricoh Europe folks will be there too. See more information here at Ricoh Forum.

Now, the above will be fine when it still fits your style, capabilities, and creativity. In my opinion you shouldn’t buy a camera, because it will make better pictures. Finally, the camera is still just a box capturing light in a fashion you want it too. Make sure you master your camera and the photographs. And live with the thought that you know what you can do with your camera, instead of thinking what you can’t do with it. Take or make photographs, whatever, as long as you have fun.