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

Always more to come

2012, Photography


For good a week I have been trying some Adobe Lightroom and Nik Silver Efex Pro presets developed by Don Springer, aka Streetshooter, and Olivier Duong. These presets are designed to give your photographs a hard and gritty look. These photographs were done with one of the Silver Efex Pro presets with a bit less grain and some dodging and burning. I intend to write more extensively about these presets in another blog post soon and try to give you some insight in some of my (ir)rational reasoning that I have in my photography, post processing, workflow, personal ethics and decisions that lead up to this. These decisions might have lead to things that work for me, but might not work for others or sound completely illogical based on common knowledge and proven technology.

Through the frame

All photographs by Wouter Brandsma

Cumbersome indeed and a bit of everything

2012, Image editing, Photography

It took me a while to think of a new blog post again (I don’t feel a pressure to regular post new stuff though) and that has partly come because I currently hardly photograph. I guess, more than expected, I needed a break from photography. Much of my work in the past year dealt with converting my moods into imagery, sometimes consciously, but often subconsciously. A friend recently showed some concept of his new photography blog and that excited me. And made me realize too that much of the stuff I did was not always about happiness and joy. Mood? Yes. Honesty? I tried. I think what I miss is something to desire, a mood, a feeling, something pretty and pleasant. More than ever before I look forward to this upcoming Summer.

Since December 2007 I run my own photography blog and shared my photographs online. I don’t do it to become popular, well known, or to start up a business. sharing makes perfect sense for me in photography, the people I met ever since were worth all the effort. And yes, I had my worries of image theft or people sharing my work without mentioning. But I lightened up on this issue which I mention clearly in my About page. A couple of days ago I was shocked when I received an e-mail where someone claimed the two photographs in the previous post, Almost Human, were actually his. First of that claim was just ridiculous. I know these photographs are mine, I took them, I processed them, I know where and when I took them, which camera I used, and I know who where with me. I told it to my wife and she was flabbergasted (she was with me on both occasions). The claim is stupid, but with current internet legislation I feel the content makers are very vulnerable.

E-mail with the insinuation

Then I more closely inspected that mail and I noticed that the person, not leaving behind additional contact information, attempted to redirect me through a strange link to my blog post. This felt untrustworthy. The strange link and, I presume, the false identity. I immediately changed my password for my blog content management system and I contacted It felt like an attempt to hack either my blog or something else. Again it emphasizes the vulnerability of our online presence and the evilness some people unfortunately have within them. Yet it pisses me off, you know. These punks should get a life, go to school, do something meaningful with their lives and for our society, and they should tell their mothers what a jerks they are. I thought the best response trying to forget this was to write a new blog post. It is my blog, and these are my photographs, my musings.

Since November last year I made no effort writing about gear. You see, I believe a camera is just a tool. There are probably lots of reasons why you decided to use a specific camera (I know I have), but I feel no need to defend this. An important reason why I stay away from forums, because too often people troll to give great significance to their reasoning and bash anything else. Just stupid. But I prefer certain tools and I know many visitors on my blog come here for this fact too. As much as I hope it would be for my photography alone I realize it matters others what gear I use and what can be done with certain cameras (and lenses).

Well that said, my preferred cameras are the Panasonic GF1 with the 20mm pancake lens and a Ricoh GR Digital 3. While I really like the GF1, it does feel like a replaceable camera to me. The Ricoh however is more than that. If I replace this camera, it would only be with a new GR Digital model. Since end 1996 I replaced my SLR for a Ricoh GR1 and I was really glad to get a digital replacement in 2009. No other camera forced me to work so consciously with a minimal set up. Just a 28mm prime lens and that is it.

The current version, the GRD4, still uses the same sensor that was introduced with the GRD3. Sony stopped producing this sensor and that makes me wonder what Ricoh should do for next year. Ricoh acquired Pentax last year, but yet haven’t decided or at least announced proper plans for their full camera line up. I think their current line up has a few noticeable and distinctive cameras like the Pentax 645D, the K-5, and the Ricoh GRD4. The K-5 has one of the best APS-C sized sensors and is a really good camera. The GRD4 is a true cult camera and loved and faved by many photographers, especially in Asia. The sensor however is outdated and the competition is getting better and better. Now Sony introduced the RX100 with a new 1 inch sensor and I really believe this is the sensor that Ricoh should incorporate in the new GR Digital 5 next year. It is a huge step beyond the small sensors used until now. Greater dynamic range and better high ISO performance. And while the current GRD is well developed in it’s current form, I believe it makes sense to get the GRD form factor closer to the original GR1 series with a viewfinder.

And returning back to the Pentax Ricoh camera line up I think their problem is in the mirrorless cameras, the Pentax K-01 and the Ricoh GXR series. While both are unique and use interesting technologies, I believe these cameras are commercially speaking not really successful. The K-01 lacks the option to use an electronic viewfinder and looks rather ought. And when it comes to the GXR I personally feel only the M-mount module is really worth all the effort. And innovating technology alone doesn’t necessarily make a camera system commercially interesting.

Enough cameras though. Recently I started using the previous year released Lightroom VSCO film presets by Visual Supply Co for my own processing. One of the most well known photographers who contributed his knowledge to these presets is American wedding photographer Sean Flanigan with his distinctive style. Both his shooting and posing techniques with tilt and shift lenses became fashionable in the wedding photography industry. Soon after that his processing style popped up all over the place. With the release of these presets it is now even easier to achieve this look. Honestly, I think this look is now overdone in the wedding photography, but still I find these presets very intriguing. In my opinion these are the first development presets for Lightroom that can generate continuity and consistency in the post processing on multiple photographs. Soon I will publish my impressions on these presets and how I try to use these for my photography.

I hope all is well to you and good light!

All photographs by Wouter Brandsma