We landed on a cold night and made our way to our AirBnB. On the first day we looked at the castle and checked out the cup noodle museum. Learning how to use the trains wasn't easy with nearly no Japanese but we managed. We also visited Shinsekai and played the arcade games after shooting some sweet treats with a cork gun. Our first trip on the Shinkansen was when we left for Hiroshima.

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February 10, 2018

How To Do Photography

Part III: Exposure.

Exposure is literally the most important thing in photography. The term refers to the amount of light reaching the sensor as controlled by shutter speed, aperture and sensitivity. While this is a solid definition it never helped anyone learn anything. A neutral exposure can be defined as an exposure which produces an image where there is no detail lost in the highlights or the lowlights. However it's often said that the correct exposure produces the exact image that the photographer wants. Knowing how to expose an image using all the settings on your camera in manual mode is crucial to knowing how to take good pictures.

The key to exposure is control and balance. Like a zen master you need to find the right balance of the three most important settings on your camera.

A balance of these three settings can produce any result the photographer wants.

The first in the triad is ISO, sometimes known as sensitivity or speed, it is a measure of how sensitive the sensor is to light. This setting provides the broadest level of in-camera control over the lighting in the shot. Lower ISO numbers mean that the sensor is less sensitive to light and higher ISO numbers mean that the sensor is more sensitive to light. The best practice is to use the lowest practical ISO in any given scenario in order to avoid noise and loss of detail. At ISO 100 (generally the lowest most cameras will go) your images will be sharp and free of noise but the camera will need a well lit scene. At higher ISOs the image will be brighter and it will be easier to shoot in the dark, or at narrower apertures, but noise will start to appear and detail will be lost.

Aperture has been covered pretty well in my previous post but it's still an important part of the triad of settings that a photographer has to use to get the effect they want. The measurement is given by an 'f-number' which goes from as low as 0.95 on some lenses to as high as 36. Aperture, while just as broad a setting as ISO in terms of lighting, has a huge effect on not only the lightness of the image but the sharpness and the focus as well. Lower (or wider) apertures lower the depth of field while allowing lots of light into the image. This means that typically if you focus on a subject while using a wide aperture then that subject will be the only thing in focus and everything else will be blurred. A wide aperture will also let more light onto the sensor which allows you to use a lower ISO and avoid noise. At higher (or narrower) apertures the image becomes sharper, the depth of field increases and less light is let in. When shooting at narrower apertures you need to use a higher ISO to avoid underexposing the shot.

Shutter speed is the last in the triad of settings. Usually expressed as a fraction of a second, it's literally a measurement of how long the shutter is open and the sensor is exposed to light. Higher shutter speeds mean that the sensor is exposed for less time and lower speeds mean that the sensor is exposed for longer. This is the finest adjustment of the three and it has its own side effects. Ultra fast exposures will freeze motion in the frame and eliminate any camera shake or motion blur but because they allow so little light in they need to be used at high ISO. Shutter speeds of one second and slower are known as long exposure. Long exposure will allow for shooting in extremely dark conditions at low ISO and narrow apertures but to shoot long exposure the camera has to be mounted on a tripod or the shot will be extremely blurred.

Your camera has tools that help you determine how your shot is exposed. The main in-camera assistant is the EV Meter. Image description The EV meter measures the exposure value of the scene and allows you to control your exposure by showing you if your shot is overexposed or underexposed and by how much. An EV meter reading of 0 will mean a neutral exposure, positive readings mean brighter images and negative readings mean darker images.

Controlling your exposure is the most important part of taking quality photos. Every DSLR has these settings but they're accessed in different ways. Reading your camera's manual is the best way to learn how to use your individual camera but for reference purposes I will use a Canon 500D because the settings are well laid out on screen and the Canon's control layout is pretty standard and most DSLRs can be used in a very similar way. Image description

First off we need to set the camera to manual mode. This is done with the mode dial usually found on the top of the camera. Image description The mode dial has many icons for all the different modes on the camera but for manual we will set it to M. Image description

Then we will locate the control dial on the camera. More professional DSLRs have more than one dial for quick adjustment of various settings but almost every DSLR will have one dial which is usually set to shutter speed in M mode. Image description To adjust the shutter speed, just rotate the dial until you see the shutter speed you want on the screen.

Changing the ISO is done by pressing the dedicated ISO button Image description and then rotating the dial to select the desired setting. Image description Usually you can dismiss the setting menu by pressing the ISO button again or with a half press of the shutter button.

The aperture setting is slightly more complicated. Some cameras will have a button that lets you change the aperture with the dial but many don't. In order to change the aperture on this Canon we have to press SET in the middle of the directional pad Image description and then use the directional keys to select the aperture setting. Image description The dial will then work as normal. You can also modify other settings this way. A half press of the shutter will lock in your settings. When configured for a neutral exposure the EV meter will show a reading of 0.

It's important to learn to use your own camera by reading the manual. If you bought yours without a manual then just google the manual for your camera and read it online. This will be the last How to do Photography until after I come back from Japan but in the next Photography How To we will cover focusing.


February 2, 2018

How to do Photography

Part II: Getting a lens. Buy a vintage prime.

To understand lenses you need to understand two basic numbers. The focal length and the aperture.

Focal length is the distance from the point where all the rays of light meet inside the lens to the sensor. This tells us the angle of view and the magnification. The lower the number the wider the angle of view will be and the lower the magnification will be. The higher the number the narrower the field of view will be and the higher the magnification will be. This is pretty simple. Low focal length means wide angle. High focal length means zoomed in.

Aperture is more complicated but also more important. Aperture is a measurement of how much light the lens allows onto the sensor. At the rear of the lens there is a hole and this hole can be made wider or narrower to change the amount of light that's let in. Image description The ratio of the width of this hole and the focal length calculates the 'f-number', a numerical representation of the aperture. For instance, f/1.7 on a 50mm lens will mean that the hole will be roughly 28mm wide. Image description Lower f numbers mean wider apertures and higher f numbers mean narrower apertures. Most lenses have a range of apertures e.g. f/1.7:22. This measurement has a huge impact on the final image. Wider apertures will mean more light let in and focus being concentrated on a very narrow plane. Image description Narrower apertures will mean less light being let in but more things will be in focus. Image description When choosing between two lenses with the same focal length the lens capable of a lower aperture is almost always better; f/1.4 is better than f/3.5. Often, lenses capable of lower apertures will be called 'fast'. Most lenses will be capable of high apertures but not all lenses will be capable of the lowest apertures. This is a very important factor when choosing a lens. Usually, the faster the lens is the more it will cost.

When you choose a lens you also need to remember that it has to be compatible with your camera body's lens mount, a Pentax K mount lens will not fit on a Canon EF mount body unless you buy an adaptor. Adaptors can be a great help but will often reduce your lens to purely manual operation unless you pay a lot of money for a 'smart adaptor' that allows signals to be sent between the electrical contacts on the lens and the camera. Image description If your camera body has no built-in stabilisation you also need to consider whether or not the lens has image stabilisation built in. Likewise, if you have no in body autofocus you need to know whether or not the lens has autofocus built in or if you do have in body autofocus whether or not the lens can connect to it.

The last major thing to remember is the difference between prime lenses and zoom lenses. A prime lens is a lens that has only one focal length. Image description Prime lenses do not zoom. Primes are often said to produce better images because the light has to go through fewer elements before it hits the sensor and because prime lenses are often capable of lower apertures. Prime lenses will have just one focal length such as 50mm or 35mm. Zoom lenses are lenses that can cover a range of focal lengths which means that they can zoom into, or out of, a scene. Image description Often when looking at zoom lenses you will see a range of focal lengths such as 18-55mm or 70-300mm. The advantage of a zoom lens is the flexibility they offer.

If you already have a kit lens then for learning how to compose photographs a prime lens will stand you in much better stead and if you need the flexibility of a zoom then you have your kit lens as a backup. My advice for buying a second lens is to buy a vintage prime lens. Vintage lenses usually cost less while offering high image quality. However, they may not have autofocus or built-in stabilisation and you might have to set the aperture manually using the aperture ring on the lens instead of through the camera. This shouldn't discourage you because the experience of manual focus and using the aperture ring will bring you closer to understanding exposure and help you to become a better photographer. When buying vintage lenses be mindful that they were mostly made for full frame film cameras and therefore with an APS-C sensor there will be a crop factor applied. This means that you have to multiply your focal length by a factor of 1.5.

If you have a Canon body then your lens choice will be decided mostly by your budget. Canon changed their lens mount when they introduced autofocus and made their FD mount obsolete. There are EF mount lenses available but they aren't cheap and unless you're willing to shell out some serious cash they won't be stabilised. There is an online Canon lens database to help with finding a good lens. Buy vintage for best value and if crop factor is an issue then Canon do make a range of lenses designed for APS-C cameras which have the EF-S designation for their lens mount. If you have an EF-S mount lens then the focal length will be exactly what it says on the lens.

Nikon is a slightly different story. The Nikon F mount has been around for a very long time just like the Pentax K mount and there is a wide selection of lenses available. However, they are not cheap. You might be able to find some bargains at eBay auction or on your local classified ads website. Just like for Canon there is a Nikon lens database.

If you followed the advice of the previous post and bought a Pentax with a Kit Lens then you will have the easiest time buying a vintage prime. There are many available for the Pentax K mount and all of them are different. My favourite is the SMC Pentax A 50mm f/1.8. It cost me AU$50 and it shoots beautiful crisp images with vivid colour. It has auto aperture but no autofocus but at the price I paid, I didn't mind. When I got tired of manually focusing it I found out that Pentax made an adapter that allowed its manual focus lenses to have autofocus at the expense of some light and a slight increase in focal length. This adapter is rare and pricey but well worth the money for the ability to autofocus all your vintage lenses. If my favourite lens isn't your pick then there is a Pentax Lens Database online with reviews and test shots to help you choose.

Now that you know how to buy a lens you're all set to learn how to use your gear properly. In the next post we will be discussing the three main elements of photography and how they relate to exposure.


January 26, 2018

How to do Photography

Part I: Getting your first camera: why you should just buy a Pentax.

I'm no kind of guy to mess around with my words. If you want to read as little as possible about what kind of camera to buy then go on eBay and get a used Pentax DSLR body from a few years ago with a basic Sigma kit lens. Image description If that's as much advice as you needed then you can stop reading now. If you want to know why I think that this is the best advice then keep reading.

The trick to buying your first 'proper camera' is to first understand how photography works. It's true that a good photographer is never limited by their equipment but if you're just starting out then sayings like these won't be any help to you. You need a camera that you can learn on and it's not easy to pick one. It can't be a compact point and shoot and it can't be your phone camera. I suggest buying an inexpensive, used DSLR. They have a real viewfinder for composition and advanced controls that allow the photographer to change how the sensor interprets light. These features make them the best to learn on as well as the choice for most professionals. I'm not recommending a mirrorless camera simply because while the newer ones are excellent they are still quite pricey. With that in mind here are the minimum requirements for a good first camera:

  1. Interchangeable Lenses This is the most important. A camera is split intwo two fundamental halves. A body and a lens. Image description The body processes the light that goes through the lens and makes it into a picture. The lens focuses the light so that the body can process it. There is no use for one without the other and a good camera system has to allow you to change lenses. In order to understand how to take a good picture it's crucial to be able to see and feel the impact lenses have on photography. Your camera can have the best of everything else but if you can't change out the optics then you won't be able to learn much.
  2. Toughness In order to learn to take pictures one must first take pictures. Chase Jarvis said 'The best camera is the one that's with you'. If your camera is too fragile to be taken anywhere or used in the rain then you will find your opportunities to learn severely limited. You can't be precious with it. It will get dropped and bashed on stuff in the course of its use. It needn't be bomb proof but it can't be made of tinfoil and imagination either.
  3. In-Body AF AF stands for Auto Focus. AF isn't essential for taking pictures. Many good photographers and even many amateur photographers got by without AF before it was invented. However, its benefits are too great to be ignored. Most importantly AF massively reduces the time needed to take a picture. Simply put, you can't catch that decisive moment if you're too busy focusing your equipment. Image description In-body AF is important because it makes lenses cheaper to buy. It's usually regarded as worse than in-lens AF because it uses a louder and slower motor to do the focusing but I'm not writing a series on videography so loudness doesn't matter and the speed difference is only perceptible if you compare with the newest and most expensive lenses. It's important to mention here that if the lens isn't compatible with the in-body AF system (e.g. vintage lenses from before AF was a thing) then it won't autofocus even if you have in-body AF.
  4. In-Body IS IS stands for Image Stabilisation. It's hugely important. Unlike AF, IS is a true necessity. Without it your limp jelly noodle arms will wobble around and ruin all the best shots even when you're desperately trying to keep the camera as still as possible. I have no idea how photographers managed without stabilisation for so long. It's important that it's in the body for exactly the same reason that AF is important in the body. Image description
  5. Many Lenses The lens probably has more impact on the quality, look and feel of a photograph than the body. When learning it's important to be able to experiment with different lenses. Image description To do this you need to be able to fit as many lenses on your camera as possible. This means a lens mount that hasn't changed for a while.
  6. Decent Sensor The sensor is what's replaced film in a digital camera. It literally digitises the light that falls on it into a photograph that you can edit, print and share on instagram. They come in different formats but usually you are choosing betwen a Full Frame sensor and a cropped sensor. Image description Full frame refers to a sensor that is the same size as a full 35mm film frame. They're still quite expensive and only recently became mainstream enough in cameras that the average person can afford. Cropped sensors refers to anything less than full frame with the most common being APS-C and Micro Four Thirds. They all have a disadvantage when compared to Full Frame and a true comparison is for another article. Most of the cameras within an aspiring beginner's budget will have an APS-C sensor. Note that I haven't mentioned anything about megapixels at all and that's because above 8MP they do not matter in a vast majority of cases.
  7. Shooting RAW RAW is a type of image file which is not compressed. What this means isn't super important right now and I will cover it in a later article but it is hugely important that your first camera can save images in a RAW file format. Most DSLR cameras can do this so you needn't worry, just keep it in mind.

Here's the part where I tell you why you should buy a Pentax and give you some pointers on how to find one for a good price. Put simply, the only camera that fills every check on that list while remaining at a reasonable price point will be a Pentax.

Canon and Nikon are the industry heavyweights to be sure. I prefer Canon, I learned most of the basics on a Canon and I like them. Nikons are good too, I'll be the first to admit that I haven't used them much but everyone I know who has says that they're great. If you look at reviews you'll see that both brands are largely the same.

Pentax is another venerable name in the industry but its days of dominance are in the past. Now it makes excellent DSLR cameras that are known for their great value and feature rich bodies. Almost every Pentax body has built in AF and IS. Even the cheapest DSLRs from Pentax are weatherproofed and most of their DSLR bodies are manufactured with a strong metal chassis.

They have an impressive collection of vintage lenses stretching way back into the film era which are still compatible with their modern DSLR bodies because their lens mount hasn't changed since 1975. There's even an adapter made by Pentax that although rare and somewhat pricey will make any lens autofocus.

In short, most Pentax camera bodies will hit every point on this list and with a kit lens will make up an ideal for a first camera. They are easy to learn on and allow for growth in skill as time goes on. They can also be found for far less money than a Canon or a Nikon. Usually if you search on an online classified ad website or eBay you can find a full kit with a medium level body, kit lens, bag, charger as well as all the necessary cables and a strap for less than US$300 you just have to go back a few model years. It will be literally all you need for a long time and while it won't be as cool as a Sony A6500 or a Canon 1D it will be easy to learn on, tough enough to withstand many environments and cheap enough that even if you don't find photography that interesting you won't have spent a huge boatload of cash.

Most importantly, don't forget that a good camera isn't even half of what you need. It's incredibly important but so are many other things and they all need to be balanced. This is a recurring theme in photography. If you need help buying a camera then feel free to e-mail me and I'll do my best to be helpful and stay tuned for the next article where I show you how to buy a lens. Image description


January 23, 2018

Why Bobby Burns is What The World Needs Right Now


Among all the other things that Social Media has killed in recent years sincerity is probably number one. I'm not one to harp on about a 'post-truth' world, that has been written about many times over. However, honesty and sincerity definitely have less value than they used to.

Let's deconstruct what this phenomenon is by looking at what honesty means. Here's what Wikipedia says:

Honesty refers to a facet of moral character and connotes positive and virtuous attributes such as integrity, truthfulness, straightforwardness, including straightforwardness of conduct, along with the absence of lying, cheating, theft, etc. Honesty also involves being trustworthy, loyal, fair, and sincere.

Straightforwardness and sincerity feature heavily in this definition and when you look at the concept of honesty through this lens it's not hard to see how there's been less of it in the last couple of decades. Social media is, at least partly, to blame. The vast majority of people use social media. We use it to keep in touch with people and share our lives with others. However, and this is no surprise, when we use it we present an image of ourselves which, for obvious reasons, isn't real.

Nobody wants to read about, let alone see, the huge dump I took earlier and if I went on facebook and religiously documented my life without obscuring any part of it I would, at the very least, probably be banned from facebook. If we look at someone's Instagram profile we will make inferences about that person that have very little to do with reality. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Privacy is important and a world with no secrets would lead to all kinds of trouble when combined with other aspects of the human condition. Secrets are secret for a reason. But a phenomenon like catfishing someone would've been comparatively impossible in the pre-social media days.

Film, TV and even the news media are just as much to blame. We don't talk about it but most of the entertainment we consume is, at some level, a form of art. In today's saturated media landscape it's hard to escape it and yet, it presents just as distorted a reality to us as we do to each other. This is also not without its reason and in most cases the distortion is, far more obvious than the distortions which are inherent to social media. While it might be easy to forget that the guy who always posts awesome party stuff to his facebook isn't always popping champagne in the club surrounded by attractive women, we all know movies aren't real. With other forms of media the lines get blurry.

YouTube is overtaking TV as the primary method of distribution for video based content consumed on a daily basis. With vloggers like Casey Neistat showing us how awesome life can be it's easy to forget that their life isn't always like that. Review channels and gaming streams and all the other myriad forms of content on YouTube do this to some degree. And we, as an audience, empathise with these poeple a lot more than we do with film stars and TV hosts.

The news media, while not technically a form of art, is also to blame for the distortion of reality. Most news outlets try to appear impartial on the surface but they have just as much bias in them as everything else. While facts are often presented as they are, just as often they are given a spin to influence our opinion in some way, and we don't even notice it because we trust the authoritative source that they come from.

However, it is on YouTube that our hero of the modern age produces his content to be consumed by the masses. His name? Bobby Burns.

At 20 years old he looks like any YouTuber, however, there is one feature of his content that makes him stand out. It's his pursuit of honesty, sincerity and straightforwardness.

As an example, a video he posted, titled How To Emotionally Manipulate Your YouTube Audience makes a point. The point is simple: everyone manipulates their YouTube audience through use of specific techniques in order to make the viewer understand and identify with their message.

He makes it clear that while this isn't necessarily wrong to do it's definitely duplicitous. This video made some waves, one of the techniques mentioned in it even became a kind of meme, but it's only one example of a type of honesty and straightforwardness that is rarely seen by the public today. In fact, I haven't seen any other example of a modern entertainer that makes such a point of being honest with their audience and of criticising the aspects of our entertainment culture which propagate dishonesty.

This is why we need Bobby Burns. I'm being somewhat tongue in cheek here, of course. Bobby Burns isn't a superhero that will save the world from itself. He isn't the only honest person in the world and he's definitely not the messiah, but his approach is sorely lacking in our public discourse. As our worldview is becoming more and more distorted, people become more partisan and less open to debate. The advertising economy combined with sophisticated data-mining has made content which opposes a person's worldview harder to come across without deliberately looking for it. That means that when we look into the mirror of art hoping, even subconciously, to see a reflection of the true world around us we just get our own distorted view right back. This effect wreaks havoc on our society.

In a world where we lie to ourselves and everyone around us while everyone else lies to us on a daily basis, maybe the mirror our society holds up to itself in order to see its flaws should try it's best to tell the truth.


January 16, 2018

A new age of stupidity.

The passing of 2017 into 2018 brought with it many things. It brought hope, aspirations, renewal and idiots.

The internet can be viewed as many things, a wonderful technology that provides boundless new opportunities to the world, a medium of communication, a series of tubes, a repository mostly filled with pictures of cats, the list could go on forever. I propose another angle: The internet is a lens into our collective psyche.

This definition suits the internet quite well. Even as it's becoming more commercialized and less free the internet continues to provide deep insight from even a cursory glance at the myriad content that is shared on it every day. It shows us a deep new division in our society. It shows us the boundless creativity of human beings. It can make us extremely happy and It can make us deeply sad. It reinforces our safe, cozy beliefs in the name of targeted advertising and if most people were asked what they use a computer for then they would almost invariably answer with some version of: 'mostly browsing the internet'.

And yet, it also seems to be the fastest way to propagate the stupidest ideas that anyone in the history of all time has ever thought of. There are so many of them that it can be hard to draw an example but 2018 is still young and there is one idea that is at least SFW and new enough to actually be worth talking about n this blog. I present to you today Raw Water.

Apparently, dying of dysentery is a new health fad. Raw water is water that has not been processed to make it fit for human consumption. It's used for construction, farming and cleaning. But now Raw Water is water that has been sourced from some random spring and then bottled and sold directly to stupid people by a company whose website is so full of absolute bullshit that it reads like a parody. Claiming that it's full of 'natural probiotics' and 'bio available minerals' the water will: "upgrade your brain's entire operating system to the best computer chips available". They also add a video of some random dude getting water from pipes and forest puddles.

Anyone who believes this needs a brain upgrade. The proponents of getting water from a random spring conveniently forget to mention the high quantities of literal shit and piss in the water and the high chance of many many diseases that you can get from drinking it. Maybe this will die out, or maybe the people who believe this nonsense will die out. Nothing of value will be lost either way.

January 15, 2018