The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Spectralia publicity photos

On Sunday the Spectralia Theater Company had me shoot their publicity stills for this summer's Comedy of Errors production. The play goes up this summer at several Chicago Park District parks as part of the Bard in the Parks program.

Doctor Pinch (Don Johnson) and Antipholous of Ephesus (Peter Ash):

The Courtezan of Ephesus (Mary-Kate Arnold):

The play opens June 29th at Ravenswood Manor Park in Chicago.

Why shoot raw instead of JPEG?

At last night's performance, the venue used dim, magenta lighting on the stage that made poor Lauren O'Connell look like a pink ghost. Here's one image exactly as it came out of my camera:

Fortunately, I shoot raw photos, which take up lots of room (about 22 MB each) but with the benefit of lots of uncompressed image information. It's therefore relatively easy, using Adobe Lightroom, to correct for it. Magenta lights are pretty grim, though; the only reasonable correction was to make it black and white:

Had I shot these as JPEGs, the correction would have been almost impossible. The raw format stores light in four layers, much like physical film does. JPEG compression "develops" it all together.

Plus, I have my camera set to interpolate a black frame under an exposed frame when shooting above ISO 1600. (This photo was shot at ISO 12,800.) That gives the processing software even more information to help produce a usable image from horrible conditions.

Always carry a gray card

I'm traveling for business right now so I don't have my real camera with me. I do, however, have a little pocket camera. I'm not disparaging the thing; it really does take better photographs than any digital camera I've owned except for the two SLRs. But after just shy of 29 years of photography, I've learned a couple of quick and easy techniques to help it along. (I wish I'd known these things when I shot on film, but who could have predicted the mind-blowing power of this decade's digital image editing software when the pinnacle of faithful photographic reproduction was Kodachrome 25?)

First among these techniques is to use a gray card whenever possible. This is a simple piece of cardboard that has a color-neutral, 18% reflective surface, that allows you to calibrate both the exposure and colors of a scene. They cost less than a take-out coffee and take up almost no room in your bag. They do two things: first, they tell you how much light is available on a scene, and second, they tell you what color the light is.

The first is harder to explain than the second. Suffice to say, your little pocket camera constantly has to guess at how much light to let in. Your eye does this automatically, opening and closing your iris as required for you to perceive, almost always, that there's just the right amount of light available. Cameras, being mechanical and not having brains, have to guess. The human eye can look at two different scenes, one of which having 32 times more light than the other, and not register a difference. If you walk under a bridge on a bright, sunny day, you can still see.

Cameras, being mechanical, can't do that. Modern cameras have automatic light meters that make really good guesses, and so most of your photos come out fine. But they make a lot of mistakes, too, particularly when the thing you want to photograph is really dark or really light.

Gray cards fix that. Your camera's light meter assumes that the average scene reflects 18% of the light falling on it, and adjusts the exposure to fit. A gray card really does reflect 18% of the light falling on it. So if you meter off a gray card, the photo will be correctly exposed.

Gray cards also fix colors. If you're in a room with incandescent light bulbs, your brain automatically corrects the colors of the things it sees. You know that's a white bedspread; you know that's a blue book cover. So your brain tells you, that's a white bedspread, and a blue book cover.

Cameras, however, don't have brains. And cameras can't see colors that aren't there. And incandescent light bulbs are orange. The consequence of these three facts is simply that a raw photograph of a white bedspread under incandescent light bulbs will look orange.

Here, for example, is a photo of my hotel room as the camera saw it:

Keep in mind, this is the correct exposure. I know this because I took a picture of my handy-dandy gray card before snapping this one. Not only did the gray card show me the correct exposure setting, but it also showed me the correct colors of the same scene, to wit:

Again, my real camera would have done a better photo, but at least with a gray card (and Adobe Lightroom), I can get reliable colors and exposures with a cheap little pocket camera.

Marylebone and vicinity

When visiting a familiar place, it helps to sit on the plane next to someone who lives there. The local person, recognizing that you've already done the tourist stuff, can recommend places that you might not see otherwise. I had this good fortune yesterday.

This afternoon I traipsed around Marylebone, which is just north of Hyde Park. My seat-mate recommended two places specifically, so I went to them. First, Daunt Books, on Marylebone High Street:

I love bookstores; I miss real bookstores; I could spend a day in this one:

After wishing for half an hour that I could buy half a tonne of books, I went around the corner to La Fromagerie. Next time I'm in London, I'm going to eat everything in the store. Even the little cold cheese room made me swoon. Instead of getting a 10-kilo variety pack, I settled for a simple, £2 medallion of unpasteurized goat cheese. Words are insufficient to describe it, other than to say, it was yum.

Then I hopped on the Tube to this famous location:

Yes, that's Abbey Road, and those are a bunch of tourists blocking traffic. In the 30 minutes I hung out there, no fewer than 10 groups posed on the zebra crossing. (I confess, I took photos for two of them.)

Now, off to find food and ale. Relatively early bed tonight: tomorrow the Chunnel.

Kodak on its deathbed

The Economist this week examines the imminent death of Kodak, which in the 1970s commanded 90% of the film market:

Then came digital photography to replace film, and smartphones to replace cameras. Kodak’s revenues peaked at nearly $16 billion in 1996 and its profits at $2.5 billion in 1999. The consensus forecast by analysts is that its revenues in 2011 were $6.2 billion. It recently reported a third-quarter loss of $222m, the ninth quarterly loss in three years. In 1988, Kodak employed over 145,000 workers worldwide; at the last count, barely one-tenth as many. Its share price has fallen by nearly 90% in the past year (see chart).

Despite its strengths—hefty investment in research, a rigorous approach to manufacturing and good relations with its local community—Kodak had become a complacent monopolist. Fujifilm exposed this weakness by bagging the sponsorship of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles while Kodak dithered. The publicity helped Fujifilm’s far cheaper film invade Kodak’s home market.

Another reason why Kodak was slow to change was that its executives “suffered from a mentality of perfect products, rather than the high-tech mindset of make it, launch it, fix it,” says Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard Business School, who has advised the firm. Working in a one-company town did not help, either. Kodak’s bosses in Rochester seldom heard much criticism of the firm, she says. Even when Kodak decided to diversify, it took years to make its first acquisition.

Management matters. And all things end. It's still sad.