24 Sep 2016

Photoproject: 100 visits to Seri Huamark Market (days 1-10)

After thinking carefully, I settled on one project that seemed attractive and feasible, and that fulfilled three criteria that I considered essential:
1) It was interesting for me (essential to keep me dragged and motivated over a long period of time).
2) It was near my neighborhood (helpful to fight against eventual laziness, might that arise at some point).
3) It was clearly defined yet flexible at the same time (which would bring structure while keeping things open to variation at the same time).

Day 01, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Day 01b, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Day 01c, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Deal! I would pay 100 visits to the same place, as often as I could, preferably every day unless I had some serious work-related compromises that would prevent it or if I was out of the city. The place shouldn't be too big so as not to risk dispersion but not too small to keep interest for such a prolonged period of time. I could go any time of the day or night and I would linger there until I had captured at least one image that made me happy, which could range from as little as 15 minutes to more than 1 hour. The idea behind the project was to explore a space that would start being alien and, slowly, make it my own through careful observation and familiarity.

Day 02, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Day 02b, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Day 02c, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
One place that fulfilled all those conditions was Seri Huamark Market (ตลาดโต้รุ่งเสรีหัวหมาก), a small fresh market in my neighborhood that I had past by countless times in the last six years but that I had never really paid any attention to, a place that represents the area where I live and my own life these past 6 years as good as any other place could. Done! That would be my hunting ground and the place where I would embark upon to regain my faded passion. 100 visits to Seri Huamark Market was therefore born and I was excited to start my voyage.

Day 03, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Day 03b, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
The number of days had no special meaning, it was just a number I considered to be significant enough to give me time to discover all the nooks and crannies of the market and to help me make it part of myself; the fact of the number being round would besides bring frame and a clear closure to the project, which would also be helpful. I paired the small GM1 with the PanaLeica 15mm, a combo that seemed to be the perfect match for this kind of street photography, and I was all set to start.

Day 04, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Day 04b, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Day 04c, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Day 04d, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
The firs days I visited the market in the afternoon, on my way back home after work, and I took my time to wander around to get a feel for it, for its dimensions, its flow, its colors, smells and people. Everything was new so I had no expectations or preconceptions of what I might find and capture whatsoever, I just walked slowly around the narrow aisles, smiling to the vendors, who where quite surprised to see a westerner with a camera in their realm and that, at first, showed not much interest in me. They kept doing their things as I walked past, though some of them seemed a bit uncomfortable with my presence around, even rejecting me when I approached them. In those instances I just smiled, and kept walking.

Day 05, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Day 05b, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Day 05c, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Day 05d, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Day 05e, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
For the most part, I kept my camera in aperture priority, as I focused mainly in static subjects; I usually shot at f4 to f5.6 because the interior of the market could be quite dark and I feared raising the ISO too much, but that increased the risk of out of focus areas in the images, so I slowly learnt how to compromise the different settings and I ended up working with Auto ISO and raising its limit to 6400, which gave me more leeway to adjust the other parameters and keep everything in focus.

Day 06, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Day 06b, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
The outdoor areas of the market were, however, much brighter, and this huge difference in brightness was a big challenge to the dynamic range of the camera, something that forced me to be always very careful with my backgrounds, my exposure and my composition, to avoid areas of harsh contrast. I had some interesting indoor images ruined by burned highlights in the outdoor backgrounds, which has taught me to be more careful with my composition afterwards, and adjust my perspective accordingly. In those instances were high dynamic range was unavoidable, I learnt to underexpose the image, as noise is always preferable to washed out whites.

Day 07, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Day 07b, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
As the days passed, I had only one motto in my mind: trying not to shoot the same scene twice. I forced myself to look for different subjects or different approaches, and this kept things fresh and interesting. The market was still new to me, so I never ran out of things to shoot and corners to discover, and, despite its humble size, every day seemed totally different from the previous ones, therefore I never fell into repetition during these first days. It remains to be seen if I can keep finding new angles and subjects in the subsequent 90 days!

Day 08, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Day 08b, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Day 08c, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Day 08d, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
These firs days were more about seeing than shooting, so I was not worried about the number of images I captured; I felt relaxed and excited, so I usually went back home with 20 to 100 images. Most of the days I knew straightaway what image would be the selected one, for it had been one of those eye-opening moments that happen unexpectedly, but other days I was not quite sure, and I would have to check the captures later in the computer to select the best one. But I decided that I would not check the pictures the same day of capture, I wanted to give them some room to breathe and I wanted to keep on shooting without thinking too much about my previous images, so I would sort out my photos only after every ten days were completed.

Day 09, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Day 09b, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
As for my discipline, I didn't miss a single day, so it was an encouraging beginning: I had not resorted to self-excuses or fallen into boredom or repetition at all, I had kept my plan and, in return, I had started to discover a place that seemed to offer plenty of opportunities. I was happy, I was motivated, I was eager to continue and see where the road would lead me, so I ended up the first 10 days in high spirits and willing to continue without interruption.

Day 10, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Day 10b, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Day 10c, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Day 10d, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Day 10e, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm

12 Sep 2016

My first photo project: overcoming photographer's block

A year ago I stumbled upon a surprising and unexpected guest: photographer's block. I don't really know what caused it but there it was, clear as day: I had no motivation to keep on shooting weekly as I had been doing for the past 2 years, and my cameras endured neglect for months; all that once was exciting and challenging had become unappealing and dull, and only occasional trips abroad were able to ignite the passion –albeit shortly– again. I had no idea when (if at all) that would finish. In the end, it lasted for about 10 months, until last May I decided it was about time to confront this drought and actively do something to fight against it. As a first step I joined a photography workshop, which made me realize that inspiration would not come back on its own and that I had to actively chase it; one of the methods suggested as an antidote was to embark on a personal project, which would give me FOCUS, something I was severely lacking before.

The way in, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Don't misunderstand me: that medicine wouldn't have helped in the slightest without the real driving force: my own determination to revert the situation. Once that had been set in motion, then, the rest of the things started falling into place progressively and, step by step, the machinery gained strength. The first thing to do was to set upfront a few, clear objectives that I wanted to accomplish with my project, and I synthesized them in just 2 words: COMMITMENT and PRACTICE. I wanted to recover the lost drive, and in order to achieve that I had to be more disciplined, which, in turn, would hopefully help me to improve my skills and to learn new things in the process.

Welcome, GX80 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
I had no preconceived idea of what I would do at the end with all the images captured, because all that mattered to me at that point was just having fun shooting as I once did. To keep me engaged and motivated throughout the project, I decided that I would post one picture a day in my Instagram account the following 100 days, and every 10 days I would write a post here in the blog documenting how things were progressing, showing the selected images plus some other captures that I liked. And with those few notions in my head, I only had to choose the theme of the project, and I was ready to start! So today I start this journey that, if nothing else, at least will bring me (and my cameras) out for a walk almost everyday. See you right away in Instagram and back here in 10 days with the first chapter!

The way out, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm

1 Sep 2016

On names and choices: review of Lumix GX80 / GX85 / GX7 II

Fortuitously, the day before I started my holidays, my usual dealer received the first commercial units of the Lumix DMC-GX80 and it took me only an hour to visit their store and own one of them. It was my first camera purchased since the diminutive GM1, two and a half years ago, that was still fully functional. Why did I buy a new camera, then? Had I outgrown my previous cameras (the aforementioned GM1 and my first body, the GH3, bought a year earlier)? Was it simply GAS? Today, three months of intensive shooting later, I can answer those questions quite comprehensively and, along the way, I will present my analysis of the camera through my personal experience with it.

Seso, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Guests, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Nacimiento del Río Cuervo, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Río Aragón Subordán, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
It's somehow symptomatic that the only 2 camera bodies that I have had since I became more serious in photography, almost 4 years ago, were the smallest (GM1) and biggest (GH3) that the micro 4/3 system of cameras has ever had. I landed in photography from videography, which made the GH3 the logical choice at that moment (January 2013); for a year, I shot exclusively with that camera and that's how I slowly learned the basics of photography and started my journey. Since the camera is quite bulky (considering the system it belongs to) I only used it in the weekends, when I used to go out for photowalks to practice.

Hikers, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Bargain, GX80 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Cool shade, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Workers, GX80 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Workers and hand, GX80 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
A year later, as my understanding of the basic tools and my enjoyment of photography grew wider, I wanted a smaller body that I could carry wherever I went for more occasional shooting or for those situations where small size really mattered, and that's why I bought the GM1. From that moment on, I kept using the two cameras alternatively, depending on my needs. Eventually I started carrying both bodies and using them simultaneously, each one paired with a different prime (a wide and a short telephoto) so I didn't need to swap lenses. This became my primary setup until recently, when I realized that carrying two cameras at all times was not always that practical. Here's how the new Lumix GX80 came to be a new member of my photographic arsenal.

Parking, GX80 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Smoking area, GX80 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Laundry, GX80 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
The Lumix DMC-GX80, GX85 or GX7II (in Europe, US and Japan respectively) sits between the GM1 and the GH3 in terms of size, so it is a medium-sized micro 4/3 camera, which is still small enough to carry in a handbag. Sure it is not pocketable but it definitely is more portable than the GH3, which makes it a better choice for everyday shooting since you will be more likely to carry it with you everywhere. And compared to the GM1, it offers much more versatility and direct control over the settings (viewfinder, small grip and double control wheels as prime examples). In my hands, it feels as the perfect balance between the former 2 bodies, to the point that, even though I didn't buy it as a replacement to either of them, it has actually ended up being exactly that. Using a Lord of the rings analogy, I could describe it as "a camera to rule them all", for its controlled size and its multiple options make it a great choice for a wide range of shooting scenarios, making it a great travel camera. It was the only camera I carried in my holidays through Spain and Italy and it was a great companion.

Cuenca, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Foro Romano, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Boltaña, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Abizanda, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
From a technical point of view, there is probably nothing I couldn't achieve with my previous cameras that the new GX80 would allow me to do; they all share very similar innards, so the decision to purchase it was not due to technical limitations (after all, it's the photographer that matters most). However, that is not to say that the newest model doesn't include new improvements and additions, and the 2 that were especially appealing to me, were:
1– In-Body stabilization that worked in conjunction with the lens-based OIS (none of my previous cameras had any sort of body IS), which would let me use longer shutter speeds, and that could potentially be a big deal in low-light photography to prevent ISO from getting to high, moreover opening the door for new creative possibilities, such as hand-held, longer-than-normal exposures.

Coliseum at night, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm (1/5 seconds, f1.8, ISO 200)
Red ghost, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm (0.4 seconds, f2.5, ISO 200)
Disproportion, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm (1/5 seconds, f1.7, ISO 800)
Calle Mayor at night, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm (1/5 seconds, f1.7, ISO 200)
2– Sensor without an anti-aliasing filter and a new shutter mechanism that promised to almost completely eliminate the shutter shock that had affected some earlier models. These two improvements promised images that would be a bit sharper and crisper and devoid of any blur, which seemed to be perfect for landscape photography, where every bit of detail counts.

Aguas Tuertas I, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Aguas Tuertas II, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Summer pastures, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Guarrinza, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Every new camera has its idiosyncrasies and requires some adjustments to find the way in which they work better for us, so after the initial trial and error period, we came to terms with each other and the shooting experience became much smoother. This is how I ended up configuring it:
1– I assigned the AE/AF button to act as a back-focus button, removing that functionality from the shutter-release button altogether. This way, the shutter-release would only shoot, skipping the re-focusing that happens every time you press it in autofocus mode. This is a perfect middle ground between autofocus and manual focus, because it lets you pre-focus at the desired distance and then shoot as many times as you want without any change of focus distance, which works great for street photography, for instance, where there is no second to lose with adjustments (granted, zone focusing with manual focus would be better, but since none of my cameras has distance scale marks I found this to be a good workaround).

Streets of Rome, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Girl with a fan, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Under construction, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Yellow and blue, GX80 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Overprint, GX80 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
2– I assigned the back control dial to directly adjust the exposure compensation (rather than doing so after clicking it, as it is set by default), so I didn't need to waste one step every time I wanted to adjust the exposure compensation; since I use aperture and shutter priority modes most of the times, depending on the depth of field or motion blur that I want in my images, this was the optimal solution because it assigns the front dial to control that parameter, while the back dial adjusts the exposure compensation. This combination has been of great help in architectural and geometrical photography to adjust to situations with challenging dynamic range.

Museo de Arte Abstracto Español (Cuenca), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
St. Peter's Dome Reflection, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Vatican Museum I, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Vatican Museum II, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
3– I set the fn1 button to control the metering modes, so I could quickly change between multi metering or spot metering. Finally, I kept the fn2 button as the quick menu, but I assigned the first option to control the focus modes. It's not as fast as having a dedicated focus mode dial (the thing I miss the most from the GH3 and GM1), but at least it lets you change between auto focus and manual focus fairly quickly in the lenses without a focus mode switch. This way I could be more precise with what I wanted in focus in those instances where autofocus would fail, such as through fences or foliage, or when I wanted to focus in very small and specific areas of the image.

Botijo, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Tyre frame, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Yellow and green, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
The remains of the wall, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
I always shoot RAW and process my images in Lightroom one by one without applying presets, so I can't comment on the quality and tonality of the .jpg files straight out of the camera; still, there is an option that I had never used before in my previous cameras that has turned out to be very useful: Panorama, which is accessible directly in the mode dial on top of the camera. Granted, the resulting file will be a .jpg, so you will lose flexibility and latitude for post-processing but, if done carefully, the images produced are very detailed.

Aguas Tuertas Panorama, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Boltaña panorama, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Foro Romano panorama, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Colisseum at night panorama, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
All in all, what more clearly summarizes the good opinion I have of this camera is that, since buying it, I have never used any other camera and, more importantly, I haven't missed anything from my previous models, which speaks volumes about the versatility of the GX80. Sure, every camera has its weak points, and in the case of the GX80 two are the most glaring ones for me (a limited battery, that definitely requires you to have a spare or two at all times; and an average viewfinder, a bit small to be comfortable for people wearing spectacles such as myself). On the other hand, the GX80 has some strong points that have been decisive for me, and those are: RAW images that are a bit crisper and sharper than previous models (which has forced me to reduce the default sharpening I apply to all files in LR upon importing), and a package that is small enough yet versatile at the same time, achieving almost anything necessary in a very balanced and comfortable design.

The end of the road, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
The clouds above, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Boltaña's castle, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
St. Peter's Dome, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Vatican Museum spiral staircase, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm