FARMERS CARPARK

I’ve been quite fascinated with the old Farmers Carpark across the road from my work place in the city ever since I serendipitously discovered the photographic opportunities it provides earlier in July this year. This carpark was built in the 1950s and served as the carpark for what could be the most prestigious store in New Zealand at that time, Farmers. The carpark consists of two buildings connected by multiple bridges on each level, linking one building to another.

The highlight for me is the stairwell that rises from the middle of the roof top level, the corresponding stairwell on the other side and the industrial look of the building. As a bonus, the Art Deco Farmers store which is now the Heritage Hotel and a wall of interesting buildings serve as backdrop to two sides of the carpark.

Most of the time, I visit the carpark at lunchtime as it is generally when I do my photo walks.  Given I don’t have much of choice of what time I can visit the carpark, I make do with the angle of the sun and try and find my shots. However, what has always been a little disappointing to me is the large number of cars that park at this busy carpark. In my mind, I see two shots, both of the industrial stairwell. The first shot is a clean view of the stairwell without any cars and the second, the stairwell with a single classic car by the side.

I thought I break the cycle of workweek afternoon shots by cycling over this Saturday morning in the hope of a empty carpark before 8am. These are the result of my morning’s effort. I did not get the shots I was after but they are a record of what could be. I enjoyed being the only person in the carpark. Like a pencil holding rebel, I cycled up and down the bridges, going the opposite way, up and down the bridges connecting the two buildings. That hour of solitude composing the shots the way I want with no fear of my subjects looking up was very peaceful and nice. Great way to end a tough week.

Capturing a Simpler Approach

I’ve been trialling Capture One for the past week trying to see if it is a good alternative to Lightroom. The way I shoot now requires me to try and get it right in camera with straight out of camera jpegs rather than processing raw files after the shoot. While I enjoy processing raw files, and I don’t usually spend more than 2-3 minutes per file, I like how the jpegs I see after the shoot matches what I see when I bring the viewfinder up to my eye.

Having said that, I’m not averse to processing raw files. I’m still earning to gauge the right film simulation, shutter speed, iso and aperture combinations that achieve the right look. As such, there are still times when my manual approach fails and I need the power of post processing to get the right outcome.

Lightroom worked really well in the past. And I’m sure it still does. There is a lot of talk online about how Fuji raw files get butchered by Lightroom while Capture One treats Fuji files better. Given that I’m not printing my shots commercially and my print sizes are rarely large enough for pixel peeping, I’m happy with how Lightroom manages my raw files. In addition, my migration to using g jpegs with minimal editing also lessens the argument for switch to Capture One.

My week long experience with Capture One indicates that Capture One is a very powerful tool. In terms of photo editing capability, it is more powerful than Lightroom and you can do so much more. However, Lightroom and Capture One provide the same functionality and results for fundamental tools like exposure, colour and composition tools. It is the other more advanced photo editing functions where Capture One excels. For example, Capture One provides a full suit of tools on a layer while Lightroom provides a small suite of tools on local adjustments. The learning and adapting curve is steep. But I enjoy the process of learning something new. Strangely, there is a lot of fun watching YouTube guides and googling for solutions. The honest truth is that given the way I shot and edit, there is little difference between Capture One and Lightroom,.

I’m trying to take a simpler approach to life. From how I dress to how I approach my work life, I’m trying to see how a more casual existence can help me regain a more balanced view of life and a better mental health. The way this thinking translates to real life means that I don’t buy what is necessary, I dress simply, I try to eat healthily and I make time for yoga and meditation. When it comes to photography, I’ve got my one lens per week approach and a simple set of 5 custom settings (recipe) that define my look. I could have easily stuck to Lightroom. It is a simple NZD$16 per month “rent” to use the software. However, the idea that I could potentially purchase a product for less than a year’s “rent” and use it for longer than a year appeals.

I’m still in two minds. NZD$16 is not a lot of money each money. This is especially so when I spend so much more gorging myself on treats likes takeaways and pastries. But if I reduce my expenses, it could help me in the future when a simpler life could mean a different job with less money or moving to more a rural setting with less job opportunities. Oh well. more thinking and exploring. There is still 3 more weeks in my Capture One trial.

These shots were taken today and processed using Capture One.

Tuesday in the City

Tuesday was good. Tuesday was amazing. I had to go to the office to sort out an IT issue for my team. That means a chance to shoot in the city and more importantly, more food options.

Lunch was at Chamate, a Chinese restaurant on Swanson. Customers enter, sit and place their orders on an order slip and hand it over to the waiter. Not me. It says a lot when the staff already know what I want. TC3 – Butter Prawns. Either I visit too often or I always order the same thing. Or maybe both.

After lunch, I camped out at a spot by the entrance to the restaurant and captured these shots.

Moving on from that spot, I walked through town towards Britomart. Like most cities, Auckland is constantly undergoing road or building works. But at Covid alert level 3 and the recent move to 2.5, there seems to be even more construction work. Maybe with so many people working from home, the fluorescent vests standout even more.

There is a good reason why I won’t go down the film route. I tend to take multiple shots of the same scene. Multiple shots does not mean two or three. I’m talking 20-30. It might not be a good reason but it is a good reason for me as I’m as tight arse… except when it comes to food. 1 doughnut is not enough. Let’s throw in a slice of lemon pie too.

I ended up with these 2 shots from a pool of around 50 shots of this scene. I deleted most of them without having a second thought. But I’m happy with these two straight out of camera shots.

You can also Forage in Eden Terrace

Following a week of beautiful weather, I was crossing my fingers for sun to light my photograph walk on Saturday morning. Alas, it was not to be. The light was subdued at 9am from a sky covered with cloud. On a positive note, it was not as cold and it did not look like it was going to rain. Decision made. I’m going out to continue my exploration of Eden Terrace from Thursday’s burger run. Eden Terrace is only 3km away. I could cycle. But who am I kidding? I jumped into my car and off I went.

Like the analyst that I am, I drew a 3 x 3 grid pitting lighting conditions with colour temperature. Essentially, I was trying to understand which custom setting should I use in different conditions. Based on my grid, today’s conditions is Flat Light and Neutral/Cold colour temperature. Based on my grid, I should either be using Ritchie Roesch’s Kodachrome II custom setting or Luis Costa’s Classic Negative setting. However, I decided to work with my Classic Chrome custom setting. Let’s see how it works today.

Eden Terrace is small suburb around 3km wide and 1km deep. There is a mix of residential, social and commercial properties with varying levels of modernity and grunge. Eden Terrace is gentrifying like all city fringe suburbs forced to move with the times. Here are the shots from today.

This is my favourite shot of the day.

The gem of my Saturday morning would have to be the chance encounter with a foraging uncle. In Singapore, we call anyone about 10 years old than us “uncle” even though there isn’t any blood relationship. Earlier in the morning, I had taken some photos of the urban graffiti on the empty plot of land sandwiched between buildings on three sides.

As I got into my car to leave, I saw an uncle in the same spot foraging. Going against, all my instincts, I went up to him to strike a conversation. Apparently, he is foraging for herbs that go into Chinese baos (buns). I can’t remember what the herb was as I was more focused on trying to hold a conversation in Chinese. All I remember is that it is something 香(fragrant). It looked like the fine thread like leaves of an giant bush of fennel.

Last thought, I think my custom setting managed to capture a true reflection of the scene. There was no unnatural warmth that can come from a Classic Negative based simulation or a Kodachrome II film simulation. This custom setting for my Fujifilm Xpro3 is a good base for Auckland’s winter/spring scene.

Lockdown level 2.5

Auckland moved to lockdown level 2.5 this morning, down from level 3. The main difference is that shops are open at this level but social distancing needs to be observed.

At the start of the second round of lockdown and work from home routine, I decided that the path to positivity lay in taking a break each day and stepping out for a walk. I decided to head down old faithful, Ponsonby Road. Light was dull but it gave me a chance to test my custom setting

The following two shots need a boost in exposure. I was toying with using auto iso and buggered up the shots.

Nothing fancy. Just slowly working out my photography approach and documenting my work in progress.

Trialing my Custom Settings

Following on from Friday and Saturday’s crafting of my Classic Chrome based custom setting, I went down to Wynyard Quarter on a beautiful Sunday morning to test my custom setting recipe. The purpose of a custom setting on a Fujifilm camera is to digitally simulate a film look for the photos. The intention is to create a shooting experience akin to shooting with film where most of the work is done in camera. Similar to film photography, there will still be a small amount of post processing required in “developing” the final product. However, the effort to process is generally expected to be minimal.

My personal custom setting, which is also known as recipe to Fujifilm shooters (term coined by Ritchie Roesch), tries to mimic a modern high contrast look which is not too cool to touch.

I was quite pleased with the test. The custom setting generally produced pictures that I like straight out of camera. The conditions this morning were bright and sunny. The spring light was a little harsh this morning but I think the customer setting held up reasonably good. However, the weather conditions in Auckland can change quite quickly. Auckland is a narrow piece of land sandwiched by two large bodies of water. It does not take much for the wind to pick up and hide the sun behind clouds. When conditions change, I’ll either have to switch custom settings or do post processing. Here is an example of a shot taken with my custom setting that I feel would look better using my version of Luis Costa’s recipe (reproduced using Fujifilm’s Raw Studio back home). The photo with my custom setting is on the left.

Luis is better

Another observation of mine is that I tend to underexpose my shots. Given my tendency, I wonder if removing Colour Chrome Effect and Colour Chrome FX Blue and increasing highlights by 1 would be a good idea. Here is a comparison of my original on the left and the proposed changes on the right.

I’m very keen on my proposal. However, the proposed changes could also be achieved by simply changing the way I shot And exposing correctly. Isn’t the focus of this exercise to get it right in camera? If so, it will be a good chance for me to slow down when I shoot and learn to get my exposure triangle right. The experimentation continues.

Almost Recharge Friday

My plan, like those of mice and men, was to take Friday off so that I could recharge after a long and surprisingly physical couple of weeks. The plan started well. My flatmate Carlo and I had a hit of tennis at 7am. But work rolled in at 830 and I spent the next 3-4 hours away on the computer. It wasn’t a big deal as I don’t think I could have enjoyed my weekend knowing that people were depending on me to do my part.

The good thing about working on a Friday was that I got to take photos of Chris mowing.

I’ve been experimenting with different film recipes over the past few weeks. Ritchie Roesch, Kevin Mullins and Luis Costa have provided heaps of inspiration and I’ve been greedily testing and trying out different looks. Dreary and changeable winter weather coupled with my amateur photography skills have made it difficult to really get a handle on what film recipe works best for my type of photography. However, I sat down on Thursday night and reviewed what I liked and did not like about my recent trials.

Like

  • Understanding my camera well enough to achieve the shot in camera.
  • Modern and Muted.
  • Protect highlights and create more contrast
  • I love both Classic Chrome and Classic Negative but I would rank Chrome before Negative.
  • Weak Grain
  • Nothing overly processed.

Dislike

  • Strong colour casts/shifts.
  • Overly warm and rich feel

My approach is to focus on what I like rather than what I dislike. I understand like and dislikes are simply different sides of the same coin. However, I feel that I work better by approaching my film recipe (and hopefully life) from a positive angle. Here are some photos I took on our walk on Friday afternoon after finishing work and Chris has mowed the berm for half our street.

The recipe I ended up with for Friday is:

  • Film simulation: Classic Chrome
  • White Balance: Auto
  • WB Shift: R +2 B-1
  • Highlight: 0 Shadow +2
  • Colour: -1 Sharpness: +1
  • Dynamic Range: 100%
  • Grain Effect + Size: Weak + Small

The only thing I’m not 100% set on is colour chrome effect and fx blue. For these shots, I used a weak colour chrome effect. I’m going to experience a bit more with the chrome effects this weekend and see what my recipe will. Whatever I decide this weekend, I’m determined to stick to for at least a few weeks so that I get a chance to understand it and come to a solid decision.

Up next would be a recipe on Classic Negative and determine how I would implement these recipes on my camera. I still enjoy editing on Lightroom. Most of my edits are 1-2 minute affairs and I enjoy using Lightroom to manage my library and play with different looks.

Magical foggy Sunday morning

I am excited when I see the Auckland Harbour shrouded in morning fog. I shot these using Luis Costa’s classic negative Fujifilm recipe.

What made this morning even better was a family trying to pose their two large Bernese Mountain dogs. I recognise this family as I usually walk past their house en route to work and we run into them when we walk our dog too. I took some candid shots of them as they were standing on the broadwalk. I initially did not realise they were trying to take a photo. But it became apparent quickly as Mum was trying to get the puppy to stay while she stepped away to take the photo but the puppy just wanted to be with her.

I offered to take the photo so that all of them could be in the shot. But they politely said no. I’m not sure what came over me. I then asked if it was ok to take a photo of them all using my camera. Why did I think it was a good idea when they already said no earlier with their camera? Oh well, they were too polite to tell me to leave and stop invading their privacy. I took a few shots and I’ll ask them if it is ok to post the photos on my blog. If they are, I’ll share them here. To make things worse, I offered to drop off a usb stick with the photos. I said, “I know where you live”. Even with good intentions, I come across creepy. Hence my website name…

*****Update*****

I got permission to post the photos from my neighbours Desley and Gregg. Here is the beautiful family from this morning.

While I personally like the film grain of the straight out of camera jpegs, I was not sure if the family were happy to receive the photos that look “grainy”. I shared the raw file version of the shots with them. However, with the foggy condition, I had to a couple of the shots with a gradient to recover highlights. I had much more room to move with the raw files for those shots. But here is a comparison of a scene straight out of camera and raw.

Bernese Mountain DogBernese Mountain Dog
Getting ready
Safety in the fog

Which one do you prefer? Grain or no grain?

Thursday Lunch Hunt

I’m determined to make this Covid lockdown Mark 2.0 work. Firstly, I’ve reorganised my office setup. The setup gets my daughter’s approval

Bobby likes being close to me

Secondly, I decided to step out for a walk during lunch. I think that was my problem before. Working through lunch or watching the Covid news broadcasts during lunch is not a good way to stay positive.

Here are some shots taken today on my hunt for lunch.

As a sloppy dresser, it feels quite ironic that I get quite excited when I spot people who dress up nice.

These photos were made with my classic chrome recipe. If anyone is interested, it is:

Film Simulation: Classic Chrome

Grain Effect: Weak + Small Grain

White Balance: Auto, Red +1 Blue +1

Tone Curves: S+2, H+2

Colour: -1, Sharpness: +1, Noise Reduction: -2