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Camping at St. Sebastian River Preserve

St. Sebastian River Preserve

Some friends and I recently spent a weekend up in St. Sebastian River, a nature preserve in Central Florida. Here are some grossly overdue photos!


Posted: Wednesday June 1, 2011 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment


I don’t get this: we get to see photos and video of the Fukushima Dai-ichi reactor in Japan, and we get to see pictures of the drone that took them, and listen to its pilot compare the mission to Afghanistan. (Though this is not a plane-like drone — it’s a pod that looks not unlike the probe droid in Empire Strikes Back, powered by a lawnmower engine.) Yet: “The cone of secrecy around Fukushima extends far and wide. We don’t get to know where they launched from or what their camera targets were. He couldn’t discuss whether their operations center had a roof over it or not, or whether it was a tent. We don’t even know how many flights they made, though he confirmed it was ‘a bunch.’”



I have been enjoying a series of articles about using off-camera flash at the Strobist blog, although I’m not sure that investing in multiple flashes is the way to go; you get a lot more light and more control with a real lighting system. Luckily, most of the information applies to both systems.



The New Yorker’s portraits of world leaders is a pretty good example of print and online media working together: small images and audio accounts of the photos by photographer Platon, beautiful full-page prints in the mag. The photos are striking, and they’re a profound examination of whether you can learn anything new about a person by gazing into their eyes in a simple still portrait. Conversely, almost all the short snippets of words reveal something startling, and they’re heightened by being spoken aloud.



Down and out in Paris


I think I’m going to maybe show mainly pictures that have some explanation here, and maybe show the more plain visual ones in a slide show later. But here’s some prettiness just to sort of get us in the mood.


Let’s start at Notre Dame. Here’s a model depicting the building of the cathedral in something like the 12th century. Without getting into a whole discussion, it’s worth pausing over the fact that, for hundreds of years, the majority of the residents of Europe lived in abject poverty while ostentatious churches were built until they doted the landscape (there are three within spitting distance of ND, e.g.).


Tourists taking photos! Almost as silly looking as tourists taking photos of tourists taking photos, eh?


Here’s a random obligatory shot of teh glory/majesty. Impressive!


So, this was going to be Exhibit B in the case of the charmingly peculiar vanity of the French: a guy who stopped in the street to spontaneously clean his shoes. Dude was going at it, too — I saw him, started to walk away, then changed my mind and framed and took the picture, all while he was working. Exhibit A, more shocking but alas less photographically interesting, was a public perfume dispenser in the men’s bathroom at a highway-side gas station. I shit you not, and yes I do have the photo to prove it.


Paris is for lovers, and it really is. There are people making out in public everywhere, which I thought was nice.


Expensive-ass superhero and fantasy figurines.


In Paris there are no regular shops. There are restaurants (brasseries, cafés, bistros, etc.), flower shops, and clothing stores. Occasionally, there will be a wine shop of a fishmonger, but there is little evidence that anyone cooks much at home or buys anything not directly concerned with delighting the senses. But: here are some hens ready for the rotisserie.


Mostly I’d go with skipping “the sights” and favor wandering around (which goes for any city you’re visiting really). So here’s random prettiness #2. The tree on the balcony is painted on the side of that smokestack, note.


In one of the threads on MetaFilter’s Paris tag, someone said “you’re going to live well!” And it’s True. Here’s some side-street cafe cheese, served with bread and wine and followed with espresso. As much as the overall quality of food in London is on average noticeably worse then in the US, the food in Paris is noticeably better pretty much everywhere. Ham and cheese crepes are considered street food here.


Even the graffiti here is elegant and romantic.


The Eiffel Tower, natch. A stairs trip just to the first platform was plenty. A nice climb up a few dozen metal flights of stairs is just what the doctor ordered for the mildly acrophobic among us.


J. random view from the first platform. You could spend all day shooting and assembling a monster 360-degree panorama but ok, it’s breathtaking, we get it, geez.


At the foot of the tower there are ambiguously ethnic women walking around asking “Do you speak English?”, part of some scam that despite the extremely widely-disseminated warnings appears to be remarkably effective. One of them had a midwestern women digging around in her purse, and brazenly turned towards me as I walked by to ask me. That’s efficiency, right? Anyway, here’s home base of the Women who ask if you speak English.


Trust me, I’m going easy on you with the pictures of tourists acting goofy.


You feed these little birds bits of your ham/cheese crepe, and the competition is fierce, so eventually some of them start to try to catch the bits in mid-air, and you can get them to eat from your fingers, which is me doing exactly that here. My dad working the camera.


I would not mind living here! Willing to learn French!


I only saw one public ping-pong table in Paris, but what a cool idea. Eastside Garden take note.


The Musée d’Orsay is a highly recommended alternative to the multi-day requirements of the Louvre. They let you photograph, so lots of the paintings have obnoxious people going around with camera phones tediously snapping photos of every other piece instead of looking, and getting yelled at because flash is technically not permitted, and these people you people do not know how to work their your cameras. This is the Van Gogh room, which was of course the worst-case example. By the way: a roomfull of Van Goghs, plus all your major impressionists, etc! (For Picasso and later, you need to check out the Centre Pompidou, which I only got to do briefly, don’t get me started.)


If you can’t beat ‘em… a particularly lovely Toulouse-Lautrec.


And the Musée d’Orsay building is half the fun. It’s a baffling structure of late-19th century origin who’s size is difficult to determine at first (looks manageable on first impression, huge on second impression, but it actually is pretty manageable), and is full of interesting big and small spaces.


Random bookstore taxidermy action.


A random sampling of street musicians: Two guys playing Django Reinhardt jazz on Django Reinhardt guitars (with people dancing), a lone violin playing random arias on an abandoned side-street, a one-man band accordion/trombone/drums guy singing (amplified) mauldin old French songs, and a guy playing minimalist tones on clarinet to faint classical CD-based accompaniment for the closing of the museum, and these guys. This is BTW some random side-street staircase shortcut, but yeah, random prettiness #3, right?


#4; in general, it’s hard to point your camera here and not hit something amazing.

And we’re going to leave it there. Next up: Prague!

Posted: Thursday October 1, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [3]


Diego, Susy, and their kids, photographed on June 17th of every year since 1976. (via)



de-colorized russia

A collection of colorized photographs from Russia from just before the Leninist revolution (about 100 years ago). I wish someone would create a slideshow of these returned to black and white — compare the image above to #25 for reference.



The tall bike kids of Yogya.



“The new sensor in the F200EXR, though, goes a step further. In what’s called EXR mode, it can merge two adjacent photosites, in effect doubling the light collected at that spot on the sensor.” It sounds to me like David Pogue is falling for a little marketing hype. (Getting a good low-light 6-megapixel photo out of a 12-megapixel camera should not qualify as a major step forward. I say compare the new Sony and Fuji cameras to a new Canon, and then we’ll see where we’re at.)



A pretty good time to remind you people that I have a frequently-updated photo blog that you should be checking.



Waiting for Hand Grenade Practice, Southern Israel by Rachel Papo

Rachel Papo, Waiting for Hand Grenade Practice, Southern Israel, 8×10” print available for $20. Unfortunately not available in 11×14”.



Whoa! Mood-altering photos of Greenland from last week’s Big Picture.



A hotshoe-mounted bubble-level for my SLR. I want this. I’ll pay up to five bucks.



google maps images

What does it mean to have the whole world photographed? Here’s a collection of beautiful images culled from Google Maps Street View by Jon Rafman, including the scerene, the obscene, the shocking, and the delightfully ambiguous. (Via fimoculous, tho I eventually would have gotten to this in my RSS.)



When do photographs become photo illustrations?



There is a lot of useful information in this article about taking photos of concerts, including about breaking into doing it professionally. My advice is that if you want to do it it’s easy with modern digital cameras. Call ahead to see if they’ll let you bring in an SLR, and if so you’re set (crank that exposure compensation waaaaay down). But be aware that having a camera slung over your shoulder is going to impact how you enjoy the show. If it’s a band I love, I stick a compact in my pocket that I can ignore 95% of the time. I snap a few pictures here and there, and it all works out. It’s about figuring out how much you want to be “person” and how much you want to be “photographer,” because the two are slightly different things.



An interesting account of how the photo pool worked at the Michael Jackson memorial service.



Photography and editing

Prague abbey Ken Rockwell drops another article on “ow to make good photographs,” this one emphasizing composition and urging you to carefully study your image before taking a picture. He has a particularly formalist bent, but the basic idea of thinking and experimenting before shooting is important.

The only way to ensure strong composition is to look through your finder and make it that way before you press the shutter. Move yourself around to change perspective, which moves elements around in your frame. You can change the relative sizes of elements by moving in and zooming out to maintain the same framing. When you do, closer elements just got bigger while distant ones just got smaller.

This is all true, but there’s another phase of thinking and work that takes place after the picture’s been taken that often gets under-appreciated, which is editing. Editing is looking at your photos after they’ve been taken to figure out which ones are the good ones. What happens during editing is just as important as what happens while shooting. Photographers who post 50 photos from a single day just don’t get it, or they’re not trying to make art. You need to do the hard work of finding the one or two images that rise above the rest by a confluence of factors. Forget what you were thinking while you shot the pictures, and forget which ones you thought would turn out the best; invariably, the best pictures are the ones you didn’t give a second thought to while shooting.

My photoblog isn’t really about taking pictures. Most of the photos I’ve posted so far are years old — it’s about looking at old collections of photos with a new perspective. Editing. Take today’s picture, from a trip to Prague in 2002. I enjoyed this photo at the time, but only years later does it stand far above most of the others. Mastering technique and composition is critical to becoming a good photographer, but so is the ability to look at a hundred photos and realize that the best way to represent the whole group is to just show one.

Posted: Thursday July 9, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [4]


goths in hot weather

Goths in hot weather. What is there not a blog devoted to the photos of?



Nikon F3

Nikon F3 The F3 is Nikon’s top professional camera from the 1980s. I picked one up on ebay recently, mainly because of how absurdly inexpensive they’ve gotten. It was only a couple of years ago that they routinely sold for $500. But despite a resurgent interest in 35mm film equipment from some quarters, I was able to get this one for $130. A perfect little 50mm f/1.8 will set you back another $50 or so, or you can go the way I’m doing, and get top of the line lenses for completely absurd prices (this 180mm f/2.8 cost $127; similarly performing modern lenses cost ten times that).

On the minus side you’re going to be spending money buying and developing film. This runs about a dollar per every three or four shots. (Drop your film at any drugstore, and they’ll develop it and burn you a CD in an hour, which you can then load into your computer just like any digital camera.) Then there’s the matter of focusing, which if a big deal to adjust to if you’ve been shooting with digital cameras.

But as in the year with a Leica, this way of making pictures is revelatory. The F3 has aperture-priority automatic exposure, which means that you set the aperture on the lens, and the camera comes up with a shutter speed (of course you can also shoot in manual mode, where the shutter speed is just a recommendation). In other words, you have hands-on control of the basic elements of what the camera is doing. Same difference as driving a car with manual transmitting — it may not be easier, but it is better, in a way.

The other big benefit is the pleasure of using something that is the best of its kind. You can see that my F3 is pretty well beat up, yet it works more solidly then any of my digital cameras. Then there’s the magical quality of film images. Even scanned and seen on screen, there is something unmistakeably analog and delicious about them.

Posted: Monday June 29, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [9]



I’m messing around with the idea of a photoblog. Just stripped down the default template to the bones and worked it up with some minimalist CSS, so it’s looking semi-presentable. Too, it’s easy to add stuff to it, so I’ll be posting images regularly at least for a little bit. All I really need is a name, if anyone has suggestions?



Olympus E-P1 digital pen

Well, it’s here. (Or rather, it’s officially announced.) The Olympus E-P1 is the first compact camera with a large sensor and interchangeable lenses. In other words, it’s SLR quality images from a relatively compact package. For starters, you get a funky 28-85mm zoom and a tiny 35mm f/2.8 fixed. But here’s the cool thing — they’re also making an adapter for existing 4:3 Olympus lenses and an OM adapter which allows the mounting of old Zukio lenses.




Fluxus day, Subtropics, 2007.



Animal Collective photos


Trying to describe an Animal Collective concert is like trying to describe one of their albums, and I’m not even going to try. It does shed some light on how they make their music, if only by revealing the ingredients — multiple sample-triggering devices, keyboards, guitars, and drums. And whereas the Battles show felt like an approximation of the recorded album, with the post-processing absent, Animal Collective seems to be at their prime in concert. But whatever; I can’t explain to you what it was like. All I’d say is: go see live shows. There’s nothing else like it.

Posted: Tuesday June 16, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [1]


What if you’re in the market for a non-SLR digital camera? The old standby has been, and continues to be, Canon compacts. My current favorite would be the SD800 IS (for the wide angle lens), but there is a plethora of options. But! On the horizon is a batch of large-sensor, fixed-lens, small-body (and stylish looking) cameras which might be worth waiting a few months for. The one that’s out now is the Sigma DP2. This mixed review is worth reading in part because it explains the whole phenomena. But check out leaked pictures of the maybe-upcoming Olympus E-P1. Update: The head-on image of the Olympus disappeared from the page, but here it is:

Olympus E-P1

I also feel like I should be throwing in a word for the Panasonic DMC-LX3, but it seems to not be selling much, which is usually a red flag.




No idea. Android photo shoot on the beach. Via (or possibly by) @jipsy.



How to become a much better photographer in one year: Buy a Leica, shoot it exclusively, with black and white film (two rolls a week), sell it back to ebay after 12 months. Part 1, part 2, part 3.



Still my favorite blog of the last few months: Cakehead Loves Evil. A few of the things found there this month (in case the ‘love will tear us apart’ masthead isn’t enough for you): Marilyn Minter’s oral fixation photography, insect sushi, the Bush Administration’s disaster coloring book, Battleship Island (amazing abandoned settlement featured on Life After People), 1600 Pandas, People living in a “space station” in the middle of Berlin, this insane set of images from a Pop magazine fashion shoot, 70s porn interiors, Amy Stewart’s garden of poisonous plants, the Janet Jackson Virgin Mary tattoo, and the burst whale.



little havana

Little Havana



New York City police operations order regarding photography:

  1. Members of the service are reminded that photography and the videotaping of public places, buildings and structures are common activities within New York City. Given the City’s prominence as a tourist destination, practically all such photography will have no connection to terrorism or unlawful conduct. […]
  2. Members of the service may not demand to view photographs taken by a person absent consent or exigent circumstances. […]

Read the whole thing. Can we issue something like this to every police officer in the country? (via)



Is there anyplace in Miami that still develops large-format film?



The Online Photographer has been counting down its top 10 recommended cameras. #1: Nikon D700.



80s Baby

80s Baby (This is a person doing community service at my work.)



Stephen Mallon's Flight 1549 recovery pictures

Images of Flight 1549 recovery: Stephen Mallon was hired to photograph the recovery of US Airways Flight 1549, and was subsequently blocked from releasing the images by some asinine legal crap. Anyway, the images are back online, and every single one sings. Truly a spectacular body of work.



How to not win the Picture of The Year in Denmark

Photojournalist Klavs Bo Christensen was recently disqualified by the Danish Union of Press Photographers from their Picture of the Year prize due to “excessive Photoshop” (via). After the committee reviewed the pictures, they requested his original camera RAW files, before making the determination. Lucky for us, they released a few of the before/after images. Let’s look at one:

Klavs Bo Christensen photoshop

Klavs Bo Christensen photoshop

This looks like a pretty spectacular modification, but I decided to see just how much was really being done by attempting to re-create the changes myself. Feel free to fire up Photoshop and play along at home.

Klavs Bo Christensen photoshop Step 1: Obviously the cornerstone of what’s happening is an increase in contrast. The levels tool allows a photographer to adjust lightness and contrast in a single step. And this single adjustment resulted in the above — an increase in contrast has the natural effect of increasing color saturation, because the contrast is being increased in the individual color channels.

Klavs Bo Christensen photoshop

Step 2: Since the ground in the original image is in shadow, the sky is of course much brighter (this is a common issue in outdoor photography), and it’s now blown out. The solution is to mask the above layers adjustment so that it only effects the ground.

Klavs Bo Christensen photoshop

Klavs Bo Christensen photoshop Step 3: Better, but the sky still looks anemic relative to the rest of the picture, so we apply a second levels adjustment to the areas unaffected by the first. This time the sliders are toward the right of the graph — the contrast is increased by about the same amount, but this time the overall exposure is darkened rather then lightened. Now the image is just about identical with Christensen’s.

Klavs Bo Christensen photoshop

Step 4: Finally, dodged the chair and the window above it just a little, and sharpened the overall result. Save for some nasty jpg compression resulting from modifying images already compressed for the web, the results are remarkably close.

Klavs Bo Christensen photoshop

Conclusion: I’m not trying to say that because Christensen’s modifications are trivial to make his photos were disqualified unjustly. Anyone who’s ever played with an image manipulation program and found the contrast adjustment knows it’s trivially easy to make a photo look completely insane and artificial. The question is, how much contrast adjustment is appropriate before an image leaves the realm of photojournalism. Christensen is correct that referring to RAW files is misleading, since digital cameras have their own contrast adjustment, and the RAW files often produce deliberately low-contrast results which do not correspond to the way a scene looked. Additionally, human vision corrects for variations in lighting when looking at the world in a way that it does not adjust for viewing photographs.

What’s striking is the ignorance of digital photo manipulation from the committee. They speak of a wall and some concrete that the photographer has colored blue, which is just wrong — the increase in contrast has brought out the blue shade that was present in the original photograph. A photographer who applied a gentle, more pragmatic levels adjustment would have achieved a commensurately modest shade of blue (which after all is the color that gray concrete takes on in shadows of the early-morning sun). The exact same process is at work in the case of the sweater that appears to turn from brown to red.

I do not deny that for me this set of Christensen’s images crosses the line, but I note that his transgression is a quantitative one, not a qualitative one. His use of masking to modify only one area of the photo was used exclusively to separate the sky from the foreground, a technique no doubt used commonly by photojournalists. So the complaint here can be summed up as “too much stupid contrast.”

(By the way, check out Christensen’s website. Few of the images there exhibit this effect, though the black and white images seem again to be suspiciously high-contrast, to their apparent detriment. His photos of masked Iranian women, however, are spectacular.)

Posted: Monday April 13, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [3]


G20 protests in London

G20 protests in London. It’s interesting how three groups are on near-equal footing in these image — the protesters, the police, and the photographers. Not only do the scenes have a quality about them of being staged for the photos, but it’s almost like all parties got together with the sole purpose of creating a previously agreed-upon set of images. I realize that sounds cynical, and that the protesters are extremely passionate and the police are doing a very difficult and dangerous job (as are the photographers), but it’s a very difficult feeling to escape with this particular set of images.




How many megapixels do you need? Well, for most people, as I said in my camera buying guide, the answer is 6. But what if you’re an artist, and you’re making big prints and trying to approximate the effect of using a medium or large format camera? How many megapixels of digital resolution would you need? This has always been a moot point, because the answer was “much more then any digital camera has.” But with the introduction of the Canon 5d Mark II and the Nikon D3X (21 and 24 megapixels, respectively), it deserves to be revisited.

Online photographer takes an analytical approach, attempting to determine what, for an 8 × 10 inch print, constitutes the highest theoretically possible resolution. The answer: 100 megapixels. Maybe. (It might also be 400.) Ken Rockwell compares the D3x to 35mm film and determines them to be very close in resolution. But we’re not interested in an 8 × 10 inch print, and we’re not interested in matching 35mm film. We’re interested in matching big prints made from medium and large format cameras.

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at these big prints (recommend visiting the Margulies for a near-lethal dose). It seems to me that in the best of the 30 × 40 inch prints, the resolution on an per-square-inch basis nears that seen magazines images. Since magazines typically consider 300 dpi to be the minimum resolution for print, it’s easy to calculate 30 × 40 × 3002 = 108,000,000 — 108 megapixels.

But looking at real-world results belies the mathematical precision that is suggested by talk of dots per inch, etc., and the fact is that the actual resolution of those large format print-based prints also varies greatly. This has everything to do with the subject matter, and in what an artist considers acceptable. A 6 megapixel image printed 16 × 24 inches is 120 dpi, yet looks surprisingly good. (A print from the D3x at the same resolution would be 34 × 50 inches.) It’s imperative for each person interested in this to familiarize themselves with what 100 dpi, 150 dpi, etc. looks like for their subject matter, and with today’s technology it’s trivially easy to do this.

Just for fun, check out the picture above. It’s a tiny crop from a picture off my Canon pocket camera, scaled up by 150%. Not fantastic, but at this resolution (assuming a 100 dpi monitor), a print of the whole picture would be 50 inches across.

Posted: Friday February 13, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment


Taking a photo of something as it's happening

Whirling Dervishes

There is a whole body of literature, going back at least to Susan Sontag, that argues against photography. The process of making a photograph distracts you from experiencing the thing itself, distorts the relationship between subject and the viewer, and creates a visual record that is inevitably later perceived as somehow more real than memory. To be honest, I’ve always found these sorts of arguments to be overblown. I let instinct be my guide about when to bring a camera with me (almost all the time) and when to use it. And I couldn’t honestly tell you of a time when I regretted making a photo because of the imposition it created on the experience.

Until this weekend. The Whirling Dervishes of Rumi performed (actually I’m not sure that’s the right verb) at the Arsht Center, and I had a relatively great box seat. The way this works is that the evening is over two hours long, opening with a musical performance, explanations of the meanings of the dance, a movie, more music, then the solemn entrance of the Mevlevi themselves, followed by the actual ceremony. The point is that there is a major buildup of a particular type of a solemn mood, which elevates the already daunting trance-like spiritual weight of the event.

So I wasn’t going to take a picture. And then all these other idiots started in. Now, photography is “strictly prohibited” at the Arsht Center, and having worked around the performing arts I know that the two primary concerns are (1) your photographing distracts the person next to you, and (2) the flash, stupid, which distracts everybody, most especially the performers (which in the case of dance is actually dangerous). Needless to say that there were at least a dozen camera flashes from around the audience. So first of all, you people are stupid. You haven’t read your manual, you don’t know how to control the camera, you have no regard for anyone else but yourself, and you did not get a photograph, because your flash covers approximately three meters (10 feet), and you weren’t sitting in the first few rows (thank Jesus).

But so somehow these idiots made me think that my taking a picture the right way (ISO set to maximum, exposure compensation -2 stops, flash off, autofocus assist light off, sound disabled, continuous shutter on) was somehow permissible. I held my shutter down for about a second, got three frames, and put the camera away. And yes, the moment was destroyed. But you know what? It came back. The thing is that if you’re discreet about this (my friend sitting two seats down didn’t know I took a picture until I showed her later afterward) it’s really not that big of a deal.

There is something to be said here about the trade-off between imposition of technology and quality of photograph (contrast the ubiquity of the cell phone with a 4×5 camera), but mostly a pocket camera is a decent trade off.

The thing that it comes down to for me is that looking at a photograph years later brings back the memory of an event more vividly than anything else. There are many reasons for making a photo, but the marking of something as worthy of vivid memory is perhaps the best.

Posted: Monday February 9, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [12]


New Year's Day Absinth

New Year’s Day Absinth. I have no idea why they’re spelling it without the ‘e’ at the end. A Czech historical glass I got as a present from my parents. 50mm, f1.8, off-camera flash. Scratched up table. Bourgeoisie clutter.



Ken Rockwell’s How to Win at eBay article should be worth a read.



I wonder what they mean by “loitering.”



Straight photography

Photo by Joel Sternfeld

I was talking to my friend Christiaan Lopez-Miro the other day, and he pointed me in the direction of a couple of his favorite photographers: Joel Sternfeld and Alec Soth. In looking at these photos I’m struck at how alien the very notion of photoshop becomes. “Straight photography,” as a branch of art, is all about the delicate tension between two seemingly incompatible motivations: the desire to show something inherently interesting, and the desire to create an image — through a shift in perspective, the posing of people, etc. In other words, a subject is photographed in such a way that it is simultaneously transformed and not transformed at all.

This delicate tension requires that the viewer implicitly trust the authenticity of the image before them. While photo manipulation has a long history and we are all well-advised to view any photo with a certain amount of skepticism, for straight photography it is imperative that we believe. To question such images, to begin to look for digital seams and other evidence of tampering, is to immediately weaken them. This is why many photographers who do choose to tamper with their photos, digitally or otherwise, do so in a way that is fairly easy to spot (see for example Joel-Peter Witkin’s The Raft of George W. Bush). It’s why artists who use photoshop in a way that is not immediately obvious, such as Andreas Gurskey, occasionally cause such a stir. And it’s why certain bodies of work, such as Denis Darzacq’s falling series, are accompanied by not-so-subtle whispers of “its not photoshopped.”

Photo manipulation is of course a much more pressing problem in news photography then in art. But photojournalists have extremely clear guidelines about what is permissible. (Or do they?) But in art, ostensibly anything goes if the results are compelling. Photos that required extremes of effort and endurance sit alongside simple digital tricks.

Yet straight photography has its own aura. Manipulated images can be powerful, but they are either obvious or they are susceptible to debunking. And as manipulated photos become more and more ubiquitous and shameless, one craves the integrity of the unmanipulated image, shot on film and printed optically.

Posted: Tuesday December 16, 2008 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [1]


Shanghai 2004: day one


My friends are leaving Friday for three weeks in Shanghai, and I’m stuck here in Miami. But I thought the occasion called for something, so I’m posting a few pictures from my trip there back in 2004. All these were taken on the first day, August 5. Mostly we were just wandering around the neighborhood adjacent to our hotel. There are some original British colonial buildings (our rundown hotel had once been visited by the likes of Bertrand Russell) mixed in with Russian-era Communist architecture and a dash of the ultra-modern that dominates other parts of the city. But mostly it’s just a homey regular Shanghai neighborhood, in a state of constant and frantic flux.

Posted: Tuesday December 9, 2008 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [4]


Camera buying guide 2008

I get asked “what camera should I get?” all the time. And it’s worse around the holidays. First the answer in a nutshell. If you’re rich and want the best, but don’t want to fiddle doing years of research, and trial and error, get a Nikon D700. If you’re on a serious budget but still want a serious camera, get a Nikon D40. If you’re really on a shoestring budget, get a Canon A590. Before we delve into some details, three points to keep in mind:

  1. Pentax, Olympus, Panasonic/Leica, and even Sony make some interesting, and sometimes very good, products. But Canon and Nikon stuff has fewer weird quirks and ugly surprises, and more options for expansion.
  2. Megapixels don’t matter anymore. The difference between 6 and 12 is actually sort of small, and for the kind of prints you’ll be making any camera you can buy today has enough resolution. The exception is for artists*.
  3. Three things you need to pay attention to if you’re a novice using your new camera: ISO, Flash (just leave it OFF most of the time), and exposure compensation.

Pocket cameras

Canon SD880 IS

The current shining star of small, inexpensive cameras is the Canon SD880 IS, currently selling for around $250 (it’s brand new — the price will come down over the next few months). All the Canon compacts are great, but this one, an update of my beloved SD870, has a wide-angle lens and a big display. If you want even cheaper, Canon makes a zillion ever-shifting models in the SD and A series, of which the current cheapest is the aforementioned A590, which currently sells for around $115. The picture quality is the same; the difference is that the A series is bigger, doesn’t come with rechargeable batteries, and is missing some of the extra bells and whistles. (This strikes me as a great camera for kids.) For some reason, Nikon compact cameras haven’t been worth very much for the last few years.

Cheap SLRs

Nikon D40

The larger sensor on SLRs allows them to take pictures that are much much better then any compact, especially in low light. They also don’t have any shutter lag, and are more fun to use. If you enjoy taking pictures, you probably want one of these. Good news is that the Nikon D40 has been around for awhile, and you can find them for just over $400 sometimes, which is sort of amazing considering SLRs average around a thousand bucks. The downside is that there’ll probably be a new version of this camera soon with a bunch of spiffy new features, and more megapixels. On the other hand, it’ll cost hundreds of dollars more, and trust me, those features are silly. Canon has a line of inexpensive SLRs, too, and they’re worth looking at. For most people, though, the Nikon will be easier to use. (The one big issue with Nikon SLRs is lens compatibility. If you think you might want to start collecting and switching lenses, the D40 will cause you grief.)

The Camera-for-Life

Canon d5 Mark II

Just in the last six months, two interesting cameras have come out that are interesting because they arguably have “everything you’ll ever need” in a digital camera: the Nikon D700 and the Canon 5D Mark II. These cameras have three things that make them exceptional: (1) full frame sensors, meaning that old lenses are compatible, and work the same way they did on film cameras, (2) Big and high-resolution displays, and (3) lots of megapixels. They’re made out of solid metal, take fantastic photos in very low light, and are a pleasure to use and hold. They’re also big, heavy, and very expensive. Do what you will, but I’m saving up for the new 5D (it’s actually not even out yet).


The bad news is that every single model that exists has something kind of important going against it. The good news is that digital cameras have been around long enough that they’ve been refined to the point where they’re all pretty great. Let your instincts guide you, and you’re probably not going to make a bad choice. (One funny thing about the three pictures above: not to scale! The first camera is actually smaller then it looks in the photo, the middle one is about right, and the 5Dii is much much bigger. Seriously, if someone tries to take it, you can use it to clock them upside the head.)

One last note, about movie modes: the compact cameras all have a movie mode, and most SLRs do not. The two exceptions are the Canon 5D Mark II, and the not-yet-mentioned Nikon D90.

Update: Ken Rockwell’s rave review of the Canon SD880.

* If you’re most people, you’ll be looking at your pictures on the screen and ordering 5×7” or 8×10” prints, for which 6 to 12 megapixels is great. You can actually order nice 13×19” prints from these cameras, too — I’ve used to make 11×14” prints from 3 megapixel images, and they looked fine. Of course if you’re an artist, you want to be able to print big, and in this case a digital camera is not going to be much more then a toy for you. You need a medium or large format film camera.

Posted: Thursday November 20, 2008 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [10]


Massive archive of Life photographs dating back to the 1860s, hosted online by Google. Awesome. [via]



Miami aerial

Miami, Brickell

I tagged along with a friend who was apartment hunting in Midtown, Edgewater, and Brickell this weekend, and I’ve got photos. You’ll see some weird effects of the building boom here, including construction cranes of projects still underway.

Like an abject rookie, I left my camera with all the crappy camera settings from a previous shoot. These photos were saved somewhat in Photoshop, but they have an odd quality, like snapshots from the ’80s found in a shoebox. Which may be appropriate in a way. I’ve got a song for you to listen to while looking at these (opens in a new window) at my Tumblr, if you like yours with a little multimedia.

Posted: Monday November 17, 2008 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [6]


Left to right: Poseidon, a deer, two lions, and a crude Michelangelo David with a fig leaf'

More fun with Broward County lawns. Left to right: Poseidon, a deer, two lions, and a crude Michelangelo David with a fig leaf.




The beautiful photography of Elizabeth Weinberg.



Lion Country Safari

Here are some goofy photos of animals from Lion Country Safari. LCS is worth a visit once every decade or so, just avoid the tourist-trap “Safari World” unless you have kids. It’s worth driving through twice, which you can do at no additional charge. (Regular admission is $23 per person, a $5-off coupon is here.)


Posted: Wednesday September 24, 2008 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [2]


Completely messed up photos of hurricane Ike damage in places that are not Miami. Hard to imagine your home getting flooded and burning down all at once.