Snapping Harare

•December 12, 2011 • 2 Comments

(Can be fun but you need your wits)

The Harare Cityscape From a Kopje @2010 Jason Hindle

The Harare Cityscape From a Kopje @2010 Jason Hindle

Harare is a curious place. Like most cities in Africa, it has its share of problems.  For one thing, the place is falling apart and there’s been no real planning in donkeys’ years.  For another, there are lots of people who don’t have two cents to rub together.  Speaking of dollars and cents, the greenback has been the de facto currency in Zim ever since the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) launched the Trillion Zim Dollar note, shortly before throwing in the towel.

Paradoxically, Harare is a city where you can walk out of the hotel by yourself and get around on foot relatively unhindered.  And I’m not just talking about the the well policed centre.  I’ve often walked off the beaten path or taken the back route to the office (it is still Africa after all, so it pays to be a little unpredictable) and the most I’ve had to deal with is the odd beggar.  Speaking of which, a US One Dollar bill makes any beggar super happy (more on that below).

South Rhodesia GPO  ©2010 Jason Hindle

South Rhodesia GPO ©2010 Jason Hindle

Photography is a different matter.  Around the last election, there was a great deal of antagonism and paranoia surrounding foreign reporters and the BBC are still banned from reporting in Zim.  It is not illegal to take photos in Harare but, unlike any ordinary European or US cities, it’s not common to see people taking photos, so if you’re out with your camera, you’re going to stand out.

In practice, this means you can meet with a variety of reactions to walking about with a camera, ranging from people asking if you’d take their photo (sometimes followed by a “Could you spare a dollar for some sadza.”) to mild hostility.  Worse still, if the authorities suspect you’re taking photos for the BBC, or that you’re any kind of journalist, that could invite a whole lot of trouble you could do without, especially if you’re not a journalist and you don’t have the right stamp in your passport.

Also, it’s important to bear in mind that some government buildings are sensitive.  Under no circumstances photograph the President’s office on Samora Machell or try to approach State House, especially with a camera around your neck.  I know people who’ve been detained for doing the latter!

Sam Nujoma Street (Formerly 2nd Street) ©2010 Jason Hindle

Sam Nujoma Street (Formerly 2nd Street) ©2010 Jason Hindle

Still, Harare has some interesting architecture, including some interesting examples of Brutalism and the avenues outside of the centre can look very nice when the Jacaranda trees are in bloom; in spite of the obvious urban decay.  Also, notwithstanding my warnings above, you should find that most people you encounter are friendly and courteous.

So, how then to go about taking photos, should you find yourself in Harare.  Firstly, I would say a lot of what I’m about to say probably doesn’t apply if you you look Zimbabwean.  In a country where race plays a big part in the politics, that’s just how it is.  If you look local, you’ll not be noticed.  If, like me,  you have the famous North European tan, you’re going to stand out like a well lit Christmas tree.

I do recommend bringing along discrete equipment.  A modern, pocket point and shoot camera isn’t going to attract as much attention as a DSLR and has the advantage that no one will think you’re shooting for the Beeb.  If you’re serious about your photos, consider bringing along a mirror-less system camera, preferably with a small, fixed focus pancake lens rather than a zoom.  Panasonic, Olympus, Sony and even Nikon all produce cameras that are perfect for the job.

Jacarandas in Bloom on Union Street ©2011 Jason Hindle

Jacarandas in Bloom on Union Avenue ©2011 Jason Hindle

Now, you should also bear in mind your surroundings at all time.  While Harare isn’t subject to the rampant criminality found in Nairobi or Johannesburg, the crime is there and opportunists are on the lookout for soft targets.  If there are plenty of people around, this shouldn’t be a problem but still, it pays not to attract too much attention.  On the odd occasion I’ve been out and about with my camera, I’ve found myself using it to steal moments and move on, rather than spending minutes carefully composing each shot.

If you want to take photos of people, always ask, unless they’re asking you.  Remember, Zimbabwe is a very polite society and manners are taken more seriously than you might find in many parts of the first world.  Sometimes, you will encounter people who would rather not be seen in one of your photos and I recommend respecting this.

Regardless of the situation (or company) you find yourself in, I would always recommend getting the shot and moving on quickly.

Service Station Workers on Sam Nujoma ©2011 Jason Hindle

Service Station Workers on Sam Nujoma ©2011 Jason Hindle

I will finish off with a little more on security.  You’re going to encounter beggars from time to time.  Some are genuinely poor people in need of a dollar for food while others are sadly just looking for their next high.  If you don’t mind handing over the occasional dollar, then have some available in your back pocket and when you encounter a beggar you can, if you want, hand over a dollar quickly and without fuss before moving on.

Whatever you do, don’t go for your wallet or purse up and start fumbling for change.  You shouldn’t do that in Paris or New York so why do it in Harare?  And remember, the number one thing you can do to stay secure is to keep moving.  When dealing with the odd beggar, I seem to have gotten saying “Hello,” handing over over a crisp, clean one dollar bill and saying “You’re welcome,” all without actually losing any forward momentum down to a bit of a fine art.

Go out with your camera with a route planned but also have an alternative route, in case you spot any potential security issues you’d rather avoid.

Finally, if you find yourself on business in central Harare, even if you don’t want to take photos, get out when you can and enjoy the climate, which can be glorious, even in the winter.

Harare Puts The Brute Back Into Brutalism ©2011 Jason Hindle

Harare Puts The Brute Back Into Brutalism ©2011 Jason Hindle

Slideshow: Harare Photos

Fresh Bites and Porno: An Afternoon At 50mm

•October 31, 2010 • Leave a Comment

(it can be fun)

Between the Northern Quarter and Ancoats, Manchester

The wrong side of the tracks? ©2010 Jason Hindle

It has often been said that restricting one’s self to a single focal length can be liberating, forcing the photographer to think at that focal length, zoom in and out using feet and sometimes leading to out of the box thinking in terms of getting a shot.  Since Saturday was a nice, bright day, with this in mind I dusted off a couple of extremely under used pieces of kit:

  • A four year old Panasonic L1 DSLR (remember when 7.5 megapixels was considered quite enough?)
  • The Olympus 25mm f2.8 pancake lens, which gives a 50mm field of view in old fashioned 35mm terms.

I packed this combination in my rucksack and went for a nice, lone walk, taking the occasional photo along the way.  Now, the beauty of the 50mm FoV is that it is more or less what our eyes see so, what you see when looking straight at the subject is pretty much what ends up in the photo.

 

Autumn colours in St Peter's Square ©2010 Jason Hindle

Autumn colours in St Peter's Square ©2010 Jason Hindle

The combination of camera and lens proved fun but was not without its problems.  Firstly, although only a four year old design (based on a five year old Olympus design), the Panasonic L1 looks and feels archaic.  It’s metering also seems somewhat archaic and, having not used the camera in over a year, I found myself accidentally using the wrong metering mode in a couple of instances.  Getting some of the shots required a little bit of trial and error.

Newer DSLRs are simple.  You set the metering mode to ESP, keep it there and let the camera take care of the measuring the light and deciding how well exposed the photo will be.

Also, the L1 meters a little conservatively, so when looking at the photos in Aperture later in the day, I found them between 1/3 and 1/2 stop under exposed.  With this camera, it’s not a bad thing.  It meant I had nice, blue skies with nice cloud definition and using the raw captures, I found no issues with pushing the shadows to balance out the exposures.

Fresh Bites and Porno ©2010 Jason Hindle

Fresh Bites and Porno ©2010 Jason Hindle

All in all, it was a pleasant walk out, mostly spent around Manchester’s Northern Quarter (the closest thing Manchester has to an old town) and I’ll probably explore the place again, at different times of the day, light permitting.  Next time, I’ll probably make use of the L1′s auto bracketing and perhaps read the relevant bits of the manual (with respect to metering) before I leave the house.  A slideshow of photos form the walk can be found here:

A 50mm Walk Around Manchester

OPTIONS FOR SHOOTING FASTER LENSES AT THE 50MM FoV?

Fads come and fads go.  According to the history books, back in the olden days, film SLRs were typically supplied out of the box with a 50mm lens.  Fast forward to today, DSLRs usually come supplied with rather poor, slow zoom lenses.  However, the fixed focal length fast normal (i.e. 50mm) lens has recently become fashionable again and there are some good options:

  • Nikon recently introduced a fast 35mm (the APS-C equivalent of 50mm) with its consumer DSLRs in mind
  • Likewise, Pentax have done the same with a slower lens at the same focal length
  • Canon has options
  • Full frame DSLR users (Canon, Nikon and Sony) have always had lots of options
  • For a wider (but close to normal) field of view, Panasonic have the 20mm (40mm equivalent) for the Micro Four Thirds mount.

Photographing Suva

•October 12, 2010 • Leave a Comment

(It isn’t easy)

Colonial era house
Colonial era house, Suva, Fiji ©2010 Jason Hindle

Fiji’s capital is a curious place for photography.  A chaotic mix of British, colonial era architecture and often bland modern buildings.  Combined with the sea and the palm trees, it makes an interesting place to take photos.

However, it is also a difficult place to shoot because conditions are rarely perfect.    Firstly, it is sub tropical.  In the summer months, it is generally too bright between the hours of eight in the morning and five in the afternoon.  Second, anyone wishing to take photos before eight in the morning or after five in the afternoon may be disappointed.  The sun often rises behind one big cloud and sets behind another.  Sunrise and sunset can be spectacular, but also rare.

That’s not to say taking photos is impossible.  It is just challenging at the best of times.  The full frame photographer doubtless has an easier time of it here.  Sometimes, I even see tourists walking around, hand holding medium format equipment from the likes of Hasselblad and Mamiya.  On one occasion, I’ve even seen a photographer with a wooden, large format Japanese camera (definitely not hand held).  For this trip, I have to make do with the Olympus Pen and its kit lens.

Boats in the morning

Small boats taken at 06:50 in the morning ©2010 Jason Hindle

A good set of filters can also help.  This time, I have none, due to hand luggage restrictions.  Air Pacific, the airline that takes me in and out of  Fiji for this trip has a fairly stern looking hand luggage policy.   So this time, it’s one camera and one lens.  Incidentally, I get the distinct impression I’m on only person on board who adheres to published policies.  Wouldn’t it be easier for airlines to have reasonable policies that are well enforced?  A laptop, camera bag (body, couple of extra lenses plus accessories) and a change of clothes hardly seems unreasonable.

So, taking photos here boils down to taking your chances, shooting as early as the light will allow and shooting as late as the light will allow.  Sometime, it means not taking the camera out of its bag.  With perseverance, patience, and sometimes with a little compromise, it is possible to get some reasonable exposures of the place.

Old  and new

The convergence of old and new, downtown Suva ©2010 Jason Hindle

If there are things like white cars, or even white buildings in a scene, sometimes it helps to simply accept that there will be blown highlight information.  In such cases, I make a simple judgement call as to whether or not they ruin the end photo.

Unsurprisingly, a raw capture sometimes comes in handy.  Also, knowledge of how the camera works can help.  For example, both Nikon and Olympus perform trickery at ISO 200 to protect highlight information, so the lowest usable ISO setting isn’t always the best.

Shopping Street

One of Suva's main shopping streets ©2010 Jason Hindle

Now, any place where old and new collide fascinates me.  Whether it be down town Forth Worth (where the collision is tastefully managed) or down town Suva (completely chaotic), taking photos is enjoyable.  In the case of Suva, it can be a pleasant challenge to try and create order from the chaos of the place.  Sometimes, the chaos can work work equally well.

It also helps to have an idea of what’s on calendar here.  Last Saturday, the annual “Suva on Sale” event was on and this meant the shops were all open until 5:30PM.  Normally on a Saturday, Suva’s central shopping area can be a bit of a ghost town; great for simple, un-crowded street photos but perhaps not so good for giving a real feel for the place.  Saturday was the once in a year opportunity (at least for someone who’s business here isn’t photography) to capture the busiest shopping day in good afternoon light.

More photos can be found at my Suva 2010 gallery, here:

Suva 2010 Gallery

A Saturday Afternoon in Black and White

•May 5, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Looking cool a priority ©2010 Jason Hindle

Looking cool a priority ©2010 Jason Hindle

Black and white is both a fascination and a challenge to me.  Having recently read that some street photographers believe in doing no post processing on their work, I thought I’d do a bit of a Saturday afternoon experiment on black and white. The results can be found here:

Manchester in Black and White

The experiment was simple enough:

1. Set the camera up for black and white photography.
2. Go out and take a few photos.
3. Limit post processing to straightening and cropping only.
4. Publish.

Beetham Tower in black and white.  ©2010 Jason Hindle

Beetham Tower in black and white. ©2010 Jason Hindle

Now, I have two cameras that are both capable of producing very nice black and white results, straight out out of the camera.  As an early Micro 4/3 adopter I have the Panasonic G1 which has an excellent picture mode called dynamic black and white.  More recently, I have the Olympus E-PL1 which gives the flexibility of monochrome plus a colour filter, just like old fashioned film photography.  For this exercise, I decided on the E-PL1 and made the following settings before I left the house:

- Mode: Aperture Priority, F7.1
- Picture mode: Monochrome + red filter, contrast + 2, sharpness + 2
- ISO 200.

Oooh Errr - A little bit of politics.  ©2010 Jason Hindle

Oooh Errr - A little bit of politics. ©2010 Jason Hindle

Having set this up, I went on my Saturday walk and took a few photos along the way, with a casual attitude of “to hell with the highlights”.  The results?  Well street photography isn’t really my forte but some of the technical results were quite nice.  Even at the maximum sharpness the camera allows, when viewed very large, the photos perhaps lack that little extra crispness I achieve with Aperture’s edge sharpening on top of the camera’s default setting (but it is still plenty sharp for me).  The monochrome red filter setting combined with the camera’s maximum contrast setting gives the output enough contrast, which surprised me.

Would I repeat the exercise? I think I would but next time I’d do it a little differently.  The output from these photos is very clean and next time I might boost the ISO, switch the noise filter to off and see if I can get a bit of grain in the resulting images.

About a Photo

•May 4, 2010 • Leave a Comment

(And why raw capture makes sense)

The finished article.  ©2010 Jason Hindle

The finished article. ©2010 Jason Hindle

This is a brief post about how a photo came to be, the camera that took it and the software used to create the finished article.  More importantly, I wanted to explain why a raw capture always makes sense from this JPEG shooter’s perspective.  The photo in question, can be seen above.  The exposure was taken during the second test shoot with my Olympus E-PL1 and on the day I took the exposure several times, trying out each of the camera’s modes and art filters.

The image as shot.  ©2010 Jason Hindle

The image as shot. ©2010 Jason Hindle

Now, I’m predominantly a JPEG shooter.  Getting the shot right while behind the camera, with minimal need for adjustment, saves time later.  That’s not to say I don’t post process.  I always do.  It is also not to say I don’t shoot raw.  I always do that too.   A slight boost to contrast and saturation in Photoshop will usually make an image that little bit better; and a little bit better can count for a lot when it comes to a photo.  I always shoot JPEG plus raw for a number of reasons:

  • Sometimes the white balance out of the camera (I always shoot auto white balance) is a bit off and the raw capture allows me to correct this easily
  • Sometimes I find I need the little bit of extra headroom that raw brings in the highlights and the shadows
  • As I’ve found out recently, time and technology move on and it is quite probable that future raw processing technologies might help me make better images from today’s exposures
  • The Olympus Master software that comes with my camera allows me to play with different actual camera settings on my MacBook.

So, my approach is to shoot JPEG + raw, hope the JPEG works but use the raw capture if I must.

The out of camera image though my normal Aperture workflow ©2010 Jason Hindle

The out of camera image though my normal Aperture workflow ©2010 Jason Hindle

This particular image got me thinking a bit.  Because I shot from the spot several times, trying out a different setting with each exposure, I found the straightest shot was taken in the camera’s natural mode while the best colours came from the camera’s iEnhance mode.  So, I took the raw capture of the straightest shot and tested each of the camera’s modes in Olympus Master.  The results can be found here:

Olympus Master Experiment

I took all the resulting images from Olympus Master and imported them into an Aperture project.  From here I compared them, put the natural image through my usual Aperture workflow and then tried boosting the contrast a little on the photo output using the iEnhance mode (the photo a the top of this page).  To get a real feel for the differences between the images, I recommend taking any two and flicking between them.

Does this mean I should shoot using the camera’s iEnhance mode rather than the Natural mode?  Probably not.  For one thing, the colours are going to be a little too wild for many shooting situations and I tend to prefer more natural looking images (this one being the exception, rather than the rule).  Also, iEnhance blows highlights more easily.

The Ferry at The Edge of The World

•March 14, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The Spirit of Harmony

The Spirit of Harmony ©2009 Jason Hindle

I rarely find myself alone on business trips to Fiji.  Whether the customer, contractors from other companies working with the customer, other people from my own employer or indeed visitors on unconnected business, there’s often someone to share a beer, a story and sometimes the odd weekend road trip with.

One Sunday, myself and Paul, a contractor working with my customer out there set out on a bit of a random exploration.  We headed North from Suva, up the Kings Road and into Nasouri.  From there, we crossed the Rewa River and continued up the Kings Road until we arrived in Korovou.

View From The Kings Road

View from the Kings Road down to the coast ©2009 Jason Hindle

Now, Korovou is a two bit town with little to recommend it.  But, it does have two interesting options.  You can choose to turn left and continue down The Kings Road to Ba, Rakiraki and beyond (more of which in a future blog).  Or, you can chose to turn right.  On this occasion, we chose right and headed down a dirt track (a charitable term for an absence of road).  Along the track, we could see views out to various small islands just off the coast.  We suspected most of these are not inhabited.  Eventually, we arrived at the deserted ferry terminal pictured above and a ferry, The Spirit of Harmony.

Island off Viti Levu

Island off Viti Levu ©2009 Jason Hindle

At the time, there was no one around to ask about the terminal or the Spirit of Harmony but this was clearly no graveyard.  It was perfectly possible to walk onto the ferry (we decided not to trespass) and from deep within the ferry we could hear the hum of machinery.  Locals we asked after the visit believed the ferry is now one of the services between Viti Levu and Vanua Levu (home to Levuka, Fiji’s old capital).

So, today I posted the image to the weekly landscape thread on the Olympus DSLR forum on dpreview and got a most enlightening response about the ownership of the ferry.  It turns out to be owned by a company called Patterson Brothers, one of the oldest transport companies on the Fijian Islands, set up after World War One.  After a little more research online, I found this blog on the subject:

South Pacific Blog

The most enlightening thing about this blog is the safety record of these ferries but then again, this is the edge of the world and the people who live here all too often live on the edge.

The Year of The Tiger (And of Snapping Locally)

•March 12, 2010 • Leave a Comment
Salford Quays

Salford Quays, location of the first Manchester Wide shoot ©2010 Jason Hindle

So, for the Chinese, the year 2010 is the Year of The Tiger.  For me, it is also the year of snapping locally.  Now, that doesn’t mean I occasionally go red in the face and beat the living crap out of the person nearest to me (a problem with real Tigers and small Monkeys from time to time).  For one thing, I’ve never been a snapper in that sense.  Moreover, the nearest person to me might hit back, in which case I’m toast.  No, I mean snapping in the photographic sense.

I’ve tended to restrict my snapping to any of the nice, and not so nice locations my employment takes me to, doing very little photography around Manchester.  But this year, I had an idea, and the idea is called Manchester Wide.  Every once in a while, I’m going to grab the E-30 and 9-18 lens (plus spare batteries and memory cards), go out and take some photos.  I want to see if I can find than nice tranquil zone I get into when snapping somewhere nice.

Urban bench

Yes, it's that ubran bench again ©2010 Jason Hindle

With this in mind, Sunday was a nice, bright and sunny day which makes a big change from the grey, cold, wet, cold, icy, cold, slippy, cold and generally miserable (and cold) winter we’ve had in Manchester.

I thought I’d start my little Manchester Wide project with a walk down to Salford Quays.  For this time of the year, it’s an ideal location.  For one thing, unlike the city centre, it is spread out and, given a little sunshine, the light there can be excellent any day of the year, even with the low winter sun.  Also, Salford Quays is something of a mecca for modern architecture, especially on the side of the Manchester Ship Canal that is technically the City of Salford.

The Lowry Centre

The Lowry Centre, Salford, Gtr Manchester ©2010 Jason Hindle

Salford Quays is also very photographer friendly and, from past experience of taking photos there (usually to test a new camera or lens), I feel I can go there with minimal expectations of bully boy security guards enforcing bogus photography restrictions and work shy police officers after soft targets.

So, did I find myself in the zone of tranquility?  I’d answer with an unqualified yes.  I spent 90 minutes outside of the problems of everyday life, focused on nothing but taking photos.  And then, when I arrived home, I spent a further 90 minutes in a similar zone while I went through my Aperture work flow, uploaded photos to Smugmug, captioned them and then put them in some sort of order to turn the new gallery into a slide show.

The gallery can be found here:

The slide show can be found here:

Manchester Wide Slide Show 1

The sun is getting higher in the sky every day at the moment so in the next few weeks, I’ll start looking at the city centre and beyond.

 
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