Tuesday 27 September 2011

WWII in Photographs

The commander of a Cossack unit in the Kharkov region, Ukraine, on June 21, 1942 

If, like me, you are interested in photography from World War II, then I'm sure you'll absolutely love the WWII retrospective that the Atlantic photography blog InFocus is currently running.

Released every Sunday until the end of October, this 20 part retrospective look at the world during World War II features some fantastic work covering all aspects of the war from the home front through to the war in Russia and the Pacific.

This fantastic galleries, many containing over 40 images and including action photos and portraits like the superb Cossack commander photograph seen above, really do capture the human experiences of the conflict on all fronts and bring the history of World War II to life.

To visit the excellent InFocus WWII galleries go to http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/ww2.html

Sunday 25 September 2011

7300 Days

Twenty years ago, i walked into an art college and commenced my photographic education. For six years, via three art colleges,  i went through the best and worst of an education system designed to 'encourage' creative thought. I actually found that by the end of it all, when i came to leave education, it had had the reverse effect. My love of photography was eroded over 18 months. That was partly due to me, but my final photography course also played a part too.

I started out studying a mixture of TV, film and photography and, in the long run, it seems to have been the course that is the most relevant to working as a photographer in this growing multimedia era. The equipment i used back then would be considered antiques now - the only digital thing in the edit suite was the CD player - but the techniques for editing video, recording audio and taking photographs haven't changed - even if the technology has improved considerably.

The question i often ask myself is; What kind of photographer would I have been without those six years of study? Did it really make much of a difference? I think i did... but what's kinda eluding me are the details of how and why.

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Book Making: Blurb

Four years ago, I came across a photography blog post that talked about the start of a new online photography project. That project was the Solo Photo Book Month where participants have to shoot, edit and design a photography book featuring 35+ images in just 31 days. Sadly I was too late to take part in the project's launch year but I decided then and there that i would take part the following year - I've done so ever since. I think what appealed to me the most was the flexibility and laid back approach to making a photobook. You make it as challenging as you want it to be. The project was also achievable - unlike other projects that make great demands on the participant.

 This year I wanted to produce an actual photography book. The internet has opened up a whole new range of possibilities for producing printed books at a price not that much higher than a book of a shop shelf. After a look around i decided to go with Blurb.com. I liked the range of books and the free book designing software called BookSmart makes the construction of a book far easier and quicker. This post is really a review but just my experiences of using the Blurb service. Before this I'd had a little experience making books the old fashioned way at college. This was all pre-digital glorified 'build your own book' type of photobook. The new self published books are more in line with what a professionally printed book should look like. The PDF version of the book Sand, Sky, Sea and Street, I submitted to SoFoBoMo wouldn't transfer easily to the blurb book templates so I decided to start from scratch and design a new book. It was frustrating but I'm glad it went that way now. The results were so much better and I could re-evaluate the book design and the photographs too.

The design itself came together quickly aided by the easy to use BookSmart software. By using Blurb's own software you also get the added benefit of being able to check on how your book looks with the preview option. Using BookSmart speeded the design process up no end and I'd certainly recommend using it. There are plenty of choices available for the book designer when using the software. I decided to go with a small 7x7 inches (18x18cm) book mainly because to suit the square format of the photography i was placing on the pages The finished book was completed in four days with the slightly altered title of Sea, Sky, Sand and Street. The 44Mb file uploaded to the Blurb website in around 20 minutes. We were ready for publishing.

It should be noted that you have to buy a published edition of your own book within 15 days or the design is taken off the website. No doubt that is to stop large scale book designing and to conserve Blurb's server space. Once you buy a copy of your book it will remain on your Blurb bookstore page for others to buy. I ordered a hard cover edition with premium matt paper. Delivery took around ten days. The one issue that did concern me was the accuracy of the publishing. It's great having a book design on screen that looks fabulous but it needs to go through the publishing process. Probably the biggest worry is the trimming and construction of the book. Photographs need space on the page so that they are not cropped or obscured when the pages are printed and the book is put together. The BookSmart software gives guidance but an element of care is still needed. Just before I sent the book off for printing I reduced the image size on the pages by 5%. It doesn't sound that much but it gave that extra bit of space for the assembly of the book. The printed version came out very nicely with only a very small difference (on the edges of the cover design) between the BookSmart designed version and the published hardback copy I ordered. I would say that overall the design remained 97% intact.

The print quality is superb on my edition. Images have fantastic deep black tones and crisp whites. Text was sharp and well defined. My only complaint would be that the images have a greenish/yellowish tone that isn't there in the original images. This doesn't distract from the book quality and it may just be a printing issue with the very dark black photograph tones. Some of the warmth of the original photographs has been lost though which is a shame. If you are particularly fussy about print tones this may be something to take into consideration. I will be ordering more copies of Sea, Sky, Sand and Street in future and it will be interesting to see if the green/yellow tone are there in the new copies. It's a small issue but one that can hopefully be sorted out over time so that the image tones are nearer the originals.

In conclusion, I can say that my first published book went really well. If I had to give a mark it would get an eight out of ten. The book is well made and the print quality is excellent. I have a number of photography books in my collection that aren't as well printed as this Blurb book. The service would have have got a nine or a ten if the image tones had been nearer the original photographs. I would like to say that what you design and see on the screen is what you get, but sadly it isn't quite as straightforward as that - at least not for me so far. Don't be put off by that though. If you want to produce a photography book, the Blurb service delivers great results.

Sunday 18 September 2011

Error 29

This last couple of weeks has been all about fixing things - especially this last week where everything seemed to go wrong. During the middle of the week the website server was hacked and although the site wasn't damaged, it did go offline for around 36 hours. Fortunately the web host technical support guys did a great job of rebooting everything and getting the site back onto the web.

My iPhone problem was a different matter. Around two weeks ago i sent it to get repaired at i-phone-repairs.co.uk. The connector was damaged so i couldn't update the phone software and i decided to have a new battery put in too. I sent the phone off on the Monday and got it back on the Saturday. Not bad i thought. How very wrong i was.

The first thing i wanted to do was get the new Apple iPhone operating system update done. It started off fine and then came up with an error message. After numerous attempts at this with the same error message, i decided to then do a full restore and update. Start from scratch. An error number 29 message came up. By this point i was worried.

After some researching online i discovered a number of people mentioned the battery as being the likely problem. 99.99% of the time it's the battery claimed one forum post. The problem could be caused by a non genuine, cheap or incompatible battery being placed in the phone. So i decided to e-mail i-phone-repairs.co.uk to see what they said. I got this email back.

Dear Mr Richard Flint,
Thank you for contacting us regarding your order, I have looked in to this for you and I can see that the reason you are having these faults are due to the newer versions of software, which are actually intended for the iPhone 4. I am afraid there is nothing we would be able to do to help you on this occasion.

Kind regards,
Customer Service Advisor

Hmm not even a trace of 'we'd like to help' there. I sent a second e-mail detailing the issue better and got this email reply from i-phone-repairs.co.uk . This email has been pasted into the post complete with the spelling mistakes from the original email.

Dera Mr Flint,

Thank you for getting back to us with this, I have spoken to one of our supervisors and they have advised that due to the software that has een upgraded on your device there is nothing that we can do, we would like to send our apologies for this and if teher was something that we can do we would however we can not. If you have any furthur questions or queries please do not hesitate to ask.

Kind Regards

Customer Service Advisor

Do you get the impression that the reply was rather rushed? It has we don't care! written all over it. From that point on i realised that I had to fix it. I ordered a genuine battery and some tools and did it myself. The result was the iPhone started first time. It WAS the battery causing the fault. On closer inspection it turned out that i-phone-repairs.co.uk had placed into my iPhone 3GS, a cheap non-genuine iPhone 3G battery with the number APN:616-0366 - whereas a 3GS needs a battery with the number APN:616-433 or 435 to avoid unknown Error 29 messages with IOS4.

This is an issue that a repair company should have known about. They probably did but didn't care once they got my money. If they don't know about battery compatibility then that is rather worrying. OK, they repaired the connector socket fine - so far. I'll give them that, but to blatantly not give a toss about after care (or my iPhone), especially when the customer has a problem, is pretty disgusting. People care about their phones and need to trust that they are getting a phone repaired correctly. It's a strange business model to have an iPhone sent for repair by the customer, only to be returned to them with another fault caused by that very business using the wrong components.

Add to that the fact that the cheap 3G battery they put in could have potentially damaged my phone (it got very warm, would not charge properly and caused system restarts every few minutes) i find it hard to recommend this company to anyone. Not even an enemy!