20 Apr 2014

Puddle jumping

One of the most famous photographers of all time is/was a Frenchman Henri Cartier-Bresson(1908-2004).He was a pioneer in the use of the minature Leica 35mm camera and he coined the term "the decisive moment" which can be interpreted as "always carry a camera and you'll capture the action."
He left behing a large legacy of ironic photos but his two most famous photos are "Sunday on the banks of the River Marne" - and "Behind Saint-Lazare Station,Paris,1932"-more usually known as the puddle jumper.Today the puddle jumper looks a little ordinary but it's important to remember that H C-B did not have the benefit of autofocus or fast sensors or fast film.A grabbed,unstaged,action shot like this was really pioneering in 1932.

I attempted to mimic HC-B's puddle jumper decisive moment with a shot in a torrential storm in Hong Kong last month.I used a Leica like HC-B and as he probably did I used a 35mm (equivalent) lens .However I did not use film and I shot it in colour.I have looked at it in black and white but it does not work so well- so colour it is.I deliberately used a slow shutter speed to add atmosphere but some camera shake crept in.Two puddle jumpers 82 years, half a world and a lot of technology apart.

17 Apr 2014

Historic racing-Goodwood/Donnington 2014

A change of pace from the recent mellow photos of my travels in China and back to the action .
The historic motor racing season is already in full swing in the UK.Peter de Rousset-Hall whose motor racing action shots have appeared on the blog previously was at the recent Goodwood Members Meeting and Donnington Historics with his very serious gear.
To get this level of quality in motor racing action shots nowadays there are no shortcuts.You cannot do it with a budget DSLR and a kit zoom lens -regrettably.You certainly cannot lean over the fence at Brands Hatch's Kidney Bend like I did at the 1968 British Grand Prix wielding a 3A Leica with just a 50mm lens .See Brands Hatch.Those days are sadly long gone as Peter explains.

"All the photos were taken on Canon 1Dx fitted with a Canon 200-400 f4 lens with a built in 1.4x teleconverter.Most were shot at 400 with the converter engaged and some were quite heavily cropped giving an effective focal length of well over 1000mm.As race tracks are adapted to have ever larger runoff areas the need for cropping, even on long lenses, becomes ever greater.  
I can remember standing at the end of the pit straight at Silverstone as a kid and being able to virtually reach out and touch the track.Now you would need arms about 100 yards long when standing there.The good news is that, at a price, the quality of sensors and lenses has improved so much that heavy cropping can still give very sharp results."

I am sure that you will agree that Peter's photos are superb and it is not just down to the gear because he certainly knows where to stand to frame his photos.Thanks for sharing them Peter. 

16 Apr 2014

Early adopter

Patrick ,who lives in Namur,Belgium sent me this photo of a BMW i3 electric car spotted leaving his local shopping centre.It's the first one he had seen on the road and he remarks that it in the metal it looks less attractive than the press photos.I have to agree and maybe the Kia/Hyundai colour does not help but it is disappointing that it is not obviously a BMW.The one thing about BMWs over more than 60 years is that they have been recognisably BMW and part of a lineage.This one looks like an interloper -which in some ways it is.
Despite the questionnable styling it is by all accounts a remarkable piece of engineeering.I am sure that this early adopter will be feeling more than a little smug.An electric car and it's a BMW at the same time.What more could one want apart from triple the range before a recharge?Or should that be an electrizing?See previous story.

15 Apr 2014

And today's new word is.........

It used to be said that the Chinese never invented anything-they merely copied.Well it was probably never true and it is definitely not true today.Now they even invent new English words.Seen at Guilin airport last week.

12 Apr 2014

5 days in China with a Leica X1 -part 2

The second batch of photos from the recent China trip were taken in Guilin and on the Li River.The karst limestone peak scenery of this area is arguably the most well known landscape in China.The four hour boat trip from Guilin to Yangshou through the most spectacular part of the river gorge is taken by thousands of predominantly Chinese tourists every day and from 9-10.00 am the river at Guilin is filled with an armada of big tourist boats heading off downstream.As you travel downstream "pirate boats" made of bamboo logs lashed together and manned by ever optimistic fruit vendors come alongside the tourist boats and the men cling to the sides of the boats balancing precariously on their rafts as they try to sell fruit to the passengers through the boat windows.
At various points smaller tourist boats filled with Chinese tourists all wearing life jackets cluster on the river.
Lunch is served on the big tourist boats but the western tourists including myself prefer to bring their own lunch on board as the boat food is prepared using river water and following a number of "gastric incidents" the western tourists are now warned off taking the boat lunch.The couple in the photos seem to be enjoying a substantial lunch and don't appear to have any concerns about side effects.The Tsing Tao beer the boats serve is OK fortunately.
I was in Guilin during a public holiday designated for visiting the tombs of ancestors and vendors were selling paper flowers and other paper items for people to put on the graves.The two streetside shots were taken in the magic hour just before dusk in Guilin.Nothing like a quick family game of cards beside the main road before you head home to put the only child to bed.
The woman in traditional dress was attending a function in the hotel and I could not resist asking if I could take her photo and she agreed.I wish that I had had more time to pose her but I did not want to intrude anymore than I had.
All Leica X1 photos.

9 Apr 2014

5 days in China-with a Leica X1 -part 1

I first visited China in 1984.It was just a quick day trip over the border from Hong Kong.I remember the drawn out immigration and customs procedure on entry and having to list details of all the personal belongings we were bringing in with us.I remember there being no cars,just bicycles,crude motor powered carts,very ancient trucks and buses and very drably dressed people who all looked as if they were participating in a nationwide lemon sucking contest going by their permanent joyless expressions.I remember having lunch in a very drab restaurant where all the bowls had minute crazing cracks which were brown.Yuk.We only went into one small town and most of the travel was through a very poor rural area.China in 1984 did not look to be an attractive place at all and they made it fairly obvious that they did not really want us there.
My next visit was to Shanghai in 2004 and it was very different visit.It was boomtown plus.An extraordinary energy and pace permeated the city and visitors were very welcome.
Ten years later I have been back to China again.Not this time to a big city but to what by Chinese standards is a small city-Guilin with a population of "only" 300,000 in the visually stunning karst limestone peak country in southern China.I spent 3 days in Guilin and then sailed down the Li River to the tourist town of Yangshou where I spent 2 days.
Modern China really is an extraordinary place.The rate of change is quite breathtaking.China has gone from rural peasant economy to a rapidly emerging first world urban economy in 30 years.Even out in the country there are Audis and BMWs and Range Rovers.Then beside them are bicycles and crude trucks and wizened old ladies pushing carts and even water buffalos ploughing the fields.The contrasts are everywhere.So much untidyness and visual pollution-even out in the country -alongside great natural beauty.A superb hotel-the Shangri-La in Guilin is beside the river but one end of the vista is obstructed by a scruffy run down apartment block which is almost in the hotel's grounds.In the markets you see food being merchandised in what appear to be the most unhygenic conditions and then walk a few hundred metres and you see an ultra modern restaurant.

The purpose of the trip was to attend a wedding in Hong Kong and China was an add on.For me it provided a great photo opportunity.I am really working hard to bring back just a few photos which capture the spirit and feel of the places I am visiting.
All the photos were taken with my Leica X1 which is very unobtrusive and almost toylike compared with the big bazooka DSLRs favoured by the Chinese and European tourists I saw.This certainly works in my favour as the people seem less concerned by me shooting away than when they have a great monster of a camera pointed at them.Chinese nationals make up probably 95% of the tourists I saw.They now have money and are very eager to travel-and to buy big Nikons and Canons.
The weather conditions were sometimes inclement -- there was an almost permanent haze from a combination of pollution and humidity-and rapidly changing conditions-heavy rain showers and then sunshine- but I am happy with the results of my photography.
The first tranche of photos were taken on the first day when we made a very long and slow journey up into the mountains to see the magnificent rice terraces and the local minority people.I also got up early that morning to photograph a street market in Guilin near to the hotel. I just hope that the hotel did not get their meat from there.

 Technical notes for the photography techos.All photos taken with the Leica X1 - predominantly DNG files-processed in Lightroom 4.There are a couple of jpegs in there - taken on the natural setting.I spent a lot of effort-more than I usually spend - trying to optimise the exposure.I did a lot of exposure bracketing.
I probably could have used all of the shots as jpegs although the DNG files do give me more latitude in adjustment.When I look at the X1 jpegs the colour and saturation and tonality is very accurate and although they do not look bitingly sharp the detail is all there.Leica seem to shy away from oversharpening their files-unlike Sony in particular- relying on the lens to deliver most/all of the sharpness.This trip may have convinced me to use predominantly jpegs going forward and to minimise the use of processing software particularly the sharpening tools.

7 Apr 2014

On the road in China

I'm back from Hong Kong and China and will be sorting out the photos in the next few days.A couple for starters.Firstly a very large car transporter seen on the expressway south of Guilin on last Sunday morning.This monster was long and as you can see it carries a double row of cars on the top deck making it a very wide vehicle.No signage to indicate that it is a wide load and as we approached it I saw a double deck coach pass it and the coach was pretty close to the top deck.I have no idea whether these transporters are restricted to certain roads but as it is China I doubt it.
Road safety does not seem front of mind for the Chinese.Within 24 hours of arriving I saw the aftermath of three major accidents.In the first two cars had collided at a crossroads.There was very little traffic around and they would have had to try hard to find another car to run into.And it was a big hit.In the second accident a car and a truck had collided and the truck had been forced off the road and one of its front wheels was hanging over a sharp drop.In the third a car was on its roof with a trail of debris marking its line of travel.The second and third accidents happened on a very winding mountain road where very slow, grossly overloaded trucks blowing out plumes of black smoke were wheezing uphill and drivers in faster vehicles totally ignored yellow lines and blind bends and just drove on the other side of the road pumping their horns as they passed them.It reminded me of driving in India,Vietnam and Turkey .Of course after getting away with these suicidal passes for a time they eventually meet a vehicle coming the other way which cannot or is unwilling to yield and the inevitable happens.
The second photo is of a truck in the main street in Yangshuo a small town in Yangshou County south of Guilin.This is a pretty typical sight.You see strange mobile set ups everywhere.I'm sure an Australian government heavy vehicle inspector would immediately apply for stress leave if confronted with a vehicle like this.And yes those are people in the back of the truck.No OH&S for them.

6 Apr 2014

Natural colour


I rarely take landscape photos.When I first started photography -so long ago- landscape photographs were very predictable-almost always black and white-dry stone walls- windswept moors, and so on and I found them downright dull .Because there was no internet all I saw of the genre was in magazines.Then in the last 20 years I have been exposed to lots of absolutely superb landscape photography on the internet.So many brillliant landscape photographers walking into wilderness areas and taking amazing shots in amazing light.Way out of my league.But sometimes I dabble.
Lichen covered rocks-St Helens,east coast of Tasmania,Australia.Leica X1.

3 Apr 2014

Peugeot's woes

I have always has a soft spot for Peugeot since being responsible for their sales and marketing in Australia for nearly 10 years back in the 1980s and I still own a Peugeot today.We sold some great cars particularly the 505 and the 205 GTI.So I was sad to see that the Peugeot family has lost control of the company after years of heavy losses and have just sold 14% of the company to Chinese interests-the Dong Feng Motor Group -and 14% to the French Government.
Peugeots woes have been building for many years-a combination of many issues but particularly gross overcapacity and low productivity and a very heavily reliance on the European market which has been very depressed for the last few years.
Peugeot have not sold cars in the critical US market since the early 1990s and no internationally succesful automotive brand has prospered without a strong US market presence.Peugeot's problem was that they really did not have products which suited the US market and the brands strength in diesel cars was of no interest at all to Americans.
Peugeots halcyon days were 1950-1985 when they had big sales volumes in Africa,the Middle East and South America with initially the 203 and then the 504 and 505.They were ,of course, very strong in the French "colonial" markets.The cars were well engineered rugged,reliable and well suited to rough market conditions.Many were shipped to the markets in SKD(semi knocked down)or CKD (completely knocked down) kit form and locally assembled to meet local duty and quota rules.In Australia the local importer,JRA ,assembled the 505 from CKD kits because of import restrictions on fully built up cars at the time.Peugeot lost these markets because they did not have a successor to the 505 and because the Japanese and later Korean brands came into the markets.
The photo above taken by me in 1984 at the end of the 505 production line in Sochaux,France shows some of the last US market cars being finished.

29 Mar 2014

On the road again

If all goes according to plan by the time you read this the Rolling Road editorial team- me- will be in Hong Kong for a niece's wedding over the weekend and then onto Guilin in China for a few days.I will have my Leica charged and ready to shoot and hopefully I will return with some interesting photos.The blog has plenty of material in hand and so I have set it up on autopilot for the next week so there should be no interruptions in the posting of new stories.

25 Mar 2014

Barry Sheene Festival of Speed-some photos.

I went to the Barry Sheene Festival of Speed at Sydney Motorsport Park on Sunday.A great vintage motorcycle racing meeting.Some wonderful machinery, more than a few characters,some people who were certifiably mad -sidecar racers- and a terrific atmosphere and as far away from the poseurs and wannabees of F1,V8 Supercars and Porsche Carrera Cup as you could get.
I took my camera  and concentrated on trying to capture the atmosphere -not much chance of action shots with the fixed 35mm lens but everyone else was taking those with their Canikon DSLRs and kit zoom lenses anyway.It's very easy to take a load of rubbish photos at these meetings -as I know from previous experience- so I tried really hard to be discerning.Here are my efforts - all with the X1.And the last one is my favourite by far.And for those who are interested this was a DNG (RAW) file which I have adjusted in Lightroom.I bracketed the exposure and this one was the optimum or perhaps that should be the best compromise although I would have liked to have had the man on the rh side in a better position as he was in one of the less acceptable exposures.