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Benoît Felten

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Embracing the Shadows

Published June 7th, 2013

A few weeks ago I wrote a feature for the X-Equals blog explaining how I process (and to some extent shoot) my jazz photos. I thought this could be of interest to some of you here, since I detail the processing approach to the two pictures shown here.

You can find the article here.

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My First Attempt at Cyanotype

Published April 26th, 2012

For months, I've been looking slightly fascinated at cyanotype prints. I was first exposed to them through Cyanotype Kit that had everything you need (except sunlight). I'm not advocating you should buy it, but I will be getting it, especially since I haven't found the glass rods on sale individually anywhere else. 2. Preparation There are two things you need to prepare: your paper and your digital negative. Both are easy. For the paper, you need to be in a dim place with no direct sunlight (but you don't need full obscurity either). Lay the paper flat in front of you and position the glass rod alongside the short side of your sheet (assuming an A4 sized print or thereabouts). Then fill the syringe with sensitizer and gently press it at the junction of the rod and the paper all along the width of the rod. You want to be fairly quick at this so you can spread the fluid on the page before the paper absorbs all of it. Then push the rod away from you, thus distributing the sensitizer ...

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My First Attempt at Cyanotype

Published April 26th, 2012

For months, I've been looking slightly fascinated at cyanotype prints. I was first exposed to them through Sinead McDonald, and then via 500px's own Britta Hershman. I loved the subdued and slightly uneven rendition. So when the opportunity arose to take a lesson with Sinead last time I was in Ireland, I totally jumped on it. This post aims at describing the process for those who may be curious or intimidated by it. It turned out to be so easy that I intend to do some more Cyanotypes with my kids as soon at time and weather allow. I'll break it down in steps for easier understanding: 1. What you'll need You need a few things for the kind of Cyanotype I was shown how to do: a. a digital photograph, if possible a contrasty one since cyanotype doesn't do subtle very well b. an inkjet printer and some inkjet film. Printer quality is not an issue here, see below for why c. a bottle of cyanotytpe sensitizer (I used Fotospeed Cyanotype Sensitizer). Some people also like to do their ...

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Embracing Chiaroscuro

Published April 12th, 2012

chi·a·ro·scu·ro (k-är-skr, -skyr)

n. pl. chi·a·ro·scu·ros In all senses also called claire-obscure.

1. The technique of using light and shade in pictorial representation.

2. The arrangement of light and dark elements in a pictorial work of art.

Modern DSLRs - at least in the high end of the spectrum - have a frankly amazing dynamic range, even in low-light conditions. With the fast progression of high-ISO viability, the ability to capture detail in low-light is really high. As an amateur concert photographer, I always try to get well exposed subjects when I shoot concert shots.

Recently though I've delved into some of the emblematic photos or the jazz era, and the iconic power of these badly lit shots struck me. It may have been because of technical limitations back then, but the use of chiaroscuro really made some of these shots really strong.

So I decided to try that myself. I revisited some 'old' shots of a Klezmer Madness concert I attended that I had discarded because I thou ...

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Shooting A Fiber Optic Lamp

Published April 11th, 2012

One of the things I was keenest to explore when I started photography was shooting fiber optics. I find photos of fiber optics fascinating and wanted to try and do my own.

I found it to be surprisingly difficult: in order to get the nice bokeh rings that one normally associates with these kinds of shots you need to have a really wide aperture (or a macro lens, which I didn't have at the time), but that in turn creates issues with light and color management in the sensor for long-ish exposures in the dark. This shot is from a series that I had to do in JPG instead of RAW for that reason.

Furthermore, I discovered on the occasion of my first attempt that bokeh rings that are inside of the minimal focusing distance of your lens are incomplete, create a strange disconnect when you view the shots.

This one was the best of that early series. When time allows, I want to revisit the concept with different color lamps, my macro lens and a white background.

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Should street shots have legible stories?

Published March 6th, 2012

You can see the story of this shot in the photo description.

Taking and then reviewing this shot really got me into deep thinking about what makes an effective street photo.

The most powerful street photos have seen have been moments seized that tell stories. It's not just about depicting street life (although sometimes that carries an inherent story), but it's about action too, and strong characters.

On the other hand, a photo that carries with it an inherent mystery can be a really interesting photo as well. It compels the viewer to explore the photo to try and figure out (or, in this case decide) what they think is happening.

So I'm kind of undecided about this one.

Let's have a discussion about street photography!

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Thoughts about the evolutions on 500px

Published March 5th, 2012

I haven't posted here in a while. In part because I was waiting for this to become a proper blogging platform, and in part because there was little or nothing new about 500px to discuss.

It is now clear that 500px will not offer proper blogging tools, and maybe it was silly of me to think they ever wood. I was hoping that I could use this as an outlet for all my musings on photography, in the same way that I'm using this as an outlet for all my (decent) photography. Stories, however, is even less of a blogging tool than the previous incarnation. It seems that 500px doesn't want you to talk about photography, it wants you to talk about how you took photographs. Pretty radical, but hey, I can only blame myself for assuming that going towards a proper (if sparse) blogging platform was a goal for the site.

I don't particularly like the changes that 500px has recently implemented. The site is, if possible, even less social than it previously was: less sharing options, wall relegated to a ...

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External 500px Photo Curation

Published January 31st, 2012

In the absence of any curation tool in 500px to enhance the visibility of photos that are more than a few hours old, I decided to turn to Pinterest for that. I have opened two pages on Pinterest, one devoted to 500px Concert Photography and one devoted to 500px Patterns, Textures, Alignments and Repetition.

I hope that ultimately this kind of function becomes native to 500px, but in the meantime, check them out!

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Check this out: On the other side of the camera

Published January 27th, 2012

Photography can be an obsessive hobby (or job), and while our loved ones often complain that we're too often behind the camera (how maby times has my wife told me that I was 'missing it all' because I had a camera in front of my eye) we rarely (if ever) end up in the photos themselves.



That is perhaps why this series of portraits by Sinead McDonald struck a chord with me. Sinead started this project (she tells me it's in the process of being extended) when a photographer friend of hers passed away and the family found out they had very few photos of him or her.



I find these photos quite striking both in terms of mood and also because there's something in the way the photographers look at the camera that make them stand apart in a way.



You can take the opportunity to check out Sinead's other projects (especially the awesome and gruesome vet series.)

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Review: 6 Mois - Issue 1

Published January 23rd, 2012

Anyone who is even remotely interested in photojournalism knows that it's sadly an endangered profession. The people who brought us some of the most striking images of war, social upheaval, ecology disasters or remote civilizations can often no longer make a living doing it.

The Arab Spring and the conflict in Lybia was a turning point: stories abound of freelance photojournalist who covered these events and risked their lives to bring back striking visual representation of what was happening on the ground only to discover that... they couldn't sell them. Newspapers preferred paying a few bucks for shoddy mobile phone pictures than for quality photographies of the events.

To me this is a real concern. The work of photojournalists cannot be reduced to being at the right place at the right time and pressing the button. There's a lot of preparation that goes into a project, it involves understanding the dynamics of the events covered, the forces in presence, the key people and factions. ...

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I wish I'd known...

Published December 20th, 2011

Things have been so hectic lately with the new baby and work that I haven't blogged here in ages. I shouldn't even be here now, but there's only so much work I can take in one sitting.

Anyway, just a quick note. I've been meaning to talk about this a while ago and simply couldn't find the time. For my birthday last March I asked for a Panasonic Lumix LX5, and I got it. I was well chuffed at first: at last I had a small camera that I was going to be able to take along with me at all times when travelling (which I do a lot for work). With an F/2 lens, I was confident I would get the same depth of field effects that I love to produce on my DSLR and was only comprimising on lens versatility (obviously) and MPs.

Boy was I wrong. From the get go I realised that the dynamic range was nowhere near what I was used to even with my old Canon 1000D. Shooting at dusk produced pictures that were atrocious, with blown highlight and deep blacks instead of ranges of shadows. I was dissapointed, but I ...

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How To Get Your Pictures in 500px's Popular

Published November 23rd, 2011

500px’s popular section is the holy grail for all 500px users. It’s the section every one wants to be featured in. Like every other 500px user (I guess) I have impressions and pre-conceptions about what makes it to the Popular section. I hate to rely on pre-conceptions however, so I started to wonder about how I could challenge them with available data.

In order to do that, today I spent a few hours tracking the content in the first pages of popular. I looked at 100 photos in the first 5 pages and tracked available data about the photos themselves, and about the users who posted these photos. The idea was to get a better sense of what’s in popular factually in the hope that it can enlighten the question: how do you make it there?

Before I show you the results, I want to explain a little bit more about how I’ve built the data set and introduce a number of caveats. This may seem boring to you, but analyzing data is part of my day job, and I can’t do it without being clear what the limi ...

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Three Solutions to Reform the Dislike Button

Published November 15th, 2011

In the last couple of weeks there's been some healthy debate on my blog about the Dislike button and what it would mean to lose it. Consensus amongst commentators who have thought about these issues seems to be that losing it altogether is not the solution (especially as a number of strange photos floated to the top of the Popular section when 500px experimented with disabling it for one week-end).

However, it's also commonly believed to be abused, essentially in two ways:

- first, by people whose photos are in the Popular section who will use the dislike to "knock down" pictures that are just above theirs in order to creep up in the ranking, be better viewed and presumably accrue more likes as a consequence,

- second, by people using it out of spite, as a retaliation for a comment they didn't like on one of their photos or a blog post they disagree with (I experienced the latter...)

The commonly mentioned "solutions" to fix the Dislike button were discussed but all seem to have ...

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The cost of losing the dislike button

Published November 8th, 2011

These last few weeks, I got the impression that dissing the dislike button had become a favorite pastime on 500px blogs and on twitter. This puzzled me a little since I felt that the dislike button was an interesting feature as I tried to express in my blog post In Support of 500px's Dislike Button. Not without its flaws, most likely, and open to abuse, but interesting nonetheless.

Last week-end, 500px disabled the dislike button, just for the week-end, as an experiment, and today the team asked people what they felt about it. Overall, I got the impression that few people really spotted the difference, whether they knew about the experiment or not. A few odd or frankly gross photos made it to the Popular section, but apart from that, it wasn't a site shattering event. Still, it's an interesting question to ask what the consequences would be of eliminating the dislike button for good?

A lot of the anger about the dislike button is that it is supposedly used by "voter cliques" that pre ...

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Waiting for 500px changes

Published November 3rd, 2011

When I joined 500px a couple of months back now, I expressed my hope that some features would evolve enough for me to justify ditching Flickr and my photo blog and getting an awesome account to focus all my online photographic presence here.

8 weeks on roughly, I'm still waiting to see any changes. Sure, 500px released a pretty good ipad app, which is a fun feature, but for me as a potentially paying user, not a vital one. I understand why they needed to do it, and it seems their visibility increased considerably as a consequence, but I'm not seeing that it really changes much for me as a photography enthousiast trying to make my work seen by others.

So I thought I'd write this to summarise what I'm hoping to see in the next few weeks / months and hopefully spark some discussions as to what features other 500px would like to see. Anyway, here's my list:

1. A decent blogging platform

The blogging platform we currently have is as rudimentary as they get. I never thought I'd ever hav ...

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The Meaning of Lytro

Published October 19th, 2011

After months of buzz, the Lytro "light-field" camera appears to be very close to commercialization. When I first found out about the concept I thought a lot about its implications both to me as a photographer and to photography in general. Of course, not having used one, the following is nothing but speculation, but it helps me form my own mind as to whether I see the development positively, whether I think it has a chance as a commercial product and whether I think it's the end of the world (of photography) as we know it.

First, in case you've been living under a rock, here's what we know about Lytro:

- Lytro is a new type of camera that captures light fields as opposed to a frozen light pattern. See it as a super-extended RAW file: in RAW you can manipulate exposure after the fact to an extent. With light-field shots you can manipulate sharpness and focal points after the fact. To an extent also, I'm guessing. The specs say that the camera captures 11 light-fields, although we don' ...

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Early feedback on the 500px ipad app

Published October 17th, 2011

The 500px ipad app went live over the week-end. I didn't have eager expectation for it, mostly because I find the browsing experience on 500px via Safari mostly fine, but still, I use my ipad on a frequent basis, and it's free, so why not take the plunge?

The app is quick and easy to download and set-up, as you'd expect. More importantly, it looks super-sleek, and while that is also to be expected considering the attention to detail and ergonomy that the 500px team has shown so far, it's still quite an experience once you're in there.

Browsing through photos in the different sections (Editor's Choice, Popular, Upcoming, Fresh and Your Photos) is smooth, display is high quality and makes the most of the ipad screen size. There's no visual clutter when browsing photos, and you need to tap on the photo to get the menu/options to pop up, essentially to like, dislike and/or comment on photos.

I found it surprisingly easy and comfortable to do my commenting on the ipad, and I suspect I'l ...

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A short visit to Fotografiska in Stockholm

Published October 15th, 2011

Last week I was in Stockholm three days for work. My last meeting on Thursday evening ended close to the recently opened Fotografiska exhibition hall near Gamla Stan. I had an hour to spare, so I headed out there. The place itself is quite interesting, just by the harbor (I'm assuming it's an old warehouse) and with an amazing view on the Stockholm city center.

But I wasn't there to admire the building. The main exhibition floor was devoted to Nick Brandt's On This Earth, A Shadow Falls. I own both of Nick Brandt's published books (On This Earth and A Shadow Falls) and have documented myself thoroughly on his very unusual technique. With the exception of a few majestic landscapes, his animal portraits are shot with 50mm lenses, which is very unusual considering he shoots mostly elephants and felines. That proximity makes his photos really stunning and impressive. Furthermore, Brandt has developed a technique to extract and tilt his lens while shooting, and the resulting selective focu ...

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More ratio considerations

Published October 14th, 2011

My post last week on ratios between photos shot and photos kept sparked some interest here with a few comments and a lot more on twitter (thanks to @SteelToad @spectaclephoto @One_Stein @sandrarugina @rwyoungimages @Jwainke @ShutterSociety @EvanescentZA @gerlo @tsilo_ @cristiantruu @theNetImp @photographybird @Mauri_go @KevinROBrien @ratzlaff @Tochilin @JayPovey and my good friend and talented photographer @sineadw). I thought it would be interesting to synthesise the responses as a follow-up to the discussion.

The first thing that came out, which I kind of expected, but it's interesting to have confirmation of it, is that a number of people don't eliminate anything. A number of the photographers who keep everything seem to have experience in film photography, where no one destroys their negatives, and perpetuate that on digital. These contributors to the debate therefore expressed ratios of 1:1, and maybe that's my fault: in my original post I described my own process which does inv ...

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What's your ratio?

Published October 10th, 2011

There's no doubt that most digital photographers shoot way more than film photographers, for understandable reasons. I was reading someone's blog post that they had 9000 shots to go through in post-processing. It got me to wonder about my own ratio of shots to photographs.

In other words, how many shots to I bring back, and how many come out good enough that I'll export them and upload them on Flickr, say. I don't actually document that, and I only know in some circumstances what goes in and what comes out. The reason is that since using my ipad on the road, I sort through pics there and eliminate duds. The consequence is that when the pics make it into lightroom, an initial process of elimination has already occured.

When I shoot concerts however, there's no half-step process on the ipad, so I have a better idea. I will usually come back from a gig with around 400 shots on a good night (ie. a night where I was standing close enough to the stage to use my 50 and 85mm lenses efficien ...

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I have been disliked by the 500px ecosystem

Published October 8th, 2011

Last night I posted in reaction to a number of comments I read on the dislike button saying I quite liked it and explaining why (see In support of 500px's dislike button).

As a consequence, two things happened this morning. When I woke up, there were a number of comments and favorites on my photos that weren't there the night before. Also, my affection had dropped by a couple of points. When I checked the rating on some of the individual photos, I noticed that the last 6 photos had dropped to single digits of low teens.

I had been actively disliked.

Of course, there's a superb irony in there. People who clearly disagreed with me used the dislike button they so hate to punish me for coming out in favour of it, thus not only contradicting themselves but also showing that they didn't read what I wrote. Not that I care much: vindictiveness doesn't really affect me.

The comments and tweets however were more interesting and pointed to something I didn't properly explain. Re-reading my pr ...

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In support of 500px's dislike button

Published October 7th, 2011

In the last 48 hours, I've read a number of tweets and blog posts slamming the 500px dislike button. I'm growing to like the dislike button...

I understand where the whining comes from: you've just posted your photo, you watch your "likes" go up, the photo score go up, and you hope that you'll make it to that holy grail where your photo breaks into popular. If you do, it's visibiilty galore, and you get a serious ego rush. If you're a pro, that might even translate into professional awareness, sales, money, fame... But a few people come up and dislike your photo, the dream collapses, you're pissed off, you lash out.

I'm sure if that ever happens to me (I should be so lucky), I'll be very dissapointed as well and yes, maybe even pissed off enough to winge myself.

But I do use the dislike button fairly regularly. There's no conspiracy there, I don't use it when my photos are up for "likes". I just think it's a useful feature. As I've mentioned in some of my previous blog posts, I've ...

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So *that's* why the Russians are so popular!

Published October 4th, 2011

I keep wondering about exactly who gets picked by the 500px editorial team and more generally who gets voted up on the platform. Don't get me wrong, the stuff that's picked or lifted up is generally good, but not always. Sometimes there's a bland picture in the mix and you really wonder how it got there.

I think I've figured out part of the equation.

The editorial staff is in Toronto, Canada. That's GMT - 8 hours. They pick their favorite photos in the morning (their time) and my bet is they only look at the stuff that's been uploaded in the last few hours when they come in the office in the morning. That means basically that you want to be posting new photos between 3 and 5 PM GMT to maximise chances of them seeing you.

When I post my photos at 9 PM CET, they appear in the middle of their work day (Noon for them), and get no attention. That's obviouly why I don't get picked (nothing to do with the relative quality of my pictures...) Whereas when the Russians post their pictures at ...

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Photography for the Attention Needy

Published October 3rd, 2011

Sites like 500px live on a mix of ego tripping and business needs. We (collectively, amateurs and pros) share photos here because we want or need them to be seen. For our own self-satisfaction, because we need to sell them or attract attention from people who might help get them sold.

Of course, that's not what we tell ourselves. Well the pros might accept that this is business first and foremost, but for the amateurs, we see 500px and many other similar sites as ways to express ourselves, as "creative outlets". Yeah, I'm guess I'm growing cynical about it am trying to force myself to recognize that I'm attention grabbing first and foremost.

Once I accept that though, it leads me on other thought trails. Interesting ones, I think. If everyone is here for attention, there could be an inevitable strive to get that attention. In other words the "creative process" becomes different from "shoot a photo you like then share it" and becomes "shoot a photo you think others will like and shar ...

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What I'm missing on 500px so far

Published September 19th, 2011

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was looking for something specific when I knocked on this particular door, and after a few days, I already have a sense of what I like (which is first and foremost the content) and what I'm missing.

The missing bits, for now, are essentially in two areas:

- blogging is rudimentary, not to say primitive. I've read somewhere that there's an update coming "in September" (that's now, right?) so I'll be expecting a lot from that. Essentially, it will determine if 500px can become my main photo blog platform or if I need to keep a separate blog. The former would obviously have my preference. If the latter turns out to be my choice, then 500px will be more of a repository for my best shots (or at least those I think are best) but won't become the online center of my photography experience.

- there's no social aspect to the 500px experience. I'm not looking to replicate Flickr with its untold badges, but I would like an easier way to find like minded ...

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Could 500px be the solution I've been looking for?

Published September 16th, 2011

The launch of Google + this summer made me reconsider my photo posting habits.

Until then, I was happily (kind of) posting a daily shot on my blog as well as uploading a lot of pictures to my Flickr account. I hadn't given too much thought about why I'd chosen that particular setup, it just kinda happened.

The blog was originally created to force me into publishing my photos and therefore into shooting more, introducing variety and - in a certain sense - track my own progress as an amateur photographer. It also became a place to share links to interesting photo resources or sets as well as muse on photography in general.

Flickr I originally saw as a repository for my photos, and I have to confess that I've been a lot less strict about only uploading the good stuff. Not that I dump everything on Flickr, but I guess a shot only has to be decent for me to upload it there, it doesn't necessarily have to be good.

The first thing that Google + made me realise was how clunky and inadequ ...

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