13 December 2015

Kariba Dam

It was hot!  Really hot!  So hot, you could fry an egg on the fender of a truck.  The Zambesi Valley at Gwebe, where the Kariba dam was being constructed in May of 1959,  was no place for sissies.   I was a gangly youth of 15 and my passion was , well, I didn't know what my passion was apart from the fact that I was happiest when I had a camera in my hand.  

A typicam African thunderstorm
My father, Denis, was a motion picture documentary and news cameraman working for Killarney Film Studios in Johannesburg.  Killarney had been commissioned by the then Federal Power Board of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi today) to produce a documentary film of the construction of the Kariba hydro-electric dam on the Zambezi river.  Denis therefore travelled by road from Johannesburg to Kariba every month, and spent a week there.  I accompanied him in December 1959 as I was on school holidays.   It was the one and only time he allowed me to accompany him to Kariba.  Nevertheless, it was an experience that I shall never forget.

On this occasion, it was necessary to take along a big load of film gear and we therefore travelled in Killarney's beaten up Ford F300 one and a half ton truck.  It had a straight six three litre engine that was prone to overheating and a gearbox that made double-de-clutching mandatory.  The paintwork had once been a nice burgundy but was now a sun-bleached tomato sauce red.
The Kariba airstrip being flooded 

We spent the first night at a motel in Louis Trichardt and arose before dawn to make it to the Rhodesian border when the gates opened at 6 am.  The border officials didn't even glance at the truck and I never left my seat.  We travelled at 60 mph.  Any faster, and the temperature gauge would start to climb into the red.   There was plenty of road kill on the tarmac, and this attracted the vultures, one of which became road kill itself when it didn't gain enough altitude before being hit by the front of our truck.  

The dam wall nearing completion
We travelled via Salisbury (now Harare), where we stayed overnight at the Meikles Hotel.   North of Salisbury many of the roads were strip roads- two strips of tarmac with the centre and the verges heavily eroded away, leaving the tarmac strips high above the surrounding surface.  This could damage the sides of one's tyres as one had to pull off to allow oncoming traffic to pass.   We arrived at Kariba village at sunset on the third day.  Kariba Village was a township on a hilltop overlooking the dam construction site,  built to house the construction workers, most of whom came from Italy as the main contractor was an Italian company, Impresit S.p.A (now Impreglio) who imported most of their workers from Europe.   My father and I were allocated rooms in the "guest lodge" which offered the choice of sleeping either inside the room or outside on a verandah enclosed with fly-screening.  I chose the outside option as the ambient was around 30C.   A mistake, but more of that later.
The generator hall under construction

I was woken at dawn the following morning, and we drove to the staff canteen building for breakfast, which was served on stainless steel trays with cavities for the various portions, prison style.  I remember that there was a large container of electrolyte tablets at the door, from which every person was expected to take two and down them with a small paper cup of water, witnessed by a member of the medical staff.  This was to reduce the effect of de-hydration.  Outside the canteen, our truck was parked.  I had noticed that everyone carried a pair of rigger's gloves which were protection against burnt hands when handling metal tools which had been heated in the sun.  To demonstrate, Denis obtained an egg from the canteen kitchen and filmed it being fried on the fender of the truck.  This was at 9 o'clock in the morning!

The main electrical hall under construction
That day we hauled all of the film gear down into the cavernous underground turbine chambers and water tunnels.  It was very hot and humid down there, but I was rewarded by being allowed to get some very good stills shots of the construction in progress, once Denis had set his lighting up for the film work.   The chambers were like being in a cathedral, so vast were they.   I was using a Rolleiflex 6x6cm camera and an Exakta VX IIA 35mm camera fitted with Zeiss Jena lenses and an old Sachtler tripod.   The film I used was Kodak Tri-X roll film rated at 400 ASA or Kodak Double X 35mm motion picture stock rated at 320 ASA(ISO).   The results speak for themselves.

The access tunnel

That night, after a tiring and sweaty day on the construction site, and after a braai (BBQ) around a campfire and a spectacular sunset, we retired to bed in our guest accommodation.  I was lying reading on the bed out on the verandah.   The thing about fly-screen mesh, with which the verandah was enclosed, is that one can't see out when it is illuminated from the inside.   Whether it was Rupert winding me up or a real Baboon, I will never know, but all of a sudden there was the impression of two clawed paws  dragging down the outside of the fly-screen accompanied by the bark of a male baboon.  I levitated six feet straight up in the air and beat a hasty retreat into the bedroom, locking the glass doors behind me, where I stayed until dawn.   When I related my experience at breakfast, I was told that the baboons habitually raided the cabins for food and that they could probably smell the oranges that I had left on the table.  I wonder.....
The dam wall near completion

The construction of the dam wall in the Gwebe gorge of the Zambezi river flooded the Zambezi valley for 220 km upstream and flooded an area of 5,400 km2.  50,000 local Batonga people lost their ancestral lands and were moved elsewhere.  The dam claimed the lives of 87 workers during construction, including 18 who fell into the concrete and 4 who are still sealed within the dam wall.  Was it worth it?  
The Kariba Dam now supplies 1,319 MW of electricity to parts of both Zambia (the Copperbelt) and Zimbabwe and generates 6,400 GW·h (23 PJ) per annum.  Each country has its own power station on the north and south bank of the dam respectively. The south station belonging to Zimbabwe has been in operation since 1960 and has six generators of 125 MW capacity each for a total of 750 MW, and it was in the underground chambers being prepared for this installation that I was allowed to capture the images shown here.   (The north bank power station would not be completed until 1976 by the Zambian government.)    

Two rescued waterbuck

Perhaps one day Zimbabwe will be governed by a deserving, democratically elected  government and the people there will be able to prosper and benefit from the past efforts of people like Rupert Fothergill and his colleagues, before it is too late.  One day........

Click on any image to see it full size.

Graham Serretta

London December 2015

12 December 2015

Low angle photography

Photos taken from a low viewpoint can be dramatic and can grab the attention of the viewer simply because we don’t normally see the world from low down.  "Low angle" or “low level” is usually taken to mean "low to the ground” and can include images taken with the camera at ground level giving a viewpoint along the ground, or it can include photos taken with the camera at a low level, pointing upwards. 

In the case of photos taken with a viewpoint along the ground, the use of a small aperture (big f-number) to create maximum depth of field is usually most effective, resulting in sharp detail from immediately in front of the camera to the far distance.  If the subject or scene will result in a very good photograph, I am inclined to sacrifice some loss of image quality to lens refraction effects and use the smallest aperture possible under the circumstances.  My photo above, taken at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, is a case in point.  I set the camera mode to "A" for "Aperture Priority", the ISO to 200, the aperture to f/22 and, using manual focus, I set the focus on the bollards which were about one-third of the distance into the scene before the most distant point at which I wanted sharp detail which was the distant buildings.  Resting the camera on my shoulder bag, I lay full length to be able to see through the viewfinder, to the amusement of the gendarmerie standing nearby.  Yes, an articulated LCD screen can be very useful indeed but my Pentax K10D didn't have one and I didn't have my right angle finder. (I think this was the occasion that resulted in my best beloved giving me one for Christmas.)  I did thank Pentax for the auto levelling feature though.

I have cropped a very small amount from the foreground, and removed some of the sky before resizing for the web and applying a touch of unsharp mask and saving the image that you see here as a Jpg.

For the monochrome image above of an alleyway in Cape Town's District Six, taken in 1968, I have taken advantage of the steep slope of the hill and positioned myself half way down some steps, so that my viewpoint was almost at ground level.  I have set the focus so that the bollards in the foreground are just out of focus, otherwise they would over-power the scene.  This image was taken with a Nikon F with a Nikkor H 50mm f2 lens on Agfa 400 ASA film rated at ASA (ISO) 1600 and processed in Acufine developer.  Exposure was 1/1000th at f/16 with a Y2 (yellow) filter. 

This image was made by my wife using a Nikon D3100 with the standard VR 18-55mm kit lens set at 18mm.  ISO 400, f16,  1/4sec.  She focussed on the little green leaf in the centre foreground (if you can find it) while lying on her tummy and resting the camera on her camera bag.

I took this shot “from the hip” of a lion, mother and daughter sharing the same vantage point to watch the activity in Trafalgar Square.  I didn’t use the viewfinder, so composition was a little off but I have cropped the image to correct this.  Camera was a Nikon D7000 with a 17-85mm f3,5/4.5 VR zoom set to 28mm.

This is another of my wife’s shots.  She calls it “Silver Boardwalk”.  The camera was resting on the lower foot rail below the handrail.  Taken with a Minolta Dynax 5 film camera with a Sigma 28-85mm f3.5/4.5 lens set at 28mm.  200 iso Fuji colour negative film, f11 at 1/60th.

I took this shot in Southend-on-Sea while walking down the high street.  I placed the camera on the ground, set the lens to 18mm, aperture to f16.  iso was 200.  Shutter speed was on auto, about 1/125th.  It was a dull, grey day, I couldn’t see through the viewfinder but the result turned out just fine.

You can obtain equally arresting pictures from a simple point & shoot camera.  If it has selectable modes, try the landscape mode in bright sunlight.  Focus on something about five or six meters away.   This should give you sufficient depth of focus to get the background reasonably sharp.  If you wish to emphasise a particular subject in the foreground, and have the background out of focus or blurred, try the “portrait” mode.  (Don’t try this technique with flash unless your subject is a child or a pet.  Landscapes and street scenes don’t work with flash, and don’t confuse “portrait” mode with “P” if your camera also has P A S M modes.  In this case “P” means “Program” mode.  “Portrait” mode is normally indicated by a little symbol representing a human head.)

Now it's your turn - go out there, get that camera down on the ground and  Have Fun!

11 December 2015


Rip-off: to overcharge (v) or to swindle (n); 
Synonyms: cheat, do, fleece, dupe, deceive.

My dictionary further defines overcharge as: to charge too much, to overprice or to take advantage of, and swindle as: to cheat, con, dupe, trick, fiddle, double cross, deceive, defraud or Rip-off. And so we come full circle.  Rip-off Britain.  I have been hearing and reading these words ever since arriving here, without taking much notice apart from agreeing with the pundits who use the term in association with the motor trade.  Now I am beginning to realise the full implications of the term by stepping out of the trees and looking at the forest.

Combine the talents of the Indian street trader with the cunning of the souk Arab and the greed of the moneylending Jew and you have a rough description of the average British businessman or politician.  The secret of their success in getting away with ripping each other, and anyone else off, over the years is the straight face of the one party and stiff upper lip of the other!   

They have only themselves to blame for nurturing a culture in which it is simply not done to react or complain.  If you are fortunate enough to realise you are getting a bad deal, you simply walk away, politely!  You don’t tell anyone! Dear me no, that would be so embarrassing!  So no one else ever knows, the thing is never publicised, and your neighbour or friend is fair game to the same con, because you would never lose face by warning them and thus admitting that you were stupid enough to consider the same deal!  

The British gain a great deal of advantage by being masters of the English language.  They are able to construct and phrase contracts and agreements in ways that enable cunning and advantageous interpretation when desired.  I am sure that it was after dealing with and losing to the British that Europe adopted Roman-Dutch Law, based on fact, not implication.  And no wonder the British legal system is so ponderous.  

Consider that every nation that was ever visited by the British eventually lost everything and was swallowed up into the British Empire.  A fortunate few became aware of the great rip-off and fought, like the U.S.A. and threw the British out.  And without the Brits ripping them off, the USA became the greatest nation on earth!  There’s a lesson there somewhere.

No wonder the British are suspicious by nature.  They just don’t show it, but they take no-one at face value.  They cannot do otherwise, but live a sad life as a result.  Then again, they made their own bed, and must sleep in it.  Perhaps some of my friends may be offended by my opinions, but they should also know that culpability only exists where a victim allows it to, and to their credit rip-offs of a grand scale are being recognised and protested.  Self criticism is a very civilised thing.

London 1999

The foregoing is an excerpt from an article that I wrote in 1999,  when I was still in a state of culture shock after re-locating from a society where a man's word was his bond and to deliberately cheat in business was a no-no!  A great deal has changed since, both for the better and for worse, both here in the UK and there in SA.  

The blatant greed of the banking industry eventually led to the collapse of the financial  service industry both in the UK and in many other countries.  That resulted in a global  economic meltdown from which some countries have still not recovered.  Heads have rolled, but what gets me going is the sheer size of the golden handshakes  received by some of the most culpable banking executives on their departure out the back door.  Most took home millions.  Ineptitude and greed rewarded!  Lessons have been learned, but the trouble with lessons is that, unless they are turned into legislation, they are forgotten by later generations.  History has a bad habit of repeating itself.

Hundreds of thousands of honest, hard working people lost their jobs and their homes.   In the UK, the government bailed out the failing banks by taking share options, some of which have now been redeemed.  But the people who lost their livelihoods are mostly still queueing for the few jobs that are becoming available when they are not queueing for food hasndouts.  Many employers used the financial crisis as an excuse to divest themselves of highly paid staff as well as to reduce their payroll costs.  Most have never re-employed staff, as they have now learned to do without them.

Of course, the austerity measures have resulted in our present Chancellor of the Exchequer demanding massive spending cuts by NGOs and government departments.  These across-the-board demands take no cognisance of the fact that some departments and institutions have been underfunded for years (such as the NHS) and that further budget cuts will only reduce their very ability to do their job, such as the police.  At a time when terrorism is our biggest threat, to remove some 1,500 police officers from service is sheer lunacy!  To reduce the funding of the NHS when most primary care trusts and hospitals run at a budget deficit and do not have sufficient nursing staff is sheer insanity!  To force very dedicated and qualified nurses from the Philippines, who were recruited on fixed term contracts, to return home at the end of their tenure when we are giving thousands of “asylum seekers” leave to remain here, is totally mad.

In this atmosphere of austerity and unemployment, another malodorous financial industry has blossomed;  the payday loan moneylenders.   These cheats actually advertise their dubious services on national television, offering loans at eye watering interest rates.  Until the advertising standards authority made it compulsory to state the interest rate in the ad as “fine print”, they didn’t even inform their victims of their rates up-front.  How about 1,560% per annum compounded daily?  Only in Britain….

The importation and sale of counterfeit, or fake goods is now widespread.  From cigarettes and liquor to medicines and chain saws, trainers and golf clubs, if you but at the lowest price, chances are you are buying a fake.  The only merchandise that has not yet been faked are mobile ‘phones and digital cameras.  The components are simply not available to the fakers.

In 1012 there was a great uproar when a Trading Standards Authority discovered horsemeat in samples of pre-packaged meat products on supermarket shelves.  From burgers to steak & kidney pies, if you bought it, it was probably horsemeat.  Now horsemeat is normal produce in some european countries. That’s fine and it’s labelled as such.  But to find that the steak mince that I bought to make spaghetti Bolognese with was actually 50% horsemeat means that I am the victim of cheating of the most insidious kind.

So, while things have improved on the legislative front, there is still a long way for the British to go to be seen as “honest traders.”

London 2015

10 December 2015

I am Tikki the Meerkat

am Tikki,  the Meerkat.  No-one really knows how I got to be called a meerkat.  It is obviously an Afrikaans or Dutch word because "Meer" means "Lake" and "Kat" means "Cat" in both languages.  But I don't like water and I don't live where there are lakes, even if, on a foggy day I might be mistaken for a cat.  I am native to southern Africa although I was born here in England.  I would prefer to live in the Kalahari desert where it is hot and dry but I don't mind living here because the food is good and I don't have to hunt for it.  My Mom and Pops peoples spoil me rotten!

If I were living in the desert, I would have to hunt for termites, beetles, scorpions and centipedes.  I would also dig for roots and bulbs.  Bird's eggs would be a real treat and if I were really hungry, I would even eat a baby bird.  But I don't live in the desert, so I enjoy eating chopped up vegetables and fruit such as peppers, marrow, peas, berries, grapes and broccoli.  I also love potato slices and doggy kibbles.  For protein I eat meal worms and Mario worms and occasionally I get a raw prawn or two or a raw chicken wingtip and even the yolk of a chicken egg.  Quail eggs are a real treat.  I don't mind grass-hoppers but I don't like crickets.  And I drink a little milk every day and sometimes I share my Pop's yoghurt or oatmeal.  

I love the sunshine.  I have a very sparse coat on my tummy and I use the black skin on my tummy as a solar panel.  I sit with my tummy towards the sun to get warm.   Here where I live there is very little sunshine in winter so my Pops has given me a little sun on a stick.  Lucky me.  My coat has two layers, a soft under-layer next to my skin and a long haired outer layer.   In summer I lose the under-layer but in winter I need it to keep warm.

My teeth are very sharp and I have to be careful when I play with people.  I try to be gentle so that I don't hurt them,  and I love to have my tummy tickled.  I also love to play hide and seek and I like to wrestle.  I have four toes on each foot and my front feet have long, strong nails that I use to dig with when I'm looking for insects.  I also use them to dig up my Mom's carpets because that's fun.  My Mom shouts at me when I do that but I just give her a big smile and all is forgiven.   I don't like to have strangers point their finger at me or try to touch me and I will bite them if they do just so they know I can defend myself.  

My family has three subspecies:
Suricata suricatta siricata
Suricata suricatta majoriae
Suricata suricatta Iona

The first  are also called Slender Tailed Meerkats because their tails are long and thin.  They live in the Kalahari desert.  I am a Suricata Suricatta Majoriae because my tail is thick and shorter and my coat is light grey.  My kin live in Namibia.   Then there are the Iona crowd who live in Angola.  I also have relatives who live in the southern Cape and who have ginger coats and white heads but they are not yet proven to be a subspecies.

If I lived in Namibia I would live with my extended family all together in a an underground den.  We would dig our den under the desert with our long front claws which are very good for digging.  We could also sleep in an abandoned aardvark hole.  We could even have more than one hole to use as a den and we would use the one closest to the best food.  I don't like getting wet but I can swim if I have to.  There isn't much water in the desert and therefore I get most of my moisture from my food so I don't need to drink a lot. 

I speak meerkat and Charlie the Bichon understood me perfectly.  I am still teaching my Mom and Pops my language.  I understand their language, and know what some words mean:   "Here" means "here's food,"  "come" means "come here" or "come with me", "kitchen" means "go to the kitchen" "Come up" means "get up here,"  "Worms" means what it says, yummy,   "milk" is the white stuff that I like to drink  and "Tikki" is my name.  "People" means that there are people walking outside, with "dogs" and "birds" fly in the sky and "cats" run under the bushes, as well as "thunderbirds" that make a big noise.  I also know what "No!" means but I don't let on that I do.  I also know how to ask to be picked up and I love being cuddled.  Boredom is something that I cannot deal with and I have to be active most of the day.  If I were locked away on my own I would go mad.  

I sleep with Dog - no, not Charlie.  My friend Dog is a big cuddly dog bigger than me and warm and soft.  I also have a warm bed where Dog and I sleep.  I go to bed when the sun sets.  I'm going to bed now, so goodnight to you all, see you tomorrow.  


My wife and I are blessed,  as we live with a meerkat whose name is Tikki.   Many people object to us owning a meerkat as a "pet".  To clarify our reasons for allowing him to share our home, here are the facts:

We adopted Tikki when he was only three months old.  He had been separated from his family clan to be the dominant female in a new breeding group of meerkats at an educational facility in another county.  He was incorrectly identified as a female when he is, in fact, a male.  Once a meerkat pup is separated from its clan for any length of time, it cannot be re-introduced to the clan without a high risk of injury or even death, as it would be seen as an intruder.  Introducing a strange meerkat to any meerkat clan is fraught with risk.  On being made aware of his plight, we volunteered to adopt him.  So, Tikki moved in with us as an alternative to being confined alone to a cage.

Initially, his best friend and companion was Charlie, our bichon-frise, although he "adopted" us as his close family.  He lives freely in the house and has access to the garden patio and has his own "scratch-patch" enclosure complete with hollow tree trunk.  He is now thoroughly "humanised" but still wary of strangers, whom he will nip to demonstrate his dominance.  He loves our children and grandchildren and recognises them as part of his clan, even though they don't live with us and only visit occasionally.

When he was a year old, we had him neutered (and inoculated against bovine TB and canine distemper) as his scent marking was very pungent.  As a result, he is odour free and a pleasure to live with.  The downside is that he has a "tummy" which is exacerbated by obesity, the scourge of captive meerkats who have limited exercise.  In the wild, meerkats

may run up to five miles per day in search of food and are extremely active.  In captivity, this is simply not possible.

His diet is 90% fat free.  He eats a lot of calcicum in the form of red and yellow pepper, he likes green peas in-the-pod, courgette, broccoli and carrot.  If anything has been sprayed with insecticide he will refuse it.  His daily protein intake is a raw chicken wing-tip or a raw prawn.  A portion of raw egg yolk is a monthly treat.   Contrary to the norm, he does not like hard boiled egg.  He is nuts about cheese and we have to be careful to only let him have a very small amount as a treat.  He also likes skimmed milk and drinks about 10ml a day, which supplements his calcium intake.

He breakfasts on six Mario worms and the occasional live grasshopper.

He is extremely clean and only defecates in one particular place, next to our toilet!  He gets a monthly bath, which he loves, and has an enclosed, heated hutch for his "burrow."  He enjoys being brushed and groomed and has to have his toe nails trimmed regularly as, in the wild, they would be worn down by constant digging.  Tikki recognises many words and phrases, responds to instruction or requests and vocalises his feelings and desires, which we have learned to understand.

He is taken on long walks using a ferret harness and lead and knows his way around our local neighbourhood and to the local forest, where he has his favorite places to dig.  The harness and lead are only necessary so that we are able to retrieve him to safety from dogs,  otherwise he would stay with us and not run away.   He hates inclement weather and winter is purgatory to him.

Tikki has his own facebook page www.facebook.com/tikkiserretta  where he has over 3,650 followers and over 420 friends who engage with him.   He brings a lot of pleasure to a lot of people all over the world.
Meerkats do not make good house pets!  Tikki demands constant care and attention, just as he would if he were living with his clan in the wild.  He cannot be cared for by strangers and to cage him, even for a limited time, would stress him to death.  Unfortunately, meerkats are being featured on television in advertising productions resulting in a demand for them as pets by children.  Equally unfortunately, no permit or license is required in the UK to keep a meerkat with the result that excess population are being bred and interbred and sold indiscriminately by not only private individuals but by zoos and educational institutions.   The people who purchase these poor animals have no business owning a meerkat and more often than not, the meerkat ends up confined to a rabbit cage or hutch for the rest of it's life.  In the USA the licence requirements for the keeping of meerkats in captivity are most stringent, dictating not only enclosure and housing regulations, but climate requirements as well.  Meerkats are totally banned in Australia and a permit is required in South Africa.  Every time we see a comment on Tikki's Facebook page saying "I want one!"  we despair.

You can read more about meerkats here:

K.M.P. on Facebook    and here:  K.M.P.

Tikki's story, as told by Tikki himself, is a separate post.

9 December 2015


The following article by David Hill was published in The Times in February 2012.  It is still totally true and I thought it may be of interest here.

by David Hill 


Much like inheriting a billion pounds only to die broke or forfeiting a three goal half time lead; ineptocracy is one’s failure to succeed from a position of strength.

A political example of ineptocracy would be South Africa’s ruling party the ANC; who after 18 years of leading one of the most fertile and resource rich countries in the world hasn’t developed any sustainable solutions to generating wealth for its people beyond affirmative action, land redistribution and the nationalization of assets. 

After almost two decades of rule, the ANC’s sole solution to endowing its people is still to merely take wealth away from others. Surely this is their failure?  Consider that South Africa is the only country in the world whose affirmative action policy favours a majority who also happens to have complete political control. In the rest of the world affirmative action is designed to favour the politically un-represented minority, not the politically strong majority.

South Africa now appears to have a system of government whereby the ruling party is elected by the non- contributing majority, who in turn are then rewarded with subsidies, goods and services paid for from the earnings of the contributing minority. The flaw with this system is that nowhere does there exist a plan, nor an incentive, for this impoverished majority to actually start contributing to the economy and hence they continue to demand more from their elected leaders who in turn continue to deflect the wealth generation burden onto the contributing minority. 

Clearly this cycle of diminishing returns is not sustainable as eventually the expectation of the non-contributing majority will become too high and the burden on the contributing minority will become too great. In the end something has got to give as no economy can bear 20 million people supporting 50 million people. 

To further illustrate just how poorly the ANC has done at generating wealth solutions for its people over the past 18 years, consider Germany and Japan who at the end of World War II were completely decimated by the Allied bombings and were thus economically distraught. Neither had any industry, agriculture nor natural resources to generate wealth from, yet within 20 years both countries had uplifted themselves to being highly employed, economic powerhouses. Clearly both these governments achieved vastly more for their people with significantly less over a similar period of time and without disadvantaging any demographic. 

So the fact that after two decades of complete political control the ANC has failed to secure wealth generation systems for its people beyond affirmative action and nationalisation, well is that not the very definition of ineptocracy? 

Published in The Times on 13 February 2012.

Workflow - Do I need one?

In any discussion of digital photography, the subject of “workflow” is sure to arise.  There are as many different workflows as there are photographers, as workflow is a personal choice affair.  However, some don’t even realise that they have a workflow, let alone a particular methodology of producing their digital photos.   Snapshooters will require a simple workflow such as take the picture,  download the images to a PC automatically via Wi-Fi or up-load automatically to a social media website.  Job done.   When the memory card is full, toss it in a drawer and stick in a new one!  I wonder if mobile ‘phone users do the same when the ‘phone memory is full?   Enthusiasts may use a more complex workflow to properly archive and back-up their images and professionals will require a workflow that combines archival as well as economic factors.  

My workflow is as follows (this is just the way I work - you may prefer a different workflow and your mileage may vary):  

For family shots and snapshots:  Nikon D7100 (or Fujifilm X-T10)

Camera set to sRGB - Jpg normal - Optimal quality - size Medium, picture control Vibrant, sharpening +6, contrast auto, D lighting auto.

Files are copied from memory card to a folder on HDD and the folder is duplicated on a backup HDD.  I don’t use Lightroom to copy the files from the memory card to the HDD as the process is too slow.

Files are imported into Lightroom catalogue “at present location” using a preset that bumps the clarity and the vibrance up slightly and adjusts the tone curve to increase mid-range contrast slightly.

Files are reviewed in LR’s Library module and the rubbish is marked as “Rejected” (X)

Rejected files are deleted from the LR catalogue as well as from the HDD.

Files are then reviewed again using the loupe view at 100% and are again marked as either rejected (X) or “Pick” (P).  The files marked as “Pick” are opened in the develop module and edited for shadow / highlight detail, white point and black point, IF NECESSARY.  Most times, the files do not require any adjustment.

Back in the library module, the files marked “Pick” are exported as Jpg fine files with sRGB colour space, full size, with the suffix “master” added to the file name, to a folder named “Master Negs - Family”  The same files are then exported again as Jpg’s to a folder named “Family pics Web”, and a subfolder showing the location and date, downsized to 1280 x 853 pixels, compression 60%, sRGB, sharpened for screen display.  These are the files that I distribute to family members or post on the family website.

For competition, commercial or exhibition prints:  Nikon D610.

Camera set to RAW + Jpg large fine.  AdobeRGB, Picture control Normal, Saturation 6, Sharpening 5, Contrast auto, active D lighting normal.  (All these settings only affect the Jpg files, remember)

All images are copied to a temporary folder on the HDD and the RAW (NEF) files are converted to DNG using Adobe DNG converter.  (I don’t use Lightroom to copy and convert the files as this is really too slow.  There is now some opinion that with the new generation of high resolution cameras converting to DNG does not save significant disc space if one uses the lossless compressed RAW setting, but I still prefer to use the DNG format as there are no “sidecar” files to worry about and they open much quicker.)

All files are copied to a folder on the HDD named for the camera type and to a subfolder named for the file number range and a brief description i.e:  Nikon D610_xxxx-xxxx_Smith portrait and the folder is duplicated to the backup HDD and to the second backup HDD.

Files are imported into LR catalogue “At present location.”  RAW and Jpg files are displayed as separate files.

Files are reviewed in LR’s Library module and the rubbish is marked as “Rejected.” 

Rejected files are removed from the LR catalogue and deleted from the HDD. (Not the backup files.)

The RAW files are viewed again using the loupe at 100% and checked for sharpness, and again the rejects are deleted. (Both RAW and Jpg but not the backup files)

The files selected for use are marked “Pick” (P).  The RAW files thus selected are opened in the “develop” module, which is similar to ACR, and corrected for exposure, contrast, clarity, vibrance, sharpening, white point, black point, and luminance and saturation of the individual colour channels.  If necessary they are opened in Photoshop (from within LR) and a copy with LR adjustments is edited.  I do this where I need to use layers etc.  The result is automatically saved in the same location as the original as a Tiff file.

The edited files are exported as Tiff files with the suffix “Master” appended to the file name, at original size, to a folder named “Master Negs” with the file numbers and a brief description as the folder name.

The same files are then re-exported as Jpg files downsized to 1920 X 1080 px 60% compression sRGB colour space for sending to the client/subject/customer electronically or burning to a CD.

The files selected for printing are again opened in the develop module and checked for colour and contrast in Photoshop and re-sized according to the size of the print at 300ppi before being exported as Adobe RGB Tiff files to a folder with “Print” appended to the file name.

The Jpg files are merely used when reviewing the files initially and are not used for anything further.  They do make a belt and braces backup though.

Only once all this is done are the memory cards formatted in camera.  Never format your memory cards with your PC.

So to summarise, on the HDD there are four versions of each image.
The original ex-camera file (RAW or Jpg or both)
A “Master Neg” full size Tiff file in AdobeRGB colour profile.
A “Print”  Tiff file resized to the print size at 300 ppi in AdobeRGB colour profile.
A “Web” Jpg file downsized, compressed and sRGB colour profile.

It is not necessary to backup these files on the second HDD as the LR catalogue is backed up on both HDDs as well as the backup HDD.   As LR is non-destructive, any file can be re-created from the catalogue data as long as the original file is available.

How and why to back-up your images is a whole other subject, as is colour management, which I will address in future posts.  

If you do not use Lightroom, but one of the other imaging editing applications, you should modify the above workflow to suit, if you wish to use it yourself.

Jpeg, RAW, sRGB, AdobeRGB, which should I use?

It may be worth remembering some of the often ignored factors that influence the quality of a digital image.  Different camera manufacturers use different Jpg encoding/decoding algorithms which can affect the quality of the produced Jpg file.  The in-camera Jpg compression settings can also have a great affect on image quality.  A Jpg file is only an 8 bit image and if one is only going to post the file on the web, or view it on a PC or TV screen the recommended colour space is sRGB, which cannot accommodate the full colour gamut of the original scene.  (Poor rendering is not limited to Jpg engines.  There are some pretty serious issues regarding Adobe Lightroom’s ability to properly render RAW files from both Fuji cameras and Canon Eos 5DS/DSr cameras and the Nikon D810.)  https://photographylife.com/adobes-poor-handling-of-raw-files#more-119890

If, however, your intention is to produce an exhibition quality print, the colour space of choice would usually be AdobeRGB.  This colour space can accommodate a wider gamut of colours than the sRGB profile, as can a modern inkjet print, therefore it would be beneficial to set the camera to the AdobeRGB colour space if the JPG files produced by the camera are going to be used to produce the print.  

Shooting RAW with a 16 or greater bit depth would be an advantage, as the full 16 bit colour depth would be present in the RAW image.  Once processed, this colour depth can be preserved by converting the result to a Tiff file with the AdobeRGB or ProFoto RGB colour space profile.  This file should be used to generate the final print, as converting it to a Jpg file will sacrifice some of the colour gamut even if the Jpg is low compression and AdobeRGB colour space.  

There is no advantage in setting the camera to sRGB colour space for Jpg output and then converting the files to AdobeRGB afterwards for printing.  The original sRGB files will not contain the full colour gamut possible with AdobeRGB anyway.  Regardless, colour management is a whole other subject.  This may be of interest:  https://helpx.adobe.com/lightroom/help/color-management.html

Opening a Jpg file in Adobe Camera Raw for editing does not convert the file into a RAW image.  This is not possible.  It simply allows one to use the editing controls of ACR on the Jpg file.  ACR does not have a particularly good Jpg engine and Jpg files edited in ACR can have unpleasant artefacts, depending on which make and model of camera produced them.  Far better results can be had by opening the original camera Jpg file directly in Lightroom or Photoshop or PSP for editing.  If using Photoshop, make sure that the working colour space matches that of the image file.  i.e: If the camera is set to sRGB, set the working space to sRGB and if the camera is set to AdobeRGB, set the working space to Adobe RGB.  Setting the camera to sRGB and the editing software colour space to AdobeRGB and then converting the file to AdobeRGB for editing is a negative exercise.

If you use Adobe Lightroom to edit your RAW files, Lightroom will automatically display the image in the library module as sRGB.  If you open the image in the “develop”module, it will be displayed as Pro-FotoRGB, which is an even wider colour gamut than AdobeRGB.  If you then export the image from LR, you are offered the opportunity to set the colour space of the exported file to any profile you choose.

Having said all that, most people will never tell the difference between an image produced ex-camera as a Jpg low compression sRGB or as AdobeRGB colour space, or between a Jpg Fine and a Jpg Normal (especially with a Nikon set to “Optimal Quality” in the setup menu.)  To make very good prints up to 16X20 you don’t need more than 10mpx and some say even less, depending on the print resolution chosen.  300ppi is only necessary for prints viewed at arms length.  Exhibition prints are commonly viewed at much greater distances and therefore the resolution in ppi can be much lower without affecting the apparent quality of the image.  An advertising billboard is printed at 10ppi.  If pixel peeping floats your boat, by all means print your murals at 300 ppi, but you will waste a lot of computer storage space and you will need a powerful PC!   The main advantage in having a high resolution camera is the ability to crop the image without having to re-size the result to compensate for the “lost” data.

Most of the latest generation digital cameras, even the inexpensive point-and-shoot models, will produce images straight from the camera of sufficient quality to be usable without further processing.  Press the shutter release, take the memory card to a good high street photo lab, have a poster sized print made, hang it on the wall and go “Wow!” every time you walk past.  It can be that simple.

Finally, the old adage:   While the equipment helps, it’s the brain behind the camera that creates the photograph.