COVID 19 update

There’s a virus spreading around the world, and it actually scares me. Not many things scare me anymore. It’s not that I’m afraid of getting sick or even of dying. I’ve come to terms with my own mortality. This virus scares me because it is affecting even people who may never actually catch the virus, and in serious and life-changing ways, and no amount of preparation can distance us from it.

Ours is a culture that has moved into an age of excessive consumerism. People are living a lifestyle of perpetual debt in order to have the latest iPhone with the fastest data plan so that they can escape their real life for a few moments into the fantasy world of their choosing. I understand the appeal; I’ve long been a fan of role-playing video games since I got my Commodore Vic 20. Also, modern life can get messy and complicated. Some days it is good just to close those curtains on life and just follow the endless stream of entertainment; whether it’s chasing after invisible Pokemon characters or binge watching series on Netflix. Seriously, look at the stress everyone is under, worried that they may lose their job which means they won’t be able to pay the bills to keep that endless stream of fantasy world distractions coming, so they keep on going at a job they hate out of fear of losing it, then poof, their worst fear just happened! It literally just happened. Okay, so they get employment insurance, or the government gives them money to help them out, but suddenly they realize they don’t have any food and the toilet paper ran out. That day-to-day lifestyle left no room to stockpile a pantry, which would be considered a luxury in today’s ever-shrinking homes. So they go to the store, but guess what, some cunt bought up all of the toilet paper, and not just from this store, but from every store, so now they got to buy their toilet paper through these hoarders at greatly inflated prices. That money they’ll eventually get from the government is less than they used to earn, and the things they need just got more expensive. So then they learn they’d better stockpile on the things they can, and so does everybody else, putting even greater strain on a supply chain that’s already been slowed down due to the new social distancing and extraordinary sanitation measures that are taking place. Then consider some manufacturers turning their efforts to manufacturing much-needed medical supplies, and shortages start to appear in other places, then before you know it people are stock-piling women’s hair dye to sell at many times the cost for an excessive profit. But then I realize it gets even worse than that. Those people who are upset over the profiteers with their toilet paper and hair dye are the lucky ones, because for many people, that isn’t even going to matter when they have no food to eat.

People are going to lose their homes. People are going to be driven into homeless shelters. In those homeless shelters, this Covid 19 will continue to spread, they will catch it and maybe die. Other people at the brink will see this, and since their world of endless fantasy entertainment is about to end, they will be forced to come to terms with their real life. They will realize the system is going to fail them, and they could end up dying the worst death imaginable. Then they will see no other option than to turn on those of us who had the sense to keep money in the bank and food in the pantry, but to them we will look like the hoarders, which will embolden them; if not that, then the alcohol surely will, as the Beer Store and LCBO are still considered “Essential Services.” I’m already seeing the fractures forming. People getting into fights in lines at stores. People driving a little too recklessly. But the last thing we want is to end up in a hospital, because that’s going to be the place where the risk of contracting Covid-19 will be at its worst. That’s if you’re fortunate enough to even get the medical attention you may need.

As for me, my wife and I have both been laid off, but we’ll be okay. My web server is just a cheap little Raspberry Pi 3 connected to my home Internet, and I don’t spend my money on the fastest Internet or the latest trendy gadgets, finding my value in life by creating my own things. We keep food in our pantry, but we’ve always done this because I see how much of our food is imported and I understand the delicate balance that makes up international trade can too easily be upset creating disruptions. But you see, my own life is still a balance that exists in this system; no matter how much food I might stockpile, there is a law of diminishing returns in that the longer I might need a stockpile for, the less likely am I to return to a society as good as the one we have now. I’m not saying our current society is perfect. Far from it. I’m perfectly aware of the corruption of what we have now; however, I’m also aware that things have, on a whole, gotten better. Things can get a lot worse. At least in the current system, we’re free to stock food in a pantry. We’re also free not to. We’re free to choose what food we eat or stockpile; if some of us don’t like meat, we don’t have to eat meat. We can hold ourselves to religious beliefs that might prohibit us from eating certain foods, but that is still our freedom to choose that belief. Even if one argues rightly that it is our parents that choose our religion, we are mostly free to leave that religion if it becomes too abusive. These freedoms are only possible in a society such as ours. We need to continue to build it in the progression that makes things better for us all, leaving nobody behind.

At a time like this, I think the answer is clear. Each of us needs to be a little more selfless. To recognize that now isn’t the time to be getting rich or taking advantage of other people. To have a little more tolerance for how others are behaving. To let the economy have a vacation from us for a little while. At the end of the day, it’s just money, and that money is worthless in a society where luxuries like hair dye and toilet paper were the first to go.

Why RAW isn’t like a film negative

When I started into digital photography back in the mid 2000’s, every article I read was telling me I ought to be shooting in RAW. “A RAW file is like having a negative,” I was told. Ever since I got my first digital camera that could shoot RAW, I’ve been shooting RAW. In fact, one of the many reasons I went from shooting with a bridge camera (a camera that “Bridges” the gap between a DSLR and a point-and-shoot camera, offering many the benefits of each at a price point between the two) to my first DSLR, the Pentax K-x, was to be able to shoot RAW.

SilkyPix

The software that came with my K-x was Silkypix, and while it did let me edit my RAW images, I’m not going to candy coat it and pretend it was good software. It was difficult to use, and quite often, I found myself bringing my RAW images to what the camera’s own in-camera processing had done for my JPEG’s (I was shooting RAW+). It was seriously lacking in some important editing features, and I found myself using Shotwell and F-spot a lot more. Some of the arguments against JPEG’s didn’t make sense. For example, many were arguing that, every time the JPEG was edited, quality would be lost. This made sense if I was overwriting my original JPEG’s, but I knew enough to write protect any original and save copies, so any changes I made to an image was only ever a first generation copy and therefore degradation was not even noticeable.

LightZone

A few years ago, I learned about LightZone, an open source RAW photo editor that was intended to be a free open source alternative to Adobe Lightroom, and this really opened my eyes to the benefits of working with RAW images. I was able to develop a workflow where I was able to give each of my photographs my own unique touch, bringing them so much closer to my creative intent. I shot in RAW all the time after that. A while later, my K-x was having some age-related problems, and after inheriting a Spotmatic and S1a, I decided to start shooting and developing my own black and white film again. I developed a film scanning workflow and used LightZone for some final touches. Some of these photos were quite remarkable, and so I decided to start up my own photography business, Ageless Images, and wanted to place a watermark on them. LightZone had no such ability, which lead me to DarkTable. Having moved to DarkTable for nearly everything now related to post-processing both negatives and RAW, I have come to the conclusion that a RAW file is not like film: in fact, it is a vastly superior and completely different thing.

DarkTable

It turns out that a RAW image file is not an actual image. It is simply a representation, or model if you will, of all points of light data at the moment the photograph was taken. It would be slightly more accurate to call it an undeveloped negative (or slide). An undeveloped negative or slide can be pushed or pulled, or developed normally. Once a roll of film has been developed, you’ve locked those images in, and that film becomes the finished product. Every print or scan made after that is a copy of the original. You can still do some post-processing during the creation of a print, but no matter what, that print is a copy of what was on the film, and as such will not be of the same quality as the original. Because of this, I would consider a JPEG to be more like a film negative or slidefilm negative or slide, because it’s exposure and other values are “Locked in” and anything created after it becomes a copy. However, I go so so far as to state that the RAW image is still more than an undeveloped image on a roll of film, as you can go beyond what you could do in pushing or pulling a roll of film. The latitude offered by a RAW image file makes it as though you could, at any moment, move the image over to an entirely different type of film. In fact, a RAW image is more like a model of each photon of light captured in that moment to be stored indefinitely, providing the photographer to create an original as many times and in as many different ways as they see fit.

Cropped from a high resolution negative scan of 35mm film

It isn’t just about the light, though; it’s also about the detail. Arguments have been made back and forth about film exceeding the megapixel limitations of film, but I did a test early on when I got my 12 megapixel Pentax K-x and compared that to the last shot I took on film that year. The results were staggering. Although my test shot wasn’t scientific enough to be published anywhere, I maintained the same lighting, focal length, ISO rating, and shutter speed between the two cameras, and it was clear to me that any detail lost to the limits of the sensor resolution were nothing compared to the detail lost due to grain. There are some that might consider the “Resolution” of certain films to exceed digital, but I believe it has more to do with the fact that all elements of a RAW file are quantifiable (even though the numbers are unimaginably high), while the analog nature of film makes even each grain an un-quantifiable entity. Considering the added expense of shooting film (buying each roll, developing), I had not shot a single frame of film since that picture at the end of December of 2012 until January of 2020.

Cropped from a JPEG taken directly from my Pentax K-x, 12 megapixels

Film, to me, is an art medium, whereas the RAW digital file is simply a part of a process. The negative or slide itself is a finished product of its own respect to be admired; something that can be appreciated from the moment of its creation for perhaps hundreds of years to come, and something that copies are made from. A RAW file is the potential to become something of the same. Film cannot “Beat” digital in any measurable metric; today’s average 24 megapixel APS-C cameras compete with medium format for sharpness. It’s why I continue to shoot most of my work today in digital. However, digital also doesn’t “Beat” film any more than film “Beats” an oil painting. I still shoot film in black and white because I like the aesthetic of the photographs that are created through the classic hand-made process, but when I want to go for a new and different aesthetic, RAW gives me the latitude I need.