Monday, January 30, 2012


Because of the way my word processor works, I usually open it to write blog entries by opening a pre-existing document, that way I don't have to navigate around to the right folder to save the new document. Boring, but the salient point is that by habit, I've lately been doing this with a document called audacity. It's a blank document that I created to remind me to write an entry about it. This time, I opened it thinking I would save it out as an entry titled 'other things', but as soon as I opened it, my subconscious took a little meander, and then I decided I didn't want to write that other things entry, but instead wanted to write about how so often, people who obsess and/or are meticulous don't create good stuff, while people who are random and carefree so often do. (and further, that the meticulous ones are often bossing everybody around, to the detriment of all).

And then I realized, after some mental refinement, that the topic at hand was audacity. Weird how the brain works.

It wasn't part of my original intent to explore the issue of how planning and preparedness can interfere with creativity, so I'll get it out of the way right here: I think that there is a component of the population that thinks that it has to do things just so, and that things have to be done intentionally, methodically, whatever. And that's okay for them, but as I've said elsewhere and before, these people tend to inflict upon others. So they not only don't get the benefits of creative leaps, or audacity, but they tend to minimize the benefits of such in others, and so to the greater society. Too bad. We should spank them.

My original idea was to explore how the audacity can be used as a compelling attribute of a story. And I do think the idea of audacity as a compelling attribute applies beyond storytelling. But really it's all the same thing. Audacity is compelling.

So: a little diversion here: last fall, pretty much randomly (a friend posted it on facebook), I came across a link to a video for a gopro camera. I like cameras, so I clicked through and found the most compelling thing I've ever seen.

Here it is: go watch it:

I found this thing about a week before I started writing my last novel, and I felt inspired. The video/commercial is about five minutes long, and for some reason gripped me. I hadn't seen anything so compelling in a long time, and never anything so condensed. There's been a few movies that did it for me, like the first time I saw star wars, or books, like neuromancer. So I spent that week watching it over and over again, not systematically, but just because it was all I wanted to do. Eventually I felt like I should figure out what it was that was making it so good for me, and I started analyzing it. I think I watched it about forty times before I started breaking it down, and another dozen during. And maybe once a day while I was writing the novel. To get me started.

In terms of analysis, I charted out as many attributes as I could, on timelines (on notecards), tracking each attribute through the five minutes as a continuous line. It was a two part thing, one: figuring out what the attributes were, and the other mapping them over time. And then figuring out how they were interplayed with each other (okay, three). I have some musical training, and it began to strike me that I was looking at something that had been composed in that manner. I'm certain that the creative mind that put the commercial together was a composer. (as an aside (though it's not an aside at all, the song is key), the song the video is set to is fantastic in its own right, 'We can make the world stop' by the Glitch Mob. Sounds great in the car.)

So I ended up with a stack of notecards, and by aligning them, I could see how all the parts interacted.

...and what does this have to do with audacity? Nothing, it's just background. Except: in this process is how I became aware of audacity, because the video is full of it. Hits you over the head. It's one of the central themes, and one of the things that drives the compellingness.

I don't know if I still have the cards, but if I do, I'll post them here.

But the most important thing I gleaned from the process was that the reason the video works so well is that it hits with a new major item of compellingness with a rhythm. That rhythm changes in tempo, but generally the hits came around seven seconds apart, closer in rising excitement, and farther apart in relaxing sections. But not by much, in terms of slower. Somebody had in their head to not let the short term attention span drift, and I think by colloquial knowledge, that's something like seven seconds.

So that was something I concentrated on in that last novel, keeping the 'hits' coming. Never coasting for too long, and also having a rhythm to them.

Okay, so: audacity. That was new to me. It was a new spice to be cooking with. And like all spices, I figured it would be easy to overdo it. But I wanted to, and still do, want to figure it out. Figure how it works, and what it goes with. I'm sure I'm not even close yet. Still, I think it's a spice not many storytellers even know about. Even the ones who like it when they experience it. In a Chuck Palahniuk story, for example.

noun \ȯ-ˈda-sə-tē\
plural au·dac·i·ties

: the quality or state of being audacious: as
a : intrepid boldness
b : bold or arrogant disregard of normal restraints

(from Merriam Webster online)

So, yes, that video is full of audacious behavior. In storytelling, it's magic. Or, magic is all about audacity. Anyway: when you put audacity in a story, it creates a state of mind in the audience that is what they feel when enthralled by a magician. A good one, where they're confused, and conflicted against their own senses and prejudices.

My first encounter, and still a good example of this was Harry Harrison's 'The Stainless Steel Rat'. That book cold opens with (and I've not read it in thirty years, so don't hold me to details): a guy sitting in his office, deciding he needs to get out of the meeting with the cop in front of him, and dropping a safe on the cop. Then dropping through a trap door to escape. Cold open. Harrison did a lot of that kind of thing, and always paid off. Looking back, it may be the only thing that sustained his books, but it was enough. It's a great tool.

But you have to be careful, and skilled. Because if you lay down audacity, you have to pay off. You have to, one hundred percent. You have to make sure that everything works, at all levels. Because if you don't, then you're Lost. As in the TV show, that piled up audacity, 'Who shot JR?' style, for seven years. Before copping out that it was only a dream or whatever. (I don't know, I could see it coming and didn't bother watching). But that is really the problem. You'll be hated, and worse, you will have soured your audience for other stories. Very bad. In terms of storytelling, copping out of audacity is the cheapest, lowest, most vile con-manny thing you can do. So make sure.

And since you have to do it all correctly, with no shortcuts, and because it almost always requires you to think up something new, that the audience hasn't seen before, it's really hard. There's no formula. It's always going to be lots of hard work. And that's why I like it.

* * *

Back to the meander I mentioned at the top: some of my favorite things have been so wrong. Like the protagonist committing casual murder in the cold open of a space thriller, or the good guys killing off one of their own in the pilot of a cop show, or, well, Dexter. But now that I'm tuned in, I see it in a lot of things. In paintings, or in stories, or in life, laying down a challenge, to do something wrong, and make it work (because these days, the only things that haven't been done to the point of being conventional are things that are 'wrong').

The first musician to use minor key, or a third, or a fourth, or a seventh. Man, that must've been magical. The first impressionist. That guy flying through a cave.

Advice? I have no solid idea. My friend Ted Boone regularly says, as an inspiration to people who are writer's blocked, to throw your main character down the stairs. I think that's not a bad idea. You know: not exactly that, but challenge yourself. Do something you know is wrong, or at random, and then fit it in to your story. Maybe wish fulfillment? Put something down that you always wanted to do, but saw no practical way to do it, and then change everything around it to make it work (I think this is how Ian Flemming worked).

But nobody meticulous, methodical, regimented ever can do this. --Oh! I just thought of a best example: and it illustrates a key feature, that you have to be good before you can make it work. Not just good, but really good. (Well, or really lucky). Itzhak Perlman.

There are lots of virtuoso violinists, but the thing that sets Perlman apart is that he knows how to embrace randomness, variability, mistakes even, and keep on playing. He works these little variations and hiccups into his playing in a way that comes out elegant and perfect. And walking that tight-rope makes his playing so much better, and inspiring and magical. Nobody sounds like him. Nobody plays with that reckless abandon, with that audacity.

Thanks for reading,

Dave DeHetre

Saturday, January 28, 2012


one of my fav shots from the film era. about 1995. cross-processed velvia on an AE1.

Yet another topic that I'm sure many people have covered before...

Film. It's still a subject of discussion among photographers, but to me, there's nothing to discuss. Film is over.

a recent film shot.  shot on cn41 as that's the only b&w you can get processed anywhere anymore, developed badly at target.

Every conversation on the topic, it seems like the pro-film person is trying to defend the superiority of film (though, you never really see anybody extolling pro-digital. I guess the digital people don't have an inferiority complex. So it's basically a film looney talking to a normal person.). But: all their arguments seem actually to be based on the not-inferioritiness of film. And it seems like they don't realize this. Which to me, suggests that most of these pro-film people don't actually know that much about digital. And I consider it bad form to argue superiority of one thing over another when you don't understand both.

a recent shot with the AE1 and kodak portra.  it's pretty good film.

Before I continue on my bashing, I should say that I do know a couple of people who are at the pinnacle of skill and understanding, and who, in occasional outlier cases do use film because it is better. In that case. But those people use digital most of the time. And I know plenty of people who use film because they like it. Because it is fun. That's great. Those people don't argue that it's better, they're just having fun with their toy. It's like starting a camp-fire with sticks or flints or something. Super.

another portra image.  I guess this was the 160 speed. (another '-' for film, no EXIF data).

And I know several people who use film because they have the tools and don't want to or can't afford to replace their kit. That's understandable. Same sort of thing for skill set. If you're really good with film, and you get what you want, fine. None of those people argue that film is better, just that it's what they have.

another kodak cn41 monochrome.  it's interesting and okay.

Film sucks though. Really, it does. At its best, it was functional. But man it is a pain. It's delicate, and finicky, and restrictive, and toxic, and expensive, and inconsistent, and slow (in mechanical and in exposure and in workflow senses), and resistant to archiving, and constraining (which is like restrictive, but slightly different. Film makes you do things its way, in addition to not providing flexibility), and: worst of all, film just doesn't look as good.

possibly my best shot from film.  canon sureshot (original version).  probably kodak gold something or other.  from 1982.

Okay, yes, film can look good. But I see the big pro-film issue as being the idea that film can produce better images. Well it can't. Almost never. I've seen two examples where, at a super-critical assessment, film did something that, through herculean measures, something marginally better than a bog standard digital (i.e. large format film, with custom hand processing, in a $50,000 rig vs. a $500 dslr).

me, about 1993, fuji velvia 50, pushed to maybe 400, cross-processed.  AE1, 50mm f1.8.

All the rest of the times I've seen it, where somebody was arguing strictly that film produced better images, the images they held up as examples were not better than digital. Maybe they were better than that person could get with digital, but that was just a reflection on their skill with both technologies, not something intrinsic to the tech.

my cat hazel, around 1996. probably fuji provia 100.

So. Here's where film can be better, still:
-if you are going to produce a large photo-print of something (i.e. from negative to paper, optically), you can avoid digitizing and the resultant aliasing issues. In specific cases of very large prints, this can be a difference. Not that digital discritization is better or worse than film grain structure, but they are definitely distinct and different.

milo, 2011, kodak cn41

-power: a film camera can go years without any connection to the 'grid'. You don't need batteries or a laptop or anything. Just keep shooting film canisters for as long as you have them. You can even bring developing supplies if you're insane.

-long exposures. Film does not produce its own self noise. I've not seen that this ever comes into play as a real advantage, because film has other issues at very long exposures (reciprocity failure, for one). But it's true, silicon sensors have intrinsic self noise, because they are powered, and produce heat, and static, I guess.

So, shut up film people. Go ahead and use film if you want, but don't continue to kid yourselves that it's better. At the very best of times, it can be as good as a solid state sensor. But so what? At the very best of times, a horse can be as fast as a car.

some sort of kodak slide film, cross-processed, about 1994

And here's the real kicker: film, when everything goes right, can be okay, but the reality of the situation is that film is going away. You can't get good film the way you want it anymore. Not always. And you can't get it developed very well, in general. Because there aren't enough people doing it anymore. Even if you do it yourself, the supplies and tools are becoming scarce, and this situation will only worsen. And I'll mention it again: film, and its processes are toxic. Dangerous chemicals along the whole process. To the environment and the person using them. And it's this last that really argues against film, for all its potential okayness. If you're using film, you're being selfish. You're polluting for no good reason. So stop it. Get a decent solid state camera and learn how to use it. You'll still be a good photographer, maybe better.   

last roll of film before I got digital.  around 1999, fuji provia 100 cross processed.  I still have the other half of a twin pack of film from this.  It's exposed, but I can't find anyone to develop it.

1969, kodak instamatic.  probably 120 color film, iso100

cubs spring training, around 1998, kodak disposable. iso400, gold probably

1969, kodak instamatic, black and white

if you want to see some digital images for comparison, see my flickr page: dave's flickr page most of the rest of the images there will be digital.

thanks for reading,
Dave DeHetre

this dialog happened elsewhere, and rather than try to paste it into a zillion comments, I'm just including it here:

  • Eddie Kennington no way! film rulez! how many millions of dollars are going into iphone apps just to mimic film...instagram, hipstagram etc etc. even the rebirth of the holga crap camera! & this is only in color selection!

    also, a mentor of mine while at columbia, eggleston, a master himself said it will take 30 years for digital to make it up to the quality of black & white only!!! theres like 600,000 shades of gray. digital cant process that many yet. digital lovers seriously think a microchip is beating out earth sciences such as light science & chemistry??? no way! ask any physicist or engineer. digi photographers are playing themselves!

    also digital is a chink to the human eye. we may not be able to tell consciously, but subconsciously the human eye is drawn closer to an organic pixel (film)than the square pixel(digital). even with a big bad hassel;blad h4d-50, the pixels will always be geometric. many millions of dollars right now, are being spent to figure out how digital can replicate the simple beautiful organic pixels of film. specifically sony.

    film rulez! & anyone who knows more about film will produce more beautiful pieces with a combination of film & digital!!
    2 hours ago · 
  • Dave DeHetre ‎@EK: do you shoot a lot of film?
    2 hours ago · 
  • Dave DeHetre the film emulation is one of the good things about digital, I don't think anybody's building a film back for the iphone. and regarding the hybrid issues, once you digitize something, it's digital, subject to most of shortcomings of digital that you mention. I agree with you on most of these points, but I don't think that any of it makes film worthwhile.
    2 hours ago · 
  • Eddie Kennington totally. i started with large format film, went to medium format film, then 35mm film, then finally digital. sad thing is not so much recently cause of commitments, but my brain dreams in film & my gallery projects have some sort of film in their element....thats another point:

    fine art galleries dont consider a digital photo, printed & framed a piece of fine art. its strictly 'alternative processes' that is the photographers friend when dealing with fine art galleries & film is way respected
    2 hours ago · 
  • Dave DeHetre I agree with you about this last point, it's one of the things I listed in my blog post. about doing prints from negatives.
    2 hours ago · 
  • Eddie Kennington no way man, when i scan a medium format negative it blows out of the water the quality, bit depth & resolution of the best digital 35mm & medium format digital camera on the market. thats just quality of an image. thennnn when a negative is scanned, it still maintains the organic 'pixels' that digital cant produce including the tones. ill show you a study one of these days
    2 hours ago ·  ·  1
  • Eddie Kennington ‎*tonal range
    2 hours ago · 
  • Dave DeHetre also: digital is and will continue to get better, film will keep getting worse.
    2 hours ago · 
  • Eddie Kennington digital will match b&w film in 30 years is the estimate
    2 hours ago · 
  • Dave DeHetre I mean that in the sense of the problems with film getting worse, not the film image getting worse.
    2 hours ago · 
  • Eddie Kennington 
    i know whatcha mean. my brain thinks of things so far out that i can only imagine what life will be in 30 years with the way technology is going. but right now, digital is pitiful in comparrison. the only good points is that its easier t...See More
    2 hours ago · 
  • Dave DeHetre I don't believe the Daguerreotype has been surpassed by film yet, or digital.
    2 hours ago · 
  • Dave DeHetre I still use film from time to time, mostly to check myself. probably five rolls a year or so.
    2 hours ago ·  ·  1
  • Dave DeHetre about half those pics in the article are from the past six months.
    2 hours ago · 
  • Eddie Kennington the daguerre is beat easily with modern medium format & large format. plus the chemicals for that are hazerdous.
    2 hours ago ·  ·  1
  • Eddie Kennington 
    when ya go that far back then quality is lost just cause of the lens. daguerre doesnt have lenses & the lens, in itself is a seperate science of optics. theres been masters of photography, masters of printing & masters of optics. im real...See More
    2 hours ago · 
  • Eddie Kennington ‎5 rolls a year is good. obviously i would suggest more. are you shooting 35mm film? what kind of camera?
    2 hours ago · 
  • Dave DeHetre I've got an AE1 and a couple of pocket cameras, all 35mm. I can't afford more than that, and I also am not really built for the multi-stage work of getting stuff developed/processed/scanned. not very organized.
    about an hour ago · 
  • Dave DeHetre I've got a couple of polaroids and a couple of TLR cameras, but I've given up trying to find film/processing for those, long ago.
    about an hour ago · 
  • Eddie Kennington the ae1 is pretty modern. 35mm processing is easy. just take it to walgreens or cvs & get the negatives & a cd of the images. the scans they give is low quality but good enough for facebook. then save the negatives forever
    about an hour ago · 
  • Dave DeHetre that's what some of those images in the blog post were. one of the things that made up my mind was the poor quality of the processing work, and the fact that the negatives were damaged before got them. you can see the scratches and such, especially on the cat pics. that's how they came from the lab.
    about an hour ago · 
  • Eddie Kennington hahaha yeah i hear ya...but in film theres tons of cleaners & protectors etc etc for that very purpose. i just became friends with one guy at cvs on iowa & 23rd & he would always do my negatives tight. but negatives still get dirty or emulsion scratched. the nature of the ebast
    about an hour ago · 
  • Dave DeHetre 
    I haven't said it anywhere before, but I think that I was always looking for what a good digital sensor does. I'm biased that way. I don't think I could do much of anything that I do with film. that's another blog post probably. but for...See More
    about an hour ago · 
  • Dave DeHetre 
    ‎ the real issue, and one I'm thinking up on, is that lenses have a much more overwhelming influence on image than what sensing method is use. and I think there's a lot of crap lenses being made. I don't know, but it seems like add...See More
    about an hour ago · 
  • Dave DeHetre ‎ you mentioned in regards to Daguerreotypes.
    about an hour ago · 
  • Dave DeHetre so maybe that's why people still get such great results with film: because they have really good lenses for their film cameras.
    about an hour ago · 
  • Eddie Kennington 
    hey, i have adhd so im definitely sloppy & disorganized too BUT stuff like music or a love of photography helps my mind to attach & be on point for some things. you liking digital noise better than film noise is unusual! usually its the o...See More
    about an hour ago · 
  • Dave DeHetre I've never used a zeiss, I have mostly nikkor with a couple of samyangs. It's odd that they're so cheap (zeisses, relatively speaking), given how good they are. you can get a zeiss prime for about the comparable price to a nikon or canon equivalent.
    about an hour ago · 
  • Dave DeHetre 
    I find that digital noise of all sorts tends to follow image features in a pretty organic way (i.e. it's stronger in dark areas, than in light areas), while most film noise is more random across the whole frame. so... digital noise becomes...See More
    about an hour ago · 
  • Dave DeHetre here's an example: this image is basically straight out of camera (except for a really strong crop and some white balance adjustment). it's an 8 year old 20D with a samyang 500mm lens. certainly not good quality in any way, but it can be used effectively, I think.
    about an hour ago ·  · 
  • Eddie Kennington zeiss dont manufactur their lenses in germany by hand anymore. (part of the homogenization & modernization of the world right now). BUT the zeiss lens is still superior to any lens out their, with the now defunct company minolta which is now owned by sony in 2nd place in my opinion. what i do is buy old zeiss lenses for my film cameras, & minoltas for my dslr cameras. cheap 2nd hand minolta lenses are so badass!
    about an hour ago · 
  • Dave DeHetre looking up minolta glass....
    about an hour ago ·  ·  1
  • Eddie Kennington 
    this photo is pretty good for a film camera. i think in these sorts of pics, digital is stronger...just cause of speed, light etc....but i would say film is way stronger with still life...not including speed as a factor. for example all t...See More
    Yashica FX-2 Zeiss Planar T* 50mm 1.4 Fuji Superia 200, 800
    Photos: 23
    about an hour ago ·  · 
  • Dave DeHetre hard to tell much of anything about that pic on the facebook image. I hate facebook for pics.
    about an hour ago · 
  • Eddie Kennington the best thing to do when making images for the web is to drop the resolution to 72 px/inch which is the choke point for all net images. if you dont do this on your own in photoshop, facebook does it automatically & their software is of less quality than ps thats fer sure.
    about an hour ago ·  ·  1
  • Dave DeHetre okay, I downloaded it, and it's a little better. yes, I think that's a pretty good example of film noise, how it's even and random across the whole frame. looking at it now: film noise is also random in the spectrum, while digital tends to be more single color. I can def. see why people like film noise better, it's just not my preference. in that, I know I'm in the minority.
    about an hour ago · 
  • Dave DeHetre it is a great image by the way. almost looks like it's studio lit.
    about an hour ago · 
  • Dave DeHetre I think this one shows something that digital can't do nearly as well as film. the sort of exposure 'bend' or flexibility.
    Yashica FX-2 Zeiss Planar T* 50mm 1.4 Fuji Superia 200, 800
    about an hour ago ·  · 
  • Eddie Kennington 
    defininitely! nowadays for commercial work, its pretty much %100 digi BUT everything else i do like 50/50. ill use film, but scanning etc is digi...for doco stuff, or galleries, etc. its that organic pixel that please the eye so well.
    ...See More
    about an hour ago · 
  • Dave DeHetre digital noise at its best/worst:
    playing around with super high iso settings. here's milo helping out.
    59 minutes ago ·  · 
  • Dave DeHetre or this one:
    now iso12800 is more or less useable. which is nice.
    58 minutes ago ·  · 
  • Dave DeHetre this is what digital does with the kind of image of the sky that you got well with film. (closest I could find):
    bear on a fence. nikkor 55mm f1.2 wide open.
    58 minutes ago ·  · 
  • Dave DeHetre i.e. it turns into a grating irritating poke in the eye.
    57 minutes ago · 
  • Eddie Kennington 
    thats actually good looking noise! im surprised!

    yes! tiny gradations in light & color is a big deficit in digi.

    this lens is good, BUT i would still go for a wide angle lens with this distance of lens. another rule of thumb from anoth...See More
    51 minutes ago · 
  • Dave DeHetre I'm not following you... do you mean that you shouldn't use 50-200mm lenses for close up work? or ...? not sure.
    48 minutes ago · 
  • Eddie Kennington 
    oops, i thought that was a zoom. it isnt BUT i still wrote this out so i might as well post it. for midrange zooms, the best explanation ive ever found is on ken rockwells site:

    "Pros d...See More
    Nikon has been making FX lenses since 1959. I've been covering these for a long ...See More
    43 minutes ago ·  · 
  • Dave DeHetre 
    I don't like zooms at all, purely for mechanical reasons. I don't like the lens changing its focal length on me, and I rarely find the feature of zooming to be any use at all. I guess when birding, it would be nice to be able to keep the ...See More
    38 minutes ago · 
  • Eddie Kennington i have some zooms, but primes are always the best. dont forget when you buy cameras, to not buy the camera with lens. those are called 'kit lenses' & are fiber optics & not real glass
    36 minutes ago ·  ·  1
  • Dave DeHetre ha! yeah, when I got my ti1, it was 699 with a kit lens, or 750 for the body... so I got the kit lens.
    34 minutes ago · 
  • Dave DeHetre for negative fifty dollars.
    34 minutes ago · 
  • Eddie Kennington take that offer ever day! haha
    34 minutes ago ·  ·  1
  • Dave DeHetre I've got primes at: 8, 14, 28, 50, 55, 100, 200, 400, 500, and 1000 (a telescope). in use, I've found that I have a gap between 55 and 100 and between 100 and 200, so I'm looking for an 85 and a 135ish. also: my 28 is not very good.
    32 minutes ago · 
  • Eddie Kennington all nikkors? thats a pretty good collection. did you read through rockwells site on lenses?
    31 minutes ago · 
  • Dave DeHetre not all nikkors, no. I have been through most of rockwell's site, and that's the main reason I started getting nikkors. Well, that and that a friend gave me the 55 f1.2, and it was so good. the 8, 14, and 500 are samyangs, the 50 and 100 are canon. I use the nikkors more though, because they are better, in general, and easier to use.
    28 minutes ago · 
  • Dave DeHetre here's the scope:
    here's the post-op starblast. can't even tell. looks so natural. I think the ...See More
    27 minutes ago ·  · 
  • Dave DeHetre and a pic from the scope:
    I didn't get enough frames to do a proper stack, but I did get one or two indivi...See More
    27 minutes ago ·  · 
  • Dave DeHetre I'll just throw this one in here because I ran across it. it's the lagoon nebula, but I think it looks like a jayhawk.
    22 minutes ago ·  · 
  • Eddie Kennington woa that scope is badass looking! ive never used one! lol i love the nebula jayhawk pic! we have lots in common! my hobby is astro physics. i love it!
    18 minutes ago ·  ·  1
  • Dave DeHetre eventually I'll probably blog post something about my unified field theory I've been working on. it's kind of comical, but has proven quite interesting at frustrating astrophysicists. in the end, it's really just einstein, but taken more literally than most people do.
    14 minutes ago ·