I was traveling last week but the yield of photographs was low due to
both weather and the level of daytime activity. The only time I had
avaialble with some interesting visual material was the train ride from
Regensburg Germany back to the Frankfurt airport. It had snowed a wet
snow the night before in Bavaria, so I spent some time capturing images
from the train windows. Nothing great due to conditions, but some
material nevertheless.

In an airport (San Francisco perhaps?) I bought Robert Laughlin’s “A
Different Universe: Reinventing physics from the bottom down”. In it,
Laughlin argues very convincingly on how central emergent phenonmena are
to physics and our difficulties in understanding fundamental aspects of
our world. Since I see emergence as fundamental to explaining the
mind-body duality and free will in a deterministic world, I really
appreciated it. It spurred me on, indirectly I guess, to Read Matthew
Stewarts’s “The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the fate
of G-d in the modern world”. I’m now most of the way through Stephen
Toulmin’s “Cosmopolis: The hidden agenda of modernity”.

I’m having fun in mashing up these two streams: Emergence and
Spinoza/Leibniz. I may revisit my Tinderbox website on some of the
issues in the next few weeks or, alternatively, mix some philosophy back
into the mix here.

The Jones Falls


I’ve been walking around with the 20mm f2.8 on the camera lately. The
30mm equivalent is nice, but I think the 24mm is better suited for my
usual shots. In this image I appreciated the wider view, but I shot wide
open, so the foreground rocks are out of focus. Had I been thinking, it
would have been a stronger image.

Now that I’ve had the D80 for 6 months and I’ve printed dozens of
images, I’m settling on something of a working style for now. I’m
working with formal composition as always, but looking for the influence
of light and depth on a larger scale than I ever have previously. I’m
working with images in which an area is obscured either by focus,
reflection or some physical barrier which tends to emphasize the light
or depth.

At this point my first figurative street photography work doesn’t quite
fit in, but hope to develop it over time. On Flickr the street
images are some of the most popular and it gives me somethiing to do
with the Leica that I’m less successful at with the D80.

Another area that I’ve started with but have not yet developed is
photographing with flash. Since my time to shoot is limited and the
light is not always with me, it seems logical that I should work on
adding my own light to images. Another area for development

Why Have We Burnt Out?

Doug Miller has taken
down his weblog, saying “Blogging just aint what it used to be.” Alwin Hawkins has been, in his
words, “underground”. And Dave Rogers continues
his ongoing conversation with the net, mostly urging us to be less
influenced and spend less time involved in the blogosphere.

I’ve continued to use this space as an online journal, mostly about my
photography. But I’m no longer involved in the give and take of the
online community. How did this happen?

I believe it’s because we’re no longer needed. RSS feeds and social
networking sites have assumed the role that the blogging community used
to play.

Like many, I now use Google Reader. According to the Trends Page, I’m
subscribed to about 300 feeds and have scanned about 10,000 items in the
last 30 days. There are a few key aggregators that seem to pick up on
most of what interests me in the Tech, Photo, Outdoor/Fitness and
Medicine spheres that I want to keep up with. Of course there are the
few searches a day in which I go off in search of specific information
to help with a purchase or develop a technique, but these rarely result
in new feeds or bookmarks.

I have more than enough to read, so it seems there’s no need for me and
others to be pointing the same items as everyone else. What about
personal experience? Well I can get that on message boards and reviews
on sites like Amazon. These social networking sites substitute the
community that networks of weblogs once provided. I get my feedback on
Flickr now, where a talented group of photographers share images and
discuss equipment and technique.

We early bloggers were, I think, inspired amateurs that staked out the
writable web early on. But those pioneer days are gone and the
infrastructure has gone up to support cities and suburbs. We’re finding
comfortable places to live and looking for the next adventure.

I have no doubt that we’ll find new and exciting frontiers in the next
few years. For me at the moment, it’s a rediscovery of my visual art
though digital photography and the ability to publish on the web both
here and at Flickr. I’ve learned to focus on the Now and relish the
surprises that tomorrow will surely bring.

About James Vornov

“On Deciding . . . Better” is the online journal of James Vornov M.D.,
Ph.D. A board certified Neurologist and internationally recognized drug
development expert, he is currently Senior Medical Director and CNS
Therapeutic Area Leader for PAREXEL International, a global Contract
Research Organization. He completed his Neurology training at Johns
Hopkins Hospital and served on the faculty there for 10 years. In 1998
he moved from academia to the pharmaceutical industry where he worked
in a broad range of CNS therapeutic indications

This site, “On Deciding . . . Better” began as one of the first weblogs
hosted by Dave Winer when he opened up the web to writers with the
EditThisPage community in December of 1999. While the site has served as
an online technology journal, it has focused variously on decision
theory, systems theory and emergent phenomena in an informal setting.
Most recently, digital photogaphy equipment and technique has dominated
the subject matter, reflecting personal interests.

The site is currently hosted on Mac G4 Cube using Blosxom as a content
management system.

Return to Riomaggiore


I’m just back from a vacation trip to Italy. It was just my wife and
myself, in part celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary coming up in
October. It was a chance to use some of the many, many frequent flyer
miles that I’ve accumulated in the last few years. I had the chance to
spend many hours in a somewhat concentrated fashion making photographs.

We had the opportunity to reconnect with a special place that we had not
seen in nearly 20 years: Riomaggiore, a village in Italy that has
provided the basis for many images that my wife has in her paintings. In
a way, I was there as her photographer, to document the visual so that
she would have new references for new paintings.

Riomaggiore is in Liguria, on the Mediteranean coast that is the
continuation of the French Riveria. In the west there is the developed
“Italian Riveria”, but as one moves east, past Genoa toward La Spezia,
the coast is less developed. Just before La Spezia lie five towns which
until after WWII were only approachable by boat. A rail line and then a
highway opened them up after the war, but they remained much as they
were. Known as the “Cinque Terre”, they have been a favorite of artists
and poets. At the sea, now cut off from the rest of the village by the
rail line is the small harbor.

At the Airport


When I travel on business, I’m always hesitant to sit in the airport and
capture images. Somehow, on vacation with my wife as cover, I felt much
less inhibited about snapping away.

We drove from Baltimore to the Philadelphia Airport. The new
International Terminal has nice big windows overlooking the exterior and
the sky was filled with clouds. I continue to rely mostly on my 24mm
f2.8 lens with the D80. As a 36mm equivalent, it’s a very flexible field
of view that can be wide as here or close up, provide detail. I traveled
with the 24mm on the camera, my 50mm and 12-24mm f4 DX wrapped in the
backpack. No telephoto on this trip.

Since this is vacation photography, there’s an important documentary
aspect, so I’ve shot many scenics and location images that reflect a
more “straight” photography style than my personal work. I’m sure there
will be a few personal keepers in the collection.

There are so many images that it would be impossible for me to work
through them using my fine print workflow. I’ve decided to work within
Aperture until I’ve digested most of the images. I’ll then circle back
and reprocess the best through my current workflow, which is Capture One
for RAW conversion and the Photoshop CS3 for overall and local
contrast/brightness changes.



My morning routine while in Riomaggiore was to walk down from our
apartment which was at the very top of the village down to the bar which
was near its foot. The light would be breaking over the top of the
hills above the village, creating dramatic light as here.

This is the central street of Riomaggiore. There’s really just one other
road around the top of the village. This street is really a pedestrian
walk as it is gated above; only delivery trucks and official vehicles
have access to the lower village.

The regular pavers toward the left mark the newest portion of the road
which is built over the stream that used to run down the center. Until
sometime in the 1950s there was a series of bridges over the stream that
allowed one to move from one side to the other. Now the water runs
through a conduit under the street. At intervals along its length there
are grates through which you can peer down and see the rushing water.

Using Warming Filters with a DSLR


This is the classic view of Riomaggiore from the beginning of the path
to the next town, the “Via del Amore”. Of course at noon on a sunny day,
it doesn’t really look like this. The sky should be blown out and the
colors should be without contrast.

Capturing pictures during travel is always a problem. While you can
always get up early and shoot in the morning light and then sleep until
dinner time for the evening light, do you really want to keep the camera
put away when out looking at the sights?

To capture the midday images, I stacked a polarizing filter and a
warming filter on the D80. While you’ll read all about warming filters
in articles and books from the film era, many believe that they have
lost their utility for digital since white balance can be controlled so
easily after the fact in camera or in post-processing. I think that what
they’re ignoring is that we need every chance to match the dynamic range
of the scene to the desired image so that it can be captured within the
sensitivity range of the digital sensor. On a bright day, the
combination of the polarizer to kill reflections and the warming filter
to let the weaker red-oranges come through really helps the contrast in
the scene.

Interestingly, the camera, if it relies on a through the lens light
balance like the D80 will adjust the image back if set to auto white
balance, pushing the image to the blue and removing the warming effect.
It needs to be added back judiciously to get the right look.

The Post Hid from the Light


A late afternoon lit photograph near the Turin train station.

As I’ve worked through these Italian images, I’ve gained a little more
insight into the relationship between my photographs of walls and
streets and my photographs of objects of concern. All of the urban or
nature fragment photographs are exercises in capturing form, composition
and, generally, color. Since the image is composed from the objects at
hand, I can generally create photographs wherever I happen to be at the

When I’m travelling and capturing a place, the subject is more
important, but the formal approach to form and color is just the same as
my more banal studies.

It’s an interesting tension in that the formal compositions have little
interest from subject matter- they could be captured anywhere, but the
travel photographs tend to be dominated more by the scene and the
subject interest.

I hope that there’s an underlying united vision.