Completing the Last Step

Completing the Last Step

I finally did it! I started printing photos and I can’t stop anymore. And it is at least as much fun as I hoped for. But getting there was also quite stressful, so what happened?

As written in my last post, I bought a used photo printer on the internet as well as a full set of ink. In this case it’s the Canon Pixma Pro-1 that is running on 12 pigment ink tanks costing approximately 25€ per tank. When it arrived I enthusiastically started to test it out – and sadly had to realize that one of the print nozzles was clogged. No matter what I tried I couldn’t resolve the issue. Thus, I did not only buy an unusable printer, but also wasted a lot of ink during my iterations of cleaning the print head and trying to print. While I could get back the money for the printer, I still lost a lot of the ink. And more importantly: I couldn’t print even though I was eager to do so.

After two weeks of weighing my options I finally bought a second printer, also used, but this time in person. I had to travel two hours one way to get it; however, the hassle was worth it and this time everything went well: Not only does the printer work flawlessly (at least for now), but furthermore the seller gave me lots of high quality paper for free. And this paper is at least as expensive as the ink: Only later I realized that a single A3+ sheet goes for over 5€.

That’s it. My small adventure of buying a printer. What follows is my still ongoing adventure of figuring out how to use it properly. I still have very little knowledge of what I am doing; but the printer and paper already produce results I am really proud of. I tried to capture it on camera, but unsuccessfully. It’s very different to hold a print in your hand than to see a picture of it: The stunning overall visuals, all the little details when you examine the print closely, the texture of the paper, the smell of paper and ink, the weight of the print: I love it. And thus, I have chosen three of my first prints I will give some short additional information on:


The first picture is one of my all-time favorites: Two goose in the morning fog at our local lake which is only a few minutes by bike. It’s printed on a matte and thick paper, the Hahnemühle Photo Rag, 308 gsm. Texture and details in the print are marvelous.


The second one is an abstract black and white photo of grass and frost I took in the Harz mountains when I went out to photograph the sunrise. It was one of my first dedicated photo trips and until today I never had such good conditions again. I think I still took several of my best photos so far on that morning. It’s printed on the Hahnemühle FineArt Pearl, 285 gsm, which is a semi gloss paper that works beautifully with contrasty black and white photos.


The last one is a picture from our early morning adventure I already talked about here. Clouds blend with rows of trees while the sun hasn’t quite conquered the horizon. Again, there is so much to discover on this photo when you hold it in your hand printed out. So many details I have missed before when just looking at the digital version. It’s printed on Hahnemühle Photo Rag Baryta, 315 gsm.


I have compiled an additional small collection of some detailed shots of further prints. For now, I have only printed A4 and A6 with one exception: I created one A3+ print of a photo from Mädchen Klitzeklein; it’s the one hanging already on the wall. For now, I only have to sell the broken printer again…

Time Flies

Time Flies

Time flies, day by day.

It speeds and leads
to paths unknown;
It has no needs,
proceeds alone.

In between, a lovely scene:
Fine cuisine, regards with love,
Outside wind blowing, doves above.
But it keeps going, the machine.

And one might ask:
"Why so? Which way?"
I know my task,
and thoughts don't stay.

Time flies, day by day.

The Last Step

The Last Step

Have you ever cooked an elaborate and complicated meal? First, you research a recipe. Then, you go out shopping for all the right ingredients, sometimes even to a few different shops. Lastly, you carefully prepare the ingredients and cook them in just the right way to create a wonderful meal. And then, imagine, you just throw it away, without smelling or tasting it, and start with the next one.

Have you ever started a laborious project for work? You research the topic thoroughly and speak to all your colleagues about the tasks ahead. You then sit down for several weeks and work on the project day in day out. You neglect family, friends, and health because it motivates and captivates you. And then there is the day where you are finished: You can harvest the results from your hard work and you see that it payed off. And then, imagine, without showing your results to anybody, you just close the folder on your smart machine, lock it away, and start with the next project.

There is always a last step you should take. And to me it feels like I have been missing out on the last step of photography until now: I spent many hours into researching gear before I bought my first camera. Since then, I have invested many, many more hours into researching how to use it properly, how to get the settings right, which lens to buy next, how to edit photos, and so on. I spent hundreds of hours outside, walking through sun and rain, with frozen feet and hands in fog and snow, with sweat and exerted muscles in the sun. I have spent hours editing photos and shared them somewhere on social media for some people to see. And then? I have closed the photo file on my laptop, maybe looked at it one or two more times on my tiny smartphone screen, and went out to shoot new pictures. But I have never done the last, and maybe most wonderful step: Using the digital information for which I have spent countless hours to get, all the single bits of 0 and 1, and capture them into physical form: a photo print to touch, feel, smell, and look at.

I have printed two of my photos on fine art paper at an online shop some months ago. While the result is nice, it was also rather expensive, but more important than that: I want to learn this last step myself. And I want to be able to fine tune the results exactly as I want them to, and I want to experience the process of printing. So I bought a printer (quite expensive), some ink (even more expensive), and some paper to test on and I will attempt to print myself in the coming weeks. I do not have anything to show yet, but hopefully soon. Until then, here are some spring photos, mostly from the botanical garden of our town, including pasque flowers, the common black bird which always visits us in the evenings, a great tit, and a humble fly.

On Information and Adventure

On Information and Adventure

Information and entropy are closely related: Infrequent events carry more information than frequent ones; or, in other words, the lower the occurrence probability of an event the higher its information content. The total information of all possible events is the sum over their individual information content weighted by their occurrence probability. Conversely, with more information, events can be predicted better. And low information means a high entropy, thus low predictability. This is commonly referred to as the Shannon entropy and does not only apply in computer science.

We took one week off before the Easter holidays, but it’s difficult to plan vacations in these uncertain times. For two days and one night we took our T4 and went out into the unknown towards the Southern Harz Mountains. With little information what to expect, what to do, or where to sleep. For me, the less information, the more it feels like adventure. If you want to read in detail what we did, check out the latest blog post from Mädchen Klitzeklein. I will just show some of the photos I shot.


Our sleeping location was on top of a small hill and there was a wonderful evening mood and night sky. The views were calming and the colors powerful. The sun set slowly behind a group of trees and left behind unusually warm air for this time of the year. After another hour, the full moon rose over the next town.


The morning started early at 6 p.m. with some shots of the distant wind turbines. I also couldn’t resist to try some macro captures with the morning dew. The sun reflected beautifully on all the water droplets in the background.


Most of all, I am proud of the following macro shots of toads, ants, and oil beetles. Oil beetles are rather rare in our region, but on one of our hikes we saw multiple ones on a single path. On another hike, we stumbled over a lonely toad on the way. Very excitedly I took some shots before it leaped into the deeper grass towards the water reservoir. When we hiked further, more and more toads were crossing our path, which culminated in a section where it was even becoming difficult to avoid stepping onto them. I made well over 100 photos, but these three are the ones I like the most. The capture of the ant on the tree trunk is also Mädchen Klitzeklein’s merit who evoked the ants’ interest.

Wildlife Photography(?)

Wildlife Photography(?)

I bought an expensive lens last December for photographing birds and wildlife. In the beginning there was a steep learning curve and, for now, I have been using it mostly for birds. I am satisfied with only a few shots so far, but it’s always a lot of fun to use; and it also motivated me to extend my ornithological knowledge. But from the beginning I was also very keen to shoot wildlife: red deer, fallow deer, foxes, rabbits, badgers. But I rarely found the time to either gain the knowledge and to research how to do it properly or to go outside and try it out. But by now, I think I have made enough research on how to approach the challenge that I feel at least confident to give it a few tries outside: Always care for the wind, camouflage appropriately, research the animal you are aiming for, and most importantly, be ready to invest a lot of time and be patient.

On Thursday and Friday I made my first two attempts. Due to work, I started at the unusual time of 2 p.m. My location research seemed to be quite good though: On both days I encountered several deer, multiple rabbits, and a fox. However, all of the shots are totally unusable because I never could get close enough or a nice angle. Mostly, because I did not dare to get closer to the animals; but also two times because I scared some of the deer away when they noticed (I guess) my smell because of turning winds; and multiple times because they got scared by other people walking the paths in the narrow woods.

So, for now, I can only offer the first flowers blooming in the forest and simplistic landscape shots from these two days. But I am hoping that I soon find the time to go for more attempts in the early mornings and some first proper shots. I am also planning to check out other areas and to try a stationary hide instead of stalking.

Exploration / Exploitation

Exploration / Exploitation

Reinforcement Learning is one of three main approaches for machine learning and can be described as follows: An autonomous agent observes the environment and performs actions to reach a pre-defined goal. A reward function gives feedback to the agent according to how close it was to reach the desired goal; otherwise, the agent has no information on which actions lead to the largest reward. The agent tries to maximize its gained reward in each learning iteration. And in every learning iteration the agent is caught in the exploration / exploitation dilemma: It could either exploit the already gained knowledge of the environment to safely receive the highest reward that it currently knows. But then it may miss other, still unknown options with potential higher reward. Or it could explore the still unknown environment to search for even greater reward. However, it may potentially walk off with even less than when taking the save option.

Solving the dilemma efficiently is difficult, but one intuitive way is as follows: In the beginning, most of the environment, and thus potential reward, is unknown, so the agent has to start by exploring a lot. With time, the agent knows more and more of the environment and can start to utilize its knowledge from time to time. After many iterations, it can then maximize the reward with the known options and only infrequently explore new ones.

The same applies in photography: I could either exploit a known place with known reward, or I could explore an unknown location. If I only choose the first option, I will never find all the beautiful spots out there. And if I always choose the latter, I will miss many good opportunities at good locations while checking out some new places.

Last weekend we decided for the latter: My father and I entered the parking lot at 5 a.m. to, again, get on top of Achtermannshöhe in the Harz Mountains before sunrise (check out Clear Skies and Minus 14 Degrees). From the weather forecast it was unclear if we will be engulfed in clouds or if the clear sky would stretch out above us. Luckily, it was mostly the latter, with some distant orange strips of haze and clouds illuminated by the rising sun. We persevered for 90 minutes in the freezing cold with numb hands and feet, but a breathtaking view made it worth it. In the North, the silhouette of the Brocken towers; in the East, black trees in contrast to orange and purple plains stretching behind; rolling hills dipped into pastel colors in the South; and in the West, the Upper Harz in blue and purple with alternating rows of dead and healthy trees.

After the hike back down we entered the parking lot for a second time, but this time with good memories and full SD cards. For the next adventure, I think I will choose exploration instead.

Finding Balance

Finding Balance

The composition of a photo can be balanced when the objects are equally positioned in the frame; the colors can be balanced by choosing a consistent or diverging color palette; the brightness can be balanced when the luminosities are equally distributed. Photos that are in balance can look more pleasing or calm and can help to guide the viewer through the frame. However, imbalance of specific aspects can also be used deliberately: to concentrate focus on specific areas, to evoke feelings of discomfort, or to cause tension.

In mathematics, when a target function is non-convex there are multiple local optima and finding the global optimum is difficult. Imagine the landscape around you: If you always ascend in the steepest direction you will likely end up on a hill, but not the highest one. And then it’s hard to leave, because at first, all surrounding areas will be lower. To reach the global optimum, you need to adapt your strategy and find balance: Where should you start your search? How large should be the steps you are taking? Is the steepest direction always the best one? And might it be worth to leave the current local optimum to find a better one?

Balance is important in life: Most of all, balance between work and spare time, but also between friends and family, between body and mind, balanced sleep, balanced food, and so much more. When I am working long hours, I am craving for some free time; when I have longer stretches of free time, I get restless or feel useless. As in photography, the difficult part is to choose what should be in balance right now and in which aspects some imbalance might be fine: How to choose the right colors? How to tune the brightness? How to position all objects of interest in one single frame? And as in mathematics, the path of finding the right balance is uncertain as well: When to leave a local optimum? When to take larger steps? How to find the global optimum? In life even more so, because the landscape is not static with the highest peak fixed at a certain position instead the landscape changes with time and a high peek once found may become a valley over time.

When I have been outside in the recent weeks to find some balance, I have been mainly shooting early spring flowers. But we also visited lambs in the neighborhood and goose are roaming the fields where we often go for an evening walk.

Love is in the Air

Love is in the Air

Last Sunday, I explored a small nature reserve close to our home I haven’t visited before. It’s characterized by small, shallow lakes, surrounded by reed belts and swampy meadows. The weather was rather disappointing but also typical for such an early spring day. The wind was blowing strong and cold from the east and the clouds scurried quickly across the dark sky. I had abandoned the first lens I bought back in October last year in favor of my newer ones, but I retrieved it for that day. It was an enjoyable change, trying to shoot some simple landscapes and to capture the mood of the moment. I also experimented quite a bit with some of the more hidden options of my camera and felt the black and white mode was appropriate for the scenery:

The day before, I had also spotted a lonely stork at the same nature reserve when driving by. He was on a wooden post that had not been occupied the year before, but I stopped only briefly for some quick photos:

So on Sunday I was hoping to meet him again to shoot some additional pictures. I was not only not disappointed, but this time he also had company. And both of them seemed to be neither interested in the dull weather and the light rain nor in the cautious photographer. Instead, they were rather occupied with themselves. They checked their nest under construction, watched each other gently, and synchronized their movements (intentionally, as it seemed to the external observer). In these situations, it is easy to forget the weather, the rain, the place, and time. I hope I can come back soon, and if the weather plays along, I am hoping for a picture of the two in front of the full moon next week.

At the moment I often feel as fortunate as I imagine these two storks feel in their newly built home. I also have someone to share home with, someone to fool around with, someone to synchronize with. It takes time, and sometimes it takes effort, but most of all it doesn’t take, but it gives: It gives moments of bliss and happiness and moments of gratitude and comfort. It’s the short daily breakfast, and the long adventures outdoors; it’s the willingness to try something new, and the teasing and playful banter; it’s the more profound conversation, and it’s the silent walks. And I feel my love growing more and more from day to day.

Fog Clears the View

Fog Clears the View

Forecast: Clear skies, sun the whole day, frosty temperatures in the morning. Reality: Dense fog, no sun for the first hours of daylight, temperatures not cold enough for frost.

That’s how it mostly is – it never comes as expected. I still have to learn to adapt my expectations from forecast to reality. On this particular morning I hoped for ice crystals in front of the rising sun – what I got instead were goose painted on a blank canvas.

Fog drowns the noise and highlights only what is in front of you. And sometimes the unexpected is even better than the forecast: The grey heron was hunting mice directly in front of me and I was able to get closer than ever before.

Know Your Resources

Know Your Resources

On an ordinary day during the last autumn, I saw, for the first time, the common kingfisher – what a beautiful bird. Despite its divergent blue and orange coloring, it is quite hard to spot when sitting still. Only when the kingfisher changes its branch from which it hunts you see a brief blue shimmer darting close above the water. It belongs to the family Alcedinidae whose species are scattered across the whole globe; and most of them are at least as colorful as the common kingfisher (e.g. check out the oriental dwarf kingfisher!). Since then, we have seen the common kingfisher multiple times at a lake close to our home and I have tried to get in on camera at multiple other locations around our town. I spoke with others where to find it, I spent lots of time waiting for it, and I made hundreds of photos of empty branches and little blue dots in the far distance. On some occasions I was somewhat successful, but the clear sight was always interrupted by branches at the locations I visited. Then, last Friday evening after another day of home office, I sought out one of the last spots around our town I haven’t been before during my search for the kingfisher. It’s only 3 minutes from my normal working location but due to the current situation I haven’t been there for a year. And there, directly at a small pond, the perfect location for the king fisher is prepared: A stick curved above the water, a sign that warns uninterested bystanders of the curiosity, and nearby benches and bushes for the interested photographer. I guess, I have to come back next autumn and try my luck here; in the photos below you see my best attempts from this winter.

Work often feels similar to this experience: You search something for a long time before you unexpectedly find it somewhere else. And sometimes you find even more: In this case it was a wonderful sunset and the first spring flowers: