the setback post

Category: Photography

En pointe


The faithful companion

After the unqualified success of my recent foray into internet feminism, I’m allowing myself another off-topic post. If you’d rather read about cycling, I recommend not talking about shaving.

canons95-lev (1 of 1)

If you’ve ever thought that cycling is a hobby of avarice and obsession, photography is at least as bad. Where cyclists wax anal* over the perfect stable of bikes, the ideal tyre width or the colour of their cable outers – photographers debate the relative merits of different cameras and lenses with a vehemence and fervour that might surprise the uninitiated.


There are holy wars over brand loyalties and endless personal quests to reach a mythical state of technological contentment, one that remains persistently elusive in a realm of breakneck obsolescence. The need to expand and rationalise one’s shooting kit even has names of its own like LBA (Lens Buying Addiction) and GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome).

Influenced by this teeming world of mutual enablers, I experienced a classic modern photographer’s evolution.

1. Acquire DSLR.

2. Acquire various lenses for [1], starting with the notion of ‘covering the bases’ (i.e. focal lengths) and then diversifying to include any number of fast primes and retro curiosities.

3. Acquire film bodies to take above lenses, start developing film.

5. Acquire multiple other film cameras because suddenly a whole new world has opened up and it’s shiny and exciting.

6. Realise scanning film to share personal ‘vision’ with wider world is one endless, time-consuming ball-ache.

7. Acquire compact digital camera to carry everywhere. Enjoy, but long for better manual controls.

8. Acquire nicer, far more expensive compact digital camera to carry everywhere.

Somebody once said that the best camera is the one you have with you** and it’s a maxim I’ve taken to heart, the reason I’ve ended up at [8]. Once I’d admitted to myself that the DSLR was just too heavy and too bulky to keep about my person at all times, and that shooting film, for all its hipster cred and arcane pleasures, was a great way of ensuring that most of my photos never saw the light of day, a small and capable digital camera was the most natural place to end up.

[**This line is widely attributed online to Chase Jarvis, but I have a suspicion it's been around rather longer than that would imply.]

The Canon S95 was that place.

I’m not going to write a proper review, because the S95 has long since been superseded by newer, more feature-laden models not once, but at least three times.

What I will say is that it represents something of holy grail of features for someone like me. Camera design is an exercise in compromises like any other engineering endeavour and Canon have done a particularly good job in balancing things with the S95.

It has good manual controls, pleasant image quality (even at what counts as moderately high ISO for such a small camera) and most importantly, it makes virtually no difference to the weight of the bag I carry around, and also fits into the pocket of a cycling jersey when the need arises.

A significant proportion of the photos on this blog are taken with the S95, including action shots, box porn, hubs and more.

Sure, I’d like to be able to restrict depth of field more than the small sensor allows, and it doesn’t have the lightning responsiveness of a good DSLR, but by being with me nearly all the time, it is by definition the best camera I own.

44 stock photos that I don’t know how to react to

This is The Setback Post’s first ever off-topic post. Depending on the reaction, it may or may not be its last. If you’d rather read about cycling, I recommend some Luxembourgish CX or a bit of winter angst.

women-stock-photosImage: Getty/Facebook

A Buzzfeed link is doing the rounds of social media at the moment, featuring samples from image-giant Getty’s “Lean In Collection”, which purports to include “more than 2,500 photos of female leadership in contemporary work and life”:

The project began when Pam Grossman, director of visual trends at Getty Images, commissioned a study that would track the changes in the representation of girls and women in the media.


“This is such a big passion project for all of us, and cheesy as it sounds, by showing people powerful images of women, we thought maybe we could actually change the world,” Grossman told BuzzFeed.

Whilst I applaud the underlying intention, I’m struggling slightly with the idea of stock photography as a medium for social change. Getty is, after all, one of the world’s largest purveyors of women laughing alone with salad, not to mention any number of gender role-reinforcing scenarios.

And that’s kind of the point of stock photography; it’s not inherently evil, but it exists to supply a cosy, bland visual language to companies and content producers who want familiar, unchallenging tropes to illustrate their websites and articles. It’s the reason you can safely look for a hot woman wearing a headset* if you want customer service, and why university campuses everywhere are littered with the bodies of students who died of exposure from working outside:

students-on-grass1024Image: Google

Getty would probably argue their project acts to normalise the idea of women in non-traditional roles, but to me the act of using stock photography is itself one of tokenism.

Rather than buying an image of a Lean In woman for your corporate website, wouldn’t it make more sense to take photographs of actual female members of your workforce? And if you don’t have any, maybe you should be asking why, rather than using staged photos of strangers as window dressing.

*To keep things bike related and also undermine this post completely, I asked fellow blogger Jack Luke of to ’shop a headset of the more familiar kind onto a lady for comedic purposes. The result was this decidedly un-feminist and mildy NSFW image. You’re welcome/I’m sorry.



J-Pow in full flight – Photo: Louie Traub

Last week’s US Cyclo-cross Nationals in Boulder, Colorado have generated no end of coverage, written and otherwise. ‘Cross is a particularly rewarding discipline for photographers, offering no shortage of visual drama, replete with mud and pain. The confines of a ‘cross course lend themselves to documentation and Boulder’s Valmont Bike Park is no exception. What I really appreciate in a photographer however is not the ability to record information, but the talent to tell stories and to reflect something of the atmosphere of an event in their work.

I’ve just happened across the work of one such photographer, Louie Traub, who has posted extensive coverage of the Nationals on his blog, here. It is well worth a look through. Louie describes himself as a “former newspaper photojournalist turned photography dirtbag” and along with his dog, he’s living the dream, pursuing his passion for cycling by doing what he does best – taking pictures. I look forward to seeing what he does next.

On the tech side, much has been made of SRAM’s new 1×11 drivetrain which put in an appearance at Boulder, and which will doubtless come to dominate the US scene next season. By releasing it in February SRAM is cleverly forestalling the fallout from the recall in March, so we can expect the Mk. II to be race-ready for September.

Otherwise, we got some excellent gif fodder. Assuming you don’t value your eardrums in the slightest, you’ll want to turn the volume up for this:

That sound at the end is American for “Well done, that man”.