Wacom Intuos 5 M configuration script for Linux Mint

Introduction

As an indie developer that goes solo, I have a drawing tablet which I mostly use to draw textures. The one I have is very good and from a reputable brand, it’s a Wacom Intuos 5 M tablet.
intuos5Med

Unfortunately this hardware device doesn’t have official support for Linux. There are, however, community maintained drivers, but it can be a little bit difficult to make them work properly. Linux Mint 17.3 (or rather, Cinnamon) comes bundled with a tablet configuration tool. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to work properly for me.

The device sports 8 button for shortcuts, and a wheel with 4 different functions which can be used to zoom in or out, rotate left and right or increase and decrease the brush’s size. It also comes with a pen that has 2 buttons, a tip for drawing and another one that acts as an eraser. Both tips have pressure sensitivity.

Now the pen works great, both tips and the pressure I apply are registered properly. What doesn’t work is the buttons and wheel on the pad. I want to be able to achieve the following :

  • For the eight buttons
    • Button 1 : Help Button (press F1)
    • Button 2 : Save (press Ctrl + S)
    • Button 3 : Redo (press Ctrl + Shift + Z)
    • Button 4 : Undo (press Ctrl + Z)
    • Button 5 : Add a new layer (Press Insert)
    • Button 6 : Cut (press Ctrl + X)
    • Button 7 : Copy (press Ctrl + C)
    • Button 8 : Paste (press Ctrl + V)
  • For the wheel
    • The central button has to switch between the different modes, the LED has to swap when pressed and a visual CUE has to appear on-screen when the mode changes
    • The four different modes are
      • Zoom In/out (Ctrl + + and Ctrl + -)
      • Increase/Decrease Brush Size ( [ and ] )
      • Rotate Left/Right ( Ctrl + [ and Ctrl + ])
      • Change Layer (PageUp and PageDown)

xev and xsetwacom

I use a spanish keyboard, so some of the keys I require need of a modifier key, like Control or AltGr. As an example, in order to get [ I need to hold AltGr while pressing the key.

teclatESP

In order to find out the name the X server gives to those keys I can use xev which is a tool that displays all X events, and amongst them, input events. I simply fire up the program in a terminal and I press the buttons that I need to check.

$ xev -event keyboard
Outer window is 0x4c00001, inner window is 0x4c00002

KeymapNotify event, serial 24, synthetic NO, window 0x0,
keys: 0 0 0 0 16 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

KeyRelease event, serial 25, synthetic NO, window 0x4c00001,
root 0x2eb, subw 0x0, time 14632163, (-721,140), root:(141,594),
state 0x10, keycode 36 (keysym 0xff0d, Return), same_screen YES,
" XLookupString gives 1 bytes: (0d) "
XFilterEvent returns: False

KeyPress event, serial 28, synthetic NO, window 0x4c00001,
root 0x2eb, subw 0x0, time 14635907, (-122,416), root:(740,870),
state 0x10, keycode 108 (keysym 0xfe03, ISO_Level3_Shift), same_screen YES,
XKeysymToKeycode returns keycode: 92
XLookupString gives 0 bytes:
XmbLookupString gives 0 bytes:
XFilterEvent returns: False

KeyRelease event, serial 28, synthetic NO, window 0x4c00001,
root 0x2eb, subw 0x0, time 14636051, (-122,416), root:(740,870),
state 0x90, keycode 108 (keysym 0xfe03, ISO_Level3_Shift), same_screen YES,
XKeysymToKeycode returns keycode: 92
XLookupString gives 0 bytes:
XFilterEvent returns: False

So that modifier key is known as ISO_Level3_Shift.

Now, xsetwacom is the tool that is used to configure your tablet. We can check if the device is recognized by our machine by simply running.

$ xsetwacom --list devices
Wacom Intuos5 M Pen stylus id: 11 type: STYLUS
Wacom Intuos5 M Pad pad id: 12 type: PAD
Wacom Intuos5 M Pen eraser id: 17 type: ERASER
Wacom Intuos5 M Pen cursor id: 18 type: CURSOR

I have here four devices, but here I’m only interested on the second one, my pad which is called Wacom Intuos5 M Pad pad. We can also get a full list of parameters that can be defined with this tool, but I’ll only be using three of them : Button (a button press), AbsWheelUp (the wheel scrool counter-clockwise) and AbsWheelDown (the wheel scrool clockwise). Buttons are numbered 1 to 3 then 8 to 13, I don’t know why this order is used. Button 1 is my wheel modifier. So in order to have my Button 2 perform a Paste the following command would be used.

$ xsetwacom set "$DEVICE" Button 2 "key +Ctrl C -Ctrl"

The key description can be interpreted as “press and hold control, then press C, then release Control”.

LED change and intensity

The LED can be swapped and its intensity can be modified. This is achieved with two files :

  • status_led0_select swaps the LED, it goes from 0 to 3
  • status0_luminance swaps the intensity, goes from 0 to 255

Both files are under /sys/bus/hid/devices/*/wacom_led

Of course, these files are read-only for any user other than root, so we either have to change this in /etc/rc.local or we’ll have to be elevate our rights everytime we need to change it with sudo or something similar.

Editing /etc/rc.local

#!/bin/sh -e
#
# rc.local
#
# This script is executed at the end of each multiuser runlevel.
# Make sure that the script will "exit 0" on success or any other
# value on error.
#
# In order to enable or disable this script just change the execution
# bits.
#
# By default this script does nothing.
/bin/chmod 666 /sys/bus/usb/devices/*/wacom_led/status_led0_select
/bin/chmod 666 /sys/bus/usb/devices/*/wacom_led/status0_luminance
exit 0

And in case we have never used rc.local before we need to give it execution rights. These changes will be effective after a reboot.

$ sudo chmod +x /etc/rc.local

The script

I have adapted a script I found online to automate the whole process. This script is heavily based off this post on Ubuntu Forums.

#!/bin/bash

## Touch ring toggle script
##
## Bind Button 1 (button center of touch ring) to the script.
##
## To allow script to select mode status LEDs edit rc.local to change root
## only permissions on the sysfs status_led0_select file:
## gksudo gedit /etc/rc.local
## Add the following comment and command (before 'exit 0'):
## # Change permissions on status_led0_select file so being root isn't
## # required to switch Wacom touch ring mode status LEDs.
## /bin/chmod 666 /sys/bus/usb/devices/*/wacom_led/status_led0_select
##
## Intuos - status_led0_select file = the left (only) ring status LEDs.
## Cintiq - status_led1_select = the left ring; status_led0_select =
## the right ring status LEDs. Same for the touchstrips.
##
## For mode state notification use:
## sudo apt-get install libnotify-bin
## Otherwise comment (#) out the notify-send lines. If libnotify-bin
## installed see 'man notify-send' for details.

# check if mode_state file exists, if not create it and set to 0
if [ ! -f /tmp/mode_state ]; then
echo 0 > /tmp/mode_state
fi

# read mode state value from temporary file
MODE=`cat /tmp/mode_state`

# select touch ring mode status LED for current mode state
LED_FILE=`find -H /sys/bus/hid/devices/* |grep status_led0_select`
if [ ! -w "$LED_FILE" ]
then
gksudo chmod 666 "$LED_FILE"
fi

LED_INTENSITY=`find -H /sys/bus/hid/devices/* |grep status0_luminance`
if [ ! -w "$LED_INTENSITY" ]
then
gksudo chmod 666 "$LED_INTENSITY"
fi

echo $MODE > $LED_FILE
echo 255 > $LED_INTENSITY

# for DEVICE use the pad "device name" from 'xinput list'
DEVICE="Wacom Intuos5 M Pad pad"

xsetwacom set "$DEVICE" Button 1 "key Ctrl shift Alt w"
xsetwacom set "$DEVICE" Button 2 "key F1"
xsetwacom set "$DEVICE" Button 3 "key Ctrl s"
xsetwacom set "$DEVICE" Button 8 "key Ctrl shift z"
xsetwacom set "$DEVICE" Button 9 "key Ctrl z"
xsetwacom set "$DEVICE" Button 9 "key Ctrl z"
xsetwacom set "$DEVICE" Button 10 "key Insert"
xsetwacom set "$DEVICE" Button 11 "key Ctrl x"
xsetwacom set "$DEVICE" Button 12 "key Ctrl c"
xsetwacom set "$DEVICE" Button 13 "key Ctrl v"

# set touch ring function option and notification for the 4 toggled modes
if [ "$MODE" == 0 ]; then
xsetwacom set "$DEVICE" AbsWheelUp "key Ctrl -" # zoom in
xsetwacom set "$DEVICE" AbsWheelDown "key Ctrl +" # zoom out
notify-send -t 1500 "Mode 1: Zoom In/Out"
elif [ "$MODE" == 1 ]; then
xsetwacom set "$DEVICE" AbsWheelUp "Key +ISO_Level3_Shift dead_grave -ISO_Level3_Shift" # increase brush radius (must be mapped in GIMP)
xsetwacom set "$DEVICE" AbsWheelDown "Key +ISO_Level3_Shift plus -ISO_Level3_Shift" # decrease brush radius (must be mapped in GIMP)
notify-send -t 1500 "Mode 2: Increase or decrease brush size"
elif [ "$MODE" == 2 ]; then
xsetwacom set "$DEVICE" AbsWheelUp "Key Ctrl +ISO_Level3_Shift dead_grave -ISO_Level3_Shift" # rotate right
xsetwacom set "$DEVICE" AbsWheelDown "Key Ctrl +ISO_Level3_Shift plus -ISO_Level3_Shift" # rotate left
notify-send -t 1500 "Mode 3: Rotate Left/Right"
elif [ "$MODE" == 3 ]; then
xsetwacom set "$DEVICE" AbsWheelUp "key PgUp" # select previous layer
xsetwacom set "$DEVICE" AbsWheelDown "key PgDn" # select next layer
notify-send -t 1500 "Mode 4: Select previous or next layer"
fi

# toggle button increment counter
MODE=$((MODE += 1))

# set next mode state
if (( "$MODE" > 3 )); then # roll over to 0, only 4 mode states available
echo 0 > /tmp/mode_state
else
echo $MODE > /tmp/mode_state
fi

When the button 1 (the wheel button) is pressed, the key combination Ctrl+Shift+Alt+W is pressed. I have mapped this key combination to the execution of the script itself, so in order to initialise my configuration I can either set this script to run on XInit or by doing that key combination. Every time it’s pressed the wheel mode is swapped, and a little notification appears.

A new beginning

Looks like I am going to have some time to do my own thing, finally. Maybe it is a good time to retake some old forgotten projects. For a very long time, I’ve wanted to make videogames. Not just as a hobby, but as a profession. I’m a huge fan of indie games as you can see from my Steam library here. Now with SteamOS and smatphone games it seems like there’s a lot of changes in the videogame industry. You don’t need to have a team of 100+ people working together to create the next hit game, it just seems like game development is going back to its roots, where people created little gems, on their own, with a lot of talent and tons of imagination.

Limbo
Limbo, one of the best games I’ve ever played

Now, I’m a hardcore techie, so I’m not going to be using any popular engines like Unity or Ogre. I did contribute to Leadwerks being ported to Linux on Kickstarter, but I don’t think I’ll be using it.

I don’t intend on reinventing the wheel though, so I will be using a great number of open source libraries. This is a list of technologies that I might probably be using :

  • C/C++
  • Lua, for scripting purposes
  • Simple DirectMedia Layer (SDL), by the great icculus, the cross-platform equivalent of DirectX, handles images, audio, net, …
  • OpenGL, the cross-platform of Direct3D
  • OpenAL, the audio equivalent to OpenGL
  • Assimp, the Asset Import Library, a library used to import 3D models, bones and animations
  • Audacity, audio editor
  • zlib, probably, for compression purposes
  • Boost, because it just rocks
  • LMMS, to produce music. I’m actually going to give this a shot! Needless to say, I have no idea what i’m doing.
  • Blender, 3D model creation
  • Makehuman, quick and easy character creation
  • Git, version control
  • CMake, the most flexible build system I can think of
  • Valgrind, the analysis tools that have taught me so much about programming
  • GCC/GDB the GNU compiler and debugger

Other than this, I will give a shot to LLVM, as I keep hearing more and more about it, but I’ve never actually tried it. And I have no idea what I could use for creating sound effects.

Eventually, I might write a second part to this post, where I will aacknowledge how wrong I was about many choices I make here. There is one thing I know for sure though, and it’s that, at the very least, I will get more knowledge from this experience.

OpenMP, multiprocessing made easy

OpenMP is, according to the Wikipedia, an application programming interface (API) that supports multi-platform shared memory multiprocessing programming in C, C++, and Fortran on many architectures, including Unix and Microsoft Windows platforms. This means, in a nutshell, that it’s an API that makes multiprocessing easy.

The API is currently on its third version, and it is supported to some degree by most compilers on the market today, including GCC since version 4.2, Microsoft’s Visual C++ since version 2005, Intel’s C++ compiler, IBM XL C/C++ compiler and many others.

The most interesting feature of OpenMP is simplicity of implementation, even on existing, production code. With just a little effort, one can turn a single threaded program and turn it into a multiprocessing program, quite often experiencing a huge performance boost, specially on multicore architectures. Although its use is so simple, I still find that it’s unusual to see it being used by most programmers I’ve met. Maybe it’s because most programmers are still used to thinking in terms of one process for most of our non time-critical code, and we don’t have the reflex of implementing such features on a day-to-day basis. And when we implement processes and/or threads, we do it using platform-specific instructions like fork().

This “Hello World” example from the Wikipedia is the perfect example to demonstrate OpenMP’s simplicity:

#include
#include
#include

int main (int argc, char *argv[]) {
int th_id, nthreads;
#pragma omp parallel private(th_id)
{
th_id = omp_get_thread_num();
printf("Hello World from thread %d\n", th_id);
#pragma omp barrier
if ( th_id == 0 ) {
nthreads = omp_get_num_threads();
printf("There are %d threads\n",nthreads);
}
}
return EXIT_SUCCESS;
}

I compile this using GCC by adding -fopenmp to the list of parameters.

$ gcc -fopenmp -o openmptest openmp.c
$ ./openmptest
Hello World from thread 0
Hello World from thread 3
Hello World from thread 1
Hello World from thread 2
There are 4 threads

Now if I want to adjust the number of threads to, let’s say, eight threads, I simply have to add an instruction omp_set_num_threads() as such:

#include
#include
#include

int main (int argc, char *argv[]) {
int th_id, nthreads;
omp_set_num_threads(8);
#pragma omp parallel private(th_id)
{
th_id = omp_get_thread_num();
printf("Hello World from thread %d\n", th_id);
#pragma omp barrier
if ( th_id == 0 ) {
nthreads = omp_get_num_threads();
printf("There are %d threads\n",nthreads);
}
}
return EXIT_SUCCESS;
}

The result, as I expected:

$ gcc -fopenmp -o openmptest2 openmp2.c
$ ./openmptest2
Hello World from thread 6
Hello World from thread 2
Hello World from thread 3
Hello World from thread 0
Hello World from thread 4
Hello World from thread 1
Hello World from thread 5
Hello World from thread 7
There are 8 threads

How is this done in Linux using fork()? Well, an example program with similar functionality would be something as such:

#include
#include
#include

int num_threads = 4;

int main (int argc, char *argv[])
{
int pid[num_threads];
int thread_num;
int status;

// Fork creation
for(thread_num=0; thread_num<num_threads; thread_num++)
{
if ((pid[thread_num] = fork()) == 0)
{
// Wait until all child processes are finished
wait(&status);
}
else
{
printf("Hello World from thread %d\n", thread_num);
exit(0);
}
}

printf("There are %d threads\n",num_threads);
return EXIT_SUCCESS;
}

The result, as expected, is as follows:

$ gcc -o forktest forktest.c
$ ./forktest
Hello World from thread 0
Hello World from thread 1
Hello World from thread 2
Hello World from thread 3
There are 4 threads

My Windows C programming is rusty to say the least, but of course, the above code with fork() would not work under Windows, I would have to use CreateThread(), while the OpenMP example should work if I adjust the includes and the main function parameters as usual.

So, anyways, I’m going to try something a bit more fun. There’s this fairly simple yet cool algorithm which is based on the so called “Montecarlo method”. This method consists of using randomly generated numbers to calculate a value through approximation. I’m doing something slightly different, mine is basically an algorithm to make an estimation of the ? number, but instead of using randomly generated numbers, I will be using a great amount of evenly sequenced numbers. The basic idea is that in a 1 x 1 square the area is 1 square units, and the area of a 1 radius circle is ? square units (? * 12). So if I place the centre of my circle on one of the four corners of the square, the area in common would be ?/4 square units.

Now, if I “throw” a high number of evenly distributed dots on my 1 x 1 square, the ratio of dots landing inside the circle quarter to the total number of dots would be ? / 4 to 1. We can, with this ratio, make an estimate of the value of ?. This, in quick and dirty C code, could be written like this:

#include
#include
#include
#include

#define TOTAL_BULLETS 100000

int main(int argc, char *argv[])
{
double almost_pi;
int i,j;
double counter_in=0.0f;
struct timeval startTime;
struct timeval endTime;
double x, y, hypotenuse;

gettimeofday(&startTime, NULL);
for(i=0;i<=TOTAL_BULLETS;i++)
{
for(j=0;j<=TOTAL_BULLETS;j++)
{
x=(double) i / (double) TOTAL_BULLETS;
y=(double)j/(double) TOTAL_BULLETS;

hypotenuse = sqrt(x*x + y*y);

if (hypotenuse <= 1.0f)
counter_in+=1.0f;
}
}

printf("%f bullets hit the circle\n",counter_in);
almost_pi=((double)counter_in/(double)TOTAL_BULLETS/(double)TOTAL_BULLETS*4.0f);
printf("Estimated value of pi is %f\n",almost_pi);

gettimeofday(&endTime, NULL);
double tS = startTime.tv_sec*1000000 + (startTime.tv_usec);
double tE = endTime.tv_sec*1000000 + (endTime.tv_usec);
double duration = tE-tS;
printf("Time : %f\n",duration);
return EXIT_SUCCESS;
}

And the result of my little experiment is actually pretty decent:

$ gcc -lm shotgun.c -O3 -o shotgun
$ ./shotgun
7854081365.000000 bullets hit the circle
Estimated value of pi is 3.141633
Time : 455893907.000000

The CPU use during that time was below 50%, as only one core of my dual core machine was in use by my program.

top - 11:14:35 up 2:58, 4 users, load average: 0.58, 1.36, 1.53
Tasks: 112 total, 2 running, 110 sleeping, 0 stopped, 0 zombie
Cpu(s): 50.0%us, 0.2%sy, 0.0%ni, 49.8%id, 0.0%wa, 0.0%hi, 0.0%si, 0.0%st
Mem: 2058320k total, 540940k used, 1517380k free, 58280k buffers
Swap: 4095992k total, 0k used, 4095992k free, 337472k cached

PID USER PR NI VIRT RES SHR S %CPU %MEM TIME+ COMMAND
4460 txukie 25 0 6244 328 256 R 100.2 0.0 0:26.12 shotgun
409 root 10 -5 0 0 0 S 0.3 0.0 0:00.90 scsi_eh_0
1 root 18 0 10372 684 572 S 0.0 0.0 0:00.51 init
2 root RT -5 0 0 0 S 0.0 0.0 0:00.00 migration/0
3 root 34 19 0 0 0 S 0.0 0.0 0:00.00 ksoftirqd/0
4 root RT -5 0 0 0 S 0.0 0.0 0:00.00 watchdog/0
5 root RT -5 0 0 0 S 0.0 0.0 0:00.00 migration/1
6 root 34 19 0 0 0 S 0.0 0.0 0:00.00 ksoftirqd/1
7 root RT -5 0 0 0 S 0.0 0.0 0:00.00 watchdog/1
8 root 10 -5 0 0 0 S 0.0 0.0 0:00.00 events/0

As seen on the previous example, running this program on an old Core 2 Duo E6400 machine running CentOS 5.6 takes 455 seconds. Now, if I adapt the code with OpenMP it should take a lot less time. Just a few lines of code are necessary to accomplish this task.

#include
#include
#include
#include
#include

#define TOTAL_BULLETS 100000

int main(int argc, char *argv[])
{
double almost_pi;
int i,j;
double counter_in=0.0f;
struct timeval startTime;
struct timeval endTime;
double x, y, hypotenuse;

gettimeofday(&startTime, NULL);

#pragma omp parallel for private(i) reduction(+: counter_in)
for(i=0;i<=TOTAL_BULLETS;i++)
{
#pragma omp parallel for private(j,x,y,hypotenuse)
for(j=0;j<=TOTAL_BULLETS;j++)
{
x=(double) i / (double) TOTAL_BULLETS;
y=(double)j/(double) TOTAL_BULLETS;

hypotenuse = sqrt(x*x + y*y);

if (hypotenuse <= 1.0f)
{
#pragma omp atomic
counter_in++;
}
}
}

printf("%f bullets hit the circle\n",counter_in);
almost_pi=((double)counter_in/(double)TOTAL_BULLETS/(double)TOTAL_BULLETS*4.0f);
printf("Estimated value of pi is %f\n",almost_pi);

gettimeofday(&endTime, NULL);
double tS = startTime.tv_sec*1000000 + (startTime.tv_usec);
double tE = endTime.tv_sec*1000000 + (endTime.tv_usec);
double duration = tE-tS;
printf("Time : %f\n",duration);
return EXIT_SUCCESS;
}

The result is as follows:

$ gcc -lm shotgun.c -fopenmp -O3 -o shotgun_omp
$ ./shotgun_omp
7854081365.000000 bullets hit the circle
Estimated value of pi is 3.141633
Time : 385923213.000000

Now the result is a lot better, as the time taken to complete is 385 seconds, that’s a reduction of almost 70 seconds. My computer’s cores are used fully now, as indicated by top:

top - 10:54:51 up 2:39, 3 users, load average: 1.99, 1.90, 1.25
Tasks: 111 total, 2 running, 109 sleeping, 0 stopped, 0 zombie
Cpu(s): 84.3%us, 15.7%sy, 0.0%ni, 0.0%id, 0.0%wa, 0.0%hi, 0.0%si, 0.0%st
Mem: 2058320k total, 538088k used, 1520232k free, 56672k buffers
Swap: 4095992k total, 0k used, 4095992k free, 337468k cached

PID USER PR NI VIRT RES SHR S %CPU %MEM TIME+ COMMAND
4361 txukie 25 0 22964 560 444 R 199.7 0.0 31:37.46 shotgun_omp
3432 txukie 15 0 77244 1588 600 S 0.3 0.1 0:00.05 screen
1 root 18 0 10372 684 572 S 0.0 0.0 0:00.51 init
2 root RT -5 0 0 0 S 0.0 0.0 0:00.00 migration/0
3 root 34 19 0 0 0 S 0.0 0.0 0:00.00 ksoftirqd/0
4 root RT -5 0 0 0 S 0.0 0.0 0:00.00 watchdog/0
5 root RT -5 0 0 0 S 0.0 0.0 0:00.00 migration/1
6 root 34 19 0 0 0 S 0.0 0.0 0:00.00 ksoftirqd/1

A full specification on OpenMP 3.0, and many more resources, can be found here.

darktable, a photo workflow software for Linux users

As I’m a Linux user I was looking for a decent substitute for Adobe Lightroom. I recently discovered a viable alternative called darktable. I decided to give it a try, as, even if I managed to work with the excellent UFRaw, it took me way too long to get things done, as the user interface wasn’t really suitable for fast workflow.

Darktable seems to be a project that has been going on for two years now, but I have to admit I had never heard of it until recently. I only found out about it because I looked for an alternative to Lightroom in The Linux Alternative Project, and so I decided to give it a go.

My first impressions were excellent, the interface is very similar to LightRoom’s and the program is agile even on an underpowered computer. The program seems to use libraw, meaning it instantly supports RAW formats from an overwhelming number of manufacturers.

After some hours spent editing, I’ve discovered a few weak points with it though; the interface can be a bit difficult to understand at first, and it would be particularly uncomfortable to navigate using a touchpad. Some of the extra tools are difficult to find and are not properly documented, but I still have to admire the effort put into documenting most features, something where most open source programs lag behind.

I’m hoping that, as this program keeps getting better and better, it won’t be long until it comes included in all major Linux distro repositories. It is, in my opinion, crucial to make it more easily available for it to get the attention it deserves.

Darktable

Night photography course

Last Christmas, I was offered a photography course at Stage Photo Paris. Among all the different courses that were available, I decided to go for the night photography course, because I thought that from a technical point of view, it would be the most challenging.

One of my greatest passions is photography, digital photography to be more precise. A couple of years ago I got a digital SLR. The camera, an Olympus E-410, comes packed with a wide range of nifty features, while managing to stay fairly compact. Of course, it’s got a few weak points like it struggles with exposure under certain conditions, and, like most non-professional SLRs, it’s not very good with white balance. This being my first ever SLR, I find this camera to be a great choice.

Olympus E-410

From the very beginning, I tried hard to avoid using the so-called “automatic” modes, and I began using priority mode. Every time I tried using manual mode I would almost always end up with a horrible result. From the outset processing techniques such as HDR appealed to me, but I obtained mixed results.

HDR

Last Christmas, I was offered a photography course at Stage Photo Paris. Among all the different courses that were available, I decided to go for the night photography course, because I thought that from a technical point of view, it would be the most challenging.

Colourful boat

The date of the course arrived, and I got there, late (thanks a lot RATP!) and after a brief introduction and a cup of coffee, we all headed to where we were going to spend the next 5 hours taking pictures: Bercy.

[codepeople-post-map]

I have to say, Bercy is probably one of the places in Paris which I hate most, but I was surprised to notice how photogenic it is at night. The mixture of very poorly lit areas with modern office buildings makes a very interesting blend of light and dark.

Skate Park in Bercy

We first started off at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy. It’s a horrible building, shaped like a sort of aztec pyramid and covered in grass. It doesn’t get much better at night and there were huge lights that made it difficult to point at the building while avoiding them. The surroundings, however, are a lot more interesting: there’s a skate park with some excellent graffiti and some sort of carved monument whose sole purpose seemed to be to serve as an improvised toilet for the regular alcohol drinkers that the place received. All that was bathed with inexpensive public street lighting, which created some great shadow areas and shapes.

Improvised toilet

We then moved onto the Passerelle Simone-de-Beauvoir which I really enjoyed; the water, the lights, the metallic shapes and the occasional passing boat offered plenty of material to work with.

Hand rail at Passerelle Simone-de-Beauvoir

There was even a busy road near there, so I gave night motion blur a try. It’s getting old, I know, and I don’t even think I made a great job of it, but I’m still quite impressed with the results considering it was the first time I tried it.

Motion blur and reflection

It’s amazing to see how water comes alive at night, and the wide variety of colours at Bercy really helped to produce some pretty special pictures.

Bercy at night

Pont de Bercy close-up

Passerelle Simone-de-Beauvoir

To top it all off, we then moved to a construction site. I absolutely love those kind of settings, dark and gloomy, metal, concrete and raw shapes. I decided to take some pictures with almost no light, huge exposure times and very low ISOs to achieve great effects. Some images work much better in monochrome, others probably could do with HDR or some other processing of some sort, but I decided to keep it simple in the end.

Spiral staircase

Another perspective of the spiral staircase

Some broken plastic web

We headed into a dark alley, the river by our side, which offered great panoramics of the river, and some brilliant perspective photos.

Dark alley

Other side of the alley

Glass staircase

I tried to give my pictures a bit of a subject, perhaps this could be the perfect setting for a 40s film noir, or the surroundings of some dark hard-rock music venue, so I focused on trying to find the perfect scene, the perfect picture (don’t we all?) and let the camera do the talking.

Dark corner

Metallic staircase

Graffiti behind a grid

Monochrome of the alley

It was getting very late, so I decided to spend my last few minutes using the alley as a platform to look out onto the Quai de Bercy, the Ministry of Finance and the odd passing boat, and of course, Paris’ red night sky.

Bercy panoramic

Bercy panoramic

Little dock

Another Bercy panoramic

Do not cross sign

I was even lucky enough to get a brilliant motion blurred picture of a passing tourist boat, with very bright side lights.

Passing boat

Feel free to take a look at the full gallery here.