Author: dougchinnery

Should I sell my DSLR and buy a Fuji?

buy fuji

I am being asked this question by clients so often now (twice in the last 24 hours, for example), I think it is time to put the answer in a blog, to save me writing endless emails if nothing else 🙂

So many photographers are hearing the buzz around the Fuji system (and other mirror-less systems. Many of these others are excellent, but I am a Fuji user so will use Fuji as the basis for my answer, but you can substitute the system you are considering just as well). They are seeing the amazing images these cameras produce and looking enviously at the small camera bags and lighter tripods required.

Many of us are getting to an age where kit weight becomes a bigger issue, year by year. It is a great shame if lugging kit gradually puts us off from going out with our cameras. Photography should not be about kit, but about making pictures and loving being out making them. Anything that gets in the way needs to be looked at and if possible, fixed.

The big question in the minds of DSLR users when considering switching to a mirror-less system is “will it be as good as my DSLR?”. Perhaps you are wondering, “will I lose quality?” “Will I be able to print as big?” “Are the lenses any good?” “How good is the autofocus?” and so on, and these are all very important questions. It’s important to look into the capabilities of kit before investing, but once the purchase is made it is even more important to get back to enjoying making images rather than obsessing about kit. Kit doesn’t make great pictures, we do.

So I will try and answer those questions for you based on my experience. I am not kit obsessed, I am not interested in brands (Despite me teasing Nikon users on Twitter on a regular basis) and I will tell you the facts, warts and all. I am not writing this as some Fuji evangelist to try and convince you to switch. Nor am I writing as a DSLR die hard with an obsession about megapixels who wants to put fear into your hearts. All I care about is pictures and enjoying photography. Read on and make up your own mind. (Oh, and all images in this post were made with the Fuji).

As you read, remember my comments on auto focus, battery life, frame rate etc are based on my Fuji X-Pro 1 (and some use of my wife’s XE-2, when I can prize it lout of her hands). The X Pro 1 is the ‘old man’ of the Fuji range now and all subsequent models out perform it in frame rate, auto focus, battery life etc – so I am experiencing a worst case scenario. If you opt for the XT-1, you will have a much better experience than me (and I love my X Pro 1).

How did I come to invest in the Fuji system? Well, I was doing a lot of foreign travel leading workshops for Charlie Waites company, Light & Land. On tours my main role is guiding and teaching, but when you are away for a few days you do get a chance to make some pictures of your own. I wanted a light, compact system I could fly with which produced good images, but was easier to travel with than my professional Canon system.

I am the privileged position that I can run two systems so I didn’t have to agonise about giving up my DSLR. But I realise for most photographers, a choice has to be made.

To be honest, I wasn’t really interested in the Fuji. I viewed it just as a second body, a compromise for limited use. I had no thoughts about it replacing my Canon kit. I bought a second hand X-Pro 1, with the 35mm and 18-55mm lenses. I got a nice lightweight tripod and set off on my first trip.

That trip was a revelation. From day one I loved using the Fuji, it felt great in the hand. The image quality when I got home astounded me. Bearing in mind this is a 16mp sensor and I am used to the 24mp of my full frame Canon 5D mk3, I could see little or no difference. In fact, the way the Fuji handles colour and contrast really appealed to me. In some ways the images were better than the Canons. There is something ’filmic’ about the images. I love using the camera so much I have hardly used my Canon in the last year.

I do prefer the Canon for macro photography. I have the Canon 100mm L macro lens which is breathtaking. The macro lens Fuji produce is perhaps their weakest, slow to auto focus and not a true macro as it only works at 2:1 rather than 1:1 like the Canon. Of course, as with all lenses, I could buy a Fuji/Canon adaptor and put my Canon macro on the Fuji, and this is certainly an option. I will say the Fuji macro lens us great for portraits and other types of photography.

You will also find the Fuji bodies slower to auto focus than most DSLRs. By slower, I don’t mean they take a week and a half to lock on, but they are just a little less responsive. I have the X-Pro1 and the XE-2. The XE-2 focuses faster than the X-Pro1. I understand the XT-1 focuses faster than the XE-2. Fuji are improving all the time. If you are PRIMARILY a sports or wildlife photographer then I would caution against jumping in to the Fuji system just yet. You will miss a lot of shots. If you are PRIMARILY a people, landscape, architecture or still life photographer I honestly think you have no worries at all. Many pro wedding photographers are using Fujis to shoot weddings beautifully, and they need responsive auto focus, but tracking a hunting cheetah on Safari is pushing the Fuji!

For outdoor photographers it needs to be born in mind that it’s only the XT1 that is weather sealed. Fuji have also just started releasing a range of weather sealed lenses. So if you plan to shoot in wet weather, go for the XT1 and weather sealed lenses.

You are NOT buying a DSLR and it won’t perform like one. The focus is a little slower. The frame rate might be slower. But how often, in reality, do you need to fire 9 frames a second and for all of them to be tac sharp. REALLY? But how often does having a big heavy bag on your back take the joy away from photography or make you quit earlier in the day than you would like?

You will hate the battery life on the Fuji. I carry five, yes five, spare batteries for a days shooting to make sure I have power. Having said that, batteries are only £9 currently from Amazon, so carrying several isn’t prohibitive. The battery warning light gives almost no warning it’s about to fail either. It’s a long way from DSLR battery performance. You will also find the cameras boot up time is slower than a DSLR (at least my xPros is). With each new model it is getting faster, but I have missed shots by having the camera off to preserve battery power, seeing something but by the time it is ready to fire the moment has passed. It takes a second or two to boot up. It doesn’t sound a lot but to a street photographer it’s an eternity.

On the XPro I also hate it that I have to remove my tripod quick release plate every time I need to change the battery. That’s bad design. But Fuji are addressing it on later models.

I was worried I wouldn’t like the electronic viewfinder (EVF), but these fears were unfounded. I love it. It is fast, responsive and well designed. It has got better model by model, so don’t worry that this will be an issue for you.

What is the high ISO performance like? I regularly use mine, handheld, at night, wide open at ISO 1600 and 3200. At 1600 and above noise is noticeable but, depending on your point of view, perhaps attractive. It is easily reduced in software. At 3200 it is very evident. At ISO 800 and below the camera produces clean files you will love. I often want the graininess of “noise” so for me it is not usually an issue.

How do I rate the lenses? Here Fuji have excelled. They have committed to a wide range (a lesson Sony could learn from for the amazing A7). I find the lenses as good as the Canon professional ’L’ lenses, and that is saying something. I now have the 18, 23, 35, 60, 18-55 & 55-200mm and love them all (just with the provisos about the limitations of the macro lens I mentioned earlier). I lust after the 56mm and will probably add the 14mm also. Most of the time the 23 and 35mm live on the camera and I often go out with just on or the other and force myself to work with it.

What about the big question of resolution and whether you can print big from the files? I have printed to A3+ with no issues and have customers printing much larger from the files (and by much larger, I mean several feet wide – sometimes the files are upscaled – yes, sharp intake of breath, that actually works really well). This comes down to a basic understanding of how big images are to be viewed. Enlarging beyond the native resolution of the sensor means detail is affected… But this is only noticeable if you stick your nose 2cm from the paper. Big prints are big because they should be viewed from several feet away. When you step back and enjoy them as designed there are no issues. If you are expecting the resolution of an A4 print to be maintained at A2 then forget it, but unless you have a medium format sensor or similar the same applies to DSLRS. If you are obsessed with micro sharpness and pixels, if you spend your life looking at images with your nose pressed against the paper and only print at A2 and above then the Fuji might not be for you. But if you really enjoy photographs and view at the correct distance for the size of print and generally print up to A3’ish, you have absolutely nothing to worry about. If you then need to occasionally print biggest, yes, the files will go bigger. Just don’t expect them to look like Phase IQ180 files at 3 meters wide. This is a pet gripe of mine, enjoy pictures, not pixels. (Please watch this video by Zack Arais on resolution and sensor size too – he puts things into perspective, and it’s funny).

I found I have to have a completely different workflow in the field when using the Fuji. I tried using it as I do my Canon system and found it frustrating, so I have developed a Fuji workflow. Whereas with the Canon I work in manual focus and manual exposure, on the Fuji I use auto focus and aperture priority. I also shoot in JPEG plus raw on the Fuji, whereas on the Canon I use raw only. This is because and (I never thought I would say this), I love the Jpegs the Fuji produces. I use them for Facebook, Twitter and quick work. For my master files I then process the raw files.

There are still issues processing the files in Lightroom. Some images (and it is only some) display a mushiness in the fine detail. There is a workaround you can read about HERE. I am sure Adobe are working on the situation and will soon remedy it. They have already added the Fuji film presets to LR so these can be applied to raw files if you wish.

I enjoy using a smaller tripod. I love having a tiny camera bag. I love the Lee filter kit designed for mirror-less systems. I love how inconspicuous the Fuji is, attracting less attention on the streets and in buildings. I love it’s retro look. I love the quality of the files it produces (the closest to film in I have found from a digital camera). I love how it will shoot square format for me. I love the film simulation modes, especially the mono ones. I love the ease of packing for flights. I love being able to work for longer without feeling tired. Yes, I am a convert. The Fuji is now my camera of choice for just about all of my photography, except macro and multiple exposures.

A point I would like to mention which really sets Fuji apart from just about all of the other manufacturers, notably so, is the way they listen to customer feedback. All modern companies say they value our feedback, but so often disappoint us by not doing anything about what we say, or falling short in meeting what we ask for. However, I am constantly surprised and delighted by Fuji who REALLY DO listen and react to customer comments. Often within weeks customer suggestions are implemented in firmware upgrades and in new models we see the majority of customer requests implemented. I strongly believe this is a major reason why Fuji has built such a loyal following so quickly. They are making cameras we want, the way we want and improving them all the time in response to the ways we use them. They are a fabulous company to buy into. It gives me great confidence to invest my money into their gear.

So, should you sell your DSLR and jump on the Fuji bandwagon? It’s up to you. Ask yourself, what is most important to you? Remember, currently, in some areas, they don’t perform like DSLRS, but be honest, do you really push your DSLR hard? I honestly think that for the majority of camera users a mirror-less system is ideal and will exceed your expectations. They are not for everyone, wildlife, sports and perhaps people who do a lot of astro photography should stick to a DSLR. For most others, switching needs to be seriously considered as an option. I’m fortunate I can run two systems (I run several, actually, if I include my old film Hasselblad, my pinhole etc) so don’t have to choose. I have the best of both worlds. But as soon as Fuji bring out a model which is just a little better, I can see me selling my Canon system. At the moment it is only macros and multiple exposures that are keeping me with it.

Whatever you decide I hope that, once the choice is made, you get back to enjoying making images rather than obsessing about the kit!

I would be very interested in your thoughts on this. Please leave a comment with your experiences or questions, below.

My first experiences with Fotospeed papers & lessons learned about soft proofing

soft proofing

"After Hours"

I have long used Ilford Gallerie Gold Fibre Silk as my paper of choice for my monochrome prints and Hahnemuhle 308 Photorag for most of my colour prints. I was happy with the Ilford, but the Hahnemuhle was causing me issues. Despite being a beautiful paper, with a lovely texture, it frequently got jammed in my Epson R2880 printer or picked up roller pinch marks. I also found, despite being air blown before printing, that it would shed fibres after printing, leaving white areas on the image. It is an expensive paper and these frustrations got the better of me.

Working for Light & Land with Charlie Waite and his team of photographers I saw how they used Fotospeed papers. I went to see Charlie’s exhibition, currently on at the National Theatre in London (If you haven’t been, go, it’s wonderful – allow an hour to enjoy it) and he had printed it all on Fotospeed Platinum Etching 285. I was stunned by the prints, being sure the paper choice had enhanced Charlie’s sublime photographs. I was also aware of Joe Cornish high regard for the Smooth Cotton White 300, printing his work on this paper. This encouraged me to investigate their products further.

My first purchase was Platinum Etching 285. From the first image I printed I was hooked. It ran smoothly in the printer without shedding fibres and the colours and tones were a near perfect match to what I was seeing on my screen. The soft Matt texture was ideal for the style of the image.

The above image "After Hours", printed on Fotospeed Platinum Etching 285

My next print job with Fotospeed papers was more important. Not only was it for a client, rather than a print for myself, but also the images were Chris Friels, rather than my own. I always feel a greater sense of responsibility printing the work of another photographer, trying to realise their vision for the image.

If you are familiar with Chris’s work you will know he uses extreme dark tones and some intense colours. This makes them challenging to print. This job proved to be true to form. The first image I tried was in grey tones with a very slight magenta/lilac tone. This I felt was the easiest of the three, to get me started.

I always print from Lightroom, loving the controls there. I had no worries over the colours so didn’t soft proof the image and went straight to print. It came out bright magenta. And I mean BRIGHT! My immediate thought was a cartridge had run out, throwing off the colour balance. I replaced three cartridges showing low levels and hit print again. Same result!

mmm... Magenta!

Now I was perplexed. I soft proofed the image but apart from an issue with some deep blacks it wasn’t showing any issues. Then I realised I hadn’t downloaded the ICC profile for the Platinum Etching paper from Fotospeed, I had it set to Hahnemuhle 308 PhotoRag. (I’m ashamed to say) That must be it! I remedied that, hit print again. Same problem. Now I was worried. What was going on.

iPhone shot of my computer screen to show what the image SHOULD have looked like!

I decided to follow Fotospeeds printing instructions (Typical man, only refer to the manual as a last resort). Their instructions apply to Photoshop so I decided to give it a try and did to the letter what they recommend. This got to the root of the problem. It reminded me of a bug I read about somewhere. I had 16 bit output checked in my original prints as I am usually printing from tiffs. However this particular image of Chris’s was shot as an 8 bit JPEG. The Fotospeed instructions showed the 16 bit option turned off, this reminded me of the issue so I deselected it. The print was perfect. Lesson learned.

The three stages - On the right the magenta madness, in the centre an improved print but still a magenta cast. On the left the final print (wrapped for dispatch in archive sleeve - but you can see the colours are matching the original image).

I was on a roll now and moved to the second image. This image was made up of extreme colours so I soft proofed in Photoshop. This showed that almost nothing in the image was printable!!! I tried my usual soft proofing techniques to pull the colours into gamut but they were so far out it ruined the image. The colours differed too much from the original and went very flat, losing vibrancy. Not an option. So I tried changing the rendering intent from Perceptive to Relative (see this post for more details on rendering intents) but this didn’t help either.

Hard to see from this iPhone shot but the left image is printed on Platinum Etching 285, a matt paper (with a beautiful texture but narrower gamut capabilities), the print on the right which is on Platinum Baryta was able to cope with the bright, rich reds in the original file. The Etching muted these to a duller more burnt orange with less vibrancy. Showing that paper choice can affect the appearance of the final print colours & contrast.

My next option solved the problem. I switched the paper (And the ICC profile) from Platinum Etching 285, which is a matt paper, to Fotospeeds Platinum Baryta. Why did I do this? Because matt paper is only able to display a very limited range of colours (a gamut of colours) than lustre papers. Gloss papers can display an even wider colour gamut. So if ever you have issues getting the colours right on matt paper, try moving to a lustre or gloss paper (remembering to switch ICC profiles in your print software). Often this will fix the issue. Fotospeeds Baryta paper had a gamut wide enough that I didn’t have to make any colour adjustments in soft proofing. The image printed beautifully.

Then on to the third and final image, another with extreme colours. This time, using the Baryta paper I soft proofed with no issues and it printed first time.

This whole process taught me several lessons. Firstly, I need to always check I have the correct ICC profile loaded for the paper I am using. Secondly, to use soft proofing to check the paper can handle the colour gamut. If the gamut is an issue, to make changes in software or to move to a different paper with the ability to display a wider gamut of colours.

The big lesson for me, though, was how much easier it was to work on the image to get it right for printing in Photoshop. I hate to say this. I have always loved printing from Lightroom and it does print beautifully. I also like how easy it is in Lightroom to set up page layout templates.

However, I found Photoshop is much better at making colour tweaks to an image to pull colours into gamut without spoiling the whole image. You can be very targeted in the colour ranges you work with, whereas Lightroom doesn’t allow you to be as precise. I Also preferred the way Photoshop displays the image with the papers ICC profile applied to simulate the print. The other thing I liked was sizing the print in Photoshop. So I have moved from being a die hard lover of Lightroom for printing to someone who will use Photoshop for tricky prints in future. I guess it is all about personal preferences and also using the right tool for the job. I definitely think that for difficult prints, Photoshop is the tool to use.

Printed on Platinum Etching 285 - Beautiful subtle tones

(One nice feature I will miss from Lightroom if I soft proof in Photoshop is something the soft proof virtual copy does for us. When we soft proof in Lightroom it offers to create a virtual copy if the file with the soft proofing adjustments, so that our master file remains unchanged. A great thing about this virtual copy is that it embeds the ICC paper profile into itself for the paper we are proofing for. Then when you print it automatically communicates this profile to the printer along with the rendering intent you proofed for. This is clever stuff and a benefit of soft proofing in Lightroom)

A lesson I have learned, which explains a lot, since doing this print job concerns the visible gamut warning in Photoshop and Lightroom. I have always used this thinking it was an accurate warning of colours which the printer would be unable to reproduce on my chosen paper. However, I must admit, I have often found (and told my students) it often is best to go ahead and print even if the gamut warning is indicating an issue with some colours as the resulting print is often fine. I put this down to the rendering intent doing a good job at replacing those out of gamut colours with close replacements. However, further reading has revealed that the gamut warning system used by Adobe is rather old and predates ICC colour management. It was designed for a graphic arts based workflow rather than photography and modern fine art printers actually will have no issues rendering those colours. What is actually of more importance now is the contrast ratio of monitors compared to papers. Many monitors are set to a contrast ratio of 500:1 or similar whereas gloss paper is closer to 200:1 with matt and lustre papers running even lower than that. Soft proofing should focus on correcting contrast issues and tweaking colours to bring them back to a correct state in soft proofing with the gamut warning turned off in most cases. I am going to try this and see how I get on.

I have now switched my studio over to using the Fotospeed range of papers exclusively because I have been so impressed with them. I will blog about each type I use as I put them through their paces and I am pleased to be working closely with the guys at Fotospeed too. They are a long established company and really know their stuff.

Another printed on Fotospeed Platinum Etching 285 (and its an ICM image so its supposed to look like that 🙂

Soft proofing is a big subject and will make a huge difference to the quality of your prints. It’s one of the things I cover in my Lightroom and Photoshop workshops and will be dealing with on my print workshops with Master Printer, Jack Lowe. The next Jack Lowe workshop is fully booked but if you would like to go on the no-obligation short list to hear of future dates, please just click THIS LINK TO EMAIL ME.

I am pleased to say that from now on in my Lightroom and Photoshop workshops (which I hold in my home studio) you will go home with a free print on one of Fotospeeds beautiful papers (perhaps one of mine, or one of your own) along with the knowledge of how to make beautiful prints of your own work too.

You will find available workshop dates ON THIS PAGE or, please CLICK THIS LINK and drop me an email if you would like more details or would like to book a one to one session with me.

You can find full details about and buy Fotospeed papers HERE – I recommend you give them a try.

What Are ‘Rendering Intents’ and How Should I Use Them?

Rendering Intents

I don’t know about you, but I love to print my favourite images. It seems such a shame that so many images today lie unseen on hard drives, when really an image is not fully realised until it is printed. There is just something about holding a well made print in the hand which brings out the full beauty of an image.

For many, though, printing is a bit of a dark art and there is much confusion about ICC profiles, paper profiles, gamuts and such like that can be daunting. One area that seems to cause confusion and is not well understood by many is ‘rendering intents’.

Before I begin, a disclaimer. I am not a colour scientist, not do I claim to be a world expert on colour management. My understanding is based on my own learning. I am sure there may well be much more to what I explain below and so if you are an expert, please feel free to add some comments below the post to add to (or correct) what I have said. I am keen to learn!

Rendering intents is a system built into ICC profiles that we see in print dialogues and we are asked to make a decision about which one to use. There are four main rendering intents and, in reality, only two are of real interest to us as photographers.

The usual advice we are given is to ‘try both and see which you prefer’ (I have even said this myself), but it is not really a very satisfactory way of working. Much better to understand what they are and what they do, then we can make a well informed decision and understand what effect they will have on the results.

Firstly, its important to say, we are dealing with the fine tuning of colour management here. Often you can print an image using both of the main rendering intents and it is hard for us to see any difference between them. At other times, though, it can make a huge difference to how our final print will look.

So what are they? As I mentioned, they are built in to ICC profiles. These profiles are the way different devices (cameras, computers and printers for example) communicate the colour (Hue, saturation and luminance) of each pixel an image to each other in an effort to maintain colour consistency.

Rendering intents are there for those situations when we have pixels of certain colours in our image which go beyond the capabilities of the ICC colour space we are working in. Briefly, colour spaces are, for example, sRGB or Adobe RGB, and each space is used for a different purpose. sRGB is the space used for monitors and ‘the internet’, for example, it is a smaller colour space than Adobe RGB, capable of displaying far fewer shades of colour. The range of colours a profile can display is galled its ‘Gamut’.

So situations arise where, if your image has a wide range of colours which exceeds those of the colour space you are printing in or exporting to (say, to upload an image to your website) then the profile needs a ‘map’. This map tells it what colours to swap the colours it can’t reproduce for. So, if you have been working in Adobe RGB (or ProPhoto RGB) and now are about to upload an image to your website which requires the file to be converted to sRGB so that it displays properly on the (uncalibrated) monitors of your websites visitors from all over the world, the profile needs to know how to handle these ‘out of gamut’ colours. You might have a green which displays fine in Adobe RGB but isn’t available in sRGB and so the profile asks you to choose a ‘rendering intent’. This is the map which tells it, when it sees this particular shade of green that it can’t display then change it to this other shade of green which it can show.

Its a bit like having a recipe book for Indian food. It might show a list of rare spices but, knowing they may not be available in your country, it says ‘if spice X is unavailable, then spice Y will do nicely’.

Its this ‘nicely’ bit that causes the issue.

Each rendering intent is a different type of map, a different way of substituting one colour for another, and like spices in a curry – we all have our own tastes. Some like them hot, others aromatic and so the substitute choice can be critical. So to make the right choice for us we need to understand how each rendering intent is programmed and how it is likely to affect the results in our images, especially prints or images uploaded to the web.

No rendering intent will be perfect and you can’t really say that one is ideal to use all the time. This is because each is a compromise and will affect the colours in our image differently. Depending on the image and our goals for that image, we need to choose the right intent, or map.

So what are they and what does each one do;

1. Perceptual Intent – This can compress or expand the full gamut of colours in the source profile in order to make them fit into the destination profile. What on earth does that mean in reality? Perceptual intent is designed to maintain the relationships between colours and often gives a more natural look to the final image. It should be noted that this can mean that it also alters colours which are in the destination profiles gamut already (so they don’t actually NEED to change). It does this to maintain the balance between all the colours in the image and to keep everything looking natural.

It should also be noted that each companies perceptual intent mapping in its own ICC profiles are unique to that company, so the same image put through different company profiles using this intent can produce quite different results.

Perceptual Intent, then, is often the best one to use if both saturation and the relationship between colours is of primary concern to us.

2.The second and other most common intent (indeed Adobe Lightroom ONLY allows a choice between Perceptual and Relative Colourmetric intents) is Relative Colourmetric Intent. This does not allow colours which are in gamut in the destination profile to be changed, they must stay unaltered. It only alters out of gamut colours. Additionally, it only alters these just enough to bring them in to gamut so the relationship between colours in our images change. (Most natural colours which have not been enhanced or played with too much in software, will fit into the gamut of inkjet printers – it is mainly colours which we have enhanced which cause issues).

This rendering intent does not reduce saturation, whereas Perceptual intent can. However, this intent can drastically alter the way an image looks to our eyes as regards the way the colours relate to each other.

Relative Intent is often the best to use if tonal relationships are more important to us in the image then the exact colours, and certainly in black and white printing this is probably the case.

(if you are making a big jump, from ProPhoto to sRGB profiles then, even if the profile offers you two choices of rendering intent, in actual fact it will only use Relative Colourmetric to do the mapping of out of gamut colours).

In the illustration above you can see an approximation of what is happening with each rendering intent. The white dots are the colours in the original image profile which are out of gamut in the destination profile. The lines lead from them showing how each is mapped into the new profile resulting in the destination colour at the black dot. In the left illustration we can see the Perceptual Intent at work. Notice how the colours all maintain their relationships to each other (spacings) for a natural look. In the right hand image we see the effect of Relative Intent mapping the colours. They are only pulled as far as each needs to be pulled to just get them in gamut and this alters how they look in relationship to each other.

It might seem from this that Perceptual is the logical choice in all situations, but it isn’t. Sometimes Relative does a more effective job, especially where tonality is more important.

The other two intents which are of less interest to us are

3.Saturation Intent – This is designed to give priority, as you would expect, to saturation of colour but in doing so, to get colours into a new gamut, will sacrifice hue and lightness of colours. It is of most use in technical printing when hue and lightness are not really important, but when saturation is, such as when printing mathematical charts and graphs.

4. Absolute Colourmetric Rendering Intent – This is a tricky one to describe but bases its calculations on the white point. It is used, for example, when converting to CMYK for images to be printed on papers which are below bright white (maybe a bit yellowy) and so it can show the effect of this on colours. Not generally something we, as photographers, have to worry about. But it is something that graphic designers and printers lay awake at night worrying about.

After all this is said, the only real way to know which is best for a particular image is to soft proof it in both relative and perceptual intents and choose the one we prefer for that image. In some cases the difference will be hard to see, in others it will be huge.

I hope this helps you understand a bit more about rendering intents and the need for us to focus on perceptual and relative intents in our work as photographers.

Remember – Perceptual is all about maintaining colour balance and saturation (and I think you will find in most colour photography this is the one you will find works best as it keeps your image as close to how you intended it to look as possible in most cases). Relative is more focused on tonal relationships and so will probably be your choice when printing in black and white or when printing in colour when the tones are more important than the exact shades.

(P.S. I will to be running another Print Masterclass workshop with master printer Jack Lowe in the New Year. These run over two days with Jack and I helping you to really understand and master colour management, soft proofing and printing. Jack has been a printer for over 15 years and is recognised world-wide as a master of his trade, used by many artists and professional fine art photographers for printing their work for exhibitions and portfolios. If you would like to join the no obligation shortlist, please just CLICK HERE to email me and I will add you to the list.)

Should I Back Up to the Cloud?

cloud

(New information added September 2017 – since writing the post below I have been using Backblaze for about a year now as my cloud back up provider. Zoolz became just too slow and was never fully backing me up – I always had files in my queue, especially after photographic trips, which defeated the object of a cloud back up. I NO LONGER RECOMMEND ZOOLZ. So after doing more extensive research I opted for Backblaze and have found them to be excellent. The cost is about £3.85 UK Pounds a month – less than $5 US Dollars. This gives me unlimited storage. I have just under two terabytes stored with them now. It is always up to date and is very fast. I have had to retrieve a couple of individual files from them and the system works reliably and well. I also like it that they allow you to back up unlimited external USB hard drives. Many other companies do not. If you would like to try their service, please sign up using THIS LINK as it will give you (and me) an extra free month of service from Backblaze at no extra cost to you on top of the free period they offer new customers to test out the service. Thank you).

Can I start by just apologising for this being such a long post, but I wanted it to cover the subject in depth and, hopefully, answer everyones questions. (and I have added some cloud type pictures, just to keep it interesting).

With the advent of fast broadband internet access the possibility of uploading large amounts of data to ‘The Cloud’ has finally become realistic for many. (If you live in a rural area, struggling with primeval broadband speeds, I feel your pain. I have only had a fibre optic connection for the last 18 months. Prior to that I was with you in the slow lane, so I know how it feels).

Firstly, what is ‘The Cloud’? Simply put it is a term used to describe data storage on the Internet. Our files aren’t floating in space somewhere, they are actually on hard drives in huge data centres in different parts of the World. These data centres often, for reasons of data security, copy all of the files to more than one location, usually in different countries and continents. If one data centre gets destroyed by an earthquake or invading martians at least your files and photos will be safely stored somewhere else on the planet for you. That is, until the martians land there too.

The bigger and more reliable suppliers of cloud based storage usually have the data in at least three nuclear bomb proof storage centres, each on a separate continent. The data is encrypted using very strong encryption methods and protected behind the most secure firewalls available. These guys are very serious about security. We tend to be paranoid about our bank details, but these data centres often hold the accounts of the largest companies on earth as well as the data of the worlds governments. Frankly, their data security is more important than ours (to them, at least) and so we benefit from security systems designed to protect them.

There are two forms cloud storage can take that I will look at it in this article. Firstly, the type provided by companies that have quickly become well known such as Dropbox and Copy. (Others include GoogleDrive, SkyDrive (incidentally, Microsofts Skydrive have just increased their free offering to 15GB to put pressure on the market leader, Dropbox – this makes them well worthy of consideration for a basic free service, and there are many more). These provide some free tempter storage for us, usually in the region of 2GB. This allows us to store a certain amount of data with them that we want to access from various places. They all provide web browser access to your files and in addition have apps for smart phones and tablets of all flavours. These allow access to your files from these devices too, wherever you have internet access.

I use and recommend people use Copy as their free Cloud based regular storage service. It works in the same way as Dropbox but instead of the measly 2GB of free space you get from Dropbox, Copy give you 10GB free. If you CLICK THIS LINK to sign up you will also get ANOTHER 5GB FREE, giving a total of 15GB free for life. (and I will get another 5GB free as you have used my link and for that I thank you). With Copy you can have a free app on your smartphone and tablet to access your files. You can also access them via any web browser anywhere in the world and you have an app on your PC or Mac to access them too, so everything is synchronised. I have been using it for a year now and the service has been flawless.

The types of files these services are designed to store are those we want regular access to. There is no charge for uploading or downloading files and there are no data limits for how much you transfer, just your storage limit, from the free amount they give you upwards. Many people find they can survive with just the free amount. Others soon find the service so useful that they want to exceed the free storage amount. Here is where these suppliers make their living. They charge for extra storage in packets of space. For example, £7.99 a month or £79 a year (if paid in advance) will get you 100GB of space on Dropbox.

These services also allow you to share files with friends, family and colleagues. This is very useful for files which are too large to email and where you want to share a file or files with a whole group of people. It can also be used to move files between your computers. Users soon find the service indispensable.

The main downside comes with large volumes of data (and for us as photographers, that means our images). For us, 100GB is nothing. In the days when many photographers happily fill 32GB memory cards in a day in their cameras and measure their photo libraries in terabytes it soon becomes prohibitively expensive to back up your entire library to these services. (an alternative to the Cloud for those who don’t want to pay or whose broadband connection is just too slow, is to rotate back up drives to an off site location. Some take one to work with them and leave it there in a safe place and bring back the previous drive to update. Some do the same, rotating drives at the home of a family member or friend. Always the issue with this is remembering to do it. It is surprising how easy it is for weeks or months to go by before we get around to swapping drives. If this happens it makes the system almost, but not quite, pointless).

This is where deep freeze storage comes in. An example of this style of cloud back up service is Amazons Glacier. This service is designed primarily for business users and is difficult for home users to work with, but more on that later.

Amazon have set up Glacier for individuals but mainly for companies who have vast amounts of data. Terabytes are shrugged off by Amazon, Glacier can handle Petabytes. Why ‘deep freeze’? This is because the idea behind this style of service is to upload files that we may never need to access again. We are putting them into deep freeze. This is in preparation for disaster recovery, for the day our house burns down and our computer and all our back up drives get destroyed. We can then pull back all of our data and restore it.

The price for this service is incredibly low. In fact it is hard to imagine how it could get any lower. The current fee is 1 US Cent per GB per month. So you can store 100GB for a year for $12, about £8. Compare that to Dropboxes £79!!!!!!! (Please note, many users are happy with other services, such as Backblaze and Crashplan which offer slightly different pricing structures and which may suit you better – I suggest you also check them out. I haven’t used them, so can’t comment based on experience. I have heard both good and bad about both, but then that is true of just about every supplier of any product or service!)

How do they get the price so low? A number of ways;

Firstly, As you upload the files they go into a queue at Glacier and can take up to five hours to be put into place on their servers. By controlling the flow of data to suit demand, Glacier can control costs.

Secondly, you pay to restore data back to your computer. You are allowed to restore about 20GB per month for free but beyond this you pay to restore data. This emphasises that the service is for cold storage, not the shuffling back and forth of files that Dropbox is used for. Again, by placing this restriction on its clients the price can be kept very low.

Next, it is not user friendly. It is designed to be used by IT departments with techy types who understand this stuff. I managed to work it out using various help files and web sites, but it took some research. I will explain the method later in the article.

Finally, you can’t ‘see’ your files. You don’t have a browser like File Manager or Finder to look at your folder structure and examine your files. Its all more obscure than that. This can be unnerving. Are my files really there?

The process for uploading to Glacier is a pain, frankly. You cannot upload data in packets of more than 4GB. You also need to use a piece of client software to handle the uploading process. I used Arq Backup on my Mac which is shareware and available to buy for a few dollars. This has to be configured to allow it access to your space on Glacier.

Then, to save space on Glacier (even though the storage costs are so low I still wanted to optimise the space – remember you will be paying for it for every month forever, even at one cent per gigabyte per month, over 20, 30 or 40 years with a growing data pile this will add up) I zipped up my folders. This has to be done manually and I grouped the folders into roughly 4GB zip files.

I then directed Arq backup to copy these to Glacier, which it did beautifully. With my BT Infinity 2 broadband connection and an ‘up to 20mb’ (and often faster than that) upload speed, I could upload 80GB overnight. The slow and time consuming part was manually and laboriously zipping folders into 4GB packets.

It was such a painful process that I got bored and was falling way behind schedule. Vital files that ought to have been copied to Glacier sat on my drives waiting to be prepared for Arq. It was one of those jobs that just kept being pushed down my to do list in favour of other ‘more important’ jobs. But with backing up, in reality, this is unacceptable.

This is where a company called Zoolz comes to the rescue. Zoolz are part of Genie, a large and well established organisation, and are based in the UK. They have a Cloud based back up system which uses Amazon Glacier to store our files. The great thing about Zoolz is they have realised how difficult Glacier is for most people to use and so they have designed their own client software for us.

This software allows us to simply click on folders on our hard drives and Zoolz backs them up to Glacier for us. No zipping, no grouping into 4gb packets (you can even upload files that are individually bigger than 4GB). The software also allows you to see all of your folders on Glacier just as if they were on your computer and, with image files (including raw files) you can see a thumbnail of the image which is so useful if you have accidentally deleted a file or files and need to selectively restore them. It is simplicity itself to use it and the client is available now for both Windows and Mac users.

They have a number of pricing plans for home users (and a range of products for business users too) so you can choose which is ideal for your needs and upgrade as your needs change.

Plan One – 100GB for £9.99 per year (£0.83 a month paid yearly in advance) – 1 user (1 computer and 1 external drive connected to that computer, no backup limitations)

Plan Two – 500GB for £34.99 per year (£2.91 a month paid yearly in advance)- 3 users (3 computers with 3 external/network drives connected to those computers, no backup limitations)

Plan Three – 1TB for £49.99 per year (£4.16 a month paid yearly in advance)- 5 users (3 computers with 3 external/network drives connected to those computers, no backup limitations)

Plan 4 – UNLIMITED DATA for £139.99 per year (£11.66 a month paid yearly in advance) – 5 users (UNLIMITED external/network drives connected to those computers, no backup limitations)

These prices are extremely competitive in the current market, especially if you factor in the time cost of manually preparing your files for Glacier by dealing with Amazon direct, along with the ability to view your files etc. I will still be very happy to pay the unlimited option price when my subscription runs out.

So what is Zoolz like to use in practise? As I have mentioned, the selecting of folders and files to back up is simplicity itself. Just click the ‘Data Selection’ option, click ‘select folders’ and then click on the folder or folders on your hard drive you want Zoolz to copy to Glacier for you.
 

The Zoolz Client running in 'Turbo' mode.

As a word of caution. I found the client works better if you select One main folder at a time and allow that to be backed up before selecting another. When I first started I selected my entire pictures folder, my music, my documents – the whole cahoona! That seems to slow things down somewhat! I soon found it better to, say select, the 2013 folder in Pictures and let Zoolz plough through backing up that years pictures before feeding it 2012 and so on.

Bearing in mind I could upload about 80GB a night to Glacier using Arq backup directly, Zoolz is massively slower. Zoolz say the don’t throttle the data flow, but whatever is happening, it is much slower. I rarely managed to get more than 20 or 25GB uploaded in any 24 hour period, let alone overnight.

I am using the Mac client which is actually in late beta so it may run a bit slower and be a bit buggier than the Windows version, so please allow for this (as of this writing in July 2014).
The issue is both that data doesn’t flow at the maximum upload speed of my broadband connection and the software stalls frequently. You will see that it seems to go through a process of ‘analysing’ and then ‘preparing’ each file before uploading it. This runs along fine but for some unknown reason the client will get stuck, usually when ‘analysing’ a particular file when it gets to 100% of that process.

This is not to bad if you are working at your desk and notice it. You can close the client, restart it and off it goes again quite happily. It is much more frustrating if it happens five minutes after you go to bed and when it could have run all night you find in the morning it has only uploaded a couple of files and then been stuck all night.

An amusing ‘feature’ is the client software tells you the upload speed. I was taken in by this on the first day. It will show a figure of say, 12mbps. Out comes the calculator and I worked out my entire backup should take about nine days. None too shabby. I posted this on Twitter and some wise IT types howled with derision at my foolishness. I soon found out why. Firstly, I soon found this speed to be fictitious. Also the speed shown only ever gets faster. Mine now shows 58mbps!!!!! I think what is happening is that the client logs the fastest speed it ever attains, even for a millisecond and proudly proclaims it to you. Don’t be fooled. It is a lie.

I soon realised that even in ‘Turbo Mode’ (more howls of derision) the Zoolz client is only ever using about a third of my upload bandwidth AT BEST, even thought he software warms you that in ‘Turbo Mode’ other upload processes on your computer will be affected as Zoolz will use all available bandwidth. Not on my system it doesn’t.

The alternative upload mode is ‘Smart Mode’. (Still hearing those howls). This is supposed to flex the upload speed depending on what else you are doing on the computer and uploading so that it doesn’t slow other things down. It makes no difference whatsoever if you use this mode, in fact, I think it is even slower.

I have just finished my backup to the Cloud this very day! It ended up being a bit smaller than I anticipated at about 1.1TB. This has taken me about nine weeks. I have had the computer on 24 hours a day and have run it as flat out as I can. Whenever I am at home I pop in to my studio to check progress and make sure it hasn’t stalled. If it has, I restart the software. I couldn’t have done the uploading any faster without sitting at my desk 24 hours a day. It will feel strange to just have it scheduled to update daily now and for me not to have to worry about it or nurse it along.

Restarting the software becomes a bit of a bugbear as time goes on too. This is because the software is designed, each time it starts to check every folder for changes that it has been told to back up. Early on this only takes a minute as you have only selected a few folders, but as the data selected increases so does the time it takes to check it all. At 1 TB it now takes perhaps 15 minutes or more. So every time the software stalls and I have to restart it I then have to wait around, or remember to go back because it doesn’t then commence the back up automatically, it sits waiting for you to tell it to proceed.

This all probably sounds like a nightmare to you, and it is a nuisance, but it has become part of my life over the last two months. The end is in sight for me. I know once it is done then the software will just monitor the folders I have told it to automatically and once every two hours it will just back up all the new or changed files which will be quick and painless. The best thing is I know I will have as secure a backup regime as it is possible for me to have. My images, which are my business and my livelihood are protected against even the most catastrophic hardware failure or disaster/theft. Barring nuclear armageddon or those pesky martians, I am protected.

So despite the shortcomings of Zoolz right now, I still wholeheartedly recommend them. The pricing is excellent and once uploaded the client software is a dream. You may well have much less data than me (and if you are a Windows user, your upload may be much faster as I am using the beta release of the software) I have heard from some Windows Zoolz users who have uploaded a TB of data in just a couple of days, so my experience shouldn’t be taken as the norm.

If you do decide to try the free trial of Zoolz or to subscribe, please use THIS LINK. If you do, I will receive a small payment (you won’t pay any more). If you prefer it if I don’t receive a payment, simply go to www.zoolz.com. I never recommend products or services I haven’t tried myself and don’t use myself. I am always 100% honest about the good and bad about any products I describe.

The window I have waited nine weeks to see - my completed Cloud backup to Zoolz.

If you are still with me at this point, well done for getting this far. You might be wondering what my onsite back up system is. It has changed a little since I last blogged about it, so I will, for the sake of completeness just run through it here.

I have a multilayered approach to backing up. The Cloud back up I have described above I view as my disaster recovery only to be used in a worst case scenario. I hope I will never use it.

The question I ask myself, and I encourage you to ask yourself when designing your back up system is, “how much data am I prepared to lose?” The answer will be the basis for how far you go with your back up system. Some people care nothing for their files and pictures, or seem not to, as the don’t or rarely back up. They don’t seem to grasp that EVERY hard drive will one day fail. Its a mechanical, electrical device and has a working life. It might fail in the next 15 seconds or it might run for another five years. We never know, thats the problem.

Those people who are less than diligent about backing up often ay they don’t care if they happen to lose a load of ‘stuff’. That is right up to the day they do and then they suddenly realise how vital a lot of that stuff is to everyday life and also just what sentimental value lies in many of our images. Personally, I think it is foolish and lazy not to back up, but it is a personal decision.

So, you may be prepared to lose a weeks work, so only back up weekly. If you could lose a months work, back up monthly. Personally, I would hate to lose a days work, so I back up continuously.

The next thing is to make your system as easy to use, both in backing up and in restoring data, as possible. A difficult system to use is likely to be neglected. That is pointless.

I am a Mac user and so my first line of defence is built in to all Macs and is called Time Machine. If you have a Mac and are not using it, I strongly urge you to connect an external drive to your computer and switch it on. It is ridiculously simple to use, is completely automatic and does (usually) a great job. It makes a mirror copy of your hard drive (and any other drives connected to your Mac that you want it to copy to. What I would caution is DONT TRUST IT ALONE. It can fail. Mine has. The disk copy can get corrupted and you need to format the drive and start again. But as a first line of defence it is marvellous and has saved my life a couple of times. I had a new iMac delivered which suffered a total hard drive failure three days after delivery. I had just got all my software loaded and configured. Apple sent me a new iMac, I connected the Time Machine drive and 30 minutes later the new machine was fully set up exactly (and I mean EXACTLY) as the other machine was just minutes before it failed. I don’t have to do a single thing. That saved me the best part of three days work configuring, setting up and loading the new iMac all over again. That converted me to Time Machine. I have also deleted odd files by mistake and Time Machine makes it a doodle to restore these in an instant.

It backs up your system completely – every single byte of data. Then it updates this every hour for a day, then it keeps daily backups for a week and then weekly backups for a month and so on and it keeps doing this until the drive you store it on is full. The it just deletes the very oldest files to make space. My 2TB Time Machine drive will hold about 6 months or so of backups of my system and I can go back to any point in that 6 months and restore a file or files, or reinstate the whole computer to that point.

I am sure there must be similar software available for Windows users (but it would be much better to buy a Mac 🙂

That is my first line of defence. But, as I said, I don’t rely on this. I then use a piece of Mac shareware called Superduper. This costs about $20 or so. It is a superb piece of software because it simple clones one drive onto another drive. You can schedule it to do this automatically, or, as I do, you can run it when you want.
 

Superduper - Super Simple

I copy my iMac drive and my external drives to other drives using it. This makes a mirror copy so when you look at those drives with Finder it is exactly like looking at the original drive. The files aren’t compressed or put into archives in the way many back up programs do. I like to be able to see all my files like this.

To speed the back ups, Superduper uses ‘Smart Copy’. The first time you copy a drive it takes a few hours depending on the size of the drive. However, future copies take much less time as it only adds files you have added, deletes files you have deleted and updates files you have deleted.
 

Super Duper about to 'Smart Copy'

The disadvantage of this is if you have deleted a file by mistake on your main drive and then run the backup before you realise, it will be deleted form the backup too. This is where Time Machine covers me (and Zoolz). I also copy each of my drives to three other drives and I stagger these rather than doing them all at one, so there is a chance I will still have one which has the file I need on it.

Why do I copy each drive three times, especially as I have Zoolz and Time Machine? Well, I am a bit obsessed with backing up. But also, one of the copies is on to small portable drives which I take with me on the road to connect to my laptop. This means I have all my images and files with me when I am away and can work as normal. This also gives me an off site backup when I am away. If something was to happen to the house, a fire, flood or theft then I would be able to get back up and running quickly without having to resort to Zoolz. The other two drives are at home under my desk and I have two just in case one fails. These drives are a bit older and so I am prepared for them failing. It is so easy to just click the backup no button I don’t find it a chore to run the backups. I tend to run them when I am about to leave the computer, to go down for a meal or when I go to bed. then the backup is complete by the time I am finished.

Superduper has another advantage in that it will, if you want, make the backup of your main drive ‘bootable’. This means if your main hard drive fails you can boot your computer from the back up, keep working until you get a new drive in the computer and restore the Time Machine drive. This again is a massive time and hassle saver when things go wrong.

Some ask me why I don’t use a RAID or NAS system. These are very good and have many advantages. Your data is spread over several drives simultaneously. If one drive fails your data is safe and you can swap out the failed drive. Many units allow them to be connected over the internet so you can access your files from anywhere in the world where you have an internet connection. They are also great as home entertainment systems for streaming music and films around the home.

But I do have some issues with them, although here I have to say I am not an IT expert and so my understanding may not be correct. If a drive fails in a RAID system or something like a DROBO, it is great that your data is safe and you can swap out the drive. However, the weakness in the system as I see it is in the next few days. It can take some days depending on the speed of the system and the amount of data involved for the RAID system to rebuild the volumes. During this period your data is very vulnerable. If another drive fails (or if there is a power cut, flood etc) you will probably loose everything. As I understand it, the only really safe way to work with these systems is to have them backed up to another RAID or NAS. Then you are protected.

I think that, perhaps, RAID users tend to view them as a magic and infallible solution and so often neglect other additional back up methods. At a company I worked for I saw the firms RAID based server lose five drives in one day. This was a system that was under a year old and maintained by professional IT people. An extremely rare occurrence but it just shows complacency is foolish. The firm almost collapsed. Its entire financial system, factory planning system, customer database, artworks, quality system etc etc was all lost – everything. If one of the IT guys hadn’t continued to run each night an ancient manual tape back up (which often failed to work) which fortunately worked the night before the RAID failure the company could easily have collapsed. It took a week for the IT department to rebuild the RAID, restore the tape backup (very delicate) and test everything. Another few days and the firm would have been in serious trouble. Believe me, the MD had a second RAID installed immediately to mirror the first and another backup system put in place too. One bitten…

From a personal point of view, as a not very tecchy person, I find them a bit harder to understand and work with. I like the simplicity of cloned drives that I manage myself and that are all independent of each other. I understand that, it is all very simple and it is easy for me to manage. This I like.

So there it is, what must be the longest blog I have ever written. If you are still reading this you deserve a medal! Now I urge you to think through how protected your data is and if you see holes in your system, then get provisions put in place to deal with them. Data is becoming more and more important. Especially for us as photographers, our images are irreplaceable and their value to us tends to grow over time. Most of us can’t afford not to deal with this stuff, so even though all the above seems like a lot of hassle, in fact, now I have it in place it is really easy to manage and it works so simply. And I sleep well at night.

My final word to you. Hard drives. Don’t trust ‘em. Ever.

“The 16:10 from Carnarfon”

Carnarfon

An illness in the family meant a long planned personal trip for Liz, Stan and I to France, exploring the Normandy and Brittany coast had to be shelved at the last minute. Instead we headed to North Wales in the camper van, ready to head home at short notice if needed.

I don’t know why, whether it was the fact that our plans had had to change with the disappointment that entailed or whether it was just a case of ‘photography fatigue’ coming from working as a professional but I found myself not touching the camera for ten days. Despite being in such a beautiful part of the country I didn’t make a single image. I had no inclination to whatsoever. I just enjoyed relaxing, walking, and resting. No sunrises, sunsets, nothing, not even an iPhone image.

Then, on day 11, we were on a steam train (doing the tourist thing) going from Carnafon to Porthmadog. The line runs below Snowdon to Beddgellert and through the stunning Aberglasyn pass. It was a hot, blue sky day, not the usual conditions for making landscape images but as we pulled away from Carnafon station I felt compelled to get my camera from my bag, blow the dust off and document the two and a half hour journey (it only runs at about 25 miles an hour flat out).

I was facing backwards so didn’t see things until the train was passing them. I decided I didn’t want the usual tourist snaps so, to mix things up, I would work one handed. I would use a single prime lens, the Fuji 35mm f1.4. I would fire the shutter instinctively, almost without thinking, whenever my brain/eye reacted to something. I quickly found having the auto focus selected made this unworkable. The fact that the objects were already passing the train when I was seeing them, then waiting for auto focus to lock meant I was missing too many images. I switched to manual focus and pre-focused, street photography style, a few meters outside the train. I wanted a softness to the images and knew the movement of the train would provide that to an extent, but found, due to how bright the day was, that even working at narrow apertures the shutter speed I was getting (working in aperture priority) was still very fast (even exceeding the maximum 4000th of a second of the Fuji X-Pro 1, at times). This meant that things were ending up a little too sharp for my tastes.

However, as we got to the woodland section of the trip, things changed. The lower light levels below the canopy of trees allowed me to open up the aperture, varying from f5.6 to f1.4 depending on how bright it was. This, coupled with the manual focus and train movement began to give me the look and feel to the images I wanted.

The bright sunlight filtering through the trees, bokeh’ed out by the wide aperture gave a pleasing sparkle to many shots. The out of focus and shallow depth of field gave impressions of the woodland without sharpness. I shot in raw and jpeg, using the Fuji in square format and its own internal mono conversion (which is applied to the jpeg but not the raw file which still imports with full colour). The mono setting I chose included the red filter.

Back in Lightroom, I imported and sorted the images. I wanted to as little as possible to them in the spirit of the spontaneous way the images were captured. So I have done no cropping and have made no adjustments in Lightroom at all (the examples you see here I have applied a slight vignette to and added a slight warm tone as an experiment but if you would like to see the whole project in pure mono you can, HERE, on my Behance portfolio site)

Seeing the images flashing up in mono on the cameras screen pushed me on and filled me with enthusiasm. The indifference to making images I had felt for the previous ten days had vanished and that two and a half hour train journey flashed by. I made over 1500 images and now, having sorted them, I have around 400 I am happy with. These will be distilled into two projects. A small set (that may never see the light of day) of sharper images made out in the wider landscape and then those I made in the woodlands down through the Aberglasyn Pass.

I am also keen to use some of the techniques I learned on the journey to see how they work in other situations. So it may yield other sets of images, we shall see. Below are just a few of the images for you to have a look at. Marmite images, certainly. Not to everyones taste! But they rekindled my enthusiasm.

Review of Triplekites new book – Land | Sea

Land | Sea

Land | Sea is the new release and the first in a new concept of publication from quality photography book publisher, Triplekite.

The new concept is based around an idea to provide a format which can be published around three times a year allowing portfolios from five photographers to be showcased. Triplekite have set themselves a difficult brief in this as they want to keep the selling price low, at £20, while maintaining their reputation for using very high quality print processes and materials coupled with design which focuses on the beauty of the images.

Have they succeeded? Most certainly. I was very keen to get my hands on a copy, indeed I held off doing the review until I had seen the physical book even though I get a sneak preview of the pdf prior to it going to print Lets take the physical quality of the book first. I was initially struck by the feel of the front cover. The soft cover material has a waxy coating which gives the book a luxury finish. Inside that care and attention to detail is reflected in the way two different paper weights have been used through the book. The pages on which the images are printed are of a substantial weight and thickness, but interleaved between them the pages which divide the photographers portfolios and the pages with the foreword etc are printed on a much lighter, almost translucent bible paper. It is attention to detail like this which elevates Triplekite publications and shows the people behind the books really care about what they are producing rather than being focused solely on profit.

The graphic design of the book also demonstrates the same attention to detail and love of the images. The typography and colour scheme is quiet and understated, done specifically to keep the attention on the photographs, I’m sure. To compliment this, space is given to the images and they are laid out in such a way as to ensure they are the main focus of the publication. The book is 320 x 240mm, softbound with 68 pages and I found the page size easier to cope with than the larger pages of the ‘Sea Fever’ book, also published by Triplekite and as such it fits on my bookshelves better.

There is an introduction by Tim Parkin of OnLandscape, who has collaborated on the project, where he discusses self expression in photography and a special treat for lovers of fine photography is an afterword written by Paul Kenny. It is a fascinating thoughtful piece which he describes as “Musings on the relationship between landscape, photography and art”.

The featured photographers in this first edition are Joe Wright, Valda Bailey, Al Brydon, Giles McGarry and Finn Hopson. This choice of artists is interesting. Many publishers would go down the route of selecting individuals who all produce identikit work, work in the same style so that it appealed to lovers of that one style. However, this group of photographers have very diverse approaches to their art. As a result you are likely to find something new which excites you, much like buying a compilation album and discovering an artist you were previously unaware of in amongst the familiar tracks.

I think this approach is perfect. It encourages us to consider a broader range of styles and to question our own approaches to photography, rather than just focusing our book buying on photographers whose work is perhaps similar to our own or who are ‘safe’ buys.

In the case of all the photographers in this issue, I was aware of all of them, but even so, I wasn’t prepared for just how exciting some of the work was. Take Joe Wright, as an example. I have seen many of Joes images before and loved them, indeed I have met and enjoyed Joes company up in the Lakes. But, despite this, I wasn’t ready for just how wonderful his images were in Land | Sea. From the opening, full page image of Crocosmia flowers in the rain through to his woodland images and his intimate rock abstracts I was enthralled. I think, seeing his images here, that Joe needs a book to himself!

Brilliantly contrasting with Joes quiet landscapes and intimate landscape details, his portfolio is followed by that of Valda Bailey. And what a contrast. Valdas images, using multiple exposure techniques are full of passion and colour, vibrance and drama. Her portfolio demonstrates how being experimental and letting go of the more ‘standard’ conventions of landscape photography can free you and open up a new world of photographic opportunities. Here is another photographer who I can see having her own dedicated book in the not too distant future.

And so it goes through the book, next is Al Brydons dark, moody landscapes, often of neglected places or those less noticed, revealing a hidden beauty. Giles McGarrys fine monochrome architectural images (and I can see special attention has gone into the printing of Giles monochrome images as the reproduction of the tones is excellent and I know it is tricky to do this without special processes being employed – another testament to Triplekite putting the image quality in front of profit, bravo!) contrast with these superbly, highlighting what can be achieved with long exposures and intense attention to detail in image processing and finally, the book concludes with Finn Hopsons careful, quiet and soothing landscapes of his beloved South Downs. Wonderful pastoral images made in gentle light.

To accompany each photographers portfolio is a short essay from them on their approach, background and thoughts on image making. Particularly appreciated is a page from each in which they detail their personal photographic influences and role models which is a great springboard for us, as lovers of photography, to go off exploring and discovering even more fine work. This makes it an even more valuable resource.

I foresee that this series is going to become very collectable and will build into a great library of photographers portfolios over time. Triplekite have announced the next group of photographers who are to be featured in volume two and I am already salivating over the thought of seeing the edition.

Is there anything I would change? Hunger for images means I would love to see a couple more pages per photographer to allow for some more photographs and some more in depth comments from them, but I also understand the financial implications of enlarging the publication. On the whole, I have to say, Land | Sea exceeded my expectations both in quality of production and content, so there is little else I can think of to improve it. I guess things like inserting Q codes to take us straight to the photographers web sites could be put in, that might be a useful touch for some. Maybe an audio interview could be added to the Triplekite website with each photographer to extend the article? But all these things take time and resources and I do think the price point of the publication is important.

So I would encourage you to go to the Triplekite website, HERE, and purchase your own copy. You can also buy a print from any of the photographers featured in the book for just £20 (buy all five and you get one free) so this is a superb opportunity to collect images from photographers you love at an amazing price. Still available on the website is David Bakers ‘Sea Fever’ and Dav Thomas’s book ‘With Trees’.

I hope you enjoy the book as much as I have.


 
 
 
 

Disclaimer: In the interests of journalistic integrity I want to make it clear I get a free copy of the publication under review from Triplekite. The above link is also an affiliate link so if you use it I get a small commission. However, I can also honestly state that Triplekite make no attempt whatsoever to influence what I say about their books. They do not see (or ask to see) what I write prior to publication and they do not ask me to alter what I write (except if I make an error regarding technical details. If I don’t like any aspect of the books, I will say so. I take my integrity very seriously.

If you do wish to buy the book and use a link which does NOT give me any commission then this link HERE will do that for you. As a consequence of being a professional teacher, writer, photographer and active member of the photographic community it is inevitable that I will know many of the photographers featured in the books I review. Some are now close friends, others are acquaintances and some I know fleetingly or just by reputation. I hope all of these understand that as a reviewer I have to try and stand back from any personal relationships and give my honest review of what I see and read. If I praise the work I genuinely feel it deserves praise. If I am less complimentary then I will always try never to be unkind but always to be honest, but it will never be personal and I trust that if what I say is less than glowing that we can remain friends? I have come to realise that reviewers walk a minefield, but walk it they must.

Creative Photography Webinars with Onlandscape

Creative Photography Webinars

I made three hour long videos for OnLandscape magazine in 2013 and they are now available via YouTube.

I have collected them together here for you to watch (and enjoy?)

Part I – a discussion of my creative/alternative technique images and approach (the echo on Tim’s mike is removed after about a minute)

Part II – A session filmed with me working live in the field showing camera techniques

Part III – The final video where I demonstrate my Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop techniques for processing these types of images

I hope you find these videos useful.

The Fuji X-Pro 1 – How did it perform in the Arctic?

fuji x pro

Fuji X-Pro 1. 18-55mm Lens at 18mm, f22 for 30 seconds with Vari-ND filter & tripod. ISO 200

I recently had the chance to take the Fuji X-Pro 1 with me on a workshop I was co-leading up above the arctic circle in the far north of Norway. I thought this would be an ideal opportunity to see how the camera performed in extreme conditions. I also had with me a newly delivered 23mm f1.4 Fuji lens to try out too. The images in this article were all made on the trip and all but the aurora shot are jpegs straight or virtually straight from the camera. If you followed my trip reports from the expedition you will have seen most of these images before (sorry!), but the aurora image with the 23mm lens is new, as are one or two of the others.

The idea of testing the lens here was to see how it performed shooting the “Northern Lights”, the Aurora Borealis, if we had a chance to see it. In theory the fast f1.4 aperture would make it ideal but I was also interested to test the sharpness of the lens and also to get a feel for its width, which although 23mm works out at about 35mm as a full-frame DSLR equivalent.
 

Fuji X-Pro 1, ISO400, 18-55mm Lens at 45.4mm, f6.4, 1/18 sec, Tripod

My main concern before setting off with the camera was battery performance in the extreme cold. I have found with the X-Pro 1, as many others have, that battery life is much poorer than I am used to with my DSLR. Of course, the battery is physically much smaller and the camera is fitted with a great electronic viewfinder (EVF) which must use quite a bit of power, so there are reasons behind this.

My frustrations with battery life are compounded by the fact of how difficult it is to change batteries quickly. I have the extended grip fitted to the camera which I find helps me with handling the camera and this has to be removed for every battery change. But, when shooting landscapes I also have to fit a quick release plate for my tripod and this requires a screwdriver (or coin) to remove it and this is also required to change the battery. The way I work I can easily go through four or more batteries in a days shooting and so this stripping down of the camera every time gets very tiresome. You can imagine how much I was looking forward to the drop off in battery performance in the minus 10 to minus 20 degree temperatures we were expecting.
 

Fuji X-Pro 1, ISO 800, 55-200mm lens at 156.1mm, f8, 1/170 sec, handheld

So, how did the batteries perform? Surprisingly, quite well. In fact, I can’t say I noticed a deterioration over what I am used to. True, when shooting in such cold you tend not to shoot for extended periods, however the camera is cold, even in the bag. But I didn’t have to do more battery changes than normal. For that I was thankful.

How did the camera perform? There were a couple of issues. Bear in mind that at times I was using it at minus 20 degrees and often at well below freezing. The first issue I discovered almost straight away was the Fn button on the top of the camera which is programmable to whatever function you choose (I have it set to allow me to quickly change ISO) became “sticky”. To be honest, as it happened straight away I thought at first I had perhaps damaged the camera during the flight as the body had been in my pocket (with no lens attached). However, when the camera warmed up again later in the hotel the button returned to normal action. The next day, back in the cold, the stickiness returned. I found kit still worked but I had to press it carefully and be patient with it.
 

Fuji X-Pro 1, ISO 200, 18-55mm lens at 34.3mm, f8, 1/40 sec, tripod

This button issue later extended to the AF button on the rear of the camera which allows you to select focus points for the auto focus system. In this case it went beyond sticky and refused to work, but again returned to life on warming up in the hotel.

Apart from these two issues the camera performed flawlessly in the extreme conditions we worked in and produced some images I am very happy with.
 

Fuji X-Pro 1, 18-55mm Lens at 23.3mm, ISO400, f8, 1/25 sec, handheld

What I would say, however, is, that I found myself (contrary to what I have been doing here in the UK since buying the Fuji) reaching for my Canon 5D mk3 first. The Fuji has been my camera of choice since I bought it second hand a couple of months ago and I absolutely love it. But after a couple of days I realised I was favouring the Canon unconsciously over it, whereas since buying the Fuji I had not used the Canon at all except for a commissioned shoot which required it. I analysed why this was and realised that the Canon was much easier to use in the cold. I was wearing a pair of thin Merino wool inner gloves and with the Canon I could keep these on and operate the camera easily. However, the Fuji buttons required I take the gloves off due to the size and positioning of the buttons.

I also found the physical size of the Canon easier with gloves. So it was nothing to do with image quality, but rather the practicalities of usability in the arctic weather. I was also conscious of the button stickiness. The Canon had zero issues. It is a testament to the build quality that it shrugged off minus 20 easily. To give you an idea of what these temperatures are like to work in, my camera bag (and I) were getting frosted up at minus 20. Oh, and I didn’t change a battery in the Canon for the whole trip.
 

Fuji X-Pro 1, ISO3200, Handheld, f5, 1/55 sec, 18-55mm lens at 18mm

So, conclusions on the bodies. If I go to the arctic again the Fuji will stay at home (although it grieves me to say it). It is not ideal for these conditions. If it was my only camera it can handle it, but it is starting to show stress. I would, next time, take the 5Dmk 3 and and mk2 body as my spare body. However, on trips to warmer locations abroad, the Canon will be staying at home and My Fuji will be my travel camera and if my wife, Liz, will let me, her XE-2 body will be my spare body).

Now, thoughts on that 23mm lens. If you have used the 35mm lens you will know how wonderful it is. So you might be wondering if the 23mm is as good? Is it worth adding to your lens stable? Well, my in my opinion, you should. I have only used it a little but I am already blown away by it. It is as sharp, if not sharper. Wide open it is extraordinary. The bokeh is soft and dreamy. On the body of the X-Pro 1 the camera is nicely balanced in the hand (I use the body with the added grip). I am on the train going to London as I type this and I have the lens with me. If time allows I am going to put it through its paces on some street photography – a genre it is made for. I’ll post some images if they are up to scratch.
 

Fuji X-Pro 1 18-55mm lens at 44.4mm, f5, 1/50 sec, ISO3200, handheld

I used it for some aurora images in Norway. For shooting the aurora you have the lens wide open and focused on infinity. I could have done with a wider lens, in reality, to get more of the landscape in the shot. We were in a forest miles from any light pollution and this means total darkness so composing the image is very tricky. More width gives you latitude to crop away the edges if they are a bit messy. But it is not the fault of the lens that it wasn’t wide enough for what I wanted. The wide aperture gave me great speed, so at ISO1600 I was able to make these images at 10 to 20 seconds which is ideal for aurora images of this type. Had we had a more extreme display I think my shutter speed would have been down to a couple of seconds which would have captured the ‘curtain’ effect had we seen it. Even wide open, with the difficulty of focusing on infinity in absolute darkness I was able to get sharp images with surprising depth of field. The X-Pro 1 performs really well at high ISO’s. I pushed some images to ISO3200 and these do show some noise, but nothing that my Nik noise reduction plugin can’t reduce for me.
 

Fuji X-Pro 1, 23mm f1.4 lens, ISO1600, f1.4, 12 sec, tripod (processed raw file)

So, there we have it. A brief run down on the Fuji X-Pro 1 in the Arctic. It survived, but had a couple of issues. Its not ideal for these extreme conditions, but it held its own and I am delighted with the images it gave me. (all the images here were shot on it). As I am blessed with being able to have two camera systems, the Fuji and the Canon, I have the luxury of choice so if ever I get the chance to return it will be without the Fuji. But if I was a sole Fuji user, I would happily take it knowing I would come home with a great set of images.
 

Fuji X-Pro 1, 23mm f1.4 lens, ISO200, f11, 1.2 sec, tripod

Aurora Hunting in Norway, Trip Report – Our Final Day

aurora hunting

Our last day is almost over. It seems unlikely we will be out tonight aurora hunting as our final overnight destination, the town of Narvik back in Norway, is blanketed in thick cloud and it is raining (a novelty after all the snow. The temperature is dropping though so more snow is expected).

Today we left Kiruna in Sweden and headed north with a blazing sunrise behind us (in this part of the world at this time of the year the sun rises briefly and sets in the south – something which feels very strange to those of us so used to it rising roughly in the east and setting generally in the west). As soon as we could we stopped to shoot the light before heading into a national park. Here the cloudless sky soon filled with low heavy cloud bearing snow. Before this had a chance to fall the group spent a productive hour shooting the ice at the side of a lake.
 

Old Volvos never die, they just fill with snow...

After coffee a blizzard began as we climbed a mountain pass. Visibility dropped dramatically. At the top of the pass is the border post with Norway. Here we were met with a queue of articulated lorries. A quick discussion with drivers revealed the descent into Norway had just been closed due to the blizzard. However it became apparent a snow plough was about to attempt to clear the pass and we decided to follow in its wake. What followed was an exciting descent in almost white out conditions. Lorries were stuck on the climb coming from the Norwegian side even though they were fitted with full chains on their wheels. These were extreme conditions. I think the group were relieved to reach the bottom of the pass safely. The alternate route back to Tromso involved a detour of about ten hours driving back across Sweden, up through Finland and across Norway, so we were pleased to make it for that reason too.
 

Tomorrow we make the four hour dash from Narvik to Tromso airport for our flight to Oslo and then on to Heathrow. Then I have a three or four hour drive back home. A long day!

So here are a final few snaps from the trip. I have many more to process but hope you have enjoyed seeing a few as I have blogged while on the road. I will be putting together a blog devoted to my thoughts on how the Fuji X-Pro 1 performed in the arctic (and how its performance compared to the Canon 5D mk3). I will also report back on my thoughts on the new 23mm f1.4 lens. But for now, if you will excuse me, I just have time to pack for my flight and grab a nap before we go for our final meal.
 

Aurora Hunting in Norway, Trip Report – Day Six

aurora hunting day 6

Finally, after six days of trying, we have seen the aurora.

The relief amongst the group was palpable. Everyone is so happy to have achieved our main goal on this trip.

This is the first time I have seen the aurora and I have to be honest, the display we saw tonight is about as low as the aurora gets. Activity was minimal and so we didn’t get the sweeping curtains of light across the sky most of us imagine. For us, the display was just a glow on the horizon. What you see here in the photograph is nothing like what you experience in the flesh. It is the ability of the digital sensor to record light over a long exposure, in this case around 15 seconds, that produces the intense colours. To the eye, the aurora at this level is barely green and you would drive past it thinking it was just clouds or light pollution if you didn’t have guide to point it out to you (in our case, Tony Spencer, who is one of the most experienced aurora guides in the world – this is trip 43 for him).

I have taken images of the aurora with the Fuji X-Pro 1 as promised, using the new 23mm f1.2 lens. I will post images and my conclusions to its performance in another blog post.

I have to say I am delighted to have witnessed this beautiful phenomena and I know I have only seen it at its least impressive. If we had had a full on display I might feel differently, but I got much more pleasure from photographing the hoar frost yesterday. We have just one night to go on the trip so one more chance to see the lights. We leave Kiruna and head back to Norway, our destination is Narvic, via a National Park, so more landscape photography beckons.

Now, if you don’t mind, it is very late and I need my beauty sleep 🙂

Aurora Hunting in Norway – Trip Report, Day Five

aurora hunting day 5

Fuji X-Pro 1, Tripod, ISO 200, 18-55mm lens, f8.0, 1/40 sec - Processed raw file, converted to dng and worked on in Lightroom 5


 
Another night passes and still no aurora. The tension is now building amongst the group. You can feel the anxiety each evening as we gather over our evening meal to look at the technical data relating to the auroral activity in the atmosphere. Yesterday in the late afternoon the activity suddenly spiked and we thought we would get our first glimpse. However, by the time we got to Kiruna and had our meal the graphs had all flatlined and the sky had filled with cloud. As group leaders we certainly feel the pressure to perform. Although we have absolutely no control over the clouds or the aurora we know just how much the clients want to see it. Not only do we have clients from the UK with us, but also some from the US and others from Australia. What a big investment they have all made in the trip. So we are prepared to drive as far as it takes and work as many hours as it takes if there is any chance at all to deliver the lights for the group. But, we just need that break in the clouds to coincide with some activity up on the edge of the atmosphere.
 

Fuji X-Pro 1, Tripod, ISO 200, 55-200mm Lens, f 11, 1/3 sec


 
By coming to Kiruna here in Sweden we have moved away from the low pressure system which almost certainly would have meant no aurora up in northern Norway. This evening, so far, we have clear skies (and temperatures already plunging back towards the minus 20 degrees centigrade we experienced last night out in the tundra). As I type, at 17:00 local time, all three key graphs are flatlining. It couldn’t be any worse. There is nothing we can do but keep checking the graphs every few minutes, just hoping for them to leap into life. The more the graphs deviate from a flat line, the more spectacular the display. Right now, we would take a green glow on the horizon, anything!
 

Canon 5D mk3, ISO 200, 24-70mm Lens, f 11, 1.0 sec


 
That said, the day has not been a dead loss. Not by any means. We headed out into the tundra and forest and spent a brilliant day photographing the most stunning hoar frost. The temperature out there hasn’t risen above freezing for weeks and is mainly staying around minus ten degrees and lower so the hoar frost just builds and builds. As daylight faded the intense cold produced the most stunning blue and pink sky – the perfect foil to the frost.

I have processed up very quickly a few images from the day for you here just to show some of the things we have seen.

Now we are all back in our rooms. Time for a warming shower and a couple of hours sleep. Then a meal… and we all gather around the graph… watching the lines… wishing we had an auroral defibrillator to shock them into life. “Charging, Clear, BANG”.

Come back tomorrow to see if we managed to bring the patient back to life.
 

Canon 5D mk3, ISO 200, Tripod, 70-200mm lens with 1.4 extender, f 45, 13 seconds

Aurora Hunting, Norway Trip – Day Four

aurora hunting day 4

Well, it’s been quite a day. As a group we took the decision last night to leave Sommeroy this morning as the weather forecast for the rest of our trip was dire. A low pressure system was going to dominate the whole of the north Norway coast for the next four or five days. Along with high winds driving snow and quite high temperatures for the time of year it meant that photography would be virtually impossible and certainly photographing the aurora would be almost certainly impossible. The cloud base would be just too low and too dense.

Once this decision had been made we headed off into the storm this morning on the 10 hour drive through Norway, down through Finland and into Sweden. In line with the forecast the storm in Norway was fierce. Gradually as we drove down through Finland the storm abated and the weather improved. We even managed to briefly stop beside a partly iced river to photograph the setting sun. Finally in the dark around 6 pm we arrived at our destination.

We’re now basing ourselves in the Swedish town of Kiruna. This town is surrounded by fast tundra and beautiful pine forest. Even in the headlights of the vehicles we could see the trees were covered in heavy hoarfrost. This will be a subject of our photography tomorrow. On the journey down the aurora activity increased considerably however in the last couple of hours cloud has rolled in and it seems unlikely that we will see a display tonight. But this increasing activity gives us hope that we will see the aurora over the next couple of days. The weather forecast here is much more favourable with clear skies and very low temperatures. In fact just north of here we experienced the lowest temperatures of the trip so far. The temperature gauges in the vehicles dropped below-20°C.

In the picture above of the silver birch trees I used the new 23 mm F 1.4 lens on the Fuji X-Pro 1. This was the first real photograph I have taken with the new lens and it has performed well. The shoot by the river was a bit rushed due to the failing light and us being on a long trip in difficult conditions. The temperature here was around-15° centigrade. (now I have uploaded it , twice, the image seems unsharp on my blog page but the original file and jpeg I am uploading are tac sharp – to be honest, I am too tired to fix it today, not sure what the issue is??? But the original is fine). The second photograph of the old shed door was taking yesterday on the Canon 5D mk3.

So, hopefully, tomorrow I will be able to report that not only have we had a good day shooting the landscape but also we have had our who first opportunity to see and capture the northern lights. But for that, as always, we are in the hands of the weather and solar activity. Certainly coming here gives us our best chance on both counts.

Aurora Hunting in Norway, Trip Report – Day Three

aurora hunting day 3

5D mk3, 24-70mm f2.8 lens, ISO 100, 2.0 sec at f11

The weather today has deteriorated considerably. The temperature has risen a few degrees and it has rained, sleeted and snowed. The wind is stronger and now, at 15:30 in the afternoon as I type this back at our hotel it is dark outside and the wind is howling. The cloud base is very low, there is no way we are going to see the aurora tonight. However, even if the skies were clear, the auroral activity is very low indeed so we might not see it even then. I have a feeling we may have to make a long drive inland to Finland or Sweden over the weekend in search of better weather in order to get a better chance of seeing the ‘Northern Lights’.

So, thats the bad news out of the way. Have we let this put us off? No we haven’t. In conditions like this, it is fairly pointless trying to shoot wide landscapes. However, what the light is perfect for is detail work. With this in mind we headed off intrepidly after breakfast in search of texture and detail. After an hour of driving we found it in a cluster of very old Nordic fishing huts on the shore of a bay facing north into the arctic ocean.

These roughly made wooden huts have been scoured for generations by salt winds, snow and ice and bleached by the sun. Exposed to the wind and rain the layers of paint and rich, deep colours in the wood were extraordinary in todays overcast light. Bedding our tripods in the group spent a happy couple of hours filling memory cards with images full of texture and details.

I made some images with the Fuji X-Pro 1 and more with the 5D mk3. I have shown one from both cameras of the same subject here for comparison. Particularly as the Fuji image is handheld at ISO3200 whereas the Canon images were made on a tripod at ISO100 – interesting to see what you think. I know its not easy to see the differences on a web page, but it makes for an interesting comparison.

I find doing this type of image (which is a favourite style of mine) that I like to get the camera very parallel to the subject surface. I like a flat, rather than three dimensional composition. I also prefer compositions which exclude the sky. I prefer to get close to the shed walls and fill the frame with detail. I work at f8 to f11 in most cases to make sure I get good detail and sharpness. Good focus and tripod technique is essential (especially as we had a blustery wind to contend with).

The Fuji image here is a jpeg straight out of camera using the Astia pre-set. The Canon images are raw files which have had some basic processing done in Lightroom and Photoshop.

Fuji X-Pro 1 image using 18-55mm lens, ISO3200, handheld at f5.6 and 1/40 sec

Canon 5D mk3 image, tripod, 24-70mm f2.8L lens, ISO100, f16 for 3.2 secs

From this location we headed to another which was a partially frozen river in the mountains with small waterfalls, ice edging the flow, with beautiful rocks and lovely silver birches in the snow.

Because of just how short our days are now here, by this time it was getting dark and we headed home in driving sleet and snow to the hotel. Tonight after our meal plans need to be made for the weekend – the aurora needs to be found!

Canon 5D mk3, 24-70mm L f2.8 Lens, ISO100, 6.0 secs at f16

Aurora Hunting in Norway, Trip Report, Day Two

aurora hunting day 2

Last night Tony and I took it in shifts to keep a watch on the skies and the aurora reports but sadly the auroral activity was extremely low and there was nothing to be seen here despite broken cloud. At least the group had a long nights unbroken sleep to get over jet lag.

We headed out after breakfast into great soft pink light (the image above was one I managed to grab from one of the mornings locations). The temperatures here were below freezing all day and are currently around minus 10 a few miles inland. Here on the coast they are a little higher at around minus 2 to 4 but the wind is rising so it feels much colder. No snow has fallen after yesterdays blizzards.

The group were getting used to working in such cold conditions. You soon learn not to let snow get onto your gear. For example, I dropped a body cap into the snow. It would have been crazy to put this on to the body of my camera. The snow melts in the bag then when the camera gets cold the snow then re-freezes causing damage or sticking the cap into place. One member of the group had her tripod head accidentally dropped in the snow. This quickly froze the ball head, which we had to defrost on location.

Keeping yourself warm is key too. As hands get cold it quickly becomes impossible to operate the camera, so, even though it slows down picture making, it is important to wear gloves (only removing them when necessary and putting them back on again as quickly as possible). Hats, gloves and warm coats are all very necessary. Decent boots here are very important. Not only do they need good grip for walking on compacted snow and ice but they also need to have good thermal barriers in the soles to help keep the feet warm when standing by the tripod for long periods. I am wearing North Face Chilkats and they are performing perfectly.

Fuji X-Pro 1, Handheld, 35mm f2 lens, ISO3200, f14, 1/17 sec

At these temperatures the cameras are working well. Batteries do drain more quickly but it is not so cold that this is becoming a real issue at this stage. It is also not so cold yet that we have to put our cameras in poly bags when returning them to the vans to stop condensation forming and refreezing. This becomes an issue when the temperature gets lower – closer to minus 20. Then it is vital to bag and seal the camera body and lenses in sealed poly bags when moving from outside into the van or a building. This helps stop condensation forming. The condensation is not too much of a problem until you take the gear back into the cold when it instantly re-freezes. This kills cameras and when on the front of lens elements will need to be scrapped off, much like scrapping ice off of a car windscreen. Not something you want to be doing with your beloved pro-lenses.

For those interested in how the Fuji X-Pro 1 is performing I have a few things to mention. It is interesting. I am finding the Canon 5D mk3 easier to use with gloves on and some of the scenes are so stunning I am feeling the need to use the bigger sensor. I have noticed the ‘function’ button gets a bit sticky in the cold when it drops very low (I have the button programmed to quickly change the ISO). I haven’t been using it for long periods so I can’t say battery performance has seen a noticeable drop in performance. The image quality continues to be superb.

As we haven’t seen the aurora yet, I can report on how it performs being pushed to capture that!

We covered three locations today. The first was an inland fjord (you can see an image from here at the top of this post). Ice was forming at the edge of the fjord and the pink light in the sky was beautifully subtle. From here we moved to a small frozen lake with a range of jagged mountains behind. The group worked on capturing the snow, ice, small silver birch tree with some stunning Alpen glow on the mountains behind. Our final location was another fjord, with a great jetty to use as foreground with rugged mountains and delicious silvery blue light. Great for a lengthened exposure just to flatten the water a little. My image is shown below. Once we had finished here (which included shooting a lovely fisherman’s hut full of textures and detail) we dived into a coffee shop for some well earned Lattes and chocolate brownies (well, its not all work on these trips, you know!).

Back at the hotel we are now resting in our rooms prior to our evening meal. On an aurora trip its important to use the afternoon darkness to sleep in case we spend the night out shooting the skies. Over the meal we will consult the space weather, cloud cover, and auroral activity reports to see if everything might come together in our favour. Who knows what the night holds. (23:30 update – sadly the cloud has rolled in and although the charts show a little auroral activity it is impossible to see it. Even with no activity we had planned to go out and shoot star trails but with heavy clouds, a rising and biting wind with heavy wind chill this was just pointless, so it is back to bed. There is always tomorrow).

Aurora Hunting in Norway – Trip Report, Day One.

aurora hunting day 1

Its 16:00 here in Sommeroy, north Norway and its been dark for two hours. Outside the hotel a blizzard rages. Visibility is below 50 meters at times. Welcome to Norway!

I’m here co-leading a workshop with famed aurora and landscape photographer Antony Spencer for Light & Land. We have just collected our group of 12 clients from Tromso airport and arrived safely at our hotel about an hours drive away. The journey was interesting to say the least as the blizzard raged. Here in Norway, they leave a thick layer of ice on the roads all winter and just scrape away the excess snow. All vehicles are fitted with studded tyres which grip into the ice incredibly well. Driving this way takes a bit of getting used to at first, but you soon learn.

Tony and I met at Heathrow airport at 05:00 yesterday for our flight. In fact, we were so busy catching up over breakfast that we almost missed our plane. I was the last person to board with seconds to spare. It took me to Oslo to get my breath back 🙂 Oslo was clear of snow and looked beautifully autumnal as we came in to land. It is on a similar latitude to Scotland and so, although it does get cold and snowy later, at this time of year it is much like Scotland. A quick change of planes and we headed north. Much further north. As we descended through the cloud it was apparent we were well and truly in the arctic.

I then had a baptism of fire, learning to drive on ice, in the dark, on the opposite side of the road to the way we drive in the UK. Oh, and a blizzard blew up. I don’t know if Tony enjoyed the drive. I was too busy concentrating to be concerned. Darkness at 14:00 has a weird effect on you. It feels like you should be heading for bed when in reality it is only the middle of the day. From a photographic point of view, this short day is wonderful. Sunrise here is, for the next few days, at around 10:00 – 10:30 (the days are shortening really fast and before we come home the sun will not be rising at all – I will get to experience the 24 hour arctic night) and with sunset at 14:00 we have this soft light for the whole time. Even when it is overcast the water goes a gorgeous steel grey blue, which offset against the snow and mountains is to die for. Its like photographing in a perpetual “golden hour”.

Sommeroy is a beautiful little area of islands, an archipelago that Norwegians visit in the summer. I think they think we are mad coming here at this time of year.

Today, Tony showed me around the area a bit and we managed to fire a few frames. I have included some here. All are jpegs made on the Fuji X-Pro1.

I will try, as time allows, because the clients come first, to blog each day and post a few images, to keep you up to date on our adventure. Hopefully there will be some aurora shots to show you as the week too. Clouds permitting. Watch this space.

A little detail shot and full credit to Tony for the composition - the boy can spot an image!

A New App from the Maker of the Photographers Ephemeris

new app ephemeris

I was very privileged to be asked by Stephen Trainor earlier this year to be one of the beta testers of a new app he has designed to complement the hugely successful and absolutely essential photographers app, The Photograpers Ephemeris (TPE).

 

 

TPE has been around for a while now and is available as a desktop program or as an iOS or Android app. For most landscape and outdoor photographers it has become an essential part of their location planning kit. I couldn’t imagine doing my job without it. I also can’t imagine the brains and ability that has gone into designing such a complex and useful program.

Not content with TPE, though, Stephen has forged ahead and designed a new app for us photographers called, officially, “The Photographers Transit” but it is shortened to “Photo-Transit”. This is an app which again uses Google Maps as it’s foundation. The app then adds the ability to place yourself at any point on Earth and face in any direction. You can then select any lens for your camera (and it takes into account you sensor/film size) and it shows you what field of view you will achieve at any given focal length. This means, no more worrying if you have packed the right lenses for a long hike or a flight where bag weight is critical. It also means you can plan key shots in advance based on your kit. You will know if your lenses have the width or reach you need for the shot you envisage. Or, before arriving at a location you will know exactly where to be to make best, use of your lenses to get the optimum image. This is location planning in real detail.

 

 

There is also the ability to look at elevation data in the app to give an idea of how the land rises and falls. This helps with understanding how shadows will appear, when the sun will break the actual horizon and so on. You can also flip from the app over into TPE to work with both apps together which is very useful. The app can be used offline with available data and to help visualise potential images close to roads you can combine the app with Google Streetview. Added to this is the unique ability to save location information as you plan it, or to take images at a location and tie the image together with the map/lens/body/field of view information and save it for future reference. There is also a linked website sharing facility so you can share this data with your friends, camera club members and so on, including sharing via message, email, Facebook, Twitter etc.

 

 

I was pleased to be able to grab some time with Stephen in his frenetic schedule to interview him about Photo-Transit and here is what he had to say.

 

DC: Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed Stephen. Can I ask first about your background and how did you come to design and program TPE?

SJT: Thanks for the opportunity, Doug. Maybe somewhere in my background is the semblance of a career plan, but if there is one, I haven’t found it yet! Over the years I’ve worked in classical music and opera, advertising, theatre engineering, telecoms and consulting, doing a variety of things along the way, including software engineering. I moved to Colorado from the UK in 2007 and started doing more landscape photography. Around a year later I signed up for a weekend workshop in nearby Rocky Mountain National Park . The workshop offered a ton of great advice and information on how to plan a shoot for the best light. Participants were asked to bring a number of items to the workshop, including paper topographic maps, rulers, protractors, calculators, pencils etc. It occurred to me that things in the digital world were by then at the point where all of this could be done in software. When I discovered that no such tool apparently existed already, TPE was born.

DC: Were you surprised at how popular TPE has become? Do you have any idea how many users there are now?

SJT: Very pleasantly surprised, yes! Across the various platforms we now have tens of thousands of monthly active users. The desktop version is downloaded around 75,000 times a year.

DC: Has anyone used TPE in ways you didn’t anticipate?

SJT: We’ve had some uses by archeologists looking for historical sun/moon positioning. Also, I’ve read about it being used by hunters, in the US mainly. Oh yes – and the trainspotters too!

DC: Is developing TPE and other photography apps your full time work, or do you have a ‘day job’?

SJT: I spend around half my time developing apps and the other half I do technology consulting, mostly in the area of digital media and online video.

DC: Are you a keen photographer yourself? If so, what style of photography do you like? Do you have a personal website where we can see your images?

SJT: I am. I like to shoot landscape primarily. I prefer a simple, clean style without too much post-processing. Photos that are “overdone” are all too common nowadays. At the same time, I’ve never much cared for the well-worn line of “my photography is an unaltered reproduction of what my eyes saw that day” and its variants. No matter how little processing is done, that’s clearly untrue, as cameras and photographic media, whether digital or film, just don’t work the same way as the eye. I’m definitely a fan of simpler compositions, although that’s something I continue to struggle to achieve in my own photography! I have a (slightly neglected) website at http://stephentrainor.com

DC: What are some of the technical issues in developing a program like TPE?

SJT: The initial challenge is implementing the various algorithms required to calculate accurate sun and moon data. Nowadays there are a few implementations out there, but the accuracy and sophistication does vary. Not all algorithms account well for factors such as atmospheric refraction, for example. (I certainly can’t take any credit for the algorithms themselves – in that regard, I’m standing on the shoulders of mathematical and astronomical giants!) Maintenance of the software becomes a bigger issue over time as the code ages and grows. I’m currently in the middle of a major modernisation of the TPE for iOS code base, much of which dates from 2009-2010 – the middle ages, in terms of iOS software. Once that’s done, the Desktop version will need to be reimplemented as a web app – all required to keep up with the technology of the day.

DC: What then gave you the idea to develop this new program, The Photographers Transit? (TPT)

The concept of displaying the field of view on a map was a suggestion made independently by a few different TPE users. I liked the idea very much and wanted to think about how to incorporate it into the app. However, after thinking it through, I decided to develop it as a separate app for the primary reason that there would be a lot more inputs required of the user to make it work: which camera? which lens? what orientation? where are you pointing it? etc. One of the keys to simplicity of use in an app is minimising the amount of input you require of the user. I think – and many would agree – that TPE is quite complex enough already without piling on yet more functionality.

DC: What is TPT designed to do for the photographer?

SJT: I think of Photo Transit as a general purpose digital planning tool for outdoor photographers. It provides a mix of digital “surveying” tools that you won’t find elsewhere, so far as I know: a horizontal field of view indicator overlaid on a map and a vertical field of view chart plus elevation profiler that shows what terrain is visible. In addition, we spent quite a lot of time on shot saving and sharing. You can create projects that contain multiple shots and share these easily with friends, colleagues, workshop participants etc. from the app. We were keen to make sure that any information you put into the app is easy to get out of it, so there’s the ability to email shots/projects, view them on a freely available web-site (http://share.phototransit.com) and to export as KML. You don’t need to own PhotoTransit to be able to view shots that have been planned using it. (BTW, ‘we’ is my wife, Alice, who does all of our graphic design, and I…)

DC: How do you see photographers putting TPT to use in their work?

SJT: It’s an advance planning tool, first and foremost: you can use it to build up a list of shots that you’d like to capture on forthcoming trips or shoots, having explored the compositional constraints of the location, your camera and lens ahead of time. Beyond that, I’d like to see photographers using it to share ideas for shots with one another. It provides an easy and complete way to share the physical setup for any stills image. I think it also has an educative role. Many people find numerical values such as field of view or focal length easier to understand when they can be visualized and, like TPE, Photo Transit is a visualization tool.

DC: How does TPT work with TPE?

SJT: Currently, you can open TPE directly from Photo Transit and match the same subject location. The next update to TPE will add the ability to open Photo Transit directly from TPE to go in the reverse direction. We have some further bells and whistles in the works too that will improve the interaction between the apps even more.

DC: What hurdles did you have to overcome to get TPT working?

SJT: Not too many – fewer than for TPE, I’d say. The data model in Photo Transit is definitely more complex (projects, shots, locations, cameras, sensors, lenses), so that took more work. However, many of the harder lessons were already learned with TPE. The Apple maps saga of 2012 cost many hours, but the lessons learned made the mapping choices and implementation for Photo Transit much more straightforward.

DC: Can you give us any clues as to your next project? or is it a secret? or are you still so tired after working to get TPT out that you haven’t had time to think about it yet?

SJT: We have another app in the works that we’re dusting off – it was shelved at the start of the aforementioned maps saga last year. It’s not directly photography related, but more than that I can’t say quite yet. We also have multiple TPE and Photo Transit updates and improvements planned.

DC: Final question, can you recommend websites of any photographers whose work you love? Who are some of your photographic heroes?

SJT: Some names that spring immediately to mind: Bruce Percy (http://brucepercy.com): I think Bruce’s photography was the first that really conveyed to me a sense of personal style. He does a great job of distilling, culling and crafting to achieve a portfolio that has an amazingly consistent ‘voice’. Jack Brauer (http://www.mountainphotography.com): Jack has an incredible collection of beautifully produced photography covering mountains all over the world. He produces wonderful photographs of places that I don’t ever expect I’ll have the strength or fortitude to reach! Guy Tal (http://guytal.com): Guy’s work from around the desert southwest of the USA is probably the most original and distinctive being produced today. He has a great eye for compositional simplicity.

 
You can visit the Photo Transit website HERE and you can follow on Twitter @photoTransit
 

The Fuji X-Pro 1 – Is It a Landscape Photographers Camera? Some Initial Thoughts.

fuji initial thoughts

As followers of my work will know, I have been shooting exclusively wit he Fuji X-Pro 1 for about a month now. My main camera is a Canon 5D mk3 (and I also shoot on film with an ancient and much beloved Hasselblad 500C and wooden Zero Image pinhole camera).

I bought the Fuji primarily for lightweight travel photography, street photography and as a carry anywhere camera. However, as soon as I started to see the results it produced I was keen to see how it performed in my main shooting environment as a professional – the landscape.

First a few caveats. This is not a full frame camera like the 5D mk3, the sensor is smaller and has a lower pixel count. The Fuji has 16 million pixels compared to the Canons 22 million. The aspect ratio of the sensor is the same as the Canon at 3:2. I am also mindful that the range of lenses available for the Fuji is far smaller than for the Canon, but more on this later. So I knew I was not comparing apples with apples.

 

Autumn Woodland. Handheld, ISO1600, f11, 1/30 sec

Having said that, the results shooting landscapes have blown me away. (all the images in the post are taken with the X-Pro 1. Sorry they are all tree images, but it is autumn and it would be rude not to spend my time in the woods. Please also note, all of these images are jpegs either straight out of camera or at most have just had a little high pass sharpening applied for uploading to the web. One or two have had VERY slight contrast tweaks, but that is it. I haven’t had time to really set about working on raw files from the camera yet). The X-Trans sensor is astounding. I am not a techno geek on such matters, but whatever Fuji are doing, long may it continue. The clarity of the files, the rendition of colours and contrast is stunning. I am sure this is partly due to the wonderful Fuji lenses which I see as being on a par with, if not exceeding the quality of the Canon L lenses, and that is saying something.

I am loving the weight and lack of bulk of the Fuji. I have bought a smaller travel tripod to use with it which is more than adequate. It fits in a tiny bag and even with several prime lenses, filters and spare batteries it weighs a minute fraction of the DSLR kit. I have been surprised at how much pleasure this has given me back. I can work for longer and walk further without fatigue and I am much more inclined to have the camera with me, in fact I rarely go out of the door without it. (I am in London as I type this and have it in my jacket pocket with the 18-55mm lens on. Couldn’t do that with the 5D). My feeling is that a lot of photographers as they get that bit older or as aches and pains start will be keen to move to a lighter more portable kit to help them maintain their joy in the field. I also think as the quality of these cameras will mean more will gradually move away from DSLR’s, especially if a full frame version emerges.

 

Padley Gorge - Handheld, ISO1600, f8, 1/30 sec


 

All the images in this article have been taken in the last month with the Fuji using the in camera “film simulation” presets for Astia and Velvia films. (I am sure these will annoy film users as they can’t possibly be anything like true Velvia or Astia, they are just adjustment presets, but he results can still be very nice, just don’t expect them to replace true films by any stretch of the imagination).

I have been shooting with raw plus fine Jpegs switched on. Annoyingly, when Lightroom imports these files it copies them all to the computer but only imports the raws into the Lightroom database. You will find the Jpegs in the same folder, but they won’t show in LR. I tend to go in to Finder (on the Mac, Windows Explorer on Windows) and find the JPEG file I am after and drop it into Photoshop. There I tweak it if necessary and save it as a tiff. This tiff is then imported into LR using the synchronise folder command in the Library module. A bit of a faff, but it works for me. (I have just been sent this tip by great photographer Lizzie Shepherd – In LR, go into Preferences and on the General tab you can tick a box which gets LR to treat jpegs as separate images next to raw files – problem solved, thanks Lizzie!)

I am shooting Jpegs as well as raw files because the quality of the Jpegs is really VERY good. I like the mono conversions the camera does as well as the film presets and these are permanent in the Jpegs whereas they are not saved in the raw files. The Jpegs also preserve the aspect ratio presets I use in the field. You can set the Fuji to shoot in square format (which I use a lot) and in a 16:9 panoramic format. For portraits and less critical images the Jpegs are often quite sufficient for my needs. For landscapes and images I will use professionally, it’s the raw files I will process.

 

Tree, North Wales. Tripod, ISO200, f22 (in error - rather extreme!) 1.6 sec


 

A word on some of the niggles I have with the Fuji, because it does have some quirks in the way it needs to be used, especially if you are used to a DSLR, and it has some very irritating “features” too.

Firstly, let’s talk about that battery life. It’s dire. I suspect it’s the electronic viewfinder that’s the culprit but if I am shooting for a day I will go through four batteries. I carry five and still feel nervous. I will be buying a couple more. I just can’t stand having to economise on battery power as I work. The batteries you can get on Amazon for around £12 seem to work just as well as the genuine Fuji ones which sell for £60. Guess which I am buying?

The other really irritating thing is the position of the tripod mount. This really hasn’t been thought through by Fuji. As soon as you fit a quick release plate it partially covers the battery/memory card bay door. Seeing as you have to change batteries every two hours, it is very annoying to have to unscrew the quick release plate every time to do this when simply positioning the tripod thread a few centimeters further away would prevent the issue.

I have found a couple of the buttons on the rear of the camera are easily activated in error. I particularly seem to catch the Q’ menu button. It is placed on a raised part of the body moulding and this makes it prone to being pressed. However, I notice this button has been recessed on the Fuji XE-2 which has just been released which is great (and I love it that Fuji really seem to listen AND RESPOND to customer feedback on these cameras. How many manufacturers ask for feedback but then never implement any of the changes we ask for? 

There are also some quirks in how you use the camera in the landscape. At least I see these as quirks having been used to using a Canon DSLR. The first is the focusing system employed by the Fuji. It works in a completely different way to a DSLR. On a DSLR the focusing sensors are most accurate when they can detect high contrast edges, where light areas but up against dark areas. By locking on to these they can measure distance and achieve focus. However, on the Fuji, such high contrast edges are just what the focus sensors don’t want to lock on to. They are most accurate when they can find a surface with texture, say a tree trunk or the surface of a wall. This takes some getting used to but I have found when the Fuji does lock focus I get a higher proportion of sharp shots compared to using autofocus with the DSLR. It is very accurate.

 

Silver Birch - Clumber Park. Tripod, ISO200, f16, 1/4sec


 

This leads me to another change I make in my workflow when making landscape images with the Fuji compared to the Canon. With the Canon I use Live View focusing with the lens on manual and love this approach. It is very accurate and allows for checking of depth of field with ease. However, on the Fuji, I have found It easier and more effective to have the lens set to auto focus but to press the AF button on the rear of the camera and select the AF point I want it to use. This locks the focus accurately for me and at f11/f16 I am getting excellent depth of field. With the sensor size of the Fuji, I am now experimenting with shooting wider, f8/f11 to see if this maintains sufficient depth of field while getting me closer to the sweet spot of the excellent Fuji lenses. My next experiment is to try back button focusing with the Fuji. I understand you can switch the lens to manual focus but still use the BBF button to focus and this sounds like it might be a good system.

Now I am used to how the Fuji works I have developed a modified workflow and have found I can already work at speed in the field with it, enabling me to stop thinking too much about camera operation and focus more on capturing changing light and composition which is much more important to me.

 

Tran Hows, Dawn - Tripod, ISO200, f16, 0.5 sec


 

I am finding the light meter on the Fuji to be very accurate and so, as opposed to how I work with the DSLR where I shoot in full manual, I have been using aperture priority and then tweaking the exposure after checking the histogram using the exposure compensation dial on the top of the camera. This is working really well for me. Other than in really low light or very contrasty light, though, I am tending to find the light meter is pretty accurate.

I have now used the Lee Filters Seven5 system on the Fuji and love it. If you have the full sized Lee system you can save a lot of money by just buying step up rings as it works fine. It’s a bit big, but the cost saving is significant. However, if you can afford it or if you are new to Lee Filters the purpose designed system is a delight. Small, beautifully made and balanced it is the perfect match to cameras of this size. As always with Lee, you get what you pay for and the optical quality and clarity of the grads is superb. Positioning the grads using the live view screen is a doddle and they do the job just as designed.

 

Padley Gorge - Derbyshire. Tripod, ISO200, f9, 1/5 sec


 

I have been trying a vari-ND filter for my ICM shots with the Fuji and have been pleasantly surprised with it. It is very convenient being able to dial in the amount of neutral density effect you need and being a screw on filter it is better suited to ICM work than using a Lee holder. I also have a Tiffen screw on 10 stop filter but have to try this out, so no verdict as yet, but I see no reason why it shouldn’t be perfectly fine.

I am taking delivery of the brand new 23mm f1.4 lens on Monday (it has since arrived. Sadly the first lens had two scratches on the front element but the replacement was fine) and am excited to try this out. If it is as good as the 35mm it will be a terrific lens. I must add, my next lens purchase, which surprises me to say it, will be the XF 55-200mm. (since typing this on the train I have caved in and flexed the plastic and am now the proud owner of said lens). The last few weeks have made me realise how much I use a long lens in my landscapes. I often have my 100mm macro on my Canon (both as a macro and as a landscape lens) and I also carry the 70-200mm which I use a lot in my landscapes. I had anticipated shying away from long lens for the Fujis I imagine it might look a bit ungainly, but I have really missed the reach of a longer lens.I have also bought the 60mm macro, partly because (great excuse) my wife now has the XE-2 and she loves macro photography, but of course, we can share 🙂

I am travelling to Norway in two weeks to co-lead an aurora workshop with Antony Spencer for Light and Land. I will be taking my 5D kit, but the Fuji is coming with me too. This will be a great test for it, both as a landscape camera but also the ultimate test for long exposure high ISO shooting, with the 5D to compare it to. It will also be interesting to see how it copes with the low temperatures north of the arctic circle. (All bar two days of the trip we will have no daylight at all as the sun won’t rise above the horizon – we will be living I a world or twilight and darkness for 10 days). Note to self. Buy even more batteries for the Fuji.

I will try and find time to blog from up there to let you know how it goes as well as posting some images. Watch this space.

 

Clumber Park - Tripod, ISO200, f18, 1/3 sec


 

 

Customer Images from Skye Trip

skye trip

I had a lot of positive comments about my daily trip report blog which I posted while leading a workshop in Glencoe and Skye a few weeks ago. To follow this up I thought it would be nice to show you a few of the images made by members of the group. They have picked some of their personal favorites to show you here. I am always fascinated how several photographers can be at the same location at the same time and yet they capture the place in quite different ways.

(I plan to run this expedition workshop again next year for a small group of six photographers so if you would like to be added to the no-obligation shortlist to hear about dates, prices and itinerary ahead of it being announced on my website or in my regular newsletter, please email me using THIS LINK. )

The first set are by Charlotte Gilliatt, who is also to be hugely congratulated for getting two images into this years Landscape Photographer of the Year book, including Urban View Runner Up. You can see more of her work at her website HERE.

Next up is Keith Purchese (who doesn’t have a personal website).

And now a selection of images from photographer Kevin Gibbin. You can also see his website HERE.

And finally, a selection of images from John Birch, whose website (and superb blog) can be found HERE.

I hope you have enjoyed seeing the fine images from some of the group. We had a great time, as you can read in my trip reports written each day on my blog while we were up there (Here and for the next few posts).

I plan to run this expedition workshop again next year for a small group of six photographers so if you would like to be added to the no-obligation shortlist to hear about dates, prices and itinerary ahead of it being announced on my website or in my regular newsletter, please email me using THIS LINK.

Talk for the Royal Photographic Society

RPS


 
I feel very privileged, and a bit frightened, to have been invited by the Royal Photographic Society in the East Midlands to be one of two speakers at their annual “Landscape Spectacular” event on 17th November.

I am to join talented and creative photographer, Peter Paterson , who is a Fellow of the RPS. We will both be giving lectures on landscape photography and also fielding questions from the audience.

The event is open to non-members of the RPS so I would love to see you there. Please come up and say “hello”. The price is £10 and you can also pre-book for a three course buffet lunch for £7.95. Full details can be found on the RPS website HERE.

I will be giving a talk illustrated by my images. It will be based around themes encouraging creativity and breaking free from conventional approaches to composition and camera techniques as well as a look at classic landscape imagery and techniques. I aim to make it stimulating, encouraging, motivating and practical – it certainly won’t be one of those ‘this is where I went on my holidays’ style presentations, you can be sure of that!

I will be taking a selection of my prints too that you will be able to have a look at (and get hold of, to really inspect).

I will be available during lunch too, so come and have a chat and I will be happy to answer questions you have on any aspect of photography and image processing.

It would be great if you would share this blog post among your photography friends, club and contacts in case they may be interested. I am sure it will be an interesting and engrossing day that will help you move forward in your photography.

“Sea Fever” – The New Book from David Baker

Sea Fever David Baker

"David Bakers - "Sea Fever" Cover


 
David Baker, or Milouvision as many of his online followers will know him, has been photographing and blogging for years (www.milouvision.com). Building his following and honing his skills with the camera, he has risen to real prominence over the last couple of years, first winning Outdoor Photography magazines “Outdoor Photographer of the Year 2012” title, followed by three successful exhibitions and the 2012 Landscape Photographer of the Year “Your View” category winner, culminating now in the publication of his first book, “Sea Fever”.

Published by Triplekite Publishing, Sea Fever is a collection of 26 of Davids stunning signature coastal wave images.

So, what are you to expect when you receive your copy of “Sea Fever”?

The first thing that will strike you is the stunning cover image, a taste of things to come. The image is one which was on display at the Masters of Vision exhibition at Southwell Minster ( http://mastersofvision.co.uk/david-baker/ ) this summer and it is a fitting image to lead us into the book. An image full of power and drama.
 

 

Inside, the foreword has been written in a beautiful alliterative style by accomplished landscape photographer, Pete Bridgwood. To quote Pete as he describes how David approaches his image making of the sea,

“He has a rare ability; to completely concentrate his creativity, to focus his intentions and develop a deep relationship with his subject…. it is immediately evident that this is no dalliance, no brief fling; this is an aching, impassioned love affair”

This gives an idea of the intensity and depth of the images that reveal themselves as we turn the pages. David also gives a brief introduction to his approach to making the series of images.
 

 

The book is printed in portrait format, an unusual choice for a book based mainly around landscape orientation images. However, the images that are shot in portrait orientation display well and then many of the landscape orientation images are displayed (by Dav Thomas, who has done a great job with the layout and design of the book) spread across two pages, often bleeding off of the edges to give the greatest impact. Others are often given wide margins, lots of ‘breathing room’ and this is pleasing to the eye. The fact that Triplekite have decided on such a generous page size means this all works well. Nothing feels cramped or stifled in any way. The images are the stars.

Davids “Sea Fever” images captured the imaginations of lovers of seascapes as soon as they began to appear. (and I have already seen a few ‘Sea Fever’ wannabes imitating the style! I suppose imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?). They have a power and transcendent beauty which seems to connect with all who have a love (and respect for) the sea. By slowing the shutter just a little he retains enough detail in the waves to show the power, movement and flow of the waves while softening the effect and merging the waves into the sky. There is no real, defined horizon in his images – they become almost ‘as one’. In fact, the skies are not playing ‘second fiddle’ to the waves but enhance and complement them perfectly, almost becoming part of the waves themselves.
 

 

Every image in the book is just beautiful. Some are full of stormy ominous power, others gentle light and gracious delicacy. There is not a weak image in the portfolio and I would love to have any of these on my walls at home. Each has a mesmerising quality to hold our interest for many years.
 

 

I had the opportunity to interview David a few days ago about the book and his work and thought you might enjoy his comments.

D: First of all, let me congratulate you on the publication of your first book, “Sea Fever”, I have seen an advance pdf copy and it looks stunning. How did you feel when you first saw the design?

DB: Many thanks! Yes, a great feeling to see the flow of images due to Dav’s design skills.

D: How did the book project come about?

DB: I was fortunate to be one of the exhibitors at Masters of Vision which opened in late July 2013 and during that weekend I met David Breen (Triplekite Publishing) and Dav Thomas. I knew of David’s photographic work and of course of Dav’s book. In early August David emailed suggesting a book based on the Sea Fever project part of which had been exhibited at MoV. A really good day!

D: How did you decide to focus on such a tight project as “Sea Fever”? Was it more difficult, do you think, than doing a retrospective on your work, or would that have been harder?

DB: I’ve held previous exhibitions which have been a selection of my favourite images and at the time of MoV I had just completed a show of the Ridge Trees project and was in the midst of Sea Fever so it seemed natural to show what I was passionate about.

D: How did you find the process of selecting the images for the book? Was the choice difficult? How did you go about narrowing down the selection?

DB: There wasn’t a huge selection anyway as I’m a ruthless editor. But for the book I provided the required number plus an extra 25% I think and then Dav undertook the skilful design.

D: Without giving away too many secrets can you give us an idea of how you make the “Sea Fever” style images? What kit do you use? Shutter speed etc?

DB: I experiment with a variety of shutter speeds and focal lengths whilst trying to look for relationships between the waves and ideally clouds. I aim to have at least a line of foreground or central wave across the frame. I try to take a painterly approach if that makes sense as I want the images to say this is how it feels to be at the shoreline with the battering wind full of salt, the spray, the thump of the waves, the sense of vulnerability. How can an hour at the shore be captured in an image?
 

 
D: How long have you been working on the “Sea Fever” project? How long did it take to perfect the style of the images?

DB: I was in the Outer Hebrides in March 2012. During my previous trip in February 2008, I had taken mostly long exposure shots (as during this time the B+W 10 stop filter featured in many a photoblogger’s work) but during March not one long exposure shot was made. Feeling a little ‘unsettled’ I started taking shots during the closing days of the trip to capture the sea’s power in a way I had not undertaken before.

The first image, Hebridean Sea III, was uploaded to my photoblog in late April 2012 and that was that. Nothing happened in terms of development of the project until August of that year when another image was processed. I hadn’t realised I had a potential project but something must have been percolating away as in March 2013 onwards I started experimenting in acquiring images to compliment Hebridean Sea III.

D: Do you like working on projects? Or do you prefer more random ways of working? If you prefer project working, what benefits do you see working that way?

DB: It’s only during the past couple of years that a project based approach has been developed. I worked up one called Ridge Trees which concentrated on the New Forest and was defined by three attributes – dawn, mist and geography. Whilst the structure of a project is appreciated, I’m not restricted to just that type of work.

D: Why the sea? What draws you to photographing it so intensely?

DB: Good question! I usually mumble something about energy, and change. It’s not something that I’ve nailed down yet, and I’m not sure I want to. I’m not a great deconstructor (in an image sense) although I written a little about this aspect in the book.

D: Have you always been interested in photography? What is your photographic ‘history’?

DB: At 15 I wanted to be an architect. My dad had introduced me to an architect client and despite the then (1978) 33% unemployment in the industry, I was keen on pursuing architecture as a career. Despite good grades, events didn’t entirely pan out as planned, and after dithering about a course at Salisbury Art College and flirting with a technical drawing apprenticeship, I joined the Civil Service. It’s fair to say that there’s been little creativity work-wise since. I’ve always had a great love of art (especially sculpture) so I guess the creative ‘urge’ has always been there albeit mostly dormant.

I started using a small compact digital camera in about 2003/04 documenting visits to stone circles, dolmens and standing stones. A friend subsequently talked about his new digital SLR and suggested that I also buy one, so in January 2005, trying to engage a creative aspect of myself, I also bought a 300D.

From a technical aspect, almost immediately I wondered what I had let myself in for. I started reading magazines, books (fortunately Southampton has an excellent library) and looking at other images in various exhibitions and photoblogs. In the spring of 2005, I began posting images on a web forum and as a consequence a photoblog was started in late 2005.

Why photography? It was accessible and there was an immense amount of support and inspiration from the photoblog community.
 

 
D: Who would you say was your first inspiration in photography? And who do you find inspirational now?

DB: Just after I started using a SLR, I saw a photograph in Outdoor Photography of a Hampshire beach at sunset by Guy Edwardes and the sea looked fantastic drawn over the shingle beach. The wave trails looked ethereal and a week or so later I attempted the same and that was that, I was caught and I’ve been a seascaper ever since. Current inspiration is from a wide variety of sources.

D: What does photography do for you? What do you get out of it that drives you to pursue it as a passion?

DB: I guess it’s the conduit for a creative aspect that must be present in myself.

D: Have you ever hit a creative block? If so, how do you get over it?

DB: I get very keen on my work and then very disappointed by it very rapidly. I then go off to make more images. And then the process starts again.

D: What camera equipment do you currently use?

DB: 5D2, 24-70 and 70-300 lenses, Lee filters, Gitzo tripod and a RRS ballhead. The camera, lenses and filters all fit in a Billingham bag. There’s no need to march huge distances for my work, and I’m (hopefully) finished with the days of rucksack wrestling against a rapidly incoming tide.

D: Is there a piece of kit you really couldn’t live without? A favourite piece of equipment?

DB: For years I used the Canon 17-40. Everything was at 17mm and hang the consequences. That used to be nailed to my 300D and then to the 5D. Now, I think the 70-300 zoom is used significantly more than ever. Almost everything is on the tripod too.

D: Is there any piece of equipment you lust after and would love to own?

DB: I was considering the Gitzo Ocean tripod.

D: I know you are a keen and active photoblogger and Twitter user. Why do you love photoblogging? What do you enjoy about Twitter and the photographic community on there?

DB: The immense amount of support and inspiration from the community plus the free exchange of ideas, links to work, exhibitions, and the occasional meet-up.

D: Would you describe yourself as a “Landscape/seascape Photographer” or do you enjoy other genres of photography?

DB: I’m a seascape/forest photographer really. I really like looking at the landscape big views plus the more intimate landscape compositions and also the very experimental ones. I also really like looking at street work (especially if there’s humour present).

D: What advice would you give to young or new photographers to help them make progress with their passion?

DB: Believe in the value of your talent and your images. Experiment, and have fun. If considering a project, make sure it’s personal to you, and choose a subject which will allow access to create the images you want. Think about the story and how the work will be shown – book, exhibition or blog.

D: What software do you use to process your images? Does much work go into processing the “Sea Fever” images?

DB: For ages (and ages…), I used RawShooter Essentials (which became Lightroom I think) as I loved the ease of use, and the mono images it could produce. During the last year I’ve used Canon DPP for the Raw files. I make no corrections in DPP aside from using the lens profiles and the auto-dust correction (the principal reason for moving from RSE). Everything else in undertaken in PS, and I use Bridge as a catalogue.

D: What is the URL of your website so readers can have a look at your work?

DB: milouvision.com (although some project highlights are also at dbphotographic.com).

D: So, finally David, what next? More “Sea Fever” images or is the project complete? Do you have other projects on the go? Any other plans?

DB: I’m not sure at present. It took a few Ridge Trees and Sea Fever images to realise I had the makings of a project so I’m sure something will present itself soon.
 

 

The soft back book itself is outsized at 410mm x 305mm and is being printed in Malta by the same high quality printers who printed Dav Thomas’s acclaimed “With Trees” book. The paper used for this book is 170 gsm Valletta Silk and it is being printed using the same Sublima 240 lps screen process as with Dav’s book which yielded spectacular print quality.

There will be two versions. For the serious collector there is a very limited edition of 50 which will be individually signed and numbered by David and comes complete with limited edition A3 print for £85. The standard edition is £25. The price excludes P&P of £8.50 (UK) or £23.50 (International). You can pre-order your copy HERE.
 

 

The attention to detail and print quality achieved for Dav’s book by Triplekite must inspire confidence that “Sea Fever” will look stunning when it arrives. (this review is based on seeing an advanced pdf copy, not a full print copy). David Breen and Dav Thomas seem to have started the company as they mean to continue. The fact they are both keen photographers first and have a passion for photography is reflected in the way they are putting the images ahead of profit. So many photography books are churned out by large publishing houses and treated much the same as cookery books and other books with pictures in. Often the paper and print quality is disappointing and doesn’t reflect well on the photographer whose work is often outstanding when seen in the flesh. With Triplekite the quality of the images comes first above everything, so the paper and print process choice has to be able to display the images at their very best. Attention to detail is seen at every step of the process, from the selection of the photographer and the images, to Dav’s design and layout right through printing and even into the packaging. It is a refreshing change to see a publisher who seems to care more about the photography than the bottom line.

I have a feeling many photographers around the world are going to beating down Triplekites door asking to be considered for their next book. But I also know Triplekite are putting their customers first by being very selective in those photographers work they choose to publish. Triplekite seem to have a tight focus on exactly where they are going with future publications to hold true to their vision for the company. This can be seen in the latest announcements that the next two “Portfolio” books will be by the wonderful Paul Kenny and Marc Wilson respectively. They have also announced a third series of books entitles “Land|Sea”, each of which will feature a small portfolio of work by five photographers carefully selected and which will build into a collectible library of great landscape work. 2014 Looks to be an exciting year for lovers of fine photography.
 

 

“Sea Fever” is the first in Triplekites new innovative “Portfolio” series, designed to be project based. Being focused on such a tight project with all of the images shot in a very similar style and with a common technique some may find they desire a greater variety of images, but that is not the purpose of this type of book. Its focus is its asset and it is a great example of how, as photographers, our work can get so much stronger if we focus on a tight themed project. While smaller and lower in cost, it will still adhere to Triplekites philosophy of making the images shine through large page sizes and superb print quality. These books are an ideal way to showcase the talent and work of some of the Worlds finest photographers. I can see the series becoming very collectable.

I, for one, pre-ordered the book as soon as I heard it was to feature Davids “Sea Fever” series and look forward to getting my signed copy and print. Having now seen the pdf proof I am even more excited. A firm delivery date is yet to be announced but is expected to be around mid to late November.

For lovers of fine land and seascape photography and especially if you love really fine photography books this is another ‘must-have’ (and what a great gift, even for non-photographers) from Triplekite. Order your copy HERE
 

Exclusive First Interview with Landscape Photographer of the Year Winner 2013 Tony Bennett

LPOTY 2013 Tony Bennett

Mist and Reflections - The winning image by Tony Bennett in the Take-a-View Landscape Photographer of the Year competition 2013

After a long and nail biting wait wait for the photographers who had images shortlisted in this years Landscape Photographer of the Year competition the announcement was made at the weekend that Derby based photographer, Tony Bennett had won the overall prize with his image “Mist and Reflections” (above). I was especially delighted for Tony as I know him as a customer who has been on my workshops (although I take absolutely no credit for his win. Tony is a long established photographer who has been making images for many years).

For many landscape photographers in the UK, the LPOTY competition is the “Holy Grail” of photography competitions and many aspire to have an image feature in the book which showcases the successful photographs, published by the AA and available here on Amazon To have a picture in the book is quite something considering around 20,000 images are entered each year and just a couple of hundred at most feature in the book. To have an image Highly Commended, receive a judges choice or to win a category is an even higher honour. Many must be very disappointed each year.

Last years competition was sadly marred by controversy over the originally selected winning image which had to be disqualified for excessive manipulation. This year, with a new Technical Director, Tim Parkin, addressing the selection and checking process hopes are high that the standard of images in the book and subsequent exhibition at the National Theatre in London starting in December (Free to attend and a must see event) will be higher than ever. From what I have seen of the images which have received awards, the standard does seem very good indeed. There are some truly outstanding images already revealed and this has whetted the appetite for the book

I got in touch with Tony as soon as I found out about his win and was delighted that he agreed to give me an exclusive interview for you to enjoy here, along with his winning image and some other images from his portfolio. I hope you will enjoy visiting his new website too. But first, here is the interview I conducted just yesterday with Tony.

D: First of all, let me congratulate you on your wonderful success in winning LPOTY 2013. Your image is stunning and a deserved winner. How did you feel when you heard you had won?

T: I was totally overwhelmed. Charlie Waite phoned me whilst I was in the car and the next mile passed as a blur. It was beyond my most optimistic hope. It took several days for the realisation to dawn upon me that i had actually won. I knew my image was good, but being good is not enough; you have to hope that the judges not only think it is good, but the best. That is the difficult part. And I knew that many very good photographers had entered the competition with some truly excelllent images.The competition was fierce.

D: Can you describe the morning when you made the image?

T:That morning was just magical; one of those mornings that happen so infrequently but are always remembered. With a friend, Sarah, we left the hotel early and raced to the lake side. The dawn was just beginning to break. We set up our tripods at the water’s edge and for the next hour and a half, just captured as many images of the ever-changing scene as we could. Did I say it was magical? It was. We eventually had to get back to the hotel for a late breakfast, but by that time the real mood of the scene had changed to mere normality, the mist had virtually gone, the sun was up and the lake surface was disturbed – no longer the glassy mirror it had been.

D: Have you entered LPOTY before (and if so, had any previous successes) or was this your first time?

T: No. This was my first time.

D: Why do you think entering competitions like LPOTY is a good thing for photographers and photography?

T: These competitions offer a challenge to photographers to produce their very best work. All too often, our images stay on the hard drive and don’t get the finishing attention they should. When you enter a competition, you owe it to yourself to offer the very best you can. This can take time and effort, but sometimes, as in my case, it proved worth every effort, including that early morning start.

D: Have you always been interested in photography? What is your photographic ‘history’?

T: I have been interested in photography since my 20’s. (I am now well retired!). I have spent many hours in the darkroom trying to produce the ‘perfect’ B&W print, without success! I have also done some wedding and industrial photography back in the film days, but my first love has always been landscape images. Up to this time, I have only entered club competitions and our local N&EMPF annual competitions. This is the first ‘real’ external competition that involved a prizes. (memo to self: must enter more!)

D: who would you say was your first inspiration in photography? And who do you find inspirational now?

T: I can’t remember any one initial inspiration that has driven my photography. Today, undoubtably, Sebastiao Salgado i find truly inspirational.

D: What does photography do for you? What do you get out of it that drives you to pursue it as a passion?

T: I love the great outdoors and capturing beautiful images.

D: What camera equipment do you currently use?

T: I currently use a Nikon D700 with the 16-35mm lens, and the 24-120mm lens. For the winning image I used my 70-200mm lens; that lens trio, plus an old macro lens, covers all my photographic needs. Recently I have bought an Olympus EM-5 and found it to be very useful on a recent trip to Venice on the hottest day of 2013! It was light and easy to carry and produces pretty decent images that can be enlarged to about A3 size.

D: Is there a piece of kit you really couldn’t live without? A favourite piece of equipment?

T: Strangely, it is my very sturdy and stable tripod.

D: Is there any piece of equipment you lust after and would love to own?

T: I would love to have a Nikkor 24mm tilt shift lens.

D: I know you are a keen and active member of the Derby City Photographic Club. What do you enjoy about being part of a photography club?

T: I enjoy club photography for the personal friendships I have made and my friends’ support for my photography. (They are always there with honest criticism!) I also relish the challenges the competitions offer. Our Club is a great social as well as a photographic club. We have excellent speakers who challenge, stimulate and entertain.

D: Would you describe yourself as a “Landscape Photographer” or do you enjoy other genres of photography?

T: I have done studio portraiture, and wedding photography (many years ago). I like to think of myself as a landscape photographer. Perhaps I can, now!

D: What advice would you give to young or new photographers to help them make progress with their passion?

T: Join a camera club and GET INVOLVED. Don’t just turn up, enjoy the proceedings, then go home. You only get out of any activity in proportion to what you are prepared to contribute.

D: What software do you use to process your images?

T: I use Lightroom primarily and use Photoshop for any post processing that can’t be done in Lightroom. Topaz plugins are very useful to extend the scope of LR and PS. I also use Photomatix Pro for HDR images and Helicon Focus for focus stacking of macro shots.

D: I see you have a new website, Tony. For those who are keen to see your work, what is the URL?

T: www.inspirational-images.com (Don’t forget the hyphen). It is my first website, put together in rather a hurry in view of my competition win. It is still a bit clunky, so please excuse that. It will be added to and improved as time goes on.

D: So, finally Tony, what are your plans now you have won the competition? And do you have any plans for spending your prize money?

T: The last few days have been rather hectic, but eventually, I guess, things will return to normal. I have no plans to spend the prize money at the moment. When things settle down I think I might just treat myself to a new lens, or camera, even.

D: Thank you for your time in being interviewed, Tony, especially as I know you are suddenly in great demand. I am sure my readers join with me in wishing you well and we hope you enjoy all the exposure that comes from your win.

Here are some more of Tony’s images and you can see more of his work at his website, www.inspirational-images.com You are also able to buy prints of his winning image.
 


 

 

 

 

 

First Impressions of the Fuji X Pro 1 – A Day on the Streets

first thoughts

and, no, this is not the Fuji X Pro 1, but a shot I took with it 🙂

I have taken the plunge and bought a second hand Fuji X Pro 1. Why? A number of reasons. I needed a smaller camera system for some trips that could produce high quality commercial images but without the weight and bulk of my DSLR system. I had also had a chance to use the X Pro and it’s sibling the X100sa nd both had blown me away both in terms of usability and in the ‘filmic’ quality of the images the sensor and lenses produce. I also hold my hands up and unashamedly admit to being seduced by the beautiful retro styling and the superb build quality of the Fuji’s. I have some workshop ideas for the camera too, so there were commercial considerations in my mind also.

As I bought second hand I didn’t have a choice of lenses. The kit I bought came with the 35mm f1.4 prime (which I would have chosen even if I was buying new) and the 18-55mm zoom lens which I probably wouldn’t have gone for, rather erring towards a set of primes. However, the zoom is by no means a ‘kit lens’, this is a full on, high quality piece of glass which is solidly made and performs incredibly well. So I may well hold on to it. Only time will tell.

 

I have had the camera just three days and today was the first real outing for it. So my comments here are based purely on this first days shooting and my feelings may modify with time. I am writing this on the train home so I have only seen the images on the back of the camera, and we all know how deceptive camera monitors can be! I will review the images when I get home to add some to this post and may have to add some paragraphs once I have seen the images full size.

But that aside, what are my initial thoughts on the X Pro?

Let’s look at the camera from a number of angles. Remember, I have been doing fast moving hand held street photography with it today, so my comments are based on this. I will blog about how it performs as a landscape camera once I have used it for that purpose.

So, firstly, what is it like ‘in the hand’? It is not a compact camera. With one of the Fuji lenses attached it has some weight but is quite usable one handed. I have the extended grip fitted (this is not a battery grip but it just makes the grip for the right hand bigger and more comfortable, especially if you have big hands – it costs about £75 as an extra). I also have fitted a leather wrist strap which I am delighted with. I can let go of the camera if necessary knowing it is secure on my wrist. I much prefer this to a neck strap. 

 

I also fitted a ‘thumbs up’ which is a small £5.99 accessory which slides into the hot shoe and provides an anchor for your thumb. It is designed to aid stability when shooting one handed (as street photographers often do). I have found these very useful on other cameras but today, on the larger X Pro, I found the distance from the right hand edge of the camera to the Thumbs Up was too large. I just didn’t find my thumb naturally sat in the groove and so I can see me removing it as unnecessary for me.(an overnight afterthought – I may try removing the hand grip and seeing if I prefer using the camera with the Thumbs Up and without the grip as removing the grip moves your thumb closer to the Thumbs Up. It also reduces the bulk of the camera somewhat.)

 

I did find my thumb kept activating the Quick Menu button inadvertently as it is placed right where the heel of my hand and my thumb naturally rest on the camera. This is not a major issue, but as I lifted the camera to my eye I had to press the shutter button half way to clear them I to see my shot which slowed me down a bit – a disadvantage when street shooting, without a doubt.

 

All of the controls are beautifully placed and you soon find you can adjust just about all the settings without taking the camera away from your eye. This is aided by the very sophisticated electronic viewfinder (EVF) which shows the menus as you access them through the eyepiece just as if you were looking at the rear screen. It also shows you your last shot, which is a nice feature too.

 

You can flick to the optical viewfinder (OVF) and this shows you a wider view than the lens sees, which many street photographers love. They can see people before they enter the frame and antipate when to fire the shutter. However, you have to get used to the fact you are not looking through the lens when you do this and the framing is slightly different to what the lens sees. You can still overlay technical information, like shutter speed and aperture etc into the OVF which is very useful.

 

The aspect ratio of the sensor is the same a s a full frame sensor, 3:2, but the sensor is not full frame. It is smaller. How’re the image quality is reputed to be amazing at 16mp and capable of exhibition quality prints at A3+ and above. Pete Bridgwood has exhibited prints from his X Pro to great acclaim. (Petebridgwood.com)

Other aspect ratios can be set including my beloved 1:1 as well as vararious rectangular ratios including panoramic modes. The raw files will always be imported at full size, no matter what aspect ratio y select but Jpegs will maintain the ratio you choose. This applies to the film simulation modes Fuji have built into the camera too. So you can shoot as if using Velvia, Astia or other film types along with some gorgeous mono styles utilising colour filters. I particularly like the mono mode with the red filter applied. In orders o maintain what I see on the monitor while maintaining the greatest flexibility with my files I have set the camera to shoot in fine JPEG and raw. Thus I can refer to the JPEG to see what I saw on the camera screen and use the JPEG if the file size etc suffices of my needs or use it as a reference to convert the raw to mimic that look back in the digital darkroom.

Another nice feature, shown to me today by Tim Allen, ( http://www.timallenphoto.co.uk/ ) is you can, in camera, take any raw file and apply any of the film or crop effects and save a copy as a JPEG. We quite enjoyed playing with this, taking shots we liked and experimenting with different versions in camera. The raw file remans untouched, of course, and you will have the various JPEG versions when you gets home.

 

You can set seven custom presets on the Fuji. I have used these straight away and found myself flipping between them all the time today. I programmed in various mono settings at different ISO settings etc and also a couple of Astia settings as these are my favorites already. It saved me messing about in menus and I could quickly grab the set up I needed for a particular set of images.

If you are a DSLR user you have to change the way you use the camera. Firstly, the autofocus is much slower than a DSLR, but apparently more accurate (I can’t verify or deny this yet, it’s what I have read). The autofocus works differently. Whereas with a DSLR we are used to locking on to high contrast areas, points where light and dark areas touch, with cameras like the Fuji this is exactly what you don’t want to do. The focus works best when aimed at surfaces with texture. This takes some getting used to, but is very effective once you do. The fact the focusing is slower is just something we have to accept for now. Fuji have issued several firmware updates (and it is easy to update the firmware for your body and each of your lenses, and ought to be done to get the very best from your system) and these have, apparently, improved things, but it is still slower and less responsive than a DSLR.

 

Now let’s talk battery life. I was surprised at how quickly the X Pro eats batteries. I am used to a Canon 5D mk3 which can go all day on one battery, two at most. I burned through two and run out of power nearly tw hours before my time to head home had come. I could have done with at least one more battery, probably two to be on the safe side. Now, I was shooting continuously, using the screen, and working the camera really hard. Nonetheless, it is obvious this is a power hungry beast. I will be ordering two more batteries when I get home. One other things about the batteries, they get to the point where they show red, quarter remaining then all of a sudden the camera just shuts down. The first part of the battery discharge gauge takes some time to fall then the last half goes really fast. Beware. It’s like a car with a. Fuel gauge that says full for ages then drops like a stone!

 

I really enjoyed using the camera. It is not tiring in the hand, it’s black body is unobtrusive and the 35mm lens is exquisite. I have a feeling more primes will be in the offing. There is a 56mm f1.2 due in January which sounds very nice indeed.

The camera was a dream to carry all day, with a spare lens and filters in my bag. It was so liberating not to have my big rucksack with all the DSLR kit. Will it replace my DSLR? I doubt it, but I am no ruling it out. I wil see what the image quality is like. I will see how it performs as a landscape camera from a usability point of view. I am not wedded to the DSLR by any means. If the Fuji proves it’s worth and can produce the quantity and size of files I need, I see no reason to carry on with the big DSLR kit. However, if it falls short, I am happy to run two systems and use whichever suits the job at hand ( but I will be reaching for the Fuji as often as possible due to its lightness and portability).

If you are considering the Fuji X Pro 1 then you really ought to be take a very close look at the X E-1 too (and the XE-2 which is rumoured to be released any day now). It takes all the same lenses. The sensor and many other specs are identical but it is smaller and lighter and may well be a wiser choice for you. Take a close look, see what you think.

 

I am excited to get home tonight and look at the images I have. Let’s hope they live up to my expectations.

(Added the day after) I have now had a chance to look at my images. first things first. I need to work on my skills as a street photographer!  I can see I missed some opportunities, sometimes by a fraction of a second. I am going to have to concentrate harder when doing this type of photography. I also have some images I am moderately happy with, especially as this was my first day out with a new camera I was totally unfamiliar with.

I have put a few images from the day into this post. Most were shot with the 18-55 lens, wide open although a few towards the end of the day were shot with the 35mm. I wish in hindsight I had used the 35mm more. I. Used this wide open too. Most of the images were shot at ISO1600. The day was dull and I wanted to ensure a decent shutter speed. I ignored the histogram, this is not landscape photography (as long as I wasn’t clipping the highlights). I just let Aperture Priority do it’s job for me. I have not run any noise reduction on these files, just tweaked them a little in Lightroom, and I have not sharpened the files either. I wanted to show them more as the camera produced them.

So, that’s my initial thoughts. No doubt, I’ll have more to say as I get used tot he camera. I have another day out with it next week on the south coast. A different environment and a different style of shooting to look forward to.

 

 
A BIG thank you to Tim Allen ( http://www.timallenphoto.co.uk/ ) for organising the day and our walking route and to both Tim and Valda Bailey ( www.valdabailey.co.uk ) for being such good company on this day out in London. I am sure their images will be way better than mine.

Skye Expedition- Day Seven

skye day 7

Eilean Donan Castle

Day seven of our expedition to Skye, a day to move on, a day to start heading south again.

The group were up again an hour before sunrise to take on the mighty Sligachan river outside the hotel before breakfast and a frosty sunrise ensure clear views of the Cullin and a chance to capture the raging river and rapids.

Once packed up and checked out we headed off of the island across the Skye Bridge and was soon at Dornie, home of the photogenic Eilean Donan Castle, probably the most photographed castle in Scotland, if not the World (and rightly so). The way it sits out in the Loch, reached by a stone bridge with three perfect arches, its placement beneath the peaks and out in the loch as well as its classic Scottish Keep shape make it a wonderful subject. (I wish I could say the same about the quality of the cafe, but sadly the minuscule pot of tea and so-called “Whiskey Fruit Cake, which I think had just had a whiskey bottle waved at it rather than pouring any of its content into the mix, had certainly succumbed to the tourist trap disease. Disappointing as every other eatery we had used in Scotland was superb).

The long drive from here to Glencoe is never arduous. The scenery is just too wonderful for it ever to become a chore, especially as at this time of year the autumn foliage is starting to form up. A quick fill up with diesel in Fort William and then, en-route to our hotel in Glencoe village, a fortuitous glance over to the loch and I glimpsed an old wooden sailing boat, its reflection mirrored in the loch with the evening light illuminating the hills beyond, capped by cirrus clouds. A quick U-Turn had us all piling out of the van with our gear to capture this idyllic view before the light went off the hills. It was amazing. We had only been there for a few minutes before several other vehicles full of photographers began to stop and jump out to see what we were shooting. They soon joined in framing up the scene, although one group of what looked like nature photographers going by the camouflage gear and length of their lenses just said ‘Oh, its only a boat”.

Our final night was spent enjoying a great meal together reliving the glories of the week, its incidents, its highs and lows, the ‘in’ jokes and great things we had experienced. As always seems to happen on these trips, friendships are forged which last years and this is often of even greater value than the images made or the new things learned.

Day eight saw us make the dash back to Edinburgh airport for the first drop off and then the long drive back home. There is always a quietness in the van on the way home. Perhaps a bit of melancholy at the trip being over, perhaps some meditating on the experiences of the week and, to be honest, going by the snoring, quite a bit of catching up on lost sleep 🙂

I am already planning several new trips like this one (a couple more extensive to some amazing locations) for 2014 and 2015. If you would like to be added to the no-obligation shortlist, please send me an email or use the “contact me” form on the right hand side of this page. Most of these trips book up from people on the shortlist so they never make it on to my website or into my regular newsletter. I hope you can join me on my next adventure!

The Fearsome Cullin - Isle of Skye

Skye Expedition – Day Six

skye day 6

Day six. The Big One. Any landscape trip to Skye necessitates a dawn shoot at the Old Mano of Storr. It is not a huge distance from the road, but the ascent is hard for all but the fittest. With a camera bag and tripod it is even harder. Add to this the fact the ascent has to be made in total darkness and it is a tough climb. In order to be in position up there an hour before sunrise you need to be leaving the car park at the base about an two and a half to three hours before sunrise. So we left our hotel at 04:30. The group were rewarded for their efforts with the most dramatic of light up there – a snow shower blowing across the Storr was side lit by the warm rising sun with an amazing glow of light full of drama. It made all the effort worthwhile and the group was ecstatic as, back at sea level, we enjoyed a well earned breakfast in Portree.

From Portree we headed back towards the Storr and got some great images of it in the distance shot across a loch, with a small island in the middle, lit by the morning sun. The wind driving rows of bubbles across the lock providing great leading lines. It was a bonus location and good to view the site of the mornings climb from a new perspective.

From here, we moved on to the Quiraing, further along the Trotternish Ridge above Staffin. Again, the late morning light worked for us and we made images of the prehistoric ridge, bathed in pools of golden light playing across the landscape. The famous Rowan tree (site of my lost Lee polariser last year – if you find it, its mine!) was also a popular image. To cap off our time there we marvelled as a Golden Eagle swooped around the view, spiralling on the thermals and effortlessly covering huge distances with a few strokes of its wings. It was a truly breathtaking sight and a lovely end to the morning.

By this time we had been out photographing for ten and a half hours so we headed back to the hotel for a break but some of the group wanted a Lightroom session so we set up in a lounge and had a couple of hours tuition with a drink before heading out to our sunset location.

This was to be Neist Point Lighthouse. There is really just one main composition here, but if the light is good, what a composition! And the light was REALLY good, the best I have ever had there. We made it just in the nick of time, in reality we should have arrived half an hour earlier. It was one of those evenings that as we drove to the location the light was so good, everything was photogenic. Very frustrating, but we had to keep our goal firmly in mind.

It was a happy group back at the hotel that re-lived the days glories over another great meal.