For the last five and a half years I have been running all night photography workshops in London with my good friend, London Black Cab driver and fellow Light and Land leader Terry Gibbins. These led to me developing a winter version based around monochrome night photography and Victorian London with amazing photographer, workshop leader and another good friend of mine Charlotte Gilliatt. On this workshop we also teamed up with Terry and another cabbie, Bobby Pinto to provide the bespoke luxury transportation around the Capital city at night.
Both of these night workshops have proved to be incredibly popular right from the beginning, so much so that they have been filling from an email shortlist and have not made it on to my website. Currently over 150 people are waiting to go on the workshops, which is a testament to Charlotte, Terry & Bobby and the wonderful locations we cover through the nights. As far as I know, no one else offers an all night workshop in London with bespoke London cab transport from pick up at the station to dropping off in the morning, with a ratio of just four clients to one teacher. Many of those who came on the workshops have won awards and competitions with images that they have taken on the workshops, as well as having them published in magazines and exhibited.
However, five and a half years is a long time. I have done, I think, around a hundred workshops and so, for me, it is time to call it a day and move on to new challenges. But I am delighted the concept is going to continue in the safe hands of Charlotte and Terry. They are also planning new locations too, which is exciting for those of you who have done the workshops before and would like to do them again but fancy something different.
I am going to hand over to Charlotte my email list of all those who are waiting for a place on the workshops so she can keep you up to date with places as they become available (but if you no longer want to hear of dates you can always unsubscribe from her mailing list at any time). I want to thank all of you who have been with me on these workshops. I have really enjoyed my nights with you in the city and the adventures we have had. I know some of you have enjoyed them so much you have been with us three times. I hope you get to go again with the new team to new locations.
I am still going to be running my own workshops, it is just the night workshops that I am pulling out of. I will keep you up to date with all my new plans through Twitter, Facebook, my newsletter (if you subscribe) and here on my blog. If you would like to sign up for the shortlist to hear of new dates for the night workshops, which Charlotte and Terry will be starting again in April and running right through the summer, as well as new dates for the winter ‘Gaslights and Alleyways’ workshops, please go to THIS PAGE on Charlottes website.
It is impossible to visit the Hebrides and not be affected by them at some deeply elemental level. A place of ever changing moods, sculpted and formed by the wind and sea over millennia, it carves itself into your soul. At times the white sands of the beaches, the teal and turquoise of the waves seduce and beguile. In a heartbeat, though, she transforms. The islands can become a place of deep and abiding melancholy, of exhilarating storms which purge and restore. No wonder artists, poets, musicians and now, laterly, photographers, have been drawn again and again to ‘Hyperborea’. This mythical location ‘beyond the north wind’, identified by some as the Isle of Lewis.
‘Hyperborea – The Lands of the North’ is the title given to a group exhibition currently on display on Harris & Lewis, at the An Lanntair arts centre in Stornoway, the capital of the Island. Curated by Alex Boyd, it features the work not only of Alex himself (a photographer working in antique processes, striving to capture the essence of the northern lands, his work in the exhibition is entitled ‘Dark Mountains|Silent Islands’) but also the epic, insightful and truly moving work of landscape and documentary photographer Ragnar Axelsson entitled ‘Faces of the North’ along with a moving collection of images by photographic artist Chris Friel.
His contribution to the exhibition, a project comprised of 49 images entitled ‘After’, is a truly heartfelt and moving response to the loss of his dear son, Joe, who took his own life in early 2016 following a struggle with mental illness. Joe loved the Hebrides and so it was to here that Chris returned to make images in just one day in the place they had shared together. Running in conjunction with the images in Chris’s part of the exhibition is a video of images made by Chris on Lewis in August 2017 entitled ‘Still’ accompanied by a piece of music composed in Joes memory by Matthew Herbert, entitled ‘Be Still’ and recorded at the North Sea Jazz Festival on 9 July 2017. You can see the images and listen to the piece HERE
I had the privilege of printing the 49 images which make up Chris Friel’s ‘After’ collection in the exhibition. To work closely with Chris throughout this creative process was an honour. The images are so personal to Chris and it was essential to me that I did my very best to interpret the work exactly as Chris wanted. To give you an insight of the creative process, of how I work with Chris, how we chose the paper we used for the exhibition (in the end, Fotospeed Platinum Baryta) and also how I prepare the images for print in Lightroom, I have created two short videos. These take you through the process from start to finish and I hope you find them both interesting and that you also might learn a few tips from them too to help you with printing your work.
One positive thing that has come from the awful tragedy of Joes death is the fund set up by Chris and his family through the Just Giving website which is dedicated to Joe and is raising funds for the Young Minds Trust, a very worthwhile cause which aims to help young people struggling with mental illness. The families goal was to raise £16000, a £1000 for every year of Joes life, but at the time of writing in October 2017 the generosity of family and friends has raised a wonderful £44,376. Please visit the web page HERE to see a video created by Chris about Joe and to donate to the charity. You can also see the book Chris created with the images in the exhibition along with his personal images from Joes life. Entitled ‘Joe’, and curated with the help of Joseph Wright, it was a beautiful testament to his son. View it HERE. The book is not available for purchase. You can also vote on the Just Giving site for Joes fundraising page to receive recognition with an award. Please vote for it HERE.
You can see the images for the book ‘Joe’, HERE on Chris’s website. The landscape images from the book were then used as the source by Chris as the basis for the exhibition but he did further work on them and you can view the finished work as collection HERE.
I would like to urge you, if you have any chance at all to visit the exhibition, you will not be disappointed. It is on now and runs until 4th November 2017. You can find full details HERE.
You can buy Chris Friel’s prints through my website from THIS PAGE
If you have your Cloud backup with Crashplan you will have been informed that, while they will honour your subscription to the end of the current period, they won’t be renewing it. They also will have a 60 day grace period where they will hold your data while you get backed up to another provider. This is not good news when you have spent much time uploading potentially terabytes of data to them, but they have made a commercial decision to focus on business customers.
So you need to get your data backed up to a new provider. Who should you choose?
I have done extensive research and I use Backblaze. I have done for some time now. The service has been perfect with no issues whatsoever. The upload speed is blazingly fast (dependant on your broadband speed, obviously) and you get unlimited storage for your data for $5 a month (thats around £3.85 in the UK). I currently have almost 2 TB with them. I have only ever had to pull one file back from them when I had deleted a file in error and my on site back up also had an issue with the same file, and it worked flawlessly and ‘saved my life’.
If you use CLICK HERE to sign up with Backblaze you will get a free months use with them (and so will I, thank you!)
Please feel free to use this link whether you are a Crashplan user or if you have been meaning to get around to backing up to the Cloud but just haven’t done it yet.
I can highly recommend them for their security, speed (no throttling unless you control it at your end), ease of data retrieval and it is so simple to use – just set it up and forget it – it runs in the background and you are always backed up to the cloud.
Remember, every hard drive WILL fail one day – backing up is vital. Just backing up at home is not enough (but make sure you don’t rely on this alone – also have adequate on-site backups too). If you are burgled, flooded or have a fire you will still lose all your data. A cloud backup is the safest solution.
I hope you find this useful.
Some time back I was surprised and humbled to be asked to an interviewee on the excellent ‘Togcast’ podcast which is run by two very capable and nice gentlemen, Sam Gregory and my fellow Light and Land leader, Paul Sanders. (I would highly recommend you use your podcast software on your smart phone to subscribe to the Togcast and listen weekly – it is interesting, entertaining and you get to know many photographers we know from social media so much better.)
So it was a few weeks ago, Sam arrived at my home early one morning on a whistle stop tour of the North. He was cramming in several interviews with other far more worthy photographers than me on a marathon journey up ones side of the country and back down the other. Sam has a very engaging manner and I soon forgot I was being interviewed and we nattered away about photography for a couple of hours. I am very grateful to Sam for taking the time in his busy schedule to come and talk to me and I hope you find our chat interesting.
I have no recollection of what we spoke about and I am horrified to think what I must sound like or what I waffled on about. I am certainly not prepared to listen to myself back again. (After all, I have to listen to myself all the time, and that is quite enough, I can assure you).
He not only did an audio interview for the podcast, but he tried out doing a video session too, where we discussed three portfolios of my images in my Lightroom catalogue and he has released this as a separate video.
So, if you have nothing to do. And I mean absolutely nothing to do, if you have cleaned the oven out, sorted all your carpet tacs into jam jars by size, and organised your photo book collection alphabetically, then you might just want to have a watch and listen. But if you still haven’t got around to creosoting the fence, I would probably get that done first. Really.
Here is the video of our discussion of some of my images
And here is the audio Podcast
There is a (pleasing) trend towards more photographers publishing collections of their work as photobooks. Some are choosing to approach specialist publishers such as Triplekite or Kozu Books. These publishers will work in close partnership with the photographer and use their expertise in desktop publishing and printing to help bring a project to fruition. They may also have access to distribution and sales channels to help the photographer with, what is often the most difficult part of the project, selling the books.
Others prefer to do things on a much smaller scale and self publish using a proprietary platform such as Blurb, Lulu or one of the many others available. These companies often allow ‘print on demand’ so there is no upfront investment in pallets of stock and even if the photographer just wants a handful of copies to sell or give as gifts to family and friends this is relatively affordable. Some of these organisations include electronic versions and allow selling through Amazon and other sales channels. The quality can be good. It can be rather poor, but it may meet the needs of some.
There is now another approach some photographers are taking to make their work available to an appreciative photo-book collecting audience. The hand made (or partially hand made) photo book. These are made in very limited numbers due to the intensive nature of putting them together. They are usually beautifully printed on fine art papers, hand bound and often presented in hand made slip cases. The printing is usually of the very highest quality and as such they become treasured art objects in their own right.
One such example I was very fortunate to add to my collection recently was ‘YŪBI’, a hand made photo-book by husband and wife landscape photographers Denis and Freda Hocking.
Freda came on a workshop I was running with Valda Bailey up in the Lake District and she had bought a copy of the book with her. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to have a copy. It is unusual, though not unique, for a couple to work together so closely on photographic projects. If you visit the Hockings website (and I recommend you do) you will see they share it. The galleries display work from both of them. The galleries and images do not identify who has made them. This is truly a partnership at work. You will see images of the most wonderful quality throughout the website – and this is echoed in ‘YŪBI’. If you would like to listen to a great interview with Freda and Denis, I can highly recommend this one on the Togcast (I also recommend subscribing to the Togcast for great interviews with photographers on an almost weekly basis).
The book itself is a thing of great beauty. It goes without saying that the images within are stunning. Landscapes made world-wide on the Hockings global travels, that mesh with the meaning of the Japanese word ‘YŪBI’, which is ‘Gentle Beauty’. You will see images which reflect their individual styles (although no images are identified as to who took which – part of the fun is trying to second guess the originator). The whole book has a calmness, a serenity which aptly echoes the link with the principles of Haiku.
The couple had assistance from Eddie Ephraums at Envisage Books. He provided guidance on the format, sequencing, fonts, layout, paper choice, printing, binding and all the other areas where he has great expertise. His guiding hand is very evident in the quality of the book. But knowing Denis and Freda, it is also their incredible attention to detail, their striving for perfection and their intense love for the landscape and photography which completes this book. From the hand stitched Japanese binding (which must have taken many loving hours of work to complete, through to the perfect and beautifully printed slipcase complete with fine Japanese calligraphy (provided with help from the expert Yukiko Ayres) you can see this has been a real labour of love.
The first edition has been produced in just 100 copies, of which just a few remain. I can wholeheartedly recommend that anyone who loves the landscape and collects beautiful photo-books should invest in a copy of YŪBI. I am sure it will become a treasured addition to their collection, as mine has.
Many of us love making images in the square format. We either ‘see’ our photographs that way and compose for them in the field, often aided by the clever way many digital cameras these days allow us to display a square mask on the rear view screen. I love this feature and use it all the time on my Fuji X-Pro 2. Shooting in raw, I still have the option back in the studio to use the entire sensor area, but in the field it is so helpful to see the image on the screen cropped square. It makes composition so much easier. (If you shoot in jpeg, the file will be square and the data beyond the boundaries of the square is lost forever).
I was contacted recently by sleeklens.com who asked me to put one of their plugin packs for Adobe Photoshop through its paces. They make plugins for all types of photography, particularly portraiture and architecture but they also have a pack designed for landscape photographers so it seemed appropriate to give that a try. I opted for the Photoshop version, although they do a Lightroom version of all their plugins too for those who like to keep their workflows just within the Lightroom environment.
Ask any photographer and they will tell you, you can never have enough camera bags. Or it might be that we can never find the perfect camera bag. I’m inclined to think that there is no single one bag that meets all our needs. I have different situations I go into with my camera and need a different bag for each. Recently, I found myself frustrated with a limitation placed upon us by camera bag manufacturers and so turned to a conventional rucksack manufacturer, Glasgow based company Trespass, for the solution.
I am writing this blog to apologise. I am apologising about not replying.
You see, almost eleven years ago, when I started teaching workshops I used to say to my students, “if you have got any questions after the workshop, just drop me an email” and this was fine. I enjoy helping people overcome problems they have with their photography, helping them select the right gear or giving some help on good locations to try, so it was no problem to get a couple of emails a month with questions and to answer them.
I was felt very privileged some months ago when approached by photographer Roj Whitlock to write a foreword for his photo-essay entitled ‘april, may, june and then july’.
I had seen the images and Roj’s moving writing for the project some months earlier, following the death of his father to cancer, Cyril Henry Whitelock, who lived to be 101 years old. Roa had used walks with his camera in local woodlands as an escape, a diversion, as therapy, as solace during the last months of his fathers life. The images reflect the rollercoaster of emotions and feelings of such a time, which any of us who have supported a friend or loved one through cancer (whatever the outcome) will know all too well. His words add a deep poignancy to the photographs.
Before I start writing my review of ‘Fragile’ by Valda Bailey, I need to declare an interest. Valda is a good friend of mine. We teach workshops on alternative photography techniques for Light & Land and so it is very unlikely this review will be entirely unbiased, but I will try my best.
It is with a sense of pride that I opened this book when it arrived in the post from Triplekite Publishing. You see, I first met Valda on the 15th of August 2011. I can be very precise about that because she had booked me for a one to one – to learn about ICM (intentional camera movement) techniques, and in showing her some of those techniques that day I made an image which has become very popular for me – hence my ease of knowing the date, I just have to look at the raw file metadata. So, here we are, almost five years on, and Valda has gone from student of mine to co-workshop leader and has far surpassed me in her abilities with the camera in creating wonderful images. Indeed, here she has had a book published long before I am even considering such a thing.
I have been looking for a more flexible and better priced service than Dropbox for a while. I think I have found it. It is called Sync. They give you 5GB of free cloud storage, which I am currently testing (and if you USE THIS LINK I think you will get an extra GB, so 6GB in total, and I will get 1GB for referring you – https://www.sync.com/?_sync_refer=de5f7b0 )
The paid service gives you 500GB for $49 a year and 2TB for $98 a year, which is very competitive and will allow me to store virtually all of my data, including all of my images on the service.
Every now and then a photo book comes along which is a bit different, a bit special. Today was one of those days. I received my copy of Joseph Wrights ‘Edgelands – The Floods’.
The book is different in several ways. Yes, the images are beautiful, but not in a classic landscape photography way. Joe has chosen o venture into those areas that surround the places we live, the edges and margins of our towns, cities and villages, which most of us tend to ignore or dismiss as ugly, unkempt. The abandoned scrublands, the borderlands or neglect. Some were once used, now left to their own devices. Others are places which have never quite fitted the needs of developers, being the wrong shape, in the wrong place, too wet or perhaps difficult to build on. Nature has no such qualms about these places. Nature quietly gets on with colonising them, plants growing, animals living quiet lives while we rush by.
Joseph has ventured in and started to make sense of the chaos. He has discovered beauty in the confusion and documented this with his 10 x 8 large format camera. Then, he has taken the project in an interesting direction, printing the images at pretty much the same size as his film (8 x 10 inches) for this book. Imagine having a sensor in your camera that is 10 x 8 inches in size. Can you grasp the resolution and detail that would resolve? A 10 x 8 negative has to be seen to be believed and here they produce glorious prints. Joe has then gone on to learn, from none other than grand master John Blakemore, how to sequence the images and hand make them into a book. Joe has individually crafted and bound these books with his own hands. This is truly a craft process. Along the way he has had extensive mentoring from Eddie Ephramus who specialising in helping photographers who want to achieve their creative vision in print and it includes a foreword by Robbie Cowan which is an extract from a work of his based on these ‘edgelands’. The results are stunning.
I invested right at the beginning of the project (Joe ran this as a ‘Kickstarter’ style project to help raise the not inconsiderable funds required), in one of the very limited Collectors Editions, limited to just 30 copies. These came with a signed limited edition print from the project and the book itself enclosed in a beautiful linen covered hand made clam case with another inset image from the project. This inset image is unique to each clam case, so each collectors book becomes a unique item in itself. The collectors editions will never be released again. It is a beautiful thing to own. Seventy copies of the book alone are being made as a standard edition and some of these are still available (I am not sure at this time if any collectors editions are still available – if they are they will be in very short supply). You can read full details and purchase your copy HERE ON JOES WEBSITE.
I think the approach Joe has taken here, making a short run of a hand crafted photo book is a very interesting approach to self publishing. he had the pages produced commercially but hand crafted and assembled the book himself. I like the idea of the book being more of a craft object. It has a nice tactile feel and the hand made element ties in with the analogue approach of large format film photography. It provides another alternative to volume publishing for those looking to get their work before an audience, albeit a smaller one. I am drawn to the intimacy of it, to the deep involvement of the photographer, to the breadth of skills needed. I feel a greater engagement with the artist and the book becomes more of a treasure, an art object rather than being ‘just a book’ (although, never would I want to downplay just how valuable I feel books are). This becomes an object which bridges the gap between a fine wall print or painting and a volume run book. It takes a great investment of time, learning and passion from the photographer (and the team who has supported him) and this shows in the finished artefact. I am a big believer that art must have an artefact.
I have produced a brief video of my Collectors Edition to give you an idea of just how beautiful it is – please take a look.(and please forgive my very amateurish iPhone video skills).
Its always a good day when a photography book is delivered at home. Today, three were delivered, making it a very good day. Triplekite Publishing have been hard at work producing the first three in what is planned to be an ongoing series of books under the ‘Discovery’ series.
The stated aim of this series from Triplekite is to produce a ‘cohesive representation of landscape photography’. The plan is to release three books a year, identical in size (240 x 240mm) and page count (48), each with 25 plates which, despite being smaller than Triplekite’s other photography books, will still be made to the same exacting production standards. The plan is to release a further three or four books in the series in 2016.
Fotospeed are the only fine art paper company I am aware of who provide us with custom made panoramic papers. I shoot a lot of panoramas in my work, both combining exposures in software (now a feature of Lightroom CC as well as Photoshop, a welcome development) and by cropping into a single image to a ratio which yields an image with the characteristic panoramic ‘letterbox’ format. I am not a lover of really wide angle lenses having grown tired of the distortion they produce. I prefer, when I want to show the wide sweep of the landscape, to reveal it in a panorama. (I know wide angle lenses can be used to inject drama into images, but again, I am finding myself moving towards quieter, less dramatic images in my work and so I have sold on my super wide lenses now due to lack of use.
There is a way for published photographers (and artists, poets and writers) to receive additional income from their work and I thought it might be useful to put a blog post together about it.
In the same way that the Performing Rights Society monitor radio stations, TV broadcasts, public events and music played in public places in order to make sure musicians are compensated when their work us played, there is a similar organisation in place for creatives whose work appears in print.
I was delighted to receive my copy of a very limited edition photo book this week, ‘Artisans’ by photographer Tim Allen. This is his second book produced in support of the National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society who do great work for people suffering with that condition. Tim has been putting out teasers on Twitter for some months about the book so it was great to finally get my hands on my copy.
Tims day job is as a graphic designer so not only is he able to make the images for the books but he also does all the design work himself. He contacted several ‘artisans’ in the south east of England asking if they would mind if he went to their workshops to photograph them working at their craft and it seems many were eager to get involved in the project. Indeed, the project is still ongoing, so maybe a second volume will follow. In this book we have a violin repairer, stained glass window maker, stonemason, boat-wright and a blacksmith.
The images are all in monochrome which I feel is the perfect choice for this theme. It gives the images a timeless feel and links in wit the way these craftsmen are working with tools and using techniques often centuries or more old. There is something evocative about these trades and the tools they use, the workshops they inhabit that makes them a fascinating subject for a photographic project. Tims images often get in close, focusing on the hands and the attention to detail of craftsmen. I also love the images of all the paraphernalia decorating the workshops, the odd tools with unimaginable uses, the bottles and tins of liquids and pastes all with wonderful graphics and names. The oil, wood shavings, the soft light – you can feel yourself there watching them work through the images.
This is only a slim volume of 35 pages in soft back but it makes a lovely addition to any photo book collection and the print run is small at 200, so once its gone its gone. The delight of investing in projects like this is the knowledge that not only do we get a lovely book to treasure for life but the profits will be supporting a very worthwhile cause too. When you buy a copy you have the option, if you are a UK tax payer, to ‘Gift Aid’ your contribution (just a tick box – nothing more) and for doing this the charity gets an extra 25% added on to your donation from the government, which has got to be good!
So, I know these are selling out quickly, why not drop over to the website and hit the ‘buy now’ button and treat yourself to a little something and help others in the process – you will find all the details on the website HERE. And spread the word on Twitter and Facebook – projects like this need to be supported – its so good to see people giving back and any help we can give to help them, I think we should. Thanks!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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 can find full details about and buy Fotospeed papers HERE – I recommend you give them a try.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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).