Category: News

First thoughts on the Canon EOS R and Multiple Exposure Photography

I had the chance this week to briefly test the brand new Canon EOS R mirrorless camera with the 24-105mm lens (and the EF adaptor along with my EF 70-300mm IS L lens). This was courtesy of my good friend Carl, who had pre-ordered the camera and was prepared to entrust it to me.

My reasons for wanting to try it revolved around the weight saving of a mirrorless body and the advantages of having an electronic viewfinder for multiple exposure photography (EVF). I have been, in the past an advocate of the Fuji mirrorless systems – both the X and GFX medium format body – loving the weight saving and EVF as well as the image quality. However, the lack of a serious multiple exposure mode coupled with having to carry two systems in order to have a proper ME system meant I recently abandoned Fuji for good and dedicated myself to Canon. As someone who travels a great deal I need one system that does all everything and so I currently use the superb 5D mk4 and only have one lens, the 70-300mm L.

Before I go further, some clarification. I am not sponsored by Canon. This review is entirely impartial. I will aim to tell it exactly as it is. It is based on just a couple of hours at most with the camera, using the 24-105mm R lens and barely 15 minutes with my 70-300mm lens and the EF adaptor. All of this time I was working in multiple exposure mode, so please don’t expect a review of using the camera for classic photography.

I would also add that I am not interested in this camera for shooting video. I may shoot some, but I am an art photographer and this review is written from that perspective. I am sure other reviews will guide you if you have interests in serious video work.

My final plea concerned the images – I was working quickly and just experimenting around my home – they aren’t meant to be serious work, just samples of the camera in action. Please don’t be too hard on me!

I am also aware of the near apoplectic rage there seems to be that the camera only has one SD card slot. My feelings about this? Yes, I would have liked two card slots (both SD, for me please Canon). But I do think we need some perspective. Yes, two slots has become the norm in cameras of this quality and I am sure the next iteration of this body will have them. If it is that big an issue for you I would just suggest waiting. However, in my experience, most photographers don’t know how their second slot is utilised – whether it is having a backup copy written to it, or if one card fills and then the second card fills – or if one card has raw files writing to it and the second has jpegs writing to it. Many cameras I have seen clients using don’t even have a card in the second slot. I have been using digital cameras for, I don’t know, 12 or 14 years and I have only had a card totally fail once in all that time. Once. I buy quality cards and I push my cameras hard in all weathers – I don’t wrap them in cotton wool (or polythene). Its not so long ago all cameras only had one card and prior to that, one roll of film. We managed somehow. My feeling is that the outrage is just a little over done – and I know that me just saying this will outrage some people. But I am just being honest (but please Canon – get another card slot in ASAP, I am pretty certain your design guys can make one fit).

Now that is death with let us get down to the nitty gritty. My first impressions about the camera. The build quality is excellent, as you would expect from Canon. I have big hands but ergonomically it is very comfortable in the hand. The balance is good and I liked the shaped grip. I work with one hand a lot of the time and this suited me well. I was surprised at how light it felt, even with the quality lens fitted. The EF adaptor is ridiculously light – this is because it is, in effect, just an extension tube. There is no glass in it. It just moves the EF lenses further away from the sensor and links up the electronics. So all of the lens functions still work as normal and everything still works in the EVF – you notice no difference in operating the camera. Even with a big lens like the 70-300mm attached it felt well balanced and lighter, obviously, than my 5D mk4. The weight saving is not huge but it is noticeable but it is also physically smaller so when travelling it takes up less bag space and it is less obtrusive in the hand, attracting less attention. Yes, using your L EF glass brings the weight right up, but you have the quality of the glass and it will be lighter than your DSLR. For some of you the weight saving while using your DSLR lenses will not be enough – but the R lenses are L glass quality and lighter. Canon will widen the range quite rapidly. I am happy to use the 24-105 for now along with my L 70-300 and the adaptor and cope with the weight – while benefitting from the physical size decrease (and it is lighter – noticeably so) while I wait for a lighter 70-300 R lens to be released.You will need to decide for yourself what you can cope with.

The 24-105mm lens was superb – the optics were brilliant as you would expect from Canon L glass. The image stabilisation was faultless as was the auto focus. Don’t ask me about frames per second and whether this would be a good camera for shooting wildlife on the Serengeti – that is above my pay grade. I am sure other blogs will help you with those questions.

What does the EOS R have to offer us as respects multiple exposure modes? This was a question we were really interested in. The answer is, it has all of the modes and functions of the 5D mk’s 3 and 4 (and other fully featured Canon DSLR’s). You will not lose anything by switching. But will you gain anything? The answer, I feel, is ‘yes’, which is why I would like to move to the ‘R’ myself.

Firstly, I want the size and weight saving. I am a traveller and I am always looking for savings in this area as long as functionality is not compromised. The EOS R gives me this. It has the same 30mp sensor as my current 5D mk4 so image quality is identical. I am guessing the next iteration of the body will have an ‘improved’ sensor but with this I give a warning. Valda had the 5Dr for some time which has the amazing 50mp sensor. Now, while this produces eye watering quality and huge files it brings with it a big issue to multiple exposure photographers. It becomes painfully slow. Stacking up several 50mp files and blending them in camera takes huge processing power and time. Valda found this really slowed her down in the field and, to an extent stifled her creativity so she switched ‘down’ to the 5D mk4 and is happier as a result. You may not find this to be an issue but we certainly did – so unless new bodies have significantly more processing power and speed, we would be reluctant to move to them. We have never had an issue as professionals with the 30mp files with our clients and galleries. The 30mp files for us still allow image cropping and manipulation to meet our needs. You need to decide what your needs are.

The second, and for me game changing improvement for multiple exposure work with the EOS R, is the EVF. This allows you to see the image ‘shadowed’ as you make each frame. You can’t see the effect of the blend mode being applied before you fire the shutter (but you do see, in the EVF the blended image after the next frame is added) however the big advantage is being able to line objects up. This helps hugely with composition. The next frame you see shadowed in the EVF is ‘brighter’ and so you need to look closely but it is sufficient to do what you need to do. The EVF also works seamlessly, I was not conscious it was an EVF, to be honest, it didn’t interfere it only assisted me. I like to have the camera to my eye when making ME images and previously I had to visualise in my mind where objects would be. You could use the live view screen, but this slowed the process down and meant holding the camera away at arms length which I found didn’t suit my way of working. I was blown away by the difference using the EVF made to my workflow. I am now finding using my 5D mk4 very frustrating indeed. I have opened Pandoras Box!

I have heard people expressing concerns about the controls on the camera – that there is only one control dial and so on. This is not the case. You have two control wheels so you can change aperture and shutter speed independently (or exposure compensation). The touch screen is a delight (but would be tricky with gloves in cold weather) However everything can be accessed through the quick menu and control buttons (no joystick on this camera) There is a slider bar which I didn’t have time to get to grips with.

The tilt screen also swivels – which would be a first for a camera I own. Exciting for me. Little things please me. I am also delighted to see Canon have used the same battery for the ‘R’ as used in the 5D range. This means all of the spare batteries I have acquired over the years will fit. How good to see a manufacturer doing this when so many use the release of a new model to change the battery shape in order to force us to buy more new batteries at exorbitant prices.

Another innovation which is interesting and useful is the addition of an extra ring on the R lenses. This ring can be programmed in a menu so that you can use it to change shutter speed, ISO or aperture – whichever is most useful to you. I didn’t get time to check, but it wouldn’t surprise me if you could program it to change something else too, if you prefer, like white balance etc. This may be very handy for working in cold weather or to save you accessing a menu for something you alter frequently.

My final comment is about the another adaptor Canon has issued. It is a very clever piece of kit, sitting between the body and lens into which you can drop either a polariser or a variety-ND filter so that these do not have to be fitted to the front of the lens. For me, this is a revelation. It is such a simple solution, so small and compact and will allow me to do ICM images with such ease. The ND filter goes from 2 to 9 stops – which is absolutely perfect for me. A stroke of genius from Canon and one I will definitely be adding to my kit bag.

So my verdict. For multiple exposure and ICM shooters, I think this camera is a game changer. I see no reason to stay with a DSLR any more. You can keep all of your EF lenses and slowly replace them if you with with R lenses – or not – the choice is yours. I see no real deal breaking disadvantages with the camera. I think if you have any other brand of mirrorless camera such as Fuji and you have a passion for multiple exposure photography, I would seriously consider switching. It is a big thing to do, but I don’t think you will be disappointed. This is a seriously good camera that for me and my work ticks all the boxes (just get a second card slot in the next one, please, Canon…. and maybe come up with some more, new, innovative blend modes that we can see being applied live in the viewfinder before we press the shutter – then you really do have something amazing).

Valda and I are running some one day workshops in November where every participant has a loan EOS R for the day courtesy of Canon UK – you can read full details and BOOK HERE

Announcing a New Book Project and Exhibition


 
I am delighted (and very apprehensive) to announce that I will be publishing the first book of my work in early 2019, with the help and support of my very good friend Greg at Kozu books. We will making pre-orders available on the 1st of December. I have plans for some very special editions for collectors, along with more basic editions for those wanting just the book.

In conjunction with this I am also announcing today that I will be holding my first major solo exhibition in London. This will be at the beautiful Menier Gallery close to Tate Modern and The Shard running from the 17th to the 22nd June 2019. Apart from being a perfect space to exhibit, I chose this location because 100% of the profits of the gallery go to support the Paintings in Hospitals charity, which does excellent work in helping both patients and staff in many ways through artistic growth and expression.

The title of the book and exhibition is ‘Abstract Mindedness’. I have chosen this to tie in with the project it will be featuring. As many of you know I experienced a nervous breakdown in early 2018 and am still only partly recovered. I decided some months ago to see how the illness affected my work and so set about a project which will last 12 months, from around the time of the breakdown until just before publication. It will also include some of the words I am writing to accompany the images through the year. It might sound like a bleak subject for a project and you might expect all of the work to be dark and morose – but I am interested already that, despite what you might think, I am not necessarily making gloomy images when I am deeply depressed and sunny cheerful images when I feel brighter. Such stereotypical results are not coming through – which ties in with this not being the stereotypical illness that many people perceive it to be.

I am half way through the project. Some of the work is selected but much has yet to be made and it is both exciting and little atychiphobic to think of this (yes, I had to look that up). Most exhibitions and books are announced when the work is made – the images sure and definite. I hope what I do between now and the end is worthy. If not, I am in big trouble.

I also wanted to mark a year on from the breakdown and help others suffering similarly, especially young people coping with mental illness, and so 100% of the profits from the book and the exhibition will be going to support the Young Minds charity.

In addition to this, in an effort to raise more money for them, and to mark the fact I have lost over six stone in weight (and hope to have lost more by next spring), I am going to do a sponsored walk up Snowdon in North Wales. I thought, due to my weight and health I would never see the top of a mountain again, but now I have the chance. So on 30th April 2019, I will be making my big ascent. If you would like to join me, you are most welcome, especially if you have donated to Young Minds via the Just Giving page I have set up which sends the money directly to the charity. If you are a tax payer and tick the Gift Aid box, the government will add another 20% to whatever you give at no cost to you – which would be really great. You can find my Just Giving page HERE. I would like to thank all of you who sponsor me in advance. I love you forever and really appreciate it.

A final plea, (and I am being a bit cheeky with this), but I want as much money to go to the charity as possible and I have my usual reticence about my work selling. The hire of the London gallery is rather expensive so it would be wonderful if any companies or individuals might like to sponsor the show as a way of reducing the outlay – either by providing products or by a small donation. Anything at all would be much appreciated and help me towards my goals, but I will cover anything that I can’t raise. If you would, please EMAIL ME. I also would also really appreciate it if you could share and retweet my posts about the book, exhibition and walk – I will try not to make them too frequent or repetitive – but it is shares and retweets rather than likes which are most helpful to a cause like this – again, I will notice every one and love you always. I may also be on the prowl for help with invigilators, waiters and waitresses on the private view evening (to which you are all invited, naturally) and so on.

The private view will be on Tuesday 18th between 6 and 8pm’ish. There will, naturally, be sustenance and liquid refreshment for hungry and thirsty photographers and art lovers. More of which later.

The spring of 2019 is going to be a important for me in hopefully completing these projects, helping to raise awareness of the issues of mental health, helping others with mental health problems and perhaps giving me an opportunity to move further away from the worst effects this illness has had on me. It is giving me a focus at least. I already have many people who have been quietly supporting and helping me confidentially with the early stage planning. I couldn’t have got to even this point without them. Greg at Kozu books has been supportive, patient and a driving force behind the book. He is going to allow me to blog about the whole process of making the book, in case you are interested. Maria and Chris at Tan-y-Foel in Betws-y-Coed, quite simply the finest bed and breakfast in North Wales (don’t stay anywhere else please – it is a haven of peace, with the added bonus of Pip, the loveliest of dogs, and the ‘loo with a view’) – they have been so kind and helpful with the early planning for the ‘Big Walk’. My very best of friends, Terry, Valda & Bill, who have stuck with me when I have been at my lowest, bleakest worst. Who have listened, cajoled, encouraged (and dragged) me through this awful year. I am forever indebted to them and will never be able to repay them. And finally Chris Friel, who has, despite his own tragedies, been a good friend and empathetic ear throughout the darkness – his suffering makes mine pale into absolute insignificance and yet he still understands, offers support and friendship.

I am in debt to them all.

Review of Fotospeed Cotton Etching 305 Signature Paper

Some things in life only come along once. The genius of Bob Dylan. Newcastle United winning something (still waiting). My mother in law being lost for words. (also still waiting). A phone call from Toby, the very nice boss at Fotospeed asking if I might possibly be interested in working with them to design my very own perfect ‘signature’ fine art paper. (actually happened – still pinching myself).

That call came almost two years ago now – making a new paper from scratch is not a quick process and it took me almost a nano second to accept the offer. Which photographer and printer wouldn’t? Here was a chance to work along with acknowledged experts in the field to come up with what is essentially my very own perfect paper for my art. A dream come true, because I had used many of the fine Fotospeed papers quite happily for years and loved them, but always there are those little tweaks I would like to make – a little more texture, a little whiter base, a little more weight and so on. Now I had my chance.

So how does it work, this paper designing business? Sadly, all visions I had of me donning a lab coat and goggles were soon put to bed. I wasn’t going to be allowed anywhere near chemicals, or big machines. I think the very nice folk at Fotospeed felt that was just a little too risky, especially when they saw the manic glint in my eyes. Rather, I was sat down in a darkened room, behind layers of security and…. well no, not that either. In fact, it all began with a very long and detailed cross examination about what I wanted from my paper. I was quizzed on my images, what I wanted to bring out of them, their characteristics, what I felt was missing from not only the Fotospeed range but also from fine art papers in general. I was basically asked what my dream paper would be. So what did my specification look like?

I had a vision along these lines;

1. It had to be a matt paper.
2. It had to be heavy. I wanted a paper with substance.
3. I wanted a heavy texture.
4. I preferred a pure white base colour. So that colours were rendered naturally.
5. I wanted it to make soft, gentle images to look soft and gentle.
6. When printing images full of texture and detail it needed to render them sharply.
8. I wanted it to have a high cotton content and to be of archival quality.
9. It needed to be acid free and be suitable for dye based and pigment inks.
10. I really wanted it to handle a very wide colour gamut and produce faithful colours.
11. Finally, for a matt paper it had to deliver sumptuous deep, rich blacks.

By this point, the nice people at Fotospeed were looking a little queasy. I understood why. To ask all of this from one paper, especially a high cotton content matt paper was a very tall order. They were in for a long night. It turned out to be a long year. I think they ate a lot of pizza and drank a lot of coffee.

I actually lost count of the iterations we went through, but I was sent, I think, seven batches of paper to test in all. It was the seventh – the paper which has now become the paper I use almost exclusively, Cotton Etching 305 – which I finally gave the approval for to bear my name. The one which met all of the criteria on my list. The only thing in the end I wanted to change, and where Toby had to call a halt, was with the surface texture. If you look very carefully at matt papers you will see a repetition in the texture. This is because it is made by a mechanical process. I asked if this could be randomised. Apparently it could. If the paper was handmade. As you can imagine this would have made it so expensive it wouldn’t have viable and so I had to concede on that one point (and I have to admit I was being very fussy as it is barely noticeable).

I have to applaud the team at Fotospeed and the people they work with for being able to achieve this. Technically it really is no mean feat. If you are used to printing on fine art matt papers you will know and understand just how tricky they can be at times. How occasionally getting the colours to sing can be difficult. You will also know how hard it can be to get really wonderful rich deep blacks from them is. They can have a tendency to ‘flatten’ our work and give it a milkiness, to almost suck some of the life out of it if we don’t know what we are doing. Even if we do know what we are doing with our printing, with many images getting the colour and contrast right sometimes is just impossible.

If this has been your experience, I would urge you to try some Cotton Etching 305. I continue to be amazed at how easy it is to print on. I am achieving blacks I have never been able to render on a matt paper before. The colours in my images really sing out like never before. Even with the generic profiles from the Fotospeed website you should get good results. If you use their free customers profile service this will get even better as your colour gamut will widen and the performance of the paper will increase. You may feel I am just over-hyping the paper because the box has my name on it. If so, I would urge you to take a look at THIS REVIEW in Photography News. (quick quote – “The paper’s all-round ability to handle such a wide range of subject matter, contrast range and different degrees of saturation and so capably was a nice surprise. Some textured fine art finishes are less good with rich images with deep blacks, but no such shortcomings here. Apologies if this is all rather gushy, but honestly there wasn’t a print that I was unhappy with so I had little to have a moan at.”)

As for handling of the paper, a couple of tips I can pass on. Firstly, store the boxes flat. This prevents curling on the leading edge which can cause ink to catch and mark the paper. I also use a ‘rocket blower’ to blow over the print surface of the paper to make sure there are no cotton fibres adhering. It is very frustrating to hold up your print to see these drop away leaving a small unprinted area beneath them. It is good to allow the print to cure for at least a few minutes or longer before any extensive handling after printing. Check the colours and contrast over by a window, preferably with bright overcast daylight, rather than side by side at your computer monitor. This is a better test for how beautiful your print is and how it will look when displayed in real life.

I hope you enjoy trying Cotton Etching 305. I now use it for almost every print I make. Valda Bailey and I also use it for virtually all the prints we make for clients in our bespoke printing service for photographers and artists who don’t have their own printer, or who want prints larger than their printer is capable of. (full details of our service HERE).

To help you if you would like to try it out, or if you already love it and would like to stock up, the very nice people at Fotospeed have given me a 15% discount code to pass on to you. PLEASE NOTE, this code is only valid for 30 days from Tuesday 24th July 2018 and it should apply not just to Cotton Etching 305 but to all their papers (but why would you want anything other than Cotton Etching now??). Just put your paper in your basket and apply the code on checkout. The discount will only be applied right at the end. DISCOUNT CODE – Doug15NL – I do hope you enjoy using the paper as much as I do. It has changed my printing forever.

And who knows, maybe this year is Newcastle’s year? Howay the lads!

Time to Say ‘Goodnight’


 
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.
 

Hyperborea – The Lands of the North.

©Chris Friel – From ‘After’

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

I would also like to thank the great team at Fotospeed for their help and support throughout preparing for this exhibition.

Cloud Backup Provider Crashplan Deserts Domestic Customers

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.

Being Interviewed on the Togcast

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.)

You can find more information about the Togcast HERE you can subscribe via Apple podcasts HERE, and you can visit the Togcast website HERE

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

YŪBI – Truly a book of ‘Gentle Beauty’

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.

You can obtain your individually signed and embossed copy HERE.

Working with Fotospeeds New Square Fine Art Papers

Fotospeed

The new Fotospeed 12 x 12 inch square paper range

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).

Sleeklens Landscape Plugin Review

Sleeklens

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.

Trying a different approach to rucksacks

Trespass

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.

An Apology

Apology

leaf-scan001-edit-edit-edit-edit-edit

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.

‘april, may, june and then july’ by Roj Whitelock

april may june july

banner_1

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.

‘Fragile’ by Valda Bailey

Fragile by Valda Bailey

IMG_3027

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.

New Dropbox Style Cloud Service I Am Trying – Sync

Sync

20160208-_DSF8875

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.

Edgelands – The Floods by Joseph Wright

Edgelands by Joe Wright

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).

Triplekite Books New Discovery Series

Triplekite Discovery

FullSizeRender

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.

Printing With Fotospeed’s Panoramic Papers & Creating Custom Paper Templates in Lightroom

Fotospeed Panoramic

20150907-IMG_1369

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.

What is DACS? and Why you should claim

dacs

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.

Artisans – A new photo book supporting an excellent cause

artisans

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!

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.

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.

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 🙂