Category: Photography Tips

Aurora Hunting in Norway – Trip Report, Day One.

aurora hunting day 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New App from the Maker of the Photographers Ephemeris

new app ephemeris

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DC: How does TPT work with TPE?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

fuji initial thoughts

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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


 

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

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

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

 

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


 

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

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

 

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


 

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

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

 

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


 

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

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

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

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

 

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


 

 

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

LPOTY 2013 Tony Bennett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

T: No. This was my first time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

D: What camera equipment do you currently use?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

 

 

 

 

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

first thoughts

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

Skye Expedition – Day Six

skye day 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aspect Ratios

aspect ratios

3:2, 1:1, 5:4, 16:9 and so on. When we get a camera it comes complete with an aspect ratio. Indeed, some now come with a switch or menu item to simulate various aspect ratios, but basically our sensor size, film size, glass plate or paper negative gives us our aspect ratio.

And off we go and play with it.

It becomes our frame. The border we work within. It confines our vision and gives structure to our images. In fact, I struggle to think of anything which has a greater overall influence on our compositions than the aspect ratio of our chosen camera. It has a tendency to dictate to us how we compose our images. 

But we don’t have to be limited by the ratio we are given by the camera. In fact I would put it more strongly than that. Our choice of aspect ratio shouldn’t be determined by our sensor ratio or film size. Rather, it should be governed by our subject matter and composition. We should be looking at our image making in the opposite way than most of us do. 

It is so easy on location to work exclusively with the frame we are presented with, trying to fit the components before us into our rectangle. But in many cases this does not produce the strongest image. It is harder, but it is worth the effort, to look more closely at what the key elements of our image are and then visualise what aspect ratio best contains them.

This means either having a good visual ability to frame the scene in our head, or, it is very worthwhile to carry some of those cardboard frames in different ratios through which we can view the scene and examine carefully the possibilities. We may have seen photographers using them and thought they look a bit pretentious or silly, but in fact, this approach works really well. We can both use frames with different aspect ratios and move them closer to our eyes or further away to simulate the effect of shooting at different focal lengths. We can then select the appropriate lens and frame the image, admittedly using the ratio of our camera, but placing objects in the frame in readiness for cropping the image later.

Some photographers are using compact cameras with aspect ratio switches to make test shots, experimenting with framing options before setting up and framing accordingly with their main camera (Joe Cornish, for example, is seen doing this in his superb video, “With Landscape in Mind”  http://tinyurl.com/8z9k9dc  , if you haven’t bought the DVD yet, I really recommend you do.)

You might feel you can just frame up the image with your sensor aspect ratio and crop later (and you can) but a more thoughtful and considered approach will nearly always lead to a better image. 

Something I notice when teaching my workshops is, relatively, how rarely most camera users think in portrait orientation. Most cameras are designed in landscape orientation and so it is much easier to work that way. But so many images are stronger in the vertical.

How do you decide? Personally, I look at the “shape” of what I am photographing. Does the interest spread width ways, or does it run vertically? Is what is off to the left and right of interest, or is it dull? How best can I fill the frame with interest? Or, conversely, if working on a minimalist image, which orientation gives the greatest feeling of space or places the space in the most effect place in the frame?

Many landscapers choose a camera with a ‘full frame’, that is with a 3:2 aspect ratio mimicking the ratio of 35mm film cameras. This gives a bright viewfinder and a feeling of space and ‘width’ which landscapers tend to want. However, and this is just my personal view, this aspect ratio tends to give slightly long, thin images, especially when viewed in portrait orientation. Sometimes this can be used to advantage such as when shooting wide sweeping landscapes. But I find it often makes for a more pleasing composition with better balance to crop these images to the 5 x 4 format used by the large format camera users. This gives a closer ratio between the width and height which seems, to my eye at least, to be sensibly weighted without the stretch of the 3:2. I have seen full frame users who mask off the live view screen on their camera with tape to a 5:4 ratio to help them compose this way.

Mr. Hasselblad had a different view on aspect ratios. He felt, rightly in my view, that the most sensible ratio for a round lens was 1:1, the famous square frame of the Blad. This makes the best use of the image projected by the lens. The square format is one photographers seem to either love or hate. For me, it is my favorite format. It suits my love of symmetry and it gives a certain ‘constraint’ to images which is hard to describe, but when used well, images in 1:1 seem well balanced. For me they have a purity about them. I am delighted to see many modern digital cameras will allow a 1:1 view on the live view screen, cropping the image for you in camera.

So I would urge you to consider the final crop/aspect ratio right at the beginning of the composition process, not as an afterthought later. While sometimes after the event, when we view our images on the large screen of our computer we do become aware of images within images, or more pleasing crops, I am convinced it will lead to stronger images in the majority of cases if we make this choice a conscious creative decision as we place key objects in the frame. If this is something you don’t currently do, try it, see what you think.

Going Back

going back

Following on from the theme of my last post I wanted to tell you about a conversation I had recently.

A photographer asked me recently where I was planning to photograph in the coming months. When I told him he explained how he had no interest in going to those locations because he had already “done them”.

“Done them”

On chatting further, it became apparent he viewed locations much like a twitcher views rare birds. As something to be acquired. Ticked off. And once visited to be of no consequence. Been there, done that, what’s next? A teenager with a low boredom threshold.

Is it me, or do locations have more to offer than that? Are they not radically different as the seasons change, as the weather changes, as the light changes? 

Even with the honeypot locations, is there not more than one way to portray them? I saw Terry Gibbins image of Bamburgh Castle a few months ago, shot in the snow, and now a print of it sits proudly in my studio. It’s magnificent. So different from the usual “Sunrise at Bamburgh” that I and seemingly every other photographer who has visited Northumberland has shot.

To really get under the skin of a location, to really have a chance of capturing it at its finest, in all it’s guises, it needs to be visited over and over again. We need to get to know it. To understand how the weather, light and seasons affect it. In fact, it is hard to really build a fine body of work on a location without living close to it, to allow repeated visits, reacting at short notice to fast changing conditions.

Look at Ansel Adams. He spent most of his life photographing Yosemite. Yes, Yosemite is spectacular, but how many people go there once, photograph it and never return. “Oh yes, I’ve ‘done’ Yosemite”. It is no wonder Adams made amazing images of the place. He had great raw materials in the natural wonders of the place. But much more than that, he worked hard there. He put in the hours. He toiled. I’m sure his archives, alongside the classics we gasp at, also have their fair share of so so images of Yosemite from the less than wonderful days he witnessed there. But he still went out on those days and worked his patch. 

He himself said that “any photographer worth his salt has 10,000 bad negatives under his belt”. He was certainly a master photographer, but he also put in the hours in one place and it produced the goods. His idea of “doing” Yosemite was to devote a lifetime to it.

Take a modern example or two. Joe Cornish took a hill. A hill many had admired for years. Some had no doubt made images of it, good images. But Joe has devoted himself to this local hill, just up the road from his home. You can’t say “Roseberry Topping” to a landscape photographer in the UK who knows his stuff without mentioning Joe in the same breath. The hill is pretty, but Joe, through his devotion to it, has made it iconic. Would as many others go there to photograph it as do, if it wasn’t for Joes images? How many of us would belt past it going to and from the coast without giving it a second glance? be honest? Joe, however, has photographed it from hundreds of angles, distances in all weathers, seasons and in all types of light. I’m sure there must be a book there! Now, do we say, “oh it’s alright for him, having a hill as good as that on his doorstep”. But I would bet that wherever Joe lived he would find something, a local patch, and he would work it and find deep beauty in it. A small copse. A little field. A stream. Anything. He would work it. And then others would follow.

Look at Dav Thomas. Relentless, year in year out, working the woodlands near his home. Photographing what most landscapers recoil from as too difficult. Woodlands. But he has stuck at it. Toiled. Grafted. Made it his. Now he has a superb body of published work gaining international recognition. All through working his local patch.

So if we want to produce really fine work, rather than dashing about ticking off locations (Corfe in the mist, tick, Nanven boulders at sunset, tick, Elgol sunset, tick) lets devote ourself to working a patch. Look locally. It doesn’t have to be a “hero location”. How many of us who think our area is devoid of opportunity have bought our OS map and walked every footpath, bridleway? investigated the rivers and streams, lanes and byways, hills and woodlands, fields and shorelines? (I’m not saying, don’t visit and shoot the honeypots, the hero locations. They are well photographed for good reason. I photograph them. Beautiful images can and are made there. I’m just urging an opening of he eyes to the wider possibilities. Don’t limit yourself to these places).

If you need more convincing, more inspiration, Take a look at the work of Iain Sergeant. Particularly his series, The Pool, here. This is, I think, a stunning example of a photographer showing how beauty can be found in the ordinary places close to home. Iain saw a small pool of water just a couple of meters across within minutes of his home, surrounded by plants and proceeded to record it. The finished project is sublime. So simple. So beautiful. Not a hero location and right on his doorstep.

If we can identify a spot, visiting it and revisiting it, over and over we begin to open our eyes and start to see what we didn’t see before. Its tough at first. we shoot the obvious and think there is nothing left. Thats when the work begins. We have to stop looking and start seeing. We put in the hours. We graft. We will churn out some dross, no doubt, but gradually, just occasionally an image that pleases will be created. Over time a body of work we will be proud of will emerge. 

That has to be more satisfying than, visit, tick. Visit, tick. We are photographers. Not collectors.

Seeing for Ourselves

I read an unattributed quote recently. The gist of it was this;

“The photographer who is able to look at the work of another, admire it and not be tempted to imitate it has finally begun to mature”

It seems to me there is a lot in this. As photographers, most of us love and seek out the work of others. I spend hours each week looking at photographs. The quality of what I find often amazes me. Some shocks me. A lot is awful, but then that’s only my opinion which is only of worth to me, and some makes me smile. I do like images which make me smile.

Why do we look at the work of others? Stimulation? Inspiration? Motivation? Plagiarism? Entertainment? There are lots of reasons, most valid, some shady. I sometimes refer to Cole Thompson, a photographer who has taken a conscious decision to avoid the work of others as much as he can. His reason? He doesn’t want his work to be influenced by anything he sees others doing. I can understand his motive and even admire it. His work certainly shows an individual style, so hard to achieve in the world of millions of images, but I don’t think I would want to work that way. I want to be inspired by the work of others.

Inspired, yes, but when does inspiration become plagiarism? When does what we see another doing affect us in such a way that what we do is head out and try and replicate it?  I think there can be merit in the beginner, the learner, in duplicating an image they love. If, and it’s a BIG if, their entire goal is not to pass the image off as their own, but simply to gain an understanding of technique and light, and that they very openly attribute the image to the originator.

Those of us with commercial customers also have to produce the ‘classics’ (as we would prefer to think of them, but ‘cliches’ is a much better description.) our customers demand them. However, in our personal work, we have the freedom to break from this strait-jacket.

It seems so sad, then, when photographers seem to get locked in to simply going from location to location producing identikit images. Reproducing what has been done before by others and Often to a much higher standard. Where is the real sense of accomplishment in that? Where is the craft? The art?

How much better to reach a point in our development as photographers when we can admire what others do, be inspired by their work and then head off and do something quite different. Let it influence us, but not direct us.

It takes a certain amount of creative courage to do this. An explosive sunset at a beautiful location is guaranteed to please the crowd. Showing our audience something different, showing them the world in a different way often leads to a deafening silence. Most of us can’t stand the silence and soon go back to the crowd pleasing. Doing what everyone else does.

So why not, as a private project, set about photographing something as you see it. Not as you have seen others see it? Those who like the results will truly like it. There might be fewer of them, but their appreciation for the way you have shown them the world will be more sincere than the “wow, great shot” crowd. You may start to become a leader, not a follower. You might become the inspiration. How much more fulfilling that would be?

A famous photographer, I forget for the moment who, talking to photographers once said, “don’t show me what you see, show me what you feel”. Sound advice.

New Dropbox Style Cloud Based Service with 20gb Free Space

Copy

As followers of my blog are aware, I am a keen backer up of my files and advocate using off site cloud based services, such as Dropox, Skydrive, Googledrive etc.

Each of these companies gives its users a small amount of storage space for free to get them used to using the cloud. They also hope that soon we will want more space and so sign up for their paid service. Here you pay for how much space you require per month.

I use all of these services, just accessing the free space each gives. I find Dropbox is very user friendly, especially as they have free apps to help you access your files from your smartphone, tablet and computer as well as via a browser. If you would like to try Dropbox, please CLICK HERE to get your free space and the I will get some extra space for referring you, thank you.

I also want to tell you about a new service called “Copy”, which is being very generous in the free space they are giving us. Currently you get 15gb free when you sign up. But even better, if you use THIS LINK to sign up you will get an extra 5gb of free space. You need to send back the confirmation email to confirm your email address and download the Copy app to manage your space. This will activate your free space.

I use this space to back up my important files and also to share large files with friends, family and customers (you can send them links to files you want to share). While 20gb is not enough to back up all our photos and music, in most cases, it is usually ample for backing up all of our other documents and files so at least these are protected.

I find cloud storage is also useful when away from home. You can access files you have uploaded from any computer which has web access from anywhere in the world. It has saved me many times. (for example, I copy all my flight tickets, hotel reservations, scans of my passport, airport parking details, travel insurance, emergency contact numbers etc to the cloud before a trip. If anything gets lost or stolen, you can recover the details from wherever you are).

I hope you find these links useful and get your stuff backed up safely.

Shooting Landscapes Handheld. You Are Joking!

Handheld

Dark Light III – Taken handheld from Rannoch Moor.

I have written some time ago about my thoughts on working with what you’ve got. Basically, the premise of my mantra is, if all you have is a 50mm lens, then shoot with it. If its raining, rather than giving you he technicolor sunrise you envisioned, shoot the rain. You get the idea.

Recently, on the day I broke my leg in fact, I had to work to my own maxim. 

I was leading a workshop up in the snows on Rannoch Moor and Glencoe, in Scotland. On the first day of the trip, just an hour into shooting my tripod head broke. It broke in a major way (and kudos to Manfrotto for replacing it for me straight away once they saw what had happened).

I tweeted about the failure and many of my followers replied with sympathy (and we all like a bit of sympathy). Several said how angry I must be feeling and how it would ruin my trip. I could understand their point of view but I just didn’t see it that way.

Kit fails. You have to get used to that which is why I have back ups or alternatives with me for virtually everything in my bag, including tripods and heads. Except this time. This time I was car sharing and to save space the one thing I hadn’t bought with me was my spare tripod & head. Ironic, huh?

Getting angry about it would have just spoiled the trip, it wouldn’t have actually changed anything. Here I was in the most stunning of locations with amazing light. I was going to work with what I had.

So this meant shooting landscapes, often in low light, handheld. 

So how did I approach this? I was using the Canon 5d mk2 and was happy taking the ISO up to 800 (and in very low light I went to 1600 at times – whatever it took to get the shot). I also went wide with my aperture. So I abandoned my usual preference for f11 (or f16)  most of the time and went wider, right down to f2.8 at times in low light, but often working at f8, all with a view to keeping the shutter speed high enough to get sharp images.

If this hadn’t been possible I would have gone over to shooting ICM (intentional camera movement) images. Again, working with what I had. 

Another approach I adopted was to shoot in burst mode. Firing three frames at least for each image to give me a better chance one would be sharp. It meant I came away with nearly 900 frames fom the day, but it did increase my success rate.

I also moved to auto focus. On a tripod, I use manual focus in Live View mode which is perfect, but hand holding it just isn’t practical to focus manually all day. There is no benefit in it, in fact, auto focus is perfect for just this situation. I use centre point focusing so I have complete control over what I am focused on. So I turn on just the centre focus point. I then point the centre of the lens very precisely at what I want to be my focus point, press the shutter button half way to lock focus and hold it there, reframe and then complete the shot. You can also use the Focus Lock button on the back of the camera in the same way. 

I found I got the best results using my longer lenses, especially the 70-200 f2.8 IS L zoom. This stayed on most of the day. The image stabilisation helped with sharpness and I followed the basic rule of thumb that you need to keep your shutter speed faster than your focal length so I tried to stay above 1/200 sec all day, using ISO and aperture to do that.

Another advantage of using the 70-200mm (and the 24-70 f2.8 L which I also used on the day) was they both have long full tube shaped lens hoods. On the day, blizzards kept blowing through and these hoods really helped to keep snow off the front element of the lens.

When I came to review the images later (and trust me, I had plenty of time to review them, lying in my hospital bed) I realised that broken tripod head had done me a favor.

I had an extraordinarily high “hit rate” for successful images on the day. I took many more that I was happy with than I normally would. I found I was able to react really quickly to the fast changing light up there. As the blizzards were blowing through we had amazing gaps in the clouds with shafts of light and wonderful cloud shapes. On a tripod I would have been faffing about and couldn’t have got half the  images I did. 

I also would have been shooting much wider lenses, 45mm or 24mm, out of habit and on reflection, images at those focal lengths wouldn’t have had the impact I got from the 70-200 lens. (For my wider shots with the long lens I shot several panorama sequences, all handheld, and Photoshop stitches them perfectly. It’s amazing).

I would also have been more likely to have been trying to use my Lee filters. This would have slowed me down even more and with the falling snow caused frustration and even more lost shots.

Yes, that tripod head did me a big favor. Of course, looking at it another way. If it hadn’t failed I would have had it with me later when crossing the river and would have been using it to steady myself so maybe I wouldn’t have fallen and broken my leg… But let’s not speculate.

So, the lesson. If something fails in the field or you forget something, work with what you have. Think laterally. Work around the problem. Find a solution. It might feel uncomfortable, but just do the best you can. Getting angry with yourself or your kit, or giving up and going home don’t help, and you never know, like this occasion, you might just produce something unexpected by approaching the problem with a positive frame of mind.

If its something really bad like leaving all your batteries or memory cards at home, then use your mobile phone camera. If that’s back in the car, then just sit back and enjoy the sunrise. There will always be another.

Dark Light II – Taken handheld at the mouth of Glencoe

Canon 5d Mk 3 Woes and Why I Heard Music

Canon 5dMkIII

Drive by Shooting - Image Courtesy of ©John Birch 2013

Drive by Shooting - Image Courtesy of ©John Birch 2013


I have been using the 5d mk2 quite happily for a couple of years and had seen no reason to upgrade when he mk3 was released. I am not one who always has to have the very latest model of everything, unless there is a very good reason for it.Having a go with customers Mk3’s showed me it was better made, had a better screen and weather sealing and some nice refinements ergonomically such as the grip shape and position of the depth of field preview button. Nice though these things were, they weren’t a huge leap forward and so I contented myself with my faithful mk2’s.
 
That was until a customer, accomplished photographer Valda Bailey, came onto a workshop up in Northumberland in January. (You can view her work on her website, and you should (its really good) HERE ) She is a creative photographer and was experimenting with a feature buried in the menus which is not well known. Exposure blending. Some of you may know Chris Friels work and will have seen he has been using the same feature on portraits. Valda didn’t really show me what she was getting over the weekend until we had breakfast on the last morning when she bought her laptop into the cafe. She asked me to have “a quick look before I delete them”.
 
So I did.
 
What I saw made me stop eating my breakfast.
 
Very little stops me eating breakfast. Cafe on fire. War maybe. Little else. I was astounded. I thought I had got some nice images from the weekend as we had had wonderful light and atmospheric weather but on seeing hers I felt like formatting my cards. The images were astoundingly good. Hang on my wall good. I don’t think she believed me. But I don’t butter people up, I tell them honestly what I think, without being unkind – I believe in constructive comments, but these deserved unbridled praise. I wanted a mk3. I wanted one right there and then.
 
Then I broke my leg.
 
This had two effects. Firstly it meant I would be able to go to Focus on Imaging at the NEC, the biggest photography trade show in the UK, which I would have missed as I was due to lead a workshop on Skye, but the broken leg meant that was now possible. The show is the best place to buy gear at low prices generally speaking. The other, negative, effect was, although I could now go to the show (and be pushed around it in my wheelchair by my mates Carl & John) I was now unable to work and so cash was a real issue. Very frustrating. Until my card provider stepped in with 18 months interest free credit, so problem solved (well, problem delayed, lets not fool ourselves!)
 
And so it was I became the proud owner of a Canon 5d mk3, along with a free battery and 16gb compact flash card, plus £160 cash back from Canon. This bought the price down, effectively, to under £2k. A very good deal. Now at the show there were two companies offering the same deal. Calumet and Cameras Direct (if I remember rightly). However, Cameras Direct were also giving you a free copy of Adobe Lightroom 4 as well, worth around £100 at Amazons prices. So why did I buy from Calumet? Well, I have Lightroom 4. But I could have sold the free copy and made some cash. However, I knew of Calumets reputation. They are known for being suppliers to professionals. Solid. Dependable. They are known for good service, so I opted for them.
 
Boy am I glad I did.
 
On my first trip out with the camera (you can read John Birches blog post about he trip HERE – it’s a great read, and his blog is well worth following generally, well written and authoritative. He knows what he is talking about) I started to see an intermittent fault with the camera. You can see here some images which show the problem.
 
Shutter issue
 
Mirror Issue
 
Blizzard

Winter Wasteland - The shot I was after!

I think either the mirror was not lifting quickly enough or he shutter curtain was sticking, and thus shadowing on images. It would happen to a group of about three or four images and then wouldn’t occur for another hundred shots or more.
 
Straight away I tweeted to Calumet about the issue but to no response. It seems they don’t man Twitter at weekends (this might be something you need to address, Calumet, Twitter is 24 hours). Because I have about 1000 followers on Twitter (you can find me on Twitter as @dougchinnery), most who are photographers, this started to generate traffic as you can imagine with theories about the problem, possible solutions and so on.
 
On Monday morning I emailed the company with a description and images of the problem and a few minutes later, via Twitter, had a tweet asking me to call them. The phone was answered in two rings. This pleased me. A person answered. Still good. I explained the issue and without hesitation she said, “no problem, I will get FedEx to collect it today to bring it back for us to look at”. I was very impressed by the FedEx collection. Most companies tell us to pack it up, drive to the Post Office and send it back to them by Special Delivery at our cost and risk (about £20 to £25 for a camera). I was hoping she would say we will replace it, but accepted they would want to take a look first. A couple of minutes later (literally) I got an email from Laurence at Calumet. He had seen my email and images and said, “we will collect it today and send you a new replacement”. Result.
 
Then things got a bit surreal. Ten minutes after that who should knock at the door but the FedEx man. I hadn’t even boxed up the camera. When I opened the door I told him it felt like I was in a FedEx commercial (his uniform was well pressed and he was smiling and rather TV adverty-looking). All it needed was the sun to come out, birds to start singing and an orchestra to start playing and the cameras could roll.
 
In my rush to pack the camera for him I left the Calumet battery in (not the genuine Canon one) and my 16gb card in he camera. Doh!
 
I won’t bore you with all the details but Laurence at Calumet remained my single point of contact throughout. He replied to every email within two or three minutes. Everything he said he would do he did. He was superb. Whatever you are paying him, Calumet, it is not enough. They got a new camera to me in less than 48 hours. They even went to the trouble and cost of FedEx’ing my battery and CF card back to me. It was all done with courtesy and efficiency. It is, quite simply, the best service I have had from a photography related supplier ever.
 
Needless to say they now have me as a loyal customer. Yes, they may not always be the cheapest. But ask yourself when you buy that lens from a supplier in Hong Kong on eBay that has a fault. Will the hundred quid or so you saved seem like such a good deal when they ask you to post it back to Hong Kong? When Canon or Nikon in the UK won’t honour the guarantee because it is a grey import. (They will fix it, they just won’t do it under guarantee). It is rare these days for modern electronics to fail, but when they do, it’s a pain. I am so pleased I opted for Calumet and will be an evangeliser for them now. I don’t know how the other outfit would have handled my problem, but I can’t see how they could have done any better unless the MD had hand delivered it in his Bentley same day.
 
So, my message is. Consider using Calumet in future, especially for major items (they also do lens and body hire). Also, beware grey imports. They are cheaper for a reason. Often we get away with it, but it only takes one issue with a body or lens to wipe out the savings we have made on several items over the years in hassle and grief, if we ever do manage to get them to sort it.
 
I also love FedEx. And the driver really was like a bloke from an advert. It was a bit surreal. No orchestra though. Shame really. I would have liked to have heard music.
 

Winter tree

Tree in a Blizzard - Shot from the Car

Is Pinterest of Value to Photographers?

pinterest

I have a confession to make. When I first heard of Pinterest I dismissed it quickly as irrelevant. It seemed to me to be a hangout for young women with boards entitled “My Perfect Wedding”, “Cute Kittens” and such things. Boards full of images of people too perfect to exist having weddings that would never happen and then live in houses just to perfect for real people. I left within minutes of logging in.
 

Cute Kittens

Let the nightmare begin. There are a LOT of cute kittens (and puppies) on Pinterest, but you don't have to look at them if you don't want to


 
That was a couple of years ago. Then, a week or so ago, I can’t remember why, I had occasion to visit the site again. This time I stayed.

Why the change?

This time I thought it through and explored a bit deeper. Certainly, the site is populated primarily by women. 80% of ‘pinners’ are women. Nothing wrong in that, obviously. It’s just that for me, as a man, the kind of things the majority of the ladies were devoting boards to were of no interest to me. As much as I love cute puppies and recipes for homemade eye makeup remover, I wasn’t really looking for that kind of thing. It is this ‘noise’ that had put me off so,quickly on my first visit.

This time, however, I took a deep breath and typed in a search for, imaginatively, “landscape photography”. The results were interesting. Yes, lots of over saturated cliched images, but also I soon found boards created by discerning pinners full of stunning work.
 

Mono photography

But there is also a lot of really good photography to suit any taste and from all genres withn Pinterest. Of course, you can also introduce images from all over the Internet which appeal to you onto your own boards too, to elevate and inform other users 🙂


 
Spurred on, I searched for creative black and white images. The same resuLt. What really impressed me was that much of what I was finding was from older photographers. By older, I mean photographers working a hundred, fifty or twenty five years ago. The great names like Adams, Sudek, Stieglitz, Rowel, Weston, Maier and so on. You don’t find these on Flickr.

Also there are photographers whose work I have not found through any other channels. I was soon hooked, created my own account and was feverishly creating my own collections.

So how does Pinterest work? The idea is simple. Imagine a pin board on your studio wall on which you pin snippets of information and pictures to inspire you or to help you with a project. In Pinterest you can create as many such virtual boards as you wish. These boards can be public or secret.
 

Pinterest Board screenshot

This is a partial screenshot of one of my Pinterest Boards - this one for images of colour landscape photographs


 
You can then search within the Pinterest site on the public boards of others and re-pin things which you find interesting or inspiring onto your boards. The origin of these images or items originally is pages on the Internet. The item always retains its link back to the original source page, no matter how many times it is re-pinned. You can go to the source page by double clicking the item. This is really useful, as when you find an image by a new photographer or artist you like you can then leave Pinterest and go and explore their own website.
 
Pinterest Boards

My home page of pin boards. Each board is for images on a different subject, so i can keep my images organised.


 
You can also introduce new items into the Pinterest site onto your boards by pinning them yourself when you find something on a website you wish to pin to one of your boards. In fact, this is something that more pinners need to do. Around 80% of pinning is ‘re-pinning’ of images from the boards of others, so you do begin to see the same images appearing in searches. More members need to search out new material from the web and pin it to their boards for others to discover. This keeps the site fresh and, if you are prepared to do this, you will quickly find lots of pinners will start to follow your boards as they offer something fresh and new. I have only been active for a few days and already have close to fifty people following my boards.
 
Pin Boards Closeup

A close up image of some of my pin board icons


 
An interesting side note that I have noticed is that Pinterest has started to drive low volumes of new traffic to my website since I started actively using it. I am guessing this is coming from people who are seeing my images on boards and following them back to their source on my website. It may also come from people checking out my profile on the site and clicking my website link. Don’t get me wrong, the volumes are small at the moment, but noticeable, and growing. I am not recommending using Pinterest as you would other forms of social media to drive traffic to your website or blog. That wouldn’t be an efficient use of your time if it was your sole purpose in doing it. However, I am pleasantly surprised by the effect already and see it as a knock on benefit.

There are also some serious concerns about copyright, which as artists and photographers should concern us. It is up to each user to decide on this issue and if you want to read an article on it you will find one here.

You can follow individual boards of others if you like what they pin and this allows you to see when they add new things to that board in case you wish to pin it to one of your boards (likewise people can follow your boards if they like them). Or you can follow an individual and see everything they pin to all of their boards.

You can also create boards of your own images or pin your own images into your boards and they may get re-pinned by others who like them.
 

Pinning widget

Here is an example of pinning an image from an external website, in this case my own, using the widget you can get from the Pinterest site for your browser. When you are on a web page with an image you wish to pin, just click the "Pin It" button and this dialogue opens (it also allows you to choose which image if several images are on the page), you can add notes and select which of your boards you wish to add it to and then just pin it when done.


 
I use the site extensively now to collate inspiration for my work. Not only in photography, but I have also found myself researching art as well and learning valuable lessons from it.

I have also found interesting Photoshop tips and have a board to collate ideas for remodelling my photographic office and studio here a home. My wife has fallen in love with Pinterest and is collecting ideas about make up, cleaning solutions, decorating tips, craft making ideas, gardening – the scope is endless. Where I thought it would be a location just for organising my inspirational images, it is fast becoming a location to collate visual information for all sorts of projects and ideas. Some boards are public, others are private. Many designers use boards for design ideas, graphic designers use them to collate new fonts collections or colour themes, gardeners use them for plant and garden layout ideas – the uses are endless. If you search for ideas on the site you will soon find some very, very clever people who have ingenious solutions to problems, people who have ways of recycling items for amazing uses and who seem able to come up with things I would never dream of.

In the screen shot below I typed in “Recycle Pallets” – thousands of ideas came up, these are just a tiny, tiny fraction – just try it – click here
 

Recycle Pallets

Some pallet recycling ideas


 
I would encourage you to have a look. Why not take a browse at some of my boards and see what you think. I would be interested in hearing your views. You can find my boards here – http://pinterest.com/dougchinnery/ Why not sign up and make a start by following me 🙂

Stand Developing Film

stand developing

If you follow me on Twitter (@dougchinnery) or Flickr you will know that in addition to shooting on film for my personal creative work, I have also started developing my own black and white film myself.

It costs about £3.50 to have a mono film processed and supplied in negative strips ready to scan into the computer by a commercial firm. Processing the film myself reduces this to just a few pence per roll.

It was recommended to me to start with a simple process called “Stand Developing”. This is a basic process which is ideal for beginners before you move on to more standard techniques. 

Usually in processing film the chemicals are kept at a instant temperature throughout and the film is ‘agitated’ in the liquid to ensure fresh developer comes in contact with the surface of the film throughout. Then, after a set period (of just a few minutes) the developing fluid is removed and another chemical is added to stop the development, otherwise the film can be damaged. Finally, the film is washed and dried, ready to scan.

Stand development takes a different approach. The developing chemical is mixed with water at a very dilute concentration, I have been using 1:100. The film is then left to stand in this fluid for an hour. As the developer is so dilute it first brings out the highlights in the images and as its effectiveness reduces it slowly brings out shadow detail. By the time an hour has passed it is almost expired and so no stop chemical is required, just water to wash it off the il before the fixing chemical is applied for a few minutes followed by a final rinse.

The developer I use is about the oldest available and is called Rodinol (R09). It has been in use for over 100 years and is readily available. For the fixing and rinsing I use Ilford chemicals. All are safe to be disposed of own the sink after use (although the fix chemical can be stored and reused many times).

People have asked me if you need a dark room to process film and the answer is “no”. The only part of the process which needs darkness is lading the exposed rolls of film into the developing tanks and this is done in a dark changing bag. These have two arm holes so you can out all you need in the bag, seal it, and then load the film in darkness with your hands in the bag. This is a bit tricky for the first couple of times but you soon get used to it. The developing drum will, in my case, take two rolls of 120 film at a time and is cleverly designed to allow you to add and pour out liquids without letting any light into the drum.

So here is the recipe I have been using. Please note this is ONLY for black and white film. Please also note, contrary to developing film by other methods, you can mix film types in the same developing drum with this method. Normally, if you are going to develop several rolls of film together (I have a drum that allows me to do three films at one, for example, to save time) you have to keep the film types the same. So three rolls of Ilford HP5 for example or 3 rolls of Tri-X. 

First, load your film onto a reel in the processing drum inside a changing bag. Then carefully measure out 5ml of Rodinal. I use R09. To measure it accurately I use a small medical syringe with a ml scale on the side. Mix with this 500ml of tap water. (if you are using a drum with more than one roll, use 500ml per roll) There is no need to use warm water for this as you do with most developing processes as the water is standing for so long, warm would go cold anyway. In winter I would add some warm water to the very cold tap water just as a precaution. Pour this into the drum and agitate the drum  for 30 seconds. By ‘agitate’ I mean invert and twist the drum in your hands repeatedly. Don’t just shake the drum but really move the liquid around so it has plenty of contact with the film. At the end of this period of agitation, tap the drum a couple of times on a firm surface to dislodge any air bubbles from the surface of the film and let the drum stand for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes just agitate the drum again 3 times only and then let it stand for another 30 minutes.

Once the last period of standing is up, pour the liquid down the sink but DO NOT open the drum yet. Fill it with cool tap water, agitate 5 times and pour away. Repeat but agitate 10 times and pour away. Finally repeat and agitate 20 times then pour the water away.

Now pour in 500ml (per roll of film) into your fixing solution. I use Ilford Rapid Fixer. This comes concentrated and so I mixed it with water at a ratio of one part fixer to three parts water in a clean storage bottle. Start a stopwatch (I use the one on my iPhone) and agitate for 30 seconds. Tap it and let it stand for 30 seconds. Then agitate it three times, tap it and let it stand for a minute. Repeat the three agitations on each minute until a total of 6 minutes has expired then pour the fixer back into its storage bottle as it can be reused many times.

Then fill the drum with water from the tap, agitate 5 times and pour away, repeat but agitate 10 times and then do it once more but agitate 20 times.

Finally, I fill the drum with a mix of water and a wetting agent. I use a tiny squirt of the Ilford wetting agent (some people just use washing up liquid). The amount you need in 500ml of water is tiny, just a couple of ml. Agitate the drum 40 times and then pour the mix away.

Open the drum and remove the spool with your film on. Do not wash the suds off of the drum under the tap as this will ruin the effect of using a wetting agent (which is to stop the tap water leaving smears on the film due to water hardness). Simply place a finger on each flat surface of the film and run them down its length to remove most of the water and wetting agent suds. Then I use a piece of clean chamois leather and run this down the film to dry it some more. What is vital when you do this is that there is no grit on your fingers or the chamois as this will scratch your film. Hang the film to dry slowly from a line. I use a bulldog clip to clip it to a wire I have put up in my bathroom. As dust free a place as possible is best for this (so not by the dogs bed!)

Once the film is dry you can cut it into frame lengths to suit your scanner. My scanner (an Epson V700) has holders which take two strips of three frames of 120 film so I cut a roll into four strips of three frames per strip. Now you can scan the images in and see what you have.

On reading this it may sound really complicated and long winded. It did to me when I was researching the process. However, once you have developed two or three films you will know the process by heart and be doing it without thinking. It is great to see your images emerge from the drum and to be part of the whole process from capture to final image. It also means I can go out and shoot and within an hour and a half of getting home I have my images in Lightroom – not quite the instant feedback of a digital camera but as close as you can get with film.

This process is about the simplest way to develop black and white film. The process tends to bring out the grain in the film. It also produces high contrast negatives. The blacks are often rich and dark while the highlights bright and punchy. You need to be bear this in mind if you want low contrast negatives which are more ‘subtle’. For these, Stand Development may not be the best choice.

I buy my chemicals from AG Photographic http://www.ag-photographic.co.uk/ They are a small UK firm who give good service and are very helpful on the phone if you have any questions.

If you are just getting in to analogue photography or are interested in trying stand developing as a new tool in your film processing arsenal, I hope you have found this post to be helpful. (the image below was Stand developed)

My back up strategy

back up

Lakeland River


It has been a while since I blogged about my backing up strategy and I have made some changes to make my systems more secure, so now seems a good time to update you on how I protect my data.
 
I regularly have friends and customers who tell me stories of how they have lost prized images, even their entire library, due to equipment failure or theft of their computers which they didn’t have backed up. They go pale as they speak about it. Some even break down and cry 🙂
 
If your system experienced a complete failure this minute, how much would you lose?
 
If your computer and the drives with it in the same room were stolen today, how much data would you lose?
 
How would that make you feel. Your wedding pictures. The pictures of your children growing up. The images of your loved ones who have passed away. Those landscapes you toiled so hard to capture. Need I go on.
 
Sobering questions, aren’t they?
 
It is crucial to understand that EVERY hard drive WILL fail. It is just a question of when, and they often don’t give any notice. One minute you are happily using your computer and the next you are looking at a blank screen. As with so many things in life, we think it won’t happen to us or we think we have time to back up next week. You just have to decide how much data you are prepared to lose and tailor your system to protect you to this level.
 
I had a brand new drive in a brand new computer fail completely just three days after buying it. I had just finished setting the system up with all of my programs, settings and data. I had also set up my back up solution and so was fully protected.
 
The issue is many people feel that backing up is a nuisance. They feel they don’t have time. Often, it is also because they don’t really understand how to do it, or how to set up a good reliable system which is easy to run.
 
I can’t afford to lose my data. As a freelance photographer my images are my business. If I lose them, I don’t pay my bills. They cannot be replaced so it that is a great motivation to have a good system in place.
 
So how am I organised and how do I make it easy to have a bullet proof back up solution working for me?
 
My first layer of protection
 
When in the field, especially on longer trips, I copy all my compact flash cards to my iPad. I don’t format the compact flash cards until the images are copied to my computer back at the studio. This gives me two copies of my images while I am away from home. I keep the compact flash cards in a holder with me and the iPad is left hidden in my vehicle. I may also copy the images on to my Mac Book Pro while I am away which then gives me three copies in the field.
 
My second layer of protection
 
My main computer is a 27 inch iMac with a 1tb  drive. I have a 1tb drive attached (I recommend this one – http://tinyurl.com/bs4vhcm – the WD drives have always performed perfectly for me). This is set up to use Apples Time Machine back up system which is built into all Macs. It has saved my life several times and is so easy to use. Just select the drive to back up to and the system backs up every hour. It deletes the oldest back ups once the drive is full. The most data you can lose is one hours work. Frustrating, yes, but not critical.
 
Layer three
 
I also have another two 1tb drives which are kept onsite, but away from the computer (in the hope that if we have a burglary and the computer and back drive which sits next to it are stolen, then this drive may be missed).
 
To copy files to this from my iMac I use a great easy piece of software called Superduper. You will find it HERE
 
(if you are a Windows user I would highly recommend using Microsofts free SyncToy which does a very similar job and is also so simple to use. You will find it HERE. Please note, I stopped using Windows a couple of years ago so this may not work with the latest versions of Windows or other solutions may now be available which I am unaware of).
 
This makes a carbon copy of your entire hard drive. The first back up you run with it takes a while as it is copying every file (as does Time Machine) but subsequent backups are much faster as only files you have added, deleted or changed are updated. This system does not hold on to old copies of files, so you can’t go back to a file which was deleted weeks ago in error  to restore it, like you can with Time Machine. The drive is always a copy of your computers hard drive on the last day you backed up with it.
 
Superduper can be set to run on a schedule so you don’t have to do anything as long as the back up drive is connected to the computer, or it can be run manually at a time you choose (this is how I use it as my drive is hidden and not permanently connected to the computer).
 
It is also fully bootable so in the event of a hard drive failure you can boot your computer using it and get working straight away. If you want to have several carbon copy drives you can. You give each drive a name and Superduper remembers each drive.
 
When I am on the road I take one of the Superduper drives with me. This gives me an offsite backup and it also means I have all my files with me so I can work on the road. If I do this I just have to keep a copy of the changed/added files and update my iMac with them when I get home.
 

Mist in the Woods


The final layer
 
The last layer of protection is the one which gets neglected by most people because it is the most difficult to manage. This is the offsite backup.
 
This protects you in case of theft or the destruction of your property by flood, fire and so on. I wonder how many people have lost all their files this week in the floods?
 
My old system, which was flawed, but better than nothing, was to have a third 1tb drive backed up to using Superduper which I then stored at my parents home. This is fine if you remember/bother to go and get it and update it regularly (and to be honest, this needs to be weekly as a minimum). I just didn’t do this often enough, it becomes too much hassle.
 
Prior to this year my new solution would not have been feasible as my broadband speeds were just too low. I now am blessed with BT Infinity 2 and this makes backing up to a Cloud service easy.
 
There are lots of options out there but most are very expensive for large amounts of data. They are really designed for smaller amounts of file storage and also geared for you to be uploading and downloading the files on a regular basis.
 
Amazon Glacier
 
Fortunately, Amazon has identified this issue and set up a brilliant new service to remedy this. It is called “Glacier”. Anyone can use it, from home users to world-wide corporations and it is purely designed to store large amounts of data you will probably never need again… unless something goes badly wrong with your primary layers of protection which I have described above. You can find it HERE
 
The basic things to know are;
 

  • The cost is very, very low, just $0.01 per gigabyte of data per month for storage, so if you have 200gb of data with them it costs just $24 a year. Compare that with the true cost of buying external drives and then keeping one off site and up to date!
  • There is a fee if you delete backups within 3 months of uploading then
  • There is a fee to download data, although you do get a free allowance per month, but as this is designed for long term storage (in fact, its for data you hope you will never have to download) it is not a major issue
  • Data that is uploaded takes several hours to be processed by Glacier and it takes several hours to start downloading back to you if you need it – this is how they keep the costs so low – so don’t view it like you do Dropbox, for example.
  • You need to break your data down into zip files that are no bigger than 4gb and this is a hassle when you first get set up.
  • You can’t update a backup zip file once it is uploaded. If you make changes to files at your end you need to upload them again and delete the old one if necessary. For this reason I am using it for archives. I back up the files I am working on all the time to Dropbox (or Skydrive etc) Sign up for Dropbox HERE
  • Glacier have yet to release a program to handle the uploading but two free programs are available from others. The Windows one is Fastglacier and the Mac client is Simpleglacier. I use Arc back up which is a paid for program.
  • Your data is encrypted using 128bit encryption keys – so extremely secure. The server farms also sit behind very secure firewall systems.
  • Glacier claims 99.999999999999% protection. The server farms are held in extremely secure bunkers and there are several of them around the planet. Your data will exist in three locations in at least two countries. So you are pretty much protected form everything except Armageddon, when, lets face it, the last thing we will be bothered about are our files 🙂

 
I am currently going through the tedious process of zipping all of my data (images and files) into 4gb batches and doing an upload overnight each night. I can upload about 60gb a night with my connection. I have done several years worth of files and just have 2010 to today still to do. I have just got my head down and started working through this methodically. It has also helped me delete over 200gb of useless and duplicated data which was clogging up my system – a really nice feeling having a spring clean 🙂
 
Once it is all there, plan to upload weekly the latest images although it may end up being monthly. I am expecting to have around 600gb of zipped data on Glacier by the end of 2012 with a cost to me of about £3.75 a month at current rates. I think that is exceptional value.
 
Conclusion
 
This all might sound like the ravings of an obsessive compulsive with a disaster fixation but I have my livelihood to think about and I hold work which is critical to my customers too. You can go as far as you feel you need to in order to get the level of protection you need.
 
As a minimum get Time Machine working for you if you are a Mac user, or something similar if you are a Windows user. I also recommend getting in to the habit of backing up each days work at the end of the day – let it run overnight. in reality, on most days, if you do it daily, an incremental backup will run in a few minutes. As a minimum get into the habit of having a ‘Backup Friday’ or similar so at least your weeks work is protected.
 
I highly recommend you also get set up with Dropbox – you can sign up here – as this will give you 2gb of free storage accessible world wide for regularly used files and for sharing files with friends and family. You can also access it from your iPhone, Smartphone and iPad etc It is brilliant and I use it daily.
 
Alternatively you can have the thrill of being a gambler and live life on the edge and not bother backing up at all (or have that back up you did months or years ago and always mean to get around to updating, maybe next week when your not so busy). Enjoy the ride! Me, as you can see, I am more a belt and braces kind of guy who likes to sleep well at night.

I am featured in a new Craft & Vision eBook

craft and vision

I am very pleased and honoured to say I have been featured in the new Craft & Vision eBook by Andrew S. Gibson entitled “Slow”

The 64 spread book, which is beautifully illustrated with the authors images (as well as mine) is focused on the creative techniques and results that can be had from taking control of your shutter speed and slowing it right down. Andrew is a great writer and very clearly shows exactly how to do this in different ways to achieve different effects and styles of image.

I am featured over several pages as a case study, using my ICM (Intentional Camera Movement) and blur techniques. I wrote an in-depth set of instructions on how I create these images and how you can use them to develop your own ICM styles. Its a great way to make images which express your own style. I also love the way it helps me break free from conventional image making – it releases the artist within.

Another great reason to get the book is that the second case study is the very talented Joel Tjintjelaar. He has developed a reputation for particularly fine long exposure black and white images, using long exposures in a totally different way to my ICM techniques. His images are refined, precise and very contemporary. So much so, he has been used by BMW in some of their car advertisements. In his case study, he shows how he achieves the look and style of his images which makes for fascinating reading.

David du Chemin, the great photographer behind the Craft & Vision brand, says this in his blog on the new book;

“SLOW is 64 spreads of teaching and inspiration on the techniques and aesthetics of using a slow shutter, including panning and intentional camera movements, long exposures, related equipment, and issues of exposure. He’s included a couple case studies from photographers Doug Chinnery and Joel Tjintjelaar, to compliment his own work, and created an excellent primer on the subject. I’m as excited as I am about this one because I’m using so much intentional camera movement in my own work, as I explore impressionism, and it’s resulted in new ideas and projects I’d have never pursued if I hadn’t started thinking laterally about exposure.”

The book, which is a great addition to the Craft & Vision line up, is only $5 and I really recommend treating yourself to a copy. If you use this link – Click here to visit Craft And Vision. I will get a small referral fee but you will pay no extra. If you do decide to buy a copy, I would like to thank you for supporting me in my work, it really does make a difference to me. I am sure you will find the book very instructive and interesting, I did. They are downloaded as pdf’s and can be copied to your iPad to carry with you, printed out or viewed on your computer.

You can also buy the other Craft and Vision eBooks (as I do, myself) from here – Click here to visit Craft And Vision. I have collected many of them and will be reviewing some soon. If you like mono photography, for example, the books on working in black and white and making black and white conversions are the best I have read anywhere.

"Slow" - The new eBook by Andrew S. Gibson, featuring me as a case study

How do I create light trail images?

light trails

Westminster by Night

Have you ever wondered how to go about capturing light trails? They look dramatic and add a dynamic feel to urban images and are easy to capture.

Before I go into technique there is an important factor about this image which lifts it above many light trail shots. The Sky. Its not just a case of shooting at night. In fact the ideal time is a short 15 minute period shortly after the sun has set. For architectural photographers and those after light trails this is the prime time to shoot. If you look at the image you will see the sky is not black, there is still some residual light (twilight) in the sky. In this brief period of minutes the light in the sky balances perfectly with artificial light which is why it is so perfect for capturing architecture and light trails. You can still shoot the light trails when the sky is black but the images won’t be quite as attractive. Have a browse of the finest architectural night photography and you will see the photographer works in this evening twilight period (or gets up early as a similar is experienced some time before sunrise).

Lets say you are in position at the right time. Get there well in advance so you can sort your composition out and get your exposure right before twilight. It is very frustrating to miss the brief twilight window becuase you weren’t in position and set up in time. Needless to say you need to be on a tripod with a remote shutter release. No graduated neutral density filters are needed as the camera can cope with the dynamic range of the image by this time. You may need a standard non-graduated neutral density filter (perhaps a 2-stop) to slow the exposure down if you are getting too short an exposure for the effect you are after (alternatively, you could use a narrower aperture, say, f16. I would avoid using f22 unless I was forced as the image quality will degrade due to ‘diffraction’, but thats another whole issue!)

For these images the lenght of the exposure is as important, if not a little more important, than depth of field. For my shot of Westminster I worked at f11 (which gave me sufficient DOF and kept me close to the sweet spot of the lens (around f8 would be about perfect). At ISO 100 (for the lowest noise possible), this gave me an exposure time of 4 seconds on my 24mm TSE lens. (As I was using a tilt and shift lens, I could have worked at f8 and used the tilt mechanism to give me the depth of field I needed but I was working quickly and didn’t want to complicate matters).

I test out several shutter speeds before the light gets to its best so that I am ready. The speed of the traffic and the brightness of the lights will dictate the length of exposure. Faster moving vehicles need a shorter shutter speed than slower vehicles. In my case, timing was vital. I could have shot when just cars were passing but I found it was worth waiting for a bus to appear as this gave a wider stripe of lights because of the upstairs windows. I fired the shutter, using a handheld remote release, a fraction of a second before the bus entered the frame. A few buses later, I had my image, the light dropped and it was time to head off for more night shots around London.

If you would like to master low light and night photography, why not join me on one of my London Night Workshops. We even have a London Black Cab to drive us around all of the best locations all night. Drop me an email if you are interested as these are selling out before I can list them on my website.

Tips for photographing in the rain

Rain Tips

Wet Day in the Forest

I am sitting in my studio with rain lashing down. April showers is one thing, but this is ridiculous! I thought it might be an idea to post my top tips on photographing in the rain.

Many photographers simply dismiss making images in wet weather out of hand, but in doing so I think they are missing out on some wonderful and different images. Granted, if  the rain is really driving and especially if it is blowing directly onto the lens, it is pretty much impossible to work outside. It is then I look for an indoor location or head home, fire up the iMac and do some image processing with some good music on and a nice hot cup of tea to enjoy.

However, we often get gentler rain or it is blowing in from behind us so the lens stays clear. It could be the rain is coming down vertically or is intermittent. In those circumstances it can be ‘game on’.

The first thing is to protect our gear. Whether we shoot on film or digitally, water and cameras are not a good mix. If our body and lenses are from a pro range, like the Canon 1ds and ‘L’ lenses, they are heavily sealed against water and dust and can perform in extreme conditions, but mid range bodies and lenses down, while having some weather sealing can soon start to be affected (often terminally) by water and dust. I have tried all kinds of camera protectors and to be honest, most are just impractical. At one end there are over designed complex polythene systems with arm holes and gussets, seals, elastic and goodness knows what that take a couple of days and a lot of patience to fit and are then so bulky and restrictive in their desire to totally protect the kit that operating the camera with them fitted is like trying to thread a needle with our hands submerged in a bucket of jelly.

There are other simpler protectors which are so flimsy they are worse than useless.

I do carry a couple of the disposable Optech ‘Rainsleeves’. These are low cost, come in packs of two and are designed to be used a few times and then thrown away. With careful use they can last quite a while. They take up little space in the kit bag and the price is very reasonable. It has to be bad for me to put them on though because, like most rain covers, they restrict us in using the camera. Everything becomes fiddly and a bit of a chore. The worst problem is getting your eye to the eye piece to compose and focus (or, if you use Live View, seeing the monitor clearly as the polythene is not optically clear enough to focus critically). There is a hole in the protector which is designed to go around the eye piece but to fit it you need to take the eye pice rubber off and then re-fit it over the polythene and by this time I am losing the will to live.

A simpler and much cheaper option is to carry a thick polythene bag. I carry one which is big enough to simply pop over the whole of my set up on the tripod. It covers camera, lens and filters. Obviously, you can’t work with this in place but it saves packing up for every shower. As soon as the rain has passed over, just whip it off and got on with the business of making images.

I also carry a cover similar to this one. Bought on EBay for less than £15 it gives good access to the cameras controls and is quick to fit and remove. Focusing and zooming are a bit tight but the cameras body controls are very easy to use, as is the eye piece and screen. I have been using mine for a couple of years and it is stills waterproof. Made from proofed nylon you buy one to fit each lens and body combination (in theory) but I bought one for my longest lens, my 200mm f2.8, and use it on all my lenses – the shorter lenses just have the cover a bit bunched up but it is not an problem for me.

Then, yesterday, on one of my bluebell wood workshops, a client had a new ‘device’ which seems like a brilliant idea to me (Thanks for the tip, Maria!). She was given the idea by photographer, Jeremy Walker. It may sound a bit strange but in really wet conditions yesterday she was able to shoot with ease and keep her kit dry. It was a very large sheet of Chamois leather. Told you it sounds strange. However, it is is not your average Chamois from Halfords. She got this from Skye Skynes – here on this page . Now, when you see the price (£22 delivered in the UK) you will probably have a sharp intake of breath and think I have finally lost my marbles, but before you shake your head and leave this post let me just tell you, these are the most amazing Chamois you have ever seen or felt. Skye Skyns make them from sheep skins on the Isle of Skye and they are very thick – many times thicker than the Chamois I use when cleaning the car. It is also the softest Chamois I have ever felt. The sheet is really big and you just drape it over your camera and lens. In between exposures you can drape it over the front of the lens (and filters) to protect the glass from drops of rain. It absorbs the rain and is perfect for wiping kit dry too. Because it is a sheet rather than something fitted you can double or triple fold it and just drape it over the lens and position it as you wish. As I watched my client work I was impressed with how easy it was for her. The Chamois has another advantage, it makes a great thing to wrap kit in to protect it. So even in dry weather it iso earning its keep in the rucksack. They are washable so when they get grubby they can be spruced up easily. I have ordered mine and can’t wait for it to be delivered, although knowing me it will come the day a long drought starts and I won’t get to use it in anger for months!

A good style of hat to wear in the rain is a hat with a rigid peak, like a baseball cap (but waterproof). This keeps us a bit drier and warmer but also the peak goes over the top of the camera while we have our eye to the eyepiece and helps stop the rain fogging the viewfinder. Absorbent lens cloths (and often several of them are needed for a rain session) are essential for drying fog off of the viewfinder and lens.

I also keep all those little bags of silica gel which come in many products packaging when they are delivered to us, you know the little white sachets with beads in which have ‘do not eat’ written on the outside. Silica gel absorbs moisture. I keep them all and drop a few in my camera bag, to help dry the air in the bag. Every now and then I swap them out, dry the old ones out at home and let the new ones do their job in my rucksack. (I also keep them in my laptop bag, lens cases and so on. Every little helps.

What about drying kit off after the session? I use absorbent cloths to dab the camera and lens dry, getting the worst of the wet off. I then let the kit dry slowly and naturally in a warm spot in the house, but not by direct heat. Then, once dry it needs a clean and polish to get any residue off of the body and glass. For cleaning my lenses I have stopped buying the ridiculously expensive lens cleaning fluid the manufacturers would like us to use. I get a big bottle of lens cleaner from my opticians for £2.75 (and that amount lasts me a couple of years!!). I use it to clean my glasses and honestly can’t see any difference when using it on my lens compared to the stuff sold by camera suppliers. I have a small spray bottle I decant some into to take into the field from the large bottle which stays at home.

That’s enough on keeping the kit dry. What about technique?

Passing Shower - Isle of Harris

Firstly, I don’t tend to use lens hoods for protecting against flare but I do use them to keep rain off of the lens. The two lenses I have which have particularly effective lens hoods are the Canon 24-70 L and the 70-200mm. Both of these come with a lens hood which is a full tube, not ‘petals’ which is more usual on wider angle lenses. These completely shield the lens glass from all but rain which is driving towards the lens in strong winds. The downside is that you can’t use Lee filters. To overcome this limitation I take bracketed exposures and blend them later in Photoshop. Problem solved.

I sometimes carry a golf umbrella which is useful to work under as long as there isn’t much wind. (This is the umbrella I use – designed for use in high winds – CLICK HERE) If the rain is coming in horizontally or the wind is strong, forget the umbrella, it is just impractical. I have been toying with the idea of trying studio lighting clamps to see if I can find one which will lock on to my tripod leg and hold the umbrella over me and the camera so that my hands are free to work. I will let you know if I find one that is suitable.

It makes sense not to fight the rain, so if it is blowing in from a particular direction, see if there are images to be made that will enable you to turn the lens away from the direction it is coming from. I also often head to woodlands in the rain. Trees in leaf will provide good cover although when the leaves get very wet it will start to get through to you, but it is dripping vertically from the leaves and not blowing in to the lens so with some of the protection I describe above we can continue working.

Cromer Pier - Winter Rain

So, there we are, all set up with a protected camera and some techniques to help us keep dry while we shoot. Is there any way we can use the rain to enhance our images? Most certainly.

The first thing to say is that the light as ‘bad’ weather passes or just before it arrives, is often spectacular. Foregrounds can be lit with glorious golden light with a deep black sky (one of the rare occasions that the sky is darker than the foreground). Shafts of light can pour from the clouds and glide across the land or sea. Rainbows decorate the sky. It is the photographer who is prepared to be out in the rain that gets to capture this glory.

In rain I often focus on making detail images, intimate landscapes. In woodland or in amongst the shelter of rocks there are lots of fascinating details which look great when wet. The diffused soft light when it rains is perfect for detail images as there are no strong shadows to contend with and the colours are rendered beautifully. The woods or rocks provide some cover and working on the close landscape provides a nice change from shooting the wider world.

While it is raining keep an eye open for things being back-lit. As the sun emerges from the clouds, wet trees, plants and buildings can glow as the sun catches the wet surfaces. If you want the opposite effect and want to kill reflections and saturate colours, fir a polarising filter and rotate it while looking through the eyepiece and see the reflections disappear. Shooting in the rain is also an ideal time for more creative image making – try shooting through wet glass from inside a car or cafe. The rain blurs the world and creates an impressionistic feel to things. Or go the whole hog and have a go at ICM (intentional camera movement) utilising the low light to lengthen the shutter speed and create images with blur by moving the camera.

If you like long exposures, try shooting them in the rain. If you can keep the kit dry, the effect of the long exposures is to turn the rain into mist and you end up with an image which looks like it has been shot on a misty or foggy day.

A final idea is to shoot puddles and running water. The raindrops create radiating patterns and often the light and colours above the water is reflected in it and yields great creative possibilities.

It has taken me a few days to put this post together. Now, as I finish it, the day is warm and bright. the rain seems a million miles away, but it is forecast again for tomorrow. I find myself hoping it will rain, so I can go out and have a go at capturing something with my camera. I hope you feel inspired to, too.

A Break in the Cloud

 

 

How do I create Panoramas?

Panoramas

Before getting in to answering this question I just wanted to mention I am running a “Capture-to-Computer” workshop in Skegness, Lincolnshire on Saturday 21st January 2012. One place is taken but there is one free place left. The basis of the workshop is creative and artistic photography – blur, ICM (Intentional Camera Movement) and textures. The morning will be spent with me showing you the techniques for shooting this style of image and then after a meal (included) I will spend the second half of the workshop showing you how to process these images in Lightroom and Photoshop. If you would like to book the second place the price is £149. Please drop me a message and I will organise it for you. Right, now on with the business of making panoramas!

I love panoramic images and with modern digital cameras and software they are easy to make. I find myself rejecting the use of super wide lenses in favour of making panoramas more and more in my photography. I am not keen on the heavy distortion that comes with the super wides and the converging verticals they create. With a panorama I can get in even more width and maintain a natural looking image with far less distortion.

You can by purpose made panoramic tripod heads, such as the Panosaurus, which are designed to rotate the camera on the ‘nodal point’. If the camera is rotated while held on this point and kept absolutely level will allow it to create almost perfect panoramas with little distortion and a very natural look. However the heads are expensive and you either have to have them fitted to a dedicated tripod or be prepared to switch heads in the field, and few of us are that dedicated or have the backpack space to carry two tripod heads.

There are two very acceptable alternatives which are ideal for most of us and I use both in my image making. I will cover both methods here. You can use a tilt and shift lens (the expensive but easier option) or you can use a standard prime or zoom lens. Both require stitching images together in software and both produce great images if done carefully.

So, if you want to make high quality panoramas, how should you go about it? The first step is to get your tripod as level as possible and make sure the camera is as level as possible on the head. This is far better than angling the camera slightly upwards or downwards. The more our of level the tripod and camera are, the more distorted the final image and the area you will need to crop away from the edges of the pano will be larger. I use the small round level bubble on the top of my tripod below the head to level the tripod itself. This can be fiddly as you need to tweak the leg lengths to get it right but it is worth doing. I then level the camera on the head using my hotshot spirit level.

Next is getting the settings in the camera right before you start shooting. It is critical that nothing changes between shots or you will not be able to seamlessly stitch the image. Turn off auto focusing on your lens so the focus point does not change between shots. Switch the white balance to daylight so it doesn’t alter between shots. Zoom out further than you want to to allow for cropping the stitched image which you will have to do to a greater or lesser extent. Don’t frame the image as you want it to finally appear as some of the edges will be lost. Start the panorama further to the left or right than you want to for the same reason. I use the camera in portrait orientation for panoramas to give a larger file size and more depth for cropping (unless I am using a tilt and shift lens, but I will come to that later).

Working in aperture priority or manual, choose one area of the pano to set your exposure and focus. The exposure is often the tricky part, especially around dawn and dusk or when the scene has high contrast. I tend to aim to set my exposure based on the area of the pano which is almost the brightest. I take a test shot to get the histogram across to the right. You have to accept then, that as the camera moves to wares the darker area of the pano it will begin to under expose but we can tweak this later in the software to balance the image. I set my neutral density graduated filters for the same frame as the one I use to set the exposure. You have to accept that as you take the other frames the positioning of the grad may not be quite perfect, especially if the land rises or falls across the width of the range of shots but it will look worse if you try and move the grad up and down for each image. (I prefer to use soft grads for panos to make the transition line less obvious).Do not use a polarising filter when doing panos as this will cause havoc with the look of each frame and you won’t be able to stitch the images acceptably. Focus hyper focally or on a point very close to the base of the frame. I usually use f16 for panoramas to give a bit more latitude on depth of field, whereas in my other landscape work I am usually trying to get the aperture to f13 or f11.

Once you are all set up rotate the camera to the left or right hand end of the pano sequence. Remember go further left, or right, than you want to include in the final image you have in mind. I then take a single shot with my hand in front of the lens with my thumb up. This tells me the next image is the start of a pano sequence. Once I have taken the final shot in the sequence I take another with my thumb down. This indicates the end of a sequence. Believe me, you will be pleased you did when you get home as it can be hard to tell which images are for panos.

Take the first shot and then rotate the camera for the next as quickly as possible. The absolutely critical thing to remember is to overlap each frame by at least 30%. It is better to overlap by 50% than to go lower than 30%. The more data and overlap Photoshop has to work with the better the quality of the panorama you will get. The reason for working quickly during the sequence shooting is to minimise movement of objects in the pano. Anything moving makes it harder for the software to do the stitch, so scudding clouds, branches of trees blowing in the wind and so on can cause issues.

Don’t forget, panoramas don’t have to be horizontal. For a really different type of image use the same system but shoot vertically. Vertical panoramas look great on the wall.

Back at home on the computer there is some very specific things you can do to make the panorama stitching go well. I use Lightroom to work on my raw files so the screenshots below will show that, along with Photoshop for the stitching but Elements works in just the same way although the menu items might be in slightly different places. You can also get specific panorama stitching software but I have never used this so can’t comment on it.

Import the raw files into Lightroom. Do not allow the import dialog box to apply any changes to the images on import such as adjusting white balance or applying some preset as this will make stitching difficult or impossible to do seamlessly. It is vital you don’t do any work on them whatsoever before they are stitched. Find the sequence of images and shift click to elect them (this is when the thumbs up and thumbs down shots are a big help, but obviously don’t include them in the stitch!). Right click the selected images and select Edit in >> Merge to panorama in Photoshop. (see screenshot below)

 

This will open Photoshop (or Elements) with the following dialog box open

 

On the left hand side select the Auto  radio button and in the centre area of the window you will see the list of raw files you are using. Click OK. Now just leave Photoshop to do its thing. It will take a while depending on how many raw files you are stitching and how fast your computer is. On slower machines you will have tome to go and make coffee :).

Once stitched the image will look something like this;

Now you can see why cropping is required. In the layers panel you can see how Photoshop has stacked the three images and then masked them to achieve the stitch. The next step is to flatten the layers and then crop the image to the panoramic shape, losing all of the irregular edges. I then save this image as a tiff (or psd, if you prefer) and take it back into Lightroom. Now you can start making adjustments to the exposure, contrast, clarity and so on because now it will be across the whole image and will look right.

Once you have made the adjustments you want in Lightroom, move the image back to Photoshop for any final tweaks and adjustments there, and you are done.

The process is identical with Tilt and Shift lenses, with a few differences. Firstly, when doing horizontal panos you keep the camera in Landscape orientation. You make the sequence of images by using the shift mechanism and make three images, one shifted all the way to the left, one in the centre position and the final one shifted all the way to the right. All the information above about levelling and camera settings still apply and the stitching process is identical, you just need the three shots. The advantage of this method is the overlap the TSE lens produces is way beyond 30% so the stitch works well and the amount that needs to be cropped away is usually less as the lens tends to give a clean stitch if the tripod and camera have been set level.

 

So, why not have a go next time you are out with your camera. They are great fun to make and can be quite addictive. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

A Tip for Using the Photographers Ephemeris

ephemeris tip

There can be few landscape photographers who don’t use Stephen Trainors brilliant piece of software, The Photographers Ephemeris. You can download it for free from http://photoephemeris.com/ There are also versions for the iPad and iPhone available from the Apple app store (for a small and very reasonable fee). It is also available in the Android Marketplace.

The software basically uses Google Earth mapping to show us the exact point and time of sun and moon rise and set for every day at any point on the surface of the Earth. The concept is simple and it delivers it perfectly.

I have used it since it was first released and it has become an essential part of my location planning. However, I learnt a new feature this past weekend which I thought was really useful from Antony Spencer.

When you click on the map to identify your location in relation to the sunrise and sunset points you see four lines radiating from the pin. These represent the direction of the moon rise and set and the sun rise and set on the day of your choice. I have always viewed the map at quite a close zoom and so these radiating lines disappear out of the edges of the screen. However, Tony explained that if you zoom out on the map, eventually you see the lines terminate. This point is some 160 to 170 miles from the location where you dropped the pin.

Far from being a random point to terminate the line, where the line finishes is the point on the Earths surface where the sun appears at the time of sunrise relative to your chosen location. This is actually quite a useful bit of information for us. If we combine this knowledge with a cloud forecast we can anticipate the type of sunrise we will get.

For example, for Antony & I leading a workshop on Dorsets Jurassic Coast last weekend we could see the sun would be breaking past the curve of the Earth close to Paris in relation to our sunrise locations of Lyme Regis & Durdle Door. Looking at the cloud radar on those mornings we could see the cloud between Paris and our stretch of the coast was well broken which therefore hinted at the dramatic sunrise we experienced on Saturday.

It is just a small piece of intelligence but it adds to the thoroughness of our location planning and may well help us to plan which trips may be worthwhile and which might be best missed.

How do I dodge and burn in Photoshop?

dodge burn

 

 

 

Dodging and burning is a technique which harks back to the days of film and darkroom developing. In the darkroom film users employ strange techniques to darken areas of their prints and lighten others to improve the look of the image. For those of us working digitally it falls to Photoshop to act as our digital darkroom to achieve the same effect.

‘Dodging’ refers to the lightening process while ‘Burning’ is the darkening of areas in the image. I remember which is which by thinking that burning an object blackens it, so burning = darkening. The goal is to introduce contrast into the image in such a way that the impression is of light falling on the subject in very controlled ways, highlighting the beauty or key aspects of the image. In my photograph above (and I have selected an extreme example rather than a subtle one) you will see I have burned the tractor tracks, areas of the clouds and areas of the surface of the wheat. To contrast with this I have dodged areas of cloud and highlighted the light falling on the barn with dodging. I was aiming for a dramatic image.

The biggest tip I can give you with this process is to do it very gradually, to be patient. Most people I see using this technique want to see dramatic effects too quickly and end up spoiling their image by creating a patchy look. The process is simple but it takes time and the vision to visualise the final result before you start. It is not good to approach it in a random way and hope the end result is going to be effective.

Now to the process. Firstly convert your image to black and white using your preferred method, either in Photoshop or a plugin such as Silver EfEx Pro 2. At the conversion stage, beware making the image too contrasty as you are going to tune the contrast carefully using the dodge and burn tools. Open the mono image in Photoshop.

Duplicate the background layer by selecting it in the layers panel and pressing cmd+J (windows = ctrl+J). Always do this and dodge and burn this new layer so that if you make a mistake you can always delete it an start again without spoiling the base layer. The layers panel should now look like the image below.

 

 

I decide whether to start with dodging or burning depending on the image but in reality it usually doesn’t matter which you start with as you will be alternating between the two. The image below shows the flyout toolbox from the main toolbox which shows the two tools.

 

I am going to select the burn tool first. The icon looks like a clenched fist. (don’t ask me why). The next step is to set the burn brush up correctly. This is done on the top toolbar as in the image below.

You will see I have selected a very soft brush and set the hardness to zero. This really feathers the effect and helps prevent hard edges to the burned areas. In the range drop down box you can see I have selected ‘shadows’. This is something important to understand when dodging and burning. The tones you select in this box tell the brush the only tones to affect. So if shadows is selected when you brush over pixels in the image the brush will only darken shadow, the darkest, pixels. It won’t touch mid-tones or highlights. Similarly, if you select mid-tones then only they will be darkened. Shadows and highlights will be unaffected. The same applies to the dodge brush. In most cases the other thing to remember is do not burn highlights and do not dodge shadows. If you do it usually gives the pixels a ‘damaged’ look because the change is too dramatic. Stick to burning shadows and mid-tones and dodging mid-tones and highlights.

The next vital thing to note in the above screenshot is the exposure level I have selected. In the shot above it is at 3%. This is where most people go wrong, they set the percentage too high. I work between 1 and 5%. I never go higher than 5% and rarely use that. I am usual working between 1 and 3%. When you use this setting the effect builds up very slowly and delicately giving you control. If you go higher you loose control and damage the image.

Now size the brush using the [ ] keys as usual and start brushing over the image. Use large flowing strokes. Avoid at all costs scrubbing away wit the brush at small areas as this soon creates a blotchy look. Keep switching between dodging and burning and build both together gradually. Keep changing between working on the shadows, mid-tones and highlights. Keep turning the layer on and off by clicking the ‘eye-con’ on the layers pane so you can see how far you are going and how far you have come. Work towards your pre-visualised goal. Take your time and don’t overdo it!

Here is my image. The first screen shot shows the basic mono conversion. The second it the dodged and burned final image. I have created a vignette to draw the eye to the water flow. I have brightened the water to give sparkle and punch and added a bit more drama to the sky.

Most mono film photographers would not consider printing an image without some dodging and burning to enhance it. Read what Ansel Adams wrote about this process as part of his print making to see how important he felt it was. He was a master of the technique. I hope you enjoy practising the effect and feel sure your mono images will improve dramatically as a result.

To learn much more about dodging and burning and all the other aspects of mono image making, why not consider coming on one of my specialist mono workshops where we work on thinking in mono, composing for mono and then processing to make mono images full of drama, light and character. You will find full details on the workshops pages of my website.

 

 

The Best Photographer in the World

It seems that most photographers are men. I have never really understood why, because, on the whole, those women who do make images seem to be very good at it. I think I am on safe ground to say that men tend to be more competitive than women too. So we have large group of male photographers bursting with testosterone all with an eye on the competition. So the question arises, can there be a photographer, male or female, who could rightly claim to be ‘the best photographer in the world’?

No, I don’t think so. How could you possibly go about measuring such a thing? Even if you were to try and become the best landscape photographer in the world, or the best fashion photographer, wildlife photographer it would be impossible to make a decision. Would you base it on income? Or output? Number of books published or exhibitions held? Would you measure it by Twitter followers or number of Facebook friends? I can’t think of any measure that would work. I can’t see why anyone would try to establish themselves as ‘the best’.

Photography, like all art forms, is subjective. I know who I feel are the best photographers in the world, but they only get that accolade from me – it is my view, dependant on my taste. Others may agree with me, many would vehemently disagree. None of us would be right. In some ways, trying to improve as a photographer is like playing golf. Golfers while out on the course in a tournament can do nothing to affect what the other players do. They just have to play the course to the best of their ability. If they get round in the fewest number of shots they win. (this is where the illustration breaks down! Because if they win more tournaments than any other golfer that year, they do become ‘number 1’). As photographers, all we can do is our best. We need to strive to hone our skills with the camera and develop our abilities in composition (and, today, in the digital age, increase our skills with software too). We can build a reputation as a good photographer. We might make some great images. Our sales might increase. We might exhibit or be published. Others may view us as an authority or as an inspiration. From a personal standpoint, we can measure our growth as a photographer and have a gauge we apply to ourselves as to how we are doing. But, like a golfer, it is pointless comparing ourselves to the competition, because there is no competition.

Some photographers seem to see our ‘game’ as competitive. Photographic societies and clubs foster a competitive spirit. Some photographers jealously protect location knowledge or technique skills. I can never understand this. I have much greater admiration for those photographers who freely pass on knowledge and encourage others to develop. I believe if we do this we, ourselves, benefit as others will likely help us too. I see little joy and satisfaction coming from being a ‘Scrooge’ amongst photographers. I once emailed a photographer in the Lake District to ask him if he would mind giving me some help on the best place to park at a location. His reply left me stunned as he basically told me to ‘bog off’ – why should he help me to get an image that might be better than his? What drives a person like this?

You sometimes experience it on location. There you are on some beach or hillside in the pre-dawn light and another photographer turns up. You wave, smile or try to initiate a conversation and they just ignore you and give you the cold shoulder. Been there? I have, many times. What is their problem? Wy do they seem to resent our presence? What is wrong with being polite and friendly? On the there side of the coin, I have heard stories of other photographers who have met men most of us admire and look up to as being at the top of our game – men like Charlie Waite and Joe Cornish. They have met them in the field and these leading lights have been friendly, helpful and complimentary. Not aloof and distant. What a much better way to be.

I have experienced so much help on social networking sites from other photographers. Twitter is a great place to help and advice from respected leaders in our field. I have asked for advice on kit and within a minute had several replies which have been so useful and saved me so much mine and hassle. I have had location advice and help with technique. Nothing seems to be too much trouble for these guys. Hopefully I am able to the same for others because social networking is not a paces for leeches who just use it to promote themselves and suck stuff out of others. It should be a medium to be used primarily to give rather than take and then occasionally we can use it to promote ourselves. I soon stop following individuals who only want to blow their own trumpet and expect me to follow and fawn over them. Whereas those who try to offer something, even if it is just links to useful websites or to photographers sites worth looking at, I follow avidly and try to help them in return.

So, what is the point of this rant?  Forget trying to compete. none of us can be the best in the World. Be happy when others sell a picture, have an exhibition, get something published. Help them do it. Share information. Give advice when needed. Promote what others do. Hit that retweet button. What goes around, comes around. Help others and we will be helped. Be friendly and contribute something. Don’t be a misery only looking to feather your own nest. What’s the point?

Free downloadable long exposure calculator chart

I have just put on the downloads page of my website a free pdf long exposure calculator chart

Just download it, print and laminate it for use in the field.

I hope you find it helpful.

I plan to add some other free downloads so please sign up for my email newsletter for advanced notice of these – just use the form on the right hand side of this page.

if you have any ideas for useful downloads, please drop me a message using the ‘Contact Me’ form on the right.

How do I make a business in photography?

I have just read a superb piece by photographer David Noton in his dispatches column. Davids writings are always worthwhile reading. He is a seasoned pro with a ton and a half of experience and enthusiasm. In this article he tells it like it is and I agree with every word. For those thinking about making a living from photography it should become required reading. My experience as a pro is exactly the same as his.

Well, I say ‘exactly’, but that is not strictly true. My career path has a slight difference, but one I think more should consider.

David came out of the Merchant Navy and decided to go to college to study photography before going on to make his career taking pictures. I have never been to college (except to teach photography, ironically). I came at it from a totally different angle and one I imagine many of you will be approaching it.

My background is in sales and marketing management. My college and university studies are in business management. Photography was, and is, a passion. Then came the inevitable plea from a friend to photograph their wedding and this led to more and more job offers. Five years later I earn the bulk of my income from photography. I consider myself a professional. But I am still not a pure professional. I still work for my old firm. I am extremely fortunate to have a boss who allows me time to pursue my photography business. Five years down the line from that first wedding I am at a crunch point. Do I cut my final ties with the business world and take the plunge and become 100% a photography pro?

Read Davids article and consider the risks and challenges. Photography is a precarious profession. The competition from others far more skilled than most of us is fierce. Those paying for our services are paying less and less each year. As a result I have decided to continue as I am for a while longer. It is so tempting to have a romantic view of being a photographer but the whole subject has to be approached with the view of a hard nosed business man, not a romantic. I have a wife who depends on my and a bank who expects me to pay the mortgage on time. My bank manager is not a romantic!

The income from my company gives a measure of stability. I can depend on it and with it comes a car and other benefits (like holiday pay, a phone, sick pay etc The self employed will tell you how much you should value these things if you have them). The economy is unstable at present and as much of my income comes through my workshops I have to be realistic and realise taking workshops is a luxury for my clients, it is something they can quite easily cut back on if things get tight for them. I have managed to wean myself off of weddings and portrait photography. I don’t enjoy it and while it brings in the cash I am pleased to say goodbye to it (my last wedding is next week!… unless people want to pay me a lot more than I have been charging, weddings are the most stressful thing I do and the hourly rate  all things factored in is the lowest I make).

I think  any of you thinking about a career in photography should consider this approach. Maintain a core part time job, whatever that might be, and build a business in photography to run alongside it. At first the money will help you buy kit and get set up. Then it will help pay the mortgage. Maybe one day you will feel secure enough to take the plunge and cut loose altogether and that will be great, but if not, you can do what you love without much of the stress and worry being a full time pro brings. Sure, you can’t say you are a true ‘pro’. Real pro’s will always view you as ‘not quite the ticket’. But they will envy you. You will sleep a little better at night.

Remember, most photographers fail in their businesses. They fail, not because they are poor photographers. Rather they fail because they can’t run a business. As David forcefully writes in his article, you need to be able to sell yourself. Few people are able to cold call. Few can take the rejection. People putting phones down on them. Buyers telling them to get lost or that their work is rubbish. Few are able to cope with boring assignments making ugly things look wonderful. I have had to photograph gas valves. Palletts. Sewers. The romance of photography kind of evaporates when you are stood up to your knees in raw sewerage and then have to plunge your beloved carbon fibre tripod down in to it too… and then try and take images which make it look interesting. Those mornings you imagine standing on some stunning beach photographing the sunrise for money are very rare. More often than not, especially in the early days, you will be on an industrial estate somewhere trying to show enthusiasm to your client whose life is absorbed by magnetic hinge design.

There are few photographers who make it to David Notons position in life. He must earn a considerable amount each year and he gets to go places we can only dream of, but he openly admits he doesn’t feel secure and he now has nine people on his team being at least partly dependant for their financial lives on his shoulders.

I have no doubt I will be taking the big step in the near future, but I won’t do it until I am sure the time is right. I want to do it now. I am a romantic at heart, but I have to be hard-nosed right now. For now having the support of a second income is the best solution. I am patient. I can wait. If you are thinking of building a photography business in whatever field of photography you are keen on, I encourage you to take a similar approach. Have a second source of income until you know the photography business is right for you and that you can survive on what it brings.