For the last five and a half years I have been running all night photography workshops in London with my good friend, London Black Cab driver and fellow Light and Land leader Terry Gibbins. These led to me developing a winter version based around monochrome night photography and Victorian London with amazing photographer, workshop leader and another good friend of mine Charlotte Gilliatt. On this workshop we also teamed up with Terry and another cabbie, Bobby Pinto to provide the bespoke luxury transportation around the Capital city at night.
Both of these night workshops have proved to be incredibly popular right from the beginning, so much so that they have been filling from an email shortlist and have not made it on to my website. Currently over 150 people are waiting to go on the workshops, which is a testament to Charlotte, Terry & Bobby and the wonderful locations we cover through the nights. As far as I know, no one else offers an all night workshop in London with bespoke London cab transport from pick up at the station to dropping off in the morning, with a ratio of just four clients to one teacher. Many of those who came on the workshops have won awards and competitions with images that they have taken on the workshops, as well as having them published in magazines and exhibited.
However, five and a half years is a long time. I have done, I think, around a hundred workshops and so, for me, it is time to call it a day and move on to new challenges. But I am delighted the concept is going to continue in the safe hands of Charlotte and Terry. They are also planning new locations too, which is exciting for those of you who have done the workshops before and would like to do them again but fancy something different.
I am going to hand over to Charlotte my email list of all those who are waiting for a place on the workshops so she can keep you up to date with places as they become available (but if you no longer want to hear of dates you can always unsubscribe from her mailing list at any time). I want to thank all of you who have been with me on these workshops. I have really enjoyed my nights with you in the city and the adventures we have had. I know some of you have enjoyed them so much you have been with us three times. I hope you get to go again with the new team to new locations.
I am still going to be running my own workshops, it is just the night workshops that I am pulling out of. I will keep you up to date with all my new plans through Twitter, Facebook, my newsletter (if you subscribe) and here on my blog. If you would like to sign up for the shortlist to hear of new dates for the night workshops, which Charlotte and Terry will be starting again in April and running right through the summer, as well as new dates for the winter ‘Gaslights and Alleyways’ workshops, please go to THIS PAGE on Charlottes website.
It is impossible to visit the Hebrides and not be affected by them at some deeply elemental level. A place of ever changing moods, sculpted and formed by the wind and sea over millennia, it carves itself into your soul. At times the white sands of the beaches, the teal and turquoise of the waves seduce and beguile. In a heartbeat, though, she transforms. The islands can become a place of deep and abiding melancholy, of exhilarating storms which purge and restore. No wonder artists, poets, musicians and now, laterly, photographers, have been drawn again and again to ‘Hyperborea’. This mythical location ‘beyond the north wind’, identified by some as the Isle of Lewis.
‘Hyperborea – The Lands of the North’ is the title given to a group exhibition currently on display on Harris & Lewis, at the An Lanntair arts centre in Stornoway, the capital of the Island. Curated by Alex Boyd, it features the work not only of Alex himself (a photographer working in antique processes, striving to capture the essence of the northern lands, his work in the exhibition is entitled ‘Dark Mountains|Silent Islands’) but also the epic, insightful and truly moving work of landscape and documentary photographer Ragnar Axelsson entitled ‘Faces of the North’ along with a moving collection of images by photographic artist Chris Friel.
His contribution to the exhibition, a project comprised of 49 images entitled ‘After’, is a truly heartfelt and moving response to the loss of his dear son, Joe, who took his own life in early 2016 following a struggle with mental illness. Joe loved the Hebrides and so it was to here that Chris returned to make images in just one day in the place they had shared together. Running in conjunction with the images in Chris’s part of the exhibition is a video of images made by Chris on Lewis in August 2017 entitled ‘Still’ accompanied by a piece of music composed in Joes memory by Matthew Herbert, entitled ‘Be Still’ and recorded at the North Sea Jazz Festival on 9 July 2017. You can see the images and listen to the piece HERE
I had the privilege of printing the 49 images which make up Chris Friel’s ‘After’ collection in the exhibition. To work closely with Chris throughout this creative process was an honour. The images are so personal to Chris and it was essential to me that I did my very best to interpret the work exactly as Chris wanted. To give you an insight of the creative process, of how I work with Chris, how we chose the paper we used for the exhibition (in the end, Fotospeed Platinum Baryta) and also how I prepare the images for print in Lightroom, I have created two short videos. These take you through the process from start to finish and I hope you find them both interesting and that you also might learn a few tips from them too to help you with printing your work.
One positive thing that has come from the awful tragedy of Joes death is the fund set up by Chris and his family through the Just Giving website which is dedicated to Joe and is raising funds for the Young Minds Trust, a very worthwhile cause which aims to help young people struggling with mental illness. The families goal was to raise £16000, a £1000 for every year of Joes life, but at the time of writing in October 2017 the generosity of family and friends has raised a wonderful £44,376. Please visit the web page HERE to see a video created by Chris about Joe and to donate to the charity. You can also see the book Chris created with the images in the exhibition along with his personal images from Joes life. Entitled ‘Joe’, and curated with the help of Joseph Wright, it was a beautiful testament to his son. View it HERE. The book is not available for purchase. You can also vote on the Just Giving site for Joes fundraising page to receive recognition with an award. Please vote for it HERE.
You can see the images for the book ‘Joe’, HERE on Chris’s website. The landscape images from the book were then used as the source by Chris as the basis for the exhibition but he did further work on them and you can view the finished work as collection HERE.
I would like to urge you, if you have any chance at all to visit the exhibition, you will not be disappointed. It is on now and runs until 4th November 2017. You can find full details HERE.
You can buy Chris Friel’s prints through my website from THIS PAGE
I was contacted recently by sleeklens.com who asked me to put one of their plugin packs for Adobe Photoshop through its paces. They make plugins for all types of photography, particularly portraiture and architecture but they also have a pack designed for landscape photographers so it seemed appropriate to give that a try. I opted for the Photoshop version, although they do a Lightroom version of all their plugins too for those who like to keep their workflows just within the Lightroom environment.
Airlines seem to be making it increasingly difficult for us to travel with our camera gear these days, especially on budget flights. Most of us want to keep our precious cameras and lenses with us in our carry-on bags and yet the size permitted for those bags continues to decrease, as does the amount of weight we are allowed to pack into them.
Fotospeed are the only fine art paper company I am aware of who provide us with custom made panoramic papers. I shoot a lot of panoramas in my work, both combining exposures in software (now a feature of Lightroom CC as well as Photoshop, a welcome development) and by cropping into a single image to a ratio which yields an image with the characteristic panoramic ‘letterbox’ format. I am not a lover of really wide angle lenses having grown tired of the distortion they produce. I prefer, when I want to show the wide sweep of the landscape, to reveal it in a panorama. (I know wide angle lenses can be used to inject drama into images, but again, I am finding myself moving towards quieter, less dramatic images in my work and so I have sold on my super wide lenses now due to lack of use.
In January every year I update the metadata preset in Lightroom which embeds my copyright information into every file I import into my Lightroom catalogue,
This year I thought I would record a brief video to show how it was done, in case you might find it useful. Enjoy!
I have just returned from a three day trip to North Wales where I was running a workshop in the Snowdonia National Park. Our base was the fabulous Tan-Y-Foel guest house where we were cared for perfectly by owners Chris & Maria. (If you are planning a trip to Snowdonia I can highly recommend staying at Tan-Y-Foel, the location is breathtaking from its elevated position set away from the road in above a beech forested valley with views to the mountains. The rooms, food and service could not be better and being just outside of Betws-y-Coed it is in the perfect place to explore magnificent Snowdonia – have a look at their website, which will be updated in early 2015 – http://www.tyfhotel.co.uk ) Chris and Maria kindly reserved the whole property for us so we had it to ourselves and this meant we could choose breakfast time to fit with our sunrise shoots – perfection!
There is a way for published photographers (and artists, poets and writers) to receive additional income from their work and I thought it might be useful to put a blog post together about it.
In the same way that the Performing Rights Society monitor radio stations, TV broadcasts, public events and music played in public places in order to make sure musicians are compensated when their work us played, there is a similar organisation in place for creatives whose work appears in print.
From the first time I heard that Iains series, The Pool, was to be published by Triplekite, I was excited. I have followed Iains work for a few years now and The Pool series has become a favorite of mine.
I first came across the work on Iains website a year or two ago and was instantly entranced by its delicate beauty and simplicity. Iain is a full time professional photographer working out of Strathpeffer in Scotland. His work is often characterised by its keen observational quality. Iain is a man who walks around with his eyes wide open and seems to see things where many do not.
I first became aware of a man, Paul Kenny, several years ago through an article in, I think, Outdoor Photography magazine. I read about a photographer who was visiting, annually, a small stone sheep pen by a beach on the west coast of Scotland. Here he camped for a week or two each year and photographed this sheep pen. The rocks, the lichen, the patterns, shapes and forms. The enclosure had been built no one really knows how many centuries or millennia previously, the rocks used were beautifully round, smooth and encrusted in lichen which grew painfully slowly over generations of mans existence, populating their own spherical worlds, forming continents and islands of life. I had never come across such devotion and application in a photographer before and he really made a deep impression on me.
I don’t know about you, but I love to print my favourite images. It seems such a shame that so many images today lie unseen on hard drives, when really an image is not fully realised until it is printed. There is just something about holding a well made print in the hand which brings out the full beauty of an image.
For many, though, printing is a bit of a dark art and there is much confusion about ICC profiles, paper profiles, gamuts and such like that can be daunting. One area that seems to cause confusion and is not well understood by many is ‘rendering intents’.
Before I begin, a disclaimer. I am not a colour scientist, not do I claim to be a world expert on colour management. My understanding is based on my own learning. I am sure there may well be much more to what I explain below and so if you are an expert, please feel free to add some comments below the post to add to (or correct) what I have said. I am keen to learn!
Rendering intents is a system built into ICC profiles that we see in print dialogues and we are asked to make a decision about which one to use. There are four main rendering intents and, in reality, only two are of real interest to us as photographers.
The usual advice we are given is to ‘try both and see which you prefer’ (I have even said this myself), but it is not really a very satisfactory way of working. Much better to understand what they are and what they do, then we can make a well informed decision and understand what effect they will have on the results.
Firstly, its important to say, we are dealing with the fine tuning of colour management here. Often you can print an image using both of the main rendering intents and it is hard for us to see any difference between them. At other times, though, it can make a huge difference to how our final print will look.
So what are they? As I mentioned, they are built in to ICC profiles. These profiles are the way different devices (cameras, computers and printers for example) communicate the colour (Hue, saturation and luminance) of each pixel an image to each other in an effort to maintain colour consistency.
Rendering intents are there for those situations when we have pixels of certain colours in our image which go beyond the capabilities of the ICC colour space we are working in. Briefly, colour spaces are, for example, sRGB or Adobe RGB, and each space is used for a different purpose. sRGB is the space used for monitors and ‘the internet’, for example, it is a smaller colour space than Adobe RGB, capable of displaying far fewer shades of colour. The range of colours a profile can display is galled its ‘Gamut’.
So situations arise where, if your image has a wide range of colours which exceeds those of the colour space you are printing in or exporting to (say, to upload an image to your website) then the profile needs a ‘map’. This map tells it what colours to swap the colours it can’t reproduce for. So, if you have been working in Adobe RGB (or ProPhoto RGB) and now are about to upload an image to your website which requires the file to be converted to sRGB so that it displays properly on the (uncalibrated) monitors of your websites visitors from all over the world, the profile needs to know how to handle these ‘out of gamut’ colours. You might have a green which displays fine in Adobe RGB but isn’t available in sRGB and so the profile asks you to choose a ‘rendering intent’. This is the map which tells it, when it sees this particular shade of green that it can’t display then change it to this other shade of green which it can show.
Its a bit like having a recipe book for Indian food. It might show a list of rare spices but, knowing they may not be available in your country, it says ‘if spice X is unavailable, then spice Y will do nicely’.
Its this ‘nicely’ bit that causes the issue.
Each rendering intent is a different type of map, a different way of substituting one colour for another, and like spices in a curry – we all have our own tastes. Some like them hot, others aromatic and so the substitute choice can be critical. So to make the right choice for us we need to understand how each rendering intent is programmed and how it is likely to affect the results in our images, especially prints or images uploaded to the web.
No rendering intent will be perfect and you can’t really say that one is ideal to use all the time. This is because each is a compromise and will affect the colours in our image differently. Depending on the image and our goals for that image, we need to choose the right intent, or map.
So what are they and what does each one do;
1. Perceptual Intent – This can compress or expand the full gamut of colours in the source profile in order to make them fit into the destination profile. What on earth does that mean in reality? Perceptual intent is designed to maintain the relationships between colours and often gives a more natural look to the final image. It should be noted that this can mean that it also alters colours which are in the destination profiles gamut already (so they don’t actually NEED to change). It does this to maintain the balance between all the colours in the image and to keep everything looking natural.
It should also be noted that each companies perceptual intent mapping in its own ICC profiles are unique to that company, so the same image put through different company profiles using this intent can produce quite different results.
Perceptual Intent, then, is often the best one to use if both saturation and the relationship between colours is of primary concern to us.
2.The second and other most common intent (indeed Adobe Lightroom ONLY allows a choice between Perceptual and Relative Colourmetric intents) is Relative Colourmetric Intent. This does not allow colours which are in gamut in the destination profile to be changed, they must stay unaltered. It only alters out of gamut colours. Additionally, it only alters these just enough to bring them in to gamut so the relationship between colours in our images change. (Most natural colours which have not been enhanced or played with too much in software, will fit into the gamut of inkjet printers – it is mainly colours which we have enhanced which cause issues).
This rendering intent does not reduce saturation, whereas Perceptual intent can. However, this intent can drastically alter the way an image looks to our eyes as regards the way the colours relate to each other.
Relative Intent is often the best to use if tonal relationships are more important to us in the image then the exact colours, and certainly in black and white printing this is probably the case.
(if you are making a big jump, from ProPhoto to sRGB profiles then, even if the profile offers you two choices of rendering intent, in actual fact it will only use Relative Colourmetric to do the mapping of out of gamut colours).
In the illustration above you can see an approximation of what is happening with each rendering intent. The white dots are the colours in the original image profile which are out of gamut in the destination profile. The lines lead from them showing how each is mapped into the new profile resulting in the destination colour at the black dot. In the left illustration we can see the Perceptual Intent at work. Notice how the colours all maintain their relationships to each other (spacings) for a natural look. In the right hand image we see the effect of Relative Intent mapping the colours. They are only pulled as far as each needs to be pulled to just get them in gamut and this alters how they look in relationship to each other.
It might seem from this that Perceptual is the logical choice in all situations, but it isn’t. Sometimes Relative does a more effective job, especially where tonality is more important.
The other two intents which are of less interest to us are
3.Saturation Intent – This is designed to give priority, as you would expect, to saturation of colour but in doing so, to get colours into a new gamut, will sacrifice hue and lightness of colours. It is of most use in technical printing when hue and lightness are not really important, but when saturation is, such as when printing mathematical charts and graphs.
4. Absolute Colourmetric Rendering Intent – This is a tricky one to describe but bases its calculations on the white point. It is used, for example, when converting to CMYK for images to be printed on papers which are below bright white (maybe a bit yellowy) and so it can show the effect of this on colours. Not generally something we, as photographers, have to worry about. But it is something that graphic designers and printers lay awake at night worrying about.
After all this is said, the only real way to know which is best for a particular image is to soft proof it in both relative and perceptual intents and choose the one we prefer for that image. In some cases the difference will be hard to see, in others it will be huge.
I hope this helps you understand a bit more about rendering intents and the need for us to focus on perceptual and relative intents in our work as photographers.
Remember – Perceptual is all about maintaining colour balance and saturation (and I think you will find in most colour photography this is the one you will find works best as it keeps your image as close to how you intended it to look as possible in most cases). Relative is more focused on tonal relationships and so will probably be your choice when printing in black and white or when printing in colour when the tones are more important than the exact shades.
(P.S. I will to be running another Print Masterclass workshop with master printer Jack Lowe in the New Year. These run over two days with Jack and I helping you to really understand and master colour management, soft proofing and printing. Jack has been a printer for over 15 years and is recognised world-wide as a master of his trade, used by many artists and professional fine art photographers for printing their work for exhibitions and portfolios. If you would like to join the no obligation shortlist, please just CLICK HERE to email me and I will add you to the list.)
I made three hour long videos for OnLandscape magazine in 2013 and they are now available via YouTube.
I have collected them together here for you to watch (and enjoy?)
Part I – a discussion of my creative/alternative technique images and approach (the echo on Tim’s mike is removed after about a minute)
Part II – A session filmed with me working live in the field showing camera techniques
Part III – The final video where I demonstrate my Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop techniques for processing these types of images
I hope you find these videos useful.
I recently had the chance to take the Fuji X-Pro 1 with me on a workshop I was co-leading up above the arctic circle in the far north of Norway. I thought this would be an ideal opportunity to see how the camera performed in extreme conditions. I also had with me a newly delivered 23mm f1.4 Fuji lens to try out too. The images in this article were all made on the trip and all but the aurora shot are jpegs straight or virtually straight from the camera. If you followed my trip reports from the expedition you will have seen most of these images before (sorry!), but the aurora image with the 23mm lens is new, as are one or two of the others.
The idea of testing the lens here was to see how it performed shooting the “Northern Lights”, the Aurora Borealis, if we had a chance to see it. In theory the fast f1.4 aperture would make it ideal but I was also interested to test the sharpness of the lens and also to get a feel for its width, which although 23mm works out at about 35mm as a full-frame DSLR equivalent.
My main concern before setting off with the camera was battery performance in the extreme cold. I have found with the X-Pro 1, as many others have, that battery life is much poorer than I am used to with my DSLR. Of course, the battery is physically much smaller and the camera is fitted with a great electronic viewfinder (EVF) which must use quite a bit of power, so there are reasons behind this.
My frustrations with battery life are compounded by the fact of how difficult it is to change batteries quickly. I have the extended grip fitted to the camera which I find helps me with handling the camera and this has to be removed for every battery change. But, when shooting landscapes I also have to fit a quick release plate for my tripod and this requires a screwdriver (or coin) to remove it and this is also required to change the battery. The way I work I can easily go through four or more batteries in a days shooting and so this stripping down of the camera every time gets very tiresome. You can imagine how much I was looking forward to the drop off in battery performance in the minus 10 to minus 20 degree temperatures we were expecting.
So, how did the batteries perform? Surprisingly, quite well. In fact, I can’t say I noticed a deterioration over what I am used to. True, when shooting in such cold you tend not to shoot for extended periods, however the camera is cold, even in the bag. But I didn’t have to do more battery changes than normal. For that I was thankful.
How did the camera perform? There were a couple of issues. Bear in mind that at times I was using it at minus 20 degrees and often at well below freezing. The first issue I discovered almost straight away was the Fn button on the top of the camera which is programmable to whatever function you choose (I have it set to allow me to quickly change ISO) became “sticky”. To be honest, as it happened straight away I thought at first I had perhaps damaged the camera during the flight as the body had been in my pocket (with no lens attached). However, when the camera warmed up again later in the hotel the button returned to normal action. The next day, back in the cold, the stickiness returned. I found kit still worked but I had to press it carefully and be patient with it.
This button issue later extended to the AF button on the rear of the camera which allows you to select focus points for the auto focus system. In this case it went beyond sticky and refused to work, but again returned to life on warming up in the hotel.
Apart from these two issues the camera performed flawlessly in the extreme conditions we worked in and produced some images I am very happy with.
What I would say, however, is, that I found myself (contrary to what I have been doing here in the UK since buying the Fuji) reaching for my Canon 5D mk3 first. The Fuji has been my camera of choice since I bought it second hand a couple of months ago and I absolutely love it. But after a couple of days I realised I was favouring the Canon unconsciously over it, whereas since buying the Fuji I had not used the Canon at all except for a commissioned shoot which required it. I analysed why this was and realised that the Canon was much easier to use in the cold. I was wearing a pair of thin Merino wool inner gloves and with the Canon I could keep these on and operate the camera easily. However, the Fuji buttons required I take the gloves off due to the size and positioning of the buttons.
I also found the physical size of the Canon easier with gloves. So it was nothing to do with image quality, but rather the practicalities of usability in the arctic weather. I was also conscious of the button stickiness. The Canon had zero issues. It is a testament to the build quality that it shrugged off minus 20 easily. To give you an idea of what these temperatures are like to work in, my camera bag (and I) were getting frosted up at minus 20. Oh, and I didn’t change a battery in the Canon for the whole trip.
So, conclusions on the bodies. If I go to the arctic again the Fuji will stay at home (although it grieves me to say it). It is not ideal for these conditions. If it was my only camera it can handle it, but it is starting to show stress. I would, next time, take the 5Dmk 3 and and mk2 body as my spare body. However, on trips to warmer locations abroad, the Canon will be staying at home and My Fuji will be my travel camera and if my wife, Liz, will let me, her XE-2 body will be my spare body).
Now, thoughts on that 23mm lens. If you have used the 35mm lens you will know how wonderful it is. So you might be wondering if the 23mm is as good? Is it worth adding to your lens stable? Well, my in my opinion, you should. I have only used it a little but I am already blown away by it. It is as sharp, if not sharper. Wide open it is extraordinary. The bokeh is soft and dreamy. On the body of the X-Pro 1 the camera is nicely balanced in the hand (I use the body with the added grip). I am on the train going to London as I type this and I have the lens with me. If time allows I am going to put it through its paces on some street photography – a genre it is made for. I’ll post some images if they are up to scratch.
I used it for some aurora images in Norway. For shooting the aurora you have the lens wide open and focused on infinity. I could have done with a wider lens, in reality, to get more of the landscape in the shot. We were in a forest miles from any light pollution and this means total darkness so composing the image is very tricky. More width gives you latitude to crop away the edges if they are a bit messy. But it is not the fault of the lens that it wasn’t wide enough for what I wanted. The wide aperture gave me great speed, so at ISO1600 I was able to make these images at 10 to 20 seconds which is ideal for aurora images of this type. Had we had a more extreme display I think my shutter speed would have been down to a couple of seconds which would have captured the ‘curtain’ effect had we seen it. Even wide open, with the difficulty of focusing on infinity in absolute darkness I was able to get sharp images with surprising depth of field. The X-Pro 1 performs really well at high ISO’s. I pushed some images to ISO3200 and these do show some noise, but nothing that my Nik noise reduction plugin can’t reduce for me.
So, there we have it. A brief run down on the Fuji X-Pro 1 in the Arctic. It survived, but had a couple of issues. Its not ideal for these extreme conditions, but it held its own and I am delighted with the images it gave me. (all the images here were shot on it). As I am blessed with being able to have two camera systems, the Fuji and the Canon, I have the luxury of choice so if ever I get the chance to return it will be without the Fuji. But if I was a sole Fuji user, I would happily take it knowing I would come home with a great set of images.
Last night Tony and I took it in shifts to keep a watch on the skies and the aurora reports but sadly the auroral activity was extremely low and there was nothing to be seen here despite broken cloud. At least the group had a long nights unbroken sleep to get over jet lag.
We headed out after breakfast into great soft pink light (the image above was one I managed to grab from one of the mornings locations). The temperatures here were below freezing all day and are currently around minus 10 a few miles inland. Here on the coast they are a little higher at around minus 2 to 4 but the wind is rising so it feels much colder. No snow has fallen after yesterdays blizzards.
The group were getting used to working in such cold conditions. You soon learn not to let snow get onto your gear. For example, I dropped a body cap into the snow. It would have been crazy to put this on to the body of my camera. The snow melts in the bag then when the camera gets cold the snow then re-freezes causing damage or sticking the cap into place. One member of the group had her tripod head accidentally dropped in the snow. This quickly froze the ball head, which we had to defrost on location.
Keeping yourself warm is key too. As hands get cold it quickly becomes impossible to operate the camera, so, even though it slows down picture making, it is important to wear gloves (only removing them when necessary and putting them back on again as quickly as possible). Hats, gloves and warm coats are all very necessary. Decent boots here are very important. Not only do they need good grip for walking on compacted snow and ice but they also need to have good thermal barriers in the soles to help keep the feet warm when standing by the tripod for long periods. I am wearing North Face Chilkats and they are performing perfectly.
At these temperatures the cameras are working well. Batteries do drain more quickly but it is not so cold that this is becoming a real issue at this stage. It is also not so cold yet that we have to put our cameras in poly bags when returning them to the vans to stop condensation forming and refreezing. This becomes an issue when the temperature gets lower – closer to minus 20. Then it is vital to bag and seal the camera body and lenses in sealed poly bags when moving from outside into the van or a building. This helps stop condensation forming. The condensation is not too much of a problem until you take the gear back into the cold when it instantly re-freezes. This kills cameras and when on the front of lens elements will need to be scrapped off, much like scrapping ice off of a car windscreen. Not something you want to be doing with your beloved pro-lenses.
For those interested in how the Fuji X-Pro 1 is performing I have a few things to mention. It is interesting. I am finding the Canon 5D mk3 easier to use with gloves on and some of the scenes are so stunning I am feeling the need to use the bigger sensor. I have noticed the ‘function’ button gets a bit sticky in the cold when it drops very low (I have the button programmed to quickly change the ISO). I haven’t been using it for long periods so I can’t say battery performance has seen a noticeable drop in performance. The image quality continues to be superb.
As we haven’t seen the aurora yet, I can report on how it performs being pushed to capture that!
We covered three locations today. The first was an inland fjord (you can see an image from here at the top of this post). Ice was forming at the edge of the fjord and the pink light in the sky was beautifully subtle. From here we moved to a small frozen lake with a range of jagged mountains behind. The group worked on capturing the snow, ice, small silver birch tree with some stunning Alpen glow on the mountains behind. Our final location was another fjord, with a great jetty to use as foreground with rugged mountains and delicious silvery blue light. Great for a lengthened exposure just to flatten the water a little. My image is shown below. Once we had finished here (which included shooting a lovely fisherman’s hut full of textures and detail) we dived into a coffee shop for some well earned Lattes and chocolate brownies (well, its not all work on these trips, you know!).
Back at the hotel we are now resting in our rooms prior to our evening meal. On an aurora trip its important to use the afternoon darkness to sleep in case we spend the night out shooting the skies. Over the meal we will consult the space weather, cloud cover, and auroral activity reports to see if everything might come together in our favour. Who knows what the night holds. (23:30 update – sadly the cloud has rolled in and although the charts show a little auroral activity it is impossible to see it. Even with no activity we had planned to go out and shoot star trails but with heavy clouds, a rising and biting wind with heavy wind chill this was just pointless, so it is back to bed. There is always tomorrow).
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lets get one thing really clear at the outset. This post is not a Canon verses Nikon post. I am a Canon user and this post will go some way to explaining why, but right from the beginning lets be clear, If image quality is the most important factor to you in camera choice right now, as a DSLR buyer then go right ahead and get yourself a Nikon D800. It is amazing. What you read in the reviews is right about the quality of the files it produces. Here, at last is a DSLR which produces files very (very) close to medium format quality. You will not be disappointed by the images you get from it as regards the way it handles colour, contrast or detail. You will be able to crop into images heavily and still be able to produce wonderful prints. It is a ‘game changer’.
Would I buy one? No.
Is that because I am biased? No.
Is that because I am heavily invested in Canon EOS lenses? No.
Is it because, in reality, I like blurry, soft, images and, in fact love analogue images more than digital? No.
One word. Usability.
I work with workshop participants weekly. I work with every make of camera on the market they bring along. Every model. Without exception, Canon DSLR’s are the most user friendly cameras on the market today.
Let me give you some examples of issues I have with Nikon’s in particular which make them unusable FOR ME (but you might be fine with).
1. Exposure simulation in Live View. In both Canon and Nikon systems as you adjust the aperture or shutter speed while in Live View the monitor will get brighter or darker to simulate this for you, just as a helpful approximation, the affect of those changes on your image. Slow down the shutter speed and the screen gets brighter. Speed it up and it gets darker and so on. Except, and it baffles me as to why, but the Nikon designers decided tht this really useful feature should stop working when the shutter speed exceeds 2 seconds (6 seconds on some models). Yup, thats right. Do they think it is of no help to see what’s happening when light levels are so low that we need exposures longer than 2 seconds? What on earth possessed them to BUILD THIS IN? Canons on the other hand simulate the exposure right up to 30 seconds. Usability.
2. I would love a Nikon designer to explain to me why they decided you can’t see the light meter gauge superimposed on the Live View screen. You have to turn Live View OFF, and either put your eye to the eyepiece or switch on the “Quick Info” menu to see the Light Meter gauge. Baffling. Needless to say on the Canon it is viewable in Live View.(UPDATE: apparently, you can see some sort of light meter gauge by pressing the OK button in LV on some Nikon bodies, high end it seems, but not all. I will have to see exactly what this looks like next time I have a Nikon in my hands to assess)
3. Another completely unforgivable omission on a Nikon that I find unacceptable is that while you can focus in Live View mode, manually or automatically, you cannot use the depth of field preview button in Liew View to check you have focused on the correct point and have everything you require in sharp focus. Whereas, of course, you can on the Canons, even the most basic models.(UPDATE; I have, since writing this, found out that on the D3 and D800 models depth of field is simulated constantly in Live View. This seems to me to be a great feature. The only thing I would say is, in using D3’s and D800’s, the graniness of the monitor compared to those used by Canons is so bad that I hadn’t noticed that this was, in fact the case. So although I applaud the ‘feature’ It would be good, now, to improve the sharpness of the monitors on these cameras to make the feature useable)
By the time I get to point three I find that a Nikon is so frustrating to use I just refuse to consider buying one, no matter how good the image quality is over a Canon. I know that at some point Canon will release a full frame body which will rival or exceed the D800 in image quality. In the meantime I also know the 5D mk2 and 3 still exceeds any requirements for image quality my customers have ever required already, so they are not poor cameras. I can wait. I am baffled by those who have sold their (in my opinion) superior L EOS lenses and bodies to jump on the D800 bandwagon, seduced simply by image quality.
They certainly do have amazing, stunning image quality. No doubt about that whatsoever. But I wonder how many are secretly fuming and regretting the move. Furious that they didn’t realise how poorly designed the Nikon’s are and how frustrating they are to use to to those who are used to the amazing usability and functionality of Canons EOS range? I wonder how many stand behind the D800 in low light in turmoil wondering if they have the depth of field they need? Remembering how easy it was to check on a Canon? Annoyed about yet again having to turn off Live View and turn on another screen just to make exposure adjustments, while reminiscing at how easy it was back in the day when they had a Canon? And more money in their bank account?
If you are a Nikon owner, please don’t get me wrong. They are superb cameras that will give you years of great service. If you have never owned a Canon you probably haven’t even noticed these issues and have no problems using your camera. My comments are aimed more at Nikon themselves or these design flaws and at Canon users, especially high end 1ds and 5d users who are being seduced away from Canon by the IQ of the D800. It is these I am urging to think again.
(UPDATE:Since writing this, I have have had others raise issues to do with Nikons being difficult to operate with gloves on, compared to Canons, issues to do with how complex and baffling their menu systems are, that in Live View the D800 drops to just 4 frames per second, the inexplicable AF/MF switch on Nikons etc, etc, etc. I am sure there are many more. For me the functions I have mentioned are just those that would affect the way I use a camera the most. All cameras have their foibles and I know Canons have some of their own too. I also wanted to add that if you don’t use a camera in the way I do, maybe the features I have discussed may have no impact on your choice of body manufacturer, which is fine. I just felt I had to flag up certain things about Nikons which most users do not become aware of until after they have spent a huge amount of money buying into a system of bodies and lenses and are pretty much tied into for the foreseeable future. I just wanted you to go in with your eyes open).
So if you are thinking of switching systems, think long and hard. Don’t just consider IQ. Think about usability and functionality. If you are thinking about buying a DSLR for the first time, think about the same things too. The decision you make now will tie you in to a system, potentially for many years to come.
It’s not all about megapixels. It’s about usability, so that operating the camera becomes simple and invisible. Thus your mind is free to concentrate on what is really important. Composition. Timing. Light. Art. Not faffing about with a bit of kit that just frustrates you.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Landscape photographers fall into two camps. Those who like to get things ‘right’ in camera and, so, use filters to balance exposures, and those who prefer to make two or more exposures on location and then blend them together back in the digital darkroom.
Some will insist one way is ‘correct’ or better than the other but in reality, it’s just a personal choice. I use both methods. When the contrast in brightness between the sky and foreground is really high then I will use the blending option. If the contrast is more manageable, then I prefer to use filters.
I often get asked which filters to buy to get started in using them so I thought a post on what I would suggest might be useful. Filter systems are not cheap so it’s important to make an informed choice and not to buy items you probably won’t need.
The first choice is which system to invest in. This is down to money and is also influenced by how much of your photography is landscape based. If you are only an occasional landscaper (especially if funds are tight) then investing in the best system might not be worthwhile. Even if you do a lot of landscape work, if funds don’t allow, you might not be able to buy the best but you may still be able to afford a mid priced system which will give you acceptable results.
The system I would strongly recommend avoiding is Cokin. They a very competitively priced and this makes them a tempting option. Please resist unless you absolutley can’t afford/bear to wait and save up for a better system. The filter holders are poorly designed, but, worse still, the filters will create horrible colour casts on your images which you won’t be able to correct in software. Most photographers who do buy into Cokin usually end up ruining so many precious images they sell up and get something better.
The next system which is an improvement over Cokin and is thus a possible option for the occasional landscaper or those on a budget, are High Tech. This newish brand is readily available on EBay and elsewhere, and is priced well. The filters fit the Lee system holders although they have their own holder available too. The downside? Some of the filters still give colour casts, but nothing as bad as Cokin. Optically they are not as pure as the Lee system. It’s always good to realise that our lenses are only as good as the cheapest piece of glass in the system. So if we have invested in some nice Canon or Zeiss lenses, putting cheap filters in front of them makes them much poorer. We might as well have bought cheaper lenses.
This is the reason I don’t have UV filters ‘protecting’ my lenses. Even if you buy the ‘pro’ range filters the glass is unlikely to be as good as the glass used on lenses such as those in the Canon L range. To protect my lenses I use a lens cap. Then I am getting the top performance from my glass. An additional benefit in not fitting UV filters is the reduced chance of vignetting with wide angle lenses when adding your filter system on the front of the lens.
The filter system I use and always recommend (even if it means going without them for a while, while you save up for them) is Lee. They are the best filters available. Lee have very tight quality control and each filter is individually hand made and checked. The process is very labor intensive, they even pour the resin themselves. Lee neutral density filters are truly neutral. No colour casts at all with Lee.
This explains the cost. Getting set up with the Lee system is going to cost you around £300 to £500, depending on what you buy. However, they will last you for many years (or life if you take great care of them) and will fit any future cameras of lenses you buy.
So, what do you need. I will describe the most basic system first. This can be expanded piece by piece as you find what will be of most use to you. Just about everything is available as an individual item so you can build on your starter kit gradually.
The first essential is the adaptor rings. These are bought to fit the diameter of your lens or lenses. If you have a 77mm diameter lens, you have to have a 77mm adaptor ring. These aren’t cheap at £30 to £40 each. Lee used to make two types, standard for non-wide lenses and wide angle (for wide angle lenses, funnily enough). I believe they have now decided to rationalise to just wide angle adapters, which fit all lens types and will help eliminate vignetting. I have one permanently fitted to each of my lenses that I use my filters on, so that I don’t have to keep fitting and removing them. I then use the white lens caps Lee make (a pack of three caps is about £7) and these fit onto the adapter ring, protecting the lens. I then write the type of lens on the front of the lens cap so I can see at a glance which lens is which when I open my camera bag.
The next essential item is the filter holder which clips on to the adapter ring and holds the filters in position, allowing you to slide the filters up and down to position graduations correctly. You can buy these individually but if you are just starting out it is more economical to buy Lees “Digital Starter Kit“. This will give you a filter holder with two slots in, a two stop hard graduated neutral density filter and a two stop Pro-Glass full neutral density filter as well as a lens cloth. All of these items are essentials and the kit gives you a cost saving over buying each item individually.
A good alternative to this is to buy the starter kit Lee produce exclusively for David Noton. It contains the adaptor ring as part of the kit (you select the kit with the adaptor ring you need for your main lens. The only issue has been availability and at the time of writing (19.10.12) they don’t have kits in stock. If it is available it might be a good option for you.
You now have enough to make a start in using filters but you will soon find the limitations of the starter kit. Your next addition will be a three stop neutral density graduated filters for higher contrast scenes. These can also be ‘stacked’ with your two stop grad to give you five stops, but this is rarely needed and if you do need this much filtration I would strongly considering making multiple exposures and blending them in Photoshop rather than using too many ND grads stacked up.
The question I am always asked is ‘should I go for hard or soft grads?” you will notice Lee give you a hard grad in the starter kit. This is because, in reality, the hard grads have quite a soft enough graduation when using digital SLR’s due to the sensor size. The filters were originally designed for medium format cameras and so the soft grads are very softly graduated on a DSLR. So if you are going for one type, go for hard.
Having said that, I carry both. I use hards mostly these days but if I have a scene with lots of things intruding into the sky (like trees, hills etc), it is sometimes best to use softs to really blur the change from the neutral density effect to the clear part of the filter. I would avoid using soft grads at the coast or anywhere you have a level distinct horizon as the graduated area will make the foreground a bit too dark. (a tip when positioning your grads is to hold in the depth of field preview button as you slide it into position. This will make sure the positioning is spot on as you will be seeing the shot as the lens will capture it
Do you need one stop graduated filters? If you want to perfectly balance some exposures, yes. But this is my least used filter and if you need to save cash you can do without it. Some times you may need to use the graduated filter tool in Lightroom later to adjust the exposure of the sky if the two stop filter was a it too strong but this is easily done.
The next filters I would add are the three and ten stop full neutral density filters. The three stop is very useful, as is the two stop you got in the digital starter kit. For extending exposures. They will enable you to make light trail images, to blur waterfalls, create blur effects in breezy woodlands and a host of other great effects.
The ten stop filter, named by Lee the “Big Stopper“, is a tool I use a lot. They will enable you to extend exposures to several minutes to produce the minimal, ethereal shots which have become so popular in recent years (although they are becoming. bit of a photographic cliche). They enable me to make striking images outside of the golden hours when I wouldn’t have been shooting in times past due to the quality of the light.
You need to be aware that although they are thought of as ten stop filters it is impossible for Lee to control the manufacturing process that accurately. So your filter could be anything from about 9.25 to 11 stops in strength. This explains why your exposure times in identical conditions to a friend working beside you with a Big Stopper using identical settings can be quite different. A stop difference in filter strength can mean a two minute exposure for one person and the other needs four minutes to get the same exposure result. Please also note that Big Stoppers are very fragile, made of glass. I am on my fourth! Not a cheap thing to break at around £110 each.
The final filter to add to your arsenal is a polariser. In the Lee system this means buying another adaptor ring which screws on the front of your filter holder. This allows the polariser to be fitted on the outermost position of your stack which is important as it needs to be rotated to get the polarising effect. The adapter ring is another £30 to £40 but his pales into insignificance when you realise the filter is over £200. It is 110mm in diameter which reduces vignetting. It also means you can use one polariser with every lens you have to which you can fit your Lee system. The quality of the filter is very good.too, but nonetheless it’s an expensive item – but one I feel is essential (and I write as someone who has lost one on a mountainside and had to bite the bullet and buy a replacement.) the effect of the polariser is something that no software can replicate and will transform the quality of many images.
A slightly cheaper alternative is to buy a B&W 110mm LINEAR polariser. For digital cameras we should use a CIRCULAR polariser. This doesn’t describe the shape, it describes the way the glass is treated. Linear polarisers are of a older design and can affect the auto focusing of lenses. The lens may not be able to auto focus. I always focus manually so I was able to buy one of these and save myself about £50. Don’t buy one if you might need to auto focus with the filter fitted. The B&W filter fits the Lee holder ring.
The Lee filter holder comes with two slots so you can stack two filters. A useful and low cost improvement of the holder is to buy an extension kit which enables you to dissemble the holder and add one or two more slots. This allows more options for stacking filters. I have three slots in mine which is generally enough.
I also use the Lee filter cloths, they are very good quality and wash beautifully. I keep my filters in the three slot soft filter wraps from Lee and then have a three section Lee pouch. One slot has my hard grad filter wrap, the second my soft grad wrap and the final slot holds my wrap with my two, three and Big Stopper ND filters. I write on the wraps what each wrap holds so I can grab the right one quickly.
Lee do sell filter cleaning fluid which is fine. I, however, buy my cleaning fluid for my filters and lenses from Specsavers. They sell a 250ml bottle for about £3 (compare that with around £5 to £7 or more for the ‘proper’ cleaning fluid sold by lens and filter manufacturers) and I can’t tell any difference from the ‘proper’ fluids. They also sell a pump bottle with about 50ml which I refill from the big bottle and carry with me in my bag for lens and filter cleaning in the field. It works beautifully. I am sure some optical engineer will email me about particulate size or some technical reason I should use the over priced fluid from manufacturers but I would take some persuading to change.
That pretty much covers what you need to get set up with Lee filters. The cost is high, but the results justify this. I hope this helps you get set up. All you need now is one of my workshops to show you how to get the best from them 🙂
If you buy items using the links in this post I will receive a small referral fee but you will not pay more. This helps me in my business and is much appreciated.