Thursday, 7 November 2013

Attention to detail

There's a lot more to this lark that just popping out and taking some photos. Even things that I'd take for granted as a hobbyist photographer become intricate extended tasks.

Take, for example, the simple act of causing one of my photographs to appear on a piece of paper.

First up, how will it look? In terms of the image itself, carefully calibrating my monitor and using the correct colour profile is a good starting point. Then I have to consider that there has to be some upscaling - digital is still nowhere near matching the equivalent resolution of film so a 300dpi (that's print resolution) image won't blow up as far as a print from film without some work being done.

Commercial software is available that uses clever algorithms to enlarge digital images but it's expensive, especially when you've just shelled out on a copy of Photoshop. Fortunately Photoshop has come a long way and resizing within the program is now pretty good. In the old days we would use the 110% Rule to get around Photoshop's previously shoddy upscaling - enlarge an image in 10% steps up to the desired size. You could write an action (Photoshop's equivalent of macros) to do the job but it was still a tedious and long-winded task (a bit like my blog posts).

Anyway, satisfying myself that the image will look OK in print is the tip of the iceberg. Next the thing has to be printed. I've got a pretty good printer but it's just for previews - I couldn't guarantee print quality and I'd also have to set up a framing area. The way things stand that would probably be in the kitchen, so until I win the lottery or somebody buys lots of my photos (hint hint) I have to outsource my printing. This means a bit of research, and this is where the strengths of the internet can, to a certain extent, become it's weaknesses.

Having so much information available also means that, whatever you look at, there's bound to be somebody who doesn't like it. And they're the people more likely to write about whatever you're looking for. So one print house will start looking pretty good value, then - for example - there's a review that suggests their black and white printing can suffer from a slight colour cast. As soon as one person writes that, more come out of the woodwork with their own horror stories and you get a disproportionate view of the product. Like so many things on the internet it becomes an exercise in digging for the truth by averaging out multiple sources.

I've just spent the best part of a day sorting out a print house and the test prints should be delivered tomorrow.

Assuming that the prints are satisfactory, the next consideration is to decide what form your product will take. You know you can take the photo, you know you can get it printed, now it's a question of working out what customers want. There's an almost infinite variety of mounting and framing options out there, all made accessible by online printing. Do you offer everything to everybody? Just concentrate on a few mounts/frames and hope you've got the tastes of the majority of your website visitors? It's a minefield.

My personal solution is to not offer much at all, except for a couple of 'halo' products. That's not just laziness, there are, in my opinion, very good reasons. Firstly, I don't want to baffle every visitor to my website with an endless list of print sizes, mounting options and frame types. Just think of the scope for the most chaotic drop-down menus you've ever seen. Secondly offering prints only means they can be posted in a tube, then framed by the customer to their own tastes. I know some photographers who would say that this compromises the image, that the wrong frame can ruin a photograph and to a certain extent I agree. On the other hand I prefer to assume that anybody contemplating buying a print from me has the visual taste and disposable income to do the job themselves in a way that matches their own taste and decor. It seems logical and easy for both parties.

It's a long way from just bashing out a quick inkjet print to show to your mates.

Friday, 25 October 2013


The Kilchoan Diary is a chronicle of life on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula and I'm proud to say that author Jon Haylett has very kindly featured my work from earlier in the month.

Here you go:

The Kilchoan Diary itself is well worth delving into for anybody with even a casual interest in the area. It served as a useful resource while I was staying there, a welcome diversion when the weather closed in, and continues to be a nice reminder of the place now that I'm back in Nottinghamshire.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Photos from Ardnamurchan

There was a quick preview of my Ardnamurchan shots a few posts ago, but here's some bigger images - a good proportion of these will, I think, make it onto my website as prints when I get that side of things sorted out (soon hopefully). In the meantime, I hope they go some way towards showing what an absolutely stunning part of the country this is.

Video from Scotland

The other purpose behind heading up to Scotland, besides photography and a holiday, was to get some interesting video in the bag, for two reasons. One, I needed something to edit to get used to the Adobe CC workflow and two, whilst my showreel is useful, it's a demonstration of what I used to do rather than an expression of what I'd like to do.

I've given my partner a shout in the credits not because she's my partner, but because she was genuinely a good production assistant. She booked the accommodation, lugged gear around, helped with setups, acted as a windbreak and generally made my job easier, all while she thought we were on holiday...

Things I'd change? If it was solely a filming trip I'd be a lot more adventurous in terms of shot styles, because part of the budget would be allocated to taking along excess memory capacity. I also think I made a last minute mistake in deciding not to take a second camera body along, which could have been set to take longer timelapses while I used the 7D for photography. From a production point of view, the music's a compromise, there was a slightly quieter track on the production music site I use that fitted my search parameters better but at $40, I simply couldn't justify that for personal use.

As an aside, I found that the search term 'sounds like Mogwai' worked a treat. Feels a bit like cheating but at the moment I can only dream of the day when I can afford to use some Mogwai on a video!

I also would have bought some more predictable weather... although we were up there for a week, the last two days were not as useful as they could have been as we were suddenly beset by bright blue skies. Fantastic for the part of me that was on holiday but not brilliant composition-wise.

All in all though, I think it's mission accomplished. I'm pleased with the end result, I'm ultra pleased with my new workflow and software, and I know what I want to do next time. Can't ask for much more really :)

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Back in the flatlands...

I'm back from Scotland after a fantastic week, the weather broke halfway through the week and I had a day of interesting clouds before the completely blue skies moved in. I've got some nice video and, more importantly, a decent handful of photos that I consider to be up to scratch. I'm still working on them (just some cropping I think, plus a lighthouse that needs to be a lot more vertical than it is!) but here's a quick preview:

What's interesting to me is that I've come back with a lot of landscape format shots - in the past I've always been a lot more inclined to go portrait. It'll be interesting to see over time if this is a shift in my personal style or a reaction to the locations I was shooting in.

As an aside this is my first serious batch of shots processed in Lightroom CC - and I'm impressed. A very slick piece of software and a lot more versatile than Aperture.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Ardnamurchan Update

Not a lot here of any great substance - I just thought I'd give the mobile version of Blogger a real world test while there's a semi-decent mobile signal. It's been a cloudy few days so far, but with a decent cloud base that's good news as the last thing I want is a boring blue sky. There's been some decent photos already, and lots of potentially useful footage - although I'd come here with a vague idea of what I wanted to do, my ideas are firming up as my shooting style moulds itself to the locations.

It's all been local to Kilchoan and car-based so far, but tomorrow we're off hiking to an abandoned village in the ancient volcanic crater here. Hopefully it'll be as atmospheric as it sounds...

Speaking of the atmosphere, I don't think we'll have much luck with the aurora as the solar maximum has very inconsiderately turned into a solar minimum, but there's a couple of clear nights forecast so I'll at least get some star shots in the bag.

I should probably mention, after all that, that this is also a great holiday, and I could quite happily sit here on the sofa all week drinking coffee and watching the clouds drift around the summit of Ben Hiant without taking a single photo... I either need a big photo contract or a lottery win so that I can move up here permanently!

I've attached a really rubbish phone picture to this post (the ancient laptop that I'm using as a memory card dump can't read the RAW files off the 7D) to give you a rough idea...

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Away for a week, and more whittling on about equipment

I'll be unavailable from this Saturday (October 5th) until the following Sunday, the 13th, as the Scotland trip I've been building up to for a while is upon me. I'm looking forward to a week of filming, photographing and getting rained on while tramping round the Ardnamurchan peninsula. Hopefully I've missed the worst of the weather - I've just read that my usual route to the highlands, the A83 to Oban over Rest And Be Thankful, is blocked by a series of landslips caused by heavy rain.

I've been working with a friend who knows his way around the inside of a computer over the past couple of weeks, thrashing out the spec and then building my ideal editing PC (and, if we're honest here, gaming rig as well). I've also signed up to Adobe's Creative Cloud so when I come back I can't say I don't have the tools to do the footage justice - I just have to get it right in the camera first time otherwise I'm looking at a 500-mile round trip to get any replacement footage. I can't really see that happening though because one of the good things about Scotland is that it's incredibly beautiful and photogenic even in the worst weather.

Speaking of equipment, my 7D came back from Lehmann's in Stoke in full working order. Got to say I'm impressed - the work was done relatively quickly, and came in at the bottom end of their quote. Hopefully the 7D doesn't do any more lemming impressions but if it does I know where to take it.

Sage words from the other side of the media industry

Those who know me personally will be painfully aware of my interest in various forms of music, mostly of the loud and antisocial variety. I've always admired Steve Albini so this post from Letters Of Note is, to me, fascinating. I'm linking to it here because I think it represents a philosophy that can apply to any creative industry, be it music, video, or photography.

And just in case the link plays up, here's the URL in full:

Thursday, 5 September 2013

A slight spanner In the works, and some ramblings

A few weeks ago, while I was trying (not very well) to capture the Perseids, my tripod, and thus my camera, fell over backwards onto the grass. Everything seemed to be working and I carried on taking photos, and I tweeted at the time about how the EOS 7D seemed pretty much bombproof - however, when I got it home I discovered how wrong I was...

I think it must have found the only stone in the field when it fell, as there was a gouge in the body just below the AF point select button, and the button itself was jammed inwards. The camera still functions, and I don't actually use the button that much when I'm taking photos, but it's useful for reviewing shots. Rather than live with it, which would have been frustrating and doable, I've elected to have it repaired. It'll take ten days and cost a lot of money, but I'll have a fully functioning camera in time for my trip to Scotland in October (more later).

So in the meantime I'm sat here twiddling my thumbs and staring at the wall while I come up with potential projects. It's actually good to get all the ideas that rattle around my skull written down, even if some of them demand display technology that doesn't exist yet! And I've got a period of investment coming up, with two video options and a timelapse and night photography option to think about.

Option one is to upgrade to an HD Hero 3, I'm very pleased with my Hero 2 but the Black flavour of the Hero 3 really is a bit of a beast. I've been known to do the odd bit of snorkelling so it's improved underwater image quality is very attractive. From an editing point of view, being able to film at 2k resolution is a bonus - a useful editing cheat is to film in a higher resolution than you intend to output, then digitally zoom in to the footage in edit to ensure perfect framing. And finally, I'd be hanging on to the Hero 2 so I'd have three HD capable cameras at my disposal for multicam video.

Option two is more of a whim than the others - I was asked for video camera advice a few weeks ago and my research led me to some pretty sweet Panasonic prosumer camcorders. I have to admit I prefer the look of DSLR footage for video but a proper camcorder is much more useable on the fly and like the HD Hero, getting a camcorder would give me 3 HD video cameras.

Option three is to invest in my photography rig. I'm very keen on timelapses, and from a hobbyist point of view, astrophotography. So my thinking is leaning towards a motorised tracking dolly, and/or an equatorial mount so I can track the stars.

At the moment I'm completely undecided, and I'm still trying to decide which option is balance right for me. I don't want to fall into the trap of my hobby becoming solely my job (a sure way of eradicating the reason for going it alone in the first place) so I need to pick the option that benefits me as much as my business.

Good job I've got ten days of staring at the wall to think things through!

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Something a bit different

Having written about my personal workflow in the previous post, here's something that flies in the face of that completely. A few weeks of bad luck with the weather had left me feeling a bit frustrated so I took the camera out with the intention of just playing around and having a bit of fun. I'd just seen a few Little Planets and thought I'd do the same... here's the result.

There's tutorials all over the web on how to do these, and they're actually pretty simple. Classical landscapes are pretty serious business so it's nice to be reminded that photography can be a laugh as well.

I'm sure normal service will be resumed in the next post, in the meantime I'm going to go and have a lie down because it's just hit me that I've actually posted a colour photo to the web...

Monday, 15 July 2013

A Note On Post-Processing

I just thought I'd add an insight into what goes on after I've taken a photograph and the reasons behind it.

The debate within the photography world about the use of software to post-process is as old as digital photography, and in other forms the argument has raged as long as people have been waving cameras at things. When does a photograph stop being a photograph? It's a tricky one because we all use some sort of post-processing to bring out elements of a shot.

I think that one of the major aspects of the debate is the question of how long you have been taking photographs. I started taking photographs at the tail end of the film era - I started off with an Olympus OM-10 and eventually moved to an early Canon EOS film camera. Thanks to my Dad building a darkroom in the loft I regularly processed and printed my photographs. Consequently, I'm used to working with what the camera has given me - and that can be a fair amount. Something that some digital-only photographers that I've spoken to are consistently surprised about is the amount of work you can do on an image with a darkroom - probably the best known examples come from Man Ray (, who, very interestingly from the point of view of this post, was an artist rather than a photographer. So, from my point of view at least, I don't see any technical or artistic reason to not go crazy in Photoshop, as most of the crossovers between digital photography and digital art already have precedent in the film photography world. However - and this is why the larger debate will never be settled - personal taste, bias, and familiarity with the different processes all have to play a huge role here.

As a landscape photographer, I'm caught between two stools - on the one hand, I have a desire to record a location faithfully. I regard a scene as an organic whole - so no sky replacement, no removal of inconvenient twigs. If it was there, it's part of the shot and I work with what I've got. On the other hand, I'm trying to create an artistic photograph that evokes feelings in the observer. It's a feature of human observation that we tend to exaggerate certain features of what we can see based on our feelings at the time. Now, because of the first conviction mentioned above, I can't take a rock feature and make it bigger in Photoshop, the majority of the work has to be done on location through choice of lens and point of view. So the compromise is to turn the computer, and Photoshop, into an old-fashioned darkroom.

I always shoot in RAW, never jpeg. RAW is called a digital negative by some and rightly so - I certainly treat it as such. Photoshop's RAW importer has recently come back into favour with me so the first step of post-processing is to open my RAW files in there, and to start the first phase of tweaking. Modifications at this stage are few and simple. I'll convert to black and white and identify which areas need to be emphasised and which ones need to be knocked back. If possible, I'll do this using the colour balance controls - to my mind this is the equivalent of using a coloured filter but with much more control. I'm probably stretching the analogy here, having minimal familiarity with colour enlargers, but I suspect that it's similar to printing a colour negative, with a colour enlarger, on black & white paper.

Having tweaked the colour balance, I'll then work on the overall tone and contrast of the photograph, still within the Adobe RAW plugin, using the exposure control and the black level control. At this point one of two things happens - I'm happy with the picture (rare, oh so rare!) and save it as-is, or I open the photograph in Photoshop proper rather than the RAW importer. Here, I'll use five tools at most - dodge, burn, crop, some extra colour balance work, and very rarely, the clone tool. Again, dodging and burning are direct analogies of darkroom techniques and are very useful to bring elements of the scene forward or to knock them back. The extra colour work is to take advantage of a very useful feature of Photoshop - the ability to tweak the properties of a colour selected from the scene itself whilst leaving the others alone. As to the clone tool, I regard cloning as cheating even though photographs have been retouched since the dawn of time. It's a personal view and not based on any real logic. But sometimes it's useful for getting rid of the odd spot of unwanted flare, or - a common occurrence in my house - removing that stray cat hair from my lens.

At this point, I make a judgement call on the photo. If I find myself thinking impure thoughts (sky replacement! Tree removal!), I regard that as a sign that the photo isn't good enough, stop working on it, and forget about it. If the photo looks good at this point then it's mission accomplished and it gets saved in my "Finished Edits" folder.

On a good day the post-processing phase can use up very little time, my personal record is around ten minutes for one of my Derbyshire shots.

So the short version is, I have nothing against the use of Photoshop in principle, but from a personal point of view I'd rather my photographs were made in the camera rather than through endless tweaking. It just feels more honest and natural that way.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Movement at last, lights in the sky, and microfocus adjustment

After a lot of hard work, endless image resizing, and staring at the wall wondering how people write about themselves, I've finally got my website up and running - here it is (fanfare please): 

In other news I've been approached for some video work, and I'm firming up some plans to hit Scotland in October to hopefully get some shots of the Aurora during the solar maximum - weather permitting of course, which could be interesting in Scotland! 

I'm also closing in on what I'd like to do with the shots of the White Peak that I'm slowly accumulating - the obvious route is a coffee table book of some kind and a gallery exhibition but I've got a few ideas that could make things a little different. Of course, ideas are completely different to reality so it will be interesting - and useful for future reference - to see how the things-sticking-out-of-the-ground-in-Derbyshire project evolves.

I've finally got round to adjusting the focus on the 7D, and I can safely say that if you own a 7D and haven't done this, drop whatever you're doing and get adjusting! I found a significant difference in focus points between the three lenses I use the most, and a quick trip to some local woods after adjustment yielded some vastly improved results. If it seems a bit daunting there are plenty of tutorials on the web that describe the process far better than I can.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Well that was a busy few weeks...

So. Self-employment. Where you have a million and one things to do, except you haven't because you just remembered something else and now it's a million and two...

I managed to get out to Derbyshire yesterday for the first time in a long time - it's a long way and a lot of petrol but as far as I'm concerned it's more than worth it for the end results. I'm so much more inspired when I'm in the hills.

Yesterday's trip was the start of an idea I've been brewing in the back of my mind for a while. The White Peak has a very distinct feel to it. Whilst it's quite a gentle landscape at first glance, the bones of the earth are close to the surface. There's a definite feeling that yes, this landscape has been settled, but not yet tamed. The remnants of the previous inhabitants litter the area and that connection with neolithic prehistory adds another layer to the feel of the place. So the thrust of my (currently very, very nebulous) idea is to put together a project documenting a loose class of subjects that I'm currently calling stuff-that-sticks-out-of-the-ground-in-the-White-Peak. If I put the pictures together in a book I might have to find a different name.

Anyway, here's a couple of pre-edits that hopefully illustrate what I'm banging on about. The first one is at Arbor Low, an ancient henge not far from Parsley Hay. The trick with shooting this place, apart from having a wide enough lens to do it justice, is to try to place it within the landscape as it's an incredible location with absolutely huge views. Waiting for the shadows was the key to this shot - the only processing here, apart from the black & white conversion, is a bit of dodging and burning to add definition to the foreground.

The second shot is a more natural feature - the Cork Stone on Stanton Moor. Heavily eroded, it's appearance was also modified by the Victorians, who added the steps and handholds up the side. 

This was almost the opposite from shooting at Arbor Low - rather than placing the subject in the landscape, the Cork Stone needs to be isolated as it's actually quite difficult to get an uncluttered shot - there's trees and grass banks very near. Other than that, it was a case of waiting for the sky to frame the stone and hoping that my ND grad darkened the sky without knocking out the detail in the stone itself.

In other news... I now have a Pond5 account, and I've just had my first batch of stock footage approved - hopefully that will turn into a nice little safety net. I'm also shooting a pilot webisode at the weekend, which even if it doesn't go any further will still be useful and will give my rather sparse YouTube and Vimeo pages something with a bit of substance other than showreels! 

Tuesday, 30 April 2013


So I've gone and done it... I quit my job at the end of March to try and get this side of things up and running. Feels good and scary at the same time!

You'll have noticed that the title of the blog has changed - after much thought I've come to the conclusion that it would be a shame to ignore the video skills I've picked up over the years, so I'm going to be doing some videography to support the photography.

I now have a Google+ page to tide me over until the website is finished to my satisfaction. Here it is:

More soon, I'm just dashing this off between various other things!

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Messing around with a pinhole lens

So, to tide myself over until my plans come to fruition (hopefully some news soon, I can't really say - or do -  anything until my employers know...), and to demystify my partner's new Dremel, I built myself a pinhole lens. It's not exactly rocket science and makes a fun project for a flu-ridden Sunday afternoon!

Step one is to find a surplus body cap - I've got three spares for some reason, so that bit was easy:

Next mark up the body cap on some tape - I used micropore because it was handy. I've marked out a square in the middle...

Drill the corners out...

Then use the cutting disc on the Dremel to finish the square (I'm wondering if the corner drilling was necessary, but I was kind of feeling my way through this!):

The final step is to make a pinhole in a square of aluminium foil and tape it to the inside of the body cap:

And it's finished! I particularly like the way that the construction technique shows off the workmanship and quality of engineering that goes into a lens like this...

So does it work? Well, sort of. The main issue is that the pinhole is too big - images come out very blurry. Apparently the key to a small pinhole is to make a bump in the foil and then gently sand off the peak of the bump, rather than just stabbing it with a pin. I got lazy and used the stabbing technique... but all in all I'm happy. I'm going to carry the lens in my bag anyway just because I can :D

Here's the results:

1 second exposure at ISO 100 seems to be the sweet spot (for completion's sake, the displayed aperture on the camera was f0.0)
Into the sun, with interesting diffraction/flare effects and a few mosquitoes. Who needs Instagram?