Monday, 29 June 2009

Three types of camera user

The new Olympus E-P1 is causing some buzz and there is some interesting comment over at Colin Jago's photostream. This got me thinking about who actually uses cameras and how. I have quite a lot of first-hand knowledge as I seem to be "camera guy" in my circle of friends, family and colleagues.

Type 1: the point and shooter

Easily 95% of camera users are the casual snappers - holidays, social events and the like. They want easy. they want decent pictures. Auto everything, please, and make sure the exposure is right. Most frequently asked question: how do I turn off the auto flash? (No, really.)

If Olympus thinks that the E-P1 is simplifying the DLSR in a way that will appeal to this lot, I think they're way off base.

Type 2: what do these buttons do?

I reckon this is the majority of DSLR buyers. Want some more control and better image quality (I won't say better quality pictures, hah!) but largely use auto stuff. P-mode abounds, all auto focus, auto exposure. Exposure compensation is advanced. Dabble in RAW but don't want the hassle. go on courses to learn what the buttons do (manual, what's that?). most frequently asked question: what aperture should I be using?

The E-P1 might appeal to this lot but it does have largely the same features as a DLSR and costs way more than an entry-level from the big manufacturers. I think price alone will stop this group buying it.

Type 3: I want it my way

Of camera buyers, they aren't many, but I bet they're a huge chunk of the spend. Gear mad, or very focused on particular usage. All the advanced amateurs and pros are in this group. Know how they want to the camera to work and want to be able to set it up that way. gripe about all manner of nuances in features, performance, ergonomics. Post-process everything. (I'm one of these.) Most frequently asked question: how do I set the ?

No camera will ever satisfy all of them but some will figure out how to get it to do good things. I think it is those type threes that can live with the compromises that will try the E-P1.

Notice I haven't said much about camera type. Type ones buy P&S, whichever was recommended to them, type twos tend to buy entry DSLRs and may have a cheap pocket camera, type threes probably have a bunch of cameras & lenses, small to large. they want small cameras to be as fully-featured as the top-end DSLRs. Why should the new E-P1 behave like an entry-level P&S?

And it's not just Olympus. I think all camera makers are missing some vital points. Most people want basic, simple cameras that give good results. The top end want a bunch of features that lets them shoot the way they like but wrapped in different sized packages.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

SoFoBoMo 09 pt1: in print

"On England's Pleasant Pastures Seen" Blurb book cover

I got my print copy of "On England's Pleasant Pastures Seen" from Blurb this morning. Exciting stuff. This is this best quality book I've had yet from them - the print quality, colour reproduction and depth of colour are spot on. I do allow for lower quality than I can produce with a tuned print on top quality paper but this is very nice. This time I went for the standard hardback with the loose cover which seems to work well for this one. As a total package it is very satisfying.

I also like the layout that I chose - bottom edge binding so the pages flip down. Nice for perusing while sat in the arm-chair and my choice of text layout works just the way I wanted.

On England's Pleasant Pastures Seen
A view of the coun...
By Martin Doonan
Make a photo book with Blurb

So now I'm happy, it's available for all the world to purchase from Blurb. I'd really like a few folks to buy a copy, particularly so I can get feedback on the unusual layout. As an incentive, I'm going to offer any one who buys a copy a print of any one of the images in the book at no extra cost. Printed on Harman FB Gloss paper, shipped to anywhere. Just drop your email address in a comment (won't be published) to get in contact.


Golden flow, Swaledale, June 2009

From an off line conversation came some thoughts on the nature and use of repetition in presenting a series of photographs. The questions that came to mind were: when does consistency become too much of a good thing? and how much do repeated elements have a part to play in a narrative?

These are tricky issues to grapple but I think getting them right can make or break the presentation of the whole. I see it come up most often in the context of a book, where many more images get presented together but it can be wider than that. It came to mind when looking through several photobooks recently, professional published works (rather than SoFoBoMo). Sometimes it works, others decidedly not so.

I see two aspects to repetition - the use of repeated elements to drive a story or as the very object of the presentation.
Of the latter, Sugimoto is the master - if you've not seen several of his seascapes together, or maybe his architecture it's worth looking them up. Somehow, individually the images don't seem too much but as long series they add up to much more than the sum of the parts. Response gets driven by focus on the differences and subtleties.
Of the former, Frank's "The Americans" is a classic example. themes so subtle they are almost hidden and yet driving of the story of ordinary America and the country-wide themes of life.

For me a striking example of repeated elements was Andrew Nadolski's "The end of the land", a series on a single coastal bay in Cornwall. The photographs are excellent, the presentation simple in a way that doesn't detract from the photographs and yet I felt there was too much. Several elements keep cropping up but for me not in any apparently coherent manner. It is as if the photographer had a long line of photographs to include and couldn't give them up.

Of course, you may not agree with my views.

But that is not the point.

What I am flustering to is the idea that individual pictures must give way to the whole. Coherence, structured style, a strong story-telling structure are the aims. Don't think of a series as a showcase for individual works (leave that to the curators of your retrospective).

The way I like to think of it is as an additive process, something the opposite of Rodin's sculpture - to paraphrase: add the bits that fit until the whole appears. Anything further will not bring more. It is the way I generally like to write (apart from the blathering I do here) - add little by little until it is just enough to say what is needed (a method born of laziness and a dislike of writing). So I try the same with photography - picking the images that add to the whole until there is nothing more to add.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Water on Processes

Water like scales, Swaledale, June 2009

A couple of new posts on my project blog Processes of Nature following from my recent trip to Swaledale. This sort of style focussing on water could even become an entire series of its own.

One thing of note with the image "Dark Water" was the difficulty I had printing it. You really get to see the limitations of screen to print matching with a dark subject like this. It took some significant extra adjustment to get a print to match what you see on the screen - I was looking for that dark, almost glass-like appearance but with a clear discernment of the colours. Not easy but I think worth the effort.

More coming over there tomorrow and over the next few days. Plenty of new images from the past couple of months.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Monday, 22 June 2009

A DSLR buyer's guide

Why am I writing this? mainly as a place to fix my ideas so I can point all those who ask me in one direction. Am I an expert? By no means. Are there other resources out there for this? For sure. But hopefully I have some different and balanced views to add to the mix.

Any discussion on buying stuff, especially with specific model recommendations will date quickly. I'm going to try towards views that will last a little longer. I will, however,give my views on the manufacturers based on my experience (which is limited in some cases).

This is also aimed at the "my first SLR" crowd: those stepping up from a pocket camera. even if you've used film SLR before, some of this advice won't really be aimed at you.

Many will disagree with me, especially more advanced photographers. But I'm basing what I advise on what my non-photographer friends and family have to say on cameras and want and need from a piece of kit.

There will be no talk of cost or budget, except this: if you are on a limited budget or thing £500 is a lot to spend on a camera then find the cheapest deal you can on any entry-leevl camera from any manufacturer and learn to use it well. If that's you, move on, nothing more to see here.

First - why an SLR?

As I see it, DSLRs offer 5 distinct advantages compared to pocket cameras:

1. More Depth of field control (for a discussion on that - read Mike Johnston at TOP)
2. Larger print sizes possible (pixels don't IMO, make for prints, sensor size does).
3. Lower noise for better low-light, non-flash photography
4. Interchangeable lenses to cover all possibilities.
5. RAW shooting giving more processing scope (although some pocket cameras now have that, too).

If you don't want any of those advantages, I suggest using something other than an SLR. Printing is a big one here - if you're not going to print large (bigger than 8x12"; A4) or at all then an SLR will have limited advantage.

There are also disadvantages:

1. Size & weight - they are a lot bigger & heavier than the alternatives
2. Dust on the sensor - changing lenses means at some point you will have to clean the sensor
3. good kit cost money - cheap options tend to give poorer results, unless you're careful and take the time to learn

If any of these is serious problem for you, again there may be better alternatives.

So Now you've decided you want the advantages and can weather the disadvantages, what are you going to use it for? I'd break it into broad categories:

  • General travel
  • Landscapes, macro
  • Sports & Wildlife
  • Street photography
  • People and portraits
The more of these you want to do, the more flexible the system you will need. If you wan to narrow it down to one or two, then you can pick a more specific system.

The other thing is how much you'll use it and how serious you want to get. If you're going to devote serious time to photography, it's worth getting better gear, if this is just for better holiday snaps then cheaper options exist.

Once you've got past that point, there are then 2 major things to consider in buying: lenses and ergonomics. As far as I'm concerned, at the level I'm pitching this, all cameras are equal in their ability to produce good images and provide controls to do what you want them to. Any discussion on these matters comes down to subtle preferences. As this is aimed at those without an SLR yet, you've not got to forming views on this yet. regardless of what you may read elsewhere, there is no "best" camera or system.

Ergonomics - how is it to hold?

To get a feel for a camera, you need to hold it. is the grip comfortable? too small, too large? Are the buttons easy to reach? Does the weight feel OK? If a camera is not comfortable to use and carry, you're not going to take it with you and then it's just a paperweight. It's a very personal thing. For example, many photographers find Nikon to be the most ergonomic, but I hate them - they are uncomfortable in my hand when I first pick them up and I don't like the button placement. You will have your own preferences.

Main functions to look for: shutter button, front and rear dials/adjusters, menu. these should be easy to reach and intuitive to find (i.e. you can find them without looking).

So what about those lenses?

There is a bunch of advice out in web-land on buying SLR lenses. most of it, in my (less than humble) opinion is rubbish. here's my take, especially aimed at all you new-to-SLR types. I'll do it by category. But first - manufacturer. Buy lenses of the same brand as your camera body. The cheaper options from Sigma/Tokina/Tamron etc may look attractive but they are not always fully compatible and can fail unexpectedly (far more so that original brand kit). You do not want to be the poor girl coming up to me on a trip of a lifetime asking if the fatal error message can be resolved (as happened to me in Tanzania).

General & travel

If all you're doing basic snaps of friends, family and places you visit then you'll not need anything too sophisticated (and I'd suggest you carefully consider whether an SLR is for you). You'll want a reasonable range zoom lens and image stabilisation. Stabilisation can be in the camera (like Pentax and Olympus) or in the lens (Nikon, Canon). In camera is more versatile, in lens is better in some (not all) cases. The basic kit lenses that are in the 17-55/85 range are perfectly OK. to get much better you have to step way up in price.

As a second lens, consider one of the 50/55-200mm type zooms. The new ones give pretty good pictures, are light, compact and quite cheap. Or go for a 70-300mm (for Nikon & Canon, only consider the stabilised versions, trust me). bit bigger, but generally a bit better, too.

For the rest of the categories, I'll be thinking in terms of specialism. That is: you want to really focus and do a lot in that category specifically.

Landscapes & macro

For macro - getting close to small things - you really want a proper macro lens. You can use extension tubes (basically it's a hole to move the lens further from the sensor) for occasional use but results aren't as good and they aren't as easy to use.

For landscapes there are a variety of ways to go. Most basic kit lenses cover wide angle quite well. For better results, you'll want a more expensive lens with a similar range. You do not need an ultra-wide (in the 10-20mm range). They are good for a specific type of shot (with very near and very far objects in the picture) but otherwise all you get is dots in the distance. My favourite landscape lens is a 70-200mm for getting in a bit closer. I've taken good landscapes with a 300mm. Generally, the best step-up from the basic kit lens will be a 24-70mm, but they're quite expensive. There are some other options, but they vary by system.

However, lenses won't be the best money spent. You'll get far more value from a good tripod and cable release before you start to benefit from more expensive lenses. Well controlled tripod photography with a basic lens will get better results than poor hand-held and expensive lenses. If you're doing a lot of landscape work spend £500 on a good tripod system rather than a better lens. Then save for the lens.

Sports and wildlife

To do this properly, we're talking expensive. Taking picture of the animals you see on holiday can be covered by the basic 2-lens kit I mentioned in the general section. Otherwise, we're talking long and fast (large aperture). 300mm minimum. Often longer.
Here, an aside on crop factor.
most DSLRs have a sensor that is smaller than 35mm film frames. this give a crop factor which makes you're lenses effectively longer. A 1.6 crop factor means a 300mm lens is like a 480mm on 35mm. The crop factor of 2 of the four-thirds system really helps here, you'll need shorter (thus smaller and cheaper) lenses.
You'll also want something in the mid-zoom range (those 70-200mm lenses are great) to go with the big stuff. And probably a second body. And, and, and...

As a first-time buyer, think simple and go with the general 2 lens stuff.

Street photography

Out and about in town, snapping people and buildings, nothing beats a "normal" fixed focal length (prime) lens. Something in the 24-35mm (50mm starts to get a bit long when up close). Dave Beckerman wrote a great article on this, go read.

This would be my recommendation for lens number 3 (after the 2 general lenses).

People and portraits

Again, this is the territory of prime lenses, typically a bit longer than for street photography. 50-100mm is the usual range. Best value would be to buy a 50mm f/1.8 lens - virtually all manufacturers make one and it'll be cheap, probably the cheapest lens they make, but with good image quality. That would be my recommendation for lens number 4. Next level up, consider something around 85mm.

So which system?

I'll go through them by manufacturer with my opinion. Personally I use Canon, have a lot of lenses and have spent a lot of money on kit. But I started with the most basic, cheapest entry SLR camera they made over 13 years ago. For the same actually money you can get camera about a thousand times more capable.

If you're buying on budget (i.e. the cheapest you can put your hands on) I'd go for the second least expensive camera on offer from any manufacturer. typically Canon or Nikon. Why not the cheapest? Better lens. Usually the next one up from cheapest has a slightly better lens 9Canon and Nikon start offering the longer image stabilised versions of their cheap lenses). Or get a camera with stabilisation in the body.


Quite frankly, there is so little difference between the two systems overall (especially at the cheaper end) that it all comes down to personal preference. Nikon at the moment seem to be a bit ahead on image quality especially in low light (high ISO). Give it 12-18 months and that'll change (Canon were ahead for years). As I say, I like Canon and hate Nikon, just to hold and use the options menus. Many think the exact opposite. They both have much wider ranges of lenses and accessories than the others.

That said, I wouldn't recommend them as systems for general photography for newcomers to SLR. read on...


For general, about town and travel stuff, I think Pentax offer the best value. Lots of function for the money in their bodies and some really nice, small lenses at modest prices. I also like the button layout and the shooting modes on offer. Offer cameras with built-in stabilisation, which is a good thing. Not so good in specialist long lenses but that's only an issue for wildlife and sports specialists.


A long history of quality cameras, especially the lenses. Lens quality reputed to be very high. they also have some very small DLSRs. Also have built-in stabilisation. Use the four-thirds sensors with a 2x crop factor, making them a good choice for sports and wildlife (they've got a couple of really good looking long lens options).

I haven't really seem them in action but if I was starting again, Olympus would probably be my top pick as a balanced range of gear and good functions on offer.


A strange one. At the top end they're currently offering the very best in image quality and some very, very good lenses. I've been seriously considering replacing all of my landscape gear with Sony. However, their lower end seems much more limited. Out and about, users report being very happy but the same can be said of almost all cameras. Not sure i'd recommend them unless you want to get into doing some serious landscape stuff.

Micro four-thirds

The new kid on the block from Panasonic and Olympus and not strictly SLRs (no mirror or optical view finder). I've been seriously considering these as my travel camera due to small size and light weight - ideal for hiking or all day around town. Currently a bit of a wait and see, but the Panasonic stuff is worth looking at if all you do is general travel photography.

More important than any of that will be learning how to use your camera properly. If all you do is stick it in auto-everything mode and snap away you will have wasted your money.

Just one man's opinions and it does run counter to quite a lot of current advice on the web. However, I have based this on talking to a lot of people about what they actually want/need from a camera. Often that is somewhat different than what a lot of pundits believe it is. And if you do intend to get serious about this photography nonsense, then be prepared to spend some fairly serious money.

Another way to level things

For quite some time I had been using a levelling base for my tripod head - an Acratech levelling base with a Really Right Stuff BH-40 ballhead. Worked pretty well, and plenty of load capacity. I did find, however that it could get a fiddly to use at times as the base had to be levelled before levelling the quick release. And then I'd move the tripod and have to repeat. There is also no way to properly bolt down the ballhead on the levelling base, once in a while it would loosen.

Recently I finally succumbed to buying the Really Right Stuff panning clamp PCL-1 instead. This replaces the quick-release on top of the head and provides levelling and panning. This means a 1-step levelling process. Panning can be a little fiddly if the knobs aren't lined up nicely, the panning release can sometimes be a bit tucked under the camera. That said, I found using a large format camera quite OK, even with the very large camera base. It's a minor complaint and easily overcome. Switching between lenses with and without a lens plate means turning the quick-release through 90 degrees, which I find much easier with the panning head.

One thing to note, the new set-up is lower that the old one, which means I have to extend the tripod a couple more inches. No big deal as I rarely use full extension anyway. The lower profile is nicer for on the rucksack during hiking trips.

So far, after 2 trips using it, I'm pretty impressed.

SoFoBoMo 09 pt4: completed

Seafront cover, my 4th SoFoBoMo 2009 entry

I've not been blogging the progress of this one, partly due to the novel format and partly because I was able to complete it so quickly.

Find the file at the SoFoBoMo website. 6.7MB, about 60 images (I didn't count) but one of the lowest page counts.

It's an experiment in online presentation of an idea, so I welcome comments particularly on the format.

Now I finished my SoFoBoMo efforts for the year, i can spend more time looking at some of the others, more time doing other things I should and some time reflecting. I'll be posting a personal wrap-up towards the end of the week.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Natural pictures for the natural world

Footbridge, Swaledale, Yorkshire, June 2009

In an interesting coincidence, Howard Grill has just posted about a contrast enhancing processing technique that is often used in landscape photography. the coincidence is that I was reading though my copies of the Landscape Photographer of the Year books from the UK competition. The selections seem a barrage of high contrast, high saturation techniques.

I'm sorry, but the world I live in doesn't look like that. Even at "dramatic" times (the 3 esses - sunrise, sunset, storms), lighting and contrast are usually a lot subtler. Where's the realistic photography. the world looks good enough without having to juice up the processing. I appreciate photography that looks like the world around me, not that tries to reflect the world that you'd like to see.

As a result, I found the books somewhat disappointing - very limited selection of lighting conditions, locations or presentation. The best seem to be the foggy shots, because low contrast is the aim, so the photographers don't juice up the shots so much. that said, I might have a go, and try and challenge that accepted aesthetic.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

SoFoBoMo 09 pt3: completed

Yes, I know it's mad but I've done a third. This one from the workshop I attended in Swaledale, presented more like a slideshow. Larger, higher quality pictures so a files size of 7.6MB. Get it at the SoFoBoMo website.

I'm really happy with the photographs I got from this trip and this is a collection of some of the best.

Now to finish number 4...

Friday, 19 June 2009

Real photography

Six saplings, Hudswell Woods, Richmond, Yorkshire, June 2009

I've been reading the book on Eliot Porter: "The Color of Wildness" published by Aperture. In it he is quoted as saying:
Much is missed if we have eyes only for the bright colours. Nature should be viewed without distinction...She makes no choice herself; everything that happens has equal significance. Nothing can be dispensed with.
Quite so.

A tale of two LCDs

All that rumination over view finders has just reminded me of my observations of the viewing screens on my EOS 40D and LX3, DSLR and pocket camera respectively.

On the latter, it is the be-all and end-all of framing. And shooting info. And the ever-so-useful live histogram. I thought I'd get annoyed by the inherently shorter battery life but I'm not, in actual fact. That's because i take less photos with it. Not in that I picture less scenes but the at-the-moment shooting information means I don't take a pile of multiples. This greatly reduces the number of shots I need. In most cases I want large DoF and it has that in spades, thus less fiddling & bracketing of aperture & focus. battery life of 150-200 shots is OK for a day's shooting in the hills, although I might case load of batteries for long trips in the wilds.

On the former, the screen has 2 main uses: chimping exposure between shots (which I keep to a minimum) and the oh so lovely Live View for tripod work. In this case it enables better shots: finer focus, greater DoF control. (I'm still not convinced by the metering on the live histogram but will test in due course.) This is leading to me taking more shots, picturing more scenes because I can get the critical focus and framing I want. Sort of like a mini large format camera (if that isn't an oxymoron). But the battery life stinks. Canon really need to get onto that. Slumping from 950 shots to 150 is a nightmare. Suddenly a single battery is good for half a day rather than 2 or 3.

The ideal camera

Apropos of the announcement of the new Olympus P-E1 (digital PEN), the ideal camera:

  • will (not)* have an electronic/optical* viewfinder

  • will (not) have thumb & finger wheels

  • will (not) fit in a pocket/bag*

  • will (not) have a folding/rotating* LCD

  • will (not) have many buttons

  • will (not) have many functions

  • will (not) be automated

  • will (not) have (fast) (small) prime lenses/zooms

  • will take (nice) photographs (maybe)
It's been 2 days, there are a few online snaps and already it's going to save the world/cause Armageddon*.

*delete as appropriate

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Challenging processing

Swaledale morning, June 2009

I'm cracking through part 3 of my SoFoBoMo efforts, facing a processing challenge I've not done for a while. The final collection will be from my Swaledale pictures, which contain quite a lot of landscapes shot in mixed lighting. The challenge here is producing a colour balance that provides a natural look across the entire frame. Single white balance changes don't cut it.

Most of my processing these days is done in Lightroom but doing areal colour changes like this is quite slow and hard to control. This is where I turn back to Lightzone, which for a long time was my main processing platform but no longer. Returning for an extended spell a relive all its annoying foibles which make other programs more attractive. In this situation, however, Lightzone has a powerfully useful feature: selective white balance control. Sure, there are other ways to control local colour balance but I find the parameters of a standard white balance tool (colour temp & hue) to be intuitively photographic.

An aside: I note Bibble5 is out on pre-release. The publicity material suggest it might be a contender for my ideal hybrid between Lightroom and Lightzone. I'll certainly be trialling the full version when it comes out.

Monday, 15 June 2009

SoFoBoMo 09 pt2: completed

SoFoBoMo 2009 part 2 cover

Late last night I got part 2 of my SoFoBoMo 2009 effort completed. Find a copy at the website by clicking this link. Small file: just 2.5MB, 36 images including the cover, 57 pages.

Best viewed at 100% or less as a 2 page spread with cover - that way you get the captions alongside the pictures.

Not my greatest collection of photography but OK at this resolution. it has also been an opportunity to try a couple of different ideas in layout. The more I do these photobooks, the quicker and easier it becomes to make the final layout, which gives me more opportunity to think about the other aspects.


Sunday, 14 June 2009

Judging ones own work

Run-off pool, Cumbria, May 2009
This one is an also-ran

Going through the process of selection of photos for my SoFoBoMo books and the evaluation sessions on the recent workshop has got me thinking about how I judge my own work. There are many ways one could do this, I suppose but here is my approach.

I generally think about my work in four tiers: the print work, the good, the almost and the rejects. Print work is what I consider to be my very best (at the time) and gets printed for display. A few make it onto the walls. The good are generally acceptable, OK for a book but missing something. The other tiers fall away from there. Of course my cut-off level for each tier changes over time. There is stuff from a couple of years ago that was print material then and would only get into the almost pile now.

But what is good? For me it is all about matching output with intent - that includes subject, the technical stuff like lighting and composition and most importantly reaction to the work. Garnering others reaction can be tricky. And I'm not always necessarily looking for high praise. Mixed reaction, positive and negative, is sometimes part of it.

Which then comes down to the material I've been choosing for SoFoBoMo. The first book has been pretty good, I feel, in terms of picture selection. Only a couple from the almost pile. The next one will have far more compromises. I am using SoFoBoMo much more about the process of book design than the actual images. The dilemma I face there is that I will also be using some of my very best recent work. And if I have a series that has some print material, do I devalue those by putting them in a book, or does it improve the book?

Thursday, 11 June 2009

The ideas keep coming

Back in Norfolk again, camera in hand. Having completed my SoFoBoMo book on the area, I came up with another great idea that I can shoot in about an hour. So maybe that might be 4 (yes, four) submissions from me. This time, playing around with a whole different way of presenting photographs very much geared to online viewing.

It's very pleasant on a cool, clear morning taking a lone walk on the beach, watching the waves roll in. And that forms the basis of the inspiration. It also capitalises on that instinctive feel for pictures I was writing about in my last post.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

The instinctive brain

I've been reading "Risk" by Dan Gardner, a book I picked up at the airport (something I often do with a bunch of time to kill before catching a plane). Not immediately relevant to photography it might seem. It's really useful from a professional point of view as I deal with issues of low probability/high consequence industrial risks every day. But that's not the point.

The first part of the book deals with the psychology of dealing with risk and the nature of primitive, instinctive thinking versus the rational stuff. It occurred to me that some of this may be relevant to photography (and many other activities), a notion that has sort of lingered in the back of my mind for some time. Maybe the best photography stems from an instinctive response to the world, fostered and strengthened by habituation (getting out and doing plenty of it). Certain I feel my best work comes with apparent little effort, whenever I put too much thought into things I over-work it and the results reflect that. Maybe photography is art that appeals to the caveman instinct.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Live View: the great focusing aid

Bug on flower, Swaledale, June 2009
I've yet to identify the species

When I started photographing last week, I realised it was the first time I'd used the 40D on a tripod. that gave me the opportunity to use Live View for the first time. It's one of those features I'd rather dismissed and ended up using it almost constantly. Here's why:

At normal view, Live View is fairly mundane - just a full-screen view of the subject rather like using a digicam. However, for critical composition that is useful as it is 100% view, compared to the 95% view finder. Suddenly I don't have extraneous objects in the corners.

The most useful feature is the zoom for focus. Suddenly focus is even more precise. Better than using the view finder or auto focus. Used on a tripod with manual focus, I'm getting far more detail out of the sensor than ever before. When I'm working this way, I've found it best for me to use live view to focus, then a remote release with mirror lock-up for the exposure. Live View does have a histogram function (which takes several settings to activate) but I'm not convinced it is as accurate as my tuned settings for review. More testing required for that.

Crop from the centre of the frame. Final output sharpening not applied.
I couldn't get focus this accurate any other way.

As Paul Butzi has said, it's rather like using a large format camera. I just miss the movements (not having tilt-shift lenses).

There is one drawback, battery life reduces significantly. With normal hand-held use, I get about 950 shots to a full charge, with Live View that drops to around 150. Suddenly I need a couple of batteries per day. As a result I'm getting more selective about using Live View - check composition, check focus and then turn off.


This is it, the 500th post on this blog. Incredible to think I could keep it up so long (just over 2 years now). This continues to be a worthwhile activity for me, I get to air my thoughts, connect with others and support my development as a photographer.

Over time there are more and more regular readers and a steady trickle of comments. I continue to enjoy the blogging process, despite having a natural aversion to writing. I hope all you readers out there continue to enjoy what you read.

Typically Swaledale

Typically Swaledale, June 2009

Not one of the best from the trip but it gives a good impression of the landscape I was in this past week.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

My perfect landscape lens

Following on from the work I was doing during the workshop this week, I've come up with my idea of the perfect landscapes lens.

What would it be? A 28-150mm (35mm equivalent) f/2.8, tilt-shift macro. Needs to focus down to about 10-12". I don't mind that it would almost certainly be manual focus only. It would also be nice to have a lens collar and foot; if mounted cleverly, I could get lens and body movements.

What motivates this choice? Firstly the movements - having used a view camera a couple of weeks earlier, I missed having camera movements for plane of focus control. Second, the range of focal lengths is what I use most in landscape work and meant a lot of lens changing this past week. (Although I did find some good uses for a 300mm in landscape work.) Finally the macro for close-up, particularly the creamy bokeh that comes with a lens designed for close-up work.

What a great week

Just back from a photography workshop, another Advanced Landscapes with the ever-excellent Garry Brannigan of The Digital Dawn, this time in the Yorkshire Dales. it's worth mentioning a few early take-aways:

It is always great to be able to immerse yourself in photography like this, especially for me landscape photography. it's not just the making pictures but also the viewing and discussing that are juts as important.

This has probably been my most productive period for landscape work ever in terms of the quantity of quality results. I reckon I produced at least two of my very best landscape images ever and a whole pile of good work. I also feel that I'm achieving a consistency of clear vision and clean composition that I've not managed before.

There will be several more additions to my long-running Processes of Nature project. I also see a sub-theme developing from some of the work that is providing some far more personally unique work. It's not to everyone's taste but I like it a lot. More on all that in due course.

I finally get the attraction of macro work. I borrowed a 100mm macro lens and had a lot of fun using it, getting some pretty good results. Not good for curing gear lust.

I'm likely to create a third SoFoBoMo book (even though I've not really got going on the second yet) from the workshop results, mainly as motivation to work through some of the processing in a timely manner.

No pictures for this post, as I haven't even started uploading the files yet.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

SoFoBoMo 09 pt2: the title

Tiny fern, Cumbria, May 2009
Almost certainly won't make the SoFoBoMo cut

Now that the first book is out of the way, I've put some more thought into the second one. I now have a strong idea what sort of layout I'm going to do, mixing the colour and black and white work. I also have a title: "Upon England's Mountains green" with the same source for the title as the previous book.

I've not got into selecting from the digital shots. I think I'll leave that until I get the film back next weekend. I'm still not entirely sure whether a thematic or geographic structure will work best, and for that I need all the material in one place.

Monday, 1 June 2009

A plethora of power

Why is it that my gear is never ready to go when it's most critical? Due to the various trips I've made recently and the variety of gear used, I find my stuff all over the house rather than in the storage box. Preparing to go away again tomorrow, I checked the batteries for various devices - virtually nothing charged. Cue 24h of mad charger activity. Of course, that means about 3 different chargers and about 4 different battery types.

Somehow, this has to be easier. Why can't there be some standardization? Why can't batteries keep charge longer? Why am i constantly unable to keep myself organized?

SoFoBoMo 09 pt1: completed

SoFoBoMo 2009 book 1 cover

"On England's Pleasant Pastures Seen" is now complete. Pick up the pdf at the SoFoBoMo site linked.

47 images, 55 pages, a mere 4.9MB. Advice for viewing the pdf: view as single pages - it's not designed as spreads - and don't use a zoom of more than 100% as the images are relatively low resolution.

Tomorrow I'll put together an actual print version - the layout will probably look at bit strange in the pdf as this one is really meant to be seen as a physical book. What I will be doing is laying out the print version so that the binding is on the bottom edge (which means making a left biding with rotated pages). the idea being that this is a more natural way to view a book of photographs when sat in a chair with the book in your lap.