Monday, December 25, 2006

Camera equipment buying frenzy

Around this time of year a lot of camera equipment gets bought and many a photographer will find something with a lens on it under the Christmas tree.

Everyone evaluates what they've got and what they need. I saw a forum thread in which a budding freelance photographer asked which camera outfit he should get for weddings and portraits. He also complained about the expense of camera gear. I wrote a reply and thought it might be a nice idea to share it with you as well, in case you're also struggling to balance wish lists and budgets.

Don't get hung up on equipment, is my advice. If you're selling portraits and wedding photography then the only thing that counts is your client's opinion of your work. They don't care which camera you use whether it's an old Rolleiflex TLR, a Holga or the latest DSLR. By the way I know photographers that specialise in using the above three cameras, almost exclusively and are very successful.

I used Nikon for 20 years and have now switched to Canon. Magda Indigo has stuck to Nikon. We use film and digital. Our clients love the results and don't remark on any differences. I've shot many portraits, weddings and commercial assignments using a Nikon D70. Ultimately it's the quality of the photography rather than the equipment that counts.

By the way I switched to Canon because I wanted to work with full frame DSLR (love wide angel) and I do shoot billboards, so I needed bigger files. Wedding and portrait client's don't need such large file sizes.

Save your money. Concentrate on your photography and developing a style that fits with your equipment or if you do have a very clear vision of what you want your style to be then acquire camera gear that is suitable. But for heavens sake don't just rush out and buy the latest thing that the marketers are pushing.

Cheers,
Paul

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Season's greetings

Christmas is upon us and 2007 is waiting in the wings. I'd like to wish all of my readers peace, happiness and good health. Hope you have a wonderful festive season and a Merry Christmas to my Christian readers.

Thank you to everyone for your comments, sharing ideas, all the emails and the support, which has kept me writing. It's very much appreciated. We truly have a world-wide audience here from New Zealand, Iceland, India, the USA, South Africa, Russia, Dubai, the UK ...everywhere.

If there's one wish I've got it is that there should be more kindness in the world. Wherever I've seen it, whether it is in conflict zones, relationships, businesses, families, on the street, during a natural disaster, in sports competitions - a touch of human kindness does so much to enhance people's lives. It can make all the difference and it's a great gift and as important as food and water.

I am off on a photographic commission and a bit of holiday but I'll be back in the New Year with lots more. In the meantime please browse the archive of articles if you get withdrawal symptoms.

All of the best,

Paul

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The X-Factor

I'm not a big fan of reality television shows like the talent show X-Factor but I've just seen part of the final in the UK tonight. It looks like the birth of a big star, certainly two careers have been well and truly launched.

The concept of the X-Factor is quite interesting when applied to photography. Some photographers seem to have 'it'. What 'it' is exactly is very hard to describe. I suppose the makers of the TV program faced a similar dilemma. What is that special ingredient which lifts someone's work way out above the rest.

The X-Factor in photographic terms seems to be the ability to consistently produce images that have something special. No matter how hard one tries to sum up all the constituent parts, like technique, emotion, subject matter, lighting, composition etc there's always that elusive something extra, that 'X-Factor' which the stand out images have. It's impossible to create from a formula or a recipe; it's extremely elusive and thank goodness it just cannot be mass produced.

I think ultimately it is the product of every element working perfectly together to produce a single strong visual statement.

An experiment was conducted which you may have heard about. Researchers took the most beautiful nose, eyes, lips, ears, jawline from many different top models and actresses and put them together to construct, in theory, the face that should have represented our ideal of beauty. The result was monstrous. Beauty it would seem is the product of harmony between elements of perfection and imperfection. The analogy can be applied to photography too.

No wonder images that have the X-Factor are so elusive.

All the best,
Paul

Friday, December 15, 2006

A photographer's life
















Magda Indigo enjoys a break in a cafe in Brugge during one of our photographic journeys.

Well it's almost Christmas and the end of another busy year. I can't believe how much happened again.

I've been commissioned to photograph some of the strangest things this year, from recycling bins for a billboard and ambient media campaign to traffic lights for posters, lots of portraits, toys, weather, books, flowers and the list goes on...

Ah yes, the life of a photographer. Certainly interesting. I heard of a photographer who only takes pictures of racing pigeons. He's very good at it and in high demand. I can't imagine being so totally specialised. Give me diversity any day. At least that's what I have to tell myself when as recently happened an agency approached me on behalf of a council about doing a poster for an anti dog fowling campaign. Hmmm...

Cheers,
Paul Posted by Picasa

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Brief review of Jill Coleman and busy times for me

Busy times indeed. My work is now being represented and sold through IRISF64, which is a great site. Do visit. Besides my stuff which I've just started uploading there are a number of other very talented and interesting photographers representing a vaste range of different styles.

Among them is one of my favourite photographers, and a friend, Jill Coleman. Her black and white portraits are powerful and striking. They cannot fail to move the viewer. She captures her subjects in moments when although they are clearly aware of the photographer they have let their guard down to reveal themselves to Jill and to us, through her images. I highly recommend taking a look at her wonderful work.

I'm also doing more and more portrait photography and thoroughly enjoying it. Again and again I am struck by how important light is and the absolute control of it in the making of an outstanding image. If there was one thing I would advise other photographers to really think about then it is the quality of the light. If you want to see natural light being used effectively do take a moment to view Jill's images.

And as always I would appreciate hearing from you. Please visit my latest online exhibition on www.indigo2photography.co.uk

Cheers,
Paul

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Seeing the light























Marraine has seen much change during her life. With a smile she describes how hard life was when she grew up. She tells of the war and her experiences. But she does not run the youth down of today. Marraine wants to take part, to be involved. In her heart she's 19 years old.

I'm doing more portraits than ever and really enjoying work with natural light.

All the best,

Paul

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Seeing with emotion

To really see a photographer needs to look with eyes, mind and emotions. If you do not feel emotion for your subject then your picture will also lack emotion.

Cheers,
Paul

Sunday, December 03, 2006

What do great photographers have in common?

This is something that fascinates me. What makes a great photographer great? What do they have in common? I think I know the answer and I want to share it with you.

It’s not good cameras. Although judging by the amateur photographer’s obsession with the latest consumer offering and number of megapixels you would be forgiven for thinking that technology is the be all and end all. The perception that a great photograph is linked to a great camera pervades society. Someone walks into a gallery, sees one of my images and says, “Wow that’s amazing. You must have a fantastic camera.” Oh well. You just learn to shrug.

Yes, well you know it is not a good camera that makes a great photographer. Is it the ability to compose, to control light and excel in the technical aspects of photography? Well these certainly help the photographer to achieve the look he/she wants. Millions of photographers possess excellent technical skills but it isn’t enough to differentiate their work. And many of the greats were not very concerned about the highly technical aspects of their photography.

I think the thing that the great photographers all share is that photography in itself is not all that important to them. It is merely a vehicle, a medium, they use to explore and communicate.

Ironically it seems to me that so many photographers wanting to capture that ultimate image are too obsessed with photography to actually achieve something meaningful. They keep chasing the next technique, the latest camera, a new fad, a style they’ve seen and want to imitate. By concentrating on photography for its own sake they are limiting what their work can achieve. All it is likely to do is win praise from other photographers similarly obsessed with producing high impact visuals that dance vividly on the screen to empty applause and are then quickly forgotten.

Here are some of the real drivers that I’ve identified among the truly great photographers in their different fields:

  • Photojournalists: the best are often driven by the need to show the truth, to fight injustice, to inform and educate people about issues that they think are important
  • Landscape photographers: the best are in awe of nature and its beauty. They want to show and celebrate the world we live in and are often concerned with the preservation of this beauty
  • Wildlife photographers: the best want to show how precious and special animals and wildlife are. They are often concerned with conservation and are driven to communicate the feeling they have that life, in all its forms, is wonderful and should be protected from the destructive nature of mankind.
  • Artists: too broad a category and probably a meaningless classification as it overlaps across the board with other categories. However artists in essence are concerned with holding up a mirror for all of us to look into and ask ourselves, “Is this me I am seeing?”
  • Commercial photographers: the best bring flair to their work which is all about pleasing their clients and making a living at the same time. Success is measured in the bank because how much you get paid is ultimately a reflection of how well you please your clients and how much they think your work is worth.

You get the drift. The answer to the question, what do great photographers have in common, is that they are all profoundly driven to use photography as a vehicle to communicate something that concerns them deeply. None that I know of are just concerned with making a pretty picture.

As always your comments and emails are valued.

Cheers,
Paul

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The life of a photo-journalist

















Self portrait taken in Scarborough harbour. I had to stand still for what seemed ages while listening for the shutter to close. Hence the static pose, which worked out quite well in the end.

Friend, writer and fellow photographer, David Toyne, has posted a superb interview he did with renowned photo-journalist Jonathan Taylor.

Jonathan shares many interesting insights into his work, ethics and experience. This is good stuff. Well worth a read. And I am delighted that I was able to help David a little with preparation for the interview.

While on the subject of David's writing you should also take a look at his recent interview with top wildlife photographer, Andy Rouse.

More soon.

Cheers,
Paul Posted by Picasa

Is photojournalism art?

Johann van Tonder an award-winning news and conflict photographer, previously photo editor at Die Burger newspaper in South Africa and part-time lecturer in photojournalism at the University of Stellenbosch and Rhodes University shares his views in a highly entertaining article.

Although it was published in 2004 the article is to me as valid today as the day it was written. My photography mentor and teacher, Obie Oberholzer shares a few colourful gems from his particular brand of wisdom in the article too. I could tell you some stories from back in the days when I studied at Rhodes. Maybe another time...

Do have a read and let me know what you think.

Cheers,
Paul

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Buying art photography: love or money
























Art print from my graphic kitchen series

Why do people buy photographic art prints? I think there are several different reasons and different types of buyers. The premise is that people buy pictures because they like them and if they fall in love with the image they are prepared to pay a lot more for a print than some artists may imagine their work is worth.

I realised that the concept of perceived value underpins the whole issue of what people are prepared to pay for a fine art print. In the first instance we have the photographer's perception of the value of his/her work. And then we have the buyer's perception.

Lets deal with the buyers perception of value for money. Here we need to look at the different types of buyers.

  1. Serious collectors (a rare breed): usually collectors will specialise in images defined by a certain time period in history, the work of a photographer or group of photographers, a genre or perhaps related to a specific geographical area
  2. The emotive buyer: a person that sees an image and falls in love with it because they instantly have an emotional connection. The image may relate to a specific memory they have, someone they know or idealise
  3. The investor (also a type of collector): usually a buyer who will specialise in work that they like and have a connection too but with an eye on the value of the artist in the long term. They acquire a photographer's work because of its 'brand value' ie the name of the photographer may play a greater role in choice than actually loving the image
  4. The decorator: these people buy a picture because it matches their living room decor. The image may be cherished but choice is determined by compatability with decor (colour and style), the frame and size of the picture
  5. The impulse buyer: a tourist or someone casually afforded the opportunity to buy a print who makes the purchase on the spur of the moment because they like the image and happen to have the money to spend at that moment
I've probably missed a category or two. It is 1.30 in the morning. But hopefully the above captures the main types of buyer. I've tried to rank them from those likely to spend the most (1) to those who will spend the least on a picture (5). The investor (3) may pay a lot for an image but will always have an eye on long term value.

In each case the buyer has to like the image and want it. Beyond that, percieved value for money plays a key role in their buying decision.

If you sell art prints you may want to think exactly which type of buyer you're trying to sell to and then consider how to reach them effectively with your marketing.

It goes without saying that building a name for yourself will increase the value of your prints. If you specialise in a certain subject you may be able to get more for your work by identifying and selling to collectors. I suppose the rarest buyers of all are the people that see an image of yours and fall in love with it. They must have it and are prepared to pay (almost) whatever it takes.

Please feel free to comment or email your thoughts to me. I'd love to hear about your experiences.

Cheers,
Paul
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Saturday, November 18, 2006

Photographic terminology - glossary























Peter gives me the thumbs up during a recent portrait session.

I regularly get asked to explain photographic terms and concepts. And I often see terminology being used incorrectly. Rather than rewriting stuff that has already been explained with great clarity it makes sense to point you in the direction of a few useful resources.

There's tons of stuff on the internet. Two good resources for photographic terms are the wonderful Wikipedia section on photographic terms and this Canadian professional photography website with its comprehensive glossary.

I don't mind being asked to explain things. However, these days camera manufacturers produce excellent manuals (often with a section to diagnose problems) and the help files with most software programmes like Photoshop are are very easy to understand. You could do worse than look at these sources as a first port of call.

Cheers,
Paul Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Digital print creates new opportunities























Suspense, fun and excitement mount in equal measure during a game of Tension Tower between father and son.

New digital print technology has opened up tremendous opportunities for photographers to produce limited edition and even one-off books. Choosing the right supplier guarantees excellent quality.

I am now doing half and full day portrait sessions and turning them into books for clients. Bespoke layouts and artistic design enhance the book making it a unique creation.

More and more formats are becoming easily accesible to photographers ranging from the internet to CD ROM and DVD shows, through to traditional printed media - everything from a print on canvas to a t-shirt. There's a huge range of choice open to the photographer as to how he/she delivers pictures to the client.

Framing methods have also come a long way. If clients have modern interiors then transparent acrylic frames may be more appropriate than gilded wood. I've never fancied the pseudo classical portrait style frame but there is a market for it.

Creative presentation with more than one image in a frame can also work very well. The way images are framed and presented can have a significant influence on the client's buying decision.

As with all marketing you need to identify and know your audience and then present your work in a format that will appeal to them. Producing great images is not enough. Professional social photographers have to differentiate themselves in other ways as well to attract clients. Fortunately there's never been more choice than today.

Cheers,
Paul Posted by Picasa

Monday, November 06, 2006

When a picture is really good


















Magda Indigo in search of the perfect image, walking along the seawall in Scarborough.

Today we were once again working in the studio. The weather was not too good. Anyway we were talking about images, as usual and about appreciating other photographers' work.

For me images can be seperated into different categories. Here's my very personal and emotive response scale:

Awful - I want to run out of the room screaming
Boring
Mildly interesting
Good
Something that I admire
An image that I think is brilliant, emotive, technically wonderful and compelling
And then there are the images that I dearly wish that I had made because they represent everything that I aspire to with my photography

Like I said it's a very personal scale. I wonder if other photographers have a similar emotive response to the images they see.

Cheers,
Paul

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

Get feedback from a wide audience

Here's a thought for today: It's interesting showing work to non-photographers because their reactions are purely about emotion and content. If you only show your work to other photographers and imaging professionals you may be missing out on important feedback.

The greatest reward is when the audience you took the picture for likes what you've done. If you take pictures to show them on image sharing sites then that is your audience - mostly amateur photographers. If you take pictures to sell them then your audience are your clients or the consumers of the published material.

Cheers,
Paul

List of articles updated for your convenience

I've just update the index of my most useful articles and strongest opinion pieces .

Cheers,
Paul

Outdoors social portrait photography

















She absolutely loved this portrait. So does her husband. I was a little concerned about the strand of hair that blew across her eye but she felt it gave a more carefree and natural feel to the image. This was her favourite expression of the set of six I took in this pose.

Portrait photography, at least in the UK, seems to be moving increasingly out of the studio.

Instead of the stiff formal portraits with people dressed up in their best outfits, clients are now asking for informal reportage style images in a natural environment. The emphasis is on spontaneous and fun images which them at play and sometimes at work.

Some photographers may think this makes things easier because you're out of the confines of the studio, probably working without a tripod but if anything it's even harder to master this style than studio work. In the studio you can control the lighting, there's no variable weather to contend with, no curious passers-by and basically anything can happen.

So what qualities does the successful modern social portrait photographer need to possess?
As with all photography preperation is incredibly important. This includes scouting locations, considering options dependent on weather and studying when the light will be best to give the image that extra special something.

You have to be able to think on your feet, to be creative on the spot because no matter how well you are prepared things change and when they do you have to be able to turn potential disaster into wonderful opportunity.

The roles change subtly when you're outside the controlled environment of the studio. The photographer has to be more firm,assertive and in control, heading-off distractions and getting the best out of their subjects. If you're photographing people in their own home it's a little bit more challenging to direct them than when they are in your studio so you've got to confident and strong.

You need to have an eye for detail and tremendous awareness of everything around you. Backgrounds are constantly changing, the light is shifting and because your subjects move around a lot clothing can be in dissaray.You have to check everything all the time. Some classic examples of where an eye for detail counts are a gentleman’s tie slipping down a bit to reveal his top shirt button, a lady’s bra-strap showing, an unflattering or revealing bit of skin bulging out etc.

To photojournalists and fashion photographers used to working out and about a lot of the above is second nature and terribly obvious, but I think that there are many social portrait photographers, who want to work outside of their studios, who may underestimate the challenges.

Something else that adds to the difficulty of doing an exceptional job outside of the studio is that the images at first glance may look easy to accomplish. After all photographs of family and friends in natural environments are commonplace so the portrait photographer’s images will be compared to and have to compete with the everyday snapshot.

So how do you make your images really stand out? For me the answer goes beyond getting all the technical stuff right. You have to show real emotion, something that your subjects recognise as penetrating a deeper level. When they see your pictures they have to say, “Yes, that’s me. That is how I want the world to see me.”

As always I would be delighted to hear your thoughts and to learn from you.

Cheers,
Paul Posted by Picasa

Monday, October 23, 2006

The cast
























A young fisherman casts his line from Scarborough's harbour wall.

I thought it best to upload a quick image to let you all know that I'm still alive and well. Working on a photographic project 24/7 at the moment so I've got very little time to go online.

Lots of exciting things are in the pipeline and I'll keep you posted. In the meantime I hope you enjoy this image.

Cheers,
Paul Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Steve Bloom's Spirit of the Wild exhibition

"Steve Bloom’s Spirit of the Wild open air photography exhibition runs from 27 September to 15 November in Millennium Square, Leeds, UK.

The exhibition was seen by an estimated three million people in Birmingham and Copenhagen.

  • A free outdoor photography exhibition of 100 giant floodlit pictures, open 24 hours
  • World facts and data of environmental importance.
  • A short documentary about Spirit of the Wild showing Steve Bloom at work. The film runs continuously in the exhibition shop and information centre.
Steve Bloom brings to us these breathtaking photographs showing the diversity of life from many places in the world; from the depths of the rainforest to the open expanse of the Arctic Circle. He shares his desire to capture the spirit and the beauty of the world’s wildlife and to engage the viewer with these images, but at the same time, show that this world is a fragile place that needs to be protected if these animals are to survive in the future. "
-From the press release on Steve's website.

The thing that struck me about the exhibition, which I highly recommend (and failing that check out his website) is the empathy that Steve creates in the viewer. Everything works together; subject matter, lighting, composition - all deliver emotion which gets us to identify with the animals. There are lots of good wild life photographers but few that can achieve the same sense of being in the animal's presence that Steve manages to create.

I think Jane Goodall's sums it up best for me too. She said, "Steve Bloom's photographs speak directly to the heart." They certainly do and they will send your heart racing.

Do try to see the exhibition. Nothing on a computer monitor can rival the sheer impact of those huge outdoor prints.

Cheers,
Paul

Friday, October 13, 2006

Photojournalism
















A group of girls get into a street fight in Leeds city centre. A young man nearby spots me and imitates a photographer while on the other side a passerby looks on in consternation.
I was out doing some street photography when this scene unfurled in front of me and the old photojournalistic instincts kicked in. It's the second street fight I've seen in three weeks. This time no blood.

I think the chap imitating the photographer makes a good post-modern comment on the ubiquitous presence of the photographer and cameras in our society. That's why I chose this shot out of the sequence. I got a few other good ones with the 17mm wide angle on my Canon EOS 5D, inches away from the action.

I like the image because there's a kind of raw beauty about it. The onlookers help tell the story through their reactions to the fight.

Photojournalists are the witnesses of our society and their images are their testimony.

Cheers,
Paul Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Waiting, ISPs and the case for digital MF cameras






















Ferry passengers stand at the railings admiring the sunset as the ship leaves Calais in France, headed for Dover, England.

At the moment we've got terrible problems with our internet connection - a fault on the line, which is making things difficult, like updating my blog. So apologies for the infrequent posts.

On a forum recently a photographer was asking about the business case for investing in medium format digital equipment. The costs talked about for the new Hasselblad H3D system were in the region of 25,000 GBP. Extras like computer equipment to handle the huge files and a full set of lenses were also raised.

I thought I'd share my thoughts on the forum with you here...

"If you need a camera for a particular job, but not on a day to day basis then hiring it is an obvious way to go. I know a pro in London who doesn't own a single camera. He hires whatever he needs and charges it on to the client, as you would any expense ( for eg. lunch, travel, lights, model, stylist etc).

Given your area of work (portraits and weddings mostly), I would think that DSLRs would do you fine and you'd only need a Hasselblad occassionally.

There is an aura around that brand name and I own two Hasselblads which have served me well over the years but I now really do prefer working with my Canon 5D. It's fast (compared to the Hasselblad), light, flexible and delivers files that will keep most clients happy. Just shot a billboard, bus shelter advertising campaign with the 5D and there're no complaints about the quality, on the contrary. So you if you can hire a Hasselblad, why tie capital up in an outright purchase?"

In the end the photographer asking the question was going to take a look at second-hand digital MF cameras, which would involve a much lower investment.

With the work I do my strategy is to shoot film if I need to deliver MF or large format for a client, or if digital is really needed then I'll hire what's required. My full frame Canon DSLR delivers the quality I need on a day to day basis. Personally I can't make the business case to tie up that much capital in a camera, especially at the rate that digital equipment is evolving (read devaluing).

Always happy to hear your views.

Cheers,

Paul Posted by Picasa

Monday, October 02, 2006

The edge

















This young lady was actually walking along the sea-wall but it looked like she was heading for the edge because of the angle of view. I took the shot because I like the starkness and simple strong graphic appeal of the scene.

Although this was taken with a telephoto you may want to have a look at the article below which I've just written about using a standard lens.

Cheers,
Paul Posted by Picasa

The standard lens

Love it or hate it the standard prime lens has a very special role to play in photography - yes I think even today with all those superb quality zoom lenses out there.

The standard lens has a focal length about the same as the diagonal measurement of the film with which it is used. The angle of view with this lens-film size combination is roughly the same at a given distance as the angle that the human eye sees clearly. For a 35mm film camera (or a full frame DSLR), the 50mm lens is considered standard.

The standard lens used to sold with cameras and it was certainly the most used before the advent of cheaper consumer zoom lenses.

Four key things combine to differentiate the standard lens from all other lenses:
  • standard lenses are prime (fixed focal length),
  • they are usually extremely sharp,
  • they have a wide maximum aperture (f1.4 ), which means you can achieve shallow depth of field and handhold in extremely low light
  • they show minimal distortion and provide a 'natural' looking perspective, close to the way the human eye sees
Many of the great masters and world's best photographers used their standard lens extensively. One of the most famous is Henri Cartier Bresson. He shot more than 50% of his work using a standard lens on his famous Leica. Other photographers who worked a lot with the standard lens include, Helmut Newton, Robert Doisneau, David Bailey, Ralph Gibson and the list goes on...

The standard lens is great for street photography and works well for certain styles of portraiture and even fashion. Many of the Hasselblad masters made extensive use of their 80mm standard lens.

So don't forget that little lens in your bag. As it's a prime lens it will force you to move around your subject thinking hard about compositions rather than zooming in and out. I often think that when it comes to creative photography you've got to 'move it or lose it' ie keep looking for fresh points of view or lose a certain amount of your creative vision. Working with the standard lens forces you to work creatively. I think it was Ernst Haas who said something like the following about using his standard lens, "I do have a wide angle. I just step backwards."

I often find when it comes to communicating with people I want to photoraph on the street that shooting with the standard lens works well because it's not intimidating like a huge telephoto zoom, it allows you to work at a comfortable distance - the wide angle is very in your face ie requires you being sometimes uncomfortably close to the subject, while a telephoto zoom sometimes puts too much distance between you and the subject.

Go on give it a try. It worked for HCB.

Cheers,
Paul

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Curiosity

Curiosity is one of the driving forces in my photography. I often take a picture because I want to see how it will come out in the final print. It's also a way of capturing and keeping a precious moment forever.

I have launched a new online exhibition called curiosity in which I hope to share some of the visual pleasure I felt when I discovered a special moment through the lens.

Over the next few weeks I will be adding more images to the exhibition, so please do drop by again.

Cheers,
Paul

Monday, September 25, 2006

The proof is in the print

Billions of images never make the transition from pixels to print. However, for the serious photographer the print is the ultimate test of an image, the goal, the tangible product at the end of the creative process.

There’s something unique and special about seeing an image in print, whether it is reproduced in a book, on a billboard, an inkjet or any of the other tangible media. I suppose the only other media which has an equal impact is transparency film but here again a large print from a transparency offers a more accessible end result than a slide on a lightbox.

I feel that any images of mine, no matter how good I think they may be, have not really come to life until I see them in print. It’s the ultimate test.

I wonder though about the thousands of photographers around the world snapping away, manipulating their images and then uploading them to the web. I see so many images that may look reasonable at 500 or 800 pixels across, which I just know will not work in print. Any mistakes show up with brutal clarity when you take an image and produce an A3 print from it.
It’s been said before, but the most common mistakes ‘internet photographers’ make is that they over sharpen and over saturate their images, and while I’m at it I can add that the most common error photographers make during capture is camera shake. There’s a thought. Maybe that’s why we see so many over sharpened images; photographers trying to resolve the problem of un-sharpness due to camera shake.

The reason why discerning stock libraries set such high standards for the images they accept is because they know that their clients’ end-use for an image is print. They’ve been stung by the sharpening problem too which is why most do not want digital captures to be sharpened by the photographer. Printers need to sharpen an image according to the way it is going to be used. Numerous factors are taken into account, size, media, ink and process etc – perhaps the subject for a future article.

So if you’re a photographer who wants to achieve the highest quality (justifying all that money spent on cameras and lenses) then go to a gallery or museum and take a look at the work of the master photographers – a glowing Ansel Adams print for example. Ask yourself every time you work on an image whether it will really be able to stand the test of print. Are you challenging yourself hard enough? Is your aim to be able to produce a print that could hang in the same room as one of the master photographers? Or would your print look out of place and stand out like a sore thumb because of its quality?

In a future article I’ll tackle the issue of the relative importance to an image of content versus quality, which is a huge topic. Whatever the content and however good the technical quality of an image there is only one question to ask yourself as you save your high resolution file: is this good enough to print?

Cheers,
Paul

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A mission to see photographically

In my blog advocating a mission or project orientated approach to photography I mentioned that taking this approach would change the way you see the world.

It may sound surprising but photography happens in the mind rather than being a mechanical matter of picking up a camera and pointing the lens at the subject. Throughout the process of creating an image, from having the first concept through to visualising the image, then dealing with the technical capture and finally through to post capture processing and output in print – your emotions, intellect and even personality play a role in determining the final result.

Beyond that a photographer's true merit is not judged by a single work. We all have good images, poorer images and if we are lucky one or two great images. The photographer's legacy is a body of work. Does it consist of saccharine, disparate images or does it delve into a subject and communicate the great truths of nature or life? Does the body of work resonate with the audience? Does it evoke an emotion, spark curiosity or stimulate thought.

Photographers working on a project, on a mission, will delve ever more deeply into the visual reality of their subject. Metaphorically speaking they will break their subject apart into fragments and then reunite these different fragments or aspects into a new and interesting image. You can't do that by walking around and happy snapping everything that catches your eye. If you'll pardon the pun, you need to be focused mentally and you need to be seeing photographically.

The more you observe your subject the more you will see and the more you will have to show your audience. There's a difference between looking at something and photographic seeing, which is using the mind to actively seek a way to use photography to convey or communicate something photographically.

Working on a photographic project facilitates the process of photographic seeing. It will change your photography from looking and capturing a pretty image to actually seeing and communicating your vision.

I hope this article stimulates some thought.

I've got lots of interesting ideas for blogs. My next one will probably be on why an image in print is the ultimate end product of the photographic process and the best way to judge a picture, and for that matter a photographer's ability.

Cheers for now,

Paul

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The long road






















Life is a long journey. I discovered this shepherd with his flock between the road and the canal near Damme in Belgium.

There are very few shepherds in Belgium so this is a rare site.

Cheers,
Paul Posted by Picasa

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Just another pretty picture or are you on a mission?

Why do photographers take pictures? Well there's a huge question. If you're a photographer and you hope to get your work published in some form, a book an exhibition, online or in print then I've got some pointers which may help you.

On the other hand, if you only want to make pretty pictures that people like, then your focus will be on technique, equipment and the craft of picture taking. For me, and I think most serious photographers, the craft of picture taking can be compared to learning the mechanics of driving a car.

We need to learn how to handle the controls of the car because we want to be able to get safely and smoothly from point A to B. You can hone your driving technique all you want till you're as slick as a formulae 1 driver but that's still not going to get you anywhere unless you know where you want to go. Right, I've laboured that metaphor enough for now. Back to the main story.

You're a serious photographer and you want to be published. The first thing you've got to think about is what your interests are. You need a strong, unique, concept; something that you feel passionate about, to hang your photographic work on. Like any mission yours' will start with a statement setting out your big idea, what you want to achieve, timescales, budgets, geographical scale and deadlines, as well as your end product ie the outcomes you hope to achieve such as an exhibition or a book, or both.

Once you've got all of this down in writing and you've refined your mission statement, you're ready to start planning the steps you need to take so you can achieve your goal. Think of your mission statement along the lines of what you would say if you had an idea for a movie and you had 60 seconds to pitch it to a Hollywood producer. If you are going to get an exhibition or a book you will inevitably be in the position of having to pitch your work. So it makes sense to get it down right from the start.

At the core of everything is what you want to communicate or show your audience, whether it's informing them of something, getting them to care, showing something that's never been seen before or simply conveying an emotion. Whatever you want to communicate, a mission orientated focus for your photography will definitely take it beyond producing just another pretty picture.

That's it from me till next time. I plan to write about how working on a photographic project will change your photography and the way you see the world. As always I welcome hearing your thoughts.

Cheers,
Paul

Friday, September 08, 2006

Polarising filters - top tips

As promised here are a few pointers on using polarising filters. Firstly there are two types of polarising filters. If you use autofocus as most of us do then you'll want a circular polarising filter.

The first important tip for using a polariser. It doesn't work properly with other filters on your camera; so get those skylight and UV filters off your lens before you put on your polariser. This will also help remove the chance of vignetting which is a distinct possibility when you use wide angles.


So what do you use a polariser for. The two main purposes are to darken skies and to remove reflections.

Firstly darkening skies, which neatly brings me to the second important tip. Polarising filters only really work when used at 90 degrees to the sun. So if you stand facing the sun and stick your arm out from your side, that's the ideal direction to point your lens if you want to darken the sky. If you use a polariser and point your lens in the direction of the sun or with the sun behind you, you may as well not bother.

Another thing to watch out for is using a polarising filter with an extreme wide angle. Because you've got so much sky in the shot your polariser will work differently across the frame which means part of the sky will be darker and part lighter, which can be quite unattractive.

As mentioned polarising filters are also used to remove reflections. These could be in a window, on water or even on shiny foliage. Whenever you're photographing a refelctive surface the polarising filter is well worth bearing in mind.

An added benefit of polarising filters, when used correctly is that they tend to increase colour saturation.

Polarising filters are undoubtably extremely useful and an essential part of the photographers' kit. What's more this is one filter which digital manipulation simply can't imitate as it has a profound effect on the light that hits your sensor.

Hope you have fun out there and remember my tips above. Here's an extra tip before I go. Always take one shot with the filter and another without so you can compare the results. It's the best way to learn by seeing the effect your filter has had on the end result.

Cheers,
Paul

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Light play














I waited for the light to be just right as it played across the moorland.

The moment it formed a rim around the resevoir I knew I had the shot.

It's a great feeling when patience pays off and everything falls into place. I think this image has a nice rythm of light and shade breaking up the frame. Ideally it needs to be seen really large to appreciate all the detail.

I plan to write an article about using polarising filters this week, so watch this space.

Cheers,
Paul Posted by Picasa

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Neutral Density (ND) graduated filters and alternatives














One of the most popular and useful filters for the landscape photographer is the graduated neutral density filter. These come in varying strengths. Their purpose is to even out exposure values in the sky and the land.

Technically perfect use will render sky and land at the correct values mimicking what we see with our eyes. A more artistic interpretation, much favoured by landscape photographers, is to darken the sky even more, creating a sense of drama.

The same effect can be achieved by taking two exposures of the same scene, using a tripod to keep everything in the same place and then overlapping the images. Digital capture and editing have made this option easy and convenient. The technical side of how to do this is elaborated on below.

But first let's look at the pros and cons of both methods.

The pros for ND grads are:
> you get the exposure right in a single shot which saves space on your memory card
> if anything is moving across the frame then it will register correctly whereas a double exposure will leave you with problems in the overlapping areas
> you don't need a tripod, which means you can work faster

The pros for multiple exposures in RAW are:
> you get the full benefit of the quality of the lens with no filter in front
> more control over the end result
> very precise control over the amount of graduation and exactly where it falls
> no messing about with lining the filter up
> no problems with vignetting on super-wide angle lenses

Now here's a good tip. One of the 'mistakes' that photographers make when using the combined RAW files method is that they try to divide the two different exposures between the sky and land using precise selections in Photoshop. They then complain that it does not look natural and not as good as when using a ND Grad. Of course they're missing the all important graduated transition part from the equation.

The way I work it is to mimick the effect of an ND Grad by applying a transparent graduated filter in Photoshop across the top of the second exposure's layer mask. This, to my eye looks far more natural and allows precise control over the transition area.

Try and guess how my shot of Yorkshire above was created. Ultimatley it doesn't matter how you get there so long as the end print is stunning. I use both methods. My favourite is probably the Photoshop route but it all depends on the subject.

Cheers,
Paul Posted by Picasa

Monday, August 28, 2006

Technical perfection

I wonder if there is such a thing as the technically perfect image ie what you get if you follow all the 'rules' of photography.

For me photographic technique is about being able to control the technology so that when you press the shutter you get what you visualise.

Focus, exposure, contrast, colour - all of these things affect the mood of an image, so if you want to create a strong mood, by definition, you have to push one or more of these aspects beyond the everyday norm of what you would see in a straight forward snapshot.

Ansel Adams, the acknowledged master of technique, used filters, exposure, development, chemicals and darkroom manipulation to create dramatic images. Had you stood next to him when he made his images you would not have been able to guess how his interpretation would render the final print.

An image is technically perfect if it communicates what you want it to communicate to the viewer.

Cheers,
Paul Posted by Picasa

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Bouncing back

Been more or less out of action this week with computer problems.

Well the machine is rebuilt from scratch and working better than ever, plus I've added another 300 GB of space, which no doubt will be filled very quickly.

If you shoot a lot of images my advice is to back everything up on DVD straight away. Don't let it accumulate.

More soon.

Cheers,
Paul Posted by Picasa

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Textures

There's a whole world to discover in the textures etched into the bark of this old tree.

For me one of the joys of photography is discovering and exploring things like this. It's pure visual delight.

Cheers,
Paul Posted by Picasa

Thursday, August 17, 2006

3 Ps for landscape photographers

A lot of landscape photography is about having patience and being properly prepared. You have to be pretty lucky to just drive out to a spot and catch it at its best.

Many of the world's top landscape photographers produce their most stunning work in landscapes that they visit frequently. Often the best shot comes after several visits to the same spot. Joe Cornish's book First Light provides some examples of how a subsequent visit to the same place under different lighting conditions, or at a different times of the year can provide stunning images, albeit that the first attempt is quite successful.

Landscape photographers need to not only look at the scene in front of their eyes, but also to look and assess the potential in the landscape. They have to think about what it would look like at different times in the year, different times of day and where the shadows will fall.

It helps to make notes and modern GPS tools provide a convenient way of marking a spot to return to at a later date. You could compile a list of landscape spots matched against ideal lighting conditions. Armed with your database you could then make a well informed decision as to where you stand the best chance of shooting that stunning landscape that is waiting for you just a short drive away.

And if at first you don't succeed then patience and persistence will pay off . Return another day or wait for the light. It may be pouring with rain but that 30 second dramatic break in the cloud may be all that is required to lift the landscape from gloom to the sublime.

So there you have it a professional approach to landscape photography. The qualities of a landscape photographer are patience, persistance and preperation - my three Ps.

Cheers for now,

Paul

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The little Flemish chapel














As promised here's picture of the little chapel where I took the earlier blog's colour shot.

Landscape is the art of seeing the possible.

Cheers,
Paul Posted by Picasa

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Environmental portraiture

One of my favourite types of photography is environmental portraiture.

Here in a small chapel on the road to Meetkerke, my wife Magda, contemplates her family history which is intimately tied to West Flanders.

She has a story to tell about nearly every village in this area and knows the roads like the back of her hand.

This particular chapel stands like an island in the middle of an intersection between two small country lanes. I'll upload a picture of the outside soon.

One of the reasons I like environmental portraiture is because you get to share and learn about people lives and history. It's often a fascinating journey.

Cheers,
Paul Posted by Picasa

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The thrill

Pretty happy with this because it shows that feeling of joy, the thrill of going higher and higher till you think you're going to fly over the rooftops. Posted by Picasa

Friday, August 11, 2006

Establishing rapport with your subject

Good portraits are usually the result of collaboration between the photographer and the subject. It's vital to establish a rapport. So here are a few tricks of the trade which can come in handy - in non-photographic situations as well.

Firstly, when you shoot a portrait you should have everything prepared. Nothing breaks down a relationship faster between subject and photographer than fiddling around with lighting and camera settings - unless you can do it while keeping up a healthy banter. Actually the fatal error here is ignoring your sitter.

When you photograph somebody they should feel like they're the most important person in the world. Being in front of the lens doesn't come naturally to most people. Lots of experienced models I know still feel vulnerable in front of the lens, until you put them at ease.

So there we already have two important principles. Don't ignore your sitter and do everything you can to put them at ease.

How do you build rapport quickly? Well I'm not a psychologist so what I say here is based on experience rather than scientific theory. If I can then I try to find out something about the person I'm going to photograph, what their interests are, what they're passionate about. Then I think of a few intelligent questions to ask them. It helps to have a sense of humour and a tasteful joke up your sleeve too.

Once you get someone talking about their interests, listen carefully. I am a sponge for information and take an interest in most things. Being a good photographer is knowing a lot more than just about cameras, lenses and lighting.

Now here's a golden tip. Pick up on the last phrase your sitter says, repeat it and turn it into a question or a statement. This will help you lead the conversation on smoothly. For example the sitter explains how they love sailing their yacht and ends the description by saying, "... and we sailed into the harbour under full spinnaker." You would then say, "Under full spinnaker? I didn't think they allowed yachts to come in under spinnaker." Then pause and your sitter will naturally feel inclined to explain their point ... keeping the conversation moving.

Just remember. It's all about them, not about you. If they want to know something then they'll ask. The trick is then to give a concise, appropriate answer and steer the conversation back to them. For heavens sake don't go on about all your achievements, or even worse about all the problems you may have. The last thing your subject wants to hear about are your problems and difficulties.

So there you go. A non-photographic photography blog. But I hope you found it useful anyway. As I always say there's a lot more to photography and getting the shot than just the photographic part.

Cheers,
Paul

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Photography is personal

At last I’m back and normal service on my blog will resume. While in Belgium I met with several other photographers and was delighted to hear first-hand how much my blog is appreciated. Wish I could meet all of you dear readers. A big thanks to everyone.

I now have over 1,000 regular readers a month and the number is growing all the time.

On my travels I was thinking about why we take photographs and what they mean to us. My wife Magda and I chatted about it and as we looked back at the thousands of images we’ve made during the last two weeks we again realised what a fantastic diary they form.

Photography captures fragments of reality which make up the rich tapestry of our lives. There are no other art forms, except film and video which preserve these fleeting moments and still photography is all the more powerful because we can examine every detail of that split second at our leisure as it is registered on film or in pixels.

To me all of the images I make are personal, including the commercial ones, because they record a split second of my life as I saw it and experienced it through the lens. Photography is what I saw with my eye, what the camera registers and the product of my creative vision as I choose to interpret the raw visual material using software or in the darkroom. The finished print is my vision forever linked to that moment in time when I chose to push the shutter release.
If you think about it photography is a really intimate way of sharing your life with the world.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Comparing cameras and lenses, and I'm off

Dear faithful readers, I am away photographing and won’t have easy access to the internet, nor the time to write my blog. I’ll be back mid August.

I’m sure that my travels will inspire new articles and I’ll of course share any interesting stories.
This mission will be a good test for my new EOS 5D. So far I’m very impressed with the quality and performance of the camera. It’s one of the best I’ve ever used; a real pleasure. I particularly like the way the 5D draws its images. The images look like medium format film. The camera is also a lot lighter to lug around than for example a Mamiya RZ and the quality when RAW files are processed correctly is certainly on a par.

There’s a funny thing about the whole process of comparing cameras. I know I’m not the first person to point the following out. Scientific tests give you dry academic figures often highlighting such miniscule differences that you’d need a powerful magnifying glass to see what they’re talking about, which is certainly not the way ‘normal’ people view prints.

As far as I’m concerned there’s only one way to evaluate a camera and a lens. Take pictures with the lenses and cameras you want to compare under a variety of lighting conditions. Then compare the prints as you would normally view them. You will see the way the camera draws the image. Each camera and lens produces an image with a distinctive feel. Your finely tuned photographer’s eye will instinctively identify the look you prefer. I don’t know of any scientific test that can pinpoint the huge combination of factors that produce the final image in print.
Even if there were such a test it would not take an individual’s visual preferences into account. So the only true test of image quality at the end of the day is the critical human eye.
Your views are welcome. Just post a comment below or send me an email.

See you in August. In the meantime please feel free to peruse more than a year’s worth of articles on this blog. You could try looking through the archive for some of the highlights.

Happy reading.

Paul

PS please visit my online exhibition at http://www.indigo2photography.co.uk/

Sunday, July 16, 2006

So what do I like

I see hundreds, maybe thousands of images each week. The work ranges from top professionals through to people just starting out on their photographic journey.

Individual photographers from both sides of the above spectrum can make images that are really special and stand out from the crowd. I can't describe the pure joy it gives me to discover an image that has that extra special something, that moves me.

Few photographers consistently produce work that I admire, time and again hitting that sweet spot. I'd like to introduce you to a photographer who consistently creates outstanding images, Jeanette Hägglund. She's not famous, not a big name in the world of photography, just someone out there who's work I particularly admire. Check out her site www.jeanettehagglund.se for yourself.

Cheers,

Paul

Friday, July 14, 2006

Is being a professional photographer glamorous?

Well I don't know about you but a lot of professional photographers are now spending far more time manipulating pixels than they are on anything else.

A few do outsource all their Photoshop work so they can spend more time photographing but in reality a professional photographer probably spends around 10 per cent of the day on average with a camera in hand.

There are plenty of amateurs who have more time to take pictures than professional photographers do. Add to that the fact that a lot of pro work is rather unglamorous and not spent actually photographing things the pro would really like to, and you've got to ask yourself what the whole dream of turning pro is all about. Is it a romantic illusion?

Well, yes and no. There are pro photographers who love their work and get to do and see the most amazing things. And then there are the rest, fighting to make a living, struggling with government bureaucracy and spending long hours hunched in front of a computer screen.

If you're thinking about turning pro then it's important to know what you're letting yourself in for, the good and bad, rid yourself of romantic notions and the aura that surrounds the industry which is in fact incredibly diverse. Decide what would make you really happy and it has to be a lot more specific than just being a professional photographer. Weigh everything up. Above all you need to realize that with the exception of a few landscape, still life specialists and scientific photographers your job is all about dealing with people and the key to getting a good image relies on your ability to communicate. Photography is a people business whether you're a fashion photographer, a photojournalist or a wedding photographer.

Personally I'm never happier than when I'm out photographing things and people that interest me. Today though, I spent my day photographing people in meetings, with little scope for creativity. It comes with the territory as they say.

All the best,

Paul

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Web site revamp and selling pictures

Well here's the news I promised in my last blog. We've completely revamped www.indigo2photography.co.uk

I'd love to know what you think of the site now. It's been steadily growing in success and my wife and fellow photographer, Magda and I thought it high time to revamp it again. This seems to be an ongoing process at least once every six months. But you can't afford to sit still these days. The internet is proving to be one of the most successful methods photographers have ever had to publish their work to a world-wide audience.

I am also now selling my prints through a superb online gallery service, which is fully e-commerced. So wherever you are in the world it has never been easier to own one of my prints. And I'm keeping prices low during this introductory period. It won't last forever so if you see something you like please don't hesitate, visit www.photoboxgallery.com/paulindigo.

'Printing methods and paper types

For those that are technically minded, here is some information about our print devices and paper types. For small format work (up to 10"x15") we print on a number of FujiFilm Frontier 370 and 390 printers. These work by exposing red, green and blue laser light onto FujiFilm Crystal Archive photographic paper at 300 DPI (dots per inch). The fade resistance of the prints is rated at 150 years.

For large format work we use a Polielectronica Laserlab. This is a world-class laser-based photographic device which prints onto FujiFilm Professional digital photographic paper at 254 DPI. The fade resistance of the prints is also rated at 150 years. ' - Quality information extracted from www.photobox.com which hosts my Professional Gallery and provides my prints.

If you have any questions please just drop me a line. I promise the next blog won't be so commercial. Back to my opinion pieces. I'm thinking of writing an article about how little time professional photographers are spending with their cameras these days.

Cheers,

Paul

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Blog goes into translation

Thanks to my friend Alper Tecer in Turkey, articles from my blog will soon be appearing in Turkish. There's also been interest in translating articles into French and Dutch.

Needless to say, I'm delighted with the interest from readers around the world.

If you would like to translate articles into your mother tongue please get in touch. Also a gentle reminder that all content on this blog is strictly copyright protected. You may not use any information, article or part of an article without my written permission.

However please feel free to link to my blog from your site. I would appreciate knowing about it though.

I'll let you know more about the translations in due course.

Cheers,

Paul

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

No more fotolog

Today I posted my last upload on fotolog. The quality is just too poor and it pains me to see what the automatic resizing and compression software does to my images. You're still welcome to visit and see what's on the site but nothing new will be added.

However some exciting new developments are on the way. I'll keep you posted.

Please note this article refers to fotolog.com NOT my blog. This blog will continue to go for a very long time I hope...

Cheers,

Paul

Monday, July 03, 2006

Zoom lenses could be killing your creativity

Zoom lenses are by far the most popular choice for photographers using digital SLRs and I don't think any prosumer or consumer digital cameras are made that don't have a zoom lens these days.

How is this affecting creativity? When I studied photography, in the beginning, we had to use a camera fully manual with one standard fixed lens. We were taught to look while moving around the subject.

Having regularly observed other photographers at work I have noticed that when they see something they stop dead in their tracks, zoom to the appropriate focal length to frame the composition and take the shot – without exploring the possibilities that open up by moving closer or further away from the subject and choosing the optimal focal length.

But here's the really interesting thing that photographers seem to be missing, and it is something that could enhance their creative expression. Each focal length has its own unique characteristics which can be explored creatively.

This will sound painfully obvious to some but to others it may come as a bit of a revelation. Let's look at an example, a head shot. Take an extreme wide angle and fill the frame with your subjects face. You will see plenty of distortion. Then move away keeping the persons face full frame by using the zoom. The difference in depth of field, distortion, compression and effect on the person's features and background is phenomenal. This difference obviously also applies to shooting landscapes, still lives and everything else.

Although the effect on subjects like landscapes may appear more subtle in choice between for example a 24mm wide angle and a 17mm wide angle it's there none the less. And this means that it can be used for creative expression.

So next time you're out there zooming away, think about the focal lengths you're using and the creative impact that choice of focal length can have. The joy of a zoom is have a range of focal lengths to choose from but the choice of which one to use should be a conscious creative decision, just like deciding which aperture or shutter speed to use. Keep on moving yourself, not your zoom.

All the best,

Paul

Friday, June 30, 2006

Stop and look

Believe it or not 95 percent of the art of photography has nothing to do with looking through the viewfinder.

The real art of photography is seeing. Really looking at the way light plays on a subject, finding interesting and emotive things to photograph, looking at textures, shapes and colour.

Today I see many photographers enjoying digital photography, pressing the shutter as many times as they want without a thought to the cost, without consequence, unlike those of us used to shooting 4x5" on a technical view camera, where every frame had to be carefully considered, where it was almost immoral to waste film. The cost and limits of shooting with film meant greater care had to be taken to get the image right first time every time. Now the attitude often is, I'll fix it in Photoshop.

So here's a plea to all the happy snappers out there and anyone else caught up by the visual diarrhea that access to digital photography has created. Think, look, feel and take care of every precious frame. The art of great photography is synonymous with the art of seeing. First see then lift the camera to look through the view finder.

We are drowning in millions of images, most of them are absolute rubbish which will never see the light of day, thank goodness. It's time to be more selective before pushing the shutter not afterwards.

Cheers,

Paul

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Secrets of a portrait photographer

What is the secret to getting that special image, an exceptional portrait which captures something unique about the sitter?

Lets start with what it is not. It's not the camera. It's not even the lighting. Certainly not the technical know how of the photographer. It's also not clever Photoshop work. Although without all of the hardware, software and technical knowledge the options of the photographer are severely decreased and the chances of producing a successful portrait are correspondingly diminished.

The vital secret ingredient is building rapport with the sitter. This comes about through a combination of verbal and non-verbal communication.

You need to quickly put people at ease. 90 % of getting a good portrait is about getting someone to trust you and enjoy the session. You and your sitter embark on a brief moment of collaboration based on mutual trust and a shared goal to produce something creative and special together. Being able to break the ice is essential.

On the non-verbal side your body language has to be confident, open and non-threatening. The worst thing you can do is constantly fiddle with your camera and lights while ignoring the sitter. This is where good technical skills really pay dividends. Everything should be smooth and easy.

So next time you've got to take a portrait make sure you pack your charisma in your camera bag and know your technical stuff inside out.

All the best,

Paul

Shooting RAW - software comparison update

Using the Canon 5D I've now been able to try out Canon's own RAW processing software. I can therefore update my earlier article on using different software to process RAW files.

After fairly unscientific investigation my personal conclusion is that Canon's Digital Photo Professional package, which comes with the EOS 5D is pretty good. Without having to tweak anything at all the results are very impressive. The shadows contain a bit more noise than the default setting in Capture One produces but I could see a little bit more detail, which compensates. Furthermore it's important to note that Canon's software does not appear to have the range and sophistication of the tools that Capture One has.

I see uses for all of the software packages. I do like the slide show feature in RAW Shooter.

So nothing is perfect and each program requires 'processing' work but my own preference at the moment is for Canon's proprietary software for quick and easy processing. I'm afraid I was not keen on the results from RAW Shooter 2006 although with a bit more work they will also no doubt yield an adequate result.

Once again I need to emphasise that the above is a personal and unscientific conclusion based on trying to make things as quick and easy as possible, while still getting great results.

I'd welcome hearing your views on RAW processing software.

Cheers for now,

Paul

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Why I chose the EOS 5D

Apologies to all my faithful readers for the longish silence. I will catch up soon with some new articles. Been working my socks off. And to keep me company on my journeys I've just bought the Canon EOS 5D.

After more than 20 years working with Nikon, and owning a set of top quality lenses, why did I make the switch? Firstly let me just once again say that I think the whole brand thing plays into the hands of the marketers. Being a marketer myself I know how it works and despite the awareness of how we get manipulated into thinking that a brand name can add a certain quality to an object, I must say that the switch to Canon seemed like a bit of a betrayal.

But the practical reasons were overwhelming. I originally had my eye on the obvious choice, a D200, but I've not even seen one in the shops. Nikon really messed up by not making them available ie producing enough. Waiting lists everywhere. If it had not been for the waiting lists I probably would have strolled into a shop months ago and walked out with a D200. But I'm not one to buy something without first having it in my hands.

Then there was the research. After extensive investigation it was clear the Canon 5D has the edge when it comes to resolution and capturing the finest detail. It produces huge files which are accepted by the Getty stock library, the only digital SLR that is officially recognised besides Canon's top professional full frame DSLR. Then there's the 5D's wonderful big viewfinder and the pleasure of using true wide-angle lenses, without having to deal with crop factors.

At the end of the day the EOS 5D is the ideal camera for me. I hate lugging weight around so again the 5D is a better choice for me than the Canon 1DsMKII.

So there you have it. I am absolutely delighted with the results so far and will be uploading some images on the various sites where I publish my work.

I'll write a more generally informative article this weekend.

Till then...

Paul

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Photography magazine

This American online photography magazine web site has loads of links and interesting information for professional photographers. You can spend months looking through all of it.

Have fun.

Cheers,
Paul

Monday, June 12, 2006

Processing RAW files in Capture One

Friend and fellow photographer, Keith Henson, has written an excellent article on his approach to processing RAW files using Capture One. Take a look and while you're there visit the galleries on www.northscape.co.uk to seeing Keith's stunning work.

You'll also discover fellow Northscape photographer Andy Dippie's wonderful moody landscape images.

Hope you enjoy your visit to their site as much as I do.

Cheers,
Paul

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Using filters

Rather than reinvent the wheel, so the speak, I'd like to refer you to an excellent article by Steve Kossack outlining his personal approach to using filters. Enjoy.

It's mega hot here today and I've got a huge backlog of images to process...

See you soon,
Paul

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Cameraless

I actually went out today without my camera. No, don't call an ambulance. It was quite refreshing to just enjoy looking and socialising without the pressure of having to 'get the shot'.

Sometimes we all need to take a break and remove the lens from between ourselves and reality to fully experience life.

It's a tough one for a passionate photographer but I suggest that it will refresh you to just sit and stare, listen, smell, touch and feel without thinking about light, perspective, composition and points of view.

Being a photographer gives one a greater appreciation of the beauty of the world and a more intense experience of reality. Ironically though the demands of making a perfect image channel the experience down into a small rectangle of light, which only comes back to life as an abstraction of reality in the form of the final image on screen or in print.

So to fully appreciate reality and the gift of a photographers perception we need to sometimes put down our cameras.

Go on give it a try.

Cheers,

Paul

Monday, June 05, 2006

Useful websites for freelance photographers

If you're based in the UK and you're a freelance photographer then the following sites could prove useful. Most are based around online versions of popular magazines but there's also a link to the National Union of Journalists freelance rates.

I'm often asked the question "what should I charge" so hopefully the NUJ rates will be helpful.

Without further ado...

www.dcmag.co.uk/
www.photographyworld.co.uk/
www.photographymonthly.com/
www.amateurphotographer.com/
www.professionalphotographer.co.uk/
www.swpp.co.uk/
www.rps.org/
www.bipp.com/
www.the-aop.org/
www.thebfp.com
www.londonfreelance.org/feesguide/index.html

The DfES has also got a good description of the job of freelance photographer.

May I suggest you bookmark this blog so you can get hold of this list of links easily in the future.

All the best,

Paul

Friday, June 02, 2006

Shooting RAW - software comparison

In my last two articles I’ve discussed the benefits of shooting in RAW format and some of the techniques I use to get the most out of the information captured by a digital camera sensor.
I also mentioned that not all RAW processing software will give you the same quality results.

Everyone works in different ways so here’s how I judged the four software packages that I’ve tried. I looked at ease of use, speed, flexibility, features and for me the most important thing of all, quality.

This is not an exhaustive or scientific test and you may have a different opinion – it’s just what works for me. I’ve tried Nikon Capture 4 (I use Nikon so don’t know how the other manufacture’s software compares), Adobe Photoshop CS2, Rawshooter Essentials 2006 and Capture One Pro.

Nikon Capture 4
Loaded with features including correction for fisheye lenses, filter plugins from NIk and totally integrated with the camera controls. It also enables you to shoot tethered to your computer. Results are good quality but the software is very clunky to use and oh so slow.

Rawshooter Essentials 2006
Lots of features, easy to use and its FREE. When you deal with RAW files shot at a high ISO there are some questions about the quality. See Gary Wolstenholme’s excellent article which compares the results from the three non camera manufacturer software packages discussed here.

Adobe Photoshop CS2
I found the RAW processing feature the easiest to use of those discussed here. Photoshop’s auto settings feature is pretty good as a starting point and many times you don’t have to do much more to the image. It has not got quite as many features as the other software packages but it is very convenient , straightforward and easy to use.

Capture One Pro/LE
If you’re after professional workflow and superb output quality then this is the software to go for and it is my preferred choice. Capture One pulls out more detail, gives you superb control and delivers a film like quality. Gary’s article covers the features in detail so I’m not going to repeat everything here again. The LE version has the same processing engine as the Pro version and unless you need the extra professional features don’t spend more than you have to as the output quality is the same (and that’s what really counts).

I hope you’ve found this useful and please feel free to email your comments to me or add them below.

All the best,Paul

Thursday, June 01, 2006

RAW versus JPEG

If you’re serious about shooting high quality digital images then you will need to work in RAW.
As for the debate about choosing between shooting JPEG or RAW, anyone who thinks that you can achieve the same quality in JPEG is dreaming. Shoot JPEG if you’re confident you’ve got every setting optimised on your camera and you need speedy results. Shoot RAW if you want total flexibility, the highest quality your camera can deliver and the most control over the final image.

Working with RAW images requires skilled use of your software and you have to put the time and effort into learning how to extract the best out of your original file. Which is why many people are disappointed by the results they get when they convert their RAW images. Camera manufacturers know what they are doing and generally deliver a very good result with ‘out of camera’ JPEGs, where the camera software has made all the decisions for you. So to beat this standard requires effort, skill and the knowledge to take each processing decision correctly.
There are plenty of books and online tutorials to help you.

Before you dash off to process some of your images you may want to look at the article below which I’ve published at the same time as this one.

Cheers for now,
Paul

Getting the most out of your RAW files

A huge advantage to working in RAW is that you can process the same image in several different ways and then combine the results using layers in your image processing software package. I’ve been using this technique for several years but recently came across an article in a leading photographic magazine describing it as if it was something totally new, just discovered. I suddenly realised that perhaps many photographers are not aware of this strategy. So let me tell you how to get the most out of the information your camera’s sensor has captured in the RAW file.

The thing is the camera’s sensor captures far more information than we think when looking at a file just opened on screen. Of course when you move the sliders you see the changes and most people try to optimise the result in one RAW file which then gets saved as a Tiff or JPEG. Invariably this means some compromises need to be made.

But there is a way to get even more out of RAW files without having to compromise. A typical example is using the flexibility of RAW to get more detail in the sky. Looking just at the sky I optimise it within the image and then save the RAW file. I then go back and optimise the image for the foreground.

Using Photoshop and layer masks I combine the two RAW versions. You can do as many RAW versions as you want, each time optimising a selected area, perhaps in terms of colour, reducing noise, adding contrast, sharpness, saturation etc. This is when you see the true potential of RAW really kicking in. You will be amazed at what you can get out of the information your camera sensor has captured. Beware though: using extreme settings will degenerate the quality of your image and there is absolutely no substitute for getting it right in camera. The method I’m describing is about enhancing a well exposed, sharp image not trying to rescue a poor quality image.

Another thing to be aware of is that not all RAW conversion software is equal. Some software packages do a much better job than others with the basic RAW file information, but that’s a subject for a future blog.

Cheers for now,
Paul

Friday, May 26, 2006

On the road again and wedding photography

I'm off on my travels again and will be back next week. Which means another break in the blog.

In the meantime if you want to see the work of one of the most highly acclaimed wedding photographers then check out Joe Buissink. Yes, I know weddings! But these go beyond the normal pictures of someone elses wedding. He has an artistic flair, and a flair for business too, charging 10,000 dollars for a wedding reportage.

I like many of Joe's images and believe it or not I really like photographing weddings too, especially when the client wants something special that goes way beyond the normal formal set of poses. You can see some shots from one on my weddings here.

Catch you soon,

Paul