Thoughts on photography and life


No more watermarking for me

2012_12_27_DSC_1645Greetings reader(s) and welcome to the first post of 2014.  And as it’s a new year, I’ve decided to make a change…..

Should you watermark the images you post online?  This is a question which has been extensively debated on photography forums all over the internet.

Essentially it boils down to whether you feel the need to protect your work.  Protect it from unscrupulous rapscallions.  Rapscallions who try to pass it off as their own, or use it without giving you any credit.

The other means by which you can protect your work is to only upload low resolution versions, typically with a long edge of no more than 1024 pixels.

I’ve been through various stages of paranoia on the subject, and have used both of the methods above.

However, as of today I shall do neither.  From now on I am going to upload full resolution unwatermarked files.  Indeed I have begun replacing some of my low res files on Flickr with better ones.

What has brought about this decision?  Basically life is too short.  Too short to be worrying that some tool on the internet is going to rip you off – and too short to export multiple versions for different uses.

Firstly, for aesthetic reasons I have never used a large intrusive watermark, so it would have been a moment’s work in Photoshop to remove it.

Secondly, large images make more impact.  In the world of ultra high res screens we now inhabit, small files don’t cut it any longer.

I will still embed copyright info and contact details in the image metadata, so finding the image creator will be very easy for those who wish to know.

And for anyone who may wish to rip of MY image, in the vast sea of amazing photography that’s out there:

1. Thank you – I’m very flattered
2. What goes around comes around
3. Sleep well tonight

Now on with 2014 – January is more than half way though and you only have 341 days until Christmas!!

Justin Bieber doesn’t read this blog

It is with bewildered amazement that I have accepted a hard truth.  Justin Bieber does not read this blog.  Or if he does, he doesn’t agree with what is written here.

I recently blogged on why selfies are not a great idea if you want a flattering picture.   Today there is an article on the BBC website, which reveals Mr Bieber is financially backing a smartphone app called “Shots of Me”, designed to encourage selfies.

One will have to bear up with typical British stoicness and hope that with time, the rift between self and Justin Bieber can be healed.

Your support at this difficult time will be most appreciated.

If you want a flattering profile picture, don’t use a selfie.

On social media of all kinds, the selfie is by far and away the most common form profile picture.  Before we leave anyone behind, by “selfie” we mean self portrait.

Selfies are normally taken with a smartphone facing backwards and held at arms length.  Those seeking a full length shot will often resort to a mirror, although this makes the “selfieness” of the shot far more apparent.

The selfie certainly has its merits.  It’s quick, easy, you can take one almost anywhere and crucially you don’t need help.

However, for those wishing to show themselves off to their best advantage, whether on Facebook, Twitter or an online dating site, the selfie is definitely not to be recommended.

To explain why, we must get a little bit technical – I shall endeavour to be succinct.

The focal length of a lens will lend certain qualities to an image.  Wide-angle lenses tend to stretch everything out, whereas telephoto lenses compress a scene. Two easy examples:

We’ve all been to look around a house or flat, only to find that the rooms are much smaller than they looked in the estate agent’s materials – this is a wide angle lens in action.

You may also have seen pictures or television footage, of airliners packed impossibly close together on the approach to somewhere like Heathrow.   This is a telephoto lens in action – the aircraft are miles apart.

On cameras which used 35mm film, a lens with a focal length of 50mm was considered “normal”.  Normal in that it neither made objects appear closer or further away.  Normal in that 50mm doesn’t really compress or stretch an image.

50mm could be and is used for portraits, but it’s not really until you reach a focal length of 85mm, 105mm or even 135mm that you start to get really flattering results.

By contrast, if you wanted to take a comedy picture of a horse showing you its teeth, where it looks like the beast has a massive nose and is literally about to jump out of the page, then you might go for a really wide angle lens like an 18mm.

Now we come to our smartphones.  Obviously they vary between manufacturers but as a guide, the iPhone 5 has a focal length of 4.1mm.  In old money this is phenomenally wide.

However, due to what is known as “crop factor”, which you can read about elsewhere, the field of view is equivalent to a 33mm lens on a film camera.  Optically though, it is still a very wide-angle lens.

Now 33mm (or its equivalent) is a great semi wide angle, walkabout, touristy, snap everything, do a few group shots, field of view to have.  So long as the camera isn’t too close to the subjects, distortion from that wide lens will be minimised.

Because the field of view is quite wide though, filling the frame with your handsome/pretty face requires the camera to be quite close in.  Less than arms length certainly, and probably somewhere between 18-24 inches.

So now we have the worst possible portrait scenario.  An exceedingly wide-angle lens, coupled with a very short distance between camera and subject.  Expect the following – huge nose, long face and ears vanishing around the back of the head.

That’s before we consider that you can’t look natural while holding an arm out in front of you, or the whole host of other things that go into making a beautiful portrait.

There are ways to minimise this problem (and others)  We’ll take a look at some of these over the coming weeks.

Until then – no using selfies as profile pics.  Unless you want to look like a comedy horse!

Content creation on the iPad – it’s not there yet

When the iPad was first launched, many dismissed it as a tool for serious content creation.  However, since then an endless stream of creative apps have been released.  Altogether there is a vast amount of potential in the system.

From a photographers workflow point of view I have been giving the system a real workout, reading books on the subject and trying many apps.  I am now in a position to give my view, based on the state of play in early May 2013.  So what have I found?

The iPad is a mobile photographer’s Swiss Army Knife, able to carry out many functions, with fantastic results and all in a tiny package.

Will the iPad become my main photo editing platform?

At this stage, definitely not.  Just as you can use a Swiss Army Knife to cut your steak, open your wine or trim your eyebrows, so an iPad can carry out all the functions of a “proper” computer ie. a PC or Mac. 

However compared to a PC an iPad is slow, file management without a proper file system is ham fisted at best, and as yet there are no apps that come even close to something as basic as even Google Picasa, never mind Adobe Lightroom or Apple’s Aperture.  So whilst it’s a fine solution for editing one or two family photos and sharing them on the road, it’s a deeply annoying platform for everything else.

Even writing this blog post has taken me twice as long as it would on a PC, because simple things like cut and paste are infinitely more fiddly.

So overall, yes the iPad works as a photo editing solution but it will take a lot more work before it is able to displace the PC or Mac for anything other than very casual use.

Delete photos not worth keeping

One of the biggest advantages of digital photography over film is that we
can take a lot of pictures without the cost running out of control.  This
is particularly useful when learning a new photographic skill, the process of
which probably produces fewer “keepers” than normal.

A prime example was this weekend, when I went to Silverstone for the first
round of the FIA World Endurance Car Championship.  Being a total novice
when it comes to motorsport photography, having unlimited opportunities to
practice panning was a boon.

Over the last couple of years however, a number of prominent voices in
the photography education scene, have advocated keeping every photo you take,
regardless of whether it’s a keeper. 

They argue that storage is cheap and you never know when that shot might
be just what you need, even though it is out of focus, poorly exposed, or even
an accidental click resulting in a picture of the garden path. 

I must respectfully disagree with this position.  Storage might be
cheap from a business perspective but for the enthusiast with bills to pay, who
wishes to get the most out of every spare Pound, Dollar or Rand it’s not a
good idea.

Too many images not only clog up your hard disk, they will slow down your browsing/editing
applications and can become a burdensome chore to manage.  The more dud
images in your collection, the less chance you have of enjoying the good ones.

I’m not suggesting getting rid of marginal images; if there’s a question
mark in your mind then keep it.  However most of us produce many images
that can be safely deleted without any fear we might need them again.  Not
to mention the use of camera motor drive modes, which are often used in
instructional videos, and which produce several almost identical images in
quick succession.

I have taken to being ruthless in this regard.  Yes, it might be a
lovely picture of someone dear to my heart but if it’s identical to the one
before it, it gets binned.  In the process I have saved myself gigabytes.

Shooting my first roll of Fujichrome Velvia

Last year I decided it would be fun to buy an old film camera, so I bought a Canon AE-1 Program with a 50mm F1.8 lens.

The camera itself is in lovely condition and looks pretty much like it came out of the box yesterday. I absolutely love the feel and the sound as the shutter releases. In fact the camera as a whole is a lesson in how things used to be made, even though this was always a consumer level device.

So far I have only shot one roll of print film with this camera. I think the film in question may have been expired because the overall look and the colours felt very old school – far more so in fact than print film I shot 15 years ago.

However I didn’t buy this camera just to do happy snapping with print film. I bought this camera so I could play with the various remaining slide films before they disappear forever. Sadly Kodachrome is no longer in production but thankfully Fujifilm are still prefer are producing Fujichrome Velvia among others. I actually managed to buy some Velvia from Jessops before they closed down and a friend recently stopped by B&H in New York to pick up some more for me.

So today I loaded my first role of Velvia 100 (I also have some 50 waiting for when it gets sunnier). I’m excited to see the results although using a manual focus camera is sure to mean that the number wasted exposures will be higher than had I been using something more modern. As soon as I have something to share, I will post pictures to Flickr. I can’t wait!

I don’t want to live with a cow called Mabel

Daily, people are bombarded by conflicting messages.  On the one hand, we are told the economy is in a dire position and that what we need to do is get our wallets out and spend.

Conversely, we are told about the perilous situation the environment is in, and that we should stop buying things we don’t need, take fewer (long distance at least) holidays and generally go easier on the planet.

No wonder so many people seem somewhat confused and permanently stressed.

I can see both sides of the argument and to extent find myself agreeing with both of them.  However they are such conflicting objectives, such diametrically opposed ideals, that it’s hard to come to a final position on the matter.  In fact by the time your work for the day is done, and you finally have a few moments to meditate on these matters, it’s all to easy to just go for some form of escapism in TV, books or computer games.

Our economy is largely based upon people consuming things they don’t need.  We actually NEED very little.  Food, shelter, warmth, clean drinking water…that’s about it really.

You might enjoy a new car but will you actually be happier?  Probably not.

So how do we square this circle?  How do we achieve an economy that can sustainably employ people without using up every last resource Earth has to offer?

There are those who advocate a return to a pre industrial society.  This is simply not going to happen.  Yeah let’s all sleep in one big room, along with all our pigs, goats and a cow called Mabel – the ultimate in open plan living….

There must be some middle ground where we get to keep the good things which have been invented over the past 300 years, without seeing it as a catastrophe if we begin to consume less, year on year.

Your thoughts?


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