Thoughts on photography and life


They MADE me shoot him!

Yokohama diners at nightClick for a larger view


An amusing side story to go with the previous post about my photowalk in Yokohama….

I was wandering around with the trusty Nikon D90 atop a tripod – stopping here and there to assess potential shots. I paused to take a couple of shots of the restaurant on the left, which as you can see was almost deserted. Anyway, the staff of the next door restaurant became convinced that I must be a travel photographer shooting for some magazine or other. They definitely wanted in on the action, and were most insistent that I showed them some photo love too. In fact they were not happy until I had made several exposures.

I was of course more than happy to oblige – in the West, people are nowhere near as keen to have their photos taken, so it was a lovely treat to have enthusiastic subjects!


Yokohama photomooch

mooch – verb (used without object) – to loiter or wander about

The City of Yokohama, Japan. A great place to hang out with a camera and watch life in progress. Despite the astonishing population density in the Greater Tokyo Metropolitan Area, the people here are friendly and welcoming.  Unlike westerners, they aren’t camera shy either and look with a benevolent eye and people who skulk around with a tripod.  I’d like to share with you a few of the images I made while there, including the Yokohama Royal Park Hotel and the Cosmo Clock 21 Ferris Wheel.

Creative use of dull days

It’s easy to look out the window on an overcast day and feel uninspired.  However if you wait for sunshine to arrive, your chances of success here in England are poor before you even start.  With this in mind I set out, determined to make the most of a dull day.  While autumn has been gathering her thoughts, summer has been busy putting on a late show.

The wonderful gardens at Anglesey Abbey provide a lovely stomping ground for anyone wishing to enjoy this.

Overcast days may lack drama and contrast, but the light is soft and even. Combined with judicious lens selection, I was sure there were interesting photos to be had.

Photographer and author, David duChemin, whose work I admire greatly, is a firm advocate of wielding the camera with vision and intent.  “What is the photographer trying to say here?” he asks. “What do you want to say?”

This is not always easy.  Wandering around snapping any old thing is a path with less resistance.  Also, if you don’t state your intention, it’s harder for others to judge your work a failure.  No matter – judge away dear viewer.  What I had in mind here, was to create a painterly look in the camera without the use of Photoshop plugins.

To create this effect, I combined the soft light from the overcast day with an 85mm lens, wide open at F1.8.  Not great for maximum detail such as you might expect in a biology textbook, but just what I was after here.

If nothing else, I hope this post inspires you to pick up your camera, get out the door and make the most of what the day has to offer.


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 will try 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.

So, 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.


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