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.



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,


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,


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...


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.


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 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.


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,

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


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.



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...

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,


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,

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,