Saturday, September 30, 2006


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.


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?


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,


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.

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.


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.


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.

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.

Paul Posted by Picasa