Getting twitchy now..

So, only a few days to go until I present my panel to the Royal Photographic Society to be considered for the Licentiate Distinction.

I went down to Bath today to observe a distinctions advisory day where people bring their potential panels to show and to receive advice and feedback from some of the assessors who actually judge the disctinctions. I was really quite humbled by the standard of some of the images people had to show, some really amazing images.

I got some very useful tips on what the panels are looking for too and I must say I’m now feeling pretty nervous about my panel now. I know there are a few areas where I can definitely make improvements, but not in the next couple of days. I did order a couple of reprints yesterday which should be here in the morning but apart from that there’s nothing else I can really change at this stage which will make any difference so I’m going to take it along and see what feedback I get.

It’s all good experience and if I’m not successful this time I have a load of useful info on where I need to improve.

My proposed panel

(though it’s entirely likely to change before wednesday!)

Gadgets Galore…

Cracking day out today. I went up to the Gadget Show Live at the NEC. Five halls chock full of big boys toys. Everything from high-end audio kit, computing, robots, mobile tech through to quad bikes and video games.

Having blagged a trade day ticket was a real bonus as it was *really* quiet. No queuing for anything and we could just amble around and take a look at everything at a leisurely pace.  I feel sorry for all the poor sods who have to go on saturday when there will be 40,000 other people all fighting for a glimpse of the latest shiny stuff though.

Had a chance to meet up with Gavin Hoey for a quick chat and to watch his Adobe Elements presentation which was very interesting. It’s amazing how much they’re squeezing into Photoshop Elements now and at the absolute bargain price it’s selling for I wouldn’t hesistate to recommend that everyone buys it, even if they already own the full version as I do!

Quick summary:

  • Go on a trade day, it’s lovely
  • Photoshop Elements 9 is awesome
  • Lots and lots of new Android tablets on the market, all trying hard to be an iPad. Massive recurring theme throughout. They’re not an iPad!
  • Loads of 3D Tellies. Every one of them utterly failed to impress me. Really can’t see the point at all.
  • Loads of 3D racing setups, those were cool.
  • Colin can’t drive!
  • Duke Nukem Forever!
  • Gears of War 3 is ace.
  • Batmobile!
  • Oh, and did I mention, go on a trade-only day, it’s lovely.

Little Things..

So, tonight I thought I’d have a quiet night in and do a few flower Macros.

There was a particular shot I’d done a while back that I quite liked but which was really not good enough for my RPS panel so I thought I’d take another stab at it. Shouldn’t be a long job, or that’s what I thought until I imported a few test shots into Lightroom. The trouble is with Macro is the distinct lack of depth-of-field so I was stopped right down to f/25 at 1s exposure, focusing with macro rails and firing with an wired remote to avoid camera shake (I’ll post a setup shot later to illustrate). At that aperture you’ll see every imperfection and suffice to say the sensor dust that just wasn’t visible in normal use looked something like the surface of mars. So, time to break out the sensor swabs and give it a quick clean.

I know lots of people are twitchy about touching their sensor, and if you’re one of those then please leave it well alone and take your camera to a service centre and have them do it for you. It will probably only cost about £25 which is less than buying a set of swabs, However, if like me you’ve got a reasonably steady hand then honestly there’s really nothing to worry about. It’s a pretty painless operation and the solutions and swabs from Photographic Solutions are excellent.

For my Bristol chums, you can get the swabs and solutions from Bristol Cameras. You’ll need to make sure you get the right size for your camera, it’s usually the type-2 for cropped sensors and type 3 for full frame but if in doubt check on the website I linked above.

The above pic was *before* I cleaned the sensor, but what you can’t see there are the 100+ spots I’d already cleaned up in Lightroom.

I’ll post some more later :)

Ooh crikey…

.. I’ve just realised it’s only three weeks to go until I’ve got to present my panel to the Royal Society!

For those who don’t already know, I’ve applied to be considered for a Royal Society distinction. Just the first level or ‘Licentiateship’ for now. This first level is a pretty thorough assessment of your technical proficiency and involves the presentation of a panel of ten images which are then scrutinised by a panel of five expert judges, all of whom are themselves Fellows of the Royal Society. *gulp* I’d love to brazen it out and say I’m not worried but to be honest I’m bricking it!

I’ve spent most of this evening trying to narrow down my final selection and it’s a lot harder than I’d thought it would be when I first applied. It’s not so much the selection of individual shots that’s hard but more the way they need to sit together as a cohesive panel..

I figure the only way I’ll really nail it is to get a lot of the candidates printed up at the size I need them and narrow them down as finished prints. So, time to melt the plastic and just go for it.

I do own a mat cutter but having found my initial experiments to be quite frustrating I’ve also decided to let the experts deal with the cutting and so I’m getting my mounts cut to size by the people at Works out cheaper that way too!

Pimp My Mac, Pt 2

Thought I’d better report in with an update on my Mac upgrades..

Last night I fitted the SSDs and copied over my boot drive. This is the result:

[youtube width=”480″ height=”390″ video_id=”f34rqrxean8″]

Sorry about the delay at the login prompt. That wasn’t the Mac, it was me forgetting to swipe my fingerprint!
As you can see, it’s launching applications as fast as I can physically click the mouse, and that was including some fairly significant things including Filemaker, Lightroom, Photoshop and Dreamweaver Cs5..
That’ll do nicely  :)



Pimp my Mac…

Thought it was about time for a spring-clean and an update to my Mac, and with a bit of a bonus in the bank from my recent dealings with the Daily Mail I thought I’d treat myself to an upgrade.

So, tonight I’ve just ordered a pair of fast 128Gb  SSDs and a hardware caddy with built in RAID controller to stripe them and make them even quicker for a super-quick 256Gb boot/system drive.. The plan is to do a clean install of Snow Leopard onto it and take a couple of days out to really optimise my Mac for performance. I’ll just re-install my essential apps initially and avoid all the cruft that’s accumulated over the years.

All my data, photos etc. are on a separate drive anyway so it’s a pretty painless operation and as I’m installing the SSDs in a spare bay I can leave the existing system disk untouched as a further level of backup (I’m already running time machine and regular DVDs) and then as/when I do discover anything I actually need it’s a piece of cake to transfer it.

Next on the agenda, 3 x 2TB drives in a RAID5 array for the data.

Ooh I do love the smell of new tech in the morning don’t you?

Take off and nuke it from orbit…

So, last weekend I fired up Dreamweaver with every intention of finally cracking on with some work on the site and I realised that in spite of all my grand ideas and good intentions I’d been procrastinating for weeks months and still not added anything of value. I’ve just been too busy talking myself round and round in circles obsessing about where I wanted to go and how I wanted to do things. So much so that I never actually did anything worthwhile as I got so wrapped up in the technicalities when what I should have done is focussed first on content.  I came to the conclusion that the only way I was going to get anything sorted was to take some fairly drastic action, accept that this current incarnation wasn’t heading anywhere. Only one thing left for it..

I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.
Ellen Ripley (Aliens)

I figured that first and foremost this is a photography site, and so I should be focussing first on the photographs and keep the design as clean and simple as possible. This was inspired in part by the lovely clean design on my friend Gonzo’s site and an evening of googling for ‘awesome photography websites’ and other such terms.

Next up, I knew that one of the things that’s been constantly holding me back was the problem of maintaining nice looking galleries without spending hours and hours hand-rolling them all and so it seemed sensible to swallow my pride and stop worrying about building everything from scratch. there are far cleverer people than me out there doing that already so this whole re-vamp is going to be a really stripped down wordpress install.

So, that’s the plan. Hopefully I won’t break anything. In the mean time, cover me – I’m going in..

Thoughts on image processing…

I thought I’d write a little about my own views on Photography, in particular my thoughts on how the process has evolved over the years from the earliest experiments of William Fox Talbot to the latest digital darkroom techniques.

Photographic Purists.. I’m not one of those!

Many people I speak to seem to be quite vehement in their defence of the purity of the traditional photographic process. They believe that you have to capture everything perfectly in-camera and that you should only print exactly what you took and that any form of post-processing is somehow ‘wrong’. Whilst I respect their personal preference I certainly don’t share it.

Firstly, there is a huge difference between what we see, and what the camera captures. The perceived image to us is a combination of the light landing on our retina and our perception of the world around us. The human mind is amazing at filling in the details from it’s experience. What the camera captures is pure physics.

Often, to make a captured image replicate what we see with our own eyes we need to do some additional processing on the image. A camera sensor, no matter how advanced, simply doesn’t have the dynamic range to represent the full detail in a scene as we see it. There is always a compromise which results in a loss of detail somewhere. By the application of processing areas

Lets consider a couple of real photographic pioneers:

The great American Landscape photographer Ansell Adams not only had an incredible eye for composition, he was also a master of creative exposure and the inventor of the zone system which formed the basis of many modern auto-exposure systems.

He would use creative masking, dodging and burning to enhance the drama in his shots often creating incredible detail with a very high dynamic range. (Click the image for a larger view).

Don McCullin FRPS CBE is a renowned war photographer who has taken some truly iconic images over the years, but even in the sixties he was still using creative darkroom techniques to get the best results:

Take a look at the image on the right here which has been reproduced countless times over the years. The yellow sticky notes are his instructions for processing the image showing exactly how long each area needs to be exposed for best results.

In a traditional darkroom this would require multiple exposures and masking out areas which need to be brighter in the final print. This is exactly the same concept as using an adjustment brush in Photoshop today

So, how is that relevant?

Well my point is simple. Processing has always been a part of truly creative photography though I suspect many people simply didn’t realise how much work had gone into some of those iconic images over the years.

People have been processing photographs for as long as they’ve been taking them, it’s only the methods that have advanced from a purely mechanical/chemical process into the digital domain.


Children of the revolution

I consider myself very lucky to have been born when I was.

As a very young child I grew up in a pretty conventional family, the only bit of technology we had was a television. We did have a battery powered portable which we used to take caravanning, it was a push button black and white set with a terrible reception. Oh, and yes, you had to get up and walk over the lounge to change the channel, which didn’t happen that often as there were only three of them! We still played ‘records’ and ‘tapes’ but if you missed your favourite TV programme it was tough luck as you couldn’t record the telly on super-8 film!

I grew up at exactly the right time that technology has always been a natural part of my life. I got to experience the start of the technology boom, from the Walkman, home video recorders, CD players etc. I got my first computer when I was just 13 (a sinclair ZX-81) and worked my way through the 8-bit machines of the late 80’s, built my first PC in the early 90s and finally switched to the Mac about five years ago. it’s crazy to think that my mobile phone now has vastly more power than my first PC..

And so, for me the technology is a natural part of who I am, and I simply cannot see any reason why I wouldn’t want to use it.

Photography is an art, and I believe every artist has the right to choose their form. To me that means the whole process from capture, through to a finished image. If the viewer enjoys the final image then why should they even care how it was created? Personally I see nothing wrong with any amount of processing or digital manipulation and indeed, I’m thankful that I’ve grown up at a time when I can take full advantage of the amazing creative scope of the digital darkroom.

If you’re interested to learn more about my digital workflow then watch this space as I’ll be posting a page to discribe some of that process very soon.

New Year, New Site, New Blog..

So, hello 2011!

I’m finally getting around to doing some work on my site and it seemed an ideal time to start the blog properly.

First off, I’m really pleased to say that last night, right around midnight (well, allowing time for me to watch the awesome fireworks in London first!) I completed my first 365 project. I’ll elaborate on that later, but in the meantime here’s a slideshow from Flickr: