Monday, 31 July 2017

Masters do you study them?

 Last weekend I was in the beautiful Queenstown area, deep in the South Island of New Zealand, running a photography workshop for the QCC. We had a great turn out and one of the members daughters came along to model for us on the Saturday morning. Weather was clear but cold, good winter conditions.
One of the subjects I covered was the masters and who I have been influenced by and why.
I showed them a small "you tube" video of Joe Mc Nally at work, the amount of time and effort that goes into the smallest detail to make sure that the image is right. They all enjoyed it. We also talked about other masters, I gave them my list of masters who have up to now influenced me in many ways, do you have a list, do you look at other photographers work, do you get inspiration.
Write down why they influence and inspire you, what is it about their style of photography, their approach to a subject matter, their presentation of their images, their workflow.
 We can all learn from other artists not just photographers, for me I have gained a lot of influence and joy from the work of Hieronymus Bosch an artist slightly different from the normal during his artistic career. Salvador Dali has also been inspirational, especially in the shape and feel of my many clocks that float around my Storytellers Imagination series. 
The wonders of the internet allow us a look at many different masters in many different styles of art. Use it.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Better to burn out than to fade away!

 Today I was informed of the passing of a friend, a young lady who I had a lot to do with. It has shocked/ upset me, a huge loss to one and all.
It got me thinking, as death often does about your own life and what you have done with it or not.
Make the most of the time you have, as we do not know how much time we have, do we.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Workshops, why should I do them?

Recently I went on a winter workshop research trip into the heart of Central Otago, South Island, New Zealand. We had various weather from glorious sunshine to driving freezing rain and floods. I also experienced a dead truck, that needs a heart replacement, but that is another story.
We went out in all weathers and enjoyed the many faces of the Maniototo valley. At one point we explored up a greasy, gravel road, looking to see what we could find, we found an old school house. So being curious photographers we went inside, we looked, photographed and enjoyed the old memorabilia of days gone bye. As I was about to leave I noticed a pile of books in a corner, I decided to have a look, something drew me to them. As I looked through the pile, I noticed a photography book by a Japanese photographer, the image on the front had me intrigued. I picked the book up and had a look through, the style of photography impressed me, I decided to photograph the book to have a record of it, placing the book on the ground, in the beam of light, the whole scene made sense to me, the eyes of the man on the cover, the shadows, the lone leaf below the book. We often come across things for a reason, was this one of these times.

Workshops why would you do them and what can I expect to gain from the expense and experience. That has a lot do with you and your expectations. Is it some part of photography that you either want to learn or advance your understanding of. You will find hundreds of different options to choose from, workshops in NZ or Overseas, all subjects will be covered. A few questions to ask before you sign up.
What do I get for my dollar?
How much teaching time is there?
Are there limitations to Instructors availability?
How many on the course?
Can you give an Idea to the daily plan?
Do we do computer processing?
Do we get a handout form the course to take home?
Ask for recent references/testimonials or the contact details of someone who has recently done the workshop, to check if this is the course you wan to  spend your hard earned dollars on!

Always remember when attending a workshop, YOU need to ask the questions YOU want the answers too. If you do not come forward YOU will get missed. It is better to stand up and appear a little stupid and ask a question, then sit down a little more intelligent, than sitting there looking Intelligent, but remaining a little stupid..Workshops are a great place of knowledge, experience and a place to make new friendships. They are often an intense place to learn, as a lot of information and learning is squeezed into a short space of time, YOU want to come away with a new understanding of photography, using your camera, post processing, new techniques and more, much more.  
I run around 15 workshops a year and love sharing my knowledge and experience with a wide range of photographers. My students return to my workshops many times, as my teaching style is a little different from everyone else.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Photography Clubs

 So why should I join a club.
It is a great place to meet like minded photographers and hopefully meet more experienced ones, who are happy to help you advance your skill level. 
Most clubs have some sort of competitions each month, or several times a  month depending on the size of the club/society. One thing I feel is often overlooked is the problem of Analysis paralysis that happens for new members entering competitions. We enter with encouragement from others, we go to the judging and no one explains  what is going to happen, what the judge might say about my image. They might hate it, rubbish the content and even suggest that it is someone else art work, the first image, was judged this way, because the judge had never seen anything like it before, it must be a picture of someone else work, I was gutted, it is the virgin Mary in the roll cage at Mc Murdo station. I tried again with the second image and got honours, I was happy. The third image was not accepted as the judge believed the image was pixelated, he was not aware of grain in B&W. All these years later and many many Non Acceptances later,  I just laugh about it. If i was not of the nature I am, I would have left the club in 2008 after the first competition and never entered another competition.
I do not know if clubs do this, would it not be a good idea to have a support type person to sit with a newbie and help them understand the judging to help reduce the Analysis paralysis that often happens. All judges as with clubs are not created equal, lets support new competitors to make the experience educational not a death sentence. I strongly believe competitions are a healthy thing to do in a club as well as Internationally, if for nothing else but the catalogues.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

RAW Vzs JPEG part 2

 You get the highest quality files when shooting in RAW.
This is one of the biggest benefits. When you shoot in RAW you record all of the data from the sensor.

This gives the highest quality files. And when it comes to your awesome images, you want high quality.
Look at it this way: all cameras technically shoot RAW. Yes, they   do.
The difference when you shoot in JPEG format is that the camera does it’s own processing to convert the RAW information into a JPEG. When shoot in RAW, when you get to the post processing stage you have more data for the software Algorithms to use and improve any noise and sharpening issues a lot easier than a JPEG image.
It is still your choice, it all is. The camera brand you use, the lenses, the computer system, the software, the printer, the paper, the list goes on and on.
Yesterday I had a few comments about various things, one that rang a bell for me was the club comment.
I totally agree with the author that talked about club gear snobs, they are there. You just have to see past them. From my own experiences I have been in a club about 10 years ago that was full of little groups with an experienced photographer with a little group of followers/devotees, lapping up every word they spoke, you had to be invited to join these groups, no thank you. These in a club are worse than gear snobs in my opinion. Once again choices you make, you can change them, it is your choice. Clubs are a wonderful place to meet like minded photographers and learn, We do have to remember that not all clubs are created equal!
Photography is meant to be fun, YES FUN, if it is not, why are you doing it, find another hobby.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

RAW Vs JPEG, my choice.

 This is a subject that has been around from the dawn of digital and you will get all the so called experts who will tell you that their way is the best way. What a load of FERTILISER.

You the photographer/artist /shutter presser needs to make that decision for yourself. It really pees me off, when I hear the so called experienced photographer telling new photographers, You have to shoot JPEG. You do not and before you decide, get all the information.

So in the last two posts I talked about Histograms, it is a good thing to understand these, as they help in the production of a well captured image with lots of data to use in post processing. Now we need to address the next issue, FORMAT.  Lets look at the science of the facts, not me making up stuff.
JPEG records 256 levels of brightness, and RAW records between 4,096 to 16,384 levels!
For me it is a no contest, I have more information/data to use to play with my files. That is my choice however I will fully support someone who decides to shoot JPEG, that is your choice.  It might take a few minutes more to process a RAW image compared to a JPEG image, they will take up more room on the computer, external hard drives are more affordable these days.
I am a control freak and if I shoot JPEG the camera makes a whole bunch of adjustments to my image that I have no control over and cannot change, so does the camera know more than me, more than likely. Why would I want it to make the artistic decisions that will affect my image, no thank you, my choice.
On my workshops I often get students who shoot JPEG they very quickly see what the RAW shooters are able to do with there images and most change, change slowly most cameras will give you a JPEG/RAW option, use it.
Make the choices to suit you, not someone else. 

Friday, 14 July 2017

Histograms, part two

The first thing to consider is that there is no such thing as the perfect or Ideal  histogram, the histogram exists to give us the photographer some very valuable data. The data can then be used by the photographer to create the mood and impact that they want. On my workshops I often get photographers with similar brands of camera and the histogram is very different, it can be daunting getting your head around it, however it is worth the time and effort. The more you understand the dynamics of your histogram on your camera the more you can understand the file that will be available to play with in your software.

The Luminosity Histogram is the result of a lot of complex calculations that the cameras computer will do for you. The general purpose is to approximate how the human eye will perceive the image. The light meter built into your camera measures Reflectance-  the amount of light reflected by the subject/object in the image. In the above image you see the histogram all over on the right side -the bright side, this could be my choice for this style of image.

The image below is basically the complete opposite of the top image.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Histogram part one.

OK, you have the camera you can afford and you enjoy playing with. Good quality glass on the front of the said camera. So are you let the camera make all the decisions for you sort of photographer or a control freak like me and tell the camera what to do and when it does not do as it is told, you take the battery out as a punishment. Unless you shoot Manual, the camera is making decisions for you. I grew up in the film era and had cameras that only had manual, so I have stuck to using manual in the digital era. It is often hard to do and can be very challenging, however like anything, the more you practice the better and quicker you get. You make decisions without consciously thinking about them, the subconscious does all decision making, so it happens very quickly. This will only work if you understand the parameters of your camera, what you can do with the files captured.
 One aspect of digital photography that is awesome, is the histogram, this indicates the levels of light and dark captured in the image, remember it reads the JPEG compressed image. However if you know your camera as well as you know yourself, you will understand how far to push the histogram to get the information in the file to achieve the result you want.
When I review the back of my camera, I use the little image as a check of my composition only and check my exposure by looking at the histogram, I never look at the image for exposure. I know i have 14 stops of dynamic range in my camera, so I know how to read my histogram, to know how much recoverable information I have if I need to compromise, do you? More about the histogram to follow.
If you want to learn more about photography, your camera and being more creative, join me on one of my workshops.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017


 What is more important I am often asked, the camera body or the glass, my comment every time is spend the big money on lenses, as they will last you years, if you look after them. When I first purchased a digital camera, I bought full frame lenses. I knew I would be up grading my camera more than the lenses, I bought a 70mm to 200mm F2.8 G series lens in 2007, sold it in good working order in 2017, I had owned 5 camera bodies in this time.  I started with a crop sensor digital camera that was all I could afford, I saved my pennies and slowly but surely got the trinity of lenses, all full frame all F2.8. If you are not sure what the trinity of lenses is, it is the lens range, -14mm to
24mm, 24mm to 70 mm, 70mm to 200mm, generally a must for most professional photographers.
I know oh too well what it is like not to have money, lenses especially good lenses are expensive new, I buy second hand, I can get the lens I want for half the price sometimes and nothing wrong with it, it has been played with by someone else, so what, as long as the glass is clean and the elements line up. Recently I decided I wanted/needed a 85mm prime lens for portraiture, I wanted F1.4 as I love that narrow DOF. I looked new $1995 I could not afford that amount of money, I work for myself and my income is like feast and famine. So I went to trusty Trade Me and classifieds on Facebook, I eventually found one at the price I could afford, not perfect but I compromised, do we not often have to do that to get the right image.  I love the new second hand lens.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Which Camera is Best

Which Camera is Best, the one you have with you.

Recently I have been reading lots of reports or reviews about photographers changing camera systems. I am one of those, last October I swapped all my Sony Alpha System for a Nikon D810. I had been a Sony shooter since 2006, when Sony bought Minolta and I bought the A100. What a great wee camera and with all the promises from Sony that a mountain of lenses would follow. I bought a few other Sony DSLR's as the years went on and my requirements increased, eventually finishing with the Alpha 850 and Sony Mirror less A99. The variety of lenses never really increased and this frustrated me. About a year ago I started to get really disappointed in the files/system I was getting and using, I wanted more, more size, more information and more specialist lenses. I spend many hours researching my options, I asked at the camera stores, they had their the brands they promote over the others, so I got all sorts of useless information. After much research and asking myself what I wanted in a camera system, I wrote a list of things it should have and could do, lenses and accessories available, I came to the conclusion it had to be Nikon. After nearly a year of operating the system I am still in love and getting the files that far exceed my expectations.
So if we get back to the question what is the best camera, it is really simple, the one that suits you, feels good and excites you to get it out and play. Most brands are very similar these days, not a lot of difference, I often use a company called, , who test cameras and lenses, combinations and test against other brands.
It does not matter what camera system you use it is the sensibility of the photographer that
matters first.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Until you photograph something

So how do we tell a story, have Impact or capture Gesture in an image to impress a judge or Jury.
To capture an image that says a thousand words is not something that often happens by accident, we often have to be deliberate in our actions to capture that decisive moment, that nano second in time that will never be repeated. In the digital era we have the option of spray and pray, during the wonderful years of film you were generally restricted to 36 exposures, once they were gone you had to change film and if you had a motor drive fitted to the camera that could be 7 seconds, a good rodeo ride is 8 seconds. You can still miss the decisive moment with spray an dpray, the image below and all my rodeo images are all one shot wonders, anticipating the action, not hoping for the spray and pray to get that nano second I wanted. Concentration, seeing, knowing your gear, so it is not a restriction to your creativity, help in achieving the results that have won me awards.

Until you have photographed something, it has not been photographed. How can you capture the decisive moment that makes the millionth image of the same scene different, new and fresh.

 Disclaimer, I apologise if my grammar is not correct English, I am Scottish and proud of it, England is a country that is foreign to me. That is my excuse and I am sticking to it.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Likes or Dislikes

So what is the important elements in an image to possibly make it an award winning image, good question.
Lets see if I can cover a few of the likes and dislikes I have as a judge. I hope these do not come over as prejudices and biases.
 Pet hate for me is DUST SPOTS, I hate seeing these in an image and I will always mark an image down in a competition, as I see this as a lack of respect for your image, is it not your job as the author to ensure the image is the best it can be when you send it out into the world, all the pixels in your image are your responsibility. Most software, even the free ones have the option to remove spots whither theses are on the sensor or the lens.
 One thing I always like to see in a image is a story, or as I often refer to it as Gesture or Impact, something in the image that smacks you in the face, holds my attention. Have you used the elements in the image to control my journey through the image. 
If photographing something done many times before have you added your own essence to the scene. To make it new and refreshing interpretation of the scene.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Competitions worthwhile or worthless

 So why do we or should I enter competitions? what have I to gain or more important lose from the experience?
I can only really comment on my own experiences and perhaps the reason why I entered competitions, both here in New Zealand and Internationally. We have to go back a few years to the time I was a member of a Christchurch club. I had returned from my second trip working in Antarctica, I had a few images I thought were pretty good. I entered an open comp and the judge slammed my image, his comments indicated that as far as he was concerned he had never seen anything like this before, so it must be a picture of someone else artwork, (those of you who know me it was not even a composite), so if the photographers going to continue on this vein, they should think about taking up another hobby. I was gutted. To cut a long story short I was not happy but I would try again and I did, this time I got honors. First lesson learned, just because one judge makes a shitty comment, do not tar all judges with the same brush.
I had a good first year, plenty of honors, I tried for letters, what a disaster, if you decide to go for letters pick a person who really wants you to succeed, not set you up for failure.  At this point someone suggested International salons, I tried and was successful, lots of times. One of the things that has kept me addicted to International salons has always been the catalogs, the images that I have seen over the many years have affected my photography, it has given me a broader base of images to draw ideas from, to gauge my level of photography and often why I have not done as well as I could have or thought I should have.
To be honest the hardest part of competitions is not the entering, it is the ability to produce new and interesting work, year after year. DO NOT take the judges comments to heart, enjoy the challenge, grow from the challenge and especially in the International circuit enjoy the wonderful catalogs that often arrive in the mail, with an award or two as a bonus.

Monday, 3 July 2017


We often have to wrestle with prejudice in competitions, especially in club comps. Remember it is only one persons opinion, you DO NOT have to take their advice, often the advice comes from a lack of understanding for a subject or more simply, "I do not like this type of photography" approach to your image. This is wrong, all assessors should approach an image with an open mind and only analysis it as it is presented to you, not with prejudice. This seems really hard for some folks to do, an attitude of "my way is the best" is often the attitude from these assessors, we do  not need this type of approach in club competitions, the assessing should be done with an approach of education not prejudice or bias. Regardless how badly you might get assessed or judged, we need to stay confident in our abilities, sometimes our ideas, stories we are trying to tell are misunderstood, some people want all the answers given too them in the image and do not like images that ask them too many questions.

Sunday, 2 July 2017


 Over this last weekend I attended a judges training weekend, run by the Photographic Society of New Zealand. These are great weekends to either learn about judging or check you are doing the right thing. Also a great weekend to catch up with or meet new friends.
So can you dissect an image, your own or someone else's, can you see the story they are trying to tell you, is it obvious, or does the image ask more questions than gives you answers,  is it balanced, does it have colour harmony, are the elements in the image, working harmoniously together, to add strength to the image or do the elements in the image work against one another. You as an assessor, even assessing your own work, have to look at the image with an open mind, leave your bias at the door. We have all at one time or another, if you enter competitions, have had bad judging, generally caused by bias or prejudice.
 It is not easy to stand in front of a whole room of strangers and give an assessment of the images presented in a competition, it is a lot of work and time.