Friday, 22 February 2013

New blog

As anyone looking at this blog will quickly be able to tell, it hasn't received much love in a long while. Now my website has a blog and all future posts will appear there. I intend to be more active with that blog than I have been with this one in recent times. Many thanks for stopping by.


Thursday, 7 April 2011

New web now live

My new website is up and running. Great relief to have it all working.

Image: Eaton bollard

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Practical photography course - February/March 2010

Short notice I know, but if anyone is interested there are a couple of places available on my course starting on February 20th (other dates are Feb 27th, March 13th and 20th - omitting March 6th is not an error - other commitments dictate). Four sessions of three hours each.

Apart from the first hour we will be outside for all of that time, photographing a variety of subjects, comprising landscape, modern and traditional architecture and moving subjects (sport of pastimes). The course is suitable for all levels and costs £38. Full details are on the "Announcements" page of my web site.

Image of frozen puddle near to Korda Lake, Harefield.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Shooting through the cold - some thoughts on staying warm

The recent cold weather and particularly the extended period of snow has brought many wonderful photo opportunities. For me it coincided with discovering access to a new location, and I made the most of it. However, with the opportunities came challenges. None more so than how to stay warm for six to eight hours while still being able to take photos in these conditions. It isn't enough to be just tolerably warm. You need to be comfortable enough so as not to be distracted by the climate or the clothing. So here is a quick description of what has worked (and sometimes not) for me.

Let's work downwards (why not). At the start of the cold spell my choice of headgear was a thermal lined cap with a furry flap running from one side, around the back to the other side, which can be folded either up or down. It looks a bit like headgear that a Southpark kid might wear. Knowing that the flaps around the ears wouldn't be enough I also wore a snood (a sort of elongated hood without a jacket attached). The snood is made from a fleece which proved to be only slightly more windproof than chicken-wire. To remedy this I have been using a black silk balaclava more normally used by motorcyclists. Being silk it adds only little bulk, but does help retain heat. I'll be honest. I won't win any beauty or fashion contests looking like that, but I can live with the disappointment.

Now on to the main torso. Nothing special here. Mainly lots of layers. I do use a thermal cycling top, which certainly helps a lot. Most cycling clothing has longer arms and torso length to cope with the position in which cyclists ride. As well as its thermal properties it is also quite slippery on the outside surface. This is a help when there are more layers over it, as it allows layers to move more freely over each other and therefore movement is less restricted. I try to wear enough under my top layer so that I can open my jacket (to get at pockets for instance) without feeling the cold. Talking of jackets and moving freely, hoods are not ideal for photography as they inhibit turning the head to see what is around you. They encourage a rather blinked view (only optically of course).

And so to one of the most important parts - the hands. Last winter I got a pair of SealSkinz Ultra Grip gloves. They are insulating, though not enough for extreme conditions. They are also waterproof, breathable and dexterous and thanks to lot of little rubber dots on the fingers and palms have very good grip, even in the wet. To increase the retention of heat I use silk glove liners. As with the headgear the silk adds little in the way of bulk, but increases the warmth. I can operate all the controls on the camera with both of these pairs of gloves on. The only thing that requires their removal is changing a battery which isn't needed very often. On a seven hour trip the other day I didn't need to take them off once.

Trousers don't seem to be a problem for me. I just wear normal ones, but not jeans. Denim performs very poorly in cold weather and should be avoided.

Lastly to the feet. In fact I don't do much that is different because of the cold. I normally wear a pair of leather hiking boots with normal socks and then walking socks over. In summer the inner socks will be cotton and in winter they will be wool. The walking socks will also be wool. If you find that you are walking through a lot of snowy undergrowth then gaiters may be useful to stop water getting in around the top of the boot. I had some with me the other day but didn't use them.

Take from this what appeals and reject what does not. These things are very personal. Just don't stay inside when it's cold.

Image: Icy lake - Denham

Friday, 11 December 2009

Things that improve your photography (other than taking photos) - pt 1

A few thoughts about improving your (and my) photography. The obvious one is to take more photos and try new approaches, but as the title says, that is not what this is about. It is also NOT about an excuse to buy more kit (sorry).

The point is to improve the way we see. To make us more visually aware. In this case, to make us more aware of shapes and lines within an image and therefore strengthen composition. And the secret, very simple. Draw. Yes, you read it right. Draw. Sketch. Scribble and doodle. Actually, it's a bit more directed than most doodling, but the process if very simple and very quick.

Do 20 second sketches of things or people that you observe in your day-to-day life. Give yourself only 20 seconds for each one (precision is not too important here) in order to sketch a scene that in in front of you. Think of it as a sort of cartoon if you like. The point is to try to express a lot in very few lines and in 20 seconds you don't have time to get caught up in the detail. Why do this? Simply to improve your awareness of lines within what you see in front of you. To translate complexity into simplicity. You don't have to be great at drawing, although after a short period you will almost certainly become better at that too.

Do it during the commute to and from work (not if you are driving, silly), during lunch breaks on a paper napkin or even while you are at work - just don't blame me if you get into trouble with your boss. And do it regularly.

Image: Mist on the lake, Harefield

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

The Direct Print button. Is there a place for it?

Just the other day I read yet another comment from a respected reviewer indicating that the direct print button on some Canon DSLRs is just a waste of space and function and that it has no place in the world of professional photographers. There have been many such comments. But I disagree (well, you knew I would).

Travel back in time with me, back to the days when most working photographers used film. Often the client would be present at the shoot (that bit hasn't necessarily changed). It was usual to shoot polaroids and show them to the client so that he or she could assess and approve (or otherwise) the shot. OK. Back in the time machine to today when we have the instant gratification of digital cameras and seeing the image almost immediately on the back of the camera. But which would you rather show to the client. A polaroid print (for them to take away) or hand them the camera to peer at - or even worse, get them to stoop down to see the screen as the camera is still on the tripod. Even if you show the image on a laptop the client doesn't have anything to take away as a reminder of what had been agreed.

Direct Print button to the rescue, along with one of the small portable printers that are designed to go with them. Now you can give the client a print to approve, something that can be taken away for future reference. Next question: Is the use of this button enough to justify a prominent position in preference to some other function (mirror lockup perhaps)? You decide.

Image: Thistle - Turville

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Is 10% of the market not enough? - why no left handed digital cameras

Making a digital camera is an expensive business. Why would a manufacturer intentionally restrict likely market appeal to around 10% when compared to any other camera. But wait just a minute. If I come out with a camera for right handed people it is in competition with hundreds of other cameras and will never get anywhere near 10%. In fact a tenth of that would be remarkable. If I were to come up with a left handed digital camera now, in a market without any others, I might well attract more than 1% and my product would be a hot seller compared to anything else. In addition to this, most of the components would likely be the same, so apart from a new body/chassis it would be sharing component and development costs with an existing right handed camera.

Of course, once other manufacturers saw the potential market possibilities, I'm sure there would be competition. But in the early days I would have the market to myself and could be raking it in. If I was smart, I might even manage to establish myself as the brand that people associated with left handed cameras. A John Maw camera might even become the accepted name for left handed cams, just as iPod has become the term people use when referring to MP3 players. I am no economist (a quick glance at my bank statement proves that) but I am sure that this is a winner for a company with some foresight.

What a shame that digital camera manufacture isn't really possible as a cottage industry, or I might be burning the midnight oil in my garage catering for this niche market. By the way, I would need a tester, as I am a member of the other 90%.

Image taken on Uxbridge Common