29 Oct 2008

Should you join a camera club?

“Should I join a camera club?  How many times must I have been asked that question by my students over the years? It is usually followed by: “I’ve heard they can be a bit sniffy about welcoming newcomers like me.”

Well my answer is always the same. Yes, join. But first, go to your local club and see if you enjoy it. Only you can decide whether or not you are made to feel welcome. I do point out that it is only fair to go to at least a couple of club nights so that you get a ‘feel’ for the atmosphere. If you feel uncomfortable or unwelcome after that, just don’t bother going back again. End of problem. If you have not been put off entirely, try another club.

A very small minority of clubs really are sniffy and not worth bothering with. Most are well worth joining. Any club is really only a group of people, and, like all groups of people, there are good and bad. A good club is made up of people who are generous with their experience and knowledge – they like to share it with members who are less experienced and they enjoy learning from others.

I am often asked to talk at camera clubs and photographic societies. It’s a job a really enjoy. Some while back I was invited to speak at the Ayr Photographic Society. There was nothing sniffy about the photographers there. Just a genuine thirst for understanding and a willingness to include photographers of all levels. The club is thriving because of this inclusive attitude. There are just a few clubs whose members could learn from this openness – they are the ones, thankfully in the minority, who treat newcomers and novices with patronising distain. The strange thing is that these sniffy clubs often produce inferior photography. Their core members are far too busy being precious to open their minds and try new ideas and techniques or to help new members.

Perhaps I’ve earned the sort of reputation that means I am unacceptable to ‘sniffy’ camera clubs, because I’ve never been invited to speak at one. 

Ayr Photographic Society

27 Oct 2008

Night photography

In yesterday's post I forgot to put a link to the other pictures that Jason took on his nighttime shoot.
Here it is
Click here

26 Oct 2008

Becoming a professional photographer

I have several professional photographers who come to me on a regular basis - some of these travel up from London for the sort of coaching that can help keep them ahead of their game. I also get a great many amateur photographers who have ambitions to turn professional. Not all these photographers have what it takes to make it in the highly competitive world of professional photography. Jason Harry came to me full of enthusiasm and brimming with the sort of energy that just couldn't fail.

Today, just a couple of years later, Jason is chief photographer of a major studio in Manchester and has 7 photographers working under him. I'm delighted to say that Jason is among the countless numbers of my students who keep in touch regularly and the other day he sent me this photograph which he has agreed I should share with you.

This is what Jason wrote:
"Here is an image from a shoot that I did on Saturday night using rear curtain sync, two 580ex mounted on a film-type boom shooting through a big brolley, cannon don't do wireless rear curtain sync but that didn't stop me I had some custom kit made up including light sens triggers that mount on my camera 580ex and repeat shoot without having to reset the damn things and using the radio pulsar transmitters means (radio waves) they (the off camera units) can be up to 100 meters from me and still trip off - even through walls.

"The light setup on camera, boom, triggers, custom kit and two units on the boom is about £2k worth of stuff, I think it is worth the spend...

"Hope you like the resulting image, ISO 400 about 1/6 sec shutter speed and f5.6 from memory... oh and the camera hand held!!!

"The image has had some cross processing on the buss colours but apart from that it is as shot, I was taught well early on to get it right in camera as much as .... possible. All the best dude."

And to you Jason. Thanks for sharing.

22 Oct 2008

Photography Holidays in Menorca dates

We've just sorted the dates and prices for the Menorca photography holidays next year and put them on the Photoactive website.
We now get so many people wanting to come back for a second - and sometimes a third time, that we now do two different itineraries - Menorca One and Menorca Two. 

1st - 8th May 2009

18th - 25th Sept 2009 

The cost for both holidays is £1030
It includes:
  • 7 nights at four star S'Algar Hotel inclusive of breakfast and dinner.
  • Airport transfers in Menorca.
  • Transport to locations in Menorca.
  • Entrance fees where necessary 
  • Welcome and farewell drinks.
  • NO single room supplement.
I really love doing these holidays and it would be great to see you.

The picture shows Jan, one of the Menorca photographers, getting a little help from one of the locals.

20 Oct 2008

Manual Exposure and buckets of water

I had a student with me the other day who was really keen to get to grips with the 'M' (Manual) exposure mode on his Nikon D60. She felt - with some justification - that having the ability to set the camera's exposure herself would enable her to get better photographs. Well, I explained that this would not necessarily follow as there are many other elements that go into creating a good picture. But I did tell her that an understanding of, and familiarity with, the manual settings on any camera would certainly mean that she would have more control and, eventually, she would be able to interpret a scene in her own way. This can often lead to better pictures.

The problem was that as she had kept the camera on a program mode for most of her photography in the past, she had little understanding of shutter speeds and aperture settings and the way they must work in harmony.

I tried very hard to explain in the simplest possible way that, for instance, an exposure of 1/125sec at f11 lets into the camera exactly the same amount of light as an exposure of 1/25osec at f8. This was part of the age-old problem that f numbers do not work logically for normal people. The fact that big apertures mean small numbers and small apertures mean big numbers is enough to confuse anyone.

And then I remembered a really old chestnut of an explanation...

With much theatrical acting, I placed an imaginary and very full bucket of water on the table in front of us. This, I said represented the correct amount of light to expose our picture correctly. The water was not sloshing out (over-exposed) nor was the bucket half full (under-exposed), it was full to the brim. Just right.

There were two ways of filling that bucket with a hose pipe (more acting) - I might use a big wide hose pipe (wide aperture) and fill the bucket very quickly (fast shutter speed). Or I could use a very small diameter hose pipe (small aperture) and trickle the water in very slowly (slow shutter speed).

Either way, I got the same amount of water in the bucket (or the same amount of light in the camera).

It worked like a charm - the penny dropped and from that moment my student understood a concept that had been totally confusing her. I do like simple.

I've posted a fair bit about using manual exposure in the past, so you could try these pages if you want to learn more...

16 Oct 2008


post removed

13 Oct 2008

Compact camera settings

I mentioned last week that from time to time I would post a few tips about using compact cameras.  I'm often asked just how I set up my own compact cameras, so here is a list of just how my little Canon Ixus 960IS is configured right now.

Please bear in mind that these settings suit me. They may not suit you. I know the camera well and I find it no problem to change things quickly when I need to - that is one of the keys to good camera craft... KNOW YOUR CAMERA!!! I cannot stress too much just how important this is.

Running down the Menu in the M (Manual) mode, my list goes like this...

AF Frame - Centre
AF Frame size - Normal
Digital Zoom - Off
Slow Synchro  - Off
Red Eye - Off
Auto ISO Shift - Off
AF assist Bean - Off
Review - 2 secs
Review Info - Off
Auto Category - On
Display Overlay - Off
IS Mode - Shoot only

Sound - Mute
Touch Icons - 0n
LCD Brightness - medium
File Numbering - continuous
Auto Rotate - Off
Lens retract - 1 minute

In the FUNCTION SET menu I set things up mostly like this...
M - Manual
Exposure Compensation -1/3 ( I find Canon cameras almost always over expose a bit.)
AWB ( although I regularly change this)
My Colours - Off
Centre Weighted exposure Mode
S - Superfine quality]
L - Large file 4000 x 3000 pixels.

So there you go... you will see that I turn off a lot of auto functions that are mostly unnecessary.
Give it a go 

9 Oct 2008

People, horses and underground photography

Just to give you an idea of the sort of high standards my students have reached, I have posted here some photographs by Maria Falconer and Mark Esling. The pictures were taken during our latest photography holiday in Menorca. Both photographers have been to Menorca before, in fact, this was Maria’s third time. Each time she produces a fantastic set of photographs, and this year was no exception.

It is worth mentioning that although some of the photographers on these holidays have reach a very high standard, beginners are definitely not excluded. This may surprise some of you, and you may think that this will hold back the more advanced in the group, but the system works extremely well. You see, these holidays are very much about sharing, and having an enjoyable experience. No one is left out, and everyone is encouraged to produce pictures way above the level they think they can achieve. The results can be seen in my recent posts – in particular the pictures by Jeanette Suddard. Jeanette was a complete novice at the beginning of the week when she arrived in Menorca, but the pictures she produced by the end of the week demonstrate very clearly what can be done with tuition and encouragement in a relaxed atmosphere.

Maria Falconer has been coming to me for coaching for four years and she is now a highly competent photographer who is taking on many commissions. As the two portraits here show, Maria is a very gifted people photographer. However, her close-up of the horse’s teeth is an indication of her enquiring mind and her persistence once she gets a picture idea in her head. In fact I am trying to adjust Maria’s way of getting so utterly wrapped up in one aspect of a visual situation that she might easily miss out on other outstanding picture opportunities. I have no doubt she will work this out of her system very soon. Her pictures have a sensitivity and vitality that I find very refreshing and hugely rewarding.

Maria would love to hear from you on the forum she moderates – this was actually started by a group of photographers who came to Menorca, but anyone with an interest in good photography is welcome.

This was Mark Esling’s second trip to Menorca. He is the sort of chap who works away quietly and happily in almost any situation until he gets the picture he wants. He is very determined to achieve good pictures because he gets so much pleasure from photography.

His picture of the horse being hosed down with water after a race is an absolute corker. He shot straight into the light and this backlight has highlighted the spray. But, for me, the most important aspect f the shot is the timing. That horse is relishing the treatment and it shows.

His picture in the underground labyrinth of the old fort of La Mola is another cracker. The exposure is spot on and the composition just about perfect. La Mola is a regular location for our photography in Menorca, but the place is so vast that each time we go we see new places and things to photograph.

I have put together a short video of the photographers in Menorca and next week I will post it on YouTube and embed it in the blog. It should give you a real taste of the things we photograph and how much fun we have.

6 Oct 2008

Light and wine in Menorca

I have two very different pictures to show you this time from the group on the Menorca photography holiday. I was particularly delighted to see Ian Smith’s photograph (below) taken at the trotting races because of the way he has captured the wonderful backlight. This was Ian’s second time with me to Menorca and I have seen a tremendous advance in the way he is capturing the world around him on this trip. He is now constantly aware of the light direction and quality and always trying to improve his framing and composition. His efforts are really paying off. Just look at the way he has caught the light shining through those translucent cart wheels. The contrast of this brightness with the dark shadows under the trees has really brought drama and power to the picture.

In complete contrast, Phil Hallam took the top photograph in pretty flat light conditions when we visited the Binifadet bodega. The old lorry was parked outside the bodega and the blues and purples have helped make a very eye-catching image. I love the simplicity of this shot, which conjures up all sorts of impressions of the Mediterranean life-style despite the lack of sun light.

Pictures by Phil Hallam and Ian Smith

2 Oct 2008

Photographing horses in Menorca

One of the great photo opportunities we often enjoy on our photography holidays in Menorca is the chance to photograph horses – very special horses. We spend some time at the trotting races, where we are welcomed to visit the stables and photograph the race preparations. We use the races themselves as exercises in panning technique and I teach everyone the art of ‘following through’ with the camera as the subjects race past – very much like the ‘follow though’ in a golf swing. This has produced some fantastic shots… you may remember Maria Falconer’s action-packed picture I posted some time ago. Click here.

Now most photographers need a fair bit of help and practice to perfect the panning technique, but on our latest holiday we had one snapper, George Greenhill, who amazed us all with his panning accuracy. Even when the horses were racing past us a top speed, the horses and riders were always perfectly framed in every picture he took. It was uncanny just how easy he found it to get great panned action pictures.

I expected that George had done this before, so I asked him where he had learned the technique.

“In the army,” said George, “I was a machine gunner”.

I would hate to be on the receiving end of Georges sure-fire technique.

Menorca is famous for, among other thing, its dancing horses. These jet black beauties are taught the most extraordinary dressage routines and to rear up on their hind legs. The horses are a great attraction at fiestas and weddings. Our photography group was lucky enough to witness a wedding party at our hotel at which the rearing horses were to be a great attraction.

The party was held at night in the street outside the Hotel, so the light was just about as difficult as it could possibly be. But just look at these two photographs produced by Ken Terry – fantastic pictures that have captured the wonderful atmosphere of the event. Ken used his new Canon EOS-1D Mk111. He pushed the ISO right up to 3200 and was able to shoot at 1/30sec at f3.2

There are more pictures and stories from Menorca to come.

These holidays have proved a great success and if you’d like to join us next year please let me know as soon as possible. I’ll be putting the dates and costs up on the photoactive website very soon.

Pictures by Ken Terry and George Greenwell