Rants & Musings

This is like a blog within a blog – a chance for me to vent my frustrations, give my opinions or simply go through my thoughts on a topic connected to photography, wildlife, nature or the tools I use in connection with these.


Beautiful Photography


If ever there has been an example of how beautiful nature can be, then a blog I have recently come across has demonstrated this.  When it came to creating the Bee-eater, nature outdid itself.  Everything about this bird is just perfectly beautiful – its looks, colour, shape, and it’s a bird I would love the chance to see and photograph.  I’ve seen images of this bird on the on the web before and you can’t go wrong photographing a beautiful image, but Graeme Guys photographs on his blog just blew me away, they almost seemed too impossibly good – colour, quality and catching them at just the right moment.  The ‘Synchronized bee tossing’ image would make any wildlife photographer proud to have as the highlight of their collection, not to mention the ‘The high speed interception’ one.

Photographers often state on their website or blog, wanting to capture the ‘beauty of nature’, well, that blog post has done exactly that for me.

An article also from him here about his photographing them.

Photography Forums – can be bad for your health (and your wallet)


I’ve aptly named this section ‘Rants & Musings’ with this next particular contribution definitely a rant.  When I first returned to my photography back in 2005, I was completely unfamiliar with digital cameras and in researching this new technology, I came across forums where people were sharing information and experience.  From this and camera magazines, I made my first camera purchase, a Canon 350D.  I’ve since joined a number of forums or picture hosting sites that have them, though I admit I look more rather than contribute.

On one of these forums I’ve been following a particular thread started by someone interested in getting a Sigma 120-300 f2.8 (around £2600) and wanted opinions of others on its performance.  He also stated an interest in perhaps a D series Canon camera.  It wasn’t long before people advised him to get the Canon 300 2.8 instead (£5300). He stated that was too much and he was on a budget, so a Canon 500 f4 was recommended! (£7700)  For a D series camera the 1DX was recommended (£4800).  All these ‘recommendations’ were from those using these items themselves and seem to be more about bragging rights than genuine useful help.

As I have been keeping track of the persons posting of help and the responses he’s got, it’s made me more and more frustrated to the point I just want to post to these people to read what he said he wants and stop bragging about all the expensive equipment you use and by the way, I’ve looked at your websites and spending over £12000 on equipment, hasn’t made you a better photographer!  But that would add to part of the problems with forums – people are way too often aggressive towards others.  Hiding behind a computer screen, it’s too easy to do this, you don’t have to confront anyone face to face.

It’s made me think that, despite being a great place for information, they can also be one of the worse for advice amongst other problems they can cause.  There’s a couple of forums I used to go on which I stopped because of these problems –  WildaboutBritain and DPreview.  The former had two individuals who ruled the roost and set themselves up as being experts on everything and would often attack individuals together – basically online bullying.  The latter was just full of negativity.  People seemed to look for arguments and you would often get a hostile reaction to what you posted if you weren’t careful.  I’ve put together a list, in no particular order, of some of the worse examples of forums or what just simply annoys me.

1) Canon Vs Nikon or Camera A Vs Camera B – I realise the irony of my having this as a pet hate as below I’ve done exactly the same in the Mac vs PC article below, but it’s just something about the way people present it.  Technology is a tool and the idea that they are presented in some kind of fight format is just plain annoying to me.  Maybe if they just said Canon or Nikon it might sound better.

2) “Help me spend my (x amount of money)” – Having this as a title thread.  Ok, I have a tall, pointy, iron tower in the middle of Paris which I will sell you for your £4000!

3) First time advice – There’s two points to this.  Firstly there’s the lazy person who, by the time they asked the question in a forum (and got a response) they could have simply searched on Google.  Then there’s the more genuine person who gets the rude response ‘it’s already been discussed’ or some other negative response.

4) People who respond to the original post by only reading the responses – A recent example of this is where someone complained that a big PC store wiped their hard drive and back up drive after taking in their laptop to get a problem with it fixed.  After about 10 responses, it generated into people saying “it served you right for not backing up your drive” or “I have no sympathy for someone who doesn’t back up their drive”.  If they had bothered reading the original post they would see they HAD backed up their drive, only it too was mistakenly wiped.

5) "Emperors new clothes" – People unwilling to say or think differently from the masses or just simply blindly follow.  I can think of three particular examples of this.  When I first got my Canon 350D, people started saying it over exposed.  I even remember one person posting an image of a person with a large, sunlit windows behind them, which of course knocked the exposure off, but no, this was the fault of the camera over exposing – because everyone says so.  I never had a problem with mine.  The Canon Mk III had focus issues. The actual truth behind this was that within a certain range of serial numbers, some of these cameras could have a focus problem under certain conditions, using a particular focusing mode.  Sigma has quality control issues.  People just blindly repeat this statement.  How do they know?  Has Sigma stated this on their website?

6) Older cameras are ‘redundant’ – Strange how a camera that once everybody lusted after, took great images and was a delight to use, once replaced is suddenly ‘redundant’, it doesn’t take good photos and clumsy to use.  Technology changes yes, it improves yes, and newer cameras have more features yes, but an older camera can still take as good a photo that it ever did.

7) Fanboys – Why do people feel the need to have some kind of allegiance to a particular brand.  I buy a particular brand because of its price and reliability/quality.  I use Canon equipment which I am now invested in, but Nikon is equally good, maybe better at the moment.

8) X brand has lost me as a customer because of X reason – As if it really matters.  If you were a Canon user and now a Nikon user and this was your ‘swan song’ statement as you changed over, do you really think, in this case Canon, are reading this forum and your statement in particular and care? Or for that matter anybody else.

9) 100% – Damn you digital photography.  What happened to the good old days when you took a picture and got your postcard print back and you were happy with that.  Ok, a little bit of glib there, but people have this obsession of posting 100% crops showing every real or imaginary fault with their camera or lens.  Just concentrate on enjoying your photography.

10) The Megapixel race – People are never satisfied with the amount of megapixels their camera has and all the ‘experts’ on the forums will tell you, you need more, more, MORE.  Why? well, the same people justify it by saying they have ‘clients’ who want their images enlarged to some massive size, sometimes to fill a wall!  Really?  The other is so you can crop more.  If you need to crop as much as to make use of a 20 megapixel camera worth while then I suggest you need to learn a few more skills in getting closer to you subject.  Besides, if you are massively cropping an image you are also increasing other imperfections, lens, focusing, etc.

Finally, 11) Gear Lust – I’ve saved the worse for last.  The grass is always greener on the other side, the next model camera or more expensive lens is going to make you a better photographer.  A good place to go is Pbase and look at the camera section.  I’ve just looked at those images taken by Canons flagship 1DX, and some of these images are really bad.  There is one taken of a duck, badly framed, out of focus, poor perspective and taken along with a Canon 500mm lens – total cost? around £13000!

There is so much appalling advice given out there on forums by people with lots of money an no real sense, trying to justify to themselves their own expenditure – get the most expensive, get the biggest, the latest and there are too many gullible people out there who are willing and eager to believe these ‘advisors’.  Better equipment DOES NOT equal better images, it can just make it easier to achieve them IF you already have some skill and ability.

I’m tempted to respond with advice myself to the individual I mentioned above on the forum who wanted to know about the Sigma 120-300 f2.8, but I’m sure I would get ‘shot down’ by those telling him to buy more expensive gear.  My advice?  Research the lens on the net, I’ve heard good things about the previous, non OS version of the lens.  He could, for the price of the Canon 30 f2.8 recommended by others, get the Sigma and a Canon 1D Mk IV and still have change.  Better still, buy used on both and still have a lot of change left over.

Mac vs PC


imac-vs-PCIt’s a strange modern phenomenon about technology and in particular, brands, that create an ardent fan base, people who will fanatically follow ‘their’ brand and attack the oppositions. No better can you see this than in online forums – Canon vs Nikon, Android vs iPhone and Mac vs PC.

I started my computer days on both a PC and Mac back in the early ‘90’s but ended up getting a PC because of the price and have used one since.  From DOS through to all the versions of Windows to version 7.  Most of those machines I built myself so I’m not a stranger to computers. 

Since my move to digital photography my PCs have been used heavily for processing my images from their RAW format to their output, either web or print.  I was reasonably content with my Windows machines handling this and took the odd regular freeze, stall or crash as part of just the way it is in computer use.  Anybody familiar with a Windows PC will know over time it slows down and crashes more frequent due to the installing, uninstalling of software and the nature of the operating system and so I would format the hard drive and reinstall everything about once every year to avoid the worse of this.

About three years ago when I was having particular problems and was getting to that stage when an upgrade was due, I looked at Macs.  I had already brought an iPod because of the lack of a reliable MP3 player and loved the quality and robust standards of this Apple product.  I should mention at this point that, in the past, I have tended to ‘bad luck’ when it comes to electronic goods, tending to never last very long.  It seems that they are made to be thrown away after a short life span, a good example my MP3 player history, each rarely lasting more than a year until, at least, the iPod.

So with a certain sense of fond memories of using Macs in the past I ended up buying a refurbished iMac 27”.  As with every bit of technology I buy I did my research and some comments kept coming up – over priced, not good for gaming and not as much software for it.  I’ll come back to these points later.  The first thing that struck me was how beautifully made it was and looked.  Having an all in one machine on your desk with just the one power cable coming out the back, it can be overlooked how much of an effect it can be on you in using, no bundles of cables, no black box, just a clean and uncluttered desk.  The slickness and clean lines don’t stop at the exterior.  The OS feels nicer, the animations, the menus and its general use.  But the best thing – in over two and a half years of use it has froze a total of three times, two of those were my fault when I was trying to use iPhoto to catalogue my complete 700mb+ of RAW files in one go.  In each case I was able to easily get out of the problem and carry on as if nothing had happened.  Baring in mind previously I was having that many freezes, crashes and problems a week on my PC’s, the psychological effect on me has made my using a computer a joy instead of frustration. 

The argument that Macs are ‘overpriced’ doesn’t really make sense to me.  As with usual in life, you get what you pay for and it applies for anything you buy in life.  I get a machine that has never crashed, might freeze once a year and is a joy to use (and looks good).  Out of curiosity, before I made the commitment on this machine I looked at comparable all in ones running Windows and actually found them around the same price!  The other points about it not being any good for gaming and lack of software.  I don’t play games on it and the lack of software is not the case.  There may be more software available for a PC but anything you might want for a Mac is available, and better, it’s securely and easily available on the Apple store.  Interestingly, a machine designed more for creativity, there are better options for software for music, design and photography.  With Photoshop moving into the cloud, my aging version of the product will not be replaced with another Adobe version, instead there are two real alternatives which are Mac only both of which are under £40!

However, going back to technology vs another technology, it often comes down to the individuals own experience and preferences and what they are happy with.  For me, I don’t like the way Windows with version 8 has been going.  Every ‘computer’ should have an interface designed specifically for its use, rather than one fits all.  It doesn’t make sense to have a touch screen for a large computer where the bulk of your input is via using a mouse and keyboard.  At the end of the day, it’s always nice to have choice – Windows or Mac, Canon or Nikon.


Luck, Skill or Creativity?


Recent events have brought home how much the type of photography I do, wildlife and landscape, is not just a case of turn up and take a successful image.  I believe that photography, especially this style, is made up of varying components that will end up giving you that special picture and, in my opinion they are in no particular order:-

  • Technical Ability - Technical ability is understanding how to use the camera and its accessories, exposures, depth of field, etc
  • Equipment - Equipment is what you have available to you
  • Planning - Making sure that everything is organised before hand
  • Creativity - How you are able to make the image look great or special or stand out and see things in a unique way
  • Subject Knowledge - How well you understand or are familiar with what you are taking
  • Opportunity/Availability - Access to or availability to photograph subject
  • Luck – Being at the right time at the right place or something ‘just happening’ at that time

That recent event was one I posted about.  I wanted to photograph some Roe Deer.  I had the technical ability as I am very familiar with my equipment, I’ve been a photographer since 16, even went to college to study it, so this wasn’t a problem.  My equipment was good enough, sure I would love better but in this instance wouldn’t have made a difference.  I had planned everything by ensuring my equipment was packed the night before, batteries charged, weather checked, travel arranged, even the time of day, dawn, was planned.  Creativity - the location was one where the sun was just right and the background of the subject would have added to the image.  I had subject knowledge, in this case the deer as I new the best time I would see them and the route they followed and general direction they would come from.  I had the opportunity and availability of getting to and seeing Roe Deer as there are plenty in this part of the country and are easily accessible. Luck!  This was the missing ingredient.  I had a choice to point my camera in one of two directions in which I new they would come and I chose the wrong one.

To me this is the whole package and it’s maybe why I’m not all that impressed with many of the professional photographers out there.  Anybody going on a safari  in Africa or Antarctica or somewhere else exotic, who has all the latest equipment and has the technical ability can take an image that looks good.  It reminds me of my trips to the Farne Islands, with such a mass of swirling wildlife around you, you cant go wrong.  This is where subject knowledge but more especially, creativity and luck play a part.  Instead of just taking a picture of a Puffin as it flies over head is just standing around, think about the angle, lighting, habit, behaviour, the surroundings and environment.  And then there’s luck.  I may do something just at that time or something unexpected might happen.

A few years ago I was photographing Rabbits – nothing exciting, when out of the corner of my eye a single one was feeding at some low branches on a tree.  I’ve never seen that happen before.  It wasn’t skill on my behalf, just luck.  When I look back on many of my favourite images, there has been a loot of luck to achieve them – being at the right place at the right time and something I could not have planned to see.

Landscapes are another good example of this.  You can plan to go the the right place at the right time of day when you believe the lighting will be just right but that one thing that might make that image stand out can’t be accounted for, that break in the clouds giving you a ray of light, a rainbow, a strike of lightning or some birds flying overhead.

The image below is an example of luck.  I was out one morning with my camera when it started to get foggy.  In front of me I could just see the sun breaking through giving a very eerie look.  It hadn’t been forecasted to be foggy and where I was wasn’t exactly very photogenic so I made my way down to the river.  As I did, as quick as it came the fog started to lift and I was just able to get to the river and take a few images before it had completely gone.


The next image is a wildlife one.  This Red Squirrel just happened to poke its head out from behind a tree just when the early morning light was just at the right direction and angle to illuminate it.

Red Squirrel

I think luck plays a major role in photography and yes, you can make your own luck but only if you have most of those other components, but followed closely is creativity.  It’s this that makes photographers stand out for me.  My favourite ones who has this in abundance is Walter Barthélemi which website when I visit it, can either inspire me or depress me.  He lives in Belgium, doesn’t travel to the far corners of the world but gets all his great images form his own ‘back yard’, but more importantly what could be plain looking, he manages to make look good through creativity.

As for me, one of the reasons I don’t get hooked up to all the gear obsession, mega pixels, resolution, etc., is because I feel I can do so much more with the creativity side. I’m quite limited to the area I live in and what I have access to (and when I can get to it), my equipment is decent, though would be considered old and redundant by many in todays standards, my subject knowledge has greatly increased over the years and continues to do so and luck I seem to be lacking at the moment.


Photographic Taste


Strange how a photograph can look good to one person and another may be completely indifferent.  I show some of my images on various online sites including flickr, ephotozine as well as my own website.  I suppose most photographers like to show off their images to others and so many of these places are a good gauge of how good our images are or at least popular with others.

When I started photography there was no internet and so little means to exhibit your work to others but to be honest it didn’t interest me in doing so – I took up photography because it was an art form that I loved and that complemented, then took over my interest of drawing and painting at the time.  Now with the means of the internet, anyone who does do photography to any degree is bound to show off their images somewhere whether it’s their own website or just facebook.

The problem is, you can’t help but get sucked up into how popular or not your work is with complete strangers around the world.  Most of these sites have a comment section or a statistic of views and what surprises me is how some of my own images I really like and think are great may not seem so to others, and other images I didn’t really give a second thought to, people do like.

Below are images of contrasting popularity. (Click to get a larger version)

tbp_7141 img_8848

The image on the left is one of the most popular ones as far as being viewed whilst the one on the right has a fraction of the same hits.  The one on the left I nearly didn’t bother with keeping and only processed it later.  It was unplanned and almost taken as an after thought after seeing these dark clouds come over and was just a ‘snapshot’.  The other was taken in the Lake District after a long, hard hike up one of the hills overlooking Ambleside and when I looked back there was, what I thought, an amazing sight of these sunrays coming through dramatic clouds, dramatic clouds with Ambleside itself in the distance.  It’s not just different photos of a particular subject but different types of subjects that vary in popularity.  Bird images are far more popular than mammal images and animal images are more popular than landscapes.  Below, the Blue Tit is much more popular than the Roe Deer shot and more popular than the landscape on the left.

smp_7467 tbp_1122

Much like the popular landscape, the Blue Tit shot was easy.  It’s an image of one of our most common song birds and easily tempted in winter with some food.  The Roe Deer however are very timid and usually run away at the first sight of a person and in the case of this one, taking it this close with a 300mm lens (not cropped) isn’t easy.  It was also made special (at least to me) as it was taken whilst it was under some shade but with light just coming through to fall on it.  It would be very hard to recreate this shot again – it’s basically a one off, whilst the Blue Tit I could probably replicate again next winter.

So I guess part of what makes the picture is the story behind what went into getting it in the first place for me and maybe why I like certain images more than others do.

I’m not sure how accurate using online galleries is to find out how good your image might be.  I’ve found that the likes of flickr especially is more about who you now rather than quality or interest of image is what counts.  One shot I saw was of a bird that was clearly a very heavy crop, out of focus, grainy, poorly exposed and, in itself, nothing unusual and had me scratching my head, yet it had more positive comments (over 30 as I remember) than many others that which were technically, artistically and in every other way, very good!

To be honest, I don’t know how good my images are – at least to others, however I do my photography for myself and if others like it then that’s an extra and at the end of the day, I think that’s how it should be.  Do photography for yourself, enjoy it and maybe a few others might get enjoyment out of what you produce as well.


Baiting Ethics


Recently I came across a video on YouTube which gave me an uneasy feeling.  It was set I think in Finland, in the winter,  where a couple of ‘wildlife photographers’ threw out a live mouse onto the snow in front of them where, immediately a Grey Owl swooped down from the trees, caught the mouse right in front of their cameras from which you heard a clattering of shutters.  The owl stayed there for a while and no doubt they got some very good shots of it swooping in and catching the mouse.

So why the feeling of being uneasy?  I’ve used bait before – seeds and mealworm for birds and nuts for squirrels – but a live mouse!  I’ve thought about this and I’m not exactly sure what it is that’s bothering me the most, baiting an owl with live bait or that this bait, the mouse, was chucked out into sub zero temperatures onto the snow (where it wouldn’t normally be at this time) with no chance of escape, just so these photographers can get a photograph.

I guess it breaks down into different points.  Using live bait – I use dried mealworm which was once alive, is that ok where a mouse is small, fury has eyes and can run around and so, somehow makes this more alive.  Maybe I’m a hypocrite but I suppose in my mind I’ve drawn a line here.  Where did this mouse come from?  In the middle of winter I’m guessing a pet shop and so was destined to be somebody's pet, a better option for it, but it was only a mouse wasn’t it?

Another point is the use of bait.  When I use it, it is at a time when the animal is likely to need it most (as I’m sure this owl did) such as winter or when they have young.  It is not constant enough that they become reliant upon it.  People live out food for wildlife and have been doing so for century's, but then this is for the benefit of getting a photograph. This brings me onto my last point which is baiting for a picture.

Looking at my wildlife images I would say over 50% of songbirds have been from baiting of some sort, slightly less than 50% of my Squirrel images most of those being Greys, all other bird images (other than those taken in a park, where food was given by others) no bait or incentive was used as being the case of Deer, Rabbits and Foxes (except for one which ate the fruit put out for the birds!).  Personally I’ve found that simply sitting down somewhere quite and remaining still for a period often brings results in seeing and getting close to wildlife.  I didn’t start out ‘baiting’ birds and squirrels, rather found out that when sitting quietly and eating my own food, often attracted them particularly in winter, so I just brought food along for them.

Is baiting ‘cheating’ when taking wildlife photographs?  My guess is most photographers do it to some extent.  Going back to that video it seemed to me that this wasn’t just a one off and the owl had become used to this unnatural behaviour and it says something about the photographers.  They probably drove up to that spot in their 4x4, set up their cameras and had a box of mice which they proceeded to throw out onto the snow.  It’s lazy wildlife photography and shows little interest in the whole ethos into what a wildlife photographer should be.  I’m no expert on Grey Owls, but I’m guessing that with a little more time and effort, you could watch the natural behaviour of the animal, especially its feeding, and photograph the owl catching its prey under the snow.  The image may not be as close up or as dramatic as it’s not probably coming straight at you, but personally, I would get more satisfaction from that.


Photograph taken without bait


Taken with bait

When it comes down to it, it is the type of person or photographer you are.  When I first started taking photographs in the ‘wilds’ during my film days, I don’t remember seeing another photographer.  Since digital, photography has become much more easy to do, more accessible and cheaper to maintain as a result there has been a big increase in people going out into the country with a camera.  Although it is generalising, I think you can break down these people into four categories. 

There are those who go out into the county to enjoy the outdoors and nature and take along a camera to record this.

There are those such as birders who are recording what they see.  Often simply getting an image is contentment enough for them and wouldn’t need to need to go to such lengths to see such a bird.

There are those such as myself whose interest is wildlife an nature itself and the photography is an extension of this or, as in my case, was a separate interest and the two interests have merged.

Then there are those who I believe these particular photographers were and, I hate to say from my experience, most others out there I have come across with a camera are.  Photographic trophy hunters.  They want the image at all costs.  They have some, maybe quite a good knowledge of wildlife but are not really interested in nature.  They will often talk about the tech more than the subject, drive around in a car from location to location wearing camouflage head to foot yet rarely walk more than a couple of hundred yards from the comfort of their car.

One example of this kind of photographer I came across years ago in a public hide (one of the reasons I prefer to use them as little as possible).  There was two of them as described above in the hide when a Fox came into sight in the distance.  They both then rattled off as many frames as their camera could muster whilst at the same time talking very loudly (it’s a hide. It doesn’t mask the sound of your voice!).  The Fox could clearly realise that something was wrong and kept its distance before disappearing out of sight.  Their response.  Annoyance at the Fox for not coming in closer so they could get a better shot!  They couldn’t see that the nose they were making along with their poking their big white lenses out of the hide window was making an animal that relies on its senses every single day just to survive, weary of approaching.

It worries me that the growing number of these ‘photographic trophy hunters’ and how they are effecting and giving the rest of us a bad name and as much as I hate to say it, photographic competitions haven’t helped by encouraging people to get that ever so unique image that’s going to give them fame.

Interestingly when trying to find this video again, I found various other examples of poor photography practice.  Here’s the original https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_KZiC2z71I (much I am reluctant to give any promotion to it, but you can see for yourself).


Gear Lust!


I wouldn’t class myself as some kind of luddite, I have a (reasonably) recent mobile phone, a digital radio, IPod, IPad, a computer and a home that’s networked and streaming multi media to my TV and of course I’ve embraced digital photography (SLR) since 2005, but I just don’t get peoples obsession of dumping their ‘old’ cameras as soon as a new model comes out which can be anything from every one and half to two years.  A visit to most camera forums will show countless posts of people waiting in anticipation for the next camera, predicting how many pixels and extras it will have (usually unhappy when it doesn’t match their expectations.

It’s not that I haven’t had my fair share of camera upgrades myself, my first being a Canon 350D leading to my current main camera of a MK1D III with three in-between, but they were all logical upgrades which I made as I felt my photography improved and all but the first two were second hand and having already been replaced by the next model.  Don’t get me wrong, if money was no object then I would probably be in possession of a Canon EOS 1D X but at time of writing this it’s nearly £5000!

The question for me is does a camera like this make your photography better?  There may be those professionals for whom it may make their job a bit easier but there seems to be a lot of people out there who seem to have more money then sense and whose photography is no better off for owning such a £5000 beast.  I admit there is a smudge of jealousy in being able to afford a particularly expensive camera but I think I would probably prefer to spend that kind of money on lenses, which do make a difference to your images.

To show my point, if you take a visit to a site like PBase which is a great place to see other peoples galleries and they also have a camera/lens database.  If you then go to, for example, the Canon EOS 1D X, it then shows you samples from that camera, from the sites galleries.  Many of the images could have been taken just as well on its much older predecessor the 1D Mk II (check that cameras images for a comparison) or even some of them, on a compact.  Putting aside the obvious technical benefits this camera has over its predecessors, I’m looking at the image itself and what it does for impact.  When I started photography I used to love going through the Photography Year Book series.  These were full of images of various subjects and looking back at some older additions, some great photographs have been taken and without the need for this regular expensive output and on cameras that are no longer in use.  I think far too many people are obsessed with the camera and not the image.  The amount of time when I have been out and seen other photographers shooting wildlife and they have an expensive camera with a sub £1000 lens attached.  In a couple of camera upgrades they could have probably got a prime lens for the same cost.

Its not that I think people should just keep their old camera and not upgrade its just that I think it doesn’t make them the better photographer they think they will become.  My ‘newest’ camera is now six years old – ancient by todays standards – but I don’t think, as much as I would like the latest camera, doing so will improve my photography.  I believe I am limited by my own ability and by opportunity and although I will eventually upgrade again, it won’t be until I feel it is genuinely justified (and when I can afford it).


Photography – The good old days?


My photography started as a sixteen year old in the 1980s where I went to college to study that and art & design.  It was before digital photography was thought of and computers were pretty basic.  The first camera I brought was a Chinon CE-4 – film camera of course, though I had been using my dads older  Zeiss Icon previously.  I loved learning my photography on these cameras, the Chinon was manual focusing helped by two aids in the viewfinder, had a shutter speed that went up to 1/2000 of a second which was shown, again the viewfinder, by a red dot that moved up and down a scale of 4s to 2000.  No aperture showed on this particular camera other than that that was controlled by a ring on the lens.  ISO was determined by the film available, typically ranging between 50 to 1600 (the latter usually black and white only) and the number of images you could take also limited by the film ranged between 12 – 36.  Once you settled on a type of roll of film you were usually stuck with it – no jumping between a low ISO like 100 one minute to 6400 another!

Once you had finished taking your images, they were sent off to be processed and printed and you waited what could be up to a week for the results.

All this meant limiting what you could do as well as time consuming.  It also meant you had to be a bit more knowledgeable about the subject – no point and shoot.  The continuing outlay was also more expensive.  For me personally I loved growing up with my photography like this.  It was less about the technology and more about the outcome and if you developed and printed your own images as I did at college (black & white) it was even more fun.  In fact it was this that got me really interested in photography in the first place -  seeing an image appear for the first time in a dark room on a sheet of paper.

Now we live in a world where everybody needs instant gratification for as little effort as possible and I can’t help but feel sorry for those starting their photography since the days of digital.  Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t want to have to back to the limitations of film and my old basic Chinon, but with digital photography you don’t really need to learn to learn photography anymore.  How many photographers learn about depth of field, reciprocity failure, how to hold a camera correctly or choosing white balance?  For me I think digital has made good photographers better but poor ones worse.  It’s too easy to let the camera and lens do all the work for you and then you can fix most problems on your computer and for me this takes the fun out of photography.  For me it’s as much about getting to the picture as the picture itself – overcoming the difficulties along the way. 

The image below shows just how much an image can be manipulated and that you don’t have to get it ‘right’ first time.  It’s an image I didn’t bother using any further as I wouldn’t normally change one as much as that.  In the original, the second, blurred, image of a Heron in the background was too distractive for me as were the reeds in the foreground and various highlights.  By editing it as much as this am I not ‘cheating’ as a photographer?

Use the mouse to roll-over the image and see after and before

Cheating perhaps?  It certainly wouldn’t be allowed in most photographic competitions

The image below is more typical of digital photography and a reasonable use of the digital darkroom.  I removed dust spots (not typical as many as this I must say, just a bad day for the camera), I changed contrast, shadows, sharpness and even did a little bit of ‘burning’, something that was common place in the days of the darkroom.  However I did try and get as much right in the camera as possible, by using it on manual, neutral graduated filter to balance out the exposure, manually focused taking depth of field into account so that the foreground and background were sharp.

All my photography is taken in RAW which mean you have to process the image to some extent.  Shooting in JPEG means the camera ‘processes’ the image for you in the camera according to the style you choose.  The final image below, with the exception of the long exposure effect, is what I saw on the day.  An advantage of using film meant you had to stop and think more about each image since you were limited in how many you could shoot and it would cost you for every image.  Putting the camera on a tripod and in manual also helps to slow down the process and makes you think.  The other end of that of course is if you have lots of images you can freely take, means you can experiment more and learn from that.

Use the mouse to roll-over the image and see after and before

More typical and acceptable photographic editing

One big advantage of digital photography is the quality of lenses and now, images over film.  This has given me a huge amount of respect for wildlife and landscape photographers of the past, my favourite of which was a Dutch nature photographer called Fred Hazelhoff.  Years ago I brought one of his books called Four Seasons of Nature Photography and loved the images.  The book not only showed these, but went into detail about taking the images and the equipment he used.  When I look back at how he achieved what he did using that equipment, it just goes to show what a great photographer heLeica-560mm-6.8-and-camera was. 

Even by the standards of the day when this book came out in the early 80s, he wasn’t using the latest equipment – a Leicafex SL2 (single shot, manual focus) and a Leica f6.8 560mm lens for his wildlife shots (see image right) – that’s an aperture of f6.8, no image stabiliser usually shooting at an ISO of under 100!  To put this into perspective, todays photographers equivalent could be using a EOS-1D X, shooting at 12 frames per second, 61-point ultra fast autofocus, 100-51200 ISO matched to a lens that is f4 with image stabilizer.

Some of his images by todays standards probably wouldn’t get a second look, but others, because of what he was using, especially the film, give them a unique look something digital hasn’t got unless you do a lot of processing.  Sometimes digital can be too ‘clean’ too ‘perfect’.

Digital photography has meant there is a lot more photographers out there, especially wildlife ones, because it is more accessibly and easier and cheaper to maintain than it used to be.  There are some famous professional wildlife photographers out there who I don’t rate very highly (I won’t name them) maybe because I find their images, for want of a better description, too easy to have taken.  I just feel that any good photographer can take good pictures given the equipment and the means nowadays.

From my viewpoint digital photography, both the camera equipment and the computer, has been great but can also suck the fun out of photography and make it too impersonal if you rely too much on the technology.  For me a photographer who is the modern version of Fred Hazelhoff, is Walter Barthélemi.  As technology continues to evolve, and camera models updated and replaced every 18 months, I’m not sure how I will feel about my photography.  At the end of the day it’s about the final image and the equipment is just the tools to achieve this, I just feel photography will loose something if you completely take away the technical expertise away and make it too easy to take a picture.


Blogger and Blogging


Where better a place to start than blogging itself.  BlogSpot is a great free tool that gives thousands of people a window on the internet but I have one major problem with it – the horrendous means of creating and editing your blog that comes with it!  When first starting my blog, had it not been for my discovering Live Writer, I probably wouldn’t have bothered blogging or at least used Wordpress instead though their editing is only a bit better.

My main beef is why oh why to they only supply this tiny little editing window in which to work in?  It doesn’t show the full width of your post and you have to scroll up and down, left and right to get any idea of what you post looks like.  I can’t understand how anyone can be expected to use it as it is so constricted.  It’s fine if you want to just write and add the odd picture, but blogging has taken off since its conception and and many blogs are now multimedia or photo blogs such as mine.

Live Writer is one of the best applications Microsoft has come up with especially considering its free.  Unfortunately they are discontinuing it, a crazy decision (not one of Microsoft's first) as there is no other blog software on the PC, Mac or Linux that comes close to it in ease of use, look, design and what it can do.  I’ve had a look at most of them and they seem to suffer from the same limited editor window size.  I like a good WYSIWYG screen to edit my blog, it seems to make sense, after all, it is basically desk top publishing so why restrict the user with a small window or cluttered interface?  This is where Microsoft has excelled, creating a simple to use interface, a large editing window with a quick access preview and code editor.

It’s not perfect, it does have a few quirks.  It can’t load directly up to pages and has a problem in recognising many of the templates I’ve experimented with, but for me it’s still the best by a long way that’s out there.

It’s amazing with all the huge number of bloggers out there, why Microsoft isn’t continuing to support Live Writer or that another software developer hasn’t come up with comparable programme, especially on the Mac which Live Writer hasn’t been transported to.


  1. In those days photographers were meant to be a quite knowledgeable about the subject – no point and shoot. The continuing outlay was also more expensive. It was less about the technology and more about the outcome and it was real fun to develop and print your own images.

  2. Your're right. I love my digital photography but there was something special about developing and printing your own black and white images. Even waiting in anticipation for your colour prints to come through the post had its own charm. It's all too easy now - takes away some of the fun for me.


  3. I'm not sure I agree fellas....I find the 'digital darkroom' an extremely challenging environment. Ok, so you can hit 'auto correct' and changes will be made but actually getting the image look great is, for me at least, another matter. Digital is a huge step forward in my opinion.....for easy see accessible. I do however agree that having the latest kit is one thing but a good skill set must be continually developed.

  4. By 'easy' I meant there's a lot of instant gratification - you see your images straight away and if you shoot JPEG and many do (often for good reasons), the processing is done for you. Without the limited number of frames on a roll of film and little cost involved, you don't have to stop and think about what you are doing. If it's not right then you can delete it or fix it when you get it onto your computer. Often when I'm out and around other photographers, they have all the latest and expensive kit, but when you hear them talk, they have little idea about the technical side. Even something straight forward like holding the camera correctly - how often do you see that happen? With every new advance in camera technology, a little bit of our own control is taken away or at least by the cameras default setting. Those who already understood the basics or still like to have control, can still do so (so far), but those starting on a modern DSLR probably never learn or understand the fundamentals.

    Having said that, you're right, digital is a huge step forward and I wouldn't really want to go back to doing the bulk of my photography via film. I also spend a lot of my time processing my images trying to match them to the mental image I had of them when I took them and I actually enjoy it, finding it kind of therapeutic.

    I wonder how long before technology completely takes over. You'll have a camera that has the various 'rules' of photography built into it so that so it will move the lens or frame so the image looks correct, aligned, automatically knows the depth of field (or removes that need completely). A pole sticking out behind someones head or a stray person in the frame? In-built content aware will automatically remove that. There may even come a time when resolution is so good and lacking any kind of noise that you will just have a single fixed lens take the picture in the general direction and just 'blow up' the section you want! Heck, it isn't completely inconceivable that you press a few buttons on your camera to program the image you want, attach it to a rotary system (AKA Amazon delivery), open the door, let it go, it takes the picture and sends it straight to your computer and voilà, all done.

    Time moves on as does technology and I think digital photography has made good photographers better but average or bad ones, unfortunately worse.

  5. I see what you are saying Frank and agree with much of it; advancements in technology are (in the most part) encouraged by me but I think the 'industry' will end up where the manufacturers want it to. Will they choose to put a full frame sensor in a compact? Will the photography industry be taken over by the mobile phone manufactures who may choose to ignore the leading historical brands and do what they want and their customers desire? Who's customer base is bigger? Who knows but I think that professional photography will become more elitist but from my experience in other areas 'technology' is not always the winning hand.

    For myself...I am a Nikon man and still own and use my last film camera, and FM3a.....I do not use it often and I no longer develop but it does come out of the bag and being a Nikon I can utilise my lenses with my Nikon DSLR. I turn off the image review on my DSLR because I choose to and feel that it is good practise to do so. Those that have chosen not to have a good understanding of the basics of photography will only be able to progress so far.

    An interesting debate....I

  6. hi..Im college student, thanks for sharing :) inspire..!!!

  7. I'm not a photographer at all, my limit is the camera on my i-phone. I love the outdoors and nature, but wouldn't know where to start in relation to what camera kit to use......... Some of the shots I find simply amazing and capture the true essence of the moment.

  8. Reading this post reminds me of my old colleague! He once talked about this. I will forward this article to him. Surely he will have a good read.