Category Archives: Photo Tech

Photographic and Field techniques and tips to help develop your photography

A wider view – celebrating the panoramic option in Adobe Lightroom

Beddgelert20150310_NCD9420-Pano

When I shot medium format film, I had the option of fitting a panoramic back onto the camera, so I could take a panoramic image at a moments notice. I thought when digital arrived somebody may produce a panoramic digital camera a long the lines of the specialist film cameras made previously. So far no manufacturer has gone that route and it was only through stitching of frames that digitally produced panoramic images has been possible.

Cefn Bryn20111016_NCD9356-Pano

The one thing I hate, and I do mean hate, about digital photography is the extra time needed to process the digital image. In the days of transparency film, once the image had been taken, that was really the end of the process for the photographer. The lab usually did the development and any duplicating of the slide for some extra copies ready for supplying libraries or clients.

Cefn Bryn20120406_DSC6259-Pano

I’m quite strict with my editing in digital. If it takes more than 30 seconds to process an image, the it gets forgotten. I prefer to get it correct in camera, like we had to do with film, or reshoot the image in better light. I like Adobe Lightroom as it provides a one stop shop for most of my needs for digital images – processing, cataloguing and output. My use of Photoshop has declined over the years and I find less need for it each year.

Grand Tetons NP20140914_NCD3312-Pano

Even though Lightroom and Photoshop integrate well, it was always a bit of hassle to switch backwards and forwards. I have tried and still use some stand alone stitching software, especially for more complex projects, but to have it now integrated into Lightroom is great. It is still a bit limited with the controls and I am sure it will improve over time.

Cefn Bryn20111016_NCD9385-Pano

Tripods – Love or loathe them, just get the right one

Whiteford Point-1707

Tripods – just the mention of the work starts a debate amongst photographers. Some love them, some hate them and most just tolerate them. It all depends what you photograph to whether you should use them or not. From observing workshop or day course participants, I feel they just need to get to know their tripod more, so at the time of making an image when the light, action and framing all come together at the correct time, they are not wrestling with the tripod and head.

The other problem with tripods is the disease of buying a tripod that fits in with your current equipment and not one that will fit your future needs and equipment purchases. I should know as currently I have five of the things knocking about the office, of which one has been used the most over the last ten years as it finally covered all my photographic and now video needs. It isn’t cheap, but has survived a lot of use, extreme weather and travelled across a few continents with me, so money well spent in my opinion. I should have done it sooner and saved myself the cost of all the others. In my defence, I still use the others now with a multiple camera set up for video and time-lapse photography, but they were gathering dust for a while.

The next problem is the weight. There will always be a trade off between weight and stability. Too light and the tripod is unstable, too heavy and you will never carry it. This also raises the issue of carbon fibre tripods – lighter they may be, but do they justify the extra hundreds of pounds they cost. Careful comparison of weight shows that often only a few hundred grammes are saved compared to the metal version. Money well spent? I don’t think so. I’m not against carbon fibre tripods, I own two of them and one is my main tripod, but it is only at the much thicker leg section sizes that significant savings in weight are made.

Welsh Moor20100808_NCD6488

Once you have got the tripod legs, then the problem of the tripod head starts – 3 way pan and tilt, ball head, action head, gimbal head, video head and any cross breeds in-between. I must admit that I have a bit of a weakness for tripod heads and with at least three video heads, two gimbal, two ball heads and a 3 way pan and tilt head, I have a few to choose from. Having used them all, my go to head is a ball head for all round photography, gimbal or video head for long lens work and the 3 way pan and tilt for studio based work.

When I started, I hated ball heads. I found it very difficult to make the adjustment I wanted without upsetting the overall composition. I moved on to 3 way pan and tilt heads, which worked well for landscape photography. My favourite was the Manfrotto Magnesium 3 way head – light, small locking knobs and able to take a reasonable weight. I used it for medium format and the occasional 5×4 camera session. Slowly I drifted back to ball heads, partly due to adopting the arcs swiss quick release system – no 3 way pan and tilt heads had the system fitted. Nowadays I still feel that the ball head works well for most photographic needs, unless a specialist head is needed for large pro telephoto lenses for example.

So why own all the heads I do? Basically I have a heavy and light version of each. That way I can work out the best kit for my needs and fit into any weight restrictions when travelling without restricting my choices of what type of head I can take.

Rhossili Bay20131130_DCS4163

 

So what should you look out for when getting a tripod? Here is my two pennies worth:

  1. Buy a tripod stronger than you think you need – don’t go by trying to get the lightest option possible.
  2. Try and get one that is close to your eye level without having to raise the centre column – ideally you should get a tripod without a centre column – it gets lower to the ground. The extra height of the column extended is unstable. Getting the tripod at eye level stops you having to stoop for some photographs.
  3. Check to see how low it can go – can you change the centre column to a shorter version if you want to?
  4. I have never reversed or tilted a centre column, even for macro photography – do you need it and how stable is it with all your camera gear hanging of the end of it?
  5. Leg locks – doesn’t matter if it is twist or lever locking, both work well – just try adjusting them in a pair of winter gloves to make sure you can lock and unlock the leg sections.
  6. Get a proper ball head, not one of the action grips. If you are doing landscape only, then a 3 way pan and tilt is okay – but I bet I can compose a photograph quicker with my ball head!
  7. Get a quick release system – the Arca swiss is the best and now becoming the most popular. One day Manfrotto may adopt it as well. Until they do avoid their heads – the quick release plates twist too easily on camera bodies, just buy the tripod legs and add another head to it.
  8. Don’t waste your money and buy a tripod bag – mine hasn’t left the office since the year I bought it from Jessops 20 years ago!
  9. If your tripod head has only one long handle on it, it is a video head and useless for taking vertical photographs. Get a new head!
  10. Last and not least – use the tripod, don’t make excuses that it is too heavy, bulky, fiddly etc. No point in buying it otherwise.

So who makes the best tripods and heads? I don’t think there is an outstanding make. My go to tripod is a Gitzo, three are Manfrotto and my light weight one is made by Induro. Looking at workshop  and day course participants, there are some good ones from Giotto and Redsnapper, who offer great value. Calument have some own branded ones which seem quite good as well.

As for heads, I have one Kirk ball head – still going strong after 15 years, a light weight FLM ball head, Manfrotto  3 way pan and tilt plus two video heads, a Giotto lightweight video head and a Wimberely Gimbal head plus Sidekick to go with a ball head. Other makes to consider are Benro, Induro, Really Right Stuff and Acratech. It is the same as tripods – invest wisely, don’t buy cheap and hopefully it will last you a long time.

Finally if you do loose some parts or brake the tripod see if you can get it repaired first. I recently repaired two tripods for less than £20.00. One needed a new locking screw and the other a whole new leg lock. Check out UK based Manfrotto Spares for spare parts for both Gitzo and Manfrotto tripods. It will be cheaper than buying a new one!

Lousy Weather – trying something new

With the weather being so grey and overcast photographic opportunities have been fairly limited. Normally overcast weather is good for detail images, but at this time of year there isn’t to much going on really to photograph anyway. I got a bit fed up of doing rock and plant detail close up photographs and then converting them into black and white.

In April this year I am off on a wildlife sound recording course with the master sound recordist/artist Chris Watson. You may have seen him on Autumnwatch, some of Bill Oddies programs or heard his work on many of the David Attenborough TV series. I have found that sound recording fits in well with my photographic work, especially when the light is not that interesting or has gone completely. The interest was triggered by me starting to use the video function on my DSLR. Most people use music on their videos, but occasionally this distracts from the images. It has been said that sound is 50% of a video/film and this has proved to be very true.

The video above started as an audio project to get some recordings together for the course, but then morphed into a project to see if I could get some images, still and video, that could match in with the sound. The still images don’t seem to portray the motion as well as the video, so it became more of a video project.

The editing of the video has proved far more complex than I envisaged and I think it still needs some more work to try and reflect the audio a bit more. Wind is a difficult subject to record and can come across as a mushy indiscriminate sound. The recording is a mix of two stereo tracks, but I think it needs a few specific audio close ups of various visual parts in the video e.g. the leaves rustling in the wind, the sound of the tree trunks flexing etc. If I get time and the desired recordings, I will update the sound on the video. There is a longer sound recording below, if you want more of the recording. The best way to listen to sounds is to try and cut out information of the other senses, so close your eyes to remove the visual distractions.

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I hope to do a few more mixed postings with stills, audio and video. Let me know what you think!

Photo Tech: Gigrin Farm Red Kite Feeding Station

Immature red kite

I visited Gigrin Farm last Sunday and have been busy editing all the images. This is when you find that your most used key on the keyboard is delete! The image above is of an immature kite at the feeding. It is a vertical crop of a horizontal original image. For those of you who have never been to Gigrin Farm in Rhayader, but are planning to go here are some photo tips:

  1. Lenses: most of my images are taken on a 300mm lens with my digital crop factor of 1.5x on my Nikon . I also use my 70 – 200mm zoom as well. I do also use a 500mm tripod mounted lens, but find it easier to use the shorter lenses handheld.
  2. Make sure your shutter speed does not drop below 1/1000th of a second. The birds move very fast and a faster shutter speed will ensure your images are sharp. I set shutter priority on my cameras and adjust the ISO rating to obtain an aperture of F5.6 to F8 if possible.
  3. Set your auto focus to continuous/servo (depends on camera manufacturer) and either select all focusing points or a group that you can control the position of. This will speed up your focus acquisition time. Sometimes the kites stall in the wind or glide into the wind and slow their flight speed down, at this point using a selected focus point if possible will ensure accurate focusing on the eyes of the birds.
  4. If you have two camera bodies, set them both up to allow a quick change of image perspective.
  5. At the start of the feeding, take your time. There are normally lots of the kites in the air and it is difficult to isolate single birds. Use this time to watch where the birds are flying in from and where they go to start their dive onto the food. You can also use this time to check your exposure histogram and practice your focusing.
  6. The birds come in waves and can be present for over two hours. Later on it is easier to get individual bird photographs and the light will have improved with the sun lower in the sky, so lighting up the underneath of the birds better.
  7. Unpack all your storage cards ready to load into the camera and take a back up device to load full cards onto or make sure you have plenty, and I mean plenty of cards to use. You will take more images than you expect.
  8. Use the photographic hides to get a better view of the feeding site and because their viewing area is wider it is easier to move with your cameras. You don’t always have to be in a hide, and successful photographs can be taken outside the hides on the path or from the viewing area in the field next to the feeding site.
  9. Expect loads of useless images, just press delete! Be really critical of your images and be ruthless. Check the focus on the eyes at 100% in your editing software.
  10. And lastly, enjoy yourself and if you can, stop taking photographs and watch the kites for a while.