Author Archives: wpadmin

Flashing on location

During the working week I’d been thinking about how to get more involved with off camera flash. I was heading down south back to see the family for the weekend and I had plenty of time to get some shots in.

My younger brother has a talent for engines, he’s been a petrol head for as long as he’s had a driving licence. When he’s not building his extension, he has his head buried in engine bays, under car lifts sorting exhausts for his and everyone else’s cars. It’s seems that there is an MOT for somebody he knows almost every week.

I’d taken a few shots of him doing his stuff during the day but I had to wait for the late evening darkness before I could put in place the single shot I’d come up with while sat at work.

The idea was to have him with his back to the camera looking into the engine, a remote flash buried in the engine bay dead centre and to have a second remote flash in between him and the camera, also centred. The camera was locked onto the tripod, manually focused with a 35mm prime lens with plenty of space below and to both sides.

After a couple of test shots, I wasn’t happy with the amount of light the low flash was giving off and the effect it had. I liked the silhouette the engine bay flash was producing, separating him from the car bonnet but the floor flash was giving too much detail to his back. I removed the offending flash and tried again, this time producing the shot below.


Minor edits were made in Lightroom and Photoshop, the flash had caught a couple of stray overhanging tree branches which were removed. I kept all the space to the sides and below the main area because I feel that it ‘grounds’ the subject and that your imagination will fill in where his legs meet the ground. I wanted to isolate him in darkness and thus make his silhouette a but more dominating.

Luckily my brother had a couple of small floodlights I could use setting up this shot, I was actually able to manually focus and get everything prepared using them and have them switched off for the photo.

A walk on Streatham Common

It’s been a while since I just went out with the sole purpose of actually taking pictures. I took the D7100 and the missus took the D3100 and we set off. It was a lovely sunny day for most of the afternoon but the lighting levels were changing constantly which is always a nice challenge when shooting in manual. I set up the D3100 in shutter priority so she could just concentrate on taking the pictures rather than having to fiddle with the settings. She seemed to enjoy it and kept pestering me to use the long lens so I mostly used the ultra-wide 10-24.


We started off from the small car park at the top, walked through the trees, past the White House and onto the top high corner of the Common. After a short sit down in the shade of a tree we headed back towards the rookery but all the waterfall pumps were turned off so we consoled ourselves with an ice cream and back home we came.


During the post processing files from both cameras in Lightroom, I’d forgotten the difference in quality between the sensors in the D3100 & D7100. The D7100 produces much richer and deeper colours in my opinion.




First sale

Well, it’s been a while since the last post. Plenty of bad weather, high winds and rain have stopped me taking the gear out. I know I should be getting out there more and more but trying to pack up the flat for a move has also thrown a spanner in the works.

I got a Flickr email from somebody asking to use one of my images for “some literature” they were writing. I asked what exactly they would be using it for and it turned out to be commercial. I offered usage terms for a price, which they agreed to. I was quite shocked to be honest, it all went smoothly, TIF sent out, confirmation made etc.

I was very surprised that somebody had actually made contact rather than just using the image. The image they bought had been uploaded at a large resolution which was something I stopped doing a while back.

Interestingly, if they had found the image through Alamy they would have paid less, for more rights and I would have received only 50% of that.

First outing with the D3100

Earlier in April, friends of ours had found that Billy Smarts Circus was spending three days in Southampton and decided to treat their kids to the show. We had been invited as we hadn’t seen them in a few months. At this point I had my first DSLR, a Nikon D3100, the kit lens 18-55 VR and a Sigma 70-300 that the shop had bundled in.

We turned up on a cold day and collected our tickets and I read in the box office a small sign that to take photos, you had to pay the sum of £1. I handed over my quid, got my little stub as a receipt and felt confident that I wouldn’t be hassled in the big top.


Click to visit Billy Smarts Circus set on Flickr

We took our seats and the lights came down, really came down. It was perfect in terms of human sight but for a camera, it was a tricky level. On the one hand I wan’t to try and freeze the action as much as possible. I boosted the ISO to a level I felt I could recover from, around 6400 and set the shutter speed at the lowest speed I thought I could get away with, 1/200th. As I was shooting at about 40m I wasn’t too worried about the subject moving significantly towards or away from me enough to miss focus if I opened up the lens to it’s maximum wide open aperture of 4.0. The exposure meter was indicating that I was still underexposed so I decided to drop the shutter speed to 1/160th rather than boost the ISO. I would have to concentrate on the slower acts.


Click to visit Billy Smarts Circus set on Flickr

As the show kicked off I was happy to see that 80% of the acts were solo which meant that I could really narrow in and get fairly tight shots. The background of the darkness and two spotlights really isolated the performers shapes.

As I look back at all the EXIF data from the days pictures, most of the shots focal lengths were between 110-135mm. I had to use loose hands since we were all sat on plastic seats that bounced up and down as people hopped about and the kids were jumping about.

Most of the noise from the ISO 6400 setting I managed to clean up with Luminance Noise Reduction in Lightroom, a little contrast boost here and there and I was pretty much done with them.

Of all the images I’ve put up on Flickr, 95% of which are architectural, the original 10 circus shots consist of 75% of my viewed stats so I’ve shamelessly revisited the original RAW files and processed another 30 or so and stuck them into the same set after keywording them.


Click to visit Billy Smarts Circus set on Flickr

Bad interior lights and kids on the move

It was our beloved nephews 2nd birthday party and his dad had hired out a little church hall and a party supplier to fill the place with massive toys and things to do. I asked if I could bring my camera and offered to do family portraits with the flash gear*.

We turned up an hour early at the venue behind a beautiful church near Watford so I could set up my gear, take a few test shots, help getting tables out and offering our services as food testers.

The hall had almost no natural lighting. I should have known really. I mean, it had windows but they were 18″ high frosted security glass type that were at high level along the Southern elevation only. What light there was, we lost at 4pm when the low winter sun hit the tress that lined the churchyard. The hall had strips lights that ran parallel to the boxed in trusses so depending on where you stood, you’d either be in direct orange light or 4′ away in cool blue shadow. Due to the hall having a relatively high ceiling with truss partitions, using my flash gun off the ceiling was out and I was too far from the walls to bounce off them, I had to go with boosting the ISO and shooting open wide as much as possible.

The party suppliers had set their toys up against the only real clean background I could have used for the portraits. The other three sides were full of noticeboards, inspirational posters and strangely enough a huge lions head made with glue and sawdust. Across the front of the hall was a small stage curtained off, much like the church hall where I grew up in Salisbury, I suppose church funding only allowed for one design… It was roughly 12′ front to back and had one 8′ wide clean background so I set up there.

Up went the stand, adaptor, remote, flash and umbrella and out came the test shots thanks to my long suffering wife. I spent most the time shooting the kids as they played around with the toys and one particular toy car that had it’s own roller-coaster type rails. I planted myself at the far end of where this roller-coaster discharged it’s passenger to scoot across the hall’s timber floor and caught them while they were in the dangerous activity of trying to keep all four wheels on the floor.

As I was so impressed with the 55-70 VR’s Continuous Autofocus during the Winter Wonderland experiment, I decided to let it take the strain as I couldn’t have kept up with refocussing while they were coming straight for me. It worked pretty well since it was fairly dark in the hall. As I was switching from AF-Continuous to AF-Single via the command dial and the dedicated AF button, I was getting some focussing that kept jumping from background to subject and for 30 seconds or so, wondered why that would be. I had just found the dreaded third AF selection, AF-Automatic. As you might guess, having the camera automatically decide what the focus point should be is a dangerous thing. I can’t really think of a situation I’ve been in so far where using that selection would have helped, but then again I don’t shoot so much of a wide variation of subjects as most people.

Only one family (out of six or so) was up for portraits at the end of party and they turned out ok. All the in-laws grouped up in various configurations with the birthday boy who was rapidly losing his energy after a full afternoons playtime with his friends.

The lessons I learnt from that afternoons experience were:

  • Try and scout the location beforehand.
  • Ask parents if they want portraits done before the party kicks off because at the end, they are knackered and covered in food.
  • Look down first when quickly crouching to get a kids eye level shot as I blatted one of the poor little guys on the top of his head with my elbow (he didn’t make much of a fuss to my relief).

*Note to self: Don’t agree or suggest stuff after drinking heavily

Winter Wonderland 2013

A few years ago, my wife and I took my niece to the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. It was small, expensive, muddy and rather amateur. This time round we went to the new and improved version at the other end of the park. Boy have the organisers changed things!

There must have been two hundred or so little cabins selling chrismassy bits and bobs, at chrismassy prices of course… It was jam packed as we went on the first Saturday after opening. We went with my wife’s nephew and most of the in-laws but spent only half the time looking at the rides and stalls and the other half trying to keep an eye on where everyone else had wandered off to.

I took the camera hoping to get a few decent shots of wide-angle crowds but it ended up being a bit of a pain since the crowds were too dense and I was losing the light towards the later end of the afternoon. I did however manage to get a couple of really good shots of the nephew on one of the rides with the 55-200 VR using the Autofocus on Continuous. I wasn’t expecting it to work as well as it did as I’ve not really had to try it since most of my photography is either architectural or at least very slow moving.

As I lost the light I tried hand-holding for a few ‘fairground lights in the dark’ type shots, a couple worked out. Of course had I planned it properly and gone alone I would have taken a tripod and gone two weeks later when the crowds had died down but since I’m no longer in control of scheduling…


A shady character

I’d gone for another of my lunchtime rambles with the camera and my ultra-wide lens through the back streets around Golden Lane and popped out onto Old Street and walked down to St Luke’s Church. I’d walked 15 yards down the small lane to the right trying to get a nice angle through the shrubs and branches of the spire. I gave up and turned around quickly to walk off when I spotted a heavy set 17-18 year old guy with a trainee moustache and swinging an open faced motorbike helmet 10 metres away and heading straight towards me.

When he’d seen I’d spotted him, he did an about-turn and almost jogged off back towards the main road and turned right. I walked back to the same road and turned left. After 10 seconds he’d stopped and was again looking at me. After we locked eyes for the second time he crossed the road and pretended to wait for the bus.

That one minute of perceived danger reminded me of two things I’d forgotten; not everyone is nice and don’t spend all your time looking up.


New ultra-wide lens

I hit the London streets a couple of days ago to try out a new ultra-wide lens during a lunchtime break. It was seriously cold and windy and with most people electing to eat lunch at their desks, I made the decision to get out to the relatively empty streets.

I’ve got my hands on a Nikon 10-24 DX lens. My first impressions were that it was quite blurry around the edges shooting at 10mm. It was quite overcast so I opened up wide to around it’s maximum aperture of 3.5 or so since I didn’t want to drop the ISO too far or the shutter speed since I was hand holding. I know that most lens don’t behave nicely near their extremes so I bumped the ISO and went to f8 and the edges cleaned up nicely.

You can get some major coverage with this lens at 10mm (about 15mm at 35mm equivalent) and you can produce some very strange converging angles shooting up at buildings. In the photo below, I would never have previously thought that I could have got a shot like that in such a confined small square but with the 10-24, no problem.

Time to buy a new winter coat…


Nikon website woes

In June or so this year I registered my Nikon kit on their website, all went well, everything got entered and most of it applied for their free two year warranty. They said it would take 6-8 weeks to get the paperwork sent out to me. Three months later I realised that it hadn’t turned up so I got in contact, again through their website and spoke to somebody who confirmed my address and said they would re-send it out. Again I forgot about it but bought some new gear and went to register it on their site.

My username and password weren’t recognised, odd because I use Keepass. I found their “forgot password?” tool and had it emailed to me but it seemed that my account was missing. I signed back up using the same email address to see if it would spot a duplicate email address but it all went through and none of my data was there.

I raised a support ticket with them and after supplying email evidence from the unsent warranty paperwork incident that I had the account previously they have agreed to re-register all my gear and send me a 32gb SD card for the inconvenience. A nice touch and all resolved pretty quickly.

Just need to see if its third time lucky with the warranty paperwork…


Web publishing images

I follow a guy on Flickr called David Gutierrez, he’s based in London and produces amazing architectural photos. I went through his stunning shots and quickly saw that he only uploads at a maximum resolution of about 600px wide. Even at that size you can still see most of the detail and all of the effort that went into the shot, it helps that all his shots are very colourful and he has a great eye for nighttime lighting.

Until very recently I put my images unmarked onto Flickr at a fairly high resolution, about 2000px along it’s longest edge. I set up a Lightroom export preset to upload to Flickr quite a while ago and never looked at it again. As I also submit some of my photos to stock image sites, do I really want those same submitted hi-res images available on Flickr?

I know its pretty bad form to slap watermarks onto images. Websites I’ve read in the past are split on the subject although most have fallen down the ‘watermarks ruin images and distract from the subject’ type approach. Even so, I’ve decided to add one, just a simple name and a 2px wide line crossing the full width of the image. As most of my images have plenty sky or background colour (yeah, quite novice), the watermark goes across that background. It can be cropped out pretty easily but I feel that it doesn’t distract from the overall image composition.

If somebody is going to remove it, they will, there’s almost nothing you can do to stop that but at least I’ve given it a shot. Hopefully by limiting the resolution to 700px as a maximum and adding a watermark, my images won’t go anywhere I don’t want them to.

I’ve probably overthought the issue since judging by my Flickr stats, most people view my Billy Smarts Circus set rather than the stuff I’m trying to protect!