Portfolio updates

Like many photographers I invest a lot of time and energy into my portfolio. I have had a Pixelrights folio since they launched their service earlier this year and every time they add more functionality I tinker with both the design and the content. Right now the service is looking great and the content management system is working well. One of these days I’m going to relegate my other folio platforms and throw everything at this service but until then please come along and have a look at the galleries for portraits, features and my personal work.

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Getting pictures away quickly

Getting photographs to the client has always been one of the less glamorous aspects of being a professional photographer. From sticking a pile of prints into an envelope and handing them to a courier to scanning negatives before using clunky slow modems to deliver them right up until today’s relatively painless methods nobody in their right mind would list this part of the process as either satisfying or easy.

The arrival of social media and the realisation amongst better clients that using our work rather than their own smartphone snaps has meant that we have had to speed things up a lot. I’ve always liked Eye-Fi cards but more recently I have been working with clients and with projects where something even more reliable and configurable is required. The worst part of it is that there isn’t actually one simple solution or workflow that will satisfy all of them in all circumstances. For a lot of jobs transferring the pictures from the camera to a smartphone or tablet before captioning and shifting them to the client is quick enough and I’ve written about that workflow before. New software appears all of the time and I am always looking at ways to make things smarter and quicker by introducing some automation and cutting steps out.

Live Ingest window from Photo Mechanic 5.

Live Ingest window from Photo Mechanic 5.

I have other ways to get pictures to my clients. For example, I was shooting a whole bunch of corporate head-shots at a conference recently and the client wanted them straight away for various social media and powerpoint uses. We needed to work out the best method for both of us and their AV people mentioned that a shared Dropbox folder would suit their needs best. Working backwards from there I decided to use my Canon EOS6D camera which has some built in wireless networking and set it up to send medium resolution Jpegs to one of my laptops sitting in the conference centre. That’s easy enough to do using Canon’s own EOS Utility software. I had Photo Mechanic running on the laptop with a “Live Ingest” watching the folder where the Jpegs were arriving. The ingest added a basic caption and my details as well as the accurate time before copying the files to pre-shared Dropbox folders where the client, their social media team and the audio visual technicians could do what they needed to do with them. Somebody else was then re-naming the files with the subject’s name and everyone was very happy.

That’s one solution but it wouldn’t necessarily work for other clients. Another recent case needed a different idea. I needed to supply very rapid pictures to the client’s FTP address from the camera. This made captioning much harder and between us we agreed that for social media use they only needed relatively small files and that speed was more important than anything else. Later in the day I would have time to process and properly caption the RAW files and so I set up the 5D MkIII to shoot RAW to the CF card and medium compressed Jpegs to the SD card.

Whilst the Eye-Fi ProX2 can send pictures over FTP I went with Canon’s own wifi transmitter the WFT-E7 for several reasons, not the least of which is that it gives you proper feedback when the file has been transferred. I also made sure that the playback on the camera screen was set to card 2 (the SD card) which makes selection and sending from the camera a lot easier. On this occasion I used my own 4G Mifi unit to do all of the transfers as I was in an area with brilliant 4G signals and there wasn’t much network congestion as everyone else in the place seemed to be using the free wifi. It takes about five minutes using the built-in wizard in the camera to set up a new connection and we tested the system ahead of the event. The idea was simple – every time there was a lull in the event, I would quickly scroll back through the recent pictures and use the ‘set’ button on the camera to transmit the chosen Jpegs to the client’s server and into a pre-designated folder on the server. If it became too busy to make selections I could simply switch to sending every single file. The system worked pretty much flawlessly all day and the battery on the WFT-E7 was still at 66% after five hours use. I did not have to resort to sending everything – much to everyone’s great relief!

Other professional cameras have their own dedicated wifi transmitters but some of them kill the camera’s own batteries. That is definitely the case with the EOS6D – battery drain is huge and you need to make sure that you have plenty of spares with you. Over the last couple of years I have worked with half a dozen different cameras and their accompanying transmitters – from Nikon, Canon and Fujifilm – as well as trying most of the aftermarket options from SD cards to the rather impressive Camranger. I really like the Canon WFT-E7 even if it is a bit cumbersome when attached to the bottom of the camera and so I tend to use it on a longish cable with the unit on my belt or in a pocket.

There’s one other technique that I use from time to time and it is probably the most reliable of all and that is to connect the camera to the laptop and share the pictures that way. When there is a choice between a bit of cable or a wireless connection I will always use the bit of cable because it is less prone to interference. It means that it becomes harder to move around but a cable from the camera into a laptop running with the lid closed inside a small rucksack is sometimes the way to go. Getting an Apple laptop to keep working with the lid closed requires some third party software and I’ve found InsomniaX to be very good for this specific job. The laptop battery takes a bit of a hit but it is otherwise a reliable way to go. This isn’t a particularly elegant solution but it is one of the many solutions that I have at my disposal.

Having many ways to achieve similar goals means that I can satisfy a range of clients by tailoring my service to their needs. Some days I don’t need to supply pictures quickly but those days appear to be getting fewer and further between. There’s so much more to this whole topic than I have space for here such as being able to verify which files have arrived safely and having the ability to back up remotely as you work. The worst part is that I am starting to find this whole topic interesting or even satisfying which, according to the opening paragraph makes me someone not in their right mind!

Testing a Think Tank laptop shade

The Think Tank Pixel Sunscreen V2. Hillcrest Road

© Neil Turner, August 2015. The Think Tank Pixel Sunscreen V2 folded up.

I seem to be spending more and more time editing photographs in strange places. Last weekend it was in a tent on The Mall – right by Buckingham Palace. The weather forecast predicted  bright sunshine so I decided that I needed to replace my very old plastic laptop sun shade with something a bit more ‘state-of-the-art’. Looking around it quickly became clear that the Think Tank Pixel Sunscreen V2 was the most likely to fulfil my needs so I went down to Fixation to buy one. Before I parted with my money I made sure that I could fold the thing away and the handy instructions printed on it made it very easy to do. Basically, if you can fold a Lastolite or a small tent, this is a doddle.

There followed two very long days editing with a team of great photographers covering the Prudential RideLondon events in a white tent which was, for the most part, in direct sunshine. My 13″ MacBook Pro disappeared into the sunscreen pretty early on in the mornings and didn’t come out again until well into the evenings. That made for a very full-on test and having laid my own money down the previous day I hoped that I’d made the right decision.

© Neil Turner, August 2015. The Think Tank Pixel Sunscreen V2 opened up

© Neil Turner, August 2015. The Think Tank Pixel Sunscreen V2 opened up

When you see the unit opened up (and it opens very easily) it appears to be rather tall and the shape doesn’t look like any other sun shade that I have ever seen for a laptop. Sitting working with it for only a few minutes you realise that the height and depth of the hood makes sense and working with it was nowhere near as awkward as my previous hoods. No need to stoop or bend and my spine was in a lot less danger than it would otherwise have been. It isn’t as comfortable as using the laptop without the hood but it appeared very quickly to be a great compromise.

Typing captions and other text based activities were fine. I had a very dark shirt on and so barely saw my own reflection in the screen. When it came to preparing images I was forced most of the time to use the lightweight black cape that comes with the sunscreen and attaches with velcro tabs and actually get inside. The three pictures below are an attempt to show what using the screen actually means. As long as there’s no direct sunshine hitting the laptop screen you can happily work away. The centre picture shows how bright the sun was when took these pictures to illustrate how effective the Sunscreen is and the third picture shows how clearly and easily you can see the screen when you are ‘inside’ the caped unit.

Being inside the screen with the black cape draped over you can get a little stuffy and even a bit warm but you really can see the screen properly – even if you are facing into the direct summer sun.

So far I’ve mentioned lots of good things about this Think Tank product and over the two days I was using it I didn’t find too many faults but, in the interests of the V3 being even better, I thought that I’d share two niggles and suggest a couple of small design changes.

The biggest flaw by far is the velcro hatch on the lower rear left hand side (as you are looking into it). There’s no way that the Apple MagSafe 2 power supply will stay plugged into the laptop when it is fed through the slot unless you use something about 2-3cm thick to stand the laptop on inside the shade. Most of the time that you are editing outside I would say that battery power is fine but for this event I had to plug-in.

I found two strips of wood that my MacBook Pro sat happily on and all was fine. The way that the (very well made) seam of the shade is positioned in relation to the slot means that the slightest movement will disconnect the power supply because it cannot sit straight unless you raise the laptop. Somehow they need to create a slot that is less well engineered that overcomes this small issue because I don’t want to carry two strips of timber around with me. Whilst they are at it, it would make way more sense to have the velcro slot open from the bottom and not the top so that less light (which tends to come from the top rather than the bottom) or even go so far as to have a simple slit that you stick things through that gently holds the cable rather than this heavily constructed back door.

My other minor niggle is the size and placement of the branding on it. Almost a third of the right hand side is made up of a massive Think Tank logo. More than one other laptop user on our team suggested that they would prefer not to be advertising a product if they’d paid for it in such an over-the-top way. I came to agree with them once a few people had suggested that I must be sponsored by Think Tank.

Back on the positive side there are lots of small pockets inside the hood and I found these useful places to stick memory cards that needed to be given back to people as well as to hold my Netgear Mifi unit which was there as a back up should the provided internet service have failed for any reason. The pockets don’t keep gear safe but it does keep it away from being out of sight when you are closeted away inside the editing bubble.

Thinking that I would review the Sunscreen I tried a colleague’s 15″ MacBook Pro inside and, whilst it was a very snug fit, it passed the test. The MagSafe issue was probably worse with the larger screen – something that I’d need longer to confirm.

After two days of very concentrated use I decided that this is a very good piece of kit. It is well worth the money and I predict that it will last for a few years too.

07 August 2015. Bournemouth, Dorset. The Think Tank Pixel Sunscreen V2. Hillcrest Road

F4 and be there…

06 August 2015. Bournemouth, Dorset. Close up of part of a Canon 70-200 F4L IS lens. Hillcrest Road

06 August 2015. Bournemouth, Dorset. Close up of part of a Canon 70-200 F4L IS lens.

I’ve discussed zooms versus primes far too many times in far too many blog posts to rehearse the old arguments again and at the end of my recent post about zooming with your feet I mentioned investing in some new gear with a promise to follow it up with a blog post – so here it is.

The great New York press photographer Weegee is supposed to have said “F8 and be there” when asked how he got such great pictures. I’m not remotely interested in the debate about whether or not he actually said it but I am interested in the idea of apertures and, more importantly, maximum apertures.

For as many years as I’ve been shooting with zooms I’ve owned and used lenses pretty much exclusively with f2.8 maximum apertures. I have tried to count the number of f2.8 zooms that I’ve had in my career and it is at least thirteen and probably one or two more that have been forgotten. It isn’t just me either – 90% of press and editorial photographers shoot on a daily basis with a 24-70 and 70-200 combination and probably have a 16-35 or something similar in the bag as well. It made a lot of sense when you were battling against low light and film or chips that couldn’t function beyond a relatively modest high ISO. The downside was always the weight – 70-200 f2.8 lenses are big, bulky and very heavy and so I have been toying with the idea of replacing my f2.8 zooms with new f4 versions for quite a while.

Owning fast primes for those jobs where super fast lenses are needed has made the jump a bit easier whilst the quality of brand news lenses always gives your work a boost so I started the swap over three months ago with a Canon 24-70 f4L IS. It isn’t much smaller or lighter than the current Canon 24-70 f2.8L II but it has image stabilisation and a truly remarkable close focus (they call it macro) capability. The photo of the 70-200 at the top of this blog was taken with it without any form of accessory and I could have gone even closer had I wanted. I always tended to stop down to f4 or even f5.6 with most of my work using wider lenses and so this piece of kit makes a lot of sense and I have loved using it.

Jump forward a couple of months, throw in a great cashback offer from Canon UK and I bought the 70-200 f4L IS. This lens is half the weight of the f2.8 version and is brilliantly easy to work with. The image stabilisation appears to be very good and for much of the work that I do it is a perfect piece of kit when married to a Canon EOS5D MkIII. Next up will be the 16-35 f4L – a lens that I have borrowed and used and been delighted with. My old 16-35 f2.8L is still performing well and it isn’t a range that I use all that often and so I can wait for Canon UK to run another promotion.

Shooting at f4 isn’t a Weegee style philosophy but then neither was shooting at f2.8. I think that it is more of a practical reality where I have made a reasoned choice between speed and weight. Shooting wide open at f4 still gives some very shallow depths of field on the longer lens and owning fast primes is great cover for those extremely rare jobs where short bands of focus are needed. It makes great business sense to buy quality lenses that are almost 50% cheaper than the alternatives too – these days we all have to think about profit margins and the spiralling cost of doing business as a photographer is something that we all need to think about.

I haven’t disposed of any of my f2.8Ls yet but I haven’t touched any of them since their cousins came to town either.

Three weeks in a bunker

Court 14 - above the Photographers Workroom. ©Neil Turner, June 2015

Court 14 – above the Photographers Workroom. ©Neil Turner, June 2015

There aren’t too offices with a cooler roof than the one I’ve spent the last three and a bit weeks working in. The brilliant new Photographers’ Workroom at the All England Lawn Tennis Club is directly under courts 14 and 15 and having world class tennis being played on the office roof isn’t an every day boast!

For the second year running I have had a contract to work as a Picture Editor for the AELTC and I can honestly say that it is an exciting, exhausting, fulfilling, frustrating, full-time and full-on twenty three days.

I get to work early in the morning just as the Ground Staff are starting to get the courts ready for action and I leave as they are putting most of them back to bed for the night. In that time thousands of top class photographs cross my screen and I have hundreds of conversations with our photographers and the dozens of other professionals with whom we work.

What I don’t get to do much of is take pictures. A few snatched frames on my Fujifilm X100S on my way in and my way home and some candid shots of the team in the office are my only chances to use a camera. I walk past the back of No1. Court, between Courts 18 and 19 and then disappear under Court 14 on my way in from the car park and then do it all in reverse on my way home again which is why Court 19 features so strongly in this small selection that I’m posting today.

Early morning on Court 18. The Championships 2015 at The All England Lawn Tennis Club. 27 June 2015. Neil Turner

Early morning on Court 19. Marking the lines and making the grass look perfect. 27 June 2015. ©Neil Turner

Court 18 and No1 Court at night. The Championships 2015 at The All England Lawn Tennis Club. 29 June 2015. Neil Turner

Court 17 and No.1 Court at night. 29 June 2015. ©Neil Turner

View of back of Centre Court across Court 19. The Championships 2015 at The All England Lawn Tennis Club. 01 July 2015. Neil Turner

View of back of Centre Court across Court 19. 01 July 2015. © Neil Turner

Getting Court 19 ready in the morning. The Championships 2015 at The All England Lawn Tennis Club. 04 July 2015. Neil Turner

Taking the covers off and getting Court 19 ready in the morning.  04 July 2015. ©Neil Turner

I’d like to say thank you to the great team with whom I have been working. As a freelance photographer you spend a big part of your working life as a solo operator and it is fascinating and genuinely great fun to be part of something large scale every once-in-a-while. If you’d like to have a look at a tiny fraction of the work done by the AELTC Photo team have a look at the Wimbledon website.

Zooming with your…

©Neil Turner/Bupa 10,000. May 2015. A Police rider accompanies a detachments of Guards as they march back their barracks.

©Neil Turner/Bupa 10,000. May 2015.
A Police rider accompanies a detachments of Guards as they march back their barracks.

I was on a job the other day, standing next to a very young photographer in a ‘press pen’. He glanced over at the gear I was using and mentioned how much he would love to own the 135mm f2L lens that I had on one of my cameras. He said that he had never really got the hang of “zooming with his feet” in the way that so many of the photographers he admired had advised. He had also had it drummed into him by one of his tutors at college and it had left him wondering if he was doing something wrong.

Zooming with your feet is a great concept and it is one of the catchphrases in contemporary photography that appears to be beyond question. But is it? Is it actually as much a cliche as a universal truth?

There we were on a job where we couldn’t have zoomed with our feet even if either of us had the skills to do so. We couldn’t go forward – there was a metal barrier in the way. We couldn’t go backwards because there were other photographers and a couple of TV crews behind us – and behind them was another barrier. We had a tiny amount of sideways movement if we could change places with each other but, apart from that, we were in a very fixed position.

The event we were shooting was a fixed distance from us and so it was possible to get the right prime lens on the camera and then to shoot the job.

What my young photographer friend didn’t know was that I had my 70-200 lens in my bag but that I had some real concerns about its performance earlier in the day which is why I had grabbed the 135 and decided to use that.

As we had plenty of time to spare I explained my choice of lens and explained that a lot of press work means that zooming with your feet is somewhere between difficult and impossible and that to get the most from a fixed position a set of zoom lenses is actually the right choice. I went on to admit that I would be doing a fair bit of zooming on the job myself, except that it would be in the post-production – zooming with the crop tool is what I decided to call it.

And that’s what I did. The resolution of modern DSLRs is such that you can get a high quality Jpeg from 50% of the actual frame and the quality of the best lenses easily allows you do that and maybe more. Starting off with a lens wider than you probably need and then refining your crop in post-production was very common in the days of darkrooms and prints but when we were shooting 35mm colour transparencies or with the early low-megapixel digitals it became important to get the crop right in-camera. We have come full circle and some judicious cropping makes sense once more.

Shooting with prime lenses is something that I have discussed more than once before and it is something that I find myself doing more and more on jobs where I’m the only photographer or where I have enough freedom to go with the universal truth/cliche (delete where applicable) and actually zoom with my feet. The rest of the time it is zooms and now that I am using two distinct sets of lenses for different types of jobs I’ve decided to invest in some new gear – and I’ll be blogging about that very soon.

The hours before dusk

People exercising their dogs on the 'dog-friendly' beach at Fisherman's Walk as the sun begins to set.  © Neil Turner

People exercising their dogs on the ‘dog-friendly’ beach at Fisherman’s Walk as the sun begins to set.
© Neil Turner

You can’t publish a blog for more than a couple of years without repeating yourself somewhat and I have waxed lyrical about the light at dusk more than once before. It is especially useful when you are shooting subjects facing due south.

Through the middle of the day taking pictures looking out to sea at my favourite part of the beach near my home life is tough because you are shooting against the often strong sunshine. When there’s a cloudless sky by five or six o’clock in the afternoon and then through to sunset the angle and direction of the light as well as its colour and quality goes from nice to amazing. The type of activity changes too and the almost deserted beaches become the one place that draws me to go and take pictures because I want to.

I might also have mentioned my obsession with dogs on the beach and I am slowly but surely putting a body of those pictures together. I wanted a wide photograph that could stretch across a double page and have some headlines and copy run over it and I think that this picture from yesterday evening is a real contender.

The project will never be finished but there will come a day when volume one gets published in some form or other.

Techie stuff: Canon EOS5D MkIII with a Canon EF 135mm f2 L lens. 1/160th of a second f13 200 ISO