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Space makes you think – part 2

©Neil Turner, March 2013. Family enjoying an early spring afternoon near Fisherman's Walk in Bournemouth, Dorset.

©Neil Turner, March 2013. Family enjoying an early spring afternoon near Fisherman’s Walk in Bournemouth, Dorset.

A very long time ago when I was studying photography at the Medway College of Design I was surrounded by like-minded and equally obsessive photography students who all wanted to unlock the many ‘secrets’ of great photography so that we could all some-day be someone. We were only a very short distance along the journey (it was the first term of the first year) when we were set a project to shoot an object against a background where the object would be very small and still have great composition and make sense. It was a lesson that I will always remember for two reasons:

  • The first is that I loved it and actually shot four or five entirely different pictures – ranging from a damp and golden autumnal leaf on a grey path to a red balloon against a bright blue sky.
  • The second reason is that during a group critique someone (and I have no memory who) said “space makes you think”.

Space makes you think has stuck with me to this day and as a short and snappy phrase it appears in my thinking and in my discussions on a very regular basis. From the day I learned that lesson and then learned to leave space in my compositions for mastheads, strap line, type and headlines I have always looked for pictures with space. Cropping images really tightly is a great way to shoot some subjects and I remember another phrase from my student days which sums that up too “if an element doesn’t add to the composition then it detracts from it”. That’s also true and that, ladies and gentlemen, is why photography is so enthralling, confusing, infuriating and rewarding. Two ‘rules’ that appear to directly contradict one another that form the basis of one of those secrets that we as students of the art/science/profession spend our lives trying to grasp and the interpret in our own ways.

Rules are there to be obeyed most of the time and broken often enough to make sure that we remain creative in our thinking. That was true back at Medway College, it still is and I hope it always will be.

* Those other “obsessives” included Jez Coulson, David Chancellor, Bill Green, Richard Gosler, Mike Cooper, John Baxter, Richard Ansett and Andy Eaves who, I am delighted to tell you, are all still as obsessed as they were! There were 28 photographers in our year and I’m sure more than those listed above are still plying the trade.

My Fujifilm X20 – the final word?

It’s amazing how often a casual conversation or a quick exchange on a Facebook group can spark a train of thought. Earlier today a comment by a friend and fellow photographer about how a photo sharing site had made him look around him and start taking pictures for the love of it again. I agreed whole-heartedly and began to think about uploading a few more pictures here. That moved my train of thought onto the various reviews and updates that I’ve written on this blog and elsewhere about the Fujifilm X20 that has been my almost constant companion for the last 11 months. So what I decided to do was to say a few words to summarise my experiences with this camera and add some pictures shot in the last couple of weeks.

©Neil Turner, March 2014. The photographer's shadow forms part of the scene as an elderly couple walk along South Bank of the River Thames in London.

©Neil Turner, March 2014. The photographer’s shadow forms part of the scene as an elderly couple walk along South Bank of the River Thames in London.

In general, my opinions about this camera have barely changed since I posted the first update back in mid April 2013. Given the product cycle that Fujifilm seems to gallop through the X20 is probably about to be superseded anyway but I thought that I’d offer some advice to make this camera (that I still like very much) better if they want to bring out an X30.

  • The battery life has to improve. Despite doing everything possible to limit power drain I get through two batteries a day when shooting with ordinary SD cards and up to four batteries a day when I’m using one of my Eye-Fi cards. This makes a cool and convenient camera a lot less convenient and pushes up the cost of ownership – even if you go for third party spare batteries.
  • Start-up delay. About once in every third time I switch the camera on it takes three or four seconds to adjust and get the exposure correct. The first picture is often three or more stops over-exposed.
  • Autofocus at the telephoto end of the range. My camera sometimes refuses to auto focus when the lens is zoomed all the way to the 112mm equivalent end of its range.
  • The review time options for looking at images you have just shot are too restrictive. There are no options between 1.5 seconds and zoom (unlimited).
  • The built-in flash isn’t compatible with the lens hood – you get shadows and so to use that function you need to remove the hood.
  • The video isn’t great – but I didn’t buy this camera to shoot video.

On top of all of that it would be great if the focal range went from 24-120, the camera had two SD slots and if there were lens correction options for Adobe Camera RAW because at the 28mm end there is the slightest barrel distortion.

This is a great camera and I love using it. I am seriously tempted by the X100S too. Having borrowed one for an extended period, I would very much like to own one. Fujifilm have done a great job with their X-series cameras and they should be very proud of the effect that their cameras have had on a lot of very old and very picky professionals (like me) who all grin like idiots when using the kit. So now, without further ado, here are a few more recent X20 images for you…

So there you go Fujifilm… bring on the X30…

The light on the train

March 2014. Passenger on the train between Bournemouth and London Waterloo reading HEAT magazine as the train passes through Woking. ©Neil Turner

© Neil Turner, March 2014. Passenger on the train between Bournemouth & London Waterloo reading HEAT magazine.

 

Every once in a while I take the train to London for meetings and the occasional job where I don’t have to carry half a ton of cameras, lights and computers. One of my favourite ways to pass the time is to do a bit of train photography and yesterday’s journey gave me a few nice frames where the light was good. Normally I just bung them from the camera (in this case my adorable Fujifilm X20) via an Eye-Fi card onto my iPhone or iPad and then straight to Twitter or EyeEm. I rarely give them a second glance when I get home but I wanted to post this picture because of the light. The sun was coming at just the right angle to reflect a lot of light back into the woman’s face from the pages of Heat Magazine at exactly the same time as the woman sitting behind her appeared to be getting interested in the page through the small gap between the seats. I have no idea if she was actually looking at the page or whether it was a happy coincidence – either way, the light made me do it!

This frame was taken about five minutes after I’d posted a similar but inferior one on EyeEm so I kept it and decided that it would make a nice “just because” picture on this blog. I’m sure that I’ll get around to writing something more serious soon…

Dogs on the beach and the Fujifilm X20

My addiction to taking pictures of dogs walking on the beach with or without their owners shows no signs of abating and neither does my joy at shooting pictures with my Fujifilm X20. When I get to shoot bon the beach with the X20 my photographic life is almost complete (laughs ironically there). So, once again, for no other reason that I loved taking and editing the picture here is a photograph taken last Saturday at Boscombe Manor during a break in the foul weather that the whole of the country has been getting.

© Neil Turner, February 2014. A couple walk their dog on the beach between storms.

© Neil Turner, February 2014. A couple walk their dog on the beach between storms.

To the north of us was the wreckage of broken beach huts, to the east was an area closed off to the public and to the west was the only stretch of the beach where you could walk with reasonable safety. Happy days.

Out Walking

Ever since I started using the EyeEm photo sharing site I have been trying to shoot more pictures “just for the fun of it”. The platform allows you to add your pictures to albums and one of my favourites is entitled “Out Walking”. I often shoot with my Fujifilm X20 with and Eye-Fi card in it, convert the RAW fils to Jpeg using the neat film simulation modes before uploading them to my iPhone and going through the process I described in my Eye-Fi Workflow post a week or so ago. I also vowed a while ago to get better at black and white. I’m not sure that’s going quite so well but I often combine the two. It’s great fun and even mildly addictive!

Anyway, for no other reason that I want to share them, here are some of the images.

© Neil Turner, January 2014. Man holding sign offering tattoos an tattoo removal touts for business on the pavement just outside one of main areas of Camden Market

© Neil Turner, January 2014. Man holding sign offering tattoos an tattoo removal touts for business on the pavement just outside one of main areas of Camden Market

© Neil Turner January 2014. Cold and bored stall-holder selling keep calm t-shirts at Camden Market.

© Neil Turner January 2014. Cold and bored stall-holder selling keep calm t-shirts at Camden Market.

© Neil Turner, January 2014. Bored shop keeper outside his open hat shop just outside one of main areas of Camden Market

© Neil Turner, January 2014. Bored shop keeper outside his open hat shop just outside one of main areas of Camden Market

Eye-Fi card workflow

eye-fi_cards When I was rounding up 2013 I mentioned that I had a lot of success using an Eye-Fi card to wirelessly transmit pictures from my cameras (Canon EOS5D MkIII and Fujifilm X20) to either my iPhone, iPad or laptop where I can do a quick edit and caption before sending them to clients. Inevitably I got a couple of emails using the “ask me anything” feature of this blog asking me to describe my workflow. It is similar between an EOS5D MkIII and the Fujifilm X20 except that the former has twin card slots (one CF compact flash and one SD secure digital) whereas the latter only has the SD slot. I like to shoot RAW which means that in the X20 I have to do an in-camera RAW conversion to create a Jpeg to send out. I have two cards (shown left) – an Eye-Fi branded 8Gb Pro X2 and a Sandisk branded 4Gb one. In practice, they both do much the same job but the orange Eye-Fi one has more options should you want to work differently. Without further ado, here is how it all works on the Canon…

Getting the the settings on the card, your camera and your phone/tablet/computer right is the key to getting everything working well:

  1. Setting up the Eye-Fi card. When you get the card it should come with an SD card reader and by far the best way to set things up is to use that reader to load the card into a computer. There are lots of options that will appear once you have loaded the supplied “Eye-Fi Centre” application. This workflow is all about working in what the manufacturer calls “direct mode”. I choose to only transfer the files I want to my iPhone and so on the card I have selected “Selective Transfer” via the Eye-Fi Centre application. This means that only images that I have protected in the camera menu get transferred. On the Canon I have assigned the “rate” button to protect images for speed. It is also useful to add a couple of wifi networks and to define which file formats to transfer using the application whilst the card is in the computer because it isn’t possible to alter some settings once the card is in the camera. This whole process takes a few minutes and if you get it right, the whole thing test a lot easier from here on in.eye-fi_screenshot
  2. Setting up the camera. In the EOS5D MkIII menu there are three things that I’d recommend you do. The first is to assign the “rate” button to protect selected images. The second is to get the camera to write RAW files to the CF card and medium size Jpegs to the SD (Eye-Fi) card. Finally, you need to enable Eye-Fi transfer from the camera menu. This way you can use the review function with card 2 (the SD slot) and then every time you protect an image written to the Eye-Fi card it will automatically look to transfer that file to the device you have nominated.
    eos_screens
  3. The receiving device. I use an iPhone and an iPad and the whole process is eventually controlled by the free app that Eye-Fi make available through the Apple App Store. There are equally useful apps available for Android powered devices and the functionality is pretty much identical. Apart from loading the app the only other thing you have to do is to download and authorise a small change to your wifi settings on your phone which simply installs the settings for the direct mode to work. Once you launch the app you get an opening window which then gives way to the gallery window which in turn tells you what is happening about transfers. Below you can see the card paring screen and the gallery screen.eye_fi_phone
  4. Editing your pictures. Once you have the image on your phone or tablet you can then use the apps of your choice to edit and caption your image before shifting them on. My personal favourite is Photogene4 which has some good image options such as clarity, contrast, saturation, straighten, crop, sharpen and the ability to add IPTC captions – including defaults such as the EXIF time day and date as well as any pre-loaded captions and copyright information. I find that it’s a good idea to write some generic captions using Apple’s Notes app and then copy and paste them into Photogene4. The app also has the option to upload to a wide range of sharing sites as well as to email and ransomer images to FTP servers – making it really useful for work.photogene
    From shooting a frame to having it uploaded to my own FTP server normally takes twenty to thirty seconds if there is a good phone signal and the various uses that I’ve found for this rapid upload range from offering images to people I’ve photographed to providing almost instant pictures for corporate clients to use for their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds at events. This is a very versatile piece of kit and I haven’t even come close to describing everything that it can do. I like the way that this workflow actually does flow and I love the effect that it has had on a couple of clients who really appreciate what it offers them. My first Eye-Fi card was £24.99 including VAT – possibly the best investment that I’ve ever made!

Revisiting my workflow

It is impossible to work digitally without having some sort of workflow. Most are a bit better than adequate, some are good and some are blindingly awful. I think that it is important to have a look at the way you do things every once in a while to make sure that yours is as good as it can be and achieves the four goals of being;

  • Efficient in terms of both time and memory
  • Repeatable so that the purely functional bits can be done almost on auto-pilot
  • Non destructive so that you don’t lose valuable RAW files or save changes to Jpegs shot in camera
  • Able to be short-cut for jobs where time is even more of an issue

I’ve written about my workflow before and I often teach workshops based on the “photographer’s twelve step plan” – a process with 12 distinct stages from camera to client including backing up and having a coffee! In this blog post I’m simply going to go through my basic workflow with a few hints and tips as I go. I normally use Photo Mechanic to import, sort, caption, rename and export my files and Adobe Photoshop CC to convert RAW (Canon CR2 most of the time) files into the required format. The whole process is colour-managed and I do as much as I can in-camera to save myself time when editing. I work on either a MacBook Pro, a MacBook Air or a Mac Mini depending on where I am and what the job is. Anyway, let’s kick off…

pm_preferences

Before I insert a card into the card reader I launch Photo Mechanic. This screen grab shows the “general” preferences for the application including what I want to happen when I load a memory card. I have checked the box “Open as contact sheet(s)” which means that as soon as the card goes in I see the images in a standard window. In the past I often used “show ingest dialogue” but I have found that ingesting every single frame doesn’t suit me and that it slows the whole process down drastically. Typically I only want between 25% and 35% of the images and so I go through them using the “tag” function (cmd T on a Mac or ctrl T on a PC) to identify those that I’m interested in or those which have unique content.

Once I’ve been through that card and tagged the images I want I use the “copy” function (cmd Y on the Mac and ctrl Y on a PC) and copy those tagged files to a new folder. I use a simple formula YYMMDD-jobname-RAW for those files and then repeat this process with every card used on that job. Photo Mechanic can be set to automatically open and update a new contact sheet with the copied files. I always eject the cards without deleting anything just in case there are problems during the process and put those cards to one side to be deleted later.

pm-preview

pm_contact_sheet

The preview and contact sheet windows are extremely easy ways to look at and select pictures. Once I have my first edit done I apply a generic caption using the Photo mechanic stationery pad (cmd I or ctrl I). At this point I’d like to mention two enormously useful features of Photo Mechanic (available on some other applications too).

The first is variables. These are simple ways of automatically adding information to your captions or filenames. Many are derived from the EXIF data applied in the camera. These include time, day and date as well as other shooting data. Some cameras allow you to set copyright information in the camera and others apply GPS location data too. Other variables might include camera serial numbers, original filenames as well as items that you can add yourself from pre-loaded drop-down menus. I have every county in the United Kingdom loaded as well as a large number of towns and cities and I also have some specific locations where I work regularly pre-loaded. By choosing a specific city from one drop-down menu you can use variables to add it to relevant other areas of the IPTC automatically. You can see some examples of variables in the caption below.

pm_stationery_pad

My main caption starts with {city}, {state}. {iptcday0} {iptcmonthname} {iptcyear4} which will then become something like Brighton, East Sussex. 12 December 2013 if I have all of the right information ready to go. If there are more details to add to the generic caption it is easy enough to do those in batches using the stationery pad.

Variables can also be used in the renaming of files.

pm-rename

This requires you to add the IPTC caption before you rename the files because using the {headline} variable automatically includes the headline you have used in the filename. I find this to be very useful and very good for saving time. In practice Photo Mechanic will sequentially rename 100 files in about ten seconds using this method.

The other really useful feature that Photo Mechanic has for helping with captions is code replacement. The idea is similar to variables except you create your won shortcuts. Sports photographers use this a lot and it saves a great deal of time. Imagine a football (that’s soccer to everyone in north America) team with 22 squad players – many of whom have unfamiliar and difficult to spell names. Using code replacement you can preload a text file with the teams before the game using shirt numbers. The England team, for example, would have numbers from EN01 to EN22 with the names of the players set against those numbers. Using code replacement you would type \EN08\ and the software would immediately recognise that as 8 Wayne Rooney or whatever you have set it to say. I use it for political figures so \dcam\ automatically becomes The Rt Hon David Cameron MP. I can add a second part to that if I so wish \pm\ would add Prime Minister.

I also use code replacement for shooting musicians and bands. It is really easy to create a text file with the names of all of the band members and then use the shortcuts to add the relevant people to each frame. You select the shortcuts yourself and the long versions yourself. Once you get the hang of code replacement, it becomes a central part of your workflow.

At this point I’ll often do a second tighter edit. I’ll keep all of the RAW files that I have copied over from the cards but only convert and send the best to the client. For some news jobs that is only 6-10 images and for other editorial assignments anything between a dozen and thirty. Some of the corporate jobs I shoot end up with a couple of hundred files and working on those proves the efficiency of this workflow because it is scaleable and repeatable.

Once I have my RAW (CR2 or RAF) images selected, captioned and renamed it is time to highlight them all and open them in Adobe Camera RAW in Adobe Photoshop. There are a number of great RAW conversion options out there and whether you use Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture, Capture One or any of the others you need to make sure that the one you use doesn’t strip your carefully added caption information during the RAW conversion process.

acr-window

This is what the Adobe camera RAW window looks like. You can select a number of images from the strip down the left hand side and apply the same adjustments to all of them. I don’t want to run a complete ACR tutorial here but I would like to mention the straighten, sharpen, crop and lens correction adjustments as well worth learning. Of course those are secondary to the basic correction options such as colour temperature and tint, exposure, contrast, highlight and shadows etc. I find that I rarely need to open an image into Photoshop itself simply because all of the things that I’d normally do to a picture can be done right here in Camera Raw. Every few frames I will highlight those that have been corrected but not yet saved and save them. A decent computer with enough RAM will happily save the adjusted RAW files into whatever format you choose in the background whilst you continue to work on the rest. Once I have hit the “save” button on the last files I then click on “done”. Most of the time I am saving files at their default size as high quality Jpegs with some sharpening into the same folder as the RAW files. Photo Mechanic then updates the folder to show the RAW and Jpeg files together (you can separate them if you wish to) with a thumbnail from the newly saved Jpeg.

One of the best improvements between Adobe Camera RAW in Photoshop CS6 and Photoshop CC is an improved and expanded “save” dialogue window. You now have the option to set a target size, target amount of compression and apply a set degree of sharpening. With modern cameras producing pictures of over 60 megabytes and many of my clients wanting their photographs to be considerably smaller than that I am now using the target size more and more. My default setting is 4800 pixels along the longest side and with a maximum compressed file of 3200 kilobytes.

acr-save

Once I have my images all saved I return to Photo Mechanic and copy the Jpeg files into a new folder ready to send to the client. More and more that folder is a Dropbox one and I will give the link to the images to the client. For news jobs I can simply FTP the images (having saved them at a smaller size) and for some commercial clients that means burning the pictures to a DVD or CD. However they are delivered, the images are correctly sized, nicely prepared from the RAW files and properly captioned and renamed. All of this is done quickly and efficiently without damaging any originals.

When the urgency of the edit is over, I copy the files to a RAID drive in my office, to a portable drive that lives in my car and to a third drive which is away from my office ‘just in case’. I might then treat myself to a coffee…

Updating my folio and painting the Forth Bridge

folio_screen_grab

In the UK we have a saying that describes a never-ending task “painting the Forth Bridge”. The idea is simple; once the painters have finished painting the bridge, it’s time to start back at the other end which has been weathering for a number of years by then. Keeping your own portfolio up-to-date is a similar task. There are so many ways to present your work and none of them are perfect and so I keep tinkering with content, layout and even the technology. Five years ago it was Flash and then basic HTML code and then a bit of Javascript and now it is a combination of everything except Flash. My idea is that I want to be able to update easily and regularly without having to format and code stuff. Preparing the images is done using a couple of Photoshop Actions and then the images themselves are inserted into a “slider” which is set to play automatically but which can be stopped and images can be picked out for a closer inspection.

I would be very interested in any views and opinions that anyone has about the site and the way it works. It isn’t an exact science but I think that I’m getting closer to understanding how it all works. Of course photographers are their own worst editors and I suspect that the content will annoy many of you. Whatever you think, let me have it.

The bridge is freshly painted, I’m having a day or two off and then I’m going to start again. One of these days I might even change the colour…