styles

iPad workflow part two

Apple’s Lightning to SD Card and USB3 to Camera adapters

A few weeks ago I promised to keep working on my iPad workflow and keep readers of this blog up-to-date with my thoughts. Lot of other things have got in the way lately but here is the second instalment. I’ve decided to break the whole process down into four parts:

  • Getting the images onto the iPad
  • Toning and captioning them
  • Getting the pictures to where they are needed
  • My conclusions and (hopefully) a settled workflow

The accessories that I’ve used to import images from memory cards onto an iPad for photo editing.Because I’m vaguely logical, I’m going to tackle them in order and so I’m going to outline the ways that I have looked at getting my pictures onto the iPad. Because this is an examination of the possibilities I’m going to consider all of my options and because I’m a Canon user I will tend to lean towards the options for EOS cameras although much of what I’m talking about is not make specific. I have experimented with several ways to get the pictures onto the iPad and I’ve tried all of them as JPEGs and RAW files too:

  1. Plugging a USB cable from the camera via an Apple adapter into the iPad’s Lightning port
  2. Using an Apple Lightning SD card reader
  3. Plugging either an SD or Compact Flash card into the Apple adapter via a card reader using an external power supply
  4. Using the Canon wifi (built-in on the EOS 5D MkIV and EOS6D, via the W-E1 SD device on a 7D MkII and using the WFT-E8 on an EOS1DX MkII)
  5. Via FTP into specific applications using the relevant functions on the EOS5D MkIV, 7D MkII and 1DX MkII
  6. Using an Eye-Fi Mobi card or one of the other after market SD transmitters

Some of the accessories discussed in this post.

Six options which, in different situations, all have their advantages and disadvantages and from the photo above you can see that it all adds up to quite a bit of extra kit should you decide to have everything that you need for every eventuality (and the photo isn’t even complete as it is missing the various SD cards, wifi adapters and the USB camera cable).

What I’d like to do is to go through each option and what you need to make it work and then discuss the pros and cons of each option – so here we go:

  1. Plugging a USB cable from the camera via an Apple adapter into the iPad’s Lightning port: For this you need the Apple Lightning to USB3 camera adapter and a USB cable suitable for your camera. From there it is simple; you connect everything up and the iPad should automatically recognise that there’s a camera connected and show you thumbnails of the photographs with the option to import all of just the selected images. The advantage is the simplicity but that is balanced by the fact that you have to wait for every single thumbnail to load (which is slow with RAW files) before you can do anything. You also have no control over the size of the thumbnails that I can see and you have no way of viewing the images larger to select which ones you want to import. All imports have to go through the Apple Photos app on the iOS device which is sometimes inconvenient.
  2. Using an Apple Lightning SD card reader: This is similar to the first option in that you have one single and very simple adapter, into which you can slot an SD card. It also uses the Apple Photos app which again means quite a slow build if you have dozens of images and no option to view them larger in order to select which pictures you need. The other disadvantage is that you have to shoot the pictures to an SD card – which isn’t a great option if you have a camera without the right slot or if you have set your cameras up to record the images needed onto a different card format.
  3. Plugging either an SD or Compact Flash card into the Apple adapter via a card reader using an external power supply: This uses the same Apple Lightning to USB3 camera adapter that the first option uses but has the advantage of allowing you to then plug in any type of USB3 card reader. Back on the downside you also have to plug in some sort of power supply and you have to be careful which power supply you choose. I have four different charging blocks and/or power packs with USB output here and only one of them worked reliably with this method – and even then only on one of the two different USB power outputs. The power bank that worked was an EasyAcc PB10000C and it was the 1.5amp port. I am going to try a newer model to see if that’s OK too. The main advantages and disadvantages of this method in use are the same as the first two given that you have to use the Apple Photos app but you have to add the extra weight of the power bank and extra cables and card readers too.
  4. Using the Canon wifi (built-in on the EOS 5D MkIV and EOS6D, via the W-E1 SD device on a 7D MkII and using the WFT-E8 on an EOS1DX MkII): This method requires the Canon Camera Connect app and of course the basic wifi connectivity that comes with some cameras but which requires Wireless Adapters for others. Once set up and providing there’s not too much wifi pollution this option works really well with one camera at a time. Because you go through the Canon app it recognises star ratings applied to images in the camera which can be used to drastically speed up the workflow when the app is set to show the rated images first. Importing JPEG files this way is really fast and very easy. RAW files take three or four times as long but the process still works well.
  5. Via FTP into specific applications using the relevant functions on the EOS5D MkIV, 7D MkII and 1DX MkII: Both Shuttersnitch and FSN Pro (and probably other apps) have the option to set your iOS device running those apps as an FTP receiving device. This requires more sophisticated wifi connectivity (currently only the EOS5D MkIV has this built-in) and can cost hundreds of pounds per camera to get this working. Once you have the equipment and have set the cameras up you can choose to send selected images or everything on a given memory card to the iPad where the apps can start to do some work in the background for you. I won’t lie and tell you that setting these apps up is anywhere near as easy as plugging a cable in but the advantages are many. You avoid the Apple Photos App, can connect with multiple suitably equipped cameras without swapping cards, cables or settings and the background processing that Shuttersnitch in particular can do is a potential time-saver.
  6. Using an Eye-Fi Mobi card or one of the other after market SD transmitters: Three or four years ago I was very keen on the Eye-Fi SD cards and used them every day in Canon EOS5D MkIII cameras. The original cards were effectively emasculated by the manufacturers and replaced with their Mobi range. These still have their uses if you want to offload images to an iOS device via their Keenai app. They can suffer from being overpowered by nearby and much stronger wifi signals but where they work they are extremely simple and very effective. Setting them up is easy and they will transfer either JPEG (all versions) and RAW (the pro version) as you shoot them. I currently use my Eye-Fi Mobi card with a Fujifilm X100S and it makes for a good pairing. I shoot just RAW on the camera and then do an in-camera JPEG conversion on a small selection which the Mobi then transfers to the waiting Keenai app. Toshiba and one or two other manufacturers sell SD based wifi image transmitters too although my experience with them is limited I can say that they also work pretty well where there are no super-strong signals operating on the same band. There is also an option to customise them and, whilst I have not gone down this route yet, I am told that it can be very effective.

That’s quite a lot of information to take in and, having played with all of the options, I am strongly leaning towards option 4 for most of the work and option 5 when I have very tight deadlines to work to. Bits of cable and adapters are fine for occasional use but wireless connectivity when you are running around shooting is less of a hassle. I have spent a lot of time using option 4 over the last twelve months and I am pretty good at getting it working as well as fault-finding if it doesn’t.

The complexity of getting the images from the camera into the right apps on the iPad is one of the reasons why I still think about using an iPad for editing as a second option and one only to be used for a few rapid image offloads. For those who ask why I am avoiding the Apple Photos app as much as I can the answer is that you don’t get to see the images as anything other than a small thumbnail to choose which images you want and because the app doesn’t recognise the star ratings that you can apply in-camera to distinguish between the pictures you want and the rest. Canon’s Camera Connect gives you that option and it is small details like this that make the difference between an app being good to work with and not being so good. I am told that Nikon’s equivalent app is Ok too but I have yet to use it.

 

Shooting fish in a barrel

London. January 2011. © Neil Turner

In 2008 when I had just left my staff job at TSL I was asked by a reporter working for a photographic magazine about what I intended to do with my career. I pointed out that I had an enormous amount of experience working in schools and universities and that in my time working for the Times Educational Supplement, Times Higher Education Supplement and Nursery World Magazine I had shot pictures in over 3,000 places of learning in at least 13 countries and that it seemed like a “no-brainer” to market myself as a photographer specialising in those areas. Plenty of prospectuses and websites as well as editorial shoots later my tally of educational visits and shoots tops 3,500 and I’m still in love with the genre. The reporter asked what special skills I had that made me good at that part of the job and my response was that if you can’t get great pictures of kids then you really shouldn’t be a photographer because it was “shooting fish in a barrel“.

A few days ago I made the same claim to another photographer who questioned my assertion. His point was that although the subject matter lent itself to nice pictures the rest of the set-up in schools and colleges tended to be somewhat more challenging. He pointed out that the light was rarely great and that the surroundings were often cluttered and busy. He also pointed out that there can be lots of legal and ethical issues and his own personal problem was that he couldn’t get the kids to ignore him enough of the time. He was right. The light is usually less than ideal and most classrooms are busy places with their walls covered and with all sorts of distractions – all obstacles to well composed and well lit pictures. I’ve worked in so many schools that maybe I just assume that children and even young adults aren’t remotely interested in me or what I’m doing – or at least once I explain that I’m not going to be able to get them on TV!

Shooting in a classroom requires some basic skills:

  1. Working with the ambient light
  2. Being able to get some extra light in that doesn’t completely disrupt what’s going on
  3. Having the ability to make pictures from what is already happening
  4. Setting up pictures when everything else fails

Everyone wants the pictures to look natural and everyone wants it to look as if there’s some great hard work going on. Every time I go to shoot a prospectus I get the same thing from the head teacher or their marketing people; make the children look as if they are happy and working hard and definitely not grinning for the camera. Nine times out of ten they select those grinning pictures because happy trumps serious almost every time. In a brochure that landed on my desk three weeks ago there were eighteen pictures in it. Seventeen of them were shot by me in one day and the other one was an architects photo of the newly refurbished building. Twelve of the pictures taken by me showed kids looking happy and engaged and four of the other five were portraits of staff and governors. The last of my pictures showed a child head-down and working hard.

Younger kids are definitely easier to take pictures of – in fact at the TES we had a saying “with acne comes attitude” and it was always tougher to make great pictures once the children became teenagers with all of the insecurities and hang-ups that come with that age. That was never quite as true when you were working overseas and it was always a huge privilege to witness education in action on other continents.

Choral scholars, Cambridgeshire, July 2008. © Neil Turner/TSL.

Previously on this blog I wrote about three important things that make a photograph and shooting in schools is a wonderful example of having to work hard to make two of them (light and composition) work for you when the third (subject matter) is usually pulling it’s weight. Sometimes you get lucky but, in my experience, most of the time you don’t. Thirty years ago I shot my first paid commission in a school just four years after I was a pupil in one. It’s funny and ironic in equal measure that I used to get into trouble for having a camera at school. I didn’t take many pictures during lessons but I do have a lovely archive of friends and teachers from my sixth-form years and I often wonder if that’s where my love of shooting in schools comes from.

Outdoor education centre, Dorset. April 2014.


Masindi, Uganda © Neil Turner/TSL Education. April 2005.


Nursery School, Kent. ©Neil Turner/TSL. January 2005


School playground, Surrey. ©Neil Turner. June 2011.

I don’t put many photos of children on this blog and when I do they tend to have been published elsewhere first and/or be from a few years ago. I’m still shooting as many jobs in schools as I can and I have a portfolio of school and college work sitting right here on my hard drive for when I get enquiries. If you’d like to talk about commissioning me to come and shoot your fish in your barrel, no matter what the light is like please get in touch.

You can also see a slideshow of headteachers and other education leaders that I put together a few years ago here.

The third kit fetish

The Phottix 70cm collapsible beauty dish, adapted to fit an Elinchrom Ranger Quadra head.

Everyone knows about the fetish for camera bags shared by most photographers and anyone who has read this blog will know about my own personal one for card readers but there is a third one that has been exercising me of late. I have mentioned it quite a few times over the years and a particular need to have a repeatable set up has led me down this particular equipment rabbit hole once again.

I’m talking about lighting. I’m talking specifically about light modifiers. Those umbrellas, snoots, dishes, soft boxes and hybrid gadgets that you place on the fronts of your flash units in order to control and improve the light.

On our first day in the studio at college back in 1984 we were banned from fixing anything to the lights. Instead we had to place screens and diffusers in the optimum position independently from the light source so that we learned that there was no such thing as the perfect soft box, swimming pool or snoot. By inching a diffuser backwards or forwards by a small margin you could change the quality of the light considerably and you could use all sorts of flags and reflectors to stop the stray light from going where you didn’t want or need it. That was in the studio and that was a very long time ago. As soon as the restrictions about not using ready-made light modifiers was lifted we all sprinted for the big fabric soft boxes and rigid swimming pools and most never looked back.

Unfortunately I was left with a feeling that every time I used a light modifier I am making some really important and potentially detrimental mistakes. I blame the knowledge that I gained about the subtlety of light modification that I acquired in term one, year one of my formal photographic education for the dissatisfaction that I feel with every convenient and portable accessory that I own – and I own a lot of them. A brief headcount yesterday produced the following:

  • Four translucent or shoot through umbrellas
  • Two convertible umbrellas
  • Three reflective or bounce off umbrellas
  • One umbrella box
  • Two rigid beauty dishes
  • One folding beauty dish
  • Two square soft boxes
  • Two rectangular soft boxes
  • Three hexagonal soft boxes
  • Two strip soft boxes
  • Seven reflectors
  • One snoot
  • Three sets of grids
  • Two sets of barn doors
  • Nine reflectors

I have probably forgotten about some others but you get the idea; too many options, no clear direction and no way to always ensure that I have the right one with me at all times. Therefore the compromise is almost always to bring the two or three most versatile with me and have another three or four in the car before making the best of what I have.

This, surely, begs the question about which is my favourite. The answer is as simple as it is shocking. None of the above. My favourite way to work is often to use lights in a way that doesn’t give the signature look of a soft box or an umbrella. I like to bounce. Walls, ceilings, walls and ceilings or any one of a dozen other types of surface will almost always get my vote if I’m shooting a one-off creative image. I have written about my love of large pale surfaces and of using pretty much anything around as a bounce surface and it has become so important to me that creating a ‘look’ has become something I’ve had to work at. I know that something like 33% of photographers rock up and set up their lights complete with their favourite modifier and get on with the pictures and that another 33% turn up and shoot with available light. Many of the rest base their shooting options on what they find and choose between flash with their main modifiers or no flash at all. I like to think that I’m in a small group who will look around for ‘bounceable’ surfaces and go down that route as a matter of preference.

From my list of available light modifiers you can see that I never give up on my quest for ‘the one’ – the light modifier that will make sense of them all. I bought a new one this week and I’m off to use it today. Let’s hope that it both surprises and delights me and that the surprise and delight lead to being able to ignore some of those 1984 college year one, term one lessons

Hands and portraits

John Redwood MP, photographed during an interview in January 1994. © Neil Turner/Insight.

John Redwood MP, photographed during an interview in January 1994. © Neil Turner/Insight.

It’s January 2017 and like most photographers I am looking forward to the year with a mix of excitement and trepidation. What kinds of challenging and interesting projects are going to come my way in the next eleven and a half months? How is my work going to develop? Am I going to get enough work to pay the bills? Big questions that add to the roller-coaster of emotions that being freelance brings out.

One of the things that I always try to do is look back at some of last year’s work and compare it to older stuff and try to come up with some thoughts that help me to understand my own style better and to make sure that I don’t get tripped up by the same old mistakes. There’s a question that pops into my head about this time every year and it is one that I think that I am finally happy to answer:

What do you do with hands in editorial style portraits?

Almost every time that I shoot a portrait I try to give the client/editor as much choice as I can. Tight head and shoulders only portraits are one thing but what about wider compositions where the subject’s arms and hands start to feature? How should I get people, who don’t do it naturally, to pose? I quite like to keep some pictures as tight as I can and so folded arms are really useful because they bring the hands and arms higher up the body allowing me to frame the photographs that bit tighter. Nine times out of every ten that you ask someone to fold their arms you end up having a conversation about body language and lots of corporate types have been told by their PR people that folded arms look defensive. If only all things were that simple: folded arms bad/hands in pockets good just doesn’t work in photography. Folded arms in pictures can appear defensive but they can also appear as positives – they can be friendly, strong, loving, confident, feeling cold and so many other things. On the negative side they can appear aggressive, angry, lacking in confidence and forced. If you put “body language folded arms” into your favourite search engine you’ll get a few thousand articles written from a few hundred different perspectives telling you that folded arms can mean a number of different things and that context matters. Like so many things in life, it is a matter of judgement and skill and in the photographic portrait it is definitely a matter of getting the relationship between the folded arms, the composition and the facial expression right.

I can understand why PR people are wary of folded arms because they can go hideously wrong but you should never rule out a fantastic photographic tool just because it can be misused.

What about hands in pockets?

I’ve already mentioned hands in pockets. This, by the very fact that the hands are further away from the face, gives a wider composition and some people look great when relaxing hands in pockets whilst others look awkward. That’s where the skill of the portraitist comes into its own; working out who does what well and getting them to trust your judgement when photographing them that way. The difference between lazy and relaxed isn’t that great and you need to train yourself to distinguish between the two.

Over the last twelve months I have been asked to shoot a lot of pictures where the subject has their hand on their chin/lips/ears/hair (mirroring one of the least appealing ‘selfie’ trends appearing all over social media) or where they are cupping their face with their elbows on a table or the back of a chair. It isn’t something I would naturally ask someone to do but if they naturally do it themselves then I will often work with it and see if it makes the picture. Sometimes it comes off but it mostly looks contrived and, quite frankly, a bit naff. Did I say a bit naff? I meant a lot naff.

What else can you do?

One of the most useful ways to shoot portraits is to do it when the subject is talking to you or to someone else and gets a bit animated. Hands suddenly move away from being a potential problem to be a massive asset. Again you have to be a bit careful about what kind of gesture because we all know that pointing fingers, waving two fingers or forming a fist can be misinterpreted very quickly but, if you are in the business of portraying someone as they really are then their subconscious hand movements are a very useful way of getting there quickly.

Jacqueline Wilson receives up to 400 letters from young readers each week and does her best to answer as many of them personally as she can. © Neil Turner/TSL

Jacqueline Wilson receives up to 400 letters from young readers each week and does her best to answer as many of them personally as she can. © Neil Turner/TSL

Back in the mid 1990s I even shot just people’s hands on several occasions. Lots of people were exploring the same idea and several photographers did it far more assiduously and successfully than me. It is, however a great exercise for two reasons: the first is that it gets you notice that people have character in bits of their body other than their faces and the second is that shooting their hands can help to relax more nervous subjects.

Of course you can get the subject to clasp their hands gently on front of them or behind their backs. Hands on hips works about 2% of the time and almost always requires a smile

You may have noticed that I’ve used words like useful and often and sometimes a lot in this short post. That’s deliberate because there really are very few hard and fast rules in good portraiture. Getting people’s hands into the frame is something that I love to do (not a January 2017 revelation) and portraying people as themselves is a primary goal (probably a January 1987 thought). Great portraits rely on a number of factors working together and getting something that is a lot stronger than the sum of its parts.

My January 2017 goal for the year is to get better at the way hands appear in my portraits. I’m not going to shy away from folded arms, hands on hips or anything else but I’m not going to ask anyone to touch their lips or in any other way pose as if they were a teenager doing a selfie that they’ll regret in six months time.

Want to see more? My portraits portfolio can be seen here.

Photography compared to…

160408-fairground-074

BOURNEMOUTH, DORSET. 08 April 2016. A fairground on Redhill Common. © Photo Neil Turner – Freelance photographer.

When you try to explain concepts in photography to someone who isn’t deeply embedded in the art/craft/science/passion it makes sense to find something else top compare it to. My favourite comparisons are driving, cooking and sport.

Driving is something most of us do and, on the whole, we do it without having to think too much about the basics. I’ve talked about it before so I’ll quickly recap my thoughts:

Changing gear, using the indicators, knowing when to use windscreen wipers and headlights are all pretty much done on auto-pilot whilst we think more consciously about road awareness, speeds, traffic, navigation and much else besides. The comparison to photography is an easy one to make because there are basic controls that we like to think are second nature; exposure, focusing, making sure we have memory cards and batteries whilst composition and anticipating things happening in front of your camera (and often off to the side and behind you) are things that require more conscious thought.

Tempting though it is to continue stretching the analogy I want to move onto cooking. All pictures have some basic ingredients and the skill of photography is to take those basics, add some interesting extras and know how to combine them and serve them up. That’s the schmultzy bit out of the way. Great chefs (and I’ve photographed a few and dined in the restaurants of several) are constantly looking for new twists and the odd exotic ingredient whilst making food that serves the joint purpose of feeding and engaging diners. Mediocre chefs overdo it, use too many trendy techniques and ingredients at the same time and generally fail in the main task of presenting good food where substance and style are in balance. The rest of us when cooking do the same old dishes, warm up too many ready meals and generally avoid any pretence of culinary ambition or expertise.

I’m pretty sure that I don’t even need to draw the comparisons between cooking and photography except to say that I’d almost rather have the gourmet food and the home cooked stuff all of the time and miss out the self-regarding nonsense in the middle. Restaurant critics and food writers have a lot in common with people who write pretentious twaddle about photography. This is one analogy that can go on for a long time.

So what about sport? I am sitting and writing this on the day of the opening ceremony for the 2016 Rio Olympics thinking of my many friends and colleagues who are already there working as photographers, editors and photo managers. They will be watching/photographing/witnessing some of the finest athletes in the word today. Athletes that have spent years perfecting their skills and getting themselves into peak condition being photographed by many of the finest photographers who have also spent years getting to where they are today.

Comparing photography to sports isn’t so much about finding similarities – it’s more about the differences. When you run 400 metres as a professional nothing much changes. Tracks are tracks and running shoes develop little by little. I know that diet, training and off-track activities change but, essentially, the principal task remains the same because running one lap of a track as fast as possible is what it is; tremendously tough but always the same. Photographing that event is a constantly changing thing. From black and white to colour, from manual focus to auto-focus and now we have to shift the pictures extremely rapidly too. Technology means that day-to-day, week-to-week and year-to-year shooting the same kind of job changes. An athlete remains at the top of their game for a relatively short time whilst the best photographers are around for decades. A swimmer attending their third or fourth Olympics is news whereas a photographer doing that would be just getting started!

Comparing apples with bananas has value when trying to explain the wider art and craft of photography to someone whose experience has been the odd compact camera and their smartphone. Right now I need to go and explain why it takes at least three hours to do the post-production on a six hour shoot and why I can’t just give the client some rough Jpegs. Anyone got a compelling analogy for that?

So I bought a Canon 7D MkII

I wrote a long blog post about this time last year talking about the choice between three of Canon’s full-frame DSLR cameras. At that stage in my work I couldn’t imagine buying another crop frame camera after selling my original EOS7D and giving my opinion of it as “loving everything about the camera apart from the image quality above 800 ISO”. Well, hold the front page – the EOS7D Mk II can handle ISOs a fair bit higher than 800.

Cropped area of approximately a frame shot at 3200 ISO blown up to 100%

Cropped area of approximately a frame shot at 3200 ISO blown up to 100%

In the frame above shot at 3200 ISO you can see some noise in the out of focus areas but it isn’t nasty and it isn’t overwhelming. In the sample shot under ‘press conference’ conditions at 1600 ISO I think that the camera performed brilliantly. I would say that the MkII is at least two stops better in low light than the original 7D and maybe a bit more under certain lighting conditions and those two stops are the difference between a camera that is very usable as an every day available light camera and one that isn’t.

So far I have been delighted with it. I’ve used it on ten assignments already and it is rapidly becoming one of those things that goes into the bag first. Married with f4 L series zooms with the image stabilisation turned on I have been deeply impressed with this camera. The AF is brilliant, the shutter is responsive and shooting video with this camera has been the best DSLR video experience I’ve ever had.

Cropped area of approximately a quarter of a frame shot at 1600 ISO blown up to 100%

Cropped area of approximately a quarter of a frame shot at 1600 ISO blown up to 100%

I’m not saying that this camera can, in any way, compete with something like an EOS5D MkIII or even an EOS6D but it is a lot better than the original 7D and I’d be happy to use it at 3200 ISO on a job if I needed to. I bought the camera for other reasons than its high ISO performance (AF performance, speed, video performance and price) but this was a nice surprise. I won’t be parting with any of my full frame Canons but my prejudice against the APS-C format just disappeared in 1/200th of a second.