Archive for January 2013

No business like snow business!

It’s snowing! Well…it was…but there’s not quite so much of it any more…I’m still hopeful that we’ll get some more though! Back in February 2009 I had my first ever “snow day” where I couldn’t get into work and I was forced to play in the snow in Sevenoaks and build this snowman (it’s a hard life!):

snowySevenoaks017

Since then I’ve had several opportunities to photograph snow and over that time I’ve learned that the following few tips that I wrote back in 2009 still stand when shooting the white stuff.

  • Exposure – It’s quite difficult to get photos of snow looking as white as it actually is. The automatic metering on a camera goes ‘oooh, I see lots of white, therefore I must be over-exposing this image’. So it’s necessary to compensate in the other direction. Open up the aperture by a fraction of an f-stop, or by 1 f-stop. Most digital cameras have an option to do this, and most of the photos I take in the snow average 1 f-spot of compensation.
  • Light – Light and shadow is even more important than with normal photography, as the range of colours is diminished (mainly white), so try to keep the composition interesting. A splash of colour in an otherwise white photo always works well.
  • Protection – Keep your camera protected! This is essential. It’s often been snowing pretty hard for some of the time I have been shooting snow, so I make sure that I am quick with shots, and between shots I keep the camera covered. I also allow a little time for the camera to get used to the colder temperature outside so that the lens won’t steam up. Also, protect your batteries – they don’t like the cold, so keep any spares very close to your body.

Since 2009 I’ve had several opportunities to see “proper snow”, with my favourite being a New Year trip to Riga in Latvia a couple of years ago. The depth of snow there could be measured in feet rather than inches, even though it was regularly carted away to places outside the city. Amongst several standard winter scenes that I photographed, my favourite from the trip has to be this one, taken from the Sky bar in Riga.

rigaNYE2010081

In the next few days Kiri and I intend to actually start using our Flickr account (flickr.com/lightbulbheaduk) and we’ll upload some of our snow pictures from previous years.

For now, we’ll sit in the warmth, charge up the camera batteries and hope to get some good photos of the snow tomorrow when there’s a fresh new blanket. Love it!

KISS

When I started taking photos properly, I didn’t really know much about cameras or photography. What was the relationship between aperture and shutter speed? How could I vary how much of the picture is in focus (later understood as “depth of field”)? How would I know when to use flash? What did the different lens numbers mean (I’ve now got a watch with these numbers on!)?

basiccamera

I found some of the answers in a book – Keep it Simple Guide to Photography. It’s a very basic book, but has some great examples, and it makes photography accessible for the beginner. I can really recommend it for anyone wanting to make more out of their existing camera, or anyone wanting to take the step from compact to SLR. In fact, I’ve recommended it to so many people over the years that I should probably get commission…aside from the fact that you can buy it for a penny at Amazon!

I say that I found some of the answers in there – but I don’t think you can fully learn photography from a book. It’s by taking loads of photos and making lots of mistakes that I’ve properly learned and that’s what I’d recommend.

But…photography is so much more than understanding your way around a camera. Some of the basic philosophies around photography that I stated in a blog post in 2008 still stand:

  • Practice the art of seeing – so often in this digital world where you can take hundreds of pictures without paying the earth, people just take photos. I know I shouldn’t be bothered by it, but it makes me sad to see people absently pointing their phone at something and clicking the button whilst not even looking.
  • Kill the phrase “I’ll fix it in Photoshop” – composition and lighting can all be changed after a shot, but you can save so much time by getting it right in the camera. I’m a real traditionalist in this respect, and don’t do any post-processing (aside from occasionally removing sensor dust from my photos)…but I find myself being more sloppy with digital photos than I am if I’ve got a film camera in my hand.
  • Style happens, don’t think about it – when I first started taking photos, I didn’t think about style, then I went through a stage where I was obsessed with “finding my own style”, and my pictures deteriorated in quality. I then forgot about style, and my own style emerged!
  • Examine your own photos– once you’ve taken a picture, look at it afterwards. I don’t just mean glance at it – critique it. Decide what you like about it, decide what you don’t, and then use what you’ve learned when taking more photos! Don’t just stop at your own photos – do the same with other people’s photos (but don’t be rude!)

Obviously you never stop learning and developing (pardon the pun) your photographic style, but I think the book and the basic philosophies got me started along the right track.

WordPress plugin geek alert

I was considering starting this blog post with an apology for it being a bit geeky…but actually that’s not something that I should apologise for – I should celebrate it. So, in true geek style, I thought I would share what I think are the best core WordPress plugins as we start 2013. Oh – before I start, I should probably say that I’m not associated with any of the providers of these plugins, so they’re not paying me to promote them.

Image gallery plugins
Most websites that we (Kiri and I) have worked on have required some kind of image gallery. When I wrote my previous photography website (in the days before Kiri), I wrote the gallery functionality from scratch in PHP, but it didn’t have a particularly usable admin interface as I knew I’d be the only one uploading to it. However, we needed something more user-friendly for sites that other people would be updating. WordPress does have its own native gallery, but I think it is no co-incidence that if you perform a search for “gallery” within wordpress.org, the top result is the NextGEN gallery plugin. The flexibility that it provides in the admin interface is great, with the ability to organise images into albums and galleries, update the thumbnails etc. I’ve made a few tweaks to the CSS and navigation between pictures on a couple of our sites, but think it’s great in its raw form too.

nextgen

Search plugins
Not all websites require a search functionality – in fact there’s an argument for leaving out the option to search, which allows visitors to use their favourite search engines, whether that be Google, Bing or Lycos (ah, flashback to the late 90s!). Now I’m aware that WordPress again has native search functionality, but in line with the inner workings of WordPress, the results are sorted by date. In this day and age, we’re used to search results being returned with the most relevant links up at the top – step up Relevansii. Once again, it’s got a lovely admin interface and it’s very easy to integrate.

relevanssi

Social media “sharing” plugins
In a world where social media is king, you want to be sharing your content with the world. Actually, scrub that. You want your visitors to be sharing your content with the world. It’s got to be easy for them to share your words of wisdom with all of their friends on Facebook, Twitter and Friends Reunited (wow, I really am having a throw-back day here). There are loads of companies begging to help you with that so you don’t have to add individual buttons to your site. Most have catchy names like addthis or sharethis – doing what they say on the tin. Something else that does what it says on the tin is sexy bookmarks. Sadly, since I started using this plugin several years ago, they’ve renamed it to “Shareaholic“, but it will always be sexy to me. You get to choose which social media sites you feature and which bits of your site you want shareable, and you’re sorted. Boom.

shareaholic

Cookie compliance plugin
In May 2011 the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations were updated with regards to their cookie policy (cookies are the crumbs of information that websites store on your computer so they recognise you when you visit the site again). This meant that websites have to ask the visitor’s permission before putting a cookie on their computer. Now that’s quite a bit of work for website owners to do, and for users to click “yes, I agree” on every website…so the Information Commissioner’s Office updated the guidance in May 2012 saying that actually implied consent will do. As WordPress is designed to remember someone’s name when they comment on a site, WordPress sites require a warning about cookies. I’ll be honest, I haven’t found any great plugins to warn users yet, but the best one I’ve found (aside from the spelling mistake in the word “compliance” and some CSS validation errors) is the EU Cookie Law Complience Message plugin where you can customise the warning and provide a link to your own compliance page (or the ICO website).

cookies

Anti-SPAM plugin
Before Askimet started charging for businesses to use their plugin, I probably would have recommended them (and I guess I would still recommend them for personal blogs), but actually, I’m quite happy with the in-built WordPress SPAM handling. I can’t really explain why in any better way than a blog post at oneextrapixel.com does…so I won’t!

And there you have it – my favourite WordPress plugins. I’m now going to go and do something ungeeky like…ummm…ummm…you know what, who am I kidding? I’m off to gizmodo.co.uk to check out the latest gadget offerings from CES!

400

Four hundred. That’s the number of blog posts that I wrote for srphotos.co.uk in the last 5 and a half years, and in the last year of that, there have been fewer than 30 posts. That’s a lot of blog posts that I don’t really want to get rid of as part of the merge with Lightbulb Head, accounting for a good few hours of my life! It’s lucky that I don’t have to – Kiri has said she’ll make a book out of them, creating the story of srphotos.co.uk.

srphotos

However, within that vat of old blog posts, there are a few which are still pertinent today, others which are amusing to read in hindsight (think technology predictions!) and others which, quite frankly, deserve to be dropped on the floor. So, my plan is to choose some of the better posts, update them and pop them up here, but don’t worry, you won’t get all of them! I’ll start with one about my camera equipment.

Back in January 2008 (almost 5 years ago to the day) I wrote about my cameras as the most frequent question I was asked was “what camera do you use?” followed by “what do you recommend I should buy?”. I’m still asked these questions today, and I’ll come on to recommendations in a bit, but firstly, this is how my kit bag has changed:

  • Main digital camera – back in 2008, this was my trusty Nikon D50 – I still regard this as a cracking piece of kit, but I sold it to my brother-in-law. Nowadays my main digital camera is a Nikon D700
  • Main film camera – a Canon AT-1 that was my Father’s and Grandfather’s was the answer in 2008 and it’s the same answer today – it’s doing well considering it’s around 30 years old
  • Backup digital camera – I don’t think you could call my Canon Powershot A510 a backup camera, but it was the only other digital camera I owned. Now I have a Nikon D5100 that I use both as a backup, but also as my main camera when I have to think about weight of equipment
  • Backup film camera – funny story here – the answer in the original blog post was a Canon AV-1. Between then and now, I have owned every single camera in the Canon A-series (A-1, AE-1, AE-1 Program, AL-1, AT-1, AV-1) – they are beautiful items, but it did get a bit silly. I’ve now downsized again, and have just the A-1 as a backup
  • Lenses – I’ve got largely the same lenses for my film cameras – 28mm-70mm, 70mm-210mm and 50mm. Digital is where there’s been the biggest change – back in 2008 I had an 18mm-55mm. Now I’ve got an 18mm-200mm VR lens (almost welded to my D5100 – the best all-round lens I’ve owned), a 50mm, a 24mm-70mm f2.8 and an 80mm-200mm f2.8. They weigh a tonne!

So that’s the kit, but what about recommendations? Please feel free to let me know what you want to be taking photos of, and I’m happy to make individual recommendations. What I will reveal is that I intend to buy a new compact camera soon and the Panasonic Lumix TZ30 looks very attractive!

Slo-go

Last January I made my official move into graphic design by setting up Lightbulb Head as a business and becoming a freelancer. Full of flare and enthusiasm for this new venture, I started to think about how I might apply suitable branding to my business and I set to work designing a logo. I pondered long and hard, sketched out countless ideas and even experimented with new techniques, but found myself continuously dissatisfied with the results. I’ll admit that I’m an outright perfectionist with no desire to be cured, which can be both a hindrance and a help in my line of work, but the main spanner in the works at the time was that Lightbulb Head had only just been born and was yet to show its identity – I couldn’t quite pin down what visual form it should take.

Before long, the projects poured in and I ran out of time to work on my own design and branding. The logo remained a half-cooked plan and got shoved to the back of my to-do list… until now.

Lightbulb Head logo (black)

Perhaps driven by the dawning of a brand new year, or perhaps by my proactive husband (who is actually my polar-opposite when it comes to procrastination… we make a good team!), we’re proud to announce the completion of Lightbulb Head’s new logo.

The idea of simply using the image of a light-bulb hanging by its cable came to us once many of our more complicated ideas had been thrown out. Light is actually a very basic and fundamental thing and we decided we’d like to try and reflect this (our ethos) in our branding. The logo really sprang to life when we applied the font ‘Pompiere’ by Sorkin Type Co, its lengthy ascenders echo the image of the cable beautifully and could be interpreted as long shadows cast by the light-bulb.

The image below shows 5 different versions of the logo and 1 icon, so that it is equipped for every circumstance. Source ‘B’ is our favourite as it shows the characteristics of light (dramatically piercing the the darkness) most accurately.

logo development

All in all, we’re very pleased with the result, but there’s lots of branding work still to be done so we’d better crack on.

Mobile photography

Yesterday we went for a bit of a wander and I thought I would use the inbuilt camera on my Android Wildfire (I’m a little behind the times with phones!) rather than taking a dedicated camera, just to see what it was like. For a start I don’t have any special photo apps on my phone yet – there are just so many out there. This is what I managed to take:

Peckham Rye Common on New Year's Day

What I should probably say is that it took me about 5 minutes to take it by the time I’d taken the phone out of my pocket, unlocked the screen, been distracted by a new text message (well, 2 actually), opened the standard camera app and pointed it in the right direction, worked on a nice composition, unlocked the screen again after the 5 second inactivity time-out, chosen which point I wanted to focus on and then pressed the button. OK, some of that can be attributed to lack of familiarity with the phone, but I can’t help but think that for that amount of faffing around I could have taken a better photo on my DSLR or even a compact camera, whilst having more control over the shot. However…I was able to upload the picture directly to Flickr from the phone, which in turn automatically tweeted it – an obvious benefit.

So, my question to you is – can you recommend any good android apps for taking photos? I’m not talking about photo editing apps, but ones which give you nice control over ISO, shutter speed etc. Answers on the back of a postcard (or just reply below!)