National Geographic – Travel Photographer of the Year

The second-place photograph from the 2013 Traveler Photo Contest (Photograph by Max Seigal)

The second-place photograph from the 2013 Traveler Photo Contest (Photograph by Max Seigal)

The 2014 National Geographic travel photographer of the year contest is now open to entries. As ever (and judging by last years winners) I expect the quality of entries to be awesome and competition will be tight, that said I will certainly be entering the competition because you do have to be in it to win it. Click here to enter the competition, the deadline is June 2014 and the cost is $15 per entry.

Printing: PhotoBox vs DS Colour Labs

Photo Printers

I love printing my photos but it can be very costly and you sometimes end up with disappointing results as what you see on screen doesn’t look like the final print therefore only my best photos ever get printed. In the past I have always used Photobox. I have had very good results from them but  I have always found them to be expensive. Recently at a photo club competition I spoke to somebody about printing and they suggested I try out DS Colour Labs so for next batch of prints I did just that and my prints have just arrived in the post. Here is my review compared to using Photobox:

Quality:

I ordered both lustre and glossy prints. The paper from both are very high quality and the prints are fantastic from both companies. I have always found that Photobox prints tend to be darker than I saw on the screen. This was the case with my glossy prints from DS Colour Labs also however my Lustre (Matt) prints were spot on! I noticed on my order that the glossy prints were not auto corrected whereas the lustre ones were. Therefore its obvious that my colour profiles are incorrect on my computer and DS Colour Labs did do a fine job of auto-correcting the colour for me and they came out as expected.

In comparison I would say that DS Colour Labs have the edge ever so slightly all though there really is not much in it.

Delivery:

Both services offer excellent delivery times. On both occasions the prints have arrived the next day. Photobox package the prints in a tube whereas DS Colour Labs package it in a flat box. The flat box option was so much better simply because my prints remained flat and they were not curled. Photobox does have a later cut off point in which to get your photos to them by in order to guarantee next day delivery and the delivery cost is generally cheaper than DS Colour Labs. That said the fact that the prints come flat from DS Colour Labs is a major plus for me and cost difference for delivery is negligible.

Print Cost:

DS Colour Labs win here by a huge margin. The cost for their prints is a fraction the cost from Photbox. I ordered eight 15×10″ prints from DS Colour labs and with the shipping the cost came to £11.98. The same order would have cost £26.39 with Photobox, that’s well over a 50% saving!. The delivery cost represent 1/3 of the price with DS Colour Labs at £3.99,. so if you are placing an order then it certainly pays to place a larger order to reduce the overall cost per print.

Verdict

I was always really happy with Photobox but DS Colour Labs are by far a better service. The cost for the prints and the overall quality really is second to none. I will be placing another order with them in the near future. I also like the fact that they can print off really large format prints at a really low cost so I will soon be printing much larger prints also. I wish I had heard about this company a long time ago as it would have saved me a lot of money indeed. I doubt you could print your photos at home at a cheaper cost than using these and certainly not with the same quality. If you haven’t used this company and are looking for a viable print solution then I strongly suggest you check them out.

Learning Exposure – Part 1 (Exposure Explained)

Exposure Light

In this small guide series I am going to help unravel the mystery that surrounds the understanding of exposure in photography. People new to photography will hear the term “exposure” and see all the settings on their camera and be baffled by what the numbers mean. This then leads them to putting their camera into auto shooting mode without exploring and unlocking the cameras true potential. If this sounds like you, hopefully this guide will help you gain an understanding of exposure and how mastering exposure will help lead you to taking better and more creative photos.

What is exposure?

In a nutshell an exposure is in fact another term for a photograph or to be precise the amount of light used to create a photograph. To create a photograph you expose the film or digital sensor to light which in turn creates the photograph. The amount of light that enters the camera determines the exposure. If you allow too much light to enter then the photo will be over exposed (too bright) and if you don’t let in enough light the picture will be under exposed (too dark). Therefore once you have an understanding of exposure you will in fact know how much light will be required to create a perfectly exposed photo.

3 Key Exposure Elements

Unfortunatly, to get the right exposure there are a number of different settings within the camera that needs to be understood and how changing these settings affect the amount of light that enters the camera. These settings are as follows:

  • Film Speed (ISO)
    This is how sensative the film/digital sensor is to the light. The higher this number is then the more sensative to light the film/sensor is meaning less light is required to capture the scene.
  • Aperture (f/stop)
    This is how wide the aperure blades opens up within the lens. The lower the number goes, the wider the apeture is and the more light that is let in through the lens. The lowest value allowed is governed by the quality of the lens.
  • Shutter Speed
    This is how much time the shutter is open for thus allowing light to enter the camera. Setting this to a longer time allows more light to hit the film/sensor and vice versa.

Changing these settings influences the amount of light entering the camera but you also need to understand how changing these settings will affect the look and feel and overall quality of the photo. The followup guides will show these in more detail but in a nut shell they are as follows:

Film Speed (ISO)

iso

The lower this number is (ISO 100) then the better the quality the photo is in terms of noise, colour richness and sharpness. As you increase this number then grain like artifacts called noise will appear and the picture will get noisier and less sharp. Noise is an undesirable effect within a photo and if a photo is too noisy it can ruin the photo entirely.  In modern cameras noise is handled very well but if set too high then the quality of the photo can be severely affected rendering them useless for printing in large format. You maybe in situations where you have to crank up the ISO but you need to do this to ensure you get the shot.

Aperture (f/stop)

fstop

You will see numbers like f/2.8 or f/11 in your settings and on your lens. By lowering this number to minimum the lens will allow more light into the camera (if the lens aperure goes down to f/2.8 and below it is considered a fast lens) but you will start to create a shallower depth of field. Increasing this value upwards to f/22 in most cases will allow less light in. Depth of field is essentially how much of the photo is sharp and in focus. If it is shallow then elements in the background start to lose focus and the image will start to become less sharp. As a good rule of thumb, if you are taking landscape shots then you will want your f/stop to be around f/11 so that the image is sharp an in focus from the foregraound to the background. You can play around with this aperture setting to take more creative photos. You may want to pull a single flower away from a busy backgorund which will mean using a lower aperture.

Shutter Speed

ShutterSpeed

Naturally things are moving constantly with time so increasing the amount of time the shutter is open will let more light in but will start to introduce this motion to the photo. The numbers used to set shutter speed change based on time values. Numbers like 1/125 mean the shutter will be open for 1/125th of a second, as you start to increase time this number will change to values like 0.6″ (1 sixth of a second) or 30″ (30 Seconds). Motion within a photo is introduced on long exposures  and will include moving elements within the scene and also camera movement. If you wish to handhold the camera then you will need to set a shutter speed of 1/80 or faster otherwise you will need to mount the camera on a tripod to prevent camera shake ruining the photo. Some lenses will included image stabalisation that help reduce the effects of camera shake. Don’t forget that movement in the scene will always be present regadless of how sturdy the camera is. Again you can be creative with this setting. To create light trails from city traffic or make water look silky then you can increase the shutter speed to get these desired effects or to freeze the action in a sports game then a fast 1/320 shutter speed or faster might achieve that for you.

How to create the perfect exposure

Ok so now we have got to grips with the key settings and how they affect the amount of light to enter the camera, its now time to link all three settings to create a single exposure. The easiest way I tell people about this is to imagine the exposure being a bucket of water with the water representing the amount of light required to create the perfectly exposed photo and the size of this bucket being how much light is available. If it is dark then this bucket will be much bigger than if it is a bright sunny day. Filling the bucket to the top creates the perfect exposure. Not enough water and the photo is underexposed and too much water and the photo is over exposed. But what do we fill this bucket with I hear you ask?

Exposure as Buckets

Imagine each of the key elements being other buckets of water. By adding water from these buckets will create the exposure. If you were to add more from the shutter speed bucket by increasing the time the shutter is open means you will need less from the ISO bucket (lower ISO value) and less from the f/stop bucket (increasing the f/stop). If you wanted to freeze action then you wouldn’t be able to take much water from the shutter speed bucket so you would need to take more water form the ISO bucket (increase value) and f/stop bucket (decrease value). The trick is to take enough from each of these buckets to ensure the exposure is just right, not too much and not too little.

Remember that these buckets will have maximum and minimum amounts of water/light you can take from them. For example if you set your camera to shoot at f/2.8 and your lens won’t go any wider (number won’t go lower) then you have used all the water from that bucket and any shortfall would have to come from the other two buckets.

By playing with the setting you can create perfect exposures under the same conditions but the look and feel of the photo will vary depending on how much you take from each of the buckets.

The next guides will explain the importance of the three key elements and go into more detail about them as well as introduce you to exposure compensation, exposure bracketing,  filters and additional light sources to help manipulate these values to create the shot you desire.

Three Counties Photography Exhibition

Lone Rock on Black Beach

Technorati Code: C4S9ZBWP3ENN

Well it is that time of year again where I enter three photos for into the Three Counties Open Photography Exhibition. This exhbition is run by Keele University and attracts photographers from across Staffordshire, Cheshire and Shropshire of all calibres and style. This will be the third year I will be submitting some photos and I have done well over the years having had all three photos selected in 2011 and one photo selected last year.

This year I am submitting photos that were taken in Iceland, Hong Kong and Macau. I am also submitting an all photos in black and white. The main reason for this is the photos I wanted to exhibit worked the best in black and white and as a photographer I wanted to demonstrate consistency and style. The photos I have entered can be seen in this gallery.

Prizes for the best photos are awarded but to be honest I enter the exhibition so I can see my work up on the wall and other people can enjoy my photography. I would be thrilled if I won a prize but the competition is always tight and the caliber is always high, given the choice I would find it hard to choose a clear winner.

If you live in either Staffordshire, Shropshire or Cheshire and would like more information on entering then head on over to the Keele University site for more info

City Lights

Reflections of the Past

 

What do you think of these photos? As always  I welcome feedback and would love to know what you think.

 

All the gear, no idea!

Camera Stash

When traveling I can guarantee you will always see people walking around shooting on expensive cameras like a Canon 5D MK III. I can also guarantee to my astonishment that some of these people are shooting in auto. Yes that’s right, AUTO!!! If you are going to shoot in auto you may as well purchase a point and shoot because that’s all your camera is in that mode! ** Rant Over **

I find it amazing how people always assume its their camera gear that makes a good photo and that because they have the most expensive gear they will take better photos. This is simply not the case and these people have simply bought into the marketing of the main camera providers. They must have the most megapixels! Why I ask, will they ever print out there pictures to the size the megapixels allow?

I met a Chinese gentleman whilst in Hong Kong who was using a Leica M9 camera (That’s £5000 worth of camera). I found it humorous because he clearly had no idea how to use the camera. He kept saying to me great optics, handmade in Germany yet he hadn’t got an idea on how to use the camera but more worryingly on how to actually control the light that would be on offer for the fireworks.

He asked me what aperture he should be using and what shutter speed. I gladly offered my advice and in the process I got to play around with a Leica M9. I was a little disappointed as the menus seemed limited and the LCD on the back seemed relatively poor for such an expensive camera. I gave him my advice and then asked the gentleman if he had a tripod to which he replied yes! He the proceeded to pull out a flimsy little tripod that you would epxct to come free with a magazine. I tried to help him get the best photos I could but he was always going to be struggling simply because whilst he had a great camera he simply didn’t have the right gear required to finish the shot. I would love to have seen the final outcomes of his photos and I do hope he got some keepers but I did feel he may have got better result by using a camera suited to his ability as a photographer.

My point is this, its the person behind the camera that creates a good photo, the camera is just the tool to record the image. That person needs to be able to read a situation and then know what settings would be best to get the desired results. I shoot  mainly on a Canon 7D, however I experiment with shooting on 120 Film through Holgas and Diana F+ as well as using a Canon G12 and my iPhone, I don’t limit my photography in any way. I have seen some fantastic photos that have been taken on point and shoots and even mobiles.

If there is one piece of advice I would offer to anybody before they delved into purchasing the most expensive camera your budget allows I would suggest that you learn what makes a good photo. Look at the subject and composition, learn about good and bad lighting. Once you have mastered the artform it doesn’t matter what camera you use you will be taking good photos. One thing you will quickly realize is that you will never stop learning and that learning how to pick faults in your own photography is the key to improving it further.

The more expensive cameras simply add an extra degree of creativity to your asenal and don’t forget that if you do buy a high end dSLR then you must match or exceed that with high end optics. The only reason why i don’t have a 5D yet is because I want better glass first.

What do you think? Have you ever come across somebody who has all the gear but clearly has no idea?