Monday, 26 April 2010

Poladroid Revisited

Here is montage of a series of images I shot recently for a workbook I use on one of my portrait photography workshops. After spending an hour or so processing the images to send to Jamie & Kim for their books, I decided to tinker with the killer Poladroid standalone Mac/PC app!

I initially wrote about Poladroid in 2009 and have used it a couple of time since, mainly to get a retro look with some family snaps. All of the above images started life as 6"x4" colour or mono jpeg files which were dropped onto the Poladroid app. The cropping occurs on some images due to the format of the prints - personally I think this adds to the authentic retro look! I've processed some frames two or three times to test the variability of the process, and true to the blurb, the unpredictable results are consistent, if that makes sense?

This app appeals to me because of the flash & sound effects when you begin the process!

Well worth the effort of downloading and having a play, and don't forget that the image files created are large enough to print via your desktop printer or even the local mini-lab.

Bluebell Update

Since my last post regarding Bluebells on 2nd April there are now signs of the early blooms popping up throughout south east England.

The National Trust & Woodland Trust both have dedicated pages on their websites to help you find the best places to visit:

National Trust Bluebell Watch

Woodland Trust Bluebell Wood Finder

I'm planning a short Bluebell Photowalk in the next couple of weeks, more than likely on Saturday 8th or Thursday 13th May. Contact me via the contact page at if you'd like to come along.

And don't forget to keep a watch on this blog and @ianpack on Twitter for news of my rare orchid outdoor photo workshop. I can't give a date for this until I have a better idea when the orchids will be at their best. To register your interest, contact me via the UK Photo Walks website.


Friday, 23 April 2010

Lowepro Pro Runner 300 AW Review

I've been using the Lowepro Pro Runner 300 AW camera back pack for a few weeks now and sad to say it is a great replacement for my trusty Mini Trekker - not the AW version either.

The Pro Runner 300 AW is a well balanced back pack that sits comfortably on the back without the need to secure the sternum strap. There is a large pocket on the outside with two mesh pockets suitable for drinks bottle or whatever. There is a Hideaway TRipod Mount with an adjustable strap, carry handle/haul loop and All Weather cover and two SlipLock loops on the sides all secured with compression straps.
I must confess that when I first saw the Pro Runner 300 AW I doubted that it would carry all the gear I sometimes lug around with me. How wrong can I be? Below are a series of images illustrating what I carried on a photo walk today - normally I wouldn't carry this amount of kit, but I just had to see how the back pack would perform!

  1. Canon 50D body & Optech strap
  2. Spare 50D batteries
  3. Canon EF 100 mm f2.8 macro with tripod mount
  4. Canon 5D Mk II body with 24 - 105 mm f4 IS L lens & Optech strap
  5. Canon 50 mm f1.4 and polarising filter
  6. Sigma 15 mm fisheye
  7. Extension tubes
  8. Hoodman Hoodloupe 3
  9. Wireless remore trigger
  10. Canon 100 - 400 f5.6 IS L lens
  11. Think Tank Photo Pixel Pocket Rocket for CF cards
  12. Spare 5D Mk II battery
  13. Canon Right Angle Finder

  14. Canon TC-80N3
  15. 77 mm Polarising filter in pocket
  16. Black electrical tape
  17. 3 m extension for Speedlite - not sure why I've got this when I'm not carrying a Speedlite!
  18. Whibal grey & white balancing card
  19. 12" Photoflex white translucent & black/silver reflectors
  20. Lens Pen
  21. Sun Position Compass
  22. Neck leash with ID card holder
  23. Lowepro Pro Runner 300 AW camera back pack

  24. Mesh bottle pocket
  25. Lowepro Apex PV AW with Canon G10 compact
  26. Tube with Rosco diffusion sheets and scrim
  27. Go Pro Photo Mini Scrim frame
  28. Rosco matte black Photofoil
  29. Lowepro Film Organiser AW with Cokin filters etc attached via SlipLock attachment loops and compression strap
  30. Out of shot - 750 ml drinks bottle in mesh pocket
  31. Own straps in loops on base for jacket, groundsheet etc

A note on carrying a tripod with the Lowepro Pro Runner 300 AW or any other camera back pack -  when securing your tripod into the Hideaway Tripod Mount, place the head, not the feet of the tripod into the mount. This lowers the load and thus the weight and centre of gravity making the back pack easier to carry. If you mount the tripod with the head at the top, there's a strong chance that the weight of the tripod head will be unstable and rock from side to side when walking, a bit like a pendulum!

Well done Lowepro for producing what could be another classic!

Macro Photography Tutorial - Wood Anemone

 Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa)

Now that the rains have subsided, spring is well and truly here. OK the sun is out and it's not at all warm in some places, but there are some stunning photo opportunities everywhere you look in the English countryside.

At present in the local woodland there's a great crop of Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa). In the past I've recorded the wider view of the woodland but this time decided to create an extreme close-up/macro shot. This particular bloom was roughly 16 mm (5/8 th inch) across. There were larger blooms, but this one was the most accessible without moving from the path and causing damage to other plants.

In this frame you can see the direct sunlight is uneven with deep shadows and a distracting background. To get the shot I had previsualised I needed to diffuse the sunlight to soften the shadows, even out the background and add a fill light to lift the area in the bloom around the stamens. And to add another challenge, there was a light breeze which moved the bloom!

Here's how I did it:
  1. Rosco 3002 soft frost diffusing the harse sunlight
  2. Held on a Go Pro Photo Mini Scrim frame
  3. Background Rosco matte black Photofoil
  4. Wood Anemone bloom
  5. Rosco 3809 RoscoScrim kicking light into the stamens
  6. Canon 50D with EF 100 mm f2.8 macro, shooting aperture approx. f8, ISO 200, 1/125 th second
  7. Plastic bag as ground sheet
  8. Manfrotto 755MF3 with 460MG head. Centre column inverted and right angle finder fitted to camera viewfinder, otherwise I'd have been laying prone in the dirt. Lovely.
The camera was triggered with a Canon TC-80N3 timer remote. Inverting a tripod centre column is a great way to get close to the dirt, but is inherently unstable. It's best to use a special low-level support such as a bean bag to reduce vibration.

 Before & After

QUICK TIP: Don't attempt a shot like this when you're out for a walk with the Missus, partner, girlfriend or whoever. Unless they're a photographer they will not understand the time effort and fuss in getting just one shot!

Have great weekend, the weather is looking GOOOOOOD!


    Thursday, 22 April 2010

    Sunset Seascape Photoshop Tutorial

    A step-by-step tutorial on how to transform a snapshot into a great shot!

    This image of what remains of the West Pier off the coast of Brighton is a fine example of making something out of nothing. My youngest daughter decided that she'd like to go to the beach and photograph the sunset with her new Panasonic TZ7.

    By the time we'd driven the 10 miles from home to the coast the conditions had totally changed and the above image is the straight and unprocessed chosen frame.

    I decided that I would like to smooth out the sea with a relatively long exposure so selected a low ISO of 100. This still didn't give me a suitably long exposure so I fitted a 0.9 ND filter into my Cokin P Series filter holder. A 0.9 ND filter is grey and does not alter the colour of the image and reduces the amount of light reaching the camera sensor by 3 stops. This increased the time the shutter was open to 4 seconds which was just enough to smooth out the movement of the waves giving the smooth look. Had I exposed more frames as the ambient light decreased the time the shutter was open would have increased and resulted in the sea looking like glass.

    I think you'll agree with me that the shot is pretty unexciting and needs a bit of a lift - this is where Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) enters the equation. There are very few cases where I do not shoot RAW files these days - RAW Rules! A RAW file is the unprocessed data from the camera sensor without any data lost as part of the conversion to JPEG. To me a JPEG file is a compromise - the way the image looks is dictated by your camera's manufacturer.

    I can't say that this is the shot I previsualised, but it is the one I like after a lot of tinkering in ACR. The joy of ACR is that any adjustments you make to your images are totally non-destructive, with the adjustment data being stored in a separate .xml file.

    What follows are a series of screen grabs of some of the stages I took to achieve the above result - I omitted Sharpening of 95:

    Step 1 - Basic Corrections

    • Colour Temperature or White Balance was warmed up to 4850K
    • Exposure reduced by -0.30 or roughly 1/3rd of a stop
    • Fill Light +30
    • Blacks +8
    • Contrast +44
    • Clarity +30
    • Vibrance +30
    Step 2 - Tone Curve
    • Highlights +60
    • Lights +8
    • Darks -28
    • Shadows -34
    Step 3 - HSL or Hue Saturation Lightness

    This is where we start to make the radical colour adjustments!
    • Reds +22
    • Oranges +76
    • Yellow +8
    • Purples +65
    • Magentas -100
    Had I increased the Greens, Aquas & Blues the resulting image would be much cooler looking.

    Step 4 - Split Toning
    Here I added some warmth to the darker tones. I could have totally dropped this step and used just the HSL dialogue. The point is you can experiment. This article is just a guide. Don't be intimidated by the apparent complexity of your imaging software - practice, practice, practice. I've be using Adobe Photoshop since version 2.5 in the early 1990s and still learn something new or a different way to do something most days!

    Step - Spotting of Dust Spot Removal
    The dark spot with the lighter halo surrounding it is the shadow of a dust spot on the camera sensor. Even with in-built sensor cleaning you'll get a grubby sensor, especially pollen which tends to be sticky.

    Removing these marks is easy in post-production; sensor cleaning is another issue all together. Once you've saved your image in ACR as a native Photoshop or PSD file, open it in Photoshop and duplicate the background layer CTRL or CMD J. Then select the Spot Healing Brush - J on the keyboard and using the [ ] keys make the brush slightly larger than the blemish and away you go.

    You'll find most of these marks in the corners of the frame, close to the edges or in places in the frame that are so bloody inconvenient to be untrue! Make sure that you view the image on your screen at 100% CTRL or CMD 1 and move around the screen using the Hand Tool - space bar.

    On the left an also-ran; on the right an image worthy of printing and framing!

    This looks like a lot of effort, but with practice you can achieve good results in minutes.

    Good luck and happy snapping.


    Tuesday, 20 April 2010

    Canon EOS 7D Off-Camera Wireless Flash Test

    A few weeks ago Park Cameras kindly loaned me a Canon EOS 7D so that I could test the effective range of the in-built wireless off-camera flash control.

    According to Canon, the on-camera flash has an effective range of 15 metres or 42.9 ft. In my opinion I think this is a little optimistic or the Canon test was carried out in a long narrow corridor with plenty of flat surfaces to bounce the light from the in-built flash.

    In the following test I used two Canon 550 EX Speedlites to test the extremes of distance both down range of the camera and to the side.

    The lights in the above shot were coloured with Rosco Strobist Collection #80 Primary Blue and #26 Light red. The blue light in the distance had to remain in line of sight with the on-camera flash otherwise it would not fire. The distance was no more than 30 feet. We did try moving it further down range by as little as 12 inches and even in line of sight couldn't get it to fire. The red light to the right was approximately 3 feet in front of the camera, 6 or 8 feet to the right and elevated 10 feet; any closer than 3 feet to the camera resulted in no firing. We didn't try any higher as idiot features had forgotten both the steps and a taller stand or gaffer grip!

    Once Paul and I had carried out the test Paul mooched on back to the studio to do some real work - well that's what he told me, whilst I took the opportunity to shoot a couple of portraits of the Managing Director and one of the sales guys.

    Greg Priest - Sales and Customer Service Quentin Press

    These portraits were both lit with two 550 EX Speedlites both set to ETTL with the back light power output being -1 stop under the key light. Camera settings were ISO 200 f8 1/30th second, handheld 24 - 105 mm IS L lens at 35 mm giving a full frame equivalent focal length of 56 mm. The back light was modified with a snoot fashioned from a piece of matte black Rosco Photofoil and the key light with a 24 inch/60 cm square softbox of unknown Ebay origin.

    Both of the portraits are very much as shot, except for burning in (darkening) the background as it was a little too light in this instance. I could have used a faster shutter speed, say 1/60 th second, but I prefer to darken than lighten a background in post-production.

    For the mid-shot (MS) of Greg I would have preferred to have a shallower depth of field, but I was already back to the wall with nowhere to go!

    Mike Quibell - Managing Director, Quentin Press

    For this shot of Mike, I've used exactly the same set up, including the way I posed or positioned him to give a more natural looking stance. The background is less in focus as I have moved my position closer whilst shooting at 105 mm (168 mm full frame equivalent). I did tinker with some high-pass sharpening on the shot of Mike and some desaturation but it just didn't work for me.

    My thanks to Park Cameras and Quentin Press.

    If you like this blog entry or any others please comment below, tell you friends, Tweet it or whatever.



    Thursday, 15 April 2010

    Photo Training Workshops

    Here's a brief update on my forthcoming photography training workshops with Park Cameras:

    Saturday 24th April - Landscape Photography.
    This is a one day workshop, part training room, then out on location to put the theory in practice. The official close for this workshop is 4:30 PM, but I'll hang around for as long as the participants want!

    Friday 7th May - Spring Garden Photography Workshop at High Beeches Garden in West Sussex.
    A whole day spent at one of the most wonderful gardens in Sussex. We'll cover a wide variety of ideas and techniques for landscape, garden & macro photography. As well as your camera, tripod and lenses you may want to consider a waterproof groundsheet and some knee pads!

    Friday 14th May - Garden Photography at the World Famous Great Dixter Garden
    These workshops are an excellent exclusive opportunity to photograph the garden created by the late Christopher Lloyd.

    Friday 21st May - Spring Garden Photography Workshop at High Beeches Garden in West Sussex.
    A whole day spent at one of the most wonderful gardens in Sussex. We'll cover a wide variety of ideas and techniques for landscape, garden & macro photography. As well as your camera, tripod and lenses you may want to consider a waterproof groundsheet and some knee pads!

    Saturday 22nd May - Introduction to Portrait Photography
    This is a studio based practical introduction to the art of portrait photography working with a professional model and a variety of lighting. You can see some of the images created on the last workshop by visiting the UK Photo Walks Flickr group.

    Monday 7th June - Garden Photography at the World Famous Great Dixter Garden
    These workshops are an excellent exclusive opportunity to photograph the garden created by the late Christopher Lloyd. On the Monday workshops we will have exclusive access as the garden is closed to the public. This is a practical outdoor workshop, so as well as your camera, tripod and lenses you may want to consider a waterproof groundsheet and some knee pads!

    Friday 18th June - Garden Photography Workshop at High Beeches Garden in West Sussex.
    A whole day spent at one of the most wonderful gardens in Sussex. We'll cover a wide variety of ideas and techniques for landscape, garden & macro photography. As well as your camera, tripod and lenses you may want to consider a waterproof groundsheet and some knee pads!

    Saturday 19th June - Landscape Photography.
    This is a one day workshop, part training room, then out on location to put the theory in practice. The official close for this workshop is 4:30 PM, but I'll hang around for as long as the participants want!

    If you have any queries or want more information on these workshops, feel free to contact me - details here.

    Friday, 9 April 2010

    Checking Image Sharpness - Don't Be Fooled By The Small Screen

    How many of you have previewed an image on the screen of your camera only to be disappointed when you download your images to your computer? We've all done it! In the excitement of getting the shot, we forget to preview and check sharpness, correct focus etc.

    What may look pin sharp on your DSLR screen may in fact be blurred or out of focus. On first inspection the image of this FlyBe airliner may look sharp to the unaided eye, but when you magnify it you may see a distinct difference.

    If you look carefully at the image above, you'll see that the text on the fuselage of the airliner is blurred - this is caused by two things: 1. Bad panning technique on the part of the photographer i.e. ME and 2. A shutter speed that was too low thus allowing subject movement.

    When out shooting it's well worth examining your images on your DSLR screen at regular intervals just to make sure your images are sharp and in focus - if that's the look you're going for! Make sure that you use the cameras facility to magnify the screen preview image and if possible exclude any extraneous light using a screen shade or in my case a Hoodman Hoodloupe 3. On the back of your camera will be a Magnify (Canon) or Zoom In (Nikon) button. Use the controls to check the whole image for sharpness at high magnification. If an image is not sharp, you can always reshoot to avoid disappointment on you return home.

    You can see in the image above that the letters are now much sharper. This is because my panning technique was smoother and matched the speed of the airliner. Both frames were exposed at 100 ISO, f8 at 1/500 th second with a Canon 100 - 400 mm L IS zoom lens, which probably had the IS (Image Stabilisation) switched on. This goes to show that even a high shutter speed and using IS there's no guarantee of a sharp frame. What I should have done was increase my ISO to 200 or higher, which would have given me a shutter speed of 1/1000 th second or faster - increasing your ISO sensitivity allows you to increase your shutter speed or use a smaller aperture. A smaller or slower stop or aperture is one with a larger number i.e. f11 is smaller than f8.

    Needless to say, I recommend that you ALWAYS shoot multiple frames.

    Have a good weekend.


    Thursday, 8 April 2010

    Colouring a Background with Strobist Collection Gels

    Creating a coloured background using flash or continuous lighting and coloured gels is a technique that every photographer working with lighting should master. Many photographers strive to achieve a pure white, no dot or 255 white background, but rarely do you see people expanding their vision to add colour to their backgrounds. Adding colour to a background is simple to achieve whether you are using studio flash or even off-camera hot shoe flash or Speedlites. 

    If you read my recent blog post on creating a snoot using Rosco Photofoil: 

    You’ll notice that I coloured the background using a Rosco Strobist Collection Cinegel 85 full CTO gel held in place with a Go Pro Photo Gel Clip. Cunningly concealed at the back of the Strobist Collection are a series of useful coloured effects gels.

    What follows is an introduction to creating coloured backgrounds with off-camera flash lighting. This is a technique I learnt back in the early 1990’s at a workshop run by Fuji Film. I forget who the photographer was and my notes have long since been recycled, but the technique was referred to as “Chroma Zoning”. 

    Chroma Zoning
    First of all I’ll show you how to vary the tone of your white background using just #375 Cerulean Blue and the flash output. The set-up is identical to the blog entry mentioned above, but with the omission of the Photofoil snoot! The flash was set to Manual, 1/16th power.

    Click on image to view 800 pixels wide

    By reducing the flash power output in one third stop increments the background gets progressively darker whilst retaining tone. Conversely, by increasing the power output the background tone will become brighter.

    In the illustration below I’ve started with the flash set at 1/16th power and progressively increased the output to make the white paper background progressively brighter, all the way to 100%. 

    Click on image to view 800 pixels wide

    Notice that as the light on the background increases how it reflects and spills onto the flash. This can be controlled by careful positioning of the flash or using Photofoil to flag or control where the light falls in relation to you shot. Chroma Zoning is a controllable technique that can be repeated with consistency. If you keep the distance between the flash & background consistent - use a piece of string tied to the lighting stand to measure the flash to background distance; ensure that the zoom setting is the same each time and you’ll get consistent colours. You may want may want to try this with the other colours in the Rosco Strobist collection and record the results. At a later date I’ll repeat the exercise with studio flash to show the flexibility of this technique.

    Here I’ve used # 23 Orange to show the effect of one stop increases and decreases in exposure - not so subtle as 1/3 stop increments!

    Click on image to view 800 pixels wide

    The remaining frames show the other 7 effects colours, which for consistency have all be shot at 1/16 power. These may be darker or lighter than the actual gel looks. Do remember that the darker the gel the less light it transmits, to get a brighter colour you’ll need to increase your flash output. Conversely, paler colours such as # 33 No Colour Pink will need less light to give a true representation. As I’ve said previously, practice and experimentation are the only way to perfect your techniques.

    Good luck and please feedback via the comments below!

    Wednesday, 7 April 2010

    Creating a Snoot with Rosco Photofoil

    There are many ways to control the light emitted from your off-camera hot shoe flash. One of my favourites is to make a snoot from Rosco Photofoil. Photofoil is non-reflective heavy gauge flat matte black aluminium foil supplied on a roll and available in 12" x 10' or 24" x 10' rolls.

    Making a snoot is a straight forward process; cut about 12 inches (30 cm) from the 12" roll and then fold in half. You then wrap the Photofoil around the head of your flash leaving a gap at the front.

    I have a feeling that this is going to take longer than expected as I have one of our Siamese kittens, Kato, trying to "help" me!

    Canon 580 EX II Speedlite with Go Pro Photo Gel Clip and Rosco Strobist Collection Cinegel #3401 Sun 85 CTO. Notice the spread of the light on the white background paper. The flash is positioned approximately 2 metres (6 feet) from the background and remained constant for this demonstration.

    The flash was set to Manual, 1/16th power and triggered as the Slave unit via a long eTTL lead connected to a second Speedlite which illuminated the snooted flash.

    This shot shows the effect of the snoot reducing the light (in this shot) to the left of the frame. Here the Photofoil is moulded to form a cone giving a broad spread of light.

    Without removing the Photofoil from the flash I've now shaped it to reduce the light at the top and bottom of the frame. One of the key advantages of Photofoil is the ability to shape the snoot at will and 
    not have uniform edges.

    Here I've pushed in the left side of the Photofoil to give a defined edge and higher spread.

    Notice how as you narrow the opening the area of light darkens. You'll need to increase the flash output to compensate for this if working in Manual mode to maintain the desired level of illumination.

    You can also add patterns to your background very simply by prodding some random holes into a piece of Photofoil and holding it in front of your already snooted flash.

    This is called a cookie or cookaloris. Here you can see the perforated Photofoil and the pattern on the background, top right. 

    You can also use a piece of Photofoil as a flag to block light from falling onto the background. Photofoil may be used as an effective lens shade in bright sunny conditions to reduce flare and increase image saturation.

    If you're serious about lighting then I'd recommend a roll or two of Photofoil in your lighting kit. It's durable and reusable. I've a piece in my OCF box that must be at least 5 years old and still going!

    Watch this space - soon I'll show how you can vary the colour of your background using Rosco Strobist Collection coloured gels and varying the flash output. Simple. Really.



    Friday, 2 April 2010

    Bluebell Woods

    I've just realised that the last time I updated this blog was Monday. It's been a busy week and all will be revealed soon.

    The sun is out in Sussex and my mind is wandering to thoughts of Spring and all the wonderful photo opportunities this will bring, in particular the most spectacular sight of woodland floors blanketed with the wonderful smelling bluebell flowers.

    Here in England we're blessed with some wonderful flora. Close to where I live are some of the finest bluebell woods in Sussex. Because of the excessive rain and snow during the early part of 2010 the bluebells are late in coming to bloom. Taking a guess, based on the bluebells in our garden, which have yet to bud, I'd say up to 4 or 6 weeks until there will be suitable photo opportunities.

    Keep an eye on this blog for updates on when to expect the bluebells. When you do get out to photograph this wonderful spectacle, don't forget your groundsheet and knee pads as the ground will probably be very wet when you get down low for shots like the one above. If you own one, a right angle finder will save you getting down too low. This image was cropped from a larger landscape format image. Also, don't forget you wide angle lens or zoom for some beautiful wide vistas. Try and visit the woodland at different times of day and see the effect the light has on both the flowers and the wider woodland.

    If you go to your local woodland now you'll displays of wild garlic, also known as ransomes with their pungent smell and delicate white blooms. The leaves and bulbs and edible with a subtle garlic flavour. We use the leaves to make a wonderful pesto sauce. Um! I'm off to pick some ransome leaves to make fresh pesto for the kids dinner.