Thursday, December 30, 2010

When New is Not always Better - Windows Liver Writer 2011

Software Review


Don’t you just hate it when you upgrade a piece of software only to find that it doesn’t work as it did before. It’s just so dam infuriating. I  really don’t understand what goes through developers heads when they do this. They just don’t seem to realise just how pissed off it makes the users feel. Perhaps they just don’t care.

My rant this time is about Microsoft (yes, that company again!), and Windows Live Writer 2011. And before you get all picky with me for berating Microsoft, yes I do realise that this is free software, but that still doesn’t give them a reason to go and spoil it.

I’ve used Live Writer to write just about every blog I’ve written and until the 2011 version I’ve be pretty satisfied with it’s functionality and ability to do the job. It was just about the best blogging tool out there … until the 2011 version that is. Unfortunately I foolishly agreed to one of those persistent and most irritating messages from Microsoft instructing me to install an ‘important update’ and before I realised what I’d done, my Live Writer had been ‘updated’ (read destroyed).

I didn’t realise the consequences of what I done until I next opened Live Writer only to be greeted with that Microsoft abomination, the dreaded Ribbon. Gone were my easy-to-use tool bars, icons and menu and suddenly I can’t use the program like I did before. Now I have to hunt to find where everything has gone. Thanks a lot Microsoft. Is there any option to restore the old interface (that err, worked rather well), nope, not a chance. But wait, how do I open an old blog to edit? You can’t, not unless it’s one of the last 9. Excuse me Mr. Microsoft, which one of your idiots thought of that idea? And how do I specify the size of a picture when opened up in a new window … this was easy in 2010, but I haven’t find out how just yet.

OK, OK, I hear you say, give it a chance. Well I have, I’ve tried for a while, I really have, but I still can’t do things I used to do so easily in the last version. It has genuinely hampered my productivity and I’m at the ‘grumpy old man’ stage in life where I’m just not prepared to accept change for change sake.

Now, does anyone know how to get the old version back, ‘cos I for the life of me can’t see how?  If that’s not possible, can someone please recommend a some good blog writer software?

Recommendations, advice and assistance gratefully received.

(written begrudgingly in Liver Writer 2011)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Never Trust the Devil

The Devils' Golf Corse, Death Valley

Devils Golf Course (Jul 2009) 0005

This is a place I won't forget too easily as it was 'nearly' the site of one of my photographic disasters. I'd been up since before 4:00 am that day and had driven down from our hotel at Furnace Creek for a dawn shoot at Badwater. Unfortunately the dawn sky colour failed to really materialise and the desired reflections in the sparse salt pools were a bit meek to say the least. Never-the-less I'd continued to shoot until the first of the early morning tourists turned up; then I hit the road. On the way back I saw the sign for the Devils Golf Course and seeing no one was around headed down to take a few pictures. The sun was just breaking over the eastern ridge and it was beginning to get quite bright. The contrast was high, but the side light made the salt mounds look great. I was trying different combinations and strengths of ND grads to hold back the sky and whilst doing so I plonked my wallet containing all my expensive grads down in-between some of the salt mounds. Soon after a few tourists started to appear in dribs and drabs so I packed up my gear and left, driving the 17 miles back to the hotel.

I was just about back to the room when a sudden ominous thought arose; I just couldn't remember packing my grads. A hasty inspection of my backpack revealed my fears to be true, I'd gone and left ALL my grads out in the desert in the middle of Death Valley! What the hell was I going to do! I was just 10 days into a 5 week trip touring the South West USA and would have absolutely no chance of replacing the grads anywhere on the way. Three and a half weeks of once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunities were just be about to go down the pan … the salt pan!

I jumped back into the 4x4 and immediately sped off down the road, all 17 miles back to the Devil's Golf Course. When I got to there the parking lot already contained several vehicles and a mini-bus and the place was littered with tourist posing for pictures and all armed with point-and-shoots. It was now over an hour since I’d been there, so it was pretty unlikely my grad wallet had not discovered by now. Things were looking grim.

I hastened over to where I thought my last shot was taken; several people were nearby. They must have thought me rather peculiar wandering around, eyes transfixed on the ground. l  around, but there in amongst a couple of Asian tourists, almost by their feet, was my grad wallet, exactly where I left it .. phew! I grabbed it and left.



Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Adobe Release Lightroom 3.3



Today Adobe have finally released version 3.3 of Lightroom; this has been released in conjunction with version 6.3 of Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) for Photoshop. The update has been available for some while as a beta version for filed testing, but is now in its commercial version for general consumption. This release contains the usual additional support for a bevy of new cameras and some bug fixes. Perhaps the most interesting addition for existing Lightroom user are the addition of many new lens profiles. This includes 15 additional Canon lenses, 26 Nikon lenses, 14 Pentax lenses  as well as a few Sigma, Tamron, Ricoh and Samsung lenses.

Lens profiles were one of the great new features added in Lightroom 3.0 and it’s a feature that I find particularly useful. If you shoot a lot of seascapes and landscapes with wide-angle lenses then you’ll know unless your camera is perfectly vertical on your tripod and the horizon is smack bang in the middle of your frame, it’s going to appeared curved. I used to have to flip out to Photoshop and use PTlens to correct my shots but now this can be all handled within LR. It’s great for correcting verticals when shooting architecture too and can also be used as a creative tool.

You can download your copy of Photoshop Lightroom 3.3 Release Candidate from Adobe Labs here, find out full specifications of the Lightroom 3.3 release and a list of all the new lens profiles here.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Great British Landscapes – A New Magazine Website from Joe Cornish

WebSite Review

Joe Cornish, the renowned, and probably the most famous contemporary British Landscape Photographer has, in conjunction with fellow photographer Tim Parkin, launched a  new magazine style website entitled Great British Landscapes (LandscapesGB). The site is the brainchild of Tim Parkin, and in their own words they describe the partnership as Tim being the driver and Joe as the Navigator. The site seems aimed at show casing contemporary ‘great’ British photographers, not only their work, but their methods. However the sites mission statement quotes:
“We hope in time that LandscapeGB will develop its own momentum, with contributions from anyone and everyone from the British landscape photography community who wishes to participate.”


The magazine also includes guides to locations, photography techniques, book reviews and processing techniques. Issue one contains an excellent guide to Brimham Rocks in Yorkshire, an article from Joe on “Shooting into the Sun”, and a run down on some of the winning photographs this year's Landscape Photographer of the Year competition (LPOTY). It will also contain video content to download and the premier issue provides a screencast by Joe on his post processing of one of his older photographs that was recently rescanned on Tim Parkin’s drum scanner. This particular screen cast is over an hour long, and many readers will be no doubt surprised to find out just how far Joe has gone into the realms of digital processing within Photoshop.
On the About page the magazine lists the type of landscape photographers that they are going to look at. It’s no surprise classical photographers such as Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter, David Muench and Edward Weston are listed but also contemporaries such as David Ward,  Andrew Nadolski and Michael Kenna are also included. Local photographer (and rising star) Doug Chinnery is also listed.
Of particular note is the location guide with the one for Brimhan Rocks providing the precise locations for many of Joe’s classic shots, including his well know shot for the National Trust. This contains a precise location guide, details of where to park, how to get there, links to Google maps and panoramas and even some information on the geology. This is precisely the level of detail a photographer like myself likes to see and I’m sure this feature alone will prove to be very popular. We already have ‘JCB’ (Joe Cornish Boulder!) fully engraved into photography speak, so I can see bagging a JCL (Joe Cornish Location) becoming the next big thing from bagging a Scottish Munroe!
New issues of the magazine are to be released on a bi-monthly basis.

The Good and the Bad

The website is written in a blog style and very nicely presented and yes, like many blogs you can add comments and feedback. It is clearly still ‘work-in-progress’ but it’s good to see you can comment and add requests. The articles so far seem quite good and provide more depth and information than comparative magazine articles. The screencast of Joe is enlightening in seeing at ‘master at his work’, but at over an hour long, it is rather tedious to say the least. Joe will seem finicky beyond belief to most and only absolute Joe Cornish devotees and complete Photoshop anoraks would be able to watch this in it’s entirety in one session. It took me about 4 sittings to get through it all. As it’s Joe Cornish it will be watched; Joe’s pictures on a cover of a magazine increase circulation, and there are not many British photographers who can do that. However any similar video by A. N. Other on YouTube I feel would fade into obscurity. If this is to be part of a commercial venture I think the screencasts need to be much shorter, snappier and edited for content.
You’ll notice I stated ‘commercial venture’, yes I’m afraid the content is not free but can only be obtained on a subscription only basis. Currently you can acquire access to individual issues for £3 each or purchase a block subscription for 6 months or a year bringing the price down to £2.50 and £2.00 per issue respectively. The good news is that Issue one is free, all you have to do is register so you can test drive it yourself.

Summary and Comment

I can’t help but seem a little surprised that a photographer of Joe Cornish’s renown is entering into another commercial venture. I’ve already seen the proliferation of his elegant greeting cards and am left wondering whether he is exploiting his notoriety or this is a economic requirement. If Joe Cornish can’t make a dam good living out of selling his prints then I guess no landscape photographer within the UK can. If it’s the latter then it’s a real pity, since someone of Joe’s talent within the US would be up there with the millionaire photographers like Peter Lik.
The site content has the potential for it to be a real winner and we’ve longed for a UK site that can encompass British Photography in the same way the Luminous Landscape does for those elsewhere. If you compare Great British Landscapes (LandscapesGB) the the current, rather staid and repetitive UK photography magazine fodder, then it wins hands down. However it’s on the internet where most, if not all expect content to be free and it’s up against very stiff free completion. Will it succeed, well with name of Joe Cornish attached, I guess it probably will. I would like to see a downloadable PDF version included with the price however.
Will I subscribe? Well I’m not sure yet, but when I’m overseas it may just seem a too tempting a read. Go ahead and give Issue One it a try and see what you think.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tripod Woes

Equipment Failures

I have had my fair share of disasters in the past with photographic equipment. Usually it’s odd items like scratched or broken grads and lost lens caps but I also have had my tripod blown over at Robin Hood’s Bay damaging my EF 24-105mm lens and a fall in the field in Africa which required a new IS unit to my EF 100-400mm zoom lens. Fortunately in both cases I was insured and the bulk of the repairs were covered.

Recently however, I had a rather an odd mishap and lost (yes lost!) a leg from my tripod. This was from my much prized Gitzo GT-3541-LS carbon fibre tripod; not a cheap item either and a tripod you expect to be built to the highest of standards too. But I guess you’re wondering how on earth I could loose a leg. Well it’s not quite as difficult as you may think.

Gitzo 3541LS copy

For quite some while now my backpack of choice has been the Lowepro Pro Trekker 400 AW which is an excellent backpack and I’ve sung it’s praises in the full review I did here. It features a tripod loops on the front and sides of the backpack which are really just large pockets without a bottom. The top (rim) of each is heavily reinforced so you can just slot two of your tripod legs inside and let third leg rest outside. The the main tripod holder in the centre of the pack also has a couple of straps to secure the tripod further, and has a fold down foot holder although neither of these two features I have thought necessary if you are just walking short distances. Unfortunately that has been to me detriment.

Whilst out with my family on a walk from our holiday cottage in Craster down to the coastal path towards Cullernose point we got caught in a downpour. Not just any old downpour mind you, a really hooly. The weather turned from blustery but sunny  to wild wet and windy in a matter of minutes with the rain sheeting down and blowing almost horizontally. You know the sort. As prepared as we were, it was time for a mad dash back to the cottage where we headed with some urgency.

I had my Lowepro Pro Trekker 400 AW slung over my back with the tripod just sat in the central tripod pocket, not fastened in. It was really blowing and I was concentrating on getting back fast, keeping an eye on my daughter Sophie whilst keeping one hand on my rain hood to stop it being blown backwards. Unbeknownst to me, the action of my quick walking and the motion of my backpack was slowly but surely unscrewing the uppermost joint of my tripod. Until it fell out. You’d think I'd notice it fall, but I didn’t under the conditions and it didn’t hit my legs either. It was only the next morning on inspecting my pack I found I was missing the bottom 3 sections to one of the legs.

Of course I searched the path and rocks several times with my son, but no trace of the offending leg could be found. It had either ended up being washed out to sea or (probably more likely) been picked up by a later passer by. Either way I was left without a tripod.

The prospect of spending the rest of the holiday without the ability to take photographs was just too much and I contemplated driving all the way home to get my back-up. However, in the end a trip to Newcastle’s Metro centre and a purchase of a Manfrotto 055PROB proved the easiest option.

That all happen in August. Today my replacement leg finally arrived from Gitzo, a good 3 months after placing my order for replacement parts. I heard Gitzo could be slow so that was no surprise. A big thank you has to go to Ian Hemingway at
Manfrotto & Gitzo UK Service Centre for  just managing to sort out the correct parts. As it turns out, just about every Gitzo tripod is unique and they seldom share common parts, and even though less than two years old my model had already been superseded.

Today my wallet is a further 142 quid lighter, not to mention the cost of the temporary replacement Manfrotto. It takes just 4 1/2 turns to completely unscrew one of the leg joints on my Gitzo. I can’t be sure, but I suspect I didn’t tighten it fully from the previous shoot, but I’m still amazed it managed to unscrew itself whilst on the back of my backpack.

And the moral to this tale … well make sure your tripod is tightened fully at each joint after every shoot, and secured properly to your backpack no matter how short the walk to the next location.

Friday, October 1, 2010

A Windy Day in Derbyshire

Photographic Location & WORKSHOP

Derbyshire (Sep 2010) 1060

Last week I was a budding participant on one of Doug Chinnery’s landscape photographic workshops. Doug is a professional photographer that just so happens to live not far from where I live and whom I met at my local photographic club in Worksop last year. I was much impressed by Doug, not just his superb photography, but with his down-to-earth approach and willingness to share his knowledge with fellow photographers, something that many other expert photographers' seem almost reluctant to do.Derbyshire (Sep 2010) 1005

Sadly for our foray into the Hathersage area of Derbyshire that day we weren’t blessed with good weather and my 5:00am pickup in the dark for sunrise seemed somewhat in vain. Our rendezvous with two other fellow photographers just below Higger Tor ended up in a rather hasty retreat to Grindleford station for some shelter from the rain and wind, and chat about photography and a welcome cup of coffee. With no abate in the weather one member decided to call Derbyshire (Sep 2010) 1028it a day. However after fuelling up with a hearty, full English breakfast in Hathersage a second attempt was made at Higger Tor, but high winds prevented any photography on the top and grey skies and eventual rain brought that sessions to a close. 

Doug then took us down to an area of birch trees above Lawrence Field well away from the windy tops and by now patches of dappled sunlight were starting to appear. This was quite different photography from what I’d normally attempt and to beDerbyshire (Sep 2010) 1036 honest I was well out of my comfort zone here. However Doug encouraged us to shoot tree trunks, grassy tussocks and I even and a few (albeit unsuccessful) attempts at some macro photography.

After a lengthy spell there it was off back down to the rather quirky, but excellent Grindleford Station Cafe for some hot chocolate and cake. Whilst gorging ourselves on some inordinately well proportioned slabs of date and walnut cake, Doug took the opportunity to download our CF cards direct to his iPad and proceeded to present us slideshows of our efforts. This was really useful as we got to see each others work and discussed what worked and what didn’t. The iPad is a really neat device, has a great screen and is ideally suited for viewing and backing up RAW files in the field. It beats devices like the Epson P-7000 viewer hands down in my opinion, and there are already RAW editing apps around too (that’s another gadget to add to my wish list). It’s a pity they don’t make one with more than 64Gb memory, but I guess that will come eventually.

Derbyshire (Sep 2010) 1139 By that time the weather was beginning to look quite sunny so we went to Padley Gorge and spent a couple of hours trying out all sorts of shots. What a great place it is and believe it or not it was the first time I’d been there. The leaves are just starting to turn, so it’s not quite the best time, yet but there’s not doubt I’ll be returning here soon. One of the classic shots is off a large old mill stone underneath an oak tree. I tried many compositions of but none that really worked when viewed on my monitor back home. The sunlight was quite strong and I ended up with many many shots with burned out highlights.  I should have waited till the the sun was hidden by the clouds. If you want to see how it should be shot check out Doug’s version here. I did however get a rather nice but querky shot of a curtain of moss/weed behind a small water fall which made an almost abstract image.

Derbyshire (Sep 2010) 1162We decided to set off for Stanage Edge for sunset, but spotted some fantastic light and sunbeams (Crepuscular rays as Dough pointed out!) over the hope Valley on our way. We stopped on Fiddlers Elbow road off the A6187 about 3/4 of the way up to Higger Tor but sadly the sunbeams and gorgeous light did not reappear.

My favourite image of the day is the one at the top of this blog of a small gap in the wall and out of focus trees behind. Nothing spectacular or compositionally great but juts one I like. Maybe I’ll attempt it again well the autumn leave are in full colour and use a slightly wider aperture blur the background even more.

View Derbyshire Photo Workshop in a larger map

I can’t say I came away with any memorable images, but I certainly came back with many new locations to try, an improved compositional knowledge and a list of new subjects to try. If you’re a budding photographer and want to take your skills to the next level and learn more then workshops are a great way forward, and fun too.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Great Canon Rip-off – Sky High New Lens Prices!


 Lens Price If you are a full frame Canon user like me I sure it won’t have escaped you that Canon have recently released a plethora of new highly desirable new L lenses. These include an EF 70-300 f/4.5-6.6 L IS zoom, an EF 8-15 mm f/4 L fisheye zoom lens, an EF 300mm f/2.8 IS Mark-II lens, and an EF 400 mm f/2.6 IS mark-II lens, not to mention version III of their 1.4x and 2x extenders.  Plus new mark-II versions of the 500mm f/4 and 600 mm f/4 lenses are also in the pipeline. That’s quite a lot of new glass. But have you seen the prices!

I’m sure that a few of these lenses may have been on your wish list as well as mine, but when I saw the prices I must admit I was simply gob smacked!

Lets take the extenders for a start. The current version II of these sell at about £260-£270 within the UK, but the suggested retail prices of the new versions are £549.99. That’s a price increase of around 107%. Sure there may be some improved optics, but a price increase of that much…wow.! They are going to have to be really, really good.

EF300mm-f2-8L Lens Next I’d like to mention the EF 300 mm f/2.8 IS USM lens. This is a lens I’ve have coveted ever since I had the chance to borrow one for a brief time at one of my kids school sports days. It’s a simply fabulous lens, receives 10/10 reviews and is generally regarded as one of the best pieces of glass in Canon’s current line-up. One wonders just how this could be improved? It’s also a lens that really seems to perform with the 1.4x and 2.0x extenders so would be ideal for wildlife photography too. Ever since that sports day I’ve paid close attention to the price of this lens, which was around £2,500 and just too much to fork out back then. To my horror the price of this shot up to around £3500 plus in January 2010 with Canon citing falling exchange rates (more on that below) necessitating an across the board increase in lens prices. To be honest the lens then became just a pipe dream.

The new version II of this lens is priced at a staggering £7,499.99 which is a inordinately large sum for a 300 mm lens no matter how good it may be. This is an increase of over £4000 on the previous model. How on earth can Canon possibly justify such an increase no matter how good the lens performs?

According to Canon the new 300mm f/2.5 mark-II has a the new IS version II, is a lot lighter due to new titanium components, and has 16 lens elements with high performance fluorite elements. However, the current 300mm f/2.8 has 17 elements, weighs only 150 grams more, and is practically the same size at only 4mm shorter. They look practically identical. IS-II is supposed to give quicker stabilisation and a up to 4-stops, but on spec. the new lens is going to have to have some sort of mind boggling, blistering, optical performance to be able to justify such a hike in price.

It will be very interesting to see what happens to the price of the EF 300mm f/2.8 IS mark-I. Normally you’d expect a lens to come down in price when superseded, but version-I is so good you may see existing supplies being snapped up quickly as many will view the mark-II as simply unaffordable.


The Yen Exchange Rate debacle

At the end of January 2010 the retail price of Canon lenses increased by an average of 30-40% across the board within the UK, with Canon citing the strengthening Yen against the British pound necessitating the price hikes. Well lets just have a look at that shall we. image At the beginning of 2009 you’d get around 130 Yen to your pound, but from January through till August the value of the Yen to the British pound actually fell reaching almost 157 yen to the pound. This meant Canon were actually earning more Yen for their British sales within that period. Were prices reduced in the UK? No they remained pretty much the same. During the later part of 2009 the exchange rate stabilised at around 147 yen to the pound which continued through to the start of 2010.image

At the end of January 2010 the rate fell to from 147 to around 133 and Canon  duly increase their prices. The pound has continued to fall steadily against the Yen throughout 2010 but even by September this year the average rate is 130 Yen to the pound. That’s exactly the same as it was in January 2009. Yet why are the same Canon lenses still 30-40% more dearer than 21 months ago?



I see little evidence from exchange rates for justification of such a huge increase in retail prices from Canon earlier this year and I also feel that the new lenses prices seem simply extortionate. To the serious amateur like myself, and no doubt millions others, Canon is simply pricing us out of the market and items such as these will be left merely for the super rich and high earning professionals. There’s no doubting Canons expertise, research and technology is absolutely top notch, but to see new models being priced at twice the price of the previous one smacks of greed and could alienate a large portion of it’s previously expanding customer base.  It’s a real shame to see this happening as there is, without any doubt, a boom in photography and many more photographers are aspiring to acquire better quality glass. It seems to do this Canon will require a substantially larger slice of your hard earned dosh from now on.

I guess I for one, will have to keep buying the lottery tickets and hope!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wish List for the Canon 5D Mark III

Equipment Editorial

Now that I’ve proclaimed my top ten features I’d like to see in Lightroom 4. I thought I’d do the same for my other weapon of choice, my Canon 5D Mark II. The 5DMII was released back in September 2008, so has now surpassed that 18-24 month period in which camera models are typically superseded by newer and more feature packed versions. 5D Mark III The annual Photokina show in Cologne is fast approaching too, which is normally the stage for the major manufacturers to announce their latest and greatest. Having said that, Canon have recently announced several new lenses, a new EOS 60D camera body, and probably stunned the Camera world by announcing the largest ever CMOS sensor at 120 MP. So can we expect anything new, well if you take heed of the latest internet rumours there will probably be no 5D Mark III till well into 2011?

The current 5D Mark II is a fine camera and for many has been proclaimed by many as just about the best camera out there for landscape photographers. There’s no denying it’s been a huge hit both with professionals and serious amateurs alike and in capable hands can produce superb images. It does have it’s ‘Canonesque’ quirks however, many which I highlighted in my article Canon 5D II – One Year On, and I doubt Canon would ever radically change or vary from their basic design, so I seriously doubt many of my wishes will be met. I’m not a huge fan of the video functions, which looking at the 7D and 60D seems to be the headline grabbing features. It’s not that I dislike video features, but just that being a still’s photographer, they are just not on my radar as priority items. Lets get back to basics please. Anyway here are my top ten, in no particular order:

  • Built in GPS: this must be a long overdue feature and probably an easy one to implement. There are many GPS tracker devices out there (I have an AMOD AGL 3080) and the prices have dropped significantly in the last year to where you can pick one up for not much over £60, so the hardware addition should not be that expensive. Currently however, getting GPS data back into your RAW file EXIF metadata is still a tad fiddly although can be achieved by free software. I certainly hope Canon don’t take the route of an add on GPS device that sits in the hot shoe, that would be disastrous and no doubt expensive to the consumer. If GPS were in-built this would be an upgrade deciding feature for me.
  • In-Built HDR processing: a complete wild card this one, but wouldn’t it be nice. If know the purists will always want total control on merging multiple exposures, but I’m sure Canon could come up with something pretty good.
  • Electronic Level: image this feature is present in the new EOS 60D and has been a regular features on competitors cameras for a while, so a must for any new Canon Camera now. At last we’ll be able to ditch the hot-shoe bubble levels, but we need to be able to see this through the viewfinder not just on the rear screen. 
  • Quicker and Better Focusing: an absolute no brainer here, the current 9-point focusing system is long overdue an update, and many had hoped would have been updated with the 5DMII. The 7D features a 19-point focus system and even the new 60D  sports a 9-points system. Improved focusing in low light would be a big hit too.
  • Bigger, Better and Brighter Screen: the 5DMII screen was a big improvement over the 5DMI, but I think there is still room for a much, much bigger screen. Wouldn’t it be nice to have one where we can actually use to made subjective decisions on our photographs. Oh and please, please can we have a one-touch button to zoom straight in for a 100% preview!
  • 3 Stop or greater Compensation: It’s present on the 1D’s and needed on the 5D Mark III. Many photographers are now experimenting with long exposures and filters such as the Lee Big stopper and B+W’s 10-stop filter have greatly extended the landscape photographers day. You can just about see through the 10 stop filters with Live-View in normal light, but forget it in low pre-dawn or evening light. Canon need to take heed of this expanding and popular aspect of photography and allow tLive-view screen compensation so we can compose, focus, and adjust grads even through a 10-stop filter.
  • User Configurable Auto-ISO: auto-iso is a great feature but it’s a poor implementation of this on the 5DMII. Currently Auto-Iso chooses ISO values between 100-3200. Please let the user specify the upper and lower limits. It seems Pentax can manage this, so why not Canon?
  • Proper Camera User Settings: again, a great idea but a totally useless implementation.  User settings should be a useful starting point only. If you then adjust the aperture, ISO or shutter speed it should remain at those values. If you (like just about every other photographer I hasten to guess) have probably got got your auto-power off set for a short interval (as we all wish to preserve battery life), then as soon as your camera powers off, your User Settings are set back to their starting values. I don’t know any photographer uses the same settings for every photograph, so why on earth make them work that way? Make them work properly and give us several more!
  • Ergonomics – Tactile Buttons & Analogue Controls: I know making all buttons alike probably aids the visual appearance of a camera body, but when you are fiddling around in low light they all feel the same and it’s easy to press the wrong one. Tactile buttons would be nice; one’s that feel different and are readily identifiable by touch. They could be alternate sizes, have a textured or imprinted surface. A rubberised and larger DOF button would be a big improvement too; that tiny little button is just too slippery and awkward to locate. I also still have problems pushing down the joy-stick Multi-Control button to access the Quick Control screen, so much in  fact I’ve mapped that to my Set button. I like analogue controls and the Control wheels are great. They just make more sense and are so much easier to operate than digital equivalents. The three principals settings for any photograph are, shutter speed, aperture and ISO. We have Control dials for the first two so why not for ISO? One the front of the thumb grip perhaps?
  • An Eyecup that doesn’t fall off: another one of my major gripes (that I know is an impossible request). For a camera that costs as much as the 5DMII, the crappy little plastic eyecup is truly awful. If you’ve never had reason to remove this it may have remained in place just fine. If you use an angle finder like me, you’ll know, sooner or later the eyecup it won’t grip anymore and will easily come off. Now I always travel with a spare.

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned resolution in any of the above and that’s because I’ll take it as a given that resolution will be increased and I suspect, to around 24 mp or greater.  An increase in resolution is sure welcome, but 21 mp is pretty good for me, so it’s just not on my list. Also my last few items are mainly issues I have with the current body style and operation, most which I’ve mentioned before, and which I hold little prospect of ever being addressed by Canon.

Well, those are my wishes, now let me hear yours. Comments welcome…

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

When All Else Fails – The Gold-N-Blue Polarizer

Equipment & Techniques

As a amateur photographer and working man, achieving quality time for my hobby is more often than not quite difficult. For me, the main opportunity often turns out to be the family summer holiday. However, unless you’re off to sunnier climes and spectacular scenery overseas, here we have to put up with the unpredictability of the British climate. Many’s the time I’ve crawled out of bed at some ungodly hour, half asleep, and set off in the dark to some distant location only to be greeted with a sunrise that’s hidden behind a thick carpet of grey cloud. Welcome to the English summer! Once more, when I return, the rest of the family is just settling down to breakfast and I’m then expected to ferry them around and entertain them for the rest of the day and well into the evening. It makes for long tiring days, often without the reward of at least one good photograph.

Embleton Bay

But what to do when that sunrise doesn’t materialise? It’s disappointing to put it mildly, and after several days in a row it can be down right maddening. It’s easy just to give up, go back and may be even try and catch a little more sleep before the rabble awakes. But hey, us photographers have to make the most of things don’t we?

Well exactly that happened to me whilst up in Northumberland last week. For several mornings in a row I ventured out from our holiday cottage in Craster to the fabulous Dunstanburgh castle, only to be faced with dull lifeless skies. At least some mornings there was a bit of a breeze and then my Lee Big Stopper (10-stop ND) filter could be put to use. Then I remembered my little used, Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue polariser.

Embleton Bay (Sep 2010) 1035

Like most photographers, I’ve been through the coloured filter phase, and have sunset and tobacco grads and a whole host of other enhancing filters that reside within a CD wallet somewhere. But they seldom see the light of day and these days and seem considered almost bad form by some. I’m not knocking them though; they do have their place, but I just don’t seem to use them anymore. I’m certainly not adverse to adjusting my pictures in Photoshop or Lightroom however, and firmly believe that I want to produce a picture that is pleasing to me, not just a photographic representation of the scene at the time. I certainly don’t like over cooked images, if you know what I mean, but see nothing wrong with adding a bit more colour, vibrance and contrast.

During my ‘Cokin Filter phase’ I also acquired, at some not inconsiderable cost, a Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue Polarizer, but initial experiments with it’s use seemed, to my eye, a tad unpleasing. It too remained at the bottom of my filter wallet.

Well, if there was ever a day for experimentation this was it. I was at a great location but with lifeless skies and poor light. Out came the Gold-N-Blue.

The Gold-N-Blue filter works like a normal polarizer excepts that it enhances blues or yellows as it’s rotated, and both to a lesser degree somewhere in-between. I found it possible to add some yellow to the skies and blues to the water which I though helped the scene tremendously. The gold certainly brought out the barnacles, shells and seaweed on the rocks, and added interest to the sky. The blue extreme enhanced the blue in the seas and when dull adds magenta.

Embleton Bay (Sep 2010) 1056

Lastly I added the Lee Big Stopper 10-stop ND filter and took some long exposures  of some rocks. Both these are exposed for 100 seconds with the above picture taken at the blue end of the polarizer at F/1,1 and the one below at the gold end at F/11. Both have enhanced vibrancy, clarity and contrast within Lightroom 3.

Embleton Bay (Sep 2010) 1060

I hope you’ll agree, both are far more interesting than dull grey skies. The Gold-N-Blue polarizer should now remain a regular in my Camera bag.



Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Lightroom 4 Wish List



Now that Lightroom 3 has been out for a while and is already in it’s second iteration (the current version being 6.2) it would seem that some of the regular pundits have been turning their thoughts towards what may be included with Lightroom 4. Scott Kelby recently posted a rather interesting blog on features he would like to see in version 4 and that got me thinking what would be in my top ten wish list. Scott’s article was pretty thorough and I thought and covered most of the bases. Plus, being in a position he is within the industry, it would seem that Adobe are already taking note. His article also provoked quite a response. You can read the original here and the follow up Wish List Comments here.

I of course, have absolutely no clout with Adobe what-so-ever. So apart from posting my wishes here in the vain hope that someone from Adobe may, by complete chance, happen to stumble upon them, I think getting my wishes fulfilled are pretty dam remote! Nevertheless, here are my top ten in order of preference:

  1. Soft Proofing: if it’s one thing I still have major difficulty with it’s getting my prints ‘just right’. If you read the web posts I’m not the only one, there are thousands of others out there who, even after profiling monitors and papers,  still find achieving  the perfect print a bit of a dark art. This one’s a no-brainer and way out in front for me.

  2. GPS Support: as a landscape photographer I’d love this feature. Pretty soon all DSLR’s will have GPS built-in. I currently use Jeffrey Friedl’s Geoencoding Plug-in for Lightroom which, even by his own admission, is a tad clumsy due to the current LR plug-in architecture, but does work quite well. This enables locations to be imported from a GPS device or simply tag locations from Google Earth, but requires a bit of juggling to get this data back into the LR catalog.

  3. Key Word Manager: I haven’t seen many requests for this and I don’t really know why. Key-wording is one of those necessary evils. We all know it should be done, but managing long lists and hierarchical keywords in a little side panel is a clumsy affair. They made the new import dialog into a huge pop-out module (which wasn’t really a critical feature in my opinion), so why can’t we have something similar for managing key words?

  4. Improved Local Adjustment Tools: these currently contain Exposure, Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, Clarity, Sharpness and Colour. But why not Fill Light, Recovery and Vibrance, or even go the whole hog and give us a local Tone Curve adjustment too.

  5. Improved Slide Show: I currently use a third party product (ProShow Director) for my AV requirements, and whilst I don’t expect Lightroom to provide that level of sophistication, the Slide Show module as it stands is a little basic. More layout capability, with multiple pictures per slides, different backgrounds, more text features, Ken Burns zooming and panning and a few different transitions are an absolute must. Syncing to music would be nice too plus the ability to use several music tracks in sequence.

  6. Photo Book Services: Scott Kelby mentions this is the sole feature he uses Aperture 3. But I certainly don’t want to be tied to a photo book publishing feature that ties the user to one service like Apple does. To me this is an ideal feature to be added to the Publish Services feature, so hopefully we’ll see services like Blurb, fotobook and many others added here.

  7. Face Recognition: enough said, it’s already in Aperture and we’d all use this for sure. Surely adobe couldn’t afford to leave this out...could they?

  8. Improved Spot Removal Tool & Clone Stamp: these are some of the few features that still require me to leave Lightroom. I’d really  like to see the Spot Removal tool developed into a proper healing brush, so annoying wires and TV aerials can be cloned out without a round trip to Photoshop.

  9. Photo Stitching: the ability to make panoramas and stitch photographs within Lightroom.

  10. Improved Interface: I like the Lightroom interface very much, but it needs to be a little more adaptable. Some of the side panel features are too small when restricted to a narrow panel. A  pop-out/expand mode feature may suffice. And please, please, Mr Adobe, do something about the dreaded little triangle in the far left and right margins. I’m forever clicking in there by mistake thinking it’s the scroll bar and hiding my panel. Scroll bars should be on the Outside!

Well that’s my wish list for now. Now tell me yours!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Uganda Wildlife – Monkey Business

Latest Picture

Baby Vervet with Mother

Since I haven’t posted much the last few months I thought I’d take the easy way out and post some pictures. This was taken in Entebbe, Uganda, not far the hotel I was staying in before travelling out to Lake Albert and my work on the oil rig. There’s a few troops of Vervet monkeys that hang around the wooded areas near the hotels, especially the Botanical Gardens and the Wildlife Centre. They are habituated so you can get quite close. Being monkeys however they don’t stay still for long and most of my shots were blurred. This one of a youngster astride it’s mothers head turned out quite nice. The late afternoon light helped. The one below of the inquisitive youngster was taken a while back. Both shot with my Canon 5D Mark-II with the EF-100-400 zoom.

Young Vervet

I hope you enjoy them!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Non Mac-Man’s View of the iPAD (and loss of faith in Microsoft?)


You’ll probably wondering what an article an about the Apple iPad is doing in my photography blog. Well, so am I, really. But hey it’s my blog and it may just have some relevance in a rather convoluted way. You’ll notice I’ve stated View and not Review as I don’t intend to review the capabilities and functionality of the iPad. There are far too many reviews out there already from better qualified people, so I couldn't really do it justice in that department. But I will however, present some of my opinions on why I may just be heading down Apple Way.

Steve Jobs Presents the iPad

I’ve been contemplating trying (buying) a Macbook pro for quite some time now (thus comes the relevance). If you have ever read my review of Windows 7, you’ll know why, but to put it in a nutshell I’m pissed off with Microsoft. For years I was a huge devotee and happily enjoyed each stage of Windows evolution, and by Windows XP SP2 felt pretty comfortable with a then stable OS system. Through work requirements, although never a huge fan, I grew to become a competent user of Microsoft Office, particularly Word and Excel, although Outlook has always left a sour taste in my mouth. Like similar persons of ‘my age’, my first serious foray into word processing was via the text-based WordPerfect and later the windows version, which at the time, was light years ahead of any thing Word could produce.

For spreadsheets it was Lotus 1-2-3, and then the fabulous Quattro from Borland, but eventually, by a process of attrition, Microsoft's world dominance and client demands, I found myself having to use MS Word. Word is quirky, a tad clunky, and sometimes not the most intuitive program to use, however, through some not inconsiderable time, I’ve become accustomed to all it’s quirkiness and would happily describe myself as a competent and experienced user. That was until, the dreadful Office 2007 and the hideous Ribbon!

MS Ribbon Horror

Having spent a considerable number of years using Microsoft products and so many hours of my life invested in becoming an experienced user, Microsoft, in it’s infinite wisdom, suddenly decided that the toolbar style and menu style interface that we all were perfectly at home with was no longer valid, and turned to some school teacher to design the ‘Ribbon’ interface. This, I’m afraid, simply awful implementation of a UI is so obviously designed for school children. But can we have our grown-up toolbars and menus back? No way! Microsoft has decided we can’t. I’m afraid this is where MS have simply become far too big for their boots. I’ve tried Office 2007, several times, but have simply given up since I just don’t have the time nor inclination to relearn what I know works in Office 2003. For Microsoft to not give users a choice of UI is absolutely unforgivable and a monumental mistake. Nobody likes being imposed upon.

Say No to Vista

And now we come to Vista. A defining moment in Microsoft's history without doubt. Quite simply the biggest OS flop, period, and the best bit of advertising that Apple has ever had..and for free too! Vista looked flash for sure, when it worked that is. But was (still is?) the most unstable, and certainly the most annoying modern OS ever released. Unfortunately for me, a defunct desktop, meant a replacement with Vista. I also plumbed for a system supposedly tailor-made for photo-processing comprising an over-clocked quad core processor, 8GB ram and wait for it…..Vista 64 bit OS. Huge mistake!

Not only did half my hardware not work because there were no 64 bit drivers around, you also had to get used to daily crashes, the green line of death (a change from the BOD but just as deadly), and the incredibly pedantic and most annoying implementation of UAC (User Account Control) there ever could be. Vista just wasn’t stable, and would drive me up the wall.

The Great Windows 7 Ripoff

Herald the arrival of Windows 7. It got great reviews, and I had just about reached a point where I was sorely tempted to remove Vista and down grade (or perhaps that should be upgrade) to Windows XP 64 bit. More fool me… I waited and eventually decided to give MS just one more chance. I’ll say it again, one more chance!

Windows 7 is certainly more stable for sure, it’s workable, but it still crashes, and it’s 95% Vista code with the same Vista bugs. But hey, haven’t I already paid for Vista? Yes. Then  95% of what I’ve paid for I already have? Yes. And that didn’t work too well either? No. And you paid how much? 175 quid! Boy have I been ripped off. Yes the great MS rip-off has conned millions, myself included, big time. Windows 7 is really only a Vista Service Pack in disguise, putting right the things that didn’t work. But SP upgrades were free in the past weren’t they? Yes. But not this one.

When first installed Windows 7 uses a default task bar designed with huge icons for a touch screen PC. Who the hell has one of those? I think the first thing everyone does, is re-configure the taskbar back to the previous incarnation.

What I find so annoying with Microsoft is that they are imposing things upon us and not giving their seasoned users the choice anymore. I know many people love the Office 2007 ribbon, I don’t, I hate it. I want the choice to choose which interface I use. Will they listen? I don’t think so.

The Apple iPad

And so at last to the iPad. When they first came out I just couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. A large iPhone duh! But whilst eyeing up a 15-inch MacBook Pro at my local Apple store in Sheffield, I and my two kids listened in on a quite knowledgeable young sales girl demoing the iPad to a potential customer. Well I was quite taken, so were the kids. This I thought, was the ideal device form my wife and what with her birthday coming up, and having no idea what to buy the woman who already has everything (sorry darling). How about an iPad?

My wife (I hope she won’t mind me saying), is a complete computer numpty. She has many talents, but operating a simple PC is just not her thing. Other guys in my industry who work away from home like me, receive regular emails, pictures, skypes and videos from their other halves. Me, well I’m lucky if I get 2 or 3 in a year. However, with an iPad maybe there’s hope. It’s so beautifully simple.

That was a couple of months ago and I judge the iPads success by how many emails I have received from my wife whilst I’ve been away overseas. In that case it’s a barnstorming success. I’ve had more emails in the last month than the previous 3 years put together. And guess what, she’s even using Skype now too. The iPad has been great for that and the kids can join in too since the built-in microphone is good enough for conference calls. It works a treat. I know for many of you this is pretty basic fodder, but for us it’s a huge leap forward.

My wife now happy browses the internet, buys stuff on Amazon, checks out the school site, communicates with her friends and many more things. She’s using the scheduler, notebook and contacts list, and playing Sudoku and the kids have been downloading games.

One thing Apple have really cracked is the touch screen keyboard. I’ve always hated such things but this one just works perfectly. The iPad is elegant, simplistic and a joy to use and probably the most convenient tool I’ve seen to browse the web with to date.

It’s been a huge hit in our house all round. The kids are now fighting over it and Dad has had to say it’s Mum’s device hands off.

I’ve enjoyed using it too. It’s great for browsing whilst sat in bed so I can envisage a ‘his’ and ‘hers’ iPad in the not too distant future.

Apple have a real hit here, and once again have set a new standard in the computer industry. I had though at one stage of buying the wife a netbook. The netbook is dead.

One the down side, there are some limitations, and things I miss. Having to do every thing through iTunes is a real pain. Not having the ability to connect an external USB HD or memory stick to download all your favourite photos, documents, music or videos directly is a huge oversight as is not having a USB port. And Apple still insist in not supporting flash, a technology embedded in over 70% of all websites. I really don’t understand that one.

I used to thing Apple goods were for snobs. Not not any more. Microsoft has had enough of my money. My next laptop is going to be an Apple, but that will be another story…

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Lowepro Pro Trekker 400 AW Backpack Review

Equipment Review

LowePro Trekker 400AW-1
I must confess to being bit of a camera bag junky. I’ve tried loads of bags and have so far failed in my quest to find THE prefect camera backpack. I guess the perfect backpack simply doesn’t exist as there is always something that could be improved, and personal tastes vary too. However, the Lowepro Pro Trekker 400 AW for me, comes seriously close.
By far the majority of my previous purchases have been bags by Lowepro as I've found them particularly well constructed, but I have also sampled bags from Kata, Crumpler and Tamrac.  I’ve read countless reviews of bags too numerous to mention, and have scoured the net for useful user feedback, so with this particular purchase I took my time and did my research before I was ready to part with my hard earned cash.
The Lowepro Pro Trekker series comprises the 300, 400 and the 600 with numeric designation being related to the maximum size lens the bag can accommodate whilst attached to a camera body, thus you can fit a camera with a 400mm lens within the Pro Trekker 400 AW. It will fit the larger bodies too or those with  battery grips attached.

Continue >>

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Lightroom 3 Released

Software UPDATE

Lightroom 3

Well if you don’t know already, Abode finally released their long awaited upgrade to Lightroom with Version 3 going live yesterday.  The good news for UK residents is that it’s probably a tad cheaper than most of us were expecting, this time costing £76.88 (£63.54 ex VAT) to upgrade direct from the Adobe web site. The full version is priced at £232.65 (£198.00 ex VAT), but if you qualify for the Student/Teacher edition you can obtain the full version for a mere £64.39. Mind these prices look set to rise as a VAT hike looks imminent for the budget due on the 22nd June so if you’re planning to upgrade or buy do it before then.  Rather surprisingly the beta 2 version will still work till the 30th June. You can download a trial version, upgrade or buy from here.

The (slightly) disappointing news is that there are no big surprises, so pretty much what was available in the Beta 2 release is what you get, albeit in it it’s final polished state. The new features added since version 2 are:

  • Accelerated with a new processing engine
  • Lens Correction
  • Support for DSLR video files
  • Flexible publishing to sites like Flickr
  • Image Watermarking
  • Exportable slideshow with music (to MP4 video files)
  • Easier Importing
  • Tethered Shooting
  • Perspective Control
  • Film Grain Simulation
  • Flexible Print Packaging

There are some minor changes since the Beta 2 version however, and these are detailed by Tom Hogarty on his Lightroom Journal Blog.

As usual there are several sites already listing the new features in greater detail. Check out the Lightroom Queen Victoria Brampton’s blog for a full listing of all the new features and changes and there’s an excellent summary by Ian Lyons at the Computer-Darkroom. Videos of several of the new features are provided at the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Learning Center, courtesy of Matt Kloskowski (of Lightroom Killer Tips) and Scott Kelby of NAPP. There’s also an introduction to what’s new by Julieanne Kost on Adobe TV here. Also look out for the forthcoming Lightroom 3 Video Tutorial by Jeff Schewe and Michael Reichmann which will be soon available from the Luminous Landscape site.  I purchased and downloaded their tutorial on  Lightroom 2 when that was released which was good value and the easiest way to learn all the new features. I can thoroughly recommend any of their videos.



I upgraded my Lightroom last night which installed easily and with the new version 3 seeming more responsive than the Beta 2 version. When installing, Version 3 will automatically ask if you want to upgrade your existing catalogue to version 3, which went ahead quite seamlessly but takes a while to complete depending on the size of your catalogue. I left my running overnight. Lightroom 3 will not however, change your existing picture modifications to the use latest LR3 de-mosaic RAW processing engine (now called Process 2010, with the prior version now Process 2003). In the Develop module you may see a little exclamation icon in the lower left of your picture in Loupe mode.


This means that picture is still using the old 2003 Process engine. To upgrade simply click the icon and you are given the choice to upgrade just that photo, all selected photographs or all in the Filmstrip to the new 2010 Process. This can also be achieved through the Settings | Process menu in Develop mode.


Initial Thoughts

The lens correction and noise removal features of Lightroom 3 alone, certainly make this upgrade a thoroughly worthwhile purchase for me and probably many other photographers. Both perform very well in comparison to the stand-alone packages I use (PT-lens & Noise Ninja Pro). The processing engine (Process 2010) will cause some of your pictures to look quite different so some tweaking may be needed in places, but from what I’ve seen in the Beta 2 version, the end result is much improved. I’ll reserve comment on the accelerated processing until I’ve had more time .

It’s clear that with Lightroom 3.0, Adobe have a mature, very capable and competent product and I would have no hesitation in recommending this upgrade.


Lightroom 3 Resources

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lens Correction for Lightroom 3


Having watched Terry White’s excellent video of  some of the new headline features in Adobe Photoshop CS5, one of the functions I really hoped that would be included in the release of Lightroom 3 was lens correction. Well now it’s official, lens correction will be included. Yesterday Adobe released a You Tube video from Production Manager Tom Hogarty who presents a walk through of the Lens Correction Features within CS5 and states that these features and more will also be included within the final release of Lightroom 3.0.

In addition to manual controls to correct for geometric distortion, vignetting and chromatic aberration the lens correction in LR3 will include profiles for many Canon, Nikon and Sigma lenses. The video features one of Canon’s most popular lenses the 24-105m f4.0 L lens, which is good news for me as it’s on my 5D mark II most of the time. The profiles will also be included in Adobe Camera Raw 6 (ACR) Photoshop plug-in which presumably will be released around the same time as LR3. Adobe will also be providing a free Lens Profile Creator Tool, which will include a number of test charts for you to photograph so you can create profiles for any lens.

This is great news for Lightroom photographers and at last we will no longer have to create an intermediate file to straighten those horizons and bowed verticals and correct for perspective. I must admit being to having been a tad disappointed with the new features in the original release of LR3 beta One, and not quite overwhelmed by Beta Two either. However, lens correction is one of those features that was pretty high up on my wish list and I’m sure there’s lots more surprises to come. Now I can’t wait till the the official release. let’s hope it’s not too long!



Monday, April 5, 2010

A Snapshot of Uganda

Field Location Article

Uganda (Apr 2010) 016

I’ve not done this before so don’t expect too much, but all of my photographic location articles been penned post event, back at home in front of my desktop computer, complied at leisure. This one however, is from the field. As I write I’m at a camp based in North West Uganda along the Eastern shores of Lake Albert. I’m sat in my cabin looking out over thatched mud huts of the  local village, situated on a grassy flood plane, about 600 yards inland of the shoreline, with the blue mountains of the Congo in the distance on the western shore shrouded in early morning mist. The morning sunlight is golden, the frogs are still croaking in the ponds from last nights downpour, the village is quiet and the scene is tranquil. It’s just before eight in the morning.

Uganda (Apr 2010) 003

Actually I’m at work, my day job so to speak, employed as a geologist during the drilling of an exploration well looking for oil. The well is nearing completion,  my tasks are almost done and I’m winding down, getting things in order before my departure and a well earned rest in a few days time. I’ve done this sort of thing most of my working life, spending several weeks at a time away from my family and home, followed by several weeks at home. It may seem odd to some, but to me and my family this is our normal life.

Uganda (Apr 2010) 012

I digress however. The reason I write is that this location is quite beautiful and I thought I’d like to share a few pictures with you. This is not because they are of any particular photographic merit, but just to render a brief snapshot of this small part of Africa and let you see why I’m so lucky to be able to work in a place like this. A glimpse into an area where the tourist will never see; a glimpse into the lives of real Africans.

Uganda (Apr 2010) 006

It’s been a rather busy trip for me this time and the long hours had taken their toll. Although I always tend to bring a bag of camera gear along, for the first 3 weeks or so I was unable to find time nor the energy to even leave the compound never mind get my camera out. It remained firmly in the bag. The locations I’d worked on my last few trips had been in thick bush and forest and none had provided anything of significant photographic interest from a landscape and wildlife point of view. I had expected this location, which not far from the last one, to be the same. I was wrong, and sadly I didn’t bring a tripod nor any ND grads this time, something I now regret. It’s very easy to get blasé, just do your job, and want to get on that plane home sometimes. So, photography here was going to be very much of the tourist kind, just  snapshots.

Uganda (Apr 2010) 014

Over the last 2 or 3 days, my  workload has reduced somewhat and I have had time for several walks through the village and down to the lake and to explored the shorelines and small lagoons in between. At the moment most of the small lagoons and ponds are full of water hyacinth and each one is a resplendent carpet of pink blooms. In places the blooms skirt the shoreline too. Heron, Egret, Open-billed Stork and Cormorant occupy the braches of one of the sparse trees in the late afternoon sunlight by the ponds. Marabou stalks and Squacco Herons are often to be seen wading the ponds hunting for frogs, and African Jacana can be seen flitting flimsily across the waters vegetation. On one occasion a couple of resplendent Grey-crowned Cranes were spotted dancing a courtship ritual in the late evening light. The mornings and evenings bring squadrons of birds travelling to and from their perch to the Victoria Nile delta just a few miles north of our location, a place of plenty and a haven for wildlife.

Uganda (Apr 2010) 013

The beach is narrow and none existent in places, but still provides a place of fun for the local boys, a party of which decided to follow me and a co-worker on one of my walks. My camera provoked interest and a source of great amusement especially when shown their pictures on the display. The villagers here are predominantly fisherman, as there is little sign of cultivation and small wooden fishing boats are scattered here and there, in twos and threes along the sandier sections of the shoreline. Some fishermen can be seen at work in the late afternoon, not far from the shore, but by far the greatest activity happens at night, especially around the new moon, when the black of night is littered by polka dots of yellow oil lamps on hundreds of fishing boats scattered across the lake. The fish is good too, as it often ends up on our plates.

Uganda (Apr 2010) 009

Village life is very simple here, and to be honest the villagers have quite a meagre existence. There is no running water or electricity, no modern luxuries, and every morning and evening we see the women and children carrying huge plastic jerry cans of water on their heads from the nearby well. One evening a child, a young girl who couldn’t have been more than about five years old, and particularly small, dropped her jerry can. She was all alone. It was so heavy she couldn’t even lift it off the ground. I watched from a distance as she struggled several times trying before she ran off leaving the jerry can on the ground. She returned a few minutes later with an older girl, who was probably only two or three years older, and not much taller. But between the two of them they lifted the heavy, water laden, jerry can back on to the little girls head and off she waddled as best she could. No western child could do this, but here it’s part of life.

Uganda (Apr 2010) 021

Home for the locals is a simple one room mud hut with a thatch roof, dirt floor and a small mud shed or outhouse which serves as the toilet. Food is cooked on a small clay oven or an open fire. Some I believe may have gas stoves but I see little evidence of that in the village nearby. Most of the children run around in ragged clothes, the very young ones are often naked, and some unfortunately display distended stomachs, a sign of malnourishment. Many infants seem very small , especially short and under developed for their age, although the older children seem happy and much healthier than the young ones. There’s obviously no nutritious baby food available here. Uganda (Apr 2010) 005Compared to western standards of any order this is a harsh existence, yet the people seem happy, good mannered and only inquisitive of their new temporary neighbours. We have experienced only happy smiles and no animosity; something I doubt would happen in our world should you find a drilling rig at the end of your garden!

On Sundays the women and children (didn’t see any of the men) can be seen wearing their finest walking off to church in an adjacent village. The majority of children are barefoot even then and I guess for many (if not all) they probably only have one Sunday outfit. The women are colourful, with brightly coloured wraps and dresses, some adorned with bangles and beads, one with a blue and white checked hat. Sometimes the women can be seen washing clothes in a large metal basin, others go down to the lake. The clothes are then scattered on the thatch roof or bushes to dry. A few of the huts are adorned with some simple wall paintings, one which caught my eye, with two white hearts. A love nest for someone perhaps?

Uganda (Apr 2010) 020

It’s the rainy season here and nothing provides more drama than stormy skies in Africa, especially at sunrise, just after a night storm. We have experienced some incredible sunrises here on this trip. Unfortunately, I’m often very busy at that time of the morning as the oil industry has a peculiar habit of having to produce daily reports at six am. Bonkers I know, but that’s how it’s always been done and it doesn’t look set to ever change. Consequently, although I get to see the sunrise, I seldom get photograph it. On top of top that we also have a daily meeting at 7:30am too.

Uganda (Apr 2010) 001

The storms, which can occur at any time of the day, most frequently seem occur in late afternoon or evening, and can bring torrential downpours. They don’t last long but in that brief time the ground rapidly becomes water logged and floods, leaving a muddy mess. It at this time I’m pretty glad I’m not in a mud hut.

Uganda (Apr 2010) 017

In other places I been in Uganda you’re often asked for water bottles or quite often money, but there’s little evidence I see of that here. All the boys asked of us was a football. I so wish I had one to give to them.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Adobe Release Lightroom 3 Beta 2

Lightroom News

Lightroom 3 Beta 2

Adobe today have surprised everybody today by releasing a Beta 2 version of their forthcoming Lightroom 3 software. The first beta version was released in October 2009, but I doubt anybody expected a further version before the final release. You can download the new Lightroom 3 Beta 2 version here.

Almost simultaneously with the Beta-2 release the usual first-looks, video clips, reviews and resources have appeared on the web from those in-the-know and the regular Adobe insiders.

Adobe have stated:

We're offering a second public beta of the next release of Lightroom to give you a chance to preview the progress we’ve made on the new features and enhancements in the upcoming version. It's an opportunity for you to evaluate a select portion of the new features planned for Lightroom 3, to help the team discover and address issues if any, and to send feedback that the Lightroom team can use to make Lightroom 3 an even better digital darkroom and more efficient assistant for you

However if you’ve had cause to visit the Adobe Lightroom 3 forums recently and viewed some of the criticism there, perhaps that, and I suspect the release of Aperture 3 by Apple may have played a part in this unexpected release. It may be that Adobe are buying some time due to Aperture 3 and I would hazard that an anticipated June release of the full LR3 probably looks unlikely now.

That asides there are a few new exciting features on offer that I’m sure will keep the bulletin boards and forum contributors buzzing for a while. Probably the most headline grabbing of these is functionality for tethered shooting; however it’s only for a limited set of the upper market professional Nikon and Canon models; Sony and others will presumably have to wait, but I can see this being a controversial point for starter. One other much requested feature now included is support for Video files, which can be added to your library, rated, filtered, and even made into collections. Some of the other improvements include:

  • Improved performance and faster importing and loading of images.
  • Full implementation of Luminance noise reduction.
  • Further improvement of Colour noise reduction.
  • Additional functionality to Watermarking.
  • Improved folder browsing with the ability to dock folders to make it easier with long file hierarchies.
  • Ability to use point curve editing in the tones curves like Photoshop
  • Additional criteria in smart collections
  • Sharpen brush can be set to blur

These are just a few of the enhancements in LR3B2 with much attention paid to the engine under the hood, with a lot of the bugs ironed out focus placed on improving performance and speed.



ToneCurve One of the much requested features on the Adobe forum was the ability to edit the Tone curve in the same manor as Photoshop. Well now it’s included, and by simply clicking on the Point Curve icon at the bottom left of the Tone panel, editing is switched to Point mode. Photoshop fans will be in familiar territory, but I for one for one, found Lightroom’s Tone sliders far more intuitive and easier to control.

I’ve only briefly toyed with LR3B2, however, as PC user (not MAC) I’ve really noticed a significant improvement in performance.  LR3B1 I found prohibitively slow, so much in fact I seldom used it for anything but trying out the new functionality. This was a common theme amongst PC users reporting to the Adobe forum; it was almost if LR3B1 release was aimed specifically at MAC users, where it’s performance seem admirable. LR3B2 is really quite lively on a PC, rendering is much faster, so is zooming, and even switching between modules seem much more responsive. Mind I’ve yet to test this on my large desktop library back home.



If you want a quick run down of the new features and functionality of LR3B2 a good starting point would be to checkout the Adobe TV video walk-through by Julieanne Kost Julieanne Kost here, which as she so often reiterates, is excellent! If you want an more information check out the one by Ian Lyons at Computer Darkroom. Other resources can be found listed on Tom Hogarty’s Blog, and there’s another video from Terry White here.

Go ahead and download your free copy now!

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