So it finally happened. The last surving high street photographic retailer bit the dust just after New Year. Jessops is no more, it is an ex-camera shop, it has ceased to be.
Looking at it though, it’s no real surprise. Jessops has been facing some stiff competition from the online retailers for years. But, that’s not the whole story, it’s not just online retailers, it’s good old brick and mortar retailers who just got smarter than Jessops at online trading who have helped drive the nail in this particular coffin.
When I look in my camera bags I can say that at least 70% of my current kit was a Jessops purchase. Some of it bought way back when the internet was but a nipper, and some more recent when the pricing wasn’t too bad or on offer. One of the main reasons for my using Jessops was if I had decided on a new camera body, or lens, I wanted it there and then. Not ordered, paid for and wait for 3 days on a delivery. There and then and that’s where Jessops had a real upper hand on the internet retailing.
There’s no substitute for walking into a shop, handling the camera, testing out that lens to see what works for you. I nearly bought a Nikon D300 but after handling it in store and a D7000 I changed my mind and the D7000 was bought. You simply can’t do that buying online.
So, if this was so great a benefit to Jessops what went wrong?
Quite simply, to me at least, Jessops became skilled in the art of pissing off the customer.
Jessops prices were consistently at the higher end of the market, I think we all accepted that but they were also high as an internet retailer, the one place you MUST be competitive. So how did they get around that? A dual pricing structure. An online price, and an in-store price.
As I found out recently this meant that I could find a new tripod head on Jessops website, £140 in store but only £100 online. Even more, I could order online and pay and collect in-store for £100. Walk in of the street ready to buy and it was £40 more expensive. Would they give you the web price in-store, even if you mentioned it? No.
So, you go home to reserve it online, but that means another trip into town and hey, there’s the internet, might as well just order it and have it delivered. But wait, why use Jessops, they have just hacked me off and there’s a million other retailers out there who haven’t and bang, there’s a lost sale.
They even started advertising cameras at a low price but with a much higher “You pay today” price, the lower price was part of a cashback deal you had to claim. Don’t know about you but if I see a price in big bold type that’s the price I expect to pay there and then, not what I’ll have eventually paid after trying to claim the cashback and waiting on the refund. It smacks of desperation.
So there you have it, high prices, dual pricing structures and false pricing, 3 great reasons not to shop with Jessops.
So, what now for high street photography?
Might it be the rise in the independent retailer? Of course it won’t. Most of them are even more expensive than Jessops. Unless an independent retailer can cater for a niche market such are old or rare kit or simply just cheaper 2nd hand they will also go under eventually. It’s a romantic notion using your local independent photo guy, supporting him to keep a shop open but in reality, he can’t sell to you nearly as cheap and the big online guy can so you won’t buy from him. You might go and look at his stuff but you’ll tell him you need to think about it and then go home and get it online a lot cheaper.
The sad part is, in the quest for the ever better deal we’re all the worse off for it. My other passion is astronomy and here already in Scotland you simply cannot go and see a telescope in a retailer before you buy. There’s not one store of any kind in Scotland with a reasonable selection of scopes from different manufacturers so you buy blind over the net.
My first scope was a monster, way to big, heavy and cumbersome. Had I seen it before I bought I wouldn’t have bought it. So what happened here, I sold it, lost money and bought another blind over the net. Thankfully this one suited me fine but ultimately this scope effectively cost me £100 more after you factor in the money I lost with the unsuitable purchase.
Sure, there are distance selling regulations to protect us but once you’ve got the product, and especially if it’s a big heavy product sending it back isn’t always that straight forward then you you’ve got the wait for the retailer to confirm they have it back and then the wait for a refund. It’s awkward and I suspect it means a lot of people end up keeping stuff rather than go to the hassle of the return.
So, like I’ve said, already with astronomy it’s an online retail world for me, soon the whole photographic world will be the same. Even with HMV gone where really can you go and browse a section of music bigger than the top 40 now? The high street is disappearing fast and I for one hope this online world we’ve all had a part in creating and feeding doesn’t turn around and bite us one day as we’ll have nowhere else to go.
No, I’m not being rude, it’s far better than that! From now till Christmas you can buy any of the prints on the print sales page and claim a totally free A4 print of your choice with £15. The only stipulation is that both prints must go to the same address, other than that, any of the prints on the print sales page can be claimed free when you buy any other A2, A3 or A4 print.
All my prints are limited strictly to a maximum of 50 prints each, once they sell that’s it, they come off the print sales page and don’t go back. You won’t get any mass produced stuff here that everybody and their auntie has.
I’m even offering flat price postage worldwide, no additional costs for anwhere.
This offer is on from now until Christmas so take advantage while you can!
For bigger orders and bespoke items please feel free to contact me first.
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned with this astrophotography journey it’s that above everything else, patience is the deciding factor as to whether you’ll progress or not. Without it you’ll become a frustrated gibbering wreck with a badly dented telescope in next to no time at all. You’ll question your abilities, you’ll come to hate the Met Office with a passion and you’ll start to spilt words in two just to get an extra expletive in there to properly express your feelings.
So why is patience so important? Let’s do a little list to illustrate…
1. Clouds. Days and days of endless clouds, usually worse after you’ve just bought a telescope or indeed, any item of astro equipment. Clouds stop everything, there’s no middle ground. Cloudy and it’s a night in front of Coronation Street for you rather than the wonders of the Universe.
2. Wind. I’m not talking hurricane force here, just an average little wind with some mild gusts can totally ruin any imaging session with a telescope. The slightest movement means wonky stars nobody wants wonky stars now do they?
3. Clouds and wind. Welcome to Scotland where you’ll be able to use your telescope at least 2 or 3 times every year!
4. Polar alignment. Also used as a basic instrument of torture in developing countries.
5. Astrophotography processing software. There are times I think actually writing the software would be easier than trying to figure out how it works. This one stacks RAW files, oh wait, this one needs jpg’s, darks? flats? bias?, and WTF are wavelets? Are we even still talking English here? At least most of it is free…
6. Focusing the camera on deep sky objects. Most focusing from removal of the eyepiece to connecting the camera goes thus… Just a little turn, just a wee bit more, nearly there, back a bit, back a bit more, wtf?, put eyepiece back in, focus, put camera back in, did I turn that the right way, bit more, bit more, back a bit, back a bit, other way, what way did I turn it last, fuck it.
7. Tripping over things in the dark. 5m USB leads, webcams and power leads in the dark lead to much fun and strange dancing while trying to untangle.
8. Neighbours security lights. Just as your eyes have adjusted to the darker environment you’ve managed to nurture in your back garden so sooner than the stars become nicely visible then your are guaranteed a passing cat will trigger a light that has the intensity of 10 suns to ensure it’s safe passage across the neighbours garden and you can see purple spots for the next 20 minutes.
9. Met office weather forecasts. DO take note of the Met Office forecast, you’ll need to know what it said so you can complain about it being wrong at length later. As a good rule of thumb though if the Met Office say it’ll be clear skies it’ll be raining, if they say overcast it’ll be raining, if they say rain, it’ll be clear. In fact if the MO say it’s night it’ll probably be day.
10. Telescope GOTO dictatorships. Your telescope GOTO can, and will make every attempt to piss you off. If you go for a 2 star align it simply won’t give you the star you want.
You – I’ll go for Arcturus and Capella.
GOTO – No you won’t, you can’t use Arcturus.
You – Why?
GOTO – Just because that’s all.
You – *sighs*, ok I’ll go for Altair and Capella then? OK, Altair synced, why can’t I have Capella now?
GOTO – I don’t feel like giving it to you. Try Vega?
You – I dont want to try Vega, it’s like straight up and it’s a pain looking through the finder at those stars?
GOTO – Use Vega bitch…
You – But…
GOTO – VEGA!
GOTO – “Align failed, please try again…”
BUT, apart from all this once in a while it all goes right or you see something that’s makes you realise it’s all worthwhile, this week I seen Uranus (please stop making jokes about the name!) and Neptune for the first time ever, very small but a personal triumph to actually see for me.
I’ll leave you with my first image of Uranus (stop sniggering at the back), it’s very small, in fact, just a little green dot but it meant the world to me to be able to image it.
I’d never really gotten into Instagram until recently. I actually preferred using Hipstamatic in my iPhone days for that dose of old school style shot. The whole social network thing of Instagram was actually what I thought put me off. Now, having used it for the last week or so I realise it’s something very different altogether.
Let me start of by saying, I like the product Instagram. I like that style of photography, I have an actual film Holga, Holga digital lenses and own a lensbaby so the stuff Instagram tries to mimic I’ve dabbled with the inspiration for these styles in proper photography and it’s a side of photography I really enjoy.
As I said at the start, I always felt it was the social network side of Instagram that put me off, yet another thing to keep up with along with Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, Flickr and whatever else is popular this week. I’m a long term Flickr user, I have a Facebook page for my photography, and did I really need another social outlet?
In the end, I don’t so much as find myself using Instagram to make connections but as a tool to output to other social networks thanks to its Flickr, Facebook and Twitter connections. It does Tumblr too but I’ve never really got Tumblr, what it’s about or how to use it properly. Used in this fashion, I quite like Instagram.
Typically though, I’m downloading some of my proper photographic shots in smaller sizes to Dropbox and hauling these into Instagram to play with and post up altered versions of proper photographic DSLR shots. It’s maybe not the way everybody likes to use it but it works for me. I do take the occasional shot with the phone camera, the Samsung Galaxy S3 has an excellent camera but it’s not something I do a lot.
So, shall we get to the real problem with Instagram?
In as such as it’s a mobile app, it runs on phones. Phones we will usually have with us at all times. Phones equipped with a camera ready to snap everything and anything.
And there it is.
That’s the reason why Instagram is flooded with pictures of Starbucks coffee, crisp bags, all day breakfasts, etc… So you’ve gone into one of a million cloned coffee shops that are all the rage in the UK just now, bought an overpriced mug of hot stuff, what in that chain of events makes you think, “Oh, I’ll take a pic of that, make it look vintage and show it to the world?” Seriously, who do you actually think cares you’ve bought a coffee or are eating a packet of Walkers cheese and onion? There’s little or no photographic merit in these things, no matter how many filters and borders you apply. It’s the equivalent of sending a Tweet such as “Eating my dinner lol” and we all know how uncool that is, right kids?
Instagram encourages lazy photography, it’s giving a false impression that anything can look “arty” with a filter applied and WTF is this obsession with Instagramming food and drink? Is it because people sit in these places trying to look cool with their Smartphone in hand and feel the need to look like they are doing something interesting?
A crap photograph will always be a crap photograph. You could Instagram a crap pic to death, it’ll still be an unpolished turd once you’ve finished with it. Start with a decent pic and then see what you can get, I’m sure you’ll be pleased with the results and who want’s a photo feed full of trips to Starbucks to remember in a few years time?
I’d love it if Instagram had a coffee detection alogorithm.
“It looks like you’re trying to upload a picture of your coffee, are you sure you want to do this?”
“Are you really sure, you’ve uploaded 30 similar pics this month and all your Facebook mates are beginning to think you’re a bit of a prick?”
“Well, don’t blame me if you’ve got no friends to import into the next big social network…”
Think once, think twice, think, don’t Instagram your fucking coffee!
I've enjoyed imparting knowledge as I've gained it through this blog. In fact, I really enjoy helping people with photography. Many's a time I've been stood explaining to a confused tourist why their pics are turning out like they are. They do tend to ask a lot when you're stood next to them with a big camera, tripod, remotes and bag full of lenses and filters.
Top 5 tips for commercial operations to take the absolute piss out of any amateur photographer:
Pisstake 1. Tell them you found them on Flickr and you think their work is GREAT! You’d like to use one of their pics in print, you can’t pay for it but you’ll get LOADS of exposure.
Pisstake 2. Tell them you love their work but there’s simply no budget for photography but they’ll get a full credit and a link back to their website that will drive them LOADS of traffic.
Pisstake 3. Need a particular image? Search Flickr for the pictures you want and just take them. Don’t worry about the copyright thing, nobody ever bothers about that. If the amateur photographer finds out, just ignore them, they’ll go away eventually.
Pisstake 4. Don’t fret if the amateur photographer doesn’t have the picture you want, chances are they will go and get it for you. Let them, whether you intend to use it or not. Not like you have to pay them anyway.
Pisstake 5. If you’ve pushed the amateur photographer too far and they start to get uppity, just cut all contact and wait about for a few minutes, there will be another one along all fresh and ready to flannel in a minute.
Any or all sound familiar?
The amateur photographer should respond to these pisstakes thus…
“Pisstake 1. Tell them you found them on Flickr and you think their work is GREAT! You’d like to use one of their pics in print, you can’t pay for it but you’ll get LOADS of exposure.”
You say: “Go fuck yourself, pay for it or piss off.” This my amateur snapper friends is the biggest lie in the book, you might have a full page shot in that publication but if won’t do diddly for you, nobody reads the credits except you and your mum
“Pisstake 2. Tell them you love their work but there’s simply no budget for photography but they’ll get a full credit and a link back to their website that will drive them LOADS of traffic.”
You say: “I’d like your product for free as there’s simply no budget to pay for it but I’ll be sure to tell everyone how good it is”. THERE IS ALWAYS A PHOTOGRAPHY BUDGET, everybody else involved gets paid, why not you?
“Pisstake 3. Need a particular image? Search Flickr for the pictures you want and just take them. Don’t worry about the copyright thing, nobody ever bothers about that. If the amateur photographer finds out, just ignore them, they’ll go away eventually.”
You do: You do a Google image search; drag the thumbnail into Chrome and it’ll search Google Images and show you where it’s used. Invoice each and every one of the websites there and then demanding payment for unauthorised use. You’re images will be removed so fast you won’t have time to blink, don’t expect any money though.
“Pisstake 4. Don’t fret if the amateur photographer doesn’t have the picture you want, chances are they will go and get it for you. Let them, whether you intend to use it or not. Not like you have to pay them anyway.”
You do: Either cut all contact and refuse to work with them again or force the issue and invoice for the work anyway. Learn from mistakes and always get a guarantee of payment in writing in advance.
“Pisstake 5. If you’ve pushed the amateur photographer too far and they start to get uppity, just cut all contact and wait about for a few minutes, there will be another one along all fresh and ready to flannel in a minute.”
You do: Well, there isn’t much you can do about this one…
I personally never had any problems helping out charities or non-profit organisations. Never make an exception for any commercial operation, no matter what story they spin you; it’s simply not worth it. If they want your work to appear in something that’s for sale or advertising something for sale then you should be PAID! Stick to your guns and get what YOUR work is worth.
Written by an AMATEUR PHOTOGRAPHER…
I know what you’re thinking, what has this got to do with photography? The answer is, quite a lot actually. Apart from the obvious needs of a photographer, the photography gear, there are also other bit and pieces that digital photographers rely on these days every bit as essential, computers and internet access being the biggest 2. What follows here is a tale of dreadful UK support from 2 companies with a little bonus one chucked in for good measure. Read on…
Let’s start with the internet access. Until recently I had a BT Infinity broadband connection. 40mb downloads, around 10mb uploads. Not the fastest in the UK but a lot faster than I can get on normal broadband connections. This has worked great for 15 months until last week when the connection was suddenly lost.
What followed was 2 days of calls to BT’s Indian call centre. The first challenge here is to get them to understand that it’s Infinity, not normal BB. The second it to get anyone who has the slightest clue what they are talking about. After 2 days of calls to BT finally, I got hold of someone who was able to tell me that the problem was at my exchange, Infinity had been withdrawn and my line had been downgraded to normal broadband.
Now, if there was good reason for this, I’ve no problem. What I do have issue with is that at no time did anyone from BT get in touch to tell me this was happening. For a communications company, their communication is pretty poor. After 2 days of calls I had got as far as getting an engineer appointment booked, which was a week away, not acceptable!
The next 2 days were filled with more calls as the BT @btcare twitter account felt I should be able to connect to the normal broadband if I just bypassed the BT Openreach modem and went straight to the Home Hub. Needless to say, it didn’t work. By this time it was calls to BT Options to cancel contract. Every time speaking to a UK based advisor I was cut off as they tried to put me to support. Finally, someone noticed my line was normal BB but the account was Infinity so he changed the account to Total Broadband and applied a 50% discount to it for the time I was on it. This I was assured would kick in next day. Which you’ll not be surprised to hear, didn’t happen.
More calls, this time the Indian call centre managed to tell me that this would never connect without an engineer visit and they could send out one on the Wednesday. But wait! I had one booked for the Tuesday? Not according to support until they tried to book an appointment and hey presto, the Tuesday one turned up.
To cut long story short, engineer turned up after a full week of no broadband. Took away the Infinity Home Hub and gave me new Home Hub 3, connected and all is good. Or is it? Connected now at 6mps download, and 1mps upload, they also seem to have put me on 12 month Total Broadband contract which I never requested and I’m not down to be converted back to Infinity on 8 November when it becomes available again. Wonder how many calls this will take to sort out?
And so to computers. I bought a 13″ Macbook Pro in August. All is good, except from the fact I bought it from PC World. Quite why I went to any DSG group store I will never know but I did. This week the magsafe power adapter stopped working. Luckily I have an older Macbook so tested the new one with that magsafe and all was good, Macbook not at fault so just power. Easily sorted I thought, just give PC World a call.
Straight through to PC World, which was good after spending days my life on hold at BT. Decent guy on phone then he says… “We’ll pick up the magsafe and your Macbook and send them away for repair”. Hold on a mo, the Macbook is fine; I just need a power adapter? “I realise that” he says, “but our policy is to send both back to Apple”. WTF! No. I can still use the Macbook with the old power adapter but they want me to be without that just so someone can plug in power adapter and go “yep, it’s f****d” and send it back with new one!
What’s more, despite having in store tech guys they would do the same, they won’t plug it in in front of me and look at the issue then give me a new power cord, no, they will package it up and send it off too. What a way to treat a customer! Beware if you ever buy from these retail cowboys.
Finally, a quick mention of Sigma. I bought a Sigma 105mm Macro nearly 2 and a half years ago. After buying a new Nikon D7000 I noticed that this lens doesn’t work with the D7000 so I contacted Sigma. Sigma’s reply was to send it to them with proof of purchase and they will rechip. Let me ask you this, how many receipts can you find over 2 years after you bought something? Without this, they will charge to rechip it to work with the D7000. So, guess what I’ll have to do?
Another cautionary tale, don’t save a few quid on Sigma. Future proof yourself and only buy Nikon wherever possible, you’ll save yourself a lot of hassle in years to come.
So there you have it, 3 photography related takes of woe at the hands of companies who really don’t care a monkeys about the customer.
British Telecom, PC World and Sigma hang your heads in shame.
A couple of months ago I made a decision that it was finally time to move on from my trusty Nikon D90. Now, this is the camera that really helped me make the leap from snapshots to “proper” photography. At the time I bought it, its 12.1mp sensor and feature set made it THE affordable DSLR. The fact it’s still so popular and on sale 2 years down the line is testament to just how good it is, especially as it wasn’t exactly the new kid on the block when I got my hands on it.
As with all things though, technology moves on and in this case, my understanding and photographic know how have also moved on and it’s time to move up the scale, just like I did with my Nikon D70 before.
You’d think this would be a fun move, getting some new kit. How wrong you can be! It’s a minefield out there of camera’s, megapixels, full frame or crop, specs etc etc. Bewildering almost.
Around a month ago I was passing a local branch of Jessops so nipped in for a look at the Nikon D7000 and D300s. The D7000 was originally what I really wanted. Surprisingly for me, the sales guy actually recommended the cheaper D7000 for my purposes but it looked so small next to the D300s which felt like a real proper camera. I was so taken with the D300s if I had the cash I’d have bought it there and then.
For weeks I’ve been researching D300s prices as I tried to assemble the cash to buy it outright, and then out of the blue came a possibility of increasing the budget to anything up to £3,000. Not certain yet but I had to put the camera on hold until I knew, this changes everything.
At this point the first thoughts of going full frame started. I’d always discounted it and I’d also need to change my Nikon 18-70mm AFS DX and Sigma 10-20mm lenses, the 2 main ones I use. With a bigger budget though…
Into view came the Nikon D700. Essentially, a Nikon D3 that’s a touch slower and doesn’t have the fancy body, or the price tag. I also figured I could replace the lenses with quality 2nd hand’s from the likes of Greys of Westminster and figured around another £700 should see me good.
Then when I though it was all clear in my head, I spotted the price of a used Nikon D3. Not the D3s or D3x they are well out of range but the original D3 was coming in at only a couple of hundred quid more than a D700! Top of the range, the holy grail of Nikon and it COULD be mine. Finances would be tight but it might be worth a compromise here and there to get one of the best DSLR’s on the market.
What I should have done then was to leave the internet well alone. I started reading comparison reviews of the cameras and came to the conclusion that a D700 would be just as good as a D3 and I could get it brand new for less than a used D3. Sorted, choice made.
Or was it?
Nope, after some more reading it seemed that full frame was overkill. I’m not a pro, probably never will be so what do I need with full frame? Nope, a D300s would be perfectly adequate.
A D300s it was then. Decision made. As a result of the lesser expenditure I could also probably get myself a Nikon 17-55mm f2.8 DX, the prince of DX format lenses, a Speedlight SB900 and a set of Lee grads and polariser.
BUT, something was nagging at me. The D300s is a 12.1mp camera. Essentially the same one as the Nikon D90 I already have. Of course there are many other improvements but the Canon 7D is in the same price range and its 18mp! I know megapixels are not all that counts at the end of the day but more would be nice. So what else could I get?
I even contemplated a full scale switch to Canon so I could get a 7D but this would be a nightmare with so much Nikon gear so the only other thing I could do was buy the Nikon D7000. After reading the Ken Rockwell review of the D7000 my mind is made up. By all accounts, it appears to be a remarkable camera and while I still don’t really care for the dinkyness of it, I’ll add the battery grip to give it a bit more satisfying bulk for me.
Add in a 2nd hand 17-55 lens to replace my aging 18-70, Speedlight SB900 and the Lee filters and I’ll be just over the 2k mark for all this nice new kit and no issues having to replace lenses left, right and centre.
So that’s it, D7000 it’s going to be.
At least till I start reading other reviews tomorrow…
I’ve got a new obsession.
Actually, it’s an old one rekindled and it comes in the form of the Hipstamatic app for the iPhone. A better £1.19 you couldn’t hope to spend. Digital photography has never looked so analogue is their strapline and it’s true. The easiest way to try and describe it is to look at it as some sort of lomography affair. You get the light leaks, the vignettes, the odd colourings etc and that’s the appeal. As a Holga owner this is far easier and more convenient that getting all that 120 format film developed. Obviously, it’s not proper lomo but it’s a whole lot of fun to use.
I rediscovered the pleasures of Hipstamatic after my recent interest in long exposure photography. What do you do when you’re waiting for a 3 minute exposure to end? You rattle off some Hipstamatic shots of the same subject, that’s what! It’s perfect. I even started photographing my D90 on the tripod doing the long exposure.
in fact, I’m having so much fun with this app I’ve started to take the Hipstamatic shots and then upload them using the Flickit App to my Flickr account, which also posts to Twitter with a link to the shot. Great fun as I can do it while I’m out and about rather than having to wait till I get home.
I used to use Hipstamatic to photograph everyday situations a new way, i.e. mundane scenes in an unusual style but now I’ve tried applying it to the sort of scene I’m photographing with the D90 it’s opened up a whole new set of uses and it’s nice to see some instant different takes on a scene.
So far I’ve used it at…
The point I’m trying to get to here, is that it’s a great compliment to my usual photography. What Hipstamatic does is what no other iPhone photography app does, it makes taking photos with a mobile phone fun and interesting. Your not looking for that meag quality shot, just something quick and interesting and it ticks both those boxes many times over. Besides… it doesn’t half fill in the gaps between those 3 minute exposures!
This is something I hear often; amateur photographers who would love nothing more than to take photographs for a living. Me, I’ve no ambition ever to earn my living from photography. Don’t get me wrong, I like to sell the odd print; I’ve got my own website for just that purpose. I’ve licensed a few images and while it’s always welcome, I’ve no intention of ever treading on the toes of the actual pro’s out there, of which there are many.
Let me explain further.
Firstly, photography is my hobby. I love it. I can be found out and about in Edinburgh most days, usually after work looking for something new or trying to improve a shot I’ve already done. It gets me out and about and I get a huge amount personal satisfaction from it.
So what’s the problem? Why wouldn’t you want to earn a living from something you love doing? Well, I’ve been there and done that already. Many years ago, when the internet was but a young upstart I got an interest in web design, it was so long ago I can remember upgrading to IE3. I loved it, every day I taught myself more and more, built websites on subjects I enjoyed and while I never had an ounce of formal training in it, with a graphic design background I thought I was quite good at it.
Well, I must have been as I went for a job as a graphic designer with a tour operator and ended up building their first e-commerce websites. Fast forward 12 years and I’m still building websites for a living, although I’m now a Web Development Manager rather than just a web designer. This hobby became a job and do you know what? I’d rather stab myself in the eye with a rusty fork than sit building a website after I finish work now.
I build, plan, test, manage, design, eat, breath and shit websites it all day, 5 or more days a week, it’s not fun anymore, it’s a job. Once you cross that line and you depend on it for a living, the initial fun and freedom get replaced with restrictions, deadlines and reams and reams of paperwork and regulations to deal with, in short, it’s not fun, it’s serious, it has to be, it’s how I exist and I don’t ever want photography to go that way.
There’s another reason too. When I first got serious about photography I specialised in motor sports, especially stage rallying. I started off with a bridge camera and finally progressed to a Nikon D70. I got quite good at it even though I do say so myself.
At the same time I had a website I had built dedicated to rallying which was doing rather nicely, it was at one point the 5th highest traffic motor sports website in the UK. This gave me a huge audience for my work and I sold a fair amount of photographs. I was published regularly in the motor sport press and had progressed to the point of gaining press access at events and even being the ONLY website accredited for the Rally GB one year.
However, this brought with it a sinister side of the industry.
Now, my images were typically different from what some of the seasoned pro’s used to do. They went out, usually to a slow corner and made sure they got a least one shot of every car, always the same stuff, high shutter speed and boring shots. I tried to be different and it must have worked, I maybe didn’t get usable images of every car on every event but I got 90% of them and they sold well.
Then it started. I found myself banned from some single venue events where the rights of the official photographer were being protected. Even just as a rally fan with no camera I was banned from entering some events. I also found press officers had been spoken to and some events pulled my legitimate press access. It even went as far as threats of physical violence.
While this never stopped me doing what I done, it made life difficult. Now, as a professional web developer I’ve never once, had a go at anyone who builds websites for fun, I’m more often supportive and ready to offer advice. So why did these professional photographers feel the need to remove me from their little clique? Maybe it’s just the motor sports industry but it left a very sour taste for me.
At one time I had fully planned to make the leap to a professional rally photographer but after this experience I slowly drifted away from the sport and so did a lot of talented amateurs like me who were trying to build up to the point of taking the chance of turning pro. Sad but true but the sport was the worse off for it as it ended up dominated by the same few names taking the same crap images event after event.
So, there you go. A bit rambling perhaps but that’s my reasons for never wanting to be anything more than a keen amateur. Photography for me is all about fun and I’d like it to stay that way.
Let me, from the start; make it clear that I’m a huge fan of HDR photography. I love it, I love the effect it has and I very much enjoy creating HDR images. What I’m less keen on is the way HDR is heavily frowned up by some more experienced photographers.
For those of you who don’t know, HDR photography is High Dynamic Range photography. Put simply, you will take at least 3 images, one properly exposed, one over exposed and one under exposed. Then using software such as the newer versions of Photoshop or Photomatix Pro you combine all 3 exposures to create an image that contains so much lighting information that you could ever achieve with a single shot.
Not quite an accurate technical description but enough to give people who don’t know HDR a fair idea of what it is.
From the first time I ever seen an HDR image I loved the technique. It can make, in some cases, a very average photograph something special. It can rescue a shot taken in dull light and give it life and vibrance. And it’s this, which some people object to.
Me however, I cannot see anything wrong with taking an average photograph and making it a stunning photograph via a fairly simple digital technique. There are times when HDR just works and others that you should use a more traditional technique.
I’ve spent the last 5 months learning all about proper filters having invested in a p-series filter system and it’s been a huge but enjoyable learning curve. It’s also been, at times, frustrating as I tried to get to grips with this new technique. This is how the HDR doubters will take their shots and while I can see some advantages is it right to restrict yourself to only using the filter techniques when you have the creative advantages of HDR at your disposal as well?
Let me give you an example. This was a shot taken in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh. It was taken with a circular polarising filter and a ND0.6 soft graduated filter, and to me this shot was near perfect.
However, the day before I was at the same location and in more difficult lighting conditions I took another shot, which I eventually turned into an HDR.
Now, I much prefer the first shot of the 2. BUT, I was recently approached by a greetings card company looking to licence some of my images, I gave them both of these for approval and which one did they want? The HDR one.
Let’s take another example. The famous Calton Hill in Edinburgh shot at sunset, firstly, taken with a circular polarising filter and a 0.9ND soft grad.
And now for an HDR version of the same shot:
Guess which one the greetings card company wanted from these 2? Yes, the HDR one.
Now, I’m not saying that EVERY shot you take you should take with HDR in mind but why can it not be part of your photographic armoury just the same as taking a stack of filters out with you? What’s SO wrong about enhancing an average image with HDR, don’t we enhance every image we take in photo editing software somehow?
If HDR isn’t your thing, then fine, that’s your right but please, don’t dismiss the technique as a lower art form.
I’ll leave you with a few of my favourite HDR images of Edinburgh and I’d love to see what everybody else thinks about HDR in the comments?
As a photographer I’m constantly seeking out new views and subject matters. However, with Edinburgh being my main focus over time it can be difficult to find something new. What this led me to discover is that doing the same shot over and over again isn’t a bad thing. Familiarity with the subject and trying something a little different can often produce a vastly improved or very different shot.
This is the scene I’ll use to demonstrate, the classic Edinburgh Calton Hill shot, taken from the side of the Observatory building with the Dugald Stewart Monument on the left and Edinburgh Castle and the Balmoral Clock behind. THE iconic Edinburgh view.
This is a fairly typical shot, sunny day, nice blue sky. Just the Nikon D90 fitted with the Nikon 18-70mm lens, CPL and ND Soft Grads used.
However, try the scene again at sunset…
This first example is the same shot done at sunset in February (the sun only sets in this scene from later October to March). This one has had quite a lot of PP work done and is a 3 shot HDR image.
Another sunset, this time at the end of August, the sun is setting out the frame but the HDR processing has brought out the sunset colours in the sky.
Finally another sunset, this time in October and not given any HDR treatment, this is down to the use of ND soft grads.
So, 3 shots, all from exactly the same spot but a very different result from each.
How about at night?
Weather can also play a big part. As soon as the snow hit Edinburgh in 2010 it was time to try the shot yet again, but with added snow!
Again, same scene but a very different shot yet again.
So we’ve seen how the processing of the shot, times and weather can all produce different results, how about using a different lens?
Obviously for this particular scene using a big zoom would be pointless as you’d lose the foreground interest of the monument but this shot was taken with a Lensbaby 3G, a selective focus lens at around 55mm, too much to get the whole monument in but we can still get enough of it so you know it’s the same shot.
Or how about even a very different camera, this was taken with a cheap Holga on 120 format B&W film.
So there you go, same scene, 8 times but 8 very different shots and I wont hesitate to take this one again if I think I can get something different again.
I’ll leave you with one other example, this was a shot I took just after Christmas 2009 on the Cammo Estate in Edinburgh with a fair bit of snow on the ground, initially I loved the shot, the HDR just worked perfectly but the fencepost on the right fouled the tree behind it and it bugged me every since I spotted it.
Never be afraid to revisit places you’ve been and take the same shot, at the end of the day if you get enjoyment out of it take the same shot every day. There’s always something different even if the same scene if you look for it!
200,000 and counting on Flickr
200,000 page views and counting
My most popular image according to Flickr is Danbo on a firework, this reached Explore number 2 and the Front Page as well.
My own personal favourite is this image of Calton Hill, its also the view I’ve photographed most in Edinburgh. This reached a high of 15 in Explore and went front page as well. This image was also published by the Edinburgh Evening News:
My First front page image was this abstract number which went as high as number 24 in Explore:
This was my 2nd Front Page image which curiously only went as high as 48 in Explore, usually out the range of a FP image:
My 5th and latest FP was this shot taken in Princes Street, Edinburgh which went as high as number 22:
I’ve now had 90 images in Explore, of which this slightly embarrassing shot was the very first:
The rest of my Explore images can be seen here
Thanks to everyone who’s every commented, fav’d or even viewed my stuff on Flickr!
Let’s start with a little background information…
I would never describe myself as anything other than a keen amateur at photography despite having an interest for at least the last 10 years. I got my first DSLR when the Nikon D70 hit UK shores and for years took nothing other than motor sport shots, particularly rallying. Now, rally photography, no matter what anybody tells you isn’t rocket science. Shutter priority, pick your spot and off you go. Easy.
Over all those years I never explored further until I started to kindle an interest in “other” types of photography in early 2009. After struggling with the D70 I finally bit the bullet and bought a Nikon D90 in May 2009 and the learning curve began. What follows are some of the biggest lessons I learned which hopefully will prove helpful to other “learners” such as myself.
1. Whatever you do, get your pictures out there on the internet.
Why, you might think, would I want to do this? Simple, websites such as Flickr or Blipfoto allow you to interact with other photographers and from there you’ll get feedback on your images and be able to see how other people achieved their results. Flickr was the single biggest source of learning and inspiration for me and its well worth paying for the pro subscription but do make an effort to get involved, the more you contribute the more you’ll get back. I learned loads from people on Flickr and now enjoy passing on some of the knowledge.
2. Always buy the best you can afford.
It makes a difference. If you can afford to buy a decent DSLR and lenses then it will pay dividends for you. If all you can afford is a compact, then that’s fine but get the more feature packed one you can. By that I don’t mean all different pre-set modes or wireless printer links etc, make sure you can control the camera manually by setting the aperture etc, once you progress you’ll want more control and if you don’t have it you’ll stand still taking snapshots.
Don’t pick one subject matter or one style of photography when you’re starting out, try all sorts and from that, decide what works for you. I have a real passion for photographing my home town, Edinburgh but I also enjoy macro photography, low depth of field shots, etc etc. It keeps things interesting and if you enjoy landscapes its good to have something else to do if the weather isn’t the best for tramping around the countryside. You never know, you might just find a style that suits you and your equipment better.
4. Invest in lenses carefully
If you go the DSLR route then you’ll start to build a collection of lenses. Lenses no matter what manufacturer you go for are never cheap so be careful what you buy. Carefully consider what you want it for and what you need for the job. Most cameras will come with a kit lens, a fairly cheap lens usually in the 18-55mm range. This will serve you well for most situations. I’d say from that add a decent bigger zoom lens, my Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 EX HSM was expensive but the quality is fantastic and its been used without fault for years. It’s usually always true the more you spend the better you’ll get.
Don’t be too hung up on only buying Nikon or Canon branded lenses etc, Sigma and other 3rd party manufacturers all produce some great glass and usually cheaper prices and in some cases, they are even better than the camera manufacturer’s equivalent. I’ve got a mix of Sigma and Nikon lenses and never had any problems with the Sigma’s which are all of excellent build quality.
A kit lens and a decent zoom will serve you well and you can add specialist glass such as macro lenses, or super wide lenses as you grow and learn.
5. Invest in a decent tripod and remote switch
Don’t skimp on a tripod. You might not see it as a huge problem but having been through loads of cheap, and by cheap I mean sub £30 tripods I finally broke the bank and spent £120 of a Giottos tripod and head and never looked back. The ease of use and build quality are well worth paying for. It might seem a lot for something to sit a camera on but having wasted over £60 on cheap tripods believe me it’s not that bad. As I’ve progressed I find I use it all the time, even it good light as you’re taking no chances with camera shake and ruining a good shot.
A decent remote shutter release is also a godsend. Don’t be too hung up on the IR ones, they do work but your better of with one connected by a cable. £20 on EBay will buy you a programmable one and they go hand in hand with the tripod use.
6. Learn the importance of filters early on
Filters are the key to great images. You probably will already have a UV or skylight screw in filter on your lenses to protect the front element but take the time to learn what circular polarisers and natural density filters can do for you. Most people start with screw in versions as they are easy to use and mainly, you can get them fairly cheap. The downside of them is that if you have different lenses with different sized filter threads you need different filters to fit them all.
In this case, look at square filter systems such as the Cokin P range. To start with, unless you’re a lottery winner don’t bother too much with the top range stuff like the Lee filters unless you’re going to make a business from your photography. The 85mm Cokin P range is fine for most amateur use and a hell of a lot cheaper. You’ll need filter adapter rings to fit your lenses but after than everything else fits on all lenses, you only need one filter holder and one set of filters. I bought the following on eBay for under £100 and it serves me well in 99% of situations. The only limitation is with my Sigma 10-20mm lens but I can use the filters down to 12mm with no vignette from the holder.
77mm adapter ring
67mm adapter ring
Cokin P holder
Cokin P wide angle holder
Kood 85mm circular polariser
Set of 0.3, 0.6, 0.9 Hitech ND filters
Set of 0.3, 0.6, 0.9 Hitec ND Soft Grads
7. Learn and understand about your cameras aperture priority mode.
I wont attempt to tell you about aperture settings in photography, there’s a million tutorials if you Google it. Read up on it, it’s the single most important thing you’ll learn.
8. Don’t be afraid to repeat a shot
So you’ve taken a trip out and came back with a handful of images. You’re maybe quite happy with what you got. BUT, don’t think that’s it, best I can do from there. Go back, try again, maybe do something different. You will be amazed at how you can improve a picture by become familiar with the scene. I’ve done the classic Edinburgh shot from Calton Hill dozens of times and improve it every time or get something different every time and never tire of it. Try the shot at sunrise, sunset, dusk, dark, cloudy days, blue sky etc etc, you will be amazed at how many differences you can get and how you will get better and better at it.
9. Plan a trip out before hand.
Check the internet, is where your going closed at a certain time? Check Suncalc, what’s the sun position when I get there? Look at the location on Google Maps; see where you can get access and what angles you might get. Think about what shots you might take and what equipment you might need. Plan where to park or even if you can park? Check the weather forecast. Doing costal shots? Check Tide Times. Planning can make a world of difference!
10. If your camera lets you, shoot in RAW
RAW is the key to great images, if you can set your camera to give you RAW output, use it and learn how to process it. I use it with Adobe Camera Raw with photoshop but there are stacks of programmes out there to read and process RAW files, once you try RAW you won’t ever go back to jpeg!
So that’s my tips for any beginners or upcoming amateurs. I’m not saying I’m perfect but this is what’s worked well for me, hopefully, it’ll work well for you too. Any other tips, feel free to leave them in the comments.
Railings? Railings, I hear you cry? Why on earth would you want to take pictures of railings? Well, put quite simply, done correctly with a shallow depth of field, you can get some amazing abstract images and it’s really not that hard to do. I’ve also found it a great way to save a photo outing when the light is terrible for “normal” shots. Regardless of the light you’ll be able to do something with a humble railing.
So, what do you need? Well, a DSLR helps, obviously, or a compact that will allow you to control the aperture. All the shots that follow were taken with either a Nikon 50mm f1.8 or Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 EX HSM lens. Both end of the spectrum here, the 50mm is ultra cheap, around £110, the Sigma nearer £700 but both will let you do great railings. In fact, even a kit lens at its widest setting, usually about f3.5 will allow you to get some kind of decent bokeh effect.
It might seem obvious but metal railings are what we’re looking for, not wooden fences, mainly as the light will “glint” on metal railings allowing us to get that bokeh effect we’re looking for. What’s bokeh? See those little fuzzy circles of light, that’s bokeh and using it correctly can produce some very striking results.
The main technique involves setting the lens to its widest setting, in the 50mm case, f1.8, in the 70-200mm, f2.8. Now, pick your railing and pick a spike to focus on, you want to be as near as possible to the minimum focal distance from it you can. In the case of the 50mm its about 45cm. Focusing on a spike at 45cm distance at f1.8 will produce an extreme bokeh effect, moving a few feet away and focusing on the same spike will lessen the effect, play about and see what works.
Try to pick railings that curve round corners or have light falling on them in some way, anything to give a little more to the shot than a straight look down a fence. Check out the example below, I’ll even tell you where to find them…
1. National Gallery of Scotland
Walking towards the Playfair Steps there’s a set of railings here with fairly sharp spikes. This shot was taken on a fairly sunny day at a big zoom at f2.8 with the Sigma giving a WILD bokeh effect.
2. Still at the National Gallery
Running right around the National Gallery are another pointy set of railings, immediately across from the first shot, again, an extreme bokeh effect with a little sunlight hitting the tops of the peaks.
3. Calton Hill
These railings are found on the driveway up to Calton Hill; they are right at the entrance gates and sweep round into Regents Road. At the right angle with a little sunlight, this is roughly what you’ll get!
4. The Playfair Steps
Found at the top of the Mound leading down to the National Gallery of Scotland is the Playfair Steps, looking down these gives a nice effect, even better if there’s a few pedestrians about waiting to be turned into lovely bokeh!
5. Mound Place/The Mound
The Mound is a great area to play around with these shots, there’s so many railings! This is on the corner of Mound Place and The Mound, a nice sweepings set round the corner. Focus on the apex of the curve, job done.
6. The Hub
The Hub’s not hard to find. It’s that huge spire just next to Edinburgh Castle. At its entrance is a nice set of sweeping railings. This is the one to the right, heading up towards the Castle.
7. The Botanic Gardens
A bit out the City Centre but the Botanics is a photographers dream at the best of times. If you get fed up with the flowers, try the railings! This set is just to the left of the North Gate.
8. Waverly Bridge
These attractive green railings are at the bottom of Waverly Bridge, just at the bottom entrance to East Princes Street Gardens. This was a shot with the 50mm lens after an outing to take shots of the Xmas big wheel during the day, in the end I preferred this to any of the wheel shots.
9. The Dugald Stewart Monument
The Dugald Stewart Monument is usually the subject of many of Edinburgh’s classic views from Calton Hill but take a closer look at the structure and you’ll see these great ornate railings around the base. Shot with the 50mm lens.
10. Regents Road
Just below Calton Hill is Regents Road, there’s a huge set of railings down one side of the road here, get in the right position and you can get Arthur’s Seat as a backdrop! Shot with a Nikon 18-70mm DX at f3.5.
So that’s my top 10, I’d love to hear any other suggestions. Feel free to post them or your own shots of Edinburgh railings in the comments below.
So here we are at part 3 of this occasional series! You’ve all gone out and taken the other 22 shots already and you’re ready for more right? Without any further ado, let’s get started on the next 11 must have Edinburgh photographs…
1. Edinburgh Castle from Blackford Hill
We’ve already featured Blackford Hill as the perfect vantage point to photograph Arthur’s Seat but while you’re up there you’ll want to turn your attention to Edinburgh Castle. You’re about 1 mile from the Castle here so you’ll need at least a 200mm lens to have any chance of a close-up. The most likely approach to the hill is parking in the car park at the back of the Observatory. If you feel fit, head up the hill towards the telephone mast and turn right as soon as you can. This will bring you out on the lower slopes and you’ll get your fist view of Edinburgh. It’s steep to the top from here but if you keep on the path up to the mast then turn right up the steep bit of hill it’s much easier as it’s a steeper but much shorter climb to the trig point. Once you there, pick your spot, you can’t go wrong!
2. Scottish Parliament from the Radical Road
If you’re down Holyrood way you can’t have missed the Scottish Parliament building. An odder looking structure you’ll be hard pushed to find and from ground level at least, it’s one ugly building as well. The best way to view this is from above. It changes the whole view somehow and you’ll get the bonus of Dynamic Earth next to it as well. From outside the Parliament building, shield your eyes from the ugliness and walk over the road towards Salisbury Crags. Turn left and look for the small red cinder path leading up the face of the crags. It’s a seriously steep climb here; thankfully you won’t need to go all the way round, just high enough to get a decent elevation on the buildings.
3. North Edinburgh Cityscape at night
This one is a personal favourite of mine. I stumbled across this shot by accident one night while up on Calton Hill taking some more classic shots of the city at night. Up at the side of the Observatory dome is the best place to be, walking round and there is a small railing that leads around to the Dugald Stewart Monument, the start of this railing is the spot. Look for the brightest spot along the shoreline, this will be Leith Docks and this is roughly where you’ll aim, a wide lens is a must here. In the proper dark, you’ll be looking at around a 2 minute exposure at f16 here but its well worth the effort. Also a nice shot to try at dusk as the lights start to come on.
4. Newhaven Harbour
Down on the coastline just 5 minutes from Ocean Terminal is the small historic harbour at Newhaven. As you get here, the first thing you’ll see is the large while lighthouse out on the edge of the harbour wall. In itself, it’s an interesting shot to take but for the best of Newhaven, use it as a backdrop instead. From the side nearest the road, take you pick of the boats and off you go. There’s also a nice shot to be had on the walk out to the lighthouse between the railings. A great spot for sunsets all year too.
5. Greyfriars Bobby
No visit to Edinburgh would be complete without a visit to Greyfriars Bobby. The statue of Edinburgh’s most famous dog sits on the corner of Candlemaker Row and George IV Bridge just across from the junction at Chambers Street. During the festival you’ll almost need to queue up to take the shot. Little tip here, don’t be tempted by the pub of the same name right opposite the statue, worst beer in Edinburgh, you have been warned!
6. Scott Monument from East Princes Street Gardens
Built as a tribute to Sir Walter Scott the large black imposing structure of the Scott Monument dominates east Princes Street Gardens. This is the location of the Christmas big wheel in Edinburgh too. You could photograph this from anywhere in the gardens but with a serious wide angle lens, try it from immediately below, or even as a ventorama for something just a little different. Try going up it too, amazing views from the top.
7. Duddingston Loch from above
Probably only worth attempting if you have a car at your disposal and it’s a bit of a walk if you don’t. At the edge of St Margaret’s Loch in Holyrood Park is a little one way road that leads around Arthur’s Seat. Note that the road is not always open so you might be disappointed, especially at night or on a Sunday afternoon. If it’s open, drive up till you pass Dunsapie Loch on your left hand side. Just past Dunsapie park up at the edge of the road. Looking down, you’ll see the large Duddingston Loch and the church beside, this is your shot right here! Another little tip here, don’t try this one at night, shall we say this is a popular area for “dirtier” activities in cars at night!
8. The Shore at night
A really easy one here. From Commercial Street in now fashionable Leith on the shore there’s a road bridge over the Water of Leith. This is your spot, especially good on a nice calm night.
9. Dean Village
Visiting Edinburgh, you must visit the Dean Village. It’s hard to believe this oasis of quiet is just minutes from the centre of Edinburgh. At the west end of Edinburgh head out towards Queensferry Road, before you cross the Dean Bridge there’s a steep downhill cobbled street. Follow this down into the Dean Village and you end up at a small bridge. Don’t cross the Bridge but follow the street further down keeping the river on your right, now you’ll be at a small footbridge. Just below this footbridge is your spot. Easy to get down to if the water is low. Look upstream and there’s your shot right there!
10. Fireworks at the Castle
Obviously this isn’t an all the time shot but it does happen with some regularity. The best of the lot is the Bank of Scotland Fireworks to mark the end of the Festival but there’s also a 10 minute display on every Saturday night after the Tattoo during the Festival around midnight, more at midnight on Hogmanay (December 31st) and sometimes on November 30th (St Andrews Day). With stacks of vantage points around the city Blackford Hill is again one of the best. However, Inverleith Park, Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill and numerous city centre spots will also give you pics to be proud of.
Undiscovered: Union Canal at Ratho
Take the A71 out of Edinburgh on the West side of the city. After a few miles you’ll see a turn off for Ratho on the right. Take this past the Ratho Park pub and keep going for about 1 mile into the village of Ratho, turn right at the junction and follow the road around till you see the Bridge Inn pub. Park up here and cross the humpback bridge and head down onto the canal towpath on the right. Just up here is your spot, even better on a calm day.
So there we go, another 11 to keep you busy. Feel free to leave your comments below.