Category: News & Views

The Creative Camera > News & Views

It doesn’t matter what you photograph – just make it your best shot ever!

I’m writing this article because I am seeing an increasing number of what I consider to be relatively poor photographs among the varous groups I frequent, at least in terms of subject, composition and lighting and this appears to be a growing trend It’s almost as if pointing the camera at anything and clicking the shutter is enough to say, look at me, I’m a photographer. Truthfully, it’s all just noise, detracting from the really good stuff that gets hidden away in those very same groups.

Now, I’ve said before in a previous post that I don’t understand the rush to post your photos on facebook. It’s the same really for other social interest groups, including Instagram which at least does give you a profile of images to show off. That being said, if you class yourself as a photographer, whether new to the genre or an old hand, we all need to stop accepting that meadiocre is good enough and start pushing for great. If we don’t do this collectively then we simply can’t improve and continuous improvement is what makes us better. I know from my own experience, and never more so than recently when I had to reconstitute a lot of my photography from it’s earliest days, how I have changed as a photographer and hopefully how I have improved with time. A lot of this improvement has come from the help and support of others as well as from my own personal development and my interests as a photographer and as an artist. What I thought was really good four years ago is no longer necessarily what I think is good today.

Of course, what I consider poor may differ hugely from what you consider poor and I think that is part of the problem. However, while we may differ on the stuff that interests usand makes us hit the like button, what shouldn’t differ in what we agree makes a good image. For me this is very simply:

  • Content
  • Composition
  • Exposure

If any one of these three items is missing then that photo really shouldn’t see the light of day. And turning it into a HDR masterpiece isn’t going to help. You can’t turn a pigs ear into a silk purse as they say!

When you look at an Ansel Adams photo you know, assuming that you know something about photography, that it’s an Ansel Adams photo. There’s just something about the depth of tones, the subject matter, composition and the overall exposure that screams Ansel Adams. You don’t even have to like landscapes to value his images. Everything is in the right place, everything has the right exposure and the subject always captures the imagination. When you look at images from Cartier-Bresson or another great candid photographer, for example Robert Doiseneu, Vivian Maier, Saul Leiter, Fred Herzog or Diane Arbus and indeed, any number of others, again, everything you could possibly need to tell a story is all there. Nothing is missing. Does this mean that photography is easy? Well, in truth yes but in order to sell it to others, you just need to think a little more about the story you are trying to tell before you press the shutter button. Of course you then have to rely on the viewer understanding your message or your story and that is not so easy, especially looking at what some photographers think is a good image!

Of course, we are dead lucky to live in an age where the modern camera does all the hard work. Exposing your image correctly, and getting everything in focus really shouldn’t be a problem. Even if for some reason it is a little dark or a little too bright, five minutes in post really should be all it takes to nail it. So, while some minor latitude may be required in the technical areas, all we really have to do then is to find the amazing compositions that tell a great story. Easy really! Well, no, it’s not and that’s why most images today – and I’m talking of the millions of images taken daily on everything from a smart phone to a Hasselblad – just don’t work. That’s where experience comes in, that’s were looking at successful photographers and their images pays off and that’s where talking and listening to others pays dividends. You might be the next Cartier-Bresson, self taught, self critical and extremely capable but chances are, you aren’t. Very few are. That doesn’t mean though hat you have to accept your own images as being good, let alone the output of others as being good. If you suck up photography as a sponge sucks up water without question you’ll become a better photographer. Just don’t spend your time sucking up the dross you see on facebook and thinking that this is good photography. Sadly, it all to often isn’t.

On1 PhotoRAW 2022 – Getting better with Age? Maybe.

Disclaimer! I’m a big fan of On1 PhotoRAW. As a user since On1 PhotoRAW 2018, every major upgrade has improved the software dramatically. In On1 PhotoRAW 2019 we welcomed Portrait Ai which made it a lot easier to fine tune portraits albeit with some limitations, for example relighting of subjects which for me is a very important feature. For this reason it isn’t close to what can be achieved using PortraitPro Studio, which is a seasoned exponent of the perfect portrait, if sometimes the results can be a little overdone. Nonetheless, the results, up until now, have been pretty good and I was hoping to see incremental improvements with Portrait Ai in On1 PhotoRAW 2022. More on Portrait Ai later.

On1 PhotoRAW 2021 is a pretty solid application for photo editing. In my eyes it’s right up there with Lightroom and even shares a few features with Photoshop. I’ve been using On1 PhotoRAW 2021 for about a year now, alongside Affinity Photo for the really heavy lifting, and it’s my go to everyday editor. That doesn’t mean to say however that it is the only editor I have tried over that time. Since 2018 I have also used Luminar 2018 through to Luminar 4 and more laterly, I spent a month solely with Capture One. As I mentioned, I have also used Affinity Photo extensively although only when I’ve run out of ideas on On1. Although these are all good editors, I always come back to On1 as for me, it has everything that I need to edit my images on a day to day basis. Not surprisingly then, I was pretty keen to be one of the first in the queue to receive On1 PhotoRAW 2022 which was released just a few days ago. Armed with a 25% couplon code I found on the web, plus my customer discount, I bought the standalone version of On1 PhotoRAW 2022, together with the plugin bundle for just £90 GBP. Normally I wouldn’t bother with the plugin bundle, it would also have only cost me £50, but since this has now been seperated out from the core system, I thought I would hedge my bets for use with Affinity Photo, especially NoNoise Ai as this is proving to be a great addition to On1 PhotRAW 2022. I also want to access the batch capabilities of Resize Ai, whicih I am told exist in the standalone plugin, although time will tell.

Right off the bat I hit problems with getting On1 PhotoRAW 2022 to load. Now I have to say, if you have a massive HDD or SSD with lots of spare capacity then my experience here isn’t going to be yours. It turns out that migrating data from On1 2021 to On1 2022 requires quite a lot of disk space, especially if you have thousands of images. I have a feeling that if I had retained the catalog image size at Standard (I recatalogued at Minimal) that I would have needed a whole lot more disk space. Minimal though does seem to bring down the cache size so my photo data (which was what needed migrating) required just 33GB of free space to complete the migration process. That being said, the free space on my internal drive (a fast 500GB SSD partitioned as C: and D:) was only 15GB so somehow I needed to find an additional 20GB of free space. That’s not easy when you have a lot of applications loaded!! After an hour of moving stuff around, for example moving Dropbox and OneDrive from C: to D: and deleting all of the remnants of earlier versions of On1 from my Roaming directory – there was another 7GB of crap in there – I managed to just squeeze out enough free RAM to achive the migration of On1 2021 to 2022. The good news is that I now have 27GB free disk space on C: so that’s a bonus! So, after a short battle I was all good to go and On1 PhotoRAW 2022 completed its setup and was now running OK.

Once loaded, and based on some recent posts on the support forum re optimisation and speed, I undertook a few experiments with moving around the SCRATCH and Browser Cache and eventually settled for putting them both on the internal D: SSD drive. Some commentators say this is wrong but that disk is so much faster than anything else I have access to that I really don’t have a choice. More on this later!

So let’s look then at what On1 PhotoRAW 2022 gives me that is new. In truth the changes to the front end are fairly minimal so it still looks like On1 PhotoRAW 2021 albeit that more is going on now in the RHS panel than in previously versions. The various other panels, i.e. the LHS panel which contains the Browse, Catalogues and Presets areas, and the bottom of the screen which is a filmstrip of the current folder all still work in practically the same way so migrating my brain to On1 PhotoRAW 2022 was a lot easier than migrating my data!!

My immediate thoughts on what I have played with the most over the past few weeks or so, this is the DAM, NoNoise Ai, Resize, Portrait AI and a fleeting glimpse of Sky Replacement are improving with time. Whether I have some hardware incompatiabilities I don’t know but overall, performance seems a little more sluggish on the editing side, in particular in masking and painting of local effects than in On1 PhotoRAW 2021. Now I don’t intend to use On1 PhotoRAW 2022 for Sky Replacement, it’s not something that interests me, but I will use Portrait Ai occasionally (when I don’t need the power of Affinity Photo or PortraitPro Studio 21) and I’ll use the DAM and it’s associated smart tools pretty much all the time. In my opinion, the DAM is one area where On1 has really done a good job, especially in it’s search features and albums.

So, without further ado, here’s my first thoughts at On1 PhotoRAW 2022 as a user rather than as a reviewer. Now, before you read on, your hardware is going to differ from mine. If you have an old PC or laptop with 12GB or less RAM and limited resources my experiences could well mirror your own. What I tell you here then could help you to resolve these and improve your usage of On1 PhotoRAW 2022. If you have a power PC or new laptop, I suspect that you will have very limited problems. If in doubt, download the trial and use it. I intend to expand on this blog post later, indeed I already have, as I get to grips with more of it’s capabilities over time but here are a few of my early observations.

General Usage – UPDATED 12/10/2021

Because I have been an On1 customer for several years now the overall user interface is very familiar to me. As mentioned above there have been some cosmetic changes to the Browse screen but for existing as well as for new users, this won’t be a problem. Here’s what you’ll see when you open up On1 PhotoRAW 2022.

When you first open On1 PhotoRAW 2022, assuming you’re a new user, you won’t see any catalogs. You’ll need to create these before On1 PhotoRAW 2022 can do it’s magic. Basically creating a catalogue means that you point On1 at the folders where you keep your images, for example I have one folder called Pictures under which I have all of my images in various subfolders. By adding the top level folder as a catalog ie Pictures, all of the subfolders below this are also cataloged and with them, every image in my collection. You don’t have to do this of course, you can catalog any of your folders which contain images in any way that you wish. One tip for laptop users though, for your folders set the image preview size to MINIMAL as this hugely reduces the size of your PerfectBrowserCache. I mean we are talking orders of magnitude smaller here with no particular degredation in what you see on screen.

Performance in browse is pretty good now but very occasionaly I do see the “On1 is not responding message” at the top of the screen. This is much less often now that I have moved the cache to an internal drive which is 10x faster than the USB handicapped Seagate T5 I initially tried. It’s only momentary and is no longer as annoying as it was. Finding the right location for your cache is of real importance as it does affect general usage such as browsing, masking and brush (local) editing.

Editing an image is straight forward, highlight an image and click on the Edit icon top right of the screen. This opens the image as well as making a number of presets available down the LHS panel. On the RHS you have a variety of editing tools, basically these are the same as in On1 PhotoRAW 2021. Under the Develop tab you’ll find the new NoNoise panel so watch out for this as it is hidden away. Like most editors, you can use a pen tablet for editing which should make editing a lot quicker and more accurate but so far I have not found this to be the case with On1 PhotoRAW 2022. The mouse is a tad slower to use in local adjustments, ie there is more lag when doing masking etc but the pen tablet is very much slower again. The point I want to make here is that I run Affinity Photo and On1 PhotoRAW 2022 on the same laptop so the same hardware. Affinity Photo is blisteringly quick, especially for brush intensive work while On1 PhotoRAW 2022 is incedibly laggy. This was particulalry noticable in the Sky Replacement module. Given that Affinity Photo works flawlessly and On1 doesn’t points the finger at On1 PhotoRAW 2022 code, or more particulalry perhaps, how it interacts with the hardware available. as being a big part of the problem. On1 really need to get on top of this in future releases because at the moment whenever I have brush intensive work to do I fire up Affinity Photo. In the meantime I have been able to slightly improve brush performance in On1 PhotoRAW 2022, more on this later.

So, what about some of the other main features?

Backup & Restore – UPDATED 12/10/2021

New to version On1 PhotoRAW 2022, Backup & Restore provides a much needed way to protect our valuable work. Although I had some initial problems with this feature, after re-installing On1 PhotoRAW 2022, this seemed to clean up a lot of problems, Backup & Restore seems to be working OK now. Fortunately I have not had a reason to use the restore function as yet but backing up takes about 5 minutes for my particular setup. That does seem like an eternity when you are watching the screen but in reality it is a small price to pay for peace of mind.

DAM (Digital Asset Management)

I mentioned above that the DAM is one of my favorite features of On1. The DAM in 2022 appears to be little different to On1 2021 and indeed, earlier versions. It has the same layout as for 2021 – catalogued folders, browse, presets, albums, advanced search, tethered shooting and recent files. These all exist in the LHS panel under three tabs. Performance of the DAM is also on par with 2021 although for me this was improved by choosing minimal for image information / rendering – it also crushes the size of the PerfectBrowserCache file which when set to Standard size was absolutely huge, some 300GB at one point. Nowadays I have this down to around 6GB so I recommend this option for fellow laptop users. It’s still a little quirky in use though, for example I have some catalogued images that are orphans ie they take up space in the catalog but theres nothing there to edit and as such, you can’t delete or move them from a search query. This confused me initially as I had set them to a red flag, along with others I wanted to delete but deleting all of the images was impossible while the orphans remained in the search results. Annoying but not the end of the world especially now as I have isolated them. On1 Support told me it was probably my graphics drivers or my inability to setup my GPU properly as these are common problems/ However, since these are bang uptodate via the Nvidia Experience application I use and I do know how to set up the GPU to work with On1 I personally don’t think so. Besides, I have found 608 orphaned thumbnails – all Fuji BTW – when I undertake a search, use Dates which is also a search tool, and this points the finger at the database behind the software. Surely On1 Support will have a solution for this problem which I await with interest!

There’s been no improvement in Smart Organise as far as I can tell, it still can’t find similar images for the most part. I don’t know what On1 thinks a similar image is but I would have thought ones that look identical should fit that criteria. The good news is that Dates, which I have just mentioned above, and which allows you to drill down into images from various years also finds duplicate images (because they are from the same year) across the whole of your catalog. This means that I have a super simple and quick way of clearing out duplicates. Of course if that fails, I also have access to CC Cleaner which also does a great job of finding duplicates with the same names. Dates BTW also finds all of the orphaned thumbnails which do clutter up the screen somewhat.

Advanced search is still good with lots of options for tracking down individual images etc. So is the adding of meta-tag info in bulk or to individual images. I use this feature a lot. Not sure removing the rating info from the bottom browser bar in Browse is a good step as I kinda liked it there. However, it’s still available but now in the RHS panel under Info which I find to be a little less useful.

Before talking about mouse or tablet intensive activities, let’s focus on hardware limitations – UPDATED 12/10/2021

If you read my earlier comments you’ll know that I had problems using a Pen Tablet to do masking and brush editing in Sky replacement and as local adjustments when general editing and I suspect that unless you have something like a power PC or high resource Mac, you may also struggle to get the best from it. Now I’m pretty sure that this can be partially solved by ensuring that your hardware is bang uptodate and using the latest drivers etc. What I did then was to benchmark my hardware to find out where the bottlenecks are in order to avoid them. Having recently bought the well regarded 1TB Seagate T5 SSD after a HDD failure, I have concluded that because it runs off of a relatively slow Super Speed USB port which is now some 4 years old, I am not getting the best transfer rates. My hardware test confirmed this on the T5 as “Performing well below expectations”. The problem then is that I am trying to force a lot of data down a straw when I really need access to a hosepipe!! For this reason I moved all of the On1 cache (Scratch and PerfectBrowserCache) to my much faster internal SSD drive (D:) which has helped improve performance significantly.

Another thing I did was to set up On1 PhotoRAW 2022 as a known application on my Huion X-Pen Tablet. I also set it up as an application in the Graphics Settings on my Windows 10 system. My thinking is that setting this to High Performance can’t hurt. Finally I also made sure that my Nvidia GPU is working with On1 PhotoRAW 2022. Has this helped? Yes, the pen actually moves now but performance is still poor in that there is too much lag in the process making even minor adjustments tedious. IN order to prove my point here, I remembered that I also have Luminar 4.3.3 loaded on my PC. Now, Luminar over the years has in my opinion, gone from a really good, fast editor to something of a toy in it’s latest Luminar Ai incarnation BUT I loaded up the same image as I used with On1 PhotoRAW 2022 and the pen tablet performance was excellent in Luminar 4.3.3 – no appreciable lag. I don’t know what else to say really. Simply put, On1 PhotoRAW 2022 really sucks with regards brush lag when doing masking and local (brush intensive) editing. On1 designers, please please please focus on painting performance and sort out this problem asap!!!

All this being said of course, I can’t solve any USB problem as these are built in to the laptop I am using and running off a 4 year old motherboard. They are what they are. If I am going to make On1 PhotoRAW 2022 fly in the longer term, I am going to need a faster, easier to upgrade PC and that means buyng one or building one myself. Today though, I am stuck with what I have.

Sky Replacement – UPDATED 12/10/2021

Before Sky replacement arrived, the process in On1 PhotoRAW 2021 relied on creating a composite image using layers. The masking tools in that release, although good, often failed to deliver a perfect mask so the inclusion of masking Ai is very welcome. The Sky replacement tools in On1 PhotoRAW 2022 appear to be as comprehensive and somewhat similar to what I have found in Luminar 4 but the results are not quite on par with Luminar. For example, if we take an image with hard edges, such as buildings below or the lighthouse above, the masking is not perfect and some help is required. To a certain extent, this comes about in the Fade Edge slider which does provide the option to harden the edges. Even so, some mask refinement is necessary, most noticebly in lower contrast regions such as in the middle building in the before and after images shown below. This illustrates some of the challenges of applying sky replacement to what should be a super-simple image. Hard edges you would think would cause less problems not more! The header image is another example of what I was able to achieve with relative ease with some simple brushing in of shadows etc after the sky had been replaced (new light source = the challange to make the image look real) but again, the hard edges do cause some problems. My personal view is that On1 have jumped on the bandwagon just to have something which competes with other editors. Personally I don’t think we need it and as such, I don’t really want it. I would much prefer that On1 focus on performance, especially in optimising brush performance in masking and local effects, system stability and useful tools such as noise reduction and resize. These improvements and latter features are very much more important to me than sky replacement will ever be.

The image below by contrast is edited in Luminar 4.3.3 with a custom sky applied. This process was quicker but again, the low contrast building to the right of the main towers did cause problems and I had to push the Close Gaps slider all the way to the right in order to completely recover the building. Of the two programs, Luminar 4 did do the better job here – see below – although it should be remembered that Luminar 4 is a 2nd or 3rd generation product with regards sky replacement.

In summary, On1 Sky Replacement is what you’d expect, a good first attempt rather than a seasoned, streamlined tool. I feel sure that as time progresses that On1 will compete more favourably with Luminar although Skylum’s new offering, Luminar Neo, is likely to raise the bar still further.

Portrait Ai – UPDATED 12/10/2021

When I first created this post, it’s been through a few iterations now, selecting anything other than Default for a portrait style tended to crash On1 PhotoRAW 2022 when I completed the editing process ie press Done. I’ve spent some time looking into this and it seems that it relates to some photos rather than all photos. Many I have tried seem to work perfectly well with all of the styles whereas the ones I tried first, Nikon D600 RAW files of my wife, tended to crash the system. Now I have in the interim tried a suggestion by On1 Support which was to move the NDsettings file from Roaming to the desktop – this forces On1 to recreate the NDsettings folder. This didn’t solve the problem but it did have the unfortunate side-effect of deleting all of the custom presets I had created as well as remove all the default styles from the Styles folder in Portrait Ai. Clearly this is not what I had hoped for or expected. Fortunately I was able to copy back this folder from the desktop to Roaming which rectified that problem. Phew – that was a bullet dodged!! Next I reinstalled the NVIDIA drivers for my GPU – not using Windows 10 but using The Nvidia Experience application which keeps my system bang up to date. Finally I reinstalled On1 PhotoRAW 2022 in case some files had been corrupted during the initial setup. Having done this things have improved and the majority of my edits to various photos now work perfectly well. However some still don’t and todate, I haven’t solved the problem. Based on more recent usage, On1 2022 Portrait Ai has been good and it appears it appears to be a lot more stable. Of course it really should work for any photo, not just a select number so I can’t yet give it a resounding thumbs up. Besides, until it borrows a few more settings for PortraitPro Studio eg relighting for one, I guess I am lucky in that I do have access to Affinity Photo and PortraitPro Stuidio for my portrait work. That all being said, you can achieve some really good results, and by that I mean natural looks, by doing all of the work manually and not choosing a preset style. Here’s an example of a simple edit using On1 2020 Portrait Ai with manual edits and Style=Default.

Image copyright Dave Collerton. All rights reserved.

NoNoise Ai – Image Noise Reduction – UPDATED 12/10/2021

One of the key reasons why I upgraded to On1 PhotoRAW 2021 was the inclusion of NoNoise Ai. There were very little negative comments about NoNoise Ai even after On1 released a trial version and that has to be good news as we all like nothing more than to have a good moan when things don’t go well. Having now used NoNoise on many images I have to say that I am very impressed with the results I am getting. Now the first thing I have to say is that I actually don’t have a lot of high ISO images as I try to control ISO where possible but I was able to find a few taken at ISO1600. At first I was a little confused as to how to use it successfully but I soon figured out that you should use it at the very start of the editing process rather than later on. Once I had figured this out, the results were really good. On high ISO portraits, I like to take photos in subdued lighting so can get up to ISO800 on a shoot, I feel as if it’s borrowing some of the techniques / technology from Portrait Ai. This is because when applied, the skin in portraits is affected and you need to be very careful about overshapening or adding too much detail. If you push the sliders to far to the right any faces in your image start to look plasticy which is not a good look. Done carefully though, my portraits and images containing faces were partially improved by applying NoNoise Ai which was a bit of a bonus.

All this being said, noise reduction in general does tend to worry me though because of the effect it can have on image detail and quality. Here though NoNoise Ai creates excellent results on the default settings with enough flexibility to enable the user to fine tune what he or she sees in the final result. Given the price of noise reduction software, Topaz DeNoise for example is more than the On1 PhotoRAW 2022, integrating it into what is a £50 editor (with discounts when upgrading) is a no brainer. A big tick in the box then for On1 PhotoRAW 2022 here.

Conclusion – UPDATED 12/10/2021

As I mentioned, this post is simply an initial look at On1 2022 although as can be seen, I have been taking the opportunity to update this post as I become more familiar with the software. Even so it is not an in-depth review but it does go a lot deeper than many others I have seen. That being said, On1 PhotoRAW 2022 is somwhat of a mixed bag for me even though day by day I am getting to like it more and more. On the one hand there are some great new features, for example NoNoise Ai which I am using more and more. Personally though, I find gimmicks like Sky Replacement to be exactly that, gimmicks. Sure they are fun to try out and perfect e.g. getting shadows right is a joy and photos from it are nice to include in blogs like this but for me, that’s as far as they go. Besides, I am much more a reportage sort of guy so most of my images feature people and skys are few and far between. I do take the odd landscape though and if I take my experience with Luminar into account, I have only replaced around a dozen skys over the past few years, mostly as experiments. That being said, many people are going to love it and I suspect we’ll see more composites permeate into the club scene as photographers see the benefit. More worryingly for me though is that on my laptop, which is no slouch even if a little long in the tooth, brush lag in masking and local enhancements is simply not good enough. By benchmarking various components and putting the cache on the fastest drives I have improved things but when I compare On1 brush performance with Affinity Photo, which is running on the exact same PC, they are like chalk and cheese. In Affinity there is zero brush lag – performance is outstanding. On1 by comparison is sluggish and sub-standard as of this release. While I have found work-arounds, others who experience these same problems may not. I have flagged my concerns to On1 Support but they have a tendancy to blame everything else before their software so I am not hopeful of a resolution at this point in time.

All this being said, I am giving On1 PhotoRAW 2022 a positive 85% out of 100%, brought down only by the sluggish mouse and pen tablet during masking and local adjustments, difficulties with hard edges in sky replacement and not being able to perform Portrait Ai work on any photo I throw at it. More to come on On1 PhotoRAW 2022 soon so stay tuned to see if we are able to hit 100%

Pixtures.co.uk – It’s really worth a longer look!

Pixtures.co.uk – It’s really worth a longer look!

I haven’t posted much recently mainly because I’ve been out of action for the past 8 weeks with a hip replacement. It’s amazing how not being able to walk easily impacts on your photography!! You might say of course that being “out of action” for 8 weeks gives you loads of opportunity to work on photo editing and adding content to this blog but you know what, it’s been kinda nice to just chill out and do other stuff. I have done some stuff of course, in particular I have been helping out getting the Pixtures Media platform looking shiny and interesting as well as creating an exhibition of some lush photos from my local photographer friends of the Torbay Airshow taken over the past few years. This is live now so if you like your airshows, the Red Arrows or just aircraft in general, whizz over to www.pixtures.co.uk and enjoy the feast that’s been created for you.

Now, Pixtures.co.uk is an interesting website for many reasons, not least in that it caters for photographers tired of just seeing their work compete on Facebook, Instagram and others for a fleeting second only to be replaced by newer and shiner photos minutes later. There’s got to be something better eh? Well, we think that Pixtures.co.uk could be that something. Why? Well firstly, your photos are permanent. You have your own galleries and your own profile / portfolio page. You can even promote your services or busines if you have one, Pixtures is more than happy to oblige. That alone is worth the FREE subscription!! Yes, really – it’s 100% free to display your work on Pixtures. Of course, if you want a little more and can afford the £25 / year subscription price (as of June 2021) you can elevate your free profile to a featured profile with some lush extras included such increased exposure and unlimited albums. For those with a commercial bent, you can also opt to feature your photos in the pixtures online media shop although you do have to pay a little more for this, a £95 set up fee but only £25 / year to maintain it. It really is cheap when you compare it to Smugmug and to be honest, I think it looks a lot better.

One of the cool things I really like about Pixtures.co.uk is that it’s collaborative. Mark Adams or One Camera One Lens is working with the Pixtures team to create an exhibition of images of South Wales. That should be really interesting as I know for a fact that the photographers here in Torbay and the Southwest covet trips to South Wales and further afield when they can get them. Also, the opportunity to have a free, professional portfolio on a growing media orientated photography related website should also be of interest to 1000’s of photographers looking to develop their art and show and share their work. And of course for the professional photographer, the ability to sell their work has to be a huge bonus. Of course none of this detracts from having your own photography website, you can choose not to display any photos on Pixtures simply using it as a means to promote your website. Of course, profiles always look better with images and albums but hey, that’s your choice. I believe that Pixtures is also looking at including a directory of photographers and, for fun, allowing visitors to vote on the best images in various categories. Nothing set in stone on that but it does make Pixtures look even more interesting.

To conclude then, if you want to share your images and build a permanent home for your work, or simply need some help in promoting your own website and professional services, I recon that Pixtures is one website you simply can’t overlook. To learn more, visit www.pixtures.co.uk today and get involved.

Looking for a FREE place to showcase your images?

Looking for a FREE place to showcase your images?

Taking photos is one thing but showing them off to the world, that’s another story. Everyone wants you to pay heavily for the priviledge, especially if you are looking to sell. Well, let me tell you about www.pixtures.co.uk. Pixtures is designed as a venue to help photographers display their images as a professional showcase without the need to create and manage your own workspace. No setting up complex websites or having to maintain your own webspace and content. Pixtures takes a completely different and refreshing approach.

Pixtures is totally free if you simply want to display your images. Best of all, because it interacts with your Flickr account (Free or Pro), you can create as many albums as you like. Let’s say for example that you are a landscape photographer and you have a number of images of Dartmoor. If these are already sitting on Flickr, whether you have a free or a pro licence, you can display them in Pixtures simply by signing up for a free Pixtures account and then providing the team at Pixtures with the Flickr album ID (or ID’s). Honestly, it’s as simple as that. Within 24 hours of the Pixtures team receiving this information your account is created and your first albums go live. Even if you only have a free Pixtures account you can still host as many Flickr albums on the Pixtures platform as you want. It’s a win-win in every sense of the word. Interested in what an album looks like on Pixtures – here’s an example…

With regards to flexibility, Pixtures can support unlimited profiles and, since they link to your Flickr account, unlimited albums and images. No sensitive data is held on the pixtures website relating to your Flickr account, other than the Flickr album ID’s containing the images you want to display. Want to update your album? No problem, just add or remove images and the Pixtures website updates your gallery and displays the latest content. It couldn’t be easier really.

A bonus for those looking to sell their images is that Pixtures can also make your images available for sale as digital downloads. For this you need a pro-account which costs just £95 / year and you will need to supply Pixtures with a Hi-Res version of the image which will be safely archived off-line. Pixtures create a Lo-Res version for display on Pixtures so that illegal downloading produces nothing more than a semi-usable low res image. When a customer buys, they receive a Hi-Res version to their mailbox. Payment is collected via PayPal and or STRIPE. The Pixtures e-commerce system handles all aspects of the sale for you including collection and disbursement of the income received to your paypal account.

Pixtures is a new venue for digital art and as such it is developing and improving month on month. If you are interested in being a part of this journey and learning more, why not visit their website at www.pixtures.co.uk

Nik Analog Efex

Nik Analog Efex

Every so often I get the urge to play with Nik Efex. I can’t help myself, it’s such a fantastic artistic resource for photographers. The above image, not to everyone’s liking I’ll agree, is a simply me throwing a straight image from a photoshoot back in 2019 (which seems an age ago now) and playing with options in Nik Efex. The app I used for this was Nik Analog Efex, a smorgasbord of effects such as film type, lightleaks, motion blur, frames, camera types e.g. toy, classic, vintage etc and a whole lot more. You can simply choose a set of presets e.g. Classic Camera or you can make your own camera kit. If you love to experiment with your images, you’ll get where I am coming from.

The image above uses just a couple of effects built using the Build Your Own Camera option, these being a classic camera, film type and light leaks. No need to over-egg the pudding, I liked the base image and just wanted to add a little interest. Besides, it’s good to keep your hand in with apps like Nik Efex or you forget you have them and more importantly, how to use them.

As I mentioned, this type of experimentation is like marmite, some will love it, some will hate it. It doesn’t much matter which camp you fall into as you’ve read this far so you must be interested! So, if you want to download and play with Nik Efex, you can. It can be had free from the DxO website by visiting https://nikcollection.dxo.com/nik-collection-2012/. Go get it!

Nailing the Film Experience

Nailing the Film Experience

Not being able to accurately digitise film makes it pretty difficult to work out if you actually took good pictures or not. Was the focus off, was the lighting good, was the subject matter sufficiently interesting to even bother! This is exactly the position I found myself in recently when I decided to experiment with B&W film and an old Pentax KM SLR that had been sitting in the cupboard for 40 years plus. Truth was, I was really keen to experience the whole emotional journey of taking the photos, developing them and finally, digitising them.

Now each part of that journey has challanges. For example, taking the photos is not quite as simple as pointing a modern digital camera at the scene and pressing the shutter. For those of you you that have experimented with the manual settings on your digital cameras you’ll know exactly what I mean. There’s a lot to think about with an SLR, especially if you have a fully manual lens attached. Firstly there’s managing the light. Old SLR’s such as the Pentax KM expose for the average light entering the lens. That means that providing the light is well managed the highlights aren’t blown and darks aren’t too dark. However, all too often the sky loses detail and the shadows can be a little too dark. Unlike digital though, it’s really difficult to pull any details out of areas that are too dark or too light. Getting the right exposure then becomes an art form and it’s the reason you used to see good photographers use external light meters in order to work out the best exposure for the scene they were photographing. The second problem is capturing an image worth the effort. With digital we are in “a throw away society” and any image not up to standard, whether through poor composition, poor exposure or poor subject matter, is tossed in the bin. Follow that same approach with film and I guarantee you that you’ll have only 5 or 6 decent images out of 36. You simply can’t leave anything to chance with film. Finally, there’s any number of things that can go wrong from poor focus through to incorrectly developing the entire batch. Trust me, you need nerves of steel to get something good with film.

Taking everything above into account, the images below are from my earliest experiments with film, in this case Ilford FP4 Plus 125.I chose FP4 because I liked the look of various images I had seen on Pinterest etc so it seemed a good start point. My very first roll had been Kentmere 400 but while I got some images from this roll, I wasn’t hugely impressed, either with my compositions or my focus. I chose to use the Pentax 50mm f1.7 for that roll and I had some difficulties with nailing focus. With the FP4 I chose to use the Minolta 35-70 f2.8-4 and the results from this lens are shown below. I think that here focus was a lot sharper plus the various images had some interest. Hopefully, you’ll agree.

The gear used to achieve these images was as follows:

  • Pentax KM SLR (circa 1980)
  • Minolta 35-70 f2.8-4
  • Ilford FP4 Plus 125 36 exposures
  • Bellini Hydrofen developer & Bellini FX100 ECO fixer
  • Home built flash-lit digitising rig using Nikon D600 and Tamron 90mm f2.8 1:1 Macro lens
A cautionary tale on why I both love and hate Ebay

A cautionary tale on why I both love and hate Ebay

Anyone following this blog will know that I love experimenting with photography. Whether that is playing with film, building stuff, digitising my negatives on a shoestring or just having fun with stuff like Nik Efex.

A couple of weeks ago I was experimenting with digitising negatives and it became very clear that the lenses available to me were not going to be ideal for this task. They worked, just not ideally. What I needed to do a professional job, albeit it’s a home grown digitising setup, is a sharp, accurate 1:1 macro lens. Various online searches resulted in recommendations for the Nikon Micro 105mm f2.8 1:1 macro lens and I duly searched for one on the various shopping portals. By chance, this particular lens was due to complete on Ebay in a couple of days and so I set my top bid price using the Ebay automated bidding system which in this case was £239. As it happened, I won at £195 which was a good price for this lens so I was well pleased. I was surprised that the shipping option was 2nd Class Signed for but as its a 2 – 3 day service I felt reasonably comfortable. The item duly paid for it shipped next day and the shipping info was supplied. All good. Fast forward 11 days, and several messages with the seller later, still no lens. On day nine I had agreed with the seller that if the lens didn’t arrive in the next 24 hours he would refund. I have to say at all times the seller was courteous and responsive and as promised, on the 10th day he refunded my payment and the agreement was that I would refuse the delivery if and when it arrived. A couple of days later it did just that!

Now, for a few seconds I did think about accepting the lens and reversing the refund. What stopped me was that it arrived in a flimsy Royal Mail plastic bag with practically no packing. At best it felt like it had a single layer of micro bubble wrap as I could clearly feel all of the lens features. To my mind this is no way to ship a £200 lens, especially one that’s just had an eleven day trip around the UK. The opportunity for damage was simply to high. The lens was refused and returned. Hopefully it will reach the seller in good order but quite honestly, it’s somewhat of a lottery.

This obviously left me with a problem in that I still needed a macro lens. While waiting for delivery I had the opportunity to rethink my strategy and this latest research yielded several alternatives to the Nikon 105mm, for example the older version of the Tamron 90mm f2.8 1:1 macro. Searching online yielded several options but eventually I alighted on one in excellent condition, again on Ebay, this one for £179 on Buy It Now. There were a few other options available to me but I felt that I might wait 2 or 3 days and still pay close to £179 so I pressed the button and bought it. Literally 48 hours later I was unboxing a perfect example of the Tamron 90mm f2.8 and with it popped onto my Nikon D600 I digitised my first negative strip. Perfect results.

There are several things to learn from this story. Firstly, I only ever buy from sellers with close to 100% satisfaction rating and a lot of shipped items. Despite this, I got it wrong with one and right with another. Both were however courteous and responsive and that’s a big plus point. Secondly, my experience with the long and finally aborted delivery of the Nikon 105mm led me to ask the seller of the Tamron 90mm to upgrade shipping of the lens from Royal Mail 1st Class Tracked and Signed, a 48hour service, to Special Delivery which is a 24hour fully tracked service. I offered to pay extra but the seller refused the offer but still shipped by Special Delivery. That is outstanding customer service by any measure. I also asked if he could ensure it was packaged appropriately and indeed, it arrived boxed and well protected. Thank you Ebay seller jklewis133, I thoroughly recommend you to my readers.

Lomography Digitalizer 35mm Film Scanning Mask

Lomography Digitalizer 35mm Film Scanning Mask

I’ve mentioned the Lomography Digitalizer 35mm Film Scanning Mask (Lomography Digitalizer) in a few of my blogs but I thought I’d focus specifically on it for this one.

Firstly, the Lomography Digitalizer is a simple scanning mask which can clamp and hold a strip of up to six 35mm colour or B&W negatives. You could use it for any number of negatives between one and six of course but six is ideal. It consists of 3 parts, a metal baseplate, a plastic hinged frame which clamps the edge of the negative and a plastic central clamp which holds the film flat when you close the frame. Magnets are incorporated into the design to provide the clamping force between the various parts. Basic operation follows the procedure of placing the metal base plate in the bottom of the frame, placing the negative strip in the frame holder, placing the clamp on top of the negative, it has location guides for this, closing the frame and then removing the clamp. Because the magnetic attraction is now broken with the base plate, this falls away and you are now left with the negatives securely held in the frame ready to scan.

Loading the Lomography Digitalizer is a little fiddly especially if the film is curling. If the curl is along the negative strip then this is one problem but often the curl is along and across too so it’s really important to ensure the film is positioned correctly before clamping down the edges. This is where the central clamp does it’s work. However, because this locates on four tiny plastic prongs, it is possible to knock the film moving it slighly in the rebate when loading the central clamp. However, once the central clamp has secured the film flat against the metal baseplate, you simple close the frame and this secures the edges of the negative strip. You then remove the central clamp which drops away the metal baseplate – remember I said everything is secured using magnets. Now, while it is impossible using this technique to completely flatten the film in the holder, it does appear to do a reasonable job. Of course, the flatter your negatives, the flatter they sit in the frame. You are now ready to scan the negatives.

I should have mentioned that before doing any of the above, I recommend blowing off any dust that might be on the negatives. Cleaning both sides of the negative makes for a far better result when digitising.

In use, the Lomography Digitaliser is relatively simple to position but I do recommend either a jig or frame to ensure that you can quickly position each negative frame perfectly with respect to the camera lens. If you don’t do this, you will spend a lot of time fiddling around trying to position the frame in the right place. This is doubly relevent if you are using a 1:1 macro lens as the negative fills the frame so accuracy becomes far more important. There are other products out there that do a better job of negative positioning but they are more expensive, some very much more expensive. You pays your money and makes your choice as they say.

With regards the digitising process, if the negative is held flat, using something like a light box, mine is lit by a flash head, positioned under the frame with the camera set on say F5.6 or F8 at 1/125 or whatever your camera syncs at, ensures that you have a good DOF through the frame. This should result in a crisp, accurate digitised image. I am using a Tamron 90mm f2.8 1:1 Macro which is ideal for this task.

Nik Efex | A goldmine of gorgeousness

Nik Efex | A goldmine of gorgeousness

Every so often a piece of software is born that truly excels at what it does. One such gem is Nik Efex. Originally developed by Google as a range of free software applications for various tasks, Nik Efex has now been taken on by camera / lens guru’s DxO. The big change though is that while the Google version was free, the DxO version is part of their DxO stable of advanced editing tools, as well as being available as a paid plugin to Photoshop. However, all is not lost, Google in it’s infinite wisdom made sure that the original version of Nik Efex remains available to those, like me, who are quite happy to use an older stand alone version.

So, how do you get your hands on the free 2012 stand-alone version of Nik Efex. Well, if you search the DxO website you’ll have some trouble finding the link because DxO want you to spend money on all their new goodies. However, to make your life easy, you simply need to visit https://nikcollection.dxo.com/nik-collection-2012/ in order to grab your free for ever copy.

The tasty image above is a Nik Efex worked jpeg from my Nikon D600. In this case I used the gorgeous Nik Analog Efex to create a soft, dreamy look for this mustang with eye popping vintage colours in the background. Taken during a recent photo shoot, Nik Analog Efex makes short work of choosing a particular look for your images that really help make your product stand out from the crowd. Give it a go today, it’s 100% free after all.

How to win all your clubs photography contests!

How to win all your clubs photography contests!

When you join a photography club it can be for several reasons. You might want to associate with others having similar interests. You might want to learn about photography. You might simply join in order to be able to enter competitions. Whatever your reason, what you need to do when you start your club journey is to park the thought that everyone knows more than you, that everyone else is right, at the door! And that’s because no matter how good a photographer is, no matter how helpful or critical they try to be, they all come with baggage. The fact is that we all tend to like what we like and it takes someone truly exceptional to put that baggage to one side and to see through the eyes of the photographer they are critiquing. Unfortunately, and through personal experience, club judges rarely fall into this category because they are expected to do the job in a certain, well bounded way where the norm far outweighs the unusual, quirly or downright different. In club photography then, what you think will do well in competition undoudtadly will if it conforms closely to what typically and historically does well. Doing well in competitions is therefore less about innovative photography challanging the senses, more about knowing and being able to create a winning entry based on knowledge.

Having said all this, there is absolutely nothing wrong in wanting to succeed in club photography and just like any process, you simply need to learn the rules and to carefully study what historically does well in club competitions. This approach will maximise your chances of podium placings as well as improve your club photography.

So, what does a club judge look for in a winning image. Let’s take a look.

  • Club judges are pixel peepers: When having to differentiate between one image and another they will revert to technical imperfections in order to choose one image over another. It’s a proven technique that works as it provides them with justification to discount or mark down an otherwise good image.

  • Club judges are traditionalists: Unless the competition is themed, club judges will often prefer to stay with stuff they know and stuff they know their audience will appreciate. Landscapes, sports and wildlife all do well for this reason, portraits less so unless the judge has an interest in them (and that can be a little dodgy as they will undoubdatly be looking for flaws) and finally, at the end of the list, documentary / reportage. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this genre of course, it probably comprises most of the published works in history, but it is a genre that judges all too often seem to avoid.

  • Club judges seem to like obviously emotional images: I have seen similar images win multiple contests even in the same season. That tells me that you can’t go wrong in club competitions if you tug at the judges heartstrings especially if the image is technically on point. That means paying real attention to the quality of your post processing. With animals, mother and child shots, especially primates seem to do really well. If you live close to a zoo or wildlife park, this type of capture is not particulalry difficult either. Just remember to pay attention to the details and nail the post-processing.

  • Judges like good post-processing: As I mentioned above, good post-processing is a must if you want to win competitions. This is often why reportage photography (often called street / candid photography) falls down as the capture of the image is often an instant decision and everything else, such as lighting, composition and technical perfection has to take second stage. You can offset these limitations to a certain degree in post with some deft manipulation but be careful as sometimes the post-processing lessons what was captured. So to reiterate, judges love well composed and post-processed images and much of what you hear in their judgmements relates to how well or poorly an image was post-processed.

  •  Judges love good composition and rules: Leading lines, the rule of thirds and odd-numbers are important differentiating tools for judges. If you are able to think about your composition before you press the shutter, that is the way to take a winning shot. Bringing in leading lines with due reference to thirds etc won’t do your image any harm but bare in mind,for many scenarios the judge will have seen it all before. Keep it fresh!

  • Judges hate clutter: If your image is difficult to read due to clutter or being overly busy it is likely to fare badly. Judges love a central subject and the least amount of detail around that subject the better. If your eye wanders around the image, so will theirs! For macro and wildlife eg insects, birds and animals in the wild it’s all about controlling bokah and any spurious foreground objects that detract from the image. For landscapes its all about composition and viewpoint and for portraits, it’s about controlling and manipulating light efficiently. Before entering your images, ask others for their opinions, Quite often we seem images differently and taking on advice before pressing the submit button will often pay dividends.

  • Judges like what they like: I hate to say it but research your judge before entering your images. Your club will often post information on your judge prior to the competition, or at least email you with their name, closing dates etc. All you then need do is visit any resources where they add their own images. This could be the associations they are affiliated to, their own personal website, instagram or facebook. Knowing your judge doesn’t mean an automatic placing but it does mean you are maximising your chance of the judge understaning your work and being naturally drawn to it. Be aware though, judges might often feel that they are at the top of their game and you presenting an image that is close to, equal to or, worse still, better than anything they have done, might not go down too well. Just a thought!

  • Judges like familiar things done a little differently: If you are a judge you are going to see 1000’s of landscapes, 1000’s of wildlife shots and 1000’s of sports images. Differentiating your image from others in the competition you are entering, or from all those that the judge has seen before, is what is going to win you a placing or a spot in the top three. It’s no good choosing that image from your archives on the day of the competition, those decisions need to have been made before you pressed the shutter. Location, position, angle of view, getting high, or low, weather and a whole lot more will come into play here so be thoughtful, be wise and be patient.

  • Judges are taught how to judge: Get hold of a copy of the guidence issued to judges by the various associations they are affiliated to. There will be judging guidence issued by those associations because judges are trained to judge. If you know what they know, then you are better able to consider what of your photography will work best.

There will be other things club judges look for in a competition entry but I think the above guidence, certainly from my experience, constitutes a good start point. Personally, I rail against club competitions because I am less interested in winning than I am about what the photograph means to me. For me, it is often the imperfections and vageries of my images, that would no doubt degrade my chances of success in competitions, that attracted me to press the shutter.

Do I enter club competitions? I have done with some success but as my interests continue to evolve, that need is becoming less and less attractive nowadays.