Joe Cornish, the great British landscape photographer, advocates taking most of your photographs no more than thirty minutes from your home. So, here's my blog featuring pictures either thirty minutes drive or walk away from my front door or from the place where I'm staying for a few days. I'll also be writing about photography in general from time to time. Please enjoy!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Cambrian Photography Open Day - Leica's Rock!

Having written about Calumet's open day I thought I'd better write a little about another open day I attended hosted by Cambrian Photography back in May. For those of you who don't know Cambrian they are an independent dealership (pretty rare these days in the UK) stocking most major manufacturers of both cameras and accessories. They've a fairly big shop in Old Colwyn in North Wales just off the A55 main route from England into northern Wales. They're friendly, helpful and one of the stores where nothing is too much trouble, in my experience anyway. There were certainly lots of satisfied customers on the day. Here's their web site details:
Cambrian Photography

Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Sony and Leica (surprise!) were present with lots of hands-on opportunities. There was a variety of free workshops throughout the day covering a wide range of topics and there were a few special offers. I'd not gone with any specific queries or purchases in mind; just a day out followed by an overnight stay in Anglesey and some photography thrown in for good measure.

Having wandered about a bit, sampled the excellent cakes and chatted to a few folk I gravitated to the Leica "stand". I've got a little Leica C-Lux 3, which I use as a notebook come electronic sketchpad and I'm very pleased with it. The images are good enough to post on my Fotoblur pages where you can see a dozen or so. Some have done quite well.

Anyway, Mark from Leica, had a small selection of goodies including an M9 and an X1. We chatted about them for a little which and had a touch of hands-on before Mark offered me the opportunity to go out and play for a while. No second asking needed! I don't profess to be a camera reviewer (see my earlier bit about Hasselblad!) but I can at least give you some impressions of what these beauties are like.

First up was the X1; it retails in the UK for around £1,400. It's light, comfortable and a cinch to use. I was impressed by by how quiet it was but because I didn't want to upset the settings Mark had it on I didn't fiddle with the various modes. Suffice to say that I spent 20 minutes firing off pictures left right and centre. I have to say right now that this is an excellent camera. Sure, there are much cheaper options but they don't say 'Leica' on the front. That's not being snobbish - it's just a fact. The build, the quality of the glass, in fact, everything about the camera oozed class. Although I can't talk to you about lens aberration, accuracy of shutter speeds and exposures, I can show you what it's capable of:

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Click the image for the bigger picture

Having rather reluctantly returned the X1, which I now covet, I had the great pleasure of walking out of the shop with about £8,000 worth of Leica M9 round my neck; deep joy!

You'll know from reading an earlier posting here that I've slowed my imaging right down; the X1 forces you to go slower still. It's been a very long time since I last used a rangefinder camera (a Zorki 4 if you must know - what a great little camera they were!) but it all came flooding back very quickly. This is a seriously brilliant camera; it felt heavy but that's because it's superbly engineered; it was as smooth as silk; basically, dear reader, it was a dream to use and if I coveted the X1 imagine how I felt towards the M9!

It's difficult to tell you just how good this camera is and it just felt right. It fits snuggly and unobtrusively in your hand; the controls are easily accessed; the viewfinder is bright, the LCD is bright and quite vibrant; everything works just so. Just as with the X1 I can't tell you how accurate everything is but I can bet that everything will be damned near perfect on it. Being set on .DNG image recording made it easy to process the images from the M9. The first image appeared on my Fotoblur pages and was very well received:

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This next image is previously unpublished:

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So there we are; an excellent day out with the chance to play with some dream toys. I should point out that I have nothing to do with either Leica or Cambrian other than being a satisfied customer of both.

Thanks to Cambrian for organising their open day and to Leica, especially Mark, for making the day rather special and letting me play.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Online Photography Communities

As you know, I joined Fotoblur in April this year with the intention of improving my photography and bringing it to a wider audience. I think I've achieved that. I have made several good friends at Fotoblur and have been pleased with the responses to my images.

So far I have had images featured in the various groups I'm a member of on nine occasions, been in the top 40 favourite image of the day once, featured in the top 100 a further ten times and received some good and constructive comments from my peers. The way in which I now look at my images, how I process them and select them for Fotoblur has changed radically. I now have a selection process, which has served me well in recent weeks. This provides me with a shortlist of possible submissions and some consistency in what actually gets published.

I've experimented with images instead of sticking with the sharp, perfectly exposed image and I've tried some slightly off-the-wall processing - well, off-the-wall for me! Not only that, but the way I look for images has changed; frequently when I'm out and about my head is on a swivel looking for potential shots to make. Over the past few days I've been inspired by the architectural photography of two folk whose work I follow and took some inspiration from them to produce this image...

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It has been and continues to be a very worthwhile way of improving how see, make, process and critique my own work. And, more than any of that, it's got me out of my comfort zone and experimenting.

A good number of the Fotoblur membership are also members of Flickr, probably the most used and best known photo sharing site so I decided I'd create an account and see what happened to my images there. I loaded up half a dozen images that had done really well at Fotoblur and waited for the results. All of these images had either been feature images, appeared in the top 100 favourites for the day in which they were posted, or had received some acclaim from my Fotoblur peers. 

I'd also had a message from a good friend and fellow photographer - hello, Ian - who had stumbled across a website called 5∞. He was so impressed with the images there that he said it was "time to put the camera away". I had a look and agreed that many of the images were pretty amazing. Whilst waiting for the Flickr images to settle down in their new home I had another look at 5∞ and was further impressed the more I dug into the collection of images. Anyway, dear reader, I decided I really needed to challenge myself and see how things went...

5∞ has proved to be a greater challenge. At the moment I have nine images posted, which have been viewed collectively 79 times. Four have been voted for and one has been added to a viewer's favourite image bank. The site is set out much differently than Fotoblur. Here images continue to feature after their day of submission with a scoring system based on the number of images submitted, number of votes and selections as favourite images. This means that as your scores increase there is the potential to move up the leaderboard. I have one image with a score of 42.5, which might make you think I'm doing OK. There are probably 90,000 other photographers in front of me!

Here's the image and yes, I was surprised:

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And what of Flickr? Well, after five days only one of my images had been viewed (three times) the others were just languishing there doing nothing. I say were... the account's been deleted! And I doubt that I shall be going back.

So, which is best, Fotoblur or 5∞? They're both excellent; I like the way Fotoblur people interact with each other through comments and suggestions but a "slow burner" image may not get the chance to shine to a wider audience. 5∞ is a more long-term option but with, for me at the moment, less interaction between the members. But it's new and I suspect when I work out exactly how the site works that interaction will grow. Another bonus is that at 5∞ I can submit 20 images of up to 30Mb each per week whereas Fotoblur allow me one upload of 512kb per day.

And just to prove how different the two communities are I currently have an image featured in a Fotoblur group that's only received three votes (promotions) and 10 viewings while the same image on 5∞ has been viewed 37 times but received no votes. Some you win...

In the meantime, if you want to have a look at my Fotoblur and 5∞ sites I'd be delighted. You can comment, vote or promote my images... or not as the case may be.

Fotoblur site...


Thanks to the good folks at Fotoblur and 5∞ for all their work in setting up and administering the communities. It's very much appreciated here!

UPDATE 12 July: I've had considerable success with some new images at Fotoblur in the past few days and that is where my concentration lies right now. The 500∞ site will remain and I shall periodically be uploading new images... 

Kit Review - ThinkTank

For some time I've been struggling with a satisfactory method of lugging the ever growing amount of kit I take with me on photography shoots. I've got lots of bags and pouches but everything was cumbersome and, well, bitty. If I go out onto the hills or coasts I like to have some food with me together with emergency dry clothing and so forth. I know that folk like LowePro do some great backpacks (I've got several!) but they just don't seem to hold enough or the right things.

A couple of years ago I bought a Jack Wolfskin 35 litre rucksack; lots of pockets and sections. This has been the mainstay of my kit but carrying my camera gear has proved... awkward. Until now...

As a last resort I bought a ThinkTank 30 v.2.0 digital holster from the lovely people at Clifton Cameras in Dursley, Gloucestershire. It's perfect! It fits my D700 with either of my long lenses attached or the D700 with the 24-70. And it's got so many clever little features...

I especially like the fact that it's extendable to fit long lenses. If I'm not taking a long lenses I still use the extension because my 60mm macro fits it perfectly - deep joy! There are several small pockets in which you can put a spare battery, memory cards, notebook, pen and so forth. There's a pocket that contains a rain cover which fits over the holster and a flap in the main section that covers the back of the camera so the neck strap doesn't cause damage to the LCD.

Additionally, the holster can be used as a belt or shoulder bag and gives great access when you're on the move. I think using ThinkTank's non-slip belt would improve such use 100-fold.

At the moment I put my D700 plus a lens in the holster, which then goes into the rear section of my Wolfskin bag. A further lens in its standard case goes in the same section it being just about the right height to snuggle into the curve of the holster. So, with two major bits of kit stashed away upright I can now slot in dry clothing, food and a flask plus a few other bits and pieces. A couple of temporary pouches attached to the rucksack allow for the carrying of filters and other small accessories. 

I think the whole set up is very clever, superbly designed and made and perfect for photographers like me who like to go out prepared for every eventuality. I'm now able to take everything with me that I need for a shoot and, for now, it seems that my carry troubles are over :-) If I could just lighten... only kidding.

If I have one criticism of the holster it's that the rain cover isn't really designed for when the holster is being used as a shoulder bag due to the large clips for the strap. However, I could be using it wrongly!

All in all, a great piece of kit... I shall be adding more ThinkTank kit in the future... And I've added a link to the ThinkTank site in the RESOURCES section of the blog... alright, and Clifton Cameras :-)

I should add that I have no connection whatsoever with either ThinkTank or Clifton Cameras other than being a very satisfied customer .