Surf Silhouettes 2


Surf Silhouettes

Moscow Metro

Moscow Metro

Kremlin Canon

I was lucky enough to be invited to Moscow for a series of meetings recently and had the chance to take a few hours and visit some of the sights in this amazing city. I would have loved to take a few days off at the end to visit some other parts of this remarkable country but wasn’t able to. Still, it was the opportunity of a lifetime and so much so that I bought some new camera gear to take with me. I am moving on from my time with Sony’s NEX system (I think the concept is fantastic and I am keeping my collection of NEX gear and lenses but it’s terrible focussing system has finally got the better of me so I am looking elsewhere).
I took this trip with a full-size Canon DSLR and a new compact camera (more about these later) and I will say however, that the relatively compact size of the NEX system was something that I really missed.
Anyway, here are a couple of pictures taken at the Kremlin of an enormous canon known as the Tsar Canon.

Kremlin Canon 1

Kremlin Canon 2

Project 52 week 52: reflections part 2

Ok, so continuing on my rather long review of this project:
Long exposures
Another really interesting area that have discovered in doing this project. I have only had a few attempts at it and am determined to get better here. I wish I lived in a place where there are waterfalls and fast flowing streams as I’d love to take some shots of them. I have to settle for what I can get at the moment:


Shooting modes
It’s only very rarely now that I venture back to ‘full auto’ and I seem to spend most of my time in Aperture Priority but spend a bit of time in Shutter Priority and full manual modes. I do find however that it is sometimes very worthwhile taking an extra shot in full-auto mode to see what the camera chooses. As a generalisation, it usually takes a better ‘normal’ shot than me but obviously doesn’t know the effect that I am looking for.
With the cameras that I use (particularly the NEX7) I find I am much better of taking control of some aspects, especially ISO (it continuously chooses ISO settings that seem way too high) and quite often, white balance (what an important discovery that was for me).

On gear
I used to have an old, entry level Canon DSLR and a Panasonic point-and-shoot. I found however, that I often left the Canon at home because it was too big to lug around on holidays etc so I looked around for quite a while and settled on a Sony NEX5. I bought it with the kit lens and 18-200 zoom lens. What a fantastic lens the 18-200 is but it is so much heavier than the Canon lenses. As I got more into photography I read lots about ‘prime’ lenses and how good they are so I ended up getting a couple of the NEX e-mount ones when they came out. I took some really nice photos with the NEX5 but was never really comfortable with it. After hearing so much about it I ended up upgrading to the NEX7 (unfortunately just a few months before the NEX6 came out) which has features in it that I would really like to have had in the NEX7 and would probably suit me better.
While there is a lot to like about the NEX7 it does seem to have some major drawbacks for me – focus being the main one. One type of photo you won’t have seen on my blog is portraits – I just cannot nail focus on portraits. If there is some contrast in the picture (typically in the background) the NEX7 will focus on that every time. I have lost count of how many really important memory (personal family, touristy) photos I have lost because of this. I am far better off taking my old Panasonic point-and-shoot for any portraits, or the really old Canon.
The NEX uses contrast detect for focus which I have come to loathe. My old Canon uses phase detect and is much faster for a start, and more reliable for portraits it would seem. The new NEX6, which I think I would prefer to have for a number of reasons, uses a hybrid of both of these mechanisms which I would guess is much better.
I also have a Fuji X100 which I think is on par with the NEX7 for image quality (even with the nice Zeiss lens that I have on the NEX7 and despite the massive difference in megapixels).
Another thing I have come to dislike is the ease of which the NEX7 can get dust on the sensor (obviously no such problem with the Fuju X100). Sensor cleaning is now, unfortunately, an all too regular part of my routine. I think the quality of the viewfinder and rear LCD on both cameras is great but the information, the way it is displayed on the Fuji and the flexibility/configuration of information beats the Sony hands down. The other thing that I like about the Fuji is the physical mechanisms to adjust aperture and shutter speed.
Using these cameras has given me a real appreciation for what I’d like in my next camera and up front would be faster, better focussing – the NEX focussing really doesn’t compare to even my old Canon. Focus peaking is great for manual lenses but you shouldn’t have to rely on it with the auto-focusing native e-mount lenses. I would say that all things considered, the NEX system is a little disappointing given the number of compromises you have to make for it. The size is great as its flexibility with legacy lenses but for the price, it just doesn’t do some mandatory things very well when compared to equivalently priced DSLRs or even some Micro four-thirds cameras.
Despite those gripes (and maybe even because of them) I have learned an awful lot about photography with the NEX system. The Fuji X100 has nowhere near the potential of the NEX but it is a lot nicer to carry around and take photos with.

Continuing the gear theme a bit, one thing that I did do was buy the 30mm NEX macro lens as macro was another area I got interested in. It takes some nice photos but is definitely the wrong lens for me. You have to get so close to the subject (about an inch away) which is impossible for insects, butterflies etc and because of the closeness, usually casts an unpleasant shadow over your subject. Not a very versatile or useful lens really – Id like to have a macro lens of a much different (maybe 80mm) focal length.

Paxette 6

More on composition
For a while I was concentrating on really ‘focussing in’ (excuse the pun) on the subject and trying to eliminate any distracting elements in the photo. I was ending up with fairly minimalistic compositions as I had realised there was a lot of distractive components in many of my photos so I ended up taking photos like this:
However one day I was out taking a photo of a bridge and just couldn’t get to the position that I really wanted and ended up with a very noisy composition. There is stuff everywhere – it was just a mangle of overgrown trees, shrubs and weeds. In colour it looked awful but in black and white looked totally different. At first I wasn’t sure if I liked it but over time it has grown on me quite a bit and is quite a departure from the other photos I was taking:
the bridge

What’s next?
There are obviously a great number of areas that I haven’t had chance to explore. I was hoping to do some exploration of flash photography during this project and have played around a bit with it on the NEX7. Unfortunately for the NEX7 the hotshoe is not standard (thanks Sony!) but they did change this on the NEX6. The way the internal/pop-up flash works allows you to manually hold the flash with your finger so that it points straight up and you can do a bit of bounce flash which is an ok workaround. I am sure this was an unintentional aspect of the design, otherwise I am sure the bracket would have allowed a click into that position.
It would be nice to try some off-camera flash/lighting too.
Ultimately I really want to do some good travel photography and I guess this means two things. Firstly I would love to get the opportunity to visit some interesting places and secondly, I need to continue to explore and improve my technique, post-processing etc.
I hope to stay posting on this blog and continue to improve but will probably do so without the rigour of a ‘project 52’. There may be some other interesting photography projects that I can participate in.

Project 52 week 52: reflections part 1

melbourne water taxi

Finally made it. For my ‘last post’ on this project I am taking a look back at some of my favourite photos for the year and also looking at some of what I have learned. This post might be a bit of a long one compared to my other posts so I may end up splitting it into parts. It may end up rambling on a bit but in a way, it is my ‘project review’ and will cover things such as ‘lessons learned’ for anyone with a bit of an interest in ‘project management’.

Firstly, having a Project 52 and publishing it on the web has been great for encouraging commitment. Putting it on the web in a public fashion can be a strong motivator to keep going – you don’t want to be seen to fail. Secondly, it has been absolutely fantastic to get comments and likes from others who share an interest in photography. It’s also very humbling and quite a privilege when someone starts to follow your blog. This has the additional effect that not only now do you want to keep publishing to the project but you want to make sure you are improving and uploading photos that are in some way, worthy of people’s attention. So…a big thank-you to all those who have commented, liked, followed, and simply viewed any of my posts (this point deserves a post on it’s own).

What have I learned?
In a word, lots!
Let’s start with a few simple points and see what I can build from there.
Image borders
What a simple thing to do to any photo which can make such a difference. I started playing with image borders some way through the year and while I liked the difference they can make, it wasn’t until very late in the year that I really appreciated the true impact of them. They can add a huge sense of depth to a photo so instead of looking at an image, you are looking into it. At a more simple level, you need to be aware of the background/colour where your image is placed on the web page – the border can make a big difference or could also be lost. Taking a look back across the year this really becomes noticeable for me. The difference between posts week 31 and week 46 demonstrate this. Week 37 contains a gallery, a few of which had borders also highlights the difference. If I were to go back and redo those posts, all images would probably be framed with some sort of border.

Black and white or colour?
At the start of the year I was following a colleague of mine who lives on the other side of the world and is a great amateur photographer. His images are fantastic and are almost exclusively in black and white. He also has one of those cameras which many of us dream of owning, which are also renowned for black and white photography, but which, for most of us, are well beyond our reach (this is where I discovered ‘gear envy’). It’s easy to get a bit carried away with cameras, lenses etc but more on that later. I am happy to see however, that it is possible to take absolutely fantastic photos with ordinary cameras and that it is the person behind the lens, not the lens itself that makes the biggest difference.

snow monkey

Nagano snow monkey by jerryatflickr
Nagano snow monkey, a photo by jerryatflickr on Flickr.

What I have realised for me is that while I am still learning, I am going to continue to explore both colour and black and white and there is a place for both in my photography. Black and white does cause me to think a little more though about the photos that I am taking. Also, with regards to the images above, the snow monkeys of Nagano, Japan, should be on any would be photographer’s ‘bucket list’.

Where to start? I look at some photos on the web that have been taken using the same camera/lens combination as mine but the difference in quality is staggering, whether that be sharpness, colour, noise etc. Knowing that a lot of the difference is in the post-processing using the same software as me is comforting but doesn’t help much. Taking good photos is hard enough but the knowledge/skill and experience that others have in post-processing is another dimension entirely. I like seeing photos straight out of the camera but I also like seeing what people can do with post-processing. Some simply enhance the natural aspects of the image while others are amazingly creative and produce some wonderful images.
The following two images are the same photo, one of which I published here in my blog, and the other version I published on my flickr account which I had done some post-processing on. Due to an error when I was adding photos to Flickr, all comments were lost on the photo (all photos at the time unfortunately) so I don’t have old comments there but the post-processed version of the photo generated much more favourable commentary.
early morning fog
early morning fog
The post-processed version certainly does bring out highlights in the clouds etc. In summary, I have a lot to learn about post-processing.

With so many megapixels now I am really free to do some very severe cropping on an image to get close to what I want. Take the following example:

The moon 2012081207am

So this is a pretty extreme crop and it certainly shows when enlarged with the noise in the sky. If I reduce the noise though I lose detail in the moon. I think I should be able to do some selective noise reduction but again, this is an area of post-processing I am yet to explore.

Composition and focus – what important facets of photography they are and ones that I think I will forever be learning. Here’s another shot that didn’t make it to the blog but seemed to work and got some nice comments in Flickr:


Street photography
A really interesting but challenging genre for me. I have posted on a few occasions about my feelings on this type of photography. The good stuff is really good but there is a lot of rubbish (in my view) posted as ‘street photography’. Here’s some of mine:

waiting for...

time out from the rain



One of the things that I like about this very dynamic form of photography is the unexpected that can turn up in your photos. Here’s one I call ‘shadow dog’:


I actually think that some of my earlier photos are better street photos than what I took this year however they obviously don’t qualify for posting here. The reason for that is probably because I was lucky enough to visit more interesting locations prior to this year.

That’s probably enough rambling for the moment, I will try to conclude this review in the next post.


Project 52 week 50: Some street photography – Melbourne

This week I was back in Melbourne (again) and it was quite hot. In the evening I managed to get out for a walk down to Federation Square and along Southbank. I took some ‘street photos’ and a number of landscape shots. This post is all about the street photos. I have posted some thoughts about street photography before and find it to be a really interesting genre in photography. To me it is all about capturing ‘life’. All too often on photo forums you see meaningless images of some random person just walking down the street and unfortunate to walk into the “photographer’s” line of sight. If it doesn’t capture at least some interesting aspect of life or tell some sort of story then it’s not street photography for me. Unfortunately I think there is a bit of that in these photos. There are about 3-4 that I really like, the others – well….I am not so sure yet but I have changed my mind about some of my photos over time before.
I was using a different camera to usual and I think it definitely shows in some of the focus. A number of these photos are quite savage crops as well to centre in on the interesting part of the image. The camera only has a 23mm prime lens so it was challenging to get shots that filled the frame.

Project 52 week 47: starting to reminisce

So this week I have managed to get out and take a few photos a couple of times and have also been spending a bit of time on the web looking at a few new projects. One of which is looking for ways to get some of my favourite images off my hard disk and printed in some way. An area that really interests me is transferring photos onto other surfaces such as wood. I have quite a few interesting beach photos and some of them would look great transferred onto some driftwood or some ‘stressed’ wood. Most of the web articles I have seen are all about transferring black and white images from ‘laser printed’ images rather than my humble inkjet printer but I have found a couple of interesting approaches.
Anyway, this morning I was back down at the beach again and took some photos of the remains of an old jetty. I tried some long exposures but still had problems with dust on my sensor. It’s a pity really because yesterday I spent ages cleaning the sensor and thought I had it perfect. The shots were taken at an extremely small aperture (F22) and ranged from 8 to 30 seconds so any dust was bound to show up. I take a lot of care with my NEX-7 but it still manages to get dust on the sensor. I don’t think I change lenses excessively but jeez this camera seems to be a magnet for dust. Cleaning it takes forever too.
Anyway, the year is fast drawing to a close and I still have so much to learn and try. I am starting to think about whether I have improved or not over the year and will probably post something about that in the next few weeks.

Project 52 week 45: layers

A little bit late posting this week. I took the photo over a week ago now but have not had much spare time and I have been trying to learn a bit about Photoshop CS5, layers and selections in particular. I have had a couple of frustrating hours and have a few feature requests of Photoshop as a result. It probably doesn’t make sense to experienced users but I would love to see command history within layers. Granted, if you use layers properly and know what you are doing you probably don’t need it.
I’d also love to be able to scroll back through selections and edit them. Again you probably don’t need to do that if you are using layers properly.
In this week’s photo I wanted to sharpen part of the image quite dramatically but couldn’t find the right way of doing it (something like the ‘clarity’ slider in Lightroom would have been great).
Anyway, the image below contains a number of layers with some errors in it that I think I know how to fix now but I am pretty keen to get last week’s mini project out of the way and concentrate on this week’s.

Project 52 week 44: industrial

Not too far from where I live is an oil refinery that was closed down a while ago and the government is still in the process of cleaning it up and deciding what to do with it (its taking an awfully long time). Its located on a beautiful part of our coastline and there are some amazing beaches to either side. Since it is so close to the coast the salt air is taking its toll on all the steel etc and the refinery looks well-rusted. It would be amazing to be able to spend a day walking around with a camera and I am sure tours of it would generate quite a bit of interest for a while at least (while they are deciding what to do with it). Some of it is pretty much an eyesore but some creative thinking could turn it into a really interesting place. In the meantime I am imagining many photographers would love to be able to talk a walk/tour around it.
I took a few shots from outside the perimeter fences but much of it is blocked off with trees and buildings. I had hoped to do some exposure bracketing and try a bit of hdr as this sort of imagery looks great with a bit of expressiveness applied however the merged photos didn’t seem to look that great.
I posted two photos, one colour which captures the early morning light and rust, and a black and white version to emphasise the structure a bit. Ideally I would have liked more foreground but all that was there was a really boring shallow and wide sloping roof which just distracted from the structure. I think I like the colour one better.


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