Photographic Skills

For a while now, I’ve been thinking about what we, as photographers, need to be doing to enhance our skill-sets.

We all need to be able to work the controls on our cameras, even in the dark, it should be second nature to change an ISO, or an F stop, or a shutter speed without even having to think how to do it – and the only way to achieve this is to practice.

We also need to know how to ‘see’ a photograph before we even press the shutter button, and it’s these skills that can separate the terrific, from the merely competent.

With the advent of new digital cameras, it’s actually quite hard to make a really bad exposure.  Even harder these days to achieve an out of focus image.  Cameras are very clever these days, and have built in exposure settings, and shake reduction in either the camera body, or lens.

However, on top of all these things, I think that photographers need another set of skills outside that of just ‘taking’ an image.

1. Computer Literacy – software is the mainstay of the post image taking process.  We need to be able to email images, to resize them, to compress them, and send them to storage sites such as Dropbox.  To do that, we need to be able to type, and express ourselves in a clear and concise manner.

2. We need to be able to competently edit, and select images.  These days, we don’t go out and shoot a roll or two of film.  We go out and come back sometimes with hundreds, maybe thousands, of images.  We need to be able to select which are the best ones, and the ones that our ‘client’ will like, and not just ones that are our own personal favourites.  We need to be clear that the sharpest images, are not always the best ones compositionally, and conversely the best composed ones, won’t always be the sharpest – we need to be able to make that distinction and choose wisely.

3. We need to be aware of art history, and photographic history.  If you are asked who your favourite photographer is – it’s not just going to be the chap down the  road who takes amazing bird photographs – he might be the one impressing you at the moment, but who in history influences the images you take?    Art and photography are inching closer and closer together, and soon, you will have a hard job telling the difference.

Melbourne Photographer Bill Gekas photographs his daughter in the style of all the old Masters.  Take a look here

https://www.boredpanda.com/5-year-old-daughter-classic-paintings-bill-gekas/

Google for photographic images of ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ by Vermeer, and see what others are up to.

you need to understand art now, to understand photography.

4. The art of conversation – There are times when you need permission to shoot.  Either a person, or a place.  The need for access can sometimes be smoothed over by a polite conversation with owners, or guardians.  After photographers have trespassed on land, you can’t blame the owners for being angry at finding ‘yet another’ on their property.  Go in first, ask the questions – I think you’ll be surprised how forthcoming people will be, just for asking.

5. And lastly – filing and organisation – there is no point in having the worlds greatest image if you can’t find it on  your hard drive.  So, keep your drives tidy, split your images into sections or groups, back them up externally, and don’t rely on your website either – if your provider goes out of business – you could be left high and dry with no images.

If you use Lightroom, avail yourself of the catalogue and make sure your images are correctly sorted, tagged, and keyworded.  Sure, it might take you a week (or more) of hard work, if you’ve not started yet, but in the long run I think you’ll be pleased you did.

For example – I sold an image at a craft fair 5 years ago – it was mounted but not framed.  The client decided to have it reframed, and the picture framer damaged the print.  He contacted me, and asked if I could supply a new one, so that he didn’t have to tell his client; and because I’d got a good catalogue, I was able, within an hour, to send him a file, so he could get it printed again.  Job done.

GWPE

The Pixelstick

I think that unless you have not had anything to do with lightpainting – you will have heard of the Pixelstick.

In case you haven’t, the Pixelstick received over 6 times it’s kickstarter funding goal in 2013.  I got hold of one in early 2015, and though I’ve taken it out to various camera clubs, and demonstrated just what can be done with it, I have to confess, that I’ve not used it myself really very much in anger.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, the Pixelstick is an array of 200 addressable RGB LEDs. This means each LED can produce almost any colour, and each one can be instructed to flash on and off at a particular speed and colour sequence. With the right set of instructions, the LEDs can be used to mimic the pixels of a bitmapped image, so as the Pixelstick is moved through space, the LEDs effectively ‘draw’ the bitmap in midair and can be captured during a long exposure photograph.  It works a bit like an ink jet printer.  As you see a print coming out, one line of ink at a time, so the Pixelstick works in much the same way, but with light.  BMP files are saved to an SD card which sits in the control panel, and allows you to replay any image saved on there in the correct format.

The camera stays still, and as you move the lights along in front of the sensor, the colours are captured line by line, making up an image, or pattern.

The website is HERE if you want more information…….

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It’s possible to add more than one image to overlay another, making up complex pictures.

There’s a group of lightpainters who really don’t like this kind of equipment – they much prefer to have all their lightpainting done with different techniques and self made equipment.

Personally though, I have not got the time, inclination, know-how, to  make some of the things they use – and so I use this rather wonderful Pixelstick instead.

DV7B1152Combine it with people, and you can make amazing silhouettes – and portraiture works well too, as you can make what ever kind of background you like.

Add a touch of inventiveness, and you can make anything you like.  I’ll be exploring this kit in more detail over the coming months.

DV7B8122

In the meantime, I leave you with the GIF I created earlier today – don’t look at it for too long, or your eyes will most definitely go crazy……..

Test3Happy Easter…….

 

The Conversion Continues

After my purchase recently of the Fuji X-T2 – I bought a new lens this last week – the 16-55 F2.8. My first zoom.  It’s stunning.

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I had a studio shoot, and although I took along my Canon Camera, it wasn’t long before I switched over to the lightweight Fuji.

It performed beautifully, with only one menu item that had to be changed.  Shooting in manual mode, with studio lights being fired from a trigger on top of the camera, I had to turn the preview exp/WB in Manual Mode off.  This is under Tools, and Screen set up.   Other than that – it was good to go right out of the box. (Thanks to Richard Egan for giving me that information).

With the camera’s 24M pixel count, the image sizes are much larger than I’m used to – 6000×4000, leaves plenty of room to crop if you need to with no loss of image quality.

The viewfinder is different too. Mirrorless means electronic, but there’s no lag to notice, and I found I quickly got used to the look. 325 focus points means no searching for the right place to lock on to, and it’s easy to move the focus point around with the control stick.

I’ve never had a tilting display either – the Canon DSLR’s that I own don’t have it – The X-T2 display rotates up, down and pulls out sideways too for ease of use, and has a great resolution of 1.04 million dots.

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I did the firmware update this week.  This allowed more options on ISO, and a very pleasing addition was the ability to record information onto files.  Useful when I have to remember how to spell names, and refer back to locations.  It’s something I used a lot with the Canon DX.

So far, I have not used their 4K video, but I’m looking forward to giving it a go.

There’s another firmware update scheduled for May!  Two inside 3 months – I think Canon had one update over a 4 year period.  Maybe they think they’ve nothing to prove, and nothing to improve on.

Ultimately the conversion so far, to Fuji has been a seamless one.  All I need now is a long lens….. and I’m set to go……

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Oh, and if anyone is interested.  I’ve got a Canon 1D MK4 body for sale……..  Message me on here if you are interested, or see my Facebook page for more information and a price.

Thank you for reading…… more on this topic to follow

 

The ‘Technology’ Wars

Thinking about buying a new camera?  Maybe getting a new one for Christmas?  A simple question, but one that assumes you know what you are doing.  Plus it assumes that you are not simply upgrading, for the sake of it.  How many times do people change their gear, because getting a ‘better’ camera will give you better images….

I’m using the Canon 1D MK4, bought in 2010 – but I see a LOT of people now who are more than happy with their mobile phones, or tablets for their images.  Does this mean the death of the DSLR?  I’d like to think not, but it is true that some newspapers have removed all their photography staff, and given the journalists an iphone or other ‘smart’ gadget.  Maybe the ethos of ‘better images’ is starting to vanish, and we are experiencing a new boom of quantity over quality.  The sheer amount of visual images on the internet now, through flickr, facebook, and so on, means that you are seeing far more poor quality images than ever before;  and the sad thing is that the more poor quality things you see, the more you get used to seeing them, and the more you accept that as a standard.

That’s not to say there aren’t the great photographers out there – they are there, and they are putting an enormous amount of energy and skill into producing some outstanding images. I use Google+ and Flickr to share pictures I have made, and they are great places to experiment, and see what sort of reaction there is to new stuff that I produce.  In the end analysis though, it’s still social sharing, and maybe it’s not as real as showing them in the ‘real’ world.  What is the value of strangers ‘liking’ an image if they are not prepared to explain what it is they like?

Has the ease with which images are captured actually devalued their credibility?  Have images become worth so much less since the advent of the mobile phone?

I ask myself this more often these days.  For example – at a dinner I was shooting the other month, a chap came up to me and asked why I thought I needed such a big camera – he himself had his ipad mini – and was more than happy to show me his ‘brilliant’ pictures that he had taken with it.  I’m not saying his images were bad, but he what he really wanted to show me was that I didn’t need the gear I had.  Somehow though I think that if a ‘professional’ photographer turned up at his wedding with an ipad, he might be just a little underwhelmed !

The whole value of images is reducing almost on a daily basis – I get asked to work for free all the time “for exposure”, and that I should be grateful to be asked, because, after all, they could have done it with their compacts, or phones.  (Try asking the plumber to come along for free – see how he or she reacts to that one…..)  On the other hand, with the better cameras, and powerful software, why shouldn’t they try it for themselves.

My own thoughts are that photographers have to move with the times.  I’ll confess to having taken images with my ipad, during a conference where the lens I had with me would not fit the whole lecture hall in.  My fault I admit, for not having the right lens with me.  The ipad image though was quite acceptable, and the client didn’t even bat an eyelid.  I just added that one shot in with all the others, knowing that the images were only going to be used on line.  The problems arise when a print is required and you can’t get the image quality.

I would say though that just because there are more people out there taking photographs, doesn’t mean that there are more ‘good’ photographers.  I think there are about the same number of people producing good images as there were before – it’s just that they are somewhat overwhelmed by all the other ‘stuff’.

It’ll be interesting to see in the next year or so, where we go with the new DSLR type video cameras, from which you can capture one frame as a still.  Why worry about taking individual images – video the whole event and pick your shot.

Next year’s technology could be worth looking at…..

 

 

SEO – Part deux……

Although there are many sites out there, and people who are willing to sell you their SEO expertise, I’m now of the opinion that with some careful reading, and work on your site, you can improve your ratings immensely.

Keyword research is very important – it acts as a navigator for your site and blog, and allows you to see what items are actually being searched for.  I suggest you head over to Google’s Keyword Tool.   Search each keyword to check how many websites turned out on the search engine result page (SERP) – these are your major competitors.

There are sites that will generate keywords for you, but mostly these are not free…. a good one is Word Tracker – and they do offer a free trial.

As Google Webmaster Tools, crawl the Oaktree site – they are coming up with keywords – and I can now identify these and amend them within the site itself.  I’m slowly amending my keyword page titles, so that the bots can group pages into the correct categories. Search engines will put your keywords in BOLD in the listings, which is good, in that will attract extra attention from people who are searching.

Engines also pay a great deal of attention to inbound links to your site.  I see that Google is already finding a number of links from sites I didn’t realise were linking to mine.  The key here is not to have links from spam sites, or from other low ranking ones, but to have them from credible businesses where-ever possible  – emphasise quality over quantity when you are looking for these.

Lastly in this post, Robots.txt – I noticed this on the Google Webmaster pages. It tells search bots, what to search, and what not to search – it also helps prevent irrelevant items being linked to your own site, which is good.

Don’t forget that people search the web for information, and SEO is only the beginning … I’m moving onwards with this – but for the moment, it’s back to work, taking great images for next year.

Improving your SEO

A couple of weeks ago, I realised that my images were not showing up on Google searches as well as I would have expected.  I’d done a publicity shoot for a theatre, and though the client was pleased with the results, I wanted to publicise those images even more, and drive more traffic through to my website.  A frantic search revealed the odd one, but more from sources that were not mine !

Research through my site host (Zenfolio) showed me that a lot of the tools I needed were already available to me, and there was an excellent tutorial online, which I dutifully worked through.  My hit rate increased almost overnight, but there’s some distance to go yet.

Recently, I shot Keith Lemon in Blackpool, but images didn’t feature in the google search…. today, after 3 days work – it ranked number 1 on the first page….. the two images circled are mine…….

I’ve researched Google Webmaster tools, and Webmaster Bing – and though Oaktree has not yet been crawled by  Bing (they say it can take months sometimes for results to show), I’m hopeful that things will continue to improve.

On that basis, here’s what I’ve learned to improve traffic through the website

1. Add a blog – new content encourages more visits,  and Search Engine Traffic, especially if updated regularly.

2. Use Google Analytics – it’s free, and links in nicely to your site.  Sign up for Google Webmaster tools too.

3. Use lots of keywords – keyword every image on your site (something I’m still working on) and make your keywords relevant.

4. Use headers and footers where-ever you can.

5. Use Meta Tags – a great way to provide search engines with information about their sites. Meta tags can be used to provide information to all sorts of clients.

6. Make Backlinks to your site……..
Backlinks, also known as incoming links, inbound links, inlinks, and inward links, are incoming links from outside to your site – if you use firefox, the following may be of interest.

NoDoFollow Add-on for Firefox
Download new NoDoFollow 1.5 plugin by Jayce from here
Install it and restart firefox.
If you want to check a blog is do-follow or no-follow, right click on any part of your webpage in firefox and click NoDoFollow. Do-Follow links turns BLUE and No-Follow turns RED.

Wikipedia has this to say about backlinks….
Search engines often use the number of backlinks that a website has as one of the most important factors for determining that website’s search engine ranking, popularity and importance. Google‘s description of their PageRank system, for instance, notes that Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. Knowledge of this form of search engine rankings has fueled a portion of the SEO industry commonly termed linkspam, where a company attempts to place as many inbound links as possible to their site regardless of the context of the originating site.

Websites often employ various search engine optimization techniques to increase the number of backlinks pointing to their website. Some methods are free for use by everyone whereas some methods like linkbaiting requires quite a bit of planning and marketing to work. Some websites stumble upon “linkbaiting” naturally; the sites that are the first with a tidbit of ‘breaking news’ about a celebrity are good examples of that. When “linkbait” happens, many websites will link to the ‘baiting’ website because there is information there that is of extreme interest to a large number of people.

I’ll be revisiting this again after more research – so you may wish to consider this a “Part 1”

Enjoy your SEO…. !!