Saturday, 28 March 2009

OS Outdoors Show 2009

Yesterday saw another of my yearly trips up to the NEC, this time to visit the Ordnance Survey Outdoors Show. My reasons for going are two-fold: on the one hand, I am very keen on all things to do with the great outdoors and on the other, the show gives me a great opportunity to network and to catch up with people within such related industries. This year's event was slightly smaller, given that it only occupied one exhibition hall rather than two, as in previous years. That said, there was a steady flow of cash-ready visitors (what recession?!), but not so many that I couldn't have uninterrupted conversations with the people I was there to see.

So what does this have to do with the GBP Blog, and specifically the world of photography?

Well, as regular readers will know, I don't just write about photo-related matters. Rather, I like to share my thoughts about a wide range of issues, including anything which I feel might be of interest to fellow phtographers, business owners and the 'general public' readership.

I am pleased to say that, thanks to the co-operation of a number of exhibiting companies, I have arranged to produce a string of product and service reviews which I hope will be of interest to you. We will be looking at all sorts of things - everything from waterproof cases for your mobile/iphone/GPS, to luggage for your valuable camera equipment, online networking websites to accessories which will make your day-to-day activities just that little bit more comfortable.

To make sure you don't miss any of these features, you can get updates just as soon as the blog posts go live; either subscribe to the GBP Blog using one of the methods on the right here (via email is arguably the easiest and most popular way) or if you have a Twitter account, you can hook up here.

Oh, and if you have a product or service which you think would be of interest to our readers, please feel free to drop me a line and we'll see what we can do!

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Now we Tweet!

If you are into the 'online community' way of things, you will no doubt have heard of Twitter. For those that don't know, this is another of the minute-by-minute, user-updatable sites out there. Think along the lines of Facebook, Beebo etc and you're not far off. The official blub reads:

"Twitter is a unique approach to communication and networking based on the simple concept of status. What are you doing? What are your friends doing - right now? With Twitter, you may answer this question over SMS [text messaging] or the Web and the responses are shared between contacts."

Well, the latest news in GBP's widening online network activities is that I have now joined up, and you can check out what I'm up to in several ways:
  • Go straight to my Twitter page here, or...
  • Follow the link over on the right (directs you to the same place, actually), or...
  • Check out the 'Twitter Updates' section, again on the right-hand side of this page.
To keep things in perspective, I'll tell you now that I am not planning on sending tens of messages each day. At this point, the aim is 1 to 3 per day. Maybe more, maybe less - depends on my schedule. As and when the mood takes me, I'll be adding the odd picture along the way, too, just for a bit of fun.

So, I suppose the question is... do you Tweet? If the answer is yes, then why not hook up with me? This is how it all works, after all!

And if you're just curious to see what all the fuss is about... well, you have all the links you need to find out!

Monday, 9 March 2009

Simply effective product photography

Another little product shoot from earlier this month, a further example of how I like to keep things nice and simple.
The products in question were a range of samples produced by a local firm of screenprinters, engravers and precision engineers. We have created images for this company in the past, and the purpose of this assignment was to show off the new line aimed at the medical profession.

One empty meeting room, one camera, two lights and a plain card background - that's all we needed in order to produce a set of simple yet effective pictures which can be dropped into the company's website, brochures and all manner of marketing material.

Here is a time-lapse video showing the process, from start to finish. Be sure to check out the selection of images at the end of the film:

Saturday, 7 March 2009

DVD: Location Lighting with Drew Gardner

In my recent Focus On Imaging post, I mentioned catching up with fellow photographer Drew Gardner, and that I bought a copy of his new DVD.

Well, I've finally had a chance to watch it, and would like to share a few thoughts. This is by no means a review or a critique - merely a reflection on what I saw, which should serve as information for anyone interested in Drew's work or who is thinking about getting a copy for themselves.

First of all, it's important that you know something, as if it isn't obvious in other posts I've written: I am passionate about photography. I also have an insatiable thirst for knowledge. And I never get tired of seeing 'behind the scenes' footage showing other photographers (and creatives) at work.

A pleasant surprise here was that not only do viewers get to see actual shoots unfolding, but Drew then goes on to explain the lighting details (both 'how' and 'why') for each of the shoots covered. As an added bonus, he also shares his post production technique, too - something I really wasn't expecting. So as you can imagine, as far as my criteria were concerned, all boxes ticked.

I think one of the things that really comes accross in the DVD is how very open and honest Drew's approach is. A great many of these DVDs are often 'polished' so as to somehow keep up apearances; not so with this one, and it shows all the good bits, not so good bits, warts and all as the shoots progress. And he doesn't take himself too seriously either, which is definitely a good thing ("If I had hair, I'd pull it out!").

As a photographer, there are many 'nuggets' of information which I would gladly endorse here. For example: the emphasis on advance planning and being in a good frame of mind ahead of a shoot, the fact that pictures should not rely on post production for their success (get it done in camera, at the time!), and that good communication is also essential to the success of a shoot. Photography is all about the moment, but we are reminded that often these moments need to be crafted and built up one element at a time, such as with lighting.

If you are now intrigued, why not check out the teaser which Drew posted on his blog a little while ago here.

Of course, if you have already seen the DVD, let me know what you thought - it's always nice to get another perspective.

Any thoughts or questions - please hit the Comment link below.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Feedjit the widget

I thought I'd take a moment to tell you about a neat little widget that you may not be aware of. It's called Feedjit, it's completely free and, simply put, it basically works in two ways:
  • For bloggers: It allows you to track, in real time, traffic to your blog.
  • For readers: It allows you to check out what's being talked about on blogs in you local area.
If you would like to find out more, take a peek at this short 'About' page.

We have known about Feedjit for some time now, but never really thought to add it to the GBP Blog.
However, as we get further into our online networking activities, we thought it would make an interesting addition here. Scroll down and you will see that it currently appears below the 'Content Labels' list on the right-hand side.

Many of you will be aware of other such ways to keep track of things - for example StatCounter and Google Analytics. If you are approaching this as a reader, and want to keep up to date with blogs, it's well worth considering opening a (free) Google account in order to take advantage of their Reader application, which works as a simple RSS feed reader. Other free 'readers' are also available.

I hope this little widget will be of interest and use to you; if not, then perhaps you know someone who can benefit from it. That being the case, please do pass on the link to this post.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Another late night, sleep deprivation and a long drive

The end of February was a hectic time - with all manner of, shall we say, 'challenges' to overcome before heading upcountry for various commitments, including Focus On Imaging. Not least of these 'challenges' was my ongoing love/hate relationship (currently mostly hate, it has to be said) with PC computers; they were giving grief right up until an hour or so before I jumped in the car.

All appeared to be well upon departure but, would you believe it, I find out the laptop is still unwilling to co-operate, despite a full clean-out, and hence this post comes to you thanks to Manda's MacBook. So that'll be another tick in the 'switch-to-Mac' box, then.

On the Saturday night of the weekend I was due to head northwards, I was commissioned to document events as they unfolded at a private 30th Birthday party. A nice job (as you know, I particularly love event photography) and thankfully very local, as timings ran from 6:30pm to 10:30pm. It was the usual sort of thing - guests smiling and chatting and generally having a good time. Add to this the 'overview' room pictures and 'detail' shots which gel the series of pictures together (bowls of sweets, chocolate fountain, goodie-bags etc), and I came away with a nice set of images which told the story of the evening.

Once back at base, there was just enough time for a quick bite to eat before heading straight to the office to begin the process of editing and uploading all images to the GBP website via our Client Area. Whilst the latter was being completed under its own automated steam, I took care of the client's labelled DVD and all corresponding paperwork, ready for posting at a more reasonable hour.

All said and done, with other matters also taken care of, my head finally hit the pillow just as the birds began their morning sing-song. Now, late nights are not unusual for me, but one has to question the sensibility of driving four and a half hours on just three hours sleep! Ah well... all part of the service, as they say!

As part of the 'package', we also prepared in advance a set of 'event slips', each slip containing the online album access details. Every goodie-bag contained one of these, and once logged in, visitors would then be able to view and order photographic prints in various sizes and finishes (eg gloss or matte) directly through the website.

Incidentally, one day a couple of weeks ago saw a shoot in conjunction once again with Matt; typical marketing material sort of stuff, created using all the benefits of our wireless technology. A video of that day will be following in due course, but I've not even had the chance to look at the raw video footage we shot yet.

Why the D2H still holds its ground

First up, a warning - this post is a little bit technical. But only insofar as it allows me to contextualise myself for the sake of my ramblings. Please don't let this put you off; instead, read on to find out why I still whole-heartedly believe older equipment is still capable of standing up to more recent (and blatantly snazzy) technology.

So... A bit of back-history: The D2H was introduced in 2003 and was something of an odd-ball, due to a relatively low
resolution of 4.1 megapixels.

'Resolution', for those that don't know, basically refers to a camera's ability to record detail; we are told that the higher the megapixel count (resolution), the more detail can be captured in a picture.

Favoured by sports photographers and photojournalists on account of its ability to capture images at a rate of 8 frames per second, this camera was replaced in 2005 by the D2Hs. At the time that I purchased mine, around the beginning of 2004, feedback for the model had been generally very positive and so I decided it was a worthy addition to my kit bag.

But let me get to the point...

In spite of the marketing men screaming at us that we should buy the latest models, with the highest resolutions and all the bells and whistles, my day-to-day working experience remains somewhat defiant. In practice, for the type of work that I am involved in, 6-8 megapixels is plenty. But wait - I just said the D2H has 4.1 megapixels. Yes, I know that. However, I still maintain that it can hold its own in the ever-lengthening quest for pixel power.

The pictures on the left here show a couple of images I shot some years ago, reproduced on the side of a Renault Traffic van (roughly the same size as a Ford Transit). The actual printed size was somewhere in the region of 6ft by 7ft. From a 4.1 megapixel camera.

Now, many people are shocked when I reveal this to them, saying "But it can't be - that level of resolution would never hold at such a size". In fact, at one point, even I wasn't convinced and I went back through the archives to double-check I had my facts right. Sure enough, they were shot on the D2H. Furthermore, the first image is a crop, showing the central portion of the original picture.

So, how and why am I able to produce this scale on imagery on this camera? Well, of course, it helps that the photograph is correctly focused and exposed in the first place, and that any post production is applied carefully. The next consideration is that of correctly upscaling the image to spec - in this instance, I used a programme called Genuine Fractals, which allowed me to enter the output size and create a larger version of the picture without any loss of quality. All clever stuff.

I was also reminded of this camera's performance capabilities at another recent shoot. I have often maintained that photography is nothing without light - apply either too much or too little, and you will produce inferior-quality images which do not make the most of the technology at your disposal. This picture is also a crop, representing about 1/9th the total area of the full image. Focus is shallow, concentrating somewhere near the middle. Lighting came courtesy of a Nikon SB-800 bounced off the ceiling directly above. And the subject was no more than 8 inches across. You may not be able to see at this size of reproduction, but trust me when I tell you that on closer inspection, the clarity of the sugar dusting and texture of the 'egg' sweets is quite simply breathtaking... And yes, only 4 megapixels. In fact, you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between images shot on this and my other higher-resolution cameras.

As I said, I am not easily swayed by the manufacturer's marketing departments, and it is true to say that there is a lot of hot air blown around when it comes to technology and 'advancements'. But here is a cold hard fact - good, crisp, clean lighting will work wonders when it comes to bringing out the detail in all manner of subjects, regardless of the camera used. And experience has taught me that the much-vaunted argument of camera resolution only carries so far.

I have found flash to be particularly complimentary to the D2H - which is why, in the past, it has served very well as the camera to use in studio arrangements
. OK, so this machine is getting on for 5 years old now, but it works - works well, works for me, works as far as my clients' imagery is concerned.

What is that old saying, now...? If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Quite right.