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Saturday, 30 August 2008

PPY - the Press Photographers' Year

The PPY exhibition is on at the National Theatre's Lyttelton Foyer on the South Bank in London.
The exhibition closes on September 13, so you've only got two more weeks to see it if you haven't already.
Talking of which, I highly recommend you do! I finally managed to see the exhibition a couple of days ago and its absolutely stunning. Its a collection of the best news and sports photography from 2007, and I'm sure will be one of the best exhibitions you see this year.
Its proving so popular that its the NT's most visited exhibition this year and they have extended the exhibition by two weeks. There's also a book of the work, so visit the NT book shop afterwards.

A temporary part of the exhibition (which may be changed any day), is the Olympic Wall, where British photographers covering the Beijing Olympics wired in images from China. These were then printed onto large format Canon printers and immediately exhibited in real time.

A few notable images to look out for were taken by Daniel Berehulak, Sean Smith (who also has a film being shown at the exhibition),  Lefteris Pitarakis, Andrew Parsons, Gareth Copley and David Bebber.

Red Bull Air Race Slideshow

Its taken almost four days to finish, but at least now its done!
Since covering the air race, I'd wanted to make a slideshow from it. I needed to have full control of all aspects; timing, transitions and audio.
My workflow for this project was:
1-Image editing and processing was done using Apple Aperture.
2-Audio was cut and mixed using Apple Soundtrack Pro.
3-Slideshow and final audio editing was in Apple Final Cut Pro.
Its by far the most complex multimedia project I've done. Hopefully you'll all think it was time well spent!

Friday, 29 August 2008

Canon 50D

Leon Neal kindly modelling the camera.
I attended the UK launch of the new Canon 50D at Jacob's Pro Lounge Yesterday. I have to say, for the price and size of this camera, its rather impressive.
Before I carry on with my observations, I need to point out that this was an early pre-production model. Experience has shown that final products are a lot more polished in all aspects of performance, so take this into account.

Firstly, a quick run down on the main specs of the 50D. Amazingly, the camera has a 15 Megapixel chip. To get this kind of size would have set you back well over four times the cost of the camera a few years ago. The other astonishing, and so far for Canon, unique thing about the 50D is its ASA range, which goes from 100 to 12,800. All of this is married to a continuous shooting speed of 6.3 fps. It also has a nine point AF system, of which all nine are cross-type sensors. The sensor is self cleaning. Lastly, the flash sync is 1/250th.

In had a few minutes to play around with the camera and took a few test shots. The camera falls to hand very nicely and anyone who has used a digital EOS in the past will feel right at home. The size of the camera feels a little smaller than a 5D and feels good in the hands. The focusing was quite nippy and managed to lock on to focus with accuracy. Having shot a fast sequence in AI Servo mode whilst photographing a friend walking through the shop, there were around 20% not quite pin sharp. However, as this is an early prototype, that's actually not bad at all.

Having looked through the test pictures I shot with the camera, the auto white balance worked very well and very little was needed to do as far as colour balance was concerned. I ended up shooting from 1600 to 12,800 ASA to see how the chip performed. All the way up to 3200 ASA, the pictures were stunning; very smooth with very accurate colour. There was no visible noise at all, even in shadow areas. The story changes a bit at 6400 ASA where noise is present, but still much less than even the brilliant 5D. At 12,800 ASA, as one would expect, noise is abundant. However, the level of noise isn't too distracting, and has the look of 1600 ASA colour neg film, pushed one stop. A bit of Noise Ninja (my favourite noise reduction software) and the image looks great. Even without filtering, the image is more than useable and I wouldn't hesitate using this setting when the situation dictated it.
One very neat accessory which wasn't available at the launch is the very neat WiFi transmitter which looks and fits on like a grip extension. Its a very neat solution and I'm sure will come in very handy for a lot of news and sports photographers.

So, would I get one? My short answer is no. The only thing that puts me off is the x1.6 crop factor. This is fine and is an advantage when using long lenses. However, I tend to like working in close, and it just wouldn't fit in with my approach to picture taking.
The best thing from my experience with the camera was that it gave me an insight as to what we might expect from the replacement to the Canon 5D; the 5D MkII (or 6D, or what ever its going to be called) is going to be stunning. For me, that's the camera I'll be waiting for. With a bigger full frame chip, and I would guess a higher mega pixel count, we are in for one hell of a camera. Roll on September and Photokina!

Jacobs Pro Lounge

The Pro Lounge hosting the Canon 50D event.
One of the side effects of the news industry going digital meant that we no longer had to get back to the paper with our films after an assignment. In the "old days" the papers had photographers' rooms and we could chew the fat whilst waiting for our films to be processed. This was a great time to catch up on things, talk about assignments and generally hang out. With this aspect of the job gone forever, you'll find news photographers walking the streets aimlessly as they have no where to go after having wired their pictures.
Some friends from The Telegraph came up with a street where most of us hang out and wire from. However, there is now a new place; The Pro Lounge at Jacobs.
Richard Lewis tries out the Canon 50D.
I remember a couple of years ago having a chat with Colin and Donal as they suggested the idea of the Pro Lounge. It seemed too good to be true. But, credit where its due, and true to their word, it was created. Practically every professional photographer I know in London and the surrounding areas shops at Jacobs on New Oxford Street. It has to be said that no one offers the same amount and level of service they do. But apart from shopping, we also now had a place to hang out. Sofas, coffee machine and WiFi. Its so refreshing to be in a shop where the sales team actually is passionate about photography, understands the various aspects of the industry and knows what they are talking about.
I was there yesterday and saw for the first time the newly refurbished lounge; its superb! The whole place has been decorated, there's a TV with rolling news, better coffee facilities, plug points for charging batteries and laptops and lots of ethernet points for wiring from.
Nick Millen from Canon chats with a customer with a backdrop of images from the BPPA's 5000 Days project.
Chances are, most of you already go to Jacobs; if you're a pro photographer and haven't yet been, I urge you to try them. Equipment, service, wiring, chilling out facilities and great conversation. The pro lounge is definitely worth a visit.

Monday, 25 August 2008


Yep, there's a new term to remember!
In a nutshell, Photosynthing is a method to combine multiple images from the same scene into an explorable panorama. The way it differs from normal panoramas is that the images do not need to have been taken from the same spot. In fact, it works best when images are taken from different view points.
Its a Microsoft project, and as yet isn't available to run on a Mac; to quote their web site,"Unfortunately, we're not cool enough to run on your OS". It goes on to say,"as soon as we have a Mac version ready, it will be up and available on our site". If you have a PC though, do check it out as it looks very interesting.
You can find details on the Photosynth web site and at Microsoft Live Labs.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Beijing Olympics by Newsweek

As the games come to close, a good friend (cheers Stu) sent me a link to the great blog by Vincent Laforet, who has been a member of the three "photoblogger" team covering the Olympics for Newsweek magazine. As you would expect, there is some amazing photography, but also some great copy.

New Media Article

I have published the entire new media article here. So, if you're interested in the multi media aspect of photography, give it a quick read!

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Aperture Training Videos....For Free!!

VTC, the computer software training people have kindly made a selection of Aperture 2 training videos available for free. There's a large number of videos available and well worth a look.

iPhone 3G

Well, it was inevitable. After my appreciation for the way the iPod Touch works, it was only a matter of time before I gave in and got myself an iPhone 3G. After around a 30 minute process, I left the Apple Store with my shiny white 16Gb iPhone 3G.
I don't want to go over matters already explored in the iPod Touch articles here and here, but all of these naturally apply to the iPhone 3G.
With the roll out of MobileMe (daft name, great service), any individual can now have a fully synced range of computers and iPhones (and iPod Touches) where all your contacts and calendar entries, Safari bookmarks, along with email accounts are all identical, on all machines. Those working in corporate environments have had this for a while; the necessary thing being an Exchange server (with which the iPhone 3G is compatible). Now, with nothing more than an annual subscription to MobileMe, this service is open to individuals. There are other benefits too like an email address, web space and a virtual 20Gb hard drive (for backing up important documents, off-site).
In use, the iPhone is pure elegance. Everything's intuitive and like most things Apple, just works. After syncing with iTunes, all my email settings were copied over, contacts, calendars and bookmarks also followed suit. The only thing that I had to do manually was choose which music and presentation slideshows I wanted copied over, as the space on the unit is limited to 16Gb.
I'm still getting used to the keyboard, but its not too bad. The way the phone works in perfect harmony with its other apps is very neat. If you see a number on a web page, just hit it and the phone will ring it.
The GPS is quick, and very quick if WiFi is also turned on. It found my position accurately within 15 seconds of starting from cold. The inclusion of Google Maps is very handy and will serve navigating tiny streets in The City well, when away from my car and its Sat Nav.
I also really like the way it stores texts between you and individuals as conversations. No more trying to figure out what one word answers were about.
Safari works perfectly and having a 3G phone now means I'm not in search of hotspots.
With O2, all tariffs include unlimited UK data. Email and surf to your hearts content; you won't be paying a penny extra. You also get use of The Cloud and BT OpenZone hotspots thrown in the deal.

Call quality on the handset is superb. Even with around 3 bars reception, all the calls I made were crystal clear, both for me and the recipient.
Its early days, so I can't comment on how good O2's service is going to be. I just wish that the iPhone 3G was available on Vodafone. Now that Apple's mobile works more like traditional mobile manufacturers business models, I do hope that these exclusive deals will stop and the phone will be rolled out on other networks.
My only other wish at present is that battery technology catches up with the demand the phone makes. Hammering the phone with 3G and WiFi switched on, whilst playing music, games and other apps, making calls and sending texts, the battery got down to a quarter power in half a day. I realise this isn't typical day to day usage, but I would advise always having a car charger handy and never travelling without a charger (or at least the USB charging cable for attaching to a laptop).

Since last writing, I've found a few more apps which are keepers:
AP Mobile News Network - bit US based, but a good source of international news.
Fizz Weather - very accurate.
Wiki Me - Finds articles to do with your location.
Chopper - great little game!

Apple has produced an amazing product. Married to MobileMe, its untouched in the market place. This is even more astonishing when you realise that this is only the company's second phone!

UPDATE: Now that I've had the phone for a few days, I can comment properly on battery use. After the initial couple of days of constantly fiddling with the phone, things have settled down to me using the phone as I would normally. I've kept the 3G and WiFi on constantly and used it day to day to keep up with emails, surf the web, play music now and again and play the occasional game. I'm actually surprised that by the end of the day (around 11pm) I still have around a quarter power left in the battery. As I mentioned, part of this is the device being used as the tool it is, as novelty wears off and also because the battery's had a few charge cycles and begins to bed in.

My second comment is to do with MobileMe syncing. At one point my iCal entries (there were two) weren't being synced. The way I got this to work was switching off syncing on the iPhone itself (Settings/Mail, Contacts and Calendars/My .Mac Account and then slid the Calendars switch to off. Then press the home button). After a minute, I switched it back on and in a few seconds it synced everything up fully. This same trick should work with Mail, Contacts and Bookmarks.

Friday, 15 August 2008

So, What's This Copyright Thing Then?

When I got into photography as a profession, it was my dream come true. I couldn't believe that I was actually getting paid to do my passion every day; to take pictures and meet some really interesting people; to learn so much about life and cultures and experience customs. How wonderful!
Alas, as with most things, life's not so simple. There's paperwork and accounts, times of total unemployment, moral issues to deal with and on top of this, papers and agencies who will try and steal from you what's rightly, morally and legally yours; your intellectual rights and copyright to your work.
Firstly, to clear a few things up. In the UK, staff photographers' copyright automatically transfers to their employer. This has always been the way, and is the norm. However, in Norway, this isn't the case and its great to see the rights of staff photographers upheld in such a way.
As a freelance photographer, by law, every image you create is your work; its your copyright.
The only time this changes is if you're short sighted enough to sign a contract handing over your rights. As I mentioned, a lot of places are handing out these contracts and bullying photographers into signing them, in exchange for the promise of working for a big agency or paper, and the bright lights of London - this is just wrong.
A lot of employers are targeting younger photographers and college leavers; the simple reason being that they can pay less and also count on these contracts being signed because of a lack of understanding of the situation.
To clarify, when you get paid a shift rate, you are being paid for your time, skill and license of usage. This shift rate doesn't cover the buying of the copyright or your intellectual rights to your work.
The better contracts I've seen, say that the copyright remains with the author, but the paper will have rights to syndicate the work and pay a percentage to the author.
In years to come, if you decide to do a book or an exhibition, you'll have to get permission from your employer and also probably have to pay for the honour of using your own work in your book; how ludicrous is that?! Some of these contracts are so tightly written that you'll also have to pay to use your work on your own web site!
Traditionally, one's archive has always been seen as a pension scheme. Once you retire, you look through your work and sell images as prints or to agencies. If you hand over your copyright, you can wave that good bye.
As a day to day thing, depending on the agreement you have with your employer, you are also free to syndicate any "overs" from a job (a day after) that you have not supplied. I know a lot of friends who make a sizeable income by doing this. Again, wave this good bye if you sign over your copyright.
I think its really important for us to realise our legal rights and to stick together, and defend these rights. Please send this link to any photography students or young photographers so they know their rights.

Its very simple; its your copyright. Treasure it.

UPDATE: Came across an interesting article on how to combat copyright infringement by web sites on Black Star Rising.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Music To The Ears

I've always enjoyed music. I have a smallish vinyl collection, a respectable CD collection and a relatively descent music system. Over the years though, I now find myself listening to MP3s, either ripped from my CDs or bought from iTunes. I do this in the car, on my iPod or on the computer when editing.
I found that I rarely switched on my music system as it just seemed too much hassle to have to change records or CDs!
Things have changed though! Apple released a free bit of software for the iPhone and iPod Touch on their App Store called Remote. In a nutshell it lets your iPod Touch or iPhone connect to your iTunes music library and controls it fully. Its as if you were sat in front of your computer. This sounded great for anyone with Apple TV, but it wasn't until a good friend of mine (cheers Rene!) made the suggestion that I get an Airport Express that I began to realise how revolutionary this set up was.
I can now sit in the lounge where my music system is and using my iPod Touch, running Remote, fully control my iTunes music library which is on my iMac (and in the office), and have the music wirelessly streamed to my amplifier. No more getting up to change CDs!
Setting up is simplicity in itself. You basically plug a lead (3.5mm jack to x2 phono) into the Express and plug the unit into the mains. The other end of the lead plugs into an input on the amplifier. Then using Apple's Airport Utility software, you set up a connection with the Airport Express (from your Mac or PC). Lastly, you choose on iTunes where you want the music sent to (in this case, the Airport Express).
After a couple of minutes of setting up, get a photography book or some wine, sit on your couch and using Remote on your iPhone or iPod Touch, listen to anything you like! Absolutely superb!!

Need A Mobile PC Workstation??

I used to always look at the 17" laptops and wonder who on earth would use such a huge laptop; it kind of defeated the mobile aspect of laptops. That was until I saw the 17" MacBook Pro in action in the press room at the Mandela Concert in the hands of an AP photo editor.
These beasts are far too big and heavy, with terrible battery life, to be used by photographers in the field, but for an editing station at an event like the World Cup or the Olympics, they do come into their own.
Naturally the larger screen makes editing much easier. Also these models generally have more power and can speed through tasks quicker than conventional laptops.
Lenovo (who bought out IBM's ThinkPad range) has just announced an amazing 17" laptop specifically targeted at photographers; the ThinkPad W700.
It can be specced up with an Nvidia Quadro graphics card which runs at 1920x1200 on its 17" display, but has the power and capability of driving an external 30" monitor.
It can have up to 10Gb of RAM (including 2Gb of Intel Turbo memory), have dual hard drives, a Blue Ray writer and built in CF and SD card reader. Amazingly, it also has a built in Wacom tablet and an X-Rite screen calibrator! This works when you shut the lid and calibrates the screen in around 80 seconds. With all these goodies though, the price does rise to the $6000 mark.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Beijing Olympics by Reuters

Anyone who watched the opening ceremony couldn't help but be absolutely amazed. The creativity in my opinion was unparalleled.
Reuters has some very interesting posts on the Olympics; some behind the scenes stuff and some very interesting images from the games.

Also well worth a look are the Reuters slideshows.

Do keep an eye on their blog for more updates and pictures from the event.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

R.I.P. Richard Mills, Photographer With The Times

It was with great sadness that I heard of Richard's passing. I didn't know him very well but on the several occasions that we had met he had been extremely kind and welcoming to me. A truly lovely gent.
Richard passed away whilst on assignment for The Times in Zimbabwe. His funeral was held last week. He will be missed by many.

The BPPA have a slideshow of his work here.

The Times obituary can be read here.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

More On Aperture Plug-ins

No sooner had I published the article on Apple Aperture and the plug-ins (see below) that I got a post saying that the excellent Noise Ninja was now available too.
Being a long time user of the software I'm delighted that its available for Aperture. Admittedly, with some of the newest pro DSLRs the high ASA noise levels aren't too much of an issue, but once in a while you're forced to get rid of some noise and in my experience, Noise Ninja is the best and most subtle looking out there. They have a trial version, so give it a go!

Looking into the plug-ins scene, there appear to be more than 70 now available. Whilst some are a bit gimmicky, there are certainly a good number that are very useful.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Microsoft Say Sorry To Photographers

Thankfully it seems that Microsoft have realised that they had totally screwed up with the Iconic Britain competition and in an interview with ePHOTOzine have said that they never meant to disrespect photographers' copyright.

Aperture 2.1 & The Plug-ins

I've been a big fan of Apple's Aperture software for around two years now. I started using it (and switched over to the Mac platform because of it) when the software was on version 1.5.
A lot has changed since then with version 2 and now 2.1. The program runs a lot faster and has made big advances in editing speed. Even on my tightest deadline I use Aperture without hesitation. Its elegance, speed, robustness, full control over RAW and jpeg editing and its digital asset management have me completely hooked.
One of the biggest things is that the program now has a plug-in structure which allows Aperture to use third party plug-ins. Apple provide their own plug-in for dodging and burning.
I've been using two of Nik Software's plug-ins; Viveza and Silver EfexPro. I've been using these for a couple of weeks now and I'm very impressed. They have now become part of my workflow.
Viveza's user interface.
Viveza is absolute genius. In Aperture you click edit with Viveza which creates a copy of your original (it keeps your original file as it was and is non destructive, exactly like Aperture) and opens it in its own window. In a nut shell, you click on control points and select the area of the image you need to change.
Viveza can show you a before and after of your image. The control points are shown by the little dots on the image.
The control point then gives you a set of sliders which choose circle size, brightness, contrast and saturation. By clicking on the colour you want to change, it only makes these changes to that particular hue and the surrounding area of the same value, within the circle diameter you choose. Very easy, fast and accurate. Its much faster and more elegant than exporting into Photoshop.
Silver Efex Pro is equally amazing and is by far the best monochrome converting software I've come across. You export to it in the same way as above. It has a series of pre-defined B/W styles on the left side and the control point system on the right hand side of the user interface. It also allows full control over brightness, contrast and structure. On top of this, it also has a set of commonly used B/W filters which you can click. It gets even better though as it lets you vignette and burn in the edges of your image (addressing each edge separately).

You can get trials on all the software and I definitely recommend giving these a go.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Red Bull Air Race, London. Part 1

I spent Friday through to Sunday covering the Red Bull Air Race in London. Its an amazing site to see. These tiny little planes fly at around 220-230 mph around a course of air gates set along the River Thames just by the O2 (formerly known as the Millennium Dome).
I decided to go to the practice day on Friday to get a feel for the course and the way the planes flew. It was also a chance for me to practice and figure out the best settings to use. The way to photograph any aircraft with props is to make sure that there is blur on the rotating props so as to make it look like they are actually flying; otherwise you get a very fake looking image which looks like you've just stuck on the aircraft to the background.
Easier said than done though! These tiny planes are so small and so quick that my initial thought of using a 250th of a second shutter speed proved wrong. After a lot of experimenting I decided to settle for between 640th and 800th which was slow enough for prop blur, but fast enough to let me pan and get a sharp picture of the planes.
The other problem was the very quickly changing light levels and this turned out to be one of the rare occasions that I didn't shoot on manual exposure. I set my Canon 1D MkIII bodies to TV (shutter priority), and dialled in around a plus stop on the exposure compensation.
My lens choices were the 16-35mm f2.8L MkII, 24-70mm f2.8L, 70-200mm f2.8L IS and a 300mm f2.8L IS, usually with a x1.4 converter attached.
A lot has been said about the 1D MkIII and its focusing issues. When the camera first came out, I did a review for the BJP and I wasn't impressed by its focusing ability. However, since the hardware fix and the new firmware, the camera behaves like a totally new tool and at most I must have had a 5% out of focus rate (actually probably even less than that). I was very impressed by its performance and standing in almost constant rain on Sunday did nothing to hamper performance.
This was the first proper outing for my new Think Tank Photo "Skins" pouches and I must say I was very impressed with the way they worked.
The days were long, editing even longer (so many pictures!) and captioning longer still; it was a nightmare matching up the pictures to the pilots! A big thanks to Red Bull for having really useful press packs though, fast ethernet connections and most importantly an espresso machine in the press tent!

Red Bull Air Race, London. Part 2

Friday, 1 August 2008

"Iconic Britain" Competition By Microsoft=Copyright Theft

Microsoft has launched an interesting competition called "Iconic Britain"; a nice idea which alas is wrongly executed. In a nutshell its allowed entrants to enter any work considered iconic; the entrant doesn't have to be the copyright holder. These images will be published on their web site and voted for. According to Microsoft, if an image makes it into the top 100, they will then find the copyright holder and ask for a license.
"Pro-Imaging" has an interesting write up on this competition and is campaigning for copyright infringements to be brought to Microsoft's attention.
Nikon who are a supporter of the competition have thankfully pulled out of supporting the competition following concerns by photographers.
I strongly urge photographers to look through the results when they are published and follow the suggestion made on Pro-Imaging.

"Get Modern" Says Martin Parr

Magnum photographer Martin Parr says that photojournalism has to get modern to survive in the magazine market. Although I'm not a big fan of his work, I am a big fan of his though process. PDN Online has an interesting interview with him.