How did you do that? 14-Aug-2014

How many times have you been to a competition, seen someones works and asked the question “How did you do that?”. Well, tonight was the night we found out.

Helen organised a few of us to share our little secrets. Not really that secret, but enough to inspire some work!

So who did we have?

First up, James Allan describing his little worlds – or extreme panoramas. Fortunately, James put it into a slide presentation, which I’ve reproduced below:

Keen readers will recognise the feature image – and may even see it in our upcoming Calendar (on sale soon!)

Next, Jo Tabe described how she produced some of her stunning HDRs. Yes, there is a tool in Photoshop. Yes, it works. But there are other ways.
First up, get your images – and it need not be all -2, -1, 0, 1 and 2 stops. It can be just the top or bottom three. You can even cheat in Adobe Camera Raw and derive it from one image.
Once you had your image, the merging part took over. Jo’s tool of choice is PhotoMatix – a plugin for Photoshop, Lightroom or Aperture. The trick is to play with the images, allowing for motion in your subject (like trees) and removing halos that form in standard HDR images. As she pointed out the aim is have a high dynamic range – not surreal art.

Alberto Guirelli then ran through some very simple image manipulation to turn bland images into stunners. He should know – he keeps getting awards!
His trick was to use crop and vignette, and importantly, curves. This is the key – set the white and the black points in the image first. Then crop to what you need. His example of the bland looking Tuscan hillside took all of 2 minutes to transform into a stunning wide range image.
The vignetting method from Alberto was a bit more subtle. Use the lasso tool to outline your subject. Then set a smallish feather (about 50 pixels) and apply an unsharp mask to that area (at about 130-140%). Now, invert the selection and change the feather to about 250 pixels. Then darken it with curves. Now you have an irregular vignette that works!
Finally, the tool of choice that shuts the judges up – the clone tool in Photoshop. Get rid of unwanted branches, insects, people etc with the click/drag of a brush!

Next up – me. I rather like macro photography (probably stemming from my work years ago in a histology lab working with all sorts of microscopes – dissecting, dark field, transmission electron, scanning electron etc).
In the plain old photographic world we quickly run up against lack of sharpness and detail due to diffraction as we try to magnify images more and more. The answer lies in Focus Stacking. Here is a little presentation I put together:

Helen Whitford_King of Beasts

Helen Whitford_King of Beasts

Helen – our MC for the night – then showed us how she made King of Beasts (that great lion image) – starting with the lion with the cage behind it – in all its distracting glory. However, using Nikon Capture she demonstrated the removal of that grid, the ultimate vignette, and then the trick that Nikon Capture (which is apparently based on Nik Efex) allows modification of colour range brightness and contrast at an extreme (almost pixel) level. This allowed her to alter fur, reflections and edges with extreme accuracy.

Richard Akroyd then followed up Helen’s demonstration with more about Nikon Capture showing the broad range of what Capture (ie Nik Efex) can do. Could well be worth the $149!

To follow the high tech world of fine level manipulation, Mark Pedlar presented the image manipulation tech of Photoshop layers and the right selection of images. His Hell’s Gate image is a photo that’s been 7 years in the making when he first saw the gate. Assorted attempts at making it look good were not 100% successful. However, with perseverance we can now show how he did it:

So there you have a summary of the nights proceedings. Lots of lessons and methods, but not all of them high tech. In fact, some really simple techniques that result in some of our presenters gaining the highest awards in the amateur photographic world. As Jo said, sometimes all you need to do is play with the tools you have and learn what they do to get the most out of them. Sage advice

Chris 😉


Les Peters: The Bird Man of Aldgate – 22-May-2014

Les Peters (photo Ray Goulter)

Les Peters at BPC on 22-May-2014 with part of his bird photography set up

On the 22nd May I had the pleasure of introducing Les Peters as guest speaker to the Blackwod Camera club.  Les is a keen bird photographer living not far from me in the Adelaide Hills.  I became aware of Les’s photography when he gave a similar talk to the Birds SA group some 18 months ago.  Speaking to him after this meeting, he encouraged me to step up from the small Panasonic I was using and buy a Nikon.  As it happens I did buy a Nikon and within weeks he was loaning me his Nikkor 300mm lens.  Les took me out to some of his haunts, Laratinga wetland and Browns road reserve.  I was fascinated by his depth of bird knowledge which is equally matched by his knack for photography.

His presentation was no less intriguing, saturated with his passion for bird photography.  He talked almost without interruption for 90 minutes and showed over 200 excellent bird photographs (a small selection is in the slide show below).   It is hard to comprehend the range and quality of the photos when they come so quickly and intensly.  Les however chatted away, keen to tell the story of each photo.  The birds, as Les describes them, have purpose and personality.  This youngsters learning to fly, this one is making a nest, this one hiding from the camera, this one thought I couldn’t see it.  Some of the birds were common, yet beautifully captured.  Others were uncommon or rare birds and would take great luck and skill to capture.

As he talked he described his techniques.  Sometimes he will stalk the bird with the camera in hand.  However his preferred technique is to sit and wait for the bird to acclimatise to his presence and photograph them as they relax and begin to behave more naturally.  He said it often takes around 20 minutes.  Les often uses a tripod and a flash with a “better beamer”.  Certainly these shots had much stronger detail than the ones he took by hand.  The sharpness and detail of his shots was breath taking. Occasionally he would enlarge a shot 3 or 4 times and I admit I could not see any less detail in the cropped image.  He also described how he photographed birds by remote control.

It was a packed house with over 40 in attendance.  Talking to various people after the meeting, Helen and Jo said they felt inspired, and were looking for an opportunity to hone their skills.  Jo was impressed by Les’s kit.  “That Gimbal head on the tripod is worth a heap.”  Ashley although admitting that Bird Photography was not his thing, learnt much from the evening, especially from the explanation of the techniques.  He was amazed that it only took 20 minutes to familiarise yourself to the birds.  Richard found useful Les’s advice to get to know the behaviour of the birds in order to take better photos of them.   Ray lamented that there were too many images that he wished he had taken.  “There is one common theme though.  The best images are taken closer to the subject. Even if you use a long telephoto lens a small bird is still a small bird and you can’t fill the frame even with a 1,000mm lens.”

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Les’ hints for success

  1. Know your birds
    You’ll be better able to predict where they might go and set yourself up in the right place.
    After watching them for a while, you’ll also be better able to able to follow them at the right distance.
  2. Know your camera
    Play with it until you know it well. You don’t want to be thinking about how to use it when you have only a fraction of a second in which to get your shot.
  3. Watch the quality of the light
    You may want to move around your subject to find the best angle for the light. Add flash at -1.7 stops if needed. Watch for any reaction.
  4. Choose a suitable camera height
    Being level with the bird’s eye often makes for the most engaging picture.
  5. Try to capture a clear catch light
    It adds a great deal of vitality to the image.
  6. Use a shutter speed that suits the action
  7. Remember to have fun

I’d like to thank Les for taking the time to share his remarkable hobby and passion with us.  In the car on the way home he agreed to lead an excursion to the Laratinga Wetlands later in the year.  I will speak to Graham and finalise details later.  I can personally say it is worth going out into the field with Les.

James Allan

Print making – a couple of professionals share their knowledge – 5-Jul-2012

Some of you may recall the comments last year from guest judge Lindsay Poland on the quality of printing in one of our competitions – and it wasn’t all favourable. So to help us improve things, we invited Lindsay back to talk about making prints. Lindsay is also friends with Steve Huddy from Canon, and managed to get Steve to come along too and share his knowledge of inkjet printing.

To start proceedings, Steve told us little about himself and the history of inkjets. Steve was once a professional photographer who cruised on Fairstar liners – and he shot Nikon (not Canon) for a long time. In those days it was all film.  When the first good quality, manageable digital cameras appeared, like the Nikon D1 (the same as Eric showed us a few weeks ago) it was a revelation. At some stage, Steve switched brands – but that’s another story.

Of course, once you have digital imaging, you need to print the images. You can of course use professional labs (like I do), but you can also print at home (like a lot of you do!). Enter the inkjet printer!

There is also a story that Steve told us about technician who accidentally put his fountain pen on a hot soldering iron. He didn’t realise his error, but a few minutes later ink squirted out of the pen, and the inkjet printer was born. In fact, story of the inkjets dates further back to around 1867 when Lord Kelvin patented a continuous (pumped) ink stream method directed by an electrostatic charge to mark products (didn’t know that did you?). But the first commercial version didn’t appear until 1951 and was mainly used in chart recorders. An IBM inspired idea was contracted out to InkTronic (according to one blog I read), which developed this further in the mid 1970s creating a matrix type printing system, but the quality of the printing wasn’t great. Other inkjet systems developed soon after using different methods – heating the ink through a matrix of small heated nozzles which bubble out the ink (think Canon, HP & Lexmark/IBM) and piezoelectric  head which changes shape when a charge is applied and ejects ink. from (think Epson & Brother). Incidentally, there are also thermal wax “inks” that work a bit like a laser printer and don’t run when they get wet (mainly Fuji-Xerox) – but these aren’t aimed at the home printer. There’s a Wikipaedia article on inkjets if your interested in more detail – and a stack of other material you can find with an internet search.

The inks that are used vary as well – either pigment inks which are particles that sit on the surface of the paper or dye inks which soak into the paper. Pigment inks are ideal for B&W images. We worry about the longevity of the these inks compared to silver halides and manufacturers now quote a 300 year life span (under glass and on a wall) but only 100 years if exposed to air and light – a long way from the inkjets of old.  This improvement in ink quality has led to many professional photographers now using inkjet printers for both proofing and display. For example, internationally famous wedding photographer Yervant (who recently gave some talks in Adelaide – and 5 BPC members attended) now uses inkjets. Part of the reason is that he perceived that 30% of the work is taking the photo, 20% is marketing, but 50% is the post production work which the photographer must do to realise their vision. Another example is Adelaide born photographer Robert McFarlane, who recently at recent retrospective display of his work  at the  (the Art Gallery of South Australia also have a permanent collection of his work as well) showed inkjet printed works – and is reported to have saved over $2500 compared to conventional prints.

To demonstrate the current generation of inkjets, Steve brought along a Canon Pixma Pro9500 Mk II printer – capable of printing on A3 using 10 colour ink cartridges using 6400 jets. This class of printer has a price tag to match though (over $800) plus inks (about $350 for a set of cartridges) – but has been superseded by a newer model that retails for about $1500. He also printed two A3 size images – one full colour and one in monochrome. If anyone is interested we have the images in our store cupboard (will they last 300 years in there? :lol:).

The important thing to note about using inkjet printers (and papers) is that they must be colour profiled along with the screen. Some large printing houses (such as Atkins) can provide the colour profile of their printing equipment to allow correct colour matching.

The question was asked of Steve – why are printer inks so expensive? The answer is that the printers are almost given away, and the cost recouped with the ink cartridge. The manufacturers of course don’t want you to use third-party inks, as they are not reverse engineered versions of the original inks, and are claimed to clog heads etc. I won’t get into that argument, but if your going to produce inkjet prints for competition or display use the best materials you can. Fortunately the ink wars don’t apply to printer paper, printer manufacturers now allow multiple papers profiles to be used from any manufacturer.

Lindsay then took up the conversation, talking about his own workflow. He has 22 years experience in the printing in the wetlab – and more recently the digital world. The difference as he points out is convenience vs control. Wetlab printing uses an sRGB colour space (see Jame’s Camera Clips for December 2010, February 2011 & September 2011 and for a discussion about this) with an array of 3 LEDs and any corrections are fairly basic – most must be done before the printing stage. Inkjet printers in contrast allow finer control – like a wetlab but still in an sRGB colour space (for reference, there is also Adobe RGB colour space – that’s used by offset printers that use CMYK). sRGB is adequate for most printing needs, and covers most colours we can perceive.

When we print in black and white, there may be a colour cast. This is a result of either the printer generating the black from mixing colours or a cast applied in post-processing. Better quality inkjet printers overcome some of this by having different shades of grey – not just black ink. The important part – again – is to profile the printer correctly and convert the image to grey scale.

The important part of that workflow is making sure his monitor and printer are calibrated correctly. For that he uses a spectrometer from ColorMunki from X-rite which allows him to calibrate the screen and importantly, the printer as well – a 30-45 minute process in total. Fortunately, the paper and printer only need calibration once, but the monitor is regularly checked (for those that aren’t aware, we have a Spyder 3 Pro spectrometer which allows us to calibrate screens only – club members may hire it for $10 + $10 bond).

Like the inkjet printers, papers also have calibration requirements. The International Colour Consortium (ICC) have a profile for each paper which may be downloaded from the manufacturer website. Lindsay uses Ilford Galerie papers – including a wonderful  new 310gsm paper that’s like traditional baryta (barium sulphate) photographic paper that allows a high colour gamut – Galerie Prestige Gold fibre silk 310gsm

Once calibrated, the workflow can begin. Lindsay uses Adobe Lightroom where he will check & adjust exposure and sharpness. A useful tool available in Lightroom 4 is soft proofing. This allows you to check how the final image will look on paper before printing (and so save money) – but it only works if the screen is correctly calibrated.

When printing, a couple of tips from the professionals we gleaned:

  • Don’t print at High Quality – it will just use more ink and you’ll get nothing extra. Just use standard or normal
  • Allow the prints to dry to get full colour saturation – it can take a few minutes
  • print at 360dpi – that’s more than adequate
  • streaking on your prints is probably a result of dirty print heads – clean or replace them

So there you have it – words of wisdom about printing images to the highest quality. And I think the take home message is calibration!


Chris 😉

Jeremy Watson – professional photographer – 7-Jun-2012

Workshops have been a touch tricky this year – our guest speakers or events haven’t always worked out or been available, and this evening looked like being the same! The night was supposed to be about Antarctica, but we had to find a guest speaker at very short notice.

Fortunately, Jeremy Watson (of that great natural light portrait evening) agreed to step in at the last minute. Jeremy told us a bit about himself:

  • His work takes him away from home for 3-4 months – usually to the bush
  • Jeremy runs education sessions for ArtsSA at Carclew, and for SA Health. The workshops are very much participatory events and often involve mental health, disadvantaged groups or juvenile detention kids – the main point being to engage people. This can be used to advantage in school setting too with team building exercises.
    In all cases, strong outcomes are sought, bombarding the participant with creative, high energy material – homework is optional!
  • If you’ve been to the Royal Show you may have an Ikea catalogue – with your picture on the cover. That was Jeremy’s job (very hard work!!!), but he also runs a lot of pop up photo sessions for people like SANTOS or the Motor Accident Commission
  • There isn’t a lot of marketing in his other work, which these days is mainly digital and straddles both commercial contracts and visual arts.
  • He has some exhibitions too – cafes, pubs, restaurants if your interested.

So as you can see, he has a lot to occupy him and tries to have a range of jobs that keep him occupied for a good part of the year. Have a look at what Jeremy is working on at present and you get the idea:

  • A youth workshop at Streaky Bay for 12-25 year olds with a fashion stylist
  • a 20 year retrospective of his work
  • Pop up photo booths for Schoolies
  • a new portrait folio
  • a book for a church
  • feet for a beautician
  • Red Cross Drug and Alcohol programme
  • the migration team to help refugees
  • a project with children in Sri Lanka

We got onto some general discussions like Why do we take photos? The answers that popped up from the audience ranged through capturing beauty, autobiographical, needing an audience (don’t we all?), sharing (yep!), getting new ideas and discussing photos. Now aren’t they the reasons that a lot of us are members of Blackwood Photographic Club?

Jeremy suggested if we want to extend ourselves try setting an assignment – find “faces”, shoot colour, take candid shots. We had a bit of general discussion about candid photos. Jeremy found that people in Australia aren’t as shy about having their photos taken as we think. He showed some images he’d taken in New York  (he’s been there and used a point and shoot rather than dSLR to really get involved) and said Adelaide wasn’t really that much different.

If we are to take photos be aware of some of the rules. There is no actual right to privacy although we have a reasonable expectation of it. The important distinction is that if peoples images are used commercially (ie for profit/sale) that’s a possible risk of litigation if they have not consented. On the other hand, places like the beach are public places, as are city streets and there is no law restricting photography per se. Be overt about taking your photos, don’t be timid, and even share the photos with the subjects. However, there are restrictions regarding children, private property, Defense department land, Sydney Harbour Bridge foreshore and others. There is a discussion going on around the world about this, and situations where people try to forbid you to take pictures (eg security guards) may not be a problem after all – but check the situation. Have a look at the 4020 and Arts Law web sites for more information – there is quite a bit about it.

Jeremy then asked if we’d do a questionnaire to help him frame workshops for groups such as ours – and talked about getting the most out of your images as we answered his questions. Things like:

  • understanding your camera
  • photograph what you love
  • change your white balance
  • use different view of your subject (low/high/left/right/above/below etc)
  • shoot to a brief to test yourself
  • Shoot wide angle
  • use Photoshop to try tilt & shift for correcting architecture

The discussion moved on to some images that Jeremy brought in of his work – ranging from product shots, to portraits, multiple prints on one sheet (that reduces cost), adding grain to images (gives it that film feel) and some tasteful human form studies in various environments. He noted that digital photography has affected professional business (as everyone’s a photographer now!) and this is now reduced, and so value has dropped. Interestingly, darkroom prints have become more valuable.

So after a wide ranging discussion, Jeremy went away with his questionnaire, and we went away with some ideas about what professional do and how they survive in a cut throat world.

Oh – and before I forget, welcome to new member Peter (who’s also in Edwardstown – but we won’t hold that against him :lol:)

For those that missed it, Jeremy has organised a portrait workshop (at a cost of course) – which filled quickly – and 8 of us will be taking part. Others will occur if there is sufficient demand.


Chris 😉

Ok – I’ve been tardy in posting about the last two workshops!

Yes – I’ve been a very bad boy. I should have posted the updates on the last two workshops but other things got in the way! So here we go – complete with YouTube slides for you to read!

The first workshop (held on 15-Mar-2012) about Low Light was prepared and presented by James.

James led us through an array of low light situations – and importantly, got us to try out some of the techniques with our own equipment and the lights turned out in the club rooms. A few of us ventured outside to create ghostly images in the spirit of Darren Siwes whilst others shone torches through wine bottles to paint light, took photos by candlelight and generally had a good time experimenting!

Rather than include images, I’ll just link you to James’ PowerPoint presentation (on YouTube) and wait for the images in the Low light competition later in the year (27-Sep-2012 to be precise)

The second workshop (held on 12-Apr-2012) was meant to be a session on Print Making – but due to unforseen circumstances we had to find a quick presentation.
The night was fairly well attended, with 3 guests – Peter, Trevor (from Noarlunga & Southern Districts Camera Club) and Chris (a long time follower of this blog) – welcome gents!
Fortunately, Matt & I managed to shift our workshop on Selective colour, put yourself into history and image stacking together fast enough for everyone to have a go at these techniques. It looks like the night was a success from the number of stacked and altered perspectives of history that have surfaced on the club’s Flickr page. Anyhow, rather than rehash the methods, check out the slides and see if it helps.

For those in search of references, have a look at the following links:

Selective Colouring
Selective Colouring – highlights
Fake Histories
Swap your face with someone else


Chris 😉

Natural light portraits workshop – 16-Feb-2012

What a great evening! Instead of the usual BPC club meeting at the Memorial Hall, Jenny & Mark Pedlar invited us to hold a workshop on Natural Light Portrait Photography at their house. A cloudy start to the day had turned into a lovely clear evening, and more than 15 BPC members attended – most with cameras. We also had 2 prospective member visitors – Howard & Henk, and as an added bonus, Julie & Ray’s grandson Jase, and Jeremy Watson with his model colleague Anna.

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Yvonne had been in contact with Jeremy earlier in the year through a UK ex-pat network and had invited him to attend the workshop as he had relevant experience. Jeremy is a professional photographer who also runs workshops and has a passion for portraiture (you can visit his website or his Facebook page), whilst Anna is a full time model who works with Jeremy and others (having done shoots and promotional work around Australia). We were very fortunate to have them with us, as they helped us to learn new (or hone established) skills in portrait photography with our willing (and unwilling 😉 ) models.

Jeremy’s helpful suggestions (such as spot metering, using the light, large apertures, the classic inverted triangle of light, close cropping, directing the model etc) were a valuable lesson. In concert with this information, Anna’s skill at picking whose shutter was flicking helped provide perfect expressions for images of her on a window seat, in a doorway, and in the back garden gave almost instant success for the budding portrait artists. For those not focusing on Anna, Jase also had his fair share of images recorded too. A few surreptitious shots of members were taken as well as one of the President and a visitor 😆 . Club visitor Howard even managed a few images of Anna in doors after the shoot as we had tea & coffee – now that’s thinking about natural light.

Having fired off a stack of images, and our light fading, we retired indoors to have a drink, a nibble and a chat. Jeremy was asked to tell us about his work and answer questions, to which he willingly obliged. The discussion was certainly wide ranging and fascinating, with tips and insights on breaking the (photographic) rules, street shooting, photographing family gatherings, black & white vs colour, introducing grain, composing in camera, landscapes, photographic safaris, wild animals, model agencies, concert and long lens photography, judging, image processing & software and lots more. We were held fascinated and fired questions back and forth as both Jeremy and Anna gave us the benefit of their knowledge and experience.

The evening wound up with a lot of very happy BPC members (I’ve had nothing but good feedback), some great natural light portraits and the knowledge that Jeremy would be back later in the year to judge at one of our competitions to share his experience and enthusiasm.

Thanks to all that attended Anna & Jeremy for their insights, Jase for posing for a bunch of strangers with cameras, Jenny & Mark for hosting (and feeding/watering) the workshop and Yvonne for the inspired invitation of Jeremy. Apologies to those that didn’t get images to me fast enough for inclusion in this post – but I’ve included a selection that represents the evening including some unexpected (and rather good) natural light portraits!


Chris 😉