One of those eureka moments

Don’t you just love it when you have one of those ‘eureka’ moments? That split second when a cracking idea springs into your mind and you think, “Aha!”.  I had one recently, while driving home from the supermarket, although, luckily for the world, unlike Archimedes it didn’t involve jumping out the bath and running down the street starkers!

Since I stopped putting pressure on myself to take and share a new photo every day I’ve been considering ways to give my photography more focus. Doing a 365 project (be it a single one, or ten on the trot as I did) you’re always grateful for those spontaneous shots that just appear unexpectedly. Days like that mean you don’t consciously have to seek out something to photograph and they’re always a bonus. They’re great opportunities, but they rarely result in meaningful, artistic images.

So how to stretch myself and give me more focus?

Well, I think it’s a matter of specialising.

Architecture

In recent years I’ve found an unexpected interest in architecture, especially historic buildings. Since 2014 I’ve been working my way around all the churches within the Square Mile of the City of London. I’ve really enjoyed documenting them, capturing the beautiful lines and telling their history through my photos. Throw in the huge number of historic places I’ve visited with my camera since I started working for the National Trust and that adds up to a fairly sizeable architectural portfolio.

Beautiful light in the library at Anglesey Abbey

Beautiful light in the library at Anglesey Abbey

That’s not to say I don’t appreciate modern architecture - it’s just that I encounter more historic buildings on my travels. I’ve recently read Tom Dyckhoff’s wonderful book The Age of Spectacle, all about iconic modern architecture and that’s got me itching to photograph more of it. Living within easy reach of London, that shouldn’t be too hard to achieve!

I’d already decided to try and develop my architectural photography, now I can take a more deliberate approach and plan my photo shoots with greater care. I spent some time before Christmas experimenting with using off-camera flash to add extra drama and illumination to a disused church near to home and I want to do more of that, as the results excited me.

Using off-camera flash in Chickney Church

Another area I’ve explored is using tilt-shift photography, to capture architecture as I want it to appear in-camera. Faced with a large building, the photographer’s first instinct is to grab a wide angle lens to fit it all in, and capture the drama. A logical choice, but one that almost always means you have to aim the camera upwards, to a greater or lesser degree. That results in vertical lines which converge, often giving the impression the building is about to fall over. It’s an interesting look, but not the impression the architect intended!

For the uninitiated, a tilt-shift lens employs a complicated mechanism of sliding and tilting elements, which allow you to line everything up in-camera. I won’t explain it in detail here - when I tried to enlighten my other half his eyes glazed over and he lost the will to live! If you have a desire to understand the physics, you can find a useful article here.

Unfortunately, the engineering in a tilt-shift lens makes them very expensive and certainly out of my budget. I hired one inexpensively over Christmas, but it was always going to be a short term love affair. Thankfully, I’ve found a less expensive solution, which allows me almost all of the performance at less than a quarter of the price - result!

The Lady Chapel at St. Albans Cathedral, shot using my budget shift lens

OK, so that gives me lots to be working on, but I can’t just photograph buildings....

Street photography

I’ve dabbled with street photography since attending a workshop with Richard Cannon in 2010. There’s nothing quite like engaging in a spot of people watching, with the added challenge of capturing what Henri Cartier-Bressan would have described as the ‘decisive moment’.

My early efforts were all about trying to catch that magic moment, or a particular expression. Since attending other workshops on the subject with Damien Demolder I’ve developed a taste for a more graphic look, using light and architecture to add drama to my images. Damien also encouraged me to get closer to the people I’m photographing, which takes nerve. It also gives me a huge thrill when I get that killer shot though!

(Click on any of the images below to see them larger)

My plan this year is to spend more time developing my street photography. I know the look I’m seeking, but it’s hard to achieve when you’re just snapping a few frames en-route to somewhere else. When the weather (strong sunshine or pouring rain are my favourites for this genre!) and time allows I intend to get out and shoot for whole days to really improve my street portfolio.

Back in January I spent a morning at Speakers’ Corner in London. This was wonderfully liberating. You’ve got lots of extrovert individuals who want to be seen and heard, and who generally don’t care whether you take their photo. Add in casual observers and the folks who actively engage with the speakers and you’ve got a heady mix for any street photographer!

How to focus my specialisms?

This was the eureka moment I had in the car, driving home from the supermarket.

I’ve been a member of our local camera club for nearly six years now, regularly participating in the many competitions. I’ve had some successes, but many failures too. Photography is such a subjective thing that one judge will love an image, and give it 20/20, while the next will hate it. Ultimately I’ve learnt that you have to enter images you enjoy and take the rough with the smooth.

Over the years I’ve entered everything in club competitions, from wildlife to motorsport, architecture to abstract. My plan for the coming year is to be more specialist, focusing on my favourite two genres - architecture and street photography. Who knows if it’ll be a successful strategy in terms of prizes, but at least it’ll enable me to get more feedback on the images I love.

Getting off to a good start

I employed my new strategy last month in our end of year exhibition competition, entering a mix of architecture and street images. Then I held my breath and hoped for the best! To my astonishment, my chosen pictures performed better than I’d expected and I won prizes with the three shown below. I doubt my luck will hold for the whole year, but I enjoyed focusing my selections in the two areas

So there’s my strategy for the coming year. Will it work? I’m hoping it will at least help me improve my skills in these two photographic genres. Creating new images every single day for ten years gave me a fantastic grounding, and taught me a lot. Now it’s time for me to hone my skills in a more deliberate way.

What next?

Well, I’m already planning a new project, which I’ll talk about in another post. I’ve also booked to attend a workshop with Astrid McGechan and Charlie Waite in Liverpool next month. The chance to learn from two photographers whose work I love, shooting architecture in a city I’ve always wanted to visit was too good an opportunity to pass up!

In the meantime, I’ll continue trying to produce ever better images and will do my best to care less about whether a competition judge likes them or not!

To follow my progress, please do subscribe to my blog, where I post new pictures regularly.

Looking back

It’s now three months since I completed my ten year long photo-a-day project, over on Photoblog. Since then I’ve unashamedly taken some time off, although it was a little while before I could do so without feeling guilty! I’m still taking plenty of photos, but it’s very liberating to know that if I have a particularly hectic day, or I’m simply running low on energy, I don’t have to find something to shoot.

Having had a little time to take stock, I’ve enjoyed the process of looking back through a decade of daily photos to see what I’ve learnt. I thought it might be an interesting exercise to share a selection of my favourite photos from the last ten years.

2008

I shared a mere 429 images during 2008 - just a fifth of the number I’ve published in 2018. Of course, I didn’t actually begin shooting something fresh every day until November 2008, but I thought I’d pick a selection from the whole year in any case.

2009

2009 saw me properly into the swing of shooting and posting every day. I’d shoot anything and everything, although wildlife and motorsport were already definite favourites.

So, what’s changed in a decade?

One thing that struck me was the change in the cameras I use. When I started my blog I shot with a Canon EOS 400D - an entry level DSLR. It did what I required of it then, but over the years I gradually upgraded, through faster, more powerful, DSLRs, culminating in a full frame Canon 5DIII in 2013.

Early in 2015 I bought my first mirrorless camera, a Panasonic GX7, and I quickly learned that bigger wasn’t always better. The smaller form factor was liberating and I gradually found myself using the smaller camera more than the bulky DSLR. As of early 2018 I’d ditched all my Canon gear and I now shoot with a duo of Panasonic cameras. They do different things well, so I choose my camera according to what I’ll be shooting on a given day.

Looking through my photos, I suspect most people would be hard pressed to tell which camera was used when - and that’s as it should be. After all photography should always primarily be about the photographer, not the gear used. However, there are photographic genres which demand a particular type of gear and I find the cameras I use now are the best tools for me.

Of course, the biggest change in ten years has been the quality of my pictures. Practising every day has had a very beneficial effect on my skills and eye. Yes, there’s plenty more still to learn, but I would like to think there’s been a distinct improvement in the quality of my pictures. 

2010

This was the year where I began to challenge myself a little more. In August I went on a course, with photographer Richard Cannon, focusing on people photography - something I’d always shied away from. Even today I don’t count myself as a portrait photographer, but I do a lot more candid people photography, some of which still stems from that course.

I also made my first forays into airborne action photography, be it aircraft or birds. Both hold their difficulties, but I still feel that birds in flight are one of the greatest technical challenges for any photographer.

2011

2011 saw me take my first real steps in street photography, a genre I enjoy more and more as the years go by. I love people watching and it’s a wonderful challenge to try and capture that extraordinary moment in an ordinary scene. Looking back I can see I still had a lot to learn about candid people photography but I’d made a start!

2012

By 2012 I’m beginning to see more architecture creeping into my output, alongside a whole host of other genres. In the summer I went to two events at the London Paralympics, including the track and field events at the Olympic Stadium, and I loved being able to capture some of the action.

A change of scenery

2013 brought a big change in my working life, as we relocated from Sussex to Essex. Losing most of my school teaching gave me time to explore, and for a long while it felt like one big holiday! Over the years since our big move I’ve gradually built up my freelance work, so I now travel around the country much more than I used to. This has proved very beneficial to my photography as I’m fortunate enough to have a never ending supply of new places to photograph.

2013

2014

This was something of a eureka year for me. I attended a workshop with wildlife photographer Andy Rouse at the British Wildlife Centre, where the main focus of the day was our autofocus skills. As a result of that day I changed my technique, which I feel has had a long term beneficial effect on my work. I also came away from the day with one of my all time favourite images - Frodo the fox giving me a very knowing look!

Personal projects

I also started a new personal project in 2014, which continues to this day. A friend shared some photos of a church in the City of London and this spurred me to do some reading. I learnt that there used to be as many as 75 churches within the square mile of the City of London, although many were destroyed or damaged during both the Great Fire of 1666 and the Blitz. Even so, over fifty remain today and I decided to photograph all of them. It’s been a fascinating experience and I still have a dozen or so to photograph before I complete my project. I hope to create a self-published book once I’ve finished, so watch this space for more information when I get that far!

2015

2015 was the year where I started to downsize my gear - mostly thanks to the National Trust! In 2014 I started a new job with the National Trust at Hatfield Forest. Having free access to all the National Trust’s beautiful places offered lots of photographic inspiration, resulting in many photos. Late that year I won the NT Staff and Volunteers photo competition, with prizes supplied by Panasonic. This led to me shooting with a Panasonic GX7 mirrorless camera, particularly when travelling, and I got hooked on the ‘less is more’ ethos of mirrorless cameras. Yes, a large DSLR camera will offer the ultimate image quality, but having the option of using a smaller, lighter camera made me more likely to be ready for unexpected photo opportunities and this is very liberating.

2016

Architectural beginnings

By 2017 I’d been working for the National Trust for three years, alongside my freelance music work. During my travels I’ve visited dozens of NT properties, from nature reserves to stately homes, taking photos along the way. I’ve gradually come to love the challenge of telling the story of places I visit through the pictures I take, and 2017 saw a big increase in the quantity of architecture in my annual output.

2017

2018

This was the year when I finally ditched my Canon DSLRs entirely. January saw the release of the Panasonic G9. I could see this was the camera I’d been waiting for, which would allow me to shoot action - previously the Canon DSLR I’d kept alongside my mirrorless camera had had the edge when it came to speed.

Once I’d bought a G9, there was no need to run two different systems, so my old Canon 7DII went to a new home - with my Dad! I now shoot with a brace of Panasonic bodies (the G9 and a smaller GX8), both of which use the same lenses. This smaller set up is perfect for when I’m travelling and I swap between them, depending on the subject I’m photographing.

Where next?

Since finishing my prolonged 365 project, I’ve been lucky enough to be featured in Amateur Photographer magazine, which was a wonderful way to start the new year!

I’m still taking photos regularly, although the pace has slowed considerably since the start of 2019. Rather than pressuring myself to take photos every day, I aim to have at least one day a week when I take some high quality images. I’ve been focusing more on architecture photography and have plenty of plans for the coming months.

Would I do it again?

Never say never! However, I’m quite happy concentrating on quality rather than quantity for the moment. I think the slower pace has already resulted in an improvement in my photography and I hope this will continue. There are days when I miss using my camera so much, but it’s still always in my bag so there will continue to be unexpected photo opportunities that I grab spontaneously! Here’s to the next ten years….

All things must change....

Think about your life over the last decade for a moment. Is there something you’ve done every single day, without fail? I’m not talking about mundane tasks, like cleaning your teeth or doing the washing up, but genuinely creative activities. I bet most people would be hard pushed to think of anything, unless they work in a creative industry or perhaps play a musical instrument.

This November will mark a significant anniversary in my photographic life. Back in 2008 I started a year long photo a day project. Ten years on, I’m still at it. That means for 3652 consecutive days I’ve taken at least one fresh photo and posted it on my blog!

Where did it all start?

I started my Photoblog in December 2007, initially posting sporadically. Over the months that followed I began to share photos more regularly, although not daily.

The first photo I ever posted to my Photoblog, taken at Marwell Zoo. Not great art, but you’ve got to start somewhere!

As a musician I’m used to the concept of practising regularly. To hone your technical and musical skills it’s important to play your instrument as often as possible, and I figured there was no reason why that shouldn’t apply to photography too.

Eventually I slipped into the habit of shooting and posting every day and 8th November 2008 was the the last time I didn’t share a daily photo. I never intended to do a 365 project (shooting every day for a year) but it was something I slipped into, almost by accident!

One year in...

During that first year I learnt a lot of photographic survival skills. Inevitably there were times when I lost motivation, but somehow I always found something to photograph, no matter how mundane. I reached November 2009 and considered whether to stop there. Despite the inevitable ups and downs I figured I’d miss the regular shooting so I simply kept going, with no finish line in mind.

So what did I learn?

As I suspected, my skills did indeed improve with daily practice.

Looking back through my blog, there are plenty of shots from 2008 I wouldn’t dream of sharing now. Today I like to think my photos have more polish thanks to improvements in both my technical and creative skills. Shooting regularly has also led me to try new genres of photography, sometimes with surprising results. Who’d have thought I’d get into street photography, but it’s now one of my favourite genres!

A few years ago I’d never have had the courage to get this close to strangers on the street - now I love street photography!

Along the way I’ve learnt lots of useful practical skills, many of which are useful to all photographers, regardless of whether you’re trying to maintain a 365 habit like me.

Always carry a camera

This one’s obvious when you think about it. Many people do this in any case, with a camera on their smartphone. Despite this convenience I still prefer to use a camera if possible, so I’ve got into the habit of always carrying at least a camera body and one lens. Over the years my camera kit has changed quite substantially, from a Canon DSLR to a much smaller mirrorless setup. This certainly helps when it comes to portability and I no longer have to lug around a huge bag!

I would never have been able to take this photo of Bosham Harbour if it weren’t for my habit of always carrying a camera. Quite by chance I was in the right place at the right time and had my little mirrorless camera with me.

Shooting every day doesn’t need to be time consuming

People often assume that taking and sharing a photo every day consumes a large part of my day. Yes, there are days when I choose to take more time, but it doesn’t have to. For instance, today I took a quick snap of a cosmos flower in our garden, spent a couple of minutes tweaking it in Lightroom. Combine that with writing a little text and posting to Photoblog - all done in no more than 15 minutes. I probably spend longer drinking coffee each day!

Photos can be found anywhere

I’ve been known to photograph all sorts of unlikely subjects to fulfil my daily picture remit, from forks to manhole covers! If you try hard enough, there’s a photo to be found in anything and everything.

There are days when I find myself travelling home from work, pondering the fact that I haven’t yet touched my camera, and something will jump out at me. For instance, on Sunday I noticed the moon as I drove home from a rehearsal, so I stopped to take a photo. A little local knowledge meant I knew of a suitable lone tree nearby so I stopped again further down the road to shoot that. A few minutes spent in Photoshop to combine the two when I got home, and I had a moonrise picture which wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t opened my mind to the possibilities as I was driving.

The art of editing

And I don’t mean editing in Photoshop!

Some days I’ll go out for the whole day to take photos, coming home with perhaps hundreds of images on my memory card. As the years have passed I’ve become much more efficient, and ruthless too, when it comes to selecting which of those pictures will be shared on my blog.

When you start out, every picture seems valuable and you’re reluctant to bin anything. As my photographic eye has developed I’ve come to recognise what makes one photo more successful than another. Yes, there will be some pictures that make the cut simply because of the emotional relationship I have with the circumstances surrounding the moment I shot them. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you really want to develop you have to learn to be ruthless.

You only have to search Flickr to see people who share fifty incredibly similar photos, all telling the same story. I like to think I’ve moved away from that type of sharing now. Yes, I’ll come back from a shoot with several near-duplicate shots, but I’ll whittle them down to the very best one or two. This stops my audience getting bored and ensures I show just my very best work. I won’t necessarily delete all the rejects, but the world really doesn’t need to see dozens of almost identical meerkat photos!

A pair of courting fulmars from my trip to Orkney in March. I have lots of fulmar pictures, but this one made the cut because of the sense of tenderness between the two birds.

Not every photo has to be great art

Much as I’d love to share a piece of fine art every day, sometimes life just gets in the way. On those occasions I’ll find something that interests me, or perhaps document a little of what I’ve been doing that day.

This has got harder as the years have gone by and I’ve become pickier about the quality of my pictures. Some days I’ll come to the conclusion that I’m hopeless and my pictures are complete tosh. Then I look back to 2008 and see how far I’ve come and realise it doesn’t matter if I have the occasional off day! People often still find quite mundane photos interesting if there’s a story behind them, and sharing your failures can be helpful to others too.

I shared this picture recently to show how I digitise my film negatives. Not great art, but others found it helpful and it sparked quite a discussion on Facebook!

To continue or not....

This has been a difficult decision. At the end of year one I instinctively knew I’d miss it if I stopped there. Each time I reached an anniversary I thought long and hard as to whether to keep going. Five years might have been a sensible time to stop, but I was still enjoying myself so I kept going....

More recently the pressure of shooting every single day has begun to take its toll a little. My working life now consists of many more different elements (music, photography, writing and working for the National Trust to name a few) so I find myself juggling many more deadlines. I still enjoy photography enormously, but there are days, usually when I get home after a whole day of conducting somewhere far away, without a single photo in my camera when my heart sinks. I always find something to shoot though, even if I’d rather flop on the sofa with a cuppa!

Ten years seems a natural time to call a halt on shooting and posting every single day - after all, there are many crimes for which you’d do less time!

Why stop now?

Over the last few years I’ve been working on a long term project, photographing the dozens of churches in the City of London. I’ve really enjoyed this and would like to have more time to devote to projects. Freeing myself from the constraints of shooting something fresh every day will help with this.

The geometric staircase at St. Paul’s Cathedral - part of my City Churches project

I’d also like to work towards my LRPS qualification. For that I need to have a group of ten really strong images to display. Yes, I could dive into my sizeable archive for these, but they wouldn’t necessarily make up a coherent collection. By giving myself a little more free time I can really plan these images and make sure I achieve a better quality than I would if I shot things in a hurry, as I so often do.

Another recent enthusiasm is shooting on film again after a gap of fifteen years. I’ve got a small collection of film cameras I use and I’m really enjoying the results. However, film isn’t as instantaneous as digital. That means if I’m shooting on film I also have to carry a digital camera to take extra photos to share that day. I’m relishing the idea of having the occasional day when I shoot just with a film camera. Don’t worry - I’ll still share the photos (if they’re any good) but it may take a week or two before I get them developed!

A photo from a recent foray into film, taken on an old Olympus Trip 35 from the 1970s

What next?

Fear not, I won’t be disappearing from my Photoblog entirely!

Once I reach the ten year mark, on 9th November, I’ll still be posting new pictures very regularly. I may miss the odd day, and it may be that I don’t necessarily publish images the day they were taken.

I will still carry a camera with me everywhere I go as you never know when a photo opportunity will arise. After all, fortune favours the prepared mind, as Louis Pasteur once said!

Will I ever go back to my 365 project? Never say never - but I think it’s time for a break for now. Nothing in life should remain the same forever, especially not photography!

Learning to teach

As someone who’s spent their entire working life in education of one sort or another, the last few months have given me some fresh things to think about.

For a while now I’ve written photographic education articles here and www.photoblog.com but preparing for my photography workshops has made me think in a different way. Writing for education and actually teaching in person have subtle differences. If you stand me in front of a group of recorder players I can easily think on my feet and come up with multiple ways to help them achieve the best possible performance. After all, this is what I’ve done professionally for the last 25 years. In a written lesson, one can go into things in more depth, explaining technicalities, in the knowledge that students can come back and re-read things again at their leisure.

Education in action during my first workshop

Education in action during my first workshop

Photography is also something I’ve done for a long while - I received my first camera as a gift way back in 1981. However, for more than two decades I simply pointed my camera in the right direction and hoped for the best - there was absolutely no technical know-how or artistry involved! The turning point for me came with the advent of digital when I got my first camera in 2004.

I quickly realised I could learn from my mistakes much quicker with digital - the LCD screen’s instant feedback meant I could immediately tell if I’d ‘got the shot’.  This excited me and I quickly wanted to understand more about the technical side of photography. Gradually I picked up the basics, getting my head around the interaction between apertures and shutter speeds, and learning to actively compose my photos.

Over the years I’ve done lots of reading about photography, listened to what must be days-worth of podcasts on the subject, and been on a few weekend courses. Along the way I started a year long photo-a-day project which I’m still doing now, almost a decade later. But that’s a story for another day... It has taught me is that practice really does make perfect, or closer to perfect at least.

Taking control of my shutter speed enabled me to freeze the action here

Taking control of my shutter speed enabled me to freeze the action here

My persistence means my skills have improved hugely, and I now have a really good grasp of how to make my camera do what I want rather than accepting what it presumes is correct for a given situation. I think this has put me in a good position to help others do the same.

Meeting the students on my first workshop a month ago, I saw an echo of myself 15 years ago. All were shooting using automatic mode, feeling bewildered by the myriad of settings their cameras offered. Modern cameras are basically small computers, with levels of sophistication that would have been unimaginable even 20 years ago. It’s no wonder it takes a while to get to grips with them!

At that moment I realised I’d been thinking along the right lines during my preparations for the workshop. I’d put myself back in my own shoes, all those years ago, asking myself what knowledge would have helped me to be a better photographer then. My conclusion was a mix of technical know-how and practical tips. So, I thought logically through the things we needed to cover and how to present them in a helpful order.

All along, my aim was to get my students off automatic mode so they could take control of their cameras and produce the pictures they wanted. This meant having at least as basic grasp of how apertures and shutter speeds work. I clearly recalled how I found apertures to be utterly illogical at first. The solution was to come up with a simple way to remember how they worked. In my case this was a rule telling me a small f number gave me very little in sharp focus and a big f number would give me lots of depth of focus. It may not be scientific but it was a simple way to remember cause and effect, which helped me at the time!

Another ‘must teach’ subject on my list was exposure compensation. Modern digital cameras will get things right on auto mode much of the time but they are designed to work best in certain situations. Try shooting a black cat in a dark place (something I often do!) on auto mode and a digital camera will probably give you a photo of a grey cat in a moderately lit place! The solution is to take control of the exposure and tell your camera that you really do want the photo to be dark.

Using some negative exposure compensation helped me ensure this scene came out as dark and atmospheric as my eyes saw it to be

Using some negative exposure compensation helped me ensure this scene came out as dark and atmospheric as my eyes saw it to be

I quickly realised that giving my students all this technical info was all very well but I knew that in the same situation I would struggle to remember everything. A handout was needed. Putting all my thoughts into neat, easily digested bullet points for future reference was helpful to me too, clarifying how I would explain things in person.

So what about the thorny subject of composition? Talking to my students, it was clear that for many of them composition wasn’t something they thought about much. Once again, I saw myself in my youth, aiming my camera blindly, hoping something good would result. As often as not, my horizons were wonky and the subject of my photos were placed slap, bang in the centre of the frame with a lamp post poking out of their head!

From years of self education I now know there are some simple ‘rules’ one can use to create more satisfying photos. It may be the rule of thirds, or something as simple as scanning the frame for unwanted intrusive objects before pressing the shutter button but it’s not rocket science! In time my compositions have become more instinctive but those rules are still there if I need them.

Something as simple as placing your subject can give you a more interesting photo

Something as simple as placing your subject can give you a more interesting photo

My inner teacher knew that I needed some examples to illustrate my list of ‘rules’ and I spent a fascinating morning exploring my back catalogue for them. Going back, trying to figure out what was going through my head as I took a given photo was a sobering experience at times!

So have I learnt something through this process? Certainly! It’s made me look at the way I shoot with fresh eyes and become more aware of the times when I’m getting into a rut with my photography. It’s often said that you don’t really understand a subject properly until you have to teach it. It’s definitely been an educational experience for me and I hope my future students will benefit from this too.

I have two more workshops coming up at Hatfield Forest, on 13th June and 25th July. If you’re interested in taking better photos and getting to grips with your camera why not come along? Full details and booking info can be found here.

Panasonic LUMIX G9 Review

It’s not often I’m moved to review new equipment but, being an early adopter of the Panasonic G9 it seemed an interesting exercise and may be helpful to those now trying to decide whether to take the plunge and order one.

This won’t be a technical review, with charts and statistics but, instead, comments on my real world experiences of this camera. I’m very much a stills photographer so if you’re looking for comments on the video capabilities of the G9 please do look elsewhere. I may well try the video functions in time but for now I’ve focused entirely on its ability as a stills camera.

All the images are ones I've taken with the G9 over the last six weeks - please click on them to view them larger.

Before I start though, let me tell you a little of my background and my journey with mirrorless cameras...

Three years ago, I made my first foray into the world of mirrorless cameras. I loved my DSLR, a Canon 5DIII, but there were times when I wanted to travel lighter without compromising on quality. After shopping around, I plumped for the Panasonic GX7 with a 20mm prime lens. I gradually built up a small collection of prime lenses and loved the freedom the smaller form factor gave me. I subsequently upgraded to the GX8 and was grateful for the substantial improvements it brought.

Over time I found I used my mirrorless camera more and more, while my two Canon bodies sat unloved at home. Finally, I ditched the full frame camera in March 2017 but kept a Canon 7DII and a few long lenses for wildlife and action shooting. However, I could already see a moment coming when I would ditch DSLRs altogether and switch to an entirely mirrorless system - I just needed the autofocus and tracking abilities to catch up.

The new kid on the block

Fast forward to the 9th November 2017 when the G9 was announced and my hopes were raised.

I’d been hoping for an update to the GX8 which would fulfil my requirements as I love its rangefinder styling. But here was a DSLR shaped camera which apparently contained all the power I required. Some hard thinking was needed!

A chance to handle the G9 came later that month and Carol Hartfree, from Panasonic UK, did a great sales pitch, but not one I succumbed to at the time. I cogitated on the pluses and minuses for another month, all the time keeping an eye on photos being released by the Lumix Ambassadors. Ian Cook’s impressive sports photos were very persuasive, showing that if the camera could track a rugby player against a distracting background it would probably fare ok with my motorsport, aviation and wildlife shooting.

Finally, on Christmas Day, instead of watching the Queen’s speech, I went online and pre-ordered my G9!

Fast forward to early January and my new camera arrived from WEX - an exciting moment. I bought just the body as buying yet another lens seemed just too much of an extravagance.

First impressions and handling

My first impression was just how DSLR-like the G9 felt in my hands. Of course, it’s considerably lighter and less bulky than either of the Canons I owned. I think it strikes a really good balance between being compact, yet large enough for the spacing of the controls to work ergonomically. In terms of build quality, it’s sturdy and weather sealed. That said, I’ve used my GX8 in some pretty heavy downpours and it’s never missed a beat. I’m no fair-weather photographer so knowing I can continue to shoot in harsh weather without worry is great.

 

One feature of the G9 which has drawn a lot of publicity is its small LCD control panel on top of the camera. This feature is entirely normal on all but the most basic DSLRs but, so far, has been missing from mirrorless cameras. I know some people have raved about its addition, but I don’t have strong feelings either way. It’s handy to be able to check your current settings but I could cope quite easily if it weren’t there.

 

Another new feature on the G9 is its double decker mode dial. The top half is a normal mode dial, where you choose whether to shoot in aperture, shutter or manual mode. Beneath that is a smart red ring to show the camera’s flagship status – nothing practical about this but it does looks pretty! The lower deck features another dial, giving quick access to various settings which, on previous models, have been accessed via a menu. This gives me the ability to instantly pick continuous shooting mode, 6K mode, bracketing, timelapse or delayed shutter release. I love this feature, which means I can respond to changing conditions almost instantly. Each of these options can be personalised to suit the photographer.

Getting to grips with the G9

The new scroll wheel (bottom right) and joystick (top left)

The newly designed grip is excellent and it’s comfortable, even on long days spent shooting with a big telephoto lens. All my fingers fit onto the grip and the shutter button is nicely placed. The other buttons seem sensibly positioned, although I’ve had to rewire my muscle memory with some of them. The playback button, in particular, has taken a bit of getting used to. The inclusion of a scroll wheel is really handy for speedy adjustment of the focus point size. I generally move the focus point around with my right thumb on the touchscreen, but the newly added joystick gives a useful alternative means of doing this.

 

Custom function buttons

The G9 has almost endless ways to customise the buttons and dials, along with some ‘soft’ function buttons which are accessed via the LCD screen. The front of the camera (just beneath the lens release) is home to a lever which can be customised to quickly swap between two contrasting settings. I’ve left mine set, as it was from the factory, to alternate between mechanical and electronic shutter.

One of the first things I did was to reassign exposure compensation to my G9’s rear dial. Coming from a camera with a bespoke compensation dial I certainly didn’t want to have to use two controls to change the exposure of my images. The only slight niggle is the fact the original exposure compensation button can’t then be reassigned to something else. I guess the function of the three buttons on the top of the camera must just be hard wired in.

Touchscreen tribulations

For my hands the stretch to the G9’s screen is greater than on the GX8 but I’ve quickly learned to extend my hand to reach the nether regions of the screen. Having touchscreen focus set to Offset rather than Exact is helpful here, as it removes the need to reach the far left hand edge of the screen. Another frustration (albeit a first world one!) was the discovery that the cashmere flip-top gloves I normally use in winter don’t work with the G9’s touchscreen. On the GX8 there’s enough skin contact through the fabric to select my focus point but on the G9 they simply don’t work at all. I guess Panasonic must have used a different type of screen on the newer camera.

Luckily, I’ve found some alternative gloves which work a treat. They’re thin enough to be able to feel all the buttons, the touchscreen responds perfectly, and I can even wear fingerless gloves over the top if I need to. If only I had better circulation it wouldn’t have been such an issue!

A viewfinder to die for

When I first handled the G9 one of the wow factors was the enormous viewfinder. 

I know many DSLR purists are sniffy about electronic viewfinders, but I think this is generally because they’ve never tried one. The G9’s viewfinder is truly awesome. First impressions give you the sense you’ve almost climbed inside the camera, into an alternate reality - it really does feel immersive. There is a slight pincushion effect around the edge of the viewfinder image but not enough to cause concern and it certainly doesn’t translate into the images the camera produces.

The electronic viewfinder image is bright and I get no sense that I’m not seeing a true to life scene. The viewfinder’s refresh rate is very fast and I’ve noticed no lag. The other big advantage of using an EVF is its ability to show the picture as it will be captured. In an optical viewfinder you don’t see the real-time effect of any exposure compensation, making things more challenging when shooting very dark or light scenes. With an EVF you see the effect of any exposure compensation adjustments immediately, making it easier to achieve the right result without experimentation.

The G9 has so many thoughtful touches but there is one which will be particularly useful for those who regularly shoot in the dark. Panasonic have added a Night Mode, where the LCD screen and EVF can be set to only show red tones. While this can make colour photography a challenge, it does mean that your night vision won’t get ruined every time you check the viewfinder or screen.

Panasonic giveth and Panasonic taketh away....

One feature I do miss from my GX8 is its tilting viewfinder, but I guess one can’t expect to have everything! The G9 EVF does have a rather clever trick up its sleeve though. Because it’s so large Panasonic have added a button to the side which reduces the size of the image inside the viewfinder. This may seem odd, but for those who wear glasses it can be really helpful. Glasses move your eyes away from the viewfinder cup, making it harder to see the whole frame in one sweep. Reducing the size slightly makes this easier and, as a part time glasses wearer, this will be useful.

A shot like this would have been easier with a tilting viewfinder but the articulated LCD screen proved a worthy alternative!

As a final comment on the viewfinder, I have noticed that its placement on the camera is really helpful. The GX8 EVF is positioned on the left-hand side of the camera. For street photography this is useful as you can shoot with both eyes open, allowing you to scan the street for action that’s about to enter your frame. However, when shooting with an extreme telephoto lens, the fact that the viewfinder isn’t aligned with the lens makes it harder to locate distant subjects quickly. I’d never really thought about this until I used the G9, where viewfinder and lens are aligned.

A stealthy camera

Mirrorless cameras have one function which just isn’t possible on a DSLR - silent mode. The ability to switch to an electronic shutter is a huge bonus in situations where the click of a mechanical one would be intrusive - when photographing a concert, for instance. It’s not without its disadvantages though. Because the electronic shutter doesn’t capture the whole scene instantly, banding can occur under fluorescent light, which flickers at a regular speed. I’m wise to this now and if I think the lighting will cause problems I’ll take a couple of test shots before I shoot anything critical.

Fortunately, the G9 has another ace up its sleeve - an exceptionally quiet mechanical shutter. I didn’t really consider this until I took some photos in the peace of a church and it struck me how subtle the noise is. No, it’s not silent but it’s certainly quiet enough to be unobtrusive in all but the quietest of places.

Photographing in Thaxted Church made me realise just how quiet the G9's shutter button is

Speaking of the shutter, I don’t think I can recall ever encountering one as sensitive as that in the G9. Initially I found myself taking inadvertent photos of all sort of rubbish - mostly my feet - as I caught it by accident. Over time though I’m doing this less and the super-soft touch is a bonus at slow shutter speeds as the gentler shutter press movement is much less likely to cause camera shake.

Image quality

Having covered the practical matters of handling and usage, it’s time to assess the G9’s image quality.

In recent years micro four thirds cameras have improved enormously and now rival many DSLRs for image quality. The G9 doesn’t have an anti-aliasing filter, allowing for more detail and clarity than images from the GX8. The colours are beautiful and the clarity of images from the camera is astonishing.

I know many DSLR users will boast that their cameras have better dynamic range than those with smaller sensors. In my experience though I haven’t found this to always be the case.

In the days when I was shooting with the GX8 and a full frame DSLR I often found I could achieve a wider range of tones on the smaller camera. Frequently I’d be able to pull detail from highlight areas in GX8 RAW files where I’d have to shoot several different exposures and combine them to achieve the same result with my Canon 5DIII. This is certainly also the case with the G9 and I remain content with my choice to downsize.

I was able to pull plenty of detail out of an apparently bland grey sky here, thanks to the G9's dynamic range

Yes, there is a higher level of noise at extreme ISO settings on the G9, but I have yet to find this presents me with an insurmountable problem. My fast prime lenses allow me to keep the ISO settings lower much of the time, and when this isn’t possible, I’ll happily shoot up to ISO6400 - a full stop faster than on the GX8. The resulting images tend to be grainy in the shadow areas (which can be remedied in post processing) but detail is retained where it’s needed. I believe this is one area where Panasonic worked hard to retain more detail at high ISO settings on the G9, particularly in comparison to the videocentric GH5.

This was shot at ISO6400 but there's still plenty of fine detail in the bluetit's feathers

Stabilisation

Since switching to a mirrorless system I’ve really noticed how much easier it is to shoot at slower shutter speeds. A large part of this is the smaller, lighter form factor but in-body stabilisation (IBIS) helps too. The IBIS on the G9 is, frankly, phenomenal! I haven’t fully tested its limits yet but I’m aware of other photographers who are able to shoot exposures of more than a second and achieve sharp results. I really noticed the benefits when I was photographing the chapel at Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge soon after I took delivery of my G9.

The light levels were low and there were some shots which just weren’t possible with a tripod through lack of space. Shooting with a small (unstabilised) prime lens I was able to take crisp pictures at 1/5 of a second, allowing me to set a lower ISO and reduce the risk of noisy images. I’ve never been able to do this on any other camera.

Being able to hand hold the G9 at a stupidly slow shutter speed allowed me to shoot this at f8 and achieve a good depth of field, rather than having to shoot wide open.

When shooting with Panasonic lenses which are compatible with the manufacturer’s Dual IS 2 technology (such as the latest versions of the 12-35mm and 35-100mm f2.8 lenses) I have no doubt much slower exposures are possible too. When paired with such lenses the dual IS is reckoned to give no less than 6.5 stops of stabilisation. I understand this is as far as stabilisation can currently be stretched, as beyond that the rotation of the earth begins to counteract it!

The moment when Dual IS 2 really comes into its own is with super telephoto lenses, such as the Leica 100-400mm and the new 200mm f2.8 prime. I’m not lucky (or rich) enough to own the prime lens but the 100-400 pairs beautifully with the G9. For most images I shoot with this lens a high shutter speed it necessary because the subject is moving fast – for instance wildlife or motorsport. However, I was able to use a slower shutter speed than normal when photographing a Spitfire revving up its engine on the tarmac at Duxford recently. This blurred the propellers nicely but the aircraft (which was stationary) remained sharp.

Autofocus tracking

One of my reasons for buying a G9 was to consolidate my kit into one photographic system. I wasn’t prepared to do that until I was convinced a tool existed that could at least match my Canon 7DII for focus tracking and speed of shooting. I’d seen plenty of sample images online but there’s nothing quite like trying a camera for yourself so I took the plunge. I’m happy to say I haven’t been disappointed. I’ve now used the G9 to shoot wildlife, aviation and motorsport and in all three genres it behaves impeccably.

In common with any high-end camera designed for action shooting, the learning curve has been pretty steep. A chat with sports photographer Ian Cook gave me some useful pointers and I’ve comprehensively experimented with the myriad of focus settings. I’m now beginning to find out which modes work best for which genres of photography, although my methods will no doubt evolve further over time.

Settings for static subjects

For static subjects I invariably use a small single focus point and this works perfectly, as you would expect. In dark conditions, where I’m shooting handheld I will also engage AFC mode. This is a trick I learned in my Canon days from wildlife photographer Andy Rouse. The reason for this is that, while my subject (a statue in a dark corner of a church for instance) won’t move, I might do as I breathe. Using AFC allows the camera to adjust to any micro-movements and gives me a better chance of a sharp image. Obviously, if the camera is on a tripod and my subject is static this is not necessary. I’ll also use AFC when photographing a subject that’s a static distance from me, but which may move a little – for instance a bird sitting on a branch.

Shooting a black cat in a dark room is about as hard as it gets for autofocus but the G9 didn't miss a beat

Moving subjects

When it comes to action I’m still learning but I’ve established that the G9’s tracking mode just isn’t very good! For a single moving subject against an uncluttered background it can cope, but how often do we get that combination? Instead I generally choose between a single focus point or use a combination of multiple focus points, both in combination with AFC mode. A single focus point can be made any size you like so I’ll often set a pretty large one at the position where I want my subject to be in the frame. I then simply ensure I keep the subject beneath it and pan with the movement. This works really well for aircraft in flight and was a technique I used successfully on the GX8.

Another option I’ve tried is to select a group of focus points, deciding for myself how big a spread they cover. This works well, but gives a little less control over which points activate as I pan with the action. The final option is to use all 225 focus points and let the camera follow my subject across the viewfinder. This works really well for action where the background isn’t cluttered. I suspect it might struggle when faced with a busy background though. I can see I’m going to have to experiment further with this when I shoot motor racing at Goodwood next month.

The light has been uniformly awful since I bought my camera but, even so, I was able to track this Canada Goose taking flight. Roll on springtime....

The other parameter I’ve experimented with is using back button focus. I’d never used it before but Ian Cook strongly recommended it as the way forward. There have been times when I forgot my altered settings, leaving me wondering why the autofocus isn’t responding to my ever more frantic presses of the shutter button! Of course, that’s simply my inexperience of back button focus showing, and it doesn’t take me long to realise my mistake. Of course, the moral of that story is never to change your settings so radically for a critical shoot!

I’ve been impressed with the results of back button focus, but have found one flaw. I habitually use my right thumb to select my focus point on the touchscreen. Of course, this doesn’t work if my right thumb is also supposed to be on the AF/AE lock button to activate autofocus. That said, on occasions when I’m using a monopod it won’t be a problem as I can use my left thumb to set the focus point instead. I will continue to try both focusing methods and no doubt will come to a conclusion with more time and experience.

An extra setting I’ve modified for AFC mode is the focus/release priority, setting it to release. When shooting fast action there are always going to be moments when the camera simply can’t acquire focus quickly enough. With AFC set to focus the camera simply refuses to shoot until it can find focus, resulting in missed shots. Selecting release instead means you may get the occasional unfocused image but the camera quickly reacquires focus and invariably I’ll only lose one or two shots in a series of multiple frames.

This spinning car at Snetterton was one of a string of 28 frames I shot when things began to go wrong. Of the 28 shots there were only three which missed sharp focus.

The need for speed

With the G9 being marketed as a camera for wildlife and sports shooters, the subject of speed was always going to be crucial.

In terms of autofocus I can’t fault it. The focusing is quick and accurate, locking on pretty much instantaneously. The autofocus time is supposed to be 0.04 of a second but I have no way of checking that. All I know is it does everything I ask of it, incredibly quickly!

This robin, hiding from me in a beech hedge, should have challenged the G9's focusing abilities, with distractions all around, but it locked on swiftly and accurately.

As for continuous shooting speed, the possibilities are almost endless….

With the mechanical shutter in action and continuous autofocus engaged I can shoot up to nine frames a second, or twelve with single AF. The buffer can accommodate sixty RAW pictures before filling up so you’d have to be a pretty ardent ‘spray and pray’ merchant for that to be insufficient! Nine frames a second is plenty fast enough for most subjects I shoot but that’s not all this speed machine can do.

The mechanical shutter was more than fast enough to keep up with the cars on track at Snetterton

Engaging the electronic shutter opens up yet more possibilities. Once you’ve done this you can shoot no less than twenty frames a second with continuous autofocus and a mind boggling sixty with single AF. I’ve tried the slower of these two on a couple of occasions, but it was so hard to control how many shots I took that I ended up filling the buffer before I could say Jumping Jack Flash!

One situation where I may persevere with this is using an additional option called Pre-Shutter mode. Here the camera saves the eight frames before you fully depressed the shutter button as soon as you start shooting properly. It may seem a rather niche feature but when photographing birds it can be a helpful tool for catching the moment of take-off. Normally, by the time you realise a bird is taking flight and press the shutter button the moment has gone. This way you can respond as speedily as you are able, safe in the knowledge that the camera will also record eight frames before you react. It’s a slightly mind-bending concept but one that I will probably use occasionally.

A moment of avian bickering caught using the Pre-Shutter mode

Touch Shutter

One of my other favourite genres is street photography. With the G9 I’ve simply continued to use the same shooting habits I have with the GX8. On the street I select a largish single focus point, a fast enough shutter speed to freeze any movement, electronic shutter for stealth and the Touch Shutter setting. This way I can frame up my scene and wait for the right person to walk onto the stage I’ve set. When this happens I simply touch the LCD screen at the point where their face is and the camera focuses and activates the shutter in one seamless action. It works a treat and, because the camera isn’t up to my eye, my unsuspecting subject is usually oblivious to the fact that I’ve even taken their photo!

A candid moment caught on the streets of Cambridge

Looking at the larger picture

Panasonic made much of the G9’s high resolution mode in their marketing material at launch. This option uses the sensor’s ability to move (part of the IBIS functionality) to create larger files containing more detail. During the exposure the camera shoots eight separate frames, moving the sensor slightly between each one, and then stitches them together in camera to create either a 40 or 80-megabyte file. I’ve been impressed with the results, but it does have its limitations. All high res photos must be shot from a tripod as the camera has to be completely still. In addition, the camera automatically employs the electronic shutter (once again, to avoid any mechanical movement) so the longest exposure possible is one second. This limits the subjects you can shoot but for anyone who needs the ultimate resolution in something like still life or architecture it could be a real boon.

My first experiment with High Resolution mode - Gonville and Caius College Chapel, Cambridge

Conclusions

So, am I pleased with my purchasing choice? Absolutely! Given the specification of the newly announced GX9 I’m really pleased I didn’t wait the extra three months for that in the hope it would be everything I wanted.

The G9 has proved to be perfect for the enormous range of subjects I shoot. For architecture its image quality and increased ability in low light is wonderful. For action it has proved to be more than up to the task of tracking fast moving subjects and achieving an impressive hit rate.

There is one area where I will definitely continue to use my GX8 and that’s for street photography. The size and bulk of the G9 makes it more conspicuous on the street. I suspect for many people its form factor will lead to the assumption that the user is a professional and, therefore, someone to be suspicious of. By contrast, shooting with the GX8 makes me look more like a tourist so I can get away with more candid shots. Of course, people in the know understand it’s the photographer not the gear that counts but they’re generally not the people I’m aiming at!

I hope my journey with the G9 will be a long and fruitful one. I’m certainly enjoying using it and feel sure I will continue to find extra abilities hidden away in its menus for a long time to come.

 

 

 

Looking back at 2017

It's been a while since I did a review of my photographic year so I thought perhaps it was time to repeat the exercise.

In 2017 I continued to publish my daily photoblog and this means I have a huge number of pictures to choose from - I published no less than 1911 photos on my blog last year. While this gives me lots of images to choose from, when picking my best ten, it also makes the experience quite brutal. For every picture I select, there are nearly twenty I have to reject, which means I have to be very ruthless!

Making a first pass through my 2017 pictures, I selected a couple of hundred images which I then whittled down quite quickly. It was an interesting experience doing this, as it really gave me an insight into the sort of work I've done the most through the year. I've continued with lots of architectural photography, as well as plenty of animals but I found it interesting to see the rise in the amount of street photography I've been doing.

Traditionally I've never been a people photographer, and portrait photography is still something I find challenging. However, I relish the opportunity to go people watching and I love to capture those 'decisive moments', as Henri Cartier Bresson called them. A day workshop in street photography with Damien Demolder in December 2016 gave me some new techniques to try and helped build my confidence when it comes to capturing candid moments. This shows in my final ten images and I never expected my selection would include so many people!

Anyway, here's my selection as it stands today. Of course, being objective about one's own work is difficult and it could be that if I went through the process at another time I may come up with a different choice. I hope you enjoy my 'ten best'!

"The extrovert"

A day in London in January resulted in two of my chosen images, both of them from the street photography genre but very different in style. I found this girl hamming it up outside Hamleys toy shop in Regent Street and just love the contrast between her and the rather disapproving lady in the background!

"Unseen"

Trafalgar Square is a great place for people watching. Everyone has a camera in their hand, even if it's just their phone, so you can catch candid moments without being noticed. This piece of street art remained from the previous day, partly eroded by the passage of tourists' feet and I was struck by the way she was being trampled on, unseen by passersby. I had to wait a while for the right combination of feet to walk through the frame I'd prepared but my patience was rewarded.

"Shooting a reflection"

April saw me return to the motor circuit at Silverstone for the World Endurance Championships. Naturally, I photographed the action on track but this can be tricky at Silverstone because of the high fences. As we sat in the grandstand on the start/finish straight I started to look for unusual ways to shoot. I spotted these two photographers over in the pitlane, beside a mirrored wall, and knew immediately I just needed to wait for the right car to drive into my frame and create the reflection I was after. 

Ightham Mote

I visit a lot of National Trust places on my travels, but few of them got my photographic juices going in 2017 like Ightham Mote in Kent. This manor house has been lived in for over 700 years and it was fascinating to be able to see the history of the building through the changes made over the centuries. This particular view was my favourite of the day, with those weathered cobblestones leading you through the arch to the stables beyond.

"Reflections of Monet"

Hatfield Forest has continued to be an inspiration to me and my camera. I'm so lucky to work there and it's fascinating to observe this beautiful place through the seasons. I noticed this scene view while eating my lunch there over the summer and the combination of reflections and those glorious lilies made me think of Monet. No doubt most people would have focused on the lilies and trees but for me the reflections were the star of the show. 

My other life, as a musician, takes me all over the country so I get to visit lots of new places. Back in the summer I had a rehearsal in the Oxfordshire village of Watchfield and I went for a stroll at lunchtime with my camera. In the church I found this scene and was enchanted by the combination of that beautiful light and the exquisite arrangement of flowers by the window. Such a simple image but one that still delights me six months on.

"Here's that rainy day"

I continued my explorations in street photography on a rainy day at the end of August. When I say rainy, it was actually monsoon like at times, so it took real dedication to drag myself into London, knowing I'd get soaked! That said, I also knew there was the potential for some wonderfully atmospheric scenes, with shiny pavements and folks dashing to get out of the downpours. As it happens, one of my favourite images came towards the end of the day when the rain had eased off. I found this spot near St. Paul's Cathedral and immediately knew it had photographic potential. I carefully set my composition and patiently waited for the right character to walk onto the 'stage' I'd set. This chap, smartly dressed in a business suit, was the individual I was after and I was able to catch him at the perfect moment, mid-stride.

Racing into the night

One of my favourite events of the motor racing year is the Goodwood Racing Revival. There's something so photogenic about these old cars and it's immensely exciting to see classics (some of them worth millions of pounds) genuinely being raced wheel to wheel. On the first day of the 2017 Revival we had copious amounts of rain, but that wasn't going to dampen my spirits! I knew there was the potential for something magical at the first race of the meeting, which runs from day into night, with a wet track and the cars's headlights illuminated. Sure enough, as the field charged away from the start line, the air filled with spray and a Jaguar E-type slid gently off track. Suddenly it was worth getting soaked earlier in the day, having to tog up in full waterproofs and stay until the end of a very long day to get this shot!

"Rush hour in MId-Wales"

Every year I'm lucky enough to visit Llanerchindda Farm, near Llandovery, to teach on a music course. As well as being set in the beautiful Welsh countryside, the farm has this magnificent view down the valley towards the Cynghordy Viaduct. It's an endless source of fascination watching the weather and light change over the viaduct. The pleasure was also enhanced last because they'd finally completed a restoration of the stonework and all the scaffolding had gone. One morning I got up before dawn and waited patiently with my camera for the sun to emerge. My patience was rewarded with this scene - the perfect combination of warm dawn sunlight and mist. The addition of a train crossing the viaduct at precisely the right moment was the icing on the cake!

"Please Sir, can I have some more?"

I never tire of watching the natural world and it's an added bonus when you can get as close as I did to this robin. I regularly visit the RSPB reserve at Rainham Marshes, in Essex, where there is never any shortage of bird life to photograph. Before Christmas I'd heard there was a particularly tame robin living in the old cordite storage area so I went along armed with some mealworms. Sure enough, the robin was utterly fearless and I spent an hour or so watching and photographing his antics in return for some tasty treats, some of which he ate from straight from my fingers. Later that day I found one of the reserve's volunteers feeding the robin again and was lucky enough to catch this adorable picture, which reminds me of Oliver's request for more food in the musical of the same name!

Updates to Etsy store

As I mentioned back in November, my intention this year is to give my Etsy store a little more attention and keep it stocked up. I started that process this week, with a bunch of new greetings cards, which you can find here.

P1000577.jpg

As anyone who looks at my photos regularly will know, I photograph a wide range of subjects and I'm always open to suggestions about the sort of cards I produce. If you have a favourite from my photos (in my portfolio or anywhere else) that you'd like to see made into a card, print, canvas or anything else do get in touch. 

Likewise, if you know of friends who might be interested in my products do share the link to it on social media or by email. Word of mouth is a wonderful thing!

Taking stock

It's been far too long since I updated my website but I'm back on the case! 

Shop

2018 Calendar Cover.JPG

To get the ball rolling I've added some new stock to my Etsy shop, including a short print run of 2018 desk calendars. I'm waiting for a new batch of greetings cards to come from the printer at this moment so it won't be long before there are even more lovely goodies to purchase!

I've started printing my own pictures at home recently and am now able to create prints to order up to A3 size. If there's something specific you'd like a print of - perhaps something you've seen here or on Photoblog - do get in touch and I'd be delighted to give you a quote. I hope to get more information about this on my Etsy store in due course but I'm happy to print to order in the meantime. Please click here to visit my Etsy store. 

Photography education

As I mentioned when I last posted here, I've been writing an increasing number of photography education articles over on Photoblog. I've covered everything from the basics of photography to architecture, street photography and even tips on how to build an audience for your own blog. Do take a look if you're keen to learn more about photography and please do share my articles with any friends who may also be interested. You can find all my photography education articles here.

Competition success

I should have posted about this before but I was honoured in February to be awarded the prize of Goodwood Photographer of the Year.

As many of you know, I'm a motorsport enthusiast and have been a member of the Independent Goodwood Photographers Guild for some time. I was lucky enough to win two categories in their 2016 photo competition which bagged me the title of Goodwood Photographer of the Year.  These were my two winning entries:

It's almost time to enter for the 2017 competition so I'm currently working through my latest motorsport shots from Goodwood and elsewhere to defend my title!

Hatfield Forest Exhibition

This is a first for me - a solo exhibition of my photography. A selection of my pictures are on show in the fisherman's shelter at Hatfield Forest - a mix of landscapes and wildlife. The forest is open every day so please do pop by and take a look if you are in the area. The Forest cafe is just next door so you can grab a warming cuppa to enjoy while looking at my exhibition!

For further information about Hatfield Forest please visit the website here.

Future plans

With winter beckoning work has eased off a little for me so I have lots of exciting plans and, with them, lots of new content to come here. These include continuing my City Churches project and some new articles about photography here and on Photoblog. I'm also planning to resurrect my photographer of the week post, to share some work by some of my favourite artists. I also need to update my portfolios with my latest work so do check back to see my fresh images.

 

Photography education

Some weeks ago I agreed to start writing some education articles for Photoblog.com, the website where I post my photos every day.  Since then I've been hard at work, writing my first article and this week it's been published!  My remit was to write about ways that photographers of all abilities can improve their skills and I've mined my experience of eight continuous years of photoblogging to come up with some handy tips.  You can see my article here.  If you find it interesting please do share it with your friends!

Photoblog.com has developed a lot in recent months, with a fresh new look, as well as a learning centre and an active forum.  Do take a look - there are lots of great articles there and I'm already working on my next one!

Half way there...

It's a little over two years since I started my project to visit and photograph all the churches in the square mile of the City of London.  There were once as many as 75 active churches in the city but many were destroyed, either by the Great Fire in 1666 or during the Blitz in World War II.  Today there are some fifty six church buildings left, although some of those are just shells (often used as gardens) or solitary towers.  

St. Etheldreda's Chapel, in the heart of Hatton Garden

During the course of my project so far I've visited twenty eight of them so I'm exactly half way there.  It's been fun getting to know the City of London better and it's been so inspiring seeing the huge variety of architecture among the churches.  

Today I've updated the gallery over on my Personal Projects page with the churches I've visited in recent months.  Please do pop by and take a look and do pass the info on to anyone you think might find it interesting.  I'm planning to create a book once the project is finished, although that may take another year or two!

A fresh start

My website has been a little neglected of late and I'm finally in the process of putting that right so expect more new material over the coming weeks.  

As a start I've refreshed my portfolio pages with lots of new photos.  There are lots of fresh images in the wildlife, landscape, architecture and aviation sections in particular but do take a look around.  If you're interested in buying prints or canvases of any of these images please do drop me a line via my contact page and I'll be happy to help.

I've got lots of other goodies to share here in the coming weeks, including my latest cogitations about photography (including news of articles I'm writing for other websites) and posts about other photographers whose work inspires me.  I've also been busy continuing my City Churches project and I'll be updating my personal projects page tomorrow.  Do check back regularly to see what I've been up to!

New stock in HHPhotos Etsy Store

I've been busy today adding lots of lovely new stock to my Etsy store, just in time for the festive season.  There are lots of new designs among my photo greetings cards as well as some beautiful fine art canvas prints.  Do pop over there to take a look and please do tell your friends about it!  You may even find the perfect Christmas gift you've been searching for....

You can reach my Etsy store by clicking on the image below.

Latest publication

A quick post about my latest photographic publication, albeit one with something of a niche audience!  

Many of you will be aware of my other life as a musician and one of my summer activities is running the Recorder Summer School.  It's a week long course in Yorkshire for about 120 adult recorder players, who come together from all over the world.  During the course I also wear my 'official photographer' hat and I sneak into playing sessions (when I'm not conducting them myself of course!) to take behind the scenes photos.  I then put these together into a photobook which is then available to course students and anyone else who is interested.

I've published this year's book via Blurb and it has just appeared in my online bookstore as both a soft cover paper book and a PDF eBook.  Do take a look, even if it's just out of curiosity as to what 120 recorder players get up to when they come together for a week!  You can find my Blurb bookstore here.

City of London Churches: St. Margaret Pattens

It's always a pleasure when you rediscover photos you'd forgotten about and today's post is one such rediscovery.  Back in February I spent a day in London continuing my City Churches project, focusing on churches in the south-eastern corner of the city.  Some of the photos from that day remain unpublished so I thought I'd share them here in a couple more posts over the coming days.

St Margaret's is rather dominated by the 'walkie talkie' building from certain angles

St. Margaret Pattens is tucked away, like many city churches, among much more modern buildings.  There has been a church on this site for around 900 years, dedicated to St. Margaret of Antioch but, in common with so many others, its fourth incarnation was burnt down during the Great Fire in 1666.  The current building was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built between 1684 and 1687.

Inside I found a remarkably light and airy space, with lots of plain glass and rich, chestnut coloured pews.  The church warden was very helpful and encouraged me to spend as long as I wished there, even suggesting a few interesting details I had failed to spot on my own.

The name of this church may seem curious to those unfamiliar with the history of this part of London.  At the time there were numerous churches dedicated to St. Margaret so 'Pattens' was added to distinguish this one from the rest.  The church is positioned on Eastcheap, an area that was the centre of the pattenmaking trade in the centuries before the streets were paved.  To avoid getting dirty shoes one would wear a pair of wooden undershoes strapped to your soles, thereby lifting you above the mud on the roads.  The tradition largely ceased in the nineteenth century as the roads became cleaner but, to this day, there is still a sign in the church requesting that "women leave their Pattens before entering".

City of London Churches: St. Magnus the Martyr

During my last trip into London to photograph the churches in the Square Mile I worked my way around no less than six churches.  The church I''m featuring here from that day, St. Magnus the Martyr, lay the furthest south, just north of the Thames, on Lower Thames Street.  

Looking up through the foliage at the tower

Although St. Magnus the Martyr is close to London Bridge it once had an altogether closer connection, with its churchyard once forming part of the approach to old London Bridge.

The original church on this site had a lucky escape in 1633 when a careless servant in a nearby house spilled some hot coal ashes, causing a fire which destroyed no less than forty two houses.  Despite the fact that water was scarce, because the Thames was frozen at the time, the church survived unscathed.  Sadly it didn't survive the Great Fire in 1666 and was one of the first buildings to be destroyed, as it stood less than three hundred yards from the bakery in Pudding Lane where the conflagration started.

The clock, a later addition, was presented to the church by Sir Charles Duncombe, then Lord Mayor of London, in 1709.  According to tradition  it is said that "it was erected in consequence of a vow made by the donor, who, in the earlier part of his life, had once to wait a considerable time in a cart upon London Bridge, without being able to learn the hour, when he made a promise, that if he ever became successful in the world, he would give to that Church a public clock ... that all passengers might see the time of day."

Reconstruction of St Magnus' started in 1671, under the direction of Sir Christopher Wren and was largely complete within five years.  The resulting church is really quite ornate and I was torn as to what to photograph when I walked inside, with so many interesting and eye catching details.  I arrived shortly after the Thursday service finished and the aroma of incense was all pervading, adding to the atmosphere created by period shafts of sunlight falling through the windows.

City of London Churches: All Hallows Staining and St. Dunstan-in-the-East

My odyssey to visit and photograph all the remaining churches within the square mile of the City of London has taken a bit of a back seat in recent months.  However, I got started again in earnest last week, with an afternoon spent visiting no less than six churches.  

With help from the Friends of the City Churches website I planned a route around seven churches in the south east corner of the City, carefully avoiding clashes with services and lunchtime concerts.  On the whole my plan worked perfectly, although my visit to the final church, All Hallows-by-the-Tower, will have to wait for another day as the church closed an hour earlier than advertised on their website and was already locked by the time I got there.

My first two destinations were two churches which are somewhat incomplete these days, thanks to parishes combining together and damage caused during the Blitz in 1941.

All that remains of All Hallows Staining

All that remains of All Hallows Staining these days is a tower, although it has evidently been lovingly restored in recent years.  Tucked away, just off Fenchurch Street, it is surrounded by more modern buildings, like many of the city churches, and it's something of a challenge to get a good angle on it.  Its name comes from the church's 12th century origins when the word staining meant it was built of stone, in contrast with the other All Hallows churches in the city which were wooden.

The original church survived the Great Fire in 1666 only to collapse in 1671 because its foundations had been weakened by too many burials nearby.  The church was rebuilt in 1674 but only continued as a place of worship until 1870 when it combined with St. Olave Hart Street.  The rest of All Hallows was then demolished, leaving just the tower which is now maintained by the Worshipful Company of Clothmakers.

From All Hallows I headed south to the church of St. Dunstan-in-the-East which lies about half way between Monument and Tower Hill tube stations. 

The tower of St. Dunstan-in-the-East

St. Dunstan's is another church with medieval roots and, like so many in the city, it was badly damaged during the Great Fire in 1666.  Unusually, what was left after the fire wasn't demolished and rebuilt from scratch but instead it was patched up and a new steeple, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, was added between 1668 and 1671.  Unfortunately, by 1817 it was discovered that the walls had been pushed out of alignment so badly by the weight of the nave roof that the entire church was rebuilt once again to make it safe, although Wren's tower was retained.  

The final insult came in 1941 when the church was severely damaged during the Blitz.  On this occasion only the tower and north and south walls survived and it was finally decided that it should not be rebuilt yet again.  Instead the church has been turned into a community garden which is maintained by the City of London Corporation.  The result is a wonderfully peaceful space, with seats to sit and enjoy the architecture or simply to contemplate the world.  In the four decades since the garden was opened in 1971 the planting has matured beautifully and some of the windows are gracefully entwined with creepers and other plants.  There is even a magnificent fig tree inside what was once the nave which I would imagine must be quite productive in the summer months.  

Click on the pictures below to open them in a lightbox and see them larger.

I will share my photos from the other churches I visited in the coming days.  They include a church designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the church for the parish of Billingsgate and the final resting place of diarist Samuel Pepys.

Reflecting on 2014

Inspired by a recent podcast by photographer Martin Bailey I was inspired this week to review my output of photos from 2014 and select what I consider to be my ten best images from the year.

2014 was a significant year for me, photographically speaking.  Our relocation from Sussex to Essex in August 2013 brought about a lot of changes in my working routines.  With a big reduction in my music teaching work I've had more time for photography and I feel I've made some big leaps forward as a result.  

The ten photos here are just a small fraction of the pictures published on my daily photoblog through the year but they are all images I'm genuinely proud of, for many reasons. 

The beauty of brutalism

Back in April I visited the Barbican in London for the first time in many years and for the first time since my interest in photography really took off.   I found lots of photographic inspiration there but this building, with its strong lines and the sculptural light falling on it stood out to me the most. 

 

Flying high

For several years I've wanted to visit the red kite feeding centre at Gigrin Farm near Rhyader in Wales.  I finally got there in June and I wasn't disappointed.  During the afternoon feed there must have been some 200 kites soaring and swooping around so it was difficult to choose which one to photograph at times.  Needless to say I took masses of photos that day but this one stood out for me with that direct eye contact.

 

Cynghordy Viaduct

The same day I caught my red kite in flight I went to stay at one of my all time favourite places, Llanerchindda Farm near Llandovery.  This is the view from the farm's terrace, looking down towards the Cynghordy Viaduct.   I struck lucky with the light and dramatic sky and I was lucky enough to have this picture published in the 130th anniversary edition of Amateur Photographer Magazine.

A stolen glimpse of St. Paul's  

This shot of St. Paul's Cathedral in London proves that you don't need a big, flashy camera to catch a winning image.  This was taken on my little Panasonic point and shoot camera and I immediately knew I'd got something special with the way the narrow passageway between the buildings leads your eye to this iconic landmark.

I've got my eye on you! 

Sometimes you have landmark days which you just know will have a long term impact on your work.  This photo was taken on such a day.  In July I attended a workshop with wildlife photographer Andy Rouse on the subject of autofocus.  We all learnt a huge amount on the course but the highlight was putting our new skills into practice on the animals at the British Wildlife Centre.  We were allowed inside the enclosures, giving us fantastic access to the animals.  The second I took this shot of Frodo, one of the centre's foxes, I just knew I'd caught a keeper - there something so magical about that stare!

As I type this post, this photo of Frodo has been shortlisted for the British Wildlie Centre 2014 photo competition in the animal portrait category.   Needless to say I'm keeping everything crossed until the final competition result is revealed! 

Sipping the nectar

Sometimes my music work coincides with my photography and this was one of those occasions.  During a free period at the Recorder Summer School I headed for the college gardens with my camera and was rewarded with this bee who was quietly foraging for nectar.  

Medieval magnificence

I've spent a lot of time this year focusing on architecture photography as I've visited lots of National Trust properties during my travels.  Middle Littleton Tithe Barn in Worcestershire, built in the 13th century, has to be one of the most awe inspiring buildings I've ever seen. One can only begin to imagine the challenges the builders must have faced when constructing a barn of this size with limited tools and technology.  I included my other half, Kevin, in the photo to give the viewer a sense of the enormity of this magnificent building.

The Vulcan's escort

I've focused much more this year on aviation photography, largely because I'm now within striking distance of the Imperial War Museum at Duxford.  During the autumn airshow at Duxford I was lucky enough to photograph the last remaining airworthy Vulcan bomber as it was escorted by two Gnats.  The combination of a fleeting moment of magical light and that smoke trail made for a photo I'm really proud of.  

Turnstone

A walk along a sunny Southend Pier in November brought me into close contact with this Turnstone.  Having followed it as it hopped across the pier it sat on the edge for several minutes just looking at me, apparently trying to decide what on earth I was doing!

A splash of colour amid the storm

What a contrast with my penultimate photo!  This was taken on a bitterly cold and incredibly windy day from Cromer Pier.  Needless to say I didn't hang around for long after I took this but it was worth the effort for such drama!