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.


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.

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!

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


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


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.




The art of self-criticism

My very first photoblog image, from December 2007

Many of you will be aware that back in 2007 I started a photoblog.  I posted intermittently for a while then, towards the end of 2008, I decided the time had come to make a commitment and I determined to post at least one new photo each day for a year.  It didn't matter what I posted but the photo(s) had to have been taken that day and, wherever possible, shared on the day they were created.  Inevitably there were times when it wasn't possible, for instance when I was away from home and without an Internet connection, but I stuck to my plan and religiously photographed something new each day.

As a professional musician I am used to the discipline of practising one's skills regularly in order to prepare for performances so getting into the habit of practising my photography every day wasn't so difficult.  My peripatetic lifestyle, with music-related work throughout the UK, helped too as I was always visiting new places and finding fresh photographic inspiration.  Who knows if I would have coped so well if I'd had a nine to five job in the same place every day?!

A year later I completed my self imposed mission to shoot and post every day and considered where I should go from there.  Despite the challenges, I'd enjoyed myself and learnt a lot along the way.  I knew deep down that I'd miss it if I stopped shooting so regularly so I made a decision to continue for as long as I enjoyed it.  Fast forward to almost six years later and I'm still going!  I know some of my friends think I'm crackers and others can't understand why I put myself under this pressure.  No doubt some think I could/should be spending my time doing other 'more important' things!

Even every day objects can have their photographic uses!

However, the truth is it often doesn't take me long to seek out and take my daily photograph.  As the years have gone by I've become better at sniffing out subjects and learning the best way to tackle them. I always have a camera with me, no matter where I go, so if I see something I just have to photograph on the spur of the moment I can do so. When I can I use my digital SLR but if I have too much else to carry I take my little Panasonic 'point and squirt' camera with me instead.  If all else fails, I have been known to even use the camera on my iPhone.  There are regretful occasions (thankfully infrequent) when I reach the end of the day without having shot a single photo and in that situation I've become more creative at making images from the most unlikely of subjects - for instance, an arty, abstract shot of a kitchen fork!  Alternatively, I have a 'bits and pieces' tin, filled with interesting objects I've picked up over the years for just such rainy days.  


Lucy can be a reluctant model but she has moments when she does me proud!

One thing that has struck me through the years though is the pressure I put on myself to create really worthwhile, beautiful images.  When I started this project I was often grateful just to find something that 'will do' for days when I've been busy.  However, as the years have gone by I've become much more self-critical about my work and less willing to make do with a substandard image.  Of course there are still days when I resort to photographing our cat, Lucy, because she's sitting there looking photogenic and I've had no chance to photograph anything else that day.  But even then I'll do my best to make it an artistically worthwhile photo rather than just a grab shot. 


One of my earliest aircraft shots, from 2008

The times I'm particularly aware of my increasing self-criticism are when I'm tackling a type of photography I once found really difficult.  I went through this process when I first started photographing things that move.  I began with cars on a motor racing circuit.  Yes, they move quickly but, in general, they take a fairly predictable line on each lap which is moderately easy to track.  From there I attempted shooting aircraft in flight.  Still a pretty large subject, but moving much more erratically and in three dimensions too. When I first attempted this at the Goodwood Racing Revival in 2008 I found it inordinately difficult and wondered if I'd ever get the hang of it.  Practice paid off though and, in time, I began to hone my technique.  The next step was to photograph birds in flight.  Immediately aircraft felt like a piece of cake to shoot by comparison - at least you have a larger target to aim at!  Once again, I've practised hard and, while I don't profess to have the technique complete nailed, I get a lot more hits than misses these days.

A photo I took in June this year of a Red Kite at Gigrin Farm in Wales

You'd think I'd be happy at this stage, wouldn't you?  You'd be wrong...  

It didn't take me too long to become reasonably proficient at the technical stuff.  I've always had a rather mathematical brain so f-stops and the like weren't too hard to get to grips with.  However, I never had a particular aptitude for art at school and had no real understanding of the concept of using light to create artistic effects.  When I first got into photography I was happy just to get things in focus and composed in a moderately satisfying way.  Light wasn't necessarily something I particularly considered, aside from the matter of whether there was enough of the stuff to take my shot!  As the years have gone by I've grown to notice the sculptural effect light has on things and the way it can change the photos I make from ordinary to extraordinary.  I now find myself noticing the way light falls on buildings, illuminates trees and shapes everyday objects as I go about my travels, often thinking about how I might photograph the scene, even if I can't stop at the time.  I also notice the way scenes are lit in TV shows and movies now and the way this can direct the viewer's eye.  While I think this newly found awareness of light has had a positive impact on my images the down side the fact that I've become much more picky about the way my photographs look.  


I've spent the last couple of days at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford, Cambridgeshire, photographing their autumn air show.  Whereas a few years ago I would have been content to take a photo of an aircraft in flight that was in the frame and sharply in focus I find myself now looking for that added element of the light.  A plane shot against a bright sky can appear as a graphic silhouette if the angle of the wings is right.  However, more often than not it just looks underexposed and dull.  If the light catches the underside of the wings at the right angle though it can have a magical effect, sculpting the carefully drawn lines its designer created.  This weekend the light was far from kind, with never ending pale grey, cloudy skies and very little sun to speak of.  A deep blue sky and some sunshine would have made my life easier.  A dark, foreboding, stormy sky would have been even more dramatic, especially if we could have persuaded the sun to break through to illuminate the aircraft.  

Sometimes light is everything - I think that glimpse of sunshine reflecting off the Vulcan's wings makes this image

Sadly, for ninety percent of the time this was not to be.  Instead I found myself tracking the planes across the sky with my finger poised on the shutter button, waiting for them to cross the one dark piece of sky or to pass through that single elusive ray of sunshine, at which point I would let rip at full speed!  There were eureka moments though when the weather gods were kind and I found myself faced with the perfect combination of light and shade, not least of all when the last remaining airworthy Vulcan bomber took to the skies.  It's moments like these that make you want to leap in the air, shouting, "Yes!"

There may be no blue skies or sunshine but that little bit of light under the body of the two Lancasters makes such a difference, sculpting their shape and making them seem so much more three dimensional


So, do I feel I have improved as a photographer?  Undoubtedly, yes.  When I look back through the photos I took in the early days of my photoblog there are a few little gems that I'm still proud of but they're few and far between.  However, I do think my more recent work is better, both technically and artistically.  I am, of course, my own worst critic and there are occasions when friends say to me how fabulous a particular image is and I think to myself, "If you think this is good you should see the work of photographer xxx - that's so much better!"  I guess this is a very healthy frame of mind though, as seeing the inspiring work of others undoubtedly spurs me on to keep improving my own skills and vision.  It'll certainly be interesting to see where the next leg of my photoblog journey takes me....


I spent Saturday evening photographing a concert by the Chichester City Band and it got me thinking about the way I work in such situations.  

Ted Howard conducting Chichester City Band

As many of you will know, I spend much of my life working as a professional musician, playing the recorder in concerts (solo and orchestral) and conducting various ensembles and recorder orchestras.  As I photographed the concert last night it occurred to me that I wasn't just using my photographic skills, but my musical ones too.  

Before the concert I went through my usual checklist I use when shooting musical events - working out the best vantage points to shoot from and checking which focal lengths would be best for wide angle and close up shots from the various positions.  I also took time to read through the programme to see which solos were being played and made a point of finding out where the soloist would be standing so I could get a decent portrait of them in action.

Principal trombonist Bob Ainsworth stands up to play a solo

Thanks to my musical training and twenty odd years of listening to brass bands my other half has played in I was remarkably familiar with much of the concert repertoire and this undoubtedly helped me as I had a fair idea which sections of the band would be playing at crucial moments.  My decades of playing under various conductors stood me in good stead too.  Timing is everything when photographing conductors in action, especially if you are shooting them from the side or behind.  It's no good taking a photo while their hands are in front of the body because all you see is their torso and it can almost look as though they've lost their arms altogether!  Instead I used my knowledge of the music and conducting patterns to ensure I only pressed my shutter button as his arms were outstretched.  As a conductor myself I also had a fairly good idea of when Ted might give a particularly expressive gesture and knowing the intricacies of the music meant I was ready at the crucial moment.  

A close up of Ted in action

I don't profess to have reinvented the wheel here but I do wonder just how many photographers are able to employ musical as well as artistic skills when shooting concerts.  I'm willing to bet there can't be too many of us who can photograph such an event and know that they've done all three jobs, as player, conductor and photographer!


You can see the full collection of photos from Saturday's concert by Chichester City Band below:

Photographer of the Week - Martin Bailey

My photographer of the week this week is Martin Bailey, a British born wildlife and landscape photographer who is based in Tokyo, Japan.  Martin first came onto my radar back in 2006 when I was searching iTunes for podcasts about photography to help me in my photographic education.  Back then the choice of photography related podcasts was pretty slim as the genre was relatively new but it quickly became apparent to me that Martin had a lot to offer, both as a photographer and an educator.

Beautiful morning

While I came to Martin's work via his podcasts (and he's now up to show number 422 and counting) I was immediately inspired by his photos too.  He specialises in wildlife, nature and landscape photography, in particular the wildlife of Japan, his adopted home.  His photos of birds in flight are an absolute delight and I am also a particular fan of his 'flowerscapes' (a term coined by Martin himself) which are so beautifully dreamy.

Poppy heaven

For many years Martin combined his photography with a full time job but since 2010 he has been a full time photographer and this has allowed him to expand his educational work too.  He still produces a podcast every week, offering advice and inspiration, product reviews and fascinating interviews with other photographers.  I listen to lots of photography podcasts but Martin's is still one of my favourites and I'm proud to say I have listened to every single episode!  One of the unique features of Martin's podcast is the fact that he includes his own photographs in the podcast feed so I you can actually see the images he's talking about as you listen.

Pensive power

As well as the podcasts, Martin regularly leads photo workshops and tours to countries across the globe.  Recent tours have included visits to Hokkaido (Japan's most northerly island and a snowy, winter wonderland), Namibia and Iceland.  When he returns Martin creates podcasts about the tours, including his photos from them and comments from the participants so those of us who haven't been able to attend feel we've almost been there too!  

Snow monkey deep in thought

Another recent addition to Martin's portfolio of work has been his contribution to Craft and Vision, writing eBooks and articles for Photograph magazine.  Martin's eBooks are invariably lovingly crafted, with wonderfully clear explanations and, of course, illustrated with Martin's beautiful photos.  

Black Kite soaring

I'd like to say thank you to Martin for all his work and inspiration and for allowing me to share some of his wonderful images here.  I have learned so much from Martin's podcasts and his photos are an daily inspiration to me, particularly when I'm shooting wildlife.  I would encourage anyone to take a look at Martin's website which you can find here.