Black Dog Photography: Blog en-us (C) Black Dog Photography (Black Dog Photography) Thu, 10 May 2018 20:04:00 GMT Thu, 10 May 2018 20:04:00 GMT Black Dog Photography: Blog 90 120 Spring- bluebells and blackbirds

Spring.  A time of new life, a hopeful season after the short days of Winter.  A time slow stirring at first- and then a furious bustle in the trees and hedges, new lambs in the fields and the first shoots of Spring flowers.

Just as each season is part of a cycle, so each season has its own cycle.  Beneath stark and empty trees, wild garlic and bluebell compete and make use of damp soil and sunlight.  Then come the leaves: first the beech and birch, brilliant green against the blue, followed by sycamore, oak and ash. Then, on the forest floor, the light is too little for the wild garlic and bluebells, and inevitably, their spring is short.

But what a time it was! Carpets of blue or white, dappled by the first tree's leaves and the scattered light of the young sun. A stream runs between brilliant tufts of grass, where dippers skim the water and, on good days, kingfishers pass in a flash of blue.  Where blackbirds sing, their mellow fluting a perfect accompaniment to the stream's musical babbling. 

Above all, for me, this is a time when the ordinary shines with its own light.  Bluebells, blackbirds, the darting flight of the swallow, the air thick and the hedges laden with May Blossom, the beautiful but ordinary hawthorn.   Spring has a light touch, where hope dances like mayflies over the slow waters of the river.  And who, who had known only winter, like the lambs, could ever foresee this? Born in cold winds, close to their mothers, icy rain gives way to a startling green, and a sun that brings warmth and fresh grass, a thousand  new sights and scents.  Completely unexpected.


I made a trip to Middleton Woods, near Ilkley, which is in West Yorkshire, but is only 8 miles or so from where I live.  The photos below were taken there, using my usual 400mm lens. 


You can see the photos HERE

]]> (Black Dog Photography) bluebells flowers nature photography prose spring Thu, 10 May 2018 20:04:02 GMT
A Cumbrian sunset

Loughrigg Tarn, near Ambleside, Cumbria


The air is warm and heavy.  In the distance, geese call as the sun starts to sink.  The light is soft and golden. The dog lies dozing in the grass, a tennis ball in his mouth.  I nudge him and say "come on, then". Without hesitation, he follows me happily, walking into the light of yet another dusk. Over the stile, through a gate and onto the shores of the Tarn.

All is so quiet, so still.  The water is like a mirror, reflecting dappled streaks of cloud, tinted gold. A grebe dives silently, then re-appears.  Damsel flies, turquoise and blue, dart and dash at the water's edge. In the distance, mountains crowd the horizon, stacked against the orange sky.  Trees cast long, soft shadows and even the mundane becomes staggeringly beautiful. It occurs to me, not for the first time, that all of this exists, yet it is plainly not for us.  It can neither nourish nor keep us alive in the cold, hard reality of being human.  Why should a sunset elevate the senses so? Why does Summer rain, or a waterfall, or a cuckoo calling from the high trees cheer us so much? I don't know: I am merely glad that they do. That some cannot see this is incomprehensible. For others, like myself, it is an unfailing source of joy- and our only reality.  

I watch, as minute by minute, the sun sinks and stars begin to appear.  My dog decides to go for a swim, causing waves which makes the sky's reflection shimmer and scatter. He has no such thoughts, only that today is a good day to be here, and that tomorrow, he'll do it again.  Dogs know what most humans can only grasp the edges of.

Later, we sit beneath the stars, the fire flickering and lighting the pint of beer in my hand.  In its amber-red depths, I am reminded of sun on the barley, and nights spent like this, below the same moon and stars.  The dog looks at me, then at the stars. I wonder what he is thinking: is it any different to my thoughts? Together we sit in contented silence, and listen to the owls in the woods, the bleating of sheep, the crackle of the fire, and nothing else.

This is priceless.


Please feel free to comment.  More pictures of Loughrigg Tarn:


and HERE


]]> (Black Dog Photography) ambleside cumbria loughrigg tarn summer Fri, 15 Dec 2017 19:06:59 GMT
Autumn- Misty mornings and a last blaze of colour Like many landscape photographers, Autumn is by far my favourite time of year.  My definition of Autumn is somewhat different to the "official" one: mine runs from whenever the leaves are changing colour to early December.  Why is this? A simple answer is the quality of morning light.  Even up to mid- December, some mornings are beautiful: cold, frosty and yet the light can actually be very "warm" (golden).  This has more in common with Autumn proper.  What follows is a mid Autumn ramble, just myself and my dog, Beau.


Horse Chestnut (conker) leaf


Autumn! The fruit of Spring's furious bustle and Summer rain.  A time of fleeing birds, frost underfoot and carpets of fallen leaves.  But, what a time.  To watch the sun rise over fields that shimmer with frost, watch as it gains strength.  To see low clouds of golden mist amongst the trees, over last year's flowers and turning the ice upon a delicate leaf into a drop of purest water.  Take your time: over every dead flower, spiders webs are draped, coated in white.  Streams of gossamer, freed from their icy weight, flutter and dance amongst blades of grass.  Look closer: the indescribably beautiful patterns on scattered seed heads.  Thistles, bearing dew, defy the cold.  The low and the humble, like last Summer's nettles, or blades of grass, transformed by crystals of ice.  Even the steely ugliness of mankind's barriers, a wire fence, made sublime by a far older master, a spider's web.  See footprints upon the white grass, watch as red, gold, brown and green leaves frame themselves upon a deep blue sky, or lie in scattered profusion amongst the trees.   Look closer: frost turns to dew and each vein in every leaf is clear, sharply defined.  Blackbirds and thrushes haunt the hawthorns, flocks of finches flit along the hedgerows, where fruit hangs in profusion.  This is not the end.  Autumn is peace.  And yet, Autumn's quiet glory will show again the new shoots of Spring, for without Autumn, there can be no Spring or Summer.


Click below for some of 2017's Autumn images, or use the "Search" button to find more:


Autumn 2017

]]> (Black Dog Photography) autumn help leaves macro nature photography prose Fri, 08 Dec 2017 16:45:00 GMT
The first touch of frost The Leeds to Liverpool canal runs for 127 miles, linking Yorkshire and Lancashire towns to Liverpool and allowing the supply of coal, textiles and limestone.  Via the Aire and Calder Navigation, the Leeds to Liverpool canal allows navigation to Hull.  This was the great age of canal building, which only lasted some 50 years before being supplanted by steam railways.  The canal was built by famed engineer James Brindley and John Longbottom and work started in 1770.  This was no mean task: crossing the Pennines meant that 91 locks were built and, as ever, canals twist and turn to follow the contours of the land. It is hard to believe now, but this canal was a hive of purely industrial activity, and it reaches Skipton, just outside the Yorkshire Dales National Park, in order to make use of the limestone quarried nearby. Lime was the miracle ingredient of that age.  Canals started furious lawsuits and arguments over streams, watercourses and even the rain that fell upon the canal: who owned what?

Now, the canal is a place of tranquility, a haven for wildlife and a softly spoken reminder of our industrial past- and a rare example of it creating true beauty, rather than destruction.  Particularly beautiful is the stretch that runs from Skipton to East Marton.  My dog, Beau, and I spent a lovely morning there last Autumn.

The Leeds to Liverpool Canal near St.Peters Church


The air is crisp and clean and cold. Ahead, the sun rises against a silvery blue sky, impossibly beautiful.  Fields are striped by long soft shadows of towering trees.  Plough and furrow marks laid bare where now sheep graze. The canal is a dark mirror, casting reflections of red, gold and green.  All is so still.  The ground crunches underfoot and my dog trots by in a cloud of breath.  In the distance, the weak sun burns the ice into rising mist, that soon disappears and leaves only sparkling dew.  All is so peaceful.  A farmhouse chimney in the distance, its smoke rising vertically.  A heron rising slowly as ducks fly in.  As we walk along the tree lined canal, the sun flickers and flashes between the branches.  On we go, along the tow path, to the bridge that crosses the water and leads across frosty fields to a church seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

A closer look, and the sad outlines of an ancient settlement in the field next to the church reveal, perhaps, some ancient tragedy as to why it is long since abandoned.  Through the narrow gate and amongst the tombstones.  Ancient stone memorials to those who made this place, whose beliefs and names are carved upon the cold stone in the hope of memory and, perhaps, resurrection.  An implacable belief, the bones of which are in the very land itself: tied to their God by a cycle and process they knew intimately, for their very lives depended upon the seasons, the growing of crops, or the fattening of sheep, the changes of weather and the capricious ebbs and flows of what some call "fortune".  Each mouthful of bread a gift from God.  So far removed from now.

Cold progress came in the form of the canal: a gentle easing of the old ways, so unlike today's spreadsheet evangelism which gives and takes so much and yet which never satisfies.  Those old tombstones, forgotten testimonies to forgotten lives, make it clear to me: each day is a gift, and mornings like this particularly so.  A fallen leaf upon the stone.  The rooks that call from the church tower.  No-one places flowers upon the graves any more: there is no-one left to know.  Yet, between the stones, the beeches, the church and the long shadows, there is a sense of strength here.  For who, who lies beneath these stones, could have known what was to follow, to see the four seasons racing down the centuries, rain upon the grass, snow upon the silent fields, Autumn leaves falling, carefully it seems, to land upon someone's final resting place.  To be sure, those people saw the coming of the canal and the upheaval of change, some for the better, no doubt.  But few could have foreseen that calm and serenity would fall again upon the placid waters, that trees would once again crowd in, and, most of all, that a few centuries on, someone would gaze upon their gravestones, wonder, and feel far older than he is.


From a photographic point of view, I used my 400mm Canon lens, my 14mm Wide Angle and a Sigma 50mm Macro.


Please feel free to comment, to let me know what you think about this and other posts- and my photos. 


You can find more images of the Leeds - Liverpool canal and St.Peters Church, East Marton, here:

Leeds- Liverpool Canal

]]> (Black Dog Photography) autumn east marton macro north yorkshire photography Wed, 06 Dec 2017 18:47:44 GMT
Swaledale- sweeping majesty Swaledale is probably the most grand, yet rugged of the Yorkshire Dales.  I love the villages, particularly Muker and Keld.  I spent almost a week there last Summer, just myself and my faithful dog.  Swaledale is particularly well known for its hay meadows and long fields with beautiful stone barns.  Like most of the Dales, you're rarely far from water.  The weather is unpredictable even by North Yorkshire standards: racing clouds and furious bursts of driving rain are often followed by bright sunshine, which makes shadows of clouds racing across the moors.

Looking down towards Muker, Swaledale

To stand high up on the sweeping moors, the only sound the wind and a lonely curlew.  Below,  Shadows race across moors and long fields, as clouds tumble across vast skies.   In the distance, nestled at the bottom of the dale, where a river wends its way, sits a village.  Warm coloured stone, scattered chimney pots,  a church and not much else.  To walk around that church, to see the testimonies to the lives that made this place, their beliefs laid bare.  Yet, for me, a better testament lies outside the stone walls of the church. To walk across the fields, along the ancient paths, through meadows, real meadows.   The high running dry stones, silent and empty barns: a way of life so much richer than today's.  I envy those people.   The land has strong bones, like those who farmed it.  They could face you in a meadow in spring, look you in the eye and say "I made this. Me and mine".  This is no small achievement.

You can see more Muker and Swaledale images here:





]]> (Black Dog Photography) inspiration landscape meadows muker nature photography swaledale yorkshire Fri, 24 Nov 2017 23:32:44 GMT
A Summer's night at Austwick Austwick is a small village not far from the North Yorkshire market town of Settle.  The landscape around those parts are quite different to where I live, although it's only 20 minutes' drive away.  Myself and my dog, Beau, spent the night there in a small tent during summer 2017.

Summer skies over Austwick

From a hot Summer's day, all hazy distance and sharp smelling grass, and meadowsweet by a babbling stream, the sun slowly sinks.  A disappointingly weak yellow ball, hazed over and creeping below a distant horizon.  That's life as a photographer: what you expect to happen, so often doesn't.   The stream murmurs on, careless, and Venus is a mere pinprick of blue light.  A few crows and jackdaws head in flocks or in pairs towards their roosts, inky dots in a deep blue sky, becoming dark.  The branches of a nearby tree are just a silhouette.  Sheep call from the high fields and all is so peaceful.  Even without the sunset I expected, it is good to be alive at such a time in such a place. My dog looks up, his dark eyes say as much.  The air is still warm, and the deep, dark blue of the night sky is now studded with stars. Suddenly, behind me, I notice the rugged rock of an outcrop, lighting up, blood red.  The red creeps towards the horizon: the sun has gone down. Against all expectations, the sky lights up: streaks of purple, pink, the deep blue of night time, but most of all, orange and fiery red. Ragged banners of bloody looking clouds spread across the heavens, as birds head for home and overhead, a skein of geese call noisily. It is a magical evening.  When at last the fiery display is over and the sky is given over to the clouds and stars, I head for my tent.  I spent the night sleeping half outside, my dog asleep with his head on my chest, as if guarding me.  If God exists, at times like this, I should find it easy to believe. For me, this is the only sense: a beautiful evening, sat in the warmth whilst the sun sinks, and my dog, the best of company at all times. A display of nature and Summer's best not for me: distant, out of reach.  I am just a happy observer.  This cheers me no end.


From a photographic point of view, I used my usual 400mm lens in the daytime, to shoot flowers, but swapped that for my 14mm wide angle lens, which did not need a tripod, being so wide.   Advice for similar shots:


1. Take your camera off Auto and use either Sunset Mode or, preferably, Aperture Priority.

2. A wide Angle lens is far easier to handle in dark conditions, plus it can emphasise the vastness of the sky.

3. Don't use an automatic ISO setting, because these almost always desaturate (weaken) the glorious colours.  I used an ISO of 400.


You can see (and buy prints and products with) the images of that magical night in Austwick here:


Austwick images

]]> (Black Dog Photography) advice beginner help north yorkshire novice photography sunset tutorial Fri, 24 Nov 2017 20:41:41 GMT
The beauty of Macro

Macro photography is extreme close-up photography.  And since it's autumn as I write this, it's the ideal time to point out the possibilities of looking far closer at what you see.  The great thing about macro is that you can do it at any time of year, in almost any light and you can even do it indoors.


Imagine the beauty of frost or ice, a newly opened spring leaf, a midsummer flower, or a tree stump with autumn leaves.  Now imagine getting even closer: every grain in wood, every mark in metal and the fine veins on leaves, or perhaps the incredibly brief and delicate texture of frost or ice.  Or maybe you're stuck in the house: no problem.  With a little imagination, you can improvise and photograph items of interest in your home. 


A close up of one of my guitars


Regardless of weather, light or time of year, there's always possibilities for macro photography. 


So what do you need to take macro images?


Firstly, a pointer about what is macro and what is not. Technically, macro is images at 1:1 size or larger. That means life size. Whilst many lenses claim to be macro, in reality a macro lens is a dedicated extreme close range lens, often allowing you to get within inches of the subject. Most manufacturers make a macro lens and they tend to range from 50mm to 150mm. Any longer than this, and their extremely shallow depth of field at close range becomes a problem.  Read on for an explanation...


Close up of guitar, showing very shallow depth of field: notice the very narrow band actually in focus


As usual in photography, we rarely get something for nothing. Macro is no exception.  In exchange for the ultra close-up detail, we endure very shallow depth of field. Depth of field (article coming soon!) is how much of the image is actually in focus.  Several factors dictate this:


1. The length (in mm) of the lens. Wide lenses have lots of depth of field (a lot in focus from front to back), and longer lenses have less depth of field. 


2. The f-stop (aperture) used. DSLR cameras and 35mm etc have F-stops to allow the photographer to have more control over depth of field.  The f-stop is like the pupil of the eye: the smaller it is, the less light it lets in (but the greater the depth of field) and the bigger it is, the more light it lets in (but the shallower the depth of field).  Also, as F-stops get smaller, shutter speeds drop correspondingly. Read on...


3. The distance from the camera to the subject.  The closer we get to the subject, the shallower the depth of field becomes.  At macro level, it can often become very shallow indeed. See image above.


4. Camera type.  Most compacts have small sensors, and the bigger the sensor, the shallower the depth of field for any given lens, F-stop or distance.  A full frame camera will have far shallower depth of field than a compact or cropped sensor.


However, this can have a creative effect.


Problems with macro and possible solutions


The first problem is keeping the camera steady enough to stay in focus, especially given the extremely shallow depth of field.  It can be very challenging to do this when you're only a few inches from a subject! Possible solutions and their downsides:


1. Use a tripod.  Not always easy, especially when subjects are low down or in hard to reach places.


2. Use a monopod. A little easier, but still far from ideal. The camera still tends to move a little, rendering the photos out of focus.


3. Push up the ISO settings.  But since macro is about detail, noise can ruin a macro image and often, high ISO settings are lower contrast and under-saturated compared to lower settings.


4. Use a flash.  Not particularly viable, since most flashes cannot cope with such extreme close up work and tend to "wash out" the image. Also, if it is mounted on the camera, the flash will cast "top down" shadows and these may ruin any ambient light.


5. Use a ring flash.  This is a flash unit that actually sits on the end of the lens, and creates an "all round" light with almost no shadows. Whilst this can have a lot of uses, it is still far from ideal due to the same problem as a regular flash: it ruins ambient (available) light.


6. One item I have found to be extremely useful for macro photography is an LED light array.  This is a cluster of battery powered LED lights and mine came with a soft filter (to make the light much softer) and a soft gold coloured filter. These are relatively low cost (about £30) and have the great advantage of being able to be mounted on a small tripod, or in the hands of a willing helper.  What's more, because they need not be attached to the camera and don't have any leads etc, you can light your scene as you like, and most are adjustable in output and you can actually see their effect, unlike flash. You could even use several and they make a great home studio.  The  images above were taken with an LED light array. 


Whilst you may get lucky enough to get enough ambient light, nevertheless, using some of the above, or a combination, will help you to get macro images you can be proud of. 


Another bonus is that a 50mm lens is an excellent "head and shoulders" portrait lens, since its field of view is close to that of human eyes and hence images look natural.  Similarly, I've found a 50mm macro to be ideal for car and vehicle photography, as outlined above.  Their natural perspective but ability to get really close really do lend them to much more than nature photography.


So, next time the weather is not behaving and you're in the depths of winter, get out there and do some macro! Fungi, dead leaves, spiders webs, frost and ice, and interesting items indoors open up a wealth of opportunities. 


]]> (Black Dog Photography) advice beginner closeup close-up help lens lenses macro nature novice photography tutorial Wed, 01 Nov 2017 00:28:50 GMT
The beauty of monochrome  


An ordinary colour photograph


The same image converted to monochrome with red high contrast filters


The same image, converted to mono and tinted silvery blue (selenium toned)


Monochrome- or black and white if you prefer- is often considered to be old fashioned. But most photographers will admit that it has a charm of its own, and many images originally taken in colour become something special when converted to monochrome.

The reasons for this? Firstly, a dull dreary day can often become something far more dramatic when converted to monochrome. Because the colour of the light is no longer an issue, and because of monochrome filters (more on this later), the photograph becomes about texture and contrast, and not at all about colour.

At this point, I should point out that “monochrome” does not necessarily mean “black and white”. “Monochrome” means “one colour”, and so that colour can be any you choose. In fact, even back in the pre-colour days, monochrome images were often sepia coloured as they aged, or where intentionally “washed” in chemicals to change their tint. This could give them a grey-blue tint, or a warmer sepia tint, or a warmish grey tint.

Monochrome, because it does not rely on colour to make an impact, often makes the viewer look for something else in the image: texture, detail or a different atmosphere. It is, simply, a different way of looking at things.

Portraits, in particular, as well as seascapes, close ups, landscapes and urban photography are particularly well suited to monochrome. Mono can be very flattering to the human complexion, and with careful use, you can even change the apparent “colour” of a person's eyes!

Most editing software has the ability to convert a colour image into monochrome. However, most simply “de-saturate” (turn off) the colours. The end result is frequently flat, dull and grey.

This is where filters come in. In the old days (and some people still do use filters), a photographer who was shooting monochrome would place a coloured piece of glass over the camera lens. Why would someone use coloured glass when the image is in monochrome? This is because a red filter, for instance, lightens its own colour (red) and darkens its opposite (blue). An orange filter would lighten orange, and darken blue. Conversely, a blue filter would lighten blues but darken reds.

Translate these into monochrome, and the effects can be striking.

Imagine a blue sky with white fluffy clouds. Now imagine a red filter: the blue of the sky would translate into darker grey and the white clouds would become brilliant white.

Using a blue filter, blue eyes can become bright silvery grey: dark eyes (because brown is related to red) could become even darker.

Filters were commonly yellow (weak), orange (stronger) and red (strong) when it came to lightening red spectrum colours and blue, plus green which tends to lighten organic green shades and can often darken inorganic greens. In fact, a green filter is flattering to Caucasian human skin, making one look tanned and somehow healthier, although in monochrome. Blue was often used to counteract the orange tint of artificial (tungsten) studio lights or domestic light bulbs.

So why am I telling you this? Because the same effect as filters is commonly available with decent photo editing software. Adobe Lightroom and even Google Picasa (sadly discontinued) or a vast range of plugins for various editors allowed one to “filter” and convert colour into monochrome.

So, next time you're in your photo editor, don't just hit the “convert to black and white” button, take a closer look to see if it offers these “virtual filters”. If you want a FREE but powerful photo editor, try GIMP. Gimp is somewhat similar to Adobe Photoshop. There are lots of tutorials out there to teach you how to use it, and lots of plugins to extend the program's abilities. You can get it from here:

Using monochrome gives you the ability to use your camera in weather that may not be brilliant for colour, but may be just the job for monochrome. I find that monochrome can also enhance the mood of a picture.

Without colour to distract, one notices light, texture and contrast more. Monochrome can also lend an old fashioned feel and is especially powerful for portraits. If you've got images that are not quite up to scratch in colour, see if they'll look any better in monochrome. But don't stop there: shoot subjects specifically for monochrome.

There are some subjects where monochrome just don't work, like sunsets. But on cold, crisp winter days, or even dull and drab ones with the occasional bit of sunlight, it's wonderful. If it's not photographic weather, why not dig out some of your existing photographs and learn to see in black and white?

]]> (Black Dog Photography) advice black and white help lessons monochrome novice photography tutorial Thu, 15 Dec 2016 23:36:13 GMT
The “Blurred water” trick  

Water shot with a high shutter speed (1/1600th of a second)


Water shot at a much lower shutter speed (1/30th of a second)


Waterfalls can be challenging to do real justice to. But we've all seen the trick where instead of sharp or slightly blurred water, there's a milky stream of blurred water.

So, how is this done? It's very easy.

Firstly, you'll need a tripod or perhaps a wall or similar to rest your camera on. The camera must not move at all during the shot. If you own a compact camera, you can buy very small, very cheap tripods that can fit in your pocket. To make them higher, just put the tripod on a wall, stone or anything else stationary.

Next, lower your camera's ISO as low as it will go. Most compacts can do this, and all SLRs can.

The idea is to deprive the camera of light, to force a very low shutter speed. If you have a camera where you can adjust the aperture (f-stop), set a very small aperture.

Now mount the camera onto its tripod or whatever you're using, and either use a remote shutter control or set the self timer and take the shot.

The remote or self timer prevents camera shake.

For SLR users, if you're still not getting low enough shutter speeds to create that silky water effect, try putting an ND (Neutral Density) filter over the lens. ND filters are simply neutral grey discs of optical glass that don't change colours at all, but do allow less light in. Or if you have a Polarising filter, use that: it should soak up 2 stops of light, being grey itself.

The slower the water runs, the slower your shutter speed will need to be.

Of course, if the water is still not blurred enough, come back on a dull day!

]]> (Black Dog Photography) advice beginner help landscape nature novice photography tutorial water waterfalls Tue, 13 Dec 2016 23:25:30 GMT
10 bits of kit to make photography easier Don't worry, I'm not going to bombard anyone with long recitals about the virtues of Canon f2.8 L series 400mm lenses at around £9,000 each. No, the purpose of this post is to mention far more mundane but very important items which have helped me hugely over the years.

It's easy to find “expert reviews” of highly expensive cameras and lenses, with endless pages of boring graphs, enlargements and technical data, most of which doesn't count for much in real life.

Here, in no particular order, are some things which have my photographic life a lot easier.


  1. Low self discharge batteries.


Before I went digital in 2007, batteries weren't much of an issue. But digital cameras are far more battery hungry, and they positively eat ordinary alkaline batteries. The answer is, of course, rechargeable batteries. These are usually of the NiMH type. But not all NiMH batteries are created equal. Have you ever noticed that rechargeables go flat very quickly even if you've not used them?

Before a photo trip, I'd charge them and when I came to use them, they'd rapidly go flat. Especially on cold days. In the end, I was taking 3 sets with me and still running out of power.

Rechargeable batteries are rated by their capacity. Typical “supermarket available” batteries may be 1200 Ah and whilst these may be fine for low power devices such as clocks, they're not powerful enough for a digital camera, and certainly not for a flash gun or similar. However, the higher the figure in Ah, the more capacity a battery has. A typical high powered battery may be 2700 Ah.

The only problem with “ordinary” rechargeable batteries is that their power drains away even when they're doing nothing. There's nothing more annoying than going out and finding that your camera's batteries are dead.

Then I discovered low self discharge batteries. These are entirely compatible with devices that use normal “throwaway” zinc carbon or alkaline batteries or normal NiMH rechargeables, but their rate of self discharge is very, very low. You can charge these up and they're fine 6 months later. They really are that good. Being able to rely on your batteries is very important when shooting digitally.

Whilst their power rating (Ah) is generally lower than conventional batteries, this really doesn't matter, because whilst the conventional batteries have less power by far in a day or two after charging, even without use, the low self discharge batteries are still more or less at full power capacity. One manufacturer claims that these batteries still have 90% of their charge a year after being charged and being in storage. I could well believe it. They also cope with low temperatures a lot better than normal rechargeable batteries.

Beware, there are a lot of fake low discharge batteries out there. The best makes are, I believe, the Panasonic (formerly Sanyo) Eneloop and Fujitsu Black batteries. You'll find the real deal here:

I am in no way affiliated with this company, but they're reliable and their prices are excellent. Here's the irony: these superb batteries can cost less than a pack of 4 Duracell rechargeables at the supermarket. Buy those with a rating at least 2000 Ah.


  1. A decent battery charger.


So, you've got decent batteries now? But just as batteries are not created equal, neither are chargers. The standard charger most people use works on the principle of time. It allows a certain time for a battery to charge, and then stops charging, whether the battery is full or not. This can damage half charged batteries and can often “confuse” the batteries and negatively impact storage capacity. Plus, it might not fully charge the batteries.

Often, batteries become “tired” and don't hold their full charge. Many get thrown away prematurely. A good battery charger like the Technoline BL-700 is streets ahead of normal chargers. Each battery is charged and monitored separately. You can charge individual batteries this way. What's more, you can change the charging current to charge quickly or slowly (slowly is best) and you can set the charger to completely discharge a battery, or to cycle through discharge then charge until the best possible capacity for the battery is reached. This revives batteries and prevents “memory” problems caused by not being run down completely.

The BL-700 is available here:


  1. A Ring Flash


These are only of use to those people with cameras capable of taking filters over the lens and connecting an external flash to the camera. Usually, an SLR type camera. A ring flash is a great piece of kit for when the light is less than wonderful and when you're doing extreme close-up Macro work. It's grey and miserable in Autumn, and you're lost for something to photograph? Stick a ring flash on your lens and go hunting for fungi or dead leaves or other Macro friendly subjects.

They're also useful for close-up portraits and photographing things like small items, jewellery and anything that needs even lighting at close range.

So, what is a ring flash? This is a flash gun that typically sits on the hot shoe of the camera, as normal, but has a lead that connects to a unit on the SLR's lens. This unit surrounds the lens at the end and when the flash fires, it produces light from all directions. This means little or no shadow or dark parts. Ring flashes were first invented for dental photography, because an even spread of shadowless light was what's needed. This is not suitable for extreme wide angle lenses, because the flash usually does not spread enough and often causes vignetting.

The other advantages are that macro work is difficult in low light and subjects such as fungi tend to be in murky places. This means that shutter speeds will be low, and the closer you get to a subject, the shallower the depth of field gets, meaning that it is very difficult to get close enough and hold the camera steady whilst keeping it all in focus. For fungi etc, a tripod is not often practical. But a ring flash will work at your camera's flash sync speed, which is often 1/60th of a second. Which gives you a fighting chance of getting the shot.

Most ring flashes are capable of adjusting their output to “blend” with the natural ambient light, allowing some shadow. Like most things photographic, it's a matter of getting to know your own gear well enough to get the results.

Have a look on a well known shopping website named after a South American river (yes, Orinoco!) and search for “ring flash”. These are specific to your camera's make and model, although many ring flashes do come with adapters. Whilst the big makers do have their own (highly expensive) ring flashes, I find it hard to justify that expense for something I don't use tremendously. Expect to pay from £15 upwards for a “non OEM” ring flash.

So why can't you use a normal flash? The answer is because the flash is always off the lens's axis, therefore at extreme close range, like with a Macro lens, the flash would simply miss the scene.

So get out there when the weather is not co-operating, go into the woods, wear waterproof trousers and use a macro lens. Just experiment!


  1. A remote shutter release.


I often shoot in low light and using a long lens. Since I don't like pushing up the ISO (see ISO), the only option is a tripod. But even that is not enough. With such a weight, (the lens alone weighs around 3 lb), when you press the shutter, no matter how carefully, there's a chance that you'll move the camera slightly, even with the strongest tripod. The end result is a blurred photograph. You could, of course, use the camera's self timer, but this is tedious and can make you miss shots.

Most DSLR cameras and quite a few others can use an Infrared shutter controller, a small device you hold in your hand and aim at the camera. Press the button, and the camera takes the shot. Simple. No camera shake.

A basic one for Canon cameras is the Canon RC-6 and should work the the majority of Canon cameras. At the time of writing, this handy device costs around £13. Similar devices will be available for makes other than Canon.

However, there is much, much more these kinds of devices can do. Some are attached via a cable into the camera's external flash socket (if it has one), whilst others are wireless, and have a wireless unit which attaches to the camera's hot shoe and hence to the flash socket. Some claim ranges up to 100 metres and these also have the advantage that they don't just work in one direction. They often work behind the camera, too, unlike the RC-6, which must face the IR sensor at the front of the camera. I just put my hand over and point roughly at the IR sensor. It works.

Others are capable of being programmed to take a number of shots at a specified number of seconds. For instance, you could set it to take a shot every 3 seconds. Once back at your computer, this sequence of photographs can be loaded into a video editor and treated as if they were a movie. Because the frame rate is only a 10th or so of standard 720p video, you get wonderful time lapse movies, where clouds race across the sky, or fungi magically explode out of the ground. Your imagination is the limit.


  1. An external audio recorder.


Most cameras now can also do video. Even “budget” compacts can manage 720p video, which is far better than DVD quality. But one of the things I discovered when shooting video, no matter what I use, is that whilst it's easy to get good video, good audio is an entirely different matter!

In fact, if you get easily annoyed, video shooting may not be a good idea. You'll soon discover, to an extraordinary degree, what a noisy country we live in. I live in a rural area, but even there, it is very hard to find pure, unpolluted, natural sound. Even a mile or two from the village, you can hear cars, aircraft, “Mr Fixit” hammering away, tractors, road drills, lawnmowers......

And, particularly, humans, who seem to go out of their way to make a noise. Many ask what it is you are filming. “Something with a bloody soundtrack!”.

And that's without unwanted natural noise, like wind, which howls down most microphones, particularly at the seaside.

Which renders most audio shot alongside video completely useless. Yes, you can trim and edit the audio using an audio editor such as the excellent (and free) Audacity. But you'll soon find that you've run out of audio.

So I have got into the habit of carrying a small audio recorder with me. Not just on photography trips, but when out walking the dog or especially in bad weather. Because you're not shooting video, you can hide an audio recorder from the wind and rain etc. and still get nice, clear recordings. Not long ago this year, I sat in my shed with a tremendous and violent thunderstorm overhead. I was recording the storm and it was superb. Of course, my neighbours probably thought I was mad, but they probably do anyway.

But take one of these little devices with you even when you don't have your camera. Record bird song, streams, even rain and roaring wind. Then, back in your video editor, delete the existing audio track and use one you've just recorded. Most video editors let you trim the audio to fit.

The one I use is the Zoom H1. This is a true stereo microphone. You'd never expect it to be, because of both microphones being so close together, but it is. It is roughly half the size of a TV remote (17.2 x 10.4 x 4.6 cm) and can easily fit in your pocket. It can be tripod mounted (buy one of these pocket tripods) and records to a Micro SD card in either .MP3 or uncompressed .WAV (this is better) format. Very, very simple to use, it can also connect to a PC to transfer files or can even act as a microphone for the computer. This typically costs about £75.

Establish a library and you'll never run out of good audio. Plus, it's something to do when walking about in photography unfriendly weather or locations. There may be a stream that sounds nice but looks horrible. No matter: just record it!


  1. A tripod


Love or hate them (and most people do both) a tripod is invaluable if you shoot in low light, as I often do. A tripod will also allow you to get shots you simply can't without. For example, the old “blurred water” trick, where running water becomes blurred into a silky stream of white water.

A good tripod should be strong and sturdy, but the only way to achieve this is to make the tripod heavy. Or make it out of expensive carbon fibre. Generally speaking, those with the fewest leg sections (for shortening the legs) are sturdier, but impact how small the tripod is when folded down.

A tripod is also essential for night time photography. Also, for portrait photography, it often helps to use a tripod simply to keep your subject at ease. Use a tripod and a remote release, and you won't just be a single eye glaring at your subject.


  1. A pistol grip tripod head.


Whilst most landscape photographers use a normal “pan and tilt” tripod head, I prefer a pistol grip.

The head of a tripod is the part where the camera is attached and this swivels in various ways to let you point the camera as necessary. A pistol grip is a pistol like handle which steers a ball socket head, meaning that it can move in any direction. The one I use is the Vanguard GH-100. This has a large “trigger” which you can squeeze and which completely unlocks the head, allowing you to move the camera, then if you release it, the camera's position becomes locked again. A simple matter of squeeze, point, release.

The handle part of the grip is completely adjustable and the strength of the lock is also adjustable, as is the angle of the head. This is a very sturdy head with easily supports my Canon camera and 400mm lens. I find this head a pleasure to use and so much easier than fighting numerous levers and screws whilst also trying to aim the camera. If I have any criticism of this pistol grip, it is that its upwards range is not brilliant. However, I get around that by lowering the tripod's rearmost legs.


  1. A tarpaulin and poles


I often photograph and/or shoot video is torrential rain. Hey, I like rain! But cameras don't. Nor do highly expensive lenses. Finding shelter is not always possible, and an umbrella is not practical because you soon run out of hands. So I bought a cheap plastic camouflage tarpaulin, of the kind hikers often use. This is around 2.4 x 3 metres and is completely waterproof. Also a set of adjustable poles and some para cord to use as improvised guy ropes. I already had some spare tent pegs.

Making use of trees or anything else strong enough, and using the para cord and poles, you can improvise a shelter almost anywhere. What's more, this can make a brilliant, cheap hide and will keep your gear dry and if you build it right, it will keep the wind off you. All of it rolled up is far smaller than my (admittedly huge) tripod and it's not too bad to carry.

People often ask me how on earth I got such beautiful shots of rainy weather, and I explain that it's simple: I go out to take photographs in the rain. It's what you've got to do. But there's no need to get soaked or ruin your camera whilst you're at it. This arrangement also makes a great bird or animal hide. Don't forget your flask!


  1. A Macro lens


A Macro lens is a camera lens that allows you to get very, very close to a subject. Often, just a few inches away. This is great for close-ups or detailed shots of flora, fungi or anything else.

Many cameras and lenses claim to have a Macro setting. However, most are not true Macro lenses, they are just the closest they can get to the subject. Usually, this is in feet, not inches.

Macro lenses tend to be between 50 and 100mm. This is because the closer you get to the subject- with any lens- the shallower the depth of field gets. This means that only a very narrow band of the image is in focus, unless you use a really low aperture and hence shutter speeds drop. Hence my recommendation of a ring flash. A 200mm Macro lens would have unacceptably narrow depth of field at very close range. I use a Sigma 50mm EX DG Macro. This comes in Pentax, Nikon and Sony fit. However, I believe that Sigma are not making this lens for Canon any more.

Beware, there are lots of lenses which claim to be Macro! Read the reviews and look out for technical detail claiming that the resultant images are 1:1 (life size). Tamron do a relatively inexpensive 90mm Macro, the AF 90mm Di SP A/M 1:1 (according to a well known shopping website named after a south American river!).

I find Macro lenses useful for when the weather or seasons are not co-operating. They also make excellent “head and shoulders” portrait lenses and I've found them particularly useful for photographing cars. Because 50mm is roughly the same view as human eyesight, the results are natural looking and undistorted. And being a Macro, you can always get really close for detail.


  1. A dog


OK, so this isn't strictly necessary, but when your enthusiasm is flagging because you've dragged yourself out of bed at 3:30 AM to photograph a sunrise in summer, a dog will help you get fired up. Dogs are almost always enthusiastic about walks of any kind. Mine have seen more than most people, and ice, frost, snow and rain certainly don't damped their enthusiasm: far from it. Although Sam the rottweiler cross wasn't fond of getting wet. He once tried to squeeze under an umbrella I brought along to keep my cameras dry. Not good: he was far too large to fit. This was before my tarpaulin idea! On the other hand, he loved frost and snow.

Dogs are simply great company. They don't complain, they're flexible and if you treat them right, they'll follow you anywhere. Plus, they make great photographic subjects. Another aspect of them is that they are much, much more alert than we are. Their senses are better. Many's the time I've seen a deer or otter simply because my dog saw it first. I can't recommend a make or model, but I'd be lost without mine! Plus they usually offer to share an early morning snack with you!

I hope this has been of use to you. Like in most fields, a few relatively inexpensive items can really make the job more fun and a lot easier.

Oh, and another bit of relatively inexpensive kit I can't recommend enough, if you use a camera that can accept filters: a UV filter. This is a circle of glass that helps to filter out UV light, which creates haze. But, most importantly, it can protect your lens from scratches and knocks. Better to replace a £25 filter than a £2000 lens!








]]> (Black Dog Photography) advice beginner help learners macro novice photography tripod Sun, 04 Dec 2016 23:32:38 GMT
Late Autumn and Winter photography

This is by far my favourite time for photography. There is a wonderful, although brief, golden and soft quality to Autumn and early Winter mornings.

On my latest trip out, in late November 2016, the sun rose at 8:00 Am, so it was not bad at all getting out in time. I went to our local reservoir, where I know the sun rises in Winter at the end of the lake. It's very helpful to know stuff like that: what time sunrise is, where it rises and where it will be when you get there.

Outside, it was -6 degrees C. The lake was frozen around the edges and there was a wonderful heavy frost. The sun was rising quickly, and for about half an hour, everything was bathed a deep, liquid red. Even the heavy frost was red. There wasn't a breath of wind and the lake was like a mirror.

This is surely the best time of the day! Make sure that you're dressed up warm, particularly your head, and you'll be fine. Lots of thin layers are best, since they're warmer and you can remove them as the morning warms up. If you've got warm feet and a warm head, you're fine. A flask is a must, not least because it gives you time to notice- really notice- things around you. Because, that's what you're there for: being a photographer is more about seeing images and the technical stuff merely allows you to capture the image you've already seen.

Walk slowly, take your time. Welcome to ordinary, because it is usually transient: those spiders webs or those dead plants and leaves, they probably won't be there tomorrow. That's what I love about this time of year: there, amongst the seeming death that Winter brings, you can see reminders of last Spring and Summer: an Autumn leaf, encased in ice, or dead Willow Herb, its purple flowers and fluffy seeds long gone. Or a robin, following me about for food, and even perching on my camera lens. Ducks and geese fly in, and it's amazing how sound carries at that time of day.

As the morning wears on, the light changes from bright red, to yellow, and then it gets progressively “colder” (bluer).

Noting and using the colour of light is very important. Reddish light is known as “warm” whilst blueish light is “cold”. It's all to do with wavelengths, but humans react differently to cold or warm light. Not surprisingly, cold light makes us feel cold. You can use this to emphasise a cold day, to stress Winter's cold, or you can contrast morning's red light with berries shrouded in frost: red against the white frost.

Notice, also, that I constantly defy the old “rule” of not shooting into the light. Well, that one is broken by most photographers. But the unrestricted light of the low sun often flares too much even with the cleanest lens and can “burn out” the image. A good trick is to “hide” the sun behind a branch or tree trunk or similar. Make sure your camera lens is clean!

Lenses used during this shoot are the usual 3 I use: a Canon 400mm, a 14mm and a 50mm Macro lens for the close-ups of the berries.

And at this point, just to get you thinking about the ordinary, I'd like to pay tribute to the humble Hawthorn. Just because it is everywhere, people seem to ignore it. Yet few other trees or shrubs put on a show like it. It is one of the first to get its leaves in Spring, followed by masses of beautifully scented flowers in late April and May, and then in Autumn, and lasting well into Winter, we get masses of bright red berries. Celebrate the ordinary: make it extraordinary by shooting in extraordinary light! By the time I was leaving for home, around 10:30 Am, (the light had become too blue), the walkers, joggers and so on were just arriving. You can bet that few had any idea what that place was like just an hour or two ago, and most would be stunned to know. They were just too late to find out. Take my word for it, grab your camera- any camera- and go and see for yourself. Choose a day with a clear sky in the morning, and don't let the cold put you off. Take your time, and , above all, take lots of photographs. You don't need any where so exotic: many of today's images could easily have been shot in a garden, or a local park or church yard.

Dead leaves. Dead plants, reminders of last Summer. Ducks and geese, frost upon last Summer's grass, or foraging birds, or perhaps a weak Winter sun rising over a mirrored lake. It's there. Go and see it.


Check out the photographs: HERE



]]> (Black Dog Photography) Wed, 30 Nov 2016 00:36:36 GMT
The basics of depth of field. Or, how to get those blurry backgrounds!  


The above photo shows shallow depth of field.  Notice how the background is blurred and the only real sharp part of the image are the tree trunk and leaves.  This creates a sense of distance and helps to minimise the background.  400mm lens at f5.6 Although both use f5.6, see the difference between the long lens (above) and the very short lens (beach picture, below)


What is depth of field?

This is how much of a subject is in focus in a photograph.

For instance, there might be foreground to background depth of field, also known as wide depth of field.

Or just one flower in a field full of flowers.

This can have wonderful creative effect. For example, it is often better to use shallow depth of field when shooting portraits- of people or animals! This is because the progressive blurring away from what you've focussed on isolates the subject and makes you concentrate more on the subject when looking at the photo. It effectively minimises the distractions of backgrounds etc.

On the other hand, wide depth of field is sometimes necessary in order to avoid unsightly blurring.

So, how does this happen and why?

Several things cause shallow (or wide) depth of field:

  1.  Lens length or focal length.  The longer the lens, the shallower the depth of field.
  2. Focal distance- how close you are to the subject. The closer you are, the shallower the depth of field.
  3. For SLR or more sophisticated cameras, aperture (f-stops) are crucial for influencing and controlling depth of field.

On the back LCD panel or on a ring on the lens of an SLR (digital or film) camera, and many bridge or compacts, you'll see numbers like 2.8, 5.6, 11 etc.

Ever wonder what those settings are for? The lens's aperture is like the pupil of your eye. When it's dark, your pupil gets bigger to let more light in. When it's bright, your pupil gets smaller.

But with a camera lens, the depth of field becomes greater (wider) when the pupil gets smaller- and the same happens with our eyes, to an extent.

This is why we squint when we can't quite see something: squinting has the effect of seeing out of a smaller hole and the area in focus becomes a little larger, although this is somewhat negated by the pupil getting larger. Try looking at something through a tiny gap in your fingers, much the same happens.

So, with apertures (f-stops), the smaller the number, the larger the lens's “pupil” and the less is in focus at any given lens length or distance. Make the aperture a bigger number (e.g f11) and you'll have more in focus.

This is why SLRs and other more sophisticated cameras have aperture settings.

Another factor is sensor size. The sensor is the part of the camera- any digital camera- that captures and records the photograph. Some higher end SLRs have “full frame” sensors, roughly the same size as a single 35mm film negative. Most other SLRs have “cropped” sensors, which are usually around ¾ the size of a full frame. Most compact cameras and mobile phone cameras have even smaller sensors.

The smaller the sensor, the less pronounced the shallowness of depth of field is.

So, if you have a phone and it doesn't have control over apertures (f-stops) how do you achieve depth of field?

It's not as easy as with an SLR, but bear these tricks in mind:

  1. Get as close as you can to the subject.

  2. If you can, lower the camera's ISO to force it to “open up” any aperture (if it has one) and hence make the depth of field shallower.

  3. If you camera really does zoom, use the longest lens setting (“T” rather than “W” for most) and get as close as you can.

  4. If all else fails, there are lots of Apps for “faking” depth of field. Examples are AfterFocus and Big Lens.

  5. Some mobile phones have attachments which go over your phone camera's lens, making it longer or able to work closer up.


This photograph shows very wide depth of field.  Notice how sharp it is from foreground to all the way in the distance. 14mm lens at f.5.6  Compare this to the photo at the top, taken with a long lens.  Wide lenses like this give huge amounts of depth of field.




Fly Agaric mushroom. Yes, they really are red with white spots! This was taken with a Macro lens, which allows you to get within cm of the subject. But the close you get, the shallower the depth of field, as shown here.  50mm Macro, f.8.  WARNING: Fly Agaric are poisonous, so don't go eating them!

I hope this is of use to photographers of all types.  This is a basic introduction to Depth of Field and how best to achieve it on different cameras. More will follow for those with SLRs and other more sophisticated cameras.


]]> (Black Dog Photography) advice apterture beginners depth f-stop field help learners novice of techniques Mon, 14 Nov 2016 21:56:45 GMT
Ten top tips for better photographs Ten top tips for better photographs


The internet is very fond of lists, so I see no reason why I shouldn't have one!


But seriously, the following are the kinds of things I wish someone had taught me as a novice photographer. None of them are particularly difficult. Yet, they should make one thing clear: that whilst great photographs can be a result of pure luck, more often than not, planning and thinking makes “lucky” shots a lot more likely.


So, in no particular order:


  1. Photography is about LIGHT. I will elaborate on this in another post, but suffice to say: extraordinary light creates extraordinary photographs. Think about light: is it harsh or soft? Cold or warm? The best light conditions for nature and landscape photography are, in my opinion, at both ends of the day, i.e. sunrise and sunset and an hour or so before and after these.


  2. Viewpoint is very important. For instance, think about crouching or even lying down, or getting higher up. As humans, we're used to seeing things from our own eye level. If you take photographs from eye level, they can often look ordinary and therefore they run the risk of being rather boring. Don't stand where everyone else does: think outside the obvious.


  3. Get CLOSER. When I see photographs taken by self confessed amateurs, the most common fault I see is that there's a lot of space around the subject. Sometimes this is the result of not having a long enough lens, but most of the time, it is simply that the photographer did not get close enough. Walking usually works!


  4. Learn about lenses (if you use different lenses) or different focal lengths. It's not particularly hard and it will boost your creative powers massively. Most people understand that a wide angle lens lets you “get more in” and that telephoto (long) lenses “let you get closer”, but there's a lot more to it than that. I will elaborate on this subject very soon.


  5. Learn how to use (or not use!) your camera's functions. Do you know what all of those buttons do? Have a look at the manual or search online.


  6. Consider taking the camera off “AUTO” setting. This will give you far greater control and will, coincidentally, greatly increase your understanding of how to achieve certain goals.


  7. Don't fixate about gear. Remember that whilst ultra expensive lenses do tend to be sharper, they're useless unless you've mastered your techniques and understand how to squeeze the best image quality from both lens and camera. Also remember that modern photography magazines are almost always blatantly commercial: they rely on advertisers and hence want to sell their products for them. Journalistic integrity often falls by the wayside, since without product sales, the advertisers will not renew their advertisements. More on this soon.


  8. Become “lucky”. Whilst just “going for a walk” and taking the camera is absolutely fine, you will get better results if you think a little more about where you are going, what time of day it is, what time of year it is, and what's happening. For instance, if you go to a seabird colony in November, you won't get anything like the opportunities you'd get in the bird's breeding season. Similarly, think about the sun's position, how crowded a place is with people, or what flowers or trees are like at that time of year. Suddenly, you'll become a lot “luckier”.


  9. So many otherwise good shots are ruined by soft (out of focus or blurred) images. The main cause, particularly with longer lenses, is camera shake. And here I am, advising you to work at both ends of the day! There's two ways around this: either push the ISO up (See my post about your camera's ISO setting) and risk noise or carry a tripod. Also consider investing in a remote release. Simple ones are low cost. A tripod is cumbersome and really can feel like a millstone around your neck, but it's a sure way to getting sharp images in low light, particularly when using longer lenses.


  10. Study your own work. Be reasonably critical. Were you close enough? What is the light like? How about composition? Is the image sharp? Are there any distractions? How could you make the image better?


And at this point, I'd like to point out a serious pitfall many photographers have when evaluating their own work. And this is saying things like “It's only a cheap camera” or “It's only a phone camera” or “my lens isn't up to much” or “I didn't really have time”.


These are more statements about image quality rather than a true assessment of one's own compositional skills or eye for a good photo. Image quality is things like sharpness, distortion, colour transmission and defects like Chromatic Aberration. Assuming you've done everything right, there's not a tremendous amount you can do about these, so don't fret too much unless you like spending lots of money.


Think more about the artistic side of photography. Also, perhaps try to to imitate the work of a photographer whose work you like: chances are, you'll never be the same, but in trying, you'll discover your own style. Look at other people's photographs. How did they do it? When was it taken? And so on.


But here's the one tip someone DID give to me and I've followed it ever since. And it works.



]]> (Black Dog Photography) advice beginner help novice photography Tue, 08 Nov 2016 11:43:49 GMT
How to find and order prints from my website All of the photographs featured on my website are available as prints in just about any size you like.

These are fulfilled by numerous 3rd party labs, and the UK lab is one of the biggest and their quality standards are excellent.


Did you know that most photographs here are to be found by clicking OLDER IMAGES and NEW IMAGES on the main screen?


Older Images are very good photos, but were not taken with the same camera as New Images. Therefore, I have restricted the upper size limit of Older Images to ensure that you only get high quality prints. Camera technology moves on and my newest camera has far higher resolution and image quality.


There are two ways to find the photographs you want. You can click the appropriate link (New Images or Older Images) and inside you'll find other categories, broadly categorised as Landscapes, Nature and The Seaside.


Double click the folder you are interested in, and lots of small images will appear- these are called “Thumbnails”.


When you see a picture you like the look of, (a film strip appears at the bottom, or you can use the arrow icons to go backwards and forwards through the list), simply click it and you'll get a bigger image to look at. At the top is a heart shaped icon- this allows you to favourite the image, so you can come back and find it. The icon next to that allow you to share the image on social networks such as Facebook, Pinterest, Google + or Twitter or even Email. You can also share the entire gallery. This allows other people, such as friends, to see the image.


If you find a photograph that you'd like a print of, look at the panel on the right hand side.


This has prices and sizes. If you can't see the size or format you want, scroll down the price list until you come to “See all products”.


Click the “+” icon for each print you want at a certain size. There's nothing to stop you from ordering the same photo in different sizes, qualities (e.g. fine art) or whatever.


Another good way to find what you're looking for is to use the SEARCH function.


On the main view showing all the folders, (e.g landscapes, seaside and nature), look towards the top right of the web page and you'll see a small “Magnifying glass” icon. This is the search function. Type in what it is you're looking for.


Example: sunrise


This will show a series of tabs: galleries, collections, photos and videos. Select the Photos tab.


Once you've selected those photographs you want to buy prints of, it is merely a matter of filling in the usual online buying form using your address (for delivery) and your email address (to keep you informed about your order) and payment details. This is done securely, and a third party does all of this.


Also, a the bottom of each gallery is a Guestbook. Please feel free to comment on my photographs.

So, you can see that it's as easy as “find photo” (by looking or searching), select size(s) and finish, and then fill in a simple form, pay, and your order will be sent via third party professional labs to your home.


It's as easy as that!

]]> (Black Dog Photography) buying help prints search Tue, 08 Nov 2016 00:09:32 GMT
Your camera's ISO setting explained Your camera's ISO setting


Cameras work with light. However, light comes in different strengths, influenced by weather, location, time of year and time of day. This may sound obvious, and it is.


In the old days of using film, each film would come with a rating of how light sensitive it is. This is expressed as “ISO” and a number, e.g. ISO 200. The “ISO” part means “International Standards Organisation” (derived from “International Organisation for Standardisation”) and is just an agreed upon standard.


The number part refers to just how sensitive to light a film is. The higher the figure, the more sensitive to light a film is.


A film or setting that is more sensitive to light allows higher shutter speeds which, in turn, can prevent shaky images.


When I first started out in photography, back in the early 80's (1980's, not 1880's, thank you very much), film came in 25, 50, 64, 100 and 400 ISO.


Now, ask yourself: why should anyone want to use a 25 ISO film when he or she could use a 400 ISO film and avoid carrying a tripod?


The short answer is because of “grain” (and with digital, noise). All photos are made up of small dots (for film) or small blocks (pixels) for digital.


In the case of film, the higher the ISO, the larger these dots are. Eventually, this starts to show. Sharpness inevitably suffers and grain can look ugly, depending upon the subject. For instance, a grainy sky in a black and white landscape can look great, but if you were shooting a portrait, then grain usually looks terrible.


For digital, instead of grain, we have “digital noise”. Whilst film grain can have a certain charm, noise is just plain ugly. Noise is simply a mass of multicoloured dots or specks, usually in darker areas and often also in highlights. Colours often suffer at high ISO settings and inevitably, so does sharpness. Put simply, noise is best avoided.


Which is why I used to use a film called Kodachrome ISO 25........and a tripod in all but the brightest weather.


The main differences between film and modern digital is that for digital, ISO is not “fixed”. You can almost always adjust this. However, most cameras arrive from the factory with their ISO set to “AUTO”. This is where the camera's meter automatically works out when to push the ISO (light sensitivity) up. Obviously, some do this better than others.


But plainly, cameras are not infallible. They are not to know that you're using a tripod or support, for instance. Most cameras will assume that you're holding the camera in your hands and hence will set a high ISO to stop camera shake by setting a higher shutter speed.


As I've already mentioned, though, digital noise is rarely attractive. So, you're left to choose whether to leave the camera on AUTO ISO or control it yourself, maybe resorting to a support of some kind. A monopod, tripod or similar.


Some more expensive cameras do have noise control features built in. However, use these carefully, as noise removal almost always causes a loss of detail. Some cameras are better at this than others, and full frame DSLRs tend to have the edge.


In photography, it's rare to get something for nothing. You can keep the ISO high and risk noise, or you can keep the ISO low and endure carrying a tripod. Sometimes, you may be forced into raising the ISO because you really need that high shutter speed. To catch a fact moving object, for instance. Or you may need the slowest possible shutter speed to allow those “blurred water” shots beloved of landscape photographers.


The choice is yours, but my advice is to work out your own ways of working with ISO- but don't just leave it to the camera. Adjust to suit your aims and working conditions.


As a rule, I keep my camera's ISO usually at ISO 400, dropping to ISO 200 on very bright days or conditions. Only rarely will I go above this.


See what works for you. Study your photographs at least at 1:1 (full size) and see how the noise level is.


Most areas of photography are a compromise. Find your own way of working, but you'll find this best by experimenting and finding out exactly what these settings do. Come back here often, and I'll hopefully help with this.

]]> (Black Dog Photography) ISO beginner camera help novice photography Fri, 04 Nov 2016 21:46:40 GMT
Do I need an expensive camera to take great photos? It seems that popular opinion tends towards two extremes: the apathetic claim that one does need an expensive camera to take great photos, and the defensive tend to claim that “My phone takes great photos”, implying that all one needs is a phone.

So, who is right? Well, neither, really. But neither are entirely wrong, either.

There ARE reasons why people like me carry all that heavy gear about. However, it is important to realise that the reasons for this are not just image quality reasons. They're for reasons of having greater flexibility and control over our images and the subject. In short, all that gear allows one to get the kind of images a phone just cannot. A phone is primarily a telecommunications device with an inexpensive camera tacked on. That's absolutely fine, and it's always better to have any camera than none, but understandably, it has limits.

At the other end of the scale, a rucksack full of expensive gear, tripods and so on is of no use unless one can “see” images and one can use that equipment to get the image. Without a photographer's eye and a little photographic theory, all expensive gear allows are.....high quality failures.

They may be sharper, have more resolution, better colours than a “cheap” camera. But unless they're interesting, engaging and well put together images, they're still failures.

If I had to put my money on who would win: a good photographer with a phone versus a person who has not learned to “see” images with the expensive gear and who has no technical skills, I'd go for the former.

Yes, for ordinary purposes, you can get great images on a phone. In fact, you can get great images on any working camera. If you doubt this, take a look at the work of masters like Ansel Adams, the American landscape pioneer, or Henri Cartier Bresson, who back in the 1930's pretty much invented street and candid photography. Both used primitive cameras, with fixed lenses, with black and white film (mostly) and their method of “zooming” was to pick up the camera and walk!

What set them apart was their photographic “vision”: what was in front of them, what they saw, and how they chose to show it. All the technology in the world cannot help one to do this.

Over the years, I have seen camera fads come and go. (Takes a deep breath)...

Polaroid instant cameras, Kodak Instamatics (126 cartridge film), 110 cameras, disk cameras, 35mm compacts, 35mm “APS” (which allowed different image shapes and made loading 35mm film easier, allegedly), digital compacts, bridge cameras, digital SLR, medium format (6x6, 6x4.5, 6x7 and others). Some of these are still with us.

But each was mostly eagerly adopted by ordinary users and was often a disappointment. Why? Well, it is true that some of the above were pretty bad (110 film, for instance, has a negative not capable of much more than a standard photo lab print of 4 x5 inches). But mostly, it was because of the expectations camera manufacturers engendered in their advertisements: something modern photography magazines are equally as guilty of. Such advertisements as good as proclaim “With our camera, you'll suddenly become a great photographer!” and, of course, “With all this gear, you can't fail!”.

Well, yes you can.

Without the photographer's skill of seeing images, no amount of gear can help. So, how does one develop this “eye”? It starts with 3 things. And none of them cost money.

The first is to realise what it is you are trying to do. Photography is about LIGHT. Even when you're not carrying a camera, learn to study light. Not just in one place, but at different times of the day, or different times of the year. Autumn, for instance, (in Britain), frequently has early mornings with beautiful soft, golden light. Light is your palette. The camera is merely the brush. You are the eye and mind behind the brush. I will write a lot more on the subject of light in the future.

The second is obvious. Look at your images critically. What do they say? What were you trying to say? Are they sharp enough? Was the light right? Are you pleased with them?

Lastly- but absolutely most importantly- take LOTS of images. Get out there and take photos! Memory cards are cheap. If you can, have a camera of some kind with you always.

It doesn't matter whether you use a phone, an old Instamatic, 35mm, medium format or the latest offerings from Nikon and Canon. A photographer takes photographs. Go and take photographs!

And finally, to answer my own question (kind of). Do you need all that gear? That's up to you. Most keen photographers find that they want the level of flexibility and control (and, maybe) image quality a DSLR can bring. And some obsess over relative irrelevances such as megapixels, full frame versus cropped or endless tables on how lenses perform. Really, that's a sideshow.

Take photos however you want or with whatever you want. But take photos!

]]> (Black Dog Photography) cameras equipment help novice photography Tue, 06 Sep 2016 11:08:59 GMT
Hello world! Hello to everyone, and I hope that you like my photographs and website.

This being the first post to this blog, I thought that I'd spend some time explaining what my photography is about and what to expect from this blog.

I got my first "real" camera at the age of 15 or so.  A long time ago now!  It came with the standard lens (55mm), a 35mm wide angle, and a 135mm telephoto.   It used 35mm film and it wasn't long before I became dissatisfied with the results from the local automatic film labs.  I'd shoot a glorious sunset and the print came back an insipid pink.  If I was lucky.

And so on to monochrome, or black and white if you prefer.  I could develop this myself, but printing proved rather more difficult.  Every time I tried to print, someone would open the darkroom door or switch the light on.  I resorted to taking the light bulb out.

Films like Ilford Pan F, Kodak Tri-X and Ilford HP5 gave tremendous results.  But I also started to use positive (slide) film.  I learned immediately that there is little or no leeway when using this kind of film.  The finished slides are merely the film, cut into frames.  If you get the exposure wrong, there was nothing you could do.  And slide film was extremely exacting about exposures.

I suppose that what this taught me was the old fashioned truth about photography: a modicum of technical knowledge is required, in order to be able to fully use the camera and get the best from it.  You can get by without such knowledge, but you'll just make it harder to go that extra distance and get results where you wouldn't normally do so.

At the same time, all the technical knowledge in the world won't help if you don't learn to see things, and what's more, to see them in unusual ways. One thing I have learned is that the ordinary is often very beautiful, and that many people simply don't see it.

Whilst I also do landscapes, I also enjoy detail, such as a leaf over a river which reflects Autumn leaves.  Or the delicacy of spiders webs strung with early morning dew.

So often, when I'm out and about, I see walkers. Few carry cameras, despite the fact that cameras in general have never been more portable and convenient.  Many merely stampede past and quite often, they don't see what I'm looking at, and very often, they don't even see me or my dog. 

Such a waste of a walk!

This blog will be to show you new collections of photographs, and will also have lots of useful tricks and tips and ideas to encourage people to use their camera, understand a few technical facts which WILL help, and hopefully to help you develop your own way of seeing good photographs.

Because it starts with your eyes.  The camera is merely there to record what the eyes and mind can see. It's not rocket science and it's not all about equipment.  There's a (probably) apocryphal story about when famous American landscape photographer Ansel Adams met the writer Ernest Hemingway.  Hemingway remarked that Adams' photos were so great that he must have a very expensive and fancy camera.  Later, Adams remarked that Hemingway's books were so good, he must have a wonderful typewriter.

Or, as a friend of mine commented, when David Beckham scored a goal, no-one said "Wow, he must have really good boots".

You can buy expensive camera gear, but your eyes are far more important and cost nothing.  The trick is to learn to use them.  Come back here and I'll show you how.

]]> (Black Dog Photography) help introduction photography Tue, 30 Aug 2016 23:41:20 GMT