Friday, July 30, 2010

Mini Review: Silver Efex Pro

I'm a big fan of Nik Software's plugins for Adobe Photoshop*. I've been using their Sharpener Pro for quite while and it's excellent.

In the next few months I going to be producing more monochrome images, and after downloading a free trial of Silver Efex Pro, I ended up buying it. Long story short, this bit of software makes it easy to create a variety of black and white effects (it has over 20 preset effects, can simulate the effect of coloured filters and can emulate your favourite black and white film) and is a very good starting point for creating your own monochrome 'look'.

My only complaint is the plugins are not available for 64-bit versions of Photoshop at the time of writing (apparently 64-bit plugins are under development). Photoshop automatically installs both 32 and 64-bit versions on 64-bit systems. but it's a real waste of time having to do part of my post-processing in 64-bit and then having to close Photoshop and then open the 32-bit version... come on Nik!

*Can also be installed for Adobe Lightroom.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ebay Sale


I'm continuing to have a clear out of camera gear on ebay, this week I have a few filter adapters (including Lee Filters type), some Billingham partitions and a couple of cases from Tamrac and Lowepro.

There's a couple of non photographic lots as well.

I've been trading on ebay for 8 years and have very good feedback:

You can find my auctions here, good luck if you decide to bid on anything!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mountain-top photography (part 3 of 5 - camera gear)

Not much change here, I'll still take a Nikon D300 body, but lenses will be pared down to save weight. The Nikkor 24mm PC-E and zoom lenses will stay at home for most of these trips.

Instead I'll take a couple of 30 year old Nikon AI/AI-S manual focus lenses with me. Manual focus is no disadvantage for landscape, they are optically good, tough, and have good clear depth-of-field scales, unlike modern zoom lenses :-(

My 20mm f/2.8 & 28mm f/3.5 together weigh in at well under 500 grams (about 250 grams less than the 24mm PC-E). I'm keeping an eye out for a good 20mm f/4, a favourite of the late Galen Rowell, as this would save a little more weight and is more compact, or even a Voigtlander.

I have been using Lowepro pouches to protect lens and camera, but I'm switching to an Optech neoprene cover for the camera body and Snoot Boot (also by Optech) for the lenses. These take up much less volume in the pack, while still providing excellent protection.

Clockwise from top left: ND grads and polariser; Nikon D300; 28 & 20mm lense;
accesories (spare battery, cleaning cloth, shower cap, etc)

Tripod - essential in my opinion - is an old Manfrotto Carbon Fibre 441, with a short column and an FLM ball head with Kirk quick release, weighing in at about 1.4 kilo. The legs go neatly one side of the pack in a pocket design for walking/ski poles and the column and head go in the opposite side pocket, with the head protected by another Snoot Boot :-)

Snoot Boots: they're great! They come with belt loop and a clip for attaching to straps, D-rings, etc.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Slow Internet?

As someone who likes to travel to some of the more remote areas of the UK, I was an enthusiastic early-adopter of Mobile Broadband for my laptop. I could see the potential for keeping in touch and checking the weather forecast (which is a bit of an obsession for UK-based landscape photographers, I'd imagine!).

The Mobile Broadband experience has improved greatly in recent years, but I often still find myself in an area where I cannot get a 3G connection, and instead have to rely on the older, and much slower, GPRS service.

I found a great product though that helps to make a GPRS connection usable and bearable, and I've been using it for years. Onspeed is both an application that runs on your PC, and a web-based service. For an explanation of how it works, see here.

All you really need to know though is that it can speed up a GPRS connection significantly, my experience being about a 5 to 8 times increase. You can even adjust the amount of acceleration, at the expense of the quality of images on webpages if you crank it right up. Find out more here.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Mountain-top photography (part 2 of 5 - camping gear)

My camping gear for mountain-top photography started out as:

Berghaus 90+10 litre Bioflex rucksack

Very comfortable, very big! The Bioflex system means that the thick padded hip belt articulates separately from the shoulder straps. This makes for a very natural gait even when fully loaded.

Stay or Go? Stays!

Thermarest Ridgerest foam sleep mat

Very light, easy to pack-up, nothing to go wrong.

Stay or Go? Stays!

NATO Goretex bivvy bag

Robust, spacious but getting on for a kilo in weight.

Stay or Go? Goes!

Mountain Equipment Mithril III sleeping bag

Very warm, but around 1.5 kilo. A down bag would probably save a lot of weight.

Stay or Go? Goes!

Go Systems Trail Stove

Incredibly light, compact and great value. Mine has Piezo ignition which is convenient, but I always take matches and lighter, just in case! Comes in a plastic storage box which doubles as a cup/mug.

Stay or Go? Stays!

Not really a kettle at all, more miniature saucepan and lid. Perfect for one, and the Go Systems stove in it's plastic box fits right inside!

Stay or Go? Stays!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Abseiling off Fort Dunlop today

My better half, Penny, abseiled 100 feet down Fort Dunlop in Birmingham today with her friend Liz.

Liz suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and both did it in aid of the MS Society.

Why didn't I take my PC lens instead of an LX3? Doh!

(Image courtesy of Oosoom)

You can donate to the MS Society by clicking here.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Which camera?

This is something I get asked all the time, and the single parameter that most people seem to measure digital cameras by is the number of megapixels.

The question to ask is: how big do you want to print? Wassat, you NEVER print? OK, then you need no more than a 2MP image, which will easily fill the average computer screen. Oh, hang on although your images are mainly posted on the web, you occasionally wanted to print A4?

The rule of thumb for commercial printing (magazines, books, etc) is that you need no more than 300 dots per inch (dpi) on the printed page. So for your A4 print, you need around 6 to 8MP, based on a 6MP image being about 3000 pixels wide (3000 pixels divided by 300dpi = 10 inches). That's it, job done!

For detailed comparisons of digital cameras, see here.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Mountain-top photography (part 1 of 5)

One of my favourite photographic 'pursuits' is wild-camping on or near a mountain-top, so that I can (hopefully) catch a sunset and sunrise. I don't get to do it that often, but I really enjoy it, even if I don't get the pictures I planned! The image above was taken at sunrise from the top of Bowfell, in the Lake District, after a particularly uncomfortable night!

I'm planning a few trips over coming months, including a third attempt near Tryfan in North Wales. The first attempt, with my friend and fellow photographer Vlad, was thwarted by miserable weather (in fact our tent blew away). The second attempt was frustrated by a miserable Welsh hill-farmer.

In preparation for the upcoming trips I've been trimming down my pack weight. There's nothing worse than struggling up a mountain weighed down by gear and feeling too tired to make the most of the vantage point.

In the next few posts I'll be describing how I've slimmed down my kit to a bare (but comfortable) minimum. The focus here is keeping safe, warm and dry - but without luxuries or distractions. My starting point was a pack weight of around 15kilos (33lbs), not including water!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

DNS & Photoshelter

Very confused about this DNS stuff. I have a couple of domains that I don't use any more except they are re-directed to my main domain, which routes via a CNAME to my site hosted by Photoshelter:

Thing is these other domains now direct to a default, generic Photoshelter page:

I can soft of understand why, as you have to specify your external domain for Photoshelter, and you can only have one. I guess my other domains don't 'look like' they come from the specified domain.

Not a huge problem, but even now I've pointed these other domains directly to my hosted pages on Photoshelter, it still doesn't work. Not the end of the world but confused!?

Frustrating weather!

I was all set for an early start this morning, but the UK weather didn't behave as forecast (again!). When the alarm went off at 4.30am(!), a quick look out the window revealed grey cloud and flat shadow-less light. Arrrrggggh!!! The upside is I got to go back to bed for an hour :-)
No change yet, so I'm going to go out to some woods and shoot some macro's - the flat light should be OK under tree cover, where often the high contrast between shafts of sunlight and deep shadow can be problematic on a sunny day.
In the mean time I've been stuck in front of my computer trying to get my domain names to point to my new website. So far works but my other domains seem to go to a generic Photoshelter page, not my website hosted there. Bit frustrating as any DNS changes typically take up to 48 hours to propagate across the web, so I've resolved to leave it for now and try again later in the week.