Friday, 19 December 2014

The Gift

Tom stared at the words on the card. 'Be careful what you wish for...' it said, followed by a text number. He turned the card over. Blank. 
Tom scratched his head and tried to think of any friends who might be playing a joke on him. Then he realized he had no friends. Enemies then? He had more than a few of those. That thought made him step slightly away from the strange box at his feet. Then he peered suspiciously each way down the street of his shabby suburban home on the outskirts of Chicago. There was no one around, just rows of similarly shabby homes that stretched away into the distance on either side of him. All were festooned with Christmas lights and decorations. Idiots, Tom thought.
He kicked the box tentatively and ducked back in case it exploded. But it didn't, it just skittered away and lay there invitingly. Not very heavy then, Tom thought. He picked it up and was surprised by it's lightness. He shook it a little but nothing rattled. He placed the box  back on the ground and looked again at the card then stuffed it inside a pocket. Nobody gives me presents, he thought. This is some sort of gag I'm not falling for. Bloody Christmas. He wished it and the season and all the stupid festivities were over and done with. He noticed the box shudder slightly. The wind must be picking up, Tom thought and took it inside. 
He placed the box in the middle of his room and sat down to consider this strange box. It looked weird and out of place, the bright ribbons and garish wrapping incongruous in his bare undecorated house. Tom didn't like it. All brash and colourful; not his taste at all. 
He fished out the card from his pocket and stabbed the text number into his phone. A message immediately appeared:
'Congratulations! You have received a gift brought to you by Old Nick, we are sure you will find it the perfect antidote to the horrible commercial overindulgence that is Christmas! No charge! Free your soul! If you like your gift, just text back YES or NO!' 
Tom scratched his head again but he decided he liked the 'no charge bit' very much. Putting the phone down he torn open the gift. A plain cardboard box stared back at him. Pulling the flaps aside he looked inside. Nothing. Empty. No wonder it was light. So this IS a joke! What mean-spirited bastard had decided to do this to him? He kicked the empty box into a corner and switched the TV on.
Strange, there was no colour. He banged the set on the side. Still it remained in black and white. He watched the commercials desultory, bracing himself for the constant Christmas Carols and all the rest. But there was nothing of the sort. Only adverts for haemorrhoid creams, constipation pills and extortionate money loans. Tom brightened noticeably and glanced at the empty box. Then he walked outside. There was not a sign of Christmas to be seen. Not a house was decorated. Tom closed his gaping mouth and walked back inside, sat down, and stared at the box. Then stared at the dull black and white TV and thought about the drab houses.
Tom picked up the phone and smiled as he started texting his reply.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Photography is not art...

The oxygen that we breath for life is also the very thing that eventually kills us.  A bit like this debate...

There are two PoV's arguments in this Guardian article. The headline one is a vitriolic and insanely anti-photography diatribe remarkable for its luddite excesses preaching basically only to the zealots and foolish. I can only hope the undecided and more sane-thinking people take the time to read the counter-point given by Sean O'Hagan. This whole thing is basically a non-argument. There is no real debate here as Jonathan Jones has no firm ground for his ridiculous and general extrapolations on photographic 'art' based as it is on a single image.

Visual Art for me is the ability to convey thought, imagination and emotion. The resulting response will inevitably depend on the state of consciousness of the viewer concerned and their ability to understand and appreciate what they are viewing through the natural filters of their prejudices. (of which we all suffer knowingly or not)

My own view is that photography is fundamentally a craft through which a rare few individuals successfully overcome its inherent mechanical limitations (and also the prejudices of  viewers) to create images of communicative and emotional value, entirely worthy of the term 'art'. Just like any other visual media in fact.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Wildlife Pictures

I'd forgotten that a few months ago I'd sent in a couple of shots to the Daily Mail's Wildlife competition. This week I received an email from their commissioning editor to let me know one of the shots has been chosen to be displayed at The Strand Gallery in London until this Sunday. Although it wasn't one of the winners, it however was displayed in their on-line gallery, so not a bad result really. This is the screen shot from their on-line gallery.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Big in Japan

My son-in-law's brother has just signed a contract with Sony music and has placed one of his songs with one of the biggest bands in Japan, cool! He has the pop star looks already and the talent to be big everywhere! Good luck David Johnston! This is his track by the group Arashi.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Sebastiao Salgado

One of my all-time favourite photographers has a film out about his work. On general retease but unlikely to be seen here. I guess I'll have to wait for the DVD ...

Friday, 28 November 2014

Half Moon Run

Terrific video, even better song and wonderful album. Yeah, I bought it...

Focus Stacking

This is my first and so far only attempt at focus stacking. It's a bit fiddly but easy to do. The strip on the left is the four original shots combined into the one image above. If you open the strip image you should be able to see the four original (unadjusted) shots and their different focus points moving back to front. I really should have used six shots as there is still a region of soft focus in the centre of the apple if you look closely. 

I downloaded THIS software from Helicon Focus which is free for 30 days. Very simple to use and brilliant.

Camera D90, Lens 105mm Micro-Nikkor (a 30+ year old manual focus lens, cheap on ebay) Tripod, f16, 1 second exposure.

Lighting?  Window on a cloudy day.

Friday, 21 November 2014


My eldest this week was having a great time being filmed for the BBC dancing with Ola and Steve for this Saturday's Strictly Come Dancing on the BBC. She has a life, I have a garden. And I can tell you having a garden is very underrated in comparison. Especially (I imagine) when the alternative is dancing with the lovely Ola. Sweeping up bloody leaves is an odorous, tedious, repetitive, miserable, soul destroying task. Oh for an apartment in the city and dancing cheek to cheek.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Art Photography

Photo critique of pictures is tough thing to do.

And it's even tougher receiving crits that are tough to hear. When in college back before PC sensibilities was adopted, I along with my peers, suffered some really harsh crits on our work. I remember often leaving the group crit sessions where everyone was torn to pieces feeling shattered. But at the same time I was also invigorated and refreshed and even more determined to show the bastards something that would knock their eyes out. (one of the unstated aims of crit was exactly this response)

Then, when faint praise was indeed eventually wrenched from their clenched and bitter teeth, the sense of achievement was empowering. The whole experience made you tougher on understanding the failings of your own work and abilities and forced you to think harder about what you would settle for.

On the other hand, some were also disillusioned into giving up trying. I never understood this defeatism. You either want to do it passionately, or you don't. And that goes for passion of opinion for  what works or doesn't work.

This old fashioned rip-it-apart crit of a persons photographic ability isn't fashionable any more. Nurture and encouragement is the thing now. Maybe rightly so. But the softly softly, caring and understanding approach also leads to sterility and lack of passion. The everyone's opinion is valid theory. (Not true)

Fundamentally, if you, or the person viewing/criting doesn't get worked up, why bother? With limp, detached don't-frighten-the-horses crit appraisal the creative fire runs the risk of dying to an ember when it should instead be stoked into a glorious flare of incandecant energy.

Bruce Gilden is a street photographer whose style and photography I don't much like. But I admire his down-to-earth approach and his say-it-as-he-see's-it, opinions. Here he is giving forth on some art photography. There is an annoying 20 seconds advertisement before either of the two vids play and some of the sound is dodgy).

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Half-Way House

'Steve, stop it, I don't like it, no, NO! Don't you dare come near me...'

But Natalie couldn't help but laugh; frightened yet delighted by Steve's portrayal of a monster from the depths of Hell.

'Steve... STEVE!'

Steve ignored her and began to roar in his best strangulated terror-voice. Natalie turned on her heels, running away as fast as she could. He blundered after her, his arms waving theatrically, face covered by a blood-streaked Halloween mask. Nearby, young children dressed up in cloaks and masks clung a little tighter to their mothers as they stared at the two teenagers racing across the park while older kids whooped with crude insults or crass encouragement.

Steve was gaining on her but the mask was making it difficult to see. He slowed, pushing it over his head. Natalie was still running and looking back over her shoulder, her face beaming with delight at the race.

'I'm gona get ya!' Steve shouted, launching himself after her.

Shrieking in laughter, Natalie ran harder but was no match for the turn of speed that Steve could command. Just as Steve caught up, he saw the danger. Saw what Natalie, her face turned back in laughter, could not.

'Natalie! STOP!'

'NO!' Natalie shouted, still laughing, still running, not noticing the change of tone in Steve's voice.

Fuelled by horror, Steve legs pounded at the ground, trying to move him forward, yet feeling as if he were running through quick-sand. Time slowed. Things sharpened into fine details.

Natalie's face turned towards him, unaware. Her smile crinkling the skin around sparkling eyes that were busy building as yet invisible laughter lines, her hair swirling in the air around her head, the light of the low-setting sun painting golden warmth on skin patterned by freckles. That sweet smile fading as she registered his grim, determined expression - and a split second later, the bus bearing down upon her.

Steve shook the blackness from his mind and looked down at Natalie who was underneath his body blinking back up at him. They both turned to look at the bus which had screeched to a stop sixty feet down the road.

'Shit, you ok?'

Natalie nodded back a little uncertain. Then, realising the position and weight of his body pressing down upon her, blushed in embarrassment. Steve climbed to his feet and pulled Natalie up.

'Sorry about that.'

'No, that's ok. Steve, don't you know what you did? You just saved my life!'

'Did I? Hey, maybe I did at that. Major points for me, huh? I guess this means I get a reward, huh?'

'Maybe. But don't push your luck.'

'Yeah, yeah, ok. Look, lets get out of here, it's embarrassing with all these people staring.'

They both looked around at the small crowd who had gathered with the commotion.

'Yeah, we were pretty stupid.'

'Speak for yourself, I'm the hero here. Ouch! Hey! Why'd you hit me?'

'“Hero's” don't say “ouch” when a girl pokes them.'

'Depends on the girl... Ouch! Hey! Ok, ok, lets head over to the hillside cafe, get a drink, it's not too far to walk, come on.'

As they began walking, Natalie slipped her hand into his and smiled.

'How old are these buildings, Steve?'

'Dunno, Victorian I guess. Big aren't they?'

Natalie tried peering without being too obvious into each house they passed, but the large bay-fronted windows kept their secrets behind heavy curtains within their small and neatly trimmed front gardens. The colour of the gardens contrasted with walls black with the grime and soot from countless chimneys.

'Yeah, big. But they should clean them up, they're filthy.'

'Yeah, back then Nat, they used coal fires to heat houses.'

'Oh, you know everything, don't you Steve.'

'Not everything. My Grandma told me when she were alive,' Steve grinned. 'It's all the smoke that's made them black. She used to go on and on about the “old days”. That house over there. Look! There's smoke coming from its chimney. It looks a real dump. Funny, never noticed the place before. Let's go have a look.'

'Well, I don't like it much,' Natalie said, wrinkling her nose at the rusted iron gate, hanging half-open to a weed covered path leading to the front door. 'And MY Granddad used to say he hated the old days. And I can see why now.'

'Naw, this place got real character this has.'

'You just said it was a dump.'

'Changed my mind.'

'Hmm, I think you were right the first time. Where you going?'

'Get a closer look. Come on,' Steve said, giving her no option as he dragged her behind him into the garden. 'It's dark now, no one will notice us.'

They were half way down the path when the front door opened.

Natalie grabbed Steve's arm and hid behind him, whispering urgently into his ear: 'You said no one would notice!'

'Can I help you?'

The woman at the door, dressed as if she were appearing in a Victorian melodrama, waited patiently for a reply.

'Well, say something hero!' Natalie whispered to Steve.

'Erm, we were just, err, admiring your house.' He announced unconvincingly.

'Admiring her house? Really?' Natalie hissed into his ear while pinching him.


'I beg your pardon, what was that?' The woman asked.

Natalie sighed and stepped forward.

'What he, what Steve was trying to say is that he, I mean we, just liked the look of your house. Very, err, Victorian like. Isn't it?

'Well, yes, I suppose you could say that, it having been built during the reign of our good Queen Victoria. Can't say I've ever heard that phrase however. Very odd. Would you like a cup of tea?'

'No, that's very kind, but no than...'

'Yes, we'd love a cup of tea, thank you,' Steve cut in.



'Sorry, err, my shoes are hurting me, sorry.'

'They are? Oh, well, why don't you come in... Steve wasn't it? And Natalie. I'm Mrs Glendale. Do please come inside.'

'How'd she know my name?' Natalie whispered.

'Maybe I mentioned it, I dunno, come on, just stop pinching me will you!' Steve hissed back, as they walked inside the house.

'Do please go into the drawing room, make yourself comfortable and I'll be with you shortly, ' Mrs Glendale told them.

'This is something else, this is!' Steve said, bouncing on an over-stuffed settee and looking around.

'Looks like a museum to me, full of junk.'

'Yeah, you know, it's just like my Grandma's house, she loved filling her place with stuff everywhere. You couldn't move for crap.'

'Yeah, my Granddad's place was a bit like this too, I suppose.' Natalie said, examining a set of diminishing porcelain ducks.

'Here you are, two cups of tea, I do so enjoy meeting new arrivals at Half-Way house.'

'New arrivals?' Natalie asked.

'Yes dear, new people. Always interesting, don't you think?'

Natalie and Steve exchanged glances and shrugged.

'Half-Way House?' Is that the name of this place then?' Steve asked.

'Yes, dear, it is.'

'Funny, I've lived in this town all my life and never noticed it before'.

'Oh, it's always been here, dear. Different people see it differently I suppose. And at different times of course.'

Natalie moved to where Steve was sitting, taking his hand in her own.

'Steve, I don't like this. I think want to go. Now. Please.'

Steve didn't answer, he was staring at the door the woman had just left through.


'Yeah Nat, I think you're right. This is getting seriously weird. See that mirror by the door.'


'Tell me what you see when she comes back into the room.'


'Just that... she walked past and I swear I didn't see her. In the mirror I mean. It must be a trick of the light. Mustn't it? Just watch to see her reflection, that's all. When she comes back.'

'Oh, I get it. Your trying to scare me, right?' This being halloween and all.'

Steve looked at her blankly, then smiled. 'Yeah, you got me. Shh, she's back...'

'My dears, there's someone here who'd like to meet you both. I nearly said they're dying to meet you, silly me. Oh! Are you all right? You both look like you've seen a ghost!'

Steve and Natalie couldn't speak, staring first at Mrs Glendale and then at the vision of their long dead Grandparents standing next to her.

'Hello my darling boy,' said Steve's Grandma. 'I'm so proud of you, always have been. And you so very nearly managed to save Natalie's life. So brave! You really are hero, you know. To everyone.'

'Ouch,' said Steve, as Natalie pinched him for the last time.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Competing With Cats

Competing With Cats

You're an artist. I'm an artist. We're all artists. Actually, no, we're not.

Very few of us are. And even those that are acclaimed by the great and the good and receive vast amounts of dosh for their 'art', are often at best, dubious artists. Art is in the eye of the beholder, I hear you artistically whine? Maybe...

But the plain fact is that, for the likes of you and me having our photographic work appreciated (or if you're on FaceBook etc, liked) you have to compete with the Cham-Set-top-Boxreally good pictures.

Those of cats.

I like cats. I really do. Most people do. Except for dog people. (By that I mean people who like dogs, not the dog people race who I think are wonderful and won't have a bad word said against them despite the fact they are clearly barking) [explanation for our American reader: barking as in barking-mad] These two pictures on the right are of my own cat, now sadly an ex-cat no longer with us.

Where was I?

Yes, I like cats. And really, you can't compete with cat pictures. A cute cat picture will garner kazzilions of 'likes' and 'faves' on whatever social media site you care to put them. By contrast, your own work might get one like. Or maybe five, if you're really lucky.

And this despite the fact you trudged for two days through freezing weather to reach that one rare inaccessible spot where the light at a certain time (and not any other time) brings out the landscape into melting dew-dripping loveliness. And to capture this view, your back is now killing you from carrying a tripod and a bag of photo-gear so heavy that it would make a commando faint.
Then you've trudged back home arriving two stones lighter [again, for our American reader: a stone is a heavy rocky thing we use to estimate weight] complete with twisted ankle, water-damaged expensive camera and foot-rot. But it's all worthwhile because you have the most exquisite photograph nestling on your memory card. This is then painstakingly tweaked over many hours at the computer to show off the finest detail and softness of hue your camera can produce. Frankly, it's a masterpiece.
But it gets only five views, two likes and some bastard comments: “Pretty Colours!” while the fluffy bastard cute cat shot gets drooled over and liked in the thousands.

Cham the Hunter Low Res
Obviously this is just an example. No really, it is. Things like this don't bother me. At all. Nope.

This post was inspired by the following post from

I have a fun story regarding the whole "go comment, make friends, and you will receive comments in return".
So I had been using this photo community site (name not disclosed, but it's a big one) for a couple of years, and my photos were decent, a few good ones. Whenever I posted a new one, I would get maybe 5 comments and a few upvotes/downvotes. A dozen people added me the their favorites over the years. Nothing major.
At the same time there were a few dozen posters there with absolutely shit photos and they always got a hundred comments and nearly perfect ratings on every single photo.
So I looked at what they did - and, as a programmer, I thought - I could write a bot that did all of that. And so I did. It did a very simple set of actions on every new photo posted:
Give it 5 stars.
Write a randomly generated comment made up of chunks like "absolutely amazing", "so beautiful", "you're talented", "adding you to my favorites", "A+++", etc.
Added the author to the favorites.
Gave the author +rep or something along the lines
Before I launched it I posted a few very average photos under the bot's account, who also had some random girl's pic in the profile.
Then one evening I launched, watched it for a few minutes, and went to sleep.
When I woke up, HOLY SHIT.
Every single photo of mine had perfect 5 star ratings with dozens and dozens of votes, tons of comments from the happy noobs who got "discovered" by me, almost all of them added me to their favorites, I had like 50 friends overnight.
During the day when the site hit peak traffic, it went even more insane, everything quadrupled, my latest photo became the photo of the day on the front page.
By then a few people figured out wtf was going on, because I was too lazy with writing randomized comments, they didn't have much variety. By the end of the day the bot got banned. But the damage was done. I posted on their forum explaining the whole thing. Many people were angry, because it exposed how full of shit the photo critique communities are, many were laughing and laughing. A few regulars quit. And so did I.
That's why I only ask for the negative feedback to my work. Getting positive feedback is just too easy.”
Amen to that...

Wednesday, 15 October 2014



Why do we use animals to describe some of the things we do - like having a Lark, Chimping or Dogging? Actually only one of these expressions directly relate to photography. Having a Lark simply means having fun which, if you use a camera you should be and Dogging... well, I suppose photography and fun could be ascribed to this particular activity, but let's move on shall we.

I'm an old film guy who was used to waiting hours and maybe days before I found out if the shot I'd taken was over-exposed or otherwise ruined. Now of course, we check the screen on the back of the camera. This is Chimping. And it's a habit we all get into and use too much at our peril.

Not least because I've bumped into too many people who have stopped dead in their tracks because they're checking the shot they've just taken. Fine if the person bumped into is a wonderful and fragrant women who then turns to you and instantly falls in love, offering you her all. But of course this never, ever, happens. At least me. I shudder at the memory of the weight-challenged American guy I once bumped into and promptly bounced off. For all I know he's still quivering, a fleshy tsunami circulating around his waist.

The real reason of course, is because you can miss an important shot by taking your eye off the ball. Or rather camera. No, not camera - the action. Whatever it is you are supposed to be capturing. Or not capturing, because you are chimping. See?

How to mitigate chimping? Try using film. Or just switch off your preview. This is harder than you think. We, and I include myself here, are addicted in a greater or lesser extent, to chimping.

I'm thinking of setting up a retreat for photographers who can't stop chimping to save their grannies lives. I'll paint over their screens with indelible black ink and wave an inflatable naughty finger at them if they so much as dare glance away from what they are photographing. The Great Fickle Finger of Shame shall be pointed towards them, and their peers will shake with fear and loathing for they could be next.

Only when the 'event' has passed, should you chimp to your hearts delight. Of course, this means having great confidence in what and how you take pictures...

That means amongst other things, making sure you have the camera on all the right settings before you shoot and know from what you shoot what you should adjust for, AS you shoot. It means getting in the habit of using the focus and exposure lock in a way so you will not screw up if the shot moves from say, darkness to sky - because you will compensate as you shoot.

This takes a degree of skill.

Trust yee not, the auto-exposure and focus of the magical box. Trust in thine abilities.

Here endeth the sermon. Go forth and capture. 
(photo above from the BBC via Rob Lamb's photo blog)