Thursday, August 30, 2012

What makes a good Photography Blog....?

Photography blogs do indeed seem quite common these days. As I have said here before, it seems a natural path for the keen amateur/professional photographer to take, to have their own platform to display their images and I think (obviously) they are wonderful things. I very much enjoy visiting photography blogs, seeing all the new photos people have uploaded and thoughts they have shared. I do though seem to have formed fairly strong opinions recently on what makes a good photography blog/blogger and rather than just keep them to myself, thought I would share them all today. So I'm going to look at it in reverse, i.e what I don't like about photography blogs. Please bear in mind that the following list is just my humble opinion. It's one of the great things about having a photography blog. These are not cast in stone rules and are certainly not meant to criticise anyone in particular. I'm very happy though for everyone to share their thoughts or comment on anything I have said.

So here it goes, in no particular order, these are things I think do not make a good photography blog:

* No interactivity by the blogger whatsoever - This is one that seems to have grated me a little recently. It's not that I want a full thank you and critique of my thoughts if I leave them on your page, but to say nothing to anyone who has posted is just ridiculous. I'm particularly referring to 'celebrity photographers' (which of course is only used within photography circles - most people do not know any photographers they can name, which is a good thing), some of them are lucky to get even 1 comment and still they do not acknowledge that comment. I have been 1 of 2 or 3 people to share my thoughts on a particular blog that has interested me, and the author chooses not to respond to these thoughts. It's actually quite illogical to me. You are never too big not to respond to people commenting on your site. The best photography bloggers do acknowledge comments and respond to thoughts shared.

* Infrequent posting - Yes I know, we are all very busy and nearly all of us have commitments outside the photography world. I know it isn't easy. I promise 3 blogs a week and struggle sometimes to find the inspiration to post. So I do understand the other commitments. But the problem you have to face is, if you do not post for a long time, people are going to stop checking your site for content. If you are going to be away for a while, you may as well just let people know, rather than just leave us guessing what's happened. And yes I do worry.....

* Lack of variety - I am working on this one myself. Rarely does someone post great photo after great photo, so it pays to have other thoughts and concepts to share. How about a video you like? Or a slideshow you have created? Or a blog about the latest photography rumours/releases? Again, I am working on all this like the rest of you, I have just come to realise that the best blogs, have something a bit more to offer than just photos.

* Routine comments - Now this one I know might be a bit controversial. I have to get it off my chest though and for good reason. Because I think it hinders you as a photographer rather than helps you progress. What I mean is there are many blogs out there that have the 'I scratch your back, you scratch mine philosophy'. Now of course I am not saying do not share your thoughts or interact with other bloggers. It's great that these micro communities build up and comment on each other's pictures, but again I refuse to believe you like every single picture a particular person posts. If you just comment on people's posts because they comment on yours, you are not really being honest. I'm only saying this is as I said because it's like the 'American Idol' false belief mentality. As long as people who like you, are telling you are really good, you are deluding yourself and won't become any better. I think there is an unwritten rule with my blogger friends that we comment on pictures we particularly like and that way, we know if it's 'a good one' or not. If I get more than a few comments, I know it's probably a genuinely good picture. I'd like to balance this up by saying I rarely look at a photo and think 'I don't like that'. But if you are going to comment regularly on someone's blog, then you should say what you like and what could be improved (some people are good at that) but I rarely see that.

* Having an agenda against a certain photographer/photography company - This is the last but certainly not least element. Again this one you see mainly in the 'celebrity photographer' arena. I'd love to point out examples but then that might seem to be having an agenda of my own. Needless to say there are well-known photographers who have written huge rants about what they think of another photographer's recent actions/efforts and to me it is as unprofessional as you can get. Over criticising one photo company or site, shows to me you have connections or money coming in from opposite sources as well. Again, I'm not saying don't have an opinion, we are all indeed entitled to it, but there is a difference between sharing your thoughts and looking like a petulant 15 year old whose girlfriend left him. Don't make it personal.....

So those are some of my thoughts. Having written this, I will probably think of many more but very happy anyway to hear your thoughts on what makes a good photography blog.

Today's picture is taken from Hever Castle in Kent, at the magnificent lake within it's grounds.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Country Life of the Cotswolds

Often seen as one of the most desirable places to live in the British Isles, the Cotswolds is an area of land that mainly encompasses Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, and is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There are 2 villages within the Cotswolds, Bibury and Castle Combe, that I have posted photos of for well over a year now. The villages that you find in the Cotswolds are largely untouched by time and architecturally date back hundreds of years. For this reason they are very often used as sets in period movies and TV programmes. There are many villages to be found in the Cotswolds though, and include the subject of today's picture, Lacock, which was the latest of the Cotswold villages I have visited.

This is an HDR shot, though rather than use bracketed images, I sometimes just use a single RAW file, such as today's picture. This arguably (tediously as well) means it is or is not an HDR image, but it really doesn't matter. I like to put photos through the Photomatix works, as I still find that whatever you are trying to achieve, it helps the picture come to life a lot; adding superb colour and detail.

I'm now back from my busy couple of weekends abroad, but expect to be busy still for over a month, as the days begin to count now until my wedding in late September. I may take a break for a couple of weeks around that time, to get my priorities right (and take a break for taking a break's sake), but until then will continue to blog as usual 3 times a week.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

It's Summer so Let's Play!

Well I hope the weather in England, indeed wherever you are, is fantastic today because it's less than a week now until the end of August and the beginning of autumn. Not that autumn isn't a great time for the photographer, indeed some rate it as the best season. As I said on Thursday, I am currently in Poland this weekend, returning tomorrow. In fact, I'm writing this on Wednesday, so it wasn't really said on Thursday at all. This has gone all Back to the Future, so I'll quit while I'm ahead.

This another picture I took within the grounds of Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire. No one including myself can resist picking up a Croquet mallet, should it be lying on the ground waiting to be played, and indeed it is what I did after I took this picture. Croquet is such a uniquely summer game, that it seems a shame looking at it now, knowing that the on/off (mainly off) summer we had in England is shortly to be gone. Oh well, here's to what's left of the summer, hope you had a great one!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Mary's Church

Yes I know, the title should really be St. Mary's Church but I thought that was a bit boring and obvious. But this is indeed St. Mary's Church in Shaw, Newbury. In fact, next door is the historically famous Shaw House, the scene of the 2nd Battle of Newbury, one of the turning points of the English Civil War. I took this picture on Tuesday night, when we had a spectacular sunset in the sky (if you know of anywhere else we have them, then please let me know...). I wasn't planning on going out and taking pictures but the light was too good to resist, so made my way towards Shaw House, hoping to capture it in some evening light. Shaw House turned out to be fairly shielded from the best sky, so I had a look at the church next door to see if that would work and voila! It is actually the first original HDR I have posted since the beginning of August, so hope you have all enjoyed the standard shots and discussions since then!

I am in fact travelling to Poland today for the weekend, so might not be able to visit blogs or comment on comments on here. But, henceforth I shall return (he says like some kind of medieval war hero) on Monday, ready to engage with you all again!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Travel Photographer: The Ultimate Dream?

There are many different genres and subjects of photography but it is travel photography that often gets mentioned as the dream job. I think this is because for a lot of people like myself, it is what got them started in photography in the first place. Paris is the city that sparked my interest in photography, and the lack of any kind of camera apart from my phone was very frustrating, something I immediately sort to rectify when I got home.

Since then, photography has taken over my life and like so many of us photography bloggers out there, would love to make a living from photography. I was never that much interested in travel throughout my 20's and it was only once I got into the photography that I also acquired the ambition to travel to many places and picture them. It has taken me to a few places I would not have imagined visiting before, such as Venice (as today's pictures show) but I am still yet to go back to Paris. The nature of travel photography does seem a gold mine for photographers. If you travel enough, your portfolio will offer endless variety whatever subject you choose to picture. And of course everybody loves seeing pictures of foreign lands, perhaps being inspired themselves to visit places they see in a photograph.

There must be a downside to it though and the obvious one has to be the time spent away capturing those pictures. I watched a video on YouTube yesterday about a travel photographer (and regrettably I have forgotten his name) who spent 6 months travelling the world taking pictures for his new book. Now I applaud the dedication to his craft but surely that is a lot to take on a family should you have one back home? If you are a single person then I guess it isn't a problem, but even I who is getting married very shortly would not want to spend that much time away from home, there are more important things in life.

I guess the key as always is balance. Professional photography normally relies on more than 1 revenue stream and to be working locally as a full time photographer, whilst going away to foreign land for a few days to capture some pictures every now and then, seems like a great way to earn a living. Travel photography is often the dream for many aspiring photographers and like the artists of many years ago, will probably inspire people for hundreds of years to come yet.

Washing lines in Venice

Statue of Baldassre Galuppi in Burano, Venice

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Lady of Murano

Better late than never today! I've just got back from my stag weekend in the beautiful city of Malmo in Sweden, which is why today's blog is very late. I'm tired physically and mentally but I have survived, always a good thing after your stag do! Anyway, I have no thoughts to share regarding photography now but obviously could not have left the day blank. So here is a photo I took last year of this superb glass sculpture from the island of Murano in Venice. This is one I had printed for my exhibition last autumn and now adorns one of the walls in my living room. A new photo and plenty of photography thoughts to come on Tuesday!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

How much are you learning Photography?

I've discovered a new joy recently. It seems quite a lazy pursuit at first, as it involves sitting in front of my TV but it has a massive plus side to it. I've figured out how to watch YouTube clips through my TV in glorious HD (else it wouldn't look that good). This is something you can do through the TV service I have, which is Virgin Media, but I'm sure is available on all the other platforms in some way. Anyway, the great thing about this is I don't have to watch 'normal' TV! Of course, I have programmes that I like and I watched a huge amount of the recent Olympic games, but there isn't much I try to 'catch'. There is even less I find to watch when I'm flicking through channels. But the opportunity to watch endless photography seminars and technique videos (and as I mentioned in HD), now you're talking! This is literally what I do when I sit down to relax now, put on a photography video on YouTube. I've never been one to sit at my computer screen and watch loads of YouTube clips (I just lose focus after a while) but watching them on my TV is much more how I like to do it. I've been watching seminars recently from Scott Kelby, Trey Ratcliff and Rick Sammon to name a few, as well as tips & tricks videos etc. This is entertaining and highly educational for me, as I am picking up lots of little nuggets of information every time I sit down to watch a new 'programme' on YouTube. The picture below for instance is one I processed after watching a video clip by Rick Sammon, giving out some helpful hints about processing with Topaz Labs:

The top picture (of Lacock village) was created using the Portrait Drama preset in Topaz Adjust, something I rarely if ever used, because I normally only used Topaz Adjust in company with HDR pictures (and normally only to bring more detail or 'pop' as some like to call it). The below picture is as you can guess the RAW file before being processed in Topaz Adjust. I love how the Portrait Drama brings out the colour of the sky and brings the picture to life somewhat. It's just learning to use little things like this that make watching these clips on YouTube a great new tool in my development as a photographer.

Which brings me to the question at the top of the page. How much are you learning photography? Youtube clips work great for me and the other great source I use are books. I do read photographic magazines and find them inspiring, but after a while the information seems to get repeated, if you read for long enough month after month (except for new photos of course). I'm also looking into going on a course this autumn because I want to get better fast at the moment. I can't believe that investing time in learning photography would be anything but a huge pay off down the line. Don't you think?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Postcard from Liverpool

One of those pictures from my blog last year that has yet to make an appearance on this website. It is from a trip I made to Liverpool in September last year where the Liver Building was something I took many pictures of. I deliberately try not to post too many pictures of the same thing but with not being a well travelled photographer and promising 3 pictures a week, similarities do occur here and there. I processed this shortly after another picture of the Liver Building, so I wanted to attempt something different with this one and give it more of a postcard feel. This meant processing it in a vintage fashion, largely achieved in Nik Color Efex Pro. I never did decide which version of the Liver Building I prefer but this was well received on Flickr, so have always kept amongst my portfolio.

Blogging is not going to be easy over the next couple of weeks as I am for the first time this year travelling abroad, in preparation (legal stuff) for my wedding in Poland in September. Unfortunately, I won't be taking my D700 along with me this time, mainly because with nearly 6 weeks to my wedding, I have to get my priorities sorted for once and put the wedding first. Ironically, when I do travel over for my wedding in September, there will be plenty more time for pictures, as we are over there for much longer and taking a car. So I will set blog posts up but am struggling for pictures I want to post, so I'll be the first to admit, it could get interesting!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Quintessentially English

You can't really tell from looking at the picture on the net but that's exactly what the shop name in the middle of these buildings reads. I thought it would be a good title for this post. This is another one taken from Lacock village in Wiltshire last weekend and is a single RAW image HDR. I don't shoot too many of them, though don't have a problem either using one for an HDR image instead of the full bracketed set. There is so much unnecessary debate (IMHO) out there regarding what is a real HDR and what isn't. I take the line of photographers who judge it more on what the picture looks like, than the technicalities of production. Everybody knows the 'HDR' look and this is why people love HDR photography, not whether they used proper HDR techniques or not to get the shot. "Oh no, it's a tonemapped image, not an HDR!" they say. Come on, it's all the same really. I once had a guy email me on Flickr saying I shouldn't be labelling my civil war pictures 'HDR' because they were single images not bracketed shots, and that I should therefore be labelling them 'Pseudo-HDR'. Get out of here! Such a boring and pointless thing to address me with, I'm pretty sure he corrects everyone where he lives when they say hoover instead of vacuum cleaner. As I said last week though, it's extremely difficult to do hand-held HDR shots with the weighty D700, therefore more than a few of the images from Lacock (and I have already posted a few) will be taken from single images, whether they are HDR or not.

An old teenage dream died of mine last night, when I finally realised I have no more passion or want to record music. It was my ambition for many years to be able to record music for a living and have always wanted to combine music with photography, since the photography ambition came around. I had planned to create a slideshow for today's blog but a few hours recording music yesterday reminded me of how frustrating it can be and I did eventually give up. I just don't have the burning desire for it anymore and processing today's picture for 20 minutes afterwards was a much happier and rewarding experience. This is truly where my heart lies now. I may still use a couple of tracks I recorded months ago for slideshows but I doubt I will record anymore. Should I want to create slideshows I will just cut together pre-recorded tracks on Logic Express.

Talking Photo with Pete Halewood

You may or may not have noticed a change in the blog title this morning. I have decided to change the name of the blog from 'The Photographic World of Pete Halewood' to 'Talking Photo with Pete Halewood'. The original title I felt was always a bit inaccurate for this blog but didn't really know what else to call it. I love sharing my views on photography as well as posting pictures and find this often inspires readers to comment as well. Therefore, the new title is more reflective of the nature of this blog and makes much more sense. I hope you agree!

Photo details: f/5.6, 0.0005s, 24mm, ISO 200

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Justice for the 96 - 2012

2012 version
This is the first time in a long while that I have done a 'Saturday Special' but with the Olympics coming to a close and the football season beginning again next week, I feel it is an appropriate time for another one! So I'll ask the question if you already haven't - why am I posting this picture again, when I have already posted it before (December 2011)? Well after seeing this picture on various websites over the last few months and having printed it a couple of times for Liverpool fans, there was always something bothering me about it that I did not really pick up on when I first posted it. Although it is natural, there was too much darkness in the Kop area of the crowd where this picture is focused. On blogs such as this one and Flickr, it was not very noticeable but as other people have used it for their blogs (which I do not mind at all) the dark areas seem to obscure the whole message of JFT96. This became apparent when I had it printed as well. I have long pondered tweaking this one to bring out the dark areas more so it stands out better on websites and you can see the difference with the old one below.

I only had the Hi resolution JPEG to correct as I had long thrown away the TIFF files I processed it with (I never throw away the original RAW files but as I have discussed before, processing it from scratch is a frustrating and ultimately disappointing method). So I worked on the JPEG in Lightroom and for all the bad press editing JPEGS get, it doesn't seem to have reduced the quality at all between the old and saving the new version. I know it would get worse the more you save it but I think editing it once makes almost no difference, which is the way I know Trey Ratcliff works (if you've seen any of his tutorials you will know he converts all his RAW files into JPEGs rather than TIFFs). Back as usual tomorrow!

2011 version

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Finding Salvation

Ever since my blog a few weeks ago about where I want to go with my photography, I've been thinking about going in directions I never thought I would. Since I bought my D700 with a F2.8 24-70mm lens a couple of months ago, it dawned on me that having these 2 bits of equipment means I can become a Nikon registered professional user. I finally did my registration yesterday and am glad to say I am now a professional user but becoming this intrigued me a little. I've spent so much money on my photography (haven't we all!?) and now have professional equipment. Isn't time I started to make some money back? Even just a little? I have always wanted to be good and successful at photography doing what I pretty much have been doing, taking architectural and landscape shots, whilst being creative with them at the image processing stage. I'm in my thirties now and don't live in dreamland (my fiancé will disagree with me on that one), I know that relying solely on this approach could take years to recoup any substantial benefit, though I have sold a few pictures at exhibitions and local shops. But I am drawn now to want to make money from ways I never thought I would such as weddings and events. The idea of wedding photography never really did it for me, but having seen some stunning wedding photography out there (and I particularly recommend Catherine Hall's website I really feel that I am starting to get inspired by it. I have taken a few wedding pictures in the past (see my facebook page) but having also seen some local examples of what people pay for, I simply feel that I could offer a lot more. Just thoughts I've been having anyway, I'd be a very happy person to get paid for taking pictures.

Today's picture is another one of mine from Lacock Abbey that I visited last weekend. Having just mentioned getting my D700 recently, I have also learnt with this that I can't really get away with shots that I used to. For instance, I used to do a lot of handheld HDR (often because I would be out with other people and would not want to annoy them or slow everyone down) but with the lack of Vibration Reduction (VR) on the ridiculously expensive lens I bought and the weight of it all now, I can't really get away with doing handheld HDR anymore. The more exposed images simply come out a tad too shaky, which makes the HDR difficult to look sharp. Therefore, I think more single shot images like this one will come out of my Lacock Abbey collection rather than HDR's. The D700 I think will certainly make me a better photographer, as it won't let you take shortcuts to getting a good picture as I probably have in the past with the lighter weight equipment. I am looking at going on some photography courses as well soon, because apart from reading books, it's probably about time I took it seriously and learnt some proper photography!

Photo details: f/4.5, 0.001s, 32mm, ISO 200

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Face

Today's picture is one I took last Friday night of this piece of artwork that I believe has recently been erected outside a block of residential homes in Newbury. I have no idea who it is by or what it is called but is one of two heads that face each other (the other one is made of different material and much less remarkable). Even a local resident who was walking by with her dog was asking if I knew anything about this piece of art, as there is not even a mention of who created it, which she found very disappointing. Maybe we will find out more about it in the near future but I knew I had to take a picture of it when I was driving past this area a couple of weeks, having not seen it myself before. 'The Face' as I have called it gives out a very striking appearance when viewed from all kinds of angles. It is a fantastic piece of art.

This is almost entirely a single exposure, processed in Lightroom (beginning with the Yesteryear preset). I did however create a separate HDR version, processed it in the same way in Lightroom, and then blended very lightly, some of the HDR aspects onto the face in Photoshop. This helped it look like the face that it is, rather than just a dark silhouette of bolts against the sky.

Photo details: F/8, 0.1s, 26mm, ISO 200

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Cloisters of the Abbey

After all the excitement of Team GB's Athletics performance at the Olympics last night, I pushed back writing today's blog until this morning (normally I write it the day before), so that is the reason it is up perhaps a bit later than usual. Amongst all the Olympic hysteria currently engulfing Britain, I visited yesterday the village of Lacock in Wiltshire, in particular Lacock Abbey. The abbey is a fantastic place for a photographer to visit, not just because it's a great place to photograph but because of it's place in the history of photography. The owner of the abbey during the early part of the 19th century was William Henry Fox Talbot and he was enthusiastically into the recent development of photography. The earliest known photographic negative dates back to 1835, which was taken by Talbot at the abbey itself. Today, there is still much information and history about photography at the museum and when I visited yesterday, there was an exhibition of Michael Palin's travel photographer's work, of which contained some stunning images.

The abbey dates back to the year 1229 (I'm guessing that wasn't an Olympic year) and elements such as the cloisters pictured above have survived since around that time. There are quite a few HDR shots on the web of cloisters from various different abbeys and monasteries throughout the world, so I was excited to be able to get a picture of my own. Some pictures have a panoramic view of both sides of the central pillar and though I have taken pictures that could make up a panorama, I'm not too sure I will attempt it yet. Although it shows off fantastic technique, if the image isn't calling for it, then I wouldn't do it for the sake of it. In fact, these are great places to try out a few photographic techniques (not just HDR), so there will probably be quite a few pictures of Lacock springing up over the next few weeks.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Pub Humour

For the second time in about a month, the good old British pub is the subject of this blog. Though at least with this one (as opposed to my King Charles Tavern post a few weeks back), I managed to couple it with an interesting sky. This scene is across the road from The Five Bells pub (out of the picture to the right) which is towards the north of Newbury. I took this picture while out driving the other night, looking for interesting subjects to capture and like many pictures I take that involve roads, there were a few people checking I wasn't a speed camera trap! As if the Police would be so obvious standing by the road with a huge camera and a tripod!

This may not be the funniest pub board anyone has seen but I still felt it made the picture fairly interesting, coupled with the road and the sky. There is a pub called The Halfway Inn between Newbury and Hungerford that used to be renowned for humorous pub boards. The Halfway Inn sits along the busy A4 road and the pub were always trying to tempt people in with boards that read along the lines off 'special offer tonight' or 'check out our new menu' when one day I think they had had enough and simply wrote 'Does anyone even notice this board?'. That then began a year of daily witty writings on that board, my favourite of which was written the day after England got knocked out of the Euro 2004 tournament which simply said 'Plasma TV for sale'.

This is apparently my 100th blog post today and though I would have reached that milestone a lot quicker if I had had a daily blog like last year, I feel much happier with this blog and can safely say it won't be going anywhere soon!