Celestial spectacle

If the sky is clear in your part of the world, look south west just after sunset on November 30th or December 1st.

Two bright planets, Venus and Jupiter, will be having a stunning encounter with the crescent moon - a rare sight. (December 1st will be the best.)

And if you want to photograph the encounter, do it about half an hour after the sun has set.

If you take a picture any earlier, the sky will be too light and they won't show up very well.

Do it any later and the sky will be too dark. The planets will just look like dots of light on a black background and the moon will probably over-expose.

About half an hour after sunset is the 'Goldilocks time' - not too light and not too dark - when the sky is still a rich blue.

This was a close encounter between Venus and the Moon, one evening two years ago ...

============== There's a bonus for those in Europe ==============

If you live in Europe, and the sky is clear, you'll see the Moon pass in front of Venus, completely blocking its light. Astronomers called this a 'lunar occultation', and it is a rate event.

The sight of our neighbouring planet, popping out from behind the dark edge of the crescent Moon will be a remarkable one.

The exact time this happens depends on your location. Here in Geneva, Venus will disappear behind the Moon at 17:01h (local time), and will spring back into view at 18:23h.

If you are in a different place, you can find the approximate time from this website. Choose the location nearest to you and it should be accurate enough. Just remember, they give the times in Universal Time (UT) - which used to be the old GMT. So, to get the correct times for your place in Europe, you'll also have to allow for your timezone.

New! Improved!

Regular readers will notice a new addition to my blog, over there to the right, a new little box headed PHOTOTIP.

In it I’ll give a series of simple tips – changing with each post – to help you improve your photography.

These tips are based on my book The Greatest Photography Tips in the World – 200 pages of non-technical advice, fully illustrated, to help you get the best from your camera.

Sometimes the smallest of changes ... shifting viewpoint, adding a filter, using a different setting ... can have a dramatic effect on a photograph, lifting it from a ‘ho-hum’ one to something great.

So, try using these tips and see how they work for you.

10 to 60 in six images

Take a look at this sequence of images from the French edition of Vogue magazine.

The same model, same photo shoot ... clever make-up artist.

Is it convincing?

Pain and suffering?

It’s all down to interpretation.

A friend has shown me a remarkable series of photographs under the heading “The suffering of a poor bird”. (N.B. I copy the captions and final comment exactly as I received them) ...

1. Here his wife is injured and the condition is very appalling

2. Here he brings her food and attend her with love and compassion

3. Brings her food but shocked with her death and try to move her

4. He is aware that his sweetheart is dead and will not come to him again he cries with adoring love

5. Stand beside her and scream saddened of her death

6. Finally aware that she would not return to him and she departed him, stand beside her body with sad and sorrow

Photos of two birds said to have pictured in the Republic of Ukraine.

Millions of people cry after watching this picture in America and Europe.

It is said that the photographer sold these picture for a nominal price to the most famous news paper in France. And all the copies of that news paper were sold out on the day of publishing these pictures.

The photos are great. Note the narrow depth of field of the telephoto lens. The photographer has got the focus in just the right place. And the featureless surroundings, coupled with the low viewpoint, add to the drama. But ...

Am I just a cynical old curmudgeon?

These two birds appear to be two male Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica). I say male, judging from the length of their tail streamers, though this is not easy to see. And this looks like a deadly serious territorial fight.

In pictures 3 and 4 the uninjured one seems to be in particularly aggressive postures.

So, could the ‘...scream saddened of her death ...’ actually be a cry of triumph?

I don't think we do ourselves any favours, sentimentalising the natural world.

The English poet, Tennyson, wrote:

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation's final law

Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw

With ravine, shriek'd against his creed

Those were the days.

The world’s going faster and faster.

Is your computer taking more than 30 seconds to boot up? And what are you doing? Drumming the table in exasperation?

If you send someone an e-mail and they haven’t replied in 24 hours, what do you think? Do you wonder if they’re still with us?

And just try pootling along any road at the legal speed limit. Within minutes you have someone behind you, all flashing lights and trying to drive up your exhaust pipe.

Oh for the good old days, when the pace of life was slower.

Okay. Okay. Am I just being old-fogeyish and rosy-tinted here? Wasn’t it just as pressured for time in those so-called 'good old days'?

No. And here’s the proof ...

It’s a photograph of a road sign from the 1930s - a weight restriction on a bridge over a railway line in the UK.

Now that requires pause for thought ... doesn’t it? And deciphering.

P.S. To get this sign to shine out, given the angle of the light and the dark background (look at the trees and their shadows) I used a fair degree of fill-in flash.

Stop thief!

Pity the poor photographer.

On the one hand he/she may get hassled by the police for pursuing a perfectly legal activity in a public place.

On the other, she/he can have images stolen or used illegally, with limited powers to do anything about it. The police certainly aren’t going to help. :-)

Yes. It’s an unfortunate fact of life, and I’ve mentioned it before (here). Image theft is rife on the internet.

I’ve just found another photo of mine that’s been posted without my knowledge or permission ...

It appears on a free image hosting site called Image Donkey and the photo was taken off this blog entry of mine, back in April.

How do I know the picture’s come from here?

The size. It’s exactly the same as the image I posted, down to the last pixel.

I’ve contacted Image Donkey and requested that they remove it. But, so far, the silence has been deafening.

Okay ... so this one is no big deal. No one’s trying to sell it. At least, I don’t think so. But it would be nice to have some credit.

What can you do to protect your photos when you show them – in a blog, on Flickr, or through an agency, for example?

Not a lot. Anything that appears on a computer screen can be copied.

You can watermark your photos, which is what most agencies do. That works fine for them, because people are going to buy the real thing, watermark-free. But who wants a picture on their blog with text across the middle of it? Apart from anything else, it looks pretentious.

What I do is only post low resolution versions. This particular one is 600x399 pixels, which is a touch under 2.4 megapixels. On top of that I save them at low resolution. So, while they may look okay on a monitor, they’re not much use for anything else.

Take a look. Here’s close-up detail from the original and the blog version, side by side ...

The low-resolution one is still good enough to be posted on the web. But there’s not a lot else can be done with it.

Ah well ... I suppose I should console myself with the knowledge that some people regard my images as good enough to be stolen.

(Oh ... and if you’re the reader who took this photo and posted it on Image Donkey, maybe you can send me a comment explaining why. I’d really appreciate it.)

Do you chimp?

Want to know a secret? Though Serious Photographers pour scorn on the habit, say it is degrading – the mark of an amateur - and will never publicly admit doing it, they’re lying through their teeth.

They’re all chimping.

This is a habit that arrived with digital cameras, and some of the older Serious Photographers, especially those who were raised with the rigours of film, even pretend that they do not know what it means.

But watch them carefully. You’ll probably catch them doing a ‘stealth chimp’.

Do you chimp?

Go on ... be honest.

Do you check the images on your camera’s LCD immediately after taking them? Do you make strange simian noises as you look at your photos on the tiny screen - Oooh! Oooh! Aaah! - bob up and down, and excitedly show your photos to others?

Look around you, wherever there are people taking photographs. You’re sure to catch someone chimping – often complete with actions.

And here’s a video that shows just how common the habit is, even with top professionals. (The second half shows you what a ‘stealth chimp is, too, though the sound is out of synch.)

I’ll admit it. I chimp (though without the sounds and actions).

Being able to view an image immediately, and maybe re-do the shot, is one of the huge advantages of digital photography.

There are disadvantages. If you’re photographing fast-changing situations such as sport, children or wildlife, and you chimp too much, you can miss a moment of crucial action. Also, the LCD screen on your camera uses large amounts of power. Chimp too much and you could find your battery going flat much sooner than expected.

But, apart from that, forget what the Serious Ones say. There’s nothing wrong with it. A carpenter checks the straightness of planing and the angles of joints as a cupboard is built. A potter checks the roundness of pots on the wheel. A chef tastes food as it is being prepared.

So chimp away!

Just leave off the funny noises.


I'm a little nervous. I could have got into trouble with my camera.

Last week a 15-year old schoolboy called Fabian Sabbara was Stopped and Searched by UK police officers for taking this photograph of Wimbledon Station, in south London:

He took it, with a little point and shoot camera, as part of a school project for his GCSE (a UK national examination) and he was dressed in his school uniform at the time.

You can read the full story here.

When I read it I did a double-take because ...

About a year ago I was standing outside Wimbledon Station, waiting for my daughter, and I took almost the same photograph:

In fact, he and I must have been standing in exactly the same place. Look how the 'n' of the small name 'Wimbledon', on the canopy over the doors, lines up with the right-hand bar of the middle window above it. The only difference seems to be that I was using a wider angle lens.

This image is now on sale with various agencies (e.g. here).

I guess I was lucky no police officer saw me.

But are there any reading this blog? Or any husbands, wives, children, other relatives or friends of police officers?

If so, can you answer the following two questions (or get answers from a police officer if you are a relative, friend, etc.).
  1. Why do you (the British Police, and security people) have the idea that terrorists are going to photograph a location before committing an atrocity?

  2. But, given that you seem to have this idea (and don't seem to realise that Ordnance Survey maps can be bought legally in UK, and Wimbledon Station forecourt is shown down to individual cars on Google Earth - which is also legally available on the internet) why can you not see that any potential terrorist is going to obtain photographs unobtrusively? He/she is unlikely to stand still in full daylight or ... even more attention-drawing ... set up a tripod.
Sorry to harp on this point, dear reader. And please don't get me wrong. I'm not anti-police. They do a difficult and dangerous job.

But what often gets overlooked in all this is that the terrorists don't commit their evil and murderous acts for the hell of it. They have a reason.

For many of them, the overriding reason is that they hate and despise our society. They hate the freedoms we have. And they hate the way these ideas are spreading. (Women's rights is one example.)

It could be said they want revenge. But there could be more. They may want to stop these ideas spreading. They may even want to impose their laws and beliefs. Listen to some of the recordings these people make before carrying out their acts.

One of their aims is to weaken our society. There are many ways in which they have managed to do this, quite successfully, in the past decade. Think about the splits that have grown, the extreme reactions, the losses of freedom that have taken place, some of them carried out at the highest level, shocking and way beyond the rule of law.

Hassling innocent people, going about their own business quietly and legally, is one more tiny straw on the camel's back.

Another question for my hypothetical police reader ...

Do you think this schoolboy and his family will respect you or fear you after this incident? What about the guy hassled outside a nightclub (here)? Or Jane Sweeney with her tripod (here)? What about the readers of the newspaper articles?

Here is a quote from the newspaper article, " ... the matter had also sparked fear at Fabian's school, where trips had been banned over concerns that pupils could be stopped by police for taking pictures."

People have certain freedoms in our society and these freedoms need to be guarded jealously.

So, does anyone know a police officer? I would dearly love answers to my questions.