What do you get a photographer for Christmas?

  No, this isn’t a joke. The last shopping weekend before Christmas is on us and maybe you're panicking. Photography is so technical these days that trying to find Christmas presents for a photographer is no laughing matter.
  Here are a few straightforward ideas, suitable for photographers of all levels ...

A polarizing filter
  These things don’t come cheap, but a they’re a great accessory. A polarizing filter screws on to the front of a lens and cuts reflections from water, glass and other shiny surfaces. It also makes the sky a deeper blue, can cut haze in landscapes and generally enriches colours.
  The points to watch out for when buying one are:
  1. Make sure your photographer can use one. Most compact cameras can’t take them because polarising filters screw in to a shallow thread at the very front of the lens, and compacts don’t have this. On the other hand, almost all interchangeable lenses – the sort used in DSLRs – do.
  2. Make sure you get the right size. Look inside the lens cap and you will probably see a marking giving the diameter of the lens (in millimetres). If not, measure it. Remember, different lenses have different diameters so, even if your photographer already has a polarizing filter, he/she may appreciate another for a different lens.
  3. If your photographer owns a digital camera make sure you get a circular polarizing filter. No, this does no refer to the shape – they are all circular – but the type. (The other type is ‘linear’). The one you want should be marked ‘Circular Polariser’, or bear the abbreviation Cir, PL Cir, or CPL. If in doubt, ask an assistant.

This photo of the famous Jet d'Eau in Geneva, Switzerland, was taken
using a polarizing filter to make the water stand out against the sky.

An extra memory card
  Photographers, particularly the serious ones, can never have too much memory. And with Christmas celebrations offering photo opportunities galore, your photographer will appreciate some extra storage.
  The only question is, what sort of card? There are a number of types on the market, SD (Secure Digital), SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity), MMC (MultiMedia Card), XD (eXtreme Digital), CF (CompactFlash) and Micro SD. So check before you buy.

A second battery.
  A camera is totally dependent on its battery. And, as a photographer, nothing is more frustrating than have it go flat just as a brilliant photo opportunity unfolds in front of the lens. By the time the battery has charged again the opportunity has long gone.
  With a spare battery your photographer has no problems. Slot it into place and carry on shooting whilst the first battery is re-charging.

A tripod
  Any photographer can use a tripod, just so long as his/her camera has a socket to take it. Look underneath the camera to find out. There should be a threaded hole on the base-plate.
  You can get tripods in all sizes, from little tiny ones that fit in your pocket to hulking great things that weigh a ton. Choose appropriately. A compact camera looks a bit daft on a tripod built like the Eiffel Tower.
  The great thing about tripods is that they let you take photographs that would otherwise be impossible – long exposures, self portraits, close-ups, slow shutter speed images. A professional photographer I knew used to say the first thing you should do with a new camera is to weld it to a tripod – they’re that useful.

Camera cleaning equipment.
  Dust is the photographer’s Number One Enemy. It gets on the lens and degrades the quality of the image ...

This is what too much dust on the surface of a lens does.

... and it gets on to the sensor inside the camera and causes unsightly spots (see here).
  For dealing with dust on the lens you can get your photographer a microfibre lens-cleaning cloth, a soft brush or a blower. Just don’t bother with those diddly little blower-and-brush-combined jobbies. They’re not worth it. Buy a big one that looks like a hand-grenade with a point sticking out of the top. They’re the business.
  The big blower can also be used for puffing dust off sensors. In addition, for sensor cleaning, you can get special static-charged brush sets (the brush is whirled around to charge it and then lightly brushed across the sensor to pick up the dust). Finally, for really stubborn dust, a swab set is useful. It comes with a number of specially shaped swabs and bottle of cleaning fluid. make sure you get the right size swab for your photographer’s camera (ask the assistant).

A camera bag
  As with memory cards, a photographer can never have too many bags. A backpack for treks in the hills, a shoulder bag for town work, an individual camera case – all photographers need bags, not only to carry the camera, but also all the spare memory cards, batteries and filters they just got for Christmas.

Last but not least ...
  ... one of my books will make a great gift for the photographer in your life.

  If you’ve got time The Greatest Photography Tips in the World can be bought from any good bookseller, or online through Amazon.
  If it’s a last-minute present then my ‘LowDown Guide to Family Photography’ is an E-book and is available to download instantly from here and will give loads of good advice.
  And if you’re a photographer, and this has given you some ideas, you may want to leave hints around the house, or direct your loved ones to this page.

  Happy Christmas.

Now's the time for family photos

Statistics show that more family photographs get taken between December 24th and January 2nd than at any other comparable time of year.



Okay, so I made that one up. But it sounds good, doesn't it? And I suspect that it's true. After all, Christmas is a family time, when people travel thousands of kilometres to be together with their family. And being together they naturally want to take photos of the occasion. On top of that, many people get a camera as a Christmas present - and what better way to try it out on than than to take family photographs.

That's what prompted me to write my latest book ...

In it I cover pretty well all you need to know to get great family photographs including:
  • Photographing family groups in a variety of different ways, from formal groups to candid photography
  • Portraiture
  • Self portraits (because who photographs the photographer of the family?)
  • Children
  • Pets (because they're part of the family too)
  • Lighting techniques
  • Getting sharp, well-exposed shots (with trouble-shooting examples to help you identify what may have gone wrong with a shot)
... and much more.

You can find out more, and take a peek inside the book, here. (Please note: this is an E-book, in the form of a PDF file, which you either read on your computer or print out at whatever size you want and put into a conventional, stationery-type file.)

And, as a special Christmas gift to my faithful followers (all 24 of you) I'd like to offer you a copy free of charge. Just shoot me an e-mail, or leave a comment requesting your freebie.

Happy Christmas, and here's to getting some truly great family photographs that will be heirlooms in 50 years time.

Breaking the rules

As we approached the jetty a crowd of kids converged and hung about in that nervous, expectant way that kids have when they're about to do something they suspect may be naughty.

It was last summer. I was standing at the stern of a Swiss lake steamer, cruising up the Lac de Neuch√Ętel. The sky was filled with fluffy white clouds. The scenery was breathtaking. I had my camera out, and was looking for photo opportunities.

But billions of photos have been taken of that Swiss lake with its azure waters, and the clouds, and the sky, and the mountains, and the quaint little chalets and churches.

Even as we came to a halt alongside the jetty and mooring ropes were thrown, cameras were raised to eyes and several hundred more photos of mountains and clouds and chalets and quaint little churches were taken. Was there anything different to photograph?


The kids. What were they up to? I tried to read their minds, and flicked my camera setting to 'burst mode', where it fires off like a machine gun. Normally I don't like this setting as using it often means that you miss the peak of the action. I still believe that human reactions and the human brain are quicker and more intelligent than any camera, so I have a personal rule not to use 'burst mode'. But sometimes you need to break your rules.

I was right. As the steamer pulled away the kids leaped up on on the mooring bollards and, with shrieks of joy, hurled themselves off into the roiling, foaming water that the boat left in its wake.

I fired away - Pow! Pow! Pow!

Then, disappointment. I looked at the images on the small screen (yes, I 'chimp' with the best of them) and they were all out of focus. The shutter had been quick enough but the autofocus hadn't. Damn! I was about to erase them all to save memory space when something stopped me.

When I got back home and was gazing at the sequence on my computer screen, still annoyed that I hadn't thought to switch off the autofocus and pre-focus by hand, it occurred to me that they may ... actually ... just possibly ... work.

It's another personal rule of mine: one part of any photograph, at least, must be in focus. Photos that are all out of focus look like mistakes.

But, as I was breaking rules ... what if I put a sequence of 4 together as one image (what's a triptych when you have 4 images?). It might work.

So I did. What do you think?

Protecting our precious liberties

Steve Bell in the UK's Guardian newspaper:

Copyright  Steve Bell, The Guardian, UK

Be careful. Be very careful.

I'm sitting here in a cold sweat. Boy, oh boy, have I been lucky.

I bought my Nikon D3 about a year and a half ago and, after an initial 'scoot' through  the manual, I haven't really looked at the little booklet since. But this evening I dug it out to find a specific bit of information.

As I flicked through it I suddenly noticed the 'For Your Safety' warnings, written prominently at the beginning. The third one states:

Using the viewfinder diopter control
When operating the viewfinder diopter control with your eye to the viewfinder, care should be taken not to put your finger in your eye accidentally.

Sheeeeesh! I didn't read that when I got the camera. Glad I haven't poked my eye out.

Got targets to meet?

Plod's still at it.

A few days ago BBC News photographer Jeff Overs was stopped and questioned by the police for taking photographs of a sunset over St Paul's Cathedral in London.

Here's an interview with him on The Andrew Marr Show, the programme for which he takes photographs.

Listen carefully. In the middle of the interview Overs quotes the policeman as telling him, "We've stopped lots of people along the South Bank this afternoon ..."

Aha! Sounds suspiciously like his guy's got targets to meet. He can go back to his station at the end of his shift and report that he's 'cautioned' (or whatever the term he uses) 'n' people that afternoon. Looks great on his record. What a busy bobby he's been.

But does stopping people photographing London's tourist attractions protect the city against terrorist attacks?

Or does it just make the police look daft and overbearing?

Note to any police officers reading this:
Please, please can you try to understand that, should a potential terrorist want to photograph a potential target (already a highly questionable assumption given the free availability of detailed maps, Google Earth, Street View, etc.) they're hardly going to stand in full view of everyone, pointing a bloody great camera at it.

Two footnotes:
  • Here (thanks to D-L Nelson, The Expat Writer) is a good article on this subject.
  • During 2008, in London, 170'000 people were Stopped and Searched. (S&S). To put that in perspective, that's 466 people every day. From news reports, posts on internet forums, etc., a number of these were photographers pursuing their hobby or business quite legally. As a result of these 170'000 S&S, 65 people were arrested. That's a success rate of 0.038%.  Is it an effective method of controlling crime and terrorists? The Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the Metropolitan Police were all unable to say whether anyone had successfully been charged or convicted for terror offences as a direct result these Stops and Searches.

    (Incidentally, there is no data on how many of those arrested were subsequently convicted of an offence. But it will almost certainly be lower, making the success rate even more abysmal.) Source here.