Moving day

The PhotoZone here on Blogger is going into hibernation - permanently.

It won't vanish. I can't find any way of making it do that. But I will be posting no more here.

The posts I have made will continue to hang about in cyberspace until Google gets fed up with them and erases the lot.

But, don't despair. PhotoZone still lives.

I am moving the blog to a new and more sophisticated web server. PhotoZone has had a complete facelift and is now up and running at:

Why not pop over and check it out? Let me know what you think. There are some completely new posts there, but I have also transferred the first two 'Great Photographs' posts in their entirety as I intend to continue posting examples, and commenting on them, on the new site. I would like the 'archive' to be complete.

A big thank you to all who have been faithfully following me here, and an extra thank you for all the great comments you have made. I hope to see you over on the new, improved PhotoZone.
Come on over. You'll be very welcome.

April Fool!

This has got to be the Mother of all April Foolings ... a report on the spaghetti harvest in the Swiss Ticino (the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland) shown on BBC Television's current affairs programme 'Panorama' on April 1st 1957.

It fooled a lot of people - myself included (mind you, I was only 11 at the time).

Don't you love the plummy voice of Richard Dimbleby, prominent political commentator of his day?

There are more details about this beautiful joke, and how it was created, on the Museum of Hoaxes website. Amazingly, it was all done on a budget of £100.

He wasn't referring to police ...

... when George Polya, a Hungarian professor of mathematics, once said:

"Pedantry and mastery are opposite attitudes toward rules.

To apply a rule to the letter, rigidly, unquestioningly, in cases where it fits and in cases where it does not fit, is pedantry.

To apply a rule with natural ease, with judgment, noticing the cases where it fits, and without ever letting the words of the rule obscure the purpose of the action or the opportunities of the situation, is mastery."

But I think it fits well with regard to the police 'interactions' with photographers.

How much is too much?

Photographer Stepan Rudik, working for the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, took this photograph as part of a series on a Ukrainian street fighters in Kiev.

He then cropped it by something like 90%, converted the remains of his image to black and white, added an artificial grain effect (I'd guess using a Photoshop filter) burned in an artificial vignette, whammed up the contrast for a harsher feel, and cloned out the stray bit of foot (I think it is) belonging to the guy standing behind the fighter ...

The result was this ...

He then entered it for the 2010 World Press Photo Competition.

And it won 3rd prize in the 'Sports Features' category.

But not for long. Apparently the manipulation was brought to the attention of contest officials by the Ukrainian Photography Union and, shortly thereafter, anyone visiting the World Press Photo website to view the winners was presented with this page for 3rd Prize in Sports Features ...

Why the disqualification? On their website, World Press Photo states:

Following the announcement of the contest results, it came to the attention of World Press Photo that Rudik's story had violated a contest rule. After requesting RAW-files of the series from him, it became clear that an element had been removed from one of the original photographs.
(For the full statement see here)

So, it was the removal of the few hundred pixels of stray foot that did for Mr Rudik. The violent cropping, removal of colour, addition of grain, vignette and harsh contrast would seem to be acceptable practice.

I know what I think.

What about you?

Image credit: Photograph by Stepan Rudik

Great Photographs No. 2 – Fallen Republican Soldier, Spain, 1936

If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough.”

Robert Capa/Magnum Photos

The truth of Robert Capa’s famous quote is borne out by his equally famous photograph. Capa was almost at the feet of this Republican soldier as the man fell during the Spanish Civil War. It is one of the most dramatic and iconic of all war photographs.

Photographers had been recording war ever since the invention of photography in the late 1830s. But, from the Crimean War through to the First World War, they had had to use cumbersome plate cameras that could only take one exposure at a time. This limited war photography to relatively static shots of assembled troops, captured prisoners, battlefield views and the like.

Capa was at the forefront of a revolution taking place – a revolution in photography. This was brought about by the invention of the 35mm rangefinder camera, with 36 exposures on its roll of film. For the first time photographers could move in amongst the troops, capturing spontaneous action and shooting sequences. For the first time photographers could get ‘close enough’ to record the death of an individual.

But this photograph has stirred a storm of controversy.

It was first published in a French magazine Vu in September 1936, followed by publication in Life and Picture Post. The editor of Picture Post called Capa “... the greatest war photographer in the world ...”.

Then in 1975 Philip Knightley, in his book ‘The First Casualty’ challenged the authenticity of this image. Based on the recollections of a reporter who worked alongside Capa, examination of other photographs from the same roll of film and the knowledge that photojournalists of the time did stage dramatic images, Knightley concluded, “... the famous photograph is almost certainly a fake – Capa posed it.”

Robert Capa/Magnum Photos
Another image from the same sequence

And the argument has raged ever since. A definitive answer will never be reached because Robert Capa died in 1954, and no negative of his iconic image is known to exist.

But does it matter how the photograph was obtained?

Even if it was set up, it could be argued that this photograph remains a powerful symbol of the Spanish Republican cause. Tens of thousands of Republican soldiers died, and symbols aren’t necessarily any the less powerful because they have been staged.

There are still deep scars left by that war, and Spain’s Culture Minister, the film director and screenwriter Ángeles González-Sinde, commented on the photograph at the opening of an exhibition of Capa’s work in Barcelona last year. “Art is always manipulation, from the moment you point a camera in one direction and not another,” she said.

That may be true, but it does matter to war photographers and other photojournalists who work in harrowing and dangerous situations. They know that their credibility depends on the trust that the viewing public has in them and their work. Photojournalists have been sacked for ‘manipulating’ their images – Brian Walski, for example.

Walski’s image of a British soldier in Iraq, motioning for a man carrying a child to get down, was Pulitzer Prize material ... except for the fact that it was shown to be a composite. (For an in-depth discussion of that image, see here)

However, whatever your opinion on Capa's photograph - whether you believe it is a fake and so worthless ... or staged but still great ... or true - what isn’t arguable is his courage.

Robert Capa died when, trying to get ‘close enough’, he stepped on a land mine in Vietnam. His camera was in his hand.

Grime Doesn't Pay - Part 3

Digital cameras with interchangeable lenses suffer from grime problem that never affected film cameras ... dust on the sensor.

This is different from dust on the lens. The tiniest specks on the sensor will show up as spots in your photograph, especially on large areas of plain colour, such as the sky. And they become more visible if you are using small apertures such as ƒ16 or ƒ22.

The problem is being addressed by manufacturers and many cameras now have self-cleaning sensors that vibrate at very high speed to shake dust off. How well they work is debateable. But even if they work perfectly, the shaken-off dust is still somewhere inside the camera and could possibly end up on the sensor again

Do you dare check your sensor for dust?

Close your lens down to its absolute minimum aperture, point your camera at a patch of clear blue sky and take a photograph. Don’t worry about the shutter speed. It can be as slow as an arthritic snail and not matter. Dust is what you’re looking for, and it will be sitting in the camera, so shake doesn’t matter.

Having taken your sky photograph, load it into an image editing program and examine at 100% ... and be prepared. If you want a real fright, click on ‘Automatic Levels’. I guarantee, you will find dust specks, even if you have a sensor cleaning system. Even brand new cameras have dust.

Here's my sky photo, taken at f40, with just a few of the dust spots ringed.

Yours may be like that, or better, or worse, but sooner or later you will have to do (or have done) a bit of interior cleaning because you will take a photo like this ...

It's no big deal because you can easily clone out the spot just above and to the right of the balloon, using your image editing program. (You will probably want to clone out those annoying contrails, too). But you don't want to be doing that photograph after photograph. So, you go to your instruction book ... and find an Awful Warning about not doing-it-yourself.

Does that mean sending your camera off to a service lab?

No. In the words of the late, great Douglas Adams – DON’T PANIC.

It is perfectly possible to clean your sensor yourself, if you take a bit of care.

And ... incidentally ... what you are cleaning is not the sensor. It is something called the ‘optical low pass filter’, which is a little bit tougher than the manufacturers would have you believe. (Though this does not mean you can be rough with it.) I’ll call it the sensor, anyway. That’s easier than writing ‘optical low pass filter’ every time.

Although your ‘dust photo’ – the one of the sky – may show many specks,  like mine, I wouldn’t advise cleaning unless they are regularly ruining photographs. If they’re not causing any problems, leave well alone.

Once you do decide to take the plunge, I’d advise a three-step process checking with a ‘sky photograph’ between each step. If, after any step, the dust has vanished, then stop ...

Step 1
Make sure your camera battery is fully-charged* and, working in a dust-free location (the bathroom is ideal for this), take the lens off and lock the mirror up. Then, holding the camera upside down above your head (so any dust will fall out) use your rocket blower to puff vigorously all over the sensor.

As you puff, take great care to ensure that the plastic nozzle of the blower does not strike the metal lens-mounting flange. I learned that lesson when, the first time I was cleaning, I found more and more particles of something coming from somewhere. Guess where?

Step 2
If all that blowing hasn’t shifted the dust, then use a special sensor-cleaning brush with very fine hairs. You spin this at high speed, using a little electric motor to charge the filaments with static electricity. Then draw it across the sensor once so the static attracts the dust particles.

Incidentally – make sure never to touch the brush hairs. No matter how clean your hands are, they are always slightly greasy. Your skin-grease will transfer itself to the brush hairs and thence on to your sensor. Then you will have problems.

Step 3
If some stubborn dust specks are still present then use a swab to shift them. You can buy packs of these, together with specially-formulated cleaning fluid, in photo shops. Make sure you specify the model of camera so that you buy the right size. Take one swab, moisten it with a drop of the fluid and draw it across the sensor once.

 I have applied these 3 steps since I first got my camera and I have only ever had to use Step 3 once.

Finally, I repeat, DON’T PANIC. Unfortunately some photographers do, and become neurotic about dust. They spend an inordinate amount of time trying to avoid it when they should be photographing.

I have seen lens changing bags on sale in camera shops. The theory is that you put your camera and replacement lens into the bag and zip it up. Then you put your hands into sort of built-in gloves, change lenses inside the bag (honestly!) and then take the whole lot out again.

Laugh? I nearly died. Apart from the fact that, by the time you’ve completed that palaver, whatever you were going to photograph has long gone, the bag itself must act as a massive dust trap after a few uses. Unless you’re going to carefully vacuum clean the interior every evening, it’s a complete waste of money.

Dust in your camera is inevitable. For starters, the shutter is mechanical. Every time you take a photograph, it wears a fraction, releasing tiny particles. Then your zoom lens is like an air pump. Every time you zoom in and out you pump air in and out of the camera body, and that’s going to contain dust too.

Dust is everywhere. Live with it, and get on with making photographs.

* Be sure the battery is fully charged before you lock the mirror up because, if the battery dies with the mirror up ... I don’t know what happens. I don’t like to think about it.

Grime Doesn't Pay - Part 2

Dirt on your lens matters ... but maybe not for the reason you think.

Many people believe that a spot of dust on the lens will cause a spot on the photograph.

It won’t. You can have a spot of dust on your lens the size of a small coin and you might not notice it.

Don’t believe me? Here’s the proof ...

These two photographs were taken one after the other, with my camera lying on its back pointing up at the ceiling in the hallway of my house.

I didn’t move the camera between shots. I didn’t change the exposure. Both were taken with the diaphragm fully open, at ƒ1.4. But in one of those photos there is a small Swiss 5 cent coin lying on the lens front element ...

Which photo was taken with the coin on the lens? (Answer in the comments section).

Even if you got it right, I think you’ll agree that it was a tough one to spot.

So, what’s the point of that demonstration? That it’s okay to let your lens get dirty? Even huge chunks of grot won’t make any difference?

No. The point is that dust on your lens has a much more insidious effect which may not be easy to see. A dirty lens lacks contrast and colours in the image are washed-out. The effects occur across the whole image and are impossible to correct with image editing software. Here’s a demonstration ...

So, if you want the crispest, sharpest photographs that your lens can give, with vibrant colours, keep it clean.


Step 1. Make sure that you keep a cap on your lens whenever it is not in use. One will have been supplied with the lens when you bought it. Don’t throw the thing away. And if you have lost it, buy another. Most camera shops carry a selection.

Step 2. Blow any dust particles off with that big fat rubber blower that you used to clean the camera’s exterior. Don’t forget to blow out the inside the lens cap. Dust easily gathers there, too.

Step 3. Gently wipe the surface of the lens. No, not with your shirt-tail, handkerchief or a piece of toilet paper. (You’d be surprised how many people use these things.) With your microfibre cloth. But make sure that the cloth is spotlessly clean. A tiny piece of grit trapped in its folds will play havoc with your coated lens surface. If you want to be really particular, have one cloth for the camera body and another entirely different on for the lens. Or buy some lens-cleaning tissue. Packs of it are very cheap and, unlike toilet paper or paper handkerchiefs, lens-cleaning tissue does not shed fibres. You can also use a drop of optical cleaning fluid to help the process.

Step 4. Finally, give the lens a few hefty puffs with the blower to evaporate any cleaning fluid left or remove any stubborn specks of dust.

Next on 'Grime Doesn't Pay' - Cleaning your Sensor

Incidentally, I didn’t actually let my lens get dirty for the photo above. I used an old skylight filter – one of those clear ones – and coated it with fine dust. The effect is the same. Then I took one photo with the filter off and one with it on and split them down the middle to make a comparison.

Grime Doesn't Pay - Part 1

Fact: if you use your camera, it’s going to get dirty. And if you’re using it seriously it is going to get even more dirty. Photographing interiors? They’re dusty. Beaches are gritty. Flowers shed pollen.

But even if you keep your precious camera carefully wrapped up in cotton wool, the cotton wool itself is made of fibres.

There's more. Your camera is a machine, with moving parts. The shutter, just opening and closing, is going to wear releasing microscopic particles of plastic, metal, or whatever the shutter mechanism is made of.

Grime is grim, wherever it’s found. So, you wash the car, dust the house and brush the dog. But how often do you clean your camera and associated gear?

“Clean the camera myself?” you say. “No way! I’m going to end up with a massive repair bill.”

Not necessarily. Here’s a personal experience. A few years ago I took my camera to have its sensor cleaned by an authorised dealer in the UK (who, because I don’t want to get sued, shall remain nameless). The ‘cleaning’ cost me 30 quid and the camera came out worse than it went in. Since then I’ve done the sensor cleaning myself, in a three-stage process that I’ll describe later in this series.

But first, start out by cleaning the exterior. You can’t hope to get it spotless inside if the outside is dusty. This process is simple. Brush ... blow ... wipe. And here's the equipment you nedd to do the job ...

Cleaning equipment: microfibre cloth, blower, soft brush (this is a man's shaving brush), optical cleaning fluid, cotton bud.

Brush. You can get a dedicated camera brush for this, but you’ll probably pay extra for it. A large, soft make-up brush, or a man’s shaving brush (both of them unused, of course!) will do the job just as well, if not better. And will cost less. Give your camera a good brushing all over to remove surface grit and grot. Then ...

Blow. No, not with your mouth. There are two ways of doing this. Either buy a big fat bulb-type blower, that looks like a hand grenade with a pipe sticking out of the end, or use a can of compressed air. Don’t bother with those diddly little puffer and brushes combined. They’re close to useless. Use a big ‘un. Puff liberally all over the camera body and front element of the lens to shift any particles that have not been removed by brushing. Blow out the inside the lens cap too, as dust can gather there. If you’re using a can of compressed gas be a bit careful. This can spurt liquid propellant if you hold it the wrong way (like upside down). Finally ...

Wipe – using a microfibre cloth. This is a special type of tightly-woven cleaning cloth that has a unique, silky feel to it. You can buy these cloths in photo shops and or at opticians. Get a big one. You could use a well-washed piece of cotton, but cotton tends to shed fibres. In addition, microfibre cloths are good at removing greasy marks, and they prevent scratching. Just remember, you need to keep the cloth clean, too. So give it an occasional wash.

If there are stubborn greasy patches that won’t shift – and let’s be honest, your nose against the viewing screen can leave hard-to-shift marks – then use a dab of optical cleaning fluid. These liquids have been specially formulated to ensure that they don’t damage glass, plastic or coated surfaces, and they evaporate away harmlessly. But, even so, always read the instructions first. Never ever use other solvents like white spirit. Then you may well have a massive repair bill.

Clean the eyepiece of the viewfinder too. This is usually recessed and is a wonderful dust trap. A cotton bud, moistened with some optical cleaning fluid will do the job well. And, while you’re at it, check the dioptre adjustment - the little wheel or lever that sets the viewfinder to your individual vision. It can get knocked out of place during use, or your vision may have altered slightly since you last set the viewfinder. You can’t hope to take sharp photographs if you can’t view them clearly.

Cleaning the eyepiece. Check the dioptre seting at the same time.

Finally, don’t forget your camera bag. It’s no good putting your lovely clean gear back into a bag that’s been gathering dust all year. Empty it out completely, remove all the interior partitions and vacuum clean it. Make sure to get the nozzle into all the nooks and crannies, and suck dust out of the various pockets, too.
Next time round – cleaning your lenses.

Seeing straight

As you get older your vision ... the all-important sense to a photographer ... can change. But these changes can happen so slowly that you are unaware of them.

I'll never forget stepping out into the street, wearing my first pair of spectacles. I was in primary school at the time - still not very old - but even so,  my eyes had been changing. And they'd been changing so slowly that I hadn't noticed anything amiss.

But, fortunately, my mother had been keeping tabs on me, and had dragged me kicking and screaming (figuratively, that is) to the opticians for an eye test. No way did I want to wear glasses. The other kids at school called you names if you wore glasses, and they made you look 'swotty'. I didn't think I needed glasses ...

... until I stepped out into the street wearing them.

What a revelation! Everything was so sharp it was as if the town had been trimmed with a diamond-tipped saw. I could read the roadsigns. The trees had individual leaves instead of a blur of green. The clouds were sculpted and textured. Old peoples' faces had wrinkles and young kids smiled with gleaming white teeth. It was unbelievable. And the moment has stuck with me to this day.

Your vision can change at any time, and it's worth keeping a check on it. One way of doing this is to use an Amsler grid which may show changes that you wouldn't notice otherwise. You could print it, and stick it up somewhere in your kitchen so you'll remember to look at it ...

To use it:
  1. Wear your glasses if you need them and hold the grid 12 to 15 inches away from your face in good light
  2. Cover one eye
  3. Look directly at the centre dot with the uncovered eye
  4. Keep your eye on the the centre dot and note whether all lines of the grid are straight or if any areas are distorted, blurred or dark
  5. Repeat this procedure with the other eye
  6. If any area of the grid looks wavy, blurred or dark, contact your ophthalmologist immediately
This is not a substitute for a regular eye check by a qualified practioner, but it could pick up problems before they become too serious.

Vision is vital to a photographer.

Megapixel mania mashed

Here's an interesting development. The Canon Powershot G10, a top-of-the-range compact camera, has recently been superseded by the Canon Powershot G11.

"And what's so special about that?" do I hear you ask? "Manufacturers are upgrading their models all the time."

Yes, but get this. The G10 had a 14 megapixel sensor. The G11 has only 10.  In other words, Canon's 'development' is to reduce the number of megapixels in their upgrade.

It just goes to show that the widespread belief - much touted by salespeople - that the more megapixels the better, may not necessarily be the whole truth.

The megapixel rating of a camera does one thing, and one thing only. It tells you how big a print you can make at a certain resolution. That's all.

It tells you nothing about the quality of the image - the sharpness, the amount of 'noise' (random speckles), the colour differentiation - nothing.

Why? What is a megapixel? how does it work?

The rectangular sensor in your digital camera is made of rows and rows and rows of tiny light-sensitive dots called pixels (short for 'picture elements'). A megapixel is simply a million of these. The number is calculated in exactly the same way as you calculate the area of a rectangle, length x width.

So, if the sensor of your camera is 2000 pixels by 3000 pixels, that is 2000x3000 = 6'000'000 pixels = 6 million = 6 megapixels. Simple.

Camera sensors are different sizes. And it's pretty obvious that an ultra-compact pocketable camera is going to have a much smaller sensor that a digital single lens reflex. Here are a few sensor sizes, drawn to scale ...

It's not exactly rocket science to work out that 10 million pixels crammed into the ultra compact camera's sensor (green) are going to be squished together a whole lot more tightly than 8 million in the DSLR sensor (red).

And when pixels are squished together so tightly they begin to interfere with each other. Electronic 'noise' (not the same as sound noise), static charges, all sorts of interference, can spill over from one pixel to the next. We're talking ultra-microscopic dimensions here. As with you and me ... well, me, anyway ... given a bit more breathing space, pixels perform much better.

In other words, more pixels don't mean better. They can simply mean a worse photograph made of more dots.

And what about that bit "... megapixels tell you how big a print you can make ...".

That's right. You have to do a little bit of maths, but it's not difficult.

When you print one of your photographs, or display it on a screen, each pixel is represented by a tiny dot of colour. Look closely at a photograph in a magazine, and you'll see what I mean. The number of these pixels/dots that are squeezed into an inch (the old imperial system of measurements is still used here) determines the quality of the final image.

High-quality printed photographs use a resolution of 300 pixels per inch (ppi). Computer monitors have a lower resolution, at 72ppi.

Lets go back to our camera sensor which was 2000 pixels by 3000 pixels - 6 megapixels. In this case each pixel translates to a dot of colour when printed. So, if you're printing at 300 pixels per inch then the biggest photograph you can get is:

2000 ÷ 300 = 6.7 inches, and 3000 ÷ 300 = 10 inches.

In other words, if you go larger than 6.7 by 10 inches the image quality will start to degrade.

Is the maths making your head hurt? Don't despair. Here's a handy chart. And, notice, underneath it the authors describe several ways of 'cheating' to get larger images.

So that's why Canon dropped the megapixel rating of their latest top-of-the-range compact camera. To get a higher quality image. They ain't daft. They know that more megapixels aren't necessarily better.

Let it snow!

It's been snowing here. Masses of it.

I love the snow, it transforms everything and, for a while, makes a new world of otherwise familiar surroundings.

It also gives lots of opportunities for photography.

Mundane scenes, such as a garden rake lying against a flight of steps, become interesting graphic compositions:

Everyday scenes, such as this Swiss postman on his rounds, take on a new dimension:

Without the snow, this scene would be boring and dull. The postman, on his delivery bike, would hardly stand out against the grey of the road and background. With the snow it becomes a tiny story.

And you can get action shots, almost isolated on white. In any event, in the snow there is lots of opportunity for getting shots with  minimal background distraction.

Just remember a few points when taking shots of snow scenes:
  • Set your exposure compensation to over-expose at between 0.7 - 1.0 stop ... possibly even more. The reason is that your camera is not very clever. It is expecting you to take photographs of scenes containing a whole range of tones from black to white, and so averages out the exposure setting. If you average out the exposure for a scene with a lot of bright tones in it, such as snow or beach, and you'll get the white coming out as a dirty grey.

  • Make sure your sensor is clean. Snow being bright, will often require small apertures and, at small apertures, every speck of dust on your sensor shows. This is made worse by the fact that snow scenes tend to have a lot of plain colours against which dust shows up.

  • When you've finished photographing snow and you go back indoors, don't be tempted to transfer all those brilliant images to your computer immediately. Keep your camera securely zipped up in its bag/case for several hours until it has warmed up to room temperature. Condensation will form on a cold camera in a warm house and, whilst condensation on the outside of the camera is pretty harmless, if moisture condenses between the lens elements, actually within the lens, you could have a big problem on your hands.

Let it snow!

Frozen Britain

One of my personal photographic mantras is 'always look for a different viewpoint'.

Which is why I'm sometimes to be seen lying on the ground with my camera, or climbing up fire escapes.

But, seeing as I can't yet afford the millions that it takes to be a space tourist, this is a viewpoint I'll never achieve ...

Photo: NASA/GSFC, MODIS Rapid Response

Great Photographs - No. 1 "Boulevard du Temple, Paris, eight in the morning"

This astonishing image has to rank amongst the 100 greatest photographs of all time ...

Boulevard du Temple, Paris, eight in the morning (1838?)
by Louis-Jacques Daguerre
(Click on the image to see it larger)

It is a daguerrotype, an image recorded on a sheet of copper coated with silver and developed by mercury fumes. Ironically the hour at which it was taken is known, but the year is not. It was either 1838 or 1839.

At first glance this may seem like a rather ordinary ... even boring ... subject. And it's badly scratched too. Aren't I saying its so great, simply because its so old?

No. Look carefully to the bottom left. There you will see two human figures, a customer having his shoes polished by a bootblack. These two unknown characters were the first humans to be photographed. Their simple, everyday transaction has made them immortal.

How come there is no one else in the image? Weren't the streets of Paris busy at that time?

They were. But Daguerre would have had to use an exposure of 10-15 minutes to get this image. So all the other Parisians, bustling back and forth, have not come out.

All the commentaries on this photograph that I have read speculate that these two were probably unaware that they were being recorded. And they say that Daguerre knew neither of them. One photo-historian writes, "He (Daguerre) quite possibly didn't notice them as he focused his camera, but his plate remained true to nature, and one can imagine his delight when the mercury fumes revealed their presence during development."

I wonder.

Daguerre would have known that people moving about would not record on his plate and I have a sneaking suspicion he planted these two. Apart from anything else, who has one shoe polished for 10 to 15 minutes? Then it's a slightly odd place for a bootblack to set up business, right on a corner, close to the kerb, and directly in the path of people walking up and down the road.

Finally, these two are very conveniently placed close to the classic compositional 'thirds' position.

I think that it has been set up ... not that this detracts from the image in any way. Those two make the picture. I'm guessing that Daguerre knew a thing or two about composition as well as developing plates with mercury fumes. He knew that a 'heartbeat' would improve his image. But he couldn't just have a person or two standing motionless on the street corner. Apart from the fact that it would look odd to passers-by, it would also look odd on the image. So, get them to do something, and what more natural than a shoe shine?

In a further bizarre twist of fate, this image has been saved for us by an invention of Daguerre's rival, William Henry Fox Talbot. Fox Talbot invented the calotype which was the precursor of modern film photography. (Film photography replaced the daguerrotype process and made it obsolete.)

Whilst this daguerrotype was display in a museum in Munich, in 1937, an eminent photo-historian, Beaumont Newhall commissioned a very high-quality photograph of it ... using photographic film of course.

Subsequently, Daguerre's picture survived the bombings of Munich in 1940 but, shortly after the war, an over-zealous museum curator attempted to clean it. The mercury amalgamated to the silver was incredibly fragile - likened to the powdery scales on a butterfly's wings - and the hapless curator wiped the whole thing clean.

But Beaumont Newhall's  photograph of it survived. And a replica daguerrotype could be made.

An amazing story around a truly great photograph.

Would you Adam and Eve it?

Inspiration strikes in the strangest places.

There I was last winter, soaking in a steaming hot bath, gazing at my toes and meditating on the State of the World when, out of nowhere, it struck me. Taps ... tub ... and toes peeping out of the water. What a great angle for a photograph!

I won't say I cried "Eureka!" and dashed naked through the house looking for my camera. But the the next day I took another bath (no sarcastic comments please), setting it up carefully, with plenty of foam, a loofah, and a strategically-placed bathy sort of bottle. Then I placed my camera on a stool beside the tub, climbed into the water and lay down.

Gingerly picking up my camera, and holding it very tight, I shot away, with the flash pointed up at the ceiling. Bathrooms are beautiful places for photography. They generally have a lot of white in them, with plenty of reflective surfaces too. The light bounces all over the place and fills in shadows giving a very balanced effect. (They're excellent for portraits too. But that's another story.)

It's an odd feeling, to be lying in a hot bath taking photographs.

Cut to this Christmas.

When I got back from my jaunt to UK through a snowy France and a blocked Channel Tunnel, I found an e-mail waiting from a group called Elf Cottage Music (yes, that's their name ... I kid you not) telling me that they bought one of my photographs to illustrate a seasonal song of theirs called A Stay at Home Quiet Christmas. And the video of it could be seen on YouTube.

What image of mine could they have used? A Christmas tree in the snow? A sprig of holly isolated on white? Skiers swooping down a wintry mountain? It surely had to be something Christmassy.

Watch carefully at 1m30s ...

To say I was gobsmacked is an understatement.

Still ... for once it's nice to know where one of my photos has been used. Thanks Elf Cottage Music.

And always be on the lookout for new angles for your photographs.

Happy New Year.