A Walk Up Primrose Hill

As you may have noticed, I added a few vacation days to a work trip to London earlier this month. Of course with some free days, I spent all most all of them taking photos and over the next few days I'll share some of my favorites here. Today's photos are the result of a early morning trip to Primrose Hill in the Primrose Hill District of London. The hill of 213 feet is located on the northern side of Regent's Park and offers a pretty stunning view of central London. Nowadays it is one of the most exclusive and expensive residential areas in London and is home to many prominent residents. I took the tube at sunrise to take photos as I heard that every photographer has to take picture on this hill. To be honest, it was a little underwhelming, but did offer a great view and it was a fun little trip on the tube and a bus to get there. The first shot is a pano made up of 8 individual photos all taken at 1/15 sec at f/18, ISO 100. It's easiest to shoot a pano on manual so your exposure remains constant for all the photos in the group. You don't want your exposure to change as you take the photos while you move around.

This is the view from standing at the top of the hill, facing central London across the river.  If you look carefully toward the right of center, you can see the London Eye.

This is the view from standing at the top of the hill, facing central London across the river.  If you look carefully toward the right of center, you can see the London Eye.

The second photos was unplanned, but has a pretty good story behind it. Remember, I was at Primrose Hill at about 6:00 in the morning. As I started hiking up the hill, I passed about 8 guys, all drinking, half smoking pot and half with no shirts... at 6:00am. So, to fit in, I decided to take off my shirt and drink with them. Yeah... I'm kidding. I walked up the hill and one of the guys (who was wearing a shirt) started shouting at me, "hey photo man... take our picture... come on photo man." So I figured I was in no position to say no to them, so when they realized that I was willing to photograph them, three of the 8 guys stood together, with their weed and drinks in hand, and posed for the attached picture. You can pretty easily tell the guy who asked for the photo to be taken. He's the guy who's not covering his face and is actually smiling. Anyway, after taking one photo and thinking "okay, it's time for me to get out of here," the guy, in his completely wasted, drunk voice, said, "thank you photo man... now share that picture and tell the world about us." I'm not sure what I'm supposed to tell the world, but here's the picture. Taken at 1/80 sec at f/6.3, ISO 100 and processed in Tonality Pro. Enjoy!

Cyclo-cross... Not Cyclecross.

So I've been saying for the last week that I shot pictures at a cyclecross event last weekend.  I thought it was cyclecross because it's a sport that combines road racing and mountain biking.  You know, a "cross" between road and mountain biking.  Makes sense, right?  Turns out it's called cyclo-cross racing.  You know why?  Yeah, me neither.  I guess it's a cross between mountain biking and cycloing and we all know what cycloing is, right?  Yeah, me neither.

Well, last weekend my brother-in-law asked if I wanted to attend one of his cyclo-cross races and maybe bring my camera and shoot some pictures.  Honestly, all I heard was "blah, blah, blah blah, blah, shoot some pictures," so of course I said yes! :-)   Anyway, I had no idea what to expect, but I figured it would be a nice day outside, I'll get to play with my camera stuff and I might see something cool.  Well, it was awesome.  Lots of riders, lots of dirt, fast bikes and beautiful weather.  Throw in the fact that the backdrop for this whole day was Candlestick Park and it couldn't be beat.  What more could one want on a Sunday morning?  Well, now that I think about it, I guess all the riders could have been lingerie models, but that's probably asking a bit much.

Well, it wasn't all good news.  It actually turned out to be one of the most challenging shoots I've done since last year when I did a photo shoot on a trampoline with a juggling bear and a lady dressed like a clown... and I never did that.  Why was it so hard?  Well, if somebody had asked me to just go shoot pictures at this event and get some good ones of all the different riders, it would have been much easier.  I could have camped out at a few prime locations and taken shots when I wanted to, of the riders that were positioned to have a great photo made of them.  Instead, I was trying to focus on one rider, my brother-in-law, and he as almost NEVER where I wanted him to be.  I'd pick a great location for a shot and when he came around he'd be in a pack with 6 or 7 other people, making a great shot of him almost impossible.  If I could have focused on the riders who were at the right angle to the sun, separate from the group and riding at just the right speed, it would have been easy.  Well, easier.

Another challenge was getting the right shutter speed.  Choosing the right shutter speed when shooting bike races is really important, because you often want to convey a sense of motion.  If you just take a shot with a really fast shutter speed, to get a really sharp shot, you'll freeze the action and won't have a sense of movement in the photo, so it will look like the person is just standing still, upright on their bike.  So you have to decide how much motion you want.  A slow shutter speed will allow a blur of the rider going by, if you hold the camera steady when you take the shot of the rider.  If you pan along horizontally with the rider and have the right shutter speed selected, you'll be able to blur the background and the spokes (for you non-riders, I'm talking about the wheels), but the rider will be tack-sharp.  It's really cool effect if you get everything working together correctly and really conveys the motion and speed.

Photographers usually pay as much attention to what's behind their subject as to the subject itself. When choosing a location to shoot passing cyclists, keep in mind what's across the trail, if possible. The colorful riders will really pop when shot against a dark, uniform background. A bunch of dark green trees are ideal (of course I had nothing but dead grass and shrubs for miles), as are cliffs or open skies. Avoid distracting elements like light poles, ugly buildings, ugly people, parked cars or signs. Anything that competes with the main subject—the rider—is something you want to keep out of your photo.

Photographing outdoors and cycling in particular can be awesome, but be prepared to move around with your camera to get that great shot. You’ll want to become proficient in panning and using a shutter between 1/15s and 1/90s to get dynamic shots with a blurred background. Use shutter speeds of 1/800s or faster to freeze the action or movement. Use a long lens to get tight compositions. Be prepared to increase the ISO when using fast shutter speeds or in lower light situations. Remember that where you position yourself for the shot is critical to ensure those awesome compositions.  Climb a tree, cross over a barrier, get on somebody's shoulders... whatever.  

If you're going to go out and try shooting cycle-cross, have fun and practice.  I can promise you'll have fun and can also promise that the sun, rider, bike, background and other riders will almost NEVER been in the place you want them when you want them there.  So take baby steps... Practice one aspect at a time until you can put it all together.  And if it doesn't work out for you, try cyclecross... I hear that's much easier to take photos of.


Baby got back... up.

So, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to write about this week as I watched my photos being backed up from my hard drive to the cloud with a service called Blackblaze.  I thought about writing about taking glamour portraits, as I'm taking an all-day class on the subject tomorrow, but since I hadn't taken the class yet, that didn't seem like a good option.  I thought about an entry focusing on taking photos of uncooperative adults, but I couldn't find any.  I thought writing on how much I hated the Dodgers and wanted them to fail miserably in the playoffs wasn't a good idea, as that could alienate many of the tens of people who read this blog.  Then it hit me... why not write about the back-up process I'm going through right now... remember Blackblaze?  Come on... I just wrote about it two or three sentences ago.  Now you remember?  There are many ways to back up your photos and some are right for some people and some for others, but whatever you do, back-up your photos!  Your hard drive is going to fail. It's not a matter of if, it's when.  You'll want to be prepared.  I back up my photos three different ways right now and as soon as I get my new Drobo system all hooked up, it will be five.  Well, technically four, because when I hook up the Drobo I'm going to remove the hard drive I'm currently using, but you get the idea.

This is the view I have right now while I'm typing this.  I have over 28,000 files being backed up to the cloud.  I have just under 2,000 to go and then everything on my computer will be backed up and accessible when I need it, in the cloud.

1) You're going to want to back up your photos online, or "in the cloud," as we nerdy guys like to say. Come on, it just sounds cool when you say you're doing things in the cloud!

Storing photos in the cloud means you can access them from any device that has an Internet connection. Your pictures will live online, available on a personal, password-protected website; you can sign in to that website, just like you would your email, to view those pictures or download them onto your computer.

Most cloud storage service sites are free to sign up for, and each service gives you a certain amount of free space before you have to pay a yearly fee. Backblaze, which I mentioned earlier is one of these sites.  You can back up your entire computer... all of it for as little as $3.50 a month if you sign up for two years.  Even if you go month to month, it won't cost you more than $5 a month.  It's totally simple too.  You literally sign up and set up a password and then download their software and push "start."  You're done.  That's it.  It's that easy.  It will initially take a couple days depending on how many files you're backing up, but once you do it, the software will continue to monitor your system, looking for changes and will back-up any new changes you make as you make them.  Then, if something should happen to your computer, all your files and photos will be in the cloud, on this back-up website, waiting for you to download and put on your new computer or hard drive.

Which cloud should you choose to park your ass upon? These cloud storage sites are all easy to use and function essentially the same.  What really matters is that you select one and commit to it. They all do roughly the same thing for roughly the same amount of money.  I did a lot of research before I chose Backblaze, so feel free to email me if you have any questions.

2) Buy an external hard drive.

The other option, which I use in addition to the online back-up system, is an external hard drive.  An external hard drive is a portable storage space that plugs into your computer and can be used to store huge amounts of data and files.

If you own a computer, you really should already have a portable hard drive -- backing up your entire hard drive and operating system regularly can dull the pain of any number of digital catastrophes that could otherwise wipe out your data.

You can buy an external 1TB hard drive wherever you buy computer equipment for under $100; a good rule of thumb is to purchase one that is at least twice as much storage as your computer's hard drive. Most external hard drives are easy to operate, as you just plug the drive in to your computer and drag the folders and files you want saved into the folder that represents the drive. There are also several free programs you can download that will automate the backup process for you without changing anything on your computer.  If you use a Mac, you can use the built in Time Machine program, which couldn't be easier to use.  

So what do I do?

I have an external drive plugged into my computer that copies all my files.  I have another external hard drive that I keep elsewhere and once a month I download all my photos to it.  That way, if something bad happens to my computer and the external drive that's plugged into it, I have this one as a back-up.  AND, I'm backing up my whole system to the cloud.  So hopefully I'm totally covered.  If anything happens, I'm covered a bunch of different ways... just in case. 

Unless you have magical powers, you cannot know when your computer will fail, your hard drive will break, you'll be abducted by aliens, a car will crash into your computer, or your dog will piss on your hard drive. Backing up your computer isn't the sexiest or most fun activity, but it just might be the one that saves the all-too-vulnerable bundle of memories on your hard drive.  We all know people who have lost everything on their computers.  It's a horrible feeling and it's relatively easy to avoid if you're prepared. 

Stop putting this off. Back up your photos today.  DO IT NOW!  I'll wait.



Wow, this place sucks.

So I'm sure this has happen to all of us, oh, I don't know... at least a million times.  You're out trying to take some awesome pictures and you're presented with want could only be called, an environment that is less than aesthetically pleasing. Whether you’re shooting portraits, environmental photos, or just taking some random shots with your iPhone, there are plenty of ways you can work around the fact that you’re in a not-so-interesting location.

1. Shoot From Interesting Angles 

There first thing you need to do, is take a moment to look at the scene, visualizing angles that will make your composition more interesting. Sometimes, shooting from a higher, or lower, angle than you would normally shoot will make all the difference in the world, and will also help take attention away from the aspects of the location that are not as interesting as others.  You'll be amazed at moving just a few feet can reveal or obscure in your photos.  That ugly thing on the wall... move a few feet to your right and poof, it goes away!

An unconventional angle makes this typical (insert "boring") shot a lot more interesting.

2. Experiment with focus

If you are photographing people, try shooting with a wide aperture in order to blur out the background, and bring focus to your subject. If you are not photographing people, look for interesting details in the location, and focus in on the details, rather than the entire scope of the scene.

3. Lighting 

If you have a flash, or any type of light, a little bit of light can go a long way in upping the interest factor in your photos. Experiment with low and high key light, and also, similar to focus, look for interesting details in the location to accentuate with lighting.  Using lighting to highlight an area of your photo is an easy way to direct focus and can be easily faked it Lightroom.

4. Time of Day 

A location may be uninteresting at one time of day, but at a different time of day, it may look completely different. Try shooting in the golden hour – either early in the morning, or late in the evening, to achieve golden, hazy light. Or, think about how the scene would look at night, shot with a long exposure. Heck, you'll probably shoot in the middle of the day and ignore all of this advice, but then I can at least say I told you so!

5. Post-Processing 

When in doubt, you've heard me say it before and I'll say it again (and probably a few times more after that) go to Lightroom and Photoshop! The danger in post-processing photos from an uninteresting location, however, is the tendency to over-edit. This is a situation where you really, really don't need to over-edit, as it will appear as though you are over-compensating, thus drawing attention to the uninteresting location. Keep it simple – see how the image looks in black and white, or try your hand at (extremely minimal) HDR, in order to bring out more highlights and shadows.

If your image isn't working for you, has an uninteresting sky, or you're just not digging the colors, try it in black and white.  What's the worst thing that will happen... you'll have an ugly black and white photo. ;-)

To RAW, or not to RAW... That is the question.

So for those of you really new to photography, this might not even be a question you have ever thought about.  For those of you relitivley new, you have probably thought about it, but decided it wasn't another thing you wanted to add to the countless things you're already learning about photography.  For those of you who have been shooting a long time, you're probably already shooting raw and if you're not... what's wrong with you?  You're clearly doing it wrong! ;-)  Okay, shooting RAW isn't for everybody but I do think it's for a lot of people.  In this post I'll try to highlight some of the benefits and reasons to make the change.  You may decide it's still not right for you... that's okay... as long as you know.  If you make the conscious decision, knowing the facts, to be wrong, well I won't hold that against you. :-)

First thing we have to ask ourselves is what the heck is RAW anyway?  In some cases, like sushi, it's the most delicious way to eat fish.  I kinda wish this was a blog entry about eating sushi, cause, well, it's awesome, but I digress.  When it comes to photography, RAW is a file format that captures all image data recorded by the sensor when you take a photo. Now you're probably asking yourself... Self, isn't that what happens every time I take a picture?  Well, not in most cases.  Most cameras, if you haven't changed any of the settings, shoot JPEGs.  When shooting JPEGs your photos are compressed and a lot of the information that affects the quality of the image is lost. Because no information is compressed with RAW you’re able to produce higher quality images, as well as correct problem images that would be unrecoverable if shot in the JPEG format.  Don't worry, though, many cameras these days shoot RAW, including point and shoots! So even if you’re using a teenie weenie camera, you might still be able to take advantage of the RAW file format.  No, the new iPhone doesn't shoot RAW, but it is awesome and has a great camera, so go out and get one... I'll wait.

So, let's talk about the benefits of shooting RAW.


Get the Highest Level of Quality

This is one of the biggest benefits. When you shoot in RAW you record all of the data from the sensor.  None of the data is thrown away, or loss during the compression process like it is with JPEGs. This gives the highest quality files. And when it comes to your images, you want high quality.  Now that's assuming your photos are awesome.  If you have some sucky ones, feel free to compress those until the cows come home. The problem with letting your camera convert your photos into JPEGs automatically is that the camera does its own processing to convert the RAW information into a JPEG.  However, your camera is nowhere near as smart as you are... or at least I am, nor is it as powerful as your computer. When you shoot RAW, you’re able to do that processing yourself. You can make the decisions on how the image should look, and in my opinion, produce way better results.


Record Greater Levels of Brightnes

Levels of brightness are the number of steps from black to white in an image. The more you have, the smoother the transitions of tones. Smooth is good.

JPEG records 256 levels of brightness, and RAW records between 4,096 to 16,384 levels! This is described with the term “bit”. JPEG captures in 8bit, and RAW is either 12bit or 14bit. The effect this has on your images is huge. Those additional steps of brightness let you make more adjustments (exposure, blacks, fill light, recovery, contrast, brightness) to your image without a significant reduction of quality, because there’s more levels to work with!  


Easily Correct Dramatically Over/Under Exposed Images

Obviously you want to get the best exposure in camera, but sometimes that doesn't happen and you wind up with a dramatically over or under exposed image. Since there is basically more information in the photo for you to play with.  A photo that's overexposed, when shot RAW, will have a greater ability to tone down the highlights and recover that blown out information, making the photo beautiful again!.


Easily Adjust White Balance

When you shoot JPEG the white balance is applied to the image. You can’t just easily choose another option. With RAW the white balance is still recorded, but because you have way more data, it’s way more easy to adjust.  Was that even english?  I don't think so, but I'm trying to make a point.

Great white balance and colour are essential to an awesome image, and shooting RAW lets you make the adjustments easier and faster, with better results.


Get Better Detail

When you shoot RAW you'll have access to sharpening and noise reduction tools in a program like Lightroom (uh, have I mentioned how much I love this program) that are way more powerful than those found in your camera.  You have to use a post processing program like Lightroom to work with your photos when shooting RAW and we'll touch on that more in a bit.


Non-Destructive Editing

 When you make adjustments to a RAW file, you’re not actually doing anything to the original data. What you’re doing is creating a set of instructions for how the JPEG or other file format should be saved.

The awesomness of this is that you never ever have to worry about ruining an image, not that you would after reading this blog . You can always reset your adjustments, and start over again.




 Now, at this point, you're probably asking yourself either, "why am I still reading this shit," or, "okay, this is pretty awesome, so are the any reasons not to shoot RAW?  There are always pros and cons to every option, and RAW does have a few downsides. I personally think the pros really outweigh the cons, but we'll talk about the cons anyway... just for fun.



A common argument against shooting RAW is that because the files need to be processed, it takes more time to shoot RAW than JPEG. If you don’t do any processing to your JPEGs that might be true.  However since reading this blog you all know how awesome, powerful and awesome Lightroom is, that's not really an issue.  Your photos will turn out more awesomer and if you're like me, you'll really enjoy editing your photos.

Then, when you add in the fact that adjustments like white balancing, and recovering highlights and shadows are faster and easier with RAW files, and it almost starts looking like processing RAW can be faster than JPEG!!

Then, with RAW, you can easily export to JPEG, as well as convert to various sizes and other file formats.



Since RAW files have more uncompressed information they can be 2-3 times larger than JPEG files. This is definitely a concern for many people, especially those who create a lot of images.  However, when you look at how inexpensive storage has become, it's not nearly as much of an issue.  I recently bought a 2TB hard drive for about $100.  Now there's a lot to consider when buying storage, but the point is it's become more and more affordable, so adding space to your computer easy.

Memory cards are the same deal. They’re constantly getting cheaper and cheaper.  I remember a few years ago, spending about $90 on a 1GB SD card for one of our cameras. 1GB!!  A few months ago I bought another 16GB card for a recent trip and spent $30.  $30!!!

Yes, RAW files are bigger and take up more space. But that’s because they’re of higher quality. Go with high quality and get some extra storage.  Its easier, safer and more affordable than ever!



 RAW files are larger than JPEGs, so they’ll fill up the buffer of your camera faster. The camera will still shoot the same frames per second, regardless of wehther it is RAW or JPEG, but you may have to wait for the camera to write to the memory card if the buffer fills up. If shooting fast sequences if critical for you, you're probably a professional sports photographer, or just cooler than me.  If you want to shoot RAW and you probably do, you can purchase faster memory cards, or a more expensive camera with a larger buffer.



 RAW files are often recorded in a proprietary format, which means that the camera manufacturers haven’t officially disclosed how the raw data can be converted. Companies like Adobe either need to license software to decode the RAW files or reverse engineer how the files should be converted. (For Canon cameras the RAW format looks like .CR2 and for Nikon it’s .NEF).  So how do we view this RAW files on our computers?  BUY LIGHTROOM!  With a program like Lightroom, Photoshop, Camera RAW, or many others, you'll be able to open, edit and save your RAW photos anyway you like.



So there it is, at least in my mind. Hopefully this look at RAW and it’s benefits has cleared things up a bit! You know have most, if not all of the information to make a decision on how you want to shoot.  Uncompressed RAW images or compressed, poopy, JPEG images. ;-)  Each have their advantages.  Whatever you decide... just go out and take some pictures.