My Photographs | October 29, 2003

When I first launched my photography site, I got a rush of emails from people asking about the equipment and techniques I use. This has levelled off the last couple of months, but going thought my backlog of emails, Iíve had at least 4 people asking about my images. As such, instead of writing to everybody individually I thought it would make sense to write a short post.

On the equipment front, I use the fairly basic, consumer level Cannon EOS 300V. I used to use the EOS 3000N but upgraded to the 300V last month. There isnít much difference between the two. My new camera is a little smaller, a little lighter and a little more ergonomic. Itís slightly faster and handles low light a little better. The main difference (and the selling point to me) was the addition of a depth of field preview. The only negative thing about my new camera is it seems to have a slight tendency to overexpose, so Iíll probably start underexposing every roll by half a stop.

On the lens front, I used to use the lens that came with my 3000N kit. It was fine but I decided to upgrade to a slightly better (but still consumer level) lens and recently bought a Cannon EOS 28-105mm F3.5-4.5 lens.

I have a couple of filters. I keep an UV filter on my lens at most times. This is primarily to protect the lens from grubby fingers and in case it gets bashed or dropped. Much better to buy a new £5 filter, than a £200 lens.

I also travel with a circular polarising filter. This is great for adding colour to blue skies. Itís also good for removing reflections from glass, water etc. It also acts as a weak neutral density filter, useful if you want to reduce the amount of light by a stop.

Finally I recently bought a close-up filter. Iíd prefer to get a Macro lens, but at £350 I just canít afford it. The close up filter changes the focal length of the lens, letting you get closer to a subject. However itís not ideal as it causes some distortion in the image.

My last bit of kit is a tripod and a cable release. For any low light or landscape photography a good tripod is essential. Unfortunately Iíve got a rubbish tripod, which doesnít sit horizontally, so I really need to get a new one.

Film wise I generally use print film. Iíd like to try slide film but print film is just so flexible. Itís cheap, easy to get processed, you can buy it anywhere and itís very forgiving to over or under exposure.

I get my film processed at my local Jessopps. The people behind the counter are pretty unfriendly and unhelpful (to the point of being rude) but the results are generally OK. Iíd love to get all my film professionally processed, but I really canít afford that. However if I want to display my photos I do get them hand printed.

I scan the photos in and then use auto levels to level out the image. I also either use despeckle or dust and scratches to remove any little bits of dust on the print. This is the only digital manipulation I do and is only really intended to compensate for a rubbish scanner and not getting my photos hand printed.

Many people have asked how I manage to get such nice colours. Basically itís down the quality of the light. Generally the best time to shoot is the hour after sunrise or the hour before sunset. At this time the light is really good and bathes everything with a beautiful blue/gold light. However most people are out photographing at midday and this causes pictures to lack detail and look a little washed out. To get really strong saturation you need a defused light source, so a bright, but slightly cloudy day is best.

A lot of people ask how I approach people to take their photograph. Occasionally Iíll steal a sneaky shot of somebody using a telephoto lens. However mostly I get peoples permission before hand. Unlike in the west, people in Asia really seem to like people taking their photos. I usually hang around a place (like a market) for a while so people get used to me. Most people find it slightly amusing seeing a westerner wandering a around a market taking pictures of vegetables (like donít they have vegetables at home?). Once people get used to me, I can usually tell who wonít mind having their pictures taken (they are the ones giggling and smiling at you) and who will mind (by waving their hands or shyly covering their faces with a newspaper). Usually a smile and a gesture with your camera is enough to find out if somebody minds their picture being taken or not.

As far as advice goes, the best thing to do is take lots and lots of pictures. On a two week holiday Iíll probably take between 10-20 rolls of film. A professional photographer would easily take this number in a single day. The more pics you take the more chance youíll have of getting a good one. I generally have a hit rate of 1/2. That is one good picture every two rolls of film. So the more rolls I take, the more descent pictures I end up with. If you see a subject you like, donít just take a single image. Try different exposures, different angles and different compositions to get that perfect shot. In travel photography itís usually pretty expensive to get to your destination and youíll probably not be back in a hurry, so why worry about shooting too much film.

Itís easy to say, but spend time on your composition. Iím generally far to quick at taking photos and when I get home notice small details in the photos that Iíd wished Iíd seen at the time. This is generally because Iím away with other people who donít take as many photos as me and Iím conscious of holding them up. In fact most of my best pictures have been taken when Iíve gone off on my own for an hour and donít have to worry about spending 20min getting one shot.

So at the end of the day itís not really about the kit you have or the film you use. Itís about spending time getting a good composition, understanding exposure (something Iím terrible at) and taking lotís and lotís of pictures.

Posted at October 29, 2003 7:39 PM


Stephane said on October 30, 2003 11:06 PM

I had kind of the same experience with a friend. He was amaze at my pictures for years before he simply started to take enough picture and move a little bit on a subject. Now he takes picture that are as good as mine, some even better.

I also find that people look at me funny when I’m crouching or moving at a weird angle in front of a subject. A couple of years ago, I was at a open door formula one activities and I kept sitting on the pavement to get the nose of the car at eye level, people would look at me asking themselves why would I sit on pavement, well the pictures came out great and my friend was amaze.

It’s just you you look at things.

ę understanding exposure (something Iím terrible at)†Ľ
I just trust my camera, after a while with a new camera, I tend to learn how to shoot with that camera. My friend ask me how I get these colour, I had to tell him that I don’t really know, it’s mostly how I shoot with my camera…

By the way, even if you say that it wasn’t great at Angkor, you did some great shot.

Andy Budd said on November 3, 2003 8:15 PM

Due to the fact that cameras only record the reflected light from a subject, they inherently have to take guesses about exposure. As such you’re forced to rely on the internal software and while this is often good, it doesn’t (and can’t )always get things right. As such I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a light meter. These devices work out the light actually falling on a subject, taking away the need for the camera to make these assumptions. While it’s not an all round solution, it’s probably a handy addition to ones kit bag.

Trevor May said on November 6, 2003 2:44 PM

Your comment about Jessops made me laugh out loud. They really must have scoured the Earth to find the most unhelpful and unfriendly people to work there. I took a film in a few months ago for a one hour processing, and they actually forgot to process it! I tend to use Snappy Snaps around the corner instead now. The staff in there actually seem to know what they’re doing, or at least attempt to develop my photos on time.