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I’m on a Mission, a mission to help you take better photos!

You see, I love looking at photos, I love taking photos andthumbnail feature box
I love talking about them!

And most of all I want to help you take better Photos, and have more fun doing it…

It doesn’t matter what camera you use, whether it’s a Mobile Phone, Point and Shoot, DSLR or Mirrorless camera I don’t care :)

Let’s get to work…

Are you ever hungry but don’t know what you want to eat?

I know that happens to me!

It can also happen with my photography, I want to go out shooting but I don’t know what I want to shoot, landscape, urban, close-up, family?

So when I’m in a rut like that then I tend to use one of these 3 tips to help me out of it: [click to continue…]

How did you get into Photography?

If it’s because you love gadgets, or because you love to capture the image that you see, or you like recording memories, or you like the flexibility of post processing?

Whatever the reason is, I want to know – How did you get into Photography?

I’ll go first: [click to continue…]

It’s been a while…

I didn’t want to just start posting again and ignore my lack of activity…

Although it’s no excuse I have been very busy since last year with Google Business Photos, I’ve been through my training, certification process and I’m now a fully fledged Google Trusted Photographer (even got a t-shirt to prove it!).

Google Business Photos is a program for businesses which enables them to have a 360 virtual tour done of inside their business, using the same technology as Street View (but not the car lol!). [click to continue…]

I thought I’d have a bit of fun!

Last time I looked at megapixels and how they really affect our photography.

So I thought this time I’d see if you can tell which photo was taken with which camera? [click to continue…]

Megapixels:

The larger the Megapixels the better the image?

The first thing you hear about when you are looking at a camera is how many Megapixels it has?

So you’d think that Megapixels are very important when it comes to choosing a camera and taking photographs?

And the more you have the better…

But is there more to it than that?

Yes there is….

Megapixels are only part of what is involved in image quality. The image sensor, processor, metering and lenses are all part of image quality.

Megapixels and how many there are determine the size of the image.

The more Megapixels there are the larger you can print your image.

Simple….. Hey?

With all the new very large Megapixel cameras that are coming out it’s good to understand what Megapixels are. And also to realise what that means – the more Megapixels the larger the image file size.

So the more storage space you will need!

Whether that’s memory cards, hard drives or the Cloud!

What is for certain is that technology is moving on a pace, and keeping up with it can be a full time job….

Mandy

Can You Take Fantastic Photography on a Budget?

Yes, I think so….

That’s one of the reasons I run this site, to show you how it can be done.

I love my photography, I get so much enjoyment out of it and in so many ways.

But my photography is on a budget!

Why should that stop me creating great shots? (I may be biased!).

Faulty Lens

So a couple of weeks back I was faced with the unthinkable, the auto focus on my lens broke!

It would still work in manual focus, but on the 18-55mm kit lens it’s very slow and very fiddly…

The only other lens I have is a 50mm f1.8 so thankfully I wasn’t completely stuck.

And although I was having a great time being made to shoot with a 50mm (it really changes the way you think and shoot). I was missing the flexibility of a zoom.

*Before I say anything else, for photography on a budget I think the best lens choice is a good zoom lens and a prime lens. And money wise I think there is no better choice than the 50mm f/1.8 prime lens.*

The Decision

I knew I didn’t want to buy another 18-55mm kit lens.

So I was shopping for a zoom lens, I always try to get the very best I can with my budget and I like to research thoroughly to make sure I do.

After a lot of searching and reading reviews I decided on the Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Standard Zoom Lens, it ticked all my boxes. I wanted a good walk around zoom that incorporated a wide angle for landscapes and had a longer range than the 18-55, and the price was in budget.

I know I’m going on about budget and money but at the end of the day photography is an expensive hobby and it does come down to money…. and lenses aren’t cheap!

And on that point, when I was shopping for a lens it did start to raise a question over my camera body? I have a Canon 450D.

The 18-135mm lens just happens to be the kit lens with a Canon 600D/T3i. Should I upgrade my camera body at the same time, and sell my old one second hand before it gets too old and loses too much money?

Photography Advice

If I was to follow general photography advice then…..

  • I should buy better Glass (lenses) over camera bodies.
  • I shouldn’t just upgrade within my existing camera range (xxxD), I should move up in the DSLR range (xxD).

I blew it! I ignored all the normal photography advice and went for what I think fitted me the best for my photography…

oops!

A New Camera

I bought the Canon EOS 600D/T3i 18MP DSLR Camera and EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens.

Canon 600D/T3i 18-135mm lens

Canon 600D/T3i 18-135mm lens

I do agree with that photography advice.

I think it’s good advice as a guideline, and if I wasn’t on such a budget I would probably follow that advice. But each photographer and their needs are individual and that’s why the standard advice isn’t always a good fit.

If I had a larger budget and in an ideal world I would have gone for a Canon 7D with EF-S 15-85mm Lens.

I may even have looked at the Sony NEX-7 mirrorless system if I’d had bigger pockets.

And if money was no object I would have gone for a Canon 5D Mark III with 24-105mm L Lens.

But……

They are wonderful gadgets, but not essential to take great photographs with.

It’s the photographer that presses the shutter button not the camera.

I think it’s more important to learn how your camera works better, and understand composition and light, and develop your photographers eye for the situation.

And that’s exactly what can be done with today’s entry level DLSRs.

Conclusion

So just because your photography is on a budget doesn’t mean it has to suffer.

There’s some great mobile phone photography out there never mind anything else!

I’m very happy that I upgraded to a 600D/T3i and I’ll write a full review soon to explain exactly why.

I’d also love to hear your views on photography budgets, do you have one? Feel free to add your views in the comments.

Mandy

If there’s one bad photography habit that I’ve got that really annoys me it’s shooting wonky horizons.

I’m forever doing it, I could swear it was straight when I took the shot but when I check it’s off again!

I don’t know maybe one of my legs is shorter than the other? Or maybe I’m just wonky?

Or maybe it’s just a detail that I’m not spending enough time on to make sure it’s right?

I like to get things right in camera rather than just rely on ‘it’s ok I’ll fix it later’ attitude.

So what I generally do in camera to stop myself doing this, is to line the horizon up with one of the lines of auto focus points in the viewfinder, and that works really well.

But for every other time when one slips through the net here’s how I straighten the horizon in Photoshop:

Rotate canvas

rotate canvas

rotate canvas - arbitrary

What I’ve always done is use the rotate canvas option from the image menu and choose arbitrary, then choose how much to rotate it by and in which direction (clockwise or counter clockwise).

Generally it’s not much (0.x).

Basically I’m doing it by eye (which can’t have been that good in the first place or I wouldn’t be doing this! or I’ll get it right this time because I’m actually concentrating on it!).

Because there’s a bit of guess work involved it can take 2 maybe 3 goes before I’m happy with it.

but…. is there another/better way….

… of course there is!

Measure tool

measure tool

find the measure tool

So although I enjoy my little tweaking in rotate canvas I’ve recently come across a more time efficient and exact way of straightening my images using the measure tool.

I’ll walk you through it –

In Photoshop go to the eye dropper tool in the tool box and right click to get more options, go to the bottom and choose the measure tool.

Then click on one end of the horizon and drag (draw a line) to the other end of the horizon. So the line that you’ve drawn matches the horizon in the image, as shown below.

using measure tool

using measure tool

Once that’s done go to image menu – rotate canvas – arbitrary, when the box appears you’ll notice that there is already a number in it, in this case 3.41. Photoshop has automatically worked out how much it needs to rotate the image to make the horizon (what you measured with the measure tool) horizontal.

arbitrary tool

arbitrary tool already filled in

Just click ok, and voila it’s straight!

Using the measure tool to straighten an horizon takes out the guess work and speeds things up a little.

You still have to use the crop tool to get rid of the white space though…

after rotate

after rotate

I chose a very bad example of a wonky horizon to exaggerate the fix that was needed, so you could easily see what the measure tool can do.

And when I open an image in Photoshop checking the horizon is straight is the first job I do and fix it if necessary!

You can see the final image at the top of this post.

Do you use the measure tool to straighten an horizon? Any questions? Let me know in the comments below…

Mandy

 

Somerset Sunset

I took this shot just after the sun had gone down outside of Brean in Somerset, looking over to the Welsh coast.

It was a tricky one to take as in I had a lot of trouble getting onto the beach?

It made me realise how lucky I am, where I live I’m not far from the coast and the access to the beaches is very easy and free!

So it came as a shock to me when I popped out in the car from where we were staying to go and shoot the sunset (I left in plenty of time) only to find that I couldn’t find the beach?

There was static caravan parks everywhere so I couldn’t actually see the beach, but I finally found a little sign and followed it into a car park.

That for a start you had to pay for? And also closed at 7pm complete with barriers? No good when sunset was 7.30pm?

So I did what any other self respecting photographer would do and abandoned my car as safely as possible and ran across the road to have a look at the all too rapidly vanishing sunset…

And I found the above scene. I was too late to actually get the sun, but I didn’t mind as the colours were lovely (that must be why they call it blue hour).

There was no time for a tripod!

So I took a couple of shots hand held with a large aperture, and hoped I could keep it still enough in the rather strong winds and freezing cold weather.

Do you have any sunset stories?

Share them in the comments below…

Mandy

Sea Odyssey – Giant Spectacular

I only just heard about the Sea Odyssey – Giant Spectacular in time, for some reason I’m always the last to know these things!

But I’m so glad I did hear about it and was able to go and see them, they really were…. well spectacular!

The Story

The story of the Giants goes like this: The little Girl Giant’s father was a stowaway onboard the Titanic and she wrote him a letter the day before the ship left.

The Giant went down with the Titanic, so the Little Girl Giant sought out her Uncle to try to help find her father.

The Uncle Giant combed the seabed looking for his brother, he found him but was too late, what he did find was a reply to the Little Girls letter. So he dragged the mail crate back across the ocean floor to give it to his niece and return the letters to the people of Liverpool.

So the Giants roamed the city looking for each other.

The story was written by Jean-Luc Courcoult of the French street theatre company Royal Du Luxe who performed the spectacular, he wrote it for the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.

Xolo the Dog

Atmosphere

The atmosphere at this event was amazing. There was a real feel good feel to the whole thing.

Which made it a pleasure to shoot and a great experience to have…

It was great that so many people got to see the Giants, and the people of Liverpool really did take them into their hearts during their brief stay, and that made the atmosphere and the experience so much better.

But from a photography point of view it did make it a little hard to move around and follow the Giants so I could shoot them (so to speak).

It was a challenge!

And to just challenge myself that bit more I only had my 50mm lens with me because my 18-55 lens broke?

Shooting the Event

Uncle Giant

Uncle Giant

What I learned from my experience shooting this Giant Event (in every way) was that you had to be fast.

I had to be fast to try and navigate the crowds and get myself into a good position to see them. And keep moving with them.

At one point I even managed to tag along with the Event Photographers although that was more luck than anything else!

I’d get myself into a good position then shot as much as I could around me until the Giants passed, then I’d try to catch them up and repeat.

I wanted to catch everything and not just the Giants.

I found the ‘Liliputians’ that operated the Giants and the vehicles that moved them fascinating, the amount of effort that went into creating and moving the Giants was incredible. So it was easy to be enchanted by them!

And it gave me lots to shoot…

Slideshow

I thought I’d try something new!

I’m not sure how well it’ll work so bare with me…

Instead of listing a load of images I thought it might be nice to try a slideshow? So below are 3 videos (slideshows) with a selection of images, one video for each Giant – Xolo the Dog, Little Girl and Uncle Giants.

I used the free version of Animoto to make the videos, with the free version you get to make unlimited 30 second videos. So don’t blink! Or just play them again… oh and if you go full screen the quality isn’t very good, you have to pay for HD – what can I say it’s free! So remember – don’t blink or just play them again and enjoy…

If you don’t see them below try refreshing the page and hopefully they’ll magically appear?

Did you go and see the Giants – let me know in the comments below.

Mandy

Try our slideshow creator at Animoto.

Try our video maker at Animoto.

Try our video maker at Animoto.

Sunset – Equal, Somerset and a Faulty Lens…

We’ve recently been on a trip to Somerset, England. I was really looking forward to some time away and some new places to shoot that I hadn’t been before. And we did have a lovely time.

But while happily shooting away the autofocus on my Canon 18-55mm lens stopped working? I mean one shot it was fine and the next shot – nothing, zip, don’t want to play anymore!

It wouldn’t even let me press the shutter to take the shot out of focus…

At first I thought is it the camera? [mild panic sets in] I swapped with my friends lens [trying to play it cool, everything’s fine] and the autofocus worked fine on her lens [Thank God it’s not the camera!].

With Canon there is no autofocus in the camera body, the autofocus is in the lens. But with the shutter freezing like that (which is in the camera body) I wasn’t sure if it was something more serious, luckily it wasn’t!

I took it all apart and gave it a good clean just in case it was something that simple, but no, the autofocus refused to spring into life.

But it wasn’t a complete waste as I flipped it over to Manual Focus (switch on the lens) and that worked just fine! So the rest of the holiday I shot in Manual Focus, which did take a bit of getting used to as it’s quite sensitive but I did manage to get more AF points lit up at one time than ever before!

The shot above was taken on the first night in Weston Super Mere looking out towards South Wales.

So I’m shopping at the moment for a new lens….

Mandy

Liverpool Lines

This image was taken down the side of the Museum of Liverpool, in Liverpool!

I was walking back to the car after a couple of hours of shooting around the waterfront when these lines caught my eye.

The more you shoot the more you notice composition opportunities…

I liked the way the lines on the building were going at right angles to the lines on the floor, and I knew instantly that I wanted it in black and white to make that the focus of the image. I think sometimes colour can be a bit distracting, the building and floor were grey already but the blue sky (gorgeous as it was) drew the eye to the top right of the image – so black and white it was!

This shot is also the first one that I have processed as HDR, from a single RAW file. I’ve been trying out some HDR photography for the last couple of months, and I’ve had some very interesting results…

I’ll be sharing some more images over the next few weeks and I’ll explain a bit more about it as well.

Mandy

How many times should you backup your images?

The answer is several…

Notice I’m not asking whether you do, because that’s a given.

You have to back up your images – plain and simple!

If you haven’t already go and do it now….I’ll wait….

Because it only takes your laptop to crash and burn, and that’s it – gone….

Even if you have them on a laptop and external hard drive it wouldn’t take a lot to lose your precious images.

lighthouse

lighthouse

And there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to get them back!

Why am I so fired up?

I was backing up some photos the other day when my external hard drive decided it didn’t want to play anymore?

Heart palpitations wasn’t in it – there was all out blind panic!

All of my images and a lot of family images were on that hard drive going back for years….

I tried to stay calm!?!?!?!?

Luckily I worked out that the USB lead had died and everything was alright in the world again! I just swapped leads, Phew!

So I then frantically copied a load of images onto another external hard drive as a backup of a

dockside shadows

dockside shadows

backup.

Just to be safe with your images, I think it is a good idea to back them up to several different places (like 3) just to be sure. You don’t want heart palpitations!

A surprise

And while I was copying my image folders over to the second hard drive I came across some very old images, I’m talking about 4 years ago when I first had a point and shoot.

I’d forgotten all about these images so it was a nice surprise when I found them.

It was interesting looking back at how I took images with that camera (my sons got it now).

an impressive pair

an impressive pair

I had to really think about the composition of the image and where the light or sun was coming from. Just because of the limited capabilities of the camera, it didn’t have an optical zoom only a digital one but that was pretty useless!

It was a challenge to use the available light to the best of my abilities and the cameras.

But it was an excellent way to begin learning about digital photography, it made me think!

So I’ve got all nostalgic and thought I’d share some of them with you, they’re straight out of the camera.

With no filters and only very slight post processing, like cropping and straightening of horizons (I couldn’t get a horizon straight if my life depended on it – I’m a bit better now!).

Conclusion

The morale of the story being, the more you shoot the more images you accumulate, the more organised you have to be.

You’d be devastated if you lost all your hard work and stunning images!

So think about storage and back them up in several different places (locations is even better), DVD’s (although they may not last forever), external hard drives, online storage etc…. whichever is best for you.

Do you ever look back at your old images? What have you learnt from them? Let us know in the comments below….

Mandy

 

What to do when you forget your tripod…

Here’s a quick DSLR tip for the weekend!

I want to give you some ideas of what you can do when/if you have forgotten your tripod?

Let’s face it, it happens!

1. Use a fence, post or railings to lean on and steady yourself.

birds on the jetty

birds on the jetty

With this shot I had to steady myself on the railings around the marine lake.

I was basically stood on a very large sea wall so the sea was behind me. And it was very windy that day, so as you can see the birds had the right idea – all huddled up on the jetty out of the wind!

It’s got to be bad if the birds are hiding?

2. Use a rock, wall, sea walls or corners of buildings to lean on or against.

Lighthouse at high tide

Lighthouse at high tide

This shot is taken in pretty much the same place as ‘the birds on the jetty’ shot but looking the other way over the sea wall.

In fact I climbed up onto a built-in bench on the wall and used the top of the wall to lean on while shooting. But remember always stay safe when doing anything like this.

When the weather is bad down here I ‘ve even leaned on the wall, and the corner of a building to keep upright never mind steady…

 

3. Lie on the ground and rest on your elbows, ok this one can cause some strange looks!

To get this shot of the daffodils I had to get down really low.

daffs

daffs

And there was enough space for me to lie on the ground in front of them to take the shot.

Using my elbows as like little tripod legs.

I then realised the ground was still slightly wet from the morning dew!

Note: I don’t wear any good clothes when shooting…

Is there anything I’ve forgotten?

How do you steady your camera without a tripod?

Let us know in the comments below…

Mandy

My Review: Canon 50mm f/1.8 II Lens

So you’re having fun shooting with your DSLR, but you may be starting to look at some accessories for it?

Like a new lens?

The first lens I bought for my DSLR , besides the kit lens was a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Lens.

It’s a prime lens as in it has a set focal length, but tends to be known as a standard (or normal) lens because it has a similar field of view as the human eye does, so it has a ‘natural’ feel to its images.

Also known as a nifty fifty.

birds on jetty

Canon 50mm f/1.8 II lens

And I thoroughly recommend it…

Why?

Because…

Of its versatility, it’s great for anything from portraits to landscapes.

daffodils at f/1.8

daffodils at f/1.8

For the quality of its optics it’s incredibly cheap, and plastic – but I don’t mind that if the photos are great!

As I said above, 50mm is the focal length that is the closet to the human eye, therefore the images it takes are very easy on the eye (with the crop factor it’s more like 85mm but still very easy on the eye).

Because it’s plastic the 50mm 1.8 is the lightest Canon lens, which makes it very compact – you can always squeeze it in somewhere!

And that also makes it a great back up lens, just stick it in your bag and you’ve got it if you need it?

With it having such a low f-stop (large aperture) it’s great for trying out Aperture Priority Mode and practising depth of field.

What’s depth of field?

Depth of Field (dof) is when the focus of the image is, well – in focus and the rest of the image is lovely and blurred. Putting the focus (haha…) on the main subject of the image, which can be a really nice effect (like the daffodils above).

You can produce this by using a large aperture (small f-number), and the Canon 50mm goes all the way down to f/1.8!

And that in turn produces some very nice bokeh.

What’s bokeh?

purple flower

example of bokeh

Bokeh is the type of blur that you can achieve with out-of-focus parts of an image. Particularly the highlights like in the image to the right.

The word bokeh apparently comes from the Japanese word ‘boke’ meaning blur…

You’ll notice the highlights in the background of that image are pentagon shaped (some people don’t like that, but I quite like it), this is because the aperture in the 50mm is made out of 5 blades, hence the pentagon.

The more expensive the lens the more blades it has, so the highlights will become circular instead of pentagon shaped.

For the price of this lens I’ll forgive it for having 5 blades…

Conclusion

All the images in this post are taken on my Canon 50mm f/1.8 Lens.

One of the main reasons I bought it was the price, it’s fantastically cheap for the quality of image that it produces.

And that makes it a great first lens to buy, I think everyone should have one of these because they’re great fun to use and very flexible.

I’ve taken some fantastic portraits with this lens that are really vibrant, and the obligatory cute pet photos really do them justice, if they stay still long enough….

I always get it out for close-ups as you can see from the flower shots, as I love the f/1.8! But it also doesn’t shy away from the odd landscape either…

An all rounder lens that gives you great image quality at a price that suits the pocket!

Mandy

 

Blickling Hall, Norfolk…

This is a shot of Blickling Hall in Norfolk, it was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn (Henry VIII 2nd wife).

I used to go on holiday to Norfolk all the time when I was little, my Mums family come from there and we visited Blickling a couple of times. It’s a lovely peaceful tranquil place set in the countryside. I hadn’t been back since I was young, until last year.

It brought back some wonderful childhood memories….

I was actually standing in the moat when I took this shot – really glad it’s not full of water anymore….

And you can only get down there via some very old steps that are extremely well hidden in the bushes. I remember finding them when I was little and running around the moat with my sister!

What I loved was that they were still there last year, and after 25 years I could still remember where they were!!!

So I introduced my children to them – and showed them the best way to run around the moat…

So I just had to take a photo from down there.

I love photos! I especially love the way they capture that moment in time, that memory, so well and so vividly…

I now have 2 great memories of this place, one when I was a kid and one with my kids, and that’s wonderful.

Mandy