Dog walkers


Dog walker crosses fields with dry stone walls on foggy morning in Rosthwaite, Borrowdale

Sometimes you just don’t mind people wandering into your landscape, do you?

I’m back from another trip to the Lake District. It was quite possibly the wettest two weeks I’ve ever experienced there, yet it had begun with a couple of glorious foggy days like you see in this photo. That morning I went out just as the fog was clearing and had only walked a few metres from the house when a neighbour suddenly appeared and walked into the perfect spot for me.

The rain began the next day, and it continued until even local people were complaining and sheep and cattle were lining up for the ark. There’s only one road through Borrowdale and the lake was pretty high, and in the following days some rivers burst and a few key roads were flooded. It was the start of a difficult time for the region.

For a photographer rain can be such a downer too, but I often think of a friend’s mantra about there being “no such thing as bad weather, just a bad attitude”, and one of my own sayings is that when something gets in your way, it’s probably just inviting you to photograph it. Without being very profound, such thoughts can just nudge the photographer into creative action when you might be tempted to cut a trip short or remain indoors. I have good rain wear and a ThinkTank cover for my camera, so if it wasn’t going to stop raining it would have to be the rain that I would go out to photograph.

And once you are out there, the “bad” weather does have the very great virtue of deterring most walkers and all but the most determined photographers. The landscapes are different, lakeside trees are suddenly in the water, fences cross flooded fields, the waterfalls are nice and full, and you have it all to yourself. When you do encounter another photographer you usually exchange wry smiles, maybe stop for a chat and hear what other locations are like.

But it seems a little different when you run into a photo workshop, don’t you think? You’re outnumbered, and it’s not hard to imagine why the workshop leader, if that’s what they are called, might not appreciate you chatting to his clients. It’s awkward enough when it’s dry, but I had been all alone at an almost-submerged Ashness Jetty when a one-to-one workshop arrived, and it was an encounter that reminded me of how you can feel in London when “professional dog walkers” use a public park to exercise their clients’ pets. Just as they can turn a space that’s supposed to be for everyone into their business place, on this occasion the water level left very little space for tripods, and yet I still felt it was me who was in their way, not them intruding into my scene. A single dog walker by himself is often welcome, of course.

Snow’s the winner


Ian Taylor’s “The Ref’s an Angel”

So 2015’s Landscape Photographer of the Year winners have been announced, and the Lake District seems well-represented, I’m glad to say.

I wasn’t very keen on last year’s winner, but I could at least see a certain intriguing quality that made me want to keep looking.

This year’s overall winner does nothing for me though. Maybe it does look better as a print, but it just left me thinking snow is certainly unusual in Dorset and that it must have been chosen by southerners. Sorry, I don’t see much there.

Of the other winning entries, I’d have gone for Lizzie Shepherd’s zigzag walls in the snow (snow seems big this year), Julie Hutson’s clever treatment of London’s Shard, or most probably for Ian Taylor‘s “The Ref’s an Angel” – despite the corny title.

Out of my way?


The Norman army arrives. Bloody immigrants, coming here and stealing our country, eh?

For a few moments I was thinking xxxx!, xxxx!, xxxxxxg kids!

This was last weekend at Battle Abbey, Hastings, built above where the great battle of 1066 is supposed to have taken place.

Almost 10 years ago I’d been to a big re-enactment there and I still remember feeling the ground shake as a line of dozens of horses charged up the hill. That was one of the bigger events there – I’m sure they’re planning something similar for next year’s 950th anniversary – but Saturday’s event was on a more modest scale.

The re-enactors depicting the Normans had just arrived at the bottom of the field and were marching up directly towards where I had stood. And these kids decided to stand right in the way, or rather right in my way. For those few seconds I was thinking damn them, or why can’t they turn to face me.

Afterwards, I was just thinking ooh, ooh, ooh those kids.

As usual the Anglo-Saxons lost. But I am very glad to say the crowd did boo the Normans.


-1x-1Just been looking at Simon Butterworth’s impressive black and white images of Redcar steel works which looks like it will soon be no more, along with so many jobs.

I knew of his name as the winner of Landscape Photographer of the Year a couple of years ago but I don’t think I’d ever seen his web site. There’s some fine photography there, and having recently visited Cwmorthin I particularly enjoyed see his series on Welsh slate. There’s a lovely abstract half way through.

It makes me remember how landscape photography shouldn’t just mean pretty views (or the currently-fashionable tangles of trees!).

Hadrian’s Wall

It sometimes seems that re-enactments follow me, rather than me seeking them out. In September 2015 I was in the Lake District and was cooking my evening meal when I caught the words “re-enactment” and “Hadrian’s Wall” on the television. It turned out that a 100+ strong group called Legio I Italica had arrived from Italy for an event that weekend. Being on “il Vallo di Adriano” seemed a hugely emotional moment for many of the participants. Initially at Birdoswald, in the evening they transferred to the more remote Housestead fort where, after having left Rome in 40C heat, the sudden temperature drop provided a real sense of guarding the Empire’s Northern frontier.

Hadrian’s Wall


1/200 at f9, ISO 3200 on a D800, adjusted in Lightroom

The only bit of Hadrian’s Wall I’ve ever seen is its Western tip on the Solway, and I have often thought of exploring the area as it’s only an hour’s drive away from where I stay in the Lake District. Somehow it just hasn’t happened.

Roman history is not “my period” but I suppose I have become slightly more interested in it recently, and last Thursday I had visited the Hardknott Fort. The drive up the Hardknott and Wrynose Pass is exhilarating in itself, then high up over Eskdale the fort is still in very good condition (those Roman soldiers could teach modern day Cumbrians about building walls made to last). But I hadn’t any plan to visit the Wall during this trip.

Then last Friday evening I was cooking, and I just happened to make out the words “re-enactment” and “Hadrian’s Wall” on the television. That sealed it.

Most of the day was at Birdoswald fort. The re-enactors were a group called Legio I Italica and had travelled 40+ hours by coach (in two coaches and a truck for their gear) all the way from Italy. They had also brought their own barbarians, which seemed an unnecessary luxury as there’s no shortage of them in this country!

And it was quite a day. I spoke with quite a number of the re-enactors and for many of them a weekend on the “Vallo di Adriano” was hugely emotional, a bit like getting to Mecca.

For the evening they transferred to Housesteads fort, and that’s where this picture is from. It’s a remote spot and the temperature had dropped a bit much for some members of the legion (it had been 40C in Rome), but surely that’s just what you sign up for if you’re protecting the Empire’s Northern frontier for the weekend?

So I’ve finally seen some of the best parts of Hadrian’s Wall. And so much for imagining there would be one weekend in September when I wasn’t photographing re-enactment.

More photographs here

Every cloud….

Keswick’s landing stages must be one of the most-photographed locations in the Lake District. You can still get lovely images if you choose your time or conditions – early morning mist, still water, autumn colours, even the unusual angle of sunset in late June – but there will always be other people hanging around, and other photographers to avoid. If you do make eye contact with another photographer, you know you share his guilt of laziness in your choice of subject.

I certainly wouldn’t be around that part of Derwentwater in the middle of an afternoon at the height of summer, but last month I had a week up in the Lakes and I simply couldn’t motivate myself to fight the weather. There is a saying that for the photographer there’s no such thing as bad light, just a bad attitude, and it seemed to sum up how the week’s unchanging grey skies had affected me. Sunrises seemed too early, sunsets didn’t really happen, everything was just green, green, green, and so I caught up with some reading and worked my way through the previous weekend’s pictures from Hoghton Tower. But by Thursday, while the skies were still overcast, at least I was beginning to recover and needed to get outdoors.

For me there seems a problem with timelapse photography – I only want to do it when I’ve nothing better in prospect. If the light’s interesting, do I really want to hang around in one place for half an hour, or much longer, while the camera snaps away? But if I shoot a timelapse sequence merely to fill time, when I can’t see opportunities for normal photography, are the results ever likely to merit the effort of standing around all that time? That’s a mental barrier I can’t easily overcome!

I haven’t shot many timelapse sequences and this afternoon I was testing my sense for how to match frame rate to different subjects. I think I’ve settled on 5 second intervals for  big landscapes as it allows cloud movement to dominate the movie. The downside is that since 12 frames per minute produces a mere half a second of video, I’d have to stand around for at least half an hour to record a useful 15 seconds of landscape footage. With a busy scene like this, I was trying 2 second intervals and shot for about 90 minutes. It still seemed rather manic, so I’ve halved the speed and plan to use 1 second intervals next time.

Sound required a bit of ingenuity. I tried recording a movie on my iPad so that I could strip the sound off it, but I still could hear the D800’s shutter release from 20 metres away – at least when the ducks and geese fell silent. So when I had finished shooting the timelapse sequence I simply recorded some standard video on the D800.

I am a complete beginner with video editing. I have recently got my hands on Adobe’s Premiere Pro and After Effects, and I am enjoying learning them, but for relatively-simple video projects you can use Photoshop. So here it was Photoshop that was used to splice the sound onto the timelapse movie and then render the final result, and one advantage of Photoshop is that you can use your existing experience and techniques – in this case a Curves adjustment layer darkens the sky, and a couple of other things are going on too.

File format also deserves some thought. Here I shot directly to movie format because my D800 has a timelapse feature that bakes a 1920*1080 pixel MOV file. While this seemed simpler than shooting hundreds of raw files and baking the timelapse movie in Lightroom or Photoshop, the latter approach would allow more scope to adjust the results and more pixels might allow you to add interesting pan and zoom effects during post production. I’m unsure if I would use Photoshop or Premiere Pro or After Effects for panning and zooming, but figuring it out is a big part of the fun.

And isn’t that the point? The weather might be dull and uninspiring, the subject may a cliche, and “l’enfer c’est les autres”, but isn’t experimentation interesting enough in its own right to get you out of the door? It should be, shouldn’t it?


Silence is golden?

Blea Tarn

If you are worried, don’t be, I’ve not disappeared. I’ve just not posted anything for a while, but I’m frustratingly the same John as ever. Though with a beard, that is different!

In the past I might have done quick posts on things such as the 2015 election which never happened here in Dulwich, apart from just 2 window posters, and our fraudulent system that allowed 1.5 million Scots to elect 56 MPs and 4 million UKIP voters to elect one (and I’m not pro-UKIP). Yes, I’m still angry at that, at least as much as one can be after being a supporter of PR since the days of the SDP, if you remember them.

Or I might have spent 5 minutes making a post about:

Over the last few years I just don’t seem to post as often as before. Partly, I sense I have become more private as others have become more open about what they’re doing. The rise of social media makes one feel that nowadays everyone sees such funnies, and Twitter or Facebook often seem a better place to point them out. But I’m not a big Facebooker, limiting it to people I know in person, and I am growing less enthusiastic about Twitter than in the past, so I might not post much there either. As a result I get the occasional nice email enquiring about my well being. Thank you 🙂

As for the photo, it was taken in mid March at one of my favourite Lake District locations, Blea Tarn in the Langdale valley. I’d been along the tarn’s shore, from where a million photos are taken, and as I was about to wander back to the car I had noticed the stile and behind it the rocky outcrop from where I took the picture. Usually at that time of year the lovely orange reds of autumn have gone and look dead, or the greens of an early spring have taken over, but the winter must have been pretty dry and everything was this lovely golden colour.

What you don’t see is that for maybe half hour it wasn’t anywhere near as serene as it looks. Just after setting up my tripod on this outcrop, maybe 50 metres to my right a drone was buzzing up and down, its owner just playing with it as if it was the first time he’d used it. I don’t think he noticed me glowering in his direction, and how I wish I’d marched over and told him drones were banned in the national park (they may be in the US but not here!). The last thing anyone wants, someone droning on, eh?


Speakers Corner

Speakers Corner

I must have taken my first photos of Speakers Corner around 1989-90, so I’ve got thousands of negatives and digital files recording what’s supposed to symbolize our tradition of free speech.

There was a time when I went quite often, and an hour at Speakers Corner seemed to fit in with meeting friends for dim sum or a bit of shopping on Oxford Street.

I’ve gradually gone less and less, and I was quite surprised to discover that last year I’d been there four times. The year before it had been twice, and I’m pretty jaded by it. I don’t really get much out of listening to the ranting of one deluded religious zealot after another, and you can’t get a clean photograph when everyone in the crowd is holding a camera phone to record what’s really just a freak show for tourists.

But I wasn’t doing anything last Sunday and the Charlie Hebdo atrocity made me think it might be more interesting. It wasn’t, and it was as if the events in France had never happened, but thanks to a Metropolitan Police horse I think I finally managed to convey a flavour of the debate….


War crimes

Stacy Kravitz‘s series of photographs of re-enactors depicting World War II Germans is interesting partly for her inclusion of herself in the pictures:

stacykranitz-01.jpg.CROP.original-originalFor three consecutive years, Kranitz participated in nearly weeklong Battle of the Bulge re-enactments at Fort Indiantown Gap in Annville, Pennsylvania. She took on the part of Leni Riefenstahl—the “super brilliant,” “gifted,” but ultimately “fucked up” German filmmaker behind the infamous Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will—with whom she’d been fascinated since she was 15.

While Kranitz and Camp were mostly well-liked at the Pennsylvania event, their presence was always contentious. They were the subject of many suspicious message board threads, and were once nearly told to leave an event. It didn’t help that, at the beginning, Kranitz’s Riefenstahl costume was “awful” and she mostly failed to cover up her modern Nikon camera with the prescribed historical camouflage.

To make matters worse, Kranitz is Jewish, a fact that didn’t escape her subjects, some of whom had histories as members of hate groups. Initially, she was accused of being an Israeli spy, and once, while hanging out at a recreated French Resistance café, she was singled out by Gestapo re-enactors, taken outside, and “shot.”

In my experience of the British re-enactment scene, I’ve not seen any evidence of “histories as members of hate groups” among those who depict German World War II units. Mostly these re-enactors go out of their way to tell you they’re not Nazis and to explain they deliberately chose to represent the Wehrmacht or regular army units. The few who do portray the Waffen SS are often shunned by other re-enactors and lurk on the fringes of events, but even they would say they’re depicting history with its warts, not expressing any hatred.

Of course, acceptability does depend partly on one’s own particular viewpoint. To my British eyes, British and American World War II re-enactment groups appear uncontroversial, the Italians too, but a group depicting our allies, the Red Army, provoked a completely-different reaction from a Polish friend. Other 20th century re-enactors also walk this fine line between good and bad taste, so for instance Spanish Civil War enthusiasts only seem to be Republicans and no-one wants to be on Franco’s side. Earlier periods are affected too, but how can the American Civil War be portrayed without the Confederate flag? Surely depicting a period can’t make someone guilty of endorsing its crimes and darker aspects, even when those events are within living memory. Still, I think it’s far better to stick to the 17th century.

Thanks to Richard Baker

A not-so-remote quarry

Dalt's Quarry

Dalt’s Quarry is in Borrowdale, just off the path from Grange to Castle Crag

I got back from the Lake District at the start of the week. Before I went the forecast really hadn’t been too promising – a series of low pressure systems rolling in from the Atlantic – but for various reasons I’d only made one trip up there this year, so I was really missing the place.

In any case, early November is often the ideal time for autumn colours, and I also wanted to get to a vintage sports car rally I’d photographed last year at the top of the Honister Pass. The rally was on the Saturday and luckily there was no repetition of the freezing rain and driving snow that almost broke my spirit, but I still got a good soaking just when I thought the weather was going to be kind. That was pretty typical of the two weeks.

Of course, Lake District weather is famous notorious for its bewildering changeability. You do get spells like this September when high pressure dominates and I had two weeks of morning mist, still water and not a single drop of rain. Or you can get last Christmas when the downpours barely ceased. But usually you just get change, and as the saying goes, if you don’t like the weather now, just give it another ten minutes – it’ll be worse. Or it could be better. You just never know.

This time though, it wasn’t really changeable – a better word is “capricious”. This place, Dalt’s quarry, isn’t far from where I stay but I’d only seen it for the first time in September. That day, this scene was very green, but it looked like an autumn location and I made a mental note to return in November. On the first day I went, the forecast had been grey but dry – yet it was pouring down by the time I got there. My walking gear is fine, my camera gear is well-protected, and I believe there’s no such thing as bad weather, just different light – but the photos just weren’t up to much. So when I tried again later that week, I’d only been walking for 5 minutes when the clouds parted and wasn’t going to repeat the same walk in the rain and the same rotten pictures – not when I could turn back and go for a pint instead! I’d more-or-less decided that fate was against me and Dalt Quarry.

On the final morning of the trip though, I had so-nearly decided to set off and drive straight down to London when a bit of sun made me give Dalt’s one last go. And that’s what you see here. The cloud had cleared by the time I reached the quarry, the sun was nicely at an angle behind the trees and falling on the famous yellow streak, the air was still and the reflections perfect – and I had the place entirely to myself. It’s a 0.6 second exposure at f22 on the Nikon D800, with a Lee 3 stop soft graduated filter holding back the sky.

Fate did eventually intervene, though in a different if not unexpected way. I’m pretty good at not dropping photo gear or getting stuff wet, but there is one big exception – cable releases. Since I first picked up a camera, I consistently need a new one every couple of years, almost always because of moving around with the cable release attached to the camera and it dropping off somewhere. So it’s totally my own fault, and I’m pretty inured to the thought of giving Nikon £50-70 for a replacement every other year. This time was only unusual in that the cable got caught under my size 12 boot as I clambered up the left side of the quarry – as I pushed myself up a steep bit I tore it apart. Here we go again….

Anyway, this time my £70 hasn’t gone to Nikon. I did look at their fancier £130 release because it does something that really belongs in every high end camera – it lets you set manual shutter speeds longer than 30 seconds. Camranger is great, but it’s more than a replacement for a cable release, while I had seen Triggertrap being used by Richard Leishman when we shared Brandelhow jetty one morning, but it required a smartphone and mine remains in the stone age. So instead I went for the Hahnel GigaPro II wireless remote control. It’s small, worked first time, works when I’m half way up the street and the camera is behind a glass window – and it cost no more than a simple Nikon cable.

So after two good soakings, sometimes fate does work to your advantage.

Norway in 5 minutes

For one reason or another, something always crops up whenever I’ve planned to visit Norway. Long ago, a Norwegian girlfriend moved on before our summer trip, a business conference was cancelled at the last minute, and more recently a tour company had booked me to lead a tour to the fjords but seemed to go out of business and disappeared without trace. Norway remains one of the few European countries I’ve never seen.

I imagine it’s very beautiful and that it’s great for photography, so maybe one day, but I enjoyed watching this short set of timelapse movies by Morten Rustad who travelled the length of the country to capture spectacular scenes in all kinds of weather. I’d also recommend looking at his blog where he describes the project and includes pictures showing some of the gear he used. I always like comments like this:

As I was standing on top of the peak, I could get a more complete overview of the landscape, and found what I thought was a much easier and faster way down. I started the hike, and in the beginning it went very well. But as I walked, it started getting steeper and steeper….

Now that rings so very true, doesn’t it?

Cumbria III

Cumbria I

Nikon’s D750 – now that’s an upgrade

So Nikon have just announced a D750, and it’s got some interesting new features for Nikon’s higher end bodies.

New-Nikon-D750-DSLR-back-300x232Early this year, when I switched from a D700 to a D800, I wrote about how it felt a rather old-fashioned camera. And no doubt I would say the same of its replacement, the D810.

OK, the D800/810 does offer video, but things have moved on from when video felt new in a still camera. Articulated screens aren’t new, and I’ve loved using them on cameras like the Fuji XT1 and I have been puzzled by the feature’s absence on newer Nikon bodies. The D750 has one, and I suspect I would use it in many ways to gets pictures that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to take. That might be candid shots of people, or in less-sneaky situations where you want to maintain face contact with your subject but quickly glance down to review the composition, a bit like using a medium format viewfinder. And thinking of one thing I’ve been doing this week, photographing mushrooms, an articulated screen would certainly mean a lot less rolling around on the ground!

Another way the D800 felt old-fashioned was in the lack of wifi. Again, that’s arrived in the D750, so it will probably enable remote shooting without a Camranger or other third party gear. The other aspect is transferring recent images directly to a phone or tablet.

If I’d been switching now, I might still have gone to the D810 (despite a fixed screen and no wifi) but I can certainly see D700 users finding the D750 very attractive.


pablo1copyI enjoyed this interview with Magnum New York’s darkroom printer, Pablo Inirio, Magnum and the Dying Art of Darkroom Printing:

I was curious to see how the last few years of digital progress have affected things at Magnum, so I checked in with Inirio by phone this week. He was still there, bubbling with the good cheer that, along with his darkroom skills, have made him a favorite with Magnum photographers. In the three years since we met, he said, surprisingly little has changed at Magnum. He had to switch to Ilford paper when Agfa closed, and he hopes Kodak doesn’t take his stop bath away—but otherwise, things are the same. “Collectors and galleries still want prints on fiber paper—they just like the way it looks,” he said. He’s often called upon to print from current members’ film archives, and for the estates of various deceased members, like Dennis Stock and Henri Cartier-Bresson. The prints go to exhibitions, book publishers and private collectors. “I’m still pretty busy—in fact, I’m backed up,” he said with a laugh.

Magnum has been digitizing its archive, but so far, Inirio hasn’t been tempted to transfer his skills to the digital realm. “Digital prints have their own kind of look, and it’s fine, but fiber prints have such richness and depth,” he said.  He thinks darkroom printing will always be with us—after all, he pointed out, “people are still doing daguerrotypes.”

You can’t disagree that there’s a difference in look and feel, but I wonder how often people making such a comparison are thinking of digital images printed on ordinary inkjet paper, rather than on the more modern baryta-based printing papers. Even as one whose photographic roots lie in the darkroom, I’m enormously impressed by the look and feel of inkjet papers like Permajet’s Royal or Hahnemuhle’s Glossy FineArt (the two papers I use most with my Epson 3880).

But I was particularly struck by Inirio’s printing plans for some well-known pictures. It’s ten years since I really got my hands wet, and my own dodging and burning plans were usually sketched out mentally, but the method is familiar or second nature to any serious darkroom printer. More than that though, don’t his lines and ovals remind you of Lightroom’s local adjustments?


Aperture to Lightroom

Even before yesterday’s announcement  Apple To Cease Development Of Aperture, consistently the most-visited page on my Lightroom site was Moving from Aperture to Lightroom. Since the devil is always in the detail, I would encourage any Aperture refugees to read the comments as well as the article itself – there’s a lot of little insights from different people.



What seems to ruin a photograph can be its making?

I’ve always thought that photography helps you experience any subject – we appreciate clouds, architecture, events, faces – and when I first started taking pictures in the early 1990s I used to love nipping round to Speakers Corner, usually before or after a dim sum with friends.

Speakers Corner

Mobile video means there’s no longer a decisive moment to get a photo without phones. Is it really worth elbowing your way to the front?

In the beginning I certainly felt in tune with the underlying concept of the place. I saw Donald Soper, the great Methodist and Socialist orator, who had been familiar to me from his appearances on the BBC’s Any Questions and was well-known for having addressed Hyde Park crowds for 50 years. While I had my own doubts, and the dim sum gang used to tease me about going there, fundamentally I did believe that Speakers Corner was indeed a symbol of British free speech and open debate, and Soper seemed to embody that tradition’s continuing health. In those days other speakers engaged in serious political debate, there were Christian evangelists, one or two black nationalists, someone called William who claimed he was the reincarnation of Jimi Hendrix or Jim Morrison, and there was the odd Muslim, usually a British convert who had already morphed his way through a range of other religions before deciding to grow his beard and wear a turban. The exact mixture varied from week to week, and as a photographer you could happily develop your documentary skills. Shouldn’t every photographer know how to use their elbows?

As life moved on, I visited less often, maybe not for months, but by the end of the 90s it was very obvious that Speakers Corner was different. Soper had gone, politics was peripheral, and the place seemed dominated by religion. On one side were the bible bashers, West Indians, Americans, Northern Irish – no English, of course. On the other were Muslims who were much less benign than the hippy convert. These speakers, all men, seemed to arrive with small bands of bearded followers and were either English-speaking first and second generation immigrants from India, Pakistan, East Africa, or spoke Arabic and addressed an audience of foreign students and Arab-speaking visitors to the UK. Debate seemed far less important than preaching their word, and as an atheist it felt like photographing something that was of little more value than a freak show. Yes you could still exercise your picture taking skills, and the results could still be surprisingly interesting – I have pictures of at least one Muslim activist who subsequently got 10 years for involvement in terrorism.

Speakers Corner

Or when something gets in your way, can it become the subject of your picture?

In the last few years my my visits have become much more sporadic. Each time I go, the place just seems ever more frozen in religious dogma, the same tired characters pumping out variations on their tedious themes, and each time I go I seem to have even less sympathy – so much so that I struggle to find a lower description than freak show.

But something has certainly changed – “non-photographers” aren’t snapping photos any more, they’re recording video. You can’t just wait for them to compose their shot and put their phone back in a pocket because they seem to want to hold it in your way until their arms fall off. Even if you can elbow your way past them and get to the front, more phones are then ruining your background.

It means that I’m not sure I’m photographing Speakers Corner any more – it’s as if you’re photographing how people experience any event. And I’m not sure that’s totally a bad thing.

A perverse choice?

Getting a D800 has taken my mind back to my “Peak Film” years around 1999-2000 when I went for a 6 week trip to Australia and Japan, then did a couple of trips to Iceland, Italy too, and routinely carried two Nikons and a Bronica SQA with a pair of film backs. The bag, a Billingham, also contained all the lenses and filters and the other things a photographer needs, plus rolls of Velvia, Ilford FP4 and HP5, Agfa APX25, and Tmax 3200, many in both 35mm and 120. While Beardsworths may be bred for manual labour, it was about as much as I could carry in comfort.


Remember the film leader retriever?

I did have a lighter setup. This involved winding back the Velvia mid-roll, retrieving the film’s leader so it was ready for re-loading, scribbling the frame number on a scrap of paper, and then loading whatever black and white film suited the subject. So “light” meant just a single Nikon and its lenses, my Bronica and the spare back….

So while not a stranger to carrying two camera bodies, when I bought my first digital camera, a Nikon D100, one thing I immediately enjoyed was no longer feeling a “need” for two bodies. I could choose the ISO for individual shots, and decide upon colour or black and white later in the digital darkroom. After a while the D100 was replaced by a D200 which would itself be replaced by a D700, but the older camera always went into a drawer – not into the camera bag. So while my usual ThinkTank backpack is probably heavier than most people would tolerate, for the last 10 years I’ve only carried a single camera body.

Two things have made me wobble though.

Much of the time I don’t need a second camera body, but there are occasions when I lose great opportunities to get pictures. For instance, at historical re-enactments you just don’t get time to switch from a 70-200 zoom to a wide-angle when the cavalry comes charging right past you. On important occasions I can rent or borrow, but I had been thinking the best solution would be a used D700. But then the D800 was launched, and for all its 36 megapixels and video, I wasn’t ready to replace my trusty D700 and I was still pretty reluctant to buy it a second body. It’s usually best to “keep your powder dry” until you’re clear what you want, isn’t it?

The other reason was curiosity about the rise of the mirrorless camera. Over the last couple of years each new Olympus or Fuji seemed more credible than the last, and every so often someone whose opinion I respect would have bought one and was enthusing over it. In some cases they had even switched entirely and disposed of full frame Canon or Nikon gear. But while I handled many of these models, none had won me over and to me they all seemed more like alternatives to something like a Canon G16 than a a second main camera body. That was until I saw the XT1. The electronic viewfinder was the best I’d seen, and I liked the articulated LCD screen. For me the key to a new feature is if it lets you capture pictures which you wouldn’t have tried, and these screens let you compose with the camera placed on the ground or held way above your head, or maintain eye contact when you’re shooting portraits from a tripod. Although I suspect in the near future we’ll do that with phones or iPads (the XT1 already has wifi) I wish all high end cameras had these screens. And the XT1’s was nice.

On the other hand, these Olys and Fujis are called “compact system cameras” for a reason. A Fuji might weigh less than a second full frame body, but a second system would soon mean extra Fuji lenses and other accessories. I doubted I would be able to stop myself.


I like the redesigned focus mode switch that’s on new Nikons. The button provides access to focus point controls.

But what finally pushed me back to two bodies was something the Fuji also offered – video. Now, I confess, I have often teased videographers by questioning if moving pictures would ever catch on, and semi-seriously by likening video to vacuuming a scene rather than choosing the decisive moment (Jarvis Cocker says making the Pulp documentary ‘like emptying a hoover’). I’ve not really changed my mind. I don’t want to get too deeply into video, but I’d like to see what I can do at re-enactments. One guy has been doing it, and the results seemed amateurish, but another is an experienced TV cameraman and did some fascinating 1200 frames/second slow motion on a £200 Nikon J1. With the kind of privileged access I get, plus knowing how to use the video features in Photoshop CS6 (and here), I’ve been wanting to see what I could do – and if nothing else, at least I’d get some sound effects I could use for slideshows. So one morning a few weeks ago, a D800 arrived at my door.

My first reactions were that  the D800 felt resolutely old-fashioned – no articulated screen, no wifi, no built-in GPS. On the other hand, it felt like a nice progression from the D700 and I really liked the biggest change in handling, the replacement of the fiddly focus mode switch with a new design that’s nicely-integrated with focus point control.

It’s easy to switch to recording video, and the hardest aspect has been to learn:

  1. You don’t reach for the shutter release when you see something interesting – it’s already rolling!
  2. You don’t compose video in portrait mode
  3. Be prepared to wade through 5 minutes of crap – and find that’s all there is

Simple things, but it’s quite a mental shift between still photographer and videographer. Maybe it is temporary, and soon I’ll be switching just like I used to drive to the airport in my own car and then rent a left hand drive at the other end, or could it be more fundamental like when I used to play a lot of squash and could only adapt to playing tennis by switching to that sport for the whole summer. We’ll see.

Cattows Farm

Don’t be fooled. They may be portraying Scots, but these guys are mostly Germans who usually re-enact the 3o Years War. Scots mercenaries had fought in that war.

And one other thing the D800 has taught me – don’t forget your old disciplines. I say that because when I ran out of space on the SD card I put a Compact Flash card into its second slot. Surprised it still contained some pictures from months ago, I formatted it – and managed to wipe the 32Gb card in the SD slot and which had all the video and photos I’d shot earlier that day. It wouldn’t normally be a mistake I would make, as I usually download everything each evening and format all the cards before the next day, but 32Gb cards had made me complacent, and in the heat of the moment is when accidents happen. Luckily it had been near the end of the day and thanks to ImageRescue I lost nothing of value – apart from a day of my time.

A couple of weeks in. I still think getting a D800 feels like a perverse decision, but I’m definitely getting used to it.

Future publishing

Interesting article on Future Publishing (hope my friends there are OK):

Magazines were once a two revenue stream business. You got money from advertisers and readers. Successful publishing depended on holding the balance between the two. This delicate equipoise has gone. As cover price revenue either declines or refuses to grow then the bulk of the money that pays your salary comes from advertisers, sponsors and commercial partners.

Seems to apply to photography publishing in general? We’ll all have to sully ourselves.