The First Hours

The First Hours

Your baby has just been born. It’s unbelievably small and vulnerable, delicate and beautiful, amazing and dependent. This is a very special moment in your life and wouldn’t it be prefect to capture a beautiful portrait of your baby at the very start of their life – before you even leave the hospital and it already feels different. So what’s stopping you?

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Do I Need a Camera in the Age of the Smartphone?

Do I Need a Camera in the Age of the Smartphone?

If you have one of the following problems it’s probably time for you to think about buying a camera. The exposure is not right or you can’t play with it to make the shot as dark or as bright as you’d like. The background is not nicely out of focus. The image quality is ok for sharing online but when you try to print a photo or view it on a large computer screen you were not happy with the quality. The handling of the phone makes it awkward sometimes to get a good shot. You wish you had something more ergonomic to hold onto, something a little more fun to use. You just want to improve your photography.

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Stormy Weather? Grab Your Camera.

Stormy Weather? Grab Your Camera.

Good weather is not the same as good photography weather. Bright sunshine around midday is probably the worst light to shoot in and stormy weather that might see you running home from work to beat the rain is actually great photography light. 

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It’s the light that makes the photograph.

A breathtaking view at the wrong time of day.

I am not a landscape photographer and that’s not surprising since I live in one of the largest cities in the world. Landscape photography takes time, patience and a love of solitude. So a family trip is not the best time to ‘grab a mountain shot’ even if you are visiting one of the most impressive peaks in the world, Yu Long Mountain, Li Jiang, China.

An OK snapshot of Yu Long. At the right time of day it would have been a much better photograph. 

An OK snapshot of Yu Long. At the right time of day it would have been a much better photograph. 

I had high hopes driving up the long road in the dark of pre dawn. But it quickly became obvious that our guide knew nothing about photographer’s needs and dropped us off to wait at the unopened cable car station with no proper view of the mountain. I should have been anywhere else to capture the orange glow of the rising sun reflect off the peaks for a few brief moments. Anywhere else but the resort car park!

If your three year old is having fun then you are having fun. We spent some time walking the labyrinth of lanes in the Old Town of Lijiang.

If your three year old is having fun then you are having fun. We spent some time walking the labyrinth of lanes in the Old Town of Lijiang.

It was a very frustrating experience. But I’m not sure why I thought that without planning I could achieve anything. I was in the wrong place at the right time. But this was a vacation after all and not a photography excursion. So I put my ill feelings towards our otherwise cheery guide aside and got on with the family holiday.


An ordinary place in the glow of a setting sun.

The magic of watching a little girl play with her own shadow in long evening light.

The magic of watching a little girl play with her own shadow in long evening light.

This shot is exposed correctly for her face. But it doesn’t capture any of the atmosphere of the above photo.

This shot is exposed correctly for her face. But it doesn’t capture any of the atmosphere of the above photo.

We had lots of fun on the mountain. I took a few snaps and used my phone to capture some ad hoc video of three people most definitely not acting like civilised adults. I blame it on the thin air.


When we got back to the old town it was a little underwhelming after having an adventure at 4km above sea level with forrest trials, wild animals and cable cars. Wandering around the cobbled stoned streets I turned my attention back to my family and do what I do best, taking picture of people. This was far more fun for me and much more successful.


Don’t get me wrong, the old town is beautiful, but we were tired and not doing much else than wandering around the streets looking for a restaurant. But the sun was at a low angle casting long shadows and warm highlights. You could shoot almost anything in that light and get a beautiful result.


A simple portrait of Pandora. It’s all about the how light falls on her face and reflects in her eyes. 

A simple portrait of Pandora. It’s all about the how light falls on her face and reflects in her eyes. 

Getting good photos is not just about having wiling models and beautiful backgrounds or even having the time but about shooting when the light is right. Nothing looks fantastic in bad lighting but even the most mundane can look beautiful in good light.

It’s thirsty work walking the streets in the sun.  I always have my camera out of the bag and turned on.

It’s thirsty work walking the streets in the sun.  I always have my camera out of the bag and turned on.

A wall and a grate! You can never tell what is going to occupy the mind of a three year old. So just take advantage of the breaks when they stop to entertain themselves. 

A wall and a grate! You can never tell what is going to occupy the mind of a three year old. So just take advantage of the breaks when they stop to entertain themselves. 

How do you get good shots in bad weather?

How do you get good shots in bad weather?

The worst thing about vacation photos in dull weather is the sky. A stormy or rainy sky can work great but there is nothing you can do about a blanket white overcast sky. Everything will look dull no matter what you do and it can’t be ‘fixed’ in Photoshop. So don’t shoot the sky. Aim your camera downwards to exclude or minimise it and concentrate on your family and the environment. 

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Improve Your Portraits with One Simple Change

I often get asked for advice on what camera to buy my first questions is “What camera do you have?” It’s usually a pretty good camera and the desire to improve one’s photography will rarely be with a new camera. Almost any camera bought in the last five years is going to take high quality photos. However most people still have the kit lens that came with the camera attached and therein lies the problem.

Stop right there! Don’t scroll to the next article! I’m not going to persuade you to invest your children’s college fund in gear acquisition. It turns out for portraits and general photography one of the best lenses you can buy is also the cheapest - the ubiquitous 50mm f/1.8 lens. And every camera brand produces one.

The 50mm gives you a natural view, not too wide and not too tight. Great for every shot from full figure to head and shoulder portraits depending on how much space you have. 

The 50mm gives you a natural view, not too wide and not too tight. Great for every shot from full figure to head and shoulder portraits depending on how much space you have. 

Why 50mm?

Historically it was the standard lens on film cameras so 50mm lenses have been produced for so long they are very high quality and inexpensive. 50mm is the closest to how the human eye sees (it’s precisely 42mm if you love acuracy) and this gives photos a very real and natural feeling. There is no wide angel distortion or telephoto compression for effect, very useful for portraits.

No funky business here. Just a nice natural normal view of a train ride.

No funky business here. Just a nice natural normal view of a train ride.

Why is f/1.8 Useful?

For portraits the person in the frame is always your main subject. F/1.8 gives you a blurred background allowing you to isolate your subject from any busy environment while still allowing the atmosphere to form part of the image. It’s useful when shooting in modern busy locations that we often find ourselves and our families in. F/4.5 or even f/5.6 which is typical of kit or cheap zoom lenses will give you a very sharp and distracting background that will take attention away from your subject.

f/1.8 helps the subject stand out from the background and gives the environment more of an atmospheric role in the photo.

f/1.8 helps the subject stand out from the background and gives the environment more of an atmospheric role in the photo.

The wide aperture is also very useful for shooting in dark environments such as indoors or at night. Again a frequent feature for family snaps and day trips. This will allow for cleaner and sharper photos with less noise which kills skin tones.

f/1.8 can help you get nice clean shots in low light environments such as restaurants.

f/1.8 can help you get nice clean shots in low light environments such as restaurants.

It’s A Great Carry Around Lens.

50mm lenses are small and light which makes them great to carry around all day long on holidays or weekends. They turn a cumbersome DSLR and heavy zoom into something that you don’t dread taking with you or even have to think twice about. It can fit in a small bag and not strain you shoulder garter a full day of carrying about. I almost always have this in my bag unless I’m planning something special.

A small setup (camera and lens combo) will make sure you carry your camera with you more often and grab a beautiful unexpected moment even on a simple Sunday walk.

A small setup (camera and lens combo) will make sure you carry your camera with you more often and grab a beautiful unexpected moment even on a simple Sunday walk.

Who would not want to capture a portrait of a dastardly evil hound or maybe just a nice dog with great mascara.

Who would not want to capture a portrait of a dastardly evil hound or maybe just a nice dog with great mascara.

Does this lens do everything?

Well of course not. While it’s a great versatile lens it has it limitations. You won’t be able to shoot wide vistas or zoom in to far away to catch details. And where portraits are concerned the distance you need to focus from the subject may prevent you from getting a tight head shot. But you can always crop the subject later. Some lenses do offer macro ability allowing you to get very close. But it still remains the most versatile lens for photographing people on the go. And what’s more important is that you will carry it with you far more often and therefore shoot more. And that’s what matters most.

 

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Technical Stuff.

Every camera brand offers a cheap 50mm f/1.8 (or equivalent*) lens for their system. They will also offer f/1.4 or even f/1.2 versions but they are far more expensive and heavier. 

*If you own a full frame camera then you should buy a 50mm f/1.8. If you own a camera with an APS-C size sensor then you should look for around a 35mm focal length to get the same view. And if you have a Micro 4/3 camera such as an Olympus or Panasonic then you should buy around a 25mm lens.

It’s impractical to build a full database for this article of all the lenses currently available so if you’re not sure then just leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you with suggestions.

Vicious Attack Ends Photoshoot!

Vicious Attack Ends Photoshoot!

We chose to arrive late which would allow me nice late afternoon sunlight which is excellent for portraits, and it wouldn’t be too hot to be outdoors either. A sweaty family is not a happy family and doesn’t make for great portraits either. 

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