Color psychology

I’m gonna keep this post brief and allow you to save your time to read Moose Peterson’s color psychology post.

Great read! Thanks Moose!

Sharper photographs by following this simple rule

You can do a lot in Lightroom or Photoshop, but even with tools such as the Shake Reduction filter it is still nigh on impossible to recover a shakey photo. But by following one simple rule you can dramatically reduce on the number of shakey shots you capture.

The rule is a simple one – take a look at the focal length of the lens you are shooting with then use one over this number as the minimum shutter speed. So, for example, if you are shooting at 50mm, then you minimum shutter speed should be 1/50th of a second. If you are shooting with a 500mm long lens then the shutter speed should be no slower than 1/500th of a second. At the other end of the spectrum, if you are shooting with a 15mm fisheye then you can go as low as 1/15th of a second.

To hit these minimums you would adjust your f-stop and ISO accordingly.

I find this rule worth following when using a tripod if it’s windy.

The longer the focal length the faster the shutter should be. This is because the more you zoom in on an image, the more any shake or vibration shows up.

Some take this rule further and say that the minimum shutter speed should be one over twice the focal length. Now if you are shooting at 50mm the shutter speed should be no lower than 1/100th of a second, and at 500mm it would be no slower than 1/1000th of a second. A 15mm fisheye would need 1/30th of a second on the shutter if following this rule. This should give you an even sharper image, but it is harder to achieve under suboptimal conditions.

Again, to hit these minimums you would adjust your f-stop and ISO accordingly. If you find holding the camera steady tricky, then shortening the shutter speed will help tremendously.

Do you always have to follow this rule? Of course not! If you’re good at holding a camera then you might have no problems shooting with a 500mm lens at 1/250th of a second (learn to brace the camera into your body and face rather than just holding it, and press the shutter button smoothly rather than jabbing at it). Also, if you have a tripod or a lens with vibration reduction/image stabilization then you can also put the envelope of these rules.

Behind the Camera: ‘Sun Pillar and the Skerries Lighthouse’ – Church Bay/Porth Swtan, Anglesey


Ideally I’d like nothing better than to be sat somewhere with dramatic scenery to catch every sunrise and sunset, and to then be on call 24/7 to record every visually awesome thing that Mama Nature delivers – if you know of a job opening like that, let me know! – but as it stands I have to be happy with catching what I can, when I can. And sometimes, things happen so fast that you have to rush to grab the camera and set up before that cool thing vanishes.

This is exactly what happened last night. I’d just come back from a walk – without the camera; sometimes it’s good to exercise the mind’s camera – and given how few clouds there were I decided to just sit back and watch the sunset.

And then Kat pointed out sun pillar. A sun pillar (you can also get a moon pillar, and even pillars created by artificial light sources) is an atmospheric optical phenomenon resulting from the reflection of the light by ice crystals present in the Earth’s atmosphere. So I run back and grab my camera bag, return, and then set up for some shots.

I had to work quick, as these sorts of things don’t hang about for long, so I chose to shoot a panorama consisting of four vertical shots. I wanted to capture the way the sun pillar dwarfed the Skerries lighthouse both in terms of size and power, and I also wanted to capture the sheer majesty of the sky and how the color of the clouds varied rapidly across the sky. It’s amazing how rapidly everything changes at either end of the day, and this is where knowing your kit comes into play – you don’t have time to be fumbling with your kit.

The individual shots were taken at F8.0 – the sweet spot for most lenses, and ideal for this since I didn’t want either enormous depth of field nor bokeh – at 98mm, ISO 100. Despite the setting sun these settings when combined with my Canon F2.8 70-200mm plus x1.4 convertor gave me a reasonable shutter speed of 1/60th of a second. I used my 3 Legged Thing tripod (which as a dodgy leg at present which I’m hoping to get fixed next week) to hold the camera rather than doing that manually as that gave me the best chance of success (there was no going back for a second set of shots if things went wrong).

I pre-processed the images in Lightroom 5 (basically busting dust spots, and enabling profile corrections and chromatic aberration removal) before exporting them into Photoshop CC to create the pano. The pan distortion was removed in Photoshop CC using the adaptive wide angle filter (it was a little tricky to get the horizon straight, but it has to be done because if it’s out by less than a degree the eye still picks it up), and I tweaked the image using luminosity mask techniques.

Behind the Camera: ‘My Little Stone’ – Bardsey Island, Wales


I think that, finally, I’ve caught up with myself after taking a week off earlier this month to visit Bardsey Island. We’d planned on being there for a week, but thanks to the bad weather we got two extra days (cool for us, sucks for the people who’d planned to arrive, and sucks a bit for me in that it meant I didn’t get a weekend to sort my stuff out before the week began).

Bardsey is a great place for photography. There’s just so much cool stuff just waiting to be shot, from the birds to the lighthouse, from the coastline to the amazing buildings and structures. I’ve even managed to do some great night photography while I was there. Whenever I visit I make sure I have plenty of cards and batteries for my camera.

And this time was no different. Well, except for one thing. Because the lighthouse was in the middle of being converted from diesel to soar, the main light had been removed and replaced with an LED light that is so bright that it must upset the Martians. This searing light – which is there until October – combined with the cloud cover meant that I wouldn’t be getting much night work done.

But I didn’t let that stop me trying.

The photograph above – which I think is my favorite from the 4,500 that I took while on Bardsey – was taken one evening while sitting outside the house we rented for the week. Called “Carreg Bach” (Welsh for “Little Stone”) this was a delightfully rustic crog-loft cottage. Downstairs there was a living room and kitchen, while upstairs on what I can only describe as a small ledge, was the bedroom. It was small, but cozy, and the coziness factor only increased when the stove was lit or the gas fire was going!

I love this shot for several reasons:

  • Cottage, moon, and the Bardsey lighthouse in one shot!
  • I managed to time the shot so it didn’t get obliterated by the LED on top of the lighthouse
  • I love how the textures present in the wall, the cottage, and even the wood just pops out
  • It’s a reminder of the fun times we had sitting outside!

Technically, the shot was quite straightforward – F8.0@16mm, 1/20s, ISO 100 – with the hardest part being trying to get far back enough to get everything in the shot!

Cleaning my camera’s lenses and filters

Having been on Bardsey Island for over a week, and been witness to (and having photographed) a severe gale that hit the island, my camera’s lenses and filters were in dire need of a clean. Fortunately, given the right tools this is a quick and painless job.

Here what I used

Here’s my process for lenses:

  • Blow/brush off the worst of the dirt. You don’t want to be grinding sand particles into your glass if you can avoid it!
  • With that done, take a PEC*PAD and apply one or two drops of the Eclipse cleaning fluid and wipe the lens from the middle towards the outside. If the lens if dirty, use a second (or third) PEC*PAD. The trick is to do the wipe slow so the solution has time to lift the crud off the glass as you go, rather than smearing it onto the glass.
  • Allow the glass to dry (Eclipse will only take a few seconds) and inspect.
  • If clean, put the lens cap back on (after giving it a blow with the blower), or repeat the above steps if you still see dirt on the lens.

For filters it’s a similar process:

  • Blow off the worst of the dust.
  • Apply two drops of the Lee filter cleaning solution to the filter and clean it.
  • Repeat for the other side.
  • Inspect and put away if clean.

I use the Lee solution for filters for two reasons:

  • It doesn’t dry off as fast as Eclipse, so it’s better for big square filters which have a lot more surface area than a lens.
  • It has anti-static properties, so that works to prevent the filter being a dirt magnet (which resin filters can be at times).

With that done, I’m ready for more photography!

TKActions Panel V3

While I’ve got a whole bunch of filters and actions installed into Photoshop, the one I use the most has to be the TKActions Panel by Tony Kuyper. And a good thing just got even better.

What is the TKActions Panel?

The TKActions Panel is so vast that there’s no way I can tell you everything that it does in a short blog post, but in a nutshell, the TKActions Panel is the control panel for a whole bunch of actions primarily related to luminosity masking.

Don’t know what luminosity masks are? Well, you’re really missing out, because they allow you to take control over the tonality of an image in a way that leaves other techniques in the dust.

Find out more!

If you want to know more, I suggest you grab a coffee and take a look at Tony Kuyper’s tutorial … but I warn you, you’ll never look at image processing in the same way again!

The actions start at $10 (what else can you buy for $10 that will improve your photography? A lens cloth?) but I recommend grabbing at minimum the “Complete Catalog” that costs $30 (again, peanuts for a photography tool), and if you’re new to luminosity masking I think the “Complete Package” for $70 which includes awesome tutorial videos by Sean Bagshaw is worth the money.

I will warn you in advance that the subject of luminosity masking is a huge one, and I remember feeling daunted at the start, but very quickly I got comfortable with the basics, and once I started using it on my photos, I realized the power, and this drove me on to learn more about the subject.

Behind the Camera: ‘Sunset on Venus’ – Porth Swtan/Church Bay, Anglesey


I’m a bit of a night owl (OK, I’m a total night owl), and that means I see a lot more sunsets that I do sunrises (well, OK, I do, through my eyelids, but I don’t think that counts).

But a sunset is just a sunrise in reverse, right? 😉 If I need to catch a sunrise, the easiest way for me to do that would be to stay awake all night.

I take a lot of shots over at Porth Swtan (if you’re a regular over on my Flickr stream you will already know this). You might think that I get bored with shooting the same place as much, but nothing could be further from the truth. The more you shoot a place, the better you understand it. The light, the shadows, the waves, the wind, the sun, the moon, and the stars.

And what’s the difference between taking a hundred shots of a hundred different places, and a hundred different shots of the same place? One is geography, the other light and shadow.

My take on it is that the more I shoot of the one place, the better I learn what works and what doesn’t so that when I find myself at an unfamiliar place, with unfamiliar light, shadows, waves, wind, sun, moon, and stars, I’ll be better able to deal with it and get the best shot possible. It also means I spend less time behind the wheel driving from place to place and more time behind the camera taking shots.

That suits me just fine.

A shot like the one above is all about the light, and so I knew that I wanted not only to catch the sky, but also the reflections off the water and the stones. Fortunately the tide was on the way out so the rocks were still wet enough to act like tiny mirrors. But these reflections were very vulnerable, so care needed to be taken not to lose them to the overbearing sky. With that in mind I kept the sky in check with a graduated neutral density filter, giving my camera time to drink in the light off the rocks.

Post processing tip: Rapid ‘blend if’ image blending

Here’s a great tip by Jimmy McIntyre who shows us how to quickly blend two images together using Photoshop.

Not only does this work well for interiors, but it also works for landscapes and cityscapes.

Post processing tip: ‘Step by step, rung by rung, climbing Jacob’s ladder’ – Porth Swtan/Church Bay, Anglesey


This was a quick shot that started with Kat yelling “hey, come see this!” And yeah, it was worth going to see.

But when it came to processing the image, I discovered a nasty, time-consuming surprise that I had to deal with.

Dozens of them. Tiny ones. All over the shot.

There must have been a flock of starlings making its way through the shot. I could have left them in the shot, but when I sharpened the image it made the birds look like I had a bad case of dust on my sensor. Initially I thought they were dust spots, but to get that many showing up at F8 against a dark background would be crazy (usually they show up at around F16 to F22 or higher, and against a bright background.

So away they had to go using Lightroom’s spot healing brush.

How bad was the problem? This bad!

Each one of those is a bird I had to spot heal out of the image. And I kept finding more and more to deal with!

Bottom line though, the spot healing brush does a good job.

Behind the Camera: ‘Whatta Blast’ – Porth Swtan/Church Bay, Anglesey


Crashing waves are Mother Nature’s way of showing us the power she has without having to drop an asteroid or crack open up a volcanic vent. The power they have to smash rocks, move boulders, and make the ground shudder from the force of their impacts is quite amazing.

I love them!

Last night I took a quick trip down to a local beach expecting to take shots of a peaceful sunset. I’d noticed that the sea was rough earlier in the day but the stillness and warmth of the spring evening had lured me into a false sense of security (and serenity). As I was making my way down the slipway to the beach, what I was greeted with wasn’t calm and tranquility but violent turbulence. The tide was high (and getting higher) and water was rushing partway up the slipway. The waves were also crashing against the wall of the slipway, sending spray and foam ten feet into the air.

There were also a lot of photographers at the spot (and more came while I was there). Now I’m not antisocial (honestly) but when it comes to photography, unless I’m shooting with Kat I much prefer to be a Lone Wolf. I connect better with the environment that way.

Ideally I would have found another spot to shoot, but I was racing against the sun and jumping in the car and going somewhere else was out of the question (unless it was going to be a night shoot) so I had to make do. I decided that the best thing to do was to break away from the crowd of photogs at the top of the slipway and make my way closer to the water. Like my grandmother was fond of saying, I’m not made of sugar or salt so I won’t melt. My camera and lens were also relatively weatherproof too, so I wasn’t too worried there either.

Also, I was wearing my super-duper new Muck-Boot willies. These are awesome for keeping my feet warm and dry (but at the same time stopping them from feeling clammy), but as is the case with most rubber boots, the sole can be a bit slippery, especially on the beach, and especially around that evil slimy green seaweed. So to deal with this I’ve kitted the Muck-Boots out with ICESPIKES, which allow me to cling to wet and slippery rocks like a limpet. They’re awesome!

So, I got close to the water (which meant getting splashed – but I kept a lens cloth handy to dry off my glass), I got low, and I shot. I lot. I just put the camera on high-speed continuous shooting and let it rip. My 64GB high-speed x1066 speed Lexar Compact Flash card (thanks Lexar!) could keep up with the shooting and I knew that once I got back to HQ that a combination of Photo Mechanic 5 and my Lexar Workflow card reader would make short work of all the images I’d captured.

So I shot. And shot. And shot.

Waves are predictable in an unpredictable sort of way. You can see the waves coming, but it’s hard to know whether they’re going to break with a bang or a whimper, so you just have to shoot and keep your fingers and toes crossed. Sometimes you catch a beauty, sometimes you miss it because the gap between the shutter closing and reopening is just a fraction of a second too long.

F2.8 at 100 ISO was giving me a reasonably fast shutter speed of around 1/400 of a second to around 1/250 of a second, which was fast enough to freeze the action. I had my canon 70 – 200mm lens at its widest most of the time because I just couldn’t be sure where the action would be (or, more precisely, what action I’d want to focus on, as stuff was happening all around me). For stability my camera was on a tripod, but I still needed to keep a steadying hand on it as the waves crashing over the wall of the slipway could move it, not only causing unsharpness but also threatening to dunk my camera and lens into the still frigid Irish Sea.

At some point I thought I had enough wave shots so I switched from my telephoto to a wide-angle lens, but I’ve not had a chance to look at those shots yet!

By the time I was done I was cold, a bit soggy, and in need of a restorative cup of tea, but on the way back I stopped to chat to a nice couple who were up on holiday from Derbyshire. They’d enjoyed the sunset with different sot of glass in their hands – a glass of wine! They seemed eager to talk, and since I was no longer in photog mode I was happy to chat. It’s great to come across people who seem to thoroughly enjoy this area because it also helps me see this place through new and different eyes.

Yesterday was a great day!

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