Shane Baker: Blog en-us (C) Shane M Baker - all rights reserved (Shane Baker) Sat, 18 Nov 2017 04:19:00 GMT Sat, 18 Nov 2017 04:19:00 GMT Shane Baker: Blog 103 120 RAW provides you with more options in your photography There's a minor debate on YouTube at the moment (mid November 2017) about RAW versus JPEG, so naturally, I feel the need to "have my two bob's worth".

In March 2016, I wrote a blog in praise of raw, in which I said:

Put simply (very simply in fact), a raw file is an unprocessed record of the light falling on your sensor. It carries information about what your camera thought the exposure and colour balance should be, but because all the data are still there, you can adjust as far as the file will allow. A JPEG on the other hand is produced when your camera looks at the raw data, decides things like exposure and colour balance - and then writes what's needed to the file - and disposes of the rest. That's why formats like JPEG (and GIF) are called "lossy". And that's why raw files are big (in this case, 35 meg) and JPEGs are relatively small (2 meg): the raw file still has all the original information. (There are other differences like bit depth, but we needn't worry about that.)

JPEGs have their place. You wouldn't want to send a photo of your kid's party to your family in raw format. What's more, some cameras (like Fuji for example) do a brilliant job of producing JPEG images. But if you make a mess of your exposure as I did, or you are shooting difficult subjects such as sunsets (high contrast) or in low light, you want all the data your camera can give you to make adjustments.

There are two main reasons to shoot JPEG. Firstly, they're smaller than RAW. The following table will illustrate what I mean. I created JPEGs two different ways. I took an existing RAW file, opened it in Affinity Photo and exported it as highest and second highest quality. Next, I shot four images with with my Nikon D800 using the same settings, but saving as RAW, "fine JPEG", "normal" and "basic". This is what happened:

File sizes for RAW and JPEG (in megabytes)

Source RAW Fine JPEG Normal JPEG Basic JPEG Affinity Photo
JPEG Conversion
Highest Quality
Affinity Photo
JPEG Conversion
High Quality
Nikon D800 51.7 15.0 8.5 4.2 - -
Affinity Photo Conversion 50.2 - - - 38.0 7.5
JPEG size saving - 71% 84% 92% 24% 85%

As you can see, there are substantial savings in file size by using JPEGs instead of RAW, but that comes at a price. I'll come back to that.

The other reason is convenience. Just as in the days of film, when we took our colour film to the local lab rather than spending an evening (or two) in our darkroom, JPEGs offer a "ready to use" image file. And just like those postcard prints from the minilab, most will be useable - but some won't.

Which brings me back to my point. A week ago, I wandered into an old (by Western Australian measures) churchyard near Perth and made this image. This is a JPEG (yes, we use JPEGs for this sort of thing) of my unprocessed RAW file:

The image before processing.The image before processing. Not very exciting is it? Added to which, there are areas in the top left and middle right that are over-exposed and rather distracting.

This is what it looked like after processing in Capture One:

The image of the graveyard after processing and converting to monochrome in Capture One.
The image of the graveyard after processing and converting to monochrome in Capture One. ​I'm happy with that image. I think the black and white works for the subject material, there's a good balance, and the image is quite sharp from foreground to background.

For the record, these are the steps I took:

  • Levels - with Capture One's "Auto" setting
  • Highlights adjusted to 50
  • Clarity: 30
  • Sharpening: 200 (from the default 180)
  • Vignette: -1 stop
  • Local adjustments for those bright areas - done by eye
  • Conversion to B&W using the "Panchromatic 4" setting
  • A sight S-curve adjustment
  • Contrast at 9

This is the result when I tried almost identical steps on the highest quality JPEG:

Adjusted JPEG image Adjusted JPEG image Not so good. I would go so far as to say that the edited JPEG file is unusable, whereas I'm happy for people to see the RAW conversion.

While editing, it was noticeable that I simply didn't have the same latitude when brushing in local adjustments in those overly bright areas. The results were lumpy and the image tended to go grey, looking like fog, rather than simply darkening as happened when working with the RAW image. This is hardly surprising as (getting geeky) JPEG files are 8-bit, whereas my RAW files are 14-bit. What does that mean? Well, every point in the JPEG has 256 levels of colour, whereas the RAW file has 16,384 levels. More detail, more information in every pixel increases your options when editing!

It's true that the JPEG file is smaller than the RAW, but it gets that way by losing data - and we need that data for adjustments and fine tuning. 

On the other hand, how big a deal is file size these days? 64G SD cards, good for over 1,000 images on most cameras, can be bought for as little as AUD45. Faster cards are more expensive, but whether you even need that depends on your camera and how you shoot. External hard drives that can store 20,000 or more RAW files can be had for less than AUD100. 

Size just isn't an issue any more!

Processing might be. The fact is that a RAW file needs processing; a JPEG doesn't. That said, I likened RAW and JPEG to darkroom and minilab earlier, but it's not really like that, is it? We can do in software in a few moments what would have taken hours in a wet darkroom. A few days ago, I played with Apple's Photos app and tried its auto function. The results were surprisingly good - and I still had the option to tweak the settings. The same is true of Capture One, which is hardly a consumer product. Its auto button does a good job, if you're in a hurry or just can't be bothered. I imagine it's true of your software as well.

So if you're not using RAW, give it a try. If you're on a Mac, you already have a very good photo editor and if you're not, try one of the 30 day trials offered by most photo editing software developers.

You even have a safety option: I think you'll find that if you're nervous about RAW, your camera will allow you to capture RAW and JPEGs at the same time! There you go: a plan with no flaws!

Give it a try. Once you've sampled the flexibility and latitude provide by RAW, I'll be surprised if you go back to JPEGs.



]]> (Shane Baker) blown out contrast ratios file format format highlights images jpeg photography raw shade shadows Fri, 17 Nov 2017 01:57:33 GMT
Cropping changes photographs more than you may think In some photography circles cropping is a no-no. Some photographers take the view that a photo is made in the camera and it's the whole frame or nothing. I understand Henri Cartier-Bresson didn't crop, or maybe that's just photography folk law. 

Those of you who've read my blog know I passionately believe photographs are made in the camera, not in PhotoShop, but I'm no purist. In much the same way that Ansel Adams would meticulously work with light, shadow and contrast in his images to achieve the effect he wanted in the mind of the viewer, I (without his talent, skill or dedication) will work my images with cropping and manipulation of exposure and contrast to get the results I'm looking for. It's a tradition going back to the very beginnings of photography.

The view of the Eiffel Tower from our Parisian hotel room.The view of the Eiffel Tower from our Parisian hotel room. Why, I hear you ask, am I writing this? Well, a few weeks back my wife and I were in Paris. (Yes, I know. It's a hard life, but someone has to do it.) Our room even had a view of the Eiffel Tower!

While in our typically tiny Parisian hotel room, I spent a fair amount of time looking out our window. We were literally 50 metres from a train station - which isn't as bad as it sounds, by the way. The elevated train ran on rubber tyres and of course, the Métro is underground, so no noise from there. Anyway - the station, the intersection and the local restaurants meant there were a lot of people, and they were interesting to watch (even if I failed to get a single interesting photograph of the street scene).

So, I was looking out the window and saw that the low angled light was casting interesting shadows on the wrought ironwork outside the apartments opposite, and  naturally, I made some photographs.

The result is shown below.

Quite nice, but I felt that the partial windows on the floor below were a bit of a distraction, so I cropped the image - also shown below.





Full frame of my image of shadows in Paris.
Paris shadowsFull frame of my image of shadows in Paris.


The result, I was surprised to discover was a dramatically different photograph - in my opinion at least.

Cropped version of my Paris shadows in Photograph.
Paris shadows. Cropped version of my Paris shadows in Photograph.

The first photograph is about those shadows, with the roofs above in a darker part of the image. The second cropped image became a photograph of those roofs and that collection of chimney pots, with the shadows also there for those who looked at the image longer.

Yes, I know this is all terribly subjective, but assuming you share my perception, I guess the next question is: why? I suspect it's more complicated than one factor, but I think that part of the reason is our old friend, the "rule" of thirds.

This is the cropped image with vertical and horizontal "rule" lines included:

Cropped image shows "rule of thirds" lines. You will see that the roof and chimney pots are crossed by the upper horizontal line, whereas the lower line barely touches the shadows. In contrast, the full image looks thus:

Full image with "rule of thirds" lines

In the second image, the lower line lies across the ironwork, which incidentally is also the lightest part of the image. It's not surprising therefore that our eyes are down there. By contrast, the upper horizontal line skirts the roof ridge - which is in the darkest part of the image.

Ok, so what's the take away from this? It's this: in much the same way that zooming your lens does much more than just making something seem closer (or further away), cropping does more than just removing unwanted pixels. By changing the proportions of the image, we can change the subject of the image.

It's worth reviewing a cropped image before finalising it to ensure you haven't changed the nature of the image. Conversely, if you're using the whole frame, maybe a crop is what's needed to make an average shot better. (Just make sure that if you are cropping, you do it non-destructively so you can revert if the result isn't what was intended.)

Have fun.



]]> (Shane Baker) cropping photography proportions ratios rule of thirds Sun, 05 Nov 2017 02:37:43 GMT
One lens to do it all I recently did a five week trip to Britain and Europe. As always, luggage is a problem and so on this trip I decided to take my Nikon D800 with a single lens: my 24 - 120 f/4 Nikon zoom.

In the past, I've tended to travel "heavy" on such trips: carrying most of my gear in a Kata backpack that runs to 8 or 9 kilos. The problem has been that firstly, that's a lot of weight - especially for someone in his late 60s. Secondly, the backpack is bulky and while it conforms to airline carry on dimensions (just), it's a problem when travelling on crowded public transport. (One time, it got caught in a closing Tube door in London.) Thirdly, I only used some of the gear on any trip.

My first big trip involved my Nikon D300 DX crop frame camera and because of its crop factor, I found I made about 90% of my shots using the brilliant Nikon 14 - 24 f/2.8 lens. Of course, with the D300's APS-C sensor and hence a 1.5 crop factor, that lens was effectively a 21 - 36mm lens. That's great for shooting landscapes and in cities, although it's a little short for some shots, which is why the other 10% of images were made with other lenses.

Canary Wharf station, LondonCanary Wharf station, LondonCanary Wharf station, London Nikon 300 with Nikkor 14-24 at 14mm (21mm effective)

On the full frame D800, that lens is too short for most photography - at 14mm you can get your toes in a shot if you're not careful. The 24 - 70 f/2.8 is a better option on an FX camera, but 70mm is a little short for some situations.

Cambridge streetCambridge streetCambridge street Nikon D800 with Nikkor 24 - 70 at 38mm

Enter the Nikkor 24 - 120 f/4, which is in the right focal length range for a trip, and is also stabilised - which can be helpful in low light situations. At f/4, it's a full stop slower than the 24 - 70, but since I tend to shoot at f/8 or smaller (to provide some depth of field) this wasn't an issue.

By the Seine, ParisBy the Seine, ParisBy the Seine, Paris Nikon D800 with Nikkor 24-120 at 70mm

Glen Coe, ScotlandGlen Coe, ScotlandGlen Coe, Scotland Nikon D800 with 24-120 at 24mm















So I took away the one lens, and I'm happy to report that the combination worked well. Very well in fact. The focal lengths available covered almost every situation I wanted to photograph, the aperture was fine, and the stabilisation system worked very well. If you're looking for a "walking around" lens for your Nikon and you have a full-frame (FX) body, I suggest you look at the 24 - 120, which is a bargain compared with their f/2.8 range. If you're shooting Nikon crop frame, the venerable 18 - 200mm works well - I know.

Canon shooters would do well to check out the 24 - 105 Canon lens. Like the Nikon 24 - 120, it seems to be a ridiculously good lens, especially for the price. No doubt, Sony and the micro four-thirds manufacturers have equivalent lenses.

The bottom line is that one lens can do it all - or nearly all. If you're travelling for photography, obviously you'll want more than one lens. My advice would be to take a wide lens for landscapes, streetscapes and close-in work, and if you can accomodate it, a longer lens - maybe a 70 -200. You could also carry a "nifty 50" 50mm lens which weighs practically nothing, or if you have a crop frame, a 35mm might be the go. 

One thing I missed on this trip is a  tripod. Something like the Sirui T-025X would be useful, but at a pinch, even a good tabletop tripod such as a Sirui 3T-35K Table Top Tripod would be useful. (I had meant to take my Manfrotto tabletop this time but forgot!)

Mind you, a little innovation goes a long way. This image was made with the Nikon more or less level on a park bench and the lens lifted by resting the lens hood on my reading glasses' case. You do what you have to do.

Dresden.Dresden.Dresden Nikon D800 with 24-120 at 24mm ISO 5000, f/10 at 1/10 sec


One area where the D800 was caught out a little was ISO. The fact is that in Australia, we're used to lots of light and as such, the D800's maximum ISO 6400 isn't really needed. I usually have auto ISO engaged and limit it to 3200 to avoid noise, but on this trip, due to small apertures (for more depth of field) and limited light indoors, I had to crank the camera up to the full 6400. The fact is that the noise was quite acceptable - unless I planned to print large (which happily I don't). That said, I don't normally concern myself too much with maximum ISO performance, but this trip brought it to mind. The additional couple of stops provided by the delectable Nikon D850 raised my level of gear lust.

Mind you, I could have simply taken my flash, but I'm (a) not a fan of flash and (b) didn't expect to need it.

So there you have it. Next trip - if there is a next trip - I'll take my current Nikon body, the 24 - 120 and some kind of tripod. That will cover me for around 90% of shots and for the others? Well, I'll just have to think.



]]> (Shane Baker) choices lens choice nikon photography travel travel photography Sat, 21 Oct 2017 02:22:11 GMT
There's life in "old" cameras yet! Ok, I'll admit it. I want the new Nikon D850 so much I can taste it. This goes beyond gear lust - I'm in love. If the D850 delivers (and no-one outside Nikon knows that for sure) then this is close to the perfect camera.

I want one.

Have I placed my deposit? Well no, and for some good reasons. Firstly, I'm travelling overseas the day the camera is released. It would be an act of blind faith to take a literally brand new camera on a trip. Secondly, I want someone (or preferably several people) I respect to tell me this is a camera which does what it says on the tin. Thirdly, there's the price - in Australia at least.

From what I can see, Nikon USA is asking about 17% more for the D850 than the D810. Frankly, I consider that a bargain, and if I lived in the US of A, I'd probably have my deposit on the shop counter by now. But in Australia, we have this thing many of us call the Australia Tax. What is this, I hear you ask? Well, we Aussies are asked to pay more than many other consumers for the same thing. In this case, it seems we're being asked for a 40% premium for the D850 over the D810.

So, until prices in Australia get more reasonable, I'll limp along with my 2012 vintage Nikon D800.

But what does my "limping along" mean in practice? Well, I went out yesterday to try some bird photography, and came up with something I like - this image of a male Splendid fairy-wren in full plumage. 

Splendid fairy-wrenSplendid fairy-wrenMale Splendid fairy-wren un full adult plumage at Caversham, Western Australia But before the birds got used to me and came out of the bushes, I made this test shot. It's an Acacia (wattle):

Acacia in flowerAcacia in flowerAcacia in flower, Caversham, Western Australia As I say, it's a test shot made with my "poor old" D800 and my new 200 - 500 zoom. (Not your classic flower photography lens!)

I opened the image in Capture One and zoomed in to 100% to check my focus, and saw this:

Crop of Acacia in flower photoCrop of Acacia in flower photoCrop of Acacia in flower photo

The cropped image is about 10 - 15% of the full image taken from the centre, and as you can see, there is a clear, well-defined ant and a bug hanging onto a leaf.

I reiterate: this was simply a test shot, using my "crappy old" Nikon D800 and a birding lens - and it's crisp and clear. Back in the film days, we would have been in seventh heaven making such a shot.

So my take away from all this? The D850 will almost certainly blow most other cameras out of the water. It's arguably the best SLR Nikon has ever made (which is saying something) and I still want one. But I will wait until tests prove it delivers, and until pricing in Australia gets to a realistic level.

In the meanwhile, in my five year-old Nikon D800, I have a great camera!

Happy shooting

Shane Baker



]]> (Shane Baker) australia bird photography d800 d850 digital cameras gear lust nikon photography splendid fairy-wren Sun, 27 Aug 2017 03:22:14 GMT
The zoom ring does more than you think In my previous blog, I described my recent excursion to photograph the sunrise over the Swan River in Perth. After I'd finished that shoot, I set out to photograph what seems to have become a bit of an icon among the selfie fraternity in Perth: the Crawley boat shed.

When I was a kid, the shore along Mounts Bay Road had a number of such sheds, not to mention the "Crawley Baths", where you could swim safe from bull sharks – if not jelly fish. Now, the baths are long gone, and the boat shed is the only survivor from that era.

Anyway, pretty much from dawn till dusk, you'll see people on the walkway to the shed with or without selfie sticks, photographing themselves or their friends. I had hoped that by being there at 07:30 on a Saturday morning, I'd avoid that demographic. I was wrong, but I didn't have to wait too long before I had my chance.

I arrived with my 24-120mm f/4 lens fitted to my D800, but decided as soon as I arrived to go wider: my Nikon 14-24 f/2.8. This is a beautiful lens, although you have to be careful at 14mm to keep your toes out of the shot. (No, that's not hyperbole.)

There was plenty of light, so there was no need for a tripod and I got right into it. One of my first shots, made at 14mm was this image, which I consider the pick of the morning.

Boatshed on the Swan River at Crawley, Western Australia.Boatshed on the Swan River at Crawley, Western Australia.Boatshed on the Swan River at Crawley, near the University of Western Australia.


I then decided to go "long" (everything's relative) and zoomed to 24mm and made this image:

The Crawley boat shed on the Swan River, photographed at 24mm focal length.Crawley boat shed - at 24mmThe Crawley boat shed on the Swan River, photographed at 24mm focal length.


Not bad, but not as good as the first image, in my opinion.

Hopefully, you're now thinking what a talented photographer I am (that's a joke, by the way) – but that's not why I'm showing you these images. Compare the two images. They were made within a few seconds of each other from the same spot, with the same lens and settings. What's different is the focal length – and now I'm getting to my point.

When I've been teaching photography to people new to the craft, I've always stressed that zooming does more than make the object seem closer or further away – it changes the perspective. Most people with cameras with zoom lenses (and some zooms have huge zoom ratios) stay glued to the spot and just zoom. I've done it myself. Sometimes, you have no choice. Getting close to that tiger at the zoo is best done with focal length, rather than jumping the rail. Similarly, if you're trying to photograph a bird, it's easier on the bird and you if you twist that zoom ring.

Inquisitive rainbow lorikeet, South Durras, NSW.Inquisitive rainbow lorikeet, South Durras, NSW.Inquisitive rainbow lorikeet, South Durras, NSW.


A long lens can be used to "compress" the image and change the whole look of the shot. This image of mine brings the waves and the headland much closer together for a more dramatic shot than would be achieved with say, a 50mm lens.

Sunrise at South DurrasSunrise at South Durras


While this shot made with a wide angle emphasises the sky.

Cloudscape, near Canberra.Cloudscape, near Canberra.


My point is that zooming does a lot more than just changing the apparent distance to your subject – it changes the perspective. You may not always have a choice, but if you do, consider "zooming with your feet", rather than twisting the zoom ring.

Good shooting.

Shane Baker

]]> (Shane Baker) australia d800 focal length lens nikon perspective photography zoom Tue, 18 Jul 2017 22:14:42 GMT
With sunrises, it ain't over until the sun's completely up Yesterday, I did something I hadn't done for a while: I got out of bed in the dark, and headed out to photograph a sunrise. It was worth it.

If you haven't done this, it has its challenges. Firstly, by definition, it's dark. I doubt if as the saying goes, "it's darkest just before the dawn", but it is dark. It's also cold - in winter, at least.

The other thing is that sunrise (and sunset) photography requires lots of adjustments and quick thinking. I've heard it described as being like photographing sports. While I'm not sure I would go that far, things happen fast - and are unpredictable. So you need to keep your wits about you, and it helps to do whatever setting up you can in advance.

So … I went to Point Walter on Perth's Swan River as I'd heard it was a good place to shoot the sunrise. I arrived in good time, set up my tripod, and decided to use my Nikon 24-120 f/4 lens on my D800. It's not my fastest lens, but I knew I'd be shooting be shooting at a high f-number to achieve the maximum depth of field, so that wasn't an issue. It's a good lens, and gave me the option to move from wide to medium telephoto as required. (I also remembered to turn off the lens's stabilisation as it would be on the tripod due to low light.)

Because the light changes rapidly, I chose my preferred aperture priority mode (where the camera sets the shutter speed according to my choice of aperture) and I selected ISO 100 with auto ISO off. Shutter speed seemed unlikely to be an issue as I was using the tripod, and I wanted the lowest possible noise in my images.

I was ready for the sunrise. I waited, and soon, there was enough pre-dawn light to make some exposures. The problem is, of course that you can only see lights at that time of day, so there was some guessing about the river bank and such.

The cloud was good, and after about 30 shots, which included changing the focal length and lowering the tripod to try for better reflection, I came up with this.

Sunrise over the Swan River from Point Walter, Perth Western Australia.Sunrise over the Swan River.Sunrise over the Swan River from Point Walter, Perth Western Australia.

Quite nice, but as the light increased, I knew that was it. I was disappointed. I'd wanted more colour in the sky, but it clearly wasn't coming, so I packed up. In the next 10 minutes, I folded the tripod, put my camera back in its bag and put the gear in the car. I had a brief chat with a local dog and his people, and started the car – then I saw the sky. That colour that wasn't going to happen was happening!


Hoping I'd have time, I grabbed my stuff and double-timed back to the beach, stuck the camera on the tripod and started shooting.

The light kept changing, so I had to keep agile.

Then I noticed that the slowish shutter speed I was using was blurring the waves, so I decided to trade a little noise for speed and upped the ISO to 400 – and was able to get this.

Sunrise over the Swan River from Point WalterSunrise over the Swan River from Point WalterSunrise over the Swan River made at Point Walter, in the Perth suburb of Bicton.

I wasn't disappointed any more. Surely this time I had what I'd climbed out of bed to get?

Back home, I loaded the files into Capture One and held my breath. Sunrises and sunsets very tough on cameras. They have very high contrast ratios ranging from really, really bright bits where the sun is, and pure black areas. I was glad I'd shot in raw format, rather than JPEG because that gave me a few more options in "post". I was also hoping I'd got my focus right. A blurry landscape is not a good thing!

The files didn't need much processing actually. The D800 may be an old camera in terms of digital, but it's still a great camera. I made tiny adjustments to levels, and almost imperceptible adjustments in clarity, curves and vignetting and I was done.

As I said: it was worth getting out of my nice warm bed. I'll do it again soon-ish.

Lessons? Really only one: don't stop shooting a sunrise or sunset until it's full daylight/dark. As I proved, your opinion of what's going to happen isn't worth much – you have to wait until it's well and truly over.

Or maybe I'm just a bit impatient – which sounds about right.

If you're considering trying sunrise photography, this check list may help. You will need:

  • your camera with a freshly charged battery.
  • a good tripod – meaning it's stable and with a quick and reliable method of attaching your camera.
  • a suitable lens or lenses. A medium zoom is a good choice as while you'll probably need a wide lens, sometimes you may need a medium telephoto (believe it or not).
  • warm clothing - in winter at least, including fingerless gloves.
  • a light. I suggest a headlight torch as these point where you're looking and keep your hands free.
  • be awake – and be patient!

Good shooting.

Shane Baker

]]> (Shane Baker) Australia D800 Nikon landscape photographer sunrise sunset Mon, 10 Jul 2017 03:14:34 GMT
Nailing those informal portraits I was recently contacted by a friend with a common problem. She needed to get some good photos of her son, who was all dressed up for a senior high school ball. She has a good Nikon SLR and a good eye, but needed some tips on how to get the best from the camera.


It's approaching winter here, so the shots would be inside, so my first point was: don't use the built-in flash. The flash on cameras should be used as a last resort (your child being born as there's a power failure or aliens landing at night come to mind). If you have a flash unit (one you slip into the hot shoe on the top of the camera), it could be used with a suitable reflector or by being bounced off a white wall or ceiling, but the built-in flash is too small, and more importantly, too close to the axis of the lens. Built-in flash results in red eye and that "deer in the headlights" look. Don't use it.

The good news is that modern digital cameras can produce good results at quite low light levels. Perhaps as important, they can cope with the mixed light temperatures (meaning the colour of the light) coming from the variety of light sources we see in most houses. So, set your ISO on "auto", turn on all the lights in the room, and you'll probably get away with it.

Next, keep away from walls. Standing too close will probably mean your subject will cast a shadow and you'll end out with that weird "outline" around your subject. (That goes double if you use flash.) Get them to take a generous step away and all will be well.

Next, chose a good lens focal length. If you're using a full frame camera (e.g.: Canon 6D or the Nikon D750), then you will want a lens in the focal range 50 to 80mm (or thereabouts). Any shorter, and people will have those big noses and door frames will be curved. Longer than around 80mm and you probably just won't have the space needed - inside at least. If you don't have a full frame, you'll have an "crop frame" camera, which means your sensor is smaller than full frame and this will change your effective focal length. In practice, this means:

Focal length equivalents
Sensor Size Indicated focal length  Effective focal length
Full size 50mm 50mm
  85mm 85mm
Preferred portrait focal length.
APS-C 35mm 50mm
  50mm 75mm
Great choice for portraits
Micro Four-thirds 25mm 50mm
  40mm 80mm
A great portrait focal length

By the way: a "prime" lens (that is, a lens which doesn't focus) will almost always be better than a zoom, and particularly on the APS-C cameras, the "nifty fifty" 50mm lenses are ridiculously good for their price. As you can see, a 50mm on a crop frame is really a 75mm, which makes it a great portrait lens. If you're interested in portraiture, the nifty fifty is definitely worth consideration.

Getting exposure correct

The next point is about exposure. I've already mentioned keeping ISO on auto. Switch your camera to aperture priority and then select a big aperture, like f/4 LesLes and you will have a nice shallow depth of field or focus. Your foreground and background will be nice and blurry, and if you've focussed on your subject's face, they will be nice and sharp. In this image, I didn't want any detail in the background, so I chose a big aperture.

If you want the background in focus, go the other way and choose f/8 or f/11. Your camera will do the maths and work out the optimum shutter speed and ISO. In this environmental portrait, I wanted to emphasise Claude's deep interest in wood working and wood working tools, so I kept the depth of field as deep as a I could.



If all that's a bit much, use Program mode - but please don't select the green setting. Under that setting, you're turning your expensive camera into a basic point and shoot, and among other things, the camera will probably trigger flash.


Posing your subject

I guess that just leaves how to pose your subject. That depends on the style of the portrait, the personality of the subject and the circumstances, but you can get some hints on the web. You might like to check out these suggestions from the Digital Photography School for women and these for men. There's quite a difference between posing men and women - best poses are diametrically opposed for the most part.

So that's it. Not rocket science, and as you become more familiar with photography and your camera, you will come up with your own ways of doing informal portraits. But this is a good start.

Shane Baker




]]> (Shane Baker) ISO aperture flash informal portraits photography portraits Sun, 11 Jun 2017 10:35:06 GMT
The sun isn't always the photographer's friend Back in the dark ages when I was young, people with cameras would love bright, sunny days. It's not surprising; lenses were slow and so was the film emulsion. You had to take what you could get, especially in the higher latitudes. Family snaps from that period usually show people squinting into the sun, but with reasonably well-exposed faces.

I think many people have carried this behaviour into today's world - despite the faster sensors and better lenses. They shoot in bright conditions - but don't always get the results they're hoping for. The reason is the nature of the light on bright, sunny days.

Check out these two images from the Perth Zoo.

Elephants at Perth Zoo.Elephants at Perth Zoo.Elephants at Perth Zoo - photographed in harsh light.    Tricia the elephant at Perth Zoo in soft light.Tricia the elephant at Perth Zoo.Tricia the elephant at Perth Zoo in soft light. Ok, neither will win the Wildlife Photographer of the Year; they're just snaps, but they show the effects of shooting in bright light. The first image has completely blown-out highlights and deep shadows; and it was shot with my Nikon D800 using raw. (Had a been shooting JPEGs and/or a less capable camera, it would have been worse.) The second shot is quite nice. It has a good tonal range because everything is within the capacity of the Nikon to record the light.

What's the difference? The first was shot on a typically hot, clear, bright day in Perth. The second was made on an overcast day. In one, the sun is creating contrast ratios beyond the capacity of the camera's sensor (which has a very good capacity in that regard). In the second, the cloud is producing softer light and lower contrast ratios which are well-within the camera's ability. What do I mean by "contrast  ratio"? It's the range of light levels from the brightest to the dullest part of an image. Modern sensors are good, but they still can't match our eyes in this regard.

If this is an issue when photographing an elephant, it's much more so when photographing family and friends?

So, what do we do? We can't dial-up cloud on demand. 

We have a few options. Time of day can help. Early or late in the day provides a softer (and warmer) light which is kinder on the skin and won't throw deep shadows under eyes and noses. Getting technical, the lower light levels also make it easier to produce a show depth of field and a nice soft, creamy bokeh in the background.

Orangutan at Perth Zoo.Orangutan at Perth Zoo.Orangutan at Perth Zoo.

This image of one of the Orangutans at Perth Zoo was made under very heavy cloud. Note the nice even light on his face, and the bokeh produced by a combination of the wide aperture and long lens needed to get this close-up.

Even if you have no choice but to make a portrait or group shot around midday, you can still do a few things.

Stand people in shade. They will feel better (especially if it's hot), will be less likely to squint into the light, and you will get a softer (if somewhat "cooler") light with better skin and few if any deep shadows.

If you're really keen and are prepared, you can use a diffuser. These can be anything from a purpose made unit [link] to a white bed sheet or curtain and are held between the sun and your subject to give a softer, diffused light.

Take a lead from the animals at the Perth Zoo. They move around when the sun's soft. But when the sun's blazing and throwing hot and hard light, they get in the shade and take it easy. Do the same with your subjects, whether they be family, friends or animals or plants. They (and your images) will do better on overcast days, or in some gentle shade.

Keep shooting.


]]> (Shane Baker) Australia blown out cloud cover contrast ratios highlights light photography shade shadows zoo Tue, 31 Jan 2017 04:19:22 GMT
A new year's resolution - of sorts I haven't done all that much photography (or blogging) in the past year. It's not through conscious choice; I just don't seem to have "got around to it". 

This is not a good thing. Making photographs clears my head, allows me the rare experience of actually creating something, and gets some use out of my substantial investment in gear. So my failure to get out and do photography hasn't been positive.

Actually, it's not quite true that I did no photography. I have had some success over past 12 months. I was happy with a couple of shots made mid year at The Pinnacles north of Perth. 

Sand dune, Nambung National Park, Western AustraliaSand dunesSand dune, Nambung National Park, Western Australia Sand dune, Nambung National Park, Western Australia

Even more to the point, I fulfilled a commission from my wife made while we were still living in Canberra: to make family portraits of her kids. 

The deal I made with them was simple: they come around for lunch, and before we feed them, they give me 10 minutes to make the photographs I wanted. I would then do anything else they requested, and then we'd eat. After processing, I would print any image (of the images I approved) in any size they required. 

It worked well. In each case, they chose images they liked, and my wife chose an image she wanted. Each household now has images they like which are framed and on the wall. I'm pleased. I'm particularly pleased that in each case, my wife chose one of the images I had purposefully made. 

Let me explain.

In each case, I thought long and hard about the characters of these people (who I know quite well) and the dynamics within each family. As you would have expected, this resulted in three completely different images. (For privacy reasons, I'm not going to publish them here, but while each was a group shot, they were very different in tone and posing.) After I'd loaded them into Capture One, I was pleasantly surprised how well they'd worked: the personalities and the relationships had come across. My wife agreed and in each case, she chose one of the images I'd pre-visualised.

Her kids didn't select my "picks", I might add. We got the "why did you chose that?" (with varying degrees of vehemence) in each case, but they themselves are happy with their choices - and that's good.

So, what are the take-ways from this exercise? In no particular order, they are:

  • I tend towards low key images (as opposed to high key) and hence the the black backdrop worked best.
  • On the other hand, the black backdrop is a pain in terms of dirt showing where people have stood. There must be a solution for this, but I don't have it as yet. (All suggestions welcome.)
  • My long (3m x 6m) backdrop (bought on eBay) worked best as I didn't have to spend time in post covering up the concrete floor. Using a shorter backdrop left me with some work.
  • Taking charge worked. Not for the first time, I learnt that when having their portrait made, even strong-willed people seem happiest when being told what to do - probably because they're a bit nervous. After a while, each relaxed, got into the swing of it and made suggestions and requests - which I was happy to work with.
  • Don't be afraid to make a few photographs. Across the three shoots, I made 180 images, although half of these were made with one of the three families. Having multiple shots gave me choices and options for my subjects.
  • In each shoot, I used a couple of Elinchrom flash units. Each shoot was an experiment, and therefore different, but they were all a variation of "butterfly lighting" (where the light source is above and behind the photographer). Results were all quite good.
  • My Nikon D800 continues to perform and the large, detailed files give lots of latitude in processing - although it's merciless in picking up skin detail in portraits!

So I did do photography in 2016 and had some good results. But I didn't do enough. I must get my camera out more in 2017!

I hope you do too.



]]> (Shane Baker) D800 Nikon benefits of photography new years resolution photography photography projects portraiture Mon, 16 Jan 2017 03:37:53 GMT
I'm a collector! Well, I'm officially a photo collector! Admittedly, I already hold the definitive collection of work by that undiscovered genius of Australian photography, Shane Baker, but I now own a photograph by an acknowledged master of photography: Werner Bischof.

Werner Bischof - Famine in India, 1951Werner Bischof - Famine in India, 1951INDIA. State of Bihar. Famine stricken area. Due to flooding and drought, in 1951 the province of Bihar was heavily stricken by famine. The US sent 136 million tons of wheat and a 190 million dollar loan, while the USSR sent 50,000 tons of wheat. April 1951.

Most people would recognise this famous photograph of famine in India, made by Bischof, but I wonder how many know the photographer?

Bischof was in the first tranche of photographers recruited to Magnum after its founding. He had an at times, difficult relationship with founder Robert Capa, so there was some irony in the fact that Magnum received the news of the deaths of the two men within hours of each other. Capa had been killed by a land mine covering the French war in Indo China, while Bischof's vehicle had gone over a cliff in Peru nine days earlier. Due to communications, the news arrived from South America the same day that Capa's death was reported.

Bischof did sensitive, passionate, insightful work and I've always hoped that one day, I could have one of his prints. I do now - albeit in postcard size!

Shane Baker with Werner Bischof printShane Baker with Werner Bischof print








Shane Baker


]]> (Shane Baker) Sun, 04 Sep 2016 03:18:20 GMT
More people are shifting to Capture One! Back in February 2016, I wrote Capture One is a mixed bag ... but I'm sticking with it about my initial experience with the Capture One image processing software. 

I'm still using it and it continues to please with its ability to get the best out of my image files.

Looks like I'm not the only one. Derrick Story of The Digital Story fame has moved to Capture One and is even producing training videos. He's obviously happy with his move.

Now in his latest blog/podcast Jumping Ship From Lightroom To Capture One Pro 9, Martin Bailey has announced a move to Capture One. As usual, Martin has provided a detailed and reasoned explanation of why he's made the considerable investment of time to change processing software.

He's also promising tutorials and the like - and I for one am looking forward to reading them.

Happy shooting


PS: Martin's site has a link offering a 10% discount. If you've tried the 30 day free trial and want to make the move, you might as well take that offer! 






]]> (Shane Baker) Capture One alternative photography processing software Mon, 01 Aug 2016 10:19:31 GMT
Consumer magazines are not the place for keen photographers to compare cameras Let me begin by saying that I'm a card-carrying fan of the consumer magazine, Choice. I've been a subscriber for years and whether buying a new toaster, dishwasher or solar panels for my house, Choice is the only authority I trust to give me informed, unbiased recommendations.

But it isn't the place I'd look if I were looking to buy a new SLR.

I'm not suggesting they're biased or uninformed, but I am asserting that they use the wrong criteria when assessing higher-end cameras.

Choice recently tested cameras. The strange thing is that while they tend to test things like vacuum cleaners in tranches by price, they tested cameras ranging from simple little point-and-shoots to high end SLRs like the Canon 5D and the Nikon D810 in a single test. It's not fair to the P&S cameras because they could hardly produce images comparable with SLRs.

It's also not fair to the SLRs because criteria included ease of use and face recognition. Now I consider my D800 to be easy to use, but someone not familiar with an SLR would be baffled by it, so the D810 could not rate well on this. (In fact, Choice criticised it because the "Shutter button is hard to use".) On the other hand, I neither need not want face recognition in my camera, so the fact that the D810 had "poor face detection" (non-existent, I would have said) is definitely irrelevant.

Another peculiarity of the review was comments such as the 5DIII and the D810 having "wide angle (24mm)". Surely, the whole point of an SLR is that the lenses are interchangeable??? So these cameras are rated up if a lens like the 24 - 70 or 14 - 24 is fitted, but presumably rated down if I fit an 800mm prime?

Anyway, this brings us to the overall ratings. I've done a quick and dirty compilation of some of Choice's ratings compared with those produced by the highly respected DxO organisation in the following table. For some cameras such as the Samsung NX1 and oddly, the Canon 5D Mark III, there's quite a strong correlation. But for others, (and yes, I mention the D810 yet again) there's a huge disparity: 97 from DxO versus 77 from Choice


Choice Rating

DXO Rating

Panasonic DMC-GX8



Samsung NX1



Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 M2



Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4H



Olympus OM-D E-M1



Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II



Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II



Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ 1000



Sony Alpha 7S



Canon EOS 5D Mark III



Canon PowerShot G7 X



Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7K



Canon PowerShot G3 X



Nikon D810



Canon PowerShot G9X



Canon EOS M10



So there you go. If you're looking for a camera for someone who's not really into photography, the Choice review might be a good starting point. If you're looking for  comprehensive, qualified and unbiased tests of an oven or a solar panels or tyres and you're in Australia, I wouldn't hesitate to advise you to consult Choice. But if you're planning to buy a good SLR, I suggest you look elsewhere for advice.

Happy shooting




]]> (Shane Baker) camera photography reviews tests Fri, 13 May 2016 09:47:14 GMT
A really short blog about a video you must watch I just stumbled across a really worthwhile video entitled Composition Tips: How to Capture that ‘National Geographic Style’ featuring photographer Bob Holmes.

Some of the points Bob makes are:

  • Know your equipment inside out so the camera doesn’t become a barrier.
  • Develop and educate your eye through other visual media. Holmes has done it through a passionate interest in 20th century painting.
  • Look for and capture a “punctuation” point—a critical detail that puts the image in proper context.
  • Look for strong colors and geometry.
  • The rules of photography—rule of thirds, golden mean, so on—will make pleasing looking photographs, but they’re very often boring. Try to “inject some excitement and interest into your photographs.”
  • Be very aware of what’s in your whole frame, it’s your fault if there’s something in there that shouldn’t be.
  • Become fully involved with your subject; give it 100% of your concentration.
  • Put in the time. “You spend a long time just hanging around, waiting for the perfect shot.”

These will make more sense if you watch the video - which is only 10 minutes.






]]> (Shane Baker) Fri, 06 May 2016 03:50:43 GMT
Shooting in raw format gives you more options than JPEG. Shooting your photography in raw format is really is worth the trouble.

When making photographs many, maybe a majority of cameras offer the choice of saving the image as a JPEG or a raw image - or both. When saved, JPEGs generally have the extension .JPG, whereas raw files will have different extensions like .CR2 from Canon, .NEF from Nikon, .RAF from Fuji, and in some cases, .DNG for those manufacturers using Adobe's generic format.

The confusion doesn't end there, though. While a JPEG is a JPEG is a JPEG (more or less), a Nikon raw file from my D300 is different from one from my D800, and they share little if anything with a CR2 file from say, a Canon 5DIII.

Happily, it doesn't matter. Companies such as Adobe, Apple, Capture One and Serif wade through the specs and their software can generally work out what's what.

The "problem" with raw is this: it's a bit like shooting negative film instead of Polaroid instant film. In the same way that Polaroids were there in a minute or so, but film required processing and printing, raw files need processing in software like PhotoShop or Photos. (Chances are you have something that can do such processing already on your computer. If you have a Nikon or a Mac, I can guarantee this.) JPEGs on the other hand, are pretty much ready to go as they come out of the camera. And just like Polaroid versus say Fuji Superia, choosing JPEG instead of raw trades convenience for flexibility.

With a Polaroid image, you had an image (almost) instantly, but that was that. You couldn't adjust the image; it was as it came out of the camera. Film on the other hand required processing, but you could do things: crop, change exposure, dodge and burn, etc.

Ok, let's move on from the analogy and compare two grossly over-exposed images made in my D800 as a result of classic brain fade. One is a raw file and the other, a JPEG - as they came out of the camera:

Unprocessed raw fileUnprocessed raw fileUnprocessed raw file

Unprocessed RAW file


Unprocessed JPEG fileUnprocessed JPEG fileUnprocessed JPEG file

Unprocessed JPEG file

It's probably fair to say that the JPEG is a little better than the raw file, but neither is useable. But what if we run these two files through our "electronic darkroom", which in this case is Capture One 9:

Process RAW fileProcess RAW fileProcess RAW file

Processed RAW file


Process JPEG fileProcess JPEG fileProcess JPEG file

Processed JPEG file

I think you'd agree that the processed raw file leaves the processed JPEG for dead.

So why is this? Put simply (very simply in fact), a raw file is an unprocessed record of the light falling on your sensor. It carries information about what your camera thought the exposure and colour balance should be, but because all the data are still there, you can adjust as far as the file will allow. A JPEG on the other hand is produced when your camera looks at the raw data, decides things like exposure and colour balance - and then writes what's needed to the file - and disposes of the rest. That's why formats like JPEG (and GIF) are called "lossy". And that's why raw files are big (in this case, 35 meg) and JPEGs are relatively small (2 meg): the raw file still has all the original information. (There are other differences like bit depth, but we needn't worry about that.)

JPEGs have their place. You wouldn't want to send a photo of your kid's party to your family in raw format. What's more, some cameras (like Fuji for example) do a brilliant job of producing JPEG images. But if you make a mess of your exposure as I did, or you are shooting difficult subjects such as sunsets (high contrast) or in low light, you want all the data your camera can give you to make adjustments.

So, if you haven't tried raw, give it a go. Many cameras can shoot both raw and JPEG simultaneously and if yours can, there's really no risk in giving it a try.

You'll just have to be prepared to delve into the new (and creative) world of the digital darkroom!

Happy shooting

Shane Baker

]]> (Shane Baker) .CR2 .NEF .RAF JPEG format lossy photograph photography processing raw Fri, 25 Mar 2016 00:00:00 GMT
Not everyone appreciates feedback! I listen to a few podcasts (not all about photography, I might add) and have done so for years. So a few weeks back, I was listening to one of the well-established, heavyweight podcasts which in my opinion, has slipped into an advocacy role of late. They consistently push a particular line in gear and either denigrate or ignore anything that doesn't fit their particular preference - even when those manufacturers implement a feature they've been demanding.

Anyway ... it all became too much when the panel started a classic comparing the prices of apples and oranges exercise to "prove" the value proposition of their preferred format. They then waxed lyrical about the actions of a particular manufacturer for doing what they had been condemning Nikon and Canon for a few minutes earlier. I put finger to keyboard and made some comments on their web page. I was good (you would have been proud of me) and in objective language simply pointed out the fallacy and inconsistency in their position. There wasn't an abusive or sarcastic word in sight.

A few days later, I went back to see how their fanboys had flamed me. There wasn't a flame in sight! Why? My comments had been removed.

Now this podcast isn't renown for holding back – if they have an opinion, they "share" it. But the quid pro quo is surely that they must be willing to accept criticism.

Clearly, these people aren't.

I unsubscribed.

What happened has been coming for some time. In the past year, it's become less a podcast comprising equal proportions of valuable information and balanced debate, and more a monologue about a particular format. I'm over it – and if they can't accept honest, temperate and considered feedback, I have better things to do with my time.

It's all rather disappointing. Ah well.

Happily, there are a number of absolutely first class podcasts still worth listening to – such as Martin Bailey's.

​On the other side of the coin, I have joined a camera club here in Perth which has a monthly competition, with an independent judge providing feedback on every image submitted. Like most people, I can take any amount of praise. When a judge says nice things, I consider them an intelligent and perceptive individual who can appreciate fine photography. On the other hand, when they don't like my image, I tend to go a bit quiet.

​So putting my delicate ego aside, I find this is having an interesting effect on my image selection: I'm starting to be more critical and hence, more selective about my images.

I sincerely hope I don't become someone who choses an image based not on what's best in my work, but what's likely to win. I've encountered photographers who do that and I don't want to go there. But if having my images critiqued results in my being more selective, then that can only be a good thing for my photography.

In my humble opinion, of course!

Shane Baker




]]> (Shane Baker) criticism feedback photography podcast Fri, 18 Mar 2016 08:34:15 GMT
A recommended podcast: Martin Bailey & David duChemin Hi

A really quick blog to recommend one of Martin Bailey's "blogcasts": After the Camera - a conversation with David duChemin.

It's great to hear two photographers talking with such passion about photography - and their quest for better and more relevant photographs. It's definitely worth a listen.

Shane Baker

PS: Actually, it's worth subscribing to Martin's podcast. I do!





]]> (Shane Baker) David duChemin Martin Bailey podcast recommendation Mon, 29 Feb 2016 12:16:09 GMT
Capture One is a mixed bag ... but I'm sticking with it Back in December 2015, I wrote a blog piece entitled Yes Virginia - there IS an alternative to Lightroom. In it, I mentioned several alternatives to Adobe's Lightroom - particularly Phase One's Capture One. I mentioned that I liked Capture One, but thought its price was too high.

Well, I still think it's overpriced (about twice that of Lightroom outright), but I bought it anyway.

What do I think? It's a mixed bag. Like LR, C1 has both cataloging and editing capacity, and in that sense it's a full replacement. It also seems to play quite well with other products such as Google's Silver Efex Pro or PhotoShop by passing files to and from the other editor. It's better than Adobe's Camera Raw as a raw convertor (even pulling greater detail from shadows, which is something about LR that always impressed), which means that I'm actually less likely to need to use external editors.

It's also impressively easy to import LR or Aperture catalogues into C1.

Let's see what I mean. These are examples of the same Nikon raw file processed (minimally) in LR and C1. 

Remains of the Lithgow, NSW blast furnace processed in Lightroom.Image processed in Adobe Lightroom.Remains of the Lithgow, NSW blast furnace processed in Lightroom.

Remains of the Lithgow, NSW blast furnace processed in Lightroom.


Remains of the Lithgow, NSW blast furnace processed in Capture One.Lithgow, NSW blast furnace processed in Capture One.Remains of the Lithgow, NSW blast furnace processed in Capture One.

Remains of the Lithgow, NSW blast furnace processed in Capture One.

Put simply, I prefer the C1 version. It's sharper and more vivid in its colours - and I think, truer to the colours on the day. (I could be wrong on that - it relies on my dodgy memory after all.) To put it another way, in his recent podcast Going from Lightroom or Aperture to Capture One, Derrick Story said words to the effect that C1 produced images that were more like photographs than other applications. That might sound a little weird, but I think I agree with him.

Capture One is also not made by Adobe which is a plus from my perspective at least because I'm increasingly unimpressed with Adobe's attitude towards those of us who want to own software rather than rent it. (I never used Apple's Aperture, but I was glad it was around as it had the effect of keeping Adobe fair and reasonable.)

That's the good news. The bad news is that C1 is slow, and a little flakey - and that's running on a new, top of the range iMac. I often get the spinning ball, which is frustrating and time consuming, and surprising on a desktop computer with the power of  super computer from just a few years back. It also occasionally crashes - which isn't a common experience on Macs. The catalogue isn't as good as that in LR. It should be -  it seems to have the same feature set, but somehow it's just not as smooth or intuitive as LR.

It could be that I have all 35k of my images in a single catalogue. I do that because I need to be able to search across all my images. Given that LR handles that with no apparent effort, I don't think it's too much to expect CO to do the same. Clearly something for Phase One to work on.

However ... on balance, it's all about the image quality and on that basis, I'll persist with C1 for the reasons outlined above. But I hope there's a 9.1 on the horizon which addresses its problems. 

If you're interested in trying it, Phase One offers a free 30 trial. Give it a go and see how it works for you. You may become a convert - or it might drive you mad! You may also like it, but not enough to invest the considerable time and money needed to convert from LR or Aperture.

As an aside: if you're relying on a "destructive" editor such as PhotoShop (i.e.: an editor which changes the file you're editing), I strongly suggest you try LR or C1 (for free). With either, you always have your original file, which means that if you mess up, you can revert, and since you're not "saving as" to big, lumpy TIF or PSD files, you'll save a lot of disc space on your local drive, and in your backup.

I'll stop now ...

Good shooting.

Shane Baker



]]> (Shane Baker) Capture One Lightroom Phase One adobe photograph photography processing raw Thu, 18 Feb 2016 04:30:34 GMT
Maybe plastic IS fantastic? Like a lot of people, I've tended to assume that metal is better than plastic. I think most of us have dismissed something for being made of plastic, and I've tended to rate camera bodies to some degree on the amount of metal they contain.

But I'm having to reconsider my position. I recently had the awful experience of hitting a half-grown kangaroo with my Subaru. I was travelling at 80 kph when I hit him - there was nothing I could do about it: the silly little sod just bounded out in front of my car and I'd only just hit my brakes before I hit him. He got up and bounded away, and I continue to hope he had no more than cuts and bruises. My plastic bumper looked a bit knocked around, but when I took it to the panel beaters, they had it back to me in 25 hours. The reason the roo was able to get up and the reason the panel beaters could fix the car in a day? Plastic bumper! Had the car been the EH Holden I got my licence in back in 1967, the roo would be dead and some serious metal bashing would be needed to repair the chrome bumper.

Plastic has its place, it seems.

What's this got to do with cameras? Well, I stumbled across the phrase Sereebo monocoque the other day in relationship to Nikon. I know what monocoque The Nikon D750 body - showing the combination of metal and composite components.The Nikon D750 body.The Nikon D750 body - showing the combination of metal and composite components. means: most planes and cars have been built using this technique for decades. (For those uninitiated, according to Wikipedia, monocoque is "a structural approach whereby loads are supported through an object's external skin, similar to an egg shell. "

So, what's that got to do with cameras - and what's Sereebo? Well, it turns out that recent Nikons such as the D5500 and the D750 are being built using monocoque techniques. This from a Nikon blurb about the D750:

The D750 is the first Nikon FX-format camera for which a monocoque structure, which serves as the exterior frame that protects the internal structure with great strength, has been adopted. A carbon fiber composite material (new material), has been adopted for the front body, where important mechanisms such as the imaging unit are incorporated, and the front cover, and a magnesium alloy has been adopted for the rear and top covers.
Use of these materials not only helps to make the camera lighter, but also ensure superior strength and rigidity. 

(Sorry about the spelling!)

It turns out that Nikon is forming the box around which the D750 is built from a composite plastic carton fibre called Sereebo. This produces a product which is light, strong and even shields the internals from electromagnetism. (The D750 still has magnesium alloys, but on the back where there's so much wear and tear.) In heading in this direction, Nikon is joining the aircraft and auto industries in moving away from metals to composites.

So, the bottom line is that with at least some of the higher end cameras, "plastic" isn't inferior to metal. In fact, it may be better: lighter,but just as strong as the magnesium alloys we all know, love and trust.

It looks like it's time for me to start reading the specs on new cameras with better informed eyes!

Keep shooting.

Shane Baker



]]> (Shane Baker) SLR alloy camera carbon construction fiber fibre magnesium monocoque photography plastic Thu, 04 Feb 2016 01:37:12 GMT
Trying to photograph owls Everyone likes owls, right? So when my step daughter announced that a family of owls had started roosting in the trees at her house in the Darling Ranges near Perth, I had to have a look - and try to photograph them.

The problem was (actually, one of several problems) that I chose the one day this Perth summer when it was heavily overcast. (The default Perth sky in summer is cloudless and bright.) So when I arrived in the evening, it was actually quite dark in the tree in which the owls were waiting to go hunting. Southern Boobook (Ninox novaeseelandiae)Southern Boobook (Ninox novaeseelandiae)This little owl, photographed in the Darling Ranges behind Perth may be a Southern Boobook (Ninox novaeseelandiae).

So, armed with my Nikon D800, my 70-200 zoom and my 1.7x extender (which reduced the maximum aperture from f/2.8 to around f/4.8) I started looking for owls. They were there - right up high in the tree surrounded by quite thick branches, which meant they were really in the dark.

I tried a couple of shots and to be fair to the D800, it was actually pulling focus in a really dark situation. However, between my waving the lens around (my monopod needed to be much longer to allow me to shoot at about 45 degrees into the tree) and the number of twigs getting in the way, the owl itself was generally just a blur. So I went old fashioned and used manual focus.

Next, exposure. With that little light and with an effective 340mm focal length, I needed more aperture and more shutter speed than I could get with normal ISO settings, so after a couple of shots, I settled on ISO 2500. (Remember: this is on a 36 meg SLR intended basically for portrait and landscape work. It was never intended to be king of the twitching fraternity.)

Anyway, I had a go - with the camera on full manual and me trying to hold the thing steady. Had a thought a little longer, my tripod with its ball head would have been useful in this specific birding situation - but I didn't (think).

So, I reeled off half a dozen shots, promised myself I'd return on a brighter day and headed home - with not a lot of hope for a useable image. Once home, I loaded the files into Capture One and slid the shadows slider to the right - and was surprised to see an image emerging!

In the end, I played a little more with overall exposure, applied a little noise reduction, tried to lighten the eyes a little (which were really in total shadow) and put in a gentle vignette. 

Will it make the cover of National Geographic? I fear not, but I like this image of what is admittedly, a charismatic bird. (By the way, I think its a Southern Boobook (Ninox novaeseelandiae), but what I don't know about ornithology would fill a library.)

The image itself is more a tribute to the clever people at Nikon and Phase One than yours truly, but I'm happy to post it on this web site.

Have a good one.

Shane Baker



]]> (Shane Baker) Australia Capture One D800 Nikon WA native bird owl photography processing southern boobook Tue, 12 Jan 2016 00:34:05 GMT
A recommended book: The Unseen Anzac I've just finished the book, The Unseen Anzac by Jeff Maynard, and whether you're interested in photography, military history or war photography, this is a fascinating read. The book tells the story of George Hubert Wilkins, explorer, aviator and photographer.  Captain George Hubert Wilkins, MC,  with Staff Sergeant William Joyce, standing with tripod and camera on a British Mark V tank , as the pair record the advance of Australian troops through the Hindenburg Line.Australian Official Photographer, Captain George Hubert Wilkins, MC, (right) with Staff Sergeant William Joyce (left), standing with tripod and camera on a British Mark V tank , as the pair record theAustralian Official Photographer, Captain George Hubert Wilkins, MC, (right) with Staff Sergeant William Joyce (left), standing with tripod and camera on a British Mark V tank , as the pair record the advance of Australian troops through the Hindenburg Line.

If I may be forgiven this rather lengthy summary from the book's blurb:

Cameras were banned at the Western Front when the Anzacs arrived in 1916. Only official photographers were permitted to take propaganda pictures. Fearing the Anzacs would be ignored, correspondent Charles Bean continually argued for Australia to have a dedicated photographer. He was eventually assigned an enigmatic polar explorer — George Hubert Wilkins. 

Within weeks of arriving at the front, Wilkins’ exploits were legendary. He did what no photographer had previously dared to do. He went ‘over the top’ with the troops and ran forward to photograph the actual fighting. He led soldiers into battle, captured German prisoners, was wounded repeatedly and twice awarded the Military Cross — all while he refused to carry a gun and only armed himself with a bulky glass-plate camera. Wilkins ultimately produced the most detailed and accurate collection of World War I photographs in the world, which is now held at the Australian War Memorial. 

After the war Wilkins returned to exploring and, during the next forty years, his life became shrouded in secrecy. His work at the Western Front was forgotten and others claimed credit for his photographs.

Throughout his life Wilkins wrote detailed diaries and letters, but when he died in 1958 these documents were locked away. Jeff Maynard follows a trail of myth and misinformation to locate Wilkins’ lost records and reveal the remarkable true story of Australia’s greatest war photographer. 

I admit that I knew nothing of Wilkins until I heard  about Maynard's book, and I'm grateful to him for raising this extraordinary man's profile, as well as the vast amount of research which must have undertaken to produce the book. Even with this biography, it's frustrating how much we don't know about Wilkins. In fact, it's a classic "we don't know what we don't know" situation. Hopefully this book will flush out more material and maybe at some time, there will be a second edition.

There is one area in which I'd possibly disagree with Maynard: whether Wilkins was, as asserted by the author Australia's greatest war photographer. While what he produced was exceptional and beyond price as a record of World War I and Australians in that conflict in particular, I personally place Damien Parer at the very pinnacle of war photographers. (At the end of the day, this is just my opinion and many may disagree with me.)

Interestingly, Parer seems to have shared with Wilkins extreme modesty, the best manifestation of high moral standards and exceptional physical courage.

Not for the first time, I'm inclined to think that if Wilkins wasn't an Aussie, he would be world-famous. Maybe Jeff Maynard's book will remedy this.

Shane Baker

]]> (Shane Baker) ANZAC Australia Australian WWI biography photographer war photographer Mon, 04 Jan 2016 03:45:00 GMT