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To thank or not to thank

Like many photographers, I thought that world had moved on from preaching “thou shalt” stuff, but it seems that some never read the memo. Being somewhat busy with the competition launch, I’ve missed most of it but I’ve caught up a bit and read one blog that seems to have raised a few hackles. In short, we, as photographers should be “thanking” our influences.

Which ever way I look at it, when I see stuff being written that “we all imitate”, “everyone is influenced by other photographers” and we need to be thanking them,  I can’t help but think it says more about the photographer than the actual statements themselves. Disabling discussion, and selectively responding, disappointingly enforces that view.

But anyway, let’s examine this “we all imitate” and “we’re all influenced” malarkey.

It goes without saying that there is a great deal of imitation in the images we see online, and many photographers are influenced by other photographers, but to say everyone imitates and everyone is influenced is just wrong.  And even if those photographers do imitate, it can be part of a self learning process at the start of their journey, and there’s plenty evidence that it’s subconscious. It’s not a bad thing and no one should feel obliged to thank anyone else, but let me explain…

Imitation is something we do when we’re growing up as children for example,  or as adults when amongst friends. Scientifically speaking, it’s a form of communication called “mirroring” that we do subconsciously in order to be socially accepted, and it’s important to note that it’s subconsciously accepted, so we’re under no obligation to thank someone. For example, you wouldn’t go to a rugby match and be expected to thank the person next to you because you are wearing the same shirt. That would be daft.

Influence is something different. We’re all influenced by something, but not necessarily someone, and we are just as often influenced by need. For example, if you’ve ever bought anything, you’ve been influenced in some way to buy that thing, and often by an automatic need to do so. For example, buying water when you’re thirsty means you are infleunced by need to drink and you wouldn’t be expected to thank the water company. That would be daft.

When we take a photograph, we aren’t necessarily imitating another image, or are being influenced by someone famous, especially if we’ve never heard of that famous photographer. We may be just as equally and subconsciously be imitating the rule of thirds when we compose it for example, and we may be influenced by the light or our senses. Yet, it’s common to post an image on social media only for someone else to come along and compare it to someone famous and say it’s not very original. This might lead to the photographer feeling obliged to give credit, and looking around, this thanking stuff seems to be widely practised (and possibly expected) in landscape photography.  Indeed, just recently I was credited for something and it turns out that the photographer felt obliged to do do because of the same blog post.  It was very kind to say so, but I don’t expect or ask to be thanked if I’ve inspired anyone. I also don’t believe that we are all consciously imitating others images and by no means are we all influenced by someone famous.  We are just as equally imitating images subconsciously and being influenced by things rather than people.  Let me give you a couple of examples to illustrate this.

1. I am my own best example. I have absolutely no photographer influences* in my own photography but I’m by no means unusual or unique and there are many people just like me. In my case it’s very simple to explain. I started photography when I was young (14 to be precise) and I lived in a small village where the local newsagent didn’t stock photography magazines or books, so there simply were no photographers to influence me and no one to imitate. I just went out, took photos and taught myself, and if I liked something, I developed the idea and learnt further.  As I got older and went to University in 1987, I began to meet a few more photographers, but they didn’t influence me because there was no internet or social media to share images. But, in the grand scheme of things, landscape photography was for calendars and postcards, and certainly wasn’t “cool” like street photography was, so no landscape photographers came to my attention and I carried on as normal. It’s also worth noting that because there was no internet or social media names like Joe Cornish and Michael Kenna were virtually unheard of in my world.

(*My influences came from what I learned at University; specifically the work of D’ Arcy Thompson, a Scottish mathemetician/biologist and Benoit Mandelbrot who was famous for fractals. Neither of them were photographers but their work on fractals, ratios and growth patterns influenced me to capture photographs using their science – hence my passion for photographing trees.)

2. I have taught professionally, and as a result I meet a lot of photographers, either through teaching, running workshops, running groups or most recently through the competition. Of those I meet, a large number genuinely haven’t got a clue who the famous photographers are and can’t even name someone who infleunces them when asked. This is very common and as many educators will tell you, its quite normal for students to come to any class with no human influences on the subject they come to learn. Instead they are introduced to people through teaching and it’s up to that student whether or not to allow those people to influence their own work as they move forward. It’s a simple matter of education and there’s no obligation to thank people if they do.

So what about thanking others? Well, it’s name dropping in other words and I don’t see where the practice does much good – especially on social media. Perhaps I’m being overly negative, but it sticks in my mind that there’s pressure on photographers to name drop other photographers, even if they’ve subconsciously captured a similar view, otherwise they risk a backlash. One example of the name dropping thing is that credit can be given where it is not due, such as is the case of the “Joe Cornish Boulder“.  Like countless other photographers, it is an obvious foreground interest and I have composed boulders into my images long before I’d ever heard of Joe Cornish, so he had zero influence on me. Yet I have often been told that I was “copying” Joe Cornish’s style and should be crediting him as a result.  There’s other examples I can relate to from my own personal experience. Like podcasts and newspaper articles where I’ve been asked to name drop someone famous because it makes for a good article. I refused (obviously) but it makes me wonder why it’s so important to drop names none the less.

Whatever the reasons, it’s a personal choice whether to “thank” another photographer or not, but no one should feel obliged to do so, and we shouldn’t all be labeled as imitators. Be yourself and enjoy your photography as best you can. 🙂

 

 

Owning the view

I read a couple of things on social media recently that struck a chord with me.  The first was by an amateur photographer who posted one of their images online, but was concerned it had been an inadvertant capture of another photographer’s work. The second, was by writer who was put off writing articles on photography due to the fear of a toxic backlash from some quarters of the landscape photography community.

The amateur photographer’s image was recognised instantly and had been informed that it was indeed the same as another photographer’s image. However, what emerged from the conversation was that the “original” photographer was so prolific at the same location that he had captured every square inch of the location that was humanly possible. The advice from those in the conversation was that there was simply nothing left to photograph at the same location, and if you did post images from it, you’d be asking for trouble if you didn’t credit the photographer who captured it first. Finally, the advice was to just avoid the location altogether.

I wasn’t surprised that a photographer would claim or accept credit for ownership of a location, because something similar happened to me in 2012. But what did surprise me was that a group of photographers could passively accept that another photographer could “own” a location then advise others against going there as a result. This may stem from what I learned whilst meeting photographers at exhibitions; that a competitive and cliquey culture exists in the online landscape photography community. There is also a perception that some photographer’s egos have been built up by so much sycophantic praise and attribution that it blinds them to the extent that they can’t see beyond their own opinions and needs. Look around social media for example and you will see some photographers referring to other photographers as “one of the good lads”, arrogantly implying they are superior in all things and the rest are “bad” lads (presumably).

I’ve certainly seen examples of this ownership thing for myself; trees and boulders being named after photographers for example. Then I heard that the view of the road snaking through Glen Coe from Beinn a’Chrulaiste is being attributed to a landscape photographer who’d discovered it  3 or 4 years ago. Really? Beinn a’Chrulaiste for those that don’t know, is a big mountain by the side of the road which has been walked daily for hundreds of years. Don’t these folks realise there’s a search feature on sites like Flickr and these same views were captured by walkers years before, like this one and this one?

But it’s the dark side of this ownership thing that’s the most worrying trend, and evidenced by the behaviour I witnessed online last year. Specifically, it related to the “Fogbow” images from Rannoch moor which had been taken by two separate photographers, and both had been shortlisted in a weather photography competition. To all intents and purposes both images looked the same, so it would be extremely difficult to rank one better than the other. (I should know, I have a lot of expertise in judging competitions) However, the competition ran a public vote which was just asking for trouble. Initially, the cliques backed their favourite personality, sharing and begging the public to vote. Then, experienced photographers stating why one image was superior to the other. But then it got nasty, with one side posting venomous personal attacks against the other photographers reputation. And it was whilst reflecting on this behaviour that I understood what the writer alluded to; that there are cliques who rally round to ensure one of their own, owns the view.

How an elitist rant set back the progression of landscape photography

I’m not very good at blogging so I don’t do it very often, but I’m having a go today because on Monday a rant broke on the internet. A rant you say? Nothing new there then. And you’d be right because internet rants are standard issue these days. But what was different about this particular rant was that it broke a few hours before the closing of this year’s SLPOTY and it was an attack on an entire community of landscape photographers – by another landscape photographer. An awful lot of people were tarred with a very large brush during the rant and it all stemmed from this comment – “Just when I think I’ve done something positive for landscape photography…..”

Innocuous as the comment appears, in context, it was described as breathtakingly arrogant, elitist and offensive by many people and this sparked a series of further insults against everything from photographers to competitions to books. I won’t list all the insults here, but the short of it was that:

  • landscape photographers entering competitions are all plagiarists
  • landscape photography competitions promote and reward plagiarism

Now, I don’t normally comment on these sort of things because it’s usually petty attention seeking that’s behind it all, but a line was crossed with some of the comments I saw, and they were anything but positive for landscape photography. Quite the opposite in fact, because they sparked a backlash, turning people against each other and creating a division amongst photographers who practice different styles. Also, much of what was being said was directed at competitions in general and as the founder of a competition, I’ve decided to speak out…

I can’t speak for other photography competitions but I can speak for the SLPOTY competition. It was created with a view to promoting landscape photography and showcasing talent in a brand new way, and with the aim of being as fair as possible. Some competitions are not very transparent, some are run by establishment figures and most use biased methods to judge the winners so I was keen to do things differently. So, to achieve the goal of being as fair as possible, I developed a triple blind judging system to eliminate these known biases. And it works, because what it produced was a diverse collection of winning images from a diverse group of photographers from across the globe. The blind judging system also goes a step further because it ensures the competition is totally inclusive in nature (no possibility of an all white male winners list occuring for example). Indeed, in both competitions to date, in percentage terms, more women won awards and commendations than men.

But what about promoting and rewarding plagiarism? Well, aside from the fact the judging system won’t allow it, the evidence is there for all to see in the diverse collection of images in the SLPOTY books. Of course, there were awards for classic and mainstream views, but to label all photographers as plagiarists is totally absurd because this was a specific requirement of those categories. Is it promoting plagiarism? Absolutely not, and it’s equally absurd to say so because there are several different categories and the rules clearly state we will reward originality. If ever proof were needed, you only need to look at the awards given to “alternative” images by Roxy Russell for her 2 week pinhole image and Lara Louisa Winnington’s winning youth photograph (both diverse images won by women below).

As I said above, the rant hasn’t done anything good for landscape photography because of the division it has created. On the one hand, belittling an entire community of photographers serves no purpose other than to alienate that community and they’re never going to try anything alternative or new. On the other, those that do practice alternative techniques are unlikely to enter a competition and they miss out on the chance to be awarded which means other photographers won’t be inspired by their work. The person behind that rant has also put a huge community off his exhibition and it’s the other photographers in that exhibition that end up losing out too. Overall though, it is landscape photography loses.

But the SLPOTY actually does do something good for landscape photography and this is evidenced by the impact made by the books and exhibitions resulting from it. Specifically, the diversity of locations being showcased inspires photographers to try new locations and new techniques for themselves. Case in point being Ian Cameron’s image of Ben Loyal, where it has inspired photographers to visit the area for the first time. Then there’s Craig Aitchison’s images that were shot on film which encouraged more photographers to try film. Then there’s the positive things that the SLPOTY exhibitions do for local economies and tourism. Case in point being the flood-hit town of Ballater where the exhibition was held, and this encouraged photographers to visit the area as well as providing a small boost to the local economy at a time when they needed it most. Of course there are many more examples that illustrate the positive things the competition does for landscape photography, but hopefully I’ve made the point.

The key thing is, if the goal is to do something positive for landscape photography then actually doing something positive is more likely to yield results! Elitest rants wont…

 

Intimate landscapes

 – holy grail or just pretentious waffle?

There’s a load of talk of late about something called the “intimate landscape”. It’s being epitomised by some “famous” photographer types and being hailed as the most difficult field to master. I’ve certainly met a few photographers recently who are talking about it as if it’s a holy grail and one well known photographer I’ve seen is charging eye watering fees for a weekend course on the subject where you “find order from chaos”. (And this same photographer isn’t exactly known for or has a body of work consisting of such images.)

This got me wondering, because in all the years I’ve taught people, it’s never once been the case where intimate landscapes were anything other than the easiest thing for a photographer to do – and especially those beginning in photography.

What is an intimate landscape?

An intimate landscape is where you basically take a photo of a closer portion of a wide open landscape. This can typically be a “zoomed in” view of something like moss covered trees or a close crop of mountains from a wide landscape view.  This is a fairly straightforward (and accurate) definition of the intimate landscape, but now the famous photographers of the establishement are preaching on social media that abstracts are intimate landscapes too, and that the whole field of intimate landscape photography is one that requires the elite skill that only they possess. Add to that, that in order for a mere mortal to acquire such skills, they need to go one one of their hideously expensive workshops in the North of Scotland.

Of course this is all complete nonsense, but it is packaged in such a way to sell you something you don’t need. In fact, I would go as far as to say that people going on these type of courses are being ripped off. Why? Because you can find the same moss covered trees or lichen covered rocks within a mile or two of most homes in the UK.

Can you tell which was taken at the bottom of the garden and at a remote location in the north of Scotland?
Can you tell which image was taken at the bottom of the garden and which was at a remote location in the north of Scotland? No…me neither!

Th fact is that intimate landscape photography is anything but an elite field. On the contrary, and in my experience intimate landscapes is really one of the easiest things to start off with in learning photography, and I back this up with 20 years of actually teaching this type of photography (it’s what I teach absolute beginners).

So why is it so simple? Well…firstly, intimate landscapes are easy to expose for because cameras are not tricked by things like bright skies against dark foregrounds (no need for filters in other words). For example, it’s not like when you go on holiday and you take a photo of the wide view, only to get back to your computer and the sky is all washed out or the foreground is too dark. This is because there’s too much difference in light for a camera to capture and we need filters to reduce the contrast. This rarely happens with an intimate landscape because there’s no big areas of sky to trick the meter and everything is pretty much in the same even light with minimal contrast in the scene. (note: there are exceptions of course but they’re rare) Quite simply with the majority of intimate landscape scenarios, you’re in a situation where your camera can expose easily for the scene in front of you and this take a lot of the thinking out of things for complete beginners.

With the exposure thing out of the way, this leaves composition – and this is where we’re being told it’s difficult to find “order from chaos”. Now, without doubt, when you go into a forest, it’s pretty chaotic, but it’s by no means difficult to find a decent shot at all. This is something I’ve experienced and proved consistently with students over the years. In almost every single case, my experience has been that complete beginners can capture brilliant shots in as little as 30 minutes.

I start off my workshops by setting a very simple task. I ask them to cast their minds back to when they were children playing the cloud spotting game of looking for shapes in the clouds. I ask them to apply this technique in the forest and set them off for 30 minutes to see what they can find. Without fail, everyone comes back with a decent photo and in many cases some brilliant shots which are the equal of anything a “master” could take. This occurs because they have a goal for their photo, and by looking for shapes and things in close up scenarios, they relate to things and thereby compose the scene naturally into something recognisable, and this is something we’re all pretty much programmed to do. If we weren’t able to recognise shapes in our brains, we’d all be walking about banging into things after all.

So with this in mind, if complete beginners can pick this up so easily, then why is it being hailed by some photographers as the hardest thing to do in photography? And by virtue, why are these same photographers being hailed as masters of this field?

I’d love to set a challenge where the work of these self proclaimed masters was displayed beside the work of a few beginners using the above technique and see if people could tell the difference.  That way, we’d be closer to determining if it’s all pretentious waffle or if it’s really the elite skill for which it’s being portrayed.

Infinity road – Urlar Moor, Highland Perthshire

I like puzzles and intrigue whenever I look at something and seeing the world in black and white allows me to build that puzzle and create the intrigue. Colour images that bristle with detail and vibrancy (for me at least) fail to achieve that aim and for that reason it seems that they fail to hold the viewers gaze long enough to invite them to come back again or look further at the image. When I strip away the colour, I can strip away the detail and reduce the complexity into a few simple ethereal elements. This I feel invites the viewer to examine and explore, get it wrong or get it right and that pleases me that there may be questions to be asked. In the image above, hopefully I’ve demonstrated my this.

For many years I’ve visited this location. It’s a bleak place with very few features or landmarks that could be married together to form a mainstream view of the Scottish landscape and this is precisely the appeal it holds for me. It is a challenge in itself to capture anything of note let alone beautiful, but if you have your “conversation” with the place then it will soon tell you things if you’re willing to listen, and from that you can learn, and capture a myriad of things from simplistic beauty to the darkest drama.

Being a place of few distinguishing features, it becomes a place of events and it’s these events that I come here to capture. In winter time it can be a very harsh place to be, but the featureless landscape still comes alive with many wonderful things. Strong winds form curved banks of snow which look like sand dunes for example, reflecting the light in many ways. Spring brings the rains and new life begins to emerge amongst the grasses and heathers. I could list all the events that occur over the course of a season on the moor but it it would make for a very long post and I don’t want to bore you, but I think you get the gist. Simply stopping a while and looking is key here, and something will appear for me. It’s these moments I come here for.

The weather is most often the major event on the moor, as was the case on this particular evening. At first glance the image may appear as morning or late afternoon but this was actually a rising moon. The wind was rather strong and there were frequent showers of rain and drizzle, making photography extremely challenging. But time and experience has taught me that you should never walk away if there is a hint of doubt. I would often pack up early to go home, but as you might guess, the light would change for a fleeting few minutes and the shot I envisaged appeared before me – whilst my kit was being packed away. I’ve learned since to anticipate and almost “predict” when the right conditions will occur and it’s always a great satisfaction when it does. It means I’m understanding the landscape.

Such was the case on this evening, because for all that it was brooding weather, there was just enough of a hint that the moon may break through the clouds and illuminate the wet road. For almost an hour it was frustrating watching the “nearly there” moments but realising I only had 3 shots left on my roll made it all the more important to stay put. If you’ve ever had to change rolls during a fleeting moment of light then you’ll understand that it takes 10 times longer to change a roll of film just when you can’t afford it to be.  Anyway, the clouds began to thin as the wind picked up, but this brought heavier rain. Good for keeping the road wet, but a nightmare for keeping the lens and the grad filter drip free. However, the rain did stop and then the moon appeared as I had hoped, but then it dawned on me that I was in long exposure territory and therefore the moon would be a bright blob. I took one shot with the moon visible, but it wasn’t really what I was after. I needed the clouds to sit in front of the moon and diffuse the light.  Then, as luck (or my anticipation) would have it, the clouds rolled over and the conditions were just what I wanted, The moon lit up the road and the trails further in to the distance with just the right amount of fall off.

When it came to taking the shot, it was a but tricky. My light meter isn’t very accurate in moonlight so it was a case of getting a reading from the lightest clouds and guessing the correct exposure from there. Too long an exposure and there would be too much detail in the foreground which was not what I envisaged. So, I guessed an exposure of around two minutes. This would be enough to under expose the image but still capture the all important parts of the road and the layers of the distant hills.

This was my vision at the time of capture and there was no live view or digital trickery here to help me – simply an idea in my head. However, it has to be said that my knowledge of this particular place meant that I was fairly confident of getting the result I wanted and it should go without saying that if you’ve shot as much film as I have over the years, then I should have an idea of what the outcome would be. Nevertheless, it’s still the excitement of never really knowing for sure what the result will be that excites me and digital can’t do that. Anyway, back home and the rolls were developed. The negative was just as I had hoped, with enough detail in the road winding its way into the distance and enough lack of detail in the dark areas at the sides so that I could dodge and burn to finalise my vision.

The result was as you see above. Light areas of the clouds and the road developed at normal exposure. A half stop burn for the darkest upper cloud and two stops burning in on the sides of the road to be extra sure of rendering this area featureless.

I hope me explaining the image hasn’t taken away too much of the mystique or intrigue and thanks for reading!

Cost of digital vs film

Very often when I’m out and about shooting with my film cameras, passers by of all ages will come up to me and ask about my cameras. I’m always happy to talk about them and those that ask are always fascinated by the gear I’m using – especially by my large format of panoramic cameras. Occasionally, I get the knowalls with the kit bag, tripod and DSLRs sneak up behind me and hang around to watch what I’m doing before plucking up the courage to come and tell me that “film is dead” and “digital is free”.  My usual (tongue in cheek) retort is that if I had a pound for every photographer that said that, I’d be able to afford an expensive digital camera like they have hanging round their necks.

Whilst the majority see the funny side of my retort, the fact remains that film isn’t dead and digital isn’t free – far from it in fact. You see, I shoot digital too and my receipts over the past 10 years show a completely different story. Digital is eyewateringly more expensive than shooting film, and here’s why…

There are some daft posts online and claims made by some websites that the cost of film is going through the roof and it’s much more costly than digital photography, but these untruths have been busted many times by many others as well as myself.

On the contrary, it’s vert easy to disprove the “digital is free” myth and I can back this up with my own experience. I shoot several film cameras consisting of; three 35mm film cameras, 3 medium format cameras (2 Hasselblads and a Bronica ETRSi), a panoramic camera and two large format cameras. Each of these cameras I have owned for between 10-30 years so they have more than paid for themselves. None of them need any batteries, if they get wet they dry out and keep working and they all produce outstanding results.

My only cost now is developing and printing my film.

Contrary to some reports, film can be bought very cheaply. You can pick up colour film for £1 a roll in many stores or you can buy expired film from the auction site. Fresh film can be had for between £3-5 a roll and if you buy in bulk you can get the cost down further. Plenty people are still selling cheap film online too.

Developing film, it has to be said is expensive  if you send it to a lab, but it’s the the labs are ripping photographers off. Colour development is the most tricky to do, but it’s nowhere near as difficult as some would have you believe. Developing colour slide and print film is s standardised process using c41 and e6 chemicals, and you don’t need any fancy equipment. I got by for years using the kitchen sink, a theremometer and a plastic tank and my results were the equal of any lab. For processing black and white, nobody in their right ever sent their film off to a lab because you never knew what chemicals they would use. B&W development is ridiculously easy to do in terms of the actuall process and temperature is kept at 20C. Granted, there are a million and one ways to develop B&W film, but that’s not a disadvantage, that’s all part of the fun.

Film is obvioulsy a consumable and requires additional consumables in the form of chemicals but it’s still very cheap to do.

Lets take the example of my cost of owning a digital 35mm camera vs my 35mm film camera on a cost per photo basis.

35mm film roll of colur negative film = £1
5 litre kit of c41 chemicals (develops 110 films) – £40
£40 / 110 rolls of film = £0.36 per roll or £0.01 per photo

This is how much it costs me because my cameras are long bought and paid for. I don’t need to print these out in the darkroom because I can scan them and either upload them to the internet or print them out on my inkjet.

If you were a novice looking to set this up, then the costs are still minimal. Presuming you have a computer, then this is all you need below.

Inital setup – devloper tank and reel – £5
Theremometer – £5
Scanner – £39
Total – £49

But what of the costs of digital cameras? Well, in the 10+ years or so that I’ve been shooting digital it is as follows.

6x DSLRs at between £2-3000. These have either been upgraded, wore out or developed electronic faults. Electronic goods, no matter how expensive or water proof are not built to withstand certain conditions or last as long as any film camera. Take the shutters for example. The average lifetime of a digital camera’s shutter is around 100,000 shots. (The same can be said of a film camera.)

Let’s compare my Hasselblad 500cm with my Canon 5d Mark 2. for example. My Hasselblad is 20 years old, been serviced twiceand still works like  Swiss watch. My Canon 5D Mark 2 wore out after 3 years.

You see, digital camera users are prone to taking hundreds of shots on each and every outing. In fact it is not uncommon for many photographers to take 500 shots on an outing. Compare this then to a film shooter who may take on average 10-12 shots. If the shutters have the same life expectancy, then it is easy to see why a digital camera may fail after 3-4 years when a film camera will fail after 50-years. Some film cameras last even longer such as my Linhof – it’s a camera I own that was made in 1926, and it’s still going strong. As for the quality – well, let’s just say it’s equivalent in resolution to something like 200mp at 4000dpi scan. Compare that to a Phase One IQ80 which costs around £60 grand it puts it into perspective.

Lenses at £500-2500 each, but lenses should last a lifetime. It’s when there is electronics such as autofocus when the lifetime of the lens is less. More electronics and moving parts means more things to fail and more expensive to repair.

Computer costs are obviously expensive and an average laptop needs to be replaced every 3 years. Hard drives need replaced, software needs upgraded etc. Consumables are required in the form of batteries, memory cards etc.

Consider then the following example of a DSLR and the cost per photo.

DSLR – £2000
Lens – £1000
Batteries – 2x £90
Memory cards – 5 x £30
Computer – £1000
Software – £500
Total setup – £4830

Now, let’s say we can capture 100,000 photos using the above.

£4830 /100000 = £0.05 per image

But…the equipment lasts on average 3 years, which in my case is 1/10th the time I’ve owned my 35mm film camera. So, for my digital equipment to last as long as my film equipment which is 30 years, my digital expense then becomes 10 times more, which is:

£0.05 x 10 = £0.50 per photo

This means that my digital cameras and equipment are 50x more expensive per photo than my colour film photos.

Still think digital is free?

Firecrest – The world’s best ND Grad filter?

If you follow me at all then you will know that I use filters in my photography over using photoshop because I believe in getting it right in camera. Filters are great for digital photography but problematic for film – especially slide film like Provia & Velvia. I have used many types over the years but I have been fortunate to be testing the new Fircrest filters for the past 6 months. With hand on heart, I think Formatt HiTech’s new Firecrest filters are vastly superior to anything I have ever used. They surpass anything Cokin, Lee etc have to offer in terms of neutral density filtration.

[A FEW NOTES: Before reading, please be aware that there are key differences between testing for digital and film. When conducting a digital test, the results can’t truly be relied upon because many digital cameras will compensate and adjust during exposure; white and colur balance for example are being constantly monitored by software, so digital tests in “real world scenarios” should be taken with a pinch of salt. If you don’t believe me, look at your histogram moving up and down when a cloud passed by or you’re in front of a waterfall. Many of the tests I’ve seen have been conducted in changing light and it’s also easy to tweak digital files, so some of the tests I’ve seen leave me wondering about bias. With film however, you can’t “cheat” because the results are recorded  on the actual film emulsion. There’s no electronic compensation, no white balance and no computer wizardry to fool you. Instead, you have to choose a day with stable light and meter consistently. This is what I’ve done here.]

I’ve done many tests over the best part of this year and the results are consistent every time. I’ve kept this test fairly short and let the results speak for themselves. I won’t say which filter the competitor is because people have linked to my previous tests using keywords and all that does is help their Google search ranking. You can guess for yourself.

First up is how you normally see things posted in a filter test with a digital camera. It’s fairly straight forward that there is a clear difference between the filters. The camera here was a Sony A7 taken from the top of a hill. The problem with this type of test is that once you place the whole filter over the lens, there is no reference point as you are seeing the whole image with filtration and the camera will adjust accordingly to get an even exposure and colour balance across the entire image. Look at the greens in the 3rd image for example – they are slightly different. This is the camera compensating.
Firecrest vs Competitor

The second test shows the filters placed half way across the lens. (how many tests have you seen doing this?) This shows the reference of how the image looks, with and without filtration, side by side. This is the correct way to show filtration in effect rather than a whole image. The difference here is simply beyond doubt. The Firecrest is as neutral as possible. The competitor is clearly much more pronounced. Note – yes they are both 3 stop filters and the exposure was taken with a minolta spot meter. This also suggests that the competitors filters are not manufactured accurately to 3 stops – common with the competitors products.
Split frame tests

But what about film? Well, anyone that shoots film, and in particular slide film such as Provia or Velvia, will tell you that there are already colour casts in the emulsion. Provia tends to the blue and Velvia tends towards the magenta which is amplified when used in golden hour light scenarios. (Other colour casts are available). Slide films have very little wiggle room in terms of “dynamic range”. Typically 4-5 stops is all you have to play with, so filtration is the only way to balance sky and foreground. The problem with this however is that the colour casts can be severe to the point of rendering some shots unsuable, and often with 50% of a roll film wasted if you are bracketing. With sheet film it’s a massive consideration and oftentimes I’ve never taken the shot because I knew the filter would introduce such a fierce cast, that I wasn’t for wasting the film.

The Firecrest ND Grad, has simply been a revelation in this regard and an absolute relief to use in my colour film landscape photography. Since using this filter, I haven’t lost a single shot or sheet and it has meant that I can capture a much wider range of scenes in absolute confidence that the filter wont let me down. This could never be said of a Lee or a Cokin filter in some situations.

UPDATE: Ive been asked many times what the competitor filter is. I’ve kept quite for a while but it is a Lee 3 stop grad. Many Lee “fanboys and girls” rate Lee filters as the best there is. Blind tests prove otherwise and as far as film is concerned, they truly are overpriced, awful filters with non-accurate stop values and often horrendous casts. If you are considering using them with film, then be prepared to waste and awful lot of your film.

As you can see from the shots, there is a MASSIVE difference in the colour of the skies and this is often what you are up against shooting film like Velvia. Obviously, using a 2 or 1 stop filter in the 3rd shot would have lessened the impact, but the colour cast would still have been the same. Again, note that the filters were 3 stops and measured with a spot meter. The simple fact however was that the scene required 3 stops.
Velvia trial

This may look exaggerated above, but many film shooters will have expereienced this when shooting slide. There are of course workarounds and the effects can be used intentionally, but when accuracy is desired, it has been a problem we have had to live with for many years. The neutrality of the Firecrest overcomes all these problems, saves a lot of wasted film and the results speak for themselves!

 

Intentional camera what?

When I do workshops or one-to-ones, I always ask the clients if there are any techniques they want me to teach. I’ve always thought that I knew most techniques, and I’d at least tried all the techniques you could possibly think of, but I was stumped recently when I was asked to teach something called “ICM”.  Somewhat perplexed, I asked – “I See what?” and my client replied “Intentional camera movement”. Still perplexed, I asked my client to explain further, and I was told “it is a new technique where you shake your camera to create a blurry picture”.

I was still none the wiser so out came the phone for a quick Google and sure enough, the “ICM technique” was listed and links to lots of pages. So, I had a look at a few and it was simply a term that has been coined for what photographers have been doing for decades on film. Yet, looking at some of the articles we looked at you’d think it was someone who bought a digital camera 5 years ago that invented the technique and unveiled it to the world.

I’ve no idea how this term came about, but this is one of the problems with the internet and how it is rewriting history. You see, when someone tries an age old technique and coins a phrase for that technique, it spreads when it is posted on the internet. The phrase becomes an “electronic keyphrase” that is indexed by websites such as Flickr, and is indexed in search phrases on Google. The phrase is date stamped and it all points back to the person that coined the phrase. BUT…. they also get credit and an elevated status for basically something they didn’t invent!

There are now so many new acronyms appearing on the internet that it’s hard to keep up. Whilst I’m sure some photographers genuinely believe they stumbled upon these techniques by themselves, believe me, they have all been done before!

Despite this however, there are the some photographers who refuse to accept they’ve been rumbled and will continue to (blatantly) take credit for techniques they didn’t invent – by branding them as their own, then shamelessly plugging them in popular magazines. Take for example, the “magic cloth technique” that one photographer from Iceland claims to have invented. Despite it being pointed out to him by several photographers that he didn’t invent the technique, he persists in branding it as his own invention. It was actually a technique going back to the 1900s that involves moving a black card or cloth in front of the lens to hold back exposure in parts of the scene. In other words, it’s the same as dodging and burning that we do in the darkroom. Then there’s magazine spreads where photographers are credited with new techniques such as split toning, shooting everything at f/5.6, 2.8 etc or turning your camera on it’s side for the purpose of cropping square. We are told by the magazines that these techniques are the trademark of invention of the photographer gracing the article, but the truth is, it’s just plain nonsense and these magazines should know better. But, magazines live in desperate times and I suppose desperate articles are now the norm. Still, these techniques spread across the internet where the “inventor” gets credited and if you dare to set the record straight, you are met with a Tsunami of abuse on social media because you dared to “call out” their idol.

Anyway, I digress….this ICM thingy. I’ve only just learned about this and I cant find who coined the phrase, but there’s some truly bizarre stuff being written about it online. For example, there’s apparently a “science” behind it? Really? (Being a physicist myself, I kinda have an insight into what a science is) The technique is one where you take 500 odd shots of a scene whilst you jiggle your camera about and hope you get one “keeper”. Now forgive me, but there is f*** all science behind that method. It’s just random shaking of your camera with absolutely no prescribed method and with hopeful end result. Don’t get me wrong though, there are some breathtaking images I’ve seen using this technique, but to call it scientific is just wrong. An art form maybe? You can decide that for your self, but for me it’s indicative of the bullshit terms that appear every other month. It’s just “intentionally, randomly, moving your camera and hoping for the best” – or IRMYCAHFTB!

The blurry photo technique has been around for decades as far as I can remember, and was widely used in wildlife photography. In particular when panning animals or birds in motion, and I remember much of the techniques being developed further into art and landscape photography. Techniques such as particular movement in a certain orientation for example would produce a certain result and it was clearly repeatable. There are some beautiful examples of this, but don’t just take my word for it, have a look at some of the past winners and commended images in the wildlife photographer of the year competition. You will see various examples of “ICM” going back 20 odd years.

But, if you look back at the images captured by these talented photographers, they were capturing such images on a roll of film, and sometimes over 3 or 4 shots. They clearly had the technique down to a fine art and with great skills in pre-visualisation so we must bear this in mind. It also says that the current advice on how to practice the technique involves far less skill – namely, if the advice is to take 500 shots to get a keeper, then literally anyone can do that. Strange advice indeed from the modern experts of the technique don’t you think?

I could no doubt point out numerous examples and I’m all for people trying out new things in their photography, but when you read about someone being an expert in a “new” technique, do a bit of googling instead. I’m sure you’ll find a few masters who did these techniques long before anyone current.

Dear Fujifilm…

…for more than 30 years I’ve been a loyal customer of yours. I’ve bought your film, I’ve bought your film cameras and when digital came along I bought your digital cameras. I’ve owned everything from your rangefinders and 617 to your bridge and x-cameras.

Do your respect photographers like me who have been loyal for all those years? No. You announced you will hike up your films by 20% and discontinue others, and this means you are trying to kill off film for once and for all – at a time when film is making a comeback.

I’ve heard all the arguments about if more people buy film then it will keep it alive but that is just bull. The power of large corporations like yourselves means that you could market film and create demand for it, because the power of marketing can keep things alive. But you choose not to. Instead, you disrespect your loyal customers and kill off the products we’ve loved for the past few decades.

I shoot a LOT of film. Almost 1-2 rolls a day, and maybe a box of sheet film a week. I have a large freezer full of Acros and Velvia that should last me for a few years but when the last roll is shot, I won’t buy another Fujifilm product ever again, and that means your digital cameras too. Any company that treats its loyal customers this way, does not deserve to have another penny of my money ever again.

I wish your competitors more success.

Thanks for your latest effort to kill of film for once and for all.

Photography Ninjas and Masters of the Universe

When it comes to the photography community, I’ve never been one to follow what goes on and I really haven’t got a clue who’s who in the current photography world. I’ve been a landscape photographer for over 30 years but until recently, I’d only ever owned one photographer’s book, but I have bought lots of magzines over the years. I’ve kept the likes of Facebook at arms length and I found the Twitter 140 character thing really difficult due to my dyslexia, so suffice to say, I’ve pretty much lived in my own bubble. However, since launching the SLPOTY competition I’ve been thrown into the limelight somewhat and I’ve had to do a few interviews, which I have really enjoyed. The problem however, was my limited knowledge of who was who in the landscape photography world when questions were asked about certain “famous” photographers, so I thought I’d better brush up on the influencers of the current day.

What I discovered was some truly amazing photographers whose work is breathtaking and groundbreaking in equal measure. But I also discovered that there’s an awful lot of self proclaimed “experts” and “masters” around and it was the accolade of master that I found to be fairly common. In fact, when I started googling, I found master photographers and master printers by the bucket load (most of whom I’d never heard of). On social media the term was thrown about just as much with photographers who follow each bother referring to each other as the “master of woodland photography” and other such titles. Then I found an “academy” full of masters who will “put you on a path to becoming a master photographer”.  So…I thought I might applied to join. Not sure if I’d make the grade though as looking at their panel, some of them have 5 or 6 years experience (I’ve only got 30). Maybe I’m too old (at 50)? I’ve been a large format photographer for 20 years but that might not count because it’s film and too stuffy. But hey, my digital expertise runs to the very first digital cameras around 20 years ago. I’m a qualified photoshop instructor – wonder if that will count? I designed and developed an electronic photography trigger and I worked in scientific photography – wonder if that will count? Or maybe should I mention that I lectured in photography for around 20 years? God, I just wasn’t sure if I was good enough. But hang on I might just be lucky…because once you apply, you are invited to subscribe to pay a fee whilst your application is being reviewed by the masters. (Take my money now) Then there’s another chance…once you’re accepted into the training program, they let you pay an even bigger monthly fee. (Seriously, my credit card is twitching) But wait, I could fall at the last hurdle because your images are critiqued and reviewed by the “masters”! Damn – I’m not popular enough on social media so they’ll reject me!  In the end I thought I’d just not bother. (Note: I obviously won’t link to the “Academy” or name them but it won’t take a genius to figure it out)

The “academy” aside, the more I searched, the more it seemed that the accolade of “master photographer” is awarded to “photography besties” and a lot of followers on social media, But were there any authorities dishing out these awards? Well…if you’re “in” with Amateur Photographer or Outdoor Photographer magazine for example, you are a master photographer if you can shoot at one aperture, or shoot a squillion pictures of waves (aren’t those the same excercises you get taught in photography college?). Then I found a few angry exhanges and it struck me that most of the masters were digital photographers with no experience in anything else and many of the opinion that “old school” film shooters are just a bunch of elitist bastards living in the past. (I shoot film so that’s me then) But hang on, I shoot digital too, so there’s hope for me yet of becoming a master photographer. But is there truly mastery in using a digital camera I asked myself? Anyone can take a decent shot with a digital camera and if iyt’s only a decent shot, then you can slide the life out of it in Lightroom till that dull day has been bathed in light. Is that mastery? There are some amazing end results so perhaps there is – but what about instagram where everyones images look good? Then it clicked, the masters don’t tell anyone they’ve slid the life out of their best images. They just pretend it’s real and if anyone asks, they say that’s how they envisaged the final image! They’re masters alright – masters of deception!

If you’ve got this far without your blood pressure going through the roof, then well done – you’ve got a sense of humour. If you’re offended…well…. But being serious for a moment – the term “master photographer” is banded about far too often as psycophantic praise with little truth in the accolade. A real master photographer is someone like Ansel Adams who dedicated his life to photography and mastered everything he did. Not because he shot film (film haters take note), but because he delved deep into learning the characteristics of the materials and equipment of the day in order to experiment, learn, pioneer and share the techniques with the world. That’s the definition of a master photographer and it’s unlikely we’ll ever see a true master again. Sure, a photographer can “master” a particular genre and produce fantastic images in software but it’s no different to composing a tune in Garageband (which anyone can do) then claiming to be a concert pianist.

The same thing goes for those “master printers”. Without doubt, there’s a degree of skill and vision involved in getting an image to a print ready stage, but does pressing print make you a master printer? There are employees behind the counter of every high street print shop doing this and much more and you don’t see them calling themselves master printers. But when a photographer does it….

I suspect the real master printers never claim to be so, because they often work behind the scenes doing this for a living not just the odd inkejt print. And if you want to go old school, you’ll find technicians working in colleges and universities working in darkrooms – who have probably forgot more about printing that most will ever learn. Anyway, I’ll leave you with a video of a real master at work – the brilliant Nathalie Loparelli. Enjoy.

The trials and tribulations of launching the SLPOTY

[I recently did an interview for the Herald Magazine about the Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year competition. In this blog post I expand on the article.]

I’m not a famous photographer, and I’ve never sought the limelight, but since launching the Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year competition I’ve found myself kind of thrown into it to an extent. This was something I expected to be fair, and I was prepared for the fact that I will have to be the front-man for the competition, but personal fame and the limelight was never my goal. On the contrary, I’m a teacher by nature and prefer to guide others so my actual goal was to raise the profiles of our talented crop of photographers, encourage more people to take to the landscape and promote photo-tourism in Scotland. Easy peasy…or so I thought.

I knew if the competition was to be a success, it would require a great deal of planning and a lot of knocking on doors to attract sponsors. But sourcing photography competition software was something that proved to be extremely difficult, taking the best part of a year to get the right solution. Then there was the building of the website and designing the book, both of which incurred a great deal of time and expense. All this left me exhausted at times and the light at the end of the tunnel often seemed a long way off. I persevered though, and when I discussed the aims of the competition with various people outside photography, they were always well recieved, and this gave me great encouragement.

It was a different story however with the people that mattered most – the photographers.  Long before the launch, I spent a few months (covertly) asking lots of photographers for their views on POTY competitions in general. I expected to hear lots of different views, but this wasn’t to be the case. On the contrary, there was pretty much a commonly held view that the outcomes of photography competitions are influenced by an “establishment” or in the field of landscape photography “the clique” as they are called. The clique’s view is that certain genres of photography are infereior and unworthy of awards, and the photographers that take such images are “second rate”.  This is clearly off-putting to photographers thinking of entering a competition and perception is that to be successful, one must take the sort of images that are favoured by this clique or resort to sycophancy.

It was a little unsettling to hear these views and I had no idea who “the clique” were but sure enough, when I visited a few websites to check for myself, it was easy to find. The same names can be seen regularly extolling their work as a superior genre, whilst belittling the work of others, particularly if it’s an image of an iconic view. In other places, there’s downright nasty stuff that borders on bullying, and the same individuals can be seen ganging up on novice photographers, calling them morons & philistines then telling them to sell their cameras. As an aside, their behaviour is also shooting themselves in the foot, because quite clearly, some of them are running workshops at iconic locations that cater for the very photographers they are belittling. All genre’s of landscape photography are valid and no one genre is better than the other. It’s a simple fact that some are more popular than others but opinion is just that.

Anyway, it was clear that this behaviour and the views being propogated by these individuals were not popular at all with the wider photography community, but nonetheless, this was a valuable insight in how to shape the competition.

First off, there was a very limited budget to create the competition, and with the excepetion of the sponsored prizes, I had to pay for everything out of my own pocket, and this meant I had design things as efficiently as possible.  Next, the overall winner would be awarded to a portfolio of images and not won on a single image. The competition is a “Photographer of the year” – not – a “photograph of the year” and I firmly stand behind this. I may not be famous, but no one can argue about my experience which spans 3 decades including 2o years as an instructor. Whilst all things in photography competitions are subjective, I felt I have enough experience of the various genres and with the help of the other judges, it can be as inclusive as possible.

The other categories could be won on a single image and this allowed for flexible entry points to suit most photographers and be as inclusive as possible for other genres such as fine art, long exposures etc. This proved to be a wise choice, because some of the commended images in the various categories were most definitely edgy – Roxy Russell’s image for example will take a few people by surprise I’m sure.

Thirdly, I went to great lengths to make it clear what type of images we were looking for and why. The competition is fully inclusive of all genres of landscape photography but it was made clear that iconic or classic views were what we were looking for. The aim of the competition is to encourage photo tourism and whilst edgy abstracts are images I have a particular fondness for, they are not instantly recognisable as Scotland and would struggle to meet the aims of the competition. However, it was always stated that should a truly outstanding image be entered of say an abstract, it could easily win the competition. This remains true.

I fully appreciate that the competition will never please everybody, but one thing’s for sure, in its inaugural year, the competition surpassed all my expectations and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. I’m immensely proud of the competition and it was a humbling experience looking through the work of all the photographers who entered. My thanks go to each and every one of you who entered and I will do my utmost to repay your support by improving the competition and taking it from strength to strength.

Stuart

Lee Big Stopper vs HiTech Firecrest IRND

When the Lee Big Stopper came out around 4 years ago, it took the photography world by storm. Incredibly positive reviews did the rounds followed by absurd waiting lists as demand outstripped supply, but for the early adopters amongst us, the Big Stopper meant new possibilities for photography and in my case, new possibilities for workshops.

The issues with supply was a real problem for me because with workshops already advertised and no photographers able to get a Big Stopper, I was forced to cancel or run limited workshops using my loan filters. That was nobody’s fault but my own though. I shouldn’t have put the cart before the horse as the saying goes. Anyway, after some time people were soon able to pick them up on the auction site (more about that later) and things improved.

Despite the glowing reviews however the Big Stopper wasn’t really that great. In fact, for a very expensive piece of kit, it was far from accurate when it came to exposures and the horrendous blue cast is the main reason I’m sure most of them went up for sale on the auction site. These same idiosyncrasies are echoed online by many highly skilled photographers but it was the offhand dismissal on the Lee customer feedback page that annoyed many, myself included. Numerous complaints appeared online and the response from the company was “Big Stopper – Blue cast?…we do pre warn you…”.   So, in other words you have to put up with it whether you like it or not.

Unfortunately, putting up with the Big Stopper is something I’ve had to do for the past 3 or 4 years. The BS brand was so succesful that it was the only filter photographers who turned up at my workshops had so I’ve had to reluctantly work around its problems. And this is where it costs unsuspecting photographers money. They buy a BS then, struggle with colour casts, then exposure and then they have to go on a course or sell the filter. This of course is my experience and because I do workshops I’m bound the encounter this on a regular basis, but I do feel for those who feel they bought a product that they didn’t get on with.

Thankfully, other manufacturers have brought their alternatives to the market and the competition has been a great thing. Companies such as B&W* and Hitech Formatt have developed ND filters that surpass the Big Stopper and by some considerable margin. In particular, Hitech Formatt brought out the IRND range and more recently, the new Firecrest 16 stop filter – which has literally been a game changer for me. No horrible colour casts and accurate exposures are now the order of the day and with 16 stops to play with, the Firecrest IRND opens up many possibilities for long exposures in bright daylight. What’s not to like?

(*Note: I have yet to work with the B&W range of filters so I cannot give any opinion or review, but when I get a hold of one, I will sure to do so.)

The Firecrest IRND 16 stop works by eliminating infra red light from reaching the sensor but keeping all the visible colours the same. I won’t rehash the technology but you can read about that here and this is a good video for the cinema version of the filter where you can actually see it in a video test.

Given my experience with Lee’s BS over these years,  I’ve put very little trust in its ability to produce consistent results, so I was a touch apprehensive that the Firecrest IRND would be much better. But, I was pleasantly surprised from the outset and massively impressed as time went by. In the couple of months that I’ve had been using the Fircrest IRND, I’ve had virtually no colour cast in any of my images and the exposures have been bang on 16 stops. I’ve put it through a variety of different lighting scenarios and it’s been consistent in all cases, which is highly confidence inspiring. But lets look at some test images.

filter_test1

This test was done in the late evening on a very still night. The tide was moving in, the sun was from the right and there were lots of reflections around. Typically, these were difficult conditions for any ND filter but the Firecrest coped extremely well. It is important not to pay too much attention to the smooth clouds or the water, and it is very important to note that this test is colour – not mono.  The bridge is where you should to focus your attention. The blue cast is definitely evident in the 10 stop because the cast appears across all of the image and is therefore a cast.

In the case of the Firecrest, the image is neutral and if you place an eye dropper over the areas on the bridge you will see there is very good neutrality. However, it is important to remember that surface reflections will alter the light hitting a surface and alter the image. This has been in part responsible for a myth being put around by early adopters that the Firecrest filter has a green cast. I examined many of these images with these claims and in each case it was a case of either a light leak or myriad reflections or the light changing in a very long exposure of up to 16 minutes. In 16 minutes, towards the end of a day, the light will change so this has to be factored in. The middle image above “appears” to have a greenish cast but again, I stress very much, that light was changing many times – over a very long exposure. In addition, there are other factors to consider such as most sensors (e.g. bayer) have 2x as many green sensors as red and blue on the chip and there’s a reason for this. The human eye is most sensitive to green and we are surrounded by a LOT of green – which can be responsible for any green-ness in an image. I’ve also put this green cast anomoly to the test over a long time and I’ve tested this with both digital and film. In every instance, the “green” has been a light leak or reflected light over the long period of the exposure.

Note: The alert reader or conspiracy theorist may point to the fact that the Firecrest is 16 stops and is being compared to a 10 stop filter, but this has little or no bearing. We are comparing colour casts and exposure. In any event, you would need to stack a 10 + 6 stop filter from Lee which has an air gap and introduces the possibility of reflections in that air gap as well as light leaks. There would also be variances in the coatings of different batches in two filters.

filter_test_2

The above test was posted on my Flickr page and it’s clear that there’s a blue cast in the 10 stop. It is important to note though that this is a landscape image and I’ve had some absurd comments from photographers who really don’t know what they are talking about (or know much about photography). Typically, ND long exposures are taken for the milky water effects by the sea. Landscape long exposure photography is less common because the landscape has much more variables and colours to deal with than seascapes. Some people look at the images and presume this or that but this was test done as accurately as possible. This was a very still bright sunny day. The reason for choosing a day like this was based on the sunny 16 rule. This is a highly accurate method for obtaining correct exposure. The intensity of the sun’s light is at it’s strongest and light is constant. The method for testing was to expose for the highlights, and in this case the clouds to the left of the mountain. This is the most accurate way as they were being lit from the sun throughout the all three exposures. Measurements were also taken from the same point of the foreground rocks in full sun for comparison. Shadow readings are less accurate for obvious reasons. The camera’s meter was not used for any readings. Two separate light meters were used which were a Minolta spotmeter and a Sekonic. During exposures, EV was recorded and monitored during the long exposures. Readings were constant for all three exposures. I repeat, readings were constant.

From comments on my Flickr post, it’s been said the 10 stop image is under exposed and the shadow across the mountains would affect the image. The shadow comment is nonsense and has no bearing on the image whatsoever because the images were metered for the highlights. I repeat the image was exposed for the highlights. The clouds are exposed correctly in all three shots from the metering point. It should be noted that as in black and white photography, adding a coloured filter can increase contrast or make certain parts look dark by filtering out certain colours of the light spectrum. The 10 stop has a blue cast and would therefore filter any browns and reds from the foliage undergrowth. This can fool photographers into over exposing their image which in turn burns out the sky, then they add a grad to balance the sky which ultimately exacerbates the problem. Far too many photographers do not understand how to expose an impage properly or how to use their camera’s meter and the aforementioned problem is something I encounter frequently. Shots are often missed as a result.

filter_test_3

For this shot above, I chose not to bother with the 10 stop filter for comparison as it was evident in every test that there was a blue cast, so why waste time. What the test above shows is just how good the Firecrest is. at being neutral. Blurry water aside, this is a quite fantastic result given that it was a dull overcast day and the exposure on the right was for 240 seconds. Typically on dull days like this using an ND filter you would get all manner of colours in the water and the shadows can often appear maroon. The colours in both these images from the heather to the rocks are almost identical. This clearly shows the Firecrest IRND is extremely neutral.

Conclusion

I’ve done a series of these tests and repeatedly, I am extremely impressed with the consistency of results. Suffice to say though that there are limitations with a 16 stop filter and there are things to watch out for. In particular, low light photography is pretty much out the window.  A normal exposure of 1/3oth sec will take 32 minutes. A one second exposure will require 18 hours so it’s not practical in low light. In bright light however you can obtain a 32 minute exposure and the effects in such an image can be remarkable. There are endless possibilities for new and exciting images in such light. The other thing to look out for is light leaks when conducting long exposures in bright light. I have experienced these myself and wrongly thought it was the filter but was in actual fact due to light coming in through the eyepiece ,or from the rubber covers being open with the cable remote. Rather than me post pictures, Joel Tjintjelaar has a great article with picture of how these occur and how you can protect your camera to overcome these light leaks. Interestingy, I read that Joel uses a hat as do I. 🙂

The Firecrest ND is only a few months old and reviews are few at this moment in time so hopefully this will help if you are considering an ND filter. I have spoken with several other photographers who concur with me and are finding the results to be extremely good, surpassing all the problems that occur with the Lee BS. All have told me the is no colour cast in their images and the exposures are consistent with 16 stops of light reduction. This is good news for photographers who want to explore new possibilities without having to work around problems of other filters.

At the time of writing I read that the Firecrest IRND first batches have sold out but Hitech are on the case. Lets hope they are available very soon for it truly is a big improvement in traditional ND filter technology and I am now using this line exclusively in my workshops.

I hope you find the above interesting and feel free to leave any comments.