Monthly Archives: May 2014

Cramond Island From Portobello Beach: Chasing The Light

One of the first thing I noticed when I took up photography in Edinburgh is how much the position of the sun in the sky changes during the course of the year. The advantage I have as a local photographer is that I can study the light throughout the seasons and find the best time to photograph a particular subject. This is of course impossible to do if you visit Edinburgh for a short amount of time.

I love to revisit certain Edinburgh locations at different times to get a sense of what the light is like and what it does to the scene. The first picture of Cramond Island below was taken from Portobello Beach at the end of September and the sun was side lighting the clouds. The colours were enhanced at the time of capture with a Lee Twilight Filter.

Cramond Island, Edinburgh, from Portobello beach seascape with vibrant colours in the sky. Taken with a long exposure. at the beginning of Autumn

Cramond Island from Portobello beach at the beginning of Autumn.

The second picture was taken in July and the scene was backlit. The clouds obstructed must of the direct sunlight, and gave the scene a different mood. These pictures will not be in my landscape portfolio but the experience gained will undoubtedly prove valuable in the future.

Cramond Island, Edinburgh, from Portobello beach seascape. Taken with a long exposure in July.

Cramond Island from Portobello beach in July.

The Advantages Of Video Over Still Photographs

Still shot from music video "The River" from Edinburgh based band Miasma

Still shot from the music video “The River” from Edinburgh based band Miasma.

During the weekend of May 9-11 2014, the British public spent a total of £13,856,641 at the box office, according to the British Film Institute. How much money do you think the same public spent on watching still photographs that same weekend?

The YouTube video “PSY-Gangnam style” has 1,997,326,586 views as of this writing. That’s nearly two billion views! I don’t know how many times the most popular photographs have been looked at, but I’m pretty confident it’s well under two billion times.

It is undeniable that the moving image has a much broader appeal than the still photograph.

In his bestselling book, “Tell to Win”, Peter Guber shows how the hidden power of story can be used to connect with and persuade people. Before the written word, knowledge was transmitted from one generation to the next orally, using the medium of storytelling. We just love stories.

It is definitely possible to tell stories using still photographs, and the best photojournalists do it very well. But it is clear that as a medium, film or video has a definite advantage over still photographs when it comes to telling stories.

The stories that touch us the most are those that remind us of our own past experiences. I think it is because they feel more real. People can get really emotional while watching a movie. How many people cry at a photo exhibit? I believe the emotional appeal of the moving image over the still photograph is that movies feel more real to us. After all, real people move and talk.

From a business standpoint, another major difference between video and still photographs is that the younger generations consume much more of it. If they are your target market, video is of primary importance. I have some personal experience with this. When I was building my photography and video portfolio, I worked quite a bit with local musicians. While they understood that good photography helped their brand, it was more something they felt they had to do. On the video side however, it was something they wanted to do. The picture above is a still from the video “The River” by Edinburgh based band Miasma. The band spent a lot of time thinking about the concept/script for the video, gathering props and making costumes. That level of engagement with a project is something I have never experienced for a photo shoot with people from their generation.

When A Professional Photographer Is Cheaper Than An Amateur

I never cease to be amazed at the number of people selling products online who don’t think it is necessary to pay for someone to take professional photographs of their goods. They’ll do it themselves or find the proverbial “friend with a good camera”.

Jewellery product shot, pendant of turquoise colour designed by Candle Jewellery

The pendants from Candle Jewellery are very colourful. It was essential to capture the right colours, which I did using the professional X-Rite ColorChecker.

Let’s first start with the obvious. Would you buy something that doesn’t look great? A bad photo can make your product look like damaged goods. Imagine how much more you could sell if the pictures you have online make your products look better than those from the competition. In this case, the photographs easily pay for themselves.

Jewellery product shot of pendant designed by Candle Jewellery. Pink and sparkling.

This pendant from Candle Jewellery sparkles. The photographic challenge was to showcase the sparkle without getting nasty reflections. This was done using proper lighting.

You may not have paid for your photographs, but that is expensive if they don’t sell your products. The pictures also tell a lot about your brand and the kind of business you are running, successful or not. The first impression you make is going to be very difficult to change.

Jewellery product shot. Deep blue coloured pendant designed by Candle Jewellery.

The beautiful, deep colours of this pendant needed to be showcased. Reflectors were needed to avoid obliterating the darkest tones in the digital capture process.

There is a less obvious drawback to using the “friend with a good camera” who is going to take your pictures for free. Since he/she is not getting paid, there really isn’t an incentive for him/her to deliver the pictures in a short time frame. The time you have to wait for your photographs translates into lost sales.

Jewellery pendant product photograph. The red pendant was designed by Candle Jewellery.

The photographic challenge of photographing this beautiful red pendant was to show some of its translucent properties. This was achieved using reflecting pieces of foam core.

Now imagine the following, plausible, scenario. You get your “friend with a good camera” to take pictures for free. It takes a couple of months, and the pictures aren’t up to scratch. So you eventually have to pay someone who can do a proper job. If you count the time lost, the cheap alternative actually turns out to be more expensive. This is when a professional photographer is cheaper than an amateur.


Lausanne, Switzerland and the balance of light

If you are looking to photograph cityscapes with vibrant colours, you should wait for the night to fall. But when I say ‘night’, I really mean wait for ‘the blue hour’. That time of day is after the sun disappears and before the sky turns black. The best time for photography during the blue hour can depend on the season and your geographical location, and definitely doesn’t last an hour.

At this time of day, the fading light from the setting sun roughly matches in intensity the man-made city lights. And the sky turns a deep shade of blue, regardless of the weather. The photograph of the Chateau d’Ouchy (Ouchy Castle), a hotel in Lausanne, Switzerland illustrates this.

Ouchy Castle Hotel in Lausanne Switzerland, night photograph with the Castle illuminated in red.

Le Chateau d’Ouchy (Ouchy Castle) in Lausanne, Switzerland after sunset and before the sky turned black. IN winter, this hotel is illuminated in red, which provides a nice colour contrast with the blue sky.

Earlier in the day, the ambient light coming from the sun dominates and the sky is too bright relative to the buildings. You either get an overexposed, washed out sky, or underexposed, dark buildings.

And after the blue hour, the artificial city lights dominate as the sky turns black. The scene is usually too contrasty for a digital camera to handle well. Although it is possible to use several exposures blended together in software to achieve good results. It is a personal choice, but I tend to prefer a deep blue sky over a completely black one. The photograph of the Lausanne Cathedral is an example where multiple exposures were used to achieve the final result. The scene was too contrasty because the sky is very dark shade of blue and the street and building lights much, much too bright relatively speaking. It was a bit after the optimal time for photography, but it still works in my opinion.

Cathedral, Lausanne Switzerland, photographed at night in the winter

The cathedral in Lausanne, Switzerland photographed during a winter night.

Interestingly enough, balancing two quantities to get something striking also happens in physics. In the quantum realm, particles behave like waves, and thus have a wavelength. In liquid helium 4He, when the average wavelength of the helium atoms becomes comparable in magnitude to the average distance between the helium atoms, the system undergoes a transition to a superfluid state, a totally new state of matter.