Droning On

The second anniversary of my Mavic Pro drone purchase will soon be upon us (as I type this) and in order to supply copy for a Club photography magazine recently I got to thinking about what I’d learnt.  Incidentally, if you’ve been following recent drone product launches mine is the original Mavic Pro; the newer Pro2 is apparently a big step up in image quality.  

In truth much of the learning came in the last six months of 2018 as I was not well enough to take the drone out over the 2017/18 winter months and prior to that I was still really nervous about the whole flying a camera thing. But practice is really paying off and even the quality of my images has improved considerably.

I am first and foremost a photographer, so, what does this photographer take from his first full year flying?

90 feet above the weir at Cromwell Bottom on the River Calder with the damage done by the floods a couple of years ago still very evident. A one-second exposure, courtesy of the 10-stop Freewell ND filter.

Importantly … 

Get used to flying it; to taking off, landing and generally moving about the sky. If you are a first-time flyer, then forget about photography for a few flights. Yes, it will be hard to do and a little frustrating, but practise flying in all directions, squares, circles, backwards, forwards, side-to-side. Get to instinctively know when pushing right on the stick will move the craft left and when it will move it right – it’s easy to forget especially if things go a little awry. The one time I crashed (see below) was exactly due to that confusion. With the drone pointing towards me and drifting to my left towards the trees I instinctively pushed the stick right to take evasive action. Except this was the wrong thing to do as it took the drone to ITS right and directly into the branches I was trying to avoid. I always try to watch the drone too when manoeuvring rather than the screen as I can more quickly spot if its drifting in the wrong direction.

Needless to say, I didn’t follow this course of action (to be fair no one suggested it) but in hindsight waiting just a little longer to take photographs would have meant better pictures from the start and a more comfortable flying experience.  Do as I say not as I did might be another way of putting it!

Exposure is critical

Hovering above the beach at Newborough. Sometimes exposing to the right means that you still have to leave the shadows as silhouettes!

The Mavic Pro has a much smaller sensor than many enthusiast photographers will be used to and therefore has less tolerance to noise. Indeed, whilst the stated ISO range is 100-1600 I rarely move it from 100 and indeed I’ve not seen many bloggers or vloggers suggesting using the higher ISO.  These days with live histograms on most cameras it is relatively straightforward to “shoot to the right” and the Mavic Pro is no exception. I have the histogram up on the screen at all times and watch it carefully. I aim to keep the graph pushed as far over to the right on the screen without “clipping” into the highlights.

Exposing to the right (ETTR) is a well-used photographic technique and means adjusting the exposure of an image as high as possible at base ISO (without causing unwanted saturation) to collect the maximum amount of light and thus get the optimum performance out of the digital image sensor. It is easier to pull down exposure in post-production than to pull detail out of the shadows. With the tiny 12mp sensor on the Mavic Pro I want to start with as much detail captured right from the start, hence ETTR and RAW (DNG) capture is my go-to approach.

Nail the composition

Here is one very good reason why you want to learn to fly and position the drone with as much accuracy as possible.

So nail the composition!

You only have a relatively small file to play with; 3992×2992 pixels (typically giving  a 23mb file) compared for example to my Fuji mirrorless camera’s 6000×3376 (48mb) or my Nikon D800E’s 7360×4912 (72mb). Having to crop into the file throws away precious pixels and of course if you then need to enlarge the image for printing you are further degrading the image quality.

Try to get composition spot-on to avoid cropping later. Be patient, rotate the drone and take it higher/lower, left/right, back/forward as needed to really get the framing as near to your vision as possible. Swiping up on the display screen to temporarily remove all the data and information displayed upon it can help and don’t forget to check the corners of the screen too. There is no doubt that in this situation the iPad screen beats my iPhone but that’s a discussion for another day.

Do keep this in perspective though, I recently printed an image from the drone at A3 and was blown away by the quality. A bit mushy sometimes in the corners but fabulous in the middle of the frame. For small prints and on-screen usage, the files can take some tight cropping but to my mind it makes total sense to maximise every pixel available and careful composition at the time is a huge help in this regard.

Exercise restraint

9 frame panorama, DJI Mavic Pro at 65 feet above the River Calder at Cromwell Bottom

When processing your images (I shoot RAW and process in Adobe Camera Raw) try to avoid pushing the sliders too far – less is definitely more and over-zealous use of the sliders will seriously degrade the image veryquickly in my experience (remember small sensor). Once again, getting the exposure right and nailing the composition also help here. I have found that skies generally need some gentle noise reduction, but again don’t go overboard and if you are able to do so I would suggest just selectively de-noising the sky and not the more detailed parts of the image which can quickly turn to mush.

Height isn’t everything

You don’t have to shoot everything from 400 feet up! Just because you can doesn’t mean you always have to. I have included height information in the image captions and you will see there are successful compositions shot from 65 feet up for example and even from head height.

75 feet up – Newborough Beach

Be open to shooting each scene from different angles and differing heights. I will often take the drone to 400 feet and then slowly bring it down tweaking the composition and taking a series of different images as I drop back down to around 80 feet. Other times I will watch the screen as I slowly rise into the air looking for the optimal point at which the composition seems complete.  There is no zoom lens on the Mavic Pro I use (although a zoom version has just been released along with the aforementioned Pro 2 with its larger sensor) so, just like using your feet to “zoom” a prime lens on your stills camera, you need to use the joysticks to “zoom” around the composition with the drone.

Of course, I’m not saying don’t take it up – 390 feet, Blackley Top

The hardware

Whilst I’m not intending to review the hardware some comments are pertinent as the choices you make here can have a big bearing on success or failure. 

Ringstone Reservoir. It can be a little disconcerting putting the drone up into mist for it to temporarily disappear but it gives an angle I could not get otherwise.

Let’s start with what for me makes the whole process workable – the viewing screen. The Mavic Pro doesn’t have a screen supplied with the controller, so I purchased an Android smartphone to fulfil this function. Turns out that this was not my smartest choice as the minute I plugged the “smartphone” into the Mavic controller it went “Oh, goody! A big battery!” and proceeded to draw power from the controller. Unsure as to whether this was normal or not, or indeed if it was expected, I decided to change and use an iPad mini instead. I figured the bigger screen would make it easier to read the display so parted with a few more hard-earned pennies to buy the small iPad and a sunshade to keep the glare off the screen. This worked much better apart from one niggle, it kept sending out a warning message that it was running low on memory even though I was only running the DJI app. Nervous that this might cause me to lose sight and/or control of the drone I switched to using my iPhone whilst I investigated.

Long story short – I never did get around to investigating and now simply use my iPhone. The only compromise is that if I’m going to be out all day I take a power bank to top the phone up for normal use if required after flying the drone although to date I haven’t needed to use it. I put the phone in Airplane mode whilst using the drone to prevent calls or messages interfering with the flight.  I need to wear my reading glasses AND my distance glasses simultaneously however; the former on the end of my nose to view the screen and controller and the latter above them so I can maintain line of sight with the drone. I must look slightly odd, but such is old age.

Flying the drone and keeping it safe in the air was always going to be my biggest concern and I have to say I’m very glad I opted for a premium model as I quickly got to grips with the basics and whilst I was in no hurry to step out of beginner mode when I did take the plunge I was pleasantly surprised. If in doubt, I can let go of the joysticks and the drone will hover where it is until I get myself sorted! The requirement to maintain line of sight means that under my control the drone never gets remotely close to the maximum distances it can technically achieve but I cannot see why people want to fly their expensive kit in places where they cannot see it. 

“Bamburgh Sunrise” DJI Mavic Pro at 102 feet above the beach at Bamburgh

As already mentioned, I have crashed the drone once, in Snowdonia, on the first occasion when I had someone with me whilst I flew the drone. Thankfully it was less than twenty feet off the ground and the branches I flew it into helped cushion the fall. I had the drone pointing towards me which means that right on the controller means go left as far as the drone is concerned. A mistake I make very rarely now but still, no harm done apart from a few scratches to the drone and a dent to my pride.

So, whilst flying the drone is still an adrenalin-fuelled experience I do now feel confident in flying the machine and am starting to produce some pleasing results, particularly with still images which I capture using the DNG raw mode and process in Photoshop. I have found that I need to apply sharpening and clarity a little more aggressively than I am used to and that I have to be extra careful with regards to noise in the image. I usually take the drone out early in the day and have not yet shot extensively in the brighter part of the day but when I have I find the files a lot cleaner, especially with the sun behind the drone.

Conclusion

So, I have made good progress with flying, have settled on using my iPhone as a screen and am starting to get some good still images from the drone. Whilst there is still some work to do with image quality, or perhaps more accurately consistency, I am now producing usable and pleasing images from every flight.

I’ve a few other things to mention, including my experiences with filters shooting panoramas and the various built-in shooting options but will leave those for another day.  

Ringstone Reservoir on a brighter morning. As with all branches of photography looking for something a little different to the norm can result in striking images

To recap my conclusions from this exercise, learn the basics (flying), remember to squeeze as much from the little sensor as you can and exercise restraint when sat at the computer.

This is one purchase I have never regretted for a single moment.

Audo Visuals – an update

A quick reminder of some of the audio-visual slideshows I have produced over the last couple of years


#11 The Dark Art

A chance to see some of my black and white photography and hear of my influences. Audio-visual sequence created in Pictures to Exe on an iMac running Parallels.


#10 Autumn 2018

It’s been an unusually wind-free autumn up here this year and so, in the very week that the colour started to wane, I put together this celebration of Autumn 2018

Autumn 2018 (AV) from Dave Whenham on Vimeo.


#9 I want to go back.

A work in progress, produced using Pictures to Exe on a Mac running Parallels. I have uploaded this to go with a blog post and it will evolve as my skills in producing audio-visual sequences progress. All images and words including the poem “I want to go back” are my copyright. “Scottish Rhapsody” by Ronald Binge.


#8.  A little something I produced using mixed media for the Postal Photographic Club to promote their online circles.

“Fretless” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/


#7. Still working with Picture to Exe, this time trying out some more “advanced” techniques. For example with the two images where the boat merges into a previous image, which was also shot on the River Tay, I aligned the two images in Photoshop so that the boat appeared where I wanted it to. I’m also working with controlling the animation within each frame, particularly the time when items appear and then fade from the screen relative to others.

“The Forest and the Trees” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/


#6.  A brief look back at the first half of 2017 using a selection of square images.


#5.  Continuing to learn the basics of Pictures to Exe


#4.  My first look at the newly refurbished Piece Hall in Halifax. Shot on a Fuji X-T100 and slideshow created in Pictures to Exe Essentials v.9.0.11 on a Mac running Parallels.


#3.  I purchased PTE last year but haven’t used it owing to an extremely slow Windows laptop (I run an iMac for my desktop machine). However having now installed Parallels on the Mac, upgraded PTE to the latest version and bought some tutorials I am now getting to grips with this amazingly powerful program. This is the 3rd attempt, again using stock images from my files.

Music: Procession of the King, Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/b…. and A Quiet Place licensed from beckhamdigital.com.au


#2.  I purchased PTE last year but haven’t used it owing to an extremely slow Windows laptop (I run an iMac for my desktop machine). However having now installed Parallels on the Mac, upgraded PTE to the latest version and bought some tutorials I am now getting to grips with this amazingly powerful program.

Music licensed from http://www.beckhamdigital.com.au


#1.  I purchased PTE last year but haven’t used it owing to an extremely slow Windows laptop (I run an iMac for my desktop machine). However at a loose end today I installed Parallels on the Mac, upgraded PTE to the latest version, bought Barry Beckham’s starter videos and have produced a very simple AV to get me started.

Music licensed from http://www.beckhamdigital.com.au

Not another Fuji journey!

This was originally posted in June 2016. It’s taken around three years to move to a full Fuji system so to celebrate I’m republishing a couple of original articles.  I am in the process of writing both an updated review of the Fuji X-T3 and also revisiting this post that firs appeared on davewhenhaphotography.com.

It may just be because of my recent researches but I’ve seen a lot of blog posts along the lines of “My journey with Fuji”, “My switch from [insert brand here] to Fuji” or “Moving to Fuji – my story”.  So the virtual world probably doesn’t need another such post. But then again I figured that as my posts are read by approximately one and a half people each time perhaps it would be OK to slip this one in under the radar.

© Dave Whenham
The start of my Fuji “journey”. Fuji X100 Winter 2011.

I was as it happens a very early “adopter” buying the Fuji X100 when it first came out and I instantly became enamoured by its retro styling and the way it forced me back into a way of shooting I’d last enjoyed thirty years previously.

Coffee-and-Conversation-by-Dave-Whenham
Coffee and Conversation. Fuji X100.
© Dave Whenham
Misty Morning. Fuji X100 Winter 2013/14
© Dave Whenham
Images from a photo essay 2013. Fuji X100
© Dave Whenham
Curves. Fuji X100 2014

That however was the honeymoon and whilst I continued to use the X100 regularly as shown by the images above it’s shortcomings and quirks finally led to it being left at home more and more until 2015 when, whilst switching my DSLR kit from Canon to Nikon,  I finally decided to part company with the Fuji.

It was a difficult decision, in so many ways it was a joy to handle but it could be a frustration to actually use and despite its image quality (I won a club competition with an X100 image) the fact that it was spending so much time in the drawer meant I wasn’t getting any meaningful benefit from ownership. The major firmware update in late 2013 came too late for me, by that time the X100 and indeed Fuji were rarely in my thoughts and I completely missed the announcements. I did update the firmware before selling the camera but by then the die was cast. I cried quietly inside at how little I got for it but that’s another story.

Looking back this morning I am well pleased with some of the images I made with the X100. On those occasions when I could be bothered to wrestle with it’s idiosyncrasies I was usually happy with the results even if getting there was sometimes somewhat painful. I never used the Fuji JPEGS from the X100 but was always more than happy with the quality of the RAW (RAF) files it produced.  From time to time though after selling the X100 I did regret the decision.

Recently however I’ve been looking again at the Fuji X100, now in its third iteration as the Fuji X100T. I initially started looking at classic film rangefinders with no intention of reentering the premium large sensor, fixed prime lens digital market. However, wherever I looked the Fuji X100T kept cropping up in articles, blog posts and discussion groups. Which naturally meant I followed the threads and dug deeper. And deeper. And yet deeper still.

© Dave Whenham
West End, London. Fuji X100T

So deep in fact that the X100T entered the house and I have very quickly embraced this newest iteration of the X100. The handling is the same but the user experience vastly improved.  Using this style of camera needs a different approach compared to a (D)SLR, more akin to a traditional rangefinder, but as with everything the secret is in getting to know your kit and actually using it regularly. I’ve used the X100T daily since I got it and the mechanical side of things is starting to become intuitive; muscle memory is being formed and changing settings is becoming easier through repetition. I think that is the secret with any camera, practice, practice and yet more practice.  Several of the buttons on the camera can be customised and I’ve been through three separate formations so far, each slightly more helpful to my way of working than before.

© Dave Whenham
Oxford Street, London. Fuji X100T

Getting to know the camera hasn’t been without its frustrations of course but I’m already feeling at home with the X100T and the quality of the images who I get it right make the effort very worthwhile.  Two main things stand out art present. Firstly, the camera tends to under-expose to my taste in most situations, not a major problem as I now keep the EV dial on +1 most of the time but I do need to keep an eye on exposure.  I will experiment further with exposure modes and see if that helps in this regard.

© Dave Whenham
Kings Cross, London. Fuji X100T

The X100T is great for candid photography and the image quality at ISO 6400, when exposed correctly, is superb. No complaints from me. The image above was shot at 1/60th second at f4 and ISO 6400 from a distance of five feet or so with the camera sat on my leg.

Which leads me to my other frustration, which I would stress is down to my handling and NOT the camera, and that is the number of blurred shots I acquired when street shooting due to the shutter speed being too slow. My bad as they say but I have been setting far too small an aperture for street candids I think. As a landscape photographer I am used to defaulting to f11 as my go-to aperture.  When shooting portraits I often use f2.8 or even wider on occasions. Out on the streets of London last week I set the X100T to f8 or f11, auto ISO (with a maximum of 6400) in aperture priority and manual focusing. Looking at the images this morning far too many are blurry and when I dig deeper I’m seeing shutter speeds of 1/15th second or less. When moving on the street I suspect that even 1/30th or 1/60th of a second might be too slow. This is NOT a fault of the camera but it is something to be aware of and for me it is a case of getting used to a smaller, busier viewfinder and keeping my eye on the shutter speed.

IMG_1625
“Now it’s your turn”. Fuji X100T

Looking back through the images, an aperture of f4 would be ideal with the 23mm lens of the X100T when shooting candids or street photography. This was indoors and 1/100th sec at f4 ISO 1600 with camera to my eye.

Last weeks experiences on the streets of London have taught me a lot about this style of shooting and also given me the confidence that insofar as I am concerned the X100T is going to be the perfect tool for the job.

But of course, I didn’t stop at the X100T as you will know if you’ve read any of my recent posts. A flurry of activity online, selling my Nikon 16-35 lens and the entire EOS M3 kit amongst other items, has provided the budget for a new Fuji X-T10 and four lenses (8mm fisheye, 12mm, 18-55mm and 55-200mm).

© Dave Whenham
An iconic skyline. Fuji X-T10 with 55-200mm lens

One thing I have been very conscious of more recently is the weight of my Nikon kit. It is less of an issue when out in the fells for the day with one of my photographic partners but for a day out with the family it is frankly a liability.  However, spending five days away, as we did last week, I prefer to have some options other than just a DSLR and 24-70 zoom. But it is not practical, my full Nikon kit is bigger than the suitcase we use for a start!  So, whilst researching the Fuji X-series I realised I could put together an excellent system which would mean I could cut down on bulk and weight without compromising on versatility.

Spoiler alert: I bought the X-T10 as my lightweight alternative to the Nikons and at this stage it is not my intention to ditch the DSLRs so don’t expect a “Road to Damascus” moment later in this post because there hasn’t been one … yet.

The images above were all taken with the Fuji X-T10 on a day spent in Kew Gardens, London. I used three lenses during the day, the Samyang 8mm fisheye, the Fujinon 18-55 “kit lens” and the Fujinon 55-200mm. As you will have worked out I had a full-frame equivalent of 27mm through to 300mm at my disposal (if you exclude the slightly more esoteric fisheye) which compares more than favourably to the 24-70 I would have restricted myself to if I’d brought the Nikon DSLR on this trip.  Weight-wise I didn’t get the scales out but my shoulders reported no more strain from the Fuji and three lenses than it would have from one lens plus DSLR Nikon set-up.

© Dave Whenham
The Art of Conversation. Fuji X-T10

It is too early to make any detailed conclusions about the X-T10 although I have already fallen for the quality of JPEGs from both Fujis. I used the X-T10 mainly on a walk along the South Bank one afternoon and for a full day in Kew Gardens. It was in my bag at all times though and so did get a brief outing in the West End as the image above shows.

First impressions are very positive though both in terms of handling and in terms of image quality. I was very happy with the Canon EOS M3 I was using recently but have to say that the Fuji experience has been far superior so far. That is not to say the M3 is poor, far from it I still rate it highly, but the Fuji’s have so far provided an even better user experience so I am more than happy with my recent purchases.

Whether or not it becomes a DSLR-killer remains to be seen. I am not even going to entertain the idea of ditching my Nikons until I have used the Fujis for a good six months, which takes us into 2017.  I feel confident enough with the X-T10 though to have invested in a Lee Seven5 starter kit and will be testing the system out on my next couple of landscape shoots. If all goes well I will take both systems to Skye in November and use the Fuji for those days when the walking is mostly steeply upwards. But that is jumping head.

At present my introduction to the Fuji X-series has been a very positive one. From having mixed feelings about the X100 in 2011 I find myself in 2016 with an X-T10 and X100T feeling very positive about the system and looking forward to exploring the Fuji X-world further over the coming months.

Feeling Right

This was originally posted on October 10 2018 a couple of weeks into my ownership of the Fuji X-T3. A further five months have since elapsed and just this week I took the big step and sold my full frame Nikon D800E. It’s taken around three years but to celebrate finally “going mirrorless” I’m republishing the original article and images which were all shot as JPEGs.  I am planning on producing an updated review over the next month or so but in the meantime come back five months with me and sense the excitement of being an early adopter.

“Fujifilm’s latest X-series camera was released a few weeks ago to much fanfare and insofar as I can see much critical acclaim.  And for once in my life I find myself in the vanguard, an early adopter of Fujifilm’s latest electronic marvel even before Adobe have caught up.

Do I like it? Well, I sold the Fuji X-T20 within 48 hours of taking delivery of the X-T3 so confident was I after just one play that the older model wouldn’t get a look in unless I left the X-T3 at home; and why would I do that?

As always I will leave the technical stuff and a discussion of the cameras’s specifications to others. I’m an enthusiast photographer rather than a working pro and what matters most to me is that very nebulous quality of the user experience. 

User experience: easy to type but very hard to define largely because it will vary considerably from one person to another. 

A camera needs to feel “right” in my hand. I can’t write the exact feeling down but know it when I experience it.  The X-T3 is a little bigger than my now-departed X-T20 (a camera I really enjoyed using) although it is a form factor I’m familiar with as I already own the X-T1 which is my infrared/full-spectrum camera these days. With one of my primes attached or the 18-55 “kit” lens the X-T1 feels great in the hand. Not perfect but still very, very good. I knew therefore before I placed the order for the X-T3 that I’d be purchasing the battery grip especially if I intended expanding my focal length opportunities by buying a telephoto lens at some point in the future (spoiler alert: that future is now the past).

All images: © Dave Whenham

The X-T3 body with my 35mm f1.4 prime does indeed feel great in the hand and I’ve been using this combination a lot recently. The 18-55 likewise balances well as do the two Samyang primes in my bag (12mm and the fisheye) although the Fuji 55-200 does feel a little front heavy although this was not unexpected. The battery grip though transforms the handling from good to great. It’s good also to have the choice of travelling very light with just body and a 23mm prime for example or putting on the grip for better handling with the bigger lenses and of course three times as much battery power. As an aside, I got 1,216 images (2,432 files as I shoot RAW+JPEG) from one charge using three batteries and the grip which is pretty much what is claimed by Fuji (1,170 from memory is the claim).

The auto-focus is not strictly something many would class as handling but it does contribute to the overall user experience as slow or poor AF can be very frustrating at best. On the X-T1  focusing with the Fujifilm 35mm f1.4 R can be slow and the lens often hunts especially in more challenging conditions. But keep in mind this lens is a venerable OAP in lens-terms having been first released for sale on January 9th 2012. I was therefore amazed and very surprised at the very nifty focusing achieved with the X-T3. It will never compete with more modern lenses in the speed stakes due to its older design and engineering but comparing it on the X-T3 versus the X-T1 does reveal a very welcome improvement in user experience.  Of course, this is my subjective view and I’ve not carried out any laboratory testing but at the end of the day it’s how the gear behaves in real life and not in a laboratory that really matter – at least to some of us!

What I’ve not yet had the opportunity to do is a “proper” day out complete with a tripod, numerous lens changes and the deployment of filters but that should be possible next week fingers crossed.

So, all first signs are positive. I never expected to be an early adopter but having got caught up in the excitement as a fellow photographer anticipated the release of the “T3” I found myself swept along and with an order in the basket just the day before the official UK launch. I never expected to get it within 48 hours either.  With the 18-55 attached I set off for a few days in Northumberland to celebrate my birthday not really expecting much in the way of photography but nevertheless knowing that I had a pretty capable camera should opportunities arise.

Oh, and that telephoto lens? Our journey from Elland to Northumberland took us pass the Metro Centre in Gateshead and of course the Boss decided that would be an ideal opportunity for a coffee and a break from driving (not that she drives!).  Long story short – Jessops – a few secondhand lenses – Fuji 50-140 f2.8.  I tried it on an X-T2 body (the shop hadn’t any X-T3 bodies) and knew that I was about to take another irrevocable step into the Fuji-X system. I barely took the lens off the X-T3 for the following three days.”

So, that was then. What do I think now? Well, the sale of my Nikon DSLR gives a clue … as does the fact that I’ve switched systems fully. That post is underway but it will be a month or two before it’s finished as I suspect there will be a further purchase in the next week or so.

365/500 #2

I wrote in my last post about why I have committed to a picture-a-day and how I’ve recently passed the 500th consecutive day.  

I’ve just shot today’s “insurance” image; an image taken early in the day just in case I don’t get out later for a proper walk or shoot.  In the 500+ days since I started the picture-a-day I’ve only used my insurance shot twice but I still take one most days just to be safe.  I have a list of potential images in my head centred around the Dean Clough area of Halifax. Many of my daily images have come from this historical and immensely interesting site and in addition I am there most mornings when taking the wife to work.  It is therefore also a great option for the insurance shot. Other options that I have in the back of my head are possibilities close to my home in Elland and within easy walking distance regardless of the weather.

I guess this concept of an insurance shot is one of the most important things I’ve learnt in the context of how I need to approach a 365.  Another is not to stress out about it, the images will flow if your mind is receptive, and it cannot be creatively receptive if you are stressing about the next shot.  It is a Challenge but it is not a matter of life or death after all!

For me the most important question is whether or not I’m happy with the image I post each day. For the most part I’ve been very happy. There are a couple that with the benefit of hindsight I’m not overly keen on but nevertheless there are none that I regret posting.  Indeed, the Challenge has meant that I’ve got a lot of images this year that I simply would not have made without the daily challenge.  There are numerous days when I would probably have stayed at home and not ventured out were it not for the Challenge.

365-2018-035

I spent the last few years of my working life living, breathing and even dreaming (yes, really) spreadsheets. You’d have thought I’d have had enough of them but somehow the picture-a-day project drew me back into the murky world of spreadsheets and data analysis. Thankfully not in too much depth but enough to be able to tell you that of my first 500 images just under 30% were mono/black & white which was really unexpected. Prior to starting the “365” Project only around 10% of my posted work was in colour so for my pictures-of-the-day to account for 70% was very counter intuitive. Having a regular audience (the members of the 365 Group I joined) must have subconsciously steered me towards colour. So far in 2019 around 40% has been black and white and it seems I am subconsciously trying to redress the balance as it were.

Genre/SubjectImages CountPercentage
Urban26853%
Natural History7114%
Landscape/Rural7515%
Seascape112%
People/Portraits306%
Others194%
Abstract143%
Macro/Still Life173%

The shift towards urban photography was to be expected; I cannot escape to the mountains every day after all. One unexpected piece of intelligence I gleaned however was how little I was using my full-frame Nikon D800E and it’s partner the D7100. Delving into Lightroom recently I found I had not used either Nikon for getting on six months and so the decision to fully embrace the Fuji system and sell the last of my Nikon kit was made.

CameraImage CountNotes
Other Fuji camera124Fuji X-Pro1, X-T20, X-E1 and X-T1
Fuji X100t114
Nikon DSLR100D800E and D7100 - none in 2019
Fuji X-T390purchased September 2018
Mavic Pro Drone39
Smartphone35iPhone 7 and Huawei P20 Pro
INSTA3605
365-2018-017

So,  after 500 days into the Challenge I feel I’m reaping the benefits I’d hoped for and taking images is now just part of what I do every day. Whilst I do not have the luxury of a full days shooting every day I am spending time every day with a camera.

One of the benefits I hadn’t anticipated was that I am now “photo-ready” at all times. In the past if there’s been a couple of weeks between shoots I’ve taken time to get my eye in and settle in to the rhythm as it were. Now my eye is ever-ready it seems and I am better equipped to take advantage of even the smallest opportunities for image making.

A “365” won’t be for everyone but I’m intrigued to see how far I can go with it!

365/500 #1

Back in October 2017 I embarked upon a challenge to take a picture a day every day. Said pictures to be shared to a dedicated Flickr group as soon as practical, ideally on the same day but no pressure if not. I  initially set out to create a daily image for the 63 days that remained in 2017 in the hope that it would give me the experience needed to attempt my first full 365 in 2018.  Back in February 2015 I’d attempted a picture a day for 28 days and whilst I made the 28 images it was not a success, I even resorted to photographing the contents of the car boot at eleven pm one evening with my phone as we checked into a hotel. However, I recently passed the 500 image mark, that is over 500 consecutive daily images! I’ve been reflecting on the experience and am going to share these reflections over a couple of posts; this one and another in a day or two.

The image that started it all back in October 2017

Why did I do it? I certainly asked this question on more than one occasion over the last 500 days! It’s definitely been a challenge, both creatively and logistically but there is no doubt it quickly became a habit, just part of my normal, daily routine. There is also a huge amount of personal satisfaction as each milestone ticks up. A week, one month, 50 days, 100 days, six months, one year … each milestone provided a further goal to aim for, to aspire to. It’s a useful motivational boost as each milestone is passed.

I use a spreadsheet (more on this in part two) to catalogue each image noting how many are posted on the day and other factual data. I also make a point of writing a short (well, usually it is short) caption for each image. I belong to a dedicated 365 group on Flickr, we limit ourselves to around 50 members at any one time, and by being part of the group I get a sense of community, support and of course some welcome encouragement and feedback. Feedback can be motivational or constructive and is often both. A simple “like” can lift the spirits and I just wish I was able to comment on more images from my fellow members every day.

Image 58 from the 63-2017 project

On a practical level I quickly learned to carry a camera at all times. My smartphone made a good substitute early on but I soon got into the habit of dropping one of my smaller cameras in my bag or pocket whenever I went out. The Fuji X100t has been the workhorse for this project and in fact is now stored in my bag permanently. I have however used every digital camera I own, or have owned, during the past 500 days a fact I have also tabulated in part two.

One of the infamous medication at Christmas images – see below

I vowed at the start that pictures of my breakfast or arty shots of my Americano in Costa Coffee would be taboo. Whilst some of the everyday shots of life in Elland are bordering on the banal, they are to me slices of social history (I don’t mean to sound pretentious) whilst pictures of my coffee would by my reckoning be simply lazy although I totally get that for some people it’s an important part of the documentary process. It depends on your personal objectives I guess. The most difficult couple of days came over the Winter of 2017/2018, less than five weeks into the challenge. I contracted pneumonia and spent the next three months on steroids, antibiotics and under virtual house arrest to avoid hospitalisation. I kept the 365 alive with macro images shot in the back or front yard or still life set ups in the spare bedroom. Numerous images taken from the bedroom window tested my creativity. There were two consecutive days when I physically couldn’t manage even these simple activities though but on both days I made it downstairs long enough to snap pictures of my medication hanging on the Christmas tree – surely the most banal images I’ve snapped during the challenge but still they tell a story (see above for an example). Many images during this period were shot on a full frame Nikon D800E digital camera which, as is revealed in the next instalment, [spoiler alert] has largely been replaced in my day to day photography by Fuji X-series cameras.

Whereas in the past photography was a specific activity that I planned in advance I now find that photography is just something that I include in my daily routine. I often take my wife to work at 7am and rather than turning around and coming straight home I have taken to spending ten or fifteen minutes taking photographs before going home. I don’t miss the fifteen minutes in the context of my daily chores and I exercise my photographic muscles in the process. Some days I drive in, noting the light and by the time I drop the wife off I know exactly what I am going to photograph and from which vantage point. I created a very pleasing series of blue-hour images in this way none of which would have been taken in the past when photography was a specific something that I did. I now photograph as part of my routine daily functions such as breathing, eating and sneezing.

On days when I have chores at home I regularly take a short walk early afternoon, partly to stretch my legs and get some fresh air but mainly to give me the opportunity to look for images. I always carry a camera and whilst I may not come back with that day’s image every time it has proven a very fruitful activity and greatly increased my knowledge of my local patch and it’s possibilities.

Bokelicious: image 365-2019-083

So much of what is needed for a successful 365 seems to come down to your state of mind I feel and how you approach or think about things:

  • I carry a camera all the time – even when walking down to the newsagents for the daily papers;
  • I look AND see, noting what might make a good image and under what circumstances – greedily storing away opportunities for the future;
  • I do not rely on photography “trips” – every time I leave the house is a photographic opportunity – it’s a state of mind;
  • I make opportunities out of my daily routines;
  • I no longer worry about what other people might think of my images – I photograph anything that takes my eye, that moves or amuses me – if others like it then that is a bonus;
  • Train yourself to look beyond the obvious – floral portraits have been a staple of my back yard photography in the past but there are also shapes, shadows and the play of light on the steps if I look AND see;
  • Don’t Panic! If you are really concerned about capturing that day’s image then try to take an “insurance shot” before breakfast – it’s amazing how that frees you from worrying and sometimes it turns out to be better than you’d anticipated;
  • Embrace the location, the weather, the light – cameras also work in the rain and the dark – in fact dark, rainy nights in town can make some great images – just get out there;
  • Sounds counter-intuitive but stop thinking about the daily image – free your mind from the worry and your creativity can come to the surface – sounds a bit “New Age” thinking but it does work – trust me.
  • And before anyone thinks I’m implying this is easy – I am not. It can still be hard work but by approaching it with the correct mind set and incorporating it into part of your daily routine, rather than a standalone activity, it is possible to ease the burden and more importantly really enjoy the process whilst expanding your skills and competency at the same time. 

    Win-win.

    Oldie360

    My side project blog, Oldie360, has been closed as I start to simplify my online presence. As an enthusiast photographer I really didn’t need the additional complexities of managing more than one “brand” on social media. I am keeping the Oldie360 Instagram feed in order to separate the 360 images from my usual stuff but any blog posts will in future appear here.

    I have salvaged a couple of blog posts from the Olde360 site and posted them here after suitable tweaking but whilst the username lives on the blog is no more!

    What the FFormat?

    Something has been “bugging” me recently.

    “35mm Full frame equivalent”

    If you are into photography you know what I mean. If you’re not then you won’t care I guess.

    Fuji XE1 7Artisans 55mm f1.4 lens (82.5mm FFE)

    Why do camera magazines in particular and also many enthusiasts feel the need to convert the focal length of lenses used with their (non full-frame) cameras when captioning their images? For anyone who has never used a full-frame camera it is probably meaningless or at least not something they can visualise easily. I suspect that many readers really don’t give a FF and that those to whom it matters will be knowledgeable enough to work it out for themselves.

    I came to digital photography from film SLR cameras so it could be argued that I come with baggage as it were. Turns out that those film cameras I used for 30+ years were full frame all along. Who knew? Based on this arbitrary standard therefore my newly acquired Canon 400D had what was called a “crop sensor”. Clearly I had a lot to learn as I transitioned from analog to digital.

    I took up digital photography around 2002/2003 and certainly do not remember converting to “FFE”, it just wasn’t a thing back then – and I really don’t think I was worse off for it not being a thing either. But now it seems to matter. Why?

    So here’s my point. I suspect that many people coming to photography these days have never shot with film and more likely than not started their photographic endeavours with what are now known as crop-sensor digital cameras. For them there is no FF baggage, no FF background as it were. If they are in the majority (and I have done zero research on this) then wouldn’t it be more logical to caption images captured on a FF camera with the APS-C equivalent? And if so which standard – 1.5x, 1.6x, 2x? Or should we just let those who are interested work it out for themselves? It’s hardly Olympic standard mental arithmetic after all.

    I guess if you are paid by the word though you might consider the extra wordage necessary?


    47 Comments

    I have repurposed here a post from a previous blog in order to preserve it as I am closing the blog it is from this week.

    I saw an innocent-sounding question online recently:

    “Can anyone throw light on the best 360 camera … high resolution and clarity … easy on editing?”

    When I came across it there were 47 comments (hence my title) but it was increasing even as I read some of the replies. My favourite was:

    “This question gets asked once a month. Just start reading backwards.”

    Which kind-of highlights the problem with new(ish) technology. In its early days it is progressing at such a phenomenal rate that each new device is virtually obsolete before it comes to market. It becomes virtually impossible to keep up to date with the new information and specs let alone actually having the most up to date technology in your bag. In the very few weeks that I’ve owned my INSTA360 One the price has dropped by almost 20% and a newer model has been released.

    (C) Dave Whenham

    So, what to do? Jump straight on the upgrade treadmill or stick with what I have despite knowing that it is no longer the best I could afford?

    Well, that’s a simple one in reality. There is absolutely no point in upgrading for at least two generations in my view as the technology is changing so rapidly it does not make sense to constantly upgrade. It’s different in a mature market but generally available 360 photography is still a nascent technology with all the volatility that brings.

    It’s not just technology that’s evolving though. My understanding of the camera’s capabilities is also improving each time I use it. The more I play the more I can see opportunities for exploiting the technology. Hence sticking the camera up amongst the branches of a small tree in a car park! Also, the more I look at other peoples work the more I realise that there is lots yet to learn.

    (c) Dave Whenham

    So, it makes sense to me to work with what I’ve got until such time as I am genuinely held back from achieving what I visualise by the limitations of the technology. Sometimes it makes sense to push to the back of your mind how the technology is evolving and concentrate on making images!

    The 9-day veteran!

    I have repurposed here a post from a previous blog in order to preserve it as I am closing the blog it is from this week.

    Originally written on 6th October 2018 when I was indeed a 9-day veteran of this little camera. For the record I’m still using it regularly six months on.

    Being a veteran of 360 camera ownership (OK, it’s been nine days) I thought I’d share my initial thoughts starting with the purchasing decision itself. As this blog is something for me to look back upon when my fast-ageing body gives up the ghost so if it feels a little self indulgent then you know why.

    © Dave WhenhamSo, my weapon of choice for this latest venture was the INSTA360 One. It wasn’t cheap (£275 at the time I purchased it) but then again it wasn’t the most expensive on the consumer market. There’s a lot of choice, ranging in cost terms from £50 to £600 at the time of writing but it has to be said the quality does vary considerably as I discovered from reading and watching the numerous online reviews.

    I chose the INSTA360 because it seemed to offer a decent all round package for a beginner with some ability for manual setting if required. I watched/read a lot but my takeaway from all that research can be distilled into a few words – good but not spectacular in all areas and easy to operate for the raw beginner with a little scope for manual operation as their skills develop. There, that little gem has saved you hours of research!

    To be honest, I was a little concerned at the “good” label for image quality, video quality, stabilisation and all round usability. In my regular stills work I use a high end Nikon DSLR and also the Fuji X-T3 which I think is going to become one of the all-time best crop sensor cameras. So while settle for good when other 360 cameras were offering far better performance? The answer is probably two-fold.

    • Cost. I was loathe to commit £500-600 on something I had no previous knowledge or experience of. Equally I didn’t want to buy a very cheap one and be frustrated within hours of powering it up. £275 (its come down to £250 since I bought it) is still a decent sum of money but is easier to justify to the Boss than £600!
    • Image Quality. I was finding through my research that some cameras excelled at one element of 360 photography whilst underwhelming in others. This was particularly true of those in my price bracket it seemed to me, even allowing for some glaring disparities in different reviewers opinions. As I was, and still am, unsure which discipline would become most important, I opted for a good all-rounder and the fact that many reviewers commented on its suitability for a beginner tipped the balance.

    It’s too early for me to write with any modicum of authority on handling or image quality. I’m still learning in terms of the physical operation of the camera and these considerations will of course impact on ultimate image quality.

    © Dave Whenham

    What I can say though is that it was a breeze to set-up and I was able to start taking photos immediately. There was even an SD card inserted and a decent battery charge when I took it out of the box. I have shot with the camera held in my hand, on a selfie stick, sat in its little stand on the car roof and also with it attached to my iPhone. All work and I particularly liked having the screen to view “live” when attaching it to my phone. I also used the phone to trigger the camera via bluetooth but this proved problematic for a fumble fingers like me with the iPhone behind my back. Plus the range seems very limited and it seems to need a clear view of sight making hiding the phone a challenge especially as you are shooting blind!

    So, for what they are worth these are my initial thoughts.

    More to follow!