Category Archives: General

Look for the small picture in the big picture

Given the opportunity to spend some leisure time taking photos, I’m not sure many people would list their back garden as their number one destination, but I can always find something to shoot in a garden. Two weeks ago it was bees, today it was spiders and brightly coloured leaves!

As I was looking around for something emotive to shoot in Mark & Audrey’s garden in Wimbledon, I combined Halid’s words of wisdom with those of James Christie*, another pro photographer whom I met in Edinburgh, which were:

Look for the small picture in the big picture

There are photographic opportunities all around us if we look for them.

He taught us not only to look, but to see.  When walking around don’t just look ahead at where you’re going, look up, look down, look around.  Look for the small details.  Even if you walk the same route every day, keep your eyes open and you will see new things every day.

And he’s right.  Here’s the garden that I spent the best part of an hour and a half wandering around in this morning:

Mark & Audrey's urban jungle
Mark & Audrey’s urban jungle

When I took the time to stop and look closely in the garden I saw raspberries ripening, I saw sunlight shining through the leaves of an acer tree, I saw a bush budding with new growth, I saw a dog rose pointing up to the sky, I saw a lone rose that had climbed up in the middle of the acer tree, I saw the tendrils of a vine reaching out across the void, and I saw spiders – lots and lots of spiders. So much in such a small space!

IMG_4628 Spider at rest scaled
I wonder what’s on the menu today?

But the best bit was seeing a spider eating her lunch – having caught a small fly in her web, she wrapped it in silk and spun it into a ball, carried it back to the centre of the web, ate the silk off it and then proceeded to dine at her leisure.

Mmm, yummy fly
Mmm, yummy fly

Fascinating to watch, I felt quite privileged. It’s something I’m sure that goes on every day, in every back garden.  But how many people have actually seen it unfold?

So my advice to you today is: Take the time to look at what’s around you – you don’t need to go somewhere spectacular to see something spectacular.

See the rest of the photos from today’s garden shoot in the Photo Gallery here.


* James Christie: Edinburgh Walking Photography Tours

What is the one thing that makes a good photo?

As I pottered around Mark & Audrey’s garden with my camera looking for inspiration today, I remembered something that pro photographer Halid Izzet* said to Adam & I last weekend, when we visited his photo gallery for a free taster lesson. Halid asked us “What is the one thing that makes a good photo?”

While there are many elements that go into making a photo – such as aperture, shutter speed, the subject, the composition, depth of field, the mounting & framing of the picture and so on (and they are all important contributing factors) – the one thing that makes a photo ‘good’, according to Halid, “is when it prompts a feeling, a reaction, or triggers an emotion in the person looking at it.”

Emotion is key.

“It doesn’t matter what the emotion is” he said, “or whether it’s a positive one or a negative one. A good photo makes you feel something.”

So that is what I set out to search for today.


* Halid Izzet is the founder of Rhubarb & Custard, a Photography Studio & Gallery in Eton, Berkshire

Why photography is like IT

Up until recently, if someone asked me “What do you do for a living?” the answer would be “I work in IT.”

If that wasn’t a conversation stopper in itself (greeted with “Uhuh…” followed by a blank stare and a swift change of subject), then often the responses to this general job description would be along the lines of “Ah, computers… I don’t get computers, blasted things, I don’t know how to use them” or “I have a problem with my PC/internet at home, can you fix it?” or “My husband/brother/son works in IT too, he does something with websites/he’s a software engineer/I think he builds networks… is that anything like what you do?” Umm… no, not exactly.

Those of you who also work ‘in IT’ know that this generic term covers a multitude of sins… from programming the chips in mobile phones, to configuring WiFi services in marinas, pubs & hotels, to writing iPhone apps, to managing all the PCs, printers, webcams, iPads, electronic whiteboards and other technology in a secondary school while making sure the kids can’t look at websites they shouldn’t… Yes, I know people who have done all of these jobs and they would broadly describe themselves as working ‘in IT’. What do they all have in common? That their job revolves around operating or managing computers.

It then occurred to me, as I am delving deeper and deeper into the world of photography (and even considering switching careers to it) that photography and IT have quite a lot in common. How so?

Well, aside from the fact that digital photography is in fact it’s own IT discipline (someone has to write the software in cameras that controls the sensor and helps choose the ‘optimum’ combination of aperture, shutter speed, ISO, white balance and point of focus, not to mention the programming that goes into writing software like Photoshop), it is also a generic term which encompasses a broad range of skill sets. And what do those skill sets have in common – they are all based around operating a camera.

As Grumpy George explained to me (Grumpy George is a landscape photographer based on the Isle of Skye in Scotland who I had the pleasure of meeting earlier this year):

“Think of photography as like having a trade. You may call yourself a tradesman, but that could mean you’re a plumber, electrician, plasterer etc., each of which is it’s own discipline with it’s own unique skill set. Photography is the same: for landscape photography you need different skills to those you need for other types of photography, such as portraits, weddings, sports, events, fashion, wildlife… And therefore your  training depends on the type of photography you want to do.”

Well, that’s the same as IT – skills for designing, building & configuring hardware such as telephones, printers or shop tills are different to designing, coding & testing the software that operates on those devices.

Which is perhaps why I feel rather lost right now. I want to develop my photography skills to the extent that I can make a living out of my photographs, but I am quickly becoming overwhelmed by the different advice and rules regarding ‘correct’ exposure, ‘good’ composition, what should be captured ‘in camera’ and how digital images should be processed.  Do I perhaps need to first decide which discipline I want to specialise in, and then focus on learning the skills needed for that particular style of photography?

The magnifying effect: full-frame vs two-thirds sensors

I knew that the “two-thirds” sensor, common in compact SLRs, has a magnifying impact on an image compared to the “full frame” sensor found in the mid-size and pro SLRs, but I’d never seen the effect of this 1.6x magnification with my own eyes until today.

This post compares photos taken on Dave’s Canon 5D with a EF 17-40mmm lens vs my Canon 650D with EF-S 18-200mm lens.

Test 1 – Wide angle

The “two-thirds” (22.3mm) APS-C sensor in my 650D has the effect of magnifying an image by 1.6x compared to the “full frame” (36mm) sensor of the 5D, meaning that at the same focal length my camera can’t fit as much into the image as it’s big brother. Both these shots were taken at each lens’s widest angle (17mm vs 18mm respectively).

Notice, for example, how the bench and flower pots in the foreground are complete in the first image, but cropped in the second one:

Anyas Garden (5D)
Canon 5D with 17-40mm lens at 17mm focal length

Anya's Garden (650D)
Canon 650D with 18-200mm lens at 18mm focal length

Test 2 – 40mm focal length

The next test shows a flower taken at 40mm focal length on both cameras.  You can see the magnification effect again on the 650D as less of the house in the background is visible compared to the 5D.

Bee on echinacea (5D)
Canon 5D at 40mm focal length (f11, 1/1000th, ISO-1000)

Bee on echinacea (650D)
Canon 650D at 40mm focal length (f14, 1/40th, ISO-400, -0.3 step)
I guess I’ll no longer brag about how my 18-200mm lens is a ‘wide angle’ lens any more then!

Time to upgrade?

I’ve been using my current camera and lens combination, a Canon 650D and a single all-in-one Canon EF-S 18-200mm zoom lens, for the past 3 years*. But is it time for a change?

I’ve been relatively happy with my single body & lens combination which, for an SLR, is compact, versatile and easy to transport around:

My Canon 650D plus  EF-S 18-200mm lens plus filters, sunshade, lens-pen and IR remote
My Canon 650D plus EF-S 18-200mm lens plus filters, sunshade, lens-pen and IR remote
Kit bag
All my kit handily fits into an old camcorder bag 🙂

However, I have been getting increasingly frustrated as I see other people’s shots (particularly macro, wildlife and sports photographs) which are pin-sharp and I can’t seem to get the same quality.  Working on the assumption it’s my kit that’s not up to par, rather than my photography skills (a big assumption, I know!), I have borrowed my friend Dave’s kit to experiment with a full-frame sensor and L lenses to see what difference it makes to my photographs.

Here’s the bag of tricks Dave has very kindly lent me:

Dave's Camera Kit
Dave’s Canon 5D (Mark I) plus EF 17-40mm, EF 70-200mm, 50mm f1.8, 1.4x extender and variable ND filter
Dave's Kit Bag
A sturdy shoulder bag to carry this bundle of goodies around

Look out for my next posts which will compare photos taken with both cameras… and let me know what you think!

* Prior to this I had a Canon 300D (early predecessor to the 650D) together with a 28-80mm lens plus an 80-200mm lens.  Depending on the shot I was taking I had to keep switching between the wide angle and the zoom lens (invariably the wrong one was on the body at wrong time!).

Welcome to my new website/blog/photoblog/blogsite…

Caroline Portrait ovalHello! So this is a foray into the unknown for me, and I’m interested to see where it leads…  I’ve created this site as a bit of an experiment in creating an online portfolio of my favourite photos and a blog charting my journey from a ‘career cage’ chicken in IT to creating my own made-to-measure career.

This is inspired by my work on Marianne Cantwell’s Free Range Human course, which I’ve been following since I got made redundant in May and which is helping me figure out what I want to do next.   As you might read on my About Me page, I am going through a bit of a “Thrisis” at the moment and ditching the corporate world of suits and consultancy and 12 hour days in favour of a lifestyle hopefully much richer in the things I value: family, friends, support, love, laughter, fresh air and chocolate (hahaha, I had to throw that one in there – anyone who knows me will be smiling right now!).  And I think I’m going to choose photography as my ‘base’.

So I hope you enjoy the photos I’ll be posting on here  and please let me know which ones you like! It’ll help me figure out what sort of photography I may choose to pursue as part of my new Free Range career.