About this Blog

Photo Writing is the web version of the Photo Writing mini-magazine produced by Limephoto and Emil von Maltitz since 2010. As of 2015 it is now completely online. Feel free to browse through the articles and please leave comments in the comments section if you would like to engage with us.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Becoming a Better Photographer Through (Deliberate) Practice

The old adage ‘practice makes perfect’ is usually seen as a truism. The more you practice the better you will get at something. Except it doesn’t take into account that the word ‘better’ is the wrong qualifier in that statement. ‘Better’ assumes that there will be an improvement in what we do. It assumes that if I take a 1000 photographs I will be a better photographer than when I took the first photograph (make it 10 000 photographs since digital doesn’t cost us financially in the same way that film did). The oft-said truism has bothered me for quite a while as I often explain to photographers that one has to spend a considerable amount of time learning and practicing the art of photography. If we go by the 10 000 hour principle as espoused by Malcolm Gladwell’s book, ‘Outliers’ (based on research by Eric Anders), then we need to put 10 000 hours into any venture or skill that we want to master. Except this doesn’t work for photography anymore. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

How To Photograph Into The Sun

An image almost a decade ago using a a polariser and two graduated filters (and held-held) shooting into the sun.

As landscape photographers the inclination to shoot into the sun is overwhelmingly powerful. Funnily enough I haven't heard the term we used to use and which was the topic of many articles when we shot predominantly on film; the term being contre-jour (shooting into the sun). This despite the fact that often the best light is in the opposite direction, or that shooting into the sun almost always leads to a nightmare exposure with an exposure value range from pure black through to burned out highlights. Still, we feel compelled to turn our lenses directly towards our galaxy’s star and photograph it as it moves from dawn to dusk through the sky. How do we get to the point where our images are actually artful as opposed to a mess of inky blacks surrounded by flare and ghosting artifacts?

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Thoughts on the Nikon Z50

Last week while I was battling my way up a pass in the Drakensberg Nikon dropped the Z50 onto the world. As usual the commentary is fairly hyperbolic and boiling in indignant negativity towards the announcement. Which is weird as the camera looks fairly compelling to me.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Confusing Circles and Airy Disks: A relatively simple explanation of depth of field and hyperfocal focusing

After much searching of the internet and reading of photographic textbooks (the dense kind that have little if any pictures) I discovered I’m absolutely clueless as to how to actually calculate hyperfocal distance and little better at understanding it. My goal then became to reverse this if at all possible. This tutorial then is my attempt to wade through what I saw as rather complex math and distil it into something that makes sense to other mathematical luddites like me. I’ll start the article with the simple stuff, and move on to the more complicated matters after. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

An Obsession With Decay

Photographers have a strange affinity with ruins. Some of the earliest daguerreotypes are of some of what we consider famous ruins now - the likes of the Parthenon - or of decrepit farm houses. Early photographs were used as a historical status quo image, creating a record of historical architecture, as was the case with the 1851 ‘Heliographic Mission’. This was an official mission to record historical buildings, many of which were in a state of ruin and which were earmarked for restoration or were in the actual process of restoration. Prominent photographers of the day, Hippolyte Bayard, Gustave le Gray, Edourad Baldus and Mestral were involved in this technical exercise. At this point the definition of “photography as art” was still in its nascent stages. This would form more thoroughly as the Calotype became more prominent in use.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Subject and Story in Landscape Photography

One of the most popular genres of photography has been, since the very emergence of photography, landscape photography. As a record of places visited to the creation of prints intended to be hung on walls as art, landscape photography consumes the attention of not only enthusiast photographers, but also of the general picture viewing consumers. Landscape images greet us the moment we boot up our computers and often grace the screens of the devices that we choose to carry in our briefcases and pockets. The array of bright colours and startling compositions has meant that for much of the landscape imagery that is produced there is a certain sense of, ‘meh’ that has now become the standard response to what was once considered incredible imagery. Why is that?

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Is the Upgrade to Nik Efex II worthwhile?

The Nik collection has a fairly storied history to date. It began when Nikon decided to let go the Nik team and their proprietary software based on what they called ‘u-points’. The u-point technology underpinned Nikon’s RAW developer, Capture NX2. This was a fantastic - albeit slow - RAW developer that could arguably get the best results of any programme from Nikon RAW files. As an independent software developer Nik brought out the Nik collection, also based on their u-point technology. The full collection cost a whopping US$500, but you could also buy each of the independent apps for about $99 (if memory serves me correctly). In particular, their Color Efex, Silver Efex, HDR Efex and Viveza were quickly recognised as some of the best plugin apps in the industry. Then in 2012 Google bought Nik and effectively killed off Capture NX2 as Nikon lost their stake in Nik. Google also drove the price for the full collection down to $150, then to $99, and finally offered it for free!

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Nisi Holders - is an upgrade worth it?

Shape and size of the V6 (blue) compared to the V5-Pro (red) mounted to a Zeiss 18mm on a Nikon D800e

Earlier this year Nisi brought out their latest 100mm square filter holder, the V6. For those who aren’t aware of Nisi, they broke onto the scene a few years ago and completely disrupted the photographic filter market that has for long been dominated by Lee Filters (at least in South Africa, but certainly also in Australia). The original V5-Pro filter holder was fairly unique in that it allowed the use of a special polariser filter that could be screwed into the actual holder adapter, rather than in the front of the holder like the enormous and costly Lee 105mm polariser (see this article on the holder systems compared to each other).

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

GAS - A Counter Point

It has become popular to ridicule the much copied act of Gear Acquisition Syndrome, or GAS for short. For those who aren’t familiar with the acronym GAS, it refers to the build up of equipment in the never-ending  pursuit for some kind of silver bullet for our photography (where that silver bullet is a piece of equipment). The first part of GAS is the reasoning that every flaw in a photograph is surmised to be a result of the equipment, not the photographer. If the image is out of focus, get a new lens. If the image is blurred, get a new camera, etcetera. The second part of GAS is the insatiable desire to play with new toys and the justification created to buy them. So the thinking goes, “I am starting out in wildlife photography…wildlife requires big lenses…I’ll buy a big lens….oh dear, I’m not getting close enough [to the subject]…I’ll buy another bigger lens”, and so it goes. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Nisi Long Exposure Set

There is something quite depressing about the sound that optical glass makes when it breaks. The initial crack, and following tinkle, that you know is the sound of something expensive going ‘bye-bye’. As it was when my trusty Lee ‘Little Stopper’ shattered, while in the pouch might I add (although the pouch isn’t designed to be dropped - albeit accidentally - in quite that way). I personally think that the 6 stop neutral density filter, aka the ‘Little Stopper’ is actually more useful than the better known 10 stop ND filter, the ‘Big Stopper’ and use it frequently enough that I would have to find a replacement. So, I cast about thinking how to replace the smashed filter.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Living (and traveling) with an F-Stop

There is no such thing as the perfect camera bag. Photographers have driven themselves broke in the attempt to find one. Unfortunately, the reality is that the active photographer needs a specific bag for a specific purpose. Bad news for photographers, excellent news for bag manufacturers as they have a captive and desperately seeking market. Over the course of my interest in photography I have had the opportunity to own several types of bags from various manufacturers. On starting out in the mid nineties I, like many other South Africans, had limited choice that was essentially constrained to Tamrac, Tenba and Lowe-Pro. As we entered the noughties finally brands like Domke, Billingham, and ThinkTank became more readily available.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

The sure fire best way to speed up the editing workflow is to know the most important shortcuts for the given editing app. The Nature's Light team have put together a downloadable cheatsheet. Head over to the Nature's Light website and choose from the Mac OS or Windows PC pdfs that are available.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

It’s an Egg?!?! - the Loss of Thinking

So the world’s most liked image is of an egg. Just. An. Egg. Of course the story behind the egg has more to do with the dynamics of social media and Instagram in particular. The point though is that the image, a simple studio lit shot of a brown chicken egg against a white background (with shadow) managed to get more than 18 million people to hit the so-called ‘like’ button (over 50 million likes as of the writing of this article). The image itself was bought off Alamy (a royalty free stock site) and was created by photographer Sergey Platonov. The post was created in order to set a world record, and thereby beat the previous record held by celebrity Kylie Jenner’s image of her new-born daughter. But it’s just an egg. How on earth can a photo of an egg raise so much attention?

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Even I’ll Go Mirrorless Eventually

Considering several articles I have written in the last few months, one would be forgiven for thinking that I dislike the concept of the mirrorless camera (see this and this). Not so! In fact, I even own a Fujifilm XT-1 and have dabbled with and continue to occasionally shoot with a now rather banged up Sony NEX-5n. There are valid reasons why the current crop of mirrorless lens don’t actually replace the DSLRs used by so many professional photographers the world over. These photographers will eventually be forced to shift over to mirrorless, but the transition is not going to be as fast as one would think. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

It Is The Result That Counts

2018 is likely going to be remembered amongst the technical minded photographers as the year in which the machines we use to create images made a significant jump away from the traditional single reflex camera design to the burgeoning digital mirrorless design. We’ll probably be watching retrospective YouTube videos ten years from now heralding the arrival of mainstream full-frame digital cameras in 2018. In reality they aren’t actually that new though. Sony has been producing the extremely successful line of full-frame E-mount cameras since 2014. It’s just that they have suddenly been joined by not only Nikon and Canon, but also Panasonic. Almost arbitrarily the photographic world seems to have decided that the 24x36mm format sensor is where the future of ‘serious’ digital imaging lies. It seems that the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same.