Thursday, December 31, 2009


Sometimes moments don't look like moments; They are just too good. The pose and the lighting are just too right.

I ordered the little girl holding my granddaughter, "Don't touch your hair." She was about to brush the strand from in front of her eye. I snapped the picture.

The edges have been darkened but that is about all. Even the crop is just as it came from my little camera, an old Canon SD10 Digital Elph. Burning edges was cool in the '60s and I still live in the '60s.

If you can work with clean, soft window light - the glass cannot be tinted - go for it. Stay away from the straight-on, built-in, on-camera flash, if you can. For the most part, that in-your-face harsh light causes red eye and kills the look that attracted you in the first place.

If you must use flash, and your camera will allow this, bounce the flash off a white ceiling or other suitable white surface. Doing this prevents red eye and gives a more natural looking light.

This picture is shown almost exactly as it came from the camera, except for the burning down of the edges. This burning style was cool in the '60s. It is very dated today. I still live in the '60s and so I get away with it. I don't encourage others to live in the past.

Here's wishing you a very Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Patterns make pictures

Our world is often composed of patterns. Think of the honeycomb created by bees or the simple patterns made with paving stones used around our homes. I love the interplay between the repeating pattern of paving stones soften by the organic green lines of moss. The bright green moss flourishes between the hard, concrete bricks.

Getting low and using the strong light of a late afternoon sun adds detail and contrast to the image. The golden patina added by the light of the setting sun helps to pull all the elements in the picture together

Monday, November 30, 2009

Artistic Filters

I have never been big on filters that take one's photography and make a ersatz art work. But I like to play and recently I downloaded Paint.NET. It had an ink sketch artistic filter. When I played with it the result reminded me of the work of the late London artist Clark McDougall. McDougall died of a brain tumour at the age of 59 back in December of 1980.

McDougall did a number of paintings in which objects in the scene were outlined in black paint. A painting from this period hung on the wall at The London Free Press when I worked there.

The filter created an image that reminded me so much of McDougall's work that I went ahead and applied the filter. McDougall did it better.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Computer Died, Blog Stalled, Back Thursday!

I'll be back - Thursday. I have a new computer. Yeah!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

When shooting food, tell an action-packed story

This may not look like a photo blog, but it is. The first picture, the biscotti being dipped in coffee, shows what we can do with biscotti. It is a tight shot, cleanly lit by soft but directional window light and tries to follow a lot of rules.

Notice that the finger nail on the thumb is clean and trimmed short. It is not only your model's hair you want neat and trimmed for a shoot. (The hand model is me. I shot this with one hand holding the biscotti and the other holding the camera.)

Note the focus. The image is very nicely focused on the biscotti. You can actually see the texture of the biscuit. Also note the background, the table cloth is from Menton, Provence, where France butts up against Italy. And the coffee cup is the kind found in bistros everywhere. When shooting food pictures, do not forget to give some thought to your props.

It is too bad a little more of the handle does not show. This is a strike against this picture. An important detail is missing. If the handle had appeared in the upper right, it would have made a great diagonal leading the eye into the picture and played nicely against the diagonal of the biscotti. This is why pros often used to shoot Polaroids before breaking down a set.

Now, give a quick check on how these biscotti images were used to illustrate a post on making biscotti. Note how, at the end of the post when I am talking about how many biscuits this recipe makes, I show you a mess of biscotti running right out of sight. Art can break up a page but it is best if it fits neatly with the words. These two, words and pictures, should be partners and not acquaintances.

Note: all images shot with an old Canon SD10 Digital ELPH and not more than a minute was spend shooting. Why waste time taking pictures when there's fresh coffee and biscotti to be enjoyed?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Work with the camera you have . . .

When you take pictures, work with the camera you have. In other words, if you have a wide angle lens and nothing more, do not try to shoot as if you had a telephoto. A wide angle will include foreground that the telephoto wouldn't. So include the foreground and make it look as if that's the way you always saw the picture.

Until I retired, I was a telephoto kinda guy. I had a long a torrid love affair with a 200mm f/1.8. Ah, the stuff that lens and I did together. We were a team. But that was then and this is now.

Now, I have a small, almost seven-year-old, point and shoot and I am learning how to take pictures all over again. It has a fixed lens; it's a 28mm and, to a pro, it's slow at f/2.8. But, we are learning to work together. I think we make a good team. Try cuddling up to your camera. Work with it and not against it. I'm sure you'll find it rewarding. Cheers, Rockinon (Ken)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Colour can make a picture

Just colour is enough to make a picture. Shoot these hosta leaves from some distance, include the whole wilting plant, some leaves flat upon the ground, and you've got a picture of a fall plant - a record shot at best, but most likely a simple snap shot. Get close, shoot just what attracted your eye, the bright gold colour, the mix of tones and the tonal shading in bold, almost quilted appearing, stripes - and you've got a picture.

Now, go out and enjoy the last days of fall.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Small camera, big city

Visiting Montreal, I had my little Canon SD10 ELPH tucked in my pocket at all times. Well, not at all times as sometimes it was out taking pictures. The subway was shut down briefly the first night I was there. I got a picture while standing about waiting for the trains to begin running again. When they did, I got another picture.

In light such as this, experiment with the different scene illumination settings. Try the automatic white balance, the tungsten, and the others. Possibly use more than one setting while shooting your images and then pick the best images when you get home.

With lots of time to kill, even the broken squares in the tile floor began to look appealing. I thought, Photoshop.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tar spot makes a picture

Over the past weekend, my wife and I visited Montreal. Strolling an elegant, older neighbourhood, I noticed many of the colourful, fallen maple leaves exhibited large circular tar spots, the indicator of a distinctive fungal infection of maples.

As the overall health of the tree is seldom threatened, approaching tar spots as  graphic elements in a fall leaves composition did not seem too callous. I tried to find at least three affected, fallen leaves with each a different colour. I framed the image with a triangular composition that also drew on the rule of thirds for success.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Shoot fast, shoot often, shoot well

When I was a news shooter for The London Free Press we never shot just one image from an assignment. One picture leads to another. This angle leads to that angle. The opportunities seem almost infinite.

In the film era there was a check on our drive to shoot just one more picture - the film. You had to pace yourself or you would run out. You only shot the stuff that seemed truly good. You learned to be somewhat discerning. I say somewhat because I still recall seeing photogs returning from assignment with six or more rolls of exposed film.

Well, film is history and the check on our trigger finger has been removed. This is both good and bad. Often pictures that didn't seem that great at the moment they were taken, prove to be brilliant when properly cropped in the enhancement process. There's no excuse for letting a picture opportunity slide by today.

Well, there is one excuse. If you shoot way too much, you'll run the risk of missing some good stuff in the editing process. The room for digital images on your disk may seem infinite but your time isn't. It is still wise to be somewhat discerning.

All of that said, if you get a chance for a picture, take it. And let it take you.

Saturday I was on my way to the mall to buy some jeans. I saw a couple of hot-air balloons and stopped for a quick picture - the image of the balloon with the apartment building in the foreground.

I liked the picture so much that I decide to chase the balloons. They were drifting over the southwestern edge of the city, heading for the open fields of the countryside. I might get a nice hot-air balloon at sunset shot, I thought.

Shooting with a six-year-old Canon SD10, a point and shoot with a fixed wide angle lens, it's work finding images. When one balloon dipped low and near, I pulled my car over, jumped out, leapt the water-filled-ditch and ran into the field. I shot quickly. Composing and recomposing my images. The result is on the left.

I thought I might be able to capture something even better. As the balloon rose slowly to clear some distant trees, I jumped into my car and sped off in search of the next country road taking me to the balloons.

At one point, I thought I was too far away to get a picture but it looked as if the balloon was landing and the fun was at an end. This isn't film, I thought - shoot something. The basket below the balloon was skimming about two or three feet above a field but it did not make a clear silhouette because of some a dark grove of trees immediately behind.

I waited. The balloon didn't touch down but moved past the trees. I had my shot. Click!

Within moment the hot-air balloon touched down and the fun was over. I headed home. On the way home I stopped for the picture of the fall coloured trees reflected in the still pond. I never did stop for new jeans.

The lesson: shoot fast, shoot often, shoot well. Oh, and have fun!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Too tired to post

I'm too tired to post but if you come back on Monday I'll have more pictures and some good tips.


For a clue to what is coming try my post on the Digital Journal. There are four images from the above shoot.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Getting close, really close

My little Canon SD10 finds pictures everywhere but it excels when it can get close. The fixed lens, with the camera set to its macro setting, does quite a fine job on close-ups of insects. The images look really fine, especially if you apply the same rules you use when shooting other kinds of pictures. This means capturing action, playing with composition and controlling colour to name just three things in a shooter repertoire.

Shooting Through Glass

For many years I taught photography to students in a masters journalism program at the local university. Teaching them how to approach flash photography was one of the hardest parts of the job. Everyone wants rules. Here's five do's, or here's five don'ts. Follow these and you'll be just fine. (No you won't!)

I tend to distrust rules. They give folk a way to deal with a situation without thinking. Good photography is all about thinking. Even using a point and shoot, even putting your trust in the little computer chip guiding your camera, demands that you and that chip have an understanding.

If you want to be photographer you have to understand a little about photography and a lot about your camera. If I could tell you one book to read to make you a better shooter, it would be the little booklet that came with your camera. The camera maker has a vested interest in seeing you succeed. They often have some really great tips.

An example of a rule that if followed will stop you from successfully shooting a lot of pictures is: avoid shooting through glass. The assumption is that you will always have a picture-obscuring-reflection in the glass. This is simply not true and you can take measures to eliminate the reflection completely.

The easiest way to get rid of the reflection is to have the flash right against the glass. (Pictures shot by photojournalists of individuals inside police cars are often shot like this.) The second is to shoot at an angle through the glass. The third is to shoot in such a way that the final picture is composed in a part of the frame not affected by the reflection. (The shot of the raccoon is an example of this.) I'm sure if I gave it some thought I could come up with more but I you get the idea.


Monday, October 5, 2009

Grain or Noise

In the bad old days of film, pushing film meant exposing the film at a higher ISO setting than that for which it was manufactured. The resulting image had greatly increased grain. The more you pushed, the greater the grain. Push 400 ISO film to 3200 ISO and the grain could get downright nasty.

Today's digital cameras also have an ISO setting at which they are most comfortable. This is the lowest ISO setting that the camera usually handles. 50 ISO or 100 ISO are common. Set the ISO higher and you are, in effect, pushing the CCD or CMOS chip with a resulting increase in electronic noise. This looks a lot like snow on a television screen.

To give you an idea of what happens when you set your ISO too high, I shot today's picture at 1600 ISO. I like the composition but hate the noise. In situations like this, if you must push the chip do it, but only if you must. If you can wait and take the picture under brighter conditions. Wait. You will be rewarded with much cleaner, stronger, more appealing pictures.

Personally, I prefer the image noise to the harsh and almost shadowless light from the on-camera electronic flash. Generally, the only time I prefer the on-camera flash is at parties when shooting couples and groups of posing friends. At these times, we are not going for art but clean record pictures.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Think support_Steady that camera

After getting the shot in the park (see yesterday's post), I returned to Horton Street to await the return of my wife with the car. There was a street sign beside the roadway that I could use as an improvised monopod. With my little camera it is best to refrain from shooting at the high ISO settings, the images get grainy or noisy. I prefer to support the camera, accept the motion blur, and shoot at the usual 50 ISO. It works for me.

This is a worthwhile tip even if your camera has built-in image stabilization. The IS system helps to keep the image pin sharp, heightening the contrast with the motion blurred automobiles. My old camera does not have an IS system.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The advantage of a one size fits all camera

If you have a bag of lenses and fully manual camera, you think you can do anything. You can't. You can do a lot but not everything.

If you have a small point and shoot, like my Canon SD10, you think, "I can't do anything." It is so restrictive. Restrictive? Yes. But, you can do a lot. And once you have faced the problem, tackle it with imagination and a whole new world of photography will open for you.

I like long lenses. If I had had my equipment from the paper, where I worked just a few months ago, I would have been much farther back from this scene with a 200mm f/1.8 lens. I'd have made a picture that was flatter, more compressed.

With my Canon SD10 I have but one lens, a 28mm* lens. For a working pro, it is a slow lens at f/2.8 but for a point and shoot it is fast as it is always f/2.8. This constant lens speed was achieved by simply not offering a zoom. A low tech solution but still the lens is always fast.

This long lens lover is being forced to get friendly with the wide angle lens. It is at this point that doors begin to open. The moment captured in today's picture is but a brief moment. The fog was thickening and thinning as I viewed the scene and the effect, when combined with the setting sun, was shifting literally by the second.

Forced to use a wide angle, I ran into the park to get close to the trees. I needed something in the foreground. I had to work with, and accent, the steep perspective that a wide angle can offer. I got close and then I held the camera high above my head to capture more of the curving sidewalk. I took picture after picture, checking the composition of each one after it was shot.

I had just a minute before the moment passed.

I also posted this image on London Daily Photo.


Got this comment on another blog. I like the line.
"Nice shot! You know they say the best lenses are those two legs!" Comment by: Christopher Szabo

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

f/8 and be there

The rule used to be, "f/8 and be there." When I left my job at the local television station to move to the local paper, my friends at the station gave me an f/8.

Today's point and shoot cameras have buried the f/8 part of the rule. My little Canon SD10 does not allow one to set an aperture. Aperture?

But being there is still important and if you have a little point and shoot at the ready, you've got your picture.

Is it art? Should I be proud to of today's picture, a picture which owes so much to my choice of camera? Of course it's art and I am proud. I made the choice and clearly I delegated wisely.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Is it art?

If you haven't done so, please read my take on why photography is art. You can find the essay on Rockin' On: the Blog.

Now, about this picture. Yes, like almost all the other images on this blog, this picture was shot with an aging Canon SD10. The sky was way too bright compared to the toilette in the foreground and so the sky was washing out in order to capture detail in the john.

First, I turned on the flash. As a rule I keep the flash off but rules are meant to be broken. Then I aimed the camera at the sky and exposed for the warm, sunset sky and the clouds. Then, I re-composed the picture to include the toilette. When I took the picture, the flash filled in the detail in the white porcelain throne. It even gave it a bit of a neat sparkle that takes away the dirty old john feel.

Even using a point and shoot, it helps to keep your brain in gear.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Add a little action

Yesterday, with only my little, aging, Canon SD10 ELPH, I shot pictures of the annual Terry Fox Run. I saw people lined up here for pictures and there for pictures but I so no one actually shooting pictures during the event.

I use my little camera in fully automatic mode. This does not mean that it does everything; I have to add a wee bit of brain power. For instance, I try to shoot action pictures only in bright sunlight if both the subject and I are in motion - in this case jogging. If I am in deep shade with lots of leafy tree cover, the camera will choose too slow a shutter speed.

I've heard the complaint that in bright light it is impossible to take pictures as the screen is impossible to see. The solution: don't worry about seeing everything perfectly.

When I was a news shooter it was common to hold your camera high above a crowd to get a clear shot. It didn't always work; you didn't always get a good picture. But, if you didn't try you would never get that photo. Never!

So, the next time you are involved in a walk or a run, don't just line the family up for a "four against the wall" photo. Try for an action picture. Just remember to have the four in a line photo on which to fall back.


Saturday, September 5, 2009

Scale Is Important

This little baby girl, Fiona, is only minutes old. Her mother's hand, adjusting the newborn's pink blanket, seems so huge next to the little infant. Fiona is only six and a half pounds and it shows in this picture. The window light is soft and neutral in colour and creates an all important catch light in her eye and the little yawn, such alertness in child but minutes old, also adds interest. The composition is rather classic, almost following the Rule of Thirds. The camera used was my trusty little Canon SD10. The relatively fast f/2.8 lens is a plus in these situations. Staying away from straight on strobe is almost always a good idea.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

See what you're shooting. Pay attention.

Saturday morning my wife came running into our house yelling, "Get your camera! Come quick!" I grabbed my little Canon SD10 ELPH and was out the door.

There was a northern walking stick on the door of our car. This was only the third or fourth time that my wife had seen a stick. Although not rare, they're rarely seen. Their camouflage is just that good.

First, I set the camera to macro and took a quick record shot nothing fancy. I kept the camera parallel to the surface of the door, thus keeping the entire insect in focus, no depth of field problems with this approach. The problem was my reflection in the shiny paint very distracting.

All too often people do not see what they are shooting. They see what they want to be shooting. They want to be shooting a walking stick and are so focused on the insect that they do not see the whole picture. Truth is, they are shooting a walking stick walking on a reflection of them holding the camera. This is not the picture they wanted. Train yourself to really see when shooting.

I tried various other angles to minimize the reflection but this also minimized the reflection of the overcast sky. This made the grey of the car far too dark, making the insect difficult to see.

I lay down on my back beside the car, braced one end of the camera against the door and tilted the camera to compose my picture. With this angle the paint reflected the overcast sky but did not reflect me or the camera perfect.

Now, the head of the walking stick must be in focus for this picture to work. I composed the shot with the head as the closest part of the insect to the lens. My camera focuses on the closest object. It visually confirms the focus by showing a red square over the area in focus.

I got my picture and I got up. My wife brushed off my back. Remember another rule: if you're not getting dirty, you're not getting the pictures.

Monday, August 24, 2009

What camera should I buy?

The reviews are in and the little SD980 gets mixed reviews. I'm still keen but then I like my daily, have-it-with-me-at-all-times-camera, to be ridiculously small.

I also like it to as automatic as possible and this camera is that. For many, this is not a good thing. But the other day I missed a neat picture because I had shot a macro shot previously and had not reset the camera. The SD980 will automatically sense if it should be in macro mode and then it will automatically sense that for the next picture it should not be in macro mode. No missed picture.

The 24mm lens is a real plus and no one argues that point. The image quality is good but there is a little purple fringing on the edges of a contrasty scene. I have that now and I can live with it.

Before or after you read my piece, written after the camera had been announced but before it hit the store shelves, check out the embedded video and read the following linked review. This camera is a lot of money. But it is a real toy, and if you like toys, you will probably be happy. If you don't like toys, you may find yourself returning it to the store - if they will take it.

Now, check out the review in Photography Blog. (The IXUS 200 is the SD980's name outside North America. Same camera but different name.)

Now, if you are still interested, read my now quite dated post.


...for quick party photos, carry an ELPH
A friend asked me what digital camera to buy. He has a new grandchild on the way and wants a camera to capture both still images as well as make videos. As I worked for decades as a news photographer, wrote a photo column for a daily paper and taught photography, he thought I would have a quick answer; I didn't, but I do now.

I have now done my homework and here is my answer. (I will start with the camera suggestions, then explain my thinking. A classic inverted pyramid of information.)

Ultra Compact
— It's small enough to drop in your pocket.

As the best all round digital camera, the new ultra compact Canon PowerShot SD980 IS Digital ELPH gets my nod. This camera, just announced by Canon, will be in stores in September (2009) retailing for an estimated $399.99 (Canadian).

Don't be fooled by the cool colours — silver, blue, purple and gold. These are not toys. I use the original camera in the SD series, a little bronze coloured SD10 purchased years ago, to shoot the pictures illustrating my blogs. I have illustrated this post with images taken with my SD10. To see more examples go to my blog, Rockin' On: London Daily Photo. Note: all pictures have been downsized for the Net. I have made prints as large as 16x22-inches from image files shot with my SD10. I fill the frame, of course.

Being very tiny, yet full featured, these cameras can be carried in a shirt or pants pocket. You can't take a picture without a camera; with a digital ELPH your camera will never be far away.

As this camera is not on the market yet, there are few Internet reviews. But other cameras in the ELPH line-up rate very well. Consumer Reports recommended both the Canon PowerShot SD880 IS Digital ELPH and the Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS Digital ELPH.

Super Zoom — can take the place of a complete camera kit. The following is an excellent choice if you require very long lenses, say for shooting birds or other wildlife.

The latest Canon PowerShot SX20 IS Digital Camera is absolutely mind-blowing. When I think of the kilos of gear I used to carry, this lightweight, easy-to-use camera is a technological tour de force, a camera miracle. The 20x optical zoom, when extended to its max, makes the use of a monopod a smart move. Image stabilization is a great feature, but with a 560mm lens I would use a monopod at the very least.

The SX20 is replacing the SX10, a camera that Consumer Reports recommended. The new SX20 will work for shooting sports, but it does not have the frames per second speed of the present SX1. My guess is that an SX2 is on the horizon. It will be more a more expensive camera but may be worth the wait if you are a really serious amateur shooter. (Me? I may not wait.)

The sensor in the SX1 is CMOS technology, while that in the SX20 is CCD. I understand that a CMOS chip is quicker than a CCD chip and for that reason is the technology of choice in the high-end Canon cameras which are sold mainly to photojournalists.

What I look for in a camera.

As I said, if you don't have a camera, you can't take a picture. For this reason the first thing I look for is small size. My SD10 is almost always with me and because of this it has taken some of my all-time favourite photos. Sadly, my little camera is dated. For instance, it lacks a zoom lens and image stabilization.

Features I look for:
  • small, compact size
  • rugged construction
  • SD card. This is an industry standard. SD cards are available almost anywhere unlike proprietary cards such as the ones used by Olympus and Sony.
  • image stabilization. This minimizes camera shake resulting in more usable images and sharper as well.
  • at least a 10 MP sensor. Once we reach 12 MP, more is not necessarily better. In fact, noise at higher ISO settings often increases in super compact cameras using 12 MP, or larger, sensors.
  • a minimum of a 4x optical zoom. It must be optical. Digital zooms are a gimmick, nothing more. Do not use.
  • a true wide angle setting. 28mm is the minimum. 24mm is better. 35mm isn't wide to me.
  • face detection
  • a viewfinder is nice, especially in bright light, but you can live without one. I do.
  • HD video shooting capability is a strong plus. Almost half of all buyers of point and shoot still cameras take advantage of the video feature. The quality is not on parr with true video cameras but it is more than just acceptable; the quality is quite good. Be aware wind noise can be a problem when shooting outside. Shooting from in close will improve the sound. In other words, get in tight and think wide angle rather than hanging back and going with your telephoto.
  • long battery life — but always carry a spare battery, or two.
  • a compact battery charger with fold away plugs
  • minimal first shot delay
  • a high-quality low-light setting is a real plus
  • good dynamic range with excellent image quality
  • last on my list is wireless capability
My two camera choices are able to check off almost all the desired features.

For more info, check the following links.

Digital Photography Review is excellent. I like the camera reviews.

Steve's Digicams was one of my favourites but it has changed lately. I believe it has changed hands. So far, I am disappointed with the new look but the reviews are still excellent.

Two Canadian sites I like are: digital and Digital Camera Resource Page

Lastly, if you are a professional, this site run by Rob Galbraith, a former news shooter for the Calgary Herald, is fantastic. This fellow got into the digital era early and is now the defacto digital guru for all things related to digital photojournalism.

A positive view of Canon cameras can be found at engadget.