Getting the best from your pixels

When I started using a digital camera it was obvious that however many pixels you have, and however much you spend on super lenses, good results are not guaranteed. Having lots of pixels does not automatically mean better pics, there is still some photographic technique involved.

I work on long term project which usually result from having something to say. In terms of project planning I work backwards from having an idea of how I want to prints to look and where they will be shown. For the Quarried project I decided I wanted large prints mounted without glass so that there was as little as possible between the audience and the print. That eventually turned out to be matt colour prints mounted on Diabond.

Knowing what I wanted narrowed down the decision required to achieve the end result. Basically I could use 5×4 colour negative film or a high end digital system. Using 5×4 would have given the resolution but would have resulted in a different project.  I opted for a Nikon D800 which, at 36MP was the highest resolution DLSR at the time.

Learning to use the new camera took a while but it soon became obvious that it needed to be on a good tripod with the camera in mirror-up mode and triggered by a remote shutter release. The reason for that is that the mirror cause vibrations in the camera which can significantly degrade the image quality especially when using longer lenses. 5514_a4

This image was taken across a valley approximately 500m from the camera. It works well at A0 (1200mm x 800mm.)

Having taken care of the photographic technique the next stage was printing test images. I did this by using 4, A2 prints fixed together with masking tape. Other issues were now obvious. If I edited the image on my home computer I had to change colour balance, brightness, contrast and saturation on the PC connected to the printer. My PC monitor was not calibrated. This is absolutely crucial if you want to send image files to commercial printers. But it seemed like a lot of additional expense until one of the tutors on the MA course asked how much I had spent on the lens and how much I had spent on my monitor. The ratio was 20:1. She then asked what I expected from a cheap monitor. She was absolutely right – thank you Karen.

The choice of monitor was relatively easy – EIZO the industry standard. I got the cheapest model but even that is amazing. I check the calibration every 1-2 weeks and it does not move much at all. I can now edit my files and use them on other printers without any problems. Recently I prepared a file for printing on fabric, it was 1350mm x 2000mm. I was told to use 8 bit, RGB1998 and it worked perfectly. (It is a type of printer used in fashion and textiles to print directly onto rolls of fabric.)

And of course the usual disclaimer – these are my opinions based on my own experiences. I am not being paid to endorse products.


Residency – AA2A

3294_c1-sLast month I applied for a place on the Artists Access to Art Colleges scheme and have been accepted by Sheffield Hallam University. It means I have access to the facilities in the new Sheffield Institute of Arts for this academic year.

It is a wonderful opportunity to do some experimental work on alternative ways of printing and showing photographs. I hope this will lead to an exhibition maybe in late 2017 or 2018.

Today I made a print on fabric, 1350mm wide by 2020mm long,  of a miner I photographed in 2013. It took almost an hour to print. The print still has to be steamed to fix the dye to the fabric but from what I saw coming off the printer it looked good. More later.


Tips for aspiring photographers

There seems to be a never ending stream of tips for aspiring photographers. Most advise against formal education in photography and suggest doing workshops instead.  The argument goes like this: ‘forget the technicalities just shoot pics’.

If you are really serious about photography, then you need to learn about all aspects of the medium to get the photographs you want and to know what went wrong if you don’t.


Here is what I suggest.

  1. Be selective about what you photograph
  2. Learn to look at the scene before you look through the camera
  3. Learn enough about the technicalities to get the photo you want
  4. Photograph what you’re afraid of
  5. Shoot from the gut
  6. Print your work
  7. Seek to know a few photographers very well, rather than many photographers superficially
  8. Shoot RAW+JPEG
  9. Shoot everyday as if it were your last
  10. Find a mentor
  11. If you are serious then do a course in the area of photography that interests you

1886 meets 2016

A couple of months back a friend gave me a box of unwanted darkroom stuff. Looking through it and came across an antique printing frame for half-plate negatives, 4¾ × 6½ inches or 120 × 165mm.

Looking in more details there are a couple of small dials with movable pointers labelled “Required” with marks at 3,6,9,12,18,21,24, possibly hours? And “Printed” with a range of 1 to 12. The date on the metalwork is 1886.

I have cleaned it up and intend using for Cyanotypes and other similar process. It will also act as a pattern for making larger frames. I am struck by the fusion of digital technology, which makes producing the negatives easy, and old equipment and processes which go back to beginning of photography.


Trial of B&W pigment prints

Feedback from the Great Dome Art Fair included a number of requests for smaller sized prints of the B&W series “Fractured Landscapes”. Making smaller silver based prints takes as much time as the larger prints and uses almost the same amount of materials.

Trying to keep costs down is becoming crucial as the price and film and paper continues to rise sharply. There has to be another way to make good quality prints with the same archival qualities as correctly processed gelatin silver prints.

I have always said that if I make images on film then I will use conventional wet printing. I stick by that but I have decided if there is another way that produces high quality archival prints then it is worth investigating as an alternative.


This is a photograph of a trial print – it looks a million times better in reality!

Looking at the longevity of prints using pigment inks on cotton rag paper Wilhelm Imaging Research say that they will last around 100 years which is reassuring.

Having completed trials on Hahnemühle 100% cotton, smooth fine art paper I am impressed by the image quality and the neutral blacks. The aim now to produce a series designed for 250mm square frames. They will be available in September 2016.



Revisiting an old digital file

Neil_CP1_A4Just been playing with an old image. This time I used Capture One Pro 9 for the RAW conversion and all editing. It took 10 minutes max as opposed to several hours  when I did the original edit in CS6. No need to darken the white helmet to retain detail. No need to darken the black to remove the purple cast. No hours if fiddling to get the colour balance right. No special noise reduction. Output from CP1 was at 1200x800mm, this is an A4 version. It is interesting getting back to CP1 after a break, I am beginning to realise its full potential. Techy stuff: Nikon D800, effective ISO 24,600, taken in a mine using available light.

I have no connection with Phase One apart from being a customer.