How I made a time lapse with my Apple iPhone 6 and got published in the World Gallery!
Buachaille Etive MòrThe Great Herdsman of Etive stands sentinel at the head of Glen Etive, near Glen Coe, in the Scottish highlands.
In early January 2015 I had an experience that I'll never forget. Finishing work in Edinburgh on a Friday evening, I packed my camper van and made my way west, through the Trossachs and towards the highlands. I wasn't sure where I was going and decided to just play it by ear as there were reports of deep snow and blocked roads. I just wanted to get somewhere remote, wild and camp for the night.
After nearly three hours driving I found myself approaching a favourite haunt; Glen Etive. Still ten miles away I watched as the snow began to fall, steady and thick, my wipers barely clearing the screen even at 40mph. As I wound my way up onto Rannoch Moor the snow got heavier and I wondered if I had made a mistake in coming this far. The A82 is an important road in Scotland as it, effectively, connects Glasgow to Inverness and all that lies between along the west of the country. This means that every effort is made to keep the route open to traffic and as soon as I crested the Moor I could see the flashing orange lights of the gritter lorries. The snow ploughs had piled the white stuff up four feet high on either side of the road and they were still battling the falling snow. If it fell any harder they surely would have lost the battle.
Morning at Glen Etive, Scotland
Glen Etive Time LapseBuachaille Etive Mòr (Scots Gaelic meaning the great herdsman of Etive) is an iconic mountain in Scotland. Standing at the top of Glen Etive, not far from Glen Coe, I was delighted to make this time lapse on my new iPhone 6 and have it included in Apple's World Gallery at http://apple.co/dm_dudleyw. Shot over about thirty minutes while I had a cup of tea and took in the scenery.
Nikon D3. The KingSeven years after buying my Nikon D3 it is still everything I need for wedding photography.
I started my photography interest back in the 1980's when, it was said, that 80% of the worlds press photographers used Nikon cameras - very likely the Nikon F3, an indestructible, solid, metal lump with the new-fangled Aperture Priority mode and TTL flash metering. My dad had a Nikon from the 1960's and, when I was a kid and he was out, I would sit with it and twiddle the knobs and focus the lens. I loved the quality of the construction, the bright viewfinder and exposure needle and the clarity of the glass.
Nikon lost their way a little in the 90's and allowed Canon to steal a large chunk of the professional market, and that filters down to the ordinary consumer who follow suit. Nikon were on the ropes and hadn't really got to grips with the new digital age, but being the best is in their DNA and they fought back. When they announced the D3 the photography world was astounded at what they had achieved. It was a seminal moment in the history of photography.
They departed the mega-pixel arms race and concentrated on a far more important feature of the digital sensor. Sensitivity, or ISO as it's commonly known. Nikons reasoning was that 12 mega-pixels was easily enough resolution to print large images and that was more than enough for most people, particularly sports, wedding and photojournalists.
What photographers really needed was to be able to increase the ISO to shoot in lower light but still keep the image quality high. The big drawback of digital, as you will have noticed with your smartphone camera, is that when the light lowers, the ISO has to be increased to give the camera a chance of making an image - the result being digital noise. It's a bit like turning up the volume of a stereo to the point that it starts to distort. Digital noise ruins image quality with unsightly speckles.
Nikon re-worked the sensor so that it delivered high quality images at much higher ISO. That is massive for a photographer. Much more important than resolution. Being able to carry on shooting when the light is fading and other photographers are putting their cameras away handed a huge advantage to the D3 owner. Plenty of photographers sold their entire kit and switched to Nikon.
Ken Rockwell loves this camera - 'My Nikon D3 lets me do things I've never been able to do, and makes it fast and easy. You don't need a review: unlike any other camera I can recall, just talk to anyone who owns the D3 and you'll hear praise gushing like no other camera. The Nikon D3 has no "buts," as in "I love it but..." Everyone just loves it.
Here's why I love my D3..
Shoot all day? EasyHigh capacity battery and dual CF Card slots keep me shooting all day at a wedding.
Nikon would probably like me to buy their current flagship, the D4s but I don't need it. I don't need video and the D3 still does what made it King back in 2007. I'm not a machine gunner, I only take the shot when it's right so my shutter is quite low milage against the 300'000 shot estimated life span. The D4s is not a big enough leap in quality for me to part with just over £5000. My D3 has earned it's place in my camera bag and paid for itself many times over.
My Dad gave me his Nikomat recently. I'd like to think that I will be able to afford to retire my D3 to sit on the shelf with it when the time comes.
Nikomat & D3When the going gets tough. Nikon.
Cuban Butcher & FriendsA group of men butcher and sell off a whole pig on the porch of a house in Trinidad, Cuba.
It's hard work for an athlete like me to carry a cold beer around in the humidity of a Cuban summer so you can imagine how I struggle with a heavy camera bag. To stay for two hours as the temperature soared and the humidity sapped my ambition was a feat in itself for me. But to come away with this image was a huge reward for my patience. I love it. I think there's something a bit 'Last Supper' about it.
I got lucky with this shot but I kind of made my luck and it was a reward for patience. If I hadn't crossed the street and looked back I would have missed it. I had met the butcher the previous evening, on the same steps, as he sold off the last scraps of pork to passers by. He said that if I came back the following morning he would have a whole pig and would be butchering it there, on the front steps of his house.
The next morning I wandered in the quiet back streets of Trinidad looking for the house. It took a while to find it and when I did there was no one there. I knocked on the door expecting nothing but heard a noise as someone approached the door. A very old lady opened the door, looked me up and down then closed it again without a word. Moments later she was back, holding a chair and motioning to me to sit on the porch.
Eventually a horse and cart turned into the street driven by two young boys and pulled up in front of the house. I could see the pig, dead, in the back of the cart. The butcher and his friends had followed on foot and now lifted the pig out and, with a mighty struggle, managed to get it up onto the table that would serve as a block.
The Butcher's BoysTwo boys and a dead pig on a cart in Trinidad, Cuba.
For the next two hours I just watched and photographed as the pig slowly became prime cuts and scraps. My brothers both used to work in the village butcher where I grew up so it wasn't so much the pig that interested me but the scene itself, the characters in the scene, their respective roles in the process and the way they worked together as if they'd done this a thousand times.
Portrait of a Cuban ButcherA sharp knife makes short work of this pig
I don't speak any Spanish and the butcher's team didn't speak any English but there are some things that you don't need language for. Humour is shared and I could see that these men enjoyed doing what men everywhere enjoy doing; extracting the Michael out of each other, ganging up, jocular victimisation. It's probably male bonding and despite the language gap I found myself laughing along. I'm pretty sure that they were ganging up on the chap in the red shirt and that it was about money. Red shirt found it hilarious anyway and I think in the image at top they are handing him a fake bill; perhaps one they knew he couldn't pay even if it were real.
Red Shirt The butcher begins to play with Red Shirt. The others soon joined in but Red Shirt was laughing his head off.
After a good couple of hours the heat became too much for me. It was 11am, I was hungry, hot, sweaty and excited about the haul of images I had just made. A cold beer was calling me from my favourite corner bar and I was too tired to resist so I said my thank you's and goodbyes and made my way back into town for hot pizza and a cold one or two.
The Cheap CutsSorting out the scraps of pork
I don't have much to say about the technical aspect here. All the images were made in manual mode on a Nikon D3x, 1/125th @ f/4 with the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, and ISO 400. To be able to fully concentrate on a subject I make sure my camera is set up to deliver so I am not fiddling and faffing when I should be recording. I know my pictures will be sharp at 1/125th sec. I know f/4 gives just enough depth of field on a wide lens setting and a pleasing rendition of backgrounds at the longer end. That just leaves ISO to dial in. Easy peasy. What about white balance? I find Nikon's Auto WB to be incredibly accurate so I almost exclusively use that under unchanging, open shade. I shoot RAW anyway so it's just to give me the correct feeling on the cameras LCD as I'm shooting.
Che Guevara - acrylic on canvas
I've only ever bought two paintings but when I saw a painting of Che Guevara in a gallery in Cuba I was struck and had to have it. The process of buying it and getting it home has made it worth all the more to me and given me memories I'll never forget.
On a boiling, humid, Caribbean afternoon in July 2012 I was walking the streets of Trinidad in Cuba, trying to keep in the shade as much as possible when I passed a small gallery and looked in. The first thing I saw was a stunning young woman sitting in a child's chair in the middle of the room, reading a book. As I walked in she jumped up and flashed a huge smile. I'd scanned the walls and not seen anything very different from the kind of generic offerings I'd seen in Havana and Vinales, but as we stepped into a second room I saw this painting of Che. He appeared to be staring right at me and I was immediately captivated.
I made a pathetic attempt to appear uninterested when I asked how much it was. I wandered around a bit and pretended to be vaguely interested in other things but my brain was telling me to pounce or risk losing it to the next tourist that steps through the door. It was low season, middle of the scorching, wet summer, absolutely boiling and not many tourists around so I thought I could probably negotiate. I made a bid and the young woman, who had introduced herself as Tatiana, phoned the artist to put it to him. She came back with a price and I said I'd have a think about it and come back. I sneaked a snapshot of the painting with my phone and made my way to a small corner bar nearby to contemplate. I've made rash decisions in the heat before and just wanted to make sure of my feelings over a cold beer. The shops were closing soon so I reckoned I was safe to sleep on it and go back first thing in the morning.
As I entered the gallery the following morning Tatiana rose from her chair with a broad smile again, but it was a different smile. I could tell the painting had gone. She simply said 'German lady'. My heart sank but my mind raced. 'Can you get hold of the artist and ask him to paint another one?' I asked, rather desparately. She said she would try to get hold of him and that I should come back in the afternoon.
Three days passed with Tatiana trying to get hold of 'Jose' by telephone and me combing the bars looking for him armed only with a description. Apparently he would be celebrating the sale of the painting for a few days. I just had to find which bar he was in. On the third morning Tatiana had found him and we met at the gallery. Jose was younger than I had expected and spoke a little english. We agreed a price for a new painting and I was told I could collect it in three days time. I asked if I could see Jose's studio but the translation kind of broke down and I just settled for collection in three days. I had all sorts of images in my head of what his studio would look like. I was desperate to see the place that my painting would be made and, if possible, photograph Jose.
When we met three days later Jose asked me if I wanted to see the painting. It was in his studio. I followed him a few blocks then entered a building with a large room, double height and with several work areas for artists. On the left, near the back of the room, I could see my painting, glowering in the gloom. I laughed at my own childishness when I realised that I already preferred it to the one I'd missed. That one had been very red. This one was cream at the edges and the face was made of blues, greys and terracotta. I absolutely loved it as soon as I saw it. And it was massive.
Jose patiently sat for me while I fiddled about with my camera and opened the bigger barn door to let more light in. He sat on a paint can and lit a cigar while I tinkered with my exposure, focussing and composition. I paid up for the painting and we retired to bar where Jose would not let me buy a drink for the next four hours. What a gentleman. I heard that he left Cuba for an Argentinian girlfriend last September. I love his style and I'm sure that wherever he is now there are people queuing for his work.
JosePortrait of an Artist
I'm planning to go back to Cuba in the near future. If you have any tips, advice, desires or contacts you're happy to share please do get in touch or feel free to leave a comment on this post.
Jose. Trinidad, Cuba 2012
I was on the Isle of Harris to photograph the incredible beaches found in the south of the island but found myself mesmerised by the night sky. I’m quite inexperienced at night photography but I knew I’d need to gather as much light as possible to stand any chance in such a dark location.
I set up my tripod, attached my trusty Nikon D3 and 17-35mm f/2.8 lens and encountered my first problem. The sky was far too dark to use auto focus. I switched into manual focus mode and focused to infinity then back just a tiny amount. I knew I would probably have to finesse this but it would get me pretty close to sharp focus on the night sky.
I wanted to make a picture that included some land and sea for context. Water reflects light and would help lift the image so I knew I wanted to include it in the lower part of the frame. From experience I knew where Toe Head was (a small peninsula to the west) but I couldn’t see it. It was seriously dark even if the heavens were twinkling above. I took the lens to it’s widest focal setting at 17mm and decided to make a best guess at composition, again, knowing I could finesse after the first frame.
I made a best guess at exposure; I set my ISO to 3200, Aperture wide open at f/2.8 and my shutter speed to 20 seconds. I used all of the weapons at my disposal to make the cleanest image possible: self timer set to 2 seconds, Exposure delay mode ON, Long Exposure Noise Reduction ON, a sturdy tripod and crossed fingers.
My first image was too dark and a bit soft. I finessed the focus another tiny amount and took the shutter speed to 30 seconds to let more light into the camera. I made a small adjustment to the composition and made another frame. The next frame was sharp but I felt it was still too dark. I had forgotten my cable release so I was stuck with the D3’s maximum exposure time of 30 seconds. The only thing I could adjust was the ISO so I took that to 6400 and made the image above.
An educated guess got me in the ballpark but it was the instant digital feedback that allowed me to make small adjustments and fine tune composition, exposure and focus in a challenging and very dark environment. It was a hip-flask of the local tipple that allowed me to endure the freezing cold. No hardship really : )
I was nervous making this picture, I don't mind admitting. I was also hung over, sweating and extremely hot but I had to get it. The reason, I think, is that this scene is a different world to the one I have lived in for the past four decades.
Taking a bicycle taxi through Havana Vieja I saw a group of young men crowded around a doorway looking in. I asked the driver to stop and I wandered over to see what was going on.
I don't speak Spanish but I suppose it was obvious from my red skin, sweat and blue eyes that I was a tourist. The men parted and offered me a view into the house. There, in a simple front room, was a young man sitting in a chair having his haircut. The barber was bare chested. It was stifling in the small room. A wall mounted fan blew the hot air around, providing a futile resistance against the humidity.
Before I knew it I had been ushered inside. The barber and his customer largely ignored me but I was encouraged by the group in the doorway to make some pictures. I'd left my big expensive camera in my room and taken my little Panasonic Lumix GF1. This picture presented itself as the customer was swung around to face me. I smiled, he glared, I composed the shot, focussed and recorded one of my favourite images to date.
Later, over lunch I reviewed the images on the back of my camera and kicked myself for not having the guts to take my big camera. I was wrong; the Lumix was the perfect tool for the job. It is non-threatening, low profile, the image quality is easily good enough and it slips into a large pocket or small bag.
I learnt some valuable lessons that morning -
Studio quality light from just a window? Free? At home? Yep.
Have you seen photographers using white umbrellas and soft boxes to fire their flash through? Well, what they are doing is making their light source larger to create softer light. A typical flashgun is only a matter of inches in size (the lens that emits the light). The light that comes out of such a small light source is hard, e.g. the shadows it casts have hard edges, just like your shadow on a sunny day. Drag a cover of cloud across the sun and you have soft light. It's diffused by the cloud just as the shoot through umbrella diffuses the hard light of the flashgun.
There is a very simple way for everyone to find and use soft light and therefore make better portraits - and it's FREE. Window light.
Windows allow light into our rooms and tend to be quite large which means they transmit quite a lot of light deep into the room. If you position your subject so that they are facing the window you will notice that their face is filled with light, their eyes will gleam and the window will show as a catchlight in their eyes. Get yourself in-between the subject and the window and, without blocking the light with your body, make your photographs. Ask the subject to look out of the window or at least ensure they are orientated in the windows direction.
Just to clarify - I am not talking about sunshine, actually quite the opposite. Sunshine creates hard shadows; we are after soft light so you don't want the sun streaming through the window. A north facing window is perfect but you can use any window as long as the sun is not beaming through it.
My cute model Daniel visited me on a bright but overcast day. We made him some toast and sat him at the kitchen table facing the window. I sat to one side and made a few pictures. I said it was an overcast day and you can tell that light was at a premium when you see my camera settings. Aperture wide open at f/1.4, ISO at 1600 and shutter speed at 1/125th.
Understanding light, how to find it and how to use it is among the most important skills in photography. Perhaps even the most important.
I will be posting more on understanding light in future posts. If you already know how to use a camera but you are not getting great results it could be that you are finding light elusive. Be sure to like my Facebook page and subscribe to my mailing list (in the right hand sidebar) to receive tips, information and learn about exclusive offers.
If you would like tuition to improve your own camera skills please check out my Tuition page and drop me a line with your requirements.
Learn how to use your camera in one day!
ONLY ONE PLACE LEFT for Saturday 3rd August
Have you got a camera that you can't use or would like to be able to use better? Nothing beats personal tuition. I'm running another Camera Basics course on Saturday 3rd August in Hove, next to the sea in beautiful Sussex. On the course you'll learn how to use your camera in manual mode for optimum results. I'll clearly explain how you juggle the three inputs to making an exposure - Aperture, ISO and Shutter Speed. You will leave knowing how to take control and stop the camera returning average or incorrect results. Get out of Auto and start making images that you'll love. I only teach in small group settings so that each person get's plenty of input.
20/09/2013 - UPDATE - 5:4 Aspect Ratio in Viewfinder issue SOLVED
One of my gripes in my D800 review was that the viewfinder didn't dim at the edges when I used the camera in 5:4 crop mode. Instead I am shown extra gridlines but can still clearly see the entire FX frame. A friend of mine told me that when he used the D800 in 5:4 mode his viewfinder dimmed at the edges. So why didn't mine? I did a bit of digging and found the answer on Ken Rockwell's site. I quote Ken here - "To get the D800 to do this, set MENU > CUSTOM (pencil) > a5 AF point illumination > OFF, which then lets the outer areas go dark instead of just have a line around them. The D800 does this because it makes more sense to illuminated frame lines in the dark, and the D800's AF area illumination isn't with individual LEDs as it is in the D3 and D4; the D800 simply uses one LED that lights the entire finder's LCD overlay." Here is a link to Ken's own review of the D800 http://www.kenrockwell.com/nikon/d800.htm
Thanks for stopping by my blog! This is a user review of my Nikon D800. It's not a technical review and I'm not being paid to write it. I'm also not a technical expert. I am a real user and I like to write about my experiences to record them for posterity and just in case anyone finds it useful now. It's also just a quick review of my first impressions. I will add to this in later posts.
I look after my kit but I use it in the field in all weathers and I use it at hectic events like weddings where it needs to be robust enough to keep up with what I throw at it. My dad photographed me as a baby back in the early 70's with a Nikon and I bought my first one in 1988 and have been faithful ever since. I have never been let down by a Nikon body and the flash system is, and always has been, superb.
Anyway, the D800. I bought the D800 primarily as a landscape camera due to the huge resolution on offer from 36 megapixels. I have a few clients that ask for very large prints to display in offices and hospitals and my 12mp Nikon D3 just wouldn't make prints that size. If you look at my landscape gallery you will notice that my style isn't really about fine details and textures; it's more about mood, tone, colour and composition. The reason I say that is because when I was looking at buying the D800 I felt that people were obsessing about it's resolution in terms of revealing detail. Yes, I suppose increased resolution brings with it finer detail and also some photographers will need and love that but for me it was simply about print size. My 12mp D3 made wonderful images but I really wouldn't want to print them much larger than 20 inches.
There are a few things I would change about the D800. I rarely use the camera in it's native 3:2 aspect ratio. I much prefer the shape of 5:4 and this is present and available for selection in the menu. However, the implementation in the viewfinder is not as good as the D3. In 5:4 aspect ratio the D3 viewfinder was dimmed significantly at the edges leaving you in no doubt that you were viewing in 5:4 aspect ratio. The D800 just uses grid lines meaning you can still clearly see the areas that are not actually going to be recorded. When using the camera for landscapes I am necessarily precise in my composition so it is not a big issue but I would prefer not to have to even think about it. Dark grey edges are preferable to clear areas and extra gridlines. I would like to see a 1:1 aspect ratio as that is my preferred shape for landscape images. I have to pay very careful attention to my composition in 5:4 as I know I will be cropping to 1:1 later.
I was so alarmed at the battery life that I immediately ordered three extras. Most of my landscape images are made in the winter and photographing in the cold robs a battery's power quickly. I keep my spare batteries in my breast pocket when out in the cold just to keep them warm. At a wedding I am continually focussing with my eye at the viewfinder. I don't review images much on the rear screen but the batteries still seem to drain quite quickly. In fairness I have been spoilt by using a D3 where I could, very nearly, photograph a whole wedding on one fully charged battery.
Memory Banks (custom settings & shooting menu)
Using the cameras memory banks I have set up two different modes of use. One for landscape and one for action. In the Landscape mode the camera has the following settings; Quality = RAW, 5:4 Aspect Ratio, ISO 100, Exposure Delay mode = 3 seconds, Self Timer = 2 seconds, Picture Setting = standard (this only affects the rear LCD image as I capture RAW), Long Exposure Noise Reduction = On. My settings for 'Action' are very different so it's great that I can program the camera and switch between the two uses when needed. I have a major gripe about this though. It takes me nine button pushes to switch between the two meaning I have missed photo opportunities. I was on a deserted beach in Scotland making landscape images when four white horses walked around the spit of sand nearby. By the time I had got the camera into action mode the moment was lost, their interest in me had waned and they were walking off showing me their backs. I was extremely frustrated that I didn't manage to record it as it was happening; it was a magical moment at dusk. I think some cameras have very quick switching via a button or switch on the camera's top plate but not on Nikon Pro and Prosumer models.
Like all Nikon Pro and prosumer bodies the D800 is solid and well built, it feels good in the hand and inspires confidence. Ok, I've only had it 6 months but it hasn't missed a beat and does what it's told. I was worried that I would find it too lightweight after the rugged, brilliant D3, but it's not at all. The battery cover feels a little flimsy but not a lot can happen to it tucked away underneath the body and it is weather sealed. I took the screen protector off as soon as I took it out of the box and never put it back on. I want to be able to see as much as possible when reviewing an image and the protector just adds another layer. The screen is tough and completely unscratched. I don't bother with protectors on anything, particularly my lenses. I have a Kirk L Bracket attached permanently to the body which adds to it's solid feel and certainly adds some protection. I am enjoying the weight decrease since moving from a D3 and I don't feel quite as much like Popeye after a whole day at a wedding.
I use the following Nikon lenses: 50 f/1.4, 24-70 f/2.8, 70-200 VR2 f/2.8. I also use a Zeiss 21 f/2.8. There are plenty of technical reviews of lenses with the D800 so I will simply say that image quality is the best I have seen of all the equipment I have used over the past twenty years. I'm absolutely confident that my set up is at the cutting edge in terms of delivering image quality. The most surprising, and satisfying, thing is the dynamic range available at low ISO settings. A RAW file from the D800 at ISO 100 is capable of being developed almost like an HDR image. I was shocked at how much detail I could recover (or uncover) in the shadows. It's extraordinary to grab the shadow slider in Lightroom and drag it to the right and see detail being delivered that is barely perceptible out of the camera. In use I ensure that I don't clip the highlights of anything I deem important. I can then adjust shadows to where I feel happy.
The D800 is a well built, prosumer DSLR with an enormous pixel count that delivers wonderful RAW files with huge scope for post development. Am I happy? Yes, definitely. But I would not choose it as a wedding or action camera. For Landscape and Portrait work it is the best tool available in 35mm. But 36 megapixels is too much for a wedding. The rule of thumb that your shutter speed should roughly equal your focal length to achieve sharp images needs to be modified due to the pixel count. When using a 50mm I like to shoot at 1/125th second to be sure of a crisp image. With the D3 I could brace myself and get a sharp image at least three stops lower.
I miss my D3 when I'm at a wedding or covering an event. It has fantastic battery life, it is better at high ISO, it has a vertical shutter button and it takes two CF cards. I use the back up function, shooting to both cards simultaneously and I'd rather they be the same format; the D800 takes one CF and one SD card. In my opinion the Nikon D3, and by extension the D3s, is the best 35mm camera ever made. As soon as I can fund it I will get another D3. But I will keep the D800 for Landscape and Portrait work.
I hope you have enjoyed reading my brief review. I'm not an expert but I do use the D800 professionally and if my comments have helped you I'll be very pleased. We are all still learning and the quest to better our skills and knowledge will never end. If you have any questions, advice or anything to say please feel free to leave a comment.
It's a beautiful summers day here on the south coast of England so I'd better head into the downs with the D800.
All the best
© DUDLEY WILLIAMS
Recent PostsMaking the Apple iPhone 6 World Gallery. Time Lapse - Glen Etive Nikon D3 - The best camera in the World The Cuban Butcher Buying a painting in Cuba Milky Way over Toe Head, Isle of Harris A Month in Cuba Cuba street photography Window-light Portraits Learn how to use your camera in a day Nikon D800: Six months in the field. A real user review