Travails with my camera


Diploma in Professional Photography


I’ve been looking for a training course for intermediate/advanced photography for a while and recently found a course that matched my criteria:

  1. Online/Distance learning as I can’t really give a weekly course the attention it needs
  2. Unlimited time – I can’t always get the projects I want to do done in a short time frame
  3. Recommended

I first came across the OCA’s Art of Photography, but it’s pricey and requires 8 hours study per week.  I then found the Blackford Institute’s Diploma in Professional Photography, which had a sale on.  I did some research and it sounded perfect.  I’m really looking forward to trying some different genres of photography, although I think that it may take somewhere around 24 – 30 months of effort.

I’ll be uploading all of my coursework and replies to this website using ScribD (with some personal details removed).  All related posts will be tagged with “Diploma in Professional Photography”


My course tutor is Jeremy Webb, a pro-photographer from Norfolk.  He has a website here. He also has 2 published books:

Course Contents

  • History of photography
  • Introduction to photography
  • Professional photography
  • A guide to your manual settings
  • Techniques for taking professional photographs
  • Lighting
  • Travel photography
  • Photography equipment
  • The great outdoors: nature and landscapes
  • Macro photography
  • Digitally editing your photographs
  • Portrait photography
  • Wedding photography: the basics
  • Wedding photography: the wedding day
  • Wedding photography: presenting your work
  • Photo manipulation techniques
  • Cheesecake and beefcake photography
  • Business photography
  • Product and advertisement photography
  • Fashion photography
  • School photography
  • Photojournalism
  • Sports photography
  • Developing a digital presence
  • Setting up your business, legal and finance
  • Obtaining employment in photography

Reading List



Northumberland Day Out

I’ve been looking for photography ideas recently, and Northumberland features in a lot of travel photography books.  I grew up in Northumberland, I’ve been to just about every location they list, with parents, the Scouts or friends.  I know quite a lot of it really well.  It’s an overlooked jewel in the UK’s crown.  I’ve also looked at various travel photography courses – people are paying £800+ for a long weekend in Northumberland.

So, this got me thinking, what can I do in one day?  I’m not expecting perfect, but am hoping that I can get some decent images.

My idea so far:

Dunstanburgh Castle


Harthope Burn


Steel Rigg

Yowayowa Camera Woman

Found a great blog via DigitalRev TV, Yowayowa Camera Girl.  This Japanese lady specialises in levitation photography.


I really like them, they’re fun, they’re incredibly well executed (These are not photoshopped) and they’re something I’d love to try in the future.  To find out how to do it yourself, over to Kai at DRTV:


BPO – a technical challenge.

I’ve recently spent a few hours working on quite a challenging technical issue for some friends who are planning a round-the-world sailing trip.

They’d like to send back 30 second “video postcards” from their trip using a satellite phone, using less than one “unit”.  These videos are to be uploaded to YouTube for distribution.  So let’s crunch the numbers.

Required Bitrate.

I looked up the unit cost for both Inmarsat and Iridium.  Both quoted prices for units of 1 MB (megabyte).  Video bitrates are usually quoted in kilobits or megabits per second.

1 byte = 8 bits, so the unit size is 8Mb or 8000 kb.

The video length is 30 secs, so we have an available bitrate of 8000/30 = 267 kb/s to be shared between audio and video.  For reference, AVC-Intra (a pro camera codec) has a video nitrate of about 113000 kb/s, Freeview HD averages around 8000, even high quality MPEG 1 audio layer 3 (MP3) audio files may be 256 kb/s.

So we need a very drastic encoder!

Codec Choice.

We don’t want vendor lock-in so we need to use open standard codecs. Advanced Video Codec (aka H.264) and Advanced Audio Codec fit the bill nicely.  Both of these are available in FFmbc.  Most Non-linear editors produce one track per audio channel – so we also need to create a stereo file from the two mono tracks.

Bitrate Reduction.

First, this isn’t going to be HD.  Reduce the raster size using a decent filter like Lanczos.  Make sure the reduction is an integer division of the original, e.g. 1920×1080 to 480×270.

AVC only sends a full image once every x frames, by increasing x to 250 we drastically reduce the bitrate.

The intermediate frames are built by referencing other frames.  By increasing the number of frames that can be referenced, we get a better picture.

By throwing the kitchen sink at this algorithm wise, we can get even more gains.  So we need to allow the referencing algorithm to use its most exhaustive search, we choose the most processor intensive maths algorithm etc.

Bitrate Choice.

Audio is important, poor audio can ruin a video.  So I started off looking at the audio.  We can drop the sampling frequency to 32k.  This keeps voices intact and only removes the top harmonics of music.  We can then encode it at 64 kbps.

This leaves us with a fixed video bitrate.  I’ve never managed to get FFmbc to match the video bitrate to the requested bitrate, so I experimented with the input value to get an overall file size of 0.97 MB, just less than 1 unit.



ffmbc -y -i $INPUT -vf scale=480:320:0 -sws_flags lanczos -map_audio_channel\
 0:1:0:0:1:0 -map_audio_channel 0:2:0:0:1:1 -vcodec libx264 -vb 245k -maxrate\
 255k -minrate 235k -bufsize 1500k -g 250 -bf 4 -refs 6 -partitions all -me\
 umh -me_range 128 -subme 8 -trellis 2 -pix_fmt yuv420p -timecode 10:00:00:00\
 -acodec libfaac -ac 2 -ar 32000 -ab 64k -f mov $OUTPUT

The Test Sequence.

Test sequences need to match the usage.  This is for talking heads and there odd landscape.  To test the software, I shot a quick 35 second sequence consisting of:

  • cutaway with detailed bridge and reflective building
  • cutaway with detailed brickwork and reflective building
  • piece to camera with shallow depth of field
  • street scene with movement
  • water
  • digital zoom into map

This was shot on a Canon 700d (1920x1080p25) which is probably representative of the type of camera in use. To model the audio, I added a rights free instrumental track and a female voice reading Conrad.


I think it works quite well.  YouTube accepts the file, and transcodes it to a very respectable video.  The only sequence that doesn’t work is water – which I wasn’t expecting to work.

2 Photography Books

Read This If You Want To Take Great Photographs

I’ve recently finished reading a fantastic book called “Read This If You Want To Take Great Photographs” by Henry Carroll.  I found the style really interesting.  Rather than the usual technical details of how a camera works, this book uses photographs from very famous photographers (Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Robert Frank etc.) to examine the effects of camera settings, rules of composition, choice of exposure etc.  It concentrates on getting a great image in camera rather than the Photoshop obsession of many recent books.  This appeals to me as I grew up using film where the ability to retouch was limited (and I’m too cheap to pay for Photoshop and use open source alternatives instead ;-))

It is aimed at the technical novice and dogmatically stays away from the technical side of the subject (which is just as well, as the author does get the technical definition of telephoto wrong – but then so do all the other photographers I’ve met*).  It’s a brilliant book and , with the discount code, is a bargain for about £8.

Here is an example of the author discussing the effects of shutter speed on motion blur illustrated by an image from Ernst Haas.



Perfect Exposure


A second book I have received and dipped into recently is “Perfect Exposure” by Michael Freeman.  I got it as a free PDF using the method given on this page:

This book is far more technical than the first.  It’s not aimed at beginners as it discusses items like Ansel Adams’ zonal system and workflow charts to create perfectly exposed images.


It’s definitely worth a read – but start with the first book and build up.


*For reference, a telephoto lens is one in which the physical length is less than the focal length.  So you can get wide angle telephoto lenses.

Cornel Lucas at the National Theatre

Just returned from a fantastic exhibition at the National Theatre foyer.  A free exhibition of Cornel Lucas’ favourite pieces.

Not many will have heard of him, but many (most?) will have seen his work.  He had a few photographic jobs during his lifetime:

  1. With the RAF during the war researching innovative techniques to undertake aerial photographs,
  2. As a fashion photographer for the Littlewood’s Mail Order Catalogue, and
  3. As a portrait photographer.

Indeed, he is the only stills photographer to ever be given a BAFTA for services to the UK Film Industry.  His shots are quite well known, even if no-one could say who took them.  I couldn’t choose 2 favourites, so here’s three.  (Look at the shadows on the face creating a 3D effect to see how much effort he’s put into the image).

Joan Collins, 1952 (C) Cornel Lucas

Joan Collins, 1952 (C) Cornel Lucas

David Niven, 1955 (C) Cornel Lucas

David Niven, 1955 (C) Cornel Lucas

Marlene Dietrich, 1948 (C) Cornel Lucas

Marlene Dietrich, 1948 (C) Cornel Lucas

Army Cadets at the Menin Gate

How Much Is A Return To Ypres?

Army Cadets at the Menin Gate

Here two members of the UK Army Cadet Force view one of many panels of names inscribed on the Menin Gate. The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing is a war memorial in Ypres, Belgium dedicated to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient of World War I and whose graves are unknown. The memorial is located at the eastern exit of the town and marks the starting point for one of the main roads out of the town that led Allied soldiers to the front line.

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Recording of Last Post Association

How Much Is A Return To Ypres?

A recording of the Last Post Association playing under the Menin Gate Memorial in Ieper (Ypres). The Last Post Association is an independent, voluntary, non-profit-making organisation. It was the Association that first founded the Last Post Ceremony back in 1928, and it is the Association that is still responsible for the day-to-day organisation of this unique act of homage. It also administers the Last Post Fund, which provides the financial resources necessary to support the ceremony. It is a tradition that the Buglers of the Association should wear the uniform of the local volunteer. Fire Brigade, of which they are all required to become members.

The Last Post was a bugle call played in the British Army (and in the armies of many other lands) to mark the end of the day’s labours and the onset of the night’s rest. In the context of the Last Post ceremony (and in…

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Hill 62 Panorama

Hill 62 Panorama by GeordieCy
Hill 62 Panorama, a photo by GeordieCy on Flickr.

Adventure Travel Show

Last weekend I went to the Adventure Travel Show at Kensington Olympia.  Despite some teething troubles (who has a show on the 3rd floor of a building with no stair access?) I managed to get in.  The show was small – much smaller that Destinations or the TNT Show – but the vendors were quality.

Wandering around I spent nearly 30 mins talking to a guy from Botswana about camping safaris, some crazy guys who were going to sail across the Pacific and chatting to some conservationists about their work in the Scinde province.  I also bumped into Austin Vince of the Adventure Travel Film Festival (An email to him is on my  to do list for this weekend).


Like every engineer, I love a good gadget – and I ended up parting with £20 for a WaterToGo bottle – a combination water bottle and purification filter.  It doesn’t need chlorine tablets, but it can be used with them.  Filters just about any fresh water source into safe, drinkable water.

Trailblazer Books

I met Chris Scott at the Adventure Travel Film Festival last year.  These publishers do some great books, 2 that caught my eye are:

Available online here.

Globetrotters Club

I’m always looking for interesting things to do in London.  At the show I bumped into the Globetrotters Club.

The aim behind Globetrotters is to provide a way for like minded people to meet or communicate to exchange ideas, information and experiences.  They have some fantastic talks coming up and some fantastic discounts available.

On The Go

So then I bumped into the On The Go Tours stand.  I’ve been to Russia, Turkey and Egypt with them and love their tours, budget but good value and employing local tour guides and family companies.  And there, on their stand was what I’d just been chatting about at a price I could afford – 12 days on safari for the sum total of £280 plus national park entry fees.


So, I booked!

  • Victoria Falls
  • Chobe National Park
  • Okovango Delta
  • Maun
  • Palapye
  • Blydepoort
  • Kruger National Park
  • Johannesburg

I’ve signed up for a few optional extras – A boat trip on the Chobe river, canoeing down the Okovango Delta and hiring a Land rover to explore the Kruger National Park.

So I’ll need

And I’ll need to get these out of the wardrobe (seriously guys – these £40 Meindl British Army Desert Boots are the most comfortable boot I’ve ever owned – better than even Berghaus)

It is a camping safari – but that sounds so much better than the lodge ones.  I can’t wait to get under canvas again – it’s been too long for someone who had over 450 nights under canvas by the time he left the Scout Association.  ROLL ON NOVEMBER.