The Trip to Spain – Part I by Ian Clark

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I originally planned to write about our trip to Spain in one blog post, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised it would probably be a mammoth post. So instead I am going to break this down into parts. I have no idea as I type this paragraph how many parts there will be, but this is definitely part one of…a few. 

Let’s start with some background… 

Way back in 2002, in a former pre-library life, I met and fell in love with a Spanish colleague at work. We started dating and, after a couple of years, got married. For a long time, before we started having kids, we would holiday around Europe, visiting different countries and major cities (Lisbon, Prague and Berlin being particular highlights – I proposed in Prague so it’s a special place for us both), but also frequently going back to Spain and, in particular, Sevilla (which is where my wife is from, and where her family still live today). 

Fast forward a few years and we have a couple of daughters, one well established in school, one just started. As you might expect, holidays now are restricted to school holidays and, to make matters worse, my wife and I barely have enough leave to cover all the holidays between us. Consequently, we have one holiday a year now where we all go away as a family and just chill out. For the kids, this is an extended holiday in Spain as the trip also doubles up as part of our childcare arrangements (they stay out there for most if not all of the summer holidays, before my in-laws bring them back towards the end of the summer). This is undoubtedly great for them as they get fully immersed in the culture and really develop their language skills.

Anyway, these holidays are a chance to chill out but also, of course, provide me with an opportunity to go out with my camera and visit some fresh locations (instead of restricting myself to the usual places in Kent at the weekends). Of course, this has to be balanced off with time with the family in Spain and the kids, but it affords me opportunities I rarely have and it’s a chance for me to test my skills and try to take my photography further. Inevitably I come back with loads of photos to wade through, process and share. And, well, this holiday was no different.

On this particular trip we decided to go away for a couple of nights, leaving the kids with their grandparents and getting some quality time alone and some time to just…relax. As well as overnight stays in Ronda and Zahara de la Sierra, we also made a trip to Cadiz (don’t tell my wife, but this is actually my favourite city in Andalucia - if not Spain) and had an extended stay in the middle of the Andalucian countryside. I’ll fill in more about our trips away across the next few blog posts (I’m thinking there might be, like, three more?). I guess we’ll call this “the context” post. Now for fleshing out the detail…

Street Portraits by Ian Clark

A little while ago I had some business cards made up and delivered. The intention was to use these to help with taking street portraits when I went to Spain (nothing like a challenge, eh?!). Needless to say, I didn’t end up taking any street portraits or giving out any cards during my trip. But I was determined to have a go and figured that maybe a trip to London might be the best way to dip my toes in these waters.

As I mentioned in my previous post, part of the process of managing my mental health has been going out alone with the camera and taking some photos. With this in mind I took myself off to the South Bank (my favourite part of London and one of my favourite places to potter around and chill out) to spend some time alone. After a bit of a difficult period trying to avoid people and keep myself to myself, I figured maybe giving myself a target of street portraits might help me to get interacting with people again and grow my confidence (interacting with people is a large part of my job).

Now, aside from my personal issues at present, I’m quite a shy person. I’m not great at approaching and talking to strangers. If I can avoid doing so I will (which is great when you want peace and quiet). So I was pretty nervous about doing this, but I also felt that if I can do it, I might be in a better place to return to work and get back into interacting and working with people.

After a short walk from London Bridge station to Tower Bridge I came across a couple that I figured might be good subjects for a portrait and they seemed like they might be happy to have their photo taken by a stranger. Fortunately they were lovely people and more than happy to oblige. Not only were they happy to have their photo taken, they also made me feel instantly at ease (I guess technically it should have been the other way around but still…). To the extent that I gained a lot of confidence from our brief interaction, and felt emboldened to approach more strangers on the street.

In the end, discounting friends, I managed to photograph five people as I wondered around the South Bank. All happy to have their photo taken. I felt increasingly confident with each portrait and by the fifth portrait I was beginning to really get into it. I kinda knew that London might be a good place to experiment with this kind of photography but nonetheless, capturing some street portraits felt like quite an achievement for me on a number of levels.

There are a few things that I took away from the experience that I thought I’d share in case anyone else out there is thinking of experimenting with taking portraits of strangers on the streets. These aren’t so much a “top tips”, more of a “things I reflected on during and after”.

Who not to approach – I made a decision early on not to approach people eating or wearing headphones. It felt like something of an intrusion on private space and I didn’t think it would be welcome (I did approach one woman drinking a glass of wine, but I spent a long time weighing it up before I did so). As someone who puts a premium on personal space, I had no wish whatsoever to be seen to be invading anyone’s space.

Aperture priority – keep your camera in aperture priority mode. Settle on the depth of field you wish to use in your portraits (obviously the wider the shallower, the smaller and the more your subject will be placed in context) and let the camera do the rest. As someone who has avoided shutter or aperture priority since learning full manual, I found switching to a mode where the camera shares the workload a massive help. You don’t want to be messing around with settings when you are taking photos of people on the street. You need to be relatively quick and unfussy.

Previsualisation – I found with some of my portraits that maybe I could have thought more about the composition before I took the shot. I think I was mainy nervous about taking up their time and generally tried to fire the shots off fairly quickly. As a result, some of the compositions are not quite right so I think I need to consider this a bit more when I next take street portraits.

Natural, posed or looking at the camera? - I also took a mixture of shots of the subject looking at the camera, away from the camera and natural. I didn’t really settle on which kind of look I prefer, but I think I maybe need to be clearer on this before I take the photo.

Business cards helped – When I approached each subject, I asked if I could take their photograph and produced a card with my details on it to make them feel at ease that this isn’t just a random person taking photos for no real reason. I also offered to send them a copy of the photo if they dropped me an email. I don’t think my shots were particularly great, but I figured the offer of sending them a copy might help.

Why are you doing this? – One person queried why I wanted to take their photo, which caught me out a little, but I explained that I was a photographer and it was my first attempt at taking portrait photos. Although that satisfied the subject, I guess I need to think this through a bit more. Why exactly am I taking their photo? What is the purpose?

There’s nothing to fear – as I said, I was really nervous beforehand, but I needn’t have been. London is a great place to try out this type of photography. People are generally pretty relaxed. It’s a city that has long got used to cameras being everywhere (in one way or another…). People generally seem open to such approaches. Some people will say no, but just put that aside and move on (easy for me to say when I was fortunate enough not to have been rejected on this occasion, but seriously, there are plenty of people happy to be the subject of your photo!).

Have you had a go at street portraits? How did you find it? What worked for you/what didn’t work? What would you do differently in future? And if you haven’t, what is it that’s making you nervous about trying it? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Photography and mental health by Ian Clark

St Margaret's Bay near Dover. Growing up in Dover, the cliffs become an evocative reminder of home.

St Margaret's Bay near Dover. Growing up in Dover, the cliffs become an evocative reminder of home.

2018 has been a difficult year. Back in February, my mother passed away following years of decline. She was diagnosed with a rare condition known as Multiple System Atrophy (MSA). Once MSA sets in, the body rapidly declines. Within six years my mother went from relatively healthy to being unable to move virtually a single muscle in her body. She went from difficulties walking, to being incapable of getting out of bed unaided to being unable to feed herself to barely being able to speak. My sister and I saw her the weekend before she passed away and it was a very distressing sight. We knew that she didn't have long left.

Our mother passed on to both of us a love of photography. Both my sister and I have a long had an interest in it. I've had cameras for long as I can remember. Mainly point and click auto focus cameras, I have particular fond memories of an Olympus Mju II that I fell in love with many years ago. I was never a "serious" photographer, but I was always interested in experimenting with different composures, trying to get photos that are a little different than the usual. Eventually, after dipping my toes in the water with a couple of digital compact cameras (an Olympus digital followed by a Lumix with a Leica lens), I decided to get an entry level DSLR (which I still use now) - a Nikon D3200

It took me a little while to take full control, sticking rigidly to taking photos in automatic mode, always intending to learn, but never quite finding the time. Then, eventually, a free online course cropped up, a signed up and here I am, still learning, but also confidently taking images in full manual mode. I got there.

I used to play football on a regular basis until I was no longer able to due to change in jobs making it too difficult to get from work to home to football on a week night. Football was a great stress reliever for me. It helped to keep me balanced, to provide an outlet for my frustrations. Since putting the football shoes away, I've lacked that certain something. I threw myself into a lot of things, got involved in way too many things, and didn't have an outlet to release the building pressure. Photography has given me an excuse to go out and about, forcing me to put on a pair of shoes and go out into the countryside for some relaxation and quiet reflection. Never has this been more important than during the past seven months.

These last two weeks I've been signed off from work due to my mental health. And over those two weeks I honestly don't know what I would have done without my camera. There were days I stayed in bed all morning, unable to get up. But there were days where I resolved to get up earlier, go out and enjoy nature at sunrise. In a way the camera gave me the motivation to do something. To go out. To get fresh air. Even to talk to people. Funnily enough, as I was mulling over writing this post, I watched this video by Simon Baxter which really, for me, encapsulates the impact photography has on me (although I'm a long way off going professional - if that's ever even something I'd be interested in doing).

So yeah, photography has been a massive help in terms of my mental health. Regardless of the quality of the photos I take, I certainly feel that going out with my camera, getting out in nature and spending some time alone to reflect, has made a big difference in terms of my mental wellbeing. I just wish it hadn't taken me so long to realise how important that is.

 

A New Stuff Post by Ian Clark

I'm not habit of spending lots of money all the time on photography stuff (we have two children so disposable income is often nothing more than a pipe dream). But from time to time I manage to have a little splurge. This week was one of those (rare) weeks. And today was one of those even rarer days where two things arrive on the same day, one obviously photohgraphy related, one less so (yet something I've come to realise I really needed - you know, as much as you need 'stuff').

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Just before we went away to Spain (and I thought I'd blogged about this but it seems not!), I bought some Cokin gradual nd filters and a filter system. I had some money burning in my pocket from my birthday and, after chatting to the folks in my local camera shop, decided that that money was best invested in a filter system. Money burnt, I excitedly packed them for our trip to Spain, looking forward to trialling them out. One thing I recognised early on is that the packaging wasn't great for protecting the filters. Each filter was in a plastic sleeve, but the box it came in wasn't the most secure. So I decided to stump up for a proper carry case for them, which fortunately Cokin also make. At least now the filters should be kept in good shape and hopefully won't get damaged when out and about.

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The other thing I stumped up for was something I never thought I'd be getting with photography in mind: hiking boots. I've been spending most of my time concentrating on landscape photography this past year and it became clear last winter that I didn't really have the footwear for traipsing around the country in the snow and mud. So it seemed that, as summer makes its way out the door (can't believe I am writing that in August), it maybe might be a good idea to invest in some proper boots.

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I'm particularly pleased with the ones I got as they also seem to be perfect for the snow. Although down in the south east we don't tend to get too much snow, my little corner is pretty high up and can get hit fairly bad when the snow does hit (we've had several occasions where driving was out of the question). So these boots should be perfect. And better than trying to stomp through the snow with a trainers on.

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That's probably my lot for a while (although I have my eye on a big stopper for my Cokin system), right now I'm mainly looking forward to autumn colours and great sunsets. Not long to go now... (must stop wishing the summer away!)

YouTube channels that have helped me progress by Ian Clark

One of the things that I’ve found really helpful in the past year as I’ve been learning the ropes about photography are photography YouTube channels. These have been invaluable for me in terms of getting me to think about my photography more, particularly in terms of composition and technique. Something I have been keen to do since taking a Shaw Academy basic photography course is to keep progressing and learning, vlogs have been really helpful in this process. (I’ve also become a regular buyer of Digital Camera magazine, but there’s something about vlogs that I find particularly helpful.)

Given I’ve found these vlogs useful (and given I’m trying to get back into the habit of blogging!), I thought I’d share a list of the vlogs I’ve subscribed to. Do let me know in the comments if there are others you have found useful!

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1.     The Art of Photography – This is the first vlog that I subscribed to on YouTube…albeit in a weird way. I’d subscribed to the channel via iTunes as a podcast and, after a while, thought it was a bit weird it was rarely update and yet Ted often talked about stuff that seemed to have happened previously that I was completely unaware of. Eventually I twigged that what I should subscribe to is his YouTube channel, and it has been an invaluable source of information. Ted’s channel is exceptionally well produced (many times looking like a professional documentary, particularly when out in the field) and his passion and enthusiasm are infectious.  He’s got me thinking a lot about composition as well as about ensuring that I never lose sight of the love of photography, that I don’t fall into it being a routine or something that causes anxiety. As part of his channel, Ted also does a series of interviews with respected photographers. I admit I’ve not really checked into these yet, but it’s something I intend to start doing as I feel engaging with the styles and approaches of respected professionals can only aid my development. If you haven’t already, I’d definitely recommend checking out Ted’s channel.

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2.     Nigel Danson – Nigel is a landscape photographer, one that not long ago gave up his career to be a professional. As someone interested in landscape photography myself, I have found Nigel’s videos to be essential to my development and understanding of great landscape photography (although I have a way to go until I get close to his quality!). Nigel covers everything from his spectacular field trips (he even uses a drone to produce his films which produces breath-taking results) to tips about equipment. I’ve got to admit, I often watch his videos with awe and a degree of nervousness (I’m scared of heights and often his ‘standing on the edge of a mountain looking down’ viewpoints fill me with dread…and cause me to doubt the extent to which I can take great landscapes). But I have learnt a lot about style, technique and composition from his films and, like Ted, his enthusiasm and passion can’t help but make you want to go out and experiment.

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3.     Jamie Windsor – Jamie has a very different style to Ted and Nigel, but he is no less passionate and engaging. Jamie takes a rather relaxed, offbeat look at photography, primarily focusing on techniques rather than kit. He also produces some challenging videos that really encourage you to critically reflect on your photography (eg “Why BAD Photographers THINK They’re Good”, “You’re NOT as TALENTED as you think” and “Why WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY is BORING (and how to change that)”). I particularly enjoyed his video on approaching strangers for portraits (something that he, as I am, was very nervous and reticent about doing), it gave me plenty to think about in terms of how I would approach street portraiture (although I’ve still not done it yet!). If you want something a bit more informal, yet still inspiring, I’d definitely recommend Jamie’s channel.

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4.     Mike Browne – Mike is someone I think of as the kind of traditional idea of a photographer (although that doesn’t mean his photography is old fashioned by any stretch). Mike shoots his videos in a very professional way, but they still have the feel of someone who isn’t a polished performer, which is great, it feels much more natural than some other photography channels. Mike makes mistakes, he sometimes writes notes that he refers to during his videos, but none of this detracts from the videos he makes, if anything it enhances them. He recently ran a chat on growing confidence (I missed it but caught up on the chat afterwards) and it really got me thinking about my own photography, my own issues with confidence and some of the ways I need to think about overcoming my fears and taking my photography on a level. Mike’s revelations about his own fears and lack of confidence certainly helped to make him appear a much more natural presenter than some others you find online. And, well, that’s quite refreshing when polished performance is seen as an essential component of a good video, when the reality is that good information makes a good video.

Anyway, they’re the main channels I follow, what about you? Are there great photography channels on YouTube that you find useful? Do you have a channel, or thinking of starting one? I’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments below!

Upcoming trips, new gear and challenging myself by Ian Clark

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Those of you who know me personally will know this year has been a difficult year. It’s also been pretty full on in a work context for a variety of reasons. With that in mind, I’m very much looking forward to a break and, thankfully, one is not too far off in the distance and rapidly coming into view. And where there are breaks and holidays, there are opportunities to take my camera out and get shooting.

If you follow me on Instagram (*coughs* instagram.com/captureyield *coughs*) you may notice that I indicate my location as being Canterbury/London/Spain. Canterbury is where I live. London is where I work. Spain is, predominantly where I holiday. So why a holiday destination as my location? Well, my wife is Spanish and consequently, we tend to head there to visit the family a few times a year (although obviously not as much as we’d like thanks to school holidays and limited childcare options). Not only is she from Spain, she’s also from Sevilla, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe (ok, there may be a little bias creeping in there).

Sevilla is one of those places that you can never tire of. I’ve been lucky to have spent many holidays there over the sixteen years we have been together, and I always want to spend time in the centre, checking out the amazing buildings and grabbing a few photos. Well, ok, more than a few…a lot. But I also like to travel around and see more of Spain. Over the years we’ve done trips to Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Galicia and the Basque Country, as well as a number of towns and cities across Andalucia (my personal favourite being Cadiz, which I absolutely love).

This year we’ve booked a couple of hotels for just the two of us to stay in (thanks the in-laws!), one in Ronda and one in a beautiful little town called Zahara de la Sierra. The former for a bit of touristy wandering around, the latter for some scenic country chill out time. Both places we’ve been to before. Ronda about thirteen years ago, Zahara about three years ago. The latter we discovered when having a look around for little known places to visit in the south, and I was pretty blown away by the scenary when we arrived. I’ve wanted to go back for so long with my camera, and I can’t wait to try to capture the scene again. Well, as well as to chill out, read a book and chill out with my wife of course!

I’m not sure whether I will get to use it on this trip, but I do have one new addition to the camera bag that I am hoping to try out soon. For a few weeks I’ve had some money burning in my pocket, mulling over what I should get next. After a lot of mulling (other things that were considered included: extension rings, big stoppers for my wide-angle lens, a 35mm lens…) I finally plumped for a ND gradient filter kit. I had been unsure about getting one for a while, not least because you can achieve the effect in Photoshop/Lightroom, however, I’m getting to think that maybe it’s best to get stuff sorted in camera first, to minimise the time spent editing post-production. So I picked one up care of my local camera shop, a great place that has put me straight on a few things over the years and made sure I had all the bits I needed to make use of the ND filter kit (because of course you don’t just need a box with everything in it, you need the filters, the holder and the adapter for your lens).

At the time of writing I’ve not yet given them a run out, but I aim to do so soon. Maybe on the trip, but then again, you often find cloudless blue skies for days on end, so not sure it will help me that much, but I’ll take them with me regardless just in case. I want to keep pushing myself further so I figured getting an ND filter kit would be a step towards further developing my skills. Talking of which, there’s another thing I’m going to attempt to do when we are away…

Over the course of the past year or so, I’ve mainly been focused (I’ve got to stop using that word in this context!) on landscape photography. It’s something I’m comfortable with because I don’t feel any pressure in capturing the scenery. If it works, great. If not, it’s slightly frustrating, but not the end of the world. The one thing I have steered clear of is portraits. Particularly portraits of people on the street. But this is something I am aiming to fix. I’m going to be brave and try asking people if I can take their photo.

 

My Moo business cards...we'll see if I actually use them...

My Moo business cards...we'll see if I actually use them...

This is quite a big deal for me. I’m not the most outgoing of people, and I am particularly bad at talking to people I don’t know. But I’m going to give it a try. To help me, I recently bought some business cards with my photography links on it, with the aim of demonstrating that I’m (sort of) a photographer and you will be able to see your photo on this site. Hopefully that might help. Who knows. The cards, by the way, I’m really pleased with. Produced by Moo they are made from t-shirt off-cuts (no, really). They look great, and I hope they further reassure people that I’m asking for their photo for good reasons!

Anyway, not long to go now…let’s see how I get on and hopefully I’ll be able to post some interesting results in the coming weeks. Hopefully I will have plucked up the courage to take some portrait photos. If not, hopefully I will at least have some nice landscape photos to share!

Follow my trip on Twitter and Instagram at @captureyield.

Dungeness and Rye by Ian Clark

A couple of weeks back I took myself off to Dungeness and Rye with my camera gear for a birthday meander around the “only desert in the UK” (spoiler: this is disputed!) and then onto one of my favourite summer destinations. Well, the family were working or at school/nursery so I figured a little jaunt with my camera gear was in order.

I’ve been to Dungeness a couple of times over the years. The first time as part of a small trip that myself and a couple of friends had to organise for ourselves as part of our BTEC course (a fun trip that involved riding on the back of a stranger’s pickup truck on the way to Dungeness power station…). The second time was more recently, following a trip to the local nature reserve with the family. On the second occasion, I had packed my camera gear and intended to take a few shots of the scenery on the beach. I managed to fire a few off, but I was conscious my wife and kids were in the car patiently waiting for me to finish so we could head home. As a result, I wasn’t overly happy with the results so resolved to head back at some point and do a “proper photography trip”.

I’m sure by now you’ve heard or read many stories about Dungeness being a weird place with a strange and unique feel. It’s become almost a cliché about the landscape. However, no matter how cynical you are (trust me, I am very cynical), this sense of strangeness really does ring true when you visit. There is no denying it has a weird feel about it. Perhaps this was helped by my visit being during school term so I was virtually the only person on the beach. The lack of people and the eerie apocalyptic landscape came together to form a strange, other-worldly feel to the place. Well, it was either that or the nuclear power station…

A familiar sight at Dungeness...

A familiar sight at Dungeness...

I’d packed a few lenses with me, but mainly resolved to mainly rely on my recently purchased Sigma 10-20mm ultra wide angle lens. I’ve been quite happy with the results of this lens over the past few months, although I have found the auto-focus a little bit iffy at times – to the extent that I have almost permanently switched to manual focus. With Dungeness’ wide-open expanse filled with interesting objects, wide-angle seemed to be the best option to capture that sense of space punctured by decay and abandonment.

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I think many of the photos I took on the trip are pretty standard Dungeness scenes. There weren’t any new or alternative takes on the landscape, however my main aim on this occasion was simply to compose some good shots and capture the scene as it is. Yes, this has been done many times before by many enthusiastic photographers across Kent, but I was really unhappy with the shots from my last trip so I wanted to “do it properly” this time around.

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I was fortunate in that, as I mentioned above, there were few people around and I managed to get some shots of scenery without people in shot so it really helped to emphasise that apocalyptic landscape. I was also lucky in that although it was a hot and sunny day, the sky was broken up with cloud which really helped add texture and interest to the images. Clear blue skies, or flat grey skies really wouldn’t have helped. The sky needed some drama too to help with the composition.

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I did have one minor annoyance on the trip to Dungeness. Whilst wandering around between scenes, I heard some movement in the shingle off in the distance. I looked, and a ridiculously large hare suddenly appeared and sat up, surveying the landscape. I had my wide-angle lens attached so reached to get the zoom lens from my bag. No sooner had I put my hands on it, than the hare decided it was time to explore. The moment had passed. I can see now why people take a “spare” camera (although I don’t see any sign of me adding a second camera any time soon).

After a couple of hours in Dungeness, I made my way to picturesque Rye. I’ve been going to Rye for some time now for short day trips. I’m not a collector of antiques (or tat to be honest) but Rye has so many little shops selling all kinds of interesting items, you easily get sucked into checking your wallet and seeing if you could maybe buy that weird item sitting on the glass cabinet. Then there are the cobbled streets lined with Tudor-framed buildings, Rye is the very definition of a charming little town.

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And so off I pottered, wandering the streets, taking a few shots. Typically, as it’s Rye, there were plenty of people meandering around the little art and craft shops around the main centre. Unfortunately, one of the main streets of interest (Mermaid Street) was also spoilt by scaffolding around one of the beautiful old buildings that line the street. It’s hard to be too grumpy, the buildings aren’t merely there to look nice in photos after all, but it was a little bit disappointing that I wasn’t quite able to get the shots I wanted. Nonetheless, I got a few shots I was quite happy with before pottering off home.

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I really enjoyed and valued the time alone to wander around with my camera and think a bit more about the shots I was taking. I still feel like I crammed in a bit too much (Dungeness alone would have been fine), but I felt that the time alone was valuable in terms of thinking about composition a bit more. One thing I am increasingly conscious of is that now I have a wide-angle lens, there is a tendency to shoot all landscapes using it to capture the full scene. What I need to think more about is capturing specific parts of the scenery to make for more unique takes on the landscape. After all, anyone can capture a whole scene, picking particular elements of interest is far more subjective and, potentially, far more unique.

Post-processing with the 13" MacBook Pro by Ian Clark

The 2017 13" MacBook Pro

The 2017 13" MacBook Pro

This year my mission was to take my photography a bit further, to take what I have learnt so far and improve the quality of the photos I have taken. One of the things I was most conscious of was my ability to process images. And yes, as you might have noticed, I bought a shiny new thing to help me.

For a while now I’ve not really been happy with my post-processing options. I felt like I was taking reasonably good photos (although I’ve still got much to learn), but the post-processing element was letting me down. Up until now, my workflow has been as follows:

  1. Import photos into Photoshop Elements 11.
  2. Run some autofixes.
  3. Upload photos to Flickr.
  4. Download favourites onto my iPad.
  5. Process using VSCO.
  6. Re-add to Flickr.
  7. Post some of the processed photos to Instagram.

Much as I like VSCO (enough to pay for VSCO X), the problem with this process was that it led to compressed files. Processing on VSCO on the iPad would turn a 12mb file into a 2-3mb file. Sure, it would look great on social media (and even in The Guardian!), but if I wanted better resolution images to blow up (or, indeed, sell at some point in the future), this process wasn’t going to cut it. I needed something that would be easy to use and produce high quality images.

My issue for a while has been that although my desktop is pretty good, I had hesitations around using it for intensive processing. For a long time, I had been thinking what I actually needed was a more powerful machine dedicated to photo processing. So, I started looking at investing in something that could help take my photography faster.

Alongside power, a key need for me was portability. I often go to Spain with my Spanish partner to visit her family, and these trips are also often opportunities for me to get out and about in Andalucia (and beyond) taking photos. As a result, rather than chucking everything on a hard-drive and process a huge number of photos when I get home, it would be much better to do be able to process photos as I go along. It seemed to me that a compact laptop I can pack on the plane would be a perfect option. So I started investigating the options and ultimately plumped for the MacBook Pro 13” model with touch bar.

 

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Initially I had a reluctance to go for the Apple option. I have an iPad and an iPhone, but my desktop is a PC and generally I am quite happy with PCs for my day-to-day stuff. However, I knew that in terms of getting something powerful that can really help with my photography, an Apple laptop would be a serious contender. I also took a serious look at the Dell X13. It too is a powerful laptop and, hardly a surprise, significantly cheaper than the MacBook Pro. But after weighing up the two, I leaned slightly more towards the MacBook Pro – mainly after watching dozens upon dozens of YouTube review clips and reading numerous articles. Why? I guess the two factors that stood out were the screen quality and, brace yourselves, the touch bar.

Wait. The touch bar?

Er, yeah.

One of the things that I liked about processing on my iPad was the use of touch and sliders to edit my photos. I much preferred this to my other option of sitting down on Photoshop Elements and using a mouse to navigate around. Touch sliders (for me anyway) make life a whole lot easier. The realisation that the touch bar was already integrated into Photoshop was a big plus for me. Sure, the touch bar is only small and it’s not the same as using an iPad, but nonetheless it is better than not having the option at all.

When looking to go for the MacBook Pro I was also very conscious of the specs. We all know what Apple are like in terms of upgrading equipment, so it was important to buy the most powerful spec I could afford. So, alongside the touch bar option, I also went for the fastest processor available on the 13” (the i7 processor) and 16gb of RAM. In terms of storage space, I went with 256gb because I’m only intending on using the laptop for processing photos before moving to external storage. I didn’t see the point in upping the capacity on the laptop as ultimately, I would still need to eventually move stuff onto an external drive or another storage option. 256gb is plenty for the amount of processing I am likely to do, as well as giving me space for some other stuff I might want to use it for.

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All that said, it took me a long time to stump up for it. I wasn’t wholly convinced the MacBook would comfortably handle Photoshop. I was concerned that I would fork out a significant amount of money, only to find myself disappointed. As well as watching video reviews of the MacBook Pro and the X13 in general, I hunted high and low for hints at how the 13” would perform handling Photoshop. Some of the reviews I read were not promising. One article I read basically argued that the 13” was not suitable for photo processing. I put this down to the fact it was using the base model, rather than the one I was looking at. Nonetheless, I was very nervous about a substantial outlay without really knowing if it was the right option.

How is it working out so far? Well, pretty good. Around the same time as I bought the MacBook, I also started a subscription to the Adobe Creative Cloud photography package (which includes Lightroom and Photoshop – I’ll blog on my experiences with these at a later date). I also made the switch from RAW+JPEG to RAW only – the big leap. Now I’ll be working on photos from scratch. I would have the image in its unprocessed state and work from there.

In terms of handling the processing of the images, the MacBook has had no problems whatsoever. Processing has been quick and painless, with no lag whatsoever, even when chucking dozens of RAW images at it at a time. It’s also been easy to get great looking images thanks to the clarity of the MacBook screen.

The flipsides? Well, although the Toolbar integrates with Photoshop, it doesn’t as yet integrate with Lightroom (I hope that’s to come – particularly as most of my editing will be in Lightroom).

The other main drawback? Battery. I guess this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Photoshop is pretty intensive on the processor, so I guess it follows that it would use up a lot of juice pretty quickly. So far it has not been unusual for around 50% of the battery to disappear after about an hour of photo processing. However, that was a pretty intensive session of processing many photos in one go and I suspect in future I will take fewer photos and be more prepared to delete images I’m not totally happy with from the camera (as well as resisting the urge to take a dozen photos of exactly the same scene – my main current vice).

It’s early days yet, but I’m pretty pleased with the investment and I already notice the difference in quality by processing from RAW rather than JPEG (especially the difference when compared with those processed on my iPad). I feel already this will make a massive difference to the quality of my photos and help me to take that step further on from last year when I got to grips with manual. I’ll keep you posted!