Things what I writ

I sometimes write nonsense about things to try and sound clever

Being your own stock library

I have a tendency to fill presentation materials with pictures of myself. This is because I’m a hopelessly deluded narcissist. It’s also because its free, readily available and in high resolution. There might even be something relevant to the point I’m making, although I can always change the point I’m making if the photo is better than the point I’m making. I’m joking.

It’s not only pictures of myself, of course. Over a number of years I’ve built up enough photos of post-it notes taken at 45 degrees with a depth of field the width of a Sharpie to fill Slideshare. I’ve also got a folders overflowing with close-ups of whiteboard erasers, sketches of mobile sites that will never get built and abstract blocks of colour that I think will represent a particular mood when I’m stood in front of it telling some inane story about a workshop where a client lost a shoe or something.

And naturally, I’ve got a whole arsenal of photos where people I work with have been subjected to embarrassing manipulations and positioning to get the perfect shot that represents someone thinking about something really hard while half-looking at a screen but being really attentive to a random interloper who is being shown something really very interesting on that screen and very possibly pointing at it.

And handshakes. And headsets. And URLs spiralling around a globe.

Maybe I don’t have those last ones. But suffice to say, I’ve got a supply of stuff that I can use, rather than hunting down and trawling through stock sites for hours until you really do want to poke your eyes out with a kitten in a bucket. And if I don’t have what I want, I can often just go ahead and create something specifically for the thing I’m working on. This doesn’t always work if the thing I’m working on is something about, say, camels, but it’s great when I need something which represents ‘someone looking like an arse’.

In the end, it’s a personal preference, and a convenient, cheap way to add something of interest to something which is probably quite uninteresting. It’s not for everyone, but then, neither am I.

You’re more than welcome you use anything I have to add to your own stuff. There a load of stuff all creative commons licensed and available on flickr.

adobe camera raw annoyance

I do understand that its not always cost-efficient for a software product to endlessly update its support for newly-released hardware products. I usually stump up the extra cash to get the latest version of the software to resolve that issue – particularly if its software that I use a lot and like a lot and originally paid for – a lot.

However, I’ve hit a bit of a financial impasse when it comes to Adobe Creative Suite. I recently replaced my sadly broken Sony A300 with a nice new not broken Sony A500 and was looking forward very much to running some photos through my evil post-processing mangle of doom. However, when it came to importing the photos with Adobe Bridge, I was a little surprised that they weren’t previewed, as they are normally, in the import window. Not a problem. Probably something I did wrong myself. Carry on. But no, after upload, when trying to preview in Adobe Bridge, they file type wasn’t recognised, even though its the same file type as was produced by my A300. Except, of course, it isn’t.

If you’ve read this far, then you probably know how this goes. Suffice to say, the RAW file output by my A500 are not the same as the RAW files output by my A300, at least, they’re different enough that Adobe Camera Raw requires an update to be able to read the files. Which is fine. I just updated Adobe Camera Raw. Except I couldn’t now use it, since I’m still on Adobe Creative Suite 3, and the Adobe Camera Raw update only runs in CS4 or higher. In other words, if I want to use the version of Abobe Camera Raw that supports my new camera, I have to upgrade my version of Adobe Creative Suite. Which is fine. I want CS5 anyway. Let just take a look at…HOW MUCH?

There is a clumsy workaround, which is curiously via another Adobe software product – Adobe DNG converter. I just have to import my RAW files, convert then to Digital Negative file types, using ACR 4.6 compatibility (last ACR version that works with CS3), and there they are, RAW and DNG files, using twice and much disk space and taking 10 times as long, but hey, they’re there, and I can use the DNG files as I would normally use RAW files. The annoyance really is that it cost a ton of money to get CS3, and I don’t really need to upgrade, but since my workflow is dependent on a number of bundled Adobe products as part of the suite (like ACR), if any one of those products is effectively unsupported, the whole suite gets compromised. If upgrading from 1 version of creative suite to another wasn’t cripplingly expensive, I’d probably just do it. But it is. So I won’t. So there.

Forgotten Camera

golden gate 4
golden gate 4 by Tim Caynes

Since I recently got my hands on my new Sony A500, I’ve hardly used it, which, considering that throughout 2009 I used my Sony A300 every day as part of my 365 project, amongst other things,  is a bit of a calamity. I’ve not fallen out of love with photography, I’ve just fallen into a bit of a life change which makes it more and more difficult to spend any time doing anything outside what I really need to do. To be honest, for the last few years, I’ve had the relative luxury of working from home permanently, which enables you to do things like extending your lunch hour everso slightly or taking rather longer to get home after a school run, i.e. via Mousehold Heath or Westlegate. Now, however, I’m travelling more than 5 hours a day, and everything else stacks up until the weekend, so there is very little time to take to use creatively either with a camera, or with photoshop, which, incidentally is on the computer which has been broken for a number of weeks. I’m sure I’ll get back to it when there’s some kind of pattern to things, but until then, I’m afraid my camera sits in its little bag, in its little draw in the office in which I no longer sit, pining to go out. A bit like a dog, which, coicidentally, I’m getting soon, just to make sure any time I have is completely filled, although, on the plus side, I will undoubtedly have to to take lots of photos of it, notwithstanding the fact that, on the minus side, I’ll turn into one of those photographers who only takes photos of their pets, which, actually night be preferable to only taking pictures of myself.

I’ve not even got a recent photo to add to this entry, and, since I’m writing this on a train while it’s still dark outside, I don’t have any access to my own archives, so goodness only knows what I’ll stick in here when I get to work and look up my stuff on flickr which I’m not really supposed to do. I expect being a photographer full time is a bit like not being a photographer full time. You can’t get to things you really want to do because of the things you really have to do, but, at least if you’re doing product shots, weddings, pet shops, or calendars or something, you’re still extending your photography skills, even if you don’t like the creative output. Actually, that’s probably worse than not taking photos at all.

new sony alpha 500

since the steady decline of my much-loved golden (“champagne” actually) sony alpha 300 following its unceremonious clattering onto my stone kitchen floor, I have, of course, been spending as much as I would pay for a new dslr on magazines telling how much to spend on a new dslr. I loved my a300 and it travelled with me to mountain peaks, more mountain peaks, canyons, gorges (oh, I haven’t published that one yet), up cathedral towers, along andalucian streets, and even spent an entire year pointing at my face (or fingers) for the sake of ART. so when it was apparent that I’d killed it, I was a little bit sad. how could I replace it

that was the question I pondered for a couple of months, with the help of the multiple magazines and dpreview and other assorted online resources will allowed me to compare, side by side, any number of options just to work out which had the brightest lcd. in the end, I had narrowed it down to a very small subset of candidates, based mainly on release date, price, and functionality. that small subset was the sony alpha 500, the canon eos 500D (rebel t1i, I think) or, erm, something else. maybe a nikon d90. not a lot to choose between them, apart from the obvious differences, like either having video or not (don’t care), having gazillions more dots on the lcd (don’t care), having auto-bracketing at more than 0.7 (ooh, um, I like that), or image stabilsation in-camera (ah, now, that I like). it took a good while to ponder the options, but in the end it was determined by a small investment I’d already made. my minolta AF 50mm 1.7 lens. it was only 80 quid, but I like it very much, and if I bought canon or nikon, I’d have to fork out that much again to get an equivalent 50mm lens, which, in my head, I equated to 160 quid, since I’d have wasted the 80 quid I already spent. I expect this is all too familiar to photographers who have opted into a camera system (canon, nikon, other), but since this was my first upgrade, it was the first time it made the decision for me. and that decision was to upgrade to the a500.

but, to be honest, there’s more to it than that. I have a tendency to deliberately opt into brands that are less common. not that sony is an uncommon brand. its just that I like that its not a canon or a nikon. ridiculous, I know, but that’s why I got the a300 in the first place and I was totally pleased with that choice. that’s why I don’t have an iphone. that’s why I have sony walkman. that’s why my foot hurts where I sometimes shoot it. to be honest, I’m a bit of a sony fanman, ever since I got the first blue plastic walkman in 1927. I have a 15 year old sony trinitron that refuses to die, which means I can’t get my hands on a sony bravia. I have a sony playstation 2 which works perfectly well which is why I can’t fork out on a ps3. I have a sony network walkman which has the perfect audio reproduction for me, and means I don’t have to use the godawful itunes. my only slight wobble on the way of the sony is a panasonic lumix tz6, which I bought as a replacement for my trusty sony w1, which did actually give up the ghost. I would have got a sony x1 or whatever it is now, but just didn’t have the funds. that’s the only trouble with sony – its not cheap – but then, they last forever. unless you drop them on stone kitchen floors.

which, mercifully, brings me back to the sony alpha a500. I can’t lie, my choice was also made by the nature in which I able to make a new purchase. since I claimed the value of the a300 through my household insurance (covered by accidental damage. ahem, tescos home insurance was a breeze) I was only able to actually buy a replacement at a branch of the dixons group, as fulfillment is via a dixons group voucher card, rather than just handing out cash. I mean, I could spent the value on whatever I liked, but it had to be at pc world (ahem), currys (ahem) or (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it). now, this had the effect of filtering my choices even further. because, if they didn’t stock it, I couldn’t buy it. fair enough, as long as they had what I wanted. having already decided I would be upgrading with sony, I still had the tantalising choice of the a500 or slighty better specified a550. whats the difference? not much. dots, megapixels and, erm, video, I think, and since I’m not bothered by dots or video, its only really the megapixels that might sell it. however, as I mentioned to mr villas this morning, given the choice, with the same available space, I’ll go for less megapixels, thank you. just my preference. I don’t have graphs and multiple example exposures to back it up (go to dpreview for that), but I do believe, where megapixels are concerned, these days, less is more. I don’t need mahoosive. I need quality. I think I get it that way. oh, and doesn’t sell the a550. sony alpha 500 please! with the kits lens, yes.

I don’t know what databases the replacement prices are kept on, or what the current best price for the a500 is, but I know that I ended up paying 180 GBP for a new sony a500 with 18-55mm lens. I couldn’t possibly have paid the 529 GBP asking price, so my a300 calamity turned into an upgrade I’m already very pleased with. of course, my insurance premium, at renewal, will be 17,000 quid, but I’m happy for now. unfortunately, my new camera isn’t gold. or champagne. its black, like yours probably is. but, so far, I love it. and you probably love yours too.

in praise of flickr. again.


I have, a number of times, errantly extolled the virtues of the flickr user experience to such an extent that I am probably some kind of fan-man. that is to say, I’ll often be asked what I consider to be a good example of user experience design, when, frankly, its sometimes easier to explain to people what I do by demonstrating what it means to a user in a practical application, rather than a more ethereal dissection of human computer interaction and the history of pointing at things with disconnected devices and why I chose orange for a headline. notwithstanding the feature creep of recent years and the freakout that was the acquisition by yahoo! which was erroneously blown up into some kind of photo-apocalypse, the flickr experience is still one which supports everything I want to do in a way that I like to do it and doesn’t ask or compel me to do things I don’t want to do in the middle of things I’m half way to accomplishing. it is still, 5 years or so after first using it, one of the very few sites I access without going via some kind of API and amazon cloud captcha interface which abstracts the operations and allows me to fiddle about and aggregate any number of similar services so that I forget what I was doing in the first place much like writing this sentence. flickr, the site, is, of course, its own presentation layer on top of its own services, and so is only one of a number of full-featured experience architectures that I might decide to opt into or somehow leverage. but, in the end, its the seamless integration of those services, the consistent, coherent application of visual design components and the logical, meaningful management of data and taxonomy that pulls everything together so neatly. and I can write little notes with smiley faces on. there can’t be anything better than that.

there are some features of flickr that I never use. galleries. favourites (much). but then, I know they’re there if I choose to opt in, but on a daily basis, they don’t interfere with my operations. this is probably because I’m not very popular. I expect that insanely popular flickr users are bombarded via notifications of additions to galleries, favourites, and invitations to groups like Sword of Damocles ur got exceelent PIKTUREs add 1 comment on a billion animated gif 600×600. but then, you can decide what to do with those notifications, and anyway, if you’re insanely popular, you probably have to deal with the popularly insane, but at least flickr will provide you with the tools to manage that effectively and efficiently, but the good folk at flickr understand scalability and the effects on user operations. at least, I think they do. I mean, with about 6000 photos a minute or something getting uploaded and each one of those objects existing as a unique entity with all the associated user operations, I’m thinking they’ve considered scale.

in the end, as far as flickr is concerned, I’m just a satisfied user. and I pay for the privilege. and I don’t often say that.

how to break a dslr

338/365 by Tim Caynes

I have found that it is really quite easy. It goes something like this.

when you are planning your daily shot for your 365 project, consider taking a shot in your kitchen, because not only does it have lots of shiny surfaces and interesting highlights and shadows cast by the ambient and spotlights all over the place, but also it has a rather nice flagstone tiled floor which is hard as the place that’s even harder than a rock or a hard place. in setting up your shot, consider using your tripod, as that has really long extendable legs which will enable you to lift your camera about 7 feet in the air for maximum height, but do ensure that when you sit your camera, mounted on its hot shoe, into the tripod head, that you don’t quite attach it properly, so that if you were to somehow have the tripod + camera approach the horizontal, then the whole thing might become somewhat unstable, and you never know, it might even fall off, just as you’re holding the tripod, fully extended, above your head. imagine that.

well, you don’t have to imagine that, because I can tell you exactly what transpires. in a sickening mashup of of ‘breaking’ sounds, your not-very-old dslr drops like a stone from about 7 feet in the air, directly on to the aforementioned flagstone tiles and bounces across the floor unceremoniously in a clattering dance of death until it crashes off a cupboard and twirls a little death spiral at your feet. it is, apparently, dead.

still, don’t panic. it might just have suffered a small fracture or something. after the obligatory curse and stamp of feet like a small child, I picked up my a300 and tried to see what might have dropped off it. as far as I could tell, nothing had. also, there was no rattle, and no broken glass, which was particularly good, as I’d only bought the lens currently attached to the camera about a week ago. I mean, there were a few things hanging off, and the battery was now in the living room, but apart from that, everything looked miraculously intact. oh joy, I spake, rather too early

it took a couple of days for me to realise that things were actually quite wrong. as I’d been struggling to get focus with my new 50mm, I had just assumed I was still at fault for cropping myself to the right repeatedly. only after a couple of fixed test shots did I work out that in fact, everything was misaligned. what I saw on live view was actually 6 inches or so to the left different to what was captured. I’ve since discovered that this means the sensor is misaligned or something suchlike, which basically means, a bit broken.


50mm autofocus fail

321/365 by Tim Caynes

It has been a little while since I acquired my new Minolta 50mm lens for my Sony A300 and I’m steadfastly refusing to take any photos where the thing I was expecting to be in focus is in fact in focus. I’m am now quite adept at getting most of my nose quite sharp but since there is a significant surface area to work with there I’m not counting it as a result. The thing I’m really trying to grapple with is while I’m still locked in to my 365 project and consequently taking far too many photos of my own face every day just how do I get my new lens to focus on one of my eyes. Either one, I’m not bothered. Just focus, pin sharp, like I know you can. On that blue bit in the middle where I’m trying to look all angsty. Yes, there. No. That’s my nose again. Grrr.

I am probably making the proverbial rod for my own primordial back being firmly clamped at f1.7 until I get this right, but then, that’s not about focus is it, its just about depth of field. I could have a depth of field like f0.3 or something and still get one of my bloody (for they are, after about 10 hours of trying) eyes in focus notwithstanding the fact that at that aperture I’d probably get eyelash bokeh but that’s not the point. The point is, I haven’t mastered this lens yet. And I’m running out of time. Kind of. This year’s 365 project concludes neatly on December 31st, after which I shall probably treat myself to the flickr equivalent of a 3-week Norwegian cruise, that is to say, I might not post anything for a day or so. Without my 365 project, I’ll not nearly be so inclined to invest the hours it will apparently take to crack this self-portrait focus failure which would be troublesome as I rather like the lens. I guess I have 30 days to sort it out.

Life in 50mm

327/365 by Tim Caynes

Goodness knows why I haven’t got one until now, but I just got my hands on a new (to me) 50mm prime lens for my Sony A350. I’d been quite happy with the 18-70mm kits lens since I got with the camera, but then, I didn’t really have anything to compare it with. I was so taken with other examples of what you can do with a fast 50mm from other flickr users that I’d tried to force the 50mm off my old Minolta SLR onto the Sony body, but it just made a strange crunching noise and so I thought I’d better stop. Even then, it’s taken me about 6 months to even track anything in ebay to see what kind of prices we’re talking about.

In the end, I spent a good few weeks searching for a Minolta AF 50mm in good condition, as the Minolta lenses fit on the new Sony bodies without any other convertors or rings or whatever you stick in the middle. The 50mm comes in a couple of flavours, and depending which one you’re looking for, is either relatively easy to track down, or is like some fabled artefect from Narnia that enables you to control the destiny of humanity just by looking through it backwards. The common one is the f1.7. The Narniascope is the f1.4. Having determined that my budget was less than a pony and that the Narniascope would set me back around a couple of tons and a monkey or 2, I settled on tracking the perfect 1.7 variety. In the end, it was a case of getting lucky with the bidding across a number of similar-looking lenses, which I’d narrowed down based on the description and small things like whether the seller looked like an arse or not. 79 quid and about 1p later, I’d won myself my very own Minolta AF 50mm f1.7 (will fit Sony A200, A300, A350, A700, etc.), which was packaged up and dispatched to me very nicely from a very helpful ebay seller.

Its early days, and I haven’t posted anything to flickr using the lens, but I’ve taken a number of test shots and looked at them on my whacking great 24.1 inch monitor and the results are rather splendid. Its not the best camera in the world. Its not the best lens in the world. But its a half-decent camera and its a pretty good lens and all I know is I’m kicking myself hard, right now, under the table, for not getting it 11 months ago, when I started taking 12 months worth of self portraits. The thing is, of course, I now have to change lenses on my camera for different circumstances, and I hate changing lenses, dust freak that I am. I’m thinking I might just use the 50mm forever.

Actually, of course, since my camera is am APC sensor or whatever you call it, what I’ve actually bought is a lens that effectively has a focal length of about , erm, 72mm or something, so its way tighter than I was expecting. But its ok, because I’ve got long arms.

I like big architecture

heathrow 3
heathrow 3 by Tim Caynes

its all very well sitting there in your office pointing your camera at yourself and then painting shadows and highlights all over your face, but sometimes you might need to get out into the real world and turn your camera around to look through it, rather than looking at it. and what better place to do that than in a place where you are surrounded by lots of shiny new architecture like the new terminal 5 building at Heathrow airport where there is the most shiniest and most enormous bits of architecture I’ve come across recently. I mean, I rather like big shiny bits of architecture with walls of glass and unfeasably large skeletons, but there are only so many times you can stand in front of the Forum in Norwich getting the reflection of St Peter Mancroft over someone from the BBC eating dough balls with a Chianti at lunchtime.

one of the reasons I like photographing big architecture, especially modern, Richard Rogers style architecture, is that it often lends itself very well to post-processing of the style you might inadvertently call post-modern-urban-apocalyptic-galvanised, or, um, shiny. and that’s the kind of post-processing I like to do, most often with my own face, which, in its own way, is a kind of post-modern apocalypse anyway and is often quite shiny, but in general, works better with loads of glass. and metal. so when I was lucky enough to be British Airways-bound for Colorado via terminal 5, for a user experience summit with a twist, I wasn’t going to miss the chance to fill up my memory card with geometric shapes and reflections the size of Norfolk. in fact, I got there over 3 hours early, which, after a 4 hours National Express coach ride on the 727 is the minimum recovery time before a 9 hour journey in economy, armed with 2 cameras, a home-made sandwich, and the sun even came out. a bit.

the nice thing about terminal 5, it seems, is that you can actually take a dslr out and point it at things without fear of incarceration. the most interesting shots were to found on the outside of the building, landside, so probably not too much to worry about, but I was also able to wander freely within the terminal after security, airside, taking really rather pointless photos of concrete and aircraft noses and the occasional departure board. the most interesting bit, however, was the largest escalator I have ever seen, which transported down to the transit to take you from terminal a to terminal b. this wasn’t just a large escalator, this was an escalator with its own vanishing point and although I was unsuccessful in getting a perspective view down from top to bottom, or from bottom to top, that was worth using, I did catch some of it in this rather nice overlap of escalators, elevators, staircases, suspended walkways and other shiny stuff, just before heading to the transit. you can just about make out the people crammed into the glass elevator, which, right after I took this photo, crashed through the roof and landed in a chocolate factory.

incidentally, although I had meant it to be the point of what I was writing but as usual lapsed into something completely different. I used a number of things to process this photo, but it was a combination of Topaz, Photomatix, Photoshop adjustment filters and a fair amount of painting things with a brush, which I really need a tablet to do properly, and not the kind of tablet that gets rid of the headache I’m giving myself.

hdr processing

elm hill 2
elm hill 2 by Tim Caynes

since Corie has started going out at night and taking lots of groovy hdr I was reminded that I kind of like doing those but can’t remember how because last time I did it it took ages even though I wrote all the steps down on a post-it note that I immediately misplaced. but I had a rummage around in my drawer that has all my photographic stuff in it – it’s a pretty small drawer – and lo, the post-it note was stuck to the underside of a digital slr photography magazine from last year sometime in which I could learn all about taking polarized macro photos of wet cdroms arranged under a snooted soft umbrella box or something.

unfortunately, I still had no idea what I was talking about. it was full of things like ‘PS HDR x3+ (d,m,l)‘ and ‘PM EB (3 PS HDR)‘ and the rather ambitious one liner ‘PS HDR 1/2/3 PM HDR PM EB 1/2 RAW‘, complete with a big bracket underneath which suggested I should put it all somewhere and then do something with a smart object, which, these days, I just get slightly queasy just thinking about on my 5-year-old computer. so I decided I’d go out and get some new bracketed exposures and just try and follow my own instructions to see how it would go. to make it even more of a nightmare to process, I figured I may as well make it a night shot. with trees in. or something. I initially headed out to the roof of Anglia Square car park, because I like car parks, but I’d miscalculated the sunset and golden hour (not the one with Simon Bates), and so I was up there far too early and the thought of spending another hour up there just waiting for the sun to set behind a knackered lift shaft and a ropey old street lamp didn’t really fill me with inspiration.

after a couple of circular arguments I had with myself about the relative merits of Tombland and the cathedral I actually ended up in the irresistable scab of Norwich photographers that is Elm Hill. I mean, you don’t want to keep ending up there, but you can’t help picking at it now and then. If you’ve not taken at least 15 shots there over the years that you hide away in a hidden folder that you think you might process one day, then you get arrested. In this case, it was just about the right time of day to get a number of exposures with various shades of dark blue in the sky, but still get some appreciative cast from the pretty low-key street lighting. or that’s what I though. but I don’t really know what I’m talking about. nonetheless, I set up my Manfrotto, waited a few minutes while people rather annoyingly thought they might go about their business, and then took my 12 manually bracketed exposures from black to white, just as the wind picked up and threw the tree around like the wispy hair of a 42-year-old amateur photographer. the last exposure was about 30 seconds, during which at least 3 people stopped in their tracks as they came around the corner and saw me standing with my wireless remote looking, plainly, a bit mad in the dark. on the way home, I took about 59 pictures of the market at night for good measure, then I went home, ate a sandwich, watched the Champion’s League, the Bourne Identity and the 50 greatest 50 greatest celebrity cheese breakdown soap advert scary war film love scenes, and that was that.

a few days later, I actually kicked the computer into action, and tried to follow the scribbled workflow process, just to see if it would make any sense at all. it slowly came back to me and I remembered some of the things that I got caught out with before (don’t overprocess the HDR conversion, don’t auto-align in photoshop, don’t auto-align in photomatix, don’t try and do it with smart objects, etc.) which took a while to rectify, but on the whole, the scribbly wibbly workflow turned out to be alright. of course, there was mucho to do with blending, masking, opacity and highlight/shadow painting, and as it was a night photo, actually undoing most of the processing was the biggest challenge, but to get to the point where all the fancy automated processes had done as much as they were going to do, the workflow worked fine. so much so that I wrote it out all over again. but with boxes and arrows and things. on a computer. I think its called a flow diagram, but I largely made it up. if you want to see how little sense it makes when you first look at it, take a look for yourself, and, if you’ve got the tools, or at least some of them, you might want to try it out. I just want somebody to go through it so I can laugh at them later.