Articles on how to improve photographic techniques

RPS Advisory Day at Wakefield 18 June 2016

Hazel Mason FRPS assisted by James Frost FRPS


Hazel is an RPS judge and had been judging actual applications in Bath the previous week. She is a GP living in the Scottish borders. One of the spectators, who has attended a number of these advisory days, said that this was the best, most constructive and friendliest he had seen.


RPS Marking

Main considerations are:

1.       Presentation      A cohesive 11th image must be created by the panel.

2.       Camera Work    Illustrate that you can deal with lighting, contrast, highlights and shadows.

3.       Digital Errors       Colour management, edges, intrusion of background   in post processing.

4.       Seeing                  Cropping, viewpoint - be different.

5.       Thinking               Seeing a picture creatively - avoid 'just a snap'.

Remember the lighting will be very bright. It shows up errors. Choosing a small print size tends to conceal errors but they will look even more closely. Everything must be on a 400x500 mount, all the same colour. Most failures recently have been due to digital errors in post-processing.

There will be five judges and a majority vote will be needed for a pass.


Comments on The Single ARPS Entry

There are five possible categories for an ARPS entry. 15 images on a theme. Read the rules carefully! A statement is required to link the images. Don't over-promise and keep it short. You don't have to use the full maximum limit of words.

The 'Travel' category is trying to create a sense of 'place' or a 'journey'. Avoid images that could have been taken anywhere.

Don't alter the 'truth' of the image. You can modify it, even HDR, but the result must look natural.

B&W can work well but there must be a uniform tone throughout the set.

Pictures of people walking away are OK but not too many.


Comments on the 16 LRPS Entries

These generally applicable comments came up during the advice given on the individual entries:

1.       A panel of all birds is allowable but there must be variety of size in the frame, activities etc.

2.       Sharpness needs to be on the eyes of all humans and animals.

3.       Matt paper reduces luminosity. Gloss shows bright colours better, also semi-gloss. Textured paper is a no-no for nature prints. Titanium paper suits some images and not others e.g. looks blue in B&W. You can vary papers within a panel but in a purposeful way. Don't let it look accidental.

4.       Make sure skin tones look natural.

5.       Epson 600 printer has a very good internal B&W conversion.

6.       You will NOT fail on the panelling if all the images are perfect.

7.       One waterfall is enough in a panel. Two street views are OK if they are different in closeness.

8.       Different formats e.g. landscape, portrait, square and panoramic can be used but their placing must produce a pleasing pattern in the overall panel.

9.       Images need to look dramatic, not ordinary.

10.   Avoid blown-out highlights and detail-less shadows. Blown-out shine on metal is OK as it's natural. Also blown-out sun is OK provided it is a small area.

11.   Be careful not to produce unnatural artefacts in post-processing by over-use of sharpening, clarity or noise-reduction. e.g. bright halos, chromatic fringes.

12.   Proper, deliberate rim-light is fine.


Tom Heggie        21 June 2016


Following our 'Training Evening' on 5th Feb 2015, Stephen Goodfellow circulated some useful information about focus-stacking which desreves to be perserved for future reference - thanks Stephen!


Focus stacking is the combining of several images to create one photo with a greater depth of field. It is mainly used in macro photography where you have to deal with small depth of fields.

First you'll have to shot several photos using a tripod. In each image you'll put the focus point a bit further away on your subject. Make sure you've got some overlap in each image.

If you have Photoshop CS4 or a newer version you can stack your photos in Photoshop. Start by loading the photos into Photoshop and putting them together in one file. Each photo should have its own layer. The order you use is important; each new layer should be the next step in focus depth. If you mix them up stacking them won't work.

When you've got all the photos together in one file, select all layers. You can do this by clicking the top layer in the layer palette, hold down your shift key and click the bottom layer. All layers are marked blue now. Go into the edit menu and choose auto-align layers. In the window that opens, just select ok. The automatic mode should do the trick. This process aligns the layers so any movement in between the different shots is corrected. 

Next step is combining the layers into one. Again, choose the edit menu, but this time select auto-blend layers. In the window that appears you choose the blend method Stack Images and also check the Seamless Tones and Colors. Press ok do let Photoshop work its magic. 

In most cases the automated result will be good. If you find something to be off, you can correct it by editing the layer mask Photoshop created. You'll need to crop the edges out to get your final photo.


Here are five low-res images you can try it with:

























and you should get something like  this:













Because they are lo-res images the final result will look blocky when viewed at a high magnification, but the improved depth effect can still be seen if you compare the outcome with each individual image. 

Since there are only 5 images to stack you may not achieve seamless depth of focus, as you might with 130 using specialised software, but you'll get the general idea and if you want to move on, the sky's your wallet.

Have fun,

Working in a Studio Environment

No matter what equipment is used in any type of studio The most important consideration must be safety

Apart from the normal electrical precautions that are needed, cables of any description should be carefully planned. and where ever possible the lack of use of cables the safer a studio is , not for just the client but for the photographer also.

Light stands are also a main problem in studios and often if incorrectly fitted can become top heavy. Always keep within the limitations of the stand and if in doubt sandbag the bottom of the stand with appropriate manufactures specially made equipment,

Lighting Equipment.

There are mainly two types of lighting used today, The Mono-bloc Heads which includes model light and strobe flash light. The new light weight approach using modern Flash guns operated by camera or radio/infra red operation. Long gone are the tungsten model lights

Safety again is paramount when using Mono-Bloc heads due to high temperatures generated by the Bulbs. Also never go inside these type of lights if they stop working. Even if they are not switch on and disconnected from the mains, the capacitors still retain high voltage and amperage to give serious injury.

There are many attachments which can be fitted to lights which give different results depending on what the photographer is trying to achieve,

The modern way used by some photographers, is the use of small powerful flash guns, They increase mot-ability, are cheaper to buy, plus all the adds are now readably available just like the attachments used for mono-blocs

Umbrellas come in all shapes and sizes, colours, reflective, shoot through which again can direct light to the photographers choice.

Soft-boxes are used and preferred by some photographers due to the name, which gives a soft light, this mixed with different honeycombs fitted to the soft-box again directs light without any spill.

If you are looking to start studio work a word of caution, there are many different types of Mono-bloc heads on the market. Avoid cheap heads, buy the best you can afford. Why? Long Recycling times, poor colour balance are al the signs of cheap heads.

Digital cameras can work at very high speeds, with cheap heads you are left waiting for the heads to catch up. Quality heads have very large capacitors fitted, some have, has many has six capacitors in one head, these recharge fast and maintain the correct colour temperature,which is vital for correct exposure.

Light/Flash Meters are a vital part of calculating correct exposure. These should be used at every sitting,

Use a Grey card to make sure your camera is profiled to working in the current lighting set-up.

Most professional photographers work in manual camera setting, this way they have total control of the lighting with consistency throughout the shoot.

Lighting can be very subjective depending on what the photographer is trying to achieve.

many photographers work in High Key, with bright backgrounds while other photography use Low Key Lighting to bring mood atmosphere and shadows into the image.

Lighting can be used with just one light and using reflectors to bounce back the light in desired area’s.

Other photographers use banks of lights just starting with two and building up to as many as eight lights depending on what the photographer again is trying to achieve.

The studio is a place to experiment with lighting, however you should know both your lighting equipment and your cameras settings, otherwise the photographer could come across has very unprofessional.

One of the main points often missed with photographers working in a studio environment, are a problem with communications with their clients. time must be spent listening to what the client whats and whether it is attainable.

Most clients come with a vague idea of what they want. A good photography builds on that idea and accomplishes that dream, and then takes it to the next level

Manufacturers bring out fancy new lenses every month.

We are still waiting for the perfect lens, 12-300mm F2.8 VR Macro. Give it time, and I am sure technology will allow manufacturers to produce such a lens.

The one lens which 35mm film camera photographers used, was, of course, the 50mm lens. Sadly, this lens tends to be overlooked by modern digital users. But with the full-frame cameras getting more popular, this lens should not be forgotten.

On a full-frame camera, what the eye sees is nearly replicated by this lens, plus, with a aperture of F1.4 and less, creation of a shallow depth of field allows incredible opportunities in portraiture.

Pricewise they also represent good value for money, in today's high cost prices.

While the dark evenings prevail and the ease of going out and taking photographs in the evening is not immediately apparent, I have taken to trying light trail photography and so can you.

All you need is a study enough tripod for the camera you will be using, a camera with a shutter priority or manual setting, a cable release or delay timer and at the moment, a warm coat and gloves!

The aim of course is to get really nice, flowing lines of light travelling through shot to be captured in all their glory so position and composition are key.

Once you are set up in the area that you wish to be, the next step is to set up your camera accordingly. Now, depending on your camera, you need to set a shutter priority or manual setting so that you can manage a long shutter duration, thus capturing as much light as possible. To manage this, particularly in manual (which is how I have been shooting) you can use a very small ISO (I have been using ISO160/200) and a very small aperture (say f/22 for example). This gives great flexibility over your shutter speed.

I mentioned a delay timer or cable release earlier on as well. I do so because you need the shot to be as sharp as possible and when you depress the shutter, this will cause the camera to shake or vibrate a little. If you set your camera to delay timer when you press the shutter, any vibrations should have disipated by the time the shot is taken. The same priniciple is achieved with the cable release but there would be no need for a delayed timer. To avoid any vibration caused when the shot is taken, if you can lift your mirror in advance, this would be a bonus as well.

Also, preparation is a good idea. Standing by the Ring Road in Leeds wondering why it is at a standstill for 45 mins then remembering that Leeds are at home is quite an annoying way of ruining a shoot (no matter the shutter speed, light trails of stationary traffic do not work!) so check in advance where you plan to shoot if you can.

Now, I'm not going to profess to be greatly skillful at this technique but quite a lot of practise (and some trial and error!) has lead me to different shutter speeds, locations, compositions, times of day and on occasion, shots that feel as though time in the cold was worth the work.

What a way to get out though while the dark evenings and crisp weather continues? Keeping your camera busy while learning a new technique at the same time. Also, is you fancy a partner (standing around in the dark can be a little intimidating depending on where you are) then there is a chance that I might just be free!

Instead of just staring at the computer, trying to find old images taken in the past, then playing with them, and letting them have a second viewing, (and some people have over 10,000 images to go at), pick up your camera, wipe the dust off and make some new images.

At this time of year, it's always difficult to make the effort, what with low temperatures and biting winds, fog and rain, not to mention the white stuff. However, the weather itself is a challenge to photograph, and let's face it, we had a fair variation in the past few weeks.

All weather conditions open new opportunities to play with your camera and lenses, and test your ability to find that unique shoot. Winter condition s always bring new areas of light challenges, with short daylight hours.

Modern cameras are a lot better made than in the old days when it comes to water proofing, and you can always buy a cheap raincoat for the camera/ lens, if you are really serious. Even photographs taken from the car are still better than couch photography.

I am lucky, I have a four legged friend who is always ready to go out regardless of weather, so I have no excuses. I think the effort to go out is harder than when you are actually out, but let's not get too deep on the physiology bit. Warm waterproof clothing with big pockets is the answer to cold wet days, and a good pair of Rigger boots to keep your feet warm and dry.

If this cannot persuade you to get out there, then buy a dog, and you will have no choice.

Cameras were made to collect images rather than dust.

Many people are scared of panning because they have tried it in the past and got poor results.

The reason we pan is because we want to isolate a moving object and capture the feel of speed in the image.

To create this shot correctly, all the rules about what shutter speed to use based on focal length get thrown completely out of the window. We need to select a shutter speed that will allow the fast moving parts of the scene to be blurred (such as the wheels of a car), the background to be blurred, but the subject perfectly sharp. The background blur is created because you are following the target and therefore there is movement in the background, the blurring of things like propeller blades and wheels must be achieved, or your subject looks like its just parked up somewhere.

To start with, your camera needs to have the correct settings, the easiest way to start is :

  • Set shutter to Continuous
  • Set Focusing to Continious
  • Set Camera to Shutter Priority
  • Select an appropriate shutter speed, allow the camera to set the aperture.

The shutter speed you set will be based on what your subject is:

  • Propeller Aircraft / Helicopters - 1/60 to 1/125
  • Jet Aircraft - 1/125 – 1/500
  • Racing Cars / Bikes - 1/60 – 1/250
  • You can adjust these settings as you perfect your panning technique.

So what's a good panning technique?

You need to be able to track your subject comfortably. You will never get a good shot if you feel twisted or uncomfortable when it comes to press the shutter. You never want to be fiddling with the zoom ring during a pan. Set it where you think is ideal, then adjust for the next series of shots if necessary. You must decide at what point you will fire the shutter, this is where your feet point. Your feet always point to the shot you are going to take. For example, if you are shooting a car as it passes in front of you, then your feet face this point, as the car approaches from either left or right, you turn your upper body, but not your feet. Raise the camera and half press to lock the target, then follow the target, your camera will keep it in focus because you selected continuous focus.

At the point the target passes you, squeeze the shutter (NOT PRESS) and keep panning, you must follow the target whilst the picture(s) are being taken. Take a series of 3–5 shots and then release.(remember you are still panning !!!)

When you have got the technique correct, the background should have a nice bit of blur, giving a sense of speed, and if your subject has moving parts, these should not be frozen.

If you struggle at first, then raise your shutter speed a little. It's better to have slightly less blur and a sharp subject while you are learning, than just a series of shots where everything is blurred.

Now, go practice!!

It’s a cold wet windy November day with no sun and dull heavy clouds — not the day to take your camera out to battle with the weather. So how do we keep the interest going in our chosen hobby?

Simples. Go into your local Nikon dealer and test the Nikon Nerd lens in a warm studio. "Nerd lens"? Whats that?

Simples. The Nikon 24mm PC-E shift/tilt f/3.5 manual lens. It’s different because it allows the lens to move in any direction, while the camera body stays still.

Tilt/shift lens

  • great for depth of field shots in landscape.
  • great for getting building shots straight — no more photoshop lens correction filters


  • must be used on a tripod
  • manual focus
  • designed for full-frame cameras D3 D3s D3x D700
  • not to the simplest of lenses to use

Tilt/shift lens

However, great fun to pass a winter's day, preparing for the bright winter days which will come sometime.

See links:




Tilt/shift lens