The most frequently asked questions here are all to do with managing the photographic process while travelling. What camera to take? How to edit on the move? How to keep precious photos safe from the thieves and scallywags?

Last week we had occasion to put our usual advice to the test. We weren’t headed for New York or the Himalayas, just over the border to the state next door. We certainly were not venturing into territory noted for its lawlessness so we didn’t even bother with insurance but it was nevertheless an opportunity to think and plan seriously for photo management.

The camera we took is our go-to travel snapper, the Olympus OMD E-M1. It is relatively small and light but has every feature needed, including the amazing keystone correction in-camera that straightens up the converging verticals of buildings. We anticipated taking photos of a few buildings, and walls leaning in make us nervous.

The Olympus has one of the best WiFi connectivity setups in the business and it is a breeze to connect the camera to a smartphone, in our case the Google Nexus 5X. At the end of the day we backup the photos from the camera to the phone for editing and sharing. The Olympus Image Share app, which also provides for remote control of the camera from the phone, is available for both Android and iDevices and the connection setup is easy and only needs to be done once.

To keep things really simple we took only one lens, the Panasonic Leica-branded 12mm f1.4 which we happened to be reviewing at the time. With a film-equivalent focal length of 24mm this is a wide angle optic that imposed some interesting rethinking of framing and perspective. It is a compact and reasonably light lens that balances nicely on the camera and it is optically and mechanically superb.

We chose not to take a laptop computer or any other device that would add to luggage complications and weight. It was going to be one camera, one lens and one phone. All editing would be done on the phone. We were just a teeny bit nervous about this basic setup but we liked the idea of travelling light with everything fitting into one small Crumpler with room to spare.

If we had an iPhone the choice of image editor would have been easy – the editor built into Photos will do everything you could wish for. With an Android phone the choice is not so obvious because the editor in Google Photos is too limited in its functions and clumsy in operation, so we had to look for alternatives. We considered the mobile version of Lightroom which has the advantage of syncing with LR on the home computer. We tried Photo Director which we like because of its comprehensive suite of functions and some snazzy effects and well designed frames. And we also used Google’s Snapseed.

Snapseed is an austere app that is free for Android and iDevices. It sports a set of basic functions for brightness and contrast, rotation, cropping, spot healing, sharpening and geometric distortion (the converging verticals again). In addition there is a set of filters for effects such as lens blur, HDR, black and white, frames and so on. Editing is non-destructive with Snapseed saving the edited version as a new file. Once the edited image is saved – to Google Photos in our case – it can be uploaded to Cloud servers or social media sites such as Instagram, Flickr or Facebook.

For anyone travelling nervously amongst thieves and bandits (they are everywhere) the Cloud servers are a boon. As long as you have an Internet connection you can backup all photos from the phone to Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive or iCloud and you don’t need to carry any other computing or storage gear. Not all cloud services are born equal and it pays to compare the free basic allocation and the fees for additional space. The cloud is more secure than any portable memory hardware and weighs nothing.

And never forget: it has been scientifically proven that the photographer who travels light is the happy photographer.

[Camera: Google Nexus 5x – Image editor: Snapseed]

Posted in How to, Lens, Smartphones, Software, Stories | Leave a comment


Price: $3000(body)

THE LOW-DOWN: This 20 megapixel single lens reflex is the successor to the D300, and is Nikon’s top APS (cropped sensor) model. The 100 per cent view pentaprism viewfinder is backed up with a tilting LCD that has limited touch screen functions. The array and layout of external controls is almost identical to its predecessor. The big difference is the absence of a pop-up flash. The body is rugged and beautifully made. All important functions are accessible from body knobs, buttons and a small joy-stick. “Live view” works well with touch screen controls in that mode. Nikon’s WiFi/NFC remote control is called Snapbridge, and a nice touch is a viewfinder shutter so that exposure readings are not affected by light entering through the eyepiece when shooting remotely. The dual memory card slots take one SD and one XQD card suited for 4K video recording.

LIKE: Image quality is excellent with noise-free high ISO images. The ergonomics are the best and Nikon is providing a decent live view experience with limited touch screen functions. Tracking auto focus is very good.

DISLIKE: Snapbridge is a clunky disappointment. Making a connection between camera and phone is difficult.

VERDICT: The 12 megapixel D300 was released in 2007 and has stayed in production with minor upgrades, testimony to the soundness of the fundamental design. The D500 is a worthy successor. It feels familiar but better. We teamed it with the Sigma Art 18—35mm f1.8, and the results are consistently satisfying. This is a magnificent camera at a fairly hefty price. The full frame Nikon D600 is $900 cheaper.

Posted in First impressions | Leave a comment


Do you know that next year people will be taking 3 trillion photos? That is the estimate of the New York Times. And every day we are uploading 80 million priceless pictures to Instagram. Which makes us ask the obvious question: why do we do it?

Well now we know. According to a couple of researchers writing in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology we do it because it makes us happy. They say: “We show that, relative to not taking photos, photography can heighten enjoyment of positive experiences by increasing engagement.”

From their research observations they conclude that “…capturing experiences with photos actually focuses attention onto the experience, particularly on aspects of the experience worth capturing. As a result, photo-taking leads people to become more engaged with the experience.”

One of their experiments involved putting participants on a bus tour and giving half of them cameras and the other half just had to look and, presumably, make do with sniffing the flowers. The snappers enjoyed the experience more than the sniffers. So all those smartphone selfies serve a pleasure-enhancing purpose after all.

Perhaps. There are two ways to use a camera. One is simply to photograph whatever pops into view, letting the subject dictate the snapping. It’s a matter of looking for the cliched landmarks – think of the Sydney Opera House and the Eiffel Tower – and pointing the camera at them and pushing the button. This is just a case of capturing bragging evidence that you have been there and done that. It’s hard to see how the picture improves on the experience of simply seeing.

The other way to use the camera is to carry it as an inspirational tool to make you actually look more closely in search of the detail that makes the place special. Sections of the Opera House shells in the early morning or afternoon light may be more spirit-lifting than the conventional (boring?) shot of the full building taken from the equally over-exposed Harbour Bridge.

On the other hand what is sadder and more melancholy than the lone traveller standing in front of the Eiffel Tower with a smartphone on a selfie stick? And here is the cautionary bottom line, it wasn’t bliss for all the photographers – the program participants with big, heavy cameras were as miserable as those with no camera at all.

Posted in Stories, Trends | Leave a comment


Now that Photoshop is a subscription-only option those who are wary of the Creative Cloud system may consider a couple of alternatives – Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop Elements, now up to version 14.

Buying Lightroom outright doesn’t make much sense when for $50 less you can buy a year’s subscription to Creative Cloud that includes Lightroom, Photoshop and Bridge. But at $137 Photoshop Elements is a smart buy for those who need a good Windows/Mac photo editor but can do without the whole kit of bells and whistles in Big Photoshop. (There is a fully functioning 30 day trial version available from the Adobe web site.)

Elements 14 is a small improvement on 13 and further closes the gap between junior and senior Photoshop. It can be as brainless and automated as you want it to be or it can be a serious editor for serious photographers, depending on the module in which you choose to work and the tool set you choose to use.

The Organiser module is what the name implies – it is the starting point where a folder of images is imported into a grid display where they can be scrutinised and selected for processing. From within Organiser you can create slideshows, both as MP4 movies and as PDF documents; you can make books, cards, DVDs, disc covers and so on. And there is one click sharing to a few social media servers. There is a small selection of slideshow templates that also add music. A slideshow can contain stills and videos all mixed up. The PDF slideshows are ideal for emailing.

Organiser is the place to set up face recognition by automatically scanning the hard drive for photos of people and then identifying them by name and putting them into groups for easy retrieval. Places and Events can also be tagged and grouped in this module.

From Organiser you select images and click on Editor to open the photos in edit mode with a screen layout close to big Photoshop but with tools that place more emphasis on automation. Elements 14 opens files using Adobe Camera RAW as well as JPEGs. The Elements version of ACR doesn’t have the array of controls in the version for Lightroom and Photoshop, being restricted to tonal, colour and detail adjustments. However one thing that is missing from Elements ACR is found in the editing tools – auto haze removal. Red eye removal, straighten and crop are there in cut-down ACR.

Under Enhance in the tool bar there is a set of one-click auto fixes for levels, tone, colour, sharpness, and shake reduction. Then further down in the drop down list there are manual options for these functions. We are pleasantly surprised at how well judged the auto fixes are, nicely adjusting the tones in a high contrast scene, opening up the shadows without blowing out the highlights but it’s good to have the option of manual over-ride.

Plugins, such as the wonderful free Nik collection, work with Elements and Photoshop users may be jealous of the array of graphics effects, clip art and picture borders in the junior PSE. Actions – automated routines like macros – are limited in Elements and as far as we can deduce there is no way to create new ones. There are Actions offered on the Interweb but be careful, the action must be compatible with Elements not just with Photoshop.

The Quick Edit module works by sliding the cursor over grids of thumbnails showing variations of exposure, colour temperature, sharpness and one comprehensive Smart Fix. Once again we are impressed with the subtlety of the automated processes.

This is a lot of editing power for modest money with the added benefit of permanent ownership with Adobe Camera RAW upgrades as they become available.

Posted in First impressions | Leave a comment