Glendalough, County Wicklow, with an Ultra Wide lens

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A lovely morning for Good Friday this year, so we gathered up the kids and headed up into County Wicklow. Literally heading “up” as we went into the mountains and through the Wicklow Gap to visit Glendalough.

I brought the lightweight Canon EOS1100D, with my (heavy) Tokina 12-24mm f4 ultra-wide lens.

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I’ve been using the lens for a while, and getting only so so results. I tend to shoot a lot of Portraits wide open, and  I have had some problems with focusing. I don’t think it’s a weakness in the lens as such, more a fact of not using it in the right way. It tends to be a bit soft at f4, and indoors I find it struggles to find focus from lack of available light.

Out in the sun today, I had it stopped down to f8, and fairly fast speeds from 1/125 and upwards. The results were great! I can now see what this lens was meant for.

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I think I may add the 11-16mm f2.8 to my wish list for the indoor shots.

Craig Lucas

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Raw Processing Software Options

I am looking at software at the moment.

For a while I was working with Linux. I really loved the operating systems, I have used a few of them from Ubuntu, to Mint, to Crunchbang, but good RAW processing software is hard to come by on that side of the PC fence. I find the programs which are easy to use give poor results, while the ones which give good results are extremely complex. I had found a compromise with a fairly straight forward interface and good results from Darktable, but after it crashed and had to be completely reinstalled not once but twice, I decided to move back to Windows.

Everyone seemed to be using Adobe Lightroom, so I felt it had to have something going for it. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. I downloaded the trial of Lightroom version 5, and it was so slow that I could cook and eat a three course meal in the time it took to process a couple of photos. It turns out that if you are running it with sate of the art computer equipment, Lightroom is the best thing since sliced bread. Seeing how I only bought my “barely adequate” laptop last June, I don’t intend to pay out twice as much again for another one.

I have been getting along fine with Canon’s Digital Photo Professional, but I feel I would like something a bit more workflow oriented. Something I can use to organize, tag, and process my photos. Basically an Adobe Lightroom which will work on my PC.

After some research, I ended up getting the free trial of Corel’s Aftershot Pro 2, and I must say I am impressed. I am pushing it hard before the 30 day trail expires. I have been editing landscapes, sunsets, and this evening some portrait work.

Now when I say I’m pushing it hard, I mean that I am testing it with the photos I got wrong. The photos I got so wrong in camera that I simply couldn’t use them no matter how much editing they got. Photos like this one from my shoot from a couple of years ago with the lovely Sarah…

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As you can see, totally overexposed. I made the mistake of thinking I was set to Aperture Priority, but I had accidentally switched to Manual. I had a whole sequence of photos which were unusable.

But now after running it through Aftershot Pro 2…

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It is still a bit overexposed, but has gone from being embarrassing, to being acceptable. The colours are more vivid, the shadows stronger. I would be happy to show this to someone, but when you go for a black and white…

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Everything is right again. I overexposed to get that look. Honestly, it’s more artistic right?

So, I’m continuing with my testing, but it’s looking more and more like Corel may be getting some of my hard earned cash yet…

Craig Lucas

Dakota

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I met this lovely young lady named Dakota, along with her younger brother back in October 2010. Recently, her mother came into the photo-lab, and told me the very sad news that she had passed away last September, after a long battle with Leukemia.

I often admit to being an emotional person at the best of times, but with children, I am a really big softy. The news affected me deeply. At first I thought it was because she was a similar age to my own daughter, but on reflection it’s more than that. I knew Dakota. I may have only known her for the half an hour while she was in front of my camera but as a portrait photographer, I like to have a connection with the people I photograph and I definitely achieved that with this little girl. My current sadness is one of the risks involved with that connection.

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Looking at the images I took that day, I remember Dakota so well. At the age of four, she was quiet, yet confident, and although she didn’t say much, those beautiful eyes of hers spoke volumes. There was so much love for her little brother, although it also came with that “long suffering” look of all big sisters.

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I met Dakota’s mother again yesterday, and she gave me permission to write this post, something I’ve wanted to do for a while. She told me that the photos I took bring some comfort, and that she looks through them regularly. I’m so very glad that they help, and My deepest sympathy goes to all of Dakota’s family and friends.

Craig Lucascol-8

“For no mere mortal can resist, the evil of the thriller…” ~ Michael Jackson

Pumkin, Halloween, Nightmare Before Christmas, Jack Skellington, Candles

I know, overly dramatic title. Halloween always makes me think of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and Vincent Price narrating at the end of the song, “Creatures crawl, in search of blood, to terrorize y’all’s neighborhood…” I bet you’re already singing “Cause this is Thriller…”  Good luck getting that out of your head.

I thought that today would be a great day to share my number one tip for photographing  a carved pumpkin.

I left it fairly late in life, but last year was first proper attempt at carving a Jack-o-lantern, I went with something simple, Jack Skellington from the Nightmare Before Christmas. See the image above.

This year I went with something a bit more spooky. Photos below.

So have you guessed my number one tip yet?

Candles.

Yes, candles. If you take a photo with your camera on auto the flash will fire and you’ll completely lose the spooky effect and the flash will shine off the pumpkin’s skin.  Unfortunately I can’t show an example of this as I never use flash on a pumpkin. Trust me, it just won’t work.

I can however show you what  it looks like to leave the camera set to auto, but with the flash off.

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It’s okay, but it’s really just a disembodied face, there’s no references to turn this into a picture. Most of the photos you’ll see online will be like this, but add a couple of candles…

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Isn’t that better? You can still see the glow from the candles inside the pumpkin, but the ones outside have added a reference point. You can see the surroundings, you can see that it’s a pumpkin and if anything, I feel this looks a little more sinister.

I also shot these in manual mode. The camera’s auto exposure will make the scene too bright, and will also try to give a really long shutter speed to achieve this, which introduces camera shake. If you switch to manual mode, aperture as wide as possible, (f1.8 in this case as I used my 50mm prime) and a shutter speed of around 1/30th sec, and a fairly high ISO ( i used ISO 800) then you should be fine. Always experiment. Take a few shots and choose your best.

Finally, it’s also worth taking a picture without having the lantern lit up. Just to show how different it looks in the natural state.

What do you think? Any other tips you could share?

Craig Lucas

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A Satisfying day with Sam McCauley’s…

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A very busy day at St Aiden’s Hall in Bunclody today, but very satisfying too. I got a lot of lovely photos and we had a good bit of dress up fun along the way.

A big thank you to the lovely Niamh for all the help she gave me during the day.

Here is a small sample of the images taken today, the The Sam McCauley’s photo-shoot was so successful we are already talking of doing another!

Craig Lucas

 

Eureka! The G11 Moment…

I have a Canon G11 which I picked up cheaply a while ago. I’ve never been particularly impressed with the results. No matter how I set it up I’ve always been disappointed with the final image.

We went to the beach recently and I decided to bring it along as I didn’t want to risk my DSLR getting sand or sea damage along the way. The G11 being a camera I thought I could afford to lose if the worst did happen.

While were out, I had my “Eureka” moment.

It occurred to me that I had the wrong attitude to the camera. I had been using it as a smaller version of my DSLR, and was trying to obtain results of a similar quality.  In fact, I needed to think of it as an advanced Compact camera.

I adjusted my settings according to that mind set. I left the camera in P mode (Programmed Auto), although I still shot in RAW so that I could correct things later if they went wrong. Then I just kept snapping, My Dad called it “the machine gun approach,” fire enough bullets and you’re going to hit something.

I was quite pleased with what I got out of it in the end, the G11 is not the lost cause I originally thought.

Craig Lucas

 

Equipment checklist: Camera, zoom lens, old mattress…

Recently, we decided that our youngest daughter was getting a little too long for her junior sized bed. We also noticed how the springs on our eldest girl’s mattress were in danger of coming through the cloth in the not to distant future. I’m surprised she was able to sleep at all with all the lumps and bumps in her bed.

So there was a fairly complicated shuffling of beds, with our elder daughter have the new bed and a redecorated bedroom, and the younger, inheriting the older bed but with a new mattress. Both girls are now sleeping better than ever, which gives Mummy and Daddy a lot more peace in the evenings…

 

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The question is, how to get rid of a knackered old mattress? Well, we didn’t. We threw it in the garden and let them jump on it. It’s a very cheap trampoline. Also a great photo opportunity, as you can see the effect on hair is pretty amazing if you capture it at the top of the jump.

 

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I simply put my long zoom onto my DSLR, switched to continuous, kept my distance and started snapping. After about 400 photos I went through them all to find a few hidden gems…

 

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The best part of of doing this was watching the kids have so much fun with something so simple. I can’t wait for the next time.

Craig Lucas

A day after the Communion…

Eileen asked me a month ago, to take photos at her son’s communion, but as I had already committed to another client for the Bennekerry communions on the 10th May, it was out of the question, I only get one Saturday off work per month you see.

She contacted me again recently to see if I could manage the Sunday instead for a photo-shoot and this time I was available.

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The photo-shoot was held at her home, and I found it far less stressful, and much more relaxed than trying to get everything done after the ceremony, at he church, when everyone just wants to leave and go back to whatever celebration has been organized. I think in future, this is the way to go…

Click on the photo above to see the full gallery

Craig Lucas

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Let sleeping kids lie…

Today I collected my youngest from pre-school, then went straight into town as I had a few things which needed to be done. Killing two birds with one stone as they say. I always try to time my trips so that I’m not double tracking. The only thing worse than wasting money in my mind, is wasting time.

When we got home she went to watch some TV and play, while I went to make myself a cup of coffee. I returned to this:

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So I did what any self-respecting photographer would do, I grabbed my camera and fired off a few shots, then posted them here for the world to see.

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I don’t care how you feel about puppies, kittens or baby hedgehogs. There is nothing cuter than seeing your own child sleeping.

She gets half an hour and I’ll wake her. As cute as she is, we still want to sleep tonight!

 

Craig Lucas

Sarah’s photo-shoot happens at last…

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I have been trying to arrange a photo-shoot with the lovely Sarah since October last year. Every time we have it organized something has come up and we’ve had to cancel for one reason or another; injury, sickness or most commonly bad weather.

Well, on Easter Sunday we finally got to go ahead with our shoot, the weather was lovely, and although Rathwood was busy with the Easter Egg Hunt, we managed to avoid the crowds of children running around.

There was a particular photo I was desperate to capture, involving Live View on my DSLR and a tripod. I have seen it done many times on the internet with sunsets and landscapes, but I really wanted the shot with a pretty girl on screen. I took the image with my old film SLR, the Canon AE-1, and it is everything I wanted it to be. Thank you Sarah for your patience… Doing something new always takes longer to set up.

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After Sarah’s photos, I met up with Sandra and Amelia. What a character! With a 2 year old as spirited as Amelia, there wasn’t much chance at planning my poses. All I could do was keep snapping and hope that something worked, which thankfully it did. We got some lovely ones.

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Well, I’ve been bitten by the bug again… I can’t wait for my next portrait session.

Craig Lucas

New Year, New Project…

I’ve read a lot recently about people’s New Year’s Resolutions, whether it’s to give up smoking, go on a diet or go to the gym more. We photographers tend to think a little differently.

I want a New Year’s Project. Something to get me out and taking photos more often.

I tried the 365 Project a couple of years ago but I found that I ran out of inspiration very quickly. For those who haven’t come across this before the 365 Project is simply one photo for every day of the year. It’s a kind of photographic diary. Unfortunately I found that on a day to day basis, I had very little time to put into my photography, which resulted in me running out of ideas very quickly. After two weeks of taking photos of my trip to work, I gave up.

The following year I went with a 52 Week Project. As you can guess, it involves one photo per week for a year. It was suggested on a blog I follow, and I signed up for it expecting great things. This time around there were themes involved. The blog host would give a theme for the week such as “Cold” and again I ran out of time and ideas.

I have since read about a project called “100 Strangers.” The idea is to take photos of 100 different strangers, in order to get used to interacting with people and to get over the shyness that a lot of photographers have with people they don’t know. This struck a chord with me as I really want to get into Portrait photography more but I have a shortage of willing subjects.

What I am going for, is a combination of the 52 Week project and the 100 Strangers. I will call it The 52 Portrait Project and I have the gallery started up under my Photo Gallery tab. Getting out to take photos of strangers, is not something I will be able to do every week, so I’ll go with anyone available; family, friends, strangers, anyone.

The first entry of the project is my own daughter Milla. It had to be really as her birthday is also the first week of the year!

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I hope you’ll come back soon to keep an eye on my progress. And please do get on to me if I fail to post!!

Also I’d love to know what projects you have planned this year, let me know in the comments.

Craig  Lucas

Jpeg or Raw?

RAW
Processed RAW
Jpeg
JPEG straight from the camera.

I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of this conundrum for years. I have read so much information about it since I first went digital, and it just gets more and more confusing.

The information tends to fall into two camps.

1) Raw is best, you get wider dynamic range and get to process each photo for the best quality.

2) Jpeg is best, it is quick and easy and gets results straight from the camera.

While I really like high quality images and want the best my camera can produce, whenever I have used Raw in the past it has taken ages to process them, and I’ve never been overly impressed with the results. The photos come out either the same as the jpeg, or worse, looking flat and uninspiring.

So I have been using the Jpeg format for the past 15 years or so with the occasional attempt RAW to see if I can squeeze some extra quality out of my photos. Recently things changed.

You may have seen the album of my photoshoot with Ruth here: http://wp.me/P3XBcM-20

RuthThis photoshoot was done entirely in RAW as I have recently discovered a piece of software called Darktable. It is a free program that I have read is similar to Adobe’s Lightroom.  Unfortunately for most, it is not available on Windows, but as I am using Linux, it was easy enough to download and get running. It is also available to Mac users I believe.

Now I am convinced.

This is the first time I have processed RAW files and been impressed by the results.  The colours are perfect, the sharpening tool just works, and I was very impressed with the noise removal on some of the awkward photos where I got it wrong on the ISO.

However, not all situations are suitable for RAW files. Family snaps generally wouldn’t be as important as to require the extra time involved with processing. Also with high speed photography which would be common for sports subjects, the large RAW files take a good while to record, slowing down the camera. Jpeg’s will give a much higher burst rate or ‘frames per second’ and in some situations getting several shots off so that you can choose the best one, would be far more important that that little bit of extra saturation in the colours.

So my answer to the question “JPEG or RAW?” would be to use both.

Judge the situation and make your decision. For something a bit special, I would go with RAW. Weddings, Christenings, specific Photoshoots etc. For general, snaps, holiday photos, or sports photography, stick with JPEG. The Camera’s processing will be close anyway.

Craig Lucas

Are you on Flickr?

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I’ve been signed up to Yahoo’s Flickr website for a good few years now. For those who don’t know, it is a photo sharing website, possibly the original photo sharing website.

I had never really used it much, as I have found that the people I want to share photos with the most (friends and family) are not on it. Which is why I’m on Facebook. I don’t particularly like Facebook, but it’s where everyone else is. If you want to share your photos with other like minded photographers then sites like Flickr or Google+ are much better options and they’re great places for a bit of feedback.

About a year ago, I decided I wanted to back up my photo collection  and started looking into my options, which are:

  • Keeping them on my computer.
  • Back up to an External Hard-Drive
  • Back up to CD/DVD’s
  • Online Storage

My laptop simply doesn’t have the memory to store all my 15,000+ photos so I use an external hard-drive for everything. Computers do crash, and although Hard-Drives are slightly more reliable, they can fail too. CDs and DVDs are also known to deteriorate over time, so I decided to look into online storage.

There are many websites such as Dropbox, Google Drive or the iCloud, which are perfect for backing up any type of files, photos included. However these come at a cost. Yes, they do have a certain amount of free space, but it is in the region of 5 megabytes, just enough to try it out, in the hopes you’ll be happy to part with some money to gain a usable amount of storage.

Social network sites are another option, as they do allow for free storage of your photos. However the downside to this free storage is that the sites such as Facebook will down-size your image to speed up loading and to reduce the load on their servers. Google + isn’t too bad as they re-size to 5 megapixels, which will still give you a decent print out up to A4.

Flickr has changed a bit over the last few years. They were always alone in that the image you upload is the image you keep. If your file is 10 megabytes that is what is stored. They used to have restrictions on uploads per month and videos etc, but that has all changed. They now give everyone 1 Terabyte of space! That’s huge! and the interface has been updated with a more modern feel.

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For me Flickr has become the perfect solution. I have room to back up my entire collection. The images will still be at their original resolution if I ever need to download them. And best of all, it’s all free.

I am slowly going through everything now, making sure it’s all tagged and organized before uploading. I’m realizing how bad my photos were when I first started out, which makes me feel better about the ones I take now.

So far I’m up to 1997!

How do you back up your photos? Please leave a comment.

Craig Lucas

 

 

The eyes have it…

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I am fascinated with eyes.

Human eyes, animal eyes, bird eyes.

The old cliché “The eyes are the window to the soul” has always interested me, and I like to explore this in my photography. Can I capture a personality by photographing just a single eye?

The photo above is of  a small deer at Rathwood. It seemed to be very interested in my two year old daughter, and came very close to the fence, close enough for me to get this photo, and for my daughter to touch it’s nose. They seemed to have an instant connection, with my daughter mimicking the strange squeaking sounds of the animal so well they could have been communicating!

I feel the photo shows the gentle spirit of the animal perfectly.

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With the goose, I couldn’t get quite as close. But these birds were very alert, and seemed a bit nervous, Which I think comes across. I love the colour of the eye, in contrast to the orange beak.

What do you think? Can we capture the spirit within a single eye?

Craig Lucas

Just take the damn photo…

was trying to take a photo of my daughter recently. I wanted to get a close up of her eyes, focusing on her eyelashes.

All I wanted her to do, was to stand still and look at the camera.

But kids being kids, she fidgeted, kept bouncing up and down and kept pulling the most ridiculous faces possible. It was a little frustrating, but if a 6 year old is hyper, there’s no hope of getting the image you have in mind.

I could have told her off, and made her sit still, but I want to enjoy taking photos and that would spoil the fun.

I could have given up, and ended up with nothing.

Instead, when I realized she wasn’t going to listen to me, I just went with it,  laughed with her and took a few shots of her silly faces.

Once I got them onto the laptop, I saw I had something special and it wasn’t what I was after at all. So the moral is, whatever happens, just take the damn photo!

You may be surprised with the results. I know I was.

Craig Lucas

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