Category Archives: Comment

Snowdonia

Ultimately, as a photographer, it’s not what you take your photos with that matters, but what you take them of.  People get obsessed about the “rules” of photography – getting a perfectly composed image using the rule of thirds with perfect lighting. But a technically perfect photo of a boring subject will still be a boring photo. What I really love are the photos of beautiful, exciting or wild places – of nature and animals – and then, so long as you don’t simply screw it up – the photos will always be interesting.

The great thing is that, to go and get the sort of image I’m talking about – you don’t need to spend any money. You just need to be willing to get up early in the morning, head out into the world and take your camera along…

Snowdon - the way down
Snowdon – the view from (near) the top

Recently, I went on a trip just like that to Snowdonia, in Wales, to climb Mount Snowdon.  True – conditions weren’t ideal for photography (though they were ideal for climbing) with heavy clouds hanging around the peaks; but while the photos won’t win any awards for their perfect blue skies, I do think they show what Snowdon really looks like.

Shrouded in cloud, the peak of Snowdon was NOT the place to take photos...
Shrouded in cloud, the peak of Snowdon was NOT the place to take photos…

The good news was, that as the days went on – conditions got better and better. The bad news was, that was only after we had already climbed Snowdon itself.   The whole area, though, is a stunning landscape to explore.

Sitting on the edge of the world
Sitting on the edge of the world
Snowdonian Valley
Snowdonian Valley

Shooting into the blue… (Lanzarote)

Back in June, I had the opportunity to visit Lanzarote with my girlfriend.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, having not been to the Canaries before, but I did some research and found out that the diving is supposed to be amongst the best in the North Atlantic. I therefore persuaded my girlfriend that it was time for her to learn to dive too – and promptly packed my cameras and gear for a good-old wildlife photography trip…

As you may have seen in some earlier entries on this site – underwater photography is a growing passion of mine, and one that I’m only beginning to get to grips with.  It’s still something which it is possible to make your first inroads into without spending a fortune. Indeed, I picked up one camera at the airport, a Nikon Coolpix S33, for about £70.  This little camera is officially waterproof to 10m, and in the clear waters of Lanzarote, seemed very capable.  I can also say that mine kept the water out to at least 30m, but the pressure stops the buttons working beyond about 12 to 15m.  It makes it ideal for snorkelling and beginner divers though.

Sarpa Salpa fish in the shallows while snorkelling with a Nikon Coolpix S33
Sarpa Salpa fish in the shallows while snorkelling with a Nikon Coolpix S33

Taking photos underwater often causes trouble with light, as there is nearly always a blue cast to images (which can be fixed on a computer fairly easily) – but you also want to try and catch the light the right way.  Hopefully you will be able to get yourself into a position for the light to reflect off the fish or corals, or you can shoot up with the light behind your subject.

The Nikon Coolpix S33 is ideal for snorkelling and use on shallow scuba dives.
The Nikon Coolpix S33 is ideal for snorkelling and use on shallow scuba dives.

When going a little deeper, however, I had a Panasonic DMW-MCTZ35 Lumix Marine Waterproof Case for a TZ35.  This was an excellent combination of a very effective dive house and compact superzoom camera with a specific underwater mode.  The total cost is higher at around £300 or higher – but it’s still relatively cheap for a combination capable of diving to advanced diver depths.

Young baraccudas shot with DMW-MCTZ35E Marine Case and Lumix TZ35 camera
Young baraccudas shot with DMW-MCTZ35E Marine Case and Lumix TZ35 camera

If in Lanzarote, and you get the chance to visit the dive site called the Cathedral, it is well worth a look!  Get right inside and shoot out towards the light to create a silhouette as your dive buddy swims across the mouth of the cavern.

The Cathedral
The Cathedral (La Catedral), dive site, Puerto del Carmen, Lanzarote

I should put out an extra special mention for the fantastic team at Manta Diving, Lanzarote – who looked after us fantastically on our trip.  Also – please don’t think the only things to take photos of are underwater!

Timanfaya National Park, Lanzarote - one of the many volcanoes in a still active region.
Timanfaya National Park, Lanzarote – one of the many volcanoes in a still active region.

Lanzarote is also a great place for a spot of stargazing.

The Milky Way over Puerto Calero, Lanzarote
The Milky Way over Puerto Calero, Lanzarote

Travel the world: Make great memories

Like so many photographers, I love to travel and to photograph the world around me.  Whether close to home or in distant lands, there’s nearly always something worth gazing at in wonder, just taking it all in.

Staring at things will hopefully give you an eye for what you like in an image – and if you’re like me you will then want to take a great photo as an aide memoire or souvenir of the scene, and how you felt at the time. (I have no idea why English people need to remember everything in French!)

As this blog is generally about making photography cheap, I’m not trying to suggest that to take great photos you need to do lots of expensive travelling.  It’s simply that, if you are travelling, you should take the time to enjoy your photography, no matter how cheap or expensive your gear is.  The photos you take on your travels will naturally feel more interesting and exciting to you than the more everyday shots near your home – and travelling throws up some wonderful opportunities to capture great images.

I thought it might be worth sharing a few ideas for things to try when travelling, which are free, cheap or at least well worth the expense.  They’re all things that work for me, and hopefully might work for you too!

You don’t need to travel far to get some great photos

It’s always struck me as weird that people will take a camera on holiday and take photos of absolutely everything, but when they go on a day trip to fantastic places in their home country with family and friends, and not bother taking a camera at all.  Take a camera with you everywhere – it’s great practice.

Ilfracombe in North Devon, taken on a Fujifilm A850 point & shooter. (6mm, ISO 100, f/4.5, 1/850sec)
Ilfracombe in North Devon, taken on a Fujifilm A850 point & shooter. (6mm, ISO 100, f/4.5, 1/850sec)

Don’t be afraid of including friends and family

Having photos of and with the people closest to you is really important.  Sure – you probably can’t sell them and enter them into competitions, but you can pass them on through the generations and get some great moments. Plus they will actually mean something to you – and you will therefore look back at them again and again.  You can still take some beautiful photos (even with your ugly mates and relatives in!)

My girlfriend and me, in Verona - shot with a Fuji Finepix S8000fd bridge camera on a self timer (but using two exposures combined for the foreground and background tower: 20mm, ISO 200, f/4, 1/140sec & ISO 1600, f/6.3, 1/2000sec)
My girlfriend and me, in Verona – shot with a Fuji Finepix S8000fd bridge camera on a self timer (but using two exposures combined for the foreground and background tower: 20mm, ISO 200, f/4, 1/140sec & ISO 1600, f/6.3, 1/2000sec)

Take a boat trip…

There’s so much to see at sea (or on lakes and rivers) and the time you spend sitting and staring means you notice things and take photos that you might otherwise have missed running around.  Nearly everywhere you go on holiday, it’s possible to get a boat, and they hardly ever cost much.  Just be prepared to jostle your way past other tourists!

A tall ship spotted from a large ferry between Rhodes and Symi islands in Greece.  We saw the boat from miles away and I have a series from a distant speck to a full broadside. (Canon EOS 650D, 160mm, ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/1000sec)
A tall ship spotted from a large ferry between Rhodes and Symi islands in Greece. We saw the boat from miles away and I have a series from a distant speck to a full broadside. (Canon EOS 650D, 160mm, ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/1000sec)

Learn to stitch a panorama

Lots of phones and some cameras can do this for you in-camera, these days – but to get a truly huge effect (horizontally or vertically) you need to take several stills and combine them:

The medieval town wall of Rhodes. (Please click to enlarge)
The medieval town wall of Rhodes. (Please click to enlarge)
New York - Manhattan & Brooklyn (please click to enlarge)
New York – Manhattan & Brooklyn (please click to enlarge)

Set yourself a challenge… (because the best things in life are free)

Practice makes perfect, or at least doing something over and over again statistically increases your chances of getting it right.  This is a key theme for me in photography – and I think a helpful tip for anyone trying to take good photos on a tight budget.

It’s very easy to get blown away or intimidated by some of the truly awesome photos out there taken by professionals, or occasionally by a lucky amateur in the right place at the right time.  A key thing that can be learned from all of these photos, though, is to put yourself in the right place, at the right time.  Also, know what to do when you find yourself there.

…a traveler from the tropics may be amazed at the site of a swan – which are common-as-muck in temperate countries, but completely absent from Africa and huge swathes of Central and South America and Asia.

I thought today, it might be fun to think about wildlife photography.  This is a real passion of mine, and I try to take photos of the animals I find around me all the time.   Many of mine lack the finesse and perfection of the work of the experts, but I think I have managed to get some nice images over time and this is almost certainly because I repeatedly set myself challenges and will carry on trying until I’m pleased with the result (and will carry on trying to get better even after that).

Friendly sheep
A friendly sheep in the field behind my office, shot with my mobile phone. (He wanted me to feed him fresh grass so trotted over).
Common Grey Squirrel
A common grey squirrel on the miniature train tracks in a local park.

To make an obvious statement; you can categorize wildlife photos into two sorts: Photos of exotic animals where the simple inclusion of the animal itself makes the subject interesting and photos of everyday animals where you need to capture something more to keep the viewer interested.

If we examine this statement closely, though, how true is it really?  After all, the animals which are exotic to you will seem everyday to someone else.  The locals in Thailand (or even the South of France!) always laugh at me for spending my time taking photos of lizards, of which we see very few in England but are literally everywhere, there.  Similarly, a traveler from the tropics may be amazed at the site of a swan – which are common-as-muck in temperate countries, but completely absent from Africa and huge swathes of Central and South America and Asia.

Swanning around - a different take on a swan, as it comes into land.
Swanning around – a different take on a swan, as it comes into land.
Gulls fighting
Gulls fighting at the lake behind my house.

On this basis – I would recommend you set yourself a challenge and get out near where you live regularly and try and shoot the animals that you find.   There’s no need to worry too much about what equipment your using.  True – to shoot distant subjects you will need a long lens and to shoot really close-up you will need some sort of macro kit.  This can be a lot of fun (and I’d encourage you to try it) but most animals can be shot with just a compact camera or a smart phone and a bit of patience.  Just try to get yourself into the right place and learn how to get close to the animals, whether domestic or wild.  After all, taking a photo of an animal is free!

…the time you spend practicing on every-day animals will mean you get better shots of the ones that excite you.  You might even get one of those magic shots that makes the ordinary look extraordinary.

If you get the chance, also try taking photos of animals at the zoo, or somewhere like Longleat safari park, or just at a farm.

A giraffe in Longleat Safari Park
A giraffe in Longleat Safari Park – shot with a Canon 75-300mm zoom lens (second hand for £50).

In some cases, its a question of quietly “stalking” and not startling an animal. In other cases, it might be a case of attracting it over. Remember, a lot of animals have very sharp hearing and eyesight, so even if you’re shooting from a distance, sudden movements could scare them off.  A hint, for example, is never make eye contact with a wild deer…

Deer in Knole Park
Deer in Knole Park in Sevenoaks, Kent. Shot with an Optomax 500mm f/8 telephoto lens bought for £25

The great thing about doing this near your home and with your local wildlife is that you will learn skills which will stand you in good stead when you’re face-to-face with a more exotic animal, on holiday, or in those great chance encounters, like a barn owl sitting in your garden fence.  So the time you spend practicing on every-day animals will mean you get better shots of the ones that excite you.  You might even get one of those magic shots that makes the ordinary look extraordinary.  (Check out the British Wildlife Photography Awards website for some great examples).

It’s all about… making photography as cheap and accessible as possible

Hi everyone,

I say everyone, but I’m not sure that anyone will find this straight away.  This is my first entry in my new blog, Shooting on a Shoestring, and well, my first blog entry ever!  I’m new to this, so bear with me…

Over the next few months and years, I’d like to invite you all on a journey in photography, helping everyone to take the best pictures possible on a tight budget.  I would welcome comments and advice from any readers (so feel free to leave comments etc.) because I am always looking for new ideas, and I know a lot of other photographers are too.

One of my biggest bugbears as an amateur photographer is asking about equipment and being told the only way to achieve something is by spending lots of money.  A classic example is wildlife photography, where you often want to take photos of something very close (macro) or very far away (telescopic).  In these areas, lens prices from the major brands can get pretty astronomical, pretty quickly.  These are areas I will return to (probably several times) – but this blog isn’t just focused on specific lenses or SLR equipment.  It will also look at software, the web, cameraphones, point and shoot cameras, cheap printing methods, scanning techniques, classes and a whole range of other items that I haven’t thought of yet.   It will also cover challenges and games for those who want to get involved.

So – who am I?

I’m Alex Denny, and I’m a keen (and still learning) amateur photographer.  When high street camera shops still existed, I used to work in my local one in Tonbridge in Kent (called Camera Gear).  We sold new and second hand cameras, as well as developed colour prints on various automatic processors and black and white prints in a dark room on site.  My early days in photography were therefore very much based in film (and as I’m in my 30s, I still remember the days when digital wasn’t really around) – but these days it’s nearly all digital.  The focus of this blog will be mainly digital as it’s quite a bit cheaper these days, but I will look at techniques for film as and when it comes up.

I’m interested in all sorts of images and types of photography – but in general I want to capture the wonder of the world around me.  I’m a keen naturalist and animal lover. I’m fascinated with wildlife large and small, but also the great expanses of the countryside, of the night sky, of mountains and rivers and of all sorts of travel. I love diving and I love flying, so nothing is therefore off limits.

I can’t claim to be an expert at shooting any of these things. I’m still learning. The aim of this blog is to help us all get to the stage where we can capture the images we want to without breaking the bank.

I hope you’ll join me on the journey!

Alex Denny
Alex Denny is a keen photographer, diver and animal lover and the writer of this blog.