Tuesday, 26 July 2011


Guest Blog from Lisa Kurtz
Thanks Danielle for the opportunity to be your guest blogger this week.

Based on our fifteen years of photographing Italy, we have put together these tips for fellow photographers visiting this beautiful country.

1.       Time your visits to monuments and famous places well
Italy’s famous monuments are some of the most-visited in the world. There will always be crowds. If you want to capture the crowds in your images, then you can visit these places anytime. If you want to avoid crowds, we suggest you visit just before or after opening times, or just before closing times.

We also recommend you look at ways to “jump the queue” for tickets – investigate all-inclusive tickets, daily passes, booking in advance online etc - or else you may find yourself waiting for hours to get into these beautiful places.

Lighting for outdoor photography will obviously also be better earlier or later in the day. Knowing the orientation of the monument or place you want to photograph will help you determine whether morning or afternoon will be better. For an unfamiliar location, we will use google street views (in google maps) or google earth to get a sense of the location’s orientation and surroundings and to identify likely vantage points.

2.       Italians are, on the whole, relaxed about photographers - but use your commonsense
Given that photographers have been coming to this country since the earliest days of photography, Italians are fairly relaxed about us. If you exhibit relatively normal behaviour (ie you look like you’re a traveller with a camera taking photos of the beautiful building, monument, scene in front of you), you will be more than likely left alone.

That said, use commonsense – don’t be a disturbance to others, be mindful about where you put your tripod so as not to cause a trip hazard, and be respectful in places of worship. The majority of churches in Italy ban the use of flash and tripods, and any shooting is likely to be prohibited whilst a service is in progress.

Tip – it goes a long way to know how to politely ask if you can take someone’s photo:

“Per favore, posso farle una fotografia?”

This translates to “Please, can I take your photo?”

We don’t normally carry model release forms, although if we feel the shots we are taking may be used for commercial purposes we always get at least a verbal agreement from the subject. We appreciate this aspect of photography is starting to get a little tricky, however at this stage Italians still seems quite relaxed about such issues.

1/200 second, f/6.3, ISO 400, focal length 70mm.
Grain added in Photoshop.
Image by Lisa Kurtz, Capture Italy®.

3.       Take plenty of memory cards
Italy is so beautiful and inspiring you will shoot more images than you would expect. Memory cards are more expensive and harder to find - Italy just doesn’t have “shopping centres” as we know them, so take more than you think you will need.

We always recommend you take more smaller-sized cards (eg 4 x 4GB) rather than fewer larger cards (eg 2 x 8GB). That way if you lose your camera or your card corrupts you lose a smaller amount of images.

4.       Go easy on the gear
We are always asked “what equipment should I take to Italy?”  It’s always difficult to answer, as it depends on why and what you’ll be photographing.

Obviously less is best for the majority of travellers - the less equipment you take, the easier it is to carry and look after it. (As in most other countries, theft is a daily occurrence in Italy - lots of expensive camera equipment can make you a target.)

Lenses - I take a 50mm, a 24-700mm, and a 70-200mm on a full-frame camera.

The 24-70mm is the workhorse – the vast majority of my images are taken with this lens; the 50mm gets used when I feel like being “discrete” and challenging myself with its fixed focal length; the 70-200mm only comes out when I get in the mood!

Many travellers will opt for the full-range zooms such as the Sigma or Tamron 18-200mm – whilst it’s commonly agreed that you may miss out on some image quality using such a full-range lens, you certainly won’t miss any photographic opportunities, for which there’s something to be said.

Tripods - take one if you know you will use it (perhaps you love landscape photography, or you have a passion for evening shooting) – don’t take one “just in case”. You can always make do with other supports such as ledges or fence posts or folded-up jumpers “just in case”.

Filters – I take and use when required a UV filter, a polariser (see Bluedog’s guest blog on polarisers: http://italytravelphotos.blogspot.com/2011/07/perfect-polarisers-guest-blog-by.html ) and a graduated neutral density filter. If you don’t know how to use filters, practise at home or do a course that includes filters before you leave.

Tip - I also take a Holga film camera, just for my own personal work. It challenges me and it forces me to think a lot more before I start shooting.

Holga camera, Fujifilm Fujicolour Pro 400H ISO 400 120 film
Image by Lisa Kurtz, Capture Italy®.
5.       Dress appropriately
As a sign of respect, to enter churches women are required to have their shoulders covered and men are required to wear long pants. Although this can vary depending on the city or church you are entering, it’s best to err on the side of caution and be prepared to cover up.

Also, Italians (like many Europeans) are well-dressed people. Whilst we’re not suggesting for a moment that you don’t dress comfortably – in fact comfortable shoes are a must for the cobblestones of Italy - we suggest you leave the thongs and stubbies at home! A polite request from a nicely-dressed traveller can open doors that lead to wonderful photographic opportunities and memories of warm and welcoming Italians.

Happy Shooting from Lisa and Dianne at Capture Italy®.

For more information on Capture Italy tours, visit www.captureitaly.com or contact Lisa or Dianne on 07 3367 8167.

Stop Press!
Capture Italy run 2-week small-group photography tours through Rome, the Amalfi Coast and Tuscany. They also offer workshops in Venice and will soon be releasing the dates for their 2012 photography tours to Sicily.

If you are thinking of heading to Bella Italia and seeing all that these classic beautiful locations have to offer photographers, let Lisa and Dianne know that you are a Bluedog client (or facebook fan) and you will receive a $250 AUD discount on your next tour booking.

Also… due to a last-minute cancellation, they have asked us to get a message out that there are 2 spaces now available in their September 2011 tour at a “heavily discounted” rate. Departs Rome Monday 12th September, finishes Siena Monday 26th September. Contact Lisa or Dianne on 07 3367 8167 or info@captureitaly.com for more information.

Buon viaggio!
Lisa and Dianne

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Was that Image number 330,501 or 330,502?

Guest Blog by Owen Lyell
A common question that seems to be on the lips of every eager photographer is “Just how many images have I taken?”  Well fret no more because there is an answer, and it’s easier to find than you might have previously thought. It’s called shutter count.

With the advent of high tech digital photography and superior Nikon craftsmanship (apologies to all other photographers who use different makes but I have to keep the boss happy somehow), almost every aspect of your image data is recorded for prosperity. Everything from camera make and model, lens data, ISO and what you had for lunch not to mention that damned elusive shutter count, is recorded with every image you take. All you need to know is how to view it.

Ok, I might have been exaggerating about the lunch thing, but in all honestly it is slightly maker dependent. But generally speaking there is a whole lot of love recorded with any given image. So “How do we see it?” I hear you ask, I hope the following will help to shed some light on the subject.

For most images you can locate the shutter count for a particular image in the “Exif” data (Exchangeable Image File Format) that is recorded with almost every form of digital camera.  Usually, this data isn’t readily apparent as most software assumes this is not critical information, and therefore only shows data deemed essential for post processing. Depending on the manufacturer, this extra or “auxiliary” data can be viewed in Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Bridge, other third party software applications or with online web utilities. 

Canon Cameras
Whoops! Canon cameras do not record the shutter actuation details in the EXIF data (Nikon : One ~ Canon : nil). So for Canon, things are a little different, the best program to check your shutter count is EOS Info.

EOS Info is a cool freeware program by AstroJargon that will provide the user with shutter count, serial number, camera model and firmware version, as well as other critical data. EOS Info works with almost any DSLR, except for the 500D. Just connect the camera to your computer, run the program and – voila! If for some reason it does not work, you might consider trying 40D Shutter Count, a previous edition, which despite the name, works on almost any DIGIC III/IV DSLRs, the exception being the 1D series.

Nikon and Pentax Cameras
Nikon users rejoice! There are a number of options open to you to extract the Exif information. In Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Bridge, click on the “File” drop down menu in the top left of the menu bar and select “File Info”. Depending on which version of Photoshop or Bridge you have, this will open a new window with a number of tags or menu selections. Search through these and click on “Advanced”. This will open yet another window.

Select and expand the line that contains “http://ns.adobe.com/exif/1.0/aux/”. This in turn should list a variety of data, but we are looking for “aux:imagenumber:”, the number following this is the shutter count for that image.

 Image 1.
Shutter Actuation Count in PhotoShop CS3, CS4 and CS5 are slightly different windows. Important note * Images processed using Adobe Lightroom may have this data removed.

Alternatively you can use the following software applications, to extract the sought after digits. These are freeware and some may ask for a donation so it’s up to you if you want to use them. 

My Shutter Count requires an internet connection where you simply upload a JPG or RAW and get your results. This is free to use but you will require access to the internet. I found Opanda IExif  and IrfanView also retrieve the required data. Just download the programs and have a play, all the Exif data is able to be displayed if it is there.

As a novice I found Opanda IExif easier to use but it’s really a matter of taste. Same same but different if you know what I mean. IrfanView may be a trial version so expect to cough up some dough if you intend to keep using it.

Olympus Cameras
Olympus cameras do not store the shutter actuation details in the Exif data, but conveniently, there’s a nice trick one can use for Olympus bodies. Simply follow these instructions:
  1. Buy a Nikon, or if no cash proceed to step 2
  2. Turn your camera on
  3. Open your memory card door
  4. Press “PLAY” +”OK” at the same time
  5. Press on the dial, in order: up, down, left and then right
  6. Depress the shutter release button fully
  7. Press up on the dial
Sony Cameras
Unfortunately it might not be possible to find your shutter count on a Sony. You can try using Opanda IExif,  My Shutter Count or even EOS Info/40D Shutter Count, however, there’s no guarantee they will work.

All the software listed here has only been tested on Windows based machines with the exception of EOS Info , so if you are a Mac user please let us know how you go if you try out any of the programs above. 

If you’ve found other ways to display shutter count data we’d love to hear from you, just post them on our Facebook page under the link for this blog so that this may become a resource for others.

So what does it all mean? And why do I want to know this singular point of information other than to impress other snap happy photographers. Everything, including that expensive camera you’re sporting, has a life expectancy. Listed below is a very approximate listing of shutter life expectancies and is only included as a basic guide.

As with our own mortal souls, nothing is guaranteed. How well you look after your body (I mean the camera of course as well as yourself) will either increase or decrease the number of years you can enjoy the company of your camera.

For pre 2010 Cameras
Entry-level    max shutter recommended        30,000
Mid-level      max shutter recommended        50,000
High-level     max shutter recommended        100,000

For newer Models
Entry-level    max shutter recommended        50,000
Mid-level      max shutter recommended        100,000
High-level     max shutter recommended        200,000

And finally, as a point of trivia, just in case you were wondering, I pulled the data from Danielle’s Nikon D700 and D3.  Drum roll please ~ a staggering total of 39,008 shutter actuations to date which puts Ms Lancaster’s cameras in their teen’s.  No wonder the damn things are so rebellious and never do as they are told!

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Blog, sweat and beers

Guest post by Owen Lyell

This is my first attempt at a blog for Bluedog so for those who don’t know me, my name is Owen.  I occasionally help out in the office as well as attempt other more menial tasks that help alleviate the endless workload Bluedog staff are faced with on a daily basis.

I guess the focus of this blog is grounded in something I heard at a presentation delivered by Danielle to a Photography club in Brisbane.  Danielle was giving some useful tips that may assist people who are interested in developing a career in photo journalism, and how to prepare for the tough road ahead.

After recently traveling with Bluedog to Cambodia, it was great to see how much magic goes on behind the scenes, and how much everyone on the tour developed their skills photographically.  However, the one tool that most people seemed to never have at hand was the most basic, a pen that works and a small notepad to record information, names, places, and notes on how to get back to that really cheap cocktail bar that serves beer for thirty cents a can and pitchers of Vodka and Redbull for one dollar.  Perhaps even the number and address of the hotel might also be a good idea if you decide to partake in the aforementioned beverage (Ask yourself… was the free T-shirt really worth it?).

Planning is a big part of any travel, but as I see it, even more so for photographers. It’s not just about what to take, grabbing a guide book and jumping on a plane and doing the tour.  A great deal of preparation is in researching what to expect mentally, physically, and most importantly, photographically.

By mentally I mean being prepared to step out of your comfort zone and pushing yourself to get the images you want to get, even if you find them disturbing or difficult to photograph.  One member of our tour group in Cambodia would make me laugh everyday by commenting on how they knew if they had worked hard that day by how sweat drenched their gear was.

Image 1.
It was hot yet captivating. A pre tour monastery visit for blessing and allowance led the group that had arrived early to a special time with Somnieg, Head Monk of Wat Damnak and Director of the Life and Hope Association who flew out later that week to speak at Harvard University, USA. Image by Danielle Lancaster

If you are seriously out of shape like me, don’t choose to do the eight hundred stair climb to the top of Buddha Mountain in sweltering thirty seven degree heat under a cruel blistering sun, equipped with every piece of photographic equipment you own.  Take the tools you need for the job.

Image 2.
When out and about consider what gear you will really need. Is it really the whole pack or can you challenge yourself with just a few pieces easily carried no matter what you are doing? Sheryn and Trista 'at school' in Cambodia.
Image by Danielle Lancaster

Be prepared not only for physical challenges but also those of the weather.  Battery life, cards and bar tabs all run at different speeds depending on the climate.   Be prepared and take wet weather gear for yourself and your equipment.
Learn the local lingo, even just a few words is appreciated by most people and will open doors that might otherwise be closed. It is a great way to break the ice, just don’t call the agro looking guard with the AK47 something unpleasant unless you want to make the evening news.

So to sum everything up in three words, “research and preparation” should rate highly for any photographic excursion.  You don’t have to be a boy scout to always be prepared.

In closing, I would also like to say a quick thank you to all the staff and participants on the Cambodia tour for giving me such a great experience and look forward to catching up with you all again next year of the stairs of Angkor Wat (shameless plug) with Bluedog on another “not to be missed“ adventure.

Image 3.
Trista shows Sheryn its not about the gear but all about the light!
Image by Danielle Lancaster

Monday, 4 July 2011

What is high key photography?

Guest blog by Sheryn Ellis

High Key images are usually associated with ‘happiness and light’. Generally High Key photographs do not contrast very much as the shadows are suppressed by strong lighting. Although High Key images focus on a lot of white, you should still see detail in your subject as the image is not supposed to be overexposed or washed out.

I set myself the challenge, to take advantage of some Cambodia’s pre-rain grey skies, and practice my High Key photography. Yes, I did find it difficult with some images I was experimenting with to successfully apply the technique as not all images lend themselves to the High Key process. And these images were being done ‘on the run’ not in a controlled environment such as with studio lighting, flash etc.

The two images below were taken against grey skies using spot metering, placing my focus point on the subject and then overexposing by 2 1/3 stops for the image of the girl and 1 2/3 stops for the image of the lotus flower.
Canon 5D MII Sigma Macro Lens 105mm ISO 250; f5.6 1/1250th
Image by Sheryn Ellis
 Canon 5D MII 24-70mm f2.8L lens at 70mm ISO 320; f 3.2 1/100th
Image by Sheryn Ellis