Monday, November 12, 2007

High ISO Noise Comparison

I have already talked a little about the effects of high ISO noise in a previous post. And one of the reasons I wanted to upgrade from my Canon EOS 300D to my new 30D was it's alleged better performance at high ISO settings, plus the ability to choose ISO 3200 in really dark situations, whereas the old camera would only go up to ISO 1600.

So I thought it might be useful to take a closer look at some photos taken with each camera, and see if things really are any better in dim conditions.

EOS 300D - Sigma 135-400mm EF f/4.5-f/5.6 - ISO 1600

Back in December 2005, I went to see Saracens play Wasps away in High Wycombe. It was a fairly late kickoff, and being December, it wasn't long before the floodlights were on and things were getting pretty dingy on the pitch. Here's a picture of ref Ashley Rowden supervising the scrum:

[The ref's head is highlighted above]

The picture doesn't look too bad resized for viewing on the web. But looking at it at full resolution, you'll see what happens:

[The highlighted section shown at Actual Pixels (100%) size]

You can see that the skin tones show noticeable coloured noise, and the black areas are also very mottled. The whole image is fairly soft and not very saturated.

EOS 30D - Canon 100-400mm EF L f/4.5-f/5.6 - ISO 1600 / ISO 3200 (HI)

Yesterday, I was back to see Saracens play Glasgow at home in Watford. Admittedly with a different lens, but it's the camera body itself which is the biggest factor in image quality in low light. By the second half, the floodlights were on again, and this is the first shot we'll look at taken at ISO 1600:

[The Scrum Half's head is the piece to be enlarged]

Again, the photo above is good quality at web resolution, but I think there's a definite improvement at full size:

[The second highlighted section shown at Actual Pixels (100%) size]

This time, the blacks are cleaner and there is less obtrusive coloured noise in the skin tones. It looks noticeably sharper, and the colours are more vivid.

Here's another one, as it was getting even darker. In order to keep the shutter speed up, the only option was to increase the ISO setting, since I was working at the lens' maximum aperture, f/5.6. So I used the ISO setting on HI - which basically means 3200:

[The Prop's head is the bit we're interested in]

I'm impressed with the web resolution image - certainly crisp, clean and good colours. And closeup?

[The third highlighted section shown at Actual Pixels (100%) size]

Pretty impressive! I'd say 3200 with the 30D looks better than 1600 with the 300D. So I reckon it's been a worthwhile upgrade for that alone. Plus the fact the 30D is much quicker a writing images to the Compact Flash card - vital when taking a sequence of high-speed action photos. With the old camera, I would often be left frustrated after following the action up the pitch - I'd miss a try because the camera was still unloading it's buffer to the card!

Needless to say, rugby in the dark days of winter push the capabilities of a camera quite hard. The speed of action and low light are both factors which probably won't bother you too much if you just take a few holiday snaps or family pictures with your SLR.

Friday, October 26, 2007

How To Take... Kids Portraits

I'm not a great proponent of formal portrait for adults, let alone kids. They rarely sit still and pose how you'd like, and I find the pictures usually end up looking stilted and a bit false. I admire photographers who can get good results from the studio, but I prefer a more candid approach.

Here are a selection of pictures I've taken of friends' kiddies.

[Alexander in front of a window, natural light. His mum was behind me]

[Lizzie getting very sticky when we were out having a cake. The table was in a covered courtyard with a great skylight above]

[Alexander gets a push from Dad. Overcast day, so I got rid of as much sky as possible from the composition. At the playground can be a great place for action shots.]

[Conor & Meghan posing in an old wing chair. Natural daylight from a patio door, and a tight crop to get rid of any background intrusions]

[William - was playing with his mum's hat, as we were about to go out. A bit of fill-in flash gave catchlights in the eyes, without being too harsh on his face]

It's best to get the children in question doing something - perhaps playing with their toys or dressing up. Or, if you're lucky, "caught in the act" of getting sticky, etc.

Of course, if the children aren't yours, you should always get their parents' permission before taking their picture.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

How To Take... A Photo Essay

A Photo Essay is a set of pictures which tells a story. It need not be about anything profound, but the images must tell the story with little textual explanation. As you can see, each individual image is no masterpiece, but taken together they form a coherent set which fit together well.

For a bit of fun, I decided to photograph the story of my lunch a while ago. I used my Canon IXUS 850 IS, rather than waving my expensive camera over a frying pan. Here's what I came up with:

[1. Fresh Rashers - straight out of the pack]

[2. Into The Frying Pan... - a non-stick pan is essentail!]

[3. Sizzling Rashers - are browning nicely]

[4. Lashings Of Sauce - a good dollop of ketchup on the bacon is a must]

[5. The Perfect Bacon Sarnie - crispy bacon, malted brown bread, oozing with ketchup. Lovely!]

[6. Ketchup & Crumbs - is all that's left!]

Why not choose a subject and have a go at a photo essay about it? You might be surprised what you come up with!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Out And About Again

After five weeks of frustration, hobbling and a sore elbow, I'm finally able to get about a bit better now, and spent a lovely morning wandering round Galleywood Common, close to where I live.

The autumn colours were in full force [left, Autumn Oak leaf] and the sun was out, with a blue sky all round. It was a bit cool, but I didn't mind.

And despite living close by for 4+ years, I'd never set foot in Galleywood Churchyard (it's set back off the road and up a track to nowhere else, so you have to want to visit!). I spent a happy half hour wandering round finding pictures, as the leaves were turning orange and the sun was backlighting them in a lovely way.

[Rest In Peace - the sun streams through the leaves and provides a vibrant backdrop to the gravestones]

[Divine Light - I loved the way the rays were caught on camera]

Although I was out and about, I only had my Canon Ixus 850 IS with me, but I'm very pleased with the results I managed to get from the camera. You can see some more shots in the General Colour - 11 Gallery on my photo website.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Out Of Action

Not sure when I'll be out and about to take photos again - I've had an accident which has bashed up my left knee and broken my left elbow - so holding a heavy SLR is out of the question at the moment!

I'll just have to stay at home and watch a bit of rugby - there's plenty on the telly at the moment...

I've even watched the reruns of the two Rugby World Cup games I saw in France. Here's a shot from the England vs USA game in Lens.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Coupe du Monde en France

I was lucky enough to take a trip to the Rugby World Cup which started in France on Friday. I was on a tour which took in the Opening Ceremony, first game with France vs Argentina in Paris, then England vs USA in Lens the next evening. The trip was a lot of fun.

The links above give you photos from the two games, but I also took some shots in and around the ground to illustrate the ambience and lively atmosphere.

Outisde the ground, fans of all allegencies were mingling happily, just enjoying the colourful sideshows and rival fans. Not sure why this Frenchman looked embarrassed to have his photo taken - what did he expect, wearing an enormous yellow Chicken costume?!

Although the first game was heavily supported by the French, there were a good few fans from other nationalities in attendance - I saw Irish, Kiwis, Aussies and lots of English - plus a good number of Argentinians who were rewarded for their travel by their team beating France convincingly!

The greatest thing about rugby is how all the supporters get along with each other - none more so than these English and Argentine fans [below, showing some Entente Cordiale]. Most of the English I was with were supporting the Pumas agains the French - we'd obviously forgotten all about the Falklands debacle, but not forgiven the French for Waterloo...

There was a great party atmosphere inside the stadium, as seen below:

And right at the end of the opening ceremony, we were treated to a fly-past by crack French aerobatic display team, La Patrouille de France.

I would have liked a wide angle view with them flying over the top of the stadium, but I had the long lens fitted and there was about 2 seconds' notice of their arrival!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Big Band Sendoff

The Rugby World Cup has rolled around again pretty quickly, and I was in Regents Park this afternoon for the Scrum In The Park event. The fans were able to see the England Rugby team training some lucky kids, there was a double-decker bus to sign with good wishes, and a Military Band provided the music to send off the team in stirring style. You can see more photos of the rugby-related stuff at, but here are a few images of the colourful Busby-clad band.

[The Busbies Are Coming - the marching band approaches]

[Trombone Troupe - they have to keep their distance from the row in front!]

[Sargeant Sax - can he really see out from underneath that Busby?]

[Sargeant Trombone - it was a wonder they didn't get their trombone sliders tangled up with all the criss-cross marching]

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Summer Evening Jazz

For years, I've been meaning to get along to the Ingatestone Jazz Concert which is held in the grounds of the Elizabethen Ingatestone Hall in Essex. This year, I finally managed it, after being invited along to take some photos for the local Rotary Club.

It was a lovely summer evening, and I wanted to capture some of the atmosphere of the open air picnics as the audience listened to the music. Plus I got some nice portraits of the musicians in mid-flow.

[Jazz On The Lawn - a table set for a picnic in front of the stage]

[Summer Evening Jazz - the band play from their tent on stage]

[Me & My Trombone - one of the band concentrates hard on his trombone solo]

[Me & My Clarinet - this jazzer was blowing his "liquorice stick" for all he was worth]

[Me & My Trumpet - The trumpeter was concentrating on his solo]

Thanks to Lord Petre for hosting this great event in the grounds of his lovely home.

Monday, June 18, 2007

How To Take... Concert Photography

Novice photographers are often disappointed with the shots they get from their cameras at concerts and other low-light situations. This is usually due to the fact that, if left to it's own devices, the camera will decide what ISO speed to use, and can also insist on using on-camera flash.

If you're at a concert, using flash can be enough to get you thrown out of the venue (to say nothing of it being pretty rude going off in the artists' faces). It also results in very harsh, flat lighting, which completely drowns out any of the colourful stage lighting, ruining the atmosphere.

In order to capture the colours to full advantage, turn your camera to manual - or at least, alter the ISO-setting to the highest it will go - 800 or 1600 if possible, and turn off the flash. This should force the camera to choose a wide aperture and fastest shutter speed possible, which will help capture the colours and action on stage.

[The Rumble Strips - stage lighting effects are good to capture with the wide angle lens]


Alexandra Palace, for a private gig by The Rumble Strips. Because it was a private show, photography was allowed, but this isn't always the case at concerts. I was right in the front row, so no-one's head was in my way!

  • Canon EOS 30D set on ISO 1600 and Programme AE
  • Canon 17-85mm f4-5.6 EF IS lens for wide shots
  • Canon 75-300mm f4-5.6 EF IS lens for closeups/portraits

Try to get the musicians "doing something" or at least, appear to be in the middle of singing!

[Tom Garbutt on bass, with a green spotlight picking out some highlights]

[Henry Clark on trumpet, with a magenta spotlight backlighting]

If you can, try and fill the frame for some interesting shots of the instruments:

[Closeup of the poor old battered guitar Charlie was strumming]

It's always good to be right at the front of the crowd, to get the best pictures. And if you can turn off you flash and wind up the ISO sensitivity of your camera, you're likely to get more interesting pictures than the bloke next to you holding up a camera phone!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Thinking Around The Subject

I take a lot of photos at rugby matches, but sometimes during the break or after the game can provide some really interesting subjects, not just the players on the pitch. This is particularly true when it's a big Cup Final game.

On 19th May, I saw Bath vs ASM Clermont-Auvernge play the European Challenge Cup Final at Twickenham Stoop. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, and by the time the game was over, and the trophy was being presented to the victorious ASM team, there was some great side lighting which really brought things alive.

So rather than show you any of the match photos, here are a selection of fans and player shots, to show what else of interest you can see by thinking laterally. (You can see more after-match photos too.)


One thing I love about rugby is the fans - whichever team you support, there is always respect for good play and each other. We all sit together around the ground - there is no need for segregation. Yes, you'll hear plenty of good- natured banter amongst the opposing crowd, but I've never seen any trouble of the sort which is all too common in and around football grounds.

[Left, La Dame d'Auvernge]

This lady was just on her way out of the ground after her team had won. I complimented her team on playing well (in my best French) and she rewarded me with a lovely beaming smile - which really summed up the spirit of the game and it's supporters.


The winning team lined up on my side of the pitch for the press shots - fortunately, I was a few rows higher in the stands, directly behind the press corps, and got some great shots of the players celebrating their victory:

[ECC Champions - ASM Clermont-Auvergne]

Some shots you know are going to be special when you press the shutter. The picture below was pure serendipity - I had no idea the ticker tape was due, but just as I pressed the button, it exploded around the cup, lit from behind by the low sun:

[Ticker Tape Explosion]

Of course, being in the right place at the right time is also vital. Often after a game, players will mingle with the crowd, or at least get close enough for you to get some nice portraits. The ASM team were keen to show off their trophy, and gulp champagne out of it too! The shot below was taken with the 400mm end of my 100-400mm IS zoom lens - it has superb quality, and this is about half-frame cropped from the middle of the picture:

[Drinking a toast - Loic Jacquet guzzles champagne out of the trophy, while his team mates look on in the reflection]

If you find you're getting the same shots from familiar situations, why not try thinking around the subject a bit, it's surprising what you can come up with, given a little thought and a little luck!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Dallying In Wells

Although not strictly part of my "Coast & Cornwall" trip, I took the opportunity to stop off in picturesque Wells, in Somerset, on my way back home, via a stop in Wiltshire to visit friends. I'd seen the Cathedral on a previous trip, but I had never visited the Bishop's Palace Gardens, which are well worth a visit:

[The Bishop's Prison is in the garden, tucked away in a shady corner]

You can wander around the grounds, ruins and building which still stand, including the peaceful Chapel:

[The quiet Chapel in the Bishop's Palace]

There is also a restaurant serving lunches and teas, but on this occasion, their patio was unoccupied:

[Even the chairs on the patio have a churchey theme!]

There are also plenty of flowers to attract the attention, here's one I can't identify, but I loved the deep pink colours:

[Cerise pink flowers on a green background]

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Coast & Cornwall Day 9 - Tintagel & Boscastle

I set off from Padstow this morning with a hazy sky above, but by late morning it had burned off a bit. I had a look around the ancient village of Tintagel and King Arthur's alleged castle. It's a stiff climb up the cliffs but the views from the top are worth it:

[View from high up on the cliffs at Tintagel, with ruins and the rocky cove below]

My next stop was just a few miles up the road, to the bustling village of Boscastle, star of the BBC's "A Country Parish" which was devastated by a massive flash flood in August 2004. They are still rebuiling parts of it, although most of the shops and houses are back to normal. Here's an innocuous view of low tide in the 16th Centuary harbour:

[A few boats sitting quietly in Boscastle Harbour at low tide]

My final stop of the coastal tour was back in Devon, at Westward Ho!, where I found a nice restaurant for dinner, after exploring the pebbly beach. Some of the smooth grey pebbles have lovely white stripes running through them - they were so pretty, I couldn't resist picking up a few to bring home (you may see some more studies of them in due course):

[Attractive pebbles on Westward Ho!'s rocky beach]

So, that's it for my coastal wanderings. Tomorrow I'm off to visit friends in Wiltshire on the way home, for a couple of days. I'll post some more pictures if I see anything interesting on the way, although I think rain is forecast, so I might not stop many places. I hope you've enjoyed sharing my trip!

See a few more photos from today in my Flickrstream.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Coast & Cornwall Day 8 - Lappa Valley & Padstow

lMy first stop after leaving St. Ives was the Lappa Valley Steam Railway, a few miles south of Newquay. They have a narrow gague track which was running a lovely little engine called Zebedee today:

[Lappa Valley Railway No. 1 "Zebedee" chuffing off from East Wheel Rose station]

I drove through Newquay, but didn't see anything which inspired me enough to stop for pictures. After some lunch at a local pub in Mawgan Porth, I headed along the coast road and eventually stopped at Harlyn Bay for about an hour. There's a huge sandy beach (suitable for surfing if there were big enough waves, sadly not today) and lots of people were enjoying the sun, including one lady taking her horse out for a run:

[Harlyn Bay white horse, with Gulland Rock one mile off in the distance, on the horizon]

It's then a short hop to Padstow, where I found the passenger ferry to Rock across the Camel Estuary was still running, so I took an hour's trip across the water. While waiting for the return ferry, I saw this speedboat haring up and down the estuary:

[Speed boat on the Camel Estuary, looking towards Padstow]

Having fought off the seagulls who seemed intent on trying to steal my fish and chips from under my nose, I pottered around Padstow for a while before turning in to the B&B to catch up with some blogging and picture sorting. The internet connection has been pretty flakey in St. Ives and was taking an age to do anything, but it seems much better here. Let's hope normal service is now resumed!

See a few more photos from today in my Flickrstream.