More on the Canon G9

I’ve come across an interesting review of the Canon G9 today. You may remember I’ve just bought one of these little cameras and my initial response was not favourable. Firstly, I thought I detected a noticeable shutter lag, and secondly I found the optical viewfinder all but useless.
Well, a chap called Nick Devlin has been comparing it to his Leica M8.
Strangely enough, Nick found that – guess what? There’s a shutter lag and the optical viewfinder is all pretty useless. Otherwise, it’s a great little camera.
I’m looking forward to finding out by using it for myself.
Anyway, go take a look what Nick says…

Also, my good friend and former student, Alwyn, wrote an interesting comment about the Canon G9. He, too, offered a link to a practical review…

Photographing white on white – part 2

With the camera set to Manual (M) exposure mode, your other option is to use the camera’s build-in light meter to take a light reading from an area that is not just all white. I can’t be faffed with grey cards – there is nearly always something roughly mid-tone to point the camera at; a door, or perhaps your brown camera bag – I’ll take my reading from that. Once the shutter speed and aperture has been set to this reading, I then I point the camera back at the subject and take the photograph. 

I have mentioned this before, but I’ll say it again – it is vital to ignore the light reading needle, or indicator, in the viewfinder when pointing the camera away from the area on which you have just set your light reading, and back at your white subject. Chances are that when you re-compose you picture on the white subject, the exposure meter pointer will now indicate over-exposure. Ignore it!

The biggest mistake my students make when doing this is to ‘chase the needle’ that is, they re-adjust the exposure when they point the camera back at their chosen subject and notice that the light reading says the subject is now over-exposed… that over-exposure is precisely what you do want. If you want to use this method with an auto exposure mode, you must lock the exposure with your Auto Exposure Lock function (AEL).

Of course, you could set the ISO for one full value slower – use ISO 100 instead of 200, for instance after you have set the exposure. This will cause the camera to over-expose by one full ‘f’ stop, but it’s often fiddly and as I always use the slowest ISO I possibly can anyway, this is not an option open to me.

Top photograph
Even a very small dash of colour – like the red of this one flower – can have a dramatic effect when it’s placed against a ‘plain’ white wall. Keep your eyes open for these splashes of colour and position them carefully within your rectangle. In fact, look more closely and you will notice that that ‘plain’ white wall is anything but plain. It is full of colour and texture. This flower is placed more or less in the centre of the frame, but it’s often a good idea to revert to that good old Rule of Thirds when positioning your focal point.

Middle photograph
I’m pleased with the simplicity of this photograph. Again, there are no hard shadows, and that has softened the texture of the white walls. It helps to think in rectangles when looking for these compositions – just frame carefully and cut out as much unnecessary detail as you can

Bottom photograph
Even the white paint-bucket and make-shift brush can make an interesting subject. Don’t be afraid to move in close and fill your frame. This will cut out distracting detail and add more impact

Photographing white on white

White walls, white steps, white roofs, white guttering – and even the white pot from which all that white paint comes – so where’s the photographic interest in that lot? Just all white isn’t it? Well, there’s a lot more to a white surface than you might think at first glance. 

I’ve long been fascinated by the extraordinary array of textures, tones and hues to be found in plain old white. Photographing white surfaces and objects presents lots of difficulties, but all can be easily overcome with a little attention to basic technique.

The pictures here are the result of a one hour stroll though the narrow alleys of one small village in Menorca. Almost everything there is painted white.

To keep things simple, I set the White Balance (WB) to Auto White Balance (AWB), and this coped extremely well bearing in mind the tremendous range of colour temperatures between deep shade and bright sun..

The most difficult problem, when photographing white objects is exposure – but it is really a lot easier to solve than you might think. If you point your camera, with its built-in light metering system, at a white object it will register an awful lot of reflected light. In effect, your metering system is looking at all that white, saying ‘Gosh, there’s loads of light here, let’s cut down’. It is being fooled into cutting the exposure down. Unless you are aware of this – and do something about it – your picture will be under-exposed. All you have to do is set your Exposure Compensation function to around +1 – that’s plus one value, or one full ‘f’ stop. Then your camera will ‘over-expose’ by plus one ‘f’ stop to compensate for all that reflected light, and your image will be correctly exposed. Experiment until you get the exposure you want.


Setting the Exposure Compensation value to over-expose by about one full ‘f’ stop is one of the simplest ways of getting the right exposure when photographing white. Don’t be afraid to experiment, you might sometimes need to compensate even more if the white is particularly bright

If you are using the Manual ‘M’ settings as I do all the time, there are another way of getting around this under-exposure difficulty when photographing white areas. I might frame my picture approximately and look at the exposure scale in the viewfinder. I then just set my exposure to over-expose by the appropriate amount – in other words, leave the pointer on the ‘plus’ side of centre. I do this either by setting one full ‘f’ stop over, or doubling the exposure time; for example, I’ll use 125sec instead of 250sec. 

Top photograph

Looking out from a shaded alleyway at the brightly lit church tower caused fewer exposure problems than you might think. I just framed the picture and set the exposure using the centre-weighted mode. This has taken the reading from the very bright white tower, but also taken into consideration the large areas of shaded white. Notice how the light is slanting across the right hand surface of the church tower has created texture, while the light hitting the left side is straight on, and this has shown a flat, pure white surface

Bottom photograph
All the time I am looking for patterns and shapes created by shadows. These can be used as compositional devices in the same way that any other subject can. So place these shadows carefully and move around to adjust the composition. Shadows can create really interesting designs on white

Next, in part 2 – more exposure options

About photographers’ rights

My thanks to Dennis for his comments about photographers’ rights.
He has posted a useful link and I will re-post it here because I know he had trouble posting it himself.
This should clarify the situation for photographers in USA – and give an interesting insight for those elsewhere.
Thanks again Dennis.

Canon G9 – shutter lag

Thanks to Backlitcoyote (what a wonderful name) for the comment about the Canon G9. My initial disappointment with the camera centres around those two things – shutter lag and a lousy optical viewfinder.

That optical viewfinder is all but useless and I can’t imagine that it is beyond the resources of Canon to do a better job. Maybe if they concentrated more on how the camera actually handles in the real world – in a photographer’s hands – they would come up with something more useable.

When Backlitcoyote says it takes from 1/3 to ½ second from pressing the shutter button to the camera actually taking the photograph, is this, I wonder, even when the shutter button is already half-pressed to allow auto-focusing?

As I have said, I will put the camera to a proper test in real, practical situations as soon as I can. Meanwhile, I have to agree that the quality of the images taken on this Canon G9 is good. Maybe I just need to get used to it – but frankly, any camera that waits for half a second to take the picture just might get sent back for a refund or thrown at the wall. What possible use is a camera like this when photographing people?

I have posted my first couple of shots taken on this G9 – as you can see, nothing was moving and I used the LCD on the back of the camera to compose the pictures. The quality is fine. The photograph of the boat was done with very low side light in late afternoon, and this low light does tend to add a great deal to the crisp effect – the high resolution image is immaculate. The sky has burnt out on the left hand side, but, this can be expected with this type of shot where the foreground is so dark and the sky so bright. There are lots of ways around this, by the way, and I’ll show you some in future posts.


The picture of the rock is a very simple test close-up. I did not use the macro function, just pointed and pressed. Yes, I’m impressed by the quality, but right now that camera is on borrowed time.

Photography weekend in Scotland

We’ve just said farewell to another group of photographers who have been with us for the weekend here in SW Scotland. I think I can safely say that the weekend was a success. We all had a lot of fun, in fact my sides are still aching from all the laughter. Norene and I really enjoy doing these photography weekends, and we always seem to make a whole bunch of new friends. That’s me with the daft hat and red jacket with some of the photographers. 

Hundreds of photographs were taken over the last couple of days, and an awful lot of them were done for the first time using the Manual (M) mode. I do like to help and encourage my students to understand and use the M mode, but I always stress that they should not be a slave to it – it’s the photograph that matters, not how the camera captured it.

I get very little time to take photographs when I am coaching others, especially a group, so I didn’t get much chance to try out my new Canon G9. My first impressions are not very favourable – do I detect a considerable shutter lag? I’ll let you know more about this very soon when I have had chance to give the camera a thorough test when I am out taking photographs. Meanwhile if anyone has any experience of this little camera, please do post a comment and let me know what you think. I am already doubtful.

Photographers’ rights

There is a very interesting thread running on one of the photography forums right now about the legal rights of photographers, and how they affect you taking photographs in the street.

I have already made my thoughts very clear about the freedom of photographers to take photographs what they wish in a public place. However, there is a link on this thread that UK photographers might find very useful. It is to a downloadable pdf file setting out the legal position. It was written in 2004 and is due for an update so bear that in mind.

That forum group is something very special to me. I did not start it and do not have any say in the running of it. It was started by a group of my former students and is going from strength to strength. There is a great deal of sharing of information.

I know that the moderator, Maria, would make you most welcome if you wanted to join and I’m convinced you will enjoy the fun company.
Go take a look…

I’m running one of my Photography Weekends here in Kirkcudbright this weekend so my time to post on the blog is pretty limited. I’m working with a great group of photographers and everyone seems to be enjoying themselves – keep you fingers cross for us tomorrow – we need some good light and weather.

Photographing people – TEN TIPS

Questions, questions
My students ask all these questions when I suggest we go out and take pictures of people in the street. Some have to make a great effort to pluck up enough courage just to take the camera of the bag. Usually it does not take them long to see how much fun it is and how good the rapport can be with total strangers. 

Here are five questions I am asked most often… 

Will people object to being photographed?
Well, I suppose you can make a friend or a foe in 1/500sec, but mostly people will either ignore you altogether, or ask why you are taking their picture. A perfectly reasonable question that deserves an answer. The amateur photographer has got the ideal reply – “I’m just a keen photographer who enjoys photographing people, I hope you don’t mind.” 

Will they become aggressive?
Very, very rarely. Common sense and basic street craft comes into play here and you will soon learn when to leave the camera in the bag. If someone tells you to ‘go away’, just smile and go, don’t argue, there are plenty of other subjects to choose from.

Should you ask permission first?
I nearly always prefer to get something in the can and ask permission afterwards. Again, much depends on the circumstances, but remember, when someone says they don’t mind being photographed, you might have a ‘tame’ subject and you should ask to take more pictures.

What should you do if they spot you taking their picture?
Take another picture – often the reaction to being photographed can create a very special photograph. Then smile broadly, hold both hands up and tell them what you are doing and why.


May I publish a photograph I’ve taken of someone in the street?
Yes. Provided the photograph is not detrimental in any way to the person’s character of good name. If you use the photograph for advertising purposes, that person may have a legitimate complaint.


Use fast shutter speeds to freeze people’s movements. 1/250sec minimum if possible. This may require a faster ISO such as 400 or 800 in poor light conditions. 

Keep your camera set for instant use either with the correct exposure on Manual mode, or use TV (shutter priority mode). And keep your camera accessible – preferably around your neck and perhaps tucked into your jacket.

Be patient. Be observant and watch people closely.

Be aware of everything going on around you.

Anticipate where people are likely to go – you will learn to predict their movements quite well with practise.

Find good viewpoints and wait for people to move into them.

Start with ‘back view’ shots of people.

Take lots of pictures. That ‘decisive moment’ can be elusive.

Travel light – big, heavy camera bags are a nuisance and will attract attention.

Keep your camera bag zipped up when working in a crowded street. It would be a shame to lose equipment to light fingers while you are concentrating on taking pictures.

Top photograph
Once you have got more used to being seen about in the street with your cameras you can really start to enjoy yourself. You will find subjects everywhere. You must always be aware of what is going on around you all the time. Keep your eyes open and be prepared to move quickly into the best position when you see an interesting situation developing. Sometimes the subjects come right up to you. In this case, the two butchers were carrying their wares down a Dublin street. With the exposure already set and using a wide angle lens, all I had to do was wait until they filled the frame and press the button

Middle photograph
Towns like Cambridge are well used to people taking pictures, and chances are that you will be totally ignored when you raise the camera to your eye in a town like this. Don’t be in too much of a rush to take dramatic ‘candid’ shots of people straight away. Take it easy and slowly and concentrate on taking pictures of people who are absorbed in something else

Bottom photograph
No photographer worth his salt is going to walk away from an opportunity like this. Just keep pressing the button. With lively subjects it is always best to take lots of pictures. There is no need to interfere with what is going on – the kids are having a ball. The most important thing was to avoid a soaking from the little beggars

Photographing people in the street – part 1

The most easily accessible location for photography is right outside your own front door – in the street if you happen to live in town. Out there people are coming and going about there daily lives, and the houses, buildings and surroundings themselves can make really worthwhile subjects. Yet so many photographers get into a sweat at the very thought of taking pictures in the street. Quite understandably, they feel self-conscious and a bit nervous about pointing their cameras at perfect strangers. This is normal, and if you feel that way, you are not alone. You probably also feel as if you are being intrusive. Well, in a way, you are and because this type of photography brings you into contact with total strangers it does not suit everyone. However, you don’t always have to tackle your subjects head-on – there are many more subtle ways of capturing pictures of people than simply sticking a camera in their face 

The first and most important thing to remember is that you have a perfect right to take photographs in a public street. It is a right you should use.

It can help if you start by taking photographs of public street events or parades, where everyone participating and watching will expect lots of photographs to be taken and will readily accept the presence of photographers. A good training ground can be a busy tourist town – again, people will be expecting photographers to take pictures. You could try back views of people to begin with so that they may not even know they have been photographed and will not question you. All this will help you gain confidence.

Eventually someone will turn round and see you taking their photograph. Rule Number One – press the button again, smile broadly and say something pleasant. Tell them what a great picture they have helped to create, how good they looked and how you could not resist taking it. Laugh – be happy! Go forward and show them the picture on the preview screen if they are interested. Let’s face it, you would not have taken the person’s picture in the first place if you felt the subject looked at all threatening, so who knows, you may gain a friend, or a least a ‘tame’ subject who you may be able to ask to ‘do it again’. This approach can lead to countless happy encounters with strangers and many great pictures. Just don’t expect to be an expert overnight, it takes time to build technique and confidence – especially confidence.

Man on ladder
Gain confidence by photographing people without them knowing – call these candid shots if you wish. If subjects have their backs to you, then you can shoot away to your heart’s content. This chap had no idea he was being photographed – nor could he see those jackdaws above his head on the roof. They really helped make the picture

Top photograph
You can progress from shots of people’s backs to full frontals quite easily. Use a medium telephoto lens – the equivalent of a 180mm is fine. Once again compose your picture carefully without people in it. Get everything set then simply wait until a likely subject strolls along and press the button. Minimum 1/250sec to stop the subject and reduce camera shake. You can assess your potential subjects well in advance and if you don’t like the look them just wait for another one

Bottom photograph
You need a clear view of a busy gateway or entrance for this exercise; somewhere people will have no choice but to walk through the gap. Find a good out-of-the-way spot overlooking the spot and get comfortable; a bench where you can sit down is ideal, or stand in the shadow of an alleyway where you are unlikely to be noticed. Don’t rush. Take your time framing and composing your shot. Set the exposure. Now everything is ready and your trap is set. All you have to do is wait for the right person to walk into shot and press the button at the right moment – you have taken your first candid shot and the person you photographed knew nothing about it

Tomorrow I’ll give you a list of TIPS and answer some FAQs about street photography

Photographing people – inhibitions

Self-consciousness is probably the main reason for holding back the talents of so many photographers. The thought of taking out a camera in public and pointing it at another person fills most photographers with dread. Why? 

Maybe I was lucky to have had every inhibition knocked out of me at a very early age when I was an apprentice on a local newspaper. Even at the age of 15 I was expected to stand in front of a crowd of people and organise them into a group photograph – all this while using a 5 x 4 glass plate press camera and a flash unit with wet cell batteries I could barely lift. The first time I did this ‘solo’ was at a Christmas Fair in a school hall. The highest vantage point was the stage, and beneath the stage was laid out a table full of cakes and goodies. My boss, the chief photographer, stood at the back of the hall watching my performance.

In a voice barely broken by puberty, I yelled for attention and got a group of people herded near to me so that I could look down on them from the stage. You must bare in mind that in those days, the mantra of a local newspaper was ‘faces sell papers’. In other words, the more people you get on the photograph, the more newspapers will sell. I had gathered together perhaps 40 faces.

The very edge of the stage had a lethal sloping edge. You guessed it – just as I got everything set I slipped down the edge and skidded onto the table below. I watched my boss cover his face in shame as I waded ankle-deep in cream cakes and blancmange. However, the results of this spectacular fete of ineptitude was that everyone laughed – and I got the happiest photograph ever used in the newspaper.

Since that day I realised that it doesn’t matter a tinker’s cuss what people think of you at the time – provided you get the picture that matters. In actual fact all the ladies in the group rushed to offer me their motherly care – once they had stopped laughing.

Viv asks do I think black and white works best for people photographs, or is it my newspaper background? Well, Viv, a bit of both really. I love black and white. It has a power that colour can never quite equal. I do happen to have a library of b/w negatives numbering around 150,000, so I have plenty to go at. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy shooting colour. Just to prove it I have posted a couple of colour ‘people’ pictures.

The shot of the couple lying on the beach was taken with their consent. I saw them from some distance and took the first picture with a short telephoto lens, but I wanted to get right in close with a wide angle. The camera was glued to my eye as a walked carefully forward and spoke to them – ‘You look absolutely wonderful, please don’t move and let me take a photograph’. I was actually taking photographs as I spoke. They were a lovely, happy couple and delighted with the result when I showed them the picture.

So throw aside those inhibitions and take more photographs.

I’ve posted the photograph of the farmer to show that I’m quite happy to shoot colour for street portraits.