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After the first safari I hosted for Nikongear in 2009, I decided that road trips with a group of people were not the kind of adventures I found conducive to good photographic experiences. Getting everybody to convene at pre-determined times and stay together was like herding cats, an exercise in frustration. Also, we’d no sooner get into the groove of a place before we found ourselves on the move again, keeping up with an itinerary. All the packing and unpacking became quite a strain over the 2 weeks of that first trip and I’ll admit, it didn’t bring out the best of my personality.
I wanted something more rewarding from a safari.
I can’t recall exactly where I read about Sabi Sabi, but I’d heard of this private game reserve that was situated on the border of the Kruger National Park where the rangers and trackers used a variety of methods, including radio comms with other rangers to locate animals for their guests. Only after driving yourself around the KNP for long stretches of the day and seeing nothing can you appreciate the value of having specialists do that successfully for you.
It wasn’t very difficult to make up my mind that a single week spent in a place like Sabi Sabi would be a much better proposition than 2 weeks of driving around national parks hoping to find good sightings, all the while competing for position with many other self-drive safari seekers. And so the Ultimate Big 5 Safari was born.
The concept behind this now very popular safari is simple; we take over an entire camp for a whole week and let the experts do their thing as far as finding the animals goes. Over the 6 years since our first UB5 edition we’ve never been disappointed. We’ve seen cheetah chases twice, lions hunting and feasting, leopards making kills (and also losing kills to hyenas), giraffe males fighting, African wild dogs hunting successfully and numerous other incredible sightings.
Unlike many “photo safari workshops” organised by others, we’re not selling education. People who join our UB5 safari are generally already familiar with basic photographic principles and all we do is put them in the right places at the right times to make amazing photos. That said, what we’ve found over the years is that many who join our groups usually have some techniques that they share with us (and of course us with them), be it a camera hack or even a cool way of post processing. We just go there to have fun and enjoy the company of other people with an interest in wildlife photography. These safaris are for fun-lovers, not disciples of any particular exponent of photography.
As we get ready to enjoy edition #6 of the UB5 safari I thought I would share some memories of previous visits there. Click to enlarge the photos.
UB5 #1
This first trip was held towards the end of October in 2010 and it will forever stick in my mind for the two amazing rangers we had looking after us, namely Ranger Rich and Rika. I had more fun with the banter that we had going between the two vehicles than I did photographing the animals. Sadly they have both moved on from Sabi Sabi, but we still keep in touch on Facebook. Here they are pretending to be giraffes on one of our drinks breaks.

The stand-out moment on that safari came on our very first drive. We may have been about 20 minutes in when we came across the cheetah (the first I have ever personally seen in the wild). Little did we know that a few minutes later the sleepy male would be up and stalking some impala before breaking into the chase, albeit unsuccessful. That was absolutely exhilarating to watch. Because it was so dark already I didn’t bother trying to photograph the actual chase - I just watched it and I am really glad I did. Some memories are better without blurry photos. After he had missed his dinner he stood on some burnt ground and I got this shot.

UB5 #2
The next time we got to enjoy Sabi Sabi was a couple of years later in 2012. This visit became all about lions, specifically the dynamics around the Southern Pride. I think we saw the pride almost every day we were there. One morning when Pepe and I were driving from our guide rooms at Bush Lodge to Little Bush Camp a whole bunch of them were sprawled out blocking our access road to the camp. Being as we were in a Hyundai H1 there wasn’t much we could do to go around them, so we just waited there until they decided to rouse themselves. I love lions. They are definitely my favourite creatures to observe and photograph in the wild. They don’t seem to care much about anything other than eating and loving.


UB5 #3
2013 was a smaller affair with only 6 guests joining us for an earlier than usual week at Sabi Sabi. The reason for this was because we had scheduled a month long safari from Cape Town through Namibia and Botswana for September, so the UB5 trip had to take place during the last of South Africa’s winter. I never thought it could get cold in the bush, but boy was I mistaken.
The early mornings that August were pretty fresh. It’s not so bad while you’re standing still, but as soon as those open Land Rovers begin moving though the cold air it’s only the Bear Grylls sort who admits to not feeling a bit cold. Even one of our guests from Chicago (a city not known for their mild winters) had a few layers on. For a guy like me who lives in a sub-tropical climate this sort of thing is ridiculous, so I surrounded myself with as many hot water bottles as possible whenever we headed out.
The highlight of this safari was coming across a white rhino one morning who had given birth to a calf just hours before we arrived. It was probably one of the most special sightings because there was also a hyena lurking, waiting perhaps for an opportunity to snag the little one. A short while afterwards a leopard we’d been following earlier also showed up, so we had a kind of stand-off happening as both the cat and the hyena sized up their opportunities.

UB5 #4
In 2014 there were a few changes in my approach to photography, not least of which was the move away from Nikon to Olympus and their mirrorless technology. I found that I was getting much faster and more accurate auto focus with the Olympus E-M1 than I had ever gotten with the Nikon D700. As a result I got more in focus shots than ever before. Also, I began shooting video on this safari and found that certain moments that I may have missed with stills I now have memorable video of, including that of the leopard and her cub losing their kill from its high position in a tree to a waiting hyena below. Watch this video - it's classic!

There were also moments I recorded where a young leopard had killed a scrub hare and began playing with its dead lunch. It was almost as if he was trying to impress us with a re-enactment of his hunting skills!

UB5 #5
Last year saw another smaller group on the UB5 safari which we linked in with our Wild Waterways Safari in Botswana. However, in spite of the smaller numbers, the sightings we had were simply amazing. There were lion and leopard sightings, including leopards mating, which is something most people can only dream about seeing. Not only that but we came across a colony of dwarf mongooses living in an old termite mound. Usually these diminutive animals will scarper as soon as they see humans, but it was almost as if we had on an invisibility shield because they sat and posed around their home for us for what seemed like ages, giving us some very rare photo opportunities.

In just a few weeks we’re off to do UB5 #6 and I can’t wait! Be sure to follow our adventures here and on the social media pages.
Bookings are open for UB5 #7 so if you think this is the kind of safari you'd like to experience please go check out the page. Spaces are getting taken quickly, so don't delay if you're serious about going as we will only offer one group safari to Sabi Sabi in 2017.
I have a special craving for these lenses, especially the older one, the f/3.5.
I compared an old f/3.5 non Ai, a f/2.8 Ais and the latest AF f/2.8D. I just wanted to know which one is the sharpest at center and border to decide once and for all which one will remain in my bag.

I used a Nikon Df on a tripod, with Aperture Priority. This is far from a complete and scientific test.
First batch are pictures of a map in my wall, with the camera placed 1m away from it, so focus may not be perfect. 100% crops from the center and upper left side, lens wide open and two other apertures (f/5.6 and f/8).
Second batch are from my window, lens at infinity and 100% crops from center and border (close). Only at f/5.6.
They are all in this sequence (older at the top, newer at bottom).
1- NIKKOR 16mm f/3.5 non AI
2- NIKKOR 16mm f/2.8 Ais
3- AF NIKKOR 16mm f/2.8D











Regular readers will know that I have been a mirrorless convert since late 2013, which is when I got my Olympus E-M1. That camera has now been on 6 safaris with me in the past couple of years, including a foot slog through the iMfolozi game reserve last year. Apart from an issue with the rear command dial not making proper contact (apparently caused by dust) it has been 100% reliable. In a few weeks time it will come with me back to Sabi Sabi for yet another safari. 
The Mk II version is expected sometime this year but to be honest, it will take something truly extra-ordinary to come out for me to consider upgrading. I’m not that keen on more mega-pixels and I have found the auto focus system to be quite suitable for my needs. Improvements in the menu interface would be welcome though. I suppose the EVF technology is also improved quite a bit these days, although while what’s in the E-M1 now is perfectly fine for me, I do recall that the jump from the original E-M5 to the E-M1 in terms of EVF was significant. 
So, camera sorted, what lenses have been the best performers for me on safari? 
Over the past couple of years I have used a variety of different telephoto lenses on safari. When I was first getting into the m43 system I had the Panasonic 45-175mm X series lens (90-350mm F35 angle equiv) which did well in good light. It’s probably the one m43 lens I most regret selling, especially since the lens I gave it up for, the Olympus 75-300mm really failed to impress me. The Panasonic is very small, has a motorised zoom and while it’s got decent sharpness in its focal range, it’s best feature for me is the fact that it doesn’t change length when zooming. For a lens that is less than 10cm long, it makes a very worthy travel option. However, on safari you might find yourself wanting more range on the long side.

Image taken with Panasonic 45-175mm and Olympus E-M5
The Olympus 75-300mm that I mentioned certainly does give you the extra zoom range (150-600mm F35 eq) and could be considered good enough in terms of sharpness, but that slow aperture of f/6.7 at the long end just proved to be too slow, especially when light levels drop. Also, one has to understand that with such a narrow angle of view (4.1˚) you really do need good stability to get sharp photos. Even with the IBIS I often battled to hold this lens steady enough when used at 300mm. I don’t have a single photo shot with this lens that I am totally happy with. At the time I got it though it was the only game in town for m43, unless you were fortunate enough to have some legacy 4/3 telephoto glass in your back pocket, like Olympus’ 90-250/2.8 and their 300/2.8. 

Image with Olympus 75-300mm on Olympus E-M1
In 2014 I did manage to obtain an Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD lens which I used on both the Wild Waterways and Ultimate Big 5 safaris that year. I was very happy with the reach and the image quality from that lens. The equivalent Nikon/Canon option is the 80-400/100-400mm lenses, but those are slower by 1.5 stops when compared to the humble Olympus (which I should add is still obtainable new for around $1200). In my old Canon days I had the original 100-400mm lens and hated it immensely. I believe the new one is much, much better, as is the new Nikon 80-400mm. Those lenses are much more expensive than the Olympus. 
The Olympus 50-200mm didn’t come with me on safari in 2015. Instead I opted to use the Olympus 40-150/2.8 PRO with the 1.4x TC. This was a mistake. The 40-150 is very good for subjects that are close to you (like within 30m or so), but as soon as those subjects get a bit further away I found that the lens performance dropped off. The images just seemed to lose their pop for me and subjects weren’t well defined at all. Also, the bokeh of this lens is a bit nervous in my opinion whereas the 50-200mm has beautiful bokeh and is also quite good on distant subjects. This will be my main lens for safari again this year. 
Here are some images with that old Olympus. 




Not hard to see why I like it so much. 
New lenses I would like to try on safari include the new Olympus 300/4.0 PRO and the Panasonic 100-400mm. The Olympus continues to get rave reviews from users, but I fear that it will be simply too long to use at a place like Sabi Sabi where we get very close to our subjects. If I was interested in birds then that would be a different story. The Panasonic remains an unknown entity for safaris so hopefully soon I might be able to get one for evaluation. It certainly does have a good range for that use.
Bag wise I am considering taking only my little ThinkTank Retrospective 7 this year. I have the much bigger Retro 50 which can take my laptop, but once I am there I don't want to carry such a big bag around on the vehicle so I will probably take the Retro 7 with the 2 E-M1 bodies, the 50-200/2.8-3.5 on one body with a grip and my other body with the 12-40/2.8 PRO for general purpose snapshots. If I get a demo lens from either Panasonic or Olympus to try out then I will have to take the bigger bag. 
One thing is for sure, I am really looking forward to being on safari again! 
There’s so much I want to write about on the issue of pricing, but because it is such a broad subject, covering everything in a single article that might run a couple thousand words is probably not going to do it justice. Also, I don’t work in every facet of photography so I will have to limit myself to a single area where I do have a lot of experience, namely event photography. I’ve been working in this field for going on 8 years and in that time one thing has become very clear: my prices are under pressure.
Why is this?
The market has changed in recent years and there are now lots of new photographers around, many of whom are also reaching for a piece of the ever-shrinking corporate event photography pie. Sadly most of the new-comers to this business have little business sense or even understanding of how to price themselves, so they go in cheap. This increase in competition means that if I want to carry on working in this business I have to be competitive and reduce my rates too. Or improve my value offering. Or take out contracts on all the competitors who undercut prices. Well, there’s no Italian blood in me (omertà) so I’m really only left with one choice. It isn’t reducing my rates.
If I was to reduce my rates to compete with the under-cutters entering into the market all I would end up doing is heaping more pressure on myself. My rent doesn’t ever come down, nor do any of my other living expenses. I would have to work harder to make the same money I was making before. I’m old now. Working harder for the same things doesn’t really enter my thought space that much.
I understand that everyone has a different set of living costs and mine may not be the same as the new photographer who just graduated from college and still lives with his or her parents. But why should there be differences in the way we price ourselves? We are doing the same job and probably giving a similar output. The only things differentiating us should be our individual style and personality.
If you undercut your competitor’s prices to get a job the winner isn’t you, it’s the accountant working for your customer, because now they have leverage over you. They know that you’re a low-rent photographer and their exploitation engine kicks into high gear. Welcome to the world of the bargain basement photographer. If you’re undercutting on jobs because you can afford to charge less since you’re living in your parent’s basement paying hardly any rent, I hope you like that basement because you’re going to be spending a lot of time down there if your plan is to keep on doing cheap jobs for customers by undercutting the market. Those customers may keep you very busy, but you’ll never get any richer. You’ll just get worn out working for them. Trust me on this. 
Once you set a price benchmark using basement living overheads, getting customers to move to a new benchmark outside of the basement (when your overheads inevitably increase) is going to require smooth talking from you on the intensity level of Spandau Ballet love songs to keep those customers. That is unless you have an X factor that they are prepared to pay more for. Not many photographers have an X factor, especially not in event coverage.
Around the time I made the transition to being a full time pro I had a conversation with a guy who used to be a moderator on the ODP forums (and he was also a member here), the late Mark Thomas who worked in Pretoria as a commercial photographer. Mark mentored quite a few of us on ODP and his advice on turning pro has stuck with me. He told me this story about how after being a pro for a few years and not really getting anywhere he decided one day to double his rates. He lost half of his regular customers immediately but he managed to keep the other half by promising them more attention to their individual needs and turnaround times. He didn’t shoot events (that I know of) as he was a commercial photographer, so his work was already at a certain level that those customers had come to appreciate and were prepared to pay more for. He also had the X factor in what he did. As a result of this decision he subsequently worked fewer hours, but made the same money he did before. This move however, improved the quality of new clients calling on him. He wasn’t being seen as a low rent photographer anymore and he also then had more time to explore other photographic interests, one of which was to start selling fine art prints and copyright of stock he’d taken to corporate customers. Back then I recall he sold a photograph he had taken to a company for a lot of money. He would never have had that opportunity if he’d been grinding away day after day for peanuts as a bargain basement photographer.
You have to think big picture if you want a long term career in photography. Trying to build up a business on a price offering is 100% dependent on volume and in these days of corporate cutbacks volume is fast becoming Unobtainium. Loyalty means nothing to customers who have made their purchase decisions on price. Don’t try and run your photography business like a supermarket, because there is always going to be somebody who will do it cheaper than you. You simply won’t last very long if your customers run out on you to go and use the next bargain basement photographer they find.
At a recent workshop I held for photographers looking to build their own WordPress websites we got onto the topic of price discussion amongst pros. How come so few of us publish our rates on our websites? We seem to have this totally unfounded paranoia about sharing what we charge with other photographers that doesn’t seem to exist in any other service industry. Plumbers and electricians are all pretty open about their rates and the medical profession have the Prescribed Minimum Benefits (PMB) system to work from (in a South African context). They all know what the benchmark for charging for their services is. Some go higher, some go lower.
If we professional photographers playing in the same markets set some PMB’s ourselves, we might make our lives a little easier. We will never get consensus on what that benchmark figure should be in an unregulated industry such as photography, but I reckon we should at least be looking to establish a minimum hourly rate for event photography, especially if we are to help new photographers avoid falling into the “bargain basement” trap and thus becoming a problem for the entire industry. Them being stuck in there hurts us all, so it would be better for us if they never went into the basement in the first place.
So, let me be forthcoming and reveal my personal pricing benchmark for event photography (please note that these are based on the South African market, photographers in other countries will have different benchmarks, but the principals used should apply to all markets). 
When I quote on an event I first look at the timing and location of the event. I have developed a hourly pricing model (labour only) that is based on weekdays or weekends, daytime hours or evening hours. If it’s a weekday and the hours are between 7am and 5pm I charge R1000 ($65) for the first hour and then R600 ($40) for every subsequent hour, or part thereof. If the event is after 5pm the first hour is R1250 ($82) and additional hours are charged at R750 ($50) each. If it’s on a weekend my first hour is R1500 ($100) and additional hours are R900 ($60) each regardless of the time of day. Please note that this is purely for corporate events and only covers labour. If there are any extras like prints or disks those are billed for separately. 
I choose to charge more for the first hour and less for extra hours because it makes it worthwhile for me to do short 1 hour jobs and it also gives my customer the impression that they are getting better value by having me around on an event for longer. However, I find that longer jobs are not as plentiful as they used to be, so if I am out for 3 hours on a job I am getting at least R2200 ($145), whereas if I was charging (say) R600 ($40) flat rate per hour I would only get R1800 ($120) for the same job. If a customer wants me for a half day or a full day they can easily work out the total costs using these rates. I don’t offer half and full day rates anymore.
For travelling costs if the event is outside of the Durban Metro area I charge R4.50 ($3) per kilometre from my starting point. I don’t charge for travel if the location of the event is within 30km. In light of recent fuel and insurance price increases I should probably re-look at that policy.
Sometimes I might get a project in another city that requires me to fly there. It doesn’t happen often but when it does I charge an S&T rate that covers my meals and any other costs arising (like parking at the airport, which can be quite expensive long term). I try not to gouge my clients and base this on reasonable expenses. Usually my client pays for the airfare and overnight accommodation if it’s needed, otherwise I’ll just add it to the quote.
I always ask for a 50% deposit on events, unless I have already got a long established relationship with the client. The balance of my invoice is due on delivery of the photos, not 30 days from delivery like how some customers (particularly certain ad agencies) like to pay. I make this very clear upfront for new customers. A new strategy I am adopting to avoid this “shoot now pay later” practise is to offer a 10% discount off my quote if payment is made in full upfront. You’ll be surprised at just how effective this has been! Solves a lot of admin and cash flow problems for me.
There are many photographers who are charging more than I do for corporate stuff and if they are getting their price then that’s great. My rates are based on Durban events. I’m sure photographers in Gauteng and the Western Cape are able to charge much more than I do. I’m happy with where I am price wise, provided the work keeps coming. I don’t expect to be busy every day, but at least when I am busy I don’t feel like I am being molested by some corporate accountant who’s only motivation for living is to bleed every supplier he can totally dry. I at least retain my soul when I am working on events and I enjoy them rather than spending my time feeling resentful towards the client who beat me down on price.
So what about those photographers charging less than me? How much less is considered reasonable to charge for events these days?
I reckon no photographer anywhere in South Africa should be working for less than R500 ($35) an hour for event coverage. If you’re going in under that price point you’re going to be in the low rent basement because these jobs don’t happen every day. You can’t rely on them for all your income, so you may as well make the most of them and charge a healthy hourly labour rate.
“But what if I’m not good enough to charge that much yet?” I hear you say. Oh dear. If you want to do photography for a living you have to be good enough before you get in the game. End of story. Roll credits here. There is no room for hacks in this business so please get “good enough” before you set up shop and print your business cards. Skilled work requires skilled workers and you need to have those skills in order to be able to charge for them. Horse. Cart. Order.
If you’re already “good enough” but you truly have no idea on how the photography business works, yet you want to be a part of it, find yourself a good mentor who isn’t shy to share their experiences and business wisdom with you. There are many successful photographers around, some of whom offer internships, assistant jobs or workshops. Seek them out and tap their knowledgebase.
A good professional photographer will never be worried about you stealing business from them because they already know the value of their own ability and why their customers are happy to pay them for it. Don’t be afraid to ask and don’t be afraid to charge when you’re ready to call yourself a professional.
If you're a pro working in the events market outside of South Africa, please share your thoughts on billing in the comments. I'd love to hear them. 
Here is a quick report on the new Pentax K1 in the actual work situations I find myself in. There is good news and bad news... for me. The bad news is that it looks like I have to learn (and put up) with another camera. Part of it is that I am used to my Nikons and all of that. The other part is that, IMO, the Pentax K1 interface as not as easy to use or as well-designed as Nikon. I would send it back just to spare myself the aggravation but for the very nice results. At this point, I am just checking it out a little bit, and trying to get over holding my nose while I am at it.
The color with the Pentax is crisper, brighter, more natural (almost too contrasty!) compared to the overall muddier look of my Nikon D810, now that I see them side by side. Ouch!
I don’t have a ton of lenses for the K1 and the Pentax (so far anyway) is much less tolerant of odd lenses than are my Nikons bodies. If everything is equal, which it is not, then the Pentax is... doable IMO.
The Pentax pixel-shift files are huge, and a real pain for my computer, not to mention their storage requirements  (~ 150K each). The LCD screen on the back of the camera is very adjustable, but I won’t be using it because I need my Zacuto Z-Finder magnifier on the back for fine focus, and it is needed. This camera is very fussy with focus.
On the plus side,  the K1 has a fairly easy-to-use LiveView magnifier that goes up to something like 16x, which is more than I need or makes sense.
The pixel-shift files take a long time to write out and you get no warning if you decide to call it a day and yank the card before the little light goes out. Don’t do it!
You can stack focus with these files, but at the price of degradation of the files... a little bit. For my work, the Pentax K1 will probably be used to take single shots photos at high f/Stops like f/12-16. Yes, there is some diffraction, but I seem to get away with much smaller f/stops in pixel-shift mode with the K1 than on my Nikon D810.
So, the bottom line is Uggh for learning a new camera, and one not as elegant as the D810. There are other considerations as well.
Stacking K1 images, like all stacking, messes with the color and the contrast to a degree. With the K1, the pristine color is the main attraction. So far, it seems it would be better to take one-shot photos with the K1 in pixel-shift than to try and stack them. Oh yes, they stack of course, but the added contrasts, etc. may look good from a distance, but up close it looks worse than a single-shot photo, not the anyone but a pixel-peeper could tell. All stacks do, but the more pristine possibilities of the K1 in pixel-shift mode make me want to think twice before stacking. What I might want to do is combine stacked layers in Photoshop by simply copying over certain areas, instead of running the layers through the stacking software, thus avoiding the added contrast and color muddiness that stacking brings. Just a thought.
Also, right now I have only a few Voigtlander lenses that have Pentax mounts. I have an adapter to Nikon and tried on the Otus 55mm and it works, etc. However, I look forward to mounting the Pentax K1 on a bellows unit and using lenses like El Nikkor 105mm APO lenses on the front standard.
In short, I just have my toe in the water. Part of me wishes my Nikons could do pixel-shift, because their cameras would be a lot easier for me to use, since I already know them. But the bleeding edge never sleeps and new equipment drives me on.
I am interested to see Sony’s upgrade for the A7rII and Nikons upgrade of the D810 whenever they come. Meanwhile the purity of color of the pixel-shift with the K1 and the overall result is worth checking out IMO.
Photos taken with the Pentax K1, Voigtlander 90mm APO.
I have included stacked images at f/9 and f/16 and one layer not-stacked, if that helps. This is all new, but the results better than I can get with Bayer interpolation. The pain of progress... learning all this.
Thanks to Lloyd Chambers for doing a lot of research on this camera in his columns.

Earlier this year I met up with a good friend of mine, Peter, for a cup of coffee and to catch up on each other's lives. We live within a kilometre of one another but due to the overly complicated nature of our 21st century lives we seldom get opportunities where we can appreciate a face-to-face chat. Anyway, at this fortunate intersection of our schedules we got to talking about photography outings and how few of them we get to enjoy and that we really ought to try and change this. Without going into too much detail, Peter picked up on the idea and ran with it, organising a day out for 12 photographers with the Durban Green Corridor, a local non-profit organisation that is doing some great work for local tourism by showing people parts of Durban that they had no idea even existed.
After Peter had done all the organising it fell to me to find 10 other local photographers who would join us on the big day out. It wasn’t very difficult to do via social media and the available spots for this free outing filled in just one morning. We had a mix of enthusiasts, professionals and also some photography lecturers at local colleges join us.
The month of April is particularly important in the history of South Africa as the 27th day this year marks the 22nd anniversary of our democracy. The first place we were going to visit on this outing was also important as it was where Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi established Phoenix Settlement in South Africa over 110 years ago (1904 to be precise), and where his philosophy of satyagraha (passive resistance) was born.
Phoenix settlement lies on the periphery of Inanda township, a name which means “Pleasant Place” in Zulu. It is where the first president of the African National Congress, John Dube was born and it is also where Nelson Mandela cast his vote in the historic first democratic elections of 1994. Inanda was a very troubled place during the struggle against apartheid and was the scene of many violent clashes between political factions. If you dig a little deeper into the history of this place you’ll uncover lots of other fascinating people, events and locations in Inanda that have played an important role in the history of this country and the development of its people.
Our first stop was at Mahatma Gandhi’s house, which after having been burned and looted during violent political rioting there in 1985, has now been rebuilt and turned into a museum. We were doing a guided 2km walk through the surrounding Bhambayi Settlement which is a shanty town that sprung up around Phoenix Settlement during Inanda’s rapid growth in the 1900’s. My initial reaction to finding myself on foot in this place, carrying with me the somewhat expensive tools of my trade, was complete and total apprehension. A thick stench of human and other organic waste hung in the air as we set off on our walk. It took a few minutes for me to remember that photography was why we were here and that I should at least be documenting the outing, if not looking for photo opportunities amongst the local inhabitants. I told myself that if I did become a victim of crime while on this expedition, I might view it as an opportunity to change careers completely (to what, who knows?). I don’t know if the rest of the group was feeling the same apprehension, but if they were they weren’t showing it at all. Our guides were having a hard time keeping us all in one group. It was like herding cats.
As we walked further away from Gandhi’s house I began to ease into the situation and after a while I began to feel quite safe. The locals we encountered were fascinated with this group of “Mlungus" (whites) who had started photographing everything in sight. Children as young as toddlers were playing carefree in the dusty roads, while adults did whatever it was that they had to do on a Saturday morning. Here are a selection of photos I took. Please click to view larger versions.

We came across a group of Kaiser Chiefs supporters (they are a huge South African football club) who were all dressed up in the team colours and they were enthusiastically posing for photos. Here’s Peter making a portrait of a happy groupie.

A small group of boys were practising tumbling by using a couple of concrete blocks as a spring board. When they saw all the cameras they kicked into high gear. If we Mlungus saw our children doing this on a Saturday morning we’d probably have a fit because there was no adult supervision or safety equipment around. Yet we grew up like this ourselves, out on the street, carefree and mostly barefoot. What has gone wrong?

But just like our current generation of urban youngsters, the world wide web is sucking in township kids too.



The local "spaza" shop plays a big part in township life. This is where people can get everyday items as well as have an early morning beer and a chinwag with mates.

The owner of the shop.

This is Katya who is originally from the Ukraine, posing with some of the local children outside a shebeen (unlicensed watering hole).

And Roxanne was having to fend off some advances from the already inebriated shebeen patrons who emerged from the shack to see what all the commotion was about.

Part of the gang.

This fellow was doing running repairs to his tuck shop (sweet shop) which was literally an assembly of planks and other bits of cladding. He was trying not to appear aware of us, but I caught him smiling under his cap as he worked.

Township residents are usually very resourceful, sometimes dangerously so. These guys were busy re-grooving old tyre casings by hand, which they then sell on the side of the main road through Bhambayi. If you looked at them without knowing what they were, you're be convinced that these tyres were new.
Our second attraction on this outing was a visit to the top of Inanda Mountain. I had been to this exact spot just a week earlier when I agreed to help a fellow church member video a performance by an Acapella band he is managing, so it was almost deja vu for me. The view from up the top of the mountain is quite spectacular as you can see. Unfortunately the time of day wasn't great for photography but we made the most of it anyway. The dam in the background is Inanda dam, which is considerably lower than normal, but not quite as critically low as other dams that feed this part of the world. We have actually just begun to experience water restrictions in the Durban area this past week, for the first time since the early 80's.
Here's a panorama of the view followed by a photo of our group.


We then headed down into the Inanda Valley to the Mzinyathi Falls, which is a lush gorge with a spectacular waterfall, before our final photo opportunity for the day, a place called Rasta Caves (literally below where this shot of the falls was taken from).

The climb down to the Rasta Caves was actually quite taxing as we had to clamber over rocks and other hard things with our camera bags. Eventually we got to this natural clearing in the cliff face where we were met by genuine Rastafarians. This is a holy place for them, so we were asked to remove our shoes before they let us into their sanctuary to take some photos. The Rastas have an interesting mix of beliefs, including Christian and other spiritual influences.

The Rasta Elder consults with our tour guide before consenting to our visit.

I believe this fellow is the leader of these Rastas. We found him sitting in one of the stone enclosures that have been constructed in the cove (I wouldn't call it a cave).

After we had been there for a while they began to sing us a hymn. No, it wasn't reggae.

Lying on the ground in front of what I assume is an altar I saw this book. I believe this is the Holy Piby, which is also known as the "Black Man's Bible".
After the visit to the Rasta Caves we headed back to one of the Green Corridor bases at the edge of the dam to enjoy a late Zulu lunch, comprising meat, puthu (maize meal) with chakalaka sauce and some cold juice. After that our time in the township of Inanda came to an end and we got back into our minibus to go home.
In conversation with the other photographers on the way home it became obvious that this visit had a profound impact on us all. As white people we like to remain blissfully ignorant of the reality of the poverty that affects many of our fellow citizens of different race groups. We close ourselves off in our suburban homes, many of us behind high walls with electrified strands on top of them, shaking our heads at the political headlines of the day, threatening to pull out of the country to go and find greener grass overseas, all while safe in the knowledge that our capabilities as a group of people will carry us along. We are absolutely convinced that we are not responsible for the plight of the poor. The truth is that if we were as capable as we think we are, we wouldn't allow the kind of poverty that we saw in Bhambayi Settlement continue to unbalance the chassis of our society. We would be looking for a solution and working together towards it the way capable people are supposed to.
I think that the biggest challenge white South Africans face is awakening to the realisation that the responsibility of eradicating poverty falls on all of our shoulders, not just the government's. We have to think about what we can personally do to make things better for those less fortunate than us. How can we reach out and invest physically in the future of all our people? How can we set aside once and for all the petty differences that always threaten to destabilise our society? How can we forget that we are all still a Rainbow Nation and that a few bad apples sitting at the top of the food chain do not have to ruin the entire harvest for us? We must never allow those rotten apples to sully our minds back into the mindset of hatred that created the social imbalance in the first place.
At his inauguration address on 10 May 1994, President Nelson Mandela said these deeply profound words:
"Out of the experience of an extraordinary human disaster that lasted too long, must be born a society of which all humanity will be proud. Our daily deeds as ordinary South Africans must produce an actual South African reality that will reinforce humanity`s belief in justice, strengthen its confidence in the nobility of the human soul and sustain all our hopes for a glorious life for all. All this we owe both to ourselves and to the peoples of the world who are so well represented here today."
We owe it to ourselves to realise our own potential. As a photographer I urge every visitor to South Africa, as well as those of us who have always lived on the side of privilege, to do one of these authentic township tours. If you're in the Durban area go and check out the tours arranged by The Green Corridor. You will be so glad you did.
The island of Borneo is essentially divided into two parts – Sabah, which is Malaysian Borneo and Sarawak, which is Indonesian. In addition, the tiny nation of Brunei is squeezed into 5000 square km on the West Coast of the island.
The Danum Valley Conservation Area is approximately 400 sq kilometres of virgin rainforest located on the eastern side of Sabah. The most common way of getting to the area is on a 2 and half hour drive from Lahad Datu and the only place to stay is at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge (BRL).
I have been meaning to do a write-up on the place because it really was sensational and should be on your list.
The Lodge:
We stayed in a “deluxe” room, because we wanted a view over the river. It was worth waking early (5.45am to 6.00am) and keeping a close eye out on what is happening outside. Every morning we did this, we saw amazing stuff.

No dressing up required for meals, it is a very chilled place. It is barefoot or socks only in the dining / bar area (to keep shoes & thongs, which are likely covered in mud, out).
We got a private guide and it was definitely worth it. You are in control of whatever you want to see or do and when you do it. Yes, they have a plan and undirected they will follow it, but you can vary it (including time and location etc) and you certainly then control how long you do, or don’t, stay watching some particular thing / animal. If there are things you especially want to see (e.g. birds) they will focus on that. Similarly if there is something you don’t want to see (e.g. tarantula) they will avoid it!
They have great, great, food at the lodge! A huge selection of both western & Malaysian. I am sure we actually put on weight despite the amount of walking.
Our room was basic, but fine. There is no air conditioning, but it really is cool enough with the smart room design & fans etc. They advise you to keep the lights off if you are not there, which we did, and had no problems with bugs in the room. The lounge / dining area is pretty fancy by comparison.


You could take a small umbrella to use when trekking instead of putting on a rain jacket or poncho. They have big umbrellas in each room for getting to and from the lodge area.
Some kind of dry bag could be good to take walking to put bino’s or camera gear in if it rains, because when it rains, it really rains!
Take a torch for night walks
We swam in the river – a great swimming hole is a short walk away from the lodges. We did not see anyone else swimming, but they encourage you to do it, so it is not an issue (and we will swim anywhere). When the river is higher they give you the option of going tubing down it.
There are lots of bugs, so insect repellent is a must. We only saw one leech the entire time we were there, but we also only had rain on one afternoon. It would be a very different story if it had been raining more often. We were strict about always wearing leech socks (with insect repellent sprayed around the top) when we went out, so I know this helped. Other people there either did not wear leech socks at all, or only sometimes and they sometimes got leeches and sometimes not.
We were there five days. We spoke to people who were leaving after 2 (what they had booked for, not because they didn’t like it) who said they were happy to go as they either didn’t see a lot, or had seen what they were after (I assume Orangutan). I would have happily stayed longer. The longer we were there, the more we did, the more we saw.

On this theme, if you are up for it, try and get out early (say a 6.00am or 6.30am start). Not only is it cooler, but the animals are more active. You have a chance of seeing the last of the nocturnal animals going home and you see all of the day one’s starting their day and looking for food etc.
A typical day is a morning walk, which is the long one, starting anywhere from 6.00am to 8.30am and getting back anywhere from around 10.30am (if you are out early) to 11.30am – so, a 3 to 4 hour walk. Follow this with lunch, a chill out, swim, reading etc and then out for another walk at 3.30pm. The afternoon walk gets you back around 5.30pm. We also did one night walk (sensational) and one night drive (we did not see much) – but I would recommend doing both. We were going to do another night drive or walk, but got caught up doing other stuff with the guides back at the lodge.
The walking tracks run the gamut of boardwalk to rutted dirt and, if the guides spot something special, “off road” you go. There is a fantastic canopy walk and there are swing bridges over the rivers – scary if you are that way inclined. Sturdy shoes will give you a better experience. If it rains, they better be water proof.

Some of the wildlife:


Grey Racer..

Crested Fireback

In days gone by I spent a lot of time covering various events, things like product launches, conferences, meetings, demonstrations, etc. It’s fairly stress-free work on the corporate side but it does come with its own challenges, most of which almost always come down to lighting and getting access to areas that you need to be in. Here are 4 tips I can offer those of you considering doing this type of work.
1. Avoid Using Flash (if possible)
For me personally using flash at a corporate event is a last resort. I think the last time I used flash at an event was when I was shooting with a Nikon D200 where high ISO was pretty much limited to about ISO 800. So tip number one is to try and shoot with a fast aperture lens (f/1.8 or better) and use the Auto-ISO feature of your camera to limits you are happy with. The only time I do use flash is for handshakes and posed photos.
Most cameras made in the past 3 years are quite capable of producing decent image quality at ISO 3200. Some of them even go a few stops higher, so don’t be afraid to use this when you can. Your photos are probably not going to be printed very large (if at all) and you can always run them through a good noise reduction rinse in post if need be. The Nik Dfine plugin is now free and it does a good job. I am happy with using the noise reduction sliders in Lightroom and I have a preset of 25 for any images that I shoot above ISO 1600 with the Olympus E-M1. This gives a good amount of detail and the shots look natural, not overly plastic.
One thing you need to remember is that the further you are away from your subject, the grainier they will look when you shoot high ISO. So, try and get as close as possible if you are forced to use the upper levels of sensor sensitivity to get your shot without flash.
If you have no option but to use flash on shots during the actual event, be sure to bounce it. Remember the inverse square law works in your favour so even if you have to bounce it off the back of the room the light that will hit your subject will not be falling off as much as it does when they are close to you. Obviously this situation is going to be different for every job. You’ll have to think on your feet and come up with a solution if you’re in a very large room with nowhere to bounce your flash. Welcome to the world of professional photography!
2. Take The Boring Shots
One of the biggest problems photographers shooting events face is that we are often trying to make every shot look über creative and we tend to forget to shoot the ordinary stuff. That’s not why we’re there. We’re there to document the whole event. We don’t have to always wonder whether the background is flattering or if the microphone is jutting out of the speaker’s head slightly for every shot we take. Context is important for documentary work so don’t be scared of including it in your shots even if its ugly. Sure, every now and then our photographer’s eye will see something that really works photographically and we can shoot it for inclusion in our submission to the client as well as in our portfolios, but don’t get hung up on doing this for every shot. Make the boring shots even when every shred of creativity in you is saying “Ugh!”
Last week I had a shoot covering a workshop about caffeine based shampoos for hair-loss and a hair dressing demonstration for a local magazine. No matter where I positioned myself in this room (and there wasn’t much space!) I would either have a PA speaker framing the actual speaker’s head, or the heads of other people in the foreground of the shot. Nothing I could do about it, so I just shot and shot and shot. Some of the images were OK but they all had crappy backgrounds. I knew that nobody was going to do any better than I was doing with their phones so I just got on with it, warts and all. They wanted documentary images, not studio stuff.

Lemons anyone?

3. Divorce Yourself From Shyness
Can’t say it enough. You have to get in front of people otherwise you’re going to miss the shot or shoot their backs. Have you ever heard of a paparazzo asking for permission to get in your face or stand where they know they’ll get the shot they need? You have to adopt that mentality if you want to make a shot that is not in an easy spot. It’s hard to think this way, but if you’re a stand-off type of shooter you’re not going to be very successful at covering events if you only want to stand in the shadows of the wings. Yes, you will get in people’s way at times, but that’s their problem. You are being paid to do a job, not be considerate all of the time. When the job is done you walk away and you don’t have to worry about it again. Obviously I’m not advocating being obnoxious, but if you see somebody doing something interesting at an event get in there, take your shot and move on. Don’t hover around the periphery hoping that things will unfold in front of you automatically. They probably won’t. You're the photographer, you’re not just another person attending the shindig. Be the photographer.
Event planners are famous for not completely thinking through positioning of things like lecterns, tables and stages all the time. I did a wedding on the weekend where the main table was literally positioned in the middle of the room (double-sided too!) and all the other tables were around it. The speaker’s lectern was at the end of this very long table with no working room to stand in front of it for photos. So there were 4 of us (2 video and 2 stills cameramen) standing up in the isles alongside the main table blocking the view of some of the other tables with tripods and monopods. Not ideal, but tough luck for those looking at our backs. We didn’t plan the seating and if the couple didn’t get their video and photos they would not be happy. Who’s paying us? The disgruntled guest or the commissioner of photography? You learn to grow thick skin in this business and divorce yourself from shyness. If you don’t you won’t be working events for too long.

Yes, that's the lectern up in front of the fireplace. Who thought this through?
4. Choose Your Gear Wisely
Everything in your bag weighs something. If you take things you don’t need you’re going to be carrying them around with you for the whole shoot. My last article was on rationalising my gear and the items I mentioned in that article are more than I need to cover just about every type of event there is.
In the past I used to take so much stuff I didn’t end up using because in my mind I was wanting to be prepared for every possible shooting opportunity. So I had lenses and extra bodies with me that never came out of the bag. Like taking a macro lens on a shoot. Or an ultra wide angle. What was I thinking? If some fleeting opportunity to use those items actually did present itself to me while I was working, I’d have to stop whatever I was doing, change lenses to get the shot and then change back to what I was doing before. This is all time lost and honestly, those opportunities to use the specialist lenses are so few and far between that bringing them along is more of a hassle than anything else.
For all events you need a good quality general purpose zoom that goes from moderately wide to moderately tele and you need a fast tele for things you can’t or don’t want to get to close to. That’s it. I use the Olympus 12-40/2.8 and the Olympus 75/1.8 on most assignments and I have everything I need in those two lenses. If I don’t need the speed of the 75/1.8 and I want more range I will use the Olympus 50-200mm instead.
Yes, I do bring other items like my Samyang 7.5mm fisheye and a flash (just in case), but those items stay in the Think Tank Retrospective 7 bag that I stash that behind the sound desk at events where there is always somebody to watch over your bag. I use the Peak Design Slide for the E-M1 with the 12-40 on it and I use the Peak Design Leash for the other camera with the 75/1.8 on it. They are both bandolier-style drawn across me and hang on my right side at different lengths so they don’t collide with one another. This is such a simple way to work that I don’t know why I never did it before. I charge my batteries before I begin a shoot and I carry a couple of extras in my pocket. Memory cards too, although if I am filling up 32GB cards on the types of events I am doing these days I think I am shooting too much.
These 4 tips are based on years of covering events ranging from birthday parties to product launches and everything in-between. I hope they have been helpful to you and if you have any questions or additional tips to share please leave them in the comments below.
Warning! On Fotozones we’re more interested in what we do with our camera gear, but it is also interesting to readers to know what gear works for us professional photographers and how we use it in the field. This is one of those types of posts.
Looking back over the past 4 years of my dabbling with the micro four thirds system, I have used many different lenses from at least 4 different manufacturers, as well as no fewer than 8 different bodies for the system (Olympus PEN models E-P1, E-P2, E-PM2, Panasonic GF-1, Olympus OM-D models E-M5, E-M1, E-M10, E-M5 Mk II). I had a system burgeoning with different lenses and bodies, but at the beginning of this year I rationalised and got rid of a LOT of stuff. Here’s what I kept and what I have found works best for me as a professional photographer.
Undoubtedly the very best body for m43 that I have had the opportunity to use so far has been the Olympus OM-D E-M1. It just seems to be able to do everything I throw at it and it produces amazing files that I have yet to find wanting in any way. I’ve shot with it up to 12,800 ISO in barely lit rooms and have been quite happy with the quality of the shots I got. Other photographers might disagree, but I don’t shoot for other photographers so their validation of what I use in my job is superfluous to my output.
Apart from an issue with the rear command dial not making proper contact when adjustments are made I have had no other problems with my E-M1. The recent firmware upgrade to version 4.0 brought some new features that have improved the E-M1 in many respects, including the silent shutter and the 4K time lapse video mode. It’s a great photographic tool and the Mk II that we are all looking forward to perhaps later this year or in early 2017 has very big shoes to fill.
Panasonic bodies remain a problem for me to get hold of in South Africa mainly because they are no longer officially represented here, so I haven’t tried too many of them. We have to import them ourselves and that comes with a lot of risk, particularly since there is no product support. If your camera needs fixing you have to send it back to where you got it from and that could be very expensive. I have recently been working with a videographer who has a GH-4 body and it certainly looks like a very capable camera, especially for 4K video. It has a lot of features for video that the Olympus E-M1 doesn’t have, most notable being the ability to use focus peaking while filming. When you’re shooting video professionally manual focus is a must, so that feature alone is worth the sticker price for a GH-4. I don’t know that I would buy one for stills, but I am sure it is a decent performer there too.

My Wide Angle Lens 
Of all the wide angle lenses I have tried for the m43 system the one that I have kept and still continue to use is the Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6. This tiny collapsible lens is the same size as the early 14-42mm kit lenses found on many m43 combo deals but it’s got a better build. There is also one of those funky rectangular lens hoods available for it (LH-55B). I bought one but I seldom use it because most of the time I am using this lens indoors for property photography. When I am using it outdoors for landscape photography I would probably have a drop in filter kit on the lens (LEE Seven5 or Cokin) which means the lens hood doesn’t fit into the system. Another thing is that the hood can’t be reversed on the lens because of its shape, so while it may look cool it isn’t very practical. That said it’s small enough to slip into a camera bag pocket without causing a storage issue. I keep it handy, just in case.
The other wide angle lenses I’ve used include the new Olympus 7-14/2.8 PRO, the older Olympus 7-14/4.0 (4/3 mount) and very briefly the Panasonic 7-14/4.0. All of them are too big for m43 and in my opinion they don’t bring that significant an improvement in image quality to be worth carrying around. The 9-18mm is tiny in comparison and offers a decently wide enough angle of view to work for me. I’d rather carry less weight than have an extra few degrees of viewing angle offered by the 7-14mm options. I also find the exaggerated perspective of the 7mm focal length to be unnatural on m43. It’s very hard to compose a scene with it.

My favourite little wide angle lens is still the amazing Samyang 7.5/3.5 fisheye. I always have this lens in my camera bag. It’s about the same size as the 9-18mm, purely manual focus, but very, very sharp and contrasty, not to mention well built. Used on a mirrorless camera in A mode I haven’t had any issues with exposure at all - the cameras always seems to be able to get it right. I set the aperture ring to about 5.6 or 8.0, set the focus to infinity and everything from about 20cm to the end of the world is in focus. It opens up a lot of creative options for me. On a recent wedding I put it on an E-M1, put that on a tripod, folded it up to use like a monopod and circled the wedding dance floor while filming. I didn’t have to focus it and the footage turned out great. 
I did try the new Olympus 8/1.8 PRO lens, and while it is an amazing piece of glass it is very expensive compared to the $300 Samyang (I think it comes in at about $1k). It’s also much bigger and heavier than the Samyang.

My General Purpose Lens 
There is only one lens that fits for me and its the Olympus 12-40/2.8 PRO. I can’t extoll the benefits of this lens enough. It’s ridiculously fast to auto focus, is sharp as scalpels when used wide open, has great bokeh and is also weatherproof. What more could I want?
I use this guy for a lot of stuff I do, including events, PJ, portraits, interior and product work too (it focuses really close and has better bokeh than the Panasonic/Leica 45/2.8 Macro I used to own). I love this lens! It actually stopped me from getting the Olympus 12/2.0 because at 12mm it’s just as good as that Olympus premium prime lens. I don’t need more aperture for wide angle work, so while the 12/2.0 is very good indeed, it is also very expensive and doesn’t do anything else besides 12mm. My money was better spent on this lens.

Telephoto Lenses 
The best lens in my bag that is classed as a tele is the Olympus 75/1.8 ED. Nothing is better than this lens for low light work where I have some distance between me and my subject. I use it a lot for podium speakers at events and where I want to isolate a subject from the background. I don’t use it a lot at 1.8 because the depth of field is too shallow, but at 2.0 it shines. While I haven’t used it a lot for portrait work, there’s no reason why it wouldn’t work. I would just need to get further away from the subject for framing given the narrow angle of view. The perspective is closer to the classic 85mm portrait lens used on 35mm systems, but it has the angle of view of a 150mm lens on that system.
My other telephoto lens is one that has been sitting in my cupboard unused for over 18 months, but which I hauled out recently and put back into service.
I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner. It’s the Olympus 50-200/2.8-3.5 SWD (4/3 mount). It’s got the same angle of view as a Canon 100-400 lens, but it has the benefit of a larger aperture than the Canon and it is much smaller too. Without the lens hood and tripod mount it is just as nimble as the new 40-150/2.8 PRO. Upside is you can pick it up really cheap on the used market; downside is that it can only be used on the E-M1 with the PDAF sensors driving it. The SWD version works very nicely on an E-M1. I’ve been very happy with the results from this lens and will be using it much more from now on. The big plus is that it offers a wonderful range in a small package. It has excellent bokeh, much better than the sharp but nervous 40-150/2.8 PRO. 

The Olympus FL-600R has all the remote, bounce, tilt capability of a top of the line Nikon or Canon flash unit but comes in a much smaller package. I have 2 of them that I take with me on event shoots. I use a bounce card with them in manual mode and I have had good results. I don’t use the Olympus TTL modes because they can produce quite erratic exposures when the flash is bounced. One really good feature of this unit is that it has a built-in LED light for video. It’s pretty powerful too. Working with the FL-600R can be a bit tricky if you aren’t familiar with the setup, but I suppose that’s true for any system speed light, isn’t it? 
And that is all I use on any shoots these days. 5 lenses, two E-M1 bodies. I get coverage all the way from fisheye up to what 35mm system users call a 400mm lens. The best part for me is that all of this gear, including the 2 flash units fits into my ThinkTank Retrospective 7 messenger bag and isn’t all that heavy.
I have only had my D5 for a few hours but my first impression is that, this camera is SWEET, SWEET, SWEET.
The balance and ergonomics are perfection
The AF is incredible: it can focus (admittedly with a f/1.4 on its snout) in a totally dark room where my eyes could barely see anything.
(However, the result of that experiment would only be useful if one needed to identify a burglar who was operating in that darkened room.)
The D5 seems to share certain characteristics with the D3S but with 75% more pixels, enormously expanded sensitivity providing one with the ability to operate under an extreme range of lighting conditions.
After VERY preliminary testing, it seems that my D5 is behaving in a similar manner to the D3S and the easy way to fix this is in the Custom menu and with the B7 settings.
Nikons have always tended to underexpose and that is because Nikon's mid-tone Grey is a 12% Grey not the traditional Kodak 18% Grey
Providing you are shooting RAW:
+0.6 EV appears to be a good choice for the Matrix exposure meter setting for general shooting conditions;
and for the Spot meter, I set it for +1.0 EV which is spot-on for the way in which I use a spot-reading.
This is how I set my D3S (and now the D5 as well).
By setting the meters in this way; shooting ETTR as far as I safely can; and then setting the Black point in subsequent processing: I am not pushing-up shadows in post-processing and I have found that Noise is minimized, banding eliminated, shadows don't block, and I usually have more than sufficient DR under almost all circumstances.
I haven’t processed any NEFs yet but have made some quick sun and shade xRite Colour Passport shots so I can now make some preliminary Camera Profiles for ACR.
I have set the in-camera Profiles to Neutral; and in ACR, if I didn't always use my own camera profiles, I would choose "Camera Neutral" as my starting CP and not Adobe Standard
I consider that the complaints about noisy shadows and insufficient DR (which I have seen voiced over the Internet (and particularly on DPR!) are mostly due to misuse of exposure settings and failure to ETTR sufficiently.
It is becoming rather clear to me that most of those measurbators on DPR don’t have a clue and some of them even are beginning to question their own methods of testing.
I still have a LOT more to learn about the operation of my D5 but so far it is exceeding all of my expectations (and those were pretty high to begin with!).
If the D500s are anything like this camera (and I am certain that they will be) people who opt for that model are going to be VERY happy campers.
Editorial note: please follow this article/thread as Ann will be adding her observations as she continues working with her D5. You can get instant or emailed notifications by clicking on the "Follow" button at the top of the piece.
Yes, I me what you will...hypocrite, lucky, stupid, smart....whatever....I have an Olympus PEN-F in my possession.
Long story short, some gear trades ended me here.
Got a call yesterday from my local camera shop. PEN-F was in. Silver model.
Made my way down to the store today on my lunch hour.
Most of the guys that I talked to that handled the demo were impressed with it. They are mostly Sony and Fuji users in the mirrorless sector, but found the PEN-F intriguing.
I've only had the thing in my hands for the last 30 minutes, so I'll just address what I can for now and get into more details later.
Front Dial:
I've heard from others on the internet that the front dial is sharp and cut into their hands. I'm a big guy with large hands and my fingers do not even come close to the front dial. Like the Nikon Df, the PEN-F needs to be held with a slightly different grip. I'm not going to hold it like an EM1 or a D700.
Yes, the edges of the front dial have some bite to them, but nothing I would consider "sharp". However, that is a subjective matter and each person should decide that for themselves with a hands on.
Grip (or lack there of):
The thumb indent on the back seems adequate for me. The front is of a grippy like material. I had no issues holding the camera one handed. It will most likely be an issue with the larger lenses like the PRO lenses or the 75-300/4.8-6.7 II.
My primary intention of using this camera is going to be with primes, so I don't consider that much of an issue.
"Rangefinder-esque" Styling:
I've never been one to prefer an "OVF hump" or side set EVF. I just require there to BE an EVF. For those that like built in EVF, this one does not disappoint.
LCD Rear Screen AF Point Selection:
One of the things that I envied of some of the Panasonic bodies was having the EVF be used as a way to select the AF point while looking through the EVF. We have that now and it makes for quick selection. After getting used to it, I can see where this would be great for quick changes while doing street photography.
That's about all I had time to get to at the moment, and did not have a lens in which to test it outside the camera store.
Aesthetically it is pleasing and I look forward to getting to know it better.
More updates to this thread as I am able. I've got a 4 day sunrise to sunset event to shoot starting tomorrow, so it could be a few days before I have anything to report.
I'm used to shooting RAW. I'm the sort of guy who likes to post process and finetune images and RAW gives me the highest quality and maximum flexibility.
However, sometimes it's ok to change things. Today I went to the National Military Museum, a place I've visited and photographed three times before so I was in need of an artistic change.
I decided to use one lens only, the Olympus 75mm f1.8. An excellent lens but also a single focal length (to simplify, 150mm in FX format) which restricted my choice of subject and composition.
But hey, that was the whole purpose of this shoot! I always need so time to warm up during a shoot. After some images I found something lacking, I needed an extra dimension.
So I tried b&w first, without the result I was after. Then I made a switch to the Olympus Art filter Dramatic Tone. That's more like it I thought.
I found out the Dramatic Tone worked really well in the museum, especially on shiny aircrafts.
The following images were only minimal post processed in Lightroom, the basic is the result from the Dramatic Tone setting.


Note the excellent quality of the Olympus Jpegs (only Fuji does better imo)

The Dramatic filter is not realistic, but it can work ok to enhance skies

Be careful though as things can get rather messy as seen in the background of this image

And here

But with an even background it works great

I had a lot of fun on this "Dramatic Tone" session and it shows a change of modus operandi can be quite inspirational!
Over December and January I had the opportunity to use a demo sample of the new addition to the M.Zuiko PRO family of lenses, namely the Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO.
This is less of a review and more of a collection of my impressions and opinions of this lens, where I am basing my observations purely on some recreational photography I managed to do over the holiday period. Ideally I would have liked to do some proper work with the lens, unfortunately much of the country is in deep slumber over this period of time, so work didn’t really happen for me while I had the lens with me. Anyway, I did get out with it a few times so this is what I found out about it.
Design & Handling
We all know that this lens is the newest addition to the micro four thirds stable of ultra-wide zoom lenses, (the same angles of view as a Nikon 14-24mm lens on an FX body) but unlike the previous 7-14mm options from both Panasonic and Olympus (the latter in 4/3rds mount), this one has a bright f/2.8 maximum aperture throughout the zoom range. It’s also quite large as a result of this increase in the aperture and while it’s much smaller than the older 4/3rds 7-14mm f/4, it is still bigger and heavier than the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO. It totally dwarfs the diminutive Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6, which is currently my go-to wide angle lens for the m43 system.
The build quality of the 7-14 is fantastic and follows the same conventions as the rest of the PRO range. Sleek, fully metal everywhere and truly indicative of manufacturing excellence. The only design issue I have with it is that it also uses the MF/AF clutch system, which has caught out many an Olympus photographer when its accidentally switched to MF. Fortunately the new firmware on most OM-D models lets you turn that off. Panasonic body users will not be so lucky, so they will need to proceed with caution.
I suppose another design issue to talk about is that you won’t be able to use screw-in filters with this lens, but this is something that we see on all ultra-wide zoom lenses these days - none of them have this. I do recall seeing somewhere recently that either LEE or Cokin have developed a filter holder that you can put on the Nikon 14-24/2.8, so maybe they might look into doing something for this lens. To be honest though, I am not so sure that you will get good results with such a system and resin filters, especially at the extreme wide end of the zoom. There’s bound to be some serious optical diffraction unless they make the filters really thin.
In The Field
Like all the modern Olympus glass this one is sharp like a razor blade even at the maximum aperture. I shot with it stopped down a bit and also at the widest 2.8 aperture and honestly, there’s not a lot of difference to talk about. If you’re coming from consumer grade glass for your system you’ll see the difference immediately. That’s what you’re paying for with a lens like this.
That said, sharpness isn’t everything. We need to look at some of the other characteristics of the lens optics and decide whether or not this is the right lens for us. Obviously each photographer who is thinking about this guy might have different needs for it, so what I am going to do is share how I used it during the time I had it and point out what I think are the good and bad points. I had hoped to use it indoors for some architectural work, but as mentioned that part of my business wasn’t active at all during the time I had it.
Let’s take a look at some photos:

One of the first things I did with this lens is climb up onto the roof of my garage and see how wide it looks at 7mm because we have a fairly impressive view from our house. This is what the lens saw at 7mm.
Something I noticed on many of the earlier 7-14mm reviews posted when the lens first came out was that the wide angles looked weird to me, almost like they weren’t quite wide and had been squashed somehow. After puzzling this out in my mind I came to the conclusion that it is the 4:3 aspect ratio that was messing with my head. Because I use my OM-D’s permanently in 3:2 mode the images I got didn’t seem to have that sense of “compressed expansion” I saw on other reviews. They looked proper wide.
So apart from the width of the viewing angle the next thing you will notice about the shot above is that there are three very strong flare dots dead in the middle of the frame. You will also notice that the sun is pretty high in the sky and not in the frame. In the next shot shown below, taken from the same position, but turned roughly 90˚to the left and tilting the camera to portrait orientation, you will see seven flare ghosts running into the frame at an angle. Also take note of the shadow lengths on my driveway. It was almost high noon.
This is a bit of a problem for this lens. It flares very easily, even when the sun isn’t in the frame but where strong light hits the front element directly. I picked this up in many of the shots I took, indoors and outdoors. I am by no means an optical engineer, but there is something else I am seeing happening with this lens in that situation that makes me think that maybe Olympus have tried to correct more for the side effects of the flare than worry too much about the typical element ghosting we see in flare situations. Normally with lens flare the first thing that happens is you lose contrast. No so with this lens. The images retain a terrific amount of punch and colour doesn’t seem to be degraded at all.



A few days later I took the 7-14mm down to the beach for a short stroll to see what I could find. If you look at the two shots above you will get to see the difference in the angle of view between 7mm and 14mm. Also notice that the perspective you get changes dramatically from one end to the other and this can make for some interesting creative effects given the right foreground / background subject relationships. I would love to have used this lens in a live concert where I could get right behind the singer and show the crowd in the background.


In these two shots I have tried to illustrate the exaggerated perspective of the 7mm end, as well as show how the flare issue is more apparent in the first shot, but not in the second.

Towards the end of December one of my cousins’ son was Christened at a local church and in-between shooting the actual event I managed to grab a few shots to illustrate how useful an extreme wide angle can be to show the inside of an expansive space. You can really get some interesting looks with this view. however, take note that the window light has once again caused the lens to flare, even indoors.

The actual Christening (this is an Anglican Church) took place in a small vestibule near the entrance and using the wide part of the lens again I got some shots showing pretty much the entire room while I stood in the doorway. As far as distortion goes I didn’t find anything too objectionable in the bricks, but the head of the lady in the bottom right has been stretched ET style. That’s something you can’t get away from with rectilinear wide angle lenses like this. You’ll get it on every ultra-wide angle lens. Avoid putting people near the edges and the problem goes away.

This next shot I took on 2 January at a gorge not too far from where I live (about 30-40kms by road). You can’t really appreciate the width of the shot but my intention was to try and show as much of the surroundings as possible without plunging headlong down the 70m or so to the bottom!

This is one of the last images I took with the lens and it was just after an actual job I did a couple of weeks ago involving the Natal Sharks rugby team who were doing a signing session at a shopping mall. This shot gives you a good indication of how things get stretched with this lens design. You can fit a lot into the frame but don’t expect it to look “normal”.

Here is the world famous Moses Mabhida football stadium. It’s probably one of the finest sports stadia in the world and has been host to many international matches, including the FIFA 2010 World Cup Semi Final. This isn’t my finest shot ever, but again you can see where a lens like this can come in useful. Also note that again we have flare spots appearing in the frame.

The last shot I have to show you here is taken shooting directly into the morning sun and here you see a different sort of flare problem in the top right of the frame. A talented Photoshop user will easily get rid of these annoying ghosts, but I thought I would show you what happens when you shoot into the sun with the 7-14mm, seeing as I already showed you what happens when you don’t shoot into the sun. I don’t think it’s that bad.
Overal Impression
So that’s a look at the performance of the Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO in the field. It’s certainly capable of producing fine results, but you will need to be constantly aware of the flare, even when shooting indoors with a bright light source in your frame. This might be an issue that precludes it from being used as an architectural lens, particularly for interiors where dealing with bright lights from windows is a constant. I think that a less extreme lens like the Olympus 12mm f/2.0 would be a better option. I do sometimes use the Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6 for that type of work and I have not had any issues with flare. It would be nice to get wider than 9mm for interiors, but it’s not essential.
In another thread on Fotozones we were discussing this very thing and I personally would have no problems with Olympus developing a slower, wider fixed focal length lens that I could use for this kind of work. Something like an 8mm f/4.0 rectilinear lens would be a lot smaller than this enormous 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO and might actually work better for architectural photography since most of it is done on a tripod anyway. Also, consider that when shooting architecture you’re seldom going to need f/2.8.
So for me the 7-14mm is not likely to find its way into my working kit any time soon. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to have one, but everything I buy these days has to have a practical and measurably positive impact on my business as a photographer and unfortunately a lens this expensive falls squarely into the “nice-to-have” category. I don’t need it as much as I want it.
Lets talk today about a feature on some cameras that many might overlook or not know when they would ever us it. The silent shutter.
Let's not mistake this feature with the quite mode on some cameras, most notably the DSLR. This quite feature does not make the camera any quieter, just spreads the sound of the mirror box and shutter over a longer period of time, giving the appearance of less sound.
I'm referring more to the electronic shutter mode on some cameras or a camera with leaf shutter.
Of these kinds of camera, I have my Olympus Micro Four Thirds EM1 and EM5 Mk II and a Fuji X100T.
The Olympus shutter is by no means loud when compared to a DSLR camera, but if you want to go dead silent, the option is there. In the Olympus cameras, pick the shutter option with the heart shape next to it. You are no in electronic shutter mode. The mechanical shutter is now disabled and uses only the sensor readout. Shutter speeds are Bulb through 1/16000 of a second.
Why would you not want to use this all the time? Image warping, a.k.a. the Jello effect is one reason. The sensor scans each line individually and if you have a fast moving subject, then they might get distorted as the sensor readout cannot move fast enough to get everything locked into the time slice.
Another issue with electronic shutters are flash sync speed, or shall we say, a lack of ability to use flash in those modes. Some cameras do not allow the use, while others are severely limited to slow sync speeds.
The Fuji X100T is unique in that it has a leaf shutter as well as an all electronic shutter. The leaf shutter is so quite that you would hardly ever need to use the electronic, unless you are needing that extra bit of shutter speed in super bright light. The leaf shutter also allows for an ability to use really fast shutter speeds with flash, if that is ever needed.

I was up on a balcony, quite a ways away, and even as quiet as the shutter on the EM5 Mk II is, the front desk staff at this museum was able to hear it. As you can tell from the body language, they do not mind that I am taking their picture, but they are "working the camera". Not exactly the candid, natural acting image I was looking for.
So, when would you want to use these kinds of camera/shutter devices?
During a wedding ceremony that was small and intimate with discretion warranted. Events where my Nikon D700 shutter sound made multiple tables of people turn around and look. I've also used it on occasion to shoot street photography. Now before anyone starts screaming, "perv" or creeper, let me explain my position on this.
I make no secret when I am out shooting street that I am there. I don't hide in corners or sneak up on people. From years of shooting, I've noticed that people tend to act differently when they know they are being photographed. When shooting street scenes, people in the scene should be as honest and natural as they can be. There are times when I shoot street with a long telephoto or silent mode or leaf shutter camera.
Without that, I would not be able to get images like these.


No cropping to these and I was never more than 6 ft away. A silent shutter made this possible without disrupting the subjects and without making a lot of noise within the museum itself.
One of the biggest hurdles that emerging professional photographers need to clear is that of getting a proper online presence, specifically by having and managing their own website on their own domain name.
So often these days I see photographers using Facebook pages or public gallery services like 500px to showcase their work and sell their services. Or even worse, those “free” Wix sites. While there’s nothing wrong with having a Facebook page for sharing your stuff and engaging social media, do you really want to be sending your clients to Facebook or some other company’s free website to see your best work?
When you get your own website you are doing two things at the same time. Firstly you are showing that you are professional enough to have your own domain name. This inspires confidence in would be customers. Secondly, if you do it right you are giving yourself the opportunity of finding customers by means of organic web searches. I have never paid to advertise my photography business anywhere. 100% of my clients have come from Google searches where specific keywords for the specialised work I do have put me on page 1 of the search results. You won’t ever see any individual Facebook pages popping up on page 1 of Google when you search for “Durban event photographers”. Also, sending prospective customers to a Facebook page (with all its other distractions) will not get you into the upper echelons of the market you are trying to capture. While I have a Facebook page for all my online activities (and there are a few of them) I have never received a single shred of business from any of them directly. They are there more to serve as a communications channel for those websites than anything else. I get all my photography business from my personal website that runs on WordPress.
Your photography website should be an extension of your brand, or a portal to discovering what it is you do, how you do it and why you do it. It is there as a digital brochure for you to showcase those things. However, just having a website is not the only thing you should be focusing on when it comes to marketing yourself. That is an entirely different animal altogether and the website plays only one part of your marketing mix. If you think about the sheer number of photographers in any given geographic area and the fact that probably less than 1% of people ever look at page 2 of Google’s search results, you will need to do some other marketing or a LOT of work to get on page 1 of Google. It’s not impossible, but it doesn’t happen overnight, so don’t rely on this as your only calling card, but at the same time don’t think that having a Wix site or a Facebook page is going to win the hearts and minds of your prospective customers. It won’t. You still need to be able to send customers to a slick, well laid out website that will show those potential customers what you can do for them.
Getting your own website can be a daunting task at first because it involves a lot of talk about things that initially make no sense. You’ll will hear words like “content management system”, “SEO”, “bandwidth”, “disk quota”, “cloud server”, etc, and not knowing what those things are could send you down the path towards being seriously ripped off by unscrupulous web developers. Happens all the time. My approach to working with people who need websites has always been one of complete transparency. I go to great lengths to ensure that my customers understand everything about their sites, the way they should be using email to avoid the spam traps and also how they should be presenting their work. These days you can have your own slick looking website up and running in a matter of minutes and at a much lower cost than you would ever have believed possible. None of the WordPress sites I have helped people create in the past couple of years have cost them more than $300 including hosting and domain name for a whole year. Many of them are even cheaper than that if you need less hand holding and can do your own configurations.
Over the next few months I will share some of my secrets to having a great website and getting yourself on page one for the things that matter to your business. If you Google “durban event photographer” or “durban product photographer” you will see where my site pitches ( These articles will give you a proper grounding in getting yourself aux fait with everything related to your own site, from choosing a domain name to hosting, optimising your content for search, getting your images to display at their best and proper content management using the systems I have used myself over the years. Keep a lookout for those.
As I do with with every year, I entered 2015 full of hope, dreams, ambitions and a desire to conquer the world. 2015 had other ideas.
It's been a very topsy turvy year for my photography business. I did about 40% of what I normally do in a year which really hurt. I also had to deal with some other stuff that hurt even more, but through it all I did make some memorable images in 2015.
I also did some interesting things in 2015 that I have not done before, the first being the organising of a photo walk in the iMfolozi Wilderness with some amateur photography enthusiasts. I showed them how to use the Olympus camera system and also managed to injure my foot (literally) right at the start of the 2 day (30-odd kilometre) walk in one of Africa's oldest proclaimed Big 5 game reserves.
Just after easter I took another small group of people to a private game reserve in Nambiti, which is also a big 5 reserve a little closer to where I live than the Hluhluwe/iMfolozi park where I did the wilderness trail. That trip was great and I wanted to repeat it a few months later as more of a workshop, but unfortunately I couldn't find 2 extra people to make up the numbers, so I had to let it pass.
The first half of the year I also photographed two weddings (informally) for family. Somewhat surprisingly I found that I enjoyed the opportunity to photograph them and I think I got some pretty good PJ style shots at both events. Having seen some of the "official" photos of one of them I reckon I did a better job than the paid photographer. I'd definitely consider doing more weddings, but only on my own terms artistically. I just won't do cliche'd formulaic wedding photography, so unsurprisingly I don't get any wedding business.
I did a lot of corporate profile photos throughout the year. Typically these are shot on white backgrounds This is really easy for me to do these days and I now have a foolproof method of getting them done with minimal effort. The hardest part of this kind of work is that invariably I will have at least 2 or 3 people per shoot who just don't photograph well. And they are never happy with their images. Sometimes there are also people who do photograph really well, but convincing them that the image you have just taken of them is great doesn't ever seem to work and they will insist on sitting for more images, all with the same result. Some people just don't take direction well - not that you need to give all that much direction for a head & shoulders profile pic! I even tried the Peter Hurley approach using all his headshot tips on one client to no avail. She still wasn't happy.
Safari season came along just as we moved between spring and summer down here on the south end of Africa. As always that was a great experience as I met up with some old friends from previous safaris as well as meeting a few new ones too. The sightings were excellent this year but instead of trying to always get a still image I spent a lot more time creating videos, which turned out much better than all my previous attempts did. The Olympus E-M1 is a very capable camera in that respect.
Here are some of my favourite images from 2015, with a little back story for each:

This image seems to have received the most praise from my small Instagram following. It was taken on a shoot I did in October for GHD, which is a hair iron for ladies. The camera was the Olympus E-M1 and the lens was the evergreen Olympus 75mm f/1.8. I like the image because it captures the essence of the event; beautiful model, engrossed hairdresser/presenter and a simple colour palette.

This is the image I entered into the Scott Kelby World Wide Photo Walk to win the Durban leg. It's quite unusual for me to enter photography competitions, this was only the second time I have done it in 15 years. Camera was the Olympus E-M1 and the lens was my trusty steed the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO.

This shot is something that I can only credit to good fortune and good position. We live in a house with a pretty decent view of the Durban skyline that faces the Indian ocean, as well as the harbour. This one morning we had the most amazing sunrise I have yet seen in the 8 years we have been living here. I grabbed the E-M1 with the Olympus 35-100mm f/2.0 lens and fired away like a crazy man. It then occurred to me to perhaps make a pano of the scene in vertical camera orientation, which is what you're looking at now. It's not perfect, but I love it all the same. Incidentally, apart from the stitching there was no PP applied to the shot. This is how the camera captured the scene.

My crazy bro-in-law turned 50 this year and had a KISS themed party at his house. Everybody dressed up and some even went the whole hog with the make-up and all. This is a fun portrait I did of his family in a room of their house using only one on-camera flash bounced onto the ceiling, also with a white card attached to the flash.

I got an unexpected request to cover a company's annual conference for the second time in 3 years and spent 2 days at the Wild Coast Sun, a resort about 2 hours from home. This image seems to have been well received by most who have seen it. I love fisheye images and they have become something of a signature for me at almost all the events I cover.

This is a shot of my two sons at my niece's wedding that happened in April. I love the shot because of the action feel. Tyler, who is popping the cork on the sparkling wine (we aren't allowed to call it Champagne) managed to hit the official photographer with the rebound of the cork off the ceiling.
So, those are some of my more memorable shots from 2015. I'd love to see yours and read a few stories behind what you shot this year.
It occurred to me after a post I made the other day that a very simple technique to get the effect of a tilt (and shift, if desired) lens may not be widely known. I must admit I had never heard of it until I accidentally stumbled upon it a few years ago while cropping a panorama, but if your subject is stationary and you have a good panoramic stitching program you can use any lens in this capacity.
The technique is simply to shoot two or more rows of photographs covering the subject equally above and below the desired end centre point for a tilt lens effect (or left and right in the case of shift).
Even something as basic as a single story building can benefit and a wide-angle "falling over" effect can be avoided if one cannot get back far enough (or high enough) to keep verticals parallel. The following is a front on shot, full frame (as in uncropped, not as in 135 frame) taken on my X-T1 with the 10-24mm lens set at 24mm. I was stopped from getting further back or higher by my front fence, so to get the whole house in this was the least wide angle I could use.

Shooting one photograph with a lot more foreground in it (and so cropping the roof substantially) and one with more sky (so the building was "leaning back noticeably) I then stitched the two in PTGUI, in this case using the cylindrical projection, but this will vary on the number of shots taken in which case Mercator or spherical may work better. Then I cropped the extraneous foreground back to roughly 3:2 for a very standard-looking shot, but with straight verticals. The benefit of doing things this way rather than using a perspective tool in an image editor is that you don't lose image on the sides, nor does the software have to interpolate extra pixels or discard others at the same rate, therefore image detail is better maintained. Flick between the two in a viewer and the difference becomes very obvious indeed.

Using a longer lens and do several rows of shots will actually substantially improve resolution, but in that case not only will all the subject have to be still for a longer period, but you will have to use a proper 3-axis panorama head and have the nodal point of the lens accurately worked out and set as the rotation point.
If you don't take architectural shots enough to warrant the large cost of a true tilt/shift lens, then this is a handy technique to bear in mind.
Here is a little quick tip for you this holiday season. The bonus gift is that you'll get something that is useful all year long as well.

If you've ever shot with a Nikon camera before, you'll know that it is very easy to blow out the red channel in your images (overly bright and saturated). It gives you what you see below:

Lovely image of this little boy telling Santa what he wants for Christmas, but Santa's suit is a not right in the red sections. A quick way to rectify this in either Lightroom or Adobe Camera RAW or other post processing software is explained within.
Shoot in RAW if you can. You'll have more latitude in processing. If not, you may still be able to get this to work quite well with your JPG files.
Your RAW image should look something like this when you first begin:

The colors are muted and the image is low contrast(nothing strange here for an unprocessed RAW). So the first thing you'll want to do is start bumping up the contrast, exposure if necessary (hopefully you got the flashes at the proper power to make this a non-issue), vibrance, sharpening, etc.
Problem is, if you use the TONE controls, they work on an image in an overall way, affecting everything. So in order to get the boys shirt/jeans and the background to a level you like, you end up having the blown out reds like you see in the first image
Here is the fix.
Scroll down to the section HSL/Color/B&W. Select the word Color. You'll see a box like the one below.

After I got all the other colors the way I wanted them, I can now use this to fix Santa's red suit color.
Each one of the colored boxes isolates the color properties in the image. It no longer will affect every color in the image. Click the far left box, which is the Red. Bump the Saturation down to -10 and the Luminance down to -40. The real game changer here is Luminance. Once you start sliding that down, you'll see the reds immediately start to lose that blown out look, the detail will return. Those values worked for this image, yours will be different. The take away is that you are just reducing the Luminance of the red colors.
That gives us our finished image below:

There are other methods of dealing with this, but I found this one to be one of the quicker ways to do it.
My setup was 2 strobes (Alien Bee B400) one to camera right and above the subjects, and a fill/hair light to camera left parallel the where Santa was sitting. Power on main light was 1/4, fill light was 1/16 power.
Nikon D700 and Nikkor 24-70/2.8G lens was used. Settings were 1/60 @ f/5.6 ISO 200 WB set to flash in camera.
Here are the other settings I used in Lightroom.



Alien Skin’s Exposure program has been around for quite a long time. I recall writing a review of one of the earliest versions of the film simulation plugin for Photoshop many years ago. Since then it has grown up significantly as an image editing app, morphing closer and closer to Lightroom, not only in terms of its layout, but also in what you can do with it (apart from simulating film).
A few days ago they released Exposure X which is not just a plug in for Adobe editing programs anymore, but is now also a stand-alone image editor that incorporates much more than the film simulations it started out offering years ago. What you’ll find now with Exposure is a program that not only converts RAW images from numerous camera makers, but also does it in a completely non-destructive way. Just like Lightroom. But not quite, so don’t get too excited just yet.
One of the unique selling propositions of Exposure X is that unlike Lightroom it doesn’t have different Library or Develop modules. Everything is done on one user interface that looks a lot like Lightroom. It also doesn’t use a massive catalog like Lightroom does, instead it uses a sidecar folder within the folder you point it to look at in the folders section, so there’s no importing process.
Personally I’m not a huge fan of that method because with the Lr catalog you get much more centralised and powerful digital asset management tools, such as metadata presets, key wording and processing application presets at the point of importing. Plus there’s the ability to move the catalog from one computer to another regardless of where the images it catalogs live, also with things like smart previews you actually don’t even need to have the original images present to make edits to them. As much as it is reviled by many photographers, the Lightroom catalog is a very useful thing. Exposure X doesn’t have that kind of power. Yet.
That said I did find that Exposure X was pretty nippy on loading images it found on my main external drive when pointed to look at what I have in there. How much faster? Quite a bit, I’d say. A drawback to the catalog system is that it requires a fair bit of RAM which means that it has less available to process with. This slows things like rendering previews down a bit. Also I find that rendering an image fully at 100% takes longer than I’d like in Lightroom with standard previews as my usual option. Unscientifically I’d say that on my machine it’s about twice the amount of time that Exposure X takes to show me any random image from a rather large archive. The Alien Skin program is definitely one up on Lightroom on that score.
The Workflow Considerations
An important factor in the usefulness of any photo editing program is the way it fits into your workflow. Having been a Lightroom user for a few years now I have come to appreciate the Lightroom way of working. I import, flag, classify, keyword, rank and cull images, then I develop using presets and produce an output for anything ranging from websites to prints or even books using a wide range of built-in modules for Lightroom.
I tend to use a bunch of my own presets when editing through my images from any particular shoot in Lightroom. Those are not only import and develop presets, but also export presets for the various uses my images find themselves needed for. Example, if I am making a blog post for my photography business I will export a bunch of flagged images from a shoot in a preset web form, usually with a border containing my web address and copyright information. Those go directly into a Flickr Uploader folder to create an album in Flickr which then gets hot linked back into my blog using a plugin. If I want to deliver high res images to a client I have an export preset which makes full size JPG’s that are exported to Dropbox. I’m very grateful for the ease with which Lightroom lets me do these things. It’s certainly made my life as a working photographer a lot easier.
So for any other program to catch my attention as a potential Lightroom replacement it needs to be able to offer those specific features. Exposure X offers the same flagging, colour coding and star ranking features that Lightroom does, but there’s no key wording available and from what I can tell it doesn’t seem to be capable of searching for images based on camera metadata. In fact, the only searching capabilities it appears to have are the flags, stars and colour codes which are only searchable from within the same folder. If I was looking for images that I took with a specific camera and lens I’d be SOL. Batch exports it can do, but the options are very much limited compared to Lightroom. There are also no preset options for various types of exports that I rely on with Lightroom and most importantly, I can’t seem to be able to limit the file sizes very accurately when I am exporting from this program. I’m getting 1500px wide images that are 10MB in size. Can’t use those effectively for the web. I can use the quality slider to reduce this, but it’s like shooting in the dark, whereas with Lightroom I can specify compression quality as well as limit the size of the file at the export dialog.
So at this point I stopped looking at Exposure X as being a potential replacement for Lightroom. It isn’t. From here on out I have to look at it from a different perspective and that is as a complimentary program to what I have with Lightroom, something that does film simulations and now with the newer version also adds in a few other tricks that may or may not be useful in my photography.
Let’s take a look at what else it can do.

Screenshot of the interface shows just how similar to Lightroom it looks.

New Stuff
In the past Exposure has been primarily a film simulation plugin. At some point in its recent history, it began including Bokeh which was previously a separate Alien Skin plugin that simulated the bokeh from various lenses and apertures. I have to say that the implementation of this bokeh simulation is totally imprecise. You can’t do the kind of precise masking that you’d be able to do in Photoshop, you can only position a shape over a subject and then try and re-size it to fit the subject as best you can. I did try it on a few images and to be honest, I’d never pay for something like this on its own (which might explain why it has now been bundled in with Exposure). It’s really very gimmicky which is a pity because some of the blurring it creates could look really nice if one was able to mask properly.
Adjustment Brushes
Local adjustments can now be done kind of like the way I would do them in Lightroom, using a brush, but again with fewer options than you get in Lightroom. What’s nice though is that you can add your adjustments in pseudo “layer” form which is a lot nicer to use than Lightroom’s somewhat clunky way of making new adjustment brushed areas. However, one of the coolest things about Lightroom’s brush adjustments is that has an auto mask feature, which is absolutely essential for some of the work I do, especially for stuff shot on white backgrounds where the white doesn’t quite come out white. Exposure X doesn’t have this (yet) so the adjustments you make with it are not comparable to Lightroom’s. Maybe in future versions they will have this option.
Additional Develop Controls
The last version I have of Exposure is version 5, so I am comparing the demo of Exposure X to that one. Some of the newer stuff I see in X are things like Basic adjustments, which include white balance (done with an eye dropper or sliders), Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Clarity, Vibrance, Saturation. There is also a global intensity slider for whatever changes you make to the local adjustments. Oh yes, and a crop tool.
Further down the right panel you’ll find the usual Exposure adjustment panels as well as some newer ones, such as Detail (sharpening tools), Bokeh and Metadata. As with the older versions you can save your adjustments for each of these settings as presets.
Something else I see that has changed and which is most welcome is the option to change the layout of the interface by switching the control panels around to different areas in the preferences settings. If you want the film presets to appear on the right column you can put them there and then use the entire left column as your folder navigation area.

What’s also new is that you can display the film simulations as text instead of preview thumbnails. This is one of the things that makes the older version 5 hard for me to use - the thumbnails are too big and when I am looking for something specific, like Tri-X, I have to scroll through a bunch of irrelevant simulations before I can find it. they have also included the “solo” mode that collapses unused groups of simulations or presets when checked. This makes using the panels a lot friendlier.
RAW Conversions
Off the bat I don’t like what I am seeing Exposure X do to my Olympus RAW files on their initial display. The colours are horrible and flat compared to the way Lightroom renders them. I suspect it has something to do with the working profile for Exposure X which I can’t seem to find a way to change anywhere.
It could be that they are using ProPhotoRGB which my monitor doesn’t display (I have a Dell U2711 that I use in AdobeRGB). If this is the case then it makes working with the application somewhat difficult, because I can’t really trust that what I am seeing on the screen is going to translate back into sRGB or print the way I want it to. I did do some sRGB web sized exports of the same image without making any changes to either Lightroom or Exposure X and they look pretty similar, but I need to be able to select a working colour profile in Exposure X in order to be able to trust what I’m seeing it do. Hopefully this is just something I am doing wrong and not a problem with the app itself.
It’s good to see that Exposure is growing up and that the ideas coming from Alien Skin are being refined. Exposure X might very well be a worthy alternative to Lightroom in the future. Is it worth the $99 asking price? Sure. I think it offers enough in the form of its film simulations to be considered a worthwhile plugin for Lightroom or Photoshop, but for now I think it is still not mature enough to be calling itself a stand-alone photo editor and RAW converter. There’s just too much missing that I need for me to even consider using it in a professional capacity. Others may disagree with my findings and I’m fine with that.

Colour film simulation with a light leak added top left.

An old photo of mine in B&W simulation with some added texture effects.