Snap chat. Learning from old snaps.

Shop Girl

It’s instructive to look back at your old snaps and learn from them. I reviewed at a set of people images I took from my first Turkey photography trip.

They’re serviceable, but they would’ve been much better pictures if I hadn’t I zoomed in, lopping off the top of heads. I seem to have had a tendency to get in for the portrait without noticing much else around. Apart from the man reading the book and the shop girl at the doorway, the images don’t have much in the way of context. Even in those two, I could’ve stood back a bit further. I haven’t given you much in the way of a story … although the Lollipop Boy’s story is pretty self-evident ! He would’ve benefited from more of the wonderful wall texture in the background. I needed to give him more space.

So, my lesson here is to remember to stand back and look at what else is around. Have you learnt any lessons from your own pictures?

~ Spotted Cow

Lollipop boy


Bearded man

Snap Chat. Food tour & food photos

Blood pudding with lingonberry sauce on a stick

I used to laugh at my Singaporean friends visiting London, who would took pictures of the food they ate on their travels. I’ve sat through photo files of steak tartare in Paris, truffle spaghetti in Siena, and breakfast kippers in London’s East End.

Now, with a travel & photography blog, I find myself doing it. Sometimes. It really is awkward. Inside light is often poor, white plates & shiny utensils reflect everything, and you stand about conspicuously trying to find the best angle.

The Lovely J is a bit of a foodie and she booked us on a food tour with Food Tours Stockholm. My favourite part was the samplings around the various stalls in the basement food hall at Hötorgshallen – where all these pictures were taken – and later at Meatballs For The People.

My modus operandi with getting the shots was to bump up the ISO, use a very low f-number and focus with a steady hand on one morsel of food. That way, the one morsel is in focus and everything else is progressively blurred. In order, the food images are of blood pudding with lingonberry sauce, ham in olive oil & garnish, and reindeer mousse with accompanied cold meats. All were taken on ISO 1600, f6/3 settings.

I also wanted a shot of the prep counter when the cook was making our herring and salmon samples. So I stood back to use the widest angle possible, with the camera still on ISO 1600 and a bit higher f9. Then a deep breath and fingers crossed that everything would come out in focus.

I think I did an ok job. I’m keen to hear other people’s travel food photography techniques.

~ Spotted Cow


IMGP5244 - Version 2


Snap Chat. Same shot, different perspective



One summer, while walking along the Brittany shore I spotted a dinghy with its anchor exposed by the washed out tide. The anchor was old, textured and corroded. And the dinghy had a bright sun-streaked orange-red rim. Both things were interesting but which should I take the photo of?

I decided that I wanted both objects in the picture to demonstrate the connection between them, but only focus on one in order not to divide your attention. So I set a low f-stop number to control the depth of field. I took two photos – one focussed on the dinghy and the other on the anchor. Both were taken on the same setting: ISO 200, 70mm, f5.6, 1/250s, on a summer’s afternoon at about 5.30pm when the sun had lost its intensity.

For choice, I prefer the anchor picture. What do you reckon?

~ Spotted Cow


Snap Chat. Macro lens

Succulent with pink flowers

I love taking pictures of nature with a macro lens because you can get really close-up and detailed. The thing to remember is that you have to be very precise with your point of focus if there are varying depths of field in the composition. And then, I guarantee that you’ll be amazed at the sharpness. The best thing to do is experiment with shifting the point of focus and you’ll get a variety of results, at least one of which you will be extremely pleased with.

Contrast this with the rainy day pictures I took in my folks’ Sydney garden. I had forgotten to bring the macro lens on the trip and my standard travel zoom lens couldn’t achieve the same life-size magnification.

~ Spotted Cow

Succulent Hydrangea IMGP8033


Snap Chat. Good Wall

Tethered cow

This week’s photo challenge theme about walls got me thinking. I have lots of photos that have walls in them, although they’re not usually about the walls themselves. They’re about walls as the background to the picture that I want to shoot. They set the scene. Sometimes it is about texture or colour or both. And sometimes they provide context to the subject whose picture I want to take. When the Wandering Cows are out and about you can often hear us muttering about wanting to find a “good wall” to take a photo against.

~ Spotted Cow

Fruit seller against wallFlowers against the fenceGirl on stairs

Snap Chat. Imperfect weather.

Buds in the rain

When I was an inexperienced photographer, I didn’t like the rain. I thought it spoilt the already-poor potential for my perfect picture.

However, over the years, I’ve come to embrace the drizzle. And the fog, the mist, the clouds, and the overcast sky.

So that’s what I did when my folks said they wanted pictures of their garden plants. They’re keen gardeners and they wanted some of the images on the walls indoors. It was a rare rainy day during my Sydney summer holiday, and I thought, why not. The raindrops will add some fresh-ness to the petals and the leaves.

~ Spotted Cow

chilliesFlowers in the rainHydrangea

Snap chat. Silhouette patterns

Lanterns in silhouette

Patterns appeal to photography because the eye marvels at the repetitiveness or the symmetry in an image. However, you don’t need patterns to repeat like wrapping paper for it to be pleasing. Sometimes, arrangements can be interesting in their irregularity, and one way to emphasise their similar differences is by taking the picture in silhouette. The images probably explain better than the words. Let me know what you think.

~ Spotted Cow

Lamp posts in silhouette Sculpture on side of building

Snap chat. Horizons

Watching the Sydney-Hobart boat race

As I was editing my Sydney sun & beach photos, I realised that there’s something quite basic worth reminding about. Horizons. Keep them level.

I know that when you’re in a hurry, one can take a wonky picture. I’ve done it heaps of times. Or sometimes, it’s just difficult to judge whether the skyline is horizontal. These days, though, there’s no excuse. All photo editing software gives you a chance to straighten your image.

So, get with it. There is nothing more exasperating than a good photo made distracting because it’s leaning.

~ Spotted Cow

Snap chat. White-out

On the edge of a lake

Winter holidays are around the corner and I thought I’d do a post on taking pictures in the snow. Have you looked back on your snowy photographs and thought that the snow looks sullied and grey?

Without getting too technical about it, your camera meter automatically adjusts for a mid-grey. That works in most instances because there is a range of different colour light that averages out to that mid-grey. However, if you have a bright white scene, it ends up turning your “average white” into the same mid-grey.

The easiest way to deal with this is to over-expose your shots by one or two notches. If you’ve never moved your camera from it’s automatic settings, look for the (+/-) button. You might have to read the manual to discover how it works on your camera. The default setting is 0 and you want to click it to +1 or +2. If the scene is very bright and white, it’ll need to be at +2. Dial down toward +1 depending on the proportion of coloured objects in the frame.

Keep checking your pictures. With a little bit of practice, you’ll become accustomed to the settings that are likely to work.

If it’s very cold and you’re going to be outdoors for awhile, a set of fingerless gloves with mitten covers come in handy. Mind you, the photos here were taken in Northern Finland, and the temperature was between -20°C and -30°C. I wore glove liners, fingerless gloves and big padded glove mitts … and I had to take off the mitts whenever I wanted to take a picture.

Remember to carry a spare battery in your pocket. Batteries run low very quickly in cold weather. When you come indoors from a long spell in the cold, put your camera in its bag in a cool place. Heated rooms cause condensation.

Most of all, enjoy the monochromatic fun. Let me know how you get on.

~ Spotted Cow

Cross country skiing across a frozen lake Frozen rope bridge White scene

Snap chat. Frames

Indian arches

One of the things I really like doing in photography is finding a frame to wrap around my image. Framing an object within a photograph is a good way of bringing the eye in to what you want people to look at. It’s a handy technique when you’re in a place that has architectural features like arches, windows, and porticos, especially ones that make an attractive outline. And you don’t have to stop there. You can use any framing pattern that your eye sees – trees, overhanging branches, curved fishing rods, telegraph posts & wires, and so on. It can make something ordinary look quite alluring. Let your imagination work for you.

~ Spotted Cow

Dubrovnik, from a hole in the wall In front of the Tate Modern Cologne railway stationMoorish arch, Trujillo

Snap chat. Why are sunsets notoriously difficult?

Sunset, India.

I find sunset photos very difficult to photograph. As the sun falls toward the horizon and the light fades, all the foreground details disappear. You have this beautiful flare of light across the sky, which takes your breath away. But if you just take a snap of that broad wash of colour, it is almost certain that it doesn’t translate when you look at your pictures later.

You still need a point of interest. A silhouette is usually the easiest. Use the rule of thirds and put the horizon in the top third or the bottom third.

Ironically, if you want the sky to be the point of interest in the picture, you’d prefer a cloudy day so that the clouds produce interesting striations or dispersions of colour.

I’d welcome other handy hints. In spite of the pearls of wisdom I’ve spelt out above, I have less than a handful of decent sunset images … and that’s a whole lot less than the number of times I’ve been sipping a margarita and watching the sun go down.

~ Spotted Cow

Sunset, HawaiiSunset, Brighton

Snap Chat. Landscape or Portrait ?

Surfer. Landscape.

I’m going to start posting a regular discussion about photography, and call it Snap Chat.  However, unlike it’s better-known namesake, the posts aren’t going to disappear after a matter of seconds.

I will talk about handy photography tips, stuff I’ve worked out on my own, or something I’m finding challenging.  As I don’t have a lot of time to spend on post-production, I try and take the photograph correctly in the frame without relying on cleaning it up afterward. Of course, it’s not always possible. But I think it’s a good habit.

If you are a frequent reader of our posts, you’ll know that I like taking pictures of people or animals “doing their thing”. One of the bits of constructive criticism I was told recently, is that I take too many pictures in portrait format when I should do it in landscape. I need to give the person space to move within the composition and I need to give them context. The space also provides a story.

Portrait format is more suitable if you only want to capture the object and nothing else.

You can see the difference in the space between the two Hawaiian surfer images. When I was sitting on the beach, the thing that caught my eye was the surfboard pattern. That was what I wanted, and the sea provided the context. The portrait picture includes the horizon and the sky, but doesn’t give a lot of space to the surfboard even though it dominates the composition. What do you think?

One last thing. It is, of course, a rule of thumb. And rules can be broken when you know how to. Besides, it’s in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes there just isn’t a right answer.

Any thoughts on landscape vs portrait?

~ Spotted Cow

Surfer. Portrait.


Travel photography. Obliging objects

Ginger cat

In Marrakech, I encountered lots of beautiful tiles, doorways, and terracotta walls and my photo library is full of stills to record the details.

In atmospheric places like Marrakech, where you have lots of architectural detail, you need an obliging object to make your travel photograph that little bit more interesting. It could be a ginger cat, a donkey, a man in a traditional djellaba – something, anything, to give your picture a focal point but still bring out the cultural elements you intended to capture. It requires some patience and alertness. Cats and donkeys don’t conjure up out of nowhere.

Here are some examples. I think the images would’ve been serviceable without the said obliging objects. But they would’ve been less interesting and less personal. Everyone can shoot the tile image, but not everyone will have the ginger cat. That one thing will make it your picture.

~ Spotted Cow

Tiles and ginger catMan in djellaba through doorwayTerracotta wall with donkey and motorcyclist

Three is a good number


As you know, I’ve been posting stories and pictures from my Journey Anatolia photography trip to North East Turkey. The trip is for all levels of photography and every evening we submitted an image for the Photo of the Day discussion. I enjoyed these sessions because I could reflect on the day, look at other people’s pictures and think about how I might shoot differently.

One of my takeaways was that whenever an image came up that had three people or objects, the concluding comment post-discussion would always be “… and three is a good number”.

I hadn’t thought about that. But of course, you get the optimal balance and asymmetry with having three objects. Three reasons are better than two when you’re arguing a case in point. Goldilocks and the Two Bears wouldn’t be quite the same, would it? Unlike the Rule of Thirds, it’s not a rule of thumb as such. But if you are fortunate enough to have three things in your picture, the composition looks a little bit more even … in spite of three being an odd number. Go figure.

~ Spotted Cow

Lady in doorwayThree ladies on a pilgrimage