Anyone Can Do It

A liitle while ago Southampton Camera Club had a Creative Digital competition, not something a wildlife photographer would normally enter, but I thought I would give it a go just to prove I could. 

Half my battle was coming up with an idea.

It started off with just the Steampunk girl with a gun in a boat ( 2 images), did not like the yachts in the background so in goes anything image from the same evening as the boat but without the yachts. Wasn’t to sure of the sky so another image goes in also from the same evening but was further to the right of the boat. Remember this is all being made up as I go along at this point I have no idea what i want for the final image. I now decided the girl needs to be pointing the gun at something so in goes a Migrant Hawker in flight, completely over sized for effect, not enough I decide, in goes 2 more seperate images. Hang on a minute I think, she needs to be protecting something, I know I will stick a Butterfly on the back of the boat, oversized again for effect. 

Now this makes a total of 8 images all put together using Photoshop (me being more a Lightroom user) using layers and masks just erasing the parts I did not require. All told the whole thing took a couple of hours, now those who know me will tell you I get bored of editing an image after about 5 minutes normally. So this is a serious effort for me.

Was it all worth it I here you ask? You bet it was, In a club with some very good fiddle and diddlers, in a competition with 1 winner and 2 Highly commended I manged to blag one of the HCs.

And the image that did it.

C1 The Butterfly Saviour Ian Hutchinson


I have spent a couple of evening over the last week with some very delightful characters.

To get most of the shots it ment pushing my now 9 year old Nikon D700 to ISO 3200, for an old body it really did perform rather well in the low light, but then again it does have most of the insides of a D3, those huge pixels really do let in a great deal of light.

Badger trio

Too long away from the Camera

As some of you will have noticed it has been some time since I last posted on my blog.

I have not pushed the shutter button for 5 weeks now. This is all due to the hours required to organise and run the digital side of the Southampton International Exhibition, for this years Exhibition i have had a time tracking log running on the time I spend on it, so far it is at 120 hours and we are not finished with this years just yet.

Just for fun one of this years judging weekends, for reasons beyond our control, was compressed into one day, that is just over 3000 images judged in a single day, by any means that is some going.

The SIE is run by a committee of 7, some putting in more time than others depending on tasks and time available this gives you some idea of the  time and effort needed to run such a prestigious event and a lot of what happens goes on without most people realising, this is mainly colating images and and the mountain of admin needed.

Hope to be out and about soon with the camera.

Cutting it too tight

I had a discussion a few weeks ago with a fellow photographer about how tight in do I take my shots and do I crop images.

Well the simple answer was, I like to leave room around a subject to give me options on composition later on, I used to do the same when shooting film, and yes I do crop images if need be, quite a lot some times beyond the 50% mark.

What really got me thinking about this is the number of images I have seen on FaceBook lately where the subject is filling the whole frame or parts have been cut off and when asked if there is any more in the original file, the reply is far to often “no that is the whole image”. I sometimes wonder if some people do not really pay attention to what they are seeing in the view finder. 

One other reason for leaving room in the image is if there is an annoying distraction on the edge of the frame that would draw the eye it is so easy just to crop a bit off and not have to worry about getting to close to the subject in the image.

A few examples:

full img

Full image of a Silver-Studded Blue with plenty of room for cropping.

my crop

How I would crop the image to remove most of the distracting stem on the left but still leaving room around the subject to show the enviroment it is in.

stag full

Even I get it wrong some times, antlers chopped off. Opps.

So leave plenty of room for possible composition changes at a late stage.

More Mega Pixels (A bit more)

In a previous Blog I touched on the subject of why I stuck with my 12 mega pixel Nikon D700, in this one I am going to explain it in a little bit more depth.

It all has a great deal to do with a little thing called an Airy Disk, discovered by one George Airy, it is the 2-d diffraction pattern of a wave of light passing through an aperture. There are some calculations for working this out but I am not going to touch on that here as it would go over most peoples heads.

For a given circular aperture there is a set Airy disk diameter, f1.4 that diameter is 1.9 microns and if we go all the way to my favourite aperture f22 has an Airy Disk diameter of 29.3 microns, these figures are based on the wavelength of the middle of the visible spectrum of light. In other words the smaller the aperture the bigger the Airy Disk (confused yet?).

Right that is the first par, next we come on to sensor pixel size. My 12 mega pixel sensor has an individual pixel size of 8.5 microns, if we also look at say the Nikon D810 with a 36 mega pixel sensor each pixel is 4.9 microns (still with me).

Next part. Based on viewing on a computer at 100% the 12 mp sensor has a circle of confusion of 21.21 microns and the 36 mp sensor is 12.25 microns. Now the diffraction limit is said to come in when the Airy Disk diameter is between 2-3 times the pixel size. Roughly the circle of confusion.

As you can see at f22 i am just over the diffraction limit of my sensor ( diffraction starts to appear at f16 based on these figures) and the D810 is a long way over its diffraction limit (Diffraction starts at f8).

Now lots of things can effect what is happening with regards to diffraction limits, light wavelengths and if you are printing the print size and veiwing distance also come into the calculations of the circle of confusion.

My theory has always been. If you start with better quality images then it is far easier to work with them. Diffraction really shows itself as a slight softening of an image and more beyond the limits of your sensor you push it the softer it becomes.

Meadow Grasshopper Nikon D700 Nikkor 200mm f4 micro 1/100 @ f22

The Dark Art of Colour Management

One of the few things that still amazes me are the number of photographers that enter exhibitions and competitions that do not use any form of colour management. With in my roll as Digital Secretary to the Southampton International I come across quite a few images each year which I would put money on as having been produced on a computer with no form of colour management.

Let us start with the basics, if you are editing images on a monitor that is not calibtrated to the ICC standard how can you be sure that what you see on the monitor is correct? If you send your images out for printing how can you be sure the colours are correct? If you send the images to someone who has a calibrated monitor how can you be sure the colours will look right?

As for printers, if you are not using an ICC profile for your ink set and paper type how can you be sure the results are correct? Nearly all the paper suppliers do provide generic ICC profiles for their papers for different printers and these in most cases are fairly close (the manufacturing tolerances in printers varies so each individual printer is slightly different), some suplliers will even create custom ICC profiles free of charge for their papers.

Personally i use a Spyder4 Elite Studio (the latest is the Spyder5) to create my own custom ICC profiles for both printer and monitor. Now this might seem a bit odd to some but I always calibrate my printer first (the reason will become obvious later on). This involves printing out some target colour patches that are supplied with the calibration software which are the scanned with a spectrophotometer, the Spyder software give the option of 225 or 729 colour patches, the greater the number the more accurate the profile. I prefer to print mine using the software that I use to edit my images, in my case Lightroom.

EZ Target Plus Grays 1 of 4

This is one of the 9 targets I print.

If you regularely use say 5 diferent paper types you will require an ICC profile for each one of them

Next up is the monitor, this is the easier one to do, just a case of hanging a spectrophotometer on the screen and letting the software run through a series of contrast, brightness and colour patches. Once done the colours on the monitor and printer should be very close to each other, but most people will notice that the print appears much darker than the screen image, this is due to all monitors being set to bright when made. Most calibration software will allow you to set a brightness level normally in Candela-per-square-meter cd/m², this should be set at around 100 cd/m² to match the print brightness (this is where calibrating the printer first comes in). The Spyder print software comes with a test image which I do use to match the monitor to the print, this I do viewing the test image in Lightroom with the softproofing facility.


Spyder test images

There should be no reason now why when you send your images in for a competition or to an International exhibition they should look correct, this is of course reliant on the correct colour profile being attached if meant for digital projection (all projectors work in the sRGB colour space) and there is no reason why a print should not be very close to what is on your monitor (bear in mind though one is reflected light and the other is transmitted light). One other thing to remember is, if sending your images out for printing you will require the ICC profile from the printing company for their machine and paper.

If anyone needs help with any of this as it can be very daunting for those new to colour management but to get the best of your images it is a necessary evil, please do not hessitate to get in touch with me, I am more than willing to help out.

Macro Settings

Another very good question that I am often asked is “What settings do you use for your marco images?”.

Well let us start with a list of the equipment used. For all of my true macro images I use my trusty Nikon D700 ( for reasons stated in a previous blog on mega pixels), and lens of choice is always the Nikkor 200mm f4 micro, I always use a tripod some people do hand hold for macro shots but as I use very small apertures it is just not possible coupled with the fact the 200mm micro is so heavy, one last thing I think that is important is to use some form of remote shutter release, wether it be cabled or wireles does not matter.

Right onto the camera settings.

First off the ISO. I always try to use a the lowest I feel I can get away with, If it is reasonably bright this will be ISO 200 but due to taking most of the Butterfly images being taken late in the evening it is more often at 400, if the light has almost gone and there is a slight breeze I have been known to push it to 1600.

With my kind of marco work the subjects are quite often fairly still (apart from blowing in the wind) and for this reason I am not at all concerned with the shutter speed,  this is also where the tripod comes into play, more often than not I do not even look at what the shutter speed is. The camera is alway left in Aperture Priority mode. My main concern is depth of  Field, what parts of the image are in focus from front to back and only 2 things really effect this, first being distance from the subject, the closer your the less depth of field you have (lens lenght does also come into it but as I use the same lens all the time I do not count that) and I like to get as close as I can to the subject (without them flying off that is). The next thing is the Aperture. The larger (f4) it is the less depth of field and the smaller (f32) the greater the depth of field, I have set my camera up so that this can be changed without taking my eye from the viewfinder, Nearly all my Butterfly images are shot at around the f22 mark, it does depend on the background to some extent, at this aperture on my equipment I get a maximum depth of field of no more than 5mm, meaning on some images one of the antenna is not quite in focus.

The Exposure setting I use is nearly always centre weighted, due to wanting the subject correctly exposed. The lens is set to manual focus but the camera is still set to auto with single spot selected, this means I still get a focus confirmation light, I can also move that spot around the viewfinder so that it is placed on the most important part of the subject, which should be the eyes.

Hope this is of help, any questions get in touch.

Digital Competition entering

Quite a few times I get asked “How come my images that are digitally projected look so flat and yours look so good?”

Well for a start running the Digital competitions at Southampton Camera Club and also running the Digital side of the Southampton International Exhibition has given me an insight into what needs to be done to an image to make it look right, although I was playing around with finding the right settings right from when I first started entering digital competitions. I like so many wondered why my images looked so flat when projected onto a big screen.

The first thing to sort out is as with the proverbial print that comes out to dark, even on a colour calibrated monitor, most people forget about the brightness when calibrating. M ost monitors straight out of the box will be set to about 180 - 200 cd/m2 which for pohto editing is way to bright, most calibration software these days allows you to set a monitor brightness and this should be down around the 100 cd/m2 mark.

Now with our perfectly colour and brightness calibrated monitor if you can get an image to look right on it then you can quite easily make it project right. There are only 2 things extra that I do for a projected image over what I do for a print.

Lightroom users needs to decrease the exposure by -0.20 and increase the contrast by +15

Photoshop users need to add an adjustment layer and drecrease the brightness by -10 and increase the contrast by +15

Of course this is all dependant on the projector that is being used to view the final images being calibrated too. Which any camera club running digital competitions should be doing.

More Mega Pixels is not always better

Many people have been asking me recently why I am still using an 8 year old Nikon D700, my reply to them is two fold.


The camera is still producing the images i want it to and is not holding me back in any way. Coupled with the Nikkor 200-400 or the 200 Micro I am still getting images with loads of detail even at f22.


And this is to do with that f22 aperture, theres is a thing called diffraction which has a lot to do with the way light waves react when passing through a small opening, I will not go into the science side of it here though. A lot of my images are shot at apertures smaller than f18 with f22 being the most used, this is all to do with the narrow depth of field when shooting close in (we are talking about millimetres of in focus subject here). When the Nikon D800 first came out with its 36mp full frame sensor I wanted to try one out, fortunately a friend lent me one for a few weeks. I soon learnt that with my 200mm Micro lens on it at f22 I was having problems with the loss of detail in the images but if I opened the aperture up to f11 that detail started to reappear, here lies the problem at f11 on a full frame body with the 200mm Micro my depth of field is 2mm and at f22 it is 7mm and butterfly antenna can be at the best 5mm apart.

The problem I found, is that there are so many variable to this, but I do know through testing with higher mp bodies that my 200mm Micro would severly restrict the amount of depth of filed I could use due to the diffraction at very small apertures and I was not prepared to compromise the detail in my images.

So now you know why I still use an 8 year old camera body.

Silver-studded Blue 200mm Micro f22

                                                               Silver-studded Blue 200mm Micro f22

Brown Argus 200mm Micro f22

                                                               Brown Argus 200mm Micro f22

Expensive purchase now paying dividends

The purchase of the Nikkor 200-400mm plus a 1.4 convertor 2 years ago is now really starting to pay dividends. Especially in the Bird images and also the Dragonflies ( which was what it was bought for in the first place). Due to taking over part of the running of the Southampton International Exhibition not long after the purchase I have not been able until this summer to really put it through its paces on the intended victims and the 200mm micro hasn’t been forgotten either, both have spent about the same amount of time on the front of the camera.

Sometimes I think I would struggle to know which image was taken with which lens, that is of course if I didn’t know any better. The 200-400 needs some different settings for close up images to make it work as well as the 200mm micro does, I now have them all sorted out.

Migrant Hawker male

Migrant Hawker Nikkor 200-400 plus 1.4 convertor

Small Red Damselflies mating

Small Red Damselflies Nikkor 200mm micro

© Ian Hutchinson 2017