Thursday, 21 January 2010

Improving Your Flickr Experience

If you use a Firefox it is possible to install scripts that make little improvements to the Flickr user interface. All you need to do is install a plugin called Greasemonkey which allows you to install scripts and even write your own. Once you have installed greasmonkey, you can head over to and search for handy scripts to use with flickr or any other web site that you fancy.

Here are some of my favourite flickr greasemonkey scripts

Flickr Embed

This script is useful if you are blogging photos, because it creates a textbox on image pages that contains the html for embedding it in posts.

Flickr Exif Info

This one is pretty straightforward. It displays some key information from the exif data directly on the image page, so that I don't have to go click on the more info link to see the key settings of a photograph.

Flickr Show all images by this user in this pool

On the face of it this script sounds like its not much use. I installed it to help me keep to the posting limit in a group pool. The group only allowed 20 images from each use in the pool. With this script I could click on one image of mine in the pool and then follow a new link under my name on the image page, which would allow me to see all the images I had put in the pool. Where it comes in handy is if you see an image you like in a large pool like the strobist pool, you can then find all the images that user has posted there. This is better than just looking at their stream because the images from the pool are more targeted to what you want to look at.

Flickr Auto Page

I have mixed feelings about this script. Sometimes it is very useful other times it's annoying. Fortunately its very easy to enable and disable scripts though the greasemonkey menu. The flickr Auto Page script is designed to stop you from ever having to hit the "next" button. When you scroll to the bottom of a page, the script automatically fetches the next page and displays it on the current page. Very handy for looking through photostreams and group pools.

Flickr Quoter

This script makes it easy for you to quote people. It adds a quote link at the bottom of forum posts and comments. If you click on the quote link it puts the quote in the message box and formats it nicely for you.

There are loads of scripts to choose from and rolling your own isn't difficult if you know a little javascript. If you use another browser, then its not quite as easy. Google Chrome has some limited support for user scripts but you need to use the developers version and some of the more sophisticated scripts are unlikely to work. I believe that Safari users can also get Greasemonkey working using software called GreaseKit, but you'll have to find out how yourself.

What scripts do you use? Drop me a comment.

Here is a screen shot showing embed and exif info for Paul Mason

Friday, 15 January 2010

Painting With Light

With all the talk about still and video convergence now is probably a good time to put up a review of this book by John Alton. Written in 1949 its was one of the first books about cinematic lighting and made Alton a few enemies at the time for having the hubris to write it. John Alton filmed some of the classic film noirs of the period and they say that his blacks were blacker than anyone else dared show at the time. His best films were made on very tight timescales as little as ten days and he was known by his directors for being willing to try things that other cinematographers were unwilling to try.

The book is a fascinating if quirky read. He starts of explaining the roll of various people within the film industry and then quickly moves on to equipment. If you ever wanted to know what a solid overhead teaser was, then this is the book for you. My favourite piece is the chin scrim, which is specially designed to cut down the glare coming off a white shirt collar. Its amazing to think that he was sculpting with light in this way for moving pictures. Many still photographers wouldn't go to those lengths. The section on lights is obviously a touch out of date however the lights are recognisable in shape an form and you would need to understand the terminology to make sense of latter sections on lighting.

There is a neat little section on the theory of lighting which discusses how to create shape, form and depth and this then goes nicely into the sections on the different styles of lighting for creating different moods. You can see where the cinematic style has influenced the likes of Michael Grecco or Joe McNally and the book has some beautiful stills illustrating the lighting that John Alton is best known for. You'll see lots of motivated light and an eight light system.

John Alton's writing style can be quite poetic and on occasion descends into flights of fancy. He had a vision of flattering light being used in everyday life. If only his vision had come true.

In conclusion its an interesting read. It may seem that it couldn't possibly be of relevance to film or still photographers today, but I think there is still plenty of relevance. You can also see some of his films for free on the internet. Here is a link to T-Men

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Speedlights and Speedlites

This book as you can guess, is about off camera flash, and its designed for users of Canon and Nikon flash systems with colour coding of the text to distinguish the two. I bought the book on the strength of the sample chapter, which looked quite interesting especially the example, which looked like it had a little more depth. I wasn't expecting to get much out of the Canon and Nikon sections because thats not my thing but I thought that there would be information that could be transferred.

I've struggled for a while thinking about how I was going to review this book. Because quite frankly I didn't like it. One of my weaknesses is that I am quite quick to find fault and not very good at that praise thing. So I put off the review thinking that maybe I should give it another read. I wouldn't have been the first reviewer to re-read the book, I found one who managed to praise the book, but admitted having to read it twice before he actually understood it.

It doesn't help that the book gets off to a bad start. The very first example shot in chapter one, of the rubber duck in the sink, prompts you to see the lighting diagram on page 197, but when you scoot to the end of the book, its not there. So you work your way back through the examples expecting to find it at the beginning of the diagram section and its not there either. So you look through all the diagrams and find it eventually on page 199.

Its bad enough the the diagrams don't accompany the examples on the same page, but to get the page numbering wrong is doubly annoying. While we are on the topic of example photos, they very rarely have anything to do with the text, so in effect they are a bit of a distraction. The book is full of little sidebars like the A-Z sections in yellow, which are not in any apparent alphabetical order and are just random photographic facts often not even related to flash photography.

There is very little structure in the book. For example there are only two chapters. Chapter one is One Light and chapter two is Two Lights. All the information about lighting that you might reasonably expect to cross-over the two chapters is shoe-horned into one or the other. So you learn about TTL in Chapter One and Wireless in Chapter Two and rather oddly on-camera flash brackets in Chapter Two.

The Canon and Nikon specific sections appeared to cover the sort of information that you might expect to see, but to be honest its was over my head because I shoot Sony and only use manual flash on radio triggers. However there was one thing that was notable in its absence. There were no photographs of the flash menu systems. It was all done with text. This may or may not be significant for you.

So there I go again being negative again. So now I'm going to have to try and balance this. What is good about the book? First of all, it does cover a lot of ground. If you aren't bothered by the lack of structure, then there's a lot there for the beginner but you would have read it a few times for it to sink in. Alternatively just go out and buy one of Joe McNally's books and read the manual for your flash

Thursday, 7 January 2010

I Need Your Help

I have made some changes, so readers in the United States can help support this blog by purchasing through my amazon affilate links. The blog will now detect where you are browsing from and display either or The commission I get from amazon purchases gets spent on more books which I can then review for your entertainment. Its not a great deal of money, certainly not enough to pay for the time and effort that goes into the blog but every penny is appreciated. And now I'll get to appreciate the dimes as well.

This process doesn't always get it right, so I would like you help in identifying any issues.If you find that the blog is displaying innapropriate amazon links, could you drop me a comment to tell me where you are coming from, what browser you are using and any other appropriate information.

Thanks for your cooperation, and if you have bought anything through the blog in the past. Thanks again.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

London Events

One of the great things about living in London is that there is always something going on somewhere that is worth taking photos of. Some events you just have to be in the right place at the right time. But there are other events that run regular as clockwork and that you can plan to be at from the beginning of the year.

Having tried to plan my event diary in the past, I have found that details of what is going on in London aren't that easy to come by unless you know what you are looking for. Fortunately I found this handy little photographic book by Steve Hollingshead, Event: A Celebration of London's Rituals, Festivities and Eccentricities. It documents events all over the capital from the new years day parade all the way through to Santacon in December. The events themselves range from the very obscure like the Hot Cross Bun ceremony to the huge televised events like Remembrence day. All these events are illustrated with black and white photos of the events and a short text.

I have to say that the photos themselves are not timeless classics, they are for the most part record shots rather than works of art. But the book is a treasure trove of things to go and photograph. Not only that, but the author has seen fit to include a section with a collection of websites for as many of the events as have them.

So if you have a 365 project to fill or just want to see everything that London has to offer, this would be a good investment