Creating and Maintaining a Photography Website (Podcast 789)

Creating and Maintaining a Photography Website (Podcast 789)


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A few weeks ago, in my monthly Patron-only question time event, I received a question about creating and maintaining a photography website. I pulled together my thoughts, and the talk went well, but a few things have changed since then, as going through my website and taking stock of some of the plugins I was using got me thinking about a few areas in which I may be able to improve the site even further.

Before we start, I should let you know that my site is built on WordPress on a dedicated server. I have used and recommended working with WordPress for many years, as it enables me to extend the platform almost endlessly. Although we’ll talk about the danger of having too many plugins, if managed well, it’s a very liberating and useful platform to build pretty much any kind of website on.

One of the questions during our discussion was about my theme and how I integrated it with the Elementor Pro plugin. The theme I was using until just a few days ago was called Bridge, and I have used it for many years without thinking of changing it, until now. The thing is because I have bolted on so many things, like the main menu and all of the sliders and other page elements, I realized that the theme itself had become quite easily replaceable.

On a copy of my website, I change temporarily to the standard WordPress theme, and there were only a few areas that looked really out of whack. I had also become somewhat dissatisfied with the Elementor Pro plugin because there was a critical error that occurred after every update when updating the database. Despite many people complaining about this for several years, it was never fixed, so I revisited a plugin that I used briefly a few years ago and liked, which was a different page builder called Divi.

I had forgotten a large part of the Divi proposition, though, probably because I was so happy with the Bridge theme that I simply ruled this out. Still, Divi can be installed as a page builder inside another theme or as a full-blown theme with a page builder built into it. I grabbed and tried the full-blown Divi Theme and was impressed with how far they’d come over the last few years since I previously tried this product from Elegant Themes.

I figured I’d give it a try and found that my reliance on the Elementor page builder on some pages made the migration to Divi very difficult, as backing out of the Elementor page builder back to regular WordPress pages rendered many pages in various states of disarray, ranging from a mess to a total disaster. Turning on the Divi page builder is less destructive. Most pages can be converted to Divi with a few clicks, but once using the Divi Visual Builder, the amount of control you have over the page elements is astounding.

I’m treading cautiously because I imagine backing out of the Divi Visual Builder will be as destructive as backing out of Elementor pages. So, where possible, I’m trying to stick with vanilla WordPress. Still, some pages are made a lot easier by the Divi Visual Builder, and I’m feeling pretty comfortable that I’ll stick with Divi, so when necessary, I’m flicking the switch. Besides, I also paid for the lifetime license, so unless Elegant Themes pull a swift one on their users, I should be set now for the foreseeable future.

It’s taken me the best side of a week to check all of my pages, though, mainly because of the clean-up and rebuilding that I had to do, so I haven’t yet made anything cool with Divi that I can show you, but as you visit posts if you are maintaining your site, especially if it has a blog, take a moment to check out the blog page, and the way the individual blog posts now look, including this one.

The featured image at the top of each post, the metadata, as well as the navigation is all coming from the Divi Visual Builder. I’m not sure if it will stay, but as you scroll down to the bottom of the post, you might also see a snazzy little animated divider between the post and the comments. That is created with the Divi Visual Builder and added as part of the blog post template created in the Divi Theme Builder, which is the place to create and assign templates to various posts and page types. You just create the template, and Divi ensures that all pages that match the criteria you select, such as all blog posts, are served using that template.

Divi Theme Builder
Divi Theme Builder

Anyway, a large part of the question I answered in the August Question Time was about the dos and don’ts of running a photography website, and as I came up with a chunk of advice, I figured I’d share some of that with you today. Please note, though, that first-hand discussion on these topics is a privilege of our kind supporting patrons, so if you want to get involved first-hand, please consider becoming a patron too at https://mbp.ac/patreon.

Photography Website Dos

Share Your Work

These aren’t necessarily in any particular order, but one thing you have to do if you are hanging your hat as a photographer is share your work. I can name numerous photographers that have built a pretty respectable name for themselves as photographers without really sharing any of their work. I’ve spoken to people about this, when people have said something like, “Oh yeah, I know said respected photographer, he’s great!” and I’d gone on to ask which of the photographer’s photographs are their favorite, only to be presented with a blank face. They don’t have one because they’ve never seen any of the photographer’s work. Can you call yourself a photographer if people can’t even recall any of your photographs?

Later I’ll share details of the Meow Gallery and Lightbox, which are the plugins I use to create my galleries, including all of the Portfolio galleries that you will find under the menu at the top of each page. If you decide to share various portfolios in multiple genres, as I’ve done, you can also create a tiled gallery of portfolios using the Divi Visual Builder. Click on the Portfolios link to see what I mean. Note that behind the scenes, these are defined as Projects to Divi, not Portfolios.

Portfolio Galleries
Portfolio Galleries

Show Large Images

Also, when setting up a photo gallery to share your work, try to share your images as large as you can be comfortable with. I’ve seen amazing photographers share their work in 500 pixel-wide images because they are scared of people stealing them. This, for me, is an immediate put-off. If I’m going to give someone my time to look at their work, I at least want to be able to see their work at a decent size. Sure, some people will steal your work, so go and get a lawyer and claim your fees and damages. The majority of the visitors to your website, though, just want to enjoy your work, so try not to hamper that process by sharing tiny images.

Stay Focussed

Another piece of advice is to stay focused. If you are running a business or just a hobby website, it’s important to share relevant work. If you are a wedding photographer and we are talking about your business website, then you should only be sharing wedding photography. In the case of wedding photography, of course, you will need model releases from your subjects, but staying on topic will help to keep your audience engaged.

Create an About Page

Ensure that you create an About page that tells your audience and potential clients all about you. Include some of the achievements that help to give you credibility. People sometimes need a little help understanding why they should be interested in what you have to say or your ability as a photographer if they are thinking of hiring you.

MBP About Page
MBP About Page

Many of the plugins I have used and those that I’ll recommend shortly come with example pages, sometimes multiple pages that help you to build nice looking About pages, and sometimes entire sites that look nice, so explore the templates and install a few to see what you can create.

Selling Online

If you sell anything online, I strongly recommend working with a plugin called WooCommerce, which is free, but you will probably need to pay for a plugin or two to make it work how you need it to. This is how they monetize their business, so don’t be afraid to pay for some of it. Note that if you are selling digital products, though, I highly recommend Paddle and have a section on this towards the end of the post.

Another selling tip I learned early on is if you are going to talk about a product or service that you are about to launch, ensure that you have your commerce pages up and running before talking. If you ask for the mail addresses of people interested in buying whatever you are about to launch, 80% of them will not buy anything. If, however, you have a buy or pre-order button, you will make many more sales because people will put down their money while they are excited. It’s human nature.

Build a Mailing List

On a related note, you must build a mailing list of people that want to hear from you. Whether you live in Europe or not, ensure that you abide by the GDPR because a proportion of your audience will almost certainly be in Europe, but start to build a mailing list as soon as you can.

It may come as a surprise, but the audiences you have spent years building on social networks will no longer see your posts simply because they follow you. You now have to pay to reach more than a few hundred of your most loyal fans, so unless you are prepared to pay to reach people you have already gotten interested in your antics, a mailing list is a direct link to their mailboxes and for at least a proportion of them, that will get their attention.

There’s often more than one way to enable people to subscribe to your mailing list. If you hit the Contact Us link under the Connect menu above, you’ll see a checkbox to subscribe to newsletters. If you turn that checkbox on, you’ll see the interest groups you can select so that you only receive newsletters on the subjects you are interested in.

Also, because I send my newsletters out via a service that uses a specific domain and email address, I used the same domain to host a sign-up and maintenance form for newsletter subscribers, which you can see at https://mbp.news. You must have checkboxes unchecked by default to be GDPR compliant and allow people to choose what they want to receive, not deselect what they don’t want to receive.

MBP News Site
MBP News Site

Include Images in Social Posts

Unless I have you running off to delete your Facebook page, when you do post to Facebook or any other social network, ensure that you have a featured image assigned to your posts, and even if you are just posting about something random, find an image that illustrates or compliments what you have to say. Simple text these days is not likely to grab anyone’s attention, even if they have been chosen from your wider audience to be presented with your post.

Photography Website Don’ts

Don’t Expect Any Visitors Without Doing Any Work

If you build it, they will not necessarily come. Just because you made a great-looking website doesn’t mean people can find it or even be interested in looking for it without a little push. You have to work in some way to build an audience and you have to work to keep that audience engaged.

As you know, I built my audience by starting a Photography Podcast in September 2005. The Podcast is 17 years old this month! At first, I didn’t expect my entire life to be changed by what I started, but I’m pleased with how things have progressed. I can’t say that it has been easy, though. A lot of work goes into creating a releasing a Podcast, including creating the blog post and also an eBook for each post for my kind Patreon supporters.

I have reduced my commitment from a weekly podcast to release at least three episodes per month, and that is still tough at times, but that’s mainly because I’m busy doing other things to forward my business. The decision to release the blog post for all episodes, including the backlog, was another part of my success. Having 17 years of blog posts helps with Search Engine Optimization or SEO.

Don’t Dilute Your Message

In general, I recommend that you stick to a consistent message rather than diluting it with various topics. Still, as you’ll have seen, I talk about many different photographic genres via the guests I’ve had on the Podcast over the years. My Photography work is mostly nature and wildlife interspersed with my travelogue-style episodes when I travel, so there is a general theme. The idea has always been to talk about photography through my own experiences in the hope that it helps you with your photography too. I’m super humbled and honored to have received messages of thanks over the years from people that I’ve been able to inspire, so I know I’m doing some things right.

Avoid Too Many Plugins

As I mentioned earlier I do recommend working with WordPress as your base platform because it gives you the freedom to add plugins to make it do different things, but I do recommend trying to keep the number of plugins you use to a minimum. This is ripe coming from me because there was a time when I was running over 100 active plugins. At the time of this episode, I still have 64 active plugins, which is a lot, but a lot less than 100. I am constantly evaluating whether or not I need each plugin. If I can remove anything and maintain all the required functionality for the site, I don’t hesitate to deactivate and remove plugins.

When you run lots of plugins, the risk of them conflicting increases, and conflicting plugins can cause all sorts of annoying problems. One of the most annoying things is that when you do get a problem, the first thing plugin developers ask you to do is to deactivate all other plugins and see if the issue persists. This is generally not possible on a live site, so you must clone your site to a staging environment to check.

Security Concerns

If you allow people to create accounts on your website, especially if you run something like WooCommerce and save customer details, you have to be especially careful about security. Many companies ask for access to your website when they need to troubleshoot an issue with a plugin. Although you can probably trust most of these people, I choose not to trust any of them because that’s the only way I can be sure that no one will steal my customer or user information and sell it to a third party.

Create a Staging Site

If you must provide access to your site to a third party, I highly recommend using a plugin like WP Staging Pro to make a copy of your website that will be accessible under a subdomain, and before you create an account to let the third party in, you have to delete all user accounts and all order information from your e-commerce solution. The only way to protect your users’ and customers’ personal information is for it to simply not be there.

I also change my admin password on the staging site so that the third party has no way to sniff my password and use it to access the production site. The important thing is to use your imagination, think of ways that could be potential security holes, and plug them up on your staging site.

Another good plugin is Shield Security which helps to fortify WordPress in various ways to help keep out the bad guys, and there are audit trails as well, so if something goes wrong, you have a good chance of seeing who got in and what they did.

Recommended Plugins

HollerBox is a great plugin to show email subscription forms or popups to alert site visitors to things you might be promoting. Keep in mind that people generally don’t like popups, but when you consider the amount of work that you put into your site, it’s fine to impose on your visitors to a degree. In many cases, if you promote things that you feel might benefit your visitors, you may find that people simply needed to be made aware of what you are selling or promoting.

The menu at the top of the MBP website is created with a plugin called Max Mega Menu, which enhances the standard WordPress menu system. It can be integrated into any theme, although some will take more work than others.

Meow Gallery and Meow Lightbox are responsible for creating most of the image galleries you see on our website and also for displaying the cool Lightbox that you see when you click on the images embedded into posts and the images in my portfolios etc. The Meow Gallery works with standard WordPress galleries, so you don’t end up with lots of proprietary galleries that leave you dead in the water if you decide to change plugins. There are many different styles of galleries to choose from and they all look great.

Meow Lightbox looks great and above all, I love the fact that it displays the EXIF shooting data for images that you upload to WordPress. You can also define a class that tells Meow Lightbox not to display when an image is clicked, say for when you have an image that you need the visitor to click to jump to another page or website. Just add the class you defined to the image in the WordPress interface, and Lightbox will ignore it.

As customizable as WordPress is, there may be times when you have to add some code to make additional features available. For this, I use Post Snippets Premium. This enables me to check the inventory of my tour booking products and display text either telling a visitor that there are still some places left or that the tour has sold out and offering a link to contact us to be added to the cancellation waitlist.

Slider Revolution is another plugin I would not like to be without. Although some of the sliders that you see on my website were made with Smart Slider Pro, for many years now I have preferred Slider Revolution and use it for most of the animation that you see on this website.

You can make your website compliant with Termly. I started using Termly for GDPR and Cookie consent compliance but now use it to maintain our privacy policy, cookie policy, and terms and conditions pages. This may not be necessary for a personal website, but if you are running a business, it’s worth looking into.

YOURLs Link Creator

Although there is a WordPress plugin to link the two sites, I also strongly recommend using a product called YOURLs Link Creator to create a server that creates short links for your WordPress posts and pages so that you can avoid sharing long and cumbersome links in your Social Media or verbally, as I often do in the Podcast audio. You’ll have heard me give a short link such as https://mbp.ac/789 to jump to this episode of the Podcast. To create that link I have set up a YOURLs server and I simply enter the keyword 789, which is the episode number for this week’s podcast, into a field in the WordPress post editor. Then when I publish the post, the YOURLs site automatically creates the link for me.

It’s important to get a very short domain for use with your YOURLs server. I was pleased when I was able to get mbp.ac for this purpose. I also recommend getting an SSL certificate for your server, and your main server for that matter. Running a site on plain HTTP now displays warnings to potential visitors, and search engines will lower your score considerably if you don’t run your site on HTTPS with a trusted SSL certificate. Ironically, the YOURLs team do not have an SSL certificate, which is pretty strange in 2022.

Zapier

One other service I’d like to recommend you take a look at is Zapier. Zapier is used to automate tasks and link online services that would otherwise not be able to talk to each other. It can be costly, but if you automate several tasks that would generally take up your time to complete, you will make your money back over the year. I have Zapier announce new MBP blog posts on my social media networks, and it also grabs user details for people that sign up for newsletters via my contact form, which otherwise has no newsletter integration. It can take a little time to put together complicated Zaps, but once they are in place, they start to save you time and money immediately.

Paddle for Digital Products

One last recommendation is Paddle if you intend to sell digital products online. International taxes on digital products such as software and ebooks are now so complicated that you need to sell through a third party that takes care of taxes for you. Some countries have put unrealistic requirements in place as well that just cannot be met by small businesses. I’m not sure if this is still the case, but a few years ago, India required that you hired an accountant in India to process your tax payments. When you sell just a handful of products in India a year, it’s not realistic.

Another reason that I chose Paddle, after several other companies that fell flat, is because Paddle correctly includes the Japanese Tax Registration number for companies selling in Japan into the invoice they generate. I asked FastSpring to do this more times than I can remember, and it was never done. Also, note that although FastSpring may contact you to show your WordPress website working flawlessly with their WordPress plugin, their plugin is a piece of crap, and they don’t support it. If you get stuck, you’ll be told you are on your own.

Martin's eBooks via Paddle
Martin’s eBooks via Paddle

If you sell digital goods via WordPress, Paddle is the way to go. Note, though, that Paddle also do not have a WordPress plugin, but they have resources to make coding what you need to sell products a breeze. I created several code snippets in Post Snippets Premium that I embedded into my product posts, and then each product is created with a WordPress Custom HTML widget.

OK, so that’s about all the advice I have on creating and maintaining a photography website for now. Note that none of the products or links provided in this post are sponsored in any way. These products and services are what I use daily and are recommended purely because they are great, and I hope you find this useful.


Show Notes

Check out Divi from Elegant Themes here: https://www.elegantthemes.com/gallery/divi/

WP Staging Pro: https://wp-staging.com

Shield Security: https://getshieldsecurity.com

Holler Box: https://hollerwp.com

Max Mega Menu: https://www.megamenu.com

Meow Gallery and Meow Lightbox: https://meowapps.com

Post Snippets Premium: https://www.postsnippets.com

Slider Revolution: https://www.sliderrevolution.com

Termly: https://termly.io

YOURLs: http://yourls.org

Zapier: https://zapier.com

Paddle: https://www.paddle.com

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Looking After Your Camera, Lenses and Other Tools (Podcast 788)

Looking After Your Camera, Lenses and Other Tools (Podcast 788)


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I can’t recall ever dedicating a post to looking after our gear, and I was reminded of this task a number of times recently, both after my return from Namibia and as I spoke with a member of the archery club that I’ve joined, when they noticed me wiping my gear down as I packed it into my back at the end of our practice session. They thought I was being very conscientious as I wiped the various parts of my recurve bow while dismantling it, and I replied that I always do this with my tools. I know that many photographers do this, but figured it was worth talking about a couple of points, so here we go.

I should say that one of the main reasons I am currently wiping down my archery gear is because I’m practicing in temperatures over 30 degrees Celsius or 86 degrees Fahrenheit, so I’m pretty much constantly perspiring, and I don’t want to leave the salt on my bow. When I first got my bow, I didn’t take a cloth, and the result was that I had to get it all back out again when I got home to wipe it down, so I started to take a cloth, and now I’m killing two birds with one stone by doing this as I pack the gear away.

I recalled when I was shooting in Antarctica and often came back to the ship with sea spray on my gear, and that can be corrosive, so no matter how tired I was, I would take all of my gear out of my camera bag, lay it out on the top bunk of my bed, and wet, then rang out a cloth leaving it just damp, and wiped my cameras and lenses down. If I’d used my tripod, or it had also taken some spray, I’d fully extend all the legs, wipe that down too, then leave it to dry before putting the legs away again. Of course, how I did this depended on how rough the sea was. In a storm, I’d just wipe things, then wipe them again with a dry cloth and put them straight back into the bag to avoid them from falling off the bed when the ship rocks. The important thing to note is the necessity to get the salt water off the gear quickly. Using a damp cloth doesn’t hurt the equipment and dries almost instantly.

In addition to salt water, dust is another thing that can gradually damage our gear, so generally, when shooting in places like Namibia, where there is a lot of dust and sand if it’s been a windy day, or I know I’ve gotten a bit of dust on my gear, I do the same thing at the end of the day, using a damp cloth to wipe everything down. Another thing that I wanted to talk about in relation to traveling to dusty countries though, is the necessity to one last clean when you get home.

Most of the time in sandy or dusty countries, you’ll find yourself with a little sand in your bag. This may blow in when you open the bag, or fall off of your gear when you put it into the bag. Because of this, after I get home I take a little time to wipe the bag itself down with a damp cloth, and then I use a vacuum cleaner to clean the inside of the bag. I also at this point give all of my gear one last wipe with a damp cloth before giving it a few moment to dry and then put it into my humidity controlled cabinets, which is where I store all of my gear while not using it.

With sand, I also find that it can get stuck to the rubber weather seal on the mount of my lenses, so I use the damp cloth and run it around the inside and outside of the seal, as you can see in this photo from when I was cleaning my gear after returning from Namibia this year. You can also see a few grains of sand around the inside of the lens and on the back element. To remove them I hold the lens up with the bottom facing down and use an air blower to dislodge the sand. With the lens facing downwards, the sand generally falls away leaving the lens clean.

Cleaning Lens Seals
Cleaning Lens Seals

The same goes for cleaning the sensor of the camera. First, I hold the camera up with the sensor facing down, and blow the inside of the sensor chamber, to dislodge anything on or around the shutter, then I turn on Manual Sensor Cleaning in the menu, which opens the shutter exposing the sensor, which I also give a good blow while holding the camera with the sensor facing downwards.

I used to use a rubber plunger to remove stubborn dust until the heat got to the rubber one year, and I tried to remove some dust before a trip only to find that the rubber had perished, and I left a chunk of it sticking to my sensor. I was able to find a store in town that would clean it off safely, but it was a scare, so I threw the plunger out and never bought a replacement.

I have actually found though that pretty much from around that time, and especially with the Canon mirrorless cameras, I am getting very little stubborn dust on my sensors now. If I notice a bit of dust in a photo, generally just a blow with my blower is enough to dislodge it. I haven’t had my sensor cleaned professionally now for a number of years. I generally replace the camera every three or four years and have not had a sensor cleaned for that entire time for the last few cameras. With the mirrorless cameras I put this down to the option in my cameras to close the shutter when the lens is taken off the camera.

As I mentioned earlier, I do keep my gear in humidity-controlled cabinets, and that is very important if you live in a place with a lot of humidity. Tokyo is very humid during the summer, and I found myself with mold forming on my gear when I first moved here, so I have used humidity-controlled cabinets for many years now. I mentioned this in detail and covered what I use in Episode 744 of this podcast, so check that out if you are interested.

So far, I’ve talked about what I do after a shoot or trip, but I wanted to also add a few paragraphs about how I shoot. With me being so careful about cleaning my gear, you might think that I am really protective of my gear in the field too, and to a degree, you’d be right, but I am not overly protective. My tools are to be used, be it my cameras and lenses, or my new recurve bow for archery. The most important thing while working with these tools is to get the job done, making great photos in the case of photography. If this means I have to get a bit of dust or moisture on my gear, that is what will happen. If you are not using a weatherproofed camera and lenses, you do have to be careful to not allow them to get too wet or dusty, but in general, I find that in light rain or dusty conditions, draping a cloth over the camera, then periodically wiping off any water, is enough to keep it from getting inside the camera. With dust, I prefer to blow it off with an air blower while outside, then wipe it down later when I finish the shoot.

Also, don’t be fooled by the overzealous marketing blurb of camera manufacturers. Canon, for example, will say things like a new camera has “improved weather sealing,” which is entirely misleading. In the Canon range, only their 1 series bodies have ever been completely weather sealed, and only when using weather-sealed L lenses. Cameras like the 5D or the R5 etc. have limited weather sealing, which is what helps to keep them from breaking with the slightest bit of moisture, but they are not fully weather sealed, so cannot be used in pouring rain without taking any measures to keep them dry. The 1 series bodies can be used in the pouring rain because they are made to withstand that kind of use.

A Drenched Canon 1DX
A Drenched Canon 1DX

To prove my point about the none-weather sealed Canon cameras, I used my 5D Mark III in Iceland during a rainstorm, and sure enough, after an hour or two of getting drenched, it died, and I had to switch to my EOS-1DX that you can see in this photo. I did not protect the 1DX from the rain for the remaining few hours of the shoot, and it didn’t bat an eyelid. Not the most intelligent way to make a point, I know, but I had to prove to my partner over there that the 5D was not weather sealed, so I let the inevitable happen. Besides, three days later, after keeping it wrapped in dry towels, the 5D did come back to life and was fine for a few more years of use.

Another thing I wanted to mention is changing lenses in wet or dusty locations. Again, my priority is getting the shot with the right lens. When I can use two cameras, I try to guess what lenses I’ll need and put the two most likely candidates on the cameras. If I do have to change lenses though, and I can’t get into a sheltered location to do so, I will generally turn my back to the offending element, and change lenses anyway. I try to be quick, but don’t rush to the point that I might fumble with the lenses. I always check my images in the evening while traveling, and if I notice any dust on my sensor, I will try to blow it off with an air blower that evening.

Condensation

We can’t really finish without talking a little about dealing with condensation. Although people often recommend putting your gear into plastic bags and sealing then when going from cold to warm environments, I personally just ensure that I put my camera and lenses back into my camera bag, and zip it up, before going in from the cold. This is generally enough, even when going in from -28° Celsius or 2° Fahrenheit.

Note too that it’s not enough to simply check that condensation is not forming on the outside of your gear. The worst problem I’ve had with condensation was when I accidentally left my bag open with cold gear inside and condensation formed on the inside of one of my lenses. I also had a problem with the EOS R with condensation forming inside the viewfinder, making it almost impossible to use the camera. I haven’t shot with the EOS R5 in really cold conditions yet, due to the pandemic, but I’m hoping it handles the cold and moisture better than the EOS R did.

EOS R Fogged Up First Time
EOS R Fogged Up First Time

Anyway, the moral of this entire story is to use your gear practically in the field, taking care when possible, but with the priority on getting great images, then give your gear the love required to keep it purring along when you are finished. You should be rewarded with less maintenance fees, and if you sell your gear in part exchange for new gear, you may find that you’ll get a little more for your gear too.


Show Notes

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Building My Namibia 2022 Slideshow in FotoMagico 6 (Podcast 785)

Building My Namibia 2022 Slideshow in FotoMagico 6 (Podcast 785)


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I’ve spent some time over the last week building a slideshow of images and videos from my Complete Namibia Tour 2022, and today share some of the main things you might want to keep in mind when using Boinx Software’s FotoMagico 6 to build slideshows of your own. I’ve been using FotoMagico for many years since I switched to the Mac OS full-time in 2010, as my old slideshow software was for Windows, and I needed a good Mac alternative. FotoMagico was the obvious choice, and they have made some nice changes over the years, but in essence, just a very easy way to make powerful slideshows.

In preparation for starting to build my slideshow, I opened Capture One Pro, my raw processing and asset management software of choice, and I selected all 320 of the images that I selected from my Namibia images. I don’t intend to use all of them, and this initial selection does include some groups of similar images, which I generally will only need one photo of. Still, on occasion, I build out an image using variations, and so to start with, I want to see all images at my disposal. Note too that FotoMagico will use just about any image type with any color space, so for ultimate image quality, you might want to go with Photoshop PSD or TIFF files, but I like to use uncompressed JPEG files, as it makes FotoMagico lighter to use, and reviewing your slideshow as you build it can be a little smoother. Note too, though, that I generally don’t resize my images for the slideshow. I export full-sized images. This allows me to zoom in on parts of the images and pan around them etc. If you resize your images to 4K resolution, you can’t zoom in on them without the image quality degrading.

I exported my 320 images into an images folder inside a folder that I called Namibia_2022_Slideshow. Then I went back to my original shoot folders and started to select the various videos that I wanted to include. Some of the videos were in the Apple Photos app as well, as I shot them on my iPhone, so in the FotoMagico Preferences, under the Libraries tab, I turned on the New Media Browser which is currently still in beta. I left just the Photos App checkbox turned on. If you are not going to share your slideshow publicly, i.e., it’s just for private use, you could also enable the Music App to look for your background music, but if you are going to post your video online, you need to steer clear of using any music that you downloaded from Apple Music, etc. as it will result in a copyright strike. I’ll talk more about options for music later.

New Media Browser (beta)
New Media Browser (beta)

All of the videos were shot handheld, and some of the footage needed to be stabilized, but I also waited to see which video clips I would use before taking the time necessary to stabilize it. After starting FotoMagico, and applying the most recent updates, we are now presented with a new dialog. Then I entered the title Complete Namibia 2022, and my name is already saved as the Author. For the format, I selected 16:9, and the grayed-out words 3840px x 2160px (4K UHD) appeared to the right of the Format selection pulldown.

FotoMagico New Project
FotoMagico New Project

Once FotoMagico is open, I recommend selecting Animation Assistant under the Slideshow menu and confirm that your settings are in line with your expectations. Here are the settings that I use. We’ll set the slide length manually in a moment so you can ignore the Animation Speed slider. It would be nice if this could be set to a specific length, but with just slow to fast and no seconds displayed, this slider is pretty useless.

Animation Assistant
Animation Assistant

The rest of the options are probably self-explanatory, but the important thing, at least for my taste, is that the pulldown for the Horizontal, Square, and Vertical Images options is set to Alternate. What this essentially does is alternates the Zoom affect that is automatically applied to your slides when you add them to the slideshow. With Alternate selected, if one slide is set to gradually zoom in on the image, the following slide will zoom out, and then repeat this pattern for all following images.

Once I’ve checked the Animation Settings, I generally insert all of the images I want to include in the slideshow. I then click the Timeline icon above the bottom toolbar because I prefer to work in that view, and then click on any image, then hit Command and the A key on my keyboard to select all images. You can also select all images from the Edit menu. Once you have all images selected, click on the Options icon to the right, just above the Timeline, and under the Slide options, click the number for the Duration, and type in the length of the duration you want to use for your slides. And while you are there, type in something like 1.5 seconds for the Transition Duration as well.

Deciding Your Slide Duration

You can change these durations later, but it will save you time if you think about the slide duration before you start. The easiest way to do this if you already have some music for your slideshow in mind is to listen to the music and find how long each musical bar is. A bar is usually the length of four beats, although it can be different, so listen, and when you find the transition between chords or a natural looping of the drums, etc., use a stopwatch or something to time the length of the bar. If it is a fast-tempo song, you may need to use two bars for each slide. Your goal is to use somewhere between 3.5 and 5.0 seconds for duration. More than five seconds can make the presentation drag, and anything less than 3.5 seconds with the transition overlap will start to feel rushed. I’ll get into the music more later, but I found that for my music, I needed to run with a 3.8-second duration for my slides, so that’s what I entered. If you do already know what music you’ll use, you can drag that into the timeline too, and ensure that it starts where you want it to.

After that, you can start to play your slideshow and see how your images look as they appear one after another and ensure that the timing looks right if you already have music inserted. I use this phase to remove the images that I feel don’t quite match the set. Depending on the purpose of the slideshow, you may need to restrict the length to a specific number of minutes. In the bottom status bar in FotoMagico, you should now see the number of slides you have in your presentation and the total length of the slideshow in parentheses. My original show with all of my images was around 25 minutes, so I tried to remove as many images as possible, but I also added some video, so I’m probably going to be looking at a final presentation of around 18 minutes. I’m going to live with that, although it is quite long because the purpose of my video is to show what is possible in my 17-day Complete Namibia Tour. Plus, on showing it to my wife, who initially frowned when I told her it was 18 minutes, she was surprised when it ended, saying that she thought it was 18 minutes? When I told her 18 minutes had passed, she said it felt more like 8 minutes. That’s the kind of response we’re hoping for.

Productivity Tips

Of course, as you remove images, you will start to notice some places where your zoom doesn’t alternate. A zoom-in may be followed by another zoom-in, and that can look a bit clunky. Ignore these while you remove unnecessary images. Once you are relatively happy with your selection and the flow of your presentation, select all images again and then reselect the Animation Assistant and press the Apply button again. It should reapply all of the zooms so that they alternate again. If you have already started to adjust the duration of some individual slides to match tempo changes or pauses in the music, you can select smaller groups of images and Apply the Animation Assistant more selectively as well.

Also, if you delete images and just have a relatively small number of images that need to switch their zoom direction, you can right-click the images that need changing and select Reverse from the shortcut menu, as you see in this screenshot. This will switch the scaling and position of the Start and Finish points for the slide or slides that you have selected.

Reverse Scaling
Reverse Scaling

For one-off adjustments of the slide or transition duration, you can simply drag the lines at either side of the slide in the Timeline or adjust the durations under the Options for individual slides. Another option I use a lot as I tweak the size of my images is to right-click them and select Fill Stage or Fit to Stage from the shortcut menu. This is much faster than trying to drag the image nodes in or out, and it center aligns the image at the same time, so can help to avoid a number of possible alignment issues.

Quick Image Fitting Options
Quick Image Fitting Options

Also, note the small circle in the center of the previous screenshot. If you move the start or finish image position, you’ll see that circle move around the image. It’s indicating a focal point in the image so for example, if you zoom in on an animal’s eyes, it can be very effective to adjust the position of the image so that the circle is over the eye. That way, as the zoom progresses, the viewer will see that the focus of the zoom is the animal’s eye rather than, for example, the center of the image.

Adjust Animation Start Speed
Adjust Animation Start Speed

Note too that if you have a video or a large panorama image that seems to start and stop very abruptly, you can adjust the ease-in and ease-out of the animation by selecting the video or image in the Timeline, then select Options to the right, just above the Timeline. You should see an Animation Speed option. Open this and drag the node at the start or end of the Animation Speed, and you’ll see a second node appear as you drag the first away from the edge.

You can then drag the new node down, causing the speed to gradually ramp up or ramp down if you are adjusting the end speed. The further away from the edge you move the first node, the longer the ease in or out will take. Note too that you can see the boundaries of your selected slide transition in yellow as a reference.

Adding Music to Your Slideshow

If you have not yet added some music to your slideshow, you probably will need to think about that, as a slideshow without music can be pretty boring. I’m not going to go into much detail on my first recommendation, but essentially, you need to search for some music that you can either use for free or can buy a usage license for at a reasonable price. Check the terms and conditions and ensure that your intended use is covered. For example, if, like me, you will have some commercial messaging in your video, you must buy a license that includes commercial use. Be warned though, that if you upload your video to YouTube, even if you have a license, you will probably still get a copyright strike unless they have changed their policy over the last few years.

I stopped using YouTube years ago because despite presenting YouTube with a license for my background music, signed by the CEO of the company from which I licensed the music, I could not keep YouTube from slapping copyright strikes on my videos. Every time I fought and cleared one strike, the robots would reflag my video, and I had to go through the entire process again. Eventually, after clearing a copyright strike, I immediately deleted my videos, before the bots could reflag anything.

I have since then uploaded all of my videos to Vimeo, and although they do have a copyright strike system, they have humans remove strikes and keep them away. And that has only happened to me once on Vimeo, not continuously, as it did with YouTube. So, I highly recommend Vimeo if your videos contain commercial messaging and licensed background music. The problem there, of course, is that YouTube has a much larger audience, so if you want people to find your videos in searches, you’re going to have to deal with YouTube, and then, my next recommendation becomes almost essential, although I know this is not for everyone.

What I do for all my videos now is create my own music. This is time-consuming and takes a lot of skills and software that you may not already have. If you are not already making music as a hobby or for work, this is probably unrealistic, and therefore I’m not going to go into much detail. For my Namibia video, I started by getting the basic rhythm from the clapping of the Himba people from a video that I include in the video and built on that, using Ableton Live, which is a DAW or Digital Audio Workstation software. I also use a lot of plugins, and some MIDI hardware, namely a Komplete Kontrol S61 keyboard and a Maschine Mikro, both from Native Instruments, and a Seaboard RISE 49 from Roli.

I’ve already spent a number of days trying to create something I feel fits, and although I now have what I think is a very simple and effective introduction, using an African instrument called a Kalimba, I’m stuck for how to proceed to the rest of the piece, so although I wanted to release my slideshow video along with this tutorial, I’m actually going to release this now, and then I will follow up with my video next week, after hopefully completing the music to complement the images and video that I captured.

FotoMagico is available as a free trial if you want to try it before paying for it. They are now running on a monthly or yearly subscription payment rather than a regular license purchase. I know this doesn’t work for some people, but this is how a lot of software is sold now, so as they say, if you want to dance, you’ve got to pay the band. If you don’t see yourself using Fotomagico regularly, you could save money by opting for the Monthly subscription and stop your subscription when you don’t need it. I don’t recall seeing anything about any penalties for doing this, and that is why I opted for the monthly payment.

OK, so I hope the tips I’ve provided today are useful. I’ll embed the video to this post when I’ve finished the music and probably release the video itself as next week’s episode, so please stay tuned for that.

Before we finish, I have decided to unlock the posts on the Martin Bailey Photography website, so you no longer need to be a Patreon supporter to see the content. I did want to add, though, that the Patreon program is still in place, and I very much welcome anyone that finds value in what I’m doing here to support us via Patreon, starting from as little as three dollars per month, which is just $1 per episode, as well as unlocking all previous 784 episodes.


Show Notes

Check out FotoMagico here: https://fotomagico.com

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Download this Podcast as an MP3 with Chapters.

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How to Use a Canon Camera as a Webcam (Podcast 766)

How to Use a Canon Camera as a Webcam (Podcast 766)


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I’ve recently been using my Canon EOS R and EOS R5 for Zoom meetings as the image quality is so much better with the shallow depth of field, but as there are a few steps required to get this working, I figured I’d share what I do with you today. I do have a good Webcam, as well as the camera in my iMac Pro, which are both suitable for zoom, but sometimes I feel that it’s worth going a little further and using my Canon cameras. We’ll talk about the key components necessary to get started and move on to a few nice-to-haves as well.

Canon Webcam Utility

Of course, we’re going to assume that you already have a Canon camera, and I’ll center this discussion around what I know. If you own a different system and use different software, feel free to share that in the comments for the benefit of any other non-Canon users. To get started with a Canon camera though, you are going to need the EOS Webcam Utility which is available for both Mac and Windows. You can do this without the software, and we’ll touch on that, but there is an important reason for using the Canon software, and that is because it’s the only method I’ve found that completely stops the camera from falling asleep while you broadcast.

Once installed, there is no configuration, you’ll just find the EOS Webcam Utility listed as a camera for selection in Zoom or whatever system you are using. If you don’t see it, ensure that your camera is on and connected to the computer via USB. The Utility works with over 40 Canon cameras, and according to Canon also allows you to record your video internally in the camera while broadcasting. I’ve never needed to do this, but there are situations where that would be very useful.

EOS Webcam Utility in Zoom
EOS Webcam Utility in Zoom

Unfortunately, there seems to be no mechanism to switch between two EOS cameras. If you connect two cameras, the EOS Webcam Utility uses the first camera detected and ignores the second. If you switch the first camera off and select a different camera, then go back to the EOS Webcam Utility, you will be able to use the second camera, but it’s not exactly what I would consider a smooth switch.

Using Straight HDMI Signal

Before we move on, you can also see the option for the OBS Virtual Camera in this screenshot, which is what I would choose if I was using my video capture card that accepts HDMI signal and feeds it to my computer. This does enable me to use the HDMI signal from the camera, and if necessary, you can put an HDMI switcher between the camera and the video capture device, and that allows you to switch between multiple cameras, but this only really works if you are not going to use either camera without touching it for more than 30 minutes. There is no way that I’ve found to stop the camera from going to sleep while feeding out HDMI. The longest you can set the Power Off timer to is 30 minutes, so even if you disable the options to turn off the display after a certain time, the camera will go to sleep after 30 minutes.

Power Saving Settings
Power Saving Settings

Now, you can, of course, reach over and press the shutter button every so often to keep it awake, but I generally find that I forget to do that, and my video turns off, usually when I’m not looking. For this reason, I only use direct HDMI when I’m actually handling at least one of the cameras, such as when I’m showing a technique through the camera. Another important thing to note there as well, is that if you use the HDMI feed from the camera, you can set the camera up so that it includes the screen overlay in the HDMI feed as well, which is very useful in a teaching situation.

Canon EOS R5 Screen with Overlay
Canon EOS R5 Screen with Overlay

Note that to get the overlay displayed on your output HDMI, on the Canon EOS R5, you’ll need to go to the Shoot menu 8 and select HDMI display, then the next option seems a little confusing to me. The icon that shows both a camera and a computer display will prevent the camera’s settings from being displayed on the computer over HDMI. They are only displayed on the camera. If you select just the computer display icon though, the menus are displayed on both and are included in your HDMI feed.

I’m not aware of any combination of setting that will enable you to record the screen with controls when connected directly to the computer over USB. If you want to record the controls you’ll need a video capture device. The device I chose is from Basicolor and it seems they make a variety of these video capture devices. The price range is pretty wide, and generally increases with the resolution that the device is capable of passing through and feeding to the computer, and these are not always the same. They may be capable of passing through 4K video but only send 1080p resolution to the computer over USB. If you buy one of these ensure that you check the specs before you make your final decision.

Video Capture Device
Video Capture Device

Use a Power Adapter

Another consideration is power supply. I generally get about 50 minutes to an hour from a single battery when it’s constantly providing a video signal, so rather than interrupting your call or broadcast to pop your battery out, it’s better to use a power supply. I have two. One that provides power through the USB port, which is a Canon adapter and costs over $100. The second is virtually the same as the Canon ACK-E6 Adapter Kit which also retails for more than $100 but I broke down and grabbed a $20 adapter from Amazon.co.jp which seems at this point in time to do just as good a job. As you can see in this image, the ACK-E6 basically provides power through a mockup battery that is wired to the power supply.

Mockup Battery as Adapter
Mockup Battery as Adapter

There is a small rubber flap on the side of the battery compartment that you can bend outwards to feed the cable through so that you can go ahead and close the battery compartment while you’re using the camera.

Battery Adapter Cable Opening
Battery Adapter Cable Opening

Autofocus with Face Detection On

You’ll need to put the camera into video mode, which you do on the Canon EOS R5 by pressing the Mode button followed by the Info button, and by default, this will put the EOS R5 into Movie Servo AF mode. I also like to check that Face Detection mode is selected, so that the camera will follow you as you move around the screen. This is especially important when you select a wide aperture as the depth of field is so shallow that you’ll quickly go out of focus if you move away from the plane of focus. On the EOS R5 the easiest way to get into Face Detection autofocus mode is to his the Focus Point Selection button in the top right corner on the back of the camera, and then hit the M-Fn button next to the shutter button until the Face icon is selected, as you see in this screenshot. In this mode, the camera will do a great job of keeping your eyes in focus as you move around.

Face Detection Autofocus
Face Detection Autofocus

Auto-ISO

I also find it useful to turn on Auto-ISO while shooting video for streaming as this will keep you relatively well exposed, even if the light changes. I sometimes use an LED video light if I’m streaming after dark, but during the day, if I have my curtains open, the camera still does a great job of getting my face bright. My other dedicated webcams can’t do this. They just go supernova on the light from the window and I go into silhouette. This is another reason why I like to use the EOS Webcam instead of my regular webcams.

Using an External Monitor

You can also use an external monitor if you have one, and I find this especially useful as it forces you to look towards the camera as you check your appearance, and that is good for staying engaged with the people on the other end of the call or meeting. Here I shot a quick photo of my setup with my video monitor attached to the flash shoe of the EOS R5 but pointing forwards so that I can see myself as I stream.

Canon EOS Webcam with Monitor
Canon EOS Webcam with Monitor

Another thing that I generally do is move my display as close to the line of sight of the camera as possible, and then put my zoom screen in the corner of the computer display, and make it as small as possible, so that I am forced to look close to the camera while speaking. Your line of sight still goes away from the viewer though, so when I want to virtually make eye contact, I look directly at the lens of the camera.

It’s not a great photo, but you can also see that the background of my video is significantly out of focus due to the shallow depth of field of the camera. When using my 50mm F/1.2 lens I like to open it up completely for super-shallow depth of field. This looks so much better in a streamed event than having everything tack-sharp, which is, of course, what happens when using the small sensors in regular webcams.

There are benefits to dedicated webcams, of course. They are easy to set up and because they are so small or even embedded into the computer just above the screen, it’s easier to get close to the line of sight of your viewers. There are also some high-end webcams that will follow you around if you stand up and move around, as you might in a product demonstration or presentation. I still use my regular webcams for casual calls and meetings, but when I want to provide professional-looking video, like when teaching at events and camera clubs, I take a few minutes to set up a Canon camera, or two, to make a good impression. We’ll wrap it up there for today. I hope you find this useful. If you do, please consider supporting the podcast as well as gaining access to a range of other benefits by joining our Patreon community. Thanks very much to Christian and Blazej, our latest contributors, and to the others that are already helping to keep the wheels on the MBP Wagon.


Show Notes

EOS Webcam Utility for Mac and Windows: https://www.usa.canon.com/internet/portal/us/home/support/self-help-center/eos-webcam-utility

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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New Text Watermark Features in MBP FAB Tools for Adobe Photoshop (Podcast 763)

New Text Watermark Features in MBP FAB Tools for Adobe Photoshop (Podcast 763)


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I’ve just released an update for our MBP Fine Art Border Tools plugin for Adobe Photoshop, so I wanted to spend a little time today to explain the great new features that are now available. The update is version 1.5.1 so if you already own FAB Tools and don’t see these options, please check the Adobe Plugin Manager and update the plugin if necessary. All of the new features are in the Add Text module, where you can add text to your resized and framed image. Two of these new features were based on suggestions I received from a listener so I’d like to give a shout-out to Roger Jones from the UK and thank Roger for the suggestions and for using FAB Tools!

Also, please note that I’ve just released a 24-minute video to explain these new features, so I’ll embed that here as it will probably be easier to understand these features if you follow along in real-time. Then I’ll go on to explain again below, for those of you that just want to listen, or for Patron members that prefer to read.

Second Text Line (from V1.5)

Second Text Line
Second Text Line

From version 1.5 which was released a few days ago in the Adobe Exchange Marketplace, there are now more text customization options than ever! First of all, you can now add a second line of text that you manually enter for your Text Watermark.

All you have to do to use the second line of text is to select the Second Line Text field (inside the green box in this screenshot) and type in your text. This second line will also appear for any text watermarks that you have already configured and can be used just as though you were creating the watermark afresh. When you tab away from the text field your text is automatically saved along with your first line and other options, such as font, font style, and font color.

Once saved, if you don’t need to embed your second line in your watermark, you can either delete the text or uncheck the Activate check box to the right of the Second Line Text field. If you want to change your text regularly, leave the Auto-hide checkbox unchecked, and the field will remain on the screen when the other options are hidden. 

Add Custom Fonts

Another new feature in version 1.5 is the ability to add any font that you have installed on your system to the Font pulldown for use in the Text Watermarks. To get started just click on the Add Font button that can be seen after clicking on Show Options in the Add Text module. If you haven’t added a Text Watermark yet, you need to add at least one before these options are visible.

After clicking the Add Font button, you will see six text fields, that you can see in the below screenshot. The first is for the font name, and the following five fields are for the various styles that you commonly find in a font. The name can be anything you want, but so that you can recognize the font, using the Font Name is recommended. For the remaining Postscript name fields, you can use the font file name without the extension, or get the font style name from the Font Book under Applications on a Mac or from the system Font viewer on Windows.

Mac Font Book
Mac Font Book

These names have to match the actual font names or your custom font will not work. After entering the style names, click the Store Font button, and check the preview to see that the font is working. If you have added more than one font style, also check that the style changes in the preview when selected.

Adding a Custom Font
Adding a Custom Font

You can add different styles to the five provided, for example, you might add an Extra Light font style instead of Light, or Extra Bold instead of bold, but note that the style will only be displayed by the available style radio button with the default names. Once you have added a custom font, you can press the Edit Font button that will be displayed when a Custom Font is selected and reopen the font text fields to check or change what you added. There is no limit to the number of fonts that you add. 

Note too that the fonts are added to the MBPCustomFonts.txt file that you can find along with the other preference files that are stored. To see your Custom Fonts file and potentially make a backup, go to the Tools module and click on the Show Settings Folder Path button, then copy the path to the clipboard, and paste that path into the dialog that appears when you select the Finder > Go > Go to Folder option on a Mac, or paste the path into the Explorer path field in Windows. 

Description Text Wrapping Options

Version 1.5 also introduced two new Description Text wrapping options. The Description text is automatically extracted from your image if you added a description, either in the File Information > Description field in Photoshop, or in another application, like Capture One Pro or Lightroom. If you add a Description in Photoshop, note that you must save and close then reopen the file before MBP FAB Tools will be able to read the Description from the image file.
The first of the two new wrapping options is to return after the number of words entered into the first of the two optional fields. Your description will automatically be wrapped after the number of words entered. The second new wrapping option is to wrap when FAB Tools finds a specific character or character string in your Description. By default, this is an opening parenthesis bracket. As you can see in the example screenshot above, I wrapped the description after the two words “The Abyss” by including the remaining Description inside parenthesis. I’ve not limited the character wrap to the first instance of a character, so you could theoretically wrap line after line by including the wrap character multiple times.

Safe Text Scaling

The last major update in this release is the Safe Text Scaling option. As it is now possible to build text watermarks that can potentially overflow the space provided in the border surrounding your resized image, I’ve added the Safe Text Scaling option and turned it on by default, and this will essentially prevent your text from overflowing the border and being cut off.

The cool thing about this is if you do work with multi-line text watermarks, and are happy for them to fill the border space vertically, you can now just set a larger Scale percentage than necessary, and allow the Safe Text Scaling option to resize your text to fit the border automatically. So, for example, instead of trying to find the percentage required to fill the border, which might be say 32%, you can now just specify a 50% border, and leave the rest to FAB Tools. Needless to say, it works with landscape or portrait orientation images, as well as square and panorama images.

If you want to know whether Safe Text Scaling is kicking in, look below the three options under the Text Anchor Target section in the Add Text module while adding a text-based watermark. You’ll see a green message quickly flash onto the screen saying “Text Auto-Scaled!” To actually be on the Add Text screen if you are adding a Watermark during the resizing process, select Apply Web or Print Border from the hamburger menu in the top right of the FAB Tools plugin panel.

OK, so we’ll start to wrap it up there for this week. If you don’t yet own a copy of the MBP Fine Art Border Tools and would like to, you can jump directly to the product page on the Adobe Exchange Marketplace with the short-link https://mbp.ac/fabtmp and you can get to our product page for further details with the link under the Shop menu at the top of this website.

To finish, I’d quickly like to say a huge thank you to Richard, Jim, David, and Kandice, our new patrons. Thank you, alongside the other patrons for your support of the Martin Bailey Photography Podcast.


Show Notes

Adobe Exchange Short link: https://mbp.ac/fabtmp
FAB Tools Product Page: https://mbp.ac/mbpfabt

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes to get Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast as an MP3 with Chapters.

Visit this page for help on how to view the images in MP3 files.


Free Yourself with Back Button Focus (Podcast 760)

Free Yourself with Back Button Focus (Podcast 760)


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I was reminded of this today’s topic in the new MBP Community for our Patreon contributors this week, so I figured I’d spend a little time today talking about why I use Back Button Focus, how I set it up on my Canon Cameras, and I’ll also explain how using the back AF button can help you to switch between various focussing modes without actually changing the camera or lens settings.

First of all, let’s back up a little and talk about how I got started using the back AF button on my cameras. It must be around 15 years or so ago now, when the original MBP Forum was full of great enthusiastic photographers sharing thoughts on a daily basis, and a number of people were talking about back button focus, so I decided to give it a try. I set my camera up so that the shutter button no longer activated the camera’s autofocus, and went out shooting at the Ueno Zoo here in Tokyo.

The first morning using back button focus was frustrating to say the least. My muscle-memory up to that point was all about half-pressing the shutter button to activate the focus and exposure metering and I often forgot that the shutter button was no longer activating the autofocus, and wondered why the lens wasn’t focusing, then a moment later I’d recall what I’d done and hit the back AF button. By the afternoon, I’d started to get it drilled into me what was happening, and although still frustrated, the benefits had started to become obvious to the point that I knew I had to stick with it. In the coming weeks I’d forget to focus a number of times, and had to reshoot a few of my landscape shots, either because I’d forgotten to focus, or I couldn’t remember if I’d focused or not, so paranoia set in, and the screens on the cameras back then weren’t really good enough to to reliably check critical focus, so I reshot some images.

The reason I was hooked on back button focusing is because it enables you to completely separate the act of focusing from the exposure and actually releasing the shutter. If you are currently half-pressing your shutter button and reframing to take your photo, there may be times when that becomes a little bit tiresome. Of course, these days, we can much more easily move the focus point around and with mirrorless cameras now we can often move that focus point to pretty much anywhere in the frame, so there really isn’t any reason not to do that, but it can sometimes be more efficient to simply focus with the center focus point and then reframe when you want to make your exposure, and if you don’t have your shutter button assigned to active your focusing, you don’t have to hold the shutter button down while reframing. You can simply focus by placing your focus point over what you want to focus on, press the back AF button with your thumb and then take your thumb off the AF button, and reframe.

Focus Plane Shift
Focus Plane Shift

As an aside, if you are using a very wide aperture with extremely shallow depth of field, you still need to be careful when reframing, because the plane of focus moves if you change the angle of the camera when reframing. Here’s a quick diagram to illustrate what I mean. Imagine you are doing a portrait of someone, and you focus on their eyes, because it’s important to get the eyes sharp, but with the center focus point, which is represented by the black lines. Then you realize that there’s a lot of space over the subjects head, and that looks amateurish, so you keep your finger half pressed on the shutter button to maintain your focus, then tilt your camera down to reduce the space over their head. This reframing and the plane of focus shift is shown by the red lines.

See how the plane of focus is now quite a way behind the subjects eyes? If you are using a wide aperture with shallow depth of field, you’d lose the critical focus on the subjects eyes. Even with a relatively small aperture, you may still be able to tell that you did not focus on the eyes, and that will ruin your portrait unless you intended the subject to not have sharp eyes.

To make things worse, when you reframe, more often than not you actually rock forward a little, moving the camera further forward still, moving the focus plane back even more.

Because of these things, it’s really just so much better when shooting portraits to get into the habit of moving your focus point to sit over the subject’s eyes. If the subject is not looking straight at you, generally focus on the closer of the two eyes, again, unless you have a reason to do otherwise.

Anyway, a bit of a digression there, but to get back to the point, say for example, I was shooting from a distance away, and reframing isn’t something I need to worry about, then it’s easier to do this with the auto focus on the shutter button disabled, by placing my focus point over what I want to focus on, pressing the back AF button, then taking my thumb off of the AF button to stop focusing, and then reframe, and I don’t have to worry about focusing again, because it’s already done.

If you don’t disable auto-focus on the shutter button, when you press the shutter button to make your exposure, it would start focusing again and you’d be in a mess, so it’s important to turn that off. On all cameras I know of you can do this by going into the custom functions. On my Canon EOS R5 I go to the Custom Functions menu 3 and select Customize Buttons, then ensure that the Shutter button half-press option is changed from Metering and AF start to just Metering start. While you are in that menu, open the AF-ON Button option and ensure that it’s set to the default which is Metering and AF start. These settings ensure that you can use the AF button on the back of the camera to focus, and stop the shutter button from focusing. Here’s a video of my camera menus to help if you get stuck.

OK, so now we have our camera set up to not focus when we press the shutter button. Let’s explore the other benefits of using your camera in this way.

Instant Manual Focus

Perhaps one of the biggest benefits is being able to go into Manual Focus without touching a switch or going into any menus. Simply stop pressing the AF button on the back of the camera, and rotate your lenses focus ring, and you should be able to manually focus. You do have to make sure that your lenses support full time manual focus, because some lenses will try to fight it if you rotate the focus ring while they think they are in Autofocus mode, but if you feel no resistance when you try to adjust your focus with the lenses focus ring, you should be fine to use this method.

This is handy for those times when you just need to quickly tweak the focus, and I really like to avoid switching the lens into manual focus with the AF/MF switch on the barrel of the lens, because it’s so easy to forget that you’ve done that, and then especially with wide angle lenses that have deep depth of field even when wide open, it can sometimes be difficult to notice that they are not actually focusing when you think they are.

One Shot to AI Servo Toggle

Another thing that I like to do, especially when I’m doing a lot of wildlife shooting, is to leave the camera in AI Servo or Continuous Focus mode, and then, I can keep my thumb on the AF-ON button when I want to continuously focus on my subject, but then if I want to use a kind of pseudo One Shot, or Single Shot mode, I can just press the back button quickly to get focus, but then take my thumb off the AF button again. Because this works so well, with the camera in AI Servo focusing mode, we are actually able to use three focusing modes without opening a menu or switching any switches.

We tap the AF button and release for One Shot focus, keep our thumb on the AF button for Continuous AI Servo focus, and keep our thumb off the AF button for Manual focus. Especially for birds in flight and many other types of wildlife photography, being able to stop focussing while shooting can sometimes be a life saver. For example, if you are photographing an animal in long grass the camera can focus on the grass in front of the animal, which is not going to give great results.

I was in this situation when we spotted this lion lying in long grass at a reserve just outside of the Etosha National Park in Namibia. He had his head down low for most of the time, but a lion sitting in long grass at the end of the day doesn’t go too long before yawning, so I focussed on his head roughly where his eyes would be when he lifted his head up, then took my finger off the back AF button and waited.

The Scowl
The Scowl

When he eventually lifted his head up to start yawning, I got a few frames, including his yawn, and like this one, as he lowered his head again after the yawn, looking like he’s scowling. I opened up the series of images in Raw Digger and filtered out the Focus related information, and can see that there are no AF Points in Focus. This tells me that as I recall, I had released my thumb from the AF button during the burst to capture these photos.

Raw Digger EXIF Data
Raw Digger EXIF Data

If I had been using the shutter button to focus I could still have gotten this image, but I would have been relying on focusing as the lion started to yawn, and the danger there is that still could have focussed on the foreground grasses, or even if I waited for the head to be higher than the grass, I may have focussed on the front of his mouth. That would have been fine for the teeth shot, but that would be too near to get the eyes sharp in my favorite shot of the burst shown above.

I have to admit though, that when I am not doing wildlife or fast paced shooting that requires AI Servo or Continuous focussing mode, I generally put my camera back in One Shot or Single Shot focusing mode, as I like to get that little little visual flash when my camera achieves focus, and the little beep is reassuring as well, although I know some people really don’t like that beep.

So, just a quick one this week. We’ll wrap it up there for today. I hope you found this useful, and if you haven’t tried back button focusing yet, give it a try, but not on an important shoot! I remember talking about this on my very first Hokkaido Tour & Workshop and although I warned the group about changing their cameras during the trip, someone did and then spent a frantic hour on the Bihoro Pass at dawn thinking that their camera had frozen up, until he recalled that he’d changed to back button focus. Anyway, have fun with this.

Before we finish I’d like to say a huge thank you to our new Patreon contributors Chris, Alin, Dipak, John, Mike and Nick. Your support along with the rest of the contributors is very much appreciated!


Show Notes

You can get Raw Digger here: https://www.rawdigger.com

Music by Martin Bailey


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