Scanning 120 Film with the CanoScan 9000F MarkII (Podcast 690)

Scanning 120 Film with the CanoScan 9000F MarkII (Podcast 690)

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Four years ago I walked you through scanning 120 format film on my Epson Scanner, which was around six years or so old at the time, making ten now. When I came to scan the film that I had processed recently, I found that my scanner had broken, so I replaced it with a Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II. This scanner is also a few years old in design, but it’s the latest model that I could find that offers high-resolution scanning and the film guide for 120 film.

Note though that B&H Photo and don’t seem to stock this scanner anymore, and Canon’s website here in Japan also marks it as running low on stock. This is a sure sign that Canon is probably preparing to release something new, which I would like to have waited for, but I didn’t have that luxury with my old scanner having broken.

Preferences Scan Panel
Preferences Scan Panel

Regular flat-bed scanners designed just for documents shine light onto the document while scanning, but to be able to scan slides or negatives, the scanner has to have a light built into the lid to shine through the film, so this is something to be careful of when buying a scanner for this purpose. Also, not that all of the dedicated film scanners that I could find online were relatively low resolution. We’re talking about creating images that are around 10 to 15 megapixels, even when scanning medium format film, and that is just too low to be of any use in my opinion. Of course, if you never want to make any large prints, and your final use is the computer screen, then that resolution would be fine.

When I first installed the software that comes with my new Canon scanner, there were a number of limitations forced on me by the software, which would have resulted in lower quality scans, so we’ll cover this first, in case you have bought the same or a similar scanner. Note too that I have not been able to access these settings via the TWAIN scanner drivers that are installed, so I am not able to get higher resolution scans from within Affinity Photo or Photoshop, I have to use the Canon IJ Scanner Utility. There are other dedicated scanning applications available, but at this point, I have not tried any, so we’ll stick with the method I’m currently using.

Settings for Higher Resolution Scans

To enable higher resolution scans, when you first start the scanner software by opening the Canon IJ Scan Utility application and then clicking the ScanGear icon, switch to the Advanced Mode, then open the Preferences panel. Under the Scan menu Advanced Mode Settings section, enable both the Enable Large Image Scans checkbox and the Enable 48/16 bit Output checkboxes. Without these options, the scanner will only provide relatively low-resolution scans of medium format film.

You can also turn on Enable Large Image Scans by clicking the Settings button on the Scanner Utility and it’s a good idea to select TIFF for the Data Format under ScanGear, as you ideally want to be saving your images in a lossless format. JPEG is compressed generally, and will gradually degrade as you resave your images, so in my opinion, JPEG should really only be used as an output format. The only other options are PDF and PNG, neither of which are suitable formats for photographs.

What Resolution to Use?

In my earlier tutorial on this, I mentioned that I was scanning at 4200 dpi (dots per inch). I also mentioned that this was possibly overkill, but I did some more experimentation with my new scanner and found out a few other interesting points that I also want to relay. Firstly, I found that I was still seeing a usable quality increase in my scans when using 4800 dpi. This gives me scanned images that are slightly over 10,000 pixels square, which means the images are 100 megapixels. That’s almost ten times the resolution of the dedicated film scanners I saw, many of which are a similar price to the CanoScan that I decided on. I also tried the higher setting of 9600 dpi, but this just increased the file size. No more usable resolution was recorded.

This got me thinking about my original tests though, so I double-checked some other recent photos shot with my first TLR camera, the Yashica-D, but scanned with the new scanner, and I found that photos were limited by the optics of the Yashica, rather than the film or scanner. I just completed some tests using ILFORD DELTA 100 film and processed it with Perceptol, which is a very fine grain developer, and the images were all pretty soft compared to the images I’m getting from my new Rolleiflex.

Of course, the takeaway for you here is that this really is something that you need to test and decide on for yourself. With my Yashica-D, we were probably looking at me realistically only being able to scan up to around 3600 to 3800 dpi and still getting usable resolution, but with the Rolleiflex 3.5 with the Planer lens that is up to 4800 dpi. I’m not sure how this compares to other vintage medium format cameras, so the best thing to do is to keep increasing the resolution until you stop seeing any more usable detail.

Also, note that I am scanning with the Color Mode set to Grayscale (16bit). I’ve experimented with the color scanning modes, and there are lots of methods discussed online, such as scanning in color but only using certain color channels, and throwing the rest out, then ultimately going to a black and white image, but I really don’t see the benefits in doing that, so in my usual way, I have decided that these are hoops that we don’t need to jump through. 16bit Grayscale images are very high quality, and ultimately I want a neutral gray toned image, so this works for me.

Here’s a screenshot of my final settings in the ScanGear window, and you’ll notice that the Data Size number is in red, which is Canon shouting at me for scanning my image at such high quality. As I’ve already told the software that I want a high-quality scan, I find it a bit pointless to display this number in red, but that’s how it is. Also note that I am leaving Unsharp Mask turned on, but Image Adjustment and Grain Correction are off.

Scanning 120 Film CanonScan ScanGear
Scanning 120 Film CanonScan ScanGear

I am also leaving the Manual Exposure checkbox turned off most of the time, but if I inadvertently over-expose something, or the software just seemed to misunderstand the content of the image, I can override that with the Manual Exposure checkbox and adding a new percentage. Going higher than 100% seems to reduce the exposure and lower than 100% increases the exposure in the image. You can also adjust exposure using the Tone Curve options that you can see towards the bottom right corner of this screenshot.

You can actually see the images that you are about to scan pretty well, especially if you are working on a large display with this window maximized. I also like that I can scan up to three frames at a time now. The Epson scanner was only two frames at a time, so this is another benefit of replacing my scanner. I can now scan a 12 frame roll of film in four sections. One other thing to note is that the shiny side of the film should be facing down when scanning. That’s the front of the film, so although you can flip the scanned images if necessary it’s better to get the orientation right for your scan.

You’ll also note that the corner of my circular ND filter was showing in the top right corner of these images. I have since found a place that does custom made filters that should fit the Rolleiflex, but for a recent trip to photograph the rocks that you see in this screenshot, I had simply taped an ND to my lens hood, and because you don’t look through the shooting lens on a Twin Lens Reflex camera, I didn’t notice until after I’d shot these three images. I corrected this and continued to reshoot the rocks using an ISO 25 film from Rollei, but unfortunately, it looks like I got a bad batch. All of the images I shot on the following roll had a really strong mottling, almost like a leopard fur pattern. I ran more tests when I got home and found it to be that particular film, which was disappointing. Anyway, a bit of deftly cloning was enough to get rid of the filter ring in the corner, so I still came away with the photos I was looking for.

I am generally turning on the checkbox for all three images, and scanning them all at once. If there is a frame that you obviously don’t need to scan, you can do this by leaving the checkbox turned off. The software will only scan the images with a checkbox enabled. At the resolution and settings I’ve chosen, it takes about two to three minutes per frame to scan the images, so six to nine minutes to scan all three. I sometimes also find that the autodetection of the images doesn’t work every time, and I have to jiggle the film around a little to get the software to recognize them. One thing I have noticed though is that it helps to slide in the strip of plastic that comes with the scanner to effectively show the scanner where the start of the first frame is, as you can see in this photo.

Scanning 120 Film with the CanonScan 9000F Mark II
Scanning 120 Film with the CanonScan 9000F Mark II

Once you have the film set like this, you close the lid and start up the ScanGear software. If you already have the software open from a previous scan, just hit the Preview button again to take a look at your next three images. If you shoot 35mm film, by the way, you can also use this scanner. A film guide for mounted 35mm slides and 35mm film strips is included.

Change Color Space

One other thing that I have found is that the color space Dot Gain 20% does not seem to be supported by Capture One Pro, my photo editing software of choice. I have to open the files up in Photoshop and convert the color profile to ProPhoto RGB before I can edit the images in Capture One Pro. Of course, Adobe RGB or sRGB would also work, but I prefer to work in ProPhoto RGB. And, I have not yet found a way to automatically open the images in Photoshop or Affinity Photo after scanning with the ScanGear software. You can specify an app in other modules, but not when using the ScanGear drivers. These options are grayed out, so that adds a few extra clicks to the workflow, but it’s not a big deal.

Example Images

Here are two of these images that I scanned so that you can take a look at the end result. The film, by the way, is the recently rereleased FujiFilm Neopan Acros Mark II. I’m finding it really nice to work with, and the tones are great, but I have noticed a larger number of flaws in the emulsion that I would rather not see in a film. There are patches of white flakes, which I guess would be black flakes on the negative, on most frames that require a bit of cloning to remove. I haven’t really noticed these on the Rollei RPX 100 or the ILFORD DELTA 100 films that I’ve also been using.

Here also is a 100% crop of the first of the two images above, to show you the image quality at this resolution. As you can see, there is plenty of detail, but it’s bordering on getting a little soft. I’m at the top limit of useful resolution for sure.

Meotoiwa (Rolleiflex 100% Crop)
Meotoiwa (Rolleiflex 100% Crop)

Here too is a 100% crop from the same scene shot with my EOS R. The image is obviously sharper at 100%, partly because I’m pushing the resolution on my scans, but also because the Rollei is more organic with it being film.

Meotoiwa (EOS R 100%)
Meotoiwa (EOS R 100%)

Before we move on, here is one other example image shot with the FujiFilm Neopan Acros MarkII 100 ISO film, really to illustrate that this film really does have beautiful tones, and in true Neopan form, the blacks are beautifully rich, as you can see in the glossy black cat ornament here.

Frogs, Cats and Jizou
Frogs, Cats and Jizou

Storing Processed Film

I was also asked in the comments on one of my recent posts how I am storing my processed film, so let’s take a look at that, but unfortunately, I have not been able to find a similar product on B&H Photo or Amazon. If anyone knows of something similar to this on sale online anywhere, maybe you could share a link in the comments below.

Fujicolor RF Binder
Fujicolor RF Binder

Also, as you can see here, even just placing the loose pages on white paper enables you to see the negatives pretty well, but you can also drop this onto a lightbox and view the images with a loupe if you prefer because the polypropylene is perfectly clear. There are also iPad apps that provide a bright white screen so that you can use them as a Lightbox as well.

Fujicolor RF Binder Loose Page
Fujicolor RF Binder Loose Page

OK, so we’ll leave it there for today. I hope this has helped some if you were looking for information on scanning film, but with the products not being readily available everywhere, I’m sure I’ve left you with a job to find something available in your market. This will hopefully point you in the right direction though. I guess this is a sign of the overall interest levels in shooting film, but I am encouraged by the fact that FujiFilm just rereleased Neopan Acros. Hopefully, there are enough people still shooting, or starting to shoot film with its resurgence, that it compels more manufacturers to follow suit.

Thanks very much for listening today. If you enjoy this podcast please consider supporting us on Patreon, which comes with various tiers of benefits depending on your contribution, although all tiers provide access to the full blog posts for more than 780 episodes as well as access to the MBP Community. For further details check out our Patreon page at

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Show Notes


Music by Martin Bailey


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Scanning Medium Format 120 Film (Podcast 479)

Scanning Medium Format 120 Film (Podcast 479)

This is part 4 of our Film Fun series, in which I walk you through scanning medium format 120 film into the computer.

The podcast released for this episode is just an iPhone optimized low-resolution version of the full-sized video, which will enable you to view during your commute etc. but to see any detail, it’s best to view the full-sized video below.

Here’s a rundown of the entire Film Fun series.

  • Part #1 – Loading and Unloading a Yashica-D TLR Camera with 120 Medium Format Film (see here)
  • Part #2 – Feeding 120 Film into a Paterson Reel for Developing (see here)
  • Part #2b – Feeding 120 Film into a Paterson Reel inside the Changing Bag (see here)
  • Part #3 – Developing a Roll of ILFORD 120 Black and White Film (see here)
  • Part #4 – Scanning Medium Format 120 Film (video below)

Although I shot film for around 20 years until around 2000, I never had the chance to develop my own, so this whole experience has been very new to me and a LOT of fun. I have much more experience scanning film though, so this video is perhaps the one which I am most confident of the content, but I have enjoyed the entire process, and I hope you’ve enjoyed joining me on this initial Film Fun journey.

Here are the links to all of the products required for this process on B&H Photo. You can help to support the podcast by using these links. Use this link if you don’t see the products below:

Film Related Posts

[ess_grid alias=”film-posts-grid”]

Show Notes

See this video on our Vimeo channel here:

See our Recommended Film Developing Products page on B&H:


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The Five Color Lakes “Goshikinuma” Travelogue (Podcast 474)

The Five Color Lakes “Goshikinuma” Travelogue (Podcast 474)

This week we’re going to take a look at ten photographs from a recent visit to the Five Color Lakes or “Goshikinuma” in Fukushima, here in Japan. Goshikinuma literally means five color swamps, although that isn’t the prettiest translation, so pond is often used, although some are definitely large enough to be considered lakes.

Goshikinuma are five volcanic lakes in the Urabandai area of Fukushima, at the foot of Mount Bandai. They were formed when Mount Bandai erupted in July, 1888, killing approximately 500 people as it destroyed a number of towns. The eruption completely changed the landscape, creating a plateau area and dammed some rivers. The lakes get their five Colors from mineral deposits left by the eruption, ranging from a reddish green to beautiful cobalt blue.

I’ve visited these lakes many times. I used to live about 90 minutes from this area for the first four years that I lived in Japan, so 24 years ago now. I would sometimes drive out here after a night shift, and photograph these and other lakes in the area. On this occasion, my wife and I were staying at her father’s house to look after him for a few days, and I was able to get some time away before we returned to Tokyo, so I took a drive out to these lakes for the first time in a few years.

There’s an approximately four kilometer path that you can walk along getting a reasonable view of each of the five lakes, and I took a steady walk, stopping to shoot the images that we’ll look at today. The light is a little harsh in some of these, due to the time of day that I was able to visit, but I usually find that the colors in the lakes themselves is a little stronger when they are lit from above, rather than early morning or late in the day, so there’s a bit of a trade-off here.

Anyway, let’s jump in and start looking at the photos. First up, this is the Bishamon Pond which is a cobalt blue, as you can see. In the distance is the two peaks of Mount Bandai, the volcano that errupted creating the lakes. Apparently it was the erruption that took out the middle of the mountain, breaking it into two peaks. Bishamon is actually the Japanese name for Vaiśravaṇa, a buddhist deity, and Anime fans might recognize the name as Bishamonten in RG Veda.

Bishamon Numa (Pond)

Bishamon Numa (Pond)

I shot this at f/11 with a shutter speed of 1/13 of second, at ISO 100. Note that for most of the photos we’ll look at today, I’ve used Color Efex Pro to darken down the mountain a little, because it’s summer here now, and there was a little bit of haze in the middle of the day. I also applied the Reflector Efex filter to give the foreground water and trees a bit of punch. The original photos were OK but I felt they looked closer to the lush greens and vivid colored water of the scene with this boost.

This next photo is a little further along, at a corner of the Bishamon Pond, basically about five minutes to the right of the first photograph we looked at. Thinking about it, for these first few frames I was also using a Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo Polarizer filter to bring out the lush greens. I had it dialed down just a little though, because I didn’t want to remove the reflection of the trees in the water. This was shot at f/11 again, with a shutter speed of 1/15 of a second, ISO 100.

Bishamon Numa (Pond)

Bishamon Numa (Pond)

I removed the polarizer and put on an ND1000 for this next photo (below) with the exact same framing as the previous image. The ND1000 gives me 10 stops of darkness, which resulted in a 25 second exposure at f/16, ISO 100, so the flow of the water in the lake was recorded as streaks, which came as a bit of a nice surprise to me, as I didn’t think the water was moving that much. I also did a black and white version of this, as I usually do with long exposures, but for this one, I think I like the lush greens and blue of the lake too much to remove the color.

Bishamon Numa (Pond)

Bishamon Numa (Long Exposure)

As I walked along the trail, I came to a small concrete bridge across a stream that was running into the final corner of the Bishamon pond before I moved on. This time I could see the water flowing under the bridge I was on, so I used the ND1000 again for a 30 second exposure at f/14, ISO 200. This caused the water to smooth over as we see here (below).

Bishamon Numa (Pond)

Bishamon Numa (Pond)

My thinking with the composition on this one was that I wanted to show the water flowing in through this kind of a frame that was created by the reeds and grasses either side of the opening, but also the trees along the top and sides. The patch of blue water then gives us a destination to place ourselves, and then the trees in the distance stop the eye there, and for me at least, send my eyes back to the foreground again.

When viewed large you can see patches of movement in both the foreground reeds and the trees throughout the shot. I know that this bugs some people, but I feel that it adds to the movement and dynamism of a shot, and so I like doing long exposures, even when there are trees in the frame with a bit of a breeze.

I experimented quite a lot with the composition of this next photo (below) and ended up with the camera quite low, with that root running along the bottom to the middle. Because of the low angle I was able to include the stream, but then tilt the camera up a little to get the greenery along the top half of the frame and the tree trunks to the left in too. This is actually a good reminder of the feeling of the day. I was being stung by mosquitos the entire time, and for me this early summer green here in Japan almost symbolizes the heat and humidity that mozzies love so much.

Goshikinuma Stream

Goshikinuma Stream

Because this angle gave me a substantial amount of water in the stream in the bottom right quadrant, I used the ColorCombo Polarizer again to reduce the glare of the water, enabling us to see the bottom of the stream and not the silvery reflections that were there without it. This also made the ferns and other foliage that beautiful lush green, so although I don’t use a polarizer very often, this was another occasion when I thought it made sense.

The LB in Sing-Ray filter names stands for Lighter and Brighter, so although polarizers usually reduce the light entering the camera by around two stops, these are said to be around 1 1/3 of a stop. This gave me an exposure of 2.5 seconds at f/14, ISO 100.

Small Tree in Benten Numa (Pond)

Small Tree in Benten Numa (Pond)

The next of the lakes is Benten-numa, which held my attention for quite a while I waited for the breeze to do various things to the surface of the pond, and I’d found a small tree growing out of a foot of so of water, as we can see in these next couple of photographs.

Benten is actually a variation of the name Benzaiten, both of which are a Japanese Buddhist goddess, who originated from the Hindu goddess Saraswati. Bishamon and Benten are two of the Shichifukujin or Seven Gods of Good fortune. This is also commonly translated at Seven Lucky Gods in English, but that to me sounds like the gods themselves are lucky, so I prefer the former translation.

As I watched the water on the Benten lake, it went from completely still, just totally blue, to almost totally textured by the patterns formed by the breeze on the surface of the water.

In this first photo (right) you can see how the breeze is catching the water in bands. I included a small outcrop from the left side and the distant trees in this one too, for context, and shot a few frames to get one that had what I considered the most pleasing patterns.

I was using the 24-70mm lens until this point, but for this shot I switched to new 100-400mm lens at 153mm, so that I could pick out what was a relatively small detail in a larger scene. This was shot at f/16 for 13 seconds at ISO 100.

For the next photo (below) I zoomed in a little more to 227mm and framed up just the tree with a little surrounding water, and was sitting on a stone bench watching the patterns change in the breeze.

The white in the very bottom of these shots is the reflection of the white sky above the trees on the opposite bank of the pond, but the white at the back here was caused by the breeze.

For this shot I just like how the two white areas seem to frame the central band of color and the tree. I also like how the blue is broken up by the reddish mud on the bottom of the pond. I was using an ND400 for these shots by the way, for a 13 second exposure. Note too that I turned off the Image Stabilization on the 100-400mm while doing these long exposures, as it can mess up the photo by moving mid-exposure. I know the manual says that the lens senses when it’s on a tripod and behaves itself, but that’s not the case. The IS can and generally does mess up long exposures, even when using a tripod.

Small Tree in Benten Numa (Pond)

Small Tree in Benten Numa (Pond)

In the next photo we see a view of Rurinuma. Ruri is apparently translated as Lapis Lazuli or just Lapis, which is a deep blue colored semi-precious stone. The pond itself wasn’t very colorful while I was there, but I thought I’d capture this postcard scene while I was there, again, with Mount Bandai in the distance (below).

Rurinuma (Lapis Lazuli Pond)

Rurinuma (Lapis Lazuli Pond)

This was shot at f/14 with 1/10 of a second exposure at ISO 100. I didn’t see much point in doing a long exposure for this one, although the clouds had now started to make the sky more interesting, which was another reason that I was tempted to capture this scene.

The last pond that I have a photo from that I want to share is Aonuma. Ao is Japanese for blue, and although the official color for blue, is a true blue, in every day life, the Japanese often use the word “ao” to mean a greenish blue, very much like the color we see in this photograph (below). In fact, the Japanese call the green light in a set of traffic lights “ao” and although it is a bluer green than western traffic lights, it’s definitely not a true blue either.

Anyway, I found the reflections of the fresh green leaves, kind of doubling up with the greenish blue of the water here very appealing. I shot a few variations with different patches of trees, but this one is probably my favorite, because of the white branch top-left of center to just break it all up a little.

Aonuma (Blue Pond)

Aonuma (Blue Pond)

After this, I did what a lot of people do, and jumped into a taxi at the end of the trail, and had the driver take me back to the start of the trail, where I’d parked my car. I used a taxi partly because I needed to get back to my wife’s family home before dinner, but also because the sky was starting to get interesting, and I wanted to capture this next shot before the opportunity was lost (below).

Bishamon Numa (Pond)

Bishamon Numa (Pond)

The heavy cloud at this point had pretty much stolen all of the color from the water, and the trees were looking pretty drab by this point, so it was an easier decision to discard the color now. I was also happy to have the guy in the boat as an additional element too. I wasn’t so happy with the pose, as he was digging around for something on the bottom of the lake, but I waited for him to look relatively natural as he went about his work. This was shot at f/14 for 1/60 of a second at ISO 100.

I actually also had an old Yashica-D twin lens reflex medium format camera with me on this day, and shot a number of frames with that too as I walked around the lakes. Depending on how much time I can free up over the next week, I am hoping to do a couple of videos in the coming weeks to walk you through my first attempts at developing my own medium format film, so do stay tuned if that sort of thing interests you.

Just to clarify though, I’m not moving to film or anything like that. I love the freedom of digital, but I have always longed to develop my own film, and although I’ll be scanning the negatives, I’ve really enjoyed researching all of the tools and chemicals that are required, and can’t wait to dive in and develop that first film, and share the experience with you.

Show Notes

My ND1000 on B&H:

My ND400 on B&H:

The Singh-Ray ColorCombo Polarizer:

Music by Martin Bailey

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Ten Ways to Improve Your Photography (Podcast 472)

Ten Ways to Improve Your Photography (Podcast 472)

Ten ways to do this and five ways to do that, are popular types of posts, and can often be a bit corny, which is one of the reasons why I don’t do these very often, but a number of things have been on my mind recently, so I thought I’d pull these various topics together into a list of “ten ways to improve your photography”.

I’m going to talk about this mostly from a nature or landscape photographers perspective, but much of what I have to say today is relevant for all photographers. There’s all sorts of other stuff that you can do to improve your photography in various areas of course, so think of this as my short list of advice. Here we go…

1 – Get in closer

When we approach a scene, it’s all too easy to be overwhelmed by the entire scene and reach straight for our wide angle lens. Great! If the entire scene is worth capturing, do that! But, bear in mind that quite often, what we are reacting to is not the scene as a whole, but a number of smaller beautiful elements within the scene.

Our brains are amazing machines, that instantly stitch together various elements that make us excited about a location, but when we pull all of these elements into a wide angle photograph, each of them individually gets smaller, and can become relatively insignificant when viewed by others in a single photograph.

If you are able to print that image out large and have people view the details, it may give the viewer the same sense of wonder that you had in the field, so as I say, if it’s a beautiful scene, by all means make your wide angle shot of it, but then reach for a longer lens, and pick out all of the individual elements that you are truly attracted too.

Vík í Mýrdal Church (Shot at 105mm to remove town below)
Vík í Mýrdal Church (Shot at 105mm to remove town below and increase impact.)

One of the things that I find works for me, is simply taking a moment before I even select a lens, to take the entire scene in. There are parts of the scene that are making you say “wow”. Just ask yourself where these parts of the scene are, and if they would be more powerful brought together in one photograph, or broken out simply depicting each interesting element or fewer elements in multiple photographs.

2 – Simple is Best

When I’m teaching photography in the field, I often find myself saying “If an element doesn’t add something to the image, then it detracts from it.”

You are responsible for everything included in the frame. Before you release the shutter, scan the frame, and ensure that you are only including elements that play a part in your scene, adding to the overall story you want to tell. If any element is not adding to the scene, leaving it in the frame may actually detract from the overall beauty or effectiveness of the final image.

Your options of course are, as in point #1, to get in closer, either by moving closer or selecting a longer lens, zooming in to narrow your frame, enabling you to exclude unwanted elements. Sometimes of course, you will be faced with a decision. You may have an unwanted element that you don’t want in the frame, but a second element nearby that belongs in your photograph. When this is the case you have to consider if moving your own position to the left or right, or getting higher or lower, will enable you to include one element without the other.

If you absolutely cannot frame the scene to eliminate an unwanted element, ask yourself if you are OK with removing it later on the computer? How easy will that be to do?

I love snow scenes, such as the one shown here, because they enable us to reduce a scene down to the bare minimum. With an overcast sky too, we are left with literally only essential elements to make up the photograph. The tree, the fence posts and the subtle line of the top of the hill. Nothing else. (Shot on my Hokkaido Landscape Photograph Tour.)

Hanazono Tree with Fence Posts
Hanazono Tree with Fence Posts

You may also be able to use a slower shutter speed to de-emphasize unwanted elements too. For example, if you are photographing a street with people walking along it, but you only want the architecture, consider putting on a Neutral Density (ND) filter, and slowing your shutter speed right down. With a multi-second or even multi-minute exposure, anyone that is not standing totally still will simply disappear, but the static buildings will of course stay right where they are.

See my post “All about Neutral Density Filters” for more information on what you’d need and how to use them.

Steller's Sunrise
Steller’s Sunrise

3 – Background is King

Many people, myself included, love to use a large aperture like f/2.8 to get a shallow depth of field, and blur the background and maybe also any foreground objects in a scene, to give our images a beautiful ethereal look. For many people though, too little attention is paid to what is happening in that out of focus bokeh. Without paying attention to where the out of focus patches of color or light in the background fall, you can ruin your image, or at the very least, miss a chance to make a nice photo exceptional.

As you line up your shot, look not only at your main subject, but see how the out of focus background is interacting with them. If you have a natural ball of light for example, consider placing that behind your subject, be it a flower or a person, or the sea eagle at sunrise that we see in this photograph (right).

If that doesn’t work for you, take it totally away from them. Having a large ball of light or patch of color half behind your subject can work, but quite often it will just look like sloppy framing, and generally best avoided.

4 – Use Live View When Possible

To help you with some of the compositional advice that we just covered, whenever possible, use Live View on your camera.

Using Live View
Using Live View

Live View doesn’t work well for action shots, which are more easily captured while looking through the viewfinder, but for slower paced shooting like still life or landscapes, it can be a very helpful. The reason it helps, is because Live View condenses the otherwise three dimensional world down to two dimensions, emulating our final photographic image. Electronic viewfinders on many mirrorless cameras do the same thing.

When we look through a physical viewfinder on an SLR or rangefinder camera, we are still looking at a three dimensional world. Although the frame of the viewfinder helps us to a degree, our brain still moves between the various layers of the scene subconsciously, separating them, and making it more difficult of us to identify elements that will look out of place in a two dimensional photograph.

In Live View, pay attention to the flattened layers of your image, and move around to stop elements from stacking up in an awkward way, or to purposefully align background elements to enhance your main subject, as we mentioned earlier. If your camera does not have Live View by the way, do check your images on your LCD before moving on. If something looks out of place, fix it.

5 – Take Control of Your Exposure

There is a global conspiracy between the camera manufacturers and display manufacturers, that is designed to make us mediocre, if we aren’t careful. The problem starts with cameras being designed to automatically set exposure in a very safe way. If you don’t help your camera in any way, the image will be recorded with all of the information in the middle of the histogram, which means that it is actually quite dark.

The problem isn’t always obvious though, because straight out of the factory, our computer displays are usually set by default to be very, very bright. Some set at around 80% or even 100% brightness. Then, when we look at the dark photos from our cameras that are shooting an average, safe exposure, they look great, because the display is brightening them up so much.

You might think that this is fine, because it all sorts itself out, but there are two main reasons why you should not be satisfied with this situation. The first reason, is because the printer manufacturers aren’t in on the conspiracy. If you shoot a dark image, and think it’s OK because your display is too bright, when you print it, it will be way too dark. This is one of the biggest complaints that I hear from people that start to print their images for the first time, and it also effects people that send their images to third party printers to be printed. Although most of the time, third party printers will brighten up images before printing, again, helping to keep the conspiracy a secret.

If you never print your images, you may still think you are off the hook, but that may not be the case. The other issue with trusting the camera’s meter, is that it introduces unnecessary noise to your photographs. The lighter your photographs are, the less noisy they will be. Even if you decide to darken down the image again on your computer to regain a certain mood for example, you will record better quality images by exposing them so that the information is almost touching the right side of your histogram.

This might be quite difficult to understand, but the histogram maps out the amount of data being recorded in our image from the darkest to the lightest information. The darkest image data is on the far left, and the brightest image data is on the far right. The way images are recorded means that there is a higher signal to noise ratio in the bright parts of our images, and noise increases in the darker areas.

If your image is recorded as the camera would recommend, with all the data in the middle of the histogram, you will see more noise across the image, and your shadows will be very noisy indeed, and in fact my be so dark that there is no information recorded in the shadows at all.

By increasing your exposure until the brightest part of your scene is just about touching the right side of the histogram, you will have much cleaner image data, and quite often your shadow areas will not to very noisy either, because you’ve moved them away from the far left of the histogram, where all the really nasty noise lives.

Even if your shadow data does end up on the far left, there’s a good chance that it won’t be totally black, and although it may be a little noisy, there’s be enough texture and detail that it doesn’t become much of a problem. There are times of course, when an almost totally black background is quite effective and therefore desirable, as I found with this image, shown here with its histogram for reference (below).

Crane in Flight with Histogram
Crane in Flight with Histogram

To increase your exposure, you can use Exposure Compensation, and keep increasing the exposure until your image data is close to the right side of the histogram, but then as you reframe or your subjects move, the amount of Exposure Compensation required can fluctuate, and you might start to over-expose images if you don’t stay on top of this.

Depending on where you are in your photography, this can be a very daunting prospect, but to really control and understand your exposure, I urge you to try shooting in Manual mode. It sounds like more work to set your exposure yourself, but it actually frees you from the need to constantly adjust Exposure Compensation, especially when working in similar lighting conditions.

To start with, you might try finding your exposure in Aperture or Shutter Priority modes, then memorise the settings, and switch to Manual, then dial in those settings. Note though, that even if you go straight to Manual mode, you are not flying blind. The exposure meter still works, and you can see where the camera thinks the exposure should be in the viewfinder, so you use this as a guide.

As you frame up your scene and start to adjust your exposure, take a guess at where it should be. If there is a lot of white in your scene for example, you may need to adjust so that the exposure meter shows exposure at +2 stops. Or if there is say half of your scene that is very light color, and half very dark, you may need to have the caret on the exposure meter at zero. Once you’ve adjusted your exposure, shoot a test frame and check that, or check your exposure in Live View before shooting, and then do any fine tuning necessary before you start shooting for real. Once set up though, you may find that you don’t have to change your exposure again, until you move to a new location.

Sure, you do have to stay on top of Manual exposure, and for some types of photography, it can be too much to deal with, but as you become good at adjusting your exposure, it is easier than using Exposure Compensation, and you can keep your image data over on the right side of the histogram much more easily.

This results in you creating beautiful bright images with much less or even no noise at all. To close the loop on the conspiracy theory though, note that you now have to darken your display down so that you see your images as they really are now. Because your images are now much brighter, they’ll look normal when your display is darker. If you calibrate your display, you can often have the software help you to set the brightness to the necessary level for viewing in your ambient lighting conditions. You might find your display being set as low at 10% to 30% of it’s full brightness.

Monitor at 20% Brightness
Monitor at 20% Brightness

Because you are now shooting bright images, and viewing them at the correct brightness, an added benefit is that they will now come out of your printer looking beautifully bright, as you expected them to be, and that’s a nice added bonus.

6 – Use the RGB Histogram

The histogram is one of the most useful tools on our cameras, but its usefulness is cut in half by the manufacturers setting them to a Brightness display by default. If you are using a Brightness histogram, which is just a white graph on a black background, or something similar, you have no idea how each individual color channel is being recorded.

Keeping in mind that most cameras record images in RGB color, the Brightness histogram is simply an average of the three colors, Red, Green and Blue. Using a scale of 1 to 10 to explain this, image you have a field of red flowers, that you want to expose nice and brightly, at 10, which represents the right side of the histogram, but there is very little green or blue in the scene. Let’s say there’s just 1 part green and 1 part blue to the 10 parts red. The total is 12, and this is then divided by 3 to get the average brightness of the three colors, so the Brightness histogram of our field of red flowers would show most of the information in the lowest quarter of the histogram, despite the red actually being very close to the right side.

You can see this at work in this photograph (below). This is actually a photograph of the back of my camera, while framing up another photograph on my computer screen, so there’s some weirdness going on in the photo, which you need to ignore. You can clearly see though, that the Brightness histogram would have us believe that the scene is much darker than it really is, because it’s an average of the Red, Green and Blue channels.

RGB and Brightness Histogram Comparison
RGB and Brightness Histogram Comparison

If you have taken control of your exposure, and perhaps Exposing to the Right (ETTR) as we mentioned in the last point, this will obviously cause problems, because you can’t actually tell how bright each color in your scene really is. To avoid this, select the RGB histogram on your camera. This will show you each color channel separately, so that you don’t inadvertently over expose any individual colors.

Unfortunately, most cameras are not only fooling us, they actually fool themselves by setting their average exposure based on the total brightness of the scene, rather than looking at individual color data, which is why you can sometimes end up with blotchy colors in scenes like where one color is prominent over the others. The camera basically overexposes the prominent color to give us a average brightness image. Another great reason for using the RGB histogram and taking control of your exposure.

7 – Constantly Question Yourself

In Craft & Vision’s PHOTOGRAPH magazine Issue #5 I published an article called “The Mental Checklist”. In this I discuss how in the early years of doing this podcast, I started to ask myself questions constantly as I worked in the field. I would find myself starting to explain the steps that I was going through towards making my photographs, as though I was explaining it to you, the podcast listener or reader, in a future episode.

The cool thing is, that the very act of questioning each step in my process, led me to identify mistakes before I made them. It didn’t take long for me to realize, that this was actually helping me to improve my photography. The even cooler thing is that you don’t actually have to be making a podcast to do this yourself.

Just ask yourself questions as you work. As you approach a scene, ask yourself where you should stand or set up your tripod. Do you need to photograph the wide seen first, or are the details what are really capturing your attention? If so, reach for your longer lens. Do you want a fast shutter speed, or slow one. If slow is better, do you need to fit an ND filter? Will a polarizer filter help you to reduce reflections or intensify color saturation?

You might ask yourself if this is the right time to even be shooting the scene or subject? Will it help to just be patient and wait for the light to improve, or would it be better to come back at a different time of day? Is there a soda can in the scene that you could remove to save yourself from removing it later in post?

Once you’ve made your exposure, check the image and ask more questions. Did you get the background right? Is there a post sticking out of your subject’s head? How is the exposure? Rinse and repeat!

Jewel on the Shore
Jewel on the Shore

The more you shoot, the more questions you will ask yourself, but as you become more experienced, many of the habits that you form will become automatic, and fade into the background. There should never come a point though where you stop asking questions. Keep asking yourself why you are doing this or why you aren’t doing that, what if you do something totally different entirely? This is the key to refining and improving your processes, and ultimately to improving your photographs.

8 – Be Patient

My company motto is “Let’s not rush to ‘arrive’. It’s all about the journey.”

This is in some ways, a play on words, as a large part of my business is based on our tours & workshops, when we literally are enjoying each step of a journey, often in some of the most scenically beautiful locations on the planet.

The other part of this though, is that people seem to be very impatient these days. The Internet culture of having every at our fingertips is making people impatient. Everyone wants to ‘arrive’. To make it big, or to become a great photographer, but many people are looking for shortcuts.

Some incredibly talented people find them, and more power to them, but for the vast majority of us, the only way to get good at something, is to do it, year in year out, until we really make it our own, and then we have to keep doing it to stay on top of our game, and hopefully continue to improve.

Another part to this of course, is having patience in the field. Sometimes when we arrive at a place, especially where nature or wildlife is concerned, we don’t get our dream shot straight away. In fact, if your dream shot is ambitious, the chances are you won’t get that dream shot on your first visit, or your second, or maybe for many years.

I had been traveling to Hokkaido to photograph the red-crowned cranes for eight years before I was able to bag what I considered my dream shot. It was a beautiful moment, and I still love the photograph. But guess what? I’m now looking to shoot something better. Each year I travel there with my Japan winter wildlife tour participants, but in all honesty, if I wasn’t doing the tours, I’d go each year anyway. The locations we visit are magical. I don’t call them the Winter Wonderland Tours for nothing. 🙂

QI #2
QI #2

I’m not saying though, that you should not try to get your dream shot every time you pick up the camera. Within the bounds of a single shoot, just being patient. Giving yourself a chance to get some great shots is still vitally important. It doesn’t matter whether your are close to home or on the other side of the planet. If you’ve invested time in getting to a location to make photos, give yourself a chance to make the best that you can.

9 – Don’t Over-Research – Learn How to Solve Problems Yourself

The Internet may be making people impatient, but it can of course be an amazing tool, that I believe we are very fortunate to now have at our fingertips. We live in an amazing age! But, I am starting to see more and more information junkies, paralyzed by information overload.

Of course, it’s perfectly OK to read up on things that you are interested in. Assimilate as much as you can as time allows, and if you simply like reading, maybe the Internet has replaced books or magazines to a degree. That’s fine! But please don’t be fooled into thinking that rampantly reading every single photography related article that you can find is going to make you a great photographer.

It helps, of course. Learn what you can, but I’m coming across more and more people that have read so much about the technical side of photography, that they start to get confused. There’s so much information swimming around in their heads that when it comes to actually using some of that information, they can’t figure out which technique to use. Overthinking a situation can be as paralyzing as not having a clue as to what you need to do in the first place.

It’s much better to develop problem solving skills to overcome hurdles or figure out problems by ourselves. You’ll draw from all of the information that you have already made your own, but your work will be much more original and you’ll be more likely to think your way around the next problem if you practice thinking for yourself instead and spending all of your time online trying to assimilate the entire accumulated knowledge of the Internet.

Martin in Landmannalaugar

This probably sounds contradictory coming from some that’s writing on a blog that I would like you to visit and read, or listen to the Podcast, but I’d really like to think that you will value what I have to say enough to keep me on your reading list. I’m not saying that you should stop reading blogs and Web pages altogether, but I do urge you to ask yourself if you are spending so much time online that you are reducing the amount of time that you could be out in the field with your camera. If the answer to this is yes, then it’s probably time to cut back a little.

One other part of researching that I think should be avoided more is looking at too many photos of locations that you intend to visit before you actually go. Looking at photos is a great way to find locations that you’d like to visit, but once you have that location on your list, don’t go too crazy looking at more work from there.

If you turn up at a location with too many image implanted in your head, you’ll spend your whole time looking for those images, and stop being open to your own creativity. You have to give your own photography room to breath, and there’s no room for that if you head is full of other peoples’ images.

Turn up knowing what a location can offer, and research the best times of day or time of the year to be there, but then let your own creativity take over, and see if you can’t make something better than has already been made there, not just come home with your own copy of someone else’s photograph.

10 – Don’t be a Fair Weather Photographer

One of the things that I feel places unnecessary restrictions and even holds back many photographers is the belief that it needs to be a sunny day before you can make any good photographs. This could not be further from the truth.

I cringe whenever I hear from someone returning from a trip complaining that it rained the entire time. Rain can be a pain to work with. You need to ensure that you not only have weatherproof gear, or protection to keep your gear working in the rain, but you also need to ensure that you wear the right clothing to keep yourself safe and dry when the weather turns foul.

But a sky full of rain or storm clouds can provide you with much better photographs than a blue sky, even if you have some nice fluffy clouds to break it up. Colors are also more “saturated” when wet. This isn’t necessarily a pun either. There’s a reason why we call rich, deep colors saturated. The contrast in our scene is often lower too when it’s overcast or raining, so we don’t have to compensate for a bright sky by underexposing foliage for example.

Martin in Oirase Keiryu
Martin in Oirase Keiryu

So, the next time you have some free time, and you are hoping for a nice sunny day, think again. You might be passing up an opportunity to shoot some beautiful dramatic images if you decide to curl up with your iPad instead of going outside when the forecast is for overcast, rain or snow.

OK, that’s it for today. As I said in the introduction, this is not an exhaustive list. There’s lots of other stuff that could have included here, but these are the things that I’ve been thinking about recently, and I hope that it is of some use to you.

Show Notes

Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure (Tour):

All current Tours & Workshops:

Music by Martin Bailey


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Getting Things Done – Just Start! (Podcast 469)

Getting Things Done – Just Start! (Podcast 469)

This week I relay what is essentially very simple advice about getting things done. I’ll explain this in more detail, but when considering the implementation of a new workflow element, starting a new project, or jumping into life-changing situations, the hardest step to take is starting in the first place.

When I do classroom based workshop sessions, and talk to people about keywording images, I’ve noticed a common cause for why people don’t do this. I teach a highly optimized digital workflow, and keywording images really helps you to manage your image library and easily find stuff later, but some people see it as a huge task.

The ironic thing is that later in the workflow, people take their images and put them online, and add keywords at that point. They put them onto a stock site, and add keywords at that point. If you spend the time to do this early in your workflow, the keywords are there whenever you export your images, so you reduce duplicated effort later too.

People Hate to Keyword

People understand the benefits, but still neglect to keyword as part of their digital workflow, so I thought back to when I first started keywording my images and having asked a few questions, figured out the reason why, for many people at least. In the early years of digital photography, before tools like Lightroom came along, our workflow was often convoluted, switching between various applications, and this made it difficult to really settle in to a rigid workflow.

As better tools became available, we settled into what I’m sure many find quite a comfortable system of managing and working with our images, but those first few years left us with a large number of images that were not keyworded or changed in any other way that makes management of them easier.

We then learn the benefits of something like keywording, but the thought of going back through our backlog of images can be paralyzing. We sit there at a turning point, knowing that we should start to do something, but our backlog is looming behind us like a three ton pair of shackles around our ankles, stopping us from moving forwards.

I remember when Lightroom came out, and for the first time really, it became totally easy to keyword our images. I’m a big believer in doing workflow tasks as early as possible to save time later, so it made sense to start the process right there when you important your images, by adding some generic keywords to the entire set as you transfer them to your computer. Lightroom also gave us tools to be able to easily keyword individual images quickly, so all the barriers to keywording had been removed, and yet I still resisted starting for a while, so I considered why this was the case…

Lightroom Keywording

Lightroom Keywording

Well, I’d already been shooting for many years, and at the time, it just felt like a huge task to go back and keyword my work. The task felt so daunting, that I held off starting to keyword my new images, because unless I went back and keyworded my old work, only a tiny percentage of my image library would be keyworded. This might sound stupid, but that’s how it felt, and having asked around a little it seems that this is what puts at least some other people off starting to keyword as well.

Just Start

If we think about it, at that point in time, before I started keywording, 100% of my images were without keywords. Approximately 55,000 images, and not one of them had a keyword added. But I knew that with it just being so easy now to keyword, it was stupid to not just start, even if I didn’t go back and keyword my entire archive, and that’s what I did.

Let’s think about this though. I started to keyword in 2007, and at the time 100% of 55,000 digital images in my library were without a keyword. This was the paralyzing aspect. I have keyworded every one of my images shot since that point. I have created another 180,000 images since then, which means that what was once 100% without keywords, is now just 23% of my library. 77% of my images are now keyworded.

What’s more, the first 55,000 images that I shot become less and less important to me over time as I become a better photographer, so in reality, at this point it almost feels as though pretty much every photo I’ve ever shot that is worth a hoot, has at least some descriptive keywords against it, and that feels like a bit of an achievement, despite the gloomy outlook when I started to keyword.

It goes without saying, but if I’d never started, I’d now have 235,000 images without keywords. It’s important not to let the past paralyze your future. If you reach a point that you know you have to do something, really, just start!

Life-Changing Decisions

Of course, we can relate this to much more life-changing decisions too. Back in 2010 I had a big decision to make. I was in a day-job that was gradually losing it’s hold on me, as my passion for photography grew, and the photography business that I had been building as a side job was gradually looking more and more viable as a full time pursuit.

I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this, but there was a turning point decision that I had to make that helped me to push myself over the edge, and that was my first expedition to Antarctica. I’d been given the chance to join an exhibition helping to teach photographers on a voyage down there, but because I was already running my Japan Winter Wonderland Tours, I wouldn’t have enough annual holidays left to do both. It was decision time.

Of course, we already know how that turns out. I agreed to do the exhibition, knowing that I would have to leave my day job to do it, and that’s exactly what I did, but it wasn’t an easy decision. My old job was as secure as jobs are these days, and I was being paid well.

I recall talking with my brother about the possibility of leaving my job, and being much more sensible than I am, he suggested that I wait until I retire, when I can do as much photography as I like. My reply was that it would of course be too late to live my dream. Our Dad died at 62 years old from cancer. Hell, I almost died at 44 from a brain tumor, just months after starting my business! There was no way I would wait until I retired to follow my passion. I’d lined up my ducks. It was time to take a blunder buster to them all.

Break it into Chunks

Even on a project level, people tend to hesitate to get started, through lack of time or the required skills to really pursue it. They look forward to the finished project and dream of the fruits of their labor, but the task itself—doing the work—seems so daunting that it stays in the realms of our day dreams.

Of course, if you don’t start to take action on your ideas, you will never finish anything. If your fear is about the time required to complete something, don’t set your sights on completion as your immediate goal. Break your goal into more bight sized chunks. You may for example set yourself a goal of photographing every power station cooling tower in your state or country, which of course could take years!

To make this less daunting, you might set yourself a goal to photograph just one or two each month. You could probably find out how many there are and calculate how long the project is going to take you too. Say there are 20 of them, you could decide to do two each month for 10 months, and then give yourself a goal of doing an exhibition during month twelve. If you simply cannot commit to that amount of work, do just one each month and set your goal for an exhibition at the end of year two.

Either way, breaking it down into bight-sized chunks is probably going to make the overall task less daunting and more manageable, and more importantly achievable. Don’t allow this planning phase to become your goal either. It’s important to plan, but spending all of your mental energy on thinking about starting is exactly what we want to avoid. Give your plans the attention they need quickly, then start, and you will at least then be making progress. It’s better to be moving forward in small steps than to sit around dreaming about the project.

Don’t spent too much time trying to find reasons why you can’t achieve your goals either. Even if for example, you feel that your current skill level isn’t quite where it needs to be to really do your project justice, you aren’t going to magically develop the ability to do something just dreaming about it, or spending countless hours on line researching it. Research may be necessary, but you ultimately have to do something to become competent at it, and only once you are competent at something can you continue on to become good at it, and then to possibly eventually excel at it.

Just Stop!

Once you’ve started and made some progress, hopefully lots of progress, there is another barrier that can be just as paralyzing as the fear of starting, and that is the fear of stopping! Once you get into a project, it can actually feel quite comfortable. You’re doing the work, making progress, but don’t let doing the work itself become the goal.

Of course, some goals such as starting a business don’t necessarily have completion as a goal. It would be pretty pointless starting a business with closing the business down as a goal, but for projects with a definite outcome, it’s really important to at some point send it out into the world. Be it a gallery exhibition, publishing a book or creating a hard copy or online portfolio, at some point you will have to stop, and send it out into the world.

Some projects will be iterative of course. We don’t build a working portfolio for example and then just let it stagnate after you’ve finished it. Indeed, part of your consideration when building something like a portfolio, physical or online, is its maintainability. Your first goal though would be to complete the first iteration. Only then will you have a portfolio, but it will hopefully put you in a good position to continue to update it for future iterations.

Courageous Abandonment

It’s really easy to think that because you are putting everything you have into something, that you are doing the right work. Don’t let simply doing the work become the goal. There’ll be plenty more work to do, to keep your momentum going, so try not to use your current work as an excuse for not moving on to the next project either. Just being busy does not necessarily mean you are doing the work that you really need to be doing at any given point.

Prioritization of your tasks and avoiding procrastination is very important if you really want to get a lot done. There may come a time when you have to put something on hold, or cut your losses and move on to something more important instead. Having the guts to abandon a project can sometimes take more courage than taking your project to completion.

The Role of Trusted Critic

Releasing your baby into the world is yet another daunting process though. Hearing negative feedback can not only hurt, it can be very damaging, especially when you don’t understand the motives of the person providing the feedback. It’s a good idea to get feedback from people that you really trust when possible, before going fully public. My wife, and sometimes a few good friends, are my trusted critics.

Sometimes my confidence in these people starts at the project conception stage. I share my ideas with them to see if they think what I’m cooking up will actually fly. There are no guarantees of course, but this can help to give us a reality check, and at the very least, it helps me to organize my ideas just by putting them into a logical enough order to be able to explain to someone else.

As I work through my projects, I sometimes get feedback midway, but always as the projects draws to a close. Sometimes it’s not necessary, and I am so confident with the results that I simply steam ahead, but even then, when time allows, it’s better to at least run it past your trusted critic or critics, to see if you haven’t overlooked something pretty obvious, which happens from time to time.

Whether you act on that feedback is still up to you of course. If you really are working from your heart, and you believe in your project, it can sometimes be necessary to steam ahead, even if that means making your own mistakes and learning the hard way.

Don’t be Afraid to Finish

It doesn’t matter how confident you are in your new project or product, when you are finally read to push the button, alongside any excitement you might feel, there is also at least some level of anxiety. When you put your baby out there you make yourself vulnerable to negative feedback, and that for most of us can be quite scary. Fear of the work required or fear of failure can stop us from starting, but the fear of finishing and making ourselves vulnerable can be just as paralyzing. You have to overcome that though, and as scary as it can be, take a leap of faith.

Leaping Snow Monkey

Leap of Faith!

After all, what’s the worst thing that can happen? Of course, you can be hurt. Someone could say that your product sucks! At the very least it might not generate all of the attention that you’d hoped. In fact, I’d say that unless you just produced something that went totally viral, it will quite often not do quite as well as we’d hoped, but hopefully it will do as well as you’d expected.

Whether your project is as big a success as you’d hoped or not, you will learn from the experience, and be stronger for not only having started something, but for having finished it. Whichever outcome you gain, once you release your baby into the world, it’s time to take stock, then rinse and repeat. As we mentioned in last week’s episode, the more you do something the better you get at it.

Learn from Your Disasters

Even if your project really is a total flop, a disaster, you’ve still gained a chance to improve. Try to figure out what you did wrong. Why it didn’t go as well as you’d expected. Try to step back and really view the wider picture though. The contents of what you created could be absolutely killer, but suffered from a lack of visibility for example.

There is a constant struggle to attract the attention of your audience, and with so much information being created every day, this is not getting any easier, so you have to figure out ways to get your word out, and give people a chance to see your work. Believe me, just building something will not guarantee that the audience or customers will find you.

Work for Visibilty

Try to find some way to attract people to your site, store or wherever you need them to be to notice what you want them to see. Of course, for me, although doing this podcast has become a part of my life, something that I look forward to doing each week, it’s also been my greatest enabler. It’s why you are here right now, and why some of you will for example take a look at my portfolios before you leave, or maybe even find yourself on one of my workshops.

Attracting more viewers of my work was my plan from the start, by providing photography tips based on my own real-world examples. The business that has grown from this is more of an organic development, but it has happened because I have spent at least one day every week for the last ten years creating something that I hope is of value. Whether you are running a business, or simply want to attract more viewers of your work, for the majority of us, it will rarely happen simply by building a web page and just hoping people will stumble upon it.

In Closing

So, to recap, as daunting as some projects may seem, it’s really important to get started. Put your hand to the wheel and start to make progress, however large a task it may seem to be. Break it into more manageable chunks if necessary. Have the courage to put something on hold to make way for more important projects, or have the courage to abandon it altogether when the need arises.

Find at least one, hopefully a number of trusted critics that you can rely on for honest feedback, and act on advice from them that clicks with you. Be careful of feedback from public sources where you have no way of understanding the motives of the reviewer, and when the time comes, send your baby out into the world, and be prepared to work for the attention of your audience, or even building the audience in the first place. And when your ideas don’t fly, turn your failures into successes by figuring out what went wrong, and avoid making the same mistakes in future projects.

Pixels 2 Pigment Tokyo May 16+17, 2015

I hope that has been of some use. Before we finish, I’d like to quickly mention that we have set up another In-Studio Pixels 2 Pigment Workshop here in my Tokyo studio for May 16+17, 2015. If you would like to join us to learn how to optimize your digital workflow from capturing your pixels through to stress free fine art printing, take a look at for details.

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Show Notes

Pixels 2 Pigment In-Studio May 16+17, 2015:

Music by Martin Bailey


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