Posts Tagged ‘Photography’

*Enlarging your digital images beyond a certain point will affect quality. Your home is at risk if you do not keep up repayments on a loan or mortgage secured on it. Caution: contents may be hot. May contain nuts. Do not bend. Insert generic anti-litigious statement here.

OK… so the title of this post is a statement that comes with strings attached, but nevertheless I will show you how to squeeze some serious wall estate out of your images without noticeable drop in quality.

Firstly, I come at this nugget of advice from a serious dislike of post processing. I hate it. I much prefer trying to get the shot right in the first place, using polarising filters to get the intense colours (talked about here), underexposing to set a gloomy feel, selecting lenses and focal lengths carefully to create compression/distortion as necessary. As much of a techno-geek as I am, I’m happier with a camera in front of my eye than a computer trackpad under my fingers, and so applying any kind of post-process to my images makes me grumble and want to procrastinate. Don’t even get me started on the horrors of keywording and cataloguing…

But my business model is all centred around physicalisng the digital photograph. Putting it bluntly, I sell big images for folks’ walls. I sell little ones too, but some people (myself included) want a huge-arse image right in full view to really dominate a space. So how huge-arse (it’s a technical term, means ‘big’) can I get?

What size is my camera sensor, and what size prints will it do out of the box?

Now, I mostly capture my photos with a 12 mega-pixel (MP) sensor. To be precise, if I don’t crop the image in any way, I have 4,288 pixels on one axis, and 2,848 on the other (multiply them together to get the total number of pixels – a little over 12 million). Bear with me on the number facts and maths – it’s not complicated, won’t take long, but is necessary. The “optimum” resolution for viewing a printed image is, very arguably, between 260 and 340 pixels per inch (ppi), though this gets complicated very quickly with other stuff that I’ll brush over later. Let’s call this optimum resolution 300ppi – one: it sits as a nice average in between the two ppi figures above, and two; it’s easier to do the maths. So, with my 12MP camera sensor, in order to print an “optimum” resolution of 300ppi, I divide the total number of pixels I have by the 300ppi to give me my maximum print dimensions. I hope you’re still with me, but if you’re beginning to glaze over let me rescue you with the answer: 4,288 pixels one axis A divided by 300 = 14.29 inches. 2,848 pixels on axis B divided by 300 = 9.49 inches. So the largest print I can produce at 300ppi is roughly a 14″ x 10″ – twice the size of a 7 x 5, and a little smaller than a sheet of A3 paper. For those of you who don’t know what huge-arse actually means, this is not it. Now, we can cheat a little by reducing our 300ppi to something more like 250, 200 or even 150ppi – but the lower this number gets, the more ‘pixelly’ your image will look. You might get away with this if the viewer is going to be far away from the image, but certainly not in someone’s living room.

Interpolation, dear!

So, how do I enlarge my potential print size (we need huge-arse, remember?) without dropping the ppi and making it look pixellated? I will show you one method of many for interpolating your image. Interpolation is the process of making something bigger by making up some more pixels to squeeze in between the existing ones. Think of it as a, ummm…. a petri dish of fungus. Yeah, that’ll work. At first, you look at the dish and you have to look really hard to see the individual spores, and you can’t make out colour or shape very easily. Add more fungus to it to fill in the gaps between the existing fungus, and soon you can see a rich, colourful shape of fungus that could be examined closely without seeing gaps between individual fungi spores. And that, children, is how we make stilton cheese. But I digress…

The Aperture to Photoshop Enlargement Workflow

Interpolation on Photoshop is a doddle. But it’s important to get that doddle to work seamlessly in your workflow otherwise you’ll get bored and stop bothering to do it. Now, workflow is for another post, but suffice to say here and now, I use Aperture. I did use Lightroom for a while, but it was a while ago and I can’t quite remember how this process works from there, but I seem to remember it being similarly straightforward. So, you have your image in Aperture, and you want to upsize the resolution through interpolation in Photoshop. Here we go…

  1. In Aperture Preferences, choose Photoshop as your External Editor in the Export tab (one time only).
  2. Go to your image, apply any exposure tweaks, crops etc, but not sharpening. No, we do that later now!
  3. Right-click the image and click ‘Edit with Photoshop CS6’ or whatever version you’re on.
  4. Photoshop will open, with your image there and waiting. Click on the Image menu at the top.
  5. Click on ‘Image Size’.
  6. In the dialogue box, you will see the current pixel dimensions in the top section (for me, this will be the 4,288 x 2,848 we used before). The next section will be document size. It will display the desired resolution in ppi or ppcm if you prefer, and will calculate the print width and length for you based on that. Don’t do anything yet.
  7. Below, are three tick boxes and a drop down. Leave the tick boxes ticked (scale styles, constrain proportions and resample image) and choose Bicubic Automatic from the drop down.
  8. Now that you are sure your proportions won’t be jiggered unnecessarily, go ahead and type in the desired ppi resolution (300 ppi is best – not 300 pixels per cm!).
  9. Now, you will see what print size that will get you with your current pixel count. Go ahead and type in the sizes you desire (e.g. if you desire a 30″ print on the longest dimension, replace the larger inch number with 30). You will see the other dimension change automatically to keep your image looking normal, and you’ll see the pixel dimensions at the top change.
  10. Click OK, let the program do its thing, and then zoom into 100% to get check it at nose-to-paper distance. Bear in mind that your viewers will probably not be examining it this closely.
  11. If you’re happy, close down the Photoshop window and it will ask you if you want to save it. Click yes, and when you return to Aperture, your grossly overweight image is there, stacked in with the original.
  12. Now you’re back in Aperture with your overweight image, you can sharpen!

A screencast video of this step by step guide is here:

So how much can I enlarge by using this method?

This question gets us into some of the murky confusion I mentioned earlier. The answer is… it depends. No, really. It depends on how far away your viewer will be – if they’re going to be looking at it across your cavernous reception hall and spiral staircase, then you can afford to reduce that 300ppi some. If you’re printing embarrassing pictures of your ex on the mahoosive (note: this is significantly bigger than huge-arse) billboard down the High Street, you can reduce the resolution a lot. Maybe even sub-100ppi. If your image is of something wispy, fluffy or generally not needing to be pin sharp and edge-specific, you can afford to cheat a little on the ppi resolution. If you’re viewers suffer from pretty poor vision, you can bring down the ppi. If your image is of a style that would benefit from more noticeable noise, grain or pixellation, you can afford to bring down the ppi more than normal. Do you get the picture? It is entirely subjective. So here is my subjective opinion. I go for 300ppi and no more than double the dimensions as a rule of thumb. For long distance prints, like theatre sets, I will drop down as low as 150ppi – but no lower. If the image is sharp and is being printed on glossy paper, I won’t even go as much as double the print dimension, but will limit to double the MP count (Photoshop calculates this too in that little dialog box).

I don’t like the sound of this here Interpolation…

Then the other options are: to simply stretch the existing pixels without adding new ones; use a bigger camera sensor, or; put up with prints smaller than A3 and stop whining.

All joking aside, they are your options. There’s nothing wrong with any of them, so long as you understand the limits of each. My next preferred option after interpolation is to buy a camera with a bigger sensor. That would either be a very pricey but amazing medium format camera, or the more likely and awesome-looking D800 from Nikon. The latter offers over 36MP over a full-frame sensor, giving the ability to print huge-arse without interpolation. Or another way of looking at it – the ability to print mahoosively with acceptable interpolation. I’ve just got to convince the wife now…

Over on my Facebook page ( I’m running the chance to win a whopping 50% off any and all orders from galleries.

All you need do is take a look at the photo, decide on a name that encapsulates what the image says to you, and post that name as a comment on our Facebook page. It’s free to enter, and there’s no registering or sign ups or anything like that.

The winning suggestion not only enjoys 50% off their next order (with no minimum and no maximum), but gets their winning entry along with their name as a credit, posted alongside the image when it goes on sale.

Not enough time to go to our Facebook page right now? Take a look at the photo and get your thinking caps on!


A set design I’m working on for a forthcoming show requires some hints and suggestions of a rundown part of a generic city in an unspecified decade between 1950 and today. Large panels of 2 metres and above, with photographed close-ups suggesting such worn urbanity are in order, and so gave me the opportunity to shoot some street shots with a very specific brief in mind.

Fire Hydrant and Bright Blue background

Bold colours and simplicity, with a peeling orange and red fire hydrant close-up, set against a brilliant blue painted wall. Hard, functional fittings against eye-catching solid colour.

I will share a few more of the images created to this brief in future posts, but first let’s take a look at the brief itself:

1. Nothing complete. For the stage set, it is important not to allow the perception of attempting to create “doors” or “walls” or any pieces of scenery out of photographs. It must be clear that the intention is to suggest urbanity, and not to recreate it.

2. Grot, grime and decay. Each image should show an angle of urban life that is worn, used, industrial, or downright grubby. Nothing that shows affluence, or the facade of city living.

3. Must be framed in a way that can be cropped to square format without losing the balance or message of the original image. This is to satisfy the technical requirements of fitting the printed panels into the set.

4. Must not be busy. The images must not detract from the action taking place in front of them – simple and bold.

5. Must be acceptable as existing in any developed city. Particularly an American city or Singapore (the two cultures hinted towards in the show). Nothing that pinpoints a particular place.

6. Must be acceptable as existing at any point within the last 50 – 60 years. Nothing that is unique to any particular decade or year.

The image of the Fire Hydrant, added to the sales gallery at satisfies all of these criteria, and in doing so proves that excluding so many elements from a photograph can give a much more powerful, attention grabbing image. I’d love to know what you think – share your thoughts with me, and I’ll share some more images out of the set as well as covering some of my tricks for ensuring super-large, 4 metres squared prints still look awesome.

Rows of Stone Men wins another prize.

Rows of Stone Men march – frozen in time and place – through a gallery at the Museum of New South Wales in Sydney. Popular enough to be both the 10,000th viewed image, and the 20,000th.

I won’t bother with the drum roll, as it feels a little bit like deja vu. Back in August 2013, this image of an army of stone men and women, apparently ordinary villagers from an unnamed culture, was the subject of the 10,000th view of my photographs. Well, under 2 months later, and I can now announce (uninterestingly, but honestly) that the same image has also been the 20,000th view. There have been many, many other shots viewed in between, but this one gets the prize – again!

A sincere and humble thank you from me to you for your views, your likes, your comments, your support and your purchases. Your feedback and input injects even more enthusiasm and motivation into what I do, though it does mean I tend to stay awake, tapping away on my computer to file and keyword more images rather than sleeping from time to time.

Here are the shots that were one click away from being number 20,000:

Lonely hut by the sea

A simple tin hut sits alone in a windswept field, by the edge of the South Pacific Ocean in Eastern Tasmania. Number 19,999.

Gold Buddha Face - Close-up

A close-up of the face of the Reclining Buddha statue: a seemingly solid gold, giant icon that sits in its own Emerald Temple in Bangkok. Number 20,001.

I have always been fascinated by lightning storms. I love the blindingly bright instant of each strike – and particularly love the patterns of each fork as it staggers its way across the sky towards civilisation and the Earth.

Capturing this beauty is a little more tricky than viewing it though. I currently live in Singapore, which has been reported in some sources as having the most lightning strikes of any country in the world. I do have a little moment of amusement when I see folk here trying to capture one of the many, many lightning strikes – by pointing their camera skyward, holding their breath and then pressing the shutter button as soon as they see a bolt, usually swinging their camera round to the strike area at the same time. The man (it’s always a man) then looks at their camera screen immediately, shakes his head and mutters under his breath, before repeating the process. Needless to say, he won’t get the shot with 10,000 or more attempts.

Lightning over the Bay

A purple tinged lightning bolt is reflected in the water of Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.

The trick is to accept that you cannot react faster than lightning. Don’t try to capture it when it strikes; you have to be aware of where it will strike, and then shoot the empty space in anticipation of the bolt.

This is where a camera with a manual mode is vital. Depending on how dark your scene is, you need to close your aperture down as small as you can get away with (high f-number), and leave your shutter open for as long as you can get away with. A tripod and a remote shutter release cable will be your bestest friends here. Once you’ve got the right combination of aperture and shutter speed (a minimum of 5 seconds, but preferably 30 seconds if it’s dark enough) you just need to compose the shot and fire away on continuous mode until you see a strike within your frame. As soon as you get a strike within your shot, release the shutter and review the image. If you need to recompose or re-expose, do so and repeat. Then, it’s very much a case of luck – but as all photographers know: you have to make your own luck, and without the preparation and patience, you won’t get the shot.

The shot above, of the lightning strike over Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, was captured after around 15 minutes of watching two storms approach from opposite directions. The tripod was setup on the deck of a small boat on which I slept for 3 days, and though the seas were calm and flat, there was still enough motion to prevent me from keeping the shutter open for long periods – even with the tripod. I watched the storms and deduced that most of the strikes were taking place over an area spanning roughly 90 degrees. So, using a wide angle lens to cover as much sky as possible, I pointed in that direction and simply shot frame after frame until I got lucky.

Lightning close by

A bolt of lightning strikes the apartment block opposite, clearly visible at close range.

This shot took around 5 minutes to capture, and was taken from my living room as I ate my dinner. With a minute or two to set the correct exposure (aperture and shutter speed combined), I simply munched on my pasta and kept an eye towards where my camera was pointed as my camera did the hard work of continuing to fire from my $20 remote cable. When I saw a strike that was within frame, I stopped and checked and saw I’d hit lucky with this bolt appearing to hit the apex of the block opposite mine. Had I bothered to remove the mosquito net from the window I may even have a shot worth tidying up and selling – such is the clarity and closeness of the lightning.

The point is, you will never be able to predict, control or react to lightning. So don’t bother. Notice where most of the strikes are happening, set up for that zone and let your camera fire away. Sooner or later you will capture a strike, and if you’ve planned your composition and exposure, it will be a clear and useable shot! My shots here were taken purely as afterthoughts, and without much time spent at all – so if I can do this and eat pasta at the same time, you can do this and capture a stunning landscape too, without much extra thought.

New images added to from the Mid-Autumn Festival in Singapore’s Chinatown. With bright colours strung across roads and shopping areas, apartment blocks and offices, in the form of Chinese Lanterns, some of the best picks of photographs have been added to the gallery. Take a look!

Chinese Lanterns of a multitude of colours festoon the streets of Singapore’s Chinatown.

Taking a look at the most popular shots over the last week, this low-angle shot of a sugar cane carriage on a railway track sits top of the pile at the moment.

Sugar Cane Railway Carriage

A sugar cane car, full of produce, sits on a cane railway track in Queensland, flanked by its neighbouring cane cars.

Story Behind the Shot

Criss-crossing Northern Queensland, Australia, is a network of narrow gauge railway tracks that serve the vast sugar cane plantations in this sticky, humid environment. The railways are clearly king here: even the main road artery in this neck of the woods – the Bruce Highway route 1 – is carved by diagonal and perpendicular railway, slashing its way as it sees fit across the tarmac and bush. Road traffic is at the mercy of the Cane Trains. Sandwiched between the ferocious ocean waves of the Coral Sea and the sudden mountainous folds that keep the outback at bay is territory owned by sugar as far as the land is flat. In every one of the harvest seasons, empty cane carriages are deposited by fields, waiting to be filled with produce before rolling heavily to one of the giant sugar mills nearby to be chopped, boiled and refined into packages big and small for onward sale.

I like the rawness of it all. There is no prettiness here, no neat ordered lines as you would find on a passenger railway, or even a freight railway in a built up area. No sweeping curves to navigate around long-standing buildings or outcrops, no impressive engineering and artistry creating bridges and tunnels to carry the trains smoothly through busy cities. It is the simplest and quickest way of getting cane from point A to point B – raw cane, transported the raw way. I like that the carriage is a dull, dirty kind of mustard yellow – not dissimilar in colour to the cane it carries, and certainly not prettified or scrubbed up for anyone else’s benefit. I like that the cane has just been dumped into the car – no pretty levelling off at the top, no nice lid to keep the contents hidden. The rusty undercarriage is clear, as is the unkempt sidings and rails running alongside. This is functional and minimal.

Some technical and artistic notes

I wanted to provide a single clear subject that captured the raw functionality of the ‘blood vessels’ of Northern Queensland, and loved the pale browns and yellows of the recently harvested cane. When driving past this train of carriages that seemed to be painted in the same rough and ready ‘cane colour scheme’, I wanted to create the uncluttered, single-subject image, but also be aware that this is one long network: a rail system that snakes from one plantation to another; from one mill to another; from one community to another. This network is the circulatory system of a huge area of Queensland, and that sinewy outstretching feel should not be discounted in the name of creating a ‘clean’ shot. It was important to include hints of the neighbouring carriages when framing the shot. They allude to continuity, to the long stretching veins of the cane industry, without drawing focus from the dirty rough colours and lines of the single cane car. The inclusion of the foreground rails reinforce this notion of never-ending networks – and highlight the raw untidiness of the bush around the train. A wide angle was used to distort the rails – a similar image with level, flat, parallel lines did not make the grade simply because it appeared too contrived; too perfect, for this whole area of Australia.

What do you see? Rough and rural, or an unclean inefficiency? Remind you of something else?

Yellow Cable Drum

A yellow, empty, large cable drum sits by the roadside in Singapore. Close up.

I recently posted about the wonders of black and white photography, and so feel it necessary to restore the balance and extol the joy of colour. After all, colour photographs account for almost 100% of all photographs existent on the internet, mainly thanks to the mindless numbness of drones posting every smartphone picture ever taken into the public domain regardless of worthiness or interest.

If you make the decision to include colour – there must be a reason! Like any element of the frame, it should only be there if you intend it to be there (a philosophy that, in honesty, I need to practice more). Filling the frame with a single colour is one way of drawing attention to a colour you find interesting or worthy of attention. Dodging an image (selective brightening) to highlight a colour you want to draw attention to is another.

In the image of the cable drum above, it was the bright, toy-like yellow that reminded me of JCB bulldozers and Tonka trucks I used to play with as a child. With the grime and distress on the rim of the drum, I found that the bright child-like colour is a great juxtaposition to its heavy industrial use. And so, the colour in this shot was important to me. In order to highlight this, I chose to fill the frame with it. Other angles that set the yellow drum against green grass, and grey concrete, became too messy – not enough focus on the colour. And so here is the result. What do you think?

I’m talking about a new addition to – this Black and White of a single tree in a freshly cut rural landscape:

Black and White tree under dramatic sky

A filtered black and white image, with a solitary tree in a recently harvested field, set against a dramatic sky of white cloud reaching into inky black.

I created this image purely by accident. The photo was shot in colour, and that is how it remained in my library until yesterday, when I clicked an option I had no intention of clicking. I was struck by the result – which turned a nicely composed, but with weak colour in the sky image into something I am happy to put my name to on the Wall Art shop floor.

Moral of the story? I will be revisiting a lot of images in black and white now: it really does remove the distraction of colour, and provided the elements in the shot are composed interestingly, will enhance the impact significantly.

Here’s the original image, that was ruled out of being offered for sale:

Lone tree in field - colour

The original file: the sky wasn’t blue enough for me, and there was a little too much yellow in the foreground field. The wonky horizon was also fixed.

Receiving a lot of attention lately is this shot, representing the root and vine-like creeping of exposed iron bars in a very urban setting of decay and destruction.

Exposed twisted iron bars

Twisted and exposed iron bars, with remnants of concrete and an out-of-focus concrete block in the background.