What’s 500px worth?

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Well to me its a place where I post up miscellaneous shots and proof of concept shots to gain some insight into their worth. I never really post up anything I consider finished work.

Why this, well I genuinely need some neutral other person insight into their actual worth. Okay, I know what technically makes a good photo, and I know my own aesthetic taste; but, and it is a big but, from my own personal ivory tower I don’t actually know what the not emotionally attached Jo Public opinion of my work is. And that is my Achilles Heel.

That is where 500px is good, it is low on values of social interaction, so the following you have is not based on your sociability with others, it is truer to the body of your photographic worth.

500px is on the other-hand burdened by a natural bias towards the over processed glossy magazine look, which is not really my thing. So I know it would be exceptional if I ever managed to get a fabled pulse of 99.9 with my general work (its not that I couldn’t do this if I wanted to as it is after all it is just technique, it’s I’m not really worried about it).

Having said that however, I have managed to get a top of the Popular for a couple of categories, and I have wallowed in my satisfaction/smugness none the less. Who ever said I wasn’t contrarian.

Petzval Lens shot of summer grass

Petzval Lens shot of summer grass that headed the Pulse scoring for Abstracts on 500px

Landscape Photography Magazine October 2017

Well Getting published is always great thing, whither its just on your craft as a writer or on your skill as a photographer.

This time its is a blend of both.

In Landscape Photography Magazine’s October 2017 edition I have a piece titled “Who Needs Sharpness?” and looks at my project using a Petzval Projection lens to capture images of the seasons without relying on sharpness as a primary tool.

The article can be found on the following URL:


An autumnal image of Katsura leaves in the wind.

An autumnal image of Katsura leaves in the wind.


Ah Iceland

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Iceland's Strokkur Geysir

Iceland’s Strokkur Geysir

Well lets just say Iceland is on occasion jaw-dropping, but expensive. It is on the level of expensive that when on the return budget airline and you see the in-flight catering then you think “good grief that’s cheep”…

But is it worth it, well yes. Essentially because it is so different to anything else I have seen. But, if it is your first time there, just be the tourist and treat it as a photographic reconnaissance trip – you will want to return.

One thing, if you do go don’t skimp on the hire car, there is only so much a bottom of the line hire car can comfortably do – and don’t forget to get good damage waiver insurance before you go. The roads are excellent on the whole, but you can suddenly find you have gone from a full width paved road to an unpaved one with just 100m notice.

A bodgers guide to using projection lenses

Copyright Scot Gillespie 2017

Copyright Scot Gillespie 2017

There are a few ways to make effective use of projection lenses on DSLRs and system compacts, the simple and the complex. I’m somewhere in-between.

My favourite interchangeable method is to make use of a relatively cheap Chinese M42x1mm to M52x0.75mm focussing helicoid, with the M42 end going into a AF confirming adapter for the camera.

At the M52 end I use a step-down ring, with the inner reamed down to fit the shaft of the projector lens. When the lens is aligned correctly in the step-down ring, the ring is glued to the shaft of the projector lens.

This then gives you a system where one focussing adapter can be used with multiple M52 mounted lenses.

Some lenses have shafts that limit their ability to reach infinity by this method, and I have used a pipe cutter to trim the shaft close to the last element, this way a more practical range can be achieved.

Dam rules about nothing

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Copyright Scot Gillespie 2015

If ever I was going to write a big thick book about photography it would be about composition, and if I was going to write a really slim one it would be about composition. I think I first said that over thirty years ago and it was in a response to someone trying to explaining the thirds rule to an architect and the architect saying “don’t you really mean 1.1618”.

The problem is that I can meaningfully draw construction lines based on any composition philosophy on any well framed picture, almost as well as I can meaningfully draw similarly valid lines on some truly awful pictures.

Essentially I generally now tend to blissfully ignore composition rules completely, as I have come to the decision that they are pure bunkum – indeed a little bit of research can even show up how much the golden rule of 1.1618 holds up about as much as the da Vinci Code.

What bubbles your bokeh

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Purple Maple and Bokeh

Copyright 2016 Scot Gillespie

It is fair to say there is an awful lot of nonsense talked about bubbly bokeh, so I think I’ll just add to it…

This is not some mystical preserve of Meyer Trioplan lenses, nor is it just limited to the preserve of triplet lenses, it is simply a characteristic where the lens gets the chance to reflect back in on itself halfway down the lens barrel.

Most of the time this effect gets simply blocked out by the placement of the iris mechanism, so the edge ring of reflection never gets formed. Generally most lens designers would frown on this undesirable effect, but some just thought of it as a trivial matter, as who in there right mind would want to use the lens wide open anyway.

But trioplans reputation is unfortunately a bit of hype, and they really just inhabit the no-man’s land in this category; they are not the sharpest, they are not the best made, and they don’t form the best bubbles – and oh yeh, and they are ridiculously overpriced.

My favourite solution is to use triplet (or triplet derived) slide projector lenses, These, depending on the maker, will give you bokeh to die for and in some cases better sharpness than a wide open trioplan.

In the above shot (sharpness was not the aim, light and texture was) I used a Chiyoko P-Rokkor 75mm f2.5 lens from a ​ Minolta Mini projector. However, the key to the effect is not the lens, but highlights of the correct luminosity in the background, so foliage in the woods is always a good place to start..

A good deep panorama

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Copyright Scot Gillespie 2016

Copyright Scot Gillespie 2016

Where a panorama is good is where you take a wide sweep of around 180 degrees (or more) to convey an extreme letterbox of what is in front of you, capturing the full essence of what you wish to convey. The problem you have when you view becomes so wide angle is that you loose a lot of scale and grandeur that hills and mountains in the distance naturally give you.

This can be frustrating, very frustrating. In my head there is a panorama of the Skye Cuillins from Sligachan Bridge, in reality have I ever been able to capture anything like this – nope not a chance, not even close. The problem, is monocular photographic reality, not how you visualize it in life, or recreated thought, As most of us are blessed with stereoscopic binocular vision, in consequence we don’t actually need visual markers in the picture to give us depth or in consequence scale.

The panorama above has tons of depth in it due to the remains of Bad Eddies Boat in the foreground, without this or something lesser in terms of contrast or size then the shot would be very two dimensional, and as a panorama it would just simply have been lacking.

Another lens, another day, Same Morar

Copyright Scot Gillespie 2015

Copyright Scot Gillespie 2015

As I may have said Morar bay is one of my favorite places. and it has the ability to express different moods and textures that is quite serine. Like the entry below this shot was taken at high tide, though at this point and the vast expanse of the silver sands were covered by about two foot of water; so the wavelets were not running across the long shallows – so no geometry to play with.

Again this image was taken about 45 minutes after the sun had set, but I wanted different aspects had to come into play. The other Morar sunset shots were taken with a modern Sigma 10-20 zoom. This lens lends itself to a gives a punchy saturated look without much intervention in the post processing department. The look I was after here was much less dramatic, more gentle look that leans more to a 1930s watercolour. To this end I have a Tokina 20-35 zoom from the pre-digital auto-focus age which presents respectable images with a bit less punch, giving me a pallet of Prussian blues, saffron and burnt orange with similar underexposure.

After the sun has gone down on Morar

Copyright Scot Gillespie 2015

Copyright Scot Gillespie 2015

The Morar estuary is one of my favorite places. It is very well sheltered from the Atlantic that it connects to. At the time the above shot was taken it was high tide, and the vast expanse of the silver sands were covered in less than a foot of water. The sheltered nature and the shallowness of the water gave rise to the wave patterns that interceded like a flexed grid, giving additional geometry to the composition.

This image is from about 45 minutes after the sun had set, but the camera didn’t think it should look anything like this…

Digital sensors unlike film always tries to dynamically adjust for the lack of light. Back in good old transparency days you would have underexposed by about a third of a stop to get the night saturation you see above – however on digital that can become two or three full stops to get it near to what your eye and brain perceives.

Some thoughts about kit…

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Gear is a strange thing, when it comes down to it a camera is a box with a lens on front. Back in the day a Hasselblad was an average box with an exceptional lens on the front of it (all three I ever had broke in fairly short order), that is why they dominated the MF marketplace. I had better experiences out of Bronicas, Mamyas and Pentax 67s, not to mention my Yashmat 124G which I still have.

For a Pro there were two practical choices in 35mm; Nikon or Canon. Nikon had the build quality, Canon had the pro level support. I chose Nikon and I could never understand anyone wanting Canon. However, if Minolta had genuine pro support I would have gone with them, as their lenses just had something special… on the other-hand if I could have justified the outlay I would have gone all Leica, as there is something special about Leica glass.

So essentially my philosophy is it’s the lens that makes the biggest impact on your image.

When I was learning my craft I also worked in a camera retail shop, so I got to know hands on practically all of the 80’s best and worst equipment. Most importantly from this I got an understanding of how much spin goes on in the brand phantasmagoria – essentially the lesson is; new and latest hardly ever correlate with best and improved.

Technological advances have two sides; the ability to improve an entity and the ability to make it cheaper.  Sometimes this wins out in the consumers’ favour, sometimes is does not, most of the time it is swings and roundabouts. For every minutely calculated curve on an aspherical lens element ground out in precision on the now non-toxic non-radioactive glass, there is the knowledge that this will be housed in a smorgasbord of plastics rather than hand buffed brass and aluminium (unless it is a Leica of course).

This is allied to something that few folk actually realise; that it is only currently that the digital image has caught up with what is capable with film. Yes, digital is easier to master the basics in, but film is the medium of tone and real resolution.

This leaves us at another cusp, for all the advances in lens technology many digital lenses are going to struggle with new 40mp plus resolutions, where some old humble manual primes are going to really shine.

So where’s my money on; well yes I have a couple of cutting edge Sigmas, but these are dwarfed by my collection of the old, the odd and the unusual, which if I get the luxury of planning a shot, I invariably select one to use.