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If you were allowed only one Photography lesson..What would it be?

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If you were allowed only one Photography lesson..What would it be?

There are endless routes in traditional media, the Internet and of course good old human interaction where we can learn and develop our craft in Photography. I think it’s arguable that we are overloaded. Everyone seems to have advice to give, often good, often inspirational and often just regurgitated with some venom from the last ‘mag’ or blog we read. Offered smugly like its are own brain born advice. It all gets kind of crazy and we end up not really knowing who to listen to, who to learn from.

Many of the greats say little, unless asked, and usually because they are too busy being great. Unless we are into formal photographic education we are left a little confused where to go for some decent guidance. So we are left with heaps of un qualified advice, self prophesied gurus offering side shows and money making ‘courses’ in basic photographic principles we could have got from a decent book for a fraction of the price. We have speed light courses. Portfolio building courses. Nude courses. Fashion courses. Professional diplomas. A photo walks, talks and portfolio critique services.

I guess we all pays our money and takes our chances. There is nothing wrong with all of this of course, it’s enterprise and if we have something worth sharing why not market it. But I for one am often left wondering where the substance is when I read so many of the course descriptions. What will I really learn from this? Which of these are value for money with real pedigree and worth, and which are shameless self stroking by our self nominated shining stars of photography? Which are simply fetish days dressed up as ‘une journée de nu artistique’ ? (A day of art nude) oh it’s a mine field and it’s just maybe worth avoiding. In most cases they just aren’t necessary.

So then we come to thinking about those two words, self taught. Often encourages a snigger and sneak from many because it implies that ‘I’m pretty darn good and I did it all myself’. With pretty darn good always being a matter of opinion, what are we really qualifying there? In fact no one is self taught per se. We learn from others all the time, it doesn’t have to be formal or carry a ticket. We replicate what we see, what we read and what we hear. We are being taught by others, all the time. So why do we need to pay someone? Well it’s about experience and doing something you like in the company of other like minded people. It’s worth paying for, sure it is.

If God was a photographer - the Devine Proportion @ Lightism.co.

So I should get to the point, at last. If we choose not to seek any formal learning, what is the one thing we should go and try to master above everything else? Well for me its composition. I say that because you can strip all other elements of design out of a photograph but with strong composition it can still be a good photograph. It doesn’t have to be in focus, can lack even tone, miss a story, be any colour variant, be of any subject or any genre but as long as it has good thoughtful and crafted composition it can still be interesting. Or put the other way, an image can have all the fore mentioned thought of not composed well will be as uninspiring as the blank paper it was printed on. For me balance is more important than sharpness, arrangement more so than subject and depth trumps a fancy post preset every time.

So craft comes before everything else you can learn, you can compose with a pin hole camera and still create a winner. If you have time only for one lesson in photography, make it one in composition and the elements of design of images. You won’t regret that at all.

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What would you like to read about at Lightism?

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I’m putting the question to you. All the readers and subscribers.
Tell us what you would like to see discussed, reviewed or taught here and we will do our very best.

question-mark Head over to our facebook page and have your say

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When love breaks down: Why I sold my mirrorless camera

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I’m featured on our sister blog; Inmybag which promotes a different photographer each day.

When love breaks down: Why I sold my mirrorless camera

Checkout my controversial post:
When love breaks down: Why I sold my mirrorless camera



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Why ‘older’ photographers are probably better Photographers

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the house -1

The young may well oppose this view, but then, thats their job, to question.

But its true and there is a reason. The old timers grew up using film.

When you have a limited amount of shots you can make in your camera, you will value each shot. Today with digital we just rattle them off, hundreds at a time and spend lots of time later reviewing them. When you are limited by the length of your film roll, of amount of sheets you are more careful. Each frame has a cost to you too. So you learn discipline and craft so that you care for every shot and really think about each one. By doing that you instil disciplines into yourself and take time to organise the content of your images through more considerate composition.

Its not and ‘us and them’ thing, its no competition, its merely an observation but one with real meaning. So heres my advice. Pick up an old film camera and some film and limit yourself to 24 or 36 exposures the next time you go out shooting. Try to remember that each exposure is precious and deserves more time and thought. Enjoy the experience of manually setting your exposure and understanding how and why to do that. Really study through the viewfinder and only hit the button when things are as good as they can be.

Enough of that and I promise you that you will improve, and quite quickly. You cant teach an old dog new tricks, especially in Photography where in its basic form, there are no new tricks to teach. Whether you are exposing light onto film or a sensor the basic theory is the same and a bad Photograph is still a bad Photograph, and good craft is always good craft.



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Merry Christmas Everyone from us at Lightism

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We will take a short break until the New year where we will bring you some exciting and informative posts.

In the mean time our love to you and yours.

Have fun.

Martin and Simon


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If a Photograph isn’t Printed … it does not exist

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 darwin centre-1

Surprised? Disagree even? some will, but in a bold statement I will say if you do disagree … You are wrong. Here is why.

Firstly let me qualify my statement, I am referring to digital Photographs here of course. Until (if ever) they are printed they do not exist.

Think about it. What is a digital photograph? its nothing other than computer machine code. An output of algorithms or something too technical for me to understand, written with electricity and it can be very easily lost or destroyed. It has no physiology, it is nothing but an entity that requires a digital machine to reproduce and present to us in visual form. If the earth or part of it ever suffers from a strong electro magnetic pulse from the sun (which happens) it could be wiped from all your drives and lost forever. In fact that could happen even by fault of your computers or drives. Scary thought isn’t it?

I hear there is a revolution in music right now, everyones going crazy about getting modern music on vinyl so it can be cherished, held and appreciated as music used to be. We need to do the same with Photographs.


Your digital work has no life of its own, you cannot hold it, present it physically, hang it on your wall and have a presence whenever you like. Its just isn’t here, in our realm, until you give it a life.  To give it life, it needs to be reproduced in print form on any one of a number of mediums but it cannot have a physical presence until you allow it. Stick it on a coffee mug if nothing else!
(OK don’t do that, maybe Im getting desperate here).

So if you have never taken any advice from Simon or I here at Lightism, or ever will … just take this. Print your best work. Give it away, see it presented, sell it whatever but make sure it is displayed and admired.water_abstract1

Give it life, after all the work you put into it, don’t you think its the right thing to do?


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Telephoto Lens for Landscapes?

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mothecombe 33-2


Quick post today. The question that forms the title here today is one I often get, usually more of a surprised remark than a question. I get this because in case you haven’t noticed I am firstly a Landscape Photographer. Though I do other work also, primarily I shoot landscapes and people are often surprised to learn that I often opt for a long telephoto lens over a wide angle for such work. The shot above is an example of a Landscape shot on a telephoto lens.

So very briefly, heres why.

As you develop your way of seeing you will begin to understand that often there are pictures within pictures and rather than crop it later it is better to ‘zoom in’ and compose the shot correctly in the first place. This way you keep the quality by using all those wonderful mega pixels you camera has in the whole picture rather than cutting (cropping) a smaller section out later. So thats the practical reason. But, there is a creative reason too. That is that you should encourage yourself to look into the scene in front of you and pick out the interesting shot. Using a long zoom lens is ideal for this, that way you can start at the wide end, shoot, then zoom into your scene and shoot again. Same scene, different picture. Make sense?

Here are is an example. Im using a Fujifilm XC50-230mm Lens X-T1 – Black lens here with a Fujifilm X-T1 16 MP Compact System Camera with 3.0-Inch LCD (Body Only) camera.

The whole scene, shot at 50mm. Its, OK but looking deeper I spot a a better shot.

mothecombe 33-99


So, here is what I spotted.  I like the way the single noble tree sits within a double sweeping scape of both the ploughed lines left and the sheep trails right. I also like the contrast of the green pasture against the darker ploughed field. Most of all I like the ghostly background trees in shadow at the back of the scene.  Now If I just crop that out later it wont be good. I want to use all the camera power (pixels) so I get all the detail just in that smaller rectangle. So, I need to zoom in.

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 21.57.53


There it is, zoomed right in to 230mm on the lens … A simple, composed Landscape picked out from a larger view. And I got all the cameras resolution to play with which gives me all that detail.



Its not always practical to walk all the way over there and use a wide lens, so thats an example of why I would use a telephoto lens for a Landscape Photograph.





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All the best Photographers are Ruthless People

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The Cob with Rainbow

Hello Again, welcome back. Sorry I am late this week. I had to go to London for the opening of the Landscape Photographer of the Year exhibition and Waterloo station. Its free to view by the way and open until the end of December. The images are found on the upper level nest to the shops and bars. I recommend a visit to all.

Today I am speaking about the dark side of us photographers and if you don’t have such a dark side, you need to develop one.  So what do I mean by this? I mean you will need to become ruthless and with your most precious of belongings … your works.

Are you tough enough to read this blog??


What do all the very finest photographers have in common? Well one thing for sure that they share is there understanding that only their best will do and they continue to strive to produce only the very best work. Work that satisfies their own very high standards. They will be very particular about what images they show, they will show fewer and reveal works less frequently than you do.

They understand that to only be seen as the best, they can only show their best. A few great images mixed up in a larger bag of mediocre work would suggest to us that that photographer gets lucky, sometimes. A bag full of ‘wows’ suggest to us that this image maker only makes wow images, right?

Its easy logic but very important stuff, you really do only want to be showing off your best images so set a standard, a high one, and stick to it. Think about it.  Why would you present anyone with your mediocre works when you wish to impress them? and why show anyone anything at all if you don’t care what they think? Who are you kidding when you say ‘its for me only’ and ‘I don’t care what others think’ after you spent hundreds of hours making and sharing all those images on social media and websites? Trust me, you aren’t fooling anyone but yourself.


So, where does ruthless come in?  You got to go be ruthless, take no prisoners and leave nothing to an .. erm well??? If you have 50 images on your site, reduce it to 20, maybe 10 and you will have to take some pain as you discard a lot of work but be brave, show no fear. I regularly ‘weed’ my garden so to speak. I pull out the weaker images to leave room for the better ones to be seen and to grow more images in the future that really represent the best that I can, and will do.

Even now I could and will go to my various sites and pages and remove stuff that just isn’t good enough anymore, and there is plenty of it. You see I AM RUTHLESS TOO. I am happy to judge myself and my own work and to sacrifice it when the need arises to grow. Don’t be precious or protective and weed the weak out and move on, make room to constantly evolve and improve. Leave no trail of old weaker works.

Now, go forth and destroy…You will be better for it.

autumn forest


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Go on, ask me .. whats the best camera?

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buttermere_from above


I know I know, yawn .. this again? well maybe it is but this time you will get a different kind of answer.

In my experience when people begin to develop an interest in Photography the most common question is ‘What camera should I buy?’ I get asked this A LOT! so I am going to tackle this one right here.

Firstly lets settle one myth, there is no ‘best camera’, there simply are cameras. For sure you can buy magazines and read web sites that try out, review and suggest what is best but each of these are just the point of view of usually one person and their conclusions rely on so many variables, including personal preferences. Often they are sponsored in some way by the manufacturer or they may even originate from the manufacturers so with that in mind, what should you do? Truth is cameras are no different than trousers, they must fit you, be comfortable and functional and they can be used by both men and women. One key difference is however that you shouldn’t buy the camera that just looks good. Bare in mind this is Lightism, you are unlikely a working professional so you want to get into the hobby, So before you start looking make a list of criteria which may include;

Budget (how much money can you afford)

Purpose (what will you use it for)

Your present level of competence (can you use it competently)


Features (that fit your intentions)

Things NOT to consider;

What my mate uses

What that photographer I admire uses

What will make me look like I know what Im doing (trust me it wont)

The biggest one

The expensive one with the cool name

The one with the most mega pixels and the turbo, hoverboard, spoiler and cloaking device.


Now interestingly, men will often go for the ones with all the bells and whistles despite not knowing or ever getting to know how to utilise all those features. Then, if I may beg your pardon, you just wasted money. Photography is about output, what you can create, not what you look like or what you can suggest you could do. Women however seem to approach this more practically and will buy the one that does what they want/need and fits their budget. I admire these people, when you stumble across lovely work than has been accomplished with the most basic of equipment. Thats a great approach and that comment will make more sense in a minute or two. Most of us will go through the ‘gear’ phase, I sure did. Thats the phase where you just want and think you need the better, latest “pro’ named stuff that will make your photography better … though you eventually discover that it will not. Its like the puberty of the photographic journey, awkward, painful but essential to get to the point of enlightenment when you one day will pick up just about any camera and make a decent image with it, you mature and just know whats important and it isn’t the camera per se.

So no one can really advise unless you are clear on your needs and intentions. I would even be cautious of the camera store advisor as I have witnessed some awful advice before now. I recall one time where I overhear a young man in a very well known chain advising that Nikons were best for landscapes and Canon best for anything else. sigh.


So my advice, I would start with the intention. Am I into fads? meaning is this a phase, just a curiosity? if so just use your smart phone guys, or your regular compact until you know if you want to go deeper. If its a serious hobby your are moving into then you need to consider the lists above and buy accordingly. Put those criteria above brand to start with, there isn’t such a thing really as a bad camera. So here is where my strong advice comes in …

What ever you choose, choose for the long term not the short term. Don’t buy thinking you will ‘upgrade’ in a few months or whatever. Buy for the long haul that is your journey through which you will become competent to a level where you yourself will know what camera will be needed next if at all. Because the best thing you can do is to ‘get to know’ your kit intimately. You will then get the best out of it and the best images out of you both. Live with it, sleep with it, let it get dirty and make it yours. Take care of it but don’t wrap it in cotton wool in case you will sell it one day, USE IT like it was meant to be used, abuse it even because only through really getting to know it and you will improve. You will manage to do things with it you only thought you could do with a professional camera (whatever that is). Wear it out, replace it with another one, wear that one out, wash, rinse, repeat until you know that equipment so well you develop a confidence beyond anything the big brands can offer you you for any money. That way, you will improve, I promise you that you will.

Below is a snap of a collection of cameras in my home today, I mentioned in the last post I was successful in a Landscape competition so for a bit of fun, which camera do you think I used?


 It was the smallest, simplest little digital mirrorless at the front centre. In fact all the images in this post were shot with similar small digital mirrorless cameras.

mothecombe_beachI hope I helped?







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Some wonderful news …

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Hi All

Im happy to be able to tell you today that yours truly here had a little success and I should share it. I was very honoured to be placed as a finalist in this years UK Landscape Photographer of the Year and have an image commended by the judges. The image will appear in the book which can be found here …  Landscape Photographer of the Year 8 (AA)

This is one of the few competitions I admire due to the stringent multi stage judging process and In my opinion one worth having a go at.  There is also an exhibition of all of the finalists and the blurb on that follows ….

“This year, our exhibition will be held on the Mezzanine level of London Waterloo. It is the first event of its type to be held here. Waterloo is the busiest station inBritain and the exhibition will be more accessible to visitors than ever before.The exhibition is free and runs from 1st December 2014 until the 31st January2015. There will be an opening night event on Monday 1st December 2014 from 6.00 until 8.00pm.”

Maybe I will see you there on the 1st December?

Full list of winners here


Web site should you wish to enter for next year here.