#556. The Monday Post (6 Feb 2017) – Droning On Scales

By pascaljappy | Monday Post

Feb 06

Over the past few days, we’ve been experiencing weather that lesser men would call … entertaining.



Not me, though. Instead of fretting, I’ve been thinking. All that talk about the GFX, you know … It got me itching to spend all that money I don’t have.

And then it hit me : What if the best investment wasn’t a new camera but a new tripod that flies? Yes, a pesky drone!


No, don’t leave!


Bear with me a second. Drone photography has matured. No longer are we force-fed shaky replicas of The Earth From Above by drone owners. Real cameras replace GoPros, creativity is on the rise and, in the sky, there is no beaten path to follow. Sure, you’ll still find some “I’m up there looking downwards” photographs, some of them exquisite, by the way. But there’s more technique, more imagination and more variety on offer. See the SkyPixel Contest results for instance.



However, that’s not how I‘d like to use my drone. How often have you been out on a walk, found a great view blocked out by a wall or impossible to compose correctly from the ground? If only you’d been 20 feet taller. Real gentlemen climb on a ladder on the roof of their Landy (right, Paul?) but why break my back when all the drone can break is my camera? So, maybe I’ll try my hand at this with a cheap product to test and (in)validate the idea of the drone-as-extension-pole.


Moving on.


Second train of thought : practising your scales.

Why is it that musicians practise their scales, painters practise penciling legs and boobs (and rock and roll), sportsmen repeat basic moves over and over again (…) and we, lazy tikes, don’t practise anything vaguely scale-like in photography?

It’s true that the most (publicly) successful among us tend to either shoot from the hip on the street to capture a magical moment or reenact timeless recipes (ND grad, long exposure, golden hour, rule of thirds) on spectacular landscapes to translate the beauty of nature onto pixel. Impro on one side, recipe book on the other.

Does that mean we shouldn’t practise, evaluate, learn, rinse and repeat on simple subjects? I think not.



Granted, we don’t need dexterity like the piano Grand-Master. Even in an industry where technology has made life harder rather than simpler (here I go again 😜), manipulating a camera is never that complicated. But the things we should practise are very different. We should really get to know our gear and workflow in order to allow a smooth previsualisation-to-print train of events to happen freely and creatively.


Among things to practise :

  • Get to know your lenses. What does bokeh look like at various apertures and various subject-to-background distance ratios? Once you’ve done that homework over and over again, two things will happen : (1) you’ll see photographs before they happen, much like a Jedi !! (2) you’ll never want to sell your lens because a new one comes along.
  • Learn colours theory. See photo above. Colour photographs only make a powerful statement when the colour in them adds a lot, compared to the monochrome version. Whenever a colourful scene appears before your eyes, try to make a photograph of it that’s all about the colour. Never mind what the result looks like. It’s a practise photograph, it won’t go on the wall. How well do the colours balance one another. Rinse and repeat until your eye is well-trained.



  • Learn your post processing tool. All B&W photographs on this page are made with MacPhun Tonality CK. This is, by far, the most interesting, potentially fun and powerful monochrome processing tool I have ever used. But magic comes at a cost (as all viewers of the newest trend in cinematography will undoubtedly know).

    In the case of Tonality, the cost is somewhat excessive evidence of post-processing, such as the big halos around dark objects. I can live with it in the photograph below, particularly seeing how well it has handled the darker areas of the photograph. But in the 2nd on the page (vertical of the modern building) … not so much. Capture One would have produced a far cleaner sky here, but probably not dealt with the right side of the image so easily. Know your tools.


  • Practise your storytelling. The mannequin with pink flower head appears in the 3 photographs below. But, really, the first is all about a quiet Provence village square, the second says “oh, look what I found” and the third is much more of a dialogue between two oddities, white very possibly being told of by pink! The second is quite meaningless. Whereas one and three are more interesting.


  • And so on …


So, there is a way of practising photographic scales and tuning our photographic instincts so that, when the time is right, we can intuitively produce that powerful image that will stay with us for a long time rather than the weak snapshot we’ll end up with otherwise.


What say you? What do you practise alone to improve your photography ? Care to share your best tips ?


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  • Olivier says:

    You’re so right! Only education and practice can make you skilled. Gear hinders more often than not. It certainly has to come last.
    That’s why I decided to limit myself to a fixed lens compact this year. It offers plenty of scales to practice and I’m confident that I’ll come further this way. No more itching for gear for a year – hopefully.

    • pascaljappy says:

      That’s a brave decision. My resolution so far has been to shoot more projects about specific themes or subjects. Also a lot of fun that drives the min away from gear.

  • Ronnie says:

    Long ago, whenever I was too broke to buy film, I would load up my camera with nothing and take it with me anyway. Turns out it’s not much different to what I do now, when I discover one of my cameras at the back of the shelf with a film in it and I can’t even remember when I last used it, far less what I might have been shooting. And then I get the film processed and don’t get round to scanning it. At least I’m practicing 🙂

    • pascaljappy says:

      Ha ha. Feels like shooting a rangefinder with the lens cap on, or leaving home with an empty battery … We’ve all been there, haven’t we. As you say, that doesn’t stop us from getting our eye in 🙂

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Heaps of things.
    First a disclaimer – I do have a [small] drone, and I’m very bad at flying it. There’s no way I’d think of shoving one of my Niks with a Zeiss lens on it, onto a drone & sending it skywards !!!
    Second – I am not a great fan of pre-sets – I suspect an alternative route would have got those shots through post processing without that problem.
    Now – down to the nitty gritty.
    Yes – I admit it – I practice !!! My first love (starting as a toddler) was music and I was reared on “practicing”. I’d hit the keyboard after lunch and mum used to have to physically drag me off the piano around 7 or 8, to make me stop for dinner.
    So keeping that habit was only natural, when I started photography (at the age of 11, I think).
    I have all sorts of “projects” on the go, at any point in time, to practice different scales, arpeggios, five finger exercises, studies and so on with my photography. Most concentrate on:
    – light & shade
    – colors, tints and tonings
    – depth of field
    – moving objects
    – skies and clouds
    – the ocean
    – macro in various forms or methods
    – night shots & available light
    – candid & street shots
    Heaps of projects, in other words. Using my different cameras and swapping lenses around.
    The aim is to be more intuitive – we can’t always fool around trying to locate the settings, when a photographic opportunity presents itself. It’s nice to have the luxuries of a tripod and a separate meter, and do life focus, but again, that isn’t always practicable or – even – possible. So the more I practice, the easier it is to nail a shot without fooling around for half an hour setting up for it.
    A second aim is to hit the target so I don’t have to do too much post-processing. And it’s very satisfying when you achieve this. But again, it doesn’t just “happen” – you have to work at your photography, to get this.
    Later – the gardener has just turned up & the dog wants her lunch. 🙂

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks Pete. I hope some drones are easier to fly than yours. It would be a costly mistake to fly an Otus into the weeds …

      A pianist turned photographer, hey? Maybe I should call you Ansel 😉

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      What I meant in that 2nd-last paragraph was “live view focus”, not life focus. Sorry

  • Soso says:

    I practise to not shoot. Recognizing situations, seeing colors and light, angles, perspective, observing, watching … And not shooting. Sportsmen and musicians train muscle memory. We, most likely, don’t need that. But we need to train our eyes. And I personally want to shoot less but more carefully; less shots, more keepers.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hear hear !

      One minor caveat is that you need a camera, or viewfinder of some sort, to (initially, at least) realise what angle and relationships a given focal length corresponds to. Maybe that’s what you meant. And past that phase, you can even practise constantly, without a camera.

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