Lenscraft in Focus December 2019

Dear {name},

Welcome to the Lenscraft in Focus December 2019 newsletter.

Originally, I intended to publish this newsletter next weekend but then had a change of plan. It’s Black Friday and I wanted to share my own special offer. Rather than clog your in box with another special deal that you may or may not want, I thought I would include here.

But this newsletter isn’t just about Black Friday. I’ve also included an article about learning to play the Banjo. Yes, you read that right. It’s got more to do with being a better photographer than you might think. There’s also a whole bunch of interesting things that I’ve found over the past month.

Enjoy December’s newsletter.

Lenscraft in Focus December 2019 Newsletter

Black Friday Sale or Not?

I’ve been torn by the Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales this year. All the large companies are advertising big reductions, and many are early. As a small business (it’s just me) these large sales hurt me. People tend to hold off making purchases before the sale and then have no money after the sales.

So far, I’ve refused to follow the crowd but this year I can’t hold out any longer and need to join in. That’s why I’m offering a 50% discount on all my video courses. You can find the courses on my Lenscraft Training website: https://lenscraft.teachable.com/courses

The discount code to use at the checkout is BF50. This gives you a 50% discount on everything.

The discount is available until the end of day on Friday 6th December.

Other Black Friday Deals

I know there will be many more Black Friday deals announced by the time you read this, but a few that caught my attention are:


DxO is offering a 50% reduction on all DxO products. This includes the DxO Nik Collection, DxO PhotoLab 3, DxO FilmPack and DxO ViewPoint. I’m a fan of DxO and already own all these so won’t be able to take advantage. The sale runs from the 28th November to 2nd December 2019.

Greg Benz Photography

Greg develops and publishes the Lumenzia plug-in for Photoshop. Lumenzia is a fantastic plug-in if you work with luminosity masks in Photoshop. I’ve used it for several years now and he regularly releases free updates. It makes the process of luminosity masking quick and easy. He is offering at least 25% off Lumenzia and his courses until the 2nd December 2019 if you use the code BF2019 at the checkout.

Know How Transfer

Know How Transfer have 30% off all products in their online store. They produce useful and innovative Photoshop plug-ins which you don’t find elsewhere. I already have most of these, but I will be using the opportunity to update a couple of older ones.

Capture One

Capture One is offering a 30% discount on their brilliant RAW converter and Styles Packs until the 1st December 2019. They are also offering a free upgrade to the latest version of Capture One when it’s released. I switched to using Capture One for processing my Fuji RAW files in Summer and I find the results are excellent. If you want to take advantage of this deal use the discount code BLACK-FRIDAY-19.

Topaz Labs

If you’re a fan of the Topaz Labs software, they are having a huge Black Friday Sale. Their website is quoting a 53% saving. I haven’t used their software much since they started down the AI route but some of their products look interesting. If you like them, this is a good discount to take advantage of.

I’m sure there will be lots of other deals around and this may be the best time to bag a discount.

What I Learned from the Banjo

Deering Goodtime Special

Have you heard the song “Santa Never Brings me a Banjo” – well fortunately, it’s not true. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, it’s my other passion besides photography. I’m learning to play the 5 string Banjo and it’s interesting how many parallels there are with learning to be a photographer.

I’ve loved Banjo and Bluegrass music since watching the Beverly Hillbillies as a small child, but it wasn’t until 2018 that I got my first banjo. My ambition now is to be able to play “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” (and sound good).

When I started trying to learn to play, I spent a lot of time watching YouTube videos. Most of them were trying to teach me how to play a song but without understanding how to play. This is a lot like going to a photo location and trying to reproduce someone else’s photo you like. It kind of looks the same, but it’s never as good as the original.

The other thing that happened whilst watching all these videos was that I became very confused. There’s lots of conflicting advice about something as simple as how to hold the neck of the banjo and how to fret correctly. It reminded me a lot about the confusion we have about using our cameras. Not just how to hold the camera but which mode you should use it in.

Have a look at some of the videos on YouTube and they will tell you that you must shoot in Aperture Priority or that you’re not a proper photographer unless you use full manual mode. When you’re starting out in photography this can all be confusing. It’s only years later that you realise you do what works for you providing you can capture a quality image.

As you can imagine if you’ve ever tried to teach yourself to play a musical instrument, my efforts to learn the banjo from YouTube weren’t very successful. That’s when my wife made the excellent and obvious suggestion “why don’t you get yourself a banjo teacher”. Now Bluegrass banjo teachers may be relatively easy to find in parts of the US, but here in the UK they are about as common as rocking horse droppings.

Following a lot of fruitless searching I finally came across Eagle Music. It turns out they are Deering Banjo’s (Banjo aficionados will recognise the make) number 1 dealer. Now I’d never heard of Eagle Music, but to my surprise, they are in the UK and only 12 miles from where I live. I got in contact and started having lessons with someone who works in the shop. As the saying goes, “when the student is ready the teacher will appear”.

Once I started having lessons, I found that I quickly improved (it would be difficult not to from my starting point). The reason for this is that Graham my teacher broke the playing down into simple lessons that taught me the basics of playing. I would then take these away and practice regularly. Then the next lesson would build on the previous until I knew enough to play a song.

This again has parallels to learning photography. When we start photography, we are so keen to progress that we often ignore the basics. Instead we look for more advanced techniques and tools that we think will improve our photography more quickly. But if we don’t invest time in learning and mastering the basics, there’s always something lacking.

It’s just the same when playing the Banjo. When Graham plays a simple song, it sounds better than when I play it. That’s because he has mastered the basic skills from years of practice where I have only learned the basics of playing. Even with simple playing techniques there’s always refinement that comes with hours of practice that you can’t explain to someone.

The bottom line then is that if you want to be a better photographer, you need to put in hours of meaningful practice. That means shooting images and exploring different compositions and honestly assessing the areas to improve. It requires that you study the work of other great photographers to understand how and why they created their images. You must be ready to spend the time learning how to edit your work with software and experiment with ways to improve the results. Then print your best work, hang it on a wall and look at it critically for months. Once you know what’s wrong, go back and try again. This is what meaningful practice is about.

It takes roughly 10,000 hours of meaningful practice to become world-class at something. Over the past year I’ve practiced the banjo for 1-2 hours on most days. It looks like I have another 19 years hard work ahead of me.

New Lenscraft Content

I’ve been busy over this past month adding new tutorials and rewriting old ones. Here are a couple you may find interesting.

How to Create and Use the Orton Effect
The Orton Effect is a very popular technique among landscape photographers. When used correctly it creates a dreamy feel in photos whilst retaining important detail. In this tutorial, we look…
What Are Layers in Photoshop?
If you’re new to Photoshop, you may be asking what are these layers that you hear about. In fact, even relatively experience Photoshop users find Layers confusing and avoid using…

Camera Club Presentations

I would like to say a big thank you to both Knutsford PS and South Manchester CC for the wonderful way their members received my presentations. I hugely enjoyed visiting both clubs and hope for a return visit in the future.

Unusually, I don’t have any club presentation book now until March 2020. I will share more details about these in the new year.

From Around the Web

Snippets of news from around the internet.

Cole Thompson Newsletter

Last weekend I was reading Cole Thompson’s newsletter. If you don’t know Cole, I featured him in the March edition of Lenscraft in Focus. I really enjoy Cole’s work but in his latest newsletter there were two simple images that I thought were brilliant (“Deep Snow” and “Community of Christ Temple”). When I read the article, I was surprised to find he shot them on an iPhone. The article was making the point that equipment doesn’t matter as much as vision. I know he’s right but for some reason I’m feeling the urge to upgrade my rather old iPhone.

Read the online version of Cole’s newsletter.

His online newsletter archive is here: https://colethompsonphotography.com/newsletter/

Nik Collection 2.3

If you haven’t already seen the headlines in the popular photography press, DxO has launched the Nik Collection 2.3. This concentrates on Nik Silver Efex Pro and adds new ten new film simulations. I’ve tried them and I like them. You can read more in this short article I published on Lenscraft.

Dotphoton RAW

Last month a Lenscraft reader emailed me to let me know about Dotphoton RAW because they thought it may be of interest. It missed the newsletter, but I wanted to include it this month. It’s a simple concept that allows you to shrink the size of RAW files whilst still allowing you to edit them in any RAW software converter. You can read more about it on their website https://dotphotonraw.com/.

I haven’t tried the service myself but I’m seriously considering it. I would love to move my image archive onto the cloud or at least have a backup there, but it’s just too large to be practical. A service that could shrink my file size by up to 5X sounds amazing. The only thing that puts me off is the unknown of what it’s doing to the RAW file and will there be any long-term impacts.

If anyone is braver than me and is using Dotphoton RAW I would love to know what you think.

Photographers You May Not Know - Sebastiao Salgado

Do you like photography books that share the work of photographers? Personally, I don’t but I do have some. These books are the ones where I love the photography and it makes a connection. One of my favourite books is Genesis by Sebastiao Salgado. It’s a huge book filled with some wonderful images of our environment.

In the book he talks about how the deforestation on his parent’s farm which he took over. Today the area has returned the area to rainforest and the difference is spectacular. Whilst I don’t like sharing things that can be seen as political, his Ted Talk is well worth watching https://www.ted.com/talks/sebastiao_salgado_the_silent_drama_of_photography?language=en. The second part of the talk features some of the great shots from his book Genesis. I hope you enjoy it.

Books & Course News

After giving it lots of thought, I’m now well underway with the first draft of a book that’s often requested; Landscape Photography. Usually my process is to create a clear vision of the intended reader before writing the book. This time it’s a little different for reasons I can’t explain. I’m just sharing as much as I can about how to shoot better landscapes. I’m hoping that when I do the second draft that I will be able to focus it so that everyone who shoots landscapes can benefit in some way. It’s a big challenge but it somehow feels like the best approach.

If you have any questions you would like to see answered in my new Landscape Photography book, please email me ([email protected]).

I publish the Lenscraft in Focus newsletter on the first Saturday of the month. The next edition will be on the 4th January 2020.

Robin Whalley

Landscape Photographer & Author

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Copyright: Robin Whalley 2019