Why I still (sometimes) use a 2008 camera in 2018

Someone commented the other week as to why I still use a Canon 1DS mark iii in 2018, given the model was released in 2008 and effectively retired by Canon in 2012 (when the 1dx was released). So apparently I’m six years out of date. Even in 2008 these bodies cost a staggering £5000 which was a lot to pay for something that was effectively rendered old technology within just four years. It just shows how fast research and development moves. I bought mine second hand.

Anyway the answer is quite simple - I happen to like the quality of the photos it produces! I think Canon have refined a lot of features on their cameras, but this generation had something very “film like” about the sensor, so to me it’s very suited to studio use when fast frame rate isn’t necessary and neither is high iso. To be fair this body has seen a lot of clicks and the shutter is starting to show signs of age (if I shoot at anything over 1/1000 sec I can see a faint tell tale band on the top of the image) but it certainly doesn’t affect it at studio flash speeds. At 100 iso these images are still comfortably on a par with my 5d Mark IV - if not better. Bear in mind of course that I come from a background of shooting a lot of film, so I almost have a recognition of a silver print ingrained in my DNA (I’ve probably got a lot of developer and fixer floating about in my bloodstream as well for that matter but I didn’t drink it, just stuck my hands in it a lot).

It does puzzle me why people chase the latest model upgrade as soon as it’s released - it does depend on your choice of photography of course but sometimes that just isn’t necessary. You don’t always need super high iso or 12 frames a second - or fast autofocus for that matter. I think one downside of technical evolution is that people sometimes  think that all of the features will equate to better photos (funny enough my dad was like that, bless him). It certainly makes some photos easier to capture, I use a 1DX for equestrian and I can have a choice of shots from a burst, but better?  You don’t always need the features. Let’s face it we used to focus manually, even for sports with a Canon 300mm f2.8 🙂 I most certainly wouldn’t deny anyone the pleasure of owning a flagship camera of course - they’re lovely to use, the ergonomics are great, there are endless configuration options to get everything personalised and of course there’s pride of ownership, but the point I’m making is you don’t always need it!

So this one is staying in my bag and I’ll be sad when it decides to give out a final wheeze when the shutter packs in - but to be honest I’ll probably get it repaired to squeeze more great photos out of it. It has a 24-70 f2.8l permanently attached along with a WFT E2 for live view shooting which is reliable, if not a bit laggy. That’s the only bit that could do with a bit more speed (compared to the 1DX) but to be fair the wireless built into the 5d mk IV has the same data rate.

Severn Valley Trail Run

We had a great time at this event! The Severn Vally Country Park is located a few miles outside Bridgnorth in Shropshire. This was an event that I’ve had in my diary for a few months now (reminds me, I must get an event photography diary app!). It made a change to the food and commercial photography that I’ve been doing a lot of lately. As always I went over to see the location and meet the organiser (Ed), who marched me around some nice spots on the hottest day of the year! We found a great spot in a flower meadow and I decided to shoot the 5k race there, and perhaps move somewhere else for the 10k, depending on the weather on the day.

this was our first event out with the gazebo and all the kit, there’s a lot to organise even before the shooting starts but it was all checked the day before so the only surprise was a stubborn gazebo which took a bit of grappling to get up - I can usually do it single handed but I ended up with Andrea holding one leg (gazebo leg) and me pulling like fury and dragging her around still hanging on 😃 anyway we got there in the end!

I was the photographer at a run last year and I have to say that I enjoy a run myself, having got back into it recently, so I watched with a bit of envy when the runners set off for the 5k and then walked down to my spot. The pace was incredible, no sooner had I got there than the front runners were appearing in the distance -the course record was actually broken for the 5k and the 10k. I got some fantastic shots in what turned out to be ideal weather, with some clouds and good sunshine. Looking forward to shooting this one again next year!

Smoked Pheasant Advertising Shoot

Set shot of smoked pheasant. Single softbox, Canon 5d mark iii, 24-70 2.8L


Now a few months back I did a lot of photography to help with the launch of a new product. The “hero” in this case is smoked pheasant, only available from the Apley Estate in Shropshire. It makes a change from the event photographer stuff, I do shoot a lot of products for commercial use and this one was interesting because the initial shoot was so early that the product wrapping hadn’t even rolled off the machines at Badgerprint, who produce all of the material for Apley Farm Shop.

Wind on a few months and I decided to do another shot, this time aiming at magazine advertising. Although pheasant is seasonal and there were enough produced by the smoke house to last through the summer, there’s a lot of alignment with the shooting season which kicks off in October, so customers may be more inclined to buy it then. I wanted to get this in the bag (so to speak) in good time.

Smoked Pheasant-in packaging. Elinchrom 44cm Beauty Dish, Canon 1DS Mark iii, 24-70l f2.8

I had an idea some time back to shoot on a highly reflective surface with a black backdrop to get some depth into the shot and pop the colours more - I thought it would emphasise the colours of the vegetables more and make the product more compelling with the gold packaging. Once again I used a single light but positioned to avoid reflections from the packaging, with a reflector to pull some detail into the shadows. It worked exactly as I wanted and only took about twenty shots to get it refined. The main light is a 44cm Elinchrom beauty dish which I really like for product shots like this, it’s very crisp and even, so not just for portraits and the light can be softened and controlled by adding internal diffusers.

A&WHSC Fun Rides

What a lovely sky! One of the hottest days of the year so far and photos were great! Teddesley Park, shot with a remote Canon 1DX, 24-70 MkII @F3.5, 1/4000

I'll hasten to add here that this is intentionally blurry to give the impression of movement. Not everyone's cup of tea but I do like to add some variety to my shots! Canon 1DS MkIII, 400mm @F2.8, 1/60 sec.

Now I have to say I'm getting very attached to shooting this event. Equestrian photography is something that I've really enjoyed for the past couple of years - there's a good challenge in getting the shot well framed with my usual style, the people are ever so friendly, and the horses are often quite curious about the camera (more about that later). So this year I have a monthly outing to an unknown location, where I find the right fence ready for the shoot on the day. Now this is the first of a few challenges to be honest. I'm a good event photographer but a lousy map reader, so I get shown the location and then promptly forget exactly where it is. So I've taken to carrying my phone and dropping a "pin" on google maps, so I can find it again. Great idea, except the location is often in a field, so I sit there in the car with the pin perplexingly close by and have no idea how to find it. Last time I nearly found it again but there was a locked gate in the way. My pin was tantalisingly close but I had to reverse for what seemed like a mile and then take a five mile detour.

Anyway - on the day I've taken to setting up a remote camera, which is triggered (courtesy of Canon's WFT transmitters) by the main camera. It's amazing when it works, but there are two distinct problems. 1) it takes a lot of careful positioning to make sure the autofocus works and locks on the horse - very annoying to find that it hasn't! Canon 's autofocus algorithms are quite complex and it takes a bit of experimentation to get the right position and settings so at the point the horse (hopefully with rider attached) enters the frame, the focus is locked on ready for the shot to be taken. 2) Canon's flagship camera, the 1DX, has a very loud shutter. It's so loud that it can spook a horse so I have to wrap it in foam to try to deaden the noise. The problem then is that the thing on a tripod with a load of foam around it then spooks the horse instead of the noise. God knows what they must think is going on 😀

When it works it's fantastic, it means I get two very different views, with the front camera set to my usual style and the side camera capturing a more traditional shot. When it doesn't work, I get an unusable blurry mess - or a very sharply focused tree in the background. Thankfully more often than not it works as intended but it's taken a lot of careful experimentation to get everything right.

I just loved the sunglasses and the pipe, which stayed put over the jumps! Shot with my go to lens which is on my camera most of the time. Canon 1DX, 200mm F2 @ F4.5, 1/2000

I also like to keep a long lens set up on a gimbal mount (too heavy to hand hold), which I can use to track more distant riders and get a nice set of candid shots. This doesn't always work out, my main aim on the day is to get a position where I can get the riders taking a jump, but on the occasions when I've got a bit of space around me the shots can be very artistic and effective.

Of course, the impact of all of this is that I have three times the amount of photos to edit when I get home! I always aim to have the gallery loaded onto our web site by 7pm, 8pm at the latest, so it's a long day - I'll have set off at around 8am to get to the ride, left at around 2:30pm and then gone straight into editing, which takes around 3-4 hours to complete - we don't just throw the photos onto the gallery, each one that we present has been colour balanced and cropped to give our customers the best possible presentation.

I'm looking forward to our next outing in June which has water jumps, I'd better make sure nothing (including me) manages to fall in! Come to think of it I've got to find my spot as well. I went over yesterday to meet with Neil, the organiser and he took me off road through fields and bumpy tracks so I hope I can work out where to go, there was a gate somewhere and a very steep hill! I'm sure it'll be fine, let's face it I've got plenty of time and this sort of thing  keeps me on my toes, it makes life quite exciting to be honest! 🙂

Tractor Rally – With Snow!

Canon 1DX, 24-70 F2.8

Canon 1DX, 70-200 F2.8

Well the annual tractor rally at Apley Farm Shop came around again last weekend. Organised by the Bridgnorth Vintage Machinery Club, it's our favourite early photography event! It usually has upwards of 100 tractors entering, which is a really great thing to witness - all the engine noise and old machines are fascinating and you could have imagined them working the Shropshire fields - in fact some still do. Last year we had sunshine, blue skies and it was almost tee shirt weather. This year we had an unexpected snow day and the temperature when I finally arrived at Apley Farm Shop (at 8am) was down to -1c. I forgot my wellies as well, so the first thing I did after getting out the car was to step in a snow covered muddy puddle 🙂

This year apart from stills, I shot video as well. Now this isn't quite as easy as it sounds. Having to jump from camera to camcorder and back is actually a bit of a challenge - video is very different to still photography. You have to reframe everything, shutter speeds work differently and the focusing is back to good old manual mode! And my hands were really bloody cold as well which didn't help. Still, as a non multitasking capable man I did actually manage ok. There were less tractors this year (something I'm partly grateful for because my hands got in front of the car heater quicker) but this is for a good cause with all donations going to help the Shropshire Air Ambulance, a vital service considering how rural a lot of Shropshire is - and inaccessible when weather like this closes in.

Andrea, who's accompanied me on this shoot for the past two years, very wisely stayed in bed this time.


March 2018 – Venison Evening

Bob Wassell, Master Butcher with some enthusiastic diners! Canon 5d mkiii, 24-70 2.8l, fill flash

Well this is an unusual one! I was invited to photograph a venison evening, sponsored by the Wildlife Trust. Very interesting and attended by about 60 very keen and knowledgeable people, two butchers and a deer expert. The butchers were fascinating, taking two venison legs and in the space of around 30 minutes converting them skilfully into rolled joints ready for the oven! The photos are destined for an upcoming edition of the Shropshire Magazine.


December 2017 – Santa’s Grotto!

Canon 1DX, 50mm f1.2 @f1.2 with 3 x Speedlite 600 ex-rt providing fill and main lighting, with an on camera transmitter keeping it all nicely synchronised.

Now - a lot of people may think that photographing Santa in his grotto is pretty run of the mill stuff - but not for us! We're fortunate enough to shoot at a really exclusive venue in Shropshire - Apley Farm Shop (www.apleyfarmshop.co.uk). So we go all out to make this a really special event for customers! Over the course of thirteen days we take around 20,000 photos with a huge footfall and understanding what customers want is really key to getting successful shots. We can of course do the standard shots but we always try to go the extra mile to get something special for everyone who makes a visit, and we get some delightful shots by doing that. I shoot this event almost exclusively with a Canon 50mm f1.2 lens - I can get a wonderful effect with the lights twinkling in the background and every photo is really unique. A lot of the fun is watching children show their anticipation and character, and patience is really key to making great shots, you can't just rush in and start clicking 🙂 a shy smile is never far away and I love seeing the photos after the event so I can see what everyone was so excited about!

We have two flashes positioned inside the Grotto to provide some careful graduated fill, and a third one shot through a translucent umbrella for soft main lighting just to keep everything looking natural. The trick is to keep everything well balanced and working in unison and not overpowering the ability to shoot with a very wide aperture, which can be surprisingly challenging when ambient light plays into the equation. It's hard work with lots of changes on the transmitter to adapt to a variety of scenarios - I do sometimes envy people with iPhones who can enjoy having everything from their toes to the background being in focus and they really do keep me on my feet when they want a shot which has huge depth of focus - but the shots that really work are those where the lights have a lovely blur and that's something that takes a lot of careful planning and execution. We also don't want it to look like a studio shoot, people are there to see Santa after all, so the approach is to be really low key and still get wonderful photos that customers treasure for years to come.

It’s Nearly Halloween

The Purple Witch - my favourite photo from last year, shot in the morning. Used widely for advertising the event and part of my portfolio. Canon 1DX, 200mm F2l @ F2, fill flash.

Every year I shoot a Pumpkin Festival deep in the Shropshire Countryside. It's an event that I look forward to well in advance - I'm a total kid when it comes to Halloween and the opportunity to carve pumpkins certainly isn't lost on me at all. There's a huge field of pumpkins and the children (and adults!) get to pick their own - which of course leads to some wonderful photos. Most of the time I'm shooting with my Canon 200mm F2, it's absolutely perfect for an event like this, the wafer thin depth of field makes everything stand out perfectly and the colours are amazing - and as the light gets low towards the end of the day it really does come into its own. There's something about Autumn light, during the day it can stay perfectly soft, no harsh shadows and even a bit of drizzle can help. I have a second body with a 24-70 for group shots, but the 200 F2 gets the majority of the action, and rightly so.

Even though this is one of my favourite events, I can't post a lot of my favourite photos (although these ones are some of my favourites - the Purple Witch has been used extensively for advertising and a version of the Pumpkin Hunter was shortlisted for World Photo).  Looking through the shots at the end of the day is incredibly enjoyable though even if I can't share them! At this event I have a huge number of photos in total and I'm certainly not always a machine gun shooter either, but it's staggering really when you think of how digital has removed the limitations, in the days of film it would have cost a small fortune (not to mention the time to run the negatives) and as a result opportunities would have been missed. I can remember shooting with film and being careful with every click - the reason we used two cameras then was often to make sure one of them was loaded with enough film to capture something should it happen!

I've got my skeleton out today, he had a bad time last year, both his legs fell off because I laid him on the roof of the 4x4 when I was packing up and forgot he was there - I got 2 miles down the road before someone behind frantically flashed their lights at me. I found him in a ditch and I found his left leg about 50 yards further on. After a long hunt (while holding a skeleton in one hand and a leg in the other) I returned to my car to find the right leg next to the car 🙂 goodness knows what it looked like but it must have given a few people a good laugh! Anyway he's all fixed up, amazing what you can do with a few cable ties!


I thought this pumpkin tower was a work of art! Used for advertising. Canon 1DS MkIII, 200mm F2l @ F2.

It takes a lot of careful examination to pick the best pumpkin. Used for advertising. Canon 1DX, 200mm F2l @ F2.

Smoked Pheasant!

Sometimes we come across very exclusive products to photograph - and have to have a bit of a head scratch as to how to make it look just right! This week it was smoked pheasant - I've got a (very good) book on smoking and given I stopped enjoying a cigarette myself about 20 years ago I guess I've put my efforts into smoking food instead, although I've only tried hot smoking - you can't beat a freshly caught mackerel smoked on the beach! Cold smoking is a different approach altogether and I'm very keen to give it a go this year.

Apley Farm Shop have an exciting new range of smoked pheasant breast, it takes a lot of work to get it to the point of sale - not only the smoking part but of course the rigorous food hygiene standards that have to be observed and passed to enable it to be sold. I can honestly say that it's absolutely delicious, one of the hardest things sometimes about a food shoot is not eating the product and that's made even harder because when everything comes together and the shot looks just right, it shouts out "eat me"....and I just want to get a few more shots to make sure! Anyway, we dressed it up with a lot of other tasty items and some interesting carved wood bowls, server and scoop from a local wood turner. I wanted to get the "country kitchen" feel to it, a warm, comforting Autumn meal. It's a product that needs to be carefully accessorised to keep it as the centrepiece. These photos will go down two routes, a big marketing banner for the dressed shots and via the online shop for the knock out shot.

Smoked pheasant, olives and a bottle of Veuve Cliquot which remains unopened until the product launch! Canon 5d mkIII, 24-70 2.8, two softboxes and diffusion panel.

Knock out, ready for web site. Canon 5d mkiii, 100 2.8.

I ate ALL of those olives 🙂

Stafford Classic Car Show

Wow! Canon 1dx, 50mm 1.2 @f1.6

Canon 1dx, 70-200 f2.8 @f3.5

We had a great time today photographing the annual classic car show at Stafford Castle. This is our second year covering the show and thanks to all the staff for making us feel so welcome again. It's a dream event for us to be honest as we both love a classic car. We have an MG Midget that we enjoy taking for a spin on a summer's evening (invariably ending up at the pub for some reason!) and then sit and watch the admiring glances it receives in the car park. There's nothing like a classic car or bike for drawing attention and there were plenty of admiring glances today with so many beautiful vehicles on display. It was lovely to chat to lots of car and bike enthusiasts many of whom had a great story or anecdote to share about their pride and joy! We had some great banter with the scooter boys again and really enjoyed chatting to the Jaguar Club Members who we hope to meet again at future shows.

We had to laugh at the "British Summer" today - three hefty rain showers didn't discourage anyone (although we did spot someone huddled in a blanket). Of course the result of the rain was a very wet gazebo - it didn't help being under a tree! Our new one doesn't move in the wind (thankfully) but it does happily store a fair bit of water when packing it down wet which finds its way down sleeves, on feet etc 🙂

As usual Steve took some fantastic photos which you can view by clicking on our galleries page. Look forward to returning next year!


Canon 1dx, 24-70 2.8l @ f6.3, fill flash


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