Arctic Adventures on the RV Kinfish

Waiting for the ice (c) Michael Smyth 2018

We have recently returned from a small ship expedition to the islands of Svalbard in the High Arctic. Svalbard lies well within the Arctic Circle, so in Summer it is light 24 hours a day. The image above was taken at about 1:30AM on a cloudy day. Svalbard is regarded as the “Jewel of the Arctic” due to its abundance of wildlife, spectacular scenery and historical sites.

We are working on a new series of guides called “Travel Tales” that documents unusual travel locations and provides information to help with planning your own trips.

Guillemots (c) Michael Smyth 2018

A Tribute to Stephen Hawking, 1942 - 2018

The Big Bang

With the passing of Stephen Hawking, one of the greatest minds we have ever known, it seems fitting to create an image that illustrates some of the strange and bizarre aspects of Theoretical Physics.  Here I have been experimenting with some techniques that yield some interesting and unpredictable results.  Each photograph starts out as a "normal" image, a landscape, architectural form or something similar.   I have then applied some standard photographic techniques to create the image I have imagined for the subject.  There are several steps to achieve the result you see here, I use filters and adjustments on the base image until it looks like the image I want.  This image represents the violent events that occurred at the time of the Big Bang - the beginning of the Universe.  Another example in this series can be seen on the home page.  

New Tutorial Added - How to use the Clarity tool in Lightroom

Correct use of the Clarity tool, along with other techniques in Lightroom can improve images dramatically

Correct use of the Clarity tool, along with other techniques in Lightroom can improve images dramatically

Many photographers are unaware of the use of the Clarity tool in their imaging workflow.  In another of our short tutorials we show what Clarity does and how to use it effectively.  

To go directly to the tutorial, click  HERE  or go to the Tutorials section and choose Processing and Enhancement.

New Tutorial Added - The Importance of Sharpening Images

Many people seem unaware of the need and importance of applying sharpening to their image files at various stages of processing and enhancement.  As part of a new series of mini tutorials we cover the essentials of sharpening.  Go to the Tutorials page and choose "Processing and Enhancement " or click HERE to go to the page directly.

Applying appropriate sharpening can make a dramatic difference.

Journeys into the Wild - National Library of Australia Exhibition

Iconic Australian photographers Peter Dombrovskis and Olegas Truchanas were largely responsible for changing public opinion and ultimately preventing the damming of the Franklin below Gordon river in South West Tasmania.  Communicating with the public via their remarkable imagery, they showed Australia and the world the natural unspoilt beauty of Tasmania, which galvanised public opinion against this project. Trachanas died in 1972 and his pioneering work was continued by the arguably better known Peter Dombrovskis.

It can be said that one of the purposes of photography is to change to world and the photography of these two men did just that in no uncertain terms.  

Commencing on September 21st 2017 and running until the 30th January 2018 at the National Library of Australia, is an exhibition of 70 of the best works of Peter Dombrovskis.  Peter died in 1996 and his images are now held by the National Library. 

These images, originally captured on large format transparency film, have been digitally remastered by Dr Les Walkling and I have been fortunate to have seen a preview of some of these remarkable images.  The originals were all degraded with mould, under exposure and scratches, but fortunately for all Australians, Les Walkling is not only a master image maker, he has a long love affair with the work of Peter Dombrovskis and has lovingly restored the images and created the prints for the exhibition.

I highly recommend this exhibition to anyone who appreciates fine art photography and who has an interest in the environment.  Below is an image made in South Western Tasmania that in a small way pays tribute to the pioneering environmental work of these remarkable photographers.   

There is a short YouTube video of Les' discussion about his approach to the prints that can be found  HERE. 

There is also a short promotional video of the exhibition HERE. 

Bull Kelp, South West Tasmania (c) Michael Smyth 2017

Bull Kelp, South West Tasmania (c) Michael Smyth 2017

Travels with a mirrorless camera system

Relics of a Failed state

For the past few weeks we have been travelling with a pair of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras (ILCs).  This is in place of our usual full frame DSLRs with several lenses.  The reason for the change in camera selection is that we were to be spending most of our time in a couple of European cities, on foot and on public transport.  This was not to be a “serious” photographic trip and the thought of carrying around heavy camera gear day in and day out was not attractive.

Nonetheless, every photographic opportunity should yield usable images, so we wanted to be able to capture data for processing into expressive images, if the situation arose.  So, the choice was made and after nearly 3 weeks of use we have come to some conclusions about our choices of equipment:


Lightness.  The complete kit of camera body and two lenses weighs less than the DSLR body only.  This is a big difference for day in, day out walking around.

Image quality.  The data captured with the cameras processes into good images, most of the time.  Occasional slow focus in less than ideal conditions meant a few out of focus shots, but generally, the results are more than acceptable.  Low light sees the systems start to struggle at 1600 ISO and higher, however.

Convenience.  Having a small camera and consequently a small camera bag is very easy to carry and handle over a long day on foot.  There would be times when I would just not bother taking the camera because of the size and weight of a full size system would be unbearable.

Cost.  Compared to the equivalent DSLR, small ILCs are less costly to buy and lenses are cheaper and smaller than the full frame equivalent.  A full frame Sony Mirrorless system, whilst lighter and more compact than the equivalent Canon/Nikon offerings is no cheaper, at least at the time of writing.  We have been using the smaller NEX series bodies and lenses.


Electronic viewfinders are still not as good as an optical viewfinder.  Granted, our bodies are a few years old, but the image through the viewfinder is of lower resolution and higher contrast than the captured image when reviewed.  This meant that often we thought the scene was too contrasty to capture, when in fact it was quite usable.  Low light is another matter, with a very grainy image in the viewfinder.

Response time/Shutter lag.  For someone used to a DSLR, even a short lag between pressing the shutter and the capture is quite disconcerting.  Trying to follow the action at a sporting event was very hit and miss.

Image quality.  Whilst the output from the APS-C format sensors is good, the combination of smaller size and less sophisticated lenses means that for “Serious” photography, my go to system would still be a full frame DSLR.  For most situations, the smaller camera is adequate, but for challenging lighting situations it just can't match the full frame body.

High ISO Noise.  Whilst the dynamic range of the APS-C mirrorless system is pretty good, it is still not at the level of full frame DSLR, at least not the Nikon system we currently use.

Battery life.  Driving an electronic viewfinder and rear screen uses up a lot of battery power.  Combined with a smallish battery we would just get a day’s shooting out of one battery.  Still adequate for the type of trip we are on, but well short of the 3-4 day’s heavy use the DSLR can handle.


There seem to be more Cons than Pros, but all in all, this type of system is ideal for the type of use we had planned.  Whilst there are some compromises, the convenience factor alone outweighs most of the disadvantages and the results we have obtained are more than satisfactory.

So, in the final analysis, is it Mirrorless or DSLR ?  For us, the answer is BOTH.  For travel and everyday shooting, the mirrorless system is a great option, but for the more challenging situations of low light, critical quality and overall performance, the DSLR still reigns supreme.

These comments are purely a result of our experiences and expectations.  Your situation may be different and I know of several serious photographers who are committed to the mirrorless system, although at the higher level than the system we have been using.

A bit of trial and error yielded some results at the World Swimming Champoinships.

A bit of trial and error yielded some results at the World Swimming Champoinships.