Taking a good photo with any camera

One of the big changes we've seen in the last few years is that at any given time, most people will have a camera on them. This may be 'just' a mobile phone but we are at a stage where mobiles have become good enough in many situations to create a photo that you can even print and enlarge. Another exciting advancement this month was the release of the Huawei P20 Pro that has a triple camera, 40 megapixel camera (more info on the Huawei P20 here) 

 Valletta, Shot on a OnePlus 5

Valletta, Shot on a OnePlus 5

Previous Articles

On this blog i have already talked about some simple tricks in the following articles: 

but lets focus on the device we all have with us everyday: Our phone.


Mobile Photography Workflow

Mobile phones like the OnePlus 5, The Samsung S8/S9 have great cameras that are able to capture great images in many conditions. As we try to take pictures in more challenging scenarios then things can get ugly. If we understand the limitations we have and work our way around them then we can help our phone's camera produce better results.

1. Buy the right phone

In the words of 'The sound of music' - "Let's start from the very beginning, a very good place to start". When you are making the choice on which mobile phone to buy, steer clear of the many marketing gimmicks manufacturers will use to tempt you. The laws of physics apply to any camera - bigger sensors (all other things being equal) will produce better photos. They will allow in more light, which leads to better colours, less noise at night and happiness. A lot of happiness. This is something you can easily check since most review sites list the sensor size of the phone's cameras. The Google Pixel, the Samsung Galaxy S9 or upcoming Huawei P20 have a larger physical sensor and this can be seen directly affecting the good scores they receive on DXO Mark (Check out DXOMark mobile for camera reviews)

For landscape lovers: optical image stabilisation, Samsung's new variable aperture system provides high detail in good light

For people & low light Look out for bigger sensors, lenses that will let in lots of light (the smaller the 'f' number, the more light you get), Phase detection autofocus. Dual camera setups with a zoom lens and good bokeh simulation can work nicely here

For everything: Look out for bigger sensors, good scores on review sites like dxomark. Watch out for dual-camera setups - some may bring advantages but more cameras is not always better

2. Shoot first, ask questions later

One of the biggest arguments among photographers, especially ones who have come from the days of film is the "spray & pray" attitude that digital allows. Whilst it is very important to think about what you are shooting and to time the shot correctly... taking multiple shots will increase your chances of getting the perfect one. In mobiles this is particularly effective since the device is more fiddly than an SLR and also has more lag between pressing the shutter button and the shot being taken. This can cause the photo to be blurred due to camera shake, or a subject having his/her eyes closed.

3. Look around you first

Are you shooting in the sun? Is there something really bright/reflective behind you? Are you on something moving? Are you in a very dark area? If you've answered yes to any of those questions then you're putting your phone's camera in a hard place. Look around you - if you are in the sun try and find a spot of shade. The main source of light should ideally be behind you (this will provide the best lighting for your subject). If you are in the dark, is there a bright shop window nearby? or can you turn on some more lighting? These will help the camera choose a setting which will result in better image quality.

4. Know your lens

The main camera on most phones is a 24mm-27mm (ie wide angle) lens. This means that it is quite susceptible to the way you position it towards your subject. For example if you are taking a photo of a person (full body outfit shot for example) - if the camera is held at head height, then this is going to cause the person to look shorter than they are. Moving the camera down to chest or waist height will make them look taller. Taking the photo from near the ground will make them look much taller and also provides an interesting perspective - perfect for showing off those new Gucci Loafers

5. Editing is part of the workflow

Snapseed or VSCO are simple tools that can be used to greatly enhance photos taken by phones. One of the main areas of weakness for mobile phone cameras in my opinion are - White Balance and Noise. Snapseed has a colour picker tool that allows you to click on an area of the image that is neutral (white/gray) and this will automatically adjust the colours of the image accordingly. This will really improve the way the image looks since some lighting systems (like tungsten) can give a yellow/orange colour cast to everything in the photo. 

Noise can be tackled by using contrast and darkening the darker areas of the photo, combined with noise reduction filters. If an image is particularly noisy, converting it to Black and White can help.

Canon 5D Mark 4. Long Term review

It's been just about over 6 months since I made the switch from the Canon 5D Mark 3 to the shiny new Canon 5D Mark 4. I've been a fan of the 5D series for a while, the only model that I skipped was the 5Ds/r, this had great image quality (Thanks btw to Avantech who had given me the 5Ds and r for review). However, the camera was primarily aimed at (I felt) studio use and I tend to have a broader set of needs which made me stick with the Mark 3 at the time.

This is not a feature list or a discussion of all the features in the camera - most major photography sites have comprehensive reviews that go into lots of detail if that's what you're after. This article focuses on those features that I was most in contact with as I used this camera as my primary day-to-day tool.

Without further ado.. some context: What have i been using the Canon 5D Mark 4 for, over the last 6 Months?

- Backstage at Malta Fashion Week

- Catwalk at the Pink Fashion Show

- Street-style/ Backstage at Milan/ London fashion weeks

- Portraiture

- Editorial/ Magazine Fashion shoots

- A Top Secret! :P Upcoming exhibition

These include a healthy mix of available light & artificially lit shoots, colour & monochrome and many situations where I had very little time to shoot - so camera ergonomics and handling were really important to me.

Disclaimer: I was not paid to write this review and I receive no commission on any Canon products sold.

The Good.

Spoiler alert: This is going to be the biggest section.


The metering system is by far the biggest upgrade in the Mark 4. I sometimes felt that the Mark 3 could be a bit erratic, especially in backlit situations, however, the Mark 4 has an impressive accuracy to the metering. This has really reduced a lot of the times I've had to go to fully Manual mode for challenging light conditions, and could rely a lot more on Av/Tv modes.

 This photo for the Hoya campaign of O'Hea Opticians was shot purely with natural light and despite the bright white background, the camera nailed the exposure beautifully

This photo for the Hoya campaign of O'Hea Opticians was shot purely with natural light and despite the bright white background, the camera nailed the exposure beautifully

Focus and Handling

Looking at a spec sheet, the AutoFocus system on the Mark 3 and the Mark 4 are fairly similar. There are some key differences which I found to be quite useful since I tend to shoot at very large apertures (f2.0 on the 85mm f1.2L and 50mm f1.2L). The first difference is that the autofocus points are spread out over a larger area - which makes choosing the correct point easier.

Autofocus speed is pretty similar to the Mark 3, but lets face it - it was already a stellar performer, even in very low light. Autofocus accuracy however, I feel has improved significantly. When shooting at large apertures I'm noticing a much higher keeper rate which reduces the number of reshoots and allows me to shoot subjects such as streetstyle (where time is critical) with much less time/waste. For the little bit of LiveView shooting I did, DualPixel AF works impressively quickly and tracking is smooth.

The ergonomics of the camera haven't really changed much - the Mark 4 is a little bit lighter, but other than that if you're used to the 5D series, you get the same great user experience and updated Canon menus. Thumbs up.

Camera Speed

Continuous shooting has increased by 1fps to 7fps - which is a noticeable improvement... although for sports/birding/action shooters who can afford it, the 1D is still light years away. Reviewing images, camera menus and general usage is very snappy and the camera doesn't feel sluggish at any point. Image transfer is also quite fast. 

Image Quality

The Mark 4 is noticeably better than the Mark 3 in this field. There is a small improvement in High ISO noise & colours.. but the main gains are when shooting in good lighting. The colours and dynamic range of the new sensor are simply put - fantastic. The size of the image is also ideal since it gives enough cropping room, without the bulky file sizes of say the 5Ds which takes its toll on all the subsequent workflow.


Finally! the secondary slot supports UHS. This makes a big difference in card speed and the buffers are cleared noticeably quicker. The camera also features WiFi which makes it easy to connect to my tablet/phone and transfer images of the camera. For bulk/dumb transfers during shoots i'm still using an Eye-Fi card since this part of my workflow was already set up.


The Mark 4 feels a bit more sturdy than the Mark 3. I can't give an exact reason why :) (and this could just be a placebo/new toy effect) however it feels very well put together

The Meh


Great for when you're shooting in LiveView in weird positions... but not really a killer feature for my usages. I still ended up using the wheels for my day to day operations

Dual Pixel RAW

This could be chalked to me being an old fart, however, the increase in accuracy out of the box doesn't really make me need this feature to the point where I'm fine with the increased file size. I used this initially a bit, it's cool but it's something I didn't keep using once the novelty wore off.

The Bad

I really have nothing much to say in this section. If I had to be picky, the battery life (using the same batteries I had for the Mark 3) is a bit poorer than the Mark 3 but we're still talking about battery life that would last me for a few days of shooting (using the battery grip).

The price has increased a bit over the Mark 3 at launch, however prices have already come down and I think the Mark 4 represents really good value for the workhorse it is.

Conclusion.. a.k.a Should I upgrade?

This is an easy one - Yes. The Mark 4 improves all the core areas of photography and these will translate into improved quality, speed and ergonomics for pretty much any photographer. These will be particularly noticeable if you do ambient light shooting or any sort of reportage/weddings. I really recommend this camera and I'm personally very happy that I've made the switch. Initially, I thought the difference was minor, and that I would use the Mark 4 and Mark 3 interchangeably but ever since the Mark 4 has entered my bag, I have almost never picked up the Mark 3 again... I think that speaks for itself.

Facebook, please stop mangling our photos

The Facebook compression has never been stellar. With the advent of "High Quality" uploads i had thought that it would improve (and to be fair it did at the time) however I think that whilst the quality is perfectly fine for your average selfie... well I'm not happy with it.

Both of the following files are the same, the only difference is that the top photo was uploaded to Facebook and then downloaded again. In both cases the file does look a tiny bit different before Squarespace (my hosting provider) has applied it's sauce to the image but the degradation is minimal/insignificant.  The Facebook compression on the other hand is VERY visible.

Illustrations in photo by Alisa Pavia

 Uploaded to Facebook & Re-downloaded

Uploaded to Facebook & Re-downloaded

 Uploaded from PNG

Uploaded from PNG

The Nexus 5X mini review


3 weeks, and €550 later my trusty LG G3 earned retirement status and I joined the family of Vanilla-Lovers via the 5X. This review is not going to cover all the points and fine details of the Nexus 5X (there are plenty of more in-depth literature floating around. link: www.gsmarena.com) but is going to highlight some of my personal experiences and impressions.

1. The Price

Clocking in at €529 in europe, it feels overpriced... The feeling gets much worse when you factor in shipping and the fact that it's available at $378 in the US. A few weeks in and this is one of the only pieces of electronics i've bought where I feel that I was slightly cheated. The soft touch plastics are pleasant but feel cheap compared to the LG G4's opulent leather, or the sleek aluminium and glass of the Samsung Galaxy S6... and the fact remains that both of these are cheaper than the 5X.

2. The Camera

The Nexus 5X has a great camera, particularly in low light. I've been consistently surprised and impressed at the photos that I was able to take with the phone... especially since there is absolutely no way to manually control the exposure. The idiot-mode camera app together with it's HDR+ mode gets a good result most of the times (it has a tendency to clip highlights in some scenarios such as this burger shot) however I find it very annoying that I have no way to tweak exposure settings. Double tapping the power key brings up the camera app in a reasonably snappy speed.... but it seems counter-intuitive that the power button will then shut off the display as per normal rather than acting as a shutter button (the volume key will however work as hardware shutter)

 Renzo's Parliament

Renzo's Parliament

 Burger, Vecchia Napoli

Burger, Vecchia Napoli

 Ritienne Zammit, Strada Stretta

Ritienne Zammit, Strada Stretta

 View from CcBill,  sunset

View from CcBill,  sunset


3. Performance

"Meh. It's Ok" is the best way to sum this up. The phone will not impress you in the way a Samsung Galaxy S6 will... but it won't annoy you either. Games work fine, OS snappiness is up to usual Nexus standards but no new ground has been broken. Another wierd issue is that when the phone is being charged, touch-screen responsiveness and performance in general simply die.


4. Battery Life

The Nexus were never known to have stellar battery life. This is still the case with the 5X. The great thing is that the phone software (and Doze in particular) is very efficient - this means that the battery only goes down when you're actually using the phone. So far there hasn't been a single time where i've picked up my phone and found it warm and battery-less (meaning that it decided to do something stupid in the background, my Samsung Galaxy S3 and S4 were the worst offenders at this). For power users who are constantly using their phone, the battery will just about last through the day... i've found that the battery will last me a day and a half with normal usage


5. USB Type-C

The Nexus 5X uses the new USB standard port: Type-C. This similar in size to MicroUSB but it's symmetrical and can be inserted both ways. This is one of those things that you don't really expect to love, until you actually start using them. The new connector is much easier and less fiddly to insert in the dark, (and most of us plug in our phone to charge... at night.. when you're usually 75% asleep and operating on 1 solitary braincell). The connector also feels more sturdy. On the downside - USB Type-C accessories are harder to find and more expensive than their counterparts. Luckily MicroUSB to USB Type-C Adaptors exist that will allow you to convert any existing accessories over.


6. Charging

The phone is bundled with a 15W charger and a USB Type-C to USB Type-C cable. This means that you will not be able to use any of your existing chargers with this phone. You won't even be able to move the cable onto another charger ... so make sure that you buy an extra USB Type-A to Type-C cable or two if you buy this phone. Using the bundled charger the phone charges VERY fast. Whereas i used to leave all my previous phones charging overnight, i usually plug the Nexus in when i'm getting ready in the morning and in that 30-45mins it is usually back to 100%


7. Fingerprint Scanner

Everything about this scanner is awesome. Training is simple and straight forward, scanning is really impressively fast and very accurate (works with any orientation or fragment of my finger). Positioning at the back of the phone is very convenient too. So far living with this scanner has been great. Combine this with trusted places and trusted devices and locking/unlocking my phone is very ergonomic

Studio. Faces. Black & White.

 Caroline Paris. Partner in Crime.

Caroline Paris. Partner in Crime.

 Tamara Webb. Photographer.

Tamara Webb. Photographer.

 Bojana, Supernova Model Management

Bojana, Supernova Model Management

 Suncica, Supernova Model Management

Suncica, Supernova Model Management

 Valentina Rossi, Modelle Internazionale

Valentina Rossi, Modelle Internazionale

 Henry, Makeup Artist & Model, Supernova Model Management

Henry, Makeup Artist & Model, Supernova Model Management

Reveu.me - Connecting creatives with industry professionals

The most difficult part of the creative process (in my humble opinion) is choosing. If the shoot went well, there are usually many good choices... and if the shoot didn't go so well, there are what *look* like good choices. The reason is that as though they were our children, we look at our creative works with biased eyes. 

A little while ago I had signed up for the beta of Revue.me. The label on the can promised to allow an easy way for an industry professional (Photographers, Agents, Editors etc) to take a look at a body of work and to provide constructive criticism. Like all things on the internet I assumed this would be free, however there is a cost per review. This cost, combined with the fact that (at the time) most of the reviewers were photographers, led me to put this website aside and continue using photography forums (or my trusty sidekick Caroline) for this sort of advice.

Fast forward a month or two - I received an email with some personal responses to some  comments I had made in a site survey a little while back, and an offer for a complimentary review by Jerris Madison, editor-in-chief at Obvious magazine. The first thing I noticed on my return was that the site has grown a lot. The reviewers available are more varied and many are industry professionals that would not be easily accessible. 

The submission process is very straightforward and the site worked well both on my computer and mobile. You select some images, describe the shoot from a creative and technical point of view, add any specific questions and voila! Done. A day (or less) later I receive a notification that this was done. I was very happy to receive some very kind words, but also the reviewer pointed out something that I normally took for granted and that would be very easy to fix going forward.

Apart from the review, you may opt to ask advice or questions to a reviewer that are decoupled from any one shoot - and the cherry on the cake - you can even have a 1-on-1 video call with the reviewer.

A sample submission is available here: https://beta.reveu.me/Submission/rh84ni2haWpxrt9ER

As you can see, the reviewer tackled technical issues related to the photography aesthetic and also tackled issues specific to the industry.

Based on the cost of the review i think this would be great to get a feel of how your work competes on a global scale. It also provides a good insight into concerns and challenges which you might not even be aware of.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with reveu.me and have not been commissioned to write this article

What camera should I buy?

You should always buy the best camera in the world ...and the best camera in the world, is the one you have with you :) Of course some camera models will give you a better result, but if they aren't with you they are useless.

Many people equate buying a camera with choosing one of two options - either buying an SLR or buying a cheap compact if price is a factor. The truth is that cameras have evolved not just in how good either one is, but also, new technologies have bred entirely new categories of cameras.

Another complication is that many of us have capable camera phones with us at all times. Do keep your phone in mind when making a decision of what camera to buy since the camera should give you something that your phone doesn't. Otherwise, what's the point of carrying another device?

"The Digital SLR" - a photographer's choice

So lets start off talking about the white elephant in the room - The venerable Digital SLR. This is the most misunderstood camera on the planet, and yet the obvious choice if you are intending to take up photography as a serious hobby, or start working as a professional photographer. SLRs tend to have a better build than other cameras and can suffer a bit more use and abuse. Since they have a large sensor (roughly the size of an SD card) they take beautiful photos, and they have one feature you won't find on any other consumer camera type: an optical viewfinder that shows you exactly what the lens is seeing. This last point is the reason an SLR is so important for photographers: instead of looking at a screen, you are looking into the scene with your eye and the experience is completely different. Top dogs in the SLR world are Canon and Nikon, pop over to the respective dealers and see which one feels best in your hands and go for it. The most important things to keep in mind when buying an SLR:

Do not buy anything except the camera and a lens. Ignore the 99-in-1 super duper thingy that does everything and the double kit magic zoom etc. Many times you are only saving a small amount and ending up buying a lot of useless doodads that you don't really need. Buy the camera, with the kit lens and take some pictures - once you figure out what you enjoy shooting you'll have a sea of other things you can buy.

I personally shoot Canon, and if you are aspiring to become a working photographer - the Canon 5D Series of cameras are (in my humble opinion) the perfect sweet-spot of price-ruggedness-reliability and specs

"NOT a dSLR" - everyone else's choice

If you are not aspiring to become the next Helmut Newton, there is a high chance that you won't even use this lovely viewfinder. Even worse than that, you will start to leave your camera at home because of the worst characteristic of an SLR: they are huge and heavy, even I don't like running around with one when I'm not working. Don't underestimate how many people buy one of these cameras and then never use it once the novelty has worn off.

Beautiful Photos - Small Camera - Changeable Lenses

Great image quality (and I mean the kind of quality that can be printed in a magazine, ie as good as an SLR, sometimes better) can be found on 2 other types of cameras, high end compact cameras and my personal favourite, mirrorless Cameras. 

These cameras have great image quality for a very good reason, some of them use the exact same sensor as the ones that can be found in great SLRs. For example, the Sony NEX 5n (~600 Euro), which is a rather old mirrorless camera, had the same sensor found on the Nikon D7000 (~1000 Euro). That means that these cameras produced images which are very very very similar.

The only difference is that the NEX is much smaller and only around a third of the weight of the D7000. Oh, and it's around 400 euros cheaper too. This particular mirrorless camera is missing the viewfinder, but for many people this is a useless feature anyway. If you dont particularly care about a viewfinder, Canon has just launched the new M100 camera which is getting great reviews: https://www.dpreview.com/products/canon/slrs/canon_eosm100

Mirrorless SLRs are basically SLRs that have had their mirror and optical viewfinder removed. The light hits the sensor at all times and the back screen (or in some models a digital viewfinder) is used to take the shot. I personally have a mirrorless SLR that i use when not carrying my 5D, however not everyone has the same tastes and new models come out yearly. Www.dpreview.com has a great buying guide for mirrorless cameras here: http://www.dpreview.com/articles/6428641287/mid-range-mirrorless-camera-roundup .

If the latest models are outside your budget, find one that's a year or two old, this class of camera depreciates quite quickly. 

Beautiful Photos - Smaller Camera - Integrated Lenses

The last type of camera i'll recommend is the premium compact camera. When these guys were getting shrunk, the boffins doing the shrinking reasoned that if they remove the ability for the user to change lenses, it will result in an even smaller camera... and that's exactly what they did.

Some of these cameras use a sensor that's the same size as that found on an SLR, image quality will be great. The lens you get with these type of cameras can vary from "meh" to "OMG". For example, if you look at the 24-70mm f1.8-2.8 lens that you get on the Sony RX100 (mk3 & mk4) it's much better than anything bundled with an SLR (or mirrorless camera for that matter). A good 24-70mm f2.8 lens (the one above is even better since it has f1.8 - which means it can work in much darker environments) can cost upwards of 2000 Euros. Just the lens. Really. The Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II is also a great choice

The only downside to premium compact cameras is that some have a sensor that's a tiny bit smaller than an SLR and their handling and responsiveness may suffer due to the small size. These areas are constantly being improved on, however it's best to see how a particular camera handles (by reading reviews) before pulling the trigger. A great guide for buying a high end pocket camera is available on dpreview.com: https://www.dpreview.com/reviews/2017-roundup-compact-enthusiast-zoom-cameras

Around the Amalfi Coast

A few weeks ago we visited the Amalfi coast. As always, the Italian hospitality was as amazing as the place itself and I discovered quite possibly, my favourite white wine ever (link).

Positano at dusk

View of Capri from Villa San Michele

 Duomo Amalfi

Duomo Amalfi

Pier, Sorrento Port

Old Vineyard, Ravello