The prime numbers don’t add up, at least not initially

There seems to be few things that some photographers like to do more than argue the relative merits of their opinions on equipment; whether it be the age-old Nikon vs Canon battle (see here for my parody), or whether DSLRs are better than mirrorless cameras, what is the best crop-sensor size or, one of my favorites: the time-honored argument of prime lenses vs. zoom lenses.

Thus, when starry-eyed, enthusiastic newcomers graduate to cameras with interchangeable lenses (ILCs) from their point-and-shoot kits (P&S), as we pompous photogs like to call them, they are barraged by a “wealth” of conflicting gibberish about the latest must have lens in order to take their photography “to the next level.” In fact, a quick look at my twitter and pinterest feeds show that around 10% of the traffic crossing my path concerns this crap at the moment.

Well, not to be outdone I’m going to add my opinion to what I view as a sea of consumerism, shrouded in pointless perfectionism, specifically focusing (!) on the prime vs zoom lens argument. So, here goes:

For the uninitiated the logic goes like this – camera lenses are a complex set of individual glass elements which fit together to allow image focus at a certain distance. Prime lenses have a fixed focal length whereas zoom lenses, by very definition, do not. Zoom lenses give you much more flexibility on composing your shot but this comes at some cost to image quality. In order to achieve this flexibility the zoom lenses must have more elements and therefore be more complicated. It also is not designed to be “perfect” at one focal length and therefore has to compromise throughout the focal range. This compromise is what drives many photographers nuts, mainly because they are obsessed with the concept of obtaining the ever-elusive “tack sharp” image.

To be brutally honest the there is one huge advantage that prime lenses do have over zoom – the availability of much wider apertures for the same focal length, but please read on…

My view is that unless you are planning on producing a print that it larger than, say 40” (100cm) on one side, or have a penchant for specialist photography such as macro, or starlight, or you want a compact 50mm (that’s a 25mm for us m4/3 users!) for street work, then generally speaking, swapping a zoom lens for a much more expensive prime lens isn’t really worth it, at least not until you discover your niche area of photography (if you ever do). In fact, given that the vast majority (>99%) of images are never, ever printed at any size, I’ll put it another way –  don’t rush out and spend your cash on expensive prime lenses, until you have worked out if you have a real need for one.   

As a budding photographer, surrounded by a maelstrom of magazines and blogs that are often nothing more than pages of advertisements,  what does matter is honing your skill as a photographer in understanding the relationship between aperture, shutter speed and (that so-antiquated term) ISO. That, and the ability to actually focus and knowing how to compose a shot to tell the story you want to convey! It is for this reason the good old zoom lens is a great lens to have as it allows you to experiment, and experimentation is the best way of learning any new skill.

In my experience the kit lenses (usually zoom) that are provided with an ILC have been perfectly adequate for 95% of the photographs I take.

And if you think this is all bull, then here’s a sobering thought – I have sold several large prints to buyers, some up to 27” x 36” (68 cm x 91 cm) taken with an iPhone 5, so where does that leave the “you must invest in an expensive prime lens to take a good photograph” argument?


The Art of QR Codes


You have probably seen these weird looking blocks of black and white squares on packages and leaflets, and even on the billboards and buildings, but do you really understand what they are and how you can benefit from them as an artist?

What is a QR code?

Over the last several decades we have all become used to barcodes, with their characteristic zebra-stripes, being printed on all our packaging to make stock control easy in the supermarket and beyond, but in the last few years you may also have noticed the quiet arrival of a new variant of this object in the shape of a black and white set of dots in a square shape. This is a new form of 2-dimensional barcode called a Quick Response code, or QR code, which is able to convey a lot more information than the old stripey barcodes in a format that all users of common modern technology can use without a laser in sight. These squares of high contrast are not only used to identify a product but can also provide a quick link to a website for further information. Unique QR codes can, in fact, be created and used by anyone to allow quick access to anything accessible by a URL. This means we can now use them to drive potential customers to our online art portfolios, or even specific artwork, blog postings, or anything else  without worrying about spelling errors or mistyping of long web addresses.

How does it all work?

The first thing that anyone needs to be able to use a QR code is a smartphone with a camera and access to the internet. The next thing to do is to download an app that can read QR codes and then you are ready to start your journey. There are many QR code readers available for iOS and android users, some free (usually with a few, fairly unobtrusive adverts) and others that cost a few bucks. Just search your app store for “QR reader” and see what’s available.

Once you have this installed all you have to do is start the app, line the camera up with any QR code you find, and let the camera focus on it. You don’t even have to press the shutter button as the phone will do the rest for you. As soon as the app recognizes the QR code it will use your web browser to open up the page to which the QR code has sent it, and you can view the site.  It really is that quick and easy!

How to generate a QR code

It shouldn’t take you long to realize the potential for this as a marketing tool for your artwork. This little black and white square offers a foolproof way for people to quickly locate any page you want from their phone. All you have to do is generate your code and use it somewhere where others can find it.

Again, the web comes to our rescue, and a simple search for “QR code generator” will provide you with a wealth of choices. I use the google generator app so I will explain how this works, although other generators are very similar.

Go to the web page, and in the URL box type the web address where you want the QR code to point. This could be your artist site, personal site, even a specific gallery or image web address (just copy and paste from the address bar of your own site). You will see a QR code instantly generated for you by the software. You can even check the image now by pointing your QR scanner-equipped smartphone at your computer screen to see it work instantly!  Next, you save this code to your computer, usually as a PNG file for later use. With google you can also choose how big you want the image to be and also if you want margins (white space). It’s all personal choice and depends on what you want to do with it.

How to use a QR code

Now you have your personal QR code downloaded onto your computer – what next? Well, as a PNG file you can load it into your image processing software, word processor, or any other application that will accept an image. How you want to use this is really up to your own creativity.

QR Pointillism - Big Ben I

I started off by printing it on cards and stickers to put on the back of my photographs and exhibition entries, along with my printed name and web address. Then I progressed to a self-inking stamp from VistaPrint (since this QR code can be uploaded as a logo) for a more professional look. By experimenting I found that the color of the image really has no effect on its usability so I have also created a few abstract images based on my QR code for my art gallery. Finally, I like to include it in any written work I do too. I have even defined this as one of my brushes in GIMP so I can include it in it any image I want as a watermark or overlay.

The bottom line is that QR codes can be interesting abstract images in themselves and can be used in any way you want knowing that every appearance is a subtle advertisement for your work!

If you are prepared to invest a relatively short amount of time learning how to use QR codes and a little more time thinking about how you can use them creatively. You could find them an inexpensive way of driving a few more potential customers to your online galleries.


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