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Photo Tours: What Mode Should I Use My Camera In?


Recently, several clients on our New Zealand photo tours have asked me this and I thought that it would be worthwhile giving you my view on the matter here.

Most cameras have four modes, P A S M. The letters stand for Program, Aperture (priority). Shutterspeed (priority) and Manual.


Program is in effect full auto. The camera selects the shutter speed and aperture based on the reading from the internal light meter. Many cameras take Program one step further and have the ability to manually alter the selected combination so that you can select a faster shutter speed or wider aperture than the camera initially selected. This is useful because the camera does not know what your subject is or what artistic look you would like the image to have. Thus, if the camera selects 125 for the shutter speed and you want it to be at least 250, you can turn one selector dial until you get 250 and not worry about the other settings.

My first ‘real’ camera was a Canon AE-1 Program, which was one of the first cameras to offer the new Program mode.

Aperture Priority

This is a mode where you set the aperture and the camera selects the shutter speed. Useful for (say) landscapes or portraits where the principle concern would be the depth of field rather than stopping motion in most cases. It is probably the most used mode on our photo tours because of the beautiful landscapes that we have here in New Zealand.

Shutter Priority

The diametric opposite of Aperture Priority. You set the shutter speed and the camera sets the aperture. Useful where stopping motion is the priority (or blurring it, for that matter).


Does exactly what it says on the tin – you do everything and the camera does nothing. Most useful (to me at least) for astrophotography.


So now that you know what the camera modes will do, you should be better placed to make a choice as to which mode you want to use.

Of course, it is not quite as simple as all that. Many years ago, my late father was teaching me maths. I asked him why I had to learn all these seemingly complex methods for adding, multiplying and dividing numbers when I could simply tap them into a calculator and get the answer. “Ah,” he said, “ If you cannot do it yourself, how will you know whether the calculator has given you the correct answer?”

This truism, simple as it seems, is equally correct when speaking about photography. If you have not learned that what appears on the face of it to be a wholly wrong exposure choice will in fact give you the image that your mind sees, then you won’t ever get that image. For example, shooting a player on a stage lit only by the spotlight will confuse the camera no end – a huge area of black with a single area of bright light in the centre. The natural choice of exposure for most cameras (if not all) will over expose the bright area. You will need to know to set the camera to underxpose the image in order to get the classic shot that you are seeking.

In digital photography the equation is further complicated by auto-ISO settings which can make the camera seem more sensitive to light by increasing the gain on the imaging sensor. However, the increased gain results in increased electrical noise which shows through in the image.

It’s all easily understood and by the time you head home from one of our unique New Zealand photo tours (click here to get in touch and book) you will have learned skills you can incorporate into a lifetime of photography.

New Zealand Photo Tours

South Island hills captured in the sunset light. Olympus OMD EM1X

Replacing your computer: a photographer’s perspective

As a modern photographer, a computer is essential to life. It is your comms centre with clients if photography is your job, your image filing system, your darkroom, your image display device and so many more things. With the new Macbook Pro 16” laptops just released, it seemed an ideal moment to look at this. The time comes, as it did recently for me, when replacing your computer is necessary. I thought I would look at the process.

Mac or Windows?

Ah, the eternal question.

My personal recommendation is Mac. Mac is just plain better for photographers. For example, a Mac computer will open a RAW file on the desktop. It does not need any kind of app like Lightroom to ‘understand’ the image. Mac OS (currently Catalina) will open the file natively.

Mac apps are nicer to look at all day, more helpfully designed and do not require things like ‘drivers’ to cause you problems down the line.

The downside is that, sometimes, the software that you want to use is only written for Windows. This does not happen often nowadays though. A similar issue arises with the iPhone vs Android debate, but usually the other way round. For example, Profoto’s flash control app is only available in iOS not Android at the time of writing. If you want to edit video, such as this one of our New Zealand photo tours, in Final Cut Pro you need a Mac.

Desktop or laptop?

My view here is simple.

If portability is your number one priority, then obviously you need a laptop.

If it is not your number one priority, a desktop is usually cheaper and better. Laptops excel at making things small, but that technical and engineering skill costs money, as does the whole battery onboard issue.

My personal choice is an iMac Pro on my desk and a Samsung tablet. I went with the Samsung tablet because (a) it was MUCH less expensive than an iPad Pro and (b) at the time, it was the only way to have a tablet with a file manager that allowed connection to external drives. New iPads can do that to some extent as of the latest update but the price differential remains.

My desktop machine has 4TB of storage inside so I no longer get annoying messages from any of the apps or the OS concerning lack of space when I have uploaded a large shoot and want to get to work. Also, the iMac Pro has 4 Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports and 4 USB 3.0 ports, the elusive headphone jack, a high speed UHS II card reader (unlike any other Mac) and 10 Gigabit ethernet capability. Yes, it is an expensive machine (although your money does get you a 27” 5K display as well, of course) but my view is that it will last at least 2 years longer in useful life than any other Mac I could buy and be worth more at the end.

The main advantage of the iMac Pro in computing terms is the multicore performance. Most photographic apps are not the best at using multiple cores – YET. They are better now than as recently as a year ago, and will only get better. Certainly the Pro iMac streaks through tasks like applying masks in Lightroom that caused my previous, Late 2015 iMac to cough, stutter and ramp up the fans as though it were an aircraft taking off. The Pro is smooth (the red mask goes on like real paint) and remains eerily silent.

If you are replacing your computer, I do recommend trying to see the iMac Pro in action. They’re not commonplace but if you are lucky enough to have a local Apple Store (unlike us here in NZ where there aren’t any!) then do pop along.

Printer or no printer?

Very much personal preference. I do not own a photo printer because I very rarely print my work. Clients only want digital files in my areas of practice and so no need to have one for that. This means that it is cheaper and more cost-effective for me to outsource the printing when required rather than have one gathering dust, with expensive inks drying up and expensive print media going unused.

This may not always be the case, but just now and for the last few years it has been.



So, in essence, my feeling is that if you need to edit a lot whilst on the road, of course you need a laptop. If you do not have that need, you could easily get a machine that costs less than a laptop but offers higher performance. If you want a long-lasting, stable, encrypted system that will deliver the capability for stills and video, then the iMac Pro is my choice when replacing your computer, with the standard iMac Intel Core machines right behind it.

Why not talk to us about coming on one of our luxury New Zealand photo tours – contact me here!


Replacing your computer makes it much easier to edit.

Bridal Veil Falls, New Zealand

Motivation: overcoming creative roadblocks

Today. I thought that I would write about something that all photographers suffer from a lack of periodically: motivation.

I am sure you know how it is: you are in your office, or study or wherever you normally do your photographic desk work and you are reminded by an article, or coming across an image, or looking for something and seeing your camera, that you have not actually been out and shot anything for quite some time. The doubts suddenly appear like ghosts in a haunted house…have I lost it for good? Did I ever have it? Did I have it and not nurture it enough and now it has ceased to be, like the parrot in a Monty Python sketch? I must go and shoot, you think. Oh, but WHAT shall I go and shoot? I can’t think of anything at all…is often the next thing.

I know no photographer for whom this has never happened and for most it happens reasonably often unless they actually work in a role where they are fed photography work on a weekly basis. Even those fortunate few often find themselves lost because they are forced to shoot whatever they are told to shoot which is only rarely what they want to shoot. You pull your camera out of the bag and wonder whether the battery will still actually be charged, it has been so long.

Let’s look at some ways in which you can overcome this.

Personal Projects

Personal projects are great for giving you some work to do when you have no other motivation or, if you are professional, the sales calls have not brought work in that week. Of course, being personal they can be about anything you like. Signposts, old cars, your grandparents, parents, children, pets, local landmarks, festivals. They can be themed – all black & white, all colour, all square, all prints and so on. They can last a day, a week, a month – a decade if you wish, or more.


Place some limits on yourself. Go out and shoot using only one lens. Only in black & white. Only in one day from shoot to print. Only 16:9 ratio images. A group of 10 images by 4pm the following day. I learned this one from photographer David du Chemin, a great visual artist and very wise man.


This one works best for me. I have always found it hard to shoot the space in which I live my life. I do not know why; perhaps subconsciously I feel that it violates my personal bubble somehow – I really do not know. I do know that work I shoot around my local area rarely generates the enthusiasm and interest within me of work I shoot elsewhere though. Going somewhere new brings curiosity and the need to explore for me, renewing motivation. If you are really in a rut, come and see us in New Zealand and let me help you work through it as we travel through some of the most amazing scenery in the world.



There are three ways that may help you find your motivation. The key skill is learning to see it in yourself and knowing when it needs attending to. True photographers are not made, they are born I think and if that applies to you then the need to shoot, to use your talent and creativity, will eventually drive you to action. Try to spot when that is happening and address it before it becomes too much of an undirected force in your life. Harness that energy.

If you need to travel, or want to, then you can always begin the process and start planning and researching that next trip, making the shot list you want to get when you finally get off the plane…

If your dream is New Zealand, then get in touch and let us help.


Walking generations


When Should I Come On My New Zealand Photography Tour?

I was asked to write about this for Tourism New Zealand who often get asked the same question. I thought that it would be useful to write about it here too so that clients planning a New Zealand photography tour with us will have easy access to the information.

The simple answer is the one you might expect, in the summer. However, there are nuances for photographers that you should take into account. It depends on what you like to photograph, what weather tolerance you have, how long your New Zealand Photo Tour will be and so on.


Winter in NZ is the opposite of winter in the northern hemisphere. It begins in June and runs through to September. Think of June as being the equivalent of December in the Northern Hemisphere.

In winter, NZ is colder, wetter and (in the right parts) snowier. Down on the South Island, expect winter overnight temperatures as low as -5C and day temperatures ranging from 0C to 15C or thereabouts. On the North Island, overnights generally around 5C and days around 17C average, with some occasional dips into early negative temperatures at night in many parts.


Spring is from September to November. Temperatures begin climbing, especially overnights, rainfall is plentiful and grass grows well on the many farms. The countryside is a riot of green crops and white sheep, cows and budding trees.

Snow will depart from all but the highest of peaks (such as Mount Cook).


Summer runs from December through to the end of February.

Usually, long periods of settled, warmer weather. Tourism is at its height and hotels, activities and locations become crowded. Daytime temperatures can hit 30C. Often the countryside will brown over in summer due to insufficient rainfall to keep the grass.


Autumn is from March to May. The countryside will green up if rainfall over summer was short. Early snow will appear on the peaks towards the end of the period. Daytime temperatures are pleasant, evenings start to get chilly.

When Should I Come On My New Zealand Photography Tour?

My recommendations, if you have no other factors driving your decision, is to come in one of the shoulder seasons of Spring or Autumn. Tourism is less fraught than it is in summer which means less crowding and a more pleasant visit. Photographically, either choice can offer spectacular snow covered landscapes. Spring offers a lush, verdant countryside replete with young lambs, Autumn offers (down south at least) brilliant colours from autumn tree foliage.

Do not be put off coming in Summer or Winter if you have no option to do otherwise: both offer equally special photographic opportunities but will require skilled itinerary planning in the summer to avoid the crowds (a speciality of our service, of course) and in winter you will need to pack accordingly to deal with location shooting in colder weather.

For more details on what we can do for you, contact us for a chat.

new zealand photography tours

View from inside a helicopter over New Zealand mountains


Astrophotography On Our New Zealand Photo Tours

Astrophotography has been this year’s area of personal photographic development for me. If you come on one of our New Zealand photo tours, we always recommend at least one evening session of this, weather permitting.

Where In New Zealand?

New Zealand boasts a large area on the South Island which has the status of International Dark Sky Reserve. This protects the darkness of the region by controlling how housing and roading are lit and so on in order to minimise light pollution. Boasting the Mount John Observatory, the Lake Tekapo region is truly a night sky wonderland. On the North Island, the South Wairarapa region (about 80 kilometres from Wellington) is in the process of applying for the same status. It boasts a coastal landscape, too, providing further foreground compositions for wide field astrophotography in that region which the Tekapo region does not have.

What To Shoot

The most obvious thing on which to concentrate in wide field astro is the Milky Way. On a clear night in a dark place in New Zealand, the Milky Way is visible with the naked eye. This often amazes clients who have spent much of their lives in cities and have no idea that such a wonder stretches across the Heavens every night because they cannot see it due to the light pollution.

One of our recent New Zealand photography tour clients told me that she found the experience of seeing so many stars, planets and the Milky Way to be “almost religious”.

Modern cameras are far more sensitive to light than the human eye is. You will notice when you come to post process your night’s work that there are in fact at least twice as many stars as your eyes could see (if not more!) which is quite the revelation as well. I sat outside two nights ago and watched a meteor shower which was an amazing experience. Shootings stars and passing satellites are often spotted, as is the International Space Station. You will need a tripod and warm clothing for astrophotography, but it is worth it.

The image below was shot on an Olympus EM1X, at 7mm f2.8, ISO 2500 and shows the Milky Way rising over my house.

Get in touch to see how we can help you get images like this and show you around New Zealand on one of our amazing New Zealand photo tours.