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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working

Pablo Picasso once said “inspiration exists, but it has to find you working”.

I’ve always remembered this quote as I think there are many truths to be found in its meaning.


For me Picasso was saying that in order to create work, we have to put some effort in. The idea that we should sit around waiting for inspiration to come and find us is a sorry myth that should be thrown away, as It is through the act of trying new things and making mistakes that we encounter surprises and new avenues to explore.

If we don’t start somewhere, we never start at all.

I think the reason why I bring this up today, is that I’ve been reflecting upon my visit to japan earlier this year. Let me explain.

While I was in Kyoto, I only had five hours to make the Geisha images you see presented here. The time limit was one thing, but I also had to contend with being one of 3000 people attending the same event and many of the other visitors were photographers too.


Looking back, there were a few things that helped me get the portfolio you see here in such a short time.

The first was perseverance. I saw many photographers come and go and very few of them stayed for the entire time. By being on location and available for the entire time, I maximised my chances of getting the set of images I’d hoped for. I’m very focused in what I do and I guess you could say I’m driven. I dislike the word though as it implies a sense of forcing things. Creativity is never forced, it is explored with openness. But you only get out what you put in.

The second attribute that I think I had, was that I never try to anticipate how well something is going. I think too many people decide at some stage that the best is over and it’s time to go. There would be low points during the five hours that I felt that I wasn’t getting anything new, only to hang on for a bit longer and then be surprised because an opportunity I didn’t see coming presented itself. Over those five hours I was building up a mental picture in my mind of how the portfolio of images I was gathering would look ( I’m a film shooter so I have no preview screen to distract me. I’ve often found the best images stay with me in my mind until I get home ). Being open for anything to happen and being optimistic that it would is a must if you are to maximise your chances of improving your hit rate of good images.


The third was that during the five hours I was there, I built up a rapport with some of the Geisha. I’m very respectful of others and often only take a couple of shots and put the camera down. I like to thank them as it fosters good relations and by not holding onto the camera for too long, I minimise breaking the relationship that I’ve just built up with my subjects. I find this works very well for me as it relaxes my shooting style, it relaxes myself in knowing I can’t get everything I want, and it relaxes my subjects because they don’t find me overbearing or greedy in my pursuit of obtaining good images. I’ve also found over my time that the more relaxed I am, the less I seem to have to work at getting my subjects attention. I found over the five hours I was there that many of the Geisha would gravitate to where I was, because they didn’t feel suffocated by my presence.

The fourth is that I like to study people. I can’t help notice the way someone carries themselves, or a little habit they have. I also notice clothing and colours and where particular subjects like to hang out. Over those five hours I was there, I noticed where some of the Geisha would hang out in the court yard, or that they would prefer to stop somewhere for a few minutes before moving on. I’d position myself in these areas hoping it would improve my chances of making some good images.


Over the five hours I was there, I worked the location. I worked my subjects and I worked myself. I never gave up and I stayed to the very end. I found that some of my best images were created right at the very end of the event when almost everyone had gone home. By then I’d broken down a few barriers, and it was much easier to approach Geisha now and ask them for specific images.

I felt inspired, and looking back now, I’m so surprised I managed to create such a nice unit of images (portfolio) in such a short period of time. It was definitely worth the expense and time of going all the way to Japan for just one day.

But I’d always know that at the core of any successful project has to be focus and a willingness to participate. Picasso was right when he said “inspiration exists, but it has to find you working”.

posted by Bruce Percy at 1:45 pm  

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Photographer’s Ephemeris Desktop Web App

Stephen Trainor has just announced that a new version of the Photographer’s Ephemeris (Desktop Edition only!) has been released (in Beta). This is a very different release from previous updates, as the desk-top application has now become a web application (please note that this is for desk-top editions only and does not affect iPad, iPhone or Android editions).

TPE web edition

As Stephen says on his website:

“Some significant news for users of TPE for Desktop: two months from now, on 2 September 2014, TPE for Desktop will be no more.

On that date Google will turn off the Google Maps for Flash API, upon which TPE for Desktop depends. Once that happens, the app will no longer function.

Of course, we’ve known about this for a while, and have been working on a new version so that TPE will live on uninterrupted!

It seemed the perfect opportunity to give the old app an overhaul and to add a couple of nice features.”

To read about the full update you can get the news here.

The other news is that Stephen and I are working on an updated copy of the Understanding Light e-Book we already sell for this application. The new version will hopefully be out at the end of August and will be free to all customers who own the current Understanding Light e-book. If you purchase the e-book between now and the new version being released, you will be automatically included for the revised edition.

posted by Bruce Percy at 8:19 am  

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Painting with Light

Tim’s Vermeer‘ is a documentary about a non-artist attempting to re-create one of the great artworks of Dutch master Johannes Vermeer. In it, we discover that Tim Jenison believes that Vermeer may have created his artworks with the aid of a camera obscura.

It’s a fascinating theory, simply because it suggests two things:

1) That photography is much older than I thought it was

2) If artists like Vermeer could have had access to a camera that could actually record scenes, they might not have taken up the brush.

The documentary is highly worth watching, if you can source it, simply because we find that Tim gets very close to creating something like a Vermeer by using a modified camera obscura to help him etch out a real scene.

The camera obscura has been around since 400 BC, and it’s known that Leonardo Da Vinci used it as an aid whilst sketching, so it’s perhaps no surprise that artists of all generations may have tried to employ it in the making of their art. Particularly so the kinds of works that were an attempt to record a verbatim image of real life.

But in Vermeer’s case, there is no evidence that he used such a camera obscura as his will lists no such object in his possession. What leads Tim and others to believe that Vermeer used one is the simple fact that most of his art uses the same room for the paintings setting. A camera obscura of the day would not be practical to move around so much, so you would be forced to work with it in the same location. There is also evidence of curvature in some of the relief detail, which as you’ll note once you view the documentary, is due to using a convex mirror to magnify the camera obscura’s image.

Vermeer’s genius is in no-doubt. And the documentary does not suggest otherwise, it is a quest to know how an artist of the day could be so much of a genius to paint such convincing images.


For me, the documentary was illuminating. I had never really considered that man has always had a fascination for being able to freeze a moment and hold onto it. Whether it is drawing in caves, or painting in the 17th century.

In that regard, I think if Vermeer did use a camera obscura to aid in painting these images, then they are some of the first photographs every produced.

When we look at a Vermeer, we are looking at a photograph from the 17th century. I find this quite a startling thought, more so than the realisation that artists like Da Vinci and Vermeer may have been some of the worlds first photographers.


posted by Bruce Percy at 4:09 pm  

Friday, June 20, 2014

New website – monochrome

For the past while I’ve been noticing that many of my more recent efforts have been leaning towards a muted colour palette or towards a monochromatic look.

I’ve often said on this blog, that it’s possible to see where you’re going by looking back at where you’ve been. There are often clues and signs in your previous work which suggest the direction you are headed.  For the past while I’ve noticed signs that monochrome might be an avenue for me to explore. I’ve encountered some locations that have dictated a more muted or monochromatic feel in my colour work. The black volcanic beaches of Iceland is one obvious example of this, as the following images may demonstrate.

The black volcanic sand beaches of Iceland is one area where I think I was given permission to accept that pink skies don’t  always suit the subject matter. Rather than looking at a landscape and wishing for sunset tones, it’s best to find beauty in what is actually there. Work with what there is and if the tones are muted, and the sky is overcast – then embrace it. It has its own kind of beauty.

This is something I find many workshop participants have to overcome. What appears to be boring light or disappointing as it does not match a pre-visualised ideal of a certain location can, and often is great light to work with, providing you can see that this kind of light and muted tones are actually quite beautiful.

I think I’ve been working in a monochromatic way even before I visited the black sand beaches of Iceland. If I look at this shot of the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia taken in 2009, it’s really monochrome-in-blue.

But black and white isn’t easy. I think that’s one of the reasons why I’ve steered clear of it for so long. The medium is unforgiving when it comes to noticing any errors in tonal relationships. I feel it’s a medium that is actually harder to work in despite common sense telling me that it should be simpler. It’s often the case that what looks simple is actually very difficult to pull off well.

I’ve always felt I needed to gain a good grounding in darkroom interpretation skills – knowing where to dodging and burn rather than how, has taught me a lot about how the tones in an image interact. So for me, working in colour, and reducing the components of the scene down to a much simpler set of tones and colours has been a good primer for working in monochrome.

With this in mind, I’ve decided that it would be great to start exploring the world of monochrome a little bit more, in addition to my colour work. I’m sure both will influence each other over the coming years. But at the moment it’s just a hunch and I’m really keen to see where things may go.

I’ve set up a new website for my monochrome work here: www.monochrome.brucepercy.com

The site currently contains some re-interpretations of some of my better known colour images along side some new images.

Lastly, my reasons for setting up a dedicated website for my monochrome work was purely aesthetic. I feel mixing colour and monochrome work together under the same space is trying to do too many things in one go, and that kind of approach never works. One will dilute or weaken the message of the other. Plus, I feel that the viewer should be led into a body of work and whilst there, enjoy a sense of continuity rather than being flung from monochrome work to colour and back again. It’s unsettling for the viewer and it breaks any spell they may be under (hopefully) from immersing themselves in the work.

For me, the importance of how ones work is presented, should never be underestimated.

posted by Bruce Percy at 7:00 pm  

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Happy Anniversary (to me!)

Tonight I’m feeling quite reflective about my photographic-life. You see, this summer will be exactly ten years since I first visited Iceland.

What was originally supposed to be a bike-touring trip around the ring road changed into a photography trip after I fell off my bike (I was wearing cleats on my cycle-shoes) and broke my wrist. When my plaster came off six weeks later, I had already re-booked a flight to take me out there late summer, which turned out to be ideal.

The trip was an epiphany for me in terms of my photographic development. I remember looking at the transparencies on my light table a few months after returning home and thinking ‘wow – this is quite a bit of a step up from what I’ve done to date’.

Selfoss & morning mist

I was 36 years old, and I’d only really been photographing passionately for 3 or 4 years at that time and I still had a lot to look forward to. Through my workshops I’ve met people who have found photography at all ages. I’m surprised just how old I was when I really got into it, so I think there’s always hope for everyone – it’s never too late to start whatever it is you want to do.

I feel quite nostalgic about this first trip because it made such a big impression on me, not just in terms of noticing a shift in my own photographic abilities, but also in the experience as a whole.

I spent almost a month in a tent and got so used to the experience that I found it hard to sleep in a bed when I got home. I also missed the sound of the wind and outside atmospheric sounds when I returned from the trip – Iceland really got under my skin.

During my time away I found I had days camped in wild areas such as Dettifoss waterfall without any company. I really loved this. My thoughts during all this solitary time turned towards memories I’d forgotten I owned. Old school friends from my childhood and primary school surfaced, as did thoughts of my three sisters and my brother. It was a very cathartic time and one I still look back on with fondness because you can’t replicate that kind of experience if you try: it just has to come to you.


Iceland at that time was still fairly unknown to most world-tourists and many of the places I visited were mine during the small hours of the day. I often made photographs from 11am to 6am with my Mamiya 7II medium format film camera.

Things have changed a lot in the last ten years. When I started out, film was king and everyone was asking ‘will digital take over?’. Then there was a time when folks asked ‘have you gone digital yet?’ like there was just a matter of time and it would be inevitable. I’m still shooting film and loving it but I do feel like an old-timer in this regard now.

I’ve also seen the birth of what I term the ‘photographic-tourist’. Photography has never been so popular and there are more and more people each year visiting far-off distance places. Which is just great, so long as we don’t spoil it all in the process.

And perhaps the biggest change for me over this period is that I’ve seen myself go from an IT professional (although my work friends might claim that I was never professional), to being a full-time workshop and tour leader. I never intended it, didn’t strive for it – it just came and found me. I’m truly grateful for being given something that I know is my true vocation in life.

jokularsgljufur stamp, 2007, image © Me

On a humorous note, I think I’m in denial about my age. I’m now 46, not far away from being 47 but I still feel like I’m 27, or maybe more truthfully 19.

I think I’m also very much in denial about what photography has become compared to what it was ten years ago. Being a photographer and traveling was still a very exotic thing way back then and although I’m sure it still is to many of us, I feel a shift in its uniqueness. These special and often remote places have been publicised so heavily on the web now. Either through social networking or dedicated photography sites like Flickr (or my own come to think of it) and traffic to them has increased dramatically. That’s just an observation and not a complaint. Things just change.

And lastly, compared to 2004, I don’t feel like the new-guy anymore. Perhaps more “established-old-school”, but that could just be in my mind only. There’s been so much development in technology and how people convey what they do that I sometimes feel like a bit of a dinosaur.

But I still firmly believe that content wins over presentation. Good images always speak for themselves, despite what mediums we use to broadcast them and now we decide to dress them up.

So here’s to the next ten years, wherever it may bring us all in our own photographic journey. It’s certainly been a journey for me so far.

I’m so grateful that I got acquainted with Iceland. As a photographer, I have grown through getting to know it. It has been pivotal in my own development and for that reason, it will always have a very special place in my heart.


posted by Bruce Percy at 12:43 am  

Thursday, June 12, 2014

#IPHONEONLY A book of landscape photographs made entirely on an iPhone.

It’s interesting to note that the largest growth market in digital cameras is in the 35mm arena. This is interesting to me because we now live in an age where we have numerous formats to choose from and many of them are just as capable of making good pictures as the trusty old 35mm format. The reason for this current growth in DSLRs as I understand it, is that many mobile phone users who discover an interest in photography through their phone assume that the next logical progression is to buy a decent DSLR. I can appreciate that if you’re new to photography, and don’t know much about the new smaller formats, that this appears to be the way to go.

My own personal feeling on the matter is that the DSLR is tied to an historical format and as such, I think there are many smaller lighter systems available that would be just as valid, and much less bulky to use for many projects. In other words, DSLRs are not the only way to go if you want to get into digital photography seriously. In fact, I think the system of choice is often a personal one and the quality of the work is really in the skill of the photographer. Not the gear.

Julian Calverley is known mostly for his advertising work in which he uses an ALPA camera with a state of the art Phase-One digital back. It’s heartening to know that Julian is just as creative behind an iPhone as he is behind his ALPA and his terrific book #IPHONEONLY illustrates. It gives credence to his abilities regardless of what format he chooses and also to the stark truth that any camera is good enough, even an iPhone. If you have dreams to create beautiful work, and can’t afford a camera system, Julian’s book will confirm to you that you can get started right now with your mobile phone and a few inexpensive processing apps.

So what of Julian’s book?

Firstly, let’s get the physical properties out of the way and then I’ll talk about the quality of the work contained within. It’s a small book A5 in size and it’s printed on very high quality paper via a waterless lithographic printing process. The print quality is really nice and Julian’s notes about his images are subtle, allowing the work to speak for itself.

About the work itself. The book mostly contains landscape images of Scotland. It’s a place I obviously know well so I had great pleasure in seeing some very different and refreshing views of well known places. But I think for me what stands out is the overall feel of the work. Julian likes dark moody days. There are images where I can almost feel I’m sitting in a car staring out at the landscape as the rain lashes against the windscreen. Growing up in Scotland, I often found my holidays involved a lot of rain and abrupt changes in atmosphere. Because of this I felt a connection with the work immediately.

I also think that the work has a spontaneous feel to it, which says more about the freedom that using a mobile phone has brought to Julian’s work than anything about quality – the images are superb. Many of them illustrate that he is comfortable photographing in any kind of weather which is something we could all learn from. If we only make photos when it’s dry then we are restricting ourselves to what might be. Sometimes owning expensive equipment makes us scared to use it in inclement weather. It seems a mobile phone can, and is, an extremely liberating way to make photographs.

Julian uses colour in the same sense that I do. He uses his chosen colour palette, which reminds me of rainy autumn days to convey emotion and mood in his work.

I’m surprised that it’s taken this long to have a book published that has been made solely with a mobile phone. If you’re looking for some inspiration that can help you to shake up what you’re doing, or maybe encourage you to stop going down the equipment buying route and focus more on your own development, then this book is a great example that it’s the photographer not the gear that is responsible for making art. But the book Is also a thing of small beauty as well. A lovely object to add to your book collection.

It’s just so encouraging to see someone embrace his mobile phone and create great images. It’s proof to me that the equipment is always a means, a personal choice and the art we create with it solely lies within us.

The standard edition of #IPHONEONLY is available from the Lionhouse Bindery.

And Exclusively to BeyondWords books, a signed edition at £20.

posted by Bruce Percy at 9:21 am  

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Pitting your ego against the climate

Murray Fredericks reminds me of myself far too much.

Whilst watching his 28 minute movie about photographing lake Eyre in Australia, I saw not only a landscape that is very close to what I have experienced on the salt flats of the Bolivian Alitplano, but also a photographer obsessed by the same thoughts that I often have during my trips to remote places.



I love large vast expanses of ‘nothingness’.  I’m enthralled by the Salar de Uyuni salt flat of the Bolivian Altiplano in the same way that Murray is captivated by lake Eyre. You should definitely watch this movie. His images are absolutely worth waiting for the very end of the movie for.

I saw so many parallels with my own experiences whilst watching this movie.

For example, Murray notices that after a short while the exotic nature of his landscape tends to subside. This is something I’ve experienced and I tend to find I can only truly understand a place I’ve been to, once I’m back home. It seems that being home gives me a reference point, one where I can consider and notice the contrasts to where I have just been.

He also notices in his movie just how the smallest of noises like the sound of brushing his teeth seem to be amplified.  This also goes for his thoughts. He finds that it’s all too easy to get stuck in some mad part of his brain and before he know it, he’s digging himself into a downward spiral. I know this, because big empty spaces do this to you – they act as a massive reflective board that just bounces all the stuff that’s going in in your mind right back at you.

You can’t go somewhere where there is nothing to occupy your mind if you have issues. Issues just get amplified. I was speaking to a good friend of mine who lives in the Lofoten Islands and I was telling her about an american photographer that I know, who would love to move there. She said to me ‘it’s not for everyone, all this space and silence tend to amplify any issues that you have’. It seems that going somewhere with a lot of space doesn’t give you a chance to run away from your problems – it just gives them a platform for them to stare right at you.

Murray also notices memories that surface – of people he hasn’t known for years. I found this to be the case also. During my very first photographic outing to Iceland back in 2004, I spent a month in a tent, often for days on my own. I found this time to be extremely cathartic for me – it was a time in my life where I’d never had the luxury to have so much time to consider and reflect with no distractions. I felt I had a bit of a mental clear-out. I found my mind returning to thoughts of old school friends that I had lost touch with decades ago. It was surprising for me to find myself thinking about people I’d thought I’d forgotten about, and events that I didn’t know I still had memories of. I considered later that these thoughts are always present, but they get buried under the noise of everyday life.

But the biggest message of this movie is this: you can’t force things to go your way.

Murray says at one point that he wishes the landscape would cooperate with what he want’s to get out of it and realises that all he’s doing is pitting his ego against the climate.

So often I feel that as photographers, most of us turn up somewhere and try to ‘will it’ to be something that it’s not and when it doesn’t live up to our expectations, we become discouraged.

Photography is not about forcing things. Nor is it about deciding what it should be and discarding it if it doesn’t conform to our wishes.

Photography is really the act of submission. It’s about seeing the beauty in what’s there and working with what you’re given. You’ll have more chance of capturing something if you’re open to whatever comes your way, rather than hoping for something specific.

This is a really great short-film. I’ll be watching it again and again, just for the philosophical observations. But if that’s not for you, then watch it at least for the very stunning wondrous photographs towards the end.

posted by Bruce Percy at 2:37 pm  

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Thoughts on Black & White

Over the past few days I’ve been editing work from a recent trip to Cappadocia, Turkey. The process has been a great learning one for me because I’ve found that working in Black & White has allowed me to focus solely on the tonal elements at play in the images.

Click for full screen 24" version.

Click for full screen 24″ version.

Specifically, I’ve had to spend a lot of time ensuring there is good tonal separation between foreground and background elements. For instance, the trees have been deliberately toned as dark as I could make them while the background tones have been lightened as far as I could, to ensure as much tonal separation as I can get away with.

Tones are one thing, but contrast is another. It’s possible to convey a sense of depth to a scene by giving some objects less contrast than others. I chose to make the lighter rock formations as soft as I could – often reducing contrast in these areas. I increased contrast in select areas where I felt perhaps that a line or a curve or some other feature needed to be emphasised.

So often I feel that as beginners, most of us tend to add contrast globally but I feel that just pulls the eye in all-directions and leads to too many elements vying for the viewers attention. The image becomes fatiguing to look at for too long, because our eye is constantly being pulled everywhere.

Yes, Black & White is not just about adding lots of contrast, but also about smoothness of tone. Low contrast equals calmness while high contrast equals tension. Used sparingly, and in the right places, the eye is led around the frame in a pleasing manner.

On the subject of selection process, I shot a lot of images but I’m only left with the six you see here. I think when it came down to it, despite Cappadocia being a place of amazing rock formations, I fell in love with the solitary trees which I often found hidden away in the crevasse of a rock.

It’s important for a collection of work to sit well together and this can either be achieved by collating images that have a similar colour palette, or by collecting images that have similar subject matter. I feel these Black & White images work well because they are similar in subject matter – the trees being the unifying theme here. But the compositions are similar in some ways too. But mostly I feel it’s the use of tones across the collection that ties them together for me most strongly.

Editing is always a continuous case of reviewing where I’m at, how I feel about the work and it’s that feeling that keeps me tuned into what needs to stay and what needs to be weeded out. Focussing on the tones in the images I shot, has led me to choose some images over others, simply because the tones were in keeping with the work I had amassed during my editing sessions.

Lastly, I’ve decided to present them here with a dark-grey background. Ansel Adams said that there was only one time in his career when he felt satisfied with an exhibition space, and that was because the walls had been painted olive-grey. I fully appreciate this – placing Black & White images on a white wall neutralises the white highlights of the print – which leads the viewer to perceive the print as much darker than it really is. Olive is akin to a mid-grey tone, thus allowing the brighter tones (in addition to the darker tones) a chance to stand out and sing.


posted by Bruce Percy at 1:43 pm  

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Rose, Red & Honey Valleys, Cappadocia

About a month ago, I was in the fascinating landscape of Cappadocia, Turkey. It’s a beautiful landscape for sure, but I find it seems to want to be interpreted in black and white mostly.


The Rose Valley

The Rose Valley


Black & White is not a medium i’m particularly comfortable with. It’s really very, very difficult to make good images, because it is even more about form and tone than Colour is.


The Red Valley

The Red Valley


I think Black & White is something where I have to be much more careful when isolating objects from others with similar tones. Any overlap and the eye compresses the two objects into one.


The Red Valley

The Red Valley


Black & White also demands a sense of everything having its own tone. The trees in these two images deliberately have the darkest tones in the image – because I really wish to bring the viewers eye to them. I do use these kinds of techniques all the time in my Colour work, but I have the liberty of being allowed a little more lee-way because of the extra dimension (read that as distraction) of Colour going on, as well as just form and tone.


The Honey Valley, January 2013


I’m not done editing at the moment. I’ve only really just started work on these, so I think things will change and morph over the next few weeks while I scan and edit. It’s a very enjoyable experience to work in Black & White and to notice that sometimes I think the edit is good only to realise a few hours later, that I’m only half-way there.

posted by Bruce Percy at 3:54 pm  

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Lee Seven5 Filter System Review

For a very long time, I’ve used Lee 100mm neutral density filters in my landscape photography. Neutral Density filters are, I feel, a vital piece of kit that all landscape photographers should own.

The Lee system is in my experience the best you can get. I feel I can say this with some authority as I’ve had the privilege of working with all the filter manufacturers products over the past six years I’ve been running workshops.

Lee Seven5 holder with 2-stop ND Hard grad slotted in.

Most pro-end filters are perfectly fine in terms of optics and colour rendition, but I’ve found many manufacturers products fall short in terms of filter holder design (i.e lack-of) or in being used in a compounded fashion – stack more than one filter together and an evident magenta colour cast will surface. It’s always there, but it varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. I have however, found the Lee filter system to be the least prone to colour casts, provided that the filters haven’t aged. It’s unfortunately the case that all filters tend to lose the colour accuracy over time as the dyes begin to fade. All Lee filters are date stamped and they recommend you replace them every three years or so (this is usually a non-issue for me, as I tend to use them so much, that I wear our my gear a lot earlier than that).

ND (Neutral Density) filters are essential in controlling the dynamic range and exposure between ground and sky – not just with film, but also with digital capture. If you’re uncertain about their benefit, then I can’t state how important they are. Even the 1 stop Hard-grad is vital. But you do need to buy a good quality set. Don’t cut corners by going cheap – you’ll regret it.

Anyway, this posting is about the miniature filter system by Lee. It’s called the Seven5 filter system. It’s been designed for compact systems and the filters are therefore considerably smaller than it’s big-brother 100mm filters.

I’ve been meaning to write a review of the Lee Seven5 filter system for some time now. This review is primarily aimed at those who are thinking of using this system with a small format camera system such as a Micro-Four-Thirds format up to 35mm rangefinder.

I bought my set of Seven5 filters because I was looking for a compact filter system that would work with a little Lumix GX1 Micro-Four-Thirds system I bought for illustrative and teaching purposes on my workshops. I’m not a digital shooter, preferring to work with film for all of the work you see on this website. So I wanted a small camera format that was very compact. The Lumix GX1 along with a Panasonic 12-35 lens is what I chose, and the Seven5 filter system fitted the bill in terms of compactness.

The good

It’s really compact. I like the filter holder and the adaptor rings. The filter holder is especially simple and it comes with the polariser attachment already built in.

Which brings me on to the polariser. What I’ve always liked about the Lee system is that the polariser fits on to the front of the holder.Which makes it much easier to rotate while keep the grads where they are. The only downside in this approach is that the polariser needs to be a lot larger to avoid vignetting (which is a costly exercise as the filter for the normal system is 105mm).

The Seven5 polariser is easy to fit onto the holder in one short rotation. The 100mm filter system on the other hand requires you to thread the filter on and off. I’ve never liked this – so much so – that I bought two filter holders – one for general grad use, while the other has the polariser permanently attached. It’s much easier to swap filter holders than it is to thread and unthread a filter from one holder. With the Seven5 system this problem has been removed all together – it’s a simple snap and rotate to lock it on and remove it quickly too. Very nice.

Polariser attached to front of Seven5 filter holder.

The bad

Whoever designed these filters for use of smaller systems assumed that the diameter of the lenses would be smaller than those of 35mm lenses, which in most cases isn’t true. I’ve used these filters on a Micro-Four-Thirds system for a while now, and they don’t cover the entire area of the lens when you wish to place the grad around 3/4 of the way up the frame – particularly when composing in portrait orientation. It’s not uncommon to find the filter is not long enough with the bottom edge protruding into the lower region of the image. I think this was a design constraint to keep the whole system compact, but it does impact their use.

The other thing that I find confusing is the degree of ‘suddenness’ of the graduation in each of the hard-grad filters. They’re too sudden for systems such as Micro-Four-Thirds or even 35mm cameras.

I have some thoughts on why extremely sudden grads don’t work with small-format systems.

Hard-Grad’s tend to be more obvious on wide angle lenses than telephotos because when a shorter focal-length is used, we’re really zooming-out of the image and are therefore zooming out of the graduation. If we go the other way and go up the focal-lengths, then we’re really zooming into the graduation – so the graduation becomes more and more diffused as we zoom up. So using sudden graduations like the ones that Lee produce for the Seven5 system on systems such as Micro-Four-Thirds where the focal lengths are smaller – (for example – an equivalent angle of view to 50mm on MFT is 25mm), it becomes apparent that the graduations are going to be more evident.

Lee Seven5 holder, 2-stop hard-grad and polariser. Note that the polariser attaches to the four screws on the front of the holder. It’s a breeze to attach and detach.

I should at this point make it clear that I use hard-grads most of the time. They are used far more often than soft grads – which are really for use in controlling more gradual tonal changes across the entire frame rather than for controlling the contrast between sky and ground. So it’s not that hard-grads are too sudden in per se - they’re not – they usually work very well for most of the situations I encounter in my landscape work. I do get emails asking about the correct placement, but these questions usually hint at the wrong strength of filter being used – if you can see the graduation – it’s probably because you’re using too strong a filter.  Hard grads aren’t too sensitive to correct placement provided the strength is about right.

One last thing, I wish someone would produce a nice little filter bag for the Seven-5 system. I don’t see the point in owning small filters, only to store them in a large bag. It kind of defeats the purpose of going compact.

In Summary

So my two main issues with this filter system are this:  Using it with small format systems, the filters are often too short (have less travel than I need for grad placement) and the hard-graduations themselves are too obvious / sudden.

If you already own the Lee 100mm filter system, it would recommend buying these for one reason – if you feel going compact is of the utmost importance for you. I can fully appreciate that a compact filter system for Leica Rangefinder users and smaller formats is very attractive. It certainly was for me when I chose to buy these.

Although the 100mm filters are considerably larger and bulkier, the graduations and filter-travel are just about right for using on any system from Micro-Four-Thirds upwards, so again, i’d only opt for the Seven5 system if compactness is the driving force behind your need to buy them.

Despite these points, I’m still happy I bought mine and I’ve learned to live with the limitations of the filter system because for me, it’s the compactness of the design that was the essential aspect of buying them in the first place.

posted by Bruce Percy at 8:28 pm  
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