Saturday, 31 March 2012

Why Photoshop when you can Lightroom?

You've all heard the phrase "I'll just Photoshop that!" right? Funny enough, as you get into photography, you begin to realise that although Photoshop is an amazing (and complicated) piece of software, large numbers of people will happily avoid Photoshop all together and use one of the many readily available photo editing programs… a popular one is Adobe Lightroom, which I want to share with you all.

Lightroom has become very popular since version 1 and has developed into quite an advanced piece of software (now version 4). This program allows you to sort and edit your photos, quickly and easily. An excellent feature is that the editing of photos is “non-destructive” which allows users have their original photos left intact. It is only until you have finished with the processing when you “export” the photos for your peruse.

So where do you start?
Try the trial software from the website (available for both mac and pc):

A few training videos to get you started:

 My setup:
  • I’ve always been a person who likes to manually maintain my files. Music, movies, photos. What I mean by this is I like to have folders setup in a neat logical order and do not rely on programs to sort and organise these files. Why? Because databases become slow over long periods of time, and if it becomes corrupt, you can potentially be left with serious problems. A good example is iTunes which manages the music library. If iTunes fails in any way, you’re going to have a headache sorting that problem out.
  • For the first couple of years, I only had one Lightroom database/catalog for my photos, however, this got too big and impaired performance. I then decided to try creating one catalog per project/album and have stayed with this system ever since.
  • My folders are setup like this:

  • This folder structure allows me to backup all photo related files very easily.
  • I created two new filters called “Flagged Only” and “Flagged and Star”. They have been setup like this:
My workflow:
  • Copy photos from the camera to a folder called “Original” (see above image)
  • Open Lightroom, and click on "New Catalog". Point this to the parent folder, and simply type in “Lightroom” for the catalog name. This automatically creates a folder called “Lightroom” as seen above.
  • Drag and drop the original photos from Windows Explorer to Lightroom.
  • Import the photos: Ensure default options state the photos stay in the original location.
  • Press Shift-TAB to hide all tool bars
  • Press “L” twice to turn the “lights out” – for a pleasant review of the photos.
  • Review all photos and press “P” to pick/flag the good photos. “U” to unflag.
  • Once the selection process is complete, press Shift-TAB, then “L” to return to the original viewing screen.
  • Choose “Flagged Only” filter
  • Go to the Develop tab and edit the photos. (see training video links)
  • Once I finished editing the photo, I then press “1” to give it a star. This will make it disappear due to the filter. I tend to start on my favourite photos and work backwards.
  • When I finished editing the wants I want, I would review them all by changing the filter to “Flagged & Star”
  • Finally, I would go back to the library, select all, and export my edit photos to a folder called “Processed” (see above)

After Lightroom

Original Photo

I’ve found Lightroom a suitable editing software for almost all of my photos; from simply cropping to a completely transforming the photo. However, from time to time, photoshop is required… here’s an amusing video that illustrates times you may want to use photoshop :)

Have fun Lightrooming! 

Monday, 26 March 2012

"Which camera should I buy?"

A question I keep getting asked is "I want a new camera to take better photos. Which camera should I buy? I want to get an SLR". Unfortunately, there is no quick answer.... I normally give them some advice and ask them questions to think about:
  • Yes, DSLRs will take a better quality photo, capture shots faster (frames per second) and come with a range of other bells and whistles that I won't go into details about; there are plenty of articles on the web to do that for me e.g.  Buying a digital SLR on dpreview. The question to ask is, do you need all these features? What are you doing with the photos? Are you simply sharing them all with friends and family or doing professional prints for money?
  • Those that tend to ask me this question are those that simply want to take "better" photos for personal reasons. The answer I give them is the best camera choice will be the one you will take out and use the most. The more photos you take, the more they improve. 
  • What features are important to you? Excellent quality down the the pixel? Will bulkiness and weight deter you from taking the camera out? Need a compact camera for low light? Waterproof for water and snow trips? Compact camera with good zoom? DSLR with one lens only? What is your budget? At the end of the day, only you can decide which camera is best for you. 
  • Once you have some idea of which category of camera you want (compact, micro four-thirds, DSLR, etc), read some reviews out there (e.g. If you can't decide between two cameras, throw that question into google (e.g. "Canon s100 vs Lumix LX5"). 
  • Go to a shop and play with them. Jessops and Jacobs near Tottenham Court Road Station in London have quite a selection.

Ok Ok Ok... so you want me to make some recommendations? Here are some, in (what I think) order of ascending image quality:
  • Sony TX10 --- very pocketable water/beer/snowproof compact camera
  • Canon s90/95/100 ---  Good quality, low light photos, compact camera
  • Panasonic Lumix LX3/5 --- Same features as Canon S90/95/100 but slightly more bulky and less pocketable, however, I find the external controls easier to use. 
  • Panasonic GF/GH series --- Micro four-thirds. Better quality than compacts and a good range of lenses available. A good choice that sits in the middle of a compact camera and a DSLR.
  • Sony NEX 5/7 --- Excellent photo quality and some lens choices, but not as user friendly as other cameras.  
  • Fuji X100 --- I would really love this camera, but you need to understand the limitations
  • Fuji X-Pro1 --- On my wishlist!
  • DSLRs: Canon 60D, 7D, 5D MK2/3 --- depending on your budget 

P.S. I'm slightly biased as I've owned various Canon DSLRs, a Panasonic LX3 and iPhone 3GS & 4S.

Once you know what you want, finding the best price is simple. Try these two sites for a start:
The last thing worth thinking about is that for items of high value, like cameras, consider buying it directly from a shop in case problems arise; sending faulty products and waiting for new shipment can be a very frustrating process.

Good luck with your camera shopping. 
Go out and enjoy taking photos! 

Here are some of my photos for some inspiration: 

Canon 40D



Panasonic Lumix LX3



iPhone 4S



Sunday, 25 March 2012

Studying tips for Life in the UK test (ILR and Citizenship requirement)

Thank you Anna for adding the comment below on 31st of Jan, 2013:
"The UK government has released a new handbook, and a new test will be effective March 25, 2013. I think most of your good tips will still be relevant. For your readers, here is an article about the new test: New life in the UK test. It looks like this new test might be a bit harder. They sure don't make it easy to become British!"


Having successfully passed my Life in the UK test, I thought I'd share my studying techniques with you.

Official Life in the UK book
It's definitely necessary to have and read the official book. Just be sure that you have the latest edition as there may be new information in the book. e.g. statistics from 2011 census(?). Although the book seemed somewhat comprehensive:
  • The first third of the book (grey pages) is just an interesting read you don't need to memorise. 
  • The second third of the book has all the information you need to know. It also has some good questions you should attempt to answer in detail as part of studying. 
  • The last third of the book was definitions which I simply skimmed through. 
The book itself was an interesting read to begin with, but dry to study from. I found the pages too shiny and reflections from the light slightly annoying! I also wished it had more diagrams/tables as I find I learn much better with these visual aids.

Audiobook CD
I listened to this once... boring as batsh*t, but I did pick up a few things I may have skimmed across when reading the actual book. The only benefit is that it was convenient to listen to when you're standing on the tube like sardines in a can during peak hours.

Life in the UK iPhone App
This was the most useful study tool out of the bunch! I tested both the official and unofficial apps in the appstore, but found some mistakes in unofficial ones. In the end, the official app was sufficient and used it in the following manner:
  • After reading a chapter in in the Life in the UK book, I would sit there and do the "Quick Practice" and complete multiple sets of questions (batches of 30 questions) to reinforce what I learnt. 
  • During the week leading up to the test, I would complete at least 3 x 20 questions each day (usually on the tube journey). 
  • When I made errors, I screen captured the errors and created a photo album full of questions I got wrong to review later (thank you Ammy for this clever tip!)
  • For the questions I answered wrong (or guessed right) and was still unsure about, I would go to the page reference in the book review. 

Self-study notes
I was lucky enough to have a typed-up copy of the book to highlight and make my own notes all over. I found this the best way of revising and memorising stupid numbers and figures. If you have access to the PDF book, you could print this off and do the same. (Thank you Jason for the book and notes!) 

On the day of the test
Although I crammed on the morning of the test (due to work related drinks that intended to be "one" drink), I felt confident about the questions. Whilst waiting until the actual start time, I was able to read my notes in front of the computer and do practice questions with my iPhone app. The actual test itself was easy as most of the questions were ones I had come across before. I just want to point out although the iPhone app was quoting actual figures and percentages from the book, one of the actual questions was: "How many countries are in the Commonwealth? Choices: about 20, about 30, about 50, about 70. Overall, there were only 4 questions I had found the need to make an educated guess. 

iPhone App 

A sample of my study notes
(please excuse my poor chicken-scratch hand-writing... I understand it :P)

The actual screen at the testing centre 
(photo taken well before waiting to be briefed and starting the test)  

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

iPhone 4S battery mystery

Since upgrading from the iPhone 3GS to the iPhone 4S mid-Feb 2012, I have been very pleased with the increased speed, "retina display" and impressive camera. Unfortunately, I have spent a number of hours learning about the "problems" both myself and others have experienced. There seems to be two main complaints (along with many suggested solutions) on various websites and forums:
  1. Battery draining too quickly (compared to previous models)
  2. Battery not 100% when charged overnight (often 93-100%)
I did experience the battery draining fairly quickly in the first 2 weeks, but after a month, I can confidently say the battery life has improved. I am no longer concerned about running out of juice after a long day of work and going out. It may have been the new battery requiring "conditioning" over the weeks, but the following may also have contributed to the improved battery life: 

Outstanding "issues": 
  • "-" as statistics for "Time since last full charge" (Settings > General > Usage) 
  • <100% charge after an overnight charge:
    • As other people have suggested, this may be an intentional "feature" of the 4S to prevent overcharging or improve the longevity of the battery.  That is, after a certain period of time at 100%, the device allows the battery to drain to a certain % before recharging is re-activated.  I read that this is similar to what happens with newer MacBooks.
    • Look at the data from Battery Logger (via Cydia) below which seems to support this theory:
      • 2:45am - 100% - Battery Full
      • 5:48am - 95% - Battery has drained and status is "charging"
      • 7:10:48am - 97% - Time I woke up - status is "running from battery" 
      • 7:10:50am - 97% - I un-plugged and re-plugged the cable to "force" charging hence, the status of "charging" is seen
      • 7:32am - 100%
    • A suggestion to stop this problem is to switch-off the wifi overnight; however, what may actually be happening is that services, like iCloud, becomes deactivated, resulting in slower battery drain overnight.
    • I am yet to find official information confirming that this is an "intentional feature" 
    • Note: I also also installed Battery Graph from App Store, but found the data too simplistic 


To ensure I get the maximum life for my 4S throughout the day, I immediately unplug and re-plug the charging cable on waking. 30-45mins of extra charging time ensured I left the house with 100% battery life.

What I have not tried yet: 
  • A full backup and restore - I can't be bothered trying this just yet. 
  • Update 5.0.1 to 5.1 - I haven't done this yet, but there seems to be mixed results with this suggestion
  • Un-jailbreak - Not going to try that just yet :)

At the moment, I'm convinced that this is an intentional "feature" as it is not consistent through posts on community forums. Please let me know if you found this useful or have any answers/suggestions!

Sunday, 18 March 2012

GiffGaff - Best off-contract UK mobile sim!

My iPhone 3GS 2 year contract was over mid-2011 and after much thought, I decided to wait for the next generation iPhone (i.e. not buy the iPhone 4). In the mean time, I wanted to stop paying £35 per month and find a more cost effective plan. After much research (e.g. google, moneysavingexpert), I contacted my provider at the time (O2) and asked them what the best sim only plan they could offer me was. I don't remember what they offered, but I countered their offer by stating I found a pre-paid plan with 250min, unlim text, unlim data for £10 a month, to which they replied "sorry we can't match that". I requested and received my PAC code (to port my number) within 2 minutes after this conversation.

Conclusion: GiffGaff is a UK no-brainer competition killer for mobile phone plans (for those off-contract)

I have now been with GiffGaff for over 9 months now and have recommended this to multiple friends who are also pleased with the service:
  • Excellent value for money - using pre-paid credit when abroad. 
  • £10 goodybag when in UK: 250mins, unlimited texts and unlimited data --- more plans available
  • No phone helpdesk but extensive online community support. 
  • Uses O2 network, so coverage is great. 

Troubleshooting and tips
  • One thing I have done twice now is forget to purchase my goodybag when it expires at the end of the month. This has not been a huge problem for me as rates are still so good, so after a couple of days of realising my goodybag expired, I'd jump onto my iPhone app and order it using my credit-card or current balance available. I have use recurrent monthly "reminders" set up on the iPhone.
  • Don't forget to re-input the data giffgaff settings if you have played around with your network settings or swapped sims; my iPhone automatically downloads O2 settings in these scenarios: LINK. I made the process of updaing the network settings relatively painless by using the "shortcut" feature of iOS5: creating a shortcut so that when I type "gg", "" is replaced.
  • iPhone iOS5 iMessage or 3G problems for some users on giffgaff: 
  • Need a micro-sim for your iPhone 4? I've successfully cut about a dozen microsims using scissors, a file and using the giffgaff template on the help section of the website. There are also more guides on YouTube. 
    • Don't forget to download the free iPhone apps:

    If you would like to join giffgaff after reading my blog, please order a free sim using the following link so I am able to get a referral bonus of £5:

    Website link for more information:

    iPhone 3GS Battery Replacement

    I've been very happy with the iPhone 3GS's features and performance, but after 2 years, as expected, the battery life would not sustain the daily activities. I knew it was time to replace the battery when the following happened on a regular basis:
    • Thinking about "the next time I could charge my phone" and carrying the iPhone cable around with me
    • Fast battery drain and the iPhone suddenly turning off when it reached 20-30%
    • Using apps like Boost Magic and BatteryDoctor to "trickle charge" the battery in an attempt to extend the battery life was useless. 
    There was only one options to retain the longevity of the iPhone: replace the battery.

    Having done enough research and confidence, I decided to save £60-80 buy getting a DIY kit.

    Ordered: OEM 3GS Battery Replacement and 3GS Tool Set

    Web guides & tutorials that helped me with DIY process:

    Tips and problems encountered:
    • If you feel comfortable at opening up laptops to clean the dust or replace parts, replacing an iPhone battery shouldn't feel too foreign... think of it as a tiny computer.
    • Make sure you work in a neat environment; placing the screws in a systematic order to make the process easier. Some have used an empty egg carton to help organise their screws.
    • Unfortunately, my 3GS tool kit came with an incorrect screwdriver (I contacted the website who quickly sent me the correct one), but I was determined to replace the battery that day, so used a different screw set to complete the process. Fortunately, the screw set I had was only slightly bigger than the 3GS tool kit; this allowed me to unscrew all but one necessary screw. The only screw I had trouble with was the one to remove the camera, but this did not deter me to complete the process. Although it was challenging to align the connection behind the screwed in camera, I successfully completed the replacement after 3 attempts at pulling the phone apart and putting it back together. I was a pro after 3 attempts!
    • My blue plastic tool kit broke when trying to attempt to remove the original battery due to the strong adhesive used to attach the battery to the backing of the phone. The battery was removed by carefully, but firmly using a flat-head screwdriver to pull it out. 
    After 2-3 months of using it, I can confidently say the battery replacement was a complete success!

    Hope you found this useful!