All Posts Filed in ‘Photography


Put Instagram Photos On Your Desktop Wallpaper With John’s Background Switcher


I promised myself when I released John’s Background Switcher 4.5 a couple of months ago that I’d take a break and go build some iPhone applications I’ve been thinking about. I’m primarily a Mac user now so JBS (currently Windows only) isn’t something I really use and after 8 years working on it in my spare time I figured I’d taken it as far as I could. In short, it was time to work on something else.

Then, while taking a photo with Instagram (you know, that iPhone / Android photo app that Facebook bought for $1 billion), it struck me how cool it would be to add Instagram as a photo source to JBS. Instagram forces you to take square photos and JBS has a few options that make square photos look awesome. With JBS you can make it set your desktop background to a single picture (with a different one on each monitor if you have more than one) and that’s fine, but it can also create cool montages like a mosaic, postcard pile or a polaroid pile like these below:

Since Instagram was cool enough for Facebook to acquire I figured it might be cool enough that people would want to see Instagram photos on their desktop. So following a weekend’s work I’m rather pleased to release a new version of John’s Background Switcher that supports Instagram! (Those montages above were in fact created by JBS using Instagram photos).

Once you’ve installed JBS and brought up the settings window you can click ‘Add’ then ‘Instagram photos’ where you’ll be prompted to authenticate with Instagram:

You’ll need to have an Instagram account to use the JBS integration, so log in and you’ll be able to let JBS (on your computer only) read your feed. You can revoke access at any time from the Authorized Applications page on Instagram. Once you’ve authenticated you can create ‘sets’ from any of these options:

  • Your own photos
  • Your photo feed (the one you see when you fire up the Instagram mobile app)
  • Popular photos (the same photos from the mobile app)
  • Photos you’ve liked
  • Tags (add a tag and JBS will choose photos with that tag)

You can add all of the above and create as many sets as you like (so if you like photos of sunsets, sunrises, cats, lhasa apsos and hamsters, create a set for each tag).

Since Instagram photos are pretty small it won’t work very well if you use a single picture for your desktop, instead choose either a mosaic, postcard pile or polaroid pile for best results. You can select the picture mode here from the settings window:

Anyway, go to the download page, get yourself a copy of JBS (which is completely free) and enjoy! If you want to help me keep staying up late by drinking coffee and making JBS better, there’s a donate button right on the download page.

Update (2016): Note that as of June 2016 Instagram disabled API access to your own photo feed. This means JBS and apps like it can only show you your own Instagram photos.

Update (2021): Unfortunately Facebook decided that to access the Instagram API you need to be a verified business so the party is over – JBS no longer supports Instagram. It was fun in the early (pre-Facebook) days but all good things inevitably come to an end (post acquisition).


Night Photography, Flash Guns And Too Much Of Me!


My good friend (and highly talented photographer) Ade and I went out the other evening in Leeds for a night photography shoot. He was mostly practising using multiple flash guns and I was mostly looking very camp!

I really did try and look menacing, or moody, or smouldering, or angry, or aggressive on each shot but for some reason every single one came out somewhere between mildly camp and super-gay! I guess I’m just not cut out for the modelling business, aside from being too old and not good looking enough I clearly have no ability to act in front of the camera! 😉

Anyway, try to ignore the model (they’re almost all of me) and instead look at the lighting effects which I’ll try to explain in each shot…


Pulitzer Feature Photography Winner 2008


Preston Gannaway of the Concord (N.H.) Monitor won this year’s Pulitzer prize for feature photography by chronicling a family coping with a terminal illness. I watched it with the sound turned down first to just look at the photos and it brought it all back. You forget how terribly hard it is watching someone you love suffer and how tough it is carrying on without them. It’s a wonderful piece of work and shows how powerful a tool a camera, in the right hands, can be to tell a story.


Photography And The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy


I was just sat half-watching reruns of the classic British TV series The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (or H2G2 for short). Right at the end the main characters Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect have crash landed 2 million years ago on Earth and are trying to teach some cave men scrabble so that the spaceship full of some other planet’s castoffs that crash landed with them won’t out-evolve them (it’s mad stuff and if you don’t know the story then either read the books, listen to the radio show, watch the TV series or buy the film on DVD – and what rock have you been hiding under?). They eventually give up realising it’s futile and walk off into the distance.

And at exactly that point I looked up at the TV and exclaimed: “I know where that is!”. Here’s the final scene:

The final scene of the H2G2 TV series

And here’s a photo I took in March of 2007 just above Dove Stone Reservoir near where I live:

A photo above Dove Stone Reservoir

You’ll note that it’s exactly the same place – although at a different time of year! The notch on the horizon at centre-left, the straight line of trees in the distance from lower left to upper right, the boulder which is right at the front of my shot but further in the distance on the TV and the position of the river.

It’s a small world indeed but it just goes to show when you look through the viewfinder to take in a scene, compose a shot and click the shutter to capture a photo – it gets not only imprinted on a digital card but in the back of your mind too! A lot of thought goes into every photograph I take and every one feels like a personal achievement. Which is why I never forget a photo I’ve taken – although I may well forget where it was taken as my memory’s not always the best!


Awaiting Photographic Inspiration


I haven’t really taken many photographs over the last six months and I’ve been trying to figure out why. I’ve taken plenty of snapshots of random things but I’m talking about getting my SLR out, maybe with the tripod, and taking photographs. If you’ve had a look through my Flickr stream (particularly the My Favourites set) you’ll see that I have some pretty strong photos in there and when I put my mind to it can capture something pretty good. Here’s one of my favourites – arguably one of the best natural photographs I’ve taken:

I spent quite a while going on shoots with my friend Ade on a near weekly basis but eventually I just had to stop and take a break from it. He loves taking photos – and is far better at it than me – but I just can’t keep up his relentless enthusiasm for trawling around Yorkshire taking so many pictures.

I recently watched a series on BBC4 called ‘The Genius Of Photography‘ and that’s where I really understood the power of photography to change the world and shape people’s view of it. The series charted the history of photography and how it was at first a novelty, then used for propaganda, war reporting, art and a host of other purposes – but underpinning everything was how photography has charted the history of humans over the last 170 years – from our greatest achievements to our greatest atrocities. Some of the most important pictures ever taken were shown and discussed and only by closely looking at some of them did the true genius of the photographers who took them come through.

If I ever get any ideas that I’m a good photographer I just need to look at some of the photographs featured in the series and realise that I have a very great deal to learn indeed. Knowing how to compose and expose a photograph properly is only the beginning – it’s what you take the photograph of, when and how you choose to do it that’s the key.

I guess that’s the thing I’ve been struggling with. I’ve found over the years that if I’m ever to stick at anything I need to have an underlying reason and sense of direction. I need a purpose. One of my character strengths and weaknesses is that I can be remarkably single-minded about things, but if I don’t have a goal in mind then I tend to drift aimlessly. And I think that’s been my problem with photography – I really enjoy it, but I’ve only been going out to take photographs. I haven’t been going out to take photographs of ‘something in particular’.

So my challenge is to think of a photography assignment to set myself and then go about fulfilling it. I’ll do my best to document the process and keep you updated on how I get on.


Things Don’t Always Turn Out As You Expect


I wrote a guest article on my friend John Topley’s site about my Life With a Mac (since he was the one who got me in to Macs by writing a guest post on here I thought it best to write about the results on his site). Since it was quite a few paragraphs of me rambling I decided it needed a photograph to add a bit of interest and break up the text. I wanted to somehow involve my Mac and to a lesser extent me (since I’m the owner).

In a flash of inspiration I thought I could take a picture of me using the Mac, looking over the screen which would show off the Apple logo and not show off much of me (since I’m actually not into pictures of me and I’m sure nobody else is). Then I thought that if it the light from the screen illuminated my face, that would be cool like the suitcase in Pulp Fiction – you never get to see what’s inside it but you get to see it glow when John Travolta’s character looks inside it. The shot would hopefully capture the joy I get from using my Mac and hint at the warm glow I get inside from it. I set it up, took the shot and ended up with this:

Me and my Mac

I think you’ll agree that it’s not quite what I was intending! I quickly realised two things when I opened it in Photoshop. One was that it was only going to work in black and white. And two was that there was no way I could make me look anything other than evil! I look like a scheming super-villain planning something fiendish. I really like it, although not for the reasons I originally intended.

I’ve often said I’d rather be lucky than talented and this is the sort of thing I mean. Had I actually managed to create the exact shot I wanted, I’d have been happy and that would have been that. But instead I got something completely different that I didn’t expect by sheer luck and am delighted by the results – much more so than if I’d got it “right”. Talent is over-rated! 😉


My Moo Stickers Have Arrived!


Some of my moo cardsThose good people at Moo have come up with another cool way to enjoy your photographs. They started with MiniCards (some of mine are pictured right) which are half-sized business cards that you can decorate with your own pictures (whether they be from Flickr or elsewhere). You can put what you like on the back of them and they’re the sort of thing you can give out at parties or just randomly show off to people. Very nice.

So as soon as I heard they’d come up with moo StickerBooks I went straight to the site and ordered myself some. I had no idea what I’d do with them but the good thing about stickers is that you can stick them to virtually anything! Here’s what they look like:

My moo StickerBook

They come on little tear-out pages with 6 to a page and the book contains 90 stickers in total. You can choose as few or as many different photos as you like. For a fiver per book they’re a bargain so I got 2 to get me started! As usual with moo the quality is excellent and I’m looking around the office at the moment for things to stick them to. Expect to see a moo sticker stuck on something near you soon!


A Comedy Caption Competition


My friend Ade was on assignment taking photos of black and white cows (strange but true) and since I was there and we found a field full of the beasts I rattled off a few shots. My favourite of the lot has to be this one:

Cows are people too!

Since I’m much better at taking photos than coming up with witty taglines, does anyone out there have a suggestion for a caption?


Worth The Effort


Quite often when I’m going out to take some photographs with my friend Ade I’m almost willing him to phone me and tell me he’s not going to bother. I’ll look outside and it’ll be cold, wet, windy and rainy. Or even hailing. I’ll picture in my head sitting in the car in the middle of nowhere praying for a break in the weather that never comes.

Except Ade doesn’t cancel – he never does – we head out and more often than not we get lucky with some amazing spells of great light and I realise that if we’d cancelled we’d have missed some great shots. Ade really has a gift for getting lucky with photography conditions.

So last Sunday I was in a similar mood, it had been raining and sleeting on and off all morning and as soon as we left my house in his car the weather took a turn for the worse. When we arrived at our destination we had to sit in the car for 20 minutes while it lashed it down! When it stopped we headed to Goredale Scar and were treated to some fantastic light, as you can see below:

Hidden Valley

We then carried on to Malham Tarn and the weather was looking even more grim than before. If I was on my own I’d have just driven home but luckily Ade never gives up, and the sun briefly broke out letting me take the following picture, which in my opinion is the best photo I’ve taken so far (although not a patch on Ade’s work):

Stick Together In Situations Like This

I’m going to print this one out 20″ x 30″ and put it on my wall at home. Like most photos it looks much better printed out than it does on a computer screen and I reckon it’ll look great poster sized. The detail on the full-sized picture is really quite impressive and shows what you can do with a not-exactly-high-end digital camera like mine.

It just goes to show that persistence pays off and a day spent in the cold and wet countryside is well worth it when you get something you can put on your wall like this. And having a friend who’s not only the source of all my knowledge of photography but has the persistence and determination of a fanatic is pretty useful too!