about the photo school

The Photo School exists for five reasons.

First, there is never enough room in our books for everything we would like to include, and replying individually to every single query is impracticable -- we'd never have time to do any paid work. We therefore hope that Photo School will be useful to our readers and profitable to us. The site is free, but we do ask for a small donation from time to time (see button at the bottom of the page).

Second, book publishing is becoming increasingly formulaic, with the Hollywood syndrome. The publishers' reasoning is "This book did OK, so let's do another as close to it as we can" . This is the same sort of thinking (to use the word loosely) that gave us Rocky IV and Star Wars VI. We believe that our readers want more variety -- and so do the editors of todays' most successful magazines, even if the book publishers can't see it.

Third, and flowing directly from the second, we can write best about what we love best, and take the best pictures of what we find most interesting. In a sense, we are 'paid amateurs': 'amateur' in the old sense of doing it for the love of it, and paid because we do magazine articles, books and e-books.

Fourth, it is not driven by advertising. We are not beholden to anyone, nor are we afraid of losing advertisers, because we don't have any. It also means that you, the reader, are not constantly afflicted with ads.

Fifth, we do actually hope to make some money out of it...



Or if you insist, Istanbul. We travel (usually on a shoestring) as much as we can afford (which is why it's a shoestring...) Roger shot this from the bridge one night, almost certainly using a Leica M-series and 90/2 Summicron, probably shooting on Kodak Elite Chrome EBX ISO 100. It was scanned with a Nikon Coolscan and heavily cropped to 'letterbox' format. The exposure was quite heavily bracketed: often, at night, a long range of exposures is more or less successful and it is merely a question of choosing the one that looks best. There is a free module on bracketing.

Supporting the site

Yes, we hope to earn money with this site. We couldn't afford to do it otherwise. But there is quite a difference between trying to get fair payment for an honest product, and trying to rip people off. There is an enormous amount of work in this site -- its was more like an encyclopaedia than a book, even at the very launch -- and it's all speculative: we just have to hope you are going to like it enough to send a small contribution occasionally.

As for the truth that there are plenty of free sites, we'd say that all too often you get what you pay for on a free site. Our information is logically arranged; grammatically presented; and pretty accurate.

Sarre Mill, Kent


This is actually a composite of two negatives, both shot with a 'baby' Linhof Super Technika IV and 100/3.5 Schneider Xenar. Frances shot the windmill and tree, then combined it with a sky negative that Roger had shot as 'stock' for precisely this sort of use. There is more about how it was made, plus prints from the two separate negatives, in the module on dodging and burning. It's such an easy technique that it didn't warrant a module to itself. Or of course you could look at our book Darkroom Basics for step-by-step detail on dodging and burning and combination printing.

How to use the site

It's up to you. You can choose subjects that interest you; you can simply browse; or if you want to organise things a bit more rigorously, you might want to look at the free module on creating a course from the modules on display.




Chateau de Berrie


Yes, it's a privy, garderobe, easance, jakes or house of the dawn, and it's in a little turret on the side of the chateau. What is the relevance? Roger shot this with a Leica M8 and 18mm f/4 Zeiss Distagon, the subject of a review.





blue door, green bolt



Door, Mertola, Portugal



A number of themes seem to insinuate themselves into our work, and as this and the picture above demonstrate, doors are among them. Another theme is bicycles. Ask yourself what your own themes are: not the things you think you photograph, but the ones you keep finding among your pictures. Roger shot this years ago with an elderly Nikon F and a zoom that was nearly as old: it could be sharper. A planned series of paid modules on the subject of 'The Search for Quality' will address sharpness and many other factors affecting quality.

Silver and digital

"When we started this site, serious digital photography was still in its infancy, and besides, silver halide photography was what we knew: Roger has been doing it for over 45 years, and Frances for around 25. We got our first DSLR in about 2006 (and still have it, a Nikon D70) and we got each digital M-series Leica (M8, M8.2, M9) as it came out: we still have the M8 and M9. Click on the links for reviews. There is still a lot of silver halide information in here, because we believe it's very useful: not many people are still writing about it, which means that although there are plenty of books around on the subject, many of them are well out of date. We shall add more about film as we think of it, and indeed, our first e-bookwas Black and White Step by Step, a handbook for the 21st century. There is a lot more, though, about photography in general: in the words of the old Kodak book, 'How To Take Better Pictures'. What you won't find is much about software and how to do things in Photoshop: there is no shortage of that information, anywhere."

Many modules are relevant only to silver halide: film choice, development, that sort of thing. Others, such as 'Travel' or 'White on white' are equally relevant to both digital and halide. We hope that it will be an equally valuable resource to all photographers, but our main target audiences are first, those diehards who still use film because they like it, and second, those who started out in digital photography but now want, for whatever reason, to try film instead. Take a look at the module on building a course from the modules available and at welcome to film if you're new to the medium.

blur dancers

Dancers, Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, Dharamsala

We have done quite a lot of work with and for the Tibetan Government in Exile, and this shot dates back to one of our first trips to Dharamsala in the early to mid 1980s. We had dropped in to see the Director of TIPA, Jamyang Norbu, without realizing there was a performance that night. The only camera Roger had with him was a Linhof Technika 70 with 6x7cm roll-film back and 100/2.8 Zeiss Planar; the only film, Kodak Ektachrome 64. Fortunately he had a monopod; this is 1 second wide open. A basic message of the Photo School is 'When in doubt, try it.'


There is inevitably a certain amount of overlap between some of the articles: there are at least two expositions, for example, of lens flare.

This is simply because a web site is different from a book. In effect, we are providing a book with numerous chapters that can be read in any order, and a subject needs to be covered as it comes up.

On occasion, there is overlap between modules: between, for example, Our Materials and Choosing Film , or between the two modules on exposure determination (Negative and Slide/Digital, and bracketing, subject brightness ranges and ISO speeds. If this really doesn't work and we get enough complaints, we'll consider changing it. But for now it's a conscious choice.

malta nat. library


National Library, Valletta, Malta


Malta is the most fascinating place on earth to shoot: the history is as many-layered as an onion. If we ever do workshops, we shall do the first ones in Malta. Roger used a Toho FC45X with a modest wide-angle lens -- the 110 Super-Symmar XL, roughly equivalent to a 32mm lens on 35mm -- to shoot this on Kodak Ektachrome 100 SW in the late 1990s. Careful use of camera movements allowed surprisingly natural-looking perspective. Today we would most likely shoot it on 6x9cm using the 35/5.6 Rodenstock Apo-Grandagon on Frances's Alpa 12 S/WA mounted upside down for fall instead of rise: this was shot from the balcony. 

Re-used pictures

Sometimes the same picture may appear in several modules. This is because the same picture may well illustrate two different points equally well: better, in fact, than two different pictures. We thought long and hard about this but eventually decided it was better to use the best available illustration of a particular point, even if it meant using the same picture twice, rather than using another picture that didn't make the same point quite as well, purely in the name of variety. Besides, there are some pictures we really like.

misty morning

Misty morning

This is one of the first pictures Frances took with the revised Tri-X when it was introduced in 2002-2003. Many manufacturers send us materials and equipment for testing, sometimes before the official introduction. She used her Voigtlander Bessa-T with either a 35/2.5 or 50/2.5 lens (we can't remember) and a weak yellow filter (B+W 2x). The print is on Ilford Multigrade Warmtone, selenium toned.

Caption information

The information about the cameras, lenses and film we used for a particular shot is always from memory: we don't write this sort of thing down. At the very least, the equipment and materials described could have been the ones we used; in the vast majority of cases, they almost certainly were the ones we actually used.

A disadvantage of having been in this game for so long is that we can forget not only what we used, but what we said we used. In other words, we may say in one place that something was shot with a 35/1.4 Summilux, and in another that it was shot with a 35/2.5 Color-Skopar. Quite honestly we can't get excited about this: the modules on Our Equipment and Our Materials say most of what needs to be said, and the caption information is merely for interest. If a picture was shot on or with something unusual we are much more likely to remember accurately than if it was shot with our usual cameras, lenses and materials.

Windmill near Mazeuil


More recent pictures -- this dates from 2005 -- are likely to be more accurately captioned than older ones. Not only are our memories fresher: we use a smaller range of cameras and lenses nowadays. Often, too, we can work things out. We couldn't remember whether Frances had the 75/2 Summicron that she used for this shot on her Voigtlander Bessa-T or Roger's Leica MP or possibly even M4-P, but we knew that it was on Kodak Tri-X (developed in Ilford DDX and printed on Ilford Multigrade Warmtone). As Roger rarely loads any of his cameras with Tri-X, it was almost certainly the Bessa-T.

fpm windmill
Image quality - a note

This site was begun in 2004 and is an ongoing project. Since we started, we have learned a great deal about how to get better scans; about sizing; about optimum JPEG compressions; and a lot more. The image quality in some of the early modules frankly leaves a good deal to be desired. We have already started to revise the gallery and in due course we hope to revise all the dodgy pictures, but as we have undertaken to provide at least one new module every month, there are plenty of demands on our time. What we can guarantee, though, is that you will rarely find better technical information than is available here -- and the later modules (late 2005 onwards) are visually a good deal better.

Errors and corrections

An old Arab proverb says, 'To Allah alone belongs perfection'. Reputedly, the finest carpet weavers of old Persia would deliberately introduce the occasional flaw into their weaving so as not to usurp Allah's prerogative.

We regret to say that any errors you find here are unlikely to be deliberate. On the other hand, we also believe that there are rather fewer of them than in many books on photography (including some of the earlier ones of our own). One reason for this is that we have been doing this for a very long time: Roger took up photography in 1966, first worked professionally in the mid-1970s and has been writing about it since 1980. Another reason is that everything you read here has been scrutinized by at least two experienced and knowledgeable photographers (us) before it was even posted: sometimes it has been read by others too. And thirdly, we are more than willing to change any errors that are pointed out to us by you, our readers.

If you spot a significant error and think it's worth correcting, please contact us. All you will get in return is our gratitude, but we'll owe you a favour, which could come in handy if you want to persuade us to do a module on something that especially interests you.

war memorial

War memorial, Noirterre

We call ourselves amateurs because we shoot whatever interests us, in preference to what someone else pays us to shoot. On the other hand, we are quite experienced and knowledgeable amateurs and we reckon we can help others. If you agree, great. If not, well, let's agree to differ. Roger shot this on Kodak Elite Chrome 100 EBX with a Leica MP and 75/2 Summicron.

If you don't like the site

Most people like the way we explain things. We have often been praised for our clarity, common sense and down-to-earth approach, to say nothing of the fact that many people like our pictures. There are however at least two reasons why you may not like the site.

One is that you don't agree with us. This occurs most often with diehard adherents of the Zone System, who take our antipathy to it as a personal insult. Others want to 'correct' statements which are already perfectly accurate to begin with, but are the subject of widespread misconceptions: take a look at our Grey Cards module to see examples of this. All we can say to all these people is, if you don't like it, go elsewhere.

The other reason you may be unimpressed is if you look at our pictures and say, "I could do better than that." Well, quite possibly. But bear in mind that we can't always use the very best pictures to illustrate a point. It would, for example, be a bit of a surprise if we could provide as examples of bracketing pictures which were aesthetically stunning as well as showing the effects of different exposures. Bear in mind too that pictures on the web do not look the same as original prints or transparencies, so you may not be seeing them at their best -- though in all fairness, some pictures look better on the web than they do as prints or on the light box.

If you read our text; learn something; say "I could do better than that"; and then go out and do so, we shall account it a success on our part. It is a poor teacher who does not want his pupils to excel their mentor.

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© 2006 Roger W. Hicks