Fan Control

It’s an exercise in stating the bleedin’ obvious to say that a computer is an integral part of most photographers’ equipment, unless perhaps you’re Bill Eggleston, though it’s possible even he uses one now, I don’t know. Bill? Billy? If you happen to be reading this, why not drop me a comment at the end of this article to let me know. That’s if you have a computer with which to read this post of course.

Back to the plot, I certainly do have a computer. In fact I have a relatively prehistoric Apple MacBook Pro which must be getting on for four years old (that’s 50,000 computer years, 1.3 trillion if it’s a PC) and I was starting to worry it wasn’t up to the task any more.

Over the time I’ve had this computer I’ve asked ever more of it. The files from my cameras have doubled in size, I’ve upgraded to Lightroom 4 and PhotoMechanic 5 on top of all the regular software anyone uses when they have a computer and I’d become increasingly aware of the fan noise that would start up whenever I worked on images. Lightroom in particular seemed to get the fans working hard.

Sometimes it was as if there was a DC10 on my desk getting ready for takeoff, and I had been wondering if some harm was coming to the processor, which is what the fans are there to cool. I say fans, there are two in my machine, and a nifty piece of software called Fan Control tells me what the temperature of my processor is in ºC, what speed each fan is doing in RPM and I can adjust various settings to dictate when the fans kick in and what temperature they’re trying to maintain.

Fan Control preference pane for MacBook Pro

Hours of geeky fun controlling and monitoring processor temperature

I was alarmed to see my processor running at around 80 ºC or more on a regular basis, the fans straining to reach their top speed of 6,000 RPM presumably to stop the laptop catching ACTUAL fire. And then I had a brainwave…

When you open an older MacBook Pro, the hinging movement of the screen reveals a long slot along the back (see photo) and this slot is the air intake which the fans use to draw in cold air and expel the heat. So I got my vacuum cleaner with a brush attachment and gave the slot a good clean out. What a revelation! Where my laptop would routinely be running hot on even basic tasks like writing a blog, it is now silent. Running Lightroom still causes the fans to kick in, but instead of around 85 ºC, the processor runs at anything up to 20 ºC cooler.

Air vent on a MacBook Pro

Cleaning out the vents lets the fans work more efficiently

The laptop doesn’t run any faster, but it’s quieter, cooler and will be using less power. Plus the processor and other gubbins are less likely to fry and I’m less likely to be hit in the head with the shrapnel of an exploding fan. That really would be a disappointing way to die.

Goodwill Hunting

I’m thinking it would be too easy to write yet another tale of woe about a small business getting caught with unauthorised images on their website, and if you read my blog regularly you won’t need me banging on about copyright yet again so I won’t. Of course if you want to know more about this, read The Guardian consumer column which will enlighten you further.

Instead I’m going to tell you a new and surprising fact; Photography is more crucial to the promotion of business than it has ever been.

That I’m saying this isn’t perhaps all that surprising. What IS surprising is that it’s been said by John Owens in PR Week. If you’re a photographer, you might be peeling your eyebrows off the ceiling after reading that. Yes, an organ of the public relations industry is extolling the virtues of photography in brand awareness. I utterly commend the article as essential reading to all PRs who either don’t know, or who might need a reminder of the importance of good quality, engaging imagery for their campaigns.

Richard Noble of Bloodhound SSC project on the phone

Behind the scenes, un-staged photos (such as this one of Richard Noble of the Bloodhound SSC project) are championed by the PR Week article.

The piece even concludes with an immensely useful check list written by Matthew fearn, picture editor of The Daily Telegraph, for PRs wishing to get exposure in national newspapers, but which is also a perfect outline of good practice for PRs sending images to trade and local press too.

There are one or two points in the article where I would advise caution, as you would expect me to (knowing what a cynic I can be), but I think they’re worth a little extra consideration.

The author sites a couple of examples where big name brands have engaged the goodwill of their customers to help with social media campaigns on Facebook and Twitter. In one case Lego asked customers to send in creative images of their models for use in what was a highly successful Facebook campaign. Lego’s head of social media Lars Silberbauer says, “At Lego, we are at a stage where we would rather build a stage around our customers’ content than a campaign using fixed assets.”

I say, “Yuhuh I bet you would.” Fixed assets are expensive and customer-supplied content is free. I’m not actually saying brands shouldn’t do this, but it must be done in good faith and brands need to be aware that crowdsourcing can backfire.

In the case of Lego, where customers knew exactly how their images would be used, the campaign was a success. In the case where Instagram wanted to grab rights from its users for unspecified use, the exercise blew up in their face. I wonder how many times a brand loved even as much as Lego could use this exercise. People are increasingly aware of the commercialisation of their non-commercial photos, and while I don’t condemn crowd participation per se, I would urge brands to ensure their use of freely-offered images is circumscribed and boundaries are clear.

You might conclude I’m worried about the public taking PR work away from me, but that isn’t such a concern. As long as the public aren’t being taken for fools and brands play fair, I’m comfortable with this. Any business doing PR properly will have a range of different avenues for exposure, including social media and low-end imagery alongside higher-end imagery, press PR and advertising. It shouldn’t be treated as a one-or-the-other equation.

PR is vital to any business of any size. It’s bad PR to use other people’s images without permission, it can be good PR to ask for pictures if the deal is fair, and a good photographer with real newspaper training and experience can help you get exposure at a fraction of the cost of advertising. So go hunt goodwill, just don’t shoot Bambi’s mother in the process.

Reviewing a Gem

If you haven’t already seen my review of the Fuji X10 over on the Wex Photographic website I suggest you get there post-haste and read it without further delay. War and Peace it isn’t, but what you will get is a camera reviewed in working situations and which shows what the camera is capable of when you delve deeper than the auto settings. What I discover is that the X10 is a little gem.

Although I’ve only ever reviewed two cameras (the aforementioned X10 and the Canon G1 X) I can honestly say I enjoy the experience and of course Wex know I’d like to do more.

Test photo for Wex Photographic review of Fuji X10

One of my first shots with the X10, testing macro and low light abilities in one shot.

It’s one of those tasks which is kind of scary but also exciting; I know I have to deliver a coherent critique of a camera and I need to get it done within a reasonable period of time, while of course I enjoy getting to try out new equipment.

Wex give me the freedom to decide what images I take, but I’m always looking for pictures which don’t just show that a camera can take pretty snaps in Auto mode, but that it can be pushed and stretched (figuratively of course) to show what it can and can’t do. There’s no point me just stepping outside the office and taking pictures of buildings and pretty scenes. Any camera that can be called a camera can pretty much do that standing on its head, albeit the pictures will be upside down.

With the G1 X and X10 I wanted to see if the camera could take sellable pictures. In the case of the G1 X I sold a flood picture which I took on my first outing with the camera. With the X10 I used it on an assignment and mixed the results in with photos taken on my main camera as it proved very useful working in a situation where shutter noise would have been distracting. The client was happy, and it gave me another chance to show people what the camera could do in less than ideal conditions.

In both cases I tried the cameras out with my portable studio lighting, and both worked incredibly well. And although I don’t class myself a Street photographer, again both allowed me to have a go at this tricky genre and I was pleased with the results.

Wex already know I’m champing at the bit to have a go with the X10’s successor, the imaginatively-named X20, as soon as I can and of course I’ll publicise the article widely if/when that happens and of course you’ll read it, won’t you?