26 Feb 2013

The Mystery of my Disappearing Google Presence

Hmmmm, so two weeks after disappearing off the face of Google, I'm now back - hurray! It's been a slightly stressful two weeks, wondering what the hell was going on, and trying to tinker with a few things in Webmaster Tools to see if I could work out how to fix it and revive my presence. Like a phoenix rising out the fire, I've appeared again, none-the-wiser about what happened to take it down or bring it back up again.

So what was the issue? Well, I used to come up first on a Google search if you typed in "Sophie Carr" or "Sophie Carr Photography". I also was coming up about 8th if you searched for "London Travel Photographer" or "London Travel Photography" - which brought in some nice traffic to my site (and some work, so it was important). But then two weeks ago I was just Googling myself (as you do) and discovered that I'd completely disappeared (apart from my blog and Facebook presence, and a handful of other references to my photography work). But no sign of www.sophiecarrphotography.com.

The first thing I did was to ask Photoshelter - my website host/provider - if they had changed anything that might have had an impact. They had done nothing, apparently. They noticed that I had two chunks of code for my Google Analytics, but that this shouldn't make any difference (the reason I have two is that one is for the www.sophiecarrphotography.com site and the other is for the www.sophiecarr.photoshelter.com site - they have different GA codes, and I want to track them both).

The next step was to work out what the hell Webmaster Tools was all about. If you're not from a techie background, this is a very user-unfriendly tool, I think. The language can be unintuitive and assumes a lot of prior knowledge (which a photographer who pays for an off-the-shelf website package doesn't generally have!).

I spent quite a bit of time reading through all the sections of the Webmaster Tools and reading the help section to try and make head-or-tails of some of it. The main thing that I learned (and updated) was setting my preferred domain to www.sophiecarrphotography.com instead of "Don't set a preferred domain" - perhaps this had an impact, as previously it was seeing both www.sophiecarrphotography.com and sophiecarrphotography.com (without the www.) and discarding both in its crawls as duplicates. I looked at the html improvement suggestions and removed some alleged duplicate meta descriptions (long and short) and duplicate title tags - doesn't seem to have done anything as it still shows them to exist now.

I was given rather unhelpful suggestions by people on the Webmaster forum that the reason for the disappearance might just be that photography websites are not good quality in Google's eyes, content-wise. They change their algorithms the whole time - we all know that - but maybe some new algorithm has decided that photographers websites are rubbish. Well, I follow all of Photoshelter's SEO suggestions, such as adding meta descriptions and titles wherever necessary, etc.. Although most of the content on my website is images, each page, gallery and image has associated text (like titles and descriptions). It's not just a bunch of photos with 0123.jpeg as the only text, which would be meaningless in Google's eyes.

After I changed the domain setting suddenly the Photoshelter version of my website reappeared again (www.sophiecarr.photoshelter.com), but this isn't the one I want coming up on searches - I bought my title www.sophiecarrphotography.com because that's the business name and the website address I want people to see! I asked for more advice from the Photoshelter community and we were all stumped and rather worried by this (I wasn't the only photographer affected).

Anyway, the upshot is that after a couple of days of uploading new content (new images in new and existing galleries) and posting lots of stuff about this on Facebook and Twitter, I'm back in the searches as if nothing ever happened. It would be nice to have some kind of proper explanation, but all I can say is that if you find yourself in the same position then check the domain settings (under Webmaster Tools, Configuration, Settings, Preferred Domain & point to one only), check the Health section of Webmaster in case there are any easy-to-resolve problems, and continue uploading new content and getting people to look at it. Probably also worth posting your issue to the Webmaster forum to see if anyone can find anything obviously wrong. And then cross your fingers that it sorts itself out as quickly as possible! 

15 Feb 2013

Browns Fashion Window Display - London Fashion Week

I'm part of London Fashion Week!

Browns Fashion, the well-known fashion boutique on South Molton Street has just launched special window displays as part of London Fashion Week, highlighting collections from London, Milan, Paris and New York. The Paris photo in the window is one of mine - had a little look today. The photo is a little hidden behind the mannequin in the pink coat, but looks great from inside the shop, as they've made it into a huge transparency. Postcards of the image also available in the shop, if you're passing!

12 Feb 2013

Back-button Focusing

One thing that always fascinates me about the world of DSLRs is that there's always something more to learn - new techniques and new functions just lurking there, waiting to be discovered, hidden in the bowels of your camera's custom function menu!
So I was quite surprised to learn about back-button focusing recently, or rather I was surprised that I'd never heard of it before. I'm not one to read through every page of the camera manual when I invest in a new one, but my recent discovery has led me to believe that maybe I should. There's a lot more to these cameras than initially meets the eye. Perhaps I should also buy the "...For Dummy" books.

I stumbled across this functionality when researching the focusing on my new Canon 5D Mark III. Going from a reduced-frame to a full-frame and from 9 to 54 focus points has provided me with some new challenges, and I found I was initially getting quite a few totally out-of-focus shots when I was taking action shots with the new beast. A bit of googling led me to some articles about back-button focusing, and now I'm bemoaning the fact that I'd never discovered this before (or even heard about it) - it's been a function available on Canon cameras for decades!

So, what is it? Simply put, it is focusing using a button at the back of the camera, rather than using the shutter release button to focus.

Okay, so why is it helpful? Well, here's an example of where it comes into its own. You're trying to get a shot of your dog running around the park. In order to take the shot, first you press the shutter button down half-way to get it to focus, and only then can you take the shot. Often by that point the subject's moved out of the focal plane and all you've got is half a blurry tail at the edge of the frame! By splitting the functionality of these two processes (focusing and shooting), you can do each of them independently and simultaneously. This means that you can focus and re-focus continuously while also shooting a series of rapid shots (and with the Canon 5D Mark III this is about 5 frames per second).

The results? Far more control over focusing of the shot as the subject moves, while still being able to take the shots quickly. It basically means that the camera is capable of doing these two separate tasks simultaneously, resulting in a much higher hit rate. That, coupled with the different tracking focus functions on the 5D (for different levels of acceleration/deceleration and rapid changes in direction, etc.) mean that photographing moving subjects is far more successful.

So how do you do it? On the 5D Mark III there are various buttons along the top right at the back of the camera, and the purpose of these buttons can be changed, with different functions assigned to them. A bit of digging around with the different options (custom functions) shows you that all sorts of functions can be assigned (from focus to exposure to image quality to other operational features such as electronic level), but the focusing seems by far the most useful one to me (and the AF-ON button the best one to use, since the other two are pretty useful as AE lock and focus point adjustment).
On the Canon 5D Mark III, then, you have to do the following:
1) Go to Menu, scroll along to the Custom options, then select C.Fn2: Disp.Operation, scroll down to Custom Controls, then press SET
2) With the top left option (Shutter butt. half-press) highlighted press SET, then select "Metering Start", the middle of the options (this removes the focus functionality from the shutter release button). Then press SET again to return to the menu.
3) To set the focus functionality, scroll down one button to the AF-ON option (second on the left hand side) and press SET, then ensure that it's set to "Metering and AF start" on the left hand side - this assigns the focus function to the AF-ON button. Press SET again to register this setting, then press the MENU button a couple of times to come out of the custom function options.
4) Then you're ready to go - you'll need to press the AF-ON button to focus, probably with your thumb. It takes a little time to get used to, but it seems so much more useful and effective, especially if you're taking shots of moving subjects.  Even with stationary objects it's a great way to focus. FYI - once you move you finger off the button the focus is set, so this is useful if you want to then re-compose your shot. Remember to tell anyone who borrows your camera!

When shooting moving subjects it's also important to have the AF-DRIVE set to AI SERVO, and useful to have the High Speed Continuous setting on in order to capture as much movement as possible. Another thing to play around with is under the AF options in the menu, which gives you different tracking sensitivity, acceleration/deceleration and AF point auto switching - all of these depending on the type of moving subject that you're trying to capture.

The functions on the Canon 60D (my other camera body) are as follows:
1) Go to Custom Functions and choose option IV; the default (with focusing on the shutter release button) is option 0.
2) To adjust it to assign the AF-ON button with focusing (and removing it from the shutter), scroll down to option 1:
 3) Then continue as above, using your thumb to press the AF-ON button to focus and the shutter release button to actually take the shot!

As far as I'm aware, this functionality is available on all the major DSLR bodies. I just wish I'd found it years ago! Please share if you find this useful, or let me know of any other useful tips you have.

5 Feb 2013

New Dog Blog!

Just started a new blog - Sophie Carr's Dog Blog, where I will put all future dog-related content!

Check it out here!