The Pixelstick – The Verdict

Was the Pixel Stick Worth it?

Having watched this cool light painting tool evolve for a while it was only a matter of time before I got one. That came on Black Friday 2015 when the offer price was right.

It arrived from the states a few days later, and I was raring to go – were it not for the rain!

How does it work… ?

Watch this!

Why did I get it?

I shoot cars professionally – I thought it’d be a cool addition to the toolkit for that.

TVR sagaris ribble valley pendle-126

Also, I thought I could use it for client logos – adding those to scenes for some quirky viral click bait!

I also run night workshops, so it was an obvious addition to the “wire wool” and “gelled LED torches” I drag around Yorkshire each winter.

Ghostly Goings On-1

I like gadgets, and wondered what I could do with it – what works, what doesn’t work, could I do anything others were not doing ?

How is the Pixelstick to use?

Uploading new files etc. to the Pixelstick

The file format and interface on the device is old school:-

  • you need “bitmap” BMP files which are 200 pixels high,
  • then rotate them 90 degrees to the right,
  • the file names can only be 8 characters long.

SO that’s novel

Photos with black edges work best – anything on a white background look a bit pants, to be honest – you get white tide mark.


That’s why I ended up with lots of demonic heads to start with – they have black edges! I’m not a satanist or demon worshipper!

The interface itself is pretty good to use at night – just a simple controller and a fire button. A bit like an old Game Boy control really. Once you get used to the menus, you can change things very quickly

Some Photos

So you can see lots of examples there – I’ve certainly given it a good workout!

Using it in the field

Needs to be really dark!


I find it best if you’re somewhere dark enough to get a 30-second exposure at around F5.6 – so we’re talking dark places! Any brighter, you have to work faster or lower the aperture to F8 or F11… then the brightness starts to fade. i.e. you can’t see the effect very well… or at all .

Timing is interesting

I’ve always shot with someone at the cameras – so I have to shout when to start the camera, no use of remote shutters.


How do you get wings in the right place behind someone? It’s tricky – try it.

Also, you’re walking to trace out an image – often to fill a specific space – so how do you time that? It could end early so you have got a big black space, or you end up at the end of the scene with the stick still flashing!

Its fun

Yeah – it is good fun to use to be honest. You just run around looking like an idiot, or some star wars fan as it can look like a light sabre!

Has it any Commercial Value?

Limited – I think most clients think it’s badly photoshopped artwork, rather than something unique and creative. One, in a bout of truth-telling, explained in great depth how he thought posting it on Social Media had cheapened my work and damaged my brand!

I don’t think many would go that far, but it’s seen more as a novelty toy, than a real commercial tool help raise a company profile.

I’d definitely try an another car shoot – but as an addition at the end of the shoot, if we had time. I’d not be promoting it and don’t have any examples on the website.

Was it worth it?


It’s definitely got some interest in workshops so has paid for itself in extra attendees, so yes, it’s a cool tool which has actually covered its cost.

I think its best when used to create abstract things – rather than trying to create actual photos or things which are recognisable such as logos.

If you get too close to the camera, it looks like 200 lines, rather than a nice smooth image – that was a bit limiting, you do need to be far away to get the most from it.

What Next?

It’s getting light late in the UK now, so it’ll probably be packed away till the Autumn – but I think the thing I’ve not done is city work. Adding strange images to “already interesting” night scenes in a city, with models or cars, will be the next thing.

I think I’ve only really scratched the surface with it – mainly down to a horrendously wet and windy 4 months since I bought it. No one wants to be running around outside with a camera in the rain…

Northumberland – Great Even When Grim

Raining in Northumberland

I guess living in Leeds, the sea is always going to be a novelty – it’s not exactly close – a good hour which ever way you go, and more like 2 to get to a pretty place.

So why not do Northumberland; It’s got everything except huge mountains.

Take Advantage of the Low Light

On this recent trip we were treated to rain and grim skies mainly, but not to be deterred, we took advantage of the low light and shot waves crashing up on the boulders and rocky coast. You can get that milky water effect if it’s not sunny.

This set of images were all taken on such days – ones where 98% of photographers would be stuck indoors on Photoshop moaning about the rain.

You can always find SOMETHING to do with a camera, you just need some wellies, a warm coat, and a rain cover your camera.

The photo-set was mainly from around Blythe, Craster, Newbiggin and there’s one in Alnwick – where we retreated to get some architecture and coffee!

For more information on Northumberland, visitt the tourism site here:-

Visit Northumberland Northumberland Tourist Info

York Photography – A Beautiful City at Night

The McFade York Photography Workshop 2016

With its walls, river, minister and castle as highlights – and hundreds of other things to discover, I’ve always loved running Photography workshops in York.

It was drizzling, then fine, then raining… and that only adds to the scene. The watery pavements reflecting colourful light into the camera adds to the magic.

York Photography Ideas

The gallery before contains a few highlights from the workshop – these include:-

Minster and walls

Northern Europe’s biggest cathedral, a gothic masterpiece which dominates the city. The walls are older still, and provide a great lead line into the Minster when taken from near the train station


The old butcher’s row – olde worlde in the extreme, usually full of tourists, so go late at night. The upper floors almost touch, that’s how they used to build them!

River and tour boats

The river moves slowly, which means it’s great for reflections – so those night colours and boats all look great if you take long exposure shots from a bridge.

York Museum

Three great looking wings of the old museum to enjoy, though there is a tree making a mess off the best angle! And usually a few vans in the way!

Clifford’s Tower

The last bit of the castle still standing is the keep, called Clifford’s Tower. It stands on top of a conical mound and has a famous silhouette, so you can get some nice sunset skies and use that as the foreground.

Yorks ancient streets

The Shambles is the king of the streets in York, but there are loads more around the Minster area. All the better if they are wet – the pavements come alive!

Reflections in the cobbles

And finally the cobbles… they’re all over the place, they look cool if you get your camera right on the ground next to them.

York Gallery

Here are a few from last night’s workshop – just click on a shot to open the large versions 🙂

The Great Photo Watermark Debate

Why do people get so angry about photo watermarks?

You’d be amazed how polarised opinion is on photo watermarking is.

  • Many think it pointless, and will fight to the death to convince everyone so.
  • Others think it idiotic to post anything without the protection of a watermark

What is a photo watermark?

It’s a logo, text or some other “mark” you apply to a photo – in this example, the McFade watermark in the bottom right is a watermark.

leeds river 2015_12 HDR 105_6_7

In  this image, the watermark is very discrete – it has an opacity of 8% and fills the full width of the image.


Purpose of watermarks


In the photo above, the watermark identifies the image as a “mcfade photography” image. People seeing this will then know who the photo was by and if they wish to use it legally, they can google “mcfade photography” and contact us.

We can then work out a price for usage, invoice them and deliver the images.

The first image above, with the small bottom right logo, would be ideal for this.


Watermarks discourage malicious usage of an image – people may pass the image as their own, or use the image without permission on websites. This robs the photographer of potential earnings for commercial usage, or credit for amateur usage.


This isn’t something I’d really thought of till reading a thread on Facebook – but some would argue that putting your name across a photo is a form of “ego boost”.

Arguments against watermarks

They ruin an image

Indeed, they can, and often do, spoil the viewer’s pleasure.

This is an example of a watermark which ruins the image – it’s a full-screen logo at 76% opacity, and the colour tone (white) contrasts hugely against the darker background.

New Dock Leeds WY-8-2If you are posting images like this, then I think anyone would agree that you are looking firstly at the logo, and secondly, struggling to see the actual photo

A 5% opacity version of the exact same image/logo reverses the effect.

Here you see the image first, then the logo. New Dock Leeds WY-8

Logos can be easily removed

This is true for small identity logos, like in this street scene.

Anyone could easily crop the right side and get rid of the logo, or “clone” out the logo, by copying a section of pavement over it.

leeds city dec 2015 HDR 199_200_201-Edit

However, if we return to this image…

New Dock Leeds WY-8

  • The logo covers a huge proportion of the image so cannot be cropped out
  • The logo overlaps many things – like the railings and bridge tower, so is challenging and time-consuming to remove.

Whilst you can photoshop this logo out, it will take time – would the malicious photo thief want to take time doing this, or just move on to a different image?

Make it hard for people to steal, and they are less likely to do so.

If you upload at low res, they are no use to anyone anyway

It is true that a low-quality, low-resolution jpg file will look terrible in print. It’ll be pixellated and look horrible.

So this argument holds for things like weddings, where people want prints, but don’t want to pay you for them.

It also holds for flyers, magazines and anything else in print – where the low resolution will not look good.

However, most businesses use images online – for any number of uses. Any image you upload can potentially be used – no matter what resolution you use. If you upload anything, you want it to look good (otherwise, what’s the point?), so it will look just as good on an image thief’s site as it does on yours.

So should you add photo watermarks?

If the photo has any “potential future value“, then I would always watermark it.

If it’s a photo of my family around the dinner table at Xmas, then I’d not really be bothered – but the images above may all have some commercial use.

For example, the ironmongers shop may want a photo for a flyer. If they see that image and like it, but there is no watermark, then they don’t know who to contact for a high-resolution print version.

  • They lose – they can’t use that image as it’s too low res
  • You lose – you could have negotiated (say) a £100 fee

Which watermarks should you use?

Logos are better than text – they sell your brand and build familiarity.

If you don’t have a logo, then text will do – but make it interesting, use a nice font, place it cleverly.

How to I apply watermarks?



Lightroom’s “export” process has a “watermarks” section at the bottom. This allows you to choose:-

  • the logo file (use png if you can)
  • size
  • placement
  • opacity

Then you can save those settings for future use. Very powerful.

So why do people get so upset?

Who knows – photography appeals to an unusually wide range of people, from teenage girls making beautiful floral images of their friends to pensioners photographing puffins on the north sea islands.

More than any hobby, you’ll find hugely polarised opinions on just about every subject!