Focus folly

two men standing in a doorway at night

two men and a doorway

Here’s a curious one, which I’m calling a focus folly.

I was in St Andrews to get some photos of their St Andrews Day celebrations, but mainly the fireworks. Walking along the street my attention was taken by these two chaps standing in a doorway having a smoke. My line of sight was across the rooftop of a parked car and the way the light was falling on the raindrops intrigued me as a foreground. I had no time to set up a tripod so getting anything here was reliant on being quick and hand-held with a fast enough shutter speed to avoid camera shake. This meant a high ISO of 10000 and the inevitable grain that would go with it. I quickly chose my composition and, using an aperture of f5.6 took two shots – one with the foreground droplets as the focal point and a second with the two men as the focal point. At this time I had no idea what I might end up doing with the shots, if anything.

Getting the shots on screen I really liked the way the foreground raindrops worked with the deep bokeh of the background. The trouble was, that this meant the two men were also out of focus and they really made sense as the subject of the photo. I did, however, have a second image in which they were in focus. At which point I was straight into Photoshop and working with layers and a mask to produce the end result we have here.

Why am I calling this a focus folly? Simply because this is a manufactured effect but I think it works with the foreground leading you directly to the main subject without all the other background distractions.

Now, after all of that, did I get any shots of the fireworks? I certainly did….

St Andrews fireworks-4988

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iPhone only

Of course, it’s popular for photographers to say it’s not the camera that makes the picture but the photographer. Fair enough but if there’s no camera, there’s no photograph. I’ve often used the analogy that you can put a formula one driver in a basic car and they’ll get the very best out of it but if you put a novice driver in an F1 car, all manner of mayhem is likely to follow. Mistakes will only be exaggerated. So it is with photography. It’s important to be able to visualise photographs and then know how to capture them on any camera.

So, just for fun, here is a selection of photographs I’ve taken at the seaside using only my iPhone and edited in Lightroom mobile.

red rock

rocky shore

soft rock

velvety rocks

morning glory

seaside sunrise

colourful jellyfish

cosmic jellyfish

water on sand

natural fractals

moonlight reflection

moonlit shore

clouds and sea

water above and water below

seaside rainbow

rainbow

Fife Heritage Railway

What could be more entertaining than a photography enthusiast doing his thing while some railway restoration enthusiasts were doing theirs? That was the joy when I recently had the opportunity to do a shoot at Fife Heritage Railway. This one was especially enjoyable as I regarded it as a documentary shoot – capturing something of the story and it’s context.

Here are some of my personal favourites from the shoot.

fading,and rusting train engine

Old engine

coupling two trains

coupling up

reconditioned old train engine

Old steam engine

cleaning a steam engine

cleaning

how railway wagons are coupled together

coupled wagons

checking the train engine

train engineer

life on the footplate

train driver

All the photographs were processed in Lightroom with some further, minor adjustments for tone in Photoshop.

 

Coming and going

appearing and disappearing

coming and going

It was one of those days; cloudy, overcast and heavily humid producing a very diffused light. Well, having gone to Westonbirt arboretum with the idea of taking photographs it was time to be creative and not wasteful.

Walking through, my eye was caught by the meander of this path and the  conditions had me thinking of people appearing in to and out of heavy mist. That in turn led to the idea of someone walking into shot and out of shot as though appearing and returning from nowhere. Very quickly I had the idea in my head of a finished piece with two images of the same scene showing someone coming and going. It was then just a case of creating it.

I knew I would have to work with layers in Photoshop, so this meant shooting a consistent background by mounting my camera on a tripod. I then used manual settings for exposure, locked that off, set focus and switched off the autofocus. Then it was a case of taking a number of shots of my obliging model walking towards and away from camera. I made adjustments in Lightroom which I then batched to the other images to keep the scene consistent. The final effect was achieved in Photoshop using layer masks and different opacity settings.

I’m reasonably pleased with the result which is very close to what I first imagined.

 

An hour in Newbury

Encouraged by my hour in Wantage I set myself the challenge of repeating the exercise in Newbury. 60 minutes, one camera, one lens to do a shoot in the travel genre.

shop front

reflecting facades

Coming out of the car park, this was my first impression. Modern and reflective shop fronts presenting interesting angles, shadows and colours. But Newbury isn’t new…

Weavers walk, Newbury

a sign of history

…and this shot gives a clue to a possible traditional trade.

Distances from Newbury

distances

Newbury seems happy to tell people how far it is to both Oxford and Bath. Both interesting places- perhaps a 60 min shoot in them sometime?

Corn exchange building

Corn exchange

Continuing the sense of history, the corn exchange building is a strong hint to an agricultural past. Sadly this building no longer carries out this function but accommodates more modern facilities including the obligatory cafe.

Old frontage

Old meets new

And right here, past meets present in a building displaying old rooftop signage and accommodating a rather more modern business.

Running through Newbury is the Kennet and Avon canal.

The Kennet and Avon canal, Newbury

passing through

Once carrying goods, the canal now caters for the leisure user and is home to swans with this year’s cygnets.

family of swans

swan and cygnets

And finally this traditional looking advertising on the side of the butchers beside the canal was really eye-catching.

traditional advertising

the writing’s on the wall

 

An hour in Wantage

What’s it like to view where you live as if you were shooting it as a travel photographer? That’s the question I set out to answer in an hour in Wantage.

60 minutes, one camera, one lens and the self-set challenge to view the familiar differently.

After about the same time editing in Lightroom and Photoshop here are the results.

loaves for sale

bread stall

It happened to be Wednesday and market day in Wantage. It’s always good to ask the stall holder for permission to take some photos as it usually gets a warm response and gives more time to frame the shots as you want them.

burger van

dining out

On the other hand, there’s also merit in some candid shots which give a natural feel of life going on normally. This one just looked better converted to monochrome and it needed some lightening of the shadows to bring out the detail inside the van.

Illistrative brickwork

relief mural

I like textures and this relief mural on the side of Sainsbury’s caught my attention. I’ve walked by here so often and given this little notice but the conscious effort of seeing through the lens of the travel photographer does force you to notice more.

a warning

official graffiti?

And just beside it was this notice which left me wondering if this was official graffiti. Curious.

church and graveyard

grounds of faith

Another shot that looked better converted to monochrome. The parish church in Wantage seen from the graveyard to the east. This meant shooting into the light, but it created the contrasty result I was looking for.

window sign and reflection

reflecting on wines

Opposite the church I noticed a building with two windows above which were the slogans “Wines” and “Spirits”. I was intrigued by the juxtaposition with the church and that there are gravestones reflected in the window; warning perhaps of the perils of over-indulgence?

statue of John Betjeman

John Betjeman bust

Staying with the theme of the parish, this bust of John Betjeman sits on a plinth outside the Vale and Downland Museum.  The inscription on the plinth describes John Betjeman as a poet and parishioner. It was always going to be difficult to get in one shot the bust and the inscription, so I shot them separately and blended them in Photoshop. I think it works reasonably well as there was little contrast on the inscription to work with and, at the time of shooting, the lighting didn’t exactly help.

old wall sign

wall sign

I’m not sure who was doing what repairing but this sign just looked intriguing and the shadows and brickwork added to the texture in the shot.

contrasts

shadows

And finally, I liked the way the sun cast strong shadows from the canopy covering the walkway outside Sainsbury’s. This was just screaming out for a mono conversion to maximise the sense of contrast.

But wait, I hear you say, isn’t Wantage known as the birthplace of  Alfred the Great? What about him? Oh, all right then, here you are…

Statue of Alfred the Great

Alfred the Great

At the end of the day

sunset figure

at the end of the day

At the end of the day, this was a little tricky but it’s exactly the shot I wanted to achieve.

My daughter had suggested we take an evening walk up White Horse Hill near Uffington in Oxfordshire. Having taken a few photographs already, I spotted her crouching with her iPhone taking a photo. The setting sun was behind and I thought it would be interesting to take a shot into the light – the old contre-jour technique. I deliberately positioned myself so that the sun was mostly obscured. Of course, you have to be careful doing this, looking directly at the sun is really to be avoided even through a camera viewfinder.

I liked the effect of the back lighting in situ and wanted to capture as much of that as possible in the photo. It’s important to get as much right in camera as possible so I shot for the result I wanted so that post-production work was kept minimal. As ever, I shot in RAW and, in this instance exposed for mid-ground ie the near hillside. The editing consisted of using both Lightroom and Photoshop. In Lightroom, I made some adjustments for light clipping by reducing highlights and I also lifted the shadows a little to make sure there was clear detail on the shirt. I also made some minor adjustments to contrast and exposure. I then did some fine tuning in Photoshop where I also sharpened the image and enhanced some of the colouring.

This was shot at 1/125sec on ISO-100 at f/7.1 on a focal length of 35mm.