Category Archives: technique

A beacon of safety

Sentinel light
Ardnamurchan Lighthouse

Pic of the week – Friday 24 May 2019

As the shroud of dusk envelopes the landscape as a portent of night, so Ardnamurchan Lighthouse springs into action protecting the sailors and their ships from the most westerly point on the British Mainland.

This is one from the archive and the metadata tells me the following:

The photo was taken at 19:51hrs on 24 September 2015. I’m not sure if that’s the moment the shutter opened or closed, because this was a 25 second exposure at f20. I shot at ISO 100 to minimise noise and quite wide at 26mm. All editing has been done in Lightroom, and mostly with a light touch. I opted for a sqaure crop as I will be using this across my social media, but I like the resultant composition, I also added a slight vignette to help draw the eye to the light.

As I said above, Ardnamurchan Lighhouse is at the most westerly point on the British mainland positioned at Latitude 56° 43.6′ N Longitude 6° 13.4′ W . It’s been been safely guiding ships through the waters off Scotland’s west coast since 1849 and is now fully automated. The lighthouse tower is 36 metres tall rising 55 metres above the rocks. It was built in 1849 using granite from the Isle of Mull and was designed by Alan Stevenson, uncle of Robert Louis Stevenson, whose family designed most of Scotland’s lighthouses over a period of 150 years. Apparently it is the only lighthouse in the world designed in an “Egyptian“ style.

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Pic of the week – Friday 17 May 2019

Strawberry splash
Strawberry drops

Making a splash

This is one from the archive, albeit recently.

It’s a shot from a test set-up for a product shoot in which I was aiming for a low key look with lots of contrast to separate the subject from the background. I also wanted to get a lighting set up which would freeze the action but also be fairly even.

I achieved this by using flash positioned to the right of the subject as we look and, instead of using a reflector as fill, I used a mirror to throw back an almost equal intensity of light. I used a black backdrop and set the subject far enough in front of it to get the most benefit of the inverse squared rule to make sure I kept the background black.

Rather than put my signature watermark on the image itself, I’ve chosen to put it on a border which I think looks less intrusive in this case, I created the border by adjusting the canvass size in Photoshop then adding a white layer.


Pic of the week – Friday 26 April 2019

Afghan Shop Keeper

Doing what’s necessary

One from the archive this week, taken on a filming trip to Afghanistan in December 2003 and a personal favourite.

This is in the capital city, Kabul. At the time of my visit it was strugling to find peace after years of conflict and was still in the early days of the UN forces presence. I remember the bombed-out buildings, bullet-holed walls everywhere and the total lack of any street lights.

I was impressed by the reslience of the Afghan people and this man typified it. I was told that he was a former wrestler and was famous in Afghanistan but had now lost his sight. In a country with no social security or welfare benefits you have to do what you can to simply survive. What this man had done was to create a room in his house and knock out an opening to the street. This was his shop and here he traded daily selling a variety of produce.

What I like about this image is the story it tells. Unless I had been told, I would have had no idea this man was blind. Here he was sitting in his home shop, enganing happily with a customer. There is an expression of welcome and engagement on his face and he appears relaxed and at peace with his lot. I like the scales sitting between him and his customers, speaking of balance, fairness and justice. It’s a symbol of hope for a nation plagued throughout its history by bloody conflict.

This was originally shot on film, Fuji 800 Pro if I remember correctly, and the resultant grain gives the image a certain mild grittiness which I think is appropriate.

It occurs to me now that this was almost 15 and a quarter years ago and I find myself wondering how this man’s story developed.


Pic of the week – Friday 19 April 2019

Cross sculpture - Ely Cathedral
Cross sculpture – Ely Cathedral

A promise

I admit it, I’ve not been all that diligent in recent times in posting on social media or writing a blog post. Life has been, and remains, busy.

What I’ve decided to do in order to rectify this omission is to post a “pic of the week” across all the social media I use and, on this blog, to make some comment on it. This is my promise to myself. The pictures might be something I’ve shot recently (even in that week) or something older from the archive. I feel this is probably something I can sustain as a minimum and maybe on occasion I will be inspired to post more. I’ve set myself a recurring ask reminder, so all being well…

And so we begin with this one, a sculpture on the wall at Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire. I shot this a few weeks back and this one’s for Easter.

The sculpture simply hangs there in the cathedral with no comment, allowing people to interact with it as they will. And that’s how I’ll leave it here. Just engage in the conversation by looking at the photo and allowing it to communicate.

Giving it a go – supermoon

supermoon
supermoon

A short story of opportunism


This is the final supermoon of 2019 hovering over the neighbourhood and coinciding with the spring equinox. It’s the last of this year’s three back-to-back supermoons, the first occurring on Jan.21, and the second, which was the biggest and brightest, on Feb 19.

Fortunately we had clear skies so I simply had to grab the moment to get out and take the shot – barely an hour before writing this! I must admit it was opportunistic as I hadn’t been aware this supermoon was due. I had simply gone out to take some rubbish to the bin and was met by this glorious sight.

So, I headed straight back inside to get the camera, change the lens and do my best to get a decent shot. There was no time to faff around setting up a tripod, which is fine (and best) when you are planned and ready but this was sheer opportunism so how do you go about trying to ensure you get the shot? Well, here’s what I did.

The lens I had on the camera was a 55 – 200mm with no image stabilisation. I needed to work hand held but minimise blur from camera shake. I opted for manual mode, and selected an exposure time of 1/500 sec. The rough rule of thumb is to use a shutter speed at least twice the value of the focal length of the lens. I was doubling it which more than compensated for the multiplier effect of my crop sensor of 1.6. I chose an aperture of f8 which is around the sweet spot of the lens and then put my ISO on auto. This would at least guarantee a decent exposure and I spot metered on the moon. The pay-off, of course, was going to be grain (or noise if you prefer, but I grew up with film so it’s grain for me!)

After taking a few shots to bracket exposures around my settings and to spread the shake risk a little I took the images into Lightroom. All of the processing of this shot was done in Lightroom. What I did was allow for lens correction and also chromatic abberation. Then I made some global (though slight) adjustments to the exposure and tweaked the white and black scales just a little. I also introduced a little contrast, then made local brush adjustments to the moon to bring out the detail and to the rooftops to prevent the blacks from clipping. I then set about sharpening using the mask to pick out only the edges and bringing the radius down to 0.5. I had to give it a fair bit of noise reduction on luminance with a heavy hand (nearly 100%) on the colour noise reduction.

In the end, I’m quite pleased with this shot which goes to show that you should never pass up an opportunity even if you’ve not planned and therefore think it won’t be the perfect shot. It’s always worth giving it a go.

Logo in a light bulb

logo in a lightbulb
logo in a lightbulb

I posted this picture (well, not exactly this one, as you will discover) last week on a Facebook group for photographers and it proved to be very popular with 140 likes (as it stands). There were also lots of complimentary comments and one member said, “How did you do it, if you don’t mind telling. ”

I’m more than happy to tell, but I thought this might be better done by way of a blog as there are a few processes involved. In an ideal world I thought all I had to do was go back to Photoshop open the file and describe the process from there. It turns out this isn’t an ideal world. As I’d been experimenting with an idea I’d had, I hadn’t actually been alert enough to save the Photoshop file. In order to do this blog post, I had to go back an recreate the entire thing. That’ll teach me to be more alert about saving the experiments. In the end, I think this version is just a little more heavy-handed with the highlights but, as the main aim of this post is to explain the process, I wasn’t about to go back and re-edit.

So, here is how this image was created.

Stage 1 – electrifying the logo

This stage is all about making the logo look like an active filament in a light bulb.

I opened the white Hi-res version of my Photologo in Photoshop and, as usual, duplicated the layer. I do this to make sure that if anything goes wrong I can always get back to the original. I don’t work on the base layer.

Using the paint bucket tool, I filled the logo with orange (hex value f4a816). You need to be careful at this stage and make sure you only get the logo. I suggest zooming in for detail. Staying on the copy layer, I went down to the layer style (fx) and selected outer glow. In the layer style box I clicked on the solid colour box in the structure options and chose an orange colour. In this case the hex value is ff6c00. I then clicked OK on the colour. I set the opacity to 60% and made sure the blend mode was normal, set the size to 190 pixels then clicked OK on the layer style. The result is an orangey glow round the logo. I then duplicated the layer (CTRL+J). Then on the new duplicated layer, I edited the effect by double clicking it to open the dialogue box. I changed the colour to a lighter version (hex value f0962b), I increased the opacity to 100% and reduced the size to 65 pixels then clicked OK. The end result of those processes on the logo looks like this:

Next I wanted to add some highlights to the effect so opened a new layer and put that on top of all the others. I renamed that layer “highlights”. I find with multiple layers, it’s a good idea to rename them for ease of identification if I need to come back and re-edit. If you don’t know how to rename a layer simply roll your mouse onto the layer name and double click. That allows you to rename then confirm by hitting “enter”. On the new highlights layer, I set the blending mode to overlay. I selected a soft round brush and sized it to be just marginally thicker than the logo text. I reduced the opacity to 50% and then painted highlights where I thought they looked reasonable in giving the logo that electric activity. This stage is very much directed by eye and what you think looks “natural”.

Stage 2 – the bulb

Were I doing this other than experimentally, I’d have photographed a bulb myself but, in this instance, I chose a stock image. As my logo is wide, I wanted a bulb that was more oblong in shape.

Keeping the work on the logo open in Photoshop, I then opened the selected a photo of the light bulb. This opens as a new tab within Photoshop. The image I chose is pretty low res, so really wouldn’t stand up to enlargement and it also means the relative canvass sizes are very different between the bulb and my logo. I therefore checked the size of the bulb canvass which turned out to be 11.43 cm x 8.2 cm. This will become significant shortly. So, back to the logo tab in Photoshop. Selecting the top layer I made a new layer and then stamped visible into it by doing the following: hold down Shift, Ctrl, Alt, N to create the layer, then Shift, Ctrl, Alt, E to stamp the visible into it. This creates a new layer which has all the detail of the layers below and is the one I will copy to the light bulb image. First though, I changed the image size (please note NOT the canvas size) to 11.42cm x 8.2cm and in the dialogue box opted for auto resolution, which slightly changes the images dimensions.

Then I right clicked on the layer and select duplicate layer. This opens a dialogue box in which you choose the open file in which you want to open the duplicate layer and, for me, that’s the light bulb image. In the dialogue box there’s a drop down option for destination document. This is where I selected the light bulb image.

Next I selected the light bulb image tab in Photoshop to switch to it which now showed my copied logo layer above the light bulb. Having adjusted the image size in the logo, it is now an easier job to set about aligning it. The imported layer comes in as layer 1 which I renamed to logo. Making sure I had the logo layer selected I used the move tool to align the logo across the centre and in line with the existing bulb filament like this:

Lining up the logo and bulb

Still on the logo layer, I went to edit and selected free transform. To see the handles I hit Ctrl 0 on the keyboard (see below). Now the task is to align the logo within the bulb so that it connects to the ends where the actual filaments connect. I did this by adjusting the handles on the free transform box but held down the shift key to retain perspectives and prevent skewing the logo.

free transform handles

Next I made a copy of the background layer and moved it to the top of the layers stack. I then created a new fill layer (filling it with black) and put that below the logo layer. Then I applied a mask to the background copy layer (top) and with the foreground colour set to black and background to white, I selected a soft brush and painted to reveal the logo. This then needed some adjustments back and forth setting different brush opacities to  get to a final look that I was happy with.

final layers

I hope you’ve found this interesting and helpful in terms of Photoshop technique. There may well be better ways to achieve this effect, but this is how I ended up doing it. I think it’s a technique I might employ again at some time.

Before I close, let me give a shout out to Photologo. I got my logo from them and am using it not only as a watermark on photos that I publish online, but also as my business logo. They’ve not asked me to give them and mention and have certainly not paid me for doing so. I just think they are worth knowing about if you are a photographer who wants to do something to help protect your images and add a stylish signature to your work.

Mr Bass Man

Mr Bass Man

Mr Bass Man

I took this photograph back in 2011 at a graduation concert. This was no studio shot but the stage lighting lent itself to this low-key treatment. The shot was taken with my camera mounted on a mono pod for some extra stability. The exposure was 1/125 sec at f5.6 with an ISO of 1600.

I wanted a fast enough exposure to minimise camera shake with a focal length of 105mm and I also wanted a shallow depth of field, hence the high ISO. This necessarily introduced some “noise” to the image. I’m not against that per se, but at times it just needs to be managed if it’s distracting. So, here’s a summary of how I processed this image.

As usual I opted to remove chromatic aberration and enable profile corrections under the Lens Corrections tab in Lightroom. After that, I proceeded with as light a touch as I needed to create the final effect I wanted.

In the basic panel I brought the highlights down a touch then lightened the whites and darkened the blacks to just short of the clipping point.I also slightly increased clarity and vibrance, just enough to add a little punch to the colours.

In the HSL panel I made very slight adjustments to the hue, saturation and luminance of the red and orange channels.

Sharpening required more careful attention. Holding down the Alt key to guide myself with the black and white rendering, I increased the masking until I was only going to affect the edges with sharpening. This entailed masking being at 93. I then applied some sharpening (32) with the radius at 0.5 and the detail at 10. Working by eye I increased the noise reduction for luminance until I was happy with how it looked. This ended up at a setting of 24. There was some noticeable colour noise on the bass man’s right forearm so I increased the noise reduction on that until I was happy with the appearance. That resulted in a setting of 27.

And that was it – those are the only adjustments I made to the image that came out of the camera.

This shot is one of my personal favourites as I feel the lighting captures the mood so well.