Category Archives: travel

Spot the difference

Rannoch Station is one of the most remote railway stations in the UK. Here are two photographs of it. Can you spot the difference? You may need to enlarge the photos.

Rannoch Station

Rannoch Station

Rannoch Station

Rannoch Station

Did you spot it? There are no prizes (don’t stop reading though) for seeing that in the first shot there are wires leading down to the station building from the top left of frame whereas in the second shot they are absent.

The question is, was this worth about 45 minutes in Photoshop to take the wires out? It’s not so easy to answer and is really a matter of personal opinion.

Leaving the wires in is an honest reproduction of what was actually there and there are people who would argue for that level honesty in photography. The curious thing here is that at the time I took the photograph I really wasn’t aware of them. By the time I got round to processing the photo in Lightroom, I became increasingly aware of them. I felt they were detracting from the scene as I had originally enjoyed it. So there’s another little dimension on this minorly ethical matter. When we view any scene live – by actually being there – we tend to focus rather specifically on what we take in and our brains undertake some live editing and we simply filter out things that we’re not interested in. So, by taking the wires out in Photoshop was I being true to my own memory and perception but untrue to the actual reality?

It was a fiddly and time-consuming process to remove the wires but I felt that the scene was better without them. There was no longer competition to be the leading lines into the photo and I feel much happier without that competition going on. I think the composition is enhanced by removing the wires and therefore the effort was worth it.

In the end, I take the view that Photography, of this type is art. I think the debate becomes more pointed when we get into the realms of photojournalism or documentary genres where there is much more of an overriding need to present things honestly.

So, what do you think? I’d be fascinated to read any comments on this.

 

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Changing your point of view

When you are prepared to change your point of view, things sometimes just look better.

“Better”, of course, is subjective and what I think is better, someone else might not. The point, photographically, is that it’s always worth scouting around a subject and not just accepting the first view offered. To illustrate this, here’s an example.

Recently my wife and I were exploring the East Neuk of Fife and we had parked by the harbour in Anstruther. As we walked towards neighbouring Cellardyke we were faced by this intriguing sculpture virtually on the border between the two towns and giving a clear indication of their fishing tradition.

sculpture of fish, nets and boats

A fishing heritage

This photo was taken exactly in the direction we were facing as we approached. My concern at the time was to try to frame the shot so that the fish were nicely contrasted against the white wall of the house behind. Fair enough, but at the time I thought, “pretty standard stuff”. It shows context and is maybe the kind of shot that would make it into a brochure advertising the area.

I didn’t find it all that satisfying at the time, and thought there must be something different to be had here. As you can perhaps detect from the picture, the light was from behind and left. This was evening and the sun was going down.

I’m generally on the look out for different views and perspectives (seeing the familiar differently) so I did what now comes fairly naturally and walked round the sculpture to see what other views had to offer. And that led to this:

sculpture of fish, nets and boats in close-up

fishing heritage

Now, I find this much more creatively and artistically satisfying. This was taken from the other side of the sculpture, looking back towards where the previous one was shot from. Now we are shooting much more into the light and creating more contrast. I decided to get in close and fill the frame with the fish and net. The lamp posts in the background are enough to indicate that this is outside and I deliberately chose a wide aperture here to minimise depth of field and throw them out of focus. In post, I was tempted to emphasise the contrast and go for a black and white finish,  but I like the subtle colour in the evening sky and, when you look, there are also subtle hues to be picked up on the sculpture. I thought it was worth preserving those and adding to the interest.

So there we have it. Changing your point of view when photographing a subject can radically alter how you portray it. I said at the start that when you do this things sometimes just look better. Well, I have my preference, but what do you think? I’d be fascinated to see some comments.

Of course, much depends on what you are shooting the image for – there’s my caveat.

 

 

What lies beyond

It’s a grey, wet miserable day and I am not out shooting. So, by way of a break from the boring but necessary admin work, here’s one from the archive.

mountains, landscape, clouds, vista, valley

revelation

This is a favourite of my landscape shots and is one I keep returning to. I just love it. This was shot on 20 September 2008 during a special trip to the French Alps. It’s one of those completely serendipitous unplanned shots. My wife and I were returning to our hotel in Chamonix from a visit to Evian on the shore of Lake Geneva when we stopped for a break at a service station. I was aware that there was a degree of elevation where we were and headed, more in hope than expectation, between the parked-up lorries to see what kind of view might be on offer. At first, I was met with a very dull scene but, very quickly, the clouds started parting and the revelation was simply breathtaking.

I love the theatrical nature of this image, the clouds being drawn back like curtains to reveal the main attraction. Honestly, you could have sold tickets for this.

Apart from the memories this image evokes, I really like the composition of three main elements: the cold clear crispness of the mountains; the softness of the cloud  and the lush verdant valley below.

This image also works for me on a philosophical level and is a reminder that there is always something better lying beyond the clouds that face us at any given time.

 

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

Waddesdon Manor shoot

Another day, another stately pile. This time the shoot was with another friend at Waddesdon Manor, managed by the Rothschild Foundation on behalf of the National Trust.

The point of the shoot was to gather a variety of photos which would form the basis of time with my friend the next day demonstrating how to get the best out of them using Lightroom and Photoshop. The beauty of this location is that it does offer variety. There are extensive grounds, providing good outdoor options and it’s permissible to photograph inside provided there’s no use of flash. So, a nice mix of technical challenges.

These are some of the photos I shot along with a brief explanation. To see more of the shoot visit my portfolio site where there’s a Waddesdon Manor gallery. I shot all of these in RAW and processed using both Lightroom and Photoshop.

Photographing Waddesdon Manor

Photographer at work

While my friend got on with the business of taking some shots of the Manor, I naturally took some shots of him. The challenge here was to balance the exposure between the well lit background and the shade. To achieve the result I wanted, this needed some treatment in processing to lift the shadows. To be able to achieve this it was important on the shoot to make sure there was detail across the range, so I carefully checked the histogram on camera to make sure I had nothing blown out or totally black.

fountain statues

Supporting cast

Another exterior challenge was presented by the fountain which features a number of sculptures. I liked the shape of these two figures from this particular angle – it’s always worth checking out different shooting positions) and the vertical fountain to the side matched the lines and really called out for a portrait format. For this shot I wanted to have a slightly shallow depth of field; just enough to put the trees out of focus. I also wanted a shutter speed that wouldn’t freeze the water jet – I wanted some sense of movement in it but without being totally soft. The compromise I settled on was to shoot at 1/200sec at f7 on ISO 200. The processing I did was to give the image some punch and sharpness. If you look carefully, the female has a missing finger. I only spotted that in processing.

table set with silver pieces

Silverware table set

Moving indoors the challenges were to operate hand-held (no tripods and no flash permitted) and this included carefully managing white balance, and the holy trinity of ISO, shutter speed and aperture. While other people are wandering around quite rightfully looking at the displays it can be difficult to get wide shots. Such was the case here so I opted for detail and wanted to give an impression of the length of the table. I therefore prioritised a wide aperture to go for shallow depth of field. There was a lot of natural light coming from a window, so I opted for a daylight white balance and made a minor adjustment in post. This was shot at 1/125sec (well fast enough to eliminate camera shake with a 55mm lens) at f5.6 on an ISO of 1600. So, while I say there was a lot of natural light, it wasn’t by the bucket load and a fast ISO was necessary for the result I wanted. This resulted in processing to gain sharpness and minimise grain (I’m old school – it might be noise to you, but it’s grain to me).

highlights

Wine glasses

The shop provided other little technical challenges. Again, due to the press of people it was necessary to shoot hand-held so there was a need to go for detail and work the same compromises of exposure. My eyes was caught by these wine glasses, particularly the way the light was playing around the surfaces giving them a translucent quality which seemed to help with the sense of depth. I also liked the small hints of colour adding spots of interest. To capture this I shot at 1/60 sec at f5 using an ISO of 1000. In processing I wanted to emphasise the aspects of the image I saw and gain as much sharpness as possible while minimising grain. A close look at the glasses will reveal the engraving which carries the words “Domaines Barons De Rothschild” recognising the heritage of the Manor. The Manor was built in the 1870’s for Baron Ferdinand De Rothschild for him to display his art and other collections and to entertain guests.

If you’ve never been, it is well worth a visit.

The Kelpies

Today’s shoot was of The Kelpies, the largest equine sculptures in the world. They sit majestically at the Forth and Clyde canal in the Helix Park at Falkirk. I was last there a few years ago and took some scoping out shots on my iPhone. The intention was to return, fully kitted-out, and today was the day. It was challenging lighting to begin with under predominantly grey skies; but things improved…


Given the grey skies and flat light I decided to get up close. The sculptures were modelled on a pair of Clydesdale horses, Duke and Baron. This is Duke, with his head down. I noticed the light inside the sculpture and moved position until it was placed in the eye giving the impression of Duke looking at you and bringing a sense of life to the sculpture.

1/60sec at f14 ISO 200


Just as I was getting ready to pack up, the light changed as a weak sunlight began to break through giving more modelling to The Kelpies. The way the light fell across the curves of the sculpture creating highlights and shadows gave them rather more depth.

1/100sec at f11 ISO 200


And finally, as I was leaving the location the sun got stronger and was low to the horizon so I chanced a look back. I’m so glad I did. The sky behind had darkened creating a more dramatic backdrop to The Kelpies, which were now lit in contrast to their surroundings. So, hang around long enough and something dramatic might emerge from what was previously flat and grey. 

1/125sec at f14 ISO 200