Category Archives: Uncategorized

Making the most of it

For the past three days I have been pretty much snowed in, thanks to the so-called “beast from the east”, a weather system originating in a polar vortex, apparently, which has brought sub-zero temperatures and very strong winds driving a dry powder snow. There are, therefore, lots of snow drifts. Where I live, in Fife, there have been no public service transport services these three days as we have gone from the Met Office issuing an amber warning to a red warning and back to amber. It can sound dramatic, but you just have to be sensible and in the midst of this I have a dog which needs to get out for exercise and “comfort” breaks.

This morning, whilst the wind was still strong there was much less snow in the air, so I decided to take my camera along for the walk to see what might be around and worth shooting. I was, if I’m honest, hoping to see some deer and other wildlife but, sadly, all I saw were some tracks in the snow where the deer had been. And so we pressed on with the walk and I started looking around for something in the intimate landscape that might be worth shooting. To be honest, the wider landscape was a world of grey and white, made all the more blurry by the now blowing snow.

Here though are a couple of shots I took this morning which I thought I’d share with you and say something about them.

trees; dead wood; winter; intimate landscape

winterwood

This is the first of the shots I though worthy of doing something with. It’s one of those compositions that just appeared unexpectedly. What I liked was the contrast of the bare wood from the dead tree against the darker background. With the snow being blown across the scene, I felt that a shutter speed just fast enough to minimise camera shake (I had to hand-hold and I was cold) but slow enough to slightly blur the flakes would potentially add some interest. I’m quite pleased with the result which is very close to what I envisaged at the time. For me, the effect of the snow adds a kind of impressionistic painterly effect to the shot which I find rather pleasing and the dead wood seems to stand defiantly against the elements. The two broken inwardly pointing branches also add a kind of framing and connection to the composition.

The route that I took this morning follows the line of a disused railway and I was still reflecting on the deer tracks and bemoaning not seeing any when I came across the railway; “aha”, I thought “tracks in the snow”…

railway; tracks; winter; landscape

tracks in the snow

Here, the old railway tracks were visible being in a more sheltered location. There was little colour on display here so, from the outset, I envisaged this as a monochrome composition. I did, as  always though, shoot in colour so that I had full control in post over how this rendered out to mono. I like the leading lines of the tracks taking the eye through the composition as they curve off towards the top of the frame. One of the challenges in getting this shot was keeping the dog out of it and having pristine snow laying between the rails.

In post, I decided to add a slight blue colour cast to the image, just to add to the  wintry feel of cold steel meandering through the snowy landscape.

Between taking these shots and getting to work in Lightroom, there was the small task of digging out the car and clearing the drive, but I think I managed to make the most of it.

Advertisements

Settings, bleh!

It’s kind of funny the way people are often interested in what camera settings you used. Do you find that?

It’s largely irrelevant, because you can’t go out to the same location at roughly (or even precisely) the same time of day, dial in the same settings and hope to get the same results. Why’s that then? Well, there are so many other variables: the weather conditions will affect the air quality and clarity, it may be overcast when originally it wasn’t, others will probably not be using the same camera and lens and even if they are, they might respond differently; and those are just some of the variables. On top of that there’s the post-processing to factor in.

What’s more important is knowing how to use your settings to get the results you want knowing how your particular kit behaves.

Let me talk you through the above three photos all of which were taken on the same night in Perth, Scotland. I had been to the location before with just my iPhone to take some scoping out shots and get a sense of what I wanted to come back and shoot properly. That pre-shoot visit was really helpful in allowing me to get a sense of how the lighting was working, the scale, and some preferred vantage points. Based on that, I began to think about what kind of shots I wanted to achieve and how I would go about getting them.

For the shots across the River Tay, I was certain that I wanted to soften the water and therefore blur the reflected light which would offer a contrast to the sharper definition on land. To achieve that, I knew I would need a long exposure. However, I also wanted to minimise grain (or noise, if you were raised in the digital age) which might be an issue with a long exposure at night. I opted to shoot at ISO 100, knowing that the relative lack of light sensitivity at this setting would push for a longer exposure. So, I’ve now considered ISO and exposure time (shutter speed) leaving the issue of aperture. Here, I was mainly concerned to shoot near the sweet spot of the lens, the aperture where the lens is sharpest and performs best. For the lens I was using that was going to be somewhere between f8 and f11. So, I opted for aperture priority, setting that to f10 on an ISO setting of 100. I then had a look to see what the camera was choosing for an exposure time. For both shots across the river, that was coming in at around 30 seconds which I was happy would be long enough for the effect I wanted, and so it turned out. Had it been longer, I might have had to consider changing the ISO. It’s a juggling act.

I used the same basic thought flow for the shot of the catering van but I wanted something more subtle here. The plan was to include some human interest but in a way that a slow exposure would blur the movement of the people. However, an exposure time of 30 seconds would be too long and could almost render the people invisible. I was looking for something nearer five to ten seconds, but also wanted to shoot within the sweet spot range and keep the ISO low. In the event, the lighting here allowed me to shoot at f8, stay at ISO 100 and get the kind of exposure time I needed. I’m certainly pleased with the result.

Post-processing was fairly light touch, really and done only in Lightroom. I’ll often use Photoshop for sharpening, but in this instance Lightroom did all I needed. One of the issues with night photography with the range of lights here, is that some areas had highlights that were just too bright so I needed to treat them specifically with the brush tool.

So, there you have it. Don’t be too bothered about what settings anyone used for their photos. I know it’s interesting and I’m as culpable as anyone for often providing that information, but it actually tells you relatively little that’s actually all that useful. Better to understand how to use the settings to achieve the shot you want, whether that’s in a very structured pre-planned way or in the moment when a composition lies before you.

Most of all, have fun and enjoy the good feeling of pulling off a photo just as you envisioned it.

Happy shooting.

A compromise of composition

Kelpies, sculpture, installation

The Kelpies

I don’t know about you, but I usually find myself bristling when I hear or read the words, “…it’s all about…” because I find it seldom is that exclusive. I was on the verge of titling this blog “it’s all about compromise” then had an argument with myself. I’m pleased to say I won.

I am not, therefore, going to say that photography is all about compromise, though that features in so many ways, not least finding the best compromise of ISO, aperture and shutter speed. What I will say, is that this blog is about the compromise of composition.

This was the third time I had photographed these magnificent sculptures called The Kelpies, but my first visit in winter. I like to find different ways of seeing and photographing subjects so set out to look for something unusual. Walking round the side I notices a canal boat moored up with smoke  rising from it’s chimney. I thought that might offer an interesting composition contrasting the ephemeral nature of the smoke with the solidity of the Kelpies.  How then, did this end up as a compromise of composition? Ideally, I’d have preferred to position the boat more between the sculptures to balance the scene a little more and provide more of a leading line. I was physically unable to do so as, to get more to the right, I would need to climb a fence and engage in trespass, which I thought to be a bad idea. That said, had I been able to position the boat as I wanted, I’d have lost contrast on the smoke with it positioned against the sky, and it was the smoke that had captured my compositional attention. I did feel, however, that the fading daylight in the background offered an interesting contre-jour shot and the grey of the winter sky reflected the steel construction of the Kelpies.

The grasses on the left of shot are also something of a compromise. Ideally, I’d have left them out of shot but it wasn’t possible to do so on location with the lens I was using. I debated removing them in Photoshop but decided to leave them in as I didn’t feel they were too distracting. I did, however, remove a lighting pole which was directly in line with one of the Kelpies and definitely spoiled the shot. One compositional advantage of shooting from behind, is that I eliminated the power lines and pylons which are in full view from in front.

I think the lesson here is to accept that sometimes, maybe more often than not, we photographers have to accept compromise in our compositions and the job is to make the best of what we see. Personally, I like to do that with the least manipulation in post.

This was shot at ISO-400, 1/000 sec, f/8 with a focal length of 18mm. I used an auto white balance with the intention of colour correcting in Lightroom if necessary. I used Lightroom to make basic adjustments to highlights, contrast and toning (among others) and used Photoshop to remove the troublesome lighting pole.

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

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.

Café reflections

Reflections

Reflecting on a moment

I love the way the photos sometimes present themselves when you aren’t really expecting them. They always feel like a gift.

Recently my wife and I were in London for a concert and, as is my habit, I took my camera with me. The day after the concert we went for a bit of a walkabout and ended up in the café at the Tate Modern for some lunch. As we sat there chatting I noticed the reflection on the glass wall. The happy circumstance of this being a reflection is that it made the café sign read properly as it was outward-facing on tbe window opposite. I immediately thought this would make for an interesting shot, so grabbed the camera and went for it.

What I like about this is the sense of story which is created by the couple reflected in the glass. Their positioning suggests a conversation and their mood appears reflective, which is then enhanced by this being an actual reflection. I also like the way that the trees outside have come inside to create a kind of wallpaper effect and the reflections of the lights add to the sense of depth.

This was shot at 1/125 sec at f/5.6 with an ISO of 400 and focal length of 55mm. As ever I shot in RAW and made some initial adjustments in Lightroom before doing some fine tuning in Phototshop to enhance the colours and sharpness.

Dunham Massey shoot

I recently went on a photo shoot with an old friend of mine. He had the choice of location and opted for Dunham Massey, a National Trust property with a garden, ancient deer park and house. Here’s a selection of my shots with explanations of each one.

Dunham Massey-3992First up is the house itself. Pretty standard fare photographically with a full-frontal square on view of the property, but there’s nothing wrong with that and it gives a good context. Although this was out of season and I waited patiently for there to be no people walking across the shot, it proved impossible and this was the least populated shot I could get. I thought about removing the people in Photoshop but in the end felt that their inclusion added something to the image. This was shot hand held at 1/500 sec at f5 on ISO 200. As ever, I shot in RAW and did my own processing in Lightroom. In addition to the usual light touches I added a graduated filter to decrease the exposure in the sky to balance up the overall image a little more.

We spent some time in the gardens which featured children’s welly-boots in random places and uses – a dream for a photographer.

Dunham Massey-3997I was particularly taken with these RNLI branded boots hanging in a tree; that’s taking out of context to a whole new level. I decided to focus in quite tightly on the boots but leave enough space to reveal the context, though with a wide aperture to give a shallow depth of field throwing the tree out of focus and concentrating on the boots. This was shot hand held at 1/250 sec at f5.6 on ISO 200. The focal length on the shot was 55mm and this had only the usual light touch processing in Lightroom.

Dunham Massey-4010Continuing the welly-boot theme, I spotted this pair hanging from a wooden bridge. At the time of taking the shot I already knew that I wanted to render this in monochrome with the boots retaining their colour, so shot it with that in mind. As there was enough tonal range to clearly depict the bridge in it’s context, I opted for a wider shot to include the whole bridge, knowing that the colour in the boots would make them easily visible in the final image. This was shot hand held at 1/100 sec at f5.6 on ISO 200. To retain the boots in colour I opted to simply desaturate the colours individually as the boots were the only things that colour! That was a simpler approach than going into Photoshop to use layers and masks.

Dunham Massey-4005One of the things I like doing is getting in close to some detail. In the garden there was a border of bushes in bloom with small flowers and the obvious thing was to capture them in a wide shot (which I did, eventually) but first I decided to close in on some detail. In doing so I spotted a bee going about it’s business and stuck with it to get the photo above. It’s one of those things that would be so easily missed. This was also shot hand-held at 1/500 sec at f5.6 on an ISO of 200.

Dunham Massey-4044Back at the house I went in close again for this shot of the stonework by the door. I love the feeling of texture in it and opted to convert the image to mono in order to make this more apparent. Again, apart from the mono conversion, there was minimal processing within Lightroom. Although there’s not much physical depth to the subject here, I wanted to make sure everything was in focus, so opted for an aperture of f10. Keeping the ISO at 200, I was able to shoot this at 1/125 sec and given a focal length of 51mm that was easily good enough to be hand-held.

Dunham Massey-3996And finally one of my favourite things – using something as a natural frame to gain high contrast. These can be challenging as it’s good to retain some detail in the shadows which adds to the feeling of depth and avoids having a black interestingly shaped border. The challenge is to make sure that the highlights don’t blow out, so I was careful to check the on-camera histogram before deciding I probably had the shot I wanted. There was just enough light spilling into the foliage inside the gate to show up, so I metered for the outside and set my white balance for that too. This was shot at 1/200 sec at f5.6 on an ISO of 640. Within Lightroom I only had to pull back the highights a little to make sure there was detail in the bright areas.

Throughout this shoot I operated in full manual mode on the camera, taking full control of white balance, metering and exposure.