Tag Archives: art

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.

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.

Kelpies – A Magritte homage

Kelpies pop art

Kelpies – Magritte style

This is rather rough and ready but an experiment in Photoshop to make an image in an homage to Rene Magritte, a surrealist artist from Belgium noted for pop and conceptual art. His paintings were often very minimalist and sometimes featured a sense of absence or unnatural juxtaposition in some form or other.

This image featuring The Kelpies is inspired by Magritte’s painting of a man in a hat facing away beside a transparent outline of himself in which the full figure blocks the background and the transparent one reveals it. In Magritte’s painting a curtain provides the backdrop to the cut-out figure which allows it to appear. In this Kelpies image I opted to screen the whole image apart from the figures and the see-through to the Kelpies in the background.

The final image is a composite of two photographs taken on location. My camera was tripod mounted to provide a secure and consistent framing across both images. For the shot of the figure the focus was on the figure but there was never going to be enough depth of field to keep the Kelpies in focus too. The second shot, from the same tripod set-up focused on the Kelpies.  The rest of the work was in Photoshop using layers and a mask.

With more time, I’ll work on this approach a little more and aim for a much more refined end product, but as a trial piece, I’m happy to have proved the principle.

Beginnings

egg plant

Beginnings

What came first; the chicken or the egg?

I was quietly reflecting on this recently after watching a TV documentary about cosmology (as you do) in which the narrator commented, with no further explanation, that at “the big bang” the universe exploded out of nothing. Call me naive if you must but I’m sure I’ve heard scientists say that something from nothing is impossible, yet here was a statement effectively saying that everything came out of nothing. That’s quite a leap of imagination.

So, this had me reflecting on the old philosophical question of which came first, the chicken or the egg? Inherent in that question is the assumption that anything must come from something but, I wondered, can one thing ever give rise to something completely different? I also started to think about how that thought might be illustrated and came up with this image.

As the egg is a vital element in the philosophical question, and we are accustomed to eggs giving rise to chickens, it seemed to me a logical element to feature in the image. I then wanted to consider the possibility of the egg being either a seed or fruit and that led rather logically to trees, and so I ended up with the combining of plant life with animal life.

The conundrum in this image is the question of which gave rise to which. Did the egg put down roots which grew the trunk and raised the egg off the ground, or did this tree produce an egg as a single large fruit? I found that visual puzzle quite satisfying in terms of questioning beginnings but I felt there was still something missing. The appearance of one large egg atop a tree limb with no foliage seemed just too odd and also left the question of what next?

Just as trees lose their leaves in autumn, I wondered what might happen in terms of a continuing life cycle and considered that there might be a season of change. I decided to express this with the egg fragmenting and scattering its parts to the wind and I decided that the pieces of egg would be leaf shaped. Given that the egg is rather closer to an autumn colour, I decided to make those departing leaf fragments green in a final act of transformation.

All of this is mildly entertaining but behind it lie deep philosophical questions, and I think that’s what really irked me about the throw-away statement on that TV documentary about the universe exploding out of nothing. At that point, science has nowhere to go, because if there really was nothing before there was anything, there is nothing to observe and science operates on the basis of observation, experiment and measurement. And at the point where there is nothing there are still questions, which is why science alone cannot be sufficient to answer everything.

There is a popular feeling among some scientists to dismiss religious faith, specifically Christianity, as irrelevant. This is a disservice to the many capable and very senior scientists who are also Christians and have no issue in reconciling faith in an intelligent creating God and the scientific process which seeks to better understand creation. Each can actually enhance the other and lead to a better understanding because while science can often explain “how” it can never explain “why”.

I hope to have explained the why of this image. As for the how – a little time and effort in Photoshop CC (2014) working mostly with layers and masks.

 

A personal reflection

Landscape and sculpture composite

Sculpture composite

This composite shot is a personal reflection on Scotland, so I’ll explain the different elements.

Let’s begin with the main feature, the wooden sculpture. The actual sculpture is a wood carving located in Balbirnie Park near Glenothes in Fife. My wife and I occasionally pushed our first child in her pram through Balbirnie Park when we lived in Glenrothes. The beach is at Leven, Fife and is said to be the location for Jack Vettriano’s paintings which are set on a beach.  On the horizon to the left of the sculpture it’s possible to make out the small bump that is the Bass Rock out in the Forth estuary. The words are from a wall inside the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh and speak of hope and equality.

For me one of the defining features of Scotland is it’s vary varied coastline, dramatically different between the east and west coasts, not to mention the many islands of the Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland. Fife and Edinburgh are important to me. I was born in Fife and lived there until age five when we moved to Edinburgh. Later, I returned to live in Fife for a short time with my wife where we had two of our three children.

The sculpture speaks to me of the Celtic heritage of Scotland as it very much looks like a Celtic eternal knot and there is something about eternity that resonates with a distant horizon which is what prompted me to select a beach scene for the major background. I also liked the idea of taking the sculpture out of context and giving it a different aspect.

On a visit to the Scottish Parliament this year I was impressed by the Great Tapestry of Scotland which was on display and covers the history of Scotland from neolithic times to the present day. It reminded me that Scotland has given so much to the world in terms of inventiveness in many fields of endeavour which has brought good things to the world. Finding the words etched on a wall inside the Parliament building was a discovery that seemed to echo this sense of hope and equality so it was something I felt I needed to include in the composite.

Seemingly hovering above the horizon is what looks like another landscape of bare trees. This is, in fact, an image of one tree which I turned sideways so that the bare winter branches look like trees rising from this mysterious other-worldly landscape. This, I hope, reflects the sometimes mysterious, atmospheric nature of Scotland’s history.

All the original images were shot in colour but I converted the composite to monochrome before adding a slight colour treatment to add to the atmospheric nature I was trying to create.

It’s a personal reflection, and I have tried to give at least a brief account of what inspired it. But photographs, whether straight faithful shots or created composites, should tell a story. I wonder what story this image might relate to you? If you can spare the time, I’d love to know if it speaks to you, so please leave a comment briefly relating whatever story this inspires in you.

The technical aspects of the various components are below, though I honestly can’t recall which tree image I used in the composite, so those details are missing.

The sculpture was shot on 01 April 2005 at 1/400 sec at f2.8 on an ISO of 100.

The beach was shot on 17 June 2013 at 1/400 sec at f8 on an ISO of 100.

The words were shot on 27 August 2014 at 1/30 sec at f5 on an ISO of 800

The composite was constructed in Photoshop using layers with minimal adjustments to the main image elements.

standing still

Water sculpture

Water sculpture

One of the joys of photography is the ability to capture a moment in time and sometimes that stops movement and freezes the flow of action to reveal something new and different. This photo was taken at Evian on the shore of Lake Geneva at 1/1600 sec at f5.6 at ISO-200.

I like that the fast shutter speed froze the movement of the water fountain revealing within it shapes and textures that we simply don’t see otherwise. It stimulates the imagination in a completely different way to watching water moving and it reminds me that there are times when we need to stop our own hectic activity and take time out to pause, reflect and marvel at some things in life that we otherwise miss in the busyness of life.