Tag Archives: art

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


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.



A location product shoot

I thought it might be interesting to write about a little product shoot I did earlier this week which was done on location in The Lemon Tree cafe in Leven.

There are  pros and cons in doing a location shoot. Probably the biggest downside is not having use of a studio and therefore full control of the lighting. The upside, however, is that as this is food product, it was all prepared fresh and looked at it’s best.

So here’s a look at the basic set-up I used (which I shot on my phone)

camera and lighting set-up


I asked to use a table at the feature window as it would provide good diffused light to flood the various subjects. This was especially effective as the sun was at around 90 degrees to the window which meant no direct light and the harsh shadows that would come with it. I then used two artificial light sources. As can be seen in the set up above, I used a tripod mounted flash with a soft box. I balanced this with a small continuous LED which is hiding behind the camera. The LED was mounted on a Gorilla Pod for ease and flexibility of positioning.

As you an see, the flash was triggered via a cabled connection to the camera hot shoe. As there were three different light sources working together, I set the camera white balance to auto with the intention of adjusting this in post if necessary. In the end it only needed a very small adjustment.

I opted for aperture priority on the camera and set the flash to manual operation. Using a couple of test shots to get the lighting I wanted, I made adjustments to the flash output, shooting at a reduced power. The soft box was to make sure I had a diffused light which was not overpowering the background natural daylight. The LED has three output settings and, again, the test shots allowed me to find the optimum balance of light between the LED and the flash.

I shot at f8 which is pretty much around the sweet spot of the lens I was using. I wanted to have a nice sharp focus exactly where I chose and with just enough depth of field. To keep things nice and steady I used a cable release for the camera – it’s sensible when you go to the bother of using a tripod. If you don’t have a cable release, the next best option is to use a two second delay on the shutter release.

By now, you might be wondering how the shots turned out. Well, here’s one with the same subject as in the set up above:

cafe sandwich

Lemon chicken sandwich

What you might spot here is that the LED became a principal light – note the shadow from the salad – with natural daylight providing the background flood with reduced power flash filling shadows and picking out highlights.

Post production was mostly done in Lightroom. As I wanted to have a consistent feel across all the images, I created a pre-set out of the settings I used on the first one I processed and used that as a basis for all the others, requiring only minimal adjustments in each case, I know you can sharpen in Lightroom and I generally do so preferring to use heavy masking to make sure I only sharpen what I want to. On this occasion though, I sharpened the images in Photoshop using a High Pass set to 5 pixels.

If you are curious about the LED, as you can’t see it in the set-up shot above, here it is as mounted on my Gorilla Pod.

small fill light

LED light

And finally, I should say that the Lemon Chicken sandwich was delicious. If you ever find yourself in Leven, make a point of visiting The Lemon Tree. The cakes are also amazing!

You can see some of the other product shots and more here on my website.

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.

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

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


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 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.



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