Tag Archives: patterns

The art of preparation

Sometimes you get lucky – the trick is to be ready for it.

Heron by the river


First the disclaimer – I am not a wildlife photographer for two principle reasons:

  1. I don’t have the infinite patience it needs
  2. I don’t have the specialised kit for it

So, with that out of the way, on with the story.

This morning I decided to walk the dog along the river. The last time I was there, two days ago, I saw one heron and three deer. I decided, therefore, to pop the 200mm zoom lens on the camera before I went out, just in case. We’d walked well past where I saw the heron last time and my hopes were fading when I spotted it immediately across the river, no more than 15 metres away and well within range for my lens. Slowly and steadily, making as little movement as possible I began to lift my camera up, at which point it took off and flew away downstream. Perhaps my bright red mountain jacket had something to do with it – another reason I am not a wildlife photographer. I watched it fly low down the river and suspected it had landed not too far away. I therefore kept my camera on and up at the ready. Then I spotted it again, about 50 metres distant on the far bank. This time I stopped and took a shot from where I was before slowly edging forward hoping for a better opportunity. After twenty paces or so, it spotted the red mountain jacket again, and took to the air. This time I was ready, had the camera to my eye and followed it, getting the following shot.

Heron in flight

In flight

Although both of these shots were opportunistic, I had prepared for the opportunity. Not only did I have my camera with me, I had also decided to maximise my chances of a clear and successful shot by setting up in a way that I thought would work. I knew I would be shooting hand held so wanted to have a short enough exposure to overcome any camera shake and to freeze action. I also wanted to shoot around the sweet spot of the lens (between f8 and f11 for the one I was using). I therefore opted to work in manual mode, setting the shutter speed at 1/1000 sec and the aperture at f8. I then set the camera on auto ISO so that I would be pretty much guaranteed a good exposure. I also set the metering to spot, aiming to keep the subject centre frame with the intention that I would crop in and recompose in post – which is what I did with both images.

It’s pleasing that my preparation was rewarded on this occasion, despite the bright red mountain jacket.

A little further along the walk, and feeling optimistic about having grabbed a couple of decent shots I turned to look behind me and was struck by the way the marsh grasses and trees looked in the sunlight.

Grasses and trees


I’m still not sure quite why I like this shot but I was fascinated by the patterns created by the light on the boughs and branches, the resulting contrast and the apparent randomness of the patterns. This too is cropped in post to achieve the composition I envisaged at the time I took the shot. I also heavily desaturated the image, not quite fully, and added a slight colour cast just to help the mood. I like to think of this one as my bonus shot from the morning dog walk and the great thing is that landscape is not startled by a red mountain jacket so stays put while you take time to compose the shot; a whole lot more co-operative.


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.


Colour and light

Here are a couple of different shots from today’s efforts.

This avenue of trees really captured my attention in Riverside Park at Glenrothes. The carpet of fallen leaves provided a pleasing colour base for the overhanging palette of the branches. The softness is offset by the sturdy verticals of the trunks. The challenge lies with the bright area where the daylight threatened to burn out any detail. As always I shot this in raw and made a manual exposure compromise in an effort to balance the whole image. As I’m away from base with no access to Lightroom or Photoshop, I adjusted this locally to take the highlights down a little.  I’m fairly happy with the result but will look again back at base.

1/25sec at f5.6 ISO 200

This next shot, in St Andrews, got my attention for different reasons.

The mottled shadows of a tree falling on the side of this church were making a pattern that just appealed to me. Light is so important in photography and this shot illustrates one way of using light to reveal textures that are not actually there. The shadows create a softening effect on the hard wall, creating a contrast in texture. The only processing on this shot is a slight crop to improve the overall composition.

2/200sec at f5.6 ISO 200