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Friday, 20 September 2013

Visualising the Image

Sometimes a photograph will present itself right in front of your eyes, and it's largely a matter of pressing the shutter button to capture the photo. Often these are coincidental moments in time and are all about being in the right place at the right time. Whilst some people naively believe a good picture is down to a photographer’s camera, more often than not we have to work to get a good image. This not only means understanding the technical parameters, composition, and light, but also having the foresight to comprehend how to change what is a plain image into so much more.

These poplars stood tall along the bank of the lode at Anglesey Abbey. With the lode being man-made, it was straight, low incline, and the water was still. This created the perfect situation to cause a dramatic reflection of the trees in the water. This image was all about form rather than colour.
However, this is the image that was initially captured, and quite frankly it is plain with boring colours and little detail in the sky. Understanding I wanted to achieve an image that majored on the form and reflection of the poplars, I took this photo knowing I could convert this image in Adobe Lightroom to a cool cross processed form. Moreover, I could bring the highlights down using a graduated filter over the top area of the image to bring detail back into the sky. OK, there were a few more steps, including adjusting tone curves, but the point is to see beyond what the viewfinder shows.

Photographers differ in their approach to adjusting images. Some prefer to adjust the image in camera through the use of kit such as filters screwed onto the front of the lens, whilst others prefer to undertake all the adjustments using a photo editing package. Of course photographers differ in their opinion of how much an image should be modified beyond what is seen as standard in the viewfinder, but that’s a personal decision for each of us to be comfortable with. Ultimately it’s important to have the vision to modify a photo beyond what you see in the viewfinder to a level you are comfortable with.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Take me home

On one visit last summer to see my father in intensive care, I noticed he had managed to scrawl a couple of words on a piece of paper. Looking closer it seemed to say “home Finningham”, but that confused me as I knew he grew up in Bacton, an adjacent village. However, I spoke with my aunt and it turned out they use to catch the train from Finningham station to school, and that Finningham station is in fact in Bacton. In his delirium, it was obviously his way of saying he wanted to go home. My father sadly passed away, but I recently decided to re-trace his walk from the station to home, and make that journey for him. The station itself is no longer in use, apparently closed as part of the 1966 Beeching closures.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

The Right Tool for the Job

Photography is one of those subjects that appeals to a broad range of tastes. Some enjoy the technical aspects, some the creative form, many enjoy it as a hobby, whilst others also use it to pay the bills. Needless to say opinions on gear, technique and composition can vary widely, but strangely to the extent that passion for the subject can lead to many an argument on a photo forum. The most irate of these revolve around the photo equipment necessary to produce the best image quality possible, but whilst image quality is important, it should really be about producing the image quality that’s good enough for the intended use. For me it’s not just about image quality, it’s about having the camera with me to take the photo, having the right lens with me, or sometimes the wrong lens to force me to think of new compositions, but most of all it’s about enjoyment from my photography. Indeed image quality is just one element that needs balancing with the myriad of variables involved with taking a photograph, which include not only camera features, but other aspects such as composition and lighting, and depending on the combination of all these variables the correct photo equipment might not be the same equipment that would produce the best image quality. The old adage of “the right tool for the job” is applicable to photography as it is to DIY.
A Panasonic 100-300 used to provide a close up of a frieze
It’s for this reason I made my initial move into micro four thirds with a Panasonic G1. This provided me with a light weight compact SLR equivalent for those shots where I didn’t need the quality of my Canon 5D2 and Canon L lenses, and where I didn’t want to carry the weight of the Canon gear. I find taking a photograph as much fun as showing off the results of my hard work, and I found as Panasonic steadily added more features into their micro four thirds system with the GH2 and GH3, that it increasingly became more practical and fun to use for photography over my Canon 5D2. I have now reached a point where micro four thirds is what I’d call my primary system for general all round photography, but I still use my 5D2 for those instances that better suit it, and I’ve further exploited this by rounding out my set of Canon tilt and shift lenses for studio and architecture.

A Canon TSE 17 used to pull the east and west wing of the house out of focus.
I have seen some photos where the GH2 was giving me better image quality than the 5D2, but stop down both and the situation reversed, so it’s rarely clear cut that one system has better image quality than another. This brings me to the point I want to make. Forget about arguing over whether one system is better than the other, just choose the one that suits you, or the one you enjoy using most, or if you can afford more than one system use the right tool for job and your needs. Most of all enjoy it!

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Finding the Path

I was walking with my family through the Abbey Gardens in Bury St. Edmunds when I noticed a beautiful bed of tulips. Unfortunately the background was rather messy and didn't immediately favour either a situational or macro shot. However, the bed was surrounded by a rather ugly tarmac path and I wondered if I could get close with a 25mm (50mm equiv) f1.4 lens to render it as a smooth background. After trying several tulips and angles, I was finally able to isolate the flower against the dark grey background of the path. On viewing the image on a PC it was clear the dark grey background didn't complement the flower, however with Lightroom 4 it was possible to lighten this tone to a warmer light grey that was a better match.

I also found this tulip worked well in both black and white and as a cross processed image. Image captured at 1/1600, f1.4, ISO 160:

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Melford Hall Revisited

I have previously blogged about Melford Hall, and how it makes a great place to take photos. I like to share my best images on Flickr, so when I saw there was a group for the National Trust East of England I included some of my pictures from Melford Hall. The group runs a monthly photo competition, and the winner has their photo displayed on the National Trust web site. This month I received the exciting news that one of my photos from that shoot won the National Trust East of England May photo competition. Enthused, on the Jubilee weekend I decided to return to Melford Hall with the Pany 25mm f1.4 lens I recently purchased. The photos below are all taken with that lens apart from the winning image which as taken with a Lumix G Vario14-140/F4.0-5.8.

Melford Hall Summer House
1/500, f6.3, ISO160
Looking out from the Summer House
1/320, f6.3, ISO 160
Winning Photo: The frontage of Melford Hall, Suffolk.
1/1000, f6.3, ISO 160 (LUMIX G VARIO 14-140/F4.0-5.8)

The blue sky does make a great backdrop to the hall, but don't limit yourself to just taking photos in sunny weather. Here is a photo of Melford Hall taken on the cloudy Diamond Jubilee day with flag flying.

Melford Hall on the Diamond Jubilee 1/800, f5.6, ISO 160

There is plenty to photograph indoors if the weather takes a turn for the worse. Ideally avoid bank holidays, otherwise it can be difficult to get some scenes without people in them.

1/125, f1.4, ISO 400
1/250, f2.8, ISO 160
1/160, f1.4, ISO 400

1/160, f1.4, ISO 400
1/60, f2.8, ISO 400

My set of Melford Hall photos on Flickr.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Norwich Cathedral & the Panasonic 25mm F1.4

The other weekend I was on taxi duty to take my daughter to a party over the border in the centre of Norwich, which left time to fill whilst I waited for her to finish. With rain forecast, this seemed like a great opportunity to use my new Pany 25mm lens in Norwich Cathedral. I love photographing the inside of churches, with the ornate decoration, natural light streaming though the windows, and that familiar musty smell. Being a place of worship I'm always concious of keeping noise to a minimum, and using the Pany GH2 as my camera would also have the benefit of a quieter shutter.

Norwich Cathedral has the largest monastic cloisters of any English cathedral, and walking within them you will notice coats of arms on the walls of the north walk. In 1578 Queen Elizabeth visited Norwich and the cloisters were the scene of a royal banquet. The coats of arms are of the hosts that entertained her. On my visit the cloisters had brightly coloured barriers protecting areas where they were installing floor lighting, so I decided to point the camera upwards and focus on the architecture of the ceiling. Even on a dull day there was sufficient light to use ISO 160 for the cloister and spire images.

The inside of the cathedral continued to impress, with an unusually long nave and a spectacular church organ. The stained glass windows tower up into the heights, and the decoration is incredibly ornate. These images were all taken at ISO 800 apart from the single stained glass window at ISO 160.

The spire on the Norman tower at 315 foot high is the second tallest in England, second only to that of Salisbury. I took this photograph from the cloisters using one of the arches to frame the spire. Half way up the spire on the right you can just make out the nesting platform for the Peregrine Falcons.

I had a great time taking photos in the Cathedral and the Pany GH2 with 25 f1.4 lens performed admirably. I didn't feel I was losing anything by not having the the 5D2 with me. I had a little more noise, but a slight addition of noise reduction in Lightroom 4 dealt with that. For one of the images in my previous post, I mentioned I missed the additional dynamic range of the 5D2 to capture the detail in the sky. I think the GH2 coped well inside the cathedral and I didn't miss the addition dynamic range in this instance.

It was a delight being able to use and carry such light weight photography kit, particularly as my family also wanted to do some shopping in Norwich. I'm now keen to get to a local castle and test the camera/lens combination in that environment, as the early indications are it will be a perfect fit.

My Churches & Cathedrals photos on Flickr

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Sunny Oasis

After what seems likes weeks without a rainless day, last weekend we got a respite. Throughout the day I saw patches of blue sky with beams of light shining through the clouds, and it looked like it could be a great evening for photography. There seemed to be an abundance of yellow Oilseed Rape fields around the Stowmarket area,  and I'd been desperate to get out and take some photos. Sure enough the evening was producing great light, so I jumped in the car and headed out to the fields.

This spot near Old Newton with Dagworth drew my attention immediately. Not only did it offer an expanse of yellow fields, but fresh young barley, and with the light changing fast, I didn't have to spend time walking far as it was right next to the road.

Road and tractor tracks created flowing lines that could be used to draw the eye into the picture, and the clouds created additional impact complementing the fields. The first photo is a little unusual in that neither the sky or the land occupies 2/3rds of the image, but is instead roughly a 60/40% split.  This time I felt it just worked for this image, and the 2/3rds rule is only a guideline.

The two photos below are the same tree taken with both a wide angle and telephoto lens, providing two very different aspects on the same subject. The wide angle was mounted on a Canon 5D2 whilst the telephoto was mounted on a Panasonic GH2. Editing the GH2 image in Lightroom proved problematic, as it became clear the GH2 struggled to capture the tones in the sky. Moreover, it was all too easy to produce a white fringe around the tree where it borders the sky. With hindsight I should have brought a polariser with me.

Surrounded by beautiful yellow fields it's so easy to miss other opportunities, so take a moment to stop and look at the detail around you, there's often close up shots right at your feet, or a lonely figure taking in the view.

My Suffolk Countryside photos on Flickr

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