Joe Cornish, the great British landscape photographer, advocates taking most of your photographs no more than thirty minutes from your home. So, here's my blog featuring pictures either thirty minutes drive or walk away from my front door or from the place where I'm staying for a few days. I'll also be writing about photography in general from time to time. Please enjoy!



Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Book Reviews

I've just obtained two excellent books to my photography library.


Firstly, we have a photo guidebook called "How to Photograph Anglesey" by Mark Youlden, who is a photographer based on the island. In an A5 format and running to 96 pages, Mark has crammed in 34 locations around the island to visit, each with a brief description of how to get there, where to park and the best time of year to visit. Each location has at least one image taken by Mark illustrating its potential. There are over 85 high quality colour images superbly reproduced. In addition, he has thoughtfully laid out some sound advice for novices and more experienced photographers about the choice of equipment, using filters, simple guidelines for effective composition and time exposures.


The locations include the bridges over the Menai Straits, the eastern coast, including Penmon Point and Puffin Island, Amlwch, Holyhead (particularly the Celtic Gateway Bridge), churches and the south-western coast, which is my favourite stamping ground. Needless to say, the book is now with my OS map of the island and I suspect that it will get much use over the coming months.


The book is published by Llygad Gwalch ISBN: 978-1-84527-179-7 and costs just £6.50. It's available from Waterstones, Amazon (where there's a five-star review!) or direct from the publishers. My copy was bought for me in a garden centre on the island. Mark has received support from the Welsh Book Council and has two more guidebooks in the pipeline covering Snowdonia and the Llyn Peninsular.


I must add that I have no connection whatsoever with Mark, the Welsh Book Council or the publishers other than being a very satisfied owner.


You can see more of Mark's work on his website - click here - or via Facebook - search for Mark Youlden Photography.








My most recent purchase is Bruce Fraser's "Camera Raw with Adobe Photoshop CS2". There are more current editions available but at £36.99 recommended retail price for the most recent edition, I'm afraid I baulked! I paid £2.49 from my local Oxfam bookshop - feed your mind, feed the world - for a mint condition copy. This book deals solely with Adobe's Camera Raw (ACR), Digital Negative (DNG) and Bridge. Okay, it's CS2 and ACR 3.0, which are a little old but the techniques and principles are portable to current versions of ACR. DNG was introduced with ACR 3.0 so having some additional data on this format will be useful.


Every conceivable topic is covered from preferences through each tool from camera settings to workflow considerations, importing images into Bridge, updating metadata, automating processes and export into CS2, which is where my interest stops. The book is written in a logical way from how Raw works, a system overview, Raw's controls - tools, palette, histogram and settings - Raw menu covering preferences, loading and saving settings and export. The Raw workflow controls (the various tabs in the righ-hand window) get excellent coverage.


Camera setup is discussed at length before Bridge and it's multitude of options is tackled. Finally, workflow, metadata and automation are covered along with creating contact sheets, HDR merging PDF, web galleries and other presentation methods.


The book runs to 300 pages is copiously illustrated to reinforce the text instructions and, at the price I paid, a real bargain. It's my bedtime reading at the moment.


The series is published by Peachpit in association with Adobe Press, both of who have long standing associations with computer textbooks. If you want a more recent copy then I suggest you look to Amazon and search under Bruce Fraser.


An excellent book to make you a Raw genius or if you just want to know what all those tools really do.


If you have any doubts about using Raw or JPEG's I would advise that Raw is the way to go; the amount of data contained in a Raw file over a JPEG is huge so you will get far better images with greater opportunities for digital manipulation without loss of quality. Thus, getting the best out of ACR is of paramount importance and while I have a good grasp of using the program to have an Adobe-supported book on hand to suggest better or even correct ways of achieving a particular result is a good thing.



The Best Laid Plans...

The weather in Wales last weekend was wonderful; pity I had a minor technical problem with my big kit! I missed a couple of good sunsets and a stunning dawn. So... I used my iPhone to take a few street images.


There's been a lot in the photo press recently extolling the virtues of the iPhone and its various apps. Lee Frost has written and illustrated a couple of very good articles in Black & White Photography magazine while Daniel Lezano in Digital SLR Photography did pretty much the same. The photographs below were downloaded into Adobe Bridge then tweaked slightly and cropped in Elements 9 before getting a monochrome makeover with my product of the year, Silver Efex Pro 2, which continues to amaze me - the effects this software applied to the original images is quite remarkable and improved every aspect of them.


I selected a custom preset (landscape) then added the film emulsion for Kodak ISO32 Panatomic X before a little tweaking of the contrast settings to bring out some detail. That might sound an awful lot of work for iPhone images but each one took less than five minutes to process. I think the monochrome conversion has really improved the images. It would be interesting to see comments from you, dear reader. Anyway, here's the pictures:


A Dog Named Boo
UPDATE 11 NOVEMBER 2011: I submitted "A Dog Named Boo" to my Fotoblur account and I'm both thrilled and pleased to report that it was a Featured Image in their Street Performance category.

Music to Watch Girls By

The Pirates Den


Asleep at the Wheel
Click on any image for the bigger picture


The two musician images were taken in Bangor city centre, the ramshackle garage was found in Menai Bridge and the sleeping man was in Beaumaris.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Ansel Adams said...

‎"Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships..."


So don't feel bad about doing the same to your digital images. Ansel would have loved exploring digital photography techniques. Spending an hour studying the great mans' work...

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Nana's Room

Sometimes you just chance on an image and have to act quickly. "Nana's Room" is one such image. 


I was passing the bedroom when I saw some beautiful light momentarily shining into the room. There was a lovely shadow on the wall and I wanted to get the image. My TZ-10 was to hand and I was able to quickly compose and shoot off six images before the light went. In fact, I captured more than the shadows; I got some of the dressing table, too, with some gorgeous rim lighting. It was an instant still life.


When time allowed (last evening!) I decided to process one of the images. Monochrome was my first choice and using Silver Efex Pro2 I selected a Fine Art Process preset as the start point. Next, I modified the brightness - highlights and midtones to +14% and shadows to -14%. I then increased the structure (contrast effectively) to +50% across all three ranges and adding a vignette preset.


Having done the basic work I went back to the brightness increasing the midtones to 42% and shadows to +10%. Returning to Elements I cropped to 12x8, applied an unsharp mask of 33% with a radius of 1 and a 3x threshold and, finally, a high pass filter at a radius of 0.2.


I really like the effect and hope you do, too.


Click the image for the bigger picture

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

A Path Through the Dunes

There was some good weather during the summer and here is an image from one of those days.


We took a picnic to our favourite place, which is Llanddwyn on the island of Anglesey. Llanddwyn is an island in its own right being cut off from the mainland at high tide. There's the lovely woodlands of Newborough Forest to explore, long wild beaches that can be deserted, wildlife a plenty, rolling dunes with dense clumps of marram grass and super views to the Lleyn Peninsular. It's a great place for photography whatever the weather.


Paul Gallagher is a favourite photographer who works almost exclusively in black and white. He has captured some wonderful shots of the marram grasses on the coast between Liverpool and Southport. I'd been waiting for the right conditions to use some of his techniques and was blessed with a beautiful calm day with blue skies and wonderful cloud formations.


The image was captured using a polarising filter and Lee 0.6 graduated ND filter. I loved the savageness of the rocks against the softness of the marram and the clouds were just made to complement the image.


Click the image for the bigger picture

The Evolution of an Image

During a few spare minutes earlier in the year I converted a colour image I'd posted here previously under the title "Holiday Homes". It was posted on my Fotoblur site under the title "Perfect Summer Day" and did quite well for itself being featured by the Monochrome group. Well, the same image has evolved still further!


I do love the square format and I wondered just how the image would look cropped to 5x5. I'm pleased with the result, which you can see below. It just goes to show that an image, like a painting, is never truly finished.


Click the image for the bigger picture


The original mono conversion was hand done in Adobe Camera RAW and Elements using techniques from a Future Publishing black & white guide and at some stage during the long winter evenings I shall do a new conversion using Silver Efex2 Pro.

Lee "Big Stopper"

Joy of joys... my Lee "Big Stopper" glass filter has finally arrived! Pity it was just a little too late to capture some of the stormy weather we had during the second week of October. I'm looking forward to getting out and seeing how it all works and will give you a full review in due course.

First Dawn of Autumn

I like to think that 1st October is the first day of autumn when winter clothes are aired ready for the cooler air. How strange then to be on the coast of Anglesey near Penmon Point at 6:30 in the morning wearing a t-shirt! And what a start to my autumn photography, my favourite time of the year...

Click the image for the bigger picture

 No computer trickery here just a couple of Lee ND filters on the front of my Nikon.

Exped Dry Bags


It’s often wet here in the UK so keeping your camera and accessories dry needs to be considered. I’ve been using Exped Dry Bags for a while now and I think they’re great. I use one for my ThinkTank holster (and contents, of course) another for my Lee filter kit and another for accessories.The Exped’s come in a variety of sizes, are light and have, so far, done their job of keeping stuff dry admirably. They are inexpensive, too. Available from good outdoor shops - I got mine from Joe Brown’s in Llanberis.

A word of warning... THEY’RE NOT SUBMERSIBLE!

Wildlife With a Compact


Pick up any good photography magazine and you’re likely to see wildlife photographs of outstanding quality. Read the picture captions and you’re most likely to find that the photographer has used some very high end equipment often costing in the £1,000’s. It’s often thought that to achieve really top notch images you need expensive gear but that’s not necessarily the case. Back in my youth I had a small exhibition of photographs taken wholly using my first camera, a Halina 120 roll film jobbie; I’ve still got it, by the way. I believe that it’s the person behind the camera who makes the picture not the equipment used.

That is not to say that expensive equipment doesn’t help, it does. A fine piece of Nikon or Leica glass on the front of your camera is going to help tremendously. But you can achieve very satisfactory results using far more affordable kit. I set out to prove this shortly after getting my TZ-10.

A rather large spider had spun a web in the garden and on a rare sunny August evening I took the little Panasonic down the garden and using the macro zoom setting took a few very pleasing pictures. Since then I’ve been on the look out for more wildlife images to take using compacts. So far the Panasonic has been the most successful mainly because of its superior specification but I have one or two nice shots from my Leica. All are hand held primarily because there’s no facility for a cable release and the fact that using the time exposure function isn’t very accurate; the “decisive moment” is lost.

Here’s some of the images:

Click the image for the bigger picture


Click the image for the bigger picture


Click the image for the bigger picture


Click the image for the bigger picture

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Panasonic DMC TZ-10

I dropped on a real bargain from Jacob’s in Liverpool to supplement my Leica C-Lux 3; a Panasonic DMC TZ-10 compact camera. What a grand little camera it has turned out to be getting lots of use alongside my Leica. Both comapcts have been bought for those times when I don’t feel like lugging my full Nikon kit around, which during the poor summer in the UK has been quite often.
The TZ-10 has a Leica DC 25mm lens and a 12.1MP sensor, lots of programme modes and “scene” settings. It’s light, easy to use and produces some wonderful images. It fits neatly in my pocket, is quick to start and quite unobtrusive in use. I’ve used it for street photography, sunsets, landscapes, portraits using natural light, flash and mixed light - which it handles very well indeed - architecture, wildlife and nature, simple record shots and macro.
The Leica DC lens is superb being very sharp at most apertures. Focusing is quick and accurate although sometimes it struggles a little if there’s a “busy” background. Exposure is also good but I’ve found that 1/3rd stop under exposure makes for richer colours; there’s a little too much noise at higher ISO ratings. I’m sure there’s a way round that! So far I’ve had to do very little post-processing and I’m very satisfied with the results particularly in mixed light situations.
The TZ-10 is now discontinued hence the bargain prices they were being sold for but if you’re considering a compact I can’t praise the Panasonic range highly enough - good quality, good value and great results. Several friends have Panasonic’s in one form or another and the images I’ve seen are very good indeed.


Click the image for the bigger picture

Click the image for the bigger picture

Click the image for the bigger picture

The images were taken on two separate street photography trips to Liverpool using the TZ-10. The colour one is a panorama using two shots stitched together in Elements while the monochromes were processed using Silver EfexPro 2.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Summer...

It’s been a very busy summer with limited opportunities for photography and blog updating. The weather played its part in the UK with long periods of grey skies and rain. Sadly, the grey skies were mostly flat and boring. I wasn’t at home a lot either, so using my little macro studio was out of the question, too. Never mind... there were some bright spots.


I did have a nice day in Liverpool where I managed some street photography but the main reason for going was to visit a couple of exhibitions: Ian Berry’s apartheid images of South Africa, “Living Apart” and Paul Trevor’s “Like You’ve Never Been Away”, which features inner city Liverpool in the mid-1970’s.
Ian Berry is a Magnum photographer and has covered some of the most dramatic moments in South Africa spanning over 40 years. He was the only pho tographer to gain documentary evidence of the dreadful Sharpeville massacre in 1960, an event that saw at least 65 black South African’s killed and more than 180 injured. Some of the Sharpville images featured in the exhibition and harrowing they were. Ian was there to see the fall of arpartheid, too, covering both the elections and the joyful scenes when the ANC were victorious.
The images are superb both in their capture and printing as you would expect from a Magnum Touring Exhibition. However, some are harrowing and not just in respect of violence; several depict the disdain with which white South African’s treated their black kinsfolk.


© Ian Berry and Magnum

© Ian Berry and Magnum


There’s also the opportunity the see John Pilger’s excellent documentary about apartheid, which should not be missed.

If you’re in Liverpool do visit this exhibition, which runs until 6 November 2011 at the International Slavery Museum (part of the Liverpool Maritime Museum), Albert Dock, Liverpool L3 4AQ. Admission is free and the exhibition is open daily from 10:00 until 17:00. You will not be disappointed.
Visit Ian Berry’s Magnum site here



In 1975 Paul Trevor came to Liverpool to document the deprivation in the city spending time in Everton and Toxteth. He captured images of family life “in the raw” both in homes, on the streets, posed and in those unguarded moments that street photographers everywhere love. Some 36 years later, 58 black and white images from the hundred’s Paul took appear in an exhibition entitled “Like You’ve Never Been Away” and show an almost unrecognisable inner city that has now largely disappeared. This was the first time many of the images had been publically displayed.
Paul wrote in 2010: “My street photography was a spontaneous approach to capturing life as it was lived. Despite initially worrying whether I’d be accepted into the community, people were friendly and appy to be photographed. Britiain’s inner cities were difficult places to live in in that era. Life was hard, but it wasn’t all doom and gloom. I met people who were good humoured, cheerful and full of energy. It was a special time for me.”
The images certainly recall those days of deprivation. Run down buildings, kids making their own amusements, their parents enjoying street corner banter; everything good street photography should capture. And believe me, this is good street photography. The images of children at play and interacting with friends and parents are priceless. Try and capture such images today and the police would certainly be taking an interest in your activities! How times have changed...
There’s still time to catch this exhibition, which runs until 25 September 2011 at the Walker Art Gallery, William Brown Street, Liverpool L3 8EL. Again, admission is free and the gallery is open daily from 10:00 until 17:00.


© Paul Trevor

 
© Paul Trevor

© Paul Trevor


Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Cambrian Photography Open Day - Leica's Rock!

Having written about Calumet's open day I thought I'd better write a little about another open day I attended hosted by Cambrian Photography back in May. For those of you who don't know Cambrian they are an independent dealership (pretty rare these days in the UK) stocking most major manufacturers of both cameras and accessories. They've a fairly big shop in Old Colwyn in North Wales just off the A55 main route from England into northern Wales. They're friendly, helpful and one of the stores where nothing is too much trouble, in my experience anyway. There were certainly lots of satisfied customers on the day. Here's their web site details:
Cambrian Photography

Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Sony and Leica (surprise!) were present with lots of hands-on opportunities. There was a variety of free workshops throughout the day covering a wide range of topics and there were a few special offers. I'd not gone with any specific queries or purchases in mind; just a day out followed by an overnight stay in Anglesey and some photography thrown in for good measure.


Having wandered about a bit, sampled the excellent cakes and chatted to a few folk I gravitated to the Leica "stand". I've got a little Leica C-Lux 3, which I use as a notebook come electronic sketchpad and I'm very pleased with it. The images are good enough to post on my Fotoblur pages where you can see a dozen or so. Some have done quite well.


Anyway, Mark from Leica, had a small selection of goodies including an M9 and an X1. We chatted about them for a little which and had a touch of hands-on before Mark offered me the opportunity to go out and play for a while. No second asking needed! I don't profess to be a camera reviewer (see my earlier bit about Hasselblad!) but I can at least give you some impressions of what these beauties are like.


First up was the X1; it retails in the UK for around £1,400. It's light, comfortable and a cinch to use. I was impressed by by how quiet it was but because I didn't want to upset the settings Mark had it on I didn't fiddle with the various modes. Suffice to say that I spent 20 minutes firing off pictures left right and centre. I have to say right now that this is an excellent camera. Sure, there are much cheaper options but they don't say 'Leica' on the front. That's not being snobbish - it's just a fact. The build, the quality of the glass, in fact, everything about the camera oozed class. Although I can't talk to you about lens aberration, accuracy of shutter speeds and exposures, I can show you what it's capable of:


Click the picture for the bigger image


Click the image for the bigger picture


Having rather reluctantly returned the X1, which I now covet, I had the great pleasure of walking out of the shop with about £8,000 worth of Leica M9 round my neck; deep joy!


You'll know from reading an earlier posting here that I've slowed my imaging right down; the X1 forces you to go slower still. It's been a very long time since I last used a rangefinder camera (a Zorki 4 if you must know - what a great little camera they were!) but it all came flooding back very quickly. This is a seriously brilliant camera; it felt heavy but that's because it's superbly engineered; it was as smooth as silk; basically, dear reader, it was a dream to use and if I coveted the X1 imagine how I felt towards the M9!


It's difficult to tell you just how good this camera is and it just felt right. It fits snuggly and unobtrusively in your hand; the controls are easily accessed; the viewfinder is bright, the LCD is bright and quite vibrant; everything works just so. Just as with the X1 I can't tell you how accurate everything is but I can bet that everything will be damned near perfect on it. Being set on .DNG image recording made it easy to process the images from the M9. The first image appeared on my Fotoblur pages and was very well received:


Click the image for the bigger picture


This next image is previously unpublished:


Click the image for the bigger picture


So there we are; an excellent day out with the chance to play with some dream toys. I should point out that I have nothing to do with either Leica or Cambrian other than being a satisfied customer of both.


Thanks to Cambrian for organising their open day and to Leica, especially Mark, for making the day rather special and letting me play.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Online Photography Communities

As you know, I joined Fotoblur in April this year with the intention of improving my photography and bringing it to a wider audience. I think I've achieved that. I have made several good friends at Fotoblur and have been pleased with the responses to my images.


So far I have had images featured in the various groups I'm a member of on nine occasions, been in the top 40 favourite image of the day once, featured in the top 100 a further ten times and received some good and constructive comments from my peers. The way in which I now look at my images, how I process them and select them for Fotoblur has changed radically. I now have a selection process, which has served me well in recent weeks. This provides me with a shortlist of possible submissions and some consistency in what actually gets published.


I've experimented with images instead of sticking with the sharp, perfectly exposed image and I've tried some slightly off-the-wall processing - well, off-the-wall for me! Not only that, but the way I look for images has changed; frequently when I'm out and about my head is on a swivel looking for potential shots to make. Over the past few days I've been inspired by the architectural photography of two folk whose work I follow and took some inspiration from them to produce this image...


Click the image for the bigger picture
It has been and continues to be a very worthwhile way of improving how see, make, process and critique my own work. And, more than any of that, it's got me out of my comfort zone and experimenting.


A good number of the Fotoblur membership are also members of Flickr, probably the most used and best known photo sharing site so I decided I'd create an account and see what happened to my images there. I loaded up half a dozen images that had done really well at Fotoblur and waited for the results. All of these images had either been feature images, appeared in the top 100 favourites for the day in which they were posted, or had received some acclaim from my Fotoblur peers. 


I'd also had a message from a good friend and fellow photographer - hello, Ian - who had stumbled across a website called 5∞. He was so impressed with the images there that he said it was "time to put the camera away". I had a look and agreed that many of the images were pretty amazing. Whilst waiting for the Flickr images to settle down in their new home I had another look at 5∞ and was further impressed the more I dug into the collection of images. Anyway, dear reader, I decided I really needed to challenge myself and see how things went...


5∞ has proved to be a greater challenge. At the moment I have nine images posted, which have been viewed collectively 79 times. Four have been voted for and one has been added to a viewer's favourite image bank. The site is set out much differently than Fotoblur. Here images continue to feature after their day of submission with a scoring system based on the number of images submitted, number of votes and selections as favourite images. This means that as your scores increase there is the potential to move up the leaderboard. I have one image with a score of 42.5, which might make you think I'm doing OK. There are probably 90,000 other photographers in front of me!


Here's the image and yes, I was surprised:


Click the image for the bigger picture


And what of Flickr? Well, after five days only one of my images had been viewed (three times) the others were just languishing there doing nothing. I say were... the account's been deleted! And I doubt that I shall be going back.


So, which is best, Fotoblur or 5∞? They're both excellent; I like the way Fotoblur people interact with each other through comments and suggestions but a "slow burner" image may not get the chance to shine to a wider audience. 5∞ is a more long-term option but with, for me at the moment, less interaction between the members. But it's new and I suspect when I work out exactly how the site works that interaction will grow. Another bonus is that at 5∞ I can submit 20 images of up to 30Mb each per week whereas Fotoblur allow me one upload of 512kb per day.


And just to prove how different the two communities are I currently have an image featured in a Fotoblur group that's only received three votes (promotions) and 10 viewings while the same image on 5∞ has been viewed 37 times but received no votes. Some you win...


In the meantime, if you want to have a look at my Fotoblur and 5∞ sites I'd be delighted. You can comment, vote or promote my images... or not as the case may be.


Fotoblur site...

5∞


Thanks to the good folks at Fotoblur and 5∞ for all their work in setting up and administering the communities. It's very much appreciated here!


UPDATE 12 July: I've had considerable success with some new images at Fotoblur in the past few days and that is where my concentration lies right now. The 500∞ site will remain and I shall periodically be uploading new images...