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Occasionally you come across an image that doesn’t really speak to you as how it should be processed. This may sound a bit odd; how can a picture dictate the processing? I try not to do any major adjustments to my images, but do process them as how I felt the scene at the time. This may not be completely accurate to the scene at the time, but not far off it. The image above is shot on Daylight white balance, so with the cooler light of dusk it has a blue tinge to it. At the time of making the image the view I saw was much more grey.
Choosing to develop an image in black & white is a choice to leave the true reality of the scene and to distil it down to the contrasts and structures in the image. Most black & white images are not a true reflection of the tones in the scene. This is nothing new; check out the Ansel Adams book on the making of some of his images. His original negatives have a low contrast range with loads of detail. This is because he developed a system – the Zone system, to ensure he recorded detail in the shadows and the highlights. He then added contrast when printing the final image to compensate for the flat negative.
My final image is a more accurate representation of the scene. It has some of the blue taken out of it caused by the Daylight white balance. There is still more blue than I could see at the time, but a fully corrected image looks odd as it is mainly grey overall and doesn’t reflect the feeling of dusk.
Personally I feel that it is more important to capture the scene in camera than relying on the tools of Photoshop/Lightroom to create it later, but like in the days of film and the regular use of subtle filters (not the horrible tobacco graduated filter) some minor modification is allowed at the discretion of the photographer. I don’t add elements digitally or physically; I have seen some photographers adding autumn leaves to strategic positions in their composition and I don’t remove anything apart from dust marks and the odd bit of stray grass or tree encroaching on the image edges. Hopefully an object that is not wanted in the composition is excluded by the choice of lens, camera height and position. Photographers are constantly excluding objects from the scene when trying to find the best view point for their photograph, this is the art of composition.
My long term project on Fairwood common continues with these few images. Why Fairwood? Fairwood is one of those places on Gower that lots of people travel through but don’t stop and explore. It doesn’t have the obvious wow factor of some of the Gower coastline; being mainly flat and similar in appearance it is easy to believe that there is not much to see. Getting out and walking around reveals little areas of woodland, marsh, grassland and gorse, each with it’s own wildlife and feeling. It was in one of these patches of woodland that I came across the visual chaos pictured above. Woodlands are difficult places to get balanced, pleasing compositions, so here I gave up on that and embraced the chaos. As a result the image feels more of a representation of a texture, than a group of objects. I used a high depth of field to get as much as possible in focus and a longer lens to get some compression of the trees. By doing both of these it helped to stop isolation of individual subjects from the others around it as much as possible.
Although it had started a sunny day with blue sky, the clouds rolled in towards the evening, flattening the light. The wind picked up as well making sharp exposures difficult in the dark conditions under the leaf canopy. I retreated back out onto the common and made the image above of the edge of the woodland. The clouds had caught my eye and I wanted to make an image that included both them and the common.
Earlier on in the year the gorse had been an explosion of yellow flowers and green spikes. Now with Autumn approaching the seed pods have developed and drying out, ready to burst with a pop. Spend a few minutes next to a gorse bush on a sunny day and soon you will pick up the popping sounds of the pods as they discharge their contents to the elements. It was the palate of greys and browns that drew my attention to this image. The colours of the background compliment and repeat the colours of the gorse bush; a wide aperture was needed as the grey in the background is actually a tarmacked road and needed to be broken down to a blur of colour only.
When I shot medium format film, I had the option of fitting a panoramic back onto the camera, so I could take a panoramic image at a moments notice. I thought when digital arrived somebody may produce a panoramic digital camera a long the lines of the specialist film cameras made previously. So far no manufacturer has gone that route and it was only through stitching of frames that digitally produced panoramic images has been possible.
The one thing I hate, and I do mean hate, about digital photography is the extra time needed to process the digital image. In the days of transparency film, once the image had been taken, that was really the end of the process for the photographer. The lab usually did the development and any duplicating of the slide for some extra copies ready for supplying libraries or clients.
I’m quite strict with my editing in digital. If it takes more than 30 seconds to process an image, the it gets forgotten. I prefer to get it correct in camera, like we had to do with film, or reshoot the image in better light. I like Adobe Lightroom as it provides a one stop shop for most of my needs for digital images – processing, cataloguing and output. My use of Photoshop has declined over the years and I find less need for it each year.
Even though Lightroom and Photoshop integrate well, it was always a bit of hassle to switch backwards and forwards. I have tried and still use some stand alone stitching software, especially for more complex projects, but to have it now integrated into Lightroom is great. It is still a bit limited with the controls and I am sure it will improve over time.
Caswell Bay has become my go to bay when I have a few minutes spare. It doesn’t take long to get there from where I live and offers a good winter sunset, interesting rock formations and a great café to warm up in or to grab a quick drink.
The image above was a bit of an experiment – it was hand held at 1600 ISO on my light weight Nikon D3200. I picked up this camera a while ago to prove to my workshop attendees that it doesn’t matter what camera you have it is what you do with it that counts. I keep the camera in a bag ready to go for a quick stroll, normally with a full frame Sigma 12 – 24m fitted to it. With the Nikon DX crop camera this gives me an 18 – 36mm zoom lens which is wide enough for my needs.
I do like tripods, so even though I was only out for a stroll, I took one along with me. At dusk there is no option but to use a tripod when using lower ISO settings. It also allows a variation in camera settings, but with the composition of each image being identical. The above image was taken at roughly the same time as I was handholding my other camera as mentioned above. The different lens choice and framing emphasised the yellow colour of the sky more as the clearer blue sky was framed out. Who said the camera never lies, photography is more about excluding elements from the composition than keeping them in.
Before the sun had set, the lighter blue sky was reflected in the fresh water run off that was running over the sand and heading towards the sea. With recent rain it had come down onto the beach in greater quantity than usual, fanning out to cover a broad area of sand and producing lots of little channels and flow patterns. This along with the reflection of the sky created an almost molten metal look to the surface of the beach. Trying to find a pleasing composition proved challenging than I thought it would be.
A couple of images taken back in June at Broughton Bay. It was really windy with the wind direction straight into the camera. Even with a sturdy tripod, stopping the camera shaking was difficult, especially with filters added.
Even though I always take some images of the sun above the horizon to get some golden glow in the scene, personally I find it too contrasty for my taste. I much prefer the softer, more muted look of the light once the sun has hit the horizon, gone below it, or enters a bank of cloud which diffuses the suns power.
With the wind moving the clouds so quickly the light was changing rapidly, so exposing and framing was quite difficult as everything was quite fluid. By the time you had framed an image the light would change or the exposure wasn’t quite right. Like a lot of subjects, it then turns into a numbers game – taking lots of images to get the one that is just right exposure, framing and lighting wise.
I used to think in tones of black and white when I first started photography with black and white film. I seem to have lost that ability now as I photograph more colour images, so I still like to try the odd black and white conversion with a bit of split toning. This completely replicates what I used to do in the darkroom with selenium toner for blue in the shadows and sepia toning for the highlights. It is much easier to do this now in the controlled, sanitised Lightroom experience, but I still miss the days in the darkroom. It felt more of a craft back then and I know some photographers have felt the same way and have started to use film again occasionally or take it even further like the US photographer Ian Ruhter. Ian has built a wet plate camera in the back of a truck so he can make images of a few feet in size using the old wet plate technique with beautiful results. Take a moment to check out his work and some of the videos about him.
Having been unable to escape the office for a while, I decided to to head off to Three Cliffs Bay to try and get an image of Pennard Castle and the Pill from a different view point, plus as it was going to be high tide as well, a different image of the bay if possible. If the conditions weren’t right, it would be a nice walk anyway.
I knew something was afoot when I tried to park in the Shepherds car park; it was full at 6:30pm. Not you usual Wednesday evening attendance. The fact that people were inflating stand up paddle boards, or pulling rigid models off roof racks was a bit of a give away as well. SUPGower were having one of their evening meets and a good crowd of about 24 had turned up. Perhaps I could make a few images before they set off? The light wasn’t quite right on the pill and castle on the first few frames, but none really worked that well and by then the paddlers had appeared, working hard to navigate the Pill. Made for a different type of foreground interest!
Perhaps I could get ahead of them and get some images done before they got to the bay. Epic fail again as the advanced group had cut the corner and got ahead of me, once again providing some more foreground interest. Any way the light was nice, but not providing the feel I wanted for the images.
It wasn’t till after sunset that I got the images I had hoped for. With some colour left in the sky and a slightly longer shutter speed, I managed to make the top image in this post after a series of exposures to try and get an interesting wave pattern in the foreground. Any image with waves needs lots of exposure to get the one that looks just right. You can’t really judge it that well with a long exposure and it is only back on the computer screen later that you can make a decision.
If you want to find out more about Stand Up Paddle boarding got to the SUPGower site HERE
Tripods – just the mention of the work starts a debate amongst photographers. Some love them, some hate them and most just tolerate them. It all depends what you photograph to whether you should use them or not. From observing workshop or day course participants, I feel they just need to get to know their tripod more, so at the time of making an image when the light, action and framing all come together at the correct time, they are not wrestling with the tripod and head.
The other problem with tripods is the disease of buying a tripod that fits in with your current equipment and not one that will fit your future needs and equipment purchases. I should know as currently I have five of the things knocking about the office, of which one has been used the most over the last ten years as it finally covered all my photographic and now video needs. It isn’t cheap, but has survived a lot of use, extreme weather and travelled across a few continents with me, so money well spent in my opinion. I should have done it sooner and saved myself the cost of all the others. In my defence, I still use the others now with a multiple camera set up for video and time-lapse photography, but they were gathering dust for a while.
The next problem is the weight. There will always be a trade off between weight and stability. Too light and the tripod is unstable, too heavy and you will never carry it. This also raises the issue of carbon fibre tripods – lighter they may be, but do they justify the extra hundreds of pounds they cost. Careful comparison of weight shows that often only a few hundred grammes are saved compared to the metal version. Money well spent? I don’t think so. I’m not against carbon fibre tripods, I own two of them and one is my main tripod, but it is only at the much thicker leg section sizes that significant savings in weight are made.
Once you have got the tripod legs, then the problem of the tripod head starts – 3 way pan and tilt, ball head, action head, gimbal head, video head and any cross breeds in-between. I must admit that I have a bit of a weakness for tripod heads and with at least three video heads, two gimbal, two ball heads and a 3 way pan and tilt head, I have a few to choose from. Having used them all, my go to head is a ball head for all round photography, gimbal or video head for long lens work and the 3 way pan and tilt for studio based work.
When I started, I hated ball heads. I found it very difficult to make the adjustment I wanted without upsetting the overall composition. I moved on to 3 way pan and tilt heads, which worked well for landscape photography. My favourite was the Manfrotto Magnesium 3 way head – light, small locking knobs and able to take a reasonable weight. I used it for medium format and the occasional 5×4 camera session. Slowly I drifted back to ball heads, partly due to adopting the arcs swiss quick release system – no 3 way pan and tilt heads had the system fitted. Nowadays I still feel that the ball head works well for most photographic needs, unless a specialist head is needed for large pro telephoto lenses for example.
So why own all the heads I do? Basically I have a heavy and light version of each. That way I can work out the best kit for my needs and fit into any weight restrictions when travelling without restricting my choices of what type of head I can take.
So what should you look out for when getting a tripod? Here is my two pennies worth:
- Buy a tripod stronger than you think you need – don’t go by trying to get the lightest option possible.
- Try and get one that is close to your eye level without having to raise the centre column – ideally you should get a tripod without a centre column – it gets lower to the ground. The extra height of the column extended is unstable. Getting the tripod at eye level stops you having to stoop for some photographs.
- Check to see how low it can go – can you change the centre column to a shorter version if you want to?
- I have never reversed or tilted a centre column, even for macro photography – do you need it and how stable is it with all your camera gear hanging of the end of it?
- Leg locks – doesn’t matter if it is twist or lever locking, both work well – just try adjusting them in a pair of winter gloves to make sure you can lock and unlock the leg sections.
- Get a proper ball head, not one of the action grips. If you are doing landscape only, then a 3 way pan and tilt is okay – but I bet I can compose a photograph quicker with my ball head!
- Get a quick release system – the Arca swiss is the best and now becoming the most popular. One day Manfrotto may adopt it as well. Until they do avoid their heads – the quick release plates twist too easily on camera bodies, just buy the tripod legs and add another head to it.
- Don’t waste your money and buy a tripod bag – mine hasn’t left the office since the year I bought it from Jessops 20 years ago!
- If your tripod head has only one long handle on it, it is a video head and useless for taking vertical photographs. Get a new head!
- Last and not least – use the tripod, don’t make excuses that it is too heavy, bulky, fiddly etc. No point in buying it otherwise.
So who makes the best tripods and heads? I don’t think there is an outstanding make. My go to tripod is a Gitzo, three are Manfrotto and my light weight one is made by Induro. Looking at workshop and day course participants, there are some good ones from Giotto and Redsnapper, who offer great value. Calument have some own branded ones which seem quite good as well.
As for heads, I have one Kirk ball head – still going strong after 15 years, a light weight FLM ball head, Manfrotto 3 way pan and tilt plus two video heads, a Giotto lightweight video head and a Wimberely Gimbal head plus Sidekick to go with a ball head. Other makes to consider are Benro, Induro, Really Right Stuff and Acratech. It is the same as tripods – invest wisely, don’t buy cheap and hopefully it will last you a long time.
Finally if you do loose some parts or brake the tripod see if you can get it repaired first. I recently repaired two tripods for less than £20.00. One needed a new locking screw and the other a whole new leg lock. Check out UK based Manfrotto Spares for spare parts for both Gitzo and Manfrotto tripods. It will be cheaper than buying a new one!
With sunny and dry weather spells few and far between at the moment, I took advantage of a quieter spell in the weather to visit Oxwich NNR. I was originally only planning to spend a few hours in the bird hide testing out a new tripod head I bought a few months ago and hadn’t tested with the set up I wanted it for. The head worked well, but just as I was hoping to leave the hide and a very intense hail and rainstorm passed through, keeping me in the hide for about another hour.
My intension was to head back to the car and head off home to get some lunch, maybe a bit late, but at least I wouldn’t starve. It didn’t quite go to plan as I took a different route back to the car that ended up in me skipping lunch and photographing for another 3 hours!
I find quite often that when I am out and about and the light is good or the subject matter is stimulating my photographic vision at that time, it is quite hard to stop and walk away from the area until you are forced to by the lack of light or lack of inspiration. This doesn’t mean the images are any good, but the process of making images seems to be easier at that time and there is a flow to it.
I was up in Rhayader a week or so ago collecting a print from Andrew at Actpix who prints and frames all my prints for me, so I thought I would pop into Gigrin Farm as the weather forecast was for some sun for a change. Well the sun disappeared rapidly after 11.00am and it went dark and rainy. Not the best conditions for photographing fast flying birds and not the most interesting of light.
Having attempted previously the style of Vincent Munier at an another visit, I was up to experimenting a bit more. It also gave me a chance to test my new cameras. See if you can work out which image was made with a £400, £1500 or £2000+ camera body. You won’t be able to I’m sure at this size, but also if you could see the files next to each other, you wouldn’t notice any difference. I was using 1600 ISO as it was so dark, plus I like to over expose the sky to retain detail in the underside of the Kites. I can then lose this detail if needed later. The quality of the files out of the £400 camera body is superb and it was one of the images from that camera that Andrew had printed for me into a 2 1/2 foot long image.
The image above was forced on me by the conditions. The light on the birds vanished and a bright patch of sky opened up behind them. I decided to shillouette the birds and expose for the sky. Normally I try and avoid making images while there are too many birds in the sky as it is visually it is chaotic and hard to isolate individual birds. For the lighting conditions I had, the multiple birds in frame worked well. I took a sequence of images as I wanted to keep the sky in the image. I framed the patch of sky that I wanted as the background and then took images as the birds flew into the area I had framed. Of the twenty or so frames only this one had some semblence of order and composition. There is a slightly menacing feel to the image which I like.
Below are a few more conventional type images for those who like that style better.
Instead of my usual ramblings, I’ve decide to list the things that fed my soul as I was out and about on Gower this last Sunday. What feeds yours?
- The sight and sounds of two Chough flying past my position on Great Tor
- The Alarm and contact calls of a pair of Oystercatchers in Oxwich Bay
- The sound of soft rain falling on the leaves around me as I sheltered from the rain
- The alarm calls of a Blackbird
- The call of a Robin
- The sound of the waves on the beach
- Low sunlight raking across Owxich Burrows
- The Autumn colours
- The russet colour of the bracken
- A Buzzard gliding overhead on a thermal
- The sound of wind in the tops of the trees
- The contact calls of a flock of longtailed tits in the trees around me
- The sight and sound of crows heading to roost
- The sound of children having fun outdoors with nature on a cold, grey afternoon – priceless