Category: Photography

Pizazz

Sometimes a photo just needs a little extra something. I have used Nik Efex for years. But not for a while. I’d forgotten how much extra they can give a photo.

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Sunrise

I took a stroll along the River Avon in Ringwood a morning or two ago. Just to check out the sunrise. And to play with a Christmas gift. I’d gotten a Hoya ND10 filter. I already had one, but as they are stackable I thought I’d get another and see what sort of light stopping power they have when combined. It turns out they have plenty of stopping power. The image below is an eight minute exposure, and it was still awfully dark. I could easily get a fifteen minute exposure out of them in fairly light conditions. Double that or more in very low light.

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The real treat of my walk evaded my camera, sadly. An otter surfaced in the river no more than two feet away from me to have a splash and a roll. By the time I’d got my filters off, the remote shutter release unplugged and the setting flicked to auto he was 10 feet away from me. By the time I’d raised my camera and focused….he was gone. I don’t blame him though. It was a crisp, icy morning. An otter gotta keep moving to keep warm.

 

Hat’s The Way To Do It

So you’re setting up a promotional shoot for a German railway. You got all the uniforms pressed and prepared. By dammit, you’re one uniform and hat short. Not to worry, you’re sure you saw something in an old cupboard in the basement. The cupboard with ‘Gestapo’ on the front, whatever that is. It’ll have to do…

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Photo 2015

Another year has almost passed us by. Where doe the time go? This year it was spent in London, Istanbul, Berlin, the south coast of England and at various country estates around the south. All carefully documented with my camera. I had a little look back and choose my favourite/better snaps of the last 12 months. And so I present to you, in no particular order, a selection of 18 shots that I liked the best. The next Ansel Adams I am clearly not. But I enjoy getting out and photographing what I see. And then processing the images into something more interesting when I get home…

The Apple Market

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There is a magical place in London, where all your technological dreams come true. Staffed by pixies and leprechauns, who have brought with them the finest gifts from the end of the rainbow to sell to those of us lucky enough to know the whereabouts of this secret marketplace. Freshly cut bouquests of iPads, posies of iPod Nanos and bunches of iPhones adorn the stalls. If you’re feeling flush, perhaps you might be interested in an extra special iMac arrangement, or maybe, as it’s Christmas, you’ll be tempted by a wreath made out of purest gold MacBooks.

Alternatively, I’ve been for a day to London, stopping by at Covent Garden, to enjoy the Christmas lights. Take your pick. Whichever tale sounds best to you, that’s the true story.

On another note, WordPress have changed their quick post editor. Again. I found the first version to be a bit ‘meh’. This latest update is awful. The full editor is still available, but I am a little tired of WordPress’ determination to always take me to the quick editor by default.

I Heart Selfie

I remember the first time I saw one. If I remember rightly, I was unimpressed to say the least. He looked an idiot. An inconsiderate idiot at that. I rather hoped a police officer might stroll by and administer a sharp blow to the head with a truncheon. To knock some sense into him. I was jolly tempted to go smite him a blow myself. But I’m English. So I didn’t. I just muttered and grumbled for a little bit. Anyway.  Then I saw another one. And another. And another. And then whole flocks of them. The selfie stick was here. I swore I’d never stoop so low. I, god-dammit, am a real photographer. Sort of.

Then one day, I was attempting to take a photo of Mrs P and myself, arm outstretched as far as it would go. And I thought to myself….actually, a selfie stick would be quite handy right now. A few days later, I happened to be doing a bit of online shopping, and needed to spend just a little bit more for free shipping. And lo and behold, there it was. In a little advert in the corner of the page. A selfie stick. I succumbed to temptation. Perhaps I’m not a real photographer after all.

I love my selfie stick. But, there are a couple of buts. Firstly, my good buddy Mr Cook really needs to have a look at that front facing camera. The selfie camera. It needs to shoot photos of the same quality as the main camera. This is essential. I’ve heard rumours that they are working on this for the new iPhone 6s for September. Secondly, they need to make that lens good and wide. So that the selfie also contains a bit more of the background that the selfie shooter is trying to capture. Thirdly, they really need to enable 16:9 format shooting on the iPhone. Both front and back cameras. It’s complete madness that they don’t already. My iPhone screen is 16:9. My laptop monitor is too. And my television. Fill my screens with my photos Mr Cook! I don’t need the black bars at the edges.

What else can I say about the selfie stick? Other than, with a little sob….’why the heck didn’t I think of that?!’ I’d be rolling in filthy lucre right now, taking selfies from all four corners of the world. But I didn’t. It is just one of those ever so simple inventions, though, isn’t it? One that you really should have gotten into production years ago, in some far away Chinese factory, using children to insert the finicky bluetooth modules. Such is life. I missed out again. Or have I? Has anyone invented self adhesive mirrors to stick on the back of phones, or their cases? So you can use the main camera. Pause in blogging while I go have a look….damn. Yep, I’ve been beaten to the punch again.

Nevermind. Anyway, I really enjoy taking photos on my iPhone. In good light, the results are ok. Sure, they don’t match the image quality from my Fuji. But still, it does provide instant gratification. And it’s so easy to use and carry. Which brings me to my last point. I have a lusty new object for my camera desire to focus on. The DxO One. What a wondrous little beast it is.

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This is a camera that appeals. It plugs straight into an iPhone to give you a decent camera with a very good 1″ Sony sensor. I could see me having a ton of fun with this. When and if I can afford it. It’s rumoured to retail at $600. Not cheap, at all. But price tags have never stopped me from engaging in a little bit of fantasy camera lust.

 

The Long Exposure Learning Curve

I’ve wanted to experiment with long exposure photography for ages. And ages. It’s a pretty simple process in principle. Apply a filter to your lens, set to bulb mode and shoot. Hopefully at the end of it, you’ll get a photo with surreal qualities. Maybe one could even describe them as magical. It’s that filter bit that’s been the stumbling block though. I’d tried a £20 cheap variable Polaroid filter last year, which produced dismal results. A decent filter with the stopping power to produce a photo worth publishing to Flickr is not cheap. Starting point is about £100. Which I don’t have.

But it set me thinking. Isn’t there a cheap and cheerful way to do this? Surely someone has improvised and created an alternative to Lee’s Big Stopper filter? It turns out, the answer to those questions is ‘yes’. And it’s a really, really cheap alternative to a professional lens. So I bought the key ingredients and got to work. There’s my set up in the photo below. One piece of welding glass from Amazon for the bargain price of £1.33, And two strong elastic bands. Which cost nothing because they came in our shopping delivery, holding the asparagus together.

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My initial efforts at creating a worthy long exposure photograph did not go as well as hoped. I set up shop alongside a stream flowing through some nearby gardens. My camera will shoot up to a maximum of 30 seconds before you’re forced into bulb mode. And 30 seconds is not long enough. Nor can you really use bulb mode without a remote. Which I did not have. You can see the best result, below left.

But I was determined to make my welding glass contraption succeed, so I went home and ordered a generic corded remote from Amazon for £9 and change. With this essential addition to my kit, I went to one of the best locations for long exposure photography in the whole of Dorset, Old Harry Rocks. I perched my self four or four feet from the cliff top and had a second go. Alas, to say it was a windy day is something of an understatement. A few gusts caught me unaware and blew me  five or six feet along the cliff. I backed off from the cliff face a little. A sensible precaution.

I persevered, but it was no use. I couldn’t hold my tripod and camera steady in the wind and the vibrations ruined the shot, which is below right. It looks out of focus, but it is not. That was just the wind blowing the camera about. But this attempt was still more successful than my next expedition. I chose the less breezy Boscombe pier as the location. I rode my bike out there, set everything up, cursed myself for leaving my memory card in my computer, packed everything away and returned home.

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So. Fourth time lucky? This morning I got up nice and early, packed all my gear in my backpack, including the memory card, and walked down to Bournemouth Pier. The wind was light, the beach deserted and I had every I needed. I shot four or five exposures. I started with a 3 minutes exposure for the first photo, but settled on 5 minutes as the optimum exposure. The aperture of the lens was set to f5.6 and the ISO at 400. Finally I got a few decent results.

Straight out of the camera, there’s a very strong green cast to the photo. See below. That’s to be expected from a piece of welding glass that costs little more than a pound. It is possible to remove the cast in Photoshop (see the snap of Old Harry Rocks above) but you get a mixed bag of results. It works better with some photos than others. I knew before I even purchased the glass that these shots were going to look their best in black or white or with some creative post processing filters applied.

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So anyway. I got back home, imported the photos into the latest shiny iteration of Adobe Lightroom (v6.0 was released just a few days ago) and got to work. Even if I say so myself, I’m pretty pleased with the results. It’s been quite a bit of work to finally get some decent long exposure snaps, but the work has paid off. A bit of cropping here, a bit of straightening there. I played with the shadow, highlights and contrast. I played around with a few filters. And I made this….

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And this…
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And a few more variations of these two photos, which you can see on Flickr if you click here. These photos will win me no prizes, but I’ve had a lot of fun making them. And having conquered the learning curve, I’ll be able to produce some more long exposure photos in the future with a bit less fuss. Perhaps I’ll try Old Harry Rocks again on a slightly calmer day.

Next Level Photography

I’m pretty happy with the photo gear I’ve got. I have no complaints. The Fuji XM-1 is a great camera, I have fantastic lenses and two other good one. A decent camera bag, a Joby Gorillapod tripod and a decent sized bag to carry all of it, or most of it, around with me. But I am but human. A male human at that. I’m pretty sure that this is an inbuilt feature of the Y chromosome. No sooner have I got the latest shiny new thing than I see other shiny new things. And I start making lists. List making is an X chromosome thing. But it’s the Y chromosome that makes me put unaffordable technological items on it.

But there’s an awful lot of cool gear out there that supplements what I have, rather than being unnecessary replacements for perfectly good gear. I have an Amazon wishlist which regularly gets added to. Most of the stuff I add to a wish list is never bought. I guess that’s why they call it a wish-list rather than a gonna-get-it-soon list. The former is also easier to say. But anyway, I thought I’d share my wishlist. Why not. I have little else to share at the moment.

Cokin Filters

I would love to do some long exposure photography. I’ve created a small gallery of some samples, to demonstrate the point. I live in the perfect place for some decent long exposure snaps, with the Jurassic Coast quite literally a ten minute walk away. At least than £50, including an adaptor for my camera, it’s not entirely out of reach price wise.

Olloclip lens

The best camera is the one you have with you. Which means, for me, that is usually my iPhone 6. How to breath new life into my iPhone camera? Well, four new lenses can but help, surely? A fisheye, wideangle and pair of macro lenses all available from a single clip on unit for less than £60. Bargain. Someone remind Santa that I’ve been very, very, very good this year. So far…

Memory card

I’ve started shooting RAW+Jpg with my Fuji. It is an improvement on solely shooting in Jpg in every way but one. My 8gb memory card filled up quicker than my subjects could say ‘cheese’. For the first time in a decade, I found myself out in the field sifting through my days shots, deleting the poor ones to make room for new ones. Pft. That is a process best left when sat on my laptop. I’ve already gotten a new one. A Transcend 64gb with a decent read/write rating. Why Transcend? I wasn’t too fussy on brand. So long as it works. My last card was a Transcend and did just fine. My in-camera deleting days are over for at least another decade, I hope.

Magnification Tube

There is one small problem with my Fuji XF 60mm macro lens. That being, it isn’t really a macro lens. The magnification is but 0.5x, not the 1.0x (or better) you’d normally associate with a macro lens. What to do? Well, one option is Fuji’s own extension tube, which will ramp up the magnification to 0.75x. A significant improvement. The cost? Pence under £70.

Venus Lens

The other option is to sell the Fuji lens and buy one of the newfangled Chinese made lenses. It’s not far off half the price at £250-ish and offers 4x the magnification. Tempting, tempting….

Selfie Stick

I remember the first time I saw someone holding a selfie stick. I near jumped over a wall I was so sure he was a terrorist. Ok, maybe I didn’t, be he did look odd, up to no good and quite frankly, a bit of a k*&b. I’ve been mocking selfie stick toting photographers ever since. Until I wondered what sort of photos might I be able to get with one of these. And now I find I want one. They are only £12, after all. What have I got to lose? Yes, I know…my dignity. But apart from that…

Photo Frames

I keep meaning to buy some. They aren’t expensive. £5 and upwards. Prints from a local shop are just a few pounds for a dozen 7×5″ snaps. They’d look nice hanging on walls around the house. One day I’ll get round to it.

Remote shutter release

Some would say this is an essential piece of kit for long exposure photography. I say, how can a cable and button cost £31?! What is the profit margin on this bit of plastic? Must be enormous. It’s almost as expensive as the Cokin filters. I’ll probably just be real careful and use the timer function on the camera instead.

Fuji XT1

What’s the point of having a wishlist if there isn’t at least one fanciful, completely financially inappropriate item on it? There’s no point, I tell you. None at all. I give to you the king of the Fuji X cameras, the XT-1. The graphite version, which is the more expensive choice. But hey, seeing as I am years away from one of these babies, I might as well dream the best dream…

Photography 2014

Another year passes, another 1,266 photos added to my Flickr account, bringing my the sum total of my photographic life on Flickr to a grand 13,667. Although I’ll probably take a few more photos between now and the end of 2014. I’ve shot with a range of cameras this year. I started in January toting a Fuji X-S1 and an HTC One mobile phone.

They’ve both gone by the way. I was fond of the Fuji and sad to see it go. My back up camera was my trusty old Olympus Pen EPL1 which I had to rely upon again until I purchased my new Fuji X-M1. I’ve added two prime lenses to that, a telephoto lens, a smart camera bag and an iPhone 6. I’ve never been better equipped.

Some of my photos have been better than others. According to Flickr, my most popular by views was this one of the Tower of London, viewed by 437 people. A long way short of my most popular photo, Saxy Lady. She has collected more than 17,000 views over the years. Almost all, I’m quite sure, drawn by the title. Almost all, I’m equally sure, disappointed with the result.

These numbers are all good and well, but I don’t take photos for the numbers. Most of my shots are ‘memory shots’. The sort you’d put in an album to look back at in the years to come. Some of them represent my efforts to be creative. Some are both of the above. I have my favourites. I have selected 15 photos I’ve taken this year for the gallery below. There are memories and a little bit of creative processing in all of them.

Do I have a favourite amongst them. Yes, indeed I do. The last shot, of a family on the pier silhouetted by the impending sunset.

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Fuji XF Lenses

For my birthday a couple of months back, I got a new camera bag. A very nice bag it is too. It’s lightweight and compact enough to carry around without getting an aching should. It’s big enough to pack my camera, two or three extra lenses, my wallet, my Kindle Fire and other small odds and ends. It’s also a sling design, which is important. It’s good to be able to swing, unzip and retrieve the camera quickly when an unexpected potential photo turns up.

But what I really needed was an extra lens or two. Fuji are trying very hard to push their X range of CSC cameras. I originally bought my X-M1 and 16-50mm kit lens on a special offer – they threw in a zoom lens (XC 50-230mm) for free. And their promotions keep on coming. Some of the deals seem crazy. But Fuji’s X range is one of the newer CSC options, and I guess they want people to buy into the system. Sell a camera, you’ve got a customer for the life of the camera. Sell them the lenses, you’ve got them for life.

The latest offer was too good to turn down. To be honest, whilst the Fuji kit lenses are pretty good for kit lenses, they are still kit lenses. You’ll never get the most of out a good camera with kit lenses. So I now have a pair of prime lenses, the f1.4 35mm and the f2.4 60mm macro. I chose the latter largely because the pancake lens I really wanted was not in the offer. I’m pleased to say that I think I was ‘forced’ into buying the right lens. How good are they? I feel my photography has been transformed. I have awakened. I finally have some proper photographic gear!

A confession. I have shot most of my photography up to now in auto mode. Sometimes I switch to aperture priority. But mostly in auto mode. Creativity was always in the post-processing of the image. Since mounting these lenses on my camera I have shot exclusively in manual mode. Having decent aperture rings on the lenses and dials on the camera makes it easy to shoot in manual. And the results are all the better for it. I’m not forcing myself to shoot in manual mode, and then having to think about what I’m doing. It instantly became a natural and instinctive way of shooting.

Fuji XF 60mm f2.4 Macro.

The macro lens was the first to arrive. The name is really a bit of a misnomer. It’s not what most people would call a macro lens, capable of only a 0.50x magnification. Fuji have just released an extension tube for about £70/$100 which increases that to a more respectable 0.76x.  It’s a bit of a jack of all trades. Decent for close-ups, portraits and as a compact telephoto lens. Bright enough for use in all lighting conditions.

The focal length is a bit long for general use though. Photos are sharp. Bokeh is easy to create. Depth of field is easily controlled with pleasant, soft background blur. Colour and tone are spot on. While that longer focal length does sometimes mean I have to back up, back up and back up a bit more to get everything into my shot, for the most part it’s pretty easy to leave it on most of the day. The shot below is one of my favourites so far. But there’s a whole bunch of sample images in a set on Flickr – click here.

DSCF5281 Fuji XF 35mm f1.4

I noted that the 60mm is a bit awkward to use for general use. That is what this lens if for. A much shorter focal length means it’s a great street camera to tote. But it really comes into its own after dark and indoors. It’s a very bright lens. Like the 60mm, it’s a high quality metal lens that feels like a top of the range piece of gear. The rings are smooth and precise. This is the lens that will spend most of the time mounted to my camera. Sharp, great colours. The full package. With its own set on Flickr – click here, and a sample below starring Mrs P.

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Blast From The Past

I don’t sell many photos these days. In fact, I don’t sell any photos these days. It’s been a year at least since the last one. Maybe two. I used to sell a handful each year, almost entirely through Flickr. It was never my biggest source of online income, but the half dozen or so shots that I flogged in a good year added some useful pennies to my bank account.

But I may have sold the one below. I say may, because I haven’t received the cash yet. Never count one’s chickens till they hatch. But I live in hope. Does anyone care to play a guessing game? A point for the person who can name the artist. Two points if you can name the location you’d find this mural. No clicking on the image through to Flickr though. That’s cheating.

Super Medicine

Timelapse Photography

Who doesn’t like a well done timelapse video? They add a surreal touch to the everyday world. I have three to share with you that I think are absolutely fantastic. The first is a visual representation of the invisible architecture above our heads that ensures aircraft don’t (often) fall down on our heads. The second is more of a tutorial, but it starts off with a cinematic timelapse of the milky way. I’d like to do some astrophotography. Maybe soon. And finally, with Mr K particularly in mind, is a very creative layered timelapse of Boston. All three videos are really well worth a few minutes of your busy day.

And all three videos are well beyond my budget and skill level. Still, I have my iPhone 6. I have the new-ish Hyperlapse app, And I recently had a front seat on the top of a double decker bus in London. I quite like the results. I’d like to do something a little more complicated. Maybe I will. Until then, here is the (rather short) effort I produced. Will anyone name that street without peeking a look at the video’s title? Alas, the video will start in low quality. You’ll need to click on the settings cog and select HD. Does anyone know a trick to embed YouTube with an HD default?