Tuesday, 30 November 2010


Question: How do you show a cold day? You can't enclose cold into a picture for the viewer. You can include some strong hints however.

We're having a cold spell in the UK at present. I'm sure its not really cold by some folks standards, but it catches us out because we don't get really bad weather frequently. Therefore we drive around on low and wide summer tyres that turn out to be totally useless on snow. Furthermore, careful driving on snow and ice seems to be a lost art, everyone else seems to drive too fast for my tastes. Have they not lost a car and crashed on snow before? Do they not realise what happens when you hit the brakes?

Anyway, back to the cold. Here's a ground level picture from the farm lane: Frost on everything. I used the tilting rear screen on the camera to get down to about 5cm off the ground to get the message across.

I suppose the frost on the Victorian gravestones is a hint that it was cold that day...

This is probably my favourite from early this year. Snow and icicles together with a chilly looking dusk. This does look cold to me...

Monday, 29 November 2010

Holiday snaps

What sort of pictures does a photographer take when on holiday? Well, I confess I still go looking for odd corners and weird angles.

Here's an example I took some years ago on honeymoon in Florence, which is quite a treat for the photographer. Just watch out for kids on mopeds...

And here is an odd detail, also from Florence. What fantastic buildings they have. They sure know how to rusticate there...

And here, just to prove that I do take pictures of people on occasion, is something mildly inexplicable.   

Finally, much closer to home, I found this nice juxtaposition in a Nation Trust property in Devon this spring.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Texture revisited

Sometimes it is the texture of a subject that invites a photograph. Rust, or old sandstone can look quite interesting close up and with the right lighting. Here, as an alternative, I offer you Hut 6 at Bletchley Park. This is, of course, the home of code breaking. I wonder if the decay is intentional or just the result of neglect. Either way I felt that a close examination of the splendid peeling paint made a better subject than a general view of the huts.

Here is another door, and a more general view. This is an out of the way corner of Omodos on Cyprus. This village has been restored and repainted as a tourist attraction, however if you sneak down the back lanes you soon come across a more genuine view. I rather liked the wall and the colour of the door.

This surely is a classic texture shot. Sawn and weathered wood with oblique lighting to bring out the grain. Throw in the contours of the knot and a bent nail.. Ideal subject!

Finally - does this count as texture? A telephoto lens was used to compress the scene, and also avoid the inevitable Alsatian guard dog.

Saturday, 27 November 2010


Aah. The bad old days when I could only afford FP4 or HP5 black and white film.  Colour film was a luxury, but on the positive side, shooting black and white changed my view of the world and set me searching for textures, patterns and contrasts.

Making a good looking monochrome print from the negative proved just as demanding. No matter how good it looked last night in the darkroom, in the morning the prints always looked just a bit muddy.

I resorted to using harder and harder grade paper to get those really convincing black tones. Then there was the specs of dust to contend with. You could never see them under the enlarger, but they certainly showed up in daylight.

Then you had to clear up afterwards, clean the trays, dry everything off. The bathroom smelled of fixer for a few days afterwards... It was all such hard work...  

However sometimes you would come out with one nice big print that was good enough to be framed and go on the wall.

Clearly its easier now. I could set the camera to shoot monochrome if I wished, however I take all my pictures in colour regardless. (In fact I use the raw files from the camera, so there's no choice anyway). I can decide to convert the image to monochrome at a later date, and maybe - just maybe - the results are better.

I sometimes miss the grain, but I don't miss the dust.

Oh, and at least the bathroom doesn't smell of fixer these days.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Hard or Easy?

Here's a nice picture, full of action. 

Aha, I hear you say, its just a picture of a lane that has been attacked by Photoshop using the motion blur tool.

But not so! This was taken the hard way by cycling down this hill one handed while firing the camera (with a suitably slow shutter speed) with the other hand. I suppose I must add that this was on the way home from the pub one lunchtime.

And now - doing it the easy way. Glancing out of our west facing office window, I spotted that a brief sunset was due today. We have suffered under a blanket of thick cloud and freezing temperatures, but the sun appeared for a couple of minutes at the end of the day. Out with the tele lens, open the window and get a picture. No effort required, and certainly no bike involved...

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Lighten up!

Creating light where there was none, or the art of off camera flash.

I have a couple of flashguns, a flash extender cable and some wireless triggers. All this means there is no excuse for nasty washed out camera flash pictures. I can't claim to be a true Strobist but every now and then I make a point to use the flashes to create a specific image:

Here is a particularly comely vegetable, illuminated against a black background by off camera flash. I stood it on a white card to act as a reflector for the underside. The result is rather dramatic, for a vegetable...

Here is a more complex image. I wanted to show both the rose and the moon, but the rose was barely visible in the moonlight, and a long exposure suitable for the rose would burn out the sky. So, I selected the right exposure to bring the sky and moon out then adjusted the flash power and distance to bring the rose up at the same time..

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Try something different

Sometimes I try something different. Something that breaks all the rules, or something intended to stop you in your tracks. Quite often these bright ideas fail miserably, but I do keep some of them..

Here are some examples:

Through the windscreen. Sitting in the car during a windswept shopping trip I noticed how the rain was running down the windscreen. I set the focus on the screen, selected a suitable aperture for the right amount of depth of field and waited for pedestrians on the bridge...

Up on the downs. Ploughed field, Ordnance Survey trig point and winter sun. Minimal. Nothing else.

Finally. Egg and Rivet surprise: Why not? Smooth egg, sharp rivets and really hard lighting.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Fancy a sandwich?

... or Going all Soft.

One of the nice effects you can make in Photoshop is this recreation of the Michael Orton slide sandwich. It attempts to replicate his remarkable technique for creating soft and ethereal images by combining two individual slides, one sharp and one soft.

These days you can create and combine layers in Photoshop with great ease and there are many different versions of this method, but the result should have a hint of sharpness in with the soft look. I aim for a nice high saturation too, this gives the picture a certain richness.

This is a method that works well with flowers and subjects from Nature.

However, you can also apply it to man made scenes like this one, and it can add a certain nostalgia to the image. In years gone by this could have been done with a smear of Vaseline on an old filter on the front of the lens - but the Photoshop method is reversible and a whole lot less messy..

(Discarded tractor on Kerrera island, Scotland)

Monday, 22 November 2010

Just for a laugh

Sometimes I take pictures to capture a moment, sometimes to show textures. On occasions the picture illustrates a point or recalls a time gone by. However there are occasions when I take pictures just for a laugh: Is that allowed?

What are these sheep doing? Admiring the view, or have they decided to throw themselves off the cliff??

And for that matter, what is going on here. Have dogs learnt to drive. Is this the future?

Finally spotted at Weymouth. The British on a beach holiday regardless of the weather...

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Patterns and Textures

I am always attracted by patterns and textures. Some of these are purely accidental, some are natural. Here's some examples:

These flowers come out of the bud all crinkly and if you catch them before they have straightened out, with the sun in the right position, they almost look artificial

A corner of a field covered in clover. Each flower is different, and yet they are all the same. This was a close up wide angle shot with the horizon deliberately excluded. 

A rather more contrived image: I found these melons outside a greengrocers in Rottingdean one wet winter day.

And these last two are positively posed images. Peppers on the cutting board. There is always a little guilt when you take a picture then proceed to eat the subject...

Finally this posed woodworking image. I think the shapes and patterns of wood shaving  are wonderful. I did however ruin an otherwise useful piece of pine batten to get this picture...

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Reach for the Skies

Do you look up? Apparently the appreciation of architecture is the art of looking up... but I digress. I do like a good sky. If I can find an excuse to grab the wide angle lens and include a great sky in a picture, then I will do it.

Here are some examples if sky from the past few years that caught my eye at the time. This first one is St Michael's mount in Cornwall about seven years ago, back in my film days. The sun was behind a layer of thin cloud so I felt it would be safe to put it in the shot. Catching a seagull at the same time was a nice bonus.

This spectacular sunset and sky was taken in west Cyprus a year or two later. They do get fantastic sunsets over there, but they are over in a moment, so if you see it you need to capture it straight away. I kept the hotel swimming pool in the shot to add a balancing reflection of the clouds.

This one is rather more up to date, and is a late summer evening sky taken at the harbour at Oban, Scotland. By contrast, the sunsets and evenings can be very long there, and you can get some wonderful lighting late in the day.

This final image is from this week. Beech trees loom over the farm track on my lunchtime photo trek, combined with a random mixture of clouds and blue sky.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Keeping Focus

One common rule in photography is that the subject should be in focus (unless of course you wish to break that particular rule). The question is, what does one do with the rest of the picture?

Well in this first example I wanted all of the picture to be in focus to place the tombstone in context with the church. I used a wide angle lens which helps to get a long depth of field, and I shut the lens down a long way as well, and I was careful where I set the primary focus to make certain I achieved what I wanted.

That is a nice simple task, just get it all in focus..

What if you want to isolate the subject from the background? Simple, you use a longer lens, stand further away, open up the aperture and the background will go out of focus. This is a well trod path, yet it still has pitfalls. How far out of focus should the background be? How does this particular lens render out of focus areas?

This whole study of out of focus imagery seems to be grouped under the term "Bokeh" these days. So, lets look at this next image: You may need to click on the image to get a good look at it.

I have managed to isolate my subject from the background, but look how the out of focus area is fussy and unpleasant (to my eyes anyway). It is not supposed to intrude but it draws the eyes slightly. I used a Meyer Domiplan lens on the Olympus for this. The Domiplan was the cheapest East German optic available in the sixties and was based on the 1895 Cooke triplet. No wonder its performance is less than stellar... This unfortunate effect is nothing to do with its penny pinching 6 blade diaphragm, its just inherent in the very simple optical design.

Now we move to another old lens, but one with a much nicer result:

This is the Industar 50, a Russian copy of the much copied 1905 Tessar design. It may not be super sharp at the point of focus, but the out of focus areas are simply sublime, rounded and smooth and unobtrusive. In this case the lens has an eight blade diaphragm. Its one of the least impressive lenses to look at but it can produce lovely pictures. This picture is a case of less is more as I have discussed elsewhere.

Now we move up to date:

This was taken with the Olympus 70-300mm tele zoom. This turns out to be very sharp indeed in the 70 - 150mm range, if you can hold it still. Furthermore, the bokeh performance is not that bad as well. Most impressed Olympus... In this case I chose to push the background well out of focus. In fact I would almost define this Teazle picture as a texture image...

It may be that you want the background to be just sufficiently out of focus to hint at the location without intruding on the picture. That was how I approached this next picture..

I have programmed one of the buttons on my camera to provide a depth of field preview. This shuts the lens aperture down to the setting it will use for the picture and gives you a darker image in the viewfinder but also shows you what the depth of focus will be in the final image. This is a feature I use a great deal.

So, the parts of the image that are out of focus can be just as important as those that are sharp...

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Fog mist and haze

Fog, low cloud, morning mist, evening haze, and even smoke can add a great deal of depth to a picture. They can transform a mundane image to something quite unusual.  By the way, I have returned to this subject in the future. Here are a selection of pictures where I have been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.. As always, click to see the larger image.

This first image was early one morning on the Lizard, Cornwall. A sea mist was touching the headland and it helps describe the distances and the contours of the land.

This is another image featuring mist in the morning. It comes from one of my summer sunrise expeditions and was taken down by the Kennet and Avon canal just after the sun came up. Once the sun has risen I feel the best of the shots have gone, but in this case the sun rays and the cold vapour combine well.

In this case the atmospheric effects are at the other end of the day. This is late summer evening haze looking west over the Kennet Valley. The receding ranks of  trees hide most of the houses and draw the eye to the horizon.

This effect is very different. This was taken about midday and is the result of charcoal burners at work in a local forest. I spotted the tell tale plume of smoke while out cycling and made my way over to investigate. Once again, its the sun bursting through the trees and the wide angle lens that makes the shot for me.

Finally, a much more conventional shot. A foggy day in the village at work. One of the tricks with fog and woodland is to arrange the trees, some close, some further. It that  way the fog explains itself to the viewer.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010


Framing a picture (and I don't mean placing it behind glass surrounded by a wood edging) is method used to draw the viewer into the scene or concentrate the eye on a particular part of the image. Looking through my archive I see its a technique I use occasionally, though not as often as I thought. Perhaps I reject many of my attempts at image framing.. As usual, you can click the image to see the larger version.

So here are some pictures where I have included a surround in order to get this effect: This is under the bridge at Avignon. The arch is intended to frame the view of the river.

The north coast of Cornwall in winter. The sea has somehow cut a narrow notch in this cliff affording the viewer a glimpse of the beach beyond.I waited until the distant couple came into view to give a sense of scale.

A barbers shop in Nicosia, Cyprus, quite near the green line. All the buildings are semi derelict in that area and I was surprised to find this man plying his trade. The wall frames the point of interest, and there is just enough sign writing to hint at the location.

And finally, a classic through the keyhole shot of the village church. This is a simple shot, but it did require a very low angle. Fortunately the Olympus camera I was using has a Live View rear screen to save ones ageing back.