Work in progress – by Rufus

I told you about my new camera in this post. Since then, Dave (my human) has purchased a new harness just to let me take photos, and I’ve been experimenting with angles, viewpoints and settings.

Today we went off to Mynydd Carn Llechart for some more physio for my leg, and I took the harness and camera along. It was a beautiful morning, clear and cloudless, crisp and cold. Ideal for some landscape work. I’ve been concentrating on candid photography recently so this chance to take more considered images was most welcome. There was a cold wind on the hill, and more than a trace of snow which had fallen overnight. Under paw it was soggy and wet but it wasn’t too bad and I soon got the measure of it.

The sun was quite low as it was still quite early and we were walking directly towards it. This made some of the shots I tried quite difficult to take without under exposing the foreground or getting too much flare in the final image. I noticed that Dave was taking quite a few photos so I decided to take some of him taking pictures. I checked out what he was snapping and it was his usual and predictable snow covered mountain shots so I wasn’t missing anything significant.

We got to the cairn that gives the mountain its name after about half an hour of splashing and squelching across the moor. I went for some close up images of the stones while Dave was distracted by a pair of Red Kites wheeling about over head. When he’s not distracted like that he tends to get in the way of my photos, usually to steal my view point. I welcomed the chance to work unhindered.

We didn’t hang around long as the wind was still quite chilly. Heading back, the sun was behind us and the quality of light was lovely and warm. It cast long shadows which we were constantly walking over.

I’m quite pleased with my day’s work although I am still learning how to make the most of the low viewpoint I am usually faced with. So please view this gallery as a work in progress.

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The day after yesterday

Yesterday was the opening game of the 2015 Six Nations rugby tournament, with England beating Wales at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. I watched the game on TV from my personal box, with a strong cup of tea by my side. I live life on the edge.

This morning, I took the early train to Cardiff as I wanted to visit the museum to see an exhibition on early photography. More of that later. The train was empty, despite being an Intercity service going to London. When I got to Cardiff, I found that it, too was quiet. The only people around seemed to be the people heading off to open up and run shops. It was clear that everyone else was indoors, recovering from the night before.

It was cold and grey in the capital, and after a reviving cup of coffee, I set off for Jessops, the photographic retailer. After they went bust a few years ago, the brand was sold and a few of the shops were reopened. Cardiff has such a store. I ended up having a chat with one of the salesmen there as it turned out he went to college in Swansea, where I was a technician in the photography department. We shared some stories and caught up with the whereabouts of some of the tutors. It was a breath of fresh air, and there was no sense of sales pitching at all. I always liked the staff in Jessops, and I’m glad the brand has been resurrected.

Then it was on to the museum and straight to the exhibition. A large proportion of the displayed photographs were from or by John Dillwyn Llewelyn and his sister, Mary. JDL was an early pioneer of photography in Britain and was a contemporary of Fox Talbot, to whom he was related by marriage. His earliest images date back to 1840. His mansion at Penllegare was the centre of his photographic endeavours, and the house and grounds feature often as subjects. If you go along to Penllegare Woods to day (and you should, it’s a great place to visit), you can see many of the places and subjects JDL photographed. The mansion, sadly, is gone and the beautiful ornamental gardens are over grown but volunteers are working to restore parts of the grounds to their former state.

Some of the images on display were from the 1850s and it was amazing to see people staring out from 164 years ago. There were familiar sights – Caswell and Three Cliffs Bay, Tenby, Swansea docks and, as mentioned, Penllegare woods.

In the early days of photography the film wasn’t sensitive enough to freeze any kind of motion, so there are photographs of sailing ships in Swansea docks where their movement on the water has blurred the masts and completely hidden the rigging. It meant that people sitting for portraits had to stay motionless for up to several minutes. Neck braces were used to help keep people still. Some of the pioneering work JDL was doing was developing more sensitive films, cutting the exposure time to seconds and making possible more natural looking poses

Other photographers were represented too, some amateur, some professional. The images ranged from studio portraits to reportage and historical records. Some of the equipment and cameras used by JDL and his contemporaries were on display too. The early cameras were crude wooden boxes that weren’t immediately identifiable as photographic tools.

I enjoyed the exhibition and the fascinating insight to the early days of photography it gave. I wish there had been more photographs on display, though.

Seeing things in a new light

This is an unashamedly technical post. For those of you turned off by nanometres and transmission filters, other blogs are available.

A couple of years ago  I took the plunge and invested in an infra red converted camera. Since then I’ve learnt to understand the best conditions and subject to apply infra red to, and I’ve experimented with post processing.  I had my Nikon D300 converted to record infra red images in 2013. I love the effect, particularly when post processed into black and white images. This post is about the basics and is based on a presentation I recently gave to my local camera club.

The nanometre bit

Infra red light is invisible to the naked eye and has wavelengths starting at around 590nm and stretching on to 1000nm and beyond.

 

Most digital camera sensors are so sensitive to ultra violet and infra red light that a special filter is placed in front of them to cut this light out. Converting a camera to take infra red photographs is simply a case of replacing this filter with one that blocks visible light and transmits infra red. That’s what I had done to my D300. It gets a little more complicated because there are different filters available to allow different wavelengths of light to pass through (in the same way that coloured filters allow different wavelengths of visible light through). My camera has a 720nm filter, (which blocks light of wavelength less than 720nm). Sensors to pick up heat energy are a completely different beast and are not dealt with here.

As a converted DSLR camera doesn’t need a transmission filer on the lens, you can compose and focus as normal. The image in the optical viewfinder remains bright and in visible light. To see the effect of the internal filter you will need to use live view. If you are using an unconverted camera with a transmission filter, you will need to compose and focus with the filter removed as by it’s very definition, the filter will block out visible light.

My D300 was calibrated for focusing and exposure by the company that converted it (Protech repairs). I still find that when faced with different subjects, I need to adjust the exposure from the indicated values and a degree of trial and error is sometimes required. You’ll always find me reviewing the image immediately after taking it.

Effects

The sun emits as much infra red light as it does visible light and so it is possible, with a converted camera, to use exposure times similar to normal. The classic infra red effect – white vegetation and dark skies – happens because green leaves reflect a lot of infra red light but blue skies do not. Scientists use infra red photography to spot growth and dead vegetation in the landscape. Contrast can be high in these photographs and you have to keep this in mind when taking the shot. Water also absorbs infra red.

Infra red light penetrates skin slightly and this results in a a soft, blemish free appearance in portraits. Eyes tend to appear black. The longer wavelength of infra red light is less affected by haze and pollution and so landscape photographs appear clearer and crisper.

Flare can be more of a problem as most lenses are designed to be used with visible light. The lens coatings and internal coatings that reduce reflections aren’t as effective with the longer wavelengths. Some lenses suffer from ‘hotspots’, a bright central portion which varies (and may disappear altogether) with a change in aperture. Of the collection of lenses I’ve gathered over the years, about half exhibit a hotspot with the D300.

Lenses that work with 720nm Infra red and a D300 camera:

  • Nikkor 60mm macro
  • Sigma 10-20mm D f/4-5.6
  • Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
  • Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 (manual focus)
  • Nikkor 24mm f/2.8D
  • Nikkor 70-300mm AFS f/4.5-5.6
  • Tamron 90mm macro
  • Tamron 18-270mm
  • Vivitar 19mm (manual focus)
  • Sigma 170-500mm

 

Results

below are a set of photos I took this morning. I’ve been experimenting with additional filters progressively the shorter wavelengths. This is very much a work in progress.

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Relearning

This blog started off a few years ago as a place to talk about and showcase some of my photographs. Over the years, I’ve found it’s wandered a bit and has become a place where I write about anything I feel like. That’s okay by me (and judging by the hits, likes and comments, it’s okay by you, too). But over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about things in general, and perhaps starting up another blog dedicated to travel, and one dedicated to photography. Plans within plans.

Anyway, that line of thought made me realise that over the last year or so, my photography has become little more than snap-shooting. I know what that is; the preparation of the Kilimanjaro trek meant that every spare moment was taken up with training and I didn’t have the luxury of going out, making time and taking photographs. Almost all the photos I took during the preparation time were little more than snapshots. On the trek itself, a similar situation occurred. There were so many things going on that I had very little time to look and contemplate a scene before taking a picture. Perhaps the only time I was able to do this was at night when I was taking long exposures of the night sky. And that’s the nature of the Kilimanjaro trek; time on the mountain is expensive and trekkers are whisked between camps with little spare time. The time you do get to yourself is mostly taken up with preparing kit of the next day and resting.

What to do? I have to rekindle my interest in photography and make time to get out and do one of the things I love the most. I re-read two influential books that I bought years ago when I was using film. “The Making of Landscape Photographs” by Charlie Waite is a great inspiration. In it, Waite displays and talks about around 150 of his photographs. He explains the thought processes behind the pictures, and discusses why they work or, in some cases, what could have been done to make them better. I like that approach as I find learning in the actions and experiences of others.

The second book is “Light in the Landscape” by Peter Watson. Another book of examples and discussion, this one follows an calendar year and explores the effect on the landscape of the seasons. Both tomes have fantastic photographs and buckets of thought provoking comment.

You never forget how to take photographs, and with today’s technology, you are almost guaranteed good results. But for consistent images that you can be proud of, it takes time and thought and patience. These things I need to relearn, and I’m working on it.

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A year in statistics

Happy New Year everyone.

It’s windy and wet out, so Rufus and I are taking the opportunity to chill after a few days of being out on the hills and in the valleys of the Brecon Beacons. No doubt we’ll be out again tomorrow, so there are no feelings of guilt. Today is a day for snoring and flopping and sighing and watching things on TV that we’d never normally watch. There will probably be some eating and drinking (non-alcoholic, of course) and a little more eating.

It’s also a time for reflection. I had a look at last year’s early January posts and there were some resolutions and some reviewing. So how did I do on the resolutions?

1. Give up chocolate? Hahahahaha!

2. Do more exercise? Well, yes. I achieved that spectacularly. Not only did I increase the number of times a week I went to the gym (and the activities I did there) but I got out on a lot more mountains. I hiked and cycled a total of 1395.6km, with a peak in December of 164.8km. Also, in December I climbed a total of 6,121m – that’s 226m more than Kilimanjaro! In the last nine days I’ve climbed 2,985m.

3, Take more photos. Well, I kept 16,093 photos from last year so I guess I must have taken about 18,000. I see I took 1300 infra red images, and 804 macro images. I started and completed my ‘One-a-day’ project on Flickr.

4. Save money. Well, yes and no. I’ve made up some of the losses from the car and the house repairs, but I’ve also spent some on the trek. But my philosophy has changed from ‘save as much as possible’ to ‘save and spend wisely’. There are some things I may not be able to do when I’m older, so what is the point in saving up to be able to do them in 5 or 10 years time?

5. Improve. Well, they say a good wine improves with age. I’m not sure that applies to people. We improve by experiencing things, learning new things and practising things we already do. I’d like to think I’ve done all three. It’s hard to measure as I never set goals last year and to be honest, I didn’t want to then and I don’t want to now. My improvement will come through experience, and that may strike at any time.

No resolutions this year. They just set you up to fall. Instead, aspirations, aims and a reminder to myself of something our expedition leader said on the last Everest Base Camp trek: “There are those who dream of adventure and challenge, and there are those who go and do it.” I want to be the latter.

Finally, geeky stats (you know you want them really).

30% of this year’s photos were taken with a Nikon D7000, 11% with a Fuji X10 and only 0.01% with an iPad. 16% were taken on a full frame digital camera. 18% were taken with a Tamron 18-270mm zoom lens, 10.5% were taken with a prime lens and, according to the programme I’m using, 1.4% were taken with a lens of focal length of zero mm! And that’s the bigger picture!

366 photos - 1 a day

366 photos from my one-a day project.

New Year Photography

Warning: Geeky statistics appear below. If figures and boring photography stuff scares you, do not read on.

On the first of January, I posted about trying to improve my hit rate for photographs I’m pleased with and I quoted figures of less than 1% of the picture files I have I am actually pleased enough with that they would appear in a portfolio.

That got me worried, and thinking and I checked again, since that figure was so poor. If it accurately represented my photographic capability, it would mean a change of name, a move to another country and the instigation of Plan D – the anonymisation of Franticsmurf.

The reality is a little better. I’ve been sifting through all the files in preparation of a big back up. I’ve almost filled a 1Tb external hard drive and before it chugs to a halt under the weight of the data, I have to free up some space. What I’ve noticed is that every digital photo I’ve ever taken is there (with some exceptions from way back when a couple of DVD back-ups got corrupted). Until December 2000, I was only using a 1Mp Olympus camera and although there are some nice shots that I’m happy with, their resolution isn’t good enough to do anything other than display on a screen. There are 1300 of them. Until 2003 I was using film as my main medium and I carried a small digital compact as a snap shot camera. There are 2000 files of snapshots from this period. There are almost 2000 images of the band. They are almost all for record purposes.

I started using high dynamic range processing in 2008. This technique involves blending several differently exposed images of the same scene to record details in the highlights and shadows that wouldn’t normally be possible with one exposure and the limited dynamic range of the camera sensor. I usually take five photographs – 2, -1, 0, +1 and +2 stops. There are 255 tonemapped final images – around 1000 additional files varying the exposure.

I experimented with focus stacking a lot last year and that could be between 5 and 15 files per final image. That probably accounts for another 200 files. For the trek to Nepal in 2011, I shot jpg and RAW format, doubling the number of files I came home with. All my infra red photos are shot in RAW, and probably 25% of them have been converted to tif files for printing or display. Often I will shoot jpg and RAW if the subject matter is difficult or important. So I see I have 5106 RAW files.

Then there are the photos I take of Rufus and of my friend’s little boy. I set the camera to continuous shooting and fire away. I have said elsewhere that I tend not to get rid of any photos unless they are horribly out of focus or badly exposed. So these images stack up. Most are for the annual photo album I create for my friend. There are just over 9500 of these. Finally, as I carry a camera around with me everywhere, I tend to use it as a notebook and I’m always taking pictures to try out new techniques or to remind me of a location. I went out for a walk with Rufus this morning and took  38 photos. I deleted one as it was out of focus and the others, while not works of art, will be kept.

So only having 650 images that I am most proud isn’t quite as bad as it first seems. Nevertheless, I need to do better and my aim this year will be to make more time for serious photography rather than letting it take a back seat as I do at the moment. I’ll have to discuss it with Rufus.

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