Happy New Year

Happy new year everyone, I hope 2015 year brings you all the things you wish for and for some of you, the things you deserve!

2015 is a science fiction year. When I was a kid, I read any science fiction story I could lay my hands on and a lot of them talked about the 21st Century (Gerry Anderson’s company, the one that brought us the original and best Thunderbirds, was called 21st Century TV). We have now passed George Orwell’s 1984, we are about half way through Wells’ “Shape of Things to Come” and we’ve passed two of the Arthur C Clarke Space Odyssey novels. We have devices that fit in the hand and connect us with all the knowledge of the world (although you still have to know how to access it). The only thing we haven’t got right yet is the interface to that device.

Of course, we also have people who claim to be experts in making the most of this device and its ability to communicate with the world. The world has filled up with experts, gurus, leaders in their field, and there are so many fields. There are so many of them that 2015 is likely to become the year of the expert expert and the guru guru. Who knows where we’ll be by 2016, but a speaker at a recent conference I attended said that the people who claim to be experts are undermining the professions to which they associate themselves because no one can know everything in enough detail to make that claim.

This time last year I was talking about exercise and I was in the last few days of training for my climb of Kilimanjaro. On 26 January, I made it to the top of Kibo – 5895m – and what a fantastic experience that was. But since then I’ve let the training go a little and although I now have a Rufus to keep me active, it’s not quite the same. And since, for he second year running, I have not given up chocolate, I suspect there is more of me than this time last year, particularly around my middle.

My photography stats

I ‘only’ took 12720 photographs in 2014. That’s almost 4000 down on the year before. I suspect (I hope) it’s because I’ve been a little more discerning and taken my time over each picture rather than machine gunning the views. That said, I took 1775 images on the Kilimanjaro trip alone. But almost a third of those were RAW copies so they don’t count!

Apparently, the photos in my catalogue for this year have been taken on 22 different kinds of camera, although some of those will be other people’s and some are HDR or panoramic images processed on the PC and designated as some unknown camera. Once again, 30% of the images have been taken with one camera – a Nikon D7100 – and 67% of those were taken with the excellent Tamron 18-270mm lens.

Understandably, given the trek, January was my most productive month with 2236 photos taken. I must have taken it easy while recovering in February when I took only 321 images. Looking at them, it was a month of bad weather so I guess I have an excuse. Most of the photos  from February were of huge waves crashing in at Bracelet Bay.

I took 399 macro shots, mostly with a Tamron 90mm macro lens. I think most of those pictures were of spiders in the garden!

All the best for the next 365 days!

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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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The devil makes work…

Tonight’s gig with the Insiderz has been postponed until next Saturday. Right now I would have been trying to remember what songs I need to practice for tonight, sorting out all the leads (they tie themselves in knots when I’m not looking) and making sure I eat early (so my belly isn’t bloated and doesn’t push the guitar out at an odd angle when I’m on stage). But instead I find myself with some unexpected free time. What to do?

I’ve done some trek preparation (8km with Rufus this morning, in the wind and occasional rain). I’ve spent some time with friends for lunch (I say lunch, I had a scone – that’s pronounced scown not scon. If you have scons they are entirely different beasts – with butter and cream). I’ve had a shower (the fox was complaining about the smell). I’ve checked the potatoes (some small holes in the leaves) and I’ve taken steps to prevent the bit of garden designated as the wild bit ( = bit I can’t be bothered to cut and weed)  expanding out to the veg patch. And I’ve had a coffee.

Idles hands and all that. So I fired up Lightroom (my new imaging editing and management software) and had a look at some of the menu options I don’t normally use. Those of a nervous disposition when faced with trivia should step back and perhaps jump straight to the pictures below. Those of you mildly turned on by figures – this is the closest you’ll ever get to porn* on my blog.

*Note – not real porn.

I found a sort filter in Lightroom that allows me to see the statistics based on camera type, lens type – even sensitivity setting. It means I can select a parameter and see all the pictures that meet that criteria. It even summarises the number of images by parameter. There are 21 parameters to search on. Try and control your excitement.

Where was I? Oh yes. Even I’m not sad enough to need to know how many pictures I’ve taken with in a landscape format (71,837) or how many have been taken with ISO400 sensitivity (12,395). But I was interested to see how many I’ve taken with each of my cameras.

According to the list, 69 different cameras have been used to take the 79,272 pictures in my library. This number includes the cameras other people have used (as some of those pictures have been sent to me by some of you lot), and the identity of the scanners used to digitise my early film efforts. The camera I have used the most is my Nikon D300 (8,852) which is the camera I had converted to Infra red last year. Then its the D7000 (7,841) and the Panasonic GF1 (7,464). I was surprised that the little Sony I carry round everywhere with me has only taken 4,771 pictures. I was also surprised to find I only took 1,366 photos with my first decent digital camera, an Olympus CZ3030. I guess some of those are the missing files I lost when two full DVDs of photos got corrupted a few years ago. I was also still using a film camera when I had the CZ3030. I’ve taken 335 pictures with my iPhone, and before that, 425 with my Sony Ericsson phone.

The most popular focal length is 14mm (5,054). My most productive year to date is 2011 (14,272). My favourite aperture is, apparently, f/8 (15,177 pictures). This is the setting I normally use if I’m not sure what ‘s coming up, so that isn’t so surprising.

I could go on but there is a crowd of people gathered on the front lawn demanding I stop or they will burn the house down.

I was interested in the camera stats as I have recently part exchanged several cameras to purchase a lovely new Nikon D600. In fact it’s so new that I’ve only taken 33 photos with it, the majority at f/16, in landscape format with a 90mm focal length and ISO 800… where’s that smoke coming from… no, I’ll stop. Put it out.

Sorry. I thought long and hard about this as I’d only really started using a full frame digital camera last year. But the benefits, especially image quality, low light performance and a properly controllable depth of field, were immediately evident. I had a rule of thumb when I got my first DSLR that I would only upgrade when the sensor resolution doubled. I know the megapixel count isn’t a full measure of a camera, but it is a good measure of the advancement of camera technology in general. I refer to trusted reviews and a lot of research as well.  I did slip a little with the D7000. But the D600 doubled the D700’s count and that, coupled with a good price, made it hard to resist. So I didn’t.

I haven’t had much opportunity to test the camera out yet because of the weather, but you’ll see from the Damsel Fly picture below, it’s got potential. In fact, the only thing holding it back is the thing that is holding it. Me.

Some photos from last week.

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Grey Days

Saturday

We knew it would be raining on Saturday morning and sure enough, when Rufus persuaded me to take him out into the garden for his pre-breakfast stroll, it was drizzly. After a brief discussion, we decided it didn’t matter. So we had breakfast and then off we went to Rhossili, up we went onto Rhossili Down, it rained, we got wet and some of us got muddy paws and heather tangled in their fur. We explored the old radar station, watched a huge flock of sheep depart en mass as we approached and made friends with several horses and a couple of foals.

Rufus had to have a shower when we got home. He doesn’t like the shower but I think it’s more about dignity than dislike. I make sure the water isn’t too hot and the spray isn’t too strong. He made a show of trying to escape; he understands the word shower and I spent 5 minutes rounding him up. In the end, he curled up on his bed and pretended to be asleep. But once in the shower, he wasn’t too bad. He tends to grunt and huff a lot, but if he really wanted to get out he could. Instead he allows me to wash under his paws and under his chin. The water was brown running off him, and I probably could have planted a small heather patch in the garden with all the bits that came off him. I don’t have a selection of hair care products, so he had to use the same Head&Shoulders Itchy Scalp hair shampoo that I do. Other shampoos are available and Rufus doesn’t endorse any particular products.

Sunday

Back in the day, I went to the Polytechnic of Central London. As soon as I left, they changed the name to the University of Westminster in the hope that I wouldn’t return and that they could purge all records of my existence there. In fact, I did pop back in December, but that’s another story.

I enjoyed my three years in London. I liked being self sufficient, I liked being in a place that really didn’t seem to stop, day or night. I was fortunate enough to live for the first year in halls of residence just off Oxford Street. It was fantastic. The course I took – Photographic Sciences – was an eye opener and confirmed my interest in all things photographic. Although I did become a little jaded at the end and took a break from photography (ironically, just as I started working as a photographic technician in the local further education college).

The things that held my attention most on the course were the experimental and technical photographic techniques. Some of the most interesting techniques for me were macro, high speed photography and filming, and infrared photography. This was a long time ago and everything we did was on film and we developed everything by hand. I remember right at the end of the course being shown a new little chip that was one of the first image recording sensors – the forerunner of today’s digital camera innards.

Since I left college, I’ve carried on with some of those techniques as best I could. While I was still using film, I used to use Ilford’s SFX emulsion. It had an extended red sensitivity that, with the right filters, could give some infrared effects. It took some handling though (you couldn’t load it in daylight) and gave grainy results. It was great! I got back into macro photography a couple of years ago, and I bought an infrared enabled Fuji S3 just over a year ago. I’ve used it a lot since, experimenting with the effect and finding the best combination of lens, exposure and subjects. I love the effect and have posted some results here int he past.

Last week, after some weeks of trying, I realised that no one wanted to buy my old D300 body. So after some research, I contacted Protech in Uckfield who quoted me a good price to convert the D300 for infrared photography. The company was great. I had a conversation with Jo, who gave me some advice about what lenses could and couldn’t be used. I sent the cameraq off at midday on Thursday and around 11am on Saturday it was back with me. A combination of a fast turnaround at Protech and great service from Royal Mail made that possible. Thank you both.

So for the rest of the weekend, apart from last night’s gig, I’ve been playing with the D300. There are a couple of immediate differences between it and the S3. The main one is that the infrared filter is different. GEEK ALERT – Do not read further unless you can handle nanometres without any side effects.

The filter on the S3 blocks light with wavelengths shorter than around 665 nanometres, that is, light in the visible part of the spectrum. In practical terms, (because filters aren’t perfect) this means that some visible light is recorded and the recorded image before processing appears a deep red colour. The filter in the D300 blocks light from about 720 nanometres, which means much less visible light is recorded. The recorded image takes on a more purple hue. The D300 allows for a custom white balance to be applied, which means that the review image on screen is very close to the black and white final image I would be looking to get. The D300 is a more advanced camera, it has better resolution and low light capability and is a more robust camera. The metering and focussing is better, too.

GEEK ALERT OVER. It is safe to continue reading.

So I’ve been trying lenses and subjects and all sorts of combinations to make sure it’s all working well. And it is! Bearing in mind that it’s been raining non-stop for the last two days, I think I’ve got some interesting shots. I’m certainly happy with the camera’s performance. The only think I haven’t been able to test properly is a sunlight landscape. Below are a few of the test shots. They’re not meant to be works of art.

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