Image of the month - August 2022

A couple of months ago I was lucky enough to finally get on my Covid postponed safari to Zambia and wow, was it worth the wait!  We arrived just after the annual rains, so the landscape was green and lush with plenty of ponds and lakes teaming with life.  During the 17 days I took 19,500 frames which I eventually culled down to 12,500 and this month has been spent processing about 500 of the images.  I was blown away by the sheer variety and diversity of the wildlife we came across making every day special and exciting as we just couldn’t predict what we would see next.

I thought I would group the images by species and start this month with the elephants, in particular this image which I called ‘A helping trunk’.  

These two elephants had just crossed the Luangwa River and were attempting to climb a rather high bank, the first elephant had struggled a little, kneeling on the bank and using his trunk to push himself up.  The second elephant wasn’t as big and struggled even more, so it was lovely to see the first elephant extend his trunk and help the other elephant up.  I must admit that elephants aren’t the species I instantly think of wanting to photograph but honestly they have such a range of behaviour and emotional responses I have never been disappointed.

Check out my other elephant pictures in the gallery African Adventures…I’ve tried to capture images of behaviour
Hopefully the other images in the sequence conveys the personality and beauty of these majestic creatures in my gallery African Adventures…

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Image of the month - July 2022

Well, here we are in July and I’m still only about a third of the way through editing my Zambian adventure, so when I got the opportunity to go and photograph some American Football at the East Essex Sabres I jumped at the chance.

Now the secret to getting some good sports images is to know and understand the rules of the game which means you at least have a chance of pointing the camera in the right direction at the right time… the rest is up to the photographic gods and a fast shutter speed!  Luckily I know the basics of what to many can appear a confusing and odd game with so many stops and starts and being a bright sunny day, the main problem was trying to get a shallow enough depth of field to pick out the action from the surrounding chaos.

One of the other difficulties faced when shooting most kinds of sports whether amateur or professional is the distracting backgrounds of people, advertising or just the odd blue wheelie bin!  So finding a position where you can capture the action and have a good background normally determines where I’m going to shoot from, oh and it helps if the sun isn’t in your face!

I also find back button focus works well, especially when you are trying to follow the ball and other players run across in front trying to drag your focus away I simply just release the focus button and keep following the action, re-engaging the focus when the view is clear again.

I chose this image as I liked the hands all going for the ball creating that moment of anticipation which is always good in sports photography.  You can see more images from the day in my gallery London 2012 and beyond…

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Image of the month - June 2022

Since the last blog in May it’s been a busy month for travel and photography…finally getting to Zambia for a 16 day safari.  The problem this month is that I haven’t had time to organise, let alone process the images I’ve taken so here is a quick taster.

It was the first time I had spent more than 8 days in a single place, and I did have concerns that the end of the trip would just be ‘more of the same’ but I needn’t have worried.  Zambia is so diverse in term of the range of flora and fauna there is always something new and of interest to photograph.

We arrived just after the rains and even during the short time of a week it was fascinating to see how the ponds were drying up and the habitats were changing and evolving along with the wildlife.  The first week the Red-Billed Quelea were present in their thousands and by the second week they were in much smaller and more difficult to find groups.  Birds were also a bit harder to find in week 2, although still a good variety when you did see them.

The chance to have time to capture and explore different ways of portraying the wildlife was really liberating, especially when there might be a week or more between sighting specific species the pressure to make every opportunity count was more relaxed and I was able to learn from previous attempts and refine the way I shoot.

The downside of this is the physical and mental toll of crammed days with little or no time to relax.  Mornings started at 4:45am and by 5:15am we were heading to the park ready to enter as soon as the gates opened.  Often we had a plan of where we would headfirst in terms of the best light and the previous days sightings.  Roads varied from bumpy to ’hang on and try to stay in your seat whilst hanging onto your camera bumpy’.  Sometimes driving through thick vegetation mean you had to duck round branches or be ready to fend off a branch that whiplashed back into your face, so you were always alert!  Breakfast at 9ish when most of the good light has gone and then a more sedate drive back to the lodge arriving just before brunch at 11:30am.

The main lodge was the only area with internet so most of us spent a bit of time after brunch catching up with internetty stuff before going back to our chalets to charge batteries and get organised for the afternoon.

2:30pm cake and tea before heading off for the afternoon session, this was the hardest part of the day because the sun was unforgiving until about 4pm but we needed to use this time to get to areas of the parks before sunset, you probably only have a 20-minute window of good light before the sun drops below the horizon.  As darkness fell we spotlighted our way back to the lodge just in time to drop cameras and bags ready for dinner at 7pm.  Then shower, bed, and repeat!  (Bedtime also includes sharing your room with lizards, spiders, and a range of flying things, however you have a mosquito net to keep them at bay!  Hippo’s eating and splashing around 20m from my room also tended to keep me awake).
If you want to see loads of lions and the big 5 then Zambia isn’t the place, but for leopards and diversity of wildlife it wins hands down!  Also, the chance to share the experience with a group of like-minded people really makes it a holiday to remember.

Luckily the pre-trip playing around trying to capture birds in flight paid off as shown by this Image of the Month with a White Fronted Bee Eater taking flight.  More images will be added to my Travelling Far & Wide gallery in the months to come!

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Image of the month - May 2022

Birds in flight can be challenging at the best of times.  Large birds are good to start practicing on as they fly in a fairly consistent way, even your average pigeon can surprise you with it’s turn of speed when you are trying to capture it flight.  Kestrels are easier to photograph in flight as the hover over their prey before striking and most bird of prey poop before taking off which gives you a clue about when to press the shutter button.

Small birds on the other hand are just so quick, I can’t count how many times I’ve got a perfect picture of the branch or post they took off from and no bird in shot!  Sometimes they flap their wings and then stay perched, only to disappear in an instant with little or no warning.  Once I was photographing a Chaffinch on the bird feeder and blinked only to see it had been replaced by a sparrow…magic!

Sometimes you just have to put down the camera and just watch, learning the little tell tail signs that they are ready to make a move, at least with digital if you miss, its just another frame to delete, so often its best to press the shutter and hope because you never know what you will capture.
I always go for a fast shutter speed, at least 1/2000 of a second and if I can get higher I will, depending on the light.  Aperture is normally wide open at f4.5 or more commonly f5.6 and gone are the days when I worried about pushing the ISO, on a good day it’s normally set at 1600 but noise reduction software is so good now I would rather risk the noise compared to a blurry shot with low shutter speed.

Like most wildlife and nature photography there is always that element of luck..but then practice can also increase your ‘lucky’ shots so give it a try and don’t be disappointed with an empty frame they will get less with practice!

Check out the other birds in flight in the gallery Flora & Fauna...

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Image of the month - April 2022

I really do find landscape photography the hardest to do….why?

Possibly because there are so many factors out of the photographer’s control, the main one being the weather!  You can be in the most scenic location and if the weather doesn’t fit the mood then however much post processing you do it isn’t going to make it a ‘wow’ image.  That’s why getting good landscapes when on your travels is a rarity rather than the norm, so the answer is to find your own landscape close to home and visit it often during the year when the weather and light changes in such a way that the ‘wow’ image is possible.

Sadly, I’ve yet to heed my own advice so here is one I’ve had to ‘enhance’ with a bit of Photoshop help! : )

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Image of the month - March 2022

Sometimes it’s easy to overlook what is right in front of us or close to home.  A local nature reserve only a few miles away from where I live is a place I keep meaning to go, but because its off my normal track I keep forgetting to visit.  That all changed last week when I made a conscious effort to go, only to be thwarted by a roadworks closure when almost within touching distance.  Not to be deterred I tried the longer route which surely must be open…..but no, also closed!  Really?!

The main reason for trying to visit was I had heard that the feeders often attract Long Tailed Tits which are really lovely looking birds which although can be quite common I’d never seen them.  So a couple of days later the road had reopened and I finally I could go and explore…sure enough I was greeted by a Long Tailed Tit and a Blue Tit already on the feeder, yay!

Now I know where it is it will be a bike ride next time and hopefully avoid any road closures! You can see more imagess from the day in the gallery Beside the seaside...

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Image of the month - February 2022

I’ve done quite a few print panels of six with various layouts but not many triptychs , (which is a panel of three images), I done even fewer triptychs as PDI’s or Projected Digital Images.  All the same rules apply, the main one being three similar images on a theme which are similar enough to work together but not actually the same!  Yes I know it seems contradictory, but it is actually a careful balance of images that on their own may not appear stunning but just work well together as a panel.

PDI offers am added complication that the three images must fit together on a screen without overlapping so can end up quite small, hence the need for an image with a clear focal point which is easily identifiable rather than something more subtle.  Generally, tones or colours should be similar, but in my panel called ‘Time Travellers’ I have chosen to go for bold complementary colours as the strong theme is easily identified.

The other beauty of triptychs is that they can be on a variety of subjects, literally the only limit is your imagination!  You can see more triptych ideas in my gallery, many of which I originally produced as postcards.


Image of the month - January 2022

So here we all are at the start of another year and on reflection not only have I really missed foreign travel but also photographing the wonderful action sport of canoe slalom.  The last visit to Lee Valley was prior to Covid in 2019 which seems an absolute age away, hopefully things will continue to progress this year and maybe I’ll be able to photograph more than birds and people?

You can see more images of canoe slalom in my gallery Wonderful White Water...

Happy & healthy New Year everyone xx

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Image of the month - December 2021

What a crazy year this has been!  Photographically it’s been my best year in terms of competitions but the worst in getting out to take pictures, literally a year of extremes.
The year started with two of my images getting selected to represent Great Britain as part of a ‘Creative Portraiture’ Panel of twenty images submitted to the International Federation of Photographic Art or FIAP by the PAGB.  In the end we came 22nd of 42 countries, ironically we were probably a bit too creative as the winning panel only had a few of what I would call ‘creative portraits’ but that is the nature of photography, very subjective meaning it can be equally exciting, unexpected and frustrating all at the same time!

I also achieved my BPE4* this year as well as getting an image selected for the ‘Masters of Print’ competition.  Hopefully next year we will be able to get back to travelling, although as I write this my planned trips to Zambia and South Africa are doubtful again due to the new Covid variant causing them to be put back onto the red list again, so who knows what 2022 has in store for us?

So, my final image of the year was taken this summer at Guys Cliff with Katelyn dressed as Sansa Stark from the Game of Thrones with her dire wolf Lady, (actually Kami from  Honiahaka Inuits and wolfdogs).  I liked the way the wind caught the fabric of her dress and shawl so gave it a wintery feeling by adding snow and changing the colour temperature to a colder blue which really made her hair colour stand out.

You can see a few more images from the day and some of the other creative portraits in my gallery Just People…

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Image of the month - November 2021

Up to 2017 I was very much an ‘accidental wildlife photographer’ which meant if something flew or sat within the vicinity of my lens reach it got photographed!  However, I didn’t go actively looking for wildlife to photograph and to be honest I really had no idea of what made a good wildlife image in terms of light or composition I just applied the rules I already knew.  I had tried taking pictures of birds in the back garden with limited success and it wasn’t until 2018 when I visited South Africa for the first time that the spectacular variety and colourful birds truly captivated me.  Now don’t get me wrong, the larger wildlife is equally spectacular but, photographically I find the challenge of trying to capture a good image of a bird very satisfying.

Whilst the initial love of bird photography started from the exotic and colourful birds seen on my travels, lockdown has given me a whole new appreciation for the birds that can be seen just within a walking distance of home, not just the residents but the wonderful variety of visitors that arrive during the year.  The other advantage of taking images locally is that they are always accessible and that means I can build up a real knowledge of the area at different times of the year.

My first encounter with a Whitethroat started in April thanks to the park ranger that spotted the new visitor from sub-Saharan Africa flitting around between the brambles, too far to get a shot but hearing it’s call it gave me a clue of what to look out for in the future.  My second encounter was a few weeks later and more by accident than design when I realised there was a Whitethroat right in front of me, getting a couple of shots before he flew off!  A month passed with no luck, only a distant sighting at the top of a tree.  Another month and this time in more open ground between the brambles I could hear the Whitethroat calling.  After a while watching quietly I began to see a pattern to his movements with a few choice perches between flights I waited until he flew off before moving closer and waited for him to return to get a shot, eventually capturing him in full song with a lovely, diffused background.

So it was with great pleasure to hear that this image was accepted into the very prestigious PAGB Masters of Print Exhibition, which just shows you don’t need to travel far to get cracking images, you do however need patience, perseverance and maybe a bit of luck!

You can see more images of the Whitethroat in my gallery Flora & Fauna...

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Image of the month - October 2021

Its that time of year again where my thoughts turn to the Panel of 6 competition.  Unusually the panel had been completed a year earlier, but due to Covid the competition, like most other things had been cancelled.  However, I hadn’t written the statement of intent mainly because I always find it difficult. I’m not a natural wordsmith and translating what I imagine or see visually into words is a bit like wading through treacle with the added difficulty that the statement must be 50 words or less!

Normally when I choose a theme for the panel it’s because I have a lot of images to select from allowing for a good fit between different images to make up the 7th element of the panel as a whole.  However, this idea come to me while I was participating in a monochrome print competition where I had a high key image of a dancer and a low-key image of a bodybuilder, suddenly the phrase ‘Power & Grace’ popped into my head.  How could I combine the two very different genres to create a successful panel?  The images pretty much chose themselves; the difficulty was in how to display them as a panel, first the dance images at the top with the bodybuilder below just made it look like  two panels of three not one panel.  However, mixing the top and bottoms made the panel more coherent, and I eventually came up with the final hanging plan below.

Finally, the statement involved googling key words like ‘power’, ‘grace’, ‘dance’, ‘bodybuilding’ etc. and pasting the meanings or descriptions into word where I can pick and mix the phrases until I can make a sensible statement.  The limit of 50 words really concentrates your brain into which words or combinations really say what you want without waffle!  I eventually came up with this:

“Using high and low key lighting this panel explores the juxtaposition of the size, symmetry, and muscularity of bodybuilding contrasting the grace and elegance of dance.  Bodybuilders focus on muscle definition instead of strength, whilst dancers veil their strength making it visible in the form of elegant movement, poise, or balance.”

It will probably change again slightly before the competition but for now it is close enough!

You can see the individual images in more detail in the Print Panel Gallery

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Image of the month - September 2021

Another month and I’m still on my composite journey, this time with an Egyptian styled shoot.  Normally I might struggle for backgrounds, but I’ve visited Egypt several times and have hundreds of images originally taken on slide film which I digitally converted a few years ago.  Even so it was still surprisingly difficult to find images that worked in terms of lighting and perspective.  As I mentioned in earlier blogs, often making a composite believable relies on creating a 3D image from numerous 2D images.  I had an idea of Katelyn emerging from between two columns that were originally taken from the temple of Karnak Hypostyle Hall.  However, the first attempt looked very false and not believable at all!

So, I just left the image….with all its faults and eventually came back to it about a month later to experiment with creating some blur to help give a feeling of depth, also subtle shadows help to make things seem more 3D, but still not quite working?  Looking at another image taken at Abydos it captured a shaft of light streaming through a hole in the roof and I knew what was missing.  Using a brush to create the light beam and playing around with the colour of light and opacity until it worked with the image, not only did it add another dimension but also a storyline.  Was the character making an offering, if so what could it be? 

I finally decided on an Ankh, the symbol of life which is very Egyptian, and I had one to hand I could photograph and use.  It was originally placed in her hand but didn’t look right, so I created a glow around the object and moved it slightly up as if it was hovering.  The finishing touch was adding a warm layer of light to tie everything together and a subtle vignette to draw the eye to the focal point Katelyn.

Composites are not an easy skill to learn and can be very daunting, but like most things they start with a single step or idea which grows over time, each failure is a lesson learned and another step forward to making a successful image….don’t give up just put it aside until inspiration or ideas come again!

You can see some of the other composites I created from that day's session in the gallery Playing in Photoshop...

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Image of the month - August 2021

In the days of film, often the image was fixed at the click of the shutter button, although quite a bit of manipulation could still be done later in the darkroom. However, this pales into insignificance when compared with what is possible in the digital world, it maybe simple to do, but the trick is making the final image believable by matching light and tones.

Having been devoid of the chance to travel over the last 18 months I am seriously missing my African wildlife, so the only alternative is a visit to Colchester Zoo and take my chances photographing through either windows or fences. One advantage of the zoo is that you can often get quite close and placing the lens up against the window or providing the animal is away from the fence it makes little difference to the quality of the image captured, however the background can be a problem.

The image below was taken through a fence looking up to Bailey the lion who was sat on a wooden platform, I closely cropped into a headshot as the paws were partially obscured by the platform but there was nothing I could do about the background which was clearly not Africa! I had an idea of composite image, but first Bailey had to be extracted from his background, not an easy task as the colours were so like the mane that it took many attempts to get the right bits selected.

Finding a new background wasn’t that easy either, looking through my African landscapes they didn’t look African enough! So, the background was made up from a sand/grass beach from Southwold toned to turn the yellow sand to brown earth and the sky from my back garden, also toned to match the ground. The trees were from Africa and the birds were a brush! Finally, Bailey was added, and everything toned again to make it a coherent image. Simples!

I gave it the title ‘The Nomad’ as it created a storyline to complement the image and it is pleasing to know that an image that would have otherwise be consigned to the bin because of the poor background can now be seen and enjoyed.

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Image of the month - July 2021

I sort of fell into BPE awards by accident when I was thinking about images for my Distinction PAGB selection.  It’s okay to win competitions at your club, but that only shows how good your images are within your club and not at a national level.  British Photographic Exhibitions or BPE allows you to do just that, by entering competitions organised by a variety of clubs and trying to gain acceptances to an exhibition.  Images are normally PDI’s which make online entry easy, and they are split into categories like colour, monochrome, scapes, nature, creative etc.  Each image is scored out of 5 points by three judges and the acceptance mark is usually 12+ points.  To gain a 1 crown award you need 25 acceptances, it can be the same image in different exhibitions and there isn’t a time limit.
It can become quite addictive as when you get 1 Crown the next target is 50 acceptances, then 100, after that it gets more difficult as the jump is in 100’s.  I’ve just reached the penultimate level of 4 Crowns which is 200 acceptances.  My next target is 300….but I might give it a break….or might not!

The main reason I enjoy it is because it allows me to ‘test’ out my images with a variety of judges and see what works, especially when trying something new and different.  It took 50 images to gain the 200 acceptances, although in total I had entered 135 different images, giving each one 2 or 3 goes before dropping them for something else.  As I’ve said many times ‘photography is subjective’ and although I like an image and think it’s good, others may not like it however many times it goes in.  For example, ‘Last Lap’ had done really well for me as a print at club and local level, however at BPE it only ever got 2 acceptances even though I put it into 14 different exhibitions!  I’ve now learnt to move on quicker and try something else.

One thing is certain is that in competitive photography there is no certainties, an image can bomb out in one exhibition and get a Gold medal in the next, you never know…..but that’s what makes it interesting!!!

The 50 images that gained the acceptances can be seen below and if you would like more details about how I got my BPE4*, check out the gallery Distinctions & Awards

Image of the month - June 2021

Sanderlings are a small wading bird that we see quite a lot round here, particularly at high tide when they are roosting.  As the tide recedes they then come to life scampering in and out of the waves looking for marine crustaceans, fish and even jelly fish to eat.  They visit the UK in winter from its Artic breeding grounds but can also be seen as it passes through on migration during spring and autumn.  The distance they travel varies but individuals have been known to make 32,000 km annual round trip to their breeding and wintering grounds.

As a winter visitor they have a very pale grey and white plumage but at this time of year they develop their summer or breeding plumage which is a speckled brown/orange.  I was lucky enough to come across a big flack of 3 to 400 on a daily wander turning a quick half an hour walk into a three-hour photo session.  Being small birds, they are incredibly quick and can take off in a blink of an eye.  The footfalls of a jogger on the gravel path spooked them into a mass take off which I was captivated watching as they formed shapes in the sky…. I then dawned on me that it should be something I should be trying to capture with the camera! Doh!  The result was this abstract image, I can defiantly say there is at least one in focus bird there :)

If you would like to see what a Sanderling looks like in more detail, check out the Beside the seaside gallery.

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Image of the month - May 2021

Photographically I like to think of myself as a ‘Jack of all trades and master of some!”  I need the variety in photographic genres to keep my creative juices running and motivated to push my work further, so quite frankly I have been struggling during this year.  The chance to shoot something different last month made me think about what else I can photograph that I haven’t done for a while, so I decided to set up the water drop kit and try to improve on previous results.

The setup is quite easy, one flash lighting the drop at 1/128th power meant the duration of the flash was short enough to freeze the droplet and a second flash set at 1/64th power to light the background.  Using a macro lens meant I could get close to the droplet and almost fill the frame, shooting at almost water level allowed the background to reflect in the water creating a seamless canvas of colour.  The only thing left was to create the collisions of the two droplets and take the picture at the right millisecond of collision…easy! (NOT!)

There is such a fine line between capturing the shot and totally missing it that you end up taking hundreds of ‘nearly’ images…thank goodness for digital!  One afternoon I tried for ages to capture a collision with limited success, the following day I didn’t change any settings and with the first shot I got this image below.  Hence it can become quite addictive with the thought of ‘just one more…’ and before you know it, another hour has gone!

Competition winners?  Probably not, but then photography is as much about enjoying the process of creating images and exploring new things.  Check out the gallery Working with Flash…. To see some more of the images created by water drops.

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Image of the month - April 2021

A year into lockdown and although I’ve enjoyed capturing images of birds over the last few weeks/months it was good to have a different topic for a change.  March brought some strong winds along with sunny skies which meant the windsurfers were out braving the cold water and I was able to get some shots.

One of the difficulties of this location is that you are always shooting into the sun which means lots of contrast, bright whites and dark blacks.  So, controlling the exposure to not burn out the white and still get some detail in the black is always a balancing act of using the exposure compensation dial and continually checking the results as I shoot. 

Using the ‘blinkies’ or highlight alert is a quick way of seeing overexposed areas of the image and is always worth turning it on if your camera gives you the option.  Also, get to know how to read the histogram as this also helps to show you the exposure detail of the image.  If it is touching the left most side it means you have areas of black with no detail and if it touches the right it shows burnt out highlights.

After the windsurfers got worn out a few gulls obliged with a fly past, hardly moving against the wind and almost supersonic with the wind!  Nice to be able to capture a gull with a mix of blue sky and white clouds in the frame.  All good fun until a big squally shower blew in and rain stopped play!

You can find the rest of the images in the gallery Beside the Seaside…

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Image of the month - March 2021

What a difference a week makes, a flip from freezing winter temperatures to spring weather in a matter of days. This is the time of year when Male Coots start fighting for the right to mate with the female, so I headed off down to a local park where there are quite a few coots hoping to capture the action. Coots are quite difficult to photograph as they are basically black with a white blob and white beak and a dark red eye. Trying to get detail in the black without blowing out the highlights in the white and capturing detail in the red eye is a real juggling act of exposure, how can such a simple colour scheme be so challenging? However, the coots were very unhelpful and were more interested in chilling, eating, and hanging out with their Moorhen friends!

So, change of plan….what else is around? Seawall, high tide….no turnstones or sanderlings, hmmm.

Looking around I noticed a lot of Juvenile Gulls on the lake, possible Herring gulls? What caught my eye was the way they were making little dives under the water and coming up with what looked like cockle shells and then they would fly off. The markings on the wings were amazing and seemed a shame they would lose them to become plain white. One gull managed to pick up a large stone which seemed to confuse him as he dropped it and then picked it up, only for it to slip from his beak at which point he gave up and flew off!

Perhaps I’ll get the coots another day? Check out the gallery Beside the Seaside… for more shots from the day,

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Image of the month - February 2021

In photographic terms January has been a lean month of opportunities, not just because of lockdown but simply the weather has been awful!  I spent the morning taking part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch and at least the sun was out for most of the hour, so I tried to capture some of the visitors.

This gave me an idea for this month’s image collection to show my usual suspects, the birds I see most often on my local walks and in the garden.  The morning always starts off with a visit by a couple of Magpies who come out to collect up any cat food that has been left over by Ziggy.  Sometimes a couple of crows also join in!  Of course, there are always pigeons around along with some collared doves  Recently Great Tits and Blue Tits have been much more frequent visitors to the garden and always announce themselves with their distinctive song.  A robin with a nearby nest can also be heard singing on the fence.

Out and about, swans, ducks, coots and moorhens are always around on a local pond and if the tide is right Sanderlings and Turnstones can be seen darting in and out of the surf line.  Sometimes we forget the ‘everyday’ sightings for the rare or the exotic so it makes a change to celebrate the ‘ordinary’.

See some more of the 'usual suspects' in the galley 'Beside the Seaside...'

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Image of the month - January 2021

Normally I have a clear idea about what will be my topic for the Image of the Month but writing this at the end of a very strange year nothing really came to mind.  Looking back over the year with the many cancelled trips and events, I have found it hard to stay motivated and creative with my photography.  For me variety is the spice of life and I very much miss the adventure of travel combined with the love of home when I get back, plus the thrill of looking forward to new adventures to come.  Hopefully, 2021 will be an improvement on 2020 and we can all get back to some sort of normality?

In the meantime, it has been a chance to improve and explore some new techniques in Photoshop, one of which was converting images to watercolour paintings.  I used a variety of images from my African Safaris, some of which worked really well and possibly some not so much!

The Yellow Hornbill turned out to be my favourite.  You can see the rest of the images in my gallery Playing in Photoshop... Which one do you prefer?

Happy and healthy New Year everyone xx


Image of the month - December 2020

The camera club had a competition recently with the theme of ‘Obviously Photoshopped!’ so I wanted to use the opportunity to try something new and see what I could create.  Sometimes inspiration for images can be from several ideas that gradually formulate over time.  I had seen a YouTube video that had created a galaxy purely from using photoshop effects and brushes and I was keen to try it to see what I could create.  It’s really amazing the number of effects you can achieve within Photoshop and there are lots of people willing to show you how….just google it.  It took me a while to achieve what I wanted, painting even digitally is not my strong point which is why I took up photography!

Next I needed to photograph my little Lego spaceman, unfortunately the visor was opaque, and it didn’t really work as I wanted to see his face.  So, after a bit of searching I found a clear visor that fitted and a head that looked scared rather than just the bland face of the original figure.  I photo stacked the figure in a number of positions as I wasn’t sure where to place him within the frame and eventually decided on a large size in the bottom right as if he was floating away from the planet.  However, he still looked stuck on rather than part of the scene, so I re-photographed him again, but this time shone a small LED light to create highlights and shadows across the figure which seemed to work.

Almost there…but I still felt it was missing something?  Compositionally, the number of elements in an image normally work better with odd numbers and I had only the planet and the figure….so how about an alien!  Alien found, photographed (with lighting), masked and added to the scene (again lots of playing around with different placements before I was happy). I titled it 'In space nobody can hear you scream!'

Well it didn’t win but I had great fun creating the image so it was worthwhile, I can’t wait to be able to get out and travel again and just take pictures without the faff! 

Roll on 2021 everyone!


Image of the month - November 2020

Sometimes you can’t always get what you want, particularly when nature is involved!  I had been given a really imaginative theme of ‘Autumn’ for an image but didn’t really want to do the trees and leaves thing, also I had already done some fungi from last year so was trying to think of something a bit different.  While sitting in the study looking out the front window I noticed the birds jumping around the branches of the tree in the front garden collecting the nice big red berries and I thought that would be an interesting shot to try to get.  Thoughts of bird, red berries and nice autumn coloured leaves came to mind.

So, putting the plan into action, started with opening the study window and shooting through, but being a south facing house there was only a limited time before the sun made shooting impossible.  Stage two, moving upstairs and shooting through the bedroom window gave me up to about 11am if the sun was out, now it was just a case of waiting and waiting……and waiting.  The birds seem to come in flurries with big gaps of time in-between and always on the wrong side of the tree, so I was continually trying to shoot through leaves and getting a clear shot was so difficult.  I tried different times of the morning from first light until 11ish with no clear pattern of behaviour when they would choose to visit.

Five days in I had seen lots of birds, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Blackbirds, Starlings, Sparrows and even a group of Goldfinches which I rarely see here, but no clear shot so I ended up taking pictures of the leaves and berries as the sunlight filtered through.  By now the leaves were getting pretty raggedy and with strong winds forecast, time was really running out.  A grey wet start to the day meant I decided to have a wander out as the ‘bird in tree with leaves’ prospect was looking pretty bleak.  Still overcast when I returned but the bird activity was crazy with a big group of starlings moving from tree to tree with a number of other birds joining in.  A fleeting break in the clouds and a cooperative blackbird finally gave me a glimpse of the shot I had planned. 

So, after six days I had eventually got something, not brilliant but better than nothing and another project to try to improve on next year perhaps? You can check out my other 5 images from the epic six day shoot in my Flora & Fauna gallery.

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Image of the month - October 2020

In the days of film, when you pressed the shutter button you generally had a good idea of what kind of image you had just created, but now with the advent of sophisticated editing tools such as Photoshop often this is just the start!

In the August Image of the Month I talked about an image created pretty much straight out of camera using available light however with the amazing backdrop of Guys Cliffe ruins and Tegan Elizabeth dressed as Daenerys Targaryen Mother of Dragons, I had wonderful visions of dragons and fire!  However, when I got home reality set in and I pondered the question….”where do you get a dragon from?”  I could use a stock image, something created by somebody else and blend it in with my own making a composite image, except, if I did that I wouldn’t be able to use it in competitions because it wouldn’t be all my own work. So where could I get a dragon?  Amazon of course!

A few days later my articulated dragon model turned up, (they never quite look as good as the picture), so how to turn this not very lifelike model into something that could pass as a real living beast was the next problem.  Using a white backdrop, the dragon was then photographed with image stacking to get a good depth of field and cut out from the background.  Next photoshop to hide all the obvious unrealistic joints, add a real eye from a real crocodile I’d photographed in Africa and finally some teeth carefully painted in!  Add a texture and adjust the colour and voilà a dragon is born!

Now time to add the dragon into the original image, I wanted the dragon at the top of the building but the building was too high so I needed to crop it down, luckily the symmetry helped and I could remove the centre  section without too much hassle, I added a more smoky sky and the finally the dragon.  Smoke brushes were used to paint in the smoke and flames from a fire-eater were added to the dragon.  I wanted to add more flames into the building and found that photoshop has a built-in flame render option so after some more playing I had created enough flames for the building.

So, after too many hours to count and about 20 separate images this is what I ended up with!

If you want to see the before and after versions together along with another example then check out the gallery ‘Playing in Photoshop’…

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Image of the month - September 2020

If you have read any of my posts or know anything about me you will certainly know I am a ‘cat’ person.  Not that I don’t like dogs, I just don’t have much experience with them, so to get an invite to join some other photographers to shoot a calendar was an exciting opportunity especially as they were Wolfalikes, (the dogs not the photographers!)

A Wolfalike is a dog which is intentionally created to be as close to the wolf in appearance and characteristics as possible, while retaining mostly dog-like behaviours but no or negligible actual wolf content. It can be large and athletic sometimes similar in height and weight to the German Shepherd, others tower above the German Shepherd and take on the Timberwolf stance. They have a wolf-like appearance with a dense coat in the winter and a sleeker coat in the summer. The most popular breeds used in the foundation of the Wolfalike breed are the Siberian Husky, the Alaskan Malamute and the German Shepherd; traces of other breeds such as the Samoyed and Norwegian Elkhound and Collie have also been found in the genetic makeup of some Wolfalike dogs.

Initially because of their size and power they can be intimidating to work with, until you get to know them and then you become aware that they are most loyal loveable softies you can ever imagine!  We worked with Lissy, (a four-year-old female) and Mak, (eight-month male puppy) in a range of different settings and they were utterly amazing.  The owners were so patient in working with their dogs and helping to get the shots, it was truly a team effort!

Thanks also to Tracey at Team Honiahaka who organised the day and if you are interested in finding out more about the Wolfalikes you can visit their website at

More images from the day can be seen in the Gallery 'Beside the Seaside...'

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Image of the month - August 2020

Last weekend was my first opportunity to dust off the camera and do some socially distanced themed portrait photography at the amazing Guys Cliffe in Warwickshire.  The theme for the day was ‘Game of Thrones’ which suited the location perfectly!  Although it was a natural light shoot, some people had brought their own lights and I must admit I thought about doing the same.  In the end I decided against it, as I didn’t want to be encumbered lugging it around and wanted the freedom to be creative.  

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been getting more into wildlife photography and it has taught me to be appreciative of the natural light and how to use it with the subject to create images.  One technique is using a patch of sunlight to frame the subject and exposing for that brightness throws the surrounding area into darkness creating a natural vignette.  This means using exposure compensation to underexpose by 1 or even 2 stops to get the effect right.  With wildlife it is so difficult to do as you have no control over their behaviour and asking a tiger to step a little to the left or right is not an option, but, with a model it is!

The foliage at the top of a wall was creating some lovely patchy light as the sun shone through it creating a perfect location for Tony, dressed appropriately as a Maester posed perfectly for the shot.  I later tried the same thing with Ben, dressed as Jon Snow, using the light beneath the leaves of a tree as the wind blew them around.  This was a bit more tricky as the light was always moving and changing, but with a bit of persistence and quite a few frames later I got the shot I wanted.  One advantage of this kind of setup is that it is all done in camera, so extraordinarily little processing is required, I just need to decide Mono or Colour?

The other thing about these or any other kind of shoots is thinking in advance and creating opportunities for a little bit of Photoshop later.  Although the building in the daylight offered limited opportunities, I did like the hanging light and thought it would look good lit as a night scene with the mysterious Maester lurking in the background.  If you would like to see if I achieved my vision, then check out my gallery Just People…

I shot over 2,500 images on the day including some of the other characters such as Daenerys Targaryen, however I haven’t been able to process them yet as I’m waiting for Amazon to deliver my dragon!!

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Image of the month - July 2020

In January I was lucky enough to revisit Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve in Central India, any other time during this year it would probably been cancelled or at least postponed?  January was a very different experience to the previous November trip, the dust was gone and the temperature in the morning was cold enough to create ice on the grass, even by 11am we were still layered up as the wind chill in an open top jeep speeding around the forest was bone chilling!

Sightings of wild tigers is never easy, especially at this time of year as the lush, thick forest can hide a big cat who is sitting even a few meters away.  The opportunities were good though, Solo had got young cubs and was frequently seen on the prowl getting food and patrolling her territory.  Also, Xena or ‘Dotty’ as the rangers had nicknamed her, has just turfed out her two year old cubs.  Now I know some of you reading will be thinking, aww poor cubs but, these ‘cubs’ aren’t cuddly little fur balls they are almost fully grown male tigers.  Imagine them more like three teenage boys away from home for the first time, every now and again mum turns up with food and keeps an eye on them as they find their way in the forest and start to think about establishing their own territory.

We nicknamed these three cubs ‘The Dotty Boys.’  It was known that one of the cubs was a bit more shy compared to his two siblings and we had two previous sightings of him alongside the track, but we had still not seen his brothers.  Finally, on the last day, after two days of seeing nothing we happened upon one of the brothers soon after entering the park.  It never ceases to amaze me how stealthy and quickly tigers move through the forest, often as soon as you lose sight of them you must speed ahead down the track hoping that they emerge close by.  In this sighting we were lucky as the tiger came out and crossed behind the jeep to continue his journey.  Another quick reposition of the jeep a couple of hundred yards further down to catch up with him again and suddenly I realise there are two tigers, we’ve found the other Dotty Boys!

It’s a huge privilege to be able to watch these apex predators interact and play fight, although the swipes with the huge paws are real the claws are retracted so no harm is done.  Up to know I have only seen a wild tiger stroll through the landscape, so now to see them run and chase was awesome!  Happy to be reunited they moved to a nearby water pool, which unfortunately was concrete with a white painted border, apparently they prefer this one as its shallow so they can lie down in it!  A quick drink, bathe, and another chase before they disappeared off into the thick jungle.

So, after a wet drive back from the morning session we returned hopeful in the afternoon that we may get another sighting, but after numerous alarm calls by the monkeys and spotted deer…nothing!  We started to head back out of the park and as we came to a T junction in the track there was the third shy brother walking alongside the road, so close!  The light was almost gone but he was happy to lead us down the track while we followed at a respectful distance.  Every time we thought he would disappear into the jungle he came back to the track and just continued to meander his way along until eventually disappearing into the bamboo. Wow, what a day!

You can see more of the Dotty Boys in the gallery Travelling far & wide, but the picture I chose for the Image of the Month is the one of the brothers chasing across the track to the water pool.  Although the weather was drizzly and dull, making capturing fast moving tigers difficult I love the way the muted light has created the beautiful tones of the forest and the kick of dust from the tigers paw as he raced across the track after his brother was the icing on the cake!

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Image of the month - June 2020

Eleven weeks into lockdown and this week I’ve managed to achieve my ambition of becoming a Licentiate (LRPS) of the Royal Photographic Society!

I’ve been meaning to attempt this qualification for the last couple of years but never seemed to find the time.  On the eve of lock down I was determined to start the journey, although I wasn’t sure with the new restrictions how soon it would be able to happen.  Most people submit their entry in the form of ten prints arranged as a panel, and this was originally the medium I thought I would use.  However realistically with the current situation I couldn’t see assessments taking place until later in the year, but on further investigation I found another format called Images For Screen (IFS) which involved submitting digital images instead of prints making an early assessment possible before the restrictions are lifted?

There were just a couple of problems with the IFS format, firstly hardly any people had done it so trying to find advice about image selection or presentation was almost non existent and secondly the pass rate was incredibly low at 25%!  My mind was made up when an email from the RPS arrived telling me they were planning an assessment day on 27th May, as the entry has to be submitted 14 days prior to assessment this left me with just over two weeks to get it sorted.

Luckily social media is a wonderful platform for getting help, so I posted my selected images on the RPS Distinctions Facebook site and before I knew it I had a wonderful mix of supportive comments and suggestions about not only the image choice, but also how they should be sequenced.  One of the gems of information was that the failure rate was often due to people thinking it was an easy option, however the images are shown on a huge high-quality screen that makes any faults show up.  As a result, I went over each of my images with a fine-tooth comb until I was happy that there were no faults or unwanted artifacts.

Finally, I booked an RPS 1-1 Zoom advisory session which was absolutely brilliant, as it was a fresh pair of eyes that could give me an unbiased opinion and offer a couple of last-minute tweaks to improve my chances of success.  All that was left was to upload my submission and await the result!

You can view the sequence in full in the gallery Distinctions & Awards...


Image of the month - May 2020

So here we are six weeks into lockdown and I must admit that photography has not been utmost in my mind, the good weather and non-existent opportunities to travel and socialise has meant more time to enjoy riding my bike as my daily exercise and spending time in the garden.

It was while I was sat in the garden, I noticed a small patch of half a dozen bluebells that had migrated under the fence from next door and I saw an opportunity to get the camera out. As they were not out in flower yet, I had time to consider my options for photographing them and as the background was rubbish, I decided to pick a few of them and some of the leaves to try on a light pad indoors.

What is a light pad I hear you cry? Well it is a flat LED light box that artists use for tracing drawings on and for a photographic light source it is perfect (& cheap!) The other advantages are that the LED light does not get hot and its adjustable. Several years ago I tried shooting leaves placed on a Perspex sheet with the light underneath, by the time I had finished the Perspex had begun to melt and the leaves were a bit worse for wear to say the least!

So with the light pad on the floor and the camera on a tripod above I used another LED light just to add a bit to the top, you could place the light pad on a windowsill and use the sun instead, but as I did this in the evening it wasn’t an option. I could have used my Olympus, being that it is mirrorless what you see through the viewfinder is what you get, however I wanted to be really precise with my focusing so tethered my Canon 5D mkIV to the computer and used Live View to really zoom in close and tweak the focusing.

Working in manual I started with 100 ISO and an aperture of f16, I found the light pad worked best with the light turned up, overexposing the background to give a clean high key effect and also causing some of the light to leak through the leaves giving a them a translucent feel. Shutter speed was not a worry as the tripod did its job at keeping the camera steady, remember to turn off your image stabilisation and use mirror lockup to stop any camera shake when using a tripod. The main difficulty was in arranging the flowers and leaves into a way that felt natural as well as compositionally good.

Post processing just involved tidying up some small spots of water that had got on the light pad and I had not noticed as well as cropping to size. The advantage of having a good contrast in colour is that selecting the background was easy, enabling me to add a texture. I also had a go with different crop sizes and painting effect textures.

Take a look at the rest of the bluebell images in the gallery Flora & Fauna…

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Image of the month - April 2020

With everyone on lockdown photographic opportunities become confined to the home and garden and in this case, you don’t need a fancy studio or camera, just an iPad and tabletop using natural light.

This was put together for a theme of ‘construction’, I had this little Lego minifigure called ‘Emmet’ and also some very small Nanoblocks which are like Lego but on a much smaller scale, so I set about making a scene with a partially built building using the instructions as a backdrop. I felt something was missing so used an empty battery box as a brick container and after a bit of balancing got Emmet into his action pose carrying a brick. As I couldn’t be bothered to get a full camera kit out I decided to use the nearest camera to hand which was my iPad, overall I was really impressed that all the metadata that came up for the image as well as what you could do with post processing. This left more time to play around with some other ideas of what Emmet could get up to with Nanoblocks!

So if you are at a loose end and don’t want to mess around with lots of kit, have a go with your iPad or Phone camera, they are surprisingly good and if I hadn’t of told you how it was done, the results wouldn’t have given it away!

If you want to see what else Emmet got up to check out the gallery Beside the seaside…

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Image of the month - March 2020

I’ve always been a photographer, since I picked my dad’s camera up and took those first tentative frames, through to having my own camera, joining a camera club, experiencing the thrill of seeing my image appear before me in the darkroom, to the wonder of instantly seeing the image I have just taken with a digital camera. Photography has come so far in such a short time, not only in what cameras can now capture but also the power of being able to transform my image with Photoshop, (although other editing applications are available!)

It has always been a rule that when entering images for competitions it should always be the work of the photographer, which sounds straightforward but in practice can be a minefield! Why? Because so many resources are now available for digital photographers in terms of textures, brushes and actions which can transform an image but may not actually have been made by the photographer or even a photographic element.

At present there is also a great debate, particularly in PAGB groups over what constitutes nature photography and what can be manipulated in post-production, one of the issues is as soon as you make a rule you have to define what is allowable or not and this is the problem, that nothing it clearly black or white. So much is relied on the honesty of the photographer, especially as it may not be clearly obvious what elements have been combined in the final image.

Many people think that this is a problem of digital photography, but it certainly happened with film where people combined images and re-photographed it onto a new frame, of course it was much more difficult, but it was still done and similar issues arose.

Meanwhile I will leave you with a before and after image of what you can do in Photoshop using brushes except for the moon which was also taken by moi!

You can see some other ways to manipulate images in Photoshop in the gallery Playing in Photoshop...

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Image of the month - February 2020

One genre of photography I haven’t done much of is Land or Sea scapes. Out of all the different genres I personally find this one the most difficult possibly because so much is out of my control! Yes wildlife and nature is difficult, as you are not in control of what the subject is doing or when they choose to show themselves, but there is a certain satisfaction in seeking, spotting and capturing the shot that I just don’t get from scapes.

Yet I do appreciate a good scape when it presents itself and enjoy attempting to capture in camera what my eyes are witnessing. So much of what makes a good landscape is not only the viewpoint but more importantly the light or weather that can transform a seemingly ordinary perspective into a spectacular one, hence probably the best place to take scapes is where you live and visit every day, trying to see beyond and not allowing familiarity with the area cloud your view?

Careful composition is just as important as the light, particularly including leads through the image with foreground, mid and background. It may sound obvious, but I have seen many fabulous situations spoilt by the lack of foreground which has the result of making the image appear flat without depth despite there being amazing views and light.

Maybe I will just have to try harder to make some landscape images rather than just stumbling across them?

You can see more of my rare landscapes in the gallery Just a bit further from home...

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Image of the month - January 2020

Early in December I spent a Saturday evening driving around London on an iconic Red Route Master bus with some crazy Steampunks and a dozen fellow photographers, perusing the Christmas lights and raising quite a few eyebrows as we all got off to take pictures at various iconic London landmarks!

I didn’t want the hassle of carrying a tripod so tried to shoot wide open (f4.0) and allowed the camera to choose the ISO with Auto ISO. Processing was all done on the iPad using the inbuilt editing software, which was surprisingly good, especially for the noise reduction!

It was a nice reminder that photography is all about enjoyment of the moment, laughing, chatting and having fun, not just getting winning images for competitions.

So, I hope you all enjoy your 2020. Take lots of pictures, especially the ones that may not be competition winners but capture a moment of fun and enjoyment…because that’s what having a camera and sharing your images is all about! Happy New Year xx

More images from the London shenanigans can be found in my gallery Just People…

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Image of the month - December 2019

It’s been a while since I last did some focus stacking on anything and with the damp misty weather it seemed an ideal opportunity to meet up with some fellow photographers at Epping Forest.  Despite the weather being perfect for some landscape work I wanted to try to find and photograph some fungi, something I’ve never really tried properly before.

It didn’t take long to find some small orange fungi that covered a stack of cut logs.  So, tripod duly set up and then it was a search to find a good angle, not easy as how much do you select?  Too much and you lose the impact, not enough and you have no sense of scale.  After a bit of trial and error I decided on a semi-circle of fungi at the end of the log which I thought made a nice composition.

Next an old tree stump with some Sulphur Tufts, again trying different angles and distances until I found something that worked.  It’s amazing that once you get your eye in, you start seeing little toadstools and mushrooms everywhere, even some tiny mushrooms on an incredibly twisted and textured tree stump looked quite uninteresting until the macro lens got to work.  I found with these that even dropping the tripod and camera down a few inches can really improve the image and give it more impact with a view under the cap.

In terms of choosing the focus stacking settings, I found that with an aperture of f8 I could use the interval at 2 or 3 and just increased the number of shots depending on the size and depth of the subject.  The image below was a stack of 5 shots which meant that the cap and stalk were sharp, and it gave just enough definition to the background to give it context.

Check out some of my other images from the day in the gallery Flora & Fauna…

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Image of the month - November 2019

Portraiture is still something that I’m finding my way around and at times can be incredibly difficult. As with most photographic genres its always easy until you try it yourself and then you find that even with a straightforward image the smallest movement by the model can be the difference between an okay shot and a great shot.

I have found that trying to direct a model to a certain pose really doesn’t work as trying to explain your vision to someone else not only takes time, but also breaks up the flow and just leads to awkward looking poses. Now I just let the model do their stuff and just give small directions such as where they should look or a movement of the hands or the shoulders.

Up to now most shoots have only involved one or maybe two models and I haven’t appreciated how one shooting style can work with a certain face shape and not another. At this particular shoot, I had four very different models all made up with glitter for head and shoulder shots. Whilst the model moves through their sequence of poses, I found I also did similar composition and framing for all the models.

When I had a look back through the images a couple of days later it was interesting to see that while some poses/composition worked really well with some models the same pose/composition looked awful with another model as it didn’t complement their face shape. Although it may seem obvious now at the time it was one of those eureka moments!

During post processing, I also felt that the background needed something to complement the model in some images or others lent themselves to a monochrome conversion, you can see some of the images from the day in my gallery Just People…

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Image of the month - October 2019

It’s that time of year again when I’m shuffling images around in order to make a print panel.  Earlier in the year I talked about visiting Snetterton and playing with filters and effects to create a different take on motorsport and this is what I had in mind to create for my panel this year.
As usual the most difficult part is finding strong images that work together well as a panel and creating an arrangement that enables the images to flow, the direction that the bike was travelling helped decide their position but the middle places where a bike is coming straight at you were more difficult as there was not many opportunities to actually get that shot.  In the end I decided on the upside-down pyramid as the one true head on shot of the motorcycle coming into the corner fitted well in the middle.  I also felt that the one traveling away worked best at the bottom as the direction took you back up to the start, maintaining the flow?

More work was done on the two top corners, making the angle the same for each so they reflected each other creating a balance.  Many hours were spent experimenting with the amount of cloud or whiteness in the image, too much and the bikes appeared to be floating and too little lost the impact of the effect!  I also tried to line up where the white finished and started on the top row, so it flowed from image to image tying them together.

Hanging plan done, now just write the ‘Statement of Intent’ which describes what the panel is trying to show.  So many hours work for 5-minute critique, never mind it keeps me out of trouble!!

Why not have a go at putting a panel together yourself, if you want to see more examples or ideas then have a peek in my Print Panels Gallery?

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Image of the month - September 2019

Looking back at my Flora & Fauna Gallery there is a distinct lack of flora, so I thought it was time to start redressing the balance!  Back in my June 2015 Image of the Month was a dandelion seed head which I had used flash and a technique called ‘focus stacking’.  One of the problems of macro or close up photography is that the closer you are the more shallow the depth of field is, (how much is in focus), even at a very small aperture.
Focus stacking involves taking a series of images, each one with a slightly different part of the subject in focus so that when they are stacked together with software, they create a pin sharp image from front to back that couldn’t be otherwise achieved.  The dandelion was manually focus stacked with me moving the point of focus very slightly each time and taking a picture, but now many Olympus cameras can do it all in camera!

These images were taken a couple of weeks ago on a very wet summers day, although the overcast grey skies are perfect for this kind of photography as the light was very soft without any harsh shadows.  One of the difficulties of creating a series of images outdoors, even with a tripod, is that the flowers move with the breeze, even when the air is quite still it’s amazing how much the subject moves!  However, the camera still copes with this, even handheld so long as the stack hasn’t got too many images.  I managed to hand hold 5 images successfully and even got up to 10 images although the degree of movement sometimes meant the final image couldn’t be stacked.  With a tripod I could achieve 15 images, giving a good depth of field although in only a couple of hours it was easy to clock up over a thousand images when taking 15 at a time!

Finally, I had a play around in Photoshop with some textures, I’ve included both before and afters so you can decide if they work?  Check out more of the images in my Flora & Fauna Gallery…

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Image of the month - August 2019

Bempton Cliffs in the East Riding of Yorkshire is one place that I’ve wanted to visit for a long time, mainly because it has the only mainland breeding colony of northern gannets in England.  The cliffs run about six miles from Flamborough Head north toward Filey and are over 100m high in parts.  The chalk cliffs offer lots of sheltered headlands and crevices for nesting birds which arrive in January and leave in August/September.

Photographically they are beautiful birds with very subtle markings and colourings, but unlike photographing other birds your vantage point is normally from above and with the blue/green background of the sea.  One of the major difficulties of getting a good picture is controlling the exposure with the extreme contrast of the white bird and the dark sea, it’s so easy to overexpose the feathers and loose all detail in the wings. 

There are lots of ways to overcome this problem, but what I have found that works for me is to use aperture priority, wide open, which in my case is f4.  That way I know I’m getting the fastest shutter speed, (if that’s not fast enough I push the ISO up).  The metering is set to evaluative, which looks at the whole scene and I use the exposure compensation to keep the feather detail.  The way the exposure compensation works is by overriding the exposure the meter is telling you.  With a white bird on a dark background the meter reading will overexpose the image, so you compensate by underexposing the shot by -1 to -2 stops.  Until you get used to what your camera is doing it’s a good idea to keep checking the image and adjusting up or down by 1/3 of a stop.

Luckily the weather was wonderful, with a strong breeze which meant the gannets would almost hover in the air, I certainly got lots of practice at taking birds in flight!  If you would like to see more images of gannets, including the chaos of them diving for fish, then visit my Flora and Fauna gallery

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Image of the month - July 2019

Last year I enjoyed my South African trip so much I decided to go back again, but this time just do the safari part.  A lot of the appeal of this type of holiday is that you just don’t know what you are going to see…of course when you book it you have high hopes, but in reality if the birds and animals don’t want to be found then you may come away disappointed.

I had attempted to move the odds more in my favour by choosing wintertime when there is a shortage of water, so animals and birds tend to be easier to find by the limited waterholes that are available.  Also, the lack of rain means that the grass shouldn’t be as thick and long making sighting the wildlife a bit easier.

Now I love my cats, so I was hoping to see some cheetahs as it was something I haven’t seen before and of course lions and maybe even a leopard?  But as it turned out we were lucky enough to see that and so much more.  Imbali Safari Lodge was our last stop and while I also love seeing elephants, I find it incredibly hard to photograph them in a way that is different and creative other than a ‘Elephant in the environment’ scenario. 

At Imbali they use all the ‘grey’ water from showers, baths etc to create a waterhole opposite the main lodge area and this attracts an incredible amount of wildlife.  At one point there was just a mother elephant and its youngster drinking then within minutes a whole herd of elephants invaded the watering hole, twenty to thirty of them with lots of trumpeting and splashing of water.  How on earth do you capture something like this?  What drew my eye was three large elephant bottoms facing me, which I though was quite funny, and I could create a picture out of it.  So, I framed it up and took a couple of shots, as I was watching a baby elephant appeared between the big elephants and snuck a drink before disappearing again as quickly as he had arrived.  Luckily, I got a couple of images and this has become one of my favourites from the trip.

To have a look at more of my favourites, check out my African Adventures Gallery...

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Image of the month - June 2019

I might have mentioned before that I really don’t like prime lenses but prefer the versatility of a zoom lens.  However, if you talk to any wildlife photographer they rarely if ever use zoom lenses but prefer the quality that a prime lens delivers.  So, what do you do when you only have one 600mm lens with you and the subject comes right up to you?  ‘You make it work’ was the advice of a professional wildlife photographer, ‘just look for different viewpoints’.  He was right!

This is the time when swans have their young and luckily there was lots of cygnet families close to me.  Wildlife photography can be the most patience testing genre of photography I know, for me it’s all about the quality of light and capturing the subject in that light.  However, often you get the subject and not the light or the light and not the subject, getting them both together is not always possible, so like with the lens ‘you just make it work!’

It wasn’t the best time of day, but the reflections on the water were beautiful, so it was a case of waiting and hoping that the swans and their brood would move to a nice location on the lake.  When I arrived they were having a nap, but after a short wait they obliged and went for a swim….straight to the opposite side of the lake, typical!  I took a few shots across the lake, but they moved round behind a small island, meaning I had to move.  By the time I caught up with them they were a matter of a couple of meters away and I had my 600mm lens on, so making it work I used manual zoom mode i.e. I walked a number of yards down the lakeside so I could fit them within the frame.  Having got that I looked at what I could get with close-up and detail shots.  A short time later they moved again to an area with a nice background which using exposure compensation I could darken down nicely making the white of the swan and her brood really stand out with those beautiful reflections.

Using only the 600mm, I was forced to adapt to the situation, and it made me think more about how I could create an image from the situation.  Overall, I was pleased with what I produced considering the light was not the best I was happy with the result, do you agree?  See the rest of the images in the gallery Flora & Fauna.

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Image of the month - May 2019

Trying something new is always exciting and the chance to photograph some motorsport at Snetterton on a track day was too good to turn down, especially as the weather was particularly kind.  I’d wanted to practise panning and with lots of subjects zooming past this was the perfect opportunity, all I can say is that it’s a good job we’ve gone digital because after 3 hours of shooting I had over 2,800 images!  I started with a shutter speed of 1/500 of a second and by the end of the session I had reduced it to 1/100 and got a fairly good hit rate of sharp images, (as well as a good workout for my shoulders and upper body twisting to keep up with the riders, some were just too fast!)

Unusually for me, I went through the images the next few days and processed a few.  It’s like learning a new method for processing.  I’ve found each photographic genre has a certain processing style that suits the type of image, in order to bring out the best in it and as I’ve never shot motorsport before I’ve never developed my style for this genre, so some experimenting was required.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about dabbling in textures as overlays and using different brushes rather than the available ones in Photoshop.  Magazines are always a good source of resources, so I went through the ‘free’ CD’s that have been building up but never used and downloaded a whole bunch of textures, brushes and actions to play with.

After several false starts and nearly moments I eventually came up with a processing sequence that seemed to work, it’s certainly different and you can see the effect below.  Now it was just a case of trying it with different images and adapting it accordingly….oh and remembering how I did it in the first place!

You can see more images from the day in my gallery London 2012 and Beyond…

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Image of the month - April 2019

Sometimes capturing movement isn’t always about freezing the action with fast shutter speeds.  Setting a long exposure of two seconds means the shutter stays open during that period to capture fleeting glances of movement in an almost ghost like way, but often these types of images are just too faint to make out what is actually happening. 

This is where second curtain synch flash comes into its own, giving a burst of light to illuminate the subject and make it stand out from the rest of the captured image.  This technique can be used to make vehicle light trails but it doesn’t always work well with living subjects as it can cause the subject to look too distorted.  However, it can work with dancing feet, each time it creates a different effect and can be quite addictive leaving you thinking, just one more!

The trick is getting the continuous light to be just strong enough to capture the movement before the flash and then just enough flash to complete the image.

You can see more uses of speedlights in the gallery Working with flash…

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Image of the month - March 2019

Its one thing having a concept or an idea for a image and it’s a whole different ball game when trying to bring that image to a reality.  I had seen many pictures of dancers ‘On Point’, but I wanted to try something different with the dancer crouched.  Luckily for me Delphine was more than happy and able to try the idea out with slight changes in leg and arm position until I was content with what I had captured in camera.

As I have mentioned in some of the other monthly discussions, I try not to look at my images until a few weeks after the event so I re-visit them with a fresh eye.  Whilst I was happy with the pose, I felt the lighting wasn’t quite working, I added a classical soft focus to give a more ‘dreamy’ effect and turned it monochrome, mainly as there was more of a range of tones rather than colours, better, but still not happy!

Luckily the monochrome software comes with several filters and whilst scrolling through these came across one which reversed the tones of the image turning it from low key to high key, instantly I knew it worked!  When Delphine was holding the pose her hair kept falling down by her face so she tucked the end of it into the back of her leotard, now this gave a lovely shape to her back which would have been otherwise lost when converted to high key. I also liked the way the shadows trailed from her feet.

If you would like to see the original image and some other images from the day then please visit my gallery Just Dance…

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Image of the month - February 2019

Sometimes in order to improve your photography you need to move out of your comfort zone and try something you haven’t done before.  I’m very much a newbie, (in terms of my photography experience) to portraiture, so when I had an opportunity to photograph a male bodybuilder nude, it was something I had never done before and too good a chance to pass up.

I also knew I wanted to attempt to capture the model in a tasteful way, not like the awful glamour shots of the 80’s and 90’s that did so much to put me off this genre of photography.  Luckily things have moved on from then in a much more positive way and after the initial feeling of awkwardness the photography took over and I had a brilliant time.

During the shoot we tried a number of different lighting techniques from low to high key, all creating a different effect, I also tried some different post processing techniques such as toning which I wouldn’t have used had it been a female model. If you would like to see more images from the day, then visit my web gallery Just People...

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Image of the month - January 2019

Happy New Year!

It's been a busy 2018, but the start of a New Year means time to reflect on the past and look forward to new adventures to come.

2018 finished with a trip to Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve in India. This is the perfect tiger territory, with dense jungle, spring-fed ponds and rich grasslands teeming with prey.  Although it has the highest population of tigers in India it isn’t a forgone conclusion that you are going to see one.  Firstly 80% of the whole park is closed for access which leaves 20% for viewing, this is still a vast area that it can easily take over an hour to drive to the exit gate.

This was our fourth day, up to now we have only had a fleeting glimpse of a tiger despite many close calls.  So, we decide on a change of tactics, to just totally focus on finding tigers and not be distracted by any other wildlife we may see. 

Heading into Magdhi zone, everyone in the jeep is intently focused on looking into the forest and also listening for alarm calls as we drive further into the park.  After an hour and a half, still nothing seen, and no real alarms calls either.  We had just stopped to talk to some rangers when another jeep came down in a rush saying they had seen the tigress Isha, jump the boundary fence and she was heading towards a waterhole we had just left!  A quick three-point turn and we were heading back with the pedal to the metal. 

Four jeeps were already waiting at the waterhole, so we picked a vantage point, turned off the engine and waited.  Ten minutes later there was a buzz of excitement as Isha emerged from the forest 200 yards from us.  You would think that it would be easy to spot a big orange cat, but no she merged beautifully into the undergrowth as she moved down to the sandy bank.  I had a long lens with a teleconverter on which can be difficult to keep steady, especially when you can feel your heart thumping with excitement.  As she started to climb the bank, Harium started the jeep and we moved a bit further down the road onto the track and waited again.  I could just see her moving through the forest and heading towards the track where we were sat.  I was amazed by how gracefully she moved, it didn’t seem rushed, but she covered the ground incredibly quickly and silently to emerge in front of us, cross the road and disappear back into the forest.  The total encounter lasted 6 minutes but seemed like seconds!

Bandhavgarh has a wide range of biodiversity, so when you’re not photographing tigers, (which is most of the time) there is always plenty to see.  Check out more images from Bandhavgarh in my gallery Flora & Fauna…

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