Image of the month - December 2018

Architectural photography is not something I do very much now, so when I had the chance to visit Ely Cathedral on a photographic excursion I jumped at the chance.  Architecturally Ely is outstanding both for its scale and stylistic details. Having been built in a monumental Romanesque style, the galilee porch, lady chapel and choir were rebuilt in an exuberant Decorated Gothic. Its most notable feature is the central octagonal tower, with lantern above, which provides a unique internal space and, along with the West Tower, dominates the surrounding landscape.

Photographing such an imposing building with its vast expanse of stained glass brings a whole set of issues which have to be considered.  How in particular do you keep detail in the glass which is bright with the sun coming through, but still keep detail in the shadows of the interior?  I tried two main techniques, firstly using a tripod taking five bracketed shots with 1 stop exposure difference between each one, (e.g. -2 stops, -1 stop, 0 stop, +1 stop, +2 stops).  Then processing the 5 images together in RAW and merging them as an HDR image.  This worked pretty well on the vast interiors of the cathedral, however when faced with a climb of 170 very narrow twisty steps up to the Octagon the tripod really wasn’t an option! 

The Octagon is quite a unique feature of Ely and only came about when the centre of the cathedral collapsed in 1322, the original planned tower being replaced by the lantern and painted panels of angels forming the octagonal shape.  The whole structure is built from 200 tonnes of English oak and each panel can be opened giving a breath-taking view of the cathedral below.  This is where I relied on getting an ‘average’ exposure meter reading off the grey/brown stone and then the rest was done in post processing using RAW to bring back the details.

If you would like to see more of my images from Ely Cathedral, please visit my gallery Just a bit further from home…

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Image of the month - November 2018

Photo workshops are great fun, but sometimes with lots of photographers the time available to shoot is strictly limited.  On this occasion I literally had 60 seconds to take some shots and while rushing to attach the trigger for the flash to the hot shoe, I must have knocked the aperture button from f11 to f4.5 causing all my shots to be way over exposed.  Luckily, I had chance to reshoot, this time with the proper settings so all was okay.

When I got home and downloaded the images from the day, my instant reaction was to delete all the over exposed ones, but curiosity made me wonder could they be salvaged and how different would the results be with RAW compared to JPEG?

I started with the JPEG and found it really difficult to get much back, mainly fiddling with the contrast and the curves had most effect.  I was surprised by how much detail I got back from the RAW image, however the main highlights on the forehead and backs of hands were too far gone to get anything except white.  Probably if it had been a stop or so less I may have even got some detail back there as well?

In truth even after pulling the image back from the brink, there are too many faults with it to be a quality image.  Overall, yes RAW files take up more space on your hard drive but then they contain a lot more image information than JPEGs and if you do have a meltdown with your camera settings you will have more chance of getting something back from RAW compared to JPEG!

If you want to compare the full set of images, you will find them in my image gallery Playing in Photoshop…

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Image of the month - October 2018

The last time I visited Rainham Marshes RSPB it was the weekend before the ‘Beast from the East’ and it was freezing cold.  This time it was a beautiful warm autumn day with glorious clear blue sky, so opportunity for lots of birds so I thought?  However, by the time I had walked halfway around the reserve all I’d seen were some swans, ducks and coots, probably not helped by some workmen who were doing some painting work.
The word was out that a pectoral sandpiper had been spotted at one of the hides I was heading to, so I hoped I would get a chance to see it.  Now I confess I’m not an avid bird watcher, and I was surprised earlier in the year when I was almost trampled in the rush to see some crossbills which were actually almost ¼ mile away!  When I arrived at the hide all was quiet until someone whispered, ‘it’s out, over there by the reeds!’ and all of a sudden there was a rush to the opposite end of the hide.  I keenly scanned the reeds, although saying that there are a lot of them at the marshes, could I spot it….NO!  It was only sometime later that a Little Egret kindly wandered past and I saw a faint flicker of movement just behind it, that I eventually could see the pectoral sandpiper in all its glory, (if somewhat well camouflaged and small in size).

Just in case you wish to learn more, the pectoral sandpiper is a small, migratory wader that breeds in North America and Asia, wintering in South America and Oceania. It eats small invertebrates. Its nest, a hole scraped in the ground and with a thick lining, is deep enough to protect its four eggs from the cool breezes of its breeding grounds.

See if you can spot it in the image below, you can check if you were right in the image gallery ‘Flora & Fauna’ along with some more images from the day.

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Image of the month - September 2018

Early last year I invested in an Olympus EM1 Mark II mirrorless camera and lenses, not as a replacement for my Canon EOS but purely as a lightweight travel camera.  What I liked about it was that the equivalent focal length mirrorless lenses were so much smaller and lighter.  For example, a Canon camera body and 150mm-600mm lens would weigh nearly 4kg in comparison to under 1kg for the mirrorless equivalent.  This is particularly important as much of my travel photography required lenses with long focal distances for capturing wildlife.  What I didn’t like was that it wasn’t as good as a full frame equivalent sensor in low light, meaning that the ISO couldn’t be used to boost shutter speeds when needed.

Another of my favourites is the zoom lens, simply because of its versatility and it means you don’t need to keep changing lenses, so the Panasonic 100-400mm micro four thirds is a must have for me.  However, after a recent trip I have noticed a shift in my thinking.  The aim was to visit Churchill, Manitoba with a view to get some decent shots of polar bears lazing around by the waters edge or in the colourful tundra.  My first reaction was to take the Panasonic, but nagging doubt kept telling me to take the Olympus 300mm prime lens and 1.4x teleconverter.  This would give me a full frame equivalent of 600mm or 840mm with the converter attached and losing 1 stop of light, the lens has a wide aperture of f4, so even with one stop it would only be f5.6, which would still be okay with limited light.  The problem was it’s a heavy lens, doubling the weight to 2kg, (still half the weight of the Canon), and it was a prime lens, so I would l lose the versatility of the zoom.

Anyway, I went with the heavier 300mm and converter, and I’m so glad I did!  Funnily enough there were two other photographers with me, one with a Nikon 80-400mm and the other with a Canon 100-400mm so it was interesting to get a comparison.  Now on reflection the reality of us getting close to a polar bear, for example that a 600mm would be too close, was never going to happen, so I didn’t miss the zoom.  Secondly, with the teleconverter I had twice the reach of the other photographers, so it didn’t matter that I had a micro four thirds sensor compared to their full frame, so all equal there, except my kit weighed half as much!  Finally, the Nikon shots were disappointingly soft, whilst the Olympus and the Canon were sharp, (I’m not just saying that because I’m a Canon user as well!)

The other surprise to me was that because I didn’t have the versatility of the zoom I began looking for different shots and took images in a different way because of the prime lens.  Oh, and when an artic ground squirrel popped its head up a couple of yards in front of us I got a lovely close up which I would have probably missed by taking time to zoom in!

You can seem some more of my images from Churchill, all taken with the 300mm prime in my gallery Canada & the USA…

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Image of the month - August 2018

The impressive quality of cameras within mobile phones means that nowadays everyone can call themselves a photographer.  Quite honestly it doesn’t matter what you capture an image with, because just looking at the image you wouldn’t know whether it is a phone or the most expensive DSLR money could buy.  True, you might notice the difference if it was printed at A1 size but as most images are viewed via a monitor it becomes a great leveller at 72 dpi!

Basically, everyone can take pictures, but not everyone can create an image that encapsulates light, composition and that ‘special’ moment when the image is captured, that can make it stand out from the rest…. perhaps that is really the definition of a true photographer?

Often some photographers are quick to put down other genres of photography as “everything being done for you, the only thing you need is to press the shutter button!”  This is often said about studio portrait sessions when the lighting is set, and a model provided for you to shoot.  In reality, I have had a go at most genres of photography and I am more in my comfort zone standing on a touchline recording action from a distance as it unfolds.  All I need do is choose my spot to shoot from and set up my camera to the conditions and hey presto wait for the action to happen.  In a studio I have to direct the model what to do and talk to them while trying to get the perfect shot! 

Dave G was one such case, a wonderful chatty, bubbly character that as a photographer you are trying to capture in a still image.  I could have just hidden behind my camera and taken pictures, but that wouldn’t have captured his personality.  So, most of the first session I spent as much time talking with him as taking pictures, knowing that a lot of the images I captured would be rubbish with perhaps his eyes shut or his mouth at a funny angle as he talked, but eventually I captured the image I had hoped for.

There are no easy options or genres for good photography, each has its own skills and challenges.  Every worthwhile photographer should respect and appreciate what is involved in achieving that final image before writing it of as “just turning up and pressing the shutter button!”

You can see more images of Dave in the gallery Just People...

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Image of the month - July 2018

Print panel competitions at first glance, are easy to do.  Just select six images on a similar theme and display them as a panel…..except each image has to be good enough to stand on it’s own and work together as part of a panel. 

That means you must think about the placement of each image within the panel, so it adds something to the panel as a whole. 

For example, with the dance panel below,

All these things don’t happen by chance.  I normally make thumbnails of all the images I think could work as part of a panel together in Publisher and keep moving them around until I find a combination I like and think works. 

After all the planning and deliberating the final panel is printed out and must be presented with consistency in the paper they are printed on and the mounts. 

Will it be successful?  Well that’s down to the statement of intent I’ve yet to write, explaining what the panel is trying to convey.  Oh and of course the judge, will they get it?  Who knows!  The main thing is I like it!

If you would like to see the images at full size, or other examples of print panels the check out my Print Panel Gallery

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Image of the month - June 2018

One of the problems of having a passion for photography is the fact that you become very critical of your work and as a result sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees! 

Let me give you an example…as soon as I came back from a three-week trip to South Africa I eagerly downloaded all my images to the computer, so they could be sorted and backed up.  I made the mistake of looking through them quickly, and quite honestly, I really wasn’t impressed with what I had taken, maybe even disappointed! 

Now, I know by experience that this feeling is quite common, and the best remedy is to just forget about them for several weeks and then come back to it with fresh eyes.  Surely enough a few weeks later, looking through the images I feel a lot happier about what I see and start to rediscover the images I’d forgotten I’ve captured.  Photography for me is all about capturing the moment and whilst the Leopard experience (see previous image of the month), was amazing, actually my favourite image of the lot is the Impala and Oxpecker looking at each other, one which I had actually forgotten I’d taken.

I think the problem is that I just get so immersed in taking the pictures that I need that break from that topic or subject before being able to look at and edit them subjectively.  Another trick I use is to view them in the reverse order that I take them, your brain is very good at predicting what comes next in a sequence you are used too and sometimes you miss the obvious.

So if you are frustrated with your images, just forget about them for a while and have another look a bit later, you also may be pleasantly surprised!

Check out my African Adventures Gallery to see some more images of my adventures.

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Image of the month - May 2018

April has been a busy month and after a horrible drab winter it was good to escape to the sunshine and warmth of South Africa for a few weeks.  The Image of the Month for May was going to be some images from my break, of which there are many….too many in fact!  Actually, about 9,000 in total and after a number of days sorting I’ve deleted about 500ish, still leaving a substantial number to pick and choose what to edit.

One of the many highlights was watching a leopardess teaching its cub the art of climbing trees, an essential skill for any growing leopard as they drag their kill into the branches away from other predators.  The weight of the kill can be the same weight as the leopard themselves, so an immense amount of power and skill is required to do this successfully.

We followed the mother and cub as she selected varied sizes of trees for the youngster to try. Mum climbing up first and louring the cub on, using her tail as a chase toy, at one point on quite a small tree she balanced right at the end of the branch causing the tree to bend over almost to the ground, before jumping off causing the cub to hang on with his claws to avoid getting pinged off in the opposite direction!

I took so many images of the pair, some I knew would be deleted later as the light was poor, so trying to get enough shutter speed to stop any fast movements, even when pushing the ISO was near impossible.  However, if the sun had been out they would probably be resting in the shade rather than playing, hence I was more than happy to be privileged to share the young cub’s life lesson despite the conditions.

Just as we were about to leave the pair, mum and cub climbed up onto a tree and just briefly glimpsed in our direction before scampering off for another game.  This is the image I captured and remembered most about the whole session.

So many more images will follow and appear in my gallery African Adventures, but for now this single image sums up my trip nicely!

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Image of the month - April 2018

The weekend before the ‘Beast from the East’ arrived I spent a few very chilly hours in a hide at Rainham Marshes RSPB trying to capture some birds.  The hide is set up with a reflection pool and several feeders to attract a range of wildlife, including a pair of pheasants who came through and scared off all the other birds! The wind was so cold that even the reflection pool iced over giving more of a fuzzy look rather than a reflection, but at least the hide kept us out of the chill factor.

I was shooting with the Sigma 150mm-600mm which I normally use with a monopod to support the weight, however many wildlife photographers use a gimbal tripod head which I tried instead and quite honestly, I’m converted.  Although the tripod and gimbal are heavier to carry, once set up it gives much more stability and freedom of movement of the lens making shooting effortless even for several hours.

Despite the cold and the wind, it was a very bright day, so I found that I needed to use the exposure compensation to underexpose by 1 stop to stop the background being blown out.  As I was quite close, depth of field was reduced so I pushed it to f8 with a high shutter speed to try to capture flight, using the ISO to balance out the exposure.

Still a lot more practice required!  If you would like to see some more images from the day, check out the flora & fauna gallery.

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Image of the month - March 2018

I guess as far as photography goes, you could say I am a bit of a hoarder.  Yes, after a day out Image Chasing I do go through my images and get rid of the dross, out of focus, over/under exposed images, but I often do keep the ‘almost’ shots, just in case I could do something with them later.  Similarly, a couple of years ago I spent a fun afternoon shooting smoke in the studio and making light trails with long exposures intending to do something with the images, but I just didn’t know what?  I had seen people manipulate them into wonderful artforms such as archers or skulls but being graphically challenged my efforts turned out to look just like weird smoke and light and nothing else!

So, it was by chance that looking through some of the ‘almost’ dance images, which I liked but felt that something was missing to give them a sense of movement, I remembered the light and smoke patterns taken in the studio, could I combine them somehow?

Starting with a static image of Charlotte I added the light trails, trying to match the pattern and shapes she was making with her hands and feet.  Luckily, it was easy to stretch and distort the light pattern to fit and it didn’t look out of shape.  Both the smoke and light were shot on a black background so by using either an exclusion of difference adjustment layer it removed the black background leaving just the light trails.  The final decision was to use a layer mask and remove part of the light trail to make it appear to be behind Charlotte in placed and create a more 3D rather than flat feel to the image.

Next, I had a lovely image of Aida, loved the pose but there was just empty space, could I fill it with smoke?  This was slightly more difficult as the dance image was on a white background and smoke is whitish, so it wouldn’t show up.  A bit of manipulation had to be done on the smoke first so as it was shot in RAW I changed the hue/saturation to give it colour, then the steps were the same as for Charlotte’s image.

It was good to combine two images sat on my hard drive into one useable image… just need to have another look through to see what other potential images are lurking on my hard drive!

If you would like to see some more of my images manipulated by Photoshop then check out the Playing with Photoshop Gallery.

Technical details: Dancing with light

Technical details: Smoke Dancer

Image of the month - February 2018

This winter has been truly horrible, not particularly cold, but just so grey and wet with very poor light.  This means the cameras have had a bit of a holiday tucked up in their warm dry camera bags!  Just because I haven’t been out taking pictures doesn’t mean there is no photography stuff to do, it’s a valuable time to look back through all the images captured and find some hidden gems or just rework and improve on images.

The image ‘Urban Warrior’ was just one such image that every time I looked at it I was aware that Kerry just didn’t stand out enough from the background.  I liked the feeling or urban decay or the surroundings, but the colours of the rust and the metal were overpowering Kerry.  I didn’t want to turn it into a colour pop picture, but I did want to desaturate the background enough, so Kerry became the main focal point.

So, this is my Photoshop stage by stage development of the image:

Firstly, the RAW image is colour balanced and tweaked in Adobe RAW, clarity and the histogram adjusted for blacks and whites so there are no burnt out or completely black areas in the image.  This becomes my background layer.

Secondly, using Nik Viveza 2 I tweak the colour and structure sliders to bring out some of the texture, I use a mask over Kerry’s face as I don’t want her to appear to have some horrible disease as a result!  This creates the second layer in Photoshop.

Next, I take it into Nik Colour Efex Pro 4 and use an already save recipe that I created for a lot of my canoe pictures, basically it increases colour contrast and adds a basic vignette making layer 3. (Again I created another mask to protect Kerry from the filter effects.)

At this point I thought the image was finished, until having looked at it for a couple of months and decided it could be improved further by desaturating the background.

So, I created an adjustment layer to convert the whole image to B&W and to allow some of the colour to remain set the opacity to 77%

Finally, I needed to make a mask so Kerry could be seen through the black and white layer.  I duplicated the 3rd layer and carefully selecting around the whole outline of Kerry allowed her to be seen against the desaturated background and giving her more impact.

Creating new layers mean you can play around with an image without damaging it in any way, by clicking on the eye logo on the left you can make that layer visible or hide it.  Saving the file as a .psd or Photoshop file, means that all your work is always there and if you change your mind can always come back to it later.

So the final image can be seen below....well until I decide that something else can be improved! You can see more Photoshop edits in my gallery Playing with Photoshop...

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Image of the month - January 2018

I’ve been a keen photographer for as long as I can remember, and I’m constantly amazed at how my hobby has grown and stayed with me over all those years.  I’m happy to keep it as a hobby, simply because it gives me so much enjoyment and I don’t want the chore of ‘having to take pictures’ for somebody else, but don’t make the mistake of assuming because it’s a hobby I don’t take it seriously!

When people ask, ‘what do I photograph?’  I generally answer, ‘anything except landscapes and wildlife!’  Okay, I do take pictures of wildlife or landscapes if I happen to be there at the time, but unlike true wildlife and landscape photographers I don’t go out of my way to capture the image.

So last November I went on my first wildlife holiday to visit Cabarceno Natural Park in northern Spain, (okay not truly wildlife as they are still in captivity, but it’s a start!)  Wildlife photographer Andy Parkinson, taught me a totally different way to look at my photography and how to capture the image, thanks Andy!

Wildlife photographers work with a different set of rules, which mean they have to capture their final image in camera and not rely on processing it afterwards, a bit like using slide film in ye olden days.  Also, it’s about capturing the atmosphere of the surroundings, which generally means using the exposure compensation to darken the image in places to make the subject stand out.  The image below has had very little post processing but was taken at -2 stops which allowed the lynx to be framed by the sunlight but still retain some detail in the background.

So Happy New Year and welcome to 2018!

I’m going to be doing some more wildlife photography and might even kickstart my landscape photography, I hope you all have a good year Image Chasing!

If you would like to see some more of my images from my Spanish adventure then check out the gallery Flora & Fauna...

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Image of the month - December 2017

At the beginning of this year I decided that to help motivate myself during the coming months, it would be a good idea to go for the next level of the PAGB awards for photographic merit which was the Distinction level.  I knew this would be a bit step up from the CPAGB because you had to produce 15 images of a level which would be ‘likely’ to be accepted in Open Exhibitions which is a higher standard than club photography.  Just to make it even more interesting I decided to submit my entry as Projected Digital Images, (PDI’s), which had a lower success rate than the prints.

The next step was to sift through my CPAGB entry to see if there were any images that were good enough for the DPAGB.  I eventually decided on four images that had done okay at the C level and had also been accepted at many British Photographic Exhibitions.  When I collected my CPAGB pin at the EAF exhibition I had talked to another photographer who had just completed his DPAGB and he told be about how he had entered some of his CPAGB images for the DPAGB and they had held their scores and one scored better at the D than the C even though it was meant to be a higher level!  This just shows how subjective photography is when trying to apply standards.

Now I just needed another 11 images!  Luckily, I have had lots of photographic excursions this year giving me lots of images to choose from, which led to hours of mulling over and agonising which ones to select for the final 15.  As is always the way for photography, the images I was worried about did well and the ones I thought would be good did okay and in the end I passed the finish line with a comfortable lead.

If you would like to see the images in my DPAGB entry in more detail, then follow this link…

Comparison images between CPAGB & DPAGB:


Image of the month - November 2017

During the last couple of years, I have been really captivated by what you can achieve in the studio particularly in portraiture.  However, many portraits are static shots trying to capture a feeling or emotion of the sitter so recently I have been exploring capturing dancers and movement.

At first glance you may think that dance photography in a studio should be quite easy to do, but in reality, it isn’t.  One photograph must capture elegance, energy and convey the spirit and skill of the dancer by freezing a moment in time.  Using flowing material either in the dancer’s costume or as a background can help convey the sense of movement in an otherwise static pose.

Lighting is also a lot to consider, does it show the dancers muscle tone or just cast ugly shadows? If it is too high key it may look as if they are floating as there are no shadows cast at all.  We have found that it is really important to work tethered, so the dancer can see the images and their positioning, which helps improve their performance as well as giving the photographer an idea of what is the right moment to push the shutter button. 

If you would like to see some more dance images then check out my gallery Just Dance...

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Image of the month - October 2017

“That’s a good record shot”, “chocolate box image” or “It’s too staged” are all comments that if judges of photographic competitions use, you know your image is in trouble! 

I’ve been entering camera club competitions now since 1988, that’s almost 30 years and you would think that during that time I would have a very good understanding of what a winning image looks like?  True, during that time I have won a few competitions, but probably lost a lot more and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have seen an image that I’ve thought ‘that’s a winner’ and the judge has actually agreed with me. 

The problem is that photography is so subjective and providing the image is in focus, exposed well and has reasonable composition, the rest of the winning element is probably down to pure luck that the content stirs some kind of recognition or empathy in the person who is judging your work.  Of course, you can take some of the element of luck out by making copious notes on the likes and dislikes of the judge in question, and I have known people to do that in order to get a good mark.  It was once discussed about putting a ‘control’ image into every competition to see how it scored with different judges, now that would have been interesting.

So, when people ask me how to pick a winning image, I’m really not being evasive when I say ‘I’ve really no idea?’  I do hedge my bets though by putting in different topics so that one may hit the mark, two similar images just compete with one another.  Oh, and how did this image of the month do?  8.5 out of 10, “too staged”, after all how often do you see a screaming man running through the fuselage of an Avro Shackleton?

If you would like to see some more 'staged shots' then check out my gallery Just People...

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Image of the month - September 2017

Reflecting on August it has been a month of typical British weather, with wonderful warm and sunny days to grey rainy dull days.  August started for me with the best weather possible for getting on a boat and attempting to chase racing yachts around the Solent during Cowes Week.  Bright and sunny with some lovely clouds and just enough wind to get some white horses on the water. 

I had opted to bring the Olympus over the Canon, simply because the lenses would allow me to get closer to the subject and I could hand hold them, (a really important issue when you are shooting a moving subject from a moving platform of another boat).  Many people had brought enormous fast prime lenses which needed a monopod to support them and in most cases after a couple of attempts they were consigned back to the bag!  Even shooting hand held wasn’t easy, one chap informed me that using continuous shooting was a waste of time and he only took one shot as he didn’t like having to wade through the rest of the images.  I’m not sure how many good shots he got, he must have been a very good photographer because for me on high speed continuous the boat was moving so much that I hoped one of the sequence was at least okay, generally it was a picture of the sky, yacht, sea and even the deck!  (See the sequence below).

Luckily being a bright day meant that I could keep the shutter speed high, the lowest being 1/800 second and the fastest 1/2500 using the ISO to give me the speed when the light or the aperture wouldn’t let me.  The shutter speed became a reflection of how rough it was, both me and the camera also got pretty wet!

Overall, I ended up with lots of images from the day, some close ups and some of the scene as a whole.  I chose this one as the Image of the Month as I thought it summed up the day perfectly, lots of yachts, all shapes and sizes going in lots of different directions.  Lovely clouds and that beautiful jade coloured water with white splashes on the waves. 

If you would like to see some of the other shots from the day then please visit my gallery Just a bit further from home…

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Image of the month - August 2017

Early this July I was lucky enough to attend the Calgary Stampede which is an annual rodeo, exhibition and festival held every July in Alberta, Canada.  The ten-day event kicks off with a parade through Calgary and bills itself as ‘The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth’, attracting over a million visitors each year.  Aside from one of the world’s largest rodeos, it also has chuckwagon racing, stage shows, agricultural competitions and First Nations exhibitions, plenty to keep photographers happily clicking away!

I have recently invested in an Olympus EM1-Mk II as a travel camera, simply as it is much lighter to carry and the focal length much better than the DSLR full frame equivalent.  For example, here I was using a LEICA DG 100-400/F4.0-6.3 which was equivalent to a 200-800mm lens at the fraction of the size and weight.  This meant I could get in really close to the action, however I did wonder if the electronic viewfinder would make it more difficult to capture action shots.  Once I found how to turn off the viewfinder review which freezes the shot for a second in the viewfinder, I found that it wasn’t much different to shooting with my Canon 5D Mk III.

Trying to capture the action of the rodeo wasn’t the easiest as the backgrounds always had lots of people and fences in them.  In some cases, I used them to frame the subject although making the rider stand out from the background wasn’t that easy at the 600-800mm focal length.  Just to make matters worse the Stetsons often covered the cowboys face which is really inconsiderate when you are trying to capture all the effort they are putting in to staying on for the 8 second limit!

I’ve just included a few rodeo images in my gallery Canada & USA, although I’m sure plenty more will follow when I get time to look at them all.

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Image of the month - July 2017

Good grief, what happened to June?  I guess that’s what happens when you have a busy month of photography a quick blink and its suddenly July! It is nice to build up a library of images and I tend to keep most of the ones that I take with the exceptions of the out of focus and totally duff images which are deleted.    I know of many people who are happy to delete all except the very best shots just to save space on their hard drive.  I tend to look at things slightly differently, let me explain why? 

Firstly, as photographers we go to a lot of time and effort to capture our images, often they are unique showing a time and a place that exists at that moment, secondly the cost of hard drives to back up our work is cheaper now than it has ever been and will continue to fall in price.  Thirdly, photo processing techniques and software are always changing and improving, meaning those shots that were badly underexposed or in shadow can now be reworked and possibly saved.  I often also use ‘bits’ of other similar photographs to clone in backgrounds and hide unwanted distractions, so rather than use the whole image use part of them as ‘spares’ to add to the main image.

Basically, on a cloudy, rainy horrible day your photo library becomes a ‘box of possibilities’ waiting to be unleashed!  Talking of which just messing around with one image can have a range of possibilities.  This is an image of a Magician called Anton and I wanted to have a bit more of a ‘mysterious’ feel to his portrait so used the glass ball to frame his reflection so the image in the ball creates a distraction from his actual face.  Then I tried the image in black & white and then colour popped it, check out how each image gives a different feel in the image gallery ‘Just People…’

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Image of the month - June 2017

I find water photography fascinating simply because you never know what you might get.  If you only want to capture a single drop or a splash, it can be easily set up with a plastic bag full of water and a small pin hole to create the drip as it falls into another tray of water.
However, capturing collisions between two drops of water requires a bit more sophisticated kit which can control the droplet size and the interval between drops as well as triggering the camera shutter as the collision occurs.  Two Speedlites light the background which is an A3 sheet of coloured paper.

Even with electronic timing the tiniest changes in settings can have a totally different effect on the type of splash you capture.  Even with the same settings the splash results can be quite different from drop to drop.  As for camera settings, I tried a range of different lenses eventually finding that the 100mm Macro seemed to work the best at f20.

You can see more water drop images in the Beside the seaside gallery as well as the setup used.

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Image of the month - May 2017

So much for the phrase “You can’t have your cake and eat it too!”  Well apparently, with digital photography you can, especially where HDR or High Dynamic Range is concerned.

Normally when you press the shutter button on your camera, the exposure meter, (assuming it is set to evaluative), has a look at the scene you are shooting and tries to balance the exposure between the lightest and darkest areas of the frame. Most times it works well, but when the ratio of light to dark covers a wide range, the camera will probably end up choosing a middle exposure that will leave the highlights burnt out and the shadows totally black.  For example at a sunset where you are trying to capture the brightness of the sun but also retain detail of areas that maybe in shadow.

HDR photography is basically three images taken at different exposures to get a bright, medium and dark image.  The bright one will have detail in shadows, whilst the dark one will have detail in the sky and the medium one will help blend them all together.  Ideally you need a tripod so each of the three images will line up or you will get ghosting when the software tries to blend the images together.  Take one exposure at -1 stop, one at normal exposure (0) and one at +1 Stop.  Auto align the images in Photoshop and the use something like HDR Efx Pro to blend them together.

The only down side is that sometimes the final image looks totally unrealistic, which some people like and others hate!  With this image from an evening photo shoot at Stow Maries Aerodrome, I have just toned down some of the buildings in the background to try to make it a little more realistic.

You can see some more images from Stow Maries in my gallery Just a bit further from home...

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Image of the month - April 2017

I’m always looking out for new photographic opportunities.  So, when a fellow camera club member suggested organising an evening of wire wool spinning and light painting at Hadleigh Castle I jumped at the chance.  I’ve seen lots of great images already of the wire wool spinning and it looked spectacular so I was keen to find out what it involved.

I wasn’t disappointed, although low tech, (a bit of wire wool set alight and spun around using a dog lead), it gave a wonderful effect as bits of wool flew off and were captured by a long camera exposure of 30 seconds.  Luckily the weather was kind to us and the moon made a good addition to some of the images.  Throw in a bit of light paining with a torch to fill in the darker areas of the picture, then review the results and make changes to the exposure and amount of wool being used to refine the technique each time. 

Great fun and will certainly have another go, just need to find another location. 

You can see some more local images in my gallery Beside the seaside…

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Image of the month - March 2017

Portrait photography is one of the most common forms of photography.  Something that most of us do without thinking, especially now in the age of the mobile phone and the ‘selfie’.  Yet it can be one of the hardest things to master, because unless you can capture the personality of the subject it just doesn’t quite work.

Recently I had the opportunity to attend a portrait photography day at the Royal Gunpowder Mills with a lot of theory but also a chance to put some of it into practice with some Re-Enactors.  I’m amazed at how many people get involved with recreating living history from all periods of time, in this case the 1940’s.  It must take them ages to track down or make the costumes and accessories to make it look so real.  (Apparently Ebay is a good source!).

We also had a couple of Steampunks looking resplendent in their science fiction/fantasy costumes with steam powered technology to boot!  Despite the fact there were forty or fifty photographers there, all the re-enactors were oozing in personality making it a very enjoyable day.

You can see more portraits in my gallery 'Just People...'

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Image of the month - February 2017

Photography can be a very competitive hobby, especially if you are involved with club and interclub competitions.  It can be hard enough being a referee in any competitive sport but in photography it must be ten times worse! 

For example, in football the referee may give a penalty decision but the incident can be replayed many times from numerous angles until the pundits either agree or disagree with the ref.  But what about a photograph? 

Okay you can look at an image and give marks out of ten for composition, exposure and sharpness, but what about the content of the image?  People can look at the same image and come up with a completely different verdict depending on their own personal likes/dislikes and emotional relationship with that subject matter.  Hence in photography after a competition there can be great discussion resulting from the score that was….or wasn’t given!

The bottom line is that the judge is always right, because they award their marks per their opinion.  Just because we may not agree with it doesn’t mean they are wrong and similarly just because a judge gives a score of six out of ten it doesn’t mean that the image is suddenly a bad one!

The image of the sunrise on the Rhine is a favourite of mine because it brings back happy memories of a time and place, I also don’t think it’s a bad photograph.  Regrettably, sunsets/sunrises are two a penny in competitive photography and often don’t get a very good mark, so I thought I would put a polar filter on it in Photoshop to give it a bit of added interest.  Now I really like it, but unfortunately the judges just don’t get it and spend their time trying to work it out rather than just enjoying it then give it seven!  Sometimes you have just got to enjoy and like what you do and ignore the score, after all it’s only ‘their’ opinion!

You can see more ways to use Photoshop to manipulate your images in my gallery Playing in Photoshop...

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Image of the month - January 2017

Welcome to another New Year of Image Chasing!  I’ve been doing photography now for more years than I care to remember, yet each year brings new things to learn and new challenges to master and of course you are only ever as good as your last image.  I guess that’s why I still enjoy photography as much now as when I first started, at least digital is a lot cheaper than film. 

Talking of film I have just taken the sad step of throwing out my enlarger and darkroom equipment that had sat there patiently for 20 years gathering dust, I hadn’t the heart to throw it out before, as there was always the hope of watching that magical image appear on that piece of white paper just one more time….but in reality it was just too much hassle to blackout the room, mix all the chemicals to the right temp etc, etc, so goodbye darkroom!

On the plus side, we now have cameras that we can change the ISO for individual shots, rather than having to shoot 36 exposures and then changing the film for a different ISO and of course we can preview our shots which makes shooting images like the one below much easier.

So, hello to 2017 and let’s get excited about what new surprises photography has in store for us!

If you would like to see more of the birds of prey studio shoot you can find the images in the Flora & Fauna gallery....

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Image of the month - December 2016

Filters and the ability to colour pop are so easy to do now and as such they can be overused and abused, yet with the right subject and choice of effects it can transform an image.  The important thing to remember is that you need a good image to start with, filters and effects are not there to hide or try to improve a bad image, generally it just makes it worse!

My first ever attempt at colour popping was in the days of film.  It was a headshot of an eagle owl with the bright orange eyes coloured in using a permanent overhead transparency pen, which I found allowed the textures to show through and if you let dry could add another layer making the colour more solid.  Of course, you were limited by how much you could colour in and get away with so it was always used sparingly!

Fractalius is a Photoshop plugin filter that seems to work well with textures such as feathers and fur and I had used it quite effectively with an American Bald Eagle, so when I saw one of my old pictures of a tawny owl I decided to use Fractalius and colour pop the eyes like my old film version.  I cropped in close to fill the frame as I didn’t want a distracting outline and came up with the following result!
You can see some more uses of Fractalius in my gallery Playing with Photoshop…

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Image of the month - November 2016

During October I had an opportunity to spend a special day at Woburn Safari Park.  It was a chance to get up close with the animals as part of a photography group riding with a keeper in a 4x4, visiting areas that the general public don’t get near to and being able to take photos through an open window.  Hence if some of the images of the tiger walking towards me don’t look pin sharp, please forgive as I had one hand on the window winder ready to shut it quickly….although in realty I’m sure the tiger would have beaten me paws down if it was a real race!

For this month’s image I put a sequence together of five images together in a panorama.  Anyone who has had a cat will recognise the posture as they are about to pounce and I saw this young female crouch down ready, so I focused on her and just let the camera follow the sequence as it unfolded.  It ended up in a play fight with mum.  Luckily I had a fairly fast shutter speed which managed to stop the action and it was an easy process to stitch the images together in Photoshop.

If you would like to see some more from my day at Woburn then you can find them in the Flora & Fauna gallery.

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Image of the month - October 2016

Landscape photography is all about getting the right light in the right location and as we all know the weather does not always help.  Of course you can plan your trip and scout out a location but getting a good shot will still depend on the one thing that is out of your control.  Hence this time of year I try to stack the odds more within my favour by always take my camera kit with me when I drive to and from work.  I also make sure that I have enough flexibility in my travel time, that if I see a good sunrise or sunset I can detour and spend a little time taking pictures.

The down side of this is that sometimes you just can’t find a place to stop safely and shoot.  There is a patch of road that I drive which runs between two hills with a church on one of the hills.  Often the mist gathers in the valley and the sun rises behind the church creating a stunning image, but there is just nowhere to stop!  Other times you can be lucky like this image of the month taken at Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, the light only lasted for about 15 minutes during which time there was a stunning image in every direction. 

So hedge your bets and pack a camera, you never know you might get lucky! You can see more of my local images in my album Beside the Seaside...

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Image of the month - September 2016

Birds of prey were my first ever introduction into shooting natural history images, although as they are captive I could guess you could argue that they are not truly natural history!  However who could fail to be enchanted by their majestic colours and amazing flying ability, or in the case of Chaos the Burrowing Owl his ability to run like the clappers.

Earlier this month we had a photo workshop with the Imperial Birds of Prey Academy based at Barleylands in Essex.  It was a real opportunity to not only get some static shots but also birds in flight.  One of the real difficulties of capturing a good image of a flying bird, (aside from being able to track and get it in focus), is getting the correct exposure.  If you let your camera decide the exposure, more often than not it will expose for the bright sky, capturing the bird as a dark shadow or outline losing all the detail on the underside of the bird.  To overcome this you can set the exposure compensation to +2/3 of a stop which maintains detail in the darker areas.

Interestingly Robin Lowry had a different method for getting the exposure right by taking a meter reading off the grass and then setting the camera to manual using that exposure.  This also worked brilliantly as you can see from the image of Gracie the Kestrel performing her hover.  That’s what I love about photography, there is always something new to learn.  Thanks must also go to Derry, Nigel and the falconers, as well as the birds of course!

You can see more of the birds in my gallery Flora & Fauna…

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Image of the month - August 2016

It’s going to be a bitter sweet feeling to see the start of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, there will still be the excitement and passion that the event brings, but it’s not our games that we hosted so brilliantly in 2012.

Despite, (like many others), entering and not getting any tickets through the lottery, many hours were spent on the London 2012 ticket website and I eventually got to see Olympic Hockey  at the Olympic Park and Mountain Biking at Hadleigh Farm.  The Paralympics tickets were just as hard to come by, but I managed to get Athletics, Dressage at Greenwich, Road Cycling at Brands Hatch and the most unlikely of all the Opening Ceremony for £20.12.

There was no distinction for either Olympic or Paralympic events, the atmosphere was amazing with everyone in the party spirit, cheering and shouting encouragement to all the competitors.  Nothing could prepare me for the sheer noise and crackling of excitement as Team GB entered the stadium to David Bowies ‘Heroes’, as the Americans would say ‘Totally Awesome!’

You can see more of my images from London 2012 in the gallery London 2012 & Beyond...


Image of the month - July 2016

After last month’s Image of the Month being a bit of a rarity, I thought that I might try to expand my flora and fauna portfolio by taking part in a summer safari session at Knowsley Safari Park.  At the time it seemed like a good opportunity with lots of interesting animals to photograph in lovely surroundings, but then I did image the word ‘summer’ to suggest a nice dry evening with a bit of colour in the sky as the sun slowly sunk below the horizon. 

Okay now the reality of a summer evening in 2016, rain, thunder lightning and a bland white sky with poor light, all the things that were not going to be helpful!  No wonder the British always discuss the weather!

Recently I’ve seen a lot of high key black and white images that I’ve really liked but never tried myself.  So I thought this is a good opportunity to give it a go and make something more creative that the rotten weather would allow. 

I began by converting the image to black and white, getting the best contrast and detail I could whilst also trying to tidy up the noise created but shooting with a high ISO.  Then added a white layer on top, adjusting the opacity until it created a misty look.  Finally I added a mask to allow the lion to show through.  This took a bit of experimenting to work out how much of the background to show through, without the lion appearing to be cut out or losing the feeling of mist. 

This is attempt five, there may be more!  As the saying goes ‘If life gives you lemons, then make lemonade!’  If you would like to see other examples of my work, then please visit my Gallery web page, roll on summer!

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Image of the month - June 2016

This month’s image is a bit of a rarity in the fact that it falls under the category of nature/wildlife, which is something I hardly ever photograph.  I’m not sure it will win any prizes as there are some stunning images of kingfishers out there, but for me it is special as it is the first wild kingfisher I have ever seen and photographed.

This kingfisher was over at RSPB Rainham Marshes and was quite happy catching fish and bringing it back to its fledglings, although some ducks and swans kept swimming in front of its nest burrow forcing it to sit on a nearby twig until it was clear to enter.   I had my camera set to high speed continuous shooting, (approx. 7 frames per second), in the hope to catch the kingfisher in flight.  I almost managed it but unfortunately he took off and flew away from us, causing his wing to obstruct his head and two frames later he was out the picture!

If you would like to see some more images then follow the link to the Flora & Fauna gallery.

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Images of the month - May 2016

Last month I presented my panel of 10 prints to be assessed for the award of CPAGB, (Credit of the Photographic Alliance of Great Britain).  The PAGB is an organisation that represents all the photographic societies around the UK and has a series of merit awards to recognise achievement by camera club members.

Assessments are held twice a year moving around the country, each federation taking it in turn to host the event.  So after a number of local advisory days, lots of image shuffling, I finally selected and labelled up my panel of ten prints ready to head up the A1 to Gateshead.

For the CPAGB, the pictures are judged on a scale of marks from two to five. Two indicates that it is not up to standard, three a near miss, four is a pass, and five is well above the standard required. Marks are awarded by each of six assessors, so each picture is rated out of a total of 30 marks, and 20 is the pass mark. Since there are 10 pictures, the overall pass mark is 200 out of a possible 300 marks. The standard for passing is meant to represent "good club photography", by which they mean that the pictures might do well if selected to go into inter-club or inter-federation competitions.

On the day 62 panels were assessed, each print only being seen for 5-10 seconds before the judges scored it and the result called out.  Luckily an image of the print was projected at the same time as the print was displayed in front of the judges and I was surprised at how tough the standard is to achieve the pass mark of 20.  Although I couldn’t see the print in enough detail to see if it had flaws in it, I was often surprised that quite a number of images that I would consider to be of a good enough standard were not given the pass mark.  This was reflected in my own scores where prints which had done really well in both club and inter-club competitions only got 17 or 18!  This made for a real rollercoaster journey, until eventually my last print was displayed and scored 24 to give me a final tally of 211 and my CPAGB phew!

My panel of 10 prints is shown below, if you would like to see the images in more detail along with their scores then please visit my gallery Distinctions & Awards...

Image of the month - April 2016

I just love photographing water; it can produce some amazing shapes and effects in all its different forms.  In white water canoeing it adds dynamism and drama which complements the action perfectly.   Yet even on a small scale with some fizzy water, a vase and a couple of dice it can still produce stunning images using flash to stop the action, you just need to catch it at the right moment!

The image below was captured by setting up a couple of off camera flashes to capture the action as the dice were dropped.  A camera remote shutter release is helpful especially if you are doing it on your own.  At least with digital you can see exactly what you’ve got and keep trying until all the bits ‘fall’ in place.  Not sure that I would have tried it with film, it could have led to a lot of disappointed shots!

Have a go, its great fun and you can find some other ideas for water shots in the gallery Working with Flash...

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Image of the month - March 2016

Welcome to March Image Chasers, summer is on its way!

Last September Lee Valley White Water Centre hosted the largest international canoeing event outside of the Olympics, the ICF World Canoe Slalom Championships.  Although it had over three hundred of the world’s best canoeists on show with fierce competition for places in Rio 2016, it is not the easiest of events to photograph.  Security and large crowds make the number of good locations difficult to find, but sometimes you just have to enjoy the event and grab what images you can.

There was plenty of British talent on show including Etienne Stott with his new partner, Mark Proctor who are both featured in this image.  Etienne won gold with Tim Ballie at London 2012, but since then Tim has retired from the sport due to injury.

C2 is probably my favourite event to photograph although it can be really difficult to get a clear shot of both the competitors faces, often the person behind has their head down while they paddle or are just totally hidden from view by the person in front.  If you manage to get them both looking up then the paddle can be across their face still ruining the shot….but the one image that works out makes it all worthwhile.

Good luck to Team GB in Rio!  You can see some more canoeing images by visiting the gallery ‘Wonderful White Water…’

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Image of the month - February 2016

Following Novembers images of Kerry Allingham as a ‘Woodland Warrior’ I thought that February could be the ‘Peace & Tranquillity’ month.  Fern Maeve was the model for this set of images taken at Driver Wood Paintball, with great organisation by Gavin & Sam Hoey.

Robert Pugh, one of the Olympus ambassadors, was on hand to offer lots of experience and ideas about how to capture Fern at her best using ambient light, flash and smoke, the latter very much having a mind of its own, even though there was very little wind to move it around.  The overcast day actually worked quite well for us, giving a soft even light and allowing us good control of what we wanted to light with the flash.

After the grassy clearing a thicker woodland area allowed us to capture some more atmospheric shots, with a bit of added smoke via a long cable and a smoke machine, (useful for hiding the cars in the car park behind the trees!).

At present I have put up the unedited versions of the images taken, some may have had a bit of a crop, but that is about it.  I may well choose to do more to them later, but I always try to capture a good image in the camera rather than relying on Photoshop to fix the images later.

If you would like to see more of these images or the earlier ones of Kerry, then please follow the link to the Just People gallery.

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Image of the month - January 2016

Happy New Year Image Chasers and thank you again for your great support during 2015!

Actually this month's post almost didn't occur and is actually very different from the one I had planned to do, mainly thanks to my old Windows 7 computer that had been hanging on until the introduction of Windows 10. Christmas morning it decided to throw a hissy fit and not totally stop working but just do what it wanted to do very, very slowly and then not do anything at all.

So the plunge had to be taken to start the big switchover to a new machine, which actually wasn't as painful as previously expected and now I can start the New Year with a happy PC but a different image of the month.

I must admit that I am always amazed by the fab wildlife images that some photographers are able to capture and would love to be able to take some myself. However I lack the patience needed to sit and wait in a hide for the wildlife to come to me or the incredible knowledge needed to know where to find it in the first place! That is probably why good wildlife photographers tend to do just wildlife. In that respect sports photography is much easier as there is normally a start/finish or a goal so that you know where the people are likely to be.

The image below was captured at East Beach, Shoeburyness. The grass had been flooded causing massive puddles of water to form which the gulls loved sitting in. Every now and again something would spook them and they would fly off, only to return a short time later. This fell well within my patience settings for wildlife and setting a fast shutter speed and continuous shooting managed to capture the moment of take off with a lovely big splash.

You can check out some more of my images on the Gallery page and happy Image Chasing in 2016!

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