Aimlessly Pontificating on Photography

Posts tagged “technique

The making of . . .

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Toddler Angst

My original intention when doing these “making of” posts was to present a tutorial, whether that tutorial gave the technical details of a particular photo, or how to achieve and effect, or even how to duplicate my results; it didn’t really matter. The point was to give a reader the “formula” of the creation of the photo.

What it has turned into instead is the recitation of an anecdote of how the photo came to be. I will eventually start producing proper tutorials, but the anecdotes are a lot easier to write and a lot more fun for me.

The headline photo has become one of my favourites since I took it. I suppose it doesn’t hurt that it is of my son.

We were about to head off to the wedding, Kiran was well dressed and becoming quite restive, he didn’t really like being dressed up but not going someplace. I couldn’t resist taking a few pictures of him, so I asked him to pose. This is often a hit or miss exercise. Sometimes he enjoys posing for the camera, sometimes he seems to feel an unwanted obligation. And sometimes he simply won’t do it.

This I think was one of those occasions where he felt obligated, but didn’t really want to oblige. I think you can tell from the expression on his face, he was quite annoyed at daddy’s request. I am pretty sure he was quite full of himself at being so dressed up too 🙂 I certainly didn’t ask or encourage the specific pose, I just asked him to stand in the slightly ajar door.

I had done a previous shot in this spot and I liked the defining line created by the dark interior of the house and the largely negative space provided by the white door. I hadn’t gone quite this far with the previous shot though.

As far as post processing (I use Adobe Lightroom) goes essentially, what I did was to ramp up the exposure 1 3/4 stops, increase the brightness to 68 (out of 100) and desaturate the photo. I usually prefer to use Lightroom’s black & white process as it tends to produce a nicer tonal mix than simply desaturating the photo, but in this case I wanted just very high contrast black against white.

I also increased the blacks to 40 (out of 100) which is very high for an accurately exposed photo. I also used a lot of fill light to lighten the shadows. The final step was to crop the image slightly to get rid of the security grill. The high contrast processing hadn’t blown the grill out (like it did the white door) and I felt it unbalanced the image to have another evenly weighted element opposing Kiran.

The bottom line is, as you can see from the completely unprocessed photo below, I had something good to start with and made real drama therefrom.

Angst Begins.


Shooting with Primes.

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My main reason for buying a Pentax DSLR when I outgrew the previous camera was the value it represented. Compared with the equivalent Nikon or Canon models it was significantly cheaper. And, according to the many reviews I had read, there were a lot of little features that were useful that weren’t present in competing models.

One of the things that I have now learned is of significant value is the number of fixed focal length (prime) lenses that are available for Pentax SLRs. Lenses that were made decades ago for Pentax SLRs can still mount the new digital SLRs that are available now. The Pentax “K” mount is well known and popular and has been around for over 30 years. And lenses from the preceding M42 mount can be fitted with a simple adapter.

The point of this is that, more than any other manufacturer, there are hundreds of cheap, excellent lens available for the Pentax DSLR. Most of them prime lenses. Having such an abundant resource is a major selling point for a manufacturer that always seems to appeal to the hobbyist, rather than the pro.

Zooms have become the pervasive standard but t wasn’t that long ago when the lens you got with your SLR would have been the standard 50mm lens. The ubiquity of the zoom lens sees most DSLR kits being sold with what is now called the “kit zoom”; a lens covering a reasonable zoom range usually from a wide angle to a moderate telephoto. These tend to be made as cheaply as possibly and, though competent for what they are, are not considered “good” glass. These kit zooms tend to be fairly slow also, having a fairly narrow maximum aperture.

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Shooting a wedding.

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I came across an interesting acronym the other day, FDLFSW (Friends Don’t Let Friends Shoot Weddings :)). Unfortunately, if any of us used to listen to good sense there would be no need for priests or lawyers (good riddance to both?). Well thank goodness for me good sense has to be the least used product on sale since the birth of humanity or I’d never have been able to afford my hobby.

Well I am, if nothing else, a man of my species, so when my good friends asked me to shoot Joan & Gerard’s wedding as a backup to her brothers, Mike and Andre it took me a very short while to say yes. They are no longer my friends.

Mr. & Mrs. DeFreitas

Nah, I’m just joking. It did teach me a valuable lesson though. Although I had accepted intellectually that weddings are challenging to photograph, it is different to actually do one and realise it for yourself. I did something right at least, I realised right at the beginning that it would be difficult and that I really didn’t know what I was doing.

Key to doing an acceptable job in these situations is to understand your limitations. Without a keen understanding of what you can and cannot do you, are quite likely to make a mess of things. Getting a shot of an important moment, even if not technically skilled (poor choice of exposure, not properly sharp/focused) is better than missing the shot altogether. And while a technically inferior shot is permissible when you are a backup, it is completely unacceptable when you are the primary photographer.

If you take on a wedding and you don’t know what you are doing you are not merely risking losing a client or friend, you are spoiling the memories of what is likely to be one of the most important events in the lives of a number of people.

My favourite photo to date with the 31mm

Knowing all of the foregoing I still decided to confine myself to two lenses (no zoom; gasp!). The first is the Pentax 31mm Ltd which has been described by some as one of the best 35mm lenses ever. What I like best about this one is the absolute pin sharpness and resolution. It is a very fast lens too (f/1.8), and works well in a dimly lit cathedral. This lens is a favourite because it gives a “normal” field of view on a camera with an APS-C sized sensor (smaller than 35mm full frame). This means that it approximates the angle of view of normal vision.

One of my preferred images with the Vivitar.

The other lens I used is the Vivitar Series I 105mm Macro lens. A mouthful of a name for a lens that is far bigger than its name implies. There is very little formal information available online for this lens because it was last manufactured sometime in the 80s! You can find some specifications, if you are interested, here (Kiron made the lens for Vivitar). I got mine as part of the close out sale of a camera shop that had a set of them new in box and paid less than half of what they are going for now, used. It is also a relatively fast lens (f/2.4) but manual focus. And not just any manual focus either; the precise 6 turns infinity to close focus that you need for macro focusing.

Another “difficulty” is that Guyanese are generally very conservative, and change or the unusual is not welcome. Anyone who has looked at my photos realises that I tend not to like the normal viewpoints for most subjects. I had visions of some low to the ground shots of the bride entering the church and something from a high vantage point obscuring by distance everyone but the bride who would stand out in her gown (since the wedding was at Brickdam Cathedral, I am not sure where I would find this vantage point).

I also wanted to get some photos of the bride getting ready and confusion in the house, the groom stepping out of the car that brought him (car door open, interior obscured by shadow, groom’s foot about to touch pavement :), etc. In other words I had a lot of ideas. Unfortunately, reality conspired to knuckle me in the head and things moved quite a bit faster than I had anticipated. I was quite shocked that they wouldn’t stop the proceedings to allow me to get THE shot 🙂 And no matter how accommodating my wife and the bride, I doubt that either of them would have allowed me to start taking photos from the time the bride started brushing her teeth for the morning.

 

Wedding Music

I digressed a bit, but the point I was trying to make is that had I the opportunity and time to do what I wanted to do there is a good chance that the bride and groom would not have liked the result. So perhaps a good thing since the photos were not for me, but for the bride and groom.

The challenge of using the two prime lenses was mitigated by the location. The church allowed me to make quick changes in perspective, so if I needed to quickly get a closer view and had the 31mm lens on the camera, I could quickly move closer. And likewise, if I had the 105mm lens on and needed a wider view, I could quickly move back. This works only within limited parameters as the switch was between a wide angle lens and a telephoto lens, but was sufficient if I didn’t have time to switch between them.

At the doorway

The wedding reception after the ceremony was a different situation. No wide aisles and seating arranged in a grid. No space to easily move further away. Plus I got tired and lazy. Too much work to get a good composition with prime lenses, too much work to keep changing lenses. So I switched to a wide angle zoom; the Pentax DA*16-50mm. This is Pentax’s pro level wide zoom and as fast as a zoom gets (f/2.8, but very soft wide open).

 

Panning shot.

One of my favourite photos of the entire day was taken with this lens. A panning shot of the bride and groom making their entrance across the room. Someone asked me why I used a blurred shot. This one isn’t blurred, at least the bride and groom are sharp, but the background is blurred as I was panning the camera. I like these types of shots because they give a strong feeling of movement. This one came out better than I expected.

I did use an actually blurred shot also. Once again because it imparted a feeling of movement and action to the scene. But the very fact that I was questioned for these choices make it clear how conservative Guyanese viewers are. Aesthetics are bright colours and sharp focus; things like creative composition and unusual angles are frowned upon.

I did assert my own sense of aesthetics to some extent with the processing of the images. Although they appear to be monochrome, they are actually significantly, but not completely de-saturated. The contrast is very soft (although the images are sharp, the sharpness isn’t emphasized) and the tones soft also.

I came away from this experience with one abiding vow. I won’t do anymore weddings. Plus I gained a whole new respect for people who do this for a living (at least the conscientious ones). If the bride or groom flubs a line during the ceremony, they get to do it over. If the photographer fails to take the right shot at the right time, no do overs + very annoyed client. Not an easy job. But looking back at the photos that I consider good, I can see how it can be very fulfilling.

Michael’s photos are here; and Andre’s are here. My full set is here.

P.S. If you want a complete set of applicable acronyms, have a look here. Quite an amusing article.

 


Attempting Infrared Photography.

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What it is.

I’ve been trying a new (new to me) photographic technique recently. It is referred to as infrared photography. Most of the people who end up reading this post will probably know that what we see as white light is actually composed of a number of different colours. You can see those colours every time you see a rainbow.

When you see a rainbow the colours you see go from red at one side, to violet on the other. Beyond red is a part of the visible spectrum (of electromagnetic waves) that our eyes cannot see, called infrared (strongly heated metal, like the heating element of an electric stove produces lots of infrared). For the curious, beyond violet is ultra violet which can cause sunburn and eye damage if you go out into the sun unprotected. But to avoid misunderstanding, the infrared photography I am discussing is not thermal imaging, which is photography or videography of radiated infrared. What I am discussing is reflected infrared light.

It is the reflected infrared light that photographers are usually interested in, either trying to block it out completely or to make use of it to provide some very interesting photographs.

The visible spectrum, what you can see in a rainbow, runs from 400nm to 700nm approximately. If you want the gory details, see here. The part of the infra red spectrum that photographers are interested in runs from beyond 700nm to approximately 1400nm. This is sometimes referred to as near infra red.

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Composition.

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NOTE: This is republished from a note I posted on Facebook on May 20 (with minor edits here), before I started this blog.

Afternoon Repose

The picture on the right is a good one. No point in false modesty. It is good not only because the composition is good, but because the exposure is exactly right and the focus and sharpness are perfect. Seen full size it looks far better than the little thumbnail on the right.

How did I spot the shot? Most people (non-photographers) would just have walked past it. I spotted it because I have been working hard at improving my photography for the year so far. Not only actually taking photographs, but looking at photographs from good photographers and reading voraciously.

Do what I have been doing and the odds are, you will never walk past a shot like this; or an equivalently good scene for the various different types of photography.

There is an unending supply of talented photographers around and the ubiquity of cheap digital cameras has allowed a vast number of people to explore their talent. It is hard these days to make your voice heard in the huge volume of good photographers now trying to be heard at the same time.

There are a few things that are key; lots and lots of practice, lots and lots of superior photographs in your portfolio and knowing the rules (and when to break them).

This one photograph, good as it is, is not going to get me anything. A few people will see it, a smaller number will like it, and nothing much will come of it. This is the reality of competition.

What will get me recognition (and you too if you are interested) is relentlessly producing good quality work, recognising that any kind of success can take a while and lots of self promotion.

Have a look at my photographs here.

And while I consider my picture above to be good. Have a look here to see what I consider to be a great photograph (photographs that can change the world). The depressing nature of that scene and others he had to witness were thought to have contributed to Carter’s despondency and later suicide.


Editing a photograph.

My blog has moved, see the new site at http://blog.badlightgoodlight.com

NOTE: This is republished from a note I posted on Facebook on April 22, before I started this blog.

People are always asking me if I edit my photos. The answer is a qualified “no”.

To a photographer, editing a photograph means altering the image to either put something into it that was not there, or removing something that is in the scene, but unwanted.

Even then, it is a matter of degrees. Famous portrait photographer Ann Leibovitz (pregnant Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair) often produces composites.

She takes the photo of the person in front of a neutral background while her assistants look for and photograph suitable backgrounds. The portrait of the person is then placed on the background. There are opinions that while the result might be art, it is not a photograph. Opinions are divided.

The vast majority of my photographs are processed, but not edited. The images that are produced by my camera are in a special format called “RAW” or digital negatives.

Digital negatives, like negatives from a film camera, cannot be used as is. They have to be processed, like a photographer would have to process film from a film camera.

Serious photographers, in the film days, would have had their own darkrooms (and there are still a significant number of photographers who still use film and have darkrooms) and done their own processing and printing.

I use software to process my digital negatives (called “Lightroom” in a brilliant bit of naming by Adobe). The process is entirely analogous to the “washing” of film to produce negatives, and subsequent printing of the negatives.

A modern digital cameras, that you might carry around in your pocket is more like a Polaroid instant camera than a regular film camera. The processing of the image to produce something you can put online, on facebook or print is done within the camera. So you have a usable image milliseconds after releasing the shutter.

All the things that I might do in Adobe Lightroom or a film photographer might do in his darkroom are done for you, by the camera itself.

Because all the decisions as to how to process the image are done by the camera itself a lot of the flexibility is lost, but you get an image that can be used immediately. The convenience of having the usable image immediately, outweighs the processing flexibility of having the digital negative, for most people.

Even professional photographers, sports photographers or photo journalists, often prefer to have the finished photo straight out of the camera as deadlines have to be met, and the subtlest nuances of a scene are not of great import. Their need is to have a usable image as quickly as possible.

When I photograph a scene I will often take a significant number of photographs that have only the subtlest differences in composition and lighting. I then take all the images into my lightroom see which one(s) I think is best. If more than one I then process them to see which looks best as representative of what I want the photograph to say. And it is that final selection that I might print or put online.

Processing decisions I might make include adjusting the contrast, cropping the image, changing the white balance (if the camera got it wrong, or if for aesthetic reasons I prefer the image warmer or cooler), sharpening the image (this is a requirement for digital images because of the way the sensor captures the image) or converting colour to monotone.

I’ve seen negative reactions when I have tried to explain this to people in the past. But what I do is no different from what the average camera does automatically in order to produce a pleasing JPEG. The difference is that I make all the decisions myself for reasons of control, whereas most people prefer the speed of allowing their camera to make the decisions automatically for reasons of convenience.

I’ve had people look at a monotone image of mine (black and white) and commented favourably, then looked at a nicely saturated colour image and asked if I’ve “edited” the image. I’ve always wanted to ask if that person sees in black and white and how come I didn’t get the dreaded “edited” question when they saw that photo?

Most, or all of the processing that I might do in lightroom were (and still are) done by film photographers save that film processing is a lot more difficult, time consuming and expensive.

I do edit (by my own definition) my photographs from time to time. I have no easy way to check, but by recollection, of the fourteen or fifteen thousand images I’ve taken over the last four years I’ve edited less than five. The edits usually consisted of removing (cloning out) electrical wires from a scene.

Unedited

I’ve put two versions of a photo I took yesterday, below. The first one [to the right] is the original straight out of the camera without any additional processing by me. The top of the image is overexposed because I exposed it for the reflection in the water. You can see the result of the overexposure in the City Hall tower. It is very white and little detail of the windows or the wood can be seen (its “blown out” in the parlance). The white balance is also incorrect. This was after 4 p.m. so the light was very warm, golden afternoon sunlight. What is white in the image, should really be yellow.

The second image results from my processing [below right]. I’ve applied a -1ev gradient (graduated darkening, more darkening at the top, less darkening towards the middle), raised the black clipping point (made the deepest shadows pure black rather than just shadowed, very subtle) and some slight sharpening. This processing was done in less than a minute and the result more closely matches what I saw through the lens.

Although the white balance is inaccurate (the camera made the wrong choice), for aesthetic reasons I’ve not corrected it.

Edited

I’ve also edited the image. I cloned out the electrical wire at the top right.
I take photographs for strictly aesthetic reasons, I am not an archivist and not overly concerned with accuracy. What I want to achieve when I take a photograph is to convey the impact that the scene made on me. Usually, in order to convey that impact it is necessary to compose and/or process the image in creative ways.


Five Best, Part 3 – My Top 5.

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This will be the last of my five best of series to mark my passing the 6 month point of my project to take a picture every day for a year. This one was actually the hardest of the the set to choose. To pick a five best in a specific category was not difficult because the potential choices were fairly limited.

Choosing a five best overall though was difficult; in part because there are so many I really like and there are also quite a few that even if they aren’t very good, have an interesting story to go with them.

Anticipating

Only one part of judging a photo is assessment of outright technical merit. Often the photo taken with consummate technical perfection is the least likely to please viewers and obversely a photo which is technically flawed will win compliments.

Far more important to judging whether a photo is good or not is the viewer’s own preferences and prejudices. The photo of my wife (on the right) was taken just 2 days before she delivered our daughter, Mira. Any expectant mother will know that look on her face and will probably like this shot.

I deliberately boosted the contrast in this photo to give a harsh feel to the photo and accentuate Sharon’s distressed and uncomfortable look. The blown highlights are mostly deliberate, but degrade the technical aspect of the photo.

She was very annoyed at having to pose for me when she was so uncomfortable, but I expected that and used it to my advantage. I didn’t really want a photo of her where she looked comfortable and relaxed.

Shelter on a rainy day

Next up is the best shot in this post. On the left is an image that won a challenge on DPReview (one of the premiere camera review websites). Nothing major, but gratifying nonetheless.

I reached to work a little after 7 a.m. on a rainy day. There were several large puddles of water and I went out to try and get some nice reflecting shots. On the way back to the office I spotted him out the corner of my eye and stopped and asked to take a picture.

He was reluctant at first, but eventually obliged. I was in two minds about stopping and asking, not really an easy thing to do, but I am so pleased I did.

Because of the soft, even lighting resulting from the heavily overcast sky, the colours were very saturated, almost cartoonish. I did like how it looked initially because I like bright colours. But the bright colours didn’t really suit the mood of the image. One of the largest changes I made was to reduce the saturation of the image.

Brothers

If you have had a look at my photographs you might notice that I really like to take photographs of people. It doesn’t really matter much to me what situation they are in; posed, candid, street photography or any other situation you might find people.

I think there are cases where people can be intrusive; landscapes and architectural for example. And there are specific types of photography which cannot include people. But I think almost any scene can be livened up by having some people in it. One of my favourite albums to post to is my people album. I am always happy when I have an image to post to that album.

The point is, of my top five images for the past six months three of them are of people. It is no coincidence.

In this case I tracked the brothers for a while, as they were walking down the sidewalk. When I saw them about to cross the street I was almost hopping up and down in anxiety hoping for them to cross where I wanted them to. The next issue was for their steps to synchronize. I must have take a dozen photos of them in the 10 seconds or so it took them to cross the street.

Knotted

I had to include this image (to the left). Quite apart from the fact that I do think it is one of my best for the year so far a lot of thought went into constructing this one. I am certain that I would not have been able to take this photo had I not started this photo a day project.

I did a comprehensive “making of” post on this image a short while ago and don’t propose to repeat that.

I didn’t find the scene having looked specifically for it. I just saw the juxtaposition of the knotted rope set against the diamond pattern lattice wall and recognised the potential.

It is an enhanced ability to recognise this potential that taking a photo per day for a year has brought me. I started taking photos seriously early 2007 when I got a new camera. I had that camera for nearly 3 years and took about 8,600 pictures in that time. Since I sold that camera and got the new one (and thanks partly to my photo a day project) I have taken over 11,000 in nine months.

This quantity comes not only because I have to take at least one photo each day, but because I am recognising more interesting scenes and actually stopping to take a picture, when in the past I might have moved on.

Taking on passengers

With respect to this final image of my top 5 I think I may be biased because it happens to be one of the more recent of my favourites. There is a good chance that it may not survive in my top photos list, but at the moment I really like it.

At least part of that liking comes from the fact that it is an accidental photo. I had intended to take a photo looking up the street. I set my tripod and carefully waited until the traffic lights at the corner (out of frame) said go, so that I would get some light trails as the vehicles drove past (see here for an example).

Unfortunately (or fortunately) this minibus pulled up right there to offload his passengers. At the time I thought it was a disaster. Had he moved off quickly enough the bus would have faded to a ghostly shadow as he would not have been in the scene long enough to firmly expose on the camera sensor. I was so annoyed when he refused to move.

It was not until I got home late that evening that I decided that this totally accidental shot was the one I liked best. It just goes to show that in photography, as in anything else, luck can often play a big part.

Given the difficulty I’ve had picking my top five for the last six months I am not sure I am looking forward to repeating the exercise at the end of the year to chose my top ten.


So Far.

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I’ve been at the 365 thing for 6 months now (just a few days shy) and it has been both hard and easy, disappointing and fulfilling. One thing it has not been: boring.

I’ll try not to be too tedious today, but having completely impulsively decided to take at least one picture a day for the year on the first January, I am now stuck doing this for at least six months more.

The First

I supposed that I had some vague and ephemeral idea that I would try to take good pictures everyday. Though surely not. It certainly hasn’t worked out that way, in any event. As you can see (to the right) things didn’t start off with a bang.

It was a scene I liked, with the backyard and snow through the sliding doors and the soft and dreary light in my aunt’s kitchen. But this gives an idea of where I was in terms of what I was seeing at the beginning of the project. Nothing much.

So it was hard at first, partially because there was a challenge finding something to photograph in dreary suburban Scarborough in the heart of winter, but also because I was (and still am) working on seeing when I look.

Returning to Guyana made things a bit easier at first. I had my own transportation and could get around to places whenever I wanted. But it also gave me a much wider range of subjects.

Urban Hurry

The suddenly easier hunting probably set me back developing that “eye” to spot the scenes that I would like to photograph. Because they were all around me, for a while it was less of a challenge.

On the other hand, what had been forced to develop in Canada stood me in good stead and I think the overall quality of my compositions went up noticeably after my return. So did the number of “good” images I was taking.

Like all good things, however, the easy run has been slowly tapering off. I have had to get back to being very determined and directed in my search for a shot.

Why is it worth all this headache? Because in six months so far every aspect of my photography has improved tremendously. From ease in composing, to control of my gear, to the ability to “see” a good shot. I’ve even gotten better at being in the right place, at the right time.

Right Place, Right Time.


Five Best, Part 1 – Landscapes.

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It has been almost 6 months since I started my 365 project (about a week to go before I pass the halfway mark) so I thought for the next few Fridays I would post my five favourite photographs in a few categories for the preceding six months; along with a brief paragraph on each image.

Bel Air Beach

This week I’ve decided to start with landscapes. Landscape images tend to be the most generally appealing images for most people. Who doesn’t like a good landscape?

Unfortunately, in my case, landscapes are not a type of photography I find that I typically do well with. I haven’t yet been able to figure out why, but I find my compositions somewhat lacking in drama and interest.

The first photo (on the left) is actually the first landscape I took for the year in Guyana. It is here mostly for that reason, but also because I am pleased with the textures and earth tones that I got.

This was a snapshot more or less. I had returned to Guyana the previous day I think and was still getting things on track. I hadn’t take a photograph all day and was in a rush later in the afternoon to look for an appropriate photograph.

After having been house bound in Canada in winter for a while I was anxious to find something to photograph out of the house or yard so I went for a drive to the seawall and ended up having to be satisfied with this one as I’d taken only a few and didn’t have anything else.

There is very evident barrel distortion from the wide angle lens in the horizon. I can correct that, maybe at some later stage.

Birds in the Sunset

The next image is actually my favourite of my landscape shots for the year so far (on the right). It is an image of a flock of birds flying towards the setting sun. It is a very generic image though; generic in that it has been done many times before by many people, and there is nothing here to distinguish this scene from a similar scene in any other country.

I was driving on the west coast heading south to the Harbour Bridge when I saw the sun reflecting in the drainage canal. It was still relatively early in the evening, not anywhere near as dark as the photo makes it appear. But what caught my eye was the very yellow/orange sun and the green fields.

I crossed the road and probably annoyed the hell out of a number of people chatting by the corner, but standing up there taking pictures, walking around the place and generally getting in everyone’s way.

It was immediately evident that I had to make a choice between beautiful green fields and a blown out sky (all white) or a deep orange sun and no green fields. The dynamic range of the light, from brightest to darkest was too much for the camera to capture without a tripod and multiple exposures overlaid on each other (HDR).

The thing that made me decide was, of course, the birds in the sky. Without them, this image would never had made if off my computer. In order to get the birds and the nice orange glow I had to underexpose the scene severely. It is much darker here than it was naturally.

Secluded Grove

The third image in my list is on the left. It is a small area located at the Bounty Farms location at Timehri. It is a beautiful and restful spot. Verdant and cool and rich in Guyaneseness (believe it or not, I just made that up). When you stand there you realise why it is that migrants want to return home to Guyana and why some of us stay despite the hardships we may face.

It is by no means a unique spot in Guyana, they can be found in many places and guises, but it is quintessentially Guyanese.

At my friend Michael’s kind invitation the family and I went one Sunday. It was to have been an opportunity to take some photographs in a scenic location. But with spots like these to sit and relax, it would have been just as fun to drink a couple beers and talk nonsense.

The photo did present some challenges, it was quite dark under the trees and on an overcast day there wasn’t much chance of a steady shot without a tripod, particularly as I had to stop down to get a decent depth of field. Fortunately, luck played an important part and one or two of the photos I took here were reasonably sharp. It was a lesson I took to heart though. I have my tripod with me always now. I’d prefer not to need it, than not to have it.

It is a bad idea to rely on luck though, I highly recommend preparation instead.

Stormy Benches

My fourth favourite so far is of a scene that is very familiar to most Georgetown inhabitants. Coincidentally, it also happens to be to only one of my favourite landscape photos for the year so far that is also in landscape orientation (wide rather than tall).

People who regularly look at my pictures will notice that I have taken quite a few of these (and other) benches. Benches are a subject of fascination for some photographers, myself included. I could explain why they fascinate me, but this post is already too long 🙂

This particular photo was taken just after a heavy rainstorm. As soon as I saw this scene I knew I needed to take a nice photograph, but I had no idea how to do it. Because the benches are in a line along the horizon it was difficult for me to visualize a composition which would show the reflections, the benches and the sky without overexposing the sky or turning the benches into silhouettes.

There is also a lot of background clutter in the vicinity that I didn’t want in this shot. As it is I think it turned out pretty well. I got another shot, very similar, that is actually one of my favourite shots of the year so far. But that is another post.

Burnham Memorial at the Botanical Gardens

The last of my favourite five landscapes for the past six months was taken at the Botanical Gardens about a week ago. It was very carefully composed to take advantage of the line of rocks leading the eye to the monument, while the monument is framed to some extent by the palm trees on either side.

There is also the white structure set below the warm blue sky (warmed and deepened by a polarizing filter). As far as these things go with me (which is not that far) I put a fair amount of effort into ensuring all the elements are where I want them to be. I am not always so planned in my compositions. It may not be the greatest photo, or even the greatest photo I have done in the last six months, but what it represents for me is important.

This is an image that results from a significant degree of practise and effort. I am sure others could do better, but I am proud of this one.

Hope you enjoyed the set.


The making of . . .

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Water in Egypt

I decided to chose an easy image to write about in today’s making of post. It isn’t a brilliant image, certainly not one I would count as my best, but a great deal of effort went into its creation.

Lots of people have taken these types of images before and you can find lots of guides online, but I thought I would add my bit to the tower of babel. I got the idea having seen this Shooting Challenge on Gizmodo a little while back and always intended to try it for myself.

If you have read any of my similar posts before you will know I don’t really give a tutorial on how to do these images yourself, I just give a description of what I did to achieve my photo.

If you do want a proper tutorial, this is the place to go.

Anyway, I decided that I wanted something more than simply a drop of water, and one of the images on the Gizmodo challenge was of water apparently on an exercise book. There were a lot of entries but that one really caught my fancy.

I have this framed image on papyrus, bought in Egypt a few years ago. I placed a dish of water on it and “borrowed” one of my daughter’s medicine droppers. The camera was on a tripod and I used an off camera flash placed on the side of the dish opposite to the camera. Unfortunately, the framed picture was so large that I was unable to place the lens at a shallow angle to the dish, at least not initially.

Because of the awkwardness of the placement of the camera, and the fact that I had to hold the medicine dropper it was necessary for me to use a wired remote to trigger the camera shutter. It would have been very difficult for me to press the shutter release on the camera itself. Had I set things up differently I may have been able to eliminate the remote. As it is, I am glad I had one.

After a while of getting fairly blurred drops I decided to switch to manual exposure so that I could up the shutter speed and hopefully “stop” the motion of the drop a little more effectively. In order to use the flash with a higher shutter speed I needed to use high speed sync on the flash. This allows you to use a higher shutter speed than the native sync speed of the flash. Unfortunately, you cannot use the flash off camera if you want to use high speed sync.

I placed the flash back on the camera, but since the camera had to be fairly close (I decided to use a fairly wide lens, a 31mm) the flash would no longer point directly to the water. So I pointed the flash to a white paper placed opposite the dish, in order to bounce the flash to the water.

I did get a few good shots that way, but curiously enough the shot I chose to put to upload is one of the first ones I had taken. The reason is that the drops were fairly even and well focused (plus no motion blur) and the lighting was a lot more even than in later shots. I did prefer the way some of the other drops were placed, but it would have taken too much work to even up the lighting satisfactorily. If this tell you anything, it is that luck has a part to play with these types of photos also

I’ve put some of the failures below, and you can click on the image above to see the larger version on my photo site. In all I must have taken 50 shots to get that one above. Like most other things you have to keep trying until you are happy with your shot (or too tired to try anymore 🙂

Failure, fig. 1

Failure, fig. 2