All Posts Filed in ‘Photography

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My Australia Trip 4 – The Blue Mountains

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After Port Stephens we spent the next 3 nights staying in Katoomba which is in the heart of the Blue Mountains national park. The blue mountains are called the blue mountains because the eucalyptus oil given off by the trees gives the air a bluish tinge you can see below:

First Glimpse Of The Blue Mountains (full)

The place is absolutely beautiful and a photographers dream. I took a lot of photos and am really glad I’d dragged my tripod along. To be sitting in a cafe in Katoomba and within 5 minutes be in the heart of the scene above was amazing. You’d look around and see yellow-crested cockatoos (which I’d only ever seen in zoos) flying around alongside parrots of various colours and sizes. Australians are so lucky to live in such a rich countryside – and I was only seeing a tiny spec of it.

Katoomba itself was a nice little town full off cafes and book shops, not at all spoilt by tourism. I noticed rather a lot of people with dreadlocks, pink furry boots and a curious obsession with wearing black, which seemed a little out of place but who am I to judge?!

IMG_1665

One of the main things to see are the Three Sisters (pictured above) that are towers of rock that are apparently older than the grand canyon in the states. All I know is they make a pretty impressive leading line into the jungle below! Talking of which, you can take a near-vertical train ride or a more leisurely cable car down to the forest floor and walk through the trees from the safety of a walkway:

Walkway

Of course, you’d do well to read the warnings first – I hate leeches!

Stay On The Walkway!

Australia is just an amazing place. Since the island was separated from the rest of the world’s landmasses millions of years ago all plant and animal life has evolved differently to the rest of the world. Unique animals like kangaroos and platypuses developed there along with most of the deadly snakes and spiders of the world. Even the trees are different, shedding bark instead of leaves:

A Bark Shedding Tree

The blue mountains, from what I could see, is absolutely beautiful. Rather than prattle on about it, here’s a photo just around sunset that illustrates my point rather nicely:

Blue Mountain Haze

Oh alright, here’s one more about half an hour after sunset:

Sunset Over The Blue Mountains

It was lucky we dragged ourselves down to the viewpoint that evening as the clouds came in and it was foggy for the last day and a half of our stay in Katoomba. Apparently it had been raining before we arrived and the weather just  decided to improve for the duration of our stay. As with the rest of the holiday everything just flowed perfectly!

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I Don’t Need No Fancy HDR! Okay, Why Not?!

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I’ve resisted playing around with some of the fashionable “photography” techniques to be found on places like Flickr because I’m a bit old fashioned in a way. I’ve always had the mindset that I want to capture a scene as you see it in reality, not some super-saturated, better-than-life version. However every now and then I soften a bit and try new things. One of them is HDR (or High Dynamic Range) photography.

The idea is that you take several photos of the same scene, ranging from very underexposed to very over-exposed (the photos, not the photographer). Then you use some software to glue them together that picks the best bits of each shot and produces an image that is perfectly exposed. Then it can do some fancy tone mapping that produces something quite amazing. This means you can take impossible pictures that a camera could never produce in a single shot, such as directly into the sun and on very bright days with dark foregrounds. Like this one:

Impossible Exposure

I must confess that it does look pretty cool. Thing is though, it’s unreal – the actual scene didn’t look anything like this and was a bit of a nothing shot really. But with a bit of software jiggery-pokery I was able to produce something quite impressive. Nice though it is, it’s not the sort of thing I plan on doing much – it’s art in its own right but it’s not what photography is all about for me. Unless of course I can’t think of anything else to take a picture of at the time!

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Roll On Dark Nights

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Normally at this time of year – when the nights are drawing in, the temperature is dropping and the leaves are falling – I’d be moaning about how the Summer should have been longer and that I’m looking forward to Spring already. But not this year. From a photography point of view, the fact that it’s getting dark earlier means that sunset is earlier and so I don’t have to wait until 11pm to get quality photos!

The best time for low light photography is around or just after sunset and as it’s been dark so late I’ve been missing the joys of night photography. In fact since it was last Winter that I really got into photography, I’ve probably spent more time on night shoots than during the daytime. I was lucky enough to catch a beautiful sunset after a thunderstorm with my friend Ade the other night and got a whole load of shots like this one:

Canal By Firelight

If it weren’t for the fantastic light in the sky, this wouldn’t make a particularly interesting shot and the more I take photographs the more I’m looking out for interesting light. It’s what separates the ordinary from the extraordinary. And nice though warm, sunny days are, they’re not as conducive to the style of photography I like as a dark, menacing Winter evening! (Okay, I’m just trying to be optimistic about the end of Summer, it’s a survival mechanism).

Oh, I’ll be continuing my photography tips series shortly. I made the mistake of saying my next article would be about exposure, which is undoubtedly the most tricky and complex photography subject so it’s taking a bit of time. D’Oh!

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More Architecture Than You Can Shake A Stick At

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I went down to The Lowry last night in Salford Quays (that’s in Manchester, England) with a couple of friends to take some photographs. I went to see Sigur Ros play about a year ago there and didn’t really get a chance to look around. This time I did and I couldn’t believe how many cool buildings and structures there are around – amazing! These are just the blinds on the back of the theatre:

lowry-blinds

It’s great to see a place like Manchester embracing art instead of just throwing up more anonymous, identical grey buildings. There was more eye-catching architecture within the square mile we were standing in than the whole of a city like Leeds. It almost made me wish I was an architect!

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The Certainty Of Chance

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My friend Ade and I were meeting his colleague Chris in a place called Saxton the other night to take some landscape photos. Ade had written down Chris’s mobile phone number earlier that day and as we were getting near he texted him to say we were running a little late. After a couple of minutes he got a reply of: “I think you’ve sent that to the wrong number mate”.

Ade replied saying that he was trying to get a hold of Chris and was meeting up with him. He then got the message: “this is Chris, but I think you’re looking for a different Chris”. Ade must have copied Chris’s number down incorrectly but managed to write down the number of another guy who just happened to also be called Chris! What are the chances?!

Luckily we got there and there were plenty nice photos to be had, like this one:

Quiet-River

What you can’t see is the swarm of midges that were biting me! Grrrrr!

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Shows What I Know About Photography

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I’ve mentioned before that I like taking the sort of photographs that I like. If someone else likes them too then that’s a bonus. Given that I’m an expert on the sort of photos I like, and that I’m a pretty normal, regular guy you’d think I might have an idea what other people like too. The fact is that I don’t.

I have a Flickr site where I upload a good portion of the decent photos I take. Flickr’s great because the more people who look at your photos, make comments and mark them as favourites, the more “interesting” your photos are. The most interesting photos uploaded each day end up in the Explore section of the site. You can see the 500 most interesting photos each day and look at random interesting photos over the last 7 days, month and so on. Generally you find the most interesting photos are also the best, although that’s not always the case – I often find photos and think “what the hell is that doing there?” – but I guess they’re interesting to somebody.

I have quite a few photos that currently show up in the Explore section of Flickr (17 at the moment, with a few inside the top 40 of each day – and I even had one in the top ten for a couple of days). When I see one of mine up there I frequently think “what’s mine doing with all those amazing photos?” – I’m my own worst critic sometimes. Here’s an example:

Convergence Point

While doing the Ingleton Waterfall Walk and getting pictures of – wait for it – waterfalls – I spied this simple scene and thought I could maybe make something interesting from it. When I got home I looked at it and thought “well, it’s okay, but there’s no foreground interest” and left it alone. The other day I was looking through my photos, spotted it and thought I’d do a quick process and put it on Flickr. Much to my surprise it’s been very popular! I’d never for a moment have thought people would like it.

Conversely some of my favourite photos that were much more difficult to see, compose and take than the one above have been met with a wall of silence, like this one for example (which is one of my favourites):

Hand To Glass

My girlfriend agreed with me that the hill photo was okay but not great and she liked the black and white so much that she wants it framed in the kitchen. That’s high praise from her – normally if I suggested printing out one of my photos her first suggestion would be to put it in the toilet!

I guess if you want universal appeal you have to go for the simpler, less arty shots that people can instantly make a connection with and don’t push the boundaries. Still, since I take photos primarily for me, I don’t need to sacrifice art for popularity and can keep doing what I’m doing. But don’t worry, I’m sure the odd shot that you’ll like too will slip through my “Flickr interesting but not John Conners interesting” filter – as I said, I frequently get it wrong!

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A Second Look

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I’ve just bought myself a copy of Capture One LE which is a quality piece of photo processing workflow software as recommended by the likes of Paul Indigo and Keith Henson (a couple of professional photographers). Given that it’s designed for professionals it’s no surprise that it’s made my life easier processing the many photos I’ve been taking on shoots. I can spend a lot less time trawling through photos tweaking and prodding them one-by-one and can instead batch process, apply contrast, saturation and a whole host of things all at once. It stops me being so ad-hoc and makes me follow a workflow which is a good thing. Plus the quality of the processed images is a step up from Photoshop’s RAW editor.

Capture One really is very good (hence why I bought a copy rather than downloading a dodgy key generator) and it’s encouraged me to go through some of the older shots I’ve taken but haven’t done anything with. Like this one:

Into The Sea

If I go out on a shoot I can take anywhere from 5 to 50 decent photos. It’s not surprising that when I get home I don’t have time to go process all of them – I’ve just been cherry picking the best (in my opinion) and working on them. Sometimes I clearly miss some nuggets like the one above so it’s not been the best strategy! However the time it’ll take to process them all is dramatically less now thanks to my purchase so in future I’ll be able to make the most of a shoot and share more of my work on my Flickr site and here. Nice.

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It Was Bound To Happen Eventually

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I wrote John’s Background Switcher for me and while several thousand people use it, it’s still written for me which is why I like it and use it all the time on all the computers I have access to. I always have it set to choose from the most interesting 200 pictures from Flickr on the current day to use as my computer’s wallpaper and I secretly hoped that one time it would select one of my own pictures. And this afternoon it finally happened!

I posted that picture of a Goldfinch on Flickr and just as I was about to shut my desktop down I thought to myself “hang on a minute, that’s my photo!”. I checked the settings (just to make sure I wasn’t pointing it at my own photostream) and sure enough, I was just selecting from the top 200 most interesting pictures of the day! Superb! Shame it was just a picture of a bird and not one of my much more technically challenging landscape shots. Ah well, beggars can’t be choosers!

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The Ingleton Waterfall Walk

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What with it being a Bank Holiday weekend my girlfriend and I decided to go for a walk. After a quick search on the net we settled on the Ingleton Waterfall Walk. It was around 5 miles so not too bad a distance and, as the name suggests, there are a lot of waterfalls to look at which would mean I could get some nice photos:

Of course, the trouble with taking photographs is you have to take time on each shot. It’s not a case of pointing and clicking. I have to look at the scene and decide on what angle I like, then set up the tripod, the filters (my trusty old ND grads), work out my exposure, click, wait 20 seconds (to get that flowing water shot), have a look at the histogram on the camera and decide if I like it, then continue to the next waterfall and repeat! My good lady was surprisingly patient I must say, what with having to start and stop all the time. The only thing I had to worry about was children knocking into the tripod as we weren’t exactly the only people on the walk! When I started taking photos I’d feel a bit self conscious putting up a tripod, messing around with filters and such like. But now I don’t even think about it, I don’t worry about the people around me and get on with the job at hand. What’s really surprised me though is people’s reaction to me when I’ve got the camera out. If I was walking or mountain biking or just looking at things – I’d be pretty much ignored as most people are by strangers. But now with a camera in hand I must be more approachable as I find loads of people just walk up to me, ask what I’m doing and take a genuine interest. It’s really nice and makes it all the more worthwhile as I’ve met a lot of interesting people – some of whom know a hell of a lot more about photography than I do (which, to be fair, wouldn’t be that hard)!

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My Weekend On The East Coast

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I spent the weekend over on the east coast of Yorkshire with a whole bunch of photographers in places like Whitby, Staithes and Robin Hood’s Bay. My friend Ade got to know them from a photography site and they periodically meet up to take photos, talk about photography and kit and drink alcohol! It’s the first time I’ve done something like that and it was a bit strange being in a group of 13 people standing on a beach with tripods, expensive cameras and all the paraphernalia.

It was really good fun though. As well as meeting some real characters it’s interesting to see what shots other people take, how they look at things, what they do with a camera, what’s going through their minds and so on. There were some very talented photographers there and it’s not often you get to pick the brains of that many of them at once!

Waiting For The Tide

I took this picture in Staithes and it’s the first one where my girlfriend actually said “wow” when I showed it to her! (Her exact words were: “that’s as close to a wow photo as I’ve seen from you” – these Yorkshire folk don’t give out compliments easily you know). I think I’m going to get it blown up to a decent size and hang it on one of my walls at home.

Anyway, I took more than 300 shots over the weekend which is a lot to go through! It’s going to take me a while to sort through them, decide which ones I like enough to work on and upload them. You can see the set here. Enjoy!

Oh, and note to self: I really need to stop buying more camera kit from ebay and other people – this is going to be an expensive month!