Through the looking glass

It’s been a while since I got my Pentax 6×7 out to play. I had completely forgotten that I had an adapter to use my massive 105mm 6×7 lens on my regular DSLR (Pentax K3).

I love the quality of this lens. Attached to my K3 it does look ridiculous and it’s heavier than the camera itself. Old film camera lenses retain a lot of their character in digital format. This one gives a fair amount of chromatic aberation, as lenses designed for film often do, but that’s easily rectifiable manually in Lightroom. It’s an exrtremely soft lens and wide open, regardless of the cropped sensor on the K3, it just has a really expansive feel to it.

I intend to drag out the 6×7 for some more film fun soon, and this has certainly whetted my appetite.

 

Take 2: Visibility: Coal Force 5

I took a two and a half hour cruise on my boat this weekend. With my engine newly serviced, and the sun shining, it was a staggeringly beautiful day out on the canals.

This time of year when the sun is so low it can be a bit blinding out there at times. Especially when heading West in the afternoon.

I like to take pictures into the sun. I love the way the light scatters and the possibilities with silhouettes, shadows, and lens flares.

With this picture I wanted to turn it isn’t something it wasn’t. I didn’t want the deep shadows. I wanted the picture to show me what I could have seen had I not been staring into the sun for hours. I wanted to try to create an image that expressed how I felt about the day. The air was still and chilly, but the warm Autumn colours were still out in force. I don’t normally apply such extreme adjustments to an image.

These are the main edits I made using Lightroom:

  • I took the contrast all the way down to flatten out the image and give it a painterly, slightly hazy quality
  • I brought the shadows all the way up to bring out as much detail in the background as possible
  • I took the highlights down to bring out a bit of detail in the sky
  • I pulled the tone curve into a gentle S shape, with the lights and shadows brought up and then highlights and darks very slightly down just to give a bit of definition
  • I very slightly warmed up the white balance

Colours:

  • I raised the orange and yellow saturation and luminance
  • I raised the red saturation slightly
  • I took the green luminance up to give a bit of life to the background
  • I raised the blue saturation slightly and also lowered the luminance to bring out more detail in the sky and balance the warmth a little

 

 

I Love Limehouse

After having been roaming the canals around London for a year now, I’ve seen parts of London I’d never even heard of before. The city looks infinitely fascinating from the water and my journey North East from Slough has been beautiful, horrible, and all things in between. But it’s never too noisy. The roads are never too close. The towpaths come alive in some places and are neglected in others.

Limehouse so far is my favourite spot to moor. It’s not especially pretty, or quiet. [Although it does benefit from being beautifully soundtracked with the quarter hourly chimes of St. Anne’s.] It has a character about it that beckons. I felt instantly at home here.

This is a little ode to Limehouse.

Endeavour, and ever, and ever…

The past five or six weeks have been a srange and busy time. Mostly spent on dry land having various urgent attentions spent on my lovely boat. It felt almost neverending at one stage. It was truly a strange experience to be onboard the same boat with absolutely no movement and climbing a ladder to get in. It’s a slow and tentative sigh of relief to be afloat again now.

I got everything done and fixed that I needed to, except that I haven’t got around to putting the name back on her yet. I’m procrastinating a little over that… But bit by bit, she’s starting to look quite smart.

Take 2: Photosyn… this… is…

So here’s a fun before and after journey.

I took this shot while I was enjoying a very usual evening stroll and the most glorious sunset began to unfold. I only had the very wide 15mm lens with me. I spent a long time trying to catch a similar shot to this with various different foreground objects but this was the most successful by far. It’s a rather sweet shot as it is straight from camera, but it didn’t quite capture the drama of the colourful light as I had experienced it. I sort of thought I’d play with it and then keep it more or less as is, but once I started playing with it, it pretty much edited itself.

It became clear quite quickly that it had a very painting-like quality so I focussed on trying to give the tones and colours a kind of “fairy tale” look. It’s a bit bolder than my usual style and I gave it an overly pink tint to really enhance the dreamy nature of the image.

I feel it actually represents a truer version of the experience of what was the beginning of a very vibrant sunset. Not long after this, the sky went a really deep pinky red. One of the frustrating things about photographing sunsets is that they can’t capture the really magical aspect of a sunset itself – it’s mostly about the process and experience of constantly changing colours over time, the movement of the light as the sun sets. A still image can’t capture that experience, so I tried to merge aspects of my experience together into the image using colours to best describe the sunset as a whole as it felt to me at the time.

Dealing with the colours was actually quite easy with this image, as the sky pretty much has a separate range of colours to the foreground.

These are the main edits I made using Lightroom:

  • I lowered the contrast a lot and actually also slightly lowered the exposure
  • In the top panel of sliders, I slightly lowered the highlights, brought the shadows and blacks up
  • I applied a small amount of clarity
  • In the tone curve I made a gentle but top heavy S shape, with the darks and lights both brought up fairly high, and the shadows and highlights brought down just a touch to balance it out

These are the adjustments I made to the colours:

  • I adjusted the white balance to the cloudy setting and then adjusted the tint a little further over into pink
  • I raised the red saturation and lowered the luminance a small amount to deepen the red in the clouds
  • I did the same with the orange channel although I gave this one moderately more saturation
  • With the yellow channel, I gave it a fair amount of luminance and upped the saturation to counter this
  • In the green channel I raised the luminance as high as it would go to really elevate the foreground, and I lowered the saturation quite a bit to counteract some of the green glow this cast on the image
  • In the aqua and blue colour channels I raised the saturation and lowered the luminance a touch to deepen the sky slightly

The Garden of England

Last week I took a week off work to stay with my mother who lives near Ashford in Kent. A friend recently allowed me to borrow some lenses of his to play with so I brought three of them with me – a 15mm f4, a 31mm f1.8, and a 100mm macro f2.8 – and have had a lot of fun trying them out.

I usually shoot with my favourite lenses which are 35mm, 55mm and 77mm so it was an interesting little exercise in seeing things from a slightly different perspective. I preferred the 31mm overall but firstly, it’s an incredibly good quality lens with beautiful bokeh and secondly, it’s not far away from the range of lengths I normally use…

…so I really came away from it thinking as I always have; it’s not about the equipment you have, but understanding how it works and behaves to get the most out of it. I found the 15mm lens the most challenging and fun because I have rarely used wide lenses at all and it is so very wide! I think it has the potential to create some really inventive images.

I also had no idea there were so many windmills in the near vicinity. Beautiful things.

Beyond Chocolate

A couple of weeks ago I took some pictures for Beyond Chocolate, a thriving online community that supports women to ditch yo-yo dieting and have a healthy relationship with food.

I was really inspired by the passion and energy that co-founder Audrey injects into her work. I spent the afternoon capturing a seemingly endless stream of fresh, healthy, indulgent food, glorious food prepared by Audrey and Abbi [of Abbi’s Pantry, who I have had the pleasure of taking photographs for before].

The best way to get mouthwatering pictures of food is to use natural light. With a big wall of glass on one side of the large kitchen, although the day was overcast, there was plenty of soft natural light to play with.

 

A hazy shade of Winter

In winter, the bare trees and low angle of the sun provide infinite opportunities for capturing silhouettes. The light often carries a cool pink undertone that really comes into its own around sunset.

There is a small wood nearby that I’ve been visiting most weekends. Some days I have stayed out for so long that my fingers have stiffened into claws from the cold but still stayed out longer to catch an early sunset on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

Take 2: What’s the time, Mr Schultz?

This weekend I discovered that my windowsill during daylight hours makes a great little blank space as a photo setting for small objects. It’s easy to get in close without a tripod when there’s abundant light bouncing all around the subject.

In my last Take 2 post I talked about a sort of minimal correctional editing on pictures, and how sometimes that’s enough to let the work of the lens and the settings really shine and your picture is done. This post isn’t that much different really although with this example there is very little “wrong” with the image straight from camera (though it’s a touch purple and a little flat). I used the actual watch as a guide and it was simply a nice little study in adjusting colour.

 

I wanted this image to be clear, almost floating, with no real sense of time or space (context) other than the time on the watch. I wanted the colours to be bright and “true”. The winding mechanism and the hands are exactly in focus but the lower half of the image (further away timewise) is slightly less in focus. Shops often display watches at ten to two or ten past ten because it’s an aesthetically pleasing arrangement for the hands. Beautifully coincidentally, I appear to have stuck to tradition.

Here are the adjustments I made using Lightroom:

  • I adjusted the white balance manually by sight. I prefer to do it this way, sometimes using the dropper tool as a starting point and then finely tuning it. I wanted to offset the purple tinged shadow tones so I warmed the temperature and shifted the tint towards green, until the shadows and background were neutral.
  • I raised the exposure just a touch.
  • I slightly lowered the blacks just so there was a bit more definition in the outline of the watch face.
  • I increased the vibrance overall.
  • I slightly raised the lights and lowered the darks using the tone curve.
  • I altered the hue of the reds, pushing them slightly towards the orange end of the spectrum.
  • I increased both the red saturation and red luminance values.

I like playing with individual colour values. It’s a really simple way to lift an image or completely alter the effect. Once I had managed to get the red in this image true to life I didn’t really need to adjust much else.

Here’s another example shot from the same set of pictures:

 

I applied the same process, starting with the white balance which needed a slightly different adjustment to the first example image. I personally find the camera’s programmeed white balance settings are a little too much on the cold side, so I usually use a warmer setting than the camera might think I need. Even so, I often find that photographs benefit from a slight tweak of some kind to the white balance and that’s fine as it’s probably the easiest thing to change in the edit.

With both of these shots I went with the automatic white balance setting which was a great way to practice the colour study. With this second example the lighting of the shot is so different from the first that I needed to raise the red saturation a lot more than in the first example and the hue needed to be tipped further into the orange end of the spectrum to achieve a similar colour result.

Take 2: Tinkerbell

Whilst visiting my mother for christmas I took the opportunity to get some shots of her cats. On boxing day I found one curled up in the hallway with the sunlight filtering through the front door. I used the 55mm lens that I wrote about in my last post.

There was just enough light, with a wide aperture and a slow shutter speed, to get some fairly lowish ISO close ups. The cat didn’t mind the camera at all and kept remarkably still which was ideal. This shot was taken at 1/15 of a second which is about as slow as I’m comfortable with handheld using this lens. With this combination of elements, I could get some really smooth close ups.

Now that I have a new computer I can edit without headache again, and it’s such a relief. Adjustments are quick and easy.  Digital images straight from camera can often look a little lifeless, flat or cold. No matter how carefully I adjust my camera settings, if nothing else they nearly always benefit from at least a slight adjustment to white balance and/or exposure.

 

This picture looked pretty good to begin with. The focus in the eyes is pin sharp and the expression on the cat’s face is adorable, but the raw image was dark and murky. It was underexposed and the white balance was too cold and too pink. My camera is fairly good at getting exposure right with a manual lens, but it’s not always perfect.

What I wanted to capture was the delicate complimentary colours of the cat’s fur and eyes, so the whole key to this becoming a striking image was in simply correcting the white balance and exposure. Pretty much everything else had been handled already in camera and by the beautiful lens. The finishing touches were then just some small tweaks to give it a hint more of a glow and increase the definition without losing the natural softness of the lens.

Here are the main adjustments I made in Lightroom for the final edit:

  • Raised the exposure
  • Adjusted the white balance manually
  • Slightly deepened the blacks
  • Raised the clarity
  • Added a very slight touch of vibrance
  • Adjusted the tone curve into a gentle s shape with brighter lights and hilghlights and slightly lowered darks and shadows
  • Slightly raised the orange and yellow luminance

Click here for more cat portraits on flickr.

Old Friends

I spent the end of last week visiting a friend in Bournemouth. We were quite seasonally lazy for the most part but did manage to get ourselves off the sofa for a little trip to Poole Harbour on Friday. It was a beautiful day after a few days of bitter winds and rain (as I suppose you’d expect on the coast this time of year).

I took my very favourite 55mm f1.8 lens. The lens I’ve had the longest, and love the most. I often describe its quality as “buttery”. It’s smooth and soft and warm. It’s clean and sharp even when the aperature is wide open but backgrounds always just melt away beautifully.

It’s a fully manual lens and it’s not the most versatile workhorse I have. I have a fair few lenses to choose from so it really only usually gets brought out when I take portraits as this is when it particularly shines. It’s my favourite for portraits in particular because of its focal length, the soft quality, and the warm and gentle way it renders colours.

I have had this lens for over twenty years and for the vast majority of that time it was the only lens I had. So it’s like an old friend. Comfortable and natural. And he doesn’t mind if I don’t see him all the time. But I think I’ll keep him on the camera for a little bit longer now.

Maybe I like this lens so much because the lens itself is the tool that introduced me to photography. So when I look at the pictures it takes I feel like that’s what photos are somehow *supposed* to look like.

Here are just some of my favourites that I took on Friday. As usual there are more to see on Flickr.

p.s. If you are in the neighbourhood yourself… do go easy with the dazzling array of cider on offer at The Stable pub…!

Exerceyes

Over the past month I’ve been taking my camera out with me a lot more often than I usually do. I’ve also been taking a lot of walks around the local park. It’s a really pretty park and although the evenings are dark, it’s really well lit by a series of bright street lamps along the main path. I’m not much different to the others that I pass there, exercising their dogs and exercising themselves. I’m attempting to keep my critical eye in shape.

On the one hand I’ve amassed a huge number of pictures that I’m pleased with in a very short space of time. But, on the other, I’ve amassed a huge number of pictures in a very short space of time. I’ve got quite a backlog already, the editing of which is not being aided by a rapidly ailing computer which turns even the simplest task into a gargantuan, spluttering mission. I am finally in a position to get around to replacing it which is great as it means I can go back to a place where I’m simply getting annoyed at the process of editing itself, rather than the fact I’m having to go into the battle with a computer throwing a constant strop.

So these are some of the highlights. There are more to see over in my usual dumping ground of Flickr