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.

Ahoy, Savoy!

I was asked to take photographs at Roger’s 70th birthday bash a few weeks ago and how could I refuse with such a glamourous setting and glamourous guests? Absolutely smashing evening all round.

The icing on the cake* was my ex boyfriend trusting me to borrow the absolutely amazing new Pentax full frame K1 camera from him for the task. Beautiful camera.

Happy birthday, Roger! Hip hip!

 

*The icing on the cake actually said “Happy Birthday”.

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.

Flat bottomed girl

I’ve had to put my photography on the back burner for the past few months, whilst attending to issues with my Marvellous new home. But of course there’s always room for both.

I’ve dealt with no running water at all on far too many occasions since moving aboard, had to hand pump gallons of water from leaky plumbing every other evening, but now I’ve seen my boat fly…

I wouldn’t exchange life on the water for anything, and yet I’ve had to be taken onto land in order to get back out there. Some jobs just require it.

Her hull is the most important thing and whilst currently out of the water to have her hull blacked, I’ve finally been in a position to confidently sort my disastrous plumbing situation. Maintenance and sprucing up are well underway now.

Exciting and terrifying times. And more to come. Wonderful.

The gift of Sound and Vision

On 5th February I went ice skating at Alexandra Palace with my mother, one of my brothers, and a wonderful colleague for a David Bowie soundtracked evening of skidding about and falling over, hosted by Feeling Gloomy.

I don’t know anyone who wasn’t saddened by Bowie’s passing, and what better way to blow off the cobwebs than such a ridiculous and fun tribute.

I took my Pentax K-S1 and intended to get lots of fun shots of the inevitably Bowie-emblazoned skaters, but admittedly I spent the vast majority of the time enjoying the skating. It’s over 20 years since I’ve purposefully stepped onto ice and I loved every single minute of it.

My brother looked utterly fabulous in his golden spacesuit and I at least managed to capture this for prosperity. He drew much adoring attention both on the ice and during the journey there and back. Even the lovely staff at Pizza Express didn’t seem to mind us applying our face painted lightning bolts at the dinner table beforehand.

Farewell, Starman.

 

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

Take 2: Willesborough Windmill

I knew I had a nice shot with this one and actually it is pretty much perfect as it is straight from the camera. The sky is so moody and there’s a lot of detail captured in the shadows. I really didn’t *need* to do anything to it. But of course I did.

I really wanted this photo to have a more intense impact. To me it was too depressing in tone. RAW files often look very flat and cold and dull. I wanted to lift the image whilst still retaining that quality of melancholy. I didn’t want it to look sad. I wanted it to look devastating.

Here are the main adjustments I made using Lightroom:

  • I raised the exposure slightly and slightly lowered the contrast.
  • In the tone curve, I upped the lights and highlights a lot to really get a good, bright contrast in the sky and slightly lowered the darks and shadows to a gentler curve, so I didn’t quite lose all of the detail in the silhouetted part of the building walls.
  • ¬†I gave it some very, very gentle split toning. Slightly warm highlights and slightly blue shadows. This gave the sky a luminous quality. I enhanced that by lowering the luminance values in the blue colour channel.
  • I raised the luminance in the green colour channel to brighten the grass in the foreground and really bring out that eerie sunny, but not sunny, stormy quality.

I made a few more detailed tweaks here and there but those were the major changes I made. I’m pretty pleased with my choices in-camera for this picture that make the image so versatile when it comes to editing. I could have edited this shot in many different ways. Perhaps I shall yet…

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.

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…!

We’re abseiling, we’re abseiling…

A few weeks’ ago I went to collect¬†my prize for the Avery Hill Winter Garden‘s photography competition¬†and I was briefly interviewed by a lovely chap from SEnine magazine.

There I am on the far left.

There I am on the far left.

A week or so later I got an email from the same lovely chap suggesting I¬†might want to get some photographs of an abseil event being hosted by Wide Horizons at Avery Hill Park this month. Incidentally, that’s the event in the article on the opposite¬†page to my interview.

The abseil was last Saturday so I went up there as it was starting up and just as the sun was starting up too. I got some lovely shots during that morning and I think the early start must have got to me as I ended up agreeing to abseil myself. Interesting choice for 9.15am after being in photography mode for a couple of hours.

I have an extreme fear of heights at the best of times and leaning backwards off a 100ft tower isn’t something my instincts tell me to do. I did have to beg for a supervisor to come down at the same time as me. I was so grateful that he agreed and from there it was fairly easy. The staff there were all so fantastic and for something ¬†that I would have never voluntarily been interested in, it was actually thoroughly enjoyable all round.

Taking these pictures was a very immersive experience¬†in that the action is so immediate and emotive. I think that’s probably the main reason I said yes to abseiling myself. I already felt like I understood the experience and knew the fear was irrational. I’d observed it repeatedly. I’d¬†also been up to the top of the tower to get pictures of the view when I’d got there so I knew how high it was. Plus, of course, everybody else was clearly so safe.

One of the main reasons I love¬†photography is the way you can capture such a fleeting expression of emotion, or an occurrence, that otherwise isn’t held. You can freeze a moment of time in a way that¬†can¬†trigger¬†a very pure form of empathy.

I went back again in the afternoon and got a few more shots. I am really pleased I returned later as there were some very impressive small¬†children showing excellent calm and poise.¬†I can’t say the same for myself. I learnt a new expression: “sewing machine legs”. Due to shaking so violently.

Here are just some of my personal favourites from the day. You can see the whole caboodle over on Flickr.

And now for something completely different…

I was asked by a member of¬†The Real People to take some photographs at a gig of theirs last Friday in London. I’d never shot¬†a gig¬†before so it was a huge joy to find that I got a real buzz from it.

I like to force myself into trying new things and stepping out of my comfort zone when it comes to creative endeavours. You might find things in yourself and your skills that surprise you.

The gig was really high energy and I think this comes across in the photographs. I have resisted a temptation to convert all of them into black and white. I feel that all the bright lights and colours of the gig add an immediacy to the images that monochrome can sometimes displace.

I have a lot of images still to work through… but here are some of my favourites so far. I’ll be adding them to an album on flickr bit by bit¬†as I go through them all.

 

I took along a friend of mine who loves to take photos at gigs and I got a lot of courage from seeing him unafraid to move about and get into positions for good shots.¬†I was worried I might find it a bit of a¬†struggle with the low light and movement involved but in reality after I’d set the ISO and lowered the exposure bias, I was away.

I decided to take two lenses with me. A¬†35mm and a 50mm. Both have¬†wide apertures and I thought they would be ideal zippy little lenses for the task. At the last minute I decided¬†I would pack¬†my trusty 77mm as well. I just had a feeling I might want something a little longer¬†and the lens is pretty¬†sharp wide open. I’m so¬†pleased I had it with me. I used it for most of my shots.

Victorious

My photograph of green leaves that I had been slightly dismissive of in a previous blog post, ended up winning in the Avery Hill Winter Garden photography competition. I am thrilled and hugely thankful to all on facebook who contributed to voting in the competition and the Winter Garden themselves for running it.

I ended up submitting two photographs. One was of the leaves and the other was a photo of the statue (my favourite part of the Winter Garden). I am really pleased with my entries and even more pleased that my pictures will be on display at the Winter Garden throughout the Summer along with other entries. There a lot of really beautiful photos in the competition and I voted for many myself. I think the exhibition will be a great display.

 

 

 

I’ll announce the dates when I hear. I’m very excited as it’s the first time my pictures will have been displayed physically in public. I can’t wait to see them.

My prize also consisted of a cycle safety kit which I’ll be giving to my brother who is very much into his cycling.

 

Siblings

One brother and me

 

Take 2: Just leave

I live a ten minute walk from the Avery Hill Winter Garden. They are currently running a photo competition so I grabbed a keen photographer friend and we both went over there at the weekend to take some pictures and try to inspire each other.

I got one or two nice enough pictures but will probably go back at another point over the next week or so to get some more as I don’t feel I have anything especially competition worthy yet. I always like to have pictures to practice editing with however and this little photo escapade has proven to be quite educational in terms of trying to create more interest in images¬†even if¬†I feel I haven’t necessarily achieved anything particularly brilliant straight from the camera. It has taught me to look more closely at images I might normally dismiss at first glance*.

I’ve mentioned before how much I find editing a bit of a bind, but it is undeniably a pretty nice feeling to¬†elevate a photo that maybe didn’t appear to shine very much at first.¬†I liked the composition of this image of leaves, so I took some time with it to see how I could introduce some dynamism into what was originally quite a flat image. It was a very overcast afternoon and most of my photographs had minimal¬†contrast.

 

 

I made edits in black and white and with some split toning as well, as the lines and shapes look good in monochrome, but decided in the end to go with colour to stress the luscious, deep, shiny green of the leaves. This picture went through a good number of incarnations until I rested on making a final colour edit.

 

What I did in Lightroom for the final edit:

  • Raised¬†clarity
  • Deepened the blacks
  • Upped the vibrance a fair way but¬†slightly lowered the saturation
  • Made a gentle s-shaped tone curve (lights were slightly raised, and darks & shadows slightly lowered)
  • Yellow saturation and luminance were slightly raised
  • Green luminance was also slightly raised
  • Added a brush stroke to the surrounding leaves towards the edges of the image with slightly lowered saturation and slightly lowered clarity, just to make the central bigger leaves pop a little more

*Like a Kinder egg, this image also contains a little hidden¬†secret surprise. When zoomed in closely, the raindrops on the front leaf reflect the central point of the Winter Garden’s glass roof. You can view the full size image by clicking here.

Beauty

When you take time to move about and look at familiar things from a slightly different perspective… Take time to just take a breath and absorb your surroundings… These moments can take your breath away and change how you relate to the world.¬†

Well Hall Pleasaunce

The Well Hall Pleasaunce is only down the road from me and yet after nearly two years of living in Eltham I hadn’t visited it until today. It is specatular. Even though I was there on a hot and sunny Sunday afternoon there were not many people around at all. I have no idea why. It was extremely peaceful and beautiful. The various ponds teeming with dragonflies.¬†I think it would make for a stunning location for portraits.

I’ve lived in South East London for the vast majority of my life. It’s not exactly the first place you might think of when picturing beautiful surroundings but it really does have its shining gems. Besides which, there’s beauty in everything of course.

I have no idea where the cat came from.

Take 2: Aaron

This is not so much Take 2 as Take 3. Or maybe 10. Or just keep counting.

One¬†massive downside¬†with digital photography for me personally is the fact I take so long in making decisions. Time. There are almost infinite possibilities as to how your photos can end up looking¬†via a few clicks on¬†your computer. It’s just one big digital,¬†and therefore very precisely and easily adjustable,¬†darkroom.

Now that I have a better digital camera in the form of the Pentax K3, it handles editing so effortlessly and gracefully that I have even more options at my disposal than I did before. This is a pleasure to behold but it is also a curse. It’s more pleasurable to spend more time editing, so¬†it’s easier to spend more time editing. Working full time you only have so many¬†free hours¬†to start with… and editing was already taking up a bit too¬†much of my time.

At the weekend I finally put¬†my favourite lens – a fully manual 55mm f1.8 – onto my new K3 body. I’ve no idea why it took me this long. I spent a sunny day in Greenwich with¬†my brother Aaron¬†and I got this really nice picture (my reflection notwithstanding!). I figured it would be good for editing practice and it was.

 

Things should be way easier edit-wise for me¬†now. I could often use pictures pretty much straight from the camera¬†now¬†if I wanted,¬†or easily¬†add one of my¬†self made¬†black and white editing presets with very¬†few¬†adjustments to make a perfectly polished¬†finish to the shot, and yet I can¬†never leave it at that. I still need to tinker. To see if I can “improve” a picture further.

I sat and played with this photo for an afternoon, trying out various different colour edits. I was very happy indeed with my black and white version but I could not seem to get a nice colour edit for some reason. None of them really shone like the black and white edit did. And I think this was mainly a problem of choice. Skin tone is often a tricky subject to be happy with in itself, but with this one I just did version after version and they all sort of looked ok, but I just kept scrapping them unsatisfied.

This happens from time to time when I’m editing and it can be a bit frustrating. It’s like when you say a word over and over and it suddenly loses all meaning. Sometimes you have looked at the same picture in such detail for so long that you can’t remember¬†what you are trying to do with¬†it¬†anymore or even really tell what it¬†looks like. When that happens I often like to take a break, but sometimes instead of doing that, I¬†give myself something else to do with the picture for a bit.

I’ll start making quite extreme random¬†adjustments. Or attempt to edit it¬†in the style of someone else, or to give it¬†a very specific “look”. In this case, the sunglasses and strong sunlight made me want to attempt a look reminiscent of CSI: Miami. Often¬†such idle playing can reveal something in the image you might not have otherwise hit upon.

The last version of Aaron’s portrait in this post here¬†is¬†not at all an edit I would have done otherwise. I¬†learnt a few new tricks from my experimenting. Now that I’m used to how it looks, although a bit extreme and contrasty for my usual taste and not really my style, I do quite like it. And I am liking it more and more each time I look at it. This edit has so many tiny adjustments layered on top of each other. Like the black and white edit, it also has some coloured highlights from the split toning settings.¬†I’d never really played about with that much¬†before for a start.

Go play. It’s one way to guarantee¬†learning something meaningful to you. Whatever that might be.

 ***

In other news¬†I’ve entered a photo competition. If you could possibly spare two minutes, maybe you would like to please help increase my chances of winning a camera so that I don’t have to spend the rest of my life paying off the one I currently have. It would also make my day.¬†

Registering is quick – I promise – and all you’d need to do is to click on¬†this link¬†and write “I nominate this photo.” underneath my pinhole photo of a ukulele and say why you like it. If you do of course. If not, thank you for tolerating this plea. If indeed you did.