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: 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…

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…!

Sun, sea, and sloe gin.

Last weekend I took a city break. A break from the city.

I drank some of this amazing homemade sloe gin.

Sloe Gin

Not taken with my new camera. Pink drink shot by my Pinktax [a pink Pentax].

And I took lots of pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. I now need to acquaint myself with a very, very nice new digital camera (with a very, very nice new lens). I’m already pretty impressed and excited about it.

I’ll be uploading pictures from my weekend in Dorset to Flickr bit by bit whenever I have the time to go through them and edit some more. It’s very unlike me to take quite so many photos even when I’m prepared for an outing or two. Having more pixels to play with clearly makes Pixietoria pretty happy. Doesn’t hurt that the scenery was stunning, and the weather was perfect.

Here are the highlights so far. One of these went into the Explore section on Flickr for yesterday – which I believe is quite an endorsement, so that’s nice. Enjoy.

Caveat emptor

The past few weeks I’ve been taking a crash course in how to scare yourself rotten over in ebay land.

I have not really crossed paths with ebay much other than selling a sofa a couple of years’ back.

A few weeks’ ago I decided to make an investment of sorts. In a camera. Not just any old camera but a big, shiny, beast that is “built like a tank”. I have had my heart set on a Pentax 6×7 since Christmas, when I borrowed a 645 from a friend and saw the results. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted it. I became a bit obsessed and very quickly I didn’t just want it, I needed it. There was little rhyme and reason to it. Sure, I rationalised to myself that it was a solid investment. That this would make me happy and make gorgeous photographs that upped my game and I wanted to reward myself for 20 years of hard labour in shooting 35mm film. But really… I just wanted it. I mean, it is an insanely beautiful creation. Google it: you’ll see.

Now here’s a strange thing to confess. Considering my love and passion for photography, it’s bonkers, but I have never bought a camera, or any lenses myself. [Other than my pinhole camera, Button, which I built myself.] All of my cameras and lenses have been gifts. So, let’s recap: I don’t really know ebay, and I’ve never bought a camera… all the ingredients ripe for a let down! 😀

So, I won an auction on the second one that I took part in. I bid on an item from Japan. It looked immaculate. It was a Pentax 6×7 that had a mirror lock up function, a TTL viewfinder, and looked absolutely beautiful in the pictures. I calculated my import duty and decided I had enough from my late Grannie’s inheritance left (Thank you, Chloe!) to purchase this beauty if I won it. And win it I did. I was ecstatic. I paid around £500 all in. I figured this was a paltry amount for the beauty and joy that this item would give me. It arrived and I was HAPPY. It looked like a DREAM.

But then…

The item arrived and looked gorgeous, but I looked at the manual online and realised two things. 1) There was no mirror lock up function and 2) there was no TTL viewfinder. Just a basic viewfinder with no light meter.

My quandary was this: I had a beautiful piece of equipment, but without a light meter I couldn’t use it, and without a mirror lock up I probably would not have bought it in the first place. But this is a crafty exchange. I had paid import tax. And this does not come cheaply. I paid £105+ on import tax. This would not be returned to me should I send the camera back.

I am a nervous person. I am shy. And I was out of my depth. I had received a stunning item, but one that did not meet the description. If I sent it back I would have nothing at a cost of more than one hundred pounds plus postage back to Japan. Excuse my French but FUCK. Not worth sending it back, considering I spent all of my money on it, and considering it was not usable until I had a light meter.

So…

I sent an email. I initially told the seller I was incredibly disappointed. The item was not as described and I had spent more money than I would have on an item I didn’t want because I couldn’t use it as it was sold to me. I’d need to buy a light meter. A costly endeavour. I gave them three options:

1. I return the item at ALL costs to myself repaid.

2. They send me a TTL viewfinder plus some money refunded

3. They refund me money for the false advertising – I suggested £200.

They replied that I should send the item back. At a cost of over £105 to myself? I looked again at my goods. So pretty. 😦

I said I was not happy to return it, and if I did, that they would have to consider that they would be the ones out of pocket as it would cost them import tax on return. They surprised me and suddenly offered me a TTL I had suggested as part refund. Now, I still felt undersold. There was still of course no mirror lock up. But hey, I had a beautiful viewfinder with the camera that they had NOT asked me to send back. If I then want to purchase a hand held light meter I am in business(!), or, I could sell the viewfinder I have for a return. DONE.

I am now awaiting my TTL viewfinder… I have received pictures and it looks amazing. When it arrives I may be the happiest lady alive.

Knowing what I know now, I know not to be celebrating just yet. But I think, just maybe, I have entered the world of the living. Investment and risk is something I have never explored before. And the next time I do, I’ll do my research a little better beforehand, and not go crazy on a whim. Great experience though.

As “they” say, you can’t take “it” (money) with you. I know they are right. I will check back in when I receive my TTL viewfinder. If I don’t, I’ve learnt a big lesson.

Happy ebaying one and all. Please use my lesson wisely and *always* ask a seller to confirm what is included if you are spending all that you have on an item. Especially so if you suspect they do not speak English as a first language but they are advertising in English.

I’m sure I’ll love my 6×7. Check in for further adventures…