Until I go #7

Having left my hotel in Queensferry, I caught a train into Edinburgh for a few hours of photography before the long journey home.

The monument to the poet Robert Burns on Regent Road at the foot of Calton Hill.

Two things I discovered about Edinburgh that day: it’s a city of monuments and a city of hills and dips. Calton Hill is a fair climb up from the Waverley Railway Station, but it’s a hill that’s festooned with monuments such as the one pictured.

This photo is one that I snapped, out of breath, of Arthur’s Seat, on my way up Calton Hill. Arthur’s Seat is an extinct volcano, situated in Holyrood Park, east of the city centre.

In my next post I’ll include images of a couple of the monuments.

Thank you and goodbye

To all those who have liked, followed – and especially to those, if any who have actually read any of the story of Melissa and Jamie – thank you.

The final episode was posted last night, but it was also my final post of this Blog. I’m allowing my 12 months subscription to expire when it ends on 14 August. It was started as a response to Covid and I don’t think that there have been more than two days on which I have not posted something.

The need for the Blog has run its course, summer has come and the time to enjoy life outdoor with my camera.

So, as the post title says, Thank you and Goodbye.

My final featured photo is of a field of lavender. I took the shot last weekend with my Pentax K-1 full frame camera using a 15-30 mm f/2.8 lens at an ISO of 100. The shutter speed was 1/500 secs @ f/11 and 15 mm.

Photography and shutter speed…. and with only seconds to spare……

You may have heard of the Aperture Triangle – I’ll be dealing with that in a day or so. The three sides are Aperture (which we’ve looked at), Shutter Speed (today’s topic) and ISO (tomorrow’s item – probably). ISO and shutter speed are wonderful tools.

Shutter speed refers to how long you leave the aperture open – to let the light from the scene reach the sensor. You’ll have picked up something of that aspect yesterday, I hope. I’ve provided, below, some examples of different types of scene that you may wish to photograph – not to say that you MUST use the speeds shown – but to give you a ball park idea of the order of magnitude that may be involved.

This is a powerboat racing scene, at Carr Mill Dam, St Helens, Merseyside. The boats are moving very quickly. I used a fairly fast speed and ‘panned’, that is, before the boat arrived, I’d already focused on the place on the lake surface where I knew it had to be. I stood still but, with my camera set to continuous focus, I turned my shoulders to allow the camera to track the boat as it passed, firing off a burst of shots at 1/1600 seconds, f/5.6, 260 mm and ISO 400. If I’d used a slower speed, the image of the boat would have been blurred.

I took this photo at a horse race at Haydock Park racecourse, St Helens. Horses don’t move as quickly as racing powerboats, so I was able to use a slightly slower shutter speed and still kept the horses and the background properly focused. I still used the panning technique, focused ahead and used continuous autofocus (AF.C). As the first horse started to move into my frame, I followed it with my camera and fired off a burst at 1/1000 seconds, f/5.6, 85 mm and ISO 400

This shot was my practice session the first time I ever used panning technique. The car is on the M62 motorway in Northern England. I was stood at the edge of woodland. I wanted to create a feeling of speed by letting the background blur. A faster shutter speed would have kept both the car and background in focus – as in the above examples. My ISO of 100 and aperture of f/8 allowed me to use a slower shutter speed to create the effect. 1/30 seconds, f/8, 55 mm and ISO 100.

This is a view of the city of London at daybreak. Nothing is moving apart from the River. I wouldn’t have been able to take this photo with such low light, if I’d used my camera’s minimum ISO of 100 with an aperture as small as f/16. To get the image I used a tripod and let the camera use a quite long shutter speed. 8 seconds, f/16, 28 mm, ISO 100

I shot this view of London from the South Bank of the Thames at night. I still used a narrow aperture for sharpness and a low ISO, but I needed a much longer exposure of 30 seconds to collect enough light at f/18, 30 mm, ISO 100.

Sometimes you need to use a faster shutter speed to compensate for camera shake because you’re not using a tripod. Even with built in image stabilisation it can help. The heavier your camera and lens the more difficult it can be to eliminate camera shake. A frequently quoted suggestion is to set your shutter speed to be no slower than the reciprocal of your focal length. If you are using a 50 mm lens, set your shutter speed to be faster than 1/50th seconds. With a 135 mm lens, shoot faster than 1/135th seconds.

The featured photo today is one that I took just before lockdown, at Trefor Stacks (Ynys Mawr) on the Lyn Peninsula, North Wales. You may have expected that, with the settings below, the whole image would have been vastly over-exposed. Because the the midday sunlight was so bright, I used a 10 stop neutral density filter. I’ll say more about filters in a few days. My settings were 20 seconds f/11, 20 mm and ISO 100. This means that, because my shutter speed, in a test shot, without a filter had been roughly 1/64 seconds at that aperture and ISO, I used a filter dark enough to cut out 10 stops of light. That meant that I could use a shutter speed of 20 seconds to provide an equivalent exposure value.

What do I mean by a stop? A shutter speed of 1/32 seconds is one stop slower than a speed of 1/64 seconds. Two stops would be 1/16 seconds. Keep on doubling the speed ten times from the start and you reach 20. (i.e. 1/64, 1/32, 1/16, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 1.25, 2.5, 5, 10, 20) Okay, I did a bit of creative doubling to get from a half to one and a quarter, but I did say roughly 1/64 originally. You can’t be precise with very dark filters because daylight can change from sunny to cloudy in seconds. As I said earlier, I’ll deal with filters again, in more detail soon, when I write about long exposure photography

One last point, on the subject of shutter speed and blur, notice how that 20 seconds exposure has calmed the waves, focusing attention on the detail in the stacks.. You can get some great effects using long exposure. The golden lichen, by the way, really was that bright – no software trickery. I was tempted to make it duller but, what the hell, it was beautiful in my eyes, and it’s my photo, so I left it as it was.

Tomorrow I intend to deal with the third side of the Aperture Triangle – ISO or brightness.

Photography: Decent Exposure

Today will be all about something known as Dynamic Range. This term refers to the difference between the darkest and lightest tones in a scene. Having a high dynamic range isn’t necessarily bad – and the types of image that it’s Ok in don’t need rescuing.

Sometimes, however, you are faced with a scene where you know that you may need the wizardry of your digital camera settings to capture the scene as you’d like it to appear. Why might you need wizardry? Well, the problem is that your human eye can cope with a much wider range of contrast than your camera can. A bright sky that looks OK to your eyes might appear almost white in a photo. Certainly, any cloud detail in the sky could be ‘blown out’. Similarly, your camera might not be capture the details in the shadows if the contrast is too great.

What I am showing is some examples of what I mean and how I’ve used a technique called exposure bracketing to create an image that reveals the best of both worlds. All that means is that I use a tripod and take, say three photos of the scene – one normal exposure, one under-exposed and one over-exposed. With most digital cameras you can let the camera do it. With some cameras you can do this and the camera will produce a merged image for you. Other cameras simply store the three images for you to merge in your post-processing software.

This over-exposed photograph of the South Stack Lighthouse on Holy Island, Anglesey in Wales is one of three that I took using my camera settings for exposure bracketing.

On the other hand, this is the under-exposed version of the same scene.

This is the Normal photo. I should have checked my preview before I started but the bracketing process sorted that error anyway.

This is the version produced by exposure bracketing. The sky detail has been preserved and the detail in the shadows has been rescued. I still wasn’t happy so I cropped out the clifftop distractions.

The final shot – bracketed and cropped.

This is the Normally exposed shot from a bracketed group of photos shot at daybreak. The scene is the lone tree at Lake Buttermere in the English Lake District.

This is the bracketed version after merging.

To close, this is an under-exposed photo from a group of five photos of the disused Twr Mawr Lighthouse on Ynys Llanddwyn, Anglesey. I’ve used the merged version as my featured photo today. You may notice that I’ve also cropped out the photographer and his tripod and removed a sensor spot in the sea part of the image.

I’ve not decided what my next subject is going to be, but I’d like to move on from generalities to specifics of technique to use for different types of photography that I’ve tried. I haven’t tried every technique but I’ll tell all about those that I have had a go at.

Photography: A balancing act

Composition, in photography, means setting up your image so that it helps anyone looking at it to see what you want them to see. There are lots of online sites that tell you about the various techniques, but most of them will also tell you that, sometimes, you should throw away the rule book. It’s your photo – use YOUR judgement.

I’m just going to list eight of the techniques before I go any further, just to get that out of the way.

  • Simplicity – less is more and get rid of distractions
  • Symmetrical balance – useful particularly in a shot with reflections.
  • Asymmetrical balance – For example, with a seascape, don’t put the horizon exactly half way up the frame.
  • Radial balance – for people with an artistic eye
  • Rule of thirds – mentally divide the frame into a 3 by 3 grid. Put your subject at about 1/3 up and 1/3 in or 1/3 down and 1/3 in (from either side). (Personally I think that this is just a kind of asymmetrical balance).
  • Leading lines I’ll illustrate this by examples
  • Golden Ratio -for people with an artistic eye
  • Framing – show your subject inside a frame – natural or otherwise

I’m going to ignore Radial Balance and Golden Ratio but add a ninth and tenth – Colour and People. Again, I’ll provide an example.

In this image of the South Stack lighthouse on Anglesey, I’ve placed the horizon asymmetrically.

This image, taken at Trefor Boatyard near Llangollen in Wales is fairly symmetrical to show off the reflections.

This is an example of a structural leading line formed by the Humber Bridge. The underside of its image drags the viewer’s eye into the frame.

Another example of a radial leading line formed by this spiral staircase at the Queen’s House at Greenwich. The eye is drawn to the skylight.

Here, the beach at Porth Oer on the Lleyn Peninsula provides a natural leading line. Other examples are rivers, roads and jetties.

You’ve seen this one before, but here I’m using it to show how the clouds act as leading lines.

Here, leading lines and symmetry are combined at the Brunner Bridge in the South Island of New Zealand.

Here framing is provided by the gateway entrance into Exchange Flags, Liverpool to draw attention to the Town Hall.

There are two other useful techniques, using colour – especially spot red – and people (preferably both). In this shot, the people provide a focal point, interest and perspective to the image.

Here we have symmetry, reflections, people and colour to draw the eye.

Today’s featured photograph is of the Healey Pass in the Beara Peninsula of Eire’s Wild Atlantic Coast. It has an unusually winding leading line to take the viewer’s eye on a road trip. I shot this panoramic image using my old Pentax 24 MP cropped sensor camera on a tripod with an 16-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens at 23 mm and f/13. The ISO was 400 and the shutter speed 1/10 seconds.

Your probably fed up by now, so tomorrow I want to look at a different aspect of light – Dynamic Range.

Photography: Come Closer

Today I want to illustrate three ways of getting up-close with a photo when you’re too far away where you are.

This shot of Media City at Salford Quays, Manchester was taken from exactly the same spot as today’s featured photo, but I used my lens to zoom in by changing the focal length from 24 mm to 43 mm.

Using my lens meant that I didn’t discard any megapixels from the image – I got the full benefit of my sensor’s resolution

This image has been cropped and resized in post processing from the original. The featured image is a panorama, stitched from three shots each of 42 Megabyte RAW format originals. This cropped and resized, jpeg format, image from one of the original three has less than 1 megabyte, and therefore, less detail information for further editing.

This photograph of Ynys Bach at Trefor, Gwynedd: one of two sets of sea stacks, is a shot taken from a distance along the cliffs

This is also a photo of Yns Bach, but I took this from the clifftop directly above it, by walking, sometimes known as ‘sneaker zoom’. No megapixels lost when getting closer this way.

I hope that seeing these three ways of coming closer helps you to choose the best method for you. ‘Sneaker Zoom’ is not always practical, but you get the highest resolution quality. Lens zoom – by changing the focal length of your lens – or by swapping lenses – is often more practical. Using a wide angle lens provides the big picture, but sometimes you get a nicer image by choosing some feature to zoom in on, and ‘getting right in camera’. Cropping in post processing is an option if, when you get home, and load your day’s image batch into software, you realise that there is a section of an image that you want to pick out. Just remember that, when you do that you are also throwing away megapixels. The cropped image will not enlarge as usefully as a close up obtained by one of the other methods.

I took today’s featured photo using my tripod mounted, Pentax K-1 camera plus a 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens at 24 mm and f/16. The ISO was 100 and the shutter speed 1/25 seconds.

Tomorrow, we move on to composition.

Photography – The importance of position

Thinking about position should begin when you arrive on site. Try to get the best possible viewpoint – check different places nearby, kneel, sit or lie down if necessary (did you bring a bin bag?) Compare today’s featured photograph with the one below. Both are images of the Millennium bridge in London, but the one below – apart from being a daylight shot – is a typical tourist photo looking across the bridge.

From this viewpoint, for me, the image is too cluttered, too many lines competing for attention, litter, no clear subject.

Sometimes, however, you can be spoiled for choice and you decide to photograph more than one viewpoint. This is a popular view.

This is the same jetty photographed from a different angle. Both shots are of Lake Ullswater in the English Lake District.

Have a good look around. but vary the angle that you look at your subject – look up and look down. Look at what’s behind you – it may be more interesting.

Here, I’m in London, in the Square Mile of the financial district, but I’m looking upwards.

Here, I’m in London again, inside Heals’ department store, looking down from the top of the spiral staircase.

Sometimes, if you look around you you’ll see interesting reflections or shadows. This shot is of the Gherkin Building in London

I was driving into my local town when I noticed these shadows, so I turned off the road, parked my car and walked back to take the shot.

Sometimes it’s just a question of noticing an unusual viewpoint. I was kneeling down when I took this photo in Blackpool. Everything seems to be bending away from the wind.

While you are looking, consider where the light is coming from. In landscape photography, sometimes you need to wait for the sun to come from behind a cloud, or to light some hills differently. In portrait photography, you may want the light to come from – or to appear to come from – above and to one side of the subject.

Whatever you are photographing, are there any objects in the scene that could spoil your composition – road signs, bins etc? Think especially of things that are at the side of your frame that could distract a viewer,.

Last, but not least – make sure that you are working in a safe position – for yourself and your equipment.

I took today’s featured photograph in London, at night using a Pentax K-1 36 MP full frame camera using a 15-30 mm f/2.8 lens at 30 mm and f/7.1. The ISO was 100 and the Shutter Speed 30 seconds. I used a tripod. No filters were needed.

Tomorrow, I’ll have a brief look at aspects of photographing distant objects.

Photography – Time of Day and Time of Year

The featured photograph today is of the Widnes to Runcorn Silver Jubilee bridge. It is one of my favourite shots. It represents Sunset – a time of day, in line with today’s title. I took the shot with my Pentax K-1 36 MP camera using a 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens at 35 mm and f/13. The ISO was 100 and the shutter speed 2.5 seconds.

To show the difference that the time of day can make, look at this photograph of the same bridge taken the same day, from only a few yards away but 56 minutes earlier.

The light at Sunrise can change just as dramatically and often more rapidly. This photograph was taken at 06:58 behind the Plas y Brenin Mountain Training centre at Capel Curig, Snowdonia. The moonlight is reflected in the lake.

Taken from a few yards to one side at 08:42, on the far side of the lakes (Llynau Mymbyr) the details in the slopes of the Snowdon Horseshoe range are now much more clearly defined.

Summer photography in the hills after mid-morning also means you will have to work with heat haze. This tends to blur and to “blue” distant hills and trees etc. The human eye interprets this gradient of warm to cold colour as a measure of distance so, in a photograph this is a sort of proxy for depth of field. The effect is at the cost of sharpness and detail.

At sunrise and sunset you will usually get softer light, beautiful colours, pleasing shadows and textures – and often calmer water for reflections. In the Autumn the gold, orange, yellow and brown tones of leaves can yield magical photographs. In winter soft, untrodden snow or children playing games in the snow are a gift to capture. Spring brings blossom, new foliage and buds. Even the harsh midday sun of summer can offer silhouettes and sharp contrasts of deep shadows framing bright buildings.

Ness Gardens on the Wirral Peninsula in Merseyside at Springtime.

As daylight disappears, the night brings new opportunities such as light trails, cityscapes and astrophotography.

Light trails from a bridge at Ravenhead, St Helens, Merseyside

Cityscapes are, for me, one of the most interesting types of photography

Canning Dock, Liverpool by night

Astrophotography is fairly specialised. I can’t afford the type of equipment needed to capture nebulae etc. Milky Way photography is more accessible in some ways but needs clear, dark skies and the galactic core can only be photographed during late spring to late summer.

Twr Mawr on Ynys Llanddwyn, Anglesey below the Milky Way

I’ll say more about the techniques and settings that I used for some of the above types of photographs in later blogs. Tomorrow, I’ll continue my generalised rambling but I’ll be starting to talk about aspects of position, angle and composition – possibly over three days or so.