Thursday, 26 June 2014

One beach, three interpretations

Martin's version
You may have seen in Martin's last blog piece his lovely picture from Porth Nanven beach in Cornwall, shown again, above. It was made when Wonky Horizons took a few days break down in Cornwall in March. There is a warm and very peaceful atmosphere to Martin's picture that I think is wonderful, especially as the weather that day was much worse than it looks.

Porth Nanven beach is well-known for its large rounded boulders which are likened to dragons eggs. When we got there it was particularly cold, and a strong wind from off the sea was driving rain in our faces. Undeterred, Martin and I set up our tripods to take some landscapes, while Phil clambered around after more unusual angles.

Anthony's colour version
 Martin was trying out his Big Stopper, and succeeded in getting a beautiful milky appearance in the water. For a different look, I just used a Lee 0.9 (three stop) standard neutral density filter so as to keep some texture and movement in the waves; this was stacked with a 0.6 ND hard grad. Martin also chose a better position than me, so his composition is better balanced with the far away islands over to the right balancing the heavy area towards the left. My version has the island in the centre, so the composition is not so well balanced, although the weight of the big dragon's egg in the foreground helps – I might move those islands sometime :-). I'm still a bit conflicted about the sky too: I'm not sure that the big expanse is really needed, but when I've cropped the sky down, that big boulder becomes just too dominant. Nevertheless, I'm pretty happy with my version because I like the colours,  the comparatively forbidding atmosphere, and especially the movement in the sea. I've made a print from this that I think looks great.

Monochrome version by Anthony.
Going over the raw files more recently, I thought I would give another of them a go. This one has a more balanced composition with the far away islands over to the right, and I thought I would try a black-and-white version. This was a very simple conversion – I got the colours the way I like them in Lightroom, and then simply used a yellow filter black and white conversion for the image. I thought the sky needed a bit of perking up as well, so I moved a bright patch of cloud further down into the image, and added some beams of light. To make the beams, I used a method I had only just discovered in a video by Glyn Dewis. I think it adds a bit of drama to the image.

I don't really have a favourite here – I think they're all valid interpretations of the scene, although I think the far away islands in my colour version are definitely going to get moved at some point!

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Lee Big Stopper: First impressions


I've been using the Lee 100mm filter system for a few years now, beginning with a Lee starter kit, a set of Soft ND graduated filters and a pair of (77mm and 82mm) adapter rings to attach onto the three main lenses I use (16-35mm; 24-105mm; 70-200mm). I then added a set of Hard ND grads for seascapes (and landscapes with flat horizons) and then a 3-stop ND filter for some long exposure work.

The great thing about purchasing such a filter system is that one can start small, and relatively cheaply, and then add new filters when the need arises and funds permit! In the field, the Lee filter system allows one to attach two or more filters at one time, such that different combinations may be used to control exposures accurately.

Up until recently, all the filters I have bought have been the resin ones; probably just as well as I have dropped a few on a number of occasions, resulting in chipping of the edges. This is no real issue, as long as the main surfaces do not become scratched.

Wonky Horizons visited Cornwall at the end of March this year and I fancied doing some seascapes with long exposures. Although my 3-stop ND filter does quite a good job for exposures of a few seconds, I wanted to expose scenes for a few minutes: enter the Lee Big Stopper.

This latter piece of kit is notoriously difficult to procure, as over recent years, consumer demand has outstripped Lee's ability to supply. A friend of mine kindly agreed to lend me his Canon 5D MkII for the trip (so that I could shoot full-frame - my 1D MkIV being a 1.3x crop) and, when I went to pick it up, he said I could borrow his Big Stopper as well. Result - thank you George!

Now, it's worth pointing out a couple of things:

  1. The Big Stopper is glass and I was going to be shooting on rocky shorelines
  2. Shooting for longer than 30 seconds requires the use of BULB mode on the camera, together with a cable release and some means of timing your exposures
I was aware of a piece of Canon kit that would take care of point 2 above: The TC-80N3 Timer Remote Control (which can also be used for time lapse - but that's another story for another time). I duly purchased the said control and packed it carefully in my kit bag for the trip.

Shooting at Porth Nanven, Cornwall

This is a location that we had decided to visit during our trip to Cornwall, with round granite boulders on the beach, other sea-weathered rock formations and an off-shore island. We arrived in the rain but persevered for a couple of hours until conditions were favourable. I spent some time finding a few potential compositions and assembling my gear, only to find that I had left my timer control back at the bungalow in Rock - over an hour's drive away - thus I would be limited to 30-second exposures maximum! A few expletives later, the photography was under way, and my favourite image from this location is shown below.

Canon 5D MkII; Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 at 35mm; 30 seconds at f/10; ISO 200; Lee Big Stopper

Learning points

The trip was not a complete disaster, but I would liked to have been able to have made the sea even more 'dreamy'. There was plenty of scope as I was only shooting at f/10, ISO 200 and thus had many more 'stops' up my sleeve. Note to self: Check your kit bag before you leave!

Handling a friends £100 glass filter over rocks is a bit scary. Buy your own filter!

Furthermore, one of the first things that is apparent when you look at the rear LCD when using the Big Stopper is the profound blue colour-cast. This needed addressing.


So, I bought my own filter and based on the experience gained, I decided to calibrate it for the colour temperature and exposure before I used it.

For the colour temperature, I did some digging around on the 'net and the general consensus is to set your camera to between 8000 and 9000 Kelvin. I opted for the mid-point, and set mine to 8500K.

For the exposure, I did some test shots in the garden without the filter, stopped down 10 stops, applied the filter and took another test shot. The my pleasure, the white balance looked really good, but the image was slightly underexposed. A little tweaking and I was there, ascertaining that my filter gives a reduction in light of around 11 stops.

Next shoot

My next shoot was last weekend, when Phil and I visited the Turner Contemporary in Margate. It's not the most exciting of images but it was a valuable real world test of my technique. The shot below was processed in Lightroom, needing virtually no white balance or exposure correction. Apologies to Phil for making him wait 40 mins for a suitable cloud to drift over.

Canon 1D MkIV; Canon 24-105mm f/4 at 24mm; 148 seconds at f/20; ISO 50; Polarising filter; Lee Big Stopper; WB 8500k
As you can see from the settings I used, it was a very bright day. The polariser helped to darken the sky, increased the contrast between sky and cloud and give me 2-3 stops less light to help get to the length of exposure I was after.

I feel a lot more confident in using the filter now and there are no excuses for getting it wrong. I've got a few ideas of shots that I want to take with it, including revisiting Porth Nanven when down in Cornwall again this coming September.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Elmley RSPB

I always enjoy visiting the Elmley RSPB reserve on the Isle of Sheppey. It's one of those places that has something to offer all year round.

I left the house around 5.30am last Saturday and arrived to a fantastic sunrise.

Sunrise over Elmley

It was a shame however that I could not gain access to the reserve as, owing to some overnight thefts, it does not now open until 7am. It did give me a chance to check out the gun club area, where I spent a very pleasant time talking to Brian, who is researching short eared owls for a book he is writing.

Once the gates were open I worked my way up the track, where lapwing and redshank were abundant. I was hoping to photograph one of my favourite birds - yellow wagtail - but the single male I located remained too distant for me to get any good photographs.

I spotted a drake shoveler swimming up one of the channels, so I positioned myself ahead of it and waited for it to come into range. I was pleased to capture an image of it in its natural environment and chose to 'letterbox' it for more impact.

Drake shoveler
Drake shoveler
My favourite shot of the day came from an encounter I had with a redshank just as I was leaving the reserve. It posed for just a second before scuttling off; enough time for me to capture the image below. It looked good on the camera's rear LCD screen and I was pleased that it looked just as good when I opened it in Lightroom. It was one of those shots that needed virtually no post-processing and all the more pleasing for that.

I plan to visit again over the Easter break where I hope that more yellow wagtails may have made their way over from Europe.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Off-camera flash portrait session


I spent a very enjoyable morning with Jason Dodd in Canterbury on an off-camera flash portrait workshop last weekend. Our models were Helen and Natalie and all photos were taken outdoors, either in woodland or around the Canterbury Innovation Centre.

The weather conditions were great, with blue sky and strong sunshine, but not ideal for photography. The challenge being to photograph your subjects back-lit by the sun and adjust the power of the off-camera flash to balance the exposure of the model's face.


We started in the small wooded area adjacent to the centre and worked with our camera settings and flash power to get the technical aspects under control before proceeding take some shots. There were three of us in the group so we took turns taking pictures and holding the flash gun.

My favourite from this set is of Helen, below. Note how the sun is lifting the highlights in her hair and the flash rendering skin tones and giving a catch light in the eyes.

Helen in woodland area
Helen: Manual mode; 1/250th; f/5; ISO 100; manual flash 1/16th power at ~3 meters
After some time in the woods we returned to the steps of the Innovation Centre and I used some of the architectural features of the building to add to compositions.

Natalie in front of the Innovation Centre #1
Natalie in front of the Innovation Centre #2
My favourite from this set was taken from a low viewpoint, just using the sky as background. We upped the power of the flash to 1/8th and held a diffuser in front to soften the effect. I was very happy with the exposure now: the extra power from the flash kept the hair from burning out and the diffuser softened the shadows and skin tones more effectively.

Natalie on the steps
As we got towards lunchtime, the sun was quite fierce, so we opted to move into the shadow of the Innovation Centre to do a few shots without flash, just using natural light and a reflector to balance the light across the models' faces.

Here's a mono of Natalie outside Unit 8.

Natalie outside Unit 8
As you can see, exposure control here was far simpler, with very even tones across the whole frame from the low contrast light.

By now, Helen had changed outfits and had applied some red lipstick. Using her black scarf to frame her faced and a diffuser positioned very carefully, I was able to get what I thought was my best image of the day.

Helen: The 'Scottish Widows' look


A big thank you to Jason for organising and hosting the day, to Natalie and Helen for their patience and contribution to the photography and to Steve Baker and Paul Spree for the teamwork, flash control and banter!

Sunday, 9 February 2014

The Wettest Winter

This entry is just to record that we are having the most appallingly weather this winter. Us Brits (especially me) like to spend our winters complaining about how the weather is miserable, but this year really is something else. The people of the south west of England have been the worst affected by floods and storms: villages in the Somerset levels have been completely cut off by floods that cover thousands of acres; many people have been flooded out of their homes. The main rail line to Cornwall has been severed at Dawlish. The floods have spread widely over the whole of southern England.

Here in East Kent, we’ve been less badly affected, but the Elham valley, and in particular the villages of Bridge and Patrixbourne have been dreadfully affected with flood water simply rising up through the ground.

I have a regular walk that passes though some playing fields. We're nowhere near the worst affected areas, but even so, the two pictures above (taken on my phone) illustrate the flooding of a local football pitch. Nothing in comparison to the experience of many (and you can see that the nearby houses are perfectly safe), but I don’t remember this kind of flooding of these pitches before.


One more from this afternoon. This was the view over the vallery of the Great Stour near Chilham. The Great Stour belies its name, and it is litle more than a stream at this point. But the fields are now entirely flooded. Some flooding happens every year, but this really is more than I can remember.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Anthony's Aviation Favourites, 2013

In what has become an annual tradition, here's my aviation favorites from this year. Rather a lot for one post, but then who's counting!

These are very approximately in chronological order, although where it is useful, they're grouped by subject. I'll also put these into a set on Flickr (eventually!)  so that you can see the details of each if you're interested.

Anyhow, in keeping with the spirit of Wonky Horizons, you can probably tell I had a huge amount of fun with aviation photography this year. Here's hoping for as much again in 2014!

Happy New Year!

Saturday, 14 December 2013

The Rochester Dickens Christmas Festival: Phil's take

This is my belated upload from our visit to Rochester. Anthony's blog has all the details, and, as he mentioned, there were many people in wonderful costumes. I was particularly taken with the steam-punks from Great Kentspectations. They have a great Victorian style with a sci-fi edge.

Here are a few of the shots from the day.
This was the first shot I was happy with.

Everyone was happy to be photographed 

I had a chat with this lovely lady but forgot to ask  her name.

Again I did not get the name of this man, but he did say he made the glove himself.

This lady had yellow eyes and blue hair – I just had to take a picture!

A wonderful steam-punk look.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Rochester Dickens Festival December 2013

A character in the parade for the Dickens Festival
Last Saturday, 7 December, I went with Phil plus our friend Katrina and her son Oliver to the Rochester Dickens Festival. I had not been to one of these before, and it's quite a long time since I've been to Rochester in any case.

Rochester is closely associated with Charles Dickens: his house at Gad's Hill Place is near Rochester, and several buildings in Rochester and its vicinity appear in his books (perhaps most famously, the churchyard of St James, Cooling, is supposed to have inspired the setting for Pip encountering Magwitch at the beginning of Great Expectations).

The heritage business is huge in the UK at the moment – the Medway/Thames estuary area is Dickens country, just as the area around Haworth is Bronte country. So it's inevitable that there should be a Dickens Festival. I don't know what it is, but there seems to be a communicable urge doing the rounds in the UK at the moment that makes people dress up in period costumes as living history re-enactors. I went up to Biggin Hill a couple of weeks ago for an evening photoshoot at the Heritage Hangar, and, naturally, there were re-enactors posing with the Spitfires and Hurricanes. You almost cannot avoid re-enactors at any organized event, but, it really can add to the fun and atmosphere.

A solid crowd packed Rochester High Street to follow the parade
 What I had not expected was the crowds! We got to the bottom of the High Street just before the parade was due to set off, and started taking some pictures of the characters. But it quickly became impossible to move around very freely with the density of both costumed characters and spectators, and once the parade started it was just a question of going with the flow and following along at a very slow walking pace.

Never having been to such an event before, I wasn't quite sure what to take in the way of gear. I was hoping to get some good street shots with quirky characters in interesting framings or juxtapositions. So, I took a 35mm prime lens along with the D700, with the intention that that would be my main lens for the day. I thought I might be able to take the occasional opportunity to get close-up portrait of one or two people, so I also took a 105 mm lens with this in mind. However, the density of people was such that it pretty rapidly became impossible to frame individuals or even groups in a way that fitted with my original idea. The 105 became my lens for the day after about the first 5 minutes, with the aim of just picking out individuals and suppressing the busyness of the background.

Anyhow, the four of us had a very entertaining day, and I got some pictures that I like. I had not expected just what a target-rich environment it turned out to be. The costumed characters were so happy to be photographed, and so cooperative it was a real pleasure. It was great fun that there were some anachronisms as well: I don't think Sherlock Holmes ever appears in a Dickens novel - much less with a camera :-) -  and I can’t quite work out what the Confederate general was doing in Victorian Britain either. The wonderful steam punks from Great Kentspectations  were out in force, although, somehow, I'm still not sure how they fit into the Dickens universe**.

After the parade, we were wondering where to go for lunch, and found a bunch of stalls out by the castle. Because there were so many people in Rochester, the cafes and restaurants were simply overflowing and, although dying for a coffee, we couldn't find anywhere with free space. However, the stalls by the castle were not completely overwhelmed, so we stopped by them for lunch.

The Taste of Thailand stall was there: they set up on our campus several times a week as well, so I am very familiar with their delicious green curries and Pad Thai; Phil, Katrina and myself chose Pad Thai, which had a suitably re-vivifying effect.

During the afternoon, it was a case of pottering around catching the occasional costumed character and generally soaking up the atmosphere. One of the things I loved was a French band of buskers called "Sur les Docks" - very energetic players and excellent musicians.

First time at a such a crowded festival – what did I learn photographically? Taking a fast portrait lens was really helpful – shooting wide open, or nearly-wide open, meant I could isolate characters against the background, even when it was really busy. I think I also need to be much more active at getting in and photographing them: if Phil or Katrina got to a character before I did, I tended to leave them to it. There was a wonderful Miss Havisham, for instance, with spiders in her veil: but because Phil and Katrina spent some time photographing her, I didn't want to bother her myself. Next time I shall! Something that was extremely helpful was shooting the D700 in ISO-unlimited fashion (this is Britain in December, after all, where the light rarely gets better than murky). I set the camera on manual with auto-ISO and a shutter speed of 1/250, and just changed aperture for what the picture needed. The liberating thing about the D700 is that you can simply forget about the ISO for the most part and just choose shutter speed and aperture according to what the picture needs. (Then again, the size of the D700-105 combination, its weight and the loud clunk of its shutter are not so liberating….)

Anyhow, I'm looking forward to going back another time. If you've not been, as long as you do not have a fear of being tightly hemmed in in a vast crowd, it is a great day out.

**UPDATE 13 December 2013. Victoria Sparks from Great Kentspectations got back to me after reading my comment above that I didn't see where the Steampunks fit into the Dickens universe. Here is what she said. "We see steampunk as a branch from the Dickensian/ Victorian culture, most of our characters and looks are based on Victorian Science fiction (H G Wells, Jules Verne) and also alternative Victorian history (who's to say some of Dickens unfinished pieces didn't include characters like us :P ). Our main goal is to have fun and bring something different to big events like this, it is our 4th time at the Dickens festival and our popularity is growing within the public and the re-enactors groups too, some gave us the name "the new Victorians" which we thought was lovely." Thanks so much, Victoria - much appreciated, and I'm looking forward to meeting you again the future.