My photo journal’s new home

Following several hosting challenges and unsurmountable WordPress theme and plugin conflicts, I have finally decided to move my photography journal to this new home.

This new home is still very much work in progress. Although I have now moved my photography journal across, over time I will hopefully complete the daunting task of converting my Facebook posts as well as my flickr photostream going back to 2009 across.

The five latest (historical) additions from my social media streams are:

I may need to fill in some gaps for the times when I haven’t uploaded any photos to my journal or social media. I may even go further back in time to add the best from my Lightroom catalogue and images from my extensive slide and negative collection going back to the mid 90’s.

I’m back!

I am sorry that I have been neglecting my own website for several years, favouring the simplicity and reach of my Facebook page to share my photos with family, friends, Facebook groups and anyone interested instead.

However, the recent Facebook issue when all photos published from Lightroom disappeared from Facebook overnight came as a bit of a shock. Yes, you read that correctly, every photo published by anyone in the world from Lightroom to Facebook ever had gone. That meant every photo I had published to Facebook going back some five years, with all it’s social history (comments) had simply vanished.

Of course I have the (original and published) photos with the Facebook comments and likes still in my own Lightroom catalogue, but the thought of republishing five years worth of work online is daunting.

The issue was thankfully resolved within a couple of days following the outcry of those affected, and all photos and associated comments were thankfully back. I must admit that Adobe’s support and keeping the community up to date was superb, and in complete contrast to Facebook’s non-existent acknowledgement and communications.

An event like this makes you take a step back and re-think your online publishing.

Placing your prime reliance on a multi billion company’s social media product is perhaps not a good idea.

So I have made the decision to restart my own photo blog and share any publications to this through social media.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will need to bring my website up to date as well as investigating how to best publish my posts to Facebook and, if possible, import the social history (comments) from Facebook to my own domain.

So please bear with me.

Portrait of a whippet

I have had my Canon speedlite for several years now, but have only used it sparingly as I tend to find the results too harsh when using the flash, even with a Stofen diffuser. This is more a reflection of my lack of knowledge on how to use the flash than anything else.

So when I heard another photographer saying that he always lit his models through bounce flash (when not being able to use studio lights) to create more natural lighting, I thought it is time to found out a bit more and experiment. After a bit of Googling and reading I came across the excellent web site by Neil van Niekerk, who provides a wealth of information on techniques for using on-camera and off-camera flash. A must read for anyone wanting to delve beyond the most basic use of flash.

What specifically caught my eye was the simplicity of it all, and Neil’s ingenuity to use ‘the black foamie thing’ for bounce flash. So the following day I went into town to hunt down some black foam. It wasn’t easy, but I was in luck, as the second art store I went in had Funky Foam in the kids section for £1.79 for an A4 sheet. With a couple of elastic hairbands, I had just bought my cheapest photographic accessory ever.

Time to experiment! I had a choice of two models at home, but found only Lola willing. I tried bounce flash off the wall to the sides, of the wall behind me and off the ceiling, and I must admit, it works an absolute treat.

Here are a few portraits of the super model, both in colour and black & white, hopefully showing that the bounce flash results in a more natural lighting and in giving nice shadow and detail, as opposed to bleaching everything out.

Whippet triplets

You probably have gathered from the images on my site, that creating panormas (vistas) and virtual realisties by stitching multiple images together is one of my specialities. So I decided to do an experiment with three images shown below that I took of Lola at Portencross Beach.

And I am quite chuffed with the result.

Now how did I do that?

Anyone can do this! It’s easy. But be warned, you’ll need an awful lot of wine. To start off, I select the images in Lightroom, right click and select Edit In – Merge to Panorama in Photoshop which seamlessly launches Photomerge from Lightroom and saves the result back to the Lightroom catalogue.

In the Photomerge dialogue, there are a few options, but I just leave the settings as default. In my experience, Photoshop will either do a wonderful job or makes an absoluate hash off it, in which case I simply refer back to using PTGui Pro. In this case, Photoshop came up with a perfect stitch.

Then kick off the photomerge, open a bottle of wine, and poor yourself a glass. When your glass is empty, just refill it. Go on, have another glass. Take the whippet for a walk. And, yes you guessed it, have another glass. When Photoshop finally completes the number crunching, this is the result.

Then a suitable crop. Unfortunately, a few bits are missing in this case, requiring a little cloning work. Had I used a slightly wider focal length, a crop would have been sufficient. More crop in this instance would have lost part of the reflection and would have taken away any space (sand) above Lola.

Finally, another glass of wine to celebrate the result.

Life is a blur

After a glorious Saturday spent mostly reading the third novel in Stieg Larson’s Millenium trillogy in the sun in our garden, Sunday morning was a bit of a let down with heavy clouds and the odd light shower. So we decided to head into the woods for a wander off the beaten track after lunch. We had hoped for fields of blue, but unfortunately, the bluebells in Scotland appear to be out at least a week later than the England bluebells shown in glory on the web by others in the past week.

Thankfully the weather had improved quite a bit, so we ended up wandering through the woods with a mixture of sun and cloud. We started of from Drumclog Car Park, but headed due North across tracks through the woods rather than following the main track to the West. On reaching the edge of the woods, where the ground dips down to the swampy grass fields, we headed West, but when the opportunity came, we crossed the fields to the other side, crossing little streams meandering through the fields.

On reaching the path that leads down from Mugdock Castle to the West highland Way, just above the old gamekeepers cottage, we followed this well paved path down to the West Highland Way and Allander Water. A welcome opportunity for Lola to have a paddle in the river before heading back up along the tracks through the woods and back to the car park.

The light was wonderful and provided good opportunities for landscape photography. The images of the afternoon ranged from landscapes (vistas) to visual poetry (intimate landscapes) and abstract photography. In the absence of enough bluebells for a typical blue landscape image, I decided to experiment and make the most of the few bluebells in bloom. Using a slow shutter speed and moving the camera downwards while pressing the shutter button, I created some pleasing abstract results.

I used the same technique to take some abstract images of flowering broom and birches framed by fresh green grasses. I am pleased with the results, especially the mian image of the birches. The last image included is a reject, where I failed to get the camera movement and pressing of the shutter button coordinated. hopefully this will give you an impression of the few bluebells amongst the green grasses that form the basis of the abstract bluebell images.

A future blog entry will likely include the landscape and visual poetry images from this delightful wander.

Upside down reflections

A comment on flickr in response to the original image image suggested that I flip it upside down. Below are the two images, the original and one rotated 180 degrees. Use the popup slide show to compare the two version and decide for yourself which one is best.

In my view, the upside down version works well. It is debatable though which one is really the upside down one.

Creative white balance

Deliberately using incorrect ‘camera’ setting can sometimes give you a more pleasing or more interesting image than one taken with the correct camera settings. I think the term ‘accidentally on purpose’ nicely describes this form of technique that is somewhere in the grey area between creative camera use and user error.

Here is one example of using white balance creatively. In this image, exhibited in the bog entry entitled A Wander onto the Moor, I have set the white balance to tungsten, producing a warm result that would be similar to a ‘correctly’ taken image with a blue sky overhead reflecting in the ice. The simplicity of just the ice, the faintest of blue/magenta tones with the shadows really makes this image. The correctly taken image with the white balance set to auto is cold and lifeless.

Remove Those Cables

This example is an illustration of a scenario where it is not possible to move around on location to adjust composition and capture the image you are after. Normally I would have moved closer and used a shorter focal length to capture the image below without the power cables. Unfortunately, I was standing on the edge of a sheer 50m cliff of a quarry so, frustratingly, I could not move further forward to achieve an angle with the power cables out of the way.

As I really liked the original image with the exception of the obtrusive power cables, I decided to remove these cables in Photoshop using the clone tool. Due to the blur and bokeh of the distant hills, the cloning proved fairly straightforward, although I had to ensure to match patterns in the hillside and avoid duplicating obvious elements, by careful sampling and regular resampling of the area to clone from.

I am glad I decided to remove the power cables, as I have since sold enlargements of this image. I am absolutely sure that I would not have sold enlargements of the original.

Tilt & Shift Correction

We have all taken images when we are restricted in the position of our vantage point, so we have to tilt the camera upwards and shift the camera sideways to get the image in the frame. The result of tilting and shifting the camera is that the verticals and horizontals of the image are converging.

The original below shows the converging verticals and horizontals of an image of a mural in Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Asunciónin in San Sebastian de La Gomera. Due to the location of the mural, I did not have the option to get in the right position to avoid even part of the effect.

The best way to correct for converging verticals is to use a camera or lens that enables tilt and shift movement of the lens, such as the Canon TSE lenses. Unfortunately, I do not have one of these specialist, extremely expensive tilt and shift lenses, so this option is not available to me.

An easy alternative is to correct tilt and shift in Adobe Photoshop using the ‘skew’ functionality. The process is very simple: select the whole image, select the skew tool found in the edit menu, drag appropriate corners to skew (or more correctly un-skew) the image, and crop or trim the image appropriately.

This is simple and very effective, as the final result below shows, but the quality of the resulting image cannot compete with that achieved using a tilt and shift lens. To achieve the best result with this edit, skew the corners in rather than skew the corners out, as the latter would result in image degradation due to interpolation.

Perspective correction

We have all taken images of buildings when we have to tilt the camera upwards to get the whole building in the frame. The result of tilting the camera upwards is that the perspective of the building is skewed with the verticals converging. The original below shows the converging verticals of an image of a ruined building in Agulo on La Gomera. Normally, I would take quite a few steps backwards to to minimise the converging of verticals, but as this house was in a narrow cobbled lane, I did not have this option.
The best way to correct for converging verticals is to use a camera or lens that enables tilt and shift movement of the lens, such as the Canon TSE lenses. Unfortunately, I do not have one of these specialist, extremely expensive tilt and shift lenses, so this option is not available to me.

An easy alternative is to correct the converging verticals in Adobe Photoshop using the ‘perspective’ functionality. The process is very simple: select the whole image, select the perspective tool found in the edit menu, drag a corner to skew (or more correctly un-skew) the image, and crop or trim the image appropriately, as illustrated below (click on a thumbnail to enlarge a screen grab). If there is one bit of functionality I would like Adobe to include in the next version of Lightroom then, without a shadow of a doubt, this would be perspective correction.

This is simple and very effective, but the quality of the resulting image cannot compete with that achieved using a tilt and shift lens. To achieve the best result with this edit, skew the bottom in rather than skew the top out, as the latter would result in image degradation due to interpolation.

The original and final image below show how this quick and simple edit can give you the result you desire.

Away with the crane

The big crane spoiling this spectecular sunset over San Sebastian de La Gomera has been an eyesore for years and can be seen in, unfortunately, too many of my images of the town, including the virtual reality taken from the terrace at Casa Cathaysa. Looking at the image below, you may think that the crane is not that bad, but trust me, on a large screen or on an enlargement print, it is very obtrusive.

This image is created from eight seperate 21mp images, that I stitched together into a panorama using Photoshop. The panorama measures a massive 11,200 by 5,300 pixels and would have required a ‘not yet existing’ 100mp digital camera to be taken in one single image, taking into account the need to crop the normal image format to a letterbox format. Without compromising the quality of the print, by printing at 300dpi, it can be enlarged up to 95 x 45 cm (or 37.3″ x 17.6″). Therefore, this image is a prime candidate for an enlargement print if it was not for that bloody crane.

So this image needs a little bit of Photoshop magic to get rid of that crane.

The two images above show a detailed closeup of the houses on the hillside with the crane partly obscuring them, and after removing the crane using the clone stamp tool in Photoshop. Due to the detail in the houses on the hillside, removing the crane was a slow and laborious task that took some time. But, as you can see from the detail above and the final image below, it was well worth it.