Friday, June 13, 2008

A New Home!

It's always been my ambition to get my various blogs integrated properly with their relevent photographic website. And whilst I've enjoyed being hosted with Blogger for the past couple of years, now I've finally managed to get everything set up properly on my general photography website.

The main site lives at and you can now find this blog migrated to the site too, with a properly integrated version of WordPress and a lovely new style to match the rest of the site.

I shall be leaving this site here as a permanent record, but all new posts will now appear at the other site. I hope you follow me there!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

March Review

March seemed to fly by. We had variable weather - some days were a complete washout, but others gave us a bit of sun; then we had snow on Easter Sunday! Early in the month, I inviested in a new lens, which I've been using whenever possible since. I'm pleased with the resutls so far. And mid-month, I had the pleasure of meeting two of my 366-buddies when I visited Sussex for a conference. Great to put faces to the names, just a pity the weather wasn't better for us!

I'll kick off with some "near misses" that almost made it as shot of the day during March:

[Reflected Reality - the reflection is rather more pleasing than the 1960's concrete monstrosity is in real life. This nearly made it for Day #65]

[Overhanging - Loved the shadow of these trees on the field, and the added bonus with blue skies and fluffy clouds. I found this view during my walk around Greensted on Day #63]

[All Triangles was a nice architectural detail I found whilst wandering round Thaxted on Day #71]

Weekly Themes

As well as the informal weekly themes the 366 Flickr group has been setting (which are entirely optional), I've been pursuing my own mini theme starting at the end of the month, and exploring single-colour pictures made at home with a bit of creative table top photography. I've been enjoying the challenge. Here are the close-seconds from each day of Red, Orange, Yellow and Green (the other colours continue into April):

[Endless String - a piece of cord, just how it fell, taken on Day #88]

[Gerbera & Shadow - I liked this imperfect specimen and its shadow on Day #89]

[Regimented - a play with some map pins and a desk lamp on Day #90]

[Cola With A Twist Of Lime - light and shade on a plastic glass, during Day #91]

How has the month gone?

I seem to have been very prolific in March, taking many more images than during February. And my little colour challenges have been making me get creative with bits and pieces found around the house, always a good fall back for days when you don't have a lot of time to go out and find pictures - stay home and make some instead.

I hope you are still enjoying my journey, and hope you will stay to see what April brings.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

On Lenses

I took a long, critical look the other day at some of the photos I'd recently taken with my Canon 17-85mm lens [left]. It's built for digital and as such, can't be used on any 35mm or full-frame censor CCD cameras (such as Canon's 5D - not that I have one!).

I've had it a couple of years, bought as a replacement for the original 18-55mm kit lens which came with my EOS 300D in 2004. That lens was pretty ropey - very plastic and the image quality was far from great.

Now I'm using my Canon 30D, I've begun to notice that the 17-85 lens isn't particularly sharp around the edges, especially at the wide 17mm end. It also suffers from chromatic abberation:

[Buttsbury Church wide angle shot looks OK at web resolution]

[Detail of the trees on the left]

As you can see, this 100% view from a section of the trees on the left shows a distinct magenta halo on one side of the birch trunk and a slight green halo on the other side. When trying to make prints at A3, these lens "features" are beginning to be irritating...

So I have been thinking about a better lens for my short/standard zoom. I initially looked at Canon's 24-70mm EF f/2.8 L USM but it costs nearly £900, so that was out of the question. I finally settled on the Canon 24-105mm EF f/4 L IS USM [right]. Yes it's a stop slower than the expensive lens, but has the bonus of Image Stabilisation, and f/4 is still pretty fast, especially as it's throughout the zoom's range.

And the L stands for Low Dispersion glass - Canon's best quality lens. On paper my old Sigma 135-400mm lens had a similar spec to the Canon zoom I now use for rugby, 100-400mm EF f4-5.6 L IS USM, but the pictures the Canon produces with that "L" quality glass are so much better. So I thought another L-series lens would be a good investment. Particularly if I ever get myself a Canon 5D full-frame D-SLR as my existing 17-85mm EF-S won't fit.

I had the pleasure of trying out the new toy this morning, taking a few quick shots on the way home from Chelmsford. So far, I'm impressed; the image quality seems first rate. I haven't yet missed the extra 7mm range at the wide end, but am glad of the extra 20mm at the tele end of things.

[Can Impression #2 shows buildings and blue sky reflected in the River Can as it flows through a concrete bit of Chelmsford]

[Branches shows a 100% enlargement of another image taken at the wide angle. Not sure I can see any chroma artifacts in that!]

Of course, I've yet to give the lens a proper run out, but I'm certainly happy with its first impression. And I'm rather pleased with today's Picture of the Day, Covert Surveillance, taken with the new beastie on the way home from the shop!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

February Review

February was of course longer than usual this year, but us 366 folk didn't get a day off! I've still kept up the photo a day discipline quite easily. And I think my "mundane" days have been more interesting than those during January, so maybe I'm learning!

I'll kick off with some "near misses" that almost made it as shot of the day during February:

[Millennium Window - the lovely new stained glass in Fryerning Church was a close call for Day #40]

[Saturated - a curious abstract I stumbled upon during my walk around Ulting on Day #41]

[Goblet of Fire was another image from the studio when I was messing about for Day #45]

[Kennady's Abstract - I loved the soft colours with this long exposure for Day #46]

[The Tilled Earth - a nice sepia treatment which almost made it for Day #55]

[The Duck Pond - a bit of a chocolate box picture from my look around Battlesbridge on Day #57]

As I said in the beginning, I think my "boring" days have been slightly more creative than January. This was tested during Days 35-37 when I was sick - but I still managed a shot or two with my compact camera, so haven't broken the 366 rule.

The 366 group on Flickr I belong to has weekly themes to help you out when inspiration is lacking. The theme for Week 6 was "Love Is..." I was a bit stuck for what to do, but then an idea germinated just before I was due to spend the day in the Studio with a friend on 14th. My entry was called "Love Is ... Never Black & White" which was my picture for Day #45, and I was delighted that the 366 folks voted it best picture for week 6.

I think it was particularly pleasing as I'm not often a photographer who pre-conceives an idea and then sets it up for a picture, I'm much more likely to go with what I see in front of me. So to have taken a successful image which required thought and pre-planning was quite a departure for me. And it meant I got to choose the theme for Week 8, which I decided would be Nature's Patterns.

I hope you continue to observe my journey through the year during March.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Cooking Up Some Interest

I was idly fiddling with Photoshop CS3 this afternoon and thought I would have a little play with the Filter Gallery. I'm not normally one for over-using filters with my images, but I wondered if some shots could be improved with a little creativity. Here are three quick recipes for cooking up some interest in your pictures, even when they might seem pretty uninspiring to begin with.

Delicious Apple Tart

I started with this:
[Rather stody Apple Pie - two halves of an apple on a wooden chopping board]

Slightly dull, not much punch in the lighting. Here's how I cooked it up:
  • Levels - setting the black and white points gave the image more contrast
  • Filter Gallery - Watercolour
And the end result was a much better picture:
[Apple Tart - I like this much better, especially the edge of the cut half]

Accompanied by Sweet Music

I started with this:
[Discordant - the purple background isn't helping]

I liked the close up composition, but that background bothered me. Here's how I cooked it up:
  • Levels - setting the black and white points gave the image more contrast
  • Black & White - using the Maximum White option for more punch
  • Filter Gallery - Glowing Edges
This is how it turned out:
[Sweet Music - a much more graphic shot, enhancing the shiny chrome]

Makes Perfect Dining Al Fresco

I started with this:
[Misty Morning - the village pond through the fog, in Histon]

It was atmospheric to a certain extent, (I used another from the same shoot for Day #44). But I wasn't so convinced about this one without some cooking:
  • Levels - setting the black and white points gave the image more contrast
  • Filter Gallery - Fresco
Which gave me:
[Al Fresco - an intriguing painterly effect]

I hope you liked my recipes. How did I choose the filter for each? Really, just by trying them out, looking at the preview and deciding whether they suited the images. That's the tricky part!

I shall be having a go at some other images in due course. You might like to keep an eye on my Flickr set, Fun With Filters, to see the results of my experiments.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

January Review

I've managed to keep up the My Year In Pictures project throughout January without too much trouble. They're not all masterpieces by any means, but I'm pleased with most of the shots. Some days it was a quick grab shot with my compact camera, others I managed to get out with the DSLR specifically to take some shots (and get some exercise!)

First, I thought I would show you some "near misses" that almost made it as shot of the day during January:

[Patsy - one of the carousel horses I found in the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park - was nearly pin-up girl for Day #5]

[Blue Dragons - taken at the Brisith Museum, nearly ousted Neal Archer as subject for Day #7]

[Linesman - another shot from Chelmer Park, more abstract than the goal posts which represented Day #9]

[Sunset Over The Barn was another image from the end of a great walk around Margaretting Tye, on Day #22]

[Log Shadows - more tree details from the pictures taken on Day #24]

[Fogbound was a close runner up to the trees and bracken on the foggy Monday morning of Day #28]

So apart from the near misses, how has the month gone?

As well as posting each day to my blog, it's been great fun participating in the 366 2008 group on Flickr. They are a friendly bunch of people, and because the group is relatively small (80 or so now), you recongise names more easily, and it's lovely to get feedback from them. We've also been inspiring each other in direct and indirect ways. And I think we've all noticed that we're now really looking at everything as a potential subject, no matter how ordinary it might initially seem.

Nobody lives a life of excitement all the time, so inevitably some days' photos are going to be mundane, or the chance to be creative is limited. It didn't help that we had some absolutely atrocious weather during January. The challenge then becomes trying to find an intriguing angle for an everyday object or still-life at home. Lots of us in the group confess to have had the "late-night panic" at some time during the first month - you get to that certain time of night and realise it's dark and raining outside, you haven't taken a picture yet so you must get something in the bag before midnight chimes!

I don't know if the challenge will get easier or harder as the year wears on. I've made a list of "back up subjects" which I've used when inspiration has been lacking - and add to it whenever I think of something I might not have the time to take straight away. Running out of ideas is certainly a worry. But on the other hand, on some days I've felt more creative than I have in ages - perhaps I just needed the "excuse" to take a picture!

Anyway here's to February!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

How To Take... Water Splashes

I've often seen other people's photos of water splashing into a surface and thought I should have a go at it myself. With the My Year In Pictures project, I've kept a list of subjects I should try, to give some inspiration on days when it's not nice outdoors or I just can't think what to take.

Today, I had a go at some macro shots of water splashes. It's harder than it looks! You need a fast shutter speed to freeze the action, and a small aperture to give you maximum depth of field. Both of which mean you will have to use a high ISO setting and/or flood the image with light.

Some photographers use a high-speed stroboscopic flash to do the job for them - it recharges in a fraction of a second and allows several shots to be taken in one burst. But I don't have one, so I dug out an old 1000W video lamp from the back of a cupboard and tried that:

[Setup in my kitchen - bowl of water on stripey wrapping paper; camera turned vertically on tripod on left; the 1000W video light on second tripod to the right]

[Closer view of the camera and bowl with water bottle cap just seen at the top]

I was using my Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 lens, fitted with a 12mm extension tube which allowed much closer focussing and greater magnification.

After much trial and error with the placement of the bowl, focus, position of the light and camera settings, I came up with the following as a reasonable set-up:
  • ISO speed: 500
  • Shutter speed: 1/1250th
  • Aperture: f/6.3
I had tried using 1/1000th and f/4.0 but they weren't as sharp as I'd have liked - so I moved the light closer to the subject and got a better exposure.

The trick then is to drop a broken stream of water from the nozzle of a drinking water bottle with a sports cap. I had pre-focussed on a fork poked into the surface of the water (to get a proper focus point, otherwise you are focussed on the wrapping paper below which is no good for the splashes).

Then you have to try and aim the water drops into the same place as the fork was, whilst holding down the shutter button - I had the camera on high-speed motor drive. Take tens of shots and find the best half dozen!

[Splash! The water surface breaks up nicely when the first drops hit]

[Gravity Well - I like the way the falling stream makes a hole in the surface]

[Bubble Group - taking shots after the disturbances have died down can be equally rewarding]

The last picture here and my Pic of the Day for Day #29 show that you don't always have to photograph the turbulence to get some good pictures - handy if you don't have high speed motor drive.

I'll certainly be having another go at this sort of picture, perhaps with some different backgrounds and lighting. Why not give it a shot too?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Exhibition In Battersea

Since the beginning of December, I've had an exhibition of my rugby photographs at The Castle, a gastropub in Battersea High Street.

Last Sunday I invited a few friends over to have lunch and admire the pictures. The pub has recently been refurbished, and the pale wooden frames suited the new decor. Apparently the pictures are popular with the locals too!

Here's a few shots of how they look hanging on the wall (the pictures, not the locals...)

[A nice corner of the restuarant section]

[Two by the window]

[Scrum on some funky wallpaper]

[Hiding behind a plant!]

If you would like to see them for yourself, the exhibition runs until 31st January, so pop down quickly!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

My Year In Pictures

After my enforced rest with my broken elbow/bashed knee last year, I decided that I would try to keep a photographic diary of 2008 - taking at least one picture every day, even when I'm just slogging away with work and not going anywhere interesting.

So far, I've managed to keep it up. I'm not sure they will all be masterpieces, but it's an interesting challenge to keep the momentum going, and not forget to take a shot each day.

You can see the results at my new blog, My Year In Pictures.

I'll still be writing bits and pieces here, but that will be more concerned with general photographic topics. I hope you enjoy reading both!

Monday, November 12, 2007

High ISO Noise Comparison

I have already talked a little about the effects of high ISO noise in a previous post. And one of the reasons I wanted to upgrade from my Canon EOS 300D to my new 30D was it's alleged better performance at high ISO settings, plus the ability to choose ISO 3200 in really dark situations, whereas the old camera would only go up to ISO 1600.

So I thought it might be useful to take a closer look at some photos taken with each camera, and see if things really are any better in dim conditions.

EOS 300D - Sigma 135-400mm EF f/4.5-f/5.6 - ISO 1600

Back in December 2005, I went to see Saracens play Wasps away in High Wycombe. It was a fairly late kickoff, and being December, it wasn't long before the floodlights were on and things were getting pretty dingy on the pitch. Here's a picture of ref Ashley Rowden supervising the scrum:

[The ref's head is highlighted above]

The picture doesn't look too bad resized for viewing on the web. But looking at it at full resolution, you'll see what happens:

[The highlighted section shown at Actual Pixels (100%) size]

You can see that the skin tones show noticeable coloured noise, and the black areas are also very mottled. The whole image is fairly soft and not very saturated.

EOS 30D - Canon 100-400mm EF L f/4.5-f/5.6 - ISO 1600 / ISO 3200 (HI)

Yesterday, I was back to see Saracens play Glasgow at home in Watford. Admittedly with a different lens, but it's the camera body itself which is the biggest factor in image quality in low light. By the second half, the floodlights were on again, and this is the first shot we'll look at taken at ISO 1600:

[The Scrum Half's head is the piece to be enlarged]

Again, the photo above is good quality at web resolution, but I think there's a definite improvement at full size:

[The second highlighted section shown at Actual Pixels (100%) size]

This time, the blacks are cleaner and there is less obtrusive coloured noise in the skin tones. It looks noticeably sharper, and the colours are more vivid.

Here's another one, as it was getting even darker. In order to keep the shutter speed up, the only option was to increase the ISO setting, since I was working at the lens' maximum aperture, f/5.6. So I used the ISO setting on HI - which basically means 3200:

[The Prop's head is the bit we're interested in]

I'm impressed with the web resolution image - certainly crisp, clean and good colours. And closeup?

[The third highlighted section shown at Actual Pixels (100%) size]

Pretty impressive! I'd say 3200 with the 30D looks better than 1600 with the 300D. So I reckon it's been a worthwhile upgrade for that alone. Plus the fact the 30D is much quicker a writing images to the Compact Flash card - vital when taking a sequence of high-speed action photos. With the old camera, I would often be left frustrated after following the action up the pitch - I'd miss a try because the camera was still unloading it's buffer to the card!

Needless to say, rugby in the dark days of winter push the capabilities of a camera quite hard. The speed of action and low light are both factors which probably won't bother you too much if you just take a few holiday snaps or family pictures with your SLR.