Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Taking A Dim View

We're approaching the shortest day of the year, and so the dark days of winter are well and truely upon us. However, providing you get a bit of sun, winter is often a great time for photography. The low light and long shadows can produce amazing views from the most mundane of subjects.

This was taken on Tower Bridge on Sunday, during a photographic day out with some friends. I had to wait for a bit to make sure there were no random roaming tourists in the shot, but I quite like the overall effect. You can see more mono shots from the day in my Mono Selection 4 Gallery.

If you've never been, take the opportunity to go to the Tower Bridge Exhibition - for just over a fiver you get to go up to the two high-level walkways above the bridge and see the Victorian pumping engines which were used to elevate the road decks when it was first built.

We were pretty jammy with the weather on Sunday, bearing in mind that we'd picked the date well in advance and it had been chucking with rain for most of the previous week. Here's a view from the walkways, looking towards the Isle of Dogs:

The original idea for going out on a trip was to visit the Volume exhibition at the V&A, billed as an interactive sound and light show. We thought dusk would be a good time to hit the show, before all the colour has gone out of the sky. The exhibit itself was slightly disappointing, in that it was mute for our visit - no music at all, no matter how hard you flapped your arms! But I was quite pleased with the pictures I managed to get - this is one of the last I took:

My EOS300D isn't bad in low-light conditions, especially when you wind the ISO setting up to 1600. I was also using my Canon 17-85mm IS [Image Stabilised] lens, which means you can hand-hold shots down to 1/15s or sometimes slower, without everything going blurred. Other folks in my group were using a tripod, which the V&A staff seemed not to mind (you have to be careful where you use a tripod these days) when we were outside. I rarely use a tripod (but do take a monopod with me to the rugby, to support my stupidly-heavy Sigma 135-400mm "pap" lens). It's just me being lazy, but I seem to work better that way. You can see more colour images from our day out in my General Colour - 9 Gallery.

If you only have access to a compact camera, it doesn't necessarily mean you will get bad pictures in low light, but you do need to be able to take some control of the camera, rather than just leaving it to get on with it. If you can, select the highest ISO rating the camera will cope with. Turn off the flash. Try and point the focus/exposure centre spot not at the brightest thing in the scene (you will end up with a very dark image) but at some mid-tones. This way, you should get a reasonable balance to the exposure. Shutter speeds are likely to be quite slow, so any way of supporting the camera is a good idea - tripod, monopod, brace against a wall/lamp-post/friend's shoulder. And don't breathe in while you press the shutter!

Here's a few more low-light and festive images I took this time last year.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Weekend Outings

Last weekend saw my camera get a workout on both days. I've taken it to quite a few rugby games recently, but not really done any creative photography since the middle of September - far too long. So last Saturday, I took myself out and about to the local park to photograph some of the sites of autumn. Here's one example:

[red leaf and twig]

See more pictures in the General Colour - 8 and Mono Selection - 4 galleries.

On Sunday (5th November), I was lucky enough to be at Twickenham for the England vs New Zealand game. The result was disappointing, but the fireworks afterwards were nice! Here's a shot of the pyrotechnics over the new South Stand:

[Twickenham on Fire, pity England weren't...]

You can read my review of the game, and see plenty more photos here.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Morning After The Night Before

I found myself in Brighton for a conference yesterday, and stayed overnight afterwards, so planned to stay in the town until late Saturday afternoon, as I'd agreed to meet up with a friend who was there taking photos of the National Speed Trials down on Madeira Drive. He covers all sorts of classic car, racing and rallying events (you can see some of his pictures at Eric Richardson Photography).

We met up in the Pits, which were open for the public to wander round. Nice to see the old machines and get closeups of them being polished, etc.

Here's a picture of one of the nice Morgans on display.

I went and found a pitch on the public viewing gallery for the rest ofmy pictures, but Eric had a press pass for the race start line, so I'msure he got some dramatic shots of old classics burning rubber on the start line.

I'd never been to the trials before, but found they were very enjoyable - I even got a little sunburned! Nothing too serious though.

Here are a couple more images I took that day:

[the queue for the pits after a timed run]

[#74 goes for a run; it's a Morgan 4/4]

You can see more pictures from the event at http://www.cazphoto.co.uk/

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Through The Keyhole

After my informal behind-the-scenes look around the Barbican the other day, I'll be interested to see other buildings which will take part in London Open House weekend 2006.

It's the annual opportunity to snoop behind the normally-closed doors of some of London's best architecture. Everything from the London Assembly building (known by some as Ken's Palace) to private houses (like the lovely 9 Wilton Way, Hackney, as featured on Grand Designs).

Here are a few examples from past LOH events:

[Above] Double Vision, taken from the roof of Plantation House on Fenchurch Street in 2004, looking towards Lloyd's and the Gherkin.
[Above] Glass Ceiling of the British Museum, taken around the time of the 2003 event.
[Above] Making Her Point , members of the public on the big spiral ramp inside the London Assembly Building, during the 2005 event.

It seems I like to take mono images during these days out! Anyway, you can see some more in my Mono Selection 2 Gallery.

On Your Bike

Here's a photographic opportunity for you - the Tour of Britain 2006 Final Stage will be in London on Sunday 3rd September. The route covers Greenwich to The Mall, and you can see more details at the Tour of Britain website.

I missed it last year, but did enjoy the day out in 2004 when the stage covered 1-mile laps around Westminster. Here are a couple of pictures I took from that event:

[Above] Olympic golden boy, Bradley Wiggins pushing hard round the Bridge Steet part of the course.

[Above] Members of Team CSC round the corner by Parliament Square in to Whitehall.

I desaturated the colours of the backgrounds of both images, which I think adds more weight to the main subjects. You can see some more pictures from the day in my Sport & Action Gallery.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Underground, Overground

... Wombling free? Not really! But I was fortunate to have a tour round behind the scenes at the Barbican Centre last night, thanks to a friend who works there. We saw everything from the heat exchangers in the basement (below the water table!), exotic plants in the conservatory, the lighting grid in the theatre (38m/124ft above the stage) and finally the roof, looking out over the City and St Paul's. Even though the weather wasn't ideal, the pictures had to be taken!

Here you can see Underground and Overground for yourself:

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Public Hanging

No, we haven't regressed into the Dark Ages. I'm referring to the fact that my photographic club have their Annual Exhibition starting today in the foyer of London's Barbican Centre Library. It runs until 29th August, and is open during the same times as the library. I have four prints in the exhibition, showing a wide range of my photographic styles:
  • Calanais Sunrise
  • and let thy feet...
  • Twilight Expedition
  • Owen Takes A Lineout
The public opening is 6:15pm tonight, 2nd August. Please feel free to come along for drinks and nibbles, or pop and see the exhibition if you are in the vacinity of the Barbican during the next month.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A Walkabout Week

I've had a busy week with photography, enjoying a potter round local Essex villages last Monday, an evening stroll with photographic buddies around the Barbican and St. Paul's on Tuesday, and finally a day out to Cardiff Bay on Saturday, to see the National Assembly of Wales and the new Opera House. Cardiff Bay is an interesting development, much akin to London's Docklands, and has lots of exciting modern architecture, just my sort of thing!

Here's a sneak preview of one of my Opera House pictures: A Window of Words.

You can see more on my photography webside, http://www.cazphoto.co.uk/, or visit the Mono Selection 3 or General Colour - 7 galleries directly.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

My Flash Is Dead (Nearly)

My Canon Speedlite 540EZ is now officially a dinosaur. I'd suspected as much a few months ago when I went to use it with my EOS300D and nothing happened. That is, the pilot button on the back would fire the flash when charged, but the camera wouldn't. It was the first time I'd attempted to use it with the digital body, and (stupidly) I'd not tried it out before going somewhere where I really needed it. So I had to manage, and vowed to test it again soon.

Various factors made me forget to do so, until yesterday, when I remembered to try it again. The same result. At least in all the auto/semi-auto modes I tried. I didn't have a huge amount of time to play further and have not tried full manual yet. But I've just googled for compatability issues between the two, and it seems it's never going to work any better than in full manual mode. I have to set the shutter speed, aperture and flash power all by hand. Damn.

At first, I thought it was just Canon's sneaky marketing scam to get you to buy a new flash for the sake of it, but reading a couple of articles has tempered my cynicism a little. Steve Dunn (4th post down) explains here why it won't work in any mode except manual. Basically, its an old flash which only understands TTL or A-TTL metering which relied on measuring the light reflected off the film during exposure. And of coures, digital doesn't have any!

So it looks like I'll have to think about buying new flash gun if I want to use fully automatic metering. I'm wondering whether to bother, bearing in mind how often I actually use a flash. And with the abililty to change ISO rating on a per-frame basis with digital, plus a half-decent image-stabilised lens, the occasions I'll need it are probably diminishing.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Man Versus Machine

I hope I didn't come across as arrogant in yesterday's post about how much difference a good piece of equipment can make. That wasn't my intention. But further reflection set me thinking that, in these days where consumers expect instant gratification from their purchases, I think it's sad that some people spend an awful lot of money on the best camera and are then disappointed with the pictures they take with it.

People seem far less willing to learn the art and craft of photography in order to get the best results. Of course I'm generalising here, but there has been a gradual decline in membership of photographic clubs throughout the country, even with the huge rise in the number of people buying cameras. I'm a B Panel Judge for the East Anglian Federation, part of the Photographic Alliance of Great Britain. I visit clubs around north London and south east Essex to judge competitions regularly, and their committees are constantly striving to attract new members. Somehow only a trickle seem to be coming through the doors.

A few clubs (and the number is decreasing) have actively shunned the Digital Revolution; it won't be long before they go under. Some have allowed digital but to be judged in a separate category (and I think, why segregate? It's the end result that counts and matters to me as a judge, not the technology used to produce it).

Some argue that digital is "easier" than traditional "wet" processes. Usually those who haven't tried it, I find. And as a judge, I've seen just as many badly-done digital prints (if not more) than traditional. In fact, I'd argue that it's actually easier to make a bad digital print than a bad darkroom one - far less effort is required. Plus, you don't end up smelling of chemicals or emerging from the darkroom like a confused mole! As ever, the skill is in the execution of what you're doing, not how.

The vast majority of the clubs I visit have embraced digital photography wholeheartedly (without prejudice to those still using film). So much so that at a few, I don't see any darkroom prints any more. I can tell, if I look hard enough (and it would require an even lenghtier post for me to explain how). I've seen some really stunning inkjet prints, not just from a technical perspective, but from an artistic one. Again, it's all about who's behind the camera more than the name badge on the front.

Our equipment can and should be used to facilitate the expression of our artistic talents, and not as a points-scoring exercise to see who's got the best kit. (Again, I usually find those misguided enough to indulge in this kind of behaviour are invariably those who can't take a decent picture for toffee).

The Great Kit Debate

If you read my recent post, Green-Eyed Monster, you might be thinking that I advocate getting the latest gadgets just for the sake of it. And while I think you should always buy the best model you can afford (whether that be a mobile, digital camera or toaster), it's certainly doesn't follow that you will only get the best results from the best kit.

As a known photographer amongst my friends, I'm quite often asked for my opinions on this or that camera. Thy cry goes up "I want to take great pictures, what camera should I buy?" And often I want to reply, "Go buy a decent book on composition and photographic technique, read it, and then tell me what sort of pictures you want to take." But I know this isn't the answer they want. So my answer more usually consists of "what's your budget" etc. Either that, or on seeing my photos, people say "oh, you take great pictures, you must have a really good camera". Well, it's true, I do have a pretty good camera, but that's not the point. Reminds me of an old Jasper Carrott sketch called Virgin Voter when he talks a lot of double-entendres about green 18-year-olds and their first experience of voting, the upshot of which is "It's not the size of your cross that counts, it's where you put it!"

You can take great pictures with a £20 fully-manual Praktika SLR if you know what you're doing. That's the "luxury" piece of kit (acquired second-hand from Jessops) I took with me on my Lapland Husky Safari back in 2003. Follow the link for some of the results. I knew I wanted a robust, reliable SLR (and at this point, digital wasn't really an option for me anyway) and I didn't want to take my "best" film camera for fear of getting it dropped in the snow or eaten by Huskies. Hence the purchase of the Praktika MTL5B. It cost me another twenty quid for a 35-95mm Auto Rosley (who??) zoom lens.

Just after I bought it, we had some snow in the UK, so I was able to go out and play in similar conditions and make sure I knew how much compensate for the white of the snow. I think I ran it at least ½-stop under all the time, and that seemed to work fine. So even for quite extreme conditions, you don't always need the top gear to do it justice. It's only when you want to do something pretty specialised that you start to hit the limits of your equipment, and more probably, your own abilities! I'm hoping to upgrade to a Canon EOS20D or perhaps 30D eventually which will give me better shooting/writing burst speed, plus ISO3200 equivalence; and also a pro-spec 100-400mm EF zoom with Image Stabilization, both for those times that it really is as black as a coal-hole but you still need to take pictures. It would be great for more gig photography as well as dingy winter trips to the rugby.

And of course, it's not just cameras. When I first started to teach myself to play bass guitar, I bought a cheap and cheerful 4-string model to see if I would get on OK with it. As I improved, I started getting frustrated. A lot of songs I like to noodle along with seem to be in the key of D. And a 4-string bass only goes down to E, so if I wanted to play them easily, I either had to drop-tune the E do D (a pain in the butt) or get a 5-string bass with a low B. I managed with the drop-tuning for a few months and then bit the bullet, getting a rather nice hand-made bass from a friend who was selling it. Life has been easier since - except when I try and play anything in flat keys (a nightmare for any string player, we prefer sharps any day!). But that's just because I'm trying to learn harder pieces!

Anyway, I've rabbited on quite long enough, I'll leave you with a picture of my lovely Iceni Funkmeister - looks like a 5-string Fender Precision, and has a custom purple paint job, which looks rather more red in this photo than it should ;-)

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Green-Eyed Monster

Envy is a terrible thing!

I've had my trusty Canon EOS300D digi-SLR since Feb 2004, and have used it for capturing countless pictures which I'm extremely pleased with. The vast majority of the images on my photographic portfolio have been taken with it, so much so that I haven't picked up my Canon EOS50E film body since going digital. In the main, I've had no complaints at all about the camera, and in the age when whatever you buy is obsolete before you get the credit card bill, it's been an excellent tool to get to grips with the peculiarities of digital, as opposed to film.

However, in the last few months, particularly at some of the rugby games I've photographed, I've noticed I'm beginning to hit the limits of its capablilities. There have been times when I've been following the action, only to find that the vital try-scoring moment has passed by because the camera's buffer was full and still writing to the card. It takes 10 shots in 30 seconds, roughly - the first 4 in quick succession and then you have to wait for subsequent frames to write to the card (it's definitely the camera, I tried a 100x CF card and it made no difference!)

Similarly, in the depths of winter, when it's cold and sometimes pretty dim by 5pm when some games wrap up, it can be pretty difficult to get enough photons onto the sensor - its just too dark, even with the floodlights on and the ISO setting cranked right up to its maximum of 1600. This can lead to some interesting "movement blur" type shots, which is all well and good from an arty perspective , but useless if you actually want to freeze the action.

Photographing games in the rain can be fun, and not just for the sight of 30 beefy blokes rolling around in the mud! I have a Cameramac for the body and Sigma 135-400mm lens which I use at the rugby - basically it's a waterproof "cloak" which slips over the hardware while still allowing access to the lens, top plate controls and LCD on the rear. I remember one match where it was pelting with rain, but even though I ended up soaked below the knees (my Goretex didn't stretch down to my ankles!), the camera and lens remained pretty dry.

Anyway, I digress. The point of this post was to comment that, having seen my dad's new Canon EOS20D this weekend, I'm seriously thinking about upgrading to a 20D or probably 30D (which now supercedes the 20D) in the near future. First catch a spare 800-odd quid. Maybe I should take my bass out and do a spot of busking on the Underground?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Back From My Hols

I've been away for a few days, visiting a friend who now lives in Barcelona, lucky her.

It was a nice break for four days (apart from having to get up at a ridiculous time of the morning to get to Stansted for the flight), and what with going to the excellent @media conference, it means I've had about a week out of the office; lovely!

If you would like to see a selection of my photos, you can visit the appropriate galleries on my photo website (the taster above is from the Mono selection):