About nigelyoungblog

Retired and living in Shropshire with a camera.

A Walk In The Woods…

A7305654After weeks of lockdown, with the whole of Wales out of bounds, things have now progressed to the point where a trip to one of my favourite woodland walks was possible. This is Plas Power Woods, an area of ancient woodland just outside Wrexham. With ample parking, well marked paths, and a charming waterfall at the site of an old mill, it’s a great spot for an afternoon out.

Sadly there were rather more people around than I expected, so it didn’t offer the tranquility I had experienced on previous visits. I managed a few phone photos, but my plan to photograph the waterfall was largely frustrated by a group ‘tombstoning’ from the upper level soon after I arrived. I hung around for best part of an hour and got just a few photos, but it was clear they were there to stay, so I moved on in the end.

Nevertheless, it was good to get out in the fresh air on the first sunny day this July. And the first day for a long time that I’ve felt like going out specifically to take photographs. Here are a few more from the day.

 

Nature’s Best …

IMG_5442Is it just coincidence, or are there more Spring wildflowers around this year as a result of lower traffic pollution caused by Covid-19 lockdown? We’ve had some beautiful weather this Spring – indeed some days it’s felt like mid-summer, and being somewhat restricted from going very far we have had some lovely walks arounds the lanes and fields near home.  What we have noticed is a profusion of wildflowers – not just the usual dandelions, buttercups and daisies, but more wildflowers than I’ve ever taken notice of before.  Maybe they have indeed flourished as a result of lower pollution, or perhaps it’s just that with our horizons somewhat diminished just now, we are more attuned to what we see?

Anyway, on our walk a couple of days ago, although the bluebells have pretty much finished, we saw upwards of a dozen other wildflowers in the space of an hour or so.  Surely there are many more too, but these are just some of the ones we spotted and I photographed.

Feed The World…

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Seed planting

In the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, some things do go on as normal. We are surrounded by a farm of some 700 dairy cattle, and as well as pasture, the farmer grows maize as winter feed.  This week they have been muck spreading (yuk), treating the soil with lime, and now planting maize which they will harvest in the autumn. It’s beautiful to see the crops emerge, but as it grows to some 7ft high, it does create something of a ‘wall’ around our garden. Could be worse mind…

A Changed World…

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A quiet walk together.

It’s only been three weeks since my last post, but how the world has changed in that time! We had not long returned from a vacation in Gran Canaria, and although the effects of Coronavirus were starting to be felt in the UK, our life hadn’t changed that much.

Roll forward three weeks and the whole country is pretty much in lockdown – hundreds already dead, pubs and restaurants closed, people working from home wherever possible, difficulties getting even basic shopping, and our fabulous NHS almost overwhelmed by the spread of the epidemic.

All plans for vacations and trips out are off the agenda for who knows how long, and we are pretty much restricted to home, other than for taking exercise. Even then we have to maintain a minimum 2m (6ft) from anyone who isn’t living with us, to avoid possible spread.

We are fortunate that we live in the country, so at least we can get out on our daily walks without fear of encountering too many other folks, and this is as far as my photography is going to go.

Beautiful Spring weather just now, so here’s a photo from our walk yesterday – not another soul in sight…

A New Direction…

A7302847I’ve been a fan of Michael Kenna’s stark mono images for some time, and my recent trips to Gran Canaria yielded some images that suit this style of photography. To be fair, only a few of them were shot with mono in mind, and I’m pretty sure that composing and shooting for mono would yield better results, but it’s a start anyway! These are all digital images rather than film, and likewise, some were iPhone shots, so the image quality is limited.  Expect to see more images from me in this style, although it’s pretty clear I will never be able to match the quality of Michael’s work!

Looking Back…

img_3197Looking back on 2019 I see that I took roughly the same number of ‘proper’ photos (ie with my actual camera as opposed to my smartphone) as in previous years.  What is a little concerning is that apart from a couple of organised events that I went to during the year, most of my photos have been taken during holidays. I haven’t been ‘going out’ very much other times specifically to take photos.

By contrast, the number of photos taken on my smartphone has increased by over 50% this year.  This is no doubt due to having a new and much better phone – the iPhone 11 Pro, with its multiple lens options.  Whereas in previous years I would often take either my Sony A7 or at least a compact camera pretty much everywhere with me, nowadays I only take the Sony when I envisage the opportunity for some ‘considered’ photography. I reckon my smartphone images are ‘good enough’ for family, occasions, and casual photos where I only anticipate viewing them on screen, and of course the phone is way more compact and convenient than a bag holding a camera body, lenses and filters.  As an aside, there have been a few photographs (mainly at night) where the enhanced processing and AI capabilities of the iPhone have yielded photographs I don’t think would have been possible even with the Sony…

A7304384-HDRIndeed, the whole issue of how much I can sensibly carry has caused me to slim down my photo gear – the bigger, heavier lenses have all gone, as has the filter system that went with them, and I now just have one camera body, a couple of smaller lenses and a few other bits and pieces in my bag. I’ve reduced the scope of what I can photograph somewhat, and maybe reduced the ultimate image quality marginally, but my backpack now weighs about 50% less, and is definitely more manageable. This hasn’t translated into going out more yet, but I’m sure it will – there have certainly been occasions over the last year or two where I’ve passed up on opportunities to go out shooting because I couldn’t face the prospect of carrying the gear! And that does make good sense – with my 70th birthday looming, and an obvious reduction in my strength, stamina and mobility, I’ve (finally) recognised that I have to adapt to change…

Porthleven sunset (2)So I guess it remains to be seen whether this slimming down of gear to more manageable proportions does result in me getting out and actually taking more photos. I do think a change of direction is called for anyway – for years I’ve considered myself primarily a landscape photographer, but am less and less interested in the genre. Some of that is the challenge of getting to often out of the way spots either very early in the morning or late in the evening, and I do find so many of the landscape photos I see as somewhat formulaic – sunsets, sunrises and sea, either all misty and ethereal or using very long exposures… After 60 years taking photographs I really want to try something different and more creative rather than replicating the sort of photos I see all over the internet.

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That’s looking forward, but a few of my highlights from 2019 are as follows:

Gran Canaria – we started our year’s holidays here, and although we didn’t travel far from our hotel, there was still lots to see.

Cornwall – we spent a week there in May and then a few days right at the end of the year. The coastline and sea is always the pull for me.

Ireland – we toured the Wild Atlantic Way – Ireland’s rugged West Coast, but the highlight for me was the Giants Causeway in Antrim, somewhere that’s been on my bucket list for a long time!

Santorini – a late summer holiday on this delightful Greek island. Lots of white houses and churches with blue roofs.

Liverpool – an evening trip with a bunch of fellow togs to photograph the lights around the Albert Dock area.

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Who Needs A Real Camera…?

So this week I purchased the newly released iPhone 11 Pro. I bought an iPhone XR about a year ago, together with Moment telephoto and wide angle supplementary lenses, and although I thought the quality of images from this combo was great, it was always a bit of a ‘faff’ to take a lens out of my bag or pocket and fix it in place. Also, the special phone case that was needed to fit the lenses did make for a rather bulky setup. Consequence was that I didn’t really end up using them that much.

I was excited, to say the least, at the announcement of the new iPhone 11Pro with its 3 built in cameras – wide, super-wide and telephoto, and further improved processing capabilities.

iPhone (portrait mode)

With a holiday imminent, I decided to take the plunge and grab one as I saw they were available direct from Apple if I moved quickly. So, £1400 lighter for a 256gb version and Apple Care, I had it all set up in a couple of hours and good to go.

First impressions? – amazing! The wide lens is about the same focal length as the single lens on my iPhone XR, ie about 26mm (35mm equivalent) which is pretty wide anyway, the super wide is a staggering 13mm equivalent, while the tele lens is a useful 52mm, great for portraits. The super wide has to be seen to be believed – it’s not just the ability to get much more into landscape shots, it’s about being able to get so much more in the frame where space is tight. There’s a whole lot more I won’t go into in detail here, such as the ability to automatically apply perspective control to fix converging verticals – suffice it to say the imaging and processing rivals a ‘serious’ camera and dedicated computer…

iPhone (tele lens) – verticals corrected

So what are the images like? – in a word ‘fantastic’…! OK, from a tiny sensor and lens combo you are never going to get definition and clarity to match a dedicated APS-C or Full Frame camera, so mega size prints are out of the question. But let’s face it, how many of us non-professionals use our photos on anything larger than an iPhone or iPad screen anyway? What impresses particularly is how close the output matches what you thought you saw when you took the photo – whereas my Sony camera often needs images tweaking to get back to ‘as it appeared at the time’ the iPhone seems to hit it bang on, straight off!

iPhone (super-wide lens) – cropped slightly

So where does this leave my ‘real’ cameras? – the SonyA7iii with its zoom and prime lenses, and my quite recently bought Fujifilm X100F? The Sony is smaller than good old fashioned DSLRs, but still quite chunky when fitted with its 24-105mm lens, and the whole kit needs a decent sized rucksack to carry it all. I find I go out with it less and less these days just due to the weight – my back is no longer up to trekking around the countryside with camera and lenses, filters and tripod!

The X100F is pretty small by comparison (but still a whole lot bigger than an iPhone) and has no interchangeable lens facility. I bought it as an ‘everyday’ carry around camera, thinking it would offer quality close to the Sony, but in a compact form. As you would expect, with its much bigger sensor it’s much better than any smartphone, and I’ve achieved very acceptable 30″x20″ prints from the earlier X100T version. BUT, it’s definitely not pocket sized, so not quite sure what it’s place is going to be – if I want absolute quality, and can cope with the weight etc, or want maybe a proper telephoto lens, I’ll use the Sony; if I’m prepared to sacrifice quality for sheer convenience, then it’s the iPhone… The X100F is an expensive piece of gear to hold on to if I’m not going to use it…

iPhone (tele lens)

Guess I’ll see how it goes – if, as I suspect, the Sony kit proves in the next year or so to be just too big and bulky to take out, then I may just give up on having a system camera altogether, or get something a bit smaller like a Sony A6xxx series outfit which would save maybe 40% of the weight without too much loss of image quality or functionality.

For now I guess I’ll concentrate on learning how to get the best out of my shiny new iPhone and then decide!

Partial Colour Images…

Standing near Shrewsbury Abbey a few weeks ago to take a photo of the Victorian letterbox, I spotted a guy walking towards me with a red jacket and cap, and I could see that his red outfit, the red letterbox and the nearby red phone box could make a good photo. I literally only had a second as he walked past, but fortunately the camera was set to f8 and auto-everything – my default settings when wandering around – and I just got one shot off, and it was in focus! Nice enough in full colour, (I was shooting Acros mono on my Fuji X100F, but always take a RAW shot as well) I figured it could look good in partial colour, ie all mono, other than the red elements.  Cameras I have had in the past can be set to partial colour, but then it’s a conscious choice when shooting, and not something you can instantly set so I‘ve really only used it a few times in the past.

100F1223No such feature on the Fuji, but fortunately it’s so easy to do in Lightroom. Taking the RAW image, I first cropped it to square as that suited the alignment of the three red elements.  Then I increased the saturation of the red colours by +30 using the slider in the HSL/Color panel, and moved all the other colours to -100, pretty much removing all the colour except red from the image.  There were just a few odd little areas where I could still see some hint of colour, so used the adjustment brush with saturation set to -100 to tidy it up, and a nudge of the texture slider to increase the sharpness and contrast a touch.

And there you have it – partial colour in just a few seconds!

So when you are out and about, watch out for interesting colours that will really ‘pop’ if they are isolated against an otherwise mono image.

 

Hello Again…

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Neil Diamond’s song ‘Hello Again’ from the Jazz Singer film is an expression of enduring love – a need to keep restating loving emotions.  My relationship with the Fujifilm X100 series is more of an on/off love affair – an itch I can’t stop scratching, and here we are again…

I bought my first X100 camera, an X100S (’S’ for 2nd generation) back in 2014, largely as a result of seeing Todd Gipstein’s wonderful 1 Mile, 1 Year, 1 Lens video presentation. His 15 minute monochrome picture show was, as the title suggests, a series of photos all taken within the space of a year, and within a mile of his home. I suppose I thought that with a camera like that, I should be able to shoot great photos, unencumbered by lenses and filters and stuff – what I may just have missed is that Todd is a brilliant photographer, and the location for his photo set is the very varied and photogenic New England coastline…

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X100S – Poppies, London

Nevertheless, even with my much lesser talent, I did take some photos I was pleased with, and it was a very portable option when I wanted to travel light.  I kept the camera for about a year, then let it go when I wanted to get a wider range of lenses for my then Fuji X-T1. After about 6 months, I really missed that little camera’s portability and relative simplicity, so picked up what was then the latest 3rd generation X100T. Looking back, I see I only kept it for a couple of months – I had in mind that having a second body that I could fit my lenses to was going to be more useful than a fixed lens camera, so it got traded in.

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Colwyn Bay – X100F launch day

Fast forward a year or so, and all the Fuji gear had gone, and been replaced with Olympus – a mistaken belief that I could get similar image quality from a smaller camera and lens collection. I got talked into going to the launch event for the new 4th generation X100F in early 2017, and although I rather liked it, wasn’t really tempted to spend the £1200 or so it was priced at. Then in 2018, having dumped most of the Olympus kit in favour of Sony, I borrowed an X100F for a family holiday in France – I was still looking for the best possible quality in a camera smaller than my Sony A7iii with it’s rather large lenses. The X100F was marginally better than the Olympus Pen-F I still had, but rather than get the X100F, I went with the nearest Sony equivalent, an A6300 with a couple of lenses – logic being that these Sony lenses and bodies were all interchangeable up to a point.

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X100F – Ibiza

And that’s more or less where I was until a few weeks back when I realised that this search for a ‘perfect’ setup of larger camera for landscapes and ‘serious’ photography, and a smaller more portable system for travel was taking away all the enjoyment I was getting from photography – I was acquiring more and more gear, and then stressing about what to take with me (my previous blog post highlights this…) I was definitely heading for a complete photographic meltdown and it really was time to get a grip…

So decision made, and hopefully one I will stick with – I’ve slimmed down the Sony A7iii kit to the minimum, and will be keeping that just for landscapes etc, and particularly for locations where I am close to the car – it all still weighs a fair bit!  The A6300 and lenses has gone now, and in its place is (you’ve guessed it) an X100F!  Nearly new, it came at a good price, and is complete with filter adapter and a rather nice leather case. With a couple of spare batteries and a polarising filter, it’s a great everyday/travel option.

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X100F – Shrewsbury

I took it to Ibiza last week (and left the A7iii at home) and was more than happy with it. It’s definitely portable, and the results are very good indeed. I’m getting back into shooting mono and street photography, and really enjoying it – who knows I may yet sell the Sony full frame system and indeed revert to being a ‘one camera, one lens’ guy – not so much a ‘photographer’, more a ‘man with a camera’.

That’s quite an appealing thought!