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!

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.

 

From Dawn to Dusk (2)…

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Sunrise, Market Drayton – iPhone XR & Moment w/a

I’ve been taking at least one photo a day so far this year for my 365 project, but these have nearly all been iPhone shots. This morning started off pretty cold and frosty, and although I took the Sony A7iii for a spin, my iPhone did a pretty good job of capturing the morning light just across from our house. I love the wider perspective that the Moment 18mm wide angle lens produces. Good as a decent compact camera is, I reckon they have been been rendered obsolete by this latest generation of smartphones. For me, it’s either my iPhone, or for more ‘serious’ photos, the Sony.

So after that we went for a steady walk into Market Drayton (it’s about a 4 mile round trip).  In 1245 King Henry III granted a charter for a weekly Wednesday market, giving the town its current name, and although the market was on (today is Wednesday), it was pretty quiet overall.

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Farm hand, Market Drayton – iPhone XR

Bumped into the local farmer on the way back home – they have 700+ dairy cattle and his pickup truck already bears the scars from contact with the cows. The Land Rover they used previously had lasted some 30 years – somehow I don’t think this pickup will last as long!

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Sunset, The Roaches – Sony A7iii & 16-35mm

The promise of some decent clear skies, and the fact that I haven’t used my Sony camera in earnest for several weeks encouraged me to nip up to The Roaches in time for sunset. It’s a fairly brisk 1/2 mile scramble from the road to the 1st level, but the views even from here are amazing (better still from the top). Pretty impressive colours in the sky tonight! Managed a few decent shots, for once using grad filters to balance the key and foreground. It’s a bit of a faff using them, but it really makes a difference. The Sony has amazing dynamic range, and it’s easy to extricate detail from deep shadows, but somehow getting the balance right in camera still yields a better result.

All in all a busy photo day…

Pen-F does Keystone Compensation

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Image without correction – note how the room is distorted

Funny isn’t it, how our brain interprets what we see, but a photograph needs some help? When we look upwards at a tall building, the top is further away than the bottom, so appears smaller, but our brain compensates for this, and it all looks ok.  Take a photo of the same scene, with the camera tilted upwards, and in the 2D view we see, the building looks like it is toppling backwards – our brain only sees what is in the photo, not what it ‘wants’ to see.  This is called ‘keystoning’ and even a slight camera angle will show this effect. It’s the same in the horizontal plane too if we take a photo where the right or left of the scene is further away than the other. It’s even more ‘odd’ if the camera is pointing slightly downwards, as shown in this example.

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Image corrected but not cropped

Photo processing software like Lightroom has a tool for ‘correcting’ this keystone effect – it ‘bends’ the image so the verticals appear upright, and all looks natural again. It works pretty well, but you then need to ‘crop’ or trim the image to remove the white space at the corners, and so you lose some of what you photographed at the extreme edges. Specialist lenses have been available for years that can deal with this effect in camera, but they are hugely expensive, and pretty tricky to use.

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Image corrected and cropped in Lightroom

Enter the Pen-F with its ‘keystone compensation’ feature.  Activate this, and you can actually then do the compensation when you take the photo, so ‘what you see is what you get’ afterwards. Hold the camera to get the angle and composition you want, and twiddle the rear control knob until the verticals line up, and press the shutter button.  It takes a second or so to process, but then ‘voila’ – there is the corrected image on the screen. Its a bit easier to do if the camera is on a tripod as you can more readily make fine adjustments, and the camera only produces a keystone-corrected JPG image rather than RAW file.

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JPG image corrected in camera, with minor adjustments in Lightroom

So maybe the image quality isn’t as good as shooting an uncorrected RAW file and correcting it afterwards in Lightroom, but if space is tight, you don’t want to risk losing a critical bit of the photo when processing. Going back and shooting the shot again isn’t always an option. Also, the time saved can be better used to make some final ‘tweaks’ or adjustments to enhance the image.

For shooting architecture etc, this is a ‘killer’ feature, and currently unique to the Olympus OM-D and Pen-F cameras.

Olympus does Motor Sport….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlthough I have some reservations about using my Olympus Micro-Four Thirds (MFT) cameras for landscapes, one area where they come into their own is fast action photography like motor sports. The sensor on all MFT cameras is just one quarter the size of a so-called full frame camera, and although they can still deliver file sizes based on up to 20Mpx, the individual pixels are so-much smaller, so suffer from noise in low light or high contrast situations and this does limit things somewhat, in my opinion. MFT cameras do have a couple of particular advantages though, especially for action photography – the small sensor means that a given focal length lens is equivalent to a lens twice as ‘long’ as one fitted to a full frame camera, and for any given aperture will have a much greater depth of focus. So, in practical terms, the same ‘spec’ lens on an MFT camera will bring things in much closer, and more of the subject will be in focus.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy camera, the Olympus E-M1 mk2, has one other killer feature – ProCapture. Whereas most cameras will focus on the subject when you half press the shutter, and then take one or more photos when you fully press it, Pro Capture starts recording as SOON as you half press the shutter, and ‘buffers’ or keeps the last 12 shots in its memory together with all those after you press the shutter, and these are then written to the memory card. So if you are shooting at one of the lower speeds, like 5 frames a second, you will get a couple of seconds worth of images BEFORE you make that final press of the shutter.  How many times have we been looking through the viewfinder waiting for action to happen, like a bird taking off, but by the time we react to the movement, the bird has gone. This camera lets you go back in time!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo last weekend I spent some time at a club motor race meeting at Oulton Park in Cheshire with those nice folks from Olympus UK Events. I already had my E-M1ii of course but was pleased to try both a 40-150mm Pro lens, and the 300mm f4 Pro lens (they were loaning out cameras too if anyone wanted to try those). A great opportunity to ‘try before you buy’ given that the 300mm lens is around £2000 to buy. Also on hand to help were Lewis Speight, one of the technical gurus from Olympus UK, and Mike Inkley, a pro sports photographer. So off we went trackside to record the cars that were racing that day – some modern sports/touring cars, but some classic sports cars too.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALets just say that the equipment we were using was amazing – the ability to fill the frame and focus on fast moving cars from the other side of the safety barrier, and record bursts of up to 40 shots as the cars went past or crested the top of the hill at Lodge Corner!  I did however fill a complete memory card during my morning session – over 3000 images – so needless to say sorting through these and picking the best from each sequence took some time!

Suffice it to say, I would thoroughly recommend this setup for sport photography…

Coast and City…

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Perch Rock Lighthouse

Last week I had the opportunity to spend a few spare hours in the Liverpool area, so decided to check out the lighthouse at Perch Rock, New Brighton. This lighthouse has stood at the mouth of the River Mersey since 1830 and was only decommissioned in 1973. I misjudged the tides, and with the tide almost fully in when I got there, I wasn’t able to walk out to the lighthouse itself, but had to be content with taking photos from the edge of the promenade.  A stiff breeze meant there were waves 3-4 ft high, so it very much suited a long exposure treatment. Locking down the ISO to 64, and using a 10 stop filter gave me a decently long exposure, and I was pretty pleased overall with the result.

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Tate Liverpool

From here I used the Wallasey Tunnel to ‘pop’ into Liverpool and spent an hour or so around the Albert Dock area. I’ve taken photos before of the hundreds of padlocks affixed to the railings on the edge of the dock, but there are now so many its virtually impossible to get a ‘clean’ shot of the padlocks.  However the railings around the entrance to the Merseyside Maritime Museum were nicely lit by the afternoon sun, and made a good ‘frame’ for the sign outside the Liverpool Tate Museum. A wide-ish aperture softened the lettering on the sign, and created some useful separation.

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Museum of Liverpool

With construction work going on, there are barriers up all around the iconic front elevation of the Museum of Liverpool just now, so I had to be happy with a reflection of the The Three Graces in the picture windows at the end of the building.

Given that I only had a couple of hours altogether, and was ‘traveling light’ with just one lens (12-40mm on my Olympus E-M1ii) and a couple of round filters I was pleased with the results from the afternoon.

Time for a fresh beginning…?

‘When subject matter is forced to fit into preconceived patterns, there can be no freshness of vision. Following rules of composition can only lead to a tedious repetition of pictorial clichés’ – Edward Weston

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South Bank, London

In the almost 60 years since I first picked up and used a camera, photography, in my opinion, has become both easier, and harder… Yep, today’s all-singing digital cameras and phone cameras with their mega-pixels and auto-everything are a far cry from Box Brownies, or 35mm SLRs where everything was manual; then it was days or weeks after you shot your pictures before you saw the results (and were frequently disappointed!)

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Dover Harbour

But now,  just about everyone can take a good picture – walk up, ‘click’ with your phone camera/compact camera/DSLR and there you have it – immediate result. No longer any need to understand and put into practice the technicalities of film photography like ISO, aperture, DOF and shutter speed – just ‘point and press’. No bad thing, but these days everyone is a photographer. Estimates vary, but I saw one that reckoned over 1.8 trillion photos were taken and uploaded last year! Talk about over-exposure.

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Elgol, Skye

A few years back, I was at a low ebb with my photography – I had all the latest gear, but it was all so heavy I never really wanted to go out making photos, and when I did, I rarely came back with anything I was happy with. So I changed everything and downsized, and that helped some – the new system I had was somewhat lighter, but at the expense of image quality, and in reality, by the time I bought the best lenses, I hadn’t gained a huge amount in portability. But I persevered, thinking that by working harder at it, I would take better photos. I’ve read lots about photography, joined social media groups and been on umpteen workshops and courses, but…………

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Street Market, France

What I’ve come to realise is that despite a near obsession with photography,  I’m not really getting that much out of it – I think that going to the same places that everyone else goes to, and setting up the same type of sunset/sunrise/long exposure shots is leading to a total lack of creativity.  Its not helped by the fact that everywhere you look on forums and Twitter/IG etc, there are the same shots in the same places etc, so you pretty much end up following suit. I’m less inclined these days to go out yomping around hills loaded down like someone from the SAS – I’m not getting any younger! Then of course there’s the issue of going to all that bother when other folks will get still better results because they are using bigger and better gear, or dedicate more time to photography than I want to.

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Colwyn Bay, North Wales

Looking at what I’ve shot over the last year or two, I’m really disillusioned – I’ve got lots of ‘ok’ landscapey shots, mostly technically fine, but very few ‘wow!’ shots. Hardly anything that stands out. Technically competent, but no creativity. Certainly no real satisfaction. I need to go back to shooting what grabs me, not the clichéd shots that you see all over social media and I am (even subconsciously) trying to emulate. I think some of the shots I took 10 or 20 years ago are ‘better’ in a creative sense than what I’m doing now. Bit of a watershed really…

I’m starting by going through my back catalogue, and just picking out what I consider to be creative, rather than just me-too photos. I’ve started to update my website to reflect that.
I’ve made a conscious decision that in future I will shoot for ME, and not to please others. If people like what I shoot, that’s fine, but I’ve spent too long conforming to expectations.
Here are a few of my photos that I DO like. Some are traditional landscapes, but I like them nevertheless. Here’s to that creative new beginning…

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No Tripod Allowed

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London Eye – Fuji 50-140mm

A combination of illness and family commitments means my Fuji cameras haven’t seen much action over the last month or two, but a couple of weeks ago I was booked on a Light and Land ‘Impressions of London’ workshop with Valda Bailey (Twitter – @tanyards) and Doug Chinnery (Twitter – @dougchinnery) and really didn’t want to miss it. Although I have been taking photos for over 50 years, and feel pretty confident with landscape and urban subjects, I’ve sensed my photography was in something of a rut lately and wanted to try a different approach. So off I headed to London, slightly intimidated by the joining instructions that stated that tripods were not allowed and would be ‘thrown in the Thames’! The reason for this became obvious fairly quickly – this workshop was all about experiencing different techniques like Intentional Camera Movement (ICM), Multiple Exposures and Zoom Pulling, and without the ‘straightjacket’ of a tripod, and the front-to-back sharpness that most photographers are programmed to produce, there would be ample opportunity for creativity and abstract impression. And, boy, was it a different experience!

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Tate Modern Café – iPhone 6

From the outset, it was clear this was going to be a great day; the weather was kind – mainly sunny with cloudy intervals; the location was great – the South Bank near Tate Modern; Doug and Valda were great tutors, and it was a small but enthusiastic group, keen to learn new techniques. After our initial briefing, where it became obvious that my Fuji X-T1 would have some shortcomings (more on this in a moment) we all worked individually to try and capture images that broke all the conventional rules, but still worked.The instructions were clear – experiment, take lots of photos, look for unusual angles, textures, colours and combinations.  Try to build up images from different elements that complimented one-another in some way.  Overlay patterns and abstracts on defocussed main images, and think about how images could then be further worked on via post-processing.

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Trees, South Bank – Fuji 16-55mm

So the start point for me was multiple exposure images and this is where the limitations of Fuji cameras compared to Canon and Nikon DSLRs became apparent.  Some of the Canon cameras can take up to 9 shots to create a single image.  Not only that, but each is created as a RAW file, the individual shots making up the image can be saved individually, and there are multiple modes for blending the images together (like the layer blend modes in Photoshop). The Fuji cameras (X-T1 and XT10 anyway) are much more simplistic – only 2 exposures, a single ‘general’ blend mode, and the only image saved is a JPG of the multiple exposure itself – no original files to go back and have another go with at home… Although this was clearly limiting on the day, I did nevertheless manage several multiple exposure images I was pleased with. Maybe more sophisticated multiple exposure options could feature in a future Fuji firmware upgrade?

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Millennium Bridge – Fuji 16-55mm

Next was Zoom Pulling – twisting the zoom ring during a shot. I found that exposures around 1-3 seconds worked best for this technique – too short an exposure meant there was little effect, while too long an exposure meant all detail was lost.  This is a pretty well known and often over used technique, so to my mind needs to be used with care. First time I think I’ve used it though, and some interesting results, especially with quite bold subjects.

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South Bank Apartments – Fuji 50-140mm

Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) is exactly that – moving the camera side to side, up and down, backwards and forwards, or twisting it, all during the exposure.  This can create weird and wonderful shapes, with these images used alone, or as part of a multiple exposure final image. One interesting thing I found was when using my 50-140mm lens with the image stabilisation switched on. During exposures of 2-3 seconds, providing the camera was not moving too quickly the IS would ‘lock on’ several times during the shot, giving the appearance of a multiple exposure – quite a pleasing result in some cases.

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Golden Jubilee Bridge – Fuji 50-140mm

These techniques (and Valda is a master) are becoming popular, as evidenced by the fact that this month’s UK photo press are carrying a couple of articles about it, so its definitely here to stay.  We were of course mainly shooting architecture and urban views, but I can see it would work equally well with landscapes, nature and even macro. What is rather good is that you don’t need to carry a complete bag of gear (as I did!) to capture these images – a mid range zoom lens is sufficient, and no real need for the highest resolution sensor either. I did find that switching filters to get the correct long exposures during changeable light was tricky – I think a variable ND filter would probably be quite helpful here.

So, I have several hundred images from the day – a few of which I am happy with as they stand, and a good number that can be worked on, either individually or combined in Photoshop.  I can’t wait to get out and try these techniques again – its not often you learn something new after 50 years of doing pretty much the same thing!

Thanks to Doug and Valda (and Light & Light for their great organisation) for a super day out, and a new creative angle for me to further explore!

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South Bank – Fuji 35mm f2

The best ‘street’ combo yet?

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Fujifilm X-T10 and 35mm f2 lens

All photographers have their favourite cameras, and to be fair, their allegiance will often change over time.  Sometimes its a dissatisfaction or a bad experience with a particular model; sometimes its a case of ‘the grass is greener on the other side’.  But sometimes, a camera comes along which, for a particular use, is a real game changer. After years of shooting with Nikon cameras, I switched to Fuji – not because I was unhappy with the Nikons, far from it, but because my poor old back was no longer up to carrying a full size DSLR and its lenses. The Fuji X cameras work for me in pretty much every way, and are about half the size and weight.  Maybe if I was shooting sport, I would have stuck with the Nikons for their AF capability, but for my uses, Fuji cameras work perfectly.

Saturday Market, RevelEncouraged by attending a couple of excellent workshops and photo walks with Matt Hart of Fujiholics, I have been doing much more ‘street’ photography. For me this means candid photos, mostly of people going about their daily business, and generally in mono. The key here is that whatever camera I use has to be discreet – no good toting a full-on DSLR with zoom lens – you are not going to melt into the scenery with one of those!  It needs first and foremost to deliver exceptional image quality, but must have decent AF, be small, and certainly as quiet as possible so as not to draw attention to yourself.

Saturday Market, RevelShooting at street markets in France is a case in point – French people, in my experience, are not at all keen on candid photos.  Whether its a national sense of privacy, or because some of the traders at the markets are working ‘on the black’, I don’t know, but be prepared for some hostility if you are seen overtly photographing them!

So enter my current weapon of choice, and probably the best camera I have ever used for ‘street’, the mirrorless Fuji X-T10 paired with the new 35mm f2 lens.  Image quality from the camera is excellent – on a par with the larger Fuji X-T1, but in a surprisingly small package – quite the smallest SLR style camera I have used.  The focussing of the new 35mm lens is so much faster than the ‘old’ f1.4 lens, and its a fair bit smaller too as well as bitingly sharp.  The whole camera/lens package weighs just 550gms and is so discreet its not true.

Saturday Market, RevelI took this rig out this weekend to shoot the lively Saturday market in Revel in the Haute-Garonne in France. Using the LCD screen tilted at 90deg I could shoot pretty much at waist level, and with the electronic shutter activated, the camera was virtually silent.  Of the 50-60 photos I took, only this one guy realised I had taken a photo! AF was set to zone focussing, ISO was auto 3200 max, and the aperture either f5.6 or f8.  I would say that focus was spot on for 90% + of the shots I took, exceptional given that I was mostly shooting from the waist and there was little opportunity to refocus or recompose each shot. Generally I use the RAW images from the camera and convert them using Silver Efex Pro, but with so may to process this time around, these are from the in-camera mono JPG images.  A little bit of cropping in some cases, and the clarity and contrast pushed a little in Lightroom, but pretty much as the camera produced them. I’m very happy with these photos.

I have to say I am really enjoying this setup for street photos – all the required quality and performance is there, and its in such a neat unobtrusive package. The lens is newly introduced, so still around the £300 mark, but the X-T10 body can be had for about £450, and there is presently then a £50 cash back offer from Fuji which makes it extremely good value for money for a camera, which to my mind, beats anything else out there.

Here are my favourite photos from the day.

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A tip: if you plan to go to Revel for the market, do get there quite early – it was in full flow at 1030-1100am, and by noon was thinning out.