Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Goodbye....I'm moving somewhere else!!

So, after a long while, I've decided to create a new blogging site, to carry on the fun years I have had blogging here.

Please find my new blog at PeteHalewood.com. See you there!


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Creating Mont Saint-Michel

Here we go then, my first video tutorial / blog. I won't say much, I'll let the video take it away. Please leave any comments here or on youtube, they are all very welcome!

Please change the size and resolution as necessary.

My YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/PeteHalewood

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Mont Saint-Michel

What I now consider the second in my Digital Art Series (after Krakow Cathedral), the development of this picture has been long and educational. Educational because I knew when I first embarked on it a couple of months ago, that I would have to learn some techniques I did not know at the time to complete it. I gave myself that time though, and am now happy with my finished version. I don't at this point want to post a series of photos showing the stages along the way but to understand where I began from, I have added the original 'out-of-Photomatix' version at the bottom of this blog. You can click on either picture to see in a lightbox, and then use the arrows to see the before and after.

I want to state how happy I am to have this picture, as Mont Saint-Michel has been one of my longest photographic ambitions since finding my passion in Spring 2010. I did not know much about it in 2010, but if you look at my Favourites list on my Flickr page (which I haven't added to a lot to be fair), a picture of Mont Saint-Michel was the first photograph on there. That's because there is something so magical and unique about this place, that it is easy to stir the imagination of the visual artist. I have seen many pictures of Mont Saint-Michel since, and many warnings as well about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It therefore took on an even bigger challenge in my head, and the opportunity to picture it finally came in August this year, when holidaying in Brittany. I still though did not really have an inkling what to expect when I arrived here. I knew I wanted to go later in the day to avoid the crowds, but that doesn't actually change much. More importantly, I did not know where I would be able to photograph it from, or how close I would be able to get to it. The fact that we were able to walk onto the mount and through the town at the time of the evening was a genuine and very pleasing surprise. Aside from the photography, it really is the magical and unique place that I imagined, and I thoroughly recommend a trip to it.

So if you have looked at the before and after picture you can tell that the reality is not quite like the scene above. Like many tourist attractions, from the outside it can actually look rather unspectacular. Now I don't think that is true of Mont Saint-Michel, there are some great views of it from further away, but on the approach, you can see a lot of gravel and of course tourists, vehicles, rails etc etc. An unaltered picture would look unremarkable and common. I knew something would have to be done to make a good picture out of this. I could have used a shot from farther away, but they did not have the same impact as a close shot. So it had to be the Photoshop route. And Photoshop to me is entirely justified in these situations to any visual or digital artist. A painter would simply not paint a picture like the one below, whether it was the scene that was present or not. They would paint their idealistic vision, and that is what I have done with this picture.

When I began working on this picture, I did not know how the finished piece would look. I rarely go into a photographic outing or processing session with an idea of exactly how I want it to look. Though I have not read many of his books, I love the philosophy of Stephen King when it comes to writing his stories, stating he never knows how a story will end when he begins it. That's how I approach my photographs. I like completing by discovery. The main item that needed addressing in this picture was the foreground, which could not remain as it was. I always assumed that at some points the sea must cover the whole of the surrounding of Mont Saint-Michel, and while this may be true at times, it certainly wasn't anywhere near that when I visited, and that was supposedly when the tide was in. My original idea was to have an old bridge leading it up to it, to place it firmly in a bygone era, but after working out that I could mask in one of my further away shots (where the reflection comes from), it was the only way I wanted to go.

I often stick my neck out when I say things I intend to do but I really want to make a video explaining the processing elements that went into completing this picture. There are far too many to cover in this blog. If that happens soon, I will indeed let you all know. It was a joy and a challenge to create this picture, and though I love natural photography, I look forward to creating my next composite in my Digital Art Series.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Old Photo Restoration

This is not a normal photography project for me to undertake, but coupled with an interest in history I have had since I was kid, I was intrigued to see what I could to bring an old photo back to life. Of course, this is not my own photograph (it is an example from Flickr), but using a step-by-step guide I found on the net (adding a few of my own steps in Nik Color Efex at the end), I painstakingly restored this photo back to something at least intact!

It does take a lot of photoshop skills to complete the restoration but I would say 90% of the job (after fixing the pieces back together) is clone-stamping and spot-healing to remove the creases and tears.

I actually wouldn't mind doing this sort of thing for a living, but seeing what some people charge to restore old photos, I would be lucky if I could afford lunch. Considering I worked on this over 2 weekends (probably totalling 8-9 hours), a decent day's pay would seem a reasonable return, but it seems many people are happy to do these restorations for much cheaper. I suppose you would get quicker and better at them, but I still think the work is undervalued.

Anyway, see 4 stages of the photo below, up to the completed image. The first one is the untouched original. Click on any image, and then use the arrows to compare with the other stages:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Impressions of Doelan

Topaz Labs are about to give digital photographers an even worse reputation than we already have. Their latest program 'Topaz Impressions' makes turning your photographs into watercolour masterpieces (questionably of course) as easy as painting a wall, and it seems to have become the latest craze in post-processing. I have always admitted that the artistic direction is always where I have wanted to take my photography. Not the upside-down-ice-cream-on-a-road photograph that sells for £500,000 kind of art (I hate that), but the visual creation of something more than just being a photograph. My normal outlay has been through HDR photography, the blending of multiple exposures into one exposure fits all imaging. This will probably always be my favourite type of photography, and it still gives photography a modern and unique look. However, looking through my blog archives you can see times when I have tried to something a bit different with my pictures.

Up until now though, there has not really been any enormous leap forward with creating art pieces out of photographs and the results have just been 'alright'. Topaz Impressions changes all that. I used a photo from my recent trip to Brittany, a river shot taken in the village of Doelan. This is a quintessential tourist snap. But I think this just might be the target for Topaz Impressions. As you may be able to guess from the original photo below, I did not do any pre-processing before Topaz accept for some cropping. Impressions gives you many presets to choose from when you load your photo up and I have not nearly enough time to explore them all yet but for this picture I went for Monet, an artist who's work I have often been compared to. I then used the sliders to adjust the picture to my preferences and brought the picture back into Lightroom. The picture looked good when you turned the saturation down a bit, but as this was a sunny day, I wanted to keep the bright feeling. There wasn't much else I did apart from turn the highlights down a bit (I did a bit of layer masking in photoshop to help with this as well) and then a bit of sharpening, though it's not as essential as a normal photograph.

They say that Photoshop can't make a bad photograph good, but I think Topaz Impressions can definitely give a striking new look to your tourist snaps. I can see me now going through my Venice photos from a few years ago, and giving them an all new look. Artists will of course hate the fact that they were created on a computer, not while sipping absinthe by the riverside, whilst being admired by onlookers for your artistic genius, but times change, and I can't wait to see more examples of impressionist photographs surface on the net.

The original image

Click on the photo and use the arrows to compare them together:

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Beach at Sables d'Or

After I thought I was nearly finished with photography (see my last post below), I was very fortunate to find a new creative inspiration, which helped me capture shots like the one above. This also shows what can happen when your initial plan fails.

First of all I should say though, how great this location is. The last few days of our trip to Brittany was spent in the seaside village of Sables d'Or (or 'Frehel', I wasn't quite sure which name was the correct one), and my word, the beach is spectacular! My wife and I both agreed it was like walking along a tropical beach (though we were in very northern France), and it was a lovely, quiet beach as well.

I knew this particular evening would yield a wonderful sunset, and my plan was to photograph a mini version of Mont Saint Michel that belongs to the area, but I could not nearly figure out how to get there. I gave up driving after about half an hour and then decided to head there the only I knew possible, along the huge stretch of beach. Even at the stage above, I was nowhere near it (I would realise this the next day), so nonetheless decided to anchor my tripod into the sand, and take some pictures of the beautiful colours and patterns that remained that evening.

I try not to be modest, but I think I'm actually beginning to think like a serious photographer now. My main motivation for capturing the picture above, was not just to create another HDR picture, but to really capture the drama I felt at the time. It was just a sense I got from the combination of sky and the wonderful landscape, and I tried to capture this feeling.

The processing in a nutshell

Ok I said I would try to provide more of these so here it goes....

1. 5 bracketed shots loaded into Photomatix and processed to contain a nice arch of dynamic range with a boost to the detail as well (never over doing it in Photomatix)

2. 2 versions eventually produced in Photomatix, first with the standard tone mapped look, the 2nd with a more natural look (this is quite standard for me now).

3. Both finished versions loaded into layers in Photoshop.

4. Curves adjustment applied to the tone mapped version.

5. Masked in more natural elements of the other layer such as the beach (at 60%) to give a sharper foreground.

6. Dodge tool used to bring out more colour into the orange parts of the beach and sea.

7. Dust spots removed with content-aware healing brush.

8. Picture loaded into Nik Color Efex. First tool used - Pro Contrast. Adjusted the colour tone and improved dynamic contrast.

9. Remove Color Cast used to again change the overall tone of the picture.

10. Back in Photoshop, High Pass sharpening used for general sharpness. Blended with Overlay at 70%.

11. Photo loaded into Lightroom. Brushed over the trees along the middle of the picture to bring out the shadows more.

12. Boost of sharpening added with high masking.

13. Tiny saturation of orange colour.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Bouncing Back from a lack of Inspiration in Photography

During my recent holiday to Brittany in France, I genuinely thought I was returning to England to write my final photographic blog post. It was during my wife and I's day trip to a place called Lamor-Plage on the south Brittany coast, when I said to myself that this was the day my love for photography died. She was busy excitedly taking lots of pictures with my her Nikon D90, and I could not even get an ounce of motivation to take my D700 out of it's bag. I began to write the blog post in my head about how somehow I just fallen out of love with photography, and that I would move on to do other things. I had seen it coming for the last 6 months, when despite all promises and intentions to post more pictures and blog more regularly, I just couldn't keep to my words. What's more, it didn't really bother more.

My wife began to question me about why I did not seem to want to take pictures anymore and where had all my passion for photography gone, and I couldn't really even find the motivation to think of the answer. As I said, I had detected it coming for months. When I visited Poland in June, there was a particular day visiting a Polish castle, where I also thought my love for photography was dying. I just couldn't get the shots I wanted, and I was getting fed up with photography. Later on (back in France), I began to talk some sense to my wife about why I no longer had the passion for taking pictures. Some of which may or not be true, but here are the conclusions I came to:

1. The Nikon D700 is too heavy. It's no fun carrying it around all day, like I used to with my old Nikon D90, and therefore it takes a lot of inspiration to want to use it.

2. I was bored taking snappy tourist shots during the day, 99% of which I never use. This is definitely true and I think is part of every photographer's growth. I remember visiting places after I discovered a love for photography (Venice is a key one) where I walked around taking pictures all day. The passion and dedication you have to taking so many pictures does lend itself to producing great pictures, but as we get better (and we do!), your inner filter for good shots becomes smaller and more defined, to the point where not many daytime shots inspire you anymore.

3. And this is perhaps the biggie...My desire for wanting to create a business out of my photography had sapped the love I had for it in the first place. This was a painful one to deal with. I believe and still do that there is a big potential out there for interior design photography, but would this mean I was really taking and processing pictures that could keep me interested and inspired? I have probably done more business (paid and unpaid) photography this year and personal requests than personal projects, and after a while it can feel like it takes over your key interests in photography, which naturally you will resent. This doesn't mean I was taking bad photos, I have actually been given very kind and wonderful feedback for my work, and of course that helps.

After talking for a while, my brain decided to come up with a plan to turn this around. Most of it figured around point number 1. I would follow many photographer's lead by selling my DSLR and buying one of the new mirrorless systems. After all, I've heard great things about them, and they are so light! Why would I not be bothered to wear it round my neck all day, it would be so easy! I did some research on my tablet (whilst still on holiday) and had figured I would get one of the Sony ones, particularly the A6000. It wasn't full frame, but it was cheap, the lenses were (relatively) cheap and perhaps a downgrade from a full frame camera was what I needed to get back my love and inspiration.

The thought of a new direction in my head began to work. The next day we travelled to the town of Pontivy and my thoughts at the time were that if these were to be my last shots taken with my D700, then I'll give it all the excitement and time I can. You can see my last blog post for one of the results from that trip to Pontivy. The main thing was though, that I had my heavy D700 and tripod with me, and I was loving it. I took most of my pictures from the holiday over the next 5 or 6 days that remained, including a memorable trip to Mont Saint Michel. Had I not bounced back from my lack of inspiration, we may not have even visited Mont Saint Michel. My love of photography comes hand in hand with a desire to travel and see new places, and if I lose my inspiration for photography, then my desire to see places goes with it.

Now I am back in England, and very much enjoying processing the pictures I took in Brittany, of which there are more to come. And my thoughts have come full circle. I am still unsure what my future camera setup will be, but for now the D700 stays. The full frame Sony A7 camera, which is another camera I had my eye on, does produce lovely images, but for me nothing comes close yet to the great images a DSLR can produce. They feel more real to me. Without wanting to be controversial, I think you can see this in some great photographers who have made the permanent switch to mirrorless cameras, I simply prefer their previous DSLR work, that was so inspiring. This isn't a DSLR vs Mirrorless debate, I'm sure eventually everything will become mirror-free with photography, but I cannot be convinced at the moment that they give the image quality of a DSLR, and I really wanted to believe that. Furthermore, I'm sure someone can point an example out to me, but I have not seen any quality HDR pictures yet with a mirrorless camera. Why, I do not know, but examples I have seen again just feel like something is not quite right to me.

The heavy D700 is not a problem if I feel inspiration and motivation. Yes it does give me shoulder ache when combined with carrying a tripod, but for now, this is one of those things I just have to deal with. I accept that tourist snaps do not inspire me to photograph, and if I decide to leave my camera in the car, that's ok. And for the photography business, well we will just have to see. I put an awful lot of pressure on myself to use my photography as my way out of the 'rat race', but I am content now with letting be what will be. I will keep at it, but not obsess about it. If something comes of it great, but if it doesn't, it's ok. I will always have my amateur love of photography to fall back on.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Pontivy Bridge

It's been a while again but I have returned fully fresh and inspired after 10 days in Brittany (France for all those who failed Geography). Brittany it's such a spectacular part of France, with many beautiful towns and landmarks to visit. The highlight for me was visiting a place that should be on every photographer's bucket list - Mont Saint Michel. It more than lived up to all the expectations I had of it, but I will blog about that very soon!

My first post from Brittany is from the wonderful town of Pontivy. This was perhaps the nearest big town to where we were staying, and like many towns in the region, has wonderful character and history to it. Sticking to my HDR stronghold, the photo below is comprised of 5 bracketed shots, and processed in Lightroom, Photomatix, Photoshop and Nik Color Efex Pro.

The filters I used in Nik Color Efex were Pro Contrast and Remove Color Cast. I used High Pass Sharpening in Photoshop, with an added boost of sharpening in Lightroom. I think I'm going to write up more of my processes, I'm starting find them fun.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Simple Life

After trying to think of some words to write, I have decided to go with the title's essence and keep things simple. This an HDR shot from 5 different exposures. I had to use the de-ghosting option to use the chicken from just one of the exposures, and that was after waiting a few minutes for the chicken to walk in front of the tractor for this shot.

I've got a thing at the moment for wanting to 'HDR' old vehicles, and are looking for opportunities to photograph them. The inspiration came after seeing someone ride a very old (perhaps even war period) motorcycle along the roads. This led my mind to imagine a scene of this old motorcycle parked outside an old cottage, and so I am inspired to capture this picture in the near future.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Tea in the Green Room

Staying in the Polish castle 'Zamek Książ' for today's picture, the subject is somewhat a little lighter. This is obviously in one of the more grander parts of the castle, and evoked scenes of tea breaks during war mission briefings (my mind is quite imaginative like that). Indeed, as this castle has been part of Germany for much of it's history, the Nazi's seized the castle in 1944, only to be kicked out by the Red Army (that's Russia, not Liverpool FC) the following year.

I probably should have tried getting away with carrying a tripod round this place, as I doubt they would have had a problem with it, but nevertheless I was visiting with family, so I didn't want to annoy everyone. Therefore, this is a handheld HDR shot, perhaps not as pin-sharp as my Old Church picture last week, but able to capture the dynamic range anyway.