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.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Purgatorio

Forgive me for indulging in a little artistic flair with this picture, it is not my usual subject or approach, but there was something that intrigued me about this little place, especially the composition. It seemed right to give it an artistic 'moody' tone'.

I'm currently reading Dante's The Divine Comedy, hence the inspiration for this picture and it's title. I'm sure most of you are familiar with The Divine Comedy, but for those who aren't, it is a medieval work of a poet who travels to Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio) and finally Heaven (Paradiso). The poem begins in Inferno, which is the part I am still reading, and whilst learning how to keep myself away from Hellfire, I can only imagine what the next stage, Purgatorio, would look like. I think it would exactly like this though (I am kidding of course).

This picture was taken at the magnificent Zamek (Castle) Książ in Wałbrzych, Poland. It's long history actually predates The Divine Comedy (written around 1300), and has largely been the seat of German nobleman over the centuries.

There is no HDR here. I did take bracketed shots, but that was mainly to be able to get the right exposure, before the image got shaky (it was taken handheld). I shot it at ISO 640, but did little noise reduction, so the image did not lose it's grittiness and come out too clean. 'Til next time....

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Oldest Church in Town

Never is it lost on me that it has been a long time (over a month) since my last blog. I've been unmotivated and uninspired, and at the same time incredibly busy with photography work. I will post soon about what I have been working on project wise (interior design shoots), but for today I will post a picture from my latest trip to Poland.

As usual with my trips to Poland, there wasn't that much free time. There is normally a celebration going on of some sort, and this time it was about my Wife's sister, who was getting married. I turned 33 while I was out in Poland and taking a break from their hectic wedding plans, our hosts kindly took me to some old parts of Poland, which ended in visiting this Church in the town of Swidnica.

Not speaking as good Polish as I would like, I struggle to remember the history very well from my fleeting visits to places, but I was pleased to see when I looked this church up on the net just now, that it is called The Evangelical Church of Peace (what a name!) and is a UNESCO world heritage site. There is a great story to how this church came to be built, but I will save that for another blog post!

This is the main organ front, facing away from the altar, and from a photographic point of view, carries on my love of HDR photography. Luckily churches in Poland do not give you grief about using tripods, so I was able to take my time to get these bracketed shots, which made up this picture.

It would not be right to say hello and not blog again soon, therefore, I will be back with another blog post on Thursday.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Faces of the Civil War

Battle reenactment photography is probably no one's specialist photography field, but there is a great opportunity here to try and capture a sense of real history. My latest venture was to Basing House for a Sealed Knot reenactment, and though I took quite a few pictures, I wasn't that satisfied with them. The battle itself was quite far away to get any close up pictures this time, but it was always my intention to get more people shots as well, again to try and capture that sense of history.

The people involved in the battle were very willing photographic subjects, which not really being a people photographer, I am very grateful for. I shot and processed this as an HDR image, but masked in the original RAW images for their faces.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Elizabeth Reigns in Bourton

Nearly a month since I last blogged, and that fact isn't lost on me. I was going to write a blog about my lack of inspiration for blogging recently, but then I think that would only add to the problem. A change is needed I think, either in the style or approach of my blog, but until I figure that one out, here's a picture I took yesterday from Bourton on the Water, somewhere in the heart of The Cotswolds.

I don't normally moan about the British weather (it is what it is) but yesterday for me was the first truly warm day of the year. As a result, my wife and I took a trip to a few places round The Cotswolds, and with the warm weather came the bustling crowds. This made photography quite difficult, especially as people photography isn't really my thing, and also the blanket blue sky can make landscape photography rather 'boring'. A key feature of Bourton on the Watere though, are the several small bridges that cross the beautiful stream that runs through it.

It wasn't until several photos later of this bridge, that I noticed the 'Elizabeth Reigns' emblem on the bridge, and realised that this might be a good look with the feet walking over the bridge. I had intended this to be an HDR shot, but in the end went for a single RAW image, processed in Lightroom.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Interior Challenges

I've managed to get out twice in the last week with my camera, which is quite rare for me at the moment. As I wrote about on Thursday, I shot some pictures at the Bear Hotel in Hungerford last Wednesday, and yesterday I waltzed on down to Basing House in Basingstoke, to take some pictures of the Sealed Knot Civil War reenactment there. It's been a few years since the last pictures I took of a civil war battle, and this year through up some new challenges and opportunities. I'll speak more about that on Thursday though!

For today, I have another picture from the interior shoot at The Bear last week. I am far from finishing these pictures, but am pleased with the way they are starting to turn out. Doing these interior shoots is all still a learning experience for me at the moment. One of the key challenges I come across is what to do when you have a very bright scene outside coming through a window. One option of course is to frame it so you don't include the window, but this may ruin the chance of a great angle or perspective. People may think it is no problem if you use HDR and therefore bracketed shots, but I don't think it is as easy as that. For instance, if the room is bright enough that you only have to go to a  +2 exposure to cover the dark shadow areas, your finished HDR image will look odd if you have to also go to -4 or less to cover the highlight areas, which could easily be the case with a blown out window.

Long time interior design photographers could get round this problem with lighting the main area to balance it out with the window, or leaving the window area as blurry and burn out, which is actually quite common. Masking in the original RAW file is very difficult when you have a heavily framed window such as this one, and may not 'fit' with the tone of the rest of the picture. Therefore, I went for a little blown out, mixed with some detail. The important thing for me is to include into the picture, so that it doesn't take your eye away from the main focus, which is the main room area. Whether I have succeeded with that at the moment I can't tell, but it is certainly a challenge for me to ponder and work more on in future.