Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Bridge of Sighs

Many people will know that last year I visited Venice, and as spectacular as it was, there was one major disappointment. The iconic 'Bridge of Sighs' was completely surrounded by scaffolding and advertising boards, making any 'true' picture of it impossible. I took many HDR's in Venice but the Bridge of Sighs was not something I camE back with any cherished pictures of. I forgot to mention there was a second major disappointment as well in Venice, which was that St. Mark's Basilica also had scaffolding on one side of the roof. Again, exterior shots were therefore unlikely to be anything memorable, though the basilica is still one of the most amazing buildings I have ever been inside.

Perhaps slightly less awe-inspiring, I visited Oxford last Friday and it at least did give me a chance to photograph their own 'Bridge of Sighs' although it's real name is the 'Hertford Bridge'. The Bridge of Sighs was a nickname given to it almost immediately though, and yet it resembles both the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, in the way it connects 2 buildings, but also the Rialto Bridge in how it actually looks. The building in the background and underneath the bridge is the Sheldonian Theatre.

This HDR is from 3 shots and did take quite a long time to post-process. I did a lot of layer-masking to prevent halos and 'dirty halos' (as I call them). Layer-masking also helped make the buildings in the background stand out much clearer, as opposed to the first tone-mapped version, which seemed to blur a few of the features. In all it was about 2 hours work.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Edge of England

Well part of the edge anyway. England with the rest of the British Isles is entirely surrounded by coastline, and this is one of the most southern parts of it. This is another picture from Barton-on-sea, which is at the south side of the New Forest. It was my first day shooting with my new sigma 10-20mm lens and though I find it quite hard post-processing pictures taken with this lens, it definitely has it's advantages. The HDR's come out really well and the chromatic aberration is almost non-existent. I still find a little soft though, which means I have to do a lot of noise reduction and sharpening. Does anyone else with this lens have that problem?

This was shot towards the end of the day, and by this time I was mainly going for long exposure of the sea. I fortunately managed to combine a long exposure shot with HDR in this picture and even I'm surprised how well it turned out. The final picture is taken from just 2 shots, processed (after photomatix) in Lightroom, Photoshop CS5 (warming filter) and Nik Color Efex Pro 4 (very slight touch to lighten up the rocks and clouds). The noise reduction was done in Topaz Denoise and the sharpening achieved using Unsharp Mask (in Photoshop).

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Always a Way Out the Woods

Yes perhaps it is a bit of a metaphor on life, but for me this is one of those pictures that has been lying dormant on my hard drive for about 7 months. I remember processing this picture last summer, though being quite undecided about it and hence I have never posted it before. It's just one of those pictures that has grown on me over time, but also makes me miss the fabulous greens of summer! This is actually an area not far from where I live in Woolton Hill, North Hampshire, and it is one of those really boggy woodland areas that had to have this elevated wooden path added because even in the summer it is so wet and boggy. The woodland is actually much denser than the picture perhaps suggests, but I'm happy I managed to capture the sun breaking through between the trees.

This is an HDR taken from 3 shots, and though I can't remember exactly, I'm pretty sure it was largely processed in Lightroom. This was processed in my pre-photoshop days and while I still largely process in Lightroom, back then it was virtually all I did.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Modern Liverpool

Continuing last weeks theme of not being able to name buildings I choose to display on this website, the internet has now failed me in finding the name of this stunning modern building in Liverpool. I'm much more confident finding the name of this one, so if anyone does know it, then please let me know! It's a bit embarrassing for me to not be able to name buildings in Liverpool, with all my family history based there, but Liverpool has been rapidly developing and modernising in recent years. Of course the building in the background is the legendary Liver Building and this area is right down by the waterfront, next to the Albert Docks.

As a lot of my pictures are, this was largely post processed in Lightroom with a bit of layer masking and 'fixing' in Photoshop. It is an HDR from just 2 shots, as this was all I needed to capture the light range of this scene. Processing this image in total was about 1 and half hours work.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Hungerford Photography Tale...

On Tuesday I said I wanted to tell a story about this stretch of the Kennet & Avon Canal and a photography trip I took there one evening. I didn't want to tell it while I was short on time and energy, so hopefully now I can do it justice.....

 It's an important story to me because it still haunts me to this day. It was the 12th December 2010 and anybody who lives in Britain may remember that it was a very cold time. One of the coldest on record in fact and after work that evening I had wandered into Hungerford, mainly to capture pictures of a 'Victorian Extravaganza' they were having in the town centre that night. It was about 4pm and with it being December, the light was already fading fast, so I decided to take a quick detour from the town centre and wander up the canal to see if there would be any opportunities for photographs there. I was about to learn one of the most basic lessons of photography, a very hard way.

The scene I came across on that stretch of canal was almost surreal. As you can see from this picture above, the canal is perfectly still along this stretch and in the winter the light fades in the distance beyond it. This picture however was very different to the one that presented itself to me on that cold December evening. That night I lost the opportunity to come away with a picture, that would easily have been the best picture I have ever taken and perhaps have given my work a massive helping hand of recognition. Because of the cold weather, and perhaps the warmer spell that had taken place during that day, the canal had frozen over, but not as a perfect sheet of ice. The canal had frozen and began to spilt up into many square blocks of ice. I have never seen anything like it and the pattern over the canal while the light faded in the background was simply magical. I knew I had a surefire winner of a photograph. So I took a few pictures of this scene and remained happy for the rest of the evening, knowing I'd already shot something special in the camera. But as I have already alluded to, this story is in photographic terms, a tragedy.

When I got home all excited about the pictures I had taken, I immediately put them into the computer. This is when the horror began. I had got the pictures on there but try as I might, I couldn't make anything good out of them at all. They were blurry, fuzzy, as unsharp as you can imagine and I realised the dreadful mistake I made that day. I hadn't brought along a tripod. I took the shots hand-held thinking they would probably be ok. Well they weren't. The light had dipped so much that the shutter had to remain open for at least maybe a second, still way too long to capture a sharp picture in dim light. I had created single RAW file HDR's before this day but had still not began bracketing my shots, therefore there was only one exposure taken several times of this scene. And none of them were salvageable. One of the most perfect scenes I had been in the presence of, had left me with nothing to show for it. Experience teaches a man all the lessons he will need to know. Having a tripod that day would have made me come away with the pictures I had imagined were so special in my head.

This experience has driven me ever since in my photography to always be prepared to get the shot I want and imagine in my head. I still make mistakes here and there of course but hopefully the hard (and yet simple) lessons I learn as described from this story, will come back round to treat me well when I am present in such an awe-inspiring scene again. I am determined to keep going back to the Kennet & Avon canal in Hungerford, until that picture presents itself again. But until then, Wherever I go, you can be sure my tripod is never too far away from me.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Mystery Building of Wroclaw

This picture will certainly teach to pay more attention on my visits out and about. Having in the past been a keen history student, I'm normally very good at remembering buildings I see and talking about them, but with so many sights seen in the 1 day I was wandering round Wroclaw in Poland, I needed the help of the internet to find out which particular building this was. And it's failed me big time! Even my last resort of visiting wikipedia has turned up nothing, which is entirely due to their 'blackout' yesterday (cheers guys!). But oh well, as they say, it's nice to have a bit of mystery in life! By the time I post this on Flickr later, hopefully I will have found out the name of the building, but many searches through Wroclaw's visitor sites proved pretty fruitless so I'm not exactly encouraged about finding it soon.

I posted many pictures of Wroclaw on my previous website, so many people will know how much I love this place. Despite my short time there, I picked up immediately on the culture, history and excitement of this city. It really is a rapidly developing cultural city of Poland, and has been awarded the status of being European Capital of Culture for 2016. So if you're ever in that neck of the woods, this is one place you won't regret visiting (note to self: should definitely have been a presenter on 'Wish You Were Here').

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Still Waters of Hungerford

I was going to tell a story today of a time I once visited this location but to be honest, I have been so busy house-hunting recently that I do not have the time or energy to tell that story. I honestly want to do that story justice, as it was quite a learning curve in my photographic tuition, so I promise that when I post a picture from this location again, which will be on Sunday, I will tell the story I'm promising now.

However, I can say that this is the Kennet & Avon Canal, as it runs through Hungerford in West Berkshire, and I have been here before to try and get good pictures. I love how still the water is in this area and when I visited this place on Saturday, it didn't disappoint. The still waters produced a perfect reflection in the evening sky and I loved the canal boats in the distance, blowing out smoke, while trying to keep warm in the cold winter air. My only regret for this evening was that I only brought along my new sigma 10-20mm lens, and would have brought along my standard 18-105mm kit lens if I had known these canal boats would be there. I would have loved to have got in closer from this perspective but at least that's a lesson learned. I still would have wanted to take this wider picture anyway, with the clouds reflected in the canal so I'm happy with this picture as it is.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Upon the Heath

This lonely Silver Birch tree stands tall upon the heathland of The New Forest. It's perhaps not commonly known that The New Forest in Hampshire is actually approximately 50% heathland, which is made up of dry heathland and lowland heath (one of the rarest habitats in the British Isles). The remaining part of the forest is deciduous woodland. This heathland is incredibly important to wildlife though, and as well as many rare bird species, the New Forest contains all 3 native species of snake to Britain; the Adder, Grass Snake and the very rare Smooth Snake.

As I was visiting this area in early January, snakes were not really something I had to watch out for, though this is perfect habitat for them in during the summer months. The good thing about sunshine in the winter months is the sun does not reach very high in the sky and dips quite quickly. This was taken at about 3pm and already the sun was not too far off the horizon, hence it's a great opportunity to capture some great colours and patterns in the sky, without staying up all evening. I took many different shots of the sun setting on this heath, but this is my early favourite so far.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Where the Wild Horses Roam

Now I know that today's title could be called a mis-nomer in 2 potential ways. These New Forest Ponies are allowed to run wild and free but in essence they are semi-wild. All the Ponies in the New Forest are actually owned by local landowners and they are assessed every year and treated if necessary against diseases. They can also be sold off if they are deemed unfit to be running wild on The New Forest. Despite the semi-domestication of these animals, they are actually an indigenous species to the British Isles and have always been native to The New Forest.

The 2nd way this picture could be called a mis-nomer is the fact I used the word 'roam'. When I hear this word I think of animals running mightily on endless plains, kicking up the dust in the air, while some cinematic soundtrack plays in the background. These horses tend to just stumble about in no hurry, eating constantly, while wondering why you are stalking them with a tripod and taking pictures.

This is not an HDR picture but is taken from a single image. I used Topaz Adjust to add a bit more colour and 'arty it up' a bit. I then used layer masking to mask in the horse's fur texture from the original RAW file.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Footpath Closed

I've mentioned quite a bit recently that I now have a new lens (Sigma 10-20mm) and tripod for my photographic gear, and this weekend gave me my first opportunity to try them out. I really did feel like a pro landscape photographer wandering around The New Forest with a huge tripod and wide angle lens, it was great fun. I'm a bit comme ci comme ca about some of the images. I thought they would be sharper than they were, some of them are really quite soft but I will work at sharpening them and learning more about the lens in future.

This picture was taken at one of the most southern parts of The New Forest - Barton-on-sea. The daylight was shrinking quite fast at this point and I'd looked for ages to find a path down to the sea, which I eventually did. My aim was to get a picture of the sea, with the foreground being one of those wooden stump fences going out to sea. However, my path to that was blocked by this unsubtle hint not to go any further. I did obey and did not go any further but that was really because the rocks beyond this point (and next to the sea) would have made it extremely difficult to take a shot with the new tripod I was lugging round. A flash of inspiration came to my head when I decided to make this obstruction part of my foreground instead, though I accept it has become the dominant part of the picture. Nevertheless, this is the first of what I'm sure will be many, many pictures to come from my new wide angle lens.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Belfast City Hall

I was very lucky last year to visit 3 countries I had never been to before - Italy, Czech Republic and finally Northern Ireland. I don't think I have been to The Netherlands before either, but driving through it doesn't really count as having visited it. I still work full time in customer services for a pharmaceutical company and one of the perks of that job is that sometimes we do have company outings to other countries. On this occasion I was helping out our sales rep in Belfast and was delighted to get the opportunity to wonder round Belfast for a couple of hours, before catching a flight home.

I managed to fit quite a lot into that couple of hours, walking all the way up to the Titanic Dock amongst other places to get some pictures, but my journey that day began here in the city centre. Belfast City Hall is over 100 years old now and is a fantastic piece of architecture. It's very much still a working building, being the base of Belfast City Council, but is obviously very popular with tourists as well and apparently office workers relaxing at lunchtimes.

Spent most of yesterday in and around The New Forest, trying the new sigma lens and also my new tripod. Had a fantastic day, I actually felt like a real landscape photographer for the first time - lugging around a massive tripod, while carefully planning and taking shots. Haven't processed any yet, but hope to have some good ones from it!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Chance to Grow

Anyone who used to visit my previous website thenightboat.com will know of a thing I get now and then called 'Titles-block' where I stare at a picture for so long and still can't come up with a name. I even drafted in my younger brother to help stare at this picture with me and think of a title. In the end, the name 'A Chance to Grow' sprang into my head and despite sounding like something out of the self-help section in Waterstone's, I've decided to go with it.

This was taken just this pass Monday at Greenham Common in Newbury. It was a bitingly cold evening but the sunset was good, and due to the amount of rain that had fallen that day, this random puddle round a growing tree (I actually think it's a gorse bush) presented itself. It was a much more interesting shot than some of the other pictures I took, which were just of grass and a nice sunset in the background. Greenham Common is famous for being the site of the abandoned US Airbase, a heated topic of discussion in the early 80's especially, when they kept some missiles there. It was outside this place those hippies protested for years. Towards the very back of this picture you can still see one of the old airbase buildings. The Americans left some 15-20 years ago now and the whole common area is open to the public.

Good news!! The Sigma 10-20mm lens has arrived! Thanks for everyone who commented on the last post, reassuring me I would not get buyer's remorse.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Ambitions for 2012

First of all, I’d just like to say a big welcome to my new blog ‘The Photographic World of Pete Halewood’! I consider this blog page an extension of my new website petehalewood.com, so hope you get a chance to visit there as well. Today is the official launch of both sites, though they are both work in progresses. More about that another time though...
So 2011 is gone and 2012 is here. Despite 2011 ending on a rather sour note for me with the loss of my previous website (thenightboat.com), in all it was a great year and of course I want to build on that in 2012. My first priority which I am about to do is buy a long overdue tripod and a new lens - in this case the very popular Sigma 10-20mm one. It’s perhaps an oldie now but it’s always been highly rated and if it does the job I need it for then I won’t mind. I spent most of my photographic investment in 2011 on buying software and now that I am happy that I have all the tools I need, I must concentrate more on the photography itself. I’m a firm believer in getting the picture in the camera, not on the computer. Get that right and the post-processing element is a lot easier and a lot more fun.
My plans are bigger than just a new lens though, the Sigma lens is only 1 of several lenses I’d like to own, and if I start to sell more pictures (far from easy) then I will invest this straight back into photography. I will have to check my dates but I have another exhibition booked for a single day in Newbury Town Hall on Saturday 2nd or 3rd March. It will be a smaller affair than my last exhibition at The Bear Hotel in Hungerford, but will still give me a great opportunity for people to see my work. I am getting married this year in September, and with saving for that and a house, traveling abroad might be a rarity this year. I’m ok with that as I believe you can get some stunning pictures if you get to know your local landscape but it will be sad I that I don’t get to go away much. Oh well, might have to plan the honeymoon somewhere inspiring....
I should say at this point a big Happy New Year to everyone! I don’t intend the blog posts in future to be this long but hey, it’s the launch! Today’s picture is of the British Museum in London, somewhere I got to walk round a little while in London for the company I work for’s Christmas Do in December. Wouldn’t say I came with many (if any) great pictures that weekend, though after a while processing this one, I was happy with the look I got. Next blog post on Thursday! As with my previous website, I welcome all comments, feedback, discussions, issues etc...What’s your photography ambition for 2012?