Thursday, June 28, 2012

Antonio Vivaldi Museum

I've been very busy this week completing my pictures for the Woolton Hill postcard project and seeing old friends, and I haven't had much time for photo processing. So I've decided to do something I have not done for a while and that is post one of my (self-professed) 'classics'.

It's good timing that this picture comes onto the blog because it's about time I added a bit of an international aspect back to the website. Venice is not short of significant historical figures and right up there with the best known is the classical composer Antonio Vivaldi. The museum dedicated to him in Venice is actually quite small but worthwhile nonetheless. The instruments on display were used during the time of Vivaldi or perhaps indeed by the maestro himself.

This is an HDR from a single RAW file. I wanted to do a 'real' HDR but the room was just too dark (whilst using the camera without a tripod) to capture the brighter exposures. They came out too blurry. With the emergence of even more photo software, it's one I have always thought about revisiting and may attempt to fix the blurry RAW files but that project is for another day. This picture never lacked attention as it is on websites such as Flickr and is always one that pleases people at exhibitions I have held.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Graceful Grebes

When I was in my teens, I was hugely interested in the natural world and spent many hours watching wildlife documentaries. As a result, I would often wander about in British countryside, hoping to spot some creatures or birds of some kind. This is how my original interest in photography began all those years ago, but obviously had no idea what it would take to get fantastic animal pictures. The necessary equipment then would have been well beyond my financial grasp.

Years later, when I found a new passion for photography, I started to get re-excited about the idea of getting great wildlife pictures. Having owned a DSLR's now for over 2 years makes me realise though how difficult and expensive those shots are. Before I got my D90 in 2010, I bought a Panasonic FZ38 which although was a point and shoot camera, had a ridiculously large zoom on it that went to 500mm. To afford such a luxury on DSLR (and the noticeable difference in quality that would give) would at it's very basic set you back £1000 and standardly many times that. I still have the passion for wildlife photography but know that there has to be hard work in other areas of photography before the day I can get the really close shots I desire.

The birds you see in this picture are Great Crested Grebes, which I pictured within the grounds of Hever Castle. They are famous for having an elaborate and graceful courtship display prior to mating and this is what this couple were doing. This isn't the pinnacle of the display, which involves them presenting 'gifts' to each other but I think I kind of scared them off while standing there taking pictures. Oh well, when I have that huge zoom range, I won't need to bother them again!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Postcard from Woolton Hill

Recently I mentioned that I have been given a project to create some postcards for the village I grew up in - Woolton Hill in north Hampshire. The criteria was that it should represent Woolton Hill in the summertime and being as the weather the last few weeks has been everything but summer, it has been quite a challenge! Luckily, we managed to have a warm period a few weeks ago and that is when I managed to capture most of the shots.

Today's picture is one I took just after I got my Nikon D700 and one I will be putting forward for the project. I'll be giving updates to how the project goes, it's in the next couple of weeks that I have to hand over the finished pictures and then let the organisers decide which ones they want to use. Once that has been decided, I will put all the pictures used on this blog.

I would just like to say thanks for all the support on this blog and other websites for my last picture 'Like a Setting Sun'. Definitely seems to have been quite a popular one. It has only got 45 views on Flickr (I always find it trickier to get views when it's a non-HDR) but of those 45 views, I have got 13 'favourites' which is a pretty good ratio I think. As I said, the view count always goes down when it's a non-HDR because I can't put it in all the HDR groups I normally do, so if anyone who uses Flickr has any ideas what other groups I can put it in, it would be much appreciated! I have put it in the common groups such as FlickrToday, FlickrCentral and FlickrAddicts, as well as Nikon specific ones (D700 group, Nikon Digital) but if there are any others people would recommend, please let me know.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Like a Setting Sun

And now for something completely different! I always try and state emphatically when I post a non-HDR picture on here, that my goal in photography was never to be exclusive or predominantly HDR and the thought always still occupies my mind. A lot of people who get into photography these days do naturally find themselves gaining a particular passion for HDR, because it provides something new and interesting in the modern photographic world. I still think most people gain a passion for photography first and then develop an enthusiasm for HDR afterwards. My goal has always been to produce pictures that are somewhat artistic and HDR is obviously a great method for achieving that, but if I get the look by other means, then I'm still just as happy.

One of the advantages of having my D700 and the F2.8 lens is that it allows me to get reasonably close to a particular subject and create a great bokeh effect in the background. I took this picture while out rambling along the hills of Combe in Berkshire, mainly famous for the gallows that once stood there. It's a fantastic place to get good sunsets and that was my aim on Monday night. The sunset itself was a bit hit and miss, there was a fantastic glow of red below the sun, but the mist and the clouds were too thick to get a stunning effect. Therefore, I tried something different. I always remember there being good opportunities to get close up to the wheat grass and use the sunlight to highlight the effect, as this early Flickr picture of mine shows. The sun wasn't that bright on Monday but I still tried to get some abstract shot of the glow of the sun in the background behind the moving wheat grass. What you see today is the result of that and this was processed entirely in Lightroom.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Beautiful Path

Well that's what I remember thinking while I was there anyway! I don't have much time on my hand to write today but here is a new photo as always on a Tuesday. Haven't missed a blog day yet and though sometimes I push myself for time (like today), the photos keep coming. Like the last 2 photos, this one also comes from within the grounds of Hever Castle (I just realised that now and will change that on Thursday!). I've said it on this blog before but Hever really is a stunning place and well worth a visit. The castle is superb but for me the highlight are the magnificent gardens. This path and these flowers are part of that magnificence.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Castle Hever

It seems a bit of a 'safe' picture to go for today but nonetheless here is a closeup HDR picture of Hever Castle. I was working on a different picture for a little while but feel like I hit a 'wall' with that one. I'm sure other photographers know what I mean, you process a picture for so long but still can't quite find that something missing from the picture. So rather than post a picture I'm not entirely happy with, I put it to one side to come back to at a later date. More on that should I find that missing something and post that picture! This obviously did not quite pose so many processing headaches, though it took me a while to correct some imbalances with the different areas of the sky. It's an HDR from 2 exposures (0, -2) and processed in Lightroom, Photoshop and Viveza 2.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Gods in Gardens

Some pictures just lend themselves to HDR and I think this is one of them. Perhaps it is the stone scenery but I didn't feel like I had to wrestle with the sliders much in Photomatix to get the look I wanted here. This was taken a few weeks ago while visiting Hever Castle in Kent. It is another feature of the magnificent gardens they have at Hever. This was taken with my D90 and though I have a D700 now, there are still plenty more pictures to come from the last month or so of my D90.

I took 3 bracketed shots for this picture and made some slight adjustments to the RAW images before saving them as TIFF files and merging them in Photomatix. Although as I said this to me is quite a natural looking HDR, I still added some filters in Nik Color Efex to give it a slightly soft and desaturated look (beyond just moving the saturation slider to the left in Lightroom).

I have no idea by the way whether this is a Roman or Greek god that is being represented here but I would guess some kind of Roman one. Just a quick joke before I go; I don't want to be remembered in some grandiose way after I die, I would just like the word 'Humble' written on my statue....(sorry!).

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Victoria's Lions

Having struggled a couple of months ago to find new pictures for this blog, I now find myself with a fair few new pictures to choose from. Unlike the intention of this blog, most pictures that will be posted in the near future will all mainly be from the UK. I stated this at the start of the year, when I let it be known that due to a house move and getting married in September, foreign travel this year was going to be difficult. I am visiting Poland twice in the next 4 months (once to get married), so that will provide more opportunities for 'global' pictures and if I am lucky, I plan to visit 2 more countries by the end of the year as well, but we will see how things go.

Today's picture is another one I took while out looking for Diamond Jubilee pictures to capture around Newbury last week. I have lived in the Newbury area (with a few years in-between living in Cheltenham) for the best part of 27 years and have never come across this statue in a local park before. That's rather embarrassing as the park is called Victoria Park but I never realised there was a statue of Queen Victoria within it. At least it proves there are still gems to be found near your local area if you look hard enough (or open your eyes at all in my case). This is another HDR picture taken from 5 exposures on my new Nikon D700. I added a tiny bit of Topaz Adjust to the statues and used the glamour glow (very slightly) and cross balance filters in Nik Color Efex Pro 4.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Old Farmhouse

Luckily we had a small break in the blanket cloud cover we have had in England the last couple of weeks, for me to capture this picture yesterday. This came out of a project I have been given recently to take some pictures for postcards of Woolton Hill, which was the village I grew up in. The brief was to capture Woolton Hill in summertime and I was fortunately able to complete most of the pictures a few weeks ago when we had a heatwave. The brief sunny weather yesterday allowed me to complete the pictures I intended to get for this project.

This farmhouse is actually just outside Woolton Hill near a neighbouring village called East Woodhay. I don't think I will be using this picture for the project, mainly because it's obviously somebody's property and I would in a normal world, probably need permission to print. I was intrigued by this scene though as I was driving round narrow country lanes, hoping that a scene would jump out at me. It would have perhaps looked more perfect at sunrise but I'll plan that one maybe for another time!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Circus is in Town

My first HDR to have been created using my D700, this was another picture taken amongst the Jubilee celebrations last weekend. I stated on Tuesday that Newbury didn't seem to offer much in terms of Jubilee celebrations but there was a circus that rolled into town for the long weekend. I recently had a discussion regarding art with a lady during which I stated that 99% of all the photographs I take are not pre-visioned in my head. There have been some in the past such as my Building a Newbury Sunset that I already had a pre-conceived idea about, weeks before I took it. But that is rare. Most of the time I turn up to locations and events to get inspired by what is around me and let the ideas crop up in my head then. This circus box office wagon is an example of an idea that gripped hold of me once I spotted it. Having noticed there was a circus in the area (the noise from the rehearsals attracted me), I wanted to find a good photographic opportunity to capture the uniqueness of the circus. Most of the area was for the time-being closed off but obviously the ticket sales wagon wasn't and after the punters had stopped buying tickets for a moment or two, I simply took some snaps of this fantastic box office.

On an artistic note, I deliberately decided to keep the noise of the sky in the picture, though at the same time softening it. I don't normally go for a really gritty look in Photomatix but because of the rain that was coming down at the time, it worked so much more for this picture than a clean look. Keeping the noise in kept the picture consistent on all levels.

A final note; my new D700 doesn't take pictures like my D90 does in 2 stops intervals (if you want it to) but only does them 1 stop at a time. Therefore, to get the usual -2 to +2 range, I have to shoot 5 exposuress but thats ok because it gives me more pictures and therefore options to play with in post-processing. So this is an HDR from 5 different bracketed shots.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

It's Raining on Jubilee

It's been a weekend of celebrations in the United Kingdom the last few days, with it being the 60th year of Queen Elizabeth's reign. I did ponder for quite a while whether to go to London or not to capture the festivities there but in the end for various reasons I decided to stay in West Berkshire and see what I could capture here. Today's picture is the first one I am posting from my new Nikon D700 camera (more about that below). It is obviously not an HDR picture but a moment I captured of Asian tourists (I think) looking a bit bewildered by the bad ('standard' if you're British) weather above all the celebrations. Being quite drizzly as it was didn't help bring the crowds out in Newbury and without having a dig at my local town, I didn't think there was a lot going on for the jubilee. I just thought there would be more that's all. I would say to end this bit 'Here's to the next 60 years!' but forgive me for thinking that's rather improbable. Being once a history student, I am very fond of our monarchy and is one of the essences of 'Britishness'. Long may it continue!

So why the D700?

This is the bit I wanted to write the other day before the bad weather ruined any chance of getting some pictures before Sunday. After my house move, I had a bit of money left over and therefore decided to upgrade my photographic equipment. Nikon has just brought out the D800, so why did I buy the camera it is to replace, the D700? Well there are a few reasons really, so where shall I start....Of course, the price does come into it. The D800 currently costs £1000 more than the D700 and is very hard to get hold of. I could have afforded the D800 but what do you get for the extra £1000? Video recording capability - not interested (even if I was, I have that on my D90 anyway), improved image quality (I'm not sure about that but will come back to it) and the 'biggie', the 36 megapixel sensor.

One of the photographic books I own is a book called 'Transient Light' by Ian Cameron (he's a good guy by the way and signed my copy before sending it to me). He is a professional landscape photographer and he makes it very clear at the beginning of his book that he still almost entirely shoots with film. He writes "Most modern cameras far exceed my personal requirements, instead offering a huge array of features that have little relevance to the way I work, and simply constitute needless clutter on a camera" (pg. 62). Now I would apply this statement to the 36 megapixel feature. I don't need 36 megapixels and in fact do not want this. The D700 is by comparison 12.1 Megapixels, which is similar to the D90 I have shot with for the last 2 years. As most photographers know (but Curry's salesman won't tell you), megapixels are not about the quality of an image but the size of it. With my D90, I print quite standardly around 75cm x 50cm, though I have printed up to A1 size. These images still look quality with perhaps only a little softer look for the A1 print I did. Unless you are a professional billboard photographer, I don't know why you would want a 36 megapixel camera. The image size is so huge that you can't capture nearly as many photographs on memory cards and I have read more than one comment by D800 users saying that their photographic software has slowed down massively as a result. I think a 18 to 20 megapixel camera would have been much more sensible for an upgrade, as I would never want any more than that.

Image quality is always the thing I care about most and if there is no difference between the D700 and the D800 here than the £1000 extra is simply a waste. I have looked at and compared all the test shots on the Nikon simulator at their website and I can't see any difference at all. I have seen some websites point the difference out if you magnify the images and start cranking up the ISO but again this to me is so minimal it becomes a non-issue. We photographers choose to pursue an expensive hobby/career, one which we are prepared to make a few sacrifices for to afford the best equipment. But we have to come back down to earth sometimes. £1000 is a lot of money for most people and when I can't notice a difference in image quality for that amount of money, then there is no way you are going to convince me to buy it. For me the D700 is a sensible choice and I look forward to using it for the next few years. I chose to buy the Nikkor 24-700m F2.8 lens with it that set me back another wad of money but hey, I saved some money with not going for the D800.

I know if I had bought the 24-70mm lens alone for my D90, it would have been a major upgrade as it is, but I have no regrets at buying the D700. I wanted a full frame camera, which I can build my equipment around in future and also have the option to shoot with 14 bit RAW files as opposed to 12 bit. In fact, the D90 and D700 are 2 different levels of camera, so all the differences aren't worth listing here but suffice to say the D90 isn't going anywhere. I still have it and will use it as backup (though I think more likely my fiancé will use it all the time). Now if only the D700 weighed less, I could say it was better than the D90 in every way, but change for bad or good always comes with compromises....

Sunday, June 3, 2012

HDR Waterfall

I was going to write a post today about the new camera I have bought, which is a Nikon D700. I had it all planned out that I would post my first picture from my new camera today and write a blog about why I came to the decision to buy this camera (and perhaps more importantly why I didn't buy the newly released D800). However, for the 2 days I have owned the D700, the weather in England has reverted to type and it has been absolutely miserable. I'm obviously not going to take my new camera out in the rain and haven't felt inspired to capture anything anyway. I'm hoping to capture some pictures of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations over the bank holiday weekend (if the weather clears up), so maybe that D700 post will be raring to go on Tuesday. We shall all see!

Instead, I offer you today a picture of this waterfall (hey they don't have to be big!) that I pictured within the grounds of Hever Castle. And yes it is in glorious HDR! You don't see many of them?! I was quite impressed with myself (you don't have to be) to get this shot, as it was taken handheld and auto-bracketed using 3 exposures. I'm glad the waterfall isn't too smooth, as I like the little flowing details you can see and the light gleaming off the water as well. Used a little Nik Color Efex Pro magic to get the final touches, as well as the usual processing in Lightroom and Photoshop.