Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Gateway to the Basilica

The Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Krzeszow is not a name I want to keep writing (for obvious reasons!), but when it is surrounded with so much photographic inspiration, it's very hard to refrain from blogging about it. As the title suggests, this is the entrance to grounds of the Basilica, and as I was taking pictures around the ground that evening, I noticed the sunlight peering through the gate, which gave a fantastic effect against the lightly coloured gateway. The pathway you see in the picture leads directly behind the point of view towards the Basilica (this is shot from within the grounds).

This is a 5 shot HDR (-2 to +2) and was shot handheld with my D700, not easy to do, but as I have mentioned recently, I was having so many problems with my tripod keeling over on me in Poland, that I began to view it as a nuisance. I have since bought a new and much more professional piece of kit.

When I talk about HDR as I have above, and you are still not sure what it is, you can now read the 'What is HDR?' page on my official website HalewoodPhoto.com. This I hope gives you a good basis on what a HDR (High Dynamic Range) photograph is.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Lighthouse at Beachy Head

Last time I blogged (Thursday) I displayed a picture with a couple of textures blended in, something I went onto describe is an aspect I do enjoy adding to pictures in Photoshop. I have again used a texture in today's picture but to a much subtler and softer effect. I used the same sea texture I described on Thursday, though have only used it much effect on the sea itself in this picture, and some of the land. This picture is actually more a combination of HDR and texture, than just texture itself. Although the picture on itself was good (and to most old school photographers, probably how they would say it should have been), again I wanted to make it a bit more interesting and make it stand out a bit more. Creating an HDR (from a single RAW file), layer masking it with aspects of the original RAW image, and then gently blending in a texture, helped me get the look I was after with this scene.

This is the famous lighthouse off the Beachy Head cliff, within the South Downs National Park in East Sussex. Sadly, Beachy Head is famous for being a notorious suicide spot, but the natural landscape surrounding the area is a wonderful opportunity for photographers. I was delighted to spend a day here taking pictures of the landscape, my only regret being that I was somewhere else for the evening. I'm sure there would be great pictures to get in the sunset period, so a good reason to go back in future.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Eastbourne Pier at Night

Photoshop is not something I consider a strong skill of mine in my photographic toolbox. I work mainly in Lightroom, but I normally use Photoshop for basic editing that it handles better such as sharpening, noise reduction (via plugins), spot-healing, clone-stamping etc. Of course I also use it a fair bit for layer masking with HDR and the RAW files, but I really don't consider myself knowledgeable on any unique skills within Photoshop. One thing I do like to work with now and then though is textures. In the same way I like HDR for it's ability to give a photo an artistic or painterly feel, the use of blending in a texture can have the same effect.

Today's picture was taken a couple of weeks ago at Eastbourene pier. It was a long exposure (30 seconds) that I originally wanted to keep just as that. However, despite the sea looking nice and smooth, and the lights from the pier having a nice glow to them, I still felt that the picture was a bit empty (especially the blank sky) and needed more to make it interesting. So I started to see how it would look with a texture blended in and I began trying a few out. In the end I have used 2 here. First of all, I have used a sea texture (from a photo I took at Durdle Door last year) for the sea itself. Mixing the smooth sea with the sea texture gave it this impressionist kind of look that I really like. I was going to use the sea texture for the whole picture but I felt it didn't work so well with the sky, so I used a second texture, a rock from the czech republic (I also used it in my Torcello picture), that made it look a bit more appropriate for the night sky.

It really isn't that difficult to blend textures in, you simply have your main picture as 1 layer and the texture as another and then reduce the opacity to about 50% (or however much you like) and then change the blend mode to Overlay, which I feel works the best for textures. You can then use the Eraser tool, again at whatever opacity you feel works best, to eliminate parts of the texture where you do not feel it is necessary (for instance in this picture I kept the sand in the lit foreground largely texture-free). I don't do many tutorials, but I hope that small one helps!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Priest's House

The Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been mentioned a few times since I returned from Poland, but I haven't spoken much about the surrounding area. Within the grounds of the Basilica, there is another smaller church (although even older than the Basilica!), a mausoleum, a nun's house and also this, today's picture, the priest's house. If you were to turn 90 degrees right from this picture, you would see the Basilica right in front of you. I'm not sure if it has been officially declared it yet, but the basilica and the surrounding area is to become a world heritage site this year, a very deserving accolade and one I hope draws more attention to this spectacular part of south west Poland. I have been in the Priest's house on a couple of occasions, mainly to sign away any rights I may have had to allow a Church of England boy to marry in a spectacular Catholic basilica in Poland, but it wasn't that much trouble and of course I have no regrets.

This is an HDR picture made up of 4 exposures (the 5th and brightest exposure was useless and unnecessary), which I took handheld due to having tripod troubles. As this was evening, I had to crank the ISO up to about 800, but due to the D700's ISO handling ability, it wasn't a problem. That would not have been the case with my D90. The tripod troubles were caused by bolts coming loose and therefore having unstable legs, and since I have come back to England has busted completely (ball head broke). I don't want to get petty and name the make, but I can safely say that tripod was the worst money I have spent during my time with photography. I had it for about 9 months until it was unusable. The truth be told I shouldn't have bought it in the first place, I don't even like the way it works, but I thought it would at least give me stability for a while. I have now done what I should have done in the first place and bought a decent Manfrotto setup, which is ten times better and will hopefully be my trustworthy tripod for years to come.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Spirit of Autumn

Returning to Poland was the plan for today's blog, but instead we have what is called a change at the 11th hour. Yesterday was one of the most magical 'golden hours' I have ever known, no exaggeration. My new wife and I were coming back from shopping (and who said marriage wouldn't be fun!) when we drove past this church and were both in awe of how great the scenery, coupled with the autumn sunset was. This wasn't a normal sunset though. And this is why photography is special. Because however was the position of the clouds and the sun, it cooked up a strange colour in the sky, a shade of blue that I have never seen in the sky before, mixed with a golden yellow glow. So upon seeing this I had a dilemma. I'm 3 minutes from home, I have no camera with me and I know these moments don't just hang around. My first naive thought was to remind myself to come back to this location same time tomorrow, but of course it doesn't work like that. I've mentioned it before, but Ian Cameron's book 'Transient Light' is all about this. The special kind of light that sometimes occurs that is both unique and rare. You can't just expect it to come again tomorrow, you're lucky if it lasts 10 minutes.

So I decided to race drive carefully home, pick up my camera, and return to the scene, whilst hoping the light still remains. I had more than 1 option as well. Driving further down the road presented a circus that was in town, which would have also been a great subject and was nearer to my new apartment. Having picked up my camera, I began driving back towards the church. Being very aware that this light was not going to last much longer, I decided to drive past the circus and keep going towards the church. The idea of the circus was good, but when I remembered how the church scene looked, I knew it was that or nothing. I got there as the light was still fading and whilst fumbling about with settings in the rush that I was in, managed to fire off a few bracketed shots, of which the HDR scene you see above is the best result I got.

This is St. Mary's church in Thatcham. It is not the same St. Mary's church in Newbury I pictured a couple of months ago at sunset, and I was quite disappointed to learn that the 2 churches, whilst being fairly close to each other, had the same name. But oh well there you go, this one I'm led to believe goes much further back in history, as far back in fact as the Norman times. I should pop down more often actually, it's a great location and only about 3 minutes away. Proof again that you don't have to travel far for photographic inspiration.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Cuckmere Gate

First of all, apologies for the blog being so late in the day. I have spent the best part of the last 2 days in Germany and had no wifi access as expected, therefore could not upload a blog. Anyway, I'm sure you are not that interested in that story, so I'll just get on with the photo.

This landscape picture is from Cuckmere Haven in East Sussex. If you read this blog regularly, you will know that the Grass Snake photo I posted on sunday was also taken at Cuckmere Haven. It was for landscape pictures that I went to this place though, and despite visiting during the middle of the day (any advice you read saying you can only take landscape pictures at dawn or dusk should be promptly treated as suspicious, as I think this warrants a crime against your creativity as a photographer), I came away with some pleasing (my opinion of course) photographs. The main attraction is the winding river as it makes its way to the English Channel, which is great to picture from the heights of the surrounding hills. If you stop and look around though, you will find other little gems to picture in the area and this little gate and small waterway made me think of the English countryside, which of course it is a part of.

This is a non-HDR picture, and although I did take 5 bracketed exposures of this scene, I just felt in post-processing that it didn't need the HDR treatment. However, I suppose it wouldn't hurt to find out what it might look like either.....

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Krzeszów

Easily one of the hardest buildings I have ever tried to photograph, the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a very special place to me, as it was here that I was recently married. Yes it beats the local village church! Or I should say an English village church, because Krzeszow is only a small village, and this is how they do their churches! Ok that's not really true, it is indeed a rarity to have a Basilica this massive in a small Polish village, but sometimes that's where these grand holy places turn up. The area itself has switched hands a few times between Poland and Germany over the last 1000 years and I believe this Basilica was part of a Germanic state when it was built between 1728 and 1735. There is an old painting inside of the virgin Mary that dates back to the 13th century and is a holy relic.

As I said at the beginning though, photographing this building is a real challenge. I had a DSLR with my last year when I visited and didn't get any satisfactory close up shots. As you maybe able to tell, getting the whole building in the picture is very far from easy. I was lying down on the ground, nearly as far back in the grounds as possible to get this evening shot and you can still tell the distortion and warping issues you have (after correction I should add). Although I shoot with a full frame camera now, the only way you could make it easier is to shoot with a 14-24mm lens but I still think the distortion and warping issues with that must be immense. There are many single shots like this I have been working on with this church, and I'm sure more will appear but the thing I actually most like about this picture is the person you can see at the bottom and to the left of the Basilica. It gives you an idea of the sheer size of this building, and it was a joy to see my English guests for the wedding completely overwhelmed at the first sight of it.

One thing I did not picture and do not intend to, is the inside of this Basilica. Ok so you aren't supposed to take pictures inside, but nevertheless many people do. It's amazing outside but inside it is simply one of the most stunning buildings I have entered and though I am a photographer, I do not believe a picture could even nearly do it justice. I was delighted to see the photographer Jeremy Cowart express a similar sentiment on Twitter recently, that he couldn't bring himself to picture a sunset he was witnessing, because it was too beautiful and he couldn't hope to do it justice with a photo. That is how I have always felt about the inside of this building and it's great to know I'm not the only one thinks like that!

News Update!

Ok so it is not my intention to brag about any accomplishment I achieve within the photographic world, but like the Grass Snake I spoke about on Sunday, something happened yesterday that completely made my day. My Justice for the 96 picture was selected as the lead photo in an article by Liverpool Football Club entitled 'Eleven Stunning Pictures of Anfield'. This means that my photo is currently appearing on the front page of the website (see picture below)! It never bothered me, but I always thought it would be great recognition to get a photo of mine on the Flickr Front Page but to be honest, appearing on the front page of my beloved football club's website I will take over Flickr any day of the week, month, year and so on forever!

Here is the link to that article http://www.liverpoolfc.com/news/latest-news/eleven-superb-anfield-photos

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Natrix natrix...but we just call it a Grass Snake

Although I say I have only developed a passion for photography in the last 2 and a half years, my first love of photography began in my teens. I loved natural history documentaries, especially the legendary David Attenbrough's programmes, and grew a keen interest in wanting to photograph the local wildlife around me. Even though people bought me books on wildlife photography to inspire me more, the fact that digital photography was still years away, and whilst I was still at school, to afford any kind of equipment to get the pictures I was seeing in the books, would have just been unheard of for a 13/14 year old boy. It's easy for me to say now, that out of all the disciplines of photography, I would still rate wildlife photography as the hardest. This is simply because (perhaps along with sport) you do not have time to plan the shot. I know you can go out searching for a subject and plan how the photo will look, but when the subject turns up, you just have to snap away, hoping your settings you selected at lightening speed will pull off a gem amongst the many photos you rapidly fired off. Nearly every photograph even professional photographers take gets rejected, but the ratio of wildlife photographers pictures that are taken compared to what gets published, must be ridiculously small. It's one thing to capture the animal of whatever kind, it's another thing to have an interesting picture of that creature i.e. in a wonderful surrounding, displaying some unusual behaviour, a genius composition etc.

Anyways, that is looking at the hard work of it. The fun side is just saying to myself that this Snake I came across on Cuckmere Haven last weekend, absolutely made my day! I spent the weekend in Eastbourne on a sort of break after my wedding (I don't want to say honeymoon, as that probably won't be for a few months yet), and Cuckmere Haven was the last place I wanted to visit, as I knew it is a favourite location of one of my favourite photographers, Charlie Waite. It's a fantastic landscape to capture, but the last thing I expected to see was a Grass Snake! I was coming down the hill towards the river when this Snake, slithered (I almost wrote sprinted then) out in front of me at speed. Now I have seen Grass Snakes out and about before, but again the moment is normally as fleeting as the speed at which it takes the Snake to find cover in the nearest bush or undergrowth. However, true to it's name, there is nothing but short grass on the hill surrounding Cuckmere haven at this time of year. So I was able to chase it down the hill for a long time, whilst stopping occasionally, to try and get as close to the snake as possible, whilst firing off many pictures.

One thing you have to know about Grass Snakes, is that despite being the largest Snake in the British Isles (we only have 3!), it really is not that big. I've been looking at other pictures of grass snake on the net since, and though there are indeed some great pictures, with interesting surroundings, nearly all of them are cropped below 1000pixels across. I have cropped this picture, but still to just above 3000pixels, because although I could crop in closer and still keep the detail, I wanted to get as much of the snake in the shot as possible. Who knows though, maybe I will put a closer shot in another day. Wildlife photography remains a keen interest of mine, but I know that until I can afford all of that 'glass', I'll still have fun capturing these little opportunities that present themselves.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Rural Poland

Getting closer to the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary now, this is clearly different from Tuesday's picture, by being taken on more level ground. It was actually captured the evening before the last picture, but was nonetheless a great opportunity to picture the spectacular Polish landscape, this again being the village of Krzeszow. Whilst out in Poland, the weather for most of the time was very good. Unlike England, you get a much better sense of autumn out there, and indeed all the trees were starting to, or had turned, a beautiful shade of orange and red. With the sun being out a lot, the sunsets in the hilly landscape were quite stunning and I drove a short distance out of the village to get this picture over the misty autumn evening as the sun set.

I'm not always in agreement that you should take your tripod out with you on every photography trip. I often find it can be cumbersome and unnecessary, especially when you are working with daylight. Even HDR's in that case can be done handheld (of course there are other factors that affect that possibility), but with today's picture, a tripod was absolutely necessary. First of all, because the light really was quite low and any handheld shots would have been unsharp and potentially blurry, and secondly, because HDR was essential in this case, to capture all the light and tones of the landscape. So after experimenting with a few different compositions, apertures and ISO's, this is final image I think worked best on all fronts. I think this picture works in black & white as well, but I will perhaps save that one for another day.

Coming up on Sunday: I put my wildlife photographer hat back on, with a picture of a Grass Snake pictured at Cuckmere Haven near Eastbourne last weekend!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Return of HDR - The Land of Krzeszow

Most of the attention I have got for my photography (and that is a big IF I have got any attention) is still probably down to my HDR photos. It's still a relatively new field of photography, though it's roots go back decades. I had never heard of HDR photography until about 2 years ago, just a few months after I developed a passion for digital photography and I really wanted to learn the techniques to produce these artistic and 'different' photographs. It's been an interesting road to follow over the last couple of years, from initially thinking that most HDR photos worked because of the saturation to the already interesting processing, to the current trend which tends to favour a less saturated look (demonstrated very well by the some of the excellent recent photographs by Artie NG on Flickr). My output has tended to be less HDR in the last few months, as I'm back to wanting to capture images through natural photographic techniques, but I still want to be up there producing great HDR photos, and I know that is what drives a lot of other photographer bloggers out there as well.

Which brings me to today's picture, one I took whilst on my recent trip to Poland. This was taken from a small, rebuilt (it was literally just ruins a few years ago) chapel on top of a hill that overlooks the village of Krzeszow (pronounced c-shes-shov). The view you could see from this small church was amazing and I wanted to capture a kind of 'looking through the door' picture. The church you can see in the middle of the picture is the spectacular Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and yes this was the place I was married recently. That itself is not an easy building to photograph close up as it is literally so huge, but the pictures will be coming soon! I know this may have looked better had I not had features such as the ladder and the unhinged panels, but unfortunately I had no control over those things. I'm very glad to have got the picture though, as the light at the time I visited was on my side, and I would have regretted not getting the picture.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

One Half of a Happy Couple

Yes I am back!! Don't want to overdo the emotion on that, I wasn't gone that long. But still, it was a well needed break from blogging and photography, as a way of focusing on my wedding and also to recharge my photographic batteries, so to speak.

So yes there is a big change in my life now, I have since my last blog post, become a married man. The wedding took place last weekend in the village of Krzeszów in south-west Poland. We were married in an absolutely stunning and long-named (of which I cannot remember the full name now) Basilica, but very soon there will be pictures of this special holy place. There are many pictures I took out in Poland, so unlike other times this year, I should not be short of 'material' for a while. I am spending this weekend in Eastbourne as well, so expect quite a few photos to pop up from here in the next few weeks.

Today's picture is one I took the day after the wedding. You would think that I set this shot up, but you would be wrong. My new wife's sister set up our room which we were staying in Poland like this, to celebrate our marriage and just as I was about to go out for the next day's celebrations (2 day wedding celebrations in Poland), I noticed the sun was beaming through the window and onto the bottle of champagne. At about the same time a big light bulb appeared above my head and I knew there was a great shot here. So whilst I did take several pictures from different angles, this picture is one that I knew even from the back of the camera, was the winner.

I hope you like it anyway, I will be resuming normal service now, back on Tuesday, and every Thursday and Sunday after that. It's good to be back!