Monday, December 31, 2012

Buckingham Palace

Well what grander way is there to end 2012 on than a picture of the palace. Yes the palace. The home of the British Monarchy for many decades now, and a cultural icon of the United Kingdom. Most people are in a bit of a disbelief when I tell them that despite only living about an hour from London, I had never visited Buckingham Palace until last week, when this picture was taken. I don't really know why myself either, I just haven't got round to doing it. I think it's also perhaps though that having a passion for history such as I do, I'm always more keen to visit the older places such as Hampton Court Place or the Tower of London.

The weather was particularly British when I visited, overcast clouds mixed with the occasional light rain, but at least it gave a nice soft light to capturing pictures. Clouds can be made more interesting with HDR anyway. I used Topaz Adjust to bring out more details and colour for the whole scene and blended it in with the original at about 70% opacity.

Hope everyone has a great end to 2012 today and a wonderfully successful 2013! Back on here again tomorrow!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Crypt Beneath Winchester Cathedral

This is exactly what the title says. One of the oldest parts of the historic Winchester Cathedral, the crypt dates back to the Norman times. It's a wonderful place to visit within the Cathedral and was adorned with this sculpture (Sound II by Anthony Gormley) in 1986. Like yesterday's picture, I wasn't able to take a tripod in here, but fortunately there was a solid metal fence separating visitors and the water, which proved a useful stabiliser whilst firing off 3 bracketed shots. In the end though, I chose to use 1 single RAW file to create the HDR, as this simply was the sharpest image possible.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Altar / A Look Back at 2012

Now I honestly was not going to do a 'review' of 2012, but since many other photographers seem to be reflecting their thoughts on the year, I find myself fairly inspired and compelled to do the same. I will try to make it as least boring as possible, with some 'awards' coming up shortly.

2012 itself has been a crazy year for me, mainly away from the photographic world. I got married, bought my first property, lost a job, started a new job and somewhere in between all that, managed to keep up a fairly regular photographic blog. It was a wise choice for me at the end of the year to end my set days for blogging, as I was losing the spark for blogging itself and felt my pictures were just becoming routine, rather than ones I truly loved creating.

With photography itself though, my love for it has continued to grow and grow. I remember watching the film 'Almost Famous' many years ago and at the end of it, the Rolling Stones journalist (the lead character) asks one of the band members he has been following "What do you love about music?" to which he responds "To begin with, everything". This quote always comes to my head when I think about photography. I really love EVERYTHING about it. I'm so interested in many forms of photography and am currently halfway through a course I am undertaking with The Photographic Institute. Photography is where my future lies - it is what I go to bed every night and wake up thinking about in the morning.

So do I feel I have improved at all? Honestly, yes I do. I've held back for a couple of years now, writing any kind of training or tutoring material for this blog, or any website I have had. That isn't strictly true actually, I'm still about two fifths of the way through an HDR tutorial I began writing in the summer, but I started really questioning why I want to write it. I love talking about photography and would always happily show anyone interested how I came to a certain image or look. But I don't think (at the moment anyway) that it is my nature to tell people how to create photography, I've just wanted to focus on producing pictures. Some photographers spend all their time writing new guides, strategies and tutorials, with very little photographic output. And I am not knocking that for one second, if that's what they enjoy doing and it works for them, then great, but for me I would rather produce pictures.

So how do I feel I have improved then? Well because training and practice I think have paid off. It was only yesterday while in London with family and friends that I realised I have stopped thinking in tourist mode when it comes to taking pictures. Even with the famous landmarks, I think about composition and additional interest to the main subject before pressing the shutter button. My personal belief is that you cannot teach this vision, but that with persistence and practice, it simply sinks in. My other key area I believe has improved my photography no end is using manual mode. Yes MANUAL mode. This even at the beginning of the year would have seemed a barren desert to me, but now it is the mode I use for 95% of my pictures. I learnt all about the advantages (indeed necessities) of shooting in manual mode in Photographic Institute course and have never looked back. To be able to meter the scene in-camera and then reflect the exposures accordingly (without auto-bracketing), I believe will improve the dynamic range of your images. I do still use auto-bracketing when doing hand-held HDR's (for those occasions like recently where I have been out with family and friends) but still always use manual mode. Using a manual focus mode and nearly always setting up a tripod now, have also improved my photography. Therefore, my one tip to gain from all this - get out of auto mode! Yes any type of auto mode, that includes Aperture-Priority! The rewards will be shown in your photographic output.

Ok, so those are my thoughts, here are the 'awards' as promised (click on the headings to see the pictures I am talking about):

My photographic highlight of 2012 - Undoubtedly having my picture 'Justice for the 96' be the lead picture in an article entitled 'Eleven stunning pictures of Anfield' on the official Liverpool FC website. Appearing on the front page of Flickr is blown out of the water by appearing on the website of one's beloved football club.

My best photo of 2012 - Probably 'Like a Setting Sun'. One of the first days shooting with my new Nikon D700 produced this picture, which was one of several I took of the blurred sun against the foreground of the wheat, but is the only one where I 'got the shot'. I knew instantly it was a good one.

My worst photo of 2012 - Oh that would be 'Away From it All'. A key reason I switched my set blogging days. I produced it in about a 10 minute time frame I had to blog that day. I would delete it but then the worst photo award would be a tough decision.

My favourite photograph by another photographer - Drumroll please.....this would have to go to 'Cormorant Fisherman' by Conor Macneill. I was truly blown away when I saw this photo. A beautiful combination of HDR, subject and character. A cliché, but absolutely a picture that tells a story.

Best contributor to this site - This one goes to Tim Pursall. Regularly shares his thoughts and opinions on this website and has often stuck by my side when I wrote perhaps a couple of blogs I later regretted. His support and contribution to this site has been fantastic! Thanks Tim! Check out his website TPimages.

Key lesson of 2012 - As stated above, MANUAL MODE!

Hope everyone has had a fantastic Christmas and has a great new year! I wish you all the best and much success for 2013! I will have a couple more pictures I want to post before 2012 ends, so will be back on this blog tomorrow and Monday. I wasn't going to do a slide show for 2012, but once the year has ended, I think I may just get round to doing one. Thank you to every single person that has visited this site in 2012, your support as I always like to say, is highly appreciated!

The Altar

Today's picture is one I took the other day whilst visiting Winchester Cathedral in Hampshire. This is an example of an HDR I have had to take hand-held recently, mainly due to the fact that you cannot take tripods in with you. I think it is great that some cathedrals like this one do happily let you take pictures inside though.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Google+ Communities / The National Gallery

Well it seems that the latest craze to hit the photography world at the moment has been the introduction of the 'Communities' on Google Plus. I'm not sure how this really came about or how it differs from the groups aspect that was once on there, but nonetheless I have been drawn in like everyone else to become part of the communities that I want to be part of. I have joined 10 communities in fact and some of them are really great. Some of the one's I recommend are The Art of Post-processing, HDR Photographers and of course Trey Ratcliff's Stuck In Customs community.

Now I am well aware that I have in the past had a little dig (not in an angry way, think bucket and spade size) about people who try to 'own' communities of photographers as soon as the next photo social media craze takes place, but without any shame I have set up my own community - UK HDR Photography. This is the only group I am interested in setting up and it's purely to do with my desire to get UK HDR photographers and UK based HDR photography more recognition. There are many great HDR photographers in these Isles and I truly hope that as many of them (maybe you!) join the group as possible, and share their work for us all to enjoy and get inspired! I will be adding content and again would love to see other folks get very active on there as well.

The National Gallery

I have uploaded a picture today, which I have recently 'made over'. This is a single RAW HDR image of The National Gallery in London. It was taken in October 2010, on the same day I took my first ever pictures that I converted into HDR images. I rarely go back to old images, but sometimes I look back and think I can tweek it and add a little something more now.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Down at the Marina

Taking a slightly longer break from blogging than I perhaps thought I would, I have returned refreshed and eager to post pictures once more. It was definitely the right choice to switch my blogging habits from 3 set days a week to posting when I'm inspired. The last few days I have been able to work on these pictures with no hinderance on time and have got back the feeling of joy to post pictures again, rather than the chore it can become when you set yourself a weekly quota. This was all about the quality returning to my pictures and hopefully I will achieve that.

So what is 'Down at the Marina' all about? Well I was delighted recently to be commissioned to take photos for the upcoming website of Newbury Marina. I don't know much about Marinas, but I was surprised when I went down there that I had never heard of this place before. It is a well run set up, with all the facilities canal barges, boats and of course the people that live on them need. They are about to launch their official website and came to me to take pictures having seen some of my Canal pictures of Newbury and the surrounding area on the internet.

Being commissioned to to take photos for a certain company or institution is something I know not all photographers are interested in, but I think it's fantastic and I am very grateful for the opportunities. Having not heard of it as I said, I may never have gone down to the Marina to take pictures, and there I was having an absolute blast, finding it immensely enjoyable trying to find further ideas for pictures and taking them. I've been down there on 2 separate occasions; the first couple of pictures from last weekend when it was chilly but yet had a soft muted light, which made metering and finding the right exposure fairly simple, and the third picture was taken a couple of weeks ago when there was some lovely sunshine. In between these 2 weeks was a hell of a lot of 'drizzle' (British people will know what I mean), which is not the best set of circumstances for photography.

The pictures you see on this blog today are all HDR's, something although not unique to me, I certainly feel gives me an edge for corporate and commissioned photography, and I encourage all other HDR photographers to let people know their services are out there. Most of the pictures I provide to Newbury Marina will be non-HDR's, though taking away the artistic aspect of HDR, it was still necessary to employ for some of the pictures, especially ones from inside a canal boat looking out. It helped capture the complete light range of these kind of images.

I'm still finishing my work ready to hand over to Newbury Marina, but I certainly hope to post some more in the near future. I said to them I would use only landscape pictures for my blog for now, but will link to their website when it is up and running, so you can see more of the interior canal barge pictures. As I said, this has been a great experience and has certainly made me take great care over my HDR's, something that has helped me get back to the early days of posting pictures, when I hadn't set myself a weekly quota and when it was genuinely exciting to post pictures I was delighted with.