Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Park Central Hotel / End of 2013

The end is nigh. Not in some apocalyptic fashion, but of course I mean the year 2013. I always post the pictures at the beginning of the blog posts, knowing that a lot of people will be only interested in seeing the photograph, and that is absolutely fine. But for others who read what I write as well, I would just like to write about my thoughts going into the new year 2014. Before I do though, I should  quickly say that the picture above was taken in Miami, in the famous art deco street in the South Beach region. Among all my processing, I have tried to give this picture a little vintage look, to match the wonderful car in the foreground.

So 2013 is about to be gone, and to keep with tradition, a new year is about to begin. The reason I want to share my thoughts on this New Year's Eve, is because there seems to be an extra amount of motivational messages/goal-setting exercises, that are spring up in the internet world this year. Now I am very interested in personal development, and am completely for people bettering themselves as time goes on. Some of you may know, I launched a website this year called PhilosophyOne.com, which was all about personal development, and sharing whatever knowledge I had learned about how to achieve success. If you search the internet for this website now however, you won't find it. This is simply because I have reverted it to my HalewoodPhoto.com website, which it initially replaced.

The reason I ultimately think I decided to not proceed any further with my personal development website at the moment, is because I read a book in July that changed my life. That book was 'Man's Search for Meaning' by Viktor Frankl. Frankl was an Austrian Logotherapist (a type of therapy he created), who survived the Nazi death camps of Auschwitz, and others as well. Man's search of meaning is not only a heart-breaking recollection of his experiences in wartime death camps, but also his thoughts on finding meaning in life, and how having meaning in life, is essentially the only way we can live happily. I could probably write a whole essay and more, about my views on this book, and the lessons within. However, I will quote Frankl from his preface of the 1992 edition of his book (he died in 1997).  This little passage has become my basic philosophy for living now:

"Don't aim at success - the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one's dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself."

Having real meaning in life (and these days it is not easy to find as Frankl acknowledges), would replace all the goal-setting exercises and motivational speeches you hear. The kind of meaning that makes you get up with no problems every morning, and helps you look to the future with excitement. Of course, I am not suggesting not listening to motivational speeches, some speakers are extraordinary, and indeed very inspiring, but I would suggest replacing all your goals and new year resolutions, with the simple question - what am I living for? Then ask yourself, are you happy what you are doing, and do you feel that you are doing what you put on this Earth to do? I believe that when you find that meaning, that has perhaps been lacking from life, you suddenly realise that you now have all the motivation and happiness you ever needed to sail through life.

Which brings me back to the point, why did I ditch my personal development website? Well, because I realised that after a lot of soul-searching, having read Viktor Frankl's book, my main enjoyment came from Photography. It is everything I love, and everything I want to do in the future. With the plans I have for my photography (you should hear a lot more about these during 2014), I wake up happy, and am looking to 2014 with nothing but anticipation. You cannot fail when you love the activity you are participating in. Perhaps when I have some more life experience, I will one day come back to the personal development side of things, but whilst I enjoy my photography and am pursuing my dreams within this field, there is nothing else I want to focus on.

Having shared my thoughts, I would like to wish you all a very happy new year, and hope you all enjoy your new year's eve. Without much fanfare, I will be back in 2014...more specifically Thursday.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Puppy Love

Something a bit different for today, Pet photography. I should say 'my pet' photography, as I'm not setting up a Pet photography business. This is mine and my wife's Cockapoo puppy called Chester, who we have had for 2 and a half months now. He has been spoilt rotten over Christmas with gifts, but it's lovely to have my first Christmas with a pet. He is very much apart of our family now.

This was taken over a month ago in Savernake Forest, and though it is not my ambition to make him a regular model for my photographs, there were some scenes in the forest that made themselves for a picture. Like hoisting him up on to this fallen tree trunk. Now as you can see from the original RAW file below, we did not put his safety at risk, he was fully attached to his lead at all times (with wife very close by out of the picture). I have used Photoshop as you probably guessed to erase his lead. If you click on either of the picture, you can then do a comparison using the left and right arrows.

2014 is fast approaching it's end, and that leaves me with one more post for the year, which will appear on New Years Eve.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Bridge to St. Paul's

Ahhh Boxing Day (is it called that anywhere other than the UK?), judging by my friends on Facebook, it should be renamed recovery day. Since I barely drink at all these days, I feel pretty good, it's only a pre-christmas stomach bug that's letting me down a bit. For those who are feeling a bit worse for wear, I hope you had a great time, and that you feel better soon! In general, I hope everyone has had a fantastic Christmas.

As well as Boxing day, it's Thursday, which means I owe you a blog post. Yes it's a little later than usual, I have had a bit of a day on the sofa myself, as we don't get many days like that anymore!

The picture you see was one taken a couple of years ago, when my main camera was a Nikon D90. Sometimes I go back into my photographic archives for inspiration, and come across a photo I want to work on. I often then question why I did nothing about it at the time, but realise that it doesn't really matter. As we grow at our said artistic ability, our inspirations and motivations will always change and develop.

I looked at this picture and knew I wanted to create a black & white image out of it. Although I have black & white photo processing software applications, I nearly always create the black & white image in Lightroom, as I find this does everything I need it to do. The only other feature I thought about adding was a dollop of 'grain' to give a real old photo look, but I preferred the cleaner, modern look. The only other program I used other than Lightroom and Photoshop, was Topaz Adjust, to bring a bit more detail out of the buildings.

This photo has a couple of obvious leading lines towards the magnificent St. Paul's Cathedral, and I have seen other photos from the same perspective, but I was happy to capture the hustle and bustle of the bridge as well.

Until Saturday then (my next blog post), keep having a great Christmas!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Happy Christmas Everyone!

The title says it all really. I wish you all a very merry Christmas, and of course a happy new year. I have not been as active on this blog as I would have liked to have been this year, but as I hope you know, I have changed that. I am back to blogging 3 days a week, and the numbers are in, and they say that my page views are higher than ever! Not quite sure how that happened, but it is indeed a happy thought that so many people seem to visit this blog. I have absolutely no doubts that 2014 will be a bigger year for me in the realm of photography, and as stated many times recently, my love for photography continues to grow and grow. Thank you to all people who regularly visit this blog, and indeed have continued to visit this blog, after a relatively quiet year. I hope to catch up with plenty more of you in the new year. To all other fellow photographers, keep up the great work and never stop learning. Let's keep this ball rolling.

There is perhaps no better setting for a Christmas picture, than back to where it all began (let's not argue about this), in the humble town of Bethlehem. These candles are within the very building that Jesus is believed to have been born (yes ok I'm sure it's changed a bit in a couple of thousand years). It's amazing to look back at 2013 and remember that I visited the holy city of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, in the same day. These are indeed special places to visit, and I encourage you all (especially the believers) to visit these places. They will stick with you.

So light the candles, put on the Slade, and have a great Christmas with your families. All the best, Pete

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Winter Wonderlands

Saturday evening is here which means it's time for another blog from myself. I don't actually try to aim to post them on Saturday evening, but with things to do on Saturday, it's the first chance I get to post a blog.

As mentioned on Thursday, I have prepared some winter (or festive) pictures below, to celebrate the time of year. I stated that I had no new winter/christmas ones this year, which is true, but I'm quite inspired recently to try some Christmas Bokeh pictures, so might get one of them on this blog before Christmas.

A couple of the pictures below (Gainsborough Stud and red house winter picture) go wayyyyy back. Back as far as 2010 I believe, and though they may have appeared I think on Flickr, I don't believe they have appeared on one of my blogs. Further to that, the picture of Donnington Castle in the snow, I don't think I have posted anywhere at all. The Winchester Cathedral picture and The Winter Church have definitely appeared on here. So my last post before Christmas will be on Christmas Eve, but based on the possibilities of new pictures, I may post an additional blog as well.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Crazy Firestarter from Egypt

There were many crazy sights to see whilst in Egypt earlier this year, but this nights entertainment, was perhaps the craziest. This guy literally put my life at risk. Ok so it was all really a bit of 'fun', being nominated to join him on stage and have him fling fire all around me, but I would be suspicious of any kid who says when they grow up, they want to play with fire.

So after he had nearly singed all my hair off, I nevertheless decided to try get some good action shots, in the low light. This whole evening of 'fun' took place in the desert after some camel-riding, and did have a very authentic Egyptian feel to the show. Which I have tried to incorporate within this picture. I have heard an old saying that says that photographs are more interesting with the people element, which works against me somewhat, as I am not a people photographer. I like landscapes and buildings primarily, but I am always keen to incorporate the human element when it adds to the scene.

This guy clearly goes to the gym more than I have recently, and it was good to do some post-processing based on bringing out the detail and tone of his body, in a style I enjoy, but am not very used to employing. I kept the background within the picture as well, as I thought it added an Egyptian night club feel to it (even though this was outside). The last thing to do was to try and eliminate as much noise as possible (this was taken in low light with a D90), though not too much that would lose the atmosphere, and make it look smooth.

Christmas is literally just round the corner now, and though I don't have any new festive pictures to offer this year, I will use Sunday to post a collection of winter shots, I have previously posted in the past. See you then!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

John Paul II Statue Krakow

Staying in Poland for the third picture in a row, today's photo is back in Krakow, the beautiful and culturally rich city in the south west. As I have written in a previous blog post, Krakow is heavily associated with the former Pope John Paul II, who indeed was Bishop of Krakow for many years before becoming Pope in 1978. He is honoured throughout of the city of Krakow, but I particularly like this memorial outside this mysterious church, which I cannot seem to find anywhere on online. Of course it will teach me to pay attention when I'm visiting, but then I am too busy normally taking pictures.

Fact: I had to wait at least 10 minutes to take this picture, due to a woman standing right in front of the statue, taking pictures on her mobile phone, and literally staring at them for about 2 minutes at a time. I have learned to be patient as a photographer travelling, but this this was a test of the highest order. She must have seen me standing there waiting to take a picture the whole time. Oh well, patience pays off and all that.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Lakehouse

Here we go again Saturday night.....I thought about posting a picture of a singer in Oxford, due to the fact it is the UK X Factor final night, but that would perhaps mean losing any credibility I have. Therefore, I have decided to remain within the Polish National Park of Zakopane. I had to check I haven't posted this picture before, but it seems I haven't, so we are good to go.

The trek to get to this lake was about 3 hours of steep but beautiful adventure. It was taken near the spot of my Mountain Hut picture from a few months ago, and likewise is an HDR photo, created from 4 exposures. Topaz Adjust was also used to bring back detail in the mountain side and the lake.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Waterfall of Zakopane

Regular viewers (the 3 of you) of this blog may recognise this picture. It's actually a new version of this waterfall pictured in Zakopane, Poland. I posted an HDR version a few months ago, but I much prefer this non-HDR version, that I processed afterwards. It's much cleaner and sharper, and proves I didn't really need to 'HDR' this one. Having said that, I have taken some of the HDR version's elements and blended them into this picture, such as the water in the foreground, that was more brought to life with the HDR features.

Tip: Blending HDR elements into non-HDR pictures (and vice versa) can help give you the best of both worlds.

Back to the regular blogging schedule tomorrow. I have been a day late twice this week, because of metal and fatigue.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Helter Skelter

Catching up from missing my usual Tuesday slot, I unfortunately had 'things' to deal with, mainly evolving around having to leave at midday yesterday, to head to London to see Black Sabbath! Was an amazing gig, but it came at the price of my blog post yesterday (plus of course all the money it cost me).

So I just want to post something quickly today, as I am still short of time, but have to make up for yesterday. I took this picture over 2 years ago at Bournemouth Beach, and originally posted it on my first photographic website TheNightBoat.com. In all honesty, it looked awful and I have always wanted to go back to it, though having done so now, I think I am done with it. I have given it a bit of a mixed HDR/realistic look, but the nature of the raw files (I took this with a D90), and my poor composition skills at the location, mean I think it will never be as I vision it in my head. Still, it's nice to have it done and move on. See you tomorrow (don't judge me if the blog post arrives in the evening)!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Simple Life

Third Saturday in a row and still going strong. It's great fun being back to the regular blogging scene, it is the only way I get blogs done. When there's no structure to posting, it can take ages to make your mind up to post.

This is a simple picture, of a simple way of life. It was taken in Poland, at a village just outside the magnificent city of Wroclaw. I processed this almost entirely in Lightroom, with some minor clone stamping work done in Photoshop (to remove the engine on the boat). Obviously, I have got a little creative with the tone of the picture, but I like the fact that it is predominantly a light shade of green, rather than a green tree, with a blue lake, and brown sand, and so on. It helps gives the picture some coherence, if that makes any sense at all.

Hope everyone is having a nice weekend - 18 days until Christmas now, it always creeps up so fast! See you on Tuesday!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Who Sees these Interiors?

First of all, the title comes from the opening line of the Manic Street Preachers song 'Interiors (Song for Willem de Kooning). That is the only tenuous link, nothing that clever. Interior work is something that doesn't often feature in my photography, and yet is a key area I want to focus on in future. I have always loved how interior shots lend themselves so well to HDR, and the lack of a sky means that the time of the day is not so important.

If there is any photography business I could see myself going into, it would be interior design. This is simply because there are plenty of hotels, bars, local businesses and houses that require good photographic work. The main reason though, would be to bring my own creativity to these buildings, and we all know that HDR in the UK is yet to have created a big impact in the business world, as HDR real estate photography has in the US. The French photographer Serge Ramelli is a particular inspiration here, and has some tutorials on shooting interior design (www.photoserge.com).

The photo above was taken at The Swan Hotel in Bibury about 2 and a half years ago, when my main camera was the Nikon D90. It is an HDR image, taken from 3 exposures, and was taken on a tripod, which is essential for interior design photography. It means that you can shoot at low ISO, and therefore create all the light you need for a particular scene, without having to deal with noise.

You can see the image as it came out of Photomatix below, before my layer-masking and retouching steps in Photoshop and Lightroom. I used Topaz Adjust as well, to bring out more detail, perhaps lost by the layer masking process. If you click on either photo, you can alternate quickly between the 2 in the lightbox, to see the before and after changes a lot better.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Should we have Photographic Principles?

Today's picture is a bigger deal than you probably realise. The reason is because it goes against a photographic principle that I used to have, which was basically that I would never add into a picture anything that was not there previously. In this case, it is the blue sky. But even that I used to frown upon, seeing it as unrepresentative of the scene as it was taken. Now however, I am much more relaxed about it, and start to wonder if you are setting yourself up for failure, by having any photographic principles at all?

It goes back to the question, what is photography, and what is art? Or is there a line at all? Aren't we all just trying to create beautiful pictures for people to enjoy? As I said, I used to not like the idea of blending in a sky that was not originally part of a picture, but what happens when you have a day out in a particular city, hoping to get some iconic shots of particular landmarks, and it is nothing but grey sky above? Or even worse, a blanket, empty, featureless sky? Is there no artistic licence to 'improve' the scene? Can I ask any more questions in this blog post? The perspective that made me change my mind, was this tutorial by Serge Ramelli (well worth a watch). He transforms a wonderful building with a featureless sky, into a much more interesting work of art. Although my favourite version of the picture, was about half way through the video, the point is that adding elements in the post processing stage can simply make a photograph much more interesting.

I still don't think it's wrong to call it photography, as you have to your original photograph in the first place, but I suppose there are people who are always going to say you cheated. Heck, people still think digital post-processing is cheating, but my opinion is that your work will soon become irrelevant, if you are not keeping up with modern developments and techniques. At the end of the day, the idea is to produce an image that people simply love to look at, and therefore nothing is really ever wrong. Of course I agree that competition photographs should be free from heavy enhancement (or whatever the particular rules are), but for art's sake, I do not think it is worth having any deeply-held principle, you are only likely to go against it one day.

The last question I will ask in this blog post, and one you should ask yourselves with your pictures, is does the image enhancement make it a better picture? You can see the original cloudy version (after some processing) below. It's all completely up to one's own preference of course, but I'm not sure a cloudy version of Big Ben, the London Eye, or a London bus would make it onto a souvenir postcard.