Sunday, February 23, 2014

Inside Sherborne Abbey

Rural Dorset and Somerset is where I have been staying for the last 3 days, very near to the town of Sherborne. My wife and I stayed in a beautiful cottage, and of course it gave me the opportunity for me to explore this part of England with my camera.

Today's picture is funnily enough one I took today. I can't think of a more glorious opportunity to picture this glorious abbey, when no other people were present, and a place that is fine with you taking photographs! I even had the tripod set up and everything, I genuinely could not believe my luck. The abbey itself is amazing, the only thing I have not been able to capture more of in this photograph is the highly decorated and detailed ceiling, but another time perhaps.

The JPEG Monster

So here's a fun story for you photographers out there. The HDR picture above is taken from 4 JPEG exposures. I did not realise this until I had already created the HDR. Of course I did not mean to shoot in JPEG, but I was in such a rush to get the photos, that I know I held one button on my D700 too long and flicked another one at the same time. Now I was sure I must have changed the settings somehow accidentally, but I was so careful to avoid the ISO Monster (Definition: where you adjust the ISO to a high setting for one particular photo, and forget to turn it back) that I did not realise my file settings had been changed from RAW to JPEG.

The only saving grace about shooting these exposures in JPEG is the fact that I did bracket the shots, meaning I could blend them together in Photomatix, and still cover the dynamic range. Had I wanted only a single image from this, adjusting all the shadow and highlight details from a JPEG would have been very difficult. So knowing I had used JPEG settings for this HDR, my post-processing after Photomatix was very minimal. I did a tiny amount of layer-masking, and figured I could probably get away with another edit in Nik Color Efex 4. All in all, I think it was lesson learned and disaster averted.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Mountain Hut in Oil

Today's picture is a little bit of an experiment. I recently took advantage of Topaz Lab's half price offer of Topaz Simplify for half price in February, of which this picture is my early result. As you may know, I am always interested to bring an artistic side to my photography where possible, and the reason I do so many HDR's is because this naturally adds an artistic element. It is not the only type of processing I want to explore though, and I used Topaz Simply (and a lot of photoshop blending modes afterwards) to create this oil painting look for this scene.

I'm not 100% sold yet on Simplify's ability to transform your photographs into paintings, but I feel with a lot of work carried out in Photoshop alongside it, you can perhaps get the image close to what you imagined. I will keep trying of course, and post any other results after my forays into Topaz Simplify.

My wife and I (and dog) are taking a mini break in a Dorset cottage (I've checked, there's no flooding) from Thursday to Sunday, so this will be my last blog until Sunday. Hope you guys have a nice week, I will post some iPhone shots I take in Dorset onto Twitter.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Corporation Games

Location and interior design photography is something I have spoken about quite recently, and the picture above is another example of how I feel HDR techniques are the way forward for quality location photography. The company Stryker is a pharmaceutical company based in my hometown of Newbury, Berkshire, and though this was a personal photo (not a commission), I have tried to capture their building at a fantastic hour, to give it a very striking (apologies, the pun wasn't originally intended but I decided to leave it in) look.

Of course, at this time of day, you can 'get the shot' without HDR, but I believe the bracketing and HDR processing, gives the image the unique and artistic look, that digital photography has allowed to evolve.

I used to think that any photographer who has been practising the art for over 10 years was probably against HDR processing. It just seems that they are always convinced HDR is not necessary, and want to prove why a single image with lighting is better. However, they don't all think like this. I have been reading a book called 'Architectural Photography' by a fantastic photographer called Norman McGrath, who has been a commercial architectural photographer since the 1960's. I was delighted to read in his section on using HDR techniques:

"I believe that the evolution of this system [HDR], which is a collaboration between camera and software, is the single most important element since the advent of digital photography".

Wise and inspiring words indeed.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Dubai Life

These days I'm starting to make myself think differently about what I am trying to show in a photograph. I have never thought of myself as a deep photography thinker. I am not attracted to photographs with agendas or messages, and certainly not pretentious arty photographs. I think I instantly know if I like a photo or not, and that is usually down to the visual beauty of the picture. Of course, a photograph can be emotional, but as most of you know, I am not really a people photographer. I do like processing those photographs, but I am always much more interested in a particular scene, and if people are in that scene then great, but for me, you don't need a face to feel emotion.

One of the aspects of a photograph I am hearing more and more of though, and it is this aspect I am trying to get into my head when I take a picture, is storytelling. I'd have never agreed a couple of years ago that a photograph can tell a story. Maybe I would have said it can represent a particular time and circumstance, but it can't actually tell a story. What makes me think differently now though, is that telling a story with a photograph is different to telling a story with words. The story in the photograph does not have a narrative, and it is up to the viewer to write it. But what the photograph does give you are the elements to create that story. The story of a time. The story of a place. Not of course with a beginning, middle and end, but of a moment that has just been frozen in time.

However, you look at this picture, I always kept thinking that it tells a story. Again, not necessarily a deep and meaningful one, but of a certain place in time. The story I think it tells is of The Dubai Life, but that's the great thing about photography - a different story is created for every single person that sees a picture.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Dubai Lights II

Back in Dubai today then, and here is my second long exposure shot from the the beach of the Fairmont Palm hotel on the Palm Jumeirah. The reason I want to post a few shots of this scene, is that different exposures and different angles bring out different results. Unlike the last 'Dubai Lights' photo for instance, this exposure kept the lights largely on the sea itself rather than coming all the way to the small waves. This gives a different shape to the lights, and I think I personally prefer this version.

There are perhaps 1 or 2 'Dubai Lights' pictures to come, though they won't all appear at once. There will be something a bit different on Thursday, though I haven't quite decided what yet.

Tip of the day: I dare you to share a negative opinion about the Winter Olympics on Twitter, and watch how you get hounded out for it, from people you don't know (and some you do!).

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Where the Kings Rest

Taking a break from my recent trilogy of Dubai pictures, today's picture finds us in historic Europe, more specifically the Polish city of Krakow. This is Wawel Cathedral, within the huge Wawel hill grounds, one of the key places for tourists to visit when venturing into this part of Poland. The cathedral is one of the most important historic buildings within Poland, being the burial sight of many Polish kings since the medieval age. More recently, it is also the resting place of Lech Kaczynski and his wife, who were both tragically killed in an air crash on 10th April 2010. He was the President of Poland at the time.

I have mentioned in the last couple of months how I am very influenced recently by the work of Serge Ramelli and Glyn Dewis, and that continues to be the case. Their compositing style of creating pictures has intrigued me to think where I can take a photograph during post-processing, and I have used compositing techniques to complete this picture. Whether you call it a photograph or digital art, does not matter to me.

You can see the original file below and compare the 2 pictures together by clicking on one of them, and then using the arrows to flick between them. The original below is still at the point where I have cropped, adjusted and prepared the file before exporting it to Photoshop. I didn't think it would be a good comparison to compare the finished version with the untouched RAW file.

Although the sky in the original is not bad, it lacks colour or character, so I replaced it with a red evening sky I pictured recently. As you can see, I have also eliminated (in a nice digital way) all the people within the picture. This was probably the most painstaking and pixel level work I have done in Photoshop yet. I then added the birds from a stock photo, carried out some adjustment work in Topaz Clarity, and finally added a colour filter in Nik Color Efex Pro.

I hope everyone is having a nice weekend. I am slightly concerned about the water levels outside my apartment (we are on the ground floor) due to the recent onslaught of rain we have had in England recently. I don't think I remember visiting a shop that sells sandbags, so hopefully it won't come to that. Will be back here on Tuesday with another picture from Dubai.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Only in Dubai

I learnt a valuable lesson from a documentary I watched before I travelled to Dubai recently. It went something like this "In Dubai, it seems that the crazier the idea is, the more likely it is to succeed". This is very true. If you are not sure, just google 'Dubai World Islands' and then you will see the kind of ideas that get the seal of approval in this part of the world.

I am not sure if there are any other twisting skyscrapers like this anywhere else in the world, but I would not be surprised if there wasn't. I so wish I could have been at the meeting where the guy with the idea tried to sell it to the money lenders. I'm sure the baffled faces would have been numerous, and that being at the stage they still thought it was a joke. But there you have it, a skyscraper that can't figure out which way it wants to face.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Through the Arabian Desert

One of the highlights of my recent trip to Dubai, in fact one of only 2 times I left the vicinity of our hotel complex, was to travel through the Arabian desert by jeep. I'm not really one for extreme adventures, but it was a lot of fun how these jeeps absolutely motor through the desert, not fearing any steep slope or tight angle. I was in the 2nd car of 6 in our group, so there were times where we stopped for photographic opportunities of the other jeeps, which played very well into my hands.

Like my last picture, this was processed entirely in Lightroom.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Dubai Lights I

This time last year I was lucky enough to visit Miami, as part of a company partner meeting (I work for a company that deals largely in the international market), and this year the selected destination for this meeting was Dubai. I reluctantly agreed to go when I was invited, and even more reluctantly took my D700, when I was asked if I would take pictures for the company of the event. I am being terribly sarcastic of course, as 4/5 days in Dubai gave me the opportunity to picture this part of the middle east, when I was and was not working (which was not often).

The hotel we stayed at was on the Palm Jumeirah complex, which from the beach gave beautiful views of the skyscrapers in the Dubai Marina area, especially when they lit up at night. Though I did not take my real tripod for the trip, I did take my gorillapod (Joby), which though not at all designed to carry a D700, nevertheless gave me the opportunity to take long exposure pictures like the one above, which simply would not have been possible without it.

As the title implies, this will be the first of a few 'Dubai Lights' pictures, as I took quite a few at different angles and exposures. Picking a favourite out of them at the moment, is way too difficult.

So, plenty of pictures to come out of Dubai, returning on Tuesday as normal.