Monthly Archives: October 2009

Autumn beach

Autumn beach, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

As a counterpoint to yesterday’s pure unadulterated image of the rainbow I today offer an image that has been processed for HDR that will hopefully go some way to explain why I like the technique and find it useful. Certainly, I understand why some of the commentators on my blog prefer the ‘purer’ photography of my flower pictures or yesterdays offering. I myself am trying to strike a happy balance between the two.

It is certainly true that there is nothing worse than a photograph that has been processed for HDR badly and you can spot them a mile off. If you have a Flickr account, take a look at the ‘My First HDR – beginners group’ to see how some HDR can go spectacularly wrong (and also to see examples of the technique done probably).

As a recap, for those who might be reading the blog for the first time, HDR is basically the combination of three images of the same thing – one as taken, one underexposed, one overexposed. When combined together and tone mapped using software such as Photoshop or Photomatix you can then manipulate light, shadows and contrast to achieve some interesting results.

This image, taken on a dull Autumn’s day on a wet beach in North Wales is really not much to write home about in its original form. It’s flat, grey, uninspiring and dull. I processed it purely as an experiment as I took a series of pictures of kite surfers at the same time and wanted to know whether such action shots would work in HDR – the answer is that they don’t in case you were wondering. After processing I was really pleased with the finished image; it’s suitably wintry, the sky looks amazing but what I am really pleased with is the deep bottle green of the sea – a sea that just looks grey on the original image.

Hopefully, it is obvious from this image why I continue to dabble in HDR, especially for landscape work. You may still think it’s a dull, uninspiring photo and again I have no problem with that. All comments are welcome as ever.

With regards to the kite surfers, I hope to upload those photos to Flickr at the weekend. These are my first real attempts at ‘action shots’ and overall I’m pretty please with them. And, as detailed above, some of these too will be blogged in their pure form at some pint next week




Kids at the end of the rainbow, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

So, how did I get on? As you may know, yesterday I attended the award ceremony for a photography competition. No luck I’m afraid but I did learn some valuable lessons; chief amongst these was that sometimes it’s more about uniqueness and capturing something different. There were some amazing pictures (another thing I learned was that there are a lot of very good amateur photographers out there) but, given the narrow scope of the theme – Liverpool cathedral and its environs – a lot of the pictures were of the same thing. The winner, therefore, was unique and was taken on a camera phone out of the back of a taxi! So next year the key is going to be to capture something that no-one else has thought of and this is going to be in the back of mind for any future competition entries. Also, found out this week that I have been spectacularly unsuccessful in the ‘Digital Photographer of the Year’ competition for 2009. This was not entirely unsurprising given that there was in excess of 100,000 entries and that the competition was open to professionals and amateurs alike. The short-list (and a very good one it is) can be found here. Try not to look at the ‘This is Britain’ category, it’s terribly depressing.

So on to today’s picture and the first from last weekend’s jaunt to North Wales. I have moaned in the past that quite often I don’t have the camera with me when I see something amazing or that I often have the wrong lens on the camera body; today’s photo illustrates that sometimes, only sometimes, the opposite happens and you find yourself in the right place at the right time with the right lens. Serendipity, or in English the ‘happy accident’, is what this is called.

Last Saturday, after a Friday evening of what is generally known as ‘peaking too soon’, it was suggested that we all go for a walk on the west beach, Llandudno to clear away some of the cobwebs and to ensure that we felt less tired and emotional for the trip up the Great Orme that was planned for later in the day. I was 50:50 whether to go or not – there was a light drizzle, a strong wind and I felt a pit peaky. In the end I decided to go for the fresh air and the exercise and, on reaching the beach, was presented with this sight.

Now, I don’t see rainbows very often but I can honestly that this was the most perfect rainbow I’ve ever seen. It appeared to start on top of the Orme and end in the middle of the sea. Thanks to my new 10-20mm wide angle lens I was able to get the whole rainbow in shot and if you look very closely you may be able to make out the kids where the rainbow meets the breakwater.

It didn’t last very long so I was very glad to witness it and catch it so that I could share it with you. Please see my Flickr stream here for more pictures of the rainbow. As always comments are more than welcome and for those that are interested this photo is pure and unadulterated – no post processing and no HDR!

Get well soon

Geranium, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Sorry for not updating the blog recently but I have been a bit poorly with a virus. Seems that ever since the weather got colder I have been afflicted by colds, ear infections and viruses. Haven’t posted a flower image for a while and I know that some readers think it’s my forte. It’s only a geranium, taken in my back garden but my wife likes it and that’s good enough for me.

As stated in my previous post I was away in North Wales (Llandudno) this weekend and managed to take 250+ photos before being laid low with the fever. It’s probably going to take me a while to process them but expect a few – ranging from rainbows to out-of-season piers to action shots of kite surfers – to appear here in the coming weeks.

On Wednesday I am attending the award ceremony for the Liverpool Cathedral photography competition. Not holding out that much hope but you never know, stranger things have happened.

The nights are drawing in…

Carriageway lights, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Hi all… Short post today as I am going away for the weekend to darkest Wales (Llandudno anyway). Camera all packed so I hope to get some good end-of-the-pier out-of-season pictures to share with you.

Today’s picture is a long exposure (30 seconds at an aperture of f/22) taken at dusk as the light was fading from a wonderful pink sky taken on the City Walls in Chester where they cross the ring road that circles the city. Obviously, to achieve this effect (light trails from cards, star effect on street lamps) you need to use a tripod to keep the camera completely still and a timed shutter release to ensure that you don’r introduce camera shake when depressing the shutter button.

Funnily enough when I took this photo I bumped into another amateur photographer who was doing the same thing. After a chat about our obsession we exchanged contact details with a view to maybe meeting up at a later date to take some photos. First time I have met a like-minded individual when out taking pictures and in general I have found other photographers to be genuinely supportive, certainly in terms of the images I have posted on-line and the contacts I have made on flickr. So a big thanks to anyone that has encouraged me.

By the way don’t forget that the clocks go back this weekend… See you next week

Autumn in Grosvenor Park


Autumn in Grosvenor Park, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Hello readers! I assume that is the correct term to address people who visit your blog. Or should it be ‘viewers’ since I hope you are drawn here for the pictures rather than my inane ramblings. Since the blog is titled ‘Confessions of an amateur photographer’ I sometimes wonder if I have painted myself into a corner thematically. Certainly, there isn’t much in the way of confessional (my life is way too dull for that); also, despite being a photo blog I often wonder if I should wax lyrical on other subjects. There is certainly a lot going on in the world that I could talk about – the ongoing credit crisis, my continued lack of faith in career politicians, the BNP appearing on Question time, etc, etc but would this not jar next to some of the images?

Believe it or not, I do try and match up the images I post with the ramblings underneath. I admit most of the links are tenuous unless I am actually talking about the processes involved in taking the photograph in question. I always find myself walking a thin line between too technical and not technical enough. Looking at other photo blogs, it’s all about the image. Text is kept to a minimum. Maybe this is what I should do here? Has anybody actually read this far? I suppose that in some respects this is the ‘confessional’ aspect of the blog in that it’s very existence forces me to write something on a semi regular basis. I’ve never written a diary but I find blogging pretty cathartic. Your thoughts on any of the above would be much appreciated.

So today’s image… It was taken last weekend in Grosvenor Park in Chester with my 10-20mm wide-angle lens. Autumn is one of the key times of the year for photography, all those wonderful colours, all that decay and I went out with the intention of getting some good autumnal pictures. Here, the leaves that are losing their leaves counterpoint nicely with the shaped evergreen trees that line the path. As a snapshot of Autumn I really like it and I hope you do to. Thanks for reading/viewing, please comment if you like the picture (or if you don’t). Back soon

Oak Lane

Oak Lane, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

After the bloody tooth of my last post I did promise to go back to more calmer waters so here’s another landscape taken with my new wide angle lens (have I mentioned it). So, why did I take this picture? After all I do not live on Oak Lane in Bollington; in fact I live about 40 miles away from Oak lane. To cut a long story short (as Spandau Ballet once said) I went out at lunchtime (I work in Bollington) with the intention of getting some more good landscape shots such as the one I got the day before (see previous post ‘life through a [wide-angle] lens). However, the sky was so grey and overcast that it soon became pretty obvious that it wasn’t really happening.

So, as I have mentioned before, when the sky is overcast all it means is rethinking what you shoot and, as a basic rule of thumb, buildings and architecture is usually a good bet. Walking back to where I parked the car I saw this battered road sign and the brickwork of the terraced houses which was counterpointed by the flowers in the front yard. To be honest this was really just a quick snap, taken purely for the sake of at least taking some photographs in the short time I had to capture something.

I didn’t think much more about it; but, after getting home and processing the image I was surprised to see how well it works. Certainly the perspective provided by the ultra-wide angle is a good one and there is a high level of detail. And, as a demonstration of what the lens can do, I think that this is fit for purpose.

I suppose what I am trying to re-enforce again is that as a photographer the trick is to adapt to the surroundings. If you go out to shoot wildlife and don’t find any shoot something else instead; if it’s raining find somewhere where you can shoot interiors; if you are in an urban setting you can still shoot great landscapes.

Over the weekend just past I have taken a few more images with the new lens and am really pleased with the results. I was rather hamstrung on Sunday by the fact that I had my 7-year-old daughter in tow so had to fit the photographs in around ice cream, tea and cakes, rides on a mini train and feeding squirrels. Also, this weekend I took some really good autumnal images in a friend’s garden where all of a sudden several strange varieties of fungi had appeared in the back garden – despite attempts to identify them we didn’t get very far (although the consensus seemed to be that they looked poisonous/lysergic). I’ll share some of these images with you during this week.

On a weekend when my football team was defeated by a beachball I need all the solace I can get; photography is balm for the soul. Comments welcome (apart from about beach balls)

Life through a (wide-angle) lens

Lamaload reservoir gate, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

First up, many apologies for paraphrasing Robbie Williams but it seemed appropriate (and you never know it might generate a few extra blog hits). As posted previously I have recently purchased a new wide-angle lens (Sigma 10-20mm, with a superwide angle of view 102.4┬░to 63.8) for my camera; subsidized with birthday money, I still had to go and have a little lie down after buying it – it seemed extraordinarily expensive for a piece of glass and plastic, but photography is an expensive hobby.

Until yesterday I hadn’t really had the chance to try it out but I nipped out of the office at lunchtime and headed out to a nearby reservoir to see if I could get to grips with it. Initially it took a lot of getting used to – the scope of vision is amazing and everything seems very far away. Also at the widest focal length (10 mm) the image starts to bend and warp at the corners, which can produce some interesting effects.

First and foremost I bought this lens for landscape photographs; obviously, it lends itself to this as you can fit so much more into the frame (evidenced, I hope, by today’s photograph taken at Lamaload reservoir). You can also get a really nice depth of field. However, I also looking forward to trying this out in other types of photography – it can produce some interesting results in portraiture and interior shots for example. So, over the next few weeks I am going to have a play and see what results I can get.

Whenever you get a new lens there is a temptation for forget about the others, which I am trying very hard not to do – you have to chose the right lens for the picture you want to take. This is one of the things I find infuriating about photography (or maybe it’s a problem with my technique) in that I always seem to have the wrong lens on the camera when a snap opportunity presents itself and by the time I’ve scrabbled in the camera bag the moment has invariably gone. Also, it’s not healthy for the camera to keep changing lenses – that’s how the dreaded dust spots get in.

But, as usual, I digress. This is a really useful bit of kit to have, particularly when you enjoy taking landscapes as much as I do. So what next… start saving for a dedicated macro lens for when Spring comes around again, which seems a long way off. At this point I should then have a decent range of basic lenses to cover any eventuality. After that I am going to have to look at lighting, flash guns, diffusers, etc

I’m pretty pleased with this photograph, especially as it was taken in a very narrow time window. In retrospect, it might have been good to get more of the house in on the right but I’m not overly concerned. Let me know what you think.

We live in interesting times

Cathedral cloisters3, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Today is my birthday. 42 if you really want to know which feels like very old (even if it is the answer to Life, The Universe and Everything). When I was younger I could never imagine what it would feel like to be 42 but I can tell you that it feels pretty much the same as being 18 (a little wiser perhaps but apart from that…). I also have it on good opinion that, providing you are lucky enough not to have a critical illness, that you still feel pretty much the same at 82 as well. Maybe this should be highlighted more often… the flesh may be weaker but the mind is still sharp and still buzzing with possibilities. Maybe if it was we would have more respect for the elderly?

I don’t for one minute buy into the ‘broken britain’ schtick. Any student of history will tell you that the older members of society always have ‘issues’ with the younger, even in the Middle Ages. We live in an ever changing world and the rate of change appears to be ever faster, certainly in terms of technology. My kids live in a world of downloading and Internet – they wouldn’t have a clue what to do with a 7″ single. But hasn’t this always been the way? The rate of technological development in the Industrial Revolution was just as dramatic. Going further back, the introduction of Guttenberg’s printing press brought printed materials to the masses and wrestled the written word away from The Church.

I am all for change and try to keep up with it. But I think it is important to not forget all of those that came before us and that they too were living in times of exciting change and technological development, even if that technology now seems arcane to us. I look at this picture of one of the cloisters in Chester Cathedral and marvel at the skill and craftsmanship that it must have taken to build them – during a time that we would consider the Dark Ages.

For my birthday I have bought myself a new camera lens – a Sigma 10-20 mm wide-angle. Have not really had the chance to get out and put it through its paces yet but will do soon. It was a toss up between this and a dedicated macro but as the man in the camera shop said ‘why buy a macro when there are no flowers and insects to photograph’. And he was right. Autumn is a time for landscapes. I hope to share you some results soon. Thanks and please feel free to comment.

Chester cathedral

Chester cathedral interior2, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Today, hopefully, I am going to share a photograph with you that I hope can be described as ‘good’. I’m certainly pleased with it as it represents another step forward in my photography knowledge. The picture is of the interior of Chester Cathedral, a building I have been inside many times during my life from school trips to St Georges Day parades (in the cubs) to teaching my own children about the history of the city they live in. I am not a churchgoer or even a believer but I do think that some of our churches and cathedrals are magnificent buildings that can fill you with awe and wonder. Indeed, the closest I have ever got to a religious experience was in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, a place dripping in atmosphere and the weight of centuries.

There has been a cathedral in Chester since the Norman invasion of the 11th century and the building as it stands today is a masterpiece of what I suppose is Gothic architecture (although I stand to be corrected by someone who actually knows about these things). I have taken photographs inside the cathedral before and always been disappointed with the results – I thought the interior darkness necessitated the use of a flash so the pictures were too bright and quite dull. Of course, this was in the dark days before I knew how to use the camera properly.

So this Sunday just gone I tried to kill two birds with one stone – photography and fitness – by heading out on the bike to see if I could get some good pictures. I was limited in time as I had to get back home in time to attend a performance by my daughter’s choir but in the time allowed I focused (no pun intended) on the area around the canal basin in Chester and the cathedral. I would have liked more time but am pretty pleased with what I achieved.

Now, it seems stupid that I would even have thought about taking pictures in a cathedral without a tripod but there you go – I am an amateur after all. So, this picture was taken with the camera on a tripod to keep it steady, a timed shutter release so I didn’t have to touch the camera to take the picture and a really long exposure time – 30 seconds at an aperture of f/22. The picture really captures the ambience of the cathedral and I’m going to have to go back and take some more. Of course, another plus was getting there just after the morning service – the congregation had just left and the tourists were only just beginning to file in so the cathedral was relatively empty.

Hope you like it and comments are always welcome. Thanks


Welsh hills from Dinas Bran, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Hello there. Back motivated again this week thanks to a couple of events First, if you haven’t read the comment on my last blog post by my friend and ex-colleague Adam Christopher then please do. It’s inspiring, not only because he is 100% right but also because I know how hard is he working on his first novel(s) as well as holding down a day job. Second, I found out that I have been short-listed for another photography competition and invited to an award ceremony on 25th October. I’m not getting my hopes up (it’s a short-list of 15 with only two prizes) but it’s another small step forward.

Also, I managed to get out with the camera at the weekend for the first time in two weeks and I think I’ve got some pretty good shots. It’s probably going to take me a couple of days to process the images, fitting it around work, family, gym (resolution for this year was to lose some weight) but hopefully I’ve got some worth sharing with you… and I also managed to use the tripod to get some long exposures in a dark environment.

In the mean time, this picture is my first attempt at a panorama. Not having a wide angle lens is quite frustrating but thanks to Photoshop you can always cheat; by which I mean that this picture is two digital images that have been matched and spliced together. Obviously, the key to getting a good panoramic shot is to make sure the camera moves as little as possible between shots so in my opinion a tripod and a steady hand are a given. The two pictures that I used use to create this panorama were taken on my recent walk up Dinas Bran castle. I think the composition works pretty well for a first attempt but your comments would be very welcome.