Monthly Archives: April 2010

Sometimes they come back…

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The title of today’s blog post is a title of a short story by Stephen King but it seemed to fit in well with the topic of today’s blog. As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, sometimes it is very hard to see the wood from the tress when it comes to photographing stunning scenery; there have been occasions when I have literally taken hundreds of photographs and, as any pro photographer will tell you, you have to take hundreds in the hope of getting the one photo that is right. For a long time I used to agonise about all the awful pictures that I took; images that were under or over exposed, or badly composed, or badly cropped, or had the camera strap visible in the shot, or suffered badly from camera shake because I had failed to set the aperture or shutter speed correctly; pictures where the subject was yawning or cross-eyed or blinking; pictures where what I saw when I took the photograph just doesn’t seem to be there once the image is viewed on-screen. It was very heartening to slowly realise that ALL photographers, both amateur and professional, have the same crises. You cannot get a perfect image every time, you will cock up, and the only way of learning how to cock up less in the future is to make the mistakes in the first place. I once wasted a whole days shooting by having my camera set on the lowest possible image quality setting (I had been putting stuff on ebay the night before).

The best advice I have had as an amateur is to check the camera settings before taking any picture. Is the aperture or shutter speed correct for the image you want? Is the ISO (which changes the cameras sensitivity to light) set too high or too low? Is the white balance set correctly? Do I need to bracket the exposure (i.e. correct for harsh light such as snow or bright sunlight coming through a window)? I try to answer these questions but sometimes I just get lost in the moment and hope that things are going to turn out OK. Many a time I have viewed a spectacular image on the cameras 2” viewing window only to find it blurred when looked at full size. Also, there is a temptation to delete images that you are not happy with on the fly, as you take them, which must always been resisted. An image rejected in the field in harsh sunlight or under rainy overcast skies might not sing until you have looked at it full size and had the opportunity to crop and tidy up.

Digital photography has enabled photographers to do things in minutes which used to take hours in the darkroom but it is still a laborious process sifting through hundreds of images, deleting some, ignoring others and getting all excited about a view. Thus, I regularly go back to previous shoots to see if anything has been missed or passed over. Also, as my processing and post production skills have improved there are opportunities to fix things that maybe I didn’t have the confidence or time to look at before.

As you have probably guessed, this is one such image. The pictures I took on Crosby beach in January this year are amongst the best I’ve taken. There are hundreds of them. This was one that I rejected almost immediately – the exposure was wrong, the colours were muted and I thought it a bit dull (you may still think so). Going back I thought I would have a go at fixing the exposure and the tone and boosting the colours and lo and behold the picture came alive and revealed its hidden depths. Suddenly the cranes of the Liverpool Port authority were visible on the horizon, suddenly the angry blue/purple of the clouds that I was sure had been there when I took the picture were back. And from a picture that was definitely in the ‘meh’ pile emerged an image that I now really like. Now of course I have had to use Photoshop to boost this picture but not a great amount and I believe it still holds true to what I thought I was capturing when I took the photo. In the past I have dabbled in HDR (some of you like it, some of you don’t) but that does not apply in this case. There is no manipulation other than correcting exposure and tone and lifting the colour. HDR has its place and I am a fan of its judicious use as a technique but after my initial experiments when it was all new and exciting I am now moving back towards more natural photography and I think it shows in my pictures from the Lakes.

So, the messages are:

  • Make lots of mistakes, criticise yourself and learn from the experience.
  • If advice is offered from another photographer take it. 99% of pros and amateurs I have met have been helpful, supportive and willing to explain/teach.
  • Never delete images in the field – always take them home and review them on  a large screen.
  • Don’t be afraid to use software to process your photos as long as you are true to what you wanted to capture (unless you are deliberately  going for an arty or otherwordly feel.
  • Write a blog or keep a diary to keep track of your progress (and try and update it more than I have been doing of late).
  • Let time pass and go back to old images, you’ll be surprised what you might find.

Here endeth the lesson. I hope you like the photograph and please let me know via the comments button if you think it was worth saving or not. Thanks…

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Spring tulips

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Well, think it might be a good time for a break from the landscapes of the Lake District, primarily because there is probably enough images to sustain this blog for the rest of the year.

This is an on-the-fly post and this picture was taken about 5 minutes ago in my own back garden. My initial photographic success came with some flower pictures and if you look carefully you can still find my RHS greeting card in selected outlets. I still have a box of 200 of the things and its become a running joke amongst family and friends, especially those who get the same card every birthday. I am thinking of sticking glitter on to some of them for Christmas. Nice as it was to have my image on a greeting card I never envisaged how I was going to get rid of 250 of them. So if anyone wants some then let me know!

So a flower picture. And tulips too, the very epitome of Spring (if you ignore daffodils, which I do as I find them a very uninspiring subject). Until today I had no idea that tulips opened up in the sun like this; I have only ever seen them closed. The more horticulturally minded amongst you will probably find this hilarious, as my wife did. The irony is that although I love taking pictures of flowers and gardens I actually hate gardening; mowing the lawn is my limit. We’ve (and I use ‘we’ in the loosest possible sense) have spent most of the day in the garden housing new chickens (!), seeding the vegetable garden and – and this is where I come in – trying to get a picture of the elusive blue tits that are nesting in our bird box. This bird box has been in the tree next to our kitchen window for more than 3 years now and, until now has never had any residents. Thankfully my patience in sitting on a chair in the back garden watching the bird box whilst the gardening continued has paid off:

So all in all a lazy day in the garden and yet more proof that you can practice your photography pretty much anywhere.

I’ve now retreated back inside as it started to rain and I have been taking the opportunity to go back through some old photographs to see if any of them could be reappraised in the light of my improving Photoshop skills. Next week I’ll be blogging some of the results and you can asses whether any of them were worth saving. Or maybe its the case that I underestimated them amongst tens of pictures of the same subject. Sometimes it helps to put things down, walk away and come back to things clean and with a fresh pair of eyes.

Anyway, that’s it for now and I’ll leave you with some more pictures from the garden and the famous chickens…

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Hopes may rise…

IMG_5450 Very quick blog post as its nearly 2 in the morning and I have been drinking wine and watching Aliens (which is still ace after all these years). Another picture from The Lakes taken on the hills above Buttermere. A simple picture but one where all the elements – the sunlight, the shadow, the clouds – come together to make something special, at least I think so. The photos I took at Buttermere (the only day of our holiday when we had sunshine and where I was able to spend a whole afternoon out and about) are probably the best I’ve taken so far. They mark the point at which maybe I have realised that Landscape photography is what really interests me. I am beginning to think that the way forward with the blog may be short sharp bursts. A photo and a paragraph with the occasional long free-form ramble (I have another idea gestating similar to the post about my great grandfather but it means venturing into the loft). Besides, I want to show you more of my Buttermere photos and also some old photographs that I discarded and have been revisiting.

I really must go to bed but first some news:

  • My exhibition in the offices of Didsbury Life (Burton Road, Didsbury) has been extended. I’d like to think by popular demand but its probably more to do with the fact that none of my pictures have sold 🙂
  • I have entered some more competitions with entries comprised of the best of my pictures of The Lakes. Fingers crossed!
  • I have opened a shop on the Etsy website. For those that don’t know Etsy is a website where you can sell anything handmade or hand-crafted and, thankfully, they count photographs as fitting in to this category. My Etsy shop with a small selection of pictures is at http://www.etsy.com/shop/Zardoz67. Please feel free to have a look and at the very least tag me as a favourite.
  • Tomorrow I am going to see Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang. I’ll let you know how that goes.
  • Did you see Gogol Bordello on Jools Holland’s show last week? Wiped the floor with all comers (Paul Weller Pah!). Imagine the Clash and the Pogues having a fight in Eastern Europe and you are close. Touring soon and if you are going to the gig in Manchester on 8th May I’ll see you there.
  • My son would like to know how many monkeys there are in the world. Answers on a postcard.

And with that he was gone! Comments would be lovely. Tell your friends!

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I know its a cliché but…

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… yet again I am very sorry for the amount of time it has taken me to update the blog. I’ve had an acute case of lifetime piling up as Talking Heads so eloquently put it. So the title of this blog post applies not only to the fact that I seem to start each post with an apology about my tardiness but also to the image itself. Let’s face it, everyone has seen that famous image of Ullswater by Mel Allen (I think); its a print that has sold millions and made the photographer quite a bit of money. Also, if I went to the Lake District and didn’t have at least one picture of a jetty then I would be letting you and myself down. In actual fact this is one of many similar pictures, but for this I make no apologies – the Lakes as a location are simply perfect for a landscape photographer, which is what I fear I may be becoming as this experiment progresses.

Yes, its a jetty but this one is on Coniston water, which was the location of the holiday cottage that we stayed in but 2 weeks ago (although it feels like a lifetime). The picture was taken the same morning as my previous post of the swan at about 6 am in the morning using a tripod and a long exposure. As I said in my previous post, this was a perfect morning. Wonderful light. Perfectly still. And a great location to get lost in thought and really concentrate on the job at hand without being distracted. I really like the subdued colours and the tranquillity of this image and think it’s a pretty good composition. The weathered wood of the boardwalk provides an interesting counterpoint to stillness of the water, and there is a wonderful reflection of the surrounding trees and hills.

This image actually breaks the cardinal rule of landscape photography which is to try and avoid a central horizon. However, on this occasion I think it works as the jetty leads the eye into the picture and up to the clouds above. I suppose that I could have cropped it a bit at the top but I’m pretty happy with it as it is. What do you think? I know I always ask for comments and many of you are kind enough to leave them both on the blog itself and on facebook (I use networked blogs to ‘push’ posts from the blog to my facebook page). When writing a blog it’s the comments that keep you going and stop you from packing it all in; its the comments that make me realize that you I not talking to myself and that people actually do come here to read this. In fact I have been shamed into updating the blog this evening by an old university friend Jane who urged me via facebook to stop waffling on about chickens (I have my photography as my mid life crisis, my wife has crafts, vegetable growing and self sufficiency) and start posting some of the Lakes images that I’ve been banging on about.

So here I am. A picture from the Lake District. One of literally hundreds that I have been painstakingly and meticulously going through over the last few weeks; a process that was curtailed by the urgency of the hat/wedding fair assignment that I mentioned in my last post. Going through them all has been a chore and a revelation; a chore in that there are so many and that many of them are of the same things so whittling them down has proven difficult, a revelation in that they are probably among the best pictures that I have taken. And thereby hangs the conundrum, usually I upload my images to Flickr but a recent conversation I had with a contact on Flickr whose images were stolen and used on another website (despite clearly being marked ‘all rights reserved’) has left me a bit wary. Don’t get me wrong, I only upload low-resolution (72 dpi) images to Flickr anyway so they could not be used for print purposes but nonetheless it has left me a bit paranoid. Also, the digital economy bill still loomed large until recently, despite the concessions made to photographers and ‘orphan works’ in the end.

At the same time, if I don’t share my images then no-one would get to see them so it’s a fine balancing act. This year has seen many good things happen with my photographs that regular readers will be aware of, things that would not have happened without the use of Flickr and WordPress (and also Twitter). I think I will end up biting the bullet and carrying on as before but I may end up keeping a few images that I am particularly proud of in reserve. I dream of licensing one of my pictures for use as wall art (say by somebody like Habitat or Ikea) and a friend recently told me that the photographer that takes the pictures for all Ikea’s wall art is a multi millionaire.

Now I know that this is unlikely to happen (a cursory on-line search of Flickr will reveal far greater amateur photographers than I) but as they say ‘you can always dream’. Photography has changed my life for the better and it enriches it on a daily basis. At the end of the day it’s about creating something original that I can be proud of and which can be appreciated by other people. When I started the blog the professed aim was to self-fund the hobby and I haven’t even managed to do that yet, so the aim still remains. However, I have made in-roads. I have made new friends and inspired some lovely comments and at the end of the day (it’s past midnight now) that’s good enough for me.

OK, bed beckons. Comments would be lovely and if you are a facebook user you can subscribe to (and rate)  this blog via the networked blogs application. Just look for ‘confessions of an amateur photographer’.

You’ve been a lovely audience. There will be more of the Lakes to come but I don’t want to peak too soon. Where’s the fun in that?

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And now for something completely different…

And what a week it has been… Still ploughing through the Lakes photos and building up to the best landscape pictures I think I’ve taken. However, I am well aware of landscape fatigue settling in amongst loyal readers so time for something a bit different. There is a long and convoluted story behind this picture but I’ll try and be concise. As you may know, if you are a regular visitor to the blog, I recently did some photographs for a tapas bar in Didsbury, Manchester thanks to a contact made via Twitter with DidsburyLife. Still with me? Now DidsburyLife is friends with other photographers, one of whom phoned me up to ask if I would be interested in doing a photo shoot that he was unable to do. It was last minute, rushed and unpaid (he was originally approached to do the pictures as a favour to a friend). The photographer in question suggested me because he had seen my small exhibition – still on in the DidsburyLife offices until the end of April if you fancy picking up an original piece of art for a very reasonable price –  and thought I might be interested.

My initial response was to say no and run a mile. But, again as regular readers will know, this would mean passing up the opportunity of working with someone who actually wanted to be photographed (i.e. a model, or in this case two models) and I’ve been keen for ages to do some more portrait work. Also, I find it quite difficult to say no, even when my brain is screaming NO! at the top of its voice. And so it came to pass that I found myself at a wedding fair in St Margaret’s church, nr Altrincham in Cheshire having agreed to photograph head pieces and fascinators for Sophia Couture, a fashion studio based in Manchester. As I was not getting paid I figured that I had nothing to lose provided I was up front about my amateur status and tried to do the best I could.

To say I was outside of my comfort zone would be an understatement (landscapes don’t tend to move and don’t ask me to direct them) but both models were really kind and humoured me as I went about my erratic business. Now I took a lot of pictures and I’m currently in the process of whittling them down so I can send them to Sophia Couture for use in their press materials but this picture is one that I took in an unguarded, unposed moment (note the cup of coffee) so I figure that I am OK to blog this one. I must admit that I am really, really awful and have forgotten the model’s name (despite writing it down on a piece of paper, which I subsequently lost) but she was really helpful and didn’t mind my constantly changing lenses and asking her to do things again. I’m quite proud of the posed pictures, given the pressure I was under, but I like this one because it is natural and unposed and captures a break in the proceedings – a chance to grab a coffee, hat still perched precariously on head. Sure, there are some obstructions in the foreground (more hats I think) but I hope it works. Hopefully, she won’t mind me blogging this picture (and if she does I will of course remove it from the blog).

So, did I enjoy it? Yes and No. At last I had the chance to take some portraits that weren’t family members, which was good. However, I also had to contend with some serious lens envy (the place was awash with pro wedding photographers) and at one point being verbally abused by a wedding photographer who thought I had had stolen his gig [he quickly backed down when he realised that I posed no real threat]. Lens envy is the amateur photographer’s curse; everyone you ever meet is better equipped and it can be intimidating, especially in this arena. I have tremendous respect for wedding photographers (apart from the one, obviously) given what they have to contend with and given that they are charged with capturing the most important day in someone’s life. At least landscapes don’t move.

I’m glad I did it. But at the same time it was very stressful. I now realise that I need a dedicated flash unit and a decent zoom lens and these things don’t come cheap [did I mention I have some pictures for sale 🙂 ]. It was invaluable practice for when I shoot my friend’s sisters wedding in the Summer though and has given me that bit of confidence that I won’t cock it up completely, particularly as the brief is unposed, natural shots to ‘capture the day’.

Onwards and upwards. Finally a portrait on the blog before I return to the Lakes (I am beginning to think that the photos are breeding as the numbers that I need to process never seem to diminish) and to the safety of landscapes and inanimate objects. Comments as always are very welcome and positively encouraged.

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Peace, tranquillity and punk rock

 

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And so another tardy blog post for which I can only apologise. The main reason is that I have been ploughing through all the photographs that I took recently in the Lakes. Over 7 days (four of which saw pretty much persistent rain) I took more than 500 images. An initial cull got the number of ones I am pleased with down to approximately 150 and I am now methodically and laboriously working through these. So far I have done around 40 of which this image was one of them. As I have improved as a photographer I have taken more and more images and these all need to be appraised and processed before I can share them with you. At my current rate of about 20-30 a night I should have finished by early next week but I don’t want to rush things; equally, I don’t want to neglect the blog so I will be posting the odd image as I progress through them. Please bear with me. Of course, the only time I have available for looking at my images is the late evening (it’s currently 11.15 in the evening). I really do believe that these pictures I have taken in the Lake District are another step up, albeit a small one. I’m really pleased with them and there is one image in particular (that I want to save for a later blog once I have had a play with it). Not to spoil things but this is a picture that my wife (never one to damn with faint praise) has described as ‘the best picture you have taken’. I can sense your anticipation already 🙂

So, on to this picture. This was taken on our second day of holiday in the very early morning. My house is quite near a main road and so I am used to some traffic noise (especially living near to the local hospital’s A&E department) and, somewhat surprisingly, I found it very difficult to sleep in the total silence and total darkness of our lakeside retreat. This resulted in me waking up very early (around 6.30) so I decided to walk down to the lake with my camera. One thing a proper landscape photographer will tell you is that the best pictures are achieved the hour before sunrise or sunset (the magic hour) which is when the light is at its best and there is no harsh sunlight to bleach things out.. I was on the jetty near the cottage and this swan was just there, treading water, ripples spreading out around it. Every now and then it would plunge its head into the water to feed, which would create marvellous ripples on the glassy surface of the lake. This picture, one of many, captures the moment just after the swan had returned to the surface. I think it’s the ripples that make it; that and the clouds reflected on a body of water that was as still as a mill pond. I spent a couple of hours taking photographs in total silence. And it was marvellous. This swan seemed to follow me wherever I went so you will probably be seeing it again.

The more eagle-eyed among you will notice that I have stated adding a copyright watermark to my images. Now, I am not kidding myself that this would ever stop anyone from using my image but I do feel that I need to assert my rights as the owner of my photography, especially if I am going to start taking it more seriously. I was hastened to a decision thanks to the government’s digital economy bill, which was criminally passed without proper debate via a parliamentary wash-up session last night. The original version of the bill included a clause that basically stated that if you post your photographs on-line then anyone can use them providing they had made an effort to locate the copyright holder; thereby giving anybody the right to steal your photograph and, if found out, claim that they had made every effort to contact you. Basically, it stank (and the rest of the bill still does, what with its proposal to cut off internet supply and block websites that the government feels are ‘illegal’) and I wrote to my MP about it. Thankfully, the one clause from the bill that was removed and not passed last night was the one relating to photography and ‘orphan works’ (i.e. photographs whose author cannot be traced). So a minor victory in a greater defeat but good news none the less. Still this is the reason for the watermark and I hope it doesn’t detract. I would hope that if any of my regular readers see any of my photos used elsewhere then they would tell me…

The UK is in the grip of election fever at the moment and given the state of the economy and the recent parliamentary expenses scandal they are going to have to go some  to rally an apathetic public who have heard it all before. That said, my recent experiences of writing to my MP about the above were extremely positive (but that is probably tinted by the fact that my voice appeared to be heard).

In other news Malcolm McClaren, svengali-like manager of The Sex Pistols has died, which makes me feel incredibly old. A controversial figure to say the least you cannot deny that he had verve, chutzpah and the drive to make something like the punk movement happen and there can be no doubt that it wouldn’t have happened without him. I’m not a religious man but I would like to thank him for giving the establishment the kick up the ass it needed at a vital time in the UK’s political, musical and social history. He will be missed. Even those who hated him will have to concede that.

So, in a bit of a reflective mood tonight, which brings me back to this image and the memory of when I took it – a moment of perfect calm, captured forever. Photography’s bloody wonderful isn’t it…

Comments as always are positively encouraged

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Sorry for the delay…

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For a multitude of reasons this blog has been neglected of late, the prime one being that I have been away of holiday with it being Easter. I had grand plans of updating the blog daily from the banks of Coniston Water in the Lake District using the Hipstamatic and WordPress applications for the iPhone but said plans fell apart thanks to the remoteness of our holiday cottage. It was sold to me by the wife as an idyllic get-away-from-it-all location with access to the lake and to a multitude of boats. And indeed it was; however, the small print hid the fact that the cottage had no television, no telephone, no internet access and absolutely, definitely no wireless coverage. As I type this my wife is scoffing in the background, saying that I am making it sound as if I have been living in a cave in darkest Peru for a week and I certainly don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t enjoy myself – in fact I had a wonderful, marvellous, restful time. Lots of time spent canoeing on Coniston, lots of time spent with the family, lots of monopoly, scrabble and card games. And, of course, lots of time for photography. Basically, all I am saying is that I am sorry that the blog has not been updated for a while but I do have a pretty good excuse.

We got back on Good Friday and since then there has been loads of ‘real life’ stuff to deal with including entertaining friends, erecting a greenhouse, tracking an escaped rabbit, burying said rabbit after it was hit by a car, hiding rabbit’s demise from the children, dis-infecting the PC following a virus and finally getting round to backing up my photographs after months of procrastination – nothing like a computer virus and an inability to boot up the computer for focusing the mind.

As I write my camera is uploading all the pictures that I took in the Lakes of which there are hundreds. No doubt many of them will make it onto the blog over the coming weeks. This picture is the very first I took on arriving at our holiday cottage in Low Water End. It was taken early evening as the light started to fade from the jetty at the end of the garden and features Coniston Water – perhaps most famous as the site of Donald Campbell and Bluebird’s ill-fated attempt at the water speed record. It genuinely is the first image that I took and if the rest of them turn out as well as this then I will be pleased. Although the weather wasn’t great (it rained solidly for 3 of 7 days as it does in the Lakes)  I did get some great pictures of Coniston and Buttermere so watch this space…

In other news I am doing some portrait photography at the end of the week with a model who has worked for Versace (nothing saucy you understand but a photo shoot for an ethical range of hats). Whilst this is unpaid, it will be a really good opportunity for me to do some portraiture – something that I haven’t done much of thus far. There is also some more work in the offing for Didsbury Life so much to look forward to.

In the meantime I hope you like the image – see it as a teaser of more to come. It’s going to take me a while to process all these photos so please bear with me and hopefully it will be worth the wait.

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