Sunday, 25 December 2011

A Christmas swim!

After yesterday's schoolboy error of setting forth on a photographic excursion with mere moments of battery life available, I'm more prepared today. I have three fully charged batteries, tripod and the neutral density filters I need. My plan is to return to the beach, stake out a couple of good spots and try and ’smash’ (in LA’s vernacular!) the creamy waves and smudgy clouds. I'm all set up, the weather is not as fine as yesterday, it looks like there won't be a repeat of last night's sunset (or late afternoon, don't you just love winter?) but hopefully I can use the moodiness to my advantage .  I'm glued to the viewfinder, fully manual (yes, living on the edge!) and tweaking the aperture and shutter speeds oblivious to everything else waiting for that "decisive moment". Apparently too oblivious as I didn't spot the much feistier waves today building up a head of steam and trying to wipe out the pesky photographer in their wake. Hmmm, I was wearing hiking boots (occasionally I don sensible footwear) but I needed waders it seemed. The waves soaked me up to my knees and filled my boots with sludgy sand and bits of seaweed, I suspect hiking socks would have been useful here. I figured that when I'd been doused once, then twice, then a third time that I'd just stick it out until I had a moment I quite liked. Apparently photography is not supposed to be easy - Magnum’s Robert Capa said “If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough”, best not to mention what happened to him, but I'm fairly confident I'm not going to drown so I can suffer a little more for my art. Not sure my boots will ever be the same again by I captured something at least and this time I didn't run out of power!

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Don't forget your batteries!

On my photography wish list for this second trip to the Isle of Wight I'd hoped for some striking wintery seascapes and a picturesque sunset and/or sunrise. Hopefully utilising some of new skills procured in the Dorset coast I'd lugged my tripod, filters and all the camera accoutrements with me over to the island to see how much I'd retained (forgive me Helen for all I haven't). Suitably clad in sparkly hiking boots (well, it is Christmas) I locate a spot on the beach that has a nice view of one of the distinctive red coastal hazard markers and set up.  
I'm crossing my fingers I might get some attractive shots at sunset but the sky doesn't look promising.  I am well prepared, I've even braved a long queue of locals in Boots buying last minute Christmas present perfumes and indigestion preparations in anticipation to procure a shiny new SD card for my camera.  I fire off a couple of test shots then screw on the filters to slow the crashing waves down.  
A couple of clicks and the inevitable slow shutter drains the camera battery almost immediately. But no fear, of course I've bought a spare with me.  However when I spot that it's upside down in the battery holder I know this one is flat also. And my third? Well that's fully charged and back up the hill again in my hotel room.  And typically, as I throw in the towel, wipe my tripod of sand and pack everything away the clouds clear slightly. And as the clouds become wispier the gold, yellow ochre and tangerine streaks start to emerge and I am camera-less. Most definitely a schoolboy error! Perhaps if I rush back up the hill, shake the beach off my boots and grab the last remaining battery from my other bag in my hotel room, there might a chance I preserve the Christmas Eve sunset. Around me everyone is holding their camera phones aloft and each time I turn around the sky has bruised further, and the indigo was merging with  the orange streaks. 
There wasn't time to return to the beach but I did manage to get a few hand held shots squeezing in between the parked cars and peering over the balustrades. Tomorrow, I will try again but with plenty of batteries!

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Don't look down!

Tonight the Frui Social is on a boat, not a boat that sails up and down the Thames but one firmly anchored. I have packed some sensible shoes for exploring later but on arrival I'm wearing my new hot pink, bejewelled and befeathered and exceedingly skyscraper high shoes - no, I'm not sure why either! It was one of those good idea at the time situations. My first realisation of my epic fail in the shoe department was when I attempted to walk the extremely steep gang plank, so steep I had to be rescued. Fortunately once I'd arrived on relative terra firma, albeit a watery one, I could slip into something less fabulous!

This Social’s theme is surprisingly literal maybe due our not very well lit surroundings. We had to photograph water, wheel, street sign, statue, food, and as a curve ball, dog poo. I can only speculate what goes through Henry’s mind when concocting the night’s challenge. The pavements around here are wide and seemingly very dog free. Finally after spending a disproportionate part of our allotted hour scouring the immaculate pavements for the elusive substance and yes we managed it, and took quite an artistic shot considering but was pipped to the post by some soggy Mars Bar fakery.

However the real verses fake dog poo-gate aside I did score a ten out of ten for my statue picture. Result!

What wasn't such a result was changing back into my not-so-sensible shoes and then realising the tide had gone out and the angle of the boat's gang plank was considerably more perilous than my arrival. Doh!

Saturday, 3 September 2011

The big pink ten!

Our sunset shoot is going to be a cluster of infamously photogenic stones at Kimmeridge. Our plan was to get there way before the sun was thinking of removing its hat and book the best tripod vantage points as space is limited. This turned out to be a wise decision as sunset approached other photographers arrived and loitered at the edge of the water hoping we’d just leave. But we didn't. We were on a mission.

The plan was to experiment with the magical ten stop filters in conjunction with neutral density grads (as the sky is invariably at least two stops lighter than the mid point (the sea or a handy rock). To make their mystical powers you need to pile in the filters and sloooow down the shutter speed, the challenge I have is 69 seconds is the maximum shutter speed my camera can muster and the desire to get the “milky water” can tend to make my photographs a little dark.

I managed to get the beloved by the landscape photography images in magazines - the smooth creamy sea And I discovered that my filters have a tendency to colour cast, luckily I like pink!


On the inside

After a full English breakfast we tried to sleep for a few hours. Helen had heard of a possible new location for us exercising those ten stop filters tomorrow so was way too excited to even try to sleep and went off for a rece. After managing to grab a few hours and recharging our batteries both ours and the camera’s we headed off for the Ghost village of Tyneham. When the sun is too high for our milky water shots Helen reverts to what she calls “inside landscapes”. Here we still slow things down by using our tripods but look for those little details for context. We have an old church, with a dilapidated organ and old school room with coat hooks and ink wells and the grounds to explore.

After finishing with some composition exercises after which my camera got the nickname “little red” we head off to chill and compare photos.


A sunrise, a ship and seaweed

My diary is seemingly stuffed with opportunities to weld my camera and it has made me yearn to learn some new techniques. I'm in Paris in a couple of weeks, followed by Croatia and then New York. And last week I was enjoying our little bank holiday photography trip to Cambridge, though to be fair the photography got pretty much superseded by drinking. I'd been toying with a coastal workshop and Helen Rushton’s See Life Through the Lens seemed the perfect choice. I’d seen a “reader improve my skills” piece in the June edition of Digital Photographer and I was definitely impressed with the images from the reader. Perhaps I could get a bit of that!

We chatted on the phone about how much I love hiking (not) and how I could get to Swanage when British Rail seem to stop their service, have a train-less gap and then a steam train kicks in to take you to the coast. Really? I love a steam train but as a vehicle for getting myself and my luggage from A to B it seemed far from efficient. Helen kindly suggested picking me up half way and a plan was formed. The plan is two dawn and two dusk shoots, which of course me an incredibly early start - yay!

On arrival last night I met the other two photographers (one had come from Australia, but not JUST for the workshop) and we settled down to pub dinner and some instruction in the fine art of neutral density filters and the lure of the ten stop. I'd furnished myself with this mythical filter (Lee don't do ones to fit my camera so I had gone for a Heliopan circular one, but I had no idea how to put it to use.

Just in case you're wondering where 'that' came from, to give Helen a shock I slipped in a graduated orange filter, just to er 'enhance' the sunrise a little. 

We assembled pre-dawn, really it’s still very much night but we want to have our tripods ready and waiting before the first glimmer of a sunlight tendril colours the sky. Helen had chosen a nice easy location for us, a nice flat beach with no slippery rocks to inevitably fall off. Sadly I was too sleep deprived to recall the location but I could always ask the ship that was there IN EVERY SINGLE PHOTOGRAPH!

Mother nature had been doing a little decorating so the foreground was strewn with ugly seaweed (and yes, there is pretty seaweed but this wasn't it) so some of my perfect compositions were besmirched that dark sludge. Helen explained that she's not adverse to a little gardening, relocating an errant branch or piece of litter but clearing a whole beach is really out of the question. As is slaving over a hot Photoshop is definitely not what this workshop is about, the clue is in the name “see life through the lens” see?

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Red sky at night

Don't you just wish that when there's a beautiful sunset you have a more attractive foreground than the roof of the station as you step onto the crowded platform? But I just knew if I risked waiting for the a more picturesque location that I'd be thwarted as the last vestiges of the purpley magenta streaks would disappear tantalisingly out of view.

I tried desperately to snatch a shot through the murky window of a moving bus whilst crossing the bridge (definitely not my best work). This vantage may have been perfect if I was on foot as my miniature tripod is attached to my camera and the bridge balustrade would act as a suitable support for a long exposure but minutes later as I alighted the bus the moment had passed. Night had fallen. Barely a wispy pink trail remained.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, 19 August 2011

Everyone likes a sunset don't they?

Frui have decided to stir up a little healthy competition on World Photography Day by suggesting we post a favourite photograph on their Facebook page and then try and procure the most ‘likes’. But oh what to pick? I nearly plumped for a much loved artfully shot, Donna Hay-esque bunch of asparagus but wasn’t sure it had the requisite crowd pleasing qualities. Instead I reached for a stunning sunset that I captured ‘sans tripod’ on a railway embankment in Loudun in the Loire Valley after a heavy day shooting (images I hasten to add) in Doué Zoo in October last year. That’s a trip I desperately need to blog about – I have hundreds of photos to select from and so much to write about.
I managed to do quite well with my ‘likes’ for my lone telegraph pole and endless sky but the worthy winner was a beautiful bit of observed reportage of a girl dragging her Barbie on a metal chain – maybe you have got see it to get it! If I can link to the required Facebook page I will.

Happy World Photography Day one and all!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

It was a dark and stormy night!

It was a rain sodden night on the London South Bank and the intrepid yet damp Frui Photography Social snappers set forth to capture some of the local iconic architecture – but in a quirky way of course. I reacquainted myself with the fact that my camera and I completely concur regarding an utter distaste for big, fat raindrops lashing down upon us. I spent most of the hour’s photography time trying to remove enormous droplets that entirely drowned my tiny lens with a borrowed cloth and attempting to protect my new silk ‘dusk-coloured’ clearly rain-averse dress from getting soaked – and failing! Yes, I know – the benefit of hindsight! Really photography plus an umbrella are a terrible combination. One of my targets was the National Theatre which does boast a lot of blandness but utilising some welcome cover managed to find a nice little play on shadows. Something must have gone right as I was awarded my first rare and highly covetable Photography Social 10 out of 10 – whooo! Worth the drenching I guess!
I was reasonably pleased with some of my photos of the rushing couples hunched under their umbrellas shot from the relative shelter of Hungerford Bridge – but as the main theme was Hungerford Bridge the emphasis should have been more on ‘bridge’ and less on ‘puddles’. I’m going through a reflective stage so the puddles are very alluring. But as a Photography Social is all about ‘the team’ selection for each category you may be persuaded that a random shot through the grimy Perspex of the lift going up to the bridge, heavily gouged with graffiti would add a bizarre touch of ‘street’ to our presentation. It didn’t fare well!
And I also concluded that I am most definitely a fair-weathered photographer, hopefully at next month's social the elements will be kinder.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Jack the Snapper

The new owner of my D-Lux 4, Ben, recommended a London photography workshops company called Point 101 but when we googled them they had morphed into Frui, which despite sounding awfully like a yoghurt promised more excitement than a fruity dessert. I was immediately enraptured by their website, as well as one day workshops like Ben had taken in Hampstead or street photography there are mystery photography days out where you're taken to a secret location within two hours of London (blindfold optional) and set photographic challenges with the other attendees. There are longer creative holidays in various countries including Italy, Croatia, India, Germany, Morocco and Ireland, one which I've promptly signed up for already and another most likely the month after and they'll even come into your office and run your own workshop - for free! But before I booked a holiday I thought I'd check out a Photography Social or two which the gist of is you congregate with fellow eager snappers in a selected hostelry (Frui events generally involve photography instruction well lubricated with the alcohol (or non- if you prefer) of your choice) where you're placed in teams of five and given a mission and an hour to produce a series of photographs to meet the evening's selected criteria.
My inaugural social had a royal theme and it didn't have an auspicious start. I sat at my round table waiting for my fellow team mates. The first two women sat down awkwardly, introduced themselves briefly and then claiming illness left. And then there was one! Luckily a few more joined and we split into two groups and set forth to interpret such phrases as 'royal wave', 'royal mail', 'royal variety', 'royal blue' and 'royal jelly'.
On returning we pick the best image illustrating each phrase (ensuring all photographers in the team are represented) and then have them scored. The winners receive a nice little prize and the bragging rights especially if you get one of the coveted ten out of tens of the night.

We presented our portfolio on two iPads and though we did reasonably well I think we were marked down on content over style. We concentrated too much on literal interpretation and less on perfect composition which is a big no-no. I think Stephen and my stab at 'royal variety' had a bit of a quirky edge and had the added benefit of us not being accused of shoplifting, despite the supermarket security thinking we were acting suspiciously, but really we could probably do better.
For the subsequent Photography Social we congregated in Brick Lane, Whitechapel and our assignment turned out to be to tell a little Jack the Ripper-esque tale in eight photos using our team as models.

Over a drink we storyboard a few ideas, we aim to show a trio of disorientated tourists being picked off by the hooded assailant one by one who finally tucks into the unfortunate victims. Not a gruesome tale at all!

I have bought some sensible (for me) footwear for our expedition but the consensus is that my less practical killer heels (killer - get it?) will add a little local colour to the first death scene.

We're all rather taken by the vibrant street art of the area so decide to try and incorporate some in our images. Though we weren't able to accommodate Oscar the Grouch in our story.

We had planned that the final images should be shot in a kebab shop preferably involving the light catching a glinting knife hovering close to our victim with the inverted trapezoid of the doner kebab behind the action.

The cunning plan was thwarted by the fact in our diminishing time we couldn't find an attractive doner, they all looked heavily consumed and even though we thought the meat was cut by a knife it's actually a shaver and not aesthetic enough for our needs.

We opt to return the leitmotif of the discarded red stiletto from the first murder, which was tricky to stage without incurring the wrath of the kebab shop owners by placing a shoe on a clean surface so we chose the less controversial stairs.
Before we set forth snapping we tried to come up with a suitable team name (something that potentially earns a vital five points) and first thought of 'Jack the Snapper'. On returning it was decided that we should instead tease the viewer with the caption of the final frame and go for 'tastes like chicken!'. Maybe this was an unwise decision as the team name out of context with images is beyond perplexing. The irony is that the winning team name was Jack the Snapper and our photographs only scored three points less than their winning score. Ah the benefit of hindsight! Perhaps we should have called ourselves 'the one that got away' instead.

As a final point I feel I should qualify the lack of quality of some of my team-mates' photographs on this post. This is a byproduct of uploading raw files onto my iPad for perusing and then manipulating them in BlogPress for your delectation. It seems some really didn't enjoy the experience!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, 17 April 2011

I like-a my new Leica!

Honestly I resisted for months.  The beautiful D-Lux 5 was launched at Photokina last October and even though I was perfectly happy with my little Leica, news of the enhancements kept me poring over an unnatural number of enthusiastic reviews, JPEG comparisons and feature overviews until I caved in.  The final straw one when G came over from New York and extolled the virtues of an upgrade so eloquently and I suffered from massive camera envy. The decision was made - it just had to be mine!  My only fear, after extensive research, is that I wouldn’t be able to use any of my 46mm filters that I’d acquired for my beloved D-Lux 4 and would have to start amassing my collection all over again.  I suspected my Leica daylight UV filter, which gives the camera its eerie night vision goggles glow, would be almost impossible to scale up to 52mm, as I couldn’t find evidence of one even existing.  And the irony is that the difference in lens diameters between the two cameras is so miniscule and whereas the Lensmate extension tube was a straight 46mm, the new Panasonic one (Lensmate have sadly stopped servicing Leica D-Lux customers) I had to get for the D-Lux 5 is inexplicably wider at the filter end so my only choice was a 52mm-46mm step down ring.  Hence the front view isn’t quite as sleek as my old camera but at least I was able to recycle my filters. However saying that I had to experiment; I needed the thinnest step down ring I could muster as the first one I found impaired the images with a little vignetting when deploying some of the deepest rotating ring filters especially on close-ups.
Unusually for me I was persuaded to find a new home for my D-Lux 4, it seemed extra indulgent to keep both and really I want someone else to get the joy out of it as I have done so I packaged it up into its little silver box and bade it a fond farewell.
But I cannot possibly be sad; I have a new toy to enjoy.  And enjoying it I am, it’s only a few weeks so early days yet but I am totally loving the square (1:1) images, the firmer controls that stop the dial wandering to another setting without you realising, the extra oomph to the zoom, a more achievable bokeh effect and its love of the dark without necessarily having to crank up the ISO.  But I am sure I will have more delights to discover as I explore it further.
I was told I wouldn’t be able to protect it in my D-Lux 4’s black leather case but as I’d always kept a tiny spirit level in my hot shoe I had already pre-stretched my case slightly and it’s perfectly happy with the extra protuberant hot shoe of the D-Lux 5.  I can’t keep a spirit level there now but the new camera comes with its own hot shoe protector so that’s more than fine.
Every photographer I know has embraced Nikon, Canon and occasionally Pentax but I don’t regret taking my more svelte, Leica D-Lux route.  I am fairly sure I wouldn’t fare too well on a safari unless the wild animals were very obliging, and landscape photographers will still mock me.  But my, some say, quirky instrument of choice means I always have my camera about my person (and I don’t mean my camera phone) and all my accoutrements fits into the teeniest of Billingham bags when I come over all photographical, no nylon Velcro fastened turtle home rucksacks for me!     
Now off for more red dot snapping!