Return to the Tatry

Something about mountains is addictive, even speaking as a hiker (and occasional scrambler!): There is no better place I like to walk, and so it was great to return to Poland and the Tatry again, after a two year break (see here for the previous visit). The photography almost takes a back-seat to long days spent walking for many hours, but occasional opportunities present themselves for some creative photo-work also.

With my second visit, it is the same as a close friend describes meeting people: The first time, we are a little reserved, maybe, holding back until we see how we will get along; by the second time, we are more comfortable (always assuming that the first meeting went well!), and relax into enjoying the time together. So it was with the Tatry.

Starting in Krakow, it is an easy bus-ride to Zakopane, after prising myself away from the lovely, soft light there on that first morning in my favourite country.

Short time here with lovely light

Short time here with lovely light

Lovely architecture and colours

Lovely architecture and colours

Krakow framed

Krakow frame

Not wanting to waste any time, there is a short walk after my arrival. The hiking proper begins early the next day. Thanks to having experienced guides, including Zosia, I’m able to go off the main tracks, and attempt routes I may not have had the confidence for on my own. So, the first major route is to the High Tatry from the Slovakian side.

A place of remembrance for climbers who gave their lives for their passion

A place of remembrance for climbers who gave their lives for their passion

Autumn coming in

Autumn coming in

Heading up from Slovakia to Rysy

Heading up from Slovakia to Rysy

An ode to the mountains

An ode to the mountains

Kingdom of Heaven mountain hut

Kingdom of Heaven mountain hut

I’ve trained for this trip, so the long uphill climb and short scramble is not too bad, However, the mountain hut is a welcome site after the ascent. A walk up to the ridge behind for amazing evening light and some more creative photography follows, after large mugs of cake and tea (a staple of the huts, made with a mixture of fresh herbs).

Sunset on the ridge #1

Sunset on the ridge #1

Sunset on the ridge #2

Sunset on the ridge #2

Sunset on the ridge #3

Sunset on the ridge #3

Sunset on the ridge #4

Sunset on the ridge #4

I’m fast asleep by 8:30 pm, after that hike and contemplating the beauty of where I am. I’m also amazed that everything required up here (food, drink, gas, wood-pellets for heating, etc) is brought up on the back of someone, and heavy old-style wooden racks seem to be what is used: There are some of these packed up at the base of the mountain, with a note asking for any volunteers to carry them up to the hut for a free tea! Maybe next trip, if I get a little more fit. Anyhow, the early start makes getting up pre-dawn a little easier, especially after a nice man gets up to make coffee, and lovely morning light is the reward, along with a view from what must be one of the most scenic toilets in the world!

Early morning in the Kingdom

Early morning in the Kingdom

We are soon up the ridge and ascending Rysy, highest peak in the Polish Tatry at a shade under 2500 metres, with superb views, but soon others are arriving for those same views, and it is time to hike back down to the car.

View from Rysy summit. Worth every moment of the hike and scramble up

View from Rysy summit. Worth every moment of the hike and scramble up

Leaving the Kingdom

Leaving the Kingdom

Heading back down

Heading back down

Fortunately, during this week, there is only one rather rainy day, but we manage a short hike to a cave in the morning (camera gear safely tucked in the pack, where it stays!), before a drive over to Slovakia, to visit the same village I went to two years ago on a similarly damp day! I even create similar shots of the traditional houses there: Strolling around for more than a few minutes at a time is not that tempting, but it’s a lovely place to see again.

Slovakia in the rain

Slovakia in the rain

Traditional Slovakian village #1

Traditional Slovakian village #1

Traditional Slovakian village #2

Traditional Slovakian village #2

Traditional Slovakian village #3

Traditional Slovakian village #3

Traditional Slovakian village #4

Traditional Slovakian village #4

Traditional Slovakian village #5

Traditional Slovakian village #5

After that relatively easy day (and the preceding harder ones!), the muscles are fully toned and have ceased to ache, no matter what I do to them! So, I’m glad to be off on a classic loop around Morskie Oko and Five Lakes, which manages to not look like Wales all of the time, once the cloud lifts some!

Morskie Oko

Morskie Oko

One of the Five Lakes

One of the Five Lakes

I’m very pleased this trip to have conquered some vertigo I have: It’s not that bad, but got me a little nervous on the previous trip, whereas this time, I’m attacking scrambles like this one with some enthusiasm, and staying calm as I scramble up the slop, with chains to help on the steep sections.

A steep climb/scramble ahead. Think I'll have lunch one I've managed it!

A steep climb/scramble ahead. Think I’ll have lunch one I’ve managed it!

Worth the climb

Worth the climb

After the climb, and a sit on the ridge with superb views, and a little light snow-shower, a long, steady descent provides some superb light and a chance to play around again with some moody b&w photos that seems ideally suited to the conditions. The Fujifilm X-E2 is amazing in low light, and I’m very happy with both the results and the hike as the dusk deepens, creating increasingly more impressionistic images.

Descent to Morskie Oko #1

Descent to Morskie Oko #1

Descent to Morskie Oko #2

Descent to Morskie Oko #2

Descent to Morskie Oko #3

Descent to Morskie Oko #3

Descent to Morskie Oko #4

Descent to Morskie Oko #4

Descent to Morskie Oko #5

Descent to Morskie Oko #5

Zakopianin. ah my drug of choice!

Zakopianin. ah my drug of choice!

Descent to Morskie Oko #6

Descent to Morskie Oko #6

Descent to Morskie Oko #7

Descent to Morskie Oko #7

All too soon, the days of hiking are at and end, and it’s time to leave Zakopane for Krakow, with one night there before flying home (and the chance to catch up with a friend there), but am treated to a some snow on my final morning, one last treat on top of so many during this perfect week.

From t-shirt weather a week ago to snow. Last morning in Poland. For now.

From t-shirt weather a week ago to snow. Last morning in Poland. For now.

From t-shirt to four layers in the space of one week, and also feeling fitter than I maybe have ever done! Thanks to everyone who looked after me there, and made me feel so welcome in what must be my favourite country. Now, when can I get back there again? …

For the full photo-set, please visit my pbase gallery here:

http://www.pbase.com/pawsforthought/tatry_2015

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Posted in musings, photos

Barcelona – soft spring light in a beautiful city

A chance to catch up with a good friend in a city famous for some amazing architecture for a few days. What could be better? So, with delightfully lightweight Fujifilm X-E2 and a couple of lenses in tow, we mooched around, enjoying some bright, sunny weather, if a little cool at times: Probably my ideal weather, and coupled with soft, spring light too, the strolling, sitting, eating and photography was a pleasure …

Buddha and the Bike

Buddha and the Bike

This city seems to work on every level and scale

This city seems to work on every level and scale

This could well be my favourite city: Vibrant, friendly, combining new and old extremely successfully, a great mix of people, and the impression that, somehow, everything has been considered and designed, from the largest of buildings to the tiniest detail.

Miro building, which I enjoyed more than the exhibits!

Miro building, which I enjoyed more than the exhibits!

Every detail, something interesting to me

Every detail, something interesting to me

Yes, the details: As usual, I get distracted by the unusual and offbeat; but the light has such a magical quality that it makes the task of photographing anything a delight, from smaller scenes around and within the buildings and parks, to the famous Gaudi buildings themselves.

A lovely place of shade and trees inside

A lovely place of shade and trees inside

Gaudi's La Pedrera by night. Stunning

Gaudi’s La Pedrera by night. Stunning

Something about seeing a place afresh always helps me to be creative, but the light is also a gift, especially with what seems to have been a winter in the UK with more dreary, flat days than normal. Or maybe I’ve simply been longing for the sun. So, share the springtime with me there …

Time to sit and relax

Time to sit and relax

Spring oranges

Spring oranges

On a technical note, it’s just as well that I really love this new Fujifilm camera, because removing sensor dust-spots in Photoshop is something that could easily become a real pain. But switching the camera off and on frequently to clean the sensor seems to help. Oh, and an old and just-acquired Zeiss Ikon Nettar came along as well, but the results from this will naturally take a little longer. So stay tuned.

The iconic roof of warriors, but oh for that safety-fence removing!

The iconic roof of warriors, but oh for that safety-fence removing!

See the full photo-set here: http://www.pbase.com/pawsforthought/barcelona_2015

Posted in musings, photos

A better image-viewer, Fast Picture Viewer …

As you may have read in this post, I’ve been using the Nexus Image viewer for my photo-work. However, it started kicking out an error-message, having worked just fine previously. As it is a single .exe file, there is nothing to reinstall, and the site now seems to have disappeared; it has not been updated in some years, to be fair, so maybe I was not the only one reporting it crashing. So, I found myself looking around for a  new image-viewer. My requirements are fairly basic:

  • fast and lightweight – but I’ll take fast over lightweight if it’s a trade-off, as I have a powerful PC;
  • does not try to catalogue all my images, I simply want to browse them;
  • quick access to Photoshop, or any other image editors I wish to set up;
  • maximises the screen available for viewing the image itself – this and the previous point means that keyboard shortcuts are preferable for me, resulting in faster workflow and a less cluttered screen, if a little more to remember;
  • dark background to reduce eye-strain when editing – I can be doing this for quite a while and originally used Windows Photo Viewer, which has white borders, adding to the eye-strain.
thumbnail previews are great, but not permanently visible (yet)

thumbnail previews are great, but not permanently visible (yet)

Another feature that is not immediately apparent until you start using any particular viewer, but speeds up the editing process considerably, is that of how the image is refreshed by the image-viewer after you have edited it:

  • Windows Photo Viewer does refresh the image, provided that you are still viewing the same image as you are editing, ie, if you browse past it, edit and save the image, and then come back to it, you will still be seeing the unedited image until you exit the viewer and restart it;
  • Nexus Image will refresh the image whether it is being currently browsed or not, but if you create a second version, such as a cropped one, in addition to the original, this will not be browsed unless you exit the viewer and restart it;
  • Fast Picture Viewer refreshes the image always (plus the normal F5 refresh-button can be used, but I’ve never had to), and any other image versions you add to the folder are also available for browsing, all without having to exit the viewer at all: This is a great saving in time for me, as I can round-trip between Photoshop and Fast Picture Viewer without having to leave either (OK, it is only a matter of pressing the Escape key to leave it, then double-clicking an image to open it again, but I may be working on hundreds of images in one day, and the time adds up, as does the RSI!).

The hardest part was finding something that met these requirements, and so I ended up working my way down a list of image viewers on Wikipedia, in order to get what I needed: I managed to eliminate most by simply visiting the site and looking at screen-grabs, supplemented with Google Image Search, where needed. I ended up at the Fast Picture Viewer site, and was very happy to see that it met all my requirements, and was available as a 64-bit version too: Having given the trial version a very quick go, I decided that it was worth the $50 for the full version, and had no problems upgrading it with the supplied licence-key.

I spent some time going through the available options, tweaking it how I wanted it to be: Many options are available, and I have maximised the image on the screen, set up Photoshop on CTRL-F1, stayed with the default dark background (but you can choose pretty much any colour), disabled a few things that I don’t use, so I won’t, for example, accidentally rate the image with a wrong key-press, and generally ‘settling in’ with it.

lots of options available

lots of options available

It does even more than I bargained for: I particularly like that I can use the ENTER key or single-mouse-click anywhere on the image to see it at 300%, to check sharpness (you can alter this value); the on-screen histogram (and any other chosen info) can be toggled on-off at the press of a key, and can actually save me opening the image in Photoshop; it is fast – oh yes! – at cycling through my images; and I can even see a monochrome preview at the press of a button: I am still learning all the functions, but it does all that I need, and more, very efficiently.

right-clicking the bottom bar brings up some more options

right-clicking the bottom bar brings up some more options

As I said, it is very much keyboard-based, and that helps to present a simple, uncluttered screen for the image, but it does take a little more learning where things are. The company is obviously well aware of this, with plenty of available online help, plus a cheat-sheet added to your desktop, which I have printed for easy-reference.

I keep this close at hand for reference

I keep this close at hand for reference

More information and downloads from the site here. Yes, it is $50 for a single-user licence, but having lived with it for a while (and a few thousand images), it is worth all of that: Well-documented help, on-going updates to the software (I’m looking forward to version 2.0, where I can choose to have the thumbnail previews permanently on the screen at the press of the TAB key), and definitely faster than any other viewer I have tried.

Posted in equipment, techniques

Fujifilm X-E2 – life on the road

This Fujifilm X-E2 is the camera that I never thought I would find myself owning and using – a compact mirrorless system camera, and non-Canon to boot! This is not intended to be a technical review, as the web is full of these (and very positive they are too!), but rather some early impressions and considerations of owning and using the camera itself.

A brace of X-E2s, mine in black

A brace of X-E2s, mine in black

To explain, I’ve never liked using point-and-shoot compact cameras, as apart from usually having no control over settings when I want it, they mostly rely these days on a rear LCD screen for composing the image. Now, I find this difficult on two counts: Firstly, I dislike having to hold the camera away from me, as I find it too distracting when composing the image. Nope, give me a proper viewfinder, which isolates me enough to allow me to concentrate on what I am doing. OK, I could take this even further and get a really old camera with a cloth to go over my head, but this seems too extreme even for me. Secondly, my eyes are not great for close-up work, which makes the screen harder to see, resulting in me holding the camera even further away, increasing the risk of both camera-shake and looking like an old git! And no, I’m not prepared to take reading glasses along to take photos.

… for this reason, I had ruled out anything but my trusty Canon DSLR, but then I discovered that the better mirrorless cameras have a digital viewfinder. And guess what … it works in such a way that my eyes are focusing on a distant image, which is very comfortable for them. Now, as many reviews admit, even the good examples of this, ie, lots of pixels and with a fast refresh rate, are not perfect when compared to an optical finder. Particularly, I would struggle using such a camera for action, wildlife and possibly concert photos too, but I was aware of this going in. And there are definite advantages, particularly the ability to see much more information displayed (and the ability to easily turn as much of it off as I wish to!). So, rather than just have basic image info around the edge, I can now have the screen divided up into a grid, or include a spirit-level (this is particularly useful for shots including the horizon, as I’m sure one of my legs must be shorter than the other, so often do I have to correct for a slight slope on Photoshop!). On the X-E2, this is fully customisable, and easily changeable with a button on the back. Oh, and I can also work through the menus and settings with the camera to my eye (not as easy for a left-eye user as for others, but still …)  And as for sunsets, well, I’m not looking at this burning bright-spot which leaves me dazzled for a couple minutes, as the brightness is reduced to a very comfortable level. Oh, and I can see in b&w when I have the camera set to shoot in this way. Or see my precise depth-of-field without the image becoming dimmer as it the lens is stopped-down more …

… so, suddenly, the small limitations of the digital viewfinder don’t seem so much, given what I’m gaining. And one thing I am losing is weight … my Canon EOS 7D with permanently-attached battery-grip and Canon 24-105 mm is not a light beast, and then you start to add in other lenses, and feel the weight of the backpack just grow and grow. However, with the Fujifilm X-E2 and the Fujinon XF18-55mmF2.8-4  (a kit-lens, but one of superb quality, not the usual made-to-a-price piece of junk), plus Fujinon XF10-24mmF4 (I do love a good wide-angle for some landscapes), I have a very good set-up. And in a small pack with waist-belt, I can wear it for hiking and actually forget that it is there until I need it (or sometimes until I hop over a gate and feel it catch behind me!). OK, this lacks the wildlife-capturing ability of my Canon 100-400 IS (adaptors are available if you want to try other types of lens-fitting on the X-E2), but I would probably go with the Canon kit for this anyway. And I don’t rule-out getting a longer Fujinon lens at some stage: The quality is frankly amazing, up to Canon in quality, in my subjective view.

OK, I bought a few other bits and pieces, with some cheap extension-tubes for occasional use, a heavy 10-stop neutral-density filter for some long-exposures, two spare batteries making three in all (they are not huge, so I like to have plenty of spare shots with me), a couple of memory-cards, UV filters to protect the front of the lenses, a travel-charger to augment the standard one, as it includes adapters for worldwide charging, and for a car CLS. Plus, I spent some time selecting the right sized bag, which would take a waist-belt as I hate having things hanging from my shoulders when I’m taking photos. And most importantly, a nice, big, red shutter-button and black thumb-grip (both from ebay as the Fujifilm versions are, in my view, way over-priced). Yes, now I was fully-equipped to take photos!

Custom shutter-button and thumb-grip

Custom shutter-button and thumb-grip

… well, not quite. I’ve used Canon gear since I was 18, and the X-E2 has things laid out very differently, plus some options I’ve not encountered before. So, I spent time just playing around with the camera, not even always taking photos but learning where things were that I needed, and setting up a few useful options: For example, I like to have the rear screen generally just show the settings, rather than the image-preview, apart from a short review of the image after I take it. And there are also customisable buttons, so I have one set to take me through various custom-shooting modes I’ve created: This is where I have two high-contrast b&w settings, which I can get to in a couple of presses. The camera includes yellow and red filter settings, and adding some extra contrast as well means I can produce just the kind of monochrome image I like straight from the camera:

Lovely contrasty b&w straight from the camera: Rainforest in Costa Rica

Lovely contrasty b&w straight from the camera: Rainforest in Costa Rica

… this really needs to be seen larger, but I hope it gives some idea of what this device can do. A few short outings also got me from that ‘where did they put the setting to …’ feeling to having confidence and being able to concentrate more fully on being creative, with the functions starting to become more automatic for me to find them. This was just in time for a three-week vacation in Costa Rica, where it was lovely to have much less camera-gear to lug around, and made it easier also to be more anonymous when I was taking photos (one friend had already commented that it looks very 1970s with the dials, and wondered why it had a wifi-button on it!). Yes, wifi. On a camera. Very useful for travelling, as I can upload a few images to my smart-phone using the Fuji app and post them as I go.

Great macro

Great macro

I have become more impressed as I have used it more, and I can only echo what I have read in several other reviews of this device: It is not only superb quality, well designed and thought-out in execution, but fun. Yes, fun, such great fun to use, making you want to do more, see what you can achieve, get creative, wonder ‘what if I try …’. And there are still things I’ve not played with fully: The film-emulation modes, and some of the other effects, whilst possibly gimmicky at times, may well find a place in some situations. And as I’ve already said, getting high-contrast b&w straight off the camera is amazing, aided by the red-filter Fuji have included. I love this camera!

Any downsides? Well, as I already said, there are some small limitations of the digital viewfinder, but these were known to me prior to purchase, and there are compensations in the extra information available. It is also quite easy for the exposure-compensation dial to get turned accidentally, but the thumb-grip makes this much less frequent. Of course, price could be considered a downside; this is not a cheap camera, but then I would not want to compromise on quality, and given the amazing kit-lens, and Fujinon lenses in general, I would say that the price is justified: This camera seems to have been well-designed and thought-through, from the position of the buttons, to the film-simulation modes, to the quality of materials.

I do have one strong issue: Weather-proofing. No, I don’t mean that I want to take it out in the pouring rain, although I can – and do when required – do this with my Canon gear. No, what I mean is that I can shoot without even changing the lens and then see that I have several sensor dust-spots on some images when I review them. This can be corrected on Photoshop, but I really shouldn’t have to at this level of gear, in my view. So, I’ve altered the default setting so that the camera sensor now cleans on power-up as well as when switching it off: I am in the habit of turning off any cameras as I change lenses, so that the sensor will be cleaned, but I guess I’ll also have to try and remember to power-cycle the X-E2 in-between times as well, in order to limit this problem.

Perfect ... once the sensor dust-spots were removed

Perfect … once the sensor dust-spots were removed

In my early playing, I also managed to alter the manual-focus so I was getting some lock-icon in the viewfinder, which is not mentioned anywhere in the manual (at least it got me to read the manual, and find out some other useful things in the process!). It also came back after removing the battery, but some more button-pressing eventually removed it. I’ll attribute this one to being part of the learning-curve! And yes, I love that I can have full manual-focus if I want it, for better control.

Another plus-point is the amazing low-light capability. Subjectively, it seems better (or at least differently-processed) than my EOS 7D, even with minimal illumination. Still digital-grain and artefacts, of course, but when it’s that or no shot, I’ll take it! And I can use to within a couple of stops of the maximum ISO without noticing too much degradation. Wow.

Amazing in low-light situations, even on maximum ISO: Turtle returning to the sea, Costa Rica

Amazing in low-light situations, even on maximum ISO: Turtle returning to the sea, Costa Rica

All in all, this is a rather amazing camera, and I do love the saving in weight, superb image quality, logical design, and rather useful functions included. The sensor-dust is annoying, but I can live with it and remove it. Yes, the price is not insubstantial, but at the time of purchase, a Fuji cash-back offer took the edge off this, and I would rather not buy cheaper gear and then be permanently disappointed with the image-quality. Yes, I’m a mirrorless-convert, and enjoying a change from the Canon-brand for a while. Not that I have any plans to ditch the DSLR any time soon. Yes, it has put the fun back. Or more accurately, added even more, as I always enjoy my photo-work.

Oh and as to the two cameras in the photo at the start of this, my friend also decided to buy one, going for what I call the ‘dad’s camera’ look in silver with a brown leather case. Plus custom shutter-button and thumb-grip, naturally! Yes, it’s nice to share the fun … and thanks to her also for managing to get the photo of me actually smiling; I’m not a great fan of having my photo taken, that’s why I’m usually behind the camera.

One final word: If you have expensive photo-gear, head over to Lenstag to register it. It won’t guarantee that you get it back if it is stolen, but at least it gives you a chance, and will even report images it finds taken with your gear from the rest of the internet.

Posted in equipment, musings | 1 Comment

A busy summer around here

Well, summer 2014 was a very busy time for my Red Lenses photography business, which is just how I like it. So, the website has seen extensive updates to include the best examples of all this work: The Green Events, Sites & Project page has many of the following images included, and I have also taken the opportunity to update the People Page as well, with some of my favourite portraits, both posed and natural, from the summer.

I have also been doing a lot of industrial photography, mainly for myself, and so this gallery has also been extended. Finally, a lot of my work, both commercial and for my own pleasure, has yielded some more artistic results, which are included in the Fine Art gallery of my site. Please have a look, and I think that there should be something there for everyone.

And please, please, pass the Red Lenses link – www.redlenses.co.uk –  around to colleagues and anyone else who you think may be interested in my work. Obviously I am taking this opportunity to publicise what I have been doing of late with a view to finding more work and clients, but you may simply know people who would enjoy my images too. Thanks in advance, and please get in touch if I can help you with anything.


 So, read on if you would like a more in-depth update of my summer work. A lot of images are included, so you can simply scroll down and enjoy these if you are pressed for time.

Working for Pictorial Meadows, a supplier of wildflower meadow-mixes, based in Sheffield, I  spent a lot of time both around their site, and visiting various parts of the country, to illustrate the benefit and beauty of these wonderful splashes of colour in a variety of environments.

Beautiful wildflower meadows created

Beautiful wildflower meadows created

More meadows enhancing local areas

More meadows enhancing local areas

Thankfully, we had a lot of sun, hard though it is to remember sitting here on a grey, damp day, and the vibrant colours have made such a diverse range of places look so good.

Derelict housing site looking lovely

Derelict housing site looking lovely

From derelict housing sites to city-centres, the colours have been astonishing, and the people who I chatted with whilst working have been so happy to see the splashes of colours.

Enhancing city centres with wildflower meadows

Enhancing city centres with wildflower meadows

Good architecture enhanced with appropriate planting

Good architecture enhanced with appropriate planting

Even road verges and medians have benefited from this planting, and I’ve been zipping all over the place to get the best shots of them in flower.

Roadside wildflower-mix in evening light

Roadside wildflower-mix in evening light

Road verges and medians looking great with wildflowers

Road verges and medians looking great with wildflowers

Road-verges resplendent with wildflower-mixes

Road-verges resplendent with wildflower-mixes

So many localities and types of setting seem to benefit, and I’ve had to keep reminding myself that this is work!

Wildflower meadows look great in a variety of settings

Wildflower meadows look great in a variety of settings

Planted wildflowers improving the urban environment

Planted wildflowers improving the urban environment

Poppy meadow enhancing cemetery

Poppy meadow enhancing cemetery

Public park wildflower planting being appreciated

Public park wildflower planting being appreciated

Of course, to get such an outstanding result requires some work, and required maintenance has keep people occupied.

Wildflower meadow maintenance

Wildflower meadow maintenance

Back at base, different seed mixes have been experimented with, meaning that there are always wonderful colour combinations around the site.

Corn-flowers vivid in flower

Corn-flowers vivid in flower

Trial meadow-mixes looking beautiful

Trial meadow-mixes looking beautiful

Another wildflower meadow mix

Another wildflower meadow mix

And collecting the seed has also been time-consuming.

Hard at work maintaining trial plots for wildflower mixes

Hard at work maintaining trial plots for wildflower mixes

Sun makes everything better

Sun makes everything better

But the benefits for both people and pollinators are very tangible, and visitors human and insect alike have been enjoying the warm summer days.

Keeper of bees

Keeper of bees

Bees making the most of the wildflower meadows

Bees making the most of the wildflower meadows

Enjoying the peace above Sheffield

Enjoying the peace above Sheffield

Other visitors have come to learn about the work here, based on Green Estate, Sheffield. The importance of bees and other pollinators, or the benefits of good landscape design have seen students from near and far around the site.

Learning all about bees from an expert

Learning all about bees from an expert

Learning about good landscape design from an expert in the field

Learning about good landscape design from an expert in the field

Learning about bee-keeeping safely

Learning about bee-keeeping safely

It has not been only wildflowers around the Green Estate site; a lot of living history events take place here, and so public events are always interesting to watch and photograph. The 1940s period has a newly-refurbished house in that style, surely the ultimate prop!

1940s living history house is full staffed

1940s living history house is fully staffed

1940s history comes alive

1940s history comes alive

And what better way to learn about that period than to see things from the time, and talk to people in character who know all about it?

1940s living history remembrance

1940s living history remembrance

Time for a nap!

Time for a nap!

The restored Manor House also hosts living history, and is now included in the schedule of a tour company specialising in major historic sites in England.

History comes alive here

History comes alive here

Living history at Sheffield Manor

Living history at Sheffield Manor

American visitors on a tour of historical sites in the UK, including The Manor, Sheffield

American visitors on a tour of historical sites in the UK, including The Manor, Sheffield

Or maybe being an old-style apothecary is more your thing?

Plague-mask in use!

Plague-mask in use!

Phew! All this activity would make any one need a rest (no, that’s not me, I’ve been far too busy!).

Time to relax

Time to relax

Big Lad, a Clydesdale horse, is also a major attraction. This working horse is used for ploughing, cart-rides and also to help build confidence in trainees working with him. Needless to say, he is something of a star attraction.

Clydesdale horse off to work

Clydesdale horse off to work

"Big Lad" working, trainee learning

“Big Lad” working, trainee learning

As if all that wasn’t enough, there has also been a lovely nature and play area created at a school in Sheffield. I just wish that I could show the images of the kids enjoying it to the full here, but you’ll have to make do with the facilities alone. Needless to say, the kids loved it all.

School nature area

School nature area

The kids love their new play area, I just wish I was allowed to show their photos

The kids love their new play area, I just wish I was allowed to show their photos

And I got to photograph real Tonka-toys in the green waste recycling depot, just the job for someone who loves industrial photography.

Green waste recycling in action

Green waste recycling in action

Finally, just to show the diversity of the Green Estate site, there was a wedding there amongst all the wildflowers and history. My photos were not wedding-photos in the strict sense, but done in order to show yet another function of the site on behalf of the client. But fortunately, those taking part were more than happy for me to get more involved and not just take photos from the periphery.

Exchanging vows and a kiss

Exchanging vows and a kiss

Checking the wedding photos

Checking the wedding photos

Just married!

Just married!

First time I’ve been appropriately dressed in Converse sneakers at such an event!

Wow, that was a long update. Thanks for sticking with it to the end, and finding out more about what I do. And as I said at the start, please pass the Red Lenses link – www.redlenses.co.uk –  around to colleagues and anyone else who you think may be interested in my work. Thanks again.

Chris S.

Posted in musings, photos

Camera gear – move it and use it!

The subject of how best to carry your camera equipment is probably one of the most individualised of subjects for any photographer, depending not only on your gear, but how and where you are travelling. and also the type of photography you will be doing. So, I’m definitely not presenting this as a definitive list, but rather some of my own thoughts on what I look for in equipment to hold my gear.

Camera gear always accumulates. But how to carry what you need?

Camera gear always accumulates. But how to carry what you need?

First-off, there is no one, perfect solution to all this, even for myself. However, for me, there are maybe two primary considerations: Protection of my hard-earned and expensive equipment when it is being carried or transported, and ease of access to the gear when I am using it. I guess the logical way to approach this is to look at using the gear first, and then decide how this will work for getting it from A to B, especially when I am flying and there is a fixed space available to carry it on to the plane.

For use, I like to have my hands free to use the camera. OK, that sounds obvious, but it also included not having bags slung across my shoulders that will try to slip off or around my body when I am kneeling or otherwise moving around to get the angle that I want. It is also rather nice to be able to access whatever part of the gear you have brought along, without any fuss. So, I originally tried the camera-holster-and-lens-pouches-on-a-belt system, going back to an ancient CCS camera-holster for my Canon A1, which I had to swap for something a little larger once I got a DSLR, as these are generally larger than the film models. I bought a Tamrac holster, not as well padded as the CCS one, but with more room for batteries and memory cards, and this has been with me on many trips and assignments, with a LowePro lens-pouch attached, with both my EOS 300D and 40D inside. This is still a good system for travelling abroad, with just my Tamron 28-300 lens attached to the camera, and my Sigma 12-24 in the pouch.

Unfortunately, as is the way of things, I have more equipment to choose from now, and once you add more than one pouch to the holster on the belt, it becomes too much of a juggling-act putting it on or removing it safely. Plus, I now use an EOS 7D with the battery-grip attached, which makes for a much more bulky body. Enter the LowePro Inverse 200AW belt-pack, a bit of kit I love and which will take the 7D with battery-grip attached (just, especially with the Canon 24-105 attached, as it is rather wide) plus another lens, with space for a teleconverter and a couple of other accessories in the main body, and a good-sized front pocket where I keep two additional batteries (when needed), rigid memory-card case, lens-cleaning cloth and the remote shutter-release. Now, with the camera body inside, it’s not too comfy to carry, but since I will be using this when I am working, I can take it out, and even add an extra lens if I want to. Plus, there are straps on the sides to allow me to attached a couple more pouches securely, so if I have the Canon 100-400 IS lens with me, this will be slung on the side in yet another LowePro pouch. And the straps underneath take a Joby DSLR GorillaPod, on the occasions I need it, with the head safely in the main body of the pack.

LowePro Inverse 200AW belt-pack

LowePro Inverse 200AW belt-pack

As I said, this is a bit of a tight fit for the 7D plus grip, so I’ve also acquired a Think Tank Digital Holster 40 for the body-plus-grip-plus-lens combo. Not used this brand before, but seems well-constructed and I love the fact that I can extend the end of the ‘trunk’ if I’m working and want to leave the lens-hood attached without reversing it. A a small feature but shows good design. This will also attach to the side of the LowePro belt-pack, so I can have two lenses inside the pack, 100-400 slung on one side, and this holster on the other. This works well for me, as I have all the gear right in front of me (also useful for personal security, as well as access), and the belt-pouch acts as a useful platform for changing lenses. Unless the weather is extreme (rain, dust, or whatever), the holster will probably be in my backpack.

The above is what I have arrived after many years. But why not a dedicated camera backpack? Well, I hike a lot too, either at home or on vacations, so I’ve always used a regular hiking pack, currently either the superb  Lowe Alpine AirZone Centro 35+10, which is unfortunately no longer in the current line-up of products, or a smaller day-sack if I am in this country. Either can take extra clothing, snacks, water and – depending what I have brought – some or all of the camera gear too if the weather turns, or I simply want to cover distance (or not announce that I have expensive camera gear with me, of course). The LoweAlpine is great: Well-made and can carry weight comfortably. I’ve even had a full-sized tripod strapped to one side, and still had no problems with it, striding about the Canadian tundra for photos of wild Arctic wolves. Also it can be used as a carry-on when flying. Well … actually, it is just a fraction too tall, and some of the budget airlines force passengers to try their bag in a metal frame for size, before being allowed to board. My solution? Well, if it is strapped on my back, it’s harder to see, especially with my long hair covering it! So, I just present my boarding-pass and stride off to the plane before they can see what is happening. It is rather heavy too, having also got MP3 player, Kindle, glasses, and other fragile odds-and-ends stuffed in there for the flight. Not a problem for me, but I still feel a little guilty about a woman at customs in Poland who didn’t realise exactly how heavy it was, even with my warning! – somewhere around 10-12 kg when flying but I can get it in the overhead bin fine, and always try to board close to the front, to ensure a good space for it.

… this backpack is a bit tighter fit with the belt-pack rather than separate holster-and-pouches within it, so I may sometimes end up either taking the grip off the camera body and packing things separately when I fly, or simply leaving the grip behind and using the older pouches if the balance is more towards hiking than photography. Choices and flexibility, that’s the key for me. And I can still just manage to use the backpack’s hip-belt whilst having the belt-pack swivelled around to the back, also better for hiking.

Not the way to treat expensive gear!

Not the way to treat expensive gear!

For work or play closer to home, a larger day-sack is fine: Again, it keeps a few other essentials around and, depending what I have with me, will also take the gear too. Currently using a Berghaus one, but not so fussy with these. This can be useful in an urban environment, where I would rather not advertise that I am carrying camera gear around. That and the need to carry other items, often rather a lot when flying, are the reasons that I don’t buy a dedicated camera-gear backpack. Plus, I can still have the gear around my waist for easy-access when using it. Works for me.

If I am taking the IR-adapted EOS 30D-with-battery-grip along too, I’m happy to slip that into a basic neoprene pouch, within my rucksack (my main gear can be seen here). Ditto any other accessories I need with me.

Another factor in play is that the budget airlines charge for a checked-bag (and sometimes for a regular-sized carry-on too, allowing only a smaller pack for free). Obviously for hiking-type trips, I just have to pony-up the cash, or realise that it is as cheap to use a more reliable carrier such as Lufthansa once all the additional expenses are factored-in. But, for three or four day trips, I have just acquired a maximum-carry-on backpack. Now, this is not as comfy as a dedicated pack, but does offer more space, and although I won’t be testing it for a few weeks, it looks like it will take the camera belt-pack, an additional lens, clothing, travel gadgets, chargers, and maybe a small day-pack as well. Plus, a water-bottle, which is an essential for me. Instead of going with the ‘most popular’ on Amazon, I went for the LoweAlpine option, the TT Carry-on 40; Slightly less broad than some, but this makes it look more like a regular pack rather than a canoe portage-pack! Also, it has shoulder-straps and waist-belt that can all be tucked away, an additional single-shoulder-strap, and sensible smaller pocket for gadgets, tickets, and such.

Do you see a pattern here regarding the brand?! If so, this is entirely due to having used the LowePro / LoweAlpine brand for years, and trusting that they will do what I require of them. Who wants a key strap-anchor to fail, dropping your pack to the ground? If that happened to a regular traveller, they would probably swear. Me, I would be the one standing in silent horror, not daring to see what had been damaged!

This is strictly my own observations, based on my somewhat varied needs and the way that I like to work, plus experience of certain brands. Maybe there is some system that I have missed, some ‘holy-grail’ of photo-gear-transportation still out there! If so, please leave me a comment and let me know. Or simply to query something, or pass on your own experiences. Hope to hear from you.

Posted in equipment, musings

Colour infrared – the early days

… actually, the very earliest of days as I’ve only had the one outing yesterday with the camera so far, despite having it almost a month, due to the paying photo-work and a week away.colour IR image #2

colour IR image #13

So, first things first: What is it that I’ve got here? Well, it’s a conversion of a digital SLR camera to allow it to see infrared (IR) light, in addition to visible (to humans) light. The sensor can actually detect IR, but a filter is added to prevent this happening in normal use. In order to see it with the camera, this must be removed. There is then a choice of various replacement filters, depending exactly what kind of IR photography you are considering. This site explains it in more depth. You can get the same results with an IR filter on the front of the lens, but these are so dark that a tripod and long exposures are required. Not my style of working at all!

colour IR image #12 colour IR image #11

Now, in the UK, the cost of such a conversion is around £250 plus whatever camera you supply. Or you can pay for a ready-converted one. USA prices are around $250 for the same thing, plus any import duties and taxes. So, not being sure about this whole thing, I found a very helpful guy on ebay, based in Lithuania (no import duties to the UK, I checked!), and contacted him. Now, he normally converts the low-end Canon cameras, which I don’t like, so I decided that an EOS 30D would be just right. Apparently, they go for more over there, so I sourced a pristine one from ebay in the UK for around £100, and shipped it over there using the Royal Mail 3-5 days trackable service, for £15. Which took over two weeks and isn’t. Still it got there, and more importantly, was returned after the conversion, which was $150 including delivery (around £93 at the time I had it done). Total cost: less than £210. A good deal, I think, but around five weeks total time, so not for those in a hurry. Oh, and I did the entire transaction outside of ebay, which you are absolutely not supposed to do. But sometimes, it’s good to just trust someone.

colour IR image #10 colour IR image #9

It arrived safely home just before I was going away for a week, so playing has had to wait for a bit of spare time! Now the 30D is only 8.2MP, but I can use the batteries, charger and grip from my old, defunct 40D, plus it is of higher build quality than the plasticy low-end EOS models, even if they do have a higher pixel-count.

Now, I know from my research that the somewhat-clichéd snowy-white foliage thing is often what gets taken with such cameras, and yes, I’ve tried it! But I want to see what else it can do beyond that, having been inspired by the stark, beautiful photos of Iceland taken by Andy Lee. I wasn’t expecting that on my first outing by any means! More, I wanted to see how different settings, subjects, lighting conditions and materials work, so an hour or so at the wonderful Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and another hour around Sheffield both provided a wonderful testing-ground for this.

colour IR image #8 colour IR image #7

Now, being honest, it’s hands-up to a bit of a cock-up here: I forgot to set the custom white-balance on the camera, using green grass, and left it on auto. So, when doing the traditional red-blue channel swap in Photoshop, I had way too much blue present. But, it was relatively easy for me to dial it down in the channel-mixer and use the various Levels, Curves and Colour Balance functions to get some usable image out of my session. I know a few tricks!

colour IR image #6 colour IR image #5

The following three images show the uncorrected (and auto-white-balanced) image from the camera; the colourised version; and also a b&w version I rather liked using my Google Nik plugins. And yes, it’s the clichéd snowy-tree look! I guess everyone does that at first, so I’ll do it now and try to move on rapidly!

colour IR image #1a colour IR image #1b colour IR image #1cIs it art? Not for me to say? But is it a worthwhile technique? Yes, I think so, depending on the subject and what you are trying to get from it. I will definitely be trying some more work with it, and I’m already thinking that Kinder would be good for a return visit, after my recent b,&w work there.

colour IR image #4 colour IR image #3

Certain subjects, lighting conditions, and post-processing techniques seem to work really well, and I think that with practice, I’ll be producing some work that I will be happy with. And I am my own hardest critic (I think!). Any comments would be much appreciated, even if it’s just along the lines of ‘that one isn’t bad, but that one sucks’. Thanks for stopping by.

colour IR image #14

 

Posted in equipment, photos, techniques

Wharncliffe Works, Sheffield … an urban b&w-fest

My b&w experimentation is in full-swing now: After a lovely day up on Kinder, Derbyshire a couple of weeks back – see here – I had an early-evening walk around a part of Sheffield with some wonderful old Victorian-era industrial buildings still standing.

Wharncliffe Works #7

A friend and fellow photog found this site, and after a rather grey day, the forecast turned out to be completely accurate, with a mellow, oblique sun appearing as we walked towards the site.

Wharncliffe Works #6We made our usual lack-of-progress around the area, pausing whenever there was something to grab the attention, and I am definitely getting my eye back in with b&w work now, not having shot monochrome since my photography O-level back at sixth-form college!

Wharncliffe Works #5

So, abstract patterns, reflections, textures, or some combination thereof were the order of the day, and the light remained just right for this kind of work throughout.

Wharncliffe Works #4I now treat the in-camera b&w images, after small adjustments of levels on Photoshop, as the ‘negatives’, and then very often start to delve into the Google Nik plugins, namely Silver Efex Pro2, often with a good idea in mind as to how I want the finished image to be.

Wharncliffe Works #3Without that, you could spend hours just pressing the buttons and moving the sliders around, but sometimes that can also be fun! I do like high-contrast b&w, so that is how a lot of my images will end up.

Wharncliffe Works #2My treatments are to my own taste; yours may differ, and that’s fine. Just glad I’m not doing this with a darkroom and enlarger, having seen the cost of Ilford paper these days! And one was inspired by a certain, fairly famous, album which you may or may not recognise …

Wharncliffe Works #1See the full gallery here: http://www.pbase.com/pawsforthought/wharncliffe_works

 

 

Posted in photos, techniques

Kinder in b&w

Kinder is a wonderful part of the Peak District National Park, in Derbyshire, UK: It’s not that far from me and I really should visit it more than I do, being a place of contrasts, particularly between the upland gritstone moors, seen here, and the flatter limestone landscape with hidden, steep-sided valleys.

Kinder #13 Kinder #12It is unusual to get such a dry day up here, as the peat-bogs can be very … well, boggy, resulting in often bringing a good part of the landscape back home on clothing and boots! However, not only was this a mainly sunny day, there was also a marked lack of aircraft contrails (Manchester airport being not many miles away), which can cross-cross the sky and rather spoil landscape photos up there.

Kinder #11 Kinder #10

The other unusual thing was me choosing to shoot in b&w in-camera: I’m still getting to grips with b&w photography, and normally shoot in colour, choosing to convert any promising shots to b&w in Photoshop. However, I’ve been meaning to start getting a better handle on seeing the world in monochrome, so this seemed like a good opportunity: Decision was made as I was walking the approach to Jacobs Ladder, employing the tried-and-tested ‘seemed like a good idea a the time’ theorem!

Kinder #9 Kinder #8

Back at the computer, although I did not have to convert the images to b&w, much time was spent using the Google Nik plugins, namely Silver Efex Pro2, to manipulate the images however I thought to be the most appropriate for my own mental image of each shot: I find that they have plenty of flexibility, both between and within the various pre-sets, and they have obviously been designed with some thought, rather than ‘thrown together’ like some cheaper or free plugins seem to be.

Kinder #7 Kinder #6

Yes, as I have stated before, I do like to play around with my images, as I feel that leaving then as they came out of the camera is only doing half a job. And with b&w, it is perhaps even more tempting to manipulate them. After all, we don’t actually see the world in monochrome, so I’m already starting from a completely manipulated viewpoint, as I see it: People who are anti-Photoshop because of it being ‘cheating’ in some way fail to see this one, simple fact regarding the history of photography, in my view …

Kinder #5 Kinder #4… ok, so it was invented before colour imagery, but this is surely a more ‘false’ way of looking at the world than any but the most extreme of colour manipulation? And also, perhaps, why I am taking much longer to get to grips with it as a technique.

Kinder #3 Kinder #2

So, here we are … a few highlights from a wonderful part of the world, taken on a fine and sunny day, and during the process of a good, long walk too. With picnic. What better?!

Kinder #1See the full gallery here: http://www.pbase.com/pawsforthought/kinder

 

 

Posted in musings, photos | 2 Comments

Sun trails and biscuit tins!

I’ve been doing solargraphs for a few years now – if you want to read more about them, have a look at my article here. I put a batch of ‘cameras’ out last December, exactly six months ago as I sit writing this, the main difference this year being the motley collection of tubs and tins which I used! And again, there is one of my blog postings about that right here!

solargraph 2013-12-22 182 days #8 v2

I was impressed how well they had fared out there, including my black spray-job on some of the tins! Inside, it was also good news: Just a couple of failures with nothing usable on the ‘film’ (aka ‘black and white photographic printing paper’). Even where water gets inside, most notable on the black peppercorn tubs I use, I still like the results, so I do not regard this as failure at all. But apart from this already-known issue, all the remainder were dry and largely intact.

solargraph 2013-12-22 182 days #1 v3

… I like the result of this water-damage also, for the texture that it adds. Of course, once out of the camera, the image needs to be scanned, usually at 600 dpi or higher, given the small size of the film in the 35mm film-tubs. This scan is, of course, a negative (ie, the sun-trails come out as dark lines in a white sky), and so I invert this in Photoshop. The image is also laterally reversed (left and right swapped over), so is flipped around too. Finally, I correct the blueish cast present (b&w photo-paper is not sensitive to dark-room safe-light, which is red, and causes this cast in the final image): Often, the auto-colour setting will do this fine, or at least provide a good place to start. After that, it is over to the colour-adjustment sliders.

solargraph 2013-12-22 182 days #3 v2

This is the point I save my results as the ‘original’ image from each camera, and any further manipulation starts from here: The Levels and Curves are both useful (you’ve guessed it, I have a post on that also … here!), and adding an Unsharp Mask helps to sharpen the image some too (you can often add this during the scanning phase, depending on your scanner’s software).

solargraph 2013-12-22 182 days #6 v1After that, it’s time to get creative: All the images here have been further manipulated using various effects I have – the Google Nik collection for Photoshop, Perfect Effects 8 and Dynamic Photos HDR 5 have all been used in the images you see here. It’s a chance to see what you can do with the images, given that they have all come out of the various tubs and tins in hugely varying condition to start with, colour- and contrast-wise.

solargraph 2013-12-22 182 days #2 v2

… this is part of the fun for me; seeing what treatment I think will suit a particular image. I’m not going to turn this into a solargraph-treatment-workshop, but I do like the ability to use the Match Colour feature of the pseudo-HDR treatment, as an effective way to swap colours around using pre-set images within the software, as I have done below:

solargraph 2013-12-22 182 days #7 v2

I’ve also enjoyed experimenting with the Contrast Colour Range within Colour Efex Pro4, part of the Google Nik plugins, as in the following image:

solargraph 2013-12-22 182 days #4 v2The only rule is, there are no rules. Since you are starting with an image so different from usual photographs, it’s entirely up to personal preference. But it’s worth considering each individual image beforehand, and having a rough idea of what you are trying to achieve before madly pressing all the buttons! Although, I’m not above that too at times, under the guise of ‘learning’!

solargraph 2013-12-22 182 days #1 v2

You may like some more than others; I certainly feel that way about these images. But that’s all part of the process too. And a fascinating antidote to the crisp, instant results from digital imagery. I hope you enjoy them and are maybe inspired to give it a go.

One final thought … the film used in the cameras is, as I have said, b&w photographic printer paper (the light-sensitive sort, not the stuff for inkjet printers!). So, it shows shades of grey, and yet there are colours here (I have enhanced them, tweaked them, swapped them around, but not added them where none existed before). No idea what the physics of that is, but I find it rather interesting.

 

 

Posted in photos, techniques